None of us is perfect. Nobody, no matter how great they are or what they have achieved, is the finished article. I am being inspired at the moment by reading about Group Captain Lord Cheshire of Woodhall, VC, OM, DSO, DFC. By any measure he was an astonishing man as all of his titles and letters after his name suggest.
I recently acquired a second hand copy of ‘Crossing the Finishing Line’ – his last thoughts as he struggled with the debilitating effects of Motor Neurone Disease. A number of the thoughts have provoked thoughts and prayerfulness in me, but there was one comment that resonated particularly.
Last week in our church I spoke of how for the most part God brings about change in us and transforms us through one degree shifts. Gradual, almost imperceptible changes that over time add up to making a significant difference. One of Leonard Cheshire’s ‘last thoughts’ was:
“I need to try to turn my life and the physical difficulties I have into a prayer. I think that means starting with what St Augustine defines as the prayer of desire. Thus your whole being, heart and mind, needs to be orientated towards God. If you start that way, then throughout the day you can bring in different people, different Homes*, different problems into your thoughts while you are, so to speak, in a prayerful state of mind.”
(‘Crossing the Finishing Line’, Leonard Cheshire p.76)
Being transformed by God’s Spirit starts with us. We can’t bring about the change any more than a Rubik’s cube can solve itself. But we have to want God’s Spirit to change us. And that starts with us going deeper in our understanding and experience of Jesus Christ. Our aim should not be to be better people but to want to know Jesus better – because as we get to know him better we find that his character, love, grace and so on start to rub off on us. The one degree shifts happen naturally not because we are striving for them but because we are striving for Christ.
Part of the problem with one degree shifts is their imperceptibility. We might not notice them ourselves, so become frustrated that we are not the people we know God wants us to be. In those circumstances I don’t think it is wrong to be checking our spiritual compass so we can see how we are orientated.
If we want to be a prayerful person we could start with devoting three hours to prayer every day. Some may achieve that easily but most of us will get distracted and discouraged and give up. But what if a one degree shift was to start with a regular daily prayer of two minutes? And then when that is a part of our routine we go for three minutes, then four and so on?
It’s the same with reading the Bible – don’t try to read it all in a day! But start with bite-sized chunks and gradually add to them.
Or it could be that we struggle with a persistent sin. You could try to stop ‘cold turkey’. But that’s not always easy, especially if it is ingrained in our life. So take it one day at a time. Ask for God’s help not to fall into temptation and see how long you can go – each time you are tempted is a good time to pray the Lord’s Prayer. If you fail then ask God to help you again – turn back to him, ask for his forgiveness, a fresh start and his help again. And try to go for longer – one day at a time. Count your progress and celebrate it. One of my friends had a real problem with alcohol and regularly tells me how long it was since they last had a drink (over a year now!).
If those sound suspiciously like spiritual self-help they are not meant to. We can’t do it ourselves. But if we are seeking Jesus, desiring Jesus, yearning for more of him in our lives and asking him to help us to become all that we can be, he will help us. But we can’t sit back and wait for him to do it all, and these may be ways in which he helps us to do that, with the strength, perseverance and grace that he gives us. Look for and celebrate those one degree shifts when you perceive them.
Be blessed, be a blessing.
*Among his many achievements Leonard Cheshire founded homes for disabled people around the world – find out more here.