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February 28, 2015

I have a good and happy life. I want for very little. I have all the food that I need, and plenty more besides! I have a comfortable car and a fun motorbike. I have a lovely house, bees, ducks in the pond, warmth and the wonder of the internet. I have a family that loves me and I live in a civilised and safe country. I think I also live in one of the most welcoming and genuinely ‘nice’ towns in England. I am healthy and reasonably fit. Life is good!

Each day I start my prayers with thanks for all of these good things that God has given. I end each day in the same way and try to hold something of this thankfulness in between. These are wonderful blessings and I thank my Father for each one. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things of this world. Each one is a gift and as such should be cherished and celebrated, even in Lent.

All of these things are given to me as gifts, they are not earned, they are simply gifts. Yes, I work hard but I am no more deserving of luxury than some person struggling every day to live a life with profound disability, or someone working hard all day picking through a rubbish dump to find something to sell. I work partly because I must to pay the bills, but mostly I work because I love my work as a minister of Christ. It is a huge privilege to do what I do, it brings contentment and deep joy. Thank you Jesus!

All these good things are gifts from God to be celebrated. But each one can also be a trap. I know that the jaws of this trap are close when I read:

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8.34-36)

I read and I shout, I love my life as it is, I don’t want to lose it! I find myself putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La, la, la” so I can’t hear Jesus’ words. I want the bright things around me to dazzle my eyes so I can’t read the words. Maybe if I keep this up, Jesus will start to talk about love and peace and joy. My nice life will be safe then!

All the good things in my life are to be enjoyed as presents from God, but how easily they become a trap. How quickly they can become the foundation for my life: of my happiness. I blink and suddenly all these things are THE reason I get up on a morning. It’s dramatic but it all happens so subtly, gently even. I get used to a certain level of comfort. I then take this for granted. I then can’t imagine living without these things. My nice lifestyle become my gospel, my good news, my god. I find that I become addicted to my nice life. I am being drugged into a lifeless sleep, one from which, in the end, there is no waking up.

If you’ve ever watched the Disney version of The Jungle Book then its like having the huge snake Kaa, singing softly in my ear, “go to sleep… go to sleep… sleep… sleep”, as the coils slowly, gently even begin to wrap and tighten. A real and present danger. That is why I think Jesus shouts at Peter and calls him Satan (The Tempter):

(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ Mark 8.31-33.

Peter was falling under the spell and needed a good shake to wake him up. So Jesus does just that, effectively Jesus shouts, “Peter watch out! Wake up!”. Jesus loved Peter enough to be a little rough with him: Jesus loves me just the same so sometimes I need a jolt too. I need to be reminded that my only true source of contentment or happiness is Jesus. The only way I can be sure of being safe is by letting go and letting the Holy Spirit have his way. I need to let Jesus shake me and shout “Wake up!”, “Wake up and smell the sulphur!”.

I know this. I know it to be true but it’s though I’m half in a dream and can’t quite wake up. I know that I’m in danger but as I struggle to wake the soft words work even harder to send me to sleep again: “go to sleep… sleep… be a good boy… dream of your bike… running… nice food… family… have a drink… go to sleep… you’re so tired… just for a little while… go to sleep… that’s right…”

I’m sleepwalking to Satan. Then I feel the Spirit shaking me. I wake some more and laugh at the Tempter.  He can try but he can never win! I laugh again, thank God for his generosity, for the good things that he gives. I thank him too for loving me enough to give me a good shake to wake me up and I pray:

Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil. Amen

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