There is a growing list of things, sort of cliches that draw applause in the Christian scene, which I don’t think I will be using in the future. Things seem a bit different when you are in a place of illness and weakness, so much so that spoken words that are meant to encourage and inspire, can actually feel like condemnation whatever the good intention and “truth” behind them. Today it was the phrase, “Christians don’t retire, they just re-tyre!” that was wearisome to me. Now I know the truth behind that but at the moment for me that is not a helpful thought actually, in fact it is easy to receive it as cruel and insensitive. Indeed, I had a passing thought today that even preachers who steer clear of the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel, sometimes preach to their congregation or audience assuming a certain level of health and wealth in what they are offering to or demanding from their listeners. I have tried over the years not to speak about experiences or opportunities that are beyond the financial or physical reach of some of the congregation, unless assistance is part of the deal. Lately I have refused the offer of being sent to an exclusive place of health and healing that other Christians leaders have been helped by, an offer which has been made more than once. It involves “sell your house” type costs. On principle I could not accept something that is unlikely to be offered to some of the financially poorer members of my congregation and parish, many of whom have no house to sell even if they wanted to. There would be no peace in it for me and no blessing. I wouldn’t be doing it in faith but against my conscience, so what might be right for someone else to do would, according to Paul, be sin for me to do. That is an inviolable spiritual principle: act against your conscience and what might be ok for others is sin for you.
The problem with the “retire/re-tyre” cliche seems to suggest we are never allowed to slow down, that we are never allowed to cut back etc etc. There are times though when people have to and need to be told it is allowed. Church leaders like myself often encourage people to do more and be more involved, but church leaders should also be saying just as zealously that it might be God’s will for some people to do a lot less than they are doing, or give a lot less than they are giving, in terms of time, energy and even money. The truth is that I have had to cut back on what I do very considerably through retirement coming early on health grounds. To be re-tyred without being re-lunged and de-fatigued would be a mocking thing! (Rant mode: don’t bother reading if you are pushed for time: there is too much too fully realised eschatology around and inflated claims from those who are guilty of that as to what our bodies should be capable of in the here and now. None of us have our resurrection bodies yet – not even believers in heaven! So please when you teach upon “On earth as in heaven” if you were to follow that through accurately you would actually be telling us it is time not so much for our bodies to be healed, but time for them to go beyond that and to die of something or other just like those in heaven right now once died of something, and for our spirit to part company with our body and go and be with the Lord! … and while I am in rant mode, here’s another thing: Worship leaders or “Lead Worshipper” which I think is now the Christian PC term (silly and presumptive and judgmental of others though such a term may be) ; allow us to sit down when we have to, rather than angrily telling us that we won’t get tired in heaven, so to stand up again! Even undertakers have the humanity to say to a congregation “Would you please stand if you are able!” And here’s my final rant: if I go to a church and hear “It’s your breath in our lungs” being sung one more time, then I will know I am not paranoid instead of wondering if I am! It really is sung every time I go to church! Rant mode over!) However, I mean it all in a non-ranting way, even in a loving sort of way like “Dame Edna!”
Back to the “retire/re-tyre” blow earlier today: It is quite easy to fall into the doldrums about that. I can look back to a year ago and summer conference season and the blessed experience of being part of the Urban stream of New Wine at Shepton Mallet. My mind then wanders to other similar summer memories in different places and countries, and then starts to think of a conference I had to withdraw from this Summer. Now, to be honest, as at this moment, whatever may happen in the future, attending a conference would be too much, let alone teaching at it. It is not easy to adjust. I don’t know why, but some days thinking about all of that gets me down. It is not that I need to preach in terms of feeling secure in the love of God, nor do I need appreciation from people to feel secure and worthwhile, nice as it is when it comes. I don’t believe my identity is tied up in what I do but I do want this phase of my life to be able to stand the test of divine fire and not be shown up to be stubble or hay. I so much want to be able to present some precious stones at least to the One who loved me and gave Himself for me, from hereon. I don’t want to be useless…I hope it helps rather than puts a burden on any of you to hear such honest thoughts.
Well, today, feeling a bit under the weight of such things, the cliche about retire/re-tyre didn’t help when it came to mind. However once again, God came to the rescue with what for me in recent times has become two of the most notable characteristics of His Love: His kindness and His gentleness.
In the midst of feeling a bit useless, I had a coffee in a place miles from home – I felt today I needed to be alone, where I would not meet anyone I knew. When I sat down with my coffee, I was blessed by the two people sitting at the next table who fortunately didn’t know me. They were encouraging one another in God, in a very natural and loving way; there were tears, smiles, hugs and love going on. They noticed my bible and started to talk to me too. It was all very light and smily and nice, nothing too deep but it was a gift from God that blessed me. Somehow I saw He is everywhere; I saw that He has His people all over the place, which then made me see afresh how those who don’t know the love of Christ are everywhere around us as well, all the time. I need never be useless. Retiring does not mean re-tyring but nor does it mean redundant. “The earth belongs to the Lord and all that it contains” was the line from childhood singing that came to mind.
The second way that God’s kind and gentle love came to me was as I was driving home. I don’t normally do this but I listened to some sort of Anglican “thingy” on Radio 3. I am sure there is a technical word for it, but being a Presbyterian Charismatic I refuse to learn it and use it! It is not the usual sort of thing I listen to, nor does it reflect the style of Christian worship that I am most at home with, or like the most – who knows, I may like it better in “retirement!” There were no prophetic words, no announcements of the next coming move of God or God moving “up a level” in what He is doing. However the bible being read blessed me with the same sense of wonder as any miracle and the bible being sung blessed me by its non-smoke-machine and non-coloured-flashing-light beauty. I was built up by joining in with the prayers for the world too as I drove, and even felt moved by the dignified and formal prayers for the Queen! It all felt like a breath of pure fresh spiritual air. It was a million miles away from what I would have been doing at New Wine last year, but somehow it helped me realise on a day when I was struggling a bit, God has His way of knowing where to find us, finding us where we are, and helping us with something more than a soundbite cliche of doubtful wisdom. He is so beautifully, tenderly, gentle and kind.
Well, that’s my rantings and musings from this day. It took until later on in the day for morning to break, but it did. “Thank you Lord.” God has no favourites; that is a soundbite that is in the bible. I am no more loved than you; we are all His specially loved children. (What about John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” I will blog about that another day!) I hope morning may break for some of you who read this today before the sun sets. If it doesn’t, remember that in God, “Morning” can break any time, even in the darkest moment of the night. Almighty God knows where you stay. Rest in His gentleness and kindness that He draws close to offer you right now.
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