It’s a pretty tough time in the UK at the moment. People are feeling the financial pressures, businesses are squeezed. I often feel discouraged — as I’m sure you do — when you have to watch every penny and tighten your belt. This morning I started to write a song called ‘Summertime’, the first verse goes like this:
Summertime and the living ain’t easy
Fish aren’t jumping, and the cotton is dry
Africa is burning and thirsty
And her fever is running high
It’s at times like these that we face difficult choices: do we bow to pressure, bury our dreams for another day, and go into survival mode, or do we hold our course — pursue those things that we feel called to do?
It’s a difficult question. I’m a firm believer in common sense. Too many Christians, so it seems to me, make the most strange (some might even say foolish) decisions based on whims and fancies without taking into account any practical factors. Surely God expects us to be sensible? There is a fine line between faith and presumption: blaming God for patently poor decisions seems a bit rich.
On the other hand, are we not called to a walk of faith? The danger is that we become so fixated upon immediate practicalities that we fail to see the bigger picture, fail to hear the prompting of God (which, to borrow a phrase from Boris Pasternak, is often no louder than a heartbeat), and become merely reactive to circumstances.
This week I read a piece of advice given by George MacDonald in a letter to his son in 1879. The MacDonald family had just suffered the loss of two of their beloved children, and George was asking himself whether his own failures or presumptions had contributed to their deaths. He confessed to facing ‘an Apollyon of unbelief', yet he gave this advice to his son:
Take care, my boy, lest you should ever lend ear to the advice of any with whom 'prudence', so-called, is the first thing.
Yes, we must be wise and make practical decisions, but sometimes — at least if we claim to be followers of Jesus — we have to walk into the unknown, trusting that he really is leading us. Would slavery have been abolished if Wilberforce had listened to the voice of prudence? Would England have experienced spiritual renewal if Wesley had listened to the voice of prudence?
In a few months I am starting PhD studies at King’s College in London. Prudence tells me to give up — that finances are insufficient, that London is too far away, that I’m too old, and so on. My heart tells me that this is a call on my life I must follow. Two things encourage me to go on. Firstly, I’m a firm believer that true hearts will be led into truth — if you or I are genuinely attempting to follow Jesus, I sure he’s capable of leading us in the right direction. Secondly, as has been pointed out, people on their deathbed do not moan with regret about not having spent more time at the office: most regret not having taking enough risks. So, with a mixture of excitement and fear, I am taking a big risk.
I hope that in these hard times God will be with you on your journey as you trust your decisions to him.