Tag Archive | Holy Spirit

Throw out the Walking Stick…

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There is a temptation to believe that God only turns up at big Christian festivals, or in buzzing charismatic churches. We really should have learned by now, that He turns up wherever He is invited – from damp prison cells to dusty pews, and from crowded shopping malls to isolated mountain tops.

Yesterday we played as part of a Sunday morning service, in a church in Kislingbury, Northampton. we were also there on Saturday evening, doing a small concert. But yesterday, the rector had kindly invited us back to hijack the Sunday morning worship. We did our normal thing – sang songs and told stories; this time, to an audience of about fifty to sixty people, most of whom had been attending one church or another in that benefice for many years.

A quiet Sunday morning service in a fourteenth century church – pews, tradition, no one under the age of fifty years and liturgy. We were happily shoehorned into the middle.

Untitled designBoth last night and today, there was a lady (we’ll call her Sue) who sat fairly near the front of the church with her husband. She told me later that she had seen an advertisement promoting our coming to the church, and on the strength of that, had decided to come.

When she got up to go forward for communion, it didn’t take any great deductive skills to work out that she was in great pain. Slowly – painfully – carefully, with a much needed walking stick.

At the end of the service I got chatting with her and her husband; I asked what the nature of her pain was; I was told it was arthritis which had started in her knee some years ago, but in the last five to six months has spread with extraordinary aggression to her hips, her shoulders and her spine. She expressed real fear about what she saw as the inevitable spread to her neck, and what that would mean.

I asked whether it would be ok for a couple of us to pray for her. She said it would, and I toddled off to find a prayer partner from the host church.

We sat with Sue and her husband, and with permission, laid hands on knees, shoulders and back.

Let’s be honest – I didn’t have any real clue what I was doing – which of us do when we pray for people, right? I did my best Robbie Dawkins or Todd White school of healing prayer. You know – ask what the pain level is at the start – in Sue’s case, seven out of ten, with ten out of ten expected when she went to bed that night – and we started to pray. We invited the Holy Spirit in and off we went.

We prayed for about ten minutes, during which I felt the heat from my hands that I’ve become familiar with when the Holy Spirit is present, and then I asked how she was doing. She said that her pain had reduced to about a three or a four. She was also tearful and expressed a feeling of huge spiritual and emotional release.

We carried on praying.

About ten minutes later, I asked how she was doing again, and was told that her pain had reduced to a two.

Now, this was all very pleasing, and we were very grateful, but my prayer partner was called away for something else, and my woefully limited patience was suspicious that we weren’t going to get any further, so we stopped and chatted. Then I asked her whether she could lift her arms, and she found to her surprise that she could.

She sat and cautiously experimented with this new activity for a moment or two, and we chatted a bit more.

Then I felt God prompting me that whilst I thought we’d finished, He didn’t think so, and we were to continue praying.

So we did.

Once again there was heat under my hand as we prayed, but much greater this time. We can’t have prayed for more than another five minutes, but when we finally finished, she was able to stand up with a lightness that took her breath away.

She stood, her face radiant

She and her husband had both connected with us on Facebook, so I was able to pick her out and contact her through Messenger later. She has been walking easily, without a stick ever since, and is praising and thanking God in no uncertain terms.

New faith, new hope, new life…

Not wishing to overstate the obvious, but so are we.

Right now I feel like the snotty nosed kid who managed to turn up on bonfire night, and someone shoved a sparkler in my hand. The fire isn’t mine, but it sure is beautiful. I am breathless, delighted and struck with astonished awe to be allowed to be there.

Thank you Loving Father.

Closer to You

Click this link to watch the Closer to You video


The very desire of my heart…

IMG_20150204_202756He had given me the very desire of my heart. And in doing so, he gave me my life’s work.

So what has given me this heart for running a gospel choir and getting people to sing? I’ll tell you.

I come from one of those hatchings, matchings and dispatchings families. You know the kind? It’s ok to write ‘Church of England’ on application forms, but for heaven’s sake don’t talk about it or get involved.

Well, in spite of my mum’s reservations, when I was sixteen I started going regularly to one of those other kinds of churches with a school friend. This was my first real experience of what most people would have described as a ‘happy clappy’ church, where people talked about Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, my mother remained tight lipped. I loved it.

One night about six of us were crammed in a car, travelling home after the service and I realised that my friends in the car were discussing a rehearsal for a band. I asked what they were talking about and was told that they were planning to start a band playing Christian music.

File 18-05-2016, 09 19 19Now… understand this, I was sixteen, and gawky with a gummy grin. Not a girl with street credibility – and this sounded so cool!

Well, the only instrument I’d ever played was the violin, which I’d had to give up because those that loved me couldn’t stand the dreadful noise I made when I practiced; my brother and sisters had always assured me that I couldn’t sing – so – well, not exactly excellent qualifications. Anyway, I muscled my way in with my eye on the spot of backing vocalist – I had plans on the back row, boogie a bit and no real responsibility – thus achieving a level of cool in my own eyes that I’d never hoped to see in my whole life.

That is until the first rehearsal – when my lack of talent became abundantly clear to all of us.

The rest of the band – bless them – probably felt quite a degree of responsibility for what might happen to my spiritual wellbeing if they gave me the sack, and they were clearly in an uncomfortable dilemma. Should they get rid of me and lose the dreadful noise in the back row? Or should they give me a tambourine, take away the microphone and reduce my impact on the sound as much as possible? Looking back, I feel for them.

I remember how I felt, and I promise you, it was painful. I knew what the situation demanded – I needed to admit my shortcomings and leave the band graciously; but that would mean admitting to all my other school friends the truth about my lack of ability – The gawky sixteen year old had just achieved some small level of cool and now I was about to lose it again.

I needed help desperately.

So I prayed like I’d never prayed before, asking God to help me; It never occurred to me to pray to be able to sing, it never crossed my mind that it might be on the ‘shopping list’ so to speak; instead I prayed for courage, humility, honesty. All the things I didn’t have and knew I needed. I realised that my only way through this maze was to hand it over to God completely. To let everything go.three

So, for the first time in my life, I experienced that amazing release that can only be found when you completely lay something at Jesus’ feet. During the following week I didn’t sing once, I just prayed and handed over, again, and again, and again.

And God worked. First of all, He showed me that His plan is paramount. That in accepting His plan, I was accepting something that was made just for me; a plan not to harm me, but to prosper me. A plan for which I was perfectly and wonderfully made. It was a life changing lesson.

The next rehearsal found me sitting in an arm chair, watching my friends practice, without feeling any of the familiar resentment that accompanied the thwarted desire to take part myself. I felt joyfully grateful, completely in His hands, completely in His will. Peaceful.

Later on in the evening, there was an interruption in the rehearsal, resulting in only a few people being left in the room. It seemed that the leader of the band suddenly became aware of my presence and in that brief moment of ‘nothing to do’ he took the opportunity to hear some of the songs I’d been writing. “Come on …” he said, “let’s hear what you’ve been up to…”.

I sang through a couple of ditties I’d put together. He looked at me quizzically. “Sing this” he said, giving me one of the songs the band had been working on. And then “sing this”, and then again “how about this one?”.

There was no other way of looking at it. My voice had changed so much as to be beyond recognition. God, given my complete submission to His will, had given me not only what I had asked for…

I am reminded of Abraham, who asked to put the precious sum of all his loves, hopes and ambitions, in the form of Isaac, onto an altar of stones for sacrifice to God, was prepared to do so, thus giving God the trust that enabled the birth of a nation.

He had given me the very desire of my heart. And in doing so, he gave me so much more than I could ever have dreamed.

Gospel

 

You want to see revival in your church? Try asking for it…

Kevin and I spend a lot of time visiting churches to sing and play our music. We rarely get to visit the big thriving churches you hear about. The churches that God has sent us out to speak to, are the ones that probably don’t feel they can afford for musicians to travel and spend time with them. 

empty-churchThey’re tired, often dispirited, and wondering where their congregations have gone. They sometimes have no incumbent minister, because they can’t afford it; so someone coming in to do three songs and three stories in the sermon slot, or to sing after the service is over, can provide welcome refreshment and encouragement.
And we always get asked about the church we attend at home – How do we attract new members? How do we bring in, and keep, young people? What is so special about our church that results in about 450 worshippers coming through our doors every Sunday?

Church PCCs up and down the country can discuss the problem of dwindling congregations ad-infinitum. All over the UK, there are churches who watch their congregations age and die, one by one, and thus they grow ever emptier until the day they finally have to admit defeat and close their doors for good.

But among the struggle with church finances, the rights and wrongs of differing styles of worship and what it takes to engage and keep the next generation, they often miss the one great thing that they really do have – the tenacity that the older generation can have for on going, long-term prayer.prayer-group

At St Andrews we’ve just started a prayer group that focuses entirely on healing. A group of about ten people meet at six o’clock every Friday to pray for  anyone that we’re asked to. Not always the same ten turn up. There are probably about twenty of us in total, but in among the complexities of life, there always seem to be about ten of us who actually make it along. And we’re witnessing miracles.

But the prayer group that is raised by our thriving, all age church has no-one under the age of forty-five, because that’s what the older generation can be really good at. With some notable exceptions, young people tend not to be quite as good at committed, on going, day in, day out intercession as their older counterparts. Not a criticism. Just the way it tends to be.

And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that without that tenacity, from just a small group of such people, the church Kevin, Jamie and I enjoy would not be what it is today.

About twenty-five years ago, it was just another dying church. Every week, the same group of people met to attend Sunday worship. There were probably about forty of them, and numbers were dwindling. Until, in 1993, three men started to meet every Monday night to pray for revival. They have continued to do so ever since. When asked about what happened during those years, they tell the story with humility; they emphasise the importance of prayer through the Holy Spirit. And persistence.

If, you walk into any church and state that prayer works, you will be met with sage nods of agreement. But in spite of that, we’re also rather good at devising reasons as to why it didn’t work in a given situation, rather than – well – asking again. And again.

Holy Trinity, Cheltenham has a similar story. This was a church that was about to be closed, when a group of women started to pray. Now it’s a rare Sunday if fewer than 650 worshippers walk through its doors.worlds-largest-church

Perhaps my favourite story about persistent prayer is the one about the great Preacher, D.L.Moody. Apparently he carried a list of one hundred non-Christians that he prayed for every day of his life. Every time one of them became a Christian, Moody would cross that name off the list, until, when he died, ninety-six of them had been crossed out. The last four people gave their lives to Christ at Moody’s funeral.

I’ve talked about ’prayer warriors’ in previous blogs, and if we really want to see revival in our churches, then that is what we need to be – on the front line praying daily, month after month, year after year, for each step of ground won for Jesus.

 

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Checkout our new album, now available for download from iTunes, and Amazon. Or if you prefer a CD, order it from our website (click on the album picture above).

Shouldn’t there be something more?…

Why can some of us hear God speaking to us, while for some of us there is nothing but silence? Why do some of us find worship exciting and joyful, while for others it’s just part of the routine that we have to get through on a Sunday morning?  And, actually, why do so many women come to church alone, because men just do not ‘get’ Christianity?

Last Saturday, a Women’s Day was held at our church. It was a really special day, full of love, kindness, prayer, great teaching and, of course, chocolates.

During the lunch break, a group of us had decided we would offer the washing and massaging of feet and hands as we prayed for people. We came in the morning, armed with towels, bowls, scented soaps and plenty of cocoa butter for massaging into tired feet and hard working hands. It was the nicest thing to do. I love spending time with other women, we all have such stories to tell and are capable of such compassion for one another.

But, oh boy, can we be bad at receiving! I was amazed at how uncomfortable so many people were with someone kneeling down and massaging either their feet or their hands, and praying. It led to some great conversations. We discovered that an awful lot of us feel very awkward about being given anything at all, we cringe at the thought of going forward to ask for prayer, even when we are really in need; I forgot to take a packed lunch with me, and I had to prod myself to say ’yes please’ to someone’s profered tuna roll.

That bended knee thing seems to have become really hard. Both men and women have now created such a fortress of self reliance and a fear of being beholden to anyone that it has become nigh on impossible for us to ask for or to accept anything.

Today, I heard of someone who lived homeless, in London, for eight months without telling a single one of his friends, his family, or indeed, his church community that he had nowhere to go. He simply couldn’t bring himself to ask someone for a space on their floor or a spare bed – to risk becoming one of ’the needy’ in the eyes of others – and so, he made the best of hospital waiting rooms, public loos, underneath bridges and doorsteps rather than risk telling anyone that he had nowhere to go.

I guess that admitting we need help feels weak, exposed, too much at risk of looking as though we’ve failed in some way. Putting ourselves in a position where we are prepared to receive, is too vulnerable, too hard a place to go.

But go there we must. If we want to experience the wonder of an intimate relationship with God, feel His presence, hear Him speaking to us, then we need to be able to submit to him, to give it all up. To be vulnerable.

 Then, and only then will we discover the true depth of His love for us and how far He is prepared to go to keep us safe.

The assumption that anyone who is a Christian must be a wimp is rife among non-believers; however, I have a nasty feeling that fear of ‘wimpdom” is also significant  among those who profess to believe in God. Hence, ’theoretical Christianity’ is prevalent; where we attend church regularly and go through all the motions, doing all the right things, but haven’t submitted fully enough into Christ’s dominion to receive the full benefits of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that takes a bigger step of faith than we’re quite prepared to take.

I’ve been speaking to people about their journey to Christ in the last few weeks, and, among men particularly, the vast majority either gave their lives to Christ when they were still young enough to have not yet developed an unhealthy degree of self reliance, or they had reached such a desperate state of affairs in their life that they were finally, literally, brought to their knees. 

Hence, whilst many men and women are comfortable with Christianity per se, it all tends to remain a bit theoretical if we don’t get to receive the Holy Spirit –  and that can only happen when we empty ourselves of our expectations of what we think is important so that Christ can fill us up with something better.

Well, statistics indicate that men won’t go to the doctor, read instruction manuals or ask for directions, so they were always bound to struggle, but, actually we women aren’t much better.

Considering ourselves as ’sinners’ seems a bit grubby, maybe it feels a bit old fashioned, I don’t know. Either way, there are still an awful lot of us trying to get to heaven by ‘good works’ rather than Grace. One thing I do know is that until we grasp it, ’get’ that that is exactly what we are, and learn to bask in the wonder of His Grace, we’ll never realise the full joy of God’s closeness.

We need to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how upright we are as members of the community, men and women alike, church leaders, church cleaners, doctors, drug addicts, barristers, burglars, titled servants of the realm, homeless and
heartbroken. We might be pillars of the community, or we might be struggling to find a roof for our own head, we are equally failed and broken before God.

So. If you are reluctant to get your feet washed or to ask for prayer, if someone laying hands on you has your skin crawling, then, I wonder, are you correspondingly missing something in your relationship with God?  Has it all become a bit dry and theoretical?

If so, you might like to try this prayer. It has it’s roots in the Orthodox Church, where, I  admit, I would rarely go to look for prayers, but, as someone put it to me, it’s an extremely ‘muscular’ prayer, with every word loaded with meaning and value.

‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

While you’re driving to work, on the train, in the shower, eating lunch, lying awake at night… keep praying it, slowly, thoughtfully, reverently. Make sure you are meaning every word.

Try to repeat it about a hundred times a day (yep – I really did say that), and, if you’re anything like me, the process could take about six weeks or more. 

Be prepared for the long haul,  learning to receive is not the work of a moment.

Then, be prepared for a whole new, more exciting, enriching, wonderful journey with Jesus Christ.

Trusting to the End… And Warriors All the Way

 Without God’s grace we age like failing white goods, purposeless and ’in the way’ until we get dumped on the tip. But with God’s grace we become warriors, on the front line – where all the action is.

(the thoughts behind our song ‘Closer to You’)

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OK. I give in, I admit it. I probably ought to get my eyes tested and accept that it’s time I started to wear reading glasses. I’m not sure if the resistance has been about vanity or about simple denial of old age. But now the inevitable is starting to get its own way.

And, actually, it’s OK.

I remember a time when I used to lie awake at 2.00am, worrying about the big issues in life, like death and old age. You know, the really big scary ones that can work you into a cold sweat when you’re supposed to be getting some deep refreshment to ready yourself for the rigours of the coming day. Now, if I lie awake at all, it will be to fret about such weighty issues as whether I gave the cat it’s worm tablet or to wonder if I will have time to pick blackberries for the freezer. Life seems to have moved on.

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Which is strange, because old age and, presumably, death are looming a jolly sight closer than they used to be when I lay awake worrying about them. So what has changed?

Well, actually the answer is simple, in short, it’s due to my ever deepening faith in God.shutterstock_197213135

I find that the more I see of this planet, the more I learn, the more I come to be confident that God is calmly at the centre of it all, watching me, loving me and keeping me safe.shutterstock_133138838

’Safe’, of course, doesn’t mean without pain, illness or grief, ’safe’ is bigger picture stuff.  In John 16 verse 33 (NIV) Jesus says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As I say, ’safe’ is not about the journey, it’s about where it all ends – and, I don’t wish to spoil anything for you all, but I’ve sneaked a look at the end of the story – in the end, The Lamb wins.

We will grow old; the alternative is viewed by most as even less attractive, but, as we grow beyond our sixties, many of us will experience a gradual erosion of our self esteem. The modern western world is so inclined to assess our value by how much we earn, what we achieve in a commercial sense. That getting-out-of-bed-to-go-to-work thing has a huge impact on the sense of purpose, and hence, value of all of us.

I’ve been talking to some elderly friends who break the mould recently. Last night I spent the evening with Betsy, who, at 84 is a truly inspiring member of our church. She has had her full share of the ’trouble’ that is a part of living in the world – her husband died seven years ago and she lost a son to a massive heart attack eighteen months ago. I particularly wanted to speak with her because, last year when I was talking with some church friends about God’s continued purpose in our lives, Betsy said “and you know what? It just keeps getting better.”

She laughed when I asked her about this, and told me that if she compares herself now with the Betsy of twenty years ago, she’s grown; she trusts God more – she trusts that whatever pain comes her way, He will work through it with her, and it will be OK. She described peace, the presence of The Holy Spirit; and she also described her increased sensitivity to His presence and what He is asking of her. She hears his voice more easily.

You know that feeling of elation when God has asked you to do or say something to someone? You’ve been brave, done as He has asked you – and then seen from their face that He has used you so that He can work a much needed miracle? Well Betsy gets that all the time. Every Sunday in church, she will be sensitive to who God wants her to ’get beside’, and, every Sunday, she finds that she has been led to a person who specifically needs prayer, God’s encouragement and someone wise to talk to.shutterstock_110911754

I also spent some time with my mother in law, Ella, who, at 79,  positive, energetic and determined to get the most out of life, is an inspiration in so many ways. But we weren’t actually talking about her, our conversation was about her Aunt Miriam. Aunt Miriam was a Methodist Preacher. She married once – to Harold – when she was in her late sixties. He was the love of her life. Four years later he died.

Ella told me that until Miriam was too old to ride her bicycle, she used to cycle round Sandbach, taking cakes, coal, medicines, you name it, if it was needed and she could fit it into her basket, she’d take it to someone.

I met Miriam once, in an old peoples home in Sandbach. It was a few weeks before she died; she was sitting in a chair, fast asleep when we arrived, and when she woke up her face was beaming with deep joy and welcome. She was 92 and utterly beautiful. The memory stays with me.shutterstock_163889813

Two weeks later, she told Ella that Harold had visited her in a dream the night before, he told her he was expecting her to join him in a couple of days time; Jesus had also come to her and she was so excited, she was about to go home. She died peacefully two nights later.

God’s work thrives on the intercession of women (and men) like Betsy and Miriam, and across the world there are successful churches built on the bedrock provided by their unceasing prayer. Listening, obedient prayer warriors. They are at the very forefront of God’s work.

My ambition is that one day, I might become one of them.

Yep – horrible stuff is going to happen in life, a lot of it already has, but we are all so loved, and I have come to realise that, if I allow Him to, God will extract value and purpose out of my every breathing moment.

And then he will take me home.

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Gentle Reminders

Gentle Reminders

The more we pray, the closer we get to God.

Christians, just like people of many faiths, are taught that if we want to enjoy a close relationship with God, then we need to spend time in his presence and this is something that can take more discipline than we perhaps have.

I am very tall, which can mean at times that I fall into the trap of so many tall people… I slouch. In the past, when I was much more self conscious, I used to slouch badly enough that I would cause myself back problems which would lead to frequent pain and regular migraines. An excellent osteopath sought to put me right… He got the knitted vertebrae right, and then like all good practitioners, he sought to get rid of the underlying behaviour that caused the problem. He told me to give myself triggers to remind me to stand up straight: When the doorbell rang, when I heard a telephone ring, whenever someone spoke to me.

I have come to see a lot of things as triggers to remind me to praise God… icicles forming on a tree on frosty winter mornings, crunching through fallen leaves in autumn, sunsets when the sky turns to a blaze of crimson and gold, wild deer that spend most of their time avoiding us and then astound us with a sacred moment as they stand still and silent and let us share a woodland glade. The world is full of the most incredible, lovingly conceived and skilfully created things to see, to touch, and to experience, right down to a phone call from a loved friend.

What if each of these treasures, each of these precious moments is a trigger to remind us to praise God, to remind us of his love for us and his desire for us to enjoy his creation.

How close to God would we become then?

Where is God when I pray?

Where is God when I pray?

One of the biggest points of struggle in my relationship with God has been answer to prayer, and in this, I know I’m not alone.

At New Wine this year, we saw some amazing healings, we saw several people walk freely again where before they had needed a stick or crutches and, among other things, I saw a lady get her sight back from being registered blind; the last time I saw her, she was trying to give her white stick away.

It was wonderful… amazing… extraordinary. The work of a very real, loving God who has a real and intimate desire to make our lives right and to make us whole.

I’ve prayed my own prayers, and, against all odds, God has come through with resolutions to situations that seemed impossible. He has filled my life with love and delight, my cup really does overflow.

But I’ve also prayed in situations when I was sure, oh so sure that God was going to make it right, make me better, make someone else better, resolve the conflict… you name it I’ve prayed it at some time… and God has sometimes seemed inexplicably silent.

But I know he’s not a silent God, nor an unloving God. I know He loves me, I know he really is all powerful…

So why?

I highly recommend Peter Greig’s book ’God On Mute’, an extraordinarily honest account of his and his wife Samie’s fight, initially for her life and later for a positive outcome after diagnosis of a debilitating brain tumour … I read about Peter and Samie’s ongoing battle with her illness, and with God’s response to their prayers for her recovery. There were times when answer to prayer seemed starkly absent, but there were also times when palpable change in a given situation was immediate and astonishing. For them, the battle, both spiritually and medically would appear to be ongoing. And yet in spite of the set-backs, Peter and Samie appear to be clear: in their lives, God is real, ever present, loving and all powerful.

Peter mentioned that even in the most desperate times when they were imploring God for seemingly unforthcoming results, there was peace. God’s love. His presence.

And then there’s Nick Vujicic, who was born completely without arms or legs. He suffered humiliation, bullying and a sense of hopelessness. He was suicidal at the age of ten and who can blame him? But when God breathed on him, his life was changed… Nope, still no arms or legs… but read the book, see the Youtube clips, listen to the guy speak… He was most certainly set free through the power of Jesus Christ. His healing took another form, but it was just as real.

And also, looking back at some of the times when Kevin’s and my son, James, was very ill as a baby, when we felt frightened, exhausted and totally deserted by God; it was some years later that we were able to look back and recognise that at those times when life seemed impossible, He was actually taking extraordinary care of us, bringing amazing people and extraordinary situations to help us through until James became the healthy chap he is much closer to being today.

This is a bit of a big issue to try addressing in my blog so please forgive me, but this is the point I’ve come to at the moment:

… What if when we pray, it simply allows God to pour His Holy Spirit upon us? To breathe on us. So there is always an answer, because although he might not press the button that makes the problem go away, His breath will do something. Whether it be to ease pain, open doors, bring peace, bring healing or simply bring the reassurance of His presence. The more we pray, the more Breath comes.

And that breath does more than make the difference that will make suffering endurable, it makes the difference that will set us free.

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