Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making a New Start!

I love New Year! It's a great opportunity every year to draw a line under all that is past and start again. For me, 2013 has been a very difficult year marked by pain, the loss of dear friends, disappointment in others, family sadness at watching our only grandchild struggle her way through the challenging early months of her life, and the uphill task of trying to walk the journey of faith in a hostile culture. Yet, New Year brings with it a burst of hope, optimism and cheer that heartens me greatly and causes me to thank God that he is the God who describes himself with the words 'behold I am making all things new!'.

Far more significant than the date on the calendar, though, is the assurance within that God is still in charge - not man, not the doctors, nor the politicians and thankfully not me! He has not vacated the throne of the universe as so many want us to believe, but instead is working out his sovereign purposes for his glory and our eternal good. Romans 8:28 is still in my bible - "and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (ESV)

During the Christmas period I have been encouraged by the writing of Ian Coffey whom I look forward to welcoming to Guernsey and to Eldad Church in January.  In his book Shock and Awe (BRF, Abingdon, 2009) he quotes a prayer for today: "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose years never fail and whose mercies are new each returning day: let the radiance of your Spirit renew our lives, warming our hearts and giving light to our minds: that we may pass the coming year in joyful obedience and firm faith; through him who is the beginning and the end, your Son Christ our Lord. Amen"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As we enter the busy Christmas season it can be hard to keep our focus on the central facts of Christ's coming but we need to do so to avoid being swept up in trivia. Perhaps the passing of Nelson Mandela at this time of the year has helped to give pause to the annual headlong rush to accumulate trinkets and spend shed-loads of money, but only just. His noble legacy of grace, diplomacy and the victory of forgiveness over resentment have all merited airtime recently and may just serve to bring a dash of sanity to this recurring manic phase of capitalist splurging on non-essentials. At least I hope so.

I really am doing my best to avoid the 'humbug' scowl of the Charles Dickens character Scrooge because I simply don't feel like that. I can still remember my first Christmas as a Christian, savouring the wonder of Christ's coming to save the likes of me! I also love the fact that here in the West we get a festival of lights and feasting in our dark mid-winter, but I hope for better things than many people seem to experience at this time.  Is it too much to want real peace and joy instead of debt and domestic conflict? I don't think so and yet for too many homes the bills piling up will only add pressure to the tinder keg of strained relationships.  Sadly the experience of counselling organisations in the aftermath of Christmas each year testifies to this.

So how can we make a difference this Christmas? There have been lots of sensible tips given by folk as far apart as the Archbishop of Canterbury and various television budget advisers, but I want to say let's try to get behind the hype and discover the real Jesus this year. Let's take time to listen to the words of the traditional carols, like 'O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel' and 'be born in us today'. The real Jesus impacted our world far more powerfully than Nelson Mandela did, setting people free, not just from racism or political injustice, but from the chains that bind us within.  After all, racism and hatred are symptoms of a much deeper problem that requires a more radical solution than free and fair elections. Only a change of heart will do - and that's what I pray for you this Christmas.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Keeping it All Together!

I have been described as 'the man with the interesting abdomen' by the team at the pancreatic/biliary unit in University College London Hospital.  'Interesting' may be their viewpoint, but 'pesky' 'problematic' or downright 'painful' would be mine! When they went poking around in my pancreatic duct just a few days ago they revealed the presence of a large quantity of sludge bunging up the works.  Yuck! Sounds like my garden drains at this time of the year.  The problem is that when that particular duct is blocked with sludge or even leaves, it causes a back-wash of pancreatic enzymes - the things that dissolve meat when sent normally into your gut - which then start devouring your insides causing massive blood loss and infection - acute pancreatitis! In certain circumstances this can be fatal. My own brush with near-death encounters etc is set out in the book Braving the Storm - still available from Amazon and other booksellers. So, for me, the interesting abdomen is a huge challenge.

As I face the prospect of going back into UCLH in just over a week's time for them to have a second go at clearing the duct I find that my biggest enemy is not pain, or nausea, or even fever etc, but fear.  The fear of going back into something I have experienced before and was the worst time of my life (and my family's) takes the biscuit in the line up of enemies - including sludge - who seem to be conspiring against me at this time. So, I had a chat with myself (and Diane) about this and we started encouraging one another with fear unblocking Bible promises. These scriptures are helping us to get through, keeping it all together, and I offer them to you as an encouragement whatever kind of sludge may be affecting your life - or even your abdomen!

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Deuteronomy 20:3b,4 Do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before [your enemies], for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.

1 Chronicles 28:20  Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you ...

Isaiah 43:1,2 But now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’

Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 118:6  The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Proverbs 29:25  Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

Hebrews 13:5,6 …because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’

Monday, September 09, 2013

Aid not Cruise Missiles Please!

The pictures from Syria could hardly be more horrifying. The official death toll of 100,000 is almost certainly under-estimated and the terrors of chemical warfare have rightly outraged the West, though sadly, not the whole world. Yet - is it going to help the situation to hurl cruise missiles into the mix? If the cost involved in doing so were to be diverted to humanitarian aid alone, then a small dent in human suffering may be won, but the missiles alone cannot hope to do anymore than add to the sum total of misery.

President Obama may also be missing one important piece of the jigsaw. Not only could the action he proposes cause mayhem in the whole region and bring great danger to already unstable areas like Lebanon and Jordan, both almost overwhelmed already by the existing refugee crisis, it could sign the death warrants of thousands of Christian believers in Syria. In Maloula for instance - 10 miles outside Damascus - is one of the oldest Christian towns in the world, where the Christians speak the ancient language of Jesus and the disciples. Now, the town has fallen into a violent back-and-forth as government forces have battled to regain control from the al-Qa’ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, who first overran government roadblocks and entered the town last Wednesday. During the occupation by rebel forces Christians were reportedly told to convert to Islam or face beheading. Churches have been attacked and looted and now bodies lie in the streets. Fanatical Islamic fighters from outside Syria have joined extremist nationals to eradicate Christianity from this area. And all the while, the rebels wait for Christian America to start lobbing in their missiles in support of their cause!

I am not a politically minded person, but I find it hard to see how the actions the West has already taken in the Middle East have led to peace and democracy in Iraq, Libya, Egypt (where the West supported the original so-called Arab Spring) and Syria. I accept that Mosul is not Reigate and the kind of democracy which will work there will be very different to leafy Surrey, but throughout those areas, Christians are being persecuted, killed and forced out.  Ethnic cleansing may be the outcome if the US does not enter the Syrian war, but it is already going on and will be bolstered by them if they do.

 'I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness'. (1 Timothy 2:1).  So let's pray for the US Congress now that they may receive wisdom and exercise restraint in this complicated area.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Dealing with the Big 'D' - Disappointment

I woke at 4am on the 17th July 2013 and knew that I was in deep trouble. It had been 3 years since I had last felt like that but there was no mistaking the symptoms. Acute pancreatitis was back with a vengeance. Later that day, in hospital again for the 62nd time, I reflected on what had just happened.  Like a hurricane blasting through a well-kept suburban garden, the flimsy construct of my newly healthy image of myself lay in shreds. To call my feelings 'disappointment' is like asking 'is the Pope Catholic?' but when pain cleared enough for me to think rationally that's how I felt - disappointed.

Ironically, during the last year I have been asked twice to teach a seminar entitled 'Dealing with Disappointment' at Christian conferences. At both of them, Elim Bible Week 2013 and a New Wine regional conference, both my wife and I and even the organisers were surprised at the number of folk who attended. It goes against the grain of Pentecostal and Charismatic conferences to even address the issues surrounding disappointment and very few organisers are brave enough to put this kind of title into their line-up. But the people who came spoke warmly of the help they had found through our teaching. Now, in the painful aftermath of the last few weeks, I am having to relearn the principles and choose each day to keep trusting God and not analysing my pile of rubble too closely. After all, God has not changed and His calling on my life is just as clear and certain, so I need to focus on that and not on my sense of loss, confusion or fear.

Today a dear friend has sent me a link to a new version of the old worship song Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. I have found real comfort and encouragement in this great piece of music and found my heart warmed by its honesty and hopefulness. I love the second verse that says:
Oh frozen hope, oh broken dreams
Just like a boat tossed on the raging seas
You will walk on waves again
When you have set your gaze on Him...

So, I suppose I'm really saying - if like me you have woken recently to a real setback or disappointment - don't abandon your hope in God.  In fact, fix your eyes even more closely than ever on His love for you and His amazing plan for your life. After all, He is the God of the second chance - and the third and the fourth and the fifth...! Let's turn our eyes away from the situation to focus on the Christ who walked on the stormy waters that threatened to drown the disciples. And that's a choice really. Today I choose to trust Him and though my body or my circumstances do dismay, He is not a disappointment.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hot Book Launch!

Wow! What heat we experienced in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, last weekend.  30 degrees plus may not be as high as some places but for Britain that is hot hot hot! We were there for the book launch of this amazing project - Storming Home: the biography of Billy Gilvear, soldier, bodyguard to the stars, brawler, boozer and addict - now serving God in an amazing ministry called Eden in Manchester, and a real trophy of God's amazing grace. As his biographer and co-author I went with Billy to South Wales to launch the book because it was there that he found God - or rather that the Father of the story called The Prodigal Son in the Bible found Billy!

I also have a bit of history in South Wales having been the Senior Pastor at The City Temple in the centre of Cardiff during the mid 1990's and so I went along to introduce him and the book project.  Preaching at both the Sunday morning services to huge numbers of people packed into a stifling building with few windows and no air conditioning was quite a challenge! I was thrilled to see a large of people respond to the preaching and make serious steps forward in their desire to know Christ and follow Him.  Billy told his story in the evening service and hundreds of folk laughed, cheered and praised God as they heard the wonders of what has taken place.

So - the book is out - and you can obtain a copy here or if you are in Guernsey get in touch with me as I have a supply of them and in the Manchester area you can contact Billy at Eden.  But you will find this book thrilling and a real page-turner, and it really is one you will want to buy as a gift for friends.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Summer at Last!

 You have got to admit it's getting warmer when the road signs are melting eh?
 And these cats know what's good for them on a hot summer's day!
This little chap has just about had enough of all this heat! 
But these cheeky seagulls take the biscuit! 

At last summer has come to the Channel Isles and with it a bit of warmth, but don't blink - sea mist is already rolling in!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leadership Sandals for Sale

Today in Shropshire in the UK a remarkable item was auctioned. A pair of well-worn flip-flops went up for sale. They used to belong to the much respected Mahatma Gandhi  a well known leader in Indian history, and he famously walked everywhere in them.  Loincloth, wooden staff and flip-flops. . they made up the image of a simple man who shunned material things, so he would be amazed to hear that his worn-out old sandals actually fetched £19,000 today!

But Gandhi did not invent humble leadership.  Centuries before him Jesus Christ set an example of servant leadership that has inspired millions and still does.  If there was such a thing as a museum of leadership artefacts we might find quite an amazing array of items preserved there.  Probably a swagger stick from some military leader or a handbag from Mrs Thatcher.  Perhaps the 21st Century section would feature a laptop computer, a tablet device or a mobile phone.  But somewhere in that collection would be a towel and a wash-bowl, because the greatest leader of all time used them to wash His disciples' feet. In John 13 Jesus stooped to do the most menial task of all at that time - to wash the feet of his dinner guests.  This was normally the task of the lowest slave and so none of the disciples would perform it.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the maker of heaven and earth, did it for them, draped in a towel and carrying a bowl.

Servant leadership does not have to shout and rant.  People follow servant leaders because they know they care.  Sandals or laptops - I wonder what artefacts would symbolise your leadership style today?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Examine the Evidence

A bunch of guys who sing together and call themselves 'The Evidence' are heading our way this weekend!  Each of them has graduated from the discipleship training programme run by Teen Challenge UK. They have also had their lives dramatically turned around from self-destructive behaviour caused by addictions to drugs and alcohol. Now they are evidence of God's amazing grace and the life-changing power of the gospel - the good news of new life in Christ.

I live in an affluent, well-groomed community where you might imagine that there is hardly anything like drug addiction going on. Yet our island prison population, small as it may be by overseas standards, is mainly made of people serving time for drug related offences. The streets around our church building are known by the authorities to house multiple drug and alcohol related issues. We have been placed at the heart of this community with the community at our heart. Only the life-changing power of God can make the difference.

So we are going to take a look at the evidence and see what we think. They may be visitors to our island but they are not strangers to our problems. Their stories may well turn out to be a message of hope and life-change for many.  At least I hope so.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Ragamuffin Goes Home

The author of one of my favourite books The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, has died this week in the USA. The sub-title of one of the latest versions of this bestseller is: 'Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out.' I first read the book when passing through a time of deep trial, when I thought that my life would soon be over and felt that it had not counted for much. Brennan had also trodden some pretty dark pathways in his life of faith and service and although we came from very different parts of the Christian family, I found his reflections so helpful.  I have lent out my copy so many times that I have lost it now, but will buy another one so that I can give it to other fellow strugglers with the storms of life.

Later on, I read his book 'The Furious Longing of God' describing how much God wants His children to realise the amazing power of His unconditional love for them. In it he writes: 'If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who have lived in the course of human history, all their goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity (faithfulness), wisdom, tenderness and strength and united all those qualities in a single person, that person's love would only be a faint shadow of the furious love and mercy in the heart of God the Father addressed to you and me at this moment'. Wow - I need that - and I have been comforted by the reassurances his writings give on many occasions.

Thank you Brennan.  Well done, good and faithful servant - enter into the joy of your Lord and mine!

Friday, March 29, 2013

To Choose or not to Choose...

There are so many choices we make every day.  We choose our hairstyle, the clothes we will wear, the food we will eat, even the people we talk with. On the first Good Friday the Roman governor in Judea also had to make a choice - whether to condemn Jesus Christ to be crucified or to let him go.  He listened to the chanting of crowd and was afraid.  His wife came and warned him not to go ahead with putting 'this innocent man' to death after she had suffered all night with a dream about him. So, poor old Pontius Pilate was in a real dilemma.  He turned to the crowd and asked their opionion.  'What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ?' he yelled.

'Crucify him!' bayed the mob, leaving Pilate perplexed.  'Why?  What has he done wrong?' he pleaded.  But the people were being egged on by jealous leaders who hated Christ. 'Crucify him!' was their only cry.

In an attempt to free himself from guilt, Pilate took a bowl of water and washed his hands publicly, declaring 'I am innocent of the blood of this just man - you see to it' before handing Jesus over to be crucified.  Like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's famous play, no amount of water could wash away his sense of guilt, or make him innocent of the blood of Jesus.  Also like her, he probably went on to commit suicide years later.

Choices.  Whether to go with the crowd or strike out with the minority and follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  This Easter, what are you going to do with Jesus who is called Christ?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

To Cross or not to Cross?

I suppose that one of the most iconic items produced in historically Christian countries in celebration of Easter is the traditional hot cross bun. Very early on Good Friday morning in our island community there will be a long queue at the door of a small independent bakers to collect their freshly made buns.

Tradition says that early Greek Christians marked cakes with a cross, but of course, the Bible does not say anything about followers of Jesus Christ needing confectionery to aid their faith or express their worship! In less enlightened times people began using these hot cross buns as a kind of good luck token, claiming that if a ship sailed with them on board it would be protected against shipwreck and other such phoney baloney.

So don't get me wrong - I am not an advocate for the hot cross bun - but my blood was stirred to see in our local supermarket that under the 'hot cross bun' display there was a pile without the crosses!! I suppose that this is in an effort to avoid offending religious minorities - political correctness gone religious - but it just kind of illustrated to me a bit of a challenge this Easter.  Is my life marked by the cross the Christ or is it just fruit and flavouring? Is the cross central to the story of my faith or is it disposable when mentioning it might offend someone? The Bible does say that the cross will appear foolish to people who don't want to believe and it also foretold that the cross would one day become an offence to many, not just a religious minority.

So I want to come back to the cross of Christ this Easter, and thank Jesus for giving His all for me there. To cross your buns?  Well- that's up to you - I don't find they taste any different anyway!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

'Get Rid of Automated Hand-Washers' Campaign

Right!  That's it! I have had it with automation! Having had my fill of being offered options by computers on telephone lines when all I want is to get on with speaking to a real person - and being forced to listen to endless assurances that my call is important to the organisation - I am resorting to the megaphone!  Like the recent Fish Fight campaign in the UK I am going to start a 'Get Rid of Automated Hand-washers' campaign!

Here's why.  I went into the men's toilet at Bordeaux Harbour in Guernsey yesterday on a bright but very cold day.  Wanting to wash my hands - as you do - (cough cough gentlemen) I went to use the hole-in-the-wall hand washer/dryer which should be re-named 'the East Coast Hand Freezing Soap Chucker' machine! I held my hands out into the hole, waiting like a monk at prayer, only to have soap spurted back at my wrists and up my coat front!  Realising I only had seconds to react and not being the swearing type anyway I rubbed in the tiny remnant quickly and was then drenched from collar to belt by a high-pressure offering of freezing cold water that just wouldn't stop and seemed to have lost all sense of direction!  I yelled in pain and anger which seemed to make the flow relent, and I pondered what I would look like when I stagger out of the door wet all down my front - fellers you know what I mean.

At this point my hands were like two blocks of cold pork being held out for the butcher to chop while I waited longingly for the hot air dryer to kick in.  When it did I nearly kicked it in because the blast it gave me was straight from the freezing tundra in Siberia.  I rubbed the offending pork chops under the frigid blast in the vain hope that they might thaw but no such luck. The icy blast seemed only to have lasted about 2.4 seconds longer than my scream.  Sad as it might seem, all I could think was that I must have been the only customer for a while and so it needed to heat up, so foolishly I kept dangling my pork chop hands in the hole for a few more seconds hoping to get another serving of dryer.  What I got, of course, was a savage squirt of soap over my wrists and down my front!  Searching in vain for a paper towel or handkerchief I headed for the door just in time to see that the hole in the wall had changed shape from being round to a kind of extended grin! Grrrrr!!


Monday, March 04, 2013

Dealing with Disappointment

A week after surgery I am feeling much better, though still a little sore.  Thanks for all the messages of support, encouragement and prayer.  It is so good to have had this done without all the problems of previous years rearing their ugly heads! A good friend came to visit me yesterday and brought with him a copy of my first book Braving the Storm.  I could see from his copy that he had several portions highlighted in yellow - I am not sure if that is a good sign or not! We chatted for a while and then he began to question me about some of the things I had written during the early years of my long battle with serious illness and chronic pain. I found it quite moving to see some of the things that I had written back then and to be reminded of them myself!

One of the aspects of the section called 'Things that Hinder' was about disappointment.  It is a subject that I have been thinking about again recently because I am preparing to speak at a seminar called 'Dealing with Disappointment' at Elim Bible Week in the UK in April. I have read the story of the death of the wife of Pastor Wes Richards from cancer in June 2002 at the age of 52 after being prayed for by her huge Charismatic/Pentecostal church during at least one 40 day period of prayer and fasting, and of course, by Wes and his 3 children. You can imagine the sorrow and disappointment that they all faced and yet his book Hope and a Future is full of reality, faith and hope - an unusual mix! I was chastened and humbled by reading it and noticing the absence of a deep debate on why his loss occurred.

I am grateful for my friend's visit and the reminder he brought me of my own need to embrace mystery and allow God to be God in my circumstances without Him having to explain himself and His ways to me! "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts". (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cut and come Again!

It is never easy to approach the operating theatre again after so many previous visits - 30 to be precise!  There is no more lonely place on this planet than lying on a gurney outside the anesthetics area waiting to be wheeled in to begin the process. It is then that I am so glad I'm a Christian!  I recall the old gospel song 'You gotta walk that lonesome valley, you gotta walk there by yourself, and no one else can go there for you, you gotta walk there by yourself!' Very cheerful eh? Ah well, Friday is the day for the knife for me and I am really not looking forward to it, but it's got to be done.

Surgery is such a savage mercy.  In order to heal and help the surgeon must cut and cause pain.  To save life he or she must shed life's blood. To make well they must first make the patient feel worse! Who would want a job like that?

Yet in some ways this healing work mirrors the same process in the spiritual life too. God must occasionally act as a surgeon in our lives and not simply as 'the Great Physician'. Things that we count precious may have to go.  Relationships that are not helpful may need to be cut. Security that we have come to rely upon may need some re-arranging in order that we can really understand that we can't do this thing called 'life' without Him. Now that's not an easy process to bear, nor a bloodless one as Jesus found out on the cross. But it is an important one if we are to be made whole.

Thankfully, for me, this surgery is not major and is likely to be straightforward, but I will keep my eyes on the benefits ahead and try not to worry too deeply about the journey!! See you soon - I hope!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Love is... taking time to say it!

I came across this piece of writing this week and it reminded me of the times when I have found myself facing major surgery in the past, and even in the desperate situation of being seriously ill and facing my own mortality, realising that the moments we have with our loved ones are so special.  It's a shame that we waste so many opportunities to actually say how we feel. After all, communication is a really important part of keeping love alive through all the negative stuff that life can throw against us. I hope you find this helpful - and challenging too!

"If I knew it would be the last time that I'd see you fall asleep, I 
would tuck you in more tightly, and pray the Lord your soul to
If I knew it would be the last time that I saw you walk out the
door, I would give you a hug and kiss, and call you back for one
If I knew it would be the last time I'd hear your voice lifted up in
praise, I would videotape each word, so I could play them back day
after day.
If I knew it would be the last time, I could spare an extra minute
or two to stop and say "I love you", instead of assuming you would
KNOW I do.
If I knew it would be the last time I would be there to share your
day, well I'm sure you'll have so many more, so I can let just this one
slip away.
For surely there's always tomorrow to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance to make everything right.
There will always be another day to say our "I love you's", and
certainly there's another chance to say our "Anything I can do?"
But just in case I might be wrong, and today is alii get, I'd like to
say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike. And
today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight ...
So if you're waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes, you'll surely regret the day, that
you didn't take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss, and you
were too busy to grant someone what turned out to be their one
last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today, whisper in their ear, tell
them how much you love them and that you'll always hold them
Take time to say "I'm sorry", "please forgive me", "thank you" or
"it's okay". And if tomorrow never comes, you'll have no regrets
about today. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Does Prayer Change Anything?

Years ago I recall seeing the phrase 'Prayer Changes Things' around the place.  It could be found on bumper stickers, small ornaments and even posters, usually in the homes of Christians.  I must say that over the years I have often asked myself 'What, then, does prayer change?' especially in times when the heavens have seemed as impenetrable as the snow-filled skies that threaten much of Britain just now. Mind you, the need to pray is often at its strongest at times just like that - when storm clouds fill the horizon. So, does prayer actually change anything?

You won't be surprised to hear that I have concluded that it does.  It changes us first of all.  It positions us to receive from God and to start thinking about His perspective on our problems. It causes us to pray as Jesus advised, 'Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as in heaven'. It brings us to a place where we are God-dependent instead of self-reliant, where we own up to the fact that this thing called life is actually beyond us and that we can't do it alone.

But then it also does make a difference in our circumstances.  Prayer moves the hand that moves the world, not because God is impotent unless we pray, but rather that in his power and sovereignty he has chosen that we should get involved in outcomes by our praying.  'Training for reigning' the writer Paul Bilheimer once called it. The Bible teaches that prayer has power to influence nations (2 Chron. 7:14 & 1 Tim. 2:1) so it should not be underestimated. Maybe sometimes we get the leaders and systems we deserve because we have not recognised or obeyed that imperative.

But I think above all prayer changes the spiritual climate around us. It creates an environment where God's Holy Spirit feels welcome and we can receive his loving thoughts towards us. For this reason prayer can be so much more than words.  Like turning over in bed to cuddle the one you love, prayer can be re-positioning ourselves for intimacy with God.  I was holding my little Pomeranian dog in my arms the other day, when she wasn't very well, and she was sitting heavily on me.  At first I was tempted to put her down and hurry off but I sensed her need to draw strength from my warmth and feel my heartbeat. I enjoyed the closeness to her really. As I gently stroked her tiny head and ears I felt God whisper in mine - 'This is what prayer feels like for me!' Wow - if that is true, then prayer is certainly changing my view of prayer - if nothing else!

Friday, January 04, 2013

A New Start

Coastal View of Guernsey
At the start of this new year I am so grateful to God for the year that has just ended and really looking forward with hope too. After 15 years of dreadful pain and repeated hospital admissions, with horrible experiences of life-threatening situations and disappointments too numerous to mention, it is such a relief to say that things are better now.  This time last year I started full-time work again after over 4 years of being unable to function and the time since then has been full of joy and challenges. We have been given a new start and a new opportunity after so many years of struggle. I am thankful for the love of family and friends and the prayers of so many.  Life has certainly taken on a new dimension for me, in that every day seems so precious and each moment a gift from heaven.

I do feel very keenly for those who still struggle with the kind of pain and difficulties I have known and much worse besides.  'Survivor guilt' is a phrase you might have heard and it describes the feelings of those who have come through dreadful circumstances where others have not and it can be a part of what is now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome.  Well, maybe I don't go that far, but I do feel a deep sense of compassion for my fellow travelers on the pathway of pain and hope that my books and preaching may in some small way contribute to helping them.

May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him; and may you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).  Happy New Year!