The best piece of advice I have ever been given, was shared with me when I moved to my current pastorate a little over 10 years ago. It has proved to be so useful that, I have often shared it with new ministers that have moved into the town. I was reflecting on it this week as I wrote a card to welcome the new Salvation Army officers who begin their ministry here this week. Should I or shouldn’t I write it in?
That piece of advice? Let me set the scene for you…
It was my induction. I had got through the service and I was surrounded by a sea of faces, many of whom I hadn’t got a clue who they were. There was one chap approached me and, as we chatted, he explained he worked in the motor industry and then he said
“my advice to you is, whenever you drive around here and approach a roundabout, always watch out for the traffic on the left.”
I did a double take.
I may not be the worlds best driver but, even I know, that the British Highway code instructs drivers to give way to traffic on the right at a roundabout. I laughed because he was obviously joking.
There was no trace of humour on his face. “I am serious” he said and he certainly looked it.
“People round here don’t understand roundabouts. If you want your car to stay in one piece, watch out for the traffic on the left.”
His advice has proved to be invaluable. I have, thankfully, never been hit but I have had plenty of near misses!!!
I wish that advice had been given to me when I first became a Christian. In fact, I think that advice should be given to anybody who steps out in faith to “have a go for God”.
Watch out for what comes at you from left field
The Apostle Peter writes;
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5 vs. 8 – NLT)
The roaring lion is a great image and often in this verse, that is what I am drawn to. But it is the words “stay alert!” that are the most important ones in this verse. I think, if Peter were writing today, he might just say “at roundabouts, watch out for the traffic on the left”
The fact is that the Christian life is not always plain sailing. There are struggles, challenges, temptations and frustrations somewhere along the line. In my experience, it is often the attacks that come at us from “left field” that hurt the most. Even when we brace ourselves for difficulty, it comes from the quarter we least expect.The colleague who we thought a friend, who bad-mouths us. The person we believed would stand with us who lets us down. Dare I even use the phrase “friendly fire” that comes from other Christians?
The more I think about it the more I realise, I have had a few near misses in the car but, when it comes to life, I have had plenty of head on collisions!
I have sometimes ended up feeling as though I have had the stuffing well and truly knocked out of me and I find myself wondering how I will ever be able to stand again. The Apostle Peter goes on to say;
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
(1 Peter 5 vs. 9 – NIV)
This is what real Christian fellowship looks like. I am not on my own in my struggle. Other Christians are going through the same sort of thing I am. Other Christians are hurting. Other Christians can empathise because they have either been there or are there. Other Christians can give encouragement because they have the experience.
I am absolutely convinced that this is part of the role of the Christian Church, we are to be givers as well as receivers.
I believe that the church needs to open it’s eyes to each other. We live in a self-centred society and that is not God’s intention or God’s way.
Peter then goes on to say;
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(1 Peter 5 vs. 10)
Somewhere in the midst of it all, is God. He can work in the toughest and hardest of situations to reveal something of Himself to us. The Jesuits teach that God is in all things. If I am honest, I struggle with that. I would like to see God in all things but, sometimes that just isn’t easy. When I am hurting, those are the times that God can feel far away
What these words have come to mean to me is that the pressure of the world, the flesh and the devil are inevitable. They are part of life. Part of what it means to live as human in a fallen and damaged world.
God will be there somewhere in the midst of it helping us to stand. Teaching us and blessing us too, somehow whether I can see it or not
So, what I must do is trust and keep trusting
It may be only years later that we will be able to look back and see what God has done how God has guided. It may be only years later we will look back and say, God gave me the strength to stand firm in the face of that situation
Where ever you are today, whatever you face. My friend, I want you to know what I also need to hear
God is in the midst of this, somewhere