‘The season of Advent is given to us so that we can realign our compass to direct us on the right path’. When I read that in the introduction of John Sentamu’s ‘Wake up to Advent’, I knew I’d made a good choice to read this Advent. Advent is about preparation – preparing my heart. Preparing my heart in humility and joy to embrace more of the fulness our Lord Jesus Christ has ushered in with his first coming. Preparing my heart in hope and godly fear, to anticipate his glorious return with his second coming. So I try and make Advent just that – a deep faith-full reflection on what Jesus has done, as well as a hope-full anticipation of all he will do. My prayer is that I shall realign my inner compass, so my feet will walk in the pathway of his calling.
This year I shall be using this book as my guide, alongside my Bible. We’ve decided to pause our Seventy-two tradition of publishing ‘Practising for Christmas’ daily during Advent, but that does not mean we can afford to abandon the foundational need of ‘practising’. My mission is to enable as many as possible to get all the way round the Discipleship Cycle, as often as possible. We frequently start by listening, but Jesus doesn’t want us to stay there. I shall be noting anything which grabs my attention as I read this book; passages of Scripture, observations from life and nature, and a snippet of conversation when I sense God is amplifying someone’s words in order for me to hear. Weekly I shall be reviewing my notes with a view to taking at least one a stage further around the cycle.
January is when I plan. Early into the new year I like to take a day and lay my plans and possibilities out before me, but especially bring them before the Lord. Advent, however, is when I realign my heart. I’m not suggesting for one moment this needs to be everyone’s way of doing things, but I strongly advocate the order; the priority of setting our heart, before we set our plans.
I like the framework of ‘Wake up to Advent’ with a week each built around four challenges: Wake up! Clean up! Feed up! Grow up! Where do I need to wake up? Already, in week one I’ve been challenged by Romans 13:11, ‘remember this is the hour of crisis: it is high time for you to wake up out of sleep’. I feel a little like Jeremiah sometimes when I dare to mention we are operating against a backdrop of decline across the church in the UK. People (myself included) are so desperate for good news and encouraging signs in the mission of God, we’ll grab anything which looks like growth, even if deep down we know it’s superficial or unlikely to stay the course.
In my own situation I’ve been encouraging bold responses to the call to be ‘carriers of the future’ whilst also warning I believe things will get worse before they get better. My inspiration was from Jeremiah 29, but I’m hoping it’ll be sooner than seventy years! However, the sobering truth is whether it’s sooner or later will be largely out of my hands.
Even so, I can do what I can do: set my heart.
In various ways I shall need to make an adjustment. The Bible word for this is repentance (not a very common word in the church today it seems). In order to realign my compass in the direction God is calling me, I shall need to repent. How much; whether that’s a one-degree shift, or a complete turnaround depends I guess. Like me, you witness situations where someone sets out to fulfil their plans, but because they’ve paid too little attention to their heart before God, when the going gets tough, they disappear, and their plans come to nothing. Leadership teams and churches are very good at making the same mistake.
Personally, I find it too easy to agree to a great idea (because very often it is!), without engaging my heart. If I’m going to be different during 2020, I suspect it will depend on how seriously I take Advent. How each of us does this will vary, but I know the Lord is calling as many of us as possible to realign our hearts with his.