Thoughts of the Day on Thursdays this month are part of a special series in Epiphanytide where members of our congregation share stories of their own Epiphany moments.
Today’s reflection is by Jacky Bramma.
Tuesday, January 12
It never fails to amaze me how God works through the most unlikely people … ordinary folk who initially may seem to have no special qualities. Sometimes we may wonder why God chose the people he did. I think of Moses who killed an Egyptian in anger, or King David, whose lust for Bathsheba led him to send her husband Uriah to be killed in battle. And yet, both of them played a vital part in God’s plan. Moses even tried to say no to God, when told to deal with Pharaoh on behalf of the captive Israelites, telling him, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (Exodus 6:30). God’s response was to appoint Moses’ brother Aaron to be his spokesperson and his prophet. Problem solved!
How often do we shrink away from answering God’s call because we feel unworthy? I have learned that when God has something in mind for me, it is an idea which just won’t go away, and which may come from various sources, in a series of nudges and whispers. Such was my call to become a lay anointer for healing. After a long and winding road which finally led me to become a committed Christian 19 years ago, God brought me out of the wilderness to All Saints’. I believe that it was no coincidence that, after losing touch for many years, I happened to come across the address of an old high school friend who had become a nurse. We exchanged letters (no email in those days!) and I was fascinated to hear about her healing ministry at her church. We met later that year on a trip to the UK, and I was drawn by her testimony. This came just at the time when All Saints’ only anointer was about to move away, and I knew that it was something I had to pursue, in spite of my feeling of inadequacy. After a weekend diocesan training course, followed by an interview with the bishop, I began a ministry of anointing and prayer which has been truly rewarding and a great privilege.
Of course, we know that the disciples chosen by Jesus during his ministry on earth were rough and ready and far from perfect. Like us they were flawed and vulnerable, and yet after Pentecost they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach and spread the Gospel in ways they could never have imagined. Scripture tells us that Jesus is sometimes exasperated at their failure to “get it”, such as when he calms the storm and asks his terrified disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4: 40), and yet he never gives up on them!
When preparing for this reflection I discovered that January 13 is dedicated to Saint Hilary of Poitiers. (In my ignorance I initially assumed this person to be a female, but soon learned that he was one of the most important Christians of the fourth century AD.) Born sometime after 300 AD in Poitiers, France, into a pagan, polytheistic family, his wealthy parents gave him a good education. However, Hilary soon came to the conclusion that worshipping many gods made no sense. He studied the scriptures, where he met Jesus, and his heart was changed. He married and had a daughter, Abra (who became a nun and devoted her life to the poor in Poitiers, and was herself declared a saint), before becoming baptised. As was the custom of the day, the appointment of bishops was made by local priests and approved by the people. So it was that he became Bishop of Poitiers. He preached tirelessly against the false teaching of the Libyan cleric Arius, who claimed that Jesus was not truly God. This campaign against Arianism was welcomed by the people, but not by the Emperor, who exiled him for four years to what is now modern day Turkey. Hilary made great use of this time to write many books and sermons about the blessed Trinity. When he finally returned to Poitiers, he was welcomed by huge cheering crowds in the town square. He died in 368 AD, and in 1851 the Roman Catholic Church named him a saint and a doctor of the church. Interestingly he is designated as the patron saint of snake bites!
What strikes me about his life was that he could have simply enjoyed a life of ease, and gone along with his pagan traditions, but his openness to God’s word set him on a very different path. He could have kept his opinions about Arianism to himself, but God worked through him to preach the true gospel. He could have spent his time separated from his family in exile merely counting the days when he would see them again, but instead he continued to do God’s work.
In more recent times there are examples of others who started out as non-believers, or even ardent atheists, and whose hearts were changed through studying the scriptures and responding to God’s call. Perhaps the most famous is C.S Lewis, considered to be one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. Born in 1898, he did not become a Christian until the age of 31. Although initially he was a reluctant convert, he became one of the most influential Christian writers of our time.
Alpha pioneer Nicky Gumbel was born into a secular Jewish family in 1955, and was a confirmed atheist when he began his law studies at Cambridge. He was so dismayed when one of his closest friends became a Christian in 1974 that he set out to debunk Christianity by studying the Bible. The result was an amazing conversion. He was ordained in 1987, and has gone on to have a huge influence world-wide with the Alpha program.
These are just two examples of how God uses seemingly unlikely people, and I see an obvious pattern from the earliest times until now: it begins with a call from God to someone he chooses. The individual is free to accept or reject this invitation, although God can be very persistent and does not give up easily! Once a person finally says “yes”, God will equip even the most reluctant man or woman to do the work. How might God be leading you today? How might we, like St Hilary, be called to believe in and share the true Gospel? Whatever God has in mind for us, we can be sure that he will strengthen us for the task in hand if we allow him to work in us.
A Celtic prayer by David Adams:
Grant us a vision, Lord
To see what we can achieve
To reach out beyond ourselves
To share our lives with others
To stretch our capabilities
To increase our sense of purpose
To be aware where we can help
To be sensitive to your presence
To give heed to your constant call.