Thursday, 24 July 2014

Deserving

Just a quick thought tonight. You often hear, or read on social media, phrases like, "Such a hard day, think I deserve this glass of wine" or "Kicked butt in the gym tonight, definitely deserve this MaccyD's!" or maybe "I've been such a good girl all this year, hope Santa brings me the presents I deserve". It struck me earlier, do we really mean or realise what we're saying? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lovely food and drink and presents, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have to look very far to find someone who'd worked just as hard, yet was struggling to cover even the essentials, let alone any added extras. And what exactly am I claiming to have done to deserve such a treat? The Bible says that even our good deeds, or righteous acts, are like 'filthy rags' (Isaiah 64:6), tainted by motives and weakness, and though I don't like to admit it, it's true that even at it's best, my heart struggles to align itself with God's perfect love.

Ooh what a cheery post?! Well, actually, yes. If I don't deserve good things, that must mean that any good thing I have is a gift - no terms and conditions because I could never meet them. They are a gift from a loving and gracious Father. God, who is altogether holy and worthy of my devotion, is not stacking up my sins or noting down all the times I'm not devoted (which would be in the high 90%s for sure), but rather is putting his effort into making himself known and making a way for me to know him. To the extent that he even set aside all the glory he deserved and lived a life of poverty until he suffered the most total and heartbreaking separation that has ever been, when Jesus died on the cross and cried "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:36/Mark 15:34).

So I'm going to try and make a change, when I experience those 'treat' moments, or I'm enjoying something lovely, I'll be saying "Such a hard day, but I don't deserve this." I thank God for being so generous, and hopefully his kindness will be my motivation to reflect his love better.

*Disclaimer, there are some pretty big questions around the issue of possessions and their uneven distribution. I don't have the space or the ability to discuss that fully here. I do, however, trust that even in our broken world, God's grace is not-discriminative and the inequality should be my motivation to take responsibility for sharing the gifts I've been given, not motivation to blame God, who is universally generous and loving.

You don't. It's a gift.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Joy

Yesterday, I got a tad emotional. You see, my Mum is slowly doing her best to move any clutter from her house to my house, so the other week she very subtly put a bunch of stuff in the boot of my car when she thought I wasn't looking, to bring back to Swansea with me. I'd left this in my car for about a week but yesterday I got round to actually looking inside and putting some stuff away. It was more interesting than I first expected, as I thought it only contained files of Maths lecture notes (not exactly bedtime reading), but it turned out to also hold 'memory boxes' from each year I was at university. These are box files where I keep together all the things that I had up on my walls, any nice post I received, clippings of inspiration/humour and a whole host of bizarre things I'd picked up over the year (glow sticks that have lost their glow, bits of string, party poppers, etc.)

You may be thinking, "Wasn't the title of this post 'Joy'? Does this have anything to do with joy?" I'll tell you now. So I started reading through the many letters people had written to me (I'd forgotten how much I used to communicate by mail, must start again) or words of encouragement given to me. I was struck by the overwhelming feature of people describing me as full of joy, or always smiling, or even 'radiating' the joy of knowing Christ. Over and over, this seemed to be the standout characteristic people associated with me. Now that is really lovely, but I got to thinking, "Would people still describe me as being chiefly characterized by the joy of knowing Jesus?" and I suspect not. I don't know why the lustre has gone, and it's not that I don't love Jesus anymore, or that He's any less good today than a few years ago, just maybe the 'ministry of enthusiasm' that I once exercised so regularly, has taken a bit of a backseat. And so I cried, quite a lot, I want the thought of Jesus to fill me with joy and for that to show in my life, to be distinctive, but I feel I've been letting other stuff bog me down and looking to the wrong things to make me happy.

So this morning, being Sunday, I prayed that God would restore my joy through something at church. Does God still answer prayers today? Let's see; we dwelt upon how beautiful he is in this morning's worship, we were reminded in the preaching of His grace, and of the identity, purpose and hope that it gives us, two young people stepped out in faith and publicly shared their testimony and got baptised, a third young person sang a beautiful song about being a child of God, I spent most of the afternoon in the company of friends from church (and laughing a LOT), I got to chat to a few people I didn't know before who are also new to church and last but not least I was massively encouraged by a word from one of our Pastors about God not being finished with me yet and having much more in store (words from the old hymn, 'Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do'). Yes God answers prayers, yes knowing God brings me great joy, yes God speaks into my life, yes the truth of the Gospel is as powerful today as ever and yes I have much to look forward to as I look ahead in my life with Jesus.

Joy. Bucketloads of it. Thanks God.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Plodding

I don't know about you, but my life certainly seems to be defined by seasons. Last winter I found pretty tough, as I was adjusting to life in a new place and didn't know many people, so often felt pretty lonely and daunted. Then the spring came, and lots of things started to happen that made me feel more settled, more in tune with God and I went through a kind of spiritual growth spurt. There were so many little discoveries and opportunities and joys, new friendships made, old friendships strengthened. Maybe my glasses are a little rose-tinted now but I feel like I was so aware of the impact of the Gospel on my life through what God was teaching me, that talking about Jesus just felt so natural and so exciting.

But it's the summer now, and it seems to be more of a plod kind of a season. I'm really struggling to engage with God and his Word, I feel maybe a bit numb to all this good news and so I'm much less inclined to share it now. I sort of know a couple of the reasons why, but right now I feel pretty reluctant to take those things to Jesus, even though I know full well his hands are big enough to take them off me. The trouble is, 1 Samuel 16:7 "People judge by the outward appearance but God looks at the heart" is wonderful news, but it's also scary. I know that if I turn to Jesus, I become vulnerable, I can't hide my struggles or my insecurities from his the way I can from the world because he see right into my heart. So consequently, I've just been living 'normally', just carrying on with the day to day things I need to do. I'm not desperately sad, I'm not massively rebelling, I'm not gathering heavy burdens, I'm just not laying them down either.

But today, on my walk to work, I thought this: maybe it's ok. Maybe God never promised a permanent state of happiness and ecstacy, and maybe he never expected it from me either. Maybe God's not looking for me to be a superhero who'll carry his church for him. I believe in a God who is patient, who never changes, who is much bigger than me, who is always compassionate, who is always slow to anger, who promised to never leave me, and most of all, who has broken the chains of sin and defeated death. None of this, not one smidgen, is dependent on me, my mood or my behaviour. And since I have accepted his wonderful gift of life, the only thing he asks of me, is to know him and enjoy him - and even that is not a condition, but rather a recommendation, because like I said, he sees my heart, so he knows what is best for me.

So the plan is, keep plodding, but remember who I'm plodding with, and enjoy him as I go.