Tag: prayer

Preparations

Preparations

When this subject first came to my mind I didn’t feel I could blog about it because in the Christian calendar, we often associate preparation with the end of the world and Jesus coming back again, not Christmas. But with major Christmas adverts already on the TV, light switch ons taking place around the country, Christmas food in the shops, Christmas songs starting to squeeze onto the radio, we cannot deny that Christmas is on the way and with it, all the busyness and preparations it brings.

In my household, Christmas food, music, decorations and movies (other than the cheesy Hallmark movies on TV on a lazy Saturday evening), aren’t allowed until 1st December. That doesn’t mean there is nothing Christmassy going on behind the scenes though throughout these weeks leading up to then. My family are preparing the mixture for the Christmas cake, looking at where to get our Christmas tree, organising which local events to attend, budgeting for presents, designing cards and working out when we can visit family.

Besides Christmas, I am in a time of preparation right now in my personal life and with regards to YouBelong. At the end of this month, I leave my office job to focus on YouBelong and improving my health. It’s exciting but there’s so much I want and need to do that it has become a bit overwhelming.

I mentioned at the start then when I think of preparation from a Christian perspective, my brain automatically goes to Jesus second coming. But Lent is also a time of preparation. Traditionally, Christians use up perishables such as eggs, milk and butter, ready to fast for 40 days. Fasting is used by many Christians, and people of other religions too, as a way to focus on God in the days, weeks or months leading up to a big event or moment so as we can pray to Him about a particular thing with an element of sacrifice and without distraction.

After all that has happened in 2019, all the encouragement, affirmations and prayer, I feel more strongly than ever that I am making the right choices around leaving work and using my time to do YouBelong, despite it not being a financially secure, simple option. But as I head into this time of preparation, God feels far away and silent. This brings doubt to my mind. Am I doing the thing God wants me to do or is it what I want to do? Is that why God isn’t talking to me? If God isn’t making it very clear that He is with me in this, is it right to be plowing ahead?

For a long time, this has concerned me but someone very important spent 40 days in the desert, the same person who we fast for, and it was in this time that God was silent. Jesus was alone. He was challenged and faced conflict, doubt and extreme hunger and thirst but still God didn’t show up. But at the last moment, when Jesus pointed to God the Father saying, ” Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. ” At that point, God sent His angels to tend to Jesus and after that, He came back into the towns and villages and the miracles and wonders of Jesus started flowing bountifully!

My plans haven’t worked out, but God’s have. When I sit down to take steps forward, doing careful planning and trying to do the right thing, I don’t get anywhere. But when I sit back, and allow God to take control, He brings the right people to me at just the right time and shows me where to go next and gives me glimpses of what the future will be.

Sitting back and doing nothing over the Christmas period might mean we go without Christmas dinner, our family don’t get presents and the house doesn’t get decorated but in our lives, preparation can be just as, if not more, successful, when we sit back and wait on God to do His thing. If you are heading into a busy time in your life, or perhaps you feel like God is far away, maybe He is preparing you right now for something big and you need to take some time out to be with Him in the silence. Maybe try fasting – it doesn’t have to be food. Giving something up like watching TV in the evening, going on social media etc. are all things we can give up and that when we think of them, we can instead pray to God and listen for His direction without distraction.

There is more to think about, and some action points from Joyce Meyer here if you want to dig deeper into this topic. And if you are going through a time of preparation, I would love to hear from you so we can travel down this road together.

Bringing structure to YouBelong

Bringing structure to YouBelong

Today’s post is a bit different to the usual ones but hopefully still of interest and even a little bit interactive!

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you might have started to notice some more structure and recurring themes each week. This is partially because it helps us to keep up the content and ensure it is frequent and also that it offers something for everyone (hopefully!). I thought it might be a good idea to explain this new structure so as you can know what to expect when following YouBelong on those structures and if you don’t follow us on social media already, perhaps this will help you see what we do and give you an insight into what you can expect to find in the community there.

Monday
Monday is the first day of the regular working week and therefore I wanted to keep things light and encouraging and open up the community members to receive prayer or, if you feel like you would like to, to pray with or for those who comment their prayer requests for themselves and others. Sometimes the posts on a Monday will be minimal and may consist solely of a post asking for people to post their prayer requests and for others to pray with those people and other times there will be some prayers to pray together or some other more creative prayerful posts. In order to keep things memorable, Monday is Mediation Monday – meditation meaning intervene on behalf of others. In this case, the idea is we intervene for others and take their prayer requests to God, somtimes known in churches .

Tuesday
Transient Tuesday as it is now to be known as, is the day I will be sharing my short(ish) blog posts. The word ‘transient’ isn’t really the right word to use but I wanted to keep the same pattern of names with the same first letter as the day name throughout and it’s not that far off! As well as sharing our most recent blog post, we will also be encouraging you to share yours with us by tagging @YouBelong_2019 and #TransientTuesday and we will share as many as possible.

Wednesday
Each Wednesday is going to all things worship. There will be a mixture of worship and praise songs and verses from the bible about worship and sometimes there might even be some quotes or stories about people worshipping God in amazing ways. Some weeks there will be multiple posts and some days will be more quiet due to other commitments but I will do my up most best to ensure there is always something.

Thursday
Thursday, or Theological Thursday as it will now be referred to, is a day to post about some theological questions (sometimes these will be prompted by issues raised in the news or from the blog posts on the Tuesday and sometimes they will be generic theology discussions surrounding church, faith and chronic illness/ disability and other topics that arise in these contexts. We will be encouraging as much interaction as possible and we want to hear a variety of experiences and opinions – all we ask is that we keep the discussions pleasant so as not to upset others in the community. Encouraging others to see our point of view is one thing, forcing our opinion on others or telling them they are wrong is another and will not be tolerated. We are a Christian community so although we will have differences, we have one big thing in common and that is Jesus who showed patience and understanding and love towards all, even those who were clearly wrong and against anything and everything Jesus stood for.

Friday
The one word I use more than any other when describing YouBelong to other people is family or community, therefore, Fridays have come to be known as Family Friday as a way of encouraging people in the community to share a bit about themselves so that we might get to know one another better. At the moment, each Friday has been kicked off with a question posted from the YouBelong account which could range from asking about the members’ favourite colour or animal or food, the place they live, their favourite memory or almost anything else about them as a person and the world they live in. The hope is we will find some things in common to talk about and just generally get to know each other a bit more beyond our illness and disabilities.

Saturday
This is a bit different to others mostly because I, the owner and founder of YouBelong, am currently working part time whilst being full time ill, and trying to grow and maintain YouBelong, the one area of my life I am passionate about and working to make into my job full time. Due to my lack of time and energy, and needing a down day, Saturday has been labelled as Spontaneous Saturday giving us some freedom from posting at particular times of the day or with a certain style of post. Sometimes there might be no posts on a Saturday and other Saturdays might have 10 or 20 posts which might be about what we have been up to in YouBelong world or some interesting posts from others, a beautiful passage we have discovered in a book or almost anything else! I hope you are okay with and understand why this is the case. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months as the team grows and we can get some funding the word ‘spontaneous’ might just become something a bit more interesting!

Sunday
Finally, Sunday. I say finally because as someone in a 9-5 job, Monday is the start of my week although I see Sunday as both the beginning and the end (that makes me think of another key figure in YouBelong land who is the beginning and the end…) so although I had a lot of ideas that would have been nice to use for Sunday, as some of the community attend a physical church and others do not, I thought it would be nice to have Still Sunday. So far, it has been shaped around church attendance in the UK being most common in the morning and the majority of the Christian community having Sunday afternoon and evening as a time of rest and time to spend with friends and family. Therefore, Still Sunday will consist of a few posts, sometimes in a block and sometimes scattered througout the day, encouraging us to be still in sit in God’s presence, to say thank you for the week gone by, raise any worries we have as a result of the week just gone and say thank you for the week that is coming and think about where we might need God with us more thann normal, bring others to Him who mighht need an extra special tough and to listen to what He might have to say to us. There will a variety (like on Worship Wednesday) of verses, songs, thoughts, prayers and more so hopefully, there will be something for people from all backgrounds, traditions and lifestyles.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this works out going forward especially as it should mean I am able to connect with more of you and I hope this more frequent and structured approach will enable more people to learn about the YouBelong community and join us as we support one another and spend time together, and alone, with God.

When a miracle doesn’t feel like a miracle

When a miracle doesn’t feel like a miracle

Just over 2 weeks ago I lay inside an MRI machine for almost an hour whilst the technicians moved the table back and forth with me on it to get images of my spine and surrounding tissue. 20 minutes in the pain hit me hard but I couldn’t move or I would risk damaging the quality of the images that were taken which might mean I had to lie still even longer whilst they re-took them. My eyes filled with tears but I got through it.

Today is day 3 of lying in bed trying to find that comfortable position that doesn’t seem to exist whilst at the same time, battling with nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, the side effects of the tablets I have been taking in the hope that they will at least reduce the pain a little bit. I have already had my pain relief changed to a different tablet which can be taken alongside other pain relief I was taking for my regular daily pain, but the doctors won’t give me more until the MRI results are in and we know what is causing the pain.

I know that Googling symptoms is never a good idea but in my desperation to find answers and relief, I typed in ‘back pain’. A lot of the results that came up were not relatable as they talked about back pain caused by injury or short term pain. Mine has been progressively getting worse for 18 months after waking up one day in pain without seemingly any cause. As I kept scrolling I found an article from a hospital which stated that the use of MRI scans in diagnosing back pain is generally not recommended as very often it will show some ‘issues’ which many people have but that they are not aware of therefore, it is unlikely that these issues are the cause of the pain.

I was diagnosed with mild/moderate degenerative disk disease and schuermann’s disease a few years ago but the medical professionals didn’t feel that these issues were capable of the causing the pain I was experiencing then and I was told to simply ‘get on with it’. Now, the pain is 10x worse, I am terrified that when I get the letter with the results on through the post it will say ‘nothing to comment on’, i.e. no issues that would give a reason for the pain I have been having for the last year and a half.

I know of some people who would be giving God the glory for that because no issues on a scan means that there is nothing serious that needs to be addressed, no operations needed or drastic treatment methods. It would be the miracle everyone had been praying for. I don’t know if you have every experienced back pain (statistics would say that it is more likely that you have than haven’t), but when you have back pain that goes on for many, many months without much relief, it changes the way you move, live and feel emotionally and can even affect you spiritually. I most definitely have struggled with the mental and spiritual battles that come with long term pain and other symptoms associated with chronic illness and it is no easy feat. If the MRI comes back showing nothing that can/ needs to be addressed, I know I will struggle with the mental and spiritual aspects at an even greater level as just because the medical world can’t see my pain, it doesn’t mean it goes away. The pain stays there but I have to continue to fight for medication and care and support and even fight with God for some kind of answers in order for me to make peace with the situation and with Him.

In his book, ‘God on Mute’, Pete Greig told the story of a university peer who despite his young age, showed a great amount of faith. One day, he hurt his back and was obviously struggling with the pain but one day, he came over to Pete and told him that he had been healed, “it’s just the symptoms I can’t get rid of’, he said. I think we can all agree this is rather silly. If my MRI results come back showing nothing, it doesn’t mean I have been healed of whatever was the problem if my back is still keeping me awake at night.

When I spoke to my physio shortly after the MRI she was concerned by some of the symptoms I have been experiencing and said that she would keep an eye out for my results. That was the first time that anyone had believed my pain and had been concerned by what could be going on. Now, if I get a clear scan back, of course I will be happy that the possibilities that my physio had considered to be the cause of my pain are not the cause as non of them are very pleasant diagnosis, but at the same time, how can I move forward when I am so much pain all the time and no one believes me or is willing to treat it or dig deeper into what the cause might be?!

I don’t often go forward for prayer at church simply because I have done so so many times before and yet I am still ill and therefore I figured that there must be a reason for it but in the depths of intense pain, I took myself forward for prayer on Sunday morning last week. As I stood up, I was hoping that they wouldn’t try to tell me I had been healed or tell me it was my fault if I wasn’t, or even worse still, if it made them feel bad when they weren’t able to make me better (I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s just the way I think). I was thankful that none of the above took place but that they instead told me to come back for prayer persistently. They didn’t even follow this up with “until you are healed” so maybe I will go back again and see if God has something to share with or do for me – a miracle like other Christians thought, but not necessarily a medical miracle.

To sum up this rather longer than intended blog post, yes, God can and does still do miracles but a blank scan or blood test doesn’t necessarily mean a miracle, particularly if the person is still in pain or symptomatic. Perhaps the issue is just not visible in that method of testing or the illness is too early on in its progression for it be picked up by scans etc. If you know someone who is going through testing for a diagnosis due to debilitating symptoms, please remember that not all ‘miracles’ are actually miracles at all, but rather the result of imperfect medical testing, and sometimes these ‘miracles’ can actually cause the person involved to struggle with their faith more. Miracles don’t do that. Real miracles are God’s way of caring for His children and helping us see Him in the world we live in. If the ‘miracle’ of a blank scan doesn’t do this, it isn’t a miracle and shouldn’t be treated like one. This person will need lots of care and support and prayers so if you can, offer to help them, whether that be attending appointments with them or simply sitting with them at home whilst they process the news. They might cry, they might get angry, they might want you there or they might not. Try to be for them whatever they need at that time. Friendship is the great act of God that can be done for them at that time.

(Note: I apologise for the length of this post and the babbling in it. I am struggling to think straight through the pain and medication blurriness.)

Looking to God for Unity

Looking to God for Unity

Last week, I wrote a blog post about living confidently in the minority as a young woman with disabilities. I wrote that post in the days prior to attending Gather Summit, an event held to bring together Christian unity leaders, which I had been invited to attend but felt unsure about doing so due to being ‘different’. You can read that post here.

However, as it turns out, I had no need to worry. Not only was I not the only different person in the room (some were black, some white, some tall, some short, some young, some old, some with Northern accents and others with Southern, but all who I came into contact with immediately accepted me and was intrigued about why I was there and what my unity project was (until I was invited to Gather Summit, I had never considered YouBelong to be one but when I think about it, that is EXACTLY what it is!

Over the 2 days, we listened to people who were ahead of us in the field, some who spoke about the joys of running a unity movement and some who explained some of the challenges we are likely to face. Some were from charities and organisations who support unity movements and there were others who were speaking from experience of starting a unity movement whether that be a prayer group, social action group or anything in between. It was all very interesting and I took a lot of notes but one thing, a short phrase, stood out to me over anything else, and it came out of a bible study – ‘God is diversity in complete unity’.

My first thought was yes, I know that. God is a triune God, 3 in 1, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but when I put it into the context of a unity movement and in particular, YouBelong, I realised that just as God is diverse yet united, so are we. We come from different backgrounds, traditions and styles. We live all across the nation, are different ages and races and abilities but as the Church we SHOULD BE united. Should be is quite a way off of WE ARE but we are also working on it, one tiny step at a time, getting a little bit closer to a united front day after day thanks to all the work being done by individuals and groups behind the scenes.

Jesus actually prayed for the Church to be united as one. Ultimately, it is not down to us, but to the work of the Spirit but we are given the chance to be a part of that and be caught up in the eternal purpose of God – to build His kingdom.

Unity is not easy though as I am sure you know! There are spiritual forces battling against because the devil doesn’t want God’s kingdom to come to completion, so how can we fight against them? Pray. Prayer is the answer in challenging times but if you pray for unity, do not be surprised when God’s blessings and power work in that situation and create unity in what seems to be an impossible situation or group to unite. God promises to answer our prayers and as God wants His kingdom to come to fruition, He will listen and work when He ask Him to.

Unity brings blessings and transformation and it is through unity that others will see God’s glory and recognise God’s power and authority over the world. So when you find yourself struggling to work with others;

  1. recognise the evil in the situation
  2. pray expectantly to God for unity in the situation
  3. be ready to tell those who experience the change about God’s part in the change as they will not be able to miss it!

Praying when it is physically and spiritually challenging

Praying when it is physically and spiritually challenging

As Christians, we are taught to pray. When we are young, we might be taught a simple rhyming prayer to say before eating or before going to bed and as we get older, the style of our prayers changes as we do. First the Lord’s prayer then something deeper, longer and more frequent but nevertheless, we pray. We do it not just because the bible tells us to, but because it is how we communicate with God.

When I was in primary school, I used to pray all the time – a constant, ongoing conversation with God, thanking Him for my food, asking for protection from bullies or help with homework or asking for forgiveness when I hurt someone. Then I grew up into adulthood and became too busy to pray and lost my connection with God. Everything was going good, why did I need to? Then things started going very much downhill within my family, church, work and health but I had lost my relationship with God and forgotten how to pray. In the same way that friends have drifted away whilst I have spent my days alone inside the house due to chronic illness, when I drift away from God and don’t talk to Him, I lose that closeness we once had when I was praying to Him everyday.

So prayer is important but how do we keep praying when barriers appear? Even before I became unwell, I would struggle sometimes to pray in the evenings or mornings because I was too tired, I would struggle to pray at work because my mind was too distracted by other things to think about listening or talking to God and I even struggled when I was by myself on a day off as I would find other things I thought I should or needed to get done.

I would have to say that at this point in my life, prayer is difficult. I am always tired, busy or asleep so never feel that I am able to focus solely on God so instead of trying and failing, I often don’t start in the first place. This is the first big error. Don’t let your mind slipping away to other things put you off. We are human, it happens and God knows – He made us this way, just how He wanted us, and knows how our minds work. When we become distracted, all we need to do is write that thing down to remove it from our minds if it is important to remember. If not, allow your mind to wander there, and then come back to God. He is loving and patient and will wait for us. Although we are not of the world, we are still in and therefore, affected by it so we cannot expect to be perfect before God.

I know some of you might be thinking, ‘That’s great for people who can pray but struggle sometimes, but what about me? I can’t even bring myself to pray in the first place!’. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I have experienced this and still do so at times, and I am sure many others can also relate. There are many reasons for feeling this way and each has a different method of starting to change:

  1. Distance
  2. Fear
  3. Pressure

Firstly, distance. Like I have already said, when we get distracted long term, we move away from God. God never moves away from us, but we can, and do, move away from God. Sometimes that is intentional but I have found that it is more common for me to suddenly find myself away from God without realising it has happened. This can happen when we get upset or angry at God or when we start to lose faith which brings us on to point 2 – fear.

This is an experience I can relate to in a big way. I struggle to pray due to being fearful. Not fearful of God or of others but that God won’t answer my prayer and then I will lose my faith which is something I fear. I love God. I was raised in a Christian family and have always been open about my faith, no matter the outcome, but I have never needed God to respond to my prayer as much as when I am crying out in pain or starvation, or extreme fatigue or frustration at my situation. I have prayed many times for healing, as have my family and friends from church, yet I have not been healed in the way I wanted and that has caused me to lose faith in God’s being, His abilities or even whether He really loves me.

Finally, pressure. As someone raised in a Christian family, there is pressure to pray about everything. Not because my parents stand beside me with a whip, but because it is a discipline, in exactly the same way as tidying your room or brushing your teeth. This is great and I am really happy my parents have raised me this way, but it can lose it’s ‘magic’ so to speak. Praying because you are told to rather than because you want to can crate a forced conversation and build a fake relationship with God. It’s like talking to a brick wall – pointless.

So how can we overcome each of these problems in our prayer life?

  1. if it is a physical barrier (i.e. you are tired, in pain or distracted), remember we are weak and God knows that. But also remember a prayer does not need to be complicated or long. If you are about to go to bed but feel too tired to pray simply thank God for the day and ask for protection for tomorrow. Easy. God does not see these prayers as lesser, in fact, we are even told that God prefers the prayers of His people who pray to Him from a human point of view than the prayers of someone who stands out on street corners so everyone can see and hear them saying their clever, ‘proper’ language prayers that go on and on. God wants to hear from you, however, whenever, wherever you can but He doesn’t want to pressurise you into feeling bad for not being able to do so.
  2. When it comes to spiritual barriers, it is always us rather than God that needs to change. That doesn’t mean we have to do it alone because He wants to walk alongside us in everything, but it is in our control if, or how, we talk to Him. If you haven’t spoken to a friend in a long time, and they haven’t tried to communicate with you, you can either reach out to them again or ignore them forever and risk never speaking to your best friend ever again. It’s the same with God. We can either ignore Him completely or get ‘back in touch’ and pray. It might feel strange initially but if you keep praying, even if it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be long before it feels natural again and you can hear from God too.
  3. Similarly, when it comes to feeling pressured to pray, forget the pressures you have had in the past. Move away from routine and towards relationship by praying to God when you want to talk to someone. Maybe you want to ask Him for something, maybe you want to thank Him, or maybe you just want to tell Him about your plans for the day, some music you are loving or food you are enjoying eating. Make prayer relational again and it won’t feel so forced anymore.
  4. As fear is something I experience personally, I wanted to do some research so had a look at various resources and I have been able to find literature on praying about being fearful, not about fear related to prayer so I am going to have to talk from my own experiences. In some ways, I think this is very similar to feeling distant – you just have to pray. I was at Spring Harvest a few weeks back and had the pleasure of hearing Pete Grieg (founder of the 24/7 prayer movement) talking about prayer and one thing he said stood out to me over everything else (paraphrased as I cannot remember the exact wording) – ‘Don’t pray to God because He answered your prayer the way you wanted, but pray to God because He is faithful so we know that even when we don’t hear His answer or see Him act in the way we wanted, He is responding/ acting just in His time and way. Our faithful God.’ Just because God doesn’t seem to answering you once doesn’t mean He isn’t or won’t next time. He is listening and will respond in His time and in His way – the best way for you as His child. He knows the situation and He knows you and what is best for you. So we must keep praying, knowing our God is listening and is faithful and will respond and act and therefore, we should not fear His silence for He won’t always be that way and perhaps, He is already doing something. It’s just too big or incomprehensible for the human mind to imagine. God is good ALL the time!