Friday, 30 September 2011

patience is a virtue: learning to "wait well"

I have recently discovered that, somewhat to my surprise, I am not a particularly patient person. Perhaps this comes as a surprise because I have always been perfectly content to wait for things like Christmas and birthdays (which is a mercy, considering that these two events fall within 8 days of each other...), with very little of the "I can't wait for...", which is so often heard on the lips of children, and indeed, adults! (I'm sure my estimable father will correct me if my memory is faulty at this point!) If it ever was heard, it would have been swiftly met with the instruction to "stop wishing your life away!"

Several things have started me thinking about what it really means to be patient, and how we might "wait well", particularly when it is God we are waiting for. The first was my own experience of waiting to see how God would provide for me while I'm on Relay (a discipleship and training program, which involves working with students and is run by UCCF: The Christian Unions). It is at this point that it is clear that waiting and trusting are very closely tied together. Perhaps I always found it easy to wait for Christmas and Birthdays because I always 'trusted' that they wouldn't fail to come around eventually! Whereas, while on Relay, even though it is something which I very much believe God has called me to, I find it so easy to forget the words of our Lord and give ourselves over to worrying, which will not achieve anything other than to make the waiting for God's gracious provision even harder! Clearly worry should never play a part in "waiting well".

Another thing which has continued my musing over "how to wait" is the story of Anna (Luke 2:36-38). This little gem is easy to miss in the great sweep of the infancy narrative, but there is a great challenge posed here by Anna's way of waiting. She has been widowed, probably since about the age of 20, and has spent the last 60 years of her life in the Temple, worshiping God. Finally when she is 84, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple and Anna knows who this child is, she praises God and speaks about the child to all those waiting for Jerusalem's redemption. This is what Anna has been waiting for, but she has not been idle as she waits, she has not been "wishing her life away", though surely the longing for this moment must have been strong. Instead she has spent 60years investing in the best relationship of all. That she has spent her time worshiping God, night and day demonstrates her trust in His faithfulness to his promises. She "waited well" for 60years. How humbling to think on, when I feel like I'm doing well after only a few weeks, if I'm waiting for something which I trust will happen but know neither when nor how! From Anna we can see an example of how to "wait well" for our eternal home; by spending every minute of every day, delighting in the presence of God. No small task, but a life-giving pursuit and it ends in the coming of the one who is Life.

My final thoughts came about as I finished working my way through Exodus. My initial thought is that the Israelites were rubbish at waiting! For anything really, as is demonstrated by their continual moaning and complaining, and most starkly, by their hurry to make the golden calf when Moses goes up onto Mount Sinai. So a failure to wait, impatience, is characterised by a lack of worship of the Living God and a consequent seeking of something else to worship. Idolatry is what results when we do not "wait well", when we fail to trust God, despite what we have already seen of his power to fulfill his promises and rescue his people. The second thought that came to me, as I was ploughing through the 15 chapters of instructions on how to construct the Tabernacle, was that this was not a fast process (neither is reading it!), and that it was a very active form of waiting. As they build the Tabernacle and follow the instructions on priestly garments and washing practices, the Israelites are preparing for the presence of the Lord to dwell among them. In a sense the Lord is already with them - He has been throughout Exodus, guarding and guiding His people by His very presence. Yet they are preparing a place for Him, a specific dwelling. So too as we are waiting, already in the presence of God in Christ, we are preparing for His future coming, and the final revelation of his glory, just as the Israelites waited and prepared so carefully for the Presence of the Lord dwelling in the Tabernacle, a cloud by day, and a burning fire by night.

And so we live each day in His Presence, like Anna and the Israelites, waiting and preparing through worship (that is, following the call of Christ) for the final coming of our Lord, when He comes to dwell forever with His people.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

reading the Bible for all it's worth

(with apologies to Gordon Fee, the title of whose book was something of an inspiration to this comment!)

I've been challenged over this last summer on my approach to the Bible. I don't think my understanding is in any sense complete, nor my new approach at all perfect, but I hope it will help me to see more clearly, and know more dearly!

Without a doubt before this summer I would have subscribed whole-heartedly to the view that the Bible is God's Word, inspired by the Spirit and a way in which God can work in our lives, speaking directly to us. However, none of this seemed to match my somewhat sporadic efforts to actually read it, to sit at God's feet and hear from him in this very particular way. What was perhaps more of a problem was the fact that this never really concerned me, it would go well for a month or so (normally following a summer of Keswick Convention and CYFA camps as I was fueled by the experience of being built up, surrounded by other Christians and fired up by passionate talks... there's a lot I could say about this but I'll leave it for the moment...) but then there would be long gaps, with half-hearted attempts to use Bible notes or some other aid.

From surveying my own experience of reading the Bible, I can see a scattering of failed attempts and all the approaches which simply did not work for me. (As I write this I can hear certain people thinking "well there's your problem right there...'for me'" and yes I know, but do let me finish) That in itself was enough to tell me that something wasn't right, but I still couldn't understand what that was - no-one else seemed to have the same problem! Then I began to be introduced to a new (or very old) idea. That the Bible, as God's word to us, is actually God speaking to us, here and now, as well as his words to the people of Israel so many centuries ago. Barth puts it beautifully when he seeks to "hear the Word within the words", coming to scripture to hear from God and being faced with God himself.

A new approach was suggested to me when on team day a couple of weeks ago, we spent just over a day reading through the book of Luke out loud - and not like in (some) church(es) where one person reads and everyone else sticks their noses in their own Bible (I have always been awful at reading ahead while someone else is reading out loud and consequently not paying enough attention to either the person reading or my own skimming...) - instead we took it in turns to, in pairs, do a "dramatic reading" of a few chapters at a time. It was an amazing experience, and I heard the gospel of Luke more clearly than I ever have before - I highly recommend it!

Since then I have also read an article (found here challenging people to just read their Bibles through, as though they were reading an ordinary book (which for me means curling up with it for several hours at a time, devouring the story). The joy of this is that it gives us the big picture - by immersing us in it! I started a couple of days ago and I'm now half way through Exodus, sinking myself into the story. There is a certain joy in losing yourself in the story in this way - and I really mean losing yourself - this is not an exercise which invites self reflection as such, but rather immerses us in the out-workings of God's mission to the world, first through Israel, then through Christ and the church.

I hope to finish this read through by Christmas (so feel free to ask me how that's going!) and I hope that I will come to understand on a far bigger scale what God has done and what he is now doing... I do not know my Bible even half as well as I would like to, (and probably far less well than might be expected after three years of theology...), and what knowledge I have is largely fragmentary, what better way to put it all into the big picture an learn ever more of our gracious creator God?


I was particularly challenged by a talk which I discovered on my iTunes (and I genuinely can't remember  where it came from, but it seems appropriate that I found it now!) on the reasons Christians read their Bibles poorly by Gordon Fee (not free I'm afraid, but good nevertheless...!)