Monday, 8 August 2011

Tracing Rainbows

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

These words are found in a hymn written by George Mattheson (the story behind why he wrote this is quite incredible but not the point of this blog).

The phrase 'I trace the rainbow through the rain' was one which had never really registered with me before but which I haven' been able to stop thinking about this week. He is referring back to the story of Noah's Ark when the world experienced God's judgment for it's wickedness. In the account of Noah's ark God saw the wickedness of the world and sent rain in judgment. However, following the flood God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow. A promise that he would never again judge the world like this and that the world would continue to enjoy God's blessing.

So this image of tracing the rainbow through the rain is the image of seeking out God's grace, seeking out God's promises even in the midst of difficulties and disasters. These are the words of a man saying that when he is going through hardship rather than concentrating on the 'rain' which is all around him he is going to work hard to find the comfort offered by the rainbow (God's promises).

From our point of view this would look like in the midst of the incredible grief caused by the death of a loved one we would work hard to fix our eyes on God's promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.

This would look like in the midst of illness and suffering we would not become consumed by our pain but rather work hard to instead focus on God's promise of resurrection bodies without pain.

This would look like in the midst of stress at work we don't become obsessed with thinking about or worrying about things at work but instead set our minds on God's promise of perfect rest and rewarding work.

And the symbol of all these promises of God is found at the cross. So if we are to trace the rainbow through the rain we actually are to trace the cross. We are to work hard to see the cross and remember that it acts as God's guarantee of those promises which we need during those difficult times. Tracing rainbows in the midst of rain is a hard thing to do but that is the way which Christians must deal with the difficulties and pain they inevitably go through.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Hungry but tired

Augustine writes in his confessions of a time when he hungered after God. He longed to experience more of God, to enjoy more of God. Those around him presented him with ways of experiencing Gods. They presented him with a language of spirituality. They spoke to him of truths. They presented him with the elements of this world and they encouraged him to feed on these and find God. He concludes his time pursuing God in this way using these words,

'Because I thought them to be Thee, I fed thereon; not eagerly, for Thou did not taste to me as Thou art; for Thou wast not these emptiness, nor was I nourished by them but exhausted rather.'

So he fed on these things but because these things did not taste like God should he didn't do it eagerly. Because God was not to be found in these things he didn't find himself feeling well fed and refreshed but instead tired out.

I wonder how much of this has gone in our churches. It seems to me that many people were told that they would find God in church attendance. So they merely committed themselves to attending church. They turned up but they didn't experience God because they were just attending a meeting and so they found it to be tiring rather than nourishing.

It seems to me that many people have been led to believe that they will experience God in a variety of religious experiences. They were led to believe that experiencing and enjoying God was about wearing certain clothes, acting a certain way, obeying a set of rules, reading a certain version of the bible, reading the Bible a certain amount of the time and a whole host of things.

But here is the problem. They experienced exactly what Augustine did. They didn't find any joy or satisfaction in these things but because they hungered for God and had been told this was where God was to be found they pursued them. But over time they found their hunger unquenched and them tired with all their work and so they gave up. The thing is they didn't just give up on those things but they gave up on pursuing God. They had been told that God was to be found in those things. They had done those things and those things had disappointed so they give up on pursuing God as a bad idea.

I think our churches are full of people who were told that God was to be found in certain activities. They did those activities but because those things were not really how you experience God then they ended up tired and so gave up. They ended up thinking of pursuing God as a tiring demanding and unrewarding thing. So then when someone like me stands up and says that they should be pursuing God they think I tried that and it didn't work and so ignore me. When I stand up and say that pursuing God is not a heavy burden. When I say that he promises to be bread and water which truly satisfies they think well I pursued him and didn't find myself nourished and fulfilled but rather still hungry just more tired and more stressed.

What we are reaping now is the harvest of people who like Augustine hungered for God but were pointed to the wrong places for feeding. This harvest is people who think the best way to follow God is just to drift along with him rather than to passionately pursue him with their lives.

Let me encourage all people to do what Augustine does and realise the problem was not that God does not satisfy. It was not that God wants to weigh you down with heavy burdens it was that you were trying to experience him in deeply flawed ways. Experiencing God is truly satisfying but it is not found in religious observance it is found in relationship building.
It is found in spending time with God. In understanding his word and letting it speak to you and change you. In talking to God in prayer not through religious formula but with honesty and transparency. It is through experiencing the joy of being part of his kingdom through enjoying real, genuine, loving relationships with other Christians.

To all those who've given up pursuing God as a bad job let me suggest you give it another go with a focus on building relationships not following codes.