Thought for the Day 10th September
‘’Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)
‘’This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf’’ (2 Chronicles 20:17)
The Christian life is often compared to a journey, to a race, to a battle in full armour but there are also times when we are simply to be still and wait on God. This is not always easy; our natural inclination is often to be active, make our own decisions, to get involved. There is nothing wrong with this but time apart can revitalise our faith and give us the opportunity to listen to God and discern his will for us.
During the past two thousand years, there have been a number of Christ’s followers who have withdrawn to a life of solitude, prayer and contemplation. Paradoxically, in isolation they have often attracted people seeking their counsel. The Desert Fathers were an example of this in the early centuries of the Christian era. Retreating to an ascetic life of poverty, simplicity and prayer in the desert, they were increasingly invaded by pilgrims needing spiritual advice. Some centuries later, in this country, some of the Celtic saints were attracted to a life of retreat, among them St Cuthbert, who became the prior of Melrose Abbey but was drawn more and more to a life of solitude. This was hard to achieve as crowds flocked to him wherever he was. He was later made prior of Holy Island (Lindesfarne) but again increasingly withdrew to a life of prayer and fasting in solitude, building a cell and oratory on the island of Inner Farne. There too his solitude was often broken by visitors seeking counsel. Although a recluse, he had qualities which drew people to him. The historian Bede describes him as ‘’afire with heavenly love, unassumingly patient, devoted to unceasing prayer and kindly to all who came to him for comfort.’’ He was a skilful speaker and people readily opened up to him, responsive to his message.
Perhaps Cuthbert would have had a similarly successful ministry without his periods of isolation. However, it seems more likely that his communion with God through prayer and fasting deepened his compassion and the Christ-like nature which caused him to be sought out by people. His commitment to a life of prayer was extraordinary: he sometimes stood praying all night, waist deep in the sea. The story goes that sea otters dried his feet in the morning, warming his frozen legs, such was his affinity with the natural world. Most of us are not called to such extreme lengths but even modest periods of retreat, quiet moments to be still in the presence of The Lord, can help to draw us closer to him; perhaps easier for those of us still semi-isolated. The message in the passage in Chronicles containing the above verse is that God will help us when faced with a seemingly impossible situation (in the case of the people of Judah and Jerusalem a great multitude in battle), if we ‘’stand still’’; if we rely on God, not set out in our own strength.
Dear Lord, when your people from Judah and Jerusalem were in danger, they kept their eyes on you and not only did they stand still, as commanded, but sang and praised you for your mercy. When we are faced by situations which seem insoluble, may we always keep our eyes on you and stay still in your presence, in the sure and certain knowledge that you will both hear us and help us. In Jesus’ name we ask.