A few months ago I wrote talking about the process of moving from one Spoon's group to two Spoon's groups. I spoke a little about some of the pain and difficulty involved and how we were stepping out in faith to create something new. Now that we are well into this process, I have a few more reflections I can share with you all.
Something I have discovered in this process is the importance of prayer and fasting when stepping out like this. After spending a day praying and fasting as the leadership team, we got a much clearer sense of what it is God is seeking to do with our Wednesday group, and have been able to press forward with much more confidence, knowing that we are called to lead a group which is inspired by and related to Spoon's, but not identical. This correction was so encouraging for us, and helped us to persevere.
The first few weeks were difficult, getting so few at meetings. After a while though, we started to develop relationships with people, and now have a decent group who come along to our socials. This isn't just a matter of blindly continuing in what you have already been doing though, it is so important to meet people where they are, not where you are.
Our existing format was great for us, but not for the people we longed to see joining our group. So we listened to God, and we shook it up. Now we're running a series of socials for all different tastes to get people interested and along before we get started with an Alpha course in September.
Thank you all for your prayers, we encourage you to keep us in your prayers as we carry on in our journey of working out what following Jesus in the whole of life looks like for 18-30s in Widnes.
It’s that time of year again, the sun is out, calves are out, gardens are beginning to take shape again, walking into church you are greeted with a drop in temperature (actually that’s true all year, it’s just that it’s pleasant when it’s like this!). But it is not just the weather that marks this season as strange. Take a look around the church and you’ll see. The Sunday morning service music has been led on the organ; this can mean only one thing: Keswick! Take a peek in the south transept; you will see piles of camping equipment from the tower which have been cleaned, counted, and checked; this too can mean only one thing: New wine! Hang around Janice for long enough and you’ll hear all about a mad rush for permission slips before Wednesday; this also can mean only one thing: Soul Survivor!
So why is it that so many of us head various distances across the country to go to these summer conventions, gatherings, and festivals?
One key thing to notice is that we usually go together, and even when we don’t we meet people there. If you pick up a Bible and start reading from the beginning, you’ll notice that everything is “good” to start off with, but keep reading and you soon arrive at a “not good” (go on, I’ll wait).
That’s right, Genesis 2:18 has the first “not good” of the Bible with “it is not good for man to be alone”. One key thing that summer gatherings (or in fact any extended time together as a church) do, is to remind us not only of this, but of how good it is to be together. When we come together we are reminded of the goodness of being together. Of our faith’s roots in an actual family who actually lived in the actual middle east, and of our calling to be part of God’s family. It all feels very real when you are seeing your brothers and sisters every single day; this reality, in the arguments and heart to hearts with which extended time replaces polite nods and small talk, brings us closer together, and points us all towards the real God!
It’s a chance to learn from some very well learned people as well. Where else can you get so many people with so much knowledge about God together talk to non-academics like us? We go to these places to hear about God from lots of different angles, and it’s there back in our churches too, as we gather for lunch or tea or cocoa and talk about things we’ve heard in seminars and try to make sense of them as a church.
There’s something incredible about worshipping, singing, praying together as thousands. There’s something so special about singing along to very talented and skilled musicians, and being led by such spirit-soaked leaders. There’s something exciting about seeing people come to faith every day. There’s something comforting about not being in the minority.
There are so many reasons why we go to summer festivals, but mainly it’s the same reason we do most things: to love, worship, and encounter God.
When the St. Paul's way was launched, I was pleased to be challenged to develop healthy habits. Perhaps the one I've found most fulfilling so far is daily prayer.
Of course I knew perfectly well before that praying brings one closer to God, and that praying more can only be a good thing; but I only knew it in an intellectual sense. The only way I can explain it is that I knew it in my head, and now I know it in my heart.
When I was a child my parents, grandparents, and teachers would say, "Practice makes perfect." This is one of those phrases that really got into my mind, and permeates a lot of my thinking. Something that was clear to me from them saying this was that perfection isn't a default in this life, that we are in a world where things left alone will always get worse (see 2nd law of thermodynamics). What they meant when they told me that practice makes perfect, was that in practising things -in repeating good habits and disciplines- I would in some way be reversing that process and bringing perfection into the world.
As I have grown up I've inevitably found that some practices bring more perfection than others, and that daily prayer is certainly one of them. As I've been developing this habit of praying daily, it's brought my life more and more in tune with God. When I make a point of praying first thing in the morning, I get to see so much more of God in the world around me, and a lot of the time coincidences happen! Praying at lunchtime helps me through the rest of the day with Christ at the centre. Reading through a compline service before bed provides a great opportunity to look back on my day and see where God has been at work, and it is a great space to offer the day's thoughts up to God, and to go to sleep trusting in Him.
I've found that having a day punctuated with prayer in this way really promotes prayer in all situations. I find myself speaking to God in everything I do, and it feels so natural when the habit is developed.
Every time I pray, I invite the perfect one into my life, into this world. It really is a practice that makes perfect.
It was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer in a voice that was quiet and low said “What am I bid for the old violin?”, and he held it up with the bow.
A guiness, a guiness, and who will make it two, two guiness and who will make it three. Guiness one, three guiness twice, going for three but no.
From the room far back, a grey haired man came forward, and picked up the bow, then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loosened strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as a carolling Angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer in a voice that was quiet and low said “What am I bid for the old violin?” and he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand guiness, and who will make it two? Two thousand, and who will make it three thousand? Three thousand once, three thousand twice, and going and gone” said he.
The crowd cheered, but some of them said “We do not quite understand what changed its worth.” Swift came the reply “A touch of the Master hand”.
And many a man with life out of time, all battered and scarred with sin, is auction cheap by the thoughtless crowd. Like the old violin, a heap of pottage, a glass of wine, a game, and he travels on, he is going once, he is going twice, he is going, and almost gone, but the Master comes, and the foolish crowd can never quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.