Friday, October 28, 2011

praying for our school

It all started when my friend Rachel sent an email to Jess, Tanya and me:

I’ve been dwelling on how much I want to see families I meet at pre-school and school become Christians. And the best thing I know to do is pray. I think you all share the same passion – why not pray together? How fun to enjoy seeing God work!
Actually, it started a few months before this, when Jess, who was moving nearby, asked me for advice about local schools. No, it started a year before that, when Tanya came up to me and told me a few families from the local Presbyterian church were thinking of sending their kids to our school so they could get to know local families. Should they? There was a certain amount of strained desperation in my response: “Oh, yes! It’s a great school! Do come…”

Because really, it started eight years ago, when my daughter walked in the school gate carrying her new school bag, and I walked in bursting with enthusiasm. I hosted coffee mornings, invited women over for play-dates, and arrived at school early so I could chat with other mums while we waited for our kids to come out of class. Gradually, over the years, my enthusiasm waned. These days, I invite people over less often. I get to school at the last minute. Often, it’s easier to stand around and not talk to anyone at all.

So I know what it’s like to do it alone. Which is why this year has been such a revelation.

Once a month, Jess, Rachel, Tanya and I get together to pray for the families at our school. Here are some things this weary old sinner has learned from meeting with these eager young women – things I’m hoping will encourage and inspire you as they have me.

  • God is already at work
    All kinds of ‘coincidences’ bring the people we know together. During our first meeting, we discover that one of the mums Jess is getting to know ‘just happens’ to live down the road from Rachel. A woman I’ve befriended ‘just happens’ to have had an in-depth conversation with Tanya on the way out of school, although they have no natural connection. I ‘just happened’ to choose the same pre-school group as Rachel and her friend, even though I didn’t know she was sending her daughter there. God was already at work even before we started praying together!

  • Pray, for God answers prayer
    The week after our first prayer meeting, there’s a flurry of messages as we tell each other how God answered our prayers. We pray that Tanya will run into a woman she hasn’t seen for ages; she sees her on the way out of school the next afternoon. We pray for Jess to have a chance to ask another mum over; she writes, ‘Our meeting today and the Holy Spirit motivated me to have my friend and her kids over this arvo. Thanks!’ I pray for an opportunity to give a Bible to a good friend; the next week, I do. Now I’m praying we can read it together.

  • Get to know people early
    As I watch my friends, I’m reminded how many opportunities come at the start of your child’s schooling – opportunities that slip away as kids grow older and mums start working and become less interested in playgroups and play dates. If you’re a mum or dad and your kids are starting pre-school or school, now is the time to get to know people. I guess the same goes for new arrivals in a suburb, workplace or sporting club: it’s important to get to know people early, and then to work at these relationships in the long term, remembering that friendships take time.

  • Support and encourage each other
    Through our example and words, we inspire each other to ask people around for a meal, invite them in for coffee, initiate conversations we’ve been wanting to have. We learn from each other, discussing what kind of conversational openings might not be appropriate, and what might be more helpful. There’s a feeling of expectation: ‘What will happen this month? What will I have to share next time we pray?’ Again and again, we share our fears and uncertainties, and spur each other on to do all kinds of things we might not have had the courage for if we were doing it alone.

  • Work together, as part of a local community of Christians
    One of the things we do when we get together is to write lists of people we know. Whose children are going to be at pre-school next year? Whose kids are starting school? Who should we look out for? Lots of the women we know bring their kids to the church’s playgroup; Jess invites a mum and dad from the school to a church dinner where they hear the gospel; and soon, we’ll start a regular BBQ so we can get to know each other’s friends. It helps that most of us go to the same local church so we can work together, not apart.

  • Support (don’t envy!) those with gifts
    One of the women I pray with, Rachel, is particularly gifted at talking about her faith. She’s irresistibly friendly, and has already had lots of long conversations with people about what they believe. Whenever we feel uncertain – will so-and-so think I’m ‘stalking’ her if I ask her over again? should I invite so-and-so out for coffee? – she reminds us once again that ‘People love to be loved’. I don’t think I’ll ever be like her, but I can pray for her, support her, learn from her, and involve her in my friends’ lives so she can get to know them too.

  • Don’t lose heart
    When I pray with my friends, the grumpy-old-ladyish part of me sometimes wants to say, ‘When my kids first started school, I was just like you. I felt excited about talking about Jesus, but just wait till you’ve been at it for eight years!’ But I know the truth. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to lose heart. It’s easy to grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). I’m so grateful that God has put these three women in my life, to encourage me to keep at it. I remind them, and they inspire me, to persevere with hope in the God who changes people’s hearts.
So if you get the chance, get together with a group of Christians and pray for people you know. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Work together to befriend them. Be encouraged, because God is good, and he has his hand on those around you. Who knows? Maybe he’s at work in their hearts already (Acts 13:48). Because God has some who are his – even at our school.

This post first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by AndersRuffCustomDesigns at flickr

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Next Story

I'm enjoying Wendy's series on Tim Challies' The Next Story - a book about our relationship with technology and cyber-communication - from her blog Musings (one of the best blogs around):

The Next Story

Monday, October 17, 2011

reading the Bible with kids - even the hard bits

The first chapter of Ezekiel (let’s be honest) is some kind of weird. A wind drives an immense storm cloud from the north; four glowing creatures emerge from the cloud, each with four different faces, with two wings covering their bodies and two spread out, darting to and fro with a sound like roaring waters; wheels within wheels, one for each creature, their rims covered in eyes, move in a straight line wherever the four creatures go; and above the creatures’ wings is an expanse like crystal, surmounted by a sapphire throne on which sits a human figure, glowing like metal in a furnace.

It’s a vivid, startling passage, and the kids’ faces are rapt. Mine too. We read Revelation a year or so ago, and the echoes and allusions are clearer than I’ve ever seen them, so much so that we all pick them up, even our eight year old.

It’s at times like this that I understand why the Puritans called the home a ‘little church’. As we sit here, the four kids and I, listening to my husband Steve read the Bible, it all falls into place. It’s completely casual, and I reckon just about anyone could do it, because all you have to do is to open a Bible, read a passage, and talk about it.

We use the same method my parents used with my brother and me after dinner, back in the day when their Presbyterian church, faithful to its Puritan heritage, taught them that it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their kids about God. Here’s how we do it:

  • We take it in turns to read a book of the Bible, which leads to some pretty random choices, most recently Revelation, 1 and 2 Samuel, Acts and Ezekiel.
  • We read a chapter a night (the nights when we do it, that is). Mostly the adults read, but sometimes the older children.
  • Each member of the family gets to choose whether to ask or answer a question, even our five year old, whose questions tend to be simple multiple choice: ‘Did Ezekiel see: a. a cloud, b. a mountain, c. a goose?’. If they ask a question, the rest of the family gets to answer it.
  • We pray about what we read.1

See? I told you it was easy. So easy that it doesn't matter who's at our dinner table: we can invite them to join in.2 So easy - and yet so challenging - that it suits our whole family, with ages ranging from five to thirteen to forty-four.3

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. When it comes to Ezekiel, it helps that Steve wrote some Bible studies on it a few years ago. When we’re confused, we ask him to explain, and he does, not in a preachy way, but just because we’re interested in what it all means. If this takes a little preparation, why shouldn’t parents put this kind of effort into teaching their children; or perhaps open a commentary and find the answers together? But mostly there’s no preparation, just us and the Bible.

We don’t read the Bible together every night. But it happens often enough for our kids to begin to realize that they can read and understand the Bible for themselves. Thomas, who’s eight, started out not really listening or concentrating (his questions were limited to the last verse of the passage or to the fascinating topic of death and destruction - ‘Why did so-and-so die/kill/maim so-and-so?’). These days, he takes in most of the passage and asks or answers intelligent questions.

As we chat about Ezekiel's vision, we nut out some of the weird imagery:

  • the eyes - God sees everything
  • the wheels, like the wheels of a chariot, moving in all directions - God can go anywhere
  • the four faces, each ruler of a different sphere (the man over the creatures, the lion over wild animals, the ox over tame animals, and the eagle over the sky) - God rules everything

  • the 'expanse' - eleven-year-old Ben chips in here and says it means ‘God is above them and better’ and his Dad says, ‘Yep’
  • the glowing figure on the throne - eight-year-old Thomas exclaims, ‘It’s Jesus!’ (see, I told you we've been reading Revelation)4

Now we’re all getting it.

When Ezekiel sees this vision, he's with the exiles in Babylon. We know what that means, because we’re all familiar with the Boney M. song River of Babylon, one of the songs on the retro playlists Steve inflicts on us in the car. He asks what the vision means, and Ben answers, ‘That God is there and that he loves them.’ Spot on!5. God is all-powerful, he sees everything, and he's everywhere, even with the exiles in Babylon. What seemed a bizarre and unsettling vision is now full of comfort.

Steve sums it up with words that haunt me for days: ‘God is there even in the bad things.’

I go away more encouraged than after many church meetings I’ve been to. No, scrap that. This is a church meeting, a gathering of God's people – one that any family or bunch of people can have in their home. All you need is a Bible, and a willingness to open it and ask questions. As you do this, especially if you don't skip the hard bits, you realize that, yes, the Bible is understandable, and anyone can read it. You begin to see how it all fits together. You learn that it's exciting and life-changing. Best of all, you get to know Jesus.

Any family or household can do that!

1. If this method doesn't appeal to you, you'll find some excellent ideas and resources in Sandy Grant's article Bible reading with kids.
2. Although we don't necessarily ask our visitors to jump straight into Ezekiel: when our neighbours shared a meal the other day, we asked if they would mind joining in our after-dinner Bible reading, and read half a chapter of Mark with them. We didn't make them ask or answer questions, although their son volunteered better answers than ours did!
3. That said, our five year old is more in the learning-to-concentrate rather than the taking-everything-in category, so we read a children's Bible with the little ones at bedtime while the older kids and adults do their own Bible notes: not everything is age-transferable!
4. Actually, it's 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD' (Ezekiel 1:28); what Thomas is picking up on is how the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16 draws on Old Testament visions of God's glory, such as Ezekiel chapters 1, 9 and 43 and Daniel chapters 7 and 10.
5. Although we're about to learn that God's presence in exile has as much to do with judgement as salvation as we read the first half of Ezekiel, something we could have guessed from the lightning cloud; we'll get to God's salvation in the second half of the book.

This post first appeared in The Briefing last Friday.

image is a detail of Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel ceiling

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

5 books that changed who I am (6) the one book

Here's where I add an extra book to my 5. Really, in the end, this is the one and only, in each and every season. If the other 5 books changed me at all, it's because they led me to this and opened it up to me.

(6) Always
The Bible, God's word to us all, feeds me, delights me, challenges me, surprises me, and works its way into my heart, where it changes me from the inside out.

Runners up: none.

Yep, that was 6. But I nearly made it. That's pretty good for me. :)

I'm supposed to pass this meme onto other bloggers I know, but they've received it already! If you're a blogger, feel free to do it and tell me about it. :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

two love stories - or three

'Every adult life is defined by two great love stories,' writes author and philosopher Alain de Botton. On the one hand, there is our well-charted quest for romantic love, and on the other, our quest for love from the world ('a more secret and shameful tale'). In his book Status Anxiety, de Botton argues this second love story 'is no less intense than the first...and its setbacks are no less painful.'
It's an intriguing idea, and one that has stuck in my head like a burr since I read it in a magazine article earlier this year. Because it's true, isn't it?

Our first quest is to be loved by someone, to be chosen by them above all others, and to choose them in return. With this love, we hope, will come all the trappings: family, security, home. In this small circle it matters supremely what others think of us.

Our second quest is to be loved or respected by others: by the whole crowd of anonymous strangers. We pass them in the street and wonder what impression we're making. We sit next to them on the train and hope they admire our choice of reading material. We push our trolley past them in the supermarket and stage a happy-family-performance just for them.

Perhaps we want fame, success, a name that's recognized. Perhaps we'd settle for the admiration of a smaller group: our co-workers at the office, the wider Christian community, the people in our church. If we win their respect, we've succeeded. If we fail in their eyes, we've failed indeed.

There is a third quest: another love story. It's not mentioned in the article I read, for when it comes to this love we are blind (2 Corinthians 4:4). In this story, we're not the ones who seek: we're the ones who are sought, pursued from heaven to earth by a lover who laid down his life to win his bride. Paradoxically, although we haven't sought this love, it alone can satisfy (Psalm 16:11).

When I devote my life to the first two love stories - to the quest for romantic love and the love of the world - I'm left empty, for human love is fallible and fading, and the world's opinion shifts and changes. Worse, I'm an adulterer, turning to other lovers to give me what only God can give, giving them the devotion and service that belong to him. (Jeremiah 2:12-13; James 4:4-5)

To people-pleasers like me, so quick to seek the glory of the world rather than the glory that comes from God (John 12:43), Jesus says,

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)
There's only one whose opinion matters, and that's the God whose Son died in my place. It's before his judgement seat that I stand or fall. And he is able to make me stand, for Jesus rose from the dead, speaks for me before his throne, and will one day gather me - and all who live for him - to himself (Romans 14:4; 1 John 2:1; Rev 19:6-9).

Who cares what others think of me? It's God I seek to please. It's his praise I long for, not the praise of men (Romans 2:29). It's from him I want to hear the words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant' (Matthew 25:23).

I have to remind myself of this a dozen times a day, people-pleaser that I am.

1. From Candice Chung's article Finding success later in life in Sunday Life magazine, July 10th, 2011.

This article first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by kelsey_lovefusionphoto

Thursday, October 6, 2011

forming godly habits

Since I haven't had time to post anything this week (I'm working hard on a writing/editing job and it's school holidays) I thought I'd point you in the direction of this helpful article by Lionel Windsor about forming godly habits:

Creatures of Habit

Happy reading!

Monday, October 3, 2011

5 books that changed who I am (5) late 30s

As I continue with this meme about books that have changed me, it seems appropriate to mention a book about change...

(5) late 30s - change and grace
Thirty-five, still battling perfectionism, and still struggling to obey God from a legalistic heart. Increasingly, I felt fearful and on edge; I was battling mild depression; I was struggling with people-pleasing and ambition; and my anxious busyness had driven me to the edge of burnout. So many books helped me through this time; but one (besides the Bible) stands head and shoulders above the rest. Yep, you guessed it...

Tim Chester's You Can Change brought me to the foot of the cross, giving me a new joy in God's grace and a new motivation to change. He showed me my heart - the idols of people-pleasing and perfection, and the false beliefs that caused my anxiety and discouragement - and helped me to turn to God's glory and grace. So much heart-change in one book! You may remember that I blogged through it here.

Runners up: Martyn Lloyd Jones Spiritual Depression, Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness (which I blogged through here), John Piper When I Don't Desire God, Elyse Fitzpatrick Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety, Paul Tripp Lost in the Middle, and anything and everything by Ed Welch, particularly Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God, which I'd recommend to anyone of any age.

Which books have helped you to change? Tell us here.