We were away last week at New Wine North & East, with some 7,000 others. It was a great week, for me the best New Wine summer conference I can remember. Highlights included Simon Guillebaud’s Morning Bible Teaching, Angus Bell’s two seminars, camping with friends we’ve known for many years but rarely get to see, and seeing Jo come alive as one third of the team of pastors looking after the 80-strong team responsible for some 500 5-7 year-olds.
Angus Bell is a Senior Clinical Director of Psychiatry, who expounds Scripture using psychological insights gained from his clinical experience, and who I first met through mutual friends on a ski holiday in 1997. His seminars on intimacy with God – experiencing success, the rise of the self; the freedom of failure, the death of the self – were profoundly helpful. He began by describing the difference between those who live from their periphery, who classify, measure, judge, label (e.g. enmity between supporters of rival football teams); and those who live from their centre, who delight in what we have in common, are motivated by, but express differently (e.g. recognising a shared love of football). God is always after our heart, our centre not our periphery.
Angus proposed that in order for us to be able to rely on God, in order to experience reliable intimacy with him, we must learn three lessons. Firstly, we must both experience and – crucially – receive love, in order to learn that we are special. Secondly, we need to experience success, in order to learn that we are good. Thirdly, and most importantly, though it must follow on from the other two, we need to experience failure, in order to learn that God is good. Through our lives we will experience cycles of these three experiences, through which we grow to maturity.
What follows, in three parts, are largely my own reflections prompted by Angus’ seminars: please don’t judge him by my inarticulate account of my inept thoughts.
I think the first lesson – that we are special – is one which Christians easily consent to at the head level, but struggle to learn at the heart level, because of disconnect between experiencing and receiving love. That is while some of us did not experience love from our parents, more of us experienced love which we were unable to receive, not least because the expression of love held out was the expression of love our parents needed to receive but not the expression of love we register as love. (Here I’m thinking along 5 Love Languages lines: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, physical touch.) We need to experience and receive God’s love, to know that we are special. We can ask him for such experiences – for God is a Father who delights to give to his children what they ask for, however trivial the request may seem to others.