A week ago, I asked a 13 year old, on her birthday, what she would like to do as an adult, and she answered “I would like to be an influencer.”
I asked her what sort of influence she would wish to have and, remembering that this was her 13th birthday, I’m sure you can imagine what she said; she would like people to be kind and good and gentle, not mean or judgmental. She would like to encourage them to like themselves, to know that they’re lovely, whatever they look like or sound like, or however they feel and whatever their lives are like. She would like to influence them to be kind to animals and to be careful with the environment.
Not a bad ambition. It beats “I would like to be a pop star” but it did feel like a conversation with piety personified. Perversely, I wanted to ask “Why don’t you want to be a formula one driver? Where’s the ambition to glide over the Alps with a jet pack strapped to your back, or to camp out in Antartica, or to sit in the rainforest with gorillas? How about going over Niagara Falls in a barrel? ” I even bit back the more personal (attainable) ones “Wouldn’t you like to live on a boat, as I did, or camp out on Christmas Eve in snow, as I did, or come off a motorbike going down Charing Hill, or be in a plane as it crash-landed, or fall out of a sculling boat on a freezing February day (yeah, yeah, as I did), or lose power in a motorboat in a busy shipping lane, or meet the Queen or…” She would have looked at me as if I was mad.
You know, my life has been wonderfully mad. You might think that it’s hard for me now to slip into a life that’s sane and sensible. Too right, mate, it is! Often, often, it really is. But my life is still strangely and wonderfully – and quietly – exciting. No barrels required, no motorbikes or boats or planes. Sometimes the smallest things are more thrilling than any death defying parachute jump;
I came back from my dog walk and paddle yesterday with very sandy feet. I’d already showered when I woke up, so while the dogs wolfed down their breakfast I stepped into the cubicle and directed the shower rose at just my feet. It made me think of Jesus, washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:10 ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean…’ and I remembered a sermon I heard probably some months ago, and in that moment, washing the sand of the Irish Sea from my feet, I was there, with Christ, two thousand years past. And I absolutely understood! I had understood the sermon on the day, and benefited from it, but maybe it hadn’t quite ‘hit home’. And now it did. And how!
What did he say to the disciples? ‘And now you are clean…’ I watched the sand swirling away and felt a growing elation. I’m having a few spiritual tussles right now and I know that I’m not always making the right choices, not always turning to God as I should… but I watched the sand as it was washed away, and for that moment I really was standing there, with God.
I’ve embarked on a distance learning course on the Bible, and the very first module warns against adopting a Bible verse out of context and claiming it as uniquely or specifically relevant to our lives today. Warns against putting a bias on it to suit our own desire and to make it all about ME.
Was I guilty of this error? I padded, wet foot, to my desk, and looked up the whole incident… Jesus teaching a life lesson in a simple act of service. The reading, together with the sermon I remembered, came together. Fabulous realisation, wonderful, life-giving truth! If we belong to God, if we have already gone to him with all our brokenness and sin and humanity, and asked sincerely for forgiveness, claimed his sacrifice, submitted our lives to him… we are clean. Clean as clean. Head to toe, clean. Forgiven. Our faults and sins gone, as if they never were. But then we live on.. we wake up the next day in a bad mood, or feel unloved, or are no one’s priority, or we’re short tempered or selfish or … a thousand other human flaws…. and we are no longer clean. Our feet have stumbled. We’re in the doo-doo. So then we step out of that and into …. contrition. We turn again to Jesus and we ask his forgiveness, and we learn by the experience, and we are clean…. until the next time.
I get it. Daily humility. Daily reckoning. Loved and owned and claimed, however faltering. And his love more than compensates, his forgiveness heals, cleans, restores. And we grow more and more humble, more and more thankful, more and more assured. Paradox, eh? The weaker we are, the stronger God’s influence becomes in us. I really did understand it when I heard the sermon, but sometimes it takes time for a truth to inhabit us, heart, mind and soul..
Isn’t that paradox exciting? Isn’t that more breath-taking than some crashing, pounding, soaking, shattering plunge down a waterfall in an old beer barrel? It is! Isn’t that more exciting than crash landing at Orly airport with a wing on fire? It is! Isn’t it more life-affirming than trotting to Buckingham Palace to queue up for a handshake and a pink medal? It bloody well is!
God makes me spanking shiny clean every day. I wasn’t just dipped and rinsed and made squeaky clean 30-something years ago. I am new every morning. I am new every time I falter and realise and turn to God in submission and a kind of joy. ‘Joy’? When I’ve sinned? Paul would have something to say about that (Romans 6:1) but you know what I mean – sorrow that I’ve stumbled but fabulous joy that God is waiting to welcome me home. Relief and gratitude.
God’s love is unending, unvarying. Your life might be dull and lonely, you may feel that no one cares, that you are no one’s priority, you may struggle with mental health or marital or financial worries…. all these things are real. Horribly real. But more real, more powerful, more immediate than any of these emotions and thoughts, is God. He holds all things together, and that’s ALL things. He holds the Moon and the Sun and the Earth, and you and me. He is omnipresent and timeless, he is here and now. With me as I sit in the lamplight at my desk, with you wherever and whenever you read this. Know that God loves you. Now and always.
God is love. He loves you. Regardless of your circumstance, regardless of your role in life, regardless of the lifetime of sin behind you and the sin you just committed, and whether you’re 90 and ready to bow out, or 13 years old and up for a lifetime of adventure, He loves you.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16