In the last of three reflections, Major Barbara Sampson testifies to God’s power to restore.
I know a little bit about restoration. When I retired three years ago I felt like a piece of old furniture, worn out from use and put into storage in a dark cupboard somewhere. But God found me and brought me out into the light of day. He looked me over—he knew my dents and bruises, the cuts and scrapes and the stories associated with each one. ‘That dent was when you …’ or ‘That scrape was when someone …’. ‘I remember,’ he says, ‘I know, I understand.’
While I felt rather ashamed of my shabby condition, God looked at me, not with the eyes of a Critic or Accuser but with the eyes of a Restorer. He saw something of value still in me, something worth making new.
So how did God go about restoring me? Rest was needed, he said—green pastures and still waters, whenever and for however long. So I took myself off to stay with friends near a stretch of water. There, as I walked and pondered, I was able to make an honest assessment of the state of things. Some things needed to be tossed out, trimmed back, turned around. ‘See I am doing a new thing,’ God said (Isaiah 43:19).
Such pruning can be painful, but this was pain with a purpose. ‘So what is your purpose in restoring me, God?’ I asked. The answer came as clear as the blue water around me. He needed to restore me in order to prepare me for a new season of grace and a new kind of task,a new open door of ministry.
All that I had ever known of God as Shepherd, Saviour, Lord, Friend, Advocate, Companion, Provider, Sustainer, Helper, Comforter, Guide and Protector encouraged me at that point to trust him as my Restorer, the One making all things new within me. And even as he restored me, God was preparing me for what this new season of retirement would bring. And so it has been, thanks be to God!
This winsome word ‘restoration’ is not often used in Scripture, yet the Bible is full of examples of it. Especially in the gospels there are stories of people—ordinary, sinful, fractured people just like you and me—being made new and restored to a new kind of beauty and wholeness. Wherever Jesus went he restored people to their original purpose.
Think of Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:1-10), a wealthy tax collector, short of stature and very short on honesty. He clambers up a tree to see Jesus pass by. Jesus stops, looks up, calls to Zacchaeus, invites himself home to lunch (the ultimate compliment), and over bread and wine they talk together.
Well, we don’t exactly know what they eat for lunch or what they talk about, but when Zacchaeus emerges again into the public eye, he is a changed man. Something has been restored in him, and to prove it, Zacchaeus restores all the money—in fact four times as much—that he had stolen from people.
Then there’s Peter, full of promise, full of declaration that he will follow Jesus to the very end, but turning to dust and denial when the going gets too tough for him. After the resurrection, Jesus seeks Peter out. On the beach over breakfast, Jesus speaks to him and restores Peter.
Peter’s three denials are met by Jesus’ three commands that reinstate Peter as a follower: ‘Feed my lambs … Take care of my sheep … Feed my sheep’ (see John 21:15-19). From that holy moment of encounter Peter moves on to become a foundation stone upon which the early church is built.
I knew a woman who for years had lived a lie. Lots of lies, in fact. Every new minister who came to the church where she attended got the yarn spun to them of her loneliness, her medical crises, her desperate needs. She would call someone late at night—usually the minister or a man in the church—because she was in extremity and was sure she was dying.
Then one day she overstepped the mark and it became clear she was not telling the truth. The circle of compassionate people who had jumped to her needs for 15 years or so gathered to decide on a plan of action. One of them—a woman—went and spoke to her, challenged her about what was true and what was not.
Amazingly, the woman confessed the lies. With what looked like huge relief she stepped out of the web of deceit she had woven around herself for so long, and into the light of truth. She had a lot of apologising to do, a lot of lost ground to make up. But slowly, through one honest confession after another, she started to live—really live—in the full blaze of God’s restoring love and the ready forgiveness of her colleagues.
Poet Walter Scott wrote:
Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
I might add:
What sweet relief when truth is told
and new beginnings can unfold!
I love hearing the testimonies of people who have done their nonsense and paid for their crimes, but then at some point—often in mid-life—they have an awakening. It’s as if a light goes on. ‘How did I get to this place? When did I step onto this conveyor belt that just keeps taking me round and round, in and out of trouble, never learning, always falling down in the same old ways? Why can’t I stop and get off?’
Getting off is hard to do, for sure, but changing the same-old, same-old is essential if we are ever going to become something different, our own better or best selves. We need help from those who will hold us up, give us strength, encourage us to keep going, to keep on with the new thing that God is doing. When this happens, it is truly wonderful to see.
A man had some Christian friends who were often encouraging him to read the Bible or other Christian literature. Someone even signed him up to receive a regular book of devotional readings. Every time the booklet arrived in the mail he tossed it in the bin. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘one day Jesus tapped me on the shoulder out of nowhere and completely changed my life. I was born again.
‘After 72 years of spiteful hate, rage and selfishness, I left the darkness of despair and misery for the incredible joy of goodness! Now I read [that devotional booklet] cover to cover when it comes!’
What a waste of 72 years of that man’s life! But what glory for his remaining years!
The image of God that is within each one of us (see Genesis 1:27) can get dulled by the onslaughts of life. But God, the Restorer, is always working to renew that image within us, shining us up and restoring us to what he created us to be. ‘Be on the lookout for what I am doing,’ God says. ‘I’m making all things new.’
by Major Barabara Sampson (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 25 March 2017, pp20-21