Refuel – a Work of Unity

Crystal shares about some of her experience at Refuel this past July. It is a slightly longer post than our usual but it is a topic we feel is timely and important and therefore worth a bit more space.

We had the immense privilege of serving at Refuel again this year and we are already looking forward to next year!
If you haven’t heard of Refuel, it is essentially a Highland gathering of people from across Scotland (and beyond!) who love Jesus and desire to gather with others to worship, pray, learn, discuss, relax, eat and hang out together in an atmosphere that facilitates deeper unity. Refuel is non-denominational, completely volunteer run and is an all family, week-long event held within the beautiful grounds of Gordon Castle Estate in Fochabers. If you haven’t been along yet, join us next year. It really is great fun!

This summer we were given the opportunity to do some seminars which is always a joy as we see people discover new things about God, themselves, and their relationship with Him as well as about prayer. If even a few people walked away with greater freedom, excitement and inspiration for their own prayer lives, and encouragement and fresh ideas for their church community’s prayer life, then we feel like all the work and effort to be there was more than worth it!

This summer at Refuel the focus was unity. When I first heard this I got excited. God seems to be doing something around unity in His Church right now across the globe and so the timeliness of such a focus made me expectant for what God might do in our hearts towards one another at Refuel.

I had been asked by Muddy Pearl to talk a bit about prayer and a favourite book at one of their book-themed evening events at Refuel, so I decided to work the week’s theme of unity into the talk as I am increasingly convinced that prayer is the starting place for unity in the Church.
Unity in the Church is something that I have long carried in my heart. I can remember even as a youth watching documentaries, stories and the news about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and longing to go there to somehow help to bring not just peace, but reconciliation and restoration. Young and naive? Maybe. Without proper knowledge and understanding of all that has contributed to the tumult over the years? Most definitely. But I know that desire and the grief I felt within mirrored the heart of God.
And in recent months this longing to see unity amongst the people of God has become more “like fire shut up in my bones and I can not help but speak“, to quote Jeremiah.

Therefore it was easy to choose the book I would talk about. I chose Heart Fire by Johannes Hartl as the words contained in this book around prayer and unity have gripped my heart from the moment I first read them:
…when you pray, what Jesus prayed for become important to you. And this was his prayer request the night before he died:”that all of them may be one” (John 17:21). If God increasingly calls his church back to prayer, it will also be a call that we pray in unity: in a unity that does not trivialise differences, rather one that respects differences whilst meeting in that which unites us all.’
Where, if not in praying together, can fraternal reconciliation begin? …anyone who really prays will pray for that which Jesus prays. In the night before his death Jesus asks the Father for unity among his disciples. He’s still praying for that today. May his prayer be echoed in ours, day and night. The question of Christian unity is too serious, its history too blood-drenched, to leave it to those who simply debate it at conference tables. Only in praying together will we find the power to overcome the divisions in our hearts.’
Jesus is monogamous, and he has only one bride. Although her visible unity is broken, all who believe in Jesus belong to this bride. Loving the bridegroom should be accompanied by an ever-increasing respect for the bride whom he only chose once.

I think that last line can be the most challenging. How do we have an “ever-increasing respect for the bride“? Especially when we see such brokenness, mess, scars, bruises, flaws and it is difficult at times to see the beauty that Jesus sees?
That’s where prayer is key. As Johannes says, when we really pray, what matters to Jesus matters to us. True prayer takes us beyond our limited vision, our biases and prejudices, the emotions we struggle with; it removes us from the seat of judgment where we can so quickly enthrone ourselves and dislodges the pride within us, bringing us to a place of humility and openness before God, his heart weaving with our hearts, giving us his perspective, the ability to see and love more like him.

Johannes tells the story of time he spent sitting at the feet of an elderly nun named Barbara who was filled with a simple yet profound love and adoration for her Saviour that had been cultivated by hours spent in his presence in prayer. Above her dining table hung the words she had penned: “Lord, make me worthy to serve your Church when she is down.
It is easy to love and respect the church when she looks good. But what about when she doesn’t look good, when she has stumbled and even fallen?

What I am more and more convinced of, especially when looking at the lives of those like Barbara, unity is ultimately about Jesus. If we try to have unity for the sake of unity alone it will never happen. It will only happen when we love Jesus so deeply that what matters to him, what hurts his heart, seeing him receive all that he desires, matters more to us than our own opinions, preferences and comfort.

I feel like we caught a glimpse of this unity at Refuel. Not only through the teaching on unity brought throughout the week through various speakers, but in conversations over coffee, shared meals, burdens and struggles shared, prayers spoken together, worship declared side by side – differences not ignored or trivialised, but discussed with open hearts, unifying around the one thing we all had in common – a love for Jesus.
Then on the Friday afternoon we gathered in the centre field to witness those choosing to make public statements of their love for Jesus through baptism. There we all we were, representing various beliefs around baptism, yet we were all rejoicing and celebrating together the visible, transforming work of the Jesus we all love in the lives of those being baptised. It was a powerfully beautiful moment.

Waste that Opens Prison Doors

After a short break due to summer holidays, we return to our series on “Beautiful Waste” and finish it off with some encouraging and challenging thoughts from Andy Bevan, the Scotland Director for IJM UK.

I’ve been reading through the Book of Acts recently and have been particularly taken by the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12). It’s one of those stories you can really picture – the dangerous context the early followers of Jesus lived in, Peter being arrested and put in prison and the dramatic, yet somehow serene, way in which he escaped… A miraculous story but I feel drawn to a very small part of it.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5)

What follows the church earnestly praying can only be described as a miracle – Peter was in prison guarded by four squads of four guards, on rotation 24 hours a day, chained to two guards at any one time… Yet, he managed to escape.
Was it the prayers of God’s people that led to the miracle happening? Would it have happened anyway regardless of whether the church prayed? What if the church had not been praying?
Of course, it’s impossible to know the answer for sure but this is not an isolated incident – elsewhere in Scripture, the people of God pray and the impossible is made possible. It seems that prayers and miracles are intrinsically linked.

My work with International Justice Mission has taught me something that feels to be 100% counterintuitive. In order to come alongside the magnitude of injustice in our world and the urgency to respond, we must first choose to stop. The first work of justice is a work of prayer. At IJM, we spend an hour of every working day in prayer.
What?! What about the urgency of the situation? What about the need to get out there a do something? On the face of it, this hour of prayer everyday could be viewed as a waste of time. For me, it is a privilege. It’s a beautiful waste.

As well as serving through his role in IJM, Andy is husband to Charlie, father to Harris and Aila and is part of his Leith, Edinburgh based church Mustard Seed.

The Gift of Praying Together

How do you pray?

Do you normally pray on your own, in your own space?
Or does your church have a weekly or monthly prayer meeting? Does that sound like an evening of boredom and awkward silences? Or maybe you’ve had great experiences of corporate prayer and such times are thriving and soaked in the Holy Spirit!

What I’ve been mulling over for a while now is that yes praying together is modelled by Jesus and the early church:
“And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” – Acts 1:13-14 ESV

But that it is so much more than a good thing to do, but rather it is a gift from God!

Bonhoeffer states that “the physical presence of other Christians is the source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer” and that “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community”.

Having grown up in a highly individualistic society, being fed the belief that I can do everything on my own, it has taken years of being around communities dedicated to praying together to break down my individualistic mind-set that had seeped into my personal faith.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that praying on your own is worse than praying together! It is actually utterly good and necessary!

Pete Greig, in his book How to Pray, says that “You must seek solitude and silence as if your life depends on it, because in a way it does”.

We need our times of solitude. We need that intimate, secret place with God to grow close to him. Without my morning time spent sitting on my bedroom floor with my first cuppa tea the rest of the day often feels sluggish. Time alone with God is a priority of mine – it is the bedrock of our relationship!

But we also need times to come together to pray out loud (not just all sitting in the same room quietly contemplating, though there is space for that too!). In this space God takes each of us deeper and reveals new and adventurous aspects of his character. It brings a richness that I have found nowhere else than in kneeling alongside other Christians, each of us pouring out our hearts to God.

In this place we can be inspired by one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, and best of all we get to agree with each other! We get to partner in with others prayers and say “yes and Amen!
So often you’ll find that what God is speaking to you he is also speaking to another person in the room and then confirmation arises! God is on the move – he is listening and he is participating with us!

But my favourite by-product of speaking my prayers out with others is the accountability. That we are able to feedback answers to prayer because more people are aware of what God has placed on our hearts.

Recently I was visiting a House of Prayer in Dundee and during one corporate morning prayer time I prayed that there would be no anger on the roads that day. By the evening some really bad weather had set in and one person came to me and said, “I’m so glad you prayed about the roads this morning because there were nearly three accidents on my way home, but everyone was safe and there wasn’t any anger”. Were those crashes avoided because of our prayers? Who knows! But we were able to turn it back to God, to praise and celebrate his goodness and protection! We were far quicker to recognise his hand over our day and over the city because we had talked to him together!

Charles Finney hits the nail on the head when he said that “Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love on another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

Do you want to be in a prayerful community? Do you want to know God in a new way? Are you up for the challenge? Then go, gather, pray together, and always remember our fellowship is a gift of grace, a gift from God!

Words by 24-7 Prayer Scotland Intern

Creativity As Beautiful Waste

As part of our series on ‘Beautiful Waste’, Crystal shares some thoughts around the beautiful waste of creativity.

Creativity – it’s one of those words that everyone has a different understanding and definition of and a very different relationship with.
The concept of creativity excites some, bores others and petrifies those who don’t see themselves as “creative.”

Yet we would all agree that creativity has great purpose and plays a very special and important role in our world. We can all appreciate that it is creativity that has given us great music, striking art, incredible buildings… and the list goes on. The greatest gift that has come to us through creativity is Creation itself.
And scientists and psychologists can tell us how the product of creativity is good for our health and well-being over-all, especially when we get out into creation.

Yet, if we are not careful, creativity can be relegated to “usefulness” where we begin to begin to view it only through the lens of what it can accomplish. And when we do that, the richness and the subtle power of creativity wanes and is even lost.

God is the ultimate Creator. We create – whether that be in the realm of the arts, in science, problem-solving, the medical field, etc. – because we are created in His image.

But what do we see in God as Creator? Much of what he created has great purpose and usefulness , this is true. But how much of what he created could essentially, be viewed as waste?

When we think of the variety of mammals and birds, or more questionably, of insects and reptiles – not all is needed really. When we think of the variety of landscapes and climates, or types of bodies of water. How about the staggering variety of colours? And why do snowflakes need to be each one completely unique and different to the other?

And then there’s us – humanity. Not one of us is made exactly the same. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just simply clone us?

I would suggest based on the evidence, that God delights in “waste.”

And this is the beauty of creativity in prayer. Yes, creative actives serve a beautiful purpose in prayer of helping us connect with God at a deeper level. Creativity in prayer helps us focus, gets us past the distractions within our minds and past the walls we put up in our heads and hearts. Creativity in prayer is like a key that unlocks the door of our innermost being, our true heart, our most vulnerable places. And it teaches and permissions us to pray in many ways in any place.

A beautiful example of this is when I was asked to do a session on prayer and set up some creative prayer “stations” at a ministry in the northeast of Scotland that seeks to help provide community and support for women from a particular council housing estate. One of the ladies tried out “Letting Go,” an activity where we give God our worries by dropping a stone in a bowl of water. She shared with us all how much peace she felt after doing it and how she was now going to throw stones into the sea on her daily walks as a way of continuing to release her worries to God!

But prayer rooms and prayer weeks are filled with creativity that is essentially waste.
Whenever I am responsible for a prayer room/prayer week I face the conundrum of what to do with all the artwork on the walls, the lovely origami prayers that people have painstaking folded in to a bird… and all the other signs of prayer through creative activities.

And more often than not it all goes into the bin (recycling of course!).

It could be seen as waste. But God delights in it. His Father’s heart rejoices when his people not only take the time to meet with him, but express a part of themselves that looks like Him with no other intention than connecting with Him. And because He is worthy of it.

He sees it as beautiful waste.