In the Wilderness

Luke 5:16; 6:12  But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.

It’s the day we celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Rabbie Burns, 25th January 2018. The sun is beating down, the recent winds have quietened, the snow has gone (apart from the last few crumbs of ice left over from a very ambitious snowman built in a neighbour’s garden, the scarf and twiggy arms lying forlornly, as though grieving for their master’s demise). So, a lunchtime walk is in order. I headed for the West Fife Cycle Way, a 17 km strip of tarmacadam connecting Dunfermline with Clackmannan, it’s railway origin betrayed by the gentle gradients and straight sections and the aging and crumbling remains of bridges, concrete bunkers and artefacts, and brick, graffiti-covered walls holding back the otherwise rampant terrain and vegetation. Saplings and more established trees in places form arches over the leaf-strewn path, blocking out the sun and transforming the atmosphere into something cavernous and almost sepulchral. The distant gentle roar of a jet engine reminds of the proximity to Edinburgh Airport, but not too intrusively. Closer, an unmuted car exhaust defiantly announces that electric propulsion is not for all. At least not yet. And, because it is lunchtime, the squeals, shouts, and chit-chat of children in a local school distantly join together forming an indistinct cacophony of young life, echoing through the trees. Birdsong is strangely absent apart from the occasional twitter and flutter of wings in the trees. However, it’s early in the year yet; these woods will soon be dominated by the sounds of many warblers. A constant background rumble from the Bluther Burn provides an audible backdrop to my walk, the Burn’s normally benign and silent trickle totally overwhelmed by snow melt, the aqueous clarity now muddied with a grey-green silt, an amalgam of agricultural residues and the dregs of legacy coal mine workings, further upstream.

But on my walk, I’m alone. Just me and Archie, our pet Westie. He’s happy enough, sniffing his way as usual through the undergrowth, bounding his way to the next new smell. My lonely walks are my favourite prayer times. Where I mull over issues, reach out to God for answers, think about the wonders of the world around me and the God Who created all. Where I lift up my friends and family to Him, knowing that He listens to me and answers my prayers. My soul becomes warmed by His presence and encouraged by His closeness, and occasionally a “still, small voice” brings significance.

But my “being alone” cannot compare with the experiences of Jesus, when He went to a lonely place, to a wilderness, to pray. The only sounds He would experience would be the scurries of small animals, perhaps the buzz of insects, or a gust of wind whistling and whining around some buttress of rock. Perhaps a larger animal in the distance stretching its tonsils. Perhaps a flapping from overhead, a bird of prey keenly looking for its next meal. No man-made sounds.

Jesus withdrew from the hubbub of life to pray. And no place better than the wilderness, a place where He could spend time with God, His Father. No pew in a darkened and dusty mausoleum for Jesus. No grabbing a few moments in a corner. He headed off to places where there was no-one else. It probably took Him a significant amount of time to get there because He walked. He also went up mountains – imagine climbing Ben Cleuch in the Ochils to have your Quiet Time. Imagine the anticipation building, knowing that He was going to spend time with the One He loved the most, His Dad.

MM7198.JPGAnd what would that divine dialogue have looked like? No “hands together, eyes closed” religiosity I’m sure. No head down, mumbled repetitive prayers using a language more appropriate to the 18th century. This was dynamic stuff. The real deal. I’m sure His arms would have been outstretched to Heaven, reaching out to embrace His Dad. On top of Ben Cleuch there’s a trig point – I’m sure Jesus would have been standing on the top to get even closer. They would have shared those wonderful times when the world was created through Him (John 1:3). There would have been a dialogue we can only dream of. Nothing hurried – all night was ok. And Jesus would have received His Dad’s perspectives on the ministry before Him. Returning from the wilderness, His step would have an additional spring to it, propelling Him towards His next task.

So back to my walk, returning from a brief oasis of being alone. Grateful for a short time of prayer. Refreshed spiritually and physically. No earth-shattering revelations, sadly, but a worthwhile time nevertheless.

Snow Covers


Snowy start to the day. One or two inches already, still snowing, and the sky has that heavy grey look about it, promising a good blanket of the white stuff. What is there about snow that excites, attracts? (At least for those who haven’t got to go out in it!). Our pet Westie loves the snow; he runs around, rolls in it, tries to grab it and generally makes his walk a bit of a trial, as though the arrival of snow flicks a naughty switch within him. Looking around, what was black and green, is now covered in white. What were red roofs have been clad in a different product as though made from cotton wool. What was vividly coloured has now become strangely monochrome, with just the odd splash of colour from car lights. All the defects in the world seem to disappear for a short time. New LED street lamps accentuate the whiteness, the comforting orange glare of yesterday’s technology now a thing of the past. The school walking bus, children in their hi-vis waistcoats, chattering with excitement, snowballs abounding (though not in the direction of the teacher, “They have been warned, well-warned”, she told me). Looking around, the sheep have become very dirty all of a sudden; their wool, that was considered white yesterday, now appears a muddy creamy brown. They’re not concerned though, still grubbing away. Hardy animals! Traffic gingerly picks its way through and around icy ruts in the road, trying to get on with work-a-day life.

Snow covers, transforms, makes the world around us a different place. I was reminded of the verse in 1Peter 4:8, Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” Without love we look at others harshly, critically, judgmentally, spitefully, in a way that destroys and tears down. But covering others with love is like applying a blanket of snow. It will totally transform the way we see them. It will cover over the defects. So whatever looked black, dirty, unwelcoming, and offensive, instead becomes white and soft, fresh and covered over. What was challenging behaviour somehow doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Out of corruption comes life. Broken relationships are restored.

The other verse I was reminded of is in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.”  Jesus brings forgiveness, and, coupled with love, the two make an unbeatable combination. There is nothing that can stand in the way of that!

Anyway, it has stopped snowing. Roads seem clear, so can’t delay the shopping trip anymore.

A New Day

Over the hills to the North and East, a strangely peaceful blend of pinks and peaches tint the underside of the clouds. The January morning temperature is hovering around one or two degrees but the coldness in the air is brisk and refreshing, reminding the occupants of this semi-rural suburbia in western Fife, that overnight there has been a scrubbing away of yesterday’s dirt and grime, and highlighting God’s grace, that His mercies are new every morning. A loose and straggly “V” of wild geese honk and squeak their way overhead, presumably flapping their way towards new pastures in the centre of Fife, to the North East. On the main road through the village, chilly puffs of air from the East accentuate the coldness. A bigger than usual waft stirs a discarded Coke can into motion, the clanking and scraping disturbing the otherwise quiet and peaceful ambience. Further along, the Bluther Burn bubbles its way towards the Forth Estuary, but still with a few miles to go.

I walk this way many times, but this morning the usual became unusual, and the mundaneness became new and fresh, as though an extra dimension to the world had suddenly appeared, starkly emphasising the vibrancy in creation. A reminder to me that I have choices I can make in this Pilgrim’s Land. I can trudge along, ruing the injustices of life, or I can stand with the Psalmist (Psalm 121), lifting my eyes up, straining for all that God has for me.

I look up to the mountains—

does my help come from there?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;

the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

never slumbers or sleeps.

The LORD himself watches over you!

The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon at night.

The LORD keeps you from all harm

and watches over your life.

The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go,

both now and forever.

This was my Dad’s favourite Psalm. He never talked much about his Christian faith, but he had a depth within him that sustained him through some horrendous times, in his war service and life in general. So I commit today’s blog to his memory.

Nothing or Everything


“Seasick Steve” – a musician and singer in the Blues genre. Now in his late 70’s he has a genius for making strange looking guitars out of hub caps or cigar boxes, and often with an odd number of strings, and playing them, slide-manner, with a bottle neck. I can hear you yawning already and thinking where is he going today. Well, one of his recent popular songs is entitled, “I started out with nothin’, and I still got most of it left”. A title that probably sums up his life, which wasn’t easy, from all accounts. But, spiritually, we all started out with nothing. And then there came a point when an encounter with Jesus  catapulted us into a new world, where we can sing a new song, “I started out with nothin’, but I now have none of it left.” Because in Jesus we have everything. We can sing a new song, and it won’t be in the Blues genre either. Psalm 96:1Sing a new song to the LORD! Let the whole earth sing to the LORD!”.  But, sadly, there are many who are taking the wrong path. In Matthew 7:13 we read, “The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way.” And they will all get there singing Steve’s song, only the lyrics will change to “I started out with nothin’, and I still got all of it left”.

Oh, and for those sad people like me (and my switched-on grandson) who enjoy a song or two from Steve, here’s a YouTube link to the above song.


Mental Health

I Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

“Mental health” mentioned in the news again today. In fact, hardly a day passes without some reference in the media to the general lack of mental well-being in our society. This is far too big and controversial a subject to cover in a blog. I’m not qualified to give an opinion in any case. But the people in the Bible were no strangers to mental health issues – it’s not just a modern problem. The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 comes to mind; even someone in his position and relationship with God was not exempt from depression. Jesus Himself mentioned anxiety and worry in Matthew 6.

But as I was thinking and praying about one or two people this morning who do suffer from depression, I felt God pop the word “compassion” into my mind. I need to have a Godly compassion for those I know who are struggling with mental health issues. Issues perhaps caused by bereavement, fear of redundancy, physical complaints, family matters – the stresses and strains of life. But communication with someone suffering from mental health issues often isn’t easy. By its very nature, anything that affects our thinking processes will impact not only how we feel but how we interact with others.

God sent an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs, and we have many “angels” in our medical services who do likewise.  But for those around us suffering from the anxieties of modern life, to the extent that their mental health is suffering, we need to lead them prayerfully and compassionately to the One Who heals all our sicknesses. Because He cares for us.


Isaiah 43:19  “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?”

twenty-postconsumer-new-year-s-resolutions-ldHMPF-clipartA news item yesterday happened to detail some research about resolutions. Two quotes from it: “…the best resolutions are the ones that achieve a chunk of a longer-term plan you have for yourself, rather than those that are vague and aspirational…To keep a resolution, you have to be boringly meticulous – you have to plan.” Another quote that I used a lot in my working life was, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Planning is an important part of life, particularly when you want to change what you are doing. I once heard a sermon entitled, “If you keep on doing what you have always done, then you will keep on getting what you’ve always got.” I don’t remember the content of the sermon, but I certainly remember the strapline!

I finished my last blog with a personal challenge – that I want to know God more. Isaiah 43 starts with a loving and impassioned plea from God, directed at His people Israel, detailing all that he had done for them, and was still willing to do. Then He says in verse 22, “But…you refuse to ask for My help.” And that’s the crux of the matter. The paradox is that I will never keep to a plan of getting to know God more unless I ask for His help in the process of planning. So I pray that prayer this morning, believing that He will faithfully answer.