‘… It was if my life had shares and God wanted 100 percent control of it. A divine tug-of-war ensued. Why would God want all of me? Could there be a joint venture? Could I carve out a special deal to suit me? What about a partnership? Was 50/50 not a good arrangement. It became clear that true freedom was to be found in full surrender to the love of God. It did not come to me easily, nor at once. I got there in stages. I recall praying that God would take 51 percent of my life–control but not whole ownership. I remember the churning an d the heated deliberation within myself as this plan did not seem to achieve the desired objective. I saw then, and recognize now more fully, the arrogance of negotiating with God and the foolishness in believing I had anything to offer God. I recall praying: “Lord have all of me. Only don’t abandon me.” In that moment, I realized that the God who loved the entire world also loved mean and would stay faithful to me, even when I was not faithful to him, as has sadly often been the case.
‘What struck me at once was the immediate change in every area of my life…’
Ken Costa, banker, in his helpful book God at Work.
We all know people like this: unfailingly courteous. Hard-working. Persistently kind. Steady. Thorough. They are like pillars who hold up the organizations we work in.
Somewhere else in the building is the rodent scurrying of chatter, gossip, five-year-plans, radical upheaval, ambition, people making their mark, all passing by with the lifespan of hamsters while the pillars go on holding up the roof.
(I saw a quote: ‘Reform! Reform! Aren’t things bad enough already?’)
The odd thing about the steady people is that they don’t feel they’ve achieved anything. All they did was go to work, raise their families, pay their bills; nothing spectacular or charismatic or epoch-making or history-shaping or world-changing.
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. George Elliot, Middlemarch (with which the book ends).
Imagine rowing a boat on your own across a lake. The fears and joys are yours alone.
We are always alone. People may sit by our fireplaces–as it were–over many wonderful evenings and years. They may hug us and hold us, accepting each other as completely as two humans can.
But no-one knows us quite fully or quite truthfully. There are always veils. We are not entirely as we present ourselves, even to those we love the most.
Thanks to faith in Christ, though, I’ve discovered I’m never alone.
When I’m rowing alone across a lake, also known as living, Christ knows with me all the terror and the joy. Other loves may kindly watch, from the shore or other boats. Other loves may cheer and blow kisses. But he knows it all and we share it together.
A biologist friend of mine, a Christian, was telling me that what he saw through his microscope was … well … a bit ramshackle. It was a challenge, he said, to the idea of a Creator.
You would think a Creator would do something altogether more slick and wonderful. And of course, many biologists peer down their microscopes and do see shades of the beautiful and even the elegant. Perhaps biology is both wonderful … and a bit Heath-Robinson.
My friend and I were talking in our local Anglican church. And when I think of the words “bodged together” and “still a bit wonderful” the words “Church of England” follow quite naturally. The C of E did not spring, intricate, interlocking, gently humming with purpose, from its Maker’s hand, like an expensive watch. Nor, it appears, did Life.
We serve the God of cuckoo clocks.
Here’s my comic novel Paradise, which takes the themes of “redemption” and “ramshackle” to new heights, or possibly, depths. Free on Kindle as a gateway drug to the next ones in the series.
The case for being on the back row, third from the left
‘Though famous speakers and evangelists today can reach thousands of people with one telecast, discipleship is done one relationship at a time by those we will never read about. Their legacy is seen in the lives of those they touched. Perhaps I will never find the spotlight. But my value to the kingdom of God is not determined by my ability to attract or hold the spotlight. Instead, it is determined by my willingness to listen, learn, and be used by Jesus, whenever and however he desires.’
(Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure
By Daniel Hochhalter)
I’m grateful to my colleague Miriam Cowpland for (reading this book and) digging out this quote.
Here’s a quote about what it means to stick with our friends while we also try to follow Christ.
‘Frustration and pain are essential features of incarnational ministry.’
It goes on:
‘If we are to truly identify with our people, we must expect frustration and pain. If we don’t, we may be taken by surprise when we encounter it and be tempted to leave this work for an easier path or be so disillusioned that we lose the joy of ministry. I think many people are suffering unnecessary pain in ministry today because they did not fully anticipate the suffering that ministry inevitably involves. This pain has caused them to be discontented when actually they should be rejoicing in tribulation.’
‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ (John 20:21)
‘That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:10)
(Quote from popular Sri Lankan evangelist and teacher Ajith Fernando in his his book Jesus Driven Ministry. I’m grateful to my colleague Miriam Copeland for digging out this quote.)
Inside all of us–I guess and hope, because I’m surely not the only one–is a red-faced, awkward, sweating, small and ugly person. It’s when that person and Christ talk together the real work is done.
Peter and Jesus had that conversation. Ignore their history, their beards, the sound of lapping waves and crunching footsteps, the barbecued fish in their teeth. Ignore their age and size, big blokes, rugby team blokes. Ignore Peter’s secret tears, recriminations, justifications, sleepless nights, self-doubt, arguments with himself and despair.
It’s kind of basic to being a Christian. We want to know God’s will and follow it. You can’t call Christ ‘Lord, Lord’ and then go off and ignore what he says. We have to pursue obedience.
But for me the Christian life only works when we pursue joy as well.
My experience is that we try to do things faithfully and obediently but without joy we can manage to a certain extent—and we have to, because we all have to do stuff we don’t particularly like doing.
But if that’s all we do, and we do it for a long time, we start to run out of steam, get cynical, feel trapped. We may not know how it happened—we never wanted it to happen—but we know it has happened or is currently now happening. Externally we can look fine but internally, we know things are not so good.
(Of course the other side is true too. If we merely pursue pleasure and happiness, that too becomes rather empty.)
A kind of repentance
Somehow—it seems to me—the fruitful place is when we are under the influence of both faithfulness and joy. We obey Christ. But we lean towards, move into, preferentially choose, those tasks and roles that seem to answer a deep longing in our hearts, those things that nourish us, those things we love. ‘I have food’ said Jesus to the disciples, ‘of which you know nothing.’ He found joy and nourishment in his obedience.
Choosing joy as well is obedience is a kind of repentance. Why? Because it is turning away from a focus on jobs to be done and gaps to be filled and turning back to Christ himself. It is realizing, again, we have an audience of just One, and everything we do we do for him. It is seeking to have him re-create us again, a bit more in his image. It’s admitting our need and helplessness, not looking to him for a medal.
“Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin and raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, it is a matter of giving our hearts to him, of come hell or high water putting our money on him, the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child.”
― Frederick Buechner
So stirred by this quote. I think we can pray in many ways. Sometimes it’s good to lift up people we love and situations we care about, working through our lists.
Sometimes we can worship.
Sometimes we work our way through a psalm, or a liturgy.
Some of us like to use the Lord’s Prayer as a set of headings or jumping-off points, a kind of road map to guide our thoughts.
But I wonder if this best sort of prayer is beyond all of these. It’s to do with unpacking our problems before Christ until we come to a place, not necessarily of understanding, but of peace.
Or clambering up an impossible problem in prayer, scrabbling for a foothold, until again, Jesus reaches down and gives us something to hold onto, something that holds us and gives us quiet, happy hearts. The view all around may be terrifying, but we are safe and snug, supported by some promise or gift of trusting that is beyond our understanding.
We have stumbled onto the rock that is higher than we are: Christ’s own trustworthiness. We don’t know how it happens, but it happens.