Another point of view…

Another point of view… seeing the prayer on the top of the breakwater.

Lord, that wooden post has been there years. Every day the sea floods it, covers it, bashes it and abandons it. What kind of life is that?

Barnacles, seaweed, a limpet or two. Nobody pays attention unless they happen to scrape their leg on it! What kind of life is that?

Seagulls stand on it, crabs walk round it. Dogs pee over it after chasing the seagulls away. Waves crash into it. What kind of life is that?

Resistance is futile, says the sea- we will assimilate you.
Not while I’m standing, says the post. I’ll break your waves!

Looking down from above, the photographer sees form, shape, and colour. The stubbornness of not giving in. A post with a purpose, a duty to fulfill. A home for tiny creatures with tiny urges of their own, just as stubborn as the post and clinging to life with all its trials.

I wonder if I looked at other people from a different point of view… what would I see? The stolid patience of daily living, the refusal to be battered into submission, still clinging to life and hope- knowing storms come and storms go.

Would I care, or notice, or walk away? What kind of life is that?

Lord, if you looked down on my life, what would you see?
“What kind of life is that?” says the angel, looking askance.

“A life with a purpose, and someone I love” says the Word who spoke Life to the world.

I guess we do matter, after all.

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

weeds of humble splendour

Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

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I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!

 

 

Birds of a feather

A recent visit to photograph the migratory birds did me good. Fresh air, seeing lapwings, chatting to others watching the displays- all good. Watching the aerial dance has made me think of various friends, colleagues and ministry partners I’ve had the privilege of working with. And, of course, a wonderful wife and a great wider family.

038pagham birds lapwing

The members of the churches I have been privileged to serve- I’d have been pretty lonely without their love, time, and support.

Some who were in church leadership teams- I want to say publicly that I was enormously blessed by their quality and attitudes.

Other colleagues of different denomination but similar heart. Others in regional groups, and national teams. Staff in schools, hospitals and funeral directors… the list goes on.

I won’t mention names but I do want to say “thank you all.” Also to those who have taught me, encouraged me, and put me straight when I needed that correction.

I am humbled by the way I have been part of the process of helping others to discover and follow their life-calling, and to see how God uses them to to things I couldn’t do.

To you all I offer the blessing prayer of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NLT)
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

Thanks for being part of my migration through this world!

045pagham birds lapwing

Ride the wind!

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by. (poem by Christina G. Rossetti)

Trees in a breeze. Useful to note how the wind is blowing. I take note of wind strength and direction when planning my exercise. Cycling down here on the south coast is made more interesting by the wind. Lots of sea breezes, a few gales… and seven times out of ten it blows straight in your face! It makes sailing seem simple. (Although I may be wrong!)

Ever tried telling the wind which way to blow? Epic fail. On the other hand, if we set our sails to CATCH the wind we will go far and fast. Watching the windsurfers yesterday proved the hardest part was actually getting upright on the board. After that, it was a question of adjusting balance and the angle of the sail. Speed… exhilaration… great physical workout… Sheer fun!

Ride the wind 051Bike220718cropI wonder if life could be more “fun” if we choose to “wind”surf to the breezes of God?

Jesus spoke about the action of the Holy Spirit as akin to the wind. Hear it- yes. Observe the effects- yes. See it? No.

We can’t control the wind, and we can’t control God. We can see how, when, and where God is working. Our best response is to join in- to set our sails to catch the Heavenly wind. To go against the wind is hard. To refuse to try is wasted opportunity. To see God at work and get caught up in the wind’s energy- wonderful beyond description. On another HOT day I suggest you go catch the refreshing breeze- and go God’s way.

John 3:8 (NLT)
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

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A prayer of the small to the Majestic One

Kind and gracious Lord,
Thank you for supplying my needs.
I will “rest in the meadow grass” and drink from still streams.
Thank you for strength of body and spirit
that helps me serve You;
I will seek to love and serve You in all things.
Even in the dark and troubled days and nights,
where grief and despair search for my heart,
You keep me safe and guide my footsteps.
Enemies seek to hurt and destroy,
but You give hope like a banquet for my soul.
You accept me in gracious compassion,
show kindness to the unworthy,
and promise a place of secure Eternal Love.

Psalm 23v2 ladybird 201_hatfieldhouse15crop18Lord, I am so small,
and You are so great;
be with me in every day,
every moment,
and every experience
throughout my life.
My soul will praise You;
may my life honour You.
Amen.
(Photograph and Prayer (c) Richard Starling, 2018, based on Psalm 23 as written in the Living Bible.)

Wildflowers, honey, and a praying camera – Look, See, Pray

Some sensible person on the local council has planted a bee & butterfly meadow in the park. All sorts grow- borage, marguerite, poppies, salsify and stunning blue cornflowers. It is wild and civilised all at the same time!

When I take my camera out to pray, I am obliged to slow down and really look. Wildflower meadows are challenging because it looks lovely in a very untidy way. Quick photos end up as a blur of mixed colours, and are rarely worth your attention.

Slowing down and concentrating makes me pay proper attention- and I start to see the insect life, the bees and bugs which are fascinating. Without the bees to pollinate flowers and crops, we would all die from hunger. And we’d be without honey!

Honey is a health food, with antibacterial properties and soothing qualities as well as its delicious sweetness. Honey can make you feel better. I found this quote from “Winnie the Pooh”… I think we’ve all felt a bit Pooh sometimes, and a good friend like Piglet can work wonders. Perhaps we can be Piglet for someone we know?

 

Tea and honey Pooh

Getting back in touch with our soul is helped by those honey moments and the friends who care.

If I hadn’t stopped to look… if I hadn’t taken the time to see what was in front of me… my day would have been different and somehow less than it turned out to be.

You might think it fanciful- but I think God played the role of Piglet for me. The wild flowers, bees, and the promise of honey made me feel better. My soul was restored.

God told the Israelites enslaved in Egypt that He would lead them to to a land of “milk and honey.”  A place of plenty instead of the wilderness, a place of hope replacing the slave whips. It shaped the whole outlook of the Israelites for centuries- “We were prisoners and slaves, but God set us free and provided for our needs.” There is a very real sense in which that represents what God wants for all of us- a life of hope, rest, and goodness. Fancy taking a camera for a walk, and seeing what God may show you? I’d like to hear about it if you do that. Have a truly blessed day.

Perhaps this post may bring you “tea and honey” and help you reconnect?

Dear God, thank you for the Piglet moments, the love and care of a good friend. Thank you for caring about us: thanks for a world of flowers, bees and honey, for cameras that help us pray, and for all those moments which restore our souls and reconnect us to Your amazing grace and love. Thank You- in Jesus’ Name. Amen.