We ambled over to the man of the moment to say goodbye. A moment later we were clasped together in a three way hug as he sobbed. It had been a long time coming but a couple of weeks back my old mate Giles had a service to be officially installed as a church leader.
Despite the rapidly greying beard I don’t feel that old but the fact is it’s that a quarter of a century since Giles and I first met at our University of Sheffield accommodation. Today I sit in my slightly grown up house a quarter of a mile away aware that a lot of water has passed under our bridges. I’m pleased to say that we are at least a bit wiser but more importantly have not turned into a pair of old cynics.
I had the privilege of saying a few words at the service and I remarked that our lives have not been as straightforward as we might have hoped as young men. I’m reminded of the poignant lyrics from the Athlete song ‘Street Map’:
‘I would like to think our paths are straight. Disconnected from choices we make. That there is no reason why it can’t be like you said’
For us the ‘why it can’t be like you said’ was a belief about the reality of God breaking into the here and now, transforming our lives and those of others around us. We’d had a taste of God and we wanted more. We wanted the ‘more of God’ to define our lives as people that knew God and made him known.
Post University, Giles trained as a teacher but felt a sense of calling, that God had something else planned for him. It led in time to a move, with his wife Naomi, to Bristol to train to be a Baptist Minister. And then.
Then it didn’t quite seem to work out. The right door didn’t open. Joyously for us, they came back to Sheffield. Slightly less joyously, for him, Giles went back to teaching. As always, it was a hard grind. Teaching is relentless. But Giles got stuck in. He moved schools, became a head of department and led a turnaround in results. It was tough, he questioned how long he could keep going. And then this job came up.
Giles is now the leader of the Kings Centre Church in Sheffield. He has taken to it like a duck to water. No one is saying it is going to be easy but it’s so clearly right. It was a joy to join with his new congregation, along with a bunch of old mates and his family, all united in pride and delight for the man we love.
So what’s the point? That it will always work out in the end? That God always makes things okay? Hardly. Two of my friends who were there at the service are wrestling with what to do with careers that don’t feel sustainable. I prayed with one of them, I told him that God has a way. I didn’t say it would be okay or easy.
After we lost our boy, Ben, I had to try and make sense of the idea that there was a God with plans for our lives. In the aftermath that felt absurd. I remembered being amongst young, energetic Christians who wanted a word from God for their lives so that they could have a sense of certainty about the future. I came to the conclusion that the plan on offer is not a blueprint we can find security in but that we walk with God and as we do, we allow him to shape our lives for good. Even when things really aren’t feeling good.
The point about Giles is that whatever he’s done, whether life made sense, whether he was hating his job was to doggedly pursue a life as a follower of Jesus. That’s meant that wherever he is, he’s brought hope, energy, commitment to the people around him and an unwavering desire for things to be better.
Romans 12 in the Message Translation makes this suggestion:
Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
In a nutshell that’s the plan that Giles has followed!
The plan is that we give the life, God has given us back to him. And as we do, whatever our circumstances, he promises to be with us, to help, guide and sustain.
As I wrote in my book, ‘What Happens Now?’:
‘The plan of God is to inhabit our lives. It’s not a path to a final, shiny destination where all the loose ends are tied up, but a life lived hand in hand with our loving Father’
So congratulations Reverend Holloway, never forget that God is your source – there is much, much more to come!