A long time ago I may have made a big mistake. I have always been interested in people’s life stories. I have a shelf on my book case that’s devoted to biographies of men and women whose lives have had an impact on others for good. Often I find myself challenged by reading these, and long ago one significant Christian leader became someone I wanted to emulate.
Charles Haddon Surgeon will be a name known to most Baptists, and possibly others of my generation. There are several things about Spurgeon that might have stood out to me, but in fact there are just two. Probably what inspired me first was what Spurgeon was able to achieve in his life. A faithful pastor of a large congregation, he somehow found time to establish a training college, engage in wider aspects of the Baptist Union, set up orphanages, be a driving force for missionary endeavour, and write copiously. How could one man achieve so much (most of which still continues today, 150 years later)? I wanted to live a full life of service for God if I could.
Another aspect of his life was the realisation of the importance of supporting ministry in prayer. I believe that when he was preaching at the famous Tabernacle in London, he would always have a group of men who would meet in a room below the pulpit and uphold his ministry in prayer. To a lesser extent that this has also been a model for me, which is why I write these bulletins and encourage people to become faithful prayer partners.
A TOO busy man?
But now, some 56 years since I first heard God’s call into ministry and mission, I wonder if I have been too busy. Personally, I think I am not busy enough, but perhaps I try to do too many things (trying to follow Spurgeon’s achievements), and should have put more time into fewer things. I have tried to keep my prayer life in balance. Martin Luther is recorded as having said “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Most of my hours of prayer a sprinkled through each day as I work and pray, with occasional times of stopping to listen to the other side of the conversation.
Since mid-November I have struggled to work as I became afflicted with arthritis in my hips and spine and acute sciatica, such that it has limited my mobility significantly. So I have had enforced reduction of activity and had to focus on fewer things. This has also come at a time when my wife’s health issues are a priority. Usually, whenever I have had a bout of illness, my ‘Job’s Comforters’ are quick to suggest that I am too busy and my illnesses have been God telling me to do less or even to take a break! This time, I have had two marked encounters with God as a result of the relative stillness.
The first is a fresh encounter with God’s grace. We are probably all familiar with God’s response to Paul’s pleading to be delivered from his ‘thorn in the flesh’. But “My grace is sufficient for you” does not mean that there was just enough to get Paul through. God’s “sufficient grace” is actually abundant. While on the one hand I have been more than able to keep praising the Lord despite the acute pain, I have also noticed God’s grace in other ways. Sometimes help has come just when I needed it.
I have also had more than the usual answers to prayer with the provision of convenient parking spaces. Over the years, when it has been relevant I have asked for and found a useful place to park my car. Bit over the past six weeks, time and again, I have found the perfect parking space to limit how far I have to walk. After a few weeks of this, I was driving to do some shopping and made my usual request for a space in the free time-limited parking area. But I began to wonder whether I was being a little selfish or taking advantage of God’s ability to provide these ideal parking spaces. So as I drove I added a postscript to my prayer, asking whether I was taking advantage of God’s grace. As I turned into the packed car park I had to laugh. As I moved towards the free area, three cares pulled out at the same time, all of which were perfect for me! Coincidence?
It would be nice to be healed and delivered from the pain, but I have been encountering and understanding God’s more-than-sufficient grace in new ways.
Another important aspect of this enforced relative stillness has been a series of dreams. Night after night I have awoken from a dream related to the mission to which I have felt called. I have found myself working with small rural churches and having to cope with a variety of challenges. But these have not been ‘stress dreams’ as I have felt detached from the realities in the dreams. Some time before I awoke today I found myself in the company of a successful business man who also lectured on time management.
This was an opportunity not to be missed so I shared with him my problem of never having enough time to do what I feel I should do each day. As part of the conversation in which I engaged, I explained that no matter how carefully I planned my work time, important phone calls and emails come to interrupt and frustrate my plans, leaving some tasks undone. There is insufficient space here to share all the good advice he gave me during this dream. The embarrassing thing is that it was all common sense and exactly what I teach to others!
Wasit my subconscious mind addressing my work anxiety, or was this, and the whole stream of dreams, God’s way of helping me to do what I should do better rather than try to take on other tasks that get thrown at me. Amusingly, at one stage in the dream I was sitting at a table listening to this man when his wife passed by with a plate of biscuits. Unnoticed by her, a few biscuits fell from the plate onto the floor. I instinctively broke away from what I was doing, rose and picked them up. I could have left it for others to do. It seemed God was saying, “Why do you feel you have to respond to every need you see? Stay focused”
The wise advice on time management I received in the dream, I have started to put into practise. Please would you pray for me. I have reached an age where I still have unfulfilled visions and dreams, and I do not want to waste the time I have left or the accumulated wisdom that could help others. Pray for wise management.
But, so that this is not wasted time writing this, I ask you, what do you feel God wants you to do, how have you planned to achieve this, and how are you organising your time to avoid waste and inefficiency? We only get the one chance, so we need to get it right.
Thank you for reading through, and thank you for your prayers. Do let me know if you have found my ramblings helpful. No other prayer requests this week. Fewer engagements at this time of year, no school ministry during holidays, but prison ministry continues mid-week, and this is a time to plan and get organised for the coming year.
God bless you super-abundantly,
30th December 2019