Welcome to these devotions for people who don’t have the internet, or are away, or who are interested anyhow. Today we’re not really getting into the pre-Christmas/Advent thing but leaping from Mary’s choice at the Annunciation, we are going to reflect on seeking God’s guidance when we have decisions to make.
Dear God, I give thanks for my connection to you, and to our Christian community. As I spent this time in devotions, draw me closer to your heart, to appreciate more the intimate place in which I’m held in your love. Increase my confidence in your goodwill towards me and my spiritual skill in hearing what you call me to and want for me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and their care of, and connection to the land, before Europeans came here. We pay our respects to their Elders, past present and emerging. We acknowledge our Second People’s benefit from their dispossession, our First People’s loss and disadvantage, and also their on-going culture and connection to the land. We cannot change the past, but we can help shape the future and so commit ourselves to reconciliation and justice as First and Second Peoples together.
Reflective meditation (Read this slowly allowing memories to arise and subside)
Dear God, life has many ‘hump’ moments, when we’ve been waiting- expecting hopefully- or dreading, something, and then the moment happens and life has changed forever: like the birth of a child or grandchild, or a medical diagnoses, or finishing school, or buying a house, a new relationship, moving in and getting married, or a major accident, or death of someone close, or moving towns or even country, or a lucky win, or a hard-earned victory, a new device, hurtful words or violence towards us, or an inheritance coming your way, getting your driver’s license or giving it up, moments of ecstatic beauty, taking up a job, or retiring, an ‘ah-ha!’ moment when we suddenly understand or appreciate something, a profound spiritual experience, or a shame-bomb dropped on us for something we’ve done wrong, moments of healing grace, or the flooding warmth of cherished memories.
We remember many of these things in our lives. . . .
Some have been decisive choices, others have been beyond our control. These are life. And so are the very ordinary times in between. You, God, are there with us in them all, whether we notice or not, with your love. What a wonderful gift you have given us! We give you our praise and our thanks; through the understanding and grace of Christ. Amen
We’re taking the Advent readings out of order today:
Bible reading: Luke 1: 26-38
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. 27 He had a message for a young woman promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. Her name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!”
29 Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and she wondered what his words meant. 30 The angel said to her, “Don't be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. 31 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, 33 and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”
34 Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God's power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. 36 Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. 37 For there is nothing that God cannot do.”
38 “I am the Lord's servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
Situation and Reflection
For Mary- the appearance of the Angel Gabriel was a profound experience- yet she was still free to say yes or say no. She chose to say yes readily - after a questions or two- despite the risk of disgrace and a life of struggle that would follow. And bless her for that!
We don’t usually have such a clear signal from God.
What would you say to someone who was asked to be part of a randomised trial for a new drug? They asked for your advice. On the one hand, if the drug worked it could give them a longer life, but then they might be given the placebo and it do them no benefit. It would give them a sense of helping other people into the future, but it also would be likely to have some nasty side effects.
Our natural reaction is to say- ‘It’s up to you. Do what’s best for you.’
Then, if we bring our Christian faith into it- does that make a difference?
Jesus’ life, and his picture of God, is of a self-giving love. Surely that would seem to put more weight on the side of doing the trial- yes it might be a sacrifice for us, but then it could result in a significant benefit for many people into the future. All the medical treatments we have these days come from people taking the risk of their own suffering for the benefit of others. Jesus said, ‘There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.’
The same goes for many decisions- what do I spend my money on? What career might I choose? Especially for say police, or armed services, or other emergency services where there’s a huge risk to you from PTSD or worse.
Do we make the decision based on a sense of being called by God to do it; or a sense of guilt if we don’t?
I think this is an important distinction to make if we’re serious about our Christian faith. There’s a difference between ‘I want to’ and ‘I feel I should’. One is joyful, one is a chore. One is life-giving, one is life-draining. If we do something because we see a good purpose in it, we can be happy to make sacrifices. If we’re doing something only because we feel we should then we won’t be happy.
I think this is a dilemma for Christians in many situations. And why many people shy away from the Christian life- they feel- we too often feel- God will take away the things I enjoy and make me do painful things.
There are millions of sacrificial things we could do- but how do we sort out the ones we are called to- the ones that God is really inviting us to do? In other words how do we ‘discern’ God’s will for us?
Can I suggest three things to help us sort this out:
1 Jesus’ teaching was to love God with your whole self and love your neighbour as yourself. Firstly in loving God completely, you put yourself at God’s disposal- willing to do what you’re called to do. Now that sounds risky. But then in loving your neighbour as yourself- weighing those equally- you’re looking for a win-win direction- something that is good for others and good for yourself. Not a win-lose, or a lose-win action. Looking after yourself is not necessarily being selfish.
So, in the drug trial example- weigh up the risks against ‘How much will I feel that I’m doing good here?’
2 Jesus prayed seriously before the big decisions in his life: nights out on the mountain seeking to hear what direction God was calling his ministry to. Somehow he found answers in those times. There was the 40 days in the wilderness to learn what God had for him to do.
Timing was also important in that. It was when John the Baptist was put in prison he felt the time was right to begin his ministry. Then there was the special revelation in the Transfiguration (Luke 9: 28-31, 51)- that for him the path was to head to Jerusalem knowing he’d be arrested and crucified. Wait for an answer that gives you a sense of peace in your heart.
3 Don’t make these decisions alone. Ask your trusted friends who understand your faith. Get their perspective. You have to make the decision, but seek their wisdom.
We probably have a range of ideas about Satan from the bible, from church, from medieval art and from the media. Biblically, rather than Satan being a name, it’s ‘the Satan’- the accuser. It’s the voice inside your head that puts the guilts on you- that says ‘If you’re a real Christian you should do . . . (whatever)’.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13: ‘I may give away everything that I have, even burn myself out doing good deeds, but if I don’t have love, it does me no good.’ Ask God for the power to love, and with whatever you might have been asked to do, if you’d only be doing it because you felt you ‘should’, then it’s not God’s call, and feel free to not do it. But if you feel you’d be doing it from love, even if it’s something difficult, tackle it with freedom of spirit and joy.
Prayers for others and ourselves
Each line is an invitation to bring to mind in prayer people, (which can include ourselves), or situations for which we want to pray:
Dear God, I bring to you people who are not well and needs your healing touch . . .
I bring to you people who are struggling and needs your word of encouragement . . .
I bring to you people who are sad and needs your comfort and hope . . .
I bring to you situations in our world today that need your Spirit of peace . . .
I bring to you situations in our society that need changing . . .
I bring to you the church and its needs . . .
I bring to you my own needs and those of people I love . . .
I bring to you something from this service . . .
Dear God, I give thanks for those who are also sharing these prayers, and join my prayers with theirs. We offer ourselves to do your will that we may be part of your answer to these prayers, in the name of Jesus our Leader. Amen.
Listen to God’s call to you.
It is always for your good.
But have it out with God- seek clarity.
God loves the debate.
Then act boldly and joyously and with peace in your heart
knowing you are giving life to the world.