Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pray with ceasing ... especially when you don't feel like it!

I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on at the beginning of the New Year.   I managed to put my order of service together … and in good time for the people doing the music, sorting the reading … and even for Richard doing the photocopying.

At the start of the year I would focus on prayer – the wonderful story of Daniel – up against it and yet in the face of everything committed to praying.  Paul’s letters are rich in appeals to prayer – in every one of them you can find Paul at prayer, valuing prayer, reminding people of the need to pray.   I turned to one of the first of his letters to be written- I Thessalonians and the last chapter and I noticed a lovely brief verse – it must be one of the shortest verses in the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray without ceasing.

I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on at the beginning of the New Year.

I wanted to tie in a booklet that came among the Christmas post – one of the last to arrive before Christmas.  A Prayer Book from CWM.  Something new and something exciting.  And something timely for us to share at the start of the year.

 I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on.

But when it came to it I found it difficult to know where to start, or to find the right words to say.

I don’t know about you but this weather can get you down.  It’s silly really, so many people are so much worse off.  But somehow or other it begins to get you down.  And then you are conscious of the flooding that’s devastated so many people’s lives around the country.  And then you are aware of the problems on the international scene – our focus on Syria, troubles unending.  People not well much closer to home.
And to cap it all – the football’s postponed too.

I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on.

Pray without ceasing.  That’s what you’ve got to do.  It’s a danger in preaching.  That you spend your time telling people what to do.  Pray without ceasing.  And there are two things to find helpful.

Pray together – and join our prayer circle – by email, or through Lorraine or at our Prayer meeting.  That’s the thing to do.

And then there’s a new help – that’s the Prayer Book that came through from CWM.  Really good to focus prayers on CWM partners.  Good to use.

So.  Pray without ceasing.  Use the prayer chain.  Use the Prayer Book.

That’s me telling everyone what to do.

The thing about preaching, as my father passed on while preaching what turned out to be his very last sermons, is what he had been told by his father before preaching his first sermon – remember to include yourself.  You are preaching as much to yourself as to anyone else.

Pray without ceasing.  That’s something I need to heed.

Use the prayer chain.   Read the Prayer Book.

Good idea – but I haven’t been doing emails so much over Christmas.  I had a number to pick up on.   And when it came to the book – I suddenly realised I had missed a couple of days.  And it was only the 4th January as I was trying to write.

So.  You must pray without ceasing.  I must pray without ceasing.  And we must all use the prayer chain, we must all use the Prayer Book.

It’s all a bit thin, really.

And it’s still raining.  And I don’t have to rush to finish my notes as the football really has been postponed.

Then as I was struggling with what to say, something dawned on me that turned everything around.  I could see exactly what I wanted to share.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to write in my notes.

It was one of those occasions when things begin to fall into place in a way that you haven’t really planned at all.

First, the Prayer Book.  There are lots of people behind the scenes at Highbury who do things not everyone knows about.  Elsie Williams is one of those people.   Her husband, John, was a Congregational Minister and would have had a passion for mission.  That was passed on to Maureen who I remember went as a missionary with CWM to Papua New Guinea.  I am not sure when it started – maybe around that time.  But Elsie made sure that people in Highbury not only supported CWM through their giving, but also in their praying.  Each year CWM published a Prayer Handbook.  Elsie would take orders and lots of people would have a Prayer Handbook.  It made the CWM partnership real with prayer focuses on each of the member churches through the year.  Then the prayer handbook changed and there was a colour supplement with a focus on prayers – but the book itself was just prayers and readings.  Then it changed again and moved from CWM to CWM Europe, then to the URC – and the last two or three years,  no mention of CWM.

Elsie has continued to get us to get hold of the books – and they have been good.

This year, Elsie has tried again, but to no avail.  Those were not out in time for Christmas.  And then Wayne, Diana’s son in law sent me a copy of a new Prayer Book CWM are producing.  He sent a dozen to Diana – and in liaison with Elsie we are going to pass those on.

Straightaway in the production it’s interesting – because it really brings alive the partners we are working with in Mission.  But it is produced in Singapore.  From 1795 through to a couple of years ago our mission partnership was based in London.  But, if you recall, the newly appointed General Secretary from Jamaica was not able to get a Visa – we wrote to Martin Horwood – and pressure on the Government meant he was granted one … but not other members of staff.   Very difficult now for international organisations to be based in this country.  So having been thinking of it for some time, they decided to move the base for CWM to the other side of the world, Singapore – with good travel to the various partner churches.

Priority is to build up a community of prayer.

The Rev Dr Tan Yak-hwee writes as the Programme Secretary’s message, drawing attention to this verse … he pays tribute to the three who have put the prayer book together – Sanono Yap, Hireen Lim and Sharon Chua – interesting that with that move to Singapore the support staff members are recruited from Singapore as well as globally.

Pray without ceasing. 

He speaks of prayer, of God listening and answering prayer.

But then he says something that caught my eye.

Moreover, prayer is not only a personal and intimate encounter with God, but it is also a communal act.  In other words, Christians are asked to continually life each other up in prayers.”

That’s the whole point of this prayer book.  Available electronically for kindle and iPad as well as in print.

It is not just a book to help us pray for others.  It is a book to help us realise that we are part of a community praying for each other.

So I turned the page to Saturday, 4th January … and what should I find?

A focus on the Congregational Federation.

I had been thinking this was a Prayer Book for me to use to pray for others.

I was feeling fed up.  Not really like preparing a sermon.  Not really like praying for others.

And on this page came the realisation actually, all those using this prayer book today are praying for the part of the partnership I belong to.

More than that … the focus is on one of the new courses I have been involved in – the GIFT course – Growing in Faith together.

And then the request …

Pray for those who attend the GIFT programme that their personal lives in Christ be deepened and service in the church enriched.

Pray for the instructors and facilitators of the GIFT programme that God grant them wisdom and knowledge in their teaching.

That’s me!   I have been involved indirectly n putting it together.  I am involved in other parts of the same course.  I am getting ready for a big weekend of teaching next weekend.

People are praying for me.

This is the great thing about Prayer.

It’s not just about what I must do.  What You must do.  It is the realisation that we are on the receiving end of prayer too.  We are being prayed for.  We are part of that community.  We are supporting each other.    And in that support of each other the support of God is released and made real.

What a wonderful thought.

Pray without ceasing – not something I must do … but something people are doing for me, drawing me into that presence of God that sustains and renews.

Elsie is one of those who has faithfully attended our weekly prayer meeting on a Wednesday morning – going now for all the time I have been here and well back into the time of Clifford my predecessor.  Faithfully, coming together and sharing in prayer.

Part of that planned praying we share in together.

That brings me back to the other thing to focus on … it was at 11-14 yesterday morning that an email pinged into my inbox on the computer.

Requests for prayer for the church family …

And then at the bottom of the prayer letter …

As we begin 2014 at Highbury with a new structure please pray for Richard, Felicity & Carolyn, all current officers and Deacons as well as the new Ministry Leaders as we all face a time of transition , that the church will be patient and accept that the changes will need time and the co-operation of everyone to make it work smoothly . Please continue to pray for the role of Church Secretary to be filled and for those who are still undecided on what they can offer .

' Rest in the fact that God's compassion and love never change, Jesus said ,' Whatever you ask for in prayer believe that you have received it and it will be yours '

God bless


Exactly the same thought – not I must pray,  but what a wonderful thought – people on that prayer chain in that moment remembering me … and all of us in the church who are shaping the life of the church together.

A rich blessing.

|Something happened.

It’s still raining.  The match isn’t on.

But … something precious to hold on to … and something even more precious to take into the New Year!

My eye fell on the words immediately before and after that verse – it’s the prayer that Tan, Hak-hwee finishes with.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

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