Since June of this year, I have found myself stepping into a deeper revelation of somehow pursuing God’s glory in the murky places of life with joy and eagerness that has previously escaped me. My flesh obviously resists the thought of seeking the majesty of God in the mess of my every day world...in the uncomfortable...the awkward...the seemingly sinful... the miserable...inconvenient...unconventional places of my life and the lives around me. Yet my Spirit beckons me towards the grimy yet glorious adventure of experiencing God’s majesty in the fractured, sin drenched, dysfunctional facets of our world.
You see, these broken but beautiful places, that are part of the fabric of our lives, our communities, cultures hide within them realms of Gods glory reserved only for the darkness. Unconventional divine opportunities are tucked away, inconspicuously covered by ugliness and inconvenience in these often shunned places of our world yet I find myself longing to meet God right there, so that I may see His beauty majestically radiate in the dark, fractured, often awkward facets of our lives.
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14 MSG)
Lately I have pondered...what would happen if I truly understood the truth that 2000 years ago, glorious Jesus, with His one of a kind glory, moved into my neighbourhood, into the fractured world around me and He never left. He’s right here. His Spirit brooding in and around my broken world. What if I eagerly, intentionally, reverentially and filled with childlike wonder, met Him there???
This pursuit become ever real to me this summer after I met two men. Andy and Steve. It’s like they had lived a life of experiencing Gods glory – recognised the announcement of Gods glory in the fragility of human life and it had evoked a generosity within them which is so unconventional. It challenged me so much. Not only did they lavish me with a £10K financial gift (I know, it’s nuts...but more about that in another blog!) but they extracted some hardcore treasure out of Living in Light. Highlighting the fact that Living in Light makes bespoke pieces for the one...affirming that this reflected the personal, generous heart of God.
They then challenged me to hire refugees so that in this broken, displaced, precious community some may find their dreams revived through Living in Light. That beauty may be restored to even just a few of the lives that have been stolen and violated in the refugee crisis. Wow. That marked me. So started a journey into unconventional creativity, seeking God’s heart in broken places afresh...in places I hadn’t yet considered for Living in Light to tread. I’m so glad I did.
The first precious woman I found was called Ailing. She came to work with me for four days in the summer. Not only did she end up knowing Christ as she had been a believer raised in China, but I will never forget the poignant moment that we sat together to bless our lunch and she lifted up the sweetest prayer in Mandarin as I silently closed my eyes, filled with awe and wonder. As she prepared to leave on her last day with me I prayed for her filled with such love, as she wept uncontrollably in response. The beauty and majesty found in the time we shared together, the way that I watched her blossom and awesome wonder of God’s love for this precious girl would have eluded me if I’d stayed safe…in my conventional ideas for Living in Light.
And so began this fresh pursuit, of finding God’s glory in the unconventional places of my world...whether they be creative, sinful, awkward, politically challenged, ugly, uncomfortable or inconvenient places...they were places of resistance that my flesh would rather avoid but my spirit was longing anew to see God’s glory in the grime and dirt of life like never before.
Yet if truth be told, in my own natural strength my flesh often wins against my spirit in my desire to meet God in the murkiness of life. Far too often my flesh would rather stay in the comfort zone, surrounded by niceties, convenience, peace and pleasure. But it is in the darkness that God’s glory shines brightest still. Jesus Christ - the Light of the World - knew that more than anyone. And He was our greatest example of letting majesty and glory radiate out if lives darkest places. Not least when He hung on the cross, but on a daily basis as He reached out to the outcasts, the marginalised, leperous, the sick, the demonised, hanging out with prostitutes and dining with tax collectors...
Seriously...how did He do it???
How come he wasn't overwhelmed by the scale of it, put off by the awkwardness of it...or intimidated by the mystery of it...He wasn't fazed by the inconvenience of it...
What made Him so confident...how was He so available...how was He so alert and sensitive?
How was He so sure that God would meet Him there? And not leave Him hanging??? JOHN 5:1-9, 15-19 (TPT) gives me a bit of a clue...
‘Then Jesus returned to Jerusalem to observe one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city near the Sheep Gate there is a pool called in Aramaic, The House of Loving Kindness. And this pool is surrounded by five covered porches. Hundreds of sick people were lying there on the porches—the paralyzed, the blind, and the crippled, all of them waiting for their healing. For an angel of God would periodically descend into the pool to stir the waters, and the first one who stepped into the pool after the waters swirled would instantly be healed.
Now there was a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years lying among the multitude of the sick. When Jesus saw him lying there, he knew that the man had been crippled for a long time. So Jesus said to him, “Do you truly long to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, there’s no way I can get healed, for I have no one who will lower me into the water when the angel comes. As soon as I try to crawl to the edge of the pool, someone else jumps in ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Stand up! Pick up your sleeping mat and you will walk!” Immediately he stood up—he was healed! So he rolled up his mat and walked again! Now this miracle took place on the Jewish Sabbath.
Then the man went to the Jewish leaders to inform them, “It was Jesus who healed me!” So from that day forward the Jewish leaders began to persecute Jesus because of the things he did on the Sabbath. Jesus answered his critics by saying, “Everyday my Father is at work, and I will be too!” This infuriated them and made them all the more eager to devise a plan to kill him. For not only did he break their Sabbath rules, but he called God “my Father,” which made him equal to God. So Jesus said, “I speak to you timeless truth. The Son is not able to do anything from himself or through my own initiative. I only do the works that I see the Father doing, for the Son does the same works as his Father.’
This sheep gate was where the sacrificial animals were brought into the temple. Given it was a Jewish holiday you’d have to no doubt swing by the sheep gate to offer up your sacrificial animals. The name of the pool Bethesda means house of mercy. Legend would have it that an angel would come and stir the waters and the first person in after the stirring would be healed. Wow. What an uncomfortable picture. All the sick, the blind, the lame gathering there, waiting to be in with a chance to be healed. Imagine how depressing and heart wrenching it would be? All the desperation, the striving to be the first to be in the first one in the pool should an angel stir up the pool...
People would no doubt avoid that spot, right? For it screams desperation. Discomfort. I’m sure that if you didn’t have to offer a sacrifice you would probably ignore such a spot, would you not?
If I were to be honest, this pool of Bethesaida reminds me of the overground train we have in London. It’s renowned for drug addicts and the homeless begging on it. It doesn’t have carriages so you get homeless people walking up and down asking for money. This orange lined subway train is their Bethesda - their house of mercy, as each one of them waits desperately for people’s hearts to be stirred on their behalf...as they endure the daily grind, desperate striving to see who can convey the most desperate circumstances...who can move the commuters with the most compassion...who will make it into the pool first and receive a potential donation from a sympathetic commuter.
For the commuters the experience is uncomfortable...guilt evoking...mercy provoking. One simply cannot escape the call for action, or the darkness, or the ugliness of life. One cannot simply bury their head and pretend it doesn’t exist. You have to engage with it. I find myself repeatedly torn between compassion and discomfort. I give money, food, a smile…I may even see same person twice and build on a previous conversation. Yet I have sat on that train countless times internally cringing wanting to avoid the uncomfortable encounter all together...
You see...my own mercy is limited. Often my flesh simply wants to avoid the situation and get on another train line and carry on with my comfortable, easy life...Yet Jesus doesn’t do that. He deliberately seeks God’s glory in the darkness.
Jesus saw him lying there. He was alert. He didn’t avoid the pool. He approached Him in the middle of his pain. He was FULLY aware of his natural circumstances – the truth was that he was an invalid 38 years. It was undeniable. And God doesn’t deny his earthly reality…Jesus doesn’t dismiss their truth – yet what He offers them a truer truth. Asking this invalid of 38 years whether he was willing to live in A TRUER TRUTH...because they have to want to see it too. He asks...Do you truly long to be healed???? He’s not asking him if he wants to be physically mended – he’s asking if he is willing to release the faith for complete wholeness.
The Greek for healed is GENESTHAI – meaning are you willing to be generated WHOLE? The word generated means to BEGIN TO BE or COME INTO EXISTENCE – are you committed to a new existence – a genesis – a new start right now??? It’s not future tense – ie...would you like to be healed – it indicates something already accomplished – Jesus is asking if this man is willing to abandon his truth and receive a truer truth – WHICH IS GOD’S ORIGINAL INTENTION FOR HIM! You see the things is that Jesus is so confident in doing what He sees His Father in heaven doing. Of saying what He hears His Father saying!!! He is unshakable confident in His Father’s original intention for mankind and when He looks at dire circumstances Jesus saw not the outward appearance of it, but the finished work...the original intention God has for all mankind!
To SEE means to look at (literally or figuratively):--behold, beware, look (on, to), perceive, regard, see, sight, take heed, gaze at, to perceive by the senses, to feel, to discover by use, to know by experience, to see with the mind's eye, to have (the power of) understanding, to discern mentally, observe, perceive, discover, understand, to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine.
I want spiritual eyes that turn my thoughts and direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine what the Father is doing...to sense with the eyes of my heart, my spiritual senses when God is wanting to display His glory – so that I am not overwhelmed by what I see but so that I can see GOD’S ORIGINAL INTENTION for each person He leads me to…
I WANT TO DISCERN THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIS PRESENCE IN THE SEWERS THE WAY I DO IN THE SANCTUARY…
With my spiritual senses, I want to smell the fragrance of glory in the stenches of fractured humanity. I want to harken the sound of glory, in the everyday murkiness of life…far above the din of the dirt that surrounds our lives - above the clutter of the commute, the murmurings of the mess and misery that often eclipses our broken society.
But the liberating thing is that this doesn’t mean I approach everyone!! Jesus didn’t - He could’ve healed everyone at that pool...but He focused on the one that God was showing Him. I found such freedom in this over the summer as I wrestled through my customary convo with Jesus as I passed the homeless on the street...encountered the desperate on my commute. Oh lord I should give to her...or oh lord I need to give to her… Oh lord I didn’t give anything to them - that doesn’t make me much of a Christian does it? Blah blah blah. I was going through one of these very conversations with God one Saturday evening as I rushed through the hustle and bustle of the West End. I’d find myself grappling with my soul every time I passed someone who was in need.
Suddenly in the midst of the frenzied Central London shopping hub, before I even knew what I was doing I saw a woman sitting on the floor outside the station, so skinny, so washed out and fragile. I reached into my purse and grabbed some money for her. I didn’t have a conversation with God or feel guilt - I just felt His nudge and I responded. Suddenly I realised this was the announcement of God’s glory and my spirit man had heard it. Above the din of our busy lives, above the distractions of my own flesh, above the circumstances before me, He announced He was about to move and my spirit recognised it. It was organic. It was natural. It was liberating. It was Him.
The next day I encountered a similar situation as I finished church on the hottest day of the year and found myself passing a homeless man on the street. Again my customary conversation ensued with me asking God why I didn’t give anything to Him. He had a phone though Lord, so He does have money right? I was asking. Suddenly a man walked past me and I stopped him before I’d even thought twice. He was clearly homeless. I could smell the strong scent of someone who hasn’t washed for the longest time. I wondered if he was hungry. I asked him if I’m ould buy him a sandwich. He declined but asked me why I offered him a sandwich. Unsure what to say I hesitated. He added that he’s not homeless and has everything he needs.
‘He then shared that he understood why I’d asked him. He said it’s because he’s skinny right? Relieved that I hadn’t offended him I smiled and said...yes it’s because you look like you need feeding. We ended up getting into the most beautiful conversation ever. This man was amazing. He knew the Lord. His knowledge of the Bible and his reverence for God literally brought tears to my eyes. His passion for music and His pursuit of holiness despite being on the streets, despite addictions to vices and despite a history of brokenness was so extraordinarily humbling. What a privilege to meet Him.
We ended up praying together on the street stood at the traffic lights, on the hottest day of the year and though it was blazing hot, though I could still smell the pungent smell that accompanied my friend...still the fragrance of God’s glory enveloped us. I experienced God’s majesty and unrivalled beauty so gloriously in that encounter that it filled my heart with joy to have met this wonderful man and to have experienced facets of God’s nature and splendoour that could only ever have been on display through this precious man, through his dark, broken circumstances, in this divine moment. A moment that I someone sensed in the spirit and responded to. Oh my gosh what fun. What adventure. What beauty.
Yet none of us can take the credit for any of this.
‘We are like common clay jars that carry this glorious treasure within, so that the extraordinary overflow of power will be seen as God’s, not ours’. 2 Corinthians 4:6
It is ridiculous to think we could do any of this in our own strength – how can we ever be the answer to a world of brokenness for we too in our humanity are totally broken – this world’s too jacked up to ever have a human solution – yet our God-given compassion in the most dire circumstances reveals God’s glory in unfathomable ways. Even when it’s overwhelming and the situation seems impossible…
I love how He often chooses to reveal His glory in ways which don’t equate to the problem seemingly being completely,solved...you know, wars stopping, and famine being eradicated, drug abuse disappearing and poverty being eliminated. The truth is that it so often looks like Jesus moving into the neighbourhood through us, coming amongst the brokenness of humanity, the poverty, the rape, the genocide, the addictions, the persecution, weeping with the broken, kneeling amongst the wounded and mourning with the marginalised…ministering to the enslaved…
Sometimes we pray for the quickest, simplest, solution to show up to the brokenness in our lives so that the problems can just disappear. When I’m involved in the Nightclub ministry of Club Angels I often pray that Gos would shut the club down and use the building for godly purposes, and I’m sure that could absolutely happen. Yet the way that divine glory often chooses to reveal itself in this nightclub month after month isn’t by shutting the club down or turning everyone’s hearts to repentance in a split second, but Glory kneels down and wipes away a drunk girls vomit while lovingly covering her immodesty. Glory helps a confused, inebriated boy get home safely after cheating on his girlfriend. Glory holds hands with a hard hearted, drunken clubber, as their heart softens with a broken clubber and prays with them to help them deal with the bereavement they are secretly dealing with.
Glory is revealed in the inconvenient, ugly, sinful, broken places of this fragile, jacked up world. It would obviously be far neater, easier, more comfortable and less awkward if it wasn’t. But then we’d never have had Calvary, for this is the greatest example of unconventional beauty, majesty, splendour and glory found in the ugly places of broken humanity. And as long as we are willing to be found in the darkness, gazing in wonder and awe at His beautiful face...then He will have permission to dazzle His glory through us...brilliantly displaying His glory in the dirty places of our fragile humanity.
‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.’ 2 Corinthians 4:7
Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed.
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.
Is it a beatific smile?
A holy light upon your brow?
Oh no! I felt His presence
When you laughed just now.
To me, ’twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear, to me still dim.
But when you came you brought
A sense of Him.
And from your eyes He beckons me,
And from your heart His love is shed,
Till I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.
- John Stott