do less, be more (continued)

Carrying on from the last bloggage, I am exploring Mark 1:35-39

A summary of what happened is that Jesus seems to have found himself a good place and time. Jesus went off to a place with few distractions where he was unlikely to be interrupted.

He went very early because he knew the rest of the day would be busy. The fact that the disciples mounted a full-scale manhunt for him suggests that they were not used to him doing this, but if you read the gospels there are lots of times when Jesus took himself off to pray. He set aside time and space to talk with his Father. It’s not that he didn’t talk with him through the day, but he knew the value of giving God his full attention.

Sally will tell you that I am not a morning person so getting up very early to pray is not likely to bless me. But I can find other times in the day when I know I have space and can give God my full attention.

When he gave his Father his full attention prayer flowed. We don’t know what he said,but from other prayers he prayed we know he would remind himself who his heavenly Father is, he prayed for guidance, strength, for the state of his relationship with his Father and other people, he would pray that God’s will be done…

That feels like a good model for our praying doesn’t it? And of course it’s actually the model we call the Lord’s prayer.

Are you feeling guilty yet?

It’s really easy for us to look at Jesus, or at other people and their amazing prayer lives and feel like a failure. My prayer life is nothing like what I have just described.

But God wants us to be us, not to be someone else.When it comes to praying we can be really good at beating ourselves up because we don’t think we’re very good at it. Or we wallow in guilt because we don’t pray as much as the preacher says we ought to. Or we resolve on a Sunday that this week we’re going to do better, and have forgotten that resolve by the time we tuck into our Sunday roast at home.

If you come away from today thinking, “I must try harder,” or “I must do better” then I will have failed. Because that’s not the message I am bringing you. You see Jesus didn’t pray out of a sense of duty or obligation. He prayed because it was natural for him to talk with his Father,and because he was full of the Holy Spirit whose role is to enhance our relationship with God. Jesus must have found immense benefit and blessing in praying. If he didn’t he wouldn’t have got up so early to do it. He made time and space to give his Father his full attention.

Recently I have joined a gym. It’s part of my desire to continue my rehabilitation following surgery earlier in the year. When I started at the gym I found most of the exercises were hard and left me feeling exhausted. The next day my muscles ached terribly. But I have been going to the gym twice a week for most weeks since and I have found that the exercises are becoming a bit easier. I can lift a little more weight, walk and row and cycle a bit faster and further. And I find I am even enjoying it.

To compare our prayer life with going to the gym is rather inadequate but the similarity is that while we may struggle at first,the more we pray the easier it gets.

Let me change the image. When I first started going out with Sally we didn’t really know each other very well. We had to get to know how each other thought, we had to understand each other better and in order to do that we had to talk with each other. We have been married for over 29 years now and conversation between us is much easier because we know each other so well. Sometimes we know what the other one is going to say even before they say it.

So it is with God in prayer. The more you talk with him the better you get to know him and the easier the conversation (prayer)flows. And to help you get started I would suggest that you may find it helpful to find a space where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. You may find it helpful to find a time when you have not got lots of other things to do. And when you are in that space, tell God what’s on your mind.

Be honest with him because he already knows it anyway,but by being honest with him you’re being honest with yourself. If you don’t know what to pray, remember the things Jesus prayed about – use the Lord’s Prayer if that helps you. But instead of rattling through it pause and think about each phrase and tell God what images and thoughts it conjures up in your mind. What does it mean that you pray to your Father in heaven? What does it mean to say that his name is holy?

If you struggle to pray on your own, find someone or a couple of people you know and trust and join together on a regular basis to share and pray together. Or you could join a home group. Find support in your local church.

Relationships are deepened and enhanced by spending special time with the other person and giving them your full attention, and that includes our relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

making up for lost time

Gosh, was it nearly a month ago that I last posted a bloggage? That’s not good. I am surprised any of you are still interested! By way of apology I will put some posts up over the next week or so that are based on my reflections on a passage from the Bible on which I have preached recently:

Mark 1:35-38

a relaxing place

Gosh, was it nearly a month ago that I last posted a bloggage?! I am amazed anyone is still interested in what I write, and you must feel really ignored by me. By way of apology / revenge I am planning to post a series over the next week or so based on a recent sermon. It’s all based on Mark 1:35-39:

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’

38 Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ 39 So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

When I was asked to preach on this passage it was with a theme of beating burnout and prioritising prayer. But as I have looked at the passage this week I think I have found the secret to winning at church and life. I think it will shock some of you.

I wonder what you think it might be:
Getting up early, while it’s still dark?
Praying more?
Preaching?
Going outside the walls of the church on evangelistic road trips?
Casting out demons?

Actually I think it’s this: do less, be more.

When we look at Jesus in this passage I think we see that he does less than the disciples thought he should, but was more in touch with his heavenly Father. Do less, be more.

If anyone didn’t need to it was him – he was the Son of God! Yet the gospel writers record many occasions when Jesus was praying, not just this one.

It did him good – recharging spiritual batteries – the day before he had been healing and driving out demons, which was spiritually draining – after praying he was ready to go elsewhere and preach. It maintained his relationship with his Father and Spirit – praying to his Father, empowered by the Spirit.

It made a difference – Jesus had more than enough to do without getting up early, so he must have considered that it made a difference to him and his mission. You might think this is a case where he is doing more, but it’s actually about him being closer to his Father.

So what about it? Am I prepared to do less and be more?

a bath with the plug missing

baby inside white bathtub with water
Photo by Henley Design Studio on Pexels.com

I am like a bath with the plug missing.

Last month (my first month back at work full time) I was busy. Too busy. One of the indicators of how busy I am is how few blog posts I write. That’s a problem because the bloggages are based on my musings and reflections and if I don’t write a bloggage it may well be because I have not had the time and space in my mind to do as much reflecting as I would like.

I am like a bath with the plug missing because I am constantly needing to be refilled and refreshed. If I don’t allow the taps to be running fast enough then I will quickly become drained.

So, this month I have resolved to leave more space in my diary for my brain and soul. It’s all very well being busy: helping people and doing your job, but if there is the possibility of me becoming drained then I am not going to be much help to people and may struggle to do my job.

How about you? How are you refreshed and refilled?

Be blessed, be a blessing

What to do when someone else’s world feels like it is falling apart

bear with me

One of the greatest privileges in life is to be with people in the moments when their world feels like it is falling apart. Simply by you being present reassures people that they are still loved despite what has happened. They don’t need many words or answers to questions. They don’t need flowers or cards. They don’t need much beyond being loved (and perhaps practical things like a cuppa). All of us could do that couldn’t we?

choices

colors palette
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Modern life seems to be defined by choice. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we drop off in the evening we are faced with choices:

Do I get out of bed?

What do I have for breakfast?

What do I wear today?

And so on. It seems to me that the more we are trying to make life ‘better’ for ourselves the more choices we have. For example:

When I was growing up you could count the number of available television channels on the fingers of one hand and still have one left to stick in your ear. Today you run out of digits on the first screen of choices as you scroll through the TV guide. And we have to decide which sort of mobile phone we will have – are we android or apple (or are we going to subvert the system by going for something more obscure?)? And then we have to choose the apps we want. And we have to choose passwords… so many passwords! And on your computer what web browser are you going to choose?

I don’t have to keep listing them, you know what I am talking about. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Dumbledore seeks to reassure Harry that he is not the same as Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort): “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And he is right. We are defined and shaped by the choices we make. How others see us will be in the light of those choices as well as through the lens of the choices they have made.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t realise that we have made a choice. ‘Default settings’ that almost every appliance and gadget and piece of equipment come with are necessary as a starting point for users unless they are to boot them up from scratch, but if we blindly accept them (a choice) we find that someone else has decided what our user experience will be.

And sometimes we make a choice by not choosing anything. If you choose not to vote in an election you are choosing not to participate in the democratic process and must accept that your views are not part of the final outcome. Your choice is to accept that others will decide for you.

There are occasions, of course, when we don’t know that we have made a choice, or we make it unthinkingly. How many times have you accepted the terms and conditions of a website, an app, or a computer program without reading them fully? Of course you have. Nobody has the time to read them all from start to finish. You assume that they are benevolent and innocent.

And I have a feeling that most people have an automatic reaction to thinking about God. Instinctively we click ‘ignore’ because we don’t think we have time for him, or we don’t want believing in him to disrupt our life, or we don’t like the version of God that we have been presented with, or it all seems far too difficult and complex to consider… or… or…

I believe that many people have not given him any more thought than they have the terms and conditions of the latest app they have installed on their phone and have instinctively decided that they don’t want to. Until they are faced with more significant moments in their life when they feel out of their depth and want the comfort of praying to someone or the reassurance of the possibility of divine intervention on their behalf. Or until they meet someone whose relationship with God seems so different to their assumptions about him that they are intrigued and want to know more. Or until someone they know and trust starts to talk about God. Or even until they read some random bloggage on an even more random site…

So have you adopted a ‘default’ setting when it comes to God? Jesus tried to make it really simple for us to make a choice: “Follow me.”

If you are a follower of Jesus is it obvious (in a good way) to people around you?

 

why God is more generous than a crisp* manufacturer.

I like receiving parcels in the post. Usually it will be items that I have ordered online, but occasionally there’s a surprise and that’s the best…

A while ago I had lunch in a well-known coffee-retailing emporium. I chose to have a sandwich and crisps (*’chips’ for my North American bloggists) along with my cup of coffee. I started eating the crisps and thought that the taste was a bit strong, but I persisted because they were not a brand I often buy and I thought that they may have changed the flavour since the last time I bought them.

But as I delved deeper into the bag the flavour got stronger and stronger. By the time I had got most of the way through the bag of crisps it had become unpalatable and I noticed that I could not see much potato through the herbs that were piled on them. I emptied the bag onto my plate and there was a massive mound of herbs. There was quite a long queue at the counter so I didn’t want to go back and complain, so instead I took a couple of photos and sent them to the customer service email address on the bag.

The next day I had a very polite and apologetic email from the company thanking me for alerting them to the problem and explaining that by sending them a photo of their packing codes they had been able to highlight the issue and take steps to resolve it. In order to try to win my allegiance back they also offered to send me some samples of their flavours, and I was happy to receive them.

Last Saturday I came home to find a card from the postal service saying that they had tried to deliver a parcel but nobody was home. I could collect it from the post office on Monday. I was intrigued because I was not expecting anything and had not ordered anything. On Monday I attempted to collect it, but the office had closed by the time I got there so I was unable to do so and the intrigue and expectation was heightened. Today I was able to go to the office in time and this is what I received:

IMG_0293.JPG

It was in a sealed box, but you can see how generous the company has been. In fact you can’t because several large bags are hidden under the pile! I was impressed, and my allegiance may have been won (as long as I like the flavours).

It got me thinking about whether this has some parallels for churches. We believe so much in our ‘product’ (Jesus) but I wonder whether for many people their experience of church has been poor in the past and they have drifted away or stormed off. Others simply don’t think we have anything they’d want. But what if we were as lavishly generous as this company? What might that look like?

And while you’re contemplating that (if you are) let me remind you that God is far more lavishly generous than the most lavishly generous crisp company on the planet. You want proof?

He’s created this incredible planet and doesn’t charge us rent to live here.

He has provided an ecosystem that is perfect to sustain life and give us all we need to survive (subject to human greed causing it and making it worse and human-caused climate change).

The resources contained within the planet are more than enough for our needs (subject to human exploitation and pollution).

He has created us amazingly. And he has created us with the capacity for communication between us, meaning that we need not be alone (something he has been keen to avoid since day 1 (or if you prefer day 7).

He has created us with the intention of being in close relationship with him, and has given us the choice whether or not to accept that. He intends that the relationship lasts beyond our linear timeline.

He has repaired the damage caused by our rejection of him at great personal cost (see Easter).

He offers to fill us with his Spirit so that we can experience life more like he intended it and be gently transformed to be more fully human in relationship with him and others.

And that’s just for starters.

So how are you doing in your thinking about how churches can reflect God’s extravagant generosity?

How can we be more generous with our time, with our listening, with ensuring that all are welcome and included, with our grace, with our joy, with our encouragement, with giving dignity… ? Did you notice that none of these things cost a penny? That means anyone can do them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

making waves

PositureWaving is a funny thing if you think about it. Why do we choose to flap our hands around in order to signal something? And it can mean many different things.

A wave can mean ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. It can say, “I’m over here”. It can be a call for help. When the Queen does her wrist rotation I think it is saying, “One is grateful that you have come out to see one.” We have Mexican Waves at sporting events, which I think either means ‘We’re really bored’ or ‘We’re really enjoying ourselves’. And deaf people applaud by waving their hands.

Of course it’s really important to know what sort of wave is happening to you in order to respond appropriately. I was recently on a boat with a friend and as we passed other boats there were gentle waves that acknowledged that we too were on a boat. But as we were approaching our mooring we saw a couple of people clinging to an upturned sailing dinghy who were waving frantically at us to attract our attention and get some help because they were being taken out to sea on the tide. If we had simply waved back in acknowledgement it would not have been good (we tried to help for a while but then the lifeboat arrived so we left it to the professionals).

In just over a week’s time I am going to be speaking in a church for their Harvest Festival and I have decided to focus on waving. Why? One of the ways in which people in Biblical days celebrated harvest was by waving some of the produce that they had gathered. People would bring the items with them to a celebration and then at a given moment would all wave them in the air. I have come across different explanations for what they were doing (and how they waved them) but in short it seems to me that they were waving them in acknowledgement that God had once again provided for them, that he was faithful in the reliable rotation of the seasons he had programmed into our annual journey around the sun, and to express gratitude to him for all that they had received. Doing it on your own would not feel very impressive, but imagine being in a big crowd where everyone was waving a sheaf of corn, for example. It would be a spectacular reminder of just how many people were feeling blessed and grateful.

Few of us nowadays harvest our own crops but harvest festivals persist as reminders that we should be grateful to God for our planet and the way in which it provides nourishment for us. And we can be grateful too for those who do grow and harvest on our behalf, and even for those who transport them and who sell them to us. It’s a moment when our attitude of gratitude gets a boost and we are reminded to be grateful 24/7.

So what would you take to a Harvest festival to wave in order to show gratitude to God?

Be blessed, be a blessing