There are a number of people close to me at the moment who are in very difficult situations. Some of them are in a place of peace with God even though they are in huge pain, they know God is far too big to ‘fit in their pocket’. Some of them are frustrated, furious and feel downright annoyed with God for not coming through for them (this is the camp I’m most usually in whenever things get desperate). Some of them are being hugely self-reliant and are only vaguely aware of God on the fringes of their life.
As you’d expect, I’m praying for them all … but every Christian who prays (vicars included) sometimes feel a sense of frustration over prayer, I would desperately long to change all of these situations, right now, in an instant but prayer isn’t like that and God doesn’t often respond in that way. Occasionally dramatic things happen, jobs are found or something shifts seismically altering the situation. But mostly what I see is the slow gentle transformation of me and of them and their situations – and this too is miraculous.
This week I realised that all of these seemingingly impossible, overwhelming and distressing situations all have two things in common:
- I care about all the people involved but
- everything about their situations is beyond my control.
I talked to God about this and asked him
- what was HE doing? but (more importantly because after all the answer to that question is God’s business not mine)
- what did he want ME to be ‘doing’ in these situations?
Having asked these questions, I took some time to shut up and just be in God’s presence. Listening to music helps to put me in that place and not wanting to make any other decisions I just picked up the first CD off the pile and put it in the player (yes I know, very low tech).
The song was a 10 minute version of Stay with Me, a Taize chant. You can hear it here:
The entire lyrics are ‘Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray… watch and pray’
I thought about how this was a request from Jesus to his friends in his moment of extreme pain. He just wanted them present, he wanted them to watch and he wanted them to pray.
‘Watching’ has got a bad reputation recently – it has lost its positive Biblical connotations of being present, attentive and alert. In the Bible there is nothing passive about watching: watchmen wait for the dawn, guarding their community who sleep peacefully knowing there is a night watchman, looking out for enemies. Jesus told stories about bridesmaids who were meant to be watching for the bridegroom.
These days we think of watching as somewhat voyeuristic, we think of the TV phenomenon of watching and being ‘entertained’ by someone else’s misfortune (schadenfreude) even if that’s ‘only’ being voted off a game show.
I left the place where I had worshipped in stillness but God hadn’t finished talking to me about watching, that it was not a passive, disinterested state of doing ‘nothing’.
First I thought of how a three year old will shout ‘watch me Mummy, watch me’. Any parent will know that a cursory glance in their direction will not suffice. Only a sustained observation of their latest skill will do – and that kind of ‘watching’ communicates love, affection and bestows a vital sense of importance and value to the child being so watched.
Then I saw a dog! Dogs have so much to teach us.
The dog I saw had been tied to a post outside a bank while his mistress went in. He was very good, didn’t make a sound but never for one moment did he take his eyes off the door of the bank. People came past and tried to pet him but he just dodged his eyes around their legs to keep his view clear of the door. Finally she emerged and he was there, rewarded, tail wagging. Totally confident, I suspect, that his owners return was purely down to his diligent watching for her.
‘That is what I want you to do for your friends’ said Jesus.
‘I want you to ‘Stay with me and Stay with them and watch and pray’. That is a Not a nothing thing to do’.
It in this way that God watches over us – as we are repeatedly told in the Bible. On the day of this conversation with God my morning verse had been 1 Peter 5:7 which in the Amplified version reads
‘Casting the whole of your care, all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns once and for all on him for he cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.’
then today Psalm 86:15
‘But O you God are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love and you never, never quit’
(The Message version)
God does that for me… can I do that for others?