There is also a time of reading the Bible together, sharing our stories and praying together. Last night we read through the opening verses of Hebrews 11. I am working my way through a Lent poetry book and Hebrews 11 was one of the readings given for Sunday. It’s a lot to live up to when we read through the list. We have a habit perhaps of dragging out the mental plumb line to see how we measure up. What God calls us to is not Enoch’s calling or Abraham’s but our own. How we work out that calling doesn’t always look like Noah building an ark in the desert.
Verse 8 reads, “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.”
When I left Rugby to join a gospel outreach team in Inverness way back in 1989, the church prayed for people who it was sending out and they were sending me out. They spoke words of encouragement over us. This was one of my words. Just like Abraham I was responding to a call from God. I was called to travel to a place I didn’t know. I’d looked up Inverness on a map. It was a long way north of where I was. I left not knowing much about where I was going.
There were eight of us on the team, piled into a minibus heading north on the A9. We stopped in a layby in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t just having second thoughts about the destination and the job ahead. I had convinced myself that I was not the one for the job. This shy hermit didn’t seem to have a place proclaiming the kingdom of God on the streets. It wasn’t just Inverness that was unfamiliar but the “mission”. It was too big a change for me to deal with.
It was dark. It was in the middle of nowhere. There were not street light to pollute the sky. So many stars pressed down on me.
“Look up, Mel,” said God. Mel? I’d always been Melanie. New start, new name perhaps? There was of the Girl Guide in me to recognise a few constellations.
“See those stars? Those constellations are still the same. They are the same stars you saw back in Rugby.” I chose not to point out that the I rarely saw the stars in Rugby because of light pollution.
“Just as those stars in the sky haven’t changed – neither will I change.”
I might doubt myself and my readiness for what lay ahead, but I didn’t doubt God. The shyness was eventually shed like old skin. The hermit took a back seat but never really left the stage. I was in my element proclaiming the kingdom on the streets.
This morning, thinking about last night, God reminded me of the other half of the encouraging word that day back then when I was prayed over. It wasn’t tied into any particular scripture. Someone spoke over me a word about bringing down the strongholds that the enemy had built. I was marching forward to inflict damage on his kingdom.
I had fulfilled the Abraham word more or less. I had made Inverness my home. Sadly I had swapped the tent-frame-of-mind for a terraced house. I had settled and let go of my pioneering roots. This was something God said we would do something about. The bringing down enemy strongholds? The inflicting damage on his kingdom? That word seemed to have been forgotten.
I was reading “The Pilgrimage” by George Herbert this morning. It’s an allegorical that might have inspired John Bunyan to write “Pilgrim’s Progress”. There’s a verse that talks about passion and a wasted place and of being robbed of his gold. All the poet had in the end is “one good Angel which a friend had ti’d” close to his side. The Angel was a specific coin in those days. I was challenged to consider what I had tied to my side, or my friends, what they had tied to my side. Bringing down the enemy strongholds was perhaps one of these things.
I suppose I lamented that I hadn’t seemed to inflict that much damage over the years. I hadn’t cast out any demons. Yes, I prayed – but for the most part my prayers seemed pale and powerless to my ears.
“It’s the small victories, Mel,” said God, “and maybe the pale and powerless prayers are not pale or powerless when I hold them in my hand.”
I wouldn’t say my life passed before my eyes – but I was aware of so many times I could have reacted in a way that took away God’s glory, or demonstrated that I really didn’t trust in him – but I held firm. I have planted so many words through conversations over the years. The poems I have written have touched people’s hearts. It is the little persistent victories – I’m inflicting death by a thousand tiny cuts. It is in the choosing to do things God’s way that I inflict damage on the enemy’s kingdom.
That said, it is perhaps a good time to take the words that have been tied to my side and really look at them. They’re not dead words. They’re just covered in a lot of dust.
Time to dig out the spiritual equivalent of Mr Sheen.