Leaders say what they see. Their not afraid to speak the word, they point out the awkward facts and they state the obvious. In the video below Ben explains more. Watch to the end for an update on our plans for Alpha.
We’re coming to the end of Lent and we’ve just finished our short burst of 24 hour prayer.
What has God been showing us in this time?
Well I’ve had a whole lot of fun in the prayer room this week, I hope you have too. Thank you very much to everyone who has been involved. Do let us know any senses of God speaking, answered prayers, or stories from our time. Late night and mid-day hours praying have meant that my brain is full of things I think the Lord has said, for now though I just want to reflect on prayer itself.
Earlier in the season Pippa described her prayer rhythm as breathing, I think it’s a good picture. Praying is that organic and it’s that essential, we need it to live.
If prayer really is like breathing then it really is important. Another image I’ve heard a few times is that our prayers are like the cover that an air force provides an invading army. It is about our living and about our ability to move forward.
One of the things I’ve realised again and again is that it’s really hard persuading people to pray! It’s hard because there are often any number of other things happening that might seem a better use of our time. If I’m really honest, it’s hard persuading myself to pray. I suppose we should take comfort that the night before Jesus died he was still persuading his disciples that they needed to stay awake and pray.
I think we do need to keep going with this, I think God is teaching us a way of praying together, but I also know that we don’t want one place that we always come back to to pray. We want powerful, sustaining, victory-winning rhythms of prayer in each of our MSCs. Would it be possible, for example, for your MSC to host a mini prayer room for a night or two?
As you reflect on what God has been showing you this week do also think about these questions:
How is your community already investing into prayer?
How might you lead your MSC to increase the power and frequency of its prayers.
Have a Fantastic Easter, we’re looking forward to seeing you at Simply Easter and the Sunday Celebration.
There’s a verse in John 15 where Jesus says “Greater love has no-one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (verse 13)
The Message translation puts it like this:
“This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.”
Jesus’ act of submission to the cross is the greatest act of generosity the world has even seen. He literally laid down His life for us, his friends. Jesus gave everything He had to make things right again between us and the Father. An amazing, selfless act of giving.
And He commands us to give in the same ways!
If you look through the Bible you can find lots of passages which urge us to be generous in giving our money, our time and our effort. It’s not hard to find a verse which teaches us the different ways we are to love others. But like so many things in the Bible, it’s not understanding what God says which is difficult but the doing it that’s really hard!!
Giving something of ourselves to someone else, laying down our lives, is a sacrifice and a discipline. We don’t usually find ourselves giving by accident! Sometimes we find it easy to do something generous for someone else, for me it’s easier if it’s someone I’m good friends with or if it actually won’t take that much effort. But we’re to practice laying down our lives even when we don’t find it easy and it’s not convenient. Giving of our money, time and effort is an investment into the kind of culture we want in our communities, church and in the world. Jesus also teaches us that we reap what we sow. If we as leaders are not prepared to take on the discipline of generosity towards others then we won’t grow a culture of it within our MSCs either. We also won’t experience the richest of blessings that God has in store for us as we give.
Personally God has taught Ben and I so much about trusting Him with money – but it started with a risk we took to be generous. We couldn’t have learnt how to be secure in trusting Him with money if we hadn’t taken a risk first. And the risk was really to believe that what He says about Himself is true – He is a good Father and can be completely trusted to take care of us.
There are other risks he could be asking us to take as we think about where we need to be generous in terms of money, time and effort. What kind of risk is He asking you to take as you learn to love and lay down your life for others at the moment?
In the run up to Easter we are posting some reflections on Spiritual Disciplines – actually I prefer to think of them as ‘good habits for disciples.’
If you want some reading on this then do get hold of Richard Foster’s classic book Celebration of Discipline.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was once asked why he meditated. He replied “because I’m a Christian”.
Meditation gets a bad press because it has become associated with Eastern and New Age spiritual practices. However even a cursory glance at the Bible shows that meditation is part of being a friend of God.
How about thinking of it like this: When you meditate you discover Jesus knocking at the door of your heart and find yourself opening the door and then sitting and eating with him (Revelation 3:20). Richard Foster says “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and follow” – that should ring a bell for all Kairos people!
Here is a quick overview of four types of Meditation (thanks to Richard Foster):
Scripture – read a passage or verse. Enjoy phrases, particular words, conversations. See what you are drawn to ponder and think about.
Re-Collection– bring to mind a situation or circumstance eg. An argument with someone, something you are anxious about. Hold your hands palm down to represent what you are giving to God (resentment or anger etc) then at some point later turn your palms towards to represent receiving from God.
Creation – meditate on what you see, hear, smell and touch. Perhaps take a walk or sit overlooking a view. Have an internal conversation with God about his creation.
Current Events – simply reflect prayerfully on current affairs, asking for insight and Godly understanding. Seek personal guidance on how you can be salt and light in relation to these things.
I find writing my prayer reflections, my impressions and Bible insights in a journal very helpful. Others sketch, write poetry or even doodle as ways of focusing. Lighting a candle, or playing some worship music is often a good way in. You don’t need hours – for many of us setting aside a few minutes every day intentionally is the best way to start and you can do this at work, in your home, at the side of the road.
Meditating is something I encourage you to keep growing in – learn your style of meditating, experiment with other styles. Don’t let what Foster calls the ‘muchness and manyness’ of life prevent you from drawing close to God.
During lent we are going to be looking at different Spiritual disciplines which make us better able to love God and others. This week we are looking at ‘forgiving others’.
The obvious place to go would be that of the Lord’s Prayer, where we pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
God wants to show us his forgiveness, because sin needs to be broken down. Any barrier that gets in the way of God having a relationship with us needs to be destroyed. Scripture speaks of sin being a debt that needs paying. News Flash people, the debt has been paid. We know this for ourselves, we are made whiter than the snow, our debt is paid, we can be confident in the cross of Christ and the fact that the battle is won. We can be confident, as Mark said on Sunday, that our names are written in the book of life.
Although this is a fact, a fact that cannot be disputed, we cannot forget the second half to this section of the Lord’s Prayer. We are called to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Forgiveness is a process which we need God’s help with.
We are in a covenant relationship with the Father, and as such we have a Kingdom responsibility to be his representatives here on earth. This means bringing healing, restoration, deliverance and forgiveness where ever we go.
“The Christian life is a recurring process of reconciliation with God and neighbour” (James White)
Having felt the love of God and Known his forgiveness we are in a prime-position to help restore the lives of others by showing them the kindness which we have received from our Father. Jesus’ life illustrated forgiveness, and as Disciples of Christ we are imitators, so we too should be illustrating forgiveness. There is no doubt that we need God’s help in this, and the Spirit can help us grow into the role of forgiver, as well as forgiven.
“It’s all too easy to take bitter and anger to the grave. Instead, we should take it to Jesus.” (J John)
Jesus really is the answer. He is not only our redeemer, but the redeemer of family, friends, colleagues, and even our enemies. For us to live a ‘full life’ we need to be letting go of the baggage that drags us down, and letting God take this burden for us.
Community helps us live a forgiven, and a forgiving, life
There are times when although we know the truth, that we are forgiven, we sometimes need reminding of this fact. Having people around us who know us, and have permission to speak into our lives can be of great comfort, even if at times challenging. Hearing the words – “you are forgiven” can be transformational. These are words that can heal the soul.
“Wouldn’t it make a difference if you could go up to Jesus, tell him your sin, pour out you heart to him, feel him reach out and touch you in response, and hear him saying to you with a human voice full of love and compassion, “your sins are forgiven. Go in Peace”?
We are representatives of Jesus, and have been given authority to do the things he did during his earthly ministry. So get alongside your community, and your people of peace, and speak the words Jesus wants them to hear. But also, why not model this too, make yourself vulnerable, and offer them the chance to hear your confession and remind you of the forgiveness which is waiting for you.
Confession is not a dirty word. It is a prerequisite to forgiveness. It is a discipleship tool where we can come together examine our lives in the light of what we read in scripture and respond to what we hear God saying.
Remember though a promise to be a forgiving people as well as a forgiven people is not a prediction but a commitment to keep trying, and bring the Kingdom closer to all we come into contact with.
It was very good to have Nic Harding with us on Wednesday at leaders training. He gave up much that I think we will be reflecting on and putting into practice.
In the lunchtime session that we held with other church leaders Nic talked about his journey looking for a way of praying that really connected powerfully with God. This was a story that seemed to really connect with some of the leaders gathered, myself included.
I was thinking about this when we read John 5 together in 9am prayers at the resource base yesterday. Jesus is very challenging to the religious leaders of his day saying:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,yet you refuse to come to meto have life.” John 5: 39 – 40
These leaders were diligently looking for the things that would give life, they were looking for them in the bible and yet they missed out because they couldn’t come to Jesus. Do the things we do –spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, reading the bible, worship – help us to come to Jesus? Do they connect us with God or have they just become things we do because that’s what we are supposed to do.
Nic talked about the way in which God lead him to a way of praying that was quite counter to his personal preferences. He is quite an introvert but needed to find a place to pray loudly and passionately. I know that Mark has sometimes talked about the opposite move happening, and about God leading him to connect through contemplation and quiet. For myself, I love quiet prayer being silent or listening to a piece of music but have recently found that the most fruitful times of connection in my prayer have been during walks in different parts of Harrogate when I’ve had to engage with the environment and people around me. It may well be that looking for disciplines that run counter to our preferences are the ones that effectively lead us to God’s presence.
We are now well into Lent, some of you and the people in your communities may well be embracing a new discipline or two. I’d encourage you to keep talking about them as a community. Are you finding these things hard or easy? Are they really helping you come to Jesus? Is there something new that God might be prompting you to do?
The question to begin with is, “have you eaten all the yummy things in your house since Christmas?” Why? Because it’s time for Lent!
Lent is a great time of the year, don’t be mistaken for thinking it is simply all about giving up your favourite tasty treats – chocolate, sweets, alcohol, coffee, fizzy drinks. Lent is based on the time when Jesus was in the desert, being tempted, this is why we give up things that tempt us. However there is more to Jesus in the desert than temptation, it was the time before Jesus began his ministry; it was the time he withdrew and spent time with God.
My challenge for you all this Lent is to spend time with God, to help make this happen; you will be receiving a creative worship journal. This contains activities, thoughts and passages for you all to spend time with God. You might be tempted to say you don’t have time, or be distracted by circumstances of life, however, using the Lent journals (or any helpful resource, will bring you all closer to God, and together as a family. Are you ready for the challenge?
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