Complain a lot, but praise a little too

The rights of God’s children

88960025When we’re trying not to be beaten senseless by our own thoughts, I like the way the Psalms do it.

Roughly:

  1. Complain all you like but always praise some.
  2. Sometimes just praise.

This is great! And it’s in the Bible:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2 NIVUK)

But then you have to praise.

It’s like when two of you have had a row, but one of you decides to say a slightly kind thing. Just that slightly kind thing can start to dismantle the situation. Before long you’re friends again. In the same way, a little willingness to praise starts to cap the gush of self-pity.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6 NIVUK)

Inconvenient truth (again)

Uncool but changing things: Evangelicals in Catholic countries

UntitledFew things on earth are as deeply uncool, as heroically off-trend, as sending Evangelical Christian missionaries to Catholic Europe.

If your son or daughter has taken up this career, you probably do not boast about it at the golf club.

So what. For one thing, if a Catholic nation like Spain can embrace gays and scientologists and people with blue hair, a dash of evangelical missionaries surely only adds to the joyous mix. As soon as we evangelicals stop trying to be respectable, we can take our natural place.

For another thing, whatever the spiritual vitality or otherwise of the Catholic church, masses of people in Catholic countries are finding spiritual renewal through movements started by evangelicals and Pentecostals. They are more than 10% of the population in Argentina, for example, more than 20% in the Philippines.

And for a third, Christ’s evident habit of championing the outcast, the laughed-at and the dispossessed has turned builders’ rubble into cornerstone and capstone.

The people who listened

The mission I work for, WEC International, was sending missionaries to Spain from the 1960s onward. They had a difficult time of it. When they did presentations of the gospel in the public parks, hardly anyone listened except the drug addicts.

After much soul-searching, and probably trying every other alternative,  in 1985 one or two single male WEC missionaries starting opening their apartments to these same addicts.

Somehow all the ducks lined up and something wonderful happened. This small start evolved, through God’s blessing, into a movement called Betel that now runs 60 homes for recovering heroinistas in 23 Spanish provinces and has spread to 25 other countries.

More than 200,000 of the neediest and most despised people of the earth have passed through Betel’s doors in the past 30 years and of those who stayed, many have turned their lives around. Awards and accolades have followed.

I’ve met graduates of these schools. When I stand praying next to these big, beautiful, scarred, tattooed people my watery Anglican spirituality feels like some distant relative of authentic Christianity — genetically a bit similar but lacking in sap or blood.

Betel, this child of evangelical mission to Spain, has rediscovered the gospel. From the most obscure of beginnings, the authenticity and power of what they have achieved has altered the landscape. Wonderful.

6 tips for surviving hospitals

Slow healing (10)

Injured Teddy Bear

Here’s the problem:

  1. Take a completely healthy person. Put them in a humiliating hospital gown. Insert a cannula in each wrist, a blood-pressure cuff to their arm and a blood-oxygen monitor on their finger,
  2. Every few hours, send someone round to hurt them, perhaps by sticking a needle in them, putting stickers on them and then ripping them off or (for maximum fun) inserting and then removing a catheter into their urinary tract.
  3. Move them to a new bed at random times, even midnight.
  4. Keep them near the nurses’ station so they don’t sleep.
  5. Make sure they are in a ward with other stressed people, some who are calling out constantly, some who fight the nurses, some who are deaf, some who don’t speak English, and some who soil their bedclothes. Arrange for one or two to die if possible.
  6. Only answer the call bell sometimes.
  7. Give them food they don’t like at times they aren’t hungry.
  8. Hold them for an indefinite time.
  9. Have a consultant visit once per day for five minutes and issue contradictory messages about when they will be allowed to go home.

I suggest that after a week of this treatment, even a healthy person would  be demoralized, perhaps really ill, and would need days to recover.

_________

At the moment I have some close relatives and friends in hospital and I am reminded of the awfulness of it. Despite the best efforts of dedicated staff and family and friends. Just like anyone who has spent some weeks in hospital, I have seen all of the above.

You have to learn to survive. Anyone who has managed some months in a hospital ward will be an expert in this. My tips — linked to Christian notions of healing — are these.

  1. See Christ beyond all of this. Trust him. Lean into him. Thank him. Believe in him and never let him go. He is good, really good, and his power and purposes will prevail in my life. Say that over and over. Work it out in your mind. Never give up on it. Never.
  2. Give him your pain, and the pain you see in your loved one’s faces. It’s too hard to hold it yourself.
  3. Make up your mind to keep your humanity in this place. Thank the people who injure you. Smile. Ask them their name. Give them yours. Be courteous and kind. They are under pressure too. You will find other patients and medical staff who, in all the inhumanity, are trying to be human like you. Spark off each other. When your loved ones visit, thank them, appreciate them, serve them: make their visit as happy as you can. Give them your best. You may fail in all of this, often, badly, but at least try.
  4. Understand this is a season of suffering and you need to endure it. Endure it rather than rage against it.
  5. Find ways of being happy: a nice meal, a good film, a kind friend.
  6. Through the night, thank God for everything you can think of and pray his blessing on everyone you can think of.

The real problem with praying to God for healing: he has an agenda

We might not like the medicine

You probably know the old joke about a person who fell off a cliff but managed to grab hold of a branch halfway down. As he swung, he called into the mists below him, ‘Is there anybody there? Can you help me?’

A voice came from the mist. ‘Trust me, and let go the branch.’

The person thought about it and then said, ‘Noted. Is there anybody else down there?’

Involving God in our healing exposes us to the risk that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.

We may come to him with the hope of a quick fix to a medical problem. But in coming, we open ourselves to the fact that God may have a view on what is really wrong with us and what needs to be put right.  

We may point out the mote in God’s eye (he let me suffer toothache!), he points out the plank in ours. We bring our agenda to him; he brings his agenda to us. It is like when you have to speak to your wife about something.  It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what avalanche will be unleashed as you remove the first boulder. 

Unfortunately I know of no way round this. Once we bring our problems to God we are in the same position as the king with an army of 10,000 discovering that the opposing king has an army of 20,000.  By the end of the day there will only be one king left standing. One agenda will survive the meetup. And it won’t be ours.

Our options at this point are limited. We could take the ‘Henry V’ option (‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’) Or, since it is God we are now facing, God and his agenda for us, we could take our army to one side and say, ‘Lads, it’s like this. We either face certain death in battle or we surrender and hope for the best.’ We come to him: we submit to him. We want his touch; the only thing offered is his outstretched arms, his deep embrace. It’s all or nothing, all of him or nothing.

Our only way out of this dilemma is to take our medicine as soon as possible. We want healing if possible please; if so, we first need to surrender ourselves, body, mind and schedule, heart and soul and hopes, to the Healer.

 

When the clouds return after the rain

Slow healing – 7

Injured Teddy Bear
A couple who struggle to have children conceive a baby. A person suffering flashbacks of a traffic accident is bothered by them no more. The latest scan reveals no sign of cancer. Some things submit to the quick, instant fix.

I’d love to hear from a GP on this but I have the feeling that many, perhaps most, medical conditions don’t fit this model. Perhaps some people are just wearing out. Others keep seeking appointments really because they are lonely and sad. (Just the other day I heard of a survey at one GP practice that found its most frequent frequent-flyers were not the eighty-year-olds but women in early middle age.)

Lots of people have multiple things wrong with them, so if instant healing was being offered, they’d have to keep rejoining the queue. This is in fact quite a good picture of how the NHS is currently structures.

Yet in the gospels people meet Jesus and all who even touch the edge of his cloak are healed.

What does that mean for those with multiple, long-term chronic conditions or who are sad and lonely or who are just wearing out? I guess doctors struggle with this stuff all the time.

Surely it means that healing is finding a way to thrive in any and every circumstance. This may be lit up on the way by some wonderful moments of physical or mental deliverance, thanks to doctors or prayer or both or more, but true healing is a wide, deep, slow turning over of the soil of our lives so that it produces a good harvest of joy and peace. It’s a transforming encounter, and an ongoing discipline and experience.

The neat thing is, I suspect such an inner transformation will itself be an ally in our fight against everything else. ‘All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast’ (Proverbs 15:15). We start to see ourselves as givers, not takers, receivers of grace not unfortunate victims, our lives defined by the goodness of God, not by our ailments. This isn’t easy or inevitable; but it isn’t impossible either.

Healing and technology

Slow healing — part 6

Injured Teddy Bear
Half of all the blindness in the world is caused by cataracts 1

This means presumably that half of the all the blindness Jesus cured was due to cataracts. Some of the rest was due to extreme short or long-sightedness.

These things can now be fixed by technology. Every person who is blind through cataracts or lensing issues can see again: only poverty or waiting lists stand in their way.

Do you have the feeling that having cataracts healed by surgery is somehow not as good as having them healed by direct divine intervention? I do. But I think my feelings are wrong.

The accumulated good deeds of previous generations (in this case, researchers and technologists) ripen the Kingdom of God in the earth. Thanks to those efforts, every leprous person can now be healed by antibiotics, every person blind through cataracts or myopia or presbyopia can be healed by surgery or opticians. I remember sitting in the post-surgery place in our local hospital, after my own cataract op, hearing people around me saying ‘I couldn’t drive– now  I  can!’ ‘I can’t believe how good this is!’

I was seeing the Kingdom come, in the slow, wide way rather than than the instant, limited-issue, demonstration-version way.

I worship the God who stirs the techies to build solutions to improve our lives. Is the gospel foolishness to the geeks? It shouldn’t be.

Do you agree? Is it so simple? What am I missing?

How to pray for healing. And how not to. A few suggestions

‘Slow’ healing – part 5

Injured Teddy Bear
The scene:
ill, disabled, or chronically sick person surrounded by well-meaning Christians who are praying.

Here’s how not to do it:

‘God, we pray that this person will get completely well’ (actually this isn’t a bad start)

‘Oh God, please touch this person’ (I’ve just peeped out of my closed eyes and nothing’s happening and I’m getting a bit desperate).

‘Oh God, please touch this person now’ (And I need to get home to watch Game of Thrones).

‘Oh God, we don’t understand your purposes.’ (Look God, I’m having to cover for you here).

‘Oh God, if there’s anything that’s blocking your healing, please deal with it.’ (We could all get out of this mess if this sick person got his act together.)

Here’s how I’d like you to do it to me:

‘Thank you God that you never stop doing good to us.’

‘Thank you that you set a table for us in the midst of our enemies.’

‘Thank you that carry us all day long and rejoice over us with singing.’

‘Thank you that you wept sometimes and you understand.’

‘Thank you that neither life nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other thing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’

‘You know, Lord, thank you that you know.’

And occasionally, this

(and only if prompted by faith and if you can it truthfully)

‘God we trust you to sort this out.’

(Though I wouldn’t mind either if you kept that thought to yourself, took it home, and prayed and trusted there without asking anything of me.)

 

Healing and chronic illness

Slow healing (part 4)

157/365 On the Mend 060609We’ve said that true healing is encountering Christ. That is about the now — peace instead of panic, contentment instead of fear.

Physical healing will follow: soon, or later, or gradually, or partially. Certainly it will not be complete until eternity, but it will be complete then. All healing always has a ‘now’ and a ‘not yet’.

This is really important when it comes to chronic illness. Many of us live with chronic illness. Are we healed? Obviously we are living with a ‘not yet’ and certainly at one level a ‘not until eternity.’

But we can also enjoy the ‘now’. Even in chronic illness. Especially in chronic illness. We can thrive now. We know Christ’s peace now. We can enjoy abundance now. We can heal other others now.

I believe there’s always a ‘now’. And living with chronic illness, and praying for the chronically ill, is about stringing together a necklace of ‘nows’ that will stretch all the way to eternity.

Healing as thriving

‘Slow’ healing — part 3

157/365 On the Mend 060609They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56)

Can this happen today? It can, if we re-define ‘healing’ as ‘the start of healing’ or simply ‘enjoying the experience of thriving’.

I ought to say I believe what Mark is reporting: people reached out to Jesus with a  whole GP’s surgery of stuff (rashes, cataracts, cancers, anxieties, fears, depression, strokes, diabetes, whatever) and emerged, blinking, stretching, smiling and completely well. But I believe this is exceptional, perhaps because Jesus’ healings were doing double duty both as acts of mercy and as signs of the Kingdom.

In the context of what I am calling ‘slow healing’, though, I believe everyone can encounter Christ and begin to thrive. The thriving is healing’s germination. How much physical healing happens now and how much is deferred to eternity is of course rather important to us, but it is secondary in the grand scheme.

The grand scheme is:

  1. Encounter Christ
  2. Thrive in his goodness in this life and the next
  3. Receive downpayments of physical and relational wellness in this life
  4. Ultimately be completely whole, physically and relationally.

All who touched him were healed. Still true today?

Healing the slow way (2)

When it’s curtains for you, pull yourself together

157/365 On the Mend 060609I find it helpful to start at the end.

If ‘healing’ postpones your final dismantling by a few months or decades, it’s good, but it’s not that good.

Of course it is good: if someone dies aged 5 or 15 or 25, we feel very differently than if they’re tipped out of the wheelbarrow at 65 or 85 or 105. Putting back the evil day is an extremely good thing.

I prefer to think, though, that the real blessing of getting physically healed (especially, nearly dying and getting a let off) is what you go on to think and do. If you think wonderful, I’m back to my indestructible self, that’s the wrong lesson.

The right lesson is that now you’ve been awakened to the reality of your upcoming mortality, you can do something about it.

Like:

  • Say everything good that needs saying to your loved ones
  • Make peace with your enemies
  • Get your affairs in order
  • Sort out the God-and-eternity business in your head and your soul
  • Gratefully relish each ‘bright blessed day’, and ‘dark sacred night’.

Do that, and you can walk hereafter with a lovely light tread on the earth, enjoying it absolutely more than ever and determinedly not getting your feet stuck in muddy glops of anger, fury, malice, bitterness, vengefulness or cynicism.