16 October, 2009

Team Work and God's Timing

When you get married you're suddenly part of a team. If you're sure that God wanted you to marry (and presumably you wouldn't have done it if you weren't) then you have to also assume that His plans for each of you are inextricably linked. With some things they may be more about one of you - a promotion at work for example - but the other is still part of it. Other things, often the big things in life, require even more team work. I'm talking about deciding whether or not to make a big move or to travel to some far flung place with a missionary team, deciding if you want children and when, or making the financial leap from both working nine 'til fives to something less secure. That's when it can get tricky.

Take one of those examples - say, when to have children. That's a big deal for any couple. In theory you might have your principals; maybe you firmly believe starting a family young is best or maybe you think you should see a bit of life together before sharing it with dependents. But really, theory goes out of the window at some point and, humans that we are, feelings come into it. We get into trouble when we take God out of it and just base our feelings on our own wants. Say you want a baby and your spouse isn't ready (or you want to jet off to Africa and your spouse doesn't, or any other example) then do you really think it's the right time? Or do you just wish it was? From my experience, the time is right when you feel - you BOTH feel - a sense of peace about a decision. You wanting a baby, or to travel, or to move to a remote Scottish island does not make it the right thing. If it's the right time and you're both talking to God regularly enough to hear Him then you will know about it and you will both feel totally comfortable with the decision. You may be apprehensive or scared or unsure about how it all comes together but you will be at peace. If you're not in that state, both of you, then it's not right.

For someone like me, Little Mrs Impatient at the best of times, that's tough to take. I want things when I want them even though I know that God has a plan that's not just different but better than my gut instincts ever could be. Sure I could go and rent a house in my dream location and tell my husband that if he really loved me he'd come with me, or I could stop taking that little pill in the morning without telling him and "accidentally" fall pregnant (or take it without telling him and not fall pregnant if he gets broody before me!). But all that would highlight was a marriage that was failing at a fundamental level. That would be a marriage with no team work at all. If I didn't trust him with absolutely everything and if I wasn't willing for him, as the head of our household, to finalise our decisions, then why on Earth would I have married him?!

In the end I like to look at it this way: God knows my heart and its desires. He knows what is ahead of me and what lies behind. If I am waiting to hear when is the right time to move, change job, have children, or anything else then He will make it known. In the meantime, He has other plans! He's not waiting in silence until it's time for this one event; I can spend all my time moping about wanting something or I can find out what I'm meant to be up to in the meantime. Because maybe I have lessons to learn and things to do, jobs to work in for a couple of years, something else to make of my life, or just time to serve before I get what I think I want now. And when God whispers "now" into my ear and into the ear of my husband we'll know and it will be so good because it will all be happening at the perfect time. I can try and convince myself that what I want must be right because I want it and maybe my friends already have it, I can even try to put pressure on my husband to feel the same way I do, OR I can get on with life, enjoy how it is now and be the team member I swore I would be on the day we exchanged rings.

Waiting on God is always the most important thing with any decision. In a marriage it has to be a team effort.

19 August, 2009

Willing Slavery

The husband and I have been reading the letters of Peter over the last couple of weeks. I had forgotten how great they are. So many wise words and so many ideas; it would be easy enough to spend a year studying just those eight chapters.
Peter sets out the impossible as an expectation (be holy, as God is holy – 1 Peter 1:15) and leaves no room for excuses. But this is a man who understands how hard it can be, he understands that there will be adversity to face. He tells us to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7), but he doesn't expect us to get it right every time. He is even the first person to make the complaint that thousands of Christians have made over the last two millennia: some things in Paul's letters are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). If Paul is the grand lecturer, the celebrated professor, of early Christian writing, then Peter is surely that teacher that everyone likes, even if they don't let you get away with not handing in your homework.
There are many themes in Peter's letters: living as an example to others, not being tempted by the ways of the world, not listening to false teachings, striving towards the end times... And through it all, you get the feeling that he's rooting for you somehow. If you mess up then he would be right there behind you, spurring you on to bigger and better things. If you get something right, then he'd be there on the sidelines waving pompoms.
Of all the verses in the letters of Peter to catch my eye, 2 Peter 2:19 would be the most glaring.

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are slaves of things that will be destroyed. For people are slaves of anything that controls them.”

At that moment he is talking about people who teach lies and try to lead people away from the Truth, but I think it's a poignant passage for people of any time. For aren't we all slaves to something? It is traditional, when talking about the slavery of the world, to mention the obvious evils such as addictions and gambling and then to make some sage comments about how we are immersed in a culture that is a slave to money and possessions. No doubt this is true. We are surrounded by adverts implying that we could be happier/richer/more popular/better people, if only we were to own a particular car/sofa/deodorant/box of chocolates... These things promise so much. They promise freedom, but they themselves are not free. But it is not just material possessions that enslave us. Our desires to be rich may control some of our actions, such as our choice of job, but what controls our thoughts and our words and the way we treat other people? It will be different things for different ones of us. Maybe it is a dissatisfaction with where we live, our desire for our relationships with our parents or spouse to be like those of our friends, our obsession with finding our own perfect partner because all our friends have got married, our need to make our voice heard in the workplace. Whatever it is, if it controls our behaviour in some way then we are slaves to it.
We have been given our freedom by God, but we must become slaves to something, we must find something that will dictate the way we live our lives. Of course, we could let that thing be God himself. We could give back that freedom and say, “You know what God, if I'm going to be a slave to anything, I'd kinda rather it was you than my need for a perfect husband/job/friends/house...” Sound a bit hard? Well, the beautiful thing about grace is that we are given perfect freedom to both try to be slaves only to God AND to get it wrong time and time again without fear of punishment. In the words of Peter:
“I wrote to encourage you and to tell you that THIS is the true grace of God. Stand strong in that grace.” (1 Peter 5:12)

07 June, 2009

Just Because...

I was talking about faith with a family member the other day and we were talking about the pitfalls of always trying to have answers. We humans have an obsession with knowing how things work and why things happen. As a scientist myself I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but we can become blinkered by this obsession. Christians can be the worst of all. What is it that stops us saying that we don't know? When people question our faith we can't stand the thought of answering them with an "I don't know". We feel like if our faith is strong then we should have all the solutions, all the pithy quotes.

I came to faith in an almost clinical manner. I studied historical facts and followed A+B=C thought processes until I arrived at what was to me, the most logical conclusion. Since then my life has changed hugely. I have seen prayers answered and lives turned around. I have witnessed the great power of God, heard tell of many miracles, seen wonderful healing. I have studied the bible and experienced its uniqueness and very great wisdom, I have seen the good works people do in the name of their faith. But, despite all this, there is something much more. It is like true love. I love my husband very much; he is a wise, strong, compassionate man, who puts God first, me second and himself last. He has so many amazing qualities and attributes to admire. but that's not why I love him. If there was no "just because", it wouldn't be love.

Faith is the same. I have many solid things to base my faith on but actually, running all through it and underpinning it all, there is my "just because". It's something we need to embrace. We mustn't let people make us feel inferior for not having a definite, qualitative answer to every question; for not conforming to a world obsessed with scientific justification. After all, who would you have the most respect for: someone who had a quick answer for everything or someone who admitted perhaps there were some things that they did not understand? "Just because" may have been the annoying answer your parents gave you as a child when you questionned their instructions, it may not be the answer you feel comfortable giving to your friends, but to God, it's the best answer of all.

01 May, 2009

In Praise of Patience

My problem, or at least one of my many, is a distinct lack of patience when it comes to God. I think we've all been there; praying for healing and then being disappointed that the person we are praying for didn't jump up out of their bed completely healed. Even if they do get better miraculously quickly that's not quite good enough for us, we want instant gratification; God on tap.

But actually my problem isn't so much impatience when it comes to seeing answers to prayer but when it comes to personal development and calling. I want a signed letter from God telling me what my calling is and what I need to do about it. I want to have all the gifts of the Spirit, to understand the bible perfectly, to worship more deeply, to live more prayerfully. And I want all of this now. Passion, drive and the desire to be better is a good thing, but God never promised us that it was going to be easy or that all the tools of being a "good Christian" were guaranteed by 1pm the day after conversion.

I think a lot of my impatience comes from reading the gospels and the acts of the apostles as if they were written in real time. I'm currently reading Acts again and, although I'm only half way through, Saul has approved of the murder of many Christians, been blinded and then converted and then given his sight back, preached in several cities, had his name changed to Paul, been nearly killed a few times and is now heading out on the first of his many missionary journeys. How can I compete with that?! However, I have had, via the wisdom of William Barclay, a revelation. I have discovered that when a newly-converted Paul preached in Damascus it wasn't for the length of a few bible verses but for three years, and when he travelled to Tarsus after fleeing Jerusalem he was there for nine years before God sent Barnabus (who is incidentally my absolute favourite non-divine biblical character)to call Paul onwards. So Paul was a Christian for at least twelve years before he set off on his missionary journey. I find that encouraging.

I think the principle of "telling tomorrow what you heard today" is a great way to go at evangelism and I am sure that is exactly what Paul did during that time. He doesn't disappear into the background of the church for a dozen years or so, sitting quietly in the back row of the meeting on the Sabbath, perhaps popping his name down on the refreshment rota once a month, but neither does he recieve his grand commission. It has been a valuable lesson for me, a Christian of not quite three years, to know that is IS possible to be serving God, learning and growing without knowing what your life's work will be. All that is needed is a little trust, a smidge of obedience and a good healthy dollop of pateince. I'm working on it anyway...

"Patience is better than strength..." -Proverbs 16:32(a)-

16 April, 2009

Peter's Shadow

Living in the shadows is an expression that has many negative connotations. We use it to mean living under a great oppressive force or being dominated. Living in someone else's shadow is seen as something that stops us showing the world what we're made of, it stops us achieving our own goals; taking second place to someone else's ambition. But there was one time when people would do anything to be in the shadow of another person...

In the book of Acts, Peter heals a crippled man and gets himself into a spot of bother with the local Saducees. The main problem that the Saducees had was that they couldn't deny the miracle; many people witnessed the wonderful change in the crippled beggar they saw by the gates of the temple and they believed because of it. Although Peter and John are warned not to carry on preaching, of course they did and we get to a situation where: "The people placed their sick on beds and mats in the streets, hoping that when Peter passed by at least his shadow might fall on them." (Acts 5:15)

Peter was not the promised Messiah. Some people may have thought that he was, but most would have known that he was just a man, and yet they had the faith to believe that if the shadow of this man who had known God fell on them then they would be healed. They didn't expect God to reach from the heavens and touch them with His own hand, they weren't seeking God's own shadow to crawl into, they didn't expect Peter to speak to them himself, all they needed was the shadow of a mortal man who knew God. Amazing. I want to live with that faith. More than that though I want to be a person who knows God so intimately that people feel like they can catch a glimpse of Him just by being close. I want to live in a way where even my shadow declares the glory of God.

If Peter was a flawed and mortal man who made mistakes and screwed things up (and he was), then I am even more imperfect, but God doesn't need perfection to work miracles and change lives. Sometimes, all He needs is for us to be willing to offer our lives for His use. Sometimes all He needs is to borrow our shadows.

02 April, 2009

Pieces of God

I always say that I am not the sort of person who gets images and visions when I pray. Yet, just occasionally I do see something. It is never a mighty mountain, blossoming flower or tall tree, as is fashionable, but always something strange and complex. Most I note with interest before moving my prayers swiftly onwards, one however has stuck with me for many months now...

I was trekking down a long, dark tunnel. The wall at the end of the tunnel was lit up and hanging on it was a huge piece of jigsaw. It was a piece of God. Walking down that tunnel, finding the jigsaw piece and being able to pick it up were all pretty exciting, but then I realised that I now had to carry it all the way back through the dark tunnel in order to slot it into place. The piece was very heavy and difficult to hold on to and the journey back down the tunnel seemed a lot longer than the outward journey had been.

I'm sure no one needs the potential meaning of this explained but humour me. We all have exciting times when we're discovering more of God: times when He is giving us fresh revelations about Himself or His plans for us. But once the revelation has been made we need to spend some time fitting it into our lives. It may be difficult to hold on to His word and it may seem to place a burden on us but if we just rush down every tunnel we can find, without ever picking up what we've been shown, we will never see the bigger picture. The journey we take when we are trying to understand all we know of God may seem very long and difficult compared to the excitement of discovery, but that is where faith is built. Anyone can be faithful when God appears before them in full glory, real faith is when we are struggling down a dark tunnel, under a heavy burden, perhaps not even sure we are going in the right direction at all, and still we choose to say, "God, you are my God. I search for You, I thirst for you..." (Psalm 63:1)

23 March, 2009


Dear World,

I want to let you know how sorry I am; I feel we owe you an apology. You see, we Christians aren't perfect. We don't have a monopoly on being right or even on being "good". In fact we're no better than anyone else. But I know we've hurt you World, I know we've caused so much damage that you can't even look at us any more.

It wasn't meant to be like this. We were meant to be showing you how much God loves you, instead we were trying to get you to love us more. I am sorry. I am sorry too for all those wrong things we did in the name of faith. We went on crusades and we executed people who didn't believe, we started wars in the name of God and stole money from the poor to build our golden altars.

I am sorry for our hypocrisy; all those times when we don't practice what we preach and for making you feel inferior. I am sorry for being elitist and self-righteous; for making you feel like you weren't welcome. I apologise for all those people who preach hate; who wave banners at the funerals of soldiers and dance on the graves of AIDS victims and I am sorry I didn't try to stop them. I am sorry for all those times we made our message boring or insulted your intelligence by watering it down.

I am sorry we don't have the answers to your questions and I am sorry for all those times we pretended we did so we wouldn't look bad. Oh World, I am so sorry we tried to preach to you before we even asked your name. I am sorry we were too busy wrapped up in each other that we didn't notice you were hurting. I am sorry we were so busy we didn't notice you at all.

Please don't judge our message on how we deliver it. Please don't close your eyes to its beauty just because we are ugly. Don't refuse to listen just because we can't sing in tune. You see World, our body is flawed and broken. We are a mess and sometimes we forget that. I know an apology won't make up for all we've done to you, but won't you forgive us? Won't you let us try again?

18 March, 2009

Infuriating Grace

Grace is the ultimate gift from God. Grace is the biggest act of love that was ever shown. Grace is what allows someone like me, lift my eyes to the Heavens and address the mighty creator. It forgives me for my sins before I've even done anything wrong. It means I don't have to match up to a perfect ideal and it means that I don't have to earn God's love. So you would think that grace, of all things, would not make me angry.

Right now, you would probably think right. But it wasn't always so. As a new Christian, I found grace abhorrent somehow. Who did God think He was, offering me this free gift; telling me that there was nothing I could do to repay Him for it?! Giving someone a gift out of love on a birthday or when they get married is one thing, grace is a whole different story. Grace isn't a gentle showering of gifts, it is an embarrassingly torrential deluge of love, for which a scribbled note inside a nice card could never express enough gratitude for. It's charity at its widest and wildest, deepest and most humbling. And I didn't like it. I didn't want to feel indebted to God, I wanted to prove I was good enough to earn His favour.

Well, as any Christian will tell you, it didn't take long to become very grateful indeed for grace. You soon realise that God's standard is perfection and you are never going to make that grade. However hard you try, you are not going to be perfect. And it's in that gap between you and perfection that God has neatly inserted grace. And what an amazing bridge it makes.

So, you've finally come to terms with grace and you start to think about love. And guess what? You get angry again. Here you are, having made a fresh comittment to follow God, to read the bible and to try to live out its principles for the rest of you life, and yet God loves you no more than He loves all those people who ignore Him or even deny His existence. All people faithful and unfaithful, moral, immoral and amoral, have equal claim to God's love. Yes, logically you know that God loves everyone equally because He loves everyone maximally and you know that there are better reasons for following the way of the LORD than to become a teacher's pet, but it's still annoying isn't it? I worship a God who doesn't descriminate between people, who doesn't require anybody to earn their love from Him, who doesn't keep a record of right and wrong and whose love is freely available to all. And actually, I wouldn't worship a God who did it any other way.

You see at one point there was a time when people would have been angry about God's love for me. There was a time when I didn't love the LORD and someone, somewhere was angry because God loved me just as much as He loved them for all their church attendence and bible study. Therefore, I am for one, very grateful for God's love. For if He hadn't loved me, would He have run after me shouting and waving His arms, desperately trying to get my attention? If He hadn't loved me that much would He have put in my broad path to destruction all those things that made me notice the narrow path running alongside? At one point, you see, I was - like every Christian is for a time - the newest Christian on earth. Maybe it was only for a millisecond, but for that time I took my place in history because God loved me when I didn't love Him. It wasn't because God had a duty towards me or that he wanted to boost His viewing figures. It was because He loved me. And how then could I possibly begrudge other people God's love? There will be people out there, who do not love the LORD, who live great and good lives and there will be others who live, in every sense, in the gutter, and how could I ever wish them to have less of God's love?

But you see, something has just started happening to me. I'm beginning to get angry again. I thought I had it sorted but it turns out I haven't quite got grace pinned down. Recently I've started getting angry, not that God loves unbelievers like He loves me, but that God loves me like He loves people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and the apostle Peter. I do not deserve that. But, I figure, at least these people are human. So maybe I can never live up to God's perfect standard but maybe I can have a shot at the standard these people set? It's worth a try anyway. After all, they didn't deserve grace either.

Why would I do this?

I believe the first post on any blog is meant to be a rationale for the author's reason for starting it. So here it is.

To be brutally honest, I'm starting it out of pure self-interest. I wanted a space to put into writing all my thoughts and ramblings on God, the Bible and Christianity. I am not pretending to compete with the theological greats or add anything significant to the tonnes of Christian blogs already out there. Sometimes I just want to think more deeply about something, let off steam or think aloud. This is my way of doing all those things.

God bless you.

"Yet, O LORD, You are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand." -Isaiah 64:8-