pperseverence, prayer, presence, priorities, Self Care, sin, Spiritual Dryness, Spiritual Health, Spiritual Warfare, Time, Try?

“Got to pray just to make it today”

If prayer is the most powerful thing we can do as human beings, in fact by is an instinctive response, yet why is it something we all struggle to do?

It is said if you want to make your congregation feel guilty “talk about prayer”.

we all know we should do it, but probably none of us does it as much as we should, or even as we would like.

we claim to be too busy, but in reality that is about priorities, we can always make time, but the truth is we don’t always.

-Made more ironic by the fact that when we actually are able to pray, it often feels good, and I often end up asking myself “why don’t I do this more often?”

The illusion of to busy, or too tired, or a distraction there are so many things that just pull us away for a few seconds, and we never get around to doing that important thing of actually praying.

Intending to pray is not actually the same as praying.

Then as I began to think more about prayer, not only is it hard sometimes to do, we need to make the effort, grasp the moment and maybe even do that unfashionable word of self discipline/Spiritual discipline, to challenge ourselves to do that which we know we should.

Yet I wonder too, how often we don’t pray because we are comfortable and the urgency or necessity to pray doesn’t really grab us, we think we’ll be okay and our comfortable western lives often cushion us to forget our dependence on God.

Even theological truths of lost eternity or human compassion don’t always force us to our knees until God has our hearts fully, and paradoxically, if we don’t pray we never give God our hearts or let him have ours.

I think the real reason the Church in the west is failing is actually because Christians aren’t praying. God says “You have not because you ask not”. Jesus talks about us being like “salt”, the idea is to make us thirty for God, and yet too much of the Church seems comfortable and complacent.

I think too, we struggle to pray because of fear and lack of faith, we fear disappointment, we fear getting our hopes raised -even sometimes we fear God answering our prayer. I remember that terrified moment when I felt “wow, God is actually real” as he answers prayer shocks and shakes us from our complacency.

The pain too of seemingly unanswered prayer, when heaven seems to be silent, and times of suffering and confusion can cause us to struggle too, and ask where are you God.

Too often we think that in the Christian life we will always get a charmed life and always have a parking space, where in reality it is tough, confusing and painful.

Often too our own sense of guilt, apathy, sin, pride can all keep us away from God’s loving arms, these times when perhaps it is easier to run away from God is the exact time we need to instead run to him.

For me, one of the best ways to keep me praying has been personal accountability, over the last 20ish years -sometimes more regularly than others- I have had some great guys who I have met up with too pray, and without that companionship on the journey I don’t think I’d have made it this far.

Also, I need to be reminded that prayer works, that God answers, my soul needs to HEAR the stories of peoples encounters with God, or prayers answered and God speaking. we need these stories to spur us on. Yet we also need to TELL those stories too when God meets and speaks to us, answers our prayers, we need to share it too.

So, the challenge for us all is let’s not just talk about prayer, as though it is a good thing to do.

Let us not even intend to do it.

Let us be people that actually pray.

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Encouarge, Endurance, faithfulness, Intentional, inter-dependance, Journey, Life Together, Ministry, Mission, Partnership, presence, Self Care, Spiritual Health, Strength

Running Mates…

Yesterday I met up with my old prayer triplet from college, most weeks we would meet up, and chat and pray for each other and all that’s going on in our lives, and since college we have kept on meeting up (so I guess we’re on our 13th year!).

It is good to share with other people who are running a similar race to you, to remind you that the gospel and the Kingdom is best served lived out and proclaimed faithfully day in and day out alongside real people who don’t yet know Jesus.

we need friends that will encourage and inspire us.

we need people that help us stay focused on Jesus, we need people to help lift us up when we fall, and support us when our confidence gets knocked (and sometimes our confidence gets knocked in him too). we need others to keep us on track.

I have been working in various Churches and Christian organisations now for 20 years, and as I look back God has placed some truly wonderful people around me at various stages of my journey. we need one another. The Christian life can be a lonely one and we need those people to spur us on, to encourage us to keep going, to run the extra mile, to reach for the prize, to not quit but go on for the gold.

we need friends to pick us up too when we fall down, to support us when it is tough.

we also need friends to be honest with us, sometimes (and this needs to be the right people in the right context) be brutally honest.

we need to at times “confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed”, and I know from experience that I find being vulnerable difficult and the acute shame when I’ve messed up is wonderfully relieved when shared with a brother in Christ.

It takes courage to be vulnerable, I remember in Poole I was in a lads prayer group and we’d been meeting for a while, and then one of the guys admitted that he’d been struggling with lustful thoughts, and all of us admitted we did too. Yet none of us had been brave enough to say this, and we were in an accountability group.

Later when I was at college I discovered one of my theological heroes, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who talked about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” and the “fellowship of sinners”, the first the fellowship of the righteous where we all pretend to be fine, sorted and stiff upper lip. whereas the fellowship of the sinners, is being honest about the struggles and the strains of our walk with Jesus.

It is so easy to let one another off the hook and keep everything nice and superficially pleasant, but then we don’t grow in our faith, we get stuck and stagnate, and don’t become all that Christ wants us to be.

It feels scary and risky admitting the things we struggle with, and I can’t guarantee that every Christian grouping will respond well or appropriately when we share, because when we share it challenges them too, and as people we know that going deeper is good for us, but being shallow is less costly and painful.

Yet God rejoices when Christian communities go deeper.

If Churches are not changing lives than why are we opening our doors?

we need to be people that have one another’s backs, and hold one another in prayer “because your enemy, the devil, wanders around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

It is a tragedy that in our individualistic, consumerist and complacent culture that sadly has crept into the Church that we want people to have our backs and pray for us, but are we doing that for someone else.

A great question is “have you got a mentor?” but it should be followed by the question “and who are you mentoring”.

If I ever get to be on an interview panel for a Christian job one of the questions I’d ask is who are you accountable too, how regularly do you see them, and how ruthlessly honest are you?

we are called to bring the best out in one another, but that does mean challenge and sometimes conflict. I love the verse “iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another” but I am reminded that when iron sharpens iron there are often sparks that fly off and it can be perilous.

If someone asks you to pray for them as they go into a tricky situation for them, not only pray for them, but check up and see how they got on, and if they have asked to be accountable then be full of love and grace but seek to bring light and truth into situations.

The problem is all this sounds good in theory, but to put it in place isn’t easy, and then to set the level that actually gets a real and authentic honesty is hard, and also trust takes time to be built up too.

Yet this is what I feel Church ought to look like.

I remember talking about my time working in rehab and seeing how people were so honest with each other, how they were ruthlessly blunt too with their questions and also wonderfully loving and gracious -and saw peoples lives changed and transformed.

Too often I think we think of discipleship as being able to regurgitate Bible verses (and it is good to know scripture) but actually what we want and long to see in our own lives and the lives of our Church family is real, lasting, deep change at the core of our being, that we become healed, restored and shaped into all that God wants us to be. Sounded more spiritual has some benefit but it cannot be at the cost of the true business of the Church which is Kingdom transformation.

we need one another, and they need us. The Africans have a proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, and I think that is true spiritually too, it takes a village to raise a follower of Christ, we need one another to be all that Christ wants us to be.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is how can we be real, honest and vulnerable?

Are we brave and courageous to seek the help and support of others?

People say “I don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian” firstly we don’t go too Church we are the Church, but the truth is that people need us, and we need them, and God has placed other people around us as a gift, a wonderful resource to bless us, and us them.

So, lets gather our running mates, and keep on running together, discovering that running in a team helps make us faster and travel further and more quickly than we could do on our own.

“let us not forsake meeting together, but let us spur one another on towards love and good deeds, ever more as we see that day approaching”.

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cost, Self Care, shepherd

Safety and the Shepherd.

I have been at a safeguarding training day all day, and it made me think a lot about the whole idea of safety, of power, of loyalty and Kingdom.

As I thought of the role of being a pastor, my mind wandered to the word Pastor which can also be translated as shepherd.

I asked myself “what does a shepherd do?”

A shepherd not just tends and cares for the sheep, but also defends his sheep from attack, from predators and wolves.

I think we all wish that real life was like the old Hollywood movies where the good guys and the bad guys were always clearly distinguishable, yet in real life this sadly doesn’t happen.

It made me realise afresh that people who may appear lovely, warm, kind and friendly but may not be what they seem.

I remember on one occasion a former contempory was found guilty of some horrific stuff, every one of us was shocked, no one would have believed it. 

We by nature want to believe the best of people, and yet we also live in a fallen world, we know that people who we know and share our lives with, can behind closed doors lead a very different life.

The Bible calls us to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, we are called to be in the world but not of the world’. 

We need to realise and be aware of the real possible and potential dangers that exist within people we might least expect.

We need to do the right thing, however costly, however painful, however uncomfortable and as shepherds.

For the shepherd doing the right thing could be costly; fighting a lion, bear or wolf, it could cost them the ultimate sacrifice, their life.

The Bible say “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” -Doing the right thing, especially within this context of child protection, is something that may call for us to sacrifice our closest friendships in the cause of justice and safety for the people we serve.

Nelson Mandela says “If you are neutral in issues of justice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor”.

If we fail to act, we may permit great evil, pain and suffering to continue. Reminded of Edmund Burkes quote “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

Sometimes we are presented with just a bit of a hunch, a uneasy feeling, a nagging doubt, often feelings I have tried to brush away as me being judgemental, but I do wonder that sometimes these spiritual hunches could actually be Spiritual Discernment.

Maybe, gently and in love, if you get those nudges share them appropriately and wisely?

Imagine, if we’d had an inkling and then discovered someone had been abused and we might have been able to stop it happening.

I’ve had some occasions when I have gone with my gut instinct and later been so glad that I have, on other occasions (although fortunately never in a child protection context) where I have dismissed my gut reaction and later really regretted it.

As I thought about the call of a shepherd, I thought about my responsibility before God to the sheep, a responsibility to be wise and not fooled, to challenge behaviour even when it is costly -even when it is a person you have come to love-, to fight to be a custodian of a culture where people are not exploited.

Often, we think of abuse as in physical or sexual, forgetting that emotional, financial, psychological are all forms of abuse, people can be exploited in many ways, power can be misused and people can be hurt.

Yet surely this should not be happening within the bride of Christ? 

The Church should be a place where everyone is welcome, but some behaviours are not.

The Church should be a place that shows its love for its members by going that extra mile to try and be as safer community as possible.

I believe safeguarding can be a beautiful act of worship, as protect the child and the vulnerable matches the very heartbeat of God.

God is a God of love and compassion, who cares for all he has made.

God is not blind to exploitation and injustice in any form..

“By this will you know that all people are my disciples that you love one another”; the greatest act of love is to “look out for” to keep them safe and protect them.

We also thought of self-abuse, and I thought about loving one another might been not just protecting them from the predatory, but also protecting them from themselves.

So, some challenges about being a custodian of the culture of our Church communities, ensuring transparency and wisdom in all we do, ensuring all behaviour is beyond reproach, that we are wise in all we do, that concerning behaviour is challenged and not ignored.

So, lets seek to say that everyone matters, let us discover afresh to carry one another’s burdens and to keep ourselves safe from harm. Let us not just rely on one shepherd to do this work, but let us all exercise a pastoral ministry doing our utmost to keep one another safe.

A family who looks out for each other.

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Sabbath / Rest, Self Care, Temptation

Putting on your Oxygen Mask.

I was on a course about a year ago, which talked about athletes, and to get the best from themselves they train, perform and then have ‘intentional recovery’.

In order to go further, faster and better we need to not be constantly flat out, but rather a pattern of Sprint and Recovery to maximize our performance. Corporate language we don’t use much  in Church, or language we don’t use in Church in todays modern culture…  
I am exploring a lot at the moment about new monasticism, thinking about rhythms of life, as long to be the most productive I can for the Kingdom of God and faithfully fulfill my calling as a follower of Christ, a husband, a father, a son, a friend and the privilege of leading God’s people in God’s mission.

Mark spoke a while back about maximum weariness for minimum effectiveness, none of us want to be think this, when Jesus talks about coming to him all who were heavy laden and being refreshed and taking on a different yoke that wasn’t brutal and oppressive this was good news, this was a theology of liberation and freedom, yet we have turned it back to slavery and oppression.

Andy Schuman (wonderful Godly vicar in Stockwood) challenged his congregation to do something intentionally nice for themselves in that coming week…

The reaction was amazing, although it really blessed some people, others felt guilty or they were being self indulgent… I

 Wonder if anyone has ever thought that maybe the command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself could cut both ways?’

When I worked in rehab, people talked of HALT:

Hungry.
Angry.
Lonely.
Tired.
These HALT times are the times most likely to relapse, but too many of us spend this as our default position. (Although interestingly those most likely to ignore this are those who probably need it most, and probably sadly works a bit the other way too).

Maybe we could learn a new way of living, maybe something much more beautiful, blessed and attractive to the world outside…

Lets look at our lives this lent and have the courage to look after ourselves properly so we can in turn be a blessing to those around us.

I’ll end with the picture of the air mask falling from the plane, what is the first thing we are told to do? Secure your own mask first and then help others, to often most of us try helping others without ever paying attention to our own oxygen masks…

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