the blessing of our lifeboat

We had often thought that whatever happened once Mark had completed his PhD we realistically needed a 6 month breathing space before the next step. Yet on the other hand we felt the need to be ‘responsible and get a job’, to move to the next step. Neither a breathing space or the next job seemed to be coming up for us. We were more and more aware of how we had outgrown our home and the impact that space in and of itself was having on me and therefore in turn on our eldest who mirrors my state of being in complete fulness which can be great on the good days but terrifying on the hard days.

I have always wanted space both in and outside, with a love for high ceiling square rooms. Not something that was ever going to be within our financial means. I liked the idea, based solely on my night time watching of ‘Escape to the Country’ while trying to rock small children to sleep, that it would need to be an old rectory as they seemed to come with all that I asked for.

We continued to push on all doors both new house and job wise and no door opened. We sat confused, lost, exhausted and frustrated. We were spent. The past 3 1/2 years have been some of the hardest years we have known together, as a family and individually. We had been stretched thinner than we thought at times we could possibly go emotionally, spiritually, physically and yet God kept His promise to provide to be our refuge. There were days, weeks when that was hard to see but He was always there. There are many times when we still do not understand why or can make sense of certain events but that does not alter who God is and who He has promised to be to us.

Then we saw a house whose rental value had been reduced and was now just within our reach. But why so cheap considering its apparent size and in vast contrast to anything else on the rental market? So Mark went to see it and we learnt that there was a church in town that is without a vicar at present and the diocese did not want the house sitting vacant. It is not a long term rent but it is for 6 months. 6 months to breathe, 6 months to stand up straight in the rooms, 6 months to walk around the beds, 6 months to dig in the soil and watch birds, 6 months to play in the garden, 6 months to kick footballs, play tennis, throw freebies, (it is amazing how many football and tennis racquets etc have been left) 6 months to sit in the summer house, 6 months to just be.

When Mark called to tell me about it as he saw the initial viewing and he was trying to not be over hopeful on the phone to me I kept being reminded of the story of the man who asked God why he had not saved him from the flood and God had replied but I sent you a lifeboat etc. This was our lifeboat. This was God’s provision for us. This was God’s gift, a rectory with a garden. With high ceiling and square rooms, as study for Mark with 2 full walls of floor to ceiling bookcases and a den for me in the attic. Bathrooms with windows. Friendly welcoming neighbours, a cycle path for us to get almost everywhere we need and the loan of a Canadian chariot for the younger two.

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It is not in its finest state, it is a home that needs some tender care and love, but it is very definitely a home, it is watertight and bouyant and we love this lifeboat. With all that it has not been the smoothest of first few weeks, our eldest’s hip condition has got worse and we have all been under the weather with colds, viruses and sore throats etc that began in the 24hrs before we moved. Sleep has been for the most part good aside from the interruptions coughs and pain bring. I have been reminded though that when a lifeboat rescues someone the waters do not instantly become calm just because the lifeboat is there. The lifeboat has to navigate itself through some stormy rough waters to reach the safety of land again and that is where I feel we are at present. Our bodies which have been on high alert for the past 3 1/2 years have stopped and breathed big sighs of relief that with that has come the influx of colds and virus and generally run down. We are registering how tired we had got, how spent we had been emotionally, spiritually and physically. Its okay though because we are on the lifeboat, we are being carried toward calmer water, to solid land again and our bodies will mend, our bodies will be strengthened and renewed. That doesn’t mean there will not be hard times again, that there will be no trouble, but for now we are on the lifeboat and we can stop, we can breathe and rest.

What is wonderful about this lifeboat also is that it is not something disconnected to us but something intricately part of who we are and where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going and of those who have journeyed and are journeying with us now, close to home and far away, across the generations.

There are memories and links with friends and family through association and through the giving and creativity of others. It is a lifeboat that in and of itself is a blessing from God who has filled it with gifts and blessings from so many others to wrap around us on this journey out of rough waters.

 

’40’

The 40 I am referring to is not my age.  It is Psalm 40.  We read Psalm 40 at breakfast the other week, and I thought it would be an excellent Psalm to reflect on for my morning bible readings.  I’ve therefore been trying to read it slowly and reflectively.

The first thing that struck me about it was the first line – in most English translations:

“I waited patiently for the LORD”

I always have trouble when I read “patient” in these sort of contexts.  To me it conjures up an image of something like sitting quietly in a restaurant waiting for the food to arrive.  It conjures up a scene when one is supposed to be still and quiet and polite.  However that doesn’t seem like the situation David faces.  He is trapped in a deep pit.  He is desperate for God’s help.  And he never sounds particularly patient.

So I checked out the Hebrew and realised that it didn’t say patiently.  It says literally “waiting I waited for the LORD”.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense in English, but in Hebrew it intensifies and emphasises the verb – and context will often determine how.  One alternative translation suggests “I waited eagerly”.  Perhaps “I waited desperately”, or “I waited longingly” might capture something of the need for God to act that David feels.

Essentially he is saying he has put all he has into waiting for the LORD to act, because the LORD is all he has – that will become clear as the next verses are read.  He has been in a pit of destruction, in a miry bog with no way out.  Life can feel like that at times to one degree or another.  At one time or another we all reach the end of our resources and ability to cope.  Such times are not like sitting quietly at a table waiting, rather they are the like the stranded victims of a flood waiting desperately for the sound of the helicopter overhead bringing rescue.

The encouragement from Psalm 40 is the actions God takes.  First of all in v1: “He turned to me and he heard my cry”.  David was crying out – so his waiting was a reasonably noisy waiting – he has been calling out, longing for God to take action.  The word for cry here is first used in Exodus 2:23 of the Israelites crying out under the Egyptian oppression.  It is a cry that God hears.

Here it caught my attention that God first turns, and then hears.  This sounded at first like God needs to turn to really hear what is being said, which would be a bit odd.  I think on reflection that what is being said here is that God, hearing the cry of David turns, and then really pays attention and listens to the cry.  Sometimes my children cry out to me and I “hear” them, but it is only when I actually turn to them and pay attention that I really hear what their cry is all about.

Here it is in the act of God’s turning to the cry of his people that he really hears what they are saying.  The encouragement here for us is that God does hear, God does pay attention and God does actually get it.  He turns so that he can listen to us properly.  He’s not like the adult who picks the child up, gives them a hug and a pat and sets them down, but never listens.  He’s like the parent who stoops down, listens to what is actually going on and prepares to do something about it.

In this case God’s action is to lift David out of his pit and put his feet on solid rock.  He gives him a solid foundation to stand from.  Just as God lifted the Israelites out of Egypt so he lifted David up out of the pit.  He does this so that many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.  This rescue is a bigger rescue than just an individual rescue, it is a rescue that impacts others.  A rescue that causes others to trust in God.

There is more to say than I can form words for now.  As we approach Easter week though, it is good to remember that God’s act of lifting Jesus up from the grave is God doing what God does – God following through on his pattern of work in the Old Testament – and a promise that God will one day do it on a cosmic scale for his broken, groaning world.  Meantime we, like David, live in a world of deep pits and muddy clay, yet like David know a God who lifts our feet onto a solid rock, and gives us a new song to sing – a song that calls many to trust and look forward to the day when the pits will be finally destroyed for ever, and we will know that God has rescued us, and all who trust him, for good.

 

 

Wisdom from the wise

Life right now feels more than a little crazy.  I do not understand the path we are walking, and what God is up to in this time as we look for what next.  I was clearing out our desk drawers today, and came across some old papers and notes from 4 years or so ago when we were at Regent.  Tucked amongst the Hebrew translation and exegesis notes was a hand written scrap of paper which was titled “Living well”.

At first I was a bit puzzled trying to work out where it came from.  Then I remembered.  It was notes I scribbled at a lunchtime Q and A session with one of the retired faculty members who continue to provide their services for Regent.  While I didn’t take any courses from this particular faculty member, I count it one of the great privileges of going to Regent to have heard him give one or two lectures, and take part in a number of panels (of which this was one).  It was wonderful to hear him speak (which he does in sentences as carefully crafted as his books), and sense that the writing comes from a life lived with God.   If you are a fellow Regent Alumni, or have heard the person speak you might be able to guess who it is (sorry, no prizes available…)

Right now I don’t have a sense of having much to say myself, but I sense that this is important so I wanted to present the jottings I took that lunchtime, because I think they are wise, and I wanted to listen to them again.  So here are the jottings I made:

To be a Christian is to be fully human – rather than acting.
Watch the heart
Let God search me often
Look hard at the Lord Jesus, read the gospels.  He is our Saviour, Lord and Friend.
Keep on begging the Trinue God to make me real, spontaneous, outgoing, sharing my heart with others, vulnerable.  (I remember this striking me vividly – and it still does – I think it is a particularly good prayer for those of us who are “marginally” more introverted than average.)
Live into circumstances other than resisting.  Keep quality of covenantal relationships – family.

Spiritual Disciplines – most profound, daily practice of bible reading.  Reading scripture, so that at critical moments is direction.

Tension between academic study and personal – pray about study, pray in what is learnt, don’t let brain work outstrip personal communion with the Lord.  Praying needs to match learning.  All truth is beneficial, yet also dangerous if used wrong.   Time and space to praying around learning.

Artificial environment of theological college, lots of input, less output.  Ideas about life.  Seduction of the spirit in academy – keep the heart with all diligence.  Grace in relationships.

Doctrine not to be taught without reflection on how it should change our lives.  Teacher of doctrine must be a pastor too.  Theology in context of worship and community

Vision often leads to risk.

Right now that risk feels a little close to the bone and I could do with something a little more tangible than vision. But the notes are an encouragement to prayer.

reflections on our home learning journey week 19 &20/2

There is nothing that beats that intentional time that we create for our children and the impact that has on their and our own states of mind and heart rates. Bob was out at Pitville having a ball learning about worms and expounding energy and Zog, Kanga and I curled up and had a lovely afternoon nap. When Bob came home he soaked his hip in a hot bath while Zog and Kanga helped me with getting dinner in the oven. Then instead of reverting to my end of day tired frame of mind  and allowing them screen time we played a memory card game and had so many laughs and lots of fun.

Recently I had started to realise that I had stopped having fun with the children. Lessons and attempts to stay on top of housework, nothing like having to keep the house in order as the landlords have put it on the market and the unknown of what is next for us has meant my mind is far from being present in the home. Screen time was an easy out, something they wanted, and meant I could escape in my mind. But I was brought up sharp this morning at the library. Bob and Zog both have had lots of story times with us and still go to the library for books. Kanga on the other hand went straight for the computers. Books just do not capture her attention in the way they do the boys. And yet she does love them but often intentional reading with her gets dropped off and so they are not a probity for her either. The idea of reading picture books, the same picture books a third time round does not grab me with excitement and we have moved onto lengthy chapter books with the boys. The Borrowers is our latest lunch time read. Some children I know can cope with screen time but we are becoming aware that right now for Zog in particular screen time just does not help him.

So today we played games and tonight Kanga and I hid in her bedroom at bedtime together and read books and she drifted off to sleep happily. I was struck though as she picked out two books and I know there was intentionality in her choices. She like her brothers were at this age dependent on other means of communication that words. And she choose Come On Daisy (given to me many years ago by friends) and Humphrey’s Corner. Both books speak of seeking to stay close to Mummy, that that is were they feel safe and where life is right. And Kanga pointed to the character of Humphrey and changed the name to her’s and pointed to the Mummy and pointed to me and then hugged me. She and I both have the same strong willed stubborn personality which has the potential to take her places but she needs to learn how to use it and I think at time the strength of feeling she has overwhelms her. I remember often my parents and wider family and parents friends spoke of my stubborn independence and how it would take me places but I do feel that no one taught me how to use that strength and in a sense I was not guided or directed in ways that might have been more constructive, in part because I masked my need for help with being so independent. I do not want the same for Kanga. I want her to grow up with a confidence in who she is and what she has to offer and what she could accomplish. She doesn’t need to be in a high flying well paid role. I simply want her to do what she is made to do and is passionate about and loves and that is going to require us stepping into her fierce independent stubborn ‘I do it’ streak and not backing off.

Bob’s writing though not something he is passionate about is coming on and this week has really taken shape as far as uniformity in letter size which has been encouraging to see. He continues to be lost in a  world of history and was putting my church history knowledge to the test. He is also getting his head around numbers with more confidence after a break from it all. Again showing he needs to be given time to percolate and allow things to simmer on the back burner. Another reason I am so thankful for this opportunity to let them learn at home. He can go at his speed and allow his skills to be grow and develop as they are ready and nurture those subjects he is in love with without limit or restrictions due to other skills not being necessarily up to speed.

Zog who has showed little interest in letters seems to have started to get the idea of them though I would have preferred if he could have waited till day time rather than in a state of delirious happiness induced by a high temperature while we lay on the sofa at 3 in the morning last week. He suddenly started excitedly asking me if certain (correct) sounds were the first sounds of lots of words and checking what letters those sounds went with. I have been trying to get him interested in letters since September and we have not got past D and then I would have had no confidence he would have remembered A, B or C.

While they are always learning though play, watching us, helping around the house though not necessarily at the most useful point, and in lessons, I think I have been the one who has learnt the most important lesson these past two weeks. That they are learning from my example more than anything else and I need to be present and intentional in my actions and the way I am living this season of unknowns out. To choose to read with them, to play with them, to enter their worlds and allow them to enter mine and to stop living parallel lives alongside them in the same house.

A God worth arguing with

Traditionally when I preach I post my sermon up here.  It is usually easy to do as I preach from a fairly full script.  This Sunday was a bit different for various reasons, and so I ended up using notes on index cards rather than a full script.

I had struggled massively to get my thoughts in order.  My instructions were that I was to unpack how Moses’ responses to God in Exodus 3:7 and following contrast with the “correct” responses of the first 6 verses of the chapter – all in the context of a broader series looking at listening to God.  I wanted to say something about the God Moses meets in the scene, and how he is worth listening to.  All my efforts at explaining what I wanted to say to my wife as we did the dishes on Saturday night failed rather dismally, until she cut through to the chase and said something like “I think you’re trying to hide from the way the subject is too close to the bone right now.”

As usual she was right.  I knew that what needed to be said was something about Moses arguing with God, but, given our circumstances right now, it felt rather too personal.  So, emboldened by my wife’s comments I went back to the passage and my preparation and reworked things a bit.  I didn’t need to change much – just stop striving for the perfect message and let a little more heart into it.  What I said went something like this:

So, from Exodus 3:1-6, you would expect Moses to do what he is told – but it doesn’t quite happen like that.  Let’s look now at what happens next.

In Exodus 3:7-9 you can imagine Moses being quite happy – God is declaring his plan to rescue Israel and affirming that he will give them a land.  But then comes 3:10 – after declaring that he has come down, God turns to Moses and says “now go – I am sending you to Pharaoh”.  This must have been a shock to Moses, to put it mildly, and it is not surprising that he objects.

His first objection is “who am I?” Perhaps Moses is thinking of his own failed attempts at rescue 40 years before and perhaps he has become happy with his exile in a strange land.  It seems that he does not know who he is, and he certainly isn’t up to this task God has for him.

God’s response is “I will be with you – and I’ll give you a sign” – he doesn’t answer Moses question, and he gives him a sign that is useless until Moses has done half the job.  Not surprising that Moses asks another question: “what is your name – who are you?”

God’s response is again somewhat obscure “I will be who I will be” – which again does not seem particularly helpful (we’ll unpack this a bit more in a few minutes) – before giving the more expected answer in 3:15 followed by further instructions.

Moses still isn’t convinced – “what if they don’t believe me” – so God gives him some signs for now – including turning his staff into a snake without warning.  Moses still isn’t for going – so he says “but I can’t speak” – to which God replies – “I made your mouth – I’ll be with it…” Moses final attempt is “please send someone else” – to which, after getting angry God replies “I’ll send Aaron to help – and I’ll be with his mouth too”.

Finally Moses goes to Egypt, and at 4:31 everything is working as it should.  But then we get chapter 5 – and it all falls apart once more.  It doesn’t seem like Moses does anything wrong in 5:1-3 (footnote: some commentators take Moses to task here and do think he has messed up – I am not convinced, and have a page devoted to why I am not convinced in my thesis), but Pharaoh’s response is to make life worse for Israel – bricks without straw – and so the Israelites turn on Moses, who in 5:22 turns on God and criticises God for his lack of action.

(Again, some of the commentators think Moses is going wrong – I’m not convinced – I think his response is firmly in the tradition of the prophets and the Psalms in particular).  God now responds with a declaration of what he will do next.

The first thing to note from all this is that God doesn’t seem to have a problem with Moses’ questions and arguing.  It is in response to Moses’ questions and arguing that we learn more of God.  So I want to pause and say that it is OK to question God.  It is OK to not understand.  Because sometimes God’s ways are just hard for us to get.

When a loved one becomes seriously ill, even to the point of death
When unemployment hits, or the job is going nowhere.
When you can’t find the right job – we know all about that right now, as we try to work out our next steps after the PhD.

In all these situations, and many more we scream out to God – “Why?”  And that is OK. God can take the questions.  And as we do that lets listen to his answers, and especially to the first two answers he gives Moses.  These answers are rocks we can build our lives around.

First “I will be with you” – Moses’ identity or lack of is irrelevant.  What matters is that God is with him.  God equips to do his work.  There are no ifs, and no buts.  Quite simply God is with us – that is reaffirmed all the way through the bible.  It is what Joshua hears as he enters the land, it is what Gideon hears when he hides from the Midianites.  It is the name of Jesus in Matthew 1 – Immanuel – God with us.  We don’t have Moses’ mission – but we do  follow Moses’ God.  He is with us come what may.  In the silence and the darkness.  Through the tears and through the pain.  He is with us.

Second “I will be who I will be” – God’s answer affirms that he doesn’t need anyone else in order to be the God who is with us.  He isn’t defined by anyone else.  He isn’t defined by the grandeur and glory and order and control of Egypt.  He isn’t defined by Moses’ stammering lips.  He is defined only by himself.

This answer is an explanation of his name – Yahweh – by means of a word play on the verb “to be” – “he will be” looks and sounds similar to “yahweh” in Hebrew – and Hebrew names are often given because of words they sound like.  What God is saying is that his name cannot be controlled by Moses, instead it defines God in relation only to God – God will be with Moses as God chooses to be.  Yet God is also saying that his name means that he will surely be with Moses, and Israel, and us.  The meaning of God’s name says both “God is in control” and “God is with us” – and so we can be sure that God will keep the promises he makes because he is both able and willing to do so.  (footnote: there is a lot of discussion behind every word in that paragraph – but I think it is all there in the text…)

That promise continues in Exodus.  In Exodus 6 God affirms that he is the one who will rescue Israel. Exodus 6:5-8 contains a great crescendo of verbs declaring what God will do for Israel.  This God brings about an unstoppable rescue.

Even when his people keep on messing up he keeps on rescuing.  After the exile he declares to the people, in words we were reminded of a few weeks ago, which come with extra power in the context of the exodus, in Isaiah 43:

43:1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Fear not, for I am with you;

(footnote: I once heard a speaker recommend that, if you doubted God’s love for you, you should go and read that passage to yourself until tears came)

Notice there the Exodus language, and affirmations – especially that God is with us – and think of the fact that God gives, not simply “men” in exchange for our lives, but “the man” – Jesus, his only son, for us.  That is what we can build life now on.  That is the affirmation we root our lives now in.

God is with us. Not in a way that I can control.  And how I hate that at times.  I want to be in control.  But events continually remind me that I am not.  Yet God is with us.  Even in the darkest times he is with us.

At those times we need to remember words like this from Isaiah 50:10

 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

Because there is a day coming when the darkness will become light.  On that day we will be with the Lord, and there will be no more sorrow. No more sickness. No more sin.  No more death. On that day everything will be right, and everything will be light.  (I stopped at this point – but Revelation 22 springs to mind)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever

Until that day we live with the questions and the confusions and the darkness.  In those times bring the questions and the doubts and the fears to the God who made you, the God who loves you, who bought you and is reshaping you.  Come to this God, and look forward to the final rescue from all sin, and all sickness, and all death.  Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Postscript: At least – that’s something like what I said – maybe slightly re-ordered.  We have a God worth arguing with – not because he necessarily answers our questions – but because he always has more questions  of his own that reshape us into who we are meant to be.

As I thought of the concept of God’s ways being hard to get I had a line from a Rich Mullins song which has been a significant encouragement at key times in my life in my head – have a listen here: “hard to get”

There are a number of poignant lines in the song – but two that always hit me are “and I know that it would not hurt any less, even if it could be explained”.  So often I want explanations, but God is more interested in being with us.

The other that hits me, and strikes me now is “lost enough to let myself be led”.  At that point my mind draws in a line from another song from the same album – “so hold me Jesus, cos I’m shaking like a leaf, you have been of King of Glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace”.

In all that he is with us.  God is with us.  He hears. He sees and he knows.  And one day all will be well. As one pastor puts it, “it will be all right in the end – so if it is not all right, it is not the end.”

Signs of Life

A friend called this evening to see how our home group could be praying for us. I am not sure she was ready for out pouring that followed. She had phoned because she had heard I had been under the weather and wanted to see how I was doing. I reeled off all the places we were feeling stretched in, places that on their own are hard places in and of themselves, mixed in together, overlapping with each other means we feel even further stretched.

Friends have said that God doesn’t allow this level of stretching unless He is preparing us for something significant and better. That line doesn’t wash with me these days. He is the giver of life and I believe that strongly but I also know that we are living in a broken hurting mess, immediately, locally, globally. I believe He is going to put all things right in His time, but I want all things but right in my time, now, yesterday. I guess I am no longer confident that the better means any time this side of Christ’s coming and therefore I battle with Him in it all because suffering is not what He intended, it is wrong, it is right that we sense and feel that wrongness and I don’t understand His waiting. I don’t see what He sees and I don’t understand why He appears to be holding back.

Medically we are being stretched, not with any life threatening situations, but with new and unexpected, unknown situations. How do you ask an active 6 year old that we need to keep walking, running, jumping to a minimum? Cycling and swimming thankfully can be kept up. How do you do that when it may be 2 , it may be 5 it may be 10 years before those limitations are lifted for him. How do you know what is best when it seems that no two consultants have the same take on treatment. We continue seeking the best way forward to support our 4 year old where sounds and swallow still trouble him. Thankful for the new consultant this past week. Throw in one already wearing glasses and eye apts every 2 to 3 months and waiting for our 2 year old to have her first test and the high likelihood she will need glasses. That though will solve one of our other questions we have – where do we move to? Straight into an opticians as she has the ability to break her brother’s glasses on a regular bases and if she has her own then we might as well just take up a permanent place  in the opticians. And broken sleep has worn us down and left me open to this viral ear infection.

Sleep has not been something we have been blessed with in our children and we are coming up 7 years of waiting for that night where we can go to bed confident that we will have an evening to ourselves after bedtime followed by a nights sleep. To be fair to our children they have not been prone to wake up for no clear reason or simply out of habit. There have always been genuine reason for their battles with sleep; sleep apnea, night terrors, reflux, and now hip pain to name but a few that interrupt their night as much as ours.  So with little sleep behind us we face this season with foggy perspective, confusion and at times crossed wires with each other and the world around us.

As far as a home goes He seems to be taking us to the line. There are so many overlapping and unknown circles at play in regard to where we are to call home. The only certainty is that we have to be out of our current home end of May. There are circumstances though that come to the fore next month that means it would really help us if we knew by then were the next season of living was to be. And realistically we want to avoid a temporary move but that is partly because I don’t want to have to make a temporary move away from friends so we can find a place we can live, breath and afford or move to an even smaller space so we can afford to stay in the same location. And I then think I should be grateful that we have a place to call home, a job to pay for it, and I argue once more with God for making be someone who is impacted by her personal space so much. I wish I could make any place a home and be content in that space but I cannot and I have tried time and again to come to peace with either side of that and failed either way. If I try and be content with the space we have it only blows up as a bigger issue as my attempts to be content fail at the first hurdle of standing up out of bed and hitting my wall on the 4 ft high ceiling. But then when I make peace with the reality that space is a place that matters to me I don’t get why no doors of any sort have opened for us to move to a better fit.

But there are signs of life. I was struck by this as I looked at the photos Bob had taken last week on our nature walk looking for signs of life. At first glance around the park it seems like a bleak wintery day when all is dead, when life is absent, when hope and joy are missing. But children do not see the world as we do and when given a camera they are able to capture those glimpses that remind me that new life is coming, that there is a beauty in it all, there are vistas that open up but are hidden by life at other times of the year. There are signs of life and there are further seasons of this year to unfold and be discovered. These images will give me the hope that even in our life when I see confusion and uncertainty and no way forward that underneath the fallen leaves are new bulbs pushing up, shoots stretching outward, glimmers of fresh white, yellow and green. New things are happening. I still don’t hold that God is allowing all of this for something greater, but I do know He has not abandoned us, immediately, locally or globally.

Returning to books

In my current (temporary) job I catch the bus into Cheltenham each day.  This means I have around 30 minutes reading time each day (how else would one pass the time on a bus after all?).  For the past few weeks I’ve been buried in preparing and delivering a short Exodus course at church, but the final session was on Wednesday so on Thursday morning before dashing out of the door I looked at our bookshelves and pondered what sort of book I should read.

In the end I grabbed a book I haven’t read for a while, but which profoundly influenced me first time round when I read it as an undergraduate student at Durham.  The book is “A call to Spiritual Reformation” by Don Carson.  It has a cover almost as off-putting as the title – although slightly less off-putting than the original cover.  The subtitle is “Priorities from Paul and his prayers” which gives more of a clue as to what the book is about.  After a brief introduction to prayer, and some practical tips, Don Carson expounds several of Paul’s prayers to see what we can learn for our prayer lives.

First time round the whole concept of praying for other people based upon passages of scripture struck me as extremely useful and gave me plenty of ideas for praying.  I was intrigued as I opened the book this time round to see what might strike me this time round.  This time round I was struck in the introduction by the importance of prayer, and the need to make time for prayer.  One quote hit me forcibly: “many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers”.  Too often it feels like that is what I do in prayer.

In January 1995 when I read those words the answer was easy.  Get up 15 minutes earlier and write down my prayers.  If I do that now a 2 year old will be screaming for my attention, and grabbing the pen in order to write her own prayers.  I can just about manage to read a few verses of the bible, but even then I have half an eye to make sure that the 2 year old has not decided to wake up the older ones while Daddy is distracted.  Today I have to make more of an effort.  So this time round the reading convicted me once more – and I think my aim now needs to be to pray at lunchtime – so combining my half hour leg stretch with a prayer walk is my intention.

I moved into the first main chapter – based around 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10.  Here I was reminded of the need to remember Jesus’ return.  This life is not everything.  This life is the start of something much bigger.  Marriage, parenting, work and even job hunting are all just the start.  Jesus’ death and resurrection introduced God’s kingdom, and one day Jesus will return.  All we have done for him, in obedience to his call and for his glory will have been woven into his new creation.  Every sacrifice we have made for him will be seen to have been worth it.  Having been immersed in Exodus for a while I can’t help but remember in this context that the promise of Revelation 21 – he will be our God and we his people is the fulfilment of God’s promise back in Exodus 6 of the very same thing.  The land Israel were promised was a foretaste of the new creation believers will be a part of for ever.  I read about this new creation recently in Isaiah 11:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

No more harm.  No more destruction.  No more sickness, suffering or death.  Living for that world does not lessen our usefulness here – rather it enhances it.  It was either Wilberforce (ending the slave trade in the British Empire), or Shaftesbury (laws stopping child labour) who said “I have not lived one single day without being influenced by the conscious thought of Christ’s return” (or something similar) – and it was one of Wilberforce’s friends who said “I would be as happy as he is, if I had the hope of heaven that he has”.

So then – my aim is to pray and walk during my lunch half hour – and to remember Jesus’ return and live out my responsibilities in that light – a concept that needs a bit of sharpening up, and hopefully reading and pondering this book will help.  I’m looking forward to reading on in the book, and seeing what will strike me this time.  You can get it from the Good Book Company at reduced price right now – its well worth it – maybe as a book to read for Lent: https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/a-call-to-spiritual-reformation.