Who will move the stone?

It all began with a simple desire to sit amidst some green on a quiet lock-down morning. Having the desire but not finding any place to park his posterior, the man moved a stone near the overgrown grass and sat down there to contemplate what was within and without.

Pretty soon he thought, “why not gather a couple more stones and make a bench?” So he looked around and there not far from his chosen spot stones of the required size were found. One ‘bench’ quickly became two, then three!

The sight of the lone man lugging heavy rocks stirred the compassion of his neighbours. So now there were three men on the green dragging stones and building crude benches. As they worked together, they became better friends.

The next steps were obvious to the man. He’d long wanted his kids to get involved in some sport. Since summer promises of swimming and football lessons had had to be shelved, here was the perfect opportunity to make it up to them. Permission to mow the grass was quickly sought and obtained from the Society President. The reluctant watchman was summoned and the seldom used lawnmower was swung into action! Holes were dug, bamboo poles erected, a net donated, measurements taken – all by the three good Samaritans -and soon enough a badminton court materialized on the now usable green.

As badminton matches became the new norm on lock-down evenings, grandparents wandered cautiously outside and perched themselves on the new rock benches to watch the ‘games’. Mommies with toddlers emerged wearing lipstick and ‘outside clothes’ to make the most of an evening ‘out’. As ‘Grown ups’ participated in the matches, the children’s joy doubled. Family times took on new vitality and non- sporty onlookers (like me) began to gather around to cheer the sport on! Like an oasis in a parched land, the humble badminton court began to draw those thirsty for a break from their own homes and predictable routines.

The children fought less. The grown-ups talked more. And the benches found their higher calling.. and became the best kind of social platform ever! People who’d never made eye-contact in pre-Covid times now greeted each other and discovered new details about each others’ lives. Kids who rarely emerged outdoors joined the playing teams. Married couples started taking more regular evening walks, waving at the players from appropriate social distances

Slowly, but surely on and off the court a community was forming…

This is a true story, one I’ve seen unfold before my very eyes. The badminton court which has now morphed into a cricket pitch and football field has become a place where we migrate to on most evenings just to have some fun and face contact. Conversations on the bench with some have deepened..and we’ve opened up a bit on our closed-door struggles

I can’t stop marvelling at it all. Eight weeks ago this was just a patch of overgrown grass and now it has become a harbour for God’s kingdom on earth. I’ve learned and am learning something valuable through all of this. I’m going to put it down here in a few points. Here goes: –

It does not take money or talent to start a community

It does not take money, talent or a very complex plan to usher in change

All it takes is for someone to step up and move the first stone.

The world awaits a leader. Could you be one?

Sometimes it may seem that the weight of the stone you’re trying to/or envisaging to lift is too heavy for you to carry alone. And it is…at first. But in good time, if you don’t give up, others will come alongside to give you a hand and you’ll see a community form and winds of change blow around you.

This is for all the Lonely People

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way
Yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home
“Hit it, Jerry”

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
She’ll never take you down or never give you up
You’ll never know until you try”

-America.

I hope this post encourages somebody today. Even if it were to light up the horizon for just one person, I should consider it to have accomplished its purpose..

This one then is for the lonely people – yes for those who’ve been thinking that life has passed them by..

Perhaps one of the most poignant words ever uttered are the words “too late”. In them meet many turbulent currents of emotion – regret, bitterness, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, brokenness, frustration, anger, despair- it’s all in there. .

It reminds me of a day long ago when I stood gawking at the rear- end of a train I was supposed to be on. I’d joined my husband for a short stint in Norway and we’d paid through our pockets for a weekend getaway with friends in Sweden. It’d snowed heavily that day and despite skidding and sliding our way to the train station (never..never wear sneakers when you’re trying to run on ice!!), we missed the train. It was a very, very expensive miss…

That’s the thing about missed opportunities… they’re often costly. But yet that’s not the only reason they fill our hearts with this aching loneliness. The hardest thing about ‘missing the bus’ is to be reminded (daily) of those who didn’t, those who unlike you arrived at all of life’s milestones at the predictable and socially appropriate timelines! ‘Too lates’ have a way of making you feel like the clumsy outsider, the social neanderthal you were not prepared to be..And that is probably the most painful part of the deal.

My own story is a saga of ‘too lates’. I didn’t get married at the right time or get to be a mom at the right time or come upon purpose at the right time..And now it would seem that it’s taken several hard knocks to wake me up to some fundamental truths about myself and life that I wish I’d known decades earlier. And I ask myself whether it’s too little… too late?

In several respects at age fifty I feel like I’m starting over. What keeps my shoulders from sagging is the memory of a man whose life never fails to renew my hope in the restorative power of God.

My favourite pic of my Dad

Dad started his life in his mid fifties. He was academically brilliant – Gold Medallist from the then Madras University and one of the few at the time who was offered a full paid scholarship to MIT. With a start like that, the world could’ve been his oyster, but like me, he had some deeply wired fatal flaws. Destructive patterns of behaviour wrecked his choices time and time again and at the end of what many would call the most productive years of his life, he found himself without money, without opportunity, without honour, reputation or security ..and almost without family.

How Dad’s life turned around is nothing short of a bonafide miracle and that’s a story to be told at another time! What I do want to emphasize here is that it did! My Dad (and this is what I loved most about him) had an almost childlike optimism. In his mid fifties, he picked up the broken pieces of his life and began to dream again – not from a place of boldness or courage but from a certain crazy innocence that somehow remained untainted by all he’d been through. Dad was a ‘late bloomer’ if ever there was one – and bloom he did : ) He died a week short of his eightieth birthday – a content man who’d found a reason to live.

So if today finds you as one of them lonely people who thinks that life has passed you by, all I want to say to you is…don’t give up…”until you drink from the silver cup and light that highway in the sky…” You see, there’s a positive side to a day being like a thousand years in the sight of God. On the one hand it means that the wait can seem long. But on the other hand it also implies that with God a thousand years can be made up in a day! And for those of us caught on the wrong foot by time, that should give us tremendous, tremendous hope!

God’s restoration cares little for socially acceptable timelines! Sarah and Abraham became parents at an age when they should’ve been grandparents twice over, Moses spent forty years in no-man’s land before his purpose found him and our own Lord Jesus was called home by his Father at age thirty-three – at the very prime of His life! We’re in good company : )

I don’t know if you’re reading this at the start or the end of your day but would you allow me to sing you this song to cheer you on today..and spur you onto tomorrow?

Jog the Spirit!

“Running, one might say, is basically an absurd pastime upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning in the type of running you need to do … chances are you’ll be able to find meaning in that other absurd pastime – LIFE. ”

Bill Bowerman as quoted in the 1998 movie, “Without Limits”

Four lessons from my morning run

I came upon the above quote on a friend’s profile some years ago and it really resonated with me, mainly because I’ve often been struck by how much physical exercise mirrors the labor of our souls! This one then is inspired by my somewhat intermittent morning jogs : ) Here goes :

Lesson 1: We’ve not failed or given up. We simply stop and start and stop and start over and over again!

What discourages us most in our attempts to get physically fit is not too different from what dampens our efforts at ‘soul-fitness’ – we just get too darn tired of failing! Ground gained by an early spurt of success is gradually lost and a bit like that ol’ snake ‘n’ ladders game we find ourselves bitten back to home-base. After a few rounds of this we think there’s no real point in trying and so determine instead to live with our out- of- shape souls (and bodies).

Would you consider another way to look at this? If you were to ask me when I first began exercising, I’d tell you that it was at age sixteen.
Does that mean that I’ve worked out every single day of my life from then until now?!! No way!! ( hear me holler that out). I’ve had some breaks in between, breaks ranging from weeks to months ..even years. …but I’ve always resumed. When I stop, I don’t consider myself to have regressed to the starting point. Rather, I see it as a break in a journey begun years ago. The gaps in soul/physical disciplines become permanent halts only if we believe the lie the serpent hisses at us, “you’re back at square one!” It doesn’t matter how many times we stop or how long we stop for. Benefits gained from the road already traveled don’t get negated just because temptation or laziness or whatever else got the better of us. What matters only is that we pull out those dusty sneakers and start running again….and again..and again.

Lesson 2 : Don’t let the incline cheat you of your prize.

The road that I run on is undulating with several ups and downs. How my body hates the climb! As soon as the incline looms into view, my body plunges into panic mode. My breath gets harder and my steps, shorter. Oftentimes I’ve stopped my run before hitting the incline or while still on it, but lately I’ve learned to negotiate it better. Here’s how:

I give myself a little pep-talk well before the incline. I tell myself that for just a little while it’s going to be tough, but that ‘tough’ won’t last forever; that soon enough the road will level out and I’ll find my breath and rhythm again. Simply put, our bodies talk. But we cannot allow it to be a one-sided conversation. The half-truths it speaks (“this is too painful to handle” etc) must be countered by what our minds know to be the whole truth….especially when life inclines. ( Bear in mind here that it’s unrealistic to expect the new path that’s opened up before you to be level-ground all the way to the end)

The other thing I’ve learned is to give my body permission to slow down, rather than stop when the run gets too painful. Pace is everything!

And finally I imagine the sweet satisfaction I will feel at the end of my run if I don’t quit and keep going. Indeed, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.: (Hebrews 12:11, the Bible)

I want the harvest!

Lesson 3: Don’t get put out by those out-running you!

Every once in a while someone younger, stronger and with a more elegant stride will ‘glide’ right past me. At first it made me instinctively quicken my own pace, but now I’ve learned to not let it bother me. I’m competing against myself- nobody else.

And finally,

Lesson 4: A bad run is better than no run at all!

The running app I use ends with my ‘coach’ saying something like this –
“there’s no particular reason why some runs feel better than others. Remember a bad run is better than no run at all”. How true to exercise and to life! Perfectionism has no place in either! What matters is that we’ve left our old destinations and are journeying towards the new!

The kids have begun to leave


My kids are observant : ) They notice everything! If I’ve added a painting on the wall or taken it down. If I’ve changed the colour of my nails or am wearing lip gloss. If the dust layer on the side-table has been wiped or not!

So yesterday when I rearranged the family photographs, I smiled to myself in anticipation of the loud exclamatory (always exclamatory!) remarks they would make!

Yesterday came and went in a crazy succession of ‘to-do’s’. Morning arrived! I rushed them off to school, made myself a cup of chai and then sat me down to relish the stillness and serenity of the moment. That was when it occurred to me that the kids hadn’t said a thing about the ‘new’ photo-arrangement. They hadn’t noticed..and I now noticed that they hadn’t.

Yep, it’s only been two weeks since they’ve started school and their worlds have already expanded beyond my door. Their minds have raced forward to embrace new sights, new sounds.. new worlds : ) as well they must!

I found myself thinking with renewed urgency about the need for family times..times around meals, times taking walks, times around board (bored) games, times for outings that were primarily about us being a family. Mamma wanting to ‘lasso’ them hatchlings back! : )

You see, the kids have already begun to leave..and I do want them to want to hang out with me when we’re both older…which means that I must choose to hang out with them now, when I don’t always want to, caught up as we all are in the high-speed rough and tumble of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do hard times make you disagreeable?

I’ve been thinking (dreaming) fruits and vegetables!

Small wonder, since my husband and I have started a business to help Indian farmers to market organic farm produce in the city. All this to say that this has caused (and more likely will cause) some of my metaphors to tilt towards the ‘natural’ : )

So…..yesterday my mind was firing in more random directions as usual. Generally when I’m tired this tends to happen, along with getting more clumsy and more angry than usual – anyone identify?! : )

Anyway, while I was in this state, my thoughts drifted to a certain person who has been giving us a bit of a hard time and it caused me then to think about how his behaviour was explained away to me. It was said of him, “Actually he’s a nice man, but because he has fallen on hard times, he’s behaving this way.” As I somewhat irritably processed this justification for his recent actions, I found myself thinking – “One doesn’t become disagreeable because of hard times! The ‘seed’ must have always been there! An orange seed doesn’t produce apples, does it?!! The disagreeable seed just manifested its ‘disagreeability’ given the right ‘stimulus’! ”

Voila!! As soon as I thought that, the ‘curtains’ parted and Truth revealed Himself to me again! This is what Jesus said -“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” As is so often the case God used a moment of outward accusation to teach me something about the state of my own heart!

Trees are the outward representation of the hidden seed! Yes, orange seeds cannot produce apple trees and apple seeds cannot produce oranges, and so also the seed of our old, corrupt, self-driven natures cannot produce the righteous and good life that God desires! BUT…and oh! thank God for this!! – I am a new seed!

I’ve been making that same old mistake for the millionth time over – the mistake of trying to manage the tree ( behaviour) instead of ‘watering’ the seed! There’s no point ‘trimming’ behaviour; sooner or later it’s going to sprout ugly, unwieldly branches in accordance with its seed!

What you and I desperately need is a brand new seed that grows into a brand new tree and that’s exactly what God has given us! For….if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And for the rest of the day, I watered that seed by bringing it to mind every now and again …especially the word ‘CAN NOT”..a bad seed CAN NOT produce good seed and vice versa” My tired efforts need to receive that word – “CAN NOT!”

Remind me of this if I fall away : ) – especially when I’m being disagreeable about someone else’s disagreeability!! heh heh.

On Being Overwhelmed

It’s been a crazy few days with demands on my time multiplying from every direction. I’m sure you’ve been there. Every minute has something to do and even as you finish one task, the next one knocks impatiently at your door! Also, that’s just when your kids decide to have two consecutive mud baths in the playground and on perfect cue the water runs out at home. Then when one more ‘ask’ comes pressing in through the cracks, you feel that silent scream within you gaining momentum to become audible with glass-shattering force.. That’s when you know you’re.. overwhelmed! : )

When I caught up with myself this afternoon, it occurred to me that feeling overwhelmed has two parts to it. For one, it brings in the sobering realization that..well..you are not God ..in that you cannot be everywhere at the same time or indeed be attentive to everyone’s problems at the same time, or work tirelessly without complaining all the time, or be super-super-duper patient or never sleep. So in that sense, ‘overwhelmed’ forces you to engage with your humanity.

But in another sense, (and this is the second part), being overwhelmed also forces one to engage with ‘eternity’ – the piece of it that’s within you. To quote the words of that lovely old hymn:

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half-done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

To reach the end of our ‘hoarded resources’ causes us to dip into a Strength that’s greater than our own and to do more than what’s ‘humanly’ possible.

The thing is, in times of feeling overwhelmed we often tend to focus on one part and miss the other. In the last twenty four hours, I’ve sometimes found myself saying with a sigh and a huff – “I’m only human” – but that is I think to miss the whole picture. I am human; terribly, wonderfully human…but it’s the very limitations of my humanity that ushers me into a life that’s bigger than the one I’m tempted to settle for. To quote the Apostle Paul here:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed ( 2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

The treasure is priceless, the jar is fragile. And because of these amazing paradoxical twin truths, we are not destroyed.

Why do you look so sad today?

What would you say if I told you I just quoted a verse from the Bible?!

I guess it’s one of those verses that don’t get quoted very often ( has anyone ever preached a sermon on it?), probably due to its lack of weighty spiritual content! : )

Yet, there’s so much to mine here!

Why do you look so sad today?‘ – it’s in Genesis -Chapter 40, Verse 7.
It was spoken by a prisoner to his fellow prisoners! The prisoner’s name was Joseph.
Some of us are familiar with his story – the cynosure of his father’s eyes, hated and envied by his brothers and then betrayed by them, sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison just when he might’ve hoped things were turning around!

Remarkably the question was not addressed to Joseph ( as this brief synopsis of his life may have led us to assume) but was spoken by him!

A couple of things struck me as I was reading about him today.
Joseph knew he was marked for greatness. He knew it from when he was very young, well before his life took this unpredictable turn. As readers of his history, we see the unfolding events in his narrative from the vantage point of hindsight and miss how it could’ve been like for him. From his point of view it must’ve been a bit like being one of those whiz kids destined for ‘big things’ who suddenly finds himself on skid row on account of some tragically twisted circumstances! – your own family betrays you and throws you out on ‘the streets’ in the most humiliating fashion possible. You are then forced to immigrate to a foreign country where you have zero citizenship rights and then when you finally land a job and make some hard-fought progress, your boss’s wife cries rape and gets you thrown into prison without even so much as a trial!

And yet in the midst of this horribly harsh life-situation Joseph notices faces – notably those of his fellow prisoners and asks them, “why do you look so sad today?Disappointment with life had not turned Joseph’s gaze inward, as it tends to do for the best of us. Through it all Joseph seemed to know that God was with him and holding on to that one truth had kept his heart soft and responsive…towards God and to those suffering around him.

What follows is a deeper conversation. The men Joseph was speaking to had had disturbing dreams. They were vexed by it till Joseph explains the symbolism of their dreams to them – a gesture of empathy opens the door to conversations about spiritual things..Sometimes, the natural precedes the supernatural…that was the other thing that stood out to me today..

Closing thought: Being a light in this world may begin with something as simple as first noticing the faces of people around us (even in the midst of our own ever-present problems and preoccupations) and then quoting a spectacularly profound biblical verse to them – “why do you look so sad today?”

P.S. For those of us who are unfamiliar with Joseph’s story, that one question turned around the events of his life. In due course of time, his unique gift paved the way for him to stand before the King of Egypt who was having some troubling dreams of his own. Eventually Joseph became the most influential man of his time.

Defocus Lab: the woman with ‘stomach trouble’

I was winding down from my morning run, when I crossed a woman walking in the opposite direction. She was not at first glance ‘the type’ of person I’d normally connect with. I glanced at her and looked away..and then reminding myself of my recent post ( see https://opendiary.blog/2019/05/25/defocus-me/ ), I glanced her way again, this time purposefully allowing my gaze to linger on her face. I noticed she looked troubled.

I walked on regretting that I hadn’t smiled at her. I made a mental note to myself – “next time, smile!”. I had barely completed that thought when the woman was walking beside me. “Madam” she said, “I have stomach trouble, I need help”. That slightly awkward introduction started a conversation which quickly accelerated from talking about “stomach trouble” ( her way of saying she wanted tighter abs!) to her personal life. I now know her name, how many children she has, what age she got married, some glimpses of her relationship with her husband and her in-laws and where she works! – crazy huh!?

People are lonely. Maybe Jagdamba (that’s her name) genuinely wanted advice. Maybe she just wanted to talk… I don’t know.. but it would seem that this encounter was sparked off by something as effortless as “eye contact”!

I want to encourage us all to give this a shot. Today when you cross those faceless strangers on your way to work, or to the supermarket or wherever, make eye-contact, smile..and if you’re bold enough, just walk over and say ‘hello’ – you never know how God may use these little windows to light up someone’s world!

Defocus Me

A man with gnarled hands appears at my train window.

Instinctively I jab a mental button that raises a screen between us. It’s an art that’s been perfected by years of practice- the art of ‘defocusing’-blurring out troubling details you don’t want to engage with.

Perhaps it started when I was a little girl with mum pulling me past their outstretched hands and yearning faces – “don’t look at them or you will have to give them something”, she warned.

Over the years I’ve put this inbuilt ‘defocus setting’ to good use. I’ve used it to block out the lustful stares of men as I walked down the narrow streets that led to the local train station . The same for piles of stinking garbage that spills into the streets of even our biggest cities, for inebriated men sprawled on sidewalks, for women with unwashed hair and clothes, for children with runny noses playing with broken toys..the list is endless…and we all know the list. I’ve learned to walk down the streets of my country by relegating everything that I don’t want to see to a fuzzy, de-focused background.

As I wait for the train to start, I recollect the excerpt of a speech I’d heard only a few days before by Harsh Mandir on TED talk. (look him up on the internet if you don’t know who he is). He was saying that what concerned him more than the poverty and deprivation of our country was the lack of concern towards it.

As I reluctantly process the implication of my thoughts, my children stare with wide-eyed, open curiosity at the man with the gnarled hands. Their stares embarrass me. I am tempted to repeat mum’s advice – “don’t look at ‘them‘”. I realize I’m trying to wear -out the persistence of the beggar with my trance-like expression. Eventually he moves on…and I relax.

I know this must change. ‘Looking’ precedes ‘doing’. I guess that’s probably why we don’t look in the first place. Could it be a way of shielding our nervous selves from the heart-break and inconvenience of action?

I want to learn from my kids. I want to ‘defocus me’ and start seeing again.

Life Assignment: Stand on the Road with Jug!

It was a stray sentence spoken at church last Sunday but it’s remained lodged in my mind ever since.

One guy’s life assignment was nothing more than to stand on the road holding a jug of water! The occasion was the last meal that Jesus would have with his twelve disciples. In preparation for it he sends two of the twelve out and tells them to follow a man who they’ll meet on the road holding a jug of water.

What were this man’s assignments prior to this moment? – nobody knows. Did he do anything exceptional post this encounter? – nobody knows! But this one act – standing on the road with a jug of water is what he’ll go down in history for! History told from God’s point of view that is!

So I’m in the middle of my morning jog, my mind working a bit slower than my legs and I’m pouting a bit over my life, when I’m reminded about what was shared this past Sunday.

Those of us who dream of making a big splash in our little ponds need this sober reminder – at the end of day, what may be noted down about us in the eternal records might simply be – “she stood on the road with jug” – and that ‘little- big’ one thing may be what satisfies God’s soul and ours.

21 May 2019:
Lessons from Michael Jr.

Prem, my husband has his headphones on and is laughing loudly as he watches a video of some dude on his laptop. As is usually the case, he has no idea of how loud he’s laughing! But his laughter is madly infectious and pretty soon I find myself giggling even though I haven’t the faintest clue why!

Turns out that Prem is watching a video of a stand up comedian called, “Michael Jr.” When I ask him what’s so funny, he looks at me with a mildly surprised expression – how did I know he was watching something funny?! Of course he’s completely unaware that he was laughing, let alone laughing at volume 10! Now it’s my turn to look surprised! (actually this is one of those things that continually surprises me about him) – how can one laugh and not even be aware of it?!

Anyway to get to the point : ) Prem tells me that this man ‘in’ the laptop, “Michael Junior” had one of those dramatic turn-around moments in life when he realized that his career as a stand-up comedian was entirely focused on ‘getting laughs’ from people. What changed for him was focus – he decided that rather than doing that, i.e, making himself the centre, he was going to ‘gift laughter’ ..gift joy to others! From the moment this realization hit, he started visiting joy-starved places – hospitals, old-age homes and the like, ‘giving laughter’ and reviving souls!

There’s something profound here folks! I ask myself, how much of what I do (ostensibly for others) -writing, speaking, mentoring, counselling, cooking, exercising etc boils down to wanting self-validation? How hungry we are for human approval – it’s like a cavern within that gets filled only to empty itself out again! What would it be like to do all that I (we) do with the sole motive of ‘giving’? – giving laughter, giving hope, giving a shoulder..giving..ourselves. Surely it would significantly change our paths as it did Michael Junior’s..

Faith is sometimes thought to belong with the “ostrich people’ – those who resolutely stick their heads into a reality called, ‘just believe” and refuse to look at what is palpably true to everyone else!

Sometimes words of admiration are offered to acknowledge this divine stubbornness. People may say things like, “I admire their faith” or “I wish I could believe like that”, but underlying their admiration is an assumption of naivety – they find beauty in such tender trust but find themselves too ‘grown up”, too ‘rational’, ‘too questioning’ to embrace it. : )

I suppose in part this view is valid. For Jesus did say that unless one is changed to become like a child, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God. But is becoming a child the same as believing in a world of goblins and pixies?

When I think of faith, I think of King David..

When I think of faith, I think of King David charging into battle with songs of praise on his lips whilst facing hordes of fierce, merciless bloodthirsty men who wanted nothing more than to cut his flesh into hundred pieces. I see him in the palace surrounded by intrigue, envy and spite- here being stabbed in the back wasn’t just a matter of metaphor. I see him fleeing for his life from his own son, walking away from everything he’d built and fought for. And I ask myself, what nature of faith is that? Surely not the dreamy, pie in the sky type of wishful thinking that is so often associated with the word. Faith here seems to look less like holding on to a fantasy that one can ‘make happen’ if only one shuts one’s eyes long enough and believes hard enough and more like.. reality. A reality so vivid and intense that it strengthens one to face one’s deepest fears and engage with life in its most gruelling moments!

Faith is Assertion

How does faith become this kind of tangible strength? Through some kind of divine revelation of a God-reality that surrounds us even though we can’t ‘touch’ it?  Yea for sure that’s one part of the equation..but I do believe there’s another part and that involves asserting what has been revealed to us of God. For we read in scripture, that to each of us, a measure of faith has been given. Further, Jesus teaches that when we use what we have, more is given to us! And that’s the whole point of the battle! Battles beckon us to use the little we do have!

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” -Jesus.

A Battle Song..

Faith is sometimes restful trust, but sometimes it is a battle- song, a battle cry that calls a higher reality to bear down on the scariest, most discouraging situations of life! Our lyrics may be as simple and as repetitive as a nursery rhyme that goes “God is good” but when we adopt it as our battle cry, we slay giants. For sure what emboldened King David’s battle charge was not some vague, passive hope that somehow everything will work out for good in the end.. We can be sure that when he lifted up his sword and plunged into the thick of battle, his hope became an assertive shout …a declaration of victory promised and given!

Today we are each in a battle of some kind  – a battle for our marriage, a battle for our kids, a battle for our finances, a battle for seeing our God-given purposes fulfilled, or as is so often the case, a battle against our worn-down selves. 

Praying Heaven to Earth!

Today, I’m saying a prayer for both of us that though we fall (and fall again) we’ll rise again (and again) ..with a battle song on our lips. We are not ostriches!  Neither are we brave-hearts. We are timid children, stubborn children who nag our present realities with the truth we know, till it succumbs to that higher law of order, goodness and beauty and makes way for heaven to come on earth!

 

I owe this one to my dear husband : ) He mentioned at a small bible study we were having at our ‘home-office’ that there are two words in the Bible that are often confused for each other. The one is ‘remission’, the other is ‘repentance’.

Remission means the cancellation of a debt, charge or penalty.
Repentance(Wikipedia definition) is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.

Peter in his unforgettable speech after Jesus raised from the dead used both words. He said,Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

What a joyous word ‘remission’ is! The debt that we each owe our Creator was canceled because Jesus paid it for us on the cross! That truth takes a lifetime (and possibly more) to sink in, savor and exult over! However the question before me/us today is – can we take this immeasurably great gift and then carry on our merry old way?
What if a man had taken a massive bank loan that he hadn’t the resources to repay? And what if that loan that would’ve potentially cost him everything – his savings, his house, his car et al was then cancelled? Would he then go and check into a seven star hotel and spend lavishly on himself? If he did, we’d consider him to be deluded indeed! Why? For deep down we instinctively understand that remission and repentance go hand in hand. The grateful tears we shed in knowing that God has torn to shreds our collective ‘I owe you’s’ must turn our feet onto a new path – away from the old, tired one of the self-driven life!”

Unfortunately we tend to engage with God’s costly sacrifice as a large blotting paper that soaks up the guilt of personal sin and never truly come to terms with the need for a heartfelt decision to turn away from sin. And a decision it is! ( the decision to deny ourselves everyday, pick up our cross and follow Him) It doesn’t happen by default; we have to want to choose it.

It’s not that turning away from sin (and by sin, I mean the pursuit of ‘self’ which is the root of all sin) is totally ignored. It’s just that it is considered as optional – a good thing to do but not wholly necessary because after all Jesus paid for it all! Yet if we were to forgive someone who wronged us and if their following choices demonstrated little remorse or regret, we’d bristle at the thought of being so completely taken for granted! Then what about the King of the Universe? Would He sagely wave off our lack of demonstrated regret and say with a shrug of His shoulders, “it’s okay…I’ve paid for it all anyway”? Yes, it goes without saying that the motive for change should NOT be guilt, but there is every place for taking the God who redeemed our souls seriously!

Just before Peter invited his audience to “repent and receive remission for their sins”, he proclaimed,“let all Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” (Acts 2:36) Jesus is the Christ (the Savior) – the one who saves us from our sins, but He is also the Lord, the One we must change our ways for. He is both..and the call is still towards both.

Down the ages the message has been clear. John the Baptist inaugurated the coming Kingdom, (God’s rule on earth), by saying,”Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. This was the message that Jesus preached ( Mathew 4:17) and it is this same message his disciples later carried forward.

It’s very important to consider here what makes repentance ‘doable’ in every aspect of our lives the marvelous gift of the Holy Spirit. God has given us Himself, His very nature to empower us to walk in wholesome, life- giving ways. It is possible that we tend to overlook this mind-numbing gift or treasure as Paul refers to it (which is Christ in us) because we haven’t still properly felt the necessity to repent. If we see change as beneficial but not very necessary, then there’s no big urgency to engage with the only Power that makes change possible.

Let me end with another quote from one of Peter’s messages. This one spoken to the crowds that gathered around him just after he healed a beggar who was lame from birth. His words – “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (Acts 3:19) . Oh! how we want these times of refreshing to come! Doesn’t it sound like the promise of a cool, moist breeze on a hot day? Well that’s the third ‘R”. The other two are pretty obvious by now – Repentance and Remission…but folks, there’s a third ‘R’ –Refreshing – which follows the first two!

The wiping of our sins and the turning of our faces towards God opens the window to heaven’s refreshing winds and invites it to gently blow across our lives! Could it be that the reason that we’ve not fully experienced this is that we’ve engaged with one ‘R” and bypassed the other?

Last week I stopped at the thought that love means ‘giving up ‘self’ much the way Jesus did for us. Yet what we tend to do is to guard ‘self’ the most and constrain love to the safe-zone outside the carefully erected walls we’ve built around ourselves. As a result, if loving others inconveniences us to a point where it’s no longer pleasurable, it comes to a screeching halt!

If you’ve tried to walk this out in any measure ( that is to go beyond your natural inclinations when ‘self’ hurts), you would’ve run headlong into the truth expressed in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church –
“For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want ” (Galatians 5:17). That is, our desire to get past the hurt, anger, bitterness, indifference, disconnectedness, or even just our innate fondness for ease in order to love others is met with some serious push back from within!

In this regard, I want to share something written by C.S. Lewis. This is an excerpt from his book, “Mere Christianity” – ” Christ says, ” Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment the natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent and the ones you think wicked- the whole outfit, I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you Myself, my own will shall become yours”

I believe there is great liberty in Christ’s invitation to give up the whole self!
I am discovering that my choice to go God’s way in a particular situation is greatly empowered if I get up in the morning with the notion of giving all of the ‘natural me’ up. Otherwise every act of love (of other-centered thought and action) will be reluctantly squeezed out of my selfish being drop by drop! But if I set my mind to thinking that I’ve junked all of it, the specific choices of the day are so much easier to engage with!
It is surrender that finally ends the war within! For it is in doing this that we encounter His Spirit within us – what the Bible calls the “new creation’ which is full of lively impulses, thoughts and desires! The liberty we experience is not so much from letting go of the old as from encountering the new! – the power of His spirit working in us as we surrender to the goodness of His plans and His ways!

I’m going to end with another excerpt on the same subject from “Mere Christianity” – “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves”, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good”. We are trying to let our mind and heart go their own way- centered on money or pleasure or ambition- and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.

And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short, but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and resown.”

The Gospel is good news indeed! – and it involves surrender and life. Both go hand in hand! More on that next week, but for now would you imagine with me what impact living out this kind of love could have – on your marriage, on your children, on your neighbours, on your friends, on society ..and on the future direction of your life? And then consider one more thing – this is actually doable! God wont set us up to climb a wall that’s impossible to scale!

To follow Jesus is to follow the path of love.
And the path is a thorny one
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Jesus condensed the whole requirement of God into two simple statements – Love God. Love your neighbor. And before his death, He gave one more final command to his inner circle of disciples – “love each other”.

So what then is love, this thing that God puts such a massive emphasis on?
Is it hugs, kisses and affirmative words? Birthday surprises, laughter, good times? Shared secrets, meals and WhatsApp groups? Exchanging smiles, wishes, prayer and stories on Sunday mornings?

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus, begs the community there to walk in unity and then adds, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God” .

As I turned this sentence over in my mind, in particular the words, “gave Himself up‘, it occurred to me that what God calls love is so vastly separate from our own perceptions of it. Walking in love, Paul says, is to love like Christ loved. In short, it is to give ‘self’ away – or to use Paul’s words, it is to “give oneself up”! A quick reflection on my own life revealed that what I call love has often stopped short of what God calls love. That is, my love always stops short of giving my ‘self’ up.
When self hurts, love stops.
I’ll love you till you deeply offend me (hurt my pride). I’ll make time for you if it doesn’t cost me all my afternoon naps. I’ll hang out with you if you don’t have ‘attitude’. I’ll reach out to you, if you’re not too difficult to reach out to. I’ll pick up your calls if you don’t call too often – for then you’re becoming co-dependent on me! You see, I’ll love you as long as I feel good about loving you!

It’s like we erect careful walls around our precious, fragile selves and love outside those self-made boundaries. The minute those boundaries are impinged upon, we raise our “trespassing prohibited” signs and hastily withdraw indoors. Needless to say that in situations of abuse boundaries are needed…. But what I’m referring to here is the tight grip we maintain on ‘self’ in the everyday routines that define our lives ( and eventually our future).
We are fearfully cagey about our time, our space, our money, our feelings, our ‘wants’ and ‘don’t wants’. We hug our ‘self-life’ tight and love others to the extent that it doesn’t cause us hurt, discomfort or sustained inconvenience.
In other words, we continue to love ourselves the most.

What I’m seeing with greater clarity now is that this is not the way Jesus loved. Shortly before his death he said to his disciples – “this is my body broken for you -take and eat. This is my blood poured out for you – take and drink” – a symbolic representation of his death on the cross and the life we would have by believing in Him. Jesus gave himself up, poured ‘self’ out – fully, unabashedly and without reserve for the world that God so loved ..and it is this love we are called to imitate.

And that’s why love is war. For to love..to truly love requires us to war against our natural instincts to protect, preserve and pamper self. The war is not against people, but rather against ourselves, as we make choices to love others despite our desire to push away!

Yep…all this seems challenging at first read. It does to me too! But I know that it leads me to helpless dependence on God who has made it possible for all who believe in Him to live in this other-centered, freeing way.

There’s more I have to say on this, but I’ll leave that for next week . ..there’s more than enough to chew on for today, me thinks!

Not too long ago I found myself in a strange and difficult place – a place where the usual ‘comfort foods’ that bolstered my sense of well-being were gone! The odd thing about stuff we lean on is that we don’t realize how much they prop us up until they’re taken away!

I was prompted to think back to this recent season by a phrase in a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian church – “unsearchable riches”. Here’s the full context: ” Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” ‘ Unsearchable’ – that which cannot be traced out..In the original Greek language, the word literally means, ‘past finding out’. In my comfort-less existence at the time, I  was in a sense forced to look at what I had in the vacuum left by what I missed.  And what I had was the promise of those somewhat elusive, ‘unsearchable riches of Christ.’

In my pain, I realized I ‘d made a fatal mistake – one that I’d been warned about before. In consistently reaching for the tangible comforts of my urban existence, I’d replaced ‘the living’ with ‘the dead’. The prophet Jeremiah speaking as a messenger of God says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.Amazing.

Jesus came promising life…unbounded life..abundant life.  The divine message spoken through Jeremiah pointed to the root of my problem. Life can only be received from the living. . You cannot draw life from pleasant ambiences, scenic escapades, movies, get-togethers, community, stimulating conversations, memories, food, clothes, the mirror, sex, the applause of people or achievement – these do not have life -sap flowing through them! So though they invigorate for a while, sooner or later we’ll suck them dry and our straws will start making hollow. empty sounds as we scrape the bottom! This is exactly what had happened to me and in my room with no view, I began to see clearly again.

To make what may seem like a sweeping generalization, I do believe that this is our primary stumbling block- our habitual tendency to replace ‘ the fountain of living water’ -that which is endlessly alive -with that which cannot be! In many ways we’re all a bit like that Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well, throwing our pitchers into places that cannot bring up ‘living water’ . ‘Living water’, that’s what Jesus promises her -so much like those unsearchable riches that Paul later pointed to. I think that in some ways we were created to be insatiable. But the mistake we make is to look to the wrong sources to quench us. We know from the Biblical account that this Samaritan lady was looking to the promise of romantic love – she had, had five husbands and she was with her sixth lover when she encountered Jesus. She was seeking from a mere human being that endless something that only God, the fountain of living water had the resources to give. And like her, we too tend to look for life in dead places….and by ‘dead’ I mean everything that is supplied by the life of God but is not God (the life-sap source) Himself.

I ‘m far from fully grasping the ‘un-grasppable’! – those riches of Christ that are past finding out! . But this morning’s meditation was a personal reminder to me to keep my straw dipped into the right pitcher!

If you’d like to talk more about this, feel free to drop me a line at shalinaprem@gmail.com I’d love to hear from you!

Untouched by Human Hands

This is going to be a short one – a liberating insight I had this morning while meditating on scripture. This one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Specifically, Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

When any world-class, state-of the-art manufacturing process claims that its operations are ‘untouched by human hands’ it stands as a guarantee for quality and purity. The awe- inspiring truth is that God makes the same claim about His work in us! We are His workmanship –entirely His and no ‘human hand’ has touched that process. It reminds me of what John wrote in his testimony about Jesus – Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. In short, human intervention has not been allowed to ‘contaminate’/interfere with God’s workmanship. Paul goes as far as to say that we’ve been saved by grace through faith – and even that (faith) is not something we coughed up on our own but is a gift from God. Why such stringent ‘quality -control’ standards? Paul gives us the short answer – “lest anyone should boast”. God will not share the ‘credit’ with anybody. Why not? Is it because He wants to hog the limelight? Unlikely : ) One reason that comes to mind is that ‘pride’ is poison to our souls – therefore all pretensions to human achievement have been summarily dismissed! Another is the idiocy of the ‘created’ boasting against the Creator. To quote the prophet Isaiah here, ” But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”

The more I chew on this truth, the more joy it gives me. The new nature that I received when I put my faith in Jesus is God-like in its purity – it is something that has been wholly put in place by Him without any help from my end…it is, to use that word again ‘ uncontaminated’ by me. My part then, my ‘work’ in all of this, is to simply accept this marvellous truth. And the more I soak it in, the more it will inform my identity and in turn my actions. He does not need me to ‘prop up’ His work, or embellish it or ‘help it along’ in anyway. My new nature is His workmanship – and that sets my being profoundly at rest. Woah!!!

If this is news to you and you are stirred to know more or curious about this ‘new nature’, do feel free to write in..

The Gift of Uncertainty

I’ve been thinking some about how our present ‘strange’ reality is looking more like the reality of those who lived in Biblical times. When we read about David drenching his pillow with tears, pouring out his heart to his Creator in desperate, clinging prayer on our reclining armchairs, we tend to miss the terrible uncertainty of his times.

David’s sweat-soaked prayers were birthed in an era of human history where life was far from secure. Enemies at your borders, intrigues within your palace, friends and family who could in a trice stick a knife into your back, disease, famine, war upon war …there were uncountable ‘gaps’ in ‘the wall’ that invited chaos in.

We the urban citizens of 2020 have lived thus far in greatly more predictable times ( true at least for those of us who’ve not encountered war, starvation or oppression in our own lifetimes) Truth is, we’ve worked hard to make our lives more predictable. Real estate purchases, investments, saving accounts, insurance plans, ten year plans, post-retirement plans, proactive health and medical check-ups…the list goes on. Perhaps the quest for ‘predictability’ has tended off-late to narrow down the goals of our lives, consuming the best of our efforts and time. And then a little virus comes along and blows our fortified walls apart..

Is desiring predictability inherently wrong? I don’t think so….God is a God of order and not chaos and it cannot be that the systems and safeguards that we put in place to ensure that our lives progress in peaceful streams are ‘evil’ UNLESS our dependence has shifted entirely to those systems and safeguards and they have in essence become our ‘bulwarks’ against uncertainty. The present crisis brings to mind the wisdom of the Psalmist,

Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labour in vain;
unless the LORD protects the city,
its watchmen stand guard in vain
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for bread to eat—
for He gives sleep to His beloved

-Psalm 127:1

So I say to myself, not with heroic boldness but rather in a faint whisper that “uncertainty’ is a gift .. that it is good when things are not within the clenched grasp of my control..for it brings me back to vulnerable dependence on God.

Uncertainty is an invitation to finally enter the place where striving ceases and the knowledge of God begins! (“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted over the earth.” Psalm 46:10) And this gift is unwrapped in the assurance that our Creator, our Father, is not a Control freak, One who enjoys chaining His subjects that He may impose His will upon them! On the contrary dependence on God leads to the fiercest Independence I have known. It offers freedom from that one great virus that wrecks our souls – fear!

I’ve begun to realize that a big part of sin, which is not only what we ought not to do, but also not doing what we ought, is rooted in fear. Uncertainty then, releases me to find life in the fullest as I fully engage with and actively trust the One who says, “He is the life” and Whose purpose in coming was to gift us life in all its abundance!

My heart’s prayer is that I would rise up to the occasion, that I would throw wide open the panic-sealed doors of my heart and wrestle free from the fear-filled grip of self-protection. It’s not that I desire to be foolhardy and throw ‘caution to the wind’ but at the same time, I don’t want ‘staying safe’ to become the new God I worship. In so doing I know I will change both the way I live….and pray! : )

The New Year dawns. And yet for some of us, the hope it holds out is not vibrant enough to erase that gnawing sense of emptiness within. “What do I need more of?”, we wonder.. more exercise? more love? more drive? more purpose? more discipline? more of God? More breaks? Or perhaps we’d rather word it as what we need less of..less fights, less stress, less debt, less commuting, less drama…?

I think of Jesus approaching the woman at the well, offering her ‘water’ that will leave her permanently satisfied. His exact words – “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.” ( The Bible, John 4:13-14). My soul has often salivated at those words of Jesus, particularly in seasons or days when life feels ‘dry’. What I would give to never thirst!

What’s still missing? Why does dryness persist even for those of us who’ve encountered the Fountain of Living Water? Why isn’t the Good News gladdening our hearts the way it’s supposed to? I believe that one big reason could be that we’ve engaged with only one half of the ‘good news’.

I was struck by these verses in the Gospel of Mark -“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God”.(The Bible, Mark 1:14) Ever wondered about the Gospel that Jesus preached? What was its content? (That’s a question worth asking in a time where we’re exposed to so much preaching and teaching on the Gospel. )
Well, Mark in his characteristically crisp style answers that question in the very next sentence. He quotes Jesus’ message of the good news to be – “ the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel”.(The Bible, Mark 1:15) The Good news according to Jesus? – God’s rule on the Earth is immanent! In short, God was finally going to have His way with His Creation. The old order of darkness and death was going to give way to the new order of the Kingdom of light and life! The rules of the game were about to permanently change! And an invitation was being made to change ours too!

In Biblical scripture we see that this is indeed the hope of the ages..that God would finally take His place on the throne. Now, the people of Jesus’ time;the Jewish priests and scholars believed that this reality was to be fulfilled in the Person of a Political leader/a Messiah who would free the Jews from the yoke of Roman oppression but Jesus’ disciples came to understand that this rule would begin in quite an unexpected place -not in the corridors of political power as was assumed but rather in God’s dominion over the human heart, for He had taught them, “the Kingdom of God is within you! “ (The Bible, Luke 17:21). It therefore makes perfect sense for repentance to be an intrinsic part of Jesus’ teaching -a new rule was about to be established and we were to wholeheartedly amend our ways to welcome it!

Through his death Jesus paved the way for this rule to begin. He took upon Himself the sin of the world -the corruption and decadence of our hearts, so that God’s spirit might dwell within us and make us alive again to Him! But here’s the truth I want to underline -this indescribably precious gift of new life does not get ‘activated’ without repentance. Could it be possible that this is the ‘missing ingredient’ in our lives? For if there’s no repentance, there’s no life. Or to put it in the words of James (the brother of Jesus) – “faith without works is dead”. (The Bible, James 2:26) Faith not expressed in acts of repentance is dead and cannot bring life. In other words it could be that what we need is not more of this or that, nor more of God ..nor even more of answered prayer but rather it is God having more of us that is the pressing need of the hour.

To be honest, I’ve been troubled by teaching and preaching that’s focused entirely on receiving the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of humanity. True, the gift is free. No amount of moral and spiritual scrubbing will cleanse our sin-stained hearts but indeed if a new Kingdom has come, and Jesus is the King and Ruler of that Kingdom, the gift must be met with the offering of a humbled, repentant life!

And that brings me to another very important point. Repentance is not a ‘moment of confession’. It’s a lifestyle. It is the Christian lifestyle. There’s no life without it. There are two other words that we can substitute for repentance here – obedience or self denial. Repentance/obedience/self-denial – all three words come down to the same thing. To receive Jesus is more than a prayer..to receive means to welcome and to welcome God means to live life on His terms, not ours. It is only when we implement this self-denial/obedience/repentance in the minutiae of our day to day actions and choices, that we will experience the power of the new life He came to give us. It is then that we will drink from the fount of living waters to the satisfaction of our souls. I suspect that what is killing our spiritual vitality is not the absence of more revelation of God, but the absence of more repentance. (In truth the Bible teaches that Repentance leads to Revelation, but that’s for another blog..)

We preach, “Find Jesus, Find Peace”, “Find Jesus, Find Hope”, “Find Jesus, Find Joy”, but truth is, none of these manifest in our experience without the wholehearted turning of our choices towards God…not just our faces..our choices. Why are we as believers still empty? Because sadly, in believing, we’ve forgotten to follow. To use a rather harsh metaphor, we use Him as a towel to wipe up our dirt but have forgotten to gird our towels around our waists and serve others the way He modelled for us. We ‘accept’ Him like a legal loophole to escape the penalty of sin but that’s not the same as repentance and it is repentance He seeks. He seeks the intimacy borne from like-mindedness.

Jesus said, that there was only ONE way to find life, and that was to lose it! (“For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will save it.- The Bible, Luke 9:24) Indeed what we need more of is ‘self-death’ and what we need less of is our chronic self-centredness. The road to life and satisfaction begins when we continue in believing and repenting in thought and action. One without the other leads to death, not life.

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16, The Bible

Ponder. What a lovely word that is! To ponder means to think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. And that’s exactly what these writings from Jeremiah ushered me into. The specific subject of the ‘pondering’ was the phrase “old paths”. When you look it up in the original language (Hebrew), you’ll come upon this : old – ôwlâm, o-lawm’; or עֹלָם ʻôlâm; from alam; properly, concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; generally, time out of mind (past or future).

So the ‘old path’ literally means the path that began ‘time out of mind’ in the past and winds its way ‘time out of mind‘ into the future. In short it’s the path that exists beyond the ‘vanishing point’ of visible earthly reality! What a spectacularly meaningful picture of eternity!

Lets dig a little deeper into this lovely imagery. The dictionary defines the vanishing point as a point of disappearance, cessation, or extinction. Yet we know too well that the road only appears to disappear from view and in fact winds on long past ‘the vanishing point’. It struck me that, that’s so much like what death is like -a point on the horizon where we disappear from ‘sight’ but in reality continue on. In truth, the road (our journey) stretches out on both sides of the vanishing point (much longer on the far side, truth be told!); yet we tend to have eyes only for what is in immediate view! (Ponder..)

Now in these writings of Jeremiah, we engage with a God who is pleading with us to seek out these old paths, that we may find life and rest for our souls. Imagine with me if you will a loooong stretch of road extending from the eternal past to the eternal future with our microscopic lives sandwiched somewhere in between. God’s entreaty to us to seek out this path implies that we cannot assume that the road we’re presently travelling on is the ancient one, the good one that’s existed time out of mind! We are implored to turn our feet towards it from wherever we are!!

This made me see the moral teachings of the Bible in a fresh light. These are not just a set of good principles constrained to our lives in the here and now. Rather they belong to the ancient well-traversed path that existed well before we ever came into being and that will continue on well after our individual ‘vanishing points’. So when we align our lives with them, we bring ourselves back into sync with timeless truth, not time-bound ones. (Ponder again..)

And one final pondering.. In art a vanishing point or point of convergence is a key element that allows one to create drawings, paintings, and photographs that have a three-dimensional look . Without it, every picture would be rather dull and two dimensional. Now that’s a principle that’s as true to art as it is to life! Without the inclusion of ‘the vanishing point’ in my own big picture of life, my existence would cease to have meaning and fullness! I am increasingly finding that it’s only eternity that can satisfy my hungry, easily bored soul! No endeavour on earth however big, important or potentially life-changing can fill this listless soul’s insatiable demand for MORE. It is only the eternal perspective – i.e. the knowledge that some of what I’m putting my heart into will last forever (and conversely that some things are simply not worth the time, energy and gripe I’m expending on it) that gives my life the rich, three-dimensional fullness it was designed to take on!

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