Sunday, 26 August 2012

Maybe I Don't Need A Miracle

The dog was there, in the shadows, along Pointout Path on Southampton Common, Friday evening, as I was making my way to Trago's for a friend's 25th birthday celebrations- where part of the discussion was on why you shouldn't (even if a man) walk across the Common on your own at night.

In the dusk, there it was clearly. Would it attack if I moved? Should I make a detour? Slowly, I made my way down the path, hoping that maybe other walkers would come along. Walked along- dog not moving, clearly biding its time. Closer, closer- and then past the tree trunk with bits of wood and flowers around it.

If it had been daylight, of course, I would have seen it for what it really was, and simply walked on without thinking. What can appear to be dangers and fearful situations in half-light, become things we don't even think about in the light.

Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). When we carry a lamp and have our path lit, then we don't even notice these things that in the dusk look like dogs about the strike. How many times have we- in the light- have passed things that would have made us go back, take a different path, if we did not have that light?

Friday was a difficult day- actually the past few weeks have been stressful for various reasons. When I woke up I had chest pains, quite strong, and was so scared that I thought about getting out of bed and going outside and calling for help. Realised that if I did someone would phone 999 and say "Police? There's a man over there dressed like Prince Harry".

As I lay there. the chest pains subsided, so I slowly went about my normal breakfast and washing routine, and then made my way to Southampton Central railway station. When I got there, I started to feel sick and dizzy, with my chest aching again. As I got up, had to sit down again, feeling that something was pressing down all over me. Called one of the station staff, explained how I felt and asked for a first aider.

He told me that as I had chest pains, he would call a paramedic. This got me worried. Apparently, I was looking very pale and my skin was clammy. I was also muttering "I'm scared"

The first paramedic arrived. He did the usual tests- a clip on my finger which measures oxygen levels, a 4-lead ECG (which allows the patient to keep his T-shirt on, unlike the full 12-lead one), and a blood sugar test. He mentioned that some people say that this one hurts, and he thinks they're wimps. I said I'm not a wimp- I'm a total wuss.

The other two paramedics arrived. Now, one thing about me is, as Doctor Who once said, "I may be serious about what I do, not necessarily about how I do it" (or words along those lines). I have a dark sense of humour. So did they. I was asked about my job, and I said I dealt with insurance complaints- leading to the mock earnest question whether I dealt with medical negligence complaints. Nope. "Oh Good" was the reply.

The first paramedic started removing the electrode pads. The ECG machine was going "Beep, beep, beep", like in medical dramas. Then "BEEEEEEEE" and flatlining, leading me to say "Oh, I seem to have died."

We walked out to the ambulance, where I had my blood pressure done several times and I was given a 12-lead ECG. Nothing out of the ordinary. One of the paramedics suggested I had had an anxiety attack, as I was under loads of stress, and urged me to see my doctor as soon as possible. Then blood pressure monitor disconnected, the electrode pads removed painlessly (a time when I am grateful that God didn't create me with chest hair), I could get up, put my T-shirt on and go.

One thing about the paramedics was that were all people one could trust. Not just the uniforms they were wearing and the equipment they were carrying. Their attitude, their manner, inspired trust. There was a reassurance with power and authority behind it.

Sometimes people try to reassure with the simple "there there, it'll be alright" as one might with a little child. Just think nice thoughts. Think of the Sun shining in the sky, the wind blowing through the trees, the water babbling in the brook, the little bunny rabbits jumping through the fields....

This isn't what we get with Jesus. He speaks words of reassurance, but with genuine power and authority behind them.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?". For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34).

Now, somewhere in my parents' home is a copy of the Deposited Book, which my great uncle bought when he was in Jerusalem at some point in the 1930s. And in it, I remember this lovely picture of the blond, blue-eyed, bearded, white robed Jesus (probably floating a few centimetres above the ground- cannot remember) addressing a collection of Western European children (maybe bussed in to the Promised Land to listen to Him), and just saying "Consider the lilies". Nice, agricultural scene on a summer's day, as if it were a Constable painting.

Is this what it's about. A nice, pat-on-head, "keep smiling" message to give us the warm fuzzies?

Or is it- You. Will. Not. Worry.- ?

If we really accept Jesus is Lord of all, that He is sovereign, then surely being anxious is actually a sign that we don't deep down believe this? I will be the first to hold my hands up and say that I sin badly in this respect.

What I need isn't the soothing "there, there, I know you've got a lot on your plate at the moment" from God. Maybe it's the "Sorry Lord, I have shown I don't trust you enough by being anxious" from me.

Jesus's reassurances to us are with His power and His authority behind them.

Please note what I'm not saying. I am not taking the approach which one sometimes comes across- "Problems? Problems? What are they? Oh, they're what Christians get when they don't pray enough..."

I became a Christian at Oxford University, and I recall there was one popular song that would not be sung at the CU- with the line "And in His presence our problems disappear". I have heard it sung elsewhere with that line replaced by "And in His presence the darkness disappears". Years later I related this, and one lady said she didn't see what the issue was- if we have faith we never have problems.

I remember correspondence with one man I had met on a Love Europe event. His letters starting taking a different tone when he started at a new church, and in one he mentioned that God really wanted to send revival to England. What was holding Him back? Well, until the churches taught that Spirit-filled Christians will be healed of any illness if they have enough faith, God was unable to send revival.

This was around the time when a young curate I knew had lost her battle with cancer. What I saw was a woman of strong faith who encouraged many as she approached the end. What he must have seen was a woman of weak faith who was unable to claim the healing of cancer.

Pity the Christian who has never had their faith tested, or who has a theology which will send them to the wall when trouble comes. We should never seek to grow stunted Christians, who have their faith bound like the old Chinese practice of binding girls' feet- for "their own good", of course.

Sadly, there are people who make a virtue out of being anxious and worrying and fretting, and this impacts on others. The parents who, if they phone and there's no reply, don't assume that you are out doing something, but that something terrible has happened to you and if they don't hear from you the next day, turn up in a state of worry wondering if you're OK.

Ever remember class assemblies at primary school and during preparation, when the teacher asks if anyone has any questions, someone has to ask "Mrs Southwell, what if the roof falls in?"- or did that only happen in Hythe?

There is this attitude that unless you are expecting the very worst, then you are not being prepared properly, not taking it seriously. This leads to parents who feel other parents are irresponsible for letting teenage children do DIY ("what if he saws his thumb off?") or gardening ("what if she loses control of the mower?"), not realising that these are actually the sensible parents preparing their children for the time they leave home. Or who warn against sport, by triumphantly holding up a newspaper story about another middle-aged fatso who dies while jogging. And the best way to avoid these minor-chance disasters is to play safe and do nothing.

The Bible speaks of this attitude in Proverbs 22:13- The .... says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!"

Who says this? Yhe prudent person? The person who is sensible and doesn't take risks. Interestingly, it is the sluggard. Anxiety can become an excuse for not doing what should be done.

One final point about anxiety, which brings me back to the non-dog I saw. There is an incident (you can read it in 2 Kings 6:8-23) where Elisha and his servant see an army around where they are. It looks like a moment for anxiety. For God to pull off a miracle.

And Elisha's prayer? That his servant would see what is really there. See God's army there.

The next few weeks will be times of great changes for me. Maybe I should be asking for a miracle. Or maybe, I should ask to- like Elisha's servant- see things as they really are. In the full light, things that were scary in the half-dark are seen as what they really are, and are things that you walk on by without thinking about.

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