Day 14 - Issue 25

April 26, 2018

Proverbs 4:10 NLT

'My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life.'

The media is full of messages about personal health and well-being. The food we eat, remaining hydrated, ensuring we get sufficient exercise, the list is endless. There is a fascination with diets, all with the hope of a silver bullet that will resolve all our health and well-being issues.

My own journey has been to discover the value of establishing a rhythm for life that suits my temperament. I tried and tested numerous approaches until settling on what works best for me.

An early riser, this influences my entry point to the day. Once I wake I take a few moments to turn my attention to God, and then get up. Making my way downstairs, avoiding all electronic devices, I begin my day with my morning office of prayer, stood before a lighted candle. In these moments I bring myself together around the reality of God, who I see as the source of my life. Once that is accomplished I move forward into my day. This is marked by rhythms throughout, planned and implemented with the help of a scheduling app on my phone.

In an age in which mental health issues are reaching epidemic proportions and where stress-related illnesses cost employers a fortune each year, there are ways to take action to reduce our stress load. It starts with ordering your life first around God’s priority that we find time and space for meaningful daily encounter with him, and then structuring our life so we manage it rather than it managing us.

QUESTION: Take some time to review the pattern of your life. How might you take back control in ordering your life so you live it rather than remain enslaved to it?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, be the centre and foundation of my life.

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Day 13 - Issue 25

April 25, 2018

Proverbs 4:5 NLT

'Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.' 

Growing up is a challenge. When young, who else was there to trust but my parents? Yet, as I grew older I discovered that their behaviours were inconsistent, they were flawed, and theirs was not the only advice on offer. As my personality developed, I increasingly explored alternative sources of ‘truth’ in making my mind up. I was conscious on occasion of suppressing my instinct, my conscience, to follow my new-found source of wisdom.

There are so many sources of ‘truth’ on offer today. Any public figure caught in a troubling situation offers calm and apparently clear words of explanation. Given the way we source truth today, we little believe such explanations and make fun of what appear no more than the emperor’s new clothes. And yet we find ourselves dancing to the same tune as we seek to rationalise and explain away misdemeanours of our own making. While sourcing truth offers few challenges, finding truth requires far greater effort.

Having settled on following Jesus at university, over the years I discovered there were many varieties of Jesus on offer. I was taught to batten down the hatches and defend my version of the truth. It created something of a siege mentality and I was encouraged to retreat deep within the church of my choosing to repel all assaults upon my ‘truth’. Well-intentioned, such advice was short-sighted and wrong. While my mind was being trained in defence techniques, my heart was left to wither. I learned what I was to believe, but failed to encounter the One whose truth I was so stoutly defending. My faith began to take root in fear of getting it wrong, quite some distance from relaxing into the arms of the One who loved me infinitely.

“Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17, NKJV) and I needed to attend to the words spoken by God. And by attend, I mean live by the good news that God is for me and present in every circumstance of my life.

QUESTION: How do you determine the truth that informs and directs your steps?

PRAYER: Lord God, I know that living by your words will lead me to wisdom. Give me the courage to do so.

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Day 12 - Issue 25

April 24, 2018

Proverbs 4:4 NLT

My father taught me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live.”

I have discovered over time that my heart is the core of my being; the source of my will and my emotion. My heart is the location of my connectedness with God. For far too long I relied upon my mind. This is active and agile. However, my mind was and remains so easily deceived.

My daughter had a friend who was caught up in the tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004. Her schoolfriend was rescued but first had to be persuaded to let go of the debris he was clinging to in the water. This had been his source of hope for many hours, keeping him afloat in a sea of destruction. In his mind it offered salvation, yet it was a false salvation. His rescuers could lift him into a boat and take him for much-needed medical and practical care, but only if he could be prized from this false hope.

God invites us to exchange false hope for a trustworthy promise. Yet, if the false hope has sustained us for many years, it will take quite some convincing to give it up. My false hope offers me a clear explanation and immediate gratification in the context I find myself in. Circumstances may be bleak, yet I have convinced myself I am managing, despite the high levels of stress expressed through anger, disappointment and depression.

Your battle will always be between what your mind convinces you of and where your heart is leading you. This is no easy tension to resolve, the more so when the stakes surrounding your personal well-being are high. Yet, one clear purpose in life is for you to discern the nature of your true rescuer, Jesus, and discover the quality of life that arises once you learn to hold fast in your heart and manage the traffic that terrorises your mind.

This is the constant battle I wage. It’s my mind that can wake me in the darkest hours of the night, terrorise me and rob me of my peace. I have to learn to live out of my heart and so transform my mind.

QUESTION: What are you clinging to that might be a source of false hope?

PRAYER: Lord, help me take your words to heart and trust deeply in them.

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Day 11 - Issue 25

April 23, 2018

Proverbs 4:1a NLT

'My children, listen when your father corrects you.'

Wisdom is both prized and sought after in our society. So many health regimes, from diet to exercise are associated with a growing wisdom. This includes deepening self-knowledge and engaging more effectively with all of life. These attributes which I might describe as ‘a life well-lived’ have always been the foundation of practical and effective Christian living. What began for me as a mental agreement and emotional desire to follow Jesus grew in time to include all of my life.

As a young child, our daughter was more than happy to assume parents knew best. Our authority was first questioned when another authority figure, her teacher, was introduced into her life. Now she had a fresh reference point for her questions about life. She assumed that her teacher was the authority on anything educational. Starting school aged four-and-a-half, and hearing her teacher talk about the harm McDonald’s did to the environment, she refused to eat McDonald’s for two years. This was perhaps wisdom indeed and very much to our liking. As she grew she discovered a fresh source of wisdom among her peers and reversed that decision on their say-so.

Wisdom, the voice of the Holy Spirit, is essential for each one of us to grow into maturity in Christ. Initially, I simply added yet one more source of authority into my life. How was I to discover what the Holy Spirit was saying? Then how was I to determine if what I heard enjoyed greater influence over my life than my other reference points? This is the challenge we each face. How do we pinpoint the wisdom of God amid the cacophony of other voices? There are clues given in today’s verse. Discernment requires attentiveness; being alert and perceptive to what wisdom is saying. Attentiveness requires stillness and a context to listen to God’s voice.

As I have slowly learned to practise attentiveness and the revelation that follows, my life has become integrated, physically, mentally and spiritually. I am an increasingly whole person enjoying a deep inner peace and live comfortably with myself, with others, and with my life circumstances.

QUESTION: To what degree do your decisions and habits reveal the Lord of your life, Jesus?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help me recognise your Spirit’s voice and help me obey what you say.

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Day 10 - Issue 25

April 13, 2018

Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT

'Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.'

A great temptation with ageing is to drift towards the inevitability of decline and isolation. The statistics are useful, yet they are not to victimise us. It is wonderful that we can keep interests alive even as we age. It might be that we need to reappraise our situation and develop new hobbies and activities, yet we are not dead until we stop breathing.

Katey was an inspiration here; for although MS stole her physical strength, increased her disability and messed with her short-term memory, she never stopped finding ways to live. When forced to leave teaching – her first love – on health grounds, she took it upon herself to remodel our home, first the kitchen and then the lounge, before she needed to regroup and rethink. So with each of us: every step of the way requires a reimagination and a reinvention of ourselves.

There is some practicality in this as well. It frees up spaces for a rising generation. Do I really need to be a part of church leadership past 50? My ‘wisdom’, such as it is, can be readily accessed. But surely the 30-year-old is a better fit for contemporary family life than I am. I, however, have a significant contribution to make to my peers. It’s disappointing the Church has failed to develop effective peer-to-peer ministries that would enrich the over-60s.

So what has my hand found to do? I have found a garden that requires management. It provides a beautiful contemplative space for the household and visitors on quiet days and retreats. I have taken to continuing my contemplative journey and God speaks and guides my steps. I’ve found an active parish church and I am in conversation about where I fit and the contribution I can bring, as well as expressing my own desire, need for friendship and companionship. Finally, in an attempt to underwrite all this, I have launched an online learning business with a friend.

QUESTION: How would you like to fill your days, post-work?

PRAYER: Lord of the living, help me to live, to fill my days with purpose and to do what I can the best I can.

 

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Day 9 - Issue 25

April 12, 2018

Psalm 71:18 NLT 

'Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God.'

Ageing is a personal subject, seldom addressed outside of humorous remarks, yet it is a challenge each of us faces. We live in a society that seems either unwilling or unable to speak of the most profound milestone in our lives. I was shocked to discover when caring for Katey that the medical profession was most uncomfortable talking of death. For us it was an inevitable reality, given her degenerative disease. A prognosis, however speculative, would have helped us prepare for our separation.

It appears the psalmist’s fears are realised within our own hi-tech, wealthy British society. For the elderly are the least respected within that society. Left to fend for themselves, the majority, unwilling to become a burden, are left isolated, seemingly forgotten and neglected. Last year there were 11.8 million people over 65, 32 per cent of whom lived alone. Over a third experienced age discrimination, a percentage that rises the older we get.

I believe that we are best facing ageing head-on: identifying and acknowledging our fears. I fear being unable to care for myself. Life drains from me at the thought of an institutional solution to my latter years. I also fear being unable to work, since then I will be unable to earn and without income, how does one continue? So fears to the fore, I need to determine if I have hold of God and, more precisely, does God have hold of me? I’ve observed many older friends struggle with the transition from a very active ministry life; their skill set most certainly underdeveloped when it comes to a change of pace and apparent loss of identity created through ‘doing’.

It is in acknowledging anxieties, owning the challenge of transition, and in knowing God at a deeply personal level that we can approach ageing with confidence. The future will always remain an unknown. Yet, God’s presence and promise carries us and gifts each of us confidence.

QUESTION: How do you approach the onset of age?

PRAYER: Lord God, keep me in your service proclaiming your goodness and sharing your life with a new generation.

 

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Day 8 - Issue 25

April 11, 2018

Psalm 90:12 NLT

'Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.'

Why is it that as a child, my bed was a warm, comforting and comfortable place to sleep, but now I lower myself with some care into bed, manage various degrees of sciatic pain and know that I will not be comfortable for more than six hours in a prone position? I’m still really active, the Oratory to manage, an e-learning business launched and much gardening to keep me vigorous. Yet I feel the aches and the pains physically in ways I haven’t before.

The psalmist encourages each one of us to take time to consider life ahead of us as well as life in the present. I can in fact take responsibility for the person who will emerge in the autumn of my life. Perception and behaviour always lie within my gift, and my choices engage my will and my prayer leans upon the Holy Spirit to encourage and enable me.

Wisdom is mined from such deep reflection. We can converse with others further along their journey with God. We can read the writings of the Church Fathers who plumbed the depths of God’s wisdom through contemplation and prayer. Old age, and all that accompanies it, need never be a surprise to me. I can craft wisdom from the rocks of my experience, even though that may cost me dear. Even though I want to be the centre of my own life, how much wiser I might be to invite God always to be at the centre of my life.

When I’m old, and therefore increasingly dependent upon others, if I have discovered how to be dependent upon God, the journey will feel so much more familiar. I will have become used to yielding control and comfortable with the reality that God goes before and can only take care of me. Circumstance can never wrong-foot the Lord. I may have to find a fresh level of grace, but that’s available if I have taken time deepening my friendship and trust in God.

QUESTION: Whatever age you are, take the time to determine how do you want to show up in life.

PRAYER: Eternal Father, satisfy my heart each morning with your unfailing love.

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Day 7 - Issue 25

April 10, 2018

Job 12:12-13 NLT

'Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his.'

The list of questions I carry has lengthened over time. I’m now content to live with questions, and have little interest in, even expectation of, answers in as far as answers offer a one-time solution. The Christian life is a paradox, as so many of Jesus’ teachings demonstrate. It has long been assumed that wisdom accompanies ageing, yet that is far from the truth. Here Job challenges the presupposition.

I have been quite shocked that unhelpful behaviours expressed throughout my youth have journeyed with me well into the ageing process. Knowing God and getting older does not guarantee wisdom. As I chat with many of those mature in years, it is often a loss of understanding that emerges, rather than a clear picture: confusion, disappointment and anger at the consequences of ageing, from creaking bones to challenging health conditions. Surely this is a season when we have discovered God is not in the business of maintaining health and beauty for its own sake. God is in the development business, and I am God’s project.

I remember when we first established the Oratory, then in Portsmouth, we completely reconfigured the house. For a long period the project required us to strip away unwanted decoration, knock down walls and remove items that had served their purpose. For a while, any visitor would have struggled to see the hospitable oasis of welcome we’d envisioned. Just the dust and mess on any building site.

Wisdom comes as we reflect upon the journey to date, and review our confidence in God’s promises now that life is more difficult to navigate. It’s a time of reimagination in the Holy Spirit, of new birth into the person who truly reflects complete confidence in God at a stage when most of society treats us as out of place and possibly expendable. Instead of causing reaction, we smile in the full knowledge that we only continue to hold onto life by God’s grace and increasingly long to be released from this mortal garment and step into the eternity we have sought all our life.

QUESTION: What do you think wisdom is?

PRAYER: Lord, make me wise by teaching me your ways.

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Day 6 - Issue 25

April 9, 2018

Isaiah 46:4 NLT

I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age.

Recently I fell over in the kitchen. It was one of those slow motion, slightly comical falls. I overbalanced seeking to put some food in the dog dish. Aware of my direction of travel backwards, I failed to find the strength to compensate for the force of gravity dragging me down. Because I fought against the fall, I strained my back and hurt my arm. Realising I wasn’t going to stop myself, I called out “help me” and Jayne arrived to see me stretched out on my back between the tall kitchen bin and the washing machine.

Now, I wasn’t hurt but, for the first time I can recall, I became conscious of my age. I lacked the strength to correct my fall. Slightly hurt, I was more distraught as I confronted a future of declining strength and mobility. It was an unusual and unwelcome feeling and it stayed with me. Yet, God is very encouraging when it comes to ageing. By encouraging, while the rest of the world seems to move on leaving me and the elderly in its wake, God hangs around and his commitment doesn’t waver.

Learning to accept ageing is the primary challenge. At least I’ve recognised its reality, which is a significant first step on the journey. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are critical in deepening any friendship with God. Honesty creates the platform for facing up to personal anxieties. Can I trust God with my physical future? When I fail to manage, will God really take care of me? These are critical questions of faith. And I ask myself, how faith-filled am I?

The only reassurance we have is God’s promise, highlighted here in Isaiah. It’s an oft-repeated scriptural promise, and now I have to entrust my future together with its anticipated physical decline into God’s safekeeping. It is the clearest evidence I have to date that I cannot future-proof myself. Best continue to seek a deeper friendship with God as my best hope in navigating ageing.

QUESTION: Are you conscious of how elderly relatives and fellow worshippers feel about and experience ageing?

PRAYER: Thank you, Eternal One, that in you I have found a companion for life.

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Day 5 - Issue 25

April 6, 2018

John 20:27 NLT

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Thomas is terrific, a man who heard of Jesus’ resurrection yet would not believe it personally until he saw it for himself. Does this deserve the adjective ‘doubting’? I think not. Here was a man who was unwilling to live out of the testimony and experience of others. He needed a personal and real encounter with the resurrected Christ. A personal encounter will sustain us when life appears to be failing us.

My natural response to doubt is to establish principles to support the subject of my doubt. This is because I think first. My head, if left to its own devices, will seek to manage my life through intellectual processes. Engaging as they prove to be, they can never move me beyond my doubts. I have to encounter God in some way that convinces me that what I, or others, propose is true in actuality.

My initial movement towards contemplative prayer was an intellectual process. I liked what I read of ancient and contemporary authors. It all made sense and I could understand the stance they took to enter into the silence. Yet, it quickly became clear that my intellectual understanding sought a technique or method to convince me that I was on the right track.

It took a while to burn through these mental exercises and stop long enough to recognise and admit all I was doing was designing a straitjacket of contemplative theology; accurate but not life-giving at any level. What I needed was to experience the reality that God is prayer and my contemplation was encountering God, not creating a new prayer suit.

QUESTION: Consider the ways in which you encounter God; how have they changed you?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for revealing yourself to us in Christ and for giving us your Spirit to know you each day.

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