By John Beverly, Reader, Springline Parish
Monday – Mosquitos
One of the people I read and listen to is a guy called Pete Greig. He leads a big church in Guildford and over 20 years ago his church decided to pray every minute for seven days. They carried on and over twenty years later they are still at it. They started a worldwide movement of people praying 24/7.
He tells loads of stories about the effectiveness of prayer but I just love this one.
Some of our closest friends invited us to join them in Croatia sailing a catamaran around the Adriatic. It was to be the holiday of a lifetime. By day we ploughed through the sapphire seas under powder blue skies, weaving in and out of the dramatic Kornati archipelago. At night we moored in perfect coves, diving, swimming and playing cards by lamplight under the brightest stars you ever saw. It was magical week.
One evening we dropped anchor in a particularly beautiful natural harbour and the kids dived into the sea as usual. By the time we’d hauled them out, wrapped them in soft towels and settled them down to supper dusk was bathing the entire bay in a golden sheen. Everyone looked relaxed, tanned and happy. Everything was perfect until a dark, swirling cloud of mosquitos materialised above our heads.
I’m aware as I tell you this story that you may not be entirely sympathetic to our plight. You may even be thinking, “Good!” and praising God for those mosquitos, but back in that boat we definitely were not. In fact, my friend James started to pray against them. “Lord,” he said, lifting one hand like Moses preparing to part the Red Sea and using the other to swat his own face, “We ask you to remove these wretched mozzies, right now, in the name of Jesus.”
Everyone else in the boat – two mums, five kids – heartily agreed with this prayer. Their eyes were closed, heads nodding, hands raised to rebuke Satan’s little airborne militia. But my eyes were not closed, my head did not nod, because it seemed such a silly prayer for three important reasons.
My first objection was theological. God must surely be a bit too busy with world problems (like the Middle East, wars, famines and stuff) to worry about optimising the al fresco dining arrangements of posh people on yachts in the Adriatic.
My second objection was environmental. Mosquitos are presumably part of God’s finely tuned ecological order and Christians aren’t immune from the laws of nature. We don’t surrender our insect-repellents at conversion. We don’t rise from baptismal waters and keep rising, liberated from the laws of gravity.
My third objection was pastoral. Our kids were joining in with James’ prayer, and so when (not if) it didn’t work, tiny grains of doubt would surely be sown within their impressionable minds and they would grow up to become Satanists
And so everyone prayed, rebuking the spirit of midgey-ness in the name of Jesus. I smiled stoically, swatting mosquitos until they all said, “Amen”. But as they did so a most annoying and unfortunate thing occurred. At that precise moment a gentle breeze arose and swept the mosquitos away to some other, doubtless, less prayerful yacht. A chorus of praise erupted from our boat. Everyone was suddenly grinning and thanking God for hearing their prayers, for caring about his kids and, yes, for making the night’s perfect al fresco dining arrangements just that little bit more perfects.
Now, here’s the point Pete makes from this story.
I don’t know whether that was an actual proper answer to prayer or just a well timed meteorological fluke masquerading as one but this I do know and I know it for sure: when you pray about the small things I life you get to live with greater gratitude. If you only pray about big, ugly, gnarly problems that seem serious enough to warrant divine intervention you will only occasionally experience miracles … As Archbishop William Temple famously said, “When I pray coincidences happen; when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.”
Try it out. Pray for parking spaces. When you’ve mislaid your keys ask God to help you find them. Years ago I used putting on the kettle as a hook to make me think of God because I realised I was living Monday to Saturday ignoring him. After a few weeks I realised I’d changed from being a coffee drinker to being a tea drinker!
Tuesday Prayer – The Miracle of Dunkirk
In May 1940 we were in some of the darkest days our nation ever faced. Allied forces were trapped with their backs to the sea at Dunkirk. The German high command said, “We are proceeding to annihilate the British army. Winston Churchill was preparing to admit military catastrophe. Allied generals were predicting a third of a million casualties.
In that context King George VI went to the airwaves on the 23rd May 1940 and called for a National Day of Prayer the following Sunday, 26th May. There are black and white photographs of 26th May 1940 with long lines of people waiting to get into cathedrals and chapels and churches to intercede for this nation in its darkest hour.
The very next day that flotilla of 860 vessels set sail for France hoping against hope they might save some of those 30,000 of those men. What happened next has been described by not only Christians as a miracle. First of all there were unseasonable storms in mainland Europe that grounded the Luftwaffe for 3 days. Secondly, Hitler made one of the biggest mistakes of the war, ordering his ground forces to halt for three days. No one can explain why Hitler made that instruction. So that great flotilla was able to use three days to ferry those troops off the beaches of Dunkirk.
As a result, not just 30,000 men were rescued but 338,000 were returned to England. On the 4th June 1940 Winston Churchill stood in parliament and hailed the miracle of Dunkirk, the miracle of deliverance that undoubtedly altered the course of the second world war.
Wednesday – Weeping
Elizabeth Gilbert opens her best selling memoir, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ like this: “Hello, God, I’m Liz. How are you? It’s nice to meet you … I’ve always been a big fan of your work. I haven’t ever spoken directly to you before.” Then she begins to cry, “Can you help me please? I am in desperate need of some help. I don’t know what to do.” As her tears subside she experiences a peace “so rare I didn’t want to exhale for fear of scaring it off.”
Thirty-nine years ago, I developed serious flu like symptoms which degenerated into depression. I was lifeless, apathetic and difficult to live with. After about three weeks off work and moping around the house another Sunday morning arrived. As we were getting ready to go to church I moaned, “I don’t feel like going.”
My wife, struggling to get a toddler and a baby ready crossly answered, “Well I think you should.”
I made a choice. I decided to get myself moving and go.
In church my wife looked after the baby. I looked after the toddler. As the service started I held her close to me and started weeping. Tears flowed. Throughout the whole service I silently sobbed: sometimes my body heaved with sobbing. At the conclusion and dismissal I stopped sobbing.
It was like a gift of tears to bring healing and I left that place a changed person.
All that I can say is that I turned up for God and he turned up for me.
Apparently one in five people say they have had a spiritual experience. I do know that in my life if I turn towards God he turns up as well.
Somebody once said that The Beatles had four songs. Paul McCartney had a fast song and a slow song and John Lennon had a fast song and a slow song. I have one sermon. If you want God to turn up you have to spend time in his presence.
Sometimes when God speaks it is through non-verbal means. I turned to him and he healed me through tears.
Thursday – The Lady who Lunches
Sue Deacon tells her story about when she retired.
She was going to be a “Lady who lunches”. This was the chance to meet up with friends for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea. Her retirement was planned out in front of her.
The doorbell rang. When she opened it there was the Bishop of Grimsby! What a privilege to have a pastoral visit from such an eminent person! After the social niceties the Bishop got down to business. “Sue, have you ever thought of becoming ordained?”
Definitely not! In no uncertain terms Sue explained that her calling in retirement was to be a lady who lunches and it was all planned out. In any case doing ordination training meant studying at degree level and that was not for her.
She was adamant and sent the Bishop off with a firm refusal. The very idea! Sue as a reverend. The very idea! As a parting shot the Bishop said, “Well, at least will you pray and think about it please, Sue?”
Three days later, counter to all her long held plans and desires for her retirement Sue was at the vicarage signing the papers.
Sometimes when God speaks to us, he does it through other people. And he does it through our heart.
Sue, which would you rather be – a priest or a lady who lunches?
“I’ve never ever regretted the decision I made to follow God’s voice.
Friday – Good Neighbours
Sometimes God whispers and nags a little.
June tells her story:
All those years ago I felt quite aggrieved when I saw a letter in the Christmas Village Venture from Rev John Pryor. He thought that in this day and age people had no time for others.
At the time I was semi-retired working part-time and thought there must be many like me, who although more mature, were still active with a desire to give something back to the community. I had been working for Social Services and part of my role was employing carers to work on a sessional basis with vulnerable adults. I thought there was likely to be a need in the community for occasional support. This could be giving a lift to the GP, someone to go with them for a hospital visit, drop off a library book, drop in for a cuppa, befriending anyone on their own and so on. Or how about water plants if on holiday, feed the cat etc?
The letter niggled me the thought would not go away even though I tried ignoring it.
In the end I did the necessary research regarding whether there was indeed a need and whether people were willing to volunteer. . Months later I called a meeting and 18 months on The Springline Good Neighbour Scheme was born. It later developed into a registered charity.
As it turned out my experience within Social Services proved invaluable when setting up procedures necessary to protect volunteers and vulnerable clients.
Springline Good Neighbour Scheme has never has been portrayed as a Chrisitian charity but on the steering group 3 of the 4 of us – Anne, Andrea and myself – were Christians. Our early chair of Trustees were ministers, Rev John Pryor briefly and Rev Duncan MacBean. It is actually based on the Christian principles of love thy neighbour, though I doubt if anyone has considered this.
I truly believe that God kept whispering it in my ear, to get it going – the last thing I really wanted to do at the time.
God wants us be the answer to the pray we are making all the time:
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – for us to make earth a little bit more like God’s Kingdom which is found supremely in heaven.
June is fourth from the left.
Saturday – What have Christians ever done for us?
What have Christians ever done for us? Well I suppose they have done one or two good things.
- The Church pioneered free healthcare and is the largest single provider of healthcare in the world. They also developed proper nursing care and the hospice movement and MacMillan nurses. Through organisations like the Leprosy Mission they work to heal. They are pioneers of social work …
- Also, the largest single provider of education in the world and are responsible for the development of libraries and literacy; they pioneered education for women …
- Almost all schools were church founded before the state took over and universities were first established by the church. The church went to the poor and the slums to establish schools when education was only available for the wealthy …
- Pioneers of education for the deaf including the Braille system …
- Christians are pioneers of social work. The first orphanages were churches and Barnardos is the world’s largest orphanage system … Fostering was developed by Christians. Churches pioneered the first homes for the elderly and the first homes for the disabled in society … First laws to protect children from abuse were sponsored by Christians.
- Fighting for the rights of children working in factories as well as campaigning for Poor Law reform …
- Josephine Butler campaigned for the age of consent to be set to 16 so children could not be abused … (Actually, thinking about it we probably don’t need the church because these things have largely been taken over by the state – not with the same compassion but then, who cares?) …
- YMCA – caring for young people in society …
- Salvation Army – pioneering radical care for the poor and disadvantaged in society …
- Education for orphans (George Mueller) …
- Campaigning for prison reform (Quakers)
- Surprisingly, many scientists are Christians (an amazing third of Nobel winners in the sciences declare a faith in God: eat that, Richard Dawkins!) …
- Leading society to abolish the slave trade (Wilberforce and the church) …
- Temperance Movement to address alcohol abuse in society and Alcoholics (and Narcotics) Anonymous…
- Leading society to adopt “fair trade” through Christian relief organisations like Tearfund, Christian Aid, Oxfam and CAFOD, Save the Children … Pioneers of Microfinance for poor countries. Pioneers of international child sponsorship … Fathers of modern famine relief (Oxfam Quakers) …
- International Housing for the poor – Habitat for Humanity (Millard Fuller) …
- Worked to legislate for much social and compassionate stuff such as cancelling debt in third world countries, decent working conditions, abolition of child labour …
- Modern day Christian initiatives include Foodbank (at a church near you), Street Pastors, Christians Against Poverty …
- About 75% of Christians do voluntary work at least once a month compared to 26% of the general population …
God speaks to his creation – even moving a swarm of mosquitos but more importantly bring his Kingdom to earth in the form of compassion and justice. He is able to do this because Christians believe he speaks and listen for his voice.