#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hope alights

Brown Bird on a Branch

Winston Churchill called his depression a “black dog”. It was something that dogged his steps, leading him to avoid balconies or railway tracks for fear that he wouldn’t be able to resist suicide.

If depression is like a black dog, then hope alights like a bird. It flits from tree to tree and garden to garden. One of the joys of bird watching is how transient individual birds are even when they’re nesting in the area. To see them is to appreciate them, for the sight might be rare.

Hope is hard when we’re having “black dog” days. We can become so preoccupied with the creature pursuing us that we forget to keep our eyes open for hope. But hope is perched above us. Sometimes it’s hardly visible, but it’s always worth the trouble to look for it. Like God, it might just surprise us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:5 NIV

Lord God, help us to find the hope of you in our darkest days. Amen.

Looking Lectionary: Easter 5A


Reading: John 14:1-14

“From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7b)

To have seen God! We Christians have a tendency to romanticize the fact that the old prophets, like Abraham and Moses, had face-to-face encounters with God; “If that had been us,” we lament, “we wouldn’t have doubted half so much!” But for your average Jew, the sight of God was unimaginable. The great I AM was shrouded in tabernacle and temple and the Holy of Holies: visited once a year, glimpsed only by a man set aside for the job in holiness and righteousness.

So when Jesus told his disciples that they knew the Father and had already seen him? This was a big deal. A hold-your-breath moment. Staggering. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Philip asked, tentative, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” For Philip and the rest, it could not compute that they had somehow seen the Father without realising it – this was the God who set Moses’ face aglow with his presence. How could they have missed it?

We see things through the filter of our minds, both on a physiological and psychological level. Our unconscious filters out details it deems unimportant, so there’s truth to the fact that we struggle with seeing things objectively when even our observation is suspect. Add our psychological filter – biased to self and relating everything to the self before “plugging it into” other perceptions, and it’s obvious that our “sight” as such is compromised.

Jesus’ disciples, Jews that they were, had learned to see – or not see – God in a particular way; one that didn’t account for the incarnation of God the Father as the Son. That God would thus reveal himself – his heart, his mind, his very character – in a man named Jesus was astounding. It’s why Jesus went to such pains to drive the point home that if the disciples had seen him, known him, then they had seen and known the Father; moreover, that even as the Father dwelt in Jesus, and Jesus in him, the disciples and believers would come to dwell with God in his house. John, in his wordy way, closed the loop between believers and God, a loop that had been open a long time.

Nowadays we have the benefit of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In relationship, we see the whole of the Trinity revealed in Jesus: the Father he revealed, and the Holy Spirit left behind as a constant revelation. But I wonder if religion sometimes “shifts” our sight away from this incomprehensible, astounding vision of God’s heart to something that fits more comfortably within doctrine and liturgy and an hour on Sunday; and if we aren’t poorer, blinder, for the difference.

Jesus is “the truth, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Apart from Jesus, our vision of the Father is foggy, limited; woe to us, then, if we lose sight even of him: this Nazarene with his compassion and his dusty feet, revealing God’s love in diseased skin touched, blind eyes healed, stooped backs righted, dead people raised.

Understood this way, we come to dwell in this vision of God, this reality of who God is; and this reality is his kingdom, come.

Blessings for your week,

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Being carried



Read: Jeremiah 10:1-5 NRSV

5 Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good.

A while back a friend and I went shopping at a nearby mall, and I volunteered to carry her two-year-old girl for a bit while she wrestled with the shopping trolley. Embarrassingly we’d barely gone a few shops before my arms were aching and I had to relinquish the little girl to the shopping trolley’s toddler seat. I wasn’t used to toting around an excited toddler, and my body quickly let me know it!

I’ve been going through a spiritual dry patch. It’s not impressive – nothing as fancy as a full-on spiritual crisis or a shadowed valley, nothing to write home about – but enough to let me realise, after a while, that my “body” ached from carrying this dry patch around. It’s just bad enough to make me drag-my-feet weary when it comes to spiritual issues: praying, Bible reading, church, relationship, life. It’s a constant “I don’t want to” vs “But I should”.

It’s exhausting, and I’m coming to realise it’s exhausting because I’m the one carrying instead of being carried.

My friend’s two-year-old won’t remember me carrying her that day, but she will recall the sensation of being carried far into her later years. But come adulthood, we often forget just what it feels like to be ferried about by (to our childhood eyes) mostly reliable adults, aloft and almost weightless and above all, safe.

When we feel heavy and weary and burdened, it’s usually because we’re carrying something around we’re not used to carrying around because we’re not supposed to be hauling it from place to place: unforgiveness, anger, doubt, apathy, fear, loneliness, legalism, religion. In the same way that the idols God spoke about are lifeless but for our moving them around and investing them with meaning and purpose, burdens lose their exhaustive power over us if only we would set them down – and instead be lifted up ourselves, safe and immersed in our Father’s arms.

This week marks the beginning of a new month, May. In the southern hemisphere we’re settling in for the first proper month of winter; our neighbours in the northern hemisphere are waking up to summer. Wherever we are, and no matter how heavy we feel, unburden yourself to God and enjoy the sensation of his uplifting you.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: The guest of sinners


Some days you read something in the Bible that makes your heart skip a beat.

This week Luke 19:7 was that for me. Tucked away in the familiar story about short Zacchaeus is this observation: “All who saw it [Jesus visiting with Zacchaeus] began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” What a wonderful reality this is! In his incarnation, our Lord and Saviour came to be the guest of sinners – of our fallen world – all to the purpose of reconciling us to God and letting us into the Kingdom.

Most of us are lucky (?) enough that we get to forget the sin we’ve been forgiven for. We’re so used to grace, so used to the overpowering and victorious love of God that we forget just what a big deal it is. But it wasn’t always that way, and I think that’s why people like Paul were so transported by the utter mercy of God – having been under the broad axe of the law, they understood perfectly just what they had been redeemed from. But two thousand years after his sacrificing, atoning death, many of us have had the cultural luxury of easy access to knowledge of Jesus and grace, and easy participation in his Body and his blood. While many more people today can say that they’re saved than in the years after Jesus’ Crucifixion (and that’s a good thing!), I think we sometimes forget exactly what it is we’ve been saved from – death!

My prayer this week is that I’ll be reminded of the sheer volume of God’s grace. If I am – if I remember what a sinner I am, and that I’m a sinner saved – then I should also be able to remember that others are sinners, saved too, or that some are sinners in need of salvation. In recognising my own sinful nature, who then am I to judge others for theirs?

If grace is to be appreciated and fully embraced, it follows that even while we recognise that we’ve been made new in Christ, we cannot forget the old nature. Our condemned nature is the soil in which the seed of our metanoia, our conversion, takes root. We don’t become new people in Christ because we forget the old; on the contrary, remembering who we were before is essential to our lives in Christ! I’m convinced that Christianity as a religion and as a moral bulwark is in decline exactly because we’ve become so used to our salvation that we’ve forgotten how much we needed it – and still do – in the first place!

If I ever get a tattoo, it’ll be two words on my wrist: sinner, saved. To me that encapsulates “grace” in a way that the word “grace” can’t. It’s the old nature, death, sin defeated; and the grace of a new morning, a second chance, a love indescribable. It’s the very reality of Jesus Christ.

As we head into February, let’s not suffer from amnesia. Yes, we were sinners – terrible sinners, with mistakes as tall as buildings. We don’t have to dwell on this, but we have to make peace with it if we’re to properly understand and experience just what it means to be saved, what it means to be alive, what it means to be free and loved.

Prayer: Jesus, you’re mighty to save! Thank you for your grace, your love! Thank you for our redemption! Holy Spirit, help me to remember the awesome reality of being a “sinner, saved”. Help me to remember that I too am a sinner in need of a Saviour, as much, if not more than other people!

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Hello from the other side (of the street)


Mark 1:40-45 Msg:

40 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

41-45 Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: “Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people.” But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.

A local business owner hereabouts had this habit of replying, “Fine thanks and you?” whenever you said “Hello”. The how-are-you-I’m-good-and-you-I’m-fine social ritual we employ was so ingrained she was a step ahead of the actual conversation! The French have gone even further – they’ve boiled it down to its very basics, using “Ça va?” as both question and answer.

In a sense today’s reading in Mark reminds me of this exchange. We often ask each other how we are without any real expectation of honesty. Here this man told Jesus, “If you want, you could heal me.” But how many people who didn’t care enough to see him healed, how many people who thought he deserved his illness lurk behind his statement? Perhaps that’s why Jesus was so emotional – he saw this man’s history. He saw all the “I’m-fine-thanks-and-you’s?” this man had heard in his life as people scurried past, too preoccupied or self-righteous or apathetic to see the world of pain unsaid.

Unlike them, Jesus wanted this leprous man to be well. “I do choose,” he tells him. To me that sums up the character of Jesus: patient, loving, fierce, he always chose to tarry a while with people, to break bread with them, to speak with them, to listen, to heal, to touch. Jesus doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would hurry past a conversation with a curt “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”

It seems to me that our entire life consists of a single choice: between a short “Ça va? Ça va!”, or the much messier pause that Jesus employed, whether it was by wells or at dinner tables or in the temple or by the sea shore. This man who realised how short his ministry would be never acted like it. And him, the Son of God! Are our human schedules really comparable? Or was he onto something we’ve come to lose as we cross streets to avoid conversations?

Dearest Father, Brother, Friend, this week help me to choose as you did – to choose people, to see them as you see them, to realise that your grace for me is really grace for them, too. Amen. 

Have a good week,