Friday, November 01, 2013

The Circle Maker

'Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer.'


'Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all.'

D.L. Moody


Recently there was an article in USA Today about the benefits of walking for health. I read it while three quarters of the way through a book that has deeply impacted my prayer life and it too talks about walking. I think the sign of a good book is one that you start to live out while you are still reading it. You tell others about it, you put into practice the things you learn, you quote stories from it and you see that through reading it you're being changed. This book has put a fresh spring in my prayer life and faith in my bones. I have, as readers may know, been a man who often likes to walk and pray as I pace around my secret place (which I try to go to often).

The book is called 'The Circle Maker' (the website has lots of films you can watch if you are the visual type). To summarise, it's basically about prayer and its incredible power. It's written by Mark Batterson who planted National Community Church in Washington DC and who has seen God do remarkable things in his city through prayer and, more specifically, through his own prayer walking. The idea that you can pray while walking may be news to some of you. You can indeed pray and walk and this may be a relief to activist readers who shudder at the thought of a lonely chair and a silent room.  By the way, Gary Thomas unpacks all this in his excellent book Sacred Pathways.

How has this book impacted me?

Well I'll be honest. Things are very dire in our land and in the C of E. No one likes to mention this too much and if you live in London you are a bit shielded from the realities of national church decline-particularly in the North. Someone this week told me that that in Durham Diocese for instance, where the A of C hails from, if you take out St Nics, the average church attendance on Sunday is 8. Surely it must be more than 8? My source assured me this is the figure- I truly pray they are wrong.

So what's to be done if we want to see churches planted and disciples made and the land revived?

Whenever I come across someone dressed in purple I ask them - 'What's the plan?' Average age 62 of our congregants, too few Curacies, no money, buildings in disrepair, clergy depressed and 40% of clergy retiring in the next 10 years. And the plan is........?  

Batterson makes lots of good points- one of them is that too often we pray but then have no plan to act out of the prayer. Alternatively, we act without any prayer and these become just plans with no power. We must both pray and act. The books starts with a story from the Talmud about 'Honi the circle maker' and this may get some of your sound-o-meters gittery from the off but do press on. The book does at times have the slight feel of 'name it and claim it' but again the author is at pains to qualify from Scripture the points he knows may raise an 'I'm not sure about this' in his readers. Also, many of his illustrations of answered prayers are around provision of money for capital and other projects. But do press on and pray through (to use the term from the book) and you will find plenty of nuggets and stories to encourage you. You see, whilst the other side of the water the danger is often towards a prosperity gospel- our side of the pond it's in the opposite direction towards an impoverished and gloom filled one. A Vicar pal only yesterday recommended I read 'Abundance: The future is better than you think' which makes this point from a secular perspective. 

The chapter called 'Life Goals' will make some readers groan but I have to say it has greatly inspired me and I am planning a half a day to reflect on just this chapter. The author, by his own admission, is a type A and is someone who naturally likes challenges and goals and can probably get more done before breakfast than most of us do in a week.  But the idea of committing things to paper that we want to do and see happen in and through our lives is a good and healthy one I think. You can read his '10 Steps to setting life goals' if you can't be naffed to read the whole book but it you can't be naffed you're probably not the 'Life Goals' type!

Maybe this book just catches me at a time when I need someone to tell me some good news stories and to hang around a pastor with buckets of faith and hope. Maybe it catches me at a time when the 'can't do' approach of so many who lead is dragging me down. This has been a wonderful antidote to the gloom and lack of vision I see all around me. 

To conclude, I really do think reading this book has changed me. Maybe I shouldn't be that surprised as the author prayed it would. You never know, reading it might change you too.

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