Sonny Bill Williams and prayer

sonny bill williams

I was reading an article in the NZ Herald last week about Sonny Bill Williams’ Muslim faith. Talking about how he fits the Islamic prayer-and-diet lifestyle into the training schedule of an All Black, he says:

“When I’m most happy is when I’m doing my prayers… How can you not spare 25 minutes of your day to give thanks? I look at where I came from and feel blessed.”

While we’re not praying to the same god, I was inspired and challenged by what Sonny Bill had to say about prayer. It reminds me so much of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

What emphatic wording – always, never stop, in all circumstances. Paul is challenging us here to make prayer and thankfulness part of the fabric of our everyday life. Not something we do occasionally, or when we need something, but something we do always.

This is the area of my faith which I want to develop the most. To be honest, I’m a slack pray-er and so often find myself falling back into well-worn habits of infrequent prayer. My focus over the coming months is going to be on breaking those habits – intentionally taking time out of my day to pray and give thanks.

To help with this, I started reading Tim Keller’s book on prayer recently (aptly titled Prayer). In the first chapter Tim writes:

In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to. In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer… my own growing conviction that I just didn’t get prayer, led me into a search. I wanted a far better personal prayer life. I began to read widely and experiment in prayer.

I was heartened to read that I’m not alone and that a widely respected pastor struggled with prayer in the midst of his ministry (24 years after graduating from seminary, 10 years after starting Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan).

So, over the coming months, in the midst of the busy-ness of life, my challenge will be to dedicate more time to prayer. After all, to paraphrase Sonny Bill, how can I not spare time to give thanks and commune with my God?

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Stories and community

Typewriter with Story buttons, vintage

We’ve recently started hosting a life group[1]– our first foray into smaller church since we arrived back in Whangarei.

I didn’t realise how much I missed this kind of fellowship and community – it’s so different to what a Sunday service (in a larger church) could ever realistically accomplish.

Our life group is reading through Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, discussing a section of the book each week (each of the seven sections is thematically-based on a sacrament, e.g. baptism, confession, communion, and tells the stories of Rachel and others based on the relevant theme).

It is eliciting fantastic conversation so far – what we are valuing the most is hearing each other’s stories – it’s given us a much deeper understanding of each other – where we come from, why we believe what we believe, our struggles, our frustrations.

In one of the chapters we discussed on Wednesday, Rachel says (emphasis mine):

“I came to see just how much tension and misunderstanding can exist between the churched and unchurched, particularly when we are unfamiliar with one another’s stories”.

How true this is, not only between churched and unchurched, but also within the church. How often do we make silent assumptions about people without actually getting to know them, to know their stories?

That’s why I believe life groups are essential to being part of a vibrant, authentic church community. We need to have deep connections with people that go beyond just Sunday clichés. Small groups, when done well, can be places of depth, where people feel comfortable and safe enough to be authentic and vulnerable with others. Where we can encourage each other and uphold each other in prayer. Where we can live out what is exhorted in the New Testament, including Hebrews 10:24-25 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

This is what I long for in community – it’s what I think we’re starting to find in our new life group – and it’s what I didn’t realise I had been missing until we started experiencing it again.

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[1] small group, home group, cell group – call it what you will, my definition would be any group under about 15 people – in our case there are seven of us.