THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 44
Sometimes life gets very busy. It seems to build up, until we are preoccupied with doing important things – or things that seem important at the time – from morning until night.
Where does the time go? And the days and weeks seem to come around so quickly. There are certain things I do at set times each week – put out the rubbish on a certain evening, go into church on Sunday, watch a certain programme on a particular evening. And somehow these events seem to just follow one another so quickly. Time flies, we say, and it is certainly true for most of us a lot of the time.
In this mode of life it is very easy to let all the less important things – like putting the rubbish out – impinge on the more important things. And what happens for me is that gradually the things that are not vital in one way or another then slip into the background. They are missed, occasionally at first, then more often, and finally they just disappear from my life for months on end. I am afraid it is sometimes like this with my quiet times. I always have a quiet time – and for me it works in the early morning. That is the time I can truly call my own, and I find that that period of quiet reflection sets me up for the whole day. Without it I am a more hurried and harried person than I need be. The tremendous value of being quiet – quiet before God – has been proved totally beyond question in my lifetime.
May I share a little from my own life? I have to admit that I awoke this morning and lay in bed just thinking, as one does, and I had this great sense that the Lord was telling me to reform my life. When I reflected on this feeling, that I felt came from Him, I could only admit that things had slipped a little, in my life. My quiet times, though still in place, have rather become times when I would read some Christian book that interested me, rather than be a time when I lay my life before the Lord and asked Him for guidance.
This sense that the Lord was challenging me, as I lay there thinking, went along with another feeling: that he was telling me I still had work to do for His kingdom.
That, I suppose, should not strike one as special or extraordinary – we all have work to do for the kingdom, surely. Yet it was more than a sense that there was work to do - I felt I was being shown that there was specific work that he wanted me to do, and I had the feeling that he was indicating that this work was something that no one else could do. Not, I assure you, that I feel that I am particularly gifted or endowed spiritually or in any other way. No – my sense was that the Lord was saying to me that, with the background, upbringing, experience and talents I possess, there was a particular task or tasks to be done. Not at a nine to five job, for a couple of weeks. But rather I was needed to fill a slot that no one else could quite fill in the same way.
I made myself a cup of tea and moved to my study to reflect on these things. When I got there, I put on one of my Christian music tapes and the song they were singing, and which I then repeated several times, was ‘Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me, Sprit of the Living God fall afresh on me.’
As I pondered these words I felt a great sense of his presence. Not an accusing presence. Not a forbidding presence, but a holy presence. A sense that I was in the presence of a Holy God who loved me beyond all my possible imagining. A God who would go to any lengths to free me and enable me to be with him, and who would empower me to do whatever it was he wanted me to do.
The tape then moved onto the next song, and it was ‘I cry holy, holy, holy God, How awesome is Thy name, Holy holy God, How majestic is Thy reign, I am changed through the presence of a holy love.’
This bowled me over! I had awoken half an hour before with a strong sense of my own failure and unworthiness, and here I was receiving a great sense of the Holy God stooping to treasure me in his arms and assure me of his care and love.
I then saw that reformation of character or of our performance was secondary. What comes first – and must always come first for all of us – is the relationship we have in our hearts with the Lord. It is not the mind that moves us forward, important part though the mind plays in all of our lives. It is the whole person who must be touched by God. And that is precisely what he wants to happen with us, but we are so often too busy.
Too often, when we get into our room – or go our walk, or have our first cup of coffee in a quiet place somewhere – or whatever you find works for you – so often we become mind-active, thinking that that is the way to reach God. But He is the God who created us, and he wants us to be open to Him in our full humanity, when He reaches out to us. He doesn’t want to just engage our minds, nor just our wills, nor just our feelings. We are meant to react to God with our whole humanity. It is the whole person that God reaches out to.
The key to effective Christianity in your life and mine is both our knowing Christ in our innermost selves, and our bowing before a Holy God. A God who cares enormously how we respond to his word to us – his word which will come in a thousand different ways, but which is recognizable when it comes, for it always has a certain compulsion about it.
My life had sunk down, somewhat, to a prosaic level, with compromise and self-indulgence. I felt the Lord asking me whether this was really what I wanted. I knew it wasn’t, and He then led me through the experience I have tried to describe, though words always seem so inadequate in these matters.
I could have easily been overcome by a sense of shame – a feeling that I had blown it yet again, and that I really was pretty useless. Indeed, I might have hidden from God for weeks or months or years, unprepared to face my own failure. Instead, I felt impelled of the Lord to open my heart to him and tell him what I felt and to receive from him all he meant to give me.
We are changed by the presence in our lives of a Holy God. We are empowered in our lives by the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit, who works His will for the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on earth through us.
Every binding sin, every addiction, every well worn pathway for sin in our minds – from all of these we can be freed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord asked me whether I wanted it. I responded that I really did. That was the turning point. The initiative was the grace of God: my response turned the key.
Thus we see the partnership that God deigns to enter into with us. His is the initial driving power, the inspiration, the vision. Ours is the power of response. The power to say no – or yes! Not just with our minds, but with our hearts and our whole lives.
And why? What is God trying to do in me? What is he working towards in his world? The only thing that is beyond dispute is that as human beings we are given choice. All right – there are all sorts of limitations on those choices (genetics, upbringing, habits, training, and so on)- but each human being in the world has an element of moral choice. It is up to us to choose how we will be. And God is guiding us towards choosing to be in harmony with him. To turn to Him, in whom are all the true values in life – fairness and justice, kindness and consideration, loyalty and faithfulness, and so many more, is to find new life. As we opt for such values day by day, so our lives and our characters change. When we look at the life of Christ we see all the highest values lived out in that one life. Those are the values that, deep down, we know are the right ones. They are not ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ but human values - the highest you can ever see anywhere. They are the ones that we are meant to grow towards. The build of those values spells the Kingdom of God on earth and in heaven.
God has a purpose in all of life and he has a purpose for your life and mine. That purpose is discoverable and can be followed if we will keep as close to him as he is to us. And provided you are following the gleam of His truth it doesn’t matter whether you are white or black, gay or straight, young or old, solo or in partnership. Just so long as you stay open to his Holy Spirit. He will guide you out of error and, eventually, into all truth.