Friday, 31 October 2014

Allowing God

We are awfully good at thinking we know best.  One of our problems in prayer is a tendency to tell God what to do.  We need to learn rather to let prayer be a time when God works through us.

As Andrew Mayes says, in "Beyond the Edge", "Effective prayer is, then, not about seeking to influence God but about allowing God to do extraordinary things in us.  But it requires of us the ability to silence our own admonitions and advice-giving to God, which can be a feature of intercessory prayer - as if we were advising God what he should do next.  It requires us to come to a place of vulnerability and receptivity before God."

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Praying with Daniel

The story of Daniel is a story of faithfulness and of God’s care for a faithful Daniel.  Daniel was particularly known for his life of prayer.  His opponents tried to use that to trip him up, but his confidence in God paid off.  Daniel’s story serves as a reminder that our engagement with God through prayer works.  In Daniel chapter 9, verses 15 to 19, we have an account of Daniel praying for his people.  The most famous pattern prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, taught by Jesus to his disciples.  However, here is another prayer that models how to pray. 

In his commentary on Daniel[1], Doug Ingram comments on this: “Daniel’s prayer provides a wonderful model for us to draw on. It starts by praising God, making specific reference to how the Lord is portrayed in the scriptures. It then offers heartfelt confession, again drawing on scripture and noting specific ways in which the people have sinned. Next it reflects on the particular situation that has called forth the prayer, relating this too to the scriptures. And finally it turns to petition—and these are no feeble, tentative requests, but fullblooded, confident pleadings which, in clear and unambiguous language, call on God to hear, forgive, listen and act quickly, and all for the sake of God’s good name!”

[1] The Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘The People’s Bible Commentary’ series

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Prayer: Remembering & Hoping

Prayer is both central and essential to our relationship with God.  Corporate prayer is a crucial element in our participation in the Church, sometimes described as the Body of Christ.  However, it is also an intensely personal thing.  Prayer is always something that we can take deeper and, though prayer is best understood and taken to deeper levels by engaging in it, it is also true that we can learn from what others say of it.  Such learning will most commonly come from "spiritual" writers, but it is also interesting (and often of benefit) to look at the understanding and description of other writers.

I have been reading Eleanor Catton's Man Booker prize-winning novel "The Luminaries" and was struck by a passage in which she talks of prayer, first describing it as remembering others - and surely much of prayer is remembering others before God - and secondly identifying hope as a key element in prayer - and, as people of the resurrection, we clearly live by hope.

“Prayers often begin as memories. When we remember those whom we have loved, and miss them, naturally we hope for their safety and their happiness, wherever they might be. That hope turns into a wish, and whenever a wish is voiced, even silently, even without words, it becomes a supplication. Perhaps we don’t know to whom we’re speaking; perhaps we ask before we truly know who’s listening, or before we even believe that listener exists. But I judge it a very fine beginning, to make a practice of remembering those people we have loved. When we remember others fondly, we wish them health and happiness and all good things. These are the prayers of a Christian man. “

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Psalms For All Times

The Psalms are a great source of expressing how we feel.  They soar the heights and they plunge the depths.  They express how we relate to God, both when God feels incredibly close and when we struggle to feel any sense of God's presence.  Many have found it helpful to either try and write their own psalm or to offer new versions of the originals and these can both also be both helpful and in spring.  Thinking what you want to say to God and putting it in a 'psalm' can be a meaningful experience.

A recent example of this is Carla Grosch-Miller's "Psalms Redux" (Canterbury Press, 2014).  For example, from Psalm 3 redux - "But You, O God, continue to re-create the world, dancing at the fragile edge, breathing at the margins, in vulnerability offering Yourself again and again."

Or from Psalm 16 redux - "Fullness to my my emptiness, water to my thirst, ocean to my raindrop, still centre point that draws me in and and knows my name."

What might you say in a psalm?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  How we use our time is interesting and can be challenging.  Many of us discover ourselves to be what we would define as 'too busy'.  We end up rushing around trying to get all sorts of things done.  Stephen Cherry, in "Beyond Busyness",  talks about "time and its apparent shortage".    He goes on to explore "time wisdom" - rather rather than time management.  "In order to be an effective and good minister, to survive and thrive in church leadership, it is essential to build up good time wisdom".

Busyness can be be a disease from which we find it difficult, or even impossible, to break free.  Deadlines are powerful and can be useful - but not when they are mastering us.  

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

On The Level

Mission requires that we engage with people in an appropriate and equal way.  We need to value those whom we are encountering.  Martyn Atkins warns against what he calls a "sloping" approach to mission (Martyn Atkins: Resourcing Renewal, quoted in Michael Moynagh: Being Church, Doing Life).

On this approach we see mission as sloping downwards from the church towards other people.  The church sees itself as in an elevated position, dispensing mission.

Jesus rather took a level approach.  He met people where they were, engaging with their needs.  There is no hierarchy in doing mission.  It is likely to be effective when we are able to engage as equals.  What we share with those we are encountering is the most likely source of an effective relationship and that is what is going to allow us to share our faith in a meaningful way.  Back in the 17th century one of the groups of Christians were called the Levellers.  Let's level things for and with God!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Leaving Nazareth

I have just started reading Andrew Mayes' "Beyond the Edge: spiritual transitions for asdventurous souls".  In the first chapter he explores the idea of transitions and the impact they make.  He refers to some of the big transitions that will happen for all of us at various stages in life.

He emphasises the point by comparing what we may face with the impact that starting his ministry and leaving all the familiarities of Nazareth will have had on Jesus.  The Nazareth of the time will have been a fairly small village.  Setting off on an itinerant ministry of preaching, teaching and healing was a big step to take.

Mayes highlights the importance of being rooted in prayer to take us through the times of transition and uses some helpful imagery - "prayer - experienced now as a turbulent place, with eddies, whirlpools, rapids and unexpectedly strong currents; a torrent where boulders, other detritus and rubbish get forced along.  The river of prayer becomes a place of attrition and erosion,. where stones get their corners knocked off.  But prayer can at the same time be experienced as a place of profound transformation and creativity, where a new identity is being shaped and formed - waters can break down and build up."

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Truth Dentist

Margaret Coles' novel "The Greening" is a fascinating interaction between three stories.  The key character of the main story, Joanna Meredith, is a journalist who wishes to combine effective writing with an ethically sound approach.  She is strongly influenced and supported by what is effectively the second story which enters her story by means of a journal which she is reading her way through.  The third story is some account of the thinking and writings of Julian of Norwich.  Julian is a meaningful and positive influence on Anna, the writer of the journal, and comes to be also an important influence on Joanna.

There are lots of things to be drawn from the novel, but I was particularly struck by a passage where Joanna has a conversation with Ismene, one of the novel's other key characters.  Ismene perceptively recognises what Joanna is trying to achieve through her journalism - "You, Joanna, are what I call a truth dentist.  By that, I mean someone who is determined to extract the truth of the stories she reports, who will not be fobbed off, who will not let go.  It's all there, in the quality of your work.  You notice the details.  ....  It takes the persistence to be a truth dentist and the courage to pull one's own teeth.  It takes the determination to keep going when you are the only one who can see the point of the story."

Where do we need to develop our capacity to be truth dentists?