28.9.22: Honest prayer

Context: This blog had a rather unusual start in life. It began to arrive just as I was about to leave my hotel room early yesterday morning to walk the short distance to London City Airport. The words I was given were clearly an ending, so I hastily jotted them down, then set off, thinking no more about them.

At the airport, I had a very welcome breakfast, went to my gate and boarded the plane. Just as we were taking off, the beginning of this blog arrived, so I had to repeat it in my mind until the plane levelled out and I could reach for my iPad. By the time we landed, the first draft was largely complete. This is what I received: 

You desire honesty from the womb (Psalm 51:6; NLT).

Introduction

I often find it impossible to say “Amen” to other people’s prayers, to join in with printed responses during services, and to sing congregational hymns. This is because:

  • I don’t agree with what is being asked for, or said.
  • A prayer or hymn doesn’t speak for me, or doesn’t express what is in my heart at the time.
  • The language used is formal, grand or flowery: that’s not how I talk to God.
  • The prayers or hymns are too long for me to take in, or to make my own.
  • The person leading the prayers speaks so quietly that I can’t tell what they are saying.
  • The prayers are said so impersonally, or so quickly, that they seem devoid of meaning.

My aims

Reflecting on these reservations helped me to draw up a list of personal aims:

  • To pray because I want to, rather than because I think I ought to.
  • To pray for those who come to mind, rather than working my way through a list of those I feel I should include.
  • Not saying “Amen” to prayers I don’t agree with, instead quietly sharing with God that I don’t concur.
  • Not joining in with hymns whose words don’t speak for me.
  • Not ignoring, overriding, hiding, or suppressing my hurts, irritations, disappointments, anger, judgements, fears etc. Rather, I aim to be honest about them, facing their truth squarely with God, who knows exactly what is in my mind and heart.
  • Not pretending to feel other than how I actually feel. Rather, I aim pray about how I’m really feeling, and what I’m really thinking.
  • Not saying what I think God wants to hear.
  • Facing up to things I’ve got wrong and asking God to help me put them right.
  • Avoiding grand or flowery language, instead praying simply and honestly, like a child.
  • Not worrying about how short or long my prayers are, as long as they’re honest, genuine and heartfelt.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I aim to follow my golden rule:

Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).


References 

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me (Psalm 139:1; NLT). 

As for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts (Jeremiah 12:3; NLT). 

You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord (Psalm 139:4; NLT).


Today’s reading: Matthew 6:7-13; NLT

When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles. They think God will hear them if they use a lot of words. Don’t imitate them. Your God knows what you need before you ask it.

This is how you are to pray: ‘Abba God in heaven, hallowed be your name! May your reign come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: give us today the bread of Tomorrow.

And forgive us our debts, as we hereby forgive those who are indebted to us. Don’t put us to the test, but free us from evil.’

NB: I can say “Amen” to this without reservation, apart from disliking some of the punctuation!

Infinite love

Context: Yesterday, after the briefest of waking-up prayers, I wrote solidly from 6-8.30am. By then I had more or less completed “Golden light” (https://wp.me/p45bCr-bR3), which later became the day’s blog. It was time to get up, but I decided to take a moment to pray before going downstairs. However, I had barely begun to collect my thoughts when I was hit by a series of revelations.

By the time they came to an end, I was shaken, tearful, joyful, reeling and awed, because I had just been given a glimpse of God’s infinite love and omnipresence. I had made some notes, but have no idea whether I wrote them during, or just after, what happened.

The experience was like watching slow-motion ripples spreading out wider and wider after a single drop of water had fallen into a vast, motionless sea. What I saw is very difficult to express in words, but I will do my best to describe each ripple in turn.

1. All love comes from God
I perceived that whenever I receive love, whether from a person or an animal, that love always comes from God, who is present within the one who is loving me.

2. God is in everything
Next, I grasped that God’s loving presence is in all that exists on earth, including everything made by people, as well as by God.

3. God is in good and bad
Then, I understood that God’s loving presence is not restricted to good people, creatures and things. Rather, divine love is equally present in difficult people, creatures, circumstances and events, including accidents, sickness, suffering, fear, grief and disaster – that is: all life and death.

4. God is in the cosmos
After this, I realised that everything in the cosmos also contains God’s loving presence, including the planets, suns, stars, comets, galaxies and even the dust of space.

Comment
Thus, I learned that divine love is present in everything, here and now, without exception. It has always been so, and always will be so, yet, like Jacob on his journey to Harran, I had not recognised this (see Genesis 28:16-17; NIV). As I write, I’m still shaking my head in wonderment at what I saw, yet there was more to come.

5. God is in all
Following this, I glimpsed that God’s loving presence can also be found in ugliness, destruction, abuse, violence and sin, though this is very hard to put into words. However much human beings damage and despoil the divine image in people, creatures, objects and creation, God’s love is still present in all things. Seeing this helped me to understand a little more about how God is able to bring good out of bad (see Romans 8:28; NLT).

Furthermore, I saw that there are no exceptions to God’s loving omnipresence. This means that there is nothing I can…

See, hear, smell, taste, or touch;
Use, waste, neglect, ignore, break, or discard;
Feel, think, say, or do;
Judge, hate, or destroy,

…that isn’t filled to overflowing with God’s loving presence.

6. Living in heaven
Lastly, I saw that when I consciously and fully recognise God’s constant, loving presence everywhere, and in all things, I live in God, which means living in heaven on earth. Similarly, after death, I will live in God, in heaven. Thus, I perceived that whether I live or die, oneness with God is the same.

Conclusion
God is present
in all people, creatures, things, experiences and events, everywhere and forever, and God is love (1 John 4:16; NIV).

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6; NLT).


References 

There is one Lord …who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).

Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).

In darkness

Context: When I woke up yesterday, I said the Lord’s Prayer, closed my eyes again, and continued to pray, using very few words. This went on in darkness for some minutes, until I was suddenly flooded with bright, golden light. Then today’s prayer started to flow. It was a wrench to open my eyes and start writing, but I knew it was essential, for the words would otherwise disappear as quickly as they arrived. 

My expectation is that only when I’m dying will I see this wonderful light and not need to break off to write. From that moment onwards there will be no more need for words: I will simply be absorbed into God’s brilliant, beautiful, infinite light, peace and love.


Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.
(Micah 7:8; NLT).

Yahweh,
When I sit in darkness,
You re-fill me with your light,
And, when I am weak and weary,
You restore me with your might.

Jesus,
When I’m stressed and anxious,
You refresh me with your peace,
And, when I am judged and censured,
Your protection does not cease.

Spirit,
When I’m sad and lonely,
You surround me with your love,
And, when I must leave this world,
You’ll bear my soul to heaven above.

Threefold God,
My source, my goal,
My Father, Mother, kith and kin,
You are here, and live forever –
All around me, and within.

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
(Job 33:4; NLT). 

The dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV). 

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
(1 John 4:16; NIV).

When my mind is closed

They have closed their minds and hardened their hearts
(Ephesians 4:18; NLT).

Yahweh,
When my mind is closed,
Remind me how, when Jesus rose,
He came to Mary, and to those
Who trusted.

Yahweh,
When my heart is hard,
Please show me how my way is barred
By prejudice; your face, marred
By my judgements.

Yahweh,
When I start to preach,
May I remember what you teach:
Love everyone, and help me reach
Your standard.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).


References 

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12; NIV). 

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; NLT).

Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).

Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; NLT).

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26; NIV).

What is prayer?

We do not know how to pray as we ought.
(Romans 8:26; NRSV).

You desire honesty from the womb (Psalm 51:6; NLT).

Prayer is sharing every thought,
Sensation, feeling, word and deed
With God.

Prayer is sharing all our weakness,
Judgement, sin and selfishness
With God.

Prayer is sharing stillness, silence,
Darkness, need and loneliness
With God.

Prayer is sharing all our joys and sorrows,
Pain, fear, life and death
With God.

Prayer is listening, trusting, loving –
Facing all we undergo
With God.

Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4; KJV).


References 

Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV).

Pray about everything (Philippians 4:6; NLT).

Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge (Psalm 62:8; NLT).

Through judging (#1 of 3)

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you (Luke 6:37; NLT).

You will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged (Matthew 7:2; NLT). 

Through judging others, Lord,
We judge ourselves.

Condemning others,
We condemn ourselves;

For when we criticise
And sneer,

We never stop to think,
Or fear

That, hating them,
We also hate ourselves.

You are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NLT).

At last they will hate themselves for all their detestable sins (Ezekiel 6:9; NLT). 

Entrusted with suffering

1. Introduction

We come into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. Along the way, we experience many joys, trials and sorrows. God gives us everything we have, but he also takes things away from us. Thus, he tests us to see how we freely respond.  This process reveals whether or not we love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.

No one is exempt from being tested by suffering, including Christ. This is why he is able to suffer with us, whilst helping us to find and follow his way of love through every experience. Jesus’ life and death clearly demonstrate that God brings good out of even the most terrible suffering, and the same can also be true for us.

2. Suffering 

When others suffer, we pray that they will be strengthened, helped, and healed. Additionally, we can ask God to bring good from what they are undergoing, both for the sufferer, and for others.

However, when we ourselves must suffer, Jesus invites us to shoulder our cross and follow him. This means we have a choice about how to respond to our situation.

3. Responses to suffering 

A. We may respond to suffering with resentment, anger, bitterness or despair, blaming God for the troubles he has sent us. If suffering makes it impossible for us to maintain our previous understanding of God, we are likely to become disillusioned, rejecting him, and perhaps even losing our faith altogether. Yet such inner struggles can be healed, because God endlessly waits for us to turn to him, longing to help us reach a deeper understanding of him, and of our suffering.

B. Alternatively, we can respond to suffering by learning to face, accept and even welcome it, seeing it as a way of sharing in the redemptive suffering of Christ. By adopting this approach, we can focus on asking God to help us embrace what we must undergo, for it is useless to fight against his will. As above, we can also pray that God will bring good from our suffering, especially for others. Such an attitude might take many years to develop, but we have our whole lifetime to work on it, until our last breath.

4. Entrusted with suffering

Suffering is not imposed on us without purpose. Rather we are entrusted with a level of suffering that is commensurate to the strength of our faith. Like Jesus, our task is to face it in such as way as to be an example, an encouragement and an inspiration to others. This is how God brings good from it, often in very unexpected ways.

5. Suffering as an opportunity 

Suffering can therefore be understood as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth, a form of service, a privilege, a blessing, an honour and a glory. Such an approach gives rise to a much more positive attitude than seeing it as a random or unfair event, a judgement, or a punishment. We can thank God for it, doing our very best to endure and manage our suffering with patience and love. This approach brings peace of mind, for we can be confident that our approach to suffering will help others, and even ourselves. In this way, suffering is transformed and made meaningful, becoming easier live with, and to bear.

6. Conclusion

Whatever trials and sorrows we face, we can turn to God and ask for his help. Summoning all our courage, we can choose to trust in him, whilst being as joyful, prayerful, thankful and loving as possible. When we have faith that God will support and teach us through all we experience, we can be assured that our suffering will, in time, bear fruit.

God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (Genesis 41:52; NIV).

References

1. Introduction

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB).

The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; NLT).

Whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free (James 2:12; NLT). 

He did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32; NLT). 

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested (Hebrews 2:18; NLT).

I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6; NLT).

In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT). 

Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood (Hebrews 13:12; NLT).

In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

2. Suffering 

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1; NLT). 

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24; NLT).

3. Responses to suffering

A. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? (Psalm 22:1; NLT).

The Lord longs to be gracious to you (Isaiah 30:18; NIV).

The Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion (Isaiah 30:18; NLT).

B. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10; NIV).

If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).

It is useless for you to fight against my will (Acts 26:14; NLT).

You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14; NET). 

It’s foolish to fight against me! (Acts 26:14; CEV). 

If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT).

Submit to God and be at peace with him (Job 22:21; NIV).

God teaches people through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes (Job 36:15; GNT). 

Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last (Luke 23:46; NLT).

4. Entrusted with suffering

From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48; NIV). 

Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13; GNT).

God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you (1 Peter 2:21; CEV).

5. Suffering as an opportunity 

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation (James 1:12; NLT).

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10; NIV). 

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more (John 15:2; NLT). 

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4; NIV).

6. Conclusion 

Trust in God (John 14;1; NLT).

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NLT).

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:2; NLT).


 

Always with me (#3 of 3)

The Lord is always with me.
(Psalm 16:8; NLT).

Jesus,
You are always with me:
Lord, may I remain in you,
Then you’ll share this fragile body,
And I’ll find my strength in you.

Jesus,
You are always with me:
Lord, may I confide in you,
Then you’ll heal my foolish judgements,
And I’ll grow much more like you.

Jesus,
You are always with me:
Lord, may I hold fast to you,
Then you’ll light my inner darkness,
And I’ll safely follow you.

Jesus,
You are always with me:
Lord, may I love all, like you,
Then we’ll live as one, forever,
You in me, and I in you.

💛

The person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
(1 Corinthians 6:17; NLT).

You are in me, and I am in you.
(John 14:20; NIV). 

 


 

Nothing can prepare us

They will see his face
(Revelation 22:4; NLT).

Nothing can prepare us, Lord,
For when we see your face:
Shining like the sun with love,
With mercy, truth, and grace.

Nothing can prepare us, Lord,
For when we meet your eyes,
Which blaze with your consuming fire:
All-seeing; holy; wise.

Nothing can prepare us, Lord,
For when we hear your voice
Declaring judgement on our lives:
Each fault; each sin; each choice.

💙

We must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body
(2 Corinthians 5:10; NLT). 

They chose to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin (Psalm 106:43; NLT).