You might get all the wrong ideas about me from the way I write… My life in no way resembles this beautiful garden, where colour and shape are all taken into account in an orderly way to create a satisfying and organised result which pleases the senses! A more accurate picture of my life would include the guddle behind the garden shed where things are dumped as ‘they might come in handy’; the dusty corner of the shed where old packets lie under rusty tools, old curtains and plant pots. Then there is the bit where useful things are kept in an unorganised heap, so that everytime I need the secateurs I have to do a major excavation! Oh dear, no my life picture is not pretty…
Am I the only Christian who has heaps of prayer letters that get moved around and glanced at in a guilty way, but never quite prayed through? What about all those bible study notes that I meant to go over again because they were so interesting? And the books and internet articles which are worth reading, not to mention the online sermons to listen to. Then there are the personal commitments to friends and family, to pray for them… How can I work out a way to do this effectively and regularly?
It seems that I am constantly remembering the things I have forgotten to do, and realising that I seem unable to create a structure within which I can pray, study and grow in my faith as I long to do! As human beings we can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, and so my intercessions all too often get lost behind the weekly shop, the imminent need to tidy up, to organise rotas and be in touch with people to make sure things happen.
I think that my loving Father knows this… He is not surprised by my lack of progress in faith, my intermittent intercessions, and my chronic forgetfulness of all those wise things that have been said and which at the time encouraged me so much!!
But I do get weary of this sense of muddle, of not getting the right priorities in my use of time and as a result being profoundly dissatisfied with myself.. What a relief to remember that it is not my organisational abilities, or the efficiency of my prayer life which is the foundation of my hope for the future! It is all secure in Christ, and while I can aspire to become more like him, I do not need to ‘do’anything in order to receive salvation.
I don’t know if Paul experienced anything like this. His letters breathe a passionate commitment to his Lord and the proclamation of the gospel, which overrides every consideration of health and comfort. He exorts his readers to pursue their calling, to work out their faith and obey no matter what. The writer to the Hebrews puts it very graphically in the great twelfth chapter:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Am I being too ambitious in my desire for a more ordered life, where prayer and bible study can have a higher profile? Do I need to recognise and remove things that are hindering me – which may be good in themselves, just not the right things for me at this time! There must be a balance to be achieved, a balance which my heavenly Father can see, between my desire for time with him, and my duties to my spouse and family; my friends and community; our church family and events and the hobbies which I believe are part of the way that God nurtures me and gives me joy in living with him every day.
May we all be given wisdom to discern how we may best use the days and strength given to us – not in comparison to anyone else, but according to the leading of God and his will for our lives.
Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
(John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-82)