‘I just don’t know what to do’
Is that something that is said occasionally in your household? Is there someone or is it you who is anxious -should I do this or should I do that -being kept awake by the decisions that he or she has to make?
And often, as we cannot decide we just don’t decide at all. We say to ourselves ‘the big decisions just make themselves’. We slide. We don’t decide. We slide into remaining at the dead end job. although it is unfulfilling. We slide even into uncommitted and unwise relationships.
But how do we decide what to do? Is there a right answer to how we should decide?
A friend of mine is an Archdeacon in Suffolk, when he was a vicar he was asked periodically to speak at a local secondary school on a panel with a prominent atheist. The school children were able to ask the panel any question that they liked.
One teenage girl said very frankly that her boy friend was putting pressure on her to be intimate, but she was not sure what to do.
She wanted to ask the panel ‘What should I do?’ The atheist just said – ‘do what you like’
But the answer just did not work for her. What if she decided one way now and then regretted it later?’ How could she know what was best in her interests, in the longer term
‘Do what you like’
I have no doubt that there would be many people who would find deeply offensive the suggestion that there is a right way of living, a right way to make decisions, a way to ensure that life is not full of regrets.
It is the Christian contention, you see, that the way to make the best decisions, the right way to live, the way to find happiness, the way to find fulfilment and joy, over a whole life time; the way to avoid feeling that life has been wasted at its end, is to seek to follow and really to know, the person who made us, the person who knows us, better than we know ourselves: To follow the person who loves us; who loves you and loves me and that way is to seek to follow Jesus Christ, to be his disciple, to learn from him how to live…
But how can following Christ, help us to make decisions?
Well not at all if our idea of God is limited to what other people have told us about him or what we have made up about him.
If we ourselves don’t know God, its like when people say to me ‘I don’t come to church, because I find God in the garden’. I know what they mean and, of course, we can encounter God in the garden, in creation. I know one former RAF officer, now ordained,who came to faith simply by seeing the scenery in Belize. Theologians call this ‘general revelation’
But what does this sort of experience tell us about who God is except that he is an incredible artist so that we can enjoy the beauty of his creation. Although we can try and imitate him, with our paint brushes,this in itself will not get us through the day, in terms of facilitating our decisions.
No we need to know who God is. But how can we know anything about God, the person who knows us better than ourselves?
Only if he reveals himself to us and he has revealed himself to us, in this library of books called the Bible. This library of books written by kings, prophets, poets, doctors, fishermen, all sorts of people; in all sorts of different forms of literature: history, myth, poetry, eye witness account; all of which He has inspired; One mind, one person behind all those individual writers, over thousands of years of history; One person who has revealed himself in all of them.
As Paul says to Timothy in the letter we have just read: All Scripture is God breathed
And this means both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Now some of us may be thinking ‘but the Bible is just a rule book isn’t it? I don’t want to be told what to do in my life, how to make my decisions.
In a couple of weekends I am going to a match of the Rugby World Cup. As I have been watching the matches, I have had a brief reverie as to what it would be like to be the referee of one of those matches; directing those huge athletes in their struggles for victory.
But then I realise it would be a total nightmare, for them and for me.
You see I don’t know the rules.
And I am not terribly fit and so would not keep up with the play. It would be awful. The players would hate it, the spectators would loathe it, and I would probably get duffed up in the process.
Knowing the rules and having the discipline to abide by them, makes life more fun not less.
But although the Bible does contain rules, to guide our lives that is not the most important thing about it. The important thing is that the Bible reveals the nature of God to us; reveals his character; reveals his priorities, reveals how much he loves us.
We see this in God’s plan for creation, in his plan, like a five act play, to address our falseness, to address our sin, revealed in the whole Bible.
We see this in Jesus’ character, shown to us in the eye witness stories we read in the New Testament, but also when we pray that he will do so, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read.
The original text of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But also our reading of itis inspired by the Holy Spirit. We can know God, if we read the Bible.
I have had many many occasions in my life when a particular piece of Scripture has just hit me in the chest. When I was in Tokyo, running the office of my law firm there, it was the parable of the Rich Farmer building his bigger and bigger barns, storing up his grain.
Every night I would ask our youngest daughter Marina, to select which of the picture book of stories Jesus told, she would like me read to her at bedtime. The ‘Rich Farmer, Daddy’ she would always reply. ‘That’s me’ I would think as I read this story out again and again.
And as I was deciding whether to leave the City in 2005, I was having a lunch with a Christian friend wondering whether it was irresponsible to leave such a good job.
He said ‘do you believe that you should do what Jesus said seek first the kingdom of God? ‘Yes’ I responded rather weakly. ‘Well are you?’ He replied
That’s what got me to leave the City. One of the best decisions I have ever taken.
And There have been numerous other occasions, when I have been reading the Bible by myself when the passage absolutely speaks to me in the circumstances that I am facing that day. A lot of them are very personal and I not going to share them with you. But a trivial example would be the reading for the day on Wednesday, after a very unsatisfactory Tuesday morning with a BT engineer, trying to get broadband to St John’s Itchen Abbas.’Stand firm’ was the reading.This made me even more determined, when meeting the BT surveyor that morning. As it was he could not have been more helpful.
So reading the Bible every day really does help us. It helps me and it can help youwith every day life. It helps us make decisions, which are the right ones. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to convict us when we are going off track; To challenge us when we need to change our direction, and to comfort us when we are feeling low.
It is as Paul says ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
But of course there may be things we read that we don’t agree with in the Bible. We almost certainly will find God not to be a reflection of ourselves or even who we aspire to become.
Sometimes we may feel shame and even guilt from time to time when we read it about the things we have done. Reading the bible does convict us of our sin.
But this is a good thing. It’s actually a sign of being a Christian.
If we don’t recognise ourselves as sinners, then we can never go to God to repent and experience his forgiveness; We can never experience God’s grace, His love.
But how practically can we read the Bible regularly? We are so busy For many of us it is about choosing to make it a priority, over the other things we like to spend our time doing.
It’s a discipline to begin with but soon it’s a delight.
It’s a bit like taking exercise which many of us cyclists, runners, work out enthusiasts and walkers find time for regularly regardless of other priorities.
But then there will be others of us who are in what I call ’emergency living’. If it’s not going to work early the morning, and returning shattered very late, it’s dealing with the kids from morning to night.
How can we possibly find the time?
Well I used to read the Bible on the train on the way into London. I had a good 50 minutes to do so but it was a bit of a clobber with the Bible and the commentary book.
But now when I go up to town, like so many of us, I have a smart phone or tablet, andI use use a bible reading app.
What about the parent at home? Well the kids do sleep some of the time and of course eventually they go to nursery school. But I recognise that it is really difficult in this phase of life, when we are in emergency living. But I know that God will honour the effort that we make. Also some of us spend a lot of time watching TV
May I suggest for some getting up 30 mins, 15 minutes or even 5 minutes earlier to read the Bible (even if this means going to bed a bit earlier). If we find it difficult to find the time, smart phones or tablets are the easiest way to read the Bible every day.But there are purists who say nothing beats just getting into an old fashioned book.
But whatever way you do it, you will need a plan because it can be a bit indigestible, if you just start at Genesis, and try to read through the whole thing. A bit like going to a library and telling the Librarian you are going to read all the books in the Library beginning at A.
It’s best to follow a reading scheme and there are many which enable us to read through the whole Bible in a year.
You will need to read it in a comprehensible modern English version – I recommend either the NRSV or the NIV.
And you will probably need a commentary.Reading the Bible without a commentary, is a bit like eating a steak without a sauce: Nourishing but rather indigestible.
And when we read it, ask three questions: Two Whats and a How!
What does it say?
What does it mean?
How does it apply to my life?
What I do is to read The Bible in One Year. It takes three Bible passages each day and comments on them daily.
It’s just great.
It’s just a great thing to do. Give aside only 30 minutes a day or 15, or even 5. So that you can really know God, who made you and me, who loves us and wants us on the best path for our lives.
And gradually our lives will be changed to the way that God meant them to be.