Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Living a Grace Paced Life

I'm looking forward to reading David Murray's new book 'Reset: Living a Grace Paced Life in a Burnout Culture.'  He has created a Facebook page with interviews and clips if you want a preview and there are other resources available here. I've benefited hugely from David's ministry, writing and blogging over the years. Like David (although he has made big changes), I suffer from a frenetic work ethic.  I take a huge amount of my identity from my work and struggle to relax.  I tend to be involved in lots of different things and can't understand why other people can't do the same.  If I'm being honest (and this is difficult to admit) I can feel that a huge amount depends on me, which of course is very arrogant.  I can be quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) scathing about others who don't have the same drive and pace as a I do.  

I was chatting to a close friend recently about his minister and church life.  He told me that the minister does everything at break neck speed and questions anyone in the church who isn't willing to be on every rota and give 100% all the time.  The strain has an effect on family life and not surprisingly the ministry is facing some big challenges.  This frenetic activity can often hide deeper problems where success and growth become more important than integrity and spiritual fruit.  As my friend described his minister I had a pang of guilt that I have some similar traits.

It is easy to live in a burnout culture in Christian service.  I have been guilty of it for years.  Working long hours, out every evening, preaching most weekends, blogging, writing, speaking and firefighting crisis can become part of our identity.  It is hard to admit, but sometimes we act as if everything depends on us.

Last weekend I went to a place where things are much slower and centred very much on God: the family home in Sutherland. We have been going there as a family since I was a baby.  It was once a busy Highland Croft but it is now overgrown and silent except for the migrating birds flying over the Dornoch Firth.  It has been the family home for well over 100 years.  My uncle Willie stays there on his own and the house has hardly changed in 50 years. There is no TV, no broadband (despite my best efforts to set it up when I was there) and facilities are basic and rustic.  On the plus side there are lots of books.

It is a while since I have stayed with my uncle, but certain things struck me very powerfully while I was there.  Firstly, my uncle is very content. He spends his life listening to sermons, reading books (very old books) and attending church up in Brora.  Far from being bitter or resentful, Willie is incredibly thankful - a gratitude that comes out time and time again in his wonderfully intimate prayers.  God is at the centre of his life and worship permeates every day. Despite his own musical limitations, he insists that we sing a Psalm at every worship - such is his love for the praise of God.  When he prays, he is not putting on an act, or finding flowery Biblical language, he actually knows and loves God.  Even at 81, he still gets down on his knees during worship and approaches God with the utmost reverence. He quotes Scripture liberally and sincerely particularly the metrical Psalms that he has sung all his life. When I was up last weekend he said: 'one of my greatest regrets in life was never memorising the 119th Psalm.'  As always after a visit, I have started memorising scripture again.

Secondly, Willie knows what it is to fear God.  The fear of God is something that is never spoken about in the modern church - we think it will put people off.  Psalm 19 v 9 tells us that 'Unspotted is the fear of God, and doth endure for ever.' There is something clean and pure about fearing God. We are told that it is the beginning of wisdom.  Far from being a slavish fear, true fear of God is a loving respect for God.  When it is rightly understood, and lived out, it is something that is incredibly attractive.  It makes us walk gently in this world, it gives us a right view of sin, it gives us a high view of scripture, and it keeps us in a spirit of repentance.  More than anything, the fear of God gives us a deep, deep humility.  The modern church has become infected with the cult of personality.  Energetic and visionary leaders are held up as almost messianic figures who will turn the tide of decline in Scotland.  Others who patiently and faithfully minister away in relative obscurity are overlooked as old fashioned and stuck in the past. I'm always amazed at how reluctant my uncle is to offer a view on anything despite his years of reading.  He has a deep humility which prevents him from pronouncing on contentious subjects and church politics.  

Thirdly, everything at Lonemore is slow.  There is no rush, no deadlines.  It is one day at a time.  I genuinely loose track of time when I am staying with Willie.  Few plans are fixed ahead of time.  The phone is often unplugged in case it disturbs worship.  If ever anyone lived a grace paced life, it is my uncle.  He worships with people of a like mind.  The service on Sunday morning in Brora was full of reverence.  Just before the service started a lady shuffled along and sat beside me. It was none other than the mother of David Murray.  Maureen and Alan Murray are perhaps one of the best examples of a couple who live a grace paced life.  No doubt David was able to take some inspiration from his parents when writing his latest book. The preacher, the Rev John Morrison, handled the Bible with the utmost care and spoke passionately about the need for the 'wisdom which is from above' in James 3 v 17-18.  He preached without notes and as always was full of encouragement when I spoke to him afterwards.  I don't think he has changed in 30 years.

After lunch I headed over to Bonar Bridge to peach in the Gair Hall.  My Grandfather, Alex Murray, who was an elder in Dornoch used to preach in Bonar before his death in 1970.  It was encouraging to see the hall fairly full for the evening service with a few new faces out from when I last preached 4 years ago.  Whatever else is true of Lairg and Bonar Bridge Free Church, the Gair Hall must have one of the nicest view of any church in Scotland.  Supper at the Lairg Manse was hearty and busy. Freshly laid eggs, poached on toast were enjoyed in conversation with 5 lively kids.  It was great, as always to hear of the encouragements and challenges of a rural ministry and I went to bed filled with admiration for Mary and John Forbes.  On any given Sunday, John preaches in Lairg, Bonar Bridge, Lochinver and Bonar Bridge in the evening.  If they were giving out awards for gimmicks and novelty, John would be at the back of the queue.  Instead he exercises a quiet, faithful and consistent ministry in a place that long ago lost its rich spiritual heritage. We hope and pray that he will know encouragement in the days ahead.

I'm so thankful for my uncle and the help I have received over the years from visiting Lonemore.  My little tour of Sutherland en route to Ullapool, reminded me of a different way of life.  It is a slower, deeper, more thoughtful, and deeply God centred lifestyle.  It was a rebuke to my frenetic, undisciplined and at times spiritually shallow existence.  I need to remember that rest is not weakness.  If God rested on the seventh day maybe we need to do likewise.  I need to stop living on the edge of my physical, emotional and spiritual resources.  I need to learn how to say no to invitations and commitments.  

So what can I/we do?  This infographic is very helpful.  It reminds us that making time for spiritual disciplines, Christian community, godly counsel, family and cutting down time at work can all help to avoid burnout and help us live a more grace paced life.  Rather than having a packed week perhaps we need to create space where we are intentionally relaxing and recharging.  We need to invest in relationships, family and most of all we need to spend time with God.  We need to spend more time waiting on God and less time trying to save the world.  We all need to have a 'reset' sometimes.  I think my one is long overdue.

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