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The Big Picture in the Detail

Minds work in different kinds of ways and different eyes see from contrasting angles.  People just see the world differently.  Some hear the words, others see the body language, some see the big picture while others spot the detail.  Two people go for a walk in the country: one comments, ‘What a magnificent view!’ while the other observes, ‘Look at the colour of that petal!’

Speaking personally, I have tended to see the big picture.  It’s not that I can’t do detail, but I have to work harder at it.  Ideas and patterns come naturally, giving holding on to detail can be harder. Yet listening to other people’s stories, I am able to give attention to the specifics of what they have done, or thought or hope to happen, while at the same time seeing patterns of human striving and hoping and traces of God’s grace at work amidst it all.

For much of this year I have been sharing in the teaching of a course on spiritual accompaniment, exploring some of the riches of Christian spirituality, as well as the gifts and skills necessary to listen and discern with another Christian something of God’s way in their life.  At the same time, my travels have continued around the country, visiting our churches, associations and colleges.  In these travels I have heard stories and seen examples of God at work with lives changed, communities enriched and Jesus made real in the specifics of people’s lives.  I have celebrated with churches at their anniversaries, shared in quiet days and retreats, celebrated the two hundred years of Jamaican-British Baptist partnership, participated in association days and ministers’ conferences, and continued to listen to personal accounts of God at work in human need and endeavour.

To share these stories is to share testimony, to witness to the living God and to demonstrate that God’s gracious big picture is always meeting us in the specifics of our apparently small situations.

Soon it will be Christmas, when we give thanks for the eternal Word of God made flesh in Jesus – the ultimate example of the big picture brought down to earth in the details and specifics of messy human existence.  This is the nature of God’s grace – it reaches us where we are, rather than where we would like to be.  It meets us in mercy and embodies the big picture of good news that is not above the details of our lives and promises to transform them.

But even this affirmation is not specific enough, or down-to-earth enough, because grace has a human face.  There is nothing abstract about Jesus - only our attempts to explain him.  Here is God, in human flesh, born and killed, walking, talking and suffering for us and for our salvation.  And here, in our stories of grace, the Word continues to become flesh as the Holy Spirit brings new life and hope in hard places.

This Christmas there is much to pray for in our world.  But, above all, let our prayers be ones of thanksgiving - for the human face of grace in Jesus and in the faces of those around us in which his love is embodied.

May I wish you a happy Christmas and a grace-filled new year!

 Chris Ellis
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.
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