‘Faith is a gift which is given to us from God’

We celebrated our grandson’s first birthday at the end of May.

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator, Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Three months into lockdown and a few days before I became Moderator of our Church, he came into a changed world full of life. It was a wonderful time.

Looking back, I recall the difference between his party, compared to the same occasion for his big sister, who reached this significant landmark two years ago. For her, more than 30 people, family and friends, gathered together and filled every room in the house to celebrate (pre-Covid of course). For him, it was a much smaller family gathering, sharing a pizza. How times have changed!

Both events were parties. Both were great. Both were memorable. Both were joy-filled occasions to celebrate an important moment, and we will never forget them, even though they were different. Perhaps, with all that you have been through, you don’t feel like celebrating just yet? But as Covid restrictions lift slowly and the weather improves (slowly!), maybe our spirits will lift as the summer beckons? The pandemic didn’t stop us from celebrating our grandson’s birthday – we just did it differently.

Every now and again to celebrate something, my wife Zoë and I would order some of our favourite food from The Man Lee in Lisburn (other eateries are available of course!), or in pre-Covid times, celebrate with a meal at Square Bistro in the city centre – great food!

There is no doubt that we have lived through testing times. Like our patience, which has often been stretched, this last year may have tested you to your very core. Faith that really works is given to us, like a present. “Lord, help my unbelief” is a rich biblical prayer from the heart of a seeker, and sometimes it is uttered because life has fallen apart and celebrations of any kind are furthest from our minds.

So how does our faith stand up when the script being played out around us doesn’t appear to match the promise and hope we have set our hearts upon? I suppose Peter the Apostle might have felt this when, having defended Jesus at the point of his sword, his Master was arrested anyway, and taken away to be tried and crucified. This was not in the plan.

I am sure that Mary would have felt like this when her son was taken from her and led off to be executed? This was not how she imagined his life would end. No mother should have to witness such a thing! The women around her who wept so copiously were, perhaps, weeping tears not only of great sadness, but of deep disappointment. Were they wondering to themselves, ‘how could we have got this so wrong?’ But none of them knew that Sunday was coming and how Jesus’ resurrection would change everything. This sad and difficult story would have a great ending.

Faith is not a feeling we work up from within us to please God. Faith is a gift which is given to us from God.

But even though this is true, our doubts and the despondency which follows can sometimes get the better of us, especially when times are hard.

Like poor bewildered Peter, or those women weeping at the cross, we have been disappointed because of how things have turned out. Yet there is hope. God is still here, he is still good and he is still in control, working his purposes out over time.

“I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” said Jesus. And that is something to celebrate.