I’ve always been able to find something to do. Even as a child I can honestly say I don’t think I ever experienced boredom. This ability to constantly find an activity to engage myself in can be very beneficial but it also has its problems, for I can always find something else that I think needs doing that will delay me from doing what I really ought to be doing: e.g. during my training, my desk and study would always be cleaned and polished and the room just had to be vacuumed before I could start writing any essays!
I’m confident that I’m not alone in this character trait but it can be real problem when you’re wanting to spend time with other people and especially when you want to spend time with God. All too easily, other things that ‘just have to be done’; the washing, phone calls, emails, looking after the children etc. can all start to take priority and before we know it, the opportunity to enjoy some quality time with God has been missed and we will always be the poorer for it. The other things are, of course, important, but we need to learn how to prioritise and, if I’m honest; I don’t always get it right.
Our readings today draw us into the importance of putting aside some quality time for God, to make a conscious decision to spend time with Him and to listen to what He has to say to us. For some folks, the idea of spending quality time with God sounds a nice idea but in their mind, it swiftly becomes an activity that is more suited for other people rather than for themselves.
A reason for not doing so may be: ‘I wouldn’t know what to do’. The truth is that what we do, is actually far less important than the decision to honour God by doing something and setting aside some time that is devoted to Him and to nothing else.
‘I’m just so busy with such little time to spare’. On the news bulletin this week I heard of one Catholic churches’ response in Ireland to the busy modern lifestyle. This Ash Wednesday they are offering a ‘Drive through’ blessing lane at the church where a Priest can pray with them as they wind down their car window as they travel on their way to work or to the local shopping mall. We seem to be missing the point here. Spending time with God is not meant to be endured and crammed in or rushed over, but enjoyed. God wants to bless us with good things, to guide us and to instruct us, but just like any human relationship, if we don’t invest time and energy into it, the relationship becomes one sided, deteriorates and we are the ones who lose out.
The wonderful truth is that we can spend time in God’s presence anywhere we like and at any time we like but sometimes it’s good to get away from other distractions, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and enjoy some special time with Him. Moses took himself up a mountain away from the crowds and then had to wait six days before God began to speak to him. Perhaps that was the time God knew it was going to take Moses to get his head ‘sorted’ and into a place where he could be still and be prepared to listen and hear what God wanted to say to him. Sometimes we just need to be patient and allow God to minister to us, to rest us and to still us before we’re ready to hear his voice.
Jesus often took himself away to gain some quality time with his Father. In the reading from Matthew’s gospel, he takes three of his disciples up a mountain to escape the crowds and there has an amazing time. Peter, however, immediately wants to engage in activity and do something, whereas God wants him to be still, to enjoy the moment and to receive from him. Peter is interrupted, Jesus is affirmed and all the disciples are given clear advice: ‘Listen to him’. We would do well to do the same.,
As we enter the forty days of Lent many of us have become accustomed to giving something up to help us focus on what is truly important in our lives. How about taking something on in its place? Start to put aside some special time to sit, be still and to listen to God. I always thinks it’s good idea to spend some time at the start of the day as it gives God an opportunity to get involved and sort me out before I go charging off in my own direction and in my own strength! As you wake up try ensuring that the first conversation you have is the one you have with God.
‘Morning Lord. Thank you for being with me in the night. I’m here to let you know that I need you and that I love you. What can we do together today?’
Give time to read his word and to think over it. It’s there to bless us, guide us and to bring us peace and victory but we will not know any of that unless we start to spend some time with it. Thank God for his goodness and ask Him through his Holy Spirit to help you as you read it. Perhaps you might join us at St Margaret’s on a Tuesday morning at 10:30 for prayer and ‘Bible time’, or at one of the Lenten reflection meetings on the Lord’s Prayer. There are so many ways we can spend time with Him and there are plenty of studies available as booklets or on the internet to help us. If you have access to a smart phone you might like to download the Bible onto it and use some of the study guides there. Any time spent in His presence always changes things and it always changes things for the better.
When our children were young they loved the Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves. One story in particular stands out in my mind, and that is the tale of ‘Mr. Worry’. ‘Mr. Worry’ worried about everything. If it rained, he worried that his roof would leak, if there wasn’t any rain, he worried that all of his plants would die and when he was happy for a week he worried about not having anything to worry about!
Worry is a major health problem in the world today. The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2030, depression and anxiety – a medical and clinical form of worry - will be the leading global burden of disease. It wasn’t meant to be this way. Our modern way of living is exacting a heavy price. A quick search of the internet reveals a host of different programs and advice blogs about how we might handle anxiety and worry. Several were giving me the same advice; that I should set apart a specific place and time of the day in which I could focus all my worrying and this would then allow the rest of my day to be worry free. Not quite the advice I was looking for as this would just be containing my worry rather than alleviating it.
The truth is that most of us will at some point in our lives find something to worry about. What matters, is what we choose to do with it. God’s original plan for our lives did not include this and we do not have to put up with it. Jesus died for our freedom and I believe that includes all things which have the potential to steal our joy and restrict and limit us enjoying our lives in the fullness that God intended us to.
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read that God made us in his image and blessed us to live fruitful lives; lives full of hope and promise and peace, and God describes this situation as being ‘very good’. Yet despite this, the story unfolds with man wanting more than he has been given, sin entering the world and the life that God intended for us all taking a different path.
Worry leads us to seeing the world in a distorted manner. When we worry, we see problems everywhere we turn while Jesus encourages us to see God everywhere we turn. Jesus tells us that it’s not wrong to see problems; we just need to put them in their rightful place. The wonderful, amazing truth is that God is greater than any problem we face. Those who do not know God or have not learnt to put their trust in him yet, approach life in a different way and it’s a way that Jesus says can be bettered. God loves us, cares for us, knows what we need and knows what is best for us because He made us and we are precious to Him.
Jesus encourages us to place our attention fully on God in order that the things which are occupying our thoughts in a negative way, may be transformed, but it starts with a decision; a decision to seek after Him. Our lives will have challenges within them and we may have some looming over us right now that require an answer and we simply haven’t got one to hand. To this Jesus calls us to change the direction in which we’re looking. The Bible says that we should, ‘cast our burdens onto God because He cares for us’. Psalm 55. When we look to God first, our problems and concerns fall into perspective. Worry will always see a problem, where faith sees God who can always handle the problem.
The call is for us to give our attention to God and to what He is doing right now and to not get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Then we might be able to say; “I may not know what I’m going to do, but I know a God who does”.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, that to you I am precious and that you have my very best needs at heart. Help me to turn my attention to you and to trust in you that my life may be filled with the peace and joy you intended it to be.
It’s February 2017, and Sarah and I have now been living in the Dale for three months and experienced many wonderful things about being here but one thing in particular is the wonder of the baking! Beautiful cakes, breads, pies and baked delights in all shapes and sizes. You will probably recognise the anticipation of having seen some lovely big, fat, fruity scones and buying some and slicing one open in eagerly, only to reveal that yours hasn’t a single piece of fruit in it. You’ve paid for it, bought it at a price and know what it should be like but it’s just not what you were expecting at all. What’s gone wrong? Why has it turned out like this? There is a simple answer; the ingredients were wrong. What went into it was not as the recipe instructed.
If the ingredients are not wholesome and filled with good things, then we can’t expect the finished product to be either. It’s the same with my life, your life and God’s church. Jesus, with His death on the cross, has paid for a fruitful church and has bought the possibility for me and you to live fruitful, wholesome lives that bless us and the world around us, but we need to follow the recipe, for what we put into the ‘mix’ affects the outcome.
Our readings today are reminding us of how important it is to keep a check on what we are putting into our hearts and minds and spirits through what we choose to look at, listen to and read about. John’s Gospel records Jesus telling us that we are to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ the world. As disciples of Jesus we are intended to be living our lives in a very different way to the rest of the world. We are called to be radically different. If we think and live like the rest of the world, then we are not being the salt and light that Jesus desires us to be. The church of Jesus Christ is meant to be radically different and I firmly believe that the world needs us to be and desires us to be so.
Our outward behaviour and conduct matters, as do our thoughts and our inner conduct for they both influence the way that we live our lives; Jesus highlights, in some very vivid and graphic imagery (as was the literary style of the age) exactly what he means.
Be careful what we say to one another. To challenge someone’s behaviour may be appropriate but it is wrong to attack their character.
If we know that someone is holding a grievance against us then before we gather for worship we need to make the first move to try and bring peace and resolution to the problem. Basically, there should be no ‘lumpy carpets’ – no sweeping problems out of sight hoping they will go away. They won’t.
And then Jesus moves onto the imagery of chopping off pieces of our own bodies. He is not calling us to self-mutilation, but in a very bold manner drawing attention to the fact that we need to ‘guard our environment’. We need to ensure that we, and those for whom we are responsible for and love, are growing in good soil. Put simply, if we know of something that is causing a problem in our lives then we should get rid of it. You can’t expect to grow good pasture in the summer if you’ve allowed poison into the ground in the spring. Our lives and our spirits follow the same principle but it begins with a choice. We have to want to fill our lives with good things. For me it’s a ‘no brainer’. I want to fill my life with good things that will bless me and enrich me and those around me but I wasn’t always like that. I had to make a choice. We all have to build our lives on something and one day I realised that building my life on the ideas of Dave Clark wasn’t getting me very far, so I decided to place my trust in Jesus and follow His guidance and since that day his Holy Spirit has been guiding me and prompting me into new patterns of behaviour. There’s plenty to keep him busy! But here’s the key - God didn’t make me. We must choose, but the benefits when we do are real and immediate. As Moses told the Israelites, it’s a choice to be made between ‘blessings and curses’ and ‘life and death’. I want LIFE – every time I want to choose LIFE but I still do stupid things and when I do I need to repent, seek His forgiveness, learn from it and then by His Grace, I can move forward and I can move on.
God wants to bless us with Life – ‘I have come that you might have life in all its fullness’ Jn.10:10 – so …. I need to guard my environment, fill my life with good things and enrich my soil. How? By reading God’s word and becoming more and more aware of the promises He has for my life, to move on from operating as a ‘spiritual baby’, and become the bold, mature, spirit filled disciple who can make a difference in the world. If you’re interested in having that kind of a life, then why not come to one of our services and discover more? You and me together.
What a hope we have in Jesus!
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Righteousness – ‘Being right with God’ occupies the thoughts and actions of many people today just as it occupied the thoughts and actions of many people when Jesus walked the earth. To be more righteous than the Pharisees would have seemed incredible to those listening to Jesus as they were supposed to know everything about God – yet in reality, they knew little as they were missing the essential truth. Being right with God has got nothing to do with what we know, what we do or what religious activities we engage in – it’s all about Jesus; knowing Him and trusting in Him is what matters. Jesus said that he was the only way to us being ‘right’ with God.
When we do place our trust in Him and discover all the life and promise and hope that there is in Him, our lives change forever. Our relationship with God changes and when He enters our lives our relationships with others and ourselves changes as well. We have a new identity.
In the church calendar, the past week has remembered the ritual presentation of Jesus in the temple – ‘Candlemas’. Here, Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms and declared him to be a light to the world. In our reading from Matthew, we hear a great truth from Jesus himself about our identity in him. We are called ‘Salt’ and ‘Light’.
One of the essential features of salt is its ability to enhance flavour. On your Fish and Chips or in a bowl of soup it can turn the ordinary into something else much more interesting. It is also a purifier. Salt can be used to clean things such as wounds as it prevents bacteria from multiplying. It can be used to clean metals and fabrics and today it’s often used in the final stages of purifying aviation fuel. It can also be used as a preservative as the salt absorbs moisture in the food making the environment too dry for harmful bacteria or mould to grow. Ancient Egypt used large quantities of salt in the mummification process.
Salt has been and remains, a very important commodity; indeed, we cannot live without it as it exists in every cell of our body and is essential in transmitting signals to the brain.
Jesus says we are the ‘salt of the earth’. However, possessing the qualities of salt and being used as salt are very different things just as a car is a car but if it remains motionless it’s not being a car. As followers of Jesus we are to be enhancers, purifiers and preservers of all that is good and if we are not engaged in doing this then we are failing our identity in him.
Jesus takes the analogy further when he states that we ‘are the light of the world’ and what use is a light if it’s hidden underneath a bowl or a bucket?
As followers of Jesus we are holders of a truth and this truth was not given to us that we might then keep it to ourselves. In Jesus, we gain a new identity and this new identity is intended to shine out for all the world to see, that we might help them experience the joy and the freedom there is in knowing him and in being ‘right’ with God.
If you’re reading this and you’re not sure of your identity or place with God and you’d like that to change … why not get in touch with me for a chat and come and join us at one of our services in the Benefice.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale