‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven’
Ecclesiastes 3 is a very helpful companion as we try to figure out wisdom for life and work. There is indeed a time to work and a time to rest! And I have been immensely privileged to be granted a sabbatical this summer as a chance to find some balance and re-prioritising. Once again, I wish to express our appreciation as a family for all the prayers, good wishes, cards and gifts which enabled us to enjoy some wonderful time-out.
I explained to the Cambray Church family, before clocking off back in June, how I considered stewarding and investing the 2,400 hours ahead, with several aims for the sabbatical
1) to rest from the frenetic pace of church activity and confrontation. Achieved!
2) to be able to spend quality time with family and friends. We had a brilliant time!
3) to read and reflect about the nature of church in our rapidly changing culture (which I wrote about in our June magazine under the title “New Wine, Old Wineskins”). On-going…
4) to visit the land of the Bible. Been there, done that!
5) to catch up on some decorating! Mission Accomplished!
As I stated in my sabbatical reflections at a recent Sunday service (available online at cambray.org), I have concluded that periodically everyone should take time out to stop and seek God personally, to escape the persistent addiction of emails, mobiles and the tug of social media. Being aware that not everyone is given the gift of a sabbatical, I am campaigning for every Christian to find a way to examine their life-balance, to enable personal renewal and assessment of their individual calling as followers of Jesus.
This is not simply the advice any ‘life coach’. Jesus modelled the need to get away from the madding crowd to be with His heavenly Father in quiet, depending on Him for wisdom, strength and encouragement. As I visited the Lake of Galilee, I grasped the solitude of some of those early morning hikes and quiet spaces in contrast to the intensity of city life in Jerusalem. Jesus was in demand everywhere, surrounded by requests and needs, so much so (in Luke 4.42-43) the ‘people tried to keep him from leaving them. But Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to other towns also, because that is why I was sent”. It’s about retaining compassion and missional momentum.
So my serious call for all of us is to STOP. Not necessarily for a few months at a time, but to STOP more often. How about 2-3 hours a month… simply to be alone with Jesus? A personal retreat! My point is not just for the gain of catching up on life’s chores, rather to create a space in which we discover and re-discover the lavish love of God for us personally. Theoretically, we can know that such divine love is not dependent upon our works of service or our position or job or title, etc. … and yet how easily I/we hide behind these things! Surely, every follower of Jesus needs to regularly stop the ‘treadmill’ and get off, in order to know God and be with Him, without all the scaffolding (busyness) that tends to prop up our lives. I remembered again that personal relating to Jesus lies at the heart of true worship.
It takes time to slow down
However, it probably took me about a month or so to properly slow down and allow the ‘debris’ that had accumulated within me over past years to be dispersed. It is a frightening realisation that we are often not able to clearly hear God speak into our lives simply because we are too busy, and we have ‘debris’ such as past pain, sin, voices and situations which clutter up our capacity to love and serve the Lord. Perhaps we are not as free as we sometimes imagine.
Thankfully, my personal discovery this summer was that I really do want to follow Jesus and serve him, not because of my job or church expectations. Rather because as someone who has experienced the generous and lavish love of God calling me, this is the most appropriate response to give Him all my days in generous commitment as I ‘live a life worthy of the calling received’ (Ephesians 4.1). Personally I was able to re-discover:
1) I really want to attend church every Sunday to be with God’s people, not simply because it is my job or the ‘done thing’. It is simply the best place to be, worshipping with God’s people in all sorts of places and styles, giving Jesus our devotion and learning from Him.
2) I really want to read my Bible because it is God’s living word, and not simply to prepare a sermon for the next Sunday! The Bible is ‘a lamp to our feet and a light to our path’ and should rightly become our daily map where we hear God speak to us. Now that is truly awesome.
3) I really do want to go and visit those who are sick in hospital, helping them find strength in the Lord! This may seem strange to say, but when you are given a stipend to release you do do these things, it is a healthy check on motivation to know that even if I was not paid as a pastor, I want to visit those who are struggling, sick, and to care for those in prison or hungry (Matthew 25).
As noted above, I spent lots of time reading and thinking about church life (at Cambray and elsewhere). We are all painfully aware of the shortcomings of every church or community. It doesn’t take long for aspects to frustrate and annoy. In a consumer-led culture, it is easy to deal with disappointment or disagreement… you simply move on and find another church, and so the process begins again.
So this summer’s travels and reading got me thinking about a simpler church life, and a deeper church life, prioritising relationship with Jesus and an outward mission focus that prevents us becoming entrenched with old wineskins. What are some of the features of such a dream church? Read Acts again!
There we observe Christians committed to one another in the love of Christ, growing strong together as they learnt more and spent time working together for the Kingdom of God to be transforming lives, while encouraging one another for day to day frontlines at work or wherever. I have concluded that we have become cluttered as a church with too much activity, trying to balance everything in every direction. Some folk are overworking big time; others have been given grace gifts and need to exercise them.
Perhaps the simple formula should be for every member to (1) commit to being there at a service on a Sunday for corporate worship; (2) involved in one church-based activity, serving if possible (as their small group); (3) and committed to witness in their local community/workplace.
In each of these spheres RELATING with the extravagant love of Jesus seems to be the key to make a key impact in the mission context we face, and the desperate spiritual needs and brokenness all around. Plus we need to highlight the place of PRAYER that Cambray will increasingly be cultivated into a gospel community which is characterised by amazing grace, extravagant generosity and radical devotion to Jesus Christ.
In church life, I have to admit sometimes wondering whether we have the necessary resources to do all that Jesus is calling us to do: ‘If only we had x, y, z.’ Peter reminds us, that ‘His diving power has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1.3).
Surely, such a dream and prayer request is only possible by the presence of God Himself, incarnating Himself in us and through us by His Spirit. Friends, this is what God has planned! And He is at work in many places as individual Christians and churches start to believe the promises of God and apply them to everyday situations.
Every promise Jesus gave his disciples that the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and He will teach the disciples all things, guiding them into all truth (John 16); the Holy Spirit will convict of sin, He will be the Comforter, the Advocate, the One who delivers the Father’s will, who will do whatever you ask in my name… and your joy will be complete. Furthermore, the Spirit can produce ‘complete unity to let the world know’ (John 17). I long for that.
Jesus walking in Cheltenham
I loved visiting Israel and the spaces where Jesus walked. Yet I have to admit that I didn’t tingle with any deep spiritual experiences, rather I kept thinking to myself – I’ve sensed Jesus walks around Cheltenham just as he walked around Galilee. And He is still in the business of transforming lives by His saving power.
More reflections to follow next month…
With appreciation, your friend and pastor,