For the last couple years we’ve had a Family Joy Jar. The intention is to write something down that has given us joy each day throughout the year, and then at the end of the year we open it up and read them together.
Last week when we opened our joys from 2021 it was a joyful time, reminded of many moments of joy we had as a family that we would otherwise have forgotten about.
Through our Family Joy Jar, God has encouraged me to begin 2022 by choosing joy. There is so much rubbish around us at the moment, the pandemic rages on, the refugee crisis continues, the cost of living crisis looms ever larger, our UK government is appearing more and more lawless by the day. it is so easy to end up frustrated, angry, disappointed and feel joy-less.
So I am starting 2022 seeking to choose joy. To mark every day by finding at least one thing to be joyful about – and the more days that go by, the easier it is to find it. It is as if, in choosing joy, I find joy.
Sharing some of this with our prayer group last week, we spent some time prayerfully reflecting on moments of joy in our lives. It was so uplifting and encouraging to hear each other sharing our stories of joy.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Every day is a day God has made. A gift God has given to us. So let us rejoice in this gift. let us chose joy and praise our maker.
I encourage you to choose joy today.
If it helps you, take some time to play the worship song below, and as you do, make a note of your own moments of joy .
As a parent of two young girls, I have a duty of care to them. Before they were born my wife and I would fairly often both be out of the house in an evening; we were both in a choir, my wife did some amateur dramatics, I would sometime have church meetings, most months we would head out for a meal or to the cinema, or have an evening out with friends.
But having children means we can no longer choose to head off on our own paths without considering others, because we now have a duty and responsibility to care for these small people we have the privilege to call ours.
The combination of moving away from friends in Cornwall, my becoming a minister, as well as the more recent pandemic means that;
A) only one of us can be out in an evening unless we make arrangements for someone else to look after them for us, and
B) that most evenings now involve Louise and I binge-watching the latest series we’ve take a fancy to on Netflix.
Our commitment to, and love for, our children leads us to ensure at least one us is present to care for them.
Here in these words from John 17, we find part of a long and winding prayer the gospels records Jesus prays to his father for his friends. For his band of disicples, and for all those who call Jesus friend. Because Jesus knows he is about to be taken from them. These people, his friends, who he loves and has been committed to are soon going to be without him.
Jesus is painfully and heart wrenchingly praying to the father for his friends who he will soon depart from. That they will be entrusted to God’s care, that they will belong to God and God will protect them as they seek to live out Christ’s example to them in the world.
I firmly believe in this moment of heart-outpouring prayer of Jesus 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed a prayer that was prayed beyond the confines of time and history – that in that moment Jesus prayed for each of us too.
That each of us who call Jesus friend was held in his mind, his heart, his voice, his prayer. Jesus prays for us, for me, for you.
Jesus prays that just as he belongs to the father, just as he has a close relationship with father – so too might his friends have such a relationship.
So too might his friends belong to God, and all that is light and truth and freedom, while living and serving in the world.
Jesus makes a distinction between those who belong to the world, who seek and serve the earthly kingdom of materiality, individualism, greed and selfishness, and those who belong to God, people who seek God’s kingdom. Those who recognise, affirm and respond to the stirrings of God’s Spirit abiding within them.
Jesus’ prayer for his friends and for us, and asks that we may be in the world, in the thick of human life and activity, yet belonging not to the world, but to God. That we may be distinctive in the world – ‘sanctify them in truth’ he prays – which means make them holy. (17:17)
What does it mean to be Holy?
We’ll, let’s be honest, perhaps it will take a lifetime of living as friends of Jesus, and experiencing for ourselves what it means to belong to God to know what it means to be holy.
But I suggest to you, that to be holy, as a disticntive of God’s people, is about a heart for seeking God and God’s kingdom. Responding to God’s reaching for us, by reaching for God, and allowing God to inhabiting within ourselves, and bear the fruit of the very goodness and graciousness of God as we live and walk in the world.
And that goodness, that fruitfulness, that abiding connectedness between us and God is what Jesus prays over us.
My prayer life is Rubbish. There isn’t enough of it. I never know what to say, or how to say it. My prayer list is always so long, and I never feel like I ever get to the end of it. I don’t know what to pray, or if I’m praying right. I don’t know if God is doing anything anyway.
Ok – so that may not be how you expect me to start, but I wonder, can you relate? Do you have similar self-depreciating thoughts that make you feel guilty about your prayer life, or lack of it.
If you have thoughts like I do, then I also want to suggest to you, that like me, there’s a mistake in your understanding of prayer.
The mistake comes when we assume there is a right and wrong way to pray.
But there is no definitive right and wrong way to pray – there are simply lots of ways to pray, and we each find different combinations of those ways are what works for us as individuals.
Prayer is, for us, conversation with God and seeking God’s kingdom, listening to God and looking out for the signs of God’s kingdom responding to God and living for God’s kingdom.
When I was training as a local preacher I remember going through different types of prayer…
intercession and petition – prayers for others and the world
adoration, praise and worship – words to adore God
confession – recognising the fragility of our humanity
thanksgiving – giving thanks for who God is
And at times I felt as if there was this list of ingredients that, if all were included in the recipe of a service, it meant the service worked and would successfully bake a good cake for the congregation.
But actually, thinking about forms and types of prayer is not about a recipe to success at all.
I wonder if we’ve failed ourselves by overthinking prayer – and not grasping it’s joy, it’s flexibility, it’s breadth and depth, and its uniqueness for each of us as individuals.
What all those types of prayer do helpfully remind us of though, is that they, along with many others, are tools in our toolbox to resources us in our relationship with God, as worshippers and as disicples.
You see, prayer is not following a recipe to make a successful cake for others, prayer is a tool from the disciple making toolbox that we used to help us as disciples to nurture a relationship with God. To make our relationship with God a good cake.
And for prayer, it’s not actually the ingredients that matter, but the heart from which they come, and to which God speaks and responds.
I wonder, if prayer sometimes too easily becomes a list of wants and desires. Well-meant and good to be prayed, but if wants and desires for others and the world is all prayer is to us, then prayer becomes so focused on the earthly kingdom and asking God to intervene, that we miss out so much more.
Because if we are too focused on the earthly kingdom our attention is drawn away from also seeking God’s kingdom – the kingdom and way of living that God calls us to seek and live out in the world…
When Jesus was asked by his disicples how to pray, he begins: ‘Our Father in heaven, you are holy, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’
Prayer is a mutli-resourced way of life with a heart focused first on seeking God, and God’s kingdom, and partnering with God in bringing about that kingdom on earth.
Prayer can be conversation, it can be thoughts and feelings, prayer can come while we’re shopping or talking, cycling or swimming, using a prayer book or a mobile phone app, it can be when we are alone of with others, with other disicples, or with those who have not yet met Jesus, via podcast, Youtube video, facebook or a paper book.
May prayer be a tool for us, not to fill us with guilt and shame, but to empower us and nurture us as worshippers and disicples. That we will seek first God, and God’s kingdom.
In John 12, after being approached by Andrew, who has been approach by Phillip, who has been approach by Greeks wanting to come to the Passover festival (are you still with me!?), Jesus begins to talk about his coming death. Or at least, we know that he was talking about his coming death. The author of the gospel of John knew. The disciples, the Greeks, the crowd? Perhaps not so much.
In a moment which, in the text, takes us from a conversation with those around him to a conversation with his Father, Jesus says ‘Now my soul is troubled’. (John 12:27)
Though troubled is perhaps an understatement and under-interpretation of the truth of Jesus’ feeling here. A more literal interpretation of the Greek might be agitated, or more crudely, in shock, turmoil or distress.
Jesus wasn’t troubled in a trite and simplistic way. it wasn’t simply that the shopping delivery had arrived and they had swapped your beloved smokey bacon for your less favoured unsmoked.
Jesus was feeling turmoil and anguish in the depths of his soul because of what was looming on the very near horizon. He was soon to be glorified – which to the Author of the gospel, Jesus’ being glorified was the being ‘lifted up’ – the cross.
As Christians we talk of glory, often, as a good thing – ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’ goes the popular hymn. But Jesus was not feeling good – despite knowing what was to be gained through this moment.
Jesus has already talked about how useless a single grain is unless it falls into the earth and dies, to then come forth and bear much fruit. (John 12:24)
Jesus seems to know here, what needs to happen – but his feeling – his feeling was pain. His feeling was turmoil. His feeling was fear. His feeling was urging him to say to his Father ‘save me from this hour, this time that I know is at hand’ John 12:27.
In a moment of pain and fear, Jesus was honest with God about how he felt, despite what he knew was to come.
Friends, when was the last time you told God how you feel? How you really feel? Asked ‘where are you God?’ when you’re struggling to feel God with you, despite knowing that God is there?
Jesus’ experience shows us that it is ok to be feeling something that is contrary to what we know, or think we should be feeling. We can’t deny the truth. Can’t suppress the reality of our feeling – if we do, we start to be dishonest with God, and dishonest with ourselves.
Friends, be honest with God today, just as Jesus was, because through being honest with God about how we feel, we are honest with ourselves.
God with us, To the grieving, bring comfort. To those weary with lockdown, bring hope. To tired medics and carers, bring strength. To the frustrating, bring calm. To the unjustly suffering, bring justice. To us all, be God with us.
In this advent season, waiting & watching, Known & unknown, Certainty & uncertainty, Hopeful & hopeless, Stability & instability, in the now & yet to be, We pray for peace & love, Grace & wisdom, Justice & hope, For all those who make decisions now, which impact what will be.
Originally written on 12th December 2018, in light of the Brexit ‘meaningful vote’
Holy God, Creator of the hills and valleys, Mountains and oceans, Maker of all that is, Give strength in weariness, Confidence in uncertainty, Wisdom in the unexpected, Peace in the busyness. God I give this, and every day to you. Amen
A prayer in the midst of pandemic, protest & fear, responding to the violence witnessed on 13th June on British streets.
God of all, Forgive the violence of our silence, The ignorance of our actions, The foolishness of our hatred.
God of all, Bring peace were there is conflict, Love where there is hate, Calm where there is turmoil, Welcome where there is rejection, Justice where it is absent, Safety where there is fear, Healing where there is pain.
God of all, Stir up within us the wisdom of your Spirit, As we participate in your gospel, challenge us, lead us and empower us, Turn our feelings of shame into a striving for a transformation that values the lives of all.