Thursday, September 27, 2012

Conversations With Myself


A while ago I bought a small box of prayer cards.  I am always looking for different ways to connect with God and widen the stimuli.  I love reading the Bible and being inspired to pray but sometimes I fall into a rut.  I use the same phrases over and over or follow the same structure and pattern.  If I was God I would quite possibly be bored at the lack of variety in my praying.

Each card has a prayer and a picture.  They are Celtic in nature, both the words and the images.  They remind me of a bigger world than just my own life experience and use words and phrases that would never normally occur to me.  They don’t replace my own prayers but prompt me to be a little more creative and imaginative in what I say and how I say it.

“May my conversations be significant.” This is the first line of the prayer card I picked up this morning. 

I have been looking at the life of St Columba recently and some of the rules that governed the monks on Iona.  One of them was about not speaking unless there was something important to say!  I have a leaning towards irrelevant conversations.  I was once accused of liking the sound of my own voice!

This morning was not the best of mornings.  There were no big disasters to deal with – although we do have a leak in the ceiling of the spare bedroom!  It was the little things, really little things that were tripping me up. 

Let’s take the packet of cheese, for instance.  The biggest word on the packaging was “re-sealable”.  There was an ingenious press and seal thing along the top edge.  You did have to cut along the top for the first time of opening, but once done, you could open and close the seal and keep the cheese fresh.  Whoever opened the cheese didn’t cut along the top and open the seal.  The packet was skewered in the middle and the cheese liberated.  Re-sealing wasn’t an option after that.  A really little thing.

And then there was the pedometer.  It was given to me last Friday.  I’ve had it for a week.  It’s supposed to encourage me to walk more by giving me a target of 10,000 steps a day.  I used to have a yellow one, courtesy of a packet of Special K.  It was flat and clipped to the waistband of my trousers or a skirt and did the job.  This one was supplied by an organisation encouraging healthy living in the work environment.  It’s just the wrong shape and will not stay clipped on.  I had to chase it down a flight of stairs when it fell off this afternoon.  So, yes, another really little thing.

The list goes on. 

I wasn’t heading into work in a peaceful frame of mind.  I didn’t quite snap at my husband in the car, but the silence wasn’t a companionable one.  I wasn’t muttering under my breath, but inside my head there was a commentary about the day so far.

Suddenly the still small voice spoke.

“What was the first line of that prayer you read this morning?  Something about conversations?”

I couldn’t remember word for word.  I thought the end word was something like “godly”.  Yes, something about conversations being godly.

The still small voice didn’t correct me.

“Maybe the conversations you need to consider are not the ones you have with other people but the ones that you have with yourself.  Maybe those conversations need to be godly.”

What we say to ourselves very often lays the foundations for what we say to other people and how we say it.

I took it to heart and spoke kindly to myself for the rest of the day.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Singing


Last weekend, Joe and I went to Glasgow for the weekend.  We were staying in a budget hotel (with bunk beds) not far from the city centre.  There was a cinema, a bowling alley, a casino and half a dozen restaurants nearby.  We were there for two nights.  The bus stop into the city centre was just a short walk away.

As we were on our way to the bus stop there was a street cleaner.  He was picking up the discarded bottles and food wrappers.  As he moved along he was singing loudly.  It was the theme tune to “Neighbours”. He wasn’t humming quietly.  He wasn’t embarrassed and he wasn’t all that tuneful – he just sang. 
 
Earlier this week someone resurrected the staff choir! It was reincarnated as just a singing group rather than a choir.  In the previous life they used to hand out music sheets and aim to hit the right notes at the right time and break out into harmonies.  I reckon that is why I stopped going.  I was very conscious that my voice was not really up to it.  I sing, but would not label myself a singer.  It has to be said that the more I sung the better the voice became – but I felt very much the worst singer in the choir!

Now we just have the words and belt out the melody. I suppose, once we get comfortable singing again the music sheets and the harmonies will show up.

One of the songs we sang was “Hallelujah” written by Leonard Cohen.  It is a song that comes with memories attached.  

We had seen the Shrek movie, the first one, and bought the soundtrack, and while we were peeling wallpaper off the wall in the spare bedroom it was constantly playing.  The wall paper came off in very small, very damp scraps and took a very long time.  Both the husband and I regretted not just painting, or papering over what was already up – but once you start these things you cannot stop until they are completed.  I seem to remember that the last strip of new paper went up on the wall five minutes before my sister was due to arrive and sleep in the room!

The other “Hallelujah” memory was more recent.  Our fellowship supports a small Sunday evening meeting for people who haven’t much experience of mainstream church environments.  They are exploring what faith in God means.  There is a meal and a very light-touch study of the scriptures. 
One Sunday evening another church in the city was hosting a cafĂ© style music event.  A band played while people drank tea or coffee and chatted.  The songs were gentle background stuff on a Christian theme.  It was an excellent band with a very professional sound.  We took our small group along to give them a wider experience of what Christians were about.

Towards the end of the evening one of our ladies asked if she could make request.  She asked them to sing “Hallelujah”.  

The request didn’t go down well.  I admit that although I belted out the words as I picked off the wall paper in the spare bedroom, I hadn’t really paid that much attention the lyrics.  I joined in the hallelujahs enthusiastically and knew that David had a mention in the song somewhere.  In whispered tones, it was explained to the woman that it wasn’t an appropriate song.  It was all about sex.  Our lady didn’t quite storm off but she muttered.  Our “ladies” muttered and continued muttering in the car on the way home.  My husband also muttered – well, he didn’t really mutter at all, but he did wait until we had dropped off the ladies before he gave his view about the song.  He insisted it wasn’t all about sex.  There was a deeper level to the song.

I am not quite sure how comfortable I felt singing the song the other day.  Was it really about sex?  Should I be singing it if it was? 

The comments from a website "Song Meanings" make for interesting reading.

I might not be overly impressed with the songs we end up singing but I am impressed with the fact that I am singing!  I have always liked singing.  It seemed to me to be the perfect antidote to grumbling and complaining.  I didn’t quite realise just how good singing is.

The health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour,” says Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Keep singing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reverse Truths


I have been reading through some of the early chapters of Jeremiah.  It makes for very grim reading at times.  Sadly, one can’t but help read about God’s people then and think how much of it may be true about God’s people today! Reading through chapter 6, three verses caught my eye:-

“To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Jeremiah 6:16

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: “I will put obstacles before this people. Fathers and sons alike will stumble over them; neighbours and friends will perish.”  Jeremiah 6:21

Later on in the book of Jeremiah, God tells his prophet not to pray for the people because He will not listen and will not answer.  The people have strayed so far and been so rebellious that God has disowned them.  They are no longer His people and He has withdrawn His provision and His protection.  They wanted independence – so He gave it to them.

After reading one depressing chapter after another in Jeremiah one can understand why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet.  It is bad enough that the people of God are not living up to God’s expectations – but God disowning them is even worse.  They are on course for an invasion from the north and exile into a foreign country.

I have a thing that I do when there seems to be nothing to be encouraged by.  I turn things upside down to find the reverse truth.  The things that the people of God had been doing had caused God to disown them and create distance between them.  What must I do to create an opposite reaction from God?

When He speaks to me to give me warning I will listen to Him.  My ears will be open so that I can hear.  I will not be offended by His word but find delight in everything He says.

When I stand at the crossroads I will look; I will ask for the ancient paths, the good way, and I will walk in it.  I shall find rest for my soul. I will said, ‘I will walk in it.’

The Lord will remove the obstacles before His people. Fathers and sons alike will not stumble; neighbours and friends will flourish.

Sometimes it is the revelation of what could have been if I had walked well with God that stirs me more than someone spelling out how bad things will be because of my rebellion.

The phrase that particularly provokes my spirit is “God will remove the obstacles before His people”.  The biggest obstacle, sin, had been removed by Christ.  

I claim it as a promise that God removes the obstacles from my path when I open my ears to listen to Him, when I take delight in His word and when I walk the good path He has set me upon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Wake-up Call


The talk around the coffee table at work this morning was all about Andy Murray’s US Open victory.  There was some yawning and passing around of matchsticks to keep the eye lids open.  A friend of mine listened to the match on the radio.

I confess that I didn’t even make it through the first set.  Breaking serve, followed by being broken in the next game is not conducive to a feeling of peace and harmony.  I retired to bed on the pretence of reading a book, but I checked the progress of the match on the computer in the next room.

My husband was convinced that Andy Murray was going to win. He had even considered a correct score bet on the way home from work but he knew that I had views about jinxing matches.  There is a deep seated conviction that even the action of my watching a game can jinx it.  Experience shows that Andy wins matches when I don’t watch.

Before I switched off the light and snuggled down to sleep, I prayed – not for an outright win for Andy – that seems an outright misuse of the gift of prayer.  Anticipating that the match would go on well into the early hours of the morning, and knowing that I had work the next day, I prayed that God would wake me up so I could see the final game and know the score.  Some would also perceive this as an outright misuse of prayer.  There was no sense that God had heard or that He would answer. 

I fell asleep.

About two o’clock in the morning I woke up. 

The inner voice spoke, “I’ve done My part in waking you up, as you asked.  It’s up to you to get up and go down stairs to switch the TV on.”

I fell out of bed and tumbled down the stairs.  My glasses were left on the bedside cabinet.  I switched on the TV and, right enough, it looked to be the last game.  Murray was serving for the match.  Nose almost touching the screen I watched as the ball flew from one side of the court to the other and Murray notched up the points, then lost a few till, finally, he had match point.  Nose touching the screen I watched the final ball played. 

I watched the presentation and listened to all the speeches…and then I went back to bed.  I thanked God for waking me up as I had asked him to. 

Climbing back into bed, the inner voice spoke yet again.

“The power of prayer…the promise to shift mountains, to pull down strongholds, to bind the enemy and release faith into people’s lives!  I give you all that and what do you ask for?  To be woken up at two in the morning to watch the last game of the US Open?”

Some might say the inner voice was my own inner voice and that waking up at the time that I did was just coincidence.  Some would say it – but not me.

It would not have hurt me to wait until the morning to find out the result.  It’s not as if I had watched much of the game anyway.

For me it is a reminder that God cares for me.  He is not just interested in the times when I use faith to move mountains or bring strongholds crashing down.  He most clearly draws me to Him and makes me fall in love with Him over and over again when He listens to the apparently unimportant things, the ordinary things - the small things that change nothing big.