It’s Monday morning and the UK awakes to a new work week. It’s just over two days ago that news began to seep through about the horrible attacks in Paris and the deaths caused. The immediate response was sorrow and compassion for those caught up in the terror attack. A good response, a response that echoes the love we have for our fellow humans. Then fear raised it’s head. Fear that this could happen again in the UK, fear that the London 7/7 attacks would be repeated. If “perfect love drives out fear”, then it is also true that perfect fear does appear to drive out love. Social media has become the heart that we wear on our sleeves over the last few years, and if what we have seen on social media the last two days is our heart then we need a transplant. Whilst many have been showing their alliance with France by adding the French national flag to their profile picture in some fashion, others have been crying, ‘close the borders’ or ‘bomb the @£$%.’ These are just a couple of the irrational, poorly conceived and fearful responses we have seen, from what at other times I am sure are perfectly compassionate reasonable humans.
So for the last forty eight hours my heart has been sinking every time I read from someone I know these or some other similar response to the attacks. My own personal initial response was to pray for those who we caught up in the attack, and keep my head down and my thoughts away from any form of social media. Then I awoke this morning and understood that saying nothing is not an option. My leader and saviour Jesus spoke out about injustices in this world, he is my model. So let me be clear these attacks are intolerable, unacceptable and evil. We should do what we can to bring anyone connected to them to account. However where does all the hate being propagated on social media at the moment take us? In living rooms around the country as young ears hear the hate filled responses, what are we creating for our future? As some of our fellow humans are are spat at on our streets, what dark corners are we driving them to? I am not suggesting that the answer is easy, actually the answer provided by the Teacher is radical.
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven… (Matthew 5:43-45a NIVUK)
So for me I will be praying for enemies of love, who perpetuate this hate, as they seek to plot and attack. I’ll be praying for my neighbours in my country who spread hate via social media misrepresenting and apportioning blame. I will also be praying for the victims of such attacks in France and across the world. Please come join me in my prayers.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I am not a great expert in the life or writings of Thomas Merton, but this famous prayer of his has struck a note in me ever since I first heard it. For me it sums up the delicate tip toeing approach I take in trying to understand the will of God in my life. It seems to me that many who choose not to follow Jesus, believe that those of us who do have some sort of direct line to God, on which He directs every detail of our lives. It has never been like that for me, and I don’t believe that there is even one single will God has for me. I have always seen God’s will as being like a motorway way rather than a single track. God’s guidelines being that I might not stray of either side of the motorway, but that I can choose the lane that seems right to me, a route that would please Him. This is probably why Merton’s prayer is one I can say so readily, particularly at this stage of my walk. The next month should by rights be a month that I am dreading. Within the family we have school exams, college exams, a house move, completion of essays and much more besides. All this potential stress because I chose to follow a route that I believe is part of God’s will for my life, and yet I cannot have certainty that it actually is. It’s not a moment of doubt, because actually I am not dreading the next month. I am excited about the possibilities and actually have a huge amount of peace about our future. Perhaps that’s because ‘the desire to please’ God ‘does in fact please’ Him.
When I started this occasional journal of my journey I said something akin to the fact that I would post “ when I feel God is prompting me to, or when something significant has happened in my journey.” I’m not sure that it gets much more significant than finding out where we are going to spend the next four years, so It’s probably time to update you. A few weeks back the Bishop asked us to investigate the possibility of continuing my training by serving as a curate at St. Mary Magdalen in Sheet from July 2014. I think is was fair to say that it was as a relatively nervous couple that Suzy and I headed off to meet Richard, the incumbent, and his wife Jo soon after. We could not have been made to feel more welcome, and we quickly felt at peace with Richard, Jo and this opportunity. They have a great background in ministry and we came away feeling that not only could we become great friends, but that there was much we could learn from them. Very soon after we met some of the elders of the Church, in what I affectingly termed ‘death by quiche,’ although there was no quiche in sight. What we did discover was another great welcome from a group of people who obviously have a desire to see God’s community grow. So in the last couple of weeks both Richard and I have thanked the Bishop and the team for their care and prayer in this process and have accepted their offer. This was announced in Sheet yesterday and frees us up to share the great news with our friends. So what have we learnt from this process? It seems to us that God has had His hand on this whole process, and perhaps a little more faith from us would have been in order. Over the last year we have been wondering just what was going to happen about a number of issues. Firstly it seemed that were a limited number of places in the diocese, that were similar enough to the environment that we were use to, for my family to be looked after; and yet different enough for there to be a opportunity for me to learn. God ticked the ‘ye of little faith’ box on that one with Sheet. Next there was the small issue of the fact that Suzie’s Mum lives in an annex attached to our current home. A responsibility that I had not realised weighed quite so heavily on my shoulders, until it had been resolved. Without going into details God smashed through the lack of faith box and provided an answer that seems to be a win situation for all involved. Those were the biggies, but there were many more hurdles that have fallen away one by one over the last six months. I just hope that when we go on our cruise holiday later this year there isn’t an middle eastern figure asleep in the rear of the boat. Because right now I would have to trust Him big time if we hit a storm. So it probably goes without saying that we are very excited as a family about this opportunity God has placed in from of us. There is now of course the small issue of actually finishing the college part of my training over the next year, and then preparing to move house in July of next year. However if I have learned anything through this process it is to have faith that God has that in hand. After all it’s difficult to argue with His track record.
A set-back from out of no-where this week has meant that I have a little more time to look at things that have happened over the last year. During this reflection it has dawned on me that there has been a lot of stuff going on, or more precisely going wrong, since I started training for ministry. I won’t go into details here, but simply to say and not to over dramatise, there has been much that has gone on in the last year that we as a family could have done without. I like to think of myself as having a problem solving personality, and someone who doesn’t look to blame others when things go wrong. But in this approach I think I may have missed the underlying theme. I think I may have been “sucker punched.” Dictionary.com describes a sucker punch as, “a sudden surprise punch, especially from behind” or “a sudden unexpected defeat or setback.” That’s where I think we are, so the question is how did that happen?
I’m no boxer, and it may be carrying the metaphor a bit far, but I don’t think I have had my eyes on the opponent. I have had my head down driving forward, just getting on with the day job, the training and trying to get things done in the Kingdom for Christ. This has meant I have missed early warning signs. I haven’t seen those around me getting stressed, or needing my help, making them vulnerable to attack. Perhaps I have missed obvious signs, or made bad decisions that I would have seen if I were alert. I don’t look for evil in every issue in my life, but we do know from 1 Peter 5:8 that the “devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So perhaps I should raise my head a bit and look towards my enemy, to dodge the sucker punch. I also know that my guard has been lowered, or the punch would not have got through. Suzy and I were reading Acts 1 this morning, and I was struck once again by how Jesus emphasised the Holy Spirit as being vital in ministry. He told the apostles that they would receive power once the Holy Spirit came upon them to preach to the ends of the world. But He told them they should wait for the Holy Spirit to come before they started. The Holy Spirit is my guard and my guide and I think I may not be waiting on Him enough. Being a one with the Holy Spirit means I will see and dodge the sucker punch.
Suzy and I decided this morning that as we move forward in ministry we can pretty much expect attack, the Bible says as much in 1 Peter 4:12. We also realise that there are many people who are suffering more than us in may ways beyond our understanding. In addition I suspect that we are not alone in lowering our gaze and our guard, and that beyond the obvious suffering there is much pain that happens that could be avoided. So we did not pray for less attack, but instead prayed for more strength and insight from the Holy Spirit to resist the blows. Perhaps you would join me in praying for more of Gods Holy Spirit in our lives and yours. More relationship, more insight, more wisdom, more discernment to avoid the sucker punch.