Prayer for the week 

I’m away on a training course this week. At the beginning of the week we were encouraged to write a prayer for ourselves for the week. 

It’s a very simple prayer. I offer it to you in case you find it helpful on your journey through the week too.

Give me the grace to grow, the wisdom to listen,  the patience to learn and an openness to love.

Be blessed, be a blessing. 

blessed

Yesterday I celebrated the anniversary of my exit from my mother’s womb and I was blessed.

I was blessed by the gifts and cards from friends and family.

I was blessed by the many birthday greetings.

I was blessed by spending some of the day discerning God’s will for someone.

I was blessed by the arrival of windows in my study conversion.

I was blessed to spend the evening with Sally.

I was blessed when I looked at a selection of vouchers in my wallet to see I had some extra bonus shopping points available if I spent £4 on hair care products even though I am bald – at least someone (a machine) didn’t see it.

I was blessed by these pictures that my family posted on Facebook…

First of all my sister posted this:

(She’s the one with bunches beside me, in the days when I not only had hair but it was curly!)

And then my daughter decided to get in on the act:

(The one on the left was at my farewell party at my previous church when they had to use newspaper to create a new outfit for me to wear as a Regional Minister (I haven’t worn it); the middle one was where I found that I could use the suction in the pig launcher to stick it on my head. I think the third one was in a restaurant where my daughter tried to take a photo of me and I put my tongue out.)

I was blessed by the memories provoked by those photos.

I was blessed by how many people ‘liked’ those photos – I assume that they at least made them smile and that’s a good thing.

I was blessed by the banter that accompanied the photos.

I was blessed by the reminder that little things (like taking a moment to write ‘happy birthday’ on Facebook make a big difference.

I was blessed by seeing how God is at work in the lives of Ministers and churches in our Association.

I was blessed by being able to write a reference for a friend and say how wonderful they are.

I was blessed by knowing that even in some of the difficult circumstances in which I am ministering there is hope because God is involved – and he can do resurrections! Even if life feels sucky and yucky God is with us in it and won’t leave us alone: when we feel like we are sitting on life’s manure heap he comes and sits beside us and shares the misery – that’s amazing grace!

And today I am blessed because I can count so many blessings from yesterday.

Thank you God, and thank you to those of you whom he used to bless me, whether or not you are aware that he did!

Be blessed, be a blessing

that Monday morning feeling

I have just come back from spending a wonderful weekend away with one of the churches in my sector. I was doing the talky bits. I really enjoyed myself, and the people from the church said nice things so I think they were blessed too.

AsiniBut now it’s Monday morning and the joy and blessing of the weekend are rapidly fading in the shadow of the week ahead. Garfield (the cat) famously hates Mondays. We talk about ‘that Monday morning feeling’ – usually meaning dread and gloom that we are about as far away from the weekend as we can be.

And this morning I have a real sense of that Monday morning feeling.

But it’s not dread and gloom.

It’s a sense of anticipation – what does God have in store for us this week? Whom will I meet? What will happen?

It’s a sense of blessing – I have so much for which I can be and am thankful, and I have Someone to thank.

It’s a sense of privilege – I have been given the gift of time this week for me to use selfishly or share with others.

It’s a sense of solidarity – not everything is lovely and sweet and happy and fluffy. There are shadows and difficulties and I will be meeting people who are struggling and in pain. And I have the privilege of accompanying people as they go through those things, and others are in solidarity with me.

And so much more. It’s not a question of whether the glass is half full or half empty: there’s a glass and it has some water, that’s more than many have!

There’s a good old hymn that encourages us to “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” and while I don’t often sing it (but it’s now in my head for the day) I think it is good practice, especially to counterbalance the woes that can loom large and distort our perspective on life.

So why not give it a go, and embrace Monday for all you’re worth (and that’s a lot!)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

and the loser is…

red carpetI am intrigued by all of the hype and attention that the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have gained in the news media this morning. There is a lot of triumphant jingoistic celebration of those Brits who have won awards. I am not having a grump about that at all. Well done to them, I say.

But what about all those who were unsuccessful? I don’t watch awards shows (mainly because I find them a bit tedious) but I know that one of the things they do is show the faces of those who were nominated but were unsuccessful. Those who have lost have to sit there, smiling, being gracious, trying not to look too upset, and trying to convey a ‘well done to the person who won, it was an honour just to be nominated’ attitude while inside they may be feeling really disappointed. That must be difficult!

And then there are the many people who were not even nominated. What about them? I would watch a TV show that celebrated everyone who was never nominated for an award (including those ‘unsung heroes’ awards which suddenly make them ‘sung heroes’).

Celebrate the single mum whose patience was rewarded when she has just seen her difficult child make some progress.

Celebrate the person who baked someone a cake ‘just because’.

Celebrate the woman who gave up her seat on the train for the person who was struggling to stand up.

Celebrate the car driver who let someone pull out and smiled as they did it.

Celebrate the bloke who sent and encouraging text to his friend.

Celebrate the child who gave come of their lunch to their friend who had forgotten theirs.

Celebrate the neighbour who took in your parcel that could not be delivered because you were out…

You get the idea.

These small acts of kindness will never gain public recognition. They may not even receive a ‘thank you’. But they are good. They are kind. They are wonderful. They are worth celebrating. They are signs of God’s kingdom.

“Woah! Hold on!” you may say. “I was with you until you started getting all ‘preacher’ on me.” I don’t mean to ‘get all preacher on you’ but I do believe that it is true. We are bombarded with so many bad news stories by the media (which is perhaps why they go so overboard with awards that counterbalance that) that I think sometimes we are predisposed to focus on the negative, the nasty, the unpleasant and even think that God is either indifferent to us or doesn’t exist. And that then can lead us to a very unbalanced view of the world.

But if we look for the good, the lovely, the blessing we will see that life is not as bad as we might have feared. And I believe that goodness, loveliness, blessings and the like are glimpses of God’s kingdom because they are like his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his love and so on.

Whether or not you attribute them to him or just to human nature is irrelevant, I still see them as signs of his Kingdom (where he is in charge). Just because you don’t thank someone for a birthday present does not mean that they didn’t give you the present!

So, today, I encourage you to celebrate those who will never win an award but who are making a difference nonetheless.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

accidental blessings

BumblebeeIn my role as a Regional Minister I am quite itinerant. I am never in the same place for long. I feel a bit like a bee, buzzing around from church to church seeking to be a blessing, being blessed by being with them and at the same time sharing thoughts, ideas and contacts with other churches to cross-fertilize and bless others.

But I have also discovered that I am the bringer of ‘accidental blessings’ – I am blessing without even meaning to do so. On Sundays at the moment this is particularly obvious to me as I don’t have a home church to attend when I am ‘off’. I have left the church where I ministered for 6 1/2 years and it’s not fair on them if I keep popping back: much as I love the people there they need to be looking to what God has for them in the future rather than having me around. So I am taking the opportunity to visit churches in my sector and be a part of their worshipping congregation. That is a blessing to me and I have discovered can also be an accidental blessing to them.

When I have visited churches ‘unofficially’ I have tried to keep a low profile because I don’t want to make a fuss and because I see myself simply as another worshipping Christian, but I have discovered that this is not often possible. With my height and shiny bald head I tend to stick out a bit and as people start talking with me I soon have to explain that I am a visitor and then that I am their Regional Minister. And I am finding that simply by turning up at church I am blessing people…

I hold the ‘title’ of Regional Minister very loosely indeed and because I know that behind that ‘badge’ (I don’t wear a badge) there is the same me that has always been there I don’t think of myself as at all important. I am just Nick. But when I have visited churches in the manner I have described I find that they feel blessed because the Regional Minister has chosen to worship Jesus with them. It’s a very strange experience for me.

Some churches think that because I am there I am on some sort of inspection visit, or worse. There was one occasion when I visited a church and tried (unsuccessfully) to remain incognito. Eventually I had to admit that I was their Regional Minister and a little bit later on someone sidled up to me and asked me what was wrong – were they in trouble? I was rather taken aback as I had not thought my visit would have had that impact and assured them that I really had no ulterior motive, it was not Godsted (or whatever the Christian equivalent of Oftsed is) I had just come to worship Jesus with them. The wonderful thing was that the expression of concern and anxiety on that person’s face melted away in front of me and turned into a big beaming smile.

I had blessed them simply by turning up at their church.

Now I know that most of you who bother to read this bloggerel are not Regional Ministers. But let me assure you (especially if you are not a regular church attender) that if you turned up at a church next Sunday you would bless people simply by turning up too. I hope and pray that more and more churches will make everyone welcome but sadly (if I am honest) there are some churches where you are not made to feel welcome. However I dare to suggest that even in those cases you will have blessed people by being there, by worshipping Jesus with them. And if you have that experience please don’t judge Jesus by the imperfect nature of his followers, please try again (at another church or the same one).

A long time ago I did visit a church with my wife and we sat in what turned out to be the ‘usual’ seats for two ladies. They came in, saw us in their seats and sat down either side of us. That’s nice isn’t it? Except that they then proceeded to talk across us as if we weren’t there (making a point I think). During the sermon one of them got out some sweets and passed them across us to their friend, not offering one to us at all. Needless to say we did not go back to that church, but in the evening we went to another church where the welcome we received was in stark contrast to the morning’s experience – we were welcomed by everyone and we stayed at that church.

And now a message for churches: please recognise the blessing you receive from who who gather to worship Jesus together with you. It’s not just (or even) Regional Ministers whose presence should encourage you, but every single person who is there is a blessing because they are there. Appreciate everyone. Welcome everyone. Love everyone. Don’t let anyone leave feeling unloved, unappreciated or unwelcome. Think about how Jesus welcomes you, and he has asked you to emulate him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

annoyed by automobile ablutionists

Car WashWhen I visit a local supermarket I am always approached (at least during daylight hours) by men asking me if I want my car washed. Now I know that my car always looks like it needs a wash, especially with all of the extra miles that I am doing now, but I feel a little resentful that they are always asking me the same question as soon as I get out of the car. I don’t want to be bothered by them.

You can tell that constantly being approached in this way bothers me because I have thought about how I can avoid it. I have wondered whether I should have a sign in the windscreen of the car (or written in the dirt) saying ‘I don’t want my car washed, thank you.’ Or perhaps I could seek out a section of the car park that is not frequented by these automobile ablutionists (but that would mean walking further to the supermarket). Or maybe I could walk to the shop or catch the bus (except it’s a bit far to carry the shopping home).

Or perhaps I could wash my car myself so it is obviously clean and shiny that they will know that there is no point in approaching me.

Today as I said, “No thanks” to the approach and walked towards the supermarket feeling resentful I had a moment of reflection on my attitude.

Why was I being resentful? It was because the approaches were frequent and unwanted. (Which might raise questions about how Christians share their faith…)

But was my resentment fair? These men are trying to earn a living. They are working in difficult conditions (it was bitterly cold this morning) and they are offering a service (albeit paid) to people to do something we’d rather not do ourselves (unless you are one of the Sunday Scrubbers and Shiners who takes particular pride in their car).

Whose interventions in your life do you resent? Is that resentment fair? And how can we turn the resentment into blessing?

Next time I go to the supermarket I am going to go to the café and get a takeaway cup of tea to give to the man who offers to clean my car, and if I have time I might even bless my car and the man by saying ‘yes’ to the car wash.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

humbled and blessed

Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity
Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity

Yesterday I was given a large plastic bag. It contained lots and lots of cards and pictures and letters that children from a local school had made to say ‘thank you’ to Stew the Rabbit (and me) for supporting the school during my time at the church, especially the Assemblies.

I was blessed and encouraged by the time that they had spent making the cards, drawing the pictures and writing the letters. I was blessed and encouraged by the kind ‘we’ll miss you’ messages – some were even for me rather than Stew!

But most of all I was humbled and blessed by those who had thanked me for telling them about Jesus. That’s the main reason I went and it was so wonderful that they had recognised this and appreciated it.

The church will continue to support and bless that school, but those children who wrote and drew and created had no idea how much they have blessed me. Stew will be writing a thank you note back!

It reminded me of how important it is to say ‘thank you’ and how much something we might perceive as a simple act can multiply in impact in the life of the person on the receiving end.

Be blessed, be a blessing