I have a confession to make. I really dislike motivational posters. I know that lots of you will have found some of them helpful, and I am sure that there is a lot of wisdom on them, but there’s something about them that makes me shrink away from them.
Perhaps it’s the twee nature of some of them: “The only way to guarantee failure is never to try.”
Sometimes it’s the fact that they are blatantly untrue: “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” (Can I really fly unaided if I think about it hard enough?)
Some of them could be heaping guilt on those who are struggling: “Excuses are for the weak!”
And some of them, (begrudgingly) are helpful@: “Stop being a critic. Start being a creator.”
And there’s the thing. While I will find some of these unhelpful, others will find them inspirational. They will be exactly what that person needs to receive at that time. So I am going to offer you a motivational poster of my own:
You see I have found that often when I have blessed other people (knowingly or unknowingly) the blessing has grown. It has grown by expressions of gratitude (this morning I was blessed by someone saying I had blessed them several years ago in something I had done as part of my job – that made me feel good too). It has grown as those who are blessed have shared that they felt blessed. It has grown as they are inspired to bless others. It has grown when I am encouraged to be more of a blessing because I can see the positive difference it has made to others.
And for any of you that want a Biblical mandate for this, how about the way that Abram and his descendants were blessed and through them the whole world would be blessed? (Genesis 12:1-3)
Don’t keep your blessings to yourself. Share them and watch them grow!
In order to try to save trees and do a little bit towards helping the environment I try to do a couple of things: I try to print double-sided (saving paper) and I try to re-use bits of paper on which I have only printed on one side – using them as scrap paper. I started the double-sided printing a while ago, but I had started the reusing single side-printed paper as scrap a while before I found out how to make my printer print on both sides, which meant that I have had a modest stock of single-sided paper to use as scrap.
However over the weekend I reached for a piece of scrap paper and found that I had more-or-less exhausted my stock of scrap paper. It wasn’t so much that I had used it more frequently as that my double-sided printing had reduced the amount of paper available for scrap. I hadn’t expected that side-effect. In the end I had to use a pristine piece of paper to write on. It felt wrong (recycling-wise), and at the same time there was something lovely about writing on a clean piece of paper with a nice fountain pen. (Yes I am that sad).
So often there are unexpected consequences to our well-intended actions. You stop your car to let someone pull out in front of you and someone behind you gets angry that their journey is delayed. You make a phone call on your mobile while on the train to let someone know you are thinking of them in a time of difficulty and someone else on the train is upset that they have to listen to one side of your conversation. You walk to the shops rather than driving in order to keep fit and reduce pollution but the journey takes longer than anticipated and you miss an important phone call at home. You perform a magic trick on stage to entertain an audience and make a 4 year-old girl cry because her granny was the one sprayed with silly string at the end*. You get the idea.
The unintended and unexpected consequences do not make our original actions wrong. They do not mean that we should not have done those things (except perhaps not spraying granny with silly string). But we need to remember that we do not exist inside a bubble, we live in a society with lots of other people. Perhaps we should think more widely about our impact on other people: who else is impacted by our actions?
And while we are contemplating that are there ways in which we can expand the positive scope of our actions? That’s one of the questions that led to the establishing of the Fairtrade Foundation to enable people to buy goods that will more directly benefit the producers as well as the vendor and purchaser. Another way, I think, is by seeking to reciprocate and pass on the positive impact when we are the beneficiary. It blesses me no end if, after I have let a car pull out in front of me in a queue of traffic, the person I let pull out does the same for someone else further along the road.
Can you imagine the impact on our society if we all acted in that way, rather than in self-centred and selfish ways? Not just letting people pull out in front of us, but everyone seeking to bless others. In the Bible there are lots of ways in which we can do that for one another. These are some I have identified
I wonder whether this is part of what the writer intended in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10 (my emphasis):
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Is this also part of what Jesus meant by us being salt and light in our communities – adding savour and enhancing the brightness so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”? (Matthew 5:16)
I’m not sure how all of this will help my scrap paper problem (except to say that I don’t need donations!) but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think that is as important.
How frustrating do you find it if you have bought a train ticket and then find out that some or all of the journey is on a ‘rail replacement service’ – also known as a bus? Some operators have tried to introduce some levity to the situation by changing the electronic sign on the front of the bus from ‘Rail Replacement Service’ to ‘Choo choo I’m a train’.
The first time I saw a picture of that it made me smile. Perhaps it even calms down some of the more disgruntled passengers. But the levity does not change the reality of the situation: part or all of a paid-for rail journey has been replaced by a bus. Can you imagine how people would react if they turned up at an airport and found that a bus was waiting at the departure gate rather than their holiday flight to Spain?!
A while ago I found myself feeling stressed on a rail journey when part of it was replaced by buses. The railway station was crowded to overflowing with people who needed to get to their destination and the staff at the station were politely doing their best to direct them to different buses that were going to different places. A person in front of me verbally abused one of these staff members about how unacceptable it was. The railway employee looked shocked and somehow managed to utter an apology on behalf of the railway. As I passed the employee I tried to redress the balance by telling them how impressed I was with how well they were coping with the situation and how grateful I was that they were there to show us which buses to catch. The railway worker said thank you and I got on the bus. I heard others behind me trying to encourage her too.
On the onward journey I wondered whether the railway employee would remember the positive comments as much as she would the verbal assault. Human nature is such that we often remember critical comments more than we do positive ones. We can focus on negative things that are happening and forget to think about good things. Paul begins so many of his letters with thanks and praise to God for the people to whom he is writing. Even the heavy-duty correctional letters to the Corinthian churches start with thanks before he gets on to the business of trying to sort out the mess they have got themselves into. But how often do we skate past the ‘thanks’ sections almost as part of the prologue and get into the meat of the letters? Paul often writes how he always gives thanks for these people when he remembers them. He has an attitude of gratitude. And that must have included the difficult people!
In my first church I was asked to speak at the women’s group ‘Pleasant Monday Afternoon’ at their anniversary. The theme I was given was the line from the hymn “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” I wasn’t sure about it (it wasn’t a Bible verse and I was fresh out of Bible College and needed to show everyone that I could speak from the Bible). But I remember that as I pondered the theme I realised that it was an important one because of the human tendency to forget the blessings as we concentrate on the woes. Without wishing to diminish the significance or impact of some of the negative things we experience I would like to invite you to participate in an exercise: The next time you have time to spend with the Lord, why not count your blessings and name them one by one. Write them on a piece of paper. And use both sides if you need to. Offer thanks to the Lord in response to all that he has done for you. Keep that tucked in your Bible as a reminder.
Perhaps that way we can create a welcome gloom replacement service!
I leave you with two verses from the start of Psalm 9 that I think convey the same message:
1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
Yesterday I celebrated the anniversary of my exit from my mother’s womb and I was blessed.
I was blessed by the gifts and cards from friends and family.
I was blessed by the many birthday greetings.
I was blessed by spending some of the day discerning God’s will for someone.
I was blessed by the arrival of windows in my study conversion.
I was blessed to spend the evening with Sally.
I was blessed when I looked at a selection of vouchers in my wallet to see I had some extra bonus shopping points available if I spent £4 on hair care products even though I am bald – at least someone (a machine) didn’t see it.
I was blessed by these pictures that my family posted on Facebook…
First of all my sister posted this:
(She’s the one with bunches beside me, in the days when I not only had hair but it was curly!)
And then my daughter decided to get in on the act:
(The one on the left was at my farewell party at my previous church when they had to use newspaper to create a new outfit for me to wear as a Regional Minister (I haven’t worn it); the middle one was where I found that I could use the suction in the pig launcher to stick it on my head. I think the third one was in a restaurant where my daughter tried to take a photo of me and I put my tongue out.)
I was blessed by the memories provoked by those photos.
I was blessed by how many people ‘liked’ those photos – I assume that they at least made them smile and that’s a good thing.
I was blessed by the banter that accompanied the photos.
I was blessed by the reminder that little things (like taking a moment to write ‘happy birthday’ on Facebook make a big difference.
I was blessed by seeing how God is at work in the lives of Ministers and churches in our Association.
I was blessed by being able to write a reference for a friend and say how wonderful they are.
I was blessed by knowing that even in some of the difficult circumstances in which I am ministering there is hope because God is involved – and he can do resurrections! Even if life feels sucky and yucky God is with us in it and won’t leave us alone: when we feel like we are sitting on life’s manure heap he comes and sits beside us and shares the misery – that’s amazing grace!
And today I am blessed because I can count so many blessings from yesterday.
Thank you God, and thank you to those of you whom he used to bless me, whether or not you are aware that he did!
Yesterday evening at the Magic Club of which I am a member (available for charity shows locally) we had a lecture from Michael Vincent. It was a fascinating, inspiring and extremely enjoyable lecture. It was also quite profound. I’m not going to tell you what he said, that would not be fair to him as it would give away some of his secrets, but I was left with several impressions that I will share:
It is clear that Michael is someone who is striving for excellence in his magic. He is not satisfied with ‘adequate’. 8 out of 10 will not do.
He pays great attention to detail. Every move, every word, every look and every thought is considered and planned.
He is a great technician – clearly what we saw was the product of years of practice and benefited from him listening to (and being mentored by) others who had years of experience.
He enjoys what he does – even before he delights and audience he is delighted with what he is performing and how he is performing it.
He wants his audience to have a magical experience. The presentation of the illusions is as important (if not more important) than the technical skills. You need both but mere technical brilliance is not enough if your audience doesn’t find you engaging and want to go on a magical journey with you.
There’s so much more I could talk about but I am also trying to assimilate it for myself. But, reflecting on those things alone, there are lessons for followers of Jesus, not just magicians:
Strive for excellence. “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God,” writes Paul to the church in Corinth. If God is GOD, then we should offer him our best. That applies to church activities, but it also applies to us as individuals – being the best free samples of Jesus that we can (as someone has blogged). The good news is that we also have God’s Spirit to help us in that process, it’s not something we have to try on our own. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you give of your best and consciously tell God that you are doing so as an act of worship then it is an act of worship.
Pay attention to detail. In my experience it’s not often big things that cause arguments in churches it’s little things that become inflated into big things. The colour of the carpets is not a big thing but if someone’s views are not listened to they can feel ignored and unloved and those feelings grow with more little things. How many people do ‘little things’ that go un-noticed and unappreciated? Pay attention to detail and thank people for the little things.
And, flipping it over, if we do the little things well often the bigger things fall into place: for example if someone wants to help with the sound desk, make sure that they receive training in how to do it.
And in our everyday life, pay attention to the little things that others do for us and appreciate them. If everyone appreciated others how much better would life be? Pay attention to the little things for others, like using their name (difficult for those who have problems remembering names, so if that’s you don’t try to bluff it, admit it and ask the person their name again and explain your weakness). It may seem trivial, but it makes a difference.
Practice. Living as a follower of Jesus won’t make any difference to your life if you only think about it when you attend church. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Does that sound like he meant that all you have to do is go to church services? Life is meant to be lived, and life in all its fullness is meant to be lived in all its fullness, which means we have to put what we believe into practice: In other words: loving one another; forgiving one another; serving one another; praying (talking with God); blessing one another. The more you put it into practice the opportunities God’s Spirit has to shape us and the more it will become second nature.
Enjoy it. I read an article which said that researchers have found that middle age is the unhappiest era in peoples’ lives. As someone who is in his forties (just) that could be worrying. But life is for living. Find satisfaction in things you do (especially if you do them to the best of your ability – see above), even little things (see above). Celebrate good things. Relish what is possible. Share what you enjoy with others (and if there’s nobody else with whom you can share it then tell God about it). In the act of sharing you reinforce to yourself the positive experience you had. I know that life can be tough. I know that sometimes the s**t hits the fan and sometimes you are in the vicinity and it hits you too. But rather than only focusing on the negative, seek to find positives to enjoy – that could be as simple as having an understanding friend on whom to offload or savouring a cup of coffee.
Think of others. You are not on a desert island (if you are, how on earth do you have an internet connection and why are you reading this instead of asking for help?) Others will be around you. How can you bless them, encourage them, support them, amuse them, strengthen them, and enhance them by what you do with them and for them? “Love God, love those around you” is a pretty good personal mission statement! And even if you feel alone then you aren’t – God’s still there and you can ‘perform’ for an audience of One.
So, thank you Michael Vincent for provoking these (and many other) thoughts. And it has also underlined for me my intention to apply to join the Magic Circle this year (there, I’ve gone public, I have to go for it now!) whilst applying those principles both to my life and my magic.
I am intrigued by all of the hype and attention that the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have gained in the news media this morning. There is a lot of triumphant jingoistic celebration of those Brits who have won awards. I am not having a grump about that at all. Well done to them, I say.
But what about all those who were unsuccessful? I don’t watch awards shows (mainly because I find them a bit tedious) but I know that one of the things they do is show the faces of those who were nominated but were unsuccessful. Those who have lost have to sit there, smiling, being gracious, trying not to look too upset, and trying to convey a ‘well done to the person who won, it was an honour just to be nominated’ attitude while inside they may be feeling really disappointed. That must be difficult!
And then there are the many people who were not even nominated. What about them? I would watch a TV show that celebrated everyone who was never nominated for an award (including those ‘unsung heroes’ awards which suddenly make them ‘sung heroes’).
Celebrate the single mum whose patience was rewarded when she has just seen her difficult child make some progress.
Celebrate the person who baked someone a cake ‘just because’.
Celebrate the woman who gave up her seat on the train for the person who was struggling to stand up.
Celebrate the car driver who let someone pull out and smiled as they did it.
Celebrate the bloke who sent and encouraging text to his friend.
Celebrate the child who gave come of their lunch to their friend who had forgotten theirs.
Celebrate the neighbour who took in your parcel that could not be delivered because you were out…
You get the idea.
These small acts of kindness will never gain public recognition. They may not even receive a ‘thank you’. But they are good. They are kind. They are wonderful. They are worth celebrating. They are signs of God’s kingdom.
“Woah! Hold on!” you may say. “I was with you until you started getting all ‘preacher’ on me.” I don’t mean to ‘get all preacher on you’ but I do believe that it is true. We are bombarded with so many bad news stories by the media (which is perhaps why they go so overboard with awards that counterbalance that) that I think sometimes we are predisposed to focus on the negative, the nasty, the unpleasant and even think that God is either indifferent to us or doesn’t exist. And that then can lead us to a very unbalanced view of the world.
But if we look for the good, the lovely, the blessing we will see that life is not as bad as we might have feared. And I believe that goodness, loveliness, blessings and the like are glimpses of God’s kingdom because they are like his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his love and so on.
Whether or not you attribute them to him or just to human nature is irrelevant, I still see them as signs of his Kingdom (where he is in charge). Just because you don’t thank someone for a birthday present does not mean that they didn’t give you the present!
So, today, I encourage you to celebrate those who will never win an award but who are making a difference nonetheless.