For someone who struggles with anxiety, that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, even when we step back and say, ’What’s the worst that could happen?’ we still find ourselves feeling troubled. Is my faith not strong enough? I don’t think it’s that, for faith relies not on me, but on God. If I’d have been around a couple of thousand years ago, walking along with Thomas, I’d probably be going, ’But Jesus…’ a few times. There is something deeper to this ‘heart’ mentioned here. It’s not about day to day feelings, for they come and go, and can often be overwhelming in the moment. But it’s about the spiritual security in God, that when all is said and done, our belief in God through Christ cannot separate us from God’s love—even when we feel just the opposite. Rely not on how we feel, but on the promises that God has given us.
‘Dear Jesus, I really want a new bike,’ went my eighth-birthday prayer, ‘But Jesus you said anything!’ Could you imagine if we all got what we wanted? Clearly, that’s not what Jesus meant. ‘In my name’ is the key phrase here. If we belong to Jesus, we seek Jesus’ will and therefore our prayers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, align with God’s will. Together, through our prayers, we find a harmony where we all focus on the same vision of God’s reign in the world. It’s through this ‘connectedness’ that we become lights in the world.
Stephen is remembered as the first martyr of Christianity. Just before his death, he had boldly preached to the crowds, but they responded with hostility. As reported in Acts, he attempts to show them that Jesus was the fulfilment of their history and faith, but they wouldn’t listen. Instead, they were angry and rushed to stone and kill him. The suffering would have been immense. Yet, in that moment, he stood in a ‘thin place’—heaven unveiled as he glanced upon the glory of God. In our fragility, our weakness, sometimes a glimpse of heaven reminds us of the hope we have.
I’m always struck with awe by people who can find strength to forgive in dark situations. I mean it’s easy to forgive someone for taking the last biscuit or for bumping into you. But what about those who suffer the loss of loved one through someone else’s actions? I’ve marvelled at their stories. There is something beautifully divine about such forgiveness. It’s not an easy cheap forgiveness. It’s not a forgive and forget: forgiveness has to change a relationship, so it cannot simply be forgotten. And here, in his darkest hour, Stephen, in anguish and pain, glancing at heaven, finds a strength to forgive those who trespass against him.
The writer of Psalm 31 was desperate: a rock, a refuge, a fortress. He needed it all. I love the Psalms. I don’t always understand the context of them, but I love how they permit us to get on our knees and pray what we’re really feeling. Never think your words shouldn’t be uttered to God.
(1 Peter 2:5)
When Ancient Israel had their physical temple, it was an incredibly holy place—too dangerous for just anyone to enter. So the priestly descendants took their turn to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Before they could do this, there was an important task of ritual cleansing and the avoidance of certain uncleanliness (like not touching dead bodies). The Pharisees had a belief that every person in Israel should follow these regulations and be ritually clean before God, but it ended up becoming so complicated it became a stumbling block. Jesus challenged some of their rules in the gospels. The writer of Peter wants us to be a holy priesthood, each as a living stone part of God’s household. Does it mean following all those rules and regulations of old? I don’t think so. But, in a dog-eat-dog world, I do think he wants us to follow Jesus’ example: to love God and to love others. That’s what sets us apart as a holy people.