I think I have said before in my blog pages that since having to battle with health issues, retirement and the effects of a plethora of medication, at times the way I used to read the bible and pray is a physical and even an emotional or spiritual impossibility at the moment. Realising that makes me wonder if in my preaching in the past I have been guilty of the sin of spiritual guides contemporary to Jesus who we meet from time to time as we read the gospels: loading burdens on people’s backs that are heavy to bear? What might have seemed at times a reasonable ask for me to issue to folk, some of whom were struggling with dear knows what, I now see could have been insensitive to some weakness, tiredness, depression or just plain “worn-out-ness” that some of those listening had not chosen but were having to learn to live with. If we are preachers, what we think or hope is inspiring folk to better things, encouraging a greater devotion and zeal for the Lord, His Church, or His mission in the world, might be crushing and demoralising at least some who hear. I was constantly and consistently amazed in each charge I was called to, Eday linked with Stronsay in Orkney, followed by Thurso in Caithness and lastly Wester Hailes in Edinburgh as well as in my prior Assistantship at St. Michael’s in Linlithgow all the way back in 1982 , at what some people may have to struggle with in their lives, in order to appear at church. Some of those who sit in a congregation on a Sunday should be applauded just for turning up, even if they don’t manage to stay for the whole service. I could of course go moralistic and religious, and talk about those who struggle with far less and don’t even try to get to church! Indeed, ever since Linlithgow onwards I have often witnessed some of the so called “Housebound” people on a church role apparently miraculously restored to strength enough to contend with a force 9 gale, leaning at a 90 degrees angle to get to the Bingo! To use the Charismatic term, they apparently did not manage “to hold on to their healing” until the following Sunday.
However in this blog, I want to stop the slide into compounding the afore-mentioned preacher’s or pastor’s sin through not lifting a finger, at least, to help you or to help you help others. The help I offer comes from a terrible confession I have to make as a Presbyterian: I have been finding Liturgy helpful! I have been using a Book called “Celtic Daily Prayer. Book One: The Journey Begins,” and finding it to be help from heaven. There are daily prayers for morning, mid-day and evening, along with 3 Scripture readings, a mediation, encouragement to pray and on some days all of that can be augmented with learning about Christians in the past. You can even end the day with Compline… no, not Complan, though if that helps too…!
I know that Jesus warned against vain repetition, but for me this is fruitful, not vain repetition. When my concentration despite my best efforts is all over the place, I find it a tremendously strengthening and joy giving focus to say each morning, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” Even though it is “I” who am coming to Christ, using the word “We” has been a beneficial “put a smile on my face” thing each morning! That little, seemingly insignificant word, reminds me that I am part of a world wide community of people who follow Jesus; I am not on my own, fighting my battles alone, stubbornly persisting and insisting to my palpably weakened body and soul that doing my own thing in terms of daily devotions is somehow more meritorious. At Midday, it is helping me to set aside a few minutes to say among other things the words of Scripture, “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. Establish Thou the work of our hands…” That helps me on days when I question the worth of my contribution to life. In the evening I can say, “In the shadow of your wings, I will sing your praises, O Lord. I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. O wait for the Lord! Have courage and wait, wait for the Lord.” These verses as well as being to all God’s people remind me of something I believe the Lord promised me quite specifically at a vulnerable time when I was feeling very unsure indeed, for good reason, about how things were looking for me health-wise.
Perhaps one day I will get back to my old way of praying, which seemed to be about remembering to tell God as much Scripture as I could and preach to Him about Himself. Actually, I know that sounds as though I am mocking my old ways and maybe even a way of prayer that is life-giving to you, but I am not. I love reminding myself of who God is, what He has promised etc. At the moment though, this simpler shorter repetition of beautiful Scriptural verses, this guided , perhaps what at first seemed to me to be a less spontaneous type of daily devotional practice, is bringing life to me. I may stick with it even as health improves. It may prove to be a new spiritual home for my devotional life. Whatever, for the time being, I cannot tell you the pleasure and excitement I feel as look forward to saying the Daily Office whether Morning, Midday or Evening! I have released myself from “oughts” and “shoulds” that have been helpfully/not helpfully imposed/self-imposed upon me: I have found fresh life in praying in what is a new way for me and in reading the bible in a manner different from what had become my norm.
I guess I am trying to free at least some who may read this from guilt in the area of personal devotion and urging you if within the body of Christ you seek to encourage others in their walk with Jesus, not to load heavy devotional burdens on people even if it is out of the best of intention. Perhaps I am also suggesting to you something very simple: a change is not only as good as a rest, it may be the very will of God for you right now.
P.S. Perhaps if you are able so to do, you could buy the book I mentioned above for yourself or for someone else this Christmas? No “should” or “ought” just a “could?”
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