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.

The Divine Will – if you make me vile

As many of you will know I am slowly working my way through a book called The Valley of Vision it is a book filled with profound, deep and insightful prayers from the Puritans. And whilst I do not agree with all that the Puritans did, I have been frequently flawed and brought closer to God in my times of prayer by reading through and praying along with them.

(How great it is to be part of such an amazing Church and cloud of witnesses!)

But recently, I have been struck by a line in the prayer:

‘If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
[For] Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies’

Right now in life, my wife and I are experiencing such a season of material blessing. We both have jobs, disposable incomes, a roof over our heads, new furniture (A new bookshelf!), even a fancy coffee machine. We are blessed in our health, physically able to do most of what we want and need to do in life. We are blessed in our relationships with family, friends and Church.

It really is something to be grateful for!

And yet, Biblical faith calls us to worship God in the midst of trial as well as triumph.

This test came rather embarrassingly for me with the arrival of a new webcam. I was setting up the camera on my monitor at home in preparation for a meeting. Vain person that I am, I wanted to check the lighting in the room, and that the camera was well-positioned. And then I saw, the camera was programmed in such a way, to highlight all the imperfections in my complexion. (AKA: make bright red a spot on my forehead!). Now, I looked in the mirror and the spot didn’t look too bad, it was a faded red. But on the camera…wow, that thing was difficult to ignore.

I became a little self-conscious and embarrassed, even considered not using a camera for the meeting and just using audio.

But then I remembered this prayer, ‘if You make me poor and vile…I will bless you. For prayers arising from needs are preparations for future mercies’.

And I started to thank God, for using this moment of (embarrassingly minuscule) trial to call me to lean upon His mercies.

In that moment I needed to remember to bless God, even though I felt “vile”. In that moment I needed to receive His mercy, not just to give me confidence when my physical appearance wasn’t doing it, but also because this moment of insecurity had revealed to me how much confidence and pride I was taking in my appearance. My confidence should have always rested upon God and His verdict over me. Not my complexion, not my webcam set-up, not my possessions or even my preparation for the meeting. On God and God alone.

In that moment I felt a need, and God supplied mercy.

If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
[For] Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies

Spotify or Apple Music?

I love music.

This last year I’ve been experimenting with Spotify and Apple Music subscriptions. I think, despite my love of Apple – Spotify have won this battle.

But as much as I love music, I think I’m stumbling into a realization. Music is best when it is fully appreciated. And we rarely fully appreciate something that is always there.

So I’ve stopped putting Spotify on in the background whilst I’m working, despite its: “music for concentration” playlists. And I no longer automatically opt for music accompaniment on my commute.

Working in silence, and walking with just my thoughts, is surprisingly refreshing. The experience is no longer hi-jacked by whatever emotion is induced by whatever song comes on. (True, I feel less like a badass when ‘gonna fly now’ doesn’t usher me into the office with Rocky.)

But then, when the moment comes to actually listen to music, there is a newfound respect, admiration and appreciation that comes along with.

For people who haven’t tried, I’d highly recommend, choosing to listen to no music for a whole day and then in the evening put on an album.

As the adage goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder

I wonder what else I’m experiencing in excess?

Paul

Sunday Summary – 20th September 2020 “DIY Desk”

Am going to post a little rapid fire this week:

DIY Desk improvements – Every now and again I do some DIY that isn’t too complex, but that gives me an immense amount of pride. This week I tackled my desk. Since lockdown began, I’ve been working from home and my desk set-up has undergone a series of transitions:

Well, I’ve now taken a saw to my desk and cut in up so it fits at a different angle in my room. It does mean I’ve got less space on my desk now to actually work (well done Paul), but it also means I’ve got more room in the office.

Fingers crossed, it can still support the weight!

LOTR Marathon – Saturday, also saw me put on my productivity hat and watch the whole of Fellowship of the Ring and the first DVD of Two Towers special extended editions. Interestingly, wife joined me in the lounge but “was not watching”. (Her first real exposure to middle earth without sleeping!)

Costa Meetings – Met with another two friends after work on Tuesday and Thursday at my new favourite local drive-thru Costa. (Again, no pictures, still trying to get in the habit of remembering). Great friends and was really encouraged after both catch ups!

AirPod Phone Calls – Yes, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but this apple fan boy finally fell for the scam of Apple’s overpriced headphones. I know, I know, you can get better quality headphones for half the price. I know I’m a fool. The biggest upside of these headphones are that I can take calls, for the first time in my life, without holding a handset. Probably because it’s still a novelty, I really have enjoyed, as well for the first time in my life, extended phone calls. I think these will be a game changer.

Local Lockdown – Where I live the government have instituted strict lockdown measures as of last week. This was one of the first times I’ve been truly annoyed at not being allowed to see people. My family were all together, and brother had come up from Birmingham, and I missed out! They sent me a nice photo of them round the fire, drinking whisky, without me!

Blog Decisions – For those who don’t know, on Thursday, I announced a couple of changes to the blog. (You can read about them here: Ti-Yong). In short, I made these changes so that I can have more capacity to focus my writing energies on editing my first draft!

SW – Book – Finished another Star Wars book this week: Fatal Alliance. The third in the Old Republic Series. Pretty good about biological robots that are spawning to take over the galaxy.

Running – Now that the shard of glass is out my foot, I’ve picked up running again. 5k on Tuesday, and 7.5k on Thursday. Listened to a Podcast on Not Overthinking on Tuesday, and a sermon by Rob Rufus on Thursday. I’m not going to link at the moment, it’s a bit of a faff on the tablet, if you want links let me know in the comments 🙂

So that’s it for this week’s Sunday Summary. Sorry for any spelling mistakes/grammar problems. Thanks for your ongoing support! Have a good week!

Three Apps for Devotionals

I think most Christians struggle to maintain a discipline of daily time, set apart, with God. Reading the Bible, praying, memorising scripture, even sitting still in God’s presence trying to hear His gentle voice can be a catalyst for sleep!

Thankfully we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who want to support us in our pursuit of God’s heart. Some of the members of this phenomenal Body, just so happen to be great at technology and programming. We are invited to be encouraged and empowered by the gifts God has given them.

In this post I want to share 3 amazing apps that I have used over the last year to keep me on track during those mornings when ‘I just don’t feel like it’.

Lectio365

https://www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional

I was recommended this app from a friend in America, who works closely with the 24/7 Prayer movement. It is an app inspired by Lectio Divina, a way of meditating on the Bible that has been used by Christians for centuries.

Each day you are guided through four steps Pause, Rejoice & Reflect, Ask and Yield. (Aka P.R.A.Y). Along the way you’ll be given a Psalm to use as a springboard for worship, and a Bible passage to spur reflection and guide your prayer.

Plus it comes with extended periods of silence, great music, and some weeks you get one South African reader who’s voice is like liquid-gold! #IzweNkosi

Inner Room

https://innerroom.app/

This app also has connections with 24-7 Prayer movement. However, unlike Lectio 365, it does not have a voice or script leading you through daily prayers. Instead you set your own prayer topics, set a timer and pray.

When you start you get some nice ambient music (although you can change between that and electric or acoustic backing track). I love using this on my walk to work, or sitting in the garden.

One of my favourite things about the app, is that halfway through the allotted time a little voice will come on and say “now listen to God”. The music will remain, and it’s such a helpful reminder that prayer is a conversation. It gives you a reminder to listen to God.

Verses

https://www.getverses.com/

I’ll put it out there first, you have to pay for this one. £10 a year. But in my opinion, it’s £10 well spent. You can trial it free for a month first.

Memorising Scripture is one of my weakest points. I love reading through the Bible, I know a fair amount of handy Bible verses throughout it’s pages by heart. But I rarely make the time to memorise large chunks of Scripture. (And I was working for the Navigators for three years – a group famous for the Topical Memory System!)

I’ve tried a couple of free apps, but this is my favourite.

It comes with 5/6 various “mini-games” to help you get to grips with a passage. You can focus on learning a whole chapter, or random verses, (there are even “playlists” to work through). You can create groups, and learn with friends.

According to the CMF website, five minutes a day will maintain 100 verses well in the memory, by reviewing 20 per day in succession. I’ve been working my way through memorising Romans. I’ve got most of chapters 1 & 8 down. But this app keeps me sharp, I’d like to get them all!

Conclusion

Let us not be afraid or slow to use the gifts God has provided the Church. Especially in our digital age. Look for resources on the App Store. We have a great opportunity to draw close to God, and meet Him, with so many advances and aids in our time.

With great power comes great responsibility