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Sunday, 14 April 2013

Daddy! Daddy! I Want...Give Me...

On July 3rd, 1997 I boarded a Boeing 747 at Sydney Airport, Australia, which took off around five-thirty in the evening, bound for Los Angeles, California.  After flying across the vast Pacific Ocean, featuring a splendid view of Hawaii basking in the morning sunshine, the 'plane landed safely at around one o'clock in the afternoon on the 3rd of July.

Yes, I can say that I have literally went back in time, landing in Los Angeles before I took off from Sydney, despite being suspended more than thirty thousand feet up in the air for the better part of thirteen and a half hours. But that is one of the strange anomalies of long-haul travel, as the airline was literally travelling faster than the rotation of the Earth on its axis, the crossing of the International Date Line meant I had to re-live the whole of the 3rd of July instead of landing at Los Angeles on the 4th as a result of flying through the night. This make travel so exciting! This, along with looking up at the Australian starry night and seeing the Southern Cross Constellation right above my head, or the brilliant display of stars seen from the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Not to mention the abundance of tropical vegetation - Mangrove trees in particular, growing out of the sea at high tide, a phenomenon totally unknown around the UK, Europe or the Mediterranean.

A Mangrove tree at Arlie Beach, Queensland, 1997.

Travel became something of an obsession, I think, since I first believed in Jesus Christ as Saviour. It was due to the fact that I started reading the Bible, and the Old Testament in particular said a great deal about the nation of Israel with its capital city, Jerusalem. So in 1976, after touring Italy for the last three years as a solo backpacker, I flew out to Israel to see the city the Bible had spoken so much about, together with a stay in Tiberias, on the lake of Galilee, that part of the world so familiar with Jesus Christ and his disciples. Gosh, how I wanted to see Jesus at the time, while walking on territory he once walked on. As a twenty-three year old, I was quite naive and not realised that not only was he already with me, but also lived in me, and in a sense, was guiding me along where he had been before his crucifixion. After visiting Israel in 1976, my desire to see the rest of the world, particularly California, began to increase, a lot of this to do with big screen and television movies.

God allowed me to fulfil my travel dreams, simply because he is my Father, as Jesus taught us to regard him. As my knowledge of the Bible began to accumulate, my curiosity over the city of Jerusalem began to grow, and I wanted so much to be there to see for myself. I can't remember if I specifically asked whether I can go, but even as such an immature Christian back then, God knew my heart and he had opened the door. Apparently, for one to backpack the Middle East was so unusual back in the mid-seventies, that after I returned, it became quite a sensation at my place of work, a precision engineering factory which employed around two hundred people, both in the offices and shop-floor.

One of the Scriptures I have become familiar with is found in Matthew 7:7-11, where Jesus instructs his followers that God is willing to give good things to those that ask him. Good things? In my younger days, to me good things meant travel, and loads of money to do this. As a single person, good things also meant meeting a girl of my dreams, marry and raise a family. However, a fast car was not on the agenda, as I have proved myself not to have taken to the steering wheel. But reading what Jesus was comparing here, he was saying that although our hearts are evil, as fathers we are keen to give good gifts to our children when they ask for them.

Perhaps life was very different during Jesus' day. Did children really ask their dads for bread, fish or an egg? According to Jesus and his followers, these seemed to have been the normal things to ask for, as these were the only goods that existed in a primitive agricultural world. Yet in our modern day, I don't ever record asking my parents for food such as meat and vegetables. Neither have I ever seen or heard about any children ask for bread or a fish. Sweets (candy) - yes, and often given as a reward for being good or obedient. As for toys, I have seen more than one child scream as he or she was pulled away by Mum from a toy shop at the shopping mall, but I have yet to see a child scream if he or she is pulled away from a grocery store. Also it can be hard work trying to persuade children to eat their Brussels sprouts, or greens in general. Rather than ask for these items, they are often the last  taken from the plate, if they leave the plate at all. And that despite that vegetables have a lot of nutritional goodness in them.

And that's the point. When I was young, if someone had placed a portion of boiled cabbage and a bar of chocolate in front of me, then told to choose which to eat, I would have chosen the chocolate, even if there was much more protein in the cabbage. Would I have chosen the chocolate because I was rebellious? Not at all. I would have chosen it simply because I was a child, and the taste of chocolate is far more enjoyable than the taste of the vegetable. Because of this, I would have regarded the chocolate as an undeserved treat, while eating the cabbage was more of an act of duty. A lesson may be learned here with a plate of biscuits (cookies). When my Mum had a packet of chocolate biscuits and some plain wheat ones too, what she did was to wrap the plain ones in silver foil, and present them in the same dish as the chocolate ones. The ruse always worked. The ones in the foil stood out as special, and taking one of those represented a special treat, and I felt the need to eat it despite the anticlimax.

And as a young Christian, even as an adult, I regarded the goodness of God in a very similar way. How come? Because in Matthew's version, Jesus says that the Father will give good things to those who asks him, while in Luke's version (11:9-13) he says that the father gives the Holy Spirit to those who asks him! Therefore as a young Christian, I found Matthew's version a whole lot more appealing. With it, I did ask the Father if I could travel around the world. I did ask the Father if I would ever cross the International Date Line sometime in my life. I did ask the Father if I would be married one day. I also asked the Father if I could qualify for a desk job in an office - not because this was always my aspiration, but because I would be better loved, respected and accepted by other people, particularly in my church. But asking for the Holy Spirit? Not quite so appealing, despite that he was the best I could have asked for.

According to my experience, there seems to be a parallel between growing up physically and growing up spiritually. In I Corinthians 3, Hebrews 5:13 and 1 Peter 2:2, the apostles wrote about babes in Christ, who were engaging in quarrelling and envying instead of bathing in the grace of God. And these Christians were adults, yet they were spiritual children. It seems to me that it's natural for the new believer to pass through a stage of spiritual childhood, and yet we have a Heavenly Father who understands this. There is absolutely nothing wrong in desiring things we see around us or what other people have gotten or have achieved. Travel was, and still is, my passion and God has granted me the ability to have travelled the world, and enough money to finance it. God has also granted that I would have a wife, a partner for life. But he did not grant me to have a cosy desk job at an office, neither did he allow me to fulfil my childhood ambition to become a medical doctor or journalist. Back in 1980, when I was out of a job, I wanted so much to climb out of my working class status and become middle class. If only I could land an office job, I would have bridged the divide.

At my old church, the person's worth was evaluated by level of education and professional occupation. And one who came out of university was held in higher regard and greater respect than the one who didn't. The graduate found it easier to make friends, was wooed by the girls and even the Elders gave the graduate greater responsibilities as house group leaders and teachers of Junior Church, and so on. As a result of all this, there were times that my personal relationship with God was under some strain, and even thought, erroneously, that God loved some people more than others and I was near the bottom of the pile. World travel became the antidote against this line of thinking.

It is as I grew older both physically and spiritually that I began to realise that Luke's version of what Jesus taught was far superior. Whether these two sayings were slightly different variations of the same speech delivered or whether he spoke on the same theme at different times and places, really that does not matter. For Jesus to say that the Holy Spirit is available just by the asking is the greatest demonstration of grace God can bestow upon a person. Furthermore, it is an unqualified statement, it does not respect the recipient's level of education or social status. As with travel, this always ends with a bout of "post holiday blues" - a deep feeling of melancholy as I walked into an empty, silent but oh-so-familiar apartment after so many nights spent at a lively, bustling hostel socialising and making friends in the far corner of the globe, with the distance from work and daily responsibilities to match. But asking for the Holy Spirit to flood my soul with himself is actually a lot more fulfilling, not only because the gift is eternal, but particularly when I go through a difficult patch wondering how long my window cleaning business will last, the growing threat of rivalry due to superior sales patter, better equipment which demands hundreds, if not thousands of pounds investment, and an estate of ageing clientele leaving me very unsure about the future.

I have found that trusting in God and asking for the Holy Spirit to fill me on a daily basis has not only helped along in facing an uncertain future, but on the positive scale, has given me patience in dealing with difficult clients, to be gentle and accommodating when others poses levels of difficulty. And I give credit to the power of God in my life, a Saviour who is fully capable in renewing a sinner's heart. A long backpacking holiday, or even a sabbatical, may be an exciting idea but also a return ticket is included in the package. Not so with the seal and guarantee of eternal life. No return ticket there! Realising that asking the Father for the Holy Spirit is equivalent to a child choosing the cabbage instead of the chocolate, to walk into a clothes shop on a cold day instead of the toy shop, or for that matter, if a choice between a pretty picture postcard or a £20 note was presented, the child choosing the money above the postcard, despite that the card is far more prettier.

I believe that God's wish is to bless us. I don't believe that God is reluctant to bestow material blessings, which includes the opportunity to travel. After all, wasn't Abraham rich? And so was Job? And one of the richest men who had ever lived was King Solomon. Never mind that he erred in later life. Solomon was bestowed with a supernatural wisdom which could have only come from the Spirit of God, and was particularly loved by God at his birth.

King Solomon's splendour. 

God has blessed me richly with a wife and a nice home, two computers, a photo library of travel experiences, and niceties which enhances the pleasantness of being at home. But the best gift God has given me is salvation and having not just having the Holy Spirit dwell in me, but all of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit taking delight in making me their home.


  1. Awesome post, Frank! And clearly a topic I need to be hearing now, as our Pastor preached on these 2 passages in Matthew and Luke just this morning! The indwelling Holy Spirit truly is the best gift anyone could ever have in this life, not only because He seals us as born again into eternal life, but also because He guides, teaches, corrects and comforts us in our earthly life. In Him, we have the mind of Christ. What else could we possibly need?
    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I think one of the best things we can do sometimes is 'take no thought for tomorrow'. Most times, if we thought about tomorrow, our carnal minds would give us pictures of doom and gloom. As with Job,in Job ch.3, the very things he feared came upon him. It is better to put our times in God's hands and trust Him because His promises are 'yes' in Jesus. Sometimes we do not realize the power of our minds to cause us to doubt that God will give us our heart's desires according to the plans of welfare that He has for us. I have had office jobs and quite liked them, but I preferred my cleaning job in a furniture factory and my growing tomatoes and chrysanthemums in a market garden.

  3. Though you may be 'just a Working class window cleaner' Frank, God has blessed you with many things, both spiritually and materially, and believe me when I say that there are many people earning perhaps ten, or more, times as much as you, who are not a quarter as fulfilled as you, and do not have the spiritual wisdom and warmth and kindness you have. What those who often place money above everything else also fail to see is that money is transient, it gets away from you, it is means to an end and not an end in itself. We need it to get by and travel the world and pay bills, but we don't need millions or billions, just enough to see that God has blessed us with many gifts both spiritual and material. One of your very best posts, amongst other great posts.

  4. I wonder how many people are so busy screaming for more they never enjoy what they have?

    1. Good point Donald. Yes, the rich and the poor are almost brainwashed into thinking that money is the only answer; so poor people get depressed and rich people get greedier. Instead of looking at our blessings, we simply become dissatisfied.

  5. My word for the year is "Less...and more." I'm cleaning out more of the physical junk to make room for more of God. Some days I think I'm not accomplishing that but I'm pressing on. It's amazing how the desire for "things" is lessening and how I'm enjoying the things I already have. Excellent thoughts here.