Tag Archives: prayer

Life is a beach

As I sat on Hastings beach this week, enjoying taking things at a slower pace while off sick from work due to stress and exhaustion, I took these photos of the view behind me, taking in the various elements of boat, beach, tractor, church, houses, hill and nets.

I wondered how many millions of photos have been taken over the years of picturesque Old Town beach with its fishing boats. There are always people milling around with cameras down here. So I wasn’t going to.

IMG_4264

But then I noticed something about the view I’d been enjoying. The combined subjects seemed to represent the balance I’m seeking to achieve in my life.

  • In the foreground, to the left: a tractor for pulling boats up the beach, important and useful, more functional than aesthetic. This piece of machinery, representing productivity, work, and all things “male” and task-driven, was getting a look in from the side, but the photographer (me) not allowing it to dominate the view.
  • To the right, the main attraction: a fishing boat. Although a working vessel, providing food for many, the boat also speaks to me of aesthetics, beauty and therefore creativity; femininity, love, and therefore my wife, my marriage, my family – all aspects of life to which I’m attaching greater importance (and appreciating as sources of strength and healing), just as the boat appeals to our aesthetic eye in the picture.
  • In the background: a church, representing stillness, wonder, faith and Jesus; reminding me that behind work, creativity and relationships needs to be the presence and love of God, mindfulness, and prayer. For me, faith and prayer undergird everything else.
  • Further back: tucked in behind the church is verdant West Hill with its trees and grassy slopes, representing nature and its close relationship to the Creator. Countless studies have shown us how beneficial spending time in green spaces is to our mental and physical health. Nature seems to be God’s healing agent, a message of love from the Creator, and we underestimate its power to our peril. I’ve never lost my enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoors, whether through running, walking, prayer, birdwatching, or nature photography, but more recently I’ve also realised the importance of nature for my emotional health. Even as I step out of my house into the back garden with its fresh air and fragrant smells of trees and flowers, a wave of peace sweeps over me.

IMG_4265a

As my attention was drawn by my Father to this pictorial allegory of the life balance I’m aiming for, I decided to take some photos after all and keep them as a pertinent reminder.

  • Oh, and finally, under it all, under me, is the beach itself, reminding me that in the end, life is of course a beach! Or should be….

—–

(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

—–

Tagged , ,

This blog too shall pass

This too shall pass……

This time in your life when it’s all gone pear-shaped, when nothing’s coming together…

Some problems resolve, some don’t. But even if your situation doesn’t actually resolve

It shall pass.

That demanding situation, with its stress. The confusion and torment.

This too shall pass.

Those endless hours of overtime you put in just to try and get by.

This too shall pass.

That chronic illness that hounds your waking hours and haunts your sleep, like a rabid dog.

This too shall pass.

That drawn-out wait in the queue at Barclays….and what’s happened to their air conditioning….?

This too shall pass.

The imbecility of people you have to put up with – day after……flipping daaaaay…….

Those fools whom you don’t suffer gladly. Their lack of compassion and understanding. “Humans! Why are they so brainless?”

This too shall pass.

Even worse, your own stupidity. Those times you kick yourself, because of the things you do that you know you shouldn’t. The people you’ve hurt. In the words of the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the love [in me]?”

The things you put off doing, or saying, that you know you should really get round to. That card. That phone call. That compliment. “When will I ever learn to do the right thing?”

This too shall pass.

This Government. A society tangled up in chains of injustice. Slavery to addiction all around you – and even in you. Global poverty – and your own inadvertent part in perpetuating it by hoarding more than sharing your relative wealth.

This too shall pass.

—–

These four little words came to me the other day when I was stewing about something, in prayer. I had no idea where the phrase came from, where I’d heard it, what its origins are, but I guess it’s one of those sayings that are so deeply ingrained in our culture like Shakespeare, the Bible and the Beatles, that they spring out of nowhere.

It popped into my head, out of the blue,

from my inner self,

my subconscious,

and/or God.

A personal situation was weighing on me so heavily, my anxiety exacerbated by workload tiredness and the non-stop demands and broken nights of family life. When time to relax, reflect and re-create is difficult to find, every difficulty feels worse.

“This too shall pass,” that inner voice assured me.

I’ve since discovered through extensive research into ancient traditions and literature across a range of classical cultures (i.e. a quick glance at Wikipedia) that the origins of the phrase lie in Middle Eastern folklore.

Persian poet Attar records the fable of a powerful king who asks his assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. After deliberation the sages hand him a simple ring with the words “This too shall pass” etched on it, which has the desired effect to make him happy when he is sad, but thus also becomes a curse whenever he is happy.

Jewish tradition sees Solomon as either the king humbled by the adage, or as the one who delivers it to another.

Not surprising, really, that Judaism, with its belief in an after-life, adopted this legend.

Not surprising, either, that although the phrase doesn’t come from the Bible, similar ideas emanate throughout the New Testament, following Jesus’ teachings on the life to come and the Christian hope for a better future. A silver thread of hope weaves majestically through the Judeo-Christian scriptures – a constant reminder that this world is not the final word, always pointing us magnetically like a northbound needle to eternity.

—–

And therein lies one of the great strengths of the Christian faith – hope. For people like me, faith in the resurrection of Jesus and his life within us produce a sense that things will always get better, that all injustice will finally be put right – that even we will be put right!

—–

One day I was talking with a friend about some mission work going on in a third world country and the hope being given to the people there through the missionaries’ message. And my friend said to me, “What good is it giving people hope if that hope is never fulfilled, if nothing ever changes?”

It was a reasonable question.

But hope inspires us to change things, to work towards that better future we believe in. For many Christians, when we pray “Your kingdom come”, we don’t just sit around passively hoping with some vague optimism that one day God’s kingdom will come, righting every wrong.

On the contrary, we feel caught up in our own prayer, sensing the call to play our part in bringing that future realm of wholeness and justice into the present.

People of faith and hope that “this too will pass” are inspired to help this (whatever “this” may be) to pass. To make poverty history. To relieve suffering. To run soup kitchens, food banks, 24-7 prayer networks, counselling services, HIV clinics, disaster relief agencies….

Hope gives people the courage even to change themselves.

—–

il_fullxfull_779872040_nq8tThroughout the ages, people of faith and hope (including, but not exclusively, Christians) see themselves as temporary visitors to this planet.

“Just passing through….”

…expressed perfectly in the amazing ‘Supernatural’ by my musical heroes, DC Talk:

“This world’s a tortured place to be So many things to torment me And as I stumble down this road it takes a toll…

Beyond this physical terrain There’s an invisible domain Where angels battle over souls in vast array But down on earth is where I am No wings to fly, no place to stand Here on my knees I am a stranger in this land”

We see ourselves as strangers in this land. Our physical life in this world is seen as short-term.

This world, too, shall pass.

We have a perspective that makes suffering in this life more tolerable.

—–

But thankfully, not all our problems last a lifetime. The situation I was facing – am still facing – will most likely resolve itself within just a few years, perhaps even sooner.

And those four words spoken from the spirit or Spirit within me significantly relieved my anxiety. The right words at the right time. Hope has been re-kindled. I continue to pray about that situation, but with a more peaceful trust that my Father, who sits outside of time and even eternity, who just is (Yahweh), will see it through, and see me through.

—–

And even that queue at Barclays shall pass….

—–

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever.  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4: 17-18, The Bible (New Living Translation)

Tagged , , , ,

Easter Is For Life, Not Just For Christians

pa-13180718

“How many Easter eggs shall we buy? or “How would you like us to decorate the church?” is what they may as well have been saying, when they asked him: “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

Because for these follower-friends, this was just another religious festival. Like preparations for an Easter party or Christmas service.

Unwittingly, however, because their lives were already intertwined with that of Jesus, they were asking a far deeper question:

“How can we participate in your imminent, agonising crucifixion, your magnificent, world-healing resurrection and your new life?”

For Jesus, celebrating the Passover on this occasion was not just another religious festival – this was the start of the events that are commemorated every Easter, in which he willingly and pre-knowingly gave everything he was, everything he had, so that everyone could have real life. He was about to live out the Passover in the most stark, brutal way, by being the sacrificial lamb itself.

The follower-friends may not have realised that they were enquiring into so much more than just a religious occasion, but they were with him all the way. They’d already given up lodgings, livelihoods and loved ones, in order to follow this Messiah and, to the best of their human ability (which inevitably waxed and waned), they were all in.

Their commitment and their passion and their understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus would grow in time to come, but they knew from the start that this Man was the one to watch, the one to follow. There was no turning back.

Jesus never asks people to ‘make a commitment’ (the unfortunate euphemism that Christians sometimes use for that step of faith towards Jesus); he calls them to follow and to trust him. And then to keep on following and keep on trusting.

Jesus Twitter

He’s the one that made the commitment to love us. He calls us to live in that love.

Some of us who started following Jesus years ago had no idea what that would mean. People sometimes talk about ‘counting the cost’ before becoming a Christian. Whatever Jesus meant by counting the cost, we cannot possibly know at the beginning what the implications of following him would be in years to come. We follow where he leads. And we find out where he’s taking us as we go along!

In 1987, when I prayed my first ever prayer, all I knew was that I believed in God for the very first time and that Jesus was the Way, the one to follow. I started to pray and to find out what it meant to follow him, and he began to change me from the inside out. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, better-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history – and probably-different-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history. It’s been, and still is, an adventure.

The follower-friends had no idea of the ramifications when they asked, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” But, by implication, they were inadvertently asking:

“How can we also sacrifice our lives for others, following in your footsteps? How can we share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”

“How can we love others with your kind of love?”

“Help us to learn to pray as you’re about to pray at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”

“May we be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just as you’re about to be, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”

“Show us how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”

“Show us how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you’re about to die for. Show us how to be your ambassadors in this world.”

“Show us how to receive and enjoy the real life that you’re making possible through your death and resurrection.”

The follower-friends lived out the answers to those questions in tangible ways in the ensuing years, many suffering martyrdom. Some of those questions are being answered along the way on my journey too. How they will play out in years to come will probably be completely different again.

When someone takes their first steps to Jesus, they may not know that those are the kinds of questions they’re signing up for. They may not even need to know. Like those early follower-friends, all they may need to know is that Jesus is worth following. He’ll show them the rest as they go along on their journey with him.

As we approach Easter 2015, I’m asking Jesus (figuratively):

“Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” – with all its implied questions:

“How can I sacrifice my life for others, following in your footsteps? How can I share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”

“How can I love others with your kind of love?”

“Help me to learn to pray as you prayed at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”

“May I be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just like you were, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”

“Show me how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”

“Show me how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you died for. Show me how to be your ambassador in this world.”

“Show me how to receive and enjoy the real life that you made possible through your death and resurrection.”

Whether or not you’re someone who normally prays, you could think about joining me in that prayer. Who knows where it might lead? A new life? A new adventure?

Maybe Easter doesn’t have to be just another religious festival after all.

—–

Tagged , ,

Ran for Home

Well, that’s the Hastings Half Marathon done for another year. And I’m glad it’s over!

Apart from the fact that training’s been hard this winter for a variety of reasons, I seem to have lost some of that competitive edge – as a consequence of delving into a more contemplative approach to prayer.

Since 1987, when I took that initial step of faith, prayer has been my strength – the most vital and special element of my life. Recently I’ve enjoyed a more mindful, restful attitude to prayer (and to a lesser extent, to life), stopping to experience things like being held in love rather than just asking for things.

Suddenly, the idea of running hard over endless hours of training, just to try and gain a faster time, seems a bit pointless. All that hassle just for a number? Vanity, in both senses: meaningless and narcissistic. I get myself ready for a run, only to find my heart saying I’d rather be resting in my Father’s arms, my spiritual home, where I’m fully approved, fully loved, with nothing to prove.

Now, I’m not knocking races, running or competition. This just happens to be where I’m at right now. There’s plenty of value in all these things, and I’ll probably carry on competing. Perhaps with less drive.

But today…..today I was running in the Hastings Half Marathon for Seaview Project. Extra added motivation to race.

Years ago I found my home, spiritually and physically. Today I ran for homes for the homeless.

homeless_1836463c

If you’ve read my last post, Running for Home, you’ll know a bit about Seaview and why I was running for a charity that, amongst other things, helps homeless people back on to their feet.

If you’ve already sponsored me, thank you so much.

The total amount raised so far (online and offline donations) is a fantastic £648 + Gift Aid.

If you sponsored me, then you’ll probably also know that I set myself a challenge, and asked you to consider increasing your donation after the event if I managed to run under 1hr 35mins (which was going to be highly unlikely, especially after coming down with a horrible virus 9 days before the race!).

Well, my finishing time was 1hr 35mins 54secs: 2 minutes slower than last year, but as fast as I realistically expected. So I’m kind of pleased. But….

That doesn’t quite count as under 1:35, does it??

If you sponsored me and were considering upping the donation if I ran under 1:35, then I’ll leave you to decide whether that was close enough! 🙂

Please click here to donate – either again or for the first time!

Thank you and God bless you!

—–

Tagged , , , ,

Paraphernalia

Paraphernalia. Another fun word, like Misnomers. Rolls off the tongue. Para-pher-nal-i-a. Someone should write a song about it.

Before taking up my current job nearly 10 years ago, paraphernalia probably wasn’t a word I would have immediately associated with drug use, as I do now. Syringes, foil, spoons, filters, etc…all the bits of equipment that go with injecting drug use, are often termed ‘paraphernalia’.

  1. 1.    par·a·pher·na·lia  

/ˌparəfə(r)ˈnālyə/

Noun

  • Miscellaneous articles, esp. the equipment needed for a particular activity.
  • Trappings associated with a particular institution or activity that are regarded as superfluous.

(Google definitions)

Any activity, hobby or institution has its paraphernalia. The other day I saw a leaflet advertising cycling gear and almost salivated as I thought, “Mm, I wouldn’t mind some new cycling gear”. I love cycling and would get a buzz from buying some new equipment, with good intentions about getting back into cycling.

Thing is, though, I haven’t used my bike for months, won’t realistically get round to cycling again till next summer at the earliest, and have all the equipment I need anyway. I engaged my brain and resisted the temptation to make an unnecessary purchase.

Unlike my sporadic cycling, I do run regularly, and there’s nothing like the purchase of new running shoes to thrill my soul.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

But those shoes would be an expensive waste of money if I didn’t run.

In the same way, drug users can sometimes develop a ‘needle fixation’ – an obsession with the injecting equipment because of its psychological association with the drug itself – leading to an urge to inject, with or without the drug. To inject for the sake of injecting.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

Isn’t it strange how, with any activity, we can become attached to peripheral, unimportant things and lose sight of the one central thing without which those peripheral things are useless, irrelevant, worthless.

But if you know me or my blog, you’ll know by now that this post is not about cycling or running. And although I’ve written before about addiction, this is not even about drug use.

I’m one of those many Christians who have spent (and maybe wasted) countless hours over the years discussing different worship styles and why one way may be better than another.

Some churches have endured debates about chairs vs pews. Or encountered divisions over service books and dissension over music styles.

Some Christians will get excited about the latest Matt Redman or Hillsong album. Others will become animated with eager anticipation about going to hear some famous, ‘anointed’ speaker. We might even catch a buzz from buying a brand-new Bible.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

OK, that’s not all bad. It’s natural to get excited about minor things. And it’s OK to be passionate about issues close to our hearts.

The problem comes when we rely on the next CD / event / book etc, or on church being how we want it to be, for our next spiritual ‘fix’.

Getting our buzz

from Christian paraphernalia.

Peripheries.

Or making the superficialities more important than the central thing. Being over-bothered about styles of service, ways of worship or versions of books.

Obsession with Christian paraphernalia creates resistance to change, diverting us from the central mission Jesus calls us to, so that churches remain inward-focused and ultimately implode.

As someone once said, “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing”.

Attachment to church peripheries, like any dependency, erodes relationships.

In fact, maybe you’ve experienced hurt through someone else’s obsession with Christian paraphernalia – offended and damaged as a result of someone else’s skewed priorities. Then the solution, for you too, is to make the main thing the main thing.

So…

For us who call ourselves Christians, what is the main thing? What is the central thing?

My teenage son tells me that when he was younger, answering questions in Sunday School was easy, because the answer was always ‘Jesus’!

So the answer is ‘Jesus’. But what does that mean – making Jesus the main thing?

If this were an evangelical preacher’s sermon, there would now follow 3 points, all beginning with the same letter, as if the Christian life were that neat and easy!

The Bible isn’t that neat, and your answer will be different from mine. But here are a few of my suggestions, as to what it might mean to make the main thing the main thing:

Treating our Christian brothers and sisters with respect, kindness, forgiveness and generosity, no matter how much we disagree with them. Especially over worship styles, service formats or any other peripheral thing!

Doing the same for those who wouldn’t call themselves Christians, showing them how great God’s grace is.

Putting the needs of others before our own. Especially, if we’re married, those of our spouse.

Caring for those who are poor, struggling, suffering with mental or physical ill health, or in some other way marginalised.

Achieving this by drawing on Jesus’ love and strength, through prayer.

Growing in knowing and being shaped by God, through prayer, reflecting on his words, etc.

Creatively, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, finding ways to share the good news of Jesus with others.

When we get either excited or discontented by Christian paraphernalia, perhaps we could ask ourselves:

“Does this argument / debate / purchase / activity promote the main thing, or do I have the Christian equivalent of a needle fixation, obsessed with peripheral things?”

What are you passionate about? What animates you? Is it the main thing, or paraphernalia?

And (a hint to my family) will I get that new Matt Redman album – Your Grace Finds Me – for my birthday?

Tagged , ,

Going Deeper

How’s this for an amazing photo?

IMG_0754

What do you mean, it’s just a rubbish picture of a river, with a fish vaguely visible under the surface? This is an action shot! This is a photo of a huge fish just after it dived down at the sight of me raising my camera.

This is a picture of a disappearing act.

On one of our recent record-breakingly hot days, I had the rare pleasure of a long, leisurely walk along a rural canal, enjoying the tranquillity of some time alone, to ponder, pray and photograph.

Fish were rising to the surface of the Basingstoke Canal, but as soon as this one saw me prepare to take the photo, it quickly submerged.

It sparked a thought. At the slightest perceived threat, the fish went deeper.

And for people who know and love God, there’s always an innate, but sometimes latent, desire to go deeper with him – to know him better, to grow closer.

When we feel under threat – is that when we especially choose to go deeper? Do we retreat into prayer? Do we submerge into his arms? Do we dive into his presence?

I was reminded that when things get tough, when life throws its stresses and challenges at me, as it often does, I need to go deeper into him. To be like the fish, and do a disappearing act.

And that when life gets too busy and we’ve taken on too much, we need to stop, take time out. Not only to rest, but to dive into him, retreat into prayer.

Into that place where we let God reveal to us our motivation for such frenetic activity, where he grants us permission to rest.

Where we discover what his priorities are for our lives.

In that place we find refreshment. We find protection.

Strength to face real or perceived threats.

And power to do just what he wants us to do. No more, no less.

Jesus often withdrew from the crowds. He realised his need to retreat into his Father’s arms, to find strength and guidance for whatever was next.

In order to do effectively just the things he was meant to be doing, rather than trying well-meaningly to be everything to everybody, he needed those times alone with his Father. There lay all the resources he needed.

I know all this (and you probably do, too). But I for one am still a bit of a ‘Martha’*, someone who doesn’t easily stop and just ‘be’. I tend to be always on the go. Always something else that needs to be done. Lists to check off.

I also love to retreat, especially into places of nature, to reflect, pray and refresh. I often need the reminder, though, of just how much I need to submerge into my Father’s depths, into Jesus’ love. To spend time with him, to become more of the person he wants me to be.

Those wonderful individuals I know who exude God’s love and grace aren’t necessarily people who have read lots of books on the subject or can write clever stuff in blogs, but are those who have spent time talking, listening, and being, with their Father. I know – more than I know anything – that there are no short-cuts to being filled with God’s presence and shining out his love to the world.

No short-cuts.

I’m grateful to the fish for this reminder.

So if I disappear from Facebook for a while or don’t write a new blog post for some time, or you don’t see me frantically serving in church, it may be for a number of reasons, but let’s hope that it’s because I’ve listened to my own message – that I’m going deeper with my Father.

And I hope you too are inspired, not so much by my thoughts here, but by your own knowledge and experience of the Father’s grace, to submerge again into him.

Happy diving!

IMG_0751a

I took this photo the same day, along the canal. It’s quite clichéd and has nothing to do with the blog, but it’s a better picture than the one of the fish!

*As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. 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.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Tagged ,