Memoirs to myself and thoughts at the turn of the year for
friends who are followers of Jesus
This year the BBC ran a series “The Truth about….”
The Truth about Fat, The Truth about Fitness etc. One of the episodes “The Truth about looking good” caught my attention. It ran surveys and scientific research regarding facial anti-wrinkle creams. Only one particular ingredient was actually scientifically proven on the programme to reduce wrinkles and it seemed to be found in one of the cheapest creams available on the market. Yet nearly all the women surveyed were unaware of this fact and were consistently drawn to the creams that looked convincing and clinical!
I recently changed my facial cream! And it made me again wonder….how often do we invest in the wrong thing? How very often are we deceived by the world around us or indeed our own learnt thoughts and behavior? How often are we shaped by the current culture in which we live, so that even as Christians our lives end up looking just like everybody else’s.
So I have taken a little time at the turn of the year to look, listen and reflect on some things that have recently come to my attention.
The things we do not see
On Boxing Day a good friend in our church contacted me to share the wonderful news that he had just heard that his father had recently turned to God after being most of his adult life away from faith. He’d had a personal encounter with God and was now starting to attend a local church.
I regularly hear stories like this, but this one caught my attention. Two months previously my friend introduced me to his father, and aware of his distance from God, I offered to pray for him to encounter the living God there and then. I remember him looking both confused and bemused but he politely agreed. He kept his eyes wide open, I guess to see what might happen, as three of us stretched out our hands towards him and prayed for God’s Spirit to touch Him. My friend who was present too, probably looked the most surprised of all of us! It was awkward but felt to me like the right thing to do. I was unaware at the time of any change at that moment or to come.
If you are a follower of God, in His goodness He will allow you to see glimpses of His glory, all of the time. But there is much we do not see at the time, as the scriptures say, “we only see in part” (1 Corinthians 13:10).
And that is why faith and obedience are worked out in the unseen, not the visible, and the Kingdom of God grows extraordinarily like little seeds in the soil, not big fruit, through ordinary individuals in often awkward moments.
I worked out again this Christmas that my life is most meaningful when I am drawing myself and others closer to God. It’s actually quite simple. Next Christmas I will be reviewing how well or not I have done this in 2019.
To have meaningful connections with strangers or those close to me, I must make time and initiate some form of contact.
My marriage really matters. I’m aware how people around me long for this privilege and others live in broken ones. It matters to meaningfully invest in my marriage. My children are my first disciples, this unashamedly takes much of my time.
Like the story above, when I step out to make connections with strangers my palms sweat and my throat goes dry but as the speaker Joyce Mayer once wonderfully said “Lick your palms and get on with it” – a walk across the room can change the life of someone for eternity.
The dream of God over my life
I noticed today whilst visiting my favourite café that a number of individuals sat writing New Year resolutions – visions for 2019.
I also observed some buying notebooks in the book store entitled “Dream” and “Imagine”.
Yes, it’s that time of year.
Surrounded by middle class mania, I am reminded to watch for self-centered goals.
I am not sure God is very bothered if I can run a little faster or consume slightly fewer calories. I’m not sure anyone will actually notice a few less wrinkles. While some of these goals may be personally helpful, God’s kingdom runs to a different beat and I am most self-fulfilled when I join in on His terms. Failure to realise this will leave me feeling dissatisfied and questioning the wrong metrix – I watch many contemporaries heading down this path.
I am reminded that God has a dream over my life. His dream was not that I would become a minister and help out the local church. Nor indeed was his dream that I would fulfill many personal goals.
As a friend Alan Scott writes so well in his recent book Scattered Servants, “The dream of God over your life is that you come alive in His presence and bring life to every environment around you spilling out contagious hope into a hurting humanity”.
It’s not about me
My parents-in-law celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a ceremony last week. My husband wrote an address to honour God, their lives and marriage. Derek and Sally had led interesting lives; being missionaries in the Congo in Africa, leading a church in inner city London during the depression and rioting years; planting churches in the North East; leading a large church in New Zealand. But whether they had operated in large or hidden context their purpose remained always the same.
They had opened up their lives and home time and time again to others and in so doing had created an ecosystem through which others could thrive. Very broken people had lived with them; young people had lived with them; leaders had lived with them. Many had been fed around their table and been nourished because of their sacrifices and investment.
As we review our lives, it is both challenging and permission-giving to realise that my fruitfulness is not necessarily measured in my life. It might be better measured in the lives of others.
Most of us hate waiting.
Many of us will be longing for and waiting for God to fulfill unanswered prayers and that can feel very raw at this time of year.
Many of us have learnt the wisdom of waiting on God.
But He may not be waiting. He may be doing something very wonderful. Hope is all around us. It has been all along and it manifests as we show up and engage with what God is doing, rather than what appears to be lacking.
As Christians we have to be careful we are not waiting for God to do something wonderful with the church and actually miss what He is doing in the world.
Life is for living, even in the midst of tragedy
At a Christmas drinks party last week I quizzed a friend and member of our congregation who had journeyed through some very traumatic circumstances over recent years about rebuilding life following trauma and death.
She had such purpose, life and joy about her and yet I know firsthand how very tough these years have been for her. I wondered what wisdom I could glean to help me pastor others in similar circumstances.
“Life is for living, Marjorie”, she said. “And so I set about rebuilding life and choosing to engage with life, every single day” She continued. “And at every moment you choose whether life or death is your focus”.
And right there I was reminded in no circumstance or point in time is it ever the Father’s heart for his children to merely survive.
Tragically a distant friend and fellow minister lost her young husband recently. He died of cancer shortly before Christmas. His death, though tragic, has already led many people closer to Jesus.
I will always remember the words of his wife shared publicly in the early stages of his diagnosis:
“I do not know whether He will live or not. We are praying for a miracle. We know that Jesus can and may do this. But whether my husband lives or dies, Jesus remains king”.
You don’t often hear such a statement.
Her faith was not in the miracle.
The disciples caught in the storm cried out to God to intervene as they faced death. Afterwards they remarked to each other “Who is this man that even the wind and waves obey Him?”
They asked the right question. Our Faith is in the person of Jesus, not in life’s circumstances.
Life may leave us with many questions, but faith is to be a constant.
Obituaries in the papers written to honour the life of our deceased friend left me with questions about my own life this Christmas.
While he no longer walks this earth, he leaves behind two established charities in inner city Dublin working to better the lives of young people in deprived areas.
That’s a legacy.
It seemed to me that in one point in his life, on one ordinary day, my friend had paused and said to himself “this is wrong”. He had simply bumped into an injustice and realized that injustice really matters to our heavenly Father and that He chooses to partner with us to change communities. And then he must have had enough self-belief to bother to do something about it.
I know that involved him first rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty. There’s no glory story without that part.
What’s wrong in the world around me?
What’s wrong with me that I wouldn’t bother to do anything about it?
What’s ok for me and what’s not ok
At the turn of the year I am dissatisfied. I want to be part of more stories like the one I began with. I want to see more people come to faith. I want to see more churches planted, I long to see a greater level of transformation around me. I want to experience more of His presence myself.
There is an opportunity for my frustration and His invitation to collide.
It’s ok for me to want more.
It’s not ok for me to settle for less.
Every man and woman in history who were used powerfully by God lived with a deep dissatisfaction and pursued Him relentlessly.
I can identify with John Govan when he wrote in his autobiography ‘Spirit of Revival’:
“I had some power in speaking but clearly not what the disciples had, I determined to pray until I had breakthrough. I am not at all satisfied yet with what I know about this gift of the holy ghost, I want a far deeper experience and to see signs following.”
The responsibility for this lies with me by the Spirit’s empowerment. In the everyday and in whatever circumstances and contexts open up for me this year.