8th September 2011

A Close Shave

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
John 10:16 (NIV)

For fifty years I have been a wet shaver. A quick wash with soap to soften the beard, followed by using a brush and shaving soap to lather my face, and then using my razor in a particular sequence. It is a simple and most satisfying way to achieve a close shave and has become a habit.

But, having now retired, I sometimes go shopping with my wife and was horrified by the price of razor blades in our weekly shop. So I decided to buy and try an electric razor. For a few days I struggled to adjust and was tempted to go back to a wet shave. It did not seem to do as good a job and made my face sore. But when you’ve done something one way for a long time it’s bound to feel a little strange and uncomfortable when you change the way you do it.

It has taken a week or two but I now feel that I am shaving just as well with my electric razor as I was with a wet shave. My face is no longer sore and I have developed a sequence of moves with my electric razor with which I am now comfortable. With the added bonus of saving a few pennies!  So I am doing exactly the same thing but doing it in a different way. For a while making that change was difficult and I was tempted to go back to the old way of shaving. But by persevering I became comfortable with shaving in a different way.

All fairly trivial you may say. So what!  But there is a parallel in Christianity. So often churches do things in their own particular way. Their services follow a fixed format. Their doctrinal position is set in stone. All too easily they become defensive and insular and can be reluctant to engage with another church that does things in a slightly different way.  Recently I heard of a situation where one church refused to let another church use their church hall for services. I don’t know exactly what the difference of opinion was about, but what does it say to people about Christianity when churches won’t co-operate with each other!

As human beings we have a natural tendency to think our approach, our way of doing things must be right. As members of churches, families, businesses, clubs or any other organized group we can get into the habit of doing something one way for a very long time and becoming attached to that way of doing it.  In churches the danger is that our position becomes fixed and, without realizing it, we start to limit God. We assume (which makes an ass of u and me!) that our way is God’s way and doing it our way and believing what we believe, is the right way to follow God.  In doing this we limit God in our minds because, of course, we can’t limit God in reality.

In the scripture above Christ was speaking to a Jewish audience who believed they were the chosen people. They believed that they alone had a special relationship with God and looked down on non-Jews. Christ was preparing them for the future when they would learn that salvation and a relationship with God was not exclusive to them. (Acts 11.18)  As Christians we must know what we believe and hold fast to it. (Jude 3) But we must be prepared for God to work with other Christians and other Churches in a different way.

Let’s not let our long established habits and ways of doing things lead us into limiting God, or creating God in our image, or into a judgemental mind set. Change, whether big or small, can be uncomfortable and we have a natural resistance to it.  Let’s remember we worship a God of love and mercy who is a lot bigger than us, and who is ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3.9) The simple act of changing a long standing habit, the way I shave, reminds me that I must change to be what God wants me to be, not change God to what I want him to be.

Loving Father, help us to have the wisdom, vision and understanding to hold fast to your truth, but never to limit you by thinking our habits or our culture are the only right way to worship you.

Study by Keith Hartrick

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