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Pray for your pastor

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As you will know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I delivered my first sermon last Sunday. I am incredibly grateful to all who prayed for me on that occasion; and I’ll reiterate that it went really well.

Photo taken from, reused under CC License

Up until last week, whenever I read or heard “pray for your pastor”, I would never think much of it. I’m not sure what my excuses were; but I think that deep down I was thinking a combination of the following four things:

  • The preacher is more qualified than me. He will pray before preaching. That prayer will be better than mine.
  • The preacher will get the inspiration of the Holy Spirit anyway. There’s no need to pray.
  • That’s his job, for which he has been trained; he does not need any prayer in the first place
  • That’s for Sunday. Pleeeeeeenty of time.

These are the most insidious of arguments, because they each hold a tiny nugget of truth. That makes them ring “true-ish”; and makes them all the easier to use as excuses. But each of these arguments is also twisted. Let’s go through them again:

  • The preacher has some level of qualifications; and yes, he will pray before preaching (as well as, hopefully, through the week!). It does not mean that his prayer is better than yours. On the contrary, writing a sermon is no easy task; and it comes with its burdens, stresses, and feelings of low self-esteem. These may impede the preacher’s prayers for his own sermon: for instance, he may feel like he should have done a bit more preparation and he can’t present that work to God (that would be stupid, but stressed people do stupid things). Then your prayer is truly needed; and the knowledge that he is prayed for makes the preacher bolder in his own sermon-writing.
  • The Holy Spirit will inspire the preacher. But that does not supersede the need for prayer (or preparation). There is a famous joke about a young curate who, every week, spent hours preparing his sermons. He was mocked by a very Pentecostal colleague who told him “I only wait to hear from the Spirit”. Enthused by the idea, our young curate decides to try it out. The  next week, when they meet, the Pentecostal colleague asks: “So, did the Spirit speak to you? What did He say?” The curate answers “Yes. He said ‘you’ve been very lazy this week’.”
  • Hopefully, the preacher has undergone some form of formal training. It will generally be the case; and where not, he should receive some form of support by those who are trained. But no training can fully prepare for the sharing of the living Word – or else, that Word becomes dead; and preaching merely a mix of manipulation and of teaching of old doctrine. Only through prayer can we ensure that what the preacher says will genuinely touch the hearts and minds of the congregation.
  • The sermon will be delivered on Sunday. It will, generally, have been written beforehand. Especially in the case of someone preaching for the first time, this will take place days, nay, weeks in advance. Prayer is necessary at all stages of the sermon-crafting, up to the delivery and even beyond that. Additionally, as I’m sure you’ll find, Sunday isn’t that far around the corner.

So pray for your pastor. Pray for his health, his energy, his drive, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – through the week. Pray that he may be a true imitator of Christ, and that he inspire you to be, in turn, imitators of Christ. Pray that he may move you, challenge you, and speak words relevant to you and to the rest of the congregation. Pray that he may move himself, and be once again reminded with great awe of his own nature as a beloved child before God.

What’s your excuse? What will your prayer be?

Note: given recent news about female episcopate, it might be worth saying that, in the above article and, I’m sure, in many places through the blog, I have used the masculine as a generic term. It is not a theological statement! In this case, the preacher is a “he”, but might as well be a “she”. I find dual writing “he or she” tedious and cumbersome for the reader as well as for the writer; and abhor the abbreviation “s/he”. The plural sometimes works, it felt very odd to use it here. So if your pastor is female, I will leave it to you, reader, to make the appropriate substitutions!

10 ways in which listening to God is like waiting for luggage

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Photo: Agus Munoraharjo, reused under CC license.

1. You’re actively looking for your item of luggage. It’s not like waiting for, say, Christmas or the bus. Once you see the conveyor belt moving, your eyes will be searching for your item of luggage. In the same way, when I’m praying, I am in “expectant waiting”. I’m actively listening for God, looking out for what he has to tell me.

2. You know it’s going to come.
You are right to expect its arrival. And that changes the dynamics of waiting – it turns it from a dreadful chore into joyful and excited anticipation.
(Well, it does for prayer. Not too sure about waiting for luggage :-P)

3. You can’t increase (or decrease) the speed of the conveyor.
Ultimately, “expectant waiting” is waiting. I could tell the Holy Spirit to hurry up, mind. And that prayer might work. But in prayer, and in listening, I have to recognise that I’m not setting the agenda. That I am not praying in order to be holy and show myself up for hearing from God; and that God .

4. If you miss it the first time around, it’s no big deal. It can go round the conveyor belt again.
In the same way, it’s never too late to start praying. Or to start listening. Or to start it all again.

5. Luggage comes in different shapes and sizes – but it’s always luggage! Different people will recognise the Holy Spirit in their own way. Judging people because of the way they respond to God, or because of the  way they worship, is not only arrogant – it’s also fundamentally misguided.

6. Even though others may not recognise your luggage, you know for sure when it comes that it is yours. But, if pressed for an explanation as to how you know it’s what you were waiting for, you will find it hard to explain.
The same goes with what comes from God – there is a distinct recognisability of what comes from God in prayer.
That said, a child may not go and pick up their parents’ suitcase unless prompted to do so; and on occasion, further scrutiny is appropriate.

7. You don’t randomly look for your luggage everywhere in the airport. But if you see it sitting in an unexpected place, you still know it as your luggage.
In the same way, I’m not in contemplative prayer 24/7. And I’m (mostly) actively seeking God when in prayer. But at the same time, God may talk to me at other times, and in other ways. In those cases, I (hopefully!) will recognise God’s word and  pick up my luggage where I find it! Although it has to be said, in those cases, I would very carefully check that it was mine…

8. You have a baggage reclaim tag. You know, just in case it gets lost.
We have a promise. And a trace of that promise. That means that if things go wrong, for whatever reason, and I don’t hear from God straight away, I need not worry.

9. You didn’t get your luggage onto the conveyor belt. But you’re the one who has to pick it up.
In the same way: we have teachers whom we can trust to direct us to the right conveyor belt. We have encounters along our life story that get our faith from one place to the next. And ultimately, it’s God who sends us his messages – and not just us.
If I don’t listen, then I won’t hear God’s word. If I don’t respond to it, the transformative power of that word won’t work in my life, and I won’t grow. Just spotting my item of luggage and leaving it on the conveyor belt would be a bit stupid, wouldn’t it?

10. If you skip that part of your journey (assuming you had checked in some luggage) you won’t be able to go through your day quite as easily.
And feel quite foolish too, probably.
In the same way, contemplative prayer sustains us and helps us in our daily lives.

It’s all about the key change(s)!


There’s a great piece of liturgy we’ve been using all summer for communion. The response is always the same and goes:

“This is our song. Hosanna in the highest.”

Unusually, though, the call changes (subtly) halfway through the liturgy. It goes from “This is his story” to “This is our story”.  The moment it changes is after the description of the Last Supper – where, through communion, we are invited to the body of Christ. We make the story ours in accepting that invitation.

Photo: Tim Geers, under CC license

In keeping with the musical imagery of the prayer, I’ll call that evolution a key change. And key changes are everywhere in our lives, and they are good:

  1. key changes are exciting! (yes they are. They are most definitely NOT cheesy).
  2. the melody stays the same. The new creation is redeemed and freed from sin, but is the same human being with the same gifts and the same interests. We sound different, but we remain the same.
  3. key changes are usually up, but sometimes down. What feels like losing ground sometimes is the best way to progress.
  4. key changes very rarely happen to a single part. If the vocals change key, but not the band, there will be clashes. So don’t do it alone: involve others with you. At the Last Supper, Jesus did not break the bread and drink the wine on his own. It was done, not just for, but also with a community. This, indeed, became our story.
  5. it is easier for a choir to go into a key change if they are led into it by a soloist or a single note on the piano. Leaders, your role is to help these key changes happen. But don’t feel like you have to drag the key change for a whole verse – leave it on one note and just see who follows: sometimes, it is enough!
  6. key changes happen at pivotal moments. It’s rare to change keys mid-verse (though it happens). Learn to identify opportunities for growth.
  7. it’s not worth changing key for the sake of changing key. There are some songs with 13 key changes, but they are rare. If you change key too much, or push yourself too much, you may find you break your voice. Take it slowly, and warm up!

Revvers: spot the songs I was thinking of.
Everyone else:
add your own thoughts :-)

7 ways in which the Doctor is like God, but not quite

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To celebrate the return on television of the greatest show ever for its seventh new series, I thought I’d draw seven comparisons between Doctor Who and God.

Photo: Ben Sutherland, under CC License (Doctor Who and the TARDIS are trademarks of the BBC)

1. The Doctor regenerates: there are (so far) at least eleven Doctors. Each of them is a completely separate person, with his own personality, his own appearance, his own stories. But ultimately, he is the same Doctor whose nature it is to always have mercy… One substance, eleven hypostases. Just like the Trinity, except with eleven. Right?
Wrong: each of these incarnations (see what I did there?) of the Doctor has a beginning and an end. They do not relate with one another. And while they can sometimes meet, they are not defined by their relation with each other. In a way, each incarnation is a mode.

2. In the golden days of 1963-1966, nobody knew Doctor Who would be quite that successful. The Doctor was this grumpy old man, and the heroes of the show were very much the first companions, Ian, Susan and Barbara. The fact that, to prolong the show, they had to write in the regeneration process – and that we only find out about it later does not mean that the First Doctor gained the ability to regenerate in The Tenth Planet. So the first seasons of Doctor Who are standing up on their own, without need of the clutter brought by the other Doctors; and the same goes for the Old Testament. Right?
Not so: even in the Old Testament, there are plenty of indications of the coming of Christ. More so: reading the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament brings it out in its fullness.

3. With a show as big as Doctor Who, there’s a lot of spin-off media. Charity events sketches, such as in Jim’ll fix it, Dimensions in Time, The Curse of Fatal Death, … even have the BBC stamp of approval. Then there’s the books, the audios, the comics, the games. All of these are supposed to somehow fit together… but the canonical status of these is subject to debate. At the end of the day, you can choose whether the Looms of Lungbarrow are actually what happens; but all must fit with the core TV series. The same goes with the Bible and Apocrypha, right?
Not quite: while, yes, everything should be tested against the Gospels; not just anything which fits with the Gospel is necessarily truth. What is canonical is not a matter of personal choice and convenience – it is a matter of truth, and required the help of the Holy Spirit when the canon was compiled, and still requires it now.

4. The fans will tell you what the Doctor can and cannot do, and be sure that their understanding of Doctor Who is correct, regardless of anything that comes their way (of course he can’t regenerate more than 12 times. WHAT? He snogged Grace? NEVER! THAT’S NOT THE DOCTOR! THE TV MOVIE NEVER EXISTED!). Most people are just there to enjoy the show and those details don’t look like they’re worth fussing about.
Actually, that sounds about right. Not that it should.

5. The Doctor is half human. On his mother’s side. Seriously, that’s a line from the 1996 TV Movie. And it’s led to a lot of debate amongst fans. Just like that, Jesus was begotten of God the Father and the Virgin Mary. It’s the same, right?
But Jesus was, and remains, fully human.
Alright, then, the Doctor made himself fully human. Twice, if you count the Virgin adventures (I kid you not), in both occurrences of Human Nature (book and TV).
But Jesus’s humanity is ontological: he has always been human, and, far more importantly, remains incarnate now to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father.

6. The Doctor is outside of time. When he’s in the TARDIS. Just like God, right? The Alpha and the Omega, and all that?
Wrong: in the TARDIS, the Doctor is still part of the universe (just in a different dimension), and constrained by physicality, and by his own timeline. And, unless you consider Terminus, the Doctor had nothing to do with the creation and the end of the Universe. (Let’s not consider Terminus).

7. Meeting the Doctor changes your life forever. And it’s exhilarating. Okay, that one’s a bit transparent :-p
But while meeting the Doctor changes your perspective, and leaves you stranded with little to do but pick up remnants of a broken life when he leaves, once you have found God, He never leaves.

Add your own comparisons!

10 reasons I don’t wash (or go to church)

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YOUCAT recently made this video, in German:

It’s quite good, so for those who don’t speak German, here’s a translation!

  1. When I was a kid, I would be forced to wash.
  2. People who keep washing themselves are just hypocrites who want to show that they are cleaner than everyone else.
  3. There’s just so many types of soap! How am I to know which one’s right for me?
  4. The water companies are just after our money.
  5. I tried washing once. But it was always boring and just the same stuff over and over again.
  6. In the bathroom it’s always so cold and sanitised.
  7. Oh, but I do wash. At Christmas and Easter. Surely that’s enough!
  8. None of my friends think washing is necessary.
  9. Right now, I just really don’t have the time to wash.
  10. Maybe I’ll try washing someday, when I’m older.

Sounds familiar?