Monday, 30 July 2012

Labouring in vain

Well, God, I've learned something.

Hallelujah!  I hear you say. I think there might actually be an angelic echo, too. 

I haven't enjoyed learning it, very much.

It was my turn to do the intercession at church on Sunday and I dashed something off midweek when I was tired and then I didn't come back to it until Saturday evening when I made a couple of hasty changes and printed it out for Sunday morning. Sunday morning came and I got up late, rushed to get ready and hurried down the road.

The prayers at our church usually come right after the sermon. Sometimes, when it's my turn to do them I sit listening to the talk with a growing smile in my heart as I can see how your Spirit has linked up the words of the prayers I wrote with the words of the preacher. It's happened on a few occasions and if I'm honest, I'd started to expect it. On Sunday I listened to the talk without any sense that this had happened. In fact, for the first time ever, I scribbled a couple of extra things in the margin of the prayer I'd written to try and tie them together with the sermon a little bit more. When I got up to read them at the lectern, I wasn't feeling very confident. Much less so than usual.

It went OK. 

I made a few mistakes, stumbled a bit, and I got through without much conviction. I sat down again. It wasn't horrific, it wasn't particularly embarrassing, it wasn't a complete mess, but it wasn't right. I didn't do my best, and it showed. It wasn't very good. I knew that on this occasion there wouldn't be many people who came to thank me for the prayers, or tell me that they'd been touched by them. They just didn't seem to connect. As there always is, there was an awkward silence after I sat down as people wrapped up their own prayers, and then the music group took us into the last song. 

Afterwards I mentioned to a friend that I didn't think it had gone well, and she told me that it was alright, but not my best.  I spoke to the preacher who kindly encouraged me but mentioned that I should slow down a bit; there was no rush as I delivered the prayers. I hadn't realised that I'd galloped through them, but it didn't surprise me because I'd approached the lectern just wanting to get it over with. I hadn't even read it through aloud before I went to church with the sheet in my bag. 


Yesterday afternoon these words went through my mind over and over. 
'Unless the Lord builds the house,
Its builders labour in vain.'
Psalm 127:1

Indeed. I wrote the prayers yesterday and they were alright, but your Spirit wasn't there as it has been in the past. People weren't set on fire. I say that, but I suppose if I'm honest I haven't got much idea what people thought and perhaps there was someone there who needed to hear exactly what I said in the way I said it; I know that you can use the most faulty of our offerings for your good. Who knows but you? But I know that I gave you less than I should have done. I built that house, and when it was finished it didn't meet building standards.

I'm sorry.

Not enough prayer went into it as I read the Bible readings for the day. I didn't spend enough time thinking and I didn't invite you into the process.  I just thought I could do it. I thought I was pretty good at writing intercession and I could do it. There. Said it. 

I'm sorry.

You know, last night I felt as if you were shaking your head. Not in an angry way, for you are so gentle when you're teaching me something. I saw you with a sympathetic but slightly amused expression as you looked at my discomfort as the penny dropped. I would much rather have felt that I'd done a good job; it's always nice when people tell me that what I write touches them, or inspires them, or encourages them, and I suppose that I thought it came easily to me. It turns out that it doesn't; it's you. It's you all along. It's not me. 

Without you I can do nothing. Funny, that; I think you mentioned it once:
'I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.'
John 15:5

Recently it's been hard to come here to write as well. I've been avoiding you, a bit. I can scribble away in my journal; it's not that I've felt that I've lost you, because you've been right where you always are, but I've felt self-conscious and preoccupied about what I write. It's started to feel artificial and awkward and I've been struggling for inspiration and... words. 

Lord, I think I've always known that the words that I put down on a page aren't my words, but yours. I've loved writing all my life but it's always been hard and discouraging work until I started to make my writing an offering to you. Since that day the words have come and it's been a joy, a solace, an inspiration. I've loved it. It has helped me immeasurably.  Then all of a sudden it's as if I've lost my way; forgotten what I know to be true. I've been afraid that I can't do it any more, when the truth is that I've started to think that it's me that's doing it, and that's where I've gone wrong.  The words aren't mine, they're yours. Why should I feel self-conscious? Why should I worry what people think? It's not about me.

It's about you. It always has been.  Forgive me for forgetting this, Lord. I've started congratulating myself on what I can do, and the truth is that I can't do it without you. When I don't invite you into the process the result is awkward and stumbling and dry. No depth and no conviction. No inspiration and no truth. 

If I remain in you, I bear fruit. If I don't - I don't. 

This morning I was so miserable and I asked you for help. I went to bed feeling a bit low last night and had uneasy dreams and woke up feeling even worse, and tired too. I snapped at the children for waking me early, and I snapped at them for not co-operating during the interminable teeth-brushing and then as they ate their breakfast with my long-suffering Mum I sneaked off to try to check in with you. 

I've been doubting everything. For quite a while I've thought that it was clear that you wanted me to write. There have been so very many indications that you were with me. I felt a very clear sense of your voice and I was so sure, and yet for the first time this morning I sat with my journal and wrote that I was doubting whether I'd got it wrong. I said, 'Lord, I'm doubting everything. Have I just made a huge mistake?' It's right there in my journal. And then...

The labourers labouring away in vain was still running through my mind and I picked up my phone and a Bible app to try to find the reference. As it opened, the verse of the day flashed on the little screen.
'O Sovereign Lord, you are God!
Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.'
2 Samuel 7:28

Thankyou thankyou thank you.  It made me stop in my tracks. It addressed exactly what was wrong. 

Sovereign Lord, you are God indeed. You are a compassionate, gentle, loving God, who cares about his children so much that he involves himself with them on such a personal level. Even those who go off on their own thinking that they don't need you. 

'Your words are trustworthy.'

Your words are trustworthy; mine - not so much. When I use my own words, nothing much happens. It's ordinary. It's OK, but nothing special. No inspiration. No meaning. When you speak, that's when it's worth listening. That's when there's fruit.

But you gave me more than this. You told me that you have promised these good things to your servant.  Not just random good things, but the things that I knew about. The promises that I know about already. These promises. Good things. You have promised, and you don't break promises. If I have a promise from the Lord God Almighty, then it will happen. Whether today, next week or in twenty years time, you will fulfil your promises. The Bible is full of examples. You are faithful to your servants; to those who love you. Lord, I am your servant. I don't want to forget that. 

It's all for you, Lord God. 

Who am I that you reach down to correct so tenderly? That I let you down and your response is to nudge me back with gentleness and love? 

Thankyou. It's been a powerful lesson. Help me not to make that mistake again.
'Blessed are those whom God corrects'
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.'
Job 5:17


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