Jesus: "I have made You known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

- John 17:26

Friday, 20 December 2013

There's something out there...

I have never before affiliated myself with an ant, but this morning my thoughts led me to feel very much in empathy with the little insects. I was doing some thinking, and became suddenly overwhelmed with this feeling of: there is so much more. There’s so much more to my world than what I see. I feel like my head’s always down, I’m looking in a linear way, always ahead…never…up.

What would an ant do if it was suddenly able to comprehend that it was, in reality, just a small little dot amongst a mass of other more complex beings? It would be overwhelmed; it would want to understand why it existed, what its role was…it would be in awe. We are just like this ant. We’re just wandering around with our heads in the ground, ignorant of the bigger picture: the world of meaning that’s just hovering above us and all around us. And God’s the one who’s given us the ability to look up, to seek his face, to see him. 

We can’t do it alone, just like an ant would never be able to do it by itself; we can’t find God by ourselves. He’s granted us his Holy Spirit, he’s lifted our heads and now we, as believers, are aware of this bigger plan, this much, much bigger plan that’s been going on since way before we existed.

Photo credit: Milla at Birdsong

The plan is this: God loves us. He’s existed in a perfect state of relationship with the Spirit and his Son for eternity. And as an overflow of this love he created us to be replicas of his glorious image, to be his children! To be loved as his own child, to enjoy knowing him, to share in this love that he has! But because he gave us freedom, we chose not to enter into this sonship, instead we thought: ‘I’ll do it my own way, I don’t want this relationship.’ But God didn’t think: ‘Oh okay, ouch, fine, I guess I’ll just forget about you.’ He’s bigger than that. He is love. And this love manifested itself in the shape of his Son who saw fit to salvage us from our own destruction by coming down to our level and taking the punishment for this rejection! He is our servant king! He is the way in which we can be brought back into a relationship with God, through his blood, through his rejection we are accepted. God turned his face away from his own Son so that he could look upon us once again. He’s been calling us since the moment our hearts turned. The bible gives us a history of his voice which beckons us back to him.

This is what surrounds us, this is our story. And yet, we live our lives oblivious, we spend days worrying about what clothes we’re going to wear, what job we’re going to get, what friends we’re going to have, what mark we got on that essay, what that person thought of us, what tomorrow’s going to hold. We're always looking down, inward not outward. But there’s this story that’s always there. Always above us, just waiting for us to look up.

And occasionally I do, my eyes flick upwards and I graze the edges of heaven. I have moments where I’m so completely and utterly blown away by what God’s done. The fact that he even bothers with creatures so small as us, beings who rejected him, spat on his son, his lamb, who constantly turn away and dishonor him is mind-boggling. I rejoice in his grace and mercy, my salvation! I live my life in the light of it. I share it with others! I feel secure in Him as my father, as my identity…But all too easily earthly things consume me, my gaze sinks and snags on things of lesser importance. The cross becomes a picture I think of, words that I say and nothing more. I fail to see how magnificent it truly is, my sin blinds my spiritual eyes. Or, worse, I don’t even remember to. I forget to pray, to seek him in his Word, to sing songs to him, to speak to him and ask and thank…he comes second place, even a hobby in a life full of other pursuits, other idols. The God of the universe who created me becomes second place!! How has that happened??

I want to shake myself! I want to scream: ‘WAKE UP’. And because of our sin, because of our original choice it’s always going to be a battle, a continual, constant choice to turn back to him. We just have to ask him to help. The ant can’t do it alone. And he loves to answer us! He loves to answer that prayer, the one that whispers: ‘Please father, help me to love you.’ If we ‘delight ourselves in the Lord’, if we enjoy him, then ‘he will give us the desires of our heart’ (psalm 37 v 4): the desire to truly know him.

That is why this is probably my favorite verse in the bible: 

‘One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.’ Psalm 27 v 4. 

It sums up everything. This psalmist is asking God for help to love Him, help to look up, to see Him, to see the story behind our lives. This verse epitomizes our life’s purpose, our created function. No wonder it feels as if my very bones are crying out in response to these God-breathed words!

I know there are ample Christian mountain metaphors but bear with me for one more. I was on holiday with my friends in Croatia. We arrived at night and so the scenery was a haze of night lights and tourist shops. When I woke up, I followed the pleasant warmth and gentle sunshine outside to the porch and my jaw dropped. Not only was there a long stretch of azure sea simmering directly underneath our apartment and a blossom of red terracotta roofs oozing out of the ground, but casting a shadow over it all was an enormous rock. Our apartment was embedded into the side of a huge, breath-taking mountain that loomed behind us in an intricate blur of splendor. Every time I stepped outside it took my breath away and I would end up spurting out words like ‘oh! Look at that! Just look.’

I remember thinking, how can anyone get used to this? But I looked across from our apartment and saw the bustle of people milling around, the tanned locals with their intent walks and busy expressions and knew that the majority of them wouldn’t have given the mountain a second thought that morning, they weren’t appreciating it for what it really was.

So it is with God and us. We don’t realize God’s beauty, either because we don’t bother to look up – we carry on with our daily activities – or because we look at Him and assume that we know it all, we think we have God pinned.

The amazing thing with God is we can never reach a full understanding of Him. We can always go deeper and deeper into knowing him. He is the one who has ‘endowed the heart with wisdom and given understanding to the mind’ (Job 38). He made our brains! So whenever we think we know it all, or that we’ve fully grasped Him it means we’ve misunderstood something crucial. It’s laughable to think even for one millisecond that we’ve ‘got God sussed’. He tells us, ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Isaih 55 v 8). God is not an oversized human, he is so much bigger than us and so we need to stop trying to squeeze him into a human-shaped box. If we stopped and looked, took a deep breath and truly sought to know about Him, to gaze upon him, marvel at him and breathe in His beauty we would be astounded.

That’s what a Christian life is: continually being astounded at His mercy and underserved favour.

And, here’s more good news for us. When we realise that we're justified, made right with God through Jesus' blood, we start to become sanctified: set apart and made holy like He is holy. When our focus is up, when we see his face and rejoice in Him then we can experience such amazing peace and joy, physical and transcendental states that we were made for. Things that once seemed so important, things that would normally prey on our minds, worry us sick, jealousy, envy…no longer seem to matter. All that is replaced by a yearning to drink in more of the God who made us and loves us unconditionally. We slowly become more like Jesus, the firstborn of Gods children and the thickening fog of sin is dissipated. I’ve experienced that freedom and it tastes good. It’s the best feeling in the world when something happens which would normally have desperately upset you but you look at it in the light of knowing the bigger story and it doesn’t even scratch the surface. Knowing God sets you free!

I guess the premise of my message is this: the God we worship is to be constantly revelled in. We should want to come to Him in our troubles and worries, offer him our thanks and our free will, rejoice in what He’s done for us and who he is – take up the offer of relationship we once rejected. Let’s not sink back into thinking that loving yourself is better than loving God and being loved by God. He should be our everything! ‘Your love is better than life!’ (Psalm 66 v 3)

Sure, it can be hard sometimes when you’re in your room procrastinating after a busy day of work and all you want to do it switch off, watch some YouTube or flick onto Facebook. But if God is as amazing as He promises in his word, and if what He’s done for us is real, if this bigger picture is true, then we can’t ignore it. We should be leaping at the chance to talk to God! 

I’m not perfect at this; I’ve only just realized it myself. And it’s important to know that nothing is going to change through my willpower alone. It needs to come from a place of throwing myself on God’s mercy and trusting that he wants me to be in this relationship. All too often I watch some Scrubs or play guitar before even thinking about praying, and worse, sometimes I don’t want to. But it’s important to keep fighting through those times, because such perseverance will shape us to be more like Jesus! The act of will to keep worshipping God anyway, despite your trouble, shows how you are rebuking your sin and the devil, anything that’s stopping you from being with your Father. As C.S. Lewis once said: ‘faith is the art of holding onto what your reason once accepted despite of your changing moods.’ Your moods will change; emotions undulate all the time, they pull you this way and that and it can be exhausting. But the thing that stays the same forever is God and his love for you. Knowing that in your core will help you to stay the course when the winds of the world toss you around.

Lets look up. Lets become aware of the story that’s hovering above us. Lets rejoice in it, because it’s what we were made for.

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