I am gradually coming to a realisation that I’m a would-be impetuous person. Yes, a contradiction in terms but one that I can’t help but shake.
Currently I live in York, I work in Hull and I study in Birmingham. These three things are wonderful as opportunities and experiences but, six months into a pattern of life that will be mine for the next 18 I find it incredibly frustrating not to be able to be more proactive for God.
The wonderful thing about being a Christian is belonging to the church but the greater thing about our faith is the ability to live a life of transformation and engaged with people. Unfortunately, with a working day that starts at 7am and ends at 7pm I don’t get much chance to be with non-Christians.
The world is in a bad state but at least outside Europe and North America the church, and God’s people, are flourishing. That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of incredible faith, love, hope and all the rest of it but it is to say that I want to get stuck in. Being a Christian is an awesome privilege, we get to be God’s hands and feet, to bring His smile, and to show people what relationship with Jesus Christ looks like.
Not if you don’t get out much. Not if your social life revolves around seeing Christians. Not if the only times you leave your house on a midweek are for meetings.
And that’s rather the shape of my life at the moment.
Now, I’m not new to being a Christian, I’m solidly brought up in the faith. I’ve heard all the classic speakers, I own everything Delirious ever produced and for years I’ve been looking forward to a moment where God would make it blatantly obvious where I should go to live my life.
But I seem to spend my life as a Christian torn. Torn between a heart for a student-aged culture that’s full of pain that shouts loudly to me for an immediate reaction, for an engagement that is meaty and for a voice that is loud to point to Jesus and to bring restoration to a culture of sex and alcohol. Or with a heart that is broken for the needs of the Global South, ashamed of our plenty and our merciless greed.
But where was God pointing me? Funding was there for a masters in development, and I was offered a place on the course, but that squeezed out the opportunity to ‘do mission’. The year was incredible but is essentially 12 months of theology (good development practice built on valuing people as they are and working alongside them in relational community with a focus on reconciliation and healing). And, at the end of it, the sense is palpably that God is saying ‘why run to the next street when people on your doorstep are hurting?’
Why do I need to go overseas to partner with people in their transformative experiences? I don’t. The truth is, and not to denigrate anyone who works internationally, that for me to work in an alien culture requires me to shelve much of who I am whilst bringing little more than someone indigenous and, generally, costing more to do so. If I’m really passionate about seeing the world transformed (which I am) then why am I not engaged with a society I understand, that speaks the same language, that eats the same food, that is where the future (and the past) of my family is and, maybe most importantly, is subject to predictably unpredictable weather patterns.
So, a year wasted?
Then a year of preparing to be wed. And a great time of sloth. Yes there was much to be done but I still had plenty of time to Bonus Bag to pay for an awesome honeymoon. Did I sell God short, given the opportunity of a fallow year to really get stuck into issues that I care about but really just temping and living a fairly dull and boring life?
Of course I was applying for work and here again God’s throwing me a curve ball.
Jobs come up, I apply. I’m excited by the thought of working at St Mike’s but, quite rightly, I don’t have the right skill set. I apply for a job at the university to do the work I’ve done many times during holidays but don’t even get an interview to be a porter. A job at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation seems like development but based in the UK. Again, no response, no feedback, no nothing. And then the job in Hull. A graduate scheme in one of the most ill-thought-of cities in the country. And I’m excited. I’m excited by the hope shown by an authority wanting to transform the lives of its citizens. I’m excited at the prospect of being part of a transformative agenda, an agenda that embodies so much of Jesus in its very being. And I get past the telephone interview, past the assessment centre, and to an interview where a member of the panel is a Christian and well-known to be a Christian.
God’s all over it. And that’s incredible.
But now, six months in and I’ve got itchy feet. I don’t feel able to engage in York and I don’t feel that the work I’m doing in Hull is really seeing lives transformed. I feel a sense of powerlessness, of being the middle man between people and central government, unable to influence policy, unable to ensure that justice, mercy and humility are at the centre of everything that is done.
And of course in that I betray the fact that really I want to make a difference. That as a Christian who believes in the redemption of all things and the supremacy of love and hope in all circumstances I can’t just sit on the sidelines. I can’t just get on a train in the morning, sit in an office passing time until I come home in the evening. Lives need to be changed. Hearts need to know the joy of salvation. Minds need to know the peace of Jesus’ love.
Life seems to be slipping through my fingers. I get up, I go to work, I come home. Sometimes during that week I’ll leave the house, mostly to go to church.
Whatever God’s up to it’s certainly taking longer than I’d like it to. I want action. I don’t want to be in Winter. I don’t really even want to be in Spring. I want to be in Summer. I want to see people’s lives blossoming, to see their hearts flourishing and to see our communities turn to Christ.
But do you know, it’s not inertia is it. All the way through this writing I’ve seen God’s hand, I’ve seen him on me. I’ve seen and known him bring Christine into my life, to give me a year to spend preparing to be married to the woman I want to spend forever with. He’s given me 2 years in Hull and her years to do her Phd while we grow in love for each other, in love for God and in knowledge and understanding of the world.
My masters has taught me a great deal, six months in Hull and I know much more. It’s not inertia it’s just preparation.
I can’t hack it sometimes. I fear that all this explaining away of waiting is simply an excuse for inertia, a reason not to do something, a justification for prayer not action yet all the time the world is crying out to know its Saviour. I worry that I’ll wind up in 50 years having sat on the sidelines taking each experience and ‘learning’ from it but completely missing the point in what God is saying.
But maybe that’s what waiting for God is all about. Moses had to be well and truly broken before he was blessed; Abraham was an old man but God told him he’d father a great nation beloved of the Lord; Joseph had a dream as a boy but it wasn’t for years and years that it was fulfilled.
I’ve realised something as I’ve written this. I’ve thought of this as inertia, and that really means I don’t trust God to come through for me. It means I reckon things are slipping away without my control and that surely, something different to this would serve Him better. Waiting on God means that you know that God knows best. It means that you trust him to take you by the hand because he knows where you’re going. He’s drawn the map, and he’s not going to fast track you along shortcuts because he knows the snickleways. The journey might be slower but taking that route is much more enriching.
Kick back, enjoy, I’ve got all of eternity with Him, for now Lord grant me patience to wait on you, to seek you and to serve you where I am.