Have you ever been doing something which you have deemed routine, normal, which you do all the time, and then completely out of the blue, a feeling, thought, insight has suddenly come over you which changed everything? Maybe it's just that I'm a deep thinker, but I get these things often. But I got one on Saturday which was truly life-changing, and opened my eyes to just what God's been doing with me.
I was walking through Sutton town centre, in the midst of Christmas shopping, with people everywhere with shopping bags full of presents, going in and out of shops, with offers all over the place for presents and decorations up, all fueling the consumer version of Christmas.
I felt sick.
I wrote a few weeks ago a blog post called 'Is this it?' and it was that thought going through my mind again. What I was seeing was all the evidence I needed of how much we need God, and that there must be something, somewhere, that is bigger and better than this. There has to be a bigger purpose and meaning to life than the consumer dream and dog-eat-dog, atheist, scientific, consumerist view of the world. (Even writing that sentence and re-reading it, it just looks inadequate and shallow, to be honest)
Before I had felt a kind of righteous anger at this, but now I'd moved on from that. It was much deeper than anger.
I actually felt God's heart for the people around me. It wasn't some holier than though, self-righteous, 'I'm better than you' religious idea or feeling. I can hardly preach to anyone else, because at times I've been part of this whole thing too and I'm in no way perfect or wiser than anyone else - as I will come on to in a minute. But I just felt sorry for people whose whole life revolves around money, possessions, relationships and 'things'. I was thinking that there is something much bigger going on, a bigger story they could be part of, a hope that is real and delivers - and none of them know it. I was thinking, if they only knew the hope and the reality of the Jesus I know, the God who invites us to join His story and who loves us all just as we are, their lives could be so much different. It fired me up again to make sure that I make the best use of what God’s given me to serve Him and serve His kingdom.
However, God wasn’t done with me. That was just the warm up. As I reflected on this I began to realise just how much I myself had been a part of this, even though I’d said I wasn’t. I realised this sadness I felt for others, was how God had felt about me sometimes even though I know there is something better. In a way, that’s worse, because I shouldn’t be orientating myself around these consumer dreams and values, I know there's a real hope that delivers and at times I've not given myself fully to it. I think I began to realise how much I had gone away from God in this area at times, how self-involved I was under the guise of wanting to do the right thing. I thought of all the prayers I'd prayed and how often I'd prayed for myself, for things I'd wanted or moaning about things I didn't have, in comparison to the time I'd prayed for others, how much confession I'd done and how much praise I'd given to God without condition.
I realised just how much at times I had allowed myself to drift away from God's heart and plan for me. I understood just how much fear there was and is in me. After all, fear is how our culture operates. Think about it. Most adverts on some level, most people trying to sell you something do it in a form of fear, trying to make you feel your life isn’t complete without their product. It’s how marketing works to a large degree, and I’d allowed that fear to run my life at times, instead of the fear of the Lord.
And there was other types of fear I’d allowed to get in the way.
I'm trying to pursue my writing and develop myself and invest in myself, so that I can become more like the man God made me to be and use what I have to serve others - which is a good thing. I've made a commitment to try and make Jesus the first in my heart - which is a good thing.
But I have realised how afraid those two things make me. Because they have compelled me to face up to reality, to expose myself to God and to the world, to take responsibility for my life and risk failure, embarrassment, and also making some decisions without knowing about how they are going to turn out. And in one sense, that's a great adventure and very exciting, and brings me closer to God.
In other ways, however, it's very scary, and it would be easy to walk away and go back into my comfort zone, immerse myself in the old consumer way of life which is a lot easier, and put my faith and hope in those things. But I can't now. I've seen how pointless - and, frankly, boring - that existence is, and I don't want to go back. I don't want a life without Him. My prayers now are beginning more with how much I need God, how afraid, vulnerable and weak I really am, how I want God to be the first and thanking Him for being with me. There's less asking for stuff now. I think there's a lot more fear of the Lord in my prayers than there ever has been.
I mean is life really all about just getting stuff to make us happy? Or getting a good feeling when we buy something? About achieving a certain status? About making money? About getting the right relationships and family life? Those things aren't bad in themselves, and it's good to pursue these things in one context. But if these are our whole lives, then we're not going to be truly fulfilled and satisfied. There's going to be something missing. And when things don't go our way, when things go wrong, when we struggle - and we will at some point - we will have nothing to sustain us, nothing to keep us going because the thing we put our hope in will have proven to be fallible. Relationships can fail. We can lose our jobs. We lose people. Reputations can fall as quickly as they rise. None of those things delivers all the time, and personally I believe that none of them ever completely satisfies even at the best of times.
I know that there's no way I can go forward without God in my life, without God at the centre. Nothing else makes sense without Him. He's the only hope we have. Not money, not status, not position, not relationships, not politicians. Jesus is the only hope we have, the only thing that makes sense of life.
And until we acknowledge and recognise that, there's always going to be something missing from our life. There might be things that can fill that hole temporarily or partially, but I'm here to tell you that they never really deliver. They never last. They always need replacing or let you down - and it's only as you distance yourself from them that you will see how pointless these things really are.
Jesus lasts. Jesus delivers. Jesus is what we need, and our lives will not be complete or fulfilled unless they are ordered around Him and His kingdom, and that's not just a one-off decision, it's a lifestyle decision, it's a decision to re-begin our lives, to start with Jesus and fit everything and everyone else around Him, not fit Jesus into everything else.
Otherwise, life is always going to be missing something.
Ultimately, there is something bigger and deeper here. The key to this is that Jesus has to be the beginning of our lives, the first in our lives. We need to stop and then reorder, restart our lives around and from Jesus and the cross. It has to all begin with Him and come from Him, otherwise life is never going to make any sense. The rhythm of our lives has to start with Him.
I will try to develop this idea a bit further in future blog posts - and maybe even my book - but for now, ask yourself these questions.
Are you missing something in your life?
What things are you using to try and make sense or worth of your life?
Do you know Jesus but are trying to fit Him into your life, rather than fit your life around Him?
How are you going to respond to Jesus?