Posts tagged ‘Prayer’

May 23, 2015

A lesson from an old Willow tree.

Last week I was invited to a retreat day in Coolkelure church, near Dunmanway. Bishop Richard Henderson spoke to us about the prophet Jonah and, as always, what he had to say was inspired and truly excellent. With great skill and infectious enthusiasm, he brought the ancient text to life and it was a joy to be there, to listen and to learn.

One of the things he mentioned in an offhand way was the old Willow tree in the north-west corner of the churchyard. It had sustained quite a lot of damage in a storm, (perhaps during the gale on February 12th last year). In the photo (taken with my phone) above, you can just about see the split in the upper part of the trunk.

Yet since and even because of this catastrophe, recovery and new growth has begun.

We too might suffer something so catastrophic and life changing that we are tempted to lose all hope. Yet as the tree continues to draw water and nutrients from the soil and absorb light from the Sun, so we can continue to receive from the Lord. He will relentlessly work to reshape, rebuild and restore every broken heart and every shattered life of all who will come to Him.

February 5, 2015

Earth’s shadow

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At the moment I am reading Timothy Keller’s “Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” and I am finding it a great read. A quote quite early on in the book from Flannery O’Connor, beautifully describes the sense of the struggle and frustration that so many of us have with putting God first above all:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.

The implication is that a major aspect of learning to pray (and therefore growing  in our relationship with God) is to not to let ourselves, or rather our ego get in the way. As John the Baptist said of the Lord Jesus:

“… He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Of course this is easier said than done!

December 16, 2014

When God comes near

I came across this painting in the Chapel of one of the local nursing homes. As I saw it from a distance, at first I thought the foreground was the rolling waves of a tumultuous sea at night. I felt drawn in to the scene and as I got closer I saw the snowy landscape and that what I had originally thought to be the moon, was of course a star, and not just any old star, but The Star of Christmas.  The star is small and right on the edge of the picture but nevertheless it casts significant light on the mid and far distance, even if the way immediately in front of us (as we look at the scene) is still in darkness.

There is much here to meditate upon (whoever decided to hang this painting in the chapel knew what they were up to). In this season of Advent we are reminded that God comes near, very near and yet He is hidden also. We are called to seek Him and to find Him in unexpected places and in the lives of unexpected people. This is the season where darkness gives way to Light, where sin gives way to the Saviour and where death is overcomes by New Birth. Come O come Emmanuel, God is with us!

Postscript:
We have been greatly enjoying the Advent series of videos produced by 24-7 Prayer called “When God comes near” (the inspiration for the title of this blog post). Here is the link, they really are well worth watching.

November 17, 2013

Prayer

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I think that the longer a person knows God, the more they want to get to know Him.  Prayer is such a wonderfully rich and fathomless subject and something that can be both easy and very hard, uplifting and elusive; something that can release tears of joy and tears of sorrow.

As well as stumbling and stuttering in prayer and in trying to pray throughout the day, directing everything heavenward, I like to write out my prayers in a book too.  That way I can come back to them and see what transpired.  Looking back sometimes I am very grateful that God didn’t answer a prayer the way I wanted Him to!  The best times of prayer are when we pray with our boys at bedtime (some of the things they come out with are priceless!) and then later in the evening with Sonja, when together with God we bring to Him ourselves, our lives, and pray both for those who have asked for our prayers (and also those who have not!), as well as other things and different situations.    

For the beginner (and I think I will always be a beginner but that’s no bad thing), I recently came across an article on the Church of England website entitled “Learn to Pray”, which I really like.   There are lots and lots of books on prayer, but my favourite is Gordon MacDonald’s “Ordering Your Private World”, which has taught me much about how the inner life of prayer affects the outer life we live every day.

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Photo: A man at prayer in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Cirencester

Nikon D7000, 35mm DX lens at f1.8, 1/90 sec, ISO 160

August 7, 2013

Seeing

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“Glasses” – taken with Samsung Galaxy Note II and processed with Instagram

Prayer is a wonderful thing and answers to prayer are predictably unpredictable.  A few weeks ago we were all enjoying ourselves in the sea, splashing and swimming, jumping and generally having a great time. After a particularly big splash I noticed my glasses had come off (of course I shouldn’t have been wearing my glasses in the sea but my eyesight is very poor without them).

We searched and searched the sandy sea bed for quite a while before finally conceding that the sea was very big and my lost glasses very small.  As we searched we prayed and I remember feeling disappointed that God did not reveal to us where the fallen glasses were.

Over the next 10 days or so we must have visited the beach another 4 or 5 times, we didn’t even bother to look for the glasses.

Then one evening, approximately 2 weeks after the time I had lost the glasses we set out for the beach again. Sonja was driving and as we arrived she parked at a spot along the wall.  It was inch perfect.  I looked out of my window and I was amazed, there were my glasses, on the wall right next to me! They were in remarkably good condition for having been lost in the sand under three feet of water over two weeks previously…

I wound down my window and picked them up. As I did so I thanked God for answered prayer. I imagined (or did I) a feint friendly chuckle in reply…

May 15, 2012

Tranquility

Looking up ‘Tranquility’ in the thesaurus produces a string of:

Peace
….peacefulness
……..restfulness
….repose
calm
….calmness
……..quiet
….quietness
stillness.

Even something about reading those words produces a certain soporific effect.

The picture above I took at Garrettstown on a day off last Saturday. Without such special days, times with my beautiful (and incredibly patient) wife and our two wonderful boys I don’t think I would last very long in parish ministry.  We all need times of peace, days of fun, moments of joy and places to escape to.

We spent about six or seven hours on the beach but it felt like no time at all.  It wasn’t very warm, there was a chill in the air from the north east, but we built an enormous sand castle, which later became an alien space craft and a rowing boat (of sorts).  We gathered driftwood and made a fire on which we cooked sausages and rashers.  Breathing in the fresh sea air all day meant that we all slept very well that night and I was ready in body, mind and spirit for the day and week ahead, (something which unfortunately doesn’t always happen).

As I look at the photo now I am reminded of those old and familiar words that long ago we used to sing in church:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee.
Trust ye in the Lord for ever:
for our rock of ages is the Lord.

(Isaiah 26:3-4)

December 14, 2011

Reconnect

Beach near Garranefeen, Kilbrittain, Co. Cork

One of the best methods of stress-busting I know is to find a beach, (preferably a deserted one and ideally on a cold windy wintery day) and just walk.   In this place of wind, water and waves, prayer is never too far away…

April 21, 2011

In the quiet place

In the quiet place

Yesterday gave me an interesting and slightly uncomfortable insight into myself.  Those days before Easter Sunday, ‘Holy Week’ are perhaps the busiest days of the year; there is much to do in the way of visiting parishioners and preparing for the many services which take place.  It is hard to relax much during this season, though I have found that family time in the garden, whether it be kicking a ball around with my sons or just spending precious time with my better half in the late spring sunshine are great antidotes to the stress which inevitably builds up.

So I found myself at a clergy ‘Quiet afternoon’ yesterday, needing to be still, having to be quiet in the midst of the busiest week of the year.  I felt like a sailor trying to steer a ship in the middle of a storm and being asked to let go of the ropes (for a while) and sit down and do nothing.  ‘Preposterous’ my ego was telling me, ‘how could you do nothing at a time like this?’  It was very difficult at first to even sit still and my mind was swilrling with the maelstrom of all that still needs to be done, but slowly, gradually I averted my gaze away from the hectic busyness and focused for a brief but golden moment on what really matters and what it is all about.  Jesus.

This morning I remembered a song by Andy Park.  Perhaps I should listen to it more :-)

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
’Cause I want to know You more

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing ownward, pushing every hindrance aside, out of my way
’Cause I want to know You more

March 9, 2011

Lent, a time for new beginnings and growth.

Blarney Crocuses

Photo: Crocuses at Blarney Castle (February 2011)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday.  Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Mentioning ‘Lent’ to people will provoke differing reactions. For some, it is the chance to give something up, such as chocolate, smoking, alcohol, (or churchgoing)!  For others it is the chance to start doing something good and positive, going for a brisk walk every morning, reading Deuteronomy and Leviticus before breakfast or giving some time or money to a charity.  For others still, even mentioning ‘Lent’ will result in arms being folded and statements of defiance such as ‘Well, I’m giving up Lent for Lent!”

I have to say that over the years I’ve tried various things with limited success, so I was pleased about the appointed reading for today because it is one that I have for years found in equal measure comforting, encouraging and challenging.  This reading gives us help with some of the great themes of Lent that have been practised by Christians down through the centuries, these are: Giving to the needy, Prayer, Fasting, and the way we view possessions.

The Lord Jesus begins by teaching about giving to the needy.  Even just mentioning this may make us squirm!  It used to be that the needy were people who you lived amongst, orphans and widows and beggars on the streets were near where you lived and may have been known to you personally.  Now to a large degree, the needy are much more remote from us, they live in far away places, we are distanced from them in language, culture and creed.  As such, it is easy to forget about them and as it were to pass by on the other side of the road.  If we have a conscience however, the needy will never be so far away from us that we are unable to help.  Not only does the Lord Jesus want us to give to the needy, He wants us to do it in secret.  He says:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…” (v.1-4)

The Lord does not want us to be hypocrites, where we only do things for outward appearance – ‘Look at me aren’t I great for giving all this money away!’  Haven’t we all felt that temptation, when we have done something good or given something away, we want people to know about it? Of course, if people can find out about our giving and it looks like we were trying to keep it a secret all the better – ‘O how holy I am!’  I love the phrase ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’, our motive for giving must be pure; we must genuinely not even secretly want some kind of reward in return.  We give because of God’s love, God’s love for us and for the joy of being used by God to bless others in return.

The next great theme of Lent is that of Prayer, the Lord says:

5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (v.5-6)

Again, we are not to be hypocrites, putting on prayers for show to be seen and heard by others.  I learnt my lesson about this at the Christian Union meeting I used to attend in my student days.  For some reason I got it into my head that God was impressed with long complicated prayers and so when we used to have prayer times I would set off on these really extended ridiculous prayers with what I thought were long and impressive words and rich metaphors – it was all very ridiculous and I am ashamed as I remember it.  Nobody said anything to me about it but one day, in mid prayer it suddenly dawned on me what I was doing – I was trying to impress God, and I was trying to impress my fellow students and I was a big eejit!  I felt so stupid and it was many months before I could pray out loud again – normally and honestly and without hypocrisy.  Of course this is even more important in our personal and private prayer; like our giving of money, our personal prayer times should be in secret, behind a closed door out of sight and hearing of anyone else as much as possible.

Have you ever tried to fast?  If you want some way to make yourself as grumpy and as irritable as possible I highly recommend it!  No seriously, fasting is something that is a very good habit indeed, though one that seems (for many) to have fallen by the wayside a bit in recent times.  There are lots of different ways of doing it but here is what I would suggest for someone who would like to give it a go:  A simple way to do it is to fast for 24 hours, so when you wake up in the morning don’t have breakfast, just a couple of glasses of water and the time that you normally would have spent preparing and eating your breakfast spend in prayer and Bible reading.  Then for your elevenses the same, a glass or two of water and the time you would have normally taken with your coffee and ‘Kit Kat’ spend with God in the place of prayer, same for lunch, same for dinner and the same before bed.  The next morning, have your breakfast, but just have a small bowl of cereal or slice of toast, if you go for the ‘full Irish’ you will probably be sick!  Fasting has a strange effect; you will find yourself getting grumpy as you get hungry but this will go because of the extra time spent in prayer and in that prayer you will find all sorts of things that need dealing with coming to the surface.  Talk to God about all the stuff that comes up, tell him what you are feeling, just let it all out and tell him.  People who fast often find it invaluable and actually look forward to it as a time of blessing and fellowship with God.  Again, the Lord Jesus wants our fasting to be done in secret – we don’t make a fuss about it so we plan the fasting for a quiet day when we would be at home rather than a day when we were invited to City Hall for a banquet!

The fourth great theme of Lent that the Lord teaches us about is our attitude towards money and possessions.  It’s a bit of a cliché (but one that we have no doubt witnessed), that the more money people have the more tightly they try and hold on to it.  So often people who are very wealthy are also very unhappy.  Conversely, people who are not at all wealthy are often much more happy.  I have also seen how often it is the poorest people who are the most generous in their giving of both money and resources; they have learned a lesson of which the rest of us can only be  in awe of, that true happiness is in giving away what God blesses us with, that we might in turn bless others.

As we look at these things, the giving of money, praying in secret, fasting and our attitude to money and possessions it can be overwhelming.  We can despair at our weakness:  We try to give money away but we can’t even afford to pay our bills first, ‘I want to be able to pray but I don’t think God would listen, he’s too busy and how could he love me after what I’ve done anyway; fasting, I’m a million miles away from that, it’s just for monks and people who have loads of spare time on their hands; money how can I worry about money, I don’t have any to hoard in the first place!’  I know, I know.  Look, just begin with small steps, like a child learning to walk, holding his Father’s big hands and looking into his Father’s kind and loving eyes.  Just take one step at a time…

I’ll finish with this amazing true story that I came across recently:

A man called Craig had been an alcoholic for more than a dozen years. He’d lost everything he had, including his wife and son, due to his selfishness and addiction. Things began to change after he gave his life to Christ, but he still fell regularly into his old habits. It didn’t help that he’d lost his well-paying job and was working at a local grocery shop that was well stocked with alcohol. After a few years of going back and forth between Christ and the bottle, he finally cut the ties, and, out of obedience to Christ, quit his job.

With no income and hope only in Christ, he was in desperate condition. After an interview with a sheet metal company down the street from his new church, he cried out to God. “God, if you give me this job I will give you my first pay check.” Surprisingly, he got the job.

He clearly remembers the day when he got his first pay check. Stacks of bills needed to be paid. Penniless but determined, he wrote his name on the back of the check and endorsed it over to the church and walked it to the church office without waiting for the Sunday offering. That was the moment, he says, that changed his life because now he understood what it meant to trust God.

As of today, Craig has been sober for 25 years, he’s a manager at that sheet metal company, and he serves as an elder at his local church.[1]

With God’s help, all things are possible, even for me and even for you.  Amen.

December 8, 2010

and the busy world is hushed

Clonakilty Snowscape
The past week or so has been unusual; many meetings, visits and school days have been cancelled and we have had the sort of weather that “only happens once in a generation” (except of course we had it last year as well.)  
Personally there has been an up-side to being confined to home – more family time, time for catching up on reading etc.  But there is more, a deeper sense of peace, perhaps because of being forced to slow down a little and to reflect upon the things that matter and the things that are important in life and in work.  
(Photography Bit).  Of course I have enjoyed taking a few photographs too :-)  Snow photography is pretty tricky because of all the light reflecting back; my little compact camera has a ‘snow’ scene setting, which is cheating a bit but really all it does (I think) is overexpose things by about a stop.  The above picture was taken from our garden using good old Tri-x film, with a Nikon F100 and 50mm lens.  Developed in Rodinal means that the grain is very grainy but I like the effect here.  
The scene above was as I was standing there in the stillness of the early morning light, very peaceful and  tranquil.  As I look at it now (and as I think about the memorial service I am doing this afternoon) I am reminded of one of the prayers from the funeral service (by John Henry Newman):  
O Lord,
support us all the day long
until the shades lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest, and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.