REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 58: There’s a hole in my bucket!
I have fond memories of singing campfire songs in the Scouts. Repetitive, question-and-answer songs like Found a peanut and There’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza were favourites. Last week I found myself thinking about the empty bucket old Henry couldn’t seem to fix. In my mind was an inspiring story recounted to me by a friend of a man we both knew who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Following an encouraging round of treatment, some of his friends visited him at his home. Wanting to be positive one of them said, ‘Now is the time to do your bucket list.’ Our friend answered him very clearly, My bucket list is Jesus.
His friend was the one ticked off! Having known the man concerned from when he was 19, there was no doubting his faithfulness and that his comment to his well-meaning, but unhelpful friend would have been an expression of loving concern for his discipleship. One of the great services COVID-19 has done for us in Australia is to have halted this mad desire of we cashed-up Baby-Boomers to pursue bucket lists as if they were mandatory rites [indeed rights] of passage. How would we ever arrive at the concept of a bucket list from reading the New Testament? Many passages come to mind that would alert us to the sheer folly of such a dangerous goal for one’s latter years. Here are a few to ponder: Matt 6:19-21 24:13, 25:31-46; Luke 8:14; 12:13-21; 16:19-31; Rom 12:1-2, 8; 2 Cor 9:6-15; Gal 6:7-10; Eph 4:28; 1 Tim 6:6-10, 17-19; James 4:13-17; Heb 13:5-6.
What about the campfire song? It occurred to me how apt it is. Buckets, especially the old iron ones, inevitably rusted, leaving holes in them. Like our last- lap indulgences. How so you might ask? The law of diminishing returns soon comes into play. The cruise was good [unless you got sick!], often so good that what was to be the trip of a lifetime becomes an annual necessity for happiness and meaning. A bit like opening the block of chocolate! It creates an appetite that can only be satisfied with more. But unlike chocolate, it takes a bigger and more expensive outing to satisfy us. God, who has given us so much to marvel at in creation, more so with good friends, and if you are gregarious, with meeting people from all over, can so easily be relegated to the background. Imperceptibly we have allowed His good gifts to be the very poor substitute to finding our deepest joys and longings in Him. The hole cannot be fixed because we have found a different, albeit a leaking, source of satisfaction, nourishment and joy.
Like poor old Henry nothing can mend the hole since we were designed by a personal God to find our needs met by the Person of His beloved Son and the Person of the Holy Spirit who, like the Son, delights to bring us into the presence of our Father day by day. Most importantly, He helps us to know experientially and marvel at His presence, which once proved and made real day in day out can be relied upon in ways and at times bucket- list pleasures can never deliver. To our utter dismay we have traded in the Triune God for a modern day idol. God and we have become virtual strangers. Peterson’s unholy Trinity of Holy Needs, Wants and Desires having sucked the vitality of real life out of us, keeps on letting us down [E. Peterson Eat this Book p.31ff]. Only Scripture internalised can nourish us through our last laps [Matt 4:4; John 4:13-14; 2 Cor 4:16-18; Eph 5:18-21; 1 Peter 1:3-9; 2 Peter 1:3-11].
God, like my friend, tells it like it is, since He has designed us and knows both how we tick and how easily, even as believers, we can be thrown off track, even by good gifts. Since Satan loves to deflect believers from their Saviour, and we are [mostly] wise enough not to be thrown by obviously sinful behaviour, he will take something good and cause us to love it so much that it becomes the idol that destroys us. This happened in Jeremiah’s day where: my people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water [2:13]. How grateful we ought to be that COVID-19 helps expose our dependence on the enjoyment of pleasures rather than on Him of whom the Psalmist, and countless believers, have testified: You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand [Psalm 16:11]. With our gracious Lord at the Father’s right hand we are assured of the pleasure of being understood and welcomed into the Father’s presence as we pray, where our needs are met, our disappointments heard and understood [Heb 4:14-16]. More than that we travel the world daily with our prayer diaries and engage in our privileged work as intercessors [1 Peter 2:9-10]. By pouring our hearts and riches into serving others at home and meeting the needs of fellow believers the world over our buckets are filled, only to overflow in displays of other-person-generosity. We rediscover the promise of our risen Saviour: It is more blessed to receive [Acts 20:35], saving ourselves from the horror of a love that has grown cold [Matt 24:12] and the forsaking of our first love [Rev 2:4]. Being counted among the sheep [Matt 25:34-36] whose bucket- listed priority, like Ivan’s, is to serve one another and Christ, is the proven way of joy that satisfies us and spills over to others [John 4:13-14].
Peter Brain 12th January, 2021