(funda)mental health

7 10 2014

Many people who are a part of church have mental health problems. One of the reasons for this is that churches are – generally, frequently – places of kindness. Places of welcome. Why? Because we try to follow Jesus, who wasn’t a malevolent warrior, a political obsessive, or a brainwashing control freak. 

We follow Jesus who went to those on the fringes, the edges; to the broken, the hurting. Our hope is that that Jesus is reflected in the everyday life of churches. What we do is rarely glamorous, or violent; it is rarely newsworthy. We are not generally world-conquering fundamentalists who want to kill anyone who isn’t like us; neither are we hotbeds of scandal. What we do is mostly under the radar, but it is not secret. It is revolutionary, but not political. 

What we do is welcome all who want to come. Serve all who want to come. We invest in communities through coffee mornings, toddler groups, youth clubs, food banks, debt counselling, curry nights and yes, being a place of welcome and kindness for those with mental health problems. We welcome ‘them’ – us, you – as we welcome anyone. Yes we get it wrong. Yes we don’t always understand. Yes we can be impatient. Yes, long-term illness of any kind can bring out the worst in any of us. And for that we are sorry. After all, we all struggle with poor mental health at one time to another. Maybe we are struggling right now and nobody knows.  

But if you struggle with fragile mental health, whether briefly, occasionally, frequently or every single long and frightening day, I hope you feel welcome not just ‘in church’, but as part of the church community. Know you are loved. And please, come as you are, and when you feel able to. If you have a mental health problem you have a lot to offer, a lot to teach, and church is worse off without you.  

Church is where the knowingly broken gather to walk life together. Forgive us for the times we forget that.

October 10th 2014 is World Mental Health Day. Please take some today to think how you can support those you know who suffer from mental health problems.
Here are some helpful links:
MIND
Samaritans
Friendly Places 





things jesus didn’t say #9 | touch wood

7 10 2014

“I pray that it works out for you, touch wood.” At which point you find the nearest wood or wood effect furniture (does that still work?), or for comedy value, touch your head. Yes Jesus was a carpenter, but that was his trade, not his prayer ministry technique. The only time he would say touch wood it is if he needed you to hold a speck whilst he took the plank out. 

thingsjesusdidntsay9touchwood

Is it a harmless phrase? Yes and no. Yes, because there is no spiritual power in wood, so invoking its power is harmless. No, because there is no spiritual power in wood, so invoking its power is harmful. Harmful as it contributes to the eroding of trust in God as the one to whom we pray. And harmful when we touch our own heads, as we do ourselves down and reveal a disturbingly negative sense of our own worth.

We believe in an actual real God who actually really answers prayer. Not in magic or superstition – or worse, a God who doesn’t listen unless we touch a particular type of natural material (or wood-effect laminate – again, does that work?).

I know most people don’t really believe in the power of touching wood. It’s just words. But words are never just words, are they. They carry a meaning.  Do we trust in the mysterious and magical power of wood (or wood effect…) to look after us, or do we trust in the God who made it.

Let’s mean what we say, or not say it at all. 

More in the cartoon series of things jesus didn’t say:
#1: stronger // whatever doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger
#2: dreams // follow your dreams and believe in yourself
#3: reason // everything happens for a reason
#4: harder // prayer harder
#5: third // on the third day, nothing important happened
#6: handle // I won’t give you more than you can handle
#7: other // other your neighbour as you other yourself
#8: tolerance // …faith, hope and tolerance. And the greatest of these is tolerance.





a complicated relationship with pride

1 10 2014

We church leaders have a complicated relationship with pride. We want to do things well; often we do do things well; and when when we do do things well, we worry more about whether everyone went away laughing at the word do-do than being proud that we did well.

None of us – hopefully – want to be ‘proud’. Not that bad sort of proud that lives on a pedestal and becomes arrogance. So, we easily fall into false humility instead. No no, it wasn’t me, it was the Lord! Bless the Lord for my wonderful preaching! I mean his wonderful speaking through this broken vessel…

And we’re back to do-do.

Snowdon.001

I thought long and hard about this when I finished my Snowdon challenge. Because I was proud. Seriously proud. Not badly, not arrogantly. Look, see, I’m already defending it. I was interested because I allowed myself to be proud. This was ok to be proud about. Why? Because I had worked flipping’ hard, trained for 3 months, run further and faster than ever before, taken on a big challenge, and succeeded. Yay!

So, why is that different from, say, feeling proud after a successful fun day, or assembly, or service. I put loads of work into all those; some are massive challenges. Challenge, success, pride. Yay! No?

It is different because we are not ‘meant’ to say that ‘we’ have done those things. Because without God, we couldn’t. And without God, I could have run Snowdon. Probably. But I think so many of us do ourselves down because we won’t let ourselves be proud at our achievements, because we fear becoming arrogant, self-serving, and, well, proud. And we all know what comes after pride…

But I am proud. Hopefully in a gentle, humble, but confident way, I am proud. Proud when I have played a part in helping someone stay dry from an addiction for several years; proud in being part of leading a church that has changed from 14 older ladies to enough for a harvest lunch for 50 (and that not being everyone) (eek, pride); proud to see young people we have influenced doing so well; proud when people grow and develop their faith; proud to have managed to hold together a diverse and complicated community, along with family and other responsibilities; proud to win Banstead Woods parkrun.

Are you proud?

Proud? Yes. And I think that God says, yes, be proud. Celebrate what is good. But temper it with humility, absorbing praise and then reflecting it upwards; knowing that we do all things in his strength, not our own. Because none of us want to be the arrogant church leader who looks down on everyone else’s church or ministry or lighting system. And anyway, most of us are not really arrogant, we’re insecure; we’re not proud, we’re terrified. But we are the people God has made us, with gifts and talents, and when God uses them, and when we work with him to hone them, that is something to be proud of.

We are not meant to be faceless, identikit personality-void vending machines of God-iness. We are meant to be ourselves, partnering with God, for the kingdom. So let’s be confident and tender and proud and humble.

I said it was complicated.    





destroying the arrogance of mans

24 09 2014

Two very different incidences this week revealed the way we men so often accidentally – and not so accidentally – assume and adopt positions of power and dominance that should not be acceptable, but are. The first is the way that Emma Watson gave an excellent speech for #HeForShe about not demeaning and sexualising women, which the Daily Mail reported by reviewing her outfit and the Telegraph used a stock picture of her in a more sexy outfit than the one she actually wore. The second is David Cameron’s ‘She purred down the line…‘ throwaway comment about the Queen’s response to the Scottish referendum result.

Emma Watson then. She takes the mantle, knowing that she will be demeaned for talking about not demeaning; abused for talking about not abusing. Barely has she finished when the repercussions start. Men, we can stop this. To support and uphold and stand by women is a totally and truly and utterly Christian – and human – thing to do. Jesus was touchy about demeaning women. After all, his own mum would have been rejected as he was born a bastard. So he made a beeline for abused and hurting women in order to restore them. To restore them. Not to humiliate them, not to act out some domination fantasy over them, not to replay years of cultural stereotypes over and over again. 

Men, when we join in sexist jokes we are part of this hateful and horrible bullying. When we judge women by what they wear and not what they do we are part of it. When we do that, we show ourselves to be as weak as classroom bullies usually are. To be truly human, to be truly man, is to stand up for women until they are not demeaned, abused, hurt, sexualised and judged. The changes start with us, in our families, homes, workplace, cars, colleges, schools. 

David Cameron. So much to say, but in that throwaway line he revealed a great deal about how men present to the world. Confident, capable, in control. We all know the Queen does not ‘purr’. She may well have been pleased. But she is not a cat. To talk about her as if she is a domesticated animal, and he is the warrior hero rescuing her country from the brink… no, he was desperately relieved, he massively miscalculated, and she is very much above him in the order. But the archetype dominant man cannot have that. So we use language, the way we tell stories, to keep ourselves dominant and in control. 

It’s not just a ‘posh’ thing, though it is easy to attribute some of it to that Etonian, private-school self-confidence in which success is assumed, mistakes are someone else’s problem, and the distance between revealing the pain of our hearts to the world is about 1000 miles. But we see it all over the place. We men will make jokes about our insecurities so that nobody else can, and more often than not will demean someone else in order to cover our own sense of shame. Most of us do not do than in conversations about the Queen. It may be about our wives, the ‘girl’ at work, the woman walking down the street, or what Emma Watson wore whilst giving her speech. 

Men, this matters. Disappearing Page 3 matters. Judging women by appearance matters. Talking disrespectfully about your kids mum matters. Christians must be at the forefront of standing up for this, because Jesus stood up for women outrageously and took the rap for it. It’s not actually about being feminist, it’s about being human.  

See how you can change a conversation, hold in the sexist joke, and say positive things about women around you today.





jesus and the invisibility cloak

21 09 2014

You know the story about Jesus and the invisibility cloak? Well, technically it wasn’t his. Maybe that’s what confused you. It’s not a well-known artefact in New Testament studies, but then, it’s easy to hide with an invisibility cloak. 

The story begins with a woman, name unknown. This woman is invisible. Or at least, she wears an invisibility cloak. When she walks the streets, nobody sees her. She is still there; they can still bump into her. It’s hard not to bump into someone you can’t see.  She doesn’t like being invisible, but when you wear the cloak, there’s not much you can do about it. 

Except at night. The cloak doesn’t work at night. At night she is seen, especially by men. Men who can pay. They see her… or, they see something in their heads, they definitely touch her, but they still don’t ‘see’ her. And they certainly don’t see her when walking with their wife in the market the following day. But at least she feels she exists at night.

Or that was how she felt. Until she met this man. Not the usual meeting with a man. He was… different. He didn’t take advantage of her, exploit her; he didn’t look straight through her. He looked straight at her. He saw her. Properly saw her. And he saw her yearning to be different, her shame over her lifestyle and her hopelessness about changing it. And he changed it for her. He forgave her. The cloak of invisibility lifted from her. She felt no shame. She felt… alive! 

 She needed to say thank you. She knew this man would be having dinner with a man called Simon that evening. Simon was the opposite to her. He was very visible. When he walked through the market, people didn’t bump into him; they saw him and moved out of the way. She was a sinner; he was righteous. Or so they all thought. So for one last time she put on the cloak, and joined the other invisible people at the edge of the party, hoping for scraps from the table.

It didn’t go to plan. Amazed at Simon’s rudeness to Jesus, the invisible woman took control. She tore off the invisibility cloak, and knelt at Jesus’ feet. She wept on his feet, dried them with her hair and poured perfume on them. The crowd were stunned at such a brazen act. Did this woman not know she was meant to be invisible? Simon waited for Jesus to rebuke her. Instead, he rebuked Simon. The proud man, the righteous man, the visible man. Jesus showed him for what he was. Visible, but hollow. Unlike her, who was invisible but full of love.

Looking at the woman and talking to Simon, Jesus asked: You see this woman? No, thought Simon. The point of women like this is you do not see them. They are invisible. But Jesus went on. He commended the woman for her love, shown in such dramatic fashion. And he rebuked Simon for his rudeness. At this point Simon wished he was invisible. Your sin are forgiven, Jesus said to her. Go in peace.

The woman left with her head held high. And she left the invisibility cloak crumpled on the floor, never to be worn again. 

This is a true story. I may have made up the cloak bit.

If you feel like you are invisible, this story is for you.
If you feel like a sinner unworthy of Jesus’ attention, this story is for you.
If other people have put the cloak on you, this story is for you.
If you have put the cloak on yourself, this story is for you.
If you put the cloak on others, this story is for you.

May we leave our invisibility cloaks behind as we follow him. 

 

 





sewing up the curtain

14 09 2014

So often it seems we celebrate the curtain being torn in two, then spend Sunday mornings trying to stitch it back up again. Maybe if your church is anything like ours, you know what I mean. We talk about being able to approach the throne of grace with confidence, then we design our churches like throne rooms with the ‘special bit’ where God is, over there, whether it’s an altar (it’s a table. A TABLE!), or the pulpit, or the worship band stage – it’s where the important stuff happens anyway. And it’s over there. Up there. Elevated.

the bishop wasn’t convinced about the reordering of the chancel

I know my denomination is probably worse than yours. We use words like altar, we have priests, special clothes… all of this serves to create this image that we say one thing, then do the other. We talk about a level playing field, whilst we build our side higher. But I guess most denominations are as bad. All church leaders know people – in church and outside of it – who think we have a ‘hotline’ to God, that we can ‘put a good word in’ because somehow our word is ‘worth more’. Like we’re some kind of religious order of butlers, taking messages and carrying the dinner and knowing the secrets of the King.

I understand why. It makes more sense to think that we all need someone else to approach God for us. Because that’s like real life. We don’t get to talk to the big wigs, we have to go through go-betweens. And God is the biggest of bigwigs. And it’s scary too, to think of approaching God. Especially if our picture of God is coloured by memories of strict headmasters or vicars who tell you off for genuflecting half a second late. So we let other people do it – the ordained, the prophetic, the musical…

But we are all welcome to approach God with confidence. His throne is a throne of grace, not malice; of mercy, not judgement. We have to intentionally choose to believe that. Choose to trust, not to fear. Otherwise it is like stitching the temple curtain back up again. 

This matters, it really matters. Because there are some people in this world who walk round with a sense of entitlement, but I don’t meet many. Most people I meet carry a sense of belittlement, of insignificance, so will hide outside the door to God’s throne room forever in fear of what he will do if he catches them sneaking around. We need to change that.

Church, let’s remember the curtain came down. Let’s leave it down. 

 

 





on conquering snowdon, and other untruths

11 09 2014

So I did it! The 20-mile + obstacles Man vs Mountain race over Snowdon was the hardest physical challenge i’ve ever done. Here’s what happened and some life and leadership lessons learned. 

We began at sea-level inside Caernarfon Castle. The weather was cool and slightly damp – perfect running conditions. The first 5 miles on the road were straightforward: choose a comfortable pace, don’t use all your energy going off too fast. Lesson 1: pace yourself.  Having all the kit doesn’t make you a good runner, just someone with all the kit, so we set our pace by those  running at our pace, not those who looked the part. Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image. As we hit the off-road the grinding nature of the constant uphill began to bite.

IMG_3451

fresh-faced and slightly terrified inside the castle

Running with my brother, we were chuffed at 10 miles to be met by our dad, who had walked to encourage us and give us some much-needed nourishment. We took a rest, as others passed us, knowing the next 3 miles to the summit would make or break us. Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something. Joining the Snowdon Ranger path here, the terrain got tougher, steeper, and visibility foggier. The line of runners became a line of walkers zig-zagging up into in the fog. Much-needed encouragement was given and received as runners stretched aching muscles, took on food, put on layers, and we collectively hoped the sun would break through. Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.

IMG_3463

beautiful sight as the clouds began to clear

At this point I could have run faster, but I held back to pull my brother up the hill; however, if I had gone quicker, I think I would have overdone it. Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything. As we neared the summit, there was a beautiful moment as the sun burst through, melted away the mist and we got an amazing view from the summit, where we took the obligatory summit-selfie, briefly paused, my brother and I said our goodbyes and I set off for the descent. The 7 miles down was tough, with tripping, slipping and braking, so I took it steady and tried not to think about the Merrell Vertical KM up ahead. I was happy that up until now I had paced it well, done the right amount of training, and hadn’t got lost! Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.

IMG_3473

the obligatory summit-selfie, looking not-quite-so-fresh!

As we reached Electric Mountain at Llanberis after 20 miles, the evil nature of organisers raised it’s ugly head! First up was the Vertical KM, a steep uphill slog up the slate mine, treated as a timed race-in-a-race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I decided to push it, going past many who were walking, and trying to ignore the burning thighs and the fear of cramp. I was unexpectedly rewarded with a 12th place out of 750 in this challenge, in a time of 11m48s, only just over a minute slower than the winner. Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.

the vertical km results

the vertical km results

Next up was the abseil. This I was terrified of. There was a walk-around for those who didn’t want to do it, but I decided I would do it. As I climbed over the edge of the railway bridge, I decided I wouldn’t look down. Ever. And didn’t. I looked at my feet. So I had no idea how high it was, or how far to go. I chose to trust the equipment and the instructors. I was surprised when the arch of the bridge left me dangling. But I did it! Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.

Grinning widely and proud that I had done it, I ran to the next obstacle – a 20 ft leap off a plank into a lake, exiting by swimming through a submerged gate. Again, this was terrifying for me, but I again chose to trust my knowledge it was safe, rather than my fear that it wasn’t. I shouted “what a sense of achievement!” to nobody in particular, and nobody replied. Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know

The cramp was truly setting in to my legs now. The effort of the Vertical KM was taking its toll, and I longed for the end to come. Just 2 more water obstacles and the final run to the finish… oh no, not quite. The two 7 foot walls just before the finish were the final evil sting in the tail.  I made the first one by climbing the edge of the scaffolding, thanks to advice shouted from a spectator. Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice. The second wall was beyond me. In full view of spectators and my dad’s camera, my legs totally cramped and I lay prostrate on the floor. I’ve never known cramp like it. Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help

Snowdon Run 2014 020FR

i thought I’d have a sit-down, just a few feet from the finish

A leg stretch and a leg-up from the marshall later, I was over the finish line, 134th out of 750! A total of 4 hours 49 minutes, 2 bananas, 4 gels, 2 shortcakes, 1 energy bar, half a bag of dried berries, 3 bottles of water, 1 mountain, 1600m and whole load of fun. I’ve never been so appreciative of hot soup. Thank you to my brother, thank you to my dad for being our team support, and thank you to all those who sponsored me on behalf of Sutton Schoolswork. Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone

the overall results

the overall results

The question is, did I conquer Snowdon? Did I win in the Man v Mountain challenge? No, of course not. She was kind to us, but she was very much in charge. She taught me many lessons, which I will never forget. A race like that is such a good metaphor for life, especially the Christian life that I follow. My final lesson? Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks. If you live life safely at the bottom of the hill, you never get to see the view. Or as Jesus said, make an effort or be bored. Ok, he actually said “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  

Snowdon Run 2014 024FR

proud, wet, exhausted and happy!

Here’s my 13 lessons in life and leadership:

Lesson 1: pace yourself.
Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image.
Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something.
Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.
Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything.
Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.
Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.
Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.
Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know.
Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice.
Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help.
Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone.
Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks.

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.
Heb 12.1





ideology upside-down

3 09 2014

Ideology. Now there’s a loaded word. It tends to be associated these days with hard-liners and loonies. It’s an old-fashioned kind of concept. But what it means is the system by which you hold to your principles. The foundation on which you build your decisions. 

There is a dearth of ideology in the public sphere. It used it be that – politically – the parties were ideologically motivated, and were overt in that. Now, ideology is generally second-best to whatever works for me right now. Which means – politically – that like chameleons we will change our policies to keep public opinion on our side.

Maybe it has always been so. There is no golden era. But currently that dearth of political ideology – other than the need for power and control – sits alongside a dearth of social ideology too. We the public don’t really know what we stand for either. So we don’t notice that those in power don’t stand for us, because we don’t what it would mean if they did.  

Why am I saying this? The Government’s response to the British men going to fight for the IS militants in Iraq and Syria. Those young men have at least one thing most of their peers do not – an ideology. Albeit a terrifying one – 13th century ideology & theology with 21st century weapons is a horrific combination. The Government’s response is about power and control. As it has been with dealing with the deficit. In this case, it is to take away passports; to deny British citizens their citizenship.

While it might sound a good ‘robust’ approach, it doesn’t get underneath the problem and ask why it is that British-born young men are able to be so convinced by such an inhumane ideology. Is it because there is nothing to counter it? Instead of threatening to take away passports after the event, we should be working alongside our youth – regardless of religion or background – helping them to understand themselves, to find they way in the world, to work out what is important to them and why.

This used to be called education. Youth work. This was where it happened. But now education is basically exam-factory and youth work is all but disappeared. We need it back! We need our young people to know what they stand for, to understand their ideology, even when they don’t realise they have one. 

Christians have an ideology. We don’t always get it right, but mostly we know what we stand for. To love God, and to love our neighbour. Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble, the mourners, the peacemakers, the gentle. That is a confident, robust ideology that turns power and control and money-making on its head. That seems like a good place to start.

See more spoken word from Dai Woolridge at Spoken-truth.com 

 





top corner second lap

31 08 2014

Top corner second lap. Even the words make me shudder. Or at least, they used to. I regularly do the 5k Banstead Parkrun which is 2 lopsided laps through the woods. And the top corner second lap, about 3/4 of the way around – I used to hate it. It’s just after a long hill, with a steep start. Physically the legs and heart are struggling – but more than that, for me it was psychological. At that point, the self-doubt creeps. The negative voices in my head telling me give up, stop; you’re no good anyway, you’re a rubbish runner, just walk, go home. Did I tell you you’re also a rubbish vicar? And don’t get me started on how you’ll cope with that adoption idea…

But part of maturing is knowing that when things are tough you don’t just give up. And part of being a Christian who writes is knowing that running metaphors are very biblical, so no-one can tell you to stop going on about it. Pushing on through the self-doubt, chronic though it is sometimes, is essential to living fully. When you believe in something, you are prepared to suffer for it. Life as a follower of Jesus is like a long-distance race, just as Paul said it was. Moments of self-doubt, moments of cruising; moments of pain, moments of feeling unbeatable; moments of loneliness, and moments of needing to run together. As the African proverb says, if you want to quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. 

 

Why don’t I fear the top corner second lap anymore? Because I’ve taken on a challenge to run Man vs Mountain, 20 miles over Snowdon, which is further and harder than I’ve ever run before. For this south Londoner, Snowdon is about as similar as Saruman to Neville Longbottom. Why? Because I love a challenge. Yes. But also because I am raising money for Sutton Schoolswork, our local Christian schoolswork charity. So I have been training. Hard. I have run more, and further; I have sought out hills; and my time at the Banstead parkrun has come toppling, culminating in three PBs in a row (17.34), taking a minute off my time in 3 months, and winning it this week (yay to me!). 18 miles over Box Hill no longer scares me. 20 miles over Snowdon? Ok, yes that does. 

Funny how putting the work in gets results though. I firmly believe in Christian schoolswork. It is not about covert evangelism; it is not some sinister underground movement. But it is about putting the Christian faith on the radar for our children and young people, a faith as real and lived, not as taught in books by people who usually just don’t get it. How can you understand the world without understanding faith in God, even if you don’t believe it yourself? We have a lot to say about the things that young people need to hear; and we have ears to listen to what they have to say. We teach on lifestyle and ethics and history and knowing yourself; we open people’s eyes to justice issues like human trafficking and bullying. And we are invited by pretty much all the schools in Sutton, because they trust us: 45 primaries, 11 Secondaries, 35,000 kids. And currently just 2 schoolsworkers. 

If you want to sponsor me and support Sutton Schoolswork, then click here to donate by text, or send a cheque; you can also pray for me on Saturday 6th September, beginning at 8am! And more than that, pray for your local schools. Get involved. Support your local schools workers. Thank you. IMG_3432

 

 





what’s the point in praying for Iraq?

11 08 2014

What’s the point in praying for Iraq? This is part 1 of a question I was asked the other day. It is a very good one. It is not a new one, but it is a very pertinent one. Part 2 of the question was even tougher. Referring to the horrific story told by Canon Andrew White (‘Vicar of Baghdad’) of a Christian child (he had baptised) being cut in half, my friend asked, surely the child’s parents had prayed. That didn’t work. What difference will our prayers make? Ouch. Fair point. 

My first response is to do with my bowels. And Jesus’ bowels too actually. Bear with me. When I hear these terrible stories I am moved with compassion – far deeper than that actually, a pain inside – which is described in the New Testament, when Jesus felt compassion, with the word splagchnizomai. It literally means ‘to be moved in one’s bowels’. The bowels were the seat of feeling. It’s that depth of pain in your gut. That, addressed to God, is prayer. 

#wearen

Does that achieve anything, though? Or does it just salve our consciences, feeling a bit more active than clicktivism of changing our Facebook photo or signing a petition? Well, to feel is to live, so to feel deep compassion – literally meaning ‘with suffering’ – is to know you’re alive. So yes, it matters; and yes, getting together to lament and pray matters. But that’s still about us.

Here’s two thoughts about the difference prayer makes. First, the practical; second, the spiritual.  The practical is like this: if my neighbours house is burning down and they are stuck inside, and I realise I cannot help, what do I do? Go and make a cup of tea, draw the curtains and watch TV? No. I do what I can. I call the Fire Brigade. Fetch blankets. Make tea for others. I might buy my neighbours smoke alarms.  But if I never looked out my window, I would never know there was a fire. Imagine how my neighbours would feel then. Prayer is looking out the window and feeling. 

The spiritual (this is a false dichotomy, by the way) is this: there is a spiritual war for people’s hearts. I know that sounds a bit hard-core weird. No, I don’t know how it works. But there is such a thing as evil, it does take hold of people. It has in the militia of the IS. Prayer is our weapon against that. Again, I don’t know how. 

BBC News

So prayer is about actively standing in solidarity with those who suffer; it is about actively shaking ourselves out of a comfortable malaise, seeing where the world is burning and how we can help; and it is us actively taking our part in the spiritual battle of good vs evil. All of which can actually change the world as it changes us, as the more we pray, the more the Holy Spirit can work in us. But we don’t do it for that. We do it for those we pray for.

So, does prayer ‘achieve’ anything? Is there a point? It is not a slot machine, a magic formula, or a psychic communication;  but neither is it a waste of time or should ever be dull. And it may just be more significant than we realise.

If you are able to give financially, Andrew White’s Foundation for Reconciliation and Relief in the Middle East are one of few organisations still active in Iraq. For more about religious persecution see my post The Awkward Silence About Religious Persecution and this article in the Independent.       








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