To summarise my last post, David Hayward over at the fantastic http://www.nakedpastor.com/ drew this a while back:
Don’t you ever sort of wish you could send God a text? And that you’d get a concrete reply? Thank goodness for promises!
When I first started going to church, I wasn’t that sure what I would end up finding. I was open to stumbling upon wisdom, good will and answers to the ‘big questions’ we all ask. I was aware I would meet people who were probably very nice, but also a little intimidating when they switched into Super-Evangelising mode, and that much of attending church would be about putting money in the collection and trying to make sure that when everyone’s head was bowed in prayer, mine was too – or at least not overtly daydreaming, doodling, or looking completely bemused and lost at sea. I wasn’t quite prepared for the relational aspect as, although from the Christian side of the fence, this is like saying I wasn’t prepared for Everest to be a big mountain with snow on top, when you’re raised in the land of agnosticism and only encounter Jesus through primary school assemblies, things look a little different.
As I got deeper into an Alpha course and church, I stayed away from this idea of religion being in any way emotional. I hated it when people prayed within earshot and was quite unwilling to give up this idea of a distant God who is quite satisfied by bringing the odd courgette to a harvest festival and who gleefully participates in the occasional smiting. I read a lot of books by the likes of Stott, Tozer, Augustine and Keller, and started loving learning about church history, symbolism (my church has a pelican on one of it’s stained glass windows….finding out why was pretty cool) and a few of the hundred-and-one different interpretations of the role of the cross. I guess I was approaching it like a Pharisee-in-training – still pretty in the dark about most things, but trying to found a faith in solid facts, figures and theory. I was constantly looking for an easier back-door in that didn’t require emotional exposure. I was afraid of facing up and finding God looking right back at me. As we all know, there is a good reason why Nicodemus and Co are freaked out when Jesus whips out his opinions on how to get to heaven – rules aren’t enough. Knowing and reaching for God is the only way. The first time I read that part of the gospel, I felt physically ill – academic faith is an oxymoron in many ways. There was no back door. There was only one way to go, with a pretty clear signpost. I always like to think that Nicodemus went home and sat in a gloomy library full of books (humour me and pretend they had encyclopaedias back then, preferably the EB) wearing a dressing gown and slippers, drinking cocoa (again, just go with it), and thinking that for all the knowledge of the rules of Judaism he had amassed, he was still as ignorant in the ways of God as an illiterate who doesn’t know the way to the temple (perhaps an exaggeration but you see where I’m going with this). His rote learning wasn’t enough. His status wasn’t enough; it was irrelevent.
So anyway, I was, and still am pretty scared of relational religion. It’s common for people to talk about going on faith journeys, but I always think of mine (when I’m not cringing) as a quest as, for most of those first few months, I had no idea where I was going, and was just sort of haphazardly looking in unusual places for answers. I wasn’t on a road, had no map, and wasn’t following a star. I was just looking. Being unsure helped in some ways – my church opened its prayer room, told everyone they should be going several times a week, and, assuming that absolutely everyone was, I started doing multiple stints in there trying to work out what it was about this room that got everyone so worked up. And as you’ll know, there’s only so much silence you can endure before you start talking. Be still, and know that I am God…
The Promise is one of those songs that wasn’t written about God, for God or for people who believe in Him – but it’s still been a strong influence on me. I did a lot of long walks home from early church services listening to it and wondering, whether it was me waiting for God, or the other way round? Was it me who had to find a place for God in my heart, or Him for me? How long would He wait whilst I wrestled with uncertainty? Who was even making the promise of being there in the first place? Did I even want God to wait for me whilst I made up my mind? Could I wait, if God was taking time to make up his mind about me? What if I tried to find God, and he wasn’t there waiting afterall and I was left alone?
When I listen to it, I think about being the person travelling home through the wilderness, looking for a candle in a window. I think about wanting to find that missing piece and feeling whole. I think about finding something that smooths my jagged edges and fills in the troughs and peaks. At first, I thought it was about making a promise to God – and in some ways, it is. But more importantly, it was the promise we get from Him that drew me in. It was the promise, that He’s looking and waiting for me to come home, that it’s his candle in the window and that even when I turn and go AWOL for a bit, He’s still there, waiting. He’s a God of lost coins, of straying sheep. I identify with both of those. Especially if the sheep in question is a bit scruffy.
Unlike mine, God’s promise is certain and constant, laid in stone. We can try to be as faithful to Him as He is to us, but trying is enough and coming back after rebellion is enough, or so I believe. My promise to God, since a November evening over a year ago, is that I will try to follow and always try to come back; that I will aspire to a boomerang style of faith, due to wander off course (and certainly that’s been the case in these last few months), but ultimately finding it’s way back and completing the quest. I still have questions and queries, stubbornness and stoicism. A lot of the time, I feel like I’m at the bottom of the canyon of faith, as opposed to on top of the mountain. God’s faithfulness is no match for my mustard-seed, however, and his Grace receives no alterations from my endeavours. Faith is a relationship, and relationships are founded on promises. This song was just the start of mine.