the inner toddler

I like to think of myself as being fairly laid back. Most of the time I am able to reflect calmly and intelligently on events and then respond appropriately (possibly). But I know that when I am tired I get grumpy more easily and little things that would not bother me normally now irritate me intensely.

Normally if my phone is not working properly I calmly resolve the problem (by turning it off and on again). But if I am tired and ratty all of a sudden the problem becomes much more difficult to resolve. I repeat the same process on the phone, somehow expecting that doing the same thing will bring a different result (d’oh!!).

One of the problems with this is that I know that I am acting irrationally and that I have moved up the grumpy index but I can’t stop myself. It’s almost as if I have to get to the full toddler strop before I can calm down and revert to adult again. My wife knows me well enough that she can tell me that I am being silly and to calm down, and sometimes that works, but the more tired I am the harder it is to stop.

grumpy index

In order to prevent the world being full of stroppy adult toddlers and prevent global catastrophes from happening on the whim of someone who’s not over-tired God has built in to us a rhythm of life that includes sleep and recreation. We tamper with or ignore these at our peril. It’s not a sign of superhuman-ness to exist on a couple of hours sleep a night. It’s not a commendable trait to work 24/7 and never take any time to rest, relax and be refreshed. The inevitable outcome is that you will end up behaving like a toddler – selfish, prone to irrational outbursts, ignoring the effect you have on others and demanding attention.

So how do we reverse the climb up the grumpy index? Build in regular relaxation, find things that make you laugh, find people who energise you and whose company you enjoy, maybe even take yourself off to the naughty step to calm down a bit… and as you realise that the inner toddler has taken control ask your heavenly Father to calm you down and renew his Spirit’s presence in you.

Be blessed, be a blessing


the recharging unit in place

recharging in my old study

One of my weekly tasks is to re-charge. Literally. I have an implant inside me that sends electrical signals into my brain which is stopping a chronic migraine that I had for ten years before the wonderful gadget (it’s called an Occipital Nerve Stimulator) was fitted.

The first one I had was powered by a battery that had a finite life. Once it had died they had to replace it (which involved another operation). This time around they have fitted one with a rechargeable battery. But because of the nature of the electronics in the gadget if the battery completely discharges it might not be able to be restarted. A second such occurrence means that it’s unlikely that it can be restarted. A third such occurrence would almost certainly mean the end of the gadget’s life and surgery to replace it.

So I am very careful to make sure that I recharge at least once a week. That means that I don’t allow the battery to go down any lower than 25% charged and usually it is 50%, meaning that there is no risk of the battery discharging completely.

But with the busyness of the past week – moving house and recovering from surgery and so on – I had forgotten to recharge this week and when, this morning, I remembered and checked to see how I was doing I was down to below 25%. Eek!

Cue recharging (currently (pun intended) at 75% and counting).

We all know that our bodies and minds need rest and re-creation in order to function well. Days off are important and while we may feel virtuous by working through them in fact we are short-changing the people for whom we are working and the One for whom our work is an act of worship, as well as ourselves.

And spiritual recharging is just as important. Someone I know used daily Bible reading notes Every Day With Jesus but commented that they were often at best Every Other Day With Jesus. I know that I am able to follow Jesus more closely when I am in regular contact with him – in prayer, in reading my Bible, in seeking to listen to him and look for him, in worship and work. We all recharge spiritually in slightly different ways – some are recharged by nature, some by singing, some in prayer, some in reading the Bible, some in silence, some in encounters with others, most of us by a combination of lots of these things. But I know that I feel spiritually empty when I neglect them. In what ways do you find it easiest to recharge? Focus on them. Practise them and practice others.

Don’t leave your spiritual recharge to a once-a-week visit to church (or once a year if you are a regular attender at the Carol Service), it is not sufficient (and then we wonder why we don’t feel close to Jesus or are spiritually arid). And if we frequently allow our spiritual batteries to drain completely don’t be surprised if it’s more difficult to recharge again.

Be blessed, be a blessing

in the shadows

SONY DSCOn Sunday I had a mini retreat. Members of our church were leading the services and it gave me the opportunity to have some time just with me and Jesus. It was a bit unorthodox. My plan was to drive out of Colchester and find somewhere quiet to sit, read, contemplate and pray. But everywhere I went there were people. It was a lovely sunny day and the roads were full of cyclists, Sunday drivers and people who had blown the cobwebs off their convertible cars. The places where I thought I would stop were already occupied.

So in the end I spent some of the day just driving, appreciating God’s countryside, and thinking. Eventually I found myself overseas. Well, on Mersea Island anyway. I found a quietish car park and settled down to read and pray. I started to read some of the sermons that Charles H Spurgeon had preached around the Communion table (the book is called ‘Till He Come’).

The second one I read was called ‘Under His shadow’ and was based on Psalm 91:1. In the King James Version that Spurgeon used it reads as:

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

The new New International Version translates the same verse as:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

I found myself captivated by that, and Spurgeon’s reflections on that one verse were uplifting, inspiring, encouraging and challenging. I won’t rehearse them all here because I am still contemplating them for myself, but think for a moment about what the Psalmist wrote.

What does ‘the shelter (or secret place) of the Most High’ mean?

What does it mean to abide (rest) in the shadow of the Almighty?

There’s so much in these words but surely as a minimum they indicate a close proximity to God. You can’t be in his shadow if you are a long way away. You can’t be sheltered by him if you are distant from him.

If you are in need of rest or shelter I suggest the first thing to do is start with drawing closer to God. And a good place to start is where I started – take yourself off and spend some time with Jesus. He’s waiting for you…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Because you’re worth it

No, I haven’t got a corporate sponsor. Today I’m taking time off because I worked some of my last day off and will be working some of my next day off too. A principle that has been laid down from early days is that it is good to rest as well as to work.

Regardless of what you think of Genesis 1, you can’t ignore that our Creator took a day off. It’s a need that he’s hardwired into humans – we need to take time out. Scientists and engineers have been unable to create perpetual motion and that doesn’t exist in us either. 

It’s not slacking or lazy. It’s essential that we enjoy rest and recreation so that we are refreshed and re-created. It’s worth taking for our well-being – not self-indulgent but sensible. And as a Minister I need to take my time off for the benefit of those I serve so I am re-created to serve – they’re worth it.

And we could do a lot worse than be inspired by Nicholas Allan’s lovely children’s book ‘Jesus’ Day Off’.


Be blessed, be a blessing.


Hellooo! I am back from my retreat last week. It was a lovely relaxing, refreshing time in many ways – spiritually and physically. I thoroughly recommend it.

A couple of highlights:

The retreat was specifically for Ministers / Clergy. At the start we were told that there was a strict ‘no shop talk’ rule. That meant we were not to talk about our churches, our ministries, theology or anything else church-related.

At first that sounded a bit heavy. After all, we were all clergy peeps. But I found it liberating. We were forced to talk to each other about aspects of our lives that had nothing to do with our work. We were not defined by what we do, we were able to be normal human beings for a while.

As I reflected on that I wondered what would happen if we introduced a similar rule at our church for a day. Perhaps we should do that at our next church holiday! How about at the next party you attend – ‘no talk about your work’ would make the conversations a bit more wide-ranging. How about putting it into our daily routines – making ‘what do you do?’ the last question we would ask someone instead of the first, so we get to know people as individuals rather than defining them by their employment status.

The second aspect of the retreat that I wish to mention is the countryside. I am a Devon lad. I am quite patriotic about the county in which I was born and raised. I can trace my family back many generations in Devon. The retreat centre is set in the middle of beautiful countryside and I was blessed by the opportunity to explore it a bit on my own and on guided walks (even though on one of them we walked up and down the same lane 3 times before we got it right).

There is something so peaceful and relaxing about rural Devon. The rolling hills just keep going into the distance like waves on the sea. There is a wonderful expanse of green, divided up by tall hedges and crossed by a network of lanes that connect the farms and villages in an almost maze-like quality. Everything slows down. Including you. The pictures here are from a couple of my walks and I would encourage you to stop and look at them. Breathe gently, hear the rural sounds, the chirping of birds, the rush of the water and feel the gentle breeze on your face. Enjoy the countryside, allow yourself to smile.

Relaxing is good for us. It’s why God designed a day off into the routine of life. Who are we to think we know better?

And the third aspect of the retreat? I was impressed by the gentle service of the community that hosted us. They were kindness personified. They were great free samples of Jesus.

I think that there are several reasons for this: perhaps most significant is their commitment to a daily routine of prayer and worship. You can better imitate someone if you actively spend time with them on a regular basis. What’s your routine?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man left the courtroom in a wheelchair, with a cheque for £1million from the insurance company. The insurance company still suspected fraud and their detective followed the man down the street.

“You won’t get away with this,” he said.”I’ll be following you and watching you for the rest of your life.”

“No worries,” the man replied.” You can watch all you like. You can follow me on my holiday to France. You can follow me to Lourdes. You can watch someone pray for me. And you can watch a miracle take place.”

blog-style answering machine message

Hello, dear bloggist.

I am retreating at the moment: in a land far, far away where there’s a poor phone signal and probably no broadband. So the blogging is taking a sabbatical this week.

Please feel free to inspect the extensive archive of bloggerel, or even sample some of my pomes. For any who struggle to go ‘cold turkey’ from freshly grown bloggerel I have scheduled a pre-recorded bloggage for the middle of the week (you have been warned).

I look forward to receiving your mouse clicks again next week…

be blessed, be a blessing

run away, run away!

This will probably be the last bloggage… for a week.

(I can hear a strange noise all of a sudden. It sounds like cheering)

The Sheldon Centre, where I will be retreating

This weekend I am heading down to Devon for a week’s retreat* at the Society of Mary and Martha. It’s a retreat designed for Ministers and is called a ‘12,000 mile service’. The website says that “Guests are free to choose their own pace and activities as the week unfolds. A chance to recharge batteries, take out dents in the bodywork or test the brakes, perhaps?”

I would rather not have any comments about dents in my bodywork, please, and I will be going into hospital in Mid November to get a rechargeable battery fitted, so perhaps what I need to concentrate on is testing the brakes.

The sabbatical leave that I am currently enjoying has been a wonderful experience. I have stopped the busy activity associated with being a Minister and have had the opportunity to rest, relax, refresh, read, refocus and practice my alliteration. One of the things that has come to me afresh is the need to ensure that when the sabbatical time is over I need to make sure that I put regular and frequent time and space in the diary to do those things (perhaps not practicing the alliteration). Once every seven (or in my case nine) years is not sufficient to maintain yourself at peak spiritual condition. That is not only true for Ministers, it’s true for all of us.

For some people Sundays are those moments in their week. (Often less so for Ministers because it can be our busiest day). But can we honestly say that our relationship with God is going to be at its deepest and most amazing with just an hour a week spent focusing on him? Can we even think that this will be the case if we give him fifteen minutes every day as we do our daily Bible reading?

I have friends with whom I have not spoken or corresponded for months / years. It’s wonderful when we do catch up, but I can’t say that there is any depth to those relationships. Not when you compare them to the relationships I have with my wife and my children with whom I share so much more of my life. They get to see the good and the bad. They get to share the laughter and the tears. They experience the joy and the pain.

That may seem very obvious, but that does not make it any less true. If we confine our relationship with God to special moments in our day then we are short-changing him and ourselves. We are treating him like a hamster that we take out of its cage once a day to play with and enjoy and then put back to allow them to get on with running around in his little wheel while we run around in ours. God deserves and wants so much more than that for us.

I have sometimes felt that being a Minister is a bit like being a hamster running in a wheel. You run as fast as your little legs can carry you but if you are not careful and you don’t keep up the wheel will keep on turning and you will be spun around madly. That’s true for all of us, not just Ministers, which is why God designed a sabbatical for each one of us. It’s his commandment (not recommendation) to rest, recreate and relax for one day in seven (sabbath). The idea was not that we dedicate one day a week to being with God, but that we take one day a week to be refreshed. (If you feel like a hamster in a wheel, watch this video and enjoy the ride – perhaps there’s a team ministry analogy here?).

So how? Well I am sure I have blogged about this before, but I find it helps to associate different activities with him. When I wash at a sink and look in the mirror in front of me I try to remember that it’s a moment to reflect on whether I need God to cleanse and forgive me for anything. In my car I will sometimes put a CD of worship music on and sing my lungs out as I drive around. Regular time reading the Bible is essential: but don’t short-change yourself by limiting yourself to a quick burst in the morning.

But above all, have a dialogue with Jesus. The twelve disciples had that privilege as they travelled around first century Israel with him, but we have that privilege too – he is with us by his Spirit. Ask him about what you are doing, or going to be doing. Ask him to speak to you through it or through someone whom you will meet. Tell him how you’re feeling. When something makes you laugh, thank Jesus for the joy. When something makes you weep, thank him that he is there with you and ask that you will sense his presence (through others or more directly through peace within). Whatever you do has a Jesus-related dimension and as you involve him in your daily life more and more you will find that he feels closer (even though he has never been away).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*retreat = running away, in case you wonder what the bloggage title has to do with the bloggerel here. Actually it’s often more tactical than that, but I had in mind the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur and his knights beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught of their foes.

The boss is watching, look buzzy

I have spent the morning sitting in the garden, reading a book as part of my sabbatical leave. Having been challenged by the content of the book I paused for a while to reflect. My gaze was drawn to some nearby flowers on which some bees were busy (and buzzy) foraging. I want to share some disparate thoughts that have come to me so far today in the hope that by writing them down they may make sense to me and perhaps even to you!

My understanding of bees is limited and may be erroneous, so please don’t use this bloggerel as material for an educational paper. However, I believe that when a foraging bee finds some flowers it will return to the hive and communicate the location of the flowers by a complex ‘waggle dance’. The first book that I have read suggests that churches need to explore using creative arts far more in our communication, but I am not about to replace my sermons with some interpretive dance! However the playful part of me likes Eddie Izzard’s reflections that it would be far easier for the bee to buzz the instructions to his colleagues, yet instead the creative and excitable bee chooses to dance. I think there is something here about joyful communication of good news. If we communicate the most exciting news in the Universe in a boring way few people will listen.

The thing that blew me away was remembering the phrase ‘busy as a bee’. The nectar / pollen gathering of these worker bees is relentless. They go at it all day. (Perhaps the dancing is how they relax and let off steam?) I recognise in myself a tendency to be busy. I have seen it as a virtue, I have prided myself on comments from others on how busy I am. I feel that God must be pleased with me because of how much he sees me doing. Don’t get me wrong, being busy is not wrong, and it is certainly better than sloth (or sloths).

But I am too busy if I lack time and space to be with God, or if I justify not doing so (to myself or others) by reference to all the things I have to do for him.

Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him in order that he might give them work to do, that they might feel virtuous about all the things they do for him.


Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him in order that he might give them rest.

When is your time with God? Where is it? Are you too busy for him to give you rest?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Can you spot the tenuous link with this joke?

An old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night, he stood behind her while she was sitting in her lounge chair. He spoke softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?”

There was no response.

He moved a little closer and said again, “Honey, can you hear me?”

Still, there was no response.

Finally he moved right behind her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?”

She replied, “For the third time, Yes!”

of course

Today I spent the morning on a course with Jon Stannard, the new National Director of Viz A Viz Ministries. It was a good course and we covered a lot of ground. It was rough in places, particularly at the start, but perseverance saw us complete it and enjoy a good cup of coffee and some sponge cake at the end. We were putting some green issues together, and attempted to drive churches forward in evangelism. Some chips were enjoyed and on the whole it was above par.

In case you have not realised, it was a golf course. (yes, I know the first paragraph is very cheesy).

But it was also a good opportunity to talk. Mark Twain suggested that golf is a “good walk spoiled” but I have discovered it is a good talk uncoiled – time to chat, to laugh, to encourage, to search (lots in my case), to share and to be unencumbered by other concerns and uninterrupted by all the things and people waiting for you. There is time and space to unwind, relax and to enjoy God’s world (especially longer grass) in the company of a friend.

Golf is not the only way in which we can do this, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that such occasions are essential for my own personal health and sanity. Unless I deliberately spend time with others, enjoying being with them and relaxing, I am in danger of failing to obey the commandment to have sabbath rest, a foundational principle for human existence. All work and no play does not make me a dull boy, it makes me a candidate for burnout. Sabbath rest (especially for ministers) is not often Sunday. It is sometimes alone, but it may also be with others who re-energise us. I had such an experience last week with a friend who took me out for breakfast (thank you SO much Dave!).

So where’s your ‘golf course’? A pub? A coffee shop? A sofa watching TV? A walk in the countryside? A swimming pool? A comedy club? A cinema? A restaurant? Performing magic tricks? Sharing a hobby / interest with others? Playing games? [insert your own ‘golf course’ here].

When was the last time you had a round of golf there? Who was with you? Do you realise that God blessed you through them?

I have to remind myself that God has made me as a human being and that sometimes I need to be a being in order that I am more fully human. This is not primarily so I can be a better do-er. It is so I can become more like the best ‘me’ that God has created me to become.

And…. relax!

Be blessed, be a blessing

Negotiations between union members and their employer were at an impasse. The union denied that their workers were flagrantly abusing their contract’s sick-leave provisions.

One morning at the bargaining table, the company’s chief negotiator held aloft the morning edition of the newspaper, “This man,” he announced, “called in sick yesterday!”

There on the sports page, was a photo of the supposedly ill employee, who had just won a local golf tournament with an excellent score.

The silence in the room was broken by a union negotiator. “Wow,” he said. “Just think of what score he could have had if he hadn’t been sick!”

Signs your Minister may need a day off

.|Two hands & many Phones|.Their Outlook Diary reminds them of an appointment and offers them the chance to ‘snooze’. They take the opportunity to close their eyes…

They find a post-it note from their spouse on their computer to ask for an appointment to see them.

They forget someone’s birthday – their own!

You hear them replying through gritted teeth, “I’m NOT stressed!”

Their Sky+ Box contains programmes they recorded last year that they have not had a chance to watch.

They cheer wildly, pull their shirt over their head and run around as if they have scored a winning goal when you cancel an appointment or meeting.

They have to put post-it notes in their diary because there’s no space for them to write in it.

People in your church have been telling you how wonderful your Minister is because they are so hardworking.

They fall asleep in their own sermon.

They have not realised that their children have left home.

Their car has clocked up 20,000 miles this year – driving around town.

They install a new phone answering system: “Thank you for calling your Minister. Your call is important to him/her. Please hold. You are number thirteen in the queue.”