I am really looking forward to receiving my congratulatory telegram/card from King William in 25 years’ time (when I will have reached the ripe old age of 100). Five years ago, when I was 70, I had major heart surgery. The night before the operation I asked God for another 10 years of active ministry – not just life but years of active ministry. I hope that I will have another five years or so on top of that so that I can enjoy at least some years of genuine retirement with Julia. But, having already had five years of enforced retirement down in Dorset (a most frustrating time since I didn’t feel ready for retirement) I was raring to get going for God again. I believe God answered that prayer positively and, first at Knaphill (where I became very involved in the community, eventually being appointed the church’s Community Minister because the church thought it was better to have me inside the tent rather than outside the tent) and now here in Reading (where the church haven’t got a clue what to do with me as yet) I have found opportunity after opportunity to serve God and others surrounding me.
Life is a journey and, as suggested by the story of the two on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35), a journey in which God himself walks alongside of us waiting for us to recognise him. When we walk this journey, unaware of his presence, life fails to make sense – we don’t know where we came from, why we are here, or where we are going. It is only when we bring Jesus into the equation that life begins to make sense. The Bible clearly teaches that we are all here for a reason – God has a plan, a purpose, for each one of us. As the Prophet Jeremiah reminds us: ‘I have plans for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29:11). The Apostle Paul follows up on this when he tells us that with God in the frame ‘everything ultimately works out for the best, for those who genuinely love God and determine to walk according to his plans and purposes’ (Romans 8:28).
Since being a Christian, and even being a Christian Minister, is a way of life and not a job so to speak, it is not something that we can ever actually really retire from in the accepted sense of retirement. We may step down from an active leadership role, or step back from being involved in a particular activity, because of age or infirmity or simply because we sense from God that he has something else for us – but there will always be a ‘something else’ even if that something else is simply to give ourselves to prayer and intercession. We all need to resist the temptation to compartmentalise our lives where God is concerned, for example by attending worship reasonably regularly on a Sunday morning yet living the rest of the week as though it belonged to us, or (as I have sadly known to happen) spending 40 years in Christian Ministry and then retiring at 65 and never going to church ever again?!
For me, every day is more exciting than the day before. Here we are, at the beginning of yet another new year, in a new church (well, new to us … Abbey has actually been around since 1640), and at the beginning of yet another adventure with God. I have spent my entire ministry going to churches who needed help, encouragement and the right kind of input that would help them recover from the lean years and move into a time of plenty. Abbey is much the same – a group of 30 or so, mostly elderly, believers who love the Lord but who recognise that unless something changes drastically over the next few years the church will cease to exist. Obviously, Julia and I (and our church members for that matter) believe that God’s plan and purpose for us at Abbey has exactly the opposite of that scenario in mind – otherwise we would not have come to Abbey in the first place. For us, therefore, beginning 2019 is beginning a new adventure – beginning this new chapter in the life of Abbey with the question: ‘How are you going to do it again, Lord?’ The one thing we can be sure of is not just that God will do it again, but that it will not necessarily be in the same way he has done it before. It will be a journey beyond the familiar for us all!
One of my favourite saints (if Baptist-Christians can have saints) is the Irish saint, St. Brendan the Navigator. Born in Kerry in 484, very little is known about his early life other than rumours that brightly shining angels hovered over the house when he was born. Ordained to the priesthood in 512 St. Brendan established several monasteries throughout Ireland. Of all the Irish saints, St. Brendan was the most adventurous. He loved travelling on the sea and was very skilled with the coracle (a small boat). On some of his earlier ventures, he visited Britain, many of the islands off the coast of Scotland and possibly even Iceland. He is best known, however, for his famous voyage, a voyage that lasted seven years and during which he travelled to Iceland, Greenland and maybe even America in search of the Island of the Blessed. The story of this voyage is told in a 9th century manuscript called Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot) and is a good read full of the adventures Brendan encountered on his journey tackling large sea monsters and the like. St Brendan died in 578 and he is known as the patron saint of seafarers and travellers. He serves as an example of someone who never lost his vital relationship with the Living God, nor his sense of adventuring with God.
Amongst the stories and sayings attributed to St Brendan the Navigator is the following prayer which we need to take to heart as we enter this New Year ahead of us with all its challenges, and possibilities. May God help us to also ‘journey beyond the familiar’.
Lord, I will trust You,
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me faith to leave the old ways and break fresh ground with you.
Christ of the mysteries,
Can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me?
Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?
I will show others the care You’ve given me.
I will determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust.
I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life.
I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You and obey.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand.
I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until the story is written.
Focus my mind and my heart upon You, my attention always on You without alteration.
Strengthen me with Your blessing and appoint to me the task.
Teach me to live with eternity in view.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven.
Feed me, and, somehow, make my obedience count for You.