Being someone whose creativity is best expressed within rigidly defined limits, I sometimes impose artificial restrictions on myself. For example, I may try to express my thoughts in a haiku of seventeen syllables, or in a poem where the first letter of each line spells out an appropriate phrase, or in a paragraph of prose which avoids using the letter 'e'. My chosen limiting factor on this page is that I will confine each of my thoughts, which I hope will be illuminating and inspiring, to exactly one hundred words as measured by the word count on my word processor.
I read somewhere that God is very easy to please, but may be very hard to satisfy. I like that. It combines two contrasting images of God. One is the doting parent who is delighted at the child-like efforts of his offspring. The other is the demanding trainer who expects one hundred percent from his pupils. I would like to think of God as someone who appreciates my pathetic attempts to serve him, but I'm afraid that God is constantly hoping for a better performance than I usually give. It is encouraging and challenging to realise both concepts are valid.
Although prayer and action are both important, there is at least one respect in which prayer is more effective than action.
Through action we apply our best efforts in a particular situation, but even our best efforts are fallible. Despite our good intentions we may say or do something to make the situation worse instead of better.
When we pray, we bring God's love and power to bear in a particular situation, and he does not make mistakes. So it is not easy to mess up our prayers. Any sincere prayer, however hesitant or confused, can only improve the situation.
The Allies had a problem with how much power to exercise. They knew about German ship and troop movements, but if they utilised this knowledge by avoiding all danger and attacking every vulnerable target, then the enemy would realise their Enigma code was broken and change it.
Maybe God faces a similar dilemma. He has power to prevent all evil, but to do so would change the situation drastically. God could stop us uttering any hurtful words, but only at the expense of our free will. Perhaps, like the Allies, he has to restrict his interference to seemingly random occasions.
Apparently the press were banned from the parties following this year's Oscar ceremony. One astute commentator suggested this was basically because the stars did not want to be photographed having a good time whilst American troops were at war in Iraq.
Discretion does seems a wise move, but festivity can be appropriate even during wartime. Is nobody allowed to be happy unless everybody in the world is happy? Concern for those who suffer does not preclude personal happiness. Providing we express our concern in prayer and action, we should not feel guilty about sometimes expressing our happiness in wholehearted fun.
At Pentecost, the believers, newly filled with the Holy Spirit, were suspected of drunkenness. Peter refuted this with the comment, "It is the third hour of the day." In other words, it takes time to get drunk and it's too early to have achieved that state.
Yet it was clearly not too early for the Spirit to have so saturated the lives of these men and women that they could make known the great deeds of God.
Getting drunk takes time. Letting the Spirit fill you need take no longer than it has taken you to read these hundred words.