every cloud has a watery lining

Today I was supposed to be going to a meeting. But the situation changed unexpectedly this morning and I have been unable to go to the meeting. I am frustrated and disappointed about that as it sounds like it would have been a really good occasion. But the change in circumstances as a result of this morning’s unexpected event means that now I have a little more time to catch up on admin and do some preparation that I was struggling to find space for. It’s not so much that every cloud has a silver lining so much as making the most of a situation.

dark-cloud-1539729“Every cloud has a silver lining” is a bizarre idiomatic proverb. It’s certainly not literally true. On the occasions when I have been in an aeroplane and it is flowing through a cloud it just goes grey and watery, not shiny and silvery. You can imagine that if it was literally silver inside by now we would be mining clouds! Who was it who first coined the phrase? (You can find some references to it here).

The problem is that even if you take the proverb in its metaphorical sense it’s still not true. Things don’t always turn out all right. Sometimes good does not come out of bad. Sometimes the bumper sticker is right (even if it’s not very eloquent): s#*t happens.

When you read some of the Psalms in the Bible the psalmist is going through dark times and there is no light at the end of the tunnel (not even the light of an oncoming train). And Jesus never promised anybody an easy ride for following him. In fact he suggested exactly the opposite was true: if you follow him you can expect persecution, opposition and s#*t happening.

So, you might be wondering, what’s the point? What do we gain from following Jesus, trying to live a life that pleases God and ending up getting persecuted?

The first thing (and you often find this in the Psalms) is a recognition that God is with us even in the darkest Valley. Everybody in this world experiences dark times but an awareness that God is with you, whilst it might not make things brighter, is a reassurance. Jesus gives us his Spirit who is with us whatever we go through and who can interpret the deepest groans of our being that we are unable to articulate and turn them into prayer.

Furthermore the Bible teaches us that stuff is not the most important thing in this life. Stuff breaks, rots, corrodes, becomes obsolete and loses value. Even money is finite and elusive. We leave this world as we came into it (I don’t necessarily mean naked and crying): empty-handed. But there is more to life than stuff and money and even more to life than living. I do believe in life before death but I also believe in life after death. That faith, hope, and expectation means that whilst I might struggle to find a silver lining inside a cloud I know that beyond the clouds is the brightest sunlight.

Be blessed, be a blessing

plugging away

We had a wonderful day at our church yesterday (Sunday). In the morning service we baptised Simon, who has only recently become a follower of Jesus, and he told us his moving testimony about his life and becoming a believer. We also had Sylvia, who was baptised in 1959 but didn’t have the opportunity to share her story at her baptism, so she shared about God’s faithfulness over all those years. We had Silvia who reaffirmed the promises she made at her baptism a number of years ago and told us of her journey of faith and how God had been with her and spoken to her. And we had Leisa, who is going through all sorts of difficulties but wanted to reaffirm her baptismal promises as a way of declaring that God has been with her throughout. And in the evening we were blessed when John, one of our members, led the service and preached about the cost of following Jesus.

As I said, it was a wonderful day.

Last night I opened a bedroom window to get some fresh air into the room on a muggy night. In the very early morning I was awoken by the local birds who were getting very excited about the fact that the sun was coming up again and were telling everyone about it. I decided to close the window to reduce the volume. As I walked to the window in the gloom of our room I trod on an upturned electrical plug (prongs up).

An Electric Plug

OUCH!

And what was the first thing I thought about this morning? Not the blessings of yesterday but the pain of last night. It may be just me but isn’t it true that pain, hardship, difficulty, troubles or whatever negative experiences we have seem to override the positives for us? It may be just me but many words of encouragement can be drowned out by one word of criticism.

It may be just me, or it may be human nature. If it is I am sure that evolutionary biologists will have an explanation for it – perhaps that we need to deal with negative experiences and events in order to overcome them: we can’t spend all our time laughing and rejoicing if we need to fight off a bear or run from attackers.

And it may not just be one-off events or experiences. Long term pain can drain and debilitate. Lengthy adversity can rob us of satisfaction and peace. Ongoing difficulty can destroy moments of joy. I know that too from my personal experience.

In those moments I have found immense satisfaction and strength from these words:

Pull yourself together. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

No. Actually not those words. Those words are unhelpful and inaccurate. Try these:

But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

That may seem trite, but I have found immense encouragement and strength from God when I am going through tough times. Look at those words in the wider context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians:

…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We don’t know what or who the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But it was clearly something significant and dreadful for Paul to describe it in those terms and to plead for God to take it away. God’s response was not to take it away but to reassure Paul that he would have enough grace to cope, and find that God would make up what he lacked.

So whatever difficulties or hardships you face I would encourage you to plead that the Lord would take them away, but be ready for his response that may not be to take them away but instead to give you what you need to cope – even treading on an upturned plug!

Be blessed, be a blessing

panning for gold

panning for goldA long time ago in a theme park far far away (relatively speaking: it fits best with the Star Wars-esque intro) our children took part in an activity to pan for gold. Little ‘gold’ nuggets were mixed in with sand and gravel and (for a fee) children could dig up some sand and put it in a pan with some water and then swirl it around to find the ‘gold’ which was then exchanged for a cheap and tacky souvenir.

That image came back to me recently and felt like a useful metaphor for life. Sometimes what life seems to throw at us looks like dirt. It may feel like dirt. It may be difficult events. It may be things that are said. It could be things that we have done. In those circumstances I have found that it is helpful to pan for gold in the dirt of life.

What I mean is that it is quite possible that God has some gold nuggets hidden in the dirt. He may have words of encouragement, reminders of his faithfulness, words of guidance or correction, even just a reminder that he is with us – gold nuggets hidden in the dirt. One of the tasks we have is prayerfully to pan for the gold. Ask God what he may be saying or reminding us of in what may appear to be mud. When we have found the gold we need to ask for his grace and wisdom to receive it and act on it. We also need his grace and wisdom to set aside what is not gold – what is not of him – and not allow it to lead to lead to hurt or bitterness.

Sometimes there’s only a tiny nugget (but it’s still a nugget!). Sometimes there may not be anything. Sometimes it is as if we have hit a rich seam of gold. What might ‘panning for gold’ look like?

Try to ask God to speak to you through the events: ask him, “What are you saying to me in this, God?”

Be honest, be open, be humble, be ready to look for the glint of gold even in the grottiest of dirt.

Perhaps ask a close friend if they can see any gold nuggets if you can’t.

When you find something that feels like gold make sure you weigh it and evaluate it so you know it is from God – check it against God’s nature and character, check it against the Bible.

Whatever is not gold, ask God to give you the grace to set it aside.

Whatever is gold, ask God to give you the grace to act on it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.