Thursday, March 29, 2007

My 'Other Great Blogs' list

I know, I know, another new post. But this one isn't really real. Its just regarding my blogger list!

I have been very excited by the lengthening of my 'other great blogs' list in recent days. Previously removed blogs have been re-entered, and are currently performing very well!

Since the ongoing discussions in Andy's blog about where people are on his list, I decided mine needed a bit of re-working. Whilst I liked Andy's idea of listing the blogs alphabetically, I didn't feel that copying it was the right way to go. Instead I have come up with my own system. The fairness of it is up for discussion!

I have decided that the more frequently a blogger blogs, the higher up the list they go. Now, in all honesty, I haven't sat there and analysed the statistics regarding the frequency of blogs, since I am currently at work and meant to be analysing the statistics of the Jubilee line! Instead, this has been done quickly according to my perception.

It may be unfair in the sense that there are a couple of more recent additions to the list, aka the Borretts, who have previously not been high on a blog frequency chart, but suddenly seem to have found their form, and are perfoming very well. Whereas, previously high performers who have recently had a lull, have been moved below them.

If you feel you position is disputable please let me know, I will do my best to handle all complaints fairly and equally.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lessons from the Footie

Hang on a minute, I wrote a post 5 days ago and now I am blogging again? What's going on? That's quicker than some of the more frequent bloggers. Something incredible must have happened! Well it did, (of sorts). I went to see Man U play Bolton at Old Trafford on Saturday, (yes, groan, I am a Man U fan - sorry peops, but they are clearly the greatest team ever!). Firstly, just to say I had an amazing time. I have only ever seen a football match live at the stadium once before, and that was also Man U at Old Trafford when they played Lille last season and drew 0-0 in a very boring game. Saturday was an entirely different story. With the final score at 4-1 (though the 1 was from a very dubious penalty!), it meant I got to see lots of goals, and join in the cheering.

Along with the fun, I did also learn a few things, and I have listed some of them below:
  • That Christiano Ronaldo is every bit as gorgeous in real life as he is on the TV.
  • That knowing someone who 'has contacts' is always beneficial. We had incredible seats! Seriously incredible. I could see every litle trick Ronaldo did, (he is also a genius football player!). Dale turned to me at one point and said, 'I can even hear the sound when they kick the ball'- we were that close!
  • The meanings to some words I didn't even know existed, (and think I would have preferred that it had stayed that way - but never mind!)
  • That 'Ooh aah, Cantona' fever is not yet over, (seriously, they sang it!)
  • That the name of God is a very precious and beautiful thing, and worshipping that very name is a beautiful thing to do.

The last one seems a bit out of place, I know, but I truly did come away with a renewed sense of what it means to worship, and a greater desire to praise my God for his awesomeness. Why? Well, here is the story.

Ryan Giggs had just run down the wing, twisting and turning around defenders, and created enough space to take a shot on goal. (He didn't score from it, but that is beside the point). Following that the crowd burst into song, just singing, 'Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs' over and over. When you watch football on the tv, its easy to forget that the players are real people, with real personalities, real lives and real emotions. I guess they are used to it, but the fact that they would be standing there, hearing their name being sung like that stuck me as awesome. I turned to Dale and Dad and said, 'that must be the most amazing feeling, standing out there on the pitch and hearing thousands upon thousands of people singing your name. Can you even imagine?' Then I realised, that is what it must be like for God when His people truly worship his name. Our worship can be that beautiful - and more. We can be part of thousands upon thousands of people all singing God's name over and over, simply because He is worth it. Not forgetting that we join with the angels in doing so. What an immense privilage. We can give pleasure to God through our worship. Woah!

Part of me wants to leave it there. To say that I have been taught that worship is a real privilage. To be inspired by that lesson, and to let this post be nice and positive and a breath of fresh air. But another part, since Sunday night, wants to develop this a bit further. To question why all the beauty and wonder of the above is not my daily experience. I feel that it is important to question this, to try to see whether that could become my daily experience, rather than letting it remain a distant hope, and a nice thought. But, I think I am going to need to keep returning to the original inspiration for this post. Reminding myself that worship can be beautiful and shouldn't be hard or a chore. It is simply a privilage.

So, why does my worship fall so far short of the above? Could it simply be because I am scared of what people might think? The culture of my church is one where people will sing heartily enough, but there is no other kind of expression of true joy in the Worship of our Father. I am not saying this judgementally, I know that often what is in people's hearts is very genuine and very real, but there is no denying that when it comes to the physicality of our worship, we can often be quite sombre, half-hearted and energy-less. I wonder why. I wonder why it is so easy for people to let loose at a football match but not in church. If it is simply fear of other peoples reactions, and what they will think of us, is that right? If one or two people decided to not let that bother them, and to simply worship with all that they are, would others follow suit? Would we care if they didn't? I think this plays a major factor in why our worship is not as expressive as one would hope, but I think there may be more to it. Certainly, from a personal perspective, if I was as awe-struck by God as I ought to be, then I think I would be much more abandoned to worship.

Last night in the discussion group after the meeting, we read the following scripture:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-47

Are we truly 'filled with awe'? If not, why not? Would we be more awed by God if He was doing more? (Sorry, back on that subject again!), what about if we shared more of what God is doing? I get really excited when I hear of or see somone else expressing their faith. It seems to be one of the things that brings me heartfelt joy, when I see another follower wanting to delve deeper into the Bible. When I see someone praying, quietly, without it being part of a service, or without them being asked - but a showing that they truly do talk to God and have a real relationship with Him. When people tell me stories about how God is working in their lives. When people go to the mercy seat, or I see people crying out to God. When I see someone truly praying for and caring about someone else, and bringing them before the Lord. When I walk round someones house and see loads of little God reminders - fridge magnets, Bible verses, cards, bookmarks, etc, all of which speak of God playing a massively important role in their lives. The only way I can desribe that feeling is that I get all scrunchy inside. Often I just simply don't know how to express it, but really need to. Maybe thats what we need to do - talk to each other more about what God is doing. Be honest with each other about how much we love him. Be vulnerable in sharing our love of God and passion for Him and His Kingdom with each other.

But I don't know that that is the only answer. I think there is more to it. Do we lack awe because we don't exhibit the same things that those early disciples did? That passage says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Are we truly that devoted to God? That devoted to the teaching we receicve? Should we be trying to take more from the sermons. To not just listen to them, but to act on them. Maybe even take notes, and revisit what was said over the next few days to try to actively be devoted to the teaching. The breaking of the bread is obviously a difficult one for those of us in the army, but what do you think? Would we be more awe filled if we practiced communion? What about prayer? I think I know many of the people at my church well enough to be confident that people do pray by themselves, but what about corporately? How often do we do that? In my experience, corporate prayer has been exciting and invigorating. Praying with others has increased my own passion, and my own excitment. It has helped me to pray for bigger things that I sometimes dare to on my own. It means I pray about other things - less selfish things than when I am on my own. Is there a chance that we are missing out on the awe because we are neglecting the prayer?

Sorry, lots of questions. I think a lot of this has to come from me. If I want greater experiences in worship, if I want to experience the joy of singing God's name over and over at the top of my voice simply because He is worthy of it; if I want to feel and know that I am joining with the angels and all God's people around the world when I worship; if I want this to become a daily reaility in my worship experience rather than a distant dream, then I ought to not worry about what people think of me, and also, I ought to be more awe filled. That probably means devoting myself more to God, to the teaching I receive, and to choosing to act on that teaching; being more devoted to the fellwship and most importantly to PRAYER.

What do you think? Is this possible?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Prayer of Freedom

About 4 years ago (Oh my word, I'm getting so old!) I came across this prayer in a book. It instantly caught my attention. Read it and you'll see why!

O Jesus, meek & humble of heart, hear me,

Deliver me Jesus,

From the desire of being loved

From the desire of being extolled

From the desire of being honoured

From the desire of being praised

From the desire of being preferred to others

From the desire of being consulted

From the desire of being approved

From the fear of being humiliated

From the fear of being despised

From the fear of being rebuked

From the fear of being forgotten

From the fear of being wronged

From the fear of being suspected

And Jesus, grant me the grace to desire:
That others might be loved more than I.
That others might be esteemed more than I.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, & I many decrease.
That others may be chosen & I set aside.
That others may be praised & I unnoticed.
That others may be preferred to me in everything.
That others may become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should.

Wow! What a prayer. After reading that, I remember feeling overwhelmed but extremely moved by it. That wasn't me. I didn't desire those things – but desperately wanted to. Over the course of a few weeks, I couldn't get the prayer off my mind. I remember the ache in my heart to so want to be able to mean that. So…I started praying it. For a while it became something I prayed every day. Please God, give me the grace to desire that others may be preferred to me in everything!

I guess in some ways, the 'rightness' of this prayer could be debated. It is basically debasing ourselves as human beings – asking for the grace to not care about our own needs or desires. We are surrounded in society with this attitude of self. It's important to make sure our own needs are met, to exercise our own rights as human beings, to not let people walk all over us, and most importantly to have confidence in ourselves. Self worth has become a massively important issue, and it is essential that we have it if we are to 'succeed in life'. If anyone needed any more convincing that this is the attitude of society, notice the words of the following song:

Because the greatest love of all Is happening to me

I found the greatest love of all Inside of me

The greatest love of all Is easy to achieve

Learning to love yourself It is the greatest love of all.

Now I am not saying that we do not need self worth, but I have to question whether we tend to make it the object of our search rather than the result of our living. If we try to find our self worth by searching for all of those things in the first paragraph of the prayer – love, honour, praise etc, and by avoiding those things in the second paragraph, will we not be forever searching? Not only that, but it will be a very inward search. If instead of seeking those things, instead we learned to reject the desire for those things, would our own self worth not be much stronger, because it was less dependent on 'the world'? Would we find our 'self worth' in the result of living without dependence on those things? In living a life that was truly first and foremost God-centred rather than self-centred? Or would we just end up hating ourselves?

I stopped praying this prayer after a while, not because I didn't want it anymore, but mainly through laziness and the fact that I didn't seem to be getting anywhere with it. I was praying for the desire, but did not sense my need for love and honour and praise diminishing. Looking back on it now, I have to say that since then, since stopping praying the prayer, if anything, those desires have got a lot stronger. Personally, I feel very challenged to make this my prayer again. Those desires are so strong that sometimes they can spoil the way I live my life. They can take over my mind, and become my sole purpose for living, making my living less effective, and spoiling my opportunities to influence others and love them as I should.

It's a massive prayer to live up to, and of course, praying it is not enough. It will require some positive action in terms of purposefully not searching for those things. I think sometimes its easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying that we are human, and they are natural desires which God gave us in the first place, and whilst that is true, I worry that its also an excuse to indulge a bit in self. I so want to get away from the tendency to do that, and my first step is going to be to start praying this prayer again.

Do you think this prayer encourages the right attitude?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Simple Faith Struggle

I write this post today out of genuine concern. It is another one of my honest posts, and I am kind of scared by it too. It may be nothing and I may be overemphasising something unnecessarily, but nevertheless, it is something I have noticed and am concerned about so here it is. You can let me know if you think that I am exaggerating.

It seems to me that everyone I speak to about faith in general at the moment falls into one of two categories:

  • Those who believe in God and all that the Bible says without question – what we sometimes call 'simple faith.' (Clearly the preferable option – those of you who tell me I make faith too complicated probably fall into this category. I envy you!)
  • Those for whom questioning everything about their faith has become the norm, to the point where their faith is being severely tested and challenged.

Maybe I have only been talking to a small contingent of people, maybe there are many more who would fall somewhere between these two extremes, but I have to say, I am not aware of them. It is most likely due to my perception, and as I am a very 'black and white' thinker, its easy to classify people into one of these groups but to fail to see the grey areas. So if there is more to it than this, please let me know.

No surprises, I fall in the second category. I am one of the 'questioners.' And yes, I admit it, it has resulted in many doubts. For me, I know that I will not lose my faith. I don't have concerns about that. It is too deeply rooted in me, and deep down in my heart it's too real to deny, and yet my head questions and questions and questions. Some may consider that this is ok, because as long as my roots are deep and secure then my head can question all it wants, but that is not true for me because my head guides my actions way more than my heart does, and therefore, I am being far less effective in the Kingdom than I would be otherwise. Also, with my questions and doubts and confusions taking up so much space, there is not room enough left to love God, or to be as amazed by Him as I know He deserves.

But this is not really about me, - from some of my recent conversations I have found that a surprisingly high proportion of people, who I know once had such strong faith, are wavering massively and cannot bring themselves to let go of their questions and simply, 'have faith'. However much we talk about the fact that faith is 'faith' because we don't have the answers, and however much we remind people that if the existence, love, or power of God were first proved to us, in order that we might believe, it wouldn't be much of a faith, it is still so hard for them to let go of their questions and 'simply believe'.

(I place myself in this category, so am not getting at anyone in particular).

Why is that? Why are we so frightened to 'let go'. Why are we so frightened to believe without having the answers. Why do we need to know before we believe rather than because we believe. I know precisely why, and it is summed up very nicely by Richard Dawkins.

Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is conspiring against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people's heads. We humour them but don't take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them.

Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous. Sam Harris was not being overly cynical when he wrote, in The End of Faith: "We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them 'religious'; otherwise, they are likely to be called 'mad', 'psychotic' or ' delusional'... Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are."

(Yes, I know I have quoted this before! Sorry to go back there!)

The reason we feel so strongly that we need to know, or have proof before we put believe in God and all that God can do is that we do not want anyone to be able to look at us an say 'you are deluded', or to look at us with pity or disdain. I think this is made all the harder by the fact that we live in a society where being a Christian does not necessarily make our physical lives any better or more enviable, whilst on this earth, than those who choose not to believe.

If we choose to let go of our questions and put faith in God, why shouldn't people call us 'mad' or deluded. As far as our society is concerned everything is explainable, and proof is the only justifiable means for believing in something. We readily accept people who choose to believe something which to us sounds crazy, we find it easy to be 'accepting' but really in our hearts we are saying, 'poor deluded soul'.

I do believe and I do have faith and I do not consider myself poor or deluded. But that is easy for me to say. I am sure someone who thought they had been abducted by aliens, or thought they were Jesus and so on, would say exactly the same thing. The reason that faith is so hard is that we have to be prepared to stand up in front of the world and say, I believe in something that I cannot prove to you is true and that I don't fully understand, and I am prepared to not care that you will think that I am deluded because of that.

The reason that I write this post is that I am concerned by the increasing number of people I am speaking to who are affected by these thoughts, and these questions, and by the massive impact it is having on the whole of their lives. Having these questions and concerns does not make them, (us) happy but its better than being deluded! As I speak to more and more people going through this, I am starting to think more and more that maybe this attitude is coming from the devil. I don't want to scare anyone, and I certainly don't think there is any need to fear since we are on the side of God who is victorious, but I do think we have a responsibility to pray against him if it is the Devil. I wouldn't call this a conviction because I, (being part of that questioning group) would worry I was making a false claim, but I do have a niggle on my heart that it saying we need to get people praying that the Devil will stop making the desire the be considered 'right' and 'sensible' and 'wise' (by the world's standards) greater than the desire for God. It was kind of apt that the evening meeting last week was about resisting evil, and about the fact that there is an unseen spiritual realm out there, which we know little of, but are impacted by. I believe that we can have an impact on that realm too through our prayers. I don't get it, I don't know how, and I am scared that I am wrong, but I think I believe it!

What do people think? Is this something we can do? Could we commit to praying for this? And could we do it seriously? Am I making a big deal out of nothing?