Posts Tagged ‘Transformation’

Where is God when you need Him?

You pray and it feels like you are praying into a void – your words echo into emptiness. Or maybe it feels like you are shouting into a crackling telephone line – you have to shout to be heard. And there is only noise on the other end of the line.

I share with you my greatest resource from the past year. A treasure that God gave me before I received my diagnosis of breast cancer. A treasure that taught me a new way to pray before I knew how desperately I would need it.

It is The Jesus Prayer. I first heard about it on a weekend conference with our Bishop early in 2009. He mentioned it briefly in his summing up about prayer, and it caught my curiosity.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The essence is simple.  As you repeat the words of the prayer over and over again, slowly and deeply, you open up to the Holy Spirit and become aware of a movement of prayer that is much bigger than you.

Prayer like this feels like stepping on to a boat or plunging into a river that is full of life and connects us with a global voice of prayer.

Simon Barrington-Ward has written an excellent little book called simply The Jesus Prayer. Chapter nine is life changing – What Happens When You Pray the Jesus Prayer

The phrases of the Jesus Prayer give the top of our mind something to be occupied with, so that the rest of the mind can be open to the deeper feeling that lies underneath. This is what those who have used the prayer have called putting the mind in the heart. The words occupy our surface being at the same time as they communicate with the depth in us. (p25)

In simple language what this means is that the Jesus Prayer gives us a way to engage deeply with God that acknowledges and manages our mind’s natural tendency to wander.

The essence of the prayer is to practice the presence of God and to stay there until eventually you were always conscious of that presence and always in communion with him . . In seeking that presence you would have to recognise all the passions that struggle to take hold of you in the depth of your being constantly. You have to keep turning from them to Christ and keep letting his presence with you and in you through the Holy Spirit still these passions and transform them into energies working for good. (p64)

My journey through breast cancer has contained many passions and fears that struggled to take hold of me. And in the battle ground of my mind the Jesus Prayer has become for me a key that transforms my thinking and my experience. God’s presence is always only one deep enjoyable breath away.


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Why the silence?

This is my longest gap between posts since I started the blog, and I missed you.

I have just returned from a 6-day training course and I could not get reliable internet access while away. The course was about language in action. It is my treat to myself as part of my preparation for moving forward beyond breast cancer. More about that later.

City of Words by Vito Acconci

The way we use language has a powerful effect on ourselves and on our interaction with others.

The connection between language, thought and reality is made by the definition of words

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Change your thought and you change your world

Norman Vincent Peale

So why spend 6 days learning about what language means to us and how we use it? . . . because I am curious to explore every aspect of what it means to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

How I use my thoughts and words affects my relationship with myself, with others and with God.

Tomorrow I travel to spend some time with my family in Scotland. You will find me in the Quiet Zone of the train heading north – my head buried in the course manual. What a treat!

As I move forward beyond breast cancer I have a lot more learning to share.

Oh, and by the way, I had my second Herceptin today.

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Tomorrow I start radiotherapy; the third stage of my treatment (surgery – chemotherapy – radiotherapy).

As I prepare for this 18 step journey I reflect on what it means to me and how I will remember it.

Rather than wish the experience away, I have music, scripture and prayer as resources. Inwardly I will be renewed day by day – and I look forward to sharing the journey with you.

May this journey bring a blessing, may I rise on wings of faith

And at the end of my heart’s testing, with your likeness let me wake.

Listen here to share my preparation.

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“we have not even the vocabulary to describe the aroma of coffee – how then should we speak of God ?”

How true! The way I understand and represent God in my thinking is very likely to be different from how other people understand and relate to Him.

So how can I check out the metaphors I use to relate to God and is there a blueprint I can check them against?

To help me explore this concept I conducted a small research project as part of my coach training. We were looking at modelling. The theory is that if one person can do some thing, it is possible to find out how they do it, learn it yourself and teach it to others.

Sport provides great examples. We can explore how long distance runners train for endurance; how darts players hit the Bull’s Eye; how swimmers achieve efficiency in their strokes. We model them by watching what they do and breaking their actions down into small parts so that we can copy every detail. And, of even greater importance, we find out what they are thinking – what stories they are telling themselves about what they can and cannot do; what values they hold about excellence; and what they believe about their mission and purpose.

If a golf master tees up to hit the ball and tells himself in his head “this is probably going to go straight into the rough”, how likely is he to hit a winning shot that whistles straight towards the tee?

For my research project I interviewed some mature christians to find out how they pray. And the results were fascinating.  Some imagined God in front of them, up in the sky as a presence without any form, others imagined Jesus sitting beside them, as a person. They ‘heard’ God in different ways, and felt his presence in different ways.

Each had their own metaphor to describe the divine presence and the experience of prayer.

No-one mentioned the Holy Spirit in them.

So is there a blueprint?

Can you imagine my delight to discover that great minds have been exploring this very question for over 25 years – Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning and James Bryan Smith.  The result is a Curriculum for Christ-likeness – An Apprentice Series – Discovering the God that Jesus knows.

And the greatest delight is that I find myself part of a group of friends asking the same questions and seeking the same depth of authentic relationship with God.  We are learning from the master himself.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

As I learn I will share with you – topics like God is Good . . Trustworthy . . Holy . . And looking at how to respond with Soul Training.

This is not a course for those who want to know about God. It is for those who want to know God.

The first step and the first soul training exercise are not what you might expect them to be . . .

p.s. Thanks to Col for the quote about God and the aroma of coffee from Wittgenstein

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We can only have one thought at a time so we might as well make it a good one!

Reading Philippians these days I am challenged to check my attitude carefully.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.

Depression comes when we dwell negatively on the past and anxiety when we create troublesome stories about the future. Making the most of now, having the ability to hold the moment we have, gives us the opportunity to experience contentment now, and skill to endure and even overcome the toughest challenges.

So maybe a bit of self talk is good for us – don’t go over that again . . that might not happen . . stop moaning . .  get on with it.

Maybe a spell on the naughty step would give us a chance to externalise the negative  thoughts in our heads and decide whether they are getting us what we want.

The idea is that you spend one minute on the step for every year of your age. That should give most of us plenty of time to calm down, review the situation and reflect on whether we like the person we are becoming.

But making the most of the moment is so much more than simply stopping being negative. We can explore it – feel it, listen to it, smell it, look at it, be in it. We can even choose to put thoughts into it.

What about looking at what is already in the moment and is good. Counting your blessings.

Even just listing three things that are positive for you can make a difference – write them down.  Doing this every morning changes the way you feel. Remember the power of the most transforming tonic verse.

This is the day which the Lord has brought about; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

And the promise – you will shine like stars.

So here is a challenge for us for Monday – what about catching our thoughts one at a time and spring cleaning them. Are they the thoughts we want to have?

What would it be like to shine like a star in the sky?

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How many of us would dare to say we know God?

Knowing about God is not the same as knowing him. And for many of us a little personal knowledge of God would be worth so more than a great deal of knowledge about him.

Today we place a lot of importance on having a personal relationship with God. And yet how many of us truly know enough about him to have any depth of authentic relationship. We risk creating a god in our own image and attributing human characteristics to him – distant, uncaring, unpredictable, lacking in power. At the end of this journey we may find ourselves disillusioned.

So how much can we expect to know God and have a relationship with him?

Reflecting on my mortality has brought these questions right to the forefront of my thinking. And there on my bookshelf was a copy of J.I.Packer’s classic book Knowing God, published in 1973, waiting for me to have time to read it.

The book is a compilation of articles that were originally published in a magazine. The readers were christian travellers on a journey of faith. The articles are a guide-book to help them understand the landscape and know how to find their way through it. I love a book that includes ‘how to’ – that is just what I need!

Chapter 2 lists 4 characteristics of the people who know their God using Daniel as an example. This is challenging stuff – see how you score . . .

  • Those who know God have great energy for God

Daniel and his friends lived in a turbulent secular time. He was challenged to compromise his faith or stand up for it against great opposition. He and his three friends had energy and endurance to stand firm in their faith, knowing it would be a long, tough battle.

  • Those who know God have great thoughts for God

When Daniel prayed, this is how he addressed God: “ Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.  He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” How we pray tells us a lot about how well we know God.

  • Those who know God have great boldness for God

Daniel was faced with a choice – compromise your faith or accept the consequences. He counted the cost, measured the risk, stood firm in his faith and accepted the consequences.

  • Those who know God have great contentment in God

How anxious would you be if your were thrown into a fiery furnace, or a lion’s den. That must be the ultimate test of our relationship with God. Is it realistic to expect to “not worry about your life”? Daniel and his friends responded to the threat by saying “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Now here is a question – On a scale of one to ten how would you honestly measure yourself against these characteristics?

J. I. Packer suggests that if you want to know God there are two steps as a foundation:

Step 1 – Recognise how much we lack knowledge of God. He suggests we measure ourselves by how much we pray and what goes on in our hearts.

Step 2 – Seek God. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”

So what needs to happen to move us from where we are to where we want to be?

I am on this journey and I would love to share it with you. Please join me – share with me who God is and how you know him.

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