It seems like forever since I last wrote any bloggerel, and some of you may think it’s still too soon. No matter, I will follow my usual pattern and ignore the wishes of my readers – all three of you.
I have just come back from the last of my sabbatical visits. I have been visiting different Baptist churches across the country and talking with the leaders to listen to their stories of how they have adapted to, changed because of, and prepared for growth. It has been very encouraging and inspiring to do this and it is interesting to discover that there are similar themes in all of their stories.
No, this does not mean I am about to write a new bestseller on church growth. If I did it would be silly: perhaps led by dolphins and called ‘The Porpoise-Driven Church’ or about using air-to-air missiles in a ‘heat-seeker sensitive church’. But it does appear that there are some themes that may be helpful to us at our church.
And at the moment I am not going to tell you.
That’s not only because I am mean, but also because these thoughts are still a bit vague and woolly (yes I know that’s not stopped me before) and I feel it’s most appropriate to share them with the church leaders and wider church before I consider releasing them into the wild untamed blogosphere.
‘So, what’s the point of reading this bloggage?’ I hear you ask. (A very good question).
Through my reading of 1 and 2 Timothy on my retreat; through many of the books I have read (‘sacred’ and ‘secular’); through the conversations I have had; through my observations and musings and through bouncing ideas and concepts off people. It is my experience that sometimes when I want to hear from God all I get is a deafening silence or the sound of Spiritual static. And other times I hear so much from different places that I almost hold my hands up in surrender and give in.
The silence / Spiritual static is a tough one. Sometimes that happens when we are at our weakest, our lowest, our most vulnerable. It’s reminiscent of the depressed prophet Elijah who found God in the ‘sound of sheer silence’. I wonder if at times God keeps silent vigil with us because words would be unhelpful.
As a teenager we had a Labrador, Bonnie, who was the family dog. I spent most time with her and walked her and she was a faithful companion to me. There were times when I was low and it was as if she sensed it. She would gently stroll up to where I was and nuzzle me. She might put her head on my lap if I was sitting down and look up at me. Or sometimes she would come and lie down on my feet (having turned around three times first). She would know that I did not want or need ‘bouncy dog’ or ‘playful dog’. It was as if she knew that I would simply appreciate the company.
There’s an element of that in what I am trying to describe about God’s silence. My experience is that sometimes I sense God’s presence nuzzling me in that way and it often sends a shiver down my spine. At other times I experience him through other people – directly as they are with me or indirectly through a song they have recorded or a book that they have written.
Or maybe we should pause and reflect and see if we can sense God smiling at us. I think many people think of him scowling and angry, but I reckon he smiles most of the time.
Of course there are times when we want to hear words, advice, answers and the hiss of static is all we receive. Perhaps it’s because we have tuned God out a bit and need to get back in practice at listening to him. It is possible that we are not listening to the right voice – he may be speaking to us through someone else or through a song and we are determined to hear him in our heads or in the pages of the Bible.
And yes, I think there are times when it’s just silence and static. It’s not that God is not there: it may be that the best thing for us is to pause, be still, relax and wait rather than rushing ahead with our plans and responses. Perhaps the only way God can do that is to keep quiet, like a teacher in a noisy classroom who stops talking and holds her hand up while waiting for the children to notice and join in.
When I was at Primary School (aged about 6) I had a teacher called Miss Bagley. On the last day before the Easter holidays one of the children in my class had given her an Easter Egg. Miss Bagley was bringing the day to a close and saying a few final words when I blurted out, “Don’t forget to eat your Easter Egg!”
Poor Miss Bagley had had a long term and I had interrupted her. Uncharacteristically she responded by saying, “Oh, be quiet you gasbag!”
I was stunned initially. I could not believe that she had said that to me. But by the time I met my Mum at the school gate I was in floods of tears. I was almost inconsolable at the thought that Miss Bagley had called me a gasbag. My Mum eventually got a vaguely comprehensible answer out of me and we went back into the school where I apologised for interrupting and Miss Bagley apologised for calling me a gasbag. (The irony of her name and the epithet she gave me did not strike me until I just wrote this down!)
Nearly 40 years later I still remember that moment. Miss Bagley had had to resort to drastic measures to make me stop and listen. Thankfully God doesn’t (often) call me a gasbag, but he may resort to drastic measures.
Just a thought.
Be blessed, be a blessing.