So this summer, my husband locked us out of the motorhome, in which lay all three sets of keys, which he had hidden, in case we lost them.
After some colourful and entirely justified language…I contemplated keys. Scraps of metal, smaller than one’s little finger, yet they can unlock homes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, palaces, super-yachts, safes–and motor homes!
Jesus promises us the keys of the Kingdom. Earthly kingdoms have great variety–the United Kingdom in which I live has mountains, oceans, lakes, palaces, priceless art, golden universities, and storied cities. So too Jesus’s oft-repeated phrase “the Kingdom of God,” means different things to different people. To me, the Kingdom is within me (Luke 17:21). I know I am “in” the Kingdom when I experience peace, joy, love and the awareness of God’s presence and power. For others, it means justice, healings, miracles, shalom, lightning bolts of spiritual power…
And sometimes, it just takes a key, small shifts, for us to enter this Kingdom. Forgiveness, for instance, repentance, persistent prayer, a humble heart, and, always, gratitude.
* * *
In this workaday life of ours, simple shifts can bring disproportionate changes and benefits. For instance, after the crippling pain of sciatica, I worked with a health coach. Losing weight has never been easy, but she suggested that I completely eliminate all starchy carbs (bread, pasta, noodles, wheat, rice, potatoes, oats, grains), and all sugar and chocolate, and limit caffeine and dairy. And I discovered that, for me, entirely cutting out things that are not a blessing to my body is oddly easier than moderation (Moderation kills: Dr. Esselstyn) and weight is coming off, 18 pounds more recently, and I am 40 pounds down from my highest weight. A simple key, a big shift. (I have more to lose, sadly!!)
Similarly, I have always had romantic, yearning feelings about waking up early, and “awakening the dawn,” but have never been an early riser. My brain lights up around 6 p.m., and I am often alert and clear-headed until midnight—or later. However, I finally followed the gurus’ most common sleep recommendation which is to sleep at the same time and wake at the same time daily, even on weekends, and to keep pushing it back by 1-5 minutes a day until one’s goal time. I am now waking early, and, God willing, will continue waking at even earlier and more magical hours.
I am seeking the keys, the simple secrets of two other changes I want to make …to become a more productive and faster writer, and to write some good words each day (anyone know the secret, please tell me!), and to make time to run an even more organised, decluttered, tidy, super-efficient house. As with the first two keys, there’s probably a simple secret lurking in plain sight. I just haven’t stumbled on it yet
* * *
Luke 5 is an amazing passage. After a hard night of fruitless fishing, Jesus tells Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Peter says he’s “worked hard all night and hadn’t caught anything.” But because Jesus asked, he would let down the nets. He takes the risk. Risking further exhaustion, and looking foolish, and wasting time on a wild fish chase, he goes into deep water again, because Jesus told him to.
And then, “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”
Because of the divine direction.
* * *
I have reached a stage in my life in which it’s almost become second nature to ask Jesus where to cast my nets before I cast them. Almost. When I forget, it leads me into foolish pointless activity, wasted money, wasted time, wasted days, weeks, months… Oh yes!
I, most memorably, experienced being told exactly where to cast my nets, 12 years ago. I had, the previous year, flung myself into starting a business which I’d always thought would be fun. And it was fun, and exciting, and interesting and I learnt SO much on its steep learning curve, but it was also hard, exhausting work, with no potential for leveraging it, or exponential growth, or passive income. The only prospect was more of the same.
When I reached rock bottom (which often is a prerequisite for hearing God speak), I read the words from Psalm 81.
“In your distress you called, and I rescued you,
I removed the burden from your shoulders;
your hands were set free from the basket.”
And I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he lifted the burden from my shoulder, and my hands from the basket, and I was “given” an idea and a business plan, in which a lot of things I had learnt and done in the course of the unsuccessful business, coalesced and which used the knowledge and character and grit and perseverance gained through the business that exhausted me. However, it was far easier, and worked better than I had dreamed of praying for it to, so much so that less than 3 years after I started it, my husband was able to retire in 2010 from his Professorship in mathematics, and run that small business, which now entirely supports our family.
Would this work every time? Would Jesus tell a fisherman exactly where the fish were every time they asked? Would he tell a Christian investor which stocks to pick? Tell a Christian medical researchers how to cure cancer with just plants?
He might. We should always ask.
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However, Jesus’s prime objective for our lives is not easy money, success, or fame. (It’s probably not even health!) Jesus treasures beauty of heart and character, and that is sometimes learned in a hard and bitter school. Grit, perseverance, resilience, patience, endurance, these are sometimes earned and learned when we labour all night and catch nothing, but become physically stronger in the process, and learn not to snap at our fishing mates, or blame them or God for our failure, but instead work past soreness, thereby increasing our strength.
Always ask for the key, always ask where to cast your nets, but be aware that God doesn’t always give us easy answers. He sometimes wants us to use the brains and experience He has given us.
And once we have aced one challenge, God releases us to another, and bigger one. Peter proved he could follow directions, and fish brilliantly when he did the tiring, irrational, pointless thing Jesus advised. He was then released into a nobler call: “I will make you fishes of men.”