- an article by Bishop David for Lent 2010

I want to tell you about someone whose life was changed - a man in the depths of despair who found new life and hope. He had been a great musician. As a child he had overtaken all his teachers. He had begun composing in childhood, and by his twenties he was fabulously wealthy - the highest paid composer in the world, packing in the crowds wherever he performed.

At the same time, he was rude, arrogant, self-opinionated, heavy drinking, and foul-mouthed in three different languages!

For forty years he composed breathtaking music for the English royal family. But musical fashions move on, and eventually his works were thought of as "lagging behind" the trends. He tried everything, but he couldn't resurrect his career. He became bankrupt, poverty-stricken, depressed and physically ill. Things were so bad that he thought he might end up living out his days in a London debtors' prison.

Who am I talking about? George Frederick Handel (1685-1759). To cap things off, in 1737 he had a cerebral haemorrhage which left him paralysed down his right side and unable to walk or write. Very slowly he managed to regain some of his strength.

One night in 1741 he shuffled listlessly down a dark, creepy London street, bent over - a man old before his time. England was in the grip of a punishing winter, and Handel was physically and emotionally worn out.

As he trudged on he came to a church. He paused, and suddenly from deep within he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Eventually he went home to his shabby lodgings. On his desk was a package - a set of words that he had promised a friend he would try to do something with musically. In fact the words were all Bible verses arranged in such a way as to emphasise the salvation won for us by Jesus. Handel opened the package and his eyes fell on the verse, "He was despised and rejected of men".

He reached for his pen and began to write. Then something mysterious - some say "miraculous" - happened to him. He just kept writing . . . page after page after page! He actually worked non-stop for twenty-four days, hardly eating, and having almost no rest. He refused to see friends.  But on the day he finished, a friend managed to get in. Handel was sitting at his piano, sheets of music strewn all around him, and he had tears running down his face.  "I do believe I have seen all of Heaven before me, and the great God Himself," he said to his friend. He then flopped onto his bed and slept for seventeen hours. He awoke renewed in body and in soul. 

Right from its first performance, Handel's Messiah has been regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces ever composed. It has stunned multitudes. To this day it is performed at Christmas and Easter all over the world, and people who know nothing else about classical music will always recognise the Hallelujah Chorus! More than that, Handel's music has brought a vision of the glory of the Lord to countless unsuspecting souls.

Why have I told you the story of George Frederick Handel? Simply because I know that many of us sooner or later find ourselves exactly where he was, and we think that life is useless; we feel that there is no hope. We might be casualties of a business failure or the disintegration of our relationships. Or we might be successful financially, in our careers and in our family life. But for reasons we can't understand we're there, right at rock bottom in other ways, and we need help.

Of course we can speak to friends. And professional counselling is a good idea. Medication can often make a big difference. Those things are important.

How bizarre it is, though, that we forget the "spiritual" aspect of our being. According to the Bible ("God . . . has put eternity into man's mind." - Ecclesiastes 3:11) and those who closely observe human behaviour, we human beings appear to have an instinct to reach out to God. Many people have discovered that "giving in" to that instinct is the most important life choice they ever make, because in the context of the relationship with God that develops, deep spiritual and emotional healing begins to take place. I believe that if we don't address our spiritual needs, those other measures are like putting band-aids on symptoms, rather than treating the real illness. (Band-aids, of course are handy . . . I'm not knocking them. But on their own they're not going to heal us!)

Lent - the season beginning on Ash Wednesday that helps us prepare for Holy Week and Easter - has been referred to as the HEALING TIME of the Church's year, since at least the 12th century.

It's the time for a serious spiritual check-up. Those who are facing big issues in their lives, or who are on the brink of despair probably need little encouragement to open up to the Lord's love, forgiveness and healing. If that's you, hopefully the true story of George Frederick Handel will inspire you to do it!

But the rest of us need to be reminded that the Bible says we can drift spiritually without even realising what has happened.  One of the saddest scenes in the Old Testament is when Samson, so full of promise and raised up by God to deliver his people, became captive to his lusts. Do you know what it says? Judges 16:20 tells us, "He knew not that the Spirit of God had left him." He drifted.

Hebrews 2:1 says, ". . . we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." In his commentary on this verse, William Barclay points out that in the original language the word for "drift away" is meant to conjure up the idea of a ship drifting to destruction because the pilot is asleep!

Whoever you are reading this, I want to tell you that you matter to God. He loves you, and he doesn't want you just to drift along. Whatever kind of tangles or trauma you face at the moment, he wants to help you, support you, strengthen and sustain you, so that you come through. You don't have to drift. Nor do you have to be strong enough or wise enough in your own strength and wisdom. You can rely on him. You can let his love reach you; you can open up to his healing love at the core of your being.

Through the prophet Jeremiah God says: "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:3)

St. James says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." (James 4:8)

And Jesus himself said: "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you . . . for he who seeks finds." (Matthew 7:7)

George Frederick Handel had his life turned around and put on track because he came face to face with the Lord. It is my prayer that each of us would make time to seek the Lord with our whole heart, to draw near to him, and to experience his love and healing more deeply than ever before.

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May the Lord bless you and keep you.