co incidental music

Rainbow Into CdTwice this week I have had unusual experiences with music. On Sunday I was asked to speak at a church up the road in Ipswich. I was not leading the service and didn’t know what songs would be selected. I was listening to (and singing along to) a CD of worship songs and was struck by some of the lyrics in the song ‘Over all the earth’ by Brenton Brown:

Over all the earth,
You reign on high,
Every mountain stream,
Every sunset sky.
But my one request,
Lord, my only aim
Is that You’d reign in me again.

Lord, reign in me,
Reign in Your power;
Over all my dreams,
In my darkest hour.
You are the Lord of all I am,
So won’t You reign in me again?

Over every thought,
Over every word,
May my life reflect the beauty of my Lord;
‘Cause You mean more to me
Than any earthly thing,
So won’t You reign in me again?

When I had sung it before I had always thought of ‘my darkest hour’ being like the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ in Psalm 23. And it most definitely can mean that. But a different meaning struck me. Sometimes my ‘darkest hour’ relates to when I am at my darkest – when I am being an appalling free sample of Jesus. At those times I need to hand back sovereignty of my life to him again.

I flicked the CD back to sing along to the track again and cranked up the volume. I then sang my lungs out as I drove along. And then the first ‘coincidence’ occurred. I felt very strongly that God was saying to me that we’d sing it again in the church that morning. And we did! I am still working out quite what that means, but it made me grin when the music group started up with the intro!

Then on Thursday evening I was talking with a friend from the church about grace. Not saying a prayer before a meal, but God’s lavish, astonishing, awesome grace. I felt very strongly that it would bless my friend to listen to U2’s amazing song: Grace. I put it on the CD player, selected the track and sat down. Three notes after the song had started (it has a beautiful harmonic musical intro that lasts over a minute) my friend asked me to stop the song.

I did so, a bit confused.

He told me that earlier in the week he had burnt a CD of his favourite songs to listen to in the car and when he played it there was a track that he did not recognise, had not bought and had not intentionally burnt to the CD. It must have been one of his wife’s songs and somehow he had selected it. It was this song. Grace:

Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

It was a quite astonishing ‘coincidence’ that this song had found its way onto his CD and that I had felt prompted to play it to him!

I’m not claiming that these are massively significant super-spiritual moments or that I am at all super-spiritual (far from it!). But they both felt very special to me when they happened and God blessed me through them. They reminded me that God can speak to us in all sorts of ways if we’re listening for him. Sometimes he underlines it with ‘coincidences’ and sometimes he gets our attention by the way he has brought about the ‘coincidence’ outside our control.

It is axiomatic that the more prayerful I am the more ‘coincidences’ happen.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

divine comedy

laughToday is another rescheduled day off because of work on my normal day off. So this bloggage is (in true Blue Peter craft activity style) one I made earlier. Yesterday, in fact. Enjoy.

I was preparing for Sunday morning’s service, which is an amazing service in which we will baptise 3 believers by immersion and also share bread and wine in communion. I was praying and trying to work out what I should speak about. A phrase came to mind and I started to wonder whether there was a passage in the Bible towards which I was being led. In particular it felt like I should be looking at a parable told by Jesus – but which one?

I consulted one of my big reference books that lists all of Jesus’ parables and was drawn to the parable of the Mustard Seed. It’s one of the ones that we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I looked at my Bible – first in Mark, then Matthew, then Luke.

I should point out at this stage that we are preaching our way through Luke’s gospel in our morning services at the moment.

So, back to the story. As I looked at Luke’s gospel I realised that this parable appears in chapter 13, which I thought we would soon be exploring in our series. I was miffed because I thought I was hearing what God wanted but as we would be looking at this passage in a couple of weeks’ time it did not feel right to speak on it this week as well.

I then consulted the preaching plan that we have prepared up to Christmas. “Oh,” thought I, surprised. “We have already worked out a passage for the service on Sunday.” I had completely forgotten that.

So I turned the the passage and, yes you are ahead of me, it is the passage with the parable I was considering, and also including an encounter Jesus had with someone that further reflects the thought that began this whole process (and which I had not had before).

At this point I almost heard a snigger from on high as I realised I was the (willing and glad) victim of a divine prank. He’d known all along that this was what I should be preaching on (the plan was prepared weeks ago) and led me on an exciting and then disappointing journey of discovery only to find that he had led me back to where we had started. I had to admit that I had been well and truly ‘got’ and simply uttered the words of appreciation: “Nice one!”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

a helping hand

DSCF1884

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