Saint Hilda was a woman ahead of her time. A profound teacher, patron of the arts and spiritual guide to both peasant and king, the story I love most about her is her interaction with a farmhand named Caedmon. As Hilda helps Caedmon test his unexpected calling, we too can learn how to discover our God-given dreams and gifts.
Here is another insightful post from Ian Grimwood. This one is on pain as a catalyst for change. It reminds me of a few things:
As I realised when my role at World Vision was made redundant, sometimes your life has to be disrupted before you can move forward.
Richard Rohr says that until we see that our current way of living isn’t working, we will never change (much like Ian’s point that change happens when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change).
Pain is a gift. We just need to choose to see it that way. And that’s when we can see the truth of Romans 8:28 in our lives.
Martin Luther King talked about redemptive suffering. Our suffering is never meaningless, despite it often feeling that way.
I turned 45 this year, so I guess it’s about time I had a midlife crisis. Mine has been partly self-inflicted and partly forced upon me. I suppose that’s they way they happen though. No one really chooses to go through a crisis of identity.
And identity is what crises of these types are all about. Having a couple of major traumas in my life in the last 12 months has led me to look at just where my identity has lain. It turns out that, to a large extent, I have been building my house on sand as well as on the rock of the love and security of God.
That is not to criticise where my heart has been (for the most part) in the years leading up to these traumas. It’s more that God has been calling me to a deeper level of commitment. As they say, be careful what you pray for, because there’s a good chance it will be answered! And, thankfully, God is not “nice” as we Western Christians often are when we try to deal with things. This is no Sunday School “gentle Jesus, meek and mild, tiptoeing through the meadows.” This is a God who takes the bull by its horns.
If you surrender yourself to this God, you can guarantee that surgery will be performed on your soul. And there are no anaesthetics when God is at the operating table. That doesn’t mean that God is mean; quite the contrary. This is surgery that gets to the root causes and cuts out the cancer for it never to return. This is love at its best, polishing the rough edges of the diamond so it resembles the exquisite beauty that the Master Surgeon originally intended for it. Continue reading
I have struggled with the best way to use my gifts. Most people who really know me tell me I have a gift of writing. But I hate selling myself. This article by the gutsy Allison Vesterfelt has really helped me in chasing my dreams. The important thing is though that they are not just my dreams in terms of them being selfish. They are my dreams that I want to use to make the world a better place.
We have all been given gifts, and we have been given them for a purpose. That purpose is for the betterment of the world. If God has given me this gift, who am I to not give everything I am to glorify God with it. It is actually selfish of me to hide my gift.
I am currently going through a time of change in my life. Things have occurred in my life in the last six months that have brought me a lot of pain. They still do, but it is articles like this that genuinely get me excited about new possibilities.
There has been a lot written recently about finding God’s calling on your life. It generally centres around finding out what makes you come alive and then going out and doing it. The common line is that where your gifts and the world’s needs collide, there lies your calling.
Now there is nothing wrong with that idea. God has clearly given everyone certain gifts, and it is our responsibility to use them for the good of the world. This is where meaning and purpose in our lives is found. When we are using our gifts and talents for the good of the world, we are contributing to things eternal. I have been affirmed by different people that I have a gift in writing. If I then use that gift for the purpose of furthering my own ego (“gee, he’s a great writer isn’t he”) then it is not furthering the common good (although God could still use it), and it won’t satisfy.
There is something that doesn’t sit right with me though about all the talk of finding God’s calling and doing what makes you come alive. The idea of doing what makes you come alive is, I think, largely a Western one. It is an idea born of privilege. Millions of people don’t have the opportunity to do what makes them come alive because they’re trying to stay alive. For the majority of the world, finding God’s call on their lives never comes to mind. Martin Luther King made this point when he said that for those stuck in the mire of poverty, “it is the struggle to have clean water, breathe clean air and have clean energy, to eat fresh, untainted food from organic soil; to live in harmony with the earth and live in peace with their neighbours; to actualise their God-given potential to make the world a better place.”
What this does is give us greater responsibility to use our gifts wisely. Luke 12:48 says that for those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We have been given much in the Western world. Millions of us in the West have the opportunity in our lives to live out our full potential. That’s why I think one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent; people who have such potential but get to the end of their lives never having realised it. I remember a pastor of mine talking years ago about a conversation he had with an elderly man. The man was talking to my pastor about the blink of an eye that our life is in the scheme of existence. He described it as waking up one morning and you’re 65 years old, and your life has gone just like the click of your fingers.
When you’re young you don’t think about such things. And many of us spend our whole lives letting ourselves be distracted by the constant entertainment served up to us. As Walter Brueggemann says so powerfully in The Prophetic Imagination, we are so satiated that we don’t realise we are wasting our lives riding down a river of purposelessness.
So what is the best way we can discern what our call is, apart from realising what your gifts are and using them to meet the needs of a broken world? Rich Stearns, President of World Vision US, describes it well in his recent book, Unfinished. Here is some of what he says: Continue reading
This is the second part of the ‘Adding Power to Our Passion’ post. Read the first part here.
Often these words of life will not be easy to hear. Look at the words of life that Jesus spoke. They didn’t end up getting him very far in the popularity stakes. But they were words of life nonetheless.
For many people this will be a difficult thing to do, as we have been hurt at different times in our life. This is where we need to be sensitive to people, and sensitive to the Spirit leading us in our own lives. It is not loving to barge into someone’s life speaking truth but without love. That is just destructive.
(Firstly, thanks and apologies to Midnight Oil for the title of this post. I thought up the title myself but I then realised that it is very much like the title of their 1980s hit, ‘The Power and the Passion.’)
Yesterday we asked what our passion is. For me it is something that has to provide ultimate meaning in my life and in the life of the world. I need to be a part of something that is contributing to a greater cause than me. But how do we do this in real life? The sentiments are fine, but how do we get the power to live out our deepest passions? As has been said by many people, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and fine resolve. How do we find where the rubber hits that road and we turn around and start walking the uphill journey to the life we are meant to live?
Human beings are flawed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that out. Our biggest problem in life is that we so often don’t live what we believe. We need to start living ‘as is.’ What I mean by that is that we need to start living by what we say we believe. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then we need to live that out. Many people call this ‘acting as if,’ meaning to live as if it really is true that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But as someone pointed out to me not long ago, it is really living ‘as is,’ not ‘as if.’ If Jesus really is true, we need to start living that truth – living it because it is true. We are not being true to who we really are if we don’t.
My passion has for years to show people how Jesus Christ is relevant to all of life. If I really believe in him, that he is who he says he is – the Son of God come into the world to save us from our sins and renew all things – then of course that is relevant to all of life. Jesus has to be relevant to our politics, our personal lives, our marriages, our inner lives, our sexuality, our economics, our law, our morality, our sport. He has to be relevant to everything. And not just relevant, but central. He has to underpin it all. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have any politics, morality, sport etc.
Related to this for me is the passion to show that the Western way of living that I have been a part of and contributed to for all of my 43 years, doesn’t work. That it is indeed killing us; that it is what Brian McLaren calls the ‘suicide machine;’ a completely unsustainable way of life that will one day come to a shattering end and will change the world like it has never been changed before.
In the previous post we saw that God has given us gifts to use for the furthering of his kingdom, but that we can easily use them for the furthering of our ego instead.
St Paul also warns against the ego, that part of our nature that wants to be first, that wants to be better than, that wants the glory. He then goes on to talk about a more excellent way, the way of love, in that most famous of passages, 1 Corinthians 13. The early church was like this. They used their gifts for the building up of the new Christian community. The story of this is told in Acts where we read how the new movement shared their possessions and appointed deacons.
As far as recognising each others’ gifts goes, Rikk Watts makes the point that people should be chosen for service in the church because of their gifts, not because of their gender or status or anything else that is not biblical. We are to be a counter-cultural community. We are not to be hierarchical or to live by the values of the world system around us.
Is your gift your idol? Leslie Phillips sang a song in the late 1980s called The Turning in which she talked about the turning from admiration to obsession. She was apparently talking about how we see people we look up to. However the same applies to the gifts we have been given by God. If we use them for ourselves we have crossed the line from it being an offering back to God to it being an idol. And the one thing idols do to us is that they destroy us. As someone once said, we became that which we worship.
A few years ago John Ortberg wrote a book called The Me I Want To Be. At first thought, the title sounds like another one of those ‘you need to believe that you’re number 1’ books that so many Christian authors trot out. But this is not about that at all. This book is about being the person God made you to be, and that is something we have a responsibility to do.
The problem with heretical doctrine is that there is always a grain of truth in it. The fact is that God has made each one of us unique. As Psalm 139 says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. But then we get the prosperity and success preachers coming out and saying that God wants you to be fabulously beautiful and wealthy because after all, you are you, and you deserve the best. Do you see the (not so) subtle twist on a biblical truth? We need to be very very careful that we don’t cross the line from biblical truth into something that ultimately destroys us. Sometimes that line is very thin.
The biblical truth is that there will not, never has been, and never will be, anyone else like you. You really are unique. Just look at your fingerprints. No one else who has ever lived or who will ever live has or will have the same fingerprints as you. This is just one of the wonderful and fascinating aspects of a God who gives us such inherent dignity that we cannot comprehend it.
God has given each of us gifts, and we have a responsibility to use them. Most of my life I have tried to be someone else because subconsciously (and even consciously at times) I have been frightened to show my true self for fear that people wouldn’t like what they saw. For instance, I used to try to walk and talk like my elder brother, and I still try to sing like my favourite singers and sometimes make my mannerisms like my favourite people. But that is not honouring to the God who gave me unique gifts to use for the bringing in of his kingdom. Don’t try to be someone else; it is not honouring God and it is not doing justice to the gifts God gave you to give to the world.
As a child of the ’80s in terms of much of my musical influence, I have recently been getting back into The Pretenders. One of their most beautiful ballads, Hymn to Her has as its opening line, “Let me inside you, into your room. I hear it’s lined with the things you don’t show.” Many people are so driven by fear that we don’t allow others to see the image of God in us, or we don’t want to show it to others. That’s why it’s so serious, tragic and evil when children are abused in any form. The innocence and wonder of a child is taken away and they hide in their shell, possibly for the rest of their lives, trying to protect themselves from more hurt. That’s why Jesus gave such a serious and solemn warning that whoever treats these little ones like this, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.
In his inauguration speech in 1994, Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson in saying that,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
When Jesus said to his followers, “you are the light of the world,” he said it in the sense that we are to live as the people God made us to be, so people could glorify God and see how good God is. The Scriptures are full of affirmations about our inherent worth and dignity. It is right and good to rest in that. It is also right and good though that we don’t stay in that place. That is why Jesus said “let your light shone before others, so that…“. God’s affirmations of us are always ‘so that’. We are saved to serve, created for “good works in Christ.”
In their song, Breathe, U2 sing “We are people born of sound, the songs are in our eyes. Gonna wear them like a crown.” Such words can be easily misunderstood. It’s a thin line between using our gifts for God and using them for our own glorification, for our own egos. Another common refrain throughout the Scriptures is simply ‘do not be afraid.’ Jesus said it often, and in saying it he echoes the many times God says it in the Old Testament. Let’s let our light so shine before others that they are drawn to God and the kingdom, and not our gifts for their own sake.