In my current (temporary) job I catch the bus into Cheltenham each day. This means I have around 30 minutes reading time each day (how else would one pass the time on a bus after all?). For the past few weeks I’ve been buried in preparing and delivering a short Exodus course at church, but the final session was on Wednesday so on Thursday morning before dashing out of the door I looked at our bookshelves and pondered what sort of book I should read.
In the end I grabbed a book I haven’t read for a while, but which profoundly influenced me first time round when I read it as an undergraduate student at Durham. The book is “A call to Spiritual Reformation” by Don Carson. It has a cover almost as off-putting as the title – although slightly less off-putting than the original cover. The subtitle is “Priorities from Paul and his prayers” which gives more of a clue as to what the book is about. After a brief introduction to prayer, and some practical tips, Don Carson expounds several of Paul’s prayers to see what we can learn for our prayer lives.
First time round the whole concept of praying for other people based upon passages of scripture struck me as extremely useful and gave me plenty of ideas for praying. I was intrigued as I opened the book this time round to see what might strike me this time round. This time round I was struck in the introduction by the importance of prayer, and the need to make time for prayer. One quote hit me forcibly: “many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers”. Too often it feels like that is what I do in prayer.
In January 1995 when I read those words the answer was easy. Get up 15 minutes earlier and write down my prayers. If I do that now a 2 year old will be screaming for my attention, and grabbing the pen in order to write her own prayers. I can just about manage to read a few verses of the bible, but even then I have half an eye to make sure that the 2 year old has not decided to wake up the older ones while Daddy is distracted. Today I have to make more of an effort. So this time round the reading convicted me once more – and I think my aim now needs to be to pray at lunchtime – so combining my half hour leg stretch with a prayer walk is my intention.
I moved into the first main chapter – based around 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10. Here I was reminded of the need to remember Jesus’ return. This life is not everything. This life is the start of something much bigger. Marriage, parenting, work and even job hunting are all just the start. Jesus’ death and resurrection introduced God’s kingdom, and one day Jesus will return. All we have done for him, in obedience to his call and for his glory will have been woven into his new creation. Every sacrifice we have made for him will be seen to have been worth it. Having been immersed in Exodus for a while I can’t help but remember in this context that the promise of Revelation 21 – he will be our God and we his people is the fulfilment of God’s promise back in Exodus 6 of the very same thing. The land Israel were promised was a foretaste of the new creation believers will be a part of for ever. I read about this new creation recently in Isaiah 11:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
No more harm. No more destruction. No more sickness, suffering or death. Living for that world does not lessen our usefulness here – rather it enhances it. It was either Wilberforce (ending the slave trade in the British Empire), or Shaftesbury (laws stopping child labour) who said “I have not lived one single day without being influenced by the conscious thought of Christ’s return” (or something similar) – and it was one of Wilberforce’s friends who said “I would be as happy as he is, if I had the hope of heaven that he has”.
So then – my aim is to pray and walk during my lunch half hour – and to remember Jesus’ return and live out my responsibilities in that light – a concept that needs a bit of sharpening up, and hopefully reading and pondering this book will help. I’m looking forward to reading on in the book, and seeing what will strike me this time. You can get it from the Good Book Company at reduced price right now – its well worth it – maybe as a book to read for Lent: https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/a-call-to-spiritual-reformation.