One of the reasons why I blog is a matter of catharsis – in order for me to see some order in some of the thoughts that go on inside my head, I need to verbalise them. Sometimes I do this by talking these things through with my long-suffering wife, or a good friend. Inevitably, however, these things end up on here. In a way, it appears that this is how I am wired to work most efficiently. I find that God speaks to me through all sorts of situations, as well as through His word, and it is in the actual writing of what I have learned in those situations that I truly see all of what God has been saying. Or not, as the case may be. There are times when I might feel that I have grasped all that God has showed me through a set of given circumstances, only to find myself being returned to very similar circumstances at a later date to learn some more. These past few days have been a return to situations past.
Now, in case you are wondering, I haven’t abandoned the series on The Final Kingdom – sometimes, certain subjects need a great deal of consideration and seeking of God before they can be explained to a satisfactory standard. The subject of the anti-Christ’s rise is one such subject. To be honest, over the past week or so, much of what I thought I previously understood of prophecy has been turned on its head, so to speak. As I reorder these things in my mind, I will inevitably come to write them down in exactly the same cathartic fashion as described above.
I have spent the last few days thinking about a single word – that of ‘acceptance‘. I have entitled this particular post ‘Acceptance Speech‘, not because it is a speech during which I accept some nomination or accolade, but because it is effectively a speech about what acceptance actually means when it comes of the things of God.
I wrote some time ago about Victory in Surrender and, in a way, this is part of that same lesson. Surrender, revisited, you might say. At the time, I might have been tempted to say that surrender and acceptance are one and the same. However, I suspect that by the time I finish this post, I will see that the subtle difference between the two is wider and deeper than my temptation allowed me to believe.
It started the other day. Someone had given us, some time ago, a nearly new bathroom suite. Over the past month or so I have managed to fit it myself. I lack the correct skill level or the right tools for such enterprises but our lodger is a very useful plumber, amongst other things, and so I used the knowledge that he wasn’t far away to bolster my confidence to take on such a task as replacing old for new. Now, this house is old and sometimes old and new simply don’t connect. Old waste pipes don’t see eye to eye with new ones, for example. A bit like the old man and the new man in me. There was a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth, not to mention self-pity and swearing, and demands upon my God during the process. On one occasion, when I removed the 1970s bidet, I encountered a problem that exposed my lack of plumbing experience, and revealed just what a baby I am when things don’t go my way.
The water poured through the ceiling in the kitchen below for several hours before I discovered the source of the leak and managed to capture the water in an old ice cream tub whilst seeking the help of said lodger to put right my school boy error. The whole experience taught me a great deal about myself, and plumbing too. God showed me that when things like that happen, He was the last person whom I thought to call upon. I would call upon His name, but only in the sense of me blaming Him for the situation by praying ‘are you kidding me, Lord?‘
During the post-mortem I performed upon myself in the aftermath of the Great Kitchen Deluge, I understood a great deal about how I had been taught, as a Christian, to expect everything to go my way. The sign of divine favour upon your life is, after all, that everything goes the way you want it to, isn’t it? Apparently not. That is just poor teaching within the church. I’m not going to get into the root of that now, except to say, that I have noticed this same attitude amongst a great many Christians, that they actually expect everything they do to go the way that they expect BECAUSE they are called of God. So, whether it’s them expecting to find the right parking space at the right time or not be suckered into a scam on the phone, much of the church has this funny idea that God is in the business of organising the entire universe solely for their benefit. Cosmic plate-spinning, you might say. Whilst I am totally convinced God is able to do so, what my own experience uncovered in me was my selfish approach to these things, and just how short-sighted that approach is. If, after all, everything always went swimmingly in my life, how then would I ever learn from the experiences? I might be able to enjoy each experience to its fullness, but I would learn nothing. Time for a reality check.
Yes, I am favoured and blessed by God (Ephesians 1:3). No, I can’t expect only good from God (Job 2:10). Yes, I can call upon the name of Yehovah for help (various). No, I cannot expect to glide through life without any trouble (Book of Delusions 12:1). And, yes God uses trouble in order to perfect us into the image of His Son, Yeshua (Isaiah 48:10, Romans 5:1-5, James 1:2-4).
And so, you can imagine my suprise on Thursday morning, having learned the lesson of the Great Kitchen Deluge, whilst doing the ‘boxing-in’ around the nice new toilet in the bathroom, there was, once again, a deluge pouring through the kitchen ceiling, and the making of the sequel, the Great Kitchen Deluge II, was underway.
I must confess that my initial reaction was to swear and then to ask God how He expected me to manage a situation like this. Then, after a few moments, I remembered the hard lessons of the Great Kitchen Deluge and I stopped and drew breath (the drawing of breath is important – did you know that one of the words which is translated as ‘accept’ is ruach, which means breath? Rauch also means spirit, as in the influence of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is there, breath in deeply).
Then, after my breath, I asked God to guide me as to what to do. I took a moment to stop and allow His wisdom to come to me. This might sound strange, but it worked. I felt several things pop into my mind one after another. You might think that these things are just common sense – and they might well be to a plumber, but to me, they were the last things I would naturally think of. Panic and frustration were generally at the top of my list.
It took a while but, with a combination of turning off the water main, blocking the outflow pipe from the water tank in the attic (with the end of a candle wrapped in Clingfilm!), and draining the water from the rest of the taps in the house, the water stopped pouring through the blighted kitchen ceiling and the light fittings. And, when the water stopped, I stopped. I took stock. Something inside me simply told me to accept the situation. So I did. And what happened was that God’s indescribable but very welcome peace descended upon me. I actually gave thanks for the situation because in the first moment in which I saw (once again) water streaming through the kitchen ceiling, I knew that God had allowed me to revisit the very same situation in order to refine me with it.
After a while, I found the problem which caused the leak – I had very enthusiastically screwed a length of baton to the floorboards in the bathroom in order to fix the boxing-in to. However, I had neglected to take note that there were water pipes running below the floor boards in that spot, despite it only being a matter of inches from where the previous leak had sprung forth. I used screws that were too long for the job and had pierced the pipe in two places. I called our lodger and told him what I had done. He laughed. So, did I. He brought home his plumbing kit and instead of getting the relatively simple task of boxing-in done, I spent the afternoon carefully removing the floorboards in the bathroom until I could expose the pipe which I had pierced.
Throughout the afternoon I could sense not only God’s peace but also a small degree of satisfaction that I had managed to learn in the middle of the situation the things which God was teaching by allowing it to happen in the first place. And, all afternoon (and ever since) the word ‘acceptance’ has somehow been in my mind.
Now, three days on from the Great Kitchen Deluge II, the pipe work is repaired and the kitchen ceiling has dried for a second time, the word hasn’t left me and I now see that one of the many purposes of the lesson revisited was to prepare me for something else that simply needed my acceptance.
Let me say this on the things which God would teach me – the process usually goes something like this – He shows me something that I need to put into practice. If I don’t ‘step-out’ and put it into practice myself, He will keep providing opportunities for me to do so until what I need to put into practice becomes as a second nature to me. The lessons on acceptance are just one example. If I never put into practice what I claim to believe in my heart, how will I ever know if I can put them into practice?
During that afternoon when I was in a situation where I could do nothing but wait for the lodger to return and help me fix the holey pipe, I started to pray and examine why this lesson had been revisited upon me. What I thought I had learned in the lesson of the Great Kitchen Deluge hadn’t actually been put into practice. I mean, I understood it, but I hadn’t been tested to see if I had learned it enough for it to modify my behaviour and make me more like Christ. You might well point out that Yeshua wouldn’t have faced such trivial DIY problems. True. But, He had to accept whatever came His way. He accepted the circumstances and the situation, even when He knew His fleshy body would take upon the sin of the entire human race. To accept whatever comes your way is to be like Christ. And God’s purpose for all of us is to conform us to be like His Son (Romans 8:29).
We need the opportunities to prove that we have grasped the lesson. This time, I didn’t have to wait long to prove that I had. Although, thankfully, there wasn’t a second sequel to the Great Kitchen Deluge. The opportunity came in need. We had no money, and we needed some. We had enough food for that day, but nothing beyond Friday. Throughout the day I had struggled with the situation and failed to realise that it was, in fact, an opportunity for me to put into practice what I had been taught and learned the day before. Mid-way through the afternoon I told God that I accepted the situation. I told Him that I trusted that He knew already of our need (how could He not? I had mentioned it constantly), and that I knew, from past experience, that even when it seemed like He wasn’t going to provide, He always did. No sooner had I reached that place of acceptance than His peace descended upon me once again. About two hours later, someone gave me £20 unexpectedly. And that is how God works when He is teaching me.
But all of this was just practice for the main event. Unbeknown to me, God was in fact preparing me for a real opportunity to show I understood acceptance.
To say that Cornerstone has been beset with troubles is an understatement. The real troubles, however, come not from Cornerstone itself – those troubles I see now as mere opportunities to put into practice the things God has decided we need to learn to be more like His Son. The real troubles come from the attitudes of the those who were once ‘with us’ and who are now ‘not with us’. Their measure of whether God is ‘in’ something or not are governed by whether the thing glides smoothly, as if on rails. If the thing is, like Cornerstone, beset with troubles then they assume that God is not ‘in it’. That’s fine. I don’t care. We knew it was going to be tough. I now understand that the level of toughness directly relates to my ability to see God at work in the troubles.
One of the those troubles relates to an ongoing situation with the trustees of the pension with which we purchased the building. To cut a very long and very boring story short, there was some bad advice given to us when completing a form regarding the purchase. The net result of this bad advice was that the pension fund should have been better off to the tune of £5000 right now. There has been some tooing and froing between the trustees, the financial advisors who gave us the bad advice, and ourselves. It ended up becoming an official complaint (their choice, not ours) and yesterday there landed on the door mat a letter from the financial advisors rejecting our complaint (which they made on our behalf) fully. We had, naturally, hoped that the decision would go our way and that the money would be refunded to the pension. However, they closed ranks on us and in their rude reply, told us why. As I started to read the lengthy response to our complaint, the word ‘acceptance‘ appeared in my mind. Don’t ask me how – It was just there. I tried to shut it out – anger and indignation were rising quickly in me at the contents of the letter. But then, I stopped reading (I had got the gist of the letter – the money-god takes but never gives, so please go away) and accepted the outcome. Why?
The why is because for the past few weeks I have prayed about the matter every day, sometimes up to three times a day. And my prayer has been that whatever the outcome is, that I will take it as God’s will and purpose. I had no choice but to accept the outcome, even if the fleshy part of me didn’t like it and (had I let it) would like to take the matter further. However, acceptance was the word and the lesson had been learned. Here was the opportunity to put it into practice. So I did. And once more the glorious peace of God filled my heart. It was if God was saying to me to let Him sort the situation. Of course, that will undoubtedly lead to an opportunity for our faith to be tested but there’s nothing wrong with that. Our Lord’s brother, James, said this:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” [James 1:2-4 NIV]
And, in case you consider that James was joking or a bit odd, here’s what Paul has to say on the subject:
“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…” [Romans 5:3b-5a]
It has struck me, in the past few days, that because of what I have been taught in churches over the years, that I reject trouble when it comes my way, when really I should embrace it. I know that sounds like a mad person talking but I can promise you that when you embrace troubles and trials, in whatever form they come, because you believe that God has your best interests at heart in allowing the trouble in the first place, you will experience His peace. And, I can tell you that there is nothing like it in the world.
God wants to do the work for us. He doesn’t want us to struggle. He wants to teach us to accept whatever comes our way. Once we accept, His grace can flow freely. Without His grace, we are no different to the rest of the world which is tossed and turned by every slight trouble. If our will rebels against the situation, His grace cannot flow to us.
As a reminder of these things, here’s what I reckon are the two most well known passages from the Bible. They teach me that He is in charge, that He has it covered, no matter what the situation looks like. My hope is that there won’t be another sequel to the Great Kitchen Deluge, because I don’t need to learn that lesson again – it is now something that I will attempt to practice actively in each and every situation. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that – it is a contract between us and God in which we tell Him that His will should be done in our lives. That’s His will for us, not our will for Him.
“Our Father, who is in the heavenly realm,
May your name be above everything else in my life.
May your kingdom rule in my life.
May your will, and not mine, be done here in my life as it is in heaven.
Provide the things I need today, both spiritual and physical.
Forgive me my debts towards you, as I forgive those indebted to me.
Keep me from very hard testing (I know I must be tested), and keep the influence of the evil one away from me.
Kingship, power, and glory all belong to you.
“Yehovah is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me rest in lush green pastures, and leads
Me to find clean pure water to drink, where He restores my soul.
He guides me in the way I should tread – the path of His righteousness, for the sake of His name.
Even if I find myself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will not fear the evil that is there, because Your rod and Your staff bring comfort to me.
You prepare a table of abundance in the face of those who oppose me.
You anoint my head with the oil of your blessing; and my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and Your mercy towards me will follow me wherever I go,
For the rest of my days.
And I shall dwell in the security of your house always.”