“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made,” writes the apostle Paul. “But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.” (Philippians 3:12).
Every so often something happens which makes me realise that I am just scratching the surface of the Christian life, that I still am in the slow learners group.
I have just started to read, at the suggestion of Pete Spiers, vicar of St Luke’s Crosby, Mark Stibbe’s book Breakout (Authentic Media, 2008). I have a very high regard for Mark – an excellent Bible expositor, he knows his stuff and for what it is worth, an excellent academic pedigree. An easy read (simple words and short paragraphs but no pictures) the book is about how as the new vicar he reworks the ministry of St Andrew, Chorleywood, the church which, under his predecessor David Pytches, gave us New Wine.
It’s the opening chapter which made me stop and think, how God guided him to leave his church in Sheffield after just three years and go to St Andrew’s. Stibbe writes how in a time of prayer he was given first a vision of a stag and then a Bible reference to an unfamiliar passage from the Songs of Song (which just happened – he didn’t realise it when the verse came to him – to include a stag). Then a series of remarkable events which assured him of God’s direction to Chorleywood. And stags kept appearing. Strange.
And I thought God doesn’t give me visions like that nor direction to particular Bible references without knowing the content nor do people come to me with God-given messages. (Actually they do but I don’t usually realise it at the time! Often they don’t either.)
I have always been wary of dreams and visions, although Stibbe – no religious weirdo – did check these out. And they were clearly part of a pattern which in hindsight (no pun intended) showed God at work.
Not that he had an easy ride – I am still in the early chapters which relate how he mishandled the opening months of his ministry at St Andrew’s.
But it is so easy to think that we have sussed out the Christian life, that we have covered most of the ground. When in fact, we had hardly started and there are whole continents of the Holy Spirit’s ministry we haven’t even sighted.
Sometimes that is all we need to know, that we need to know more, very much more, of Christ and the power of his resurrection – “reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.” For at the end of the day it is the risen Christ who reveals himself to us. It is simply a case of giving him room and opportunity, eyes open to see and ears alert to listen. Just like a child. If we are to live lives of New Testament discipleship, this is no less than the normal Christian life.