I have often struggled with the many New Testament passages that talk of suffering. As I get up in my comfortable leafy North London home, take a hot shower and munch my way through a breakfast of designer muesli, the niggling question is: do I suffer for my faith? Myriad of Christians across the world will wake up to a very different world from mine, one where they are not allowed to worship openly, they are kept from decent gainful employment, left in wretched poverty, often ostracized from their families, and even in fear for their own physical wellbeing. Much of the New Testament speaks directly to these people. In comparison, my cappuccino being slightly tepid, doesn't feel like real suffering.
However, when it comes to "testing", then I can fully identify with what the Bible has to say. In 1 Peter it talks about trials that are likened to our faith being refined like gold. The Go and Grow project is such a trial.
When last month we exchanged contracts on the purchase of Solar House there was appropriate rejoicing that God had enabled us to get this far. However once the dust settled I quickly came to realise that the challenges ahead far outweigh the accomplishments so far. And now we are committed. The old adage that when it comes to a cooked breakfast the hen is involved but the pig is committed, places us firmly in porcine territory. It feels like we've leapt out of the aeroplane and are hurtling towards the ground while hearing God calling after us: "I'll give you a parachute later". At our project board meeting yesterday we once more looked deeply into enormity of what God has asked us to do. The title of a famous best-selling self-help book comes to mind: "Feel the fear and do it anyway".
1 Corinthians 10:13 says "God will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it" (GNB). This passage is usually understood to be talking about temptations and is a warning to stay away from sin. But maybe it can also be applied to the faith struggles we all have. The repeated cry of my heart is "why does it have to be so hard?". Surely God would send us a multi-millionaire to give us barrow-loads of cash to take the pressure off our fundraising. Surely God would raise up a parade of cheerleaders on the Barnet planning committee to wave our scheme through without the murmur of dissent. Surely God would so affect the grandees at the diocese that they would suddenly be converted to the joy of a high-risk church project.
But the reality of living by faith is a painful demanding experience. Gold is not refined by cosy warmth and such is the temperature of the Go and Grow trial that I believe that our loving Heavenly Father intends a precious purity to be a consequence. As our testing endures, I take heart that God must have great plans for St Bs.