Each month, one of our clergy team contributes an item to our Parish Magazine that is designed to provoke thought and reflection about a topical issue. For recent articles, see below or check out the archive.
July and August 2019
By the time you read this, many of you will have made plans for your holidays, particularly if you have children who are looking forward to their annual six week break from school! Holidays are an opportunity to relax from our normal busyness; to do something different; to explore something or somewhere new; to catch up with some of those jobs that you have been meaning to do; and, perhaps above all, to re-bond with family and friends. The need for all of us to have holidays is built into the national calendar from New Year’s Day to Boxing Day! As a result, holidays are big business.
As I thought about all this, I recalled a previous Bishop of Hertford reminding his people that our lives as Christians consist of three main ingredients – work, rest and prayer. Work includes anything we are committed to do whether or not we are paid to do it. For the young people, work is what they do at school. Rest is what occupies our time when we are not working, and includes holidays, following interests/hobbies and literally putting our feet up! Prayer is more than just saying prayers, but about a deepening relationship with God, and therefore includes worship, fellowship, sharing in the life of a Christian community as it seeks to love people in God’s name. The Bishop went on to point out that many of the folk he met, whatever their age, were so ‘busy’ that they seemed to have little time to ‘rest’ and even less time for ‘prayer’. In short most of us have got our priorities wrong. The Bishop encouraged us to get our priorities in the right order – prayer, rest, work. As soon as we put it that way, we know deep down that it is the right way, but we struggle to make changes to our habits that will make a real difference. And perhaps we do not really believe that, conducting our lives with that order of priorities, will make a real difference to us and to those around us.
Holidays are a golden opportunity to spend time reflecting on all this and maybe taking some steps to adjust our use of time, and begin to discover that prayer, rest, work is a refreshing and rewarding way to lead our lives day by day. Better still if you can share your experience with someone else, partner, friend, soul mate, so that you can give mutual encouragement.
I sometimes think that, for many people, the summer period is like a crossroads where choices often have to be made, or, at any rate, changes have to be faced whose outcome we may not be confident about. For the children, one school year ends and another, perhaps in a new school or at university, is about to begin.
For adults, decisions about where to live to meet the family’s needs may have to be made. More so these days, changing a career is much more common than it used to be, and decisions made have repercussions on families and their relationships. For the older people, maybe the holidays will provide opportunities to think about how best we can spend our retirement, and give something back to those who have supported us over the years.
I wondered what the Bible had to say on this theme of ‘crossroads’ being a place of decision. By definition, crossroads happen when two well trodden paths intersect, and by far the most commonly used Hebrew word for a well trodden path is translated simply as ‘way’. In some modern translations, this word is translated to ‘crossroads’ For instance, Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV) says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ This was written at a time when God’s people were about to be exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. Basically they had been disobedient to God’s commands, based as they were on God’s purposes for his creation. The people had grown to think that they knew better; that their way, the ‘modern way’, was the way they wanted to go. But the prophet calls them to do three things.
Stand and look – that is turn towards the God who still loves you, is active amongst you, and longs for you to get right with him.
Ask – to be shown or to be reminded of the ‘ancient path’, that is the good way of God’s eternal purposes for each one of us,
Walk – that is conduct your day to day activity in the faith and with the confidence that the living God is always there, just ahead of you on the way.
Stand, Ask, Walk. Prayer, Rest, Work. Here lies the secret of a faithful and fulfilling life. By all accounts the story of Jesus in the Gospels shows that he lived these priorities. No one could say it was easy for him. But the result was nothing less than our salvation. “I am the way, the truth and the life”, he said. So I pray that your holiday reflections will help you to go deeper into God, and discover his ‘ancient path’ for you.
With love and prayers for a safe and satisfying holiday, Derek