I love words! I love their sound and their history. Meeting old friends in a new setting or guise is always a delight. I love exploring the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible, and I love drawing Scriptural themes together, so that we can soak in them.
Some of you will have heard the presentation we released recently that focused around verses containing the words ‘But as for me’ I have recently made a study of more than ninety occasions when the word ‘sustain’ appears in English translations.
I was delighted to discover that in Hebrew the word is also used for Moses laying hands on Joshua, and priests laying hands on the sacrificial offerings. It is a lovely thought that when the Lord sustains us, He is not only holding us steadfast, supporting and upholding us, He is laying His hands on us.
Those of us who were brought up on the Winnie the Pooh stories will remember how Pooh visited Rabbit and ate so much honey that he got stuck fast in the burrow’s entrance. He asked for a sustaining book to be read to him – something that would help and comfort a “Wedged Bear in a Great Tightness.” And so, for a whole week, “Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh,” until the time came when he had become less stout and the whole community could pull him out!
So many find around the world are in tight and uncomfortable places, in need of God’s special sustaining – whether physically, mentally or spiritually. Not only those who are physically confined , but those who have to trudge great distances to fetch water – and those who have been adversely affected, mentally as well as financially, by the long months of lockdown. May this selection inspire and undergird as Sally, Colin and I read from these verses, and as you soak in the power of these wonderful truths and the hauntingly beautiful music that we have recorded on various occasions.
The word ‘sustain’ came into the Middle English lexicon from the Latin word sustinere, (from sub – ‘from below’ tenere ‘to hold’) and Old French soustenir. I love the reminder that ‘The eternal God is our dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms’. (Deut. 33:27). We are held from below!
May the Lord strengthen and sustain you through these verses as you wait for His power and clarity to come into many situations.
Readers: Robert Weston, Sally Mowbray, Colin Owen
Sound engineer: Colin Owen
Music and musicians:
Geth Griffith: Prayer for Syria –
Geth composed this specifically for us as a backing track that we could prayer over for those in extreme need. He wrote it a few years ago very much with the situation in Syria and the Middle East in mind. It speaks of both the pain of war and the hope of a new day. It feels particularly poignant for the situation now between Israel and Gaza.
Violins: Shirley Richards, Helen Rees; Violas: Chian Lewis Lim, Cathie Muncie; Cellos: Corinne Frost, Jo Garcia, Anna Fraser; Double bass: Geth Griffith; Flute: Nicola Gerrard; Oboe: Amy Roberts; Harp: Fontane Liang; Guitar: Daniel Brew; Bassoon and Voice: Beth Davies; Lead percussion: Phil Steventon.
Grieg, arranged by Andrew Whettam: Solveig’s Song
You may well be familiar with this outstandingly beautiful song. What you may not have known is that the original Norwegian lyrics, by Henrik Ibsen, include the lines, “God strengthen you wherever you go in the world, God delight you if you are standing before His footstool.” Amen!
Violin: Grace Lee; Cello: Rebecca Whettam; Marimba: Andrew Whettam
Jane Horsfall: Build up the walls of Jerusalem
This is one of several pieces that the Lord ‘dowloaded’ to Jane, a friend from Jersey, to help us pray for Israel.
Harp: Jane Horsfall; piano: James Horsfall
Traditional: God is love, His the care tending each, ev’rywhere, God is love, all is there!”
You will probably remember this hymn from primary school days. It is brilliant!
Violins: Susanne Herzog, Heather Bradshaw, John Hume; Viola: Cathie Muncey: Cellos: Corinne Frost, Natalie Halliday; Oboe: Thomas Herzog; Flute: Nicola Gerrard; Recorder: Julia Herzog; Clarinet: Mike Halliday; Trumpet: Anthony Thompson
Tchaikovsky wrote that, ‘just as the whole oak is in the acorn,’ the core of the entire school of Russian symphonic music lies in this traditional Russian folk dance. May the Lord put a dance in your heart even as you listen!
Cello: Jo Garcia; piano: Christiane von Albrecht
Robert Weston: ‘Reverend Whispers’
I wrote this piece for Fontane Liang in honour of the far-reaching ministry of my great uncle, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar who was both a missionary bishop and a contemplative.
Harp: Fontane Liang; Guitar: Daniel Brew; Bassoon and Voice: Beth Davies; Lead percussion: Phil Steventon
Transcript of the Verses
Jesus, we’re so grateful for all the ways by which You lead and uphold us. You inform and instruct us by Your word and undergird us by Your unseen powerful hand. Inspire us now as we meditate on some of the many ways You find to encourage and sustain us when we are in any kind of trouble, or feeling weak and fainthearted.
The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. (Is. 50:4) May He send you help from the sanctuary and sustain you from Zion. (Ps. 20:2)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Heb. 1:3) He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:17)
You are the Lord, You alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve them all; and the host of heaven worships You. (Neh. 9:6)
You are my hope, O Lord, my confidence from my youth. You drew me from my mother’s womb and I have leaned on You since birth. My praise is always for You. I have become a portent to many, but You are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with Your praise and with Your splendour all day long. Don’t discard me in my old age; don’t forsake me when my strength fails. (Ps. 71:5-9)
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10) My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)
They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Is. 40:31)
Then I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me! (2 Cor. 12:9)
For forty years He sustained His servant Israel in the wilderness, remembering to be merciful, so that they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not become swollen. (Lk. 1:54; Neh. 9:21)
And look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns, and your Father who is in Heaven sustains them; behold, are you not better than they? (Matt. 6:26) Even to your old age and grey hairs, He will sustain you. He has made you and He will carry you. He will sustain you and rescue you. (Is. 46:4) My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)
The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. (Ps. 145:14) Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Ps. 55:22)
He protects foreigners; He sustains the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked. (Ps. 146:9)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Ps. 51:12)
Sustain me as You promised, that I may live; let me not be ashamed of my hope. Uphold me, and I will be safe. Empower me to live every moment in the light of Your ways. (Ps. 119:116-117)
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13)
The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (2 Thess. 3:3) He will sustain you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. (1 Cor. 1:8)
I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry: He brought me up out of a horrible pit of tumult and destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock, steadying my footsteps and establishing my path. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear with great reverence and will trust confidently in the Lord. (Ps. 40:1-3) Surely God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my soul! (Ps. 54:4)
Oh Father, You are good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; You know those who take refuge in You. (Na. 1:7) Even when I lie down and sleep, I wake again because You sustain me. (Ps.3:5) You keep me in perfect peace because I trust in You and because my mind is stayed on You, (Is. 26:3) You are indeed my helper and the sustainer of my soul! (Ps. 54:4)
Now to him who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)
Sustained throughout a life of ministry
Given that many of us have been called to continue ministering for many years, rather than appearing as sudden meteorites that burn brightly for a moment and then fade from sight, are there particular things we need to do – or to avoid – to make it easier for the Lord to sustain us?
Even though there are seasons of intense activity when there is but little or no prospect of extended relief, help us to make and identify times we should deliberately take away from the ‘soul face’. Times to rest, play and to heal up after particular struggles and expenditures of energy.
Only those who have been through the sort of sustained pressure that prophets such as Elijah faced under the relentless threats of Jezebel, or Jeremiah can understand the strain and intensity of such pressure. Jeremiah’s greatest fear was not that others would misunderstand and persecute him, but rather that the Lord Himself might prove to be as a deceptive brook. Elijah too reached a point where He doubted the Lord’s ability to sustain him to the end. If we have not been subject to battles of that size. It is not for us to criticise such giants for this dip in faith: or for that paralysing fear that the Lord might not come through to sustain and deliver them. The wind blows much harder at high altitude.
The sustaining power of Scripture
I am reminded of a Chinese believer, who was imprisoned for 23 years and deprived of access to a Bible. On his release he testified how greatly he had been sustained during these years by the many passages of Scripture he had taken the trouble to memorize as a young man. How much would we be able to recall if put to such a test?
In Psalm 119:130 it says that it is the ‘entrance’ of God’s word which gives light and imparts understanding. The Lord gave one man a picture of his brain. First he saw countless millions of small memory banks, which stored information. Only a few of these were being used, and they contained the things he was most used to doing: in other words, his habits and customs. There were far more circuits, however, that were not being used. These, the Lord revealed, could be used to store Scripture, so that every aspect of his life could be informed and directed by the Word of God.
Many people find it helpful to bring a scene to life by imagining themselves to be participating in the events described. God begins to interpret the passage to us, and to speak to us through it, whether about our own concerns or about matters that are on His heart.
Many of us have felt God telling us to spend time learning portions of His Word, but we have put if off because it sounded too much like hard work. It is easy to protest that we have a bad memory. It would be nearer to the truth for most of us to say that our memory is not so much bad as untrained.
If we learnt a verse a day, or a week, in no time at all we would have committed whole chapters to memory. By repeating a verse many times over and reinforcing it in the following days it should be possible for most of us to do at least something along these lines. (Writing out verses on pocket-sized pieces of card or recording them on tape will similarly help us to store God’s Word in our hearts.) We will be greatly strengthened by feeding on the words that God has planted in our hearts – and who knows how the Lord will use them?
Lord, help us to develop the Caleb spirit by taking us inside the words of Scripture to meet the One who inspired them. May we truly love and follow You, O Ancient of Days, Friend and Redeemer. Amen.
Sustained by the Lord’s touch
We have all known many occasions when the Lord has touched us. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the sheer tenderness of the Lord’s presence. Sometimes it comes in the form of an “afterglow”; a “Well done!” for a mission successfully accomplished. At other times He draws close to sustain us, because our weakness is attracting His compassion. This is particularly the case when a special enfolding sense of His presence sometimes serves to strengthen us when there is a particular trial ahead. Sometimes that touch can be robust – think sparring partners as He wrestles and constrains us to attend to certain matters; at other times it is more like a pole that supports runner beans as they grow and climb. Thank You Lord for sustaining us with Your constant support; for the many times when Your presence comes unbidden – delighting to refresh and to point things out to us. Thank You that this fellowship is so precious to You too!
Sustained by our friendships
Consider a bicycle wheel. From the hub – itself a small thing – spokes move out in all directions, each one skilfully overlapping with the others. Each spoke has to be kept under tension to remain firm; the loss of even one spoke affects the balance of the whole wheel. The interweaving of the spokes makes the unity of the wheel, just as our individual contributions help to make the Church the light of Christ to the world.
Grant us the support and insight of close friends; they are such a valuable tool in Your hands of the Lord, just as Jonathan’s friendship was crucial to the future King David (1 Sam. chapter 29).
Grant to every a ‘Jonathan’ a ‘David;’ an ‘Aaron’ and a ‘Hur’ to support each Moses. (Exod. 17:10-13), to counter loneliness and isolation, and to compensate against too many pressures, as well as to be a highly strategic way of launching projects and reaching out to others.
So strengthen these times of friendship, Lord, and find ways to harness them to make them still more creative and fruitful in Your sight – especially as we mull over how we can serve You more effectively.
Thank you that resources shared are often resources doubled, even as problems shared are often problems halved or even solved. Thank You that we can serve each other in many practical ways, as well as relieving each other from labouring under burdens we should not be carrying on our own, when various challenges and situations feel to hard for us to cope with, or even to pray for on our own. When these matters threaten to overwhelm us, thank You Lord that others can step in and take some of the responsibility off us and pray with a degree of faith and objectivity that may for the time being be beyond us, freeing our hearts to praise You, and releasing us for other service.
As we guard each other’s timetables and spirits, may we together find ways to avoid being over-stretched and so preserve both our sanity and our effectiveness.
Thank You Lord that as we do this we discover more of what it means to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ! (Gal. 6:2)