Day 43 - Issue 23

November 29, 2017

2 Corinthians 10:5 NLT

'We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.'

All of us will have experience of just how easily the mind can be distracted sometimes with stray thoughts or questions. I have painfully learned over a number of years that my mind wants to direct my life, ahead of the Holy Spirit.

While the brain is an astounding organ, it is also consistently wired to take control of our whole being. When stung by a wasp, messages rush to the brain to report this incident; the brain analyses from experience that this is a threatening event and on the basis of this analysis sends back information and immediately the area hurts. I now know I need to take care of this, it’s an issue. All this happens in microseconds. While helpful here, there are times when the brain sticks its nose in where it isn’t required, such as in prayer. For the purpose of prayer is to be in close connection with God, a matter of heart ahead of mind.

So the thousands of books written on how to pray are for the most part models and techniques that may work in the first instance due to their novelty, yet can only ultimately fail us, since they are engaging our mind to lead our prayer. When praying about a specific issue, the mind interprets the impact it has, past, present and future. We battle hard to suppress what we decide are ‘unchristian’ thoughts, an exhausting and often fruitless activity. We eventually emerge exhausted, frustrated, locked back into the incident and to some measure, defeated. Problem is, we gave free rein to the mind.

Best to sit, acknowledge the incident and rather than engage the mind in crafting a series of words to bring to God, just quietly repeat the word ‘Jesus’, since Jesus alone is your help. The mind cannot take control because you are not utilising it to craft an intercession. You sit before God as the intercession. This is one way of taking every thought captive. Then, before leaving that space, give thanks to God for his love and acceptance of you, fractures and all. You are as God describes you, not as you think you are.

QUESTION: What thoughts regularly come to you that you need to take captive?

PRAYER: Lord God, help me to train my thoughts and my mind around your grace to me in Jesus Christ.

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Day 42 - Issue 23

November 28, 2017

Psalm 107:8 NLT

'Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.'

I was recently reflecting with an American friend that the British psyche appears to be located in the ‘glass half-empty’ category. I went on to explain how she must have observed that when asked a simple question like, “How are you?” a typical response might be, “I can’t complain”, the inference being somewhat disappointing. Or perhaps the response might be, “I can’t grumble”, suggesting a longing to have at least something to grumble about.

The challenge is that our words deeply impact our physical and psychological condition. Years ago I found myself answering questions about how I was by replying, “I’m tired.” I journeyed daily with an increasing sense of tiredness because I was simply declaring this is how I was. Maybe I had been busy and my body desired a rest, but tiredness was not my identity. I might have more helpfully said, “I have been busy and I am looking forward to a rest this weekend.”

I’m not advocating the power of positive thought here. I am reminding us all that words have consequences. It’s less ‘positive thinking’ and more ‘accurate reporting’. The question, “How are you?” deserves an honest response. So Jayne with her chronic pain condition answers both with a clarification of her scale of pain and where it’s located, as well as her general state of mind, anything from happy through to anxious, and able to locate the source of both happiness and anxiety. Specifics help the brain to process our physical and psychological condition effectively.

This week is a great opportunity to practise some thanksgiving! Many reports about the condition of the world will sound relatively downbeat. However, I can specifically give thanks to God for his steadfast love. God isn’t letting go of me, regardless of circumstance. And God’s wonderful works to humanity are self-evident. Time to recall some of the good things God has done in my life, regardless of adverse events. This is the purpose of thanksgiving, building a firebreak in front of an apparent wall of fire, breaking into what can become a negative downward spiral.

QUESTION: Write a list of all the things you can be thankful to God for.

PRAYER: Lord, you have done marvellous things and I am so grateful.

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Day 41 - Issue 23

November 27, 2017

Colossians 3:17 NLT

'And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.'

Each November at the Oratory we hold a Thanksgiving week. Jayne, who has American connections, helps us to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal with our cousins from across the Atlantic. It is also the week that leads us into Advent and the wonderful journey to the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem.

If like me you regularly watch news bulletins, you may feel there is seldom anything to give thanks for, save for the fact that we can switch off the TV! We are surrounded by voices of doom or impending difficulty. Where are the good news stories?

Some parents face the imminent Christmas school holidays with apprehension. With the children at home, families complain about the need to see each other through the festive season, or just how difficult it is to buy an appropriate present and how much it all costs. So, as the festive season approaches in many homes, a dis-ease breaks out requiring some tender loving care. But this is what Thanksgiving can provide. It’s a moment to pause and count blessings, looking back over the past year and recalling all those things for which you can be thankful. It’s a week of greeting strangers cheerfully, tipping generously and determining not to lose your temper.

Disturb your grumpy exterior and let God’s kingdom burst out of you with a proclamation of thanks. Why not start every day when stepping from bed by stretching out your arms and tracing a heart shape in the air before you, and declare, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it” (see Psalm 118:24).

QUESTION: How can you practise thankfulness today?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, through your gospel I am blessed beyond measure. May this truth produce a thankful heart in me.

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Day 40 - Issue 23

November 24, 2017

John 14:12 NLT

'I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.'

I can’t remember much of any careers advice I got from school. I did better at exams than I expected and so stumbled into A levels. Now able to study things I was interested in, I fared much better and landed at Oxford university.

As my degree reached its conclusion, I had no idea what to do next. I failed to secure a teacher training position or a place at law school. I did want to engage in Christian ministry, which is where I ended up. When I considered the works of Jesus, I was initially only able to think in terms of the missionary task of making Jesus known. I did plenty of that as a youth evangelist and responses were relatively good. However, I cannot be sure of their long-term fruitfulness.

The work of Jesus was in demonstrating trust in God’s faithfulness. While there might have been a moment of uncertainty in the garden of Gethsemane, it was nothing compared to my doubts and fears. This is the work of faith that truly is what is required. While miracles might give one pause to consider faith for oneself, maintaining faith through all the storms of life is a miracle in itself.

The greatest challenge any friend of God faces is maintaining faith in him throughout life, impossible without conviction in God’s own faithfulness. The question is posed and hovers over each of us, “Can you drink this cup?”

QUESTION: How do you measure the work of faith in your own life?

PRAYER: Lord, lead me to the works you would have for me today, and the courage to do them.

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Day 39 - Issue 23

November 23, 2017

John 14:11 NLT

'Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.'

I’ve written before about my confusion over relationships. I am surprised that I have found two completely different women in Katey and Jayne who have each loved me more than I might have imagined, and so much more than I deserve. Other relationships from school, university and then church have all been seasonal. They have endured for a period and then ended. I have concluded, perhaps in an attempt to protect my own heart, that relationships are purpose driven. That is, they exist for the creation and delivery of an objective, and cannot survive the achievement of their purpose.

Jesus here speaks of trust as an imperative in the relationship between the divine and humanity. Trust is challenging, especially if we’ve felt betrayed. Jayne, betrayed by her first husband who abandoned her seven months pregnant with their first child, very understandably struggles to this day with issues of trust. And I sense I’m no longer looking for friendship, since I’ve not really seen a relationship endure, except in my two marriages. Trust is not simply about a theoretical conviction, it is based upon the reliability of the person in which I place my trust.

I was recently generously invited to write an endorsement for a tremendous book on the ageing process. It was associated with an organisation I’d worked for and from which the separation had been painful for all the wrong reasons. I found I was unable to get beyond my woundedness to write the endorsement, and finally acknowledged that to its author. We used to say to our daughter trust is easy to give, but once lost is so very difficult to recover and rebuild.

Jesus says you can begin to believe on the basis of the things you experience and observe that God does, but this only establishes a fragile trust. Trust is seen in its greatest expression when I retain my confidence even when I can find no objective evidence to support that trust. It is based purely on my conviction about another’s trustworthiness.

QUESTION: Who do you trust and why?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, help me to not just to believe on you but to trust in you.

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Day 38 - Issue 23

November 22, 2017

John 14:6 NLT

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

I have had many so-called crises of faith throughout my life. The first I can recall is when I was forced to take six months off through physical exhaustion. This was a result of rushing around as a youth worker, paying little attention to the needs of my body and my spirit. I loved the platform and opportunities, and allowed them to squeeze out my personal time with God. In reality, I’d removed God from my life, believing doing his work was somehow the same as knowing him. I ran into a brick wall.

At that time I was upset that God hadn’t treated me better. After all, I was doing his work faithfully and well. I was working flat out, harder than many others I observed. I was sincere, but sincerely wrong. As I recovered, I explored other jobs almost to spite God. I was self-absorbed, flexing my independence muscles. This cycle of reaction and apparent rejection of God, a sulky, inner resentment was ignited and smouldered on many subsequent occasions when life didn’t work out in ways I believed were best for me.

It was a failure to recognise that Jesus is the Way. My moments of resentment were diversions of my own making that only led me off God’s path. The problem with a diversion is that most times it is a longer route than the one planned. So it was with me and God. However, along the diversion I had time and space to reflect. My initial reaction against God slowly dissipated. Having told God everything I was going to do in reaction to my disappointment, I made my peace with God once I recognised I had nowhere else to go. What I really desired was peace within and realisation of who I knew myself to be, a self that proved elusive. Known to God, it was only in him that I might find my true self, as opposed to the many false selves I so easily manufactured.

QUESTION: Is there any tension between the way you are seeking to walk out your life, and God’s way?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are the Way on which I will walk and base my life.

 

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Day 37 - Issue 23

November 21, 2017

John 14:3 NLT

'When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.'

As a young man, I found ‘waiting’ one of life’s most challenging activities. I was impetuous and ran before I could walk. Filled with optimism and self-confidence, I ran at life with its many opportunities, seldom waiting before diving in feet first. At times this left me in a precarious position, facing the consequences of my decisions with no thought on how to manage them.

So in choosing to follow Jesus, I never thought through the consequences of what that might mean. I was high on the promised upside for me, failing to consider what it meant to live a Christian life. I assumed it was about becoming a better person, with no real idea of what ‘better’ meant. My view was egocentric, all about me. God had other ideas. Following God is to step into a plan laid down before the foundation of the world where God’s purpose running through creation becomes the meaning of life. I am to be a reflection of God and caught up into this overarching revelation of love and grace throughout the earth.

My significance isn’t measured by my academic achievements, nor my role or my influence. It’s measured by the degree to which I respond to God’s invitation to wait and respond to God’s purpose throughout my life. In my early days of ministry, I rushed at opportunity and found myself on platforms long before I was sufficiently formed in Christ. Then, what I communicated was part God, but also part me. My interaction with people, my reaction and response to life, domestic and public, was framed by emotions and insecurities wrestling to control my persona. I was ‘half-baked’.

Training reveals its effect when I do by instinct what I’ve learned when my trainer isn’t with me. Jesus tells his disciples, “I’ll be away soon; do what you’ve learned, and don’t worry that I am not here to closely supervise your activities.”

QUESTION: Do you get impatient with God?

PRAYER: Lord, teach me, train me, form and shape me for your purposes.

 

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Day 36 - Issue 23

November 20, 2017

John 14:1 NLT

'Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.'

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.” I have pondered this often and recognise that trouble, defined as stress, anxiety, concern, feeling unsettled etc, plays a significant part in each one of our lives. Why is it that when Katey was unexpectedly late home from work, I began to fret that something terrible must have happened to her? Normally a delay at school, or heavy traffic was the reason, but my mind moved towards the catastrophic in the first instance.

Anxiety and stress have a physical impact upon us. I can feel my chest tightening, my breathing becomes shallower, my muscles tense. My emotions are equally influenced and concentration on anything other than the issue of concern seems impossible. Then, of course, when anxiety was resolved, and Katey walked through the door, I could react out of my anxiety and project blame, as though she deliberately caused my stress.

The response to anxiety is twofold, and both grow from calculating happiness. First I am invited to recall that God has my best interests at heart, even when it feels anything but the case. Then I am to take charge of my heart and move back into living in the secure knowledge that God exercises full control of every detail of life.

Following Jesus is not a passive activity. We exercise the faith muscle, much as we do any physical muscle required to move our mortal frame. God’s word is clear and true, yet we are expected to act upon it. So I choose to live within God’s provision, even when my circumstances appear to paint a different picture. This is calculating my happiness, for such happiness flourishes once I acknowledge all I have made available to me in God. Jesus invites his disciples to choose to live on the positive side of revelation, rather than fearing the likelihood of calamity and worse.

QUESTION: What things make you anxious?

PRAYER: Lord, help me trust you in the midst of all the things that can cause me to worry and lose sight of you.

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Day 35 - Issue 23

November 17, 2017

Psalm 31:24 NLT

'So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the LORD!'

My mum astonished me when my dad died. I was quite tearful as the reality of his death hit me in waves. But she told me she considered tears a sign of weakness and so she would not cry. This took me by surprise, and I didn’t challenge her statement. I was in no place to do so. However, I deeply disagree.

I was listening to a radio broadcast describing the merchant shipping that kept supplying Britain through the Second World War. One seaman told his experience of being sunk by a torpedo. He found himself swimming, surrounded by cold water and darkness. Alongside him was a fellow crew member and they swam with little knowledge if they were heading in a useful direction. Truly all at sea. After a couple of hours of surviving for its own sake, his colleague said, “I’m done with this” and slipped beneath the waters to his death. A little while later, the seaman described his rescue by a small boat searching for survivors. He kept going when all the odds were stacked against him.

The psalmist commands us to stay strong. We know that we are ultimately safe, yet the experience of swimming in the deep waters of life’s uncertainties can weaken our resolve to keep going. We are spoiled, given our geographical location and the benefits of a developed economy. Millions of God’s friends practise our shared faith in circumstances far more challenging than ours. They find strength to keep going and their testimony can be of great value in strengthening our own resolve.

Strength gives birth to courage because every stroke we swim gives us confidence to swim the next. The experience of surviving 30 minutes in atrocious conditions builds within the courage to swim another 30. Courage is a skill that we can each develop, a skill that is born of adversity.

QUESTION: How strong have you found yourself to be when tested?

PRAYER: Lord, please give your people who are facing hardship and persecution the courage to persevere.

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Day 34 - Issue 23

November 16, 2017

Psalm 31:10 NLT

'I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.'

How, precisely, are we to make sense of God in the face of insurmountable human suffering? I think that question is as old as time itself. As a young evangelist I had many well-crafted responses; these, I fear, mainly reassured those who wrestled with the question yet didn’t wrestle with long-term, unrelenting and debilitating pain. There are plenty of such people today for whom life is lived in continuous pain for which there is no medical remedy. So how might God be present in such lives?

I only speak as an observer; others would be able to speak with greater authority and authenticity than me, as they live with such pain. They face limitations on opportunities others take for granted and are subject to government scrutiny for circumstances they neither wished for nor cling to. The way in which society approaches its most vulnerable must reveal the level of its compassion and heart for God more than any other measure.

It’s essential that we make our complaint known to God and incumbent upon the Church to hear and acknowledge it, however theologically inconvenient it may appear. One strength of the gospel is that no one is excluded, yet I wonder for example how many people with a learning disability are supported in finding their way onto church leadership teams? They serve on health boards, why not eldership? When we don’t know how to respond, are devoid of answers and somewhat embarrassed by the lack of apparent divine intervention, we tend to pass by on the other side and ignore the glaring gap in our theological understanding.

These are situations where, once the noise of valiant intercessors, voices of anguish, complaint, cries of anger and frustration die down, there is nothing left but to wait in silence. Standing in silence alone is far more isolating and discriminatory than standing in silence together. We cannot invent satisfying answers where none exist. We simply wait in demonstration of faith and hope in God.

QUESTION: Is there anyone you know who is suffering right now?

PRAYER: Lord, would you strengthen the weak, comfort the mourning and give relief to those who are suffering today?

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