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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

This coronavirus crisis feels a bit like election season did – there’s just so much news. Every half an hour something new is cancelled. There are graphs all over the internet giving a fresh perspective and interesting and learned experts giving opinions which help you feel like you might get a grip on what’s happening. It’s a big global event with huge repercussions and it’s also a close to home personal one, with some disruption and changes in view for our family.

I’m staying with my mum at the moment and we’re discussing various planned holidays and family events over the next few months and wondering which ones, if any, will go ahead. The Queen’s university (I know! How can she be that old?!) has suspended face to face lectures, and she thinks the exams next week might be cancelled. (So she rather regrets staying up very late last night to study the genetics of viruses for the biology test. Although, who knows if it might come in handy some time soon?) I get an email from the boys’ schools every day with an update of cancelled events, and I send messages to the family Whatsapp group with handwashing reminders.

The Church of England is updating its guidance to churches frequently – no cup at communion, no full immersion baptisms, standing for communion and other procedures to help us to protect people from infection. Behind the scenes clergy and laity are energetically debating how to serve and guard their flocks and parishes and bring God’s grace into a frequently overwhelming situation. My timelines are awash with random pundits asking what the government or the church are up to and making alternative pronouncements. It’s confusing and stressful, and there’s so little I can do about it all.

So I’ve made some decisions about what to pay attention to, although the drama of the frequent announcements will probably keep distracting me. But I’m going to read some things by proper scientists, and I’m going to keep on washing my hands often and for 20 seconds (whilst praying the Lord’s Prayer, which fits). I’m going to try and read things written by Christians who lived through plagues previously, and say some of their prayers. I’m going to pray about how I can serve those who will be in need because of this crisis, especially in our parish. And I’m going to pray the Church of England’s Collect provided to be prayed In the Time of any Common Plague of Sickness. Pray with me?

In the time of any common Plague of Sickness. O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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What do you do when starting Monday is hard? We had a busy but exhausting weekend here in the Vicarage, including a lovely but random collection of people joining us for Sunday lunch. And then the school week began and I struggled to meet it head on.

My head is still pretty messy in the aftermath of the locust eaten year – and I keep on thinking about things that go round in circles. I compose lines in my head and then don’t write them down or send them. The lines swirl around, taking up space and preventing logical thought.

So I binned a few of my plans for the day (including – shhh – the gym) and awarded myself a slow day. And then I sat down with my laptop and tackled the email inbox, which had been pressing in. I talked to the Vicar and stroked the dog. I noodled about on Twitter and kept going with my crochet project.

It was a gentle day and I got a few things done, so I guess I’m winning. This morning I read from a devotional based on the collects of Thomas Cranmer, and meditated on the Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Lent. Today reminded me how much I lack the power to help myself, and how much I need the Lord’s help with evil thoughts that assault and harm the soul. Praying with Cranmer is always a blessing.

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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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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My distractibility and butterfly mind can be a creative strength. What they are not, however, is an aid to focussed prayer.

Reading my bible and devotional material is one thing, but a concentrated session of prayer often seems too much to tackle. It has recently, at least.

Do the Next Thing Prayer

A prayer meeting is fine, getting together with my prayer partner is great, but me, praying on my own, that’s too big. So in this year of Doing the Next Thing, I need to learn to commit to doing prayer as the Next Thing.

And so last week I was prompted to return to the best aid I’ve found for reducing distraction in prayer – the most excellent PrayerMate App (also available for Apple products). I have my PrayerMate sorted out so that I start with reading things – a psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, the Church of England Collect for the day. Then I pray for family, friends and further afield. I’d forgotten I’d set my prayers up like that, it had been so long. It wasn’t as scary as I remembered, nor as difficult to do.

I was gently eased into prayer, and I was reminded of the Puritan injunction to ‘pray until you pray‘, which I first read about in Don Carson’s terrific book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. I’ve found this to be wise advice. Prayer takes work and it takes time to find the focus required. So beginning my prayer time using written prayers I don’t have to think about too much helps me to start praying. And once I start praying, finding my own words to keep praying seems easier.

PrayerMate got a shiny new update just a few days ago, making it even better to use and prettier to look at. One of the lovely teenagers from my dorm at our summer holiday venture bounced up to me on Saturday to tell me that she’d downloaded the app. And she’d even used it a bit too. So if a distracted 13 year old can use it, so can I. And maybe you too? Do the Next Thing – Do It with Prayer.

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Gone has been staying in our chicken shed for a few weeks now. It’s dry and sheltered and he feels safe there. We haven’t seen him much because he can get in there through a side gate, so he’s mostly been coming in to sleep and then leaving without knocking on the kitchen window or the front door. He spends the day on the streets and visiting other helpful Vicarages.

It had been a few days and I mentioned to the Vicar that we’d not seen him for a bit, so the Vicar turned off the light in the shed, which ensures that Gone will come and talk to us to get the light put back on. That was last night, and then this morning we were told by a friend that Gone has gone. He’s gone back to prison. And that’s why we’ve not seen him. He’s not going to be away for long, but at least he’ll be dry and sheltered and fed for a few weeks.

GoneOnce again he will be inside for a short while and then released with money and a room in a hostel allocated to him. He’ll spend the money on Frosty Jack and buying a mobile phone and a radio or video camera, and he’ll come to our doorstep and tell us he’s not going to the hostel because he doesn’t trust people in hostels. And I expect he’ll ask to sleep in our shed again and we’ll go through the cycle of approaching various agencies and wondering what on earth can be done for him.

Sometimes I think this loop will continue for ever. He’s someone who cannot really cope with the system there is. Over the years many kindhearted people have helped him, but he’s never managed any long term stability.

So please pray for him, and for those of us who know him and want something better for him. We have a short break now and it would be good to think through some options for him. Pray that he’d work out what he should do himself, and pray we’d be wise too and have the energy to help again. Pray for Gone.

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After thinking about devotions honestly yesterday, the excellent Adam4d just posted this on what happens when we pray at bedtime..

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If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m  often full of great new ideas and initiatives. But what that actually means is that many old ideas and initiatives have fallen by the wayside. So when I extol the beauty of a new bible reading scheme or system of prayer, it possibly (=usually) indicates that the last system I extolled has somewhat petered out…

Last night Sharonxx asked the following:

I have tried to set myself the simple ‘resolution’ this year to pray at least once a day [either an Office or personal prayer], to read one small devotional a day and to do one bible study each day [using T.Wright…for Everyone]. I work 9-3, I have an 8 year old son and I’m married….pretty normal on the face of it….so why can’t I achieve even these simple goals??

Any tips? How do you do it with your busy life and family commitments? Indeed, DO you always manage to keep up with the bible reading etc.??

Simple goals, and ones I can relate to so well: read my bible, read something else devotional, pray. I’d love to do this every day too. But I often don’t. And I don’t work outside the house either, with all the extra juggling entailed in that.

So why don’t I do it? There are a bunch of reasons: tiredness, craziness of life in the Vicarage, but mainly it’s because other things seem more important than spending time with God. They’re not, of course, but my sinful heart takes control and I sleep a little more, tweet a little more, watch a little more Midsomer Murders. As I was reminded by my reading in Romans 7 this morning ‘What a wretched (wo)man I am!’

But the important thing is not to be discouraged when I fail. I’ve snoozed and missed the timeslot when I would have been reading my Bible. So I can grab a verse for the day on my phone. I’ve missed prayer time in the quite of the early morning. But I can still pray over the ironing board, or in the queue for the sandwich shop. I might not feel that I’ve prayed very well, or read enough of the Word, or wrestled with a theological concept. But if I’m keeping in regular touch with the Lord, I’m able to build my relationship with him. And even if I’m crazy busy or laid low by illness, there are still ways that relationship can grow, as his Spirit works in me. The Spirit reminds me of Scriptures or hymns and spiritual songs that I can cling to when I’m struggling with time or energy. The Spirit shows me the Lord’s providence in seemingly small ways that enable me to praise God when I feel like crying. The Spirit works in me so that I can will and work to the Father’s good pleasure.

Some of the resources I’ve found useful recently include using the audio setting with YouBible on my phone or tablet. This morning I read my allotted chapters from my epic 10 chapters a day reading plan but my head was a bit fuzzy and I didn’t process much. So then I listened to them again as I cleaned the kitchen and a bit more went in. Not everything, but a bit more.

My prayer life is a bit wobbly at the moment, but I’ve been using The Valley of Vision and have also recently downloaded the excellent PrayerMate app which is free at the moment. It has all the bells and whistles if you have an Apple device, but we are Android users in the Vicarage, so I have the newly launched version (which will be updated over the next few months) and am slowly uploading my prayer diary to its pages.

So I guess my answer is that I constantly fail to read my bible, to pray and balance all my family and other commitments. But I also constantly try and reboot them and get them back on track. The temptation is to feel that once we’ve missed a day in our readings, we’ve missed the boat. So we need to remind ourselves that the Father is waiting for our return. He loves us unconditionally, whether we’ve read our Bibles, prayed our prayers or simply slouched on the couch. Find a system which frees you from guilt if you miss a day; 10ofthose have some great undated devotional books. Start again. I read a blogpost in the last week about how we need to have Monday resolutions, not just New Year resolutions. And perhaps I even need to have daily resolutions. I mustn’t put off getting back on track because I’m waiting for a special season. I can reboot my resolutions today.

Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:7

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