The Focus of the Mashal: A Reflection for the New Year

Dec 28, 2012 | INSIGHTS

In the About page of this blog we explain that the idea of a mashal is a sharp and focused message from the Lord – which is what we are seeking to present in this edition. Do enjoy the beautiful picture at the top of the page: it is by Stella Brookes, and depicts a scene from Shetland. Stella is a friend of friends, and has kindly allowed us to display some of her paintings.

A chance to catch up with ourselves
Pressure of time often cause us to miss out on things that we either forget or to perform skimpily. But because this time of year provides many of us with the chance to catch up with things we may have been putting off, it makes excellent sense to build in opportunities that will give ourselves ‘a second bite of the cherry’.

When the Clock Strikes (SOME is Definitely Better Than None!)
For example,we could resolve that whenever we hear a clock strike (or our mobile bleep) we could try to use it as a call to look up to God and to seek His face. It is amazing how much He can accomplish in just a very few seconds. Of course we won’t remember, to do this every time, but SOME is Definitely Better Than None!

This is a variant on the theme we mentioned in a previous version of taking (at least) thirty seconds to look to the Lord before plunging into action.

What has been inspiring you?
2012 has been a singularly inspiring year.  Which of us could possibly have predicted the extraordinary scenes that accompanied both the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, where in one sport after another British athletes achieved remarkable victories, often by the closest of margins, over equally talented competitors?

On a completely different track, the meteoric rise of the Military Wives Choirs under Gareth Malone has continued. From humble and very recent beginnings in Chivenor in North Devon, they have been catapulted to national fame – so much so that there are now seventy-five such choirs around the land. It was fitting to see them singing In the bleak midwinter at the end of the Queen’s speech this year – a message which once again brought the nation face-to-face with the possibility of a heart relationship with the Lord.

Gareth Malone had no idea what he would accomplish when he first braved the security of a military base, and we never know how the Lord will use the things He inspires us to do either. To be sure, not every vision or inspiration that comes our way will achieve national prominence (!) but that does not make it of no account in the Lord’s sight. Take time to reflect on various things that He is currently inspiring you with.

May you have the courage to pursue these goals that He is giving you, and to follow each step of the way as the path unfolds.

Seeds require time in which to germinate – and Intimacy requires less haste
Inspiration may or may not come with an initial rush of excitement, but if something is to prove of lasting benefit, it usually requires a long process of maturation. Ponder the words of Proverbs 19:2 in this respect and apply them in prayer. We have posted them here in several different versions.
Being excited about something is not enough.
You must also know what you are doing.
Don’t rush into something, or you might do it wrong. (ERV)

Desire without knowledge is not good, and to be overhasty is to sin and miss the mark.  (CEV)

To act without knowing how you function is not good; and if you rush ahead, you will miss your goal.

What does the Lord see in our heart?
I have been involved in several very sad pastoral cases recently in which I have looked back over a person’s life and seen how negative effects of disapproval, hostility, reluctance, unbelief and stubbornness their personality and expression of character have threaded their way through the warp and woof of their lives. How tragic it would be if these were the qualities the Lord sees in our hearts rather than openness and gratitude.
Were it not for the fear of what the Lord might send our way, surely all of us would trust ourselves much more fully to His leading.

Since the greater part of the things we dread will never come to pass anyway, let’s resolve to be open to all God has in mind for us this year. If this proves disturbing or ‘inconvenient’ He will supply all that we need to make it through.

The God of the inconvenient
More times than we can count we have all seen the Lord slotting things together with split second timing and magnificent coordinating opportunities in ways that only He could have engineered. The fact that He orchestrates matters so precisely does not mean that His leading is always ‘convenient’, any more than the grief episodes which come way are.

As we have often shared, grief is a process we have to work a way through, however long it takes, whereas trauma is an imposition on our spirit which needs to be lifted off us. We have included an exercise that has helped many people in this respect at the end of Track 32 of our Patmos CD, which can be accessed along with the first five tracks of CD 1 from the list on our website.

It wasn’t exactly ‘convenient’ for Esther to have to risk her life approaching the King to plead for the Jewish race to be spared, or for Mary to have to give birth in a town and amongst people unknown to her: some of the things the Lord asks us to do will prove highly stretching too.

Just before Christmas the opportunity opened up for me to go on retreat to my favourite residential library. I made my way up the motorway during the evening rush hour in torrential rain and patchy fog. From Birmingham northwards, it was incredibly slow going, and I was hanging on for the time I could turn off. As I approached my exit, however, the Lord asked me to take a different route, which meant going thirty extra miles up the motorway. I must admit I groaned!

He knew exactly what He was doing, of course, and directed me to visit Christine Glover who served most faithfully as our conference administrator for many years. From that one visit several others emerged which were had clearly been the Lord’s intention all along.

I love it when the Lord leads like this – not that we always get it right by any means! May we be attentive and obedient to His leading. As always, we will find that obedience precedes understanding, and that some things will only come about because we follow His directives in such ways. The Lord is waiting, as it were, on the other side.

I went on to enjoy three utterly precious days soaked in the Lord’s presence in this much cherished space, surrounded by a quarter of a million books, and knowing His leading to the ones He particularly wanted me to discover. It was an amazingly rich encounter.

Handling slower times
‘Slower’ times are often the moments when all kinds of memories come flooding in – convicting us of all the ways in which our self-centredness hurts and affects others. (And perhaps of times when we have been devious or have dissembled to put ourselves in a good light, or even to put someone else in a bad light!) If we are honest, we may come to realise that some of these may well be more the product of profound tendencies in us (deep ruts even) rather than the momentary aberration we would prefer to dismiss them as.

May the Lord forgive us all the countless ways we have been preoccupied and self-centred this year – especially where this has resulted in our failing to be the kind of witness that would have helped people to sit up and notice God at work in and through us. We may have no control over what others have said or done to us, but we can certainly pray for our response to these things  to be more godly!

And then look outwards . . .
We can pray the same prayers on behalf of leaders in our church and nation – including America, where the entrenched positions that both Democrats and Republicans are adopting are doing nothing to ease the nation’s growing fiscal crisis. For every difficulty God has creative solutions – but only if we are prepared to move beyond fixed positions.

One day this week the Lord challenged me to forgive one of the major EU leaders. I am so aware of the chaos he has caused in so many different fields – it was encouraging to hear the Lord recruiting prayer for him! May He give you great clarity as well as charity as you make time to allow His burdens to come on you.


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