backhanded compliments

Following my lengthy period of convalescence after my surgery in February I am now back at work full-time. I was blessed by being able to phase my return slowly rather than jump straight back in. And this has led to some very interesting comments from people who saw me early on in the process and have seen me again recently.

complimentary nutsWith the intention to encourage me and generally be upbeat about my progress people have been making comments about how much better I am looking. They don’t mean that I have grown more handsome, but that I am looking healthier. Some have been even more specific and have commented on how I have much more colour in my cheeks and generally look a more ‘normal’ hue. And some have gone even further by suggesting that they were rather worried when they first saw me because I looked pale and ghostly, but now I looked well. One colleague even suggested that when she first saw me I wasn’t so much pale as translucent but I was now looking better!

Now I know that these compliments are meant to be positive and making me feel good about the extent of the improvement that they can see in me. And I do receive the comments in the spirit with which they are offered. I am grateful for people’s love, concern, encouragement and prayers. But there’s a little part of me that asks myself just how ill I must have looked a couple of months ago. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but (bearing in mind that these conversations take place on a very regular basis) I must have looked more poorly than I realised.

I am going to try to take the positive aspects of the comments on board much more and not allow the negatives to bother me because I know that my health is much improved, my stamina is better and I am far more capable of living normally (not the same as ‘being normal’ – my wife will testify to that!) than I was previously during my convalescence. I am so grateful for that: grateful to the medical staff who have been brilliant, to my family who have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging, to the many of you and those in the churches I serve who have been praying for me, and to God who has sustained me and created bodies in such a way that they can recover from trauma.

But (and this won’t surprise regular readers) I had another thought. If we are willing to comment on someone’s physical health, why not their spiritual health too? How often do we take the time to say encouraging things about people’s spiritual growth and health? Do we take the time to speak positively to someone after they have preached – more than just, “Thank you” – and share how God spoke to us through them? Or do we take the time to reflect on the way someone has show spiritual maturity through difficult circumstances and encourage them about that? How about finding someone who has prayed for us and sharing how we have seen answers to those prayers? What about simply encouraging someone because we have caught a glimpse of Jesus through them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

updates

Yesterday my computer decided to go slow. It was running well below optimal and I could not work out why. I was not running lots of programs, I was not asking it to do anything particularly difficult. I was stumped.

Until I saw a little icon in the system tray (that’s the bit in the bottom right of a windows screen). It was telling me that there were some updates that the computer needed to do. Bless it’s little cotton socks it was trying to download almost 400MB of updates in the background so as not to disturb me. However by trying not to disturb me it disturbed me. On their own none of the updates were particularly large but there were loads of them: hence the large amount of data being downloaded. 

A thought occurred to me as I decided to close everything else down and let the computer get on with it: sometimes when God’s Spirit is at work within us he is at work ‘in the background’ – subtly, gently, imperceptibly changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. But those gradual cumulative updates make a big difference to us over time. It’s not just the passage of time and gaining of experience that helps to transform us, if we ask him to envelope into God’s Spirit changes our operating system, installs new features and enhances our performance.

ZX81 in between a copy of the "ZX81 BASIC Programming" manual and a cassette tape recorder, with a black-and-white Ferguson TV set on the background.
Click on the picture to go to Wikipedia’s wonderful entry all about the ZX81

A further thought occurred to me this morning as I reflected on the size of the cumulative updates. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81. It ran Sinclair BASIC, operated in black and white on a TV screen, and had a massive 1K of memory. Programs had to be loaded via a cassette tape recorder. I can remember being thrilled when I acquired a 16K RAM pack: that gave me so much more scope not only to run amazing programs such as 3-D Monster Maze but to write my own programs. I wrote a program illustrating the different badges in the Boys Brigade awards scheme (for which I was awarded a badge) that even had a little animated Boys Brigade lad who scrolled across the screen and saluted. I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Then I was bought a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48K and colour!). This was the pinnacle of computing. It still ran Sinclair BASIC but now I had so many more commands at my disposal, so much more memory, and enhanced graphics with colours. If you have ever owned a ZX Spectrum and have played Elite you will know just how amazing that little computer was. (If you haven’t you have missed out). I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

When I started at Bible College I bought an Amstrad word processor. It had its own monochrome green screen, a separate keyboard and printer, and even saved files onto discs. It had 256K of memory which I upgraded to 512K! I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Then a friend of mine at college told me he was selling his 286 PC which had its own colour monitor, 4 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard disk. It was running some newfangled operating system called Windows 3.1 and had icons you clicked on the screen with something called a mouse. I bought it off him and bought a new form of printer called an inkjet printer that produced wonderful quality. I couldn’t imagine ever needing anything more.

Since then I have had a succession of computers. Each one has been faster, more impressive, has had more features, has had newer operating systems, and so on until I get to a computer that downloads 400 MB of data just to update itself. And each time I have thought to myself that I couldn’t imagine needing anything more. Until a few years down the line that computer has struggled to cope with newer software and the need to do things faster and more complex ways.

What is the point of telling you this computer history? Well, other than giving me a nostalgia buzz it strikes me that if I had remained content with my Sinclair ZX81 and really couldn’t imagine needing anything more I would have missed out on so much. Sometimes we can resist change because we don’t like the idea of change, or because we are comfortable with the way things are. But change is not always bad. The changes God wants to bring about within us are for our benefit and to help us to become more like the people he has created us to become. Why resist that?

Be blessed, be a blessing.