Practising Prayer

Every morning I painfully set aside 15 minutes to help my son struggle through a beautiful piece of music as he tries to sight read his way through the manuscript. He’s learning piano, grade 3. As I watch Joe each Sunday effortlessly carried along in worship, his fingers dancing over the piano, it’s tempting to think that he was born playing. But the reality is that he started where my son is. Painfully working through exercises, stumbling over what should be beautiful and generally feeling a bit discouraged.

I’ve been reading some biographies lately of great prayer warriors. And its tempting to think that they were born praying.

I jest. Of course they were. The analogy is not perfect! Prayer is nothing like piano. Even, perhaps especially, children know how to cry out to their Father for help.

And yet there is a sense that prayer takes discipline. To enjoy spending time in prayer to our Father. To look forward to it as if it were the best part of life. To actually pray during that 30 mins you set aside – to not daydream and waste 25 mins of it – that takes practise. To even contemplate what it would have been like to be the son of God spending all night praying to God (Luke 6:12). This takes discipline.

For great pray-ers like Hudson Taylor and George Mueller, they spent a life time depending on God alone for what they needed. And as they did that fuelled an even greater dependence upon God to ask him for everything they needed, confident that he would always answer as he knew best. Their faith grew and grew the more they practised prayer.

I was hugely encouraged, reading Hudson Taylor’s biography to find that he had two words in Chinese characters hanging on his fireplace. Ebenezer, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,” and Jehovah Jireh, “The Lord will provide.” These two words summed up his life of faith. I’m planning to work out my own version of this!

I was challenged by George Mueller, whose biography was called ‘a million and a half in answer to prayer.’ He had over fifty thousand specific recorded answers to prayers in his journals, thirty thousand of which he said were answered the same day or the same hour that he prayed them. As a result I have started to depend on God in – well I want to say everything – but lets just say more. And I’ve started to note down my prayers and when they are answered.

We have also started to read Mueller’s biography with our kids. Its so interesting to see their reaction – one is hugely inspired by the prayers being answered. The other is provoked – so why doesn’t God answer our prayers. His friend’s mum has just died, leaving 7 children behind. He is challenged by his friend’s continued trust in God, but struggling with the reality – “Why did God take her? Why didn’t he answer our prayers?”

Prayer takes us right to the heart of God. Is he really for us? The only way we can be sure of that is to trace his hand thus far. Has he been our Ebenezer? Has he stepped into history and given up everything for us? Does he know what it’s like to lose the one most precious to you? Has he beaten death and secured us a place with him for eternity? If so, he deserves the title Jehovah Jireh. If not, there’s no point praying.

 

You will not certainly die?

“Merry Christmas poppet. I can’t believe you are going to be 30 soon. I wish I could have been there to see how you’ve grown…So this is my last tape. I wish I could keep talking to you every Christmas but it’s time to say goodbye.”

I was taken aback to hear that recording of a Mum, who had died of cancer, on radio five live. It was from one of this year’s Christmas videos: ‘Love is a gift’. It has gone viral, in spite of having only cost £50 to make! The story is of a young man counting down the days until Christmas so he can listen on to the next tape his Mum left for him using his old Sony Walkman (remember those?)

I was surprised because until recently our culture treated death as the great taboo. I read a magazine article in 2016 which referred to it as the “D” word, rather than saying it out loud. “You will not certainly die” has proved to be the first and perhaps most enduring lie this world has ever heard (Genesis 3:4).

This newfound freedom to face up to the reality of death is everywhere. I invited a friend to join me in visiting Colombia Road Flower Market, to which she replied ‘I’d love to. It’s on my bucket list’. She is 25 and perfectly healthy! Bucket list only came into use in 2007, after the film of the same name, coined from the phrase to ‘kick the bucket’ (meaning to die). Bucket list is now in common usage, as we are increasingly aware that we don’t have long to live.

It’s there in the latest books, too. I picked up one of the New York Times bestsellers in the library just last week by Mark Manson, subtitled ‘a counterintuitive approach to living a good life’.  I was shocked to find that both the pivot and the end of the book hinged around the fact that “you and everyone you know are going to be dead soon.” 

It’s not just in the adult section. A Monster Calls was brought home from school by my 11 year old. The tragic story of a child coming to terms with his mum dying. We all read it, and wept. Then watched the film. My 14 year old is raving about The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. A love story about two terminal cancer kids. She won’t allow him to fall in love with her because: “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”

At last! We can talk freely about death. Why am I so pleased? Because in the birth of Jesus, the Bible tells us that: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16)” In the shadow of death, the gospel is not just good news, it is the best news.

Manson postulates that “in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.” Bizarre and backwards his reasoning is. It doesn’t add up (which essentially is true of the whole book. But it contains spectacularly bad language and some pretty shrewd observations, so I’m not sure anyone has stopped to worry about that.) But he’s close. What he has realised is that eternity changes everything. Staring into the abyss of death (which he does in the final chapter), you realise that if there was a way through to the other side of death, that would be a game changer.

Historically it has been a game changer. Those at the heart of the greatest revivals lived at a time when death was an ever-present reality. They knew that “against this arrest there is no bail” (George Swinnock, 17th Century preacher). They were unafraid to preach sermons like: “Familiarize the thoughts of the evil day to thy soul. Handle this serpent often. Walk daily in the serious meditations of it. Do not run from them because they are unpleasing to flesh, that is the way to increase the terror of it.” William Gurnall (17th century preacher). They were deeply impacted by the reality of it: “As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell.” Robert Murray McCheyne (19th century preacher).

As I listened to Radio five and heard that late Mum wishing her son a merry Christmas, it was painfully obvious that though she speaks, she is gone. There is no bail he could pay to bring back his Mum. I still cannot believe that this is one of the loudest messages our society has heard this Christmas as it was picked up and reported on by most major news outlets.

What a time for us to share the amazing news that “on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

The meaning of life?

This week in church we looked at the meaning of life.

Big stuff. And yet wonderfully simple, if you look at the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. God makes it all so that he can sit down and enjoy it!

The immense privilege that we as his creation are given is to enter his rest and enjoy Him. Not because we have finished our work, but because he has finished. He has finished creation. And though we’ve done a pretty thorough job of messing it up through our sin, he has also finished the work of redemption – making a way for us to enjoy relationship with him (John 19:30). Through Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins can be forgiven and we can now enter his rest and enjoy him forever.

All this talk of enjoying God made me feel unsettled. When I think of spending time with God, listening to him through his word and praying, I can have a bit of a ‘oh, I ought to do that’ mentality. More like a tick box-obligation, than a joy.

Which got me thinking, and talking with others.

Do I enjoy God? Do I rest with him? What might that look like in practice?

I was chatting with a friend at church, who said, ‘I used to love Sunday mornings. My church service was in the afternoon, so I would set my alarm to make sure I got up, so I could spend the morning with God on my own. I looked forward to it so much.’

Another friend said to me, “I can’t come out Wednesday evening. That’s my evening to spend a good chunk of time reading my Bible, having an extended time of prayer and then reading a chapter of a Christian book. I’ve enjoyed it so much.”

What strikes me is not so much their practice, but their attitude. They look forward to time with God. The enjoy it. They want to stay there for as long as possible. They would sacrifice other pleasures for time with God because that is more enjoyable.

Let’s not overcomplicate this. We enjoy God the same way we enjoy any relationship. Putting time in our diary to spend together. Making an effort to make the time nice (David Mathis suggests a comfortable location, favourite drink, maybe listening to music as part of it https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/treat-yourself-to-the-voice-of-god). Looking forward to that time. Not wanting to hurry away.

We have the privilege at The Globe Church of having an afternoon service. Why not set an alarm for Sunday morning? Grab a nice drink, find a quiet spot, get your Bible open and ask God to speak to you. We’re going through Luke in Focus at the moment, why not start there?

Read: Just a small chunk, looking for something that strikes you. Perhaps something about who God is, or how we treat him. Stop and think about that. David Cook recommends reading for 1 minute, thinking for 4.

Now Work it (WRCIT) into your life…

Worship: Turn that truth into worship – exalting God for who he is. Maybe use a worship song if one comes to mind.

Repent: Think about how you have neglected that truth. Dig deep and ask why my heart doesn’t do this. Say sorry specifically for where you have done wrong.

Connect: Then ask yourself:’what difference will this truth make in my life.’ Prayerfully resolve to make a concrete small change. You could ask a friend to pray for you in this, or text a reminder to yourself.

Intercede: Pray for others, that they would understand this truth about God.

Thanks: Enjoy God – thank him for who he is, for what he’s doing in your life.

Just like any relationship, we don’t just spend an hour together then that’s it. We would message or phone daily. So it is with God – we can enjoy Him on our tube journey as we remember Sunday’s sermon and worship God for what we’ve learned. We can enjoy him as we notice ourselves slipping back into that sin again and send up an arrow prayer saying “sorry – please help me to change!” We can enjoy him every morning over a cup of coffee, reading a few verses, to discover a truth then WRCIT into our life.

What’s the meaning of life? God made everything so that he could sit down and enjoy it. What greater privilege than enjoying it with Him?

 

 

 

 

New job?

Starting out in the world of work is exhausting. I remember trying to catch a cat nap on a park bench in lunch hour. (Tip – don’t leave your empty coffee cup out otherwise you may even collect loose change in the process).

It’s a shock, it’s tough and can shake your confidence as you suddenly find you’re basically failing at everything because you’re new and it takes time to get to know the ropes.

I just came across an old blog post, which if I’d read at the time would have helped me enormously.  http://www.afaithtoliveby.com/2012/06/01/surviving-the-first-few-years-of-work-some-advice-from-my-facebook-friends. His advice got me thinking, so here are my top tips… (a few blatantly plagiarised, so thanks Neil for those 🙂

Find a good church. Decide in advance where you will attend, go regularly to as much as you can. Remember, the way to move from attending to belonging is to get involved with serving.

Be regularly accountable with a believer you trust. You could ask your church if they can help you find a mentor, someone a little older to ask you those difficult questions like ‘are you enjoying Jesus personally through Bible reading and prayer’, ‘what sin are you struggling with right now and what needs to change’, ‘are you looking after your spiritual and physical health?

Be prepared that you might find work hard, get challenged and feel rubbish! Your identity and worth more than ever needs to be rooted in Jesus and his grace.

Worship through work – remember Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” See your work as part of your service of Him, rather than a way of paying the bills so you can serve elsewhere. 

Set up standing orders for giving so as not to be mastered by money

Be quick to tell others that you are a Christian. A great way in is to ask: “what did you do at the weekend?” To which they reply, “how about you?”, to which you reply “Sunday I went to church and we had this great message from the Bible basically saying…” Pray for opportunities to invite colleagues to church.

Pace yourself: you have to get up early, every day, for more than just a term. It is a shock to the system when you don’t have a month off every 13 weeks. Put the important events into your diary. Put rest into your diary. Put work into your diary. Then fit all the rest of life around those.

Lastly, get to bed on time! When God created the world there was evening, then there was morning, the first day. My bad days almost always start the evening before when I either fail to get to bed on time, or fail to get the important stuff done ready for the next day. Why not try setting a bedtime alarm, to make sure you get into bed on time? So you can start the next day with time to pray for what’s ahead. Going into work knowing God is with you makes all the difference.

Time is like space

I live in a small flat with three growing boys (and one husband who is trying very hard not to grow 😉

So I totally get the can’t-squeeze-any-more-into-this-tiny-space thing.

What I totally don’t ever seem to get is that time works in exactly the same way. I had never really thought of it like this until I read it in one of my summer reading books…

“When you are organizing a closet, you can see how much stuff you are dealing with, and therefore whether it will all fit. But when it comes to time, it is hard to conceptualize since time is invisible. Yet as long as your time remains elusive and hard to conceptualize, “you will have difficulty managing your days.”

Quoted from Matt Perman’s blog https://www.whatsbestnext.com/2009/03/the-analogy-between-organizing-time-and-organizing-space/  This concept is based on  Time Management from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern.

Suddenly a number of things fell into place.

  1. This is why I end up being late for church. I fail to remember that the ‘getting your teeth brushed and finding two clean socks and a matching pair of shoes’ job takes about 40 minutes when you are a 10 year old boy. Multiply by double the number of other children you have! Add in 3.5 minutes for breaking up a fight, 6 minutes for explaining AGAIN why we are not taking notes on our mobile phone, and 5.5 minutes for suddenly realising that we CANNOT leave the kitchen looking like this, what if someone comes back for a coffee after, and I begin to realise why I’m always running late.
  2. This is why when I ‘just squeeze in’ hanging out the washing as I am about to leave the house, I end up late for my meeting. Because nothing is just squeezed in. If I do the washing, I have to not do something else.
  3. This is why I never find time to take my kids out one to one to chat to them about how they’re doing. Because just like my wardrobe, if I don’t put the big things in first, I will never fit them in at the end.

Jonty and I had the privilege of being trained by Pastor Johnny Prime. He loved the rocks in the jar illustration, and I will always remember him saying ‘put the big rock in first, then the little rocks will fit around it’, in his lilting Scottish accent.

It’s a classic I know, but such a helpful concept. I need to schedule into my diary the important events, and then the little jobs – email, washing, Tesco online food order, will all slot in around them.

What are the important events? They are linked to your roles. For example I am a child of God, wife, mother, daughter, worker (I have a number of different roles), mentor, friend, neighbour.

So I need to prioritise firstly time in Bible reading and prayer. I don’t do all these things so I will get peace, I am at peace with God, and he has given me these good works to do with him, in his strength, in partnership with the rest of the body of Christ (which means delegating is a very legit way of ticking things off my to do list!)

I need to build time into my week to love, partner with and communicate with my husband. We need to be in prayer together. I need to lovingly lead and care for my kids, including spending time praying and reading the Bible with them. I need to pray for and love the rest of my family – through phone calls, remembering significant events and planning in time to see them. Ditto friends (remembering that friends are also a bit like jumpers in my wardrobe. I cannot fit everyone in! I cannot be all things to all people as I just won’t fit them in. I need to be faithful to those who God has called me to be friends to and let go of those who already have other close friends).

I need to work effectively. Which when working from home means I need to plan when I will work.

One of my biggest challenges is learning to fit rest into my wardrobe and see that as essential. I was challenged this morning from Ezekiel 20:12 where God says: “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.” I rarely see the Sabbath rest as a gift from God, to enjoy a set apart (that’s what holy means) time with him, the Holy God as his holy set apart people. Instead I cram so much work into my week, that Sabbath rest just doesn’t fit in. I need to get that in first!

Wardrobes work best when they are not rammed full. There needs to be a bit of space in between so when something takes up more space than you were expecting, everything else doesn’t get pushed out. This was one of the concepts I found most helpful in Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy. he calls it margin. He suggests we must build it into every day – about 10% spare time, so we can respond to that request for help, be there for the child who’s upset after school, cope with the broken freezer without taking it out on others, etc.

I’m trying now to plan my weeks and months better. Getting a blank page in my notebook, sketching out the next half term, and putting the big rocks in my wardrobe first (?! mixing the metaphors slightly). Trying to plan in time for rest. Trying not to over fill my days. And desperately hoping to get on top of how long it REALLY takes to leave the house to get to church/meeting/school on time! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

 

 

Too busy praying?

“When have you ever run out of time… cos you were too busy praying?”

That was a quote our new ministry trainee picked up on his first day of training with Andy Mason. He was recounting it to a group of us, as he had found it challenging, and wow, it has really stuck with me too!

It was based on a passage in Acts 6:

The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4

The apostles were too busy praying and sharing God’s word to do the other (visibly more pressing) tasks like waiting on tables.

Being too busy is a theme I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently. And what to do about it. So through summer, I’ve been reading a book called What’s Best Next by Matt Pearman. He unashamedly bases a lot of his material on one of my favourite authors, Stephen Covey. The bottom line is: don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.

It was funny because as I thought about Acts 6, I realised this time management advice is not even second hand, it was essentially what the Twelve were doing in Acts 6, 2000 years ago!

It is a timeless truth, I wholeheartedly agree with.

And yet somehow, here I am in the first week of September stressed out of my mind with how much is on my ‘work’ to-do list, simultaneously trying to cram in buying new school shoes, opticians, physiology, sewing up holes in uniform, supergluing myself to shoes (that bit wasn’t on my to-do list), getting through the post-camping Mount Washmore that has appeared in the bedroom, whilst inside crying tears of desperation that all the wonderful time management techniques I read about whilst lying on the beach have got lost on the way home.

My answer is to cry out “I’m so overwhelmed” and try to do everything a bit faster.

The disciples answer was: We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

They knew they couldn’t do everything, so they got rid of some stuff. Matt Perman’s book is very helpful and full of four letter analogies. He suggests DEAD as a way to get rid of stuff (Delegate-Eliminate-Automate-Defer). For some reason I can only ever remember three things max (overwhelmed Mum trying to juggle too many priorities or years of listening to three point sermons? Who knows!).

Anyway my simpler get-rid-of-stuff for dummies (and mummies) is: DDD

Delegate it – Defer it – Don’t do it

Delegate it. This is what the disciples did. they looked for seven men full of the spirit and wisdom to delegate it to. When God called us, he called us into a body. When he teaches us to pray, he starts with Our Father. We must beware of allowing our individualistic culture to infect the way we live. God created us to work with others, to share the workload with others. Delegating is not just about you being able to concentrate on what you need to get done. it’s about working together as a body as we serve our Father. We’re in this together.

Defer – sometimes it’s important, but we just can’t fit it in. I had to do this over summer. I was asked to speak at a conference that I love and am really committed to. But I knew that saying yes was actually saying no to a happy Christmas and loving my family well. So I said no, but please ask again.

Don’t do it! This is the hardest. But being realistic with what we can and can’t achieve is so freeing. Pray about what you need to do and ask God which things are not your responsibility. Then say to the people involved, I’m sorry but I can’t. I just had to do that with a calendar event and a request to chair a committee. It’s soooo against my nature! I want to be able to do it all. But only God can do that. he has limited me (and boy do I feel that right now). So I need to be humble enough to accept my limitations and sometimes that means saying no.

So next time you’re overwhelmed don’t just try to go faster. Remember the disciples: “We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Let’s work towards one day being able to say: “I am too busy praying to wait on tables!”

 

 

 

 

Surviving summer #socialmediaenvy

Summer. Heralds the start of the endless streams of social media posts of beaches, sunsets, perfect wedding pics. And I confess it never fails to bring out the green eyed monster in me!

Two summers ago, in my despair I posted a picture of the toilet on my train which had made me chuckle, with the caption “My facebook feed is full of beautiful beach sunsets, mountain views, wedding photos. And I am posting info about the toilet on my train.” I got an overwhelming the of grateful replies – turns out I am not the only person sick of seeing other people’s perfect summers!

The irony is that as I spoke to one friend about her apparently amazing yacht holiday in St Tropez (that I’d seen on Facebook), she confessed she had had a sick bug!

I’ve been reflecting on how to handle social media envy. One option is to post deliberately unglamorous pictures of your real summer like I did. But seeing a facebook post from a friend about how encouraged he was by the cards he had received at his baptism, I realised there is an even more constructive response.

Bring back postcards.

Now you have to understand that I’m not one for writing postcards. I find the whole process way too complicated. 1. You have to find a card shop. 2. Have the right currency.  3. Find out how to purchase the right stamp. 4. Then find time to write the card. 5. Then locate the person’s address. 6. Then work out how to post it. #toohard

A top tip I have found is to carry a list of close friend’s addresses in your handbag. Here’s my dog eared one – it’s 10 years old! At least then if you do make it though steps 1 through 5, you have their address to hand.

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But invariably I get to around step three in the process, said card then gets screwed up in the bottom of the beach bag, becomes unreadable and I find it three weeks later at home and am forced to throw it in the bin.

So when I say bring back the postcard, what I really mean is when we are on a break, and have time to reflect on life, why not use that as an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you. Jonty recently received a text from one of our elders doing exactly that. It was such an encouragement to him, it meant a lot. It was just a text, took very little effort to send but the thought that someone whilst away had taken the time to think of him, pray for him, and express that in writing meant the world.

So why not next time you’re on holiday, think twice before posting your best pictures. Think what that will do to your ‘friends’. Consider spending a few moments communicating to one or two real friends how much they mean to you.

Jesus never felt the need to make himself look better than he was. Instead he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, humbling himself even to death on a cross.  He never made anyone feel rubbish, rather he invested his life in saving and building other up to be what they were created to be. That is the path he calls us to follow, in his strength.

I’ve found it really helpful to think through this. I really enjoyed purchasing the horrendously overpriced lighthouse postcard in the picture above. It was from such a gorgeous little shop in Bexhill, and felt good to be supporting a local business.

One of my children bought the two french postcards on a day trip to France. Again from a little independent retailer. The shop assistant was so kind. In his faltering y5 French he asked: “je voudrais deux carte postale, s’il vous plait. C’est combien?” She had a lovely little conversation with him. And on leaving the shop he commented, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget how to as for postcards in French now I’ve done that. Let’s hope he needs to practice it again – I’m sure whoever receives them will be very grateful!

Already the corner of the lighthouse one is folded over from being shoved in the rucksack. I know I have no stamps. But having written this I am determined to write at least one of them.

Who could you ‘send a postcard to’ this summer?