Message from Geoff Lanham on 16th September
I can easily forget that Jesus wants to live his life in me. This is the mystical dynamic of Christianity. As Paul writes in Galatians 2: 20,” It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.” The writer J. Heinrich Arnold claims that,
“Christian discipleship is not a question of our own doing; it is a matter of making room for God so that he can live in us.”
Making room for God surely requires that we pay attention to the health of our spiritual breathing. Making our home in God means regularly drawing our life from him rather than going through life on auto-pilot relying on unconscious breathing patterns. From a physical point of view, it’s obvious that breathing is vital. If we try holding our breath, we’ll find that our hunger for oxygen becomes apparent very quickly. Yet when it comes to the Christian life, we can become surprisingly content to hold our breath. When are we pausing to allow God to breathe his life into us?
If we think of our church as a physical body, how is our corporate spiritual breathing?
We may be disconnected from one another and from the church building at the moment, but how we each make room for God matters? Our individual life of prayer affects the mission and ministry of our church. Perhaps God would ask of us, like the call handlers, “Are they breathing?”
Here’s a simple prayer method you could try. Just as holding our breath can be a reaction to stress and anxiety, paying attention to our breath can be a way to connect with God’s peace in the midst of challenge. Our breath can be a focus and a way into prayer and into God’s peace as we remember that the Spirit quite literally ‘inspires’ us or gives us breath. This method involves breathing in and out. Use the inward breath to name what you would like to receive and the outward breath to state what you would like to release. So,
• Breathe in compassion for yourself—and others.
• Breathe out any anxieties you have about your health and your loved ones’ health.
• Breathe in God’s peace.
• Breathe out any concerns you have right now over your finances.
• Breathe in God’s assurance that these times will pass.
• Breathe out whatever is causing you fear or anxiety right now.
• Breathe in God’s promise of new life; breathe in hope.
You could also choose a phrase, a verse from the Bible or a line of praise. For instance, “Lord Jesus, Christ, grant me your peace”, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” or “When I am afraid, I will trust you.” Continue your prayer for a set period of time or until you feel you have reached a sense of inner stillness as you dwell in the presence of God. All the best with taking those deep breaths full of God’s love, presence and life.
16th September 2020
Message from Geoff Lanham on 9th September
I have to confess I’m not a great fan of the wind. I have memories as a child of cycling 5 miles into the nearest town, and it always feeling as though you were struggling into a headwind, getting nowhere. I always hated having to bowl into the wind when playing cricket. An adverse wind is hard work. Suddenly we find ourselves facing an adverse wind of new Covid restrictions. “Not again” we say. “How long for this time?”
I have a great sympathy for the disciples in the incident when they get caught battling against a storm wind that blows up on lake Galilee. The NRSV says Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat.” Actually, the originally Greek is even stronger…literally “he forced them into the boat”. Why compel them to do this? Well, this is his second attempt to get the disciples to slow down after their first foray into mission. They need a break and so does he. They are to head to Bethsaida and Jesus goes up a mountainside praying. But the disciples get into difficulties as the wind gets up. In Matthew’s account, it talks of the boat being battered by the waves. No doubt the disciples were tempted to think,
“Where’s Jesus when we needed him? We could have done with an extra pair of hands on the oars.”
As I’ve thought about this incident, I’ve realised there have often been times when I’ve had similar thoughts. “Why is it that Jesus watches from a distance but doesn’t immediately step in to sort out the storm? On retreat a number of years ago, I was meditating on this passage and the particular verse that held my attention was verse 48
“When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind.”
I found myself thinking how often it felt like I was straining against an adverse wind in the Christian life. How frequently I felt that Jesus couldn’t see, or chose not to see, how pressured things were. There were times when the “adverse wind” seemed to be the sense of struggling against God himself. Maybe some of you are feeling that about not now being able to visit family or having your social contact disrupted. It’s easy to feel blown off course by this pandemic. Perhaps you’ve had moments over recent months when you’ve asked God
• “Where were you when it felt like I was straining and you left me alone to cope?”
• “Where were you when it felt the pressure would destroy me?”
• “Where were you when I felt so discouraged and down hearted because of disappointments?”
As I reflected more on verse 48, I realised that Jesus had indeed seen his struggling friends. He may not have been with them, but they weren’t far from his mind. He was watching out for them. Rather than abandoning them, “When he saw…he came towards them…in that wonderful phrase “Walking on the lake”, as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing! I realised that Jesus was reminding me that he was often coming towards me in times of stress, but often I’m too busy, wounded, or frustrated to notice. We can feel too aggrieved and angry to realise. Yet if we would only pay attention, we might stand a better chance of recognising Jesus’ compassionate movement towards us in times of pressure and stress.
Where is Jesus coming towards you in your disappointment and annoyance? Where has he been present in compassion, but you’ve been too weary or preoccupied to notice? Leighton Ford writes, “God pays, not demands attention. And yet the greatest wonder of all is that when we ignore him, He still longs for, yearns for, our attention.” Do we notice the ways Jesus is coming towards us? Maybe it’s through the support of friends, the encouragement of others, a verse that speaks to us, a sudden gift or provision, a startling scene of beauty on a walk, the smell of a flower. Yes, we’re all feeling a degree of anxiety and heavy-heartedness, but the challenge in our “adverse wind” is to remain open to the possibility of God
coming towards us in every moment of the day in ways we may not expect. Try to picture Jesus’ compassionate movement towards you this week in your dry, difficult, boring and sad moments.