Monday, 10 November 2014

Trust in the Lord with all your heart?

How easy is it to live out Proverbs 3 vs 5-6 when your life does not seem to tally with what it appears to promise?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

I admit to occasionally using this as a slight cop-out. Perhaps in a situation where things don't go as I hope and where I can't understand what God is up to. You know, the old 'well, we can't rely on our own understanding, God is in charge, blah blah blah, it will all be fine in the end.' Because I've not taken time to think over what this passage is really saying. Is it really stipulating that everything will be just fine and dandy? Does God 'making our paths straight' mean that all will be well - that everything we do will go how it should? What does it mean to say that 'he will make our paths straight?'

The times I haven't used this verse as a cop out catch all, I have often instead ignored it altogether. My life doesn't show that my paths are straight, so therefore I don't trust in God with all my heart,' goes my thinking, or even 'I tried to trust God with all my heart, but my paths aren't straight and therefore this verse is wrong'. So I don't think about it an awful lot. But two things have brought my mind to it lately - one person asked me to think upon it, and I heard Christy Wimber speaking on it at the New Wine Women and Leadership conference this weekend. And she didn't, in fact, say that trusting God made everything alright; she didn't say that her paths were straight. She actually said that 'some of the most powerful times I have had with the Lord are when there is a great tornado going on around me'. It was trusting amid the tornado which increased those powerful times.

So how on earth can a 'tornado' be in any sense a 'straight path?' Delving further in, it seems to me that it could be more rightly understood as 'right path' as in the path that follows God, the path that is guided by God, the path that we are best to be on because if we are walking with God than that is the best way for us to walk. None of this implies anything about it being an easy or healthy path. A safe path for our souls, yes, but not always safe for our bodies, our emotions, our health. Does this mean that God means for us to walk in suffering - that our suffering is our 'right path', the path God guides us on when we trust God with all our heart? Huge question - and I'm not sure I have the answer to this. What I do know is that when we are trusting in God with all our hearts, the path feels safe, the path feels right. The path doesn't always feel pain free. I wish it did, of course, but also have found, like Christy, that the times when the storm comes are some of the more powerful and intimate times with God, in the midst. I think that the storms are part of the path, not that I have somehow strayed, and somehow not that God sends the storms to teach me something, either. I am aware that I am being a tad contradictory, but I rarely write without a good dose of stream-of-consciousness-and-emotion thrown right into the mix.

So, the question comes down to, how can I really trust God with all that I am? It's easy in a sense to 'not lean on my own understanding' - I'm aware of how very flimsy that is, you only have to look at that last paragraph to see that. How can I trust with integrity, with fulness, without that slight cop-out of simply saying -oh, trust and it'll be fine? Because trusting with integrity actually means saying 'trust and it may well not be fine.' It means saying 'trust and know that you will be walking with God on the right path, not that the path will be an easy one.' Am I willing to throw in my full trust to that extent?

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that loving God does not make pain go away. It does not stop awful stuff happening and it does not make life easier. But throwing it all in with God, trusting to that huge extent, does something else instead, something greater. Something that makes life work, makes hope work. If I am throwing everything in, I can be confident that I am being who I am created to be, and living in the freedom of that, and everything seems to look right. Even for a fleeting moment, like sunshine bursting through cloud. That feeling won't always be there, but the fact is, and holding on to that, the absolute and burning love of God, is what carries me through, again, again and again.

So can I quote Proverbs 3 vs 5-6 without being a cop out or without ignoring the difficulties therein? I tentatively say I think so. Sometimes. I'll trust, and I'll lean not on my understanding, and in all my ways attempt to acknowledge God. I'll keep getting it wrong, as well. I'll rely on myself again and forget to acknowledge God. But then I'll remember this thing that works. God making my paths straight - God walking with me on those paths which feel fairly wobbly, but are nevertheless my right paths.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Where is God when it doesn't hurt?

I've been pondering on this one a little of late. Over the summer, after I came out of hospital in early June, I felt considerably better. For a considerable amount of time - around two months in all. I had some glimpses into 'normality', whatever that may be - life without pain, without my lungs feeling constantly full of rubbish which won't go no matter how much physio I do and without all the associated stuff that goes alongside this. It was great! At New Wine I stood up a lot in worship times. Big deal? yes - for me. The year before I'd felt out of it, or at least felt out of it when I decided to allow myself to wallow in Feeling Out of It. I'd had to sit down a lot anyway and watch people standing up in front of me blocking the words on the screen. They could worship and I couldn't, went my little pity script. I'd soon given up on that one, thankfully, and found something deeper. But then this year I could stand, and it was different, and I did feel more part of it.

The truth is that when I feel 'well' I feel more part of life, I feel like I am a useful cog in the machine as busyness swallows up my time instead of lying down attempting breathing. I feel strong. And the question I am asking myself is, does my perceived strength in these (admittedly few) times make me perceive God as stronger?

I'm the first to jump on the Philippians passage about God's power being most evident in weakness and all that, and firmly believe it. But I wonder if, when we are feeling strong and busy, we don't take time to realise this, and our strength becomes more important and becomes what makes God 'strong'? Did my standing (and even dancing!) at NW make God more happy than my sitting and being? It's definitely the strong that get noticed and the strong that make things happen. And strength is certainly not purely physical, many people talk of others being strong despite physical difficulties. But I wonder if we all need to be weak sometimes, in order to more fully appreciate how God works in weakness, and how God loves the weak.

I'd prefer my whole life to be like that two months, of course - but then would I know so well of God's profound presence in my suffering, and identify with Jesus' suffering, and know so clearly of God's great desire for those who are suffering to find comfort and peace in God? I don't know. I might be too busy rushing around, enjoying the feeling of busyness and the feeling of usefulness. I know I do this, and then when I am forced into inactivity I get grumpy for a while, but then begin to live in acceptance, and then it's sort of OK. And it's those times that I experience God's strength more powerfully - not in the times I can 'do'.

I have found the book 'Where is God when it hurts?' really helpful, but would like to ask the question 'where is God when it doesn't hurt?' Is God more in the not hurting times because God doesn't want us to hurt, or more in the hurting times because God wants us to know God's love in these times? And do we miss God in the not hurting times because we can be so full of us? I think I do a little bit, and I'm not speaking for anyone else, but it's worth a thought or two.

Since that two months ended abruptly with a most uninvited buggy guest taking residence in my lungs, I've been back to my normal, with a lot of pain and a lot of rubbish. I hate it and wish it would go away. I liked the good of the not hurting. But the good of the hurting is that God hurts too and that God knows how it feels and that God is somehow in it with me. Does that mean hurting is good? Never. But it means we can be real about it. And perhaps for me it means that next time I have a 'well' period I might just take the time to think about where God is, rather than where I am at this moment in time.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Great Unknown

I'm very taken by some lyrics from a Hillsong United song at the moment. The song is called 'Oceans' and the words go:

'You called me out upon the waters
The Great Unknown,
Where feet may fail.
And there I find you in the mystery
In Oceans Deep
My faith will stand....'

There is something in these words that resonate deeply in my spirit. Whatever some may say, as Christians we do not have a golden ticket to a happy, healthy and wealthy life. We are not exempt from suffering or disease. We do not know what will happen to us in this life. We are called out upon the waters to the Great Unknown. Both the great unknown in what may happen in our lives, and the great unknown in who God really is, the mystery of it all, the Cloud of Unknowing.

And yet, as these words say, there we find God. There we find God in the mystery, in the unknowing. In the suffering, in the everyday, in the wide and the deep and the long and the unknown. There we find God at work in our lives, sometimes most evident when we are at our lowest ebb, when we can no longer find resources within ourselves.

And there, in Oceans deep, our faith will stand.

It wobbles sometimes, if you're anything like me. Wobbles pretty violently, and nearly falls over. But then like the proverbial weeble we are up again, standing. I wonder if it matters to God whether our standing is firm or weeble-like. I don't think so, really. Do you? What I do think is that God holds us there, wobbly or not. 'In oceans deep' we are not lost or drowned. In the Great Unknown we are not bewildered and beaten. In the mystery we find God. Again, and again, and again.

'Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour.'


Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Great In Between

So, Holy Saturday. A day between the absolute hideous sadness and the incredible joy. Balanced somewhere, tinged by hope for us, but not for those on the original day. Hope had left. Everything had changed, shut down, gone. Nothing remained. Mary, her tears falling without ceasing as she contemplated, and asked Why.

For us, it can be like our lives are in this Great In Between time. Tinged by sadness, shot through with hope. Sometimes one weighing greater than the other. For me, I've lately been finding it difficult to take my own advice regarding contentment (see last few posts), let alone Paul's exhortations in Philippians 4. I've been stuck on one end of the great in between scale, feeling little of hope and joy. Letting my physical state take over where my spirit was. It's easy to do, and I don't blame myself, but why do I forget so easily? Why do I not take hold of the hope, spend time pursuing God, and instead wallowing in the hopelessness of me? I've been stuck with infection, mainly housebound for the past few weeks now. It's frustrated me more than usual; I've been exercising a healthy dose of discontent with this lot. I got a bit sulky and felt militant at the thought of blogging or tweeting, because, you know, I might have to actually face up to the fact that this time, I wasn't really coping.

I'm still not better, as far as that word goes for me, but I have a little more strength. The main factor that caused me to blog today though arose from the fact that I was housebound yesterday. There were Adventure Bloke and the kids, off to Messy Church, and there was I, cross about not being able to go. Cross at Adventure Bloke for telling me plainly I shouldn't go and cross at God that he hadn't healed me so I could get out of this <insert inappropriate wordage> house. But then God surprised me, as God loves to do. I decided I should take the quiet time I had to go and reflect a bit on Good Friday. After all, it's what we Christians should do, right? A bit of reflection? Yep. So I did. And there God came. Met with me in that broken and slightly sulky place. Took me out of the mards and into his presence. In the words of the great Bethel Music in their song 'I can feel you', it was 'like sun on my skin, warm to the touch'. A tangible experience of God being there in the pain again. Why don't I remember these things?

And it led me to today, to thinking on the in between-ness of this day. And reflecting that many of us live in the Great In Between. Not having fully taken hold of the triumph, joy and all consuming power of Sunday, and not being fully immersed in the grief of Friday (well....sometimes. And that's OK.) - but living in a kind of Saturday state. A friend posted this today, from the nuns at iBenedictines :

"There is a quietness and stillness about Holy Saturday — a day out of time — that belies the intense activity of Christ. We do not know what happened in the tomb, but the ancient belief in the harrowing of hell, when Christ descended into the underworld to set free all the righteous who had died before his coming, reminds us that God is at work even when he seems most distant, most unapproachable.

Today we have no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, no colour or warmth to assuage our grief, no activity to distract us or give a false sense of security. We are simply waiting, all emotion spent. Most of us live our lives in perpetual Holy Saturday mode, our faith a bit wobbly, our hope a bit frail, but clinging to the cross and Resurrection with an obstinacy wiser than we know. Holy Saturday proclaims to anyone who will listen that when we cannot, God can and does. That is our faith, already tinged with Easter joy and gladness."

 That's it. That's where many - most? of us are. In a Saturday time, in the Great Between, in the Now and the Not Yet. And in this time we can find God there, working in our lives, achieving many things, things we might not even realise, and surprising us when we least expect it.  May we, today, this Holy Saturday, expect great things. May we, while living in the reality of the in-between, also grasp hold of the Great Hope of tomorrow, and live in the power of the resurrection, even while remaining in the brokenness of today.

It's Saturday....but Sunday's coming.

I can't wait.