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Over the past few months I have listened to scores of people about the nature of how God calls us into ministry and service. I have personally found it really unsettling experiencing God guiding me into situations in which I am personally uncomfortable; yet once there -channeling something of God’s purpose and love to others. It has been a process of breaking me down and rebuilding me, slowly and gradually to appreciate that when I do things in God’s strength rather than mine amazing things can happen out of simple conversations. It has made me realise just how unfinished I am as a Christian, and also how complacent I have been for decades. I know that I still don’t take enough risks for the gospel. I now appreciate that feeling challenged and unsettled is something I have to get used to as I work out, if I can, the nature of God’s inescapable call.
Nick Fawcett puts this well in his Daily Prayer book- a constant companion of mine:
“Gracious God, I thanks you for your call: the invitation to be part of the work of your kingdom. I thank you that you welcome me as I am- with all my faults and doubts- and that though I fail you repeatedly, still you want to use me in your service. Gracious God, I praise you for that inescapable sense of call that you give; help me to respond. In the name of Christ. Amen.”
I hope this is a prayer we can all say.
Bishop or bar owner, plumber or police officer, Catholic or Protestant- Christian Research want to hear from you. If you have a Christian faith, you are invited to take part in a major new project- The Faith Journeys Project- which aims to collect stories of how people came to faith. Christian Research is leading the project which is sponsored by an ecumenical grouping of faith-based groups. The stated aims of the project are:
- To encourage people to talk about their faith journeys to stimulate discussion and response.
- To help Christian organisations develop more effective strategies for evangelism and discipleship.
If you’re ready to tell your own unique faith story then register at http://www.faith-journeys.com/
I’m saving mine for a best-selling tell-all memoir to be serialised in the tabloid press. Watch this space!
Bob Dylan has been back in the news with a new album and tour. The familiar opinions are voiced about him being what many describe as some sort of caricature of his former self- yet Dylan has always been the classic unfinished artist. Just when you think you have locked him down, he surprises you with a change of direction musically. The song I want to share with you today is decades old and comes from his album Shot of Love.I love this song because it is beautiful, gentle, challenging, lyrically profound, desperate. It tells the story of an unfinished Christian struggling to get to grips with the full implication of the truth he believes. It tells the story of someone focused on the path that moves him forward. A man with no time or inclination to look back on past mistakes or regrets as anything more than a chain of events he must break. He is desperate to realise the full promise of a new life in Christ.
The sleeve notes quote from the Gospel of Matthew; “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth because thous hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” As Dylan sings:
“Then onward in my journey, I come to understand that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand. I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the seas, sometimes I turn there’s someone there sometimes it’s only me. I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man, like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand“
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to lead a prayer meeting for a small group exploring baptism and confirmation. I was not at all sure that I was the right person to do this, but agreed to help out. I offered the planning for the evening up to God and asked friends and colleagues to pray for me- God knows I needed it.
It was an amazing evening and the presence of God was so tangible with us all right there in the room. His peace, power and comfort. Even the quietest amongst our number spoke out as God began to break down hearts, hurt and barriers. These lovely people poured out their feelings and experiences of hurt, rejection, thanks and confusion joyfully and tearfully- it was a privilege to be some small part of this. A couple of days ago one of the people present said that she had “begun to understand what prayer was about and it had transformed her prayer life”, another said that she had felt “truly accepted by God for the first time in her life.” That evening I had felt completely in the hand and care of God in leading the discussion. Unfinished though I am, God used the situation to draw people closer to him and to really begin their own unfinished journeys. It’s at times like this -when you feel the tangible presence of God reaching out and touching lives that helps sweep away any doubts and fears about faith and how deeply God loves us. As the songs says “To be in your presence, not rushing away…this is my desire, Oh Lord.”
We prayed this together and I want it to be your prayer today
Jesus, you promised to remain with us always,
Even to the end of time.
Please abide with us now.
When certainty escapes us.
Give us patience and trust.
When sin overwhelms those we love
Hear the cries of our heart.
When we are tempted
May we hold fast to the light.
When evil threatens
Enkindle good within us.
When the whole creation is filled with groaning
Lord give answer.
And for the greatest cares of this day, this year and this lifetime
We turn to you now.
Let comfort come this evening
For every wound and distress,
For every sorrow and uncertainty:
Your love shines upon us;
Your love will guard our rest
I saw a guy on the tube today sporting a tattoo down the inside of this left arm. The tattoo read, ‘I am immortal and I want you to feel the same’-bold stuff! The trouble is that the guy looked really miserable and anything but immortal. As the advertising adage goes- ‘it didn’t do what it said on the tin’. This made me think about how well I was showing in my approach to life the confidence that Christ has placed within me. I don’t expect it’s possible to look permanently joyful (if fact that would probably appear slightly creepy) but are we a convincing advertisement for the life transforming power of the message of Jesus? I know a few miserable Christians who seem to lack confidence or the reflection of Christ.
I continue to be an unfinished Christian, a work in progress. I won’t be getting a tattoojust yet but I hope I will be able to show something more of the heart of Christ on my sleeve and hat it will be noticed. I hope I can honour God and show that the immortality I have is not just a statement of personal pride or achievement, bt a God given gift that anyone can obtain just through belief and trust. Pray for me and for those I meet who are looking to walk the streets of heaven but don’t even know it yet!
Lord Jesus Christ, I am an unfinished Christian . Faith is a journey not a destination. Keep me striving for new horizons within the parameters of your truth. Forgive me that I sometimes lose sight of the great things you have done and the wonders you have yet to reveal. Save me from thinking I have arrived at my faith. Show me that however far I have come, there is always further to go an more to be revealed. May I grasp each day a little more of who and what you are, in awe of your greatness, blown away by your love, giving thanks for your blessings and resting in your mercy and grace.
For your name’s sake. Amen.