If we were to be asked for our greatest wish for 2024 many would reply with two significant words, PEACE and HOPE.

Without peace we are in turmoil and conflict, never resting in stability and the promise of safety. Without hope we are resigned to depression and the abyss of meaningless existence.

The old year has now passed into history, leaving heavy blood-stained and war-grimed imprints on our memories. We have endured a global pandemic and financial pressures that have affected not only health, but also the social and economic structures of our troubled world. We observe the unspeakable self-indulgence of the over-wealthy, whilst in shop doorways and grim alleyways, the homeless huddle together through the dark hours. Amidst the prosperity of great cities like New York, whole areas are inhabited by disaffected youth, resorting to the precarious shelter of squats in abandoned buildings, rain-soaked and vermin infested. We watch with a sense of hopelessness as billions of funds are spent on weapons of destruction, whilst hospitals run short of essential aid.

Everywhere hang clouds of despair, protest and anger. We long to have faith strengthened, hope renewed and trust restored.

As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink.”

Psalm 6. For King David and his army, the journey towards the rallying point at the Jabbok Gorge had been an utterly exhausting struggle through jungle and across the river Jordan. Now, having reached a ravine like the valley of the shadow of death, the sleepless nights, weariness of body and anxiety about the way ahead, all took their toll on spirits and resolve. David cries out to God in an anguish of soul. He desperately seeks solace and sustaining assurance, whilst clinging to battered faith and the remembrance of mercy and grace already afforded to him in times of need. He recalls Jacob’s night of conflict and testing in that same area and the deliverance of God.

David is so authentic in expressing deep emotion and in his intimate prayers as he puts the welfare of his men and his own guidance into the care of the God who answers prayer. And God hears his cry. Everything changes. The morning light brings new resolve, hope and vigour.

“Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings
When comforts are declining
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining
To cheer it after rain” – Cowper.

After a storm, our garden birds emerge from shelter and begin a tremulous but joyful message in song to each other. May we take our cue from them.

In this context, David’s next Psalm in the order of writing is Psalm 23. he is resting in the security of the Shepherd, no longer embattled, but beside still waters. In the enfolding presence of his faithful God, new hope emerges and peace becomes the reality. May such hope be ours, so that “The peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds.” Philippians 4 v 7.

“O God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
be our defence while life shall last
and our eternal home” – Isaac Watts.

So, as we look ahead, may the God of hope fill you with all joy as you trust in Him. (Romans 15)

Iris Niven

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