Air - Jon Fryer
(This is a summary of a meditative service that we held whilst laying on a giant inflatable. In the corners of the room were big rotary fans with streamers tied to them, and projectors splashed roiling clouds across the ceiling at different angles. At the start of the service each member of the congreagtion was given a balloon and a fine marker pen)
Thanksgiving and Adoration
Tonight we’re going to think about air, you know, the stuff you’re breathing right now. May seem like a strange thing to think about in church, but the Bible mentions air or breathing over 130 times… We rarely think about the air – its just always there. With all that all of us have going on today, who actually thinks about their breathing? Its like, there are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?",,,
Its like that for us with the air – we can’t see it, we rarely think about it, and we take it for granted. Why do we do that? After all, air is so important to us. If someone sucked all of the air out of this room you’d be dead inside of four minutes. You’d definitely notice the lack of oxygen within seconds, and you’d desperately be looking for it. Fortunately for us, the air is always there, surrounding us, inside of us, keeping us alive.
Is that how we treat God too? Can’t see him, so barely think about Him, and take Him for granted? That’s how it is for me a lot of the time, so I guess it might be for you too. And yet, if He stopped thinking about you for even an instant, you would simply cease to exist, in the blink of an eye – fortunately for us His thoughts are always towards us, and His Spirit is always there, surrounding us, upholding us, inside of us, keeping us alive.
Spirit is a strange word. What does it mean to you if I say the word ‘Spirit’? Non corporeal; unnatural; supernatural; other. And yet in Hebrew the word for Spirit is ‘Ruach’, which means ‘breath’. In Greek the word is ‘Pneuma’, which also means ‘breath’, and is where we get the word ‘pneumatic’, like the air in the inflatable that is holding you off the ground at this very moment. We seem somehow to have turned the idea of God into someone distant and different and Other, and yet the pictures God gives us of Himself are of something as close to us and as constant as the air. We ask the Holy Spirit to come near to us like its this special event, and yet the picture God gives us of Himself is of something already entering us and sustaining us as naturally as breathing. We seem to somehow have disjointed our idea of God into an optional extra rather than something that is vital for our continued existence. And so we forget Him for hours on end. We can’t see him and so we forget, or even say that he doesn’t exist. For those of us who know God, then that’s just silly – I’ve never seen the wind either, but I still believe in it, because I’ve seen its effects – just look at the streamers coming off of the fans. I’ve never seen God, but I’ve seen the effects of His actions – there’s no mystery to it.
Lets take the time now to remember God’s presence with us. Make yourselves comfortable, and close your eyes or stare at the ceiling – whatever helps you concentrate best. Become aware of your body. Feel the air supporting you off the ground? The air has always been there around you, but at this moment you can feel it under you, supporting you. Become aware of the air on your skin – if you are very still you can feel it gently prickling your nerves and stirring your hair. And now become aware of your breathing. Breathe in. Feel the air entering your body, and your heartbeat quicken as you take in the life that keeps you. Breathe out, and the waste poisons leave your body. Breathe in… and breathe out. Gently hold your breath for a few seconds and feel the air filling you, and not just that, but almost pushing you to be let out again. Breathe out, and feel the relief of your body that the air continues to move. Breathe in… and breathe out.
As you breathe, turn your thoughts towards God. Be very still and see if you can feel God around you – as the Spirit moves, sometimes our bodies sometimes respond to his presence with a shiver down the spine or the hairs standing up on the back of your neck – Aslan is on the move. As you breathe, take in his presence. He breathes out, we breathe in. He breathes out life, we breathe it in. He breathes out love, we breathe it in. When Moses asked God’s name, God refused to give it to Him. The word YHWH that we sometimes attempt to pronounce is not a name, it’s a set of sounds. Yod (IN). Hev (OUT). Vah (IN). Hev (OUT). God won’t tell Moses His name, He just lets Him listen to the sound of His breathing. He lets Him know something more important than His name – He lets Him hear and feel that He is there. That He is alive. Like the air under you, God has always been there supporting you, upholding you. Not just holding you in existence, but supporting you as a friend, as someone who is on your side. While you lay there and breathe, take a couple of minutes to think of a time when God has supported you. When you were deep in trouble or pain, and God saw you through it. Turn that situation over in your mind, and think of how bad it would have been if God hadn’t supported you. And let God know how grateful you are.
Stay in that place of prayer. We’re going to put on a few tracks of worship. As the music plays, turn that gratitude for God’s support into worship, however that works for you – sing along, whisper your prayers, or just continue to lie there in peace. At some point during the two tracks of music however, take your pen and gently draw on your balloon a word or a picture or a symbol that represents the situation that you are thankful for. If you want, you can also add a word or a picture or a symbol that represents your worship as well, but leave some space on your balloon, ‘cos we have two other things still to draw.
Feel free to sit up for a bit. In the Bible, God is not the only one associated with the air. The Devil is also called ‘the prince of the powers of the air’ in Ephesians 2. Why? Not because he is associated with life, but because he is associated with emptiness, with the void, with nothing. And yet we take ourselves out of the safety of the everlasting arms underneath us and into his power all too often. We all screw up. I’m sure you can think of at least half a dozen times even today when you have not lived up to all that God wanted for you when He breathed His Spirit, His life into your nostrils. And what is the Devil’s power? Well, he takes your sin and he makes it look bigger than it is, until you believe that it can get in the way of what God wants for you.
For example, lets take the sin of Pride. One of my favourites, ‘cos I’m sure everyone here knows how fantastic I am. The Bible says in one place that there are three sources of sin – the lust of the eyes (looking at something and wanting it), the lust of the flesh (all of the hungers that come from having a physical body), and the pride of life (the things that a man has and does). Any way, there we go, little bit of pride (WRITE ON LEADERS BALLOON). Actually, whatever sins of pride I may have committed today, they are probably pretty small, and easily dealt with by having a chat with my friend Jesus. But what the Devil does with his powers of the air is to take that little sin and whoosh (INFLATE) suddenly they’re a whole lot bigger. Maybe his power is addiction, so I make things worse myself. Maybe its guilt, so things just look worse. Either way, things are more awkward now, and start getting in the way when I want to be with God. And then there’s Lust (INFLATE), Greed (INFLATE), Envy (INFLATE), Jealousy (INFLATE), Laziness (INFLATE) and Gluttony (INFLATE). By the time he’s inflated all of the issues, you’re carrying around a whole awkward lot of stuff that gets between you and God. But you know what, God has a solution to the Devil’s tricks – he used a hammer and nails. (POP!).
When God created Adam he breathed into the dust of the ground, and we’ve been living with that paradox ever since – we come from dust and are fragile and vulnerable to the Devil’s schemes, but we have been breathed into by the divine breath and are meant for so much more. When you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all of the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of. If you were to be totally honest, what do you need to breathe out right now? As the next four tracks play, spend some time with God examining your life. We’re going to spend a while on this, probably more than we normally would during confession, so take your time. What is the over inflated clutter that you are carrying around? Which of the balloons are tied to you? Get them dealt with so you can move on. Feel free to pray however works best for you – whisper out loud, stay still and quiet, whatever, but don’t disturb every one around you. We quite often don’t get enough time in peace with Jesus to deal with our shit, so this is time for just you and Him. Make the most of it. By the time we get to the last track, make sure that you write a word, or draw a symbol or picture on your balloon that represents the stuff that you are giving away to God, the stuff that you are breathing out for Him to deal with as He sees fit.
I don’t know about you, but does it ever feel to you as if your prayers just get stuck up by the ceiling like those balloons and never make it up to God? That’s how it feels to me. You try and you try and you try, and all you get is silence. Maybe God isn’t listening. You pray and you pray and there seems to be no answer. Why is that?
I think maybe the problem is that we forget two things. Firstly, we forget the picture that God gives us of Himself. We forget that He is breath, that He is air – that he is all around us. Our prayers don’t have to go higher than the ceiling – they don’t have to go any further than our skin, because God is all around us, always listening, always loving, always longing for the best for us. Secondly, we forget that now is not all that there is. We forget that there will be another time after this one, and so God does not necessarily answer every prayer in the here and now – He knows better than we do what will actually be for the best. What we can be sure of however is that one day Jesus will return for us in the same way that he left, coming on the clouds of heaven, and we will be caught up to meet with him there in the air. And after that joyful meeting at the resurrection of the dead, we will understand how he has always cared for us, even though it seems as if He is silent now, and we will be with him forever.
That said, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask. God is an extravagant gift giver, and He loves for us to ask for stuff. The Bible tells us that He loves to give good gifts to His children. So here’s what we are going to do. What is the one thing which, more than anything in the world, that you want God to do for you? It might be something for yourself, or for your family, or for one of your friends. It might be big or small. Whatever it is, we have one more track, and while it plays, try to answer that question, and then ask God for it. And then write a word, or draw a symbol or picture on your balloon to represent it.
Ok what we are going to do now is we’re going to fill up your balloons with helium, and then we’re going to take them outside and release them. As an act of worship you balloon will carry your thanks and adoration up to God. As an act of absolution your sin will be carried away from you. And as an act of prayer and faith, your request will be carried up to God with no ceiling, symbolic or literal, to get in the way. So come up one by one to fill up your balloon, but absolutely don’t let go until I tell you…
(Fill balloons with helium)
Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, remind us that you are always with us, until the very end of the age. You are closer to us than our skin, and you know us completely. As you breathe out, we want to breathe in, so that you can make us more like Jesus from the inside out.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have dealt with our sin once and for all, and that it is taken away from us even higher than the clouds. In faith we look to the sky for your return, and we long for the day when we will meet you in the clouds together with all of our faithful loved ones.
Father God, receive our worship, confessions and prayers. As we release these balloons (do it) may you teach us like children to know that you are always there for us, and that if we just stop and listen we can your breathing.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
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