For the month of October 2018, God called us as a whole community to seek Him in prayer and fasting.

This is not something we have done as a whole church, for a whole month – ever before! More daunting than that, was the fact that God asked us not to use this time to bring our requests to Him. He assured us that He already knows all our needs and wanted to just enjoy time with us!
This quote from RT Kendall was a powerful catalyst as we ventured into the unknown: “I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray than that God enjoys having me in His presence. He enjoys my company. He delights in listening to me! He doesn’t get bored with me, there is no rejection, only total acceptance”

We agreed four ways we would focus our prayers corporately: 1) Firstly, we set our alarms for 12 noon each day to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Whilst this seemed like a fun idea at first, by the end of the month, it was clear that God had placed us in some pretty amazing places to ask for ‘His Kingdom to come’ or to ‘deliver us from evil’ – gyms, offices, hospitals, schools, business meetings, playparks, and even the Houses of Parliament! The interruptions of grace in our daily lives all over the city and nation gave us a new rhythm of reliance on God. We learned that when you pray the words of Jesus, you end up living them too!

2) Secondly, we set up a prayer room in the church, which we made accessible Monday – Friday (9am-4pm) for the whole month, with copies of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, TryPraying booklets and some blank journals for folks to begin a conversation with God. This quickly became a place of tangible peace and presence, to spend a few minutes or hours seeking Him.

3) Thirdly, we hosted three evenings of prayer throughout the month. These were great times of worship and waiting. One was a city-wide gathering to pray for Teen Challenge, a fantastic local charity whose vision is to help the addicted break free. A call to pray and fast is always a call to the mission of Jesus in and around us.

4) Lastly, we made an intentional emphasis on inviting people to our pre-service prayer meeting every Sunday morning throughout October. Some days there were so many people that the room we normally use was too small! This became a joy rather than a duty, and there was a real atmosphere of expectation as we listened to the voice of the Spirit through one another before starting our main service.

Fasting proved to be a really uncomfortable journey in our consumer culture. Traditionally, fasting is a private thing between the individual and God (like giving), but people were open and free in discussing what and how they were fasting. A gentle but firm reminder was needed that the key for all of us – whether fasting food, coffee, TV or other things we run to – was, are we running to God instead? Are we emptying ourselves for His fullness? Or are we just pleased with our own efforts?

From the millennials fasting Netflix to the mums fasting chocolate to the businessmen fasting coffee, we experienced a growing hunger for God. It was incredible to hear honest testimonies at the end of the month saying how dissatisfied people were when they went back to the thing they had fasted. Some people have left TV, coffee or chocolate behind for good, as they have tasted and seen that God is SO good!

Many people’s alarms are still set for mid-day and we continue to welcome the interruptions of grace as we pray “Your Kingdome come, Your will be done…

Simon has been part of the church family at Sheddocksley Baptist Church since moving to Aberdeen in 1996, where he now serves as lead pastor. Simon is married to Karen and together they raise 3 bouncing boys who give them endless joy and exhaustion all at the same time. His greatest pleasures in life other than family are football, coffee, and music… not always in that order!

Preparing for the Feast of Christmas…

The 16th of November – this is when the ancient Celtic church began observing Advent and Advent for them was a period of preparation, both inward and outward, for the Feast of Christmas.

David Baker of Dundee shares with us some thoughts as to how we might follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and prepare ourselves for the Feast of Christmas, lighting the way for others.

There is something very powerful in preparing for Christmas. The early Christian Scots knew this and spent time preparing themselves in various ways. One way was to remember all the back stories to the one Jesus story.
Over the weeks before Christmas itself they would tell stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and all the other men and women whose stories became part of the Jesus story.
As they told each story, they would draw a symbol of it and then hang each symbol on a tree. They called it a Jesse tree, after Jesse, the father of King David.

The most convenient way to prepare for Christmas today is to buy a pre-made Advent calendar. Each day we open a little door and take out a piece of chocolate. How different from the way our ancestors prepared themselves for such an important festival!

Perhaps it is time to reinvent the Celtic preparation and adapt it for today.

Encouraging Prayer
Why not make a list of 24 important people who have been part of your journey, people who have helped you to discover the real Jesus at the middle of the Christmas story? Write each name on a bit of paper and then throughout Advent take a name each day – pray for them and if you can, send a text or message to encourage them and share your Christmas joy.

Adventurous Generosity
Alternatively, we could turn the whole “chocolate for me” thing on its head and find 24 little things that you can easily give to somebody else as you prepare your own heart for Christmas. It could be small things – a sort of stocking filler – that can be given to someone you know or intentionally to a random stranger.
These little gifts can be really powerful and the gifts I have been given through the year keep reminding me to pray for the people who gave them to me (A Canadian gemstone and a silver coin are just two of those things that came my way during this year).

If being that prepared is not easy for you – another way would be to set yourself 24 challenges, one for each day. Simple things like buying someone a coffee, letting someone in a hurry cut in front of you, making sure you say thanks to someone who would normally get ignored (like the people who pick up litter).

Get started
Christmas is going to creep up on us, whether we are ready or not. These ideas are ways to prepare well.
Why not give it a go this year?

About Silence…

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a sort of pilgrimage to the little village of Herrnhut, Germany and I learned something I will never forget about silence.

Our purpose for going to Herrnhut was to discern if there would be potential there to bring groups from the Order of the Mustard Seed for retreat and pilgrimage. Evelyn Underhill refers to retreat as ‘loitering with intent’, which in a sense was what we were doing.

Pilgrimage is a ‘symbolic acting out of an inward journey.’ And as we left behind us the beautiful bustling city of Vienna and the incredible yet intense full days of the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering, entering into the quiet, wide-open spaces of the Czech, I could feel my soul quieting.

Herrnhut is a special place for me. Deep friendships have been formed there in past years and never-to-be-forgotten encounters with the presence of Jesus have taken place there. So as we drove into the sleepy little village that Sunday night, I felt my internal ears turning towards Jesus with an undercurrent of anticipation

The next morning we set out to walk a lovely path called the Skulpturenpfad. It meanders through forest, beside ponds and small streams and across fields. And every now and then you come upon a fascinating sculpture (thus the name of the path), all the sculptures together telling the visual story of Zinzendorf and the Moravians of Herrnhut.

We had agreed to walk together in silence, giving God greater space to speak to us. Henri Nouwen says, “First, silence makes us pilgrims. Secondly, silence guards the fire within. Thirdly, silence teaches us to speak.”
And I have to say, this describes beautifully what I experienced in that time of silence.

If you ever have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with others, I can not recommend enough that you spend some of that pilgrimage in silence together!

The experience was profoundly moving and impacting. There came such a sense of deeper connection with one another as we journeyed together in silence, a connection that mere words can not create. I also experienced what is not new to me but what I always experience when out in nature on my own – that sense of deeper connection to and sharper awareness of the nature all around, as well as God’s presence and voice within.

But it was the sense of deep connection with the others in the silence that I found myself marvelling at.

Communication has always been important to me. Observing tensions between my parents, friends and colleagues over the years, I have always felt that so much hurt and misunderstanding could have been avoided by simple communication and honest chat.
And I love words. Words used well can inspire the imagination, bring peace, cause sudden laughter, influence perspective.

Being an introvert, I do however value those friends with whom I can sit in comfortable silence and it not be misunderstood.

But on Monday, the 8th of October, I discovered something precious about intentional silence within a group of people that goes beyond “comfortable”. This silence cultivates deep connection, a sort of communion of spirits, awareness of more than one another’s physical presence but awareness and recognition of one another at a soul and spirt level.
It makes me think about when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and John, still within the hidden place of his mother’s womb, responds in joy to the physical presence of Jesus carried in Mary’s belly. I think it’s what the Psalms describe as “deep calls unto deep.”

When we did speak again and began to share with one another our experiences, musings and revelations from the journey, I felt like I listened to each person more intently with greater openness of heart than maybe I typically would have. Because in the silence I felt like I had more fully met the real person within each of them – and they were beautiful.

Home – a Place of Encounter

Lisa Milner-Smith and her family made the decision last year to host a prayer room for their local area in their own home. Lisa shares their story here.

“In 2017 I was granted annual leave for the week after I had requested. I had a decision to make – to be offended or to believe that God must have a plan. I waited and then into my Facebook feed came the advert for the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering in Birmingham. It was going to take place in October during the week I had off!

Having been inspired by Pete Greig’s books, I had been searching for a prayer room and thought that perhaps if I went to this conference there would be one I could go along to there. So I booked a B&B, got a great deal on a train fare and looked forward to heading to Birmingham. I asked God for a companion at the place I was staying and for the opportunity to meet folk from Scotland who had the same vision. Sure enough, God provided another woman who was staying where I was staying, but it was remarkable just how many people I met who were either Scottish or living in Scotland! By the third person I introduced myself to, I began to realise this was no coincidence!

The culmination of all these Scottish encounters happened at the evening celebration held in a club. I was standing against a wall on my own and round the corner came a lady who asked if the auction had started yet… in a Scottish accent. She invited me to join her group and I found myself included in the Scottish contingent’s assignment to outdo everyone else in the denim jacket auction (this auction happens at every Gathering to raise funds for various individuals, communities and projects with the 24-7 Prayer family)!

Then on the way home I was even sitting at the same table as two other ladies who had been at the conference. It was obvious that God was encouraging me onwards.
A few weeks later I visited one of these ladies, Debbie Meehan who leads Prayer Spaces in Schools in Scotland, to see the space in her home that she sometimes allows her church to use as a prayer room. I was inspired and wondered aloud if I could convert the basement in our house to a prayer room. My family had come with me to see this prayer room and in that place together we felt that we could aim to hold a prayer room in our basement during the upcoming Easter week.
My prayer partner and her family helped with ideas and man power. We registered on the 24-7 Prayer website and started advertising. It took a while for people to sign up, but in the end I was overwhelmed by how many people came and were blessed.

‘We were indeed blessed. There was a very powerful presence of God and we could have stayed for ages. I didn’t know what would happen when I brought the children but they were also affected. If in half an hour we got so much from it I’ve no doubt your Easter must have been transformed. Please do keep on doing prayer rooms.’

‘God bless you and your household for opening your house for prayer this Holy Week to pray for our nation. I attended yesterday afternoon with my friend… His Presence was all around in that basement room. It was a precious time.’

‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience the peace and presence of God in your beautiful room of tranquillity. It was an awesome time of prayer and reflection.’

‘There was a great sense of peace and an “Open Heaven,” in the room. 
Early on Saturday I was asking the Lord for a Word to share on Easter 
Sunday in our Church, and He directed me to an unusual scripture which was perfect, this really blessed me. I spent most of the rest of the day developing it; but receiving the Word in the first place is the most important aspect and it came while I was in the prayer room in the middle of the night.’

My own family have also benefited from having access to the prayer room, both during that week and in the weeks following the event. We have all found ourselves in there spending time in God’s word and praying more than previously. It also brought together a number of the young folk in the church for a time of prayer and worship.
The highlight for me though was how the prayer room brought together folk from a number of different churches and how all who visited – Christian and those yet to encounter God – spoke of His presence in the place.

Lisa is a mid-wife living with her family of four in Renfrewshire. When asked if they would be doing another prayer room, they responded, “Roll on, Easter 2019!”