I had been treading water in my faith for a couple of years. I’d served in the roles I felt called to over the years: Sunday School teacher, Youth Leader, Steward, Worship Leader, Preacher, Youth Leader (again!), and been involved in various church initiatives like the 24/7 prayer room, youth events, outreach etc., etc. There were also many failed plans like Messy Church, free car washes, and attempting to start a world-wide event called Raise the Praise(!). I’d got caught up in the potential of all of these roles and initiatives believing for real movements of God, and in many cases, they came...to some extent. No great revivals but God was working, even if He was just teaching me something through my failures! At some point, though, I lost my mojo. I got tired. The ideas for new initiatives came but they were not fruitful. Excitement and expectation were extinguished by the inevitable disappointment that followed a fruitless outreach, damp response or role that ran its course. I think many of us have been in that place: we believed, we tried, we gave up. If you’re connecting with what I am saying, I have no answers as to why there was little fruit for our efforts. Maybe it was because they were OUR efforts. Maybe the timing wasn’t right. Maybe there were lessons that needed to be learnt along the way. But if you’re anything like me, your heart was right; you prayed, you sought, you walked the walk and God knows that.
Something’s happening now that’s different though. Have you felt it? I talked about it in last week’s blog: the excitement and expectation are back but there’s an energy and a drive behind it. Something’s coming! So what does that mean for those of us who have slacked off over the years? It’s time to be stretched! Think of an elastic band. When it’s not in use, it’s loose and floppy but pick it up and stretch it, it becomes taught and full of potential energy (remember those physics lessons?). Paul describes this stretching well when he writes to the Philippians (3: 13-14) ‘Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ As you pull an elastic band away from wherever you have anchored it, the rubber strains towards its destination. The further you stretch the elastic, the further the band will travel when its anchor is released.
So what does it look like to be stretched by God. I think that will be different for each of us but it needs to begin with seeking God earnestly. He says, ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile’ (Jeremiah 29: 12-14).
Seeking God with all of our heart, that’s a stretch in itself: to immerse ourselves in Him- in His Word, in worship, in prayer: to place Him at the centre of our lives. For me, that takes focus and concentration and I have to refocus when my concentration wanes...daily, if not hourly! But as someone who does physical stretch training each week, I know that the regular stretch increases flexibility. The more time we give over to God, the greater our availability to be called by Him. The more we go where he calls, the more our courage will grow. The greater our courage, the more our faith will build and our desire to give more over to God will continue.
For those of you who, like me, feel like you have slackened in your walk with God, it’s time to stretch! If you've never really walked the walk, just sat in the pews and enjoyed the odd hymn, it’s time to stretch! For those who are already stretching, don’t stop! Let’s all strain towards what is ahead and press on towards the goal. As my Pastor would say, ‘It’s coming home!’