3 Prayer Tools for 2021

Excuse the number orientated blog post title! The best way to learn how to pray, is by praying. Plain and simple. I find it off-putting when Christians make prayer a complex ritual, that needs countless hours of study and expertise in order to get right. When Jesus was asked ‘how to pray’, He gave a simple, stunning and all-encompassing example that could be picked up by anyone.

Far be it from me to make prayer complicated.

All that being said, I do find it helpful every now and then to come across new tools and methods to help me ‘spice up’ my prayer life. After all, we are a Body with many parts, and we are called to live out our faith amongst the great cloud of witnesses. Learning from our Spiritual fathers and mothers, and imitating those who seek to imitate Christ.

It is from this foundation that I want to present three tools I have found empowering in my prayer life recently.

  1. The Valley of Vision [Book]. I was recommended this book by a friend who loves praying. When I asked him how he learns to pray more – this was one of his “go-to”s. Page after page of poetic, beautiful and rich words. Easily hi-jackable and which lend themselves to thought provoking moments of conversation with God.
  2. Guitar [Music]. I was very lucky growing up to have been given guitar lessons. Although, I never appreciated, as a teenager, the power of practice! I still managed to get the hang of most of the chords and minimal music theory required to play most songs to a mediocre standard. (With the internet people can learn the basics of instruments within a couple of hours.) If you have an instrument to hand, I have found playing some simple chord progressions with the Psalms open (or even the Valley of Vision book) very helpful.
  3. Phone call prayers [Technology]. I am NOT a fan of online/Skype/zoom prayer meetings. Even for our weekly Church zoom meetings. I just have not got used to being videoed in prayer (- alas, my issues). However, give me some Bluetooth headphones with a mic, a friend to call, and a walking route. And I can pray for some time. The last few weeks on Sunday morning I have been calling up a friend and praying together while I walk and talk on the phone. All the encouragements of praying with a friend, none of the self-conscieness that comes from being on a webcam! (Win-win!) Not to mention the biggest win that we draw closer to God (WIN-Win-win!)

There we go, there are three tools for prayer in 2021. I hope you find them encouraging and useful.

Sunday Summary 24th January – It’s Snowing!

Where we live, there is not very much snow…ever! But this weekend has seen a lot of it, our neighbours have made more snowmen and we managed to get a late night walk together in the middle of the heaviest part!

Aside from the snow, this week has been pretty good. I took a day off work on Friday to make up for some Christmas overtime. Went for a walk, played a couple of games of backgammon with wife and made significant progress on my ‘latte art’ technique!

This is the closest I’ve ever got to anything resembling a flower. Still a way to go, but making progress.

This week also saw me finish book 4 of the Wheel of Time series: The Shadow Rising. It was an incredibly good read, even if very long. I’m really enjoying watching the three main characters grow. And trying to keep track of what everyone else is doing, and whether they are good or ‘dark friends’.

I must admit…I’m using the glossary a lot!

I also managed to meet with a friend after work this week, we went for a long walk in the pouring rain. It was good to get out and see someone else for a change, even if we did get pretty soaked. One of the things we talked about was my future engagement with the Navigators UK. Something that has been put on the ‘back burner’ for me over the last year – not least of all because of COVID (I don’t think I’ve written about all the reasons, on this blog before, but I did mention it in this post: Reflections: A New Bible and a New Season

But this is something I’ll be thinking about over the coming month. Especially now that I’ve re-joined the preaching rota at my Church. Probably more detail on that later!

Any other highlights? Well, my wife has prepared her Valentines day card stock!

If you want to buy one and support a small business, you can order directly from her website, or order them through thortful.com here: https://thortful.com/profile/5f9f080bcdda5e0001499146 .

Sunday Summary 17th January – A new bookshelf!

This week I continued in the spirit of DIY and put up a new bookshelf to replace the one we’ve had since we first got married (5 and a half years ago!). It was beginning to fall apart and wasn’t looking too stable. It was quite fun trying to sort through the books, work out which ones I wanted to keep, which to give away (or give back to the people I’d borrowed them from!). And then, I tried to use each ‘block’ in the new bookshelf to separate different genres. It’ll probably need some tweaking.

The new one is a different style but actually has a little less space, so we got a mini book shelf (see below). I’ve used the top two shelves on this new one to keep all my ‘favourite’ books – although this will also need some tweaking!

My top three are ‘Invitation to a journey’ – Robert MulHolland, ‘Making of a Leader’ – Robert Clinton, and ‘Red Moon Rising’ – Pete Greig. Although that was a lot more difficult a decision to make than I thought it’d be and I’d probably change my selection on another day.. They’re all very good on those top two shelves.

In other news, I made very little progress with my own book writing. Although I have now written out a checklist of all the different sections I still need to edit. The list is on my wall above my computer, so I’m hoping that will motivate me to get on with it.

This week also saw me have a great catch up with a friend via Zoom. We talked about sharing our faith, work, aspirations and callings! He has agreed to read the edited versions of each section of my book when I’ve edited it. Hopefully this will also provide some accountability and more motivation next week.

In work updates – please pray for me (if you’re the praying type!). I have a mammoth task over the next month and I’m really not sure I will get it done. I’m in the process of transcribing 700+ pathology reports onto our trial related forms. Aside from having no medical training, these reports seem to be written in another language. So it is very slow going. Especially that it’s all on top of my usual job. But thankfully, other areas of the trial have been quiet this last week so I made good progress. Still have a long way to go.

The view on my walk home from work one night!

Anything else going on?? Not really, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a video I posted on YouTube a week or so back, has around 400+ views. I didn’t expect it to do so well (I know relatively that’s not much, but it feels big for someone with only 3 subscribers.

Five Traits I’ve Been Trying To Cultivate

I recently came across a quote and a follow up question that have been on my mind. The quote is by a Desert Father called Anthony Bloom who was invited to preach at a mass where a visiting bishop would be in attendance. Bloom refused to preach and said:

If my silence doesn’t speak to him, my words will be useless”

The question is: how would I communicate with people if I were reduced to silence. What virtues would I want displayed in my life?

I’ve been doing some work with God along this theme, talking to Him about why I take notes, why I keep notebooks and why I am so quick to teach everything I learn. It’s an ongoing journey, but in the midst of it I’ve come across this chapter in a book by Gordon MacDonald: Building Below the Waterline. (Would highly recommend any book by this author and I have read two of his books twice!)

1) Humility

““A humble man, is never hurried, hasty, or perturbed, but at all times remains calm. Nothing can ever surprise, disturb, or dismay him, for he suffers neither fear nor change in tribulations, neither surprise nor elation in enjoyment. All his joy and gladness are in what is pleasing to the Lord.” – Isaac of Syria

“The way of the Christian leader, is not the way of upward mobility in which the world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross. . . . It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” – Henri Nouwen

2) Compassion

A question I heard recently about this trait, which I have begun asking myself: “Is my heart expanding or contracting towards others?” (-Especially those who think/believe/act differently to me)

“Compassion [is] the ability to identify at heart level with the vulnerabilities, fears, and sorrows of others. And to identify in such a way that one is not paralyzed but energized with great love” – Gordon MacDonald

3) Steadfastness (not stubbornness)

“Steadfastness means reliability of character, fulfillment of promises, faithfulness to key relationships, and (most important) living in obedience to Jesus.” – Gordon Macdonald

Am I steadfast in my friendships, in my commitment to Church, work and my ethic there, in my walk with God etc?

4) Faith

“Faith [is] an ability to trust in and draw upon the power of God beyond my rationality, my instinctive pessimism, my willingness to settle for less than best.” – G. Macdonald

I don’t just want Faith in God for my job, life purpose, vision or Church. But also for the individuals in my life, my friends and family. Do I have faith that God has good plans for them, that they are God’s handiwork created in advance for good works? Do I have faith that every member of my Church is an essential member and without which I cannot grow or come into maturity (1 Cor 12)?

5) Self Control

This week on the AskPastorJohn podcast, they replayed a segment of a sermon John Piper preached regarding self control and porn. I leave it here, as the means of self-control described can easily be applied to any battle with sin.

Desiring God: You can say no [to sin]

Tuesday Tools – Evening Reading

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from John Maxwell about the rule of five. I written about it before (in fact it was one of the first posts on this blog).

In summary, the trick is to determine which five activities you can engage with every day in order to move closer towards a big goal. He uses the example of cutting a tree, if you hit it five times every day with an axe, eventually it will come down!

In a similar vein I’d like to promote another similar approach to tackling big goals. Reading before bed each night.

There are a lot of benefits to reading before bed: settles the mind, transitions out of the business of the day, no “white light”…etc.

But with 20 minutes or so of reading each day before bed, massive books can be read each year. This can be useful for large fiction series, for personal studying, or even the Bible in a year.

I’m currently working through the Wheel of Time series, (you can use my affiliate link if your interested in taking it up). For those who don’t know, it’s a book series made up of 13 or so books (each around 700/800 pages long). I’m sure I’ve recommended it loads before, I’m on book 3 at the moment. But it is an epic fantasy, like Lord of the Rings on steroids.

An excellent read, great bedtime reading!

Anyway, the habit of reading before bed is also one that’s recommended by John Piper. He did the maths and:

That’s 12 very substantial books [a year], all in 15 minutes a day for the average slow reader.

Tuesday Tools – Deep Work

Around January last year (according to my Goodreads account) I finished Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work. It’s a book that argues that we come up with the best ideas and most meaningful progress when we engage in focused, uninterrupted and undistracted work.

It claims that for “knowledge workers” deep work is becoming increasingly rare, with the deluge of immediate-response social media, attention-stealing technology and the demand to stay on top of e-mails and messages.

Since the ability to engage in deep work is rare, it is also becoming significantly valuable.

I jumped back into this audiobook during my exercise yesterday, to refresh my memory, and started with the beginning of Part 2.

In the chapter I listened to yesterday, he explained that we need to choose which “philosophy” fits our work best.

1. The Monastic Philosophy – this is where you take weeks and months apart from ordinary life to focus on deep work. He gave the example of an author going to a cabin in the woods for weeks to study. I think JK Rowling also did something similar when she wrote the last Harry Potter – checking into an expensive hotel for weeks until it was done!

2. The Bimodal Philosophy – this is where you take some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits of work. It could be Mondays and Tuesdays that you are “unreachable” and don’t answer the phone or e-mails. It could be using a week to focus on working deeply.

Suprisingly, most people will respect decisions to isolate for the sake of productivity at work, provided 1) the times of distance are well-advertised and well-defined and 2) you are available and able to complete other tasks the rest of the timme.

3. The Rhythmic Philosophy – This is where you set aside, say 90 minutes each day to pursue deep work. It is less about “getting away” and more about “setting apart” your time, consistently and habitually.

When it comes to implementing the Rhythmic Philosophy, you will find many of the tools for keeping up with other habits useful.

4. The Journalistic Philosophy – This is where you switch into deep work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Cal Newport warns that this is the most difficult, and few people can actually do this well. However, for some this is the only option available.

I personally have found options 2 & 3 useful. When it comes to writing the book I’m working on, I have taken a week off at a time work to write. Waking up early and finishing late, just focused on the single task of writing the book.

However for my 9-5 job with Cancer Research, I tend to use the Rhythmic Philosophy. Setting aside portions of my day when I turn Teams, Skype Chat, E-mails off and simply focus on work that pushes my cognitive abilities to their limit.

If you are interested in finding out more about deep work, (this post only really covers one chapter of the book!) and want to get the book please use my affiliate link below to support this blog:

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Thanks for reading!

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture. This chapter gives a historical account of the formation of the Bible.

It starts with the story of how the Old Testament was constructed, who came up with the idea to write God’s words down. Why it didn’t stop with the 10 commandments and has been expanded into the Law, Prophets, Songs and History books.

It then goes on to explain how the New Testament was compiled, that each author was essentially an apostle (or had close association with one of the apostles), they claim to have been written with the authority of God and remain consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Finally this chapter then examined the various candidates for addition or removal of other books.

July 2020 Sunday Summary

One of the things I want to do on this blog is share life updates and record some of what is going on. The plan is to have a week summary Sunday post. But on the first Sunday of each month, to look back on the month gone past and the month ahead – record some achievements and set some goals. I will try and keep it brief and simple.

Since today is a first Sunday of the month, I’m going to share a few highlights from the month past and a few goals for the month ahead.

Month Gone By:

1) As you can probably tell from the photo’s above…this month we celebrated our fifth year of marriage. We decided to don our wedding clothes and take a photo (before and after) for our friends and family. We’ve changed quite a bit in our appearances (we both had haircuts!) but we haven’t lost the love we had at the beginning! Best 5 years of my life. And quite a journey (3 apartments, 2 churches, a combined total of 6 jobs and some quality friends along the away!)

2) I finished the second draft of the book I’m writing. Which is all about being a person after God’s own heart and enabling others to follow suit. I delivered it to a friend who published a book last year to give it a “look over” (aka A MASSIVE FAVOUR – given how messy it still is!) I’m expecting his feedback mid-august. But in the mean time, I’ve been taking an actual course on LinkedIn Learning on ‘Editing’. Hopefully, by the time my friend has finished his read-through I will be armed with better skills to work on the third draft.

3) A trip down to Portsmouth. My parents recently sold their home in Portsmouth, the city in which I grew up. So I went down south with Dad and Sister to say a final farewell to my first home (that I actually remember living in). The whole house was in a state of brokenness, because of “bad tenants”, so the photo’s are messy. But this was my old bedroom:

4) I started a new project. Studying my way through the Bible. For the last few years I’ve been reading the Bible through cover to cover at about a book per week pace. Fast. Now I feel like it is right to take time to study the Bible with a slower pace but with more depth. I plan to be blogging the journey as I go. (Click the Bible tab at the top of the page to read those posts).

5) Long time followers of this blog will have noticed, but I got my own domain name. Which basically means I can have a website address that doesn’t have “.wordpress.com” in the title. I’ve invested a small chunk of money to do this and to get a few other features. Apparently now, I can earn money from adverts and selling things. It’s all a little fancy, and I haven’t got incredibly high hopes of becoming a millionaire any time soon. But at the very least, it’s motivated me to actually blog with more frequency again!

Month Coming Up

1) As already mentioned, I plan to be getting my second draft back with some feedback mid-August. So the last part of the month, leading into September, will be working on my “third draft”. I’d like to find a way to include 45mins per weekday of work on that. But at the moment my Bible studying has filled the “writing” slot from my morning routine. So may need to juggle that around. I’ve booked two days annual leave from work to give some focused time on the book.

2) We’ve been invited to two weddings this month (on the same day) and we’ve still not decided how we’re going to juggle both of them. Luckily one is being streamed and the other has a “post-lockdown” party planned in December. So I’m sure there’ll be a way!

3) I’m visiting the office for the first time since mid-march on the 7th of August. I think the plan is, for me to visit on Friday’s if there’s urgent work to be done there. For the last few months, I’ve been working from home. So it will be a bit of an adventure going into work on a semi-regular basis. (I’m sure the novelty will wear off quickly!) But for now I’m a little excited!

Anyway, that’s me done for tonight. Hope you enjoy. 🙂