Unforced Rhythms of Grace

We have wanted to facilitate residential retreats for such a long time.
The seed of this desire was planted while bringing some equipping to church leadership teams around creating a culture of prayer in their church communities. We noticed the difference in depth of engagement between the teams who were away from home for the purpose of learning and those who were hosting us in their own local contexts. Can you guess which teams were less distracted with the time to properly process, discuss and pray together? Yes, you’d be right.

So we began to wonder what it could look like to facilitate these equipping times within a retreat type setting.
Then we went into lockdown.
At first, we thought that idea was on hold. But as we began to observe the exhaustion of leaders especially, our focus changed from equipping to simply providing space for rest and renewal. It seemed counterintuitive to host a retreat online, inviting people to “retreat at home” but we decided to give it a try. And it worked!
It was a joy and profound privilege to facilitate space for people to encounter the presence of Jesus during an incredibly difficult and traumatic time within our world.
We knew that God had given us a new gift to develop and steward – the gift of facilitating space for rest, renewal and restoration.

So we were beyond excited to begin planning our first in-person, residential retreat! Then we began to hit some unexpected bumps in the road.
We are still in our pioneering years as 24-7 Prayer Scotland and resistance is just part of pioneering. The key is discernment. To discern when the resistance is just some rocks that need plowed up and removed or when it is something that requires pausing or even changing direction.

I have spent the majority of my years in ministry pioneering. I am used to pushing on, no matter how big and heavy the rocks are. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way ( a few times ) that sometimes it’s okay to take a break and return to the plowing later on. Or to just simply plow at a slower pace. I had to learn how “to take a real rest, to walk with [ Jesus ] and work with [ Jesus ] — watch how [ he ] does it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” ( Matthew 11:28-30 The Message ).
When processing my frustration with the resistance we were experiencing with my dear friend and 24-7 Prayer Scotland trustee Stella, the penny dropped. Stella was a good friend and pointed out some things around my personal health ( I am still recovering from the after-effects of Covid ). Some of the resistance I was experiencing in planning this retreat was my own health. My physical, mental and emotional stamina were at an unusually low capacity yet I was still pushing – like my health was simply an unwelcome rock in the field to be plowed up and thrown to the side.
I knew I could not plan and facilitate this retreat when I was living in contradiction to what we would be sharing, teaching and ( should be ) modelling at the retreat.

This has been an incredibly humbling decision for me as a leader. It is a vulnerable and pride-trampling thing to admit your own weakness. And for that weakness to initiate a decision that will disappoint others… It triggers all kinds of insecurities and concerns about performance and appearance for both 24-7 Prayer Scotland and myself as the leader. Yet I know this – Jesus is far more interested in our hearts and our obedience than in how we appear to others. And ultimately, I really do trust him that, if we choose to work at his pace – “the unforced rhythms of grace” – it will produce fruit far better than anything we could produce going at our own pace or at the pace of perceived expectations of others.

I share this in hopes it will be an encouragement to you if you are experiencing similar challenges. May you be blessed with Stella’s in your life who love you and love Jesus enough to be honest with you. May you be blessed with the deep knowing that you and all that you are – body, soul, mind, spirit – are precious to God, not stones to be plowed on through. May you be blessed to learn the “unforced rhythms of grace” and be content with the “well done” of Jesus as you work beside him rather than in step with the expectations of others or yourself.

Taking Prayer to Costa

We love it when we hear stories of prayer escaping the prayer rooms and turning up in unusual spaces, weaving in with mission and justice, creating a welcoming meeting place between God and those he loves so much but do not yet know him.

Moira Hamilton of Saltcoats recently shared just such a story with us and we thought we’d share it here so that you might be encouraged and inspired as well.

It began in Christmas of 2018, when South Beach Baptist Church was asked to be a peaceful presence at Santa’s Grotto, providing activities to keep children occupied as families came to stand in the queue and receive some special items to make their Christmases as bit cheerier.
South Beach responded enthusiastically, setting up creative activities to keep little fingers busy and parents at peace. But they asked to do something more – set up a Prayer Tree. The idea was welcomed so they bought a lovely, festive tree of light, set it up, and invited the families to write down their pray requests on wee tags then hang them from the tree. Those prayer requests were then gathered up and taken back to the church building where they were prayed over by the congregation.
Though they had no real way of knowing if any of these prayers had been answered, they did hear of one. Someone whose home had become greatly outgrown had asked for a bigger house, which would take a bit of a miracle. That request had become a reality.

Fast forward to Christmas 2021. Not much seems to be happening in Saltcoats for Christmas this year so South Beach took the initiative and asked Costa if they could set the Prayer Tree up in their cafe. They were warmly welcomed and to their surprise, the whole process felt incredibly easy, and they knew God had honoured their boldness and given their little idea his favour. They were delighted as their desire is to be a seen presence of care and availability in the community.

Using the 24-7 Prayer online sign-up, the congregation members are taking turns being “prayer ninjas” in the coffee shop. They go in and order coffees and to anyone looking on, they are like any other customer, sitting and chatting with one another. But their chat happens to be directed at God as they lift up the owners of the deep, heart-felt requests and thank you’s hanging from the Prayer Tree.

It has only been set up a couple of days but already most of the 50+ tags for writing prayers on are now hanging on the tree and they are having to bring more blank ones in.

And on top of that, their little idea has now inspired a Prayer Tree in the Costa in Oakham, England!

What might God do in the lives of your community through your seemingly little idea, your little offering, your bold ask?

See, I Am Doing a New Thing

* A note on Celtic Advent. Those of you who have followed us for a while will know that our Advent blog series always follows Celtic Advent as the Celtic Church is part of our heritage here in Scotland. For those of you new to our blog, this is not “rushing Christmas.” The purpose of Celtic Advent is the exact opposite. Similar to the 40 days of Lent, it is season that encourages us to slow down, to reflect, to listen, to wait, to watch and to begin to prepare space within our hearts to symbolically welcome the coming of Jesus into our midst once again.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

It was the first week of January, 2021, and, due to lockdown, even quieter than the usual Scottish slow crawl into the new year. I was sitting with my coffee and journal, asking the Father for a word for the coming year – for myself, but even more for the Church in Scotland. And the words above are what came to me. He chose not to hugely expound on it so I simply noted it down in my journal, like Mary, “treasuring it in my heart.” Over the next wee while I discovered others were hearing these same words, though like me, with no profound interpretation or application.

As we enter into Celtic Advent, these words are returning to me. I believe in this Advent season there is an invitation from God to notice, to see, to “perceive” the new. But in order to notice, to see, to perceive, we must be intentionally waiting, listening, watching.

We may be tired of hearing it but it is true. After what we have been walking through as a global community and with what still lies ahead of us, there is no returning to how things were. Even if we could, we would find that we no longer fit comfortably there, because we ourselves have changed.

So we are all still navigating this liminal space, wandering this wilderness that lies between the old and the new. There seem to be no models to learn from, no experienced leaders to follow. And more than anything, we are weary.
I see it everywhere, hear it in most conversations and even feel it within myself at times. So many, church leaders included, are desperately looking for a plan, a strategy, a vision for the future, the new. Our meeting tables are strewn with papers bearing our feverish scribbles of potential ideas, strategies, projects, programs, vision that all seem lacking or not quite it and our bodies, minds and hearts are bruised from the striving. Creative thinking has been put to the test and completely drained these past 18 months and clarity seems to remain just out of reach.

These words in Isaiah came to a people in a similar place. They were an unfamiliar place, in a land that was not their own and a land where they knew they would not remain. They had come through much suffering and they were no longer the people they had been. The years spent in this liminal space had been long and they were weary, with no vision for the future. They were just “heads down, getting on with it.”
Then God breaks in with this promise that is also an invitation. An invitation to lift their heads, lift their gaze, to see, to perceive the new thing that God was doing. The time would come for them to do, to partner with Him in what He was doing. The invitation right now is to see, to wait and watch.

This Celtic Advent, His invitation to us is the same. To lift our heads, to interrupt our busy schedules, to lift our eyes from our meeting tables and places of striving, and to position ourselves where we are more likely to see, to perceive the new that God Himself is doing. The time will come for us to partner with Him in the doing of the new. This season is for seeing. For stilling, quietening, listening in the place of His presence and in that place the seeing and perceiving will come.

Will you join me this Advent in settling into His presence, waiting there while watching and listening, our hearts being enlarged in the waiting to receive His coming once again?

Crystal comes originally from Oregon, the best state in the US, but has claimed Scotland as home for 12+ years. She is the National Coordinator for 24-7 Prayer Scotland and loves being part of the wild, contagious and life-transforming movement that is 24-7 Prayer. She is also part of the Discovery Church family, a 24-7 Prayer Community Church in beautiful Dunbar, where you can often find her walking on the beach or in the woods. Crystal loves hospitality, reading, talking about prayer, the history of Celtic Christianity, being out in nature, exploring new places and cultures, and good conversations over coffee (or a glass of red wine).

The Spiritual Practice of Savouring

A few years ago I went on my first ever retreat with some beautiful people where we spent three days together overlooking Loch Tay. We were tasked with a particular spiritual practice that has formed and stayed with me two years on. The practice of savouring.

To savour:
VERB savouring: “enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) to the full, especially by lingering over it.

We were to walk – walk slowly. We were to notice – notice God’s beauty in nature around us. We were to linger – linger in reflection on an object, such as a leaf or log, asking God why we had noticed that particular object.

I like to collect. I am something of a magpie when it comes to memories and I unashamedly like a bit of melancholy. Perhaps the oddest of my tokens is a bunch of cinnamon sticks glued together. Such things may seem trivial to others but for me they hold emotion, precious moments and the stories of those with whom I have walked through life.

Ever since this retreat (and given my natural magpie tendencies), I have become fond of taking time to savour when I am out in nature. I look for shells at the beach and speak to God about why I was drawn to that particular one. These often just end up lost or forming a small collection in my jacket pocket. But in that moment of noticing, God stirs my heart and speaks to me.

It has become a way for me to discover what is going on deep within my soul.

Recently, I went on my first ever solo retreat. As I meandered along an Aberdeenshire beach, exploring the awe-inspiring cliffs, I came upon a secluded pebble beach and set about looking for a stone, asking God to help me choose one. Eventually I found one – a perfect circle, heavy and smooth. It felt as if it had been sculpted for the palm of my hand alone. I had picked it up because it was a creamy white with black dirty spots on it and I felt it represented how I was feeling – messy, dark, raw parts of me peaking through. I had been praying much on this retreat, seeking healing and direction.

As I turned to leave the beach and walk back up the cliff path, I noticed a glimmer as the stone caught in the setting sun. Looking closer, I realised that what I had initially seen as dark, dirty spots and had so quickly identified with, were actually glistening flecks of granite. It was like God was saying to me, “You see mess. I see beauty.

God has a way of stopping us in our tracks and flooring us with his presence.

Isaiah 61:1,3 “[He sent me too]… provide for those who grieve in Zion. To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes

If left on the beach over time, this stone would have become even more worn by the slow process of being hit by waves and surrounding rocks, the granite shining through all the more brightly. A process of refinement. I realised why God had drawn me to this exact rock. I so easily see all the mess in my life but He was pointing out my process of refinement. The recent years had been a time of being hit by waves of disappointment, setbacks and unanswered questions. Yet out of this season, my heart has been stirred again with purpose, energy and joy. The glistening flecks have begun to shine through. I am being refined.

This practice of savouring, of slowing my pace and seeking God in the everyday, brought me to a place of beautiful (if somewhat painful) healing. Through the practice of savouring this pebble, I became a little more whole.

And from that moment, hope rose in my heart.
Hope that I am a work in progress.
Hope that beauty is born out of ashes.
Hope that he is with me always – I just need to take the time to notice.

And with this hope, I set off back up the cliffs and on to my next adventure.

Kathryn Ritchie is part of the 24-7 Prayer Scotland team and also works as a Careers Adviser, which is a challenging but rewarding role. When she’s not working you’ll likely find her on a beach, doing some DIY in her home in Dundee, making candles for her home business Coorie and Wild, or tucked up on the couch with a good book, a cuppa tea and her dog Bee.