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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dealing With Wandering Thoughts

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts & minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

I have been thinking a lot in recent weeks about the statement the Lord Jesus made in John 15:5, "apart from me you can do nothing."

Surely He Doesn't Mean That
Nothing is a very big word. It's one of those all-encompassing statements which the Lord Jesus was so fond of making to His listeners. They challenge us to the core if we have the nerve to stop long enough to consider them seriously. Did Jesus really mean that we can't do anything without Him. Paul certainly seemed to think so - the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20).

A Hare-Raising Example
I had a perhaps seemingly trivial example of how dependent we are on the Lord while we were holidaying with my parents. A wild hare has taken up residence in their garden. Or so I was told. As the week went by, everyone had seen the hare - except me. I was beginning to wonder if the hare really existed of whether the whole story was concocted by my family as part of a joke at my expense!

So when I was told, yet again, that I'd just missed seeing this elusive creature a little cry of frustration rose from my heart to heaven, "why haven't I seen the hare?" Immediately there came a reply in the form of a thought that popped instantaneously into my mind, "because you haven't asked me." So I responded simply, "please can I see the hare."

Within a couple of hours my youngest son came to search me out to tell me the hare was in the middle of the lawn nibbling at the grass. To my absolute and somewhat childish delight I was able to look out of the window and enjoy watching the hare as it munched it's way first through the grass and then through the weeds on the patio.

Turn Everything Into Prayer
That little episode showed me how absolutely dependent we are on the Lord, even for those things we take for granted. The Lord wants us to live a life of prayer, bringing everything to Him as Paul so eloquently reminds us in that well known Philippian passage. And this is where we come to how to deal with the wandering thoughts we all know so well when we're trying to pray.

You know the kind of thing I mean: I must remember to get those batteries when I go shopping; I wonder if she realised she offended me by what she said; what am I going to give the family for tea; I've nearly finished that book, I wonder what I could read next. And so it goes on. Our brain has a seemingly limitless supply of such distracting thoughts which can, on occasion, fill the whole of our time alone with the Lord.

The source of these thoughts may be our own mind, but we're also suspicious that some of them are planted there by the one who doesn't want us to pray. But what if it's the Lord who's reminded us about the batteries or wants to deal with the offence we feel? What if He desires to be so intimately involved in our lives that He wants to share in conversation about meals and what we choose to read?

Getting The Victory
It really doesn't matter where these thoughts come from, the Lord wants us to turn them to prayer. Whether it be a request for help, a repentant heart, a minor decision that needs to be made or thanks to be given, these apparent distractions can actually add to our praying as we begin to present all of our requests to God instead of thinking there's some of these things we can handle by ourselves. Then, instead of beating ourselves up at the end of an unconstructive Quiet Time because our thoughts have been all over the place, we will have the peace Paul talks about in Phil 4:7.

Prayer College Assignment
This one is so simple, but such a joy. When faced with wandering thoughts in your Quiet Time, turn them to prayer. With some of the stuff which passes through our minds we might have to be creative to think of a way to turn them to prayer. But with a little bit of imagination, and as we acknowledge our need of the Lord to help us pray, it can be done.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Name of Jesus

I've been thinking a lot about the wonderful name of Jesus in the last few weeks and, as I pondered what I should write for Prayer College I realised that, back in January, I'd already written what I wanted to say. Why not refresh your mind and click on this link for The Perfect Prayer.

A New Hymn
I also want to share with you a new hymn.

Jesus, I long to see Your face,
To gaze into Your eyes,
To glimpse the beauty of Your grace
And claim at last my prize.
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I want to bow before your throne,
The shimm'ring crystal see,
To join with thousand, thousand tongues,
In adoration sing.
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It is my heart's desire, Oh Lord,
To sing the praise You're due.
To fall upon my face, my God,
Give all my love to You.
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You are the fairest of them all,
Your name - perfume poured out.
You are the Lover of my soul
I would not live without.
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I cannot give what you deserve
While to this flesh confined,
But I will offer all I have
Of heart and strength and mind.
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(c) Lynda Scotson 2008
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Please feel free to use this hymn. It fits a number of well known tunes including CRIMOND (The Lord's My Shepherd) and LYDIA (Jesus, The Name High Over All).
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Prayer College Assignment
Take a piece of paper. Close your eyes and think about the name of someone you know well. As you do, you will find that things they have done, aspects of their character and personality, and your feelings about them will come to mind. Now do the same with Jesus. Think about Him, His character and personality, the things recorded about Him in the gospels, and your personal experience of and feelings towards Him. As these thoughts come to mind, write them down. I hope that they will provide you with an ongoing prompt for worship.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Truth About The Hot Water Bottle And The Premature Baby

I've decided I'm starting a campaign for truth. Christians don't like to think of themselves as gossips, but we do like passing on testimonies. There's nothing wrong with that provided we get the details right. The problem is that we sometimes manage to create a web of Chinese whispers of truly Olympian proportions.

The Story Of The Hot Water Bottle
I don't know if you've come across this piece of wonderful testimony which is doing the rounds at the moment. It's an account of how God's answer to a child's audacious prayer to send a hot water bottle to Africa resulted in the saving of a premature baby's life. It truly is the story of a wonderful miracle and it should be told.

And it was told - in the book, Living Faith by Dr Helen Roseveare of WEC, a medical missionary in Congo/Zaire, and first published in 1980. In my copy the story, which occurred about 50 years ago, appears on pages 52-54 and is related just as it unfolded before Dr Roseveare's eyes.

The various versions I've read recently are clearly taken from that book as they are almost verbatim copies. Yet none of them attributes the story to it's original source, a remarkable Christian woman, who suffered brutally at the hands of rebels during the uprising in that country, being beaten and raped for her commitment to the Lord and to the local people she was serving as a doctor, people who loved her and were willing to lay down their lives to try to protect her.

Why Does The Truth Matter?
The story has most recently been reported to me as being from South Africa which is blatantly incorrect as the content clearly states the events took place in equatorial Africa. In fact, it was in a small village in the rain forest where Dr Roseveare had been instrumental in setting up a medical facility to meet the needs of thousands of people across hundreds of miles.

Is it glorifying to God when we take testimonies out of context? Is it glorifying to God when we make factual mistakes in what we tell? Is it glorifying to God when we give the impression that something which happened half a century ago is a recent event?

If a seeker, impressed, perhaps even challenged to faith, decided to try to validate this report they would struggle. The events are not recent as implied by some of the versions I've seen, so will not be reported in the Christian press. They did not happen in South Africa so it's no good trying to contact organisations working in that country. Our researcher would have to conclude this was the Christian version of an urban myth.

The Importance Of Context
But it is true, and all the more dramatic when read in the context of Dr Roseveare's life and work in Congo/Zaire. The story currently passed round might give the impression she was a woman of little faith yet she recounts numerous miraculous answers to prayer and miracles throughout her missionary career and beyond.

It also disturbs me that words which clearly indicate the doctor concerned was a woman have been removed from the text of the "hot water bottle story". Helen Roseveare gave up the very genuine opportunity of marriage to serve God as a single woman and a pioneer missionary in conditions most of us would consider impossible.

We are being shortchanged by this little piece of testimony as it stands. The failure to attribute the account correctly not only infringes British copyright law, it means that we are deprived of the opportunity to discover more of this remarkable woman's life, to read her books and to be challenged to live a more dedicated and consecrated life.

The book in which this testimony occurs also includes what is possibly an even more remarkable account of how the Lord led her on a 400 mile round trip to another country to share the gospel with an illiterate herdsman who emerged from the trees as she took a coffee break. He simply asked if she was, "a sent one, by the Great God, to tell me of the thing called Jesus." All he knew of the gospel was that the word Jesus was "sweet in my heart." She was able to lead him to the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
Do some research, track down some information about Helen Roseveare, try to get hold of one her several autobiographical books. Living Faith, where the "hot water bottle story" is told, is available from our bookstore. Reading these remarkable accounts will challenge you in how you pray.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Heeding the Warnings

As I write this I am sitting on the beach while my youngest son attempts to dig the deepest hole ever made by a human in sand. The surf is up and dozens of people have taken to the waves with their boards. Periodically a message is broadcast across the beach advising swimmers and surfers to stay within the area marked by two red and orange flags.

Personal Warnings
The broadcast is not recorded. That's clear from the message which asked that the three people at the left of the beach move back between the flags. A recorded message may have some effect, but there's more response made to the personal warning of danger. Every time the lifeguard's voice has boomed across the beach there has been an immediate response from those in the water.

I wonder if the same is true of our walk with Jesus. The orange and red flags are provided by scripture. It tells us where our boundaries are. But sometimes the Lord speaks a personal word of warning to us. Do we heed it?

Are We Listening?
I used to be part of a church drama group. I remember the performance of a sketch in which a Christian was praying the Lord's Prayer and was somewhat annoyed when God began to try to engage them in conversation. It went something like this:

Christian: "Our Father which art in heaven,"
God: "Yes!"
Christian: "Our Father which art in heaven,"
God: "Yes!"
Christian: "would you mind not interrupting? I'm trying to pray!"

And so it went on with the Christian trying to fulfill their duty and God unable to get a word in edge ways.

Prayer was always intended to be a two-way conversation with the Lord at least equally involved. We have to cultivate this quiet intimacy with Jesus. It's extremely rare that He broadcasts His warnings through a megaphone so we must learn to recognise His still, small voice during our alone times with Him so that we can hear His warnings when they come.

Do We Respond?
The other aspect to this is how we actually respond when we do hear that warning voice. What do we do when we experience that disquiet which is the Holy Spirit communicating with our own spirit that we should not continue on a certain course of action? That probably depends on how much we want to do it!

When the Lord convicts us that what we are about to do is sin, or will put as in a position to be tempted to sin, it is vital that we respond by turning away from the sin. If we don't do this our conscience will be seared (1 Tim 4:2) and we will find it increasingly hard to hear the voice of God.

But He doesn't only issue warnings about blatant sin. Paul says that whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Sometimes the Lord asks us not to do something that many of our Christian brothers and sisters participate in with a totally clear conscience. It is not sin for somebody else, but it becomes so for us because we have had a personal word from the Lord which was, "no." It may be that we have a particular vulnerability which He wants to protect us from or simply that He's asking us, "will you be obedient to me in this, even if you don't understand why?"

Prayer College Assignment
It is essential to our spiritual well being, but also to our physical well-being, that we learn to hear and to respond to God's warning voice. Learn to listen as well as talk in your quiet times and you will be better equipped to hear His words of warning or correction as you live out your life day by day.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. (Rom 12:1)

Last Friday my 75 year old father and his identical twin brother slid along a steel wire from a 5 story structure, 250 metres across Portsmouth naval dockyard to land beside the world famous HMS Victory. The "zip-wire" was undertaken to raise money for charity. My dad was elated with this achievement.

Secret of Success
You might expect to see in a newspaper somewhere a headline saying, "75 Year Old Twins Zip To Charity Success." But good things done by good people don't draw press attention unless they have a good publicist.

As Christians we are told to keep our good deeds secret and that includes praying in secret. Of course we need to pray with one another, we are the body of Christ and we need to be together. We know there is a need to share our amens.

But public and corporate prayer are rarely the place where we encounter God in a genuinely life-transforming way. We may get caught up in the emotion of the moment when worshipping or praying together. But it is usually when we come to Him alone and in secret that these things become consolidated and firmly established in our hearts.

Alone with Jesus
In the wonderful old hymn, "Take time to be holy," WD Longstaff says,

Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone -
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be.

It's not at the convention or in church where we become like Jesus, though we may learn valuable lessons there and be challenged about our Christian walk. It is in the times we spend with our Saviour, within the veil, in the sacred place where He has taken up residence in our life, that we are transformed into His image in such a way that others begin to see Jesus in us.

My father may or may not have been changed by his "leap of faith," to use his description of the experience. But it is impossible to spend time day by day alone in the presence of Jesus and not be transformed from "one degree of glory to another." It may even be a greater risk to place my life in His hands than in those of a naval officer because, unlike my father who knew his destiny was to land beside Nelson's great flagship, "I do not know what lies ahead," to quote another famous hymn.

Prayer College Assignment
Give prayerful consideration to what degree you are willing to take the risk of putting yourself in the hands of the great Potter, for Him to mould you and make you the person He wants you to be.