Tag Archives: Prayers

The body of Christ

Bartolomeo_Montagna_-_Saint_Paul_-_Google_Art_Project

St Paul: Bartolomeo Montagna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27 ) –  the hands to do his work, the feet to lead folk in his way, the voice to tell them how he died; for Christ has no help but our help to lead folk to his side.

So says a verse – a familiar, well-worn verse that tries to put Paul’s concept of the Church in context for us. A. J. Gossip once said that Christ’s aim for this world was to produce a race of Christs. Not a phrase I very much like, although when Jesus said I have set you an example, you are to do as I have done for you, the invitation is to be like Him. If people want to know what Jesus is like, they ought to be able to see Him in us, His body! Really! Just think of it, our body, unfit, crippled frail, slow, ageing.

It is a folly to sing of Gentle Jesus, meek and mild; folly to go to the other extreme; folly to impress on Paul’s picture an Atlas type figure. Paul presents a different image: the Church – the Body of the Risen Christ – a crucified body: the body broken for you, for me, for the world’s salvation.

Three things to remember:

First, Paul does not doubt that the contribution of the weaker parts is valued.

Second, when the church is under pressure God does not write her off.

Third, we cannot be in the company of Jesus without personal cost.

A followers prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ in our weakness may we find your strength, In our failure , your forgiveness, In success, your humility, In all things, your peace.

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Two-sided picture

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah might have been forgiven for thinking God had a grudge against him when God chose him to be a prophet. But when many supposed God to be dead or slumbering, Jeremiah had to tell them that, far from it, God was active, chastening his people in the presence of their oppressors. In all that was happening to them, hard though it was to accept or understand, God was working his purpose out. Jeremiah was certain that he was entrusted with a Word from the Lord and that he must proclaim it. Nevertheless there were occasions when he wished, as did The Great Messenger still to come, the Lord Jesus, that God would take the cup from him. There is a passage in the story of his life and mission that explains his dilemma, described as “one of the most impressive and most revealing passages in all the writings by the prophets”.

If I say, I will not make mention of Him, or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20: 9)

Here, in Chapter 20, the soul of Jeremiah is exposed and disclosed in his bleakest and darkest hour. He curses the day he was born. He is driven to the depths of despair. He was flogged and put in the stocks and thrown into a pit – and this is just part of the mockery and suffering he endured, the cost of loyalty to his Calling. Derision is hard to take, worse than violent blows, and few can cope with it. Jeremiah began to think himself a failure. He blames God for getting him into this sorry mess. God is still the subject of blame.

But there is another side to his story. There comes a time when Jeremiah is in prison and, during this time, he does a very unusual thing. From his cell in a city besieged, and his hopes daily diminished, Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. He was a native of Anathoth and the land, left in the hands of his cousin Hanamel, Jeremiah had a right to purchase. Jeremiah bought it and in a single act reveals the religion of a Great Heart. Jeremiah had every reason to think that his incarceration was nothing less than a life sentence. What was a man in his position wanting to do with a piece of land? Folk must have concluded that he was completely round the bend. There was every possibility that in a few years there would be no Hebrew land left. But Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. In Jeremiah’s darkness a light shone, admittedly at times a mere flicker, but still a glimmer of hope – a light that cannot be quenched. The troubles he had seen and borne made him conscious of a resource in God, providing us with a double-sided picture of a true man of God whose faith sustained him. He does not warrant the reputation that has pursued him down the centuries. A pity there would appear to be very few babies who are given his name.

In a German concentration camp, imprisoned because he would not compromise his faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the cost of discipleship (for him it was martyrdom) and there is a prayer to which Jeremiah could subscribe – to which hopefully we might say Amen however we might be confused by God.

In me there is darkness – but with thee there is light – I am lonely but thou leavest me not –I am restless but with thee there is peace – in me there is bitterness but with thee there is patience – thy ways are past understanding – but thou knowest the way for me!

We are one

The preaching of St Paul at Ephesus. Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The preaching of St Paul at Ephesus. Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Letter to the Church at Ephesus circulated at a time when the world of the day was divided. There were divisions that separated people from people; class from class, nation from nation, ideology from ideology, Gentile from Jew, male from female. What was true of the world was also true of human nature. The Apostle Paul is very much aware of the Jekyll and Hyde personality. In the letter he describes the unity to be found in Christ. The keynote message is the gathering together of all things in Christ. (Ephesians 4: 1–16)

In Chapter 4, we are at the beginning of the second part of Paul’s letter. In the earlier chapters he deals with the great and central truths of the Christian faith and with the role God intends for the church. We are reminded of the diversity of character within the church. We are different because we have been given different gifts. The great truth which Paul underlines and one which we are slow to learn, resides in the possibility that in Christ we may have unity in diversity. Our suspicion of those to whom we attach labels which differ from our own does not survive scrutiny before Christ.

He speaks of the ministry of the whole people of God, something about which we must be convinced and must accept in order that the church may be more effective in its mission. It means that whatever our office in the church, or if we have no particular office, we share one ministry. There are no boss people, only partners.

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An apostle’s prayer

Lord, if the choice was left to us to call people to follow you, we should be so fussy and high-minded we would probably find that the criteria we set excluded ourselves. Unless there is room for all in the kingdom, there is no room for us. Lord, except your love is a many splendoured thing it would not embrace us. We are humbled and thankful. Forgive us if we do not represent you fairly and do people an injustice by our failure to live a life that tells the true story of your love. Amen

No argument

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Master, teach us how to pray. When the disciples of Jesus confront him with their request that he teach them how to pray, we are told that they had just emerged from a certain place where Jesus engaged in prayer. Luke may have been content to leave it like that, but I do wish that in setting the scene he had been a little more specific. What kind of meeting place was it – a sacred place, a synagogue perhaps, or maybe a cell group meeting in someone’s house, or a garden even? One wonders, apart from their encounter with John the Baptist’s group, what prompted them to ask this particular question at this particular time. Might it have been something said in that time of prayer, something that pierced the heart and exposed the poverty of their own prayer life? Or, might it be more likely the sight of the Master at prayer? That is, if they were actually within that certain place alongside Jesus; another minor point of interest to the enquiring mind. At first sight, the question may have been asked spontaneously. On the other hand, it was the regular practice of a religious leader to teach his disciples a simple prayer that they might habitually use. Perhaps Luke is reporting a teaching moment and the question is one disciple’s response to a teaching session on the subject of prayer. The Gospel record of the event does not enlighten.

We are taking a brief look at the prayer life of Jesus, and there are one or two other points that are worthy of notice. For instance, there is the striking fact that Jesus never argued for the validity of prayer any more than he argued for the existence of God. You do not prove the existence of God by argument. God is simply there, the beginning and end of experience. Just as we cannot prove God by argument, likewise prayer is not proved by argument. We may not understand it but to quote the hymn-writer, James Montgomery – Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, The Christian’s native air. Defined by one commentator, prayer was our instinctive tendency, wrought into the very constitution of our nature. Hence Jesus never argued the matter. There was no need to argue, the praying Christ is the supreme argument for prayer. Prayer was not only an important part of his life, it was his life, the very breath of his being. This would possibly have stirred the conscience of the disciples, more than anything else, and prompted the enquiring mind to ask – Lord, teach us. And he did, superbly (an understatement) in the first great prayer he taught the disciples, Jesus said to them, when you pray say this, Our Father …. The first two words of the prayer we still pray more than any other and love, the Lord’s Prayer (often misnaming it the family prayer.) Jesus deliberately encourages us to use it.

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A prayer when grieving

Jesus, stand among us in your risen power

When the storms of life threaten to overcome us

When the angry waves rage and our little boat is small

When the crowds are overcast and dark

Be with us, Lord

When we journey on a desert path

When the way is weary and unending

When our strength is weak

Stand with us, Lord

When death comes

Like a thief in the night

To rob us of ones we love

Come to us, Lord

When we demand a reason

When no words can explain

In our anger

Speak your word of peace.

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Come to our hearts, possess them, liberate them…….

To set us free to serve and praise you

At all times . . . . . In every way . . . . . . . For your love’s sake

Lord, to you be the glory

Amen.

Novel counsel

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I do not understand prayer – the admission of a columnist writing in the denominational newspaper I receive weekly. Some of my readers will recognise the journal to which I refer, and his is not a lone voice. And here I am daring to add my name to the list of those who find prayer to be a mystery. Checking the records of my many sermons I am a bit surprised how few there are on the theme of prayer. I obviously did not consider it to be of importance, or that on this matter I felt theologically and spiritually insecure. Perhaps I should say immature. So, in search of a solution to my dilemma, I spent a fifteen week sabbatical reading and writing on “Spirituality with an emphasis on Prayer”. Rabbi Blue, whose writing rings a bell with me, argues that prayer should be simple, realistic and part of life’s normal routine; a statement I readily and happily endorse. He gives the picture of being at prayer relaxing in an armchair with a glass of port – a novel counsel! (Not meant to be taken literally, or is it?) The fifteen books I read and the twenty-one I consulted, not to mention the Bible or any of the great classics, reveal the complexity of the subject before us. It is highly unlikely that the disciples had any idea of what they were asking in their request to Jesus: Lord, teach us to pray – so many views and so many ways, visions, testimonies and unanswered questions. Prayer, the opening of ourselves to God, enables us to find our true self. Our true self opens the heart of God to God’s transforming grace. Despite our many words and great variety of theories prayer is not a fruitless exercise – it works (Harry A. Williams). As many of us can testify it is a large part in the rich tapestry of life.

I cannot understand prayer – there is more to the quote: I do not understand electricity but I do not stop using it until I do understand.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh; The falling of a tear; The upward glancing of an eye; When none but God is near.

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Let us pray . . . .

Lord, your will be done! How rich we would be if we were to gain financially every time we said, Lord, have your own way. Put us on oath in the witness-box and we would say, we mean it, every word. Yet how easily it falls from our lips. We forget how often we have not tried to understand or conform to your will. We like our own way; always have done ever since we had to be chastised as little children for our stubborn tantrums. We want to give a good account of ourselves on the day of judgement, not to look good or to be patted on the head, but because we bless the day it became possible for us to say: Take my will and make it thine; It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart – It is thine own, It shall be thy royal throne. Lord give us grace to keep our word, especially when our view is a minority one and we must abide by the majority, when we do not understand the way you are leading, when you lead us along a path we resent having to take. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement, give us the spirit of unity among ourselves as we follow Christ Jesus. Amen.

Eternal and ever-blessed God, Lord of all life, below, above, you have the whole world in your hand. Is it true? It must be true. You are its Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer! It is what we believe – we believe in God, Creator of heaven and earth. It is not the whole truth – we believe in God the Father. Father God, may the love you had for Jesus be in us too. Lord, we believe there is nothing love cannot bear, there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. May love make us strong, imaginative and courageous in the service for which you have chosen us. Open our hearts and kindle within them the flame of your inexhaustible compassion that we may give ourselves anew to the needs of the community in order that the world may know you and the one you sent. Grant us in all our loving, our sharing, our doing, joy in full measure. Amen.

Lord God, greater than our highest thoughts and our fondest dreams, our little minds cannot comprehend the majesty of your Being, the grandeur of your power, the wonder of your grace. You are God! God from the beginning to the end of time – and beyond. Time for us is measured in minutes, days and years. Time for you stretches into eternity. We are earth-bound. We live one day at a time. We may dream of tomorrow but tomorrow lies ahead – unknown and unexplored. We cling to life, your gift to us, to cherish and to enjoy. Enlarge our vision and strengthen our commitment to the challenges life brings as we continue on our onward way discovering and embracing life’s future for us.

Eternal and Ever Blessed God, we worship and adore you. Amen.

Prayer request

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Master, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. Luke 11:1 (NEB)

I cannot imagine that, before this request, the disciples had never prayed and now they sought enlightenment. In this case, ignorance was not bliss – and they were sure the Master had the remedy. Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. They were not disappointed. Part of Jesus’ response was to give us what is known as the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name …

It is more than likely that, as opportunities arose, Jesus took his disciples aside and shared with them his understanding of the Life of Faith and, within that context, the life of prayer would certainly feature.

The name Roland Walls was unknown to me until some years ago I found him on the shelves of my local library by chance. (Biography is my favourite reading.) I had forgotten all about him until I read a review of the recent publication of the book A simple life: Roland Walls and the Community of the Transfiguration. John Miller, the author, writes “Roland taught a generation how to pray and how to live both simply and joyfully.” It was not just what he said but how he lived the kind of life that convinced his students and friends that he was not just an academic but of being spiritual, a man of dedicated prayer. When I think of Roland Walls, I find it easy to transfer my thoughts to Jesus and his response to his disciples’ prayer request. Living with him every day, watching him in all sorts of situation, listening to his private talk, being admitted to sharing his dreams and hopes, they would gradually come to see things as Jesus saw them. In the fellowship of that small disciple band they would be witness to Jesus at prayer; at times listening in to some of Jesus’ intimate conversations with the Father and so learning the art of prayer. It seems to me there might be two ways of understanding what Jesus’ men were asking when they based their request on the witness/testimony of John’s followers, viz. the obvious impact of prayer determining the commitment and the shape of a dedicated life style, to treat it simply as a matter of reporting a historic fact. On the other hand might there not be more to it? Namely, the disciples were impressed by the astonishing impact and the remarkable influence of prayer. And they did not wish to miss out. Hence, teach us to pray like John did with his flock.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air

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Lord, we welcome you into our lives, we want to point our fellow men and women to you, fill us with your Spirit, set our hearts aflame with a passion to do the works of your kingdom  – but, be gentle with us, go slowly with us, do not ask for anything too radical. You know what we mean, you understand, you came to comfort not to discomfort. What is that you say? If you are with me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow. Lord, you got a handful when you chose us. Do not let it stop you from using us – minds and hearts are open. Amen.

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God, there are valleys in life into which we may stray where there do not appear to be any promises of sunlight after rain. It is dark – we tremble with fear. Faith does not appear strong enough to hold us. How silly we are; we have been here before: come out of it, found you because you have never left us. God, light shines again – we are unscathed: relief, deliverance, gratitude. God, time marches on – all is well, we forget. How mysterious, are your thoughts to me, how vast in number they are – your goodness and love unfailingly follow me, keep us ever praising.

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Praying some sayings of Jesus – follow each saying with the response: Lord, this is your word. Make us to be like you.

Jesus said: I did not come to invite righteous people, but sinners.

Jesus said: What does one gain by winning the whole world at cost to one’s true self?

Jesus said: Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

Jesus said: Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine must leave self behind, take up his cross, and come with me.

Jesus said: Father, all things are possible to you, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours.

Father help us to follow your good example in humility and obedience. Amen.

 

Heads bowed, eyes closed

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Heads bowed – eyes closed, prelude to prayer time. Reading this instruction, a lot of people will recall the enthusiasm of those far distant days in the Beginner’s in Sunday School with: eyes closed tightly, heads well bowed. Much the same in the earlier Primary classes in day school, possibly with a little less enthusiasm and a bit more peeping! What amazes me, when so many traditions in religious practice have bitten the dust, is that this mantra (in part) should still evoke a positive response. Let us pray is the invitation and the faithful instinctively shut their eyes and incline their head, ever so slightly. Why? Might be a reasonable question to put to them. After all, there is no recognized liturgical dictate requiring it. Of course I speak as a non-conformist – although it has to be said, things are changing. More and more who share the same view as myself prefer well produced and inspiring printed prayers, some with responses. Back to the question: why? One would hope heads do not drop and eyes close simply out of habit, or to catch a quick snooze, although I suspect this may be all too common. A great pity. Those who lead worship will have done their best to ensure that prayer time is given an adequate space and appropriate relevance. The days of the lengthy, wordy and rambling prayers are surely gone – hopefully! Were they ever close to being the best part of a fellowship or a time of worship?

Head bowed – eyes closed . . . why? I have not answered the question: I leave it with you…

Heads bowed – eyes closed. As we try faithfully to live the Christian life, we can never escape the testimony of the saints, men and women of prayer, that prayer, whatever its form, is an essential life-shaping, life-sustaining and powerful influence in discipleship. Prayer – volumes have been written, volumes remain to be written and I am about to add to it. From this posting of my blog, and for a few subsequent issues, the pattern will change. We will on each occasion take a further and different approach to the subject of prayer. The blog will consist of a number of prayers with the minimum of comment. We may use them as we would a theological exercise, or share them in a smaller fellowship gathering as a devotional exercise. A few of the prayers are given a headline title, but this will not apply to the majority of then.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.

A prayer for the beginning of the day

Lord, there are people we will want to avoid today and if we happen to see them in time we will cross the street or turn to look into the nearest shop window. Some people do get into our hair. Forgive us if we are uncharitable. Fortunately there are those whose company it is always a joy to share. But are we any better than those, the sight of whom depresses and annoys? Lord, we hope that when people meet us they may feel better for having been with us. May ours be a good day because we have helped to make it a nice day for somebody else.

Father God, we are a fickle people – headstrong, thinking we know best, looking back; wishing; resenting. Father God, loving, understanding; forgiving, restoring. Father God, we look ahead, hope in the heart, coping, we never walk alone. Father God, bless you, trust you, love you.

Amen

Solace in a garden

Jerusalem Gethsemane tango7174

Garden of Gethsemane
Image credit: Tango7174 via Wikimedia Commons

Asked what he does when activities become too demanding or stressful, someone who lives a full and busy life explained his own personal form of unwinding was to spend time in the garden, sometimes to do a bit of work, other times just to sit quietly and reflect. A good place to be. Indeed, what better place to be?

Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote, “one is nearer to God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” You can be close to God in the world of nature – he is its creator – and many do find spiritual solace there. There are places where it is better to be in order to sense the close presence of God. However, there is a garden that is very much a part of the Christian story. All the gospels refer to it. A garden set on the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, known to us as Gethsemane. There Jesus chose to spend the final moments before his arrest, unburdening his soul to God in prayer.

Those who remember His personal conflict and his heart-rending prayer, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me,” may be excused for thinking that Jesus felt totally estranged from God in that Garden. As he prayed, “the sweat was like drops of blood falling.” Take a closer look and, in the picture we have in the gospels, we see Jesus and sense the presence of God with him. You do not plead like that to a god who is absent.

A garden, a sacred moment and a sacred place.

A disciple’s prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, at your moment of severe trial, when everything seemed against you and death itself stared you in the face, you found a sacred place, a sacred moment to spend in quiet with the Father.

You prayed to be excused the ignominy and the agony of the Cross. We would do the same. What we would find more difficult is to pray, as you did: “if is your will not to take the cup from me, I will go to the Cross.”

Lord Jesus Christ, save us from an hour of so severe a testing, but if it comes, may we find the grace to accept it and the strength to bear it, fortified and strengthened because you share the cup with us.

Lord, this is our quiet moment, our sacred place . . . . be close to us that we may share Your victory.

Amen

The blog will be taking a holiday next week, but will be back on April 9th.

Behind his back

Robert Runcie: Photo Credit Wikimedia

Robert Runcie: Photo Credit Wikimedia

John Mortimer, in an interview with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Robert Runcie, asked the question, “To get back to God . . . . would you like Him, if you were really to know all about Him?” To which Robert Runcie candidly replied, “Jeremiah shook his fist at God and asked Him what He was about. I do not believe that prayer is necessarily peaceful. It may mean arguing with God.” Harry Williams in Someday I’ll find you tells of his struggle with God and in the course of the battle being reminded of Yeats’ line: Hatred with God may bring the soul to God. “God,” Williams says in language less refined, “will never push off, however much you tell Him to, even if He remains in the wings and returns every now and then with His filthy magic.”

As the Old Testament Book of Exodus tells it, God warns Moses he will not see “the dazzling light of His presence”: in other words, God’s face. God does not allow such an intimacy, does not permit what Moses seeks – to see His glory. The privilege is confined to seeing only His back, not because we might drop dead at the sight of his face, but because we are following Him. From that position we feel free to express our rebellious emotions, to shake our fist at Him, thumb our nose at Him, tell Him to push off!

Reference: Exodus 33: 18–23

A rebel’s prayer

Lord God, it helps us to know you understand us, even in our dark and rebellious moods. If you didn’t we might as well let go the little faith to which we cling. Just as well you are patient with us. The mood affects our attitude to you and you do not always come off best.

In spite of our good intentions and our promises to love you, to be true to you, never to doubt you, sometimes we hate you, turn our backs to you – curse you.

God we are a bundle of contradictions trying hard to please you; failing miserably, sometimes hating ourselves for it, at times indifferent – couldn’t care less.

Praise be! You don’t hold it against us, never abandon us, always love us. Be patient, absorb our anger and never let us go. Amen.

A near miss

Salvation Army

Salvation Army

It was young people’s day during my brief time in the Salvation Army when members of the young people’s section were invited to give their heart and dedicate their life to Jesus. Toward the end of the meeting the Young People’s Sergeant Major – the Leader in charge – made her appeal presenting us with the opportunity to start out on the road of discipleship. The journey would begin, she explained, by our being saved or, if we were already committed, to rededicate ourselves to the service of Jesus. She wanted us all to be saved by accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Salvationists were well accustomed to this kind of appeal. The worshipper who was challenged by the message and felt compelled to respond to this altar call would make their way to the front and as invited, kneel at the penitent form. They would arise, counselled, prayed over, their request confirmed – the process of salvation begun.

Back to young people’s day – the process a wee bit different. There was no altar or penitent form in the smaller hall in which we met. So, she was going to ask us to come to the front and kneel before the big drum, to declare publicly our intent. “Hands up those who haven’t been to the penitent form,” she asked. Slowly I raised my hand. “Put your hand down, John” I was instructed, “You have been saved!” That was it – am I saved or am I not? That is the question. What do I say to the enthusiast who might want to know, who asks, “Are you born again?”

That was it until . . . . . . . . .

Stripped image of John Wesley

John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One Sunday evening some years later, the minister was trying to educate the inattentive members of the youth fellowship in the traditions of Methodism. He was telling the story of the Kingswood colliers coming up from a shift underground hewing coal, to be confronted by the Reverend John Wesley preaching the good news – the gospel of grace. The picture is still vivid in my memory of those men, white channels marking their coal-dust faces where the tears flowed as they listened and opened their hearts to the Spirit of Jesus. How their lives were transformed, some of them converted into preachers, others to positions of influence at work and in the community at large, partners in the religious revival led by the Wesleys, a revival that helped give birth to Methodism. This late 18th Century revival helped to turn the minds of the English people from thoughts of revolution, although not all historians agree.

The story told that Sunday evening of those responsive Kingswood colliers has had a lasting impact on one youth. From that moment, my conscience ceased to trouble me about missing out on that young people’s day when I was told . . .” put your hand down.”

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our spiritual awakening, for those who pointed us to Christ, those in whose lives we caught a glimpse of Jesus. Thank you for Jesus, all he means to us; our hope for days to come. Amen.