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Mainstay

Reading through the Psalms in the New English Bible of 1970, I came across this phrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” – and though perhaps not a literal ‘translation’ the nautical imagery nevertheless conveys the truth that God is the Chief Support of human life – that apart from Him human beings tend to fall apart, become vulnerable in the storms of life, and are prone to instability & ultimate shipwreck – not glorious prospects.

A stay (on a sailing ship) is part of the standard rigging used to support or stabilize the mast, taking the form of a large strong rope or steel wire/rod extending from the upper end of each mast and running down towards the deck of the vessel. Wikipedia states: “The object … is to prevent the masts from falling down, but the stays also prevent springing, when the ship is pitching deep.” – that is, providing stability in an otherwise unstable environment. Here’s a visual of a typical ship’s ‘stay’:

In general usage, the Cambridge Dictionary defines mainstay as, “the most important part of something, providing support for everything else“, while the Collins Dictionary states: “if you describe something as the mainstay of a particular thing, you mean that it is the most basic part of it.

Therefore, we can infer that the NEB ‘translators’ wished to emphasize, and that Scripture intends us to understand, by this paraphrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” precisely that the Lord is INTEGRAL to humanity – that He’s not an add-on – like some app. to be downloaded, according to our personal whims, in order to make life that bit easier. No, He is to life what hydrogen is to water, and what blood is to the body. He is essential to us being whole, human beings – and we were never designed for life apart from Him. To live our lives without such awareness results in diminishing us to living far below our potential, of being incapable of living human life to the full … so that like a car with spark-plugs removed we’re incapable of firing on all cylinders, and life becomes such a strain, rather than a joy.

Our ‘deadly disconnect’ from God has the most dire consequences: for ourselves, our families, our environment, our world – in fact everything is affected detrimentally. This is the reason why God worked proactively in Jesus to redeem the situation – when Jesus announced, “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” He proclaimed the good news that through restored relationship with Him, disconnected and disorientated humanity may be restored to the original and live a fully human life.

Writing much later than the Psalms, St Paul in one of his letters wrote concerning Jesus Christ: “…Who is our life…” This revelation, of Christ as our LIFE – giving and sustaining us in life – is so revolutionary, and raises faith in Christ far beyond mere man-made religion, with its absurd practices, into an all-absorbing, full-time relationship with the Creator, as the very essence of human life, and without Whom we are considerably less than we were ever created for.

There’s an old hymn, which expresses this magnificently, albeit in language that may seem strange in the 21st century. It goes:

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most gracious Lord

No tender voice like Thine

Can peace afford

~~~

Chorus: I need Thee, oh, I need Thee

Ev’ry hour I need Thee

Oh, bless me now, my Saviour

I come to Thee

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Stay Thou nearby

Temptations lose their pow’r

When Thou art nigh

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

In joy or pain

Come quickly and abide

Or life is vain

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most Holy One

Oh, make me Thine indeed

Thou blessed Son

~~~

Words by Annie S. Hawks, 1835–1918

“I need Thee, Oh I need Thee” – that’s the cry of an awakened human spirit, equivalent to the lung’s cry for air, or the parched tongue’s thirst for refreshment. In the cacophony of life it’s common, even as followers of Christ, to miss and ignore that cry, resulting in our impoverishment and a sense of spiritual lost-ness. Alternatively, starting each day with a recognition of our need, and asking that we may acknowledge our Mainstay throughout the day, in whatever appropriate way, will set us up for a more enriching, joy-filled life.

I hope you may benefit from this recommendation.

 

You’re Here

In honour of the wonderful Holy Spirit

 

You came…Father & Beloved Son,

Gift of heaven, bestowing.

Comfort to the comfortless

Helper in our helplessness.

Promised overflowing

~~~

You came…’mighty rushing wind’

Breath of heaven, refreshing.

Life into our lifelessness

Meaning to our senselessness

Covenanted blessing

~~~

You came…‘cloven tongues of fire’

Flame of heaven inspiring,

Passion in the passionless

Wholeness for our brokenness

Integrity acquiring

~~~

You came…’dunamis’ from on high

Power from heaven, energising.

Strength to cover weaknesses

Reliever of our great distress

Miracles realising

~~~

You’re here…oft grieved & still resisted

Gentle dove of heaven, You persisted.

Dwelling in this heart of mine

Living Wind, Fire Divine

Heaven’s Oil – anointed

A Trilogy

 

*****

CREATION

*****

Sublime fiat sovereignly ordains

galaxies to manifest from nought,

directed by invisible hand,

symphonically arranged.

Creative genius breathes

across emptiness, exhaling

myriad universes, appearing

in spectacular array

~~~

And here within full panorama

of brilliant cosmic design

arises, as if on centre stage

in spotlight, and heralded by

a fanfare of rich celestial melodies,

that tiny globe we claim as home,

richly  textured with the

intricate tapestries of life

~~~

Crowning glory – pinnacle,

Homo sapiens, bearing

image of the Maker,

And drawing forth

glowing pronouncement:

“Very Good” – no portent here

of approaching calamity

in original paradise

*****

FALL

*****

Yet storm clouds gather,

prince of darkness

uncoils his ruthless strategy

to sabotage creation’s bliss.

Seductive voice burns into heart

challenging: “Has God said ?”

contradicting: “You shall not die !”

~~~

Mesmerised, tantalised

wily tempter weaves

his beguiling charms

on innocent’s psyche.

desires overwhelming

new emotions stirring

reasonings controlling,

’til battered will succumbs

~~~

Relationship’s ruination

a wilful disobedience,

in hiding – shame-filled

finger-pointing accusation

shifting blame away from self

symptoms of guilt ridden-ness,

and profound shift  of nature

~~~

All creation groaning

beneath the weight

of homo sapiens’

dreadful, deadly fall

all waiting for the

promised restoration

*****

REDEMPTION

*****

Foreknown, that sorry plight

worlds affected by the fall,

master-plan unfolding restoration.

Oracle speaks prophetically,

of woman’s seed, of chosen race,

of royal line, of messianic hope

awakening anticipation of

brand new dispensation

~~~

And right on cue, fulness of time

only-begotten Son

arrives, as if on centre-stage

spotlighted, heralded by

same angelic choristers which

celebrated creation’s dawn

announcing with clear voices –

“To you a Saviour born”

~~~

Lion-Lamb, Second Man

tabernacles with humanity

God in flesh, through Virgin Birth

sharing woe, feeling pain –

life laid down, atonement made.

Bruising serpent’s head; binding man’s strong foe;

bursting prison gates; breaking captives free;

birthing glorious redemption.

Counting …

Counting on people and things is a reality of life. We find so many occasions when needing to rely on someone or something. Perhaps it’s counting on a plumber to fix that leaking cistern, or relying on the car to start in order to get the children to school each morning. It is comforting to know there are those we can count on, especially in times of crisis. Alternatively, as I’ve found from experience, owning an unreliable vehicle can be most stressful indeed.

Sadly we’ve all been let down by someone or something when we were desperately counting on their dependability. We could perhaps tell our horror stories, especially in the sphere of relationships, in which our trust was badly shaken, and necessitated a long, painful process to bring about recovery. It is regrettable, alas, that some never do reach that place, and instead descend into depths of self-pity, resentment and depression.

Psalm 130:6 states: “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning

I’ve been reading through the Psalms in a French Translation, and love this rendition of that verse: “Mon âme compte sur le Seigneur, plus que les gardes ne comptent sur le matin, que les gardes ne comptent sur le matin“. Using the verb “compter”, literally meaning “to count”, it conveys the Psalmist’s strong sense of trust, and of expectation. He’s indicating how he is counting on the Lord to show up, in the same way that watchmen (or security guards) count on the morning to make its appearance. However dark the night, a new day will dawn – they simply need to keep watching and waiting.

This thought-provoking poem by Ann Lewin brings home to me something of the Psalmist’s heart:

Disclosure

Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and … wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and expectancy.
No visible sign, only the knowledge that he’s been there and may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you’ve almost stopped expecting it,
A flash of brightness gives encouragement

Of course, the Lord is never dictated to by human constraints. His followers really have to come to terms with the truth that He dwells in eternal ‘now’, as another psalm puts it, “A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”

This idea is taken up by Saint Peter in relation to the second coming of Christ when he writes: “… you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

He continues: “… do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Here’s the rub – although standing outside time, God does interact with us within time, and does indeed have His own time-frame. So we read, for example, concerning the incarnation of Jesus: “… when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son …”

When we fail to recognize divine time-scale we’re liable to fall victim of impatience, frustration and disillusionment – not exactly evidences of ‘counting on the Lord’ but rather of peevish immaturity, and which, unless dealt with, can bring about a grumpy disconnect from God.

I recall such moments in my own journey. In South Yorkshire we sometimes hear the phrase “he/she’s got a monk on” describing someone in a bad mood. I must confess to occasions when I certainly “had a monk on” with God, and gave him the silent treatment ! Words from a song by Keith Green strongly come to mind: “It’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me”. Thankfully, I was not smitten down, and live to tell the tale – hopefully a wiser and more patient person as a consequence !

I think Psalm 130 encourages an attitude both of trust and expectancy. Instead of getting into sulk mode when we don’t understand, or when things don’t go our way, we are to “count on the Lord” – the One who is utterly trustworthy, who keeps His promises. May we discover that the Lord of time, ultimately controls our times, as surely as day follows night and so, as Eugene Peterson points out, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

 

Beside The Driver

When I bought tickets for a tour along the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway (EVR) in Derbyshire earlier this year, I had no great expectations. What I did know was that I’d paid a reduced rate – which always makes a Yorkshire-man happy !

Arriving at Duffield Station shortly before 1pm could not be described as an overwhelming start to the excursion, however the diesel train, built in the 1950s, was ready waiting to take us on the 8.5 miles of track into Wirksworth …

The outward journey was not exceptionally exciting, although it held some picturesque moments along the valley. A couple of level-crossings provided a quaint, and rather fascinating ‘ritual’, at which the ‘guard’ jumped off the train, opened the gates, flagged us through, closed them behind us & then jumped back aboard … coming from Doncaster, with its modern, automated crossings I found this most amusing:

After a couple of hours exploring the small market town of Wirksworth; enjoying delicious mushroom soup at the Country Kitchen; purchasing toys for the grandchildren and railway memorabilia for us, we were ready for the return journey – but not before sampling the brew in the charming Pullman Buffet Car, a converted carriage situated at Wirksworth station.

Now, I’ve never ridden in the driver’s cab of a diesel train – until this occasion, that is.

Having befriended the driver before the outward journey, by chatting to him and asking him questions about his work (e.g. how long he’d been employed with EVR) I was thrilled when, for the return trip, he invited me up front to sit with him and chat, as we trundled back to Duffield at a speed never exceeding 25mph .

His plus-12 years experience was obvious. He clearly controlled this powerful engine (capable of speeds of 70mph), and its passengers were completely safe in hands. He was extremely relaxed and did seem pleased to have me around. Happy to talk of his work, he explained the controls and gadgets in his cab, described various maintenance developments along the rail, and was totally unfazed in answering my dumbest questions … (what does this do, what does that do, what’s this for ?)

On reflection the experience is deeply analogic of my daily journey beside a far more experienced Driver, and has prompted some searching questions, such as: “Why don’t I trust Him as easily I did that diesel-train driver ?” and “Why do I find talking with Him far more difficult, and even irksome at times ?”.

I’m truly thankful that He never grows weary of my dullness, my profound ignorance, my frequent questionings – and is actually pleased to have me alongside Him.