Tag Archives: prayer

Place and Space – Essential for Life and Ministry

There are times in ministry when we need to find fresh places to “be”.  Whether that be a new place to live and work or a place to retreat that enables new thinking, a different perspective and . . . peace!  We live in such a transient world and culture, place becomes simply where we happen to be – and becomes less associated with a physical “place” (as – we have everything we need to function on our mobile devices that we carry with us everywhere . . . !)

Places can be significant for a whole variety of reasons, here are just a few that resonate with me ::

1.  Something happened.  I no longer associate the dentists waiting room with drills and teeth and that awful waiting to see if things need to removed or hacked away at or broken to bits in your mouth . . . you get the drift.  I received a text message while in the waiting room at the dentist and that day and that time became life changing!  The day, the place are etched in my being.  Nothing to do with dentists – it is the power of association with that place now, “ahh, this is where i received that message.”  Maybe you have places like that?

2.  Decision made.  Throughout scripture there are significant places where meetings have happened or something decisive has changed everything, these places are often marked as places of worship, places of remembrance – places of awe and wonder, places of “we must never forget what happened here.”  Maybe you have places that you associate with making decisions, choosing something – or they are places of encounter where maybe God has made His decision known to you.

3.  Vision.  Sometimes i just cannot see where to go, what should happen, what is worth fighting for and what needs to be let go of – what to keep and what to release, the “where next?” or the “I must re-discover what on earth I am here for!” i need a place for vision making, vision casting . . . there is an amazing place not far from me.  It is high up, a glorious vista of Sussex spreads out below – a physical and geographical vision helps me when I need to re-discover my place.  Where do i fit in to the grand scheme of things.  I find huge landscapes helpful – they remind me of how small i am.  I am not “it”, but i can get carried away with a vision . . . (which becomes my vision) and miss the point of what I am for, and who I am serving.  A big, huge, place where I can take in, drink in an awe inspiring view reminds me that i get to play a part, yes, but it is small.  Something about the air and the sky in a place that is wide open too helps me settle into “vision thinking” mode.  More just seems possible.  Someone once said, 

dreams + reality = vision

I can dream big dreams in a big place.  The reality bit is – the world is big, I am small.  But, God has done much in the past with small people . . . so i dream BIG!

Linked with this finding or being in a new “place” to encourage fresh thinking is actually having the space.  No demands, no blaring phones, no pinging messages, no open plan office, nobody standing at your right shoulder peering over you wondering what you are working on . . . space to think, space to be with my thoughts, with my God and – thats it.  I get energised when i am around people and can bounce ideas off others, but i can also get frenetic and frantic, TOO much zipping around in my brain . . . too many ideas, and colliding thoughts.  I can then leap from one thing, to another thing, to yet another thing . . . leaving half of what is behind me undone or not finished or i forget why i started something in the first place and move on to something else . . . to be a little bit more measured i need SPACE.

The picture that comes with this blog post is a place fairly recently found that is also going to double up as space.  When i have walked through this wood, open to the public, i have been amazed at how few other people are doing the same.  I can sit on a log for ages, and i could be in the wilderness.  It is beautiful, with the tallest tree in Sussex, winding paths, mossy caves that look like hobbit dwellings, carvings on fallen logs, even a yellow brick road (i kid you not) . . . a place of adventure, a place to catch a vision, a place to “be still and know” and a space to catch up with myself.  Pause and think.

Place and space, so important – obviously, we can’t stay there – we come back to where we work, where we live, where we interact with this crazy world, but – prayerfully and hopefully – with a bit more perspective and calm and with a little bit more of a sense of what we are doing and why.  Jesus drew Himself aside to spend time with the Father, and i can imagine He might have had places that were precious to Him and space to dream and see all that God was doing and would do . . . I am sure Jesus would have drawn on what he learnt in these places and spaces as He poured Himself out for those around Him, healing, blessing, encouraging, leading, nurturing, comforting and – ultimately, as he poured himself out for all of us.

Place and Space – essential for life and ministry.

 

 

The Quality of Mercy is not Strain’d

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I have sometimes prepared a bible study for young people and – let me be frank here – just not ‘felt it’. Not at all. Usually this comes from doing stuff in my own strength (which is a rubbish plan at the best of times because I am feeble).

There was this one time when the talk I needed to prepare was on mercy. God’s mercy! Pretty stonking stuff. Except, I wasn’t feeling close to God. Wits end actually – feeling pretty rubbish and alone, ‘going through the motions ministry’ I call it. If you have been in ministry for any length of time you will know how to do this – it isn’t exactly blagging (which again – if you have been in ministry for a while – you will know how to blag). The going through the motions ministry is where you can say and do the right things but you are like the android from Prometheus (or, better still, Blade Runner) you can’t feel anything. Operating out of a kind of ‘so overloaded with other peoples stuff and emotions and where do I take my own stuff so I can deal with it and what If I take it to this mythical place and I actually CAN’T deal with it’ place.

Anyway, back to mercy. The subject of my talk was this great word that cannot explain or contain the monumental mercy we have received. There is a song off Matt Redman’s current album with the line, ‘may I never lose the wonder, oh the wonder of your mercy’. Well, I had.

So, I pulled out all the stops to try and make this the best talk on mercy EVER – it’s funny how when we have NOTHING we try and give it EVERYTHING. I had bible commentaries all over the place, there would be a drama, there would be contemporary film references, I would be funny and clever, it would be fine. I KNEW in Shakespeare there was a great quote on mercy (at the time I was not in a place to think whether I knew what Shakespeare was on about, I just lobbed it in). Portia, in the Merchant of Venice says this, ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d – it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath.’

So I do my talk on mercy to the youth group. It’s pretty rubbish, I’m like a zombie. Words are coming out of my mouth, but there is no heart and soul in it. I am dry and barren and not in a good place.

Mercy? Ha!

It’s a couple of weeks after this session that I am at a huge youth festival with my youth group. They are loving it. I am worse than ever. People worship around me, lifting hands closing eyes – in raptures. I am in a giant bubble – I feel it is so real this bubble, I am surprised when people get within a few feet of me that they don’t bounce off.

One evening there is a ‘call’ to come forward for prayer. Inexplicably and – to my conscious mind, unbidden – come tears and I just stand there. Not making a sound, but streams just pouring down my face. I feel so exhausted – with life, with trying to be a Christian, with bringing the youth group (what was I thinking), with the futility of it all. I the find that at least some part of me has had enough of my pity party and my legs are walking me to the front. A guy comes up to me to pray for me, my eyes still streaming. He says, ‘hello, I’ve never done this before – been on a prayer ministry team’ (I think, but don’t say, ‘great – this is what I need – some amateur!’). Anyway, he starts quietly praying for me once we have been through the usuals (what’s your name, is there anything specific you want prayer for?) then – he starts bobbing up and down, clearly very excited. ‘Oh’ he exclaims. ‘I think I’ve had a word!’ (‘Oh, great’ I think), ‘I’ve never had a word before!!’ (Oh, GREAT. I think). “Does this mean anything to you . . . ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d’.

I am in bits. This guy knows nothing about me. The God he has prayed to knows EVERYTHING about me. All I can think of at the time is. God Knows me. GOD knows ME. God KNOWS me. He knows, the lack of feeling, the exhaustion, the weariness and the ‘is this worth it’ stuff in my heart at that moment. He knows it all, he knows all of me, and yet – still He comes, still He meets with me, still He is tender and loving – and merciful.

Mercy.

I receive it now.

I get it now.

When Shakespeare wrote this bit for Portia – maybe he was thinking about the scripture where it says ‘the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteousness’ (Matthew 5 verse 45) this rain, dropping from heaven upon the place beneath.

I am that place.

I am receiving SUCH mercy.

Mercy can’t be EXTRACTED or FORCED – it cannot be, as Shakespeare says, strain’d. In my straining I had refused to rest in what God has already done for me through Christ, I refused to receive what was already mine!

Mercy. I think later, as I have thought about it again – I am just in AWE that God would bother with the little detail. But, he did two things that night when I went forward for prayer – He nudged me gently with what he knew my cynical and tired heart could not explain away – and he blessed this guy who prayed for me when I told him that what God had revealed to him was spot on.

Shakespeare got it right too. He goes on to say, ‘it is twice blessed’ blessing Him that gives and Him that receives.

Mercy!

Filing, Pretence and Ministry – 3 things needed!

I entered the world of work in 1986. I started out as an Admin Officer working in a personnel department at RAF Stanmore Park (which was closed in 1997 and turned into houses for those interested).

I had NO idea what I would be doing – I was 17, just coming up 18 as I began full time. A number of disasters ensued – I was put on ‘flexi-time’, which was great! I came in at 10am had a 2 hour lunch and went home at 4pm – well, I did that for about a month. I was then called into the office and told it might be better if I came off flexi-time for a bit as I ‘owed’ 2 weeks! I then had to do another 3 weeks or so of going in at 7.30am, having a half hour lunch and going home at 6pm to sort it out!

During this fun time of getting used to the working week I was also trying to understand my job. I had an induction when it was explained very clearly to me what my responsibilities would be, what an ‘in’ tray was and an ‘out’ tray – what a file was and what was in it etc. I think I was also told what to actually DO with files when they landed in my in tray. However – I realised, after much nodding and yesing in the direction of my boss, I had no IDEA what I was supposed to do with the files. Being a teenager (and not confident in my ability to string a sentence together when talking to adults twice my age) I decided to blag it. I watched the others in our large open plan office – we all had similar jobs, I just tried to do what they did – whilst having no idea what they were doing, how they were doing it or why. This was not going to end well.

I would receive a file and I would shift in my chair and nonchalantly pick it up (whilst nodding knowingly with a ‘ahh, yes – I was expecting just such a file to be in my in tray, I know what I am doing with this’ look). I would open said file and stare at the contents (gibberish) and then close it again. I would get up and stride purposefully about the office. I would arrive back at my desk and then have another look at the file. The next stage in my pretence of knowing what i was doing was to ‘type’ on what was termed fan fold paper – as I remember there were six sheets of very fine paper, you would insert them into a typewriter – yep, a proper actual honest to goodness make your fingers bleed ink on your trousers – typewriter! I loved it – smacking away on the keys without a care in the world. I sometimes typed nonsense – as I had no idea what was to be typed – I sometimes pretended to type, hitting the keys enough to make a noise, but softly so they didn’t so much as mark the fan fold paper. I would rip out the typed up work and then separate the six different sheets (they all had a special place where they needed to be put) I had no idea where they all went so would open a file and shove them in.

Now, I knew I had an ‘out’ tray – but I did not grasp that this was purely for my own benefit – there was somewhere else for the files to go when I had finished with them. I had two problems with this:

1. Where was this mythical place that files went?
2. Even if I located this place – how could I actually get rid of files that I had not ‘actioned’ in any meaningful way?

Here is what I did. I hid them. Every file that arrived in my in box (who was sending them!!) would find its way in to my out box and then, I would sneak it into my big cupboards behind me. This worked fine, until I ran out of space in the cupboards. Six months passed. Six MONTHS of nobody noticing that I was not actioning any files and nobody had noticed that not a single file every made its way out of my corner of the office once it had arrived there. There were files on my window sill, files next to the cupboard in piles, files in my desk drawers, under my desk, in a neat ‘wall’ next to my desk – I was the King of files!

Then it happened. My boss came in looking for a file, it had gone missing – had I seen it? I have a few files awaiting action I said (ha!) I opened the cupboard and a a stack of files fell out – my boss looked at my cupboard and it was as if her EYES were opened, they then widened as she took in the scene – my desk, my cupboard, the floor, the window sill, under my desk . . .

The rest of the day was spent going through my files – many files thought to be lost forever within the bowels of some long forgotten storage facility surfaced in my corner of the office. This did not make my boss happy! The long and the short of it was this – my probation period of 6 months was up – so they kindly extended my probation and moved me to a department where they thought things might be simpler for me – and I wouldn’t be allowed to touch files for a while.

What does this have to do with ministry? Only everything!

1. We don’t know what we are doing. That is quite a shocking statement, but – there are many thousands of educated, degree enfused, theologically literate, well travelled Christians in ministry in this country. The church though has MASSIVE problems with discipleship – hence the missing generations in many of our churches. The church has MASSIVE problems with evangelism – hence our over dependence on tools like Alpha rather than organic growth through relationship, powerful preaching and signs and wonders following as the Holy Spirt leads us. There remains a challenge as we look at the book of Acts – and look at the Church today.

2. When we don’t know what we are doing – we pretend that we do. We have recently had a whole series of symposiums about the problems above – and, ok, nobody is necessarily saying they have got it ‘sorted’ – however, the people at these meetings tend to be the ‘great and the good’ of Christian ministry – hang on, if they are the same as me (at least a little bit!) is the challenge at these meetings really being faced? The challenge of ourselves? It is easy to say, ‘we have identified the problem’ (the problem has become blindingly obvious to everyone now) AND what follows is, ‘these are the things we need to do’. Always an answer, always a bit of blag! I don’t know ANYONE in Christian ministry who has properly acknowledged the problems in point 1 – that isn’t also doing what they are told we should all be doing if we are to see things change . . . . Invest in the next generation, grow Church where people are, don’t just expect them to come to is, mentor the next generation, raise up leaders etc. People are trying to do that . . . . So what are the reasons we are stuck? These next three things are the tough ones – they demand no blagging, no pretence that we have the solutions, no leaning into big leaders with big churches (they must know what they are doing – look at the size of their churches and their influence in the a Christian marketplace) . . .

Here are the three things then:

1. Prayer. Yeah, I know. Prayer. If you like – this is the equivalent of my ‘file’ problem when I began work. Prayer is about total dependence on Jesus. The ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ kind of prayer; the ‘it isn’t about what I bring to the party’ prayer; the ‘flipping heck this is tough’ prayer; the ‘ok, God – I lay it all on the line’ kind of prayer. We have developed movements of prayer that are praying on our behalf . . . . Or that mean we can do a week of intensive prayer and that will do us for a bit. There are a few places of almost constant prayer in this country – and they are amazing, maybe because of such places we are NOT in a worse state that we are – but hey, it’s pretty bad. I want to make 2014 a year when I pray more, when I admit to God that I don’t know what I am doing – that I am weak and that without him, I am pretty much stuffed. His strength is made perfect in our weakness – when we acknowledge that weakness! I also want to avoid blagging with Jesus . . He knows me. Nothing is hidden. Blagging for Jesus could be an Olympic sport in Christian ministry – but, I would love to live a year free of blagging – are you up for joining me? Are you up for challenging me if you think I am blagging it (whoa, did I mean to write that – I take it back!) – no, go on – please, keep me on my toes.

2. Obedience. This follows on from the prayerful lack of blagging. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘if you love me . . . You will do what I command’. (John 14 verses 15, 21 and 23). Love. It comes first. A sacrificial, self giving love – this isn’t a petulant request – ‘if you love me, you will do what I want’. This is all about Jesus being glorified in his followers. Love comes first, and this means obedience is not a duty or a chore or simply a requirement – but, a delight. For Jesus that was, ‘to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4 verse 34), get this though – Jesus says it is his ‘food’. It’s what sustains Him, gives Him strength and energy, it’s what gives Jesus LIFE – to be obedient to the Father. There is no greater love than the love Jesus has for those who he would call ‘friends’ (John 15:15) – wow, you and I – called friends of God. I’ve got to get better at this obeying stuff. Living in the presence of Jesus, with a prayerful open heart – I want to be ready to do and say what Jesus tells me to do and say in 2014. Not ‘expedient’ obedience or ‘what do people think’ obedience. But, you know – to just do what He says – through what has already been said through scripture AND by being obedient to the whisper of the Spirit. I don’t want to do what I did in the office – nod along to Jesus and the do my own thing (no one will notice!) I want 2014 to be a year of paying attention, ears pricked up and doing what God says! Come on me, get with it!!

3. Unity. This is the big one. I was pretty chuffed to see a book a few years ago about unity – until I realised it was about evangelical unity. It’s good, in different streams of the church to seek to be at ‘one’, but that still leaves us with a load of ‘ones’ – in some of our towns and cities there are more than one ‘Churches Together’ kind of groups. How is that possible, oneness over here (with people we agree with) and oneness over there (with people THEY agree with)? There is the church with its denominations, groupings, networks, branded churches (are you a ‘New Wine network open evangelical Baptist’?) which is the church we see – and then, there is the church that Jesus sees. We do not know what we are doing . . . I love what the Archbishop of Canterbury has said when asked about his ‘Churchmanship’ – he has called himself a ‘spiritual magpie’; if something is going to draw Him closer to Jesus the he is in! What a great attitude – I want that kind of attitude! Jesus modelled unity with 12 disciples (12 tribes of Israel) and if you look at them, a bunch that you would not have stuck together – zealots, tax collector, fishermen – a ragtag bunch, no agreements between this lot if left to their own devices! But, in Christ – one. We need to re-discover this kind of unity where only Christ matters; not how I worship or what denomination you come from, not whether you (or I) are cool, or the right age to hang about with – even in the church we can be ageist – about the young, about the old, about the missing generations. Let’s sort this out! I want to not NOTICE what Church you are from, I will only half here you this year if you are a liberal Anglo catholic evangelical with a bit of charismatic thrown in – we are one, we are co-heirs with Christ to an incredible inheritance (Romans 8:17) no mention here in this passage of the churchmanship involved! Together we can be so much more, and here is the clincher – by this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you love one another. This kind of unity with the bond of peace between all believers, wrought by the Spirit is a witness issue – and this is the point of all of this. If we knew what we were doing, we would be one. One church, one Faith, one baptism, one Lord (Ephesians 4). Yes, of course different flavours – just like ice cream – but still, can’t we focus on the fact that we ARE all ‘ice cream’ rather than ‘I prefer a cone’ and ‘I only eat it from a bowl’, or, it has to be ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ . . .

Last thought, gosh this is long . . .

The grace of probation. I should have got the sack over the filing thing, I didn’t have a clue – I was just messing about and making loads of mistakes. Grace was given, with due regard for keeping me away from files! This grace thing is why there is hope for all of us. Knowing we are in need of daily grace, forgiveness and Gods loving mercy. After 28 years in Christian ministry – I am still on probation, still with the learner plates. Yet, I want to dig deep and ask God that in 2014 He might help me be more prayerful with less pretence and blagging; more obedient with less mindless nodding (and not really paying attention) and increase my desire for unity in the Church – Lord, starting with me.

5 P’s that will help GROW your church and youth group

Prayer. Yes, I know – start with the obvious! However, this is so often overlooked. Let me say this is not just about prayer meetings (which in my experience can often be filled with people talking about what we need to pray about and why prayer is so important and then we might squeeze in 5 minutes of prayer at the end), but just modelling an attitude and the habit of praying. When you meet with people to catch up over a coffee or chat about ministry stuff in the church – pray together. Email prayer bulletins; seek the Lord together for what HE wants for your local church, youth group, community. Be open in your prayer time to what God is saying . . . I know, again this might be obvious – but, do we do this? Do we miss the Kairos moments because we forget to say, “Lord, guide me today” or “Jesus, please be with me in this conversation.” Or simply, “What do you want me to do here Lord?” Kairos is simply the time that is NOW, right this moment – Jesus had them all the time – because he prayed! When Jesus says, “I only do what the Father says.” (John 5:19; John 8:28; John 12:49).

There is a great story told by Juan Carlos Ortiz in his book “Disciple” – which is about revival in Argentina during the 1970s – on one side of a road, in their church a group of Protestants are gathered together praying; on the other side of the road a group od Catholics are praying – to both groups God says, “go outside”. They obey – and bump into each other! They realise they have been praying for the same things, God wants a united Church – under the Lordship of Christ they come together!

WHAT could happen if your personal prayer life and the prayer life of your church and / or youth group was transformed? What might be possible if your young people encountered Jesus for themselves through spending time in prayer? How will you model this and be an example?

Profile. What is the profile like of your church or youth group? Does anyone know what happens behind the doors of the church or in the hall the youth club meets in (apart from those who are already part of it)? How do people know what is going on? Again, you might be thinking – um, this is obvious! But, I was recently at a Church and their notices and signs outside simply had the name of the Church – nothing else, they didn’t have a website, they were a bit tucked away . . . unless you were going to that precise building – you wouldn’t know it was there.

Profile is not about saying “look how fantastic we are” (being boastful) nor is it about “please, notice us – we NEEEED you” (which is desperate!) but about thinking together – how might you raise the profile of the church and / or youth group by being a blessing to the community you are in, what could you do – that is not about getting people to come to the church, but about mobilising your congregation or young people to GO and meet others, engage with others and be a blessing – not to GET anything – but to GIVE. This MASSIVELY raises the profile of the Church. From a decent website that is clear about what the Church people do (activities, events, resources and support, weddings, baptisms, funerals, rooms for hire) not just – as some websites are – what the Church building is (how ever lovely the stained glass might be and the altar and the nave and the general architecture – yes, these are amazing in many of our churches – we have some of the oldest buildings dedicated to worship in the country across Sussex . . . but, we also need to say and demonstrate and raise the profile of what and who the local church is TODAY – a vibrant place with people ready to meet and be friendly and welcoming to new comers).

WHAT is your church known for in your community? What is your church’s DNA – what makes you tick? It might be the youth work – or you might be known for your choral music – whatever it is, RAISE the profile – we have too many hidden gems. What is precious about your church community might become precious to others . . . if they knew about it.

Presence. This is about turning up. Being there. Sometimes the thing we can best do in some situations is “be there”. So much going on across our society is transient or temporary, there are fads and fashions – things that are popular for a moment and then gone. It might be high street shops; it might in some cases be where the high street is! Some of our churches are so ancient that they are situated where the village or town used to be – back in the Middle Ages. Are we “present” and alongside those in our community where they actually are. Presence is about meeting people where they are at – not simply expecting them to come to where we are. The Church is present. When other things come and go – we are still here. At times we might be struggling, but can we provide to our communities consistency and continuity in a shifting world?

How can you be present and alongside the young people in your community? It is not always about doing things – sometimes it is simply about being available, letting others know of your availability. Being at Village fetes, craft fairs, the town meeting – engaging with the things that matter in the community your are in. Sometimes tragedy strikes and being present is what we can offer – standing with people in their pain and distress, weeping with those who weep.
I once made my presence known to a new school in my community, I went and met the head teacher and simply said, “I am here”, “Your local church is here – let me know if you need anything.” That was in the September, it was a brief meeting – the school had just opened . . . three months later, the head teacher got in touch – “one of our teachers has died suddenly, can you help us?” It was awful. The students in the school were just Year 7 (the school were going to grow, year group by year group), these children had no older youth to give them a steer. I couldn’t do much. I was present with them. I helped with a reflection in an assembly and helped the school think about what kind of memorial might be fitting.

I have also bee pretty rubbish with my “presence” . . . I was involved in leading children’s work at church some years ago and I would often tell the children who came to junior church how important and special they were, how much I and the children’s team enjoyed being with them each Sunday morning etc. All of that was true – whilst I was in the junior church hall leading the session, but – once I had got back into church and was mingling with adults having my coffee and rich tea biscuit the children were out if sight, out of mind. One day, there was this little tug on my trouser leg. I was irritated, didn’t this 7 year old know that this was MY time to talk to grown ups – I had “done” the children’s group for another Sunday . . . whoops. I managed to make my facial features smile warmly. I then had a great conversation with this 7 year old about what we had been doing in junior church and he had a load of questions about Jesus and God and the Trinity and . . . well, I nearly missed it. A thought then struck me – how many times HAVE I missed it because I have decided when to be present and when to switch off. This is not about the need for appropriate boundaries – which are VITAL. But, it is often when we are not “on duty” that we have the most significant conversations with children and young people – when we choose to be present.

Practice. We have all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect”. Well, how often do we do stuff again and again until we get it? In our Christian lives, and the lives our young people this takes constant practice! We must “practice” the spiritual disciplines of reading the bible, prayer, solitude, celebration etc. We must also be so “practiced” that is natural to share these with our children and young people. Sometimes we can go through seasons in Church where we have a particular focus – but, certain things need to be our constant practice. This is true in our church as a whole, but also in our youth groups and children’s groups. What would our children and young people know about following Jesus simply by observing our regular practices when we are at church?

I love the story of Jeremiah being called to be a prophet. It is amazing!! Here is this young man, insecure and unsure – called by God, but he doesn’t think he can do it – so he tells God that! “I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:7) God then shows Jeremiah how it is going to work – He says to him, “What do you see?” Jeremiah replies – “I see an almond tree”. (This isn’t an actual almond tree right in front of him, Jeremiah is seeing prophetically as God enables him), God then says – “Yes, you are right and I am watching to see that my word is being fulfilled.” In the original language, the word for almond tree and the word for watching are very similar. God was playing a word game with Jeremiah! Jeremiah was practicing His gift of prophecy – at no point after this does Jeremiah go off to God’s people and say, “The Lord says to you . . . ALMOND TREE!” It was simply practice!
What are we practicing with our young people – what are the key habits of the Christian life that we are passing on to the next generation? How can we practice the things they really need to grow in Christ?

Persistence. We have to keep going. Things will be tough, growing stuff is not easy (come and look at my garden – no, actually don’t – it is too embarrassing). We are told if we follow Jesus that we will suffer. We can see that in all kinds of different ways. We must not give up though! Jesus endured the cross because of the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12 verse 2); we have incredible promises in scripture – “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has in store” – you and I cannot IMAGINE the good stuff that God has lined up for us (1 Corinthians 2 verse 9) . . .

My daughter and I went out for a cycle together when she was about 3. I say cycle together – but it was me doing the cycling, while she sat on the child’s seat behind me like a princess waving at anyone that would glance in her direction. It was fine when we were going down hill – but it was a different story coming back up the hill to get home. I was tired, hot and miserable – it had been fun, but now it was just hard work. What’s the pay off here? Why can’t our house be at the bottom of this hill rather than at the summit (it felt like a summit!), then out of nowhere, while I am huffing and puffing up the hill my 3 year old daughter exclaimed “I’m so happy!” Just a spontaneous declaration of how she was feeling – well, I struggled to get home after that, not because it was hard work anymore – but I couldn’t see through my tears! THIS is what being a dad is about, I then thought – this is SO worth it!

Maybe you are better than me – but that got me thinking about my effort and the completely unexpected payoff! WOW, it was so cool and still is as I remember it – that was five years ago. That is the other thing about persistence, when we stay the course – when we keep going instead of giving up, when we see God with us in the tough times. We will not forget that He is faithful. And part of our persistence sometimes is simply to remind ourselves OVER and over again, as we need to do of what God has DONE for us – that means we can trust him NOW.

When God’s people stopped persisting in telling the story of what God had done for them, (and this is said to them again and again especially through the Old Testament) they wondered away – they had forgotten what God had done for them in the past, so they did not trust God for their today – or their tomorrow.

How are you persisting? Are you seeing fruit or does it feel like dry ground? Don’t’ give up!

Pray, raise the Profile, be Present, get Practicing and be Persistent.

And see what God will do!

Rees Howells and 24/7 Presence

dove_four_359520225Rees Howells was an absolute legend.  Called by God to prayer, intercession and missionary work he dedicated his life to the service of Jesus and others.  He is not well known, because he just got on with it!  A guy called Norman Grubb (I love that name) wrote his biography . . . Norman himself was a missionary, but also wrote books and biographies of great people of faith he had encountered and worked with.  These were two incredible, yet humble – men of God.

In the biography of Rees, which you can see here (DO get it!) . . . Norman writes about some incredible stuff Rees was involved in during the welsh revival in the early 1900s.  Basically, Rees was praying and leading revival meetings.  God was showing up BIG time.  Everything was pretty amazing.  Then, two amazing things happen (I know, revival is pretty amazing as it is . . . ) – First – he tells Rees that he wants him to dedicate himself to prayer, rather than lead the meetings.  Stay at home.  Don’t be upfront.  Pray by yourself.  Give yourself to that – and God told him he would raise up is friend (who he had been working with) who would lead greater times of revival and more would happen – if Rees would dedicate himself to prayer.  No glory!  Just get on your knees and pray.  Nobody would know that this new thing was happening because of Rees, he was to just do it without telling anyone . . . Rees faithfully does this and things go even more crazy!  The Lord does more because of his quiet faithfulness.  That’s pretty amazing in itself!  Then, second, (and for this bit, we have to understand the culture of the time) God talks to Rees about his prayer life (which, I am thinking is pretty STUNNING up to this point . . . !)  During his prayer times, Rees removes his hat – and this is pretty normal behaviour I guess, and he probably didn’t wear his hat around the house . . . but there he is, in his space with God.  Praying.  Hatless (we can all identify with that I think, unless you are into hats . . . )  BUT, what was not done was going out of your house, if you were a bloke without something on your head, a hat, a cap – it was just expected.  Headgear was worn back then.  Well, God said to Rees – when you pray you take your hat off, well – you are always in my presence.  I want you to be constantly in a state of prayer, you are never NOT in my presence – so, Rees, don’t wear your hat when you go out.  I would have struggled with the praying quietly while some friend hogged the lime light at a revival meeting . . . Rees humbly got on with that.  This hat thing however seemed to throw him and he wrestled with it!  It just wasn’t done!  Eventually, he did it – people thought he was crazy, his family wondered if he should be committed!  Rees reached a new place of humility and a fresh understanding of prayer – and this was a guy who was a PHENOMENAL prayer!

What – you might be thinking – does this have to do with us?  Well – what is my hat?

That’s it really.  Is there anything keeping me from knowing and experiencing the presence of God all the time, knowing I am always in his presence?  Knowing I should always be in that place of prayerful submission, moment by moment, in the quiet and still moments by myself and in the hustle and noise and demands of the world and life – how am I doing?  How are you doing?

Got a hat?  Take it off.

We are One – Reflections from “The Word Made Flesh”, Eugene Peterson [Review]

Amidst a torrent of Christian books it can be a challenge to find stuff worth reading that will challenge, inspire and encourage the reader to scurry back to the scriptures and reflect on what God is saying and doing . . . in “The Word Made Flesh”, Peterson has written a small book of genius . . . reflecting on the stories Jesus told and the prayers Jesus prayed it is powerful, intimate and full of insight.

Some well trodden passages are explored in a fresh way . . . my absolute favourite in all scripture is explored in this book, John 17 . . . and, just to give you a glimpse of how much is here (270 pages is pretty sparce for Peterson) . . . I will give you some excellent stuff from the man himself . . .

There is nothing quite a destructive to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the use of language that dismisses the way Jesus talks and prays and takes up insted the rhetoric of smiling salesman or vicious invective.  If, in the name of Jesus, truth is eviscerated into facts, salvation depersonalised into a strategy, or love abstracted into a slogan or principle, the gospel is blasphemed.”  (page 220)

Don’t miss this: Father, Son and every last one of us by the prayer and the cross of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit are made one.” (page 223)

For the Church (and by that, at this point, I mean the Anglican Church at this juncture in our history) the following words need to be read and thought of carefully before General Synod next year . . . if anyone reads these words, do pass this on!

Peterson comments on the constant refrain throughout the prayer that, “they may be one, even as we are one.”

He says this,

The repetitive urgency with which Jesus prays that we may be one, just as he is one with the Father, throws deliberate acts of schism into sharp relief as acts of insurrection, an erruption of violent willfulness in the very presence of the one who is interceding for our relational unity with one another according to the unity of the Trinity.  The frequency of this violence done to the body of Christ, a violence justified by rationalisations without end, is nothing less than astonishing.  Defying Jesus in the cause of Jesus. A huge scandal.” (page 224)

What scandal is being enacted if . . . people who are currently part of the Church of England feel they can be no longer?

I am an egalitarian.  However, I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are not.  We are one not because of our agreements or disagreements, not because of our theology or doctrine or practice – but because we confess Christ, and in and through the Spirit – we are one.

Peterson goes on to say,

When Peter discovered a man of faith in the secularised city of Caesarea in the unlikely person of a Roman soldier, Cornelius, he said, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34).  Is it permissible to add to Peter’s sentance “or of churches?” I think so.” (page 225)

As Peterson identifies when he talks about the unity in the Trinity – it is not something that can be copied – as we look at God, we cannot “copy” a model. 

It is a Trinitarian relationship – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – of reciprocity to be entered.” (page 227)

Even as our Diocese’ finish voting on Women Bishops, and we move towards next year . . . do we need to enter this prayer of Jesus (and we need to remember, this is Jesus’ prayer, he is taking the responsibility!) . . . I do not want to see people leave the Church of England . . . but, whatever happens, I am comforted as I recognised that it is not the Church of England that Jesus is praying for . . . and, to finish with this thought from Peterson,

The unity for which Jesus prays is articulated exclusively in the language of  personal relationship and willing participation.  An imposed unity is no part of Jesus.  All of us today who are baptised and named Christian are being prayed into maturity in the company of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”” (page 229)