Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to go for a week to Camp with the 1st Waterlooville Boys Brigade. I was in the company for quite a few years before I went to Uni, it’s had a big impact on my growth as a Christian, and it was good to get the chance to spend some time getting to know a whole new generation, most of whom were new to me. The boys, ten in all, were aged between 13 and 18, and there was an incredible variation in where they were each at on their journeys in faith – some had grown up in Church all their life and would openly say they were Christian, others had somewhat thought about it but not decided anything concrete, and for others, Christianity was something thoroughly new. It was a wonderful surprise, joy and challenge then to be asked to run the evening “Devotions”, a 10/15 minute talk each night exploring Christianity, which was a totally new challenge for me! I’ve done a little preaching before, but nothing in the way of a Bible Study for  small group of semi-Christian guys. To give it the feel of a series, we looked at 1 John, taking a few verses every day and unpacking them, and I tried to incorporate an activity or extended illustration into each one to keep things fresh and link it back to their lives and the 21st Century.

I’ll be honest, the first night didn’t go too well! The guys didn’t look too interested, a few looking across the table and whispering, and only really engaging with the activity of writing down hopes and dreams for life (to compare to John looking back on his life). I also tried an ‘open’ time of prayer, praying at the start, and then leaving it open for anyone to pray before closing. Needless to say, we sat in silence for a few minutes until another Officer thankfully stepped in with a prayer!

For the second night, I shifted things around a little, changing the layout from just the regular layout of our dinner tables and pushing them together to form a big circle, which gave me the chance to look everyone in the eye as I was talking and I think did a better job of holding their attention and cutting down on cross-table whispers! Then, at the end, I picked up a tennis ball, christened it the ‘prayer ball’ and explained that I would pray, and pass it around the circle, and when it got to them, everyone could either pray if they wanted to or simply pass it on. I could hardly believe it. Every single guy, spoke up and prayed when the ball got to them! All of them! It was massively encouraging, but the thing that struck me most was the innocent power of their prayers – they might not have been the kind of deep, theological prayers that a Minister or Pastor might pray, but I really got the sense that they meant them. It is incredible how powerful ten prayers thanking God for the weather, for dinner, or for the day we’d just enjoyed together can be when they are spoken with heart and in truth.

As I went to bed though, some doubts crept in. What if I hadn’t explained it properly? What if the guys had felt pressured to pray when they were holding the ‘prayer ball’, even if they hadn’t wanted to? What if that would actually turn them away from God, regardless of what I’d been saying? I went to sleep thanking God for the response, but resolving to be crystal clear the next day that prayer was not compulsory.

The next night though, as I sat there, explained everything again, and passed round the newly christened ‘prayer peg’ (a mysterious new object every night!), exactly the same thing happened. Every single guy prayed, and with incredible honesty and conviction. It was a real joy. That happened again and again, every night, and it really got me thinking about the beauty of simple prayers. How often do I open my mouth to speak, forgetting that what I’m doing is talking to my loving heavenly Father and mistaking it for a chat with an eternal Theology Professor who is just waiting to be impressed by my clever phasing? It’s not that good theology is bad, far from it, but I find sometimes that the more I try too hard to wrap up what I’m saying in academic jargon, the less it reflects what I’d actually wanted to say in the first place. True prayer is a conversation, speaking from your heart and listening and responding to God’s prompting, and that can only happen when you’re willing to open yourself, be a little bit vulnerable, and pray freely, honestly and without restriction. It’s something I pray that I will become better at.

Jesus once said that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to become more like children – those who run freely to our heavenly Father, secure in His love and in our identity as His beloved children. Prayer seems as good a place as any to start.




Reflections on Catalyst

Good evening!

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I was fortunate enough to attend the Catalyst festival at Stoneleigh, with my church, Oasis Church Birmingham. Now, a couple of weeks on, it’s had a little time to sink in and I can really take a step back and reflect on what was a wonderful few days.

I can think back to meeting so many new people for the first time, and properly getting to know some I’ve only met in passing at Church. It’s easy to find yourself in a student bubble sometimes, particularly at University and even at Church, and it’s easy to simply hang out with the same people and never branch out. But that’s not what we were designed for! When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12 about being part of a body of Christians, he makes it clear that in that body is a huge amount of diversity – differences as stark as a foot is different from an eye! Something that really struck me over the few days away is that the body of Christ really is beautiful because of its diversity, and not simply in spite of it. We are all part of a bigger whole, bigger than the student bubble at Oasis, bigger than Birmingham, bigger even than the newfrontiers family of Churches, a wonderfully varied assortment of unspectacular people running after a spectacular God.

I can think back to the thrill of worship with thousands of others lifting their voices to God; that same sense of being part of something bigger condensed into one moment as voices rise, singing new songs, old songs, non-songs and praises of all kinds. I never feel closer to heaven than when I look around at people as far as I can see lifting their hearts and eyes to Him and pouring out love. The realisation too, that the God who is so present in the room of 4000 is just as present in your prayer meeting of ten the week after, and hears every silent prayer spoken alone in your room at home. How astonishing it is that He would be interested in us!

I can think back to challenging talks and seminars, spending time considering bodily resurrection and predestination and ‘big theological stuff’ and also mulling over devastatingly simple, core-gospel talks which force you to re-evaluate what you are putting at the centre of your life. If it’s not Jesus, it’s not worth it! Reflecting back, it is much easier to see the lessons learned, to see a great time for stretching and building my faith.

I am looking forward to next year already, but also to building on what has begun at Catalyst, deeper friendships with those at Church, my brothers and sisters, a faith challenged and grown, and a renewed joy in the beauty of a broken people rescued by Grace and seen fit by the King of Kings to be welcomed into His courts, now and forever.