Faith Journey 8: A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

Sometimes words fail us. This can feel uncomfortable: I think, especially in Western culture, we like to have an answer for everything. We aren’t always comfortable with silence, we aren’t always comfortable when we don’t know what to say.

At my most recent session of Spiritual Accompaniment, we reflected on how God can speak to us through pictures.

God primarily speaks to us through His Word: the Bible. It is important, when listening for God through other mediums, that what we hear should be in agreement with God’s Word in Scripture. God is consistent, so will not give us a personal revelation which in some way contradicts the revelation of the Bible.

What we sometimes find, depending on how our mind works, other mediums can speak to us, and affirm what God says to us in the Bible.

When I met for Spiritual Accompaniment, we reflected on this painting:

This is quite a famous painting of the story of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. As I looked at this painting, I was led through the following meditation:

QuietTake a moment to quieten and still yourself before God. You may wish to focus on your breathing: take deep, steady breaths. Thoughts may pop into you mind: acknowledge these, and lay them to one side. This is time for you and God.

Take time to acknowledge that God is present. Ground yourself in the knowledge that God is here, and ask that He may speak to you during this time.

ConsiderNow look at the picture. Take in all that you see. Is it a familiar image? If so, what is it about? Is it a new image? If so, what do you see? What sort of things jump out to you?

What is God saying to you through this picture? Ask Him to show you what He has to say to you. Take in the picture as a whole before moving on to any details.

NoticeLet your eye wander to some of the details in the picture now. What is your eye drawn to? Is it a person? Is it a detail? What have you noticed? Focus in on these details.

Is your eye drawn to a person? Which person? Do you identify with any of them, perhaps by how they are positioned, or what they look like? Why do you think you identify with them in particular?

Is your eye drawn to a detail? If so, why did this detail stand out to you? What do you notice about this detail?

Ask God to speak to you through whatever you have seen.

PrayThrough what you’ve seen, first give thanks to God for what you have seen. Now, ask God to speak to you through what you’ve seen. Is there something in your life with which this is connecting? Is there a message you can take away and reflect on further? Talk to God about this, and ask for his guidance to know what to do with this.

It may be that nothing stood out to you. If this is the case, talk to God about that: what does it feel like to have found nothing? Ask that God may speak to you another way.

I found this a helpful exercise, as I tend to think rather visually. Perhaps you might find it helpful, if you think in pictures.

I was also given another picture to take way with me. I’ll share this with you too, in the hope you might find it beneficial too!

Faith Journey 7: Son, I Forgive

Sometimes I need to be reminded that God has forgiven me. It’s something that I feel I need to come back to again and again. Even although I have been a Christian for most of my life, and have been training for full-time ministry over the last seven years, I still need reminded that God has actually forgiven me through Jesus Christ.

This was my “take home” message from my last session of Spiritual Accompaniment. During this session, I participated in a prayer exercise called Lectio Divina. I have found this exercise useful, and have used it many times before. The pattern we used on this occasion was as follows:

Lectio Divina (Praying the Scriptures)
Lectio Divina is a slow reading of a short passage of Scirpture, in the faith that it will somehow transform. It is an ancient way of praying. Many have had the experience of words ‘leaping off a page’ and its that experience, quiet or dramatic, which lies behind Lectio Divina.

The Four Stages

  1. Lectio: Read the passage slowly, perhaps several times. Is there a  word or phrase which strikes you? It may be encouraging, comforting, challenging. 
  2. Meditatio: Stay with the word or phrase and repeat it to yourself several times, letting it sink into you. Take some time to ponder and consider it. If you wish, write down your thoughts.
  3. Oratio (Prayer): Speak to God about where your thoughts have taken you and include some time of silence and stillness.
  4. Contemplation: This is a time of quiet being with God and often the hardest for us in the West. Use your breath to still yourself, repeat your word or phrase and wait.

If nothing strikes you, talk to God about what that nothing is like and what that nothing feels like for you.

The stages may well blend into one another as you practice this way of prayer. The Psalms or favourite texts from the Bible are a good starting point.

The passage we used on this occasion was Mark 2: 1-12. This is a fairly familiar passage, where Jesus heals a paralysed man after his friends lower him through the roof of a house. Because it is such a familiar passage, we used the Message paraphrase of the Bible, because this would force us to pay more attention to the words of the story.

The words which really stood out for my on this occasion were, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

In more traditional Bible translations, these words would read, “Your sins are forgiven”. When I read, “Son, I forgive your sins”, it made things seem more personal.

This phrase stood out to me in a few different ways, which I’d like to share with you. First, I read, “Son”. Jesus was addressing me personally, as His son. As I read this passage, the image that came to mind was the Lord of the universe, in human form, addressing me! I don’t deserve that…and yet, here is Jesus, calling me “Son”.

Next, I read, “Son, I forgive”. This tells me something about Jesus’ identity. This says something about why Jesus comes to me. He comes to forgive.

Finally, “Son, I forgive your sin”. This was the reminder I needed. Even although I am training for ministry, and have been a Christian for years, I still need reminded that Jesus actually forgives my sin when I am sorry.

It is easy to hold on to guilt and remorse for things I’ve done wrong. I am grateful for the reminder that Jesus has granted my forgiveness for my sin, and restored my relationship with God. What a source of comfort and hope this is!!

Faith Journey 4: What Can I Do For You?

I find I often ask this question: “God, what do you want me to do for you now?” This is  a fairly common question for someone in full-time ministry. It would be a disaster if my attitude was, “Okay God, this is what  think I should do next!” (as if I could know better than God!).

As Christians, we believe that God is at work in our world, putting right injustice and working to transform people’s lives. As Christians, we are called to seek God, discern where He is working, and then humbly ask how we can help God in the work He is already doing. It’s a real privilege to work alongside God in the world!

As part of my ministry training, I have the opportunity to receive spiritual accompaniment. This is a process where by someone helps me to discern and reflect on my faith, and the impact of my faith on my life. I have had one session of this so far, and I have already discovered another wonderful facet of my faith, which I hadn’t really considered before.

To help me see this, my spiritual accompanier reminded me of this story in Mark 10:

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52 NIVUK)

I’ve highlighted the key question in bold. My spiritual accompanist told me this story and asked me to ponder how I would answer the question Jesus put to Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

In all honesty, I don’t know how I would answer it yet, because I am not used to asking such a question! It is far more common for me to ask it the other way round: “Jesus, what can I do for you?”

What I have been helped to realise and remember is that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. That goes for all believers, not just ministers. Jesus comes and offers to serve us and meet our needs.

Now, lets be clear: He meets our needs, not our desires! In other words, Jesus is willing to help us with the things that we need in life: forgiveness from sin, life transformation, reconnected with God. He doesn’t come to help us get what we want: new car, more money, bigger house.

I was still profoundly moved when I realised that He comes and asks me what I need Him to do for me! In order for me to minister to others, Christ first comes to minister to me.

As I say, I don’t know how I’ll answer that question yet…but I’m glad I was asked it!