One of the blog posts I said I’d write was about how this time in Portugal has enabled my relationship with God to change and deepen. As well as reading about ways/rhythms of life on my sabbatical I wanted the chance to refresh my own patterns of prayer and discipleship. This began before we came away to Portugal but has deepened whilst we have been here.
One of the books I read many years ago, 15+ years ago, was Mike Yaconnelli’s Messy Spirituality. [Not with the cover in the picture, this is a 2015 edition updated by his family following his unexpected death in 2003]. Reading the book helped me to realise that not all Christian’s are the same (!), that each disciple will have a different pattern or prayer and that for most of us that will be ‘messy’, not the same everyday and that we will need to meet with God differently at different times and seasons of our lives.
I’ve always held onto the message of the book and since then at different times and different seasons I’ve prayed in different ways, different times of the day and with different frequencies. More recently my Spiritual Director has helped to remind me regularly that feeling guilty that I haven’t kept my current hoped-for pattern of prayer simply isn’t worth it, which has been really helpful.
Since becoming a Dad three years ago, my own prayer life has been through a season very different to any I’ve experience before, which is not surprising as I hadn’t been a Dad before!
My natural time to pray has always been a morning as I like to get up early. A baby however, means that lots of other things happen in a morning, you are trying to learn to balance home and work in a completely new way, a lack of sleep for both parents means that any moment one or the other of you can have to sleep is taken and your mind is filled with so many new experiences, questions, thoughts, anxieties which all make life ‘messy’ amongst all the amazingness of being a parent.
So over the last three years my own times or prayer have been more sporadic, on the move, noisy, less frequent and with very little routine. My reading of the Bible in a consistent way for my own devotion rather than to prepare worship or Bible studies for ministry has been virtually non-existent. This has been my season for the last few years and through this season I have continued to know God and to meet with God. I have felt God speak to me, to reassure me, to encourage me in ministry, to use me to speak to others, to give me words and pictures in pastoral situations which have been channels of God’s grace. I have cried out to God in despair, praised God for his goodness and thanked God for his presence through his spirit. I know God has been there and I’ve been present to God.
Whilst I want to say that my prayer life in these years hasn’t been good enough, hasn’t been what it could or should have been, hasn’t been made up of the ‘perfect’ quiet time each day, or what is ‘expected’ of a minister; I know deep down I don’t need to say those things, it has been what it is for this season, it has been ‘messy’, it may not have been as deep as I would have liked it to be, but it has been real, it has been honest and it has been holy.
I knew however coming into sabbatical that it was time for a new season and pattern of prayer for me, to renew my rhythm for the next season.
For 10 years plus at different times I have used the order for Morning Prayer from Celtic Daily Prayer, published by the Northumbria Community. I decided to go back to using this order each morning and alongside this to read a chapter each from the Old and New Testament. I have also journaled again each time I have prayed.
Setting this time aside has been a real blessing, I have felt much more grounded in my relationship with God and renewed in my Christian faith. It has also given me time each day to be still and to pray for others, particularly the Churches I minister with and those offering ministry during my time away. I felt led to read the books of 1 Samuel and Acts from the Bible and have continued with 2 Samuel and Romans. In these books the story of faith is really prominent, for Saul and Samuel the story of God’s people is central, they come back to it, they share it, it forms their decisions. In Acts the early Church is overcome with the Good News of Jesus Christ, of the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation this brings to individuals, communities and the world. This Good News forms the basis for their lives, their faith, their Church, their mission and evangelism.
Through these prayers and scriptures, particularly the two opening prayers (from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer) I have felt God strip me back from all the complexities of ministry and life and remind me of the Christian faith which is at the core of who I am.
In particular I have been reminded of the overwhelming life-giving love God has for me and the deeply inclusive way that God’s love is for all people, for all the world. That the love God has for me is for all, that the joy of being part of the Church I share in is for all, that the blessings God pours into my life, my family, my ministry are for all.
One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek:Opening Prayer from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer, from Psalm 27:4.
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.Declaration of faith from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer
Changing my pattern of prayer has undoubtedly renewed my relationship with God, grounded me in him each day and drawn me closer to God. It has given me a want to get up early to pray and left me feeling not ‘right’ on the days real life has meant I haven’t had the time to pray in a morning. Through it I feel completely rested both physically and in God. Through it I have heard God speak about different ideas, blessings, challenges.
As I go home from Portugal in the coming days I want to continue this pattern of prayer, to find time each morning to pray, to read the scriptures, to hold others before God, to listen to God in silence and stillness.
I also want to find time to bring more into the pattern of prayer, maybe to say compline each day, to find time to keep reading theology, to set aside a regular extended time to be with God to listen, read and write. Maybe I’ll even keep blogging! Whatever I chose to add into the pattern, I know it will be different from sabbatical as it will be a different season, it will undoubtedly continue to be ‘messy’.
I hope and pray though that it will build on the pattern I have found during sabbatical and continue to ground me with God and deepen my experience of and love for him.
It will be different because it won’t have a view like this!