I'm not reading the Bible at the moment.
What's that? It's not the Holy Word of God? Well, I dare say that the individual human authors of the Bible would probably say the same thing about their writings too. If their words were indeed God-inspired, or at least honest, then surely there ought to also be some spiritual value in considering Jeff's testimonies as well? I think there is. Arguably not enough to base a whole worldwide movement upon, but there's good stuff to prayerfully consider in here too, of course there is.
A few days ago I read the following:
"I've just finished a lengthy study of the Seven Churches of Revelation, and was stunned to discover that to two of them, Jesus had no word of rebuke at all - only commendation and a verbal pat on the back. The lack of rebuke is… shocking. Why are we more at home with the threat of judgement, but struggle with the idea that God might want to tell us that we're doing all right?
Perhaps there's a big surprise waiting for us when we finally step forward on the last day, when we see Jesus face to face. Is it possible that it won't be heaven itself that leaves us breathless - it won't be the megaton singing of exuberant angelic choirs that blows us away on that day, or the first sightseeing of a new city where the Lamb will be our light? Perhaps the hugest shock of all will be the sight of a perfect God, whispering the most unexpected greeting to plebs like us: 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" [p.157]
I have to admit that the idea of God telling me "Well done" for anything features nowhere in my worldview either. To others, for sure, but me? I've achieved very little indeed with my life, and shudder at the possibility that I may leave this world a worse place for my input than how I found it.
I also recoil from applauding myself for my own entirely subjective worth because of the danger of nourishing arrogance. For example, hypothetically, if I were to think that I prayed well, then wouldn't that require me to also think that some others pray worse than me?
All the same, the lack of affirmation in my life has been bad for me. While I do admit to trying to hold a high opinion of myself and others (important condition that), the absence of anyone else outside family to really affirm me in my life has led me to a paralysing outlook: I now find it impossible to assume that anyone else will like me, and very easy indeed to suppose the opposite.
Of course I do. Thousands of people have lambasted me throughout my life, but no-one has ever really done its opposite, whatever that is. Consequently I have a pretty strong idea of the ways in which my feelings can be hurt, but very little concept of how they can be empowered.
I therefore find it easy to project that a stranger may think ill of me when I phone them, but very hard to expect them to be pleased. I have this trouble with calling friends too.
Also, now when people do say kind things to me, even if it's just "You're doing a great job!", I have no process for receiving that. I have to bury my distraught face in my hands for a few minutes, and go get a cup of tea and some biscuits to pick myself up again.
I'm not much good at praising others either - too much fear that they may assume the worst of me - that I'm being manipulative.
So it's no wonder that approval also features rarely in my perspective on what God might be thinking of me.
So in my quiet time today, just for once, I took Jeff Lucas' advice. I sat on a bench by the river and asked myself:
If in Heaven God were to indeed greet me with the words "Well done, my good and faithful servant," just what on Earth could he justifiably be referring to?
There aren't many things that I have done in my life which I think have made the world a better place. I showed some cartoons to some kids in a couple of Romanian orphanages once, but that was over twenty years ago. I comforted a friend who'd lost a relative. I taught English to some asian teenagers who clearly benefited from it. This was not mindless work that anyone could have done - I did all three things in my own unique way. Those particular successes required me to do them, or they just couldn't have had quite the same outcome.
So what of the big projects in my life today - those activities which I continue to pour the vast resources of my First World existence into? I won't list them here, but they obviously include my maintaining this blog, which I know 100-200 people read every day, even though response to my posts is mercifully infinitesimal.
The picture that emerged, to me, of my life was one of a faith in God that had endured, despite the lack of evidence that much of it had been worth doing. I'm not just talking about blogging to an anonymous readership (whose lives I hope are in some small way improved by what I share on here, yes even somehow the rants), but other projects too. Film-making, radio, publishing, all those phone calls that I make. I see very little of these things' effects, but I still have faith that some positive effects are out there, and that God uses them.
Even when I moved from the UK to New Zealand. A whole new life emerged for me down under, but I never really achieved anything. The same pattern again: lots of things emerged to do, and I stuck at them, but rarely if ever witnessed any results. Yet I consider my New Zealand odyssey to be a success, whatever anyone else may think of it. I went and I did, and I hope that, somehow, it all made the world into a very slightly improved place. (God only knows how :) )
At the end of my quiet time on the bench this afternoon, I as usual wondered whether or not to bother with asking God for a response to my thoughts. These days I really resent the idea of looking around hopefully for some ordinary event to take on a significant meaning because I want it to.
On December 2nd 2003 - I think the same day that I first picked up a copy of a Lucas On Life book and was encouraged to go to New Zealand - someone told me of a miracle when their lost keys had shown up on their feet.
Four years later in 2007 I mentioned on here how a significant lost pen of mine had similarly - and arguably miraculously - shown up several weeks later on my shoes. I'm still wondering about that. Was God telling me to continue travelling and write about it? Or to go back home and write about that? Or should I have just drawn faces on my shoes?
Anyway, thinking of this today, and daring to again look for a response from God to my prayers, I looked down at my feet. I mean of course I did. They were just there.
At my feet, in the gravel, I spotted what looked to be a small blue gemstone, set in some piece of lost jewellery. I picked it up to examine it. It was a stud earring. The blue gem - probably plastic or something - was in the shape of a kiwi.
Seriously. The national bird of New Zealand.
My mind raced. What could this mean, if anything? Was it really that much of a coincidence? Well, yes, even if I had not been praying, it would still have been quite a big coincidence to find such a thing right underneath where I had been seated for the past hour.
In the Old Testament, an earring could denote a mark of slavery or ownership. So did this mean that I was now a slave unto New Zealand? If so, was that more an instruction, or more an observation? Or had I, by going to NZ, enslaved myself to God? Might the fact that there was only one earring and not two be significant? Could the 'kiwi' actually be a fat penguin indicating that God wanted me to p-p-p-pick up lots of milk chocolate biscuit bars? (and feed them to flightless birds in southern New Zealand?)
As usual when conjuring with the possible meaning of the almighty, it was impossible to interpret this find with any certainty. The only thing that it objectively did mean was that sometime recently, probably earlier today, sitting in this exact spot, there had likely been a woman from New Zealand. Or maybe just someone who had been on holiday there. Suddenly a kiwi earring seemed quite tacky. (no pun about its pin intended)
But, even that was still quite a coincidence.
Or dare I suppose that God was simply saying to me, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, for going to New Zealand"?