Monday, October 03, 2011

The Overflow of the Heart

It was like a re-enactment of Old Mother Hubbard. The cupboard in question wasn’t in the kitchen and it wasn’t empty. It was a quick glimpse of the contents of my heart! The mouth had been speaking (it rarely stops) but what was coming out tending to be sharp and critical and over loud.

I decided that it was time to clear out the junk from the heart – confessing negative words spoken to myself and others, repenting of attitudes that were less than godly and seeking forgiveness for all manner of things.

Once clean, I felt the need to fill up my heart with some good things. It’s an active thing – much like gardening, I suppose. Good things are not just going to fall into my heart. They need to be searched out, held on to and treasured.

Among the bible readings and listening to worship music while I washed up, I made a date to watch Songs of Praise. The choice of hymns may not always be to my liking, but it was the 50th birthday celebration, and crowds of thousands were packed into the Alexandra Palace in London, and what’s not to like about Aled Jones?

Janet Street Porter wrote an article in the Independent on Sunday. Admitting to be a secret fan of Songs of Praise, she writes “is like saying you believe in God, or that you think marriage is a good idea – something not mentioned in public”. I believe both and mention them quite publically at times. She is not really impressed with the Church and thinks that it has failed to do what it is supposed to do – “taking belief out of out-dated buildings and into the lives of ordinary people in offices, canteens and schools.” I have to agree with her and ask myself whether I am taking faith with me into my workplace and neighbourhood. She lays the blame firmly at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury – but we are all responsible for demonstrating faith in every situation we face.

I digress – back to storing up good things in my heart and watching Songs of Praise. Andrea Bocelli was one of the guests on the programme last night. He sang “Ave Maria” and later on “Amazing Grace”. I have been dipping into a book “Beyond Amazing Grace” – a collection of sermons, letter extracts and hymns from John Newton. In one of his letters he talked about a young girl who became like a daughter to him. She had a mental breakdown and ended up in an institution and he visited her as often as he could. In his prayers he committed her to God’s care. He confessed that his prayers are not really for her, but for himself. Difficult times often lead people to abandon their faith. His eyes were failing and his strength was declining and he no longer had her help. His prayer ends with “Spare my eyes, if it please thee; but above all, strengthen my faith and my love.”

We sang a version of Amazing Grace a couple of weeks ago. I wondered them, as we sang the so-familiar words, whether when he wrote the hymn, or when he sang it, he could do so without tears. We all sing the phrase “that saved a wretch like me…” but I wonder if we really think the word “wretch” really applies to us. OK so John Newton was a slave trader and did some really horrendous things – “wretch” is perhaps an apt word. But do we apply it to ourselves? Do we think that we are just a little bad, as opposed to really bad – deep down we are nice people really and “wretch” doesn’t apply. If we appreciated our wretched state without Christ I think we would sing the hymn with tears.

“I once was blind, but now I see.” In the gospels there are no stories of men who have perfect vision becoming blind because of an encounter with Jesus. It happens the other way round – they start off blind and then they can see. John Newton and Andreas Bocelli have blindness in common. As a poet, I can’t help but appreciate the choice of words or the structure of the sentence. As a Christian I can’t help but ask whether I am blind – blind to what Jesus did on the cross, blind to His grace that is outpoured for us all, every day.

Looking back, September was a difficult month. I had so many opportunities to simply step aside and allow God fight the battle on my behalf. Instead I insisted on fighting in every skirmish, losing more often than winning. I came to the end of my resources. Eventually through the noise of the battle I heard God telling me to step aside, to stand behind Him, and let Him send the enemy running.

I don’t need another September! I don’t need a heart that is empty of good things! I don’t need a mouth overflowing with sharp and angry words.

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matt 12:34b

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