Day 47 - Issue 21

June 3, 2017

Matthew 6:13 NLT

'And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.'

Jesus reminds his disciples he is present with them. They face the challenges and distractions of life, but with God always at their side.

Jesus was no stranger to temptation, the lure to follow a way other than God’s. Tempted in the desert by the devil; filled with doubt in Gethsemane. Jesus found hope and his way out of temptation through relationship with his Father. You and I are invited to draw on the reality of our friendship with God when in danger of sinking in the mire of unwelcome trials.

We can have confidence in Jesus since he defeated the evil powers on the cross and led them captive. We know that we are present with God now and always. Death has been neutered. We can also discover that God enables us to survive circumstances that at first sight appear unbearable, by calling out to him for help. Lost as I have been on numerous occasions, disorientated and angry, I’ve found my way forward through holding tightly to God’s hand, an act of imagination and will.

These are always difficult times, fuelled by self-doubt as much as God doubt, times of restlessness, anger and emotional and spiritual numbness. It’s about hanging on, holding on to a promise that appears as insubstantial as a twig, yet does prove able to bear my weight.

It is also acknowledging that God continues to bring me from slavery to freedom, that my life journey continues and God’s promise of sustaining me holds true in my bleakest moments. Even as I look for a way to change my circumstances, solve my own problems as I perceive them, God wants me to look to him for guidance and leadership from temptation to hope. God’s promise is that this will always be his way with me.

QUESTION: What temptations do you struggle with and need God’s rescue?

PRAYER: Lord, lead me into a holy life. Sustain, guide and deliver me.

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Day 46 - Issue 21

June 2, 2017

Matthew 6:12 NLT

'Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.'

Caring for Katey as her MS advanced was a costly business. It demanded much, emotionally and physically, and also financially. She enjoyed a small pension from teaching, having taken early retirement through sickness, while I wanted to be as close as possible so stepped back from my career and became self-employed. Once she died we had run up some considerable debt. This indebtedness weighed heavily. Each month I had to find the cash to service a credit card debt which was the only means I had for finding money when Katey was ill.
One day a letter arrived through the post and I learned that an aunt I hadn’t seen for years had left me some money. It was sufficient to wipe out my debt. The wave of relief was immense. I felt the weight of servicing that debt lift from my shoulders. I found a fresh freedom.

Jesus reminds his disciples that because of the cross and resurrection we owe God nothing apart from our loyalty. Here lies a critical aspect of kingdom living. Because I’m forgiven, debts written off, I choose to forgive whatever I feel is owed me by others. For me this is both a mental and, more importantly, an emotional, psychological issue for I am loath to forgive where I believe I’ve been wronged. I hold onto resentment and criticism too easily.

Jayne and I recently reviewed our conversations. Sadly, a good percentage was about others and we acknowledged that we made quick, often harsh, judgements. How sad we made time to do this and challenging that we talked of others more than ourselves or our walk with God. Those we spoke of, we silenced, simply by excluding them from the conversation. This was particularly true in speaking of Mum, for we’d offload frustrations onto each other.

Wiping the slate clean is tough to conceive of and to deliver on, yet sits forever in the shadow of the total debt relief I enjoy through God’s forgiveness. If I choose to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, learning to forgive and let go becomes a central Christian practice and discipline.

QUESTION: Do you carry any criticism and resentment in your heart for others?

PRAYER: Lord, I have been forgiven so much, help me to, with freedom, forgive.

 

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Day 45 - Issue 21

June 1, 2017

Matthew 6:11 NLT

'Give us today the food we need'

The Lord’s Prayer is significant due to the fact that it is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Indeed, it’s the only prayer taught by Jesus. Yet, where else do we see this prayer used throughout the New Testament? Nowhere! It only appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. So what is the significance of such a prayer?

Many of us are used to creating spontaneous prayers in response to needs facing us or loved ones. We call upon God’s gracious intervention, often speaking out of our desired outcome. Here is a prayer that is very much for personal use and reflection capturing the journey towards faith in God.

When faced with my worst anxieties and the very worst of me, period, I no longer could summon up spontaneous prayers. Their sound was hollow and my confidence in their phrases gone. Instead I discovered the value of the Lord’s Prayer. This started as I was challenged on what I call the prayer’s “hinge verse”. It lies at the centre of the prayer and its meaning and power turns upon this sentence. My faith was only as viable as my confidence in God’s ability to care and provide for my every need from the practical through to my mental health.
Trusting God meant letting go of control. It also meant trusting well beyond a religious nicety, theological orthodoxy or theoretical assertion. I’d place the full weight of my present and future into God’s hands. It was my Gethsemane agony.

Nothing in life brings us to the conclusion that we are to completely trust God. While there is evidence that leads us in that direction, it is an act of faith, for ultimately God’s reality and care are no more than a theory built upon a series of historical facts. The steps I take in my life will reveal the extent to which I trust. This is why the Lord’s Prayer is so relevant in every age. It was Jesus’ prayer. One that restated the truth the God was competent to care despite circumstance and experiences that appeared to demonstrate the complete opposite. It is for each of us a deeply personal prayer.

QUESTION: What does it mean for you to trust God?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I am grateful for the food I have and I remember all those that today are hungry – Lord, feed them too.

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Day 44 - Issue 21

May 31, 2017

Matthew 6:10 NLT

'May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.'

I remember my early days as a Christian attending Jean Darnell’s musical, Come Together in Oxford Town Hall. I was captivated with the atmosphere, gave myself to worship, lifted my hands in the air for the first time and swayed along with the infectious congregational singing. The danger was that for a few years I camped out in this field of contemporary worship. It was enough just to stand, sing and offer a little shoe shuffle in honour of the King of kings.

Eventually I realised that this King also ruled over a kingdom. His rule was to express itself in the earth as much as I anticipated it operating beyond death. This rule required that I become a living embodiment in its expression. But what were the characteristics of the rule of God? I started simple with love God and love others. This appeared to fly in the face of how society chose to live and offered perhaps the greatest gift the Church might bring in demonstrating social and economic justice. Then the problems started. It was hard to love God because of the many distractions that constantly drew my attention. I prayed a short, dutiful prayer, yet never really entered into God’s presence. Little did I realise that God’s presence was available this side of my grave. To love God, I needed a relationship that was more than meeting down the pub for a game of darts once a week, which best summarised my church engagement.

Then loving others! I discovered there were very few people I wasn’t quietly critical of. Then as God revealed more of my own fracture, I discovered just how judgemental, self-seeking and narcissistic I was. Sadly, my life was built around seeing others as wrong and myself as right, so as my eyes opened to my reality and the Church’s responsibility (myself included) to partner with God in extending His kingdom, I sank back to my knees to say, how am I to live a kingdom life? My true Christian walk began that day.

QUESTION: How are you fulfilling the will of God in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, may your kingdom of love, grace, mercy and compassion expand and grow.

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Day 43 - Issue 21

May 30, 2017

Matthew 6:9 NLT

'Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.'

The Lord’s Prayer opens with a recognition of my need of God. It is as I realise that I am alone that I recognise my need for companionship. While the charms of life, my own ambition or my own ego battle for recognition, I remain with a low consciousness of God. It’s as if I were in Egypt, with the Hebrew slaves serving Pharaoh, unaware that life offered me anything more than slavery.

Out on a dog walk on the South Downs with my daughter, then aged about 7, she ran ahead and disappeared around a corner on our woodland path. Moments later this little girl was running towards me as fast as her little legs might carry her. Her eyes were wide as saucers and her whole face alight with delight. As she reached me she breathlessly exclaimed, “Daddy, I’ve just seen a Wow!” Once home some detective work and a postcard confirmed that she had come face-to-face with a full-grown stag. This was her wow moment.

Each of us needs a ‘Wow’ moment with God. Life drifts on, God being there as God was there with the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. However, here Jesus teaches that the first step into deeper friendship with God is the time I am gripped by the scale, majesty, authority and power of God. Only then can I conceive that this mystery is more than fiction, fable or myth; more than a series of prescribed truths but an actual person who longs to share life with me. In uttering ‘Wow’, I am in fact acknowledging God is so much more than I’d ever conceived or imagined. Not some pocket-sized trinket to whom I can appeal in tough times, but one with the capacity to break me free from the chains of my slavery.

I see God as my source, or parent; the one who gave me life, who sustains that life and will bring me everlasting life as I pass through death. What am I to do but to bow the knee worship?

QUESTION: Have you experienced a ‘Wow’ moment in which you have encountered the reality of God?

PRAYER: Lord, you are holy, indescribably great in majesty and splendour. I am in awe of you. I worship you.

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Day 42 - Issue 21

May 29, 2017

Luke 11:2 NLT

Jesus said, “This how you should pray: ‘Father may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come soon.’”

When Jesus was asked a simple question, “Teach us to pray”, he gave a simple and direct answer.

Jesus didn’t take 40 minutes to teach his disciples. A reading of the Lord’s Prayer takes no more than 20 seconds. Sermons of that length might revitalise church attendance figures! Jesus gives his disciples an easily understood message. Now, for all the books written on prayer, of which I have contributed three, Jesus communicated its heart in just 20 seconds.

Often when we approach prayer, we complicate it. We seek to create some experience that Jesus in no way describes or commends. He outlines a journey in a series of statements, which convey the movement through life that anyone who seeks to pray must take. Through our Novena over the remaining six days we shall explore each of those statements. Perhaps today the most important message is this. The way of following Jesus is simple. It is not shrouded in mystery or only available to the wise and educated. As Paul says, “God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NIV).

There are some benefits that cannot be secured through an education. One of the most important things to discover and nurture is a capacity for relationship with others. And prayer is primarily about forming and then maintaining a relationship, or friendship, with God.

Let go of all the complicated thoughts and feelings you experience around prayer. You might even consider ditching your normal form of prayer if it has become unhelpful. Instead continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily and be open to simply pray in line with the pattern of this prayer, as a disciple taught by Jesus.

QUESTION: What practices around your own prayers are unhelpful and may need to be ditched?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for making relationship with God a possibility.

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Day 41 - Issue 21

May 28, 2017

Luke 11:1 NLT

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Prayer is a challenge. In principle it looks so simple. Approach God, worship him and and lay at his feet the concerns we each carry. God will hear and respond. However, here the battle begins for me. It has three distinct levels.

First, I find it difficult to maintain my focus upon God. I am easily distracted and allow my mind to wander. So having started out focusing on God I too readily find myself a million miles distant as my mind processes a conversation from yesterday or some outstanding task that awaits me today. I haul myself back before God, only to daydream once again. I feel dissatisfied and assume God finds it difficult to assess the seriousness of my prayerful intention.

Next I find myself wrestling with the nature of God’s will. I have ideas about what I want God to do in response to my prayer. Top up my bank account, heal my friend from a brain tumour, lift the cloud of depression surrounding another. I enter into a dialogue with myself over the extent to which this is my will or God’s will. And to what extent the two might be synonymous. The dialogue threatens to take over my prayer, taking my attention away from God and creating inner tension.

Finally, somewhat exhausted, I conclude my prayer with a sense of defeat, knowing it has largely been about my own, rather than God’s, presence in the place of prayer.
Observing Jesus disappear to pray, the disciples no doubt made their own attempts yet recognised that Jesus was a master of personal prayer, so they asked for his help. Only as I have appealed to the source and the focus of our prayer, Jesus, have I discovered a peaceful prayer space within which my three distractions have been dealt with. I encourage you to approach Jesus with a desire to discover how to pray and leave aside your own assumptions and desires. For prayer is taking time in the presence of God and, as we shall see, using Jesus’ template prayer to guide us effectively in our prayer endeavours.

QUESTION: How would you describe your prayer life?

PRAYER: Lord, during this Novena, teach me more about how to pray.

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Day 40 - Issue 21

May 27, 2017

Acts 1:14 NLT

'They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.'

Today I invite you to prepare for a Novena of prayer with Premier. Premier first launched a Novena in 2015, so this is the third year where we are encouraging concerted prayer. Premier are also supporting the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer initiative (see page 10 for more information).

The word Novena comes from the Latin for nine and describes those days when the disciples, together with Mary, Jesus’ mother, his brothers and other women waited for the promised Holy Spirit. They were “constantly united in prayer” as Luke records in Acts. It is the period from the ascension to Pentecost.

During this period the fledgling Church called out to God for power from on high so that they might fulfil Jesus’ command to witness to the very ends of the earth. They had a specific focus given by Jesus and so these nine days are for intentional prayer asking for fresh Holy Spirit power to then go and spread the good news about Jesus to everyone.

By committing to this Novena, we declare our serious intention to call upon God for his kingdom to come throughout the earth. I encourage each of us to say the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each daily prayer during our Novena. The prayer Jesus taught his disciples will provide the focus for this year’s Novena. So pause and pray that prayer right now. If you don’t know it, you can find it in Matthew 6:9-13.

This Novena aims to draw God’s diverse people into agreement and, with one united voice, to pray for the same objective. There is great power when God’s people come together in agreement in prayer. Between Ascension Day and Pentecost many tens of thousands will be joining this Novena and with the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer initiative. So as you say amen at the conclusion of your prayer, it will be both amplified and multiplied many thousands of times throughout the UK and beyond.

QUESTION: Will you commit to pray that the Holy Spirit will come to re-energise all God’s people to share the gospel?

PRAYER: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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Day 39 - Issue 21

May 26, 2017

Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

'Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.'

Reliability is a remarkable quality. Without it, all of life would implode. No guaranteed transport systems, contents at odds with the packaging description, and so forth. I take that very much for granted. I assume all will work and I live my life according to that assumption. What’s more, when a transport link is delayed or cancelled, I manage it easily and still max out my day.

It would appear trusting God is more challenging. Statements such as “I will neither fail nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), offer a measure of comfort, but prove more difficult to entrust one’s whole weight to. What if that promise buckles once tested? Yet, this is the resilience of God, enduring from before time to well beyond its closure, we are promised divine support. Journeying with Katey and MS proved a struggle. I wanted to find a positive outcome. Sitting back and relying on God was difficult. It illustrated to me that I just didn’t know how simply to be still. I was wired for action and measured engagement by measurable outcome.

As we realised that Katey needed 24/7 nursing home care, finding the home and entrusting Katey to their care was a nightmare. As I struggled to let go of my control over her environment, I had little real confidence that God still held her close to him. My ‘understanding’ told me that life for her had to be perfect in as much as I designed perfect. Yet there remained obstacles to overcome such as peg feeding (feeding through a tube into the stomach). Here getting the level of feed correct proved challenging to nursing staff. I blamed their incompetence. Why might God let this happen?

Still Katey retained her good humour and eventually everything balanced out. Why did her life take this course? I cannot say. I’m now able to recognise God’s presence throughout. I still ask questions of myself. Am I able to lean upon God in such moments? Is God resilient enough to sustain me? Am I resilient enough to endure with little else but God’s promise to rely upon?

QUESTION: Are you able to lean into God at the expense of your own doubts and fears?

PRAYER: Lord, I trust you, lead the way.

 

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Day 38 - Issue 21

May 25, 2017

Psalm 92:14 NLT

'Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.'

Living with Mum, I find myself contemplating my own ageing process in greater detail. Her resilience is amazing as she struggles with what we might term the everyday details of living. Rising each morning to wash and dress takes time. Mobility is challenging as she moves cautiously through the house with her frame. And as I observe her sitting at the table gazing into the middle distance, I observe a measure of sadness and resignation in her face and posture. It has made me seriously consider my own journey with age.

Talking with others older than me, I come across their apparent disappointment in the repetitive nature of each day. It’s as if there is so much willingness to contribute and participate, yet so few obvious opportunities. I regularly lead retreats; over lunch and refreshments, many express their frustration that age appears to exclude them from playing any useful part in a Church that considers young people and families their priority. It’s as if a whole segment of society is abandoned to its own devices, cut loose in a sea of confusion with little support.
Great resilience is demonstrated by many as they age, yet there are limited opportunities to continue in practical service. Certainly the scale and scope may be reduced due to tiredness, arthritic joints and lapses in memory. Yet, nothing dims the hard-won lessons of experience and there must surely be a place for the battle-scarred to make a useful contribution to social cohesion.

I’m content with my life, pleased with how I have pushed through to today, yet unwilling to go too much further if daily life is a mere repeat of what I experienced yesterday, last week and last year. Someone recently asked me how I was feeling. I paused to reflect and I said, “I am content.” And so I am, for I feel I have contributed my best and recognise that there is not anything that calls me forward or awaits my attention. Finding my orchard in which to be fruitful for a fresh season is somewhat elusive. My resilience in life may be diminishing, I fear.

QUESTION: In what way is your life fruitful? How can you nurture that aspect?

PRAYER: Lord, let all your children of every age find their place to bear fruit for your kingdom.

 

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