lighting the Chapel candles

I have to stand on my toes to light the candles in Chapel. Otherwise, I’m too short.

These tip-toe moments make me feel like a child, as I carefully lift up the protective glass and raise the taper to touch the candle-wick (all whilst making sure that the sleeves of my College gown don’t catch fire and the wax doesn’t drip on the choir’s music). I’m like a child relishing the responsibility of being given a task to do, amazed by my Father God’s invitation to perform these small services in his presence. I’m invited to light the candles in the presence of the one who made the stars.

I stand on my toes and watch the wick catch and ignite, turning to flickering as I move to light the next candle. I have the wonder of a child: I get to do this; I am invited to be here; I am given the gift of seeing the illumination of the house of God.

This Cambridge term has opened my eyes to the joy of such simple, childlike faith not only in lighting candles but in many other moments too. I’ve seen it in God’s immense kindness as he’s strengthened me when I’ve been tired. When I have nothing left to give, God gives me the rest I need. He shows me when to take a break and encourages me to persevere when there’s no time to stop. He’s like a mum listening carefully to the tiredness of her child, sending them to bed when they need it and waking them up when they’re ready.

I’ve seen the joy of this childlike faith in singing songs at church, when God has released all of us to sing loud and in freedom. An amazing sound overflows as we lose ourselves in being with him and knowing him. It’s like a child lost in a moment of playing with their dad. They are amazed at his wealth of knowledge and they say simply and truly: ‘wow dad, you’re perfect at this. I love you.’

IMG_0631

I’ve seen this joy in prayer by myself, too. If you’ve spent any time with me this term there’s a good chance that you’ll have heard me (overexcitedly) speak about ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’, a Bible adaptation for kids written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Running from Genesis through to Revelation this book transforms Bible stories and their deep theology into the language of children, showing how each one of them points to the person of Jesus and the incredible love of God. Each morning I’ve read a story from this Bible – and every single day I’ve heard Jesus speak about who he is and how much he cares. God’s been showing me how to wonder and trust in the Bible with the heart of a child (and I’ve even used the Storybook Bible in a Greek supervision. Children’s books will get me through finals, right?!).

IMG_0936

Finally, I’ve seen this joy come to life in the midst of trying to answer that big question of what to do post-graduation. I take such encouragement in knowing that God is my Father and I’m invited to be his child and trust, to wonder at his love and follow his voice where he’s calling me. To follow with joy and with the seriousness that childlike faith (paradoxically?) is growing in me.

Be encouraged if you are also facing big questions and big days. Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness time of wrestling deeply with our faith – and sometimes he calls us to know him with deep simplicity. He can call us to know him just by lighting the Chapel candles, sleeping when we need to, singing loud songs in freedom, and reading picture books in the morning.

Ponder where God’s calling you now, and have a listen to this song, Bethel’s ‘Wonder’. This just captures it all, with such joy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

prayer and fire

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

Over a year ago, on a cold September night, the stars blazed silver and my fingers were chilled to the bone. I was camping with friends at Forum (a conference for University CU leaders), and it was night, and it was cold. There was a light drizzle dampening our clothes and faces. There was dew on the long grass and a sharp, sweet coolness to the air.

There was also a campfire roaring one field to the left – great orange flames sparkling and crackling against the dark sky, emitting grey and glorious-smelling smoke.

So, with the stars blazing silver and my fingers chilled to the bone, I headed over to the campfire to sit huddled on the ground, sing songs (as typically and wonderfully happens at CU campfires!) and get warm. Getting warm was my big aim; I stretched out my cold hands to the flames and felt the heat on my skin. My joints and muscles relaxed, and slowly the warmth reached the bones of my fingers. I didn’t have to keep my hands clenched up inside the sleeves of my jumper any more that night; I didn’t have to try desperately to hold on to or generate my own tiny warmth.

Instead, I could hold my hands out open and empty towards the crackling, smoky fire, letting the flames do the warming for me.

You see: you don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

My friend Katie shared this phrase with me a couple of weeks ago, having heard it at this year’s Forum conference in a seminar about prayer. The point made through it is this: when you don’t feel like praying, pray. Just as you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and need warming up, draw close to God when you’re ‘cold’ in your feeling towards him and you need ‘warming up’.

This resonates a lot with me. I know that prayer is the only thing that keeps me grounded. I know that without regular times of talking and listening to God I grow colder, more disconnected, and more insecure. I get more things wrong and feel a lot more on edge. Yet, despite knowing these things, I don’t always feel like praying.

I get distracted by Netflix or studying, or simply feel a complete lack of motivation and energy to talk to God. I sometimes don’t know where to start, or I sometimes think that I can do everything I need to without God. Often when I have a 9am lecture I find myself with less time to pray in the morning.

These are all examples of feeling ‘cold’. My hands clench up into fists, gathering around them the fabric of my jumper as they try to keep any warmth from escaping. I face a choice in these ‘cold’ moments: do I keep trying to generate and preserve my own warmth, or do I turn towards the fire?

I’ve found that it’s always been worth it when I’ve made the latter choice with prayer. The choice is sometimes hard, but the result is always wonderful – my clenched fists stretch out into open and empty hands, warmed by the fire of who God is and how much he loves.

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.