prayer&justice

This morning I fully intended to go on a 6:30am prayer walk through Cambridge, with other Christians who are going to the Zero Carbon Society’s march for divestment in Cambridge tomorrow. When the message came through about the prayer walk yesterday, I got excited: it’s so great to be able to commit to our Creator the things we are doing to look after his creation and the people in it.

However, note the word ‘intended’. Despite setting my alarm for 5:45, I found myself waking up at 6:34. Four whole minutes later than the time I was meant to be at Parkers’ Piece, ready to pray. Classic Hannah.

image

So as you can see, I prayed in my room, alone, remembering those (more organised/awake people) praying out in the early morning air as they walked the route for the march.

I learned again just how great the gift of prayer is – we get to communicate with God, lift up to him the cries of our hearts and the efforts of our days. Particularly as I prayed for only one thing (the march), I realised just how much we can learn to be prayerfully dependent on God, trusting him with all the aspects of an event: safety and peace; unity; the attitudes of our hearts; clarity of communication; the result of our protest; that God would break our hearts for what breaks his.

God cares and he listens, and we have the opportunity to dwell in his presence and commit to him those things that concern us, letting his voice transform our hearts. It’s fantastic.

I just wanted to share something from towards the end of my prayer-time for the divestment march (I tried to time it alongside the time during which those out in Cambridge were praying). I began to pray through the lens of Micah 6:8, which reads ‘seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God’.

Seek justice: God longs to see our world put to rights, injustice eradicated. May we seek the justice that resides in his heart, gaining both the wisdom of the vision he has for the world, and the courage of his confidence to go out and seek justice practically. May our hearts beat more and more in time with his, becoming reflections and overspills of his fiery love.

Love mercy: God has been merciful to us, in reconciling us to himself. May we be merciful in reflection of this grace, seeking justice and campaigning with a gentleness and a humility that is open to seeing all hearts return to him. May we not be condemnatory of those whose opinions differ; instead give us the humility to be a voice for the voiceless in the best way that we can.

Walk humbly with our God: we are smaller than God; he is far, far greater than us. Perhaps an apt phrasing for a march, these words remind us to step alongside God with humility, in awe of who he is. They remind us that it is not for our own name that we seek justice and love mercy, but for his – we walk to bring him glory and for the sake of his world. (Have a listen to: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fsK_vUHCJso)

So that’s a prayer shared, something that’s encouraged me for tomorrow’s march and for future work for justice.

For more details on why we are doing what we are doing tomorrow: https://justlovecambridge.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/can-we-get-100-christians-marching-for-divestment/

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perfect prayer?

Today I watched a snippet of a conversation between Eugene Peterson, the man behind ‘The Message’ Bible paraphrase, and Bono, of the band U2. They spoke of the honesty of the Psalms, how they displayed the raw emotion of the human heart, the brokenness behind how we can feel.

For Peterson, the Psalms demonstrate to us that ‘praying wasn’t being nice before God’. Praying isn’t about being presentable or having it all together; it isn’t about showing God a perfect heartbeat or putting on a mask of perfection before him.

Praying, in Peterson’s words, is ‘not smooth, it’s not nice, it’s not pretty’. Rather, ‘it’s honest’, gritty, ready to admit the brokenness and pain of life before our God who cares.

Bono added that prayer is about being ‘vulnerable before God’, ‘porous, open’. It’s about ‘realism’ and about admitting the truth of our pains and frustrations. Prayer isn’t a glossing over of what we deeply feel.

This is good news, but it’s also hard. It’s good because life isn’t smooth, nice, or pretty. It’s not neatly folded with its corners and edges all straight; it is not satisfyingly packed together and ready to go. To be able to pray vulnerably with all of our brokenness showing is then, I think, a relief, because we don’t have to pretend that we’ve got it all perfect, and we don’t have to hide the deep frustrations that we might feel.

Yet honesty’s also difficult. It’s hard to admit that we’re hurting, feeling inadequate, getting frustrated at ourselves or others or the injustice in the world. It’s so easy to gloss over the matter: we want to be the ones who have got it right, the ones who are self-sufficient.

But to have that ‘peace that transcends all understanding’ we must bring our raw, honest frustrations and pains before our God. We must because when we are alone, we are not good enough or strong enough – it is only God who is enough to bring true light to our darkness.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 reads (in ‘The Message’):

‘The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.’

Do you see? It’s God who fully understands the tangles and knots deep down in our souls. It’s God who puzzles them out and brings them to light, untangling them and setting us free. It’s something I wrote about in my newly-published ‘God’s Daughters’, but something that I have also recently forgotten to remember.

Further, these verses follow Jeremiah 17:5-8, which talk about the difference between those who trust in man and those who trust in God. The former are like plants wilting in a desert wilderness; the latter like trees planted by streams of water.

It strikes me that praying vulnerably is trusting in God. As we pray without pretence to him who knows, we are trusting that he is the one who knows. We trust that he is the one powerful enough to hear and answer the cries of our hearts and ‘get to the root of things’.

And that’s so encouraging, even if it’s a hard encouragement to act on. I’ve found it hard to pray recently, difficult to properly pay attention to God and trust him with the things that have been occupying my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m tired out from lots of exciting events (as Peter writes, ‘be alert and of sober mind so that you can pray’: I have definitely not been fully ‘alert’ these past few days!).

Whatever the reason, I’m glad to hear again that God is okay even with my imperfect prayers and messy heart-cries. He is okay with tired vulnerability and words of frustration. He is okay with our weakness and struggle, for in them he chooses to manifest his power (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So this is a self-reminder to pray openly and honestly and often, with empty hands wide open for my listening God to grasp hold of.

(See the clip of Peterson/Bono here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/04/27/bonos-advice-to-christian-musicians-get-real/)

Father

Earlier today I took a walk in the slight rain, on streets I just about know. Whilst retracing my steps to find a place that I did actually recognise (yes, I got lost), I saw a girl and her father out of the corner of my eye. They were on a street corner peering down at something on the pavement – a leaf perhaps, or a coin? The girl was only about three years old, the gnome-like pointy hood of her coat all stuck up tall. She squatted down and pointed to what was captivating her so much, and her dad did likewise, giving her the gifts of encouragement and love. He stood, slowly, and she smiled up at him – trusting, enjoying.

It was a beautiful snapshot of everyday life, striking a chord somewhere in me. Having just arrived back at uni after three weeks at home, I miss my family. I miss the movie nights with my sister, the chats and days out with my mum, the board games and walks with my dad. I love my family and I’m so grateful to be in it, to be the daughter of parents who love deeply and who I can trust and enjoy being with. I know it’s not the same for everyone.

I’m grateful too for how this little snapshot glimpsed on a rainy walk and this brilliant life I have with my family show me a pattern of love that is so good and sweet. It’s a pattern of love which finds its home in our Creator’s deep love for each one of us – in Hosea (11:1-4) there’s these verses that get me every time:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, I bent down to feed them.

It’s incredible and sweet and perfect and heartbreaking, how these words reminding Israel of God’s constant father-heart come at such a time. God’s people Israel were in a mess – they had sinned and turned from God and now they faced God’s just anger and wrath. Yet God still speaks of the love he has for them, explained figuratively in images that we know so well.

Imagine God teaching a child to walk, the love burning in his eyes as tiny hands grasp his fingers and feet begin to find themselves on the floor. See him smile as a first step is taken; feel for yourself his arms lifting the little one up in a close hug of joy and encouragement. God delights in his children, his sons and daughters…us.

This is such a beautiful and incredible thing and I can’t quite get over it. That God would hold and cherish me as his daughter despite all the knots I tie myself up in is really truly indescribably good. How can I respond apart from in gratefulness, in a look upwards of trust and enjoyment? What else can I do but long to dwell in God’s presence more, to spend time listening in to his heartbeat and letting it transform mine?

We’re all made for this love, this astonishing grace. We’re all made to lift up our tiny hands to grasp his fingers, to rely on his strength because of our weakness. No matter what, there’s this love of the Father that stretches from one end of eternity to the other, reaching down to hold you close.

blue marble spinning

Sometimes it can feel like the weight of the whole world is positioned across our own small shoulders. Mountains, sky, ocean: they all pile on – or in other words, expectations, to-do lists, and all the jobs seem to consume many waking moments. Hyperbolically speaking it can seem as if we must keep the world spinning, moving – we cannot stop or the world will stop and then where will we be?!

With Lent term tiredness nearly behind me and Easter term revision almost on top of me it feels like proper rest is just not a possibility. I’m sure we’ve all faced times of being too driven or even just too tired to rest – think about such a time for a moment.

Like a shaft of hopeful light through dark space, we have these words:

‘He [God] will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will never slumber or sleep.’ ~ Psalm 121:3-4

These verses are beautiful, not only because they use the word ‘slumber’…twice. They are beautiful words because they cut through the weight we feel and lift it from our own shoulders as we realise that we were never meant to be the ones who kept the world turning relentlessly on its axis; we were never meant to drive ourselves to complete concerned exhaustion.

We were meant to instead rely on the One who never sleeps, but who always holds together everything immensely. He is enough: we don’t have to be.

This means that we can, indeed, rest. We can take time off to get better or simply just to give ourselves some space to breathe. We can plan in time just to read a book or go for a walk or chat with friends. It’s not our responsibility to make all the things happen: it’s not up to us to be good enough or strong enough or busy enough. We can never be these things on our own.

Rather, it’s God’s hands who hold us, his eyes watching our pursuits and our hearts and our energy levels. He doesn’t leave us alone to struggle to do the things we can’t: Jesus is right now ‘sustaining all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3). At ground level we can be still because at universe level Jesus keeps this blue marble of a planet safely hurtling through space and stars.

So as we sleep, we know that God watches over us and is in control of all the things in our lives. As we wake, we can trust that his eyes are still on us: ‘the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night’ (Psalm 121:5). How great this grace is: the gift of rest and peace for the soul.