Advent Rhythms

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Christmas. A time of festivity, of celebration. A time of reflection, peace and love. A time of joy, of lights sparkling in the darkness – like the eyes of children sparkle with wonder at it all. A time of gathering in as family and friends, of slowing down and remembering again with awe the powerful yet gentle beauty of the Christmas story.

At least, in an ideal world this is what Christmas is. Somewhere in the recesses of our minds and hearts we all sense that this is the real “spirit” of Christmas and if we’re honest, it’s what our hearts long for.
But for many of us (dare I say most of us), this is rarely our experience of the Christmas season. Lulled into a false sense of what Christmas is about by the songs of the advertisers and marketers, we work harder, longer to have that extra “Christmas gift money” and we stress and scrimp and save or give in to the stress and enter into debt, that debt then hanging over us like a dark cloud. Then all the parties start – and there is the pressure to be at every one.

Our church diaries only add to the burden as our diaries are suddenly filled to bursting with Advent services and carol services and Nativity programs and Christmas concerts and charity fund-raisers and Christmas banquets for the less fortunate. And we feel the weight of expectation to be at every single one, often because we are the ones doing the organising and serving. And we say it’s all for our community, our town or city so that they can experience the light, peace and hope of Jesus at Christmas, which of course makes us feel even more guilty if we’re not present at everything and that we are secretly feeling anything but full of peace and hope.
We begin to feel an unconscious pressure and responsibility to be the Messiah, forgetting He has already come, and we are meant to be celebrating that very thing.

Somehow, especially when I read the verse above, I don’t think this is how Jesus would want us to celebrate His birthday.

What could it look like this Christmas to change the pace and rhythm of our lives? What if rather than flying through this Advent season, with all the joy and wonder becoming simply a blur and falling exhausted the other side of Christmas, we chose to intentionally lean into and journey slowly through Advent?
What if we chose to draw close to Jesus’s side and journey through this season in step and rhythm with Him, allowing Him to lead us and teach us how? He didn’t say we wouldn’t work, He just said to walk and work with Him, to learn “unforced rhythms of grace.” And the wording here is key – for He doesn’t say work “for” Him, He says “walk and work with Me.”

I have personally felt both challenged and inspired by my Father who is so kind and so wise to very intentionally live differently this Advent season, to really lean into all that it means and to pause and celebrate. I invite you to respond to that challenge with me.

This Christmas, let’s stop trying be in step with the culture around us, stop responding to the songs of the marketers & advertisers, stop trying to be the Messiah to our families, friends, communities, towns and cities. And instead, let’s allow Jesus to be all that He came to be and join in with His rhythms, fall into step with Him, allow Him to open our eyes and hearts once again to the fullness and wonder of this Advent season, that we might then invite others to step into the light, hope and joy of Him with us.

To help with this, 24-7 Prayer has created another one of their fantastic video podcast series to take us on a journey through Advent. It is called The Selah Series: Volume II, for in Scripture Selah is to pause, to be still.
Join us in taking 60 seconds each weekday morning to be still in the midst of this Advent, dwelling on what it means that the arrival of Jesus is Good News. And Great Joy. For All People.

Beginning the 1st December, you can join in with the series by downloading on iTunes and on the 24-7 Prayer website. Alternatively, catch each episode each morning on 24-7 Prayer’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Name Above All Names

Recently in Whiteinch CofS, we have been exploring what it means to build rhythms of prayer into our congregation. This has resulted in us coming together to pray across 24 hours once a month.

Our community is about to plant a church in the East End of Glasgow, and as part of this we have been praying into unity and what it means for love to cover all, as in 1 Peter 4:8.

As we prayed for love and understanding, many felt called to pray for social justice. This began with a graffiti canvas set in a corner of the prayer room. One person said that they found this prompt very helpful to ask the question “What does it look like to love and pray for the brokenness in the world?”.

As we were stirred to pray into areas of brokenness, people began to declare freedom from addiction, homelessness, poverty, human trafficking, inequality, domestic violence, pornography, mental health and loneliness. These declarations are bigger than Whiteinch, Glasgow and Scotland as we believe that this freedom is available for all and that the freedom God brings is complete, as stated in John 8:38 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”.

In this, we found that the prayer room had become not only a prompt for bold declarations of freedom, but also a place where God was speaking to us as we chose to be vulnerable and step into His presence. The prayer room had become a place of tears, shouting, joy, dancing, resting and singing. A place where people meet with the Holy Spirit, share their hurt, write some requests for prayer and share their own breakthroughs.

One testimony stands out. A lady shared with us, “The last time I was in the prayer room God told me that He was bringing me into a new season of identity and helping me discover who I am in Christ.” Since then, she has been on a journey of God touching her heart and reaffirming her identity. Her communication with God didn’t stop in the prayer room.

So, if God doesn’t stop in the prayer room, what happens when we leave? When we step into God’s presence we are marked. We are challenged. We are shaped. As our hunger for prayer and intimacy with God grows, so does our heart for justice. As we believe that God is the name above all names, we begin to realise the joy and privilege it is to be used by God.

As we move forward, we are beginning to ask questions – how do we integrate prayer and justice? How does our youth work, our days in our jobs, school, college, shopping with our friends reflect our intimate space with God?

We are currently looking at extending our monthly “prayer room time” as it continues to fill up quickly; but it will always be important to remember that it’s not about the room, the lights, the paint or the words, it’s about God. It will always be about God. As God is, always has been and always will be the name above all names.

This story was brought to us by Rachel Dhillon. Rachel is married to Lal, has a wisdom beyond her young years of 23, deeply loves her city of Glasgow and carries a passion to see the Church praying and walking together in unity.

Scotland Goes to The Gathering…

It’s a good three weeks since we all returned from Birmingham for The Gathering, this year’s annual 24-7 Prayer gathering, and I find myself still processing all that God was doing and speaking, in my own heart, and to us as a movement.

The theme of our time together was the “Upside Down Kingdom”, with teaching and challenge brought to us from those who are living it, so maybe it’s a small wonder that I’m still processing, as well as still inspired and encouraged.

A definite highlight for me, as always, was seeing friends from around the globe and hearing what God is teaching them personally and what He is doing through their lives in their communities. From sitting on a sunny step and eating a Boots meal deal lunch with friends from Iceland; to hearing Ralf from Neubrandenberg, Germany share from the stage what God is doing on their housing estate The Datzeberg and then being mobbed by those wanting to pray for him and the Polylux community; to hearing Daniel & Rachel from China share about their year of preparation to take their Order of the Mustard Seed vows and how the process of preparation restored their deep love for those they are ministering to; to watching our very own Carla Harding be commissioned in her new role of 24-7 Prayer GB director! Being part of this global family is so precious to me, where lifestyles and cultures and languages are so different yet our hearts are melded together by Jesus, the One who is still the main Vision.

There were several big takeaways for me but the common theme throughout them all was around hope, learning to dream big again, to pray the audacious prayers again and to not carry a burden of responsibility for those dreams and hopes, but to simply “go with God”, the One who really does the work, who truly has the power to transform lives and who is a joyful God whose happiness is not dependant on me and what I do. How freeing!

A definite highlight for us as the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team was that for the first time ever, our entire team was together at The Gathering! And if our calculations are correct, there would have been around 50 or more Scots present at The Gathering this year – more than any other year since Edinburgh hosted The Gathering in 2010!

We would have loved to have tried to track down everyone who was there and hear their testimonies to share here with you but it would have taken far too long. So here are a just a few, and hopefully it will give you a glimpse into what God was doing and speaking amongst us as a 24-7 Prayer family.

“A big highlight for me was having space with no distractions to focus in on God, to be with Him and listen to what He was saying. And my big takeaway – Jesus says ‘I will build my church’ and asks us to ‘make disciples’.” Ruth Hagan, Orkney, 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team

“A highlight for me was the space to worship God filled with a group of people who were passionate about His presence and hearing His voice! And one big take away was around my own leadership – learning to acknowledge areas where I project onto others, helping to identify my own shadow so that I don’t allow it to negatively impact how I lead those around me!” Zak Robb, Worship Pastor at Central Church, Edinburgh

“We went to The Gathering for the first time as a church leadership team, and one highlight for me was definitely the flow of prayer, prophecy and praise each time we gathered – so life giving and naturally supernatural. It seemed like God was doing something remarkable in every nation, and I was so encouraged at the sense of His Church on the move all over the earth! There were so many challenging messages and calls to action, but I was really impacted by Danielle Strickland’s message on ‘mountains and mustard seeds’. This explained the tension of life and ministry in the Kingdom so well, we all carry a huge vision but it must be worked out in our ‘mustard seed’ actions of faith every day. The Gathering also dropped so many gold nuggets in our laps as a leadership team, of vision and direction that we had already been sensing all year – being intentional in our discipleship with just a few people (like Jesus), gathering around tables, being vulnerable and accountable – so many Holy Spirit confirmations for us to take home was fantastic!” Simon Dennis, Pastor at Sheddocksley Baptist Church, Aberdeen

The final highlight we want to share is related to the above photo. At every gathering, we have an evening of insane generosity where items that have been donated by individuals and communities for this very purpose, are auctioned off for ridiculous amounts and the money goes to several causes within the 24-7 Prayer movement. The auction theme this year was denim jackets and 24-7 Prayer Scotland had the joy of seeing our amazing, hand-stitched, outrageously creative, Scottish-themed denim jacket be sold along with some others for the sum total of £7,000 so that our dear friends in Manenberg, South Africa can create a lovely home for young women who are in vulnerable situations and need help getting their lives together and set back on a path that leads to life. The jacket is being modelled in this photo by a friend from Sweden who loves Scotland! Just another small glimpse into the love and generosity within this truly international family of prayer, mission and justice!

Following Jesus

Sam Rae from Aberdeen shares with us the impact that quality discipleship while living in authentic community has had on his life. He is currently working as the Youth & Children’s Intern at Emmaus Rd in Guildford.

At one point or another we all have to make choices that we don’t feel ready to make. Whether it’s what sandwich you want for lunch or what to do when you leave school – making choices can be stressful.

When I was deciding what to do upon finishing school, it felt like I was being pulled in a hundred different directions – go to university, study this, study that, apply for an apprenticeship. It felt like whatever decision I ended up making would have a major impact on the rest of my life.

Throughout the whole process I was desperate to follow God’s plan, yet it felt like He had left me high and dry in my time of need. I was stressed out and everyone around me knew it. I was told again and again “God will reveal His plan to you piece by piece” but it felt like God wasn’t giving anything away.
University deadlines were just around the corner and to say I was feeling stressed was an understatement. It was in the peak of my stress that I came across this quote,
It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” —Jim Rohn

This quote freed me to make a decision and to stop worrying about which specific direction God wanted me to take. God goes with us wherever we go. Whichever choice I made, God was going to come with me.

I chose to take a gap year. As cliché as it may sound, I wanted to devote my year to finding God and discovering my identity in Christ. Nowadays there are so many different gap year programmes that help people do exactly that but I chose to do 24-7 Prayer’s The Vision Course.

It claimed to be “5 months of radical discipleship and personal growth – laying foundations of biblical knowledge, cross-cultural mission, character development and, of course, prayer.” And that’s exactly what it did.

I grew more in that 5 months on the course than I ever had before. I was learning about authentic community first-hand; being loved and cared for by people desperate to see me grow. I was being stretched more than I thought possible. I was giving my time and talents to God. And learning to truly lean on Him gave me a confidence that people had never seen in me before. The saying ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called’ is true and my life is a testimony to that.

Growing in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word allowed us as students to follow Him with a greater passion whilst also laying a solid foundation of basic theology.

I would urge anyone reading this that if you want to grow more than you have ever before and be championed by some amazing leaders then check out THE VISION COURSE.