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I’m on the toilet – Please advise

An older couple finally learned how to send and receive texts on their mobile phones.

The wife, being a romantic at heart, decided one day that she’d send her husband a text while she was out having coffee with a friend. She texted:

If you are sleeping, send me your dreams.
If you are laughing, send me your smile.
If you are eating, send me a bite.
If you are drinking, send me a sip.
If you are crying, send me your tears. I love you.

The husband, being a no-nonsense sort of guy, texted back:

I’m on the toilet.
Please advise.

Thanks Grove Books (http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/).

Now, I’ve been teaching about the Holy Spirit, and last Monday I organised a very special Holy Spirit day led by Ian Bentley from St. Mark’s, Oulton Broad, that was informative, challenging, and inspiring. So I obviously wanted to speak about the Holy Spirit today. Then I read that wonderful passage from the end of Romans 8 (Romans 8.26-end). So my prayers up to God, in the Spirit of course, felt very like those lovely verses sent by that wife to her husband: Poetic, warm and full of love.

And what seemed to come back felt more like the husband’s reply – I felt the Spirit saying, ‘Yes – talk about me’ but no great inspiration about what to say!

Then I realised why – he’d already answered. I just had to look back to Romans 8.26: The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. The Spirit had already given me the answer, but in my defence I wasn’t expecting the answer to be almost 2000 years old.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t going to give me nice words to write down. The Spirit wanted me, in my weakness, to spend time with him and let him speak for me. But in my pride, I wanted to say my nice words to my God, my nice words to you, so I was resisting. What a change when I stopped fighting and let the Spirit speak for me with sighs too deep for words. These are perhaps very poor words, but hopefully that of the Spirit will shine through.

That’s what I needed to remember. I needed to know that the Spirit is working in and through me. When I’m not so sure about all that ‘Holy Spirit stuff’, and I’m not being too thick and too stubborn to stop for a moment, then I look for the signs: the signs of the Holy Spirit are simple; even if I feel weak and useless I know that the Spirit is working in me, if: I’m becoming more loving, more forgiving, more patient, kind, with more self-control, when I don’t judge people. That’s what the Spirit of God does in me. That’s what Paul says the Spirit does in anyone that will let him (1 Corinthians 13). The sign of a Spirit filled church is God’s love – shared. Then special gifts and healing and prophecy and all the rest can come. But, to nick Paul’s words again, “without love I am nothing” and without love we are nothing.

I learn that with Love we are ready to receive more from God. With his love in us we are ready to receive gifts of healing, or prophecy or wisdom; we are ready to receive the whole variety of gifts that the Holy Spirit can give.

Then I see the love, and I’m comforted. But, I have a terrible memory and I keep forgetting. So pretty soon I don’t feel good enough again, or I’m afraid. For those times I have made myself memorise Romans 8.28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and Romans 3.38-39: I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I read those workds and smile. I read those words and remember that the Spirit seems to cope with me being forgetful. The Holy Spirit reminds me that he will help when I don’t feel good enough. I remember and I give thanks and I try harder: then, especially then, I need the Spirits help again. I’ll explain with a story:

A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her and loved her deep in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St.Peter, “that’s worth two points.”

“Two points!?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my money and service.”

“Terrific!” says St.Peter. “That”s certainly worth a point.”

“One point!?!! Well, I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the homeless.”

“Fantastic, that”s good for two more points,” he says.

“Two points!?!! Exasperated, the man cries, “I’ll never be good enough to get into heaven.”

“Bingo! 100 points! Come on in!”

Thanks again to Grove Books (http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/).

I told that joke against myself. As I said, the Spirit will help when I don’t feel good enough, the Spirit will help me when things get hard. I remember and I give thanks and then I try harder. The Spirit helps and I try harder; I try to take over again. It’s not possible, when I try I get nowhere. I need to let the Spirit help, then surrender more to him. Then things get better and only then.

I need to remember, and surrender to God. To help me remember I prayer a simple prayer which goes something like this: Father, fill me afresh with your Holy Spirit, do what you need to do to make me more like your Son Jesus – Father, help me to let you fill me with your Spirit, in Jesus name. Amen.

Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus

“It was hit by a rocket: MH17’s final moments – The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.”

“U.N. accuses Islamic State of executions, rape, forced child recruitment in Iraq”

“’Cannibal nurse’ trial jury retires”

“Inside Gaza: Constant Airstrikes And Shelling”

They were just a few news headlines that I picked up quickly on this morning. I could have picked up similar headlines at almost any time. The names and places might be different, perhaps based in Africa rather than the Middle East, or about kidnapping in South America, or care homes in the UK, but the ‘song’ would be the same. It is not hard to find plenty of symptoms of this world’s sickness.

Paul’s words in Romans 8 are as true now as they were then, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains” (Romans 8.22).

It is with all of this in mind that I read passages in the Bible about the end times. The sort of passages that I find in Romans 8 and story of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. I all see the horrors that are part of this world: human horrors like rape and war, and natural horrors like cancer and Alzheimer’s – I see these horrors and I cry out ‘why?’ I cry out ‘stop!’

It’s not just me, Christians and non-Christians are just as outraged. We all want a better, peaceful, world: A world of love and joy. I want it, most people want it; but we don’t like the sound of the medicine.

I want a better world, but I get nervous when I hear God’s plan to sort it, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13.41-43)

I think, “I want a better world, but will I be righteous enough to be part of it?”

I think, “It will be great to get rid of the men and women of hate and violence’. But then I think, “there but for the grace of God go I”.

I think, “What chance does a boy have growing up in a violent or abusive home”.

But still I want a better world. I want a world without pain, or crying, or mourning (Revelation 21), so I pray for Jesus to return and for the whole of creation to be set free from its pain. I know that the God I worship is loving and wise beyond any wisdom that I could ever posses. I know that God is to be trusted: So I trust God with my future and that of all things. I do all that I can to be a more holy person, and encourage others to do the same, then I trust the rest to God.

I can’t figure out quite how he will do it, but I do know that it will be alright. I know that because I know I know the Father and the Son now, through the Holy Spirit.

I hear:

“It was hit by a rocket: MH17’s final moments – The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.”

“U.N. accuses Islamic State of executions, rape, forced child recruitment in Iraq”

“’Cannibal nurse’ trial jury retires”

“Inside Gaza: Constant Airstrikes And Shelling”

I also hear these words from the Revelation 21: “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”

I then know that there is a better way, a better world; and pray with tears, “Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus”

Dreaming of Dormice, and the Wind in the Reeds

I have been reading the parable of the sower from Matthew 13, hoping that the Spirit would bring it alive for me. But the parable of the sower is so well know, over-used even, that it’s not that easy to find inspiration. It is the subject of Sunday School colouring, and school presentations. I tried to think about sowers but failed. So I thought some more and all that came to mind were dormice!

Dormice have a real charm to them and they are very rare in England. But what kept bringing them to mind was seeing a poster about them at Lopham Fen near where I live in Norfolk. Aparently, a new colony of these cute furry bundles have been found on that reserve. Another attaction to somewhere already imensely beautiful and precious; packed with wildlife, common and increadilby rare. It is also a place of real peace. If the cares of the world are starting to choke you like thorns then you could do much worse than to go down there and listen to the wind in the reeds for a while. Listen and let the cares fall away.

If you’re like me you know what you need to do. I hear Jesus’ words and set out to do them but I so easily get distracted, particularly when I’m really busy. Pervesely often that business is business being a Christian minister. I can stop and read my Bible. I can stop and pray or wait silently for God. But sometimes I find that I really need to get away. Sometimes physically being at home will lead me into more distractions and more business. So I need to get out.

A walk or a few winding lanes on my motorbike often hit the spot, but sometimes I need to sit awhile somewere quiet and beautiful. I had a favourite spot up on the North York Moors, but that is a little far to go now. So I am constantly on the look out for new special places; places that I can get to when I need them. On Friday I discovered Lopham Fen and added it to my little collection of special places.

Having been led by doormice to a special place for me to be close to God, I now can go back to the parable of the sower. I can hear the warnings there. My mind is a little clearer, and my spiritual glasses cleaner. I can return to the business of living my life for Christ alert for anything seeking to snatch away what has been sown in me. I know even more clearly that I have to let my faith grow into every part of my life so that it has strong roots and cannot be pulled out.

I know again that I need to be on my guard for all the things that would crowd out the Spirit’s light and choke my contentment. But the whispers keep coming, “He’s earning more than you”, “bet he doesn’t work half as hard” – “You’d love a bike like that – why haven’t you bought one then?” So subtle, but so powerful in the way that those sneeking thoughts slither under my guard. I know that I have all I need or really want, but part of me always wants more. So I can be fertile ground for the thorns and need to weed them out, pulling them up by the roots.

Then I can try and be fruitful, for a little while at least, until the next time. I know the whispers will be back, the subtle temptations will return, but for now I just see dormice and hear the rustling of the wind in the reeds.

God bless.

A little story of death and life

I want to tell you a little story that was sent to me last week (If you know who originally wrote it could you let me know so I can’t give them the credit?):

A minister had been to see a sick man. As he was leaving the sick man turned and said to him, ‘I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side..’

Very quietly, the minister said, ‘I don’t know..’

‘You don’t know? You’re, a Christian minister, and don’t know what’s on the other side?’

The minister was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the man, the minister said, ‘Did you notice my dog? He’s been waiting outside. He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there and that is enough.’

That story arrived at just the right time. I have been taking lots of funerals lately, and on Monday I have the funeral a friend who is also one of my ministers. With all of these services and all of the talking with bereaved relatives it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking about death and life.

Death is the final enemy of all living things, at least that is how it appears from here. Talking about the sheepfold Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10) If Jesus has come to give us life to the full, then life is indeed precious, a gift to be treasured, and the only life that we are sure of is this one.

We only know this earthly life, so the natural reaction to death is to be afraid. It is mine and the theif wants to steal it away. Will there be anything on the other side? If there is something on the other side, will it be good? How will I know? How can I be really sure?

Like that little story I don’t find descriptions of heaven all that helpful. What helps me is what I learn hear and now. I try and spend my time getting to know my master better. The Holy Spirit makes that job a bit easier. I keep finding that there is more to learn and to love. But what I have mostly learned so far is that I’m loved, and loved, and loved some more. I can completely trust Jesus to have a place for me, wherever that may be. My main hope now is that when the time comes, I will be as eager as that dog to get through the door!

Limited time offer for The Bet ~ US only

kungfupreacherman:

A great book for any of you out there in the USA. It’s also available over this side of the pond – full price but definitely worth it!

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

From today, The Bet will be on special offer on Amazon.com for a princely sum of 99 cents for 3 days, before going up to $1.99 for another 3 and then returning to its very reasonable normal price of $3.

Because I can’t see the price in the US (Amazon won’t show me!) please keep checking until it does show the reduced price and the Countdown box.

Get it while you can, as I probably won’t be doing this again.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009ISHLYI

View original

I know the power of the love of Jesus and I wonder…

“We have a Gospel to proclaim” a wonderfull hymn that I will sing later today. I  will sing those words together with lots of others. Hopefully, we will be full of joy and ready to share the wonder of God’s love with the people around us. But will we really do that or just sing the words and feel good? I’ll stop picking on them: Will I really prooclaim the Good News that Jesus has given me or will I just enjoy a good sing?

I want to be honest here, but I don’t like the answer. The answer, the true answer, is something like ‘I’m not too sure’, or ‘I hope so’. I hope that I will be open to the Spirit so that he can make my life attractive to others, or more accurately I pray that the Spirit will make His life within me shine out. I pray for it, I want it and sometimes I do it.

I was at the Royal Norfolk Show last week – both days leading a team of people reaching out to the crowds of people out for a great day. I was only a small part of it all but it felt good to stop and chat to people. To chat about the weather – the Show is very English. To chat about their children, their dogs, or livestock: A welcome, a link to God’s love. I chatted about Jesus too, normally, casually as if He really were my Saviour and friend, and theirs too. Which of course he is, but so often that bit gets dodged.

I shared what I have received from the Spirit. I shared and the Spirit gave more. So I shared some more and more of the Spirit came.

I came to the show, tired and busy: A little weary from all of the responsibilities of being a minister. I arrived at 7am wondering why I had ever let myself get involved when I am already over stretched. I prayed and the grace came down. I spoke to people and grace came. I prayed with people and helped them to be quiet with God –  and grace came. I helped sort out the tent, carried boxes, served coffees, made badges, and listened to life stories – and grace came down.

4,000 stickers had been printed to give out to children, and we ran out on the second day. Thousands of encounters with the Gospel, some with fellow Christians – I pray they were as encouraged as me. Thousands of encounters with the Gospel, some with people who did not know Jesus or were only passing aquaintences – I pray that they know him better now.

All of that outreach, all of that procaiming the Gospel gave me a little insight into Peter and Paul. Such different men. One a short tempered, bruiser of a fisherman; the other the class geek. So different but both used by the Spirit to shout out the good news that Jesus is alive, that death is not the end, that life can be different, better in so many ways with meaning and purpose.

Paul would have been the educated speaker who could explain the difficult bits. Peter was probably better at pub type ministry. But both are giants of the faith.

So I look at me, in my mind I look at my fellow Christians: I see short and tall; I see academic and non-academic; musical and non-musical; young and not so young. Some are naturally shy; some extroverts. If I learn nothing else from Peter and Paul, then I must learn this, that none of that matters, not really, not to God.

When I open my heart to him God fills me and leads me to share that with others. He uses my strengths and my weaknesses.

I want all people to be His too. I want more and more of us to rest in prayer some time and imagine looking Jesus in the eye. Some may not be strong, or confident, or maybe they are both of those things. Either way, through the Spirit Jesus will look in, see it all and love you and me and everyone into being more like him. Then he’ll lead us to share what he’s done in us with others. To share what we are, and know, and let the Spirit do the rest.

Peter never claimed to be a theologian, Paul never claimed to be a macho leader, and they became great leaders of our faith. None of us need to claim to be anything special, but I look and I wonder… I wonder what the Spirit will lead me and you to do, or say or be.

I know the power of the love of Jesus and I wonder…

I pray and, being English, I try so hard to keep the tears inside!

Last week I went into our Church High School. Nothing strange or unusual about that; I go in there several times most weeks. This time I was invited to something very special. I went to a celebration of art, and it was a celebration. The Sancroft Centre was full of displays of work, there was colour and texture and vibrancy. There was great live music from school musicians and radio being broadcast by students live from the event. There was a great atmosphere with primary school and high school students soaking up all the creativity around them. And more than that, they were engaging with it too. They were asking questions of the artists and deciding what they liked most, and why.

The quality of the art was as high as I have seen in many professional exhibitions but it was all produced by the high school students for their art GCSE exams. They may not be well known but the quality of their work and the depth of their imagination was truly breathtaking. Whether they knew it or not, they were joining with the great creative power of the maker of all things.

All of this talent, the visual art, the music, the young people taking interviews for live radio, all of that drew me to part of a single verse from Luke: “‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him…’” Luke.1.66. That verse was spoken about John the Baptist as a baby but I think all parents, and all good teachers wonder the same, “What … is this child going to be”. I saw talent and promise at that exhibition and I started to wonder, “‘What then is this child going to be?’” I talked to some of them. Some of them want to take their art further and others are heading in other directions; so much promise and hope!

But I also saw something disturbing: So much of the really good art was about pain and darkness, blood and sorrow. One piece was brilliant but the staff decided that it was too disturbing to go on public show, at least while there were younger children present. It was a simple picture of a teanage girl, naked and vulnerable, huddled, with her knees up close to her chest, but that wasn’t what was shocking. What almost tore migh heart out was the pain and the self-inflicted cuts and the blood.

These artists are so young and fresh, but they already seem burdened with the sadness of this world. I was moved to tears as I took it all in. I cry silently as I remember that there is an epidemic of self-loathing and self-harming among young people. They have so much but so many feel utterly worthless. I find it so hard to say because it is so deaply evil. The young should feel on top of the world with a bright vision of their life spreading out in front of them. But rather it seems as though they feel the weight of the whole world on top of them. I know that the high school is vigilent for signs of self-harm and does all it can to raise the self-esteem of all there, but still there is a hopelessness at the heart of too many young people.

That is why I try and spend as much time as I can in schools, primary and secondary. There is a deep, viseral need for hope. Hope that life has meaning and purpose – That their life might have meaning and purpose. This need can’t be filled with words or good intentions, it takes time and love and care. But I am not up to it. I can’t give hope; I know that.

I can’t do it, so I pray. I pray to be filled with the Spirit, so that my words might be His words, the right words. I pray that something of the living God may shine out of me and bring hope. I step out as one utterly unworthy to untie the sandles of Jesus, but full to overflowing with a sense of the value of the person God has made me to be. I pray that each of those young people may know the depth of the love that is there for them too.

I read again of John the Baptist that, “the child grew and became strong in spirit” and I pray that for each child and young person that I meet: May they grow and become strong in spirit, may they find meaning and love and purpose for their lives. I pray that for myself, and for all – I look into eyes needing hope and pray, “grow and become strong in spirit.” I pray and, being English, I try so hard to keep the tears inside!

I’ve been thinking about my bees and the Trinity…

I’ve been thinking about my bees… and the Trinity. A strange combination I know, but it worked for me.

You see, each of my bees are separate individuals. There are tens of thousands of them in each hive, all working together but all still different and unique. But then there are different types of bees in the hive. There are three types of bees:

the workers who are all female,

the males, and

the queen.

Together these three make the living entity that is the hive and none of them can survive without the others. We tend to think that the queen controls the hive but she doesn’t, at least not on her own. The queen, the males and the workers all affect what the hive does, when and how.

Like the three different types of bee, all working together to make one hive there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all working together to make one God – Now you see where the Trinity comes in! Each is God but each is also different and essential. But if you’re like me all this discussion of Three in One and One in Three doesn’t really help that much. I remember studying the original definitions of the Trinity. There was so much debate and argument which explained so much to my head, but sadly said very little to my heart.

The Greek philosophy of ‘substance’ and ‘accidents’ originally used to explain the Trinity is elegant but I don’t think like the ancient Greeks so that isn’t much help either. Indeed, the whole way that we understand how the world is made has changed since those times. That led to debates at when I was at the Vicar Factory about whether the creeds should be re-written and the Trinity re-defined. But given the difficulty we have about agreeing about simple things I can’t see that ever happening. Just imagine the endless debates in Synod! I do, every time I want to get off to sleep!

Thankfully, I have long since stopped worrying about such things. I stopped worrying about the definition of the Trinity and started to wonder about the reality. I now see all those definitions as guides to the experience of the Trinity, as doorways into how to live as part of the Trinity.

For example, I know that I am called to be more Christlike, i.e. more like God. This is practical because to learn to be more Godlike it helps to know about who God is, and the Trinity tells me a lot about who God is:

When I think of God as Father, I remember that God is – Creator, sustainer, king of all things, judge, loving, redeemer, holy, eternal, knows all, is always present, wise, all of me (as my Creator), everything is made from God the creator…

When I think of God the Son, I remember that God is – Jesus, friend, Saviour, loving, challenging, family (with the Father)…

When I think of God the Holy Spirit, I remember that God is – everywhere, in all his people, powerful, personal, ever present, showing me who he is, wanting me to be like Him and part of Him, part of every part of me (like my blood), my father, my brother, my friend, accepting, challenging and everything said about the Son and the Father…

When I think of God, all together as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I remember that God is – A community, loving, sharing, inviting of me and everyone and everything to be part of that community, everything said about one can be said about the others, complex, far more than I could ever put down in words…

After all of that I need to remember that I don’t have to know everything, that’s God’s job. I only need to learn what I can, and most importantly of all, I need to let the Holy Spirit make me part of the Trinity. When the Spirit works in me he makes me part of that special and wonderful relationship. Then I don’t just have theories and definitions of the Trinity; then with the Spirit, I have first hand experience of who this God is.

It is important to learn about who God is, so that I can have some idea of the sort of person that God is going to make me into. There are lots of definitions but this God who is a living, eternal relationship can only really be understood by experience. I can only really know about God by joining this relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is why the Father sent Jesus. That is what Jesus invites me into. That is what the Spirit in me does. That’s what I want to be part of, now and for ever.

Have you ever been really thirsty?

Have you ever been really thirsty? I’ve never been days without water as you see in some survival stories. But I have been really thirsty; so thirsty that I was light headed and my tongue was sticking to my mouth. I was in my early teens and was walking in the North York Moors. It had been a long walk over rough paths right through a hot day. I had water with me but, being tired, I forgot to top up half way. I had started in the early morning and by the afternoon my water ran out. By early evening I was thirsty, by late evening I still had about 5 miles to go, and that was when I really felt thirsty. Then about 2 miles further there was a little stream coming out of a rock and running across the path. I was high up and it was clean. I scrambled up to where it came out of the rock and drank gulp after gulp from my hands and filled my water bottles. It seemed like nectar. When I woke up the next morning the water was so full of iron that I tipped it away. But that night it was sweet.

It is that longing for water that I think about when I read John 7.37-39 and think of Pentecost. That longing is how I should always feel. Longing for more of the Spirit. The difference though is that the Spirit is sweet every time I taste. In fact the Spirit seems to be sweeter every time. The more the Spirit works in me the more I learn to love his presence in me, the taste of God’s wisdom and power working through me.

I can read the description of that first Pentecost in Acts 2, but for me it is that image of living, flowing water that really moves me. I’ve never been to Jerusalem, and even if I had I would find it hard to really imagine what it would have been like to have been their 2,000 years ago. I am not a Jew, and I’m not from Pamphilia, or Syria or anywhere else like that. I am English, so those stories, while moving, are always a little distant from me.

But water, and the longing for good clean water. Now that I can understand. Even if it is just that most English of wishes – for a good cup of tea. It’s been a busy day and you long for that cuppa that seems to be calling to you from home. The pleasure of that first cuppa of the morning. That is something I can understand. I know that it’s now where near the pleasure of receiving the Holy Spirit but it is at least a start.

After all, how can I ever truly describe the experience of the Holy Spirit: The knowledge that the God who created all things is in me, working through me; is one with me if I’ll let him in. Now that is beyond words. That experience can only be experienced. It changes everything for ever.

Colours are brighter and sharper with the Spirit. The world is suddenly alive with God’s life and power. God is present in the good and bad in my life. The Spirit flows with my dears and shakes with my laughter. How wonderful is that. The Spirit leads and guides, when I let him. Then things work out.

I’ve noticed that if I try to speak or plan or organise, I quickly get weighed down by the impossibility of caring for 7 churches, 3 church primary schools, and a church high school. Everything becomes too much to bear. Then I laugh at myself. I really am pretty stupid. None of this is my job. My job is to be open to the Holy Spirit within me, to listen and respond to his guidance. That is what led me to this place. Then it is as though a cloud lifts, a weight too, I hand back to God all that was always his anyway.

Then good things happen – the right things, at the right time. I listen to the Spirit and I become more sensitive to the opportunities that he has prepared.

Then I feel proud of what has happened. I take control again, and that heavy weight descends once again. Then everything is a struggle again, I get grumpy, and things just don’t go as they should. It is as though I’m thirsty, desperately thirsty for the Spirit, but I’ve convinced myself that I’m too busy to stop and drink. Stupid, I know, but I never claimed to be that bright!

Finally, I turn to prayer again. The Spirit flows back into my mind and heart and I’m restored again. I drink deeply from God, and the light comes back on. I don’t have the certainty of knowing the future, but I do know that I’m going the right way. The Spirit doesn’t always give the reasons but his presence alone gives all the reassurance that I need.

I know this is a bit rambling. But that is what a relationship with the Spirit is. The Spirit flows where he wills. Sometimes, I have the illusion of knowing where I’m headed or even of being in control. But always the Spirit flows where he wills. In me… and in you?..

Lord, if you ever feel like sharing… well you know… I’m listening…

“It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set” (Acts 1.7). But Lord I want to know! Please let me into the secret, I promise not to tell, honest, ‘Please – Pretty please – Pretty please with a cherry on top’ – ‘cross my heart – hope to die’…

That is how I feel about that statement. Jesus has returned to the Father and I have that privilege of being a witness to all that Jesus has done to all people, starting here with my own people in this place where God has put me (see Acts 1.8). I am promised the Spirit (Acts 1.5), and I have received the Spirit, he guides and supports me. But that great question still remains, “When Lord? When will you come back?”

I am told that Jesus will return in a way at least as obvious as the one that took him to heaven. But it is now 2,000 years of waiting. Those first disciples were expecting Jesus to return at any moment. Indeed, there is a real sense of expectancy running right through Acts, the New Testament letters and Revelation. The story is almost breathless with anticipation of Jesus coming at any moment.

In Acts I hear of the first followers of Jesus selling everything, and giving it away. It was clear that they felt no need to prepare for the future, Jesus was coming very soon.

In Peter’s second letter he even writes about people who were starting to laugh at the Christians saying, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3.4). Peter responds by encouraging people that Jesus is being patient with the failings of this world but that he will still come soon, and when least expected, like a thief.

Even so, I’m sure Peter must have have remembered those words of Jesus before he ascended, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set” (Acts 1.7). Now Peter was famous for his bluntness so I can imagine him responding “But Lord I need to know! You say that you love me, you know that I do and that I obey your commandments, so tell me when you’re coming back! At the very least let me know roughly how long to wait!”

I can imagine Peter getting heated with Jesus. But the strange thing is, Peter has his answer in his own letter, where he writes, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3.8). How true Peter was. Two thousand years later or is it two days, we are still waiting.

I see pain and suffering and I want to know when it will end. I sit with grieving families and I want to know when he will wipe away their tears, when mourning and crying will be no more. I remember that reading that I so often use at funerals: “I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever” (Revelation 21.3-4).

So you see Lord, I have a professional interest, it’s not just being nosy. So perhaps just a hint or two? If not for me, then for the grieving families that I visit?..

Then I watch the news and I see wars and famines and disasters, and again, I want to know.

So when I think of Jesus ascending into heaven, and when I think of Jesus return I’m sure I’m not alone in my shouting up to God, “How long?” I’m told to wait expectantly, to be ready at all times, but it would be nice to know how long. How long will people suffer and die? How long will pain and suffering be just a fact of life?

I really want to know but just like Peter and Paul, and the other apostles; just like Christians throughout 2,000 years of history; I am told the same, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set” (Acts 1.7). No matter how much I plead, the answer is still the same, “No”.

I know now that no matter how much I’m loved by Jesus, the first that I will ever know of Jesus’ return will be the event itself. So, perhaps it is for the best. There is no point in fretting over God’s business when I have enough to do here. I’m told to get my life ready, so I’m not embarrassed or ashamed when he comes, and believe me I’ve got plenty to do there. I should get on with getting myself in order and stop worrying about things that don’t concern me.

When the disciples were looking up to heaven, trying to take in what it really meant for Jesus to be taken from them, they were told by two angels, “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1.11). Like them I’m told to spread the Good News to all people, wherever I go, starting right here where I live. I try, but again I have a long way to go. There are still so many people who don’t know Jesus. So many people who don’t realise the wonder of knowing that they are loved by their creator, and that he wants to work in and through them.

So, perhaps I should grow up. Perhaps I should stop being like a toddler hoping that I’ll get what I want from God if I say, ‘Please – Pretty please – Pretty please with a cherry on top’.

Lord, help me to stop worrying about how you will do your job. Lord, help me to get on with the job that you’ve given me… But Lord, if you ever feel like sharing, … well you know… I’m listening…

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