Focus

 

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Earlier this year, the bomb squad blew up an unattended Vauxhall Corsa outside Workington police station. Following the controlled explosion, Cumbria Police apologised to the owner, who had earlier been taken ill.

As a result of the man’s illness – and presumably his inability to drive – officers on duty had parked the car outside the police station. Other officers had not been told about the car, and regarded its presence as suspicious. So they called in the bomb squad!

Inspector Ashley Bennett said, “The officers who dealt with this morning’s incident did so with public safety in mind and followed the appropriate procedures in respect to an unoccupied, suspicious vehicle.” The force blamed “an internal communications error.”

Communication is important. Communication problems sometimes occur when we don’t focus properly on the person who’s trying to communicate with us. (Ever tried having a serious conversation with someone who’s trying to check Facebook?) It’s the same with prayer. It is possible to pray while driving or cooking or showering, and better then than not at all, but to really communicate with your Creator, you need to take time out, to be still, shutting out the rest of the world and focussing solely on Him.

Jesus once visited the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. When He arrived He sat down to speak to all those who had gathered, including Martha’s sister Mary, who sat at His feet. She was more interested in hearing what Jesus had to say than in helping her sister, who was busy serving everyone. Martha was upset with her “lazy” sister, but Jesus, who normally commends those who are servant-hearted, said to Martha, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NLT). Mary had chosen to focus on Jesus. Martha’s serving was important, but not as important as listening to what Jesus had to say.

The world around us focusses on ‘self’: our feelings, our possessions, our rights etc, and encourages us to look within ourselves to find the answers to our needs. Yet the Hebrew scriptures remind us that,

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIVUK)

 

Growing spiritually is far more valuable than anything that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God. So how important it is to find a quiet space, where we can rest quietly and focus on the Life-Giver, our Creator and Friend. Let His peace enfold you as you welcome Him into your inner being. Listen for His voice, and as you follow His prompting, turning from ‘self’ and allowing Him to lead you, He will fill you with His abundant life.

 

Gone Today, Here Tomorrow

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The new beach at Dooagh.   (Photo: Sean Molloy)

The village of Dooagh on Achill Island has a new beach. The story of the reappearing Irish beach recently hit the headlines, when the waves deposited hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand over a ten day period on what was a very rocky shoreline, recreating the village’s beautiful, 300m long, sandy beach. The beach had been missing since 1984, when a powerful storm washed it away. Tourist numbers declined as a result and three of the area’s four hotels closed, but this month the village has experienced gridlock from cars and campervans and people coming from all over Ireland and the UK to see the new beach.

This is not the first time that the beach has come and gone, or should that be gone and come? It was washed away before in the 1890s, but had returned by the 1920’s when currachs were launched from the sands. How long it will stay this time is unknown. The locals can only watch and hope.

Some feel that same uncertainty when it comes to prayer. They pray, but hold out little hope for an answer. Others pray, and feel cheated when the answer fails to appear. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent lament from the ancients, recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. So what’s the point of prayer, and indeed what’s the point of this website, if that’s the case?

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The shore at Dooagh before the beach returned.  (Photo: Achill Tourism)

First of all, prayer brings us close to our Creator. It makes us aware that some of our needs can only be met from outside of ourselves. I once knew a nurse, who worked in a cancer hospital. She used to challenge me saying, “How can there be a God when I see such suffering around me every day?” Then she herself needed hospital treatment at a different hospital. What a difference when she came home! She told me that now she knew there was a God, because He had been with her to comfort and support her during her stay. Secondly as we pray, we do begin to see some answers to our prayers. Someone once said that the more they pray, the more coincidences happen. Try it for yourself and see.

However, answers to prayer don’t always come; at least not in the form we are expecting. How, or if, our prayers are answered can be summed up in three words: Yes, No and Wait. We have a loving Creator, who, despite the difficulties of this world, always wants the best for us. Sometimes His reply to our prayer is “Yes”, and we see our prayer answered relatively quickly. At other times He knows that what we requested won’t do us any good. So He helps us by not giving us what we asked for. On other occasions the answer is “Wait”; probably the same answer you would give to your 8 year old son or daughter, who wanted to learn to ride a motorbike or rent an apartment of their own.

Even so, we are encouraged to pray according to God’s will and not give up, believing that our prayer has been heard.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Fogo Island

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Earlier this week I watched a television documentary about an exclusive, Canadian hotel situated on the very edge of Newfoundland on Canada’s Atlantic coast. The Fogo Island Inn is an unusual but attractive, white, ultra-modern building built on the rocky foreshore of Fogo Island. Twenty-nine suites are available for guests, who enjoy stunning, uninterrupted views of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The whole atmosphere of the hotel is light and airy, yet relaxing and homely. Spotlessly clean, white is the predominant colour, inside as well as out, setting-off the colourful individually designed furnishings, making it a home from home for guests. Facilities include an art gallery, library and sauna, but for me at least, the main attraction would be the peace and tranquility of an unspoilt haven, seemingly on the edge of the world. One night’s stay for two begins at approximately $1,500 CAD.

As a creative type, I was personally fascinated, as I’ve written above, by the stunning whiteness of the building, enhanced as it was by the beautifully made furniture, the colourful hand-made quilts and cushions, the natural wood floors and the unique wallpapers. Then I was suddenly brought back to reality as I watched the maintenance manager washing the windows with a brush on the end of an incredibly tall pole. Because the hotel is built literally on the rocks, just yards from the water’s edge, the salt in the air needs to be regularly washed from the windows. – No matter how beautiful the building, the windows still need to be cleaned.

On a human level, skin cleansing products are big business, removing the impurities, so that our skin can breathe again; and though we may not realise it, our need for spiritual cleansing is just as great. The more we experience of life in this world, the more of this world clings to us. The noise, the brashness, the selfishness of the world around us leaves its mark. No wonder some people choose to holiday by relaxing on palm-fringed beaches or trek through mountains far from civilisation.

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Such holidays are short-lived. We need a more accessible source of spiritual refreshment, and that is where prayer comes in. When we come to our Creator in prayer, we arrive at the source of spiritual purity. Out of His love for us, our Creator calls us to Himself. He offers us forgiveness and cleansing as a free gift – forgiveness, because who hasn’t done something they regret, and which of us has lived a perfect life and has nothing on their conscience? – a free gift, because Jesus Himself paid the price for our cleansing, so our spiritual focus can be restored and we can enjoy purity and peace as, with His help, we make a new start and dedicate our life to following Him.

“So then, let us purify ourselves from everything that makes body or soul unclean, and let us be completely holy by living in awe of God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1 (GNT)

Not Far From Any One Of Us

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It was a sunny afternoon last November and I was walking through Westminster in central London, when I passed a typically British, red telephone box. Leading up to it was a queue of around twenty people all patiently waiting their turn to enter! Even before mobile phones were invented and home phones were commonplace, a queue of twenty people for a phone box was quite rare. Those waiting for this phone box however, were not waiting to make a call; they were tourists waiting to have their photo taken while they hung out of the door of an icon of Twentieth-Century British design.

I must admit I am a fan of these scarlet symbols of our culture. Yet I fully understand why so many are being removed from our streets. Why go into a phone box to make a call when you can make one from anywhere on a mobile phone – as long as there’s a signal! One estimate suggests that 90% of the British population will own a mobile phone in 2017, making phone boxes of whatever colour almost obsolete.

I regularly have the privilege of meeting many spiritual people, who follow various paths and have wide-ranging beliefs. Even though their spiritual path may be far removed from Christianity, many of them will visit a church occasionally during the week seeking peace and solitude, and some go there specifically to pray. There’s something about a church building, whether ancient or modern, that gives one a sense of the Divine, a closeness to God, a place where you can almost breathe in God’s presence.

But … like our antiquated phone boxes, there is no need to find an empty church to pray in. We can speak with God wherever we are – He is always listening. Neither do we need fancy words – He already knows what’s on our mind and in our hearts.

Church buildings are great examples of “thin places”, i.e. places where it feels that our Creator is within touching distance. Or as Eric Weiner puts it, “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses,” (from Man Seeks God by Eric Weiner). Yet we can also make our own thin places by choosing a favourite spot to meet with God each day, whether that be a corner of the garden or a comfortable armchair, simply a place where you can be alone with Him. In his book Eric Weiner describes how he travelled to many countries and tried many religions in an attempt to find God, but the truth is that God can be found right where you are. As an ancient rabbi once said,

“He is not far from any one of us.”

Acts 17:27 (NIVUK)

 

 

Who Are You Talking To?

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Have you ever spoken to royalty without knowing it? Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? Surely you’d know, especially if it was one of the more prominent royals.

Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that Zaqia Crawford, originally from the USA, but currently selling Christmas trees in Battersea Park, south London, served a very special couple last night (Monday 12th Dec): the lady she was serving also happened to be from the USA, but the gentleman, wearing a woolly hat, was British. Zaqia had no idea who they were, but her colleagues, who were busy with another tree at first, eventually realised that Zaqia’s customers were none other than Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle. Prince Harry lives about two miles from Battersea Park, across the River Thames at Kensington Palace.

Whatever their spiritual path or religion, many people find themselves talking to God while going about their daily lives. Others only cry out to God in extreme circumstances. Some never talk to God, but admit wanting to have someone to say thank you to, maybe for a beautiful sunset or the birth of a baby. That desire to communicate with someone greater, someone beyond this world seems to be in-built within our human frame.

So, who then are we talking to; whether we treat that spiritual being as a listening ear, a last resort or a complete ‘no-no’? He – although God is neither male nor female – is the eternal Creator of all we see and more. His power is unlimited, yet to Him, we are valuable. He really is that listening ear and far more than a last resort. He is the King of Kings, to whom one day every knee will bow, and yet He cares for you.

Prince Harry didn’t send a servant. Neither did he flaunt his royal status. Instead of a crown, he wore a woolly hat. God did the same that first Christmas. He didn’t send an angel, He came Himself. He didn’t flaunt His divinity; He clothed Himself in a human body, and lived here for over thirty years as one of us. As Paul, a First Century rabbi, wrote:

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11 (NLT)

The First Post

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Let me introduce you to a friend.

A few days ago, I was speaking to an elderly man, who had come to ask my advice. I was struck by the way he listened. No one has ever listened to me as intently as he was doing; he hung on my every word. He was sincere in seeking an answer to his question, and what was most surprising to me is that he genuinely believed I could have the answer he was looking for. I said what I could, and later a friend of mine spoke to him further, expanding on my limited contribution. But that was not the end of it …

That evening I leant that he was a highly intelligent gentleman, who, before retirement, had held a very important but little known post in the life of our country!

Like me, you may wonder what you have to offer the world. Well, this blog is here because there is someone whose intelligence, importance and power far exceeds that of the elderly gentleman, and who is already listening to you intently. He knows what’s on your heart and in your thoughts, and He loves you. He’s waiting for you to talk to Him and just as importantly, He’s waiting to talk to you.