Monday, October 31, 2011

Honest talk about the seasons of life

I thought I'd share the thoughts from our church magazine with a wider audience as it's generally applicable and quite a few of my people don't read the magazine but do read the blog. 
So here it is

We Brits thrive on talking about the weather. I’m sure others cultures do it, but we seem to have it down to a fine art. In particular, we look for the good in every season. We love Spring because of all the evidence of new life bursting out all over, summer because of long balmy evenings stretching out in the garden, autumn because of the riot of colours in the trees.  We even have good things to say about crisp, cold winter days when the light is sharp and intense and our breath clouds as we walk.

Just as the seasons pass and we find something in each one, so there is a seasonal aspect to our lives and something good happens in each season we experience. Often people talk of something they are involved in with church or in the wider Christian community as being ‘just for a season’. There is a sense in which nothing that we are called to do is necessarily for the whole of our lives.

Of course, some things are: following Jesus is for life, as is devoting ourselves to the regular reading of scripture and prayer. If we pay close attention to James, helping the poor and marginalised and avoiding becoming embroiled in the world’s ways of doing things are also habits that should last our whole lives (James 1:27). And always being ready to give an account of the hope we have is something that we do from cradle to grave (1 Peter 3:15); indeed the call to mission is the call to a lifelong way of living that seeks to help others to see Jesus and find faith in him.

But other things are seasonal. And there’s good reason for this. Sometimes it’s right for us to serve on a committee or in a team of folk leading some enterprise or other – be it youth work, teaching in Sunday School, playing music, taking the offering, whatever – for a period of time, before we move on to do something else. Sometimes, it’s right to do something for a while and then take stock of where we are and what God is saying to us and perhaps move on from activity to a new one.

It’s good for there to be vacancies in the groups that run our church ministries so that new blood and new thinking can come into them. If we hang around for too long, all we end up doing is blocking to door, preventing others from getting in. If we stay doing one thing for too long, we can become stale, bereft of ideas, wedded to ways of doing things that are easy for us but which stop new ideas coming into the group we’re a part of.

But recognising the seasonal aspect of our own Christian life can be tricky. So we need to develop ways of talking about spiritual seasons just as we have all learned the art of talking about the weather. The danger is that some people want to give up a role they have because they are having a bit of a crisis of confidence and what they need is an encouraging word from someone who urges them to carry them on and promises to pray for them. The opposite danger is that people refuse to talk about what they do in church for fear of others asking whether it wasn’t high time they stopped and allowed someone else to have a turn.

We need to learn the art of forming relationships where we can share our feelings about what we’re doing in church and beyond, where we can ask others to be praying for us, and helping us to work out whether it’s time for us to seek fresh challenges, respond to new opportunities. The New Testament talks about this in terms of discernment. It’s a gift that is rooted in prayer and the Holy Spirit.

It works when a number of aspects of healthy Christian living come together. The first is that each one of us is open to hearing the voice of God as we spend time praying. This entails leaving silences in our times of intercession for the church and the world so that God can respond. Sometimes that response will be what can only be described as a vision – such as Ananias had in Acts 9:10 (though God needed to be pretty emphatic with Ananias since he was asking him to make room for the church’s worst enemy and persecutor to join them!). Most often, it’s a nudge or a feeling that we ought to talk to someone about how they’re doing and whether they’re still engaged in the activities that God wants them to be doing.

The second is that we develop honest and open relationships with one another. Now, we are not going to have relationships of the same depth with everyone in the church. We will relate to some people much more deeply than we do to the majority of our friends. But it is important that we each have a handful of close, warm and deep friendships, the kind that allow us to speak the truth in love into one another’s lives. Within those relationships, we occasionally find that when we sense that God has nudged us about something in our friend’s life, he has also been nudging our friend along the same lines; we find that what we speak about confirms what our friend has already begun to think about.

The third is to pray together, asking that God will confirm the sense that we each have that change is on the way. It helps if having prayed that we give it a few days to settle as we both get on with living and keep the matter in our prayers. When we chat again, we could well each have a sense that God is definitely telling our friend that a fresh challenge awaits them and that they need to relinquish a particular role or focus on something new.

In this process we’ve discerned the change of seasons in a person’s life and as with the weather, there is something good about every spiritual season that God leads us into if we go into it prayerfully and with our eyes open. Let’s get as good at talking about these seasons as we are about the weather.

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