Book Review // Songs for Suffering by Simon Stocks


It’s great to be asked to review this book as Simon was my biblical studies tutor at college during my ministerial training. I am a big fan of the Psalms, but I also recognise that they are a bit like marmite, with some people choosing to read them as infrequently as possible. But I would say, don’t let that put you off, this might just be the book that helps you combat that!

Songs for Suffering is a wonderful guide for those in a season of struggling or as Stocks notes ‘for anyone who is going through tough times, whatever form that takes’. And it really is for anyone, written simply and not full of theological jargon, making it hugely accessible, but with a depth of knowledge evident from Stocks’ own academic experience.

Focussing on psalms of lament, the book takes us on a journey. Using personal reflections and stories from peoples lives, the author encourages the reader to deal with questions in their own lives, from personal failure, to issues of identity, and deeper still to despair, grief and personal suffering.

Each chapter guides us though a particular theme, asking questions for the reader to consider and pointing us to specific psalms for individual needs or circumstances. It is written in a very practical way, addressing how we can personally use the words of the psalms to deepen our own prayer life and each chapter finishes with some suggestions for what to do next.

However this is not just a practical guide, but a book filled with the authors own experience of life and pastoral ministry, written with compassion and a deep understanding of what it is to encounter personally, and come alongside those who suffer.

Stocks doesn’t shy away from difficult themes like shame, doubt and anger, but on the contrary embraces them with confidence, bringing a sense of assurance for the reader, encouraging them to engage with the themes for themselves.

Although my sense is that this is a book to work through from start to finish, it could also be something to dip into in particular times of trouble, or in supporting others facing difficult times, and in fact a helpful index at the end points to specific psalms for different circumstances.

Stocks reminds us afresh that The Psalms are a wonderful resource, passed down through the ages and used as the bedrock of Christian prayer for centuries, that are just as useful today, giving us the tools to pray in ‘just about any situation imaginable’ keeping us in touch with God even when pressures threaten to stop us.

The author notes: ‘may you find deeper connection to God, as you do so, even in the toughest of times…’ and this truly is a book that will help you do that.

Songs for Suffering will be published by Hendrickson Publishers Inc in April 2017. and can be pre-ordered at most good book stores online including Eden (priced £12.99) and Amazon (priced £11.99). There is also a website that goes alongside the book and will host other resources linked to lament at: www.cryhard.org

 

Simon Stocks

The Rev’d Dr Simon Stocks teaches Biblical Studies at St Augustine’s College of Theology, England (formerly known as SEITE). He is Chair of the Theological Educators’ Network and also ministers in the Anglican parish of Christ Church, Purley. After a career in civil engineering, he trained for ministry and worked in parish ministry in the Diocese of Southwark, before undertaking doctoral studies. His research interests include the interactions between poetic form and interpretation in Hebrew poetry, and the theology of lament.

Preach // John 17:6-19 // Standing in the Gap

Preach // John 17:6-19 // Standing in the Gap 

Now available to listen to here: Just click under the speakers tab and choose my name and you can see it.

TRINITY: 9.30 4/9/16; 10am & 11.15am, 18/9/16

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Anyone know who this is?

Have you heard of a man called D L Moody? D L Moody is known as one of the world’s greatest evangelists. He lived in the 19th Century and travelled mostly around America and England sharing the gospel. In a period of just 40 years he saw 1 million people become Christians as a result of his teaching and preaching. 1 million people. That’s staggering isn’t it? Even in today’s era of mass communication.

But more than that he also planted churches, founded Christian schools, launched a Christian publishing business, established a world-renowned Christian conference centre, supported the poor, and inspired literally thousands of preachers to win souls and conduct revivals.

And one story I love about Moody is that in his lifetime he wrote a list of 100 friends who he decided he would pray for to come to know Jesus. And he prayed for them regularly. By the time he died, 96 of them had become Christians. Pretty cool, right? But there’s more – the final 4 of the 100 – converted at his funeral!

Moody was a man who knew the power of prayer.

Why am I telling you this? because the passage today is Jesus’ prayer. And we are going to be looking at prayer this morning.

So a quick recap – we are continuing in our series from John’s Gospel, and we are looking at this passage which we should remember takes place at the last supper, in that upper room, the last time Jesus and the disciples are gathered together before he is arrested. And this passage is part of a prayer and also right at the end of what is called Jesus’ ‘Farewell discourse’ which runs from Ch. 13-17.

It was actually a fairly common practice in the ancient world, to give a parting speech or ‘farewell discourse’. When someone knew their end was approaching, they might share with those close to them, some thoughts, possibly some words of comfort and sometimes a prayer. So what Jesus is doing, or what John tells us of what Jesus does is not that uncommon and would certainly make sense to the Greek reader at the time.

 

So we are looking at Jesus’ praying…

And it’s actually interesting that very few of Jesus prayers are actually recorded. We know he prayed alone, at night, often by himself, withdrawn from others, he prayed for children as they came to him, he prayed outside in nature, on the mountainside or in lonely places, he prayed for his persecutors… In fact he prayed in lots of ways or situations but we don’t often see what he prayed in any detail. We have the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ of course, but this in fact is, I believe, the one time in the bible where we see the words Jesus prayed, recorded at length.

So Jesus’ prayer here has 3 strands to it, first he prays for himself, then as we have heard today, for his disciples, and then later for all believers.

This prayer is an intercessory prayer – it is Jesus interceding for the disciples, he is lifting them up to the Father – as we sometimes say, standing in the gap for them. He is the go between, the connector, the wifi router if you like. The one that connects them with the source.

So that is what I want to focus on today, for us to look at what it means to intercede for others in prayer, what we can learn from how Jesus prays and our role to intercede for others.

We are of course starting with this passage but we are going to look at a few other scriptures, so we will have them on the screen but if you have your bibles and want to look them up please do…

 

What does it mean that Jesus is an intercessor for us? 

We sometimes have the ‘intercessions’ in church – prayers in the service that specifically lift up others before the Lord.

And to intercede means: to act or interpose on behalf of someone in difficulty or trouble, by pleading or petition…

So Jesus is the one who stands before the Father on behalf of us, he stands in that gap between us and the Father and brings the two together. He mediates on our behalf.

And in fact this isn’t the only passage in the bible on this theme of intercession.

In our Romans passage earlier (Romans 8: 28-39) we heard that ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ and that’s it, Jesus, as God, is soooo for us. He’s our biggest fan! And that passage goes on to say that God doesn’t condemn us, no, he is the one who intercedes for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus. Nothing!

Because he will always be there, as our cheerleader, our encourager and mediator…

Hebrews 7 talks about what it means to be a Priest and notes that Jesus as our great high priest : ‘is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’.

He is ALWAYS interceding before God, for us.

Isn’t that pretty amazing? It’s like having someone continually beating your drum, saying how amazing you are, but also defending you when you need it, being the one when you make a mistake who stands up for you, who fights your corner.

Who does that for you? Anyone? … Always?

Well Jesus does it for you, before the one who matters most, before the Father…

 

 

Other biblical examples of intercessors

There are other examples of great intercessors in the bible too – there are many people in the OT who were like forerunners of Jesus, from whom we can learn so much about Jesus. Moses is a great example and an amazing intercessor. He was interceding for the nation of Israel. So many times they messed up and he went before the Lord and pleaded for them, on behalf of them.

There was also Abraham prayed on behalf of the people of Sodom, Daniel prayed for the people of Israel, and then there’s this in Job:

 

Job endured great suffering, pouring out his heart to God and to his friends, says this (from the message version) Job 16:18-21

 

‘O Earth, don’t cover up the wrong done to me! Don’t muffle my cry!

There must be Someone in heaven who knows the truth about me,

 in highest heaven, some Attorney who can clear my name—

My Champion, my Friend, while I’m weeping my eyes out before God.

I appeal to the One who represents mortals before God

as a neighbor stands up for a neighbor.’

 

Who does that sound like if not an intercessor? If not THE intercessor.

 

So that’s just a few examples of bible heroes, if you like, who were great intercessors too.

 

But here in our passage, we have THE greatest intercessor, Jesus, interceding for his disciples,

So. What can we learn from how Jesus prays here? He is praying specifically for his disciples, he is not at this moment praying for all believers (see v. 9), that is to come.

As we know, this is the last supper. The last time Jesus will be with them before he is arrested and then killed. He has shared some thoughts with them, his final words or discourse and now he prays, in their presence it seems.

He knows what trials they will continue to face. To suffer persecution and pain and for all bar one of them (John interestingly) to die horribly, martyred for their faith.

What could he possibly pray for them?

I wonder how many times you have prayed for someone and just thought, what can I possibly pray? Their situation may seem so hopeless or impossible that we might find ourselves with so little faith.

But of course Jesus also knows here what great things the disciples will achieve in his name, and I think much of intercessory prayer is about stating some truths, biblical promises, declaring them over people, over situations, the truth of God.

Jesus does this too. So let’s just look at a few of the things he prays for and the things he declares:

 

He starts by declaring who he is, who the Father is and who the disciples are.

He says that disciples were the chosen ones of God in v 6: … ‘They were yours; you gave them to me’. Declaring that they belong to God, putting a spiritual seal on them if you like – like I’ve just been naming my kids uniform this week as they have just gone back to school – putting a label on which basically says: ‘this belongs to Joe Smith’. It’s a bit like Jesus is putting a label on them saying, these guys here, they are mine, they belong to God.

 

He goes on in verse 7-8

‘…they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me’

he is saying, declaring, this group of people, they are believers, they are followers of me, it’s a declaration of salvation. They have chosen to be part of the Kingdom of God.

Then in verse 10 he says they are bringers of God’s glory:

‘And glory has come to me through them.’

Again he is declaring what they have done, their work for the kingdom, and this is how God sees them.

 

He talks of the power of his name slide

v. 11-12

 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me

 

He is declaring over them, the power of Jesus name – that his prayer, carries great authority.

don’t forget they are there whilst he is praying – And he’s actually using words they would recognise, from their Jewish scriptures, our OT – praying for them but by declaring amazing truth through God’s word.

 

Proverbs 18:10:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.

 

Jeremiah 10:6

No one is like you, Lord, you are great, and your name is mighty in power.

 

We pray: in Jesus name, it is the authority he has given us, through his name. Hugely powerful, and often I don’t think we grasp how powerful.

 

He prays for unity for them too

 

‘So that they may be one as we are one’. Again he is declaring the truth of who God is, here God as the Trinity – 3 in 1 and that the disciples will be united in the same way.

You know there is something so powerful about being united in God. Our Christian faith brings us together, unites us with people we might never have met or known otherwise.

 

Part of my old job involved me gathering churches in our area to work together for social justice and community projects. It was not easy work for sure! But it was so worthwhile. Spiritually I think it is powerful, I think the devil has only a few strategies to tear us from God and he uses the same ones over and over again! And this is one of them, to try and pit us against each other and so often even within the church, we fall for it.

Unity is powerful … and more than that it is also a great witness to those round us too, that we are a people of love and we love each other just as much as those who don’t know the Lord yet.

 

Unity is a weapon against the enemy and that’s what Jesus wants for the disciples – protection – he says it in verses 11,12, 15

 

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one

 

Round up –

When we intercede for others we are not pleading with God – we are declaring the truth even when it is not visible, even when it seems impossible. We might say of someone:

 

You ARE a child of God

You are a follower of Jesus Christ

You are loved by God

God is a healer

God is our guide

He is our comfort, our shield, our strong tower

These are all biblical truths of who God is.

 

 

And lastly here,

He prays for sanctification – the disciples are set apart. That’s what sanctification is, to be set apart, to be holy

And he says, verse 17:

‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’

It’s a round up of what he has just been praying – he has declared the truth over them, God’s word, God’s truths – and so the conclusion of that is that they can be set apart for the kingdom. He is enabling them to be dedicated to their cause – Jesus’ cause.

 

 

So what does all this mean for us?

 

Jesus continues to intercede for us, we have seen the scriptures that tell us that, in Romans: Jesus is: is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

In Hebrews: ‘He he always lives to intercede for them

And we’ve seen examples of other great intercessors, pointing the way to Jesus: Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Job

 

But for us?

 

Well, just as the disciples had a mission to continue the work of Jesus, we have work to do, and part of that is to pray. And there are many ways of praying, and intercession is just one of them but it is a very important role.

 

I started by looking at DL Moody who saw millions of people won for Christ and for those closest to him he prayed them into the kingdom, with his list of 100 people. He was clearly an extraordinary man with an extraordinary faith but you know one thing he said was :

 

‘If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent’

 

Men and women of average talent! Not super spiritual people, not extraordinary people, just normal people, like any of us. And you know earlier this year the Church of England ran a campaign around prayer called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, they used the story of Moody’s list to help encourage people to pray for others and they suggested just choosing 5 people to pray for and to commit to praying for them, to intercede for them, to stand in the gap for them….

 

Who are you interceding for? Who are you standing in the gap for?

 

Some people have a real calling for this kind of prayer and will spend hours interceding for others. I have a friend who has been seriously ill for years and is often housebound and can’t get out. So she spends her time praying and she feels that is her calling. If I ever send out a prayer request via email I can guarantee she will be the first to answer.

But whether you have a particular calling for this, or not, we can all pray for others and I am sure we all know those who need prayer. Those who are sick or suffering. Those in need, those known to us and those not – persecuted Christians across the world for example.

Unanswered prayer;
And I just want to say here, I am sure there are many of you who are praying for others, or who have done, and yet you don’t see prayers answered, or you feel downhearted if people aren’t healed or their situations improved. And I’m afraid I’m not going to focus on that today, on why prayers don’t seem to be answered, on the disappointment that brings, except to say 2 things. 1 – I know that pain, I have been there, praying for others who haven’t been healed and also for myself, many people have prayed for me as I have a long term back condition which is not healed. So I know what it’s like. BUT, secondly, I think we have a choice. I have a made a choice – to trust in Jesus and all we know about him. And in the bible we see him healing everyone who came to him, we see miracles and prayers answered. That is my God. And whilst I may not understand why prayers don’t seem to be answered how we would like them, I refuse to get bogged down in that, so I choose, we can choose to focus on who God is and what he can do.

 

 

SO… let’s be great intercessors. I really feel that God is stirring up a hunger in people to pray more in this way and for our own communities, towns and countries too. I mean let’s just look around us, at this town of Lewes. I would love us as a church to really commit to praying for Lewes. And not because the church is doing it because as a family we feel stirred up as individuals to do that.

 

I mean there is so much to pray for here, in our town: The people, schools, how many schools are there here for example?! there is a hospital, a prison. In fact I love to go prayer walking – I just walk and pray, I go up on the downs so I can look over the town and pray and I come down by the back of the prison and I often wonder about the people in there.

 

Then when I was preparing for this preach I came across this story and I want to finish with this:

 

Jackie Pullinger is a missionary who has spent much of her life in Hong Kong ministering to drug addicts and criminals. At one time she went to visit the brother of a local drug Lord, in prison every week. She told him about Jesus, sharing the gospel every week for 9 months but he was completely unmoved. (Recommend book: The Lost Art of Intercession – by James W Goll)

She then asked others to pray, to intercede for him and to fast for him every Wednesday when she visited. Then a strange thing happened…

One day the governor of the jail was passing his cell and could smell something strange, like a perfume. Ali himself, the prisoner himself could not smell anything so they searched his cell. When they found nothing they searched him. Still they found nothing but they could still smell it. Ali asked himself what is that smell?! And as he did he felt something inside of him reminding him it was Wednesday and he realised he was smelling the aroma of prayer, like a holy incense of hundreds of prayers prayed just for him and pointed at his cell.

Of course he then talked to Jackie about it and finally a few weeks later he became a Christian devoting his life to the Lord. A hardened criminal, facing charges for murder and yet the power of prayer was so strong he could not resist.

And if you want to know, by the time he went before the judge, the judge just released him without even hearing the case! How’s that for the power of prayer!

 

 

Well, if you don’t know what to pray for – why not start with the inmates of the prison? Because whatever they have done wrong, you can bet that God’s heart is breaking for them as much as for their victims. Many prisoners have their own stories of heartbreak and how they came to be inside.

 

 

But lets ask ourselves.

Who you can pray for perhaps? Who can you stand in the gap for? Who is God asking us to stand in the gap for? Because there are millions of people around the world, millions of situations who need our prayers, let alone those on our own doorstep.

 

Let’s be the ones that stand in the gap….

 

 

JOY // Guest Post from Katie Stock

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have a post from Katie Stock. 

 

 

 

In my experience joy is an elusive state, something I observe in others, catch glimpses of in myself but can never quite grab a hold of.

Joy is mentioned 179 times in the Bible. Trees declare it. Men shout for it. Widow’s hearts sing for it. Joy permeates throughout Scripture.

The thing that all of the peoples, individuals and trees (!) experiencing joy have in common is that their joy comes from an experience of the presence of God.

Wherever God is there follows joy.

Then why do I not experience this? Do I not experience God’s presence? Do I not pray enough?

I certainly don’t pray enough. I experience God’s presence but not in a complete sense.

Joy is still elusive.

It is elusive because I am broken. I was broken at birth because of my fallen nature. I continued to be increasingly broken as I grew due to the sin of others around me. I continue to be broken due to my own sin now.

I struggle to experience joy. I know I’m not alone in that. But, rest assured, one day I will experience God’s presence in its unbridled entirety. Then we will all experience joy like never before. Then our broken bones will rejoice and we will be made glad with the joy of God’s presence.

 

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Psalm 51: 1-8

KatieStock

Katie Stock

Katie is a fundraising copywriter at an international NGO, theology postgraduate, Mama to the delightful Miss F & Miss T and wife to the inexplicably handsome Boy (her words!). Katie also won ‘Young Blogger of the Year’ in last years Premier Digital Awards for her rather fantastic Theology Bee blog – do check it out.

Saturday Morning Musings…

Sitting in my garden in the summer sunshine, there’s a gentle breeze blowing across the grass; in the next door garden I can hear the clank of spoon on bowl as they enjoy their breakfast, as we all gulp in this moment of sunshine, eager not to miss it. Inside my kids are watching old movies and my husband snoozes peacefully enjoying a lazy Saturday lie in.

I close my eyes and just feel the warmth of sun on my face. I breathe in slowly, desperately trying to still my mind, searching for something to hold on to. The sweet smell of lavender near by, the sound of a bird tweeting in a tree, the soft notes of a guitar twanging a few gardens away…

It’s almost idyllic except that my mind is in turmoil. In such stark contrast to my physical presence, my brain is processing news stories, pictures of horror, words of hate, increasing anger and xenophobia. I want to weep.

In my prayers I am saying ‘Lord why?’ I can’t voice my feelings, just can’t fathom, what is going on. I desperately whisper the name of Jesus, it’s all I can do.

 

…o0O0o…

The world seems to be in meltdown. I joked on Twitter that it was seemingly a bad time I had chosen to start studying the book of Revelation.

If you know the bible, it’s full of murder, hate, anger, of people making the wrong choices, of war, of death. And I don’t know, maybe the world has always been like this? Perhaps the reason it seems so awful now is partly because we are in the era of communication. We see things, hear things, literally as they happen, from the most far flung places of the world. We can be bringers of news ourselves, breaking stories as we find ourselves in them. How would it have been centuries ago, when angry dictators stormed across lands with their armies wiping out towns and villages as they forced their way into new territories, if we had Twitter? If we had had the capability to respond, to decry, to publically unite and stand against them? Would t have been different? Would our world be different now because of it?

There have always been disasters, manmade and natural. There has always been evil lurking in our hearts, waiting to be nurtured by some loving soothing voice bringing it to the fore. I know this, so why does it feel so desolate right now? So uncertain. Like everything we know and are sure of could disintegrate at any point?

I think for many it is so hard not to be sucked into the increasingly angry conversations going on. And angry they are. I heard this week, in the town where I live, swastikas had been painted on walls. I heard of being people abused in the street for the colour of the skin or their accent. And so much of this, I think, comes from fear and ignorance, comes from the whipping up of emotion in the press and in social groups. This is not going to stop any time soon.

…o0O0o…

All I can do is just turn to the one who I know is love. Who can be a comforter, who can bring peace. Because he is a comfort and it does bring peace to my mind. I cannot fathom the world, or the evil in it, but I do know Him.

 

Ember Cards

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If I had £1 for every time someone asked me what an ’ember card’ is in recent weeks, I’d be able to pay for all my clerical wear with the proceeds. And I’ve got to admit, it slightly amuses me that me, a definitely ‘improper Anglican’ to coin a term from a Twitter friend, is doing something quite traditional. So here’s a bit of an explanation…

Firstly, let me admit I only heard about ember cards because fellow ordinands have talked about them, but the short explanation is what it says on the card below, that traditionally those approaching ordination send them out to ask for prayer for them and their parish.  As you know I don’t really do traditional, but I do do prayer and I do love cards and design and nice things like that :) That said, usually they are pretty boring and dull and so I wanted to do something a bit different (no surprise there then) and asked my fab friend Mark at Sublime to design something for me and I love it! Not boring, not traditional, but still what it needs to be.

So ember cards, what? why? who? well it’s interesting that when I decided to get some done I wanted to do a bit of research and find out what they are all about and there seems to be very little info out there, but here’s some basic bits if you want to know…

Ember cards are sent out as part of Ember seasons or weeks, or even days. Ember Days are days set aside by the church for prayer and fasting and have been since the 4th Century AD in ancient Rome. As seasons of prayer and fasting it was considered a good time for ordination of clergy and like many things the Anglican church inherited the idea from Rome.

This Ember Season is between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, i.e: this week. Although the focus on times of prayer for ordination has become more of a focus now, rather than just being seasons of prayer. The CofE says this:

Ember Days should be kept, under the bishop’s directions, in the week before an ordination as days of prayer for those to be made deacon or priest. Ember Days may also be kept even when there is no ordination in the diocese as more general days of prayer for those who serve the Church in its various ministries, both ordained and lay, and for vocations. Traditionally they have been observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays within the weeks before the Third Sunday of Advent, the Second Sunday of Lent and the Sundays nearest to 29 June and 29 September.

(My ordination will be 25th June).

So, at these times of year those being ordained send out cards asking for prayer. I can’t find any information on how the sending of cards started (so if anyone knows more I’d love to know!), but perhaps it was a way of letting people know you were being ordained, at a time when communication was harder and took longer than it does today. Many people went away to train for ministry (many still do) and so would have left behind their original or sending church, friends and often family, so it would have been a nice connection to send back information on the ordination itself and asking for prayer from those who had nurtured them in their faith before training.

Whilst I am naturally a pioneer, looking to do things differently or improve things, I am still part of the Church of England and I embrace that. So in sending the card I feel part of the wider church, whilst also making it a bit different. I chose to put an explanation on the card as most people I send it to won’t have a clue why I’m sending it. Plus traditionally you ask for prayer for the parish you are going to, but I wanted to include the one I am coming from that has seen me through training, nurtured me and loved me in it all. Usually people include a prayer and again, many people I send this to won’t be regular pray-ers, but I wanted to find a way to reach them and I thought the most familiar prayer is The Lord’s Prayer so there is a chance people will have heard of it or may have even prayed it at school. And as I say on the card, it does express so much of what we need daily: to be provided for, to be kept safe from evil and to experience God’s kingdom on earth.

For me also, the realisation of what I am stepping into becomes ever more real each day and I recognise the need for prayer more than ever. This is only something I can with God leading me, so please do pray for me as I approach ordination, and of course beyond…

 

JM_EmberCard_Social_Media

Naked Prayers // Book Review

MMcover1I first came across Mara Measor last year when I was getting into prayer doodling. I loved the simplicity of her drawings, yet expressing something quite deep, so I was delighted to be asked to review her book ‘Naked Prayers’ recently (and note to all, do not google ‘naked prayers’ under images as I just did…).

Measor started to doodle her prayers some years ago when in Ethiopia and whilst feeling isolated, her relationship with God, as she notes, ‘blossomed’. Written in diary form with short entries, ‘Naked Prayers’ is easy to navigate through, or just dip into, however it is not an easy read – the book itself came later and grew out of a difficult period in her life. It is in fact a heartfelt journey through Measor’s faith and a severe bout of depression. Reading it feels like being allowed a glimpse into someone’s own personal struggle, and the battles that she has faced with herself and with God.

Having come alongside people with depression I can recognise some of her thoughts in others experiences, but for me too, some of her words just resonate, times when I don’t know what to pray, or what to do, she expresses some of what it means to just be human.

April 14

I’m scared right now.

I’m scared of not knowing what I’m doing. Scared of going

for the wrong things. Scared I’m all wrong.

prayerMM1

 

Restore me, Oh God.

 

Similarities have been drawn with the book of Psalms and indeed some of the words she pours out bear the same expressiveness of David, the pain and hurt, as well as the celebration and joy. Measor’s strength of faith is evident throughout the book and there are lots of scriptural links too. Her honesty amidst pain and turmoil, is sure to help many people as they struggle with their own battles and journey of faith.

The similarity with Psalms also follows as Measor is also a musician and some of the entries in the book have songs to go alongside which can be accessed online via spotify or you can download the album via iTunes. The songs really do add to the book, just taking her thoughts and prayers to another level, but in the same intimate way. Do give them a listen if you can.

 

 

October 29

Lord, I am a bit sad today.

But I love you with all my ability.

And lack of ability.

 

Naked Prayers is published by SPCK and is available now, priced at £7.99. 

Thy Kingdom Come

This week the Church of England has been focussing on ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ which is (in my opinion) a rather fantastic initiative set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with the aim to mobilise the church to pray for the nation.

Around here I have been staggered by how many churches have engaged with this and not just Anglican ones either, it really does feel like an exciting time for the church (and the nation).

So, I’ve been praying and thinking on this line from the Lord’s Prayer this week and so here’s a little video of my prayer doodle on those words…

I sometimes take part in a Twitter initiative called ‘Colour Collective’ which encourages artists and illustrators to create a piece each week, on a different colour and then we all post at the same time on Friday evening. So this week’s colour is ‘light yellow glaze’, so I used lots of yellow in this – though it might not be quite light enough it’s the best I could come up with, not really a yellow fan to be honest but I do like the balance of colours in this!

 

Praying in tongues = praying through liturgy?

shutterstock_136339277So, continuing my journey into liturgy you may wonder why I am looking at praying in tongues… Well let’s go back a bit…

Like many people I grew up attending traditional village churches, so I also grew up reciting formal liturgy, which, as many find, quickly becomes second nature. I found myself from a relatively early age reciting the words, not needing a book in order to know what to say. For many this is a huge comfort but for me over the years I have found it really difficult. I would often find myself drifting off as I recited the words and not really thinking about what I was saying. Perhaps that is partly why I now find myself more comfortable in a charismatic church with more of a sense of freedom in that respect (although it is fair to say The Point does have it’s own style of liturgy).

Now I should note that my faith then was not what it is now, and I accept that had it been I may have felt differently. However over the last few years, going through discernment and studying, I have experienced and worshipped with many variations of liturgy, have undertaken daily prayer and encouraged myself to try new forms of more formal liturgy. At times this has actually been a joy as I have found new words that I have prayed right from the heart, but at others the old tensions have arisen again and I find myself frustrated. It has been a journey of, to be honest, love and hate.

Recently, I had a chat with my Vicar about this who noted a conversation he had once had in which it was suggested that formal liturgy could take the same role as praying in tongues. So just as the liturgical words we repeat become second nature so that we don’t really know what we are saying on occasion, when we pray in tongues we equally are not aware of what we are saying. In that sense with both, we are simply being obedient to God and his presence within us.

 

Challenged…? I was.

 

Of course our formal liturgy has developed over the last 2000 years in the life of the church, but the origins of current Anglican liturgy are found in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer which was a seminal work, aiming to enable the average person on the street to meet with God without distraction. The Bishop of London notes that it offered the:

‘possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street’

 

Interesting… couldn’t we say exactly the same of praying in tongues?

 

In fact 1 Corinthians 14:2 notes

For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God

 

a prayer language focused from the pray-er towards God. Of course this is less corporate than formal liturgy, it’s a personal, heart cry to God alone.

From my own and others experience of praying in tongues, often people don’t know what to pray, but that they feel God’s guidance into what he wants them to pray. In this sense then there is an element of being removed from the prayer itself, but a willing obedience to pray as God leads.

When joining in the liturgy in a church service, we are also acting in obedience, using the prescribed words to reach out to God, both personally and corporately. There can also be a level of removal from the prayer, as the mind is not engaged in thinking of words to say, but simply in repeating them or reading them.

Let me clarify, I’m not trying to argue for one over the other, it’s more an exploration into prayer that has helped me…

Both aim to enable an encounter with God. A friend recently told me that he attends a BCP service every week and has done for years. Of course after so long, he knows the liturgy for this service very well and says that that it enables him to enter into meeting God without distraction as he doesn’t need to read the words or hold a book. The very thing that I find frustrating!

GodlooksatTheHeartJPG

I was very fortunate recently to have the opportunity to meet up with David Pytches to talk about liturgy and prayer. We talked over this subject and he was an absolute mine of information. Something that particularly stood out, and I suppose it’s obvious, was that he talked of the importance of intention. He noted that whenever we come to worship we do so with the intention of worship, our hearts turned towards God. Perhaps that is a key role of liturgy: to enable our intention to worship? When I turn to prayer, it is usually without prepared words, but with an openness to being led by God. There are of course times when words fail me, when I feel unable to pray, perhaps when burdened or anxious. It is then that words of liturgy can be vital, enabling us to enter intentionally into prayer or worship when our own minds fail. Likewise, can the words of praying in tongues, in a different way of course, be perhaps just as vital, when we cannot find words for ourselves? For me, yes, absolutely vital!

I wrote about intention last year when I was thinking about prayer doodling. Could it be that my creativitiy was a prayer to God? I believe that if we give all to God – in whatever form our prayer takes – that’s what counts. So whether we are praying words we’ve spoken 1000 times (or more), going off in some crazy language, just uttering a few basic words, or colouring on a page, I think God is more concerned with the heart, not the thing itself. After all 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God is more interested in the heart, not the outward. And I love this from The Message version:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; 

God probes for what is good.            Proverbs 16:2 (MSG)

So then, where do I end up? Perhaps with no more answers than to say again, that all our prayers are valid! We are all different and I think then it’s understandable that we should reach out to God in different ways. And more and more we are finding ‘church’ done in different ways, so perhaps it’s important to keep asking questions like these as the traditions change and the church embraces new ways of worship.

As always would love to know peoples thoughts, do comment or drop me a message on the Facebook page or via Twitter

 

Limbo // The Curate’s Journey

TRUST2

I feel like I am in limbo.

It’s a funny old place to be at the moment with one thing ending and a new one not yet begun. I know I wrote about being in transition recently, but this is worse. I had told myself I wouldn’t begin to process it all until after my Easter study week. Unfortunately for me Easter Study Week is now a memory and my own enforced deadline is here, well in fact it has passed. Cue melt down…

But for now there will be an interlude, my kids are still off school and I really need time to think and pray through things. I had a little wobble at the end of Easter School but I felt myself putting the lid firmly back on it all for now. I simply haven’t the time or energy to think through the enormity of what is about to happen.

 

Because it is flippin’ enormous, let’s face it.

 

I know a few others have been feeling the same at this stage, which is in some small part a comfort. At least it’s not just me on the verge of losing it every 5 minutes. And I’m not the only one saying: I can’t get ordained, I won’t get ordained, I don’t believe in ordination – and everything in between.

…o0O0o…

So for now I’m in ostrich mode, head in the sand, deal with what’s in front of me only. My prayer walks, usually my time to engage with God, seem to be rather bland, and whilst frustrating I feel it’s a necessary place. It’s me of course, holding him at arms length but I can’t face the open and honest prayer time that I really need right now.

 

Next week.

 

Next week I can allow myself to process.

 

Maybe…