Lent Bookclub Part 24: Essential ingredients for a breakthrough

Chapter 11: Warfare; Part 2: Victory Strategies

The Bible is a book full of battles, which comes in handy when you’re reflecting on battling in prayer. One of the things which most inspires me about the way victories happen in the Bible stories is that God so often does unexpected things with unexpected people in unexpected ways. That heartens me because it means I don’t need to become an impressive warrior or a conventional superhero. I just need to be myself and do my thing.

These are a few thoughts on Gideon, who isn’t in the book (though he is in my last book!). I find his story helpful because he had to make a stand in a rather unconventional way, and his strange battle strategy helps me keep my battle strategies rounded and grounded.

I hope you enjoy thinking about him, and I hope it helps you get your own battles into perspective.


Lent Bookclub Part 1: The best and worst of prayer

Good morning on this Ash Wednesday morning, and welcome to the Prayer in the Making Lent Bookclub. Whatever you’re giving up or taking up this Lent, I’m praying it’ll be a rich and helpful season for you … and if you’re giving up coffee, chocolate or any other stimulants, I’m praying the headaches won’t be too bad!

Our focus this week is to read the Foreword and the Introduction chapter of Prayer in the Making, and we’re going to be talking about the “best and worst” of prayer.

One of the reasons I wrote the book is because people so often tell me how bad they are at prayer. I imagine we’ve all had moments of thinking we don’t pray well enough or often enough or eloquently enough. Yet God isn’t the grumpy authoritarian who marks us out of 10 when we pray. God is the loving parent who is overjoyed whenever we choose to communicate. So how do we get past the guilt?

The first thing is to recognise that we’re all different, and to learn a bit about what kind of “pray-er” you are. What makes you come alive in prayer? What bores you out of your mind? Now, prayer isn’t always going to be easy and enjoyable. It’s a discipline which we choose to keep, regardless of how we feel about it, but it helps enormously if we understand how God made us, and what sort of prayer comes most naturally to us.

There’s more about that in the Introduction chapter, and in the podcast below, so find a spare 10 mins to listen to it if you can.

Here are a few questions for you to ponder over the next few days:

1. What’s your favourite kind of prayer? Do you have a favourite place or a favourite way of praying? What’s been your most powerful prayer experience?

2. What’s your least favourite kind of prayer? Have you had moments when Prayer has been excruciatingly dull or really unhelpful for some reason?

Leave a comment and tell us what it’s been like for you. Let’s share ideas, and sympathise with each other over the awkward/crazy/boring bits.


Being included and being enough – Thoughts on Moses’ calling (Exodus 3:1-12, 4:1-9)

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a day-retreat for The Salvation Army’s divisional (regional) prayer co-ordinators. The retreat was based around these thoughts on Moses and his calling.


Invitations can say so much. If a friend asks you along to their dinner party because ‘you’ll be the life and soul’ then you could be forgiven for feeling under pressure. If a friend says, ‘Just come as you are and we’ll get take-away,’ then a wholly different evening is in prospect.


A calling is basically an invitation, and when we listen to the language of that invitation, it gives us some idea of what is (or isn’t) expected of us. Are we being invited for a relaxing evening with take-away, or are we expected to make the evening go with a swing? Since Moses was being invited to lead a whole nation out of slavery, we might reasonably assume this was a call to deliver something immense – far more immense than livening up a dinner party. But when we examine the burning bush encounter more closely, we discover that God’s invitation to Moses wasn’t so much an invitation to super-hero-dom as to just being himself.

The Ark of the Covenant

Today I had the privilege of preaching at St. Andrews United Reformed Church here in Canterbury. I felt prompted to talk about what it means for us to be a church which carries God’s presence in this world, and I found myself taking a closer look at the Ark of the Covenant, the ornate chest which the Israelites carried with them as a sign of God’s presence in their midst

You can find the description of the Ark in Exodus 25:10-22, and here are the thoughts I shared this morning:

The Ark was first and foremost a box made of wood. God didn’t beam down a special box for them to use, he got the Israelites to use what they had … and what they had was very ordinary wood. We do often feel ordinary, but that’s the perfect place to start.

The wood was Acacia, the most common wood in the desert where they wandered, and a hard, dry wood which was very durable. One of the reasons it lasted so long was that insects didn’t like eating it. They didn’t like it because whenever it was “traumatised” in any way, it would excrete substances which they didn’t like the taste of. We may think that our struggles make us less durable, but in fact they build strength in us so that we are less prone to being nibbled away at.

Inside the Ark were three things: the stone tablets with the law on them, Aaron’s rod which had budded and blossomed and a gold pot of manna. Those speak of three different “emphases” which we often have as Christians: the stone tablets as the Word, the budding rod as the worship/prayer life of the church (it budded when God established Aaron’s tribe as the priestly tribe to oversee worship), and the golden pot of manna as the practical work of the kingdom (food and the meeting of everyday need). Though we all believe in all three, our personalities draw us more towards one than the others, and this can create tension in a congregation.

But the whole lot: the ordinary wood, the tablets, the rod and the pot of manna … they were all included in the Ark and they were all covered in gold, and gold symbolises God’s glory. When we stand together as a church, committed to unity despite our diversity, then God covers us with his glory and shines through us by his Spirit. It’s not always easy … church can feel more like wood than gold sometimes, but we need to remember that each of us is covered in gold, and we need to treat one another as valuable and precious, regardless of our differences.

The whole box was covered by the Atonement Cover – a beautiful prefiguring of the sacrifice of jesus which covers our imperfections, our brokenness and our pain, and makes us worthy to carry God’s presence.

The cover was also sometimes known as the Mercy Seat. I have been part of The Salvation Army all my life, and the Mercy Seat has an important place in our history as a physical place in every Salvation Army where people can stop and meet with God. This was particularly relevant in the early days of the movement, when Salvation Army buildings were bustling and busy places, but there was always a space to meet with God.

As church, do we offer a “mercy seat” – space where people can always meet with God? As individuals, do we create “mercy seat” spaces in our lives to help people meet with God?

The cherubim on top of the cover were a sign of this being a place where God would “show up”. As we commit to making mercy seat spaces in our everyday lives, helping people to connect with Jesus in whatever way we can, God promises to show up.