Ten questions about prayer

sv400055

I’ve written before about praying in our family life… the ups and downs, the triumphs and perceived failures. Prayer is right in there at the heart of a life of faith, right there at the heart of what it is to live as a Christian. And it seems to me that, in our family at least, there are quite a number of questions about it that hang around in the background of the practical ways and opportunities that we use together to pray as a family. Sometimes it’s good to look the questions in the eye and ask myself – am I helping my children to learn about these? Am I giving them opportunities to gain experience that will help them find answers? Am I modelling and talking about prayer in ways that helps with these questions or that makes it all the more confusing?

  1. Why? Why do we pray? I think this goes hand in hand with ‘do I have to?’, and for me I see this question being mulled over, often unspoken, at bedtimes when we have an expectation of a habit of prayer before sleep. We have tried to pray with our children as an integral part of their bedtime routines since they were tiny. And we have certainly prayed for them at this part of the day since they were babies. Our children know that before sleep, we pray. And sometimes the pressure of that expectation actually forces this question – but why???, or do I have to???2016-03-03 10.19.20 The word ‘prayer’ is from middle English, adopted from the Anglo-Norman which in turn is from the Latin meaning ‘to earnestly beg’. But our word prayer is used to translate a number of Hebrew words, and also a number of Greek words in the Bible not just one. And they mean more than ‘beg’, there are words meaning worship, to represent someone to the judge, to bend towards, to bow, to hope and to trust. So am I making this rich breadth of meaning clear to my children if the word ‘prayer’ is my default way of inviting them to talk with God? If I long for my children to experience prayer as a scared space of connecting, talking, listening and being in God’s presence – as something worshipful and relational – then it would help them if I were to model all sorts of ways of praying, and talk about my own experience of coming close to God in prayer.
  2. Does prayer work? I ‘hear’ this question being wondered about when I sense them getting disheartened that they feel their prayers have ‘not been answered’ – or in other words they haven’t been given what they asked for. I think this question also ties in with knowing more and more what prayer is all about – that it is more than a wish list that we read out to God. I think it also plays into our growing understanding of who God is and his purposes. I want to say more often than I do ‘God is not a slot machine, prayer is not us putting in the coin’. front cover 3.pubI want to help my children pray boldly when they have requests for God and I want them to experience God always answering their prayers – and learning to look for those answers beyond their expectations. I wonder if I am sharing my experiences with them, am I telling my stories of answered prayer? I want them to know that God doesn’t always just say yes but he always listens, and always answers whether that’s with a yes, or a not now, or a no. This seems to be quite a tricky one for all of us to get our heads around so I’ve been busy writing a book to help explore this. It’s called ‘So many answers!’ & it will be available very soon! (I’m very excited!!)
  3. Who am I talking to when I pray? The other questions behind this might well be ‘who is God, is that the same as Father God?’, ‘who is Jesus?’, ‘is Jesus God?’, ‘who is the Holy Spirit?’. Am I ready for these questions? I wonder which parts of the Bible will help me to share with my children what Christians believe about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Could I turn to the story of creation where it talks about the Spirit hovering over the waters, and God is described as ‘us’, and then turn to the beginning of John and look at how the Word (Jesus) was there from the very beginning creating our world? Maybe I could draw a picture together with my children about when Jesus was baptized and he heard the Father’s voice, and saw the Spirit fall on him? Have my children heard prayers begun in different ways, addressing Father, Jesus, Lord, Creator God, Spirit…?
  4. Is God really listening? Is God really there? My children are logical, often literal in the way they make sense of their world. When we pray we don’t generally ‘see’ God there with us physically. He is different from us. It is mind-blowing and mysterious to think of God being close, ever-present, like us (we are in his image) yet so different (holy, eternal…), invisible yet we can talk together and be in his presence. It can be hard to accept the unseen, intangible is real. 20170212_114109Yet thankfully my logical, often literal children are very keen scientists! So I can use examples of other invisible-to-our-physical-eyes, intangible things we can experience that they have no problem believing are real – electricity, forces, dimensions, air, atoms, gravity… We see and experience the effects of these things despite not seeing them. In a similar way we see and experience the effects of God’s presence. Am I listening and watching for their experiences of God’s presence and naming it? Am I sharing testimony of things that inspire me in faith? Am I praying for their faith to increase, and for them to experience God’s presence in deeper ways?
  5. Does God ever speak back? How can we explore the many ways God seeks us out and speaks to us? The Bible stories, Moses, Saul/Paul, Samuel all come to mind to chat about. How am I facilitating my children broadening their experience through chatting with other Christians, hearing about their experiences and answered prayers; listening to how others have been guided by the whisper or the thundering voice of God, or by pictures and dreams.
  6. What am I allowed to pray about? Am I letting my children see me send urgent arrow prayers through the day; rejoice and praise; trust God with worries, difficult questions, heartache; are they able to join us in our ongoing intercessions? Am I still carving out opportunities to invite them into prayer at different times and circumstances? Have I, and do I clearly give permission to my children to talk to God about absolutely anything and everything?
  7. How can I choose the right words? or ‘is there a right way of praying?’, or ‘what happens if I get it wrong?’. 20171115_110630[1]When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray they were probably asking the same question. Jesus gave them an invitation which of course begins ‘Our Father…’ – an invitation to come close to the perfect loving Father who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Knowing who we come to, and realizing prayer is about relationship, family time means we can come without fear of failing to pray ‘right’. I wonder how many different ways of praying my children have been a part of? Have I been only using liturgical prayers, or only extempore prayer, do we actively encourage meditative prayer, imaginative Ignation prayer, sung prayers… are we getting a variety of experiences?
  8. When should I pray? I suppose I’m asking myself similar questions as I did for qu 6. What am I modelling for them in my own prayer life? do they see I have a prayer life? And am I prompting or enabling praying at all times and in all circumstances?
  9. Does God want me to pray? I want them to find out more about God’s delight in us coming into his ever-with-us presence when we pray, how he wants to speak to us about things beyond our imagination and expectations, and about how his love for us can be known in every single answer he gives us. How often am I praying for them to know God’s love for them deeper and deeper? How often am I speaking Father God’s love over them and into them? And, am I showing them that love in the way I parent?
  10. Does my prayer change anything? Won’t God do what he has already decided to do? C.S. Lewis said of prayer ‘it doesn’t change God, it changes me!’. Mother Teresa said ‘I used to believe prayer changes things. Now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.’ Exploring this question is so closely tied to exploring why we pray, and who we are talking to when we pray. And it touches on another mysterious paradox too, we are predestined yet have freedom to genuinely live our own way; God is sovereign yet he invites us to become part of his work in the world; God knows what is before us, and what will happen, he knows our prayers before we even think them but he longs for us to be part of it, he asks us to intercede for others, to talk to him. Am I ready to hear my children’s questions here, and acknowledge the paradox, and be alongside as they discover we can’t understand God fully or pin him down, but that we can know he invites us into his presence because it’s home, it’s where we find everything we need to truly thrive. Prayer changes us.

 

Advertisements

Easter photo diary

IMG_20180401_190703019

So sorry to have missed posting last Thursday, it has proved a very busy couple of weeks. So rather than missing another week, I’m hoping you won’t mind a post with more photos than words! (probably a welcome relief!!)

Last Thursday schools finished for the Easter break, and simultaneously Andrew’s parents arrived for the weekend and we all went to church to ‘help’ set up for Passover – it helps considerably to get there ahead of the crowds.

Passover itself went as smoothly as could be expected with a very tired T who didn’t really want to be there! The ramp up to the front of church was a useful escape place a couple of times, and we averted a meltdown by escaping to a corner to calm down. So thankful for the support of church family at these events – no tutting or staring, just acceptance! And wonderful friends who are able to coax T and distract her when I’m reaching the end of my patience…

Good Friday was a spacious, informal hands on experience at church. Thinking about Jesus’ hands and our own. It was meaningful, poignant as always to be exploring faith and reflecting together with all ages and abilities.

Followed by a family afternoon with all its usual ups and downs, finishing with popcorn & a film.

We survived Saturday!

Easter Sunday was an early start for Andrew, followed by a whole church family celebration with bacon butties which the rest of us joined for. Afterwards a lovely table full of guests and good food for lunch, then back to church for our accessible service in which we explored clues from the Easter story to find out what happened to Jesus & his friends.

Since then our visitors have travelled home, it has rained – a lot!- we have had lazy pj days with lots of TV, some gardening, some tidying, some window washing (I know, what came over me!), table sanding, sleepless nights and talk of revision, and of course chocolate eating!!

IMG_20180401_190703019

Did it really happen? Evidence for the Easter story.

So, I have plenty of ideas for telling the Easter story at home but when it comes to the inevitable difficult questions like ‘Did it really happen?’, ‘How do we know he came alive again?’ am I ready??

I feel no need to justify God, he can defend himself! However, there are plenty of resources out there that can give me help in exploring these tough questions with my inquisitive, need-concrete-facts, take-nothing-at-face-value children. So I thought I’d get a bit ahead of the questions when they come and remind myself of some of the evidence.

There is plenty of written historical evidence that would be considered trustworthy that suggests Jesus was a real historical figure. The Gospel ‘witness statements’ refer to places and events that there is archaeological evidence for, and they give accurate descriptions to those places and things.

“The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

I can explore more about the archaeology that is providing evidence showing Bible stories to be historically accurate. www.biblicalarchaeology.org 

This second-century graffito of a Roman crucifixion from Puteoli, Italy, is one of a few ancient crucifixion images that offer a first-hand glimpse of Roman crucifixion methods (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/ancient-crucifixion-images/)

We can also find evidence – written accounts, early pictures and engravings, of crucifixion as a method used by the Romans during the right time frame. We can find out more information than we would want to about usual practice, and what crucifixion involved and see the way that the Gospel accounts describe it is an accurate one.

© 2009 AllAboutGOD.com

“In 1968, an ancient Jewish cemetery was unearthed during construction. There, a heel bone was discovered in the grave of a young criminal that contains an iron nail matching the record of crucifixion. Remnants of a wooden board are still attached at one end, where the nail was bent over to hold the foot on the cross.

It appears the nail hit a knot in the wood of the cross and didn’t allow removal of the body without serious damage. Therefore, the family conducting the burial probably chose to leave the spike in the bone and cut away a section of the wood. The heel bone dates to the first century AD and provides grim evidence for the reality of crucifixion.” (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

There is evidence from outside the Gospels to look at that also confirms that Jesus was killed in this way. A Roman historian called Tacitus, and a Jewish historian called Josephus both describe Jesus as having been crucified. There is similar reference in the Babylonian Talmud, some Jewish writings. All of these texts are early accounts, not written later with hindsight or loss of information. And they all contain the same facts, Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate ordered it, Jesus was a notable figure who had followers.

© 2009 AllAboutGOD.com

“Do we have evidence for Pontius Pilate outside the biblical texts?

In 1961, archaeologists discovered a plaque fragment at Caesarea Maritima, an ancient Roman city along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. The plaque was written in Latin and imbedded in a section of steps leading to Caesarea’s Amphitheatre. The inscription includes the following: “Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.” Emperor Tiberius reigned from 14 to 37 AD. This matches the biblical timeline that records Pontius Pilate ruling as governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

20170404_162531

“The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

So, then on to the questions about Jesus coming alive again. We have evidence to back up the story that he really died. But then what?

The Gospels all have the disciples finding an empty tomb. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us the Jewish leaders began spreading the rumour that the disciples had stolen the body to make it look as if he had risen from the dead. Even they were in agreement that the tomb was empty! And this is confirmed in some early Jewish writings called ‘Toledoth Jesu’.

It is also interesting that the man who takes Jesus’ body and places it in an unused tomb is a Jewish leader himself, Joseph of Arimethea. He would have been well known, part of the Jewish high court. It would not have been possible for him to be written into the accounts of the Gospel within seven years of the event if this had not been true. And this being true also gives an inherent accuracy to the rest of the account.

It has also been said that the accounts of the empty tomb have women as eye witnesses, women spreading the news. If Jesus’ disciples had wanted to start a fiction, a legend then they would almost certainly have had men as the eye witnesses to the empty tomb, and men would have spread the news. In that time a woman’s evidence was not recognized in court, their testimony was thought of as worthless.

All the Gospels talk about Jesus appearing to his disciples in the days after he had died. They each contain eye witness testimony. Not just factual accounts but accounts as felt, seen, and interpreted by people. “These eyewitness testimonies speak to us
from the inside of the events, experienced by those who recognized the
disclosure of God in them.” (Richard Baukham) There is a consistency between them as well as each being unique. They are personal accounts that also pass on theological understanding.

Outside the Gospel accounts there is evidence from Tacitus, Josephus and also Pilny the Younger, a Roman Imperial Magistrate that the followers of Jesus did not stop, weaken or disperse after the crucifixion and the testimony about the empty tomb. Rather they grew dramatically in number. Were observed to worship Jesus, as they would a god. It is written that they met together weekly to worship despite growing persecution of any thought to be Christians.

“..the Jews or Romans had no motive to steal the body–they wanted to suppress Christianity, not encourage it by providing it with an empty tomb. The disciples would have had no motive, either. Because of their preaching on the resurrection, they were beaten, killed, and persecuted. Why would they go through all of this for a deliberate lie?” (Matt Perman, on Desiring God) 

It is good to refresh my mind about all of this before the questions come my way. Not that it’s my place to ‘convince’ any of my children but it’s important to me to know that I have gathered resources so I can explore with them the best I can. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), or ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) as it’s more often becoming referred to as in recent months does mean for us, in our house that facts are important. Knowing why, knowing detail, being thorough (and intensely focused) are all important in life, and so they are important in exploring faith too.

Easter contemplative colouring

20180206_083953

I have been busy drawing some brand new Easter colouring designs which I am excited to share here as free printables.

Click here for ‘I have loved you’ full image

Click here for ‘new creation’ full image

We use the designs here at home, enjoying time colouring in and talking together responding to the words. I know some have been used in schools, youth groups and church small groups. Thank you for your feedback, it’s an encouragement to know the designs are being useful – and enjoyed!

This week we have also spontaneously made an ‘Easter joy’ garland for the kitchen from some artificial flowers that we unexpectedly acquired. I had some wooden heart cut outs waiting in the wings for the right moment too so they have come our to join in. We thought about hope-full words that help us describe the wonder of the gift of Jesus’ death and coming alive again. Words like: rescued, forgiven, love, peace, joy, saviour…

img_20180315_173149509.jpg

Easter Joy garland

IMG_20180315_174547163.jpg

The garlands came together quite quickly, lots of the flower stems were wired and could bend and twist around the previous one. Some needed extra wire around them to keep them in place, but not many. Then I simply attached some string on either end (I made it in two halves) so I could hang it up on our existing hooks that I use for all kinds of bunting throughout the year. The wooden hearts were easily coloured with sharpies, and I hope to tie them into the garland with some Easter coloured ribbons when we’ve finished – in time to help us celebrate on Easter Day.

 

We usually plan an Easter egg hunt in the garden too, and this year I have come across this lovely idea on ‘Bless this mess please’ for an Easter Day walk and scavenger hunt looking for things that are visual and tactile reminders of the story.

 

 

comfort zone

 

2012-02-15 17.04.31

In our household we talk about retreating to our ‘caves’ – the little cosy, personal spaces that are our escape places to retreat to and shut the world out of. They are not actually dark, or particularly cave-like at the moment but they have been at times; tents, dens, hidden corners under beds – even under sofa cushions, duvets or in kitchen cupboards at times. Safe ‘dark caves’ are actually really important. We need times where we can relax, guard down and know we are safe and all is well even if only for a short time.

Being ‘out of your comfort zone’ – being in situations, or doing tasks that are really challenging for you can be so tiring. I have been reminded of it this week. It was my turn to lead the singing at the toddler group – something I have been doing in different toddler groups for years yet still very out of my comfort zone! Without fail I come away from those few minutes feeling tired and drained. Context is everything isn’t it, I have sung with my own children, nieces and nephews since forever. How different it feels in a room full of expectant little ones – and their carers.

Yesterday I had a big out-of-my-comfort-zone day. It was an RE ethical debate for the year 10’s at secondary school, and I had been invited (and had willingly agreed I might add!) to be part of the panel giving my views on abortion, euthanasia and faith schools and then ready to answer questions afterwards. Exciting, invigorating, inspiring questions and insights from the students alongside shaking hands and legs and racing heart! I was in need of a darkened room once it had finished! But felt pleased to have taken part. Having the chance to explore different points of view, different faith beliefs and the complexity of these tough ethical questions is so vital. I’m always so thankful that these kinds of debates were always opened up for us around the table at home growing up and that we were always encouraged in finding our own thoughts and listening to the viewpoint of others.

On days where shaking hands and legs, and a racing heart are a big part of the experience a safe retreat space is needed. I would hazard a guess this is a daily experience for many autistic people facing situations, contexts and tasks that are challenging day in day out.

I spent some time at toddlers enjoying studying the church ceiling with a little one who I suspect was escaping to a safe retreat place for a few minutes, away from the noise and happy bustle of the large group (T does the same sometimes – often through a camera lens). We can find retreat spaces even in the most unexpected. Different places giving us that much needed rest at different times. Our loving Father God knows we need these retreat spaces. He offers himself as a hiding place for us. His presence the ultimate safe space of retreat. And just like we fill our cozy caves with things that we need to calm, and refresh us, God our Father’s presence is full to overflowing with love, faithfulness, acceptance and peace for us.

‘..hide me in the shadow of your wings’ (Ps 19:8 NIV)

dscf2926

 

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest’. (Mt 11:28)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

                         ………

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91: 1,2,4)

psalm 26 3 faithful