13. Prayer an’ all that

One of the joys of my job is that it is so varied. I can be ringing Song Pictures Animation in Washington one day (that was Monday) and re-telling the creation story in Canterbury Cathedral crypt another (that was today). I love the range of activities I get to be involved in and the fun of working along side many fab people as we muddle/stumble/blag/carefully plan our way through children’s work together. Today was a Cathedral schools day, and I joined the team welcoming 80 year 6’s from schools across East Kent in to the beautiful space that is Canterbury Cathedral.  I was leading one of four prayer stations that the children visited before doing various workshops based around ‘worship’. They then all came together at the end of the day for a closing celebration culminating with enthusiastic action songs, prayers the children had written and stones they had carved bought to be laid in the center of the nave in a cross shape.

The prayer stations were about caring, community, confession and mine; creation. It was great fun re-telling the creation story, and the children soon picked up on the repetition and started to join in. We then thought about what they like about creation and what they were thankful for. We had some great answers – from favourite animals (turtles seemed to be unexpectedly popular) to colours in sunsets, yummy fruit (strawberries) to best friends. Trains also featured, though we decided that we were grateful for the people who made the trains…

All the children were then asked to create a creature from plasticine and add it to the creation display that we were making. They were given the option of making their favourite thing (usually animal) in creation, or to form a new creature that they would have if they were to make the world. The teachers also seemed to enjoy this and most made something! We had a fantastic range of things; snails, dolphins, a stingray, flying pig and a spiraffe (spider-giraffe) along with a whole family of turtles, a platypus and a collection of unicorns. Turns out one of the classes has a group of girls known as ‘the unicorn fan club’…well there you go! The children seemed to engage with the idea of creation and being a creator. The conversations that were had whilst they were creating were lovely, and great to be able to chat to the children about all sorts. Lots wanted to find the Philippines on the world map, as they were very aware of what happened there last week. We also talked about other countries – the different landscapes and animals found there, and the vast range of creation across the world. 

Embedded image permalink

 

As is so often with these sorts of times, I find myself learning so much from the children and come away being reminded of and challenged by things God has been speaking to me about. For a few months now, I’ve been mulling over how children can engage in prayer. So often we can limit them from such a young age, that by the time they are teenagers there is the potential for them to be stifled into a particular style of praying which in any other situation would be unnatural; sitting in silence with eyes shut and not knowing what to say. We – and they – communicate with friends all the time. Whether that’s face-to-face, texting, on the phone or email.  Sometimes for hours, sometimes for a few minutes. Whatever it is, we can show children how this can be reflected in our communication and relationship with God.  Giving children the opportunity to pray using props, playdough, music, maps, sand, post-it notes (the list is endless) allows them to experience encountering God in the ‘everyday’. It brings having a ‘chat with God’ into normal life, and something that they can take hold of and use wherever they are. I want them to know that it is just like talking to their best friend. We can tell God about our day, what we’re annoyed with, what made us laugh. We can ask God questions and learn to wait for answers. We can say thank you, sorry and please. We can also praise and worship God for who He is and what He has done for us. A few weeks ago I set up a room as a prayer space for our 5-11 year olds to use during a Sunday morning session. There were 6 stations to go to, and they responded to it really well. Even the older boys were engaging in intereactive activities where they’d usually be talking about football whilst lying on the floor as soon as ‘prayer’ is mentioned. Twenty minutes wasn’t enough; they all wanted more. More! Who’d have thought children would want to keep praying?

If you are interested in more about this sort of thing, the Prayer Spaces in Schools organisation have lots of resources and ideas on their website. Have you had any experiences you want to share about praying with children or young people? Let me know! I’ve by no means got this sorted, and it’s something I’m still working on in the context of the children at our church. But there’s some thoughts which may get you thinking in some way or other. 

My prayer is that our children grow up knowing that their Father in heaven wants to spend time with them, cares about everything they care about and loves them no matter what. Amen. 

5. In pursuit of perseverance

This past weekend I did something I don’t find easy. Our church has a monthly women’s prayer breakfast where we come together on a Saturday morning, eat breakfast, hear a short talk and have time to discuss and pray about it afterwards. That isn’t what I find hard, in fact I find it very easy to eat, listen and chat. What I find harder is when I am the one asked to give the talk. Give my a massive group of kids, and I’ll love it. Any number of adults, and I’m terrified. The talks each month are ‘stand alone’, so I didn’t have to follow a particular theme or topic – but I find that harder as I really have to think about what it is I want to share. Obviously since starting marathon training, I’ve been thinking about races and training; the time commitment, physical endurance and perseverance. And perseverance is what I decided to speak on.

Below is the full talk, but I know you may not want to or have the time to read the whole thing (from the blur that it was as I gave it, I think it was around 10 mins long). That’s cool, I understand. Just scroll down to ‘THE END’ to jump ahead.

‘Good morning. For those who don’t know me, I’m Mim and I’m the children’s worker here. Talking to adults scares me, so you are now all 7 year olds!

I want to start with two disclaimers. 1 – What I’m going to say is mainly thoughts and ramblings I’ve been thinking about, so I apologise now if it comes out in a bit of a mess. Hopefully though, it will be a more organised than complete clutter, and I pray you can get something from it. 2 – I’m talking to myself as much as any of you. Don’t think I’ve got this sorted, because I don’t at all. I seem to find that things I speak on are often things God has put on my heart for me too!

So this morning I want to think about perseverance. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot of the past few weeks, both physical and spiritual. As I came in this morn I was thinking about a couple of things I’m persevering with. Firstly, drinking tea – when I went to Ireland at Easter, I very quickly realised that I needed to learn to drink tea as I was given it before I stepped inside the house. Another longer term thing we’re in the middle of is having no bathroom for the past few weeks, which is challenging my perseverance and patience! But the main one I want to talk about came around late September when I got an acceptance letter for a place to run in the London Marathon next April. There’s a long story behind it so ask me about it later if you want to! But it very quickly got me thinking about perseverance and endurance. Being committed for the long haul. See there’s a lot involved in running 26.2 miles. there’s the training runs, the diet to think about (not quite so much at the moment thank goodness), the early mornings, the long cold winter months – and then of course you have to actually run the marathon on the day itself – 13th April 2014. Each part of it is going to take perseverance when it feels too wet, too cold, too dark, too achy, too lonely to keep going. It’s a long hard slog, and then at the end of all the training is the day itself – hours of just putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully with some pace involved – doesn’t sound massively appealing right now! But I know that at the end of it will be a London Marathon medal and the joy of completing the race. There is an end goal, an aim, a finish line.

And we know that it’s the same for us in our Christian lives too. We have the end goal of being with our Saviour in glory. But we also know that the Bible is clear there will be struggles along the way that will take perseverance.

Hebrews 12v1-2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The whole image used of a race has taken on a whole new meaning to me now I’ve started running. I don’t know if any of you are runners (to be honest I feel a fraud calling myself a runner right now!) but even from the little training I’ve done I’m starting to understand what it means to persevere in a race. There have been times out running when I’ve wanted to slow down, walk or stop altogether. There’s the long slow incline of Nunnery Fields that feels like it goes on forever. Or the frustrating point where I’m not sure what direction to go in next. Or when I get a stitch stabbing me in the side and I want to stop right away as another step seems too painful.

In life we have things thrown at us that we don’t expect. We have times where it feels like we are on a permanent uphill struggle and it’s never going to stop. We have those searingly painful moments that rock our world that bring us to our knees and never feel like they will ease off. These will be different for all of us. I’ve had situations where I never thought it would end, and had to persevere in prayer for months. And I’m sure you have too.

As we think about it now, there may be situations that come to mind straight away where it doesn’t seem like anything is changing and you start to wonder where God is in it all. I want to encourage you to persevere, keep going, don’t give up.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12v9-10: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This has been my favourite verse for the last few years, and it is written on the wall above my bed. We can come to God by His grace, and in his strength. When we feel like giving up and we have nothing left to offer, it is his power that makes us strong.

The other thing about the marathon, is already friends and family are asking about coming up on the day. I cannot wait for the encouragement of seeing them along the route, cheering me on and spurring me to the finish. But there will also be thousands of randomers there, cheering me on as well. We may have close Christian friends who are there supporting us and walking with us, but as a wider church family there are many people cheering us on to the end.

It may be a situation where you so desperately want God to heal someone, or give you wisdom for a decision, or give you strength to continue going. Maybe you are praying for a friend or family member to come to know Christ. It may be that in your walk with Jesus you aren’t sure where you’re going, or that you are just plodding along and need the encouragement of others around you to keep going with the normal things of life. It might be that actually you want to go deeper in your relationship with God, spend more time in prayer or reading the bible, and you just feel on your own. Maybe you are praying for something that looks like there’ll never be an end – a country in turmoil, the end to injustices in society. Whatever it is, God knows.

As we look ahead keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, let’s remember the power of prayer, and that we have a God who hears us, whether we feel like He does or not. We are so used to a culture of instant – instant coffee, instant photos, instant internet access – that sometimes perseverance is forgotten about.

Why don’t we spend some time praying for each other now. You don’t have to share situations if you don’t want to, but I would encourage you to pray for each other, to stand alongside each other in times that feel hard to keep going through.  You may not have anything in particular – then be a supporter on the side line cheering someone on, and pray for them.

THE END

Well done if you managed to get to the end of the talk! I don’t know if you found that helpful or not, but it certainly got me thinking as I was writing it. We so easily give up through frustration, temptation or just laziness.  And don’t worry, I include myself in that too.

What I love about these kind of moments is what happens afterwards. I had a couple of hours after the prayer breakfast finished before I needed to be somewhere else. The plan was go for a run, have a shower and get to the next place. I got to my friend’s house (they were away and I was using their flat as a base for running from), dropped everything on the floor as I walked in the door, then collapsed on their gigantic sofa for 5 mins. Within this time, I noticed a gentle drumming on the windows, and my heart sank. I had just spoken to 30 people about perseverance, and within minutes I have a decision to make that tests this commitment to keeping going. Do I go out for a run in the rain? My logical brain kicks in – if i work backwards, I now have 1 hour 20 mins till I need to leave the house to go out again, take off half an hour for shower, getting changed and general faffing (I know myself too well), which leaves 50 mins for a run. Rubbish, I was hoping it would only leave 5. Okay, so by now the rain is getting harder and harder. The most I was planning to run was 2 miles which was about half an hour. So here’s the compromise: I have 20 mins at the most before I need to leave if I’m going to do this. I’ll wait 20 mins and if the rain is still torrential, I’m not going. If it eases up, I’m committed to the cause. Of course, by now I was basically just talking myself out of going, and trying to think of a hundred reasons to justify the decision not to persevere. And I bottled it. The rain was getting harder, and there was no way I was going out in it. Besides, last time I ran in the rain I couldn’t see a thing – I need mini windscreen wipers on my glasses to clear the drips. My final argument was this: if I did run in the rain, I knew my shoes wouldn’t be dry in time for my Sunday morning run the following day, but if I committed to the Sunday run rain or shine, they had 2 days to dry out before the next run. Sorted. I wouldn’t run in the rain this time, but I would go the next day whatever the weather. And guess what? Sunday morning came, beautifully crisp and fresh, and most importantly, dry…

Run 9 – 1.8 miles on my trusty little circuit. Felt pretty good, averaged 13min 40secs a mile. It’s so nice running early on a Sunday morning when most people are sleeping and you can just run along, having time to yourself. I’m beginning to really treasure my training time.

Had a great run, got back and showered. Went to leave the house to go to work and stepped outside just as the heavens opened, and got absolutely soaked in the 4 mins it took to walk to church. Oh well.

I’m still pursuing perseverance. We’re all in this together. I’d love you to be a supporter on the way, cheering me on, and I’d love to cheer you on to.