Premier Novena 2018: Day Four

May 14, 2018

1 Samuel 8:7 NLT

“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.

There is power in the words we use. Words are the means by which God created the world: ‘God said…’ They are also the means we use to communicate ideas and feelings. With words we construct our understanding of ourselves, others and the world we inhabit. Words lay the foundations for realities we have to live with.

My mum is a great example of this. She tends to make her mind up quickly and independent of any external advice, but unintended consequences become apparent over time. This is why seeking the counsel and wisdom of others is a good thing. Also, waiting on critical decisions is useful. In my younger days I was much like my mum, and life was more chaotic than it needed to be.

Here Israel looks for a simple answer to a complex problem. The problem – discerning God’s will in daily living. This is something I have struggled with over the years, initially suffering the fear of stepping out of God’s will, through to a complete confusion as to what God’s will is. Life happens to me, and is this a consequence of failing to live within God’s will? Or is it the reality of God inviting me to discover more of the kingdom though life experience, trusting that whatever the scale of the challenge, I will find my way and God’s way?

Imagining there is a simple answer to the way and will of God is foolish. The elders’ insistence, while looking a lot like assured leadership, was actually a rejection of God. Certainty is an illusion we cherish in a world that seeks to manage risk. We should not be surprised if God acts like the least risk averse person we will ever encounter.

QUESTION: Has life thrown you a curved ball lately?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

 

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Three

May 13, 2018

1 Samuel 8:5 NLT

“Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

One of the greatest challenges and a tremendous source of learning, as I accompanied Katey on her journey with MS, was that there are very few definitive answers. I had erroneously held the view that medical science was far more precise than in fact it was. I discovered when anyone enters a period where health issues are not ‘open and shut’, then with the best will in the world, no medic can provide a definitive answer.

Consequently, both patient and medic struggle. The patient wanting the reassurance that a treatment will bring improvement and solve a medical issue, the medic uncomfortable with their responsibility to deliver news that things can get worse as well as better. I felt like I was stepping onto a frozen pond where the thickness of the ice was forever uncertain. At any moment I might plunge into the icy waters below. Living with uncertainty is stressful and yet is a central part of learning to live on earth.

As the elders in Israel demand a king, tired of the uncertainties of the prophets with their their mixed motives and messages, they fail to recognise that they will not be guaranteed the certainty they crave.

News reports from around the globe reveal that we exercise little control over our day-to-day destiny. None of us has a handle on what tomorrow might bring. This is why Jesus encourages us to think in terms of today rather than tomorrow. All the planning in the world will not divert disaster if it chooses to come calling. God is no guarantee against human disappointment, pain or personal tragedy. God offers accompaniment through such experiences and the promise of a promised land the other side of the desert.

QUESTION: Do you seek simple answers to complex questions?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

 

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Two

May 12, 2018

Exodus 20:2 NLT

'I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.'

Our reflections for this 2018 Premier Novena are based around the words Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, “your Kingdom come”. It sounds simple and clear, and yet carries within it the very heart of our relationship to God. It is a simple thing to entrust ourselves into God’s care and to acknowledge that God will provide for us in each and every situation. This I did enthusiastically and sincerely as a student. I had never had the gospel, or the good news about Jesus as my rescuer, explained to me. It made sense to my rational mind and slowly it took hold of my heart as well. I no longer simply believed in the logic of salvation, but I experienced a realisation of God’s presence alongside me in my everyday life.

However, then life began to happen all around and to me. There were things I enjoyed and circumstances I’d never have chosen in a month of Sundays. This culminated in the journey Katey and I were introduced to following her diagnosis with progressive MS. Suddenly rescue seemed a somewhat hollow word.

Like Israel I stood at the start of a journey of discovery. Freedom from slavery was not the equivalent of the comfortable life. I encountered the challenge from my own inner assumption that life on the earth must be easy for me. I deserved a good and steady income, safety from external threat to my security and well-being, and the freedom to choose what I wanted in life. I was now invited to discover that journeying with God offered total provision, yet a provision that lay beyond my ability to understand and control. I was subject to God’s rule.

Our world prizes independence above all else, and God’s kingdom can prove uncomfortable by contrast. It’s so often realised in the hidden spaces ahead of the public squares. Israel was brought into a wilderness of God’s choosing as the only route leading into the Promised Land.

QUESTION: Will you lay down your independence and accept God’s right to rule your life?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

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Premier Novena 2018: Day One

May 11, 2018

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.'

I invite you to join with thousands of other Christians in a Premier Novena. The word Novena comes from the Latin for nine and describes the nine days when the disciples, together with Mary, Jesus‘ mother, waited for the promised Holy Spirit. They united in continuous prayer as Luke records in Acts. It is the nine days from the ascension up to Pentecost.

During these nine days the fledgling Church called out to God for power from on high so they could 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. In 2018 our reflections and prayers will focus on the words Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, “your Kingdom come”.

By committing to this Novena, we declare our serious intention to call on God for his kingdom to be made manifest throughout the earth. That’s why I encourage each of us to say the Lord’s prayer at the start of each daily prayer during our Novena. Pause and pray that prayer right now: Our Father...

This Novena seeks 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. Every day as I say “Amen” at the conclusion of my prayer, it will be both amplified and multiplied many thousands of times throughout the United Kingdom.

Finally, I pray that each of us, having dedicated ourselves to pray over these next nine days, will experience a fresh visitation of the Holy Spirit.

QUESTION: Will you commit to pray for the next nine days for God’s kingdom to come to the United Kingdom with fresh power?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

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Day 24 - Issue 25

May 10, 2018

Hebrews 2:14b NLT

'For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.'

The idea and experience of death is far-reaching. It self-evidently describes that time each of us will face when we draw our last breath. Yet, we die many times throughout our lives. As I embraced a dear friend and sobbed out my sorrow at being unable to father children, something died within – and here was I grieving its loss. Then Katey and I fought MS unsuccessfully and slowly came to terms with the fact we had to learn to live with it in our home and our dreams. We all face and fight death many times throughout life.

The Jews recognised the devil as the angel of death, the one who intimidates each of us with the fear that what we face is insurmountable. Experiences can drain us of hope and the will to live. This is all a part of the fear of death. In fact, for a number of years Katey and I were living in the gloom of death, boxing its shadows in a vain hope we might exit this underworld and find the life we yearned for and imagined we deserved. Death ruled us and we were subservient to its master, Satan. We died to friends, to church, to anything that lay beyond the shadow it cast across our path. Like gangrene, it was slowly taking hold and would have entirely killed us even as we lived.

Thank God, our eyes were opened as we recognised that in fact death was defeated through Jesus. Defeated even as he walked in its shadow, suffered yet endured, and broke its power once and for all. We clung to Christ, painful though that was. Our suffering rose to overwhelm us on many occasions, yet somehow we clung to Christ.

Seizing control of how we chose to perceive and experience our circumstances, we disempowered the angel of death, for we were not dying, we were living. We were living within clear constraints, yet now sustained by the knowledge and presence of Jesus.

QUESTION: What might it take to move from fear to living out of hope through grace?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you that you broke the power of death so that I need fear it no more.

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Day 23 - Issue 25

May 9, 2018

Hebrews 2:11 NLT

'So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.'

I assume that everyone at some time wonders about the dysfunctional nature of blood family. I find it amazing that I have observed many differences between my siblings, parents and myself. Such dysfunction tears families apart, and I for one was pleased to find God and then the Church, assuming this would prove to offer a functional family.

Sadly, it didn’t. No surprise, since Church is merely a gathering of dysfunctional, fractured people who inevitably show a measure of that dysfunction in their congregations. So I might look to blood family and then to church family for sustenance, belonging and acceptance and be bitterly disappointed and even bruised from the encounter. However, we do have one functional sibling. This is Jesus, who having accepted the invitation to share our humanity experienced the suffering that accompanies every expression of human mortality.

Deep into our journey with MS, Katey and I sensed the loneliness of not having either blood or church family that closely involved with us. Only as we were encouraged by our brother Jesus, who was able to reflect with us upon his own suffering, that hope was reignited within our ailing hearts. Jesus who demonstrated that suffering was one of a number of ingredients that made up our mortal experience of life, a suffering that was only sustainable through obedience to God. We hobbled along beside each other, drawing comfort from the stories of our holy companion.

The confidence born of knowing that I am already embraced by God’s family, that Jesus is my brother, brings me great encouragement amid the fears and anxieties that accompany me through life.

QUESTION: How can you help your family (blood family or church family) become a healthier one?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you that you have adopted us into your family to share in your life and love.

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Day 22 - Issue 25

May 8, 2018

Hebrews 2:10 NLT

'God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.'

How many people would volunteer to live a life of suffering? Not me and probably not you. Gazing out across our world, we see huge swathes of suffering, from stateless refugees to starving populations through famine or war. Even on our own doorstep homelessness has risen, and the rapid growth in food banks suggests poverty is on the increase.

When things are going well it is easy to be caught up in the goodness of life and fail to see the human suffering that surrounds us. Its scale is often what prevents us engaging more directly, for answers lie well beyond our competence. Certainly I would have continued completely unaware of the complexities of suffering had it not come knocking on my door. The journey with Katey’s MS caught me unawares and changed me forever.

It is perhaps a comfort to consider that Jesus walked a path of suffering. The scripture uses the word ‘perfected’ as if the suffering was of some medicinal benefit. It can sound somewhat callous and cruel on God’s part, but that’s perhaps to miss the point. In perfecting something I am providing the finishing touches. Is suffering one tool to help put the finishing touches to my life of faith and faithfulness? Have I invited God to use whatever tool he sees fit for my perfection when surrendering to God?

Was Katey perfected through suffering? I can say she endured and emerged a wonderful person through that difficult journey. I can say I was radically reformatted as a direct result. Did we want it? Emphatically no! Did we embrace it? Eventually, yes! Was an early death a defeat for Katey? Not really, as she entered into her rest and the fullest expression of herself in eternity with Christ. Lest we forget, death has no longer any sting (see 1 Corinthians 15:55-57). There is here a deep mystery that surrounds suffering, one that becomes deeper the moment we are invited to walk its demanding path.

QUESTION: Do you think suffering is something that should always be resisted?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to relieve the sufferings of others and endure with faith the trials that I have to face.

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Day 21 - Issue 25

May 7, 2018

Hebrews 2:9 NLT

'What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.'

Imagining the future can be difficult. In a recent report I read about ageing, Australian psychologists identified that older people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. What they imagine, or fear, about getting older actually becomes their reality. In other words, we live our lives in line with our expectations. I can see this in myself at times.

Reading the Bible offers us regular insights into God’s promises and purpose. Many are future-focused and have to be taken on trust. Our problem is the confidence we can place in this data source. For without such confidence we are unlikely to place much trust in it. Yet, what other sources of data do we have to choose from?

In our minds we might elevate certain individuals or professions to the status of experts but they too can fail in their evaluations. It is always my responsibility to choose the degree to which I accept their assessment. The risk, whether explained or not, always remains mine. Often in such pressing situations we hear the most positive potential outcome and quickly assume this is our expected outcome. When it fails in some way we look to blame someone, usually the medical profession. The future is forever uncertain, and remains such for each of us. We cannot control it.

God in his wisdom has made a long-term promise for the future of humanity. He then demonstrates his authority in making such a promise. Jesus, God made flesh, endured life on earth as we do, human yet divine, “tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, HCSB). However, while subject to the constraints of mortality in a corrupt world, he endured and conquered, for which God placed everything within his power. So, this is the basis of God’s invitation that I place trust in God’s promise for my future. It remains my choice.

QUESTION: In looking to the future, what do you imagine and fear?

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord God, that one day you will make all things new.

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Day 20 - Issue 25

May 4, 2018

Acts 9:36 NLT

'There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.'

In an article entitled ‘The History of Random Acts of Kindness’ I learned that it all started in a restaurant in Sausalito, California in 1982 where Anne Herbert scrawled on a placemat the following words: ‘practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty’. Yet, here in Joppa, Luke introduces us to Dorcas, commended for her acts of kindness. It seems as if as Christians we may have failed to capitalise upon a simple, foundational responsibility of discipleship.

Dorcas simply got on with doing good works, so when she died she was greatly mourned. So much so that Peter came, prayed for her and she was restored to life. God wants kind people.

One reason older people are ignored is that often they are slow. All this demonstrates just how self-centred we have each become, which is why in 1982 a placemat slogan left such a lasting impression. It has given birth to [itals]randomactsofkindness.org[end itals], a foundation dedicated to building a kinder world. Hold on! Isn’t that the invitation the Church accepted from Jesus?

If we left our homes each day with a commitment to put other people’s interests ahead of our own through spontaneous acts of random kindness, kingdom behaviours would begin to express themselves all over the country. Given that we know we are hardwired to mirror other human beings, before long we would be multiplying such random acts a hundredfold and run the risk of an epidemic of kindness spreading nationwide. Do something thoughtful, say something complimentary, and offer your support. It’s not difficult. It puts a smile on their face as well as on yours. It costs us little and reminds us to love our neighbour – precisely the same way we want to be loved.

QUESTION: What random acts of kindness might you carry out today?

PRAYER: Lord, you have been so kind to me; help me be kind to others.

 

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Day 19 - Issue 25

May 3, 2018

1 John 4:18 NLT

'Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.'

The nights that prove most difficult for me are those when I wake about 2.30am with anxious thoughts. In an instant I know that I’m unlikely to fall back to sleep. My greatest fears over the years boil down to an inability to do what I know I have to get done on time, and a fear of not having enough money to live on. Both are irrational yet very real. Where once I would get up, fret, become angry and resentful, I now have adopted a far more healing strategy.

Now, waking in the wee small hours, I first acknowledge the reality of my fears. I have also adopted a first step which is all part of this acknowledgement. I reach for my prayer rope and in the darkness, lying in bed, I slowly and calmly recite my prayer cycle aided by the beads. The very physicality of using the prayer rope gives me a tangible reminder that God’s love drives away all fear. This is a familiar, safe prayer space for me, so I take myself there and don’t allow my fears to spiral out of control.

Having managed my initial reaction, I get up, pull on my dressing gown and make my way to my second safe space, the small altar before which I say my morning prayer each day. I light the candle and the familiarity of this routine brings me comfort.

If there is something practical I can do to satisfy my anxious mind, one outstanding email or read up a report, I might take 30 minutes to clear that from my mental locker, but I won’t settle to work. Then I take my schedule diary and note emails I need to do, work tasks that come to mind etc. I convince my mind it’s been taken seriously and tasks will be done. I have then established sufficient space to sit with a cup of tea and read a book.

Fear is a mighty monster and attacks us when we least expect it. However, we have in Christ the way forward.

QUESTION: What are your favourite fears, the ones you return to most?

PRAYER: Lord, when I am filled with fear, draw my heart and mind to your great love to me in Christ.

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