Lemons and Thorns

There are moments when suddenly it’s like you see the good news of the gospel for the first time. Have you ever had one of them? Where it’s all fresh and new and you almost want to ‘get saved’ again because you need to respond to the wonder of these truths?

I’ve had a few moments like that, of extreme clarity of what the good news is. Each time it feels like before the epiphany I hadn’t understood it at all, maybe even believed it at all. I did believe it before, but this like is a new piece of the truth has been unfolded. I think it keeps unfolding—like the scenes in the mirror dimension in Dr Strange films—as we follow the way of Jesus, we have these continual moments of clarity so clear that it takes our breath away. Moment when we get it like we haven’t before.

These are important, as we somehow grasp an aspect of the work of Jesus to a deeper level, or as the gospel speaks directly to the situations we’re facing and we see that the answer, such as it is, is found on a bloodied cross and in an empty tomb.

I’ve been through this a few times. It’s a wonderful thing. I hope that I continue to do so. I quickly forget the wonder, though, which I think is just a symptom of being human. We need another moment when we grasp again how truly audacious the favour of God for us is.

I especially need this when my circumstances tempt me to believe that God is not for me. Which is pretty often, if I’m honest. Almost as though the world has a ruler who wants us to believe that God is not for us but against us and would contrive to work circumstances to teach us that lesson.


They say that when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. Pithy wisdom, though it rather assumes you’ve got the equipment, a ready supply of water and sugar and some customers. In my experience you just have the lemons and feel like you need to learn to enjoy sucking them. When life gives you thorns, and you’d give your left arm for a lemon, it is a fight to believe that God is for you.

But it’s a fight you must stiffen your courage for and enter swinging both fists.

There’s this wonderful moment in Joshua chapter 5 where Joshua encounters the Angel of the Lord while the people of Israel are approaching Jericho to siege it. He sees this mysterious and terrifying figure, who he does not know is Jesus incarnate, and asks him a fairly obvious question, “are you on our side, or on theirs?”

And Christ bedecked in the pomp of the angels looks at his namesake, Yeshua—Yahweh Saves, who patterned the victories he would later win over death to enter the land, and speaks a simple word:


Are you on my side or theirs Jesus? No. Then he announces himself as the commander of the armies of God, Joshua’s eyes go wide and he flings himself to the floor in worship.

Are you on my side? No, I command the armies of Yahweh. Who it turns out isn’t on our side, but we can be on his.

If you’re following Jesus, God isn’t on ‘your’ side—though I’m certain he forgives us for speaking like this. Instead, you’re on his.

When you believed, and continue to believe, and fight to believe that Jesus died in your place, rose for your life, ascended to rule the world and gifted the Spirit to his people, you changed your liege lord. You became God’s. The Father, by the Spirit, counted you as being united to the Son. There’s an intra-Trinitarian decision to consider you as though you were Jesus (2 Corinthians 5). The Father and the Spirit are completely committed to making Jesus look good—the Bible would say “glorifying him.”

When they consider you as though you are Jesus, God is saying that he considers you to be the apple of his eye, his reason for creating, the joy of his heart. You are on his side, and he has made himself on yours.

He likes you a lot.

Which means that when your lemons turn to thorns it cannot mean that he isn’t for you. It cannot mean that he doesn’t want to give you good things. It must mean something else. It must mean that the lemons and the thorns are in the control of someone who cares for your ultimate good.

This is such a relief. Until you think about it a bit further and realise that this probably means that the thorns and lemons aren’t going to stop. Not yet anyway.

When you get past the initial anger—which is understandable, may take some years, and must not be sidestepped if you want to be faithful—you may start to see that it means that our Father, full of love, allows the evil in the world to afflict you in order to form your character.

Which helps me to remember that while he’s gentle, he’s not soft. To paraphrase everyone’s favourite theologian, Mr. Beaver, while he’s good, he’s not safe.

That sounds uncomforting. And it is when you’ve got sunshine and daisies. It is when you’ve got lemons and the resources to make lemonade. But when you’re sucking the lemons and someone cruelly filled the inside with thorns, when you stare the chaos and ash of the world full in the face, this is good news.

Our Father is not out of control. He is strong. He will not keep us from harm but allow us to share Christ’s suffering in order to make us like him. We cry it is too much, he says he knows, but that he will never let go. Then we see that the arms that hold us are corded with iron.

Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash

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