Facing the winds – Look, See, Pray

In between two storms… a walk along the beach at low tide, as the ebbing tide left seaweed decorating the sea defences- and the gulls lined up facing the wind.

When resting, the gulls usually face into the breeze. Its helps give lift at take-off. Presumably, they can also observe coming changes better.

Bob Dylan, prophet of change since the 60s wrote this: “May you have a strong foundation when the winds of change shift… and may you be forever young.” The pace of change hasn’t slackened. It often seems the “old” are left behind by the youngsters. The best people to fix your computer or mobile are probably the grandkids!

It’s often tempting to take shelter from the wind. Doing so may be comforting, even cosy, but we can lose our vision and awareness. Change that is coming will come! The difference is that we can’t prepare for unexpected change- but seeing the signs early means we can adapt in time.

Our church is facing the winds of change. After the lockdown society is coming to terms with a different world, and we are trying to see the best ways to serve our community now and in the future. We had a really exciting gathering this week, flagging up local opportunities, and exploring creative ways we can respond (and even take the initiative). The Bible often used the image of “wind” for the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said “the wind blows where it wills…” when talking to Nicodemus about a change of heart, of a new life (see John 3 v8).

In the Old Testament, Isaiah saw a revelation of God that changed his life- because he responded “Here I am. Send me.” I wonder what the Lord may reveal to us? How we might we choose to respond: “Here I am, send someone else…” or “Send me.”

If we aren’t willing to face the winds of change and be messengers… who will?

Isaiah 6:1-8 (NLT) “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

Glimpsed in a Pool- Look, See, Pray

When you’ve seen one low tide… you look for a fresh angle to make a different photo!


This photo is the seafront houses reflected in a tide pool. It’s a glimpse, an interpretation of the reality in front of the lens. There is a contrast of the natural water course of sand/pebbles: and the partial, tantalising view of the buildings beyond. The picture “works” because it intrigues me.

John Bunyan’s classic “Pilgrim’s Progress” details the journey towards the Celestial City: with Pilgrim hindered or helped by people met and moral challenges encountered. Thousands of readers have been inspired on their own pilgrimage: they enter into the story.

Jesus also painted word pictures to inspire his audiences. “The Kingdom of God is like….” He used metaphors such as a mustard seed, a treasure, a magnificent pearl. These image-stories helped the listeners to discover truth for themselves, instead of “just” being told what to believe. Truth we determine ourselves sticks in our minds better.

So- “The Kingdom of God is like a city glimpsed in a tidal pool…”

We are rooted on the beach, we see the water, stones, the sand and seaweed. We can see something reflected… windows… walls… a flag pole? Or is it a streetlight? We need to look harder… We can only be sure if we get closer to the REAL image, not settle for an obscured partial view- which is upside down anyway! Well then, let’s walk up the beach to find the city. Then we’ll KNOW.

The 12 disciples had a privilege; they could ask Jesus to tell them more, to explain. We can read the New Testament for ourselves and study the insights of generations of followers. Do we really want to know, to understand?

Jesus often teaches us via stories, glimpses, visions, circumstances and life in general. Much of our heart-learning is gained on the journey. This is what changes us- it becomes Light on the inside and life that wells up within us.

The Kingdom is come among you. That is the reality: Jesus came to bring us the Kingdom where He will reign. One day we will see it clearly. If we want to.

When the tide came in on this beach, the glimpse vanished. Don’t leave the looking too late. Instead, let it become your vision.

Infinite- Look, See, Pray

Whenever I am tempted to think I have everything sorted out, God has a way of reminding me that I’m not that amazing. Sunsets, sea, sand, sky… too vast and marvellous for me to calculate or control. My response is personal, but cannot be separated from the union of worshipping Church through all ages.

So then, Lord God,
this interaction of matter, light, and wonder
humbles my heart before the infinite glory, 
telling me there is a Glory beyond Glory.
Infinite Love and Infinite Grace,
Absolute Holiness and Divine Majesty,
You alone are God.
I thank You for the gift of another day,
and praise You for revealing Love 
that covers my sins
as the sea scrubs the sand.
Far above the golden air
energised by the Sun
Lifts my soul to contemplate infinity-
yet infinity is wrapped in your Hand
and stars and galaxies beyond sight 
glow in the Presence 
that has come to Earth
and will reconcile all things to Yourself.

Lord, I am too small
too limited
and too flawed
to offer perfect praise-
all I have I give You,
a prodigal son
in a prodigal world,
hardly daring to believe
my Father runs to greet me:
my crucified Christ Rose for me,
Holy Spirit Presence fills me-
For I was lost, and am now found;
I was dead, and am alive in You.

Such Infinite Mercy,
such mystery of grace.
In Christ alone mystery is unfurled
as the Banner over me is Love.
Amen.

(c) Richard Starling, 2021

Moody Blues- Look, See, Pray

It’s officially “Blue Monday.” Apparently this is the point in the year when everyone feels at their worst. There is no doubt that short daylight hours, Christmas credit card bills, coronavirus and 101 other things can combine into a swamp of depression and angst. We’ve all “got the blues.”

I see it as my job today to counterbalance the angst! Blue is beautiful, calming, inspiring and comforting. Blue is what we remember from holidays- I’m sure that when I was a kid, ALL school holidays were sunny– and blue is the colour we wear as part of the crowd as we strut our stuff in our blue jeans. Blue can be lovely.

My picture comes from Pagham Harbour, taken just after we moved back to Sussex. Look at that sky! I found this place where the RSPB has a bird-watching hide; as I arrived I noticed this cluster of people coming back from a bench on the shingle. They knew the tide was coming in- I didn’t. So I boldly went off to the left, found the hide- and hid. A kingfisher flashed past (never seen it since!) and I watched the waders and geese patrol the calm blue waters under fluffy well-behaved clouds. Heavenly.

On leaving the hide… I’d been cut off! The tide was very high, and the path was underwater. My inner “Corporal Jones” leapt into action- “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”

No other route back to the car. I had to wait hours or take the plunge. The water came half-way up my shins, was pleasantly cool, and was no peril. It became part of my memory, and whenever I see this photo I think “blue-but happy” thoughts. A place of beauty, plus a kingfisher sighting. Brilliant!

It is easy to be overcome by our circumstances, and we wouldn’t be human if our moods and thought processes weren’t affected by pressure and pain. Now then, preachers are fond of pointing out that “Do not be afraid” occurs 365 times in English Bibles- that’s once per day. We get scared, we become depressed, overwhelmed and sad. Physical and emotional factors all play a part in that.

Here is an antidote to the blues. This ancient song of praise asks “Why are you feeling blue?” (my translation!) and offers hope from God. Trusting in Him makes the difference! Maybe when we enter the flood water it won’t be too deep after all…

Read these verses to yourself- God has not forgotten you.

Psalm 42:8-11 (NLT)
But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. “O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?” Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Saviour and my God!

Sunrise and Dustcarts- Look, See, Pray

Calm Sunrise on a Sussex Beach

Perfect sunrise. Flat calm on the sea. The only jarring note: a “Biffa” dustcart immediately behind me, chugging, grinding, beeping and banging as they collected the waste of the flats. Noise disturbed the peace, and tranquil thoughts disappeared.

What an illustration of human life! Beauty and banshee in the same space.

As soon as the truck drove round the corner, quiet returned- the most raucous sound the muffled screams of seagulls arguing by the tideline.

Our planet is stunningly beautiful: and we have spread ourselves across its surface, many races and cultures. At our best, humanity achieves glorious heights. At our worst, we pillage and spoil the garden we were given.

Yet God- whose glory is seen in the skies- has also undertaken the task of rubbish clearance, the recycling and removal of the dirt and waste. In a real sense, that dustcart is a symbol of the Good News. Clean slate, fresh beginning, thorough cleansing- achieved in the noises of anguish at the crucifixion. Jesus, the Saviour, Redeemer, rightful owner; our Heavenly Father waiting eagerly to welcome the returning prodigal. Holy Spirit, full of grace and purifying Fire, bringing reconciliation and renewal to our inner lives.

Schools teach in many ways- one is “compare and contrast” where two things are examined, and our understanding of both helps us grasp the meaning of each one.

Take, then, this photograph of the fulfilment of Psalm 19 v1. Look at the colours, sense the atmosphere, feel the cool of a winter morning and the gentleness of a quiet tide. Seek God in the peace. Now supply your own “dustcart disturbance”… remember the perils of Covid, the tensions of a hurting society, and the personal regrets over wrong choices, words, and actions. Watch as the Lord loads YOUR dustcart! Each bin emptied represents a sin, a hurt, a regret being dealt with and taken away. No longer burdened, but forgiven and cleansed, we can now look again at the beautiful skies and the love that surrounds us.

This is what God has done! Be thankful. Be still in God’s loving Presence..

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” Psalm 19:1 (New Living Translation)

Enjoy the gift of this day in peace and wholeness of spirit.

Nothing to See? Look, See, Pray

There’s nothing to see. Move on” said the small group of walkers who paused to see what I was looking at. Yet I spent a happy half-hour looking at this “nothing.” I had a reason.

Can you work out the missing element?

It is mid-October, about 4pm. Until 4.30pm. As I stood, leaning on the fence, everything was still. Scarcely a ripple on the water, very light breeze, and almost complete silence. So peaceful! I was content and stayed focussed on just being there.

Time is what the photo misses. It is frozen history, a moment that is past forever. But because I gave this scene time, I witnessed life. You, the reader, can’t see or hear this Life- you weren’t there, or you moved on too swiftly. Over beyond those reedy mudflats, two swans set off to a lakelet behind the North Wall of the RSPB Reserve. The place was so still, I heard the sound of the wind through the pinions of their wings, swooshing forcefully with every downbeat. An Oystercatcher swept by heading for the beach. Dunlins sprang up and dashed like a high-speed train inches above the water. Ducks passed by, a kestrel hovered spying on the mammal morsels she sought to invite for supper. The piping calls of wading birds echoed across the placid water.

Nothing to see? Rubbish! This scene just needed some time and attention.

So it can be with “hearing God” or even just trying to pray. We give a few moments, but we’re not tuned in. We see nothing of interest, hear nothing to take our attention. What if we invested more time? A day, a week, maybe an hour or two. Perhaps we would hear a gentle Voice of relieved Love- “At last! You can hear me!” – as our senses are sharpened and our attention made real.

I do not think there is any shortcut to hearing God. But giving time and attention is a great start.

God sometimes takes the initiative- He may call out to us, or communicate via a prophet, preacher or stranger. The Holy Bible is the record of what He has already said. Holy Spirit insight may be given in several ways. The Old Testament writers like Amos, Jeremiah, and the Chronicler point out that “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT).

2 Chronicles 15:1 (NLT)
Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The LORD will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you.…”

Verse 8 tells us that King Asa “heard the words of the prophet and took courage.” Asa became a good king, faithful to God and to the people: he introduced vital reforms, and mostly did well. He sought God with all his heart. He gave time, attention, and obedience.

Perhaps you are “stuck” in a place or time where there is “nothing to see” and you are frustrated. The halls of heaven echo silence.

In that silence the Lord may speak. Wait. (We don’t like waiting, we live in an “instant” society.) Use the time, embrace the silence, cling on to the truth that God is the Revealer and Reconciler. Look for God wholeheartedly: don’t rush away despairingly. In the silence and in peace or turmoil- God will speak.

“Silent” and “Listen” have the same letters, just in a different order; and being silent is often the first step of listening. Start right here, right now.

Finding Hope – Look, See, Pray

Sunset over the Selsey Peninsula

Living without hope is soul-destroying. Hopelessness eats at our spirit, our courage, our relationships and even our ability to love. Then we give up. Or we start to try experimenting with ridiculous risks or harmful actions.

“Acceptable social anaesthetics” like drugs, alcohol or sexual indulgence offer temporary relief: but if there is a vacuum at the centre, everything is sucked in and destroyed. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I may seek bigger experiences, zingier worship, allow my faith to collapse- or I can build on my foundation.

WHAT we focus on will affect our day-to-day mood and actions.

WHO we focus on will determine our story’s end.

I count myself blessed to be living near the sea. Autumn means the beaches are mostly empty, and the sunrise and sunsets are a personal art gallery to be enjoyed and cherished. The other day I watched small waves coming in at an angle of about 25 degrees to the shoreline. As they broke there was a long succession of noise as the water curved onto the stones, like a succession dive by a line of synchronised swimmers. It was almost hypnotic- certainly very calming.

Perhaps it is in these observations of the wonder of creation that we can find reminders of God. Combine that with a reflection on God’s revealed Word, and we can find encouragement to strengthen our minds and our spirits.

The grateful heart finds hope in counting these blessings and the solidity of the world- the Faithful God is revealed in the faithful repetition of sea, land and sky. There can be- will be- storms and disasters- but they pass and new days come. So far, I have a 100% record of surviving life… and a growing bundle of joy-filled photos to remind me that God IS… He is LOVE… AND HE IS FAITHFUL.

My choice is important. What and WHO will I focus on? That’s where I will find hope.

Psalm 33:22 (NLT) Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.

Ordained! – Look, See, Pray

Today I am remembering my Ordination, July 24th 1988. A long time ago, many promises made and many people to remember. As I walked along Pagham beach, on all the stones, I enjoyed the stubborn plants that were bringing brightness and life to the day. It reminded me of a song by Paul Field, link below, called Stony Ground.

If you have time, please listen to the song. It says so much about the struggle between a “vocation” and the inner growth that must take place if anyone is to measure up to that call.

Becoming a Christian minister was the result of a ten-year process of discovery and preparation. I will remain ever grateful to my tutors and fellow students at Spurgeon’s College, where I learned to wrestle with the Bible’s message and begin the process of forming my inner self. Part of me says I was not worthy of the honour of serving Christ, the Church, and the communities I have lived in. The rest of me is so grateful that God does allow imperfect people to proclaim “Life in all its fullness” (as Jesus put it in John 10 v10).

Some of you may not know what a “minister” does apart from speak in church on Sundays, and with the occasional wedding or funeral to lead.

Ministry is an amazing privilege: I have shared in the most personal and important moments in many people’s lives, often helping most by being there when they needed a friend. Ministry is also a stressful and difficult road. Without God’s help, I would not have lasted more than a few months!

It also involves being a disciple of Jesus, learning from Him as I travelled through my life. Without faith and grace, I would have had nothing to share. Being able to assist others in their exploration of Christianity, and walking alongside to serve with them, has been a greater honour than I deserve.

There are people I have loved, and others I found hard to like. I have learned and received a huge amount from their stories and experiences; and I have laughed and cried with them all.

I wouldn’t change any of it- they have taught me so much.

My journey still goes on, in different ways now, and I remain astonished that God loved me enough to put up with my imperfections and hard heart. Surely, Lord, I have been stony ground- surely You must have found a better man than me. Thank You for softening my stony heart, thank You for allowing the flowers to bloom and show that true life of the Spirit can breathe on anyone, even me.

God seems to specialise in loving obstinate, ordinary, broken, beautiful souls in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps you know what I mean… or will do one day.

Thank God for life, love, and purpose. May Christ be glorified in all the refugee rebels who He calls and rescues- as He has done for me.

How can Christians pray in isolation?

Praying during lock down… we may have more time, but what can we do creatively as followers of Jesus who have a calling to be Good News to the world? St Paul wrote letters from prison- we can pray from our homes!

Jesus told Simon & Andrew (fishermen both) they would become evangelists- instead of catching fish, they would draw people to Christ. So- ideas for effective prayer that extends Holy Spirit power beyond our physical presence to those “out there”…

1. Think about four people per day.
A family member/close friend
A neighbour/work colleague
A Covid-affected situation- the NHS, emergency services, key workers, political leaders, shut-ins, school staff/students…
An international need/event

2. Pray for God’s wholeness blessing, the “shalom” peace of the Lord for those four. Pray that Kingdom life will touch them and draw them into the Holy Presence. Be specific if you know details; if not, trust that the Holy Spirit knows and can direct your prayer.

Numbers 6:24-27 (NLT)
‘May the LORD bless you and protect you.
May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the LORD show you his favour and give you his peace.’
Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.”

3. Give thanks to God that we can act as priests (like Aaron) and know that our prayer will become a blessing from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then read the passage from Mark’s Gospel, and end by saying: “Lord, draw these people in Your Everlasting Arms, in Jesus’ Name. I trust in your reconciling grace and loving-kindness to them. Amen.”

Mark 1:16-18 (NLT)
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

Time to endure- or use. Look, See, Pray

Quiet Prayer 029Bognor Beach1117

An almost deserted beach at Aldwick… the sun setting against dramatic clouds far beyond Selsey.

Many of us are isolated, or just with our family, and our days are a strange shape. We have time to endure- or use. Quiet is a gift that we may need to unwrap- modern life has so many distractions and the noise level is generally high.

I offer this photo and prayer as a focal point through which we may seek the Lord.

Look at the picture, and read the words over several times.

Take enough time to let your body relax, and your mind settle from the “inner noise” we all suffer from! Focus on Jesus, give thanks for the day and unexpected opportunity for prayer, then offer your worship and prayer for yourself and others who are of concern to you.

Peace and grace to us all today.