My Uncle Frank was a loveable character. He married Frances, and his brother Gerard married her sister Mary, so two brothers married two sisters. Frances died young, in her thirties I think, and her sister Mary (my mum) died soon after. The two brothers were left with children to bring up and both married again (according to disapproving relatives they did so scandalously quickly) . But something had happened to Frank, something deep and chronic. Maybe he was shaken by the fragility of life or maybe he was just plain bone idle, I don’t know, but soon after his second marriage he took to his bed and stayed there for 30 years, as an invalid. One fine day he just decided that he had a weak heart, and that was that! Nothing was wrong with his heart, it beat steadily and strongly until he was an old, old man, but his belief was unshakeable. For the next thirty years he lived in comfortable luxury, upstairs, with a radio and – later- a TV, eating heartily as his wife waited on him from morning till night, entertaining friends and family regally from a mound of pillows. No one made a fuss about the wasted life, reasoning that it was his to waste, and his new wife thought he was a wonder, his charm and good humour winning her over completely. He was committed to being a helpless invalid and so he became one, wasted his life and wore out his family.
When I was a student nurse we had a man of about 40 brought in to our medical ward, a merchant seaman, who had decided to die and to die soon. There was nothing physically wrong with him – he was put through weeks of tests of every conceivable kind. His appetite was normal, he drank normally, he helped around the ward, we all became fond of him and he seemed to like us too, but he was convinced he was dying and he was certainly losing weight at an alarming rate. Fading away as we looked on helplessly. Here’s the thing – he wanted to die so resolutely that he did. In a couple of months this fit, youngish, strong man, was too weak to walk. He had already received psychiatric care, and no mental illness was detected, no abnormality, apart from this one delusion. He had no family, no long term friendships because of his life style, moving from boat to boat, so he had nothing to tie him to this life, nothing to lose but life itself, and although he showed no signs of being in a low mood, his commitment to dying was stronger than anything medical science could do. His commitment to dying never wavered, and so he died.
Commitment is powerful. It can transform life. Commitment to a lie is always destructive but commitment to the truth transforms lives for the good.
I’ve blogged before about the book “Shaped By The Word” but here I go again: In the Bible there is truth. Only truth. The Bible is the one source of guidance and wisdom that we can rely on, and it’s the only one. I mean that. However wise a human being is, however trustworthy a teacher is, however honest a politician is, however well-meaning a friend is, the Bible is the only source of wisdom that is forever and unshakeably true. The Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, alive and active in the the heart of the reader, is the only part of life that we can wholeheartedly commit to. And that commitment to the Word will transform us. We will be shaped by the Word.
For the last five years I’ve had my quiet time, sometimes my Bible reading, on the local beach. This week, when we were talking about prayer time and stuff like that, I was asked why the beach was so important to me. But here’s the thing: where I have my quiet time with God is not important to me. Last year when I had sciatica my quiet time was spent standing up and leaning on the back of a chair with my Bible propped on the cooker … and God was there. If I move back to Derby I may have my prayer time in Markeaton Park, or walking around the beautiful Carsington Water, or – who knows? – I may even have a garden to sit in! The ‘where’ is not what’s important. What’s important in our spiritual life is our commitment to seek God, and we know that when we seek him with all our heart we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13) . What is commitment? It’s exactly that, doing stuff with ‘all our heart’.
All our heart. That includes prayer. Prayer doesn’t just happen. Prayer ‘with all our heart’ is delightful, amazing, searching, revelatory, awesome, terrible and wonderful. You don’t get all those things by accident! Stepping into all those states of mind and submission and love, takes commitment. It takes all our heart. It’s creative and it’s a process, but it’s not hard labour. If it’s hard labour, there’s something wrong because when we pray we aren’t alone, we are with and in the Spirit of God, and he is in us. He is enabling us. He is taking us further than we go on our own. He’s the enabler, we are not the achievers! He makes our commitment precious and fulfilling and when we feel our commitment weakening, if we turn to him, he will strengthen us.
As I drive down to the beach each morning, a five minute journey of nearly two miles, manoeuvring around the milkman (he’s a crazy crazy driver), the school bus, the town bus, cars, bikes and dog walkers, I’m acutely conscious of where I’m going, and why. There’s no rush. I’m going to a quiet place, it could be any quiet place, to give the day fully to God. It’s a drive stepping into a vulnerable state, an open and ready state of mind. I love those minutes. As I turn the bend at the top of Webley Hill and see the estuary and the breaking waves below (and the rain and the trees blown flat by the gale), there’s a sense of anticipation and excitement but also commitment. This is his time.
I am stepping into his time. Vulnerable and ready. Committing myself to search for him, knowing that I will find him. Ooh, that sounds a bit mystical , and you know I’m no mystic. I don’t spend hours and hours in a state of heightened awareness. This is me, Luce. You know I’m not like that. But here’s the thing, because I commit that time -however long or short – to God, because I submit to him and only him, it doesn’t matter that I also have three dogs to keep an eye on, and people to greet, and swimmers to watch. None of that detracts from the commitment that this time, this day, this life, is his. Not mine. His. As friends walk away, and Pip chases birds, I turn to God, knowing that he’s there. Has always been there. I don’t always know it emotionally, but I have committed to the knowledge that he is there, and that he will never leave me.
My Uncle Frank and that merchant seaman both experienced the power of commitment and what they put their trust in destroyed them. I want to have only one unshakeable commitment in my life, and that is to God, so every morning, I snatch a few minutes to renew that commitment and the ‘where’ doesn’t matter, not one jot.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
He will bring a good work to completion in me.
Aren’t you glad?
I’m not going to be like this for ever! There’s hope for me yet. With his help, I’ll get there. With his help, so will you.