The Heart of Prayer

At the very heart of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom — of heaven’s kingdom coming on earth — we have a picture of one person, secretly in their own room, praying.

Prayer is a mystery. I’ve often heard people saying, with a sneer, ‘It doesn’t go beyond the ceiling, you know.’ But the point of prayer, at least the way Jesus saw it, is that it doesn’t have to. Your father, he says, is there in the secret place with you. He sees and knows your deepest thoughts and hopes and fears. He hears the words you say. He hears, too, the things you can’t put into words but want to lay before him anyway. Prayer, in fact, isn’t a mystery in the sense of ‘a puzzle we can’t understand’. Prayer is a symptom, a sign, of the mystery: the fact that heaven and earth actually mingle together. There are times when they interlock; there are places where they overlap. To pray, in this sense, is to claim a time and place — it can be anywhere, any time — as one of those times, one of those places.

If prayer is about heaven and earth overlapping in time and space, it’s also about them coming together in matter, in the stuff of this world, the clay from which we are made. To pray, in this sense, is to claim — think about it and realize just how daring this is! — that the living God, enthroned in heaven, can make his home with you, within you. To make this point vividly, go into your room in secret and pray there. Take God seriously.

But, when you do so, realize one more thing. If prayer is about heaven and earth coming together at one time, in one place, within the lump of clay we call ‘me’, then it’s going to change this person called ‘me’. In particular, it’s going to make me a forgiver. Jesus was quite clear about this. All of us have been hurt, wounded, slighted, annoyed by other people. How much more have we ourselves done that to God! Yet we want him to be with us, to hear us, and — yes! — to forgive us. How can we not be forgivers too?

So the great prayer comes together. Utterly simple, utterly profound. A child can learn it; an old, wise saint will still be going deeper into it. Heaven is not far away, and it’s where we meet the God who, with breathtaking confidence, we can call ‘Father’. Familiarity must not imply contempt. His very name is holy, and we must honour it as such. And what we most want — the strange phenomenon of which prayer itself is a supreme example! — is that his kingdom should come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. When we pray, we pray for that goal but we also pray within that promise.

We then place our needs, whether simple or complex, within that framework. Bread for the day ahead. Forgiveness of debt — the debts we owe to God, the debts too (this may surprise some) we owe one another. And then, importantly, rescue: rescue from the time of testing, of trial, whether that be personal temptation, frequently repeated, or the ‘tribulation’ which Jesus, like many others of his day, believed would come upon the world before God’s deliverance finally dawned.

And rescue, too, from the evil one. Much of Jesus’ public career was a battle with the powers of darkness. That isn’t surprising, since he was announcing that God was taking back control of the world from those powers. When we pray this prayer, we are caught up in that battle, too. But we don’t face the danger alone. We claim his victory, his rescue, rather than face danger alone, his deliverance. The mystery of prayer. This prayer lies at the very centre of the ‘sermon on the mount’. It should be at the centre of our life, our own kingdom-obedience.

Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to forgive; make us your people. Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.

Tom Wright, commenting on Matthew 6:5-15 in Lent for Everyone (SPCK)

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I was recently reminded of a story told by Paul Reid, the former senior pastor of Belfast’s largest charismatic church, C.F.C.
Paul met with a friend who was an apple grower from Co. Armagh. Paul engaged him in a lengthy discussion on the complexities of growing apples. Eventually his friend said to Paul, “I don’t really focus much time or attention on apples, I just look after trees.”
This story really impacted me, in that it seems to say a lot about the futility of us being preoccupied with the fruit of our lives rather than seeing good fruit as the outcome of the care and attention from a skilled and attentive gardener looking after a plant, and good fruit is just the outcome of this tender care.
In John’s gospel, Mirror Bible Translation we have a beautiful picture of this process. Jesus said, “I am the authentic vine! My father is the farmer. Every offshoot in me that does not bear fruit, He lifts from the ground and fastens it to the stake and every fruit bearing part he dresses to maximise its yield, (# see footnote). Your personal pruning and dressing already happened in your conversion; The word made flesh in my person and language is how the Father prepares and sets you up for fruit bearing. Our seamless union, You in me and I in you, is pictured in the vine: the shoot cannot bear fruit outside of this union. In its abiding in the vine, fruit happens naturally – as with your abiding in me. I am the vine and you are the branches; it is the one who understands this mutual union that naturally bears much fruit – which is impossible to happen apart from me. Every area of human life that does not continue to be entwined in this place of seamlessness in me, was already cast forth where it was withered away and is gathered to be burned as firewood. My words find voice in you. With your abiding in me and my words abiding in you a conversation is inspired where you will request that which arises in your desire from our union and it shall come to pass for you! These unions – inspired desires bear the very fruit that endorses the Father’s glory. This is where true discipleship is born. The love of the Father for Me is my love for you – abide in my Love for you!” (John 15: 1-9).
(#) Footnote. Many translations of the Greek in verse two state “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, as in the NIV. This is an inaccurate translation of the Greek words “airei and “kathairei” These words “airei” and “kathairei” are employed to suggest the lifting of the branches as well as the dressing process which includes pruning. On other occasions when “airei” is used it is translated as “lifted up.” Father doesn’t cut us off, He tenderly deals with us until, in our knowledge of our union with Jesus, we can rest in His love and naturally bear the fruit He desires.

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Another beautiful reflective prayer by David Adam

Encircled by the Holy Three,
Encircled within the Trinity
All around me at this hour
Is the Lord’s almighty power.
The father’s strength with grace upholds
The Son’s deep love with warmth enfolds.
The Spirit’s light shines clear to guide
Encircled by the Holy Three
Enclosed within the Trinity

Day and night I know I’ll be
Surrounded by the Trinity
The Father ever loving me
The Son ever saving me
The Spirit ever leading me
Encircled by the Holy Three
Enclosed within the Trinity

I rejoice now in the Holy Three
Their presence all about me
God’s eye to watch, His hand to hold
His ear to hear, His heart to love
Encircled by the Holy Three
Enclosed within the Trinity.


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St Valentine

February 14th, St Valentine’s Day is a point in the year where the sales of cards, flowers and chocolates go through the roof. I am the first to acknowledge that this day is primarily perpetuated by commercial interests and profit margins. It is however worth noting that any reminder of the power of love can have some potential value. Yet, the ultimate expression of love is not expressed in the giving of cards, flowers or chocolates.
If you can take a moment today, reflect on the fact that our Father “IS LOVE,” (1 John 4:8) and, as Paul said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything in creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39).

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For many the end of one year and moving into a new one is a period of reflection on times past while looking forward to a new season. It has become a time when we often make bold proclamations about how we intend to live in times to come.
Some years ago, I discovered a quote from James Jordan which I could embrace as a vision statement for a coming year. To date, it has been the only form of words that feel in harmony with how I am trying to live in childlike dependence. So, I offer it to you again as a possible vision statement as we look forward to 2017.
“I don’t expect to be fruitful. I don’t try to have a “productive life.” Trying to “be productive,” is a lot of pressure. Resting in the Father’s love is a place where He can be productive through you.” (James Jordan).

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The media have been referring to today as “Frantic Friday,” as many of us do the final hectic round of food shopping and buying last minute gifts.
This is a season we associate with gifts, especially Jesus being Father’s amazing gift to us. As you hold that thought with gratitude in your heart, have you ever considered the possibility that we are Father’s gift to Jesus?
In Isaiah 53 in the Amplified Bible, we read about Jesus and His response to what His death accomplished, “He shall see (the fruit) of the travail of His soul and be satisfied,” (V11). YOU ARE THAT FRUIT!!!! You are a gift from Father to His Son Jesus, that was received with joy and pleasure!
At this holiday season, that is a truth worthy of reflection. Your response could be an invitation to the Holy Spirit to write it in your heart, so that you can experience in an ever-deeper way, being enjoyed as the gift you are.
On behalf of the Father Heart Ireland team, I hope you have a special Christmas.

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You may have noticed that living in the Revelation of Father’s love has simplified your prayer life.
For year’s many of us have viewed prayer as a way of hopefully persuading God to do good on behalf of those we had on our prayer list. Our hope, often being that if we constructed the prayers correctly, then we would have a better chance of success.
While attending a church service last Sunday, cards were distributed to assist the congregation to pray for those we were holding in our hearts. I was struck by the childlike simplicity of the prayer that was sourced in a book of reflective meditation compiled by an Irish Franciscan order.
I hope you find it helpful in bringing those you love to the source of all love in a simple way.
“Lord, all who are in my heart, I bring to your heart. You know their need better than I, or even they know them. I hand them over now to Your Limitless Goodness.”

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Please Return To Jesus

Last week we lost one of our finest songwriters when Bap Kennedy lost his short battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 54.
Bap first came to our attention in his band Energy Orchard, but it was as a solo artist that he left his mark. In paying tribute to his friend, local musician Anthony Toner commented that most people in the music business needed attention, money or fame, “but Bap gave the appearance that he had seen everything and needed nothing outside of making good music and outside of his own circle of family and friends.” He went on to say Bap’s music hit the heart every time: “He was the most honest and direct songwriter I have ever met. In a business that is famous for its cliques and its bitchiness, he was universally loved and respected by his peers. I envied the integrity he had.”
Over the years Bap worked with some of the world’s finest musicians including, Van Morrison, American country rock star Steve Earle, Shane McGowan from the Pogues and most recently Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Bap said people often asked what it was like to work with a living legend, to which he replied with typical wit, “I think they handled it quite well.”
Paul Betts, part of the leadership team at Holywood CFC, conducted Bap’s funeral, describing him as a poet and psalmist who brought challenge and hope in his life and death. Paul went on to say that Bap had a deep sense of values, common decency, respect and spirituality, he was trying to find out who he was.
Paul concluded with a few lines from Bap’s song, Please Return to Jesus. In the song Bap agonised that he heard of so many gods that he doesn’t know if there is anyone there at all. But the song concludes with the deepest cry of the human heart that goes beyond all philosophy and theology to the core truth that our lives have meaning and we long to return home to the source of love. So, no better place to end this reflection with the lyrics of Bap’s song.
“To be on the safe side,
When I’ve had my final day,
I have left instructions,
to help me on my way.
Just above my heart,
There’s a small tattoo,
Please return to Jesus,
Thank you.”

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The newspapers and news reports in the past few weeks have carried a lot of reports about England’s football manager Sam Allardyce losing his job. After a successful playing career, Sam Allardyce managed Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland before landing his dream job managing the national team in July 2016. His tenure lasted 67 days, losing his job when investigative journalists caught him on camera offering advice to a group of businessmen and player’s agents on how to “get around” player transfer rules.
Sam Allardyce’s annual salary was £3 million, and he was risking that to gain a consultative fee of £300,000 for the meeting which resulted in his downfall.
My initial reaction was dismay at the way in which Sam sabotaged the job he had dreamed of all his life. This soon gave way to judgement, £3 million pounds per year not being enough and the greed of wanting more.
I eventually realised that Sam Allardyce was acting out of an orphan heart that he was attempting to fix himself by wanting more and more to plug the hole in his heart. Eventually I was able to ask myself ”Do I still have ways in which I live out of an orphan heart.?” – YES! The only difference between Sam Allardyce and I being the ways in which Sam’s orphan ways were on display for the world to see and mine were not.
I became very aware of the words of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 7 when he said “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.” It is usually more comfortable to ignore or deny the broken bits of our internal world but locate and highlight them in another person.
The good news for Sam Allardyce me and you, is that we do not have to be a prisoner to our orphan hearted ways of living, Jesus assured us in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. Our relationships within the Trinity, learning to live loved, being the pathway out of the orphan life. – GOOD NEWS!

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Eric Bibb was born in New York in 1951. His father Leon was a prominent folk singer in the Greenwich Village scene in the 1960’s and his uncle was a jazz pianist. Family friends included Pete Segar and Joan Baez.
Growing up, Eric was surrounded by a lot of creative people, and he was encouraged to play music, getting his first acoustic guitar at the age of 7. He recalls a conversation with Bob Dylan who on the subject of guitar playing, advised the 11-year-old Bibb to, “Keep it simple, forget all that fancy stuff.” This advice seems to have been very influential as Eric developed into an acoustic blues, singer-songwriter, who has a simple yet effective style of playing.
In 1970, Bibb moved to Europe and now has a high profile on the festival circuit and has a string of successful albums to his name, with much of the material reflecting his Christian faith. His songs dig deep into the human experience and touch the lives of many in his audience.
One reviewer of a gig a few years ago noted of Bibb,” It is unusual for an artist to find inspiration from every aspect of human experience, and touch every respective joy and tragedy equally. Eric Bibb asks questions, but provides us with answers as well.” (Rob Vander Giessen).
A good example of how Eric paints a picture of the human experience and provides the listener with a solution can be found in the lyrics of “In my Father’ House.”

You Might have been raised on the Block
You mighta wandered here from afar
But no matter where you come from
No matter who you are

You don’t need no ID
You don’t need no membership cards
Well, you know you’re always welcome
In My Father’s House

You might be a child of the streets
You might be a rich mans son
An no matter what you’re doin
No matter whatcha done

When you got nowhere to hide
Got nowhere to run
Well, you know you’ll find shelter
In My Father’s House

When you’re lonely and discouraged
An misery has no end
When you need that helpin hand
And no-one wants to lend
When you’re beggin for a friend
Yes, you know you’re gonna find one
In My Father’s House

When you’re mistreated in this world
Like a stranger in your own land
When the chains around your heart
Are just too much to stand

When Heaven’s just a word
An hell is close at hand
come an lay your burden down
In My Father’s House.

These lyrics echo the words of Jesus in John 14: I “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.”
As the words of Eric’s song conveys to us, no matter what we have experienced in the past, or no matter what we are living through today, we are always welcome in our Father’s heart of love and you don’t have to die to experience it. It is Jesus’ joy to reveal Father to you. Just ask!

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