in the shadows

SONY DSCOn Sunday I had a mini retreat. Members of our church were leading the services and it gave me the opportunity to have some time just with me and Jesus. It was a bit unorthodox. My plan was to drive out of Colchester and find somewhere quiet to sit, read, contemplate and pray. But everywhere I went there were people. It was a lovely sunny day and the roads were full of cyclists, Sunday drivers and people who had blown the cobwebs off their convertible cars. The places where I thought I would stop were already occupied.

So in the end I spent some of the day just driving, appreciating God’s countryside, and thinking. Eventually I found myself overseas. Well, on Mersea Island anyway. I found a quietish car park and settled down to read and pray. I started to read some of the sermons that Charles H Spurgeon had preached around the Communion table (the book is called ‘Till He Come’).

The second one I read was called ‘Under His shadow’ and was based on Psalm 91:1. In the King James Version that Spurgeon used it reads as:

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

The new New International Version translates the same verse as:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

I found myself captivated by that, and Spurgeon’s reflections on that one verse were uplifting, inspiring, encouraging and challenging. I won’t rehearse them all here because I am still contemplating them for myself, but think for a moment about what the Psalmist wrote.

What does ‘the shelter (or secret place) of the Most High’ mean?

What does it mean to abide (rest) in the shadow of the Almighty?

There’s so much in these words but surely as a minimum they indicate a close proximity to God. You can’t be in his shadow if you are a long way away. You can’t be sheltered by him if you are distant from him.

If you are in need of rest or shelter I suggest the first thing to do is start with drawing closer to God. And a good place to start is where I started – take yourself off and spend some time with Jesus. He’s waiting for you…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

relax

Hellooo! I am back from my retreat last week. It was a lovely relaxing, refreshing time in many ways – spiritually and physically. I thoroughly recommend it.

A couple of highlights:

The retreat was specifically for Ministers / Clergy. At the start we were told that there was a strict ‘no shop talk’ rule. That meant we were not to talk about our churches, our ministries, theology or anything else church-related.

At first that sounded a bit heavy. After all, we were all clergy peeps. But I found it liberating. We were forced to talk to each other about aspects of our lives that had nothing to do with our work. We were not defined by what we do, we were able to be normal human beings for a while.

As I reflected on that I wondered what would happen if we introduced a similar rule at our church for a day. Perhaps we should do that at our next church holiday! How about at the next party you attend – ‘no talk about your work’ would make the conversations a bit more wide-ranging. How about putting it into our daily routines – making ‘what do you do?’ the last question we would ask someone instead of the first, so we get to know people as individuals rather than defining them by their employment status.

The second aspect of the retreat that I wish to mention is the countryside. I am a Devon lad. I am quite patriotic about the county in which I was born and raised. I can trace my family back many generations in Devon. The retreat centre is set in the middle of beautiful countryside and I was blessed by the opportunity to explore it a bit on my own and on guided walks (even though on one of them we walked up and down the same lane 3 times before we got it right).

There is something so peaceful and relaxing about rural Devon. The rolling hills just keep going into the distance like waves on the sea. There is a wonderful expanse of green, divided up by tall hedges and crossed by a network of lanes that connect the farms and villages in an almost maze-like quality. Everything slows down. Including you. The pictures here are from a couple of my walks and I would encourage you to stop and look at them. Breathe gently, hear the rural sounds, the chirping of birds, the rush of the water and feel the gentle breeze on your face. Enjoy the countryside, allow yourself to smile.

Relaxing is good for us. It’s why God designed a day off into the routine of life. Who are we to think we know better?

And the third aspect of the retreat? I was impressed by the gentle service of the community that hosted us. They were kindness personified. They were great free samples of Jesus.

I think that there are several reasons for this: perhaps most significant is their commitment to a daily routine of prayer and worship. You can better imitate someone if you actively spend time with them on a regular basis. What’s your routine?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man left the courtroom in a wheelchair, with a cheque for £1million from the insurance company. The insurance company still suspected fraud and their detective followed the man down the street.

“You won’t get away with this,” he said.”I’ll be following you and watching you for the rest of your life.”

“No worries,” the man replied.” You can watch all you like. You can follow me on my holiday to France. You can follow me to Lourdes. You can watch someone pray for me. And you can watch a miracle take place.”

run away, run away!

This will probably be the last bloggage… for a week.

(I can hear a strange noise all of a sudden. It sounds like cheering)

The Sheldon Centre, where I will be retreating

This weekend I am heading down to Devon for a week’s retreat* at the Society of Mary and Martha. It’s a retreat designed for Ministers and is called a ‘12,000 mile service’. The website says that “Guests are free to choose their own pace and activities as the week unfolds. A chance to recharge batteries, take out dents in the bodywork or test the brakes, perhaps?”

I would rather not have any comments about dents in my bodywork, please, and I will be going into hospital in Mid November to get a rechargeable battery fitted, so perhaps what I need to concentrate on is testing the brakes.

The sabbatical leave that I am currently enjoying has been a wonderful experience. I have stopped the busy activity associated with being a Minister and have had the opportunity to rest, relax, refresh, read, refocus and practice my alliteration. One of the things that has come to me afresh is the need to ensure that when the sabbatical time is over I need to make sure that I put regular and frequent time and space in the diary to do those things (perhaps not practicing the alliteration). Once every seven (or in my case nine) years is not sufficient to maintain yourself at peak spiritual condition. That is not only true for Ministers, it’s true for all of us.

For some people Sundays are those moments in their week. (Often less so for Ministers because it can be our busiest day). But can we honestly say that our relationship with God is going to be at its deepest and most amazing with just an hour a week spent focusing on him? Can we even think that this will be the case if we give him fifteen minutes every day as we do our daily Bible reading?

I have friends with whom I have not spoken or corresponded for months / years. It’s wonderful when we do catch up, but I can’t say that there is any depth to those relationships. Not when you compare them to the relationships I have with my wife and my children with whom I share so much more of my life. They get to see the good and the bad. They get to share the laughter and the tears. They experience the joy and the pain.

That may seem very obvious, but that does not make it any less true. If we confine our relationship with God to special moments in our day then we are short-changing him and ourselves. We are treating him like a hamster that we take out of its cage once a day to play with and enjoy and then put back to allow them to get on with running around in his little wheel while we run around in ours. God deserves and wants so much more than that for us.

I have sometimes felt that being a Minister is a bit like being a hamster running in a wheel. You run as fast as your little legs can carry you but if you are not careful and you don’t keep up the wheel will keep on turning and you will be spun around madly. That’s true for all of us, not just Ministers, which is why God designed a sabbatical for each one of us. It’s his commandment (not recommendation) to rest, recreate and relax for one day in seven (sabbath). The idea was not that we dedicate one day a week to being with God, but that we take one day a week to be refreshed. (If you feel like a hamster in a wheel, watch this video and enjoy the ride – perhaps there’s a team ministry analogy here?).

So how? Well I am sure I have blogged about this before, but I find it helps to associate different activities with him. When I wash at a sink and look in the mirror in front of me I try to remember that it’s a moment to reflect on whether I need God to cleanse and forgive me for anything. In my car I will sometimes put a CD of worship music on and sing my lungs out as I drive around. Regular time reading the Bible is essential: but don’t short-change yourself by limiting yourself to a quick burst in the morning.

But above all, have a dialogue with Jesus. The twelve disciples had that privilege as they travelled around first century Israel with him, but we have that privilege too – he is with us by his Spirit. Ask him about what you are doing, or going to be doing. Ask him to speak to you through it or through someone whom you will meet. Tell him how you’re feeling. When something makes you laugh, thank Jesus for the joy. When something makes you weep, thank him that he is there with you and ask that you will sense his presence (through others or more directly through peace within). Whatever you do has a Jesus-related dimension and as you involve him in your daily life more and more you will find that he feels closer (even though he has never been away).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*retreat = running away, in case you wonder what the bloggage title has to do with the bloggerel here. Actually it’s often more tactical than that, but I had in mind the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur and his knights beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught of their foes.