Category Archives: Prayer

Prayer Blog – November 2016 (01)

 

happy-friendship-day-background_Gy_IRhOd_L.jpg

Soul Friends

 

It has long been an  accepted tenet of the Christian faith that to be called into communion with Jesus Christ is to be called into communion, or relationship, with other Christians. Yet, according to Steve Aisthorpe in his book, The Invisible Church: Learning from the experience of Churchless Christians[1], there is an increasing number of Christians who, profess faith in Jesus but, for one reason or another, have turned their back on traditional church.

 

It is easy to critique this current situation in a very negative way but Aisthorpe cites many examples of people who have, far from might be expected, found themselves closer in that communion to Christ than they had when church attenders. Some have found the fellowship they required in house groups and other diverse ways such as the internet: listening to a sermon online or on the TV e.g. One person described themselves as a long distance parisioner of the world wide web. Here they could find Anam Cara, a soul friend, according to the Celtic tradition, one they could develop a relationship of spiritual nurture with even if at a distance.[2]

 

And yet Brian Draper laments the fact that people seem to depend more on the distance of internet relationships to find their soul friends.

 

Life is busy…but there is far more to life beneath the surface than our ‘status updates’ , as we all know, and while not everyone we meet will be destined to be a soul friend, nevertheless, we can find soulful ways to connect more fully with anyone…we encounter…in everyday life.[3]

 

Soul friend, anam cara, according to John O’ Donohue, in the original Gaelic meaning of this phrase, is ‘someone to whom you could make confession, and with whom you could share the hidden intimacies and secrets of your lives’.

 

In the bible we may find anam cara relationships e.g. between David and Jonathon or the beloved disciple leaning on Jesus breast. And, I guess that, ultimaltely, this is the relationship which we all desire. That which Donahue describes as God, our anam cara, our soul friend who we can confess to and who sticks to us, closer than a brother and at the deepest and most sacred point of our being, this relationship is possible.[4] Is it no wonder then that God’s desire is that we not only know this relationship with him, but also share it with one another.

 

That friends, is the church, the Body of Christ. However we perceive it or practice It, visible or invisible. It is our relationship with God, in Christ, our soul friend, and with one another. Anam cara!
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At Peace with God & with one another

 

Great peace have they who love your law;

 

Nothing offends them.

 

Lord, do I love your way?

 

Is it great peace that I experience?

 

Or just medium sized peace?

 

Am I easily offended? Easily tripped up? Easily stumbled?

 

Give me the peace that never returns evil for evil.

 

Peace and comfort can be found nowhere except in simple obedience to you.

 

Amen
(Francois Fenelon)

 


[1] Steve Aisthorpe, The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experience of Churchless Christians, (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 2016)

[2] Aisthorpe, The Invisible Church, 43-44

[3] Brian Draper, Soulfulness: Deepening the Mindful Life, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), 113-114

[4] John O’ Donahue, in The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experience of Churchless Christians, (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 2016), 114

 

Prayer Blog October 2016 – 02

autumn leafs with hoar frost

Peace Within Paradox

We tend to like things that are clearly defined, especially in our modern technological world where most things can be proven or disproven. However, there are many situations in life where things co-exist and, much as we would like it to be different, sometimes we don’t fully understand. Take for instance, life and death. Much as we enjoy living life to the full, we can never totally blank out the fact that death is never too far away. Even a good meal, which is enjoyable, may have involved the life of some animal being taken for our nourishment and enjoyment. Apologies if you are about to sit down to your dinner.

Earlier today I lingered a moment to admire the rusty red colours of the leaves of a tree. All around us these autumn colours put on a dazzling display in the October sunshine. Sometimes, if we are up early enough, they can be enhanced by a sharp white frost. Quaker author Parker J. Palmer writes about being at peace within paradox by using the example of autumn:

It’s a season of beauty but also of decay. We like the vivid display of colourful leaves but we fear the sense of loss that piles up with each one that falls. We like the fruitfulness of berries and ripe apples but we fear the mulch of mud and leaves underfoot that reminds us of where we must physically return in the end. The themes of autumn…speak to us year after year of the cycle of life and death. We like the idea of life, and we do not like the idea of death. No wonder, then, that we have mixed feelings about autumn![1]

In his book, ‘Soulfulness’, Brian Draper enlarges upon Palmer’s words by saying that a life without autumn, even with all that it entails, would be a life without colour. Whether we like it or not we live in a world of living and dying, dying and living.[2] It is all part of life’s rich tapestry. As an old poem says:

‘Not ‘til the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly, shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why. The dark threads are just as needful, in the weaver’s skilful hand. As the threads of gold and silver. In the pattern, he has planned.’[3]

All of this is not to say that living at peace within the paradox of life and death, as demonstrated through autumn, is a kind of spiritual state of mere acceptance without struggle. Draper makes the point that some of the most spiritual people he has known have walked with a limp. They have been wounded along the way. But, somehow have managed to live through their pain and sorrow with an assurance that they are part of something bigger than them.

Such people have found the painter of the autumn leaves. The potter of life from clay. The author and finisher of our faith who, paradoxically, has walked this way himself. Could he have changed the script, altered the canvas, reshaped the pot, perhaps? One day we will know. But for now we can live in the present with the reassurance that we are part of God’s great plan. With the knowledge that, Autumn turns to Winter, Winter to Spring and Spring to Summer!
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1 Corinthians Chapter 15 – The Message- by Eugene Peterson

47 The First Man was made out of earth, and people since then are earthy; the Second Man was made out of heaven, and people now can be heavenly. In the same way that we’ve worked from our earthy origins, let’s embrace our heavenly ends…

53 In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!

The Weaver
by B. M. Franklin
My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the under side.

Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

The dark threads are as needful
In the skillful Weaver’s Hand
As the golden threads of silver
He has patterned in His Plan.

[1]Parker J. Palmer, in, Brian Draper, Soulfulness: Deepening the Mindful Life, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), 177-178

[2] Draper, Soulfulness, 178-179

[3] The Weaver, by B.M. Franklin: http://www.ellenbailey.com/poems/ellen_146.htm

Prayer Blog – October 2016 (01)

add-time-2_zkxpu88u_lTime Out is Time in

We often use the phrase ‘time out’. We use it in different contexts. I am always amused that in some sports such as rugby or hockey a player can be sent to the sin bin. Usually this is to cool off after they have committed a foul which, in sports such as football, would see them banned for several games. However, just a few moments out can allow the player to come back in and having cooled off engage in the play again.

I guess we recognise that we need to take time out now and again. Ministers are well advised to take time out in order to avoid the risk of burnout. This applies to other stressful walks of life of course and there are not may that are not stressful these days.

According to Brian Draper, in his book ‘Soulfulness’, taking time out is an opportunity to practise time in, with God.[1] We cannot always have the luxury of taking long periods of time out, such as holidays or sabbaticals. But think about the times when we could spend short periods of time, in each day, contemplating and practising the presence of God.

Draper recommends daily ‘ring fencing’ some time for ourselves in which we ‘time out’ in order to ‘time in’. What about the commute to work and back on the bus or train, waiting at the traffic lights or in the queue at the shops? I often used to think; what could I do during the 3 minutes that it takes to boil the kettle in the morning? Perhaps I could brush my teeth of prepare my cereal to save some time. But these short every day, autopilot chores can be turned into opportunities to quieten the mind and spend time in, the presence of God.

There are many ways to do this such as meditating, centring prayer, mindfulness etc., but the important thing is that, just for those few moments, we focus on the present. Our minds have a natural potencity to keep looping back. That angry exchange that we thought we had gotten over, that snidey comment which we thought we had forgiven, whatever it is, things have a habit of coming back to our minds and before we know it we can’t seem to focus on anything else. Or perhaps it’s not the past but the future. Our minds race ahead, worrying about the things we have to do, as if there were no tomorrow.

According to Draper, the opposite to mindfulness, is mindlessness. So it is good to spend some time focussing on the present, i.e. the presence of God in the present moment of time. That way we can be mindful of his presence and be calmed in it as we step out, having taken ‘time out’ with ‘time in’. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:8-9…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you[2].

And…Practice makes perfect!

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Mindful Prayers

 Prayer for Loving Kindness (think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you)

May I be well,

May I be happy,

May I be peaceful,

May I be loved.

Pray repeatedly imagining loving kindness flowing from us to those around us. It can be on a bus, a train, walking down a busy street, wherever, gradually reaching a point of praying:

May you be well,

May you be happy,

May you be peaceful,

May you be loved.

 Towards the end of a day: (think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you)

  • Pause to be still and be aware of God’s presence.
  • Pay attention to the emotions that you experienced throughout that day.
  • Choose one feature of the day and pray about it.
  • Look forward to tomorrow.

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[1] Brian Draper, Soulfulness: Deepening the Mindful Life, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), 35-37

[2] N.I. V. Pradis CD-ROM:Phil 4:6. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.

Prayer Blog – July 2016, 01

Abstract japanese newspaper's lettersWords and language is a fascinating subject. According to author Bill Bryson, the most complicated languages, using far more words and made up of many more characters than western language, are Chinese and Japanese. Due to the way that our languages evolved, differently, Chinese script possesses 50,000 characters making Chinese typewriters enormous and they can only manage a fraction of the characters available. ‘If a standard Western typewriter keyboard were expanded to take in every Chinese ideograph it would be about fifteen feet long and five feet wide – about the size of two ping-pong tables pushed together’. So, much reason to be thankful for plain English![1]

But despite the fact that we humans have this God given gift of communication, through words and language, we don’t always use it to full potential. How often do we hear words used to divide, to incite violence, to do harm and so on, rather than to build up, encourage and unite.

In the Epistle of James we read how the tongue can be so dangerous. How it can use a few little words, like a spark, to fan a great forest fire. And James also says,Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.’ And yet, it happens. The old adage says ‘sticks and stones can break your  bones but names will never harm you’. Our parents taught us this to encourage us to toughen up and not overly react to name calling. Indeed it is more dangerous if someone physically assaults us but it usually starts with words. So, it is important that we heed James’s warnings and be careful in our choice of words, particularly when we are angry.

During the time that I have been a minister I have resided over a number of funerals. It is always a privilege to do this as people are in a place where they need someone to help them through the funeral service and in the days after. To stand with them. To choose soothing and comforting words is an important element of any funeral service, as it is to find words which best express, in thankfulness, the life of the person who is being mourned.

Yet, sometimes this is made difficult by the fact that families can be divided. Uncle Jimmy never spoke to so and so. I cannot sit on the same row as my sister, brother, parent etc. because of something which happened in life. Of course there are always two sides to a story. Or, as someone once said, there can be two sides to a story and then there is the truth. Well, the truth is that; once a person has died opportunities for reconciliation, showing forgiveness, apology etc. has died with them. And that is sad.

Perhaps then the words that are most dangerous, in this respect, are the words that are never spoken. Such as, I am sorry, please forgive me, let’s forget it or I love you etc. They don’t have to be these exact words and we may not have as many words as the Chinese at our disposal. However, in a world in much need of comfort and encouragement at this time; there are plenty to choose from. So let’s choose them wisely!
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Song of Solomon 2:8-12

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
Leaping upon the mountains,
Bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
Behind our wall, gazing in at our windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
Arise, my love, my fair one,
And come away;
for now the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

A Reflection (From Celtic Daily Prayer)

A certain brother went to Abbot Moses in Scete, and asked him for a good word. And the elder said to him:

Go, and sit in your cell
and your cell will teach you everything.[2]
_
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[1] Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue: The English Language (London: Penguin Books, 1990) , 108-110

[2] Celtic Daily Prayers: Inspirational Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community (London: Harper Collins, 2005)

Prayer Blog – June 2016 – 01

image

God is in the Restoration Business

It may come as a surprise but I do not intend to say much about the EU Referendum result in this blog. I figured you will have heard quite enough this week, and I will say something in tomorrow’s sermon, so I have been reflecting on how we feeble humans appear in the big scheme of thing, of which our big issues are actually quite small. After all, if it were not for God none of us would be here at all. I think that is often forgotten amidst all that we say and do, important as our political decisions are.

This past week I have been away in Stirling attending a series of ministerial workshops. The workshops were very good but I gave my brain a rest and took a trip through to Glasgow on Wednesday afternoon and evening, partly to visit some people and partly to spend time in the West End of Glasgow where I stayed during my first year of study at the Scottish Baptist College.

I like this part of Glasgow so I visited some old haunts including Otago Lane, off Great Western Road. Last time I was there, a couple of years ago, there was a campaign going to ‘Save Otago Lane’. No sign of that this time so I am assuming it must have been ‘saved’. Actually, I am glad of that because it has a second hand bookshop with a great theology section. Now don’t get me wrong. This bookshop, as with the rest of the lane, would not win prizes for architecture, tidiness or anything else for that matter but what I like is the fact that you can find some amazing books, which someone else has finished with, for very reasonable prices and bring them back into circulation again. In terms of their appearance they may not be as good as new but they are restored to usefulness. The same can be said of the second hand record shop and other outlets in that lane. It may be in need of restoration itself but Otago Lane is doing a great job at restoring otherwise useless items to usefulness.

It kind of reminds me of how God works with us. One of the workshops I attended was to raise awareness of people’s mental health and the effects of mental illness. Such people are often written off by society and particularly by their work places, at times. Yet they, as we all can, be restored to usefulness with the right help. That is often the work of medical people but God helps us too. In fact I would say that he never writes us off. Like the dusty old books we may become a bit tattered and worn out but he can always use us. We are never useless in his eyes.

I am reminded of the words of an old song and particularly the first verse which says:

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me His praise should sing

Praise him! Praise him!
Praise the everlasting King.

We normally think of salvation when we sing these words and that is appropriate. However, whenever in life we find ourselves worn out, we can find healing, restoration and forgiveness in the King of Heaven. A short visit to Otago lane and my wallet is £20 lighter and my bag is 14 books heavier. But the books will be useful and are appreciated for their inner content over their outward appearance. In God’s eyes, so are you!

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Praise my Soul the King of Heaven
(By Henry Francis Lyte, based on Psalm 103)

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me His praise should sing
Praise him ! Praise him!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise Him for His grace and favour
To our fathers in distress.
Praise Him still the same for ever,
Slow to chide, and swift to bless
Praise him ! Praise him!
Glorious in His faithfulness.

Father-like He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Praise him ! Praise him !
Widely as His mercy flows

Angels, help us to adore him
Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him,
Dwellers all in time and space
Praise him ! Praise him !
Praise with us the God of grace.

There is a fifth stanza to the poem, not often seen, inserted between the third and fourth stanzas above:

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone;
But while mortals rise and perish
God endures unchanging on,
Praise Him, praise Him,
Praise Him, praise Him,
Praise the High Eternal One!

 

Prayer Blog – May 03

woodpecker 02 cropped

Seeing God

I had heard him, I had seen him at a distance until finally, I saw him close enough to get a picture. That is the woodpecker which I posted a picture of on Facebook the other day.

When we first moved into our house at the edge of the woods in Dingwall we would hear the drumming sound of the woodpeckers high up in the trees. I believe they make this noise as they hammer at the trees to release insects from them for food. Very clever and very well designed for the task being equipped with a skull hard enough to absorb the blows, equivalent of a pile driver. Then one day we saw a pair of them, again high in the trees, but the glimpse was enough to see their beauty and to create a desire to see them a bit closer. Until, finally, one landed on a feeder in our garden and now returns daily for a share of the peanuts.

I don’t know what it is but, when things like this happen, some of us are determined to get a picture of the bird or animal for ourselves. Of course there are plenty of pictures of woodpeckers in books or on the internet. Most are far better than mine due to the superior camera equipment which more professional photographers tend to invest in. But this is my picture. I am pleased with it because I took it and it gives me some personal satisfaction.

I wonder how we picture God? Perhaps, we heard of him first. We knew plenty of people who had experienced this God. Who made much talk of him and even went to church and worshipped him for themselves. They would say that they had heard God. Maybe then we want to get a closer glimpse. Just enough to satisfy our curiosity. But having done that the beauty of God seems to compel us to want more. To have our own picture, our experience, of what he is like in all of his splendour and glory!

But, some may ask, how can you see God? Are you not just projecting something of your imagination onto that which you believe is God? A valid point but, for many people; God is the one who, having revealed something of his nature, draws them to him.

According to Kenneth Boa, there are several ways that we can say that we see God, including:

God’s World, His Word, His Works, and His Ways[1]

In his world he is revealed in the beauty of creation. In his Word he speaks of his laws and enlightens us of his being, in His Works he redeems, protects and provides. And His Ways are loving and compassionate desiring that none should perish but that all should come to him. (John3:16-17)

Boa goes on to say that our capacity to love God is related to our image of God. So, someone else’s picture may reveal just enough for us to want our own image of God. An image which is true and focussed on his world, his word, his works and his ways will reveal his beauty and we may gaze on it always for it has been revealed to us, personally, by his love as revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

God’s Worthship (William Temple)

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of the imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – and of all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy of that self-centerdness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

 

Psalm 19

(For the director of music. A psalm of David.)

Ps 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Ps 19:2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

Ps 19:3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Ps 19:4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, Ps 19:5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. Ps 19:6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Ps 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

Ps 19:8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Ps 19:9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Ps 19:10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. Ps 19:11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Ps 19:12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

Ps 19:13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

Ps 19:14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
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[1] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical an Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 154-163