How ambitious are you?

Anita Mathias, one of the finalists in the Christian New Media Awards earlier this year, writes a thought-provoking guest post on ambition today. Very honoured (or should I say honored, as I am currently in the USA?) to have Anita writing here for me. Enjoy!

Ambition and Christ


Do nothing out of selfish ambition. (Phil 2:3).


Many achievers have been wired to achieve from their cradles, a mixture of genetically mediated temperament and family culture.


And then we become Christians, and we give up our old identity.


We are now hidden in Christ.


And what becomes of our old ambition?


Well, I can tell you what happened to mine. It has graduated through three phases, the conjunctions changing at each phrase.

* * *

Ambition OR Christ


I committed my life to Christ at 17. I finished school early, having skipped grades, and then worked with Mother Teresa for two years.


When I went to University, to read English at Somerville College, Oxford University, I quickly sensed the contradiction between the openness with one’s time which Christ required (I read  “give to everyone who asks of you,” almost literally!) and complete dedication to writing.


Incredibly, I chose writing, and for the next few years—all through a graduate degree in Creative Writing—I focused on reading and writing poetry. To quote Willa Cather, I served “the God of Art who demands human sacrifices.”


It was perceived failure in writing poetry which led me to recommit my life to Christ six years later, and, this time, it stuck.


Ambition AND Christ


In On Writing, Stephen King says he had considered his life a support system for his art. However,  when crippled by excruciating pain after a freak road accident, he realized that his art was, in fact, a support system for his life. It made his life bearable, and added comfort and joy to it.


For years, even as a Christian, my heart was really in my writing, sad with unfulfilled ambition for it. I wanted my Christian disciplines to help me get my act together so I could write more.  Faith as a support system for art.


Well, God was having none of that.


Francis Thomson writes in “The Hound of Heaven,”


Ah! is Thy love indeed

A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,

Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?


Once Christ had his eyes on me, he was not going to share me, so to say. And so, my ambition was blocked, and came to nothing, forcing me to burrow into Christ for answers and comfort and joy.


I am glad. Fulfilled ambition without the comfort of Christ can be hard and barren. The Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore, describes it: “Away from the sight of thy face, my heart knows no rest nor respite, and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.”


 Ambition IN Christ


I am still ambitious; of course, I am. I want to learn to write beautifully, and I want my words to read by many.


But most days, I hold my ambition lightly, in perfect peace.


I am in Christ, hidden in Christ. I am working from “inside” Christ, listening closely to him for ideas, drawing on his strength, eager to write beautiful things which will be a blessing to many.


I am writing in Christ as a branch in the vine, as his ideas, sap and life flow into me, and through me.


I am ambitious to write because I must, as a bird must sing, but it is a surrendered ambition. I am happy if God brings me many readers.


But if he does not, I will still write with joy. As a bird sings its high clear notes, as fish swim through the seas of this world because they must, even so must I write, recreating life’s beauty in words.



Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds  (Benediction Classics, 2007). She has won a writing fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The London Magazine,  Commonweal,  America, The Christian Century, and The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies.

Anita blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires,;  you can find her on Twitter @anitamathias1 and or on Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.








Too old - or not old enough

My heart thumps as the pain crashes noisily into my chest. Ears reverberate uncomfortably.

Even my backbone can feel it.

"I'm too old for this," I grin at my husband. He smiles, trying to agree with whatever he thinks I may be saying.

After standing in line for 30 minutes waiting to get in, I was glad to be able to sit down, rest my lower back; yet I was excited. Here we are, at last, at Cwmbran, just 40 minutes away from our home, yet in a foreign land across the Severn Bridge.

Wales. Home of my grandfather, beloved of my mother, who could speak just a smattering of its indecipherable sounds. She loved Welsh rugby, Welsh hymns, Welsh male voice choirs, Welsh cakes, Welsh cousins - Jenny and Gwendoline, who lived near Aberystwyth. I can just remember visiting them once, when I was small.

And now here I am again. In south Wales, but without the rugby, the hymns, the choirs or the cakes. Just a breezeblock rectangle of a building, and a worship band from Hertfordshire.

Now, I know that God commands us to sing a new song; but frankly, without any words on the screen I have no idea what we are singing. It's just noise. It's certainly new to me, but others seem to be enjoying the moment, swaying with outstretched arms. Then words appear and the sound changes - slightly - and the noise level increases, something I had not thought possible.


Twenty five minutes have passed. My excitement is still there but slightly less tangible, slightly crushed by the noise. A third song flashes on to the screen, and we are urged to MOVE. Move because God does something when we move, so move into the aisles and sing this song, asking for the fire of God.

I KNOW THIS SONG! I leap into the aisle, across my husband's crossed legs (he's still sitting down, trying to pretend he isn't being deafened) as I want to know more of God in my life. That's why I've come! Pursuing God just as He, the Hound of Heaven, pursues me.

Set a fire down in my soul  That I can't contain, that I can't control - I want more of you, God, I want more of you, God.

I mouth the words, hands held wide, trying to hear the lyrical version in my head whilst my ears hear the drums crash and the electrics flail.

I'm obviously too old for all of this. The spirit of it eludes me.

A young pastor leaps on to the stage and begins to talk of the God who sets us free - free from lust and addictions and pornography and problems. He is passionate  - passionate in his obvious love for the Lord, the Lord who has freed him from his own problems, met with him in prison, transformed his life. There is a call for those who are struggling with problems of lust to come forward for prayer, for the Lord to set them free.

This is REAL. This is where people are, this is where people struggle. They go forward, receive prayer individually while the rest of us are asked to stretch out our hands and pray for them.

The band resumes playing, we sing again - at least, I assume we do, I can't hear anything except the noise from the band. But they are enthusiastic, shouting their praise, their new song. Maybe I envy them their new song to the Lord.

The young pastor returns, and begins his talk.

His words are real, open, honest. Full of truth, full of Scripture, full of power from on high.

Full of the One who gives life and freedom -  who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And of how this One made me and loves me and has the power to transform me. And through me, those around me.

He talks of how dangerously close to the line we live. The line of sin, of desire, of lust, of seeing and doing what we should not. How we try to stand too close to that line. And how instead we should live far from that line and close to the Cross of Christ.

With his foot he draws an imaginary line across the front of the stage; shows how close to it we try to balance. Walks back to the cross standing simply with red draped cloth.  There is where we should be, clinging to that Cross.

Oh, I know, I know.

And if we do not yet know Christ then tonight is the night, our night. To come to the cross.

And if we have back slidden then it's time to slide back. Back to the cross.

So he calls us to the Altar, to the front, to be prayed for. Come, he urges, come to this altar where Christ will alter your life. Come if you don't know Him, come if you have slipped away from Him, come and be filled with His power and His Life and His Love.

They go forward, mostly men, men of all ages, young and old, standing or kneeling, coming to the Cross.

The band go forward too, playing more quietly now, as people begin to slip forward. The pastoral care team are called out to pray with people. And there is another altar call -this time for those who want more of God, more of His Spirit, to be filled anew.

I'm there.

I wait. Others are there too. On my left, two little elderly Welsh ladies. I'd seen them queuing near me before the service began. They have been sitting in front of us. Quietly, not seeming to join in with very much. But here they are. Eventually a woman prays for them, just a hand on a forehead, a murmur of words, a tall young man standing behind each as she prays. First one and then the other, they drop back into him and he lowers them each to the ground. Someone else covers each with a blanket. They lie there, eyes closed.

I wait.

Set a fire down in my soul - I want more of you Lord.

I wait.

Eventually a woman lays a hand on my forehead, and I can feel a hand on my back.

Set a fire down in my soul - I want more of you Lord.

The tears flow. I want more of you, Lord. More of your love; more of your transforming, healing power.

But I don't fall backwards - perhaps I'm not old enough. There's no jolt of power, no explosion of feeling. Just those tears.

* * * 

People are beginning to slip away. The room had not been full - the previous night apparently had been packed, with the overflow rooms packed too. We had avoided Monday night - the website had told of visiting speakers and big events. We just wanted an 'ordinary ' night of this outpouring.

And it's time for us to drive home, too. Outside, at nearly 10pm, it' still light. A luminous, balmy summer's evening, with a bright moon and pinkly wisps of cloud. There's something in the air, a lightness in my spirit, a quiet feeling of having been in God's Presence. Of having been touched in some indescribable way - by those powerful words of simple preaching reminding me of all that God offers me. By the powerful words of a man who moved from pipe to pulpit, from drugs to prison to LIFE. Of how the Lord takes us and transforms us. Makes us a new creation, restored, renewed, regenerated. Able to walk out free from all that has taken hold of us, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Amazing grace.

* * *

We saw no physical healings - or none that we know of. But we did hear God's word powerfully preached, see lives touched, people respond. WE respond. And felt God in our lives.  Quietly, simply. Undeniably.

It was Day 71 of what is being called the Welsh Outpouring - of this little breezeblock church on an industrial site sharing the Lord night by night with anyone who wants to come. It's not professional, it's not based on personality (I don't even know who the preacher was or whether he was one of their own pastors) But it IS powerful, a profound preaching of the power of the Gospel. The Gospel, the preacher said - the Gospel is not just for new Christians, the Gospel is for life. 

* * *

Have you been to Cwmbran yet? How did God speak to you? Might you share?






































The best things come in small packages

So this is a total departure and I promise to be back to normality soon. But we are in the USA and reality has to some degree been suspended - temporarily. And the anticipation of a small package arriving has been enormous.

Some weeks ago, my younger daughter, who lives in the USA, signed up for a small package. A fix. But not of the kind you might be thinkingI mean. This is a parcel of dreams, specially selected, beautifully wrapped in tissue, chosen with you in mind - after you have filled in your styles and your preferences and your selected sections. I was signed up by this same daughter, filled in my size (6; you have to love USA sizing, that sounds so small!) selected my style (classic casual) and my favorite (we are in America, remember) color - blues and navies. And sat back and waited.

She and I skayjuled simultaneous deliveries.  We checked online yesterday and discovered that our little parcels had left San Francisco. Could they, would they, arrive in Virginia today?

They could and did.  My happiness levels soared. A little box, a true STITCH FIX, of 5 articles I might like. A box for her and a box for me.


I could hardly contain my excitement.

opening the box

Wearing a very inexpensive supermarket teeshirt, (thank you, Sainsburys! My summer clothes are all in store in London)  I opened up to beautifully wrapped and folded white tissue paper. Giggles from excitement and anticipation  - what would I find inside?

Opening my very first Stitch Fix box

There were to be five items, each specially selected by my stylist - Joyce, according to the note inside.

Joyce, you are amazing. How did you know? I suspect you are really a computer but even so, I am astounded at what I unpack.

First, a glimpse of navy and white stripes. One of my favorite combinations. Enthusiastically I pull it out and hold it up to me. Is it a dress? A tunic top? Beach wear? I love the red buttons on the shoulder - a nice detail. (Pronounced de-TAYLE)

Next, a shirt. Just a shirt. Blue, turquoise-y blue, with orange flecks. I would not ever have given it a second glance on a rail in a store.


My daughter pounces on it and tries it on. She looks stunning as usual.


What else? More navy.

A stunning little jacket, with pretty lace trim where there might have been pockets, and a sweet white-with-pink-spots lining.


And a necklace.

Each of the clothes has a useful tag, showing a range of clothes (which you probably already possess) that create outfits with this particular item. The turquoise shirt is shown with white trousers (sorry, pants, we are in the USA) and with a denim skirt.


Time to try things for size and style. I start with the stripes. And am horrified by the shortness of length and the sack-like fit. I hear my grandmother's derisory voice whisper in my ear - "Mutton dressed like lamb."

Leggings underneath? I suggest to the family. No way is what I think they mean in their laughter.


I opt for the shirt next. And team it with the jeans. The family all exclaim with delight. YES!

The navy jacket is tried with white underneath, as suggested on its style tag. It's good. But I have a very similar one already, and can't justify another. But Joyce got this right too.


So that leaves the necklace. It's not me at all. And I realise that jewellery is just too personal for me to want a stranger to choose it for me; and I have much-loved things already, usually given to me by my husband, celebrating and commemorating. I don't even try this on. Leather and mock gold? Definitely not me.


Of the five items sent

- One I would not ever have given a second look in a shop  but is highly rated by onlookers (shirt)

- One I love but I have its cousin already (jacket)

- One is just right and exactly what I need (jeans - my own much loved pair have worn out and have a hole!)

- One is totally not me (necklace)

- One is wrong size in that it is too short for my age and not fitted enough for my preference (tunic/dress)

Will I keep anything? I've paid a $20 stylist fee which I lose if I don't put it towards anything. Nothing is more than $90, so well within my specified price range. And the family love the shirt and the jeans.

I have three days to decide.

* * * * *

My happiness levels were dangerously high in anticipation of the small box arriving. There is a two week waiting list if you sign up (here if you live in the USA) which cleverly adds to the anticipation. There was enormous fun in daughter and me having boxes arrive together, trying things on, laughing and photographing,  entertaining our husbands with our looks and comments. And return postage is free.

Such a simple idea. So easily achieved.

* * * * *

Tomorrow morning a small "package" awaits me, as it does every morning.

God's Word, His gift to me. It's lifegiving and it's life enhancing and it's life transforming.

'Nuff said.

It's no sin to be sixty ..

Last Friday, you may have noticed, was my 60th birthday. The worst kept secret in history, said my sister, as various schemes and plans made by the family began to leak out. I knew there was something afoot!

My husband let slip that our daughter from America was coming to celebrate with me. Happy tears poured down my face when I discovered that! A picnic lunch, a special evening out with the family, some friends coming for lunch and a walk the following day .... Gradually the plan began to emerge.

I had not expected this present, however.


Nor this at the picnic lunch


Nor the fun in the sun

mini and grands

(good thing we have a long driveway for cruising ...)

Saturday. And the sun shone. Friends navigated closed motorways and horrendous traffic jams to get to Mays Farm - where there was tea in the orchard following a walk.


60th tea

tea part two


Later, some gifts to open.

A co-mother-in-law (tongue-in-cheek?) presented me with this:

no sin to be 60


It dawned on me that I really really am SIXTY. Apparently, no longer middle aged.

Third aged.

I am privileged to be there but be fit and healthy and embarking on a new season of life, ministry, home and house.

A quick scan of the little book reveals it to be a series of reflections, mini sermons, about ageing and faith, done with humour and grace. Just what I need to face this Third Age - humour and grace.

Christ was never middle aged.

Let alone Third Aged.

He was, humanly, always young. A young man in a hurry, places to go, people to meet, purposes to fulfil.

I am privileged to be able still to do the same.  But when the spirit continues to be willing whilst the flesh becomes weak, what then? What can I learn from the young Jesus Christ? A young man with a sense of urgency, of uncompromising attitudes and unrelenting purpose.

One day, one day, I will no longer be like that. I can already sense that I have lost energy, urgency - and, if I am honest, some of my hearing!  But God has not changed. He still has energy and urgency; he is still uncompromising and unrelenting in his pursuit of, and love for, me.

As Reinhardt Niebuhr wrote,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

Meanwhile, I'm out to change the world one step at a time, one person at a time.

Coming to join me?


Today I encountered Grace - & Francis & Brennan & Sally

Grace first met with me over breakfast. And how I needed that encounter. 

We are reading aloud to one another, as part of our morning devotions, and right now it's Francis Spufford's book, Unapologetic.  Where, in Chapter One, he describes how the novelist Richard Powers wrote that the Adagio movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto sounds the way mercy would sound.

It's one of my favourite pieces. I'm listening to Andrew Marriner and the London Symphony Orchestra ... and just as Spufford mentions, it's a very patient piece of music. Unhurried, lilting,  the tune going round and round "in messageless tenderness .... it sounds as if it comes from a world where sorrow is perfectly ordinary, but there is still more to be said. It said, everything you fear is true. And yet. And yet. Everything you have done wrong you have really done wrong. And yet. And yet. Let yourself count, just a little bit, on a calm that you do not have to be able to make for yourself, because it is here, freely offered. You are still deceiving yourself, said the music, if you don't allow for the possibility of this. There is more going on here than what you deserve, or don't deserve. There is this, as well."

So it sounds the way mercy would sound - mercy, getting something kind instead of the sensible consequences of an action; something better than you could have expected.

And that was Grace to me. To us. And because we have been graced with grace, we can grace others with grace. A more literal translation of Matthew 10:8, which usually says something along the lines of freely you have received, freely give. We are graced - given mercy by God. So we extend it to others.

To read that; to listen to the Clarinet Adagio; to receive mercy.

Truly Graced.

And that would have been enough.

But there was more.

This time through Brennan Manning, who recently went on to Glory. His memoir, All is Grace, has a book video trailer which I happened upon later. I've ordered the book and await its arrival; but this snippet of Manning, preaching, speaking - interspersed with footage of him in his illness and incapacity; this story of a man, an alcoholic, but saved by mercy, extending grace. This, this spoke fathoms deep to me. Watch it soon, weep and rejoice. Grace met me with me through this.

And that would have been enough. But there was more.

Meeting face-to-face with Sally. She is not my Spiritual Director (that would be Joy, who is aptly named). She is a trained psychotherapist and counsellor - and the sweetest American I know, saved by grace and extending grace. I've been meeting with her for some time (you know already my PTSS and depression of the past 2 years.) As she prayed for me today, Grace came again.

Sweet Grace. Amazing Grace.

Have you encountered Grace today?


Linking up with Tania Vaughan's new blog series, to proactively take Sunday into the rest of the week. Sundays are suddenly different. Not better not worse - just different. After 33 years, my husband is no longer a full time priest; nor am  I on a church staff any more. I am just - JUST!  - a normal pew filler. Well, chair occupier. And it's different from the back row than the front one.

Especially where we are now going to 'church.' I say church advisedly - we meet in Komedia, "Bath's award-winning venue for comedy, music, cabaret and club nights " as it describes itself. So yesterday the floor was sticky - noisily sticky. It's a dark theatre with no windows. And we sit on theatre-type red plush velvet chairs.

Its not Anglican. We are even having a sabbatical from that.

Two baskets are passed around after the worship. One is to contribute financially if one feels prompted to do so - we are told there is no pressure and certainly not for visitors; the other is - oh joy!  - full of sweets! Help yourself to something to chew/suck/delight in during the talk. Red love hearts of dark chocolate. Miniature tubes of parma violets and love hearts. Lollipops.

Yesterday, I took 2 red shiny papered chocolate hearts. Smoothed the empty papers and folded and refolded as I tried to listen.

But MY heart was full of something else.

Something we had sung.

"And I - I surrender

All to you, All to you ..."

It wasn't the 'normal' surrender - me, my life, my desires, my possessions ....

It was the pain of the previous week.

Surrendering even that. Letting go of my right to the pain.

It was all I had to offer up. I opened palms up, imagined the pain leaning on them.

Here it is, Lord. It's all I have right now to give You.

* * *

Monday morning. Awakening to the memory of the pain.

And the memory of the offering. Offered once, now offered again.

The reality of Sunday's offering needed in the reality of the light of Monday morning.

* * *

And again, a certain relief in the offering. Remembering how it felt the first time. Needing to feel that again - 'seeing' Him on the Cross metaphorically leaning down to take my pain and add it to what is already carried in His body.

Died He for me - who caused His pain?


And for those pains of mine and for those who caused them.

Amazing Grace.

I surrender all to You - even my pain.

And in surrendering, know His grace.

I will need it again tomorrow - and tomorrow - for I forget and the vision leaks.

* * *

Monday is the test of Sunday's reality. To God be the glory. All is gift.


On a short fuse

Stress. Renovating projects and moving house and changing jobs are all rated highly on the stress indicator tables. Add to that the PTSS and depression of the previous two years, and I can excuse my instant explosions.

That angry tongue.

Those hateful words.

The impatient temper which explodes just when I'm not expecting it.

I even - yes, I confess to this too - I even hit the dog. Not hard, but still. I hit her, because she was leaping up at a visitor: trained already by our lovely workmen (they truly are, always cheerful and hardworking even in the recent freezingly cold weather) to leap as they tease her with their sandwiches. I've only recently discovered this and they do't do it anymore. But old habits die hard, especially in Labradors eager for any tidbit. Exasperated by her disobedience and desire to jump, I scolded and then lashed out, impatient, angry, on a short fuse.

And in front of a wonderful young Christian who had come on Saturday to help us work on the house.

So that's where I was last week.

On a short fuse.

It kept hitting me too, that short fuse.  Exploded externally, nagged internally.

But Sunday. And the sweetness of the Lord came pouring in as the tears poured out.

"This is the air I breathe ... and I, I, I - I'm lost without You, I'm desperate for You."

Worship at The Bath and Avon Vineyard. The Spirit convicting. 

Lord, change me.  I'm desperate for You to change me. I can't seem to get rid of this short fuse.

* * * *

He sent me Words. Words I have known for years but had forgotten. From Amy Carmichael's small but profound book IF  - 

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.

I need Calvary Love. HIS love, pouring into me, loving others through me, filling me to the brim with His sweetness and patience and grace.

So I kneel at the foot of His Cross, conscious once again of that all powerful Love. LOVE that died for me and my short fuse.  LOVE that can flood me. LOVE - the first of the fruit of the Spirit.

Cross in chapel

The Cross we found (in the floor joists!) is now in the Chapel

close up of cross

I welcome His love in and drink deeply. Oh, LOVE, that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee ...

I'm still on a short fuse.  But I've handed the fuse to Him.

* * * *

SATURDAY  was another work day. The final wall came down, to create the kitchen. And the ceiling came down in one of the attic bedrooms.  That's the end of demolishing; now we start putting it all together. YAY!

last wall comes down

kitchen space!

ceiling comes down

God is in bubbles and hugs

Living without a dishwasher. Bent over the sink, washing mug after mug, plate after plate. Although only for two. Hot water, creamy bubbles, favourite china.

And an empty mind. For five minutes, nothing.  And finding that there is something strangely peaceful and restorative in this ancient womanly tradition.

Five minutes of peace and quiet, solitude and surrender. Five minutes of Matt Redman in the background.

Five minutes which I need to spend at the sink, but  turns into the gift of five minutes with the Lord.  No longer mindless, more simply aware that HE is here, His Presence is beside me, in this little old kitchen at the Bolt Hole.

Practising the Presence in a time tested way. Loving the washing up in a totally different way for it is the doorway to a very special moment of the day. His arms around me. A hug if I did but recognise it.

Surely the Lord is in this place and  I knew it not. (Genesis 28:16)



Grateful, recognisant, relaxed, aware. All washed up and ready to step on again.

After a five minute retreat.


Where have you found the Presence of God in unexpected places?

Where do you hear His voice most?

Your daily survival kit for this year:

We are in the middle of a mini-series on alleviating, surviving, truimphing over, the bleak midwinter blues of January. Sign up to get the rest delivered straight into your email box! I've just had an email from a dear friend  - with the most amazing survival kit that we all need.  Where she got it from, I have no idea - no-one is attributed with authorship, so if you know where it comes from, PLEASE let me know!  But I pass it on as a slightly tongue-in-cheek daily survival kit:  fill your bag with these few things and keep taking them out to remind yourself.




to help you each day of this new year:

A Toothpick ... to remind you to  pick the good qualities in everyone, including  yourself.

A Rubber Band ... to remind you to be flexible. Things might not always  go the way you want, but it can be worked out.

A Band-Aid ... to remind you to  heal hurt feelings, either yours or someone else's.

An Eraser ... to remind you  everyone makes mistakes. That's okay, we learn from our  errors.

A Candy  Kiss ... to remind you everyone needs a hug or a compliment  everyday.

A Mint  ... to remind you that you are worth a mint to your family  & me.

 Bubble  Gum ... to remind you to stick with it and you can accomplish  anything.

A Pencil ... to remind you to  list your blessings every day.

A Tea Bag ... to remind you to take time to relax daily and go over  that list of blessings.

This is what makes life worth living every minute, every day 

May you have love, gratitude, friends to cherish, caring, sharing,laughter, music, and  warm feelings in your heart in 2013.

AND, I have to add, the gratitude in counting each day's gifts gives so much blessing and a  change of mental attitude. How can doing one such small simple thing make this enormous difference?

All is gift.

Counting - are you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

What would you add to this list?
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My Thousand Gifts of Grace

Sermon preached at Church Of Our Saviour, Johns Island, South Carolina, on Sunday May 13th 2012  


It's over a year since I last preached. A time of being in a wilderness.

But now I have been given this huge privilege of sharing  - with YOU:  here at The Church of Our Saviour. 

COOS has been in a preaching series on giving, and I have been given the last of the series – and it’s based on 2 Cor 8:1-15.  Like most preachers, when asked to preach during one's vacation, I looked on my laptop to see if there was a previous sermon on this that I could just repeat!   And discovered that I last preached a sermon on these particular verses in October 2007 – standing right here in front of you all at COOS!   I was tempted just to give you a quiz to see what you could remember!  What a ways we have all come since then.

What I want to share with you is some of what I have been learning over the past 18 months, and in particular what I am learning about GRACE. So if you thought I was going to be talking about money you can relax, let go your grasp on your wallet and take in some thoughts about God’s grace. 

Apparently the number 1 reason people say they don’t come to church is because they feel they are always being asked to give money.. But this part of 2 Cor 8 is not really just about money. It’s about being rich because of grace.

So I want to look at 2 things about GRACE:

- Grace grows out of grace

- Grace leads to great riches


First  - Grace grows out of grace

Paul begins this section by mentioning that the Macedonian churches had received God’s grace. Verse 1:

“And now brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God has given the Macedonian churches.”


When you think of someone who has received grace, what do you think of?

Someone who has been blessed in some way -  with  financial resources, or with great gifts and abilities.

But there's another  kind of grace that God had given the Macedonian churches. Verse 2

“In the midst of a very severe trial… extreme poverty’

They were impoverished and they were being persecuted.  I discovered that the phrase that describes their poverty literally means, “their deep poverty, right down deep -  to the death of it.” That is not just being uncomfortable, that is being poor and destitute. The Macedonian churches – the Philippian and the Thessalonian Christians – were suffering great economic hardships. The Romans had taken over most of their industries, including the gold and the silver mines; they had reserved for themselves the right to import basic necessities such as salt, and they had cut down all the forests to build their own ships. The Romans had pillaged  looted Macedonia. And the Christians were being persecuted on top of all that. 

Poverty and persecution are not things I expect or want -  yet God had given the Macedonian churches just that:

Severe trials and extreme poverty.

Paul calls this “grace”!

And what is the net result of that grace, according to Paul?    

Overflowing joy and rich generosity!  V2

I'm   most of us would like to be joyful and generous. But we think we need to have security and prosperity before we can be joyful and generous. It seems logical – if God gives me a lot, I will share a lot. At least that’s the way I think about it. “I can’t give a lot because I don’t have a lot. I’m waiting for God to bless me.”

And we pass the collection plate and don’t put anything in, saying that’s it for the rich to give, not us who are retired or who have lost lots in stocks and shares (not that I have any stocks and shares!) or who don’t have a job or who have huge bills to pay.

OR we don’t volunteer to help because that’s for those who have lots of spare time and we have enough to do already thank you.

I once heard about a pastor in China who begged Christians in the West to stop praying that the Chinese church would be freed from persecution. He felt that the reason why the believers in China are joyful and the church is thriving is precisely because they are being persecuted! Like the Macedonians - 

         They had received God’s grace.

Their severe trials and extreme poverty overflowed in   joy and generosity.

                  They were truly rich in grace!


Grace had led to grace.


And not only were they generous, v. 3 tells us that they even gave beyond their ability. What would that phrase look like to you and me – “beyond our ability?” If you’re anything like me, you calculate out what you are going to give based on your available resources. I have limited financial amounts and a finite number of hours. So I give what I think I can easily afford whether financially or time wise.

Earlier this week, I received an email, telling me about a dear couple, who are really going through it at the moment.  He is an Anglican priest - and  he has had terrible back problems for some years and is in constant pain; she has had Lyme’s disease which was undiagnosed for over a year and has led to severe fatigue and debility. They are in a bad place yet have not stopped their ministry and their work for the Lord.  So some friends said they wanted to form a little consortium of people who would give regularly to this couple so that they can have a sabbatical for a year, to try to regroup and heal and sort out problems with themselves and their kids.  The email came to me just earlier this week; and my first thought was: well, I can’t give them anything; I am not in paid employment - I have had to resign because of my own situation of ill health so I have no spare money. 

And then I realized that I was preparing this sermon even as I was thinking those things -  I wasn’t even considering giving beyond my ability, I wasn’t asking God for the privilege and honor of giving knowing that God has blessed me with His grace so I can bless others.

Often, you and I don’t even want to think about what giving above our ability might look like!

But the example of these Macedonian Christians gets even more radical. Not only were these churches joyful and generous, not only did they give beyond their ability, but look at verse 4.

“They urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing…”

They begged for the chance to help.

They were not asked, they were not prodded, not made to feel guilty, not shamed into it. Theyurgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing in service to the saints”.

Why did they beg to be allowed to help? It wasn’t because they were just very kind people, although they may have been; it certainly wasn’t because they were very wealthy – verse 2 tells us that that faced severe trials and extreme poverty.  They were scraping the barrel, and yet they urgently pleaded to be able to  gave very very generously.

What would motivate someone to do this? What would motivate US to do this? I think the answer is simple. It is an understanding and an acceptance of God’s grace.

Grace grows out of grace.

And if you and I are not gracious, it is only because we do not fully understand and accept God’s grace.

If you and I had any appreciation for the depth of God’s love for us and the depths from which He has saved us, we could not help but to be joyful and generous.

We would give of ourselves, not because God had need of our time, talent or treasure, but because we would want to be part of that incredible life-saving effort that saved you and me. Grace grows out of grace.

And grace is not just a concept. Grace is not just an idea or a thing that has a memorable definition – we’ve all been taught that G .R. A. C. E. stands for God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

No, grace is more than that idea. Grace is an amazing, Holy Spirit-filled, life changing power.


The Greek word for grace is charis; ‘Strong’s concordance of the New Testament’ defines charis as

Grace -  a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ, (b) favor, (c) gratitude, thanks, (d) kindness. The core idea is gift, or favor. Something given which is undeserved.

The word comes again in verse 9

 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”


The second thing I want to mention this morning is this:

Grace leads to riches


Notice this: Jesus did not give out of his riches. Jesus gave out of his poverty! Paul reminds us in Philippians ch 2 that Jesus emptied himself and took the nature of a slave. He became poor and he submitted to the most horrible and cruel death, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too. And it was only because of this poverty that you and I are made rich.


He gives us SO much.  I don’t think I had realized that until recently.  As many of you know, 18 months ago I was involved in a terrible car accident in which I saw my dear 90 year young mother swept away and crushed to death by a passing car. The shock of what happened and what I saw of my mother at her end plunged me into the depths of depression and despair. I have been  mentally bruised and broken.

Then, last summer, I picked up a book called One Thousand Gifts.  You may have read it. In it, I read about learning

to give thanks -

 in spite of the brokenness.

 IN the brokenness. 


The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. We get the word  we sometimes use for communion  from it – the Eucharist.  The thanksgiving. In the middle of that Greek word eucharisteo is charis: grace, favor, gift.  Giving thanks for the grace.

And each time Jesus broke something, he gave thanks, eucharisteo. 

He broke the bread for the 5000, gave thanks – and fed them a free lunch.  

He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave the disciples the Last Supper to remember him by.

He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the two disciples in their home in Emmaus - and they knew immediately that Jesus was alive and risen.


And He himself was broken; he emptied himself of his riches, became poor and was broken on the Cross. And we give thanks and remember the gift, the grace, that we receive through that action.

And each and every day, we are given the gift, the grace, the favor. 

In spite of our brokenness. 

IN our brokenness.

The book, One Thousand Gifts, makes a challenge: to keep a list each day of the gifts and grace we receive.  I decided to do it: starting on August 21st last year, I began to write down each moment of grace that I was grateful for, to notice each gift and to record it.

Some days there were lots, some days hardly any; but the more I looked the more I saw. 

Whether it was a shaft of sunlight or a grandchild’s kiss; a cup of coffee made by a friend or a good night’s sleep; the smell of fresh bread or the glimpse of stars; the satisfaction of clean laundry or the joy of the bubbles of champagne….. I noticed and I wrote it down.  I reached 1000 7 months later - on March 17th .... and I layed down my pen.  



But as my family will tell you, over the past couple of months I have not been doing so well.  Without that daily looking and recording, without being so mindful of GOd's grace-filled gifts, I have slipped back.

I need to begin again. 

For you, it might be a good golf shot, or even maybe a hole in one; or a home grown flower or vegetable; or your team scoring high in their match; a cold beer in your hands or a fabulous concert.

It doesn’t matter what – what matters is that you notice these gifts and give thanks for them.  Gifts which we do not deserve, which we receive because of what the Lord Jesus did for us. Gifts which make us rich in Him – verse 9

Grace does generate riches.

God does want you to be rich.

There are dozens of times in the Scriptures where we are promised God’s riches. Jesus said that God wants his children to have good gifts, just like you want yours to have good gifts. It may or not be security and financial wealth. If you are secure and financially wealthy, give thanks for it is a gift from God. But the Macedonians’ gift was nothing like that. Their gift was trials and poverty. And yet they were certainly richer than you and I are.

God has no need of our time. He created time. God has no need of our talents. He is talented enough to accomplish anything He chooses without your gifts. God has no need of our money. He created the cattle on a thousand hills, and he can sell the herd anytime He wants.

No, God wants us to be generous with our time, our talent and our treasure - not so the church can become rich and not so that God can become rich, but so that YOU, Me – WE can become rich!

My prayer for you and for me is that today and every day we might accept God’s grace and learn what it is to be rich.

And in doing so, give ourselves, all that we have, all that we are, to Him for Him to use as He wants. 


His grace, His love, is so amazing, so divine and it demands our lives, our souls, our all.


How much of you, yourself, all that you have and all that you are, have you given to Him?


In a moment we will come to the Eucharist, that celebration of Thanksgiving for His brokenness, His grace, His gift. 


Will you, as you kneel, as you receive, will you give yourself afresh to Him, give Him your everything? 


Whether we have much or little,

whether we are broken or rejoicing today

may we dedicate ourselves, all that we have and are, to His service,


remembering that the Lord Jesus, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that through His poverty we might become rich.


We haven’t got to give. We get to give. It's part of the riches of God's grace.