Tag Archive | Prayer

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

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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.

 

 Album2

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Faltering Steps…

The thoughts behind the song ‘Two Step’ in our new album ‘Love can be a Bumpy Road’.

It’s time I made a confession to you all: Everyone else seems to be so much more spiritual than I am…

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So many people I know are able to come up with the right Bible verse for every situation. Every day, they clearly spend significant amounts of time in silent meditation, studying their Bibles (which are large, floppy, black, and thickly populated with copious notes), and receiving guidance from God, who finds them so much more accessible than He must find me.

All these people clearly spend hours on their well worn knees in diligent prayer. But, I’m sorry to say, the same cannot be said of me.

My prayer life is shakily unreliable. I remember, from time to time, to bask in God’s unwavering love, but oh so much more often, I shoot Him frantic ’arrow’ prayers, searching for assistance in the dark hours of the night or the heat of an anxious day.

I subscribe to a set of Bible notes that I am meant to read daily; I am not very good at maintaining the suggested program. Most days I will read some of it – and occasionally I will read all of it, but on an awful lot of days, I have to admit that life just takes over.

Some weeks are better than others. There are times when I long for His presence, and will seek Him out accordingly. Sometimes I will really begin to feel that I’m getting it – that deep spirituality that other people seem to have.

Only to find, a few days later, that I haven’t progressed as much as I would like to have done. Life asserts itself again with tiresome inevitability.

But in spite of this…

He treasures me. He shows me new joys and wonders each day. He speaks to me, and I am learning to recognise His voice. He uses me in His plan (what an extraordinary God of patience He is). He holds me and ministers to me; He teaches me new songs. I am blessed with untold Grace by this glorious Lord to whom I do not give the honour He is due.

My life is a dance – two steps forward and one step back.

I am reminded of the truism about the amount of water we drink. Apparently, we need in excess of two litres of water, every day. That is, nice clean water, unsullied by tea, coffee, cola, squash and any of the other things we buy to make our most basic nutritional requirement palatable. However, many of us drink little or no pure water in its true form at all; with the result that we spend most of our lives in some degree of dehydration, which brings all the inevitable side effects that entails. Often, we are so bad at recognising our own thirst, that rather than taking on water as our body requires, we think we are hungry and eat instead.

However, once we start making a habit of ensuring we drink enough, it all begins to come together; we start recognising that nothing else quite ticks the right boxes, and as we drink more of the right thing, we move inevitably toward a more healthy lifestyle. A positive, habit-forming cycle.

I suspect that I will find the key to more mature spirituality in a similar manner – if I start to ensure that I get enough time in God’s company, rather than seeking comfort in the business and distractions offered by the world, I will start to recognise that nothing else quite ticks the right boxes. A positive, habit-forming cycle.

My ’two steps forward’ will become more certain.

 

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

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Stepping up to line…

God is at work. Miracles are happening. I now have no doubt of God’s love; His ability and desire to heal – and I know that I should be stepping up to the line to take my part. So why do I feel that my prayers have all the authority of a dead mackerel?

10887719_776572215761999_1606746971_nI, and a small group of friends, have taken to following the Wanderlust movies with great enthusiasm. If you haven’t seen any of them, then do. We started off by watching ’Finger of God’, and then rapidly moved on to ’Furious Love’, ’Father of Lights’ and ’Holy Ghost’. During the same period, I was also reading Robby Dawkins’ book ’Do What Jesus Did’.
And I would love to be able to tell you that I’m a changed woman. I certainly felt an undeniable call to action; I was lifted up, encouraged, enthused; but I don’t think that I can claim to have moved forward as much as would have persuaded Robby Dawkins to give himself a delighted pat on the back and start writing his memoirs.

For example, do I have the courage, in appropriate circumstances, to sensitively ask complete strangers on the street, or non-Christian friends if they’d like me to pray for them and ask for healing?

I am sorry to say that the answer is ’no’. My prayers are still reserved for ’safe’ situations. So many opportunities for God to pour out His love and grace are being missed, because I don’t step up to the line.

In Acts 2:17 it says ’In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.

Well, we are in the last days, and have been ever since Christ anointed us with Holy Spirit and ascended to Heaven; so why am I so lacking when it comes to striking out and ’doing what Jesus did’?

In fact, ’lacking’ is far too gentle a word for it. There are moments when, I can’t help feeling that I am the wimp at the bottom of the pile.shutterstock_67226176

I have made a few changes… I’m now stopping to chat with ’down and outs’ in the street to find out when they last ate – only three times so far, but getting easier – then, having bought them a cup of coffee and a bacon roll and sat down with them to find out how they’re doing and how they came to be where they are, I have asked if I could pray for them. It also has to be noted that on each occasion they were very happy for me to do so; someone that cared enough to give a little bit of time and kindness was much appreciated.

But, oh boy! When I pray in these exposed situations, I feel as though my prayers are lacking something. I certainly feel huge compassion for the people I am praying for, but…

I guess I’m a work in progress.

I also, now, have no doubt of God’s ability and desire to heal – His love for the people I am praying for. So why do I feel that my prayers have all the authority of a dead mackerel?

I’m trying to work out what it is in me that can’t take that final step of totally trusting God in exposed situations.

I feel far more exposed when I pray for either a complete stranger, or a friend in a ’secular’ environment than I ever would praying in a Christian environment, and I certainly feel more exposed and vulnerable when praying for these people than I ever would performing on stage in front of any size of audience.

Why do I have the feeling that Robby Dawkins’ prayers would be so much more effective than mine?

Is it that I have somehow not quite grasped the fact that God is everywhere? Or is it that although I know He will turn up in critical situations when His people turn up for Him, maybe I haven’t quite grasped that He will even turn up for me? Is it that devil doubt ’I’m-not-worth-it’ thing?

And critically, there’s this, lurking at the back of my mind , if I ask to pray for people and absolutely nothing obvious happens as a result, am I being any kind of ambassador for God? Aren’t I just being a nuisance?

So. This is what I’ve come to so far:

Maybe I need to learn to trust God to the extent that I will pray, regardless of what the outcome should or shouldn’t be. Maybe God can accept that I might not trust Him completely, but what He wants is for me to stand. To show up to the party. To risk my own exposure. To say “OK, I might be about to make a fool of myself – but that’s OK; because Jesus risked far more than that for me.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be praying with an end objective in sight. Maybe I should be doing what Abraham did when he placed his son Isaac on the alter; when he completely placed his first love, his hopes, his ambitions at the mercy of God. I don’t believe for one second that he was confident of what God would do; but because he gave it over to his Lord completely, then it was possible for a nation to be built.

Maybe I should be going out and praying for people, simply because that is what God has asked me to do. The rest is up to Him.

Then, perhaps, I’ll be able to hear what He is asking me to pray for in each situation.

I’ll give God the glory when a person is healed, and give Him the glory when they’re not healed; the miracles – or not – are all His.

Not mine; either to be proud of or shamed by.

shutterstock_2885119And while I’m sorting out my humility, summoning my courage and deciding whether it’s all worth the risk, I’ll remember that Christ was crucified on a cross with all the pain and humiliation that went alongside – knowing that we, who He was doing it for – might never come to accept Him as our saviour.

 

But still He turned up. He took the risk. He stood.

As I say, I’m a work in progress, I suspect you’ll hear more from me on this topic.

 

  • Robby Dawkins book – Do what Jesus Did, is published by Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group and can be purchased through all good retailers.
  • Also thanks to Robby Dawkins for permission to use his photograph. What a nice man.
  • The films Furious Love, Finger of God, Father of lights and Holy Ghost produced by Darren Wilson can be found on the internet from Wanderlust productions http://www.wpfilm.com.

 

 

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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Thoughts for the Girls, (and you boys need to know this too).

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We girls are prone to self doubt aren’t we? So many of us worry rather more than is wise or productive about what other people think of us. And oh boy! Do we develop some varied defensive strategies to help us deal with our anxieties.

Asked to describe myself, for example, I will tend to veer towards the following mildly embarrassed self-deprecation. I’d tell you that I talk too much, especially when nervous. I have big feet and hair which leans toward the ’gone through a hedge backwards’ school of fashion. I am not the kind of girl who tends to be well turned out in the general run of things, and my love of gardening and horses are displayed by the state of my hands and fingernails – I call it a Cotswold manicure. On the plus side, when I do actually put some make-up on, brush my hair and find something smart to wear, I can turn out OK. My strategy is more cunning than you might think; one, everyone is so astonished at how much better I look when I finally make the effort, that they all leap in with effusive compliments; and two, Kevin is more inclined to take me out every once in a while, because he knows it’s the only way he’ll ever get to see me looking tidy.

But I also know that there is more to me than this.

I have a sense of humour which often lands me in trouble; I love banter – witty repartee with someone who will tease me as mercilessly as I tease them. Sometimes I am left with the feeling that it would be nice if my mouth had checked with my brain before it launched into saying something. Fortunately, those that come to know me realise that I mean no harm.

I have a lot of great friends, but there are also other people who, I suspect, find me difficult to handle. I have a fabulous husband who seems prepared to forgive me everything and anything; but then, my relationships with some of the members of my birth family can be difficult to say the least.

I have moments of supreme self confidence, and I have moments of crushing self doubt.

So who am I really? I want to be thought of as a nice person, and, being female, I tend to view myself through the apparent eyes of whoever I have just been speaking with. A friend caught me up short one day, when I was clearly having a moment of crisis, by saying “Penny, you were made by God, designed to be just the way you are, because he has a purpose for you that needs you, exactly as you are”.

It was, for me an Emmaus moment. A moment when I began to realise that I wasn’t just an unfortunate freak of nature… but a created, whole being, loved by God, just as I am.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. None of us will be everyone’s cup of tea. Yet we are all exactly as God made us. And what’s more, those little bits of nitty gritty in our personalities that leave us feeling vulnerable and inadequate are often the very bits of fine tuning that render us perfect for His purposes.

Learning to love ourselves as whole beings, just as God created us sets us free to be truly grateful to Him, and also, importantly, sets us free to be kinder and more generous to each other.

With all this in mind, I prayed for help to see myself the way that God views me. It was well worth doing, and I would recommend it to anyone who sometimes lacks self worth. For me, personally, I only caught a glimpse, but it was enough to help me view myself with a kinder perspective.

So here’s the prayer…

’Dear Lord, you know the agonies that I sometimes suffer when I look at myself. And I know that You created me as I am – so Lord could You please give me a glimpse of myself as you see me, show me what You love about me, and show me how You would like me to see myself.’

Pray this prayer and you’ll be amazed at how loved and beautiful you are in God’s eyes.

And let’s face it, His opinion is the only one that really matters.

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?