move over Bob the Builder

2015-09-28 11.25.34I have acquired a new skill. I am now a construction engineer, having built a building. Those who know me well will be somewhat surprised that I have acquired this new skill and hopefully impressed at the results. (The picture of the shed here is the said construction).

Of course my construction engineer skills and qualifications are a bit ropey. I had to follow a set of instructions that came with the components for the shed that had been delivered to our house. At times the instructions weren’t as clear as they could have been, sometimes the components didn’t fit together quite as well as they should have, and in a couple of occasions I had to improvise. However at the end of the process there is a small shed in our back garden that has not fallen down (yet). And I have a sense of accomplishment (and perhaps a little bit of pride – not too much, just enough to allow for a little ostentatious humility when people compliment me on it).

If I had not had the components premade and the instructions to try to follow there is no way that I would have managed to build a shed that was anywhere near the quality of the building that now graces our back garden. I did once build a bin store from scratch, although that did involve buying a premade fence panel, cutting it down and rebuilding it before putting the corrugated plastic roof on so, on reflection, even then not everything was built from scratch.

There are some people who have the skills, experience, talent, vision and desire to design and construct things from scratch. Most of us need a little help (or a lot!) and simply stand back in admiration and all at what these people create. We are happy with what we are able to do with our limited abilities and premade components but we know that it pales into insignificance next to a real artisan’s work.

But that does not mean we are untalented. It just means that our talents don’t lie in that area. We all have gifts and talents (some of us have yet to discover or fully explore them) and it’s a good thing that we all have different ones. After all if everybody was a Master Joiner we might have some amazing furniture and buildings but if nobody was able to work with metal we would not have cars, aeroplanes, washing machines and so on… If everybody was good at making cakes but nobody could cook anything else the current obesity problem would seem insignificant.

You might think that you got any gifts and talents but the Bible disagrees. Included in lists of spiritual gifts are things like hospitality, administration, caring for others, and encouraging. The apostle Paul says that love is greater than any spiritual gift.

Never look down on yourself or consider yourself less worthy than others (whilst maintaining a healthy humility). God’s Spirit is developing your character to bear fruit that lasts and makes a real difference. When we follow Jesus Christ his Spirit is working with us and within us to help us to become the best we possibly can be: the person God created us to become. God does not make mistakes and he wants to take your gifts and talents and skills and personality and experience and use them, enhance them (and perhaps even give you new ones) in order that you might be blessed and be a blessing.

And he wants to add all that you are and all that you are becoming to those around you so that your gifts and skills will blend with theirs to multiply the blessing further. Are you up for that?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

dew see the webs?

little webs

As I looked out of our kitchen window this morning I noticed lots of tiny cobwebs on the lawn, made visible by the dew that had settled on them overnight. I have not seen so many before. The photos here only show one in relative close up and a few clustered together, but there are lots of them all over the lawn. There are some very busy little spiders in our garden. 

close upBut I don’t think they will be catching many flies today. Not because I am mean and am going to cut the grass, but because the flies will be able to see where the webs are. Usually the fibres are gossamer thin and you only know they are there when you land on them (if you are a fly) or walk into them and get a face full. Today the flies know all about the webs and won’t be going anywhere near them.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the temptations and ‘traps’ we fall into were clearly marked? Wouldn’t it be so much better for us if they had flashing neon signs attached (the equivalent of dew on a web?) saying “warning!” That way we would not fall into them.

Except that God has provided us with a warning system. It’s called a conscience. And his Spirit sounds that alarm when we are in danger of falling into a temptation trap. That’s how he answers the prayer ‘lead us not into temptation…’ Our problem is not that there is no dew on the web (or neon sign) so much as that we sometimes are not paying attention to God or listening to our conscience, and sometimes we just simply want to be disobedient.

Unlike when a fly lands in a web, however, there are no traps, temptations or messes that God can’t retrieve us from if we turn back to him. He’s so gracious that his response isn’t “I warned you didn’t I?” – it’s “welcome back, let’s make a fresh start.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS sorry about the pun in the title!


a helping hand


98, 99, 100! Coming, ready or not!

I have an artist’s mannequin in my study. I call him ‘Manny’ and use him sometimes if I want to take a photograph to illustrate something (usually in a PowerPoint to accompany a sermon), when I can’t find a relevant royalty-free photograph elsewhere. This is him playing ‘Hide and Seek’. Actually it was meant to portray praying, but it looks more like he is counting ready to go and find his friends.

If you look closely in the picture you will see that there is a human finger in the background. The problem with Manny is that he is cheap. I bought him in one of those discount bookshops that sell lots of other gubbins as well, for just a few pounds. He is quite capable of standing in a pose with his arms extended, and even his legs in running poses, but if I try to put him in a more complex pose (such as above) the springiness in his joints means that his arms simply twang back to extended mode. The ‘praying’ pose above is the best I could manage as a ‘hands together’ pose was impossible. I have experimented with discretely placed elastic bands and masking tape, and they work for some poses, but sometimes he needs a helping hand (literally).

If you think of the pose in the picture here as ‘prayer’, then it seems to me that there’s a bit of a parable. I too need a helping hand when I pray. We all do. I have often described prayer as a conversation between us and God, and in many ways it is. But to limit it to that is to limit our experience and expectation of prayer. It is a collaboration between us and God. The relationship between conversation and collaboration in prayer is the same as the relationship between looking at a painting and painting a painting, or between sitting on a piece of furniture and making a piece of furniture. It is not that the looking or sitting are wrong, but there is so much more that can be expressed in painting and making.

God’s Spirit is with us. He is constantly prompting and nudging us, and if we are prepared to listen to him and respond we will find that our praying becomes more creative and (I hate myself for using this word) ‘organic’ – it grows and responds to our environment.

We see a van on the road and God’s Spirit reminds us to pray for someone we know who drives a van and is in particular need. We hear a siren and the Spirit prompts us pray for those involved in that emergency. We receive some good news and the Spirit prompts us to pray a prayer of thanks. God’s Spirit puts someone’s name into our mind and we pray for them, only for us to find out later that they needed prayer at exactly that time. We listen to a worship song and God’s Spirit helps us to turn it into our own thoughts and words about Jesus. We come across something in the news that is so horrific that we find it difficult to articulate the revulsion we feel and God’s Spirit interprets those deep feelings as prayers. We find ourself in the depths of despair and God’s Spirit offers our despair to God as a cry for help.

That might sound rather idealistic and pious, but all of those are my own personal experiences, plus lots more besides. This happens when I am close to God, when I am more in harmony with him, when I am regularly reading my Bible to meet with him (as opposed to when I am preparing a sermon, when I also want to meet with him but it’s not for my own personal relationship). When I am regularly praying consciously God’s Spirit is able to provoke me through my subconscious as well. My praying becomes more natural, more responsive, more impromptu and less rigid, less of a routine, less of a (if I am honest) chore. I find my prayers are more in harmony with God’s will as I am more in tune with him.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not perfect at praying. I don’t always get it right. I don’t always experience praying in the way that I have described above. But I want to. I have experienced Technicolor (R) and monochrome no longer satisfies me. And I think that is part of the key. Having experienced more of God in prayer I want to experience even more of him in prayer. But it has to start with my desire to want more. When I do, he gives me a helping hand and off we go again.

Be blessed, be a blessing