Day 18 - Issue 25

May 2, 2018

Psalm 139:14 NLT

'Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it.'

In the past I had a tendency towards self-criticism. This has not usually been a rational, objective self-criticism aimed at self-improvement. My instinct has been to walk away when things don’t go well. I have been described as “brittle” when it comes to facing and enduring pressure. This all lies in the fact that I have lived with poor self-esteem for many years. Consequently, I was emotionally unstable, reacted unpredictably in situations, so driving friends away and frustrating my own inner ambitions.

Facing this reality was tough. I first had to acknowledge its reality and facedown, then slay, my inner critic. This inner sense that clung to me like a shadow interpreted life through a self-critical lens. I desperately wanted to be accepted and affirmed, yet tried too hard. As I confronted my inner critic by accepting God’s appreciation expressed here by the psalmist, I slowly exchanged self-doubt for self-acceptance, which grew into self-confidence. I moved from focusing on self-criticism to expressing in positive terms what I did well, no matter how small. I redefined myself as ‘friend and friar’. I offered support and encouragement to people in making their way through life, and enjoyed doing so. I also devised a simple rhythm around which I built my daily life. The very act of creating this rhythm provided me with a positive approach to each day. I set the pace and plan for my time; I chose not to respond to the inner critic.

For me, slaying the dragon required identifying the lenses through which I viewed the world. Rather than assume a negative when I perceived things going wrong, I began to look for the positives. I adopted a glass half-full approach to life. I began to write down the things I wanted to achieve in work and leisure. I dared to write down my goals and identify steps I might take towards reaching them. The energy I once used to count myself out I turned into energy invested into making myself count. I chose to believe what God always believed about me.

QUESTION: What are the differences between how God sees you and how you see yourself?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to love what you love including, thankfully, myself.

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Day 17 - Issue 25

May 1, 2018

Leviticus 19:32 NLT

'Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.'

In June 2017, The Daily Telegraph reported on the rise of abuse of the elderly in care homes. It noted a 33 per cent rise over two years. It is predicted one-fifth of the UK population will be over 65 within ten years, a quarter by mid-century. As care provision collapses under the weight of demand, families separated by geography and strained health services, the future looks anything but bright.

I reflect on this because some months ago my mum decided she wanted to move into care. She had lived with us for two-plus years, and now wanted the security she felt a care home offered her. At first we were shocked, but we supported her decision. Such care costs an enormous amount and the quality is often questionable. Most of mum’s generation are not complainers by nature. Brought up on a philosophy of making do and getting by, they endured a war seeing friends and neighbours killed in bombing raids and where food was rationed. Speaking up and speaking out isn’t her style.

Recently one of her possessions went missing from the home. Nothing of any value, save for the memories it stirred within her. A gift from my brother she liked and had kept hold of for some 30 years. As family members we only heard of it from her and on making enquiry we were politely brushed off by the management. This was a time when as family we needed to support Mum, even though she felt vulnerable because we could be seen to be criticising the care provision. What was her fear? They might take it out on her. We calmly addressed the issue as one of those dragons that must be slain.

The elderly can prove frustrating with their slow movement and oft-repeated stories. Yet, they enjoy the grace of God and you are to be a part of God’s provision for their welfare.

QUESTION: How respectful are we of the ‘grey-headed’ among us?

PRAYER: Lord, help us as a nation to value every generation, both young and old.

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Day 16 - Issue 25

April 30, 2018

Micah 6:8 NLT

'No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.'

April 23rd is St George’s Day, the patron saint of England, but also of Georgia, Romania, Malta, Portugal, Palestine and Catalonia. St George was probably born in Cappadocia (Turkey) in the third century. His parents were Christians and, following his father’s death, he and his mother moved to Palestine. As a young man he joined the Roman army, rising to the position of tribune. However, when the emperor Diocletian came to power, he instigated a harsh persecution of Christians. George resigned his commission in protest and was arrested, tortured and beheaded in Lydda. As for slaying dragons, this is traced to a book printed by William Caxton, of printing press fame, in 1483, as a collection of fantastic tales of saints’ lives written by a French bishop.

However, the metaphor of dragon-slaying is useful. For St George, in contesting the emperor’s express command, had to slay the dragon of fear within him. It is the prophet Micah who reminds us of the need to slay all such dragons that stand in the way of justice.

Today is a day when we can reflect upon those acts of kindness we have engaged in over the past year. Any act of kindness counts – supporting a neighbour, providing a lift and suchlike. Indeed, we are called to random acts of kindness in an attempt to counter the self-centred materialism that has taken hold of life globally.

God gazed on St George’s sacrifice, just as God sees your acts of kindness. These are the oil that drives the engine of God’s kingdom in the earth. Without them, evil will triumph. The fact that it doesn’t is a clear indication of the many who choose to walk with Micah, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly.

QUESTION: How might you demonstrate the justice and kindness of God by serving others?

PRAYER: Lord, give me opportunities today to do good, and the courage to take them.

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Day 15 - Issue 25

April 27, 2018

Proverbs 4:15 NLT

'Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving.'

I don’t imagine you wake in the morning with your first thought, “Oh, how evil I am!” Most of the time, aware of our faults, and better able to manage them as the years accumulate, we navigate life with just an occasional discomforting twinge. It is so easy to remain blindsided by the temptation that so easily sways us.

I might recite Bible verses, yet the ability to resist temptation lies often buried within my will. I choose to yield or resist. In making that choice, my creative mind can serve up compelling arguments in support of whichever path I choose.

As a child, I resisted wrongdoing out of fear of the consequences. Yet, since “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, NKJV), obedience born of fear is of no virtue. The writer of the Proverbs suggests a threefold strategy; first avoid, then pull back from any step in temptations direction and finally change direction. How can this possibly work?

Avoidance is the ideal, yet I flirt with temptation, allowing it to take shape within my mind. I often wake up to the reality and power of temptation a few steps down the road of disobedience. Here I have my strategy ready; I pause, and pray the Jesus Prayer a few times to focus my attention on God. There are occasions, of course, when the power of the temptation seeks to drive all opposition out of its path and, being weakened within my will, having already entertained temptation, I then need to change direction. Here our lovely dog becomes a source of encouragement. Harness on, out the door and into a walk, I physically live out my commitment to change direction and break the hold of the temptation. Changing my environment provides my final point of decision – otherwise I tend I succumb to temptation with all is charm and harm.

QUESTION: What steps do you take to resist temptation?

PRAYER: Lord, lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.

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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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