Hands-free Web surfing may be on its way. New technology enables a user’s nose to direct a cursor. A Webcam takes a snapshot of the user’s face, focussing on the tip of the nose as the guide point. The cursor is then guided by the nose as the head moves from side to side. The eyes also play a part – a blink of the right or left eye corresponds to the right or left click of a mouse button. Experts are not sure whether the nose-steered mouse, or “nouse”, will catch on. ‘Noses,’ said one, ’were not made to be used in this way; people baulk at doing things that require them to look silly and there is ample room for looking silly here.’
It does pay, if we don’t want to look silly, to use things for the purpose for which they were intended. The same is true of our lives. We feel most confident and well-balanced when our work and leisure activities reflect the particular qualities and skills we have been given.
Jesus went into the desert to decide the purpose for which his life was intended. He was tempted to make choices which would have taken him in different directions to those that were in tune with who he was.
Life’s demands often mean that we’re required to take on responsibilities for which we don’t feel particularly suited. There are other situations though which feel very comfortable and “right”. Knowing which is which guides us to an awareness of the underlying purpose of our lives. No doubt occasionally we’ll be tempted by apparently attractive but inappropriate options. But, if we stay true to what we were made to be and do, it will help ensure we are making the best use of our particular and unique personality.
Read: Jesus said: I know where I have come from and where I am going (John 8.14)
Rejoice: in my particular skills and abilities
Reflect: What temptations are most likely to attract me away from being and doing what’s right for me?
Remember: that the angels which ‘waited’ on Jesus in his decision-making are there for us too.
Resolve: to notice when I feel comfortable and when ill at ease in what I’m doing.
Imagine a busy city street stripped of all markings, barriers, traffic lights and even kerbs. The “naked street” idea has won rave reviews in Europe and has been mooted for London by its mayor. Instead of the standard array of road markings to tell drivers and pedestrians what they should be doing, they will be encouraged to react to each situation as seems right at the time.
Roadside instructions can be frustrating but they also give a sense of security. We assume that others will obey the same rules as we are following and that this will make everything operate safely. Anyone who ignores a one-way sign, or fails to give way where they should, incurs the often noisy wrath of other road users. Busy roads are no place for people to be doing their own thing.
Making up his own rules is just what people thought Jesus was doing. He incurred the wrath of his contemporaries because he ignored the conventions of behaviour, making love his only criterion. His apparently cavalier attitude to Jewish laws made people feel unsafe. It also put pressure on him. Being set free from an obligation to follow established rules sounds freeing, but having to think through every move from scratch is much more demanding.
We can choose today to do what’s conventional not stopping to think for ourselves. Or we can imitate Jesus who responded to each situation in the way uniquely appropriate to it.
Read: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another (Galatians 5.13)
Rejoice: in the freedom God gives me to make my own decisions.
Reflect: What are the kinds of situation where I’d prefer just to be told what to do?
Remember: that God’s happy when we share with him the responsibility for using our freedom well.
Resolve: to let love be my criterion not convention or habit.
Great Totham in Essex had its very own Pied Piper. A red-faced police inspector accidentally switched on a “Follow Me” message. Traffic built up after 5 law-abiding motorists obeyed the sign and tagged along behind his car. “No harm was done,” said one of the drivers, “I just feel a bit of a fool”. As no doubt did the police inspector.
None of us likes to look a fool. But Jesus must have appeared to be one. Ending up hanging on a cross after all the grandiose claims he and others had made about him. And at that point, the disciples must have felt foolish too – they’d trustingly followed him but look where it had led them.
The decision to follow Jesus today can also seem foolish to some. Those who make it may well find that initially they lose respect from people when they find out. Widespread misunderstanding of what being a Christian’s all about means that it often takes time for people to see its value in us. And of course there may well be things we feel we should say and do which will look foolish in the eyes of those who don’t see things the Christian way.
But that’s the lifestyle Jesus invites us to follow so we take pride in looking foolish and, whenever the opportunity arises, gently try to demonstrate in the way we live that it’s a far from stupid way of life.
Read: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1.27)
Rejoice: in the wisdom and insight to be found in following Jesus.
Reflect: Is there anything ‘foolish’ I would do or say if I weren’t worried about what people would think?
Remember: that Christ’s ‘foolishness’ led not just to the cross but also to the new life of resurrection.
Resolve: to be strong in my faith and beliefs.
It’s more than 25 years since David Kirke, founder of the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club, threw himself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol in the first Bungee jump. Since then has come snowboarding, windsurfing, paragliding, skydiving, kite surfing and so on. But it’s Bungee jumping which symbolises the daring, risky element in these new and increasingly popular sports.
Fortunately for the lily-livered among us, casting ourselves into space, trusting only to a piece of plastic, is not compulsory. But its emotional equivalent sometimes feels more obligatory. It emerges as a possibility when a choice confronts us, a particular course of action is suggested to us, or a new direction for our lives that’s been niggling away at us for a while rears its head again. In these or other ways, the feeling that we should cast ourselves into the unknown, with what seems like inadequate security, might grow in us until we either have to admit we are cowards or take the leap.
A Bungee jumper calculates the risks and makes sure they are confident in the support structure they are being offered. In the end though, there has to be that decision to do it. As we think about our lives and our futures, rational assessment is important. But it would be sad if opportunities for greater excitement and fulfilment in our lives were missed just because we didn’t dare take the plunge.
Read: Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1.6)
Rejoice: in the times when risks I took proved beneficial.
Reflect: Is there anything worthwhile I’m avoiding at the moment because it feels slightly perilous?
Remember: God says, “When you pass through waters, I will be with you, and through rivers they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43.2)
Resolve: to keep my eyes open for new opportunities.
Forty nine year old Izzy is thought to have the longest shell of any alligator-snapping turtle in captivity. Izzy doesn’t move very much, preferring to stay perfectly still at the bottom of a river until something tasty swims by. His lack of movement gave rise to the name. “There was always a kid who would watch for a few minutes” said the curator, “and then say, `Izzy alive?’”.
Carrying around a shell just over 29 inches long must make inactivity an attractive option. For human beings too, carrying a shell can sometimes make us look and feel less than fully alive. It may be a shell designed to keep ourselves in because we’re frightened of engaging in any relationship in which we might need to reveal our true selves; or one designed to keep others out because in the past we’ve been badly hurt by letting them in. Whatever the cause, the effort of carrying such protection around is wearying and leaves us protected not only against other people but also against many aspects of life itself.
Jesus had the knack of helping people emerge from their shell. There was Zacchaeus who found the courage to come out from behind his official position as tax-gatherer; a woman, ill for twelve years, whom he encouraged to shed her shyness; Nicodemus who let slip his religious persona to come to Jesus with questions.
Jesus gave people the kind of confidence that made them brave enough to come out and be themselves. The courage to gradually emerge from any shell we carry around is there within us – we just need to be bold enough to grasp it.
Read: There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18)
Rejoice: in people from whom I hardly hide anything because they wholeheartedly accept me.
Reflect: Are there parts of my life from which I needlessly shut people out?
Remember: Jesus “ordered the disciples not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8.30) Even for him there was a time and place for privacy.
Resolve: to trust that people will be gentle with me.
Car drivers may eventually be able to purchase a new gadget. It will track the driver’s eye movements and monitor the way the steering-wheel is being handled. It will then determine the time lag between the eye looking at a new direction of travel and the hands beginning to turn the wheel. This will tell it – and it will then tell the driver – if they’re too tired or too drunk to drive. If the warning is ignored, the computer may then either inform the police or slow down the car.
There’s something attractive in being warned in advance that you’re about to do something inadvisable. Retrospective awareness of faux pas, or stupidity, or clumsiness is too late but it is all we humanly have. Something that would restrain us in advance from making really serious mistakes in our lives would be a great comfort.
God has a characteristic to which theologians give the highfalutin’ title “prevenient grace”. It expresses the confidence that God is there in our lives before we know it or ask for it, working to turn our lives in the right direction. This may happen through the words or actions of people around us or through more direct influence on our interior lives. But this restraining energy does not force itself upon us.
Being responsive to such promptings requires practice. It involves listening carefully to what others say and being in touch with our inner selves. God can be active in our lives in many different ways, many of which we may not recognise as God at work. But openness to the possibility of being guided can often lead us not to do or say something which later we’d have regretted.
Read: Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely (Psalm 139.4)
Rejoice: that even the details of our lives matter to God.
Reflect: Am I happy with the balance I strike between the rational and intuitive parts of me?
Remember: Making mistakes which being open to God might have prevented won’t stop him guiding us in the future.
Resolve: to listen to inner promptings.
A divorced couple in Trento, north east Italy, could not agree whose house their son should stay at over Christmas and took their argument to a family disputes court. The judge said there wasn’t enough time before Christmas to convene the tribunal so he tossed a two-euro coin for ‘heads-or-tails’. “I certainly couldn’t do like Solomon,” the judge commented, “and divide the child. So I trusted to luck”.
We are involved in making judgements of varying degrees of importance all day every day. We don’t normally leave the ones we are conscious of making to the toss of a coin. We would prefer to have the kind of imaginative, creative and decisive approach displayed by Solomon.
Solomon saw his wisdom as a gift. He had a dream in which, in a conversation with God, he chose to be given wisdom rather than long life or wealth. It’s often our experience that the right decision comes to us like a gift. We still go through the struggle of thinking everything through – and this remains an important part of the process – but the answer can sometimes seem to come as if out of nowhere.
Part of the art of making decisions is the ability self-consciously to allow ourselves to receive the answer. There’s no escape from the hard grind of analysing various options but if we open ourselves to the possibility of help from beyond, we may be more likely to be given the clarification we seek.
Read: Give your servant an understanding mind…able to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3.9)
Rejoice: in the occasions when I’ve made the right choice.
Reflect: Is there a decision I’m in the process of making where I’d do well to stop struggling for the answer and see if it comes?
Remember: God can do something creative even with our wrong decisions.
Resolve: to look to receive guidance in life’s everyday choices as well as its more significant ones