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Things have been tough in parish life lately. Tougher than usual. I am bad at concentrating on things in the normal run of life, but recently I’ve often struggled to find a way to rest my mind.

I have found some things that have helped though. So I thought I’d share them in case your life is also causing your head to scramble like the only version of eggs that the Engineer will eat.

First off, I found that, of course, my pattern of daily devotions had gone completely to pot. I can’t even remember what I was doing – some large chunk of Scripture a day I think. And since I couldn’t think, I just couldn’t absorb a thing. And even turning the light on in the mornings was a challenge.

Last July, before the Church Society podcast took a break, I’d had to read A Tender Lion – a biography of Bishop J C Ryle – for the book review slot I’ve been part of, alongside our good friend Song. And since reading that I’d been thinking of going back to Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. I remembered reading them as a student and finding them heartwarming. And reading the biography reminded me that Ryle had written and preached in an accessible style – in short sentences with simple vocabulary. And I wanted to read a gospel – to go back to basics.

So I downloaded a copy of Ryle’s Expository Thoughts onto my Kindle (other e-readers are available). My version had the Bible passage as well as the Thoughts. And I read through Mark, blessed by the good bishop’s clarity and simplicity, and also by my Kindle’s backlight that meant that it helped me to wake as I read. I really got quite boring with friends, and the poor Vicar, telling them (rather too many times) how much I was enjoying Mark with Ryle’s help.

Ryle portrait

The refreshing Bishop Ryle

I also have three of Andrew Case’s prayer books on my Kindle – and when my head can’t get into prayer, written prayers always help. This is the value of liturgy too – to ‘pray until you pray’, as Don Carson puts it in A Call to Spiritual Reformation. So I would read Mark with Ryle’s help and pray those prayers, and I wouldn’t be distracted by my phone, which would happen if I went to my PrayerMate app or opened the CofE’s Daily Prayer app. So I would pray a prayer for me, one for the Vicar and one for the kids. Then I’d pray the Lord’s Prayer. And sometimes I’d pray some more. And sometimes I wouldn’t. But I was still hanging in.

It was simple. And it was something. And so I’ve been able to slowly reconnect to the Lord and anchor my thoughts in the truth of the love of Christ. Reading a gospel in the company of a clear thinking bishop, some written prayers to use when I couldn’t think of words. I’m thankful.

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I think you’re all *probably* aware that last year I wrote a book. Over Christmas a couple more reviews appeared online – Mark Cresswell posted on his blog and E D Farr posted on Amazon

And my publisher, IVP, have a special offer on e-books which expires today. Books are priced from 99p, and The Ministry of a Messy House is going for £2.50. The e-books work on Kindles and other specialist readers, and on tablet apps, but you could also read it on your PC or laptop if you don’t have those gadgets. If you like, of course.

I’m now waiting with a little trepidation to see what unexpected things the Lord has in store for me in 2014. I already seem to be committed to a speaking engagement in March (and one in 2015 – nothing like planning ahead, eh?!). And now I have something new in January too. I will be travelling up to the UCB studios in Stoke on Trent to talk about mess and the Christian with Paul Hammond for his Life Issues programme. Not until the end of the month, so I have time to clear my head from the Christmas fuzziness that seems to have set in. I’m not sure when the programme will be broadcast, but I’ll let you know…

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