God is bigger than all this!

A couple of weeks ago I went to a meeting with other leaders in my town. There were representatives of the local Council, leaders of charities, and several Church leaders, all of us dependent on the voluntary sector to deliver our services. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the cost of living crisis which is already biting hard. We were there to look for opportunities for collaboration. We were there to encourage and inspire each other.

The story was neither encouraging or inspirational. People struggling to pay their bills. Deep anxiety about increasing rent and mortgage rates. People using foodbanks who never thought they would need that kind of help. People getting into unmanageable debt. Local services stretched beyond their capability to deliver. Charities trying to stand in the gap but facing huge financial challenge. Compassion fatigue amongst volunteers. The clear expectation that this crisis will deepen and last for three to five years. It was a bleak picture.

At the end of the meeting, I spoke to Martin, a Christian colleague who has huge experience and leads an important local charity. He sensed that the meeting had left me feeling challenged and even depressed by the outlook.

‘Never forget,’ he said,’ that we have a God who is good, and is much bigger than all of this.’

These are difficult days. I needed that reminder. Maybe you do too.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”        Psalm 20: 7 (NIV)

Richard Jackson is the Director of LifePicture UK. He is exploring what it is like to live as a contemplative evangelical.

God looks at your heart

One weekend, a children’s worker called Trevor was leading some children’s work at the Conference Centre where I was working. He was encouraging the young people to explore their relationship with God. He wanted them to realise that God knew them, and valued them as His people. He wanted them to understand that their age was no barrier to their faith. God knows and loves them. He sees their heart. Too often, we overlook the gifts and the faith of children. Too often we don’t notice, and therefore don’t celebrate His Holy Spirit working through a child.

Trevor led the group through the story of Samuel, at the point when he is sent by God to visit Jesse. God had told Samuel that he was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new King of Israel. The first son, Eliab, is a fine, strong young man.  “Surely,” says Samuel, “his anointed is now before the Lord.” God says no. He also rejects all of the sons who follow. Surely, says Samuel, there must be another? Young David is not even presented to Samuel. He is assumed to be too young. Too insignificant. Whilst the brothers are part of the feast, David is out in the fields. He’s working. He’s looking after the sheep.

‘ “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.’

1 Samuel 16:11-13

The key point is this. We look at each other and we make judgments about each other. Our judgments are made on the basis of superficial impressions. We notice things like people’s anxiety, their behaviour, their attitude, their dress style, even their age, and we sub consciously make judgments about them. The message is that God is different. God looks past the visible exterior of our appearance, our gender, our skin colour, our age.

‘The Lord does not see as men see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’

1 Samuel 16:7

In order to make the point to the young people, Trevor and his team wrote out a short sentence on lots of pieces of paper and gave a copy to each child. At the end of the session, the children put their copy of the note in their Bible and went home.

The following morning, I was having a bad day. I felt that God was moving me on from my role as Director of the Christian charity where I had worked for nine years. I wasn’t ready or able to retire. Yet I couldn’t see the next step. I felt useless. I felt discouraged. I felt old.

I walked into the conference room in which the teaching had taken place. There on the floor was a folded piece of paper. I picked it up and read the note which had been intended for one of the children.

‘God looks at your heart, not your age.’

Powerful words. Words intended for a child. I was nearly 60. They were every bit as powerful to me.

Richard Jackson is the Director of LifePicture UK. He is exploring what it is like to live as a contemplative evangelical.

The solitary place: Mark 1:35 – 37

We’re in Capernaum. It is really early on in the ministry of Jesus. We’re reading the account which was written by the Apostle Mark, which almost certainly recounts the memories of a man called Peter. Simon Peter. In this passage he’s simply called Simon.

I love the idea of Jesus waking up early, before everyone else in the house was awake, and creeping out. It’s such a moment of sheer humanity. Walking out of the town Jesus went to a quiet place.  He went there to pray. He went there to find space. Space with God.

Mark’s account tells us that when they discovered Jesus had gone, not everyone was happy. Simon was not happy. They went to look for him. They found him. “Everyone is looking for you” says Simon. Let’s be honest, it has the hint of exasperation about it. “Jesus,” it sounds like, “What are you doing? Everyone’s looking for you!”

Jesus went somewhere quiet to spend time with God. To be apart with God. He has been still. You’ll recognise the sense of the contemplative. And now he’s ready to go. Go to the villages to preach the Kingdom of God. You’ll recognise the sense of the evangelical.

I’m trying to follow Jesus. I am a contemplative evangelical. Some people think that is a challenging combination. So did Simon Peter. 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him they exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also,

Mark 1: 35-38

Richard Jackson is the former Executive Director of Christian charity Family Foundations Trust, and an international coach for CCI Worldwide