I wrote a New Year blog yesterday. Took hours over it. It was full of good stuff, bright ideas, wry observations, a bit of self-mockery, a couple of pertinent quotes…. and then, just before I went to bed , ready to post it to you all, I read it for typos. Those sneaky little writing gremlins had been at it while my back was turned and had turned it into a preachy, opinionated and frankly dense essay on nothing in particular. By someone I didn’t like.
I deleted it. My frame of mind, as I trotted off to bed, could be summed up in one small word, ‘bum’.
I don’t really get what’s so great about New Year and why we make such a big song and dance about the second hand clicking onto 12 and the minute hand moving on. But of course we are surrounded by New Year wishes and articles and TV programmes so I’d been affected by Hogmanay nostalgia like everyone else I suppose. And I had been marvelling at what’s happened to me in the last few months and grieving for what has happened to the world, asking God for his perspective on this strange time so that my writing would be calm but relevant, joyful but aware, content but not complacent, assured but not entitled. Dead easy, eh? So how come, at the end of all that thinking and praying, that the blog I’d written was a hotch potch of me, myself and I with quite a lot of worldly advice chucked in, a few random judgments about others, and a skipload of wisdom left out?
It sort of shook me. Not to my core, and not irretrievably, but it was a salutary little ‘watch yourself!’ whispered in my ear. A reminder that if it comes easily, it’s probably facile. These blogs are the only things I can give to the world, because this is now the only way that I can use words to encourage or come alongside others, and when I see one as useless as that one was…. well, it’s a bit unnerving.
While we slept, or maybe while some of us raised a glass, the old year slipped away and the new began. With no help from us! My last conscious prayer was for a new insight into blogging, a new understanding of how to use words to reach others. To be relevant, damn it, for the last years of life. It was a desperate and glum sort of prayer.
With my first cup of coffee this morning, not in any particularly devoted frame of mind, I read the Book of Acts, chapter 2:2
On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place. Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear! Then all at once a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed each one of them. They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned!
Now, at that time there were Jewish worshipers who had emigrated from many different lands to live in Jerusalem. When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from, stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language. Bewildered, they said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? So how is it that we hear them speaking in our own languages? We are northeastern Iranians, northwestern Iranians …………both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs. Yet we hear them speaking of God’s mighty wonders in our own dialects!” They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, “What is this phenomenon?”
I sat there for a long time, just lost in thought. The dogs wanted to be off, the rain clouds were gathering, but I needed to hear what I was being told. I find the Book of Acts, maybe more than any other book in the Bible, pretty hard to engage with, and I’m not particularly prayerful as I read it. The early church was a right old mess – women seemed to do all the financing and organising and men got to do all the glory stuff, then later there was that old couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who were less than truthful and who paid for their sin with their lives and then (even worse) the church father, Peter, gloated as Sapphira discovered that her husband as dead “I hear the footsteps of those who buried your husband at the door—they’re coming here to bury you too!” Peter, Peter, where is your milk of human kindness? On hearing his words she dropped dead. Poor old girl, have some pity. Peter, were you struck dead when you denied Christ with a lie? Not once but three times? No? Then pack it in with the cruelty. Grrr.
Sorry, that’s a bit of a segue. It just irks me. I know it’s there for a reason, I know it’s a historical truth, but it really just itches where I cannot scratch. Anyway, back to the point;
Here at the very beginning of the Book of Acts, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in languages that anyone and everyone could understand, so that everyone heard the Word ‘because each one could hear his or her own language.’
And I realised , with my coffee cooling, and three impatient dogs at my feet, that the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the gift of tongues as some call it, was absolutely and completely what I need in these blogs because it’s not about the language, it’s about reaching out and connecting. And it doesn’t have to be clever or witty or any damn thing – it just has to be the good news. The good news of Jesus. Simple and clear. I need to remember that it’s his news, not mine, that it’s his mission not mine, that he will guide if I walk with him. I need to remember that the gift of the Holy Spirit pours from him to us and out of us to others. The gift isn’t mine to give, it’s his. If I get my part in it wrong sometimes, he will be enough, and he’ll sort out the message for the reader. In him all things hold together, including the words I write.
Still couldn’t quite understand what I was being told. It didn’t gel, you know?
I went to the beach and saw the New Year’s Day swimmers, and met with friends, and the sky was huge and the sea was wet and all that stuff…. lots of laughter and chatting, dogs chasing and barking, but through it all I became conscious of a new and still emerging understanding of words, and tongues and the work of the Holy Spirit, and a new hopefulness. Is that what was stirring? A new hopefulness? I couldn’t wait to get home to finish reading that chapter of Acts.
When the dogs were fed but before coffee, before waffles, before anything else, I went straight back to it, and there I read, quoting a psalm of David
‘I continually see the Lord in front of me.
He’s at my right hand, and I am never shaken.
No wonder my heart is glad and my glory celebrates!
My mouth is filled with his praises,
and I have hope that my body will live
because you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor will you allow your sacred one to experience decay.
For you have revealed to me the pathways to life,
and seeing your face fills me with euphoria!’
That’s me told! The Lord is leading, the Lord is at my right hand, and seeing him will be my everything. This year, last year and for ever.
My prayer for all of you today is that you will continually see the Lord in front of you, and that everyone who reads these funny old mixed bag blogs will come to know the pathway to life, and be filled with praise.
2022, eh? Who would have thought we would be where we are today, with such a strange past behind us and such an exciting future ahead? God took my fat old shoulder by his hand at midnight and gently steered me into a new understanding and hope, and he can do the same for you. He will do the same for you. He’s guiding us all.
He is unchanging, constant, and he loves you with an eternal and sacrificial and jealous love. Think of that for a moment. That’s how much you mean to him. That’s why he lived and died and rose again. So that you would be in him and he would be in you. So that you would be everything to him and he would be everything to you. That’s what ‘jealous love’ means.
Amazing! With every New Year, every passing day, we come nearer to eternity when
‘They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
Maybe that’s what’s so great about New Year. It reminds us that with every tick of the clock we draw nearer to timelessness and God.