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Our lives are not just a series of disconnected episodes. Our lives are part of the story God is telling. Even though we cannot always see the design, God has a purpose that God is working out.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, says God, “neither are my ways your ways but the word I speak will not return to me empty. It will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 6-13)

God’s purpose is that we shall “go out in joy and be led forth in peace, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” That is where we are headed, where the journey will take us, where the story will end.

The stories in the Bible provide a roadmap that helps us find our way there. Some of the stories we shall not like but they are stories of the encounter between God and God’s people. They represent the accumulated wisdom of the people who had committed themselves to living in covenant with this God who kept speaking to them and shaping their lives. 

When we set ourselves within these stories — when we take them seriously and meditate upon their meaning; when we let one portion of them be interpreted by the rest of them; when we allow Jesus to be the final re-interpretation of the whole — they stop being strange, peculiar stories of a distant place and long-ago time. They become stories in which God is speaking to us. We hear for ourselves how much God loves us. We hear for ourselves the ways in which God is shaping our lives so that we become capable of receiving that love.

We do not always get the message. There are some parts of scripture whose meaning will remain a mystery to us. However, we keep at it. We keep making our lives available to these stories because, whoever strange the way they speak my sound, it is not a stranger who speak them to us. It is the One who has known us and loved us from the foundation of the world. It is the One who, in Jesus of Nazareth, went to hell and back to bring us home in peace and joy. 

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A prayer: “Mark 4: 26 -34” and the song “Morning Has Broken“.

On this new day, we do praise you, O God.

We live in the midst of great mystery:
the mysteries of your Creation,
of night and day,
seedtime and harvest,
life and death and life after death —
all unfolding within your steadfast love and faithfulness;
the mysteries of love and beauty and joy
that come upon us unexpectedly,
surprising us
lifting us up into your Son’s community of grace;
the mysteries of your Holy Spirit
giving us courage and hope and strength beyond our own.

We gather the week that has passed
and set it before you,
seeking
waiting
hoping
that you will do your work of
creation and re-creation,
of reconciliation and redemption
of healing and renewal
in us
in this church
in our world.

We open ourselves to you,
Lord and Friend,
Saviour and God of all Truth,
so that,
at the end of the day,
we may praise you
with hearts and minds and spirits
made new in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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A prayer emerging from 2 Corinthians 4: 13 -5:1 and the hymn “Let us with a gladsome mind”.

We  praise you, God,
for you are faithful and kind,
your mercies endure through all that life brings us.

We bring to you the week that has passed:
the moments when we were hungry and thirsty
for a greater sense of your presence with us;
the times when we were troubled and anxious
and could not hold on to your promises
to be our rock and our strength;
the experiences of joy and gratitude
when we knew ourselves deeply cared for by you.

We lay all that before you
and we open our hearts and minds and spirits
to your Holy Spirit.

Renew in us the confidence that
you are always at work,
breaking into our lives with
newness that is the abundant Life
that Jesus promised.

Renew in us the trust that
not a day goes by without
your unfolding grace.

Renew us so that we gladly declare:
your goodness is stronger than evil;
you love is stronger than hate;
your light is stronger than the darkness;
your truth is stronger than lies.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who comes to us
in this time together,
in both our weakness and our strength,
in the bread and in the drink
we share in his name. Amen.

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Do you know someone who is knowledgeable in every subject except ‘life’ and how to live it well? There are different kinds of knowing. Perhaps the most useful comes when you get to the point where you know that you don’t know everything. Living wisely means keeping open to the unexpected.

Imagination is the ability to acknowledge that there is more to this world than what can be reduced to facts and charts and worked out by long-range planning. Imagination is the capacity to be open-minded enough to admit that there’s more going on here than what we can see and touch and hear.

As congregations move into the new future that God is creating, they need to find ways to cultivate the imaginations of their people and of the faith community as a whole. Not just imagination in general, though; imagination that is alert to the ways in which God is working in and through them and in the world. They need to cultivate practices whereby they live into the stories of scripture. All of our stories are stories of a God who operates beyond the known facts. Whenever our God acts, God opens up worlds that everybody else had thought were fixed, tied down, closed, settled:

Abraham and Sarah, childless in their nineties, end up with descendants as numerous as the sands of the sea — because God shows us and invites them to risk trusting God’s promises.
Hebrew slaves in Egypt become a nation that, in the midst of greed and violence, offers an alternative world of covenantal neighbourliness — because God acts to set them free and moves into faithful relationship with them.
Jesus creates a new community where the last, the lost, and the least find they are given new life, new hope, new identity.

As we immerse ourselves in these stories, our minds and our hearts and our bodies are being formed in imaginative, creative, open ways.  We don’t have this world all figured out: we don’t know for certain what can happen and what cannot. We loosen the tight grip of control by which we try to keep everything safe and predictable. We surrender certainty and rest in the mystery of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.

The psalmist prays,
Lord, I have given up my pride
and turned away from my arrogance.
I am not concerned with great matters
or with subjects too difficult for me.
Instead, I am content and at peace.
As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms,
so my heart is quiet within me.
Israel, trust in the Lord. (Psalm 131)
now and forever.

Charles Spurgeon said, that this is “one of the shortest psalms to read and one of the longest to learn.” It is the prayer of someone who has discovered the truth of God’s creativity and faithfulness beyond all our facts and answers and solutions. There is the mysterious presence and action of God whom we can trust with our lives because this God  loves us beyond all our knowing.

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I recently asked some leaders what their biggest challenge was in leading their teams. One person wrote:

The biggest challenge I face is finding volunteers to step up and lead or help.

Here’s some reflections I offered:

Recruits for Ministries

Technical fixes

  • offer time-limited, clearly defined, small tasks 
  • change the story, e.g. from “we need someone to volunteer to help with the Sunday School” to “there is an opportunity here for you to impact a child’s life”
  • don’t appeal to people’s sense of duty; invite them to offer their gifts. I use the “Go with the guilt” principle. Sometimes, when people are asked to do something, they say ‘yes’, even though they would like to say ‘no’. They say ‘yes’ because they think that they will feel guilty for not helping out where needed. Then, they get angry and they resent the time and energy the task is taking. I invite them to ‘go with the guilt’ and just say ‘no’. Do what brings you joy and delight. 
  • limit the number of ministries that each person can take on (one or two at the most: one major, one minor):  less assertive people often don’t offer their help if someone else is already doing it
  • offer ‘apprenticeships’ — pair a less-experienced person with an experienced person so that the less-experienced person can learn and gain confidence in their capacity to do the task. In this way, ‘volunteers’ become ‘leaders’, their creativity is unleashed, commitment strengthened, confidence developed
  • celebrate the work people are doing; help them find and articulate the holy significance of what they are doing. Send letters to them reflecting on the holy significance of what they are doing; invite people to share their experiences of God’s presence and work during worship, in newsletters, in special publications.

Adaptive changes

Turn the notion of ‘church’ upside down.

The model of ‘church’ we have inherited delivers projects and programmes that require ‘volunteers’ and committee members. People are recruited to fill positions that 

  • may or not be clearly defined 
  • may or may not have a clear end-date 
  • may or may not fit their gifts, passions, interests or skills.

Missional church focuses on developing relationships — with God, with each other, with the ‘neighbourhood’. People aren’t recruited to fit the needs of the structures as much as the structures are shaped to nurture and develop the Spirit -driven gifts and calls of the people so that they are equipped for mission in the world. 

It assumes:

  • the the mission is God’s and God will provide the gifts and people that are needed to fulfill the mission. (Develop your capacity to pray and trust Psalm 23:1 —  “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need” — not everything I want but everything I need to accomplish the work God has given me to do)
  • the work of the church is to be open to what it is that the Spirit is asking of its people; to be open to where the Spirit is leading the people in mission. This means developing the capacities of the people for prayer, for listening and for discernment; developing eyes to see what God is supplying and the ways in which God is already working
  • you need to develop the person before you develop the ministry. “Change happens at the pace of relationship”. The process/programme/project are only tools for developing the relationship with the people. This includes allowing people to ‘drop the ball’ and not rushing in to cover for them. If you always pick up the responsibilities that they drop, you infantilize them. The point is not to run a successful programme; the point is to develop people and relationships
  • ministry happens through collaborative teams of ‘ministers’ (defined as all the baptized people of God) vs. hierarchical ministry offered by paid professional ministers who look for lay people to help them do the ministry or accomplish an agenda. I have been working with a group of lay people who are engaged in developing their capacity to respond to the Holy Spirit and who have been experimenting with new ways of participating in God’s mission. A member of their congregation said to them, “Why are you doing this? Isn’t that what we pay the minister to do? Why not leave it to her”. I reflected back to them, “You have been experiencing God’s presence and work in all sorts of relationships, both inside and outside the church. You have been struck with awe as you have been part of holy moments of God’s grace in other people’s lives and in your own. You get to be in sacred experiences. Why would you want to leave all of that to be only the experience of the ordered minister?”
  • ‘failure’ will be expected. The Church is venturing into uncharted territory. We don’t know how to make ‘church’ work any more. We need to take one step at a time, to discern, to experiment, to reflect on what happens and learn from it. Create a culture in which experimenting and failing are expected as steps to learning what will work.

When you operate out of these assumptions, the focus shifts from accomplishing a task to growing people. Put the work into growing people in their capacity to listen for, discern and respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading. It may be slower than jumping into a new project. One group who spent 3 -6 months learning how to listen and discern (and grumbled about it the whole time) discovered that, when they did launch a project which they believed that the Holy Spirit was leading them to do, things fell into place more quickly and with a far greater effect than they had expected. Many more people showed up to help than they had expected. The project grew more quickly; far more lives were impacted.

Be ready to be surprised — 

by the ways in which God is working in people’s lives; 

by the ways in which God supplies what is needed for the ministry/mission;

by resurrection!

Give God plenty of room to use people in ways you cannot imagine 

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A prayer based on Psalm 100 and Philippians 1

We sing ourselves into your presence, God,
for you are the One who has
made us
and called us your own
and has kept us safe thus far on the journey.

We sing ourselves into your presence, God,
and for a moment
we leave behind our worries
that the world we have cherished
is under threat
and fast disappearing.
For a moment,
we turn our anxious hearts toward you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
and join your joyful dance of love.

We dance with you
and are caught up into your love:
your love that is stronger than death;
your love that is stronger than our fears;
your love that is even now
making the world new
with mercy and grace and joy.

We dance with you
and find ourselves in the company of others:
saints, past and present,
brothers and sisters in Christ,
your children around the world;
all called into your great love together.

Dance us beyond our selves, Lord of life.
Dance us into caring
and forgiveness
and your community of
peace and justice and hope.

We sing, we dance,
we yield our hearts to you.

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You Pray for Us

A prayer emerging from John 17: 1-5 and Acts 16: 16 -40.

Lord Jesus,
you pray for us:
you pray that we might now the one and only true God;
you pray that we shall see God’s splendour
in your life,
in the world around us,
in each other.

We live by your prayers, Jesus.
They carry us into God’s presence;
they lift us out of ourselves
and into your great love;
they become channels of God’s
resurrection action in our lives.

We are grateful.

You know us:
the prayers that are deepest in our hearts;
the prayers that we cry out in our deepest need;
the prayers that we do not say
because we are too busy
or not sure they matter
or unwilling to submit our lives to you.

Take the words and groans and silences
that we offer— poor gifts as they are —
take them into your grace;
transpose them into the language of your Spirit;
make them deep and good and true.

We open ourselves to your holy work.
Join these prayers
with those of others in your Body
till the fears that make us small are stilled,
till your people are formed by your courage and hope,
till the chains the bind people are broken,
the wounds that cripple hearts are healed,

Join these prayers with
those of others in your Body
so that a mighty chorus of praise
rises to your throne
and all the world sees the glory
you intend for all creation.

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