Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

A Culture Against Prayer

September 29, 2014
29 Sep 2014

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.’
Numbers 11:4-5

A friend of mine, in his first week in a senior position with a large multinational and eager to impress, sent an email at 9 o’clock on a Friday evening. On Monday morning he was informed by his boss that, although he was free to work at that time, by sending an email he was implying that others should also be working – ‘It’s not how we do things round here.’ It’s so often the little things that signal whether you ‘belong’ in a culture or are an outsider.

It has been said that, whilst it took a matter of days to get the Israelites out of Egypt, it took forty years to get Egypt out of the Israelites! Their ways of thinking, behaving and relating owed more to their years of slavery in Egypt than to the miracles they had witnessed in the wilderness. For us, the time we spend at work can have more impact on how we relate to God than our Bible reading and church gatherings.

In most workplaces, image and individualism are valued. Appearance and visibility count. We track the number of visits to our website and the ‘likes’ recorded. Marketing consultants help craft the most compelling image. Office politics encourages us to develop our personal ‘brand’. Yet effective prayer is often unseen: ‘When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen’ (Matthew 6:6). In fact, there is nothing more shattering to our carefully constructed self-image than the presence of God and the searching of the Holy Spirit.

Our individualistic culture is one where independence and self-reliance are valued, and personal interests take precedence over the needs of the group. This can manifest itself in the workplace though an absence of teamwork, inter-departmental rivalry, or a blame culture. In contrast, the model of prayer given by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13 contains the words ‘our’, ‘us’ and ‘we’ nine times in five short verses. To pray is counter-cultural – it acknowledges our dependence on God and our inter-dependence with each other.

On 20 October, we launch our seventh prayer pathway, ‘A Culture of Prayer’, focusing on how to pray in a way that impacts our workplace culture. As on other journeys, you will receive a short prompt to pray every morning. There is additional material on the LICC website and a journey wall to share your journey with others. Join this challenging prayer journey!

Bev Shepherd

A New Beginning?

January 6, 2014
06 Jan 2014

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran they settled there.
Genesis 11:31

After creation, the flood and the tower of Babel, the grand narrative of origins zooms in on one family living in what is now Iraq. This somewhat raggle-taggle group of people start out on a journey. Terah has with him one of his surviving sons, his barren daughter-in-law, and an orphaned grandson. As far as we know all the rest of his family remain in Ur.

I imagine Terah would be astounded to hear that, 4,000 years down the long road of history, many millions of people all over the world would know about his house move. His journey seems so insignificant among the millions of human journeys in history. And yet this move was the beginning of the story of a people, chosen and guided, shaped and pushed, so that we too could know the God of grace who had chosen them. It was a small move, and an incomplete move – later Abram would carry on to Canaan – but a hugely significant move in God’s plan for the world. The amazing thing is that the Lord, the creator God of the universe, loved that little group of Mesopotamians and had high expectations of them.

The start of a new year often prompts thoughts about new beginnings: new regimes of exercise to follow, new patterns of study to adopt, new undertaking to spend quality time with family and friends, new commitment to work on the house. Or perhaps even bigger new beginnings: a new job, a new move.

We may only be able to see a little way ahead. We may only be aware of the Lord leading us a short distance onwards at the moment. The full significance may only be revealed years in the future. But knowing what the Lord would do with Terah’s move from Ur to Haran, we can trust him for 2014 and, if he calls, be ready.

Margaret Killingray

The Power of Love (1): God’s Love

January 14, 2013
14 Jan 2013

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you…
Deuteronomy 7:7-8

Summarising, somewhat cheekily, what this gifted Christian management consultant had just implied, I said: ‘So God is really rather lucky to have you on his team!’ My friend is not alone in his thinking. Our human pride likes to devise a list of clear and logical reasons why God should love us: our attractive personalities, our wisdom and achievements, our compassion and hard work on behalf of others, to name but a few.

On those days when we are painfully aware of our lack of ‘lovability’ we can feel vulnerable to rejection. Yet the truth is that there is not one logical reason for God to love us – he loves us simply because he has chosen to love us. He loves us because he cannot help loving – it is his very nature.

The wonderful corollary to this truth is that no failure or flaw in us can rob us of his unconditional love. Paul concludes that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39). We cannot earn his love, nor can we lose it, escape it or be separated from it. No wonder Paul prays that we, ‘being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:17-19).

It is as the revelation of his love penetrates our hearts and minds that we are enabled to love: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). And just as his love has the power to transform us, so his love flowing through us to the person in front of us or at the other end of the phone – be they colleague, customer or boss – has the power to change everything!

In February we are launching our fourth prayer pathway, ‘The Power of Love’. We will explore together the power of God’s love, demonstrated on the cross, to change the world – and especially that part of God’s world where we live and work. Our faith will be stirred as we see and share answers to our prayers.

 

Join this encouraging prayer journey here!

 

 

Bev Shepherd
Bev is the PrayerWorks project leader and an LICC associate speaker. As a management trainer and coach she specialises in the areas of leadership, team dynamics and stress, and is the author of ‘Insight into Stress’ published by CWR.

The Lord’s Prayer (6): Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

July 2, 2012
02 Jul 2012

Moses said… ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: Each one is to gather as much as they need…’ The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it… the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Each one had gathered just as much as they needed.
Exodus 16:15-18

After the far-reaching requests about honouring our heavenly Father’s name and longing to see his reign exercised on earth as it is in heaven, the next line in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11) – can come as something of a jolt in its seeming mundaneness. And yet it reminds us that God is concerned with the nitty-gritty aspects of life. ‘Bread’, in this sense, is always an appropriate topic for prayer.

For starters, praying this line enables us to become aware that we depend on God for everything. It fits with what Jesus says later about not being anxious about basic necessities, since ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need them’ (Matthew 6:32). In the daily practice of gathering manna in the wilderness, Israel was to learn to trust that God would supply their needs. Like them, we do our bit to bring it in, to turn it into something that nourishes, but we do not forget the ultimate giver in the process of doing so.

Then, we are to ask for bread, as the Israelites were to gather manna, on a daily basis – reminding us that we live in constant reliance on God. Although it is not true for many people in the world, the daily provision for most readers of this email is usually guaranteed ahead of time. For us especially, perhaps, the regular discipline of reaching out to God who reaches out to us will allow us to foster a sense of dependence and thankfulness.

Moreover, that it is our daily bread means I pray it for others too. The work of farmers, bakers, truck drivers and supermarket sellers mean that none of us eats alone. The prayer is an acknowledgement that I am not a self-sufficient automaton. It may also lead me to take some responsibility for making sure others have enough, particularly when I have an excess. Paul makes this clear to the Corinthians in encouraging them to support their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing on the account of the manna, he notes that ‘your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).

No less than the opening lines, praying this deceptively simple request becomes a powerful shaper of our everyday lives as disciples of Christ.

 

Antony Billington

The Lord’s Prayer (4): Hallowed be Your Name

June 11, 2012
11 Jun 2012

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD
will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Deuteronomy 5:11 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…
Philippians 2:9-10

John Calvin, I believe, pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer has a certain similarity to the Ten Commandments in that in the first half of the prayer, God’s concerns are our priority – your name, your kingdom, your will – and in the second half our concerns are committed to him – give us, forgive us, deliver us.

There are many names for God in the Bible, revealing different aspects of his character, so that we can know he is our provider, our creator, our sustainer, our saviour and redeemer, a character revealed to us supremely in Jesus. And we pray that his name will be honoured and kept holy – in our lives, our speech, and our actions, in his church and in his world.

When I was taught the third commandment and the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday school, hallowing God’s name and taking his name ‘in vain’, were reduced to ‘don’t swear’ or, more narrowly, ‘don’t blaspheme’. But the thrust of this prayer must be wider than that. We can dishonour his name in some situations by our silence. In public life we can dishonour him by Christian disunity and disagreement. We sometimes dishonour him in our worship – both by cold formality and by casual chatty informality. Should our children sing, ‘Jim is not the boss, Jesus is the boss’, when in everyday speech the word ‘boss’ has a mildly ‘slangy’ feel and sometimes has to do with being bossy? And how should we react to blasphemy from work colleagues and family members? Is it more important to respond to fluent, and sometimes arrogant, belittling of faith, than to casual swearing?

The Lord God is holy. His name is holy eternally, from before all ages. Nothing anyone can say can dent that truth. They are only demonstrating their puny rebellions, but they can sometimes undermine our faith and make us feel fearful and inadequate to respond. We need to remind ourselves that his name will be hallowed totally and completely when the Lord comes to reign, and we are praying for that day to come as well as praying in the difficulties and challenges of today.

 

Margaret Killingray

Shaped by the Story (1): Looking Back, Looking Ahead

February 6, 2012
06 Feb 2012

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan…
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb…
Deuteronomy 1:1 and 4:9-10

It is surely significant that at the heart of Scripture is not a list of rules to be obeyed or a set of promises to be claimed, but a grand, sweeping story that is told. It’s an account of God reaching out in love to sinful men and women, drawing them into relationship with himself, who then become the main ingredients in a plan – centered in Christ – which involves the restoration of creation itself.

Nor should it come as a surprise that several summaries of this story are found throughout Scripture. The story is narrated up to the point of telling, of course, but each of the tellers is concerned to place themselves and their listeners or readers into that larger story, in such a way that it becomes their story too.

So it is, as Deuteronomy begins, that God’s people find themselves on the verge of entering the promised land. From 1:1 to 4:43, Moses reviews their history since leaving Sinai; but he does so in a way that folds the audience into what has happened. Most of the original hearers were no more present at Sinai than twenty-first-century readers were, and yet – in a way that also speaks directly to the contemporary Christian – Moses makes it clear that these foundational events become part of our history too.

God’s words and deeds are recalled with a view to what lies ahead as the people will live in the land. Israel’s story will continue into the future, in continuity with what has taken place in the past, and it is on the basis of the story so far that Moses calls his listeners to covenant faithfulness.

For us too, the story of God’s dealings with his people is to be remembered and passed on, treasured and taught to succeeding generations who will themselves be written into the ongoing story. And those of us who have experienced the grace of God and his call on our lives will likewise benefit from the reminder of how he has already acted on our behalf, and be strengthened by the confidence that he himself will go ahead of us, today and always.

 

Antony Billington

 

Subscribers to LICC’s ‘Word for the Week’ will be interested to know that Whole Life, Whole Bible (published by BRF) is now available. Written by Antony Billington, Margaret Killingray, and Helen Parry, the book is designed to walk through the unfolding story of the Bible in 50 readings and reflections, with the conviction that Scripture sets the agenda for the whole of life – on Monday to Saturday as well as Sunday, in public and in private, in work as much as in worship. Available in Christian bookstores and online, including via the LICC bookshop.

Swift to bless

January 23, 2012
23 Jan 2012

So God created man in his own image… God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’
Genesis 1:27-28

You log off on your computer, close the door of your classroom, hand over to the next shift in the factory, cash up in the shop, or simply put the meal on the table. Does it occur to you to bless your day’s work or the people you have worked with? What would be your expectation in doing so? On the completion of his work of creation in Genesis 1-2, God blessed the creatures he had made, bidding them increase, multiply and fill the earth.

The Bible provides many examples of people blessing others. Jacob schemed to get his father’s blessing (Genesis 27); the elders and those at the gate blessed Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:11-12); Rebekah’s family declared a blessing on her as she began her to journey to Isaac (Genesis 24:60); King David’s servants blessed their boss (1 Kings 1:47). Jesus not only blessed children, but extended the practice of blessing to include those who persecute us (Luke 6:28). It was not just priests or those with particular authority who invoked or prayed God’s blessing on others – anyone could do it!

As Christians, we are not only blessed ourselves, but are given the privilege of invoking, mediating and embodying God’s blessing to others. When we pray blessing on situations or projects we are praying that God will look with favour on all that is in line with his purposes and all that is life-giving.

Moreover, blessing embraces the idea of Shalom – peace, wellbeing and wholeness. It can be all too easy to focus on the negative in people or in workplaces; to focus on and bless what is good needs a deliberate choice – often one that goes against the flow of the prevailing culture. But then, aren’t we as Christians called to be counter-cultural?

These prayer journeys for the workplace are part of the LICC initiative – PrayerWorks – which seeks to energise and equip Christians to pray creatively for transformation in their world of work, wherever that may be. Visit www.licc.org.uk/prayerworks for more about the project, prayer resources and to sign up for this journey.

 

Beverley Shepherd
PrayerWorks

Loving neighbours

September 12, 2011
12 Sep 2011

Love your neighbour as yourself.
Leviticus 19:18 & Luke 10:27

Jesus expanded the meaning of the word neighbour, when he defined it by telling the parable of the neighbourly Samaritan. Mostly it had meant what we mean in English today – someone who lives down our street, in our community (if we have one). It was linked with the people you knew, your kin, clan or village, with someone whose cow you might be tempted to covet or whose boundary stone you might move in the night. (Although, to be fair, Leviticus 19 also directs people to love the alien as themselves, when he comes to live with them.)

Jesus’ revolutionary story makes absolutely everyone and anyone a neighbour – anyone you happen to meet, or by extension, hear about, or see on the news. So how do we love anyone and everyone as ourselves? What part should I be playing in encouraging human flourishing in the ways that I want to flourish? What makes me flourish at work? How do I contribute to good working practices so that others flourish too? Can I make a difference to people I will never know?

Those are the kinds of questions that are raised by Jesus’ story and the command that followed – Go and do likewise. We might need to stop and help someone who has been beaten up using our resources and our time. And like the man in the story sometimes we have to accept being helped ourselves with good grace from someone we don’t like very much, and grudge having to thank! But there are a lot of other very ordinary ways in which we can make the world we live in a better place for neighbour human beings. We should pay taxes happily to build the social infrastructure of society (paramedics for the man beaten up on the way to Jericho?); buy and use cars in an environmentally friendly way – and keep to speed limits; carry donor cards and give blood; support aid and development agencies. There is a counter-cultural element in living with the good of others in mind. The Bible identifies obedience with joy, for the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart (Psalm 19:8). Go on enjoy yourself – be a good neighbour!

 

Margaret Killingray

Working Models

August 15, 2011
15 Aug 2011

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth… but rested the seventh day.
Exodus 20:8

The underlying assumption of the fourth commandment is that human beings work. Back in Genesis 1:28 is the command – ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule… over every living creature…I give you every green plant for food.’ That really does involve a lot of work, mutually beneficial, co-operative work for the benefit of the community, the human race and the planet.

But the twists and turns of a fallen and corrupt world, the deliberate and inadvertent exploitation of others, the godless ideologies that have shaped the labour of millions, have given work a very bad name. Children in the brickworks of India, sex workers – there are too many people whose work destroys them. And when there is no work for the young and unmerited redundancy for the middle-aged, the burden of too much time, too little money, and anxious disappointment can undermine families and communities. Dysfunctional working patterns, the throttling of opportunities to change work situations, virtually no prospects of promotion as well as widespread youth unemployment are some of the underlying causes of domestic and social disturbance.

So work in its widest definition is what human beings should be doing, unless, of course, they cannot, when others will ‘work’ to care for them. Work is about fulfilment, satisfaction, and the use of our talents. Work provides us with challenges and rewards. Work teaches us co-operation and teamwork and creates social cohesion in symbiotic patterns of relationship. Work makes it possible for us to provide for ourselves, our families and neighbours; all that we need for our flourishing. We work under the Lordship of the Creator running his world for the best. We should be grateful when our work does fulfil some of these criteria; challenged where we have any power as individuals or as companies to influence the work situations of others; patient where work is uncongenial and unavoidable; and supportive and encouraging of the work done by those around us at work, at home and in our churches.

And the Sabbath? That’s another story!

 

Margaret Killingray

Living with consequences

June 27, 2011
27 Jun 2011

To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe… Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.’ To the man he said, ‘cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’
Part of Genesis 3:16,17

Ben became a Christian some years after his marriage broke up. Over those years he had lost touch with his two sons. With his new awareness of God’s love and forgiveness, he contacted the boys, joyfully expecting to find new relationships with them and a regained sense of family. It didn’t happen – the gap was too great. They would not and he could not bridge the distrust and sense of betrayal in them. Even though he had found a measure of peace, he would live with the consequences of his past mistakes for the rest of his life. He still hoped and prayed that reconciliation would happen, but he knew it might not.

Consequences of our own sin and the sins of others are part of life. As Adam and Eve listened to God’s ominous words in the garden they were beginning to face the consequences of their disobedience – distorted relationships between men and women, pain in parenting and work as drudgery and stress. Today most of us do not have to face a constant battle to secure life’s basic necessities, although that has been the experience of most of the earth’s inhabitants. However work is often a real test of endurance, not the fulfilling employment of our gifts and abilities that it was meant to be. And most of us know some of the problems of relationships, with other adults and with our children.

To all of us, as to Ben, the Lord offers his gift of grace, forgiveness and the opportunity for a fresh start. So much is changed when we walk with him. But that fresh start does not necessarily wipe out the consequences of past actions, whether our own, other people’s or Adam and Eve’s. Instead we have to allow him to build them into our lives as part of the process of growing into maturity in Christ.
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ… in all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffergrief in all kinds of trials.
1 Peter 1:4,6

 

Margaret Killingray