the heart of the matter

Sorry about the absence of a bloggage on Friday and over the weekend. On Friday I went to visit a church near Southampton as part of my sabbatical studies, and it was so encouraging. Thank you Gordon and your church for the hospitality and sharing.

On Friday evening I stretched out my left arm at about 10pm and felt a twinge. By 3am on Saturday the twinge had become very painful indeed and my left hand was starting to feel a bit numb, so I looked at NHS Direct’s website and entered my symptoms. I was rather surprised that it suggested I should go to hospital immediately.

So I rang NHS Direct instead, and having spoken to two nice people they concluded that I should go to hospital immediately and, before I knew what was happening, an ambulance crew was knocking on the door. They wired me up and did not see anything too alarming but took me to the hospital anyway.

The hospital staff were great (I was feeling silly and a bit of a fraud, especially when the ambulance staff insisted on wheeling me in a wheelchair). They realised quite quickly what I was trying to say all along: that I had strained / torn / tweaked a muscle in my arm.

The problem was that the symptoms were such that it meant that the answers I gave to the person on the phone sounded suspiciously like the symptoms of a heart attack. Let me state here and now, on the record, I did not have a heart attack, I don’t have any heart problems, and other than a very painful left arm I am fine. Any rumours circulating to the contrary are false!

I am glad that our NHS system was so efficient and alert to the possibilities of me having a heart attack. I am grateful to all the staff who made sure that they were happy that I was not going to keel over before releasing me into the wild, rather than just taking my word for it. I am happy to know that my heart is in good condition. Better to be safe than sorry. At the hospital the doctor I saw could tell I was in a lot of pain and prescribed me some heavier duty painkillers for the pain in my arm – unfortunately they also make me feel dopier than usual.

But it did feel like a bit of an over-reaction. I only wanted some advice about what I could do to reduce the pain in my arm and ended up having an ambulance ride and a mini waxing (pulling off the electrode contacts from the ECG machine also removed a few body hairs).

I wonder if sometimes churches are the same. Someone may come to us asking for some help and before they know it they have been presented with a full explanation of the good news about Jesus, enrolled on an Alpha course and provisionally booked for a baptism. When people came to Jesus he was far more generous – he allowed others to set the agenda. He did not have a set routine of questions designed to diagnose their problem or a series of presentations and programmes to make them a Christian. Several times in the gospels he asked people, “What would you like me to do for you?”

That’s an amazing question to ask. It’s a dangerous question, a vulnerable question, and it’s a mission question. It leaves the power with the person who has come to him rather than him assuming control of the situation. It keeps the focus on the individual rather than on what we might think is the answer.

Yet at the same time we often find Jesus answering the wrong question. When four friends lowered their paralysed friend through a hole in the roof to get him in front of Jesus for healing, Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven! He did not start with the physical healing, he healed the man’s soul. But then, to demonstrate that he had authority to forgive sins, he did the apparently more difficult task of healing the man.

Confusing isn’t it?

Yes and no. Jesus knew what was at the heart of the man’s needs. We may need to spend some time listening to get to the same point. But if Jesus’ mission question is not far from our lips we will be on the way to getting to the heart of the matter.

One thought on “the heart of the matter

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