Into the Silence…

This is the first of our Advent blog series on “Into the Silence.”

Advent. Coming.

Right now as I type, the Edinburgh Christmas market is in full swing, my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with friends’ pictures of their Christmas trees and decorations adorning their homes, and the quintessential poinsettia sits on my dining table.

However, the special day that has inspired all of this festivity is not yet here. This is Advent. This is coming.

I have a few friends who dread the “Christmas season” because the pace of life revs up to a manic speed and they find themselves then collapsing in exhaustion on Boxing Day. I wonder how many of us can relate?

And I wonder if this indicates that we are in a way actually missing out on Advent? Because the very word itself suggests a season of preparation for a great arrival.

Jan L. Richardson puts it this way:
The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before… What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Jan mentions a great arrival in Scripture – the glory of God passing before Moses in response to his refusal to rush ahead, choosing rather to wait for the presence of God to accompany, to go with them.

There is another great arrival years later. Elijah, alone in a cave in the wilderness – exhausted, scared, discouraged. God promises to meet with him then a great wind whips through, an earthquake shakes the mountains and a fire rages. But God was not present in these impressive displays. Then comes a quiet whisper. The original word for this quiet whisper actually means silence. And in the silence Elijah knows God has come to meet with him as promised and he ventures out of the cave to listen to the words of hope and destiny that God has for him.

Jesus was born into a time of silence. The prophets of Israel had become quiet and it seemed that God was giving them the “silent treatment”. But other voices were not silent. The classic Christmas song, “Silent Night” is not an entirely accurate picture of the time that Jesus was born into. There was nothing calm about it.
There was great political unrest and upheaval, fear was rampant, those in authority could not be trusted, friends were willing to betray one another for a few pieces of silver, it was every person for themselves, division was rife; injustice, poverty, greed, oppression, disease and depravity seemed to have the upper hand.
And in the noise of this chaos and into the silence of God, Jesus – the Word of God – comes. He does not come in a way that draws attention, with noise and trappings. Those who were blessed to meet him at his birth and not long after were those waiting and watching in places of quiet – shepherds, wise men who studied the skies, and two people who had devoted themselves to worship and service in the temple.

We are all living in the midst of noise right now – the noise of financial stress, the noise of cancer, the noise of strained or broken relationships, the noise of mental health concerns, the noise of negative workspaces, the noise of despair, exhaustion, loneliness, fear… And many of us may be experiencing what feels like God’s silence, that ‘dark night of the soul.’

This Advent 2019 Jesus – the Word who speaks life and hope – longs to come again in our hearts. So how do we prepare our hearts to receive him, that we do not miss him when he passes by, when he speaks in that quiet whisper?

Maybe in the midst of the parties and celebrations, cheery tunes, bright, sparkling lights and retailers competing for our attention, we need to find our cave, our mountain top, our stable. Maybe, in the midst of a “season of indulgence”, we fast something that would distract us or muffle our hearing.

However we posture ourselves this Advent, may our hearts deepest cry this Advent truly be, “Maranatha”, “Come, Lord.”

Swapping Perfection for Contentment

Emma Timms from Dunbar shares from her heart as a mum about finding rhythms that keep us in communion with God, our families and others.

How do we find a sustainable rhythm in our spiritual life, family life, work life, friendships, health and downtime? How do we stay present to what is in front of us without getting sucked into worries, fears or a screen?

How do we give ourselves the grace and permission to try, fail and figure it out along the way?

The mirage of perfection just on the horizon has kept me feeling like a failure my whole life. Peace and contentment always just out of reach. If I can just stick with getting up at 5.30am I will have time to pray, exercise and journal. If I could just keep the house in order I wouldn’t get so stressed. If I could just check social media for only 10 minutes a day I’d be more present. If I could just eat well I’d be happier. If I could just keep everyone happy…

If, if, if… When, when, when…
Contentment and peace always just out of reach.

One of the things I’m learning is to greet the day as it comes to me and just do my best. That might sound obvious but if you’ve struggled with perfectionism you will know the relief of realising your best is good enough. Amidst endless failing, half starts and frustrations, I have actually managed to develop and sustain some simple and helpful rhythms.

It’s important to note that what works for our family probably won’t work for yours and what works for yours probably won’t work for your friend down the street. And what worked for you last year might not work this year! It’s something that needs to evolve as your life does. We all have our own challenges, work commitments and family dynamics to work with so comparison, as usual, is useless!

Here are some rhythms in our home to serve as examples and to spark imagination:

Rhythm 1. Yearly
For Jon and I, we have committed to one night away together every year since we’ve had kids. It’s become something so special and life giving to our marriage.

Rhythm 2. Monthly
Every month we have some sort of adventure as a family for a whole day, away from commitments, pressures and jobs. And every month we try to give each other some form of alone time

Rhythm 3. Weekly
We practise a loose form of sabbath. Saturday looks and feels different to every other day… the kids love having our attention and time and it provides opportunity for great conversations and memory-making. The busier we get the more sacred it becomes. It’s not strict or complicated – it just stops the treadmill.

For me this takes the form of cold water swimming. It brings joy, it clears the mind, I’ve made new friends, its actually good for you, its free… it ticks all the boxes. On a deeper level, its reconnecting me with something I loved as a kid and lost as an adult. I’m finding healing through it in ways I don’t even know how to write about.

Rhythm 4. Daily
The Examen
This is an ancient Ignation practice done once or twice a day as a kind of review of the movements of God in your day. There are various ways to use it but I do it right before bed. I’ve done it most nights for the last 2 years and it helps me to process daily life, practise gratitude and stop any resentments building up.

I hope these examples inspire you in your own quest for sustainable, life-giving rhythms that keep you connected to God and alive to your own heart.

If you want to read more, I write a blog for mums at which focuses on keeping connected to the Vine in the busyness, challenges and beauty of parenting.

Emma Timms leads Discovery Church in beautiful Dunbar alongside her husband Jon, teaches pilates, is mum to some adorable children and one happy dog and has gathered other cold-water swimmers now known as the Salty Sisters of Dunbar.

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.