Pray

Almost everybody prays at least some of the time. Many agnostics and atheists admit to having prayed! In certain situations prayer is the natural response we make. Often our prayers are simple cries for help in a time of need. Sometimes our prayers are heartfelt expressions of thanks.

It seems that we all have times in our life where we desire to talk about our pain and our joy with someone outside of our self, someone who understands and can help. It can be so satisfying to express real thanksgiving to God when something brilliant has happened. It really adds to our joy. And when we are facing something incredibly challenging, pouring out our heart to God, getting it off our chest, really helps us feel differently and often a bit better. It is also comforting to know that God hears every prayer and has the power to do something about the situation.

These are the types of prayers that most people make quite a lot of the time. Yet there is so much more to prayer. Christians are encouraged to be people that “pray without ceasing.” The prayer is not meant to be predominantly about asking for things but actually about developing a close relationship of love and trust. Just as we both listen and talk in our closest human relationships we are meant to do the same with God. If we are with a very close friend for a whole day we would not say hello to them at the beginning and goodbye at the end and then spend the entire day ignoring our friend – that would be so rude! We would, in fact, more than likely spend an awful lot of time chatting and listening, we would enjoy doing activities together and would probably have some time just sitting next to each other enjoying each others company and not particularly speaking. The idea of us praying without ceasing is just like this. It is a mixture of speaking and listening and enjoying Jesus being with us. If we can learn to live our lives with an almost constant connection to God it means that we received numerous benefits and the benefits overflow to others.

If we keep our connection to God through prayer throughout the day it means that we are open to the many ways he wants to guide us and speak to us. It can be really thrilling to be guided into a particular conversation at just the right time that makes a positive and transforming impact on the life of another. As we read the Bible we can discover so much more about Gods character and if we pray before, during and after reading we can often find that these ancient words can speak clearly and directly into our lives. It is exciting to sense a calling from God to pray privately for a particular person or situation and then the next day to discover that at that precise moment someone was going through a tough time and things suddenly improved! But most of all if we can learn to stay connected with Jesus all day long we get filled with so much of his love, compassion, kindness and grace that we begin to naturally share this with others.

At our church in Doncaster we have recently completed 10 days of intensive prayer for our community and world. As we have prayed we have realised just how precious a gift prayer is. We want to pray so much more because we know it makes a difference. We have already begun to see the difference. Our times of intensive and fervent prayer for situations to be changed will be strengthened if we can be people that learn to develop our prayer throughout the day as natural as having a conversation with a friend.

How about you? Are you ready for an adventure in prayer?

 

Moving into Freedom

As someone who is scared of heights I find this picture from Milivoj Kuhar ( unsplash.com) stunning and inspirational. I would love to be free from my fear of heights that I could parascend like this person. I’m getting a bit better with my fear of heights but I am not at the parascending level yet!

Held Back

We all have things in our lives that hold us back and limit our freedom. It may be a fear of what other people think of us. It may be a personal fear of failure. It may be that there are negative things people have said to us as children or adults that prevent and stop us from attempting the things that you would love to do.

There are also plenty of habits and unhelpful patterns of behaviour that stop us from becoming the people we are meant to be.

It can seem that we are stuck with our fears and unable to become free. We can see the things that we would love to do but seem unable to do them. Good friends and good counselling can help us overcome some of these fears. We should make the most of what’s on offer and this includes the wonderful things that the Christian faith can offer in the whole area of freedom.

Set Free

When people think about religion and faith they often think about rules and regulations. They can see it as being the opposite of freedom. But the truth is that any rules that we have in the Christian faith are more like boundaries that keep us and others safe and protected rather than rules the trap us. In fact Jesus spoke about being one who’s come to set people free and when he set someone free they are free indeed. ( John 8:36). St Paul also spoke about this. He wrote to a church that was in danger of getting tied up in unnecessary rules and regulations. He told them that it is for freedom that Jesus has set us free to stand firm and do not submit again to being enslaved by anything. ( Galatians 5:1)

As a minister ( Pastor/Vicar) I meet lots of people that begin to explore faith and there are often a number of areas in their life where they feel trapped. As they invite Jesus into their lives it’s a joy to watch them gradually gaining more and more freedom. After a while they attempt things that they never would have attempted. They often grow in confidence and you can often see on their faces that they visibly look happier with themselves and with others. Inviting Jesus into your life of course is no guarantee that challenges and problems disappear but people find that having a faith gives them strength to cope.

How about you?

If you would like to explore the freedom,strength, joy and help the Christian faith can offer and you live in Doncaster why not sign up for our Alpha course which is starts at 7pm on May the 2nd at St Francis Church in the meeting room. If you live further afield check out the Alpha website to find a course near you.

Keeping compassion flowing

Most people will show compassion to others when they see someone in need. It feels good to be able to support someone going through a hard time and for many people it is a natural thing to do. Most will offer to carry the shopping of an elderly person who is struggling. Almost everyone will desire to offer a comforting and and listening ear giving to a work colleague going through a tough time.

But our levels of compassion get tested when we see someone that we don’t like as much in need. Can we show compassion to individuals and groups but we don’t naturally relate with or like?

We can also struggle to show compassion when we feel already have far too much on in life when we are struggling with our own stuff. Sometimes we simply feel too tired and weary. Health workers and social workers can often feel overwhelmed by the need that they see every day and can suffer from compassion fatigue.

Someone who never seemed to suffer from compassion fatigue was Jesus. It seems that no matter how busy he was he had compassion for others. Even when he was facing the greatest of personal challenges he had time to stop and listen and help. The gospel writers describe him as being deeply moved within at the need that he saw. And his compassion always lead to action.

There was never a time that Jesus failed to show compassion when compassion was needed. There was never a time that his compassion run out. The early church, many of whom had seen Jesus’s compassion in the flesh, followed his example in showing compassion to those around them. They had the power of a lived out example to follow and they also had the power of the Holy Spirit living within them. The compassion of Jesus could flow through them as they kept being filled with his spirit. The church became known as a community of love and compassion. Wherever there was a church, people in the wider community knew that they could find help there. Whatever the situation background or lifestyle most people knew that there would be enough compassion and love to reach even them.

If you reading this and or already part of a church community here is a challenge for you:

Is your church known for its love and compassion to all regardless of their background, lifestyle or behaviour?

If the answer is yes, how can you by your prayer and action make the “yes”even more resounding?

If the answer is no. What can you do or pray to turn the answer into a “yes”?

And for anyone, Christian or not, we can show compassion to others. But if we want to always have enough compassion then we can come to Jesus and ask him to fill us with his love and compassion every single day. This is a prayer Jesus loves to answer!

Further reading:

Explore the compassion of Jesus and the early church as you read the books of Matthew Mark Luke John and Acts in the Bible.

Here are two passages to begin with:

Matthew 20:29-34

Mark 7:30-44

Exceptional Love

Over the last few weeks I have been reflecting on the level of love we show for one another.

I preached a sermon at a wedding recently where I encouraged the couple to love each other with such exceptional sacrificial love. They were urged to love each other in a similar way to how Christians believe Jesus loves people- i.e. an astounding, sacrificial and limitless love that builds others up and transforms their lives.

If living up to this exceptional love 24/7 is a huge challenge to a newly married couple, how much more of a challenge is it for us in all of our relationships and friendships?

It it can seem as if we barely have enough love for those in our immediate family let alone having exceptional and abounding love for our extended family friends neighbours and colleagues.

When we don’t rest enough and we overfill our lives with work and leisure activities we can find that our reservoirs of love run dry. But when we rest, spend time being thankful for what we have we can find the our capacity to love grows. For those who are Christians, coming to Jesus, the source of love on a daily, if not hourly basis,is clearly going to help us to be able to love others with an exceptional love.we cannot love in a Christ like way unless we ask for Christ’s love to flow through us.

As we approach St Valentines day on the 14th February the tendency is to focus only on the romantic love some of us may have for the special person in our lives. This year why not use this season as an opportunity to show genuine love and kindness to extended family friends and colleagues.

As we can see in the background of Aziz Acharki’s excellent photo( unsplash.com) we can be the best gift we can give anyone! The slogan is meant for a romantic couple but can actually be true for all of us. Giving others our love, attention,time and thoughtfulness really can make a difference in people’s lives. Who are you going to gift with your love and attention this week?

Friends

We had amazing time at Integrate EXTRA today. After an hour and a half of games, crafts and sports for all the family, we gathered around meal tables. At the table we spent time in worship, doing games and learning about friendship.

With a loneliness epidemic in the west it is so important that we learn to make friends,keep friends and help others to make friends.

The Integrate community, being such a friendly bunch,were really good at identifying lots of qualities and actions that are needed for good friendships. We thought about talking openly, truly listening, being trustworthy and honest and remembering to smile and have fun. We also noted that some people have lots of aquaintances but feel that because they have not been able to be open and vulnerable with people, the real them is never seen and so they feel lonely.

Right at the beginning of the Bible, there is the first of many words about the importance of friendship and relationship. ” It is not good to be alone” It is in relationships and friendships that we give support and receive support. In friendships we grow and develop as people learning from each other and having rough edges smoothed.

However I am convinced that the most important friendship anyone can develop is a friendship with God. As with other friendships this includes speaking (prayer) and listening (silent prayer), it involves trust and responsibility ( doing actions that we known are right and good) and it involves learning to know the other better( reading the Bible and spending time with God and thinking about God).

Abraham has been described as a friend of God. He grew in his knowledge and love of God. He listened to God and followed even when he couldn’t see or understand the full picture. When we grow in our friendship with God we realise that we are truly never alone. We have someone who has always got our back and is always ready and willing to listen, encourage, challenge and strengthen. And people who really deepen their friendship with God also find that their other friendships also deepen.

Things to ponder:

Are your friendships deepening?

When was the last time you made yourself vulnerable outside of your immediate family?

Are their people who you could help develop deeper friendships?

Could you be described as a friend of God?

Resources:

You version Bible app ( The Bible plus loads of resources about how to develop friendships, avoid fear, grow in joy etc)

Pray as you go app ( guided prayers and reflections)

Centering prayer app ( app to help you grow in silence and listening to God)

Spotify/Apple music/Amazon music/you tube ( so many great songs to listen to and sing along too.)

Asking Questions

Anybody who has spend any length of time with a young child will know all about questions.  “What is that?” “why is it there?” “Who made it?” “how does it work?” . Inquisitive children are so eager to learn about the world that questions come in rapid succession.   It is both a delight and a challenge to patiently answer them all.

Sadly, as the years go by humans usually become less inquisitive. We can be so rushed that we are simply getting on with living rather than asking why things are like they are and how could they be different.

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Many of us,however, still have questions inside us but we stop asking them out loud for fear of seeming foolish.  Just as a child grows in knowledge when she or he asks questions the same is true for an adult. The best learning always occurs in a safe environment where both expert and student ask questions and seek answers together. If we want to have a community and a world that keeps developing we really do need to keep asking questions.

In the realm of faith, sometimes the impression is given that people of faith must keep a lid on their big questions. It can seem as if they must blindly accept things as they have been presented without questioning them. There is a lurking fear that asking tough questions can make you seem unorthodox and that asking one question too many cause cause one to end up losing their faith. The truth is that if a question is within us then it should be asked. If we do not ask the big questions about suffering, judgement, other religions, human sexuality etc we are in more danger of harbouring a distorted view of God and of the scriptures and this is more likely to lead to the abandoning of faith. This is why for three Wednesdays in November we are gathering a group of people with some big questions to do a short course called The Big Ask. The course curriculum is set by the people attending as we have a go at explore some big questions each week. This course is suitable for people who would call themselves Christians but have big unanswered questions that they would like to tackle. The course is also for people who are enquiring about or possibly interested in faith but have big questions that are currently obstacles for them. If you live in or near Doncaster and would like to come along please get in touch.

update big ask

 

 

Loneliness

It has long been known that loneliness is a problem for those of us living in the western world. But the extent of loneliness is reaching shocking proportions amongst young and old. An excellent BBC news article published today gives a detailed account of this epidemic.

There are many suggested solutions to combat loneliness such as keeping busy, joining social clubs or volunteering. But one of the biggest challenges for those that feel lonely is the fact that for some even with many friends, acquaintances and varied activities the ache of loneliness remains. Loneliness evaporates when we have even just a few people that truly know us. It is when we hide our real self and feel that we have to present an idealized self to others that the loneliness actually grows.

This is where joining a faith community and getting to know God can make all the difference. In a good faith community, an opportunity is available to sharing with others about how life really is. People are not forced to share but they can if they wish! I have found that, the supportive environment, when people have made themselves vulnerable with others, a closeness and a trust develops as people become true friends.

Even more importantly, I have witnessed that when someone gets to know God they discover that they are genuinely and truly known. With God they do not need to pretend or present anything other than their genuine self. They discover that God is like a good parent and a good friend who always remains with them and always supports.

If you have good friends and you have a good faith why not take a few moments to be thankful for that.

If you know of lonely people why not reach out to them even today.

If you feel lonely or want to know God try contacting your local church where the church leader will be delighted to help you connect with others and connect with God.

Family is for everyone

allen-taylor-709552-unsplashPhoto by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

It’s peak holiday season and many in the UK have just been away or are about to go away on a holiday. At church we have been praying lots for the families who we know are away on holiday. We are doing this because we know that the 1 or 2 weeks away without any interruptions can be a crucial time for building a sense of family togetherness.

I do not know the story behind the family Allen Taylor has captured on camera (see above) but they certainly appear exude real happiness and joy of being together. When a family works well people are safe to be themselves. They feel loved , supported and encouraged. A family like this is wonderful at building confidence and countering loneliness. The reality is that all families have their issues and helping a family work well takes large amounts of patience, love, forgiveness and perseverance.

Not everyone has the privilege to be part of a well functioning loving family unit and increasing numbers of people live separated from any effective family support or do not have any relatives to call their own. It is not fair that some enjoy the privileges of being part of a good family and others do not. This is part of the reason why at St Francis part of our vision  is to be a loving family. We delight to have people from all different ages and a variety of backgrounds and situations who are part of our church family. Whether your experience of family life is great, mediocre or non-existent we seek to offer a place and a community where true family happens. With a good biological family, you are loved, accepted and treasured regardless of past failings or current ability to contribute to family life. The same is true for a good church family.

Last week we sought to give a group of over 70’s a taste of the kind of family life that is possible at church. Over 3 days we held a holiday at home and the 40 guests loved the crafts, games, chat and food. Many of these people were single through bereavement and their children lived a good distance away. They had known a regular experience of family life but for most these experiences were now well in the past. From day one at Holiday at Home it was possible to see a sense of community develop as love and care was given. People quickly relaxed into the “holiday” and in the feedback we received a big feature was the interactions with the church volunteers who helped create the family feel.

Our western society is facing an epidemic of loneliness and it affects people of all ages and even effects those who live in family units. It is important that we not only acknowledge this but we reach out to try to do something about this.

Reflect:   What can we do this week or this month to combat loneliness?

 

Team work

 

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Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

I love this incredible photo of the Amish Community building a barn. The photo, captured by Randy Fath, shows more than 60 people engaged in working towards a common goal. It is beautiful to see.

Work places often emphasise team work because managers acknowledge that the synergy created by good team work produces far more than can be achieved by individuals working alone. Good team work requires people to drop their own agenda and desires in order to work towards achieving a bigger goal. We don’t always naturally slip into “teamwork mode” as, if we are honest, we all have our own stuff we are dealing with. Sometimes we can slip into the trap of believing  that it is easier to get on with things ourselves or we can feel nervous to ask someone to help us. But, when we do truly work as an effective team, the end results are always more satisfying as well as usually less exhausting!

At St Francis church, where I am Vicar, we have a vision to be a growing and loving church family through which God transforms lives and builds community. To fulfil this vision we do need to learn to work together as a team because without one another we would flounder.

I want to celebrate two ways that we have recently enjoyed good teamwork:

  1. Integrate

This is a fortnightly gathering of families where we have loads of crafts, games, sports as well as space to chill out and relax. In the second half of Integrate we gather for activities, games and some learning about life and faith and we enjoy a meal as a community. Integrate is set up and run by a really small, but dedicated team who work incredibly hard to ensure that everything is safe and enjoyable for all. Everyone knows their job and in the short window of time that we have to set things up it all gets done as we work individually and together. Even more pleasingly, the wonderful parents who come to Integrate are fabulous at helping at the meal time and with the packing away. This makes everything work better and gives us the satisfying feeling that we are one family working together. ( For an insight into Integrate here is a video we recorded last year: Integrate Video )

2. 24 Hour Prayer Room

As part of the global initiative “Thy Kingdom Come” St Francis is currently running a 24 hour prayer room for the 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost.  With over 200 hourly prayer slots to cover there was no way that only 3 or 4 people could do all the praying for our community and world. It had to be a team effort that required a large team. It has been a brilliant experience as people have sacrificed their own comfort in order to serve the bigger goal to keep the prayer room open for the full 10 days. This has meant that some have gone without sleep, some have missed meal times and others have been available on standby at any time. After each person completes their time slot they pray for the next person, “handing on the baton”. The wonderful thing has been that as people have focused on the bigger goal of praying for an blessing our community they have found that they have been blessed in the process as they have drawn closer to God and become part of something so much bigger

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As part of the prayer room people are invited to add their own prayers and praises by writing on the walls so that others coming after them can pray and be encouraged. The prayer room finishes on Sunday morning at 8am. If you would like to find out more or join in see this short video Prayer Room Introduction

Team work is not always easy but when we make efforts to surrender our own agenda, comforts and desires for something much greater, we discover a far higher level of satisfaction than we could possibly have imagined. In short, it is hard but usually worth the effort.

Things to thing about:

What makes it so difficult for you to surrender your own agenda for the greater good? What could help make this easier?

What can you do to make the teams that you are part of  function more effectively?

Are there people in situations where you could lend them a hand and become part of a new team?

 

 

We need each other more than we think…

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I am fascinated by just how similar and how different we can be are in our personality and temperament. We often migrate towards people with similar views and temperaments. This appears to make life more comfortable and easier. Those who are very different to us can be hard to understand and can cause serious irritation unless we make significant efforts to be loving, open minded and understanding.

I have come to understand that unless we engage with people of differing views and outlooks we become very narrow indeed. As a Vicar (Pastor) I deliberately spend at least some of my time reading the theology of people from different traditions because I can learn valuable insights from others. Also by seeking to understand the perspective of someone who is different from me,  I gain a greater understanding of my own standpoint.

There are so often misunderstandings and judgements made about those who are different. We are probably all aware of the ways that introverts and extroverts misunderstand each other, and at times, downplay the value of the other. One is not better than the other. If we were all introverts the world may be more comfortable for introverts but it would not be as rich. If we were all extroverts, we may enjoy being with similar people but we would miss out on all the contributions that introverts make. The world definitely needs both introverts and extroverts! We each offer something precious to any group of people and it is important that we take the time to learn from and value one another’s contributions.

We hear lots in blogs and in the media about the power of positive thinking. We hear about how approaching life with a positive attitude will make all the difference. This is absolutely true. However, if we approach life with an undiluted positive “go for it” kind of attitude we can run into trouble. We will find ourselves attempting things that are way beyond our abilities and resources. We will end up doing far too much and becoming exhausted and burned out. The supremely positive person is a great person to be, but amongst our friends and team we need to also treasure the person that is a little more cautious and, dare I say it, a little negative. The cautious and more negative person, if listened to,  will help prevent the positive person from the  burn out that comes from doing far too much. They can also help them to see the potential challenges and pitfalls that the “go for it” positive person may have missed in their enthusiasm to get on with it. The more cautious person also needs the positive person to encourage them to step forward and attempt things even when there is some risk of it not working out perfectly. There is one couple that I know that are on the extreme end of the positive and negative spectrum. As I have conversations with each of them I am so grateful that they have each other! Over many years they have learned to understand each other and they value how much they need each other.

If you are a naturally positive person who is always rushing into new adventures,  keep going for it but find a more cautious person and value them and the insights that they can give you. If you are naturally a more cautious and perhaps negative person, don’t let people look down on you but know that you make a valuable contribution. Finally, keep allowing yourself to be influenced by more positive less risk averse people so that you are able to carefully attempt new things.