Momo, prayer, and perseverance

momo

I’ve been quiet on the blog front over the past month or so – primarily because I’ve been reading up and preparing for my first ever sermon – very exciting! I’ve been asked to deliver the sermon which will follow the annual kids Christmas production in mid-December. The passage I’m going to be looking at is Luke’s discussion of Anna the Prophetess. I won’t go into any more details yet, but will link to the sermon once it’s up on the church website.

Anyways, a few weeks ago I did another kids’ talk at church. My focus this time was on prayer and perseverance, particularly looking at Romans 12:12. To help illustrate this theme, I used Momo, the sleep training clock we’ve been using to [mostly] good effect with Son #1. The talk transcript is below.


This is Momo, the sleep training clock. When you’re younger, especially if you’re still learning to tell the time, it can be tricky to know when it’s time to wake up. Sometimes, if you wake you too early, Mum and Dad might not be too impressed, so that’s where Momo can come in handy. When he’s awake, it’s okay to be out of bed and playing – when he’s asleep it’s still sleep time for you too.

I need someone to test this out – who wants to have a sleep in this cosy bed up on stage?

[tuck kid into the mock bed set up on stage, set Momo to sleepmode]

Momo is asleep now, so you need to stay in bed until he’s awake, okay? Sleep tight!

While X is sleeping, let’s talk about waiting. As I said earlier, when you’re younger and can’t tell the time, it can be hard to wait in bed until it’s time to get up.

That’s true in other parts of our life too. Waiting for something to happen, especially if you really want it to, can be tricky.

The Bible talks a lot about waiting for things that you really want to happen.

I think God knew it would be tricky to wait so the Bible talks a lot about perseverance – does anyone know what that word means?

Potential definition: Continuing to do something even though it’s really tricky, or it’s taking a long time to happen.

In Romans 12:12, Paul, the guy who wrote the book, talks about perseverance:

Be joyful because you have hope. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

No matter what’s happening while we wait, God wants us to be patient, to not quit in the hard times, and, and this is important, to keep talking with him through prayer.

Just like Momo helps us wait until it’s time to get up from bed, God gives us prayer to help us while we’re waiting. God’s always there while we’re waiting and he loves it when we pray and talk to him – he wants us to be talking with him all the time!

On that note, let’s pray before you head off to the kids programme.


I’m enjoying coming up with ideas for kids’ talks. This one had a few spanners thrown into the works on the day (PowerPoint slides not working; Momo’s alarm going off a bit earlier than I expected; the toddlers becoming fascinated by Momo once his alarm did go off), but they hopefully didn’t hurt the communication of the message, and really, when you’re doing a kids’ talk you kind of need to expect the unexpected!

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Truly listening

Man uses an ear trumpet

Earlier this year Son #1 developed a stutter – it started with him stumbling over one or two words but rapidly progressed to a point where he was struggling immensely to get each word out of his mouth. While the stutter has slowly disappeared since then, at the time it was tough to see him struggle to get coherent sentences out. Especially given how relatively eloquent he was prior to the stutter.

In the midst of his stuttering, we recognised that in order to understand what he was saying we had to truly listen to him. This made me realise how often I only listen to him with half an ear – distracted.

It also challenged me to think how often this is also the case with God?

How often do I only listen with half an ear (or less!) to what God is saying to me? Distracted by the world around me so much that I don’t truly listen to the most important voice.

So what should truly listening to God look like?

It has to be centred on prayer. Liz Curtis Higgs writes (empahsis mine):

prayer is more about listening than it is about spilling out requests. David wrote, “I will listen to what God the Lord says” (Psalm 85:8). When God tells us to “pray without ceasing” (ASV), he’s also saying, “Listen to me all the time!”

I like the paraphrase she uses – listen to me all the time! I know I frequently fall into the trap of praying to God rather than praying with God – spending most of the time talking and not enough time listening. That’s not a great way to communicate with people and it’s certainly not a great way to communicate with God!

Allied to that is spending more time with God. In a sermon I listened to a few years ago Mick Duncan said on this topic:

I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to spend quality time with my lover – and yet some of us only spend five minutes! How can you greet such great love with the dregs of your day?

This challenged me then and still does today. Setting aside quality time to spend with God can be tricky, however I think this typically comes down to misplaced priorities. If God is the number one priority in my life, as he should be, then he needs to get the best of me, not brief snippets of the day when I can spare a moment. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t also love those brief snippets, however I think quality time is needed to truly listen.

Finally, another key aspect of truly listening to God is being open to what he has to say. In this regard I’m reminded of the story of Samuel who, as a young boy, was sleeping at the temple when God called out to him “Samuel!” At first Samuel thought this was Eli, the priest, calling him, however eventually Eli realised it was God, and sent Samuel back to bed with instructions on what to do if God called again. When he did, Samuel said “Speak, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

This simple sentence sums up what it means to truly listen to God – Samuel is waiting on God and when God speaks, Samuel is open and willing to listen to what he has to say. It should be that easy, however I think we can often be a bit scared of what God is going to say (especially if he is calling us out of our comfort zone, as so frequently is the case), which causes us to either stop listening, give him only half an ear, or, in some situations, mishear what he is actually saying. I was listening to an excerpt from the 2015 Baptist Hui where someone described the latter situation, saying “Sometimes we become so familiar with hearing the voice of God that we finish his sentences for him

So what does truly listening to God look like in your life? Where do you get it right? Where do you struggle?

I know there are aspects of the way I listen to God that need improvement, however, just like when Son #1’s stuttering was at its worst, I will continue to persevere to ensure I am truly listening to what God has to say to me.

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Further reflections on the pastoral search committee

I posted some initial reflections on the pastoral search process last September, when our search committee was about to begin a 5-month hiatus triggered by our then preferred candidate for senior pastor deciding to withdraw his name from consideration.

We resumed the search in March this year, feeling refreshed and energised from the break and looking forward to seeing what God had in store for our church. After an intensive period of searching, interviewing and, throughout it all, prayer, by September we were very excited to recommend to church members that we call Russell Watts as our senior pastor. The members agreed and Russell officially agreed to the call in late September.

We feel incredibly blessed to have someone of Russell’s calibre coming to our church. He’s currently the senior pastor at Ranui Baptist Church and has a particular set of skills (and giftings) that will be valuable to our church, helping to equip us to more effectively spread the good news about God’s kingdom to those in Northland and beyond. Very exciting times ahead!

I thought it would be useful to share some further reflections on the search process:

  1. The impact of prayer: Prayer has been an ongoing and constant part of the process, as it obviously needed to be, both by the committee and wider church community. This included prayer for wisdom and discernment for us as a committee, for patience for the committee and church as we waited on God’s timing, and for the person God had planned to be our next senior pastor. Kim and I occasionally joked about the committee’s need for wisdom, using the well-worn ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ meme which graces the top of this post.
  2. The significance of James: Scriptures from the book of James were recurring throughout the process, themes of perseverance (James 1:2-4), wisdom (James 1:5-8), trust and faith (James 4:13-16) and prayer (James 5:13-16). Even at the members’ meeting to call Russell the chairperson of our Elders group, completely unaware of the recurrence of James, prepared a devotion on James 2 about love and favouritism.
  3. The value of good process: We were blessed to have able leadership on the committee in the form of our chairperson. He comes from a very process-oriented profession and instilled necessary rigour to our process. We always made sure to tick all the boxes, to communicate often and well, and to follow the Baptist NZ guidelines as they applied to our search.
  4. The importance of values: Our committee identified and agreed to six core values when we first formed: confidentiality, transparency, honesty, graciousness, consecration and patience. These are the values that underpinned our process from the outset. They informed our discussions with church leadership and the development of documents relevant to the search, ensured effective ongoing communication with church members, and were essential during the crunch points of shortlisting, interviewing and making decisions on who to call. These values kept us grounded and united in our approach and were crucial to ensuring the process ran smoothly.
  5. The benefit of transition: While unintentional, the transitional period of what will in the end be just over a year between senior pastors has been valuable to our church community. It has seen more people from the church community step up and serve (including in positions of leadership) and has given the church what I believe to be necessary breathing room after our previous pastor’s 25 year pastorate. It has been a healthy time of transition which will continue into the early part of Russell’s tenure with us.

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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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Learning to pray

Lords_Prayer

Our son turned two today – he was very excited, especially about the birthday cake and candles, which he has been anticipating since we went to a birthday party a few months ago.

He’s been making amazing strides in his language over the past month, and we’ve begun to teach him how to pray, which has been lovely.

Ever since the day he was born we’ve been praying with him. The first blessing he got was from his Nan in the delivery suite, when he was only a few minutes old. Later that night, I vividly remember holding him as Kim slept in the hospital bed, bringing his face close to mine and praying that he would grow into a strong man of God.

Prayer is a part of daily life for our family, something he has been, and always will be, exposed to. We pray with him at least a few times during the day; grace at dining table (he’s always reaching out to hold our hands once he’s in his high chair (probably because it means dinners almost ready!) and once he’s in bed.

More recently he’s been asking for prayer, especially at bedtime and sometimes more than once. He’s been sick quite a bit (for him) over the last month, so when we ask him what he wants us to pray for he says ‘peace’ in his cute little voice. I find that our prayer with him definitely gives him comfort – he almost always will be peaceful and fall asleep after we pray.

Kim has been teaching him he doesn’t have to have wait for us to pray, that he can talk to God all by himself; he just needs to say ‘peace Jesus’. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it.

This has got me thinking about how we learn to pray. I’ve always felt some sort of deficiency in this space, like I’m not very good at it. But over recent years I’ve become more intentional, learning new ways to pray and spiritual disciplines, attending a course that our church in Dunedin offered a few years ago, and studying the Bible more.

It heartens me to know that even the disciples seemed to struggle with prayer, asking Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11. What followed was the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve often overlooked in the past. During our church’s week long prayer vigil this year, I spent some time reading NT Wright’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. It gave me a much deeper understanding of what this particular prayer is really about, and helped me think more about how I pray in practice. NT Wright likens the Lord’s Prayer to a framework, scaffolding rather than the whole building. It made me realise in particular that I have a tendency to spend a lot of time praying about my needs or the needs of my nearest and dearests, but not nearly enough time praying for God’s kingdom, asking forgiveness, and just genuinely honouring and praising God. A new perspective I’d overlooked, but am trying to focus more on now.

I’m never going to be a perfect pray-er – I, like my son, will always be learning (who isn’t?!), but who better to learn from than Jesus!

9So this is how you should pray:
Our father in heaven,
may your name be honoured
10may your kingdom come
may your will be done
as in heaven, so on earth.
11Give us today the bread we need now;
12and forgive us the things we owe,
as we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
13Don’t bring us into the great trial,
but rescue us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13 (as translated by NT Wright)

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