Recently I was asked by the BBC to comment on the way rough sleepers are counted by local authorities. Most people who work with the homeless don’t take the figures produced by the annual count seriously. The criteria are too rigid for most and produce a figure that is unrealistically low. In order to be included in the annual tally of street homelessness you need to be:
- sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). ….in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes”)
Even by these standards the invalid man in John chapter 5 would have qualified. Bedded down amongst other sick and disabled people, totally dependant on the kindness of others, this man seemed to have lost hope. He had no one to help him he said. To our horror we discover that he had been in this condition for 38 years!
We tend to treat the beginning of a new year as a kind of maker for progress. How far have we come in the last 12 months? what are our hopes and expectations for the next 12 months? However, after 38 years of not making any progress, we can understand why this man was suffering from what one man calls “acquired helplessness” – that sense that no matter how hard we try, nothing we do ever changes anything. And this for 38 years!
Jesus restored this man with an enabling command. As the man responded in obedience he was healed.
It strikes me that this is the key to overcoming the sense of hopelessness. Simple faith filled obedience.
At MCM we meet our share of people who have learned that no matter what they do, they cannot change their lives. It may be because of drink or drugs or something else. It is always to do with the disabling effects of sin.
At MCM It is our privilege and calling to present the Gospel to those we meet. Those who choose to obey the Gospel find healing and hope restored. Like this disabled man they are made well.
The latest version of Clear Call, the biannual newsletter of Manchester City Mission is now online – you can read it online by clicking download below
Isaiah 40, verse 31 is a favourite verse for believers who feel tired, weary and perhaps even burned out. I can only imagine that it’s highlighted in a great many Bibles, especially those belonging to Christian workers.
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Although God clearly wants us to make progress in our work and in the pursuit of our God given goals and objectives, not all progress is made at the same rate. Sometimes, if the challenge is short term, we can get through at a sprint. Sometimes, if we are in things for the long haul, its better to walk if we want to avoid getting frazzled. However, running or walking it’s all progress, and that is a good thing, especially in City Mission work.
In all cases, our progress is limited by our stamina. Even the Duracell bunny runs out of juice eventually, or as Isaiah puts it “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;” . In our “goal centred” and driven society, it’s not hard to see how that happens. Progress can bring its own rewards and satisfactions. “See how far we have come” we say, lets press on even harder. Eventually we pay for our over excitement in terms of stress and exhaustion, and when that happens, progress comes to a grinding halt.
The answer, Isaiah tells us, is to “wait”. Not a word we associate with making progress towards our objectives or assignments. We want to get on with things. Press on towards the finish line. However if we look at the word “wait” more closely, we can see how this counter-intuitive command works.
In the original language, the word means to hope in something. It isn’t passively waiting around for something to happen, its an expectant waiting, and when our expectations rise the entire chemical state of our brain changes in ways that seem to lift our mood and release energy.
But most importantly, this is waiting, or hoping on the Lord. Our expectations will not turn out to be false, our hope will not lead to disappointment. He is faithful who promised.
At MCM we are learning to expect good things from a good God every day. Our experience lines up with God’s word. He is faithful.