Nearly morning

Romans 13: 10 – 14

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Sleep. What a wonderful, beautiful thing we get to do every night. While our bodies recharge, it takes us to warm happy oblivion, or a field of flowers, or a flight over our favourite city, or whatever you dream about, until the alarm punctures its membrane and pulls us awake. It can take a while for us to get our bearings, and reluctantly give up the dream we were just in.

Who wants to get up? Who would? Especially at this time of year, if like me you live in the southern hemisphere. The icy dark winter mornings are not exactly inviting. And the dream can be so lush, and the bed so warm, that getting up is the last thing you want to do. It’s cosy and comforting here. It’s cold outside. We’ll have to do stuff once we get up. Let’s just stay here as long as we can.

The funny thing about staying in bed longer than you need to, in my experience, is that it seems to get less comfortable as time passes. I find myself wriggling round to find a good spot. When I try to lie-in, I rarely get back to sleep unless I’m ill.

For a while I’ve been in a state not unlike sleep. I know this because I am starting to wake up. In the same way that we don’t realise we’re dreaming until morning comes and we have to face the fact that we don’t actually have the power of flight. Only I’m having the reverse experience.

Let me explain.

Years ago I was much less reserved in my Christian expression. I didn’t preach on street corners or anything like that, but I probably came across as a bit, er, eccentric. References to God seasoned a lot of my conversations. I hung out with other slightly eccentric believers. I spent a lot of time praying and reading Scripture. Cool things happened. People got emotional and sometimes physical healing. We listened carefully for God and He let us see him work in spectacular ways.

We moved house. And then we moved again. And I fell asleep. Not immediately, not completely. But something took my focus off Jesus and put it onto making things comfortable for the people around me. I allowed the structures and traditions of the worship and churches we became part of to shape my expression and my expectation. Both became restrained and restricted. And swaddled by the comforting structures of codified worship, I drifted off to sleep.

Since the fire, and perhaps for some time before then, God has been sounding the alarm in his gently insistent way. He’s showing me what to repair and what to throw out. Priorities to re-set. Idols to destroy, like pain, fear and pride. I want to protect myself from being hurt. I have anxieties about what people can accept, about getting things wrong. I don’t want to look foolish. But I know that in God my life finds full expression, and that in God its fullest expression is more than I have allowed myself to experience. In the last few weeks, I have been seeking out opportunities to rebuild the lost connection and I have found him waiting to receive me and satisfy my thirst.

So I’m awake and I’m getting up.


Day 10. Pretty quiet.

Yep. It’s been pretty quiet round here since I started my Lent discipline of not complaining. Following that principle of ‘if you have nothing positive to say, say nothing’, I have been a whole lot quieter of late. I have also noticed how much I usually find to complain about. I won’t pretend I haven’t slipped up – sometimes very badly – but on the whole, I think I am managing to keep a fairly firm grip on my tongue.

And there’s the rub. What comes out is purely an expression of what’s inside. And for this attempt to stop complaining to be sustainable, it’s the inside that needs to change. I realise I need Jesus to help me with this. As with every significant behavioural change I have successfully made in my life, I can’t really take credit for anything other than a sometimes grudging willingness to become a different version of myself. To be upgraded, so to speak. It’s God who does the work. And He does it at my pace, not His. He doesn’t force things on me but as I mature, I find Him showing me areas that need work. My old ways, my childish ways, are no longer sufficient. Just as growing children find each birthday brings not only presents and celebrations but new responsibilities and expectations. And just as parents try to show how to meet these, God also steps in to help me with the changes I need to make.

Like when I gave up smoking. Not that I was a heavy smoker. I rarely smoked more than 2 cigarettes a day in the last year of my habit. But I needed them both. Daily. I had eventually to admit to myself that each failure to crack the habit was a sign that I needed help. But I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I really had a problem. I had also made a pact with myself not to smoke beyond the age of 30. But the night before that birthday, I had to face the fact that I wouldn’t be able to simply stop the next day. Not without either divine assistance or hypnosis. (I will always choose divine assistance over hypnosis. Just so you know). So I essentially handed my cigarettes over to Jesus and asked him to look after them for me. And guess what. He hasn’t given them back. The physical addiction was relatively quickly dealt with, though the psychological one took a while longer.  And yes of course I had my moments of failure. But Jesus helped me get back on track.

So fast forward now, to no complaining. To the new, quieter me.

At this point in writing this post, my computer switched itself off without warning to install some updates. The whole screen went blank. I couldn’t believe it. Then I thought, this is like a metaphor for what God’s Holy Spirit is doing in me a bit at the moment. I am shut down. In my attempts to do or be better I am silenced by the stuff inside me that needs sorting out. The one who put me together is giving me an update. There is, apparently, teaching in every moment. When my laptop eventually switched itself on again, I was relieved to see it had autosaved the first part of this post, which I had already mentally waved goodbye.

Like the computer, I’m sure I will be switched on again with some new language to replace the old, just as my laptop is greatly enhanced in ways I cannot yet see but know I will notice in due course. I’m looking forward to it.


A quaint word, perhaps an outdated concept. It means something like moral excellence, or goodness. And who wants to be good, when everything we watch or read tells us to be clever, or successful, or rich, or thin instead. All these other goals are shiny. All these other ambitions are cool. Goodness? Not cool.

Well, I disagree. Maybe it’s another symptom of the ageing process, like using slang that’s 20 years old, and reading at arm’s length, and being surprised that middle-aged people are the same age as me. But I think that virtues like kindness and gentleness and self-control, yes even that one, are cool. Great assets for building a life with meaning and depth.

The Bible is full of lists of virtues that Christians are encouraged to cultivate. Recently I came across a relatively short list of these in a letter Paul wrote to one of the early groups of believers.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3 v 12 )

A more famous example, often quoted at Christian weddings and at my own, is the passage on love, which Paul describes as the greatest virtue to cultivate because

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ( 1 Corinthians 13 v 4-8)

These are beautiful characteristics and I frankly would love them to become part of my nature. But they can seem so far away that perhaps it’s easier to simply forget about them. What puts them within reach for me is Jesus, who by the holy spirit changes believers like me from onlookers admiring these qualities like paintings in a gallery, to people who gradually achieve a greater degree of them and display them in their lives. Of course I haven’t got there. But I’m having a go and God is helping me, very patiently, to learn to practise these disciplines.

History is full of the positive, lasting achievements of people of great character. Of course I’m not just talking about Christians here – Christians have no monopoly on virtue. Jesus himself tells a story about a good Samaritan – the equivalent to a contemporary Christian audience of the good Muslim – whose character generated a compassionate and loving response to the victim of a vicious mugging.

Virtue doesn’t always look great, draw applause or even raise a smile. Sometimes it is despised, ignored or criticised. Patience can be seen as weakness, gentleness as naivety, kindness and compassion can raise suspicion and  even offend; humility is often seen as lack of self-esteem. But these are strong virtues that will help me towards the kind of life I want to live. It means listening more than talking, caring more than needing to be right, taking time to understand and to dignify others, and yes, it’s how I also want to be treated.

The Bible has many, many lists of virtues to be cultivated and vices to be got rid of. It is surely impossible to do any of that on my own. And it’s a daunting prospect. But with God all things are possible. It’s not what I do for God that counts; it’s not about chalking up a load of achievements, but it’s about letting my character be shaped by the company I keep. So I’m trying to stay close to Jesus, the virtuous one, to learn how to live a virtuous life by studying his life. And I’m trying to listen to the prompts and reminders and encouragements of the holy spirit, who keeps pointing me towards the virtuous life of God and away from myself and my nonsense.