Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A 24-7 faith

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…  Deuteronomy 6:6-7

The first time I visited France, in my early twenties, I remember being amazed and impressed at the wonderful ease with which even small children spoke French. I mean, here was I, who had spent several years at school struggling to master French grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation with only limited success, and here were these children prattling away perfectly without the slightest effort.

My amazement lasted only a second, of course. Dense though I no doubt am, it didn’t take me long to figure out that this great skill came from the fact that these children hadn’t, in fact, “learned” French at all in the way I had tried to do. No: it was second nature to them. It was all they knew, because it was their native tongue, just as English was mine. They had absorbed it, as the saying goes, with their mother’s milk.

And that, says God to his people in Deuteronomy 6, is how children in Israel should learn the essentials of their faith: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…”

What applies to Israel applies also to Christians. And what applies to children applies also to adults. Our faith in Jesus should not be a thing apart from ordinary life, something bolted on, so to speak, but something in the very air we breathe day by day and minute by minute.

Sadly, our Christianity can easily become something we “do” only at special times – probably on a Sunday morning – and only in special places – probably a building which we call a “church”. This is a pale reflection of true, red-blooded Christianity.

With the genuine article, even our homes can be – should be – miniature “churches”, where God is honoured and the Spirit lives. Even the most routine tasks – the washing up, changing the baby’s nappy, cooking meals and hoovering round – can be done as an act of worship to God.

The distinction between the “sacred” parts of life – worship, prayer, reading the Bible and so on – and the “secular” parts – like the things I’ve just mentioned – is dissolved. It is all one: as the Bible tells us, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). And “whatever” means whatever! Yes, including sitting in your favourite armchair, strolling down the road, getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.

There is, of course, a place – and it’s an important place – for special times to focus on God with our wider Christian family, and probably that will usually be on a Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. And there is also a place for buildings set aside to make such gatherings possible, and there is nothing wrong with calling them “churches”, as long as we remember that churches are in fact families of God’s people, and don’t absolutely need such buildings.

These times and places are matters of convenience and practicality: the real time and place for “practicing our faith” is – putting it simply – anywhere and everywhere. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, then every moment of every day is “sacred”.

You sometimes hear it said of, say, football fans, that they “eat, sleep and breathe football”. And it’s not far off the truth. Their team’s success is everything to them; it completely dominates their lives. This, of course, is why they’re called “fans” – fanatics. It can be unhealthy and dangerous.

Well, I’m not suggesting that Christians should be fanatical. When it comes to “religious” matters, that word conjures up all sorts of ugliness – bigotry, intolerance, even violence – as we see only too often in our troubled world.

But there is a sense in which we too “eat, sleep and breath” the grace and goodness of God, the daily, minute-by-minute presence of Jesus and the peace and love which flow from him. He is everything to us, directing our thoughts, words and decisions, motivating us at the very heart of our lives.

So… What about our faith in Jesus? Something apart? Something bolted on? Something kept in a convenient little pigeon-hole? Or something that saturates everything about us, everything we do, the very people that we are? Make no mistake, that’s the way of peace, fulfilment and happiness!

Lord God, help me to truly love you with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength, and to love others as I love myself. Amen.

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