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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 01.02.2024

February 1st, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

Most spiritual writing will talk about the importance of growing faith. I’ve always found it quite difficult to judge whether my own faith is growing or not.  Others are probably in a better position to judge.  But if we are prone to judge one another’s faith - Jesus discourages that by the way, what criteria would we use?  We may think its about confidence in the truthfulness of what we have placed our trust in – the life death and resurrection of Jesus.  But as I’ve said in previous videos, sometimes a period of doubt for our ideas to be de-constructed then re-built on more solid ground can be helpful. The time of questioning might feel like we are going backwards, but the fruits of this period may take us forward significantly.  Many Christians go through what an ancient writer described as a ‘dark night of the soul’ – a time when we learn to love God more than what we get out of God. A time when faith feels shaky, perhaps in response to a personal tragedy, could be anything but a reversal.

We could judge on the basis of external enthusiasm.  Some people are highly extroverted and demonstrative in their worship and are energised by a more emotional experience.  Others, the more introverted among us, find quieter contemplation a better way to connect with God. These are simply matters of personality type and preference, not substance. Indeed, our preferences can change on our pilgrimage, they are rarely static.

Reflecting on deeply faithful and holy Christians I have known personally, my judgement would be that really deep faith is something that emerges slowly as Eugene Peterson said, “we take a long pilgrimage of obedience in the same direction.” Unsurprisingly, Jesus and Paul draw on images of agriculture: wheat growing towards harvest, fruit bearing trees and the like.  Jesus puzzling cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21: 19 is symbolic of his exasperation with his contemporaries who are showing so few fruits of faith despite their great spiritual advantages.

Earlier in Matthew 7: 17 he says, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  The Apostle James in chapter 2: 26 was blunter, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” All these point us towards the importance of faith going beyond mere intellectual assent to some truths about God, or cultural allegiance, or even religious observance, but towards character transformation. Faith is meant to change us; to make us more like Jesus, so that we demonstrate something of his character to those around us. We may not be desperately attractive people, but Jesus is. The more we are like him, the more others will be drawn to him.

It is helpful to see the historical disciplines and practices of faith in this light. They are not to earn us spiritual brownie points to make God love us more.  Worship is a high calling and privilege, but God doesn’t need it to make him feel better about himself. Spiritual disciplines and practices like prayer, bible reading, worship, silence solitude and fasting to name a few are best seen as analogous to an athletes training, or music practice or any other discipline we might adopt to achieve a goal. It seems generally accepted that you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a musical instrument. This long journey rewires the brain. You cannot short cut the process. Once mastery has been achieved the practice doesn’t stop to maintain it. Over the course of this journey faltering steps slowly give rise to greater confidence. On the journey, you are not aware of the improvements in the short term, but others will begin to pick them up. In the spiritual journey one of the things that grows is humility. It is likely that as you become more like Jesus you will be more aware of how far you have to go than take pride in how far you have travelled so far.  In learning an instrument there will be times when the step to the next level requires special dedication and struggle. Similarly, in faith, there may be no other way to deeper trust in God than to have that trust tested through adversity.  That may be through difficult circumstances or simply losing a subjective sense of God’s presence for a time. But in the end perseverance pays off.  The more we are like Jesus, the more we will enjoy eternity with him. If our year of faith helps us to establish patterns of practice that grow holiness in us, it will have done its job well.

+ Richard


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