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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Wrong Book



Not surprisingly, given they have me as a mother, my girls love books. We have shelves full of them at home and still go to the library to borrow others every fortnight. One of the favourites that always seems to be borrowed if it’s on the shelves is called ‘The Wrong Book’, hence I’m pretty sure all three of us can quote it. Word for word.

It’s about a boy named Nicholas Ickle, who is trying very hard to tell a story. Dressed in his top hat and suit, he begins proudly…

“My name is Nicholas Ickle and this book is about—”

Only he gets interrupted. On every page.

First an elephant walks by. “This book is not about elephants! Go away. You’re in the wrong book!” Then a couple of monsters. “This book is not about monsters! Go away. You’re in the wrong book!” Then everything from a puppet to a flurry of rats to a queen and her entourage. Poor Nick tries to hold it together, telling them to go away before patiently (and then not so patiently!) beginning again with his introduction, but to no avail. My girls think it’s hilarious.

I found myself sounding a lot like poor Nicholas Ickle last week.

My youngest daughter had been sick with a vomiting bug the previous day and though she was definitely on the mend, I was still lying in bed, late at night, worrying. I was trying to pray, and I’d been doing pretty well, until the doubts started creeping in. My prayers went something like this…

“God, I know you’re with her and you’ve got it all under control and I can trust you with her while I sleep and you know how much I desperately need sleep right now and … what if she throws up again while she's sleeping and chokes? What if I’m too tired from being up with her last night and don’t hear her cry? No, you’re being silly, Hannah. God’s got her in his hands and he’s got you as well. You know you can trust him. Yep, I can trust him. Definitely trust him. Thanks God. I’m going to sleep now. Oh, but what if….?”

And around and around I went. Totally trusting God. Totally freaking out.

It took me a little while (okay, maybe it was a long while) to realise that it was my exhaustion which was causing all the trouble. I didn’t usually have trouble trusting God. I was just tired. And, of course, being tired just makes everything seem a hundred times worse than it really is.  She was fine, had been all day. I needed to stop stressing and go to sleep.

It was then that my ‘prayer’ started changing – and sounding strangely similar to Nicholas Ickle.

“Go away doubt! You’re in the wrong life. Go away fear! You’re in the wrong life…”

It made me wonder how many times I let doubt, fear, bitterness, lies and so many other things like them stop my story when I, like Nicholas, should be telling them to go away.

How many times have I let fear stop me from doing what God asked? Or let doubt make my decision rather than faith? How often do I listen to the lies the devil tells me rather than God’s truth?

There’s nothing wrong with fear or doubts. Fear can drive us closer to God as we lean on his strength rather than ours. Doubts can drive us to a deeper faith than we ever thought possible. But when I let them stop me from living this story God is writing in my life, then it’s time to tell them they’re in the wrong place. Physically put a name to what’s stopping us from living God’s story and tell it to get out of our lives.

Nicholas Ickle never got to tell his story. The book ran out of pages before he did. But, unlike Nicholas Ickle, our stories are still going and we have the chance to choose what we let in and kick out of them. It might not be easy (doubts, like elephants, can be pretty hard to move) but it’ll be worth it.

Because God has given every one of us a story worth telling.





Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Why Would a Sane Adult Bother with Church?



I grew up in church. I was seven days old the first time I went and attended every Sunday, usually more than once, from that point on. It didn’t take all that much thought. Sunday equals church. And I loved it.

Then life changed, as it does. Among other things, I moved a fair distance away from the church I’d always attended and had kids who always seemed to choose the weekends to get sick. Someone challenged me on why it was so important to me to be there each week and I had no good answer. “Because it’s what you do on Sundays” didn’t seem like a good enough reason. I kept going, both to the church I’d grown up in and one a lot closer to home, but I also kept wondering why. I still loved church and still desperately wanted to be there each week. I just didn’t know why.

Christmas is always a busy time of year and this past one was particularly so. Between Christmas itself, holidays, sickness and family visiting from various parts of Australia, Sundays just seemed to keep passing me by. For three months. Three months of 10am Sunday going by, thinking of the fact that church was happening, and I wasn’t there.

I finally got back to church a fortnight ago after three very long months away. You should have seen how giddy I was with excitement getting ready. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to church! I don’t think I stopped grinning the entire service.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t spent time with God in all that time, or listened to worship music or anything like that. I’d even heard some sermons. But there was something so exciting about actually being there in the building.

The excitement wasn’t even about meeting God there. He’d been with me, close by me, that whole time I’d been away. The excitement was purely about the people. Spending time with other Christians. The very visible reminder that in this crazy Christian life, I’m not alone.

I can ‘do’ the Christian life – spend time with God, find my worth and encouragement in him, grow in my relationship with him, read book after book…  With the amount of great teaching books available, the internet and its millions of podcasts, sermons and worship sessions and even full church services streamed online, it’d be easy to never have to go to a physical church again. I could do it, as I’m sure many people do. I certainly wouldn’t turn away from God. But I’d be lonely.

The truth is, I need the encouragement of others. I need that reminder that I’m not alone.

That girl struggling like me to understand why God doesn’t answer our deepest heart prayers.

The admission of a guy who, like me, still wants to be in control despite constantly trying to give it over to God.

The kids crying beside me and their parents doing the best they can parenting them, all the while wondering if anything they do or say will ever be enough.

One woman crying as her heart breaks in prayer; another whose smile beneath closed eyes makes me wonder what words of approval and love God is whispering to her heart.

The ninety-year-old man who’s been faithfully following God three times longer than I’ve been alive and whose prayers and excitement about heaven leave me awestruck.

The mums up the back feeding their babies and trying so hard to keep little ones occupied that they haven’t heard a word of the sermon. But they’ve been together.

Hearing story after story of lives changed and struggles overcome and knowing that if God could do that in that particular person, he could do the same in me.  

I need church. Not for my relationship with God, but for me. For my own faith and encouragement. To remind me that in this upside-down Christian life – where servanthood is valued above prestige and faith so often defies human logic – I’m not alone. I love standing alongside all these people and worshiping God together. It feels like a glimpse into heaven. I appreciate the sermons, but it’s the people I cherish, even if I don’t even know all their names. God does, and that's all that matters. 

I know a lot of people who don’t believe church is important – both Christians and non-Christians. They claim it’s full of hypocrites and idiots and people they don’t agree with. Crying kids and bad music distract them. That lady’s too over-the-top-welcoming to be real (and therefore must be faking it). They learn better on their own. The pastor doesn’t know what he’s talking about… And the list goes on.

Maybe I’ve wondered on occasion, when faced with hurtful people or when I spent the entire time outside with my own crying child whether it really was.

It is.

Why? Because I’m as broken and messed up as they are, and it’s the encouragement of knowing I’m not alone that makes all the difference.

Churches aren’t perfect. They never will be. There will always be something, or someone, you don’t agree with. But whether it’s a congregation of ten people or a thousand, held in a backyard or a cathedral, has a band leading the music, a lone guitar or people singing badly along with a cd, we need church because we need each other.

Extrovert or introvert, we were never meant to do life alone.