“There will be times of exodus, but there may also be times of exile” Paul Windsor said this at the end of a time of incisive reflection that he was leading at the TSCF staff and families conference.
It struck me powerfully. Has the last 8 months been a time of exile? It has certainly felt like it. Distanced from the world that I am comfortable with (student ministry), disconnected from my TSCF friends and colleagues (whose company I treasure and who do me a great deal of good) and ‘home sick’ at heart but not being able to get myself anywhere but ‘here’.
If it has been a time of exile then what has been the fruit of it? What must I take with me as I begin the slow journey back?
God is not my servant, I’m His. I think I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating – I am not the centre of God’s universe: He is. This nugget of treasure is of utmost importance. I kind of hope you are reading this alone and in a quiet place: not rushing through your day, scanning your rss reader or browsing quickly.
I hope (and pray!) that you can let this penetrate your head and heart – our lives, our fleeting existence, are but a breath in the wind of eternity. Can we name our great-great-great grandparents? Do we know the details of their lives, their work, their beliefs, their hope, aspirations, their funny little ways? No? It’s no surprise (but it is extra-ordinary if you can!). Generations have come and gone before us. They lived like we do: bound in history and subject to the circumstances that they find themselves in, facing moral choices and making decisions in response to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
To look at our choices and the world we live it in seems somewhat obvious that we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are central and at the pinnacle of history. Our hearts, fortified by the wise and the witty, tell us that we are demigods, that somehow we are different from all others in the world. We all, you and I and everyone else, are not important like that.
God created human beings for His own glory, to be the recipients of all the beauties and marvels that He is and to rejoice in it. God created us for Himself.
We are loved beyond imagining and treasured beyond the counting. This reality grants us an indelible dignity despite the depravity of life in which we might live. This truth bestows on us an undeniable beauty regardless of the marring of our own lives. This, and this alone, gives us our humanity! The reality of God’s love for us though and our dignity as we reflect His image does not make us the centre of the universe. Our response to this truth should be that we worship God for who He is rather than for what we gain from Him.
I’ve felt stripped bare for most of the last 8 months – all of the things that I pretended to myself (and others) that gave me value, worth and dignity were removed in a single fall from a bicycle. I could not teach the Bible, I could not offer wit and wisdom in helping others think through who Jesus is, I could not contribute to strategic conversations about ministry in Auckland, New Zealand (or in truth my own home) and for large chunks early on I could hardly dress myself and take part in family life. Left (from my perspective) with almost nothing I saw, even with a moderate brain injury, how deep seated the sin of pride really is.
This last week, sitting with friends and listening to Paul reflect on life and ministry from a Biblical perspective I felt a window of light open and give fresh understanding. I’m learning afresh that I am not the centre of the universe: learning it anew is truly refreshing and a good place to begin the return from exile…
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with Him is plentiful redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.