June 16, 2017
Luke 10:42 NLT
'There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.'
One principle has proved effective for me and is best expressed as “the simpler the better”. With slow and reluctant obedience, I’ve simplified my way of life. I radically reduced my considerable library, many books treasured but never read, and then established a daily living routine giving me time to do the “one thing” Jesus describes; the space and time Mary gives to sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Recycling my extensive library made me think through what it was I wanted to read. In listening to, then obeying God, I chose to make choices. I now read many primary sources that speak of deepening friendship with God and have a fresh interest in cosmology. Other books I pass on just as soon as I have read them, or return them to the library. No longer am I pressured by walls of unread books, and I know precisely why I read.
The same practice has influenced the rest of my life. So following pillow talk with God, I get up, light a candle and welcome the light of the world into the day and my life before getting on with practical tasks. These are followed with a further 30 minutes with Jesus as I complete my daily office, which after many years I have constructed from a variety of materials. It suits me and leads me into God’s presence.
The morning is then occupied with my work and at lunch I take ten minutes with God, a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer written by St Francis. No longer do I switch on 24-hour news or watch fruitless TV. After lunch I take an hour attending to household chores before turning to reading and preparing for retreats or simply my own heart so I am ready for those who visit or want to talk with me over Skype. Simplicity creates greater opportunities with God and deepens my faith.
QUESTION: Do you need to simplify your life and focus?
PRAYER: Lord, reveal to me the things I may need to get rid of in order to focus on the things worth being concerned about.
June 15, 2017
Luke 10:40 NLT
She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
The challenge for me in life is learning to view events through the right lens. Here Martha is acutely conscious of her hard work, and interprets Jesus’ failure to encourage Mary to get stuck in and help her as in some way demeaning her. She takes it personally and is hurt.
I’ve so often viewed my work by contrasting my efforts with others and inwardly condemning them for failing to pull their weight. I haven’t actually requested help, merely made judgements based upon my own assumptions and the lens through which I’m peering. Here in the Oratory it’s my responsibility to manage the household. So organising laundry, grocery shopping, designing, cooking and serving meals are all down to me. I needn’t do it all, but sometimes I inwardly sigh and do it anyway, because I can’t be bothered to delegate or feel my way is the best and only way.
Slowly I’ve discovered my initial assumptions are usually wrong. Forged from self-pity, they induce a sharp reaction to others. Like Martha, I think they should be helping me. Yet, if I understand my role, then surely I have the means both to do the work I want and need to do, while requesting assistance from others who benefit from Oratory life. I need to advise Mum where to place her dishes if I resent trailing around the house collecting cups and plates. I must ask Jayne to dust or sort laundry. It’s all too easy to become consumed with doing, so that we fail to have any time for resting.
It is the view we take on life that determines our reaction and response. I am chilled about my Oratory role, and have learned to ask for assistance and share where I feel the stress around certain pinch points. Just communicating my pressure helps, and often a listening ear is all I need. Historically I’d have fretted and moaned, and developed unhealthy and unjust opinions of others who are completely unaware of my feelings.
QUESTION: Do you complain to God when you feel unfairly burdened?
PRAYER: Lord, even when I feel there is too much to do, help me find my rest in you.
June 14, 2017
Luke 10:40 NLT
'But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing.'
I am not a last-minute deadline person. I plan and I like time to review whatever I am working on well ahead of submission. However, I still get frantic in the kitchen, just like Martha.
While I am training myself, with the help of many generous writers across the early centuries of the Church’s history, to ‘pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17), I still get overwhelmed with the stuff life demands. There is nothing like that sense of losing control when there is more to be done than apparent hours in the day allow. Yet, even in such extreme situations God so often emerges as the one point of stability in a sea of confusion.
I cannot always control the hour I awake as sometimes sleep escapes me in the early hours. However, the first act of the day is neither to fret at the loss of sleep nor to invite the challenges of the day to rush in and dominate my mind. I start my day with pillow talk with God. This begins with my greeting and a reflection upon my sleep, or lack of, and thanks for God’s presence with me. I often say the Apostles’ Creed, reminding myself of the heritage out of which I flow, and a reminder of the responsibility I carry to pass this on to future generations. Then I recall my own mortality and offer myself into God’s safekeeping in this fresh day he has brought me into.
A breath prayer as I still myself ahead of rising to greet the day usually ensures I enter the day with an inner stillness and calm, my mind quiet and free from the distractions of the work that awaits me. So I take responsibility for setting the tone at this the threshold of my day. Of course, I may lose it in an instant as I look at an email or fret over something I can’t resolve. But I enter from a place of Jesus-centred calm, rather than staggering from one unresolved crisis into the next.
QUESTION: How does your day begin – is it “Good Lord! It’s morning”, or is it “Good morning, Lord”?
PRAYER: Father, help me keep my eyes on you and not on all that so easily distracts me.
June 13, 2017
Luke 10:41 NLT
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!”
Life today is exceptionally busy. Demands are increasing on us all. Some take this in their stride, others find it exhausting. I have never enjoyed stress. I seldom perform well under pressure and prefer an ordered, gentle approach.
To make sense of life we each need some form of plan. I find that ordering my day makes best use of time, while I recognise I also have to remain flexible due to unexpected interruptions. So Mum may drop something and I know I need to go at once and support her clearing up. But it’s amazing how often my first instinct is to blame her rather than accept accidents happen, especially once you have reached 92.
Martha here is frustrated with Mary’s approach; quietly sitting listening to the Master teach. Lunch was required and life doesn’t just stop. But I have found that there are times when it is essential to stop and pay attention to God, however apparently inconvenient. It wasn’t as if Jesus popped by daily offering Mary a good excuse to down tools and take a break. This was a special occasion, one that Mary recognised offered her an opportunity she might never have again.
Most of our lives are taken up with the ordinary, but each of us can establish a rhythm that creates space for the extraordinary. Doing this also reveals our commitment to meet the extraordinary in our everyday. So what are the essential components of your day? What demands must be met and what demands do you have some control over? If we are to pursue God effectively, then it is wise to take as much control over our day as we can.
QUESTION: Are you in control of your life, or is life driving you?
PRAYER: Lord, in the busyness of life, help me keep the important things in life in clear focus.
June 12, 2017
Hebrews 5:7 NLT
'While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.'
I have often heard people speak of the potency of prayer. I believed yet somehow still assumed this was a divine slot machine. I have a need, pray and ‘bingo’, get the outcome I requested. Well, that’s not how prayer works. I’ve stated before how we as Church celebrate the power of prayer, yet invest huge amounts of time, energy and resources in everything other than prayer.
In the Gospels we read of Jesus disappearing to pray, yet no one ever appears to accompany him, or if they did, they didn’t record it. Here the writer to the Hebrews presents a picture of Jesus shouting out to God as part and parcel of the ministry he pursued. It was in the depths of my own despair, a wretched sight and a man with little effective faith that I came to realise all I really had was prayer. Then I realised I only knew how to pray according to my own conscience. My monologue helped me recognise I had an impoverished friendship with God. I talked, he listened and I left, expecting God to do all the work according to my specifications.
Jesus recognised that there was no effective success without prayer. For all his signs, wonders and engaging messages, his primary task to defeat death and the powers that had reigned supreme since the Fall was in danger of getting lost if he became distracted by the miscellany of goodness that attached itself to his ministry. But how could anything but goodness spring up when Jesus’ focus was upon God and his primary mission?
Only as I discovered that my primary mission was to love God and to love others, starting with my own suffering wife, did I see that the many other tasks that I enjoyed could never realise the reality of God’s kingdom on earth.
QUESTION: Is your prayer life more a shopping list or a love affair?
PRAYER: Lord, once again, teach me to pray as you prayed to your Father.
June 9, 2017
Hebrews 3:14 NLT
'For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.'
I can’t remember how often I’ve returned to the first time I made my initial response to God. When disappointment strikes or I can’t get things my way, I will react against God and tell him precisely my feelings in that moment and attempt to walk away. Yet as I unravel my walk of faith, I cannot get beyond that initial call and fascination that opened my heart to the possibility of an eternal deity.
When I took my first steps towards God, it was no great event; a sermon and an opportunity to explore further. Yet, even back then I knew something incredible had shifted within my understanding. I had entertained ‘spiritual thoughts’ and investigated Buddhism along with a variety of esoteric groups I’d unearthed. So perhaps I was ready for some meaningful spiritual experience. But this was a true turning point, far more impactful than I ever realised at the time. I knew that I was now gazing upon the source of all of life and there was coherence in my historical and philosophical understanding for the first time.
Like a fish on the end of a line, I fought hard against being landed for fear of losing my freedom, if not my life itself. Yet, in many ways it was my freedom I was yielding that I might become student and servant of the One who created all.
The greatest challenge is maintaining consistency in faith through life. God invites me to return and consider my initial choice. Why did I take that first decision and a series of further decisions? In returning to scrutinise that choice, I know deep within the very core of my being that I encountered God, and there is very little I am more confident in at this stage of life. Returning to consider our initial faith encounter will reveal much about the nature of our faith and our view of the Divine nature of the God we say that we worship.
QUESTION: How did you first encounter God? Is that love still fresh, or in need of some work?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, renew my faith, love and trust in you today.
June 8, 2017
Hebrews 3:1 NLT
'And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest.'
I wonder, what is the call from heaven? I can easily make a case for belonging to and believing in Jesus. Yet, while a good launch pad, I cannot believe this is the substance of what is spoken of here. A consequence of that same call is carefully to consider Jesus. From this I have chosen it to mean contemplating Jesus, his walk, his own mission, his invitation to those who would follow after him.
When I was at school, I joined the combined cadet force as an able seaman. Part of that meant travelling to Portsmouth naval dockyard and being a seaman for a week. One fun aspect was qualifying as a Motorised Fishing Vessel (MFV) helmsman. In qualifying I had to pay close attention to a variety of instructions that I then had to execute. My life and that of others depended upon my responsiveness as we cruised around the Solent.
In much the same way, I see this call from heaven as something I’m invited to pay close attention to that I, and others, might live well. Rather than assuming Christianity is a series of good behaviours, it is rather a constant attentiveness to God’s voice steering my life. I listen out and I implement the instructions. Sometimes the instructions appear to be leading me into deep waters, literally. Yet the course God sets is both in my best interest and for the benefit of others.
There is some responsibility that comes with this call. I am a part of a greater company whose purpose is to reveal God’s reality in the earth. I can only do this to the degree to which I am locked into that call from heaven. It provides me with the intelligence I need to know how to live, the decisions to take at critical moments in my life. It enables me to determine how I might live for God. When Christianity appears to have disappeared from view, most likely I have stopped paying close attention to the voice from heaven.
QUESTION: How can you be attentive to the voice of God?
PRAYER: Lord, help me to follow the instructions and guidance you give.
June 7, 2017
Hebrews 2:18 NLT
'Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.'
The majority of the formal tests I’ve taken have been to measure my intelligence, or more precisely, how I organise my intelligence. My years at school were not good initially but later I came alive and did exceptionally well. Now I could concentrate on the one subject that interested me, history. However, here I lost my way, believing that scoring well in exams was in fact some measure of my value as a person. While at Oxford I found Christ and found a different set of values.
Jesus wasn’t impressed with my exam results or that interested in my career pathway. I was now aware of the distance that lay between how I viewed myself and how God viewed me. The values I’d imbibed were at odds with those I encountered in scripture. For example, I realised that getting drunk with my mates was at odds with Jesus’ preferences. Stopping and obeying Jesus was not an act of the intellect but an act of the will. Discipleship can never be tested by an exam.
Then I experienced Jesus taking me at my word. First reminding me of the statements of commitment I continued to make, perhaps foolishly and impetuously, at Christian events. Then he tested my resolve to follow through by leading me into difficult circumstances. This was not to damage me. It was an act of love enabling me to discover more about myself, about God and the character of God’s kingdom expressed on earth. My complaint fell on deaf ears as God reminded me that Jesus persevered through many tests in pioneering and perfecting obedience.
How true was I to my declaration of love and obedience? Of course, whenever I faltered and failed, I received no notification of failure, rather a warm embrace and encouragement to keep going. In my struggles I was to take a moment to stop struggling and simply gaze on Jesus, to consider his life and trials that grew from obedience.
QUESTION: How can Jesus’ own life and witness help you when life is hard?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you know the pain of struggle and trial, of suffering and hardship. Would you help, today, your children who are going through trials?
June 6, 2017
Hebrews 2:15 NLT
'Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.'
In life we find ourselves in unusual circumstances. I remember seeking to entertain a large crowd with a zany monkey glove puppet on my arm while attempting a ventriloquist act. I died a slow death on stage with little audience reaction save shock, horror and heckling. I pressed on valiantly, but to no avail. Before I ever went on stage I’d feared my act might crash and burn. Fear acts as one of the great inhibitors throughout life, but one we must always push back against.
Israel was in slavery in Egypt, living a horrendous life, yet fearful of what confronting Pharaoh might bring. Having faced that challenge, they then feared the loss of the familiar and their uncomfortable wilderness life. When we live by fear we’re constrained by the horizons fear creates.
In pursuing Messiah, we may never get off the starting blocks for fear that God can’t sustain us once we leave the safety of what we know. Society reinforces its key life messages but these are mere fictions presented as hard facts. So much of the advertising we experience sells us a lifestyle that it alone normalises. Social norms build our world view from an early age and easily enslave us.
God sets us free so we might think for ourselves. Such thinking enables us to see beyond the normalised constraints of life and begin to move towards the space God invites us to occupy. Israel could not have made the Promised Land without forward movement, even if they circled the wilderness for 40 years. Breaking a mindset takes courage and time.
The wonder of the work of the cross is that in defeating the powers, Jesus removed all obstacles from our path. We’re invited to dream and imagine that God’s kingdom is in fact the norm, not simply some worthy, idealised utopia that, at best, awaits us beyond the grave. Failure to imagine and seek to realise what I imagine is to sign my own death warrant. Be brave and begin to look at life as God intends us to live it.
QUESTION: Do you find the concept of being different from the majority worries you?
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have redeemed me from slavery to sin and death.
June 5, 2017
Acts 2:2 NLT
'Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.'
Jesus had inaugurated his public ministry reading from the prophet Isaiah and announcing that the year of Jubilee had arrived. Pentecost, in the Jewish calendar, was the Feast of the Harvest celebrated seven weeks (49 days) after the second day of Passover. It was therefore on the 50th day, just as Jubilee was every 50 years. It was also where a free will offering was required. As the disciples waited in the Upper Room in obedience to Jesus, they did so of their own free will. The Spirit descended in response to their freely given obedience and availability.
Some call this day the birth of the Church. Yet, Pentecost is much more. It’s the final piece in Jesus’ mission, calling into being and empowering a community to carry the gospel to all peoples. Jesus had gathered the twelve apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, its importance recognised with the replacement for Judas while waiting for Pentecost. Jesus had then commissioned 70 to go out to gather in the harvest, 70 (or 72) being symbolic of all the people groups in the world. The gospel is for all.
Pentecost today reminds us of the significance and importance of Church as a gathered community, and of its calling, to be a place of worship and encounter with God. It also renews our responsibility to freely offer ourselves to God’s work of mission wherever life finds us. Even if we feel jaded and ‘down’, we can call out to God for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit which is both a renewal of intimate communication with God and an empowering for obedient service of God in his world.
QUESTION: On the last of these nine days of Novena, how has learning about and praying the Lord’s Prayer changed you?
PRAYER: Holy Spirit, fill me and empower me to serve you. Give me sensitivity and boldness to share the gospel today and every day. May your kingdom come, may your will be done.