I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to you all for your love, help, support and prayers for me over the last few weeks. As you know, on the 30th September I was told that there was a growth on one of my vocal chords. About ten days ago they discovered some more on the same chord – and I am undergoing surgery this Wednesday (4th November) in the morning at Basingstoke Hospital. I’d appreciate your prayers for the continued peace of God throughout this time. I will be unable to speak at all for just under a week and my preaching engagements have been cancelled until the end of the year. This will be the longest time I have gone without preaching in 22 years! I will be ‘up and at ’em’ in the New Year though.
Things we don’t choose but have to deal with.
Obviously I would rather this was not happening to me – and part of me has been frustrated about the timing of these events and the surgery – but in it all I know a deep, deep sense of the peace and the purposes of God. I will be keeping those who want to be updated informed via the blog – as speaking will be difficult – so you can keep in touch with me here directly on the blog or via Facebook – your choice as my blog is fed to my Facebook pages anyway. There are loads of things in our lives we would not choose to happen – but have to deal with. Some of my friends battle with MS and cancer. Some of my congregation have to make an effort just to survive every day. Yet their lives reflect a beauty and a power and an intensity that many of us can only be left speechless by. I wouldn’t choose to have had my wife struggle with her health over the last ten years, or my son battle a lung condition, or my father drop dead – but they happened. I can’t (won’t!) pretend that these challenges were easy, nor will I ‘confess them into unreality’ which is what some folk would like me to do.
Whether we like it or not, life hits us with unexpected ‘stuff!’ We can’t just close our eyes and wish for something different and call it ‘faith’! Nor should we wallow in a defeatist place where we think nothing can change – that is just fatalism. Surely the Christian response to ‘stuff happening’ is to remember the power of God at work in our lives and remind ourselves that our ‘victory’ is not dependent upon external events or circumstances – but instead is solidly grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Where is God in this?
I have had thousands of people praying for me – and it is so humbling and wonderful to know that so many people care – thank you. What is slightly befuddling is the way in which so many people praying can be praying such different things! Some believe this to be an attack of the devil to shut me up, others believe it to be a rebuking work of God because of overwork. So on the one hand I’ve had people praying that the surgery won’t be required and on the other people praying that I will be silent for a long period of time (!) What do you do when people seem to pray contradictory things? Well, my view has been simple – if people want to pray – then I am just grateful for your prayers. Pray as you feel led and God will sort out the way in which He answers. I am open to receiving a word of encouragement, support, rebuke or comfort from any who know Him and know me and welcome prayer from any saint of God – His Spirit lives in you as much as me, so pray as you feel directed. He will sort it out. You pray as you feel led – but that doesn’t mean that you are praying the same thing as me! God is the ultimate power and the One who decides how he will answer and when. I am content to leave the challenge of sorting out the ‘why’s’ and the ‘wherefores’ and the answers with him. I’m more in love with God than I have ever been, I am hungrier for more of his reality in my life than I have ever been – and I trust him to do what is right in his own perfect timing. In the midst of all the questions I know I am held in the hands of the answer – and that is enough.
That being said, I do have a sense of what God is saying to me in this. Fundamentally I believe in and trust God’s sovereignty. Nothing can happen in my life that is beyond his control. What may have started as an attack of the enemy can be used as a blessing from the Lord (Joseph the Patriarch got it right you know – what others intend for harm, God can use for good). I believe that the surgery will go ahead on Thursday, that they will find polyps and/ or nodules created as a result of both overuse and bad use of my voice. They will remove them and I will be forced into a period of quiet and silence. And I believe this is God drawing me into a time of new intimacy and listening with him. I have absolutely no fear of the surgery and a strong assurance of God being with me. I believe he is at the centre of this episode in my life, not at the edge of it. I am trusting him, at peace in his purposes and resting in his continued presence and love. If they find something more sinister, then it doesn’t change who God is and what he has said about me in his word. Whether things go well or not in my eyes on Wednesday, God will be with me. Of course I pray that the problems will be solved – but at the same time I know that God’s love for me is not dependent on him giving me what I want or what you want. He will do what is best, even if I don’t understand it.
Jesus is Lord
The fulcrum of my faith is not ‘God will do what I want’! The fulcrum of my faith is the declaration ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Therefore whatever happens, he can be trusted. I’m praying for a time of intimacy with God after the op. I’m asking God to give me creativity and a sense of extra special listening to him. I’m asking God to help me not to rush away from this time, but to linger and hear all he has to say and understand all that he wants to do.
Standing with me in prayer
So if you would like direction from me about how to pray, here it is:
- Thank God for his uncompromising victory in my life and the lives of all who know and trust him.
- Thank him for allowing me to have this time to be quiet and listen – and for the promise that in this time he will speak to me (PSalm 46 has been very powerful for me in thinking this through)
- Pray that some writing I have planned will be done well and effectively.
- Pray also that I will be able to listen to the voice of the God in this time – I have set time aside to also pray daily for those in my pastoral care at the churches that I lead – please pray that I am able to hear God and bring them something of His heart and encouragement.
- Lastly, please pray for my wife and four children, that we will work out creative and fun ways of communicating with one another – and that we will enjoy this time of togetherness.
A lesson from Moses.
When Moses was called to lead Israel, he complained to God about not being able to speak – and God responded by reminded Moses that God was the one who made people hear or speak, or made them deaf or unable to speak. That is a helpful reminder to us all that God is ultimately with us and in control of anything and everything that comes against us or that we see as an ‘adversity’. God is with me, he will release me to speak when he is ready and there are thousands of ways for me to communicate with him, you and others in the meantime.
I think we can far too often miss the grace of God in our lives because it is not painted with the pastel colours of obvious blessing. Sometimes God paints in darker colours on my canvas. The colours of adversity, challenge, and illness. He uses these colours to create depth and weight in my life, and he allows me to pass through valleys and dark times so that I can become more like Jesus, sharper in my focus and better at managing my time. My voice was given to me by God and it is his to silence, his to release and his to amplify as he sees fit. So even when the churches I lead want my voice restored, God will do it in his own good time. And even with no voice physically, there are other ways of being heard – like blogs!
Other ways of communicating.
During this time I am working on a new book, which my publishers and I are really excited about. I believe the words that I write can be used powerfully – and I am looking forward to hearing God in all of this. Although no words will be coming out of my mouth, they will be flowing from my heart! I’m working on a module for a mission organisation too, and I will be writing reflections, articles and daily prayer notes, updates and thoughts. So if you are a member of The Chapel @ Mortimer West End, Warham Community Church or part of the charity I lead, ‘Church and Community’ then make sure you are signed up to the feed on my blog or on Facebook, then you can be updated as stuff comes online.
I know God is going to speak to me, and I look forward to speaking with you via the web – and through the blog. I’d love to keep you up to speed and to hear from you over these coming weeks – and the blog is the place to do it – or maybe twitter – or maybe not! Anyway, thanks for your prayers and love. I’ll keep you updated as best I can.
So where is God when things go wrong?
So my question is – where is God when things go wrong? My answer is – right where he always said he would be – in me, with me, before me, behind me and around me – what do you think? Can God use illness? Surely he is as present in the midst of the suffering and challenges that we face as he is outside of them? Not only that, but I also think I grow most in the times of darkness and challenge, not when everything is going easy. I’ve seen far to many people I love and respect made to feel like they are second-rate or have a weak faith because they face trials. Rubbish! God calls us to dignify our trials, to be transformed in them and changed by them, not to rush away from them and pretend they aren’t there – doesn’t he? My prayer is that God will take me through this situation as quickly as possible, but that he will not let me rush away from it without learning all there is to learn about him in it, and becoming more like Jesus as a result. I want to dignify the trial, not rebuke a work of Satan, which may be a work of the Lord! Surely, that is the important thing? God is not glorified in suffering – he is glorified as he respond to suffering in a way that demonstrates our belief and trust that not matter what happens – JESUS IS LORD.
Praying for you.
Last thing – I am going to be spending extra time praying – so if I can pray for you in this time of silence, then let me know. Would be a privilege and a joy to stand with you.
What do you think?