'Do this in remembrance of me ...'

Former naval officer, Melissa Lipsett, offers a Remembrance Day reflection

My early family life was difficult; I grew up in an unhappy home. If I’d been raised in a Christian home I might have learnt to rely on God, but I didn’t have that to fall back on. Unfortunately, after a string of very real tragedies, my family completely disintegrated in a world of pain. No surprise then, that I made a mess of my teenage and early adult years. To be entirely honest, joining the Royal Australian Navy was a way to escape the reality of my life. By the time God sought me out through the work and ministry of a navy chaplain, I was able to truly identify with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 40:1-3, where he writes:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

The chaplain told me that I wasn’t who I thought I was, but I was who God said I was. That was a revelation to me. The idea that there was a God who loved me desperately and unconditionally was stunning. That he would seek me out was even more astonishing.

Why would he bother? I’d made so many mistakes, taken so many wrong turns, made so many shocking decisions … But his love was relentless in its pursuit of me – and rather than just lifting me out of the pit I was in, a destructive pit of my own making, he set my feet on solid ground and put a new song in my mouth.

I became new, no question about it – my life was entirely transformed – and I have tried to follow Jesus every day of my life since.

It was about trusting that no matter what, God was sovereign.

As I look back over the years of blessing since, I am astounded at his faithfulness to me. I am stunned that he has been able to take the most broken parts of my life and use these for his glory – something that is only possible in his economy where nothing is wasted, and where beauty is brought forth from the ashes.

The reality is that I expected much less. I thought there would be anger, shaming and laying of blame and guilt – and to be honest, I deserved that. But that is not the God of the Bible, and it is not the God I know. It is the God some of us have in our heads, but the true picture could not be further from this. Again and again, the Bible tells us that heaven rejoices when we come home; and that God himself rejoices in the presence of the angels when he finds us, and we respond. When we incline our faces towards him and ask his forgiveness, there is no punishment or guilt – just the restoration of all that has been lost, and more.

Despite this, as I look back over the years of following Jesus, I recognise that there have been difficult and extraordinarily painful times. There have been times when I have doubted God. Trusting him, no matter what has been my greatest challenge. Sometimes, my anxiety has got the better of me and I have wondered, “If the worst happened, would God still carry me there?”. It was not about trusting that the worst would not happen; it was about trusting that God would be with me still, even if it did. It was about trusting that no matter what, God was sovereign and that I would believe in his inherent goodness, no matter whether good or bad happened to me.

I had always thought of trust as a feeling, but it is not; it’s a verb. It is a very real, everyday action that we choose or not.

The word “trust” comes from the Greek pisteuo. It appears in the New Testament over 200 times. Mostly it is translated “belief” in our English Bibles, but a more accurate meaning is “to put one’s faith in; or to trust”. That changes everything because that makes trust a verb – something you do; something that you choose to do. I had always thought of trust as a feeling, but it is not; it’s a verb. It is a very real, everyday action that we choose or not. It is work – sometimes hard and tough work.

Sometimes I find a paraphrase Bible is useful for helping me to really understand something, and the Amplified Bible says this about “trust”:

Jesus answered, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent’ (John 6:29).

In difficulty, distress and confusion, I have learnt to turn to the book of Psalms. I find the Psalms so comforting because they are full of the rawness of life and experience and emotion. Surely, they are God’s encouragement to us no matter where we are at, at they are his encouragement to share our true feelings honestly with him. But there’s conviction there too. Look at what Psalm 136:1-3 says:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136 gives me the very clear message that I am to thank God not just when I particularly feel like it … but because God is faithful; because his love endures forever. I am to give thanks not because of my circumstances but because God’s faithfulness and love endures in and through despite them.

The Old Testament is full of instructions to the Israelites to remember their God and give thanks. God knew that they (and we) would have short memories, so committing ourselves to remember when God showed up for us, to remember God’s ultimate goodness to us, was going to be important.

In the New Testament, some of Jesus’ last words to us before his death (Luke 22:19) are also worth remembering:

“And he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”

It is at the very core of who we are called to be as Christians or followers of Christ – to remember and give thanks.

Do this in remembrance of me. Remember and give thanks. It is at the very core of who we are called to be as Christians or followers of Christ – to remember and give thanks. Why? Because it is good for us. Because it causes us to trust and to truly believe. No matter what. Because no matter what our situation and circumstances, Romans 8:32 tells us this:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave his up for us all – how will he not also, along with his, graciously give us all things?”

This is my greatest memory and is the basis for my greatest gratitude – that God gave us Jesus. God has earned my trust by giving up his very own Son for me. Arms outstretched, flesh torn, wounds bleeding, my name on his lips. How will he not also graciously give us all things? Surely, he already has.

Because of Jesus, I have learned to trust. I don’t need to control everything – in fact, I can’t – but I can choose to trust. Things may not always be as I would choose, but I can still choose gratitude. My feelings may seek to deceive me, but God is steadfast and faithful. He has given me Christ and that is enough. Trust may not change my circumstances but in reality, it changes everything.

Melissa Lipsett is now the Chief Executive Officer of Baptist World Aid Australia.