Luminous Dark and Learning to Pray Again

We are incredibly blessed in 24-7 Prayer with a number of gifted communicators and writers whose stories have been impacting hearts around the globe. But it is not just the gift of communication that has made their stories powerful and influential – but the fact that their stories are real, they come from the heart, from personal places of struggle, brokenness, pain, questions, hope and healing.

I was given the weighty privilege of reading and reviewing the manuscript of one such gifted communicator and his story. Alain Emerson of 24-7 Prayer Ireland has courageously put onto paper his journey through grief after the death of his young and beloved wife and his wrestle with God in the darkness of pain, fear, anger, unanswered questions and all that grief brings with it.

I expected it to be an emotional read. After all, I have also known grief as companion at points along my life’s journey. But I did not expect what has happened through the beautifully raw and honest words that make up Alain’s story.

As I type this, it is nearly 6 years to the day that my own dear mum passed away, 7 years since we first received the news of a rare and incurable cancer eating away at her within and speeding up the dementia that was already confusing her mind.

I remember those surreal days and nights spent at the hospice, sitting with my dying mother and finding myself praying for God in His mercy to take her home. Never would I have expected to one day pray for death rather than life as death seemed the more merciful.
And I will never forget the night my childhood bestie whose sister had just taken her own life came and sat with me. We sat together in our grief for ourselves and for one another, sometimes in quiet, sometimes talking about films, sometimes voicing to one another our questions that had no answers. Yet we were aware of another Presence sitting quietly with us as well. In His book Alain says, “In our pain and suffering God is not answering our questions, for we come to learn that they are beyond the objective explanations our rationalised minds crave. God reminds us, I AM, in the midst of the flames…God doesn’t give us answers. In the silence, He gives us Himself, bigger than our pain, beyond our explanations, closer than our breath.”

And that is something that has been consistent throughout my seasons of grief and brokenness, His presence.

Yet what I was surprised to learn about my own heart through Alain’s book was some areas of unresolved grief that explained why I have been wrestling with God about praying for certain things.

Have you ever struggled to pray for something or even stopped praying altogether, because the pain of disappointed hope, the tension of the waiting became too much?

Then you can relate I’m sure.

There were a number of unanswered prayers, death of dreams, deep disappointments in those couple of years during and after my mum’s passing. And it has dented my hope. Not so much hope in general, but hope in those specific areas of disappointment.

I don’t like feeling weak. So I have just trudged doggedly on, not allowing myself to push into the pain of the disappointments like I did the year after my mum passed away, resigning myself to life as it is in the present reality. When I have attempted to pray into these areas again, I have experienced what Alain describes here: “…I didn’t know how to rebuild anything…because every opportunity for believing again was overshadowed by a giant question mark.”

But God isn’t content with leaving me there because He has better for me. So in His tender love He brought me healing in the disguise of doing a friend a favour of reviewing a book.

It is painful yet life-giving, this re-awakening of hope and I am cautiously, tentatively stepping forward through some very wobbly prayers for the areas that have felt barren and empty. It is a place of “risky hope” like Alain calls it. Brennan Manning would refer to it as “Ruthless Trust” I think. I believe it will be worth the risk but I have to choose to take that risk.
It’s like Alain says in Luminous Dark: “I slowly became aware that the place of reorientation, the ‘spacious place’ I was being invited into, involved a corresponding decision from me. It was a decision to step over a threshold, to walk into the new. We choose and declare hope before we are fully in it…”

If you have experienced grief and loss in your life, whether that be the loss of a loved one, the death of a dream, the pain of an unfulfilled hope, then I truly believe you will find this book a helpful companion. A companion that seeks not to give you answers, but to journey with you as you wrestle with the pain, the questions and the darkness and to, somewhere along the way, discover a “luminosity.”

Luminous Dark by Alain Emerson will be published in a few days and is available for pre-order now so check out the publisher’s website and social media feeds for details: https://www.muddypearl.com

Breaking Barriers in the North

Jennifer Gordon from Thurso shared this story with us a year ago but it is so compelling and encouraging, we thought it needed to be shared with you all here again.

Knowing nothing about 24-7 Prayer, I came across an advert for the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering, that year to be hosted in Edinburgh and called “Magnify.” I felt compelled to go and the fact that my husband immediately agreed to come to a two day long prayer gathering was indeed proof that God still performs miracles!

Of course, the Lord had started to work on us well before, but that 2010 gathering in Edinburgh was a catalyst. God spoke so clearly in the days before, during and after the Gathering, that I had no doubt He wanted us to gather the local churches in Caithness to pray in unity, humility and blessing on St Andrew’s Day 2010, and also to launch a county-wide 24-7 Prayer Room from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day.
Just as well He was so graciously clear, as the day before I sent out invitations to all 30 churches, I discovered that my mum had a 7cm tumour in her breast which had spread to her lymph nodes and who knew where else, and we may be facing our last Christmas with her. On top of that, I wasn’t even free on St Andrew’s Day as I had to travel to Inverness with work. And, after weeks of searching, we still had no suitable prayer room.

But God had spoken, so we kept going, certain that He would provide.

Within days, a six-year-old boy had heard from the Lord regarding a “lady with a sore booby” (my mum is well and still with us today!). Then the morning of the St. Andrew’s Day prayer gathering brought a snowstorm and my course in Inverness was cancelled! And just 1 hour before the event, my friends called to say they had secured a large office space in Thurso town centre for the prayer room – free of charge and, as they were about to re-decorate, permission to cover the walls!
Two years later I would discover that a local lady had had a dream before we even knew about our prayer room – she saw a flashing light coming from the window of this same office onto the street below, lighting up the whole area!

Over 70 folk, from at least 9 different fellowships, prayed 24/7 on the north coast in the final watch of the “Big If” Year of Prayer in Scotland.
If you’ve spent time in a 24-7 Prayer Room you may understand the joy, freedom, expectation and glorious intimacy we experienced that week, and again the following year at the start of the Kingdom Come 2012 Year of Prayer.

We continued with monthly praise & prayer gatherings in a local diner as well as one-off events.

Others are now organising regular united praise & prayer events, including our sister fellowship in Scarfskerry, the most northerly church on the mainland and site of the first “Revival Run” (prophesied two months earlier by a lady we had met at the Magnify Gathering).

This past summer of 2016 we had the first gathering of “Breaking Barriers” – the ORCAS (Orkney, Caithness & Shetland) partnership – in Kirkwall, which one friend and seasoned missionary said was “the closest she’d ever come to being in an atmosphere of the New Testament Church.” There were no barriers between those present, only genuine love for new friends and their localities. At one point I looked around the gathering and every single person was either praying for someone or being prayed for! Some felt barriers removed, including healing from long-term medical conditions, from fear and worry, and from limitations. Others came away with a new boldness to step into more of what the Lord was showing them. And one friend from India had been there before in a dream, many years ago, having never visited our continent before, let alone Orkney!

As I write this today, six of my friends have stepped into a vision the Lord gave after “Breaking Barriers” – to travel to the remote areas along the north and west of Scotland in a motorhome, praying over places, with and for people, and encouraging other believers, like a “mobile prayer room”. They didn’t have a motorhome when they first received this vision, but of course the Lord already had that one covered!

Over these last 6 years, connections and friendships across the north coast and beyond have grown in love and in number, but “the best is yet to come” as we:
Break down these barriers, tear down these walls
Rise gospel carriers and follow where He calls
Light our path and guide our way
Lord empower us each day
To share Your story, reflect Your glory –
United in Your love
For Kingdom living and whole life giving
Your purpose here to serve.
” (“Break Down these Barriers” by Guy Gordon 2016)

One Weekend, Forever Changed

It was Thursday 7th October 2016. I found myself sitting in Edinburgh airport waiting to board my flight to Geneva with my fiancé to a conference that, admittedly, I didn’t know much about. Andrew (the aforementioned fiancé) had been reading some book that seemed to really impact him, and so he was keen to attend the European gathering of the organisation the book was about.
He told me it was a movement about prayer, mission and justice, and that the gathering that year was in Geneva. I had a look at the Facebook page and website, prayed about it, and thought “Why not?” And so it was that I found myself at the 24-7 Prayer EuroGathering last year.

Sitting at the airport I had a sense of expectancy and anticipation. Despite not knowing much about what I was in for, I felt that God was going to use this weekend to impact my life significantly. And man, He sure did!!

Geneva was a truly wonderful experience of big talks, seminars, worship sessions, chat and banter. It was especially wonderful to meet the rest of Team Scotland!
I learned so much in those few days I was there that it took me literally months to process all that God had been saying. To go through all that I learned would turn this blog post into more of a novel.

I was so encouraged by 24-7 Prayer’s tag line – ‘The Vision is Jesus’.
Often we can get so preoccupied with how to go about the Christian life that we forget the main focus.

The final night of worship in Geneva was in St Peter’s Cathedral, the adopted home church of the reformer John Calvin.
I know that we cannot even come close to imagining what heaven will be like, but that night it felt like what I imagine it will be.
The place was packed with people from all over the world, many different church backgrounds, all singing praise to the glory of God. It was amazing.

At the end of our time there I was tired mentally from all the mind-shattering things God had been showing and teaching me, but spiritually so fired up for whatever God had for me.

Upon returning from Geneva, I proceeded to read Red Moon Rising followed by Dirty Glory, both by Pete Greig. These books continued to encourage me immensely in my prayer life through stories of the power of God at work all around the world. The stories of ordinary people with an extraordinary God.

I can’t wait for this year’s International Gathering in Birmingham in just two weeks time! I am excited to see what God has in store for us this year and to meet up with Team Scotland again (hopefully as many of us as possible)!

This testimony is written by the lovely Steph Rooney, a Pharmacist in Glasgow and the more beautiful half of the aforementioned Andrew, now Steph’s husband and newest member of the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team.

It’s not too late to join us for The Gathering in Birmingham – there still some tickets left! We would love for you to be there with us! For details, go to http://bit.ly/2xtxTCS.

Balance in busy-ness

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.