We choose prayer not rage #adayofprayer

IMG_2204 (1)How do we handle the news of the past month? I have heard too many stories of children dying – in famine in East Africa, as refugees drowning in the Med, in bomb-blasts in Manchester and London and recently in Kensington, just six miles from our home. One of our church staff team lives in the top of a tower block round the corner to us and he could see the blaze of Grenfell Towers from his flat. Every tragedy was avoidable but it is especially hard to swallow the fact that the last one apparently had a price-tag of £5000 for better cladding for the tower. Grenfell Towers has become a powerful symbol of the division between rich and poor in our country.

How do we respond as Christians? A friend, Sean Doherty pastors a church beside Grenfell Towers; this was his tweet from earlier this week,
“Very moving time together this morning @StfrancisW10. Nearly everyone has lost someone eg friend, classmate. So good to be together to pray.”

“So good to be together to pray.” At this time of unrest and anger and division in our world, God is calling us first to come together and pray so that we can act with his help. Tomorrow is being called a day of rage in London; I love it that the bishop of Kensington is calling us to choose prayer instead #adayofprayer.

How do we pray? Perhaps tears are the most powerful prayers of all. But I have been helped by praying from Isaiah 61, words that Jesus made his own,

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

“Father, we are overwhelmingly thankful that you anointed Jesus by your loving Spirit to proclaim good news for the poor. So much tragedy is fueled by poverty and we are deeply sorry for the times we have failed to stand for the poor. Thank you for all your church is doing in troubled places in our world; bless Sean and countless others as they share your love. Anoint us to proclaim your good news”.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

“We cry out for the broken-hearted. Send us in the power of your Spirit to bring freedom to those who are captive to anger and hatred. Comfort us and make us comforters to those who mourn.”

….to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

“You are the one who can bring beauty from ashes, even the ashes of Grenfell Towers. Your love is unfailing; all our hope is in you.”

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

“Father, how we love you that you rebuild our lives from the rubble. Empower us to rebuild and renew ruined cities. This is the day of your favour – of your shining face. May we shine in every dark place so that the splendor of your love may be known.”

 

Glory

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Recently we were on Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and I saw a sky that shouted out the glory of God so loudly that it made me want to join in. When buildings and busyness aren’t crowding our lives, the heavens eloquently declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19.1)

When did you last catch a glimpse of glory? I cannot see how a purely materialistic explanation of our world can explain why my heart could burst with the beauty of a clear night sky scattered with a million stars or why I am filled with praise watching the snow sparkling over mountains or the early morning mist covering Richmond Park with golden light. Why should I be enthralled by a lightning storm on the Cornish coast which lit up the foaming waves while the wind buffeted me so powerfully that I had to fight to stand?

“Lord show me your glory” prayed Moses. What a prayer for us to pray!

God replied Moses with an answer even greater than all the beauty of creation. We are told that he showed Moses his goodness. This is holy ground.

How about praying Moses’ prayer today? I am praying it, with awe, because it is such a huge prayer to pray.

It is prayer that leads us straight to Jesus. As I was musing on God’s glory, I was reminded of this extraordinary verse in Hebrews –
“The Son is the radiance of the glory of God”, (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus is more beautiful and more wonderful than anything you have ever seen. He is the radiance of the glory, the expression of God’s goodness.

Lord, show me your glory.

Bridging the gap

How do you respond when the pressure is on? Where do you go for comfort and help? Do you reach for the chocolates or crack open a bottle? Or do you hit out at whatever unlucky individual is nearest? When stress hits, do you go for fight or flight? Are you fists up or head down? Are you rhino or hedgehog?

What did Jesus do at the worst of times? He didn’t blame, he didn’t run, he didn’t hit out, he didn’t hide. He prayed.

Luke says, “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44)

In the toughest week of his life, we see Jesus praying the longest prayers. And they weren’t navel-gazing, self-preservation prayers. They were prayers of surrender and they were prayers for us.
If you have some time in the week leading up to Easter, look at what Jesus prayed in that week of his life in John 17 because in it we have a glimpse of what God most wants for us,
“I want those you have given me to be where I am and to see my glory”.

Jesus is facing the lonely scary prospect of the Cross and how does he respond? He prays for us. He pours out his longing that we would be with him. All the blame for the Cross should be on us and Jesus is saying, Father, I want these ones who will cause such pain to be with me forever. Oh, how he loves us. If we realised how much Jesus wants us near, we would run to him today.

As I write this, I am in Wales with my boys and I can feel my happiness steadily climbing like a thermometer in the sunshine. I love it when they are with me. Yet it astonishes me that God feels the same about us. God loves to have us with him.

That’s the prayer at the crux of the Cross – God’s desire to have us with him.

A few weeks ago, I visited Rome and of course had to join the 25,000 others cramming our way into the Sistine chapel. As we walked out, my son commented on the fact that there was no joy to be seen on the painted figures that decorate the chapel. Every face was frightened or severe. It is an extraordinary visual feast but spiritually it is bereft of the gospel. The image that imprinted itself on my mind was the gap left between man and God. In Michelangelo’s world, God is ultimately untouchable.

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The gospel declares that Jesus came to bridge the gap so that we can bridge it too.. He prayed so that we can pray.

Isaiah opens up the deepest mystery of all, that the cross is itself intercession,
“For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)

As Jesus hangs on the Cross, he is offering himself as a prayer, appealing to the heart of the father that our sins might be forgiven so that we might come home to be with him. The joy is that this prayer is perfectly tuned to the will of the father so the answer is a yes that rings through our eternity.

As he makes intercession by pouring out his life, he articulates it with his first words from the Cross,

“Father forgive them…”

This is is much more than his loving prayer for those around him – this is ultimately the prayer of his whole life on earth. He is born and dies that we might be forgiven, that we might be with him.

As you meditate on the Cross this Easter, consider Christ praying for you, pouring out his life to make intercession for you – that you might be forgiven, that you might be with him – and allow him to draw you near.

And next time stress hits, remember that you can pray because he did.

Ablaze


Have you got a favourite remedy for winter blues? How do you brighten up a colourless, damp, dank day? Here’s mine. Build a fire.

I lit a fire in our garden and watched as flames touched dry sticks to life and warmth, lighting up our faces. This is what our winter world needs – men and women ablaze with Christ.

A fire draws a crowd. At my nephew’s wedding, there was a bonfire like the bonfires I remember from my childhood, set in a huge field. It was almost scarily hot and gloriously bright, darting sparks up to the stars, towering above us all as we drew near to the warmth.

The apostle Paul said, “Don’t quench the Spirit.”

That took me aback. Could little me quench the powerful Spirit of God? Evidently I can. We can grieve the Spirit. When I choose ingratitude, when I refuse to hear his voice, it’s like pouring a bucket of water over the fire that God has placed in my heart.

If your fire has dwindled, ask the Father to fuel it with his burning love for you. Don’t let it die down into ashes, find others on fire to set you blazing.

Sometimes I do the opposite to fuelling; I wrap myself up with comfort and complacency. But even a ziplighter can’t catch fire without oxygen. A box full of ziplighters unexpectedly came through unscathed in a huge warehouse fire because they were all shrink-wrapped. It’s only by being open to the breath of God, to the wind of his Spirit that we catch fire.

Fire warms, fire purifies, fire draws, fire fascinates. How our world needs a church ablaze with the love of God.

Thou who camest from above
The pure celestial fire to impart
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.
John Wesley

Pour out your heart

Trust in him at all times!
Pour out your heart before him
For God is our refuge
(Psalm 62:8)

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One of my favourite games as a kid was rigging up old curtains across the sofa to make a den.  It was my place where I hid away, played games and felt safe.
Where’s your refuge? This week, I spoke to a little girl at the school where I am chaplain. She told me about her hiding place under a table at home where she goes when there is shouting. It’s her refuge. She liked this verse from Psalm 36:
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Imagine a little chick hiding under an eagle’s wings – utterly secure. That’s us.
Where’s your refuge? It’s important we pick a trustworthy refuge.  Another top childhood game of mine was “It” which I played for hours with my younger brother. One day we decided to make the window seat into “Home”. It’s a flawed plan to view an upstairs window seat as a safe place. As I chased my brother, he raced towards the window seat at full pelt and I vividly remember my horror as I watched him go straight through the window.  Amazingly he survived but we found a new “Home” for our game!
We have a much better refuge – one that we can “trust at all times”. Our loving God is so trustworthy that we can pour out our hearts to him and know that they won’t go flying through a first-floor window and hit the ground.
What does it look like for you to pour out your heart to God? Have you ever done it? It is a bit scary, rather demanding because it entails being real with him. One of my favourite moments this last Christmas was when Dave from our church told his story of coming back to God after decades away.  The short version is that everything changed when he prayed a heart-felt prayer to God.
That’s stuck in my mind. It’s too easy to go through the motions, not to deeply trust ourselves to God, to barricade our hearts. God invites us to pour out our hearts, our hopes and fears and dreams, our love for him and as we are known by him, he will be known by us.
I wonder what holds you back from pouring out your heart to God? Sometimes I don’t like what’s in my heart and I am not sure that God will. Here is reassurance:
“Those who take refuge in you will never be condemned” (Psalm 34:22)
Our hiding place is no less than Christ himself, Christ who was condemned so that I might not be.
So I can pour out my heart to the Almighty who loves me, who cares about the deepest secrets and hidden longings of my heart. He knows me so well that he alone can unearth the buried pains and set free soaring joy.

“I will trust you Lord today and pour out my heart to you for you are my refuge.”

The best advice

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Last week, my son Connor edited a video of my dad talking about the defining moments of his life so this is a teaser for the clip I will show in the New Year. My dad has walked with Jesus for decades now and it shows. This picture is of him. What stuck with me was dad’s answer to Connor’s question, “What is the main piece of advice you would give to the next generation?”

Dad replied, “Daily meeting with the Lord”

This is the greatest discovery – God, Almighty God, longs to meet with us.

I pray today you might have a glimpse of how much God wants to meet you and pour his love upon you. It changes our times with God when we realise it isn’t about ticking a box of reading the Bible and gaining another bit of information. It’s not about trying in vain to be a good Christian, whatever that is. It is meeting our Father and our friend, the lover of our souls – the one who fills our hunger, mends our cracked hearts and sets us free to dream dreams that change the world.

God himself is waiting to meet us as we open his word and come to pray. Wherever you are today physically, emotionally or spiritually, God longs to meet with you.

So much so that he came in person, reaching out to us with tiny hands, small enough for us to hold onto.

So much so that he let those hands to be pierced on a Cross.

So much so that those hands hurled all that separated us from him as far as the East is from the west.

So much so that he promised us his Spirit to help us meet with him every day.

When we meet him, it is indescribably wonderful – there is glory, there is transformation, there is overwhelming love.

And always there is deep strengthening. As a child, I loved the picture from the Narnia stories of Lucy burying her head in Aslan’s mane and being strengthened. God invites you to draw near and lean our heads on his shoulder.

The Father loves you. He wants to meet with you today.

 

The Surprise Winner

 

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Sister Madonna Buder runs triathlons. As one who never runs unless I am late for a train, I am impressed by anyone who runs a triathlon. I am jaw-droppingly impressed by her because she is 86 years old and she runs Iron Man triathlons – that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run! I like to think maybe it was her English twin who overtook my husband Trevor on his marathon. I remember him feeling rather disgruntled when a grey-haired lady with a bus-pass overtook him on the last leg.

For us – “Joy is like the marathon runner who comes up in the final mile and sweeps past the opposition…. at times it looks as if joy isn’t going to win but God’s promise is that joy will overtake sorrow.”   (The Promise of Blessing)

The redeemed of the Lord will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
GLADNESS AND JOY WILL OVERTAKE THEM
and sorrow and sighing will flee away
Isaiah 35:10

Engraved by God

Having engraved my name on his hand, God engraves his name upon me. He tells his priests to bless his people and then concludes,
So I will write my name on my people!”
Blessing is how the master engraver marks as his own.

 Why do you name things? For starters, it stops them getting lost or stolen. God names us to say,
“You are mine – you’ll never accidentally get lost.”

“You’re secure.”

“You belong.”

But naming isn’t only about belonging; God wants to engrave who he is on our lives. We were made in his image but often we are like a smudged piece of paper and we need him to give us a new sheet and rewrite his image across our lives to display the glory of his name.

engravedIs your life engraved with his name? I was at a retreat last week when we were supposed to write a verse on a stone. I broke the pen! Stone is impenetrable, resistant, hard – like my heart. I can’t write God’s name on my heart.

 

But he can. Praise God who gives us hearts of flesh for our stony hearts and promises to write his ways upon them. How? With a giant pen or as I did when I engraved my stone, with a knife? Does he send an angel to do it? No, the living God draws near to do it himself. Just as he engraved the 10 Commandments on stone tablets by writing with his finger (Exodus 31), now his Holy Spirit is the finger of God writing on our hearts.

So God makes us his letter to the world, written,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” 2 Cor 3:3

Every moment becomes an opportunity for us to welcome him to write his goodness on our lives. Sometimes the hardest moments are when we see his imprint most clearly in the end.

Will you join me in praying the engraving prayer of blessing?

Father bless us and keep us,

make your face shine upon us and be gracious to us,

turn your face towards us and give us your peace.

So write your name upon our lives.

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The Master Engraver – Part 1

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The Master Engraver – Part 1

“See I have engraved you on the palm of my hands”    Isaiah 49:16

Why would you do that? That’s got to hurt. I tried to find a picture of a tattooed palm but it must hurt too much because I couldn’t see one online. Just the thought of it makes me flinch. This is my hand and I thought of writing on it for the photo but I didn’t even fancy that.

One of our friends has the names of his four kids tattooed on his body. Enough to stop me having any more kids! But he is a devoted dad. Basically that’s what God has done for us – you are his tattoo. And Jesus does bear literal marks on his hands for you.

In telling his people that they are engraved on the palm of his hands, God is saying, “I don’t forget you.”

God doesn’t write your name on a sticky post-it note, the type that you lose, that end up in recycling. He engraves you and me on his hand.

I’m always losing reminders on bits of paper. But if you write them on your hand, there they are in front of you. God says that you are always before him, in his sight, on his mind. Right now.

And forever. Engraving is designed to be permanent. Couples engrave a wedding ring or carve their initials in a tree as a sign of covenant promise. Of course human covenants often fail. Apparently Johnny Depp had a tattoo that said “Winona forever”. Forever turned out to be brief and when they broke up, he changed it to “Wino forever”. But God’s forever is forever. You are engraved on the palm of his hand because he is eternally faithful to you and because he wants you forever.