Call to non-stop 24/7 prayer

General Clifton has, at various points in his Generalship called the Army world to prayer, particularly for causes of justice and peace. You may or may not know that he, in conjunction with Lt Colonel Janet Munn in her role as Spiritual Life thingymajig (sorry, don’t know her proper title….slightly out the loop!) issued the call a couple months back. More info can be found here: http://www.saglobal247.org

This is big. The Army’s experience with 24/7 prayer through the wider 24/7 prayer movement has really sparked something of the dna of the Army off for passionate and sustained prayer. You know, its not that this impresses God and makes us look good. This is necessary stuff to keep our ears to the beat of the heart of God lest we miss where God is taking us.

My Army contact is much less than is desirable at the moment although I try to keep up to date, but I’m glad to be in relationship with some of the guys at Sanctuary 21 in the lovely city of Durham which is a Salvation Army prayer centre right in the heart of the city. There, although at their beginnings, they have a prophetic vision of prayer being the springboard to effective mission in a city. Oh Lord knows how long my heart has pleaded for stuff like this in recent years in the Army more and more. This is as primitive as it gets, as raw and passionate as it gets and as Salvo as it gets.

If I had a corps, we’d be signing up!

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12 Marks of New Monasticism: 10-12

10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.

The first part of this ‘mark’ is, I guess, one that would only be making an appearance in lists like this very recently.  Gradually, more and more Christian communities are discovering the important of stewardship of the earth as a fundametal biblical principle (even if a little bit late).   Yet, over the last decade I’d say there has been a large influence to ‘get out and keep your neigbourhood nice’ often as part of ‘servant evangelism’.  Yet, I think this call goes further.  Its about finding ways to make our footpath as people sustainable and responsible as well as having a response to improve the location we are in.  More an more communities have gardens, projects and redevelopment initiatives going on, especially in the inner city, and this is great.

Support of local economics is crucial for the future of our cities.  Our supermarker cultures and the mass production and wholesale of goods threatens local and small business and affects the sense of community.  There is much to be said in Christians leading the way (and indeed, in challenging) local businesses.  The story is told of Bramwell Booth opening a bread factory to bake bread when the local bakers were charging costs above the reasonable rate for people to pay…because Bramwell could do it for next to nothing, they soon changed their minds!  Now, it couldn’t quite work like that these days, but the principle is the same.  Yes, we support local businesses and enterprise and invest ourselves in the community, but not at the expense of the poor I shouldn’t like to think.

11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

No-one can fail to notice that we live in a war torn world.  Leaving aside the pacifist/non-pacifist debate, regardless of that, there is a huge role for Christians to be reconcilers.  The first place this needs to be ministered is within the church.  It also needs to be ministered into local families who have no healthy ways to solve differences.  It needs to happen in fractured communities where racial segregation fuels tension.  It needs to happen between peoples and nations.  Whether you are for war or not, and whether ‘just war’ is in your theology,  all of us can and should have a theology of reconcilliation and peace-making.

However, to now enter the pacifist debate, today’s new monastics will travel to places and Bagdad and Kabul and look the locals in the eye and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs done in the name of our nations.  They will sit with the killer and the bereaved mother and broker some resolve.  They will sit with the broken husband and wife and weep for restoration.  They will sit in the roads in front of tanks.  They will refuse to be at war with anyone, because to be at war is to fight your brother.  They will move into broken communities and live peacably with everyone so far as they are able, repairing broken walls and repairing places long devastated by the consequence of sin and poverty.  They will be up front and about the fact that the way to peace is through reconcilliation to God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit wherever and whenever they find a soul who needs the light of God.  They’ll fight and they’ll fight to the very end to see God’s Kingdom transformation to come in whatever form it needs to manifests itself.  I believe these to be the steps of Master Jesus.  I ask that God would give a soft hard and hard feet to go to the places it is vulnerable to go to all for the sake of grace.

And finally:

12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

This is pure dynamite.  From our position of freedom in Christ, we submit ourselves to him.  We commit to seeing our relationship with him develop through the renovation of our hearts by his Spirit.  We follow the footseps of Master Jesus who would often go into the night to pray or rise to pray alone to maintain close communion with the Father.  We will reject the shallowness of 20th century evangelical-charismania and plumb the depths, widths and heights of the love of God through Jesus.  We will then live out of that place as we engage in mission to a lost world.

The new monastic will take a spiritual leaf out of a variety of people’s books throughout Christian history to seek appropriate help and responses to our current day problems.  We’ll pray with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers, the anabaptists, the Wesleyans, the pentecostals, the charismatics, the Salvos, the new monastices, the eastern orthodox because we’re all birthed from the same branch which is Christ and we will recognise the value of the whole Christian tradition, lest we become arrogant and think we have the monopoly on holiness rooted in the trenches of the daily establishing and advancing of the Kingdom.

From the place of close communion, the new monastic engages in close connection with the people around, pouring out their lives and investing in the lives of those who need themselves to reignite the spark of the Divine and reconnect with their Creator.  As they do this, they will pray, talk, drink coffee, mow lawns, sweep yards, preach, worship, work, pray again and on and on for as long as Jesus tarries in his coming again, seeing more and more the answer to ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!’

Conclusion

Thanks for taking this brief wander through the 12 Marks of New Monasticism with me.  I hope, certainly, that you Salvo’s out there will have heard something of the call to primitive Salvationism which was an order of preaching friars as much as any people were.  For those tired of routinism in church, I pray that there might be something which will cause you to ask ‘yes, there is more to it in this.’  And for all of us, I’d ask ‘how might my world see Jesus if I started to live out my Christian faith with others in this way?’  Good question….the answer demands some sort of response from us before God for such a time as this.

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 7-9

The next three:

7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

Community happens either intentionally or unintentionally where people are.  We’re relational beings, so community is gonna happen.  However, you can have static community (read OAPs in a rest home) or an active community (an Army, a football team etc).  What happens in active community is best described as communitas, as opposed to community.  Communitas is community gathered round a common task.  It is, therefore, always an intentional community.  This is the kind of community Jesus created amongst his discipleship, with mission as the organising principle.  Common life comes with Jesus at the centre.  Although the church in Acts 2:42 – 47 is a very young embryonic church, its a great picture:

“42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Some people look at this stuff and say the church has moved on from this and this shouldn’t be used as a pattern.  No, maybe not detail for detail…the sort of ‘if its not exactly like this then its wrong.’  I don’t believe the bible necessarily has that sort of blueprint mentality when it comes to the church.    But, my question is why should 21st C church be any less wonderful, transformative and powerful?   I really can’t imagine why not.  Sincerely.  It is only our western individualism that can get in the way of this. There are transferrable principles that can be discrened in the NT writings about the function of Christian community which can only help to inform our function as a body.

8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

There are, I think, two issues here.  Firstly, there is discovering the value of singleness.  I know many single people who serve God with abandonment that I’m not able to as a family man.  There is often an unwritten expectation that its ‘normal’ to get married and have a family.  Lots of people do, but there is something to note in people who commit to celibate singleness for life as a calling as well as those who remain single through circumstance.  We need to find ways to honour the single among us.  In the days when SA officers were required, many officers gave whole lives with single hearted devotion and many still do.  Its about recognising the strength and validity of the ‘single warrior.’

On the flip side, its also recognising the place of the family in the war.  Now, monastics of old would hardly have been married.  But in communities of covenant (like new monastic communities or communities like The Salvation Army) there must be a recognised place for the ministry of the family.  I don’t just mean having activities or programmes for all the family.  I’m talking about the commitment to discipling the whole family, and that done together as a unit.  Quite truly, the best times in our ministry have been when we’ve gathered in our home as a family with others around the word, to worship and pray for one another in small group gatherings.  Special times.  Lets not underestimate the capacity of all to live missional lives….even the children.

9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

Commuter church is a strange concept.  It is driven by a church consumerism…the kind that makes people drive to the best Jesus show in town.  Too harsh?  No…the consumerist church is often the antidote to missional living.  It means that people can work in one place, live in a completely different place and worship in an entirely different place.    So, there is something about local geographical presence here.

There is also something about being salt and light in a particular community and living out an alternative way of life visibly with others.  Take Pill for example…one of our corps appointments.  We figured that at the time we lived there, 1% of the population were Salvationist – thats fairly high!  As a result, the Army had a high profile in the community not just through the public life of its officers, but through the visible witness of its soldiers and local officers.  Another example of this are both the 614 communities and the Eden communities here in the UK.  Christians commiting themsleves geographically to an area and joining in the mission of God there.   There is something in banding together to minister to a neighbourhood that is very powerful.

Celtic monks here in Northumbria often went out on mission in bands of brothers, travelling out in small groups and establishing churches and outposts everywhere then leaving some staying on as permanant witnesses in some of those places.  The Army have similar planting stories.   You may or may not have heard of The Seige of London….this was an SA campaign to hold an open air on every street corner in London back in the late 1800s then leaving behind a couple to continue build community with the converts made.  We have much to learn from this stuff.

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 4-6

Straight into ‘mark’ number 4:-

4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

These set of 12 marks have their context in the US, that melting pot of nationalities and races.  I don’t claim to be up on the scene over there, but there are still clear racial divisions.  Both in the states and here, especially in the cities here, there are many ethnically divided churches.  Black churches, chinese churches etc etc.  A lot of this was a part of the church growth movement that thought you had to get everyone who was the same together in order to win them.  We are reminded in scripture that we, united in Christ, are a new nation, a new people, a royal nation in fact.

One day we will stand before the throne, every tribe and every nation under God and sing the song of the Lamb.  It strikes me that in a divided world, outrageous unity is one of the most significant prophetic acts we can perform.  In Aberdeen, we never would speak a word against our Eastern European neighbours and, actually, we had to take a family in and provide a few days sanctuary for them against some rampant racism against them.  We’re especially proud of Ben, who happily and intentionally befriended the E European lads in his class.  Bramwell Booth, writing about the context of the World War commented that ‘every land is my father land, because every land belongs to my Heavenly Father’ – this against the backdrop of trying to keep a unified International Salvation Army amidst world wide conflict.

Again, however, it starts at home.  Actively advocating for justice, reconcilliation between peoples whereever or whatever the context….even if its just one neighbour who doesn’t speak to another.  We have this ministry of reconcilliation, says Paul.

5.  Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church

Paul exhorts the Ephesians to ‘Submit to one another our of reverence for Christ.’  This is a recognition of the fact that the whole body manifests and ‘makes up’ the Body of Christ.  The inclusion of ‘allelon’ (Greek – ‘one another’) here and quoted several other places just emphasises the unity of the body.  We are to do a whole lot of ‘one another-ing’.

I’m not sure where I got this from, I think it might be from the Chinese language, but I remember someone telling me about how in a particular culture, a common Christian greeting is ‘I submit to the Christ in you’.  Profound, absolutely profound.  It is a submission that we see modelled in the Trinity, mutual submission.  But just the wonder of the discipling of seeing Christ in our brother/sister and submitting to Him in them.  This doesn’t preclude leadership, but it certainly adds to the picture of leadership scripture calls us to.  I think this statement is the one key to the abuse of power in church – for everyone to submit to the Christ in each other.  There is transformation in that!

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

This is huge, especially potentially so for The Salvation Army.  One of the troublesome things about Christianity these days is that the term ‘Christian’ means everything and nothing.  Because we’ve typically had the bar high on our standards of church and low on standards of discipleship, the disciple can be difficult to find in some areas.

Now, my testimony is that whilst in the Salvation Army I still witnessed ‘nominalism’, the one thing that was a potential counter to that was Articles of War.  In the Army, discipleship is partially defined by a rule of community, a soldiers covenant.   You serve your time as a recruit, you see if you can cut the mustard, you enrol and you embrace the covenant with the community.

It has to be said, that this sort of thing is secondary to conversion….being a member of the body of Christ, getting saved, requires no rule, covenant or promise.  However, that is why monasteries were often called ‘Schools of Conversion’ and monastic life as a ‘second conversion.’   When you confuse membership of the Body of Christ with membership of an order, you get into sticky ground.  The Army is the prime example of this.  I believe it is wrong to see soldiership as church membership for those reasons.  Soldiership is a commitment to a community and a way of life as outlined in the Articles of War and the Orders & Regulations.

Leaving that aside, I believe the day has come where many churches need to articulate in clear terms what they mean when they speak of  ‘discipleship.’  This is not about creating a second tier of Christian, this is about calling up those who’ve lost the discipleship vision to live as a radical follower of Jesus.  I believe every community should have  a community discerned ‘rule’ or ‘covenant’ where those within it can be supported, guided and kept accountable in their spiritual and missional pratices.  Before we left Torry, we had started to explore common practices which, alongside our soldiers covenants (which, admitedly can be a bit less than striking). to help us flesh out our discipleship.  I’ll post them in the next post before going on to steps 7-9.

Bottom line:  “Lower the bar of how we do church, raise the bar on discipleship’ (paraphrasing Neil Cole!)

12 Marks of New Monasticism: 1-3

I mentioned at the end of the last post the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  Now, let me start by saying that one of the reasons this thing fires me up is because I think that Primive Salvationism had the whole New Monastic thing going on long before Bonhoeffer coined the phrase and before people started exploring it.  It may interest you to know that Booth likened his soldiers to versions of modern day St Francis.  Someone else has likened the concept of Booth to the itinerant preaching friars, folks who were right in the muck of society relieving poor but also igniting faith and hope in the Lord, Jesus.  Click the link for a book that is a good read about ‘New Friars’ – related to new Monasticism. I hope as I go through these you’ll see the similarities.  It is interesting that throughout history, God has often used monastic movements to revive the church.  Here is a looks of the 12 Marks of New Monasticism.  The bold type are the ‘marks’, the rest is my commentary:

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

This may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but you have to realise that when monasticism has been at its most vigorous (ie outwardly missional as oposed to inward ascetisism), it has always been again the context of forging alternative society to the world around.  As I’ve said, this is especially true with regards to the Romanising of Christianity.  For the first 300 years of its inception, the early church was a marginal movement amongst a marginal people.  The gospel thrived at the grass roots mainly because the ‘top’ would see it as too distasteful.  The reality is that Christendom church is well and truly over for urban settings, especially poor urban settings where people have long lost the point of going to church entirely.

Relocating to places the ‘Empire’ would rather have us forget is not only a way to side up with the poor, but a positive way to deal with the marginalisation of the Christian faith in an increasingly secular world.  Christian faith ‘proves its salt’ in these places.  The state establishment of the Christian faith has always led to a ‘gentry’ church, a church of privelege and power.  The height of this was surely the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the witch hunts etc.  Not exactly a great portrayal of the Christian faith.  Truth is that the radical gospel of the Kingdom of God flies in the face of the standards of the world.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

When it comes to voting, I vote Labour or when in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (Alba gu brath!!).  Both are parties of the centre left with political agendas which recognise the responsibility of caring for the needy and poor.  I was dragged up through a local authority council estate in the benefit culture.  My family weren’t spongers, they were hard working and dog poor.  Initiatives like Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit etc etc brought many families who were brought up in similar places up and over the bread line.  Leaving aside any issues surrounding, this has been a lifeline for many families.

Why do I start there?  In essence, I believe that we see in the early church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters a new race of people who cared for one another in a way that went beyond the extra mile.  The early church was mutually dependant….there was equality and NONE WERE POOR.  I think this is more significant than we realise.  I’ve been in churches where it has been obvious that people in the church have been poor and others are rich.  I’ve been in churches where I’ve sought to ensure that poor brothers and sisters were cared for.  As a whole, the church doesn’t always get that we are a separate race and nation.  Yes we care for one another, but that love also spills out in generosity to our wider communities.  Old monastic places were literal places of refuge and provision for the poor.  A new monasticism has the same commitment, but also ensures that those of the family of faith are cared for too.

Some people go as far as common purse, some communities chose poverty for the sake of others less fortunate, and some still engage in the relief of the poor, but like I say, important not to miss the brothers and sisters in favour of  those who aren’t part of the faith community.  In the West we have such an individualistic approach to possessions, treasures, wealth etc.  The counter cultural community of Jesus is the sole community…yes, the sole community….that have the potential to model to the world how to care for the poor among us.  Communism is essentially ‘Christian wealth distribution’ gone wrong and corrupted.  Its a devil perversion of how a Christian community can potentially function showing the world a differnet pictre, singing a different song.  We need to step up to the plate in this area and model this to the world.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

Again, this touches on the individualism of the West.  ‘We don’t go about other people’s houses’ is the mantra of pride in many parts of our nation as if thats a great thing.  This is amongst our friends!  How often to we give hospitality to the stranger then?

I remember as a young lad this being an automatic thing flowing from Jesus.  I remember as a 16 year old lad encountering a young guy, few years older than me, who claimed to be in need of food.  I thought nothing of it to take him home.  Of course we live in a dangerous world, we must take some care, but we also live in a world where many are lonely and need the care of strangers.  Hospitality, especially to the stranger,  must be one of the most under-rated disciplines and graces of Chrisitan discipleship in these days.  If we are not comfortable with people in our homes, there are other ways to be creative in hospitality.  The important thing to ring in our ears that is in welcoming strangers we may just find that we are entertaining the angels or Jesus himself!

There is also just the intimacy of sharing a meal, of sharing our space, our heat, our light, our space with another.  Here is a Celtic blessing on hospitality for the stranger:

Seeing a stranger approach,
I would put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and look with joy for the blessing of God,
who often comes to my home
in the blessing of a stranger.

What an adventure…give it a go!  Be safe, but be adventurous.  Start with a neighbour, perhaps.

Looking to the years to come

Funny, I was watching Ugly Betty last night.  I don’t know if you watch it, but basically one of Betty’s ex-boyfriends confronts her about the fact that she’s working in a fashion mag when she wanted to be a serious journalist.  She’d forgotten her vision.

Like I said, the Army stuff is difficult mainly because we believed that ‘doing officership differently’ was part of the DNA of a Salvation Army who’s founders were so full of the principle of adaptability – one we heart and soul believe in.  Laying the Army aside, as we’ve had to do, still leaves us with the call of God upon our lives.  We do have a vision!

So what is the vision then?  We want to be in the place where we can try to live a new model of ‘ministry.’  Its not entirely new, of course, its biblical, but it is somewhat contrary to the approach of Christendom church for the last 1600 years.  We want to be self supporting workers on permanant mission to plant a network of small missional communities at the margins of our society, amongst ‘the poor’, living among them, serving, gaining their trust and being good news to the poor.  We also want to equip others to do the same.  I believe, with Bonnhoeffer, that some sort of new monasticism will bring renewal to the church (more on that another day) and want to encourage brothers and sisters in this.  I believe that people ‘out there’ are spiritual people who don’t just want religious shows, but want community, a sense of depth of spirituality and real honest answers to their questions.   They also need to experience those things in the real world, not in the cloistered conditions of an attractional model church.

We are in transition.  God is gently moving us from on phase to the next.  It has actually been quite important for us in these days just to pay our own rent, our own bills, run our own car, to work set hours and be paid for that rather than being given allowance to live from the church.  I work my hours (and more) and claim back the extra time in lieu. Why?  because I chose to see my work as work.  It is our LIVES that are missional, not just what we are paid to do.  My work stops when I leave the office.  Our live’s mission never stops.

When we sense it is the right time to move on from this stage, we will.  We are already working hard on improving our financial situation and developing ideas and strategies for ways of sustaining family life to release us for the next stage.  We value your prayer.

So, just in case you thought I was going off the side of the cliff in the last post, we’re not.  There is a place in ourselves where we have to properly grieve the separation and to gradually tease the vision from the institution and take bold steps towards it.  This is an experience that the Desert fathers and mothers had as they began to drift from the increasinly ‘state’ clericalised church in the 4th and 5th centuries…they withdrew to the desert to ask the question ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ and ‘How then shall we live?’  and then sought to live out the reality.  Here in Britain, we have much to learn from Columba, Cuthbert, Aidan and their other Celtic brothers and sisters who engaged pagan British Isles with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ not from a position of centrality, power and privelege, but from voluntary poverty on the margins of society propelled by the Spirit to ‘go into all the world.’

We are, in essence, looking for a new ‘order’.  The Army as an order is by far the best description of it that fits it in its purest form.  Now, we look for another cymborgi (companions of the heart) to journey with into a new day.  We’re in a stage of history in the church where it is very much twilight.  The curtains have been drawn on Christendom church, in some places its only begining, in others their twilight is dawn instead of dusk.  But whether we here in Britain are in dawn or dusk, the landscape is changing and we need to seek the will of the Lord as to how we can serve our present age and be faithful expressions of the body of Christ on earth in these days.

Have a read for more on new monasticism:  http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/12-marks-of-a-new-monasticism/

 

 

Reflection on the year that was

I was messing around with one of those random facebook applications earlier.  The one where it shows you your year worth of status updates and puts it into a pretty collage thingy.  You ever wish you just didn’t do something?  The status updates around the time of our leaving officership are so difficult.  The conversations, the THQ interview, the promise of another appointment when it was clear we couldn’t stay in Torry, the disappointment of that appointment being with drawn and our previously withdrawn resignation being accepted, being asked to leave the quarters to make way for another officer (who for whatever reason has yet to arrive even now) which made  the ‘tent-making ministry’ we offered to the Army in Aberdeen impossible for us financially, our ‘farewell meeting’ and then just the heartache of driving out of Aberdeen.

God called me to be a Salvo.  God called me to be an officer.  He also placed a burden on my heart and I went for it and now I’m no longer those things.  Just sadness.  The conclusion doesn’t really feel like its what the Lord ordained.   To say that leaving the Army was a bereavement is an understatement.  Its more than that.  Its like a whole part of me died.  Thats pretty painful folks.

In spite of that, I’m so thankful that God has provided what he has provided for us at this time.  We have a roof over out heads and food to eat and more.   He has planted me within a fruitful ministry amongst people who are open and receptive and who appreciate all I bring and yet its so hard.   You know, more than that, its been such a humbling experience to be allowed to offer my learning, experience and ministry to people just delighted to receive it.

Do I regret leaving officership?  Quite simply, I didn’t walk away from the Army.  I had no choice whatsoever.  Well, I could have laid aside any conviction that I had, kept my head down and kept my opinions on the future of leadership in urban SA corps to myself.  I could have chosen to ignore what God was saying to me about my officership leadership. I could have fallen into line and continued on.  I could have continued to try to be what others expected me to be.

This blog is subtitled ‘notes and rhymes on following Jesus after Christendom.’   Not all the notes and rhymes are happy ones friends.  I grieve the fact that for whatever reason, the Army weren’t willing to embrace a different beat from us.  The Lord knows that I’d be willing to step up to the plate again.    But the Lord also knows that I was pressed to breaking point.  At the end of the day, the Lord knows – I don’t.  I’m not bitter, the anger has gone….all that is left is just the sadness, the latent Salvo passion and the questions about what the last 15 years of my life have been about and about what the future holds.

Continued prayers appreciated if you’re willing.

Shaped Prayer

I’m not one of those who’d say that I find prayer particularly difficult.  God was very real to me from the beginning of my Christian faith and it always felt natural to develop a relationship through prayer.  I remember in those months of searching before becoming Christian of uttering some very real prayers and having a very real sense of being drawn towards God.  Getting saved, getting filled with Holy Spirit, prayer just clicked.

All until the last 3 years in particular.  A combination of things made prayer really difficult all of a sudden.  Firstly, an overwhelming sense of burden for the spiritual heartbeat of the Salvation Army turned prayer into pain.  Secondly, spending two years in close proximity to some difficult stuff, difficult lives and situations in Torry started to make my normal evangelical-charismatic prayer life stale and almost inneffectual, or so it felt.  I still felt it able to ‘pray continually’ in the sense of just having that ongoing awareness of God’s presence and guidance, but specific times of prayer were so difficult….how do I express my heart?  I’ve always been thankful for the gift of tongues and that continued to be useful but against a back ground of some big inner challenges, I felt a need to go deeper than before.

That influence came from a very surprising place for me.  Someone introduced me to a siddur.  A siddur is a Jewish prayer book.  It has standard prayers for day, night, midday etc…I especially loved praying the Amidah and the Shema (google them!)  I found them so touching and that they focussed my attendtion on God, his people (all his people, not just Israel), and it was also like each day I was building in some really solid rhythms into my life.  The more I build these shaped prayers into my life, the more I just found that place of stability again, a strengthening of the foundations.

I then branched out to use the Missio Dei Breviary and the Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community.  I now use a combination of all these things for various periods of time.  There is a new online and book resource written by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove called ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’ which is equally inspiring.  Urban Expression, a urban church planting movement here in the UK, also have a daily liturgy with some fantastic stuff in it.

So, from being someone who had always though that written prayers were something that only spiritually dead people do, I found instead that using some of these resources became a helpful springboard to help maintain an active prayer life whether I felt like it or not!  Instead of prayer becoming spasmodic, dependent on mood and feelings, there was now a regular rhythm.  I recommend that people explore this stuff.  It may just be the source of regular feeding and inspiration you need to ground your relationship with God.

Taking Shape

I remember Dr Rory McKenzie saying in a Practical Theology class, back in 1998 at bible college, that ‘the unreflective life is not worth living’ and I have remembered that like a bolt of lightening these last ten or so years since I heard the words coming from his mouth.  This, in many ways, is more of a personal reflection.

My heart is overflowing with thanksgiving to God who has not given up on me.  He has continued to carve and shape my life from the desperate 15 year old who yeilded to him to where he bas brought me today.  Of course, I’m by no means ‘finished,’ but I do praise him for the journey thus far.  My goodness, there was a load of stuff God has had to do in my life.  He did a pretty good job when he saved me, I mean there were a whole load of chains that just fell off there and then.  Some others he’s chipped away at, but in all of it I’ve been able to enjoy his presence and experience his purity, to live a life of holiness.  When I’ve stepped away from that experience, for whatever strange reason, its so clear where I really belong.

One of the biggest things that I enjoy about living by the Spirit is that I don’t have to hold onto stuff.  You know, it takes a lot of energy to hold grudges, to remain angry and resentful.  One of the strong characteristics of my family growing up, and even today, is the inability to ‘let go’ of things, situations, wrongs, and to offer forgiveness and grace (regardless of who was in the wrong).  Inordinate amounts of effort going into keeping old scores and keeping strife alive.  I’ve no time for it because of grace, pure and simple.  I figure God didn’t hold anything against me, he loved and he forgave and he blesses.   So, I embrace them all:  parents, ex-step-parents, partners of parents, children of partners of parents, brothers, sisters, half-this and half-that, estranged aunts, uncles, cousins….you name it, they’ll always find a welcome at my door.  I love them all dearly and would love them to know even a hint of grace that frees a person to drop their guard and embrace others in the same spirit.  It would transform and release so many of them to live happy and dramatically more whole lives.

Why on earth do I say all that?  Simply to give testimony to an active God, a transforming God who is as real today as he was 15 years ago when I met with him.  The same God who began the work is continuing it.  And there, in that truth, is the miracle of the relationship that God wants to have with his people.  The heart of the gospel is the renovation of the human heart, fashioning it into the likeness of Jesus and implanting us into the community of God, his people, to live as a distinct grace-filled, peaceful and counter-cultural race on this planet who belong to the conspiracy which is the Kingdom of God.  We long for the day when he comes again in all his glory and he will take us to be with him, but for now, we marvel at his saving grace and live the reality of eternity here in the midst of the trouble and strife that men and women and children might somehow know him in truth.  Oh come quickly Lord, but in the mean time, enable us to walk in your footsteps, point to your cross, and walk in your Kingdom reality here and now.

After Christendom Summary

For those of you who might want to ‘brush up’ on the thinking that accompanies how we might respond as a church after Christendom, Stuart Murray has a book called ‘Church Afer Christendom’ and one called ‘Post-Christendom’.  They are weighty books, although very good.  There are also others in the ‘After Christendom’ series.

However, if you don’t have time to wade through a book, I have discovered a Study Guide for ‘After Christendom’ which summarises the message of the book, gives some practical helps and then some good questions to ask.  Maybe you have a book club or something, or a leadership team you could explore this stuff with.  Might just help you reposition yourself for mission in post-Christendom west.  Certainly Europe, Australia, New Zealand are  further on into post-Christendom than, say, the United States and Canada but still, helpful stuff.

Its worth pointing out that even by the term ‘post-Christendom’ that there is a new era to come.  It is dawn, twilight, where the old is fading and we enter a period of night….but hey, joy comes in the morning and we are at a stage of history where the creative church reincarnates itself to communicate the ageless gospel to a new world.  Exciting times.

Anyway, here is the link to the study guide for those interested.  http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/pdf/afterchristendomguide.pdf