To plan or not to plan?

I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 1 Corinthians 16:7

I can just about remember, from my childhood, posters that might go up on a church notice-board advertising a forthcoming meeting: for example, “Friday 6th July at 7.30 p.m, D.V”.

D.V? – what on earth does that mean? Answer: it’s short for two Latin words, deo volente, “God willing” (say dayo volenty). The people advertising the meeting were definitely hoping, indeed expecting, that it would go ahead as planned; but they didn’t want to take anything for granted. God, after all, might have other ideas and the meeting might never happen. So they felt the need to cover themselves, so to speak.

To most of us today this seems old-fashioned to the point of being rather quaint; we might be tempted to smile.

But if it’s a fault, perhaps it’s not a bad fault to have.

As Paul brings his first letter to the Corinth church to an end he outlines some of the plans he has for the future, especially in regard to visiting them: “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”. Whoever wrote the Letter to the Hebrews speaks in very much the same way about the need for Christians to move towards real maturity of faith: “And God permitting, we will do so” (Hebrews 6:3).

The Bible writers clearly weren’t against planning ahead – but always with the proviso: if God permits.

My wife and I spent a few minutes the other day looking ahead in our diaries to see what we might expect in the coming months: responsibilities we have committed ourselves to; holidays we hope to enjoy; visits we plan to make; events we expect to be involved in. But though we never actually spoke the words “God willing”, that thought was always there in our minds – these things, for all we know, may never happen.

Another memory from my very early days as a Christian was people who didn’t think you should plan ahead at all. These were days when many Christians were still reading the King James Version of the Bible – and didn’t Jesus clearly tell his disciples that they should “take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34)? Quite right: but what they didn’t realise (and, to be fair, why should they?) was that the word Jesus used is better translated “don’t take any anxious thought”, “don’t worry about the future”. (The people I’m thinking of weren’t, of course, true to their own resolve, for life would simply be unliveable if we literally never thought about what was coming and made sensible plans accordingly.)

Where does this lead us?

I suggest four things.

First, let’s not be afraid to plan ahead. We’ve seen that Paul and the Writer to the Hebrews did. Still more, so did Jesus – see, for example, John 7:1-11.

Second, let’s always plan prayerfully. As we shape our plans for the future our over-riding concern must always be to stay within the will of God: never mind what I want, what does God want? There are times when various options in front of us seem very attractive, but they may lead us away from God, even if they are not sinful in themselves. I wonder if anyone reading this is teetering on the brink of an unwise decision about the future? Be careful! – you could spend a long time regretting it.

Third, plan in light of the fact that it may never happen. It was, I think, the sixteenth century devotional writer Thomas a Kempis who wrote: “Man proposes, but God disposes”, and he was right. (Of course, the Bible had got there first: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).)

Even perfectly good plans may never happen: that godly Christian who collapses and dies of a heart attack at ten-thirty one morning no doubt had plans for that day…

Fourth, plan in faith. God is your heavenly Father, and he loves you. Trust him, then, even if you feel afraid – indeed, all the more if you feel afraid. Remember the very simple words of the song: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future”.

Oh, and here’s a word I direct first and foremost to myself, because in this respect I am the most miserable of miserable failures… If something happens to interfere with your carefully laid out plans, smile and pray to see it not just as an interruption or a nuisance but as a God-given opportunity. Who knows what good might come of it?

Whatever, at all times remember DV!

Lord God, everyday life throws up so many possibilities, so many choices and decisions I have to make. Please help me to remain calm and trustful and to be open to the quiet leading of your Spirit. Amen.

Getting on with the job

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

Do you ever wonder if the things you do as a Christian, perhaps as a member of your local church, are actually a bit of a waste of time?

You spend an evening at a pretty routine business meeting where nothing much of any great importance seems to be decided. Or you help out on a Sunday morning with a group of wriggly and not very responsive children. You join the group heading out to put leaflets through letter boxes in the build-up to Easter, knowing that most of them will go straight in the bin.

And the thought – be honest! – darts into your head: is this really worth doing? Could I be using my time in better ways?

Yes? Then I encourage you to stop – and to listen to the apostle Paul: “your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

Paul is writing to his fellow-Christians in the church in Corinth. And presumably the reason he gives them this encouragement is precisely because the temptation is always there, to doubt if what we are doing is really worth-while. It was there in first century Corinth; and it’s there in twenty-first century Wherever-You-Are.

One of the challenges of Christian service is that most of the time it doesn’t yield immediate, noticeable or measurable results.

I have a friend who tells me that he certainly values people like me, because he recognises that churches need those who are called to get on with the task of quietly building the community of God’s people – by preaching and prayer, by pastoral work and efficient administration, by a thousand and one different means.

But he himself is an engineer, and he told me once that he was pleased that God had called him to work in an area where he could actually see the fruits of his labour, little by little, day by day: a new road or bridge, perhaps. And then, at the end, to be able to stand back and take pleasure in the finished product: “I helped to bring that into being!” Job done.

The thing about Christian service is that it will never reach an end – not, that is, until Jesus returns; there is never that “job done” moment.

And this is why Paul tells the Christians of Corinth to “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord”. To “stand firm”, solid and strong. To “let nothing move you”, in other words not be easily discouraged or wobbled in their commitment. (Did Jesus ever say it would be easy?)

There is a possible misunderstanding here that we need to avoid. Paul is not saying that there aren’t times when it’s right to discontinue some form of service. Gritting your teeth and just ploughing on with an activity that is patently no longer bearing any kind of fruit is not faith but stubbornness.

What he is talking about, I think, is not only organised church activities  but also those acts of Christian witness and ministry we carry out every day – chatting to a neighbour from down the street who has had bad news; praying your way daily through that prayer-diary for mission partners; making contact with someone we have heard is sick.

Who can measure the value of such actions? Answer: God; and God alone. So we are called very simply to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

You might say that 1 Corinthians 15:58 is a very ordinary verse; and you would be right. It’s simple, practical and thoroughly down to earth.

And yet there is one extraordinary thing about it: its place in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 15 is a long, meaty and, in places, quite difficult chapter. It’s all about the resurrection: the resurrection first of Jesus, and then the final resurrection of all who, by faith, are “in him”. Could you imagine a more wonderful, inspiring, exhilarating theme? The resurrection of the dead is the one of the greatest glories of the Christian gospel: it is the event which brought the church into being in the first place.

So, surely, a chapter of no less than fifty-eight verses (that’s a whole lot of verses!) on this great theme should end with a loud cry of praise and worship?

But no.

No! It ends with this little verse. And the implied message is clear: Given that Jesus is risen from the dead, and given that we too will be raised from the dead, let’s… roll our sleeves up and get on with the glorious but bread-and-butter work of serving the Lord in any way we can find.

At the last day, when all things are revealed, we won’t regret a moment of it.

Father, I confess that there are times when serving you seems back-breaking, discouraging and wearisome. Please help me to know that my labour is indeed not in vain, and so to be busy about it every day in a positive and cheerful spirit. Amen.

A woman’s place?

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”… Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man… Genesis 2:18, 22

The paper the other morning was full of Barbara Bush, who has died at the age of 92. She was, of course, the wife of one United States president and the mother of another.

If I were an American, I very seriously doubt if I would ever have voted for the Bush family’s party, the Republicans (especially under the present regime), but I have to admit that from what little I have picked up over the years regarding Mrs Bush, I am something of a fan.

She was, it seems, sparky, humorous and characterful. She had strong opinions; no doormat, she. She got on with life with a robust and down to earth commonsense.

She swam vigorously against various currents, not least when it came to questions of female image. She was uninterested in fashionable clothes, was cheerfully unbothered by her prematurely white hair (she thought women who coloured their hair were “boring”), and happily granted that she “looked like a woman who has forgotten to iron her face”. Splendid!

She was involved in various charities and other good causes. She took a keen interest in run-down schools, Aids clinics and drugs treatment centres. Especially, she was an advocate for universal literacy.

You can, of course, wax cynical about this type of involvement – what person in political life, not least the American “first lady” (what a horribly twee expression that is!), doesn’t make sure they are seen in this kind of light? But there seems no reason to doubt her sincerity.

But perhaps the most noticeable thing about her was her commitment to “traditional family values”, and to an ideal of marriage which is becoming ever less common in western society (she was married to her husband for over 70 years). I’ve no idea if she was a serious Bible-reader – though I would be surprised if she wasn’t – but I suspect she would have been very much in tune with the words in Genesis 2 concerning the creation and role of Eve.

She saw herself first and foremost as wife and mother; her role was as home-maker and family-builder. (True, she was married to a very rich man, so wouldn’t have had to worry about many of the things that preoccupy most young mothers.) She once stated (if I have remembered this right) that the job of a wife is “to lean on your husband on one side and prop him up on the other” – quite a physical feat, that; but we know exactly what she meant…

(Forgive the completely irrelevant digression, but I can’t resist it… It reminds me of the footballer Kevin Keegan who once declared, in supporting a manager who had been specially good to him, that “you have to stand behind the man who stands behind you”).

No doubt Barbara Bush had her faults, as we all do. No doubt there were those, both in feminist circles and elsewhere, with whom she was deeply unpopular, and sometimes, for all I know, deservedly so.

In enthusing about her I am not intending to be either anti- or pro-feminist; I am just reflecting on a person who was very much herself, unashamedly against the tide, and as a result brought a refreshing and bracing influence into the public life of our modern western world.

The only conclusion or “lesson” I would draw is this. Whatever view we may take of feminism in its many forms, and whatever our understanding may be of the Adam and Eve story in those early chapters of Genesis, let us never dismiss or despise those women – many of them, like Barbara Bush, strong and intelligent – who have found their fulfilment in life in this “traditional” mould. “Unfashionable” or “outdated” doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong” or “misguided”.

Those who find her way impossible, or even offensive, are entitled to respect, understanding and support. I’m thinking especially of those who have not found their sexual identity as clear-cut as she seems to have found hers. But in this complex and potentially explosive area it’s particularly important that we all listen to one another and seek to stand in one another’s shoes.

Lord God, thank you for making us male and female, and for the wonderful beauty of both maleness and femaleness. Help each of us to find our God-given place in this earthly life, and to have open hearts and mind to those who see things differently. Amen.

An extravagant beauty

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.

Mark 14:3-8

Do you have a tendency to act extravagantly?

Yes? You go shopping and end up buying far more than you intended – in fact, far more than you needed. You splash out on an expensive holiday, even perhaps on a car which is really beyond your means, or on a meal out which is more than just a treat.

Probably most of us would have to plead guilty (if that’s the right expression).

All right then – let’s narrow the question down a little… Do you have a tendency to act extravagantly on behalf of other people?

Ah, I suspect that many of us would be forced to admit that the answer is no, not really. Certainly, we give to charities and are happy to help out in cases of serious need. But very likely we still make sure to give well within our means, nowhere near the ouch-point, the point where it hurts – the word extravagant doesn’t really apply.

Let’s narrow the question still further. Have you ever acted extravagantly for the sake of Jesus? Just once, perhaps?

If we find that question a bit painful, well, let’s make it even more painful. (I am, of course, putting these questions to myself as well as to you who are reading this.) Can you think of a single thing you have ever done, extravagant or not, which was done purely out of love for Jesus?

No, neither can I!

If you read the verses at the top you’ll know where I’m heading…

Jesus, along with other guests, is enjoying a social evening with a man called Simon the Leper. While they’re at the meal-table a woman comes in and proceeds to crack open a jar of perfume and tip it over his head. This act of crazy extravagance triggers an outburst of “indignation”. What a waste! Think what good could have been done with the money – a whole year’s wages! – if that perfume had been sold.

And, let’s be honest, it’s hard to argue with that; those people are absolutely right. How many empty stomachs could have been filled!

But Jesus springs fiercely to her defence: “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her?” And then one of his greatest words: “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

An interesting word, that “beautiful”. There is a perfectly good Greek word for “good” (your name is derived from it, incidentally, if you happen to be called Agatha), but it isn’t used here. No, the word here, kalos, does mean good, but then a whole lot more. You could translate it “fine”, “excellent”, “fitting”, “absolutely appropriate”. You could reach for old-fashioned words like “noble” or “winsome”. Even “beautiful” doesn’t quite capture all its possible shades of meaning.

Jesus is suggesting that what that woman did wasn’t just “good”, but truly mind-expanding and life-enhancing. Anyone who saw it without being deeply moved was revealing a tragic inner emptiness.

Beauty. Our world desperately needs it. And in the beginning God gave it plenty. He “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But we have ruined it through our sin. Yes, of course, much natural beauty does remain, and there is something very wrong with us if we can’t admire a beautiful scene or a new-born baby. But in the realm of human behaviour… oh, how we have ruined it! So much ugliness and nastiness, so much pride, selfishness and greed in the ways we talk and act.

I’m not wanting to suggest that we all go out and do something wildly extravagant. A beautiful thing doesn’t have to be an extravagant thing. What I am suggesting is this: it is in the power of each of us to “do a beautiful thing for (if not directly to) Jesus” simply by aiming every day to reflect his purity and goodness.

To encourage us, let’s notice that, according to Jesus, the woman’s action had a profound significance which, surely, she knew nothing about: “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.”

We later read of other women coming to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. That was a beautiful action. But this unknown woman got there first.

In the same way, even that quite small and trivial act you perform today – taking perhaps just a couple of minutes – might be revealed on judgment day as bursting with some wonderful meaning you knew nothing about.

Christian, will you make it your aim today to make this world a more beautiful place?

Father, help me to say, with John the Baptist, that Jesus must increase, I must decrease, and so, in however small a way, to add to the beauty of this spoiled and troubled world. Amen.

First things first

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me an arbiter or judge between you?’” Luke 12:14

How good are you at saying No?

If you are a Christian who takes your faith seriously I suspect the answer to that question might well be, “Not very!” Many of us feel a sense of obligation to help others in any and every situation – if we don’t, then we’re letting people down, aren’t we? …it’s part of being a Christian to respond to any call for help, isn’t it?

Well, actually, no it isn’t it.

Look at Jesus in Luke 12. He is at the centre of a large crowd of people, “many thousands”, according to verse 1. He is teaching on various topics when suddenly a voice comes out of the crowd – a man appeals to him to sort out a dispute that he has with his brother.

And Jesus, in effect, says No: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” One commentary says that that word “Man” would have sounded, if not rude, then certainly a little brusque. Some translations soften it with something like “My dear friend”, but perhaps that’s not quite brusque enough. Possibly The Message captures it well: “Mister…”

Whatever. What matters is that Jesus declines to do as the man asks – though he does use it as a trigger to warn the crowd about the dangers of greed (verses 15-21).

If I may use an ugly in-word, Jesus is setting us an example of prioritisation. He decides that this man’s request, while it may have been reasonable, simply isn’t something he should get involved with. He has, as the saying goes, far bigger fish to fry.

Many people today, not least Christians, are ground down by the remorseless pressures of life: stress and exhaustion are major problems. Sadly, in many instances that’s just the way life is, and we have to cope with it as best we can.

But is it possible that sometimes we bring these problems on ourselves because we fail to prioritise?

No way would I hold myself up as a model – I’m very far from perfect! But when I retired five years ago I had completed over forty years of full-time ministry in just two pastorates. Sometimes people would express surprise at this, and even ask how I had managed it. I think part at least of the answer was that I had learned that I simply couldn’t do everything, however willing I tried to be. And so I learned to say “Sorry, but no…”

There were people who thought that the minister should chair every meeting and committee and be up-front in every initiative the church was involved in. But (possibly also, to be brutally honest, because of a streak of lazy selfishness!) I felt it necessary to disappoint them. Well, they seem to have survived… and probably did a far better job without my active involvement.

Edward Heath was the British prime minister from 1970 to 1974. One day he was at a railway station when someone collapsed on the platform. As people scurried around to help, Mr Heath was noticed and was asked to come and speak to the person in question. He sized up the situation, saw that there were plenty of people round the man, and judged that just because he was prime minister that didn’t in fact qualify him to be useful. So he declined.

Callous and hard-hearted? I don’t think so. No, I suspect he was just sensible and realistic.

It reminds me of that prayer you hear from time to time: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

To my mind that’s an almost perfect prayer. “The things I cannot change” might include a motorway log-jam, a sudden illness, or disappointing weather on a holiday – or of course things that are far worse. But given that I can have no control over them, there really is no point in getting uptight about them.

The “things I can change” – well, that’s the challenge, isn’t it! Yes, of course, if a situation arises where I really do have something to offer, then God forgive me if I hold back. There are times when God calls us to work tirelessly for some objective, to resolutely refuse to leave things as they are. And if we are open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he will surely give us the wisdom to know what they are.

Let’s remember: every minute spent doing things which are not really within our gifting is a minute when we are not doing something that is. So we may simply be wasting time – and wearing ourselves out for no good reason…

Lord God, every minute of every day is a gift from you. Give me indeed the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

A bargain with the devil?

Jesus said: Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.  Matthew 5:48

Just recently the world has been commemorating the death of one of the great historic figures of the twentieth-century. A high-profile Christian, he devoted his life to the pursuit of justice and human rights, and ended up being murdered for his efforts. His achievements have been spelled out, and his name rightly celebrated.

But what have not been spelled out are his moral failings: he was unfaithful to his wife, and his private life generally, it seems, was pretty chaotic. While it is understandable that the darker side of his life should not be highlighted at such a time – or indeed at any time, come to that – the fact is that once you know something of the unsavoury facts, you can’t just brush them under the carpet.

It would seem that here was a man who behaved in a deeply Christian way in one area of his life, but in a deeply un-Christian way in another. And that raises the question: does the fact that he did such great and indeed heroic good cancel out the darker side of his life? Does it mean that his moral failings ultimately don’t matter?

You might answer, “Surely that’s for God to judge, not us. It’s no business of ours to go grubbing around in another person’s private life.” Indeed so. But if we believe that God has spoken on moral issues – you could hardly imagine a clearer example than “You shall not commit adultery” – then it’s difficult not to feel uneasy once that murky side has become known, however uncomfortable it  may make us to focus on it.

I think there are at least two truths that arise from this kind of dilemma as we think about it in the light of scripture.

First, we should be very wary of putting any human being on a pedestal.

We are all sinners – you, me, everyone. There is only one person who is fit to be put on a pedestal – and you don’t need me to spell out who that is!

Idolising people we admire is a natural human tendency, and all of us do it to a greater or lesser extent. Even we Christians who claim to worship Jesus may have our favourite preacher or leader who we regard as above criticism. And as for pop stars or film stars or sports stars, well… no comment is needed.

(Personally, I dislike the practice in top-level football of inviting children to act as mascots for their club. They walk onto the pitch hand-in-hand with men who they will very soon see snarling and swearing at the officials, committing deliberate fouls, pulling shirts and all the rest. What are they being taught by this hero-worship? Should we wonder when they end up behaving in much the same way themselves?)

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,” writes the apostle John (1 John 5:21) – a warning that could have been tailor-made for our modern celebrity-obsessed culture. Idolatry takes many forms, not just pieces of stone or wood…

Is there anyone in your life to whom you are giving an inappropriately high place?

Second, true holiness is all of a piece, not a matter of pick and mix.

James the brother of Jesus wrote: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). It’s no good saying “All right, I can be a bit of a liar, but at least I don’t steal.”

When God gave his people Israel the laws we call the Ten Commandments it was a case of all the commandments for all of the people all of the time. It wasn’t like a test where, say, six out of ten represented a “pass mark”.

Or when the New Testament gives us that lovely nine-fold list of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, godness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” – we are not supposed to respond by saying, for example, “Well, I’m not so bad when it comes to joy and self-control, but the other seven – well, all right, a case of ‘must try harder’”.

No: this is about the total character of Jesus being formed in us little by little by the work of the Holy Spirit.

How God judges that hero of the human rights struggle is not for us to say – how he will judge us should give us enough to think about. But the final word must surely be that of Jesus: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

There’s no room for compromise or muddying of principles there, is there!

Lord God, help me to honour Jesus and Jesus alone, and to be satisfied with nothing less than the best for his sake. Amen.

For anyone in a rut

… break up your unploughed ground… Hosea 10:12

Even though my mother grew up on a small farm in southern Ireland, and I remember happy holidays there when I was a child, I must admit that I know next to nothing about farming: a real city boy, me.

But one thing I do know is that the land cannot bear fruit unless it is ploughed before sowing. So I think I get the point of God’s word to his people Israel through the prophet Hosea: “break up your unploughed ground”.

He isn’t, of course, giving them advice about their farming practices – they knew plenty about that, no problem. No: he is talking about the spiritual life of the nation. It’s time to shake things up! Time to get out of the rut! Time for self-examination – and for change!

Hosea lived about 750 years before Jesus: he is one of the earliest prophets whose words are preserved for us in the Bible. Israel is seriously adrift from the God who dearly loves them, and is heading for disaster. The heart-breaking tragedy this involves is brought home to Hosea by the fact that his wife Gomer is unfaithful to him, yet he is commanded to continue to love her and be faithful to her.

In a word, the Hosea-Gomer relationship is a parallel of the Jehovah-Israel relationship: Israel is depicted as God’s unfaithful wife; God as the ever-loving husband.

If you read through Hosea 10 you find that it is just warning after warning after warning. But there in verse 12 is this word about how things can be put right: and it is perfectly summed up in this metaphor of breaking up their unploughed ground.

A word, then, for a nation gone to the bad. But it speaks clearly to me also about the life of the individual. It presents a question: Is there “unploughed ground” in my life that needs “breaking up”?

Even genuine, sincere Christians can get stale and sluggish in our walk with God. We can, as the saying goes, “lose our cutting edge”: in New Testament terms, though we may not “put out the Spirit’s fire”, we can certainly allow it to burn low (1Thessalonians 5:19).

And the question then becomes: what to do about it?

Well, Hosea’s next words to the nation sum it up pretty well: “…for it is time to seek the Lord”. It’s time for an intentional turning to God – a spiritual spring-clean, if you like.

Yes, but what does this mean in practice?

Well, if there is overt, conscious, deliberate sin – obviously that’s got to be rooted out: repented of and turned against.

But if it’s more that matter of “losing our cutting edge”, here are one or two questions that might be worth thinking about…

  1. Has my personal relationship with God become mechanical and merely dutiful?

In which case, is it time to explore fresh ways of praying, perhaps using books which can stimulate my love of God? Is it time to freshen up my Bible-reading practice, perhaps by using a different translation from the one I usually use, perhaps by trying to read longer chunks rather than just little snippets?

How about aiming to get seriously to grips over, say, a month, with just one Bible book (why not Hosea?) by reading up various commentaries and other background books? How about aiming to systematically read some good Christian book on a “little-but-often” basis”? (It’s amazing how much you can read in just ten or fifteen minutes.)

  1. Is there an area of service in the life of my church where I could be of help?

Perhaps I have been content to sit back and enjoy church life, and turned a deaf ear to appeals for help – oh, someone else can do that.

And perhaps God is saying “No! I want you to do it. It’s time to get off your backside.” Children’s work? Evangelistic outreach? The food-bank? The cleaning rota? Sharing my musical gifts? Messy church? Street pastors? (Any of these, of course, under the supervision of the church’s leadership.)

  1. Should I be thinking about involvement in some area of overseas mission or relief work?

I’m not talking about actually going (though who knows…?), but at least taking a prayerful interest, keeping abreast of what is going on, giving financial support, raising the profile of this ministry for my church as a whole. Christian ministries and charities are always in need of support: well, if not me, then who?

These are just a few suggestions – you can probably think of others that might fit you personally. I’m not, of course, suggesting we go crazy – like people having their “mid-life crisis” who start bungee-jumping or running marathons before breakfast or taking up lion-taming in their spare time. I’m not suggesting we start fasting and praying every night, or rashly clearing out our bank balance and sending it all to a worthy cause.

No: be wise, be prayerful, take advice from others. But… do something!

You want to be a fruitful Christian? Good. Then you know what to do: break up that unploughed ground!

O for a closer walk with God, A calm and heavenly frame, A light to shine upon the road That leads me to the Lamb! Lord, hear my prayer. Amen.