Stoking the Fire

Have you ever spent some time around a fire, maybe even been the one responsible for keeping it burning? I love an open fire, be it a fireplace in a home or a campfire out in the wilderness.

If you are familiar with fires at all, you will understand a bit of what it takes to bring one back from just warm coals to hot, vibrant flames. It usually involves some sort of air – your breath or possibly bellows – and often some sort of device to “stoke” the fire, whether it be a long stick or a proper fire iron.

This is what Heart Fire was for me – a stirring the coals into vibrant flames. Some bits were like a gentle, steady breath, some bits were like the strong bursts of air from bellows and some were like a fire iron – stoking places that needed something to get underneath what was blocking the air and move it.

Today Muddy Pearl released Heart Fire for its first publication in English – and I am so glad.
The author, Johannes Hartl, has dared to go to places many of us ‘Westerners’ would think twice about visiting and has learned from God and from the people in those places. All in search of one thing really – the heart of God. And the result is that he has learned, experienced and received revelation which he shares in this book, bringing both a unique perspective and a greater fullness and depth to this topic of prayer than you will find in most any other book on prayer.

What comes through every chapter is the one thing that seems to define the life and heart message of Johannes – a fascination with the person of Jesus and a reckless, abandoned love for Him.

From that life-altering moment in 1998 that Jesus gave me greater heart revelation about prayer through till now in this full-time role with 24-7 Prayer, my life has revolved largely around the topic of prayer.
I spend most waking moments of most days thinking about prayer, talking about prayer, writing about prayer, teaching on prayer, developing training around prayer, mentoring in prayer leadership etc.
And I have become very aware as of late that I spend more time “about” prayer than actually praying myself. I have also become very aware as of late that even the time I have taken to intentionally spend in silence and solitude has been more about trying to be a good leader and model something that I believe to be important, rather than a deep desire to hang out with Jesus. My heart has felt more like a bed of warm coals than a fire that burns strong and hot.

So it was statements from Johannes like these below that has re-centred my focus and more importantly, re-centred my heart:
“…it is not our own determination, but rather a gaze fixed on Jesus that keeps the fire of prayer burning…
The source of Christian life is a fascination with Jesus.”
“Praying means learning to love. And there is no love without attentiveness and being fully present.”

I was also reminded and encouraged to start praying bold and audacious prayers again. I was reminded that God truly desires and can transform a community, a city, a nation through the persistent prayers of His people. I was reminded that the vision in my heart to see the Church coming together in prayer comes straight from the heart of Jesus as reflected in John 17 and that:
“Only in praying together will we find the power to overcome the divisions in our hearts…”
and that
“If God increasingly calls His church back to prayer, it will also be a call that we pray in unity..”

Ultimately, I am reminded that prayer is, always has been and always will be, about love for Jesus Himself and that:
“In the long term, God’s concern is not that we become a little bit more devout. He has nothing else in mind than the complete transformation of our hearts.

Today, the coals in my heart have been stoked and a vibrant fire is returning. And my deepest longing once again is that what defines my life and what motivates every aspect of my life would be an extravagant, reckless abandon kind of love for Jesus.

Maybe you can relate? Maybe the demands and pressures, disappointments and curveballs of life have left you feeling like your heart contains more of a bed of coals than a thriving fire. If so, I would encourage to give Johannes’ book a read and invite the Holy Spirit to breathe through the pages into your coals. He always accepts those invitations!

You can find Heart Fire at muddypearl.com.

It Started With A Question

Some exciting things are happening, not just across the world, but in our own beautiful nation of Scotland!
Hearts are being stirred, desiring time in God’s presence, desiring prayer and desiring greater unity in the Church and this growing desire has caused houses of prayer to begin forming across the UK.

David Baker in Dundee has been one of those whose desire for more of God’s presence and for the more of God to be seen in his city has compelled him to begin what could possibly be one of the greatest adventures of his life.

‘It started with a question, or rather two questions:
1) “What is in your hand?”
and
2) “What is God doing in your city?”

I was talking with Crystal after having spent two years trying to get a missional community going in Dundee, and in a remarkable way God was in those questions.
The first was perhaps the easiest to answer – in any obvious sense there was nothing in my hand! Humanly speaking, after two years of chasing every opportunity I could think of, I was at a dead end. However, as I turned the question over in my mind, God began reminding me that He was the one who had called me to Scotland, He had prompted me to build something around a rhythm of prayer – so maybe God was gently nudging me to pray.

As the reality that just maybe there was something in my hand began to sink in, I began making connections across the city. One church had turned a cupboard into a prayer room, a few had been part of various 24-7 prayer weeks, another church had a new pastor who was passionate about prayer. So over a number of months I began making the connections, joining the dots, and seeing what would happen.

In less than a year something had amazingly come together! “Prayer Space Dundee” was given an incredible prayer space in an old monastery, a place where just walking into the room brought (and still brings) a sense that this is a place that has been prayed in. We have over the months now created a rhythm of early morning prayer each weekday in this space.

Around the city there are ten churches and ministries who regularly pray and we have been able to make the connections, championing each gathering on our website. While each prayer gathering is, in many ways, the same, something is stirring. People turn up to join in with others who are praying and as God speaks, there are themes emerging and promises being given.

One of the big promises that we are praying into is that God would rewrite the destiny of the city. Many people know, and quote, the three things that Dundee is famous for – “Jute, Jam, and Journalism” – and then reflect with sadness that two of the three industries are gone. As we prayed we sensed that rather than looking back in regret we should look forward to what God is building here – God is igniting hope in a city that has suffered with a bad reputation for decades. We felt that God wants to rewrite what we are famous for as “Jesus, Justice and Joy”.

Over the past few weeks the unexpected has begun to surprise us. Dundee topped the Lonely Planet “Great Places to Visit” list, and outranked some pretty funky places in the “”Best Places to Live list!

From having nothing and heading nowhere really, God has begun to gather a movement of prayer in Dundee. We are excited to see who He will encounter next and where our prayers will take us!’

David has worked with churches and charities all his adult life. He has served as a Baptist minister and a New Frontiers pastor but has a passion for the people who don’t come to church. David and his wife Sarah lead the Prayer Space Dundee initiative.

Creating Space…

Two weeks ago on the blog we looked at meeting with God in the midst of disruptions and distractions, when we don’t have the “space” we are used to having to connect with Him.

Something I have been challenged around recently is how at times I feel lacking in that “space” I crave yet there are some things I can do to create space by re-examining the little daily habits that have become subversively entrenched in the way I live my life.

In 24-7 Prayer, we talk about “rhythms” and “spiritual practices” that aid us in our connection with God. These practices are, in a way, healthy habits that can displace the unhealthy habits.

Recently my friend Jill Weber shared a paper she wrote around the “Practice of Unplugging” in relation to the technological world, specifically social media. And I was reminded once again the time and “space” that technology tends to take up in my life, that very same space that I crave to have with God but think I don’t have.
Jill’s article was the first time I had heard of Unplugging in the context of a spiritual practice and I appreciated her insight that has come out of her own personal journey, so I thought I would share a bit of it here with all of you.
May you be inspired and challenged like I was!

‘The first thing I noticed when I abstained from online interactions at the beginning of my day was that I felt fundamentally disoriented.
I wanted to check my schedule for the day.
I wanted to check the weather.
I wanted to check the news.
I wanted to check my bank accounts (I was waiting for a money transfer).
And of course, my email and social media feeds. Not to respond to them, of course – but to just see what was there….
Without those things I felt adrift and out of joint.
I was reminded of a class in Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community, where Ruth talked about God as our Primary Orienting Reality. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus says in John 18:36. This led me to ask myself the question – why am I turning to my technology to orient me to reality? What is the reality that shapes my life anyways? Weather? Money? Emails? Facebook likes?
What does it look like for me to acknowledge God to be my Chief Orienting Reality and to choose at the beginning of my day to orient myself to His Presence and His purpose in the world? What happens when I start my day with Him in gratitude and worship, when my reality is defined by the manifestation of His goodness and His generosity towards me, by His very presence and nature? Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus’ own practice of retiring to lonely places to pray and align Himself to the Father as His Chief Orienting Reality…

Several years ago I was part of a North American consultation on New Monasticism. Practitioners, educators and writers from across the continent gathered to prayer about discuss how to resource, enrich and connect the movement. Their solution? Not books, email newsletters, facebook groups, but pilgrimage. Actually travelling to visit one another, and immersing into each other’s contexts and practices. Face to face, without the use of any technology. I have found this to be true myself. Just recently I went to Gothenburg, Sweden to visit a cluster of members of our Order. That visit has created a sense of kinship and relational cohesiveness that emails and FaceTimes could never replicate.
The Apostle’s Paul and John used writing, the technology of the day, for the advancement of the Gospel. Interestingly enough, Socrates was highly suspicious of writing as a medium of formation:
Socrates expressed concern about the technology of writing. He believed that learning in dialogue was the key to helping people grow in wisdom, and he worried that writing would make people knowledgeable, but it would fail to make them wise. Socrates was so worried about the damage that writing could cause that he never wrote any of his own ideas down.

Although John was willing to write, he asserts that writing (dissemination of information through technology) was no substitute for embodied presence.
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 12.
In 3 John 12–13, he repeats the same idea:
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.”

Of course we see this demonstrated in life of Jesus. The Word who became flesh – embodied and moved into our neighborhood.
So is practicing embodied presence an effective antidote to disembodied virtual reality and it’s inherit heart hungers and disordered desires? I believe so, and am committed to expanding my practice of embodied presence to those in my “networks.”

…I would love to report that I have thrust my unhealthy attachment to virtual connection from my life, but sadly I cannot. Some days I’m able to keep my devices offline until I’m done praying. Other times I’m twitchy and itchy and find myself running out of willingness…

I’m still in the de-habituation and disorientation stage, but committed to continue to grow in my practice. I expect that the way forward into a more consistent practice of unplugging is to bolster my discipline of abstinence with a more hearty commitment to the practices of orientation, discernment, and embodied presence.’

Rhythms Disrupted

We are trying something new and once or twice a month bringing some teachings/thoughts/experiences and even discussion around prayer as well as the usual stories.
We hope you enjoy and are encouraged, inspired and challenged. Let us know what you think and we would love to hear what aspects of prayer you have questions about, struggle with or want inspiration in.

Prayer has never come easy to me. Speaking to God, discussing with Him whatever is on my mind in the moment all throughout the day – that has been part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. But prayer in the sense of that quiet place, that place of intentionally opening my heart to listen, giving Him the time and focus He is so worthy of – that has always been a struggle.
Like many of you I’m sure, I have discovered rhythms to be the most helpful in developing that deep well within me where my soul quiets and my hearing sharpens and I am more ready to receive His words. Rhythms are similar to a habit but what I love about rhythm is that it is fluid, it can change when the seasons of life change. Or can it?
What happens when our lives are disrupted, especially unexpectedly disrupted and that faithful rhythm no longer fits?
If you have ever seen the animated film ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ then you will understand what I mean when I say that recently, when my rhythms were disrupted, my initial response was similar to Emperor Kuzco’s before he found his “new groove” – a bit grumpy and narrow-focused.
Fortunately God is a good, kind, wise and patient Father and Teacher and He has been helping me discover some fresh things about Him in the midst of all the disruption, reminding me that He simply delights in being with me and is not as concerned as to what that looks like as I tend to be. I feel like there have been a couple of moments recently in my failed attempts to be “disciplined” in prayer, that I have sensed His amused smile of affection over me as He whispers, “Crystal, would you lighten up? Stop being so intense. I just want to be with you, no matter what that looks like right now.”

One of my main frustrations in this particular season of disruption has been the struggle to find the space to really enter into that quiet place of listening and when I have had some time, my mind resembles my current chaotic life circumstances and just won’t stay focused.
Then someone reminded me of this beautiful encouragement from a man I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for – St Frances de Sales. He said:
“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”

Something I am learning in this season is that sometimes life is what it is and is different from we have known or would prefer, but the Father’s grace meets us in that place of disorientation and speaks gentle words like,“Stop being so intense. I just want to be with you, no matter what that looks like right now in this season.”

So whatever season, rhythm, lack of rhythm you find yourself in right now, may you also hear the Father’s affectionate whisper of “I just want to be with you.”