Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
So, where did you see God today? A look at the garden from any window will show God’s glory in the daffodils and crocuses blooming. The camellia too is coming into bud. Soon she will be showing off her delicate pink flowers whilst the Pieris on the opposite side of the garden is already arrayed in his bright red bracts. God can be seen there certainly. However, sometimes we see God in the most unexpected places.
Friday is usually the day when people shop for the weekend groceries and etc. Last Friday it was manic in the food supermarket with people everywhere pushing and shoving to get the latest ‘bargains’. As a result the queues to get out were unusually long with customers unloading overflowing trolleys onto the conveyor belts for the bored checkout girls to scan. One older lady in the queue was getting tired having stood for too long already; she really needed to sit down. She had a number of items in her trolley but nowhere near as many as those in front of her. Nevertheless she was prepared to wait, after all she had no option did she? At that point a young shop worker came up to her to suggest that she might use the self-scan machine. “Oh, I don’t know how to use those things! They seem to have a mind of their own” she said. “Don’t worry” replied the girl “You sit down over there and I will put them through for you. I can give you a hand with the packing as well if you like.”
And that is what she did. Now you might say that since she worked in the store it was her duty to help the customers. But, she was not a trained cashier, she had other duties assigned to her within the store; in fact I am not sure that she wasn’t going off for her lunch break. She did not know the lady and did not ask for nor expect a reward. I doubt that the store will recognise her help for a customer. Still she put her own needs aside to assist someone who needed it. It did not take her long to scan the goods and to pack them.
Now, for the fact that she was prepared to help my wife that day I am grateful. Next time we are in the store she will get a bunch of flowers, she deserves that at least!
That was where I saw God on Friday.
“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth: the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:11-13(NIV)
The weather has been remarkably mild over this winter in this part of the country. There has been no snow and little frost; it has been cold, wet and windy, of course but otherwise quite mild. Now winter seems to be more or less over as the author of the verses above from about the 3rd century BC says.
Friday was a particularly bright day which enabled us to do some work in our garden, bringing shrubs into shape and giving the roses their final prune. Now, I can hear some of you at this point saying “Oh no, not the garden again! We had to read about that all last year. Surely he has something new to say!” The simple answer is that this small plot proclaims God’s Will and Word in so many different ways. For example, it reminds us of Our Lord’s words “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. Luke 12:27 (NIV). Again after a hard day’s work in the garden it provides us with the opportunity to “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46.10. (NIV)
I commend those two verses to you as they are worthy of contemplation without going any further. But the lesson I wish to call to your attention is that the garden teaches gratitude.
Gratitude that God has allowed us to see the garden in the Spring of 2016. Gratitude that the plants are flowering once again and the birds making their nests; in other words a reminder that the cycle of God’s Creation is continuing unabated, whatever we humans do to the world. Gratitude to be able to enjoy fully the many good things the garden has to offer. Lastly, gratitude for the fact that Jennifer and I were able to work in the garden together on Friday, as we have done in so many years past. Perhaps not in the same part of the garden, after all we each need our space sometimes, but together nevertheless.
So what did you decide to give up for Lent? After all, it is traditional to give up something, usually chocolate, biscuits, or sugar perhaps. Of course, it is not always easy to give up something which you like or value. Do you have the will power to continue your abstinence until Easter? By the way, how are you getting on with your New Year’s resolutions? Are you still keeping them or have they been consigned to the rubbish heap weeks ago? Why is it so difficult to keep our good intentions? The temptation to give up is always there focussing on our hungers and the fear that we will starve. There is always a battle between some want or desire and the inner conviction that this is not good for me. Even Jesus was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) and so are we, every day.
But, let us suppose that you have resolved to give up your daily chocolate bar for Lent, and that you manage to keep to that resolution. The question then arises, what are you going to do with the time previously spent choosing and eating that favourite chocolate bar? Equally, what are you going to do with the money you have saved?
Since a single chocolate bar might cost around 60p, and if you usually eat a bar a day then over the 40 days of Lent you will have saved £24.00. The temptation is to keep that extra cash in your pocket! But when speaking of fasting, which essentially is what you are doing, the Lord says: Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:1-9 (NIV). So, why not use it to buy a cup of tea for that homeless person .
And what about the time saved not queuing up in the supermarket to buy it in the first place and then consuming it? Will you use it to gaze at your computer screen for a little longer or will you find a quiet place and offer a prayer, talk to God and listen to what He has to say to you. The temptation to do nothing is always there. But you might ask for God’s help to serve Him free from the temptations which are always lurking in the background. A simple prayer will do. Why not pray the words Our Lord Himself taught us, asking God to “lead us not into temptation, but to deliver us from evil”
At his baptism Jesus listened to His Father’s ordaining voice and so was able to overcome the Tempter. In the same way since God loves you so much He wants what is best for you, He will help you battle with your temptations, if you just ask Him, for God will always answer your prayers.
It is just over a year since this blog came into existence and so I think it is time to see where we are, what we have achieved over that time, but also where we are going.
When Steve suggested that I start publishing my own blog my first reaction was a terrified NO! What me? What do I have to say that anyone would want to read? I am not qualified to do anything like that! Then Melanie reminded me that God does not call the qualified – Jesus took on simple fishermen, tax collectors and the like as His disciples – He qualifies the called. Now, I do not claim to be an apostle as those men became but I do know that the words of my blog are God’s words, not mine. Just as He used the simple fishermen to get His message out to the people of the time so God is using me to get His message across on this World Wide Web thing. I have been called to serve God!!!
He has taken the ordinary everyday events in my life, the joys and the sorrows, and He has used the plants and animals in my little suburban back garden to remind us that God is in everything. As the Psalmist says:
"You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy." - Psalm 65: 9-13 (NRSV)
Even so I have often found that having prayed during the week for a subject for the following week’s blog there are still many Monday mornings I have sat staring at a blank white computer screen wondering what God wants me to say. Yet every time God has given me a message that He wants you to hear.
And perhaps that has been the message throughout this year that God is with us in all the mundane everyday affairs of our lives just as He is in the big glorious events.
So what does the future hold in store? Where is God leading us? Well, what is clear is that there is a great deal of evil in the world today – fear, anger, intolerance a lack of concern for our fellow man. That is surely something that God wants us to counter. A couple of weeks ago I asked on whose side you fight. Now is the time to make up your minds shout “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” as the old hymn says. The going may be tough but God is with us now and will be to the end. Thanks be to God
Last week I asked on whose side did you fight in the chaos of this world, on God’s or on Lucifer’s? No doubt everyone shouted “On God’s side, of course!” So the question then is how committed are you to serving in God’s army?
Let me put three scenarios to you. I will start by saying that some of you will be familiar with this approach, of course. However I make no apologies since it does no harm to look constantly at our level of commitment to God.
Do you say as the rich young man said when he asked Jesus what he needed to do to follow Him; “Well, I would like to but I am very comfortable with the things I have around me. After all, I have worked hard all my life to get them and now I just want to enjoy what I have” There is a saying somewhere, that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Is this you? Do you trust God enough to believe that if you gave up all your material wealth He would still provide for you?
In the second scenario you might feel that if you simply pray more often or increase your charitable contributions that will get you into God’s good books. Well, no doubt it will help but is it enough? Are you not simply trying to cut a deal with God?
The third scenario is by far the most difficult since you say simply; “OK God I have no idea where you want me to go or what you want me to do but I leave it up to you. If you wish to take away everything I have, so be it. The most important thing is that I should do what you want.” As the Psalmist said so long ago: Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. (Psalm 115 NIV)
I leave you with the prayer of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years