Intermission

The stories of those who come to us (Intermission – Issue 35)

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There is a need literally three metres outside the doors of our church. Every day hundreds of students walk past. So many have come so far to be here but they don’t seem to have anyone who cares about them. They fall into a world where there is only a lecture theatre, a shoebox apartment and the internet.

I’ve always admired how international students can take the risk (and expense) of leaving their home, family, friends and everything they know. They are young and come to better themselves in a place where everything is new and different – people, culture, food and even simply trying to communicate are all things they need to get used to and learn.

Sometimes the pressure can be intense. Tim, a successful Chinese honours student we know, was the only one from his village who had ever gone to university. Tim’s study cost so much and was so important that his father back home decided not to tell him he was dying of cancer. By the end of the year, it was too late and Tim’s father was gone.  The same thing happened for a dying brother of a young Iranian postgraduate student. I know an Indian student whose parents sold their house to get him here.

You get the idea of the sacrifices many make to be here in New Zealand. And you can begin to understand that there are cultures that think and do things differently to the way Kiwis do. In that difference, we can find the joy of intercultural engagement in Christ. I don’t believe Jesus is interested in us either conforming others to our image or living in our own separate worlds like marbles in a bag – in the same place but completely disconnected. I believe scripture affirms that while we are made distinctively within our own cultures, those worlds are made to overlap to the glory of God and the benefit of all.

The results of engagement

St Paul’s is a central city Auckland church, situated between two universities on one side and student accommodation blocks on the other. We tried not to overthink what we saw. We prayed and decided to find a day to open the doors of the church, invite people in and do a simple meal of soup and cheese toasties.

Our small volunteer leader’s group talked to others and the team grew. Six years after opening the doors, we have a leadership team of around 25 people from at least 8 different Auckland churches. On a normal Wednesday lunch, around 120 people come through the doors. People from China, Iran, India, Japan, Colombia, Chile, Indonesia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Russia gather to eat and meet informally. 

We always pray that we can make known the love of Jesus, whether it’s by making a sandwich, sharing a smile or letting someone know the good news. Over time, many have come into contact with a group who think Jesus is real and can be trusted in real life. Intercultural connection in Christ is not rarefied air for specialists. It is basic human kindness for those who are guests in our country. We help with CV’s, give people lifts, teach English and piano, go tramping and skiing. We make good friends. Sometimes it’s hard on the heart as most eventually return home. But some take a new faith in Jesus back with them!

Needless to say, we’ve had some pretty significant disappointments and failures along the way. But we kept going. Now, in addition to the meals we provide, around 25 people regularly come to a weekly pizza and Bible study night we run. We let people look at the Bible for themselves and ask them open questions to enable them to engage. We pray. A core group of people have put their faith in Jesus and want to grow. We are currently planning our first discipleship weekend. They will be the leaders in future.

Here are some comments I’d like to finish with. As well as love for Jesus and neighbour, I think there are some key ideas underlying what we do.

Key ideas to consider

Dignity:

The person God puts in front of me is a human being with his or her own story, loves, dreams, fears and challenges. Faltering English doesn’t change that. Let’s not treat people like children and pat them on the head simply because New Zealand is new to them.

Understanding:

I need to be patient and listen and learn to see the world through other eyes. Interaction with different cultures brings strange worlds of ideas, behaviours and foods that may initially make no sense or even repel me. It might make me impatient. But without that understanding of the other world, I will introduce someone to the saviour of only my world and culture. The real world of the one I am sharing with will remain largely untouched. If I persevere in listening to the person God has put in front of me I might be able to see past the strange symbols and concepts and come to appreciate what they understand a person to be, and how they are related to both their family and the unseen world. Finally, they may begin to let me into the dark places of their world – things that make them ashamed, anxious or despairing.

Enriching:

When I am patient and listening and understanding, I will begin to see the Lord and Saviour of the other person’s world. I will see Jesus in a new way I’d never seen before as He meets the needs and aspirations of that person. I will begin to worship and proclaim Jesus in a new and fuller way in terms I’m only just beginning to understand. The Lord will have led me into a fuller and deeper worship of Him through an intercultural engagement with someone who has become my brother or sister. That is why we need intercultural engagement. 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, the Intermission publication will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

A giving heart (Issue 33)

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“Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness” Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church

A great capacity for giving comes from a generous heart, and a generous heart always finds the motivation and the outlets to love all people (including difficult people). The Bible challenges believers to recognise each person’s value and seek ways to validate each person we interact with.

Not that we need reminding, but throughout Scripture it’s clear: each and every one of us has profound value as creatures made in the image of a God who loves us deeply. Here’s just a few examples that speak clearly of the value given to each and every person.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)

I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us (Genesis 1:26)

If we as Christians, as God’s people on this earth, fail to adopt a giving attitude of valuing and validating people, we will be a second-rate church.

You see, it’s not just what we believe or what we think that will count in eternity, it’s what we do with what we think and what we believe that’s really crucial. If we’ve heard the Lord and are obedient to him and claim to have become people who have giving hearts, then it must be showing in our lives. Let’s see it in action. Don’t just think it’s a nice idea. Don’t just talk about it – do it!

Learning to Value, Learning to Validate.

The challenge God is putting to us is that we must stretch our capacity to love others by valuing and validating them. It’s not enough to just believe that we should have giving hearts, and it’s not enough just to accept that it’s a good thing for other people either.

A Pastor of a large North Island church whom I’ve known personally for over 20 years recently shared with a group of leaders some of the lessons he’s learned through the years. He told us about when he was transferred from a moderately small church to take over the Senior Pastor’s role in a large, ‘successful’ church. He was quite intimidated by the prospect and was very aware that he had ‘some big shoes to fill’ as he was still quite young and inexperienced. So, he asked God to speak to him about a strategy or leadership style that he should apply.

All that God told him (very clearly) was “Value and Validate.”

These two words were to be his strategy. And this was to apply to every person he met, irrespective of their office, or standing, or position, or ability.

He was concerned about having such a limited statement to work with, so asked God for a broader strategy, or at least a clearer word of explanation. But all he received from God was “value and validate.”

For the last 20 something years, that’s been his primary call. So in everything he’s done, he’s sought to be a source of encouragement, to build people up, to never let a goal or outcome become more important than the people involved. He’s sought to highlight people’s achievements and listen to their hearts. To value and validate a person means listening carefully to them. And it’s more than simply listening, but recognising and acknowledging that everybody has a story and needs a voice to tell it. It’s finding ways to help people recognise that everyone has a gift, and helping each person find ways to express and practice it.

Of course there are strategies, plans, budgets, trust boards, management, vision casting and everything else involved in a large church’s ministries. But he said it all must be deliberately approached, articulated and out-worked from the call to “value and validate” every individual person that may be involved at any level.

This church has gone from strength to strength. They’ve developed the larger church while also building up a number of satellite congregations, a number of local and international missional enterprises, a large private tertiary training institution, and have recently even purchased a fully functioning medical and counselling centre. And all of that has flown out of the simple challenge to “value and validate.”

For discussion

How are you & your group doing when it comes to valuing and validating people?

What opportunities is God giving you & your group to grow in this area?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

We’re All Called to Give (Issue 33)

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A wealthy businessman had just gone through a heart-wrenching divorce. Burnt out and broken, he went along to a church to try finding some solace. He was delighted when he was invited home for dinner – finally it looked like someone was going to take the time to listen to him. But he quickly discovered he’d only been invited around to hear a business proposal. He needed relationship; they just wanted his money!

When churches and ministries talk about giving, we’re often talking primarily about finances. But the fourth of our NZCMS ‘missional postures’ reminds us that giving involves far more than cash: “We’re all called to give of our time, effort, energy, money, resources and skills.”

Really, generosity is all about our heart attitude, not how many zeros are on the cheques we write. Some of the most generous people I’ve met have very little to contribute financially, but never cease giving in a host of other ways: welcoming strangers, being liberal with smiles, always being available to listen when someone needs it.

Since giving isn’t just about financial giving, this Intermission features articles that explore various dimensions of generosity: What does it mean to be generous with our time? How have cultural shifts influenced how different generations approach giving and generosity? What does it mean to give others value? And is receiving actually one of the most profound ways we can give? We hope this variety will help us see that giving includes what we do with our money, but is so much bigger than that!

When Prayer Meets Calling (Issue 32)

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By Steve Maina (NZCMS National Director)

I remember it clearly. Floating above the earth, glancing down at the world, wondering where I’d land. When my feet finally rested in Saudi Arabia, I was a little caught off guard.

No, I’m not an astronaut, and no, NASA hasn’t invested in a base in the Middle East. Let me explain. During my university years, I was part of the Christian union group. We felt God calling us to invest in prayer for the world, so we developed a unique model to make it work for us.

Every so often we’d roll out a giant map of the world and spread it across the floor. This thing was massive, easily filling the average Kiwi living room. The line from Psalm 2, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,” inspired us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to the nations as we literally stepped on different nations on the map.

Because of the busy uni schedule, many of us would start gathering as early as 5am, and since sleep might be unnecessary distraction at that hour, it only made sense to walk about while praying. We’d walk across the map without looking down, praying for God to be at work in his world. It wasn’t until you felt the Spirit’s nudge to stop walking that we’d look down to see where in the world we were stepping, and at that point we were encouraged to spend 10 minutes interceding for that specific country. We had Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World as a resource if we needed more info on how to pray for specific countries, but often we’d find God give us the words – and the heart – to pray for places we previously had no connection to. In prayer, God shared with us a glimpse of his heart for the nations! 

I remember the morning I landed on Saudi Arabia, the heartland of the Middle East. I didn’t just pray for those 10 minutes and move on, but felt God lead me time and again to pray for this country for a number of years. In fact, over this time I felt a growing sense the Lord was calling me there as a cross-cultural worker one day. But I didn’t know at the time how to take the next step. With a growing heart for the Middle East, after university I stumbled upon a dream job with an organisation that was seeking to disciple followers of Isa in this region of the world. I studied the Koran and helped run a discipleship correspondence course for several thousand inquirers and young Christians from Muslim backgrounds. That involved writing many thousands of letters – by hand! – for the next year and a half.

I’ve still never been to Saudi Arabia and I don’t know if there’s ‘unfinished business’ for me there, but I do know that this ‘mapping prayer’ helped ignite in me a global mission vision that has shaped my vocation as a Mission Mobiliser and eventually led to me being based here in New Zealand. With so many Saudis in this country, perhaps there’s now an opportunity to step further into that original sense of calling right here on my Kiwi doorstep. 

Prayer enables us to align our priorities with God’s and to subject our will to his. I believe prayer is vital in helping us identify the places God is calling us to be involved. There are things God has stored up for you that will only be discovered as you pray! I find many young Christians desiring a sense of calling and purpose in the world, but often that will only come about when they first turn their eyes off themselves and towards God and his world. 

In that moment of prayer I didn’t just intercede for a country I knew nothing about. It was a true kairos moment where God invited me to enter in and started me on a journey of discovering my purpose in his world! The question is: What might he be inviting you into?

For discussion

Like Steve’s prayer map example, what sort of things could your group do together to make prayer more engaging?

Have you ever felt God inviting you into something new during prayer? Have you actually pursued it? Is God inviting you into something new?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Learning to Pray (Issue 32)

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By a friend serving in the Middle East

As I write I hear the familiar voice of our local ‘spinach lady’ in animated conversation on the street outside. Hearing her prompts me to ask God to have mercy on her and let her come to know him.

Earlier today I sat with a new neighbour for an hour and heard her tragic story. She’s not a believer but I prayed that God would speak to her heart as I shared about a current dilemma I’m facing and how God was helping me through it. As I left I told her I’d be praying for her.

Yesterday I met with two friends and we spent time praying for each other’s needs. One woman wept silently as we brought her needs before the throne of grace.

At church on Sunday the preacher asked, “Should we pray for Daesh?” Following a general murmured consensus one man said, “With God all things are possible.” Some of those sitting there were refugees whose lives had literally been turned upside-down by Daesh. I prayed that God would help them to forgive, and yes, to pray for their enemies.

Last weekend we attended a wedding. It was a lovely wedding held in a Catholic church and as the priest spoke his message to the happy couple I prayed that the truth of his words would penetrate hearts and minds despite the distractions of flashing camera lights, glamorous gowns, and adorable bridesmaids and pageboys.

Flossing, Eating, Breathing

Why pray? Prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. How sad is it when we so often go through our days forgetting the awesome privilege we have as believers in a God who hears and answers prayer. That’s why at different times in my life I’ve used prompts to remind me to pray throughout the day – maybe hearing a phone ring, or going into a particular room, or walking up and down stairs. Lord, help us to pray.

Maybe for some of us prayer is a bit like flossing – undoubtedly beneficial but easily postponed till the next day if time is pressing. For others prayer may be like a good meal – a nourishing and anticipated part of our daily routine. For yet others prayer is like breathing – the frequent expression of a deep and abiding, though not always conscious, dependence on God.

During my years of serving overseas I’ve experienced prayer in all of these ways. Yet I confess that sometimes my prayer life has not been what I wished it to be. It’s opportunity that’s now lost. Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. It’s the life-line that holds us to our Lord and is an essential element in our service for him.

I’ve always been captivated by the thought expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The amazing treasure that each of us ‘clay pots’ carry is the Gospel, the power of God for salvation and transformation through Jesus Christ. Part of the secret of the clay pot is its porous nature which allows it to absorb water and remain saturated with it. This enables it to keep the liquid it holds refreshingly cool. The pot becomes permeated by what it contains. As we spend time in the Word and in the presence of the Lord in prayer and worship, our lives become permeated by his life. The more permeated our lives are with him, the more we will overflow with his love and goodness. This is surely the prayer of our hearts – more of him, less of me.

Praying for Missionaries

Maybe you’re wondering how to pray effectively for missionaries when you don’t have a real feel for their situations and don’t know what their specific needs are. Rather than just asking for general blessings – which is certainly not a bad thing to pray – perhaps you could begin by praying for their prayer-lives to be enriched. Pray that they will be deeply rooted in God’s Word and for their lives to be permeated with the life of Christ.

We don’t usually need to be reminded that we’re clay pots as we’re often all too aware of it, but pray that they will remember that they are carrying a treasure. Pray that they will have opportunities to share that treasure with those around them. And pray that whatever difficulties or battles they are facing, they will be reminded of the power of God to hold them and his strength to sustain them, and that they will be given new hope in believing.

Of course, there are many more things you could pray. The Apostle Paul has some wonderful prayers in his epistles for example. The most important thing is to simply pray, and as you do, be assured that prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. There have certainly been times when I’ve known we were being prayed for and have literally felt buoyed up by the prayers of the saints! Workers who have people committed to faithfully praying for them are truly blessed.

This article has offered insights into how invaluable and essential prayer is for mission. NZCMS produces resources to guide you in praying for our Mission Partners around the world. To sign up for our monthly Prayer Fuel pamphlet or to receive our email newsletter Interchange, please contact the NZCMS office (office@nzcms.org.nz).

For discussion

In your life, how have you experienced prayer as flossing, eating and breathing? Are you in a season of flossing, eating or breathing at the moment?

What can you and your group do to grow in your prayer support for Mission Partners around the world?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Reacquainting our knees with the carpet (Issue 32)

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By Katie (Serving in Spain with NZCMS)

“I pray but I could always pray more.” I hear myself say that time and time again. But why should I? Why are we ‘all called to pray’? Living in Spain in the midst of a different culture and language has taught me a lot about the importance of prayer for my relationship with God and for mission. As we pray we express our dependency on God – not only for own lives but also if we’re to see any change happen in the lives of others.

Learning to be dependent

They say people respond in various ways during the process of cultural transition. When I started off here in Spain, with only about five words of Spanish under my belt, my initial response was plenty of frustration. I battled away with trying to express myself and simply understand what was going on around me, and for a while I became pretty dependent on other people. I felt more like a pre-schooler than a ‘sorted-out’ mature adult.

This is how God wants us before him. He wants us to be dependent like children so that we cry out and, like the writers of the psalms, pour out our hearts to him. In those first few months I spent a lot of time talking to God as I knelt next to my bed, went for long walks around the city and wrote words to him in my prayer journal.

The process of cultural transition called me to pray and helped me see how much I depend on God – in my weakness but also when I might feel strong. As Christians we’re called to pray because we’re dependent on God, and because of his love for us in Christ he desires to listen to us.

I’m loving working alongside a Spanish church that has a heart to see people discover who God is in the Bible. However, the non-believers I meet are on the whole reluctant to ask questions or engage in any conversation about God. I think it’s about the same in New Zealand as well. Wherever we are in the world, a lack of spiritual curiosity makes mission at times feel discouraging. As a response, prayer has been where my team has been turning because as Christians we depend on God to be at work in the lives of others.

Learning to be intentional

Intentionality and sometimes a bit of planning can be helpful to motivate us to pray. I’ll share a few of the ways we’ve been learning to pray for the city and its people.

Having fellow Christians to push you on in prayer is really helpful and incredibly encouraging. Every Thursday morning I meet with a couple of other women and together we walk around a specific suburb praying for the people, businesses, schools, community centres. Pretty much anything we see can be prayed for! We also pray for churches and church leaders, for local and national governments, as well as for some of the common obstacles to the Gospel.

I enjoy praying through passages of the Bible as well. I find that using God’s word to form my prayers helps me pray specifically. Once a month as we walk we use various Scripture verses printed onto sticky notes to shape our prayers. After we pray we stick that particular Scripture to a park bench, a lamppost or some other item of street furniture with the hope that someone may read about Jesus.

It doesn’t have to always be praying out and about. You can stick verses around the house and use them in your prayers as you lay eyes on them during the day. A dear friend of mine, a busy mum, uses the laundry as her place to pray. She has Scripture and prayer points on the walls and uses that space to pray fervently for God to be at work in our city and province. You can be as creative as you want!

God’s been teaching me that prayer is front-line work in mission and essential for seeing people become curious and want to discover more about him. My desire is to see people in Spain know true and lasting joy in Christ and so I’m called to pray to the one who alone can gift people this joy. Day to day we depend on God to change lives as well as to continue working in our own lives. And so, as Brooke Fraser sings, we’re all called to keep “reacquainting our knees with the carpet.”

For discussion

Have you felt that you are not measuring up to the standard of ‘praying enough’? Why do we often feel this ‘pressure to perform’?

What could you, as a group, do to spur each other on in prayer WITHOUT this pressure?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

The Moment I realized I couldn’t be a Monk (Issue 32)

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By Rev Joshua Taylor (Vicar at St John’s in Timaru)

Just over four years ago my life took a dramatic turn. My wife Jo and I entered the unknown territory of parenthood. We now have two lovely girls, Phoebe (4) and Esther (1).

I think it would be fair to say that I underestimated the impact having kids would have on my prayer life. It’s not like I was undertaking great vigils of prayer or had an amazing set of disciplined rhythms in the first place. Yet when we had kids, any rhythms that I did have in place took the backseat in the hustle and bustle of family life. I’ve heard all the romantic claptrap about wonderful times of prayerful cuddles and encountering God in the midst of changing nappies, but frankly it just seemed more like sleepless nights and a juggling act just to keep the balance of life at home and work.

I remember a friend of mine with teenage children who had just left home saying to me that he finally felt as if he was reconnecting with the passion he had for his faith in his early adulthood. He admitted he hadn’t prayed much or engaged in any kind of mission while his kids were at home and he described parenthood as like ‘being on a treadmill.’ I did the math and thought, if we had 3 kids and they left home at 18 (unlikely) with a couple of years between each, that would be around 22 years of my life on that treadmill. So, when I found myself staring down the barrel of nappies, kindy runs, teenage hormones and all of the responsibilities of parenting, I wondered if God really intended for us to get on the treadmill and largely ignore prayer and mission at home for two decades.

So I did my best to set up some personal rhythms of prayer, committing to taking time to read my Bible, spend time in silence, and morning and evening prayer. I treated prayer as a private exercise and added it to my long list of things to do on top of our busy home and work life.

As a Pastor this was simpler for me than most, since the flexibility of my working day gave me ample time to do this. A year down the track I realized I my family and I were more stressed and stretched than ever. What was my problem? I had somehow decided it was a good idea to compartmentalise my life and go on my own heroic journey of prayer. It doesn’t help that most of the so-called heroes of prayer seem to have been single and celibate. It should have been obvious, but living like a monk isn’t feasible when you have a family. Something had to change.

It Begins with Baby Steps

For the past two years, I’ve served as the Vicar at St John’s in Timaru. My family and I moved to Timaru from Christchurch and it meant a personal cost for all of us. We left family and friends behind to go out on a mission, Jo left her job teaching, and we left our support networks to venture out. This was the moment God chose to shake me out of my individualistic complacency. We had to do this together or we wouldn’t last.

First, it started with some honest conversations with Jo. How could we keep the fires of a vibrant prayer life burning in our household? What would it look like? What would it mean to do ministry together and involve our kids? We started talking over coffee together, then we committed to rhythms that we could sustain in our little household. To begin with we carved out space for evening prayer together once the kids were in bed and before we crashed. We introduced times of eating together and prayer with our family around the table, lighting a candle over dinner, saying grace and having meaningful conversation about our day. We introduced a rhythm of reading devotions with our kids before bed and we created space where each of us could take quiet time aside to read the Bible daily.

What we’ve discovered as we’ve done this is that God has drawn us closer together as a family through prayer. We have a growing sense of shared mission and ministry and have begun to invite other families with young children into our home to share our lives and work out how to cultivate a culture of shared prayer and ministry as families. Prayer together is helping form us as a family-on-mission and is creating an extended family of other parents and children on the journey!

Being a Mum or Dad is busy, having a young family is hectic. Too often we can separate our family life from our vocation to be disciples of Jesus. During this busy stage of life many of us might struggle just make it to church, let alone a Bible study or to volunteer our time for a ministry programme of some kind. We often feel guilty as a result. But what if instead we simply looked for the small opportunities to pray, play and do mission together in the complexities of everyday life as a family?

For discussion

What does prayer look like for you in this stage of life? How is it different to previous stages?

Do you relate to Joshua’s experience of seeing prayer as a private exercise?

Are there baby steps you can be taking to grow as a prayerful (extended) family-on-mission?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Learning to Breathe (Issue 32)

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By Jeremy Harris (Grace Collective Auckland)

Prayer is a beautiful thing. When we pray we’re participating in Jesus’ relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. We enter the Triune dance between Father, Son and Spirit of God through Jesus who is our Great High Priest, sitting at the right hand of the Father and making a way for humanity to come back to a relationship with God.

There’s so much going on in a conversation with God that we don’t always have the capacity to acknowledge it all at once, but I want to remind us of two elements in this transcendent and yet very grounded practice at the heart of our faith. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious and groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

Resting in a busy world

I’m an anxious person. The first thought I have as I wake up is worry. I’m not alone in this. There’s a well-known and often ignored trend of growing mental illness in New Zealand. Ever increasing demands – whether financial, work related or self-imposed – are getting to the fabric of our hearts and damaging our souls. We have leaders who spread suspicion towards the most vulnerable in our world and anxiety about what refugees might do if we let them in. Meanwhile thousands displaced by war, violence and climate change are desperately anxious for a place to stay and food that’s regular. Anxious war-lords hoard wealth and fight for power at the expense of their own people, and single parents working three-jobs worry about what will happen to their kids if they can’t keep living off adrenaline from one thing to the next. The world is oftentimes an anxious place.

When I wake up, I’m often cold now days too. I’m flatting in a kind of accidental community of friends in an old uninsulated villa in Central Auckland. But as with my anxiety, the cold is reflective of the world we live in. It’s a reminder of the experience of the homeless on Queen Street who are passed by and given the cold shoulder by the public. It’s a reminder of the empty seats on the bus next to each of us just so that we don’t have to talk to someone we don’t know. It’s a reminder of the concrete floors of garages that families inhabit, or the winter winds beginning to blow against vans of homeless families in South Auckland. It is reminiscent of the colder winters and conversely the hotter summers of climate change, and likewise the West’s ignorance of the rising sea on Pacific Islands.

And like most of you, when I wake up I’m groaning – particularly on Mondays. But unlike my superficial groan of “not todaaaay,” the earth we’re slowly eating away at is crying out from deep within its belly. Our fast paced, over-consumptive and unsustainable life-styles are slowly but surely causing the rocks to cry out how glorious God is… and how fallen we’ve become.

Our world is moving at a pace faster than ever before, the earth’s resources are being used quicker than it can sustain, and we’re drawing borders between ourselves more than ever – whether national borders, picket fences, gated communities or smart phones. The earth is crying out for a spirituality that warms it, that slows it, that gives it solace and rest. We’re in desperate need of rest for our souls. But even though the Creator of the universe took time away to pray when he took on flesh, we are continuing to live like we don’t need to.

But the gift of the monastic traditions is a spirituality that speaks missionally right to the heart of the human condition: it offers community, connection with God by the Spirit through Jesus and his Body, and provides a stillness and slowness that our ever-accelerating world craves like the groaning of the earth.

Learning to breathe

Mother Teresa said that breathing is to the body what prayer is to the soul. Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist, says that when he feels down, the only healing is action. They are both right. We need both spirituality and mission. It’s the ancient art of breathing. Monastic spirituality offers a vehicle for these two to come together.

Two days before any march, Martin Luther King Jr would gather with others to pray. When the Waihopai Three were on trial for getting in the way of government sanctioned violence, they made a camp in a Wellington park and prayed all night for their enemies and the victims of war. They were joined by street kids and security guards, who later returned without uniform to keep praying with the kids. Nuns have prayerfully broken into a nuclear weapons facility and literally beat weapons of war into ploughshares with hammers. John the Baptist retreated and ended up being followed by his community to receive baptism. And Jesus died on the cross crying the words of a Psalm, and through it saved the world.

Mission. Spirituality. They go hand in hand. And the world is crying out from deep within itself for a spirituality that spills out of church walls to offer healing.

Before I leave each morning I sit with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures, and with a friend or by myself, I sit in silence and pray the Jesus Prayer. I follow the words of those gone before me, prayed around the world and throughout history. I’m sent out by God into the world to participate in his Missio Dei. My anxieties are more and more stilled by the Word of God, and my heart is strangely warmed by his presence.

The world is over-stimulated and over-entertained. We don’t need more parties to help us forget all that we have to do. We need more stillness in the presence of God, like those silent times looking into the eyes of a loved one, to find happiness and rest once again.

My prayer is that we rediscover the ancient art of breathing. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious, groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

For discussion

How does the pace of today’s world affect you?

Have you typically been stronger when it comes to ‘breathing in’ (spirituality) or ‘breathing out’ (mission)? How might you create more of a balance between the two?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

We’re all called to Pray (Issue 32)

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In the latest Intermission we’re looking at the link between mission and prayer. Below you’ll find the introduction – we’ll post the articles from the magazine over the next few weeks. To receive the Intermission in the post fill in this form or email office@nzcms.org.nz

A group of us on a mission school, frustrated at our own apathy, committed to getting up at 6 in the mornings to spend two hours in prayer. It lasted one morning. And even then, most of us fell back asleep within ten minutes.

A problem with teachings on prayer is that they can amp up the pressure we’re already feeling. We all know that prayer is important, and many (many!) of us feel we’re failing in this department. Yet I’ve seen it time and time again: people make resolutions to grow in prayer… but they’re often so incredibly idealistic and unrealistic that they’re doomed to fail.

We’re not wanting to burden you with more pressure, but instead show that it really is possible to grow in prayer – personal time with God, prayer with others, prayer for others. So at the outset we want to make this clear: don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, because when you don’t measure up you’ll likely give up. If you feel God’s inviting you to become a prayer warrior and pray for two hours every morning, start off with 5 minutes. Once you’ve mastered that, increase it to 7 minutes. God is far more gracious with us than we’re often willing to be. Incremental steps in the right direction are far better than giant leaps that last one morning!

To help us all grow in this area, this Intermission explores prayer as it relates to mission from a variety of angles: How prayer can lead to discovering our calling in God. How prayer and mission fit together. How prayer relates to being a family-on-mission. How prayer is different through stages of life. We hope this inspires you as you pursue God in prayer.

A Rocha’s Rich Living

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Last year’s Intermission on sustainable living and mission mentioned that A Rocha would be producing a resource for churches and Christian groups. It’s finally here! They’ve made it available for free online, so we encourage you to check it out and consider how your church can engage with the material.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t merely about caring for the environment or creation, but is actually about evangelism as well. Many younger people believe – rightly or wrongly – that Christians don’t care much for the environment, and as a result they have no interest in hearing what we have to say. If we want our witness to mean something in today’s world, we need to take seriously our original commission to steward God’s creation!

Evidence that contemporary human consumption habits are unsustainable and that existing Western ‘lifestyles’ have a detrimental affect on ecosystems, thus negatively affecting the lives of our neighbours (both human and non-human), is overwhelming. However, rather than believing that nothing can change, Christians are to be agents of hope. We believe that Christian faith communities have the potential to offer a glimpse of what true “rich living” entails. A Rocha has partnered with Tear Fund NZ to create the Rich Living series – to assist faith communities to reflect upon how they live and offers practical steps to make sustainability integral to lives of faith.

The first of the Rich Living series, Climate Change is available now, with four other booklets (Water, Food, Transportation, Stuff & Waste) soon to follow. To download your copy click here.