A short prayer for a long week

Dear Lord,
At the butt end of a long week
– a week of incomplete projects
and unchecked to-do lists,
of work left undone
and connections missed,
of phone calls avoided
and quiet times delayed, then skipped;
A week of “not good enough”
and “too much” and
and
and…
And yet.
And yet, You.
You, with the parables and the stories,
the bread and the wine,
the tears and the laughter,
the life everlasting.
You. You again.
Waiting at the butt end of a long week
like I even deserve to meet You there,
like I even deserved Your companionship, unseen by me;
You.
Oh, You.
Thank You.

#CoffeeTimePrayer: A painful choice

 

 

Reading: Ruth 1

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Disappointments are constant. I know, it’s not really the chirpy Monday morning message most people are looking for. To live is to feel, and to feel is to experience pain. Our faith isn’t a safeguard against this, just the opposite, as Brené Brown recently tweeted:

We are all in different stages of labour.

For Ruth the Moabite, her pain – her labour – must have felt like it was at a critical point. Having lost her husband and his brother in quick succession, she was faced with losing both her sister-in-law and beloved mother-in-law as well. All the security and family she had come to know and love would be taken from her in one fell swoop. It’s hard to imagine someone like Ruth being impressed by a chirpy Monday morning message!

In a way, Ruth could have walked away from the pain of the delivery by returning to her own family. There she would find safety and security in her family’s house until she married again. But Ruth decided to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and return with her to Naomi’s family. We often see in the book of Ruth little more than a romance, but Ruth’s decision isn’t motivated by the prospect of Boaz, who wasn’t even in the picture yet; nor just her love for Naomi. Rather, Ruth’s decision was based on her wanting to continue to serve the Lord.

In those days one’s tribal and cultural identities were inextricably woven with religion; all gods were “national gods”, and it wasn’t uncommon for a conquered people to adopt the gods of their conquerors. In Ruth’s mind, staying with Naomi and being part of her people equated to continuing to serve Yahweh, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, who returned to her people and their gods (Ruth 1:15).

Ruth continued to “labour” in uncertainty and insecurity and poverty, trusting that Naomi’s God – her God – would care for them.

When we’re faced with hurt, we generally want to stitch up the wounds as quickly as possible. I’ve never been in actual labour myself, but I doubt you’d easily find women eager to draw out the experience. We want to expel pain rather than dwell in it. It’s a natural and good impulse.

But I wonder if we sometimes walk away from laborious experiences before we’ve allowed God to midwife them. Rather than deal with our hurts and their causes, we walk away, mistakenly thinking that we’ve dealt with the situation when in reality we’re still carrying it around inside us. A painful but powerful image is that of a woman carrying a stillborn child until labour.

Are we carrying pain around in us instead of allowing God to birth us to new life?

I know: definitely not a chirpy message! But I hope that as this week unfolds, we’ll take a moment to appreciate the relief of delivery, and turn to God to help us through the experience.


Prayer: Lord, I pray that you would bring me delivery from my pain. Help me to release that which burdens me and to experience new life. Amen.

Sabbath: God the Shepherd

Read: Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Listen: The Lord’s My Shepherd – Stuart Townsend

Reading: John 10:1-10

7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Pray/meditate:

The life abundant, Lord, is not in the sheep pen.
The life abundant is in the hills:
in the dark valleys and against the craggy rock faces
echoing between cliffs and climbing mountaintops
rolling down gentle, grassy slopes,
following well-worn paths that wind, cut, dip
climb, falter, struggle, reach.

The life abundant is in the rock-strewn gulley
and the lap of a mountain stream, tumbling.
The life abundant isn’t security, Lord,
but being safe with You, as You walk ahead of us
and behind, flank us and guide us and carry us,
as your presence chases away
whatever would chase us.

Make us brave, Lord, to follow you
from the sheep pens of our religion
from our comfort zones, our prejudices
and our biases, our loneliness and our apathy,
our faithlessness and our sins,
our sorrows and our grief.

Lead us to the mountaintops
and retrieve us when we wander, lost,
on untrodden paths.
Come find us, again and again, Lord,
even when – especially when – we do not realise
that we are lost.
Amen.

It’s time…to change

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Two weeks ago popular South African farmer-turned-preacher Angus Buchan held a massive prayer meeting on a farm near Bloemfontein. More than a million people showed up to the free “It’s time” event to pray for change in South Africa. The focus was on less violent crime, less corruption, and less racialism.

I’m not a big Angus Buchan fan. He was recently banned from speaking in the UK because of his stance on women and LGBTI people, being in the “pray the gay away” and “men are the heads of their households” camp. He claims his theology is a simple one, perhaps because he as a straight white male has the ease of simplicity when it comes to conservative interpretation. He is for all intents and purposes a megachurch pastor sans megachurch.

To understand his appeal it’s probably worth noting that his big claim to fame back in the early to mid-2000s was a book turned into a movie, Faith Like Potatoes, followed by large, men-centred conferences called “Mighty Men”. This is where he shared his vision of men rising up to take back control – and to his mind, protection – of their families. It struck a chord with disenfranchised white men especially, and as his popularity grew, so did his influence. There are more than a few who consider him South Africa’s spiritual “oom” – “uncle”.

On the one hand, I want to be impressed that Buchan managed to attract a crowd of more than a million people. White South African Christians especially are notoriously skittish, preferring to stick closely to their denominational lines. But on the other hand, the mostly white crowd at “It’s time” is problematic. If you want to pray for non-racialism in South Africa, then surely such a prayer meeting should be more diverse than a tepid cup of Frisco?

The whole theme of the “It’s time” gathering was that South Africa wouldn’t see change without God. But God works relationally. So I find it worrying that the event garnering prayer for a better South Africa didn’t itself reach out – seemingly didn’t try to relate – to anyone other than Buchan’s stable of steadfast supporters: the people already watching his programs and reading his books and buying his special Bibles. Just two weeks before the “It’s time” prayer conference more than a million ZCC members descended on Moria to celebrate Easter. So don’t tell me it’s the lack of availability of willing, able and faithful black Christians that saw such little turnout at “It’s time.”

You have to wonder what the attendees took away from the event. They prayed for change, but I wonder: would they allow change? The funny thing about praying for things to change is that God usually says, “That’s fine, but let’s start with you.” Prayer and praying are fundamentally about opening ourselves up to God so that the Holy Spirit can work the redemptive power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection in our lives. Will there be a corresponding moment of grace for every prayer that cried out for change that Saturday, perhaps when next a racial video goes viral? Will the people who gathered there – and elsewhere, in smaller groups – surrender to God when he tells them, “Let’s start with you?” – as opposed to the murderous, corrupt boogeyman most people imagine when they hear the prayer points for a meeting such as “It’s time”?

The act of drawing together in faith and obedience to an event like “It’s time” is not to motivate God to act. South Africa doesn’t need God; that implies that God is missing, and he isn’t. If anything, drawing together as people did should motivate people to act and to be acted upon by God as he works a change in their hearts and lives. South Africa doesn’t need God; it needs better Christians, Christians willing to suspend their own corruption, hate, and racialism and strive for a better way. Praying for the nameless, faceless “other” to change is far less effective than praying to change oneself.

Holy Week Mini-Devotions: Good Friday

Read: Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Listen: Lord Let Your Glory Fall – Rivers and Robots (acoustic); Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross – ZOE Group

Readings: John 18:1-19:42; Hebrews 10:16-25

4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”


13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Pray/meditate:

Child, who are you looking for
on the Stone Pavement, Gabbatha?
The promised one?
I tell you, I am he.

Child, who are you looking for
on the road to the cross, the way of blood?
The king of kings?
I tell you, I am he.

Child, who are you looking for
on the Hill of the Skull, Golgotha?
The saviour of the world?
I tell you, I am he.

Child, who are you looking for
in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea?
The risen Son of God?
I tell you, I am he.

I am.

Amen.