Be Still and Know
Day 31 - Issue 31

Day 31 - Issue 31

February 12, 2020

Luke 10:5-6 NLT

Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, “May God’s peace be on this house.” If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.

I remember the transfer of responsibility for the welfare of my parents being passed onto me. With a diagnosis of terminal cancer, my dad, a strong if silent individual, who had fought through the whole of the Second World War, including participating in three land invasions, mentally accepted that he would soon pass from mortality into eternity. He asked me to oversee my parents’ move from their family home in London to a flat in Portsmouth, the city where I lived. In the fraction of time it took for me to accept my father’s request, I felt the weight of that responsibility settle on my shoulders.

It has taken far longer for me to acknowledge and then accept the responsibility of serving God’s kingdom objectives with my whole heart and life. I am to see all of life through eyes redeemed through God’s grace. My decisions are to be made in the light of eternity. I am to live in ways that demonstrate that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20-21, NIV). So, I am required to practise hospitality. One part of that responsibility is to share the peace of Christ’s presence and rule with all those who I meet. I am to respect them and to pray for them. Such prayers are always for their well-being.

For me this means that whenever anyone visits me, I seek to welcome them as I would welcome Jesus. If I visit someone, then I am to carry God’s peace into their home and pray for their good. I have learned from my interest in St Francis to adopt his greeting as my prayer. “[itals]Pax et Bonum[end itals],” he would say – peace and goodness be with you and your household: my simple understanding. I don’t use the Latin as a greeting, but I do pray both for my host.

QUESTION: Do you want to be a channel of peace and goodness?

PRAYER: May the peace of Christ go with me and rest on those places I visit this week.

Day 30 - Issue 31

Day 30 - Issue 31

February 11, 2020

Romans 13:8-10 NLT

Owe nothing to anyone – except for your obligation to love one another...For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These – and other such commandments – are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfils the requirements of God’s law.

God sent his Son among his enemies with a message of divine hospitality. Enemies and strangers were invited to become friends; the very heart of hospitality.

We often look at the Ten Commandments as a moral code of behaviour. It reminds us of how to calibrate our moral compass. However, it is much deeper than that. It’s an expression of our hospitality. When I steal from another, be it their spouse, their reputation, their goods, I prove my protestations of respect for humanity to be no more than an empty lie. It reveals a disrespect for myself, my family, as well as complete strangers. Where I do wrong to one individual, I undermine the very sanctity of human interaction. My one act, however justified, is another nail in the coffin of peaceful coexistence. Where I point the finger at the violence that breaks out through knife crime and the like, I lay its foundations with my every refusal to practise hospitality. Every act that betrays the way of hospitality modelled by Jesus builds both the momentum and common acceptance of bad behaviour. I’m invited to take responsibility for my approach to others, from my thinking about them through to my actions towards them.

Managing your thought life, which in turn will give rise to actions that express a message of love towards others, is a challenge. But I want to train myself in the way of God, since I am convinced this is the best way to build an enduring social life that benefits all.

QUESTION: Are you committed to living a hospitable lifestyle? This is directing the best of you for the best interests of everyone else.

PRAYER: May my thoughts, words, deeds and lifestyle be transformed by the power of your love.

Day 29 - Issue 31

Day 29 - Issue 31

February 10, 2020

Hebrews 13:2 NLT

'Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!'

The word “hospitality” is an interesting mix, which brings together two opposites; the word for a stranger or an enemy (Latin: [itals]hostis[end itals]) and the word for host (Latin: hospes). So, hospitality is hosting strangers, even enemies, and a willingness to receive such hosting from a stranger. Our world “hospital” really means a guesthouse, which puts a whole new complexion on the objectives for the NHS!

Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of the Christian gospel. Jesus entertained strangers with a view to them catching sight of the kingdom of God. What they did with that sighting was up to them. Only one of the ten healed lepers felt the need to return and pay a debt of gratitude, and he was a foreigner (Luke 17:11-19). The tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) was pressed into offering Jesus hospitality, an encounter that turned his life upside down. Hospitality has a habit of reaching beyond the tea and cake!

I grew up in a culture where an Englishman’s home is his castle. My front door marked a territorial boundary where I exercised total control over who entered. In surrendering to God, all my boundaries became subject to redefinition. I cannot accept salvation and then lock it away in my box of special things within the security of my own home. Jesus expands my horizons and with them, all my precious lines of demarcation inherited from parents, school and wider culture.

I am invited to redraw the map of my life along the contours of God’s kingdom. I have to work on my instinctive reaction to people and agree with God that I will develop a hospitable heart and build a hospitable home.

QUESTION: How high is your hospitality quotient? Do you welcome in others, or are you a reluctant host?

PRAYER: Help me this week to be sensitive to the needs of others and to grow in the gift of hospitality.

Day 28 - Issue 31

Day 28 - Issue 31

February 7, 2020

James 4:7-8 NLT

'Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.'

Since relocating St Cuthbert’s Oratory from a city setting to the country, I’ve fallen in love with gardening. It offers up so many insights into the ways of God. One thing I have learned is the essential role of weeding. Having created flowerbeds out of unkempt areas, I am amazed at the speed the weeds return. Weeds compete with the plants for survival. Often, they grow up through the plant you appreciate and are difficult to disentangle. The plant is disturbed and can be damaged during the removal of weeds.

Life, like a weed, often springs up in the wrong place. It can have a beauty all of its own. However, leave it to grow uninterrupted, and other plants will fail to flourish. If, as I do, we feel drawn to pursue prayer beyond the shallows, we face demands about how we approach life, and especially how we manage the appetites that influence each one of us. Will we acknowledge and remove those appetites in order to make greater growing space for God?

God invites us to be purified through the fire (Isaiah 48:10). This will be a unique sequence of experiences for each one of us. This refinement process is often the context within which I reframe my prayer as I discern more of God’s will for its object and objective. As we create more room, removing those things that compete for nourishment from the soil of our lives in response to God, we can participate in securing God’s rule and reign in the world around us.

For me prayer is a process of constant gardening. Yet, there is no one-size-fits-all plan so again, only pray as you are able. But remember prayer is a two-way street, it is a  journey in discovering the degree to which God’s kingdom is revealed throughout the earth.

QUESTION: How much weeding are you prepared to do?

PRAYER: Just as you created a perfect garden in Eden, please work in me so that my prayer life grows and results in a harvest of good fruit.

Day 27 - Issue 31

Day 27 - Issue 31

February 6, 2020

James 4:3 NLT

'And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure.'

The scars of unanswered prayers can dampen our enthusiasm for God, or even end our ability to sustain our faith in God. I’ve heard and read thousands of words that seek to explain unanswered prayer; none of them has done more than attempt to rationalise my disappointment.

As a young adult, I discovered the discomfort of stepping into other cultures. My privilege was to enjoy the hospitality of nationals; I did not stay in Western-style hotels. Being forced to face cultural differences, I became very aware of the comforts of home, and how blind I had been to the limitations of my own world view.

Entering into God’s kingdom, while accepted entirely as I am, is an exploration of an entirely new culture. As the Christian thinker and pastor John Stott identified, the call to obedience requires the Christian to develop their own distinctive standards, values, goals and lifestyle. Discovering these and then exchanging our cultural norms for them demands prayer. As we penetrate deeper into God’s kingdom, just like residing in a different culture, we adapt to and assimilate its values and practices.

For me this meant I began to form prayers less based on own needs and more from God’s view. My understanding of life expanded to engage with a world in conflict and need. I moved beyond a simple, if essential, prayer list covering my needs as I see them, to share in God’s redemptive mission through prayer. As with every journey I must pack appropriately, so with prayer I am confronted with discipleship choices that will align me more completely with God’s kingdom values and goals.

Do you carry painful wounds or the hardened scarring from unanswered prayers? You may hold God responsible for the pain you have experienced. Your capacity to exercise faith may have been compromised. In prayer, my many disappointments are learning opportunities and I press on with the vital changes God requests of me.

QUESTION: Will you continue in faith even when there are no satisfactory answers to your questions? This is real faith in action.

PRAYER: All-knowing God, I choose to press on with you, asking that your Spirit continues to work in me, transforming me into the culture and likeness of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ.

Day 26 - Issue 31

Day 26 - Issue 31

February 5, 2020

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.'

The Bible is rich in its examples of ways to pray. One of the most creative and enriching ways to pray is with a group of other Christians. Like so many disciplines, it is often easier to generate momentum and maintain focus by joining with others in the same task. This is the simple message of Weightwatchers, now WW.

Last year, a long-standing friend and I launched an invitation to the over-55s who lived locally to gather informally in someone’s home once a month to wait on God and pray. Often older people feel a loss of purpose, even identity, as they enter into this third age of life. Yet, God never abandons us and there are many opportunities to remain active in serving God’s kingdom on earth until our mortal years end. As we meet, it is wonderful to listen to stories of what God is doing, to pray for one another in very real situations of need, and to address global issues through our prayers.

I always walk away deeply encouraged and alive. Praying with others, no matter what my mood when I arrived, has lifted me, refreshed my faith and given me a renewed sense of purpose. We are simply a group of like-minded people offering each other support. We share our stories; we laugh and cry with each other as we face similar realities, particularly associated with this season of life. The Christian journey is never meant to be experienced and expressed in isolation. We each have our all-age Sunday experience in a variety of churches, and now monthly, midweek age-related fellowship.

The essential concept within the word “prayer” is an action that seeks to carry the needs we feel for ourselves, loved ones and the wider world to God. It is in listening for what God says in response, for prayer is always a conversation. Having listened, we can pray with confidence and continue to come to God with our concerns and needs. Praying with others may prove a constructive way for you to establish a regular prayer rhythm.

QUESTION: What opportunities to pray with others do you have?

PRAYER: Ignite within me, dear Lord, a passion to pray.

Day 25 - Issue 31

Day 25 - Issue 31

February 4, 2020

Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

'Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.'

Mindfulness is a favourite tool to cope with modern-day life and stress. This is recommended from school to boardroom as a helpful way to maintain mental and physical health. I see that it is simply repackaging what God has always taught humanity, which is we are to center ourselves in God and focus upon the now rather than seeking to manage all of our worries about tomorrow.

For the Christian this means engaging in prayer. I work with a diverse group of individuals, all Christians, who usually approach me with concerns about their prayer life. Have you noticed that one of the most common confessions across a cup of coffee after church or in home group is “I don’t pray enough”? The work of defining what “enough” looks like is seldom done. There is just a general feeling shared by many that whatever I do simply cannot be sufficient.

However, one of the joys of following Jesus is that I am treated by God as a unique individual – personality, gift and calling all included. No external voice can dictate my prayer life. This is an arena I must enter and discover on my own initiative. Of course, there is scripture to encourage me and a library of books offering different individuals’ experiences and the principles they have embraced. Where helpful I may use them, but they do not offer any guarantee of success.

Prayer is a personal journey with God. The ancient saying “Pray as you can, not as you can’t” perhaps offers the best summary of how to pray. If your prayer fails to offer you peace, then maybe you need to rethink the whole enterprise.

QUESTION: If you struggle with prayer, start your day with the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus taught.

PRAYER: Turn to Matthew 6:9-13 and pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Day 24 - Issue 31

Day 24 - Issue 31

February 3, 2020

Ephesians 6:18 NLT

'Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.'

Prayer offers a unique opportunity and insight into God’s world for the Christian disciple. Prayer presents an opportunity which, by definition, offers “a good chance for advancement or progress”. I aim to approach prayer with a positive attitude, for others as well as for myself.

Scientific studies reveal that optimism is good for our long-term health. It is also the soil within which the seeds of our intercessions are best planted. The key reason for optimism when we pray is that we know Jesus, through the cross and resurrection, made peace with God and humanity. Consequently, while the earth continues its battle with sin and its consequences, the ultimate result is, God wins. We have, through prayer, the opportunity to apprehend what God has already established, now! In other words, Jesus invites us to perceive, grasp and seize the reality of God’s kingdom now, even as we wrestle with life’s struggles on earth. God’s will can be done now and is facilitated through prayer.

I am no fool and acknowledge many prayers appear unanswered in the form I’ve asked them. Yet, I also know that I am often moved by my emotions first when I consult the Holy Spirit on how I am to pray. I also recognise that I cannot choose how I live my life and then expect that on those occasions I choose to turn to God, my prayers will be answered.

Our education starts in the school of prayer. Every disciple is invited to attend. Here I discover and learn the walk of discipleship and the ways God works throughout God’s creation. After all, having voluntarily surrendered my life to God, it is not unfair that God determines how I am to mature and through that maturing process access both a greater understanding of the walk of faith and ability to minister under the Holy Spirit’s direction.

QUESTION: How would you describe your prayer life?

PRAYER: Creator of the universe, thank you for inviting me to speak to you, to listen to you and to intercede for others. Thank you for the gift of prayer.

Day 23 - Issue 31

Day 23 - Issue 31

January 31, 2020

Galatians 6:10 NLT

'Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.'

Jayne and I have noticed that on social media groups set up across our community, the majority of the messages have an edge directed towards others, known or unknown. An easy opportunity to record criticisms containing personal frustrations with behaviours that are different to what we might prefer. At times, it feels like everyone has adopted complaint as a characteristic.

I have made it my practice to carry my criticism to God and usually repent of a bad attitude. I may not appreciate how another behaves, but their behaviour does not demand I act in a similar way. Having discovered grace for myself, a grace totally undeserved, I really am the last person to accuse another. My primary responsibility is to reflect that grace through my life. One way to do this is by doing good to others. That good begins with reframing how I see them and refusing to enter into judgement. I have been shocked at how instantly harsh I can be. How can I know the circumstances that influence others?

God encourages us to practise goodness. Perhaps we will be misunderstood, but it is the antidote to the cynicism and suspicion that informs so much of social interaction today. The consequence of a loss of goodness may be that we create a society in which trust is lost and every action demands a reason for its enactment. This is the way in which distrust, division is sown, and the devil’s work is done.

Every day we have an opportunity to do and to be good. These may be the smallest actions, like taking initiative in the home for things that are not your responsibility yet are kind and helpful. Starting small builds a habit and opens your eyes to all opportunities.

QUESTION: Where will you start your ministry of goodness?

PRAYER: When I think of all you have done for me, may the overflow of my gratitude spur me on to do good and to be good.

 

Day 22 - Issue 31

Day 22 - Issue 31

January 30, 2020

Acts 27:13-14 NLT

'When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather changed abruptly...and blew us out to sea.'

Robert Burns the poet gave us the well-worn phrase: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” No matter how carefully and responsibly we prepare, our lives remain dependent upon the grace of God. Historically, my initial reaction when my plans went awry was to react with frustration, often anger.

Experience has taught me that it is best to pause and reflect. Action taken in reaction usually makes the situation worse. I want to navigate successfully through my changing circumstances. One thing is certain, God’s word and his promises are always more reliable than my assumed expectation.

When my business venture went down last year, my initial reaction was anger, with an attempt to salvage what I could. I was blindsided. But then I chose to pause and reflect. I accepted that my life was hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3) and that eventually everything works together for good and for God (Romans 8:28).

I prayed and recognised by God’s grace that in fact I had entered into my business venture with a measure of anxiety about securing my financial welfare, even as I knew I was called to the life of a contemplative. I discerned that in fact I needed to ask God’s forgiveness for what had been a decision of disobedience on my part. I knew what I was called to, and must entrust my personal welfare to God. I found God’s grace and welcome again. My inner storms subsided and I recovered my primary calling. I also discovered so much more about the character of that calling, the contemplative life, because of the unexpected turmoil I’d passed through. It was a time of maturing, no random error.

QUESTION: When things go awry, do you panic and try to wrest control back or pause, reflect and seek to discern God’s purpose in the chaos?

PRAYER: Give me discernment to see your plans and purposes and faith to trust you when my plans go wrong and I am confused by the chaos.