Those of you that know me will be aware that amongst my work and hobbies I’m also a churchwarden. I have been asked many times to talk at one of the services but have always managed to duck out of it… but today my time came. I’ve had lots of tweets from folks wishing me well and asking about my topic…(thank you) so to save a lot of tweets .. here it is. There is a link to a piece of music half way through.. I played through two sets of verses and then faded out in the latter half that is repeated refrain. The band are excellent and @MarkHallCC ‘s lyrics in this and many other of his songs are inspiring to me.
What does independence mean to you? Standing on your own two feet? The 4th of July? Maybe it brings to mind a political party? There are a whole host of topics that could be raised that relate to independence. The dictionary describes it as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid or the like of others”. I want you to remember this part… “freedom from the control, influence and support of others”.
Yet where in the human psyche does independence come from? When a baby is born it is entirely dependent on its mother to feed, clothe and protect it from harm. Yet that changes very quickly. Littlest is 11 months old tomorrow. He is still very much dependent on Wifey and I for his care and happiness. But put him down on his hands and knees and his independence shows itself. His desire to learn and explore comes to the forefront and he’s off. The girls and I came to lock up the church on Weds. It was a lovely evening, the sun was shinging and the children convinced me it was a good idea to sit in the beer garden opposite church for a while?? Regardless of whose idea it really was I put Littlest down on the grass and he went exploring. Being a responsible parent, as he headed for the flower beds I dutifully picked him up and put him back in the middle of the lawn. Now whilst this was the sensible thing to do, Littlest had other ideas. His little independent streak led him straight back to where I had just taken him from. I moved him again and the grumble that followed indicated his discontent with the restrictions I was imposing upon him. This independence is not something we have taught him… it is his own will.
As young children grow they develop their own independence. They start to explore, learn to walk and want to do their own thing. When they go to school their independence grows further. There is still a “mummy and daddy base” they can fall back on for support and guidance but gradually this reduces. Though I would add that even now as a 43yr old I still fall back on my parents on occasion! But our children grow into teenagers and rebellion against parents and authority of any form is quite common. As young adults they will begin to explore drink, maybe drugs, their sexuality and the world around them. They learn to drive which broadens their horizons and in most cases taps into “The Bank of Mum & Dad”. The next major step is finding the right job with good pay and conditions and the income to be able to make that leap into true independence… owning your own home.
It seems that throughout our lives we are being conditioned and directed through our own thoughts and desires, our peer group and by the example our parents have set to a state of independence. We yearn for the recognition that we’ve made it. We can stand on our own two feet and be self sufficient, self reliant …. independent.
Those of you that know me will know that I’m quite good at going off at a tangent.. so I’m going to do that now and talk about me. I was brought up as a Christian. I went to Sunday School, I sang in the choir, I was an altar server, I read the lesson and participated in church life. Yet for all my involvement I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or why. As a teenager/young adult seeking my own independence I eventually drifted away from church. I’d figured that the only reason I was going was because it made my parents happy. I did maintain a distant hold on it all. I would attend the regular Easter and Christmas services but that was pretty much it. I found my independence, I found work and money, I got a car and ultimately found the woman of my dreams… what more could I ask for? It was only when Wifey to be and I moved to the village in 1999 that church started to become part of my life again but it was a gradual process. The first service we attended was led by Tom. Having only ever spoken to Rick on the phone at this point we spent most of the service trying to establish if Tom was Rick (Rick is the Vicar)! We were married by Rick in September 99 and our attendance here gradually increased but even with this attendance my faith was little to no further on. On a graph I would be depicted as a flat line with a minor blip here and there. Yet over the last few years I’ve become more involved. I joined the PCC after pressure from Rick, I became PCC secretary after pressure from Rick, I became churchwarden after pressure from Rick… there’s a pattern here isn’t there? No matter what roles I’ve been coerced into, sorry, agreed to do, I have enjoyed them all and my faith has grown with my commitment. My graph line is now on an upward trend.
I will play a piece of music now by Casting Crowns. It’s called “Somewhere in the Middle”. The lyrics are very good at making me think about where I am with my faith… “Somewhere between the wrong and the right, somewhere between the darkness and the light, somewhere between who I was and who you’re making me, somewhere in the middle you’ll find me.” It reminds me that we are all children in God’s eyes, none of us are perfect and we all have something to learn.
If we all have something to learn the area that has seen the biggest increase for me is prayer. Prayer was something I did at church or in an emergency.. a time of need. It wasn’t an every day occurrence. You may have a different take on prayer in your family but until recently we have never said grace when sitting together as a family before dinner. It’s therefore not surprising that on occasion I have found myself in deep water. There is a well known statement commonly heard; “God will never ask you to do something you can’t handle”. I don’t actually believe this. I think God will send you things you can’t handle “On Your Own.” (let’s say for example a poorly vicar whose services need rearranging whilst your counterpart is in Canada or decides he wants to retire in your first year as warden… though that wouldn’t happen in the real world would it?) << This happened this week!!. The path to success is not persevering on our own but learning to ask God for help and this may work against our independent nature. Only with Him do you stand any chance of success and that access comes through prayer.
Yet we have occasions where we simply do not pray as part of our daily life. We motor along as independent souls and only when things go wrong do we ask for help. God is not an insurance policy that is stuffed in a drawer and only pulled out when the pipes have burst.
There is a story of a woman sailing from New York to Liverpool who asked a sailor one morning how long it should take them to arrive. “If it is God’s will, we will arrive in Liverpool in fourteen days,” said the sailor. “If it is God’s will!” said the woman; “what a senseless expression! Don’t you know that all comes by chance?” In a few days a terrible storm arose and the woman stood clinging to her cabin door in agony. “How long do you think it will last?” she asked the sailor. “It seems likely to last some time, madam.” “Oh!” she cried, “Pray that we may not be lost!” His reply was, “Madam, shall I pray to chance?”
It often seems that sometimes the only way to get us to really pray is for us to experience difficult circumstances. There are many who don’t consider themselves Christians but in a time of crisis will pray to God. This is, for me, the very reason God allows us to experience difficult times; to bring us to a place where we are reminded of our great need for Him. I wonder whether this is where our inbuilt independence gets in the way?
I’d like to read a short prayer to you now. This used to be on the wall in the kitchen at my parents home;
“I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish, I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me and grew heavier with each task;
Why doesn’t God help me, I wondered; He answered, “You didn’t ask.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn’t show me – He said, “But you didn’t seek.”
I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock;
God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.”
I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.”
This prayer gives a great example of what I’m trying to say. We lead such busy lives that we can often overlook the need to pray. There’s no time to do it and as our day gradually deteriorates into chaos we wonder why? It closes with the need to make sure we find the time. We all no doubt have different ways to pray. You may prefer to be in church. You may prefer some quiet time at home. To my mind however you can pray absolutely anywhere. You could be driving to work, on your break, walking to get the children from school or washing the dishes.
Can you remember when mobile phones were first introduced? There was a time early on when people were embarrassed by their mobile phones. We would walk away from groups of people to keep our conversations moderately private. “I can’t talk now I’m on the train.” Nowadays people will sit opposite you on the bus or train discussing their private affairs quite openly. In prayer, we need to have this relaxed attitude. I’m not saying you should get on your knees on the bus but we can increase our prayer time by not being so rigid about “where we pray”. God listens to you wherever you are. The mobile phone to God is always turned on. No matter where you go there is always a full signal, the battery will never go flat and it is totally free of charge!
It is sometimes difficult for me to put my faith or thoughts into context. I need something to help me visualise what I’m thinking. How many of you here have a car and drive? (show of hands ) pretty much most of us. What do you think is the most important part of your car?… comfy seat, stereo, gps, engine? … I believe it’s the steering wheel. The purpose of a car is to get you from one place to another. It can have the best engine and the comfiest seat but if you cannot control the direction you can only go forwards and backwards in a straight line.
Next question. What is the least used part of your car? … the cigarette lighter perhaps, are you environmentally friendly and keep your air conditioning turned off, maybe the GPS because you just can’t figure it out? I think it is something that is generally in the back of the car. Normally covered over in a dark place and forgotten about. It is given no care or attention and not even part of your MOT but when you call upon it you expect it to be there and to work; the spare tyre.
We can apply the same principles to our prayer. Is your prayer something you use every day on every journey and cannot manage without or something you know is there, give scant attention to but will call on it in times of emergency and expect it to work? Let’s remind ourselves of what independence is.
“freedom from the control, influence, support, aid or the like of others”
As Christians we are not independent. We need God’s support. We need God’s influence, aid and control and prayer is the way to get it.
I shall finish with a question.
Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?