Friday, August 13, 2010

Prayer : Re Joblessness

Prayer is an on-going conversation, on the grounds of God’s character, kingdom, provision, forgiveness, guidance and deliverance, that starts in the hidden place and moves into active involvement – God’s, and ours – in the publicly visible place.

It starts by changing us, and ends by changing the world: securing internal breakthroughs first, and then external breakthroughs on the back of this preparation.

What might it look like to enter into such a conversation with God concerning endemic joblessness?

Character: adopted and apprenticed...

Kingdom: having a purpose, a valuable contribution to make...

Provision: miraculous provision of work in a workplace wilderness...

Forgiveness: for wrong attitudes towards work; and for those who have failed to provide for work...

Guidance: towards taking a place in work, in job-creation, in improving workplace conditions...

Deliverance: from the prison of endemic joblessness...

What might it look like to enter into such a conversation with God concerning endemic joblessness? And where might such conversations end up?

This would be the sort of serious imaginative work Christians have taken on in previous generations – think evangelical workplace/education reform bills through Victorian parliaments; and Quaker model urban villages – and still take on today – think Tearfund, and other NGOs. But, more than as individuals or even para-church networks, this is the sort of serious imaginative work we need to take on as local congregations...

Adoption : Apprenticeship

I am reflecting on adoption and apprenticeship.

This is perhaps not a coincidence, as we have just adopted a second child into our family through the wonderful ministry of Compassion.

Here is the thing:
The infant Jesus is adopted by Joseph, and apprenticed as a ‘tekton’ – don’t think carpenter who makes furniture, but builder; it is likely that together they worked on building the new town Sepphoris, not far from Nazareth; it is more than likely that later, when a roof is torn apart to lower a paralysed man to Jesus, that Jesus himself reconstructed the roof. Jesus’ apprenticeship: literally creating the framework for new communities. And then, the Father calling him out from that to a new thing, that is not too dissimilar; so similar, in fact, that Jesus himself speaks of building new homes in the kingdom of heaven.

Here is the thing:
I see adoption and apprenticeship at work in the abduction of young boys in Somalia, turned into child-soldiers; in the buying of young girls in Thailand, turned into child-prostitutes (abduction and slavery being extreme and malevolent forms of ‘adoption’).

Here is the thing:
I have seen adoption and apprenticeship at work in the life of Mike and Sally Breen when they led St Thomas’ in Sheffield: how they brought-into their family young adults like Joannah Saxton, and not only invested in them to become mature adults but apprenticed them to become missional leaders.

Here is the thing: for ill or for good, adoption and apprenticeship is the pattern by which we give people a future. It is the pattern.

What would that look like, if our local church were to adopt and apprentice a generation?

It would look like doctors and nurses and teachers and social workers and programmers and dressmakers and beauticians and electricians and tour-guides and gardeners and child-minders and police officers and cleaners and hairdressers and church leaders and...

And yes, they would have to go and get formal training: but they would have a reason to do so. And yes, we need more job creation: but it begins here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Job On The Horizon

More than one in three children in Liverpool live in jobless households.

That is a headline, and though it is statistically accurate it needs unpacking.

Not every adult in a child’s household is jobless because they cannot find paid employment. They may be the principal carer for young children, or – increasingly – the only carer; they may be a retired grandparent living with their child and grandchildren; they may be in full-time education; or they may be unable to work through long-term health issues. Then there are the far too many people who are offered jobs that will leave them financially worse-off than living on benefits – not because benefits are too generous, but because too many employers find loopholes around minimum wage and other working practice legislation. In each of these cases, these jobless adults may have an expectation of work as being a normal activity, and even an intention to return to work at some point in the future.

That is not to say that paid employment is the only valid choice – indeed, it is to recognise that for many people, they contribute to society in other ways – but it is to recognise that work is a normal human activity. When, however, children grow up in homes where, for whatever reason, no adult works, they do not see that work is normal and that to work should be – albeit often is not – healthy and positive. Indeed, when the lack of employment opportunities is as prevalent as it is in Liverpool, which has the highest level of unemployment of any city in the country, work is increasingly not a normal activity.

Notwithstanding the many and complex reasons, more than one in three children in Liverpool live in jobless households, and in Clubmoor ward, where we live, it is higher than in most: and this is a serious problem.

More than what they are taught at school, children learn from what is modelled to them in the home. If going to work is not modelled, it does not – it very almost cannot – become learnt behaviour. Those school-leavers who do get jobs increasingly struggle with the self-discipline of going to work, on time, every day bar sickness: very often such behaviour has not been modelled even indirectly, by getting them to school on time each day through the primary years.

Rather than growing up with an expectation that one will, by choice or otherwise, experience seasons of unemployment through life – which is actually a very healthy expectation; far healthier than the assumption that ‘you can have it all’ – the current generation of Liverpool children are growing up with little or no expectation of ever finding employment.

Where I live, young men roaming the streets during the day, or driving round in fours deliberately disregarding the speed-limit, are highly visible. On the lookout for trouble (whether to avoid it or cause it: Clubmoor got its name from being a meeting-point for gang violence, and history runs deep in a place – waiting to be redeemed). And these are the role-models our children see.

Overwhelmingly, across cultures and ages, the default pattern of humanity has been to be apprenticed to our parents. True, throughout history children have moved out from following in their parents footsteps, out of a sense of ‘calling’ (religious or otherwise: personality; dreams of what lies beyond the horizon, literal or metaphorical) or hard necessity: but, they have moved out from an established starting-point. And whenever humanity overwhelmingly does something, it suggests that we are ‘hard-wired’ (whether by design or advantage) for that behaviour.

This is not a thing of the distant past. We see it in generations of ship-welders and coal-miners and mill-workers – and we see the deep impact on a community when a monopolising employer closes down. We see it, albeit less and less, among farmers and deep-sea trawler-hands. We see it in children of electricians and mechanics and doctors and lawyers and criminals and gangsters and teachers and clergy following in their footsteps. Some see it as a lack of imagination. Some see it as propping-up a class system that keeps people in their place: the limits of such a view being its failure to recognise that this pattern is not restricted to class cultures, and its collusion with the lie that some ‘places’ are better than others. The urbanisation, and excessive professionalism, of modern working practices have eroded familial apprenticeship, but then, the Myth of Progress is the great lie of Modernity: sometimes, and certainly at a dead-end, you have to retrace your steps, revisit the wisdom of earlier generations.

So, what do you do when your parents, and grandparents, are unemployed? Well, you are apprenticed to unemployment: that is how humans construct society.

So, what do you do when your whole generation is apprenticed to unemployment? Well, you need to hear a call out from that place, into the unknown, beyond the horizon...

We are faced with a generation who need to hear a call. In my view, that call is most fully articulated by the voice of the God who made them, and wants to give them hope and a future. To those who do not know God’s voice, he will use whatever means possible, to sow dreams, to open doors.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, and opportunity, facing the Church today is whether we are willing to be a channel for that call to be heard, and whether we will partner with God and others to support – through adoption and apprenticeship; through micro-loans; through micro-businesses; through advocacy – those who ‘leave home’ to follow...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teach Us To Pray : Deliverance

“but deliver us from the evil one.”

God has committed himself to deliver his people from subjugation to evil, has revealed himself as deliverer. But Jesus reveals to us that the path of deliverance does not turn back from evil, or skirt around it: God delivers his people from the evil one by bringing then through death to life. This is the pattern of Jesus, who died and was raised to life. This is the pattern we are called to: to take up our cross and follow him; to lay down our lives for our friends; to be seeds that fall to the ground and die, in order to bring forth a harvest. This will be our ultimate experience: dying in this body, and being raised to a resurrection body: somehow recognisably us, in continuity with the present, but free from the constraints of our currently perishable and perishing bodies. But this is not a one-off event: it is God’s pattern.

When we pray, “deliver us from evil” God will answer, but his answer will look like a passing through death to life: whether that is through physical death to resurrection life, or through other deaths – the death of a dream, a vision, the death of the Self, of what I want.

And this has implications, both for us who are delivered from evil and for the evil out of which we are delivered.

The implication for us is this: like Jesus, who still bears the scars of crucifixion in his glorious imperishable resurrection human body, we will always bear the scars inflicted on us by the evil one. We will always bear the scars, and, over time, those scars will be beautified. And we bear the scars because it is the scars that carry our story: the scars that remind us and help us to tell others that we were once held captive by evil, in this form or that, and have been set free. Those scars might be physical, or emotional, or simply the evidence of things done to us: of the places in our lives where we experienced a tearing, and heard a testimony. And these scars become like the memorial stones of old: places where, whenever we pass by that way again we say, here we met God: places we return to in order to go on, further.

The implication for evil is this: for God, it is not enough to remove evil, so that it ceases to exist: rather, God always works to redeem evil, so that something good is brought out of it. Read Jesus’ genealogy: there is Rahab the prostitute, dedicated by her parents to a mighty chaos demon; Solomon, whose parents had committed adultery, David cheating on one of his closest friends, and then having him murdered in an attempt to cover his own tracks. And in Jesus’ mission, we see prostitutes and those guilty of adultery and murder transformed by the kingdom of God. This, then, is why deliverance cannot be away from or around evil, but must go straight through the middle, must pierce its heart, must break down the very gates of hell and claim it as a territory of heaven.

So, what is on your heart in relation to deliverance? From what do you seek to be delivered? Or who do you long to see delivered from some manifestation of evil or other?

And what does God want to say to you today?

Does he want to beautify your scars? To take you back to the place they were incurred, in order to hear again the testimony you first heard there – or perhaps failed to hear and still need to hear?

Does he want to see good brought out of evil, evil as you experience it redeemed rather than removed? To strengthen you, or the one for whom you pray, to endure the transformation? To pray for those who persecute you?

Teach Us To Pray : Guidance

“And lead us not into temptation,”

God wants to speak to us about his guidance.

Jesus reveals himself to be the good shepherd of his sheep – those who follow him – who calls them by name, and who sits in the entrance to the pen, making himself the gate between the protection of the pen and the provision of the pasture (John 10). He leads his sheep, by going ahead of them and because they know his voice; and the sheep experience an inward direction (in to the pen) and an outward direction (out to the pasture).

Jesus identifies himself with the image of God as shepherd found in Psalm 23. Here, the sheep are led from the winter pasture, which has been grazed, up the hillside gulley to the high summer pasture, the tabletop mountain covered in lush grass and strewn with wildflowers, where the shepherd rubs oil into any wounds incurred on the way. For the gulley is the place of death: of steep drops, fast-flowing flash floods, and predators lying in wait behind rocks. But in this place, the sheep are not afraid, because the shepherd has two sticks: one with which to steer wayward sheep back onto the path, and one with which to drive back predators. The shepherd’s rod and staff: the symbols of discipline (keeping us on the path) and freedom (safe from harm).

God’s love is expressed through discipline and freedom. Discipline trains us, to follow him, and to experience freedom in the world – even when our outward circumstances are constrained against our will by the actions of others, as persecuted Christians have testified in Nazi death camps, Soviet gulags, Chinese prison cells, Sudanese freight crates...

This, then, is how God guides us: through discipline and freedom.

There are times – as in the gulley – where God’s voice gives very clear direction, and our refusing to listen will only result in our harm: God will move to rescue us when we call, but we might wander a long way and get into all kinds of a mess before we swallow our pride. But in the pastures, there is considerable choice of where to wander.

God’s guidance is not narrow. He has not drawn out a line our life must follow, and if we get it wrong somewhere we go off into at best God’s second-best and at worst a life of irrelevance in his sight. There are times when God’s guidance is specific and clear, and many, many times when it is broad.
I do not believe that there is only one person out there made to be your soul-mate, and unless you can find this needle in the haystack (albeit with God’s assistance) you are condemned to loneliness or meaningless relationships. And yet, I do believe that God works in our lives to prepare us for the relationships we enter into. I don’t believe that my wife is the only person I could have married (though she may well be the only person who would have me); and yet I do not believe that it is a coincidence how well her gifts complement my gifts and her abilities compensate for my shortcomings. I do not believe that there is only one job we are to take up at any given time; though I do believe that God prepares us (through discipline and freedom) for the work we choose or are chosen to do – and I do believe that sometimes God makes it clear that we should apply for a particular job, while often he says, “I have gifted you in these ways: go invest as you see fit...”

There is, then, the temptation to not listen to the shepherd’s voice, and so be led away by another voice; and the temptation to be paralysed by choice-anxiety, not prepared to take the risk of moving without specific instruction. There is the temptation to mistake the gulley for the pasture, to be selective in which words of discipline we listen to, as if there was no danger of falling; and the temptation to mistake the pasture for the gulley, to live as though there was no healing and no provision. Submitting ourselves to loving discipline, and embracing disciplined freedom, is the way to follow the good shepherd, to go in and out through the gate for the sheep.

Where are you seeking guidance today? And what does God want to say to you?

His sheep know his voice.

Teach Us To Pray : Forgiveness

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”

At the very heart of Jesus’ pattern for how we ought to pray is the acknowledgement of our need to receive forgiveness, and our call to hold out forgiveness to others. This prayer is about living in freedom, and setting captives free. It is, again, a conversation in which we experience invitation and challenge...and, again, a conversation that begins in the hidden place but moves into active involvement – God’s, and ours – in the publicly visible place.

Invitation: to living in freedom. Challenge: to setting captives free.

One of the things I observe of urban and Generation Y cultures (and Generation Y is a thoroughly urban culture, though they are clearly not the only urban generation, and for this among other reasons not the only urban culture) is a massive sense of entitlement: I am entitled to something for nothing, and entitled to complain if that thing is taken away, even though I contributed nothing towards it. (I have news for you: in another urban setting, Jonah got there first: Jonah 4:5-11)

‘Entitlement’ blinds us to true justice – which requires something of our participation if it is to flourish – and to true mercy – for mercy is the participation justice requires. As God has said, what is required of us is this: that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Forgiveness is totally alien to the culture of entitlement. The invitation to receive forgiveness challenges our cherished and unquestioned belief that we are those who are more wronged than guilty of doing wrong. The challenge to extend forgiveness to others invites us to let go of the identity built on that belief, the identity that places ourselves higher than those who serve us, and to be proactive in changing the world. Forgiveness is alien to us: both subversively attractive and downright terrifying.

Receiving forgiveness frees us to forgive others...and forgiving others causes us to realise more fully our own need for forgiveness. Invitation leads to challenge, which in turn challenges us to receive invitation, which leads to further challenge...The more we take hold of the discipline of forgiveness, the greater the freedom we experience, as a degree of freedom frees us to free others, and in so doing to recognise our need for and receive further freedom: it operates as a ‘virtuous circle’ by which the kingdom takes grip of our lives and will not let us go.

This is what we are called to: to live in freedom, and set those held captive – by resentment, by pride, by bitterness, by prejudice, by not being allowed another chance – free. And the extent to which God can bring freedom into our lives is limited only by the extent to which we are willing to go and do likewise. We were made to be free: and for this very reason the accuser has a vested interest in selling a false freedom: a freedom found in consigning those who have wronged us to judgement, while refusing to take responsibility for restitution towards those we ourselves have wronged. Burn your bridges, and keep on running. That is not the road to freedom, but to self-imposed solitary confinement. It does not deliver what it promises, however much it pours into the advertising campaign.

Forgiveness is perhaps the greatest of all expressions of God’s provision.

Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge of the wronged – whether God or human – and the most powerful weapon known to both: on the cross, the fully-God fully-human Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do...”

Where do you seek justice, or mercy? What might God want to say to you about that, about your role in bringing about what you long for?

Or what might God want to say to you about forgiveness?

Do you need to receive forgiveness today?

Do you need to extend forgiveness to someone else today?

Teach Us To Pray : Provision

“Give us today our daily bread.”

God wants to speak with us about his provision. This flows from his character – God reveals himself as, among other things, our Provider – and is made manifest in his kingdom – that is, wherever the rule of the Provider extends, there in that place there is provision for those who live in that place. As we experience God’s character and kingdom, we experience his provision as a daily reality in our lives: and as we share in God’s character and in the exercising of his kingdom rule, we become people who extend provision to others.

When God’s people lived in the wilderness, between being slaves in Egypt and entering into the land God had promised to their forefathers, God provided them with manna: the bread of heaven. It came with instructions: only take what you need for the day ahead; except on the day before the Sabbath rest, where they were to take enough for two days. Those who took more than they ate found that by the next morning what they had kept back had become riddled with maggots. But, we are told, those who took little did not have too little, and those who took much did not have too much.
Jesus reveals himself to be the bread of life, that comes down from heaven: manna: God’s provision for a people in the wilderness between slavery and the land they will inherit: which is a good way to describe the place those who follow Jesus live – those who have been set free, but do not yet experience what we hope for.

Jesus took five loaves of bread, blessed them, broke them, distributed them to feed a multitude, and instructed that what was left over be gathered up: twelve basketsful, one for each tribe in the wilderness (Matthew 14:13-21). Later, in a similar way, he fed another, slightly smaller crowd (4,000 men, plus women and children; as opposed to 5,000 men, plus women and children) with seven loaves, and had gathered-up seven baskets of leftovers, the symbolic number of perfection (Matthew 15:29-39).

If, moved by compassion, Jesus feeds crowds with bread, then he is concerned with physical provision. But if Jesus is himself bread, then he is also concerned with spiritual provision. Spiritually, he is enough for us, day by day: neither too little to satisfy, nor too much to be digested. Physically, he gives more than enough: in order to make a point: God’s provision is restoring the kingdom that is in turn the outward expression of his character.

If we are honest, we don’t really believe this. It is too offensive: we see people go hungry, and we listen to the whisper that says, “God does not always provide...” or we listen to the whisper that says, “How can you, who has so much, dare to ask God for anything when others have so little?” and so we fall silent. Instead, we feed ourselves – food, and more – and fail to satisfy our appetites: and so we consume and consume, or we lament absence in our lives, until we become sick.

Jesus tells us to pray asking that God would provide us with our daily bread. Jesus tells us to do so because the nature of our relationship is this: God is our provider, and we are to receive his provision, and to use what he provides to provide for the needs of others. As Jesus also says, freely you have received, freely give. Which requires two things of us: first that we receive what God wants to give us; and then that what we have been given, we bless, break and distribute...and finally gather-up the leftovers – the evidence of what has happened here, whatever that may be – as a testimony to God’s provision.

How would our experience change if we started to pray, “Give us today our daily bread”?

What does God want to say to you concerning his provision?

Does he want you to be able to receive something?

Does he want you to give away what you have received?

Teach Us To Pray : Kingdom

“your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As we share in God’s character, so we share in the kingdom that flows out of that character: a realm within which spiritual orphans are adopted into God’s family and experience his love; a realm within which what is good is nurtured, and what is evil is destroyed.

God’s kingdom is being extended throughout the world, often coming up against resistance from the kingdom of the false prince of this world, the ‘satan’ or accuser, who delights in turning neighbour against neighbour in order that his agenda to steal, kill and destroy might run unchecked. The global trafficking of arms and drugs and human beings: brought home to us – made manifest – in the children carrying guns and the dealers and the pimps on our streets. But the very purpose of God’s kingdom is to redeem what has been lost, to restore what was stolen, to bring order out of chaos and life out of death.

This, God has been doing since the start of our story. And at the start of our story, he appointed us to exercise this kingdom rule on his behalf. We were tricked into abdicating, to the accuser; and yet, God committed himself to us, and promised...Jesus, who would restore us to our original calling to be co-heirs and ambassadors of the kingdom of God. And God’s future – where our present night will be completely overwhelmed by a new day; where there will be no more sorrow or sickness or sin or shame – is breaking-in to our present and will continue to break in to our future presents until the night is over and the morning comes. It does so as we participate in welcoming-in and publicly naming the manifestations of the kingdom that has come; in the struggle for the kingdom that is delayed in its coming; and in the anticipation of the kingdom that is to come. If you have ever got up while it is still dark and sat waiting for the sunrise you will understand something of the inevitability of this process; if the sun rose behind clouds, you will understand something of the delay, and – in back-lit clouds – something of the transformation of what is: but only if you have got up and gone out to wait.

Prayer is a conversation in the hidden place that moves into active involvement – God’s, and ours – in the publicly visible place. God does not want us to ask him to bring in his kingdom, and then wash our hands of responsibility. He invites us to listen to his will, in order to challenge us to participate in its manifestation. God’s will, outwardly expressed in his kingdom come, is like ten-thousand thousand splendid things: but not all in one place. Physical healing; emotional healing; streets cleared of litter; local youths, or senior citizens, befriended; NGOs supported; politicians lobbied to take measures against human trafficking, or to speak up for those falsely imprisoned. We are called to participate in his will: but we ourselves are finite creatures, utterly overwhelmed. And so we come to God asking, what is your will for this place, for these people, at this time, on this day? What, in your will, do you want me to participate in today? Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing, but he didn’t do everything on one day: morning by morning he asked, what is your agenda here, now?

What part of his will does God want to reveal to you today, in order that you might participate in it?

What part of God’s will does he want to be made manifest in and through the life of your community?

Teach Us To Pray : Character

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,”

God wants us to know his character, and Jesus reveals to us that God is both Father and holy. Jesus will go further, unpacking what he means by father: not the abusive or absent father that sadly too many people experience in their earthly fathers, but what a father is meant to be: one who loves and delights in his children, who longs for intimacy with them, who loves to give good gifts; in whose presence there is un-self-conscious laughter, and the tender wiping-away of tears. The sort of father I fall so short of being.

And yet, God is also holy: and our flesh cannot approach him and live.

There is, therefore, a tension: that in God’s presence, something of who we are is called to live, to experience life in all its fullness; and something of who we are is called to die. We are invited, as we are, into the relationship we were always meant to know: and challenged to become who we were made to be, and are not.

Invitation and challenge: this is how God relates to us: this is how Jesus, who reveals God’s nature to us, related to men, women and children 2,000 years ago: and this is how Jesus still relates to men, women and children today, as he is present in the midst of his people, the body of Christ, through his Spirit indwelling us...

Indwelling us: this tension, this invitation and challenge, this call to live to God and call to die to self: within us.

God invites us to know him as Father, and challenges us to be holy as he is holy. Invitation, and challenge: invitation, and challenge: invitation, and challenge...the closer we draw, the more we are challenged – in order that we may draw closer still.

And this is so alien to us. To have invitation extended to us: to generations increasingly abandoned by our parents, who have learnt not to expose ourselves to another, not to allow ourselves to be hurt – or to have and inevitably hurt children in our turn. The invitation itself is a challenge, to grow into maturity.

This is so alien to us. To have challenge extended to us: to increasingly fatherless generations, who are so fragile as to see discipline as rejection; and whose parents have sought to keep us as friends, as peers, rather than risk losing us. The challenge itself is an invitation, to grow into maturity.

And the mark of maturity is the ability to reproduce. God – who is mature – does not want us to merely know his character, but to share in that character...and to see that character multiplied into the lives of others, as we ourselves grow into maturity. The prayer continues, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – and this takes place as, among other things, God’s people share in his character, and in the kingdom that flows from that character. A kingdom in which the fatherless are fathered, and what is unholy is made holy...

So what does God want to speak to you about his character today?

A word of invitation, to one who believes themselves unloved?

A word of challenge, to one who believes themselves righteous in their own eyes?

A call to love, to father – or mother, for God is described as both mother and father – spiritual orphans?

A call to reach out and touch lives that are not holy – that are not made clean, and set-apart for God’s use, to fulfil God’s purposes in the world – and so to infect them with holiness?

Teach Us To Pray : Introduction

Jesus taught his disciples how they should pray. And if we, too, are disciples in the Way of Jesus, then we should give weight to his words: Jesus’ model is not merely one among many possible options, but the one we are to make our own. On the other hand, these words, recorded in Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:1-4, are not a mantra: they provide the context for a conversation between God and God’s people. For that is what prayer is: a listening to what God wants to speak to us about, and a bringing to God our lives. And Jesus says that God wants us to bring our lives to him, to listen to him, in relation to six areas: six areas of interaction, beginning in conversation in the hidden place and moving into active involvement – God’s, and ours – in the publicly visible place. These six areas relate to God’s character, kingdom, provision, forgiveness, guidance, and deliverance. Over the following posts, I intend to unpack each of the six phrases a little.

Within the Rule of The Order of Mission – which is expressed in an iconic form using Lifeshapes* – ‘praying as a way of life’ is represented by the hexagon: each side of the shape recalling a phrase of the prayer. We seek to engage with this prayer in various ways. We might run through the familiar words, perhaps a number of times over, until we sense a check: and there we ask, is this the thing that God wants to speak to us about today, through his Holy Spirit; or the thing that is weighing on our spirit, which we need to bring before God and hear his voice address today? It may be one or the other, and as prayer is a conversation, the expression of a relationship, either is as valid a starting-point as the other. At other times, we might pray through the entire prayer on a Sunday, and then take each of the six phrases in turn and pray them through the rest of the week, Monday to Saturday.

* ‘Lifeshapes’ are a series of tools for discipleship – for helping us to follow Jesus, and to help others to follow Jesus. Recognising that we live in an iconic culture, where brand logos both carry and unlock significant volumes of experience for us – try it: how much information and experience does the Disney logo, or the Apple logo, or the M&S logo recall to your mind? Choose a logo and write a list – they make use of simple iconic shapes to carry and unlock biblical teaching to live by, with a focus on the life and ministry of Jesus. The beauty of iconic symbols is this: that, just as with every new Disney (etc.) release, the reservoir of knowledge their logo carries and unlocks expands; so with every new thing we learn about living as disciples, the reservoir of knowledge the Lifeshapes carries and unlocks for us also expands.