Album Review: Vineyard worship – Fill Us Again; Steven Curtis Chapman single

Listening to this album is a bit like going to the World Cup final and only watching the half-time entertainment. Sure, the half-time game between 10 year olds is fun, and they may actually produce a decent game. But it pales in comparison to the ingenuity, strength and excitement of the professional game. The half-time game is a sideline to the main event.

Fill Us Again hooks you instantly with a guitar riff that plays on the joy of Jesus breaking our chains. The chorus is about how “we’re coming alive” and is from a position of through whom, and how.

Coming Alive is therefore unusual. Most of the songs on this live worship album present a single basic truth but don’t expand on it. In Look to Jesus a gravelly voice enthuses us to, well, look to Jesus but doesn’t go into detail about why, or how we can do so, other than the refrain “He won’t let you go.” For all the length of the track (8 and a half minutes), I have no better idea of who Jesus is or what he’s done and am therefore no more inclined to look to Him.

The repeated refrain might be intended to help us meditate on the idea of looking to Jesus, to help it roll around in our hearts a while. But without knowledge of who it is we are singing to, the idea remains just that. Furthermore, as the song doesn’t give us knowledge the singer’s passion and guitar solo unfortunately become the focus rather than the medium through which we can praise.

As such, that song is one of a few which feel half-baked.

In Saved, there is an understanding that Jesus died for our sins but with the line “not because of what I’ve done/ but because of what I’ve not.” It sounds good. But it is not the whole story.

I think this lyric is trying to get at the fact that we cannot achieve our own salvation. Jesus didn’t save us because of our good deeds.

But Jesus came precisely of what we did do – followed our own desires and what we didn’t do – follow His commands. This may sound like splitting hairs. But we perform sins of commission and omission. We sin by doing things we shouldn’t, and not doing things we ought. And Jesus came not because of that, but for our forgiveness, because he loves us.

This is where their Kyrie Eleision is right. It does well at unpacking all the things we need forgiveness for: “for the things we’ve done and left undone”, for idols, other loves, fears. It is a humble, honest, repentant psalm.

However it should have stopped three minutes in. After five more minutes of “forgive us, we pray” I couldn’t help remember of Jesus’ warning that some people “will not be heard for their many words.” Is God more likely to forgive for us asking a number of times?

On their album Kyrie Eleison: Anchour Sessions the repetition of “forgiving God, forgiving us” at the end of the song serves as a powerful reminder and meditative tool of the fact that he has forgiven and is forgiving us. On this album, however, it detracts from the song and doesn’t add anything.

Fill Us Again mixes metaphors of the Holy Spirit and leaves me confused. The premis of the song is about Christ filling us up again. I remember a Scripture Union leader giving the cororolly of her own heart, which as a child had a hole in which required surgery. as she put it, in the same way “our hearts empty. We need our love tanks filled up.” If left there, the metaphor works. But this song seems to suggest that we need periodical topping up of the spirit. I don’t think this is what Scripture says. Jesus promises his followers the Spirit. Period.

Musically the album is very accomplished, with very passionate singing from a range of voices, and lots of winding guitar solos and improvised worship.

This is a double edged sword. Done well, I believe it can make us worship more fully. However, many of the tracks sound the same with their crescendos. I’ve had to work hard to get the names of them clear and remember which track is which!

It is very easy to just tune out of the album, letting the quieter, more repetitive songs become background music rather than worship.

But it doesn’t even work as background music. All too often I have had to change the volume on my stereo to compensate for different loudness in tracks. At one point, I wondered whether the album had stopped. About five minutes later it turned out it hadn’t. Some parts the voices are so incomprehensible as yanny/laural. How can we worship if we don’t know what to sing?

In short, this is a fairly plain album which sometimes excites with the music, and only rarely excites by showing us the truth of the cross. It doesn’t paint the whole picture of Christ and in parts gets it wrong. It shows what could be done in worship. The other version of Kyrie Eliesion is brilliant. If we look to this album for worship, it is ok, but we miss so much of the real, strong, exciting stuff to be found elsewhere.

As an example, take Steven Curtis Chapman’s new single Remember to Remember, also released on Friday. As with Fill Us Again, I’ve listened to this repeatedly. Unlike Fill Us Again, it excites me every time.

Instantly it reminds me of God’s repeated calls in the old testament to build an altar to Him, so that we don’t forget what he’s done.

The idea of ‘remembering to remember’ sounds funny until you remember how easily we forget who God is and what he’s done.

It’s instantly catchy. It’s a little country in the way Sheryl Crow is. It does therefore sound a little early 2000’s. But does that really matter when the chorus is as strong as:

“Remember the way he let you up to top of the highest mountain/ Remember the way he carried you to the deepest dark/ Remember his promises for every step of the road ahead/ Look where you’ve been and where you’re going and remember to remember.”

If that sounds as if we don’t know who to remember:

“Till I’m home I’m resting all my hope and trust/in the only one who’s name is God with us.”

If this is a fore-taste of his next album, I’m excited!

Fill us again was released on Friday 25th May and is available at CLC Bookshops, Spotify and Amazon.

Remember to Remember was released on Friday 25th May and is available on Spotify and Amazon

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Guvna B – Hands are Made for Working. Album Review.

Some albums need to be listened to all the way through.
Not just played on shuffle or just removing the best songs to add to a playlist, but played from start to finish with your best speakers and ears.
Hands are Made for Working

Guvna B is a rapper from London. Personally, this album is more instantly easier on theear than his last. I’ve had it on repeat since it was released on Friday. Less grime, more hip-hop, more singing, a tiny bit R&B. He dedicated Friday’s release to to his dad, who died last year. He rightly has a lot to say not just about his dad, but about how he coped. Even if we aren’t recently bereaved, there are lessons for us all.

Track 1, Carry On, tells the story of the night his dad was put on life support, racing through streets, mother on his knees. How he responded with faith – before God answered in a way he didn’t like: “I swear my faith got fired up/ I said Lord you’re higher up/ Help my Daddy rise up/ And fight tough/ But he didn’t, times up/ They say the Lord knows best, how/ Because I’ve never felt so let down.” That honesty is refreshing.

The album is interjected with voice-mail messages from friends encouraging him to keep going. This sounds odd, but as I’ve listened through the album I’ve learned to roll with them. That he includes them demonstrates how valuable they were to him, and so remind us of the importance of checking in with friends.

If it seems Guvna B wasn’t alone when his dad died, neither was he alone when he wrote the album. It’s full of collaborations. A welcome surprise was Martin Smith, former Delirious front-man.

The stand-out track might appear to be Everyday, but it’s really on a par with Broken, King of My Heart, Cast your Cares, Dun all the Hype and in fact the rest of the album. He performed Everyday when he supported Rend Collective on Friday. Live, the chorus works as a fantastic – if shouty – hymn which people can ‘sing’ along to. Although Guvna B’s situation may not be ours, it’s a great sentiment: “Ups, I’ve have downs/ I’ve been stuck, I’ve come round/ But I don’t just thank God in the good times/ I thank him when it goes south/ Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Them days might go great/ But if Friday Saturday Sunday’s ain’t just know that I’ll still thank him Everyday/ Everday/ Everday, Everday!”

But then we know that we can thank him because we can sing (yes, without the inverted commas) with the stripped down piano “Cast your cares/on His shoulders/Cast your cares/on His love”.

This album is not just a testament to how much Guvna B loves his dad, but how much God cares and loves Him – and us all – through his grief and our own brokenness. The pace changes as does the ebb and flow of grief. It isn’t all about his dad, though. He speaks of his turning to alcohol, failing school, their move to the UK, how he’s got so many friends in jail. Throughout, his testimony is that of a broken past and in many ways a broken present, but a healing and good God.

It really needs to be listened to.

Hands are Made for Working was released on Friday 18th May.
You can buy it at HMV (unusual, so encourage them to Christian artists a shot!) Or if you don’t want to spend another tenner (which is totally worth it in this case) it’s on Spotify or Deezer

Bishop Curry’s address: a suggestion.

I went to bed so disheartened last night.

It was a great weekend, until i read posts by other Christians stating how “poisonous” and “anti-gospel” Bishop Curry’s wedding sermon was. How it was a horrible, watered-down message. That nothing good will come from it. That it was “gospel-lite”. And that Christians would do well to not praise it because he wasn’t actually preaching Jesus to those 2 billion viewers.

I believe we do have a duty to discern who is a false prophet. It is for example to be wise in discernment when it comes to choosing a church. Do you want to attend a closer church with weaker preaching but an active community or a church further away with stronger preaching? Is there no gospel preaching at all? Best to go elsewhere.

It’s why I remember two particularly bad sermons.

The one who defined prophesy. He began “first of all, let me define what a prophet is.” He gave a very encyclopedic and helpful definition and then sat down, having never come to the second point.

The one with the history lesson. It was a fascinating fifteen minute lecture on the lesser known kings and queens of England. I kept thinking “great introduction into Jesus’ kingship.” But after his history lesson was completed he sat down.

Compared to these, Bishop Curry was meaty.

Others have dissected where he could have added more detail. A good example is Andrew Roycroft’s blog post.

And I agree with some of their points.

However a wedding infront of 2 billion people is a very different affair to Sunday morning. How do you begin to have an address that encompasses Christ and the royals and the couple and the nation? Our nation is in a very different state than it was in the Billy Graham era. The soil needs prepared in a different way.

In a sense my feeling is that of when I saw McFly. It wasn’t proper rock, but it could serve as a good introduction to the better stuff. Strong exegesis is fine in a church context. But an audience who knows nothing of the Bible needs something else. Possibly. I don’t know. 2 billion is a lot of people with a lot off different needs. Who am I to judge what they need?

So I want to suggest that we do four things in our response to the address.

1. Stop moaning. Everyone loves to moan but no-one really likes listening to a moaner! It’s really off-putting. Consider how much joy and humour Curry had. We need to be winsome. Our words can be harmful and if we bicker among ourselves we just put people off. I’m not suggesting we ignore truths, but we can point out flaws in a constructive way. Sanctimonious “it was really posionous” type statements get us nowhere.

2. Let God be God and give thanks for the good. Curry did say a lot of good and true things. He headlined that Jesus came to save us. He could have easily not done so. He got people talking in a way that the tired old voices we are used to wouldn’t have. No, it wasn’t perfect, but God uses imperfect vessels. We can do the best we can; results are his business. He will use the address how He wishes.

3. Pray that people would forget the unhelpful and remember the truth in his address.

4. Pray that we would have opportunity while the nation talks, to have discussions with our friends, neighbours and colleagues. And pray we make those conversations happen.

 

 

 

 

Moments of joy. Album review: Bethel Music – Mighty Sound (Moments)

Bethel music says this album, recorded live at Bethel Church, “captures the essence of our worship.” If that’s true, we can learn three things about Bethel:

  • They really love spontaneous worship
  • They get really excited for what God is going to do.
  • Their worship is half about God and half about them.

 

I wonder what you think when you hear the words ‘spontaneous worship’. At it’s heart is letting a new song rise out of our hearts. Yet it seems so alien, particularly to Presbyterian ears used to sitting down immediately after singing a psalm or hymn.

But we would do well not to dismiss the idea. On a personal note, some of the most powerful worship times I’ve had used spontaneous worship. Indeed I became a Christian during one such meeting. In a wider context, God has given us all different desires and mediums with which we can praise him. The beauty of the church is that we can all worship the same God with our myriad tastes for particular styles.

This is just to say – my Free Church friends might struggle with the concept of a spontaneous album.

I plunged into this album because I was intrigued. I hypothesised that spontaneous worship wouldn’t work in a CD format as much as it does live. The spontaneity comes from the Holy Spirit and is peculiar to that particular moment in space and time. All the CD can do is record the out-workings of that moment, not recreate it. And we shouldn’t try to emulate what the Spirit did in that particular session at the time. But I plunged in anyway, because I wanted to test my hypothesis.

I was half right. On a CD the quieter spontaneity can allow for some prayerfulness.
And the congregants’ excitement about who God is and what He has done is tangible. Just because Presbyterians don’t show our excitement in audible woops, hand raising, amens, hallelujah’s and applause (all audible here) doesn’t make our excitement any less, or Bethel’s any more, valid. But it is infectious, and I have found myself singing some of the lyrics, and my heart being warmed by the Hallelujah’s in Mighty Sound. They’re right: “when we sing it’s a mighty sound.”

Like Bethel, we too can sing “you don’t give your heart in pieces” (Pieces). We can join them and sing that “my hope is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness ” (Cornerstone). Reckless Love has made it onto my worship playlist because it is a great reminder of how much God moved in his pursuit of me. I would caveat that the mixing isn’t quite right on this track, and it took a few listens before I understood what was being sung. (But hey, I still can’t work out what Thom Yorke is singing most of the time)

We can also sing that God heals.

Woah! Hold-up!

If you know anything about Bethel church, you may know that they have a healing ministry. We who don’t have such a ministry must still acknowledge that we too believe that God heals. We do after-all pray for that He would. All good, then, so long as it is done with the right attitude of boldness and humility.

We can come to God with boldness and confidence, knowing we have a great high priest in Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16), but we must also come knowing that “His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 56:8-9). God may heal on this Earth, he may not. We come humbly because it is not our doing, but God and God’s alone.

However, I don’t believe Bethel has this balance.

For example, take the album cover.
mighty sounds

It’s a confused image. I think they want to say “he’s on his knees, humbled by God” but overall I feel it’s a bit more rock-star than humble.

Next, notice the lyrics in Catch the Wind:

I am strong and full of life
I am steadfast no compromise
I lift myself to the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind
I’m gonna catch the wind

I am bold no fear inside
Spread my wings open my life
Like an eagle whose home is the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind.
I’m gonna catch the wind.

Presumably (no explanation is given) the wind is the Holy Spirit. But the ordering is all wrong here:
By myself I am not strong.
It is Christ who gives life.
The Holy Spirit catches me.

I am fearful but with His help I am bold.
He will lift me up on eagles wings.

Further on in the song, I was a little weirded out. The music goes quiet, and the worship leader sings at us to let “the healing honey of Jesus rain down.”

I’ve never heard Jesus’ healing being described as honey before. I can kind of see it, in that Jesus is sweet, as is honey… and heaven (if I remember rightly) is described as being like honey. She goes on:
“I see it raining honey… The honey of heaven… The healing honey of heaven… Thick thick healing honey… Raining down… “. This is very bizarre imagery, and is presented as truth with no explanation. Perhaps the preceding sermon unpacked it – so it may have been helpful in that moment, because the Holy Spirit may have been working. But on a recording it just sounds odd. That is the danger of having “raw and unfiltered” (Bethel’s words) worship on a disc. Sometimes we need to filter out the unhelpful.

And then the singer makes a bold and frightening claim: “Depression’s gonna go! Panic is gonna go! Heaviness is gonna go!”

She goes on “healing, healing.”
With rising urgency, “healing! Healing!

It was all I could do to not switch the album off. I am testament to the fact that God can heal from depression, if he chooses. It is an uncomfortable truth that for some he may not heal in this life.

But my journey is also testament to the fact that I had assimilated enough of this teaching that it kept my depression going. It lead me to think that It’s my fault I have this! Am I pressing into Jesus? I should be pressing into Jesus more! I must be a bad Christian! God can’t be healing me because I’m not good enough! I must have some sin elsewhere, because he only hears the prayers of the righteous! which just made it worse.

There are some good parts to this album. Listening to some spontaneity reminds me how rigid I can be, and how I sometimes expect I need to worship in particular ways. It helps me be more open to what the Spirit might be saying. Us Presbyterians sometimes need that. Overall I can only recommend two tracks in the album: Reckless Love and Cornerstone. Both have made it on my worship playlist. The rest is either unhelpful, turn worship inward to us rather than God, or scripturally false.

Bethel Music – Moments: Mighty Sound was released 11 May 2018, and is available on Amazon and Spotify.

Sarah Reeves – Easy Never Needed You

I’m sitting at a beach bar, cocktail in my hand, watching the sun make its final move for the day, layering the sky with a mix of reds and pinks. Heavenly (apart from the volume of the beats which are ear-piercing and conversation straining).

Easy Never Needed You
Wishy-washy electronics, lo-fi Radiohead-esque drums on what sounds like a drum machine, rather than a traditional set, tell me that the above scene is where the album is most comfortable.

Odd, given that this is apparently a Christian EP.

Easy Never Needed You has made me revisit what makes an album ‘Christian.’ Is it enough to be a Christian? No; there are plenty of Christian artists producing music with no mention of Christ.  Is it enough to mention God? Not really. Christians tend to get really excited when an artist with heavy radio plays mentions God, but there are two obvious questions we need to ask: is their god the Christian God, and what is the general thrust of the rest of their lyrics? This gives a third option – it must consistently point toward God.

By that standard, this EP is generally Christian.

For example, Details tracks how well we are known by God:

You know me better than I know myself
Your ways are higher than anything else
You have the plan far beyond all my wildest dreams
Just like You paint the fiery skies
You chose the color of my eyes
From the start until the end of time
You’re in the details, You’re in the details.

The obvious comparison is with Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

I think “those works” refer not just to the making of humanity, but of the whole of creation. The stars, planets, everything we see, smell and touch. It’s true: God is in the details because he made them.

So despite not explicitly taking a specific verse and expanding on it, the general gist of the album is that of pointing to God. Taken in the context, this includes the track I can most see working well at that beach bar: Something About You. The lyrics are true of of God but could just as much be about a lover:

Fascinated, captivated
I’m amazed by all that you are, oh
Uncontrollable emotion
All Your love exposing my heart.

Removed from the context of the EP it becomes a chilled love song because it doesn’t mention God at all, only his attributes and how the writer feels about Him.

This brings us back to the question of what makes an album ‘Christian.’ I think the next question is an album’s purpose. Is it to help us in public worship, or is it for listening in private to encourage us and remind us of who we are and what we have in Christ. Or is there a third option? Non-explicit lyrics which somehow point to God.

Eisley are a fascinating band. They explicitly chose to sign to a non-Christian label, partly because they wanted to reach a bigger audience. Their lyrics are definitely not ‘Christian’ – at the time of signing to Warner, they were mostly whimsical and dreamy, with their faith as a background. But they knew they could reach more people on a secular label. According to Relevant Magazine, they feel “Christian music is for Christians and they want to play for people outside the Church, too.”

I feel that this EP is somewhere between these options. As we can interpret Something About You as being about someone else other than God, it isn’t just for Christians. Sharing it with them might lead them to listening to the E.P and learn more about God.

Easy Never Needed You took time to grow on me. It’s a poppy little EP. But if you’re looking for Bjork-ish Christian music for chilling out to, look no further.

Released 27 April 2018.
Available at Amazon or Spotify

Not another Rend Collective album. Good News: Review.

Here’s a fun game for a long journey: fire up your music device, put it on shuffle and guess the artist within the first few bars. Make it more inclusive by playing your spouse tracks you think she should be able to work out.

Sometimes, artists surprise you. “Woah, that’s 10CC?” Often, it is easy: “hmmm… African sounding drums, electronics, a bit of fiddle too; can only be Afro Celt Sound System!” Not only do you know most of the music back to front, but many artists have a distinct sound.

I find that with Rend Collective. The domineering kick drums, the “aaaoooooaaaaawooo” noises in choruses and bridges, pithy verses with four words per line.

I definitely found that in the first track, Life is Beautiful, of their latest album, Good News.

Good news

Good News, by Rend Collective. Album out now.

I felt on the first spin that it would be ‘just another’ Rend album, more of the samey sound. After all, how much progression can a band have in nine albums over eight years? I found myself resenting it, and wondering how distinguishable it would be from their other albums.

Musically, it’s not. They have an infectious joy that makes it tempting to sing along on the bus. But their relentless joy is sometimes disingenuous. The lyric “I will be undignified” in the track of the same name comes alongside a David Crowder style fiddle session. The music doesn’t reflect how difficult a lyric that is to comprehend, much less sing and action.

Lyrically, however, there are the same level of biblical truths as they have produced before. They have an ability to cut through to the essentials of the faith and so enable us to worship.

The stand out track is Nailed to the Cross. This is where Rend Collective really show themselves. All good worship songs should remind us where we have been rescued from, and where we can go. Yet Rend go further; they remind us that we struggle now, today, and that Jesus continues to conquer those struggles:

“When I stand accused by my regrets
And the devil roars his empty threats
I will preach the gospel to myself
That I am not a man condemned
For Jesus Christ is my defence”

The drums drive home the horror of the event that brings our salvation:
“My sin is nailed to the cross
My soul is healed by the scars”

Over-layed with high-noted guitar, we are reminded too of the beauty and so we are able to sing with them:
“The weight of guilt I bear no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord”

Rend also have really great metaphors. True North reminds us that we are able to carry on through the darkness. Admittedly, the metaphor isn’t as fleshed out as another (old) compass related track – Delirious?’s Love is the Compass. But it’s a great anthem none-the-less. Sometimes we need a little crazy after the mellow.

Personally, I need the mellow before the crazy – and this is where the album is difficult for me. It starts with a joyful sound, assuming that I can jump in with them. But God takes me from where I am, and brings me to that point. This means I’ve often skipped ahead to track 5.

Is that a terrible thing in this day, when we don’t need to wait till the needle gets to the end of the first half? I think it’s symptomatic of a desire to get an album out without thinking about the overall story; concept albums just aren’t a thing anymore.

I can only think of one recent(ish) album the Getty’s Awaken the Dawn, which is an album you simply can not skip any tracks of. Individually they make sense, but they make much more sense when played in order. Not so with Good News. Individually each track is great, but the story only begins a few tracks in.

So the story order in Good News seems a little mixed, and their distinctive sound is sometimes tiring and doesn’t always relate to the lyrics. But the lyrics are, all of them, true and weighty. It’s an odd mix, but I’ll take it – because in an age where Christian lyrics are often watered down, we need worship that allows us to actually worship the true God. And their distinctive sound? It lets you slot in. It lets you guess where the tune is going, which enables you to sing at the top of your voice as soon as you know the lyric. Not on the bus though.

Good News was dropped in January 2018. Available for £10 at the CLC Bookshop website

Logging back in.

A cardinal rule of social media is to post, post, post.

If you don’t post anything, you can’t expect people to come.

This is my first post in such a long time, I had to reset my password.

Yet in the last few weeks, I have received numerous emails from WordPress saying “[email address] is now following your blog.”

The first one was great, if a little odd. I couldn’t remember when I last posted. Why would someone follow a dormant blog?

The next few were more odd, but they kept on coming.

If this is you, thank you.

One thing I remember from university is Prochaska and Diclemente’s Cycle of Change model. The theory goes that people move from being unaware they need to make a change, to contemplating the the fact that the need to change. They then ready themselves, preparing the ground, moving toward action by thinking about the action. And then they act.

During the last couple of months I have contemplated writing on the blog again.
I have been writing, on Quora. But there’s something special here. Not everyone is on Quora, and I’m limited to what people ask. To a greater extent I am free to write what I want here.

Those emails, and the people the represent, have moved me toward acting.

And I am now acting.

I was scared to look at when I last posted, in the same way you get scared to look at your bank account. I was pleasantly surprised that it was “only November”, until I remembered that November was actually half a year ago. We are further on in the year than I thought we were.

And here I am.

Thank you for prodding me into acting.

At your service…

Let’s pray.

I’ve been sitting on this one for a long time, but with the Free Church’s National Day of Prayer on Thursday, it seems prescient.

On Sunday I did something I have done only a handful of times. Each time, there was some sort of whisper or confused looks. On one occasion, my wife was sitting next to the minister’s wife. What I did was this. After the service I clasped my hands together and bowed my head. I overheard my wife and the minister’s wife having a conversation about me, her opening gambit being “is Ewan OK?” On the first occasion I was a teen visiting a friend’s Anglican church. After receiving the bread and wine during the Eucharist I sat down, clasped my hands and bowed my head.

“what…what’s he doing?” someone asked their friend.
“I think he’s praying.”

I may have placed more emphasis on the word “praying” than was actually given at the time. But those were the actual words spoken. I remember, because I found it strange.

Why should the act of praying be such a bizarre thing to do in a church?

The church, which should be seeking after God.
The church, which is commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The church, the people for whom Christ’s prayer is that we would have complete union with God (John 17: 20-23).
The church, the people for whom the spirit intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).

Why should the first sign that I may not be ‘OK’ be the act of praying? Ought it not to be the other way round? Shouldn’t the act of not praying be a sign that I’m not OK?
Praying should be one of the most natural things we should do. Even as an introvert, I love spending time with my friends talking about the things we love. So it follows that as God has bought us back into a relationship with him, so we should love him and desire to spend time with him.

But we don’t, partly because we don’t realise what riches we have in Christ.

And partly because we say ‘tomorrow’.

 

Moses says “you don’t have to live with the frogs anymore, Pharoah. I’ve got Frog-Be-Gone. Say the word – they’re history. Ready?”
And Phraroah thinks, “… Maybe if I’ll wait, the frogs will decide to go away by themselves.”
Pharoah has learned – he can live with the frogs. He can tolerate a frog-saturated life. It’s not great. There’s not much joy in it. But he can survive. He prefers is to the change that would be required by surrendering to Yahweh.
“I’ll try another night with the frogs.”
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think

We do the same as Pharoah. I know I do. I so often like the theory of a better life with God, but don’t so much like the actual giving up of the very stuff I need to.

But there’s more.

What matters most is this: God is present in this instant, offering to partner with us in whatever we face. The failure to embrace “the sacrament of the present moment” will keep us from being fully present to God right here, right now.
Not because we consciously say no to God.
We just say, “tomorrow.” Spiritual akrasia. Another night with the frogs.
– John Ortberg, God is Closer than you Think

That is why I always pray after communion, and occasionally pray after a service. In a way, my minister’s wife got it right: I wasn’t OK – I needed Christ.
And I still do. I need him every day. Every moment every day.
I am normally praying to say “I believe, help my unbelief!” I am normally asking God to help me follow through on whatever I learned in the service.

Because I am not good at praying. I don’t pray often enough. I use the same excuses as you do. Mostly I forget. If I don’t do it right there and then about the service, I probably won’t.

But I want to be better at praying – by which I simply mean ‘pray more’. There are loads of great words written about the deed, but the fact is: we ought to pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray within our own room. Pray with others.

I want to be in a place in my faith where the point that people ask if I’m OK is the day I don’t pray after church. I want the church to be a church in which the people pray individually and together often.

So why have a national day of prayer?

Well, why-ever not? What could be greater than seeking God with other people? Praising the creator and  sustainer of the universe, and of us; the orchestrator of our faith; the one who will keep us trusting Him; the one who gives us brothers and sisters and life in abundance. Today.

If we truly want to know God, we must ask him to reveal himself.
If we truly want God to change us, we must let him.
If we truly want rid of our sin, we must trust him.
If we truly want our leaders to be wise, we must ask him.
If we want our friends to know him, we must ask him.

There is joy in unity with God; there is joy when the church is united in Him.

Yes, I can and should pray today. But I will be joining others on Thursday because there is different type of nourishment there. I have learnt as much about God from hearing others pray than I have heard in sermons or books.

So my prayer this Thursday is that as a people we would be more prayerful (and that I would keep up the habit of praying after church services). And that we’ll all say no more nights with the frogs.

Degrees of Success

I received a very fancy magazine from Dundee Uni recently – matte, heavy-weight paper –  celebrating 50 years of independence from St Andrews. It was cover to cover of stories of alumni who had made their mark in their field. There was the Oscar nominated film-maker, the owner of a worldwide private member’s club, the physio to a gold winning Olympic team, the British High Commissioner in Ghana, the comic artist who had made it onto DC Comics within a few years of graduating, the microbiologist who made it onto the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.dav

It was in part inspiring but mostly crippling. It made it out that success in your field was the most important thing you can do in life; that to really make it in life you have to be at the top and influence loads of people. That to be a mover and shaker is the pinnacle of life. That how worthwhile your life is depends on the degree you have utilised your degree. 

It really made me doubt what impact, if any, I would have on the world. Given how my work life is going, will I ever make it? Essentially, I am working in a job I needn’t have gone to uni for, so in some senses I am not really using the degree. I sometimes feel I have gone backward, especially as I completed a college course after my university degree, to stay in my field. And I have no idea, in my late 30’s, of the general trajectory of my career.

Maybe it’s because of this I hold onto a broader definition of success than Dundee Uni allude to. Call it jealousy if you like. But for those few stories of people at the top, there are thousands of others just putting in the hours, day to day. So here’s some more everyday markers of success. 

Success is coming through depression (and a bad case of burn out), a break from uni, and coming back to finish a degree.

Success is getting up on Monday morning.

Success is about surviving the day not unscathed but wounded and refusing to go down like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Success is about getting stuff done regardless of how you feel – both in the low and highs.

Success is about keeping the negative talk muted – or on quiet – so that you can concentrate on the bigger stuff.

Success is getting up on Tuesday.

Success is about plodding on through the mire even when you feel like every ounce in your body aches, your heart has no desire to go on and your mind tells you that it’s just not possible.

Success is about managing self-loahing so that you don’t harm yourself.

Success is getting up on Wednesday.

Success is about doing the best you can and not getting lost in the trap of being at the top: not all of us will be first but we can all cross the finish line.

Success is getting up on Thursday.

Success is about coming home Friday having seen through another week, despite everything it’s thrown at you.

Success is about working day in day out at the thing you are called to do, because that is where you fit and that is where you make a difference, be it in front of many of a handful.
Perhaps I set the bar too low and I could aim higher. I do, when I am well which I am at the moment, but I have lapses especially with regard to self talk and getting up… I have markers of success within my day job as well. But we keep going, you and I dear reader, and in so doing are making successes of our lives. 

Cutting the Noise

I am not the same man I was ten years ago. On many ways this is a good thing, but in others I am worse. Ten years ago I was content in my own thoughts. I loved listening to music or reading but I didn’t need these things. 

Now I spend an inordinate of time trying to amuse myself. I browse Imgur far too much. You have to dig for gold even in the most viral page (it takes way longer in usersub). I have many old programs I would like to watch – House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Thick Of It – but I can’t sit for thirty minutes anymore, because while I am ‘watching’ I am simultaneously online browsing nothingness. This weekend I discovered that Spongebob (another long-running series I had been aching to watch) is perfect for me because it’s genuinely funny and identifiable and about twelve minutes an episode. (BTW, I would be Squidward). Spongebob was perfect at getting me into a place in which I could watch more grown-up programs. 

Which really makes me wonder why I have let myself become so accustomed to Imgur, youtube, Twitter and Facebook that my brain struggles to switch off. But it’s more than that. If I’m by myself I will most likely fall asleep with reruns of old comedies playing in the background – comedies I could recite backward. Comedies which are so like friends they are a comfort. Or I read the exact same comedy book every night (I go through the five part trilogy multiple times a year). Why do I need distractions all the time? 

I read a book for a solid two hour stretch on Saturday. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I was in that world for that time. I felt what I think I seek in all the noise I have: connection. 

Yet there lies a disconnect between that desire for being part of something bigger than me and the way I go about it. When I flick through any of those social media, all I’m really doing is passively watching other people’s lives and it makes me feel small, like my life doesn’t matter. At the same time I am trying to live their life through their images, their stories, their memes. This is similar to when I was reading that book. I was emotionally involved. I was there. It wasn’t noise. It was reality. I put on noise because I can’t listen to my own thoughts. I am discontent. 

So the obvious answer would be to “disconnect.” Well, yeah. But the truth is at the moment I need that noise. I need to find a way of becoming less reliant on it. I guess the noise prevents me thinking, which is ironic because this blog has become more and more diaryesque, and thus a space for becoming content in my thoughts. I’ve downloaded one of those phone use tracker apps, and I will be forgetting it’s there so that I use my phone as normal this week. This will help he better diagnose the problem areas. Then I cut down on the phone usage and begin to reconnect the disconnect so I begin to be content again.