Preparing for the Feast of Christmas…

The 16th of November – this is when the ancient Celtic church began observing Advent and Advent for them was a period of preparation, both inward and outward, for the Feast of Christmas.

David Baker of Dundee shares with us some thoughts as to how we might follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and prepare ourselves for the Feast of Christmas, lighting the way for others.

There is something very powerful in preparing for Christmas. The early Christian Scots knew this and spent time preparing themselves in various ways. One way was to remember all the back stories to the one Jesus story.
Over the weeks before Christmas itself they would tell stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and all the other men and women whose stories became part of the Jesus story.
As they told each story, they would draw a symbol of it and then hang each symbol on a tree. They called it a Jesse tree, after Jesse, the father of King David.

The most convenient way to prepare for Christmas today is to buy a pre-made Advent calendar. Each day we open a little door and take out a piece of chocolate. How different from the way our ancestors prepared themselves for such an important festival!

Perhaps it is time to reinvent the Celtic preparation and adapt it for today.

Encouraging Prayer
Why not make a list of 24 important people who have been part of your journey, people who have helped you to discover the real Jesus at the middle of the Christmas story? Write each name on a bit of paper and then throughout Advent take a name each day – pray for them and if you can, send a text or message to encourage them and share your Christmas joy.

Adventurous Generosity
Alternatively, we could turn the whole “chocolate for me” thing on its head and find 24 little things that you can easily give to somebody else as you prepare your own heart for Christmas. It could be small things – a sort of stocking filler – that can be given to someone you know or intentionally to a random stranger.
These little gifts can be really powerful and the gifts I have been given through the year keep reminding me to pray for the people who gave them to me (A Canadian gemstone and a silver coin are just two of those things that came my way during this year).

If being that prepared is not easy for you – another way would be to set yourself 24 challenges, one for each day. Simple things like buying someone a coffee, letting someone in a hurry cut in front of you, making sure you say thanks to someone who would normally get ignored (like the people who pick up litter).

Get started
Christmas is going to creep up on us, whether we are ready or not. These ideas are ways to prepare well.
Why not give it a go this year?

About Silence…

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a sort of pilgrimage to the little village of Herrnhut, Germany and I learned something I will never forget about silence.

Our purpose for going to Herrnhut was to discern if there would be potential there to bring groups from the Order of the Mustard Seed for retreat and pilgrimage. Evelyn Underhill refers to retreat as ‘loitering with intent’, which in a sense was what we were doing.

Pilgrimage is a ‘symbolic acting out of an inward journey.’ And as we left behind us the beautiful bustling city of Vienna and the incredible yet intense full days of the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering, entering into the quiet, wide-open spaces of the Czech, I could feel my soul quieting.

Herrnhut is a special place for me. Deep friendships have been formed there in past years and never-to-be-forgotten encounters with the presence of Jesus have taken place there. So as we drove into the sleepy little village that Sunday night, I felt my internal ears turning towards Jesus with an undercurrent of anticipation

The next morning we set out to walk a lovely path called the Skulpturenpfad. It meanders through forest, beside ponds and small streams and across fields. And every now and then you come upon a fascinating sculpture (thus the name of the path), all the sculptures together telling the visual story of Zinzendorf and the Moravians of Herrnhut.

We had agreed to walk together in silence, giving God greater space to speak to us. Henri Nouwen says, “First, silence makes us pilgrims. Secondly, silence guards the fire within. Thirdly, silence teaches us to speak.”
And I have to say, this describes beautifully what I experienced in that time of silence.

If you ever have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with others, I can not recommend enough that you spend some of that pilgrimage in silence together!

The experience was profoundly moving and impacting. There came such a sense of deeper connection with one another as we journeyed together in silence, a connection that mere words can not create. I also experienced what is not new to me but what I always experience when out in nature on my own – that sense of deeper connection to and sharper awareness of the nature all around, as well as God’s presence and voice within.

But it was the sense of deep connection with the others in the silence that I found myself marvelling at.

Communication has always been important to me. Observing tensions between my parents, friends and colleagues over the years, I have always felt that so much hurt and misunderstanding could have been avoided by simple communication and honest chat.
And I love words. Words used well can inspire the imagination, bring peace, cause sudden laughter, influence perspective.

Being an introvert, I do however value those friends with whom I can sit in comfortable silence and it not be misunderstood.

But on Monday, the 8th of October, I discovered something precious about intentional silence within a group of people that goes beyond “comfortable”. This silence cultivates deep connection, a sort of communion of spirits, awareness of more than one another’s physical presence but awareness and recognition of one another at a soul and spirt level.
It makes me think about when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and John, still within the hidden place of his mother’s womb, responds in joy to the physical presence of Jesus carried in Mary’s belly. I think it’s what the Psalms describe as “deep calls unto deep.”

When we did speak again and began to share with one another our experiences, musings and revelations from the journey, I felt like I listened to each person more intently with greater openness of heart than maybe I typically would have. Because in the silence I felt like I had more fully met the real person within each of them – and they were beautiful.

Home – a Place of Encounter

Lisa Milner-Smith and her family made the decision last year to host a prayer room for their local area in their own home. Lisa shares their story here.

“In 2017 I was granted annual leave for the week after I had requested. I had a decision to make – to be offended or to believe that God must have a plan. I waited and then into my Facebook feed came the advert for the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering in Birmingham. It was going to take place in October during the week I had off!

Having been inspired by Pete Greig’s books, I had been searching for a prayer room and thought that perhaps if I went to this conference there would be one I could go along to there. So I booked a B&B, got a great deal on a train fare and looked forward to heading to Birmingham. I asked God for a companion at the place I was staying and for the opportunity to meet folk from Scotland who had the same vision. Sure enough, God provided another woman who was staying where I was staying, but it was remarkable just how many people I met who were either Scottish or living in Scotland! By the third person I introduced myself to, I began to realise this was no coincidence!

The culmination of all these Scottish encounters happened at the evening celebration held in a club. I was standing against a wall on my own and round the corner came a lady who asked if the auction had started yet… in a Scottish accent. She invited me to join her group and I found myself included in the Scottish contingent’s assignment to outdo everyone else in the denim jacket auction (this auction happens at every Gathering to raise funds for various individuals, communities and projects with the 24-7 Prayer family)!

Then on the way home I was even sitting at the same table as two other ladies who had been at the conference. It was obvious that God was encouraging me onwards.
A few weeks later I visited one of these ladies, Debbie Meehan who leads Prayer Spaces in Schools in Scotland, to see the space in her home that she sometimes allows her church to use as a prayer room. I was inspired and wondered aloud if I could convert the basement in our house to a prayer room. My family had come with me to see this prayer room and in that place together we felt that we could aim to hold a prayer room in our basement during the upcoming Easter week.
My prayer partner and her family helped with ideas and man power. We registered on the 24-7 Prayer website and started advertising. It took a while for people to sign up, but in the end I was overwhelmed by how many people came and were blessed.

‘We were indeed blessed. There was a very powerful presence of God and we could have stayed for ages. I didn’t know what would happen when I brought the children but they were also affected. If in half an hour we got so much from it I’ve no doubt your Easter must have been transformed. Please do keep on doing prayer rooms.’

‘God bless you and your household for opening your house for prayer this Holy Week to pray for our nation. I attended yesterday afternoon with my friend… His Presence was all around in that basement room. It was a precious time.’

‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience the peace and presence of God in your beautiful room of tranquillity. It was an awesome time of prayer and reflection.’

‘There was a great sense of peace and an “Open Heaven,” in the room. 
Early on Saturday I was asking the Lord for a Word to share on Easter 
Sunday in our Church, and He directed me to an unusual scripture which was perfect, this really blessed me. I spent most of the rest of the day developing it; but receiving the Word in the first place is the most important aspect and it came while I was in the prayer room in the middle of the night.’

My own family have also benefited from having access to the prayer room, both during that week and in the weeks following the event. We have all found ourselves in there spending time in God’s word and praying more than previously. It also brought together a number of the young folk in the church for a time of prayer and worship.
The highlight for me though was how the prayer room brought together folk from a number of different churches and how all who visited – Christian and those yet to encounter God – spoke of His presence in the place.

Lisa is a mid-wife living with her family of four in Renfrewshire. When asked if they would be doing another prayer room, they responded, “Roll on, Easter 2019!”

The Overflow

I have been going to the 24-7 Prayer annual Gatherings since 2008 and every time I am inspired, convicted, challenged, encouraged. Every time I come away with that warm glow that comes from deep, heart-to-heart chats with dear friends whom I only see once a year because we live in different nations, even different continents. And every year that list of friends grows significantly. This also means that I return home exhausted and bleary-eyed yet my soul is refreshed and my spirit strengthened.

The Overflow, 24-7 Prayer’s 2018 EuroGathering in Vienna, was no different. Yet something was different. There was a fullness this year that is hard to put into words. But with the help of some other Scots who were also there, I shall try.

 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” 2 Corinthians 5:18

When you look at the life, ministry, teaching and parables of Jesus I think there is one overarching theme, one word that summarises – reconciliation. What I see in the Great Story of Scripture is God’s longing and plan for the reconciliation of all things, especially relationships – relationship with Him, with one another and even ourselves.

And what we saw and experienced at #Vienna18 was an overflow of unity and reconciliation.

Lal Dhillon of Glasgow shares, “The thing that still stands out the most in my mind is the joy that I found in entering into prayer, worship and community with other Christians from diverse places. It was a real privilege to be part of the 24-7 family in such a real and authentic way.”

And Kenny Roy of Edinburgh shared how his wife Tricia and he felt such a part of it all, part of the family even though it was their first ever Gathering. “I suppose in some ways we were the odd ones out in that we aren’t directly involved in running a prayer room or the like, yet we didn’t ever feel left out. We felt welcomed in and valued and part of the wider 24-7 Prayer family. It was really special.”

There were times of reconciliation with ourselves and with God, where we were challenged and called back to the main vision – Jesus Himself. One of these challenges came on the final morning from Adam Heather and this statement I will not easily forget:

“We have always been a Presence people. Will we remain a Presence people? It’s hard to live sacrificial when you’re concerned with the superficial.”

There were times of encouragement and inspiration, where hope for the reconciliation of all things was reignited and renewed within us. “We hope from the future into the present and it gives us strength”– Pete Greig

But for me the most powerful reconciliation was represented in two particular evenings, alongside the beautiful partnership across the Gathering between 24-7 and the Austrian Catholic youth movement Loretto.

What God spoke on the Thursday evening resulted in an extended time of shared repentance, forgiveness, prayers of blessing and renewed commitment to one another as Protestants and Catholics. It was a stunning moment.

The Friday night in the Cathedral involved a beautiful flow and interweaving of the more contemplative, sensory, adoration style of worship and prayer of our Catholic family with the slightly more energetic, earnest, celebrative style that we would associate more with 24-7. And all this in the midst of many who had not yet met Jesus, watching the broken Body of Christ become one before their very eyes.

“…he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:20 – 23

Healey Rosweir from Edinburgh (originally from Northern Ireland) shares, “My highlight of the Gathering was the resounding cry for unity – seeing the reconciliation I’ve always wanted to see in action and within that, seeing the glimmer of the Kingdom of God!

Over those 4 days we experienced a portion of the fullness of God that exists only where the Body of Jesus enters into the ministry of reconciliation with Him and we allow Him to build us “together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:14-22).

And this is just the beginning.

If you want to make certain you don’t miss next year’s Gathering, which will be hosted in Belfast, then good news – early bird tickets are already on sale! Maybe even consider giving someone a ticket as a Christmas gift. Click here for more information.