faq

Picking up a thought from yesterday’s bloggage got me wondering whether we ask the wrong questions and then are surprised and disappointed at the answers we get. Yesterday one of the questions that I suggested is thrown up by the apostle Paul pleading in vain for God to take away the “thorn in his flesh” was ‘why didn’t God take it away?’ It’s a frequently asked question about suffering and unanswered prayer.

pexels-photo-221164.jpegBut it’s a question that can lead to all sorts of unsatisfying answers (I don’t subscribe to any of the following answers, by the way). Some might suggest that God wanted to teach Paul something through his suffering. What sort of capricious God would want someone to remain in pain simply to learn a lesson? Others might suggest that Paul didn’t have enough faith when he prayed. But Jesus debunked that myth when he said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. (For me the mustard seed measure of faith equates to ‘as much as it takes for us to pray). Others may say that Paul did not pray enough times – he only pleaded three times. But is God really the sort of being who needs lots of prayers before he responds – like a slot machine that asks for more coins before it dispenses a bar of chocolate?

Is it the wrong question because it leads to unhelpful answers?

What if the right question looks at things from a different perspective: ‘why does God intervene in answer to prayers?’ You see when we look at Jesus in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles) we see that (especially in John’s gospel) these are ‘signs’. They point us towards something significant:  they reveal who Jesus is; they help us understand something about human nature; they help us realise that God’s kingdom is much bigger than we could ever imagine; and they help us face our own internal prejudices.

So could it be that when God intervenes in answer to our prayers we should be asking ourselves why he did rather than focusing on the times when it appears that he doesn’t*? What does he want us to recognise, realise or learn because of his intervention? What difference would it make to our faith if instead of asking “why not?” when God appears not to have responded* we ask “why?” when he does?

*I would also want to challenge the notion that God hasn’t responded when he doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want. Given that we are talking about a relationship with a God who says he is love, isn’t it fair to expect that he will answer – but perhaps we are looking for the wrong answer. Jesus gave us a hint about this when he was teaching about prayer (including giving his famous pattern for praying we know as The Lord’s Prayer):

11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

So when we pray we know that God wants to respond in the best way for us. When we pray we pray “your will be done” and seek to align ourselves with that rather than “my will be done” and try to convince God to agree with us. When we pray we should be asking for him to give us the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual resources and gifts we need to become the person God created us to be, and to be able to listen to God’s answers. When we pray we should be seeking answers to the right questions.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

delivering: a verdict

One of the unanticipated side-effects of the expansion of the internet and the seemingly inexorable rise in online shopping is a corresponding rise in the number of delivery companies and vans. (If you want a tip for any spare cash you have hidden under the mattress (no, I am not a financial adviser so take this with a seriously large pinch of salt) invest it in delivery companies).

And as this becomes more and more commonplace, there are inevitable frustrations regarding deliveries that didn’t go well. Is it just me, or do other people think that sometimes the delivery people are trying their hardest to make it difficult for us to receive our parcels? On one occasion, when we were out, a well-meaning delivery man put the item in the green wheelie bin at the side of our house. There were two problems – it’s a long way down to the bottom of the bin so I couldn’t just reach in and get it, and also (retch) it’s the wheelie bin in which we put food waste and vegetation.

But something more annoying used to keep happening. I had installed a doorbell in our house shortly after we moved in and put the bell push on a wooden post to one side of the door to make it easier to attach. It’s not camouflaged, but you would think it was. There were so many occasions when deliveries were attempted and a card was pushed through the door saying that the item could not be delivered and was lobbed over the fence / with a neighbour / at the sorting office / other (*delete as appropriate). But on those occasions I was at home. And the doorbell is quite loud. They didn’t ring it. Instead the delivery people knocked on the door – presumably gently so as not to disturb me.

I know this is the case because on one occasion when I was at home a delivery person was just pushing the card through the door as I went past the door and I opened the door and spoke with them. They didn’t see the doorbell push.

So I decided that I would make it obvious for them.

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Now the delivery people press the doorbell.

Of course we know that the delivery people are not trying to make things difficult for us. They are doing their best to get the parcels to their destination. There are times when they have delivered it to a neighbour several doors along the road, so they must have tried several houses before they got an answer. There are other times when they have found somewhere safe to hide it and left a detailed instruction on the card through the door. My favourite delivery person story is one who told my wife a joke when making the delivery as he wanted to deliver some joy as well as the goods. (It’s a visual joke so I can’t tell it here.)

I suspect that sometimes we can feel as if God is being as elusive / awkward / unhelpful as as delivery person. We ask him something and the answer doesn’t come straight back, or it’s not as straightforward as we want, or it even comes through someone else. It’s not that he is trying to make things difficult, though. I think it’s sometimes because what we ask for is more difficult for him to deliver.

We want courage so he gives us opportunities to be courageous.

We want peace, and while he may give us a sense of peace within, he may also provide us with people who will be with us in the lack of peace that we feel.

We want joy and he asks us to look for it in the little things of life.

The answers are there. God loves to respond. But for the response to make a difference he usually involves us (and others) in it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Eeekmail

So today I resume my duties and also end my cyber fast. I have 400+ emails waiting for me. That’s a lot of e-correspondence to deal with. When correspondence was only delivered by post men, post women or pigeons there would not have been 400 letters waiting for me after 2 weeks away. I’d never have opened the door!

It reminds me of the scene in Bruce Almighty where Bruce, having been given God’s job for a while, is inundated with prayer requests. He decides to treat them like emails, selects them all and answers them all “Yes!”

Chaos ensues as people with competing prayer requests are in conflict, millions win the lottery and much more besides.

God deals with our correspondence personally, individually and appropriately. I am grateful for that.

However he does have a blanket response – to all “I’m sorry, please forgive me, can we start again?” prayers he does answer all with a resounding “Yes!” I am very grateful for that.

If you have emailed me I will try to deal with your emails personally and appropriately. But please bear with me!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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how to answer emails

Blue Website Buttons 2 4It can be a bit daunting when you switch on your computer and launch your email program and find that it is busy downloading 59 new emails: especially when you haven’t been away from the computer for very long (a couple of days). Some days there are many more!

What’s the protocol for dealing with them?

‘Delete all’ sometimes seems to be an attractive option, but it is not very polite or pastorally sensitive.

Do you start with the latest to arrive and work back, on the basis that some of them will be ongoing conversations and if you start with the earliest one your reply may be out of sync with the rest of the conversation or may even be redundant?

Do you take them in date order, starting with the first to arrive on the understanding that those people have been waiting longest for your response?

[How does ‘the first shall be last, and the last shall be first’ fit into that?]

Do you start with the emails that you have been looking forward to, saving the more difficult ones until last (like eating everything else until you are just left with the sprouts on your plate at Christmas), or do you start with the difficult ones and reward yourself with the nice ones (like saving the sweet from the top of your cupcake until last)?

Do you go through and weed out the spam and other unwanted emails that made it past the filters, thus reducing the size of the potential workload and reducing the demotivational impact of having 59 unread emails? In the same vein you can file or delete any emails that do not require a response.

Do you switch off the computer again and hope that the emails will have gone away (or at least the issues in them) by the next time you turn the computer back on?

I am not sure what the correct protocol is. So I try to treat each email on its own merits and, after prioritising the urgent and important, try respond to them all appropriately. Each one that requires an answer receives a personal reply. To do anything less than that is disrespectful to the people who have communicated with me.

Have you ever wondered how God responds to our praying? How does he cope with so many prayers? Worldwide there must be a constant flow of prayers – thousands or millions at any one time, never mind 59! Does God prioritise them? Does he ignore the spam prayers that are offered in bored repetition? Does he start with the ones he likes? Does he ignore them and hope we will go away? Does he ever feel demotivated by the number of them?

Well, erm, I hope and believe that he doesn’t treat prayers like I treat my emails. You see he LOVES our prayers. He cherishes them. He welcomes them. He’s so gracious that it doesn’t matter whether you offer it full of faith or if you only have the tiny amount of faith it takes actually to say the prayer. He even loves the ‘spam’ prayers!

Because for God it’s not first and foremost about the content of our prayers that interests him: it is the fact that we are praying at all that delights him. Don’t get me wrong. He does respond to each prayer personally. But even before he gets around to responding he is simply delighted that we prayed to him. We spoke to him. The act of praying invites him to engage with us and that thrills him.

In the book of Revelation (and we need to tread carefully here because of the nature of the apocalyptic language of that book) there is a word-picture of golden bowls of incense being held in heaven. Those bowls contain prayers. Without going too deep into the symbolism, surely at the very least it is an image that shows how important our prayers are to God – received and held in golden bowls.

Don’t ever look down on your praying. No matter what it is like, no matter how erudite or simple our prayer, no matter how much faith we have – if we pray God listens. If we pray God is delighted. If we pray God responds*.

So be encouraged. God’s really looking forward to your next prayer. Don’t leave it too long!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Not enough space here to start a bloggage about how God responds but we can be confident that he will. And his response will be timely, wise, gracious, appropriate and in line with God’s will. It may not be what we were expecting but if it was he would be little more than a spiritual vending machine rather than a God who loves us and wants the best for us.

 

prayer works

MEDION DIGITAL CAMERAI believe that prayer makes a difference. Don’t ask me to try to explain it in a relatively short bloggage. But I have experienced the difference that prayer makes in my own life, and have seen prayers answered for others.

In fact all my prayers are answered.

Before you stampede towards me with your lottery tickets and ailments let me clarify. Prayer is a conversation between us and God. He wants to be involved in our lives, he is not aloof. So when we pray he joins in the conversation, answering our prayers. That includes all types of prayer – praise, telling him how I feel, asking for advice, requests, contemplation, blessings, seeking forgiveness, and so on. God responds to them all. So part of what I am saying in the italicised statement is that God’s responses to my prayers are as varied as the prayers.

By way of example, when I was seeking guidance about an important life decision a while ago several different ‘coincidences’ happened that led me down a particular path which I sensed was what God wanted me to do. The ‘coincidences’ confirmed what I felt. Or, when I have been praising God in prayer I sometimes get a shiver down my spine. That could be temperature related (but it happens whatever the environment) or may be the result of other stimuli, but it is so consistent that it feels to me that it is part of the way that God is responding – as I realise who he is.

But (and you knew it was coming) he does not always answer our prayers (especially requests) in the way that we want or hope. Sometimes the answer is ‘sorry, no’. Sometimes it is ‘I have a better idea’. Sometimes it is (with a loving smile) ‘You haven’t really thought about the consequences of what you’re asking have you?’ And many more besides. And when I come in penitence seeking forgiveness I find that the answer is already waiting for me: ‘Yes. Completely. Because Jesus has sorted it out for you your forgiveness is here. Now let’s make a fresh start. Receive more of my Spirit to help you.’

The scene in Bruce Almighty where Bruce (having temporarily been given God’s powers) decides to answer ‘Yes to all’ prayers is telling. Chaos ensues when everyone wins the lottery, for example. We are interconnected. ‘Yes’ for one person may have consequences for another. ‘Yes’ may not be the best answer.

So what’s the point in praying? Well, it connects us with God. It enables us to listen to him. It helps us to see things from his perspective. It builds trust. It helps us to recognise his voice more easily. It enlivens our soul. It opens us up to possibilities we might not have considered. It widens our understanding and appreciation of God. It blesses. It allows us to express our honest emotions. It helps us to make fresh starts. It helps us to see things differently. It involves God in all aspects of our life. It helps us express our concerns to God for others. It shifts our perspective God-ward. I could go on…

In the next week or so I will be distributing some prayer cards to the businesses in the streets around us. On them I will be offering for our church to pray for those businesses in whatever way they would like us to pray. There is space on the rear of the cards for them to write whatever they would like on them and drop them through our church letterbox, where we will collect them and use them in our praying together.

I am not offering growth in profits or record sales. Indeed I am not promising any specific answers. But I do promise that we will pray as asked, and that God answers our prayers – often in surprising ways.

If you would like us to pray for you please visit our church website here and send me an email. We will gladly do so.

How will you pray today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.