Day 29 - Issue 24

February 8, 2018

Acts 2:46 NLT

'They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…'

I have always been a ‘big picture’ person. I can see where I want to get to, yet the details of how to get there can leave me confused and I easily get lost. So ideas come easily to me, yet what value is thought leadership if it only ever carries me down a dead end? As with Abraham, the final destination is of less importance than the starting point. Without a start there can be no arrival.

When I began my morning prayer, it was not a place of deep encounter and inner joy. It was the result of a deliberate decision to be obedient to what I believed God had said to me. Mornings were cold, dark and unappealing. At times it was no more than pausing, lighting a candle and making a short prayer appealing to God for greater illumination from the light of Christ. I persevered, found an office of Morning Prayer (mainly psalms), discovered concentration was best achieved by saying then chanting these aloud and so a practice was established; a practice that was often hijacked by distractions, depression and at times, an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness.

This matters little in God’s economy, for I learned these feelings and perceptions were all about me and I was seeking to honour God. The important thing I learned was that to make a start was essential. Without that start I was most certainly going nowhere. Each day I persevered – be it for two or 15 minutes, I established a pattern of behaviour which my whole being slowly grew familiar with. I discovered that repetition matters. Each day I took another incremental step towards my goal. My journey was towards a destination and each step mattered. Rising early each day, not only did I pray in some form, I also began to discover more of how to pray. I established approaches to prayer that suited my personality. Not always sure if I enjoyed this time, I was sure that I was learning and living in obedience.

QUESTION: Do you have a clear sense of what God is calling you to?

PRAYER: Lord, may every day draw me closer to that to which you have called me – the upwards call of God in Christ.

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Day 28 - Issue 24

February 7, 2018

Mark 6:46 NLT

'After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.'

The things we do when tired most likely indicate the things we want to do. Years ago when leading a church, I was attending a conference of like-minded congregations. The next day I was to work with a co-leader on a presentation around the Celtic Christian influence on church-based mission. Historical in part, its primary purpose was to invite churches to adopt critical elements drawn from the Celtic missionary movement and implement them as elements of missional discipleship.

Our learning had proved exciting and inspiring. As we stood talking that evening, my colleague reflected on St Cuthbert’s practice of wading out into the sea to stay awake so he might pray to God. Our conference was on the coast so I suggested we follow in St Cuthbert’s footsteps. We talked about it and decided to go to bed.

Wanting to do something is essential to its achievement. I question how seriously I wanted to embrace the way of sacrifice from which the missionary exploits of the Celtic missionaries were born. Jesus, after a day of travelling, teaching and ministry, repeatedly made his way to the mountain to pray alone. He wanted to fellowship with his Father.

Too often our desires are shaped by our environment. Here it was the platform and the opportunity to speak authoritatively about the Celtic mission to the British Isles that was the real desire within our hearts. I’d failed to grasp that they were missional only as a consequence of their radical devotion and obedience to God. I certainly imagined we might persuade through the quality of our presentation and force of human will within a worship setting. I was wrong.

QUESTION: In what way do you most want to grow in your following of Christ?

PRAYER: Lord God, you say you give us the desires of our heart. May my deepest desire be for you.

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Day 27 - Issue 24

February 6, 2018

Psalm 5:3 NLT

'Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.'

Well-intentioned aspirations have a habit of failing to materialise. It’s not that there isn’t the enthusiasm, but inertia proves a mighty boulder to move. I’ve lost count of the aspirations I’ve conceived that never got beyond the edge of the sofa. So how can we realise the dreams that God awakens within our hearts?

The first question is the reality test. How many singers have we seen on TV talent shows who audition full of ambition, only to have their dreams crushed when advised by the experts on the panel that they simply cannot sing? My first enquiry of myself is about the realistic nature of my dream.

Then it’s the need to turn that aspiration into action. This requires some hard work. It can only ever happen once we set a time when we shall begin. It doesn’t matter when that time is, but it matters that there is a start and an end time. For me, mornings are good, so my intention to practise a rhythm of prayer started with determining when I would get up three days a week to take 15 minutes in prayer. This prayer was a written morning prayer which I chanted, since chanting helped keep my attention on what was in the prayer. I wasn’t worried about feel-good moments or measuring productivity or outcomes. I just got up and prayed my daily office.

Someone once wisely wrote that it’s important to give our goals a time and a place to live in the world. Until we do that, they have no context and cannot take shape. Slowly this routine took shape. I reflected upon the distractions that besieged me, the patterns of avoidance I seemed to build en route to my morning prayer. Yet, I developed a consistency and celebrated that above any measurable outcome I might expect from faithful prayer. I was acting out of obedience to what God had placed in my heart and to the schedule I had set to give my goals a time and place in the world.

QUESTION: How can you discover how committed you are to your dream?

PRAYER: Lord, save me from good intentions and help me to practise what I preach.

 

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Day 26 - Issue 24

February 5, 2018

Hebrews 5:14 NLT

'Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.'

Diets are all the rage. They’re usually adopted by people feeling guilty about their weight and sometimes driven by fear of Type 2 Diabetes and other health-related threats, but whatever their reasons, much of the time the dieters fail. I remember, after Christmas when the papers fill their magazines with miraculous diet plans, agreeing with Katey that we would follow along. Inspired for a moment, we never even implemented the recommendation for day one. We failed before we started.

Yet, forming habits is perhaps the only way by which we can advance towards any goal we hold. The challenge is we are intoxicated with the end result. We live the other side of the finishing line before the starting pistol has been fired. This is a guarantee that we will be forever dreamers and never realise our goal. The way to approach any goal is to concentrate upon making a good start, without which we are not even in the race.

I have spent years wrestling with the practice of consistent prayer. Prayer is commended in the scriptures, was practised by Jesus and is practised by Church and disciple alike. Now as a hermit in training, I find many people talk to me about the unsatisfactory nature of their own prayer life; their assumption being that I have tapped into a silver bullet that at a stroke will deal with the discomfort they experience with their own prayer life. I disabuse everyone of that assumption.

The way to advance towards any goal, dietary or prayerful, is to determine to practise every day, regardless of the apparent personal gains. Feelings are a terrible measure against which to determine if something is working or not. It is essential to establish a plan and to then implement that plan daily. This daily practice then becomes a habit and a part of our regular, everyday experience.

QUESTION: What steps do you need to take daily to realise the dreams God has given you?

PRAYER: Lord, train this child in the way I should go, form me and grow a godly character within me that I may serve you better.

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Day 25 - Issue 24

February 2, 2018

Psalm 89:14b NLT

'Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.'

‘Steadfast’ is not a very attractive word. It means ‘resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering’. Now, those words strike me as heavy, somewhat grey and drab. It is perhaps a reflection of the reality that I prefer to live beyond boundaries and explore uncharted waters. Yet, unwavering duty is precisely what was required as I accompanied Katey on her journey with MS. I didn’t naturally have the inbuilt capacity to navigate this journey and I needed to work at discovering the skills and mindset required.

I discovered that I had to exchange a fixed mindset. Initially, I evaluated the situation as one that required God’s intervention through a miracle of physical healing to make sense of Katey’s unwelcome illness. Now I needed to develop a mindset that believed that I, and we, had the capacity to learn how to live within the constraints and realities of the MS. This included its impact upon our psychological well-being as well as our approach to our faith. It demanded we also learn to embrace and master the changes Katey’s physical deterioration introduced to our marriage and daily living.

God requires that we embrace a growth mindset, for we can never begin to deepen friendship with God with a fixed mindset. Such a mindset is what we discover among God’s critics. They can list all the things that disprove God’s existence, such as pain and suffering throughout the world, yet only because they have a fixed view about who the God is they choose to criticise.

We certainly criticised God, yet slowly found the resilience within to embrace a growth mindset and began looking for who and where God was, in the bitter experience of our life reality. Accepting God was resolutely unwavering in his love for us was a challenge, since our assumed signals of such love appeared to have been ignored. Where is love in pain and despair? Well, where it always is. In the gift of God, once I can overcome a mindset that has predetermined how God must deal with me. Once embraced, a growth mindset removes all obstacles to discovering the depths of God’s love.

QUESTION: Do you experience the resolutely unwavering love of God in your daily circumstances?

PRAYER: Unfailing love and truth are such precious gifts I find only in you, my God.

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Day 24 - Issue 24

February 1, 2018

Psalm 89:11 NLT

'The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours – you created it all.'

In unstable times, it is inevitable that each of us looks for something on which we can build trust and confidence. Some lay hold of politics, others save money against what we call ‘a rainy day’. The list is endless. I had placed my trust and confidence in a loving, life-long relationship with the woman of my dreams. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to prevent that love slipping through my fingers. The cruel ravages of MS were finally too great a hurdle for Katey’s immune system to conquer.

“This is my wife!” I yelled at a deaf deity. All my hopes were invested in that love and now I was left with just my fears. The silence that accompanies death lasts long beyond the lingering notes accompanying the coffin’s final journey into the crematorium oven; life so vibrant when filled with love; so empty and cold once that love has dissipated.

It was almost cruel, too hard to bear and believe that God was somehow in this arrangement. As time passed, I was able to reflect upon how Katey’s early departure to glory had exposed where I’d placed my trust and confidence. It was in her, in our relationship, in our most wonderful marriage. Yet, this was only ever a micro world of our own creation. We may well have been God’s gift to each other, yet how quickly we turned our eyes away from God. We began to build a world born of our own imagination, with every expectation that God approved. Had we ever asked? Not once.

The silence was time and space for me to recalibrate my understanding. The world was God’s and I but God’s servant within it. I struggled with the practice of placing my trust in God’s capability. My head affirmed this was God’s world. My emotions and reactions told a very different story. Slowly I learned that life is about transferring all of my trust onto God. No hedging of bets, no carefully crafted human fall-back plan.

QUESTION: Where is your trust and confidence invested?

PRAYER: Lord, my Rock, show me where I need to trust in you alone.

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Day 23 - Issue 24

January 31, 2018

Psalm 89:6 NLT

'For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord?'

Comparison is risky. I’ve spent time with so many who have disqualified themselves on the basis of a comparison they have made, invariably a false one. Every comparison made on ‘objective data’ is in fact limited by the basis upon which that data is both selected and presented. So, adverts with beautiful women are there to associate that level of so-called human beauty and sensuality with the product they are selling and more importantly, if I were to buy that product, somehow such beauty and sensuality will transfer to me. However, if skin deep ‘beauty’ and sexual arousal are low on my list of priorities, then the ads are a waste of my precious time.

My preferred comparison is with Jesus, a man whose appearance was not handsome according to Isaiah and who was despised and rejected by the majority who saw him on the cross. My objective is to see beyond the superficial attractions of this world and gaze on God. What a challenge and what an invitation. God is knowable, as tangible as any advertised and manufactured product.

It’s taken years of inner angst, doubt and disturbance to arrive at a place where my primary purpose in life is to discover more of God. I am dissatisfied with everything else on offer around me. If God is knowable, the inner light, the way, truth and life, then this is my ever-increasing desire.

There is nothing and no one who can hold a candle to the God of eternity, source of all life. As I have contemplated this God, desire for those things I once craved has all but fallen away. Insecurities remain, not least in that I don’t know precisely how God might sustain me beyond the material model that surrounds me. Yet, God’s love never ends, so I cannot ever reach beyond it.

QUESTION: How much do you compare your own life against that of others?

PRAYER: Radiant One, your light gives light to all that you have made and truly there is nothing to compare to you.

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Day 22 - Issue 24

January 30, 2018

Psalm 89:2 NLT

Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

I can be flaky at times. I can be adamant about something one day and months later take a different view. Consistency is not an enduring human characteristic. For me, the clearest measure of that is friendship. Today I have little meaningful interaction with people who at one time I described as friends for life. I guess if we sat down for a drink together we might revisit and affirm that. This would be perhaps more about satisfying our consciences than having any meaningful substance within life. If I’m honest, I miss any number of such friendships. Yet, upon reflection, I wonder about the integrity of these declarations of commitment to friendship; mine and my ‘friends’.

Am I complaining? Not really. If I’m honest, I reflect upon an isolated childhood in which I was very comfortable living within my own world. My mind was a place of many adventures and satisfying discoveries. So perhaps I am not hardwired for friendship and my inconsistency is a consequence of this attitude. However, God is consistent. Even when I cannot experience God’s love, there is apparent distance, pain, disappointment of a period of disillusion; God’s friendship is unshakeable. I might attempt to shrug it off, yet like a shadow, God accompanies me even when the sun is masked by clouds.

So I rise with the dawn, embrace the return of daylight as a symbol of God’s forever presence and declare God’s love and faithfulness, no matter how I feel. My own mood, my apparent failures, my fractured and therefore sinful life is no impediment to God’s enduring love. Only my reluctance to speak of that faithfulness or my preference to wallow in my own pit of self-pitying pain can darken the skies above and obliterate God’s shadow. It was a difficult lesson, learning to declare the reality of God in the middle of hardship and heartbreak. Yet, doing so, through gritted teeth, was a declaration of where I placed my hope, even as I felt I was drowning within a hopeless situation. This was the lifebuoy that kept me afloat in tempestuous seas.

QUESTION: Can you declare God’s faithfulness as you gaze upon your own life experience?

PRAYER: Thank you, God, that you are the same yesterday, today and forever.

 

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Day 21 - Issue 24

January 29, 2018

Psalm 89:1 NLT

'I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.'

Love is a wonderful yet imprecise word. The dictionary can describe it as “intense feelings of deep affection” and “a formula for ending an affectionate letter”. If love were a formula, I guess we would all experience far more stable, long-term, intimate relationships than appears to be the case. Of course, we recognise that we each emerge into adulthood with wounds and scars from the experiences of love that we encounter. Home life and then early romances all impact each one of us far deeper than we realise. These experiences then influence our ability and disability within a ‘loving relationship’.

Here the psalmist begins a journey from a different perspective. He will not sing of his love for God. Rather he opens his mouth and sings of God’s love forever. In fact, he is little concerned with informing us what his experience of love might be. And love demands this of us, for we are not the centre of our loving relationship. The object of that love is the focus.

It is also likely that I may in fact take this imprecise term, love, and invest it with meaning of my own imagination. I want love, being interpreted as a desire for security, partnership, friendship, sexual gratification, a family. Here love is given a clear and unequivocal concrete meaning.

So following Jesus in the hope of eternal security, personal safety, prosperity and provision reveals little about the nature of love for God and everything about the substance of what I in fact love. Accompanying Katey through her journey with MS, where the sacred heart of marriage where two become one was quickly impossible, was I to sing of Katey’s love for me or complain about my unmet sexual needs? Well, the reality is that I loved Katey for who she was, not as a means of sexual fulfilment. To travel celibate was no hardship, albeit a learned habit, for I knew of Katey’s deep love for me. She never failed to tell me and convey it through her eyes alone, even as spasticity and memory loss ate at her physical being.

QUESTION: How has God shown his unfailing love to you?

PRAYER: Loving Lord, I am so thankful that your love came to me freely as a gift, I will sing of your love.

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Day 20 - Issue 24

January 26, 2018

Genesis 11:4 NLT

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”

Learning the nature of my humanity has taken many years. I remember the confidence that flowed through my veins from a young age. A confidence that was on reflection as much arrogance as it was any feeling of self-reliance. There was at its heart a desire for personal recognition. I sought recognition and ‘I’ wanted to be at the centre of my own world.

A young man with an ego seeking to find voice and expression most certainly relished the opportunities working for a high-profile youth ministry gave me in running gospel concerts at prestigious venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, and administrating the dream that became a major Christian festival. Yet, I wanted to be on the platform. I also came to believe that my endeavours, joined to others and then effectively funded, would certainly bring in God’s kingdom. I expected to be blessed and thanked by God for my vision, sacrifice and hard work.

Like the architects of the dream of Babel, I spoke out my intention and paused just briefly for prayer; a prayer informing God what he might bless. Little wonder on that journey God needed to confront me in an attempt to open my eyes to the reality that God calls the tune and I sing it and dance to it. Stripping back my youthful confidence I found that self-reliance, while convenient and comforting, blinded me to the will and way of God. In journeying alongside Katey’s MS, I both lost and found myself, my true self.

It took what seemed forever for my egoistic strength to drain away. And when it had, I felt an empty shell of a man. I looked for God, yet found nothing but a desert of apparent desertion and desolation. I was lost once more and in desperate need of a saviour. So began a search of my new barren home, a land in which I depended upon an unseen God to sustain me. I learned to live all over again.

QUESTION: Is your life built upon your own confidence in your ability, or are you overwhelmed by the realities of life?

PRAYER: Sovereign Lord, I need you, depend on you and cannot live without you.

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