Hello, long-neglected blog!
Well, the summer holidays happened… and even after F went back to school in September, life happened! In a good way – but nevertheless it’s good to be back in the study writing this.
We had a good summer, if marked as usual by a bit of a low in my emotional health towards the end of the holidays, and readiness to re-start September routines. It turned out to be OK and manageable though, and I was encouraged to find I can keep using simple tools to cope in the midst of change, both in terms of F getting older now and in terms of much more serious things going on elsewhere in the world which I know break God’s heart even more than mine. Thank God that he has a plan for redemption.
A big highlight of the summer for me and F, which took place in the earlier and more enthusiastic part of the holidays, was once again our local church’s holiday club. This year our theme was “Giants of Faith” (oh and I recall there was a side-theme too, something to do with some grannies and their gang, but don’t tell David Walliams!). We looked at the lives of men and women from the Old Testament whose unrelenting trust in God spurred them on to do amazing things. The stories of Daniel, Esther, Rahab, Ruth and David are familiar to me now, but as we looked at these stories together with the children I was struck once again by these people’s perseverance, their active choosing to “earnestly seek” their God (Hebrews 11:6). And time and again I was struck by the fact that as well as persevering and actively choosing, they were all so expectant that they would find him! And yes, they all experienced the first part of that verse to be true: “…he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Earnestly seek him
Over the weeks following this holiday club, when we were away on holiday, a precious friend lent me the book “God Hunting” by Jo Swinney to read. It was a very thought-provoking companion to me. Jo’s thesis relates closely to Hebrews 11 – she rationalises that yes, it can be hard to get to know someone who’s “temporarily invisible”, but the Biblical truth is that if you seek him, he will be found by you. The book journals a challenge she set herself: to trial one spiritual discipline per month (prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship, solitude and simplicity). Now for me, my prayer and fasting lives have been utterly jump-started since reading the book, and I’d recommend it very much. But what struck me most, as it did at the holiday club, was that when a person actively goes on a God-hunt, it seems it’s very hard, if not impossible, not to find him!
Something that has always amazed me since my own meeting with God is the unfettered access we have to him that Jesus has made possible for us. We can actually “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Maybe this is mind-boggling to me because I went to Catholic churches when I was growing up. These churches emphasised God’s transcendence, quite rightly, but sadly they neglected to focus on his immanence, his personal proximity to each of us. The Bible (which wasn’t a book I ever saw in any of these Catholic churches) actually speaks of a God whose heart’s desire is relationship with those he created. See Psalm 139, for example.
And the Bible also speaks of what happens when we seek that relationship: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). In Matthew 13 we read Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” God keeps his promises – if you seek him, he will be found by you.
When I became a Christian four or five years ago, I had been thinking for a while that it might help me to find God – but I have to say, I had no idea how! Preachers at churches I’d been part of talked of “coming to Jesus” and while that sounded appealing I had no idea what it looked like in practice. The stress on God’s transcendence, the image of an old man enthroned on high and untouchable, was too entrenched. Then one evening at a carol service another preacher mentioned “coming to Jesus”. A preacher who led a large, lively, exciting church where people receive excellent Bible teaching and are encouraged to apply it to everyday life, not just Sundays. Of course, I didn’t know that then. When I went to a service at this church after the carol service, I just liked the contemporary band music (they called it ‘worship’), and the fact that one-year-old F could run around during the service and play with new toys. Then I joined a group attached to this church, one of many groups meeting at people’s homes during the week. I was surprised to find that people prayed for each other at it. They prayed for practical things like health, and their children’s first days at nursery. (I asked them to pray for my own ailment, and saw healing. It was inexplicable, and like the hapless blind man in John 9 whose sight was instantly restored by Jesus’ compassionate touch, all I can say to anyone who asks me what happened is that I was ill, and then I was well. I have no other answer). They prayed before they ate, before they did anything, large or small. They also read Bibles, had their own copies. I bought one. The leader of the house group bought me a book called a devotional as a present, that helped me read this Bible on my own at home. Apparently that was something else people did to seek God. I felt anyway that I had glimpsed him by now. For one thing I had been ill and now I was fine. For another I had got into the habit of going to the church every Sunday. In the past I’d found it hard taking F to church on my own, but here people just wanted to help me. I won’t lie and pretend we didn’t still have days when just getting out of the front door seemed a hurdle (we still do sometimes!); but the difference was that having encountered Jesus once, I keenly wanted to see him again. F went to a fun children’s group during the service and I could listen to talks based on there Bible, talks which turned out to be focused on practical application, rather than abstract theological concepts. I had had no idea the God of the Bible had been so close to me all the time and was interested in the nitty-gritty of my life. My friends with young children talked about “not using my brain any more” but mine was cartwheeling, and still is. F and I were starting to have our own pattern of Bible times at home too, using fun materials recommended by the leader of the house group, who herself had young children. All the members of that particular house group had young children -the group had a creche thanks to the generosity of people in the church volunteering to run it – and the arrival of people’s second or third babies led to other things I’d never seen before. Babies and families were prayed for, meals were cooked, houses were cleaned, older children were cared for. Friends and communities outside the church were being served too, with toddler groups, acts of kindness, and a plethora of community activities. I started to take on a few responsibilities. One day a few months after that carol service, the preacher said something about “knowing” God as opposed to “knowing about” God. He asked a roomful of people to identify the moment in their lives when they realised they had moved from the former point to the latter. I felt as if I’d just woken up, having fallen asleep on a train. Woken up to find myself in a totally new country. I knew him now.
… I think you can probably guess, from things I’ve blogged about in the past, how this all worked out for me eventually and the journey that I’ve been on! Five years ago, I embarked on a hunt for God and I found him. It started with a fantastic faith community, amongst new friends who are now deep-seated friends. (And it definitely helped me to settle down to ONE church and get there regularly – although I’m now involved in ministry at other churches, it was good for me to find a main spiritual home to belong in). As Jo Swinney found too, albeit at a much later stage in her walk with God, spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading and worshipping opened the door for the work of the Holy Spirit in and through me. For Jo as a more mature Christian they just opened the door wider (there’s always more to discover!) and for me five years ago they made Jesus’ sacrifice real for me for the first time. I’m privileged to now be involved in some of the church ministries which so helped me at first – life “to the full” (John 10:10) for sure – and this has happened because I met the person I set out to meet, and now I’ll never be the same. Turns out the chaotic pushchair dashes to church, the days when I was Just Too Busy to read my Bible, the things I forgot to pray about, were nothing to worry about. God could and did fill in the gaps. “He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Expect it!