Saturday, 31 March 2012

Become a Stretcher-Bearer

Our relationships with others are important.  Jesus reminds us (in Matthew 25, amongst other places) that how we treat others is effectively how we treat him.  I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me a drink etc.  That is quite a thought - but it reminds us to treat others with respect and in the right way.  There are lots of ways in which we can help others, but one thing that is always possible is to pray.  We should be bringing others before God in prayer, and it is good to do that in a caring way.

I have been reading Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality (Hodder & Stoughton, 2010).  In one part he reflects on the story of the four men who so cared for their sick friend that they took him up on the roof and made a hole in the roof to get him to Jesus.  I am not sure about taking roofs apart, but I do know we ought to take people and situations to Jesus, and especially through prayer.  As McLaren puts it - p. 160 - "When we practise compassionate intercession, we become the stretcher-bearers for others in need."

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Drawing Good Pictures

Richard Foster writes: “.. we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives … but … God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture.    God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are.  In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.” ("Prayer", Hodder & Stoughton, 1992, p.8/9).

I really like that image which says so much about how God engages with us.  Prayer is an expression of relationship.  In prayer we have the opportunity of communication with God - and how we need that, both so that we can express our concerns to God and so that we can listen to what God is saying to us.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Doing Your Own Thing

I fear that we too much like doing own thing.  It is true that we all have a contribution to make, and that contribution is important but, too often, we are insufficiently engaged with recognising the value of community and how that is enhanced when individuals contribute to, and not against, the community.  I have been reading Christopher Jamison's book Finding Sanctuary (Phoenix, 2006) - and really like a comment he makes on this - p. 121 - "Individualism is simply doing your own thing in your own way and blanking out the other people.  Individuality involves bringing your particular contribution to bear on the life of the community, even if that is a difficult contribution for others to accept; for example, a criticism."  We all have a contribution to make, but we all need to receive the contributions of all the others.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cracked Shins

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, God is there.  We tend to put things into carefully labelled boxes, but God mixes it all up – and in the mess of the chaos as well as in the beauty of the order, God is there.  I like Barbara Brown Taylor's comment (in An Altar in the World) - "Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish - separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognise the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars."

Thursday, 15 March 2012

What Jesus Might Do For Us

What do you want me to do for you? Mark 10, verse 51. Can you imagine Jesus coming by and asking you that. I wonder what you’d say. We tend to make the mistake of being too focussed on what we are doing for Jesus. Will you come and follow me? Call! All that stuff. And it’s important. Jesus does ask us to do things for him. That’s discipleship. But the basis of our relationship with our Lord is not what we do for him, but what he does for us. I find it fascinating that this question is actually asked twice in this chapter. It first comes in verse 36. What is it you want me to do for you? On this first occasion the question is asked by Jesus of James and John. They have said: Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. And what they want is to sit one at your right hand and one at your left. How on earth could they make such a request? That, most likely, is the sort of response that will come to our minds as we ponder this incident. Could these disciples really be so far of the mark in their thinking and asking? Yet, as always, before we too readily and too speedily condemn, let’s just reflect on how we might put ourselves into this story. This was clearly important to these two. What does Jesus do when we go to him with something that is important to us? I think that the one thing he does is that he takes our request seriously and that for us, as for these two, the thing that is needed, the thing with which we need help, is to think through the implications of the request. Where that may lead is another question. For James and John that led to them being helped to see the impossibility of what they were asking. Sometimes that is how it is. Other times it may take us in unexpected and challenging directions. Other times we may find ourselves experiencing of the abundance that comes from God.

But let’s say something of the other encounter in this chapter which leads to Jesus asking the very same question. It’s a very different scenario. Jesus is on the road. He is leaving Jericho – and a blind beggar shouts out to attract his attention. And Bartimaeus is asked by Jesus: what do you want me to do for you? The folk around didn’t expect Jesus to pay attention to Bartimaeus. Indeed, they tried to stop him from interrupting Jesus. But if we ask something of Jesus, he will take our request seriously. And so he does. As Leith Fisher puts it: “he shows in actions more powerful than any words that, in the eyes of God, no one is nobody; everyone has a name, a place and a value.” And, of course, Bartimaeus knows exactly what he wants: My teacher, let me see again. And this time it is not a case of explaining why not. Go, your faith has made you well. Immediately he regained his sight and followed.

And so there is a challenge to consider with respect to what it is that we are asking of God. As Ched Myers points out: “Mark draws a devastating contrast between this beggar’s initiative and the aspirations of the disciples. .. Jesus had asked James and John “What do you want me to do for you?” To the beggar’s petition, Jesus responds with exactly the same words. But how different the requests! The disciples wished for status and privilege; the beggar simply for his vision. The one Jesus cannot grant, the other he can.” And Myers adds: “ .. only if we renounce our thirst for power – in a word, only if we recognise our blindness and seek true vision – then can the discipleship adventure carry on.”

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Like A Mustard Seed

We need to do the little things that will make a difference.  Small actions that are effective achieve much more than big, but empty, gestures.  But small things do make a difference.  God is the God of mustard seeds.  Small things can make a difference way out of proportion to their size.  That ought to be a source of hope.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Be Yourself

It always fascinates me as to how fashions and trends influence us.  That is why advertising is such big business.  They say a crowd attracts a crowd, and so it does.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with joining in with good things.  It makes a lot of sense.  However, there are always those times when we ought to stand up for ourselves and be individuals.  Sometimes we need to buck the trend - whatever the trend may be - and to have the courage of our convictions.  I have been reading Christopher Jamison's Finding Sanctuary (Phoenix, 2006) and was particularly struck by something he says - (p. 84) - "People fail to be themselves because it is easier ro be somebody else and because they can copy somebody else's success rather than risk their own failure."  He goes on to quote Thomas Merton (from Seeds of Contemplation) - "People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular - and too lazy to think of anything better.  ....  In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be."