August 30th 2020

Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

When I was a little girl, I was forever tripping over things. So much so, in fact, that my parents sent me to Highland dancing classes, hoping, I suspect, that I would learn to lift my feet and stopping falling over. For the most part, it worked.

I stopped the dancing years ago, but truth to tell, I still have a habit of tripping over things, including my own feet. The problem has been that I tend to be thinking about other things whilst I walk. I have even been known to try and read things as I walk. I lost count of the number of times my Malawian colleagues would warn me about the perils of walking home from work reading a long awaited letter from home. And I shall never forget the “I warned you” expression on their face as my foot heading down a termite hill taking me with it. It was a lesson never learnt until one day, I fell down the hole of a septic tank (yep, it’s true) which left me hobbling about for weeks afterwards. Some of us have to learn the hard way and it turns out that I am just such a one! I still have a tendency to trip up, but for the most part, these days I watch where I’m going.

Being aware of what is going on around us is key to keeping us grounded in faith and moving forwards. If we are not paying attention, in particular to the ways of God we easily become distracted by stumbling blocks which become obstacles that prevent us from serving God as we originally set out to do when we first found faith in Him. Jesus described these stumbling blocks as things which did “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt.16:23). Life is not straight-forward, never has been, never will be. It is full of obstacles we have to meet and overcome, some relatively simple, others seemingly overwhelming. At times we may be tempted to give in to worry and even self-pity. Sometimes we give up too easily, and sometimes we get tired trying.

In this passage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus points out that following him was never going to be a piece of cake. It was going to be tough; we were indeed going to come across stumbling blocks and obstacles that would either distract or fool us into taking the easier way out. To his disciples Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt.16:24). When the going gets tough, we must stick with it. We are to persevere and keep our eyes open for glimpses of the bigger picture and seek God’s help when the challenge threatens to overwhelm us.

I’m sure you will have encountered many obstacles to faith as you’ve journeyed through life. I now I have. These stumbling blocks can range from easily overcome everyday distractions through to major obstacles which cause us to ask hard questions about what God and faith really means to us, skirting on the verge between belief and disbelief. On my journey of faith, I have come to realise that no question is too hard for God to answer, no doubt is too difficult for God to hear. For God accepts us as we are, with all our doubts and frailties. Our souls are too precious for Him to turn his back on us. And to be honest, it has been during my hardest struggles that God has at the same time felt furthest away yet taught me the greatest lessons. Of course, this is easy to say when you are on the other side of the obstacle. I tell you this, not to gloat but to encourage. If you are facing some kind of obstacle to faith right now, be it big or small, let me urge you to stick with it. God may seem far away, or perhaps even absent, but he isn’t. He is right there with us in the midst of it all, and in time, sooner or later, the darkness shall pass and we will once again find hope and joy in the light of God shining through the darkness.

May God be with you all as you face each new day. Know that He loves you and is with you whoever you are, wherever you may be.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you made sure that those who sought to follow you understood that they were not choosing and easy way of life. You pointed out that it would mean looking at life and humanity differently. You knew what it meant to be different, what it meant to stand against the tide and point towards a better way of being. We confess that the easy way is often very tempting to us. We resist what is hard, what we struggle to understand, and instead seek simpler ways of living life, even if sometimes this means we abandon your ways in search of our own notion of comfort and joy. Forgive our short-sightedness and help us to be more focussed on your ways. Help us to seek your will before our own, to see others as you see them – to see beyond the things we dislike to the hearts within which you love so much. As we begin a new week we pray for your blessing and guidance, that your love may be made manifest in all that we do, for Jesus’ sake. AMEN

To listen to Casting Crows sing “Thrive” please click the link below:

Casting Crowns