A Significant Birthday

I had an important birthday recently: 40 years ago this March I became a Christian. I remember very clearly walking out of the room where it all happened into a corridor and knowing that things were different. It was only over the next days and weeks that I properly understood exactly what had happened.

From that moment, everything changed for me. My non-Christian family thought I’d gone bonkers but that it would soon blow over. It hasn’t yet!

Over those forty years the most amazing thing to me has been God’s incredible patience with me and His grace. I’ve made so many mistakes, disobeyed Him so many times, lived for years at a time deliberately and knowingly flouting His will, lived a half-hearted Christian life much too often… I could go on and on. But He has always been there, He has never let go.

There’s a song by French Canadian singer Luc Dumont which for me expresses this extremely well, called Malgré Tout (Despite Everything in English):

Here are some of the words:

J’ignore combien de fois
Dans mon cœur, je t’ai trompé
J’ignore combien de fois
Ton humble cœur, j’ai attristé

Pendant si longtemps
Ma vie ne fut que manquements
De plus en plus loin de mon but
Je m’éloignais de Jésus

Malgré tout, tu m’as pardonné
Malgré tout, la croix tu m’as donné
Malgré tout, tu as su oublier
Tout cela, malgré tout

The first verse in English is (roughly):

I don’t know how many times
In my heart, I’ve cheated you
I don’t know how many times
Your humble heart, I’ve grieved

Malgré tout, despite everything, for more than forty years now, You have stuck with me, Jesus: thank You, thank You, with all of my heart.

Praying Together

On 21 January 2014, Joanna and I had our first evening of prayer as a couple for France. Since then we’ve been praying together for France one evening a week, which has been an immense blessing to us, drawing us closer to the country and its people, over more than a year now. Recently we have been starting our France prayer evenings with a time of song worship in French, which encourages us in God and in our language learning!

Very soon after we began going out together we decided that we wanted to pray together regularly, so we started what we called “D&P” once a week, standing for “Dinner and Prayer.” We can thoroughly recommend this as a really great way to have a date! It certainly helped us keep our relationship centred on Jesus as we grew together, both before and after we got married. One of the benefits is that it gives us a regular time to talk through lots of things in God’s presence.

If you’re part of a couple and are not yet praying together regularly, please do give it a go: it’s fantastic!

Flashback: A Distant View

From the end of 2013 these thoughts have been coming back to my mind every so often and have been very helpful. From my teens I’ve been interested in mountaineering and I used to read every Himalayan expedition book I could get my hands on in the library! So the images I describe here have been embedded in my mind for a very long time.

Imagine you are a mountaineer, part of an expedition bound for the Himalayas, aiming to make a bold first ascent of a high and challenging mountain. You are making your approach the old-fashioned way, taking several weeks to walk in from the foothills.

Imagine you are standing on the crest of a ridge of these foothills. The air is clear and you are looking North. In the far distance, on the horizon, you can see a line of sharp, pointed, snow-covered mountains, reflecting the sun in a truly dazzling sight.

With difficulty, you manage to find the peak your expedition will be ascending. Wow! It looks so exciting, so beautiful; the idea of climbing it sends a delicious thrill over your whole body.

That’s how it felt for us when we began to dream about what God could do in France. To be part of a real move of God which would see a significant advance of His Kingdom in France was thrilling. And in all honesty, at that distance it’s easy to focus on the thrill and forget the hard work and setbacks that will be ahead…

As the days of the approach march are ticked off, and the foothills become higher, you can no longer see the mountain you are going to be climbing. It’s hidden behind the smaller ranges. Life becomes a daily rhythm of valley, pass, valley, pass, trudging on.

Again, in the middle of trying to work out how we might actually get to France and how it might be possible to work for God there, it was easy to let the goal, that glittering mountain, recede from our consciousness. Not that we’d forgotten, it was just not so much in our thoughts.

One day, however, you crest yet another ridge and suddenly, it’s there. Your mountain. Still some way away, but its shape and ridges are clearly visible. And its size is apparent, too. Ouch. It’s big! It looks hard, very hard. Can we really climb this?

For us, as the weeks pass by (alarmingly quickly, now), the scale and difficulty of what we believe God is calling us too become much, much more apparent. And much, much scarier. Is this really possible?

And so you come to the final march to Base Camp, at the foot of a massive glacier, about 3km from the base of the mountain. Its South Face rears up in front of you. Huge, precipitous, awesome in scale and difficulty. Every now and then an avalanche starts from one of the hanging glaciers on the face. The sound of the avalanches takes some time to travel the distance to where you are standing.

That’s your route: the South Face. But, being so close, you can also pick out the lines that others have tried. You can begin to see how to create a route to avoid the avalanche tracks. You can plan where the first few camps might be. And where your summit party might exit the face to attain the summit. It’s possible. We can do this…

In our mountain-climb, we find it so very helpful to think one stage at a time. Can we make this step, does it seem realistic? Well, yes, it does.  What about the next step? OK, yes. And so on and so on, step by step, stage by stage. The whole task, the whole mountain, still seems totally crazy. But this step? Yes, we can.

What makes it all realistic, of course, is that the Leader of our expedition is Jesus. As Paul said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The challenge is to continue to be excited by the Mountain, not defeated by fear.