Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Prodigal Son Returns

Whose life has gone just the way they planned?  I know mine certainly hasn’t.  But what can we learn from this?  Perhaps that nothing in life is certain.  No one’s life is perfect.

When we are upset, or going through a crisis, even a small crisis of one kind or another, it’s then that we often reflect on life.  We might think about the reasons for life, and maybe just what life is all about.  We might even think about the existence of God.  It is those moments, when we experience emotions that we can’t put a name to, emotions somewhere between happy and sad, neither one thing or the other, that we could begin to see that we are complex beings.  And we demand complex answers to things that we, hard as we try, never seem to find.

When we go through a life crisis of one type or other, we are facing a kind of test, although some people might not know it, or see it like that.  Some people are unlucky; they have had, or are having, hard lives.  Other people are more fortunate; they, like many of us, have had or are having decent lives.  And most of us have had one or two crises now and again; it’s the nature of life.  When you are caught up in the storm, right in the middle of all the chaos, it’s hard to see anything else or think about anything else.  This can affect us deeply.  And then, to add to it all, life goes on, and people around us seem sometimes indifferent to our plight, our troubles; and where is God?  Where is God indeed.

Looking for answers?  I’ve only got more questions.  It seems as a race, we are always questioning, always asking questions brazenly and willy-nilly, half expecting the answers to pop out of the air; they never do.  The fact that we ask questions proves that we all have a kind of nascent intelligence, regardless of upbringing, education (or lack of), and any other factor that makes us different from the next person.  We are different, but we are also similar, all part of the human family.  We are similar in that we have similar yearnings; yearnings to understand, yearnings for things to be explained to us, yearnings for something higher than ourselves and yearnings for something bigger than ourselves and possibly yearnings to belong.  We yearn, for many intangible things, but never seem to find.  It’s like we’re blind, set adrift on a lonely dirt path, that we’ve never been on before, and then we expect to find what we can’t see; no wonder so many people are confused!

There’s something that I have thought about for a long time; we’re never happy with what we are; if we have blue eyes, we want brown.  If we are tall, we want to be shorter.  If we’re big, we want to be smaller.  Whatever it is we are, we want to be something different.  I think we should really be grateful that God has made us unique; there’s no one quite like you, or me.  Human beings, the most intelligent, the most resourceful, and certainly the most destructive species on the planet, seem to be the least satisfied.  You could give someone a gold bar, and they’d complain because it was dusty.  There’s no pleasing some people.  And, yet, someone else can live a humble life, just making enough to get by, with maybe a little to spare, and they are grateful for it.  We’re a cantankerous lot us humans, restless and forever wanting to change things, not happy with what we have, and always ready to moan and complain if things just aren’t right.  Well, some of us anyway.  What’s the answer?  Maybe we’ll find some, if we search hard enough.

When I look at some wealthy people, I wonder whether they are truly happy.  It seems to me that the more money people get, the more they seem to want; they never seem satisfied.  After your first million or so, when you never have to worry about it again, then it seems that some people just want more and more.  Is there a spiritual emptiness to some people’s lives, that they try to fill with material things?  I do wonder.  And then I look at the wealth that organised Christianity has, like the Vatican and the Church of England.  If the Vatican has billions of pounds of wealth, and vast collections of in some cases priceless art works, and to my knowledge has vast land holdings, then what is the purpose of that wealth?  Does it serve God?  I have visited Rome and seen the relative poverty of some of the people living there; can’t the Vatican help to find people work in Italy and in countries around Italy, and help young people to get work, and help make people’s lives easier with all that wealth?  And likewise with the Church of England; doesn’t it have enough wealth to help, really help, people get work and be trained and help people get educated?  I may be being too harsh here, for these organisations may indeed be doing just that, but I think they need to be more transparent about what they are doing with all that wealth.  Money seems to get in the way of everything, especially friendship, love and concern for fellow humans.

Isn’t it funny how age creeps up on us; no sooner we are teenagers, then somehow we’re adults, and then somehow we’re middle aged.  And we don’t know how it happened.  When we’re young, we want to be older and what we think is more sophisticated.  When we’re old, we might pine for the days of our youth, and perhaps wish we could undo all the stupid things we did or said in our salad days.  When we might find a moment, a rare moment, where we are just satisfied, just glad to be alive regardless of all the problems, misgivings and worries we might have, it's then we might reflect on the peace that so deftly evades us most of the time.  Peace; isn’t that what it’s all about?  Even in the Old Testament, with its genocide, fratricidal wars, envy, rape, warfare, rage, jealousy, disobedience to God, general bloodletting and so on, reading between the lines I get the feeling that God wanted His people to have peace; peace to sit under their own vine and fig tree.  Anyone without peace in their lives may quickly realise that peace, far down on most people’s lists, is actually like an oasis in a desert.  It is God’s peace that I think most Christians are seeking.  And it might be peace that people are seeking when they drink too much, or abuse drugs, or seek vast wealth.  But real peace has nothing much to do with any of these things; where will we get us some peace?  Is there such thing as peace, perfect peace?  Instead of searching for real peace, we make troubles for ourselves, and heap misery upon misery.  And, then, we wonder why we are so miserable!

If we are seeking peace, genuine peace, in our lives, where do we begin?  And, as well as seeking peace, perhaps we are seeking other things too, like maybe a job or a better job, to get ourselves educated, to save to start a business, to become a better photographer or writer or painter or guitarist or musician, or whatever it is we want to do; it’s all within our grasp to be honest.  So, peace; where will we find peace, and its brother, contentment?  I have learned quite simply throughout my life that God is the only source of real peace and real contentment.  It isn’t about being the richest, or the best, or the toughest, or the most beautiful or handsome, it goes beyond these things; it isn’t also about accepting mediocrity in our lives, or somehow accepting poverty and limited horizons either; it’s harder to define than this.  Some people could be content living in a tin shack with rainwater to wash in and a banana tree to eat dinner from.  But that for me isn’t really godly contentment either.  It isn’t about a lack of material things any more than it is about having lots of material things and wealth and so on.  It goes beyond this too.  So, just what is contentment then?  I think contentment begins with being grateful to God for any good things we take in our lives for granted, and just simply being glad for those good things, whatever they might be.  And peace?  Well, for me, peace is at its simplest really a spiritual condition, not necessarily the absence of troubles which we all have now and again, but a condition where we learn to fully put our faith solely in God, whatever happens and whatever the circumstances we might find ourselves in.  It is possible to have peace in the centre of the storm.

I was reflecting on life again, and I was thinking how that in life, relatively few people become world famous or even moderately famous, relatively few people become super-wealthy or famous like Jimi Hendrix or Winston Churchill or Barack Obama; and I thought honestly ‘does it really matter?’  How many people have lived anonymous lives?  Most people that have ever lived in fact.  I sometimes go for short breaks to Llandudno, a small but pretty coastal town in North Wales, and there is a mountain there called the Great Orme.  On the Great Orme, there is a church called St Tudno’s.  Apparently it goes back centuries and centuries but I don’t know how old the present church there is.  There are two specific gravestones I noted when I was there.  Both are children, called Sarah and William, of Robert Williams, who was a mariner.  They died at the end of the 18th century.  I always think just what sort of lives they led, what they ate, what they believed, what if any dreams they had, why they died at such a young age.  Were they loved and cherished?  Who can say?  They’ve lain there all those years, long forgotten by most people, with all the history that has passed since they died.  Their whole lives, short lives at that, marked by two carved slabs of slate.  Then I thought that this was the fate of most of humanity; certainly in the past, not even the dim and distant past, people’s lives were generally hard, people often didn’t have enough to eat, or proper clothes, or medicines, or access to help and advice.  How far we’ve come, and how fortunate for some of us to live lives far removed from those times.  So, in the great scheme of things, we should be grateful to God for whatever good things we have, and perhaps reflect on two children from long ago who perhaps didn’t.

If God is the Father, then I was one of His wayward sons; one of the many no doubt.  I had to learn what it was like without Him, to really understand what it was like with Him, and to understand what I was missing.  I was the prodigal son and, eventually, I returned to my Father, my heavenly Father.  But I had to learn the hard way just what being estranged from God means.  It seems as a species, we always make things hard for ourselves unnecessarily, and we make what is essentially simple, a relationship with God, into something complicated.  I think religion is one thing, and Christianity is something else.  I sometimes think that some people who fervently espouse Christianity, are actually being only too religious, and instead of waiting on God, and truly being inspired from God, run ahead of themselves making all sorts of statements and living in ways that are not from God at all.  I think we have all done this; but we must learn to live as God would have us live; it’s that simple, and that difficult.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Worry, Worry, Worry

Are you one of those people who find it easier to worry about everything, rather than not worry about everything?  I find myself in this position sometimes and don’t really know why; everything gets on top of me and all I want to do is pull the duvet over my head and never get out of bed again!  I think many people have the same feeling now and again.  Do we ever fully understand human feelings and emotions, do we ever sit down and really try to understand them?

In trying to come terms with our emotions, how we think and feel, and maybe especially as Christians, we might begin to think about God and how He made us in His image; what exactly does that mean?  I certainly don’t think God is a big bearded bloke in the sky, balancing on a cloud!  Seriously, God is of course the supreme spiritual being of the universe, far from our general understanding.  But, if He did make us in His image, then we share traits with Him even though we are very different.  We share a spiritual dimension which must not be overlooked.  Our emotions, whether good or bad, I believe are part of that synthesis we have with God.  When humans feel very bad they can do bad things; when humans feel good they can do good things.  So, we know that how we feel can often impact on other people; sometimes positively and, unfortunately, sometimes negatively.

So we worry, and if we are we honest, we don’t really know why; perhaps it’s just a part of being human; perhaps it’s a part of those emotions that we don’t really understand.  I think that if we are in tune with God, our emotions tune into Him as well.  In other words, we may just find that as we lead a God-driven existence, we begin to find peace and contentment in our lives too.  Of course no one’s life is ever perfect or always runs smoothly, but I think we can live in general in a level of peace with God that we certainly couldn’t without Him.

We want to receive, so we pray.  We pray, and we don’t receive so we get despondent; so we indulge, and create more problems.  We pray for a job, and we don’t get one.  We pray for a better life all told, but we still feel we are stuck in a rut.  We want something to change and to change for the better, and nothing seems to change.  We want something new but have to put up with the old.  We yearn for things we can’t put into words and struggle with what we can’t fully understand.  We are in a mess, and we want everything straightened out straight away.  We want everything, and think we have nothing.  What are we being taught?  Perhaps, after all, we are being taught patience.

Mid-Life Crisis
Do we wander in the desert for 40 years as Christians, until we reach middle age, then find God more relevant?  I feel that for much of my life I haven’t really been ‘in tune’ with God, maybe for one reason and another.  I lived in sin for chunks of my life, it’s as simple as that.  If you have a calling on your life, and you choose to ignore it or not take it seriously as the Israelites often didn’t, you will sooner or later find your life unravelling as I have many times before today.  And as we read in the Bible, God will also punish people for their abandonment of Him.  So, it is possible to spend many years in the wilderness, to all intents and purposes ‘doing our own thing’ and finding that we achieve little and are at the same time not satisfied.  I firmly believe that if we disregard God, we make the biggest mistake of our lives and, like the Israelites of old, we may very well wander in the desert for 40 years before we see sense.  This is how it’s been for me anyway.

It seems clear to me that all Christians will suffer in some way for their sin, and for not taking God seriously at His word.  He does have the power to move in our lives, and He does have the power to transform us from wretched sinners to useful servants; if only we let this sink in!  Some people who are not Christians may perceive Christianity as a sort of jolly club for the terminally nice living in nice neighbourhoods and singing nice hymns on Sundays in nice, quaint churches.  It is an image that for me isn’t really true; there is no stereotype Christian any more than there is a stereotype human being.  God calls all types of people to Him, and if He called me I think He can call anyone!  What I’m trying to tell you is that God is bigger, more profound, more amazing and more life changing than anything else you may have experienced or anything else you may imagine or perceive.  It isn’t necessarily about dusty churches and dog-eared hymnbooks, it is more a lived reality on a daily and on-going basis with a God who is not too proud to walk with us providing we are not too proud to walk with Him.

If we spend years living in the wilderness, away from God and His love and values and law and so on, after it we might begin to reflect a little.  When God punishes us for living in sin, we are meant to learn a lesson from this; sometimes we might have to learn a number of lessons.  I believe God wants us to serve Him with a whole heart, and wants us to trust Him and put our faith and hope in Him that He will see us right, and in a better condition than we could be without Him.

Positivity and Negativity

Negative people can nurture doubts, while positive people can try to nurture possibilities.  You may have a very good reason to be negative or filled with negativity but in the long run it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to make you unhappy or discontented.  I believe that God is all positive, there is no negative with Him at all, and I also believe He wants us to be realistically positive rather than unrealistically negative.  We all know what it’s like to be around someone who is always negative, always finding faults and always finding reasons not to try something and always complaining that everything is bad.  We might even have friends like this; we might even be like this ourselves. 

What is the answer to being extremely negative?  I think first we need to pray about it, and then maybe ask ourselves why we are so negative.  I have had a lot of unhappy experiences with women, and for a long time you could say for the most part I hated women.  I think there are many men who hate women, and I think there are many women who hate men, because of bad experiences of one kind or another.  You can spend a long time with this mind-set, even if you have good reason for it, but you won’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day other than an unfulfilling bitterness.  And, when it boils right down to it, this kind of thinking is a negative trait; our thinking and behaviour and our mind-set are either positive or negative.  You might say quite honestly, certainly at this time, that life seems to be more negative than positive in general, and also that no matter how positive we might be, no one’s life ever runs smoothly.  I would answer, yes it’s true life isn’t perfect, but ultimately it’s how we face things in life whether good or bad that really defines us; a positive person might find a way, whereas a bitterly negative person usually won’t.  If you think you can, you just might, if you think you can’t, you probably won’t.  My dream is to be a published author; I’m realistically positive about this, rather than unrealistically negative; if it doesn’t happen then at least I’ve tried and if it does happen I will have seen my dream realised.  So, for me, it’s always better to be positive than negative.