Looking back over the years once again….
… I have always wanted something more than the brilliant logic of The Apologist, which if there is nothing more, leads to winning and belittling smugness on the one hand, or alienation and humiliation on the other; a clapping Christian crowd applauding their champion fighter and a defeated foe who of course may have asked their “question” or made their case with or without genuineness, but whatever, is still made by God and sought by Him. Apologetic debating victory when it comes from and by the grace of God may indeed save some and “Hallelujah” does indeed do so, but when it is mere cleverness rather than the wisdom from above, it can send many a prodigal still a great way off back to the far country to feed themselves on pig swill, feeling more lost and wretched than ever, mocking themselves for ever hoping that a kind or welcoming rather than a publicly shaming and condemning God might be there after all…
…I have always wanted something more than to be someone who teaches accurately, though I hope I have correctly divided the Word of Truth over these last decades as part of my calling to be a parish minister. If there is nothing more from the pulpit/lecturing lectern, that accuracy can turn a listener’s soul into a dry and arid place built on sand even though it seems convinced it is providing good grass which the sheep will eat, or offering bread for the soul and rock on which to build a storm-surviving life and a judgement-surviving eternity. Orthodoxy without the Spirit’s fire (and by that I do not mean anything to do with style or delivery or emotionalism) may fill the preaching centres to the rafters but it stunts the church it thinks it feeds and also delights the devil, for it can hinder the expansion of the Kingdom of God into a lost world…
… I have always wanted to be more than a strategist who can enthuse people with a vision – in fact come to think of it I have never remotely wanted to be a strategist at all… Vision Sundays are a close second to Stated Annual Meetings in my book for the most dreaded Should do/Must do occasions in the church diary! I am glad I had a team at Holy Trinity who I could get roped into such things along with somehow managing to manipulate the Preaching Rota so that I hardly needed to do a children’s address for 11 years! My Session Clerk realised when I said to one or other of the Ministry Team at our weekly Team Meetings, “You would be terribly good at that,” it was meant but it was not the whole motivation behind what I was saying! Strategy is good and I praise God for those who are gifted in this way even if over the years I have made them feel I am disinterested in what makes them tick and deaf to what they want to enthuse about and have perhaps even studied or thought about and prayed about for years. Strategy and Vision may lead to influence and impact of to varying degree, but if that is all there is, it has a limited life span, a firework sort of life for a few years or a decade or two: it may greatly excite and mobilise some of God’s people but it will also wear out some of God’s people; it may unintentionally alienate other faithful believers who battle just to get to church themselves in the hope that there might be something said or sung that might give them fresh hope and energy to live. The keener someone’s gifting in Strategy, the more easy it is to walk along the knife edge of putting something helpful into the heart of the church and the risk of placing, however unintentionally, “The Vision” or “The Project” or “The Movement” or whatever, higher than “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering…” from which every lesser vision (that sometimes thinks itself grander) must spring.
… I have, however, always wanted this: fire-words. I still do … and I want it for you too dear zealous Apologists or Apostles or Evangelists or Entrepreneurs; I want it for you dear listening-to-God Prophets and devoted Teachers or Transformational Strategists; I want it for you my fellow pastors and for all of you, my dearly beloved Brothers or Sisters in Christ, whoever and wherever you are. Tonight I simply offer you this poem that I have never forgotten since I first read it. When ill health is making itself felt, or when energy is low as it was unexpectedly for me today, well, to be honest, I forget this is what I want at times … but then I remember. The Poem is by Amy Carmichael, a missionary of the 19th. Century whose life story and books are well worth reading.
Fire – Words
“O God, my words are cold:
The frosted frond of fern or feathery palm
Wrought on the whitened pane –
They are as near to fire as these my words;
Oh that they were as flames!” Thus did I cry,
And thus God answered me: “Thou shalt have words,
But at this cost, that thou must first be burnt,
Burnt by red embers from a secret fire,
Scorched by fierce heats and withering winds that sweep
Through all thy being, carrying thee afar
From old delights. Doth not the ardent fire
Consume the mountain’s heart before the flow
Of fervent lava? Wouldst thou easefully,
As from cool, pleasant fountains, flow in fire?
Say, can thy heart endure or can thy hands be strong
In the day that I shall deal with thee?”
“For first the iron must enter thine own soul,
And wound and brand it, scarring awful lines
Indelibly upon it, and a hand
Resistless in a tender terribleness
Must thoroughly purge it, fashioning its pain
To power that leaps in fire,
Not otherwise, and by no lighter touch,
Are fire-words wrought.”
I still want this….I think…I still want to ask for this with trembling faith…I think….
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