Engaging the Presence

Crystal wraps up our Lent series which has been following along with 24-7 Prayer’s Prayer Course II and Lectio 365, sharing from her own personal journey through the dark valley of loss and grief.

“You can find God in everything and miss Him in anything. In everything, God has a voice.” (Ken Helser) God has hidden Himself in every small detail of your life. Yes, His longing for us is so deep, God has hidden Himself inside the simplicity of the way you make your morning coffee. In everything, He is speaking.’ Lindsay Armistead, Cultivate Volume II by Cageless Birds

I have frequently reflected over this past strange and difficult year on how quick I am to say that God is being “silent” or feels “hidden.” And I am slowly realising that more often than not, it is not God who needs to speak or reveal himself, but it is me who needs to embrace new ways of hearing and seeing.
I have always loved the lines in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Aurora Leigh’, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes”. But perhaps I am only now beginning to grasp what it truly means.

I was struck recently by these words in Pete Greig’s book God On Mute:
Lunch on that Sabbath, straight after synagogue, would have begun as it always did with a blessing spoken out… over the bread and wine that were to be served with the meal. If any of the remaining eleven disciples were capable of eating that day, the grace spoken before lunch on Holy Saturday would have stabbed their hearts with remembrance of that Last Supper with Jesus…
Sometimes, when God is silent, our hearts are breaking and our prayers lie unanswered, there can still be signs: faint flickers of hope and meaning expressed to us and for us in Scripture, in fellowship, and especially in the bread and wine.”

Bread and wine – two such ordinary aspects of our daily lives. Yet within their ordinariness lies hope – if we have the eyes to see it.

When my mum lay dying and I spent the majority of my days and nights by her side, my childhood bestie came and sat with me. She did not try to give me answers or even comfort really. She was just with me. Then as an animal lover, one of my greatest sources of comfort during that time was my dad’s fat, lazy but utterly lovely cat. Those days after my mum had passed, Chubbers would come into my room at night, not demanding anything, but just curl up beside me like he knew I needed presence.
The friends who brought me the most comfort in that time were the ones who didn’t try to give me answers but simply gave me their presence.
And God was also silent. He gave no answers. But He was there. I felt His peace enveloping me, His strength and grace carrying me. He met me in the dark forests surrounding my dad’s house. He met me in the sunsets as I would drive from my mum’s hospice room back home. He met me in a fat, furry, purring creature. This may sound heretical, but it was like God knew that even He had no answers that would truly ease the pain in my heart.

In that following spring, I remember feeling shocked, in the midst of my continuing journey through the dark valley of grief, at the sudden bright yellow of happy daffodils and cheerful orchestra of birdsong. At first I almost resented it. I felt so out of sync with it. Then I saw and heard the “flickers of hope” in it and I recognised that in the midst of my numbness and struggle to hear and see God like I had been used to, here He was with me in the yellow daffodil and unwavering birdsong – signs of life and hope.

I am still learning to embrace new ways of hearing and seeing Him. Several lockdowns have been instrumental in training me to discover Him more in the ordinary and everyday of life.

I was having a good cry while on a walk the other day. There have been some unhealed areas within me because of not fully grieving loss in the past and God and my counsellor have been gently unearthing these places so that I may live in deeper freedom. This walk was part of that and it felt as dark as it did in years past and I again felt that old familiar inability to see or hear God in the midst of the pain. Drying my tears after a while, I walked on and then out of nowhere, a beautiful greyhound comes running after me, much to her owner’s protest. She runs right up to me and leans against me, almost hugging me. Her owner is hugely embarrassed, spluttering, “she never does this, don’t know what got into her, so sorry.” And all the while, I am smiling. Because I know what got into her. The presence of God. The One who knows me better than anyone, who knows my deep love for and connection with the animal kingdom, met me in the way He knew I most needed in that moment. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning would say, it was a holy moment and internally, I removed my shoes.

Engaging the Why

As part of our Lent series which is following along with 24-7 Prayer’s Prayer Course II and Lectio 365, our team member Kathryn shares from her personal journey of wrestling with unanswered questions.

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” Corrie ten Boom

“Why?” I ask this question all the time.
“Why did that person not use their indicator? Why did the person with the largest trolley have to be in front of me when there is only one checkout open? Why did that person speak to me that way? Why did I speak to that person that way?” These are some things that run through my mind on a weekly if not daily basis.
And then there are those other why’s. The larger why’s. The why’s that are too painful to voice. The why’s that cause a lump to rise in your throat if you dwell on them even for a second. I ask a lot of these as well. “Why did it have to happen that way? Why am I where I am? Why is that insecurity back, again? Why is this all so hard?”

I love answers. I love clarity, knowing where I stand. It’s how I work. It’s how I make sense of life and it helps me feel safe. I will have that hard conversation every single time if it means I can understand a little bit more. I like answers – a lot.

But I don’t have answers for my why’s, and I won’t pretend to have answers for yours either.
I have sat in discomfort around one particular why question of mine for nearly two years and I am not any further forward. Some days I am actually more tired, less hopeful and just downright confused.

I recently listened to the God on Mute audiobook by Pete Greig. I sat and listened to Pete’s stories, bible teaching and wisdom while doing a puzzle and drinking tea. I didn’t finish the book with any more answers. However, I finished with more peace.
I had peace because I realised that I am normal (*sigh of relief *) and I am simply human (*another big sigh of relief *). Having questions doesn’t mean I’m a bad Christian who doesn’t have enough faith. Rather I am a human living in an infinitely complex world.

I also recently read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and again breathed that sigh of relief when she said:
If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused – you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you are doing it wrong, it’s hard because you are doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”
Maybe I’m odd, but I find peace in this.

And I find peace that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was doing the exact same thing. Sitting in the pain of unknowing, being human. Jesus also shows me what to do with my questions – give them all to my Father. When I choose to stop and still, take my bruised heart and sit with my Father, He meets me with peace, grace and mercy – every single time.
Do I get my answers? Rarely. I don’t leave that place as Wonder Woman, knowing exactly what to do. Rather I leave as the human I am, still carrying my questions but also carrying a bit more hope.
As Alain Emerson says in Luminous Dark: “There is hope, but that hope will not invalidate your pain…”

God knows my questions and yours, and we journey holding the why’s together with Him.
Afresh I seek thee, lead me — once more I pray —
Even should it be against my will, thy way.
Let me not feel thee foreign any hour,
Or shrink from thee as an estranged power.
Through doubt, through faith, through
bliss, through stark dismay,
Through sunshine, wind, or snow, or fog, or shower,
Draw me to thee who art my only day.”
George MacDonald
(taken from chapter 9 of God on Mute by Pete Greig)

Kathryn moved to Dundee in August 2019 to be part of Prayer Space Dundee, a 24-7 Prayer House of Prayer community seeking to make prayer accessible and see people draw close to God. By day Kathryn works as a Careers Adviser in Angus which is a challenging but rewarding role. When she’s not working you’ll likely find her on a beach or tucked up on the couch with a good book and a cuppa tea – preferably with a dog nearby.

Students – Persevering in the Pursuit of Justice

We are interrupting our Lent series that is following along with the Prayer Course II and Lectio 365 to share this inspiring update from Just Love in Scotland. We as 24-7 Prayer Scotland have had the immense privilege of working with Just Love in various contexts here in Scotland over the years and we would love for you to join us in praying for our amazing students as they pursue God and his heart for justice in our world while navigating the challenges of Covid-19.

As cliche as the phrase has become, these certainly are “strange times” to be at university. Christian students might have been forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to living out their faith. Amazingly, our students in Just Love have not allowed this pandemic to prevent them pursuing justice all around the UK. We’ve been humbled by the way they’ve continued to volunteer in their local communities, run awareness-raising events, and fundraise for effective charities. We passionately believe that to pursue God’s heart is to pursue social justice, and our students have been living that out. 

We have 5 groups across cities in Scotland, and 19 across England. Whilst local volunteering is more challenging at this time, last term Just Love students in Edinburgh were able to volunteer with Safe Families, providing hope and support for children and families, and with Through the Roof, advocating for people with disabilities. The St Andrews students ran events on “God and Mental Health,” “Period Poverty,” and a Q&A with Krish Kandiah on fostering and adoption. The students in Glasgow have spent time focusing on long-term, structural solutions to homelessness as well as the immediate support they can offer. 

Across the Tay Road Bridge, Just Love Dundee have examined issues such as racism, homelessness, and drug crises. Further north, the group in Aberdeen have investigated what it looks like for us to pursue God’s justice with our whole lives, including our careers. Both groups have lent their energy to fundraising and awareness-raising through Dressember, a campaign that uses fashion and creativity to help fight human trafficking. In December, the students in Scotland raised over £4,500 for local and global anti-human trafficking charities. 

We’d love you guys to be praying for us. Please thank our generous God for our students, and for equipping them to remain faithful in these strange circumstances. Please thank him for the wonderful partners for whom our students volunteer and fundraise. We would appreciate prayer for our students’ continued perseverance, but also for their mental health. Please also pray for the Just Love staff team, that we would serve our students as best we can. Our team recently spent some time chatting to 24-7 Prayer’s Brian Heasley about the importance of prayer in making decisions. So, finally, please pray that we would be an organisation defined by our reliance upon our good God. 

If you’d like to find out any more about Just Love in Scotland, please feel welcome to email anna.spence@justloveuk.com, or find out more on our website, www.justloveuk.com   

Anna currently works with the epic Scottish groups and partners. She has just moved to Glasgow, but she’s Newcastle born and raised (and tries to bring it up as much as possible). She graduated from Oxford uni having studied Psychology and Philosophy, and loves overthinking how and why we should engage in social justice. She’ll tell you she loves 90s hip-hop and indie movies. She won’t tell you she loves McFly and drinks mochas.

Engaging with Lament

As part of our series which is following along with 24-7 Prayer’s Prayer Course II and Lectio 365, our team member Rachel shares her journey with learning to lament.

‘Christian lament is not simply complaint… at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.’ Josh Larsen, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings

“It’s fine, I’m fine…” These words have surrounded me for as long as I can remember. Where I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland, if you asked someone how they were doing, you’d be met with “Aye, am fine, yersel?” Only once you got to know someone well, could you tell if they were actually doing fine or not.

Growing up, I’d never seen pain expressed. The attitude was “do what you can to get by”. People didn’t really talk about their struggles, unless they had a happy ending.

I had been told “don’t bottle up your feelings” yet no one showed me how to express my feelings well, how express the pain in my heart. I’d witnessed people turn to coping mechanisms such as busyness, alcohol and self-deprecating humour; yet all that did was numb the pain for a little while. Even amongst my Christian friends, we’d share the things we needed prayer for on a surface level, but no one really talked about the pain underneath, the pain of the wait or the challenge of waking up each morning and not being healed.

I once broke down to a youth leader. It was over eleven years ago and I was frustrated with where I was in life, filled with confusion, hurt, living in pain and feeling distant from God. She asked if I’d prayed about it. I almost scoffed. I had, yes. I’d asked God to take it away and nothing had changed. But what I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t actually talking with God about the pain and the hurt itself.

Then one day, a friend recommended that I read God on Mute. And it was in that book that I came across the word lament.

In the book, Pete Greig says, “Pain needs to be expressed, for pain that is not expressed can never be transformed, and pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.

It was a deep revelation that I could express my pain, hurt and the deeper, hidden parts of my heart to God. Before, I had skipped over the Psalms where David cried out to God and, rather than viewing these Psalms of Lament as an example of honesty and vulnerability before God, I had focused on the Psalms of praise. But when I discovered lament, I realised that I could express myself honestly to God just as David did. That Jesus actually invites me to share the pain in my heart, the struggles, the things that make me angry – to be honest with him.

Lament feels counter-cultural to me. It’s putting my head above the parapet, humbling myself to say, “I can’t control this, I don’t have it all together and actually, God, I’m not fine.” Yet lament has given me the tool I need to come to God with my whole self engaged, the bits I like and the bits I don’t.

It still isn’t always easy. It takes discipline and bravery to sit down with a pen or a plectrum, take down the guards around my heart and be honest with God. I’ve learned it’s a process and to enter into lament slowly and with vulnerability – pausing, sharing with God the parts of myself that I’d rather keep hidden or in my own control. And then continuing to praise Him for who He is.

In learning to lament I’m learning to trust God more deeply and slowly, I’m also letting go of control. I’m unlearning the language of “being fine” and I’m learning to sincerely say, “Lord Jesus, thank you for showing me love. I love you. Today, I bring to you my pain, my hurt, my frustration; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

** If you want to learn more about how to lament, check out ‘How to Lament’ in the Toolshed on the Prayer Course website.

Rachel lives in Glasgow and has a heart to see prayer and justice flow throughout Scotland. In 2010, Rachel was given a copy of Red Moon Rising and God on Mute to read by her youth leader in response to her persistent questions about prayer and where God was in the silence. In 2017, Rachel first connected with the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team after God set her heart on fire while in a prayer room in Austria to see unity in the church in Scotland! Rachel is married to Lal and in her spare time can be found playing music or watching Ice Hockey.