Waiting

Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .

I feel like Bilbo . . . thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I’ve been holding my breath for so long now, I’ve forgotten how to breathe properly.

Been waiting for over five months now for an answer to a very important question. It’s like hanging, being suspended, at the mercy of ‘other.’ But it shouldn’t be.

It’s all about faith. Of course it is. Isn’t most of life about faith?

I often take inspiration from my favourite OT character, Abraham. Promised a son by a Voice. Then kept waiting for 25 years. 25 years! I have thought deeply about this. Why did Abraham have to wait for so long?

How are faith and waiting connected?

We tend to think of waiting as a sedentary or at least, a static act. Waiting at the bus stop. Waiting by the phone. But godly waiting can’t possibly be static. Abraham certainly didn’t stay where he was. Indeed, he travelled a huge amount. All over the place. He never stayed in the same place for very long.

So, when I think about waiting, I have come to see it as something we do actively.

But how can you wait actively?

Abraham, we’re told, believed God. He believed. And every time he failed to live as though he really believed, he got himself into trouble. He lied – twice – about his wife on visits to Egypt, because he feared man, not God. And he slept with the maid, when the waiting was just too much. His faith evaporated, and his life reflected the unbelief.

In some ways, we’re all waiting. During the day, we wait for the quiet of evening. During the week, we wait for the weekend. During term time we wait for the holidays.

But we don’t stop living.

We live as faithfully as we can during the week, with eyes on the present, but hearts also anticipating a glorious future. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Rom 8.19). Along with the creation, we’re waiting for the Day of the Lord, when God’s glory will be revealed.

This thing I’m waiting for is out of my control. I’m tired now and I struggle. But I believe. And if Abraham had to wait for 25 years for the son of the promise, then I’m in good company. One of my chapters is entitled ‘Greater Goods.’

In fact, the whole book is really about growth.

Why did I think I could write about growth without actually growing?

Fight or Journey

What’s your life? Fight or Journey? No contest, right? It’s got to be Journey.

Ah-ah, no mixing the two. Enough of ‘well, what about a fight while I’m on my journey!’ The point about the metaphor is that you have to choose one. Just one. Fight or Journey.

First some reasons why we either reject or avoid the idea of ‘fight.’ First, of course, because it involves violence and most of us are not physically violent. We might engage in arguments – let’s call them fights – but for the most part, we avoid physical violence. Very understandable. I love Elton John’s Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting, but I’m not familiar with that kind of scene. Be thankful you don’t live in the Middle Ages, where your lifespan would probably have been determined by your physical ability with sword or bow.

Second, a fight has winners and losers and this is anathema to people who are committed to community. A community – the church – is surely about downplaying conflict and highlighting shared values. Furthermore, who wants to think of life in terms of what you’re against? Fighting is so . . . unpleasant.

With me so far? Hope so.

What’s the attraction of the journey? Well, for one, it has great antecedents. Pilgrim’s Progress, for example. The life of faith has to do with progress. We’re moving closer to God. Movement is surely a journey. We feel this inside instinctively. Not surprising, then, that ‘journey’ is a well-worn theme in art and culture. Dante’s Divine Comedy (Hell, Purgatory and Paradise) is surely the archetype of the Christian journey, second to none in its depiction of the soul’s progress towards God. Also in its favour is the fact that people who aren’t Christians often talk of ‘journey.’ Oprah, for example, is very much one for the journey.

So, which one should we favour? If we had to choose. Which one aligns most closely with Scripture?

It’s a close call, but I’m going to make a controversial case for Fight.

But first, Journey. What about Journey in the Old Testament? Yup, it’s there. From Abe to Zerubbabel, the Israelites are on the move. No question. There is almost no OT figure who doesn’t travel long distances. They may be seeking to stay still, but they don’t do it. They move and as they move, they learn and make mistakes and more importantly, we learn about God’s character in the process of their journeying.

New Testament. More movement. Jesus, the itinerant preacher. Luke emphasizes Christ’s decision to travel to Jerusalem (Luke 9.51) as a high point of his gospel. Indeed Luke-Acts uses ‘journey’ as its dominant motif. Not only this, but some of the most famous parables include journeys. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son both use journeys as metaphors into which spiritual truths are poured. You could also add The Parable of the Tenants, when the King leaves and sends his son back to his land.

Finally, St. Paul’s missionary journeys form an essential part of God’s message about mission. All believers are called to ‘go.’ We’re all to journey and while we go, we will experience the presence of the Spirit, who is with his journeying believers. A strong metaphor for our spiritual journey towards God, surely.

So why choose Fight?

First exhibit: The Old Testament. For reasons that reside deep inside the mind of God, he chose to form a nation and then set that nation on collision course with other nations. You can’t get away from this truth. The Israelites fought pretty much every nation with an –ite on the end of its name. It is true that they were sometimes condemned for such behaviour, but on dozens of occasions, they are commanded by God to go and slay their enemies. Yes, commanded. God’s use of warfare to achieve his ends must, of course, be placed within the context of his redemptive purposes, but he surely does not avoid warfare as a means to an end. Fighting, a violent physical activity, and yes, a symptom of our fallenness, is used by God as a tool in his hands to achieve his ends.

Second and most important exhibit: The gospels. The gospels present Christ in direct opposition to the Devil. His temptation in the desert, followed by his myriad healings and exorcisms bring him into conflict with his Opposition, the prince of the air. Furthermore, he is opposed constantly by people who want to kill him. In addition, he frames his teaching in terms of ‘with me or against me.’ Even in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are you when you are persecuted ‘in my name.’ That’s Fight. With me or against me. You must pick a side. No fence-sitting permitted.

But the crucial one must be the highpoint of history, when the Son of God hung upon a cross, died and was then resurrected. This act is represented as a triumph. A victory over sin, death and Satan. It is Fight which lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. A fight which God wins and into which he calls us.

It is, of course, tragic that European Christian leaders and Popes thought that capturing Jerusalem or fighting each other on behalf of God was a correct interpretation of Scripture. They were wrong. The Fight is internal – for purity – and yet it is also focused outwards.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.… 

I wonder if you have attended churches where the dominant idea was ‘fighting the devil.” I have. Every prayer meeting was a duel with the devil. Off we went, ‘taking the land,’ ‘declaring spiritual truths to each other and to spiritual forces.’ It can get tiring after a while. I’m bound to say, however, that when the sense of Fight is absent, a church can lose its confidence.

And it can lose its way.

Ask yourself as you look out over your congregation on a Sunday morning: ‘Do we look like an army? Do we live like people who are in a fight for the Kingdom of God, praying with fervour for the glory of God to be revealed and for his kingdom to come?

I love these lyrics from Our God Reigns by Delirious:

Yes he reigns, yes you reign, yes you reign,
For there is only one true God,
But we’ve lost the reins on this world,
Forgive us all, forgive us please,
As we fight for this broken world on our knees. 

As we fight for this broken world on our knees. What passion! What drive!

I favour Fight right now, because we need it more. Simple as that. I don’t wish to pit Fight against Journey. They are both valid, both important. But in our desperate world, we need more fight right now. We need to care more, sacrifice more, pray more, believe more.

We fight on our knees because we know that our God is already victorious. Believe it. May his Kingdom come. May his will be done! Amen.