how’re you doin’?

(in a non-Joey from Friends way!!)

How have you been coping with the lockdown? Some people who prefer their own company may have been flourishing while others who are energised by the company of others may be in despair. ‘Huggers’ may be reduced to hugging pillows and cushions soon. Children may well be climbing the walls (or their parents will) as their normal activities are curtailed, although they may be delighted at being told to go and play computer games when their frazzled parents have had enough.

I have not found it too difficult (yet). I can manage to do some of my job from home (online or on the phone) and I am comfortable enough with technology that I can keep in touch with the wider family by video. Meetings have either been cancelled or turned into virtual meetings – and we have to learn new meeting skills for those occasions.

That’s one of the positives I think we may be able to draw from this – at the end I suspect that a far higher proportion of the population will be more tech savvy than when it started.

Another seems to be a rediscovering of the importance of local community. A WhatsApp group has been created for our road and a neighbouring road and alongside being introduced to people we have either ignored or nodded towards in the past we are interacting and supporting one another. Sally, my wife, has even initiated an Easter Egg hunt (pictures and creations in windows and around the street) for when children take their exercise with the family, and we’re hoping that a delivery of chocolate eggs will arrive in time so we can reward participants.

In addition to keeping in touch with all of the ministers and churches I serve and seeking to advice and support them as they face new challenges I have started a series of silly magical videos with my magic accomplice – Stew the Rabbit. They have a short encouraging message at the end and you can see them at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCydPS_gPVXqtwZEO2CfO9yw if you are interested. I have also done a virtual magic show for a group that is keeping its members in touch with one another. Both have challenged my video recording and creation skills. It’s been fun.

So I go back to my initial question. How are you coping? I wonder if you can turn that level of ‘cope’ into prayer? If it’s ‘not very well’ – ask God to help you to manage those emotions and to bring you someone who can encourage you. If it’s ‘okay’ – ask God to help you to flourish and to grow beyond ‘okay’. If it’s ‘thriving’ then ask God to help you to see others who are in need and find ways of encouraging and supporting them. You may not be a praying person. That’s okay. God’s not selfish – he loves to hear everyone’s prayers and responds to them. You may not really be sure if there is a God. That’s okay too. God knows you exist and will respond to the level of faith that you have.

In the Bible Jesus spoke about having faith the size of a mustard seed (very small) and that amount of faith being able to do amazing things. But how do you quantify mustard seed sized faith? I reckon it’s having just enough faith to pray.

May you know God’s blessing and love during these unusual days. And if you do pray, my prayer to go with yours is that you will be able to see God’s answer or even that you may be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

faq

Picking up a thought from yesterday’s bloggage got me wondering whether we ask the wrong questions and then are surprised and disappointed at the answers we get. Yesterday one of the questions that I suggested is thrown up by the apostle Paul pleading in vain for God to take away the “thorn in his flesh” was ‘why didn’t God take it away?’ It’s a frequently asked question about suffering and unanswered prayer.

pexels-photo-221164.jpegBut it’s a question that can lead to all sorts of unsatisfying answers (I don’t subscribe to any of the following answers, by the way). Some might suggest that God wanted to teach Paul something through his suffering. What sort of capricious God would want someone to remain in pain simply to learn a lesson? Others might suggest that Paul didn’t have enough faith when he prayed. But Jesus debunked that myth when he said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. (For me the mustard seed measure of faith equates to ‘as much as it takes for us to pray). Others may say that Paul did not pray enough times – he only pleaded three times. But is God really the sort of being who needs lots of prayers before he responds – like a slot machine that asks for more coins before it dispenses a bar of chocolate?

Is it the wrong question because it leads to unhelpful answers?

What if the right question looks at things from a different perspective: ‘why does God intervene in answer to prayers?’ You see when we look at Jesus in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles) we see that (especially in John’s gospel) these are ‘signs’. They point us towards something significant:  they reveal who Jesus is; they help us understand something about human nature; they help us realise that God’s kingdom is much bigger than we could ever imagine; and they help us face our own internal prejudices.

So could it be that when God intervenes in answer to our prayers we should be asking ourselves why he did rather than focusing on the times when it appears that he doesn’t*? What does he want us to recognise, realise or learn because of his intervention? What difference would it make to our faith if instead of asking “why not?” when God appears not to have responded* we ask “why?” when he does?

*I would also want to challenge the notion that God hasn’t responded when he doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want. Given that we are talking about a relationship with a God who says he is love, isn’t it fair to expect that he will answer – but perhaps we are looking for the wrong answer. Jesus gave us a hint about this when he was teaching about prayer (including giving his famous pattern for praying we know as The Lord’s Prayer):

11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

So when we pray we know that God wants to respond in the best way for us. When we pray we pray “your will be done” and seek to align ourselves with that rather than “my will be done” and try to convince God to agree with us. When we pray we should be asking for him to give us the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual resources and gifts we need to become the person God created us to be, and to be able to listen to God’s answers. When we pray we should be seeking answers to the right questions.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the minimum age

We put age limits on a number of different activities and behaviours in order to protect children and in recognition of their relative immaturity to cope with what are essentially adult activities. There is a minimum age, for example, for smoking, drinking alcoholic drinks, sex and even voting. there will be questions about whether the ages are correct but I’ve not really heard many people suggesting that they should not be minimum ages for a range of different activities. I would like to add to that list a minimum age for children to be able to ask their parents any question beginning with the word, “why…”

Birthday Cake 2
Congratulations, you can now use the word ‘why’?

Eventually a child who persist in asking that question will end up with the following answer, “because it just is.” That is not a satisfactory answer but it is one that denotes the boundaries between the limits of parental tolerance and the beginnings of exasperation.

I’ve got a list of questions that I want to ask God. It’s a fairly long list and it is growing. A lot of the questions start with the word “why” and on the list are included:

Why aren’t there any easy answers to life’s tough questions?

Why do things go wrong?

Why did you let [insert terrible event here] happen?

Why do you make it so difficult for some people to encounter you?

Why haven’t you issued an upgrade to the Bible covering all of the contemporary issues that we face today which didn’t exist as issues in the day when the Bible was written?

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that there are answers to all of these questions. But some of them are very long and complex. Some of them take a lot of work to discover. And, if I’m completely honest, some of them are not completely satisfactory. some of them even seem to be the theological equivalent of, “because it just is…”

I firmly believe that God welcomes and indeed encourages us to question. He wants us to test the boundaries of our faith. He wants us to have a dialogue with him (in my experience often through the Bible) in which our understanding and experience of him is expanded. If we don’t ask questions and seek answers our understanding of God will be limited. It’s a frightening thought that some people’s understanding and knowledge of God is limited to what they hear through my sermons, for example. That is a poor substitute for the sort of dialogue that God wants us to have.

So what do we do with the questions that we have? Well for one thing I don’t think we should give up with them: if the answer is that we get is inadequate and incomplete then they there is more to come. I think we also need to recognise that sometimes our questioning is because of spiritual immaturity. We want to know answers that we are not ready to cope with. Sometimes our questioning is actually more an expression of pain and frustration than a desire for an answer that makes logical sense and we need to recognise that instead of an answer we want comfort and sympathy. Sometimes, and this is where we need to discern the difference between my first statement in this paragraph and this reality, our questioning is because we do not like the answer we have received.

Whatever questions we’ve got, God is big enough to take them. The reality is that sometimes we are not big enough to take the answers. Sometimes God has to give us answers that we can cope with and we need to recognise that later on he will give us more detailed answers, or we may have to wait to see him face-to-face and ask him. If you’re not sure about this, ask yourself how you would respond to a 2-year-old child who asks you why the sky is blue. Would you respond differently to a 16-year-old who asked you the same question?

Be blessed, be a blessing (and keep asking).