James’s Blog: Reasons to be Cheerful.

James’s Blog:  Reasons to be Cheerful.

I cried out to God for help;

I cried out to God to hear me.

 

Is it possible for God to ever be far from us? Does He ever withdraw Himself? We can debate these questions all day long, but one thing is certain – sometimes it feels like He’s gone away.

 

I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.

My heart mused and my spirit enquired:

Will the Lord reject for ever?

Will he never show his favour again?”

 

On those days, we wonder if we will ever know His presence again. It seems like such a terminal condition. When you’re in the desert, there’s nothing but sand as far as the eye can see.

 

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works

and consider all your mighty deeds.

 

But when I feel that distance, I remember that there have been many times in my life when God has felt impossibly close. I remember specific, life-shaping encounters; dragons being slain; explicit guidance; tears of gratitude. I remember times when God was so real to me that I cried out, “LORD, I can’t imagine ever being depressed again!”

 

Your ways, O God, are holy.

What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;

you display your power among the peoples.

 

And I realise that someone, somewhere, is meeting with God right now. Someone is bumping into Jesus for the first time. Someone is being healed; forgiven; challenged; changed forever. Someone, somewhere in this world is in the middle of a full-on, black and white encounter with the Father’s grace. God may feel distant from me right now, but I am a very small part of a very big universe. In my solitary, self-centred world I may suffer, but I have a big family. Somewhere, one of my brothers or sisters feels as close to God as they have ever felt.

I celebrate. I rejoice with this unnamed, unknown saint.

I am thankful, because I remember that although God feels absent today, He will draw near again. He always does.

When I was younger, the desert would often stretch out for days and months. These days I’m better at finding the hidden streams. Sometimes God feels far away, but not for long.

James’s Blog: Soul Jar.

James’s Blog:  Soul Jar.

The soul is like a jar.  It’s probably made of clay.  God seems to have a thing for clay.

Sometimes you go to someone’s soul jar and it’s empty.  You look at the person, and you see the bitterness etched on his face and you roll your eyes.  Words spring to mind: small-minded, tiny-hearted, empty soul.  No wonder, you think, that this soul jar is empty.  He is mean, wicked, horrible and anything poured into that jar would turn into vinegar the moment that it splashed against the sides.

But it doesn’t work like that.  The jar is not empty because of bitterness, but rather there is bitterness because the jar is empty.

Let me explain.

I watch a child dancing with breathless joy in the morning, while the world around me shouts “Fire and Fury!” and I think, She doesn’t understand and that’s why she dances.  But then God taps me on the shoulder and says, “No, James, she does understand, and that’s why she dances.  You may have lost your way for a moment.”

The jar starts full, but a swift kick here and a rough push there and a crack will show, and if we don’t attend to it then the soul starts to leak out.  If we don’t watch those chips and fractures then we’ll dry out.  It might take years, but it’ll happen.

“And it’s not just your jar, James,” says God.  “You know what Fred Craddock says the rule for all big families is, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I reply.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

“Good.  Now fix your jar, and I can always top it up for you.  And when you see someone else in danger of leaking out all over the place, you know what to do, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I say.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

How’s your jar?

How about the jars to your left and right?

Don’t just watch the treasure leak out.

James’s Blog: In Gratitude for Dianne Tyson.

James’s Blog:  In Gratitude for Dianne Tyson.

I didn’t ever meet Dianne, but that didn’t matter.  She didn’t even reach sixty, but that didn’t matter either.  A lot of things about Dianne didn’t seem to matter.  The fact that she was plagued with crippling health problems and constant pain – that didn’t matter either.  She had a lot to bitter about, but she didn’t let those things matter. Read more

James’s Blog: Self-Pity and Lolly-Sticks.

James’s Blog:  Self-Pity and Lolly-Sticks.

Like all the best people, I’m prone to self-pity. “Why me…?” I might say, or maybe “Everyone else has it better than me…” or “They never have problems, unlike me…” and sometimes “Why can’t I just get a break?” etc. It feels quite good, but it’s really just a way of saying, “Life isn’t treating me the way that I’m entitled to be treated”, and as such self-pity is nothing more than cleverly disguised pride.  Well, for me, at least.  I’m sure that for you your whining is entirely justified. Read more

James’s Blog: “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth is it to have an Ungrateful Child!”

James’s Blog:  “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth is it to have an Ungrateful Child!”

Shakespeare must have had a thing about ingratitude. As well as contributing the title of this blog entry (it’s from King Lear, fact fans), he also wrote the following:

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou are not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude.”

That’s from As You Like It. All I can say is that he must have been on the receiving end of some very insincere thank-you-for-my-birthday-gift letters. Mind you, he’s a fine one to talk seeing as the only thing he left his wife upon his death was his ‘second best bed’.

Many years ago there was a shipwreck off the coast of Evanston in Illinois. The students of nearby Northwestern University helped with the rescue operation. One particular student, Edward Spenser, personally saved the lives of 17 people that day. A long time later, when Spenser was an elderly man, a reporter asked him what was the one thing about that incident that stood out in his mind. Spenser replied, “I remember that of the seventeen people I rescued that day, not one of them ever thanked me.”

Imagine that. A day in which you personally saved 17 lives and all you are left with is the memory of ingratitude. Blow, blow, thou winter wind indeed.

Nothing kills a gift quicker than ingratitude, and a lack of gratitude is a sure fire way to kill the gift of the Spirit of God. In Colossians 3:12 Paul is in the middle of spelling out how followers of Jesus, ‘holy and dearly loved’, should live. By the end of verse 17 Paul has instructed us three times to live gratefully. Three times in three verses actually. Thankfulness is a mark of being ‘holy and dearly loved’. To be holy, we must put on gratitude.

But of course, God gives generously to those who don’t deserve, holy and unholy alike.  In Luke 6:35 Jesus reminds us that God is ‘…kind to the ungrateful and wicked’, but I think it’s rather telling that he lumps the ‘ungrateful’ in with the ‘wicked’, don’t you?

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