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

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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.

Clouds or Sun? Look, See, Pray

It has been a day of drama and turmoil with emotions and divisions hitting the headlines. Opposing viewpoints divide families, communities, and a nation. Issues of trust and accusations of underhand tactics are sprayed about with little thought of long-term consequences.

Whatever your personal opinion on the current events, I hope you can join me in a prayer that God may bring wisdom, mercy and compassion to us all.

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Lord, in stormy skies and stormy words we are overwhelmed. Please help us to seek justice, mercy, and reconciliation. May Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

Wind Power – Look, See, Pray

Yesterday’s storm blew over during the night. Calmer air greeted the small group of watchers and walkers wandering the sands in the cool morning. Looking out to sea, the wind turbines were rotating briskly as squalls processed along the horizon. Power being harnessed from the wind.

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Clever engineers constructed the turbines, and linked them to shore-based power grids. But the wind itself is beyond their mastery.

John 3:8 –  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Jesus used this mysterious wind power to illustrate the sovereign work of God. Even with our modern satellites and weather computers, we cannot forecast with any accuracy more than a few days ahead.

The Spirit (or “Breath”) of God is completely  beyond our control. The Lord works when and where He Wills: and with whom He chooses.

Standing and watching the power of the wind was quite humbling. The high tides and strong winds had smashed the waves into and over the sea defences. Stones, weed, and seashells left a trail of its passing. Out there in the Channel megawatts of power were still being generated to light homes, heat houses, even run my computer as I write.

When Jesus described the “Wind of God” as a life-breath, a bringer of new birth and new beginnings, he both highlighted our limitations and proclaimed our potential. The power of the wind is immense. Just imagine… Almighty God “breathing” life across the sea and land, touching lives unexpectedly, and generating fresh hope and purpose.

God specialises in wind power. May that Breath of Life generate living grace in you today.

 

Walk the Margins – Look, See, Pray

Mysterious and always changing. The light, the tide, the time, the temperature: all impose their weight on the margin of land and sea. Shorelines are places of constant movement and change, yet remain substantially the same for many years.

To walk here is to enter a theatre where the scenery changes yet the script is written without words. Except, perhaps, for the words we bring with us: the thoughts and cares, the questions and the yearning for that which is truly Other. This is a panorama of meditation, a palace of prayer, a cauldron of wonder.

Where is God? He is here. The question is really “How do I become aware of Him?”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

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Lord God, source of all Holiness and Purity, make my heart clean. As I confess my need of a Saviour, I acknowledge that I need to honour a Lord.  You alone are worthy of such devotion, You alone are Good and full of loving-kindness.

Meet me in the private place of inner truth, walk with me along the margins of this world and the heavenly realms. Open my eyes that I may see; open my heart that I may believe and trust; and open my mind to be renewed through Your Holy Spirit. Then, O Lord Jesus Christ, I will be aware of You and worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

Time to Reflect- Look, See, Pray

Getting away for a few days was great. Preaching a different church, meeting up with a bit of family and a couple of friends, using National Trust membership to enjoy a bit of culture, heritage, and beauty.

Now it has been time to reflect.
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I didn’t really notice the reflection of the lily in the water when I took the photo. The pond was beside a path through the woods, and time was limited. When I downloaded to the computer, and put it up on a bigger screen, I had a pleasant surprise. All the gorgeousness of the water-lily was repeated in a reflection.

Without slowing down to download, I would have missed it.

How typical of modern busy living. Tomorrow is Sunday, a day for putting God first, for offering worship, for taking a “sabbath” rest. It will be a time to reflect on faith and look more closely at how to live as fully as Jesus intended (John 10 v10).

I hope to see God a little more clearly.  To notice things I might miss in the rush, and in seeing them to be prompted in prayer and obedience.

May I invite you to make a time and space to reflect on the week just past? Time to “download” and take a proper look. It is a simple thing, and God may “speak” to you through silence, sight, or scripture. Beauty that may have passed us by could have another chance to share the heart of our Heavenly Father.

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Here is beauty- and beauty is God’s gift to a weary soul. Peace and grace be yours! Amen.

Dusk on Fire – Look, See, Pray

“It’s just another sunset.”  Mighty God, you set the skies on fire tonight.

Molten gold and crimson blended in glorious blaze that turned the sea to liquid light. Lasting a few short minutes until dusk dimmed the display; and the balm of darkness hushed the world.

Who owns the “rights”? Who will package dusk as merchandise to make more gold?

Thrown with carefree abandon, the Artist of the Earth squanders another masterpiece for those eyes that see, the hearts that quiver, the souls that magnify God.

Wasted? Never a waste! Priceless extravagance of the Father’s heart, spent in celebration of Creation and salvation.

Rich beauty invested in moments of grace, as splendour wakes humility. Witnesses of the Glory Fire are touched by awe, moved by majesty, drawn closer by Love. A luminous moment of numinous awareness. Transcending mortality, the Light imprints joy on the soul of those who truly see.

Water, dust, air- and the rays of the distant Sun. Such a palette of pigment born from starlight and heaven’s light! Farewell to a day that was gifted by God! What will tomorrow bring? What rich new gift will speak the Love of eternity? Will we truly see?

O Lord of grace and mercy, help us to read the canvasses painted across sky and sea. Teach us to notice your Present Love proclaimed with a shout, a whisper, a sunset.

Look! See! The signature of God, the Name above all names. All Earth responds and praises the Three-in-One, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of Life. May our thoughts, our prayers, and our longings echo the angel song. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty! Heaven and Earth are filled with His glory.

Or was it just another gaudy sky? You must decide.

On the Falling Tide- Look, See, Pray

Waiting, hoping, needing.
The glue-like mud clings heavily, like lead weights.
We watched the tide go out and the sparkling waters
became a twisting path to desolation.
How strange that, at the lonely times,
the little glory left behind causes disappointment
reminding us only of what we used to have.

Our vision is blurred by the mist of tears
and the plaintive whistle of curlew and gull
draws attention to what we have lost.

Surely the rhythmic tide will come sweeping back?
There are tides, and times, and seasons
but the turning point has delayed so long
that our dreams are ashes, scattered,
and heartache holds our spirit
in the grip of the vice of despair.
How long, O Lord, how long?

Who can tell the lonely ones with the ravaged hearts
that peace flows, like a river, towards the sea of grace?

How long, O Lord? When will mercy come?

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A lament over the state of the Church and the nations.

The last century has seen the tide retreat as faith is devalued, morality has divorced wisdom, and entertainment has become the opiate of a purposeless people.

As God’s people pray, we raise burning candles toward the sky, each one contributing a light to call upon the Light of the World.

If you read this far and your heart is stirred for the nation, please join in prayer: and if you wish, share this post on your timeline in the hope of others also crying out to Christ.

Lord, bring the tide of compassionate love over the mud and sorrow of these days. Amen. May true grace be with you.

 

Text and photos (c) Richard Starling, 2019

Silence and Solitude – Look, See, Pray

The sweet silence of solitude.

Low tide here exposes a stretch of sand which is lovely to walk on. Usually I am here first thing in the morning before the waves of humanity sweep onto the beach. Shared with seagulls and a few deliriously contented dogs, there is a quiet peace. Even the wavelets scarcely disturb the gentleness of solitude.

I’ve been busy this week teaching a short course on personality and spirituality; and another looking at the “Heroes of Faith” who have walked faithfully before us. Great subjects taught to keen people. Fulfilling for me, apparently inspiring for them.

Taking a brief time alone the next morning was so good.  My body was complaining a bit-when I do activities without taking enough rest, then the grumbles begin.

Restoring the soul with silent solitude works because it places me physically where I can encounter Love, becoming aware of the Presence of the Lord.  Busy living has a way of squeezing peace and joy into a sour soup of weariness.  By straining out the twisted fibres of stress, solitude acts as a re-balancing time where grace can sooth the pain.

There was such a peacefulness on the beach today. May we all hear the kind invitation of Jesus to come and share in wholeness.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT2)
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

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