Living Awake

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

There is a story in the Bible that recently caught my attention. Just one verse actually. It is in Genesis 28 and Jacob is running for his life because his brother Esau is furious with him (for good reason), furious enough to murder him.
Jacob is on his way to his uncle’s and it is quite a journey. Growing weary he stops for the night and in his sleep has an incredible encounter with God, a revelation through a dream that the veil between earth and heaven is much thinner than he realised.
And it is this line that reached in and grabbed hold of my heart:
‘Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

I began to wonder how many times throughout 2017 the presence of God was in a place, a person, a moment, a situation and I was not aware of it. How many times have I raced from one place to the next, one thing to the next, one conversation to the next, maybe out of fear, anxiety, stress, worry, pressure, imagined expectations? How many times have I been so focused on the destination, the vision, the goal, what’s next, my head, heart and spirit distracted by my own thoughts and emotions, that I have been completely unaware of the God who delights in revealing Himself, who loves to speak to us and show us things?

Scripture is filled with moments like Jacob experiences here, and those moments are precious, often the opening to something more, containing an invitation from God to participate in His Great Story.
I think of Moses and the burning bush. Genesis 2:2-4 says ‘…He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush…’
“When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush…” – wow! I think there is a part of Himself that God reserves for those moments that we “turn aside to see”, those times that we choose to slow down and open our eyes and ears to what is happening around us.
I think of the Wise Men who saw the special star at the birth of Christ and because they were looking, they were aware, they were awake and they chose to “turn aside and see” they met the Messiah. Or Simeon in the Temple who had all of his life been waiting on God’s promised Saviour and when Mary & Joseph brought young Jesus into the Temple Simeon had eyes to see what so many never did.
I think of Peter taking time to withdraw onto the rooftop to pray and the revelatory encounter with God he had there that changed the history of the gospel forever – all because he “turned aside to see” what God had to say.

This year of 2018, I don’t want to rush from here to there, distracted and wearied and my vision clouded by muchness and manyness. I want to live awake and aware, that I may have moments where I “turn aside to see”, where I am able to say “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did know it!

Would you like to join me?

24-7 Prayer is posting weekly blogs on their website all throughout the month of January on living counter-culturally and embracing the slowness of God. If your heart resonates with what I have written above, then you will find these blogs helpful and inspiring.
24-7prayer.com/blog/2733/2018-start-slow-the-blog-series

What Happens When Students Pray

We recently chatted with Tamsyn Radmall who oversees the student ministry at Central Church in Edinburgh. Central has seen ten students give their lives to Christ since September and are discipling several more who had previously encountered Jesus on their own and stumbled into the church looking for some guidance on this new journey they had begun.
Tamsyn believes that prayer is at the foundation of it all and shares these stories as an example of what God has been doing through prayer in the lives of students.

“Prayer has become such a powerful part of the student ministry here at Central. Prayer has become more than petitioning God for certain things within the Christian community alone, but it has become a way in which God is calling people into relationship with Him.

Two different students recently tried out prayer and met Holy Spirit in it, subsequently giving their lives to Him.
One of the two girls tried out prayer because she was attempting to pray without God involved in it. She wanted to prove that atheists can use prayer as part of their atheist beliefs, without God. But instead of proving that you can pray without God involved, she ended up meeting Holy Spirit and coming to know God.
Another girl heard about prayer and simply thought she should try it out and then met God in it.

Two other girls, who at the time didn’t yet know Jesus, went up for prayer at church and had prophetic words given to them. Those prophetic words were on point and this helped them both to realise that God was real, was for them, that He speaks today and He is interested in speaking to them personally. Their response was to give their lives to God.”

We think God loves students and we are blown away by what He is doing in the lives of these young people!

If you work with students or are a student yourself, then 24-7 Prayer would love to resource and encourage you. Check out 24-7prayer.com/students for free prayer resources, a student blog and student events, among other things.

A Trip to the Lang Toon

This lovely story was told by Stephanie Heald in 2007 and we felt it is worth sharing some of it again. God is still at work in Auchterarder and we know we will be hearing more encouraging stories from this beautiful little town in the future.
Stephanie now owns and runs Muddy Pearl Book Publishers based in Edinburgh.

“I stepped into the old church, unsure of what to make of this whole situation. Another week of continuous prayer. Another week in Scotland. And another Sunday evening crammed with last minute preparations.

At last the room was ready. In walked a couple middle-aged ladies…soon, the room was filled. With the elderly. With young children. With families. This was going to be a place of meeting with God. Holy encounters.
Before I knew it, the silence had been sliced and I saw the hearts of these people. This little town in the hills of Scotland was shouting up to God. And they were excited. It was like Christmas morning. A gift had been given to them. They couldn’t wait for their hour that was pencilled in on the timetable outside the entrance.

My eyes were opened. As people flowed into the room throughout the week I was constantly encouraged. Challenged. Individuals came with broken hearts. Broken lives. They came with prayers on their lips and tears in their eyes. And they were drawn to their knees. A first experience for many. A call back to prayer. A call back to God their Father.

Soon, nothing much mattered. The format of the room. The paint-filled brushes that had been left to dry overnight. The sand all over the floor. It didn’t matter. God was meeting with people. As they took time out of their days and nights, their Father cradled them in his arms.

Back in March, Julia, assistant minister of the Auchterarder Church of Scotland and an old friend, read Red Moon Rising, made a connection with a comment in my Christmas letter, and asked me up to explain what a ‘week of 24-7 prayer’ was to her core team. They quickly became inspired and set about planning their own. The week was here at last and I felt I should go and help. The promise of a cottage at Kippen Hill with a woodburning stove was enough to persuade a couple of guys [Dan and Aaron]from the Boiler Room Community in Guildford to come and help…

At Auchterarder we were welcomed by children doing cartwheels in the tulips, a stray peacock on the patio, supper by the wood-burner from the kindest of people, and a newspaper billboard announcing LANG TOON WEEK OF PRAYER. Prayer is big news in these parts. Like many rural parishes, everything is a lot quieter… and few young people. But the leaders and two or three prayer warriors have been hard at work – they’ve run Alpha, seen a few new Christians, and started a new family service. And now they wanted to see God move, and to pray…

What happened over the next few days is still unfolding in my mind. At first there was a job to be done: a prayer room to finish, we knew this. We shared ideas, planned the services and met new people. And then God slipped in. First an unmistakably hot hand on my shoulder as Dan and Aaron prayed for me. Then, hesitating up in the towering pulpit, I saw faces leaning in to take in all I shared. What was happening? They were listening with ears and eyes and hearts to God’s word. Longing to meet God. Longing to pray. Then I saw, He was everywhere, in confidences over coffee as eyes filled with tears, in glimpses of joy at the adult baptism. In the gentle launch to the prayer week: people shyly began to pray, to sing, until some bubbled over, almost squeaking with excitement. He was here…

And there were tears. Some could barely speak a word as we asked if we could pray with them. They wept, kneeling by the altar, or buried in a beanbag, or stretched out in the art corner. Lots of tears.

And then came healing. Relationships restored, renewed as people prayed for one another as they passed the baton of prayer hour after hour and day after day. The hearing followed shortly thereafter. People heard from God, for themselves, for their town, for Scotland. Church leadership gave approval for the pews to be removed, after five years. There were surprises too. BBC Radio Scotland asked to run a live interview from the prayer room. From Auchterarder!

What I’ve seen in this lovely prayer room is that this is for everyone. Elderly ladies and Elders of the Church. The preacher, and the children from the local primary school. You don’t have to be cool to pray. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be artistic. You just have to come as you are. Prayer is a good talk between friends. Which means just being who you are, telling God how you are, and listening to him, in your very own way.

I’d like to finish this story by passing off the narrative to Dan Jones. He’s one of the guys that was lured up to Auchterarder by promises of wood-burning stoves. He witnessed one of the more impacting instances of God moving in the prayer room. Here’s Dan:

“My favourite story comes from one lady who was praying in the shift before us one morning. As we chatted about her time, she slipped in the fact that she thought she had started praying in tongues! We asked her what she meant and so she explained how when she was praying on the Monday (this was Wednesday), she suddenly noticed that she was no longer speaking in English, but another language, yet her heart felt alive. It was all so natural. The other cool thing was that she was one of the people who was baptised on the Sunday… This lady had just met with God in her own time and in her own way. I love it!”

You can read the whole story at https://www.24-7prayer.com/blog/756/a-trip-to-the-lang-toon-by-stephanie-heald

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.