shopping list prayers

This bloggage continues my short series looking at different ways of praying. It started last week with ‘buffet‘. I was going to call this ‘Christmas List’ but you’ll hopefully see why I have called this ‘shopping list’ instead.


When I was a child I would often look at written shopping lists and mark them as if they were spelling tests. Not only that but I would also write things like ‘Could do better’ or ‘See me!’… I bet my Mum loved it! (Her spelling was not as bad as the list above!).

But it’s difficult to resist the temptation to mark shopping list prayers. Are they self-indulgent or are they outward-focused? Are they based on wants or needs? Are they accompanied by any other sort of prayer or is it all about the list? And so on. I want to try to avoid that. I think God loves any sort of prayer, but we can always do better.

What do I mean by ‘shopping list’ (or Christmas list) prayers? I mean the long lists of things we can bring to God for him to sort out / provide / intervene / change / bless and much more. Because he is a gracious and generous God there is the temptation to treat him as if he is a spiritual vending machine where we if we put in the right amount of praying we will get what we want. Remarkably, because he is so gracious and generous, sometimes he does respond to this sort of praying, but that can have the undesired effect of encouraging us to keep going.

Now hear me loud and hear me clearly. God does want us to bring these things to him. He does get involved in our lives at a micro-level and in the world at a macro-level and he does respond to our praying because he loves to interact with us. We might call it ‘interceding’ for others or ‘relying on God’ and those things are good, important and healthy. Do not stop with the shopping lists because of this bloggage.

But there are a few things we can do to improve our praying.

  1. Be less prescriptive. If I am shopping and my shopping list says ‘Cheese’ I have a wide range of possibilities to choose from. If it says, “X brand Danish Blue cheese” the choice is much more limited. Have we decided before we pray what we want the answer to be? I can remember one of our children going through a shopping catalogue before Christmas and circling the items they wanted. That way we knew exactly what they wanted to receive. Again, hear this correctly: there is nothing wrong with saying to God what outcome we would like. But there is a difference between doing that and prescribing to God the only acceptable outcome. That’s vending machine praying. God wants a dialogue rather than a shopping list, so even if we have a desired outcome, why not ask him what he would like to do? That brings me to the second thing we can do…
  2. Whose will is it anyway? In the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ we are taught to pray ‘Your (Thy) will be done’. That’s a nuanced difference from the shopping list if it has become ‘My will be done’. If we are asking God what he would like to do, we need to be willing and ready to accept that his will may be different to ours. And recognising who God is and who we are may help us to accept that his desired outcome may be different from ours. Which is likely to be best?
  3. Be willing to be changed. This follows from the previous way of improving our shopping lists. Do we pray to try to change God’s mind or to allow him to change ours? I think he rather likes using our prayers as an opportunity for a conversation with us about the issues we are praying about. But a dialogue surely contains within it the possibility of being shaped by the other person, doesn’t it? The amazing thing about praying to God is that sometimes I find that the first outcome is that I am changed even before anything else happens. And even more amazing is that God accommodates himself to my prayers too. I am not sure he always has just one prescriptive answer to every prayer. Sometimes he gives me a range of choices and all of them are good (such as which songs to sing or who to visit). Doesn’t that sound better than a mere shopping list?
  4. Be ready to be a part of the answer. I have found that when I pray with a shopping list I find that it is more often the case that the answer lies with me than I am willing to admit. In the Bible Jesus’ friends came to him when they were confronted with a mahoosive crowd of hungry people. They had a planned solutions to the problem – send the people away and let them find some food in the surrounding villages. Jesus answered: “You give them something to eat…” If I am praying for someone who is upset part of the answer may be for me to go and comfort that person. If I am praying about injustice part of the answer may be for me to campaign against that injustice. If I am praying about someone who is hungry what should I do…
  5. Be open to receiving a new list. If this praying thing is a conversation then isn’t it possible that God will respond by saying, “Well your list is interesting, but have a look at my priorities and see what you think…” My shopping list may have been rather ‘bland’, may have lacked faith or even been selfish. So seeing God’s list of priorities is worth exploring and you can find them writ large across the pages of the Bible.

Let’s not stop shopping, but let’s be open to being more conversational!

Be blessed, be a blessing

so ronery

I miss regular, meaningful human contact. That is one of the down-sides of locking myself away in my study to read, pray and reflect for 3 months. It is one of the reasons why I am really enjoying going off to visit other churches to talk with them about how God has used and blessed them in their mission and ministry.

It reminds me of a shameful episode in my past. When I was a student at the vicar factory that trained me (Spurgeon’s College) I had very long summer breaks. My wonderful wife, Sally, was working in order to keep us afloat financially. My friends and colleagues at College had dispersed around the country. I got lonely.

Our house was just off Beckenham High Street and on a particularly lonely morning I left home in order to stroll around and just be near people. But I wanted more. I wanted human conversation.

There were lots of shops around, but we had very little money, so I hit on the idea of going into the shops and asking the assistants to demonstrate different products. It was great. I found out about the merits of different TVs and video recorders (ask your parents kids); I found out about different sorts of light fittings and dimmer switches; I tried on different items of clothing (male); I think I even got the relative merits of different sports equipment explained to me.

In the end, however, I had to stop. I felt that I had exhausted the plausible reasons for going into different shops. I felt that I knew all it was reasonable for a shopper to know about the different products on offer (especially to those on a tight budget).*

Little did I know that years later God would call me to a church that is located in a town centre, surrounded by shops. Now if I am honest we have not had the best relationship with the surrounding shops. Some of them, I think, get a bit frustrated by the number of cars that come and go on a Sunday morning, nudging their product stands and A-boards outside (there’s no pavement). In the past I think some of them have been a bit put out by the loud activities that have taken place outside our church without warning.

But I have taken my experiences born of loneliness and applied them to the different shops in the immediate area around us. A couple of them are hairdressers, and it’s a bit difficult for me (see photo in ‘about me’) to justify going in there as a customer. But I have tried to start up conversations with any of the shopkeepers I have met. I go around them all at Christmas and give them a card from our church. When we did ‘Get In The Picture’ last year I spoke with those opposite it and asked if they minded and discovered that they loved the idea (as they also like it when the Salvation Army band play on our forecourt) because it attracted people to the area. I have got to know some of them quite well (and have even had some product demonstrations), and use them in preference to other stores when I need something they stock.

I am still acutely conscious that we could do more.

And I know they are not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about neighbours (Good Samaritan and all that) but they are our geographical neighbours and we need to be good neighbours to them. Who are your neighbours? Who is near you today? How can you serve / bless them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

see, buttons and knobs on the front of a telly – and nobody was HD ready!

*There was a bonus to this. Later on, when we had a small amount of money and wanted to buy a colour TV I was able to go back to the electronics store and they remembered me. I bought a 14″ portable TV from them that was an ex-display model for a very good price. It had buttons on the front to push to change channel, and knobs to turn to change the volume, contrast and brightness. (Yes, that’s what we used to have in the olden days).

But I was lazy. I wanted a remote control. I think it was around Christmas because we had some long cardboard tubes that had been surrounded by wrapping paper before we surrounded some presents with the wrapping paper. I had a brainwave and joined two of them together to make a very long tube, and put some tape over the end. Onto that tape I stuck a blob of BluTack (other sticky non sticky stuff is available). This was perfect for being able to sit in a chair or on the settee and reach the TV to push the buttons to change channel, or twist the knobs to change the volume.

Shame it was before the days of Dragons’ Den!

The morning after the concert the night before

Last night’s gig (see yesterday’s bloggage) was an enlightening experience. I was (to my immense surprise) not the oldest person in the mosh pit. My ears are not still ringing. And I did laugh out loud. And I am blogging under the influence of sleep deprivation.

But the most enlightening thing was seeing how Sally responded once Paul Weller had come on stage. (You really do need to read yesterday’s bloggage in order to understand the context). I had forgotten just how enthusiastic a fan she is, and I think those around us were a bit surprised too. She threw off a couple of decades and danced, jumped, waved her hands, sang, screamed and generally threw herself into being a fan at a concert by her favourite singer. You can see some dodgy pictures of the concert taken on my dodgy phone in the slideshow.

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The journey home was interesting too. We came home on a train that left London at about midnight, full of people who had been to Christmas parties and were a bit the worse for wear for drink. A group of lads decided to serenade the whole carriage with a range of out of tune and very loud songs. Those who remained breathed a collective sigh of relief when they got off at Shenfield. And there were a few people around us who got into deep conversations with one another. These were people who were complete strangers to each other, but ended up sharing some deeply personal things.

Reflecting on all of these events I have a few thoughts:

1. Why aren’t we all as overtly exuberantly enthusiastic about Jesus as Sally was about Paul Weller? David was criticised by his wife for dancing in an undignified way in his underwear (the text may be a euphemism for dancing so everyone could see that he was a true scotsman, if you get my meaning). His response: “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6)  I am not suggesting we shed our clothes in church, or even necessarily dance, but perhaps we can shed some of our reserve and concern about what others may think of us and just… worship!

2. How come complete strangers can share deep things with one another and many of God’s people interact superficially with one another – and perhaps too with God? Is it about trust, freedom, or that we don’t love each other as much as we could?

3. Do we annoy our neighbours with the good news of Jesus? I know that sometimes our church events outside can disturb the local shopkeepers. I know that sometimes street preachers and evangelists in the town can upset passers-by. But how about those whom Jesus calls our neighbours – are we too caught up in ourselves to wonder about the impact we are making on them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.



>speaking conversationally

>Sundial 1It’s been a busy day. It’s the first day I was in the church office since the op and it has been fruitful and tiring. I have had some God-inspired conversations with people (where I was in the right place at the right time and had the courage to ask the right question). But I have also not had time (until now) to write anything blogworthy. I did sit down just before 1015 this morning to write something but got interrupted and have not had a chance until now.

The God-inspired conversations and travelling to and from town on the bus got me thinking about how poor I am at small-talk. Some people naturally start up a conversation with everyone they meet. I am more often an observer rather than a participant. 

I struggle to know what to say to people I don’t know. I hate to ask ‘what do you do for a living?’ for four reasons. One is that it is so unoriginal. The second is that I do not define people by what they do. The third is that I realise that some people do a lot that is unpaid or do not have jobs. The fourth is that it may inspire them to ask me what I do and that is often a conversation killer!

Gelly Cartoon balloon 2

So what to ask people? I have been trying to come up with a stock of good questions:

“What things inspire you?”

“What are your hopes and aspirations for the next year?”

“Who are your heroes / heroines?”

“What makes you smile?”

“What is important in your life?”

These seem like good questions, but they also seem a little, well, dry. A little bit ‘Blue Peter’. (Here’s one I prepared earlier). I think better questions may be along the lines of:

“How are you?”

That sort of question is personal (and perhaps not a good ‘opener’) but is also an opportunity for people to share about themselves on their terms.

In a conversation I was having earlier today I remembered that Jesus asked a fantastic question:

“What would you like me to do for you?”

That’s the sort of question that should be on the lips of all his followers. But we need to be ready for some surprising answers!

More questions:

Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?
Have you ever seen a toad on a toadstool?
How can there be self-help “groups”?
How do you get off a nonstop flight?
If a jogger runs at the speed of sound, can he still hear his walkman?
If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are Girl Scout cookies made out of?
If space is a vacuum, who changes the bags?
If swimming is good for your shape, then why do the whales look the way they do?
If tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?
If white wine goes with fish, do white grapes go with sushi?
If you jog backwards, will you gain weight?
Why do they call it ‘chili’ if it’s hot?