I can’t drink from a fire hose

Fire-hoseI deleted 52 blogs off my feed reader today. They were all good ones too. Now I have only 10 feeds remaining, one of which is my own blog.

Why would I do that?

I realized that I can only drink from a cup, not from a fire hose.

I was spending a lot of time scanning through numerous pages of blog posts, anxious I might miss something if I didn’t read all of them. Or I would look at my feed reader and read nothing because it was too overwhelming.

I subscribed to all of those blogs because they offered something useful to me at the time. But regardless of how useful they were individually, as a combined fire hose of information they simply generated anxiety.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

The skillset of our internet age no longer has finding information at the top of the most useful list, now we have to be better at filtering information – taking in only what we need. This is something I am having to learn, having been educated in the era when books were the only source of reliable information.

Oddly enough, this situation is a little like the very first temptation – reach out and take knowledge (Genesis 3:5-6). Yet having grasped knowledge we now find that unlimited information is in fact empty and burdensome because we ourselves are finite. Satisfaction does not come from trying to become like God, it is found by submitting to God and trusting in my Creator.

What I need to refresh me is to drink from a cup of still water, something that has had time to sit and allow the sediment and crud to settle out from it. God provides this, He leads me into spaces in which there are restful waters to refresh my soul. Deep, living water bubbling up from His Word.

He leads me beside still waters.
(Psalm 23:2 ESV)

Photo of firefighter by AnnaGreen via iStock

Plan to endure

Only a fool would attempt to climb Mt Cook without a plan.

Likewise, it has become popular to have a ‘Life Plan‘ or similar sort of personal ‘mission statement’.

Interestingly, we Christians don’t tend to have much of a plan with regards to following Christ. I’m sure there are some rare individuals out there who do have some plan for serving God, but the more common approach seems to be either no plans at all or else waiting for God to give us a ‘call’ to do something particular with the life He gave us.

God does appear to call some folks to serve Him in particular ways, He certainly calls all of us to follow His commands. What I’m beginning to realize is that I have never given adequate consideration to how I am going to deal with the hazards and obstacles which will certainly arise in serving Christ. It is one thing to know my goal, quite another to have a plan of how to reach the goal.

Currently my thinking is fuzzy on this, but just as someone climbing Mt Cook needs to consider how they intend to cope with the cold, avalanches, rock falls, crevasses, ice, rock, falling off, &etc; so too I need to consider how I will cope with the obstacles and hazards known to be part of following Christ.

What might those hazards be?
  • Growing weary (Galatians 6:9)
  • Disillusionment
  • Lack of faith
  • Love of the world (1 John 2:15-16)
  • Satan snatching away the word from my heart (Mark 4:15)
  • Falling away during a time of testing (Luke 8:13)
  • Being choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14)
  • Temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • Sin
  • Prayerlessness
  • Inadequate fellowship
  • Failing to rejoice (Philippians 3:1)
  • Being unfruitful

Having only compiled this list right now (and I am sure there are more hazards I could add), I don’t yet have a plan for dealing with each of these potential obstacles to my following Christ. I am going to need to ponder and pray over each hazard and come up with at least an emergency strategy for each. As with physical hazards, experience of the real thing teaches valuable insight into how to best overcome them so my tentative plans will no doubt evolve and be modified by experience over the years ahead!

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28–30 ESV)

How would you cope with these hazards?

By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:19 ESV)

Companions for the journey

In January I resolved to make this a year of focusing on essentials, using the analogy of going on a trip into our wilderness areas. Given that was six months ago I think it is worth revisiting this topic to consider what really are the essentials.

When I first used the analogy of venturing into the NZ wilderness I was thinking in terms of stuff that is needed, but something which is at least as important as the gear you take are the companions with you on the journey. Being alone in the Southern Alps is fantastic – provided everything goes according to plan. If anything goes wrong, being alone is frightening and may cost you your life.

Walking the narrow way of the kingdom of heaven is similar, being alone in fellowship with God feels nice. However, we are designed to be part of a community rather than loners so attempting to chart a course for heaven as a solitary adventurer is doomed for failure.

Sure, there were some seemingly solitary figures in the Old Testament era; Elijah, Jonah, and John the Baptist. But as Christians we are called into a community of faith, God distributes strengths and weaknesses in such a manner as to ‘strongly encourage‘ us to work together to build up the faith of all. Jesus commands us to love one another (John 15:12).

Church fellowships come into this, though that’s not what I want to discuss here except to say that we need real, face-to-face interaction with other Christians together in a group if we are to grow and bear fruit.

When journeying we need a travel companion. This gives us someone to help us up when we stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10), confront us when wrong (Galatians 2:11–14), encourage us (Colossians 4:7–8), help bear the burdens (Galatians 6:2) and restore us when tempted (Galatians 6:1). In John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is always on the lookout for suitable companions to travel with, some try to lead him astray and only a few prove to be worthy.

It is also good to simply hang out together – my favourite is to have a cup of tea with my best friend, or coffee with friends is good too. We recently spent all weekend with another Christian family and it was so refreshing to be able to yarn about all manner of things in life with a common understanding that Jesus has to be at the centre of it all.

I am naturally a strong introvert so need to keep reminding myself that I need companions on my journey of faith. God wants me in community and He wants me to share my journey with others. So part of my checklist of essentials is: ‘companions for the journey’.

Two wise women and a dull man

boy asleep on a big book

Within five minutes this evening the wisdom of two women brought the focus in my life back to where it should be. A conversation with my wife about how the last week has really been for me took her only seconds to zoom in on a key element of wellbeing that I have been ignoring. Then a blog post by a woman of thanksgiving who was feeling pressured carries a hint right at the end about goals for the year set and forgotten.

In January I wrote about making 2011 a year of essentials – one of the first non-essentials was identified as too much time spent catching up on internet happenings, a focus that has been lost in just a couple of months!

When I am finding the world and life all a bit much I like to retreat into the quiet spaces of my days and pursue ideas as they arise. Blog links and Google give extra leverage to such a process. However, the time spent has to come from somewhere, in my case it gets stolen – from my usual time with God and from time that should be spent asleep. This is actually stealing from God, or at least taking something God made as good and corrupting it for my own selfish ends. Consider the following extract of an article by John Piper:

A Brief Theology of Sleep

Why did God imagine sleep? He never sleeps! He thought the idea up out of nothing. He thought it up for his earthly creatures. Why! Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.” According to this text sleep is a gift of love, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him. Therefore I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious but should rest in him.

Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day.

Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.
In quest of rest,
Pastor John

I think it is important for me to be humbled by the reality of my need for sleep. I also need to remember in whom I should put my trust as I sleep:

At the very least, sleep is a good opportunity to entrust yourself, your entire self, to God’s care. You’re trusting something when you lay down your body and, with it, the control of your conscious mind. That moment when you consciously choose unconsciousness, and let yourself go, is a daily opportunity to relinquish control to a God who you have to trust.
(Fred Sanders 2007, The Theology of Sleep)

I must admit that I don’t generally consciously entrust myself to anything other than my mattress and bed when I go to sleep – I have been blessed with the ability to go unconscious within minutes of my head hitting the pillow so sleep just happens. Perhaps I need to learn the prayer I was never taught as a child:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I pray for my children before they go to sleep, that God will keep them safely in His arms whatever may happen, yet oddly I do not pray the same for myself!

Sleep is an essential element of being human. I need to thank God for sleep as a gift and also as a command to cease striving and rest, trusting in Him for things left undone and for His renewed blessing every morning. Perhaps one of the reasons we must sleep is to be awakened to the wonder of God’s blessing of a new day, every day.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)