Teach us to pray

Tearfund, a major Christian relief and development charity, recently commissioned a survey on prayer. Over 2000 adults took part in the survey which revealed that more than 50% of people in Britain pray. One in three people pray regularly at a place of worship. Many people also pray as they go about their daily activities in the home, as they travel and exercise, and before they go to sleep.

People pray to thank God and to ask him to bless their family and friends, especially in times of illness. More women (56%) pray than men (46%) and even some who would describe themselves as “non-religious” pray in times of crisis and desperation. Previous surveys revealed that more teenagers and people in their early 20s are likely to pray than their parents’ generation. Younger people tend to be more conscious of the needs of others and often pray for peace in the world and for an end to poverty.

Jesus’ disciples once asked him to teach them to pray and he taught them what we call The Lord’s Prayer; “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

This is a wonderful example of how to pray. Our prayers don’t need to be long or complex as if we need to impress God with fine words. The Lord’s Prayer is so simple a young child can say it. When we pray we focus our thoughts on the one true, living God, the creator of all things. We are small and vulnerable but he is almighty and gracious. His name is holy, and he is worthy to be praised. Wherever his kingdom comes on earth there is a foretaste of heavenly joy and peace.

We can ask him for our daily food and to forgive us for the wrong things we say, think and do every day. All of us need his protection in the face of the temptations to sin and many evil influences that are all around us. And, amazingly, Jesus taught us that we can know God, in an intimate way, not as some remote, impersonal power, but as our heavenly Father who knows us and loves us!

I know who holds the future

Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve clocks in countries using Greenwich Mean Time were adjusted as one second was added to 2016. This was done to compensate for a slight slowdown in the Earth’s rotation caused by a small wobble in the Earth’s rotation. The National Physical Laboratory, which is responsible for the UK’s national time scale, uses an atomic clock to provide a stable and continuous timescale. This is the 27th time a leap second has been added.

We live in an amazing universe that is wonderfully stable and predictable. It’s hard to believe it all came into existence by chance. The book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, begins with a majestic account of God creating the heavens and the earth in six days, or rotations of the earth on its axis. On the fourth day God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.”

Recognising there is a Creator provides stability and hope for our lives as a New Year begins. Many years ago a young man we knew died in road accident. Just after Christmas he was on his way to work when his car hit ice and he lost control. The car hit a tree and David was very seriously injured. After some days in intensive care he died. His wife, Brenda, was a Christian. In her deep sadness she found strength in God and hope as she faced the future. This hope was expressed in the words of one of the hymns we sang at David’s funeral. They speak to us all as we enter this New Year.

“I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see, but One stands near to be my guide, He’ll show the way to me. I do not know how many days of life are mine to spend, but One who knows and cares for me will keep me to the end. I do not know the course ahead, what joys and griefs are there, but One stands near who fully knows, I’ll trust his loving care. I know who holds the future and He’ll guide me with his hand, with God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned. So as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small, I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all.”

Remembering William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, the great English poet and playwright, died 400 years ago on 25 April 1616, at the age of 52. A month before he died, on 25 March 1616, he made his last will and testament. It seems he may have known that his life was nearing its end. The opening paragraph of his will is a clear statement of his own personal faith and his hope for the future.

“In the name of God, Amen. I William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwick, in perfect health and memory, God be praised, do make and ordain this my last will and testament. First, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator hoping and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting and my body to the Earth whereof it was made.”

Most obituaries record the main achievements of the person who has died but say very little, if anything, about their faith in God and their future hope. When the person has had a real and vital faith this may simply be noted briefly towards the end of the obituary. Yet as our lives are drawing to a close it is vitally important that we do not simply look back but also look forward. We are about to enter into the presence of God and the realm of eternity, in comparison to which, our life on earth is but a moment.

William Shakespeare took eternity seriously and had prepared for it. Through the work of men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale the Bible had been translated into English for the first time and the advent of the printing press had made it available to the people. The Bible made a deep impact on Shakespeare personally and on his writings. He knew he had been created by God and was thankful to him for the good health and sound mind he enjoyed. He knew that, after he died, he would stand before God in judgement and his humble hope was to enter into everlasting life.

He “assuredly believed” that Jesus was the way to “everlasting life”. He called Jesus “my Saviour.” He did not trust in himself but in “the merits of Jesus Christ” who had lived a perfect life for him and died on the Cross to pay the price of his sins. He died in the sure and certain hope that through Jesus he would enter into everlasting life.

The right work-life balance

This week MPs will vote on a Bill to end Sunday trading laws. If the Bill is passed then, by the autumn, large supermarkets and stores will be able to open for as long as they wish, instead of the present 6 hours’ limit. Shopping will become a 24/7 activity for some. Shop workers, who object on religious or family grounds, will be able to give one month’s notice that they no longer wish to work on Sundays. In practice those who exercise this option may be discriminated against when they apply for jobs. There is significant opposition to the Bill, but does it really matter?

Rest really does matter. It is vital for our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. God intends us all to have a right work-life balance which protects us from being exploited and also from being taken over by excessive greed. The Bible opens with a majestic description of God the Creator. In 6 days he created the heavens and the earth and then on the seventh day he rested from all his work. He blessed the seventh day and made it holy. God’s example of six days labour, followed by one day of rest, established the work-life pattern for all people.

The Ten Commandments establish the moral and spiritual foundations for us all. The fourth commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigners living among you.” So, not only must we rest ourselves, but we must also ensure that others don’t have to work for our benefit or convenience.

God’s laws are not an arbitrary imposition on us, but are for our well-being and blessing. Creating the “freedom” to work 24/7 is really a new form of slavery which exalts consumerism and threatens to destroy people’s health and wellbeing and their family life. We used to buy apples from a self-pick fruit farm in Herefordshire which closed on Sundays. The owners were Christians and kept Sunday as a special day. Many people came to pick fruit at their farm on a Monday knowing there would be a better crop because the fields had rested for a day. Both we and the world we live in really do benefit from a weekly day of rest.

What do you think about?

What do you think about? Our minds are an important part of who we are. Many are keen to make sure their bodies are fit, so they eat the right things and exercise regularly, but do we have the same concern to maintain a healthy mind? Near the end of his letter to the Christians at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

These words seem especially helpful for our world at this time. It is easy for our minds to be filled with bad and depressing things. We hear news reports of desperately evil things being done. We see pictures of towns and communities destroyed by bombs and children being killed or maimed. Much of the internet and many television programmes are characterised by cynicism, bad language, and unwholesome content. Our newspapers expose the failures and corruption of prominent people, whose decisions may affect our lives. At a personal level many of us struggle with unhappy family situations, with unemployment, or just the daily grind of making ends meet.

Paul is not encouraging us to be escapists, who can’t cope with the real world. He and the Christians in Philippi lived under the domination of Rome. Daily life was hard. Paul was in a Roman prison and would soon be executed because he was a Christian. It would have been easy to simply dwell on the bad and evil things that were happening, but he knew it was important not to lose sight of the best things because they are the things that will ultimately endure. All the evil things which now dominate our world and our lives will one day pass away.

Last Sunday afternoon I was driving along the Gower coast. It was a beautiful, tranquil, autumn evening. The sun was setting, the sea was calm and the landscape was tinged with beautiful autumn colours. The whole scene spoke to my heart about God, our wonderful Creator. He is eternal and is the source of all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. He has revealed his amazing love for the world in his Son Jesus, who came that we might have life and have it to the full. Because Jesus came into this world we can look forward to the time when there will be “a new heaven and a new earth filled with God’s righteousness.”

O thank the Lord for all his love

This weekend I led a Harvest Thanksgiving service in a nearby church. These services have changed over the years. Today harvest displays are mainly comprised of tins and packets rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. This is more practical when the harvest gifts are distributed because the food lasts longer. The food at the service I led was given to the local Foodbank. Such gifts give a boost to the Foodbanks around the country and provide much needed food for poorer families.

In the Western world today we are less conscious of the importance of the harvest than we were. Throughout the year our supermarket shelves are filled with a massive variety of different kinds of food from all parts of the world. Most of us don’t know, or even think to ask, whether the farmers have had a good harvest. The people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, however, are experiencing severe food shortages because of a sustained drought. People are dying because the harvest has failed.

The Earth is a tiny planet in a vast universe and is, as far as we know, unique. We have an abundance of water and much of the land is fertile and can be cultivated. Enough food is grown every year to feed all the people in the world, but there is an unequal distribution. Many have more than they need and others go hungry. The World Food Programme says that one in nine people in the world don’t have enough food to lead an active and healthy life and the number is growing. Children, women and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia are in the frontline of hunger.

It is important to remember God and to give thanks to him. He is the One who created the earth and the abundance of good things that sustain our lives. In the Old Testament the people were told, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” One of the best known harvest hymns says, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.”

They will soar on wings like eagles

Ospreys were once common in Britain but in the early 20th century became totally extinct in these islands. Over the past 50 years they have been reintroduced, especially in Scotland and in the past 10 years Ospreys have begun breeding in Wales. Over the past few weeks my wife and I have been watching a live stream of an Osprey nest in the Dyfi estuary at www.dyfiopsreyproject.com/stream. It has been fascinating to watch the parents feeding their 3 chicks as they have grown to the point they are nearly ready to fly.

Ospreys are known as fish eagles or fish hawks since they live on fish that they catch by high diving to the water’s surface. They have large feet and curved claws to help them pluck fish from the water. Then they can carry their prey for great distances to their nests. Ospreys have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. In the autumn the adults migrate thousands of miles, often to Africa, returning in the spring.

Watching the Osprey nest we have been amazed at the wonder of God’s creation. The earth is full of countless examples of his creativity and beauty. The birds, animals, and fish, the flowers and trees, the mountains and valleys, the rivers and sea, the sun, moon and stars and glorious heavens all speak of the God who is there. The popular song “I Believe” expresses the longing of the human heart, “Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then I know why, I believe. I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard. I believe that someone in the great somewhere hears every word.”

The Bible reveals God’s glory and steadfast love even more clearly. Many years ago God spoke wonderful words of comfort to his people in a time of great need and austerity. They are still true today. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Remember your Creator

For many weeks the main item on almost every news programme has been the economic crisis in Europe. The struggles of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy have been analysed in great detail. These countries, and the UK, have massive debts as a result of government over-spending and these debts threaten the economic stability of the whole Euro zone. The solution is a combination of high interest loans and austerity measures which will impact many people. Millions of people, including many young people, have no job and most of us will have to tighten their belts.

In Europe we live in a consumer society. Consumerism is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. We are encouraged to buy things we don’t really need with money we haven’t got. This is in contrast to the millions of people around in the world who survive on a dollar a day. For them life is about survival. They have no extras and are grateful if they have one meal of rice a day. The child mortality rate is high and life expectancy low.

In the Western world consumerism has developed over the past 60 years as we have enjoyed an increasing standard of living. We judge ourselves and others in terms of how much money we have and the designer goods we own. The mantra of consumerism is “I shop, therefore I am!” The range of goods available in our supermarkets is an attempt to meet the growing demands of consumers for greater choice. But now we are being brought back to reality and the impact on our societies will be great.

Solomon was a great king who was renowned for his wisdom and his wealth. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, which is in the Bible, and reflected on the meaning of life if we live simply for money or pleasure. He recognised the ultimate meaninglessness of life if we live for material things and forget the living God. His book is a tract for our times. He wrote, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them.”

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

Scientists from the universities of Sheffield and Warwick have provided an authoritative answer to the old conundrum, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” Dr Colin Freeman from Sheffield has said ‘It had long been suspected that the egg came first, but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first.’ Using a super computer called HECToR, based in Edinburgh, scientists “zoomed in” on the formation of an egg. They identified a protein in the chicken’s ovaries which is crucial in kick-starting crystallization, the early stages of forming a shell. Predictably evolutionists have been quick to attack this discovery as contrary to the evolutionary theory so widely believed today.

More than 3000 years ago the book of Genesis declared, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The opening chapter describes the creative acts of God who, by his divine power and wisdom, brought everything into being, including animals and birds with the power to reproduce.

Faith in God’s creative power is so important. The universe is not an accident but has come into existence for his purpose. We are not simply links in a long and meaningless evolutionary chain, but people created by God to know and love him. Because of him each of us is valuable and our lives have meaning.

The sheer beauty and magnificence of the creation declares the glory of God to all people around the world. The creation tells us that God is good and has given us a beautiful world in which to live. We are not at the mercy of our own fears, or chance events, because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

One of the most amazing things about God’s world is the formation and development of a baby within its mother’s womb. David wrote, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Each new life is unique and precious in God’s sight. You and I matter to God because he created us and gave us life. He also sent his Son into this world, “born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law.” Jesus Christ is the way to God and through him we find peace with God. He promises his presence now and the sure hope that one day we will live with God in a new creation where suffering, pain, crying and death will be no more