DO YOU WANT TO BE WELL?

Last time we began to think about wellbeing- the benefits of connecting, learning, taking action, noticing and giving.
But what is ‘wellbeing’?
What does it mean to be ‘well’?

We hear so much about wellbeing today. Eating for wellbeing. Exercise for wellbeing. Mindfulness. Getting wellbeing from music, detoxing, a good manicure … And it’s spawned its own industry. It’s enough to make a person just a tad cynical.

But what is it?
Really?
A decade or so ago the UK government pushed a Happiness agenda and metrics were created to evaluate happiness. Some tried to link national ‘happiness’ with economic growth. ‘Happiness’ seems to have dropped down the public agenda while Austerity and Brexit have climbed.

Generally mental wellbeing is thought to cover a couple of aspects:
(1) the subjective experience of happiness and life satisfaction, and (2) positive psychological functioning, including a capacity for self-development, positive relationships with others, autonomy, self-acceptance and competence.
So far, so good.
That seems reasonably comprehensive.
Or is it?

The blessing
Over the last week many of us will have been inspired by churches getting together and sharing worship online.
Top of my playlist has been The UK Blessing.

During their journey through the desert God told Moses to have his brother Aaron declare a blessing over the children of Israel:
“The Lord bless you and keep you, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-26)
 
His peace
Last week we honoured VE Day, celebrating peace among the nations. And the idea of peace from conflict runs right through scripture, Genesis to Revelation, supremely focused on God reconciling us to himself through the cross.

But the Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) carries with it far more than an idea of calm or quietness or absence of conflict. It’s one of those treasure box words containing meanings of a sense of completeness, soundness, wholeness, welfare, prosperity, health of body and mind, happiness, quiet, contentment, fulfilment and friendship.

It's a peace experienced individually but also in relationship - within ourselves, with others and with God.
So how do we find ‘shalom’?
I think the clue’s in Aaron’s blessing.

His grace
It flows from an experience of God's grace (‘chanan’ in the Hebrew). The word literally means ‘favour’ and describes a superior stooping down in kindness to someone of lower status.
In the Greek this is ‘charis’ (as in ‘charismatic’) where gifts are given freely without price, received happily and then used.
Giving and receiving brings joy. Gifts are undeserved. They’re about the generosity of the giver.

His face
And perhaps the most significant word in the blessing, completing the trio, is the word ‘face’. This implies that peace and grace are given personally.
And brings to mind one of the most neglected doctrines of our faith: The ‘Dadship’ of God.
The face of God our Father turns towards us, sees us, gazes at us and returns our gaze. It’s about intimacy and love. It’s a picture of family proximity and understanding. The most precious parent-child bond. An unbreakable attachment because the arms of the parent are so strong and the love is so great.

So, how?
“Well, how can I see the face of God? How can I get to know him, experience his grace and begin to grow in shalom?
Years ago, when Susan and I were youth leaders, one of the regular questions the teenagers talked through was how to put their faith into practice. In school. At home. With their friends. And always, pretty much always, their stock answers were ‘read your Bible’, ‘pray’, ‘go to church’, ‘ask your parents’. Some call these ‘the means of grace’ or ‘spiritual disciplines’. Things we can do, actions we can take to grow in our relationship with God.
And last week we thought about one of the disciplines: prayer.

Maybe there are better words than ‘shalom’ to express a Christian understanding of wellbeing. But I haven't yet found a better one. And I'm absolutely open to suggestions.

It’s interesting that Paul begins most of his letters with a blessing like, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”. It’s like he’s echoing the ancient blessing and saying that the mysterious God of the past can now be known as a Father and seen in the face and person of Jesus.

Paul tells us that we see the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

But wait, it gets better …
In Isaiah we learn that God will keep the person who trusts him him in ‘perfect peace’ (Isaiah 26:3). In the Hebrew this is ‘shalom shalom’.
It's like God’s saying, “I'm giving you my peace and I'm underlining it and I’m putting it in italics and I’m putting it in bold”.
“And I’m doing it all at the same time.
And turning a normal human aspiration for wellbeing from black and white into colour. From 2D to 3D.
“Yes. I'm giving you life, but more than that. I'm giving you abundant life, overflowing life. Even overflowing life in the midst of this pandemic. Life that can be lived to serve others.
And shalom to be shared.”
Shalom to be given away as free gift as we share with one another.

On the evening before he was tortured to death, Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving his peace with them; giving them his shalom. And that this shalom wasn’t like the world gave. (John 14:27).
And his first words to his frightened friends when he appeared to them on the Sunday evening were “Peace be with you”.

Shalom is our inheritance.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”

Angus Lyon
6.5.20