Run no. 24 – God, saying nothing, speaks

silence of god

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 41’02”

When I’m out running often God speaks. He might remind me of something, show me a metaphor or an analogy to inspire and encourage my faith, spark off a train of thought that takes me somewhere in God I’ve never yet been.

But sometimes God says nothing.

What do we do in those silent times?

Does God not care about us anymore?

God’s silences can be very painful, particularly when they occur in moments of crisis, times when we are desperate for God’s help and presence, and yet it seems that He is absent.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod

And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God[1]

We see a lot of this pain and anguish expressed in the Bible;

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?[2]

There is a mystery in this.

There have been many attempts to explain why God is sometimes silent.

The silence of God creates a space for our faith to be strengthened.

The silence of God increases our sense of desire for God in the way that all deprivation draws out desire.

Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;

Oh languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;

Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine—

For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth.[3]

Perhaps the most significant aspect of God’s silence is that it forces us to choose whether we will continue to love, to serve, and to obey God, even when it brings us no benefit.

C.S. Lewis imagined two devils discussing this;

Be not deceived, Wormwood,

our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human,

no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will,

looks round upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished,

and asks why he has been forsaken,

and still obeys.[4]

This kind of serious, grown-up, engaged, self-decentring faith is evidence that we are making progress in God, that we are finally ‘getting it’, that our souls are starting to take the shape that God desires for them, and that we are becoming spiritual vital beings.

Only the space God creates in our lives through His silence, enables us to grow and mature into this.

There has been a cultural icon in movies of the ‘strong and silent’ hero.

God wants us to be ‘strong in silence’.

So God, saying nothing, speaks.

[1] Andrew Peterson, The Silence of God from the album Love and Thunder

[2] Habakkuk 1:2 NIV

[3] Fredrick William Faber, ‘The Desire of God’

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters


Run no. 23 – Did God have a good time?

Jesus laughing

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 39’ 39” (New PB)

Nice cool morning, only 16°C.

Running felt comfortable from the off for some reason. Felt I was able to push myself and sustain a better pace. I have now taken 2’ 27” off my first timed run. Good to feel like I am making some progress.

It struck me that how I feel after a run is dependent upon a lot of different factors. How my body is, how the weather is, how the traffic is – I hate having to wait to cross the main road at the start and end of my run!

The time taken for the run is one of the most important of these factors, for, as I look down at my watch, I have before me the undeniable and enduring measure of how the run went.

In a book I was reading the other day, a youth leader decided to stop trying to run bigger, better and more costly programs, events and activities to attract young people and instead just give them an opportunity to encounter God.

One of the young people wrote about how the time had been so significant and powerful to her and she closed with the line,

“I think God had a really good time tonight”[1]

That sentence resonated powerfully with me, for it strikes me that if we could set our focus on making sure God had a really good time, our lives would be immensely more interesting, fun, exciting and meaningful.

For God loves us and wants to share our lives, He wants to honour us by involving us in His plans and purposes for the universe, He wants to make our lives count not just for time but for eternity.

Maybe each day we should live it will the goal of being able to say as we close our eyes at the end of the day,

“I think God had a really good time”

And if He did, then it is certain that we did too.

[1] Mike King, Presence-Centered Youth Ministry, Illinois : IVP, 2006, p64


Run no. 22 – Keep breathing

breathing

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 30”

Someone once said that the secret of eternal life is simply;

Breathe in, breathe out, repeat…

Breathing is one of those things that you mostly forget about. It’s an automatic thing, unconscious.

In fact, you only ever start to think about breathing when, for some reason, it becomes a problem.

Such as during exercise, when your ability to take in oxygen is less than your muscles requirement for it.

Or when you get a really bad cold and are ‘bunged’ up, or when you get a chest infection and cannot seem to get a breath.

Or when you are trying to swim a certain distance underwater, or just hold your breath for a certain time, and you feel your bodies raging need for oxygen.

Suddenly, in these particular instances, breathing is not a thoughtless, automatism, but an essential, life-preserving activity.

As I ran breathlessly, around King Lear’s Lake this morning, I found myself thinking how the spiritual life is a little like breathing.

When God first starts to make us aware of Himself and of our need for Him, it is like when we are underwater and our bodies start to crave oxygen. Our first encounter with the divine, is like when our head breaks the surface and we take that first massive gulp of life-giving air.

As we take into our bodies the life-giving air, the pain in our lungs subsides, we feel life and energy rushing through us, and we feel alive.

Our first encounter with God is very much like that. Suddenly God’s love and power overwhelm us, touch every part of our being and we feel, for the very first time, truly alive.

It is not by hazard that the origins story in Genesis contains the sentence;

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.[1]

It is not by accident that Jesus performed a similar act upon His disciples;

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”[2]

The act of the impartation of physical life, and of spiritual life, are both accomplished by the receiving of the divine breath.

Our capacity to receive air is limited by the size of our lungs, we have a world-full of air to breathe in.

Our capacity to receive spiritual life is similarly only limited by ourselves, in God we live and move and have our being, there is more of God than we can ever receive.

It is through our praying, seeking God, meditating on His word that we receive God’s life, that is our spiritual act of breathing.

Breath in, breathe out, repeat…

[1] Genesis 2:7 NIV

[2] John 20:21-22 NIV


Run no. 21 – Who do you run with?

Community

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 41’ 19”

I have written before about my generally solo running career. Mostly this is down to circumstances, but it also because running on my own gives me time and space to think; ‘headspace’ as it is sometimes termed, and this is actually one of the things I most appreciate about running.

In my ‘headspace’ zone this morning, I reflected on the fact of accompaniment, and on the fact that, at least in spiritual terms, running alone is not an option.

When people first start out on the life of faith, it is generally because some faith community shared the faith with them. Either directly, through personal contact, or indirectly through media, books, etc. In either case some presentation is received that has its origin in a particular faith community, either transmitted person to person, or in a crafted and created presentation medium, made to share the faith with others.

Which means that the beginning of a life of faith is never a purely solo affair; it is nearly always instigated by an encounter with a message that is the product and promulgation of a specific faith community.

This creates a great tension, for the reality of what actually happens in order to start us out on the life of faith is an encounter with the Divine; an encounter, which being beyond words, cannot be other than intensely personal and interior.

So our faith is both intensely private and unavoidably communitarian.

As we move on in faith we find that spiritual progress is likewise a communal affair. The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians living out their faith in separation from a faith community, or from the Universal Church.

To be a child of God is to be sibling with every other member of His family. And God expects, desires and demands that His family function as such; as a deeply loving, mutually committed and cohesive unit.

Any attempt to live the life of faith without reference to the family of faith is an act of rebellion against our Father; it is also to place ourselves in a position of fragility and danger, separated from the teaching, training, encouragement and discipline that our spiritual family is meant to provide.

This is possibly one of the key areas in which Western culture most clashes with the Christian ethos. The intense individualism of contemporary Western culture negates and refutes the communitarian nature of the Christian faith.

This idea of responsibility for each other, mutual accountability, is strange and uncomfortable to most contemporary Christians. Sometimes this is because of the negative examples of past abuse of authority in Christian communities, where love has not been felt to be the motivating force at work. But mostly it is because we do not want to have other people having input into one of the most personal areas of our lives, neither do we want the hassle and responsibility of watching over the spiritual lives of others.

In a real sense we all know ourselves to have enough on our plate trying to keep ourselves on track spiritually and we feel no ‘moral authority’ to go poking our noses into other’s people’s struggles and difficulties.

But as Luther famously wrote, the answer to abuse is not non-use but right use.

Given that loving community creates a plausibility structure for the gospel message, our failure to create this will only serve to undermine any attempt we make to reach others for God.

Community is not an option.

We do not run alone, we are not permitted to pretend that we do.


Run no. 20 – First, untie your shoelaces

shoelaces tied together

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 47”

In my running with God this morning, I was musing on the different ways in which people encounter God.

In my life I have met many people who have encountered God in many different ways.

One person, a lady, told me that she encountered God in a moment of intense crisis. Her teenage son was hanging between life and death and she was understandably distraught. Then suddenly she felt a deep peace come over her, which she knew to be God and she just knew, in the deepest part of her being, that her son was going to be all right.

For several days it was still touch and go whether he would survive. After the crisis past there were many long months of painful recovery, but he did finally recover and now lives a fully normal life, with only his scars to remind him of the event.

This experience of God led, several years later, to the lady coming to faith and joining the Church.

Another of my favourite faith stories happened to the Huron warrior Ahatsistcari in the 1600s. This renowned fighter realised one day that his survival, after so many battles and conflicts, was nothing short of miraculous, and that he would have been dead long ago were it not for God’s blessing and protection on his life. He knew that this God who was blessing and protecting him was not one of the gods he already knew from his native religion, but some unknown God. He swore to only worship this unknown God from that moment on. Every morning and every evening he would pray to this God whose name he did not know.

When Jesuit priests came to tell the Huron people about Jesus, Ahatsistcari recognised Jesus as the God whose name he did not know.

The missionaries were somewhat reluctant to baptise him, as his understanding of the faith was still somewhat sketchy. However, he gave such a brilliant defence of his faith in this God whose name he did not know, that they finally relented.

The reality of Ahatsistcari’s faith was soon proven, as he and the other Huron converts started to radically transform their lives and behaviour in line with the values of the gospel message.

Ahatsistcari also faced the ultimate test of his faith when he was captured and cruelly tortured. As he died he prayed not for vengeance but for his captor’s forgiveness[1].

These stories remind us that the Holy Spirit is infinitely creative in the ways in which He speaks into our lives, revealing God to us and drawing us into a relationship with Him.

However, it is also true that the Bible is still God’s primary means of bringing us to an encounter with Himself.

The Old Testament is the record of God’s self-revelation to a people He Himself brought into being, as a locus for His self-revelation to the world.

The New Testament is the record of God’s fullest and final revelation of Himself in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and of the first years of community of those who believed His message and followed Him.

However, the Bible is more than an historical record; it is also a living breathing, vital thing. The Bible is not a matter of dead letters but of living words.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.[2]

As we read the Bible we encounter the Author and in a real and personal way.

So to seek an encounter with God, whilst ignoring the Bible and the community that exists to share the message of the Bible (the Church), is a bit like going for a run with your shoelaces tied together.

Want to run with God? First untie your shoelaces.

[1] Read Ahatsistcari’s amazing story for yourself in Thwaites R.G. (ed.) The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents – Travels and Explorations Of The Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610-1791, Vol. XXIII 1642-1643, CLEVELAND: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1818, p25ff accessible online at http://archive.org/download/jesuits23jesuuoft/jesuits23jesuuoft.pdf

[2] Hebrews 4:12 NIV