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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Waiting… and waiting

I am in a time of waiting. I suppose that is appropriate given that it is also Advent, a season in the church life in which we wait and prepare for the Christ child. But I have been waiting longer than advent.

At first, the waiting was a welcomed time in my life. 2016 has been an intense year for me with many challenges, many hard learnings and, thankfully, some beauty to keep me going. I wrote a major paper this summer culminating practical learning, Biblical studies and research. I am proud of that paper and proud of the mark and comments from my professor. At the end of the summer, I felt that I needed to take some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. I also felt that I needed a break from school and that I would like to find work to stabilize and improve finances.

For a couple of months, I enjoyed reading, hanging out with my cat and rabbits, connecting with people, swimming most days. And I’ve been applying to everything I am qualified for, open to where God might lead me.

I was offered a job. I was a bit surprised at this given the questions that they asked and what would match the particular setting and what my answers and beliefs are. After prayer and talking with my mentors, I felt that I needed to turn it down. I felt like God was saying to me, “Wait – I have something perfect for you.”

I’ve never had the privilege of being able to turn down a job before and I have to say I was not at rest after I turned it down, even though in my heart I knew that it was the right thing to do. And then the confirmations came that I had done the right thing. The biggest confirmation was attending another church that I applied to and walking through the area realizing that the setting was far more along the lines of what makes my heart excited. I think I was enticed by the monthly paycheque and a common theme these days in my life is that I need to rely on God alone.

I believed that the church that I visited was where God wanted me to be. They accepted applications until the end of November and I haven’t heard from them. Either they have been exploring other candidates or they are caught up in advent and Christmas stuff – both are good possibilities. I am still hopeful.

But this season of waiting… is now hard. I’ve been making the most of this time. But I long for more. I long to be contributing in some way. I want to serve in ministry again. I am so darn ready for that “something else” that I felt God promising me. I don’t want to wait anymore!

The meditation for the 17th day of the month in the second celtic daily prayer book spoke to me today:

What God may hereafter require of you,
you must not give yourself the least trouble about.

Everything He gives you to do,
you must do as well as ever you can.

That is the best possible preparation
for what He may want you to do next.

If people would but do what they have to do,
they would always find themselves ready for what came next.

George MacDonald

God has directed me during this time of waiting. It’s not exactly what I would have chosen for these past four months.

But – I am involved in ministry. I have been devoting time to pray. Not because I’m some holy person or anything. But out of recognition that I cannot do anything to change lives, situations or fix things. And that ultimately it is God at work. I’m inspired by the Alpha program where people commit to pray in a separate room throughout the whole teaching and discussion time. There are ministries working with people who do not know God and I know that the evil one has his ways of trying to prevent this from happening. My ministry right now is to pray.

And I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah. Again, not because I want to be super holy or anything. But this book has intimidated me with its 66 chapters and different genres and some of it’s really harsh passages. Any time I’ve had the opportunity to write on Isaiah – I choose anything not Isaiah. But it’s such a foundational book that needs too be studied if I am going to shepherd and pastor any community.

George MacDonald’s words encourage me that I am not only in a season of waiting, but in a season of preparation for what is to come. And while I wish to be a part of something more, I do believe these tasks are God-directed and I must do them well. They will prepare me for what comes next. But also must be continued as the fuel for whatever comes next and now is the time to establish patterns and commitment while I am waiting.

Waiting is hard.

But waiting need not be passive. It is a time of preparation.

And so I wait.

 

Petra, The Book of Alternative Services, Scripture and surviving adolescence

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I remember sharing my story with someone  who listened carefully, and then joking asked “With your background, why didn’t you leave and become a Buddhist or something?”

It’s a good question actually. Ultimately, I think God protected my relationship with Him. I had many real and powerful experiences of his presence while growing up, even at a really young age. There were many, many times that I was frustrated that God did not seem to hear my cries for protection and deliverance. But ultimately, He preserved my faith even in the most tumultuous times.

Today, I’ve been reflecting on some of the practices that held me together during some of the roughest times of my life.

Petra, the Christian Rock band of the day, was one of my favourite music groups. I think I owned every cassette and knew every word off by heart. As I’ve been playing their songs today, and realizing that the words of their songs are permanently written on my heart.

Words that would remind me that no matter what this life threw at me, No Weapon Formed Against Us shall prosper.

No weapon formed against us shall prosper

All that arises against us shall fall

I will not fear what the devil might bring me

I am a servant of God

Words that would give me words to pray

First I want to thank you Lord for being who you are

For coming to the rescue of a man who’s drifted far

For calling me to be your son and calling me to serve

Lord, the way you bless my life is more than I deserve

This is my prayer, lifted to you

Knowing you care even more than I do

This is my prayer, lifted in your name

Your will be done – I humbly pray

Let me be the evidence of what your grace can do

To a generation struggling to find themselves in you

May they come to know the love of God

May their eyes be made to see

Give me the opportunity to share the truth that sets them free

And may unity in all things be the banner of your church

And let your fire again begin to burn, begin to burn

And words that challenged me to love, even when love seemed impossible.

Love is patient, love is kind

No lines of envy, true love is blind

Love is humble, it knows no pride

No selfish motive, hidden inside

Love is gentle, makes no demands

Despite all wrong, true love still stands

Love is holy, love is pure

It will last forever, it will endure

Love knows when to let go

Love knows when to say no

Love grows in the light of the Son

And love shows that the Son of Love has come

Love is loyal, it leaves the best

It knows the truth, it stands the test

Love is God sent in His son

Love forgives all we have done

 

There are so many gems from this group – words that carried me in times of struggle and in mountain top experiences. Music speaks to my soul in a way that nothing else can.

I also discovered the daily office in the Book of Alternative Services. Morning and evening prayer provided bookends to my day. In the evening, I would put on some meditative music – usually John Michael Talbot – and light a candle and pray. I would create tunes for the Phos Hilaron (below) and other parts of the liturgy so that I would remember their rich words.

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

The practice of the daily office was something that gave me strength. It was during these prayer moments that I was assured that God was with me, even when everything else spoke to the contrary. The liturgy provided words that I could pray even when words were lacking.

The third practice that I have been pondering today is Scripture memory. I was very competitive in Sunday School. I remember learning all the memory verses because our teacher had promised to by us a cassette of our choice from the Christian bookstore. I won – and of course, I choose the latest Petra tape! My homeschooling curriculum also had me memorize parts of Scripture. Some of the verses were memorized without the context – although, I think there are truths in them even if the original meaning was different. Other times I memorized whole chapters. Somehow I developed a love of Scripture very early. Prayer has never come easy, but I love reading and studying Scripture. Memorizing God’s word enabled me to carry it with me when I didn’t have access to my Bible (remember, these were the days before smart phones!). In my mid-twenties, I met a P.O.W. from the Japanese internment camp who shared his testimony with me. He also had a similar experience of having God’s word to comfort him when he did not have a Bible because of committing these verses to heart.

As some readers will know, this has been an interesting time in my life. At the moment, I’m not taking any courses and I do not have consistent work. I have been trying to reflect on the practices (such as listening to soul music, praying the daily office, and memorizing/studying Scripture mentioned above) that sustain me, that empower me, that strengthen me… and (re)incorporate them into my life. As frustrating as this time can be, it is a time of building up, a time of preparation for what comes next. I have been reminded of the rich relationship I had with Christ throughout my teenage years – the powerful presence, the prophetic visions, the joy amidst sorrow, and the knowledge that God loved me. I’ve been reminded of how impossible today felt and yet after prayer, scripture, and music, I managed to get through so much as a teen.Without this, I likely would have given up on Christianity as so many with similar life experiences have.

I think my relationship with Christ has deepened and matured over the years. But I long for that closeness that I knew so well and that carried me through my youth. The palpable presence of God and the engagement of heart, body, mind and soul.

Giving All

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A group of kids taping their written prayers to the walls of a church in Toronto

The other day, I watched the documentary “Jesus Camp”. It’s about a radical group of Christian fundamentalists in the US and how they train up their children. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart – I had to watch it in two parts as there was much that was troublesome. There was also much that I know all to well. So I don’t recommend the film. But it’s made me think, which of course, is the purpose of documentary.

One of the key pastors looks at how radicalized muslim youth are trained from a young age and indoctrinated with values and ideas about the world as well as a belief system that leads them to want to sacrifice themselves in acts of violence for the sake of their pure radical vision. She looks at Christianity and how watered down it can become, how lazy we can be about our faith and points to the muslim example that we should be at least as radical as they are. That we should train our children that the Christian faith is worth dying for. That fasting and prayer are important.

Her tactics are wrong. But she has a point.

Did you know that one of my devout Muslim friends gets up at 5 in the morning to pray? I have trouble getting up early enough to pray before I have to go out of the house and I don’t have to get up nearly that early! And this isn’t the only time that she gets up to pray. Conversations with my Muslim (and for the record, a non-radicalized one), taught me about a religion that took prayer and fasting very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many Christians, including myself.

Another couple of Muslim friends have taught me about generosity. Even though I was an employee, they showered me with generosity, often topping up my pay check, offering me food, giving gifts. They also offered listening ears and encouragement in everything that I did – whether that be school work or Christian work.

Meanwhile, I am trying to finish up a course on Church history and have been reading about some of the great people of our faith. Some of them would give up everything they had to go and live lives of prayer in the desert. And some had a lot to give up!

I disagree with the methods of “Jesus Camp” and the theology that it tried to indoctrinate the children and youth with. But I wonder, in 2016, how do we be – and raise up – people who would give everything up for Jesus. People who love Him with their whole hearts, minds, soul and strength who would devote all that they are and all that they have to Jesus. People who would serve those who are abandoned, unloved, hungry, poor, alone. People who stand out and whose lives point to Jesus in all that they do.

The Work that is to Be

Supermoon 2013

Supermoon 2013

Some of my readers know that there has been a significant change in my life. On Sunday, I was commissioned and prayed for as I began a 3 month full time placement  – 2 credit internship at a church. The location hasn’t changed – I’m still worshiping at the same church and running a youth drop-in at another church building that is now part of the parish. I’m still doing many of the same tasks, thinking about the same things and filling my time as I usually do. There are extra things I need to do (like preaching and other churchy things). I’m actually working more or less the same hours too.

Yet this is a significant change for several reasons. First, I am moving forward and closer to what God has called me to be and do. In a couple of months, I will be two credits closer to a Masters of Divinity. Second, I am accountable to my supervisor, the church leadership, the congregation and my school in a different way. This doesn’t (hopefully!) impact how I conduct myself in terms of morality. But I am not used to having so many eyes – and scheduled conversations and evaluations – as I go about doing my work. I think this is ultimately healthier – but it’s different. Third (can you tell I’ve been writing academic papers lately???), I’m officially full time.

This last one has been on my mind a lot. I’m officially full time. Before May, I was unofficially full time by choice. But if I wanted to take a day or two or three off, I could and no one would care – or likely even notice. It meant that if I needed to attend to health, to rest longer, to hang out with the family upstairs I could. Now it’s a little different. Of course there are more than 40 hours in the week. But some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, housework and errands, commuting, teaching piano and other things. It’s not quite the same!

Today has been a full day. Admin work, meetings, piano student, another meeting. It was a day when I “switched hats” several times. I worked hard and diligently – with a small to do list left for the end of the day.

But I am tired. It is night time and I must sleep. That to do list must wait until tomorrow. The little voice that lives in my head tried to persuade me otherwise. And then I read compline from the Northumbria Community.

Father, bless the work that is done,
and the work that is to be.

The work is not done. But the day is done.

Now it is time for sleep – entrusting all that has – and has not been done in God’s hands.

Trust me

This time in my life is characterized by uncertainty.

I’m not sure where I will be living in the coming days. I know God will provide – he always has. But I’m not sure when or where or how. I don’t know if I will be living with the family I have come to love or if I will be branching out on my own after living in community for a significant period of my time in Toronto. I don’t know if God is calling me to the neighbourhood where I am working or if he is going to provide a place nearby the amenities I know and love.

I’m not sure what my finances are going to look like. Moving may impact how many students I have. Moving might increase my rent when I am already stretched.

I’m unsure what my summer will look like. I have a direction – but stuff needs to be put down on paper and it’s not yet. I need to decide on learning goals and think carefully about where God is calling me to not just now but in the future. And I don’t know.

I’m not sure about health. Things are stable at the moment and I’m grateful that I’m only really impacted by constant headaches that are usually manageable. But in the coming months I see the neurosurgeon again and decisions will be made.

I am unsure what I’ll be doing in the fall – like an internship, and courses. But this will be the first summer I do not earn a significant portion of my tuition.

I am unsure of what it’s like to live AND serve in a community. My identity is shifting to a more public and professional identity. This is new and this is scary. I haven’t figured it out.

As I pray through this uncertainty, I want answers. But God seems to just be saying “Trust me”.

It’s not the answer I want – I want answers and things to fall in place. But God is saying, “Trust me”

I want my life to be defined and outlined. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I don’t want to live in this uncertainty. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I want this anxiety of uncertainty to leave me magically. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I want an easier answer – something that I can do without thinking about it. But God is saying, “Trust me”

I don’t know what this looks like. But God is saying, “Trust me”

So, here I am – in the place in-between, in the space of the unknown. I don’t know how to trust.

But I am reminded: Be still. And know that I am God.

so for a moment – even if it’s just a moment – I sit with my anxiety and I allow those words to flow over me like a waterfall. I stop what I am doing to try to be still. I am not still – but I am trying. I am trying to know that God is God. I don’t know – but I am trying.

And I hear the words of my Lord saying, “Trust me”

Temptation in the Wilderness

Taken from the VIA train going from Vancouver to Edmonton in some area that was rather desolate

Taken from the VIA train going from Vancouver to Edmonton in some area that was rather desolate

A Reflection on Luke 4:1-13

One of my favourite Christian bands in my teen years was a Canadian band called Hokus Pick. I’ve often been reminded of their simple, yet profound and honest lyrics that often echo the yearnings of my own heart. Their song “God for One Day” acknowledges that the Saviour we want may be different than the One who walked the path of suffering to the cross:

If I was God for just one day… I’d stop the wars and make the soldiers pray

I’d take the hungry for a meal… I’d prove that I was real.

If I was God for just one day…  I would take all this pain away

I know God has a plan… I just don’t understand

I wonder how often we long for a superhero to instantly make all things right.

Luke is very interested in telling us who Jesus is. In the previous chapter, we learn of Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven that declares that Jesus is God’s son in whom God is well pleased. In the genealogy that follows the baptism, Luke focuses on Jesus being the son of man, the son of Adam, the first human in Jewish tradition. Luke leaves us wondering what it means for Jesus to be God incarnate.

The Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus faces temptations that Israel faced in the wilderness and in doing so becomes the fulfillment of who Israel was called to be. Instead of a superhero that proves his identity and entertains the people with his powers, each temptation shows the type of Messiah Jesus is.

First Temptation

The first temptation is to turn a rock into bread. Given that Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, I imagine a loaf of bread would satisfy his empty stomach. We know from later stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand with just a few loaves and fishes, that turning a rock into bread was something that he could do.

Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, a passage that would have been familiar to the Jewish audience:

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers now, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Deut 8:3)

The Israelites had to trust God daily for provision of needs in the wilderness.

The first temptation shows that Jesus ultimately trusts in God for all that He needs – and that he does not need to use his power or position to magically take care of his human needs.

Second Temptation

The second temptation is for Jesus to make a deal with the devil – to exchange worship for authority and power of the kingdoms. I imagine that the cross was always in Jesus’ mind and that it would be tempting to take the easy way out. The cost of this easy route however was to violate what God consistently required:

You shall fear ONLY the Lord your God and you shall worship him and swear by his name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you,  for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God.

While Israel was known for its divided heart and worship, God leaves no room for ambiguity – we are to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel alone. Jesus shows His humble submission to His Father through this temptation. Jesus submits to God’s ways and not to the cheap and easy ways to power that the devil offered him.

Third Temptation

In the third temptation, we see the devil try a new strategy – to quote Scripture itself to get Jesus to prove He is the Messiah by throwing Himself from the top of the temple.

If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written – “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you.” and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

I wonder how many times we look to God to prove who he is – by defining what that proof should look like. But Jesus didn’t come to snap his fingers and have everyone bow down. Given His miracles, I’m sure he could have done this. But Jesus knew not to put God to the test – instead, Jesus submits to God’s will and the path that leads to the cross without some spectacular show of who He is but a cross, a painful death, rejection and humiliation

Conclusion

Ironically, God uses the devil’s temptations to teach what kind of Messiah Jesus is. Instead of a superhero who can use His powers as he wishes, we see the emptying of power and humble obedience to the path that God has ordained – one that would be filled with unimaginable pain and rejection in order to reconcile all things to God.

We all face times of trial and temptation. NT Wright says, “It is a central part of Christian vocation to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, to distinguish them from the voice of God, and to use the simple weapons provided in Scripture to rebut the lies with truth.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone) As we face temptations in our own lives, we can be encouraged that we do not do this alone. God’s Spirit goes with us. We have been given Scripture to learn of God’s ways. And we have each other to lean on and encourage us as we face the wilderness.

May our times in the wilderness be rich in learning how to trust and humbly submit to God’s ways and calling in our lives.

In the words of a celtic morning prayer liturgy:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us

wherever He may send us.

May He guide us through the wilderness,

protect us through the storm.

May He bring us home rejoicing

at the wonders He has shown us

May He bring us home rejoicing

once again into our doors.

Sources Used:

  1. Luke for Everyone by Tom Wright
  2. Luke by Thomas W. Walker (Interpretation Bible Studies)
  3. The Message of Luke by Michael Wilcock (Bible Speaks Today)

Broken wings

February 19, 2015 1 comment

Photo on 2015-02-17 at 4.01 PM

Somethings are harder to talk about than others.

I have often claimed that it would be easier to talk about physical health problems than depression, abuse and various ways of coping with the inner and invisible pain that so many of us carry on a daily basis. I thought some words are more acceptable to say, that some struggles are more acceptable to acknowledge and that people would find it easier to respond to certain types of suffering that are more physical.

I was wrong.

physical health problems are not easier. just different.

In December, I was diagnosed with a low grade glioma (Brain tumour) deep in the brain. There were a few weeks when it was easier to talk about it. A diagnosis made my symptoms legit – I’m not making it up. It was so shocking to me that I needed to tell others.  I also wanted to invite others to pray.

but now people express concern and understanding and I want to talk about anything but physical stuff. I don’t want to accept my limitations. I struggle with chronic pain and exhaustion – but I want to keep up a pace that I’ve always known. I don’t mind people praying, but lately I’ve not wanted to talk about it.

this week I received copies of my MRI reports. The second one talked about increased problems though thankfully not an increase in hydrocephalus or the glioma.

but it also didn’t say that the glioma and hydrocephalus decreased or even disappeared.

Many people have prayed for that – many people including myself. I’ve had people say that as they pray they visualize it decreasing and others say they know that God wants to heal me. I’m typically skeptical of those remarks. But deep down, I hoped for this too. I’ve known miracles. I remember praying for one of my unborn siblings with our church community when a rather negative report came through the prenatal ultrasound. The next ultrasound astounded the physicians as nothing was wrong and a perfectly healthy looking baby presented himself. I know a number of cases in which people “got their miracle”. Many people praying and prayers answered in amazing ways.

But that didn’t happen for me. At least not yet and with God, there’s always a possibility that a miracle could happen when we least expect it. This is not new in my life – the hard way seems to be the path I must travel. I do believe strongly that God is not finished with me yet and so somehow the story is not over. Which means the glioma doesn’t win the day. But it’s still there. And a miracle has not happened to remove or shrink it.

I’ve been really bummed out about this.

Tonight, I was reminded of butterflies and how delicate their wings are. As they emerge from a cocoon, they struggle but you can’t take the struggle away and fix it for them because they will most likely die with interference. But even after they’ve emerged from the struggle, their wings remain delicate and damage to them would render them unable to fly in all their glory.

Martyn Joseph (one of my favourite singer/songwriters) has a way of speaking into my soul with words and melodies that carry healing and hold the inner parts of me.

I’m not very strong when it comes to this/ Deep in my heart I know it’s here/ Guess I’d rather wait until the morning/ Hope that it would bring a brighter sun/ Time has had a chance to do good healing/ I must take these pieces as they lie/ Offer them to You in my sadness/ I guess broken wings aren’t always meant to fly.

Oh I need you – more than I ever did before/ Oh how I need to hear Your voiceI will if I will listen to the lesson that you’re whispering/ Life is a painful journey/ But you knew so you took it for me long ago.

(Broken Wings)

I’m not very strong when it comes to what is happening in my brain – from depression to extra fluid to strange masses and cysts. I must take these pieces as they lie. And offer them to the One who laid down his life, knowing life is a painful journey.