Balance in busy-ness

This is an old post but we thought the words might still hold their potency for some of you students out there…

Students have a tendency to cram. I say this as one who has often found himself on next to no sleep in a brave last-minute attempt to try and finish off some piece of coursework due the next day. But when I say “cram”, I mean more than just the usual night-before emergency revision session.
Timetables full of academic activities including but not limited to lectures, seminars, tutorials and self-directed study. The rest of our time is engaged with the social life that equally defines what ‘studying’ at university is all about – parties, pints, lunches, brunches, hang-outs, night-outs – an endless barrage of activity that can make even the most gregarious of extroverts wince a little inside. And even those of us who align ourselves more with the introvert end of the spectrum can often find joy in the busyness.

There is a risk, however, to equate busyness with usefulness. Whether we are supporting those who are closest to us or making good use of our time by completing tasks, life can take on…well…a life of its own.
The real danger is that our faith can become inextricably tied up with ‘doing’ and that, I daresay, can be found particularly in Christian student communities. It’s not long before the regular gatherings, socials, prayer meetings and outreach events can start to wear us down if we haven’t figured out a healthy spiritual balance in our lives. Even friendship evangelism that is meant to stem from a natural overflow of love can become contrived. Our one-on-one time with the Father gets relegated to the thing we ‘do’ in order to ‘do’ all the other things of life, rather than being the Source and focus of each day.

For me personally, “New Monasticism” is positively counter-cultural to the fast-moving society around us, especially within the bustling student universe.

Creating space and giving ourselves permission to reflect, contemplate and to just ‘be’ with Jesus is imperative to running the race set before us.

I find that following a daily rhythm of prayer isn’t another thing to add to my To-Do List but is instead what my To-Do List is structured around. It’s in those scheduled moments of prayer I get the chance to catch my breath, refresh in the Father’s love, and realign with His purposes before diving back into work again.
It is partly a disciplinary process as well. So even though sometimes during these check-ins with God I may not ‘feel’ or ‘hear’ anything from Him, I choose to believe that He is present with me. This then fuels me the rest of my day.

These appointed times are then not something I need to get ‘right’ but instead they serve as reminders to me that Christ’s grace is a constant flow that is well and truly sufficient.

My prayer and hope for my generation is that we know more of the gentle loving-kindness of God through the gift of His son Jesus, where our identity is ultimately found, and that nothing else is worth more than living life with Him.
To finish, a quote from the Philokalia that I came across recently sums things up aptly: “Stillness is not simply silence but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him”. So although God didn’t necessarily create all of us to be deep-thinking contemplatives nor calls many to live as modern-day monks, each and every one of us is greeted with the friendly whisper from our Daddy in Heaven to “Be still and know that I am Lord”.

This was written by student Grant Holden who is studying Animation at Edinburgh College of Art. He attends St Paul’s & St George’s Church where he can sometimes be found boogieing when playing electric guitar during worship. He is passionate about the arts being combined with Kingdom values and has a heart to see contemplative prayer embedded more within society.

Sleep, Eat, Repeat…

24-7 Prayer Gatherings – they are always fun, always inspirational, encouraging, challenging and renewing. Always a special time of prayer, worship, learning and being together as a tribe. But every few years one comes along that feels significant to the life and direction of the movement.

This was most definitely the case for Belfast ’19 a couple weeks ago. There was and is now a sense that we are beginning a new chapter in this story God is writing. Yes, some of that will be related to the transition of leadership that happened on the Sunday morning (if you have not yet heard the big news, you can read more about that here). And what a deeply beautiful, joyful, celebratory transition it was!

But this sense of entering a new chapter is deeper and more far-reaching than just this transition of leadership. It is more akin to further out and deeper in.

Alain Emerson spoke the first night from 1 Kings 19 where Elijah, after a major victory, flees into the wilderness, exhausted, frightened and discouraged. This passage has been reverberating within me ever since and the sentence “Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you” feels particularly significant for this moment in time.

God is speaking something to His people across the globe and it has to do with preparation and where He is to be found.
There are small but encouraging signs that the prayers we have been praying for many years for revival in the Church and in our own hearts, for spiritual awakening in our nations, have been heard. The signs may be small, like the “size of a man’s hand” to quote Elijah’s servant, but they are there.

But are we ready?

How many of us would admit to being exhausted right now, maybe discouraged, maybe even frightened? Are we truly in the best health, the best state of mind, the right posture of heart to receive and take part in a move of God in our world?

God told Elijah in the cave that He was about to pass by. But when He did come, it was in the quiet whisper.
Are we in such a place that we will be able to hear Him when He does come in that quiet whisper rather than the noise and hype we often associate with “revival” or “awakening”?

From this place of being renewed by God and meeting with Him in that quiet whisper, Elijah impacted the roles and positions of influencers and those in authority, he gathered those who were still devoted to God, he rewired an entire culture and history.

So what do we need to do to get ready?

Sleep, eat, repeat. Sleep, eat, repeat. “Arise and eat for the journey is too great for you.”

We need to learn rest. We need to feed on God’s goodness and presence. We need to posture our hearts, minds and bodies towards Him in such a way that our ears are trained to hear and recognise the quiet whisper and every part of our being is ready to run long and hard in a sustainable way without burning out.

This sleeping and eating may in reality look like middle of the night prayer slots and fasting for some of us. It may look like a letting go and stepping back into a place of quiet and hiddenness for a while for some of us. It may look like a pruning of activity and more time given to waiting on God for others of us. And for some of us it may look quite literally like rest and feeding ourselves on the things that will renew and refresh us physically.

But for all of us, it is about preparation and posturing ourselves for when that quiet whisper comes and changes everything.

“Neighbourhood Watch”

[Our area has been] scourged with theft, break-ins and a general feeling of fear and apprehension.”

on holiday and was spending my days with the anxiety of returning to my house and finding it broken in.”

we were broken into in January and had our car stolen”

Still have nightmares after I woke up one night to find one of them beside my bed robbing me. I wear hearing aids…

“Lived in this area for a while and it never has been like this…”

started taunting them and calling them names. One boy then pushed my son onto the road”

“he’s just a drunken piece of scum”

“…quite a huge part of the society is ‘disgusted’ by beggars so waiting for the society to take care of homeless/elderly/sick is naive.”

These are just a few of the comments on Nextdoor, the community group page I am a part that exists for the purpose of connecting those living in our specific part of Edinburgh.

The concern, even fear, expressed in these comments is very real lately. I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe. Having spent a good few years of life visiting and doing ministry in American cities like Chicago, Queens, Brooklyn, LA, the rise in crime and “unsociable behaviour” in my little community doesn’t frighten me as much as makes me deeply sad.

So, it’s time to start prayer walking. As other Nextdoor on-line community members talk about the need to become more “aware, vigilant, watchful” I hear this as a call to prayer.

“I’ve posted watchmen on your walls… Day and night they keep at it, praying, calling out, reminding God to remember. They are to give him no peace until he does what he said…” Isaiah 62:6-7 The Message

But as I was reflecting on my resolve to begin prayer walking at least one evening a week, I felt challenged by God around our tendency to pray in response to crisis or negative events after they have happened, rather than committing to pray for the flourishing of our communities whether anything negative is happening or not.
I asked myself if it would even cross my mind to prayer walk if I lived somewhere peaceful, perhaps affluent, where on the surface at least all seemed well? Perhaps not. Yet, even somewhere so seemingly perfect, is there not still pain, sickness, broken hearts, a different kind of fear and oppression? Is there not still people who Jesus longs to have relationship with?

So is my new resolve to prayer walk my community partly selfish, a spiritual guise for looking out for my own sense of safety and well-being? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just what I needed to drive me out the comfort of my own four walls and begin caring for the well-being of my community, to begin actively calling for God’s kingdom to be established in the land and in the people amongst whom I live, that it would be said of Gilmerton:

Old men and old women will come back… sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes — a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing — a good city to grow up in.” Zechariah 8:4-5 The Message

For tips on prayer walking your community, check out the 24-7 Prayer website here.

Elgin Prays 24-7

Rebecca Kail shares with us what happened when she responded to the nudging of God to facilitate some 24-7 prayer in her community of Elgin and this past April churches united to pray for 48 hours!
Here’s her story…

Wow! Prayers were answered, reconciliation took place, people returned for a second or third hour, and throughout the whole of Saturday, a group of young people (with no connection to our prayer weekend) sang God’s praise immediately outside the prayer room. Forty-eight hours of prayer with over 50 people (plus others at the opening and closing events) from four main denominations (Baptist, Catholic, Church of Scotland, Episcopal), at least six local independent congregations, and a youth group. Even tourists joined in and left keen to bring 24-7 Prayer to their own communities! And a whole heap of appreciation was expressed for this time of prayer, with requests to have more 24-7 Prayer events.

And yet, days beforehand, only a handful of people had signed up to pray…

God had been nudging me about 24-7 Prayer for a while. ‘Make it ecumenical,’ he said, ‘and right in the centre of Elgin’. ‘Yes, but how?’ was my response. I wasn’t a church leader and didn’t have a congregation to mobilise. All the 24-7 Prayer information on their website says that a committed team is the most important thing. ‘Start by mentioning it to people,’ God said. So I did. After a while, someone I barely knew offered to help, and another couple joined us, and that was the team! A friend suggested St Giles’, the most central building in Elgin, as the venue. Amazingly, when I emailed a request to the minister (who I had never met), he agreed enthusiastically.

So we sent round posters and notices to all the local churches with the pertinent information such as venue, dates and the on-line sign-up link provided by 24-7 Prayer when you register your prayer room on the website.
Next was finding worship leaders and both individuals asked said yes – hurrah! And we were thankful to gain a couple of extra volunteers to help us man the prayer room across the 48 hours.

We chose a wide range of prayer stations to make sure there was something for everyone – quieter areas for contemplation and reading then activity areas for making prayer bracelets, adding to the prayer wall, contemplative colouring, hanging the names of family and friends on a prayer tree, shredding sins and forgiving others. Both the local and world map prayer stations proved popular, with many writing up prayers or adding the pre-prepared prayer.

And many said how encouraged they were to see local Christians uniting in prayer for their communities.

We were delighted to see everyone, at the praise and worship events and in the prayer room, whether they booked in or just turned up on the day. And we received encouraging feedback from participants such as these comments:

“A fantastic time to come apart and focus on God”

“Wonderful ways to pray… and prayers were answered as well”

“To make prayer a tactile, visual, wholistic experience was quite new to me. I loved it.”

“God’s spirit is here and His anointing is very evident.”

“So much to pray for: 2 hours disappeared in no time”

“What a wonderful idea! A lovely experience for our whole family”

“A beautiful sense of prayer. Thank you for listening to the prompting of the Lord.”

“Looking at others’ prayers for our community, nation and world was humbling.”

“Wonderful to experience unity and fellowship with other Christians from quite different backgrounds.”

“We wish to encourage more people to come and meet with God next time – our community and our world is in such need of prayer”

“Please could we have all this again?”

Of course, in retrospect, we learned what can be done better in the future around communication and explanation of the concept of 24-7 prayer. That said, the team only needed to step in to keep the prayer going between midnight and 5am. And those who prayed during these quieter times treasured the tranquillity. For myself, outside of a prayer meeting, I doubt I’ve ever prayed for more than about 15 minutes at a time. With all the prayer stations, I prayed for whole hours and looked forward to going back for more.

This weekend built on and added to the prayers of all those who have sought over many years to encourage more prayer and greater Christian unity in Elgin and throughout Moray. All of us in the team hope that these prayers will continue to be answered, and that other congregations will take up the baton of periods of continuous prayer and invite others to join them.
We are the church, let’s pray together!

So if prayer is on your heart and you’re wondering whether to start a prayer room, you can do it! With a tiny team, few financial resources and minimal social media skills, we managed to bless our community with this opportunity to pray.