I’m a bit deaf and I have tinnitus, so sometimes I misinterpret sound. It can create some surreal images and certainly gives us all a laugh at times. Today I heard a news report that after a decade in league football the Pope has sustained brain injuries, as a result of heading the ball. I replayed the sounds in my mind but I still don’t know what was actually said. My granddaughter walked through in her pj’s one night and declared that she was just going to take a maths exam and then would be painting her head. She also regularly asks me if I want anything from Top of the Pops (I ask for John Lennon and Ray Davies) and other much stranger things. Before you ask, yes, I’ve tried hearing aids but they don’t help – they just add more confusion to the white noise, squeaks and pops. I know my deafness can get a bit tedious for friends, and I do sometimes pretend I’ve heard when I haven’t, making a non-committal sort of response, and hoping for the best. I think I may be turning into my Dad who was so stubborn that when the doctor told him to stop taking his glass of wine every evening, and I said “Oh, Dad, that’s a shame. What are you going to do?” He replied, quick as a flash “Change my doctor.”
I don’t blame him. If you can’t have a drop of wine for your stomach’s sake when you’re 90, it’s a bad do, right enough. Age has to bring some privileges and consolations. And there are definite consolations to being deaf; I appreciate silence now, and even treasure it. It’s a shame I didn’t appreciate it years ago, just as I didn’t appreciate the sky, just as I didn’t appreciate peace. But I’m making up for it now.
It’s been a few days since I blogged, because I’ve been thinking a whole lot about being a disciple, preoccupied with the subject really, but not quite ready to talk about it. In our church we’ve embarked on a year of exploring the full meaning of discipleship, a year for forming small disciple groups, and for being being committed to that way of life.
I want to be a fully committed disciple so much that everything I read and hear seems to resonate with the theme (not entirely deaf, then). I became a Christian when I was 35, but my commitment dwindled away and the world and the daily round took over. I know that for the next thirty years I didn’t grow or mature spiritually. Doldrums. I called myself a Christian but there wasn’t any sign of Christ in my life. This week I was arrested by a simple statement “We are responsible for our own spiritual growth.” That struck me as such an exciting thought. I was brought up as a Catholic and taught the doctrine of sacramental grace, conferred by the priest, earned by attending Mass and going through the sacraments. Now, attending a Baptist Church we sometimes go to the other extreme – speaking as if we can do nothing, take absolutely nothing worth taking to the altar.
I don’t think that’s quite right. We can lay down our hearts and our commitment at the altar, our willingness to be obedient, our commitment to rely on God for everything, and him alone. He doesn’t want our rituals and all the paraphernalia of religion. We are told in Isaiah 1:
‘The multitude of your sacrifices –
what are they to me?’ says the Lord.
‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
But when you love someone you need to give them all you have, all you value. So, what can we take to our God? What can we give to the one we love and worship? Psalm 51:17 tells us;
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
God wants our hearts, our love, our commitment. That’s all. Not deeds or derring-do. Not cleverness or ability or world beating records, or incense or cathedrals. Just us.
My Uncle Frank was a real character, he took to his bed at the age of 50 and spent the next 20 years plus as an invalid. The docs could find nothing wrong with him, but one fine day he just decided that he had a weak heart, and that was it. He believed his own words. For the next quarter of a century 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, it was his to waste, and my aunty thought he was a wonder, his charm and twinkly good humour winning her over completely so that she was always his devoted slave. He was committed to being a helpless invalid and so he became one.
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, but he was convinced he was dying and he was 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 skeletal and dead. He had already received psychiatric care, and no mental illness was detected, no abnormality, apart from this one fixed idea. We considered him deluded but he was right and we were wrong – he died. His commitment to dying never wavered, and so he did.
Commitment holds mighty power. Commitment to a lie is always destructive but commitment to the truth transforms lives for the good.
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
God is committed to our transformation, and when God is involved…. stand back and prepare to be amazed! He will transform you. He will do the good work in you. That is his commitment. Ours is to submit to his teaching, to be his disciples, to follow him faithfully, just as if we were there with him in Israel 2,000 years ago.