Mark Fairweather Tall
Imagine the scene for a moment: In the post-Christmas relaxation before returning to work, the children are happily playing with each other and there is a chance to sit on the sofa during the day time – a rare luxury. Picking up the newspaper a thought pops into my head, “Maybe I’ll do the crossword!” So with pen poised ready for action, I start reading the clues… 1 across: ‘Reduction in spinal disease given by one collection of micro-organisms (7)’. Maybe other clues will give an easier start… 5 across: ‘Vivacious version of Bax tune supressing hesitation (9). And so it goes on.
Very quickly I remind myself why I don’t do the cryptic crossword – it’s impossible – and I decide to retreat to the relative safety of the concise crossword!
“It’s impossible” is a familiar cry for many of us that stretches back over the years. As a teacher many years ago, I soon discovered it was a common complaint amongst students when set a new task. Whilst the words may be uttered in fairly mundane matters like a crossword or a task set at school, there are many more profound and long term experiences where our cry is, “It’s impossible!” How am I supposed to stay positive in light of all that is going on? How I am supposed to forgive a deep betrayal of a loved one? How am I supposed to make ends meet when outgoings keep exceeding income? It may feel like the answer to these questions and other similar ones is: “It’s impossible!”
Once again this year, I am following a Bible Reading plan designed to take me through the whole of the Bible in a year. The first part of January is focussing on the books of Genesis and the gospel of Mark. On one particular day, I could imagine the cry of “It’s impossible!” from the lips of the people I was reading about.
In Genesis, God makes a covenant with Abraham that he will become the father of many nations. He tells Abraham that his wife, Sarai, will now be called Sarah and: “I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Genesis 17:16 (NIV). We are told that Abraham fell face down laughing because it was impossible – he and Sarah were too old for such a thing to happen. In the next chapter we read of Sarah’s response when she hears that the following year she will have a son: “Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” Genesis 18:12. The cry of the heart was, “It’s impossible!”
For Abraham and Sarah, humanly speaking it seemed impossible for God to fulfil his promise to them. Earlier on they had taken the promise into their own hands. It seemed like Sarah couldn’t have children, so she gave her Egyptian maid servant, Hagar, to Abraham so that he could father a child through her. Doing so caused many family problems. Handling it in human strength didn’t work – God had something better planned – if only they had relied on God rather than themselves. The problem is that too often we focus on things from a human perspective. As I continue my journey of faith, this story challenges me again to reflect on how much I live in God’s strength and wisdom compared to how much I rely on my own strength and wisdom? In spite of my intentions, I know how easy it is to tell God I trust him on one hand whilst wrestling back control and taking action in my own strength. It doesn’t work! I need to fully rely on God.
Fast forward many centuries to the public ministry of Jesus. He was teaching in the synagogue and many who heard him were amazed at his wisdom and the miracles that he was performing: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” and they took offence at him.’ Mark 6:3. They couldn’t conceive how someone that they thought of as so ordinary could be someone so special that he could powerfully impact the life that they were living now: “It’s impossible!”
Sometimes our walk of faith can make Jesus ordinary and we lose expectation that he can impact our lives in a powerful way. Yes, we may go to church, sing songs and hymns, read the Bible, pray and serve in the church but at the same time we live with problems and challenges that we cannot see a way through. We may ask the question, “Where is Jesus in this situation?” Is it ever possible that we lose expectation and hope of seeing good things in the situations we face? Do we ever find it difficult to see the wisdom and power of Jesus which is far beyond our comprehension? Is faith sometimes as much of a struggle for us as it was for those hearing Jesus speak in the synagogue nearly two thousand years ago? As I look to the year ahead it makes me reflect on those things that I face day by day where a positive outcome just seems impossible to achieve. Perhaps you, like me, need to bring some matters before him once more… with renewed hope and expectation. Our faith is placed not only in one who was a mere carpenter but the one who is Christ. He could calm the storm, make the blind see, the lame walk and the dead rise. Impossible? It sounds like it but remember… God specialises in the impossible!
 If anyone knows the answers, I am interested to know (preferably with an explanation!)