Fighting to pray

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Those who know me well will understand that I’ve been a night owl for most of my adult life. Doing all-nighters was common place once. But ask me to come to something at 5.45am now and I’ll tell you that I can’t stay up that late anymore! I’m getting older. But we’ve moved into a beach town and life begins pre-dawn most mornings for some people. As the sun hits the water, there are already surfers making the most of the day.

fightclubWhen I was asked if I’d like to join ‘fight club’ at 5.45am on Wednesdays I was curious for more than one reason. What do they do at fight club? And why is it so important? And what would make them think I could get there if I wanted to? Now I know the number one rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club—but I’m going to break it, slightly. For years now, a few blokes have met every week, rain, hail, dark or shine, to pray. That’s right, to pray! To ask God to make a difference. To tune into the creator and sustainer of this universe. To ask their Father in heaven to make a positive impact in the lives of others.

They meet outdoors, at the beach, and bring their requests to God. I can think of many reasons why you’d call it fight club, not least of which is fighting to get there at that time of day, and especially when the bed is soft and warm and it’s pouring with rain outside. More significantly it’s a battle to pray. Something to strive at. It doesn’t come easily. It takes focus, effort, discipline. It takes an activist like me, the willingness and humility, to slow down and ask God. To own up to the fact that for all that I can do, there is so much more that I can’t. To cry out to God and ask him for help.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually made it a few times now. And I want to make it along regularly. So I’m going to try to keep going. It hurts, but the promises of Jesus remind me that it’s worth it:

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
(Matthew 7:7-11)

 

 

Not my problem

burdenI’ve noticed this phrase has made its way into our vernacular… Not My Problem. We can even send it as a text… NMP. It’s pretty callous and cold. It highlights our preoccupation with ourselves and our overall lack of responsibility. We watch the news and see terrorism and tsumanis, fires and famines, earthquakes and economic collapses, and maybe we think to ourselves… Not My Problem. Some of us have been inoculated against being contaminated by the plight of others. How easy is it for us to drive past the car that’s broken down, or make excuses why we can’t give to that appeal, or simply avoid the people whom we find awkward or demanding?

I don’t use the phrase much myself, except perhaps when the kids have left their homework until the night before it’s due! But I’m saddened that I regularly see evidence of it in my attitude. It’s so easy to ignore the plight of others, or simply feel too overwhelmed to be able to offer anything. As a Christian, I believe that relationship with God is the most important need people can have. I believe that we will all stand before God one day and give an account for how we’ve responded to him. And I’m persuaded that people desperately need to hear the outstanding news that peace with God is made possible by trusting in Jesus. I believe all that, and yet so often fail to do anything about it. I wouldn’t articulate it like this, but I think and speak and act as though it’s Not My Problem.

Let me tell you, I’m so glad that Jesus wasn’t like me. He engaged with people who were in desperate need. They were abused by their religious leaders and oppressed by their political leaders. They struggled with sickness, both physical and spiritual. They faced death in fear and without hope. Underlying all of their obvious problems, they were guilty of turning their backs on the God who’d given them everything. It would have been so easy for Jesus simply to have turned away and said Not My Problem. But he didn’t! In Matthew’s Gospel we read this about Jesus:

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:35-38)

Jesus showed extraordinary compassion for people. He connected with complete outcasts. He risked being contaminated by others. He sided with the powerless and vulnerable. He took on the pretence of the proud and powerful. He offered hope to the hopeless and life to the dead. Jesus was serious about the needs of his people. So serious that he went willingly to his death upon a cross, so as to offer the way to peace with God.

Whether I have compassion or not, there is genuine hope for people because of Jesus’ compassion. I thank him for this compassion, and how I wish there were more people like Jesus. How I wish I was more like Jesus! Jesus encouraged his followers to pray earnestly that God would raise up more people who were like him. I’ve been encouraged to pray the same thing. And I will ask God to transform my attitude and those of others so that we too will show compassion and concern, bear others burdens, and share the great news of Jesus, that he has taken their problems and made them his own.

Journey with cancer 13 Feb 2013 – surprisingly good news

It’s been some time since I posted on the progress of the cancer. I guess there hasn’t been much to report. October was the last time I had a scan. The cancer had been stable. I’d been feeling fairly well. In fact, for two or three cycles, the chemo hadn’t knocked me round too badly and I’d only been bed-ridden for a day or two.

During the summer months I’d enjoyed some wonderful relaxing time with the family. We’d been camping at Burrill, enjoying the surf, catching some fish, chilling out in the hammocks, chatting round the campfire, learning to cook cakes in my ‘Shuttle Chef’. I stopped reading books for a while, slowed down on the blogging, played a bit of real life scrabble, and slept lots. We spent a couple of awesome weeks in Sydney house-sitting for friends. During this time I learned to ride a stand-up paddleboard (sort of), helped the kids to learn to wakeboard while I had heaps of fun driving the zodiac on Sydney Harbour. I didn’t even have to interrupt the Sydney holiday because we were able to arrange chemo in Sydney. Then, another week or so camping in Burrill. I had long walks on the beach, caught some salmon, flathead and whiting, cooked some more cakes, and even went out in the surf. For the first time in two years I went out on my bodyboard and caught some decent waves. It was exhilarating! Who would have thought a year ago?! Mind you, I suffered the next two days, as my ankles swelled up in such pain that I could barely walk. But, it was worth it!

Now I’m back at work. I’ve re-joined the team that I built, but in a new role, with new patterns, new responsibilities, and new challenges ahead. I will need to be disciplined in getting rest, taking time off, tuning out from the demands of ministry, saying ‘no’ to opportunities, and staying focused. But I’m excited at the possibilities.

marble-in-hand-cmykOn Monday I had a CT scan to check what was happening with the cancer. I must admit, that I’d been expecting this scan to show growth. It’s over a year now since I began chemo and it’s unusual for people with my cancer to show no progression for this long on this treatment. But, it’s not about statistics. Everyone is unique. And my results stunned everyone. Fiona rang for the results yesterday and we celebrated them over dinner. The tumour had shrunk again. After being stable for months, it had shrunk from 12mm to 7mm! Awesome! I’ve gone from having a marble inside me to having a pea!

peaThe oncologist this morning was smiling! In fact, he was pretty chirpy. They just don’t expect to see further shrinkage once things have plateaued on maintenance therapy. Plus, the neuropathy seems under control. So much to be thankful for.

A miracle? Yes, it is really. I’m not healed, but I’ve been healing in so many ways, and that is very encouraging. Why is this? The right drugs? It seems so. The combination of Alimta and Avastin isn’t that common, but in my case it’s proved to be very effective. It justifies the huge costs of the treatment. Is it good food, reasonable exercise, de-stressing and refocusing on life? I’m sure this has helped. And what about prayer? Can my improved condition be linked to the prayers of so many (I believe hundreds of people) praying regularly for me? I believe it can. I don’t know why, but it’s the mercy of God that I’m where I am today, and I thank him for listening to the pleas of so many. If you pray, please join me in praising God for his kindness and please keep asking him to shrink this cancer to oblivion!

Diagnosing James chapter 5

James5Over the past 12 months I’ve been pointed numerous times to a passage in James chapter 5. This is an important and puzzling part of the Bible. It seems to make bold promises and yet, so often, doesn’t seem to deliver upon them. Is this because we’ve misunderstood the text? Is it because we’ve misapplied the text?

This part of the Bible has had me curious for many years. I’m not sure I’ve ever been completely satisfied with any of the commentary explanations. Is it a prescription for healing today? Should we follow the advice to apply oil, call the elders, confess sins and pray for healing? Should we have the faith that the sick person will be healed? Is this a promise of healing to the person who has repented of their sin?

My cancer has given me cause to reflect more seriously on these words of God. Over the years I’ve been called on a few times to pray for a seriously ill Christian and anoint them with oil. Earlier this year some of our pastors and elders prayed over me and anointed me with oil. Does this mean that I should expect to be healed from my cancer? Others have had similar experiences and haven’t been healed. What do we make of this?

A pastor friend took me to this passage while I was still in hospital last year and asked me to consider if there might be any sin that is causing my sickness. The truth is I can think of so many sins! But how would I know what sins might be serious enough to lead to serious sickness. And I trust God that he has accepted payment for all my sin in Christ. And I don’t think there is anything for which I remain unrepentant.

But it’s also the exegesis of this passage that puzzles me. So many commentaries see little or no links in the immediate and wider context, and this bothers me because it seems unlikely that James would drop a new and unrelated exhortation at the end of his letter. I wish to explore the meaning of these verses further and to ask whether it is possible to see a coherent argument from 5:7-20. So here are some of my thoughts for consideration.

The ESV translation of James 5:14-15 is as follows:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 

In these verses, one English word ‘sick’ is used to translate two different Greek words: astheneo (5:14) and kamnonta (5:15).

While astheneo in its various forms throughout the gospels seems to always refer to sickness, it is used more widely in the letters of the New Testament to mean weakness. Weakness can include physical sickness, or be caused by physical sickness, but it can also include a broader range of issues, such as the ill-informed conscience, spiritual struggle, and more. Hebrews 4:15 gives a good example of spiritual struggle:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin.

The second word translated as sick (5:15) is kamnonta. This word is more easily pinned down. Its only other appearance is in Hebrews 12:3:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

The same word appears in Revelation 2:3 in the Textus Receptus, where it also carries the meaning of weary in a similar context. The word kamnonta is also used in Job 10:1 (LXX) where Job is weary in his soul. This is particularly interesting, given the mention of Job in James 5:11. If kamnonta in James is being used in a similar way to its use in Hebrews 12, then it seems reasonable to adopt the broader translation of astheneo as ‘weak’ in verse 14. On this understanding, we could offer the following translation:

14 Is anyone among you weak? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is weary, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Of course, there are other issues to be determined in these verses. How is ‘save’ (Gk. sozo in 5:15) being used? The NIV translates this word as ‘make well’, whereas the ESV translates as ‘save’. Does it refer to salvation from illness and death? Or is it speaking of salvation from God’s judgement? James uses this word on four other occasions and each time it refers to spiritual salvation.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (1:21)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  (2:14)

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?  (4:14)

…let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.  (5:20)

Most telling, is the proximity of 5:20, which I would argue is a continuation of the same discussion by James. Thus, James could be saying that the prayer will restore the weak and weary person so that they will be saved from the judgement of God.

The reference to healing (Gk. iaomai in 5:16) could then be understood to be functioning metaphorically, as it does in Isaiah 53:5.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  (5:16)

That is, the person is healed from their sin. Interestingly, in Hebrews 12:13 this word is used for ‘the healing of drooping hands and weak knees’. This is a picture of restoring the person who has grown weary and faint-hearted (Hebrews 12:3) in their struggle against sin. The same idea could well be on view in James 5.

This interpretation fits well with the context and helps us to see the development of James’ argument. In 5:7-11 James writes about the attitude his brothers and sisters should have toward suffering. They are exhorted to be patient and to persevere. They are to find encouragement in the example of the prophets (Job is noted) and the merciful character of God. This has an eschatological focus in the return of Christ and the final judgment.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patientEstablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:12 is harder to understand in the flow of James’ argument and is usually explained as an isolated saying. However, it’s possible that James is returning to his warnings about double-mindedness and his encouragement to his brothers and sisters to remain steadfast.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.  (5:12)

5:13 continues the matter of remaining godward in the face of suffering and trials, by encouraging the suffering person to pray. If the praise is also godward, then he encourages people to speak with God in good and bad circumstances.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  (5:13)

But what of the weak person, the spiritually weary, the one who may be unable to pray in faith? Let him call the elders to pray so that he may be restored. Indeed, prayer is not limited to the elders. Prayer is something we should offer for one another, especially when they need help in overcoming sin. This whole argument is nicely concluded and summarised in 5:19-20 where we see that the heart of the matter is saving the sinner from his sin that leads to the death of his soul.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

But what of Elijah in the midst of all this?

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.  (5:17-18)

Again, the reference to Elijah points to the continuity of argument, because the example of the prophets has already been raised in 5:10. Elijah serves as an example of a righteous pray-er. His ministry occurs during the time of drought and he is introduced in these terms in 1 Kings 17:1. For three and a half years the people have to wait, and the cause of the crisis is the sinfulness of the people of God. In particular, it is their double-mindedness as they flirt with other gods and fail to trust God’s covenant promises. This fits well with the introduction to this section of James, where in verse 7 the farmer waits for the rains, which are the coming of the Lord. 1 and 2 Kings reveals that Elijah was a man who prayed, but the prayers recorded are interesting. He prays for a little boy to be saved from death to life – and he was. A powerful prayer for healing, but James does not mention this. So, I understand the connection to be humble faith in God, as we wait patiently for him to bring the rain, or in the case of James – the return of Jesus.

This still leaves the puzzling reference to ‘anointing with oil’. The New Testament only mentions the practice of anointing with oil in relation to healing the sick in Mark 6:13. (There is also the reference to pouring oil and wine on the bandages of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:34.) So, it could be that a connection with healing prompts the mention of anointing with oil. This, on my view, could be a symbolic demonstration of God’s spiritual healing of the individual.

This ‘restoration of the weak and weary’ view fits well with the overall message of James. People become weak and weary when they fail to submit humbly to God’s word. Rather than strengthening their hearts (5:8), they become faint-hearted and weary of struggling against sin. They become double-minded, being tempted by the world’s ways rather than patiently trusting in the goodness of God.

James began his letter by calling upon people to remain steadfast under trial. They are to persevere patiently because God has promised a crown of life. James concludes his letter by returning to where he started. His big concern is that people live out their faith and not fall by the way, distracted by the pretence of the world. They are to keep trusting in God, come what may, and if anyone starts to stray, then their brothers and sisters should pray and do all they can to bring them back.

I recognise that this interpretation is not watertight and there have been various arguments against it. Commentators point to the calling of the elders as indicating the incapacity of the sick person to go themselves to the elders. The strong connections with Jesus’ teaching are seen as a pointer to the sickness/healing/saving theme of the gospels being repeated here. Further, the place of anointing with oil in a context other than healing is hard to explain.

I have weighed these arguments (and will continue to do so) and it seems to me that in the context of James’ letter ‘restoring the weary’ is a more likely interpretation than healing the sick. If I am wrong, then it is still likely that James explores a link between the weakness/sickness of individuals and the potential of sin having brought this about. Thus the prayer and concern for the sick person will be concerned with more than their physical healing. It will be concerned with the forgiveness and salvation made possible through Christ.

My recent experience of serious sickness has reminded me of the strong connections that can exist between physical sickness and spiritual struggle. Someone who is very ill and facing their own mortality may experience doubt and a struggle to maintain their faith in Christ. In such circumstances the prayers of the elders and encouragement of God’s people will be particularly important.

In all of this, I continue to pray fervently for others to be healed of their sicknesses and that God will strengthen their faith in him for salvation. I deeply appreciate the thousands of prayers that people have offered for my healing. Please don’t stop! Let’s pray to God, let’s pray for one another, especially for the sick and weary and weak and struggling, that God will raise them up. When things are especially tough, the prayers of our brothers and sisters are so important.

These reflections are a work in progress. I have grappled with this text over a number of years (preceding my illness) and recent events have pushed me to explore their application again. My prayer is that we will read them humbly and faithfully, leading us to trust God in whatever circumstances we are facing. I welcome your thoughts and prayers!

Please don’t stop praying

Having cancer isn’t much fun. From time to time I follow a forum where people share their stories of having cancer, or of caring for those who do. Some of these stories are heartbreaking. The pain, the fear, the loneliness, the hopelessness, the cruel and depersonalising invasion of cancer through the body. Once active, strong, happy individuals, being reduced to feeble shadows of their former selves.

What has both surprised and encouraged me, is how often people are asking others to pray. “I have scans tomorrow – please pray.” “My husband has developed pneumonia – please pray that it will clear up so he can continue his treatment.” “I’m so afraid of the prospect of losing her – please pray that I will be strong.” “My kids are really feeling it – please pray for them” “It’s spread into the brain. I’m so terrified – please pray for me.” “There doesn’t seem to anything left we can do – please pray.”

It’s not just the requests for prayer. It’s also the offers to pray. People will share their struggles and sometimes others reply, saying that they will pray for them. Sometimes people share that they’ve been praying for someone. Sometimes they even share what they’ve been praying.

NTE_prayer_2011I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people have been praying for me. Many of these I know about. Friends, family, people at church. I’ve been amazed to discover that I’ve got a spot in people’s prayer diaries. Some people have told me they pray everyday without fail – and I believe them. Others have said they pray every now and then, when they think of it. Some pray when they get news or when they read this blog. I was remembering tonight, as I visited the NTE conference with around 2000 other people, that 1500 or so students had gathered in small groups to pray for me at the same event last year.

Over this weekend I’ve met four strangers who, upon being introduced to me, said that they (and sometimes their churches) had been praying for me all year. A couple of months back I sat beside visitors at church who, when they discovered who I was, said it was so good to put a face to the name because they’d been praying for me for some time. These serendipitous experiences have been happening all year. What a blow out! So many people have been praying. People I’ve never met, who’ve never met me, but who’ve been moved to speak to God on my behalf. I’ve felt so privileged and have been so encouraged by this news.

Over the years, and even now, our family has also been praying for others with cancer and serious illnesses. We’ve prayed for my dad, Bronwyn, Peter, David, Judy, Nanette, David, Ed, Jenny, Eleanor and others. Some of these people are in remission, others are still fighting, and some have lost their lives. We also remember their families in our prayers. Sometimes I offer to pray for people I’ve met through forums, facebook, or the blog. I try to pray immediately after I make the offer, so that I don’t forget!

Our Heavenly Father is the one who holds our lives in his hands, so it makes enormous sense to speak to him about such life and death issues as cancer. I ask God to heal people, I ask him to heal me, and I ask others to pray for my healing. But I also ask God to work within my heart and mind, to change the way I think and feel about things. I want him to help me trust him, to rely upon his goodness, to treat others with love and kindness, and to hope for eternity in him. God may choose to heal me, and I hope he does, but whatever happens I pray that he will be honoured in my life and others.

So please pray and please keep on praying. Not just for me, but for yourselves, for others, for those with cancer, for their families and friends. And don’t limit your prayers to matters like cancer, even if your whole life is consumed by it. God says we can approach him on any matter. Nothing is too big or too small. So let’s pray, not as a last resort, but because God is more willing to do good in our lives than we are to ask him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:7-11)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  (Philippians 4:6)

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)

Clearly God is inviting us to pray, but how long should we keep on praying? If we’ve prayed a few times and it hasn’t been answered, do we continue? Jesus prayed three times that God would take the cup from him. Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be removed from his flesh. Does this suggest three strikes and you’re out? Is it unreasonable for me to pray for the same things day after day after day? Is it wrong for me to request your continued prayers if you’ve been praying for a year already?

Doesn’t Jesus say we won’t be heard for our many words? It is true that Jesus said:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  (Matthew 6:7-8)

It’s not the amount, or the frequency, or the specific words we pray that guarantee a hearing from God. He already knows our needs and invites us to humble ourselves before him. We are to come before God as his dependent children, trusting in his goodness, and seeking his will, as we present our requests. With this attitude, Jesus invites us to persist in our prayers:

Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  (Luke 18:1)

In fact, we could do a lot worse than to follow the example of Ephaphras, who kept working hard to pray for others:

He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.  (Colossians 4:12)

And the Apostle Paul’s faithful persistence in prayer:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  (Colossians 1:9-14)

But did you also notice what these guys were praying about? As huge as cancer is, there are bigger matters still. These are prayers that God will make our lives count, that we will persevere, stand firm, and bear good fruit in our lives. As much as I want you to keep praying for healing for people, including me, who have cancer, I’d ask you to pray for these things even more.

Thank you so much for praying, and please don’t stop!

Growing in godwardness

I’ve seen something disturbing in recent years. Couples, out together, but not communicating with each other. They’re both communicating, but with someone other than the one they’re with. Walking along, holding hands, each one talking on their mobile phones. Sitting in a cafe, sharing a coffee, but each one busy checking their facebook or sending texts to other people. It’s bizarre. It’s just plain rude! And I feel sheepishly guilty as I say this, because I know I’ve done it too.

It got me thinking that sometimes we treat God the same way. How many times have I sat down to read God’s word only to be distracted by a pressing email, a job that has to be done, a request from the kids, or a random thought that takes me elsewhere? How many times have I begun to pray when I remember something that needs doing, my mind drifts, or I fall asleep? In fact, only today I was praying with friends, when my phone alerted me to some messages… I checked the messages and I quickly forgot we were talking to God.

I suspect it’s also a symptom of God seeming such a long way away. We can’t see him or touch him, and we’re probably not hearing his audible voice. It’s easy to get distracted by the things that invade our senses. We experience the presence of those around us, but we forget about God. God has promised that he is near to all who put their trust in him. We need reminding of his presence and his commitment to us. He desires to speak to us through his Scriptures and to have us listen to him. He wants us to speak to him in prayer and he promises to listen to us. Relationships are about communication, and God wants to communicate with us.

The words of Psalm 145 give us great cause to spend time communicating with God. He’s trustworthy and faithful. He powerful and generous. He provides for our needs. He lifts us up when we’re down. He’s able and willing to satisfy the desires of our hearts. He promises to save all who call on him in honesty and humility, recognising that he alone is God.

 The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.  (Psalm 145:13-21)

The godward person recognises their dependence upon God. We all need God. We need his help. We’ve been created for a relationship with God, not to go it alone. It makes sense that he should be the first one we speak to when we’re in need and the first one we praise when we’re happy.

Is anyone among you in trouble?
Let them pray.
Is anyone happy?
Let them sing songs of praise.  (James 5:13)

When trouble and suffering comes our way, let’s remember our loving and powerful God. Let’s pray. We might ask him to remove our suffering. We might ask him to help us persevere through it. We mightn’t know exactly what or how to pray. But let’s turn our hearts and minds godward.

And when things are a delight, when all is happy, when there’s cause to celebrate, let’s not forget our generous Father in heaven who gives all good gifts. Let’s not become proud or conceited, drawing praise to ourselves. Instead, let’s offer praise to God. Let’s rejoice in his mercies. Let’s sing together of the wonders of his love. Let’s grow in godwardness.

Journey with cancer 31 Oct 2012 – no change

Dear family and friends

Good news. Scans yesterday revealed no change to the cancer. The primary tumour remains only 12mm across and there’s been no spread. It’s been this way now for four to five months. So things are stable, the chemo seems to be working, and God is giving me more days. Thank you God! And thank you to all of you for your prayers and well wishes.

Fiona rang me yesterday with the results and I immediately felt lighter and brighter. In fact, some of the pain I’d been experiencing in my chest began to dissipate. I need to remember that there seems to be chemo-induced pain at the same time each cycle, and that I tend to get anxious. I’ve been challenged to complain less, remember the patterns, trust God with my experiences, and not get over-alarmed or alarm others. I need to remember the words of Scripture…

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

The pain and discomfort I’d been feeling in my feet and hands has also subsided. I’ve been taking daily cymbalta (antidepressant) tablets for the past 6 weeks and no longer experience any of the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. This is another answer to the prayers of many, and I’m very thankful because it means that I’m able to get about, go for long walks, and exercise. Thank you God!

Looking ahead this means that my 3 weekly life rhythm will likely continue for the next two to three months or more. We will juggle things over Christmas, aim to get some time away with family, and gear up for the year ahead. We’re hoping to be able to make some decisions about work and ministry options for 2013 and this is a massive answer to prayer. Ten months ago, the prospects for 2013 weren’t even being considered! Thank you God! And once again, thank you for your love and support. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you for sharing our journeying, and please keep hanging in there with us.

With love,

Dave (and Fiona)