Yesterday, once again, I had the privilege of leading a service in my adopted church. I thought it went well and so did those who attended. The service is at 5pm and about 14 people attended. The purpose of this service is to be ‘All Age’. Yes its one of those. Meaning, one of the services that is suppose to appeal to all ages by not being liturgy heavy but fun. So inevitably this mean it has to be child orientated. I often wonder then why use the name All age? Why not children service? Why the pretense? These type of services tend to fail their purpose as they inevitably attended by older members whose children are grown up and moved away. I was lucky yesterday as the one person who does have young children turned up and agreed to do something in the service. But I think its a bit mean to burden these kids with something to do every service just to make the service fulfill its ‘all age’ remit. Yet this is basically what I have been asked to do. The children have to be included. I don’t mind doing this. Quite contrary in fact and yesterday what the kids did went down very well. This is just one of things where I just don’t ‘get it’.
Service had a gentle feel to it. I asked the people to walk up to the altar to light a candle as a symbolic gesture of dropping the habits that damage their relationship with God. Then take a green blank card from the altar and write on it the things they are going to do to help grow their relationship. I was quite touched by the sight of the people actually leaning on the altar to write their cards. They’ve taken their cards home now. I wonder how they will get on.
Personally I feel the most alive / at home during a service – this gave me a real assurance that what I feel called to do is right for my path.
Anyhoo, here’s the talk I preached: Preparing to receive grace, hope.
This week is Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is the traditional time to give up things. Things like chocolate and sweets and perhaps even TV! But why is this? Do we give up chocolate because we know come Easter day we will be given mountains of the stuff? And why does Jesus wants us to give up something so good like chocolate? Is He just being mean??!
Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at Lent. To quote an old TV series, Father Ted, Lent is not a “giving up competition”. It’s not about how long you can go without chocolate or TV or your favourite cake. You cannot please God or earn more of God’s love by making your life as miserable as possible.
So, what then is Lent for? The way I see Lent is a time for self-check-up. Like an annual spiritual MOT. I look at my life and my walk with God. I pray with Him and ask what is helping my relationship with God? What are my spiritual practises that nourish my faith? What are my good habits? Then I ask, what’s not helping my relationship? What things are happening in my life that are blocking or hampering my life with God?
Now these ‘things’ are entirely personal to us and only known by us but I can give a few examples of things that I have let go of. There are the usual things like doing too many self-distracting activities like watching mindless TV, playing too many computer games and not praying regularly if at all. But then there are the harder ones like attitudes and perceptions of God. These attitudes and perceptions of how we think we ought to experience God are often misunderstandings handed down from person to person. They cause us to stumble and fall because we cannot meet such high expectations. Thoughts like, ‘you’re not good enough to be a Christian because you don’t give lots of money to the church’, or ‘nothing you can ever do, will be good enough for God’. These are very negative comments that do nothing to build us up. Yet there are positive attitudes too that don’t help like ‘I must be in favour with God because everyone thinks highly of me and I have a wonderful house, an expensive car, huge TV and and and and … the list goes on.
Remember God loves us as we are, not for what we do, how we dress, speak or think. We are in relationship with Him as we are His sons and daughters. And like all good relationships, the more we learn, the deeper this relationship becomes.
For me, realising that All is from God has deepened my relationship with Him. So everything in the world, every person, reflects something of the glory of God. To have an attitude of service to all things is to serve God. To love and respect All is to Love and respect God. To love myself, to cherish all the parts of myself, is to acknowledge the deep unconditional love God has for me.
Yet this relationship work (and it is work) is not one sided. Some of us may think that they do not have the ability or strength to do such work. And they would be right! I speak from experience that when I try to do stuff for God using my own strength then things do not go according to plan. But when I do focus on God and rest in His strength. Well! The results are breath taking. Also, by letting go and letting God in, much of the stress and worry just disappears. He is God after all, and so much bigger than I.
So for Lent I am not going to give up anything specific unless I feel moved to do so. What I am going to do is take up practises that will strengthen my walk with God. I’m going to try to do something every day, be it follow the churches morning prayer rota or leave my computer off in the evenings and spend time doing more reading. Not Mills and Boon stuff but spiritual stuff! I may even just stop trying to anything but be still, spending time with God.
I pray that over these coming weeks we will discover the fullness of everything God has in store for us.