2017 has greeted me as the year of “The Great Red Challenge.” I’ll explain what that is as the year progresses, and while it is my actual life challenge, I believe God has put it to me to do some “weight training”, take up “long distance running” – two things I hate with a passion – and give a few things a go.
As 2016 ended, my spiritual circuit board had found itself all but burned out and needing re-wiring. And now, as the halfway mark of February approaches, a spiritual detoxification has started, as has some rigorous spiritual discipline training; I’m learning to use “muscles” I’ve never really used before; confidence, perseverance and transparency; and to tone others that have become flabby like focus, commitment and trust.
What it means is that by the time December 25 rolls on by, I will be wonderfully exhausted after the most active year of my life.
Yes, I’m a modern day Jonah, and it’s quite painful to share; like the enigmatic Old Testament prophet, whose story is the most bizarre of the lot, it’s not easy to confess I have been guilty of running away from the call of God, and from life generally. When I was still in my indie rock band, I wrote a lyric saying, “You spent your whole life running,” and that’s been the story.
And while I’d like to believe that there are valid excuses – they are flimsy at best because the truth is my life went to ruins with victimisation, and I’ve lived a life crippled by fear, wounded by abuse, messed by up confusion, smothered by depression, oppressed by addiction, and have been found wanting with excuses and anger. What it has meant is self-sabotage and destruction has underpinned my life at times when I’ve just needed to grit my teeth and press on. When adversity has struck, I’ve given up, and when adversaries have appeared, I’ve shrunk back, withdrawn and disappeared.
Now there’s only four chapters in the book of Jonah, so there’s not much we know about his life after being spewed up on a beach by a large fish, yet I have no doubt he used up all his excuses and God gave him a good dose perspective in the process.
In the past few years the Lord has me shown that there is a catastrophic level of hopelessness in the world. When you attend concern for welfare incidents at work, and a young-adult woman fresh out of high school is ready to throw herself off a 20 metre high roof, swallow a full bottle of pills, or has already taken their own life before we’ve found them – it becomes quite clear.
The global situation only amplifies the local hopelessness, and the more the terms post-Christian-age and post-truth get used, the more it energizes me because God will use this age to his advantage. As much as people try to get rid of him, he’s not going anywhere. It will also give followers of Jesus and the church – particularly in the west – no alternative but to, as J.P Moreland says, learn what it means to really love the Lord with our minds.
Of course we need to love him with all our heart, soul and strength as well, however we really need to know our reasons for why we follow Jesus, our understanding of who God is and for the hope we have.
There is a pre-alarm: we’re rapidly moving – if we haven’t arrived there already – into a post-grace world. Justice is all but gone … a post-truth, grace and justice world can only mean one word … hell. If we’re praying “on earth as it is heaven”, the powers of darkness and evil are working at producing “on earth as it is in hell”.
The running away was symptomatic of someone who lacks confidence in God, himself, and his abilities and gifts. Jesus needs his followers to have confidence in him, in the way he has wired us up and the gifts he downloads into our lives. The Holy Spirit can not guide or encourage us unless we let him.
For me, it has begged the personal question, how much have I been willing to share with others in the first place? Jonah didn’t want to share God’s grace with Nineveh because he didn’t believe they were worth saving, never mind how godless the city was.
For me, that’s not the case at all, it’s been more to do with percieving potential difficulties and not knowing how to go about things. However, whenever a mindset like Jonah’s (or mine) kicks in, you are incapable being able to realise your potential, and the potential of partnering up and pulling something amazing off with God.
Erwin McManus puts it this way in his aptly titled book: [Living wide awake] is realising that the the world needs you to live up to your potential. There are others whose lives and futures depend on you stepping up and living big. The better world you keep waiting for needs you to accept your life’s calling and responsibility, and then to create it. The future needs you to dream God-sized dreams; these are the only kind God gets involved in.
And this is really the kicker for me now; I cannot blame anyone for their fallen condition, even though it’s been their condition which has delivered wounds to my life. Of course, there is the issue of responsibility of perpetrators, yet I have the same fallen condition. If I stop living because of wounds inflicted maliciously, then the perpetrator wins – so I have just as much responsibility to own my life. The problem with blame is that it makes us vulnerable to irresponsibility. I still and will always have my stuff to work on.
And here’s another question I have been pondering, if there is a fallen condition and a redemptive condition, and I believe I’m now living in a redemptive condition – what do I do with it? The apostle Paul drops a hint, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Romans 12:2)
Yep, now I’m re-wired, I’m all set to go … bring on the red!