Archive | April, 2013

The problem of consistency, by Ryan Cartwright

28 Apr

A second guest blog on this week’s challenge subject – praying consistently – from web developer and cartoonist (hence the avatar) Ryan Cartwright.

stewI was once told that sport is about consistency. Apparently to achieve greatness at a sport you need more than talent, you need to produce that talent time after time. My dictionary says consistency is “Reliability of successive results or events” and here is my problem with consistency when applied to prayer. If consistency is about achievement, if consistency is measuring results against each other then how can it apply to prayer? What is an achievement or result in prayer? How do we measure prayer and therefore how can prayer be consistent?

As it happens, my prayer life is consistent. It’s a consistent struggle, it always has been and I have come to terms with the fact that it always be. I’ve done the snoring-at-the-sunrise quiet time, I’ve read the books, tried the plans and my personal prayer-life remains like an engine that needs new spark plugs: it refuses to start. Through all this, that scripture has nagged at me: “Pray without ceasing”. I’ve always known it didn’t mean every sentence I said needed to end with “Amen” but still felt the pressure to pray every day. I often feel there’s too much emphasis on prayer. We make it sound like everything God does depends on something we usually forget to do.

The truth is we can’t measure prayer anymore than we can define what makes a good tune and of course God doesn’t depend on prayer: he cares that we do it but it is we who have made it a necessity. If we free prayer from the shackles of duty and measurement we are free to pray. Realising this changed my life. I am able to tell people I will pray for them without feeling guilty for a start. That’s because I am no longer promising a stream of regular incantations but offering to remember them to God. I find I best do this by bringing God into my thoughts when I suddenly remember them. This can happen at any time of day, at the traffic lights, in the bath, walking the dog, watching a movie. Yes I try (and fail) to spend dedicated time with God most days but I no longer put such an emphasis on it because I know I can stay in touch with him through the day. Funnily enough I realised recently that this is something I can be consistent at.

Ryan Cartwright is a web developer and cartoonist who has been blogging since before the term was invented. A Father of two and youth worker based in Essex, he has a passion for freedom and a weakness for Haribo. You can find him at http://www.crimperman.org and @crimperman

Carefully and Thoughfully Attentive, by Tim Bechervaise

28 Apr

Writing in response to this week’s challenge, this guest blogger reflects on the struggle and the joy of regular, disciplined prayer.

timmybechEver since I became a Christian, the discipline of prayer, particularly in the morning, has been encouraged by my church, the example of my parents and, of course, Jesus (Mark 1:35). Initially, seeing it as boring and simply another ‘religious’ exercise, I was a reluctant follower, but gradually I have come to treasure the 10-15 minutes I spend praying each morning – sometimes a little wearily. Normally I wake-up and proceed to have a shower, get changed and eat breakfast with a myriad of anxious, rushed and tired thoughts – ‘Oh no, I need to do that today / How will I get everything done?’ But at that moment of stillness, I have come to realise that Jesus sits with me, not only hearing my requests, but also prompting me to hear from Him through the Bible or directing my prayers in a way that my focus turns from me and onto Him.

As time wears on, however, I have found it easy to get lost in the demands of the day, to the extent that I sometimes forget about the prayers offered and thus lose an appreciation of how God has answered them.

So, at the end of each day, I am now attempting to sit on my bed for a few minutes (I used to pray lying down in bed, but too often I never finished my prayers, something which I am sure God smiles at) and recall those early morning prayers. And what’s amazing is the way I realise the way in which God has been so carefully and thoughtfully attentive to the cries of my heart.

I prayed God would open my eyes to the needs of others. I now recall bumping into the same person three times today. Perhaps God wants me to pray for/reach out to them in some way.

I prayed God would help me have a hospitable attitude. I now recall a few people came and spoke to me whilst I was working. Perhaps God is prompting me to be hospitable when I least expect or want to.

I prayed God would make me aware of His love for me. I now recall the quiet walk I enjoyed earlier in the sun and the coffee my colleague bought me. Perhaps God was showing His love for me, not through grand gestures, but in life’s small details.

Whilst I understand that some answers to prayer aren’t always as straightforward, reflecting on the answers I can see reminds me that each day has been held together by Jesus, who was carefully and thoughtfully attentive to the cries of my heart. And for that, I am very thankful.

The discipline can be hard, but catching a glimpse of its effect in my life each night inspires me to begin the next day in prayer.

Tim Bechervaise is 26 years old, works in the finance industry and heads up his local church’s 18-30s group. He is passionate about coffee, doughnuts and Spurs. He is even more passionate about Jesus. He tweets at @TimmyBech

God 52 – Week Seventeen (23/4/13)

24 Apr

First of all, an apology – things are a little flat out for me at the moment, and I’m really aware that I’m writing this about 30 hours than a lot of people expected it. Sorry. I’ll try not to let this happen again.

15-minutesDiscipline. It’s not a very nice word, is it? If you’re subject to it, then there’s likely to be some degree of pain or discomfort to you as a result; if you’re required to practice it, then you’re likely to be attempting something counter-cultural.

Because of course, we live in a world of short-cuts, short attention spans, and short tempers. We pace in front of the microwave; we get frustrated if BBC iPlayer takes too long to load. And in that cultural context, it’s sometimes hard to behave consistently. To return to the same behaviour, day after day, because doing so is good for us. It’s much more intuitive for us to flit around, to jump from one activity to the next, to follow distractions and pursue whatever interests us.

So regular, disciplined prayer is perhaps a different proposition in the age of distraction. In simpler times, with less things and individuals competing 24/7 for our attention, it was arguably easier to set aside regular time to pray and reflect (or maybe it was just difficult for other reasons). To do so today requires discipline; an effort of the will. So here’s this week’s challenge:

17: Pray for 15 minutes a day, at the same time for five days.

It’s a little exercise in discipline and consistency – but it also might yield some exciting results. This idea has slightly been stolen from Jackie Pullinger – and look what she’s achieved!

Pray about whatever you like, although I’d suggest you make it the same topic or situation.

We’re always on the look out for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write a guest post this week on disciplined prayer, please read our writing guidelines, then drop me an email.

The two scariest words, by Lauren Wade

22 Apr

Youth work intern Lauren responds to this week’s challenge to love our communities by addressing the two words she finds most challenging…

laurenwade“Good morning.”

They don’t sound that scary.

In fact, exchanging ‘good mornings’ with my family, friends and co workers often puts me in the best of moods when I start my day!

Yet saying good morning to a perfect stranger feels impossible. Especially when you go bright red whenever you talk to someone you don’t know.

Ever since starting full time work at my church in Eastleigh, I have found I have spent very little time in my local community in the sense of where I live. My home is six miles from work, and most of the time I spend walking through my local area is to catch the train to and from work. Even though sometimes I pray silently for the area on my way through, I was challenged this week to do something tangible to show the love I have for my local community.

I always feel challenged that as Christians we should always show love to the people around us but recently I feel there’s more to it than that. In Luke 6, Jesus challenges us not just to show love to those who already love us but to love those who hate us and who curse us. While I may not be persecuted for greeting a perfect stranger at 9 in the morning, there’s something about showing love first without expecting anything back.

So there we have it. Me attempting to pluck up the courage to simply smile or say ‘good morning’ to people that pass me on my way to work. I have had the courage a few times – followed by some puzzled looks, smiles… or even ‘good mornings’ back!

Lauren Wade is currently working during her gap year with the youth worker at Eastleigh Baptist Church.

Just open the door, by Robin Peake

21 Apr

This week’s God52 challenge is all about loving your community. But if you’re finding it too hard, charity worker Robin Peake has discovered a way to cheat…

Robin PeakeDo you want to know how to cheat on this challenge?

Nicky and Nancy are a unique couple with whom my wife and I struck up a friendship through our local church. Now in their 50s, they met on a Monday and got married on the Friday almost 24 years ago.

We love them, and their lives are absolute chaos sometimes.

They knocked on our door one time to ask to borrow some money as they’d run out and were waiting for another payment to come through.

We asked how much they needed and gave them £90 or whatever it was.

When they got money at the start of the next month, they paid us back without prompting. But by the end of the month they’d run out again and asked to borrow some more.

This went on for five or six months. They were happy to need to borrow less and less without being at the mercy of payday lenders; we were happy to be presented with a need that we could meet that was costing us nothing.

It was a way to show God’s love in our local area.

But we didn’t find it.

It knocked on our door.

Here’s what I think.

Build relationships with people in your community.

Then you’ll find out what their needs are.

Then you’ll know the ways to show God’s love in ways that will meet their needs.

No more finding, just opening the door or answering the phone.

And who said cheating wasn’t fun.

Robin Peake loves seeing lives change through local mission. He volunteers with Thrive (www.thriveteam.wordpress.com) and tweets as @robin_peake

Loving by listening, by Dave Pickett

19 Apr

Student Dave responds to this week’s love-your-community challenge with a simple but innovative idea…

davepickettShowing the love of God in our local area is something that’s been on my ‘to-do’ list for a while. If I’m honest it’s probably been something that’s quite low down on that list to, with the extensive list of emails to write, people to see, things to do…

But, little did I know that this week God would put it back up the agenda in a big way. I was sat in my office on Monday afternoon planning our next youth event and decided to poke my head out the door as I had heard Chris Duffet (Baptist President) was running some kind of evangelism workshop in the Church hall and, having met him at a conference a few weeks back, thought it would be good to say hello again. Accompanied by another team member we decided to sit in, observe and grab a coffee after a day’s planning.

An hour later I find myself sat on a bench we had moved from Church outside McDonalds equipped with only a blackboard inscribed with ‘I Will Listen’. Once my team member and I had settled into our seats, (a bench is only so comfortable!) the flow of people began. An hour later we had spoken with over 30 people, mainly young people, about life, the universe and everything in it and about it. Wow. People asked why anyone would give up their time just to listen to people on the streets and we replied that we just wanted to show people that their was someone out there who cared and loved them.

I’ve been thinking up new ideas, adapting old thoughts on showing the love of God to my local area for a while but nothing has clicked like this did – this was it.

I had got caught up in trying to over think showing God’s love when all it took was a bit of chalk and a blackboard; planned in under 10 minutes. Simplicity, showing the love of God doesn’t need to start with a lengthy strategic plan.

Back to the office to plan for our week of prayer, I’m filled with a new passion to show the love of God in my local area and am thankful for having experienced how simple it can be.

Dave Pickett is the Youth Director of Change Youth (@changeyouthuk) & a Geography student with a heart for seeing young people grow deeper and being equipped and a Church engaged in local mission. He enjoys playing music, designing stuff and running. You can follow his twitter: @dspickett

God 52 – Week Sixteen (16/4/13)

16 Apr

notes2Welcome to week 16, a new week so lets jump right in.  This week’s challenge was actually inspired by something Laura Haddow did during a previous God 52 challenge, which you can read about here.

There’s something special that happens when the church commits to blessing a local community. As a teenager the things I saw God do at Festival Manchester through a bunch of teenagers stay with me to this day and remain a formative experience. The church is called to be an embodiment of God’s love in the world around us. This isn’t some nice, 21st century idea, but something we see in the life of Jesus. The people that Jesus healed eventually died got sick and died, that’s the nature of life, but the love that Jesus showed, the way he was interested in the earthly experience, I imagine that is what stayed with those who met Jesus.

Now, this week’s challenge is not ‘copy what Laura Haddow did’ but it is all about showing the love of God to the community in which you live.

16: Find a way to show the love of God in your local area.

You can interpret this in whatever way you like. You may like to find some creative way to communicate the Gospel to as many people as possible, you may, in a similar way to Laura, leave things for ‘God-anointed’ people to find, or you may choose to express God’s love in action and bless your local community in some way, be it cakes, songs, street performance, however you feel God can best use you.

A key point to finish. The work of The Message has radically altered the shape of Manchester. This was because they realised that God’s love has to impact people. The joy of Festival Manchester is that for the people behind it, this wasn’t a one-off event, this commitment to loving the community around it was a way of life. So remember kids, ‘This God52 challenge isn’t for a week in April, it’s for life.’

We’re always on the look out for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write a guest post this week on practicing simplicity, please read our writing guidelines, then drop Martin an email.

The Man Room, by Robbie Thomson

15 Apr

As our focus on simplicity draws to a close, writer Robbie Thomson suggests that some things may not be as important as we tend to think…

robbiethomsonOn more than one occasion I’ve been told that I waffle. I talk for too long, give unnecessary detail and dance around any point I’m making before finally getting round to making it. I seem to have the unenviable talent of being able to stretch into 100 words what could have been said in 20. And it isn’t just my writing or speaking that seems to be full of wadding or fluff. My life is massively over-complicated. I start projects without finishing ones I’ve had going for ages; I start new initiatives fully aware that I don’t necessarily have the time to finish them.

I am someone who can rarely say no, an issue that has two very serious consequences. When related to food it means I have an ever-increasing waistband and when related to doing something it means I have an increasingly busy life. In short – I fill my life with too much stuff (and food, but that’s a whole different story).

Don’t get me wrong – some stuff is good. Helping at church, getting involved in your community or being of use and service to other people is great stuff. Alphabetising CDs, rearranging furniture or sorting out my ‘man room’ is not great stuff. My man room is a perfect example of me over complicating things. It’s a room in my house adorned with my collection of beer bottles, sporting memorabilia and vintage cameras – a room that I’m constantly and meticulously planning to the point that I haven’t actually left myself any time to enjoy it.

And I don’t believe this is a problem limited to me. We seem to fill our lives with so much stuff we over-complicate things. We fill our lives with the meaningless things to the point that we lose sight of the stuff that matters – the extra times we could be spending with our families, on our own or the time we could be giving to that cause that actually needs our time.

I don’t think God cares what my man room looks like. I don’t believe he has a preference whether Adele and ZZ Top are next to each other in the CD rack or not and he’s not too fussed what wall my sofa goes against. And if God doesn’t care about it, should I? I should want to be in step with God so that I want what he wants, where he goes I go and what he asks I do.

Let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep God and not stuff the central focus of our lives.

Robbie Thomson is a 25 year old northerner with a penchant for pasta bakes, a good polo shirt and ‘Murder she wrote’. His life is largely made up of working for Soul Survivor, spending time with his wife Susie and trying to control his dog, Reggie.

An anonymous post on death and simplicity

15 Apr

As another week of God 52 draws to a close, this writer responds to the simplicity challenge by reflecting on what she learned from sorting her husband’s possessions after his death.

It wasn’t until my husband died that I really noticed all the ‘stuff’ he had accumulated in his relatively short lifetime.

As I started sorting through his belongings, I realised how unimportant and meaningless a lot of it was now. There was stacks of it, and most of it I didn’t feel any attachment to. Apart from of course personal cards and letters, photographs, and a few items of clothing that bring back memories, and that are extremely valuable to me, the rest was just, well, stuff.

I don’t necessarily think he had any more than most of us do. It is poignant that his belongings are nothing to him now, and it did make me realise how much time and money are invested in ‘things’. Without wanting to sound depressing, all the old cliches become very real and true when someone dies.

‘You can’t take it with you.’

‘You realise what’s important in life.’

And so on. I absolutely don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy material things, in fact I think it’s good to appreciate them. I love to have nice things, but genuinely, how much do I really need?

How much of my time do some of my belongings steal? How much importance do I place in having nice ‘stuff’?

Perhaps it is good to take stock, and not wait for a crisis to realise that the only things we can’t live without are the love and support of family and friends and above all a real relationship with God. Those are the things worth investing in.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonyomous.

Living out of a suitcase, by Chris Wilson

12 Apr

Writing in response to this week’s challenge, teacher Chris reflects on how moving abroad forced him to re-engage with the ‘nice idea’ of Simplicity.

suitcaseWhen I was about 15 I got my hands on a copy of Celebration of Discipline. I slowly read through it’s pages trying to suck as much value as I could from the ideas inside and amazed at the different Christian disciplines. The Discipline of Simplicity was one that I read, thought was interesting and decided was a good idea but never really enacted.  It was something I said was good… but when it came down to it I still made lists of the guitar equipment I wanted, drooled over the latest computer devices and hoarded “stuff” in my room.

It became worse after I finished university and started working, providing me with income to get the stuff I wanted, and guess what… I never had enough. This was despite becoming increasingly dissatisfied with consumerism and the constant pull to buy more, own more, have more, have the latest, etc.

The real factor that changed things was moving abroad.

Two and a half years ago I started teaching English abroad and moved to Ukraine in Eastern Europe. As I was moving to live abroad and faced a flight followed by an 8-hour train journey across the country, I had to be pretty choosy over what I packed to stay mobile but fully equipped to live and work abroad.

Essential clothing for day-to-day wear as well as smart clothing was a must. My laptop (which was luckily highly portable) was also a big need and some books and teaching materials made their way into my bag.

However my guitar, my knick knacks, my collection of CDs, my DVDs, and many other “things” didn’t.

I travelled back at Christmas time to the UK to spend it with family and I faced a choice. Take my bag back and collect more “things”… or leave them in the UK. In the end I went half way: I collected a few extra things but also took the opportunity to clear out some more of the possessions I had in the UK. Mainly things that I had but hadn’t used in a long time.

Finally, after thinking that simplicity was a good thing for a long time I was actually living it, reducing what I had and living with fewer things.

This continued for a while as I would reduce the number of things I had at home on every journey back and forth occasionally replacing items when they got to old. I couldn’t really justify buying anything new and big because I didn’t know how much longer I would be in that country for. I found that I was thinking about what I “needed” (see wanted) less and what I had more.

I did pick up a guitar in Ukraine but I happily lent it to a group of kids at the orphanage we visited. After all, I’d gone for months without one, I could go for another week without it.

When my colleague’s computer broke I lent her mine for a weekend so she could contact her family back home and catch up on her favourite TV programmes. I had become more generous too.

When I finally left Ukraine I had outgrown my suitcase again but it was a great chance to get rid of things I didn’t need, to give some things away and to focus on what I really needed.

I still have more things than just a suitcase and I still suffer from going a bit gaga over the latest gadgets but my attitude has changed and it was a forced change of circumstance that cause it.

Chris Wilson is an English Language teacher currently base in Badajoz, Spain. He enjoys playing music, writing, speaking foreign languages and traveling. You can read his blog at http://christopherjwilson.com