Gethsemane: Sitting in Sorrow

Today is Good Friday.
A bittersweet day.

A day of sadness and sorrow.
But also a day of remembrance, realignment, and hope. Because we know what is coming next. Sunday!

However, today, I urge you not to push past the sadness into Sunday.
Rather linger here a little while longer.
Sit in the story of Jesus. Sit with him as he endures torture and humiliation.
Sit with him as he says,
“Father, the hour has come” John 17:1
Sit with him on this day, the day he dies. The day he dies for each and every one of us.

To help you do this, ponder over this poignant poem.
Let it transport you to a garden at nightfall.
Where you’ll find a man on bended knees.
To a night that changes history.

Gethsemane
Brittle leaves and dappled evening light
in Gethsemane
Olives underfoot
Soon to be gathered and crushed to
golden oil

Crickets trill in the hush of nightfall as
he walks alone,
Feet dusty but fragrant with the
perfume of kings.

Tomorrow these same feet will
stumble bloodied through the streets,
then be bound and nailed to a tree.

But tonight they shuffle through the
fallen leaves and sun bleached grasses of
a garden
Free to run or fight;
He comes to pray at the crossroads of
history.

Kneeling, deathly sorrow weighs on
his limbs and echoes in his words;
“Father… may this cup be taken from
me”? This bitter cup the heavy cost of
grace
“But not my will but yours be done” he
prays
As his feet point towards the cross
To be pierced, crushed and poured
out for love.
Poem by the lovely Kelsey Johnston

Scotland Goes to The Gathering…

It’s a good three weeks since we all returned from Birmingham for The Gathering, this year’s annual 24-7 Prayer gathering, and I find myself still processing all that God was doing and speaking, in my own heart, and to us as a movement.

The theme of our time together was the “Upside Down Kingdom”, with teaching and challenge brought to us from those who are living it, so maybe it’s a small wonder that I’m still processing, as well as still inspired and encouraged.

A definite highlight for me, as always, was seeing friends from around the globe and hearing what God is teaching them personally and what He is doing through their lives in their communities. From sitting on a sunny step and eating a Boots meal deal lunch with friends from Iceland; to hearing Ralf from Neubrandenberg, Germany share from the stage what God is doing on their housing estate The Datzeberg and then being mobbed by those wanting to pray for him and the Polylux community; to hearing Daniel & Rachel from China share about their year of preparation to take their Order of the Mustard Seed vows and how the process of preparation restored their deep love for those they are ministering to; to watching our very own Carla Harding be commissioned in her new role of 24-7 Prayer GB director! Being part of this global family is so precious to me, where lifestyles and cultures and languages are so different yet our hearts are melded together by Jesus, the One who is still the main Vision.

There were several big takeaways for me but the common theme throughout them all was around hope, learning to dream big again, to pray the audacious prayers again and to not carry a burden of responsibility for those dreams and hopes, but to simply “go with God”, the One who really does the work, who truly has the power to transform lives and who is a joyful God whose happiness is not dependant on me and what I do. How freeing!

A definite highlight for us as the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team was that for the first time ever, our entire team was together at The Gathering! And if our calculations are correct, there would have been around 50 or more Scots present at The Gathering this year – more than any other year since Edinburgh hosted The Gathering in 2010!

We would have loved to have tried to track down everyone who was there and hear their testimonies to share here with you but it would have taken far too long. So here are a just a few, and hopefully it will give you a glimpse into what God was doing and speaking amongst us as a 24-7 Prayer family.

“A big highlight for me was having space with no distractions to focus in on God, to be with Him and listen to what He was saying. And my big takeaway – Jesus says ‘I will build my church’ and asks us to ‘make disciples’.” Ruth Hagan, Orkney, 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team

“A highlight for me was the space to worship God filled with a group of people who were passionate about His presence and hearing His voice! And one big take away was around my own leadership – learning to acknowledge areas where I project onto others, helping to identify my own shadow so that I don’t allow it to negatively impact how I lead those around me!” Zak Robb, Worship Pastor at Central Church, Edinburgh

“We went to The Gathering for the first time as a church leadership team, and one highlight for me was definitely the flow of prayer, prophecy and praise each time we gathered – so life giving and naturally supernatural. It seemed like God was doing something remarkable in every nation, and I was so encouraged at the sense of His Church on the move all over the earth! There were so many challenging messages and calls to action, but I was really impacted by Danielle Strickland’s message on ‘mountains and mustard seeds’. This explained the tension of life and ministry in the Kingdom so well, we all carry a huge vision but it must be worked out in our ‘mustard seed’ actions of faith every day. The Gathering also dropped so many gold nuggets in our laps as a leadership team, of vision and direction that we had already been sensing all year – being intentional in our discipleship with just a few people (like Jesus), gathering around tables, being vulnerable and accountable – so many Holy Spirit confirmations for us to take home was fantastic!” Simon Dennis, Pastor at Sheddocksley Baptist Church, Aberdeen

The final highlight we want to share is related to the above photo. At every gathering, we have an evening of insane generosity where items that have been donated by individuals and communities for this very purpose, are auctioned off for ridiculous amounts and the money goes to several causes within the 24-7 Prayer movement. The auction theme this year was denim jackets and 24-7 Prayer Scotland had the joy of seeing our amazing, hand-stitched, outrageously creative, Scottish-themed denim jacket be sold along with some others for the sum total of £7,000 so that our dear friends in Manenberg, South Africa can create a lovely home for young women who are in vulnerable situations and need help getting their lives together and set back on a path that leads to life. The jacket is being modelled in this photo by a friend from Sweden who loves Scotland! Just another small glimpse into the love and generosity within this truly international family of prayer, mission and justice!

Following Jesus

Sam Rae from Aberdeen shares with us the impact that quality discipleship while living in authentic community has had on his life. He is currently working as the Youth & Children’s Intern at Emmaus Rd in Guildford.

At one point or another we all have to make choices that we don’t feel ready to make. Whether it’s what sandwich you want for lunch or what to do when you leave school – making choices can be stressful.

When I was deciding what to do upon finishing school, it felt like I was being pulled in a hundred different directions – go to university, study this, study that, apply for an apprenticeship. It felt like whatever decision I ended up making would have a major impact on the rest of my life.

Throughout the whole process I was desperate to follow God’s plan, yet it felt like He had left me high and dry in my time of need. I was stressed out and everyone around me knew it. I was told again and again “God will reveal His plan to you piece by piece” but it felt like God wasn’t giving anything away.
University deadlines were just around the corner and to say I was feeling stressed was an understatement. It was in the peak of my stress that I came across this quote,
It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” —Jim Rohn

This quote freed me to make a decision and to stop worrying about which specific direction God wanted me to take. God goes with us wherever we go. Whichever choice I made, God was going to come with me.

I chose to take a gap year. As cliché as it may sound, I wanted to devote my year to finding God and discovering my identity in Christ. Nowadays there are so many different gap year programmes that help people do exactly that but I chose to do 24-7 Prayer’s The Vision Course.

It claimed to be “5 months of radical discipleship and personal growth – laying foundations of biblical knowledge, cross-cultural mission, character development and, of course, prayer.” And that’s exactly what it did.

I grew more in that 5 months on the course than I ever had before. I was learning about authentic community first-hand; being loved and cared for by people desperate to see me grow. I was being stretched more than I thought possible. I was giving my time and talents to God. And learning to truly lean on Him gave me a confidence that people had never seen in me before. The saying ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called’ is true and my life is a testimony to that.

Growing in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word allowed us as students to follow Him with a greater passion whilst also laying a solid foundation of basic theology.

I would urge anyone reading this that if you want to grow more than you have ever before and be championed by some amazing leaders then check out THE VISION COURSE.

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