Where the Heart is

I am approaching that time of year, in my preparation and planning, that I refer to as “the bosses birthday”. Christmas

There are services to plan, activities to co-ordinate, visits to make, family responsibilities and a diary full of places to be and things to do. All this happens before the big day itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not moaning or complaining. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of ministers go through this routine year on year.

This year, I decided to take some deliberate, purposeful action during this rush time. I have been trying to keep an eye on the “inward movement of my heart” as Ignatitus of Loyola would describe it. Was my heart being drawn towards God or, was the pressure of day to day pulling my heart away from God.?

Why this focus at this time? It came from some reflections following my time reading an excellent Grove Booklet written by Graham Archer called “Don’t Lose Heart” in which he quotes Eric Devenport, the Bishop of Dunwich, speaking at a retreat in 1983. He says;

Clergy sometimes burn out, and that is a terrible thing; but more often they freeze up, grow cold and lose their passion. This is a very dangerous thing for the church, because all might appear well from the outside, but at heart level, the fire has gone out.

As I reflected on that quote I found myself thinking about how easy it is to, outwardly, go through the “Christian motions” whilst, inwardly, we are empty, dry and barren. As I have noticed the movement of my own heart, at those times when I feel my heart is moving from God I have tried to understand why this is happening and have sought to refocus myself. I found myself reading Hebrews 12 vs. 2 where the writer says we should

Fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12 vs 2)

He is absolutely right. When my focus is on Jesus, my heart is drawn more towards Him. When my focus is elsewhere then, my heart is drawn towards that. But how have I been doing that? Well, Eugene Peterson in his “The Message” version of the Bible translates Psalm 46 vs. 10 as;

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God,

There have been times when I have needed to “step out of the traffic”. To re-fix my eyes on Jesus and allowed my heart to be drawn closer to,Him. Where is your heart drawn at this time?

Ingratitude?

Today, my quiet time focussed on the story of the ten leper’s. It’s an interesting account told in Luke’s Gospel chapter 17 vs. 11 – 19.

Jesus is travelling towards Jerusalem when a group of leper’s call out for pity. Jesus heals them but, only one returns to say “thank you”. Luke points out, and Jesus comments, that the one who returns is a Samaritan – an outsider.

Two things occurred to me as I looked at this passage. Firstly, I realised that before their healing, their national identity did not matter. They were all in the same boat, they banded together for protection and support in their common humanity.  If you like, their need took priority over identity.

In the face of the real challenges in our world today, are we in danger of drawing lines and distinctions that, actually, do not matter? Are we quick to see the “otherness” in people rather than our common humanity?

I then went on to think about the nine that rushed off without giving thanks to God for the healing. It is easy to judge but, for a few moments, I tried to put myself in their shoes. If it was me, how would I have responded?

There must have been so much that was going through their minds. “Must see the priest”; “catch up with the kids”; “check if I still have a job”; “I wonder what became of ….?” In their hurry to do all the right and good things, what had actually happened to them just slipped from their minds.

To be honest, I am not much different.

I am at that time of year when I am in the middle of preparation for Advent and Christmas. There is a lot to do. Planning, preparation and getting all in place ready for the festive season. As I look at my diary, I know already, it’s going to be pretty full on!

I find myself rushing from activity to plans to further activity. It’s all important and it’s all good stuff but, there is a danger. In my determination to get done all that has to be done, I can miss God in the here and now.

I think, that is what happened to the nine leper’s in the story. It wasn’t that they were ungrateful. I think they were just so overwhelmed with all that needed to be done that, they lost sight of God in the here and now.

As I spent some time reflecting on this passage, it began to speak to me about focus.  Jesus was once asked about which law was the most important.  His reply was about focus;

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

(Mark 12 vs. 29 – 31 – The Message)

Sometimes, I need to re-focus, how about you?

In need of a change?

I have been thinking quite a bit about change just recently.  WL Bateman is credited with saying;

If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always got

Many people know that they need to make changes in their lives.  For some, it’s a small change that will make their lives a little more comfortable or a little more bearable. For some, it’s a big dramatic change that may be forced on them.  Health changes are amongst the big dramatic ones.  They find themselves realising that “unless I change then…”

One of my favourite stories in the Bible is the story of Zacchaeus (you can read it in Luke 19 vs. 1 – 10).  The little man who climbed up a tree in order to see Jesus. It’s a story I grew up with in Sunday School and I still love telling this one in school assemblies.  But on a personal level, it also one that I love to read.

I picture in my mind the little man stuck at the back of the crowd bouncing up and down, like Tigger in Winnie The Pooh, desperately trying to get a glimpse of this Jesus that He has heard so much about.

When that doesn’t work he climbs a sycamore tree and as Jesus comes along he stops, looks at Zacchaeus and invites himself for tea.

It was almost 7 years ago that I visited Jericho and as part of our tour we taken to see the “very sycamore tree” that Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.  That is what our guide told us – I have my doubts it was the very one.  I took photos of it anyway

What lies at the heart of the story of Zacchaeus is change.

It’s the story of a change that isn’t forced but, a change that is desired because, I believe, that Zacchaeus had reached that point in his life where he wanted to change.

On the outside he may have looked prosperous and wealthy.  On the inside, there was nothing. If he had kept on doing what he had always done Zacchaeus would have got what he had always had.   What he had was rejection, loneliness and emptiness.

As I have been thinking about changes I have realised that often, we keep on doing what we have always done because despite knowing that we want to change we don’t know how

Often in life we find ourselves stuck in a rut.  In a pattern that we end up feeling that we are almost powerless to change.

For Zacchaeus, there comes that moment when Jesus stops and looks at him.  I believe within that look there is not anger, disgust or disappointment there is simply love.

Jesus knows what Zacchaeus is.  He knows how Zacchaeus has lied and cheated.  He knows how Zacchaeus has put his love of money above integrity, justice and fellowship.  I also believe that Jesus knew that, deep down, Zacchaeus wanted to change.

We don’t know what was said in their conversation over the tea table but, what we do know is that the presence of Jesus made a difference.  He gave Zacchaeus the strength and the courage to change.

Publically, Zacchaeus would go on to acknowledge his failure, what he would do to put things right.  He also invites those who hate him to hold him to account.

That takes immense courage. I am not sure I would ever have the courage to do the same

Sometimes, change and the thought of change can be a scary prospect. That is often where I get stuck. There are things that I want to change. Things that I know have to change.  Yet it isn’t easy. What I know may not be working but, at least I know it.

How do I make the changes I need to? I need the strength and the courage that only God can provide.  God often has to remind me that I have relied too much upon myself and not leant on Him. 

Maybe, within your life, you are aware that you cannot go on the same way that you always have.  Maybe there are changes that are needed. Perhaps today would be a good time to have a chat with Jesus and let Him help you