I know that in the times we live in - the so called 'age of austerity' - where things are difficult financially, people are losing their jobs and there are cuts everywhere you look, that it's a difficult time to be optimistic and feel alive. Or so it would seem anyway.
But I don't know about you, but I'm feeling alive right now. Really, truly alive
Some things have happened to me recently which have made me feel alive more than ever. Or more accurately, I've made some choices recently which have resulted in me feeling more alive. I’m an optimist my inclination, but I feel even more positive about myself and what God’s doing in me than normal right now, largely down to these choices I’ve made.
I've invested in some personal coaching which is bearing fruit in ways I never expected with someone who has been a great encouragement, blessing and support to me, even friend (you know who you are, thank you so much!), I've got accountability with someone for decisions about my faith and life, I've started thinking practically about what God might be wanting me to do and taken the first tentative steps in following those things through.
You may already have noticed some changes here. My name at the top, the info bar at the side being about me and a more prominent picture of me. Now that's not because I'm vain (anyone who knows me knows that's the biggest joke ever) or I want glory or status for myself, but because I've realised to take the next step in my discipleship/development, and in particular in my writing, my name needs to be out there a lot more. Eventually I'll be taking the 'Evolving Church' name off the blog completely - although that's still an idea and concept I'm passionate about and would like to explore further at some point. But one 'evolutionary' step I think I need to take is moving this blog and my internet presence to being more broadly focussed on what God is doing and saying in my life as a whole, rather than continually funneling it through the idea of Evolving Church. It gives me a lot greater freedom of expression in what I write, so that's what I'll be moving to in future.
I'm writing this post partially to keep you guys (and gals) in the loop as to what's happening, but also because this whole process is something I want you to be part of and want to share with you. The way I write has always been pretty open, and I've always tried to take experiences, reflections and lessons from my own life and share and relate them to us all, and that's what I'll continue to do.
What's happening now really feels like an adventure with God. A few weeks back God really challenged me about putting Him as the first in my heart - above career, above relationships, above everything - and I took the decision to pursue that. That doesn't mean I instantly had total faith in God and put Him first naturally in everything, and didn't make me some sort of 'super Christian' straightaway.
But I'd made a choice. A choice I have had to keep making every day since, despite considerable temptation. To be honest, sometimes I've failed, like when I bought a DVD the other day despite a part of me - the God part - telling me not to and that I didn't need it. I realised then how far I still have to go, and was reminded that I'll never stop growing and learning - and failing - but that actually the whole thing is a process which I'm constantly going through and part of.
That's one of the main reasons why the religious idea of God makes less and less sense to me. Religion is about following rules, about meeting a set standard and when you get there you get some kind of blessing and reward, it's about fitting within some set rules and regulations, it's not liberating, it actually holds you back. Certainly in my experience of more ‘religious’ versions of the Christian faith, that’s the impression that’s been given, and how I’ve been left feeling.
And it doesn't involve relationship at any level - nor does it necessarily require it. I didn’t even know you could have personal relationship with God one a one-to-one level until I went to university. I mean, I prayed a lot on my own before then, but it always felt like God spoke to people mainly in a corporate way rather than individually. I never really knew He could at that point.
I think sometimes the religious view of God is a lot easier for us though, because it fits more with the type of life we are used to - a set of rules the we adhere to, and then reward for doing the right thing. That’s the culture and mentality we’re brought up in and which is ingrained to us almost from birth. On top of this, this kind of faith is one that's very easy to tag on to a consumer lifestyle, to be our 'thing', something we do once or twice a week, almost like a hobby. Faith can be a lot easier to view that way, and is often communicated or perceived that way, amongst many 'organised religions'.
But this is the thing. Jesus wants relationship, and the key thing about relationship is that it's two way. It involves active participation and co-operation on our part.
God in Jesus has extended His hands out to us through the cross. He is ready to meet with us, to know us and be known more by us, to interact with us and show us who we really are, and our role in the restoration of all things, our role in bringing heaven and earth back together again. To see God's kingdom here, now - not somewhere else, someday. But here, now, alive and active and growing. He wants us to go on an adventure with Him
But to do that involves our participation. It involves us making choices to be intentional about our faith, to put Jesus first in our hearts above literally everything and everyone, and submitting to Him, and committing to choosing that every day. God doesn't expect us to get it right all the time, but if we are being intentional then we will be more aware of when and where we don't get it right, and be more able to deal with it, because we'll be more in tune with what God is doing and wants to do.
Life won't ever be boring, that's for sure. I know my life doesn't feel boring anymore. I'm not claiming to have it all together, to have nailed it, to have all the answers or that I always get it right. I don't claim this attitude will solve all your problems either.
There will still be pain.
There will still be hard times.
Your life won’t always be simple. In fact, it may be even more difficult at times. It might even seem mundane sometimes - once the romance fades and we need to push on through (I still have that to come...) but we need to persevere in those times, because its through those times that we really grow. When we’ve gone through our Friday and come into Sunday (I will talk more about this in another blog...), then the joy, the good times, feel more precious, more joyful.
I know from experience life is not always going to be easy or ideal, no matter how good things are.
But I do know that since living this way, I've felt more alive than ever - and I don't want to go back to how things were, even though things were a lot safer before.
That's the adventure of God, the adventure of discipleship. That's the invitation God extends to all of us.
There’s a video below of a song by the band ‘Angels & Airwaves’ (if you’ve not heard of them, they rock) called ‘The Adventure’. It’s on a very epic scale, almost ‘Star Wars’-esque in it’s style, and for me it’s really powerful. It hints at there being a bigger story going on, an adventure for us all, one that we’re not meant to do alone. It inspires me certainly. I mean do you ever get a tingling down your spine when you see things like this, the fleeting thought that your life was meant for something bigger? I always do when I see things like this or any great film about destiny or identity - like The Matrix, Dead Poets Society and others.
I think that tingling feeling we get, that dream of something bigger, is from God. It’s God telling us somehow that our lives do have purpose, meaning, that’s bigger than just being part of the consumer life and tagging Jesus on to it.
God is looking for participants, co-conspirators in remaking creation and bringing heaven back to earth, He’s looking for partners, He’s looking for disciples. He wants relationship, He wants our hearts.
The song says ‘I cannot live, I cannot breathe unless you do this with me’. That could well be speaking about a dependence we need to have on God. But it speaks to me about God desiring desperately to have relationship with us, for us to engage with Him and be part of His plan, to join His adventure, to join ourselves to His story. He doesn’t want to do it without us.
Watch the video, and listen to the song. As you do, reflect on these questions.
Are you ready to embrace a bigger vision & dream for your life?
Are you ready to put Jesus first in your heart?
Do you want a life of adventure?
Above all, are you willing to join your story to God’s story, and go on the adventure of your life?