/ Mark Loughridge

The Lowest Rungs

I was preaching on Jesus cursing the fig-tree recently, and the challenge to bear fruit. In conjunction with Jesus’ parable about a fruitless fig-tree there really is quite a challenge. No one wants to hear Jesus’ verdict of “Cut it down”. Or we think of the fruitless branches in John 15 which are cut off and thrown into the fire.

It is easy to preach the challenge in powerfully searching ways, taking aim at those who profess to be Christians but show little fruit—but it is also easy to crush wounded souls in the attempt. And not just wounded souls, but those who by nature are more self-critical.

We might ask the question: what fruit is it that Jesus is looking for? Naturally we turn to the fruit of the Spirit. But when you are a wounded soul, you are often a really bad fruit inspector, and so as you cast your eye over your life, you see little to no fruit. And any that there is, seems to you wizened or rotten in places. There are always areas you could have been more loving. Or more patient. Certainly more joyful. And on it goes, until you are convinced that the axe is at the root of your life.

But those aren’t the only fruit—there are wonderful fruits of repentance and trust. A person may feel a failure, but they are repenting over their failure. Remind them that that’s a fruit. A person may feel fruitless—they do not witness like others, they do not have a breezy confidence which they imagine others find attractive. But they trust—they trust amidst illness and affliction, amidst trials in work and in the home. They need to see that their persistent trust is a ripe and glorious fruit which Christ loves to see as he walks amidst his fruit trees.

But sometimes the fruit seem too high above our heads for us to see. But God has placed low rungs on the ladder of assurance that we might climb out of despair. We may not feel we can scale the dizzying heights of fruit-picking, and we certainly can’t see any fruit from where we are, but we can at least climb on the ladder.

What low rungs am I thinking of?

I came across one recently in Psalm 119:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.” (v132)

Surely with all the emphasis in Psalm 119 on loving God’s word, and obeying God’s word, we would have expected the author to say:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who OBEY your WORD.”


“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your WORD.”

But it doesn’t. It says “those who love your name”.

What a lovingly low rung! There are many days when we daren’t pray, “be gracious to me for I obey your word”. There may even be days where we can’t say, “Be gracious to me because I love your word”—days when we feel we can’t even look at God’s word, and we feel immense guilt for that.

But few are the days where we couldn’t at least manage, “Be gracious to me, for I love your name.” Think of your reaction on hard days when you hear someone slandering your saviour—even then you wish to defend his name. It matters to you. That might be all we can manage—we may be able to say little else—but it is enough.

And we see God’s tenderness, he gives us these words to say to him—reminding us of what his habitual disposition is towards us. He would have us say to him:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name”

or as the NIV has it “as you always do”. Always. Always gracious to those who love his name.

Think on that rung. Climb up on it.

But there is a lower rung yet. I was reading the biography of John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, a Scottish minister from the 1800’s. He was a man of immense ability, and yet plagued with a deep sense of despair at his own assurance at times. And I discovered that he had found a lower rung, one he often started off on when he couldn’t even find anything positive in himself—even to say “I have loved your name”:

“For myself, I cannot always come to Christ direct, but I can always come by sin. Sin is the handle by which I get Christ. I take a verse in which God has put Christ and sin together. I cannot always put my finger upon Christ and say, ‘Christ belongs to me’ but I can put my finger upon sin and say, ‘Sin belongs to me.’

“I take that word, for instance, ‘The Son of man is come to save that which was lost.’ Yes, lost, lost—I’m lost; I put my finger upon that word and say, “I’m the lost one; I’m lost.” Well, I find that ‘The Son of man is come to save the lost’ and I cry out “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.””

(‘The Life of John Duncan’, A. Moody Stuart, page 97)

Now that’s a low rung from which to climb up towards assurance—in a sense it’s at ground-level. There are no days on which a believer could not reach that rung. We can always say, “I am lost”. And Christ has always come to seek and to save the lost. How gracious our God is—he would have us know we are his.

Mark Loughridge

Mark Loughridge

Mark pastors 2 churches in the Republic of Ireland. He is married with three daughters. Before entering the ministry he studied architecture. He enjoys open water swimming, design, and watching rugby.

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