Every significant vision that God births in you is going to put your courage to the test. (Bill Hybels)
As the essence of courage is to stake one's life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe the possibility exists. (William Salter)
I've just finished teaching for the day.
It's been good.
A reminder of the many blessings that I have to be so incredibly thankful for.
I'm sitting in Starbucks drinking an earl-grey-latte, and listening to some Alexi Murdoch. (He's one of those rare artists whose quiet, stunning lyrics lead me to think about God even though I have no idea where he's at faith wise…)
It's quietly still in my head and my heart just now.
I'm thinking about courage.
I'm thinking about faith.
The gift of courage.
The gift of faith.
Gifts planted and watered in us by the Holy Spirit.
So yesterday I had another Japan-first.
Another activity ticked off the things-that-make-you-feel-properly-settled-in-a-city list.
I had a haircut.
Much needed, long overdue.
Considering that I moved to Sapporo almost 5 months ago and hadn't had a haircut yet… It was definitely much needed and long overdue.
However, getting a haircut in Japan just isn't as easy or comfortable as it is in the UK.
Firstly, there's the language thing. I mean, my Japanese might be good enough to book an appointment and handle the basics, but I have a limited Japanese vocabulary when it comes to hair-care, explaining that my particular hair is naturally as frizzy as any hair comes and consulting about whether my fringe needs more layers in it.
Secondly, there's just the reality that my hair is as totally and completely different to Japanese hair as is physically possible. As in, I have naturally curly, super fine, kind of ginger hair. Which to someone who's primary professional experience involves cutting thick, straight, dark hair, can be a little intimating.
I was as prepared as I could be for these challenges. My friend Ayumi came with me to book the appointment (eloquately asking 'Do you think you can handle this particular foreigner's hair?' in Japanese), and my friend Mai went through the actual hair-cut ordeal at my side.
I say ordeal in the most lighthearted way possible. The salon and the guy cutting my hair were great. I really think he did a super cool job.
It just took the longest possible amount of time and seemed to put him in a situation of extreme nervousness.
The poor guy checked that it was ok every time he removed less than a millimetre of hair.
It took an hour longer than anticipated, and he only finished when he did because I mentioned I actually had a class to teach…
I felt relatively courageous considering it was the un-run-of-the-mill-activity of a run-of-the-mill Friday lunchtime.
It's funny how the mundane activities can require a leap of courage and faith when you're in a foreign country.
In a completely stupid way (considering that hair-cutting isn't really a courageous activity in any country and I promise I do know that really…), it reminded me of a quote that I love by William Salter.
It's the one at the start of this blog.
It talks about the essence of courage. The essence of faith.
And I love that word essence.
Because what's essence? It's the intrinsic nature of something. It's the indispensable property. It's the most important ingrediant. It's the unchanging nature.
Of courage and faith, it's the bravery that flows from the Holy Spirit and enables us to face danger and fear and sacrifice and trembling with confidence and resolution.
Not in ourselves, but in Him.
The image of the invisible God and the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1)
It reminds me of the cry of Moses in Exodus 33, where he literally declares to God, 'Show me Your glory…' 'Show me Your essence….' 'Show me who You really are because I need to know You…'
And as he's hidden in the safety of the crevice of a rock and the glory of the Almighty God passes in front of him, our faithful and beautiful Creator literally declares the essence of Himself.
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished… (Exodus 34)
It's this stunning depiction of the character of God, and the nature of who He is… Which is truly the essence of our faith and courage.
In beautiful irony, my playlist has just hit those famous Alexi Murdoch lyrics, 'My salvation lies in your love…'
And also, my courage lies in His love.
I'll be totally honest, since I began researching projects in Japan last summer I have met some of the bravest people possible.
It's floored me and it keeps doing so.
People who have given up everything for the cause of young people here.
People who have invested their own money, and complete savings, and property, and energy, and tears, and entire lives in the purposes of trying to bring healing to those who need it most.
It's stunningly challenging.
And the real challenge?
The deep hard hitting challenge?
Most of these people aren't Christians.
Let that sink in.
They are the real challenge to me to live an open handed courageous life that radiates God.
More and more.
Because if the essence of true courage and real faith is found from and through Holy Spirit then we should be the shining examples of His heart, radiate with His glory.
I was talking with some of my non Christian Japanese friends yesterday and they kept saying, 'We love your heart. You have a different heart. You have an awesome heart…'
But the thing is, only Jesus changes a heart so that beauty can come out of it.
And only Jesus makes a heart brave.
As one of my favourite scenes in Narnia depicts, it's not that Jesus calls us to do the easy things, but it's that He equips us with His bravery to do them. Remember this? Lucy running to Aslan in the middle of the night only to find he's asking her to go back and walk the difficult and lonely road?
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up. “I'm sorry Aslan,” she said. “I'm ready now.”
“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”
Oh Papa, make us brave…
Oh, oh, oh… Last night my school threw a party… And it was pretty cool…