The "Though for the Day" slot on BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme "Today" has been hotly contested for some time – the presenters (especially national treasure John Humphries) make no bones about the fact that they see it as a waste of space, the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society have tried to have it either removed or get humanist/rationalist thoughts for the day included as well as religious ones, and to be honest most of us with a faith also find it impossibly bland and irrelevant a lot of the time.
But every now and again it hits the nail on the head – and the two speakers who hit that nail the most often are Britain's two best loved Rabbis – Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and Rabbi Lionel Blue.
It was the latter yesterday morning who hit a nail on the head for me. Reflecting on a comic mess up at Obama's speech on St. Patrick's Day, he reflected that life does not always go as planned:
Then it dawned on me that life is like that autocue. We think our life is scripted. We've made our plans, written our words, know what we're going to say. Then something happens: an illness, an accident, an unexpected crisis, and suddenly the words no longer fit. We're thrown off balance. We improvise. A sense of humour helps. And we stumble through.
At least that's what I used to do until I made a decision that changed my life. Instead of getting angry or sad when things didn't work out the way I'd planned, I started asking, what is God telling me through this mishap? What is he trying to teach me? What does he want me to learn?
In preparing for our staff devotional earlier in the week I was leading from Ecclesiastes 3: 12-22 . Now I love Ecclesiastes, it is the most atypical book in the Bible – it seems nihilistic, almost Taoist – the Tao te Ching (written more or less contemporaneously I believe) has similar echoes about how life is short, wealth, learning and power are fleeting and illusory, and we all share the same fate – death. Cheerful stuff, but it is refreshing to find space in the scriptures for a frank assessment of the meaningless nature of so much that we lay great store in. Verses 12-14 and 22 of that passage remind us that for all that, work and the fruits of our labour are good things to be enjoyed as gifts from God.
Not that we are to live for these things either. Jesus had another take on it – Matthew 6:34 – live in the present, live now. It is not enough to be always looking to the future or harking on about how good things were in the past – here and now is where God is, and it is in the moment that we must live, because we cannot alter or bring back the past, and we cannot know or fully plan for the future. Of course, we have confidence in the fact that God is at work in our past and future too, and we have hope for that future coming of His Kingdom, but as the rest of that passage in Matthew's Gospel reminds us, don't worry about all that stuff – food, clothes, money, status, etc. Focus on God and His Kingdom, the rest is in His hands alone.
One of the lessons I am learning is to live in the present and to ask what God wants of me in my circumstances here, now and today – whether things are going to plan or otherwise. As I reflected earlier in the week, sometimes the most unwelcome turn of events is God's doorway. But we cannot second guess Him, we need to learn to walk with him each step, however unexpected.