For £350,000 you will soon be able to buy a house which always gets the sun. The French architect Fred Plazar produces homes built on a 14m metal turntable which turns to match the speed of the sun. He describes the technology, no doubt tongue in cheek, as ‘a revolution in housing’. The only drawback is the living space. It’s limited to 200sq m to keep the homes within an average house builder’s budget.
We may sometimes fancy life would be better if we always faced the sun, if nothing got in the way of the brightness and warmth which we associate with the good times. When Jesus appeared surrounded by an intensity of light on a mountain top, Peter, James and John wanted to remain there and bask in it. Instead Jesus took them back down the mountain and continued to warn them about his imminent death.
Lives which only knew sunshine would be very limited and confined. It’s as we face life’s challenges, our struggles with life and our facing of death, that we expand as people. It’s often in times when life feels dark and cheerless that the range of our experience and the depth of our personalities develop and grow.
In the Old Testament, the word used to mean salvation is associated with spaciousness. If we are to be saved from lives which are too small and find the breadth and richness that life offers, times of darkness are inevitable. It’s not accidental that the experience Jesus and his disciples shared at the top of a mountain followed closely his assertion that he was going to suffer.
It’s good that there’s more to life than constant sunshine and to be grateful if we can for what we learn from times of pain and struggle.
Read: For Christ’s sake, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, ….for when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12.10)
Rejoice: in moments of elation.
Reflect: What can I learn from my life’s current struggles?
Remember: Christ shares our pain as well as the joy
Resolve: to seek opportunities to expand my experience of life, even if they involve struggle or pain
In a rock cavern inside a mountain in the scenic Hardanger fjord in western Norway is one of the Nordic region’s biggest power stations and inside that is a hall which is renowned for its acoustics. The whole 1,120-megawatt power plant was shut down recently in preparation for a concert to let an expert tune a grand piano undisturbed by the hum of huge hydroelectric generators.
Noise is part of life. For many, this is as true of our inner selves as it is of our environment. Thoughts, demands, anxieties and plans for the future fill our heads with an unending hum. The possibility of shutting that down, even if only temporarily, is profoundly attractive.
We can make opportunities to rediscover the quietness enclosed deeper within us. Sometimes it’s best to remove ourselves physically from the places where we normally operate and to make sure we have as little to distract us as possible. Of course we can’t escape our own minds which may continue to hum. One exercise for dealing with this is to imagine ourselves pushing aside from the forefront of our thoughts each unwanted distraction to make space for stillness. We’ll probably have to keep doing this – distractions may never completely disappear – but the act of doing it has its own calming effect.
Where it isn’t possible to take time apart, deliberately using occasional quiet moments during our normal routine to be still can have a similar effect. If we want to perform well, we need quietness so we can attune ourselves properly and get in touch with our deeper selves. It doesn’t need an expert like the grand piano does – we can all do it for ourselves and it’ll help us be in harmony with the people around us and live lives which bring sweet music to the ears of others.
Read: Be still before God (Psalm 37.7)
Rejoice: in opportunities we create to be quiet.
Reflect: Have I got the balance right in my life between stillness and busy-ness?
Remember: Jesus too needed time alone
Resolve: to make use of moments when I’m alone even if most of my day is crowded with activity.
Gavin Jacobson uses Heinz tomato ketchup at every meal and on his bottle there’s a label which says ‘Gavin, phone mum’. Heinz replaced the normal label with one prompting him to ring his mother, Maxine, after she begged them to help. ‘Since starting university three months ago,’ said Mrs Jacobson, ‘he has only called home twice, so I persuaded Heinz to produce a one-off bottle that would regularly remind him.’ Now Gavin’s ketchup bottle is a permanent reminder of how his mum loves him and wants to keep in touch.
The kitchen cupboard may be where Gavin finds signs of his mother’s care but he, and the rest of us, can find reminders elsewhere that we are loved. All around us are signs of careful provision for our needs and our delight. It may be in the unexpected sight of something beautiful or a word from a friend just at the moment it was needed; it may be that circumstances work out favourably or something comes to mind at just the right moment. It may be that something that happens or a sudden instinct stops us going down a route which would have been the wrong way to go.
Sometimes such things can be put down to chance or coincidence. There may be nothing more to them than what appears on the surface. But when they are seen in the context of other things we know and believe about God, they feel more like God’s way of caring personally for our needs. Indeed sometimes it wasn’t that we ‘needed’ anything – it was God simply wanting to give us pleasure. Such experiences make us feel there is a power there that cares about us and wants to relate to us. They are signs God gives us that he loves us and that he wants us to keep in touch.
Read: When I look at the sky, which you have made, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are human beings that you care about them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
Rejoice: in God’s meticulous care for me.
Reflect: What ‘coincidences’ have I experienced lately that might be God’s doing?
Remember: God cares for us like this because he wants to – when we recognise and acknowledge it, it’s a bonus.
Resolve: when it feels as though God has been active in my life, to say thank you.
“While laughter should not replace exercise, we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Fifteen minutes of laughter daily does the vascular system a power of good.” So says a report from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Its recommendation was based on research in which volunteers were shown a funny film and a grim one. Average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter.
Laughter comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be uproarious or secretive; it can be in response to wit or slap-stick; it can come unexpectedly or as we wait for a punch-line. And it’s no respecter of persons – people whose struggles seem to be almost overwhelming often find strength to share a good laugh while those who look as though life’s treating them well can sometimes appear rather humourless.
Jesus used humour. His pictures of a camel going through the eye of a needle or someone with a plank in their own eye taking a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s show a cartoonist’s eye for the ridiculous. He also delighted in parties and fun. These were not extras. They were not distractions from what life was really all about. The number of times we know he attended meals or other social occasions make them central to his life, part of his life blood.
Like all good things, humour can be abused – it is for example an effective way of making someone feel small – but properly used it can release tension in an awkward situation, lighten the impact of a criticism or cheer someone up. We value people who make us laugh and times of fun are gifts to be grateful for which we need to build into the regular pattern of our lives. They can be transforming sources of new energy and life.
Read: Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. (Psalm 126.2)
Rejoice: in people who make us laugh.
Reflect: What friends or sources of entertainment could I cultivate if I’m looking for more laughter in my life?
Remember: to laugh at myself.
Resolve: to enjoy humour when it’s appropriate and protest when it isn’t.
Sonic hedgehog (shh) and tiggywinkle (twhh) are the names given to two genes which cause beneficial but destructive changes in cavefish embryos. Not in all fish of that species, only in those which live in deep, lightless caves off the Mexican coast. Being able to see would be no use to them in the pitch darkness and so the genes order the destruction of the eyes’ lens at an early stage of their development. By being born blind, the cavefish does not waste energy or brainpower on completely useless eyesight.
Most of us are aware of times when the activity we’re engaged with feels unproductive. Sometimes nevertheless it’s important to persevere because of the possibility and hope that one day it will cease to be so. Some praying and caring falls into this category. Sometimes such apparently unfruitful pursuits are an inevitable part and parcel of a larger project whose value is more obvious. Some jobs are like that. But there are situations which don’t fit those categories where, almost without us realising it, we get caught up in energy-consuming tasks which don’t repay the effort we put into them and never will. Often habit, or an inability to see a way to stop, traps us and stops us extricating ourselves from them.
Over centuries the cavefish have adapted to their environment so that their energy is directed towards constructive activity. God has given human beings the capacity to decide for themselves what’s worth continuing with, and what isn’t, and to make relevant changes now. We have been given freedom to make our own choices, minds capable of finding imaginative ways of disentangling ourselves from useless tasks, and wills with the determination to do it. And God, who’s so full of creativity, wants to help set us free from time-wasting activity which can so easily imprison us.
Read: (Jesus sent out his disciples saying:)Whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you,…say ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you’. (Luke 10.10-11)
Rejoice: in tasks which feel productive.
Reflect: Is there anything I’m involved with which is a waste of valuable energy?
Remember: God perseveres in his relationship with me even when it feels to him to be useless
Resolve: To check that what I do today is what it is right for me to be spending time on.
Cricket in the snow. That’s what Matthew Hancock and Matt Coates planned when they set off for an eight-week skiing trek to the magnetic north pole. Among their luggage was a ball and, as a compromise to minimise the weight of their luggage, an inflatable bat. They hoped to play the most northerly game of cricket in the history of the sport. Mr Hancock said he was a great cricket fan and wanted to take his passion with him. “There is a certain satisfaction in taking the game completely out of context.”
Let’s hope the satisfaction compensated for the discomfort. Playing at minus 50 degrees Celsius can hardly have been easy. Indeed situations where behaviour is not appropriate to the context are never easy and those engaging in it can feel distinctly uncomfortable. Many of Jesus’ actions were felt to be out of place by those who set the rules about what was fitting in his time. When he healed on the Sabbath, taught simpler but more rigorous guiding principles for life, claimed to be uniquely one with God, it put him outside what was acceptable and, eventually, outside the city on a cross.
We can sometimes feel out of place socially and decide not to repeat the experience. Usually there’s no need to put ourselves through that discomfort. But sometimes, like Jesus, it’s what we stand for and the way we live our life which makes us different from those around us. Our living of life as we feel it should be lived can make other people uncomfortable. In those situations, there may be good reasons to persevere with our discomfort because we feel we are standing for something which needs to be expressed. Like Mr Hancock, we want to take with us those things we feel passionate about, wherever we go.
Read: (When praying had been forbidden by Nebuchadnezzar) Daniel went to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem (and) got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6.10)
Rejoice: in social situations where I feel completely at home and accepted.
Reflect: Are there situations where I adapt my behaviour and tone down my beliefs so that I fit in better?
Remember: There might be allies if I look for them in situations where at present I feel isolated.
Resolve: To focus my enthusiasm on things Jesus would have been passionate about and let it show.
Divers undertaking routine maintenance work in Blyth harbour, Northumberland discovered a giant lobster standing guard over a barnacle-encrusted wristwatch. The watch, though about three years old and not waterproof, was still going. With advancing years, the thirty year old lobster was clearly determined not to let time run away from him.
The lobster was taken to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth where it settled in well in the harbour tank display. Blue Reef’s curator said: “Lobsters are well known for being extremely territorial. Perhaps it identified the watch as part of its territory and has been standing guard over it ever since.”
It’s not just the occasional lobster which keeps its eye on the time. It’s a habit many of us get into, mostly because we’re thinking about the next thing on our timetable. We’re more aware of the demands of the future and so fail to concentrate properly on the present. The danger in this is that we might miss the beauty that’s around us now but won’t last or the opportunities that this particular moment offers us.
When Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus, he wants to encourage his readers to be imitators of God and advocates ‘redeeming the time’ (5.16). The phrase means making the most of every moment, filling every second with things that will make the best use of the time. We should be like God, he says, who, according to the biblical account of the creation, filled time with his creative activity. Time was God’s servant not God’s master.
When we let time rule our lives, we are living at one remove from life. Living in the present brings us into direct relationship with the unique experiences each moment offers. These might well be lost if our eyes are fixed permanently on our watches.
Read: Now is the time of God’s favour (2 Corinthians 6.2)
Rejoice: that I’m alive to enjoy this moment.
Reflect: In what situations or frames of mind am I most likely not to be focused on the now?
Remember: that time is a gift not a burden.
Resolve: for some time today at least, to live in the present.