Tag Archives: Prayer

Survival strategy

I wrote this in my diary the night I missed Jon Foreman’s aftershow/solo show at the BCDO festival; it’s a survival strategy for getting through a depressive episode, so I have it to look back on the next time the ‘wolf‘ starts beating me around the head with painful thoughts. It’s the process I went through that night, and over the following couple of days, firstly to withstand the immediate assault, and then to calm myself down from it, and then to find God, and light, and hope, through it all, and eventually to recover.

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The little note at the bottom I added in the morning. It felt like sometimes you have to lose the occasional battle even when you’re winning the war, and that it’s ok that sometimes ‘chaos wins’. With no apologies for quoting a lyric, because it was one of the lyrics that shifted my perspective that night, this episode was the shadow that proved the sunshine; suddenly facing a (temporary) deep and scary darkness turned up the contrast on my life, and giving the tears to God as a desperate prayer I really did see hope, and joy, and every good thing, in a breathtaking light.

Hope is strongest set against despair.

The Light shines the brightest in the dark.*

 

*John 1:5, The Bible

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Melting ice ahead

Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

– Ezekiel 13:10-12, the Bible

 

A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of Advent and anniversary of the talks that led to the Paris climate agreement, I accompanied some friends as they delivered a symbolic bucket load of melting ice to the government to bear witness to the fact that we are headed the wrong way on climate change.
A year previously, we had all gone to the government department then responsible for climate policy to pray and symbolically paint whitewash on the walls (more about why here). With more forwards talk and backwards action over the past year, we decided to return with a reminder. We handed in a letter and held a prayer and worship vigil outside the building, whilst others put whitewash across the windows and went inside and emptied the melting ice on the floor – and set up wet floor signs saying ‘Caution! Melting ice ahead!’*.
Our government continues to whitewash the falling wall on climate change, like the Biblical false prophets, prophesying 1.5oC of climate peace ahead where there is none. ‘The wall will fall, and then all will ask you, where is the whitewashed wall?’ Where is the Paris Agreement? Where is the Climate Act? It seems as though our government imagines talk and written commitments are enough, that so long as we do something to keep ‘the green movement’ sweet that will suffice to keep the problem at bay. The talk is good. But it isn’t ‘the green movement’ that needs to be impressed; it is the climate itself, and the climate cannot hear our words, nor read our political agreements. All it notices are our emissions; and these continue to rise.
With carbon-heavy policy being pushed through in practice, what the climate sees is deeply alarming. The truth is, there is melting ice ahead and we stand on slippery ground. We need to turn around, prophesy the truth that we are heading for danger, and repent and cut emissions accordingly. Only then can we stop the wall falling.
As citizens of a (theoretical) democracy, we are complicit in our government’s actions, particularly in our silence, and so have a duty to speak out for truth and work as hard as we can to turn things around.
We are given melting ice, whitewashed with words; so as a witness to this, my friends gave the government whitewash and melting ice. I went along to pray and worship, help spread the word, and assist my friends should they be arrested. As it turned out, no arrests this time.
But the stakes are so high already; aside from the present and predicted physical effects of climate change such as melting ice, what I fear most is the social impact, which we may already be witnessing in increasing people movements, rising xenophobia, closing borders, insecurity, desperation and hostility. This is what we risk if we do not continue to speak out, so in light of this, how can we not take these small personal risks to make ourselves heard?

I pray for the church, all of us, to become braver and more visionary in pushing for a better world, more like the promised Eden-peace with God, and one another, and other creatures, and the earth we were put here to care for and work, and less torn apart by division, short term self interest, fear and greed.

 

 

*A double meaning; we genuinely did not want anyone to slip on it, but also meant it to serve as a warning sign of what is ahead on our current climate trajectory. Read more about the action here.

How you can support CCA

Five ways you can support me and my friends as we prepare to go to court for our whitewashing action…
🙂

Christian Climate Action

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On 31st May five members of CCA are standing trial for rebranding the Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC) the ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’, in an attempt to expose the fact that DECC’s actions on climate change do not match up to its fine words (read more about what we did here). There are many ways you can support us even if you have not been able to take part in direct action with us yourself-

  1. Make a noise about what the government is doing – our whitewashing action was only small, and the government is still heading fast in the wrong direction on climate change, supporting fossil fuels and cutting support for renewables, efficiency and the green economy. We did what we did to expose the truth behind the DECC’s claims on climate. But if we want to really make a difference, we need as…

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Dirt and eagles 3

Here is a meditative activity I’ve used myself, and with groups, as a way of shifting perspective, and praying for a seemingly overwhelming global issue:


 

Psalm 121:1-2 – I look to the mountains; where will my help come from? My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

 

Imagine yourself going walking somewhere mountainous. As you start out in the valley, the valley sides loom above you and seem impossibly high. You cannot see beyond them. Imagine these foothills as the ‘stuff’ that’s currently going around in your mind, obscuring the bigger picture. Acknowledge the things that are concerning you, and the things going on immediately around you in your life – in work, health, relationships – and leave it all in God’s hands for now…

As you climb these foothills, and reach their peaks, you see that there are bigger mountains, some climbable perhaps, others not so. Imagine these mountains to be great global disasters, situations of injustice, harmful systems and structures of the world, and acknowledge them…

When you look at the aerial view of the terrain you are passing through on a map, you see how big the region of mountains is compared with the valley you stood in to start with.

Now consider the view from where you are standing of the sky as it would be at night, the many stars, nebulae and galaxies… Try to open yourself up to imagine the earth in the solar system… in the galaxy… in the universe…how small we are, and how big it all is…

God, made the heavens, and the earth…

God is bigger than the universe! Dwell on that thought…

Now think about who God is, about God’s attributes – maybe spend a few moments jotting down as many as you can think of – and allow yourself to be drawn into worship of that great Goodness…

From this wide perspective, slowly imagine yourself back down to the mountains. Focus in on one peak, one issue (eg, the refugee crisis). Reimagine the situation (in your mind, on paper, through art etc – but no ranting about how things ‘should’ be at this stage!)… Keep one eye on the situation as you do this, and one eye on the Infinite Possibility who is God… As you reimagine, pray ‘Let it be’ in your heart.

 

1 Cor 12:27 – All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

We work alongside Christ in His saving work of re-creating the world and bringing in His Kingdom. Finish with an act of commitment to work towards the new world you have imagined, as far as you are able, in His grace.

 

Dirt and eagles 2

I don’t normally like unpacking my poetry; I prefer a poem to speak for itself and mean what it will to the reader. I’m also aware of the irony of adding words to a piece about silence! But I want to explore this a little more.

These words welled up one day when I was feeling overwhelmed, as a result of processing some of the things I’d read and listened to recently into prayer. A mixture of broken relationships, insecurities about money and failure, and deeper questions over my purpose and calling in life pressed on me to an extent that threatened to block both my way forward and my perspective on the bigger things of life, and recognising that, I realised I needed to find a way to pray it through. But some of this is stuff I’ve been wrestling with for years, praying through, laying before God in tears, ranting over… God has heard it all before, nothing is new. Even so, I needed God in it, and I needed some perspective.

And a few things I’d read recently sprang to mind; some words from a book I’ve been reading*, which mentioned Lam 3:28-29 almost in passing in the context of silent prayer, the book of Lamentations itself, which I was drawn to to explore the context of this some more, Isa 40:31, discussed at my church homegroup in the context of trusting God’s timing, and finally a group prayer meditation I’ve used previously, based on Psalm 121, which has helped me shift perspective before. I began with this, leading myself through it as I went out for a cycle ride to clear my head, and found myself arriving at these words.

My train of thought went something like this. We’re always surrounded by immediate problems in this life, and they do matter. Right now they’re certainly much bigger than I am! But the world is even bigger, and full of problems we still need to take on sometimes, things beyond our own immediate lives, but that affect what it’s like to live in this world – the big things in the lives of our friends and family, war, climate change, poverty, all kinds of suffering. It takes a deliberate effort for me when feeling overwhelmed to see through to these bigger things. But then when I do, they too begin to press down on me and block my way to what I need to do now, and to a wider perspective. The only ways I know to move out of the paralysis it causes are to either try to block it all out, or to deliberately find a way to see it all through God’s eyes. Sometimes I can draw on words that have brought me back to hope in the past. Sometimes I’m too overwhelmed and it’s not enough.

This time I felt in need of God’s presence and perspective but all out of words to help me express it in prayer. The passage in the book I’d read that pointed me towards Lamentations struck a chord somewhere. Silent prayer, simply placing self humbly before God, face down in the dirt… maybe hope will be found there? As I read Lamentations I was struck by the terrible situation it describes. The people were under siege, and turning in desperation to murder and cannibalism to survive. The prophet writer is so moved he exclaims that there is no hope, that his trust in God is gone. The people had tried looking for solutions everywhere the humanly could. They’d called to God to hear their cries. They’d wept. But the possibility of hope comes in this one verse; silent, face to the round. God is the only thing we can trust.

I’m under no illusions; I’m not facing anything remotely like this level of desperation and despair, and it was almost perspective enough just to read it. But it made me think: I’d been looking all over for answers, trying all kinds of doors to see if any of them might led to a solution. I’d complained and ranted to God. I’d wept. Maybe I just needed to stop. Be still. Be aware that I am nothing, and make myself less before God.

I haven’t reached the end of the process I described in the poem, but after a little time sat in silent humility before God, handing God my lack of answers and excuses and saying nothing, I began to see where it was leading me. I began to sense, like the writer of Lamentations, that God was all I could trust. Not my own ideas or efforts, not some vague hope of change. God is enough, even if no solution comes, and God is somehow close…

Everything in me is currently fighting back at this realisation, trying to assert myself, that surely there’s something I can do. I’m definitely not there yet! God’s not yet been handed full control. I need more time ‘with my face in the dirt’ before I really accept it and can let God just be God here. For now, it just feels good to have perhaps found a new prayer practice to use at times like this, and I already have some sense of peace and a way forward.

But I got a sense that if I do reach that point, even for a moment, that that is part of what’s implied in Isa 40:31; that giving up ourselves and our turmoil, shifting our perspective from the mountains to their Maker, and being still before God, may be when we find ourselves lifted up, carried up into the highest perspective from which we truly know all things are held by this God who is Love. We can’t get up those mountains on our own, and we can’t fly. We give up, trust, and let God carry us where we can’t go, open up hope, and show us the way. The way up my sometimes be down, and I hope and pray I learn to find it.

 

*’Cave Refectory Road’, by Ian Adams

Other food for thought – Only Hope, Eagle Rider

 


 

I wrote the poem whilst sat on the sea wall, looking out at flocks of wading birds feeding on the estuary. As I wrote the final words, they all took flight, briefly filling the air before disappearing further out. A passer by commented to me ‘worth waiting for?’

Dirt and eagles

Maybe, sometimes, face down in the dirt is the best perspective I can get

I find myself, again, hemmed in by even the tiny foothills of the great and daunting mountains, which rise higher the longer I look at them

But yet, with You, who hold the very universe in the palm of Your hand

Silence.

Sometimes there are tears or complaints.

But the truth is, I’m all out of words and attempts to find an answer.

Instead, I bring You silence, and emptiness.

In silent humility, face to the earth, You resolve form in the darkness

Love and Life itself

Closer than my breath, and big enough to hold every thing that exists

And when I open my eyes, I find us soaring, so far above the tiny landscape below…