James’s Blog: The Politics of Fear.

James’s Blog:  The Politics of Fear.

I’ve been thinking a little bit about fear recently. I don’t really want to write about Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but I feel like I should at least say something. It’s too big to ignore; too massive to just carry on and pretend it hasn’t happened. I’d rather write something else, some spiritual reflection or humourous observation, (like the fact that my spell-checker lets me write ‘humour’ but wants me to write ‘humorous’). But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about fear recently.

The referendum debate revolved around fear. Fear of economic uncertainty, fear of immigration, fear of eroded sovereignty, fear of the future. Fear seems to be the only tool that our politicians have, and if that’s the case – regardless of the referendum result – we’re in trouble.

There’s no doubt. Fear is a powerful motivator. You can make people do outrageous things, things totally against their character, if you can just make them afraid enough. Yet when I read through the gospels, I can’t help but notice that Jesus never seemed to act out of fear. I never get the impression that fear was a factor in his motivation. He did some pretty crazy stuff and upset some powerful people, but he never seemed to be afraid, and if he was then he never let it control his choices.

There was a time when fear came out to play, and that was in the garden of Gethsemane, where he pleads for a different route. He doesn’t want to die, especially not like this, and he asks God to spare him. And yet…”Not my will, Father, but yours”. Even in his darkest hour, his greatest fear is not death or suffering, but rather the fear of not being obedient.

Imagine living a life where that’s really the only thing that you are truly afraid of.

I find it hard to feel optimistic about the immediate future right now. There’s all kinds of ugliness and uncertainty surfacing in the Island of the Mighty, but I have decided to not be afraid. Whatever the future brings and whatever actions I take, I will try to not let fear be the thing that drives me. Not my will, Father, but yours.

James’s Blog: Why I Am Not Successful.

James’s Blog:  Why I Am Not Successful.

If you’ve read my blog/heard me preach/seen my book, you are by now no doubt saying to yourself, “Wow! This guy is AMAZING! Why is he not a world-famous blogger/preacher/author who is, quite rightly and correctly, making an absolutely fortune from his work?”. The truth is that I have no-one to blame but myself. When I was a young man I remember hearing a quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones – “The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to succeed before he is ready”. Even though I am foolish, I saw that there was wisdom in those words and, as such, one of my prayers over the years has been ‘Lord, don’t let me succeed before I am ready’. Funnily enough, God’s been 100% on board with that prayer.

Success, as most people perceive it, is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It promises much, but behind that sharp-toothed grin is a monster that will destroy you if you are not strong enough to tame it. By contrast, failure can be the making of us, even though we do all we can to keep it at arm’s length. Few things test the strength of our foundations like good old fashioned failure, and few things are better for us than when all the stuff that we’ve built is knocked down so that God can start His own Great Project.

But no-one wants to fail at everything that they do, and neither should we.  The issue is really how we define success and what it looks like in a framework of faith. The wise among us already know the truth. The story goes that Mother Teresa was once asked how she measured the success of her work. Her response was, apparently, to look puzzled and then say, “I don’t remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts”.

James’s Blog: Lighting Fires.

James’s Blog:  Lighting Fires.

Talking of managing anger, there was once a time when Ruth and I were going through a stressful situation, but we were confident that it would all work out because we had Boris on our side. Boris (not his real name) had said that he’d make sure that everything was sorted out. There was a problem though – namely that Boris wasn’t following up on this, and he wasn’t delivering on what had been promised. I was feeling let down, anxious and quite angry about it all. Then one morning, as I was waking up and before I’d had the chance to erect my defences for the day, a thought sneaked into my head, like the last sentence of a dream. “You’re putting your trust in Boris rather than in Me”. I tell you, it’s really something to start your day with a divine slap across the wrist.

It’s easy to talk of ‘trusting God’ when the bank account is full, no-one is sick and England haven’t yet been knocked out of the tournament, but the reality is that, when these unconscious supports erode, many of us find our ‘trust in God’ evaporating in the face of panic. It turns out that our trust wasn’t really in God in the first place, but rather in our own resources, in our savings, in our clever plans or in Boris.

Larry Crabb, in his excellent book Connecting, calls this ‘Fire Lighting’.

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
    and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
    and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
    You will lie down in torment.

Isaiah 50:10-11

Crabb suggests that the only cure for this malady is a period of intense darkness where we have no choice but to reach out into the black and take God’s hand. Then we come to learn that He is the only one worth putting our trust in. Painful lessons are best learnt once.

James’s Blog: Constructive Anger.

James’s Blog:  Constructive Anger.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw.

Back in the Dark Old Days my response to most difficulties was to get depressed. Whether it was criticism, bad news, making a mistake, injustice or inclement weather, the consequence was typically depression. One of the most significant changes that came about as a result of having counselling was that, on the whole, I stopped getting depressed and started getting angry instead. That may not sound like an improvement to some of you, but for me it was a breakthrough. One of the worst things about depression is that it robs you of motivation. You aren’t happy, but you feel powerless to do anything about it. It’s like being paralysed, and then just having to watch as a snake devours you whole. No-one says, “I’m feeling depressed today. I’d better change the world”.

Anger, on the other hand, at least, has the potential to create significant motivation. In my case, my natural apathy (magnified by the lies of depression) began to burn up in the heat of this new passionate response.

Of course, anger has its own pitfalls.  There’s a reason why Paul tells us to make sure that our anger doesn’t supplant our self-control and result in sin.  For me, however, it was much better to learn to channel my anger than it was to try and live with numbing depression. The goal is to keep working at tempering that zeal into a something resembling a godly unreasonableness.

James’s Blog: While it was Still Dark…

James’s Blog:  While it was Still Dark…

Darkness does strange things to the brain. Sometimes, when you wake in the middle of the night, the darkness makes easily manageable problems seem insurmountable. In the darkness, all our fears and worries can sneak up on us unseen. It’s even worse for those of us who are blessed with an overactive imagination. But God being God, it doesn’t surprise me at all that He does some of His best work in the darkness.

Imagine being there at the start of the world’s calendar, surrounded by the rolling chaos of oppressive darkness, and then to hear that first command – “Let there be light”. God does some of His best work in the darkness.

One Sunday, Mary carried her grief all the way to the tomb where Jesus was buried and finds the stone rolled away. John tells us that this happened ‘…while it was still dark’. Mary is there, in the dark, both figuratively and literally, pondering what has happened. I’ll tell you what has happened, Mary. While people were asleep, surrounded by the light-smothering night, God was getting on with the business of resurrection. God does some of His best work in the darkness.

Imagine that.  God takes the night, which to us spells death and fear and suffering, and makes it scream of life and light and joy. Of course He’d do it that way. Of course He would. Do you not know Him?

Sometimes the lights go out in our lives and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Don’t be afraid, because you know what happens in the dark.