I am taking the unprecedented step on this Blog of interrupting the series on ‘Revisiting the Ten Commandments’ (which I hope we’ll come back to after Easter) to specifically present a series I started writing recently, more for my own benefit than anyone else’s, about ‘Living with Uncertainty’. I didn’t start it initially with Coronavirus in mind, but it does somehow seem applicable in the light of that. For those who like short, snappy meditations each morning, may I suggest the times call for eating more than breadcrumbs each day. (Sorry!) May I invite you therefore to join me on this walk with the Lord which, someway in, I confess has already blessed me somewhat, in these very uncertain times.
PART ONE: General Ponderings on Uncertainty and Certainty
‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 1. Introducing Uncertainty: “Follow Me”
Mt 4:19,20 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
Introduction: It may be the age we are living in – post-Brexit in the UK, and the advent of coronavirus across the globe, pre-another Presidential election in the US – but it seems more and more people are expressing concerns about the uncertainty of modern life and are worrying about it. As we are also approaching Easter it has set me thinking about how, contrary to the beliefs of many Christians, uncertainty is at the heart of the Christian life. It is certainly no more than that which non-Christians suffer but it is there and it is a different sort of uncertainty, brought about by the very real aspects of the Bible story and how it is worked out in our daily lives. Wonderfully, and I hope we will see it in these studies, this uncertainty is underpinned by a certainty that is inexplicable yet cast iron sure. As I watch Christians around me struggling to cope with the uncertainties of the coming of the Coronavirus, or even with the various trials that come through modern life, I perceive what I believe is an inadequacy of holding a correct biblical view that should help them. It just doesn’t seem to be there and so for many, the uncertainties of life and also of the Christian life in particular, causes worry and anxiety and simply quoting Bible verses doesn’t seem to help. It is this sort of thing that I believe we should thinking about in more depth and be addressing in this series running up to Easter.
The Uncertainty of Discipleship: Because we rarely seem able to truly identify with the early apostles we are also unable to comprehend the true nature of the discipleship to which they, and we, have been called. I wrote elsewhere recently, “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the simplest description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me. And that’s what they did!
It WAS that simple but compare their lives as disciples from what they had been. Some of them had been fishermen and the only thing that governed their lives was the weather. As long as it allowed them, they went out on the Sea of Galilee and fished. No problem. One of them was a tax collector who probably sat in a tax booth collecting taxes; easy! Then Jesus says come, follow me, and there is something about him that compelled them to go on this nomadic life of ministry, and it’s quite clear that most of the time most of them hadn’t a clue where they were going and what was going to happen. I hope we’ll be able to see this as we observe the final weeks before Easter.
We often laugh about the way the apostle Peter only opened his mouth to change feet, but that was simply an expression of his uncertainty, of what was happening. Remember when Jesus started telling them about his impending death. Peter’s response? “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) Ooops! To be uncertain means to be unsure and Peter is seriously unsure about the will of God. Oh yes, our uncertainty can manifest itself in apparent certainty, that’s how we handle it like Peter here, but our certainty is wrong. That’s the wrong sort of certainty. But then, God doesn’t work like that, we say, or God doesn’t do that sort of thing! And so often we’re wrong! He does. Handling uncertainty means growing up, becoming mature in understanding.
So why are we surprised when suggestions like this arise, that the Christian life is a life of uncertainty? Why are preachers so specifically confident and so adamant about the nature of the Christian life, that it’s all good stuff? It is but not in the way we so often think! And yet, how easily, I wonder, do we read Paul’s words, “For we live by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor 5:7) and think that’s easy. But the reality is that most of us prefer to know what we’re doing, where we’re going, yet Paul tells us the life we live is to be one in response to what God says, not only what He says in His word, but also by what He says by His Spirit, and if we dare be honest, that isn’t always easy. We struggle with this concept, I suggest, because of our insecurity; we only feel secure when we can see what’s happening, we haven’t learned to trust God when the sky seems to be falling on us!
The Core of the Faith: What we’re talking about here are the fundamental basics of the Christian Faith. We follow a God we cannot see but who somehow has communicated to us in the crises of life and drawn us to Himself. Yes, we have His word but there is so much of it that we don’t understand for the moment. Trials and tribulations of life come along and we get overrun by the negatives that pull us down, cause anxiety and so on.
Learning God’s Ways: Moses once asked God, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13) That’s what was going on while the disciples went with Jesus, they were being taught God’s ways, not in any formal way but in an on-the-job-and-life way. Before understanding comes trust and they were learning to trust Jesus, that he knew best and he was for them. I suspect they didn’t realize that this was what was happening, but it was. And that is so often true of you and me. Life is uncertain, the world is uncertain, but in the midst of it all Jesus is trying to teach us that he is in charge and uses both the good and the bad to work out the Father’s purposes, and even if we don’t understand – as so often we don’t – that’s how it is, so rest in his love.
And Us? So as we come to the end of this first introductory study, may I invite you to pray? Just recently, not only with the things going on out there in the world, but things that were happening to me, I confessed to the Lord that I felt like I was a cork bobbing around in the sea of uncertainty, but then as He drew near, I suddenly realized that the truth was that I was bobbing about in His love and, as a friend put it, changing the analogy, he was there in the boat with me. Awesome! So can you pray that, thanking Him that if life seems uncertain, the truth is that you’re in His love and even more, in the storms of life, he’s there in the boat with you? Can you declare that in prayer and praise him in the midst of it all? May it be so. Let’s think some more about these things in the weeks running up to Easter.