Waste that Opens Prison Doors

After a short break due to summer holidays, we return to our series on “Beautiful Waste” and finish it off with some encouraging and challenging thoughts from Andy Bevan, the Scotland Director for IJM UK.

I’ve been reading through the Book of Acts recently and have been particularly taken by the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12). It’s one of those stories you can really picture – the dangerous context the early followers of Jesus lived in, Peter being arrested and put in prison and the dramatic, yet somehow serene, way in which he escaped… A miraculous story but I feel drawn to a very small part of it.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5)

What follows the church earnestly praying can only be described as a miracle – Peter was in prison guarded by four squads of four guards, on rotation 24 hours a day, chained to two guards at any one time… Yet, he managed to escape.
Was it the prayers of God’s people that led to the miracle happening? Would it have happened anyway regardless of whether the church prayed? What if the church had not been praying?
Of course, it’s impossible to know the answer for sure but this is not an isolated incident – elsewhere in Scripture, the people of God pray and the impossible is made possible. It seems that prayers and miracles are intrinsically linked.

My work with International Justice Mission has taught me something that feels to be 100% counterintuitive. In order to come alongside the magnitude of injustice in our world and the urgency to respond, we must first choose to stop. The first work of justice is a work of prayer. At IJM, we spend an hour of every working day in prayer.
What?! What about the urgency of the situation? What about the need to get out there a do something? On the face of it, this hour of prayer everyday could be viewed as a waste of time. For me, it is a privilege. It’s a beautiful waste.

As well as serving through his role in IJM, Andy is husband to Charlie, father to Harris and Aila and is part of his Leith, Edinburgh based church Mustard Seed.

The Gift of Praying Together

How do you pray?

Do you normally pray on your own, in your own space?
Or does your church have a weekly or monthly prayer meeting? Does that sound like an evening of boredom and awkward silences? Or maybe you’ve had great experiences of corporate prayer and such times are thriving and soaked in the Holy Spirit!

What I’ve been mulling over for a while now is that yes praying together is modelled by Jesus and the early church:
“And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” – Acts 1:13-14 ESV

But that it is so much more than a good thing to do, but rather it is a gift from God!

Bonhoeffer states that “the physical presence of other Christians is the source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer” and that “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community”.

Having grown up in a highly individualistic society, being fed the belief that I can do everything on my own, it has taken years of being around communities dedicated to praying together to break down my individualistic mind-set that had seeped into my personal faith.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that praying on your own is worse than praying together! It is actually utterly good and necessary!

Pete Greig, in his book How to Pray, says that “You must seek solitude and silence as if your life depends on it, because in a way it does”.

We need our times of solitude. We need that intimate, secret place with God to grow close to him. Without my morning time spent sitting on my bedroom floor with my first cuppa tea the rest of the day often feels sluggish. Time alone with God is a priority of mine – it is the bedrock of our relationship!

But we also need times to come together to pray out loud (not just all sitting in the same room quietly contemplating, though there is space for that too!). In this space God takes each of us deeper and reveals new and adventurous aspects of his character. It brings a richness that I have found nowhere else than in kneeling alongside other Christians, each of us pouring out our hearts to God.

In this place we can be inspired by one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, and best of all we get to agree with each other! We get to partner in with others prayers and say “yes and Amen!
So often you’ll find that what God is speaking to you he is also speaking to another person in the room and then confirmation arises! God is on the move – he is listening and he is participating with us!

But my favourite by-product of speaking my prayers out with others is the accountability. That we are able to feedback answers to prayer because more people are aware of what God has placed on our hearts.

Recently I was visiting a House of Prayer in Dundee and during one corporate morning prayer time I prayed that there would be no anger on the roads that day. By the evening some really bad weather had set in and one person came to me and said, “I’m so glad you prayed about the roads this morning because there were nearly three accidents on my way home, but everyone was safe and there wasn’t any anger”. Were those crashes avoided because of our prayers? Who knows! But we were able to turn it back to God, to praise and celebrate his goodness and protection! We were far quicker to recognise his hand over our day and over the city because we had talked to him together!

Charles Finney hits the nail on the head when he said that “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love on another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

Do you want to be in a prayerful community? Do you want to know God in a new way? Are you up for the challenge? Then go, gather, pray together, and always remember our fellowship is a gift of grace, a gift from God!

Words by 24-7 Prayer Scotland Intern

Creativity As Beautiful Waste

As part of our series on ‘Beautiful Waste’, Crystal shares some thoughts around the beautiful waste of creativity.

Creativity – it’s one of those words that everyone has a different understanding and definition of and a very different relationship with.
The concept of creativity excites some, bores others and petrifies those who don’t see themselves as “creative.”

Yet we would all agree that creativity has great purpose and plays a very special and important role in our world. We can all appreciate that it is creativity that has given us great music, striking art, incredible buildings… and the list goes on. The greatest gift that has come to us through creativity is Creation itself.
And scientists and psychologists can tell us how the product of creativity is good for our health and well-being over-all, especially when we get out into creation.

Yet, if we are not careful, creativity can be relegated to “usefulness” where we begin to begin to view it only through the lens of what it can accomplish. And when we do that, the richness and the subtle power of creativity wanes and is even lost.

God is the ultimate Creator. We create – whether that be in the realm of the arts, in science, problem-solving, the medical field, etc. – because we are created in His image.

But what do we see in God as Creator? Much of what he created has great purpose and usefulness , this is true. But how much of what he created could essentially, be viewed as waste?

When we think of the variety of mammals and birds, or more questionably, of insects and reptiles – not all is needed really. When we think of the variety of landscapes and climates, or types of bodies of water. How about the staggering variety of colours? And why do snowflakes need to be each one completely unique and different to the other?

And then there’s us – humanity. Not one of us is made exactly the same. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just simply clone us?

I would suggest based on the evidence, that God delights in “waste.”

And this is the beauty of creativity in prayer. Yes, creative actives serve a beautiful purpose in prayer of helping us connect with God at a deeper level. Creativity in prayer helps us focus, gets us past the distractions within our minds and past the walls we put up in our heads and hearts. Creativity in prayer is like a key that unlocks the door of our innermost being, our true heart, our most vulnerable places. And it teaches and permissions us to pray in many ways in any place.

A beautiful example of this is when I was asked to do a session on prayer and set up some creative prayer “stations” at a ministry in the northeast of Scotland that seeks to help provide community and support for women from a particular council housing estate. One of the ladies tried out “Letting Go,” an activity where we give God our worries by dropping a stone in a bowl of water. She shared with us all how much peace she felt after doing it and how she was now going to throw stones into the sea on her daily walks as a way of continuing to release her worries to God!

But prayer rooms and prayer weeks are filled with creativity that is essentially waste.
Whenever I am responsible for a prayer room/prayer week I face the conundrum of what to do with all the artwork on the walls, the lovely origami prayers that people have painstaking folded in to a bird… and all the other signs of prayer through creative activities.

And more often than not it all goes into the bin (recycling of course!).

It could be seen as waste. But God delights in it. His Father’s heart rejoices when his people not only take the time to meet with him, but express a part of themselves that looks like Him with no other intention than connecting with Him. And because He is worthy of it.

He sees it as beautiful waste.

Wasteful Worship

This is Part Two in our series on A Beautiful Waste.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-42

I remember the first time I heard a worship song that had the phrase “we waste it all on you” in the chorus. To be honest, I was a little offended by it. “Worship isn’t wasteful, worship is purposeful!” I said to myself while determining not to listen to the song again. Reflecting on it a few years on, the reality is, there is something wasteful about worship… isn’t there? Particularly if we time-sheet our day and keep productivity diaries. (Who does that? Definitely not me… ….)

We are, more than ever, living non-stop lives. As a society we glorify the self-made leaders who sleep less that five hours a night, have a 5am daily two hour workout routine and have made their first million before they reach thirty years old. We so often celebrate that kind of success, but at what cost?

What do we lose in our endless pursuit of such a goal?

Here’s a good measure.

Compare that pursuit of success with spending ten minutes telling God he is a good, good, good, good Father. How does it feel? Like a waste of time? I mean, He is God, so He definitely knows that already! We don’t need to tell God that He’s a good, good Father do we? In which case, surely we’d be better getting on with the stuff of life! That is what worship really is anyway right? The whole of life stuff?

Yes, worship is about lifestyle, the way that we serve God in our daily lives, offering our bodies as living sacrifices.

And yet, there is something distinctively different and of eternal importance in choosing to give our time and our attention to focus on Jesus. To sit at His feet as Mary did (Luke 10:38-42), to sing to Him in His presence, to delight in Him and remind ourselves of his loving kindness towards us. Even when we know that there is work to be done. Especially when we know there is work to be done.

Why?

We were made for these moments. Moments of intimacy, knowing God and being known, reflected in the very nature of God as three persons.

We find perspective in these moments. When we stop, the world doesn’t fall apart. In fact, more often I find that I become more aware of where God is at work around me when I set my attention on Him.

And ultimately, it’s for him, not for us. He is absolutely so worthy of all of our worship!

Words by Zak Robb, the gatherings, worship, and creative leader for Central Church in Edinburgh