I think if I could preach some themes from my sermons over again I would change them a bit. I don’t think there is truth I would alter but some of the advice I gave to “help” people probably didn’t! You see, I have never been unwell before this illness. So for example, when I gave any advice on devotional life I gave it on the basis of people feeling as well and able in body, mind and spirit as I happened to be at that point of my life. Well, that was a bit thoughtless to be honest. I see that now, from the place of not being so well. Thinking back to the advice I have heard others, especially visiting speakers or conference speakers give on spiritual life or devotional discipline over the years I can see the same fault as was mine. At times it was as though we, as those listening, were being set an impossible standard, as impossible as Pharaoh’s command that the Israelites should make bricks without being provided with any help in the process. It was as though the speaker’s personality type or levels of energy and well-being and even their life story that made them the way they were, were all being imposed on us, not just the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps just in passing you need to ask yourself if in your thinking God is like Pharaoh, or a seemingly “got it all sussed out” conference speaker, or even like that minister that you have been striving for years to become like?
Let me tell you how my devotional life is now thanks to illness and even more so to steroids. I cannot always go into a secret and quiet place with the Lord as and when I plan or want to. Steroids make me all speeded up, and stop me sleeping so make me tired at the same time. My body and mind rarely seem to be moving at the same pace. There was one glorious moment much earlier on in my treatment when I had to take a plane journey. For a couple of moments I had the wonderful sensation as the plane roared along the runway and took off that everything was at last moving at the same speed: body, mind, emotions! Morag noticed how relaxed I had gone. It was a moment of harmony and bliss! Heavenly relief!
Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that sometimes when I try and come before the Lord, I can’t. Either my body or my mind won’t let me. I have to seize moments when quietness and stillness seem within reach. I decided just today to stop beating myself up about that. To those who love discipline I guess that sounds undisciplined. I am just incredibly grateful,to share a thought from Hernri Nouwen from memory, that when my inner life seems like a banana tree full of monkeys jumping up and down, there are moments of calm and settling.
In these moments I have a spiritual imagination picture that comes to mind which I think the Lord gave me to help me. I see Jesus waiting for me in a cellar below the surface house of my life. I guess a cellar because there are some pretty foundational shifts going on in my long established thinking about ministry, call, worth, future etc. Does Jesus actually look like He looks like in my spiritual imagination? I have no idea, but just as a throwaway awareness, He looks incredibly ordinary… the sort of person you would pass by in the street and they would hardly register in your attention or thinking.
He calls me to come and sit before him as He sits. At times I cannot settle despite feeling I would have been able to. At such moments He bends forward and touches my face, sometimes pulling my cheek with great warmth and affection and even humour. Everything about Him says, “Don’t worry. It will work another time. Be of good cheer, Kenny!” He does not blame me, but encourages me with the thought that I tried and can try again.
At those times I do manage to settle, He sometimes just smiles at me and I smile at Him, when eventually all the rubbish thoughts that make it difficult for me to hold His gaze of grace and love are dealt with. It is as though we don’t really feel the need to say anything to one another. At other times He leads me to a stack of paintings like in an Art Shop or Gallery. Before I have any time to make it up, He selects one of His paintings that He has been working on, to help me understand something of His purpose in the midst of all that makes up my life at this moment. Today it was a picture of green shoots He showed me, which was so encouraging as the last few weeks have had more than a usual share of tired days and sleepless nights and all the thoughts that attend these realities. When He shows me a painting He then puts it on the wall of the cellar of my inner life. There are only two or three pictures there thus far, but I sometimes go into the cellar to look at them and find comfort, strength and encouragement when I do.
I don’t want to fall into the same mistake over the years of imposing what I do upon you. I hope however that several thoughts might strengthen you from what I have shared, especially if your body and mind don’t always seem to do what you wish they would when you wish they would do it!
Jesus is waiting to meet with you:
He knows there will be times when you can manage to meet with Him and times you cannot settle:
He does not look at you with frustration but as His work of Art that He delights in creating:
Sometimes all He wants to do is smile at you, and if you can manage it, for you to smile at Him.
One of the greatest discoveries of being not so well, is that Jesus is far kinder, far more compassionate, far lovelier, far more “for me” than I had dared to imagine.
May God help you to come into His presence and settle, but don’t worry when you can’t. The time will come… and Jesus is still smiling, not scowling at you.