It’s funny how God often uses odd little coincidences to hammer home something he wants to say to you. I realized, thanks to the posts from my recent sermon, that I hadn’t shared the next installment of my story with you. So I dug out the old version of this post, set about beginning to edit it, and considered if it needed any expansion.
The first few paragraphs were all about how I had decided to take a blog break and how that break had reminded me of something that God had taught me many years ago. I nearly deleted those paragraphs altogether as, at first, they didn’t seem very relevant to my situation at the moment. I wasn’t just finishing a blogging break, nor surely was I about to start one.
Then, it suddenly dawned on me. I have three messages to give in the next three weeks. The last of these is one of the seminars at Together On A Mission. So I have plenty of prayer and preparation to do alongside my normal work. I suddenly concluded that it is indeed a good time, therefore, for me to put my blog into hibernation mode, probably until the beginning of the conference, at which I will once again be live-blogging. It is possible that I may sneak a post or two in before then, but if not, I will definitely be back at the latest on the 7th of July. I have edited the following post less than I thought I would, and am grateful for the reminder. I hope to be able to spend some of the time I save walking in the woods, praying
Just before Christmas 2006, someone I know asked me what I was going to do on my blog to “follow” my interview with Wayne Grudum. In that moment I knew exactly how I was going to follow it—with silence. Sometimes the best way to try and follow something is quite simply not to! To be honest, I felt like I needed a break anyway. During that time not one of my readers wrote to me asking me to write something on my blog. Either that means they didn’t miss me—perhaps because they had all been busy—or they simply took me at my word that I was taking a “prolonged break.”
Or, perhaps more likely, it shows the place of a blog in the average reader’s day—it’s a piece of light entertainment that we can live with or without—in a snatched moment in-between everything else we do that is much more important. So my little “sabbatical” back then, and the times I did the same thing since, didn’t cost you guys anything—there is always another blog to read. And, in any case, if for some strange reason someone was desperate for a dose of “Warnie,” then this blog has been around long enough that simply looking in the archives would uncover something you hadn’t read yet. In fact, especially when I have had breaks that involved recycling old material, I found that sometimes my readership actually increased!
Putting ourselves to one side for awhile to reflect is no bad thing; indeed it has biblical precedent, as does the thought that God tends to do things in “waves” or “seasons.” I really felt at Christmas 2006 it was right for me to just stop blogging for a few weeks. It also coincided with a needed pause in my preaching commitments, and although I still worked at my day job, it almost felt like a holiday. I then started 2007 blogging with a personal post reflecting on a period of my life when it was God who put me on the substitute bench, and for a period that lasted several years and not just a few weeks.
By the age of 18, I had a lot of the over-confidence of youth, but that was tinged with the realization that I had a lot to learn. As I left the safety of my parental home and launched out into London to study medicine, God had a plan to teach me one of the most important lessons of my life—one which every now and then I am reminded that I still do not fully live in the light of.
My youthful enthusiasm for God was, at least in part, because I felt I could hold my own socially in a church environment much better than I could out in the world. It’s funny, because like many outwardly confident gregarious people, I was far from confident on the inside. Although all my evangelistic activities at school made me feel like public enemy number one, I would console myself that surely God was pleased with me despite the views of my school colleagues. In church, I had a different role and I took a lot of solace from feeling that people there valued my contribution. As I already described, I had been given leadership and preaching experience and received a lot of encouragement. I was convinced that some sort of ministry awaited me, having had a sense of “call” since early childhood. I foolishly persuaded myself that if life at school was hard, at least my work for God’s church showed that I had something to offer. God was about to go to work to begin to destroy the pride that I didn’t even realize I had.
God has a way of taking a dream and killing it—stone dead. Sure, he will often resurrect it years later, but you don’t tend to think much about that at the time—all you can see is (to paraphrase Monty Python) your dream is “stone dead, demised, passed on, no more, has ceased to be, a stiff, bereft of life, snuffed out, up the creek and kicked the bucket, extinct in its entirety, an ex-dream.” I remember well once during those years, when someone suggested that I might preach, the thought that went through my mind was simply, “No way!”
All this happened to me over the course of a few years, and much as you might think that process couldn’t have been from God, as I look back, I am more and more convinced he was, in fact, orchestrating the whole thing.
I am glad of two things, both of which suggest that perhaps the dream wasn’t in truth totally dead. Firstly, although during this time I found myself worshipping in different kinds of churches, I kept my links going with Newfrontiers by attending the Bible Weeks, and also through a friendship with a pastor, a dear man named Henry Tyler (who was my mentor for many years and who comes back into the story later on). Secondly, I did not lose my relationship with God, nor my love of reading theology and the biographies of preachers of the past. But I’m rushing ahead of myself. I haven’t told you how my dream came to die.
When I arrived at university I was suddenly a small fish in the big pond of London. The successful University Christian Union didn’t seem to need me to exercise the gifts of which I’d sadly become proud, nor did the charismatic church I attended in the morning or the evangelical Anglican church I attended in the evening. Suddenly I was not “doing things” for God anymore; no preaching, no leadership, not even leading Bible studies. This carried on for several years, and I didn’t press for things to happen, but instead slowly, and initially reluctantly, began to refocus my relationship with God from “doing” things to “being” his child.
Terry Virgo describes receiving a prophetic word early-on in his Christian walk that told him he was called primarily to be a worshipper of Jesus, and that anything else was a bonus. That was the lesson God wanted to engrave in me in those “fallow” years as a medical student. I only wish that I could honestly say that my teenage years were the last time I busied myself with too much activity and not enough falling in love with Jesus. The truth is, sadly, that like so many of us, there have been many times in my life where I have been so caught up with what I was doing for God that I forgot that the most important thing he wants from me is for me to simply be his son and worship him. In fact, when re-reading these words it made me realize that right now I need to I need once again to be reminded of exactly this point.
How foolish we are to believe that we can give anything to God with our hard work. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
God has given us everything we have, and even our serving him is just another expression of our dependence on him. He is the one who gives us every breath that we take as a gift of grace, not as our right. How often do we Christians get frustrated because our so-called “rights” are violated, or because we didn’t get what we wanted, or because our hard work wasn’t appreciated, or even because our “ministry” isn’t recognized by others? The true servant of God is immune to such thoughts for he realizes that even the strength he uses to serve is given him by God, and that it is God who decides what paths he wants us all to take.
I wish I could learn this once and for all, but I guess we are put on earth to struggle with this issue all our lives. There is something within us that longs for self-sufficiency, self-fulfillment, and self-worth. God, instead, wants us to be God-dependent, God-fulfilled, and worthy only because of what Jesus has done for us.
In the second half of 2009, I want to refocus my life once more on Jesus and knowing him better. Everything else must flow out from that. There is a sense of dissatisfaction within me once more with filling my life with activity and not leaving enough time to reflect and grow as a worshipper of Jesus. I am brought back to a passage I am often reminded of:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead . . .
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:7-16)
Those quiet years were, for me, a time of pruning. There were, however, a couple of things going on in addition to my education. Firstly, God arranged for a family to mentor me during those years in understanding other cultures, which would prove very helpful later on. And secondly, my reading was slowly turning me into someone who thought he understood theology. As the years went on, sadly, I became more and more focused on having theological arguments with other Christians. I am ashamed to say that it got to the point where pretty much every time I met someone, I would sniff out the areas of theology with which I disagreed with them and aggressively engage them in debate. I became someone who wasn’t always very pleasant to be around. Fortunately, God had a plan to help me to learn better social skills, and also to revive my dream of serving him in some way. But you will have to wait for the next post in this long-running series to hear about that.