Sebastian Vettel has had more pole positions than anyone else this Formula 1 season, but he has flattered to deceive. His Red Bull car has not lasted the pace. Many people start well, but it is finishing that matters. Perseverance is all.
How many marriages are fine for the first few years, but crumble when the going gets tough? They say that all political careers end in failure, but that is probably because politicians get to thinking that they are invincible. The great message of the Bible is that you can't do it by yourself. The great temptation of the Devil is to make you think you can.
It is a particular temptation for the bright and talented. Success comes easily to them and they grow too big for their boots. If you read the gospels, you can't help but be attracted to Jesus. Such wit; such wisdom; such self effacement! How can you help wanting to be like him? So you set out to do so, but very soon you fall short. You easily forgive yourself and make allowance for circumstances. You try harder but still you fail. What do you do when you recognize that you are not up to the mark? Do you think the mark is not worth getting up to? Do you put it down to an unrealistic childish ambition? Do you reconcile yourself to failure and seek other means of fulfillment?
It never ceases to amaze me how many men and women of great attainment start out from an evangelical background but are diverted into other pathways. Their achievements may be great, but they have given up their previous standards and ambitions. Thomas Hardy was one such; George Eliot another.
This passage in 1 Peter 4: 7-11 tells us how we should rather react.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Life is not a race of a set distance. For some it is a sprint; for some a marathon. We are all a heartbeat away from the end of all things and the Lord is very close. His return is imminent. Like a kingfisher skimming over a lake he might breach the surface at any moment. We should always be ready to meet our God. It's no use putting things off until the times are more opportune.
Peter gives us two instructions on how we are to assume the attitude of Christ. We are to pray and to love.
In order to pray we must be clear minded and self-controlled.
First, our minds must be clear. Praying is not about dashing off a few phrases or performing a ritual. It requires thinking.
Imagine you have a daily audience with the President or the Prime Minister. You wouldn't wing it! You would prepare what you wanted to say beforehand. Your audience with the King of Kings is more important than that! Of course, he knows what you need before you ask, but for his own reasons he has decided only to give you those things when you ask for them.
My son phoned me half an hour ago to tell me that he had safely returned from China. I was delighted to hear him speak. It seems embarrassing, but that is exactly how our heavenly father feels when we speak to him. Why is it such a low priority for us?
Yet we have to admit that it is. Most of us find prayer difficult. It is hard work. And being hard work it requires a clear head. Here is a challenge, for me and for you. Make a fresh start on your prayer time. First find a specific time when you won't be interrupted and make this the first priority of your day. I have been playing house-husband for the past couple of weeks. I know that every day I have to empty the bins and replace the bin-liners. That is a priority, but I mustn't let it become a greater priority than speaking to my heavenly father.
Second, it is useful to adopt a formula for praying and what better than the instruction that Jesus gave us. Many churches say the Lord's prayer as part of their liturgy. I think that is wrong. We don't need to memorise the words and recite them; and certainly not in the KJ version. Don't stumble over trespasses! But to use the Lord's prayer as a template seems to me to be excellent. We should initially concentrate on the centrality of God as the author and finisher of our existence, His holiness and our desire that his will be accomplished, not just at the end times but here and now. We should pray for our own needs, though not for our greeds and especially for our ongoing forgiveness (for we are still sinners) reminding ourselves to forgive those who offend us. We need to pray for protection from the evil one and that we may be able to resist temptation.
We should not forget intercession. I don't know about you, but in my role as a house husband, when I go shopping, I need a list. Everyday I receive dozens of requests for prayer. Unless, I write them down I forget them So keep a notebook or other aide memoire. We should not be shy about making our requests known to God. The Lord's prayer is a guide but not a comprehensive glossary about prayer.
It's not just a clear mind that we need, but also self-control. We are so easily distracted. People used to close their eyes to avoid distraction, but some today find that closing your eyes is a prelude to day-dreaming. Keep them open and consult your notebook. Don't answer the phone - let the answer-phone do it.
Prayer doesn't need to be long-winded with flowery phrases. Make it a conversation as you would talk to your spouse.
The second requirement for the mind of Christ is love. How does love cover a multitude of sins? Like this: suppose my wife says something carelessly that could be wounding if I took it in a certain way - about my expanding middle, for example. Because I love her and she loves me, I don't take offence.
And it's not just my wife who is the recipient of love. Today, a car squeezed me out at a junction. He sounded his horn and made a rude gesture. There was a time when I would have seethed all day. But I let it go. I forgave him, for what it is worth and thought no more about it until now. God so loved me that he gave his one and only son to save me from perishing, why should I not show love to another. In fact showing love is a gift of God - one of the charismata. We have received these grace gifts to serve with, whether speaking, giving hospitality or serving in whatever way we can. These are our love gifts, given to us to pass on to others.