The most important thing I do
Once this blog has been dispatched, I walk to church for morning prayers. A sad occasion, as this will be the last time Phil Weston will be praying with us. This coming Sunday will be his farewell to Christ Church. We owe much to Phil and Helen, especially in their ministry with older young people (i.e. those in their 20’s). Phil has been a great colleague to work with and I value his fellowship in the Gospel, not least in his preaching and careful preparation right across the board. I have also got use to him turning up just in time! One of his first priorities in becoming vicar of St Michael’s, Gidea Park (http://church-stmichael.org) will be to establish a support network, especially as he is the only ordained person there. You need to pray regularly with others in a disciplined rhythm. When Mark Stanford left us for Toxteth all those years ago, the one thing he missed about being curate at Christ Church was our morning prayer together each day. This came as a surprise to him because our daily office (I use the technical jargon here) seems very routine and maybe even a little dull at times. So he started a similar pattern of morning prayer in his new church. For me morning prayer each day with colleagues is at the heart of what I do. When training for the ministry, I spent some time at St Stephen's East Twickenham with the then vicar, Martin Peppiatt. (His father Ken used to sign our bank notes, I recall). Martin told me that the most important thing he did each day was morning prayer. So for those days when nothing seems to go right and most of our activities appear a complete waste of time, even so the day was well spent - because you took time out to pray. For that is what counts. In my mind I have held onto that advice and so the most defining thing I do as vicar of Christ Church, Aughton is to say each morning at the vicar’s stall, usually with others, the Lord’s prayer. For when it comes down to it, it’s the Lord’s church and whatever happens of significance is the work of the Holy Spirit. Such prayer gives the day its context for it is God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:7) It was Augustine (or what it Ignatius?) who urged: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” I like that, not least because it takes our culture of activism head on. Of course, we need to work hard but hard work is not the answer. The answer is always Christ. We demonstrate this by prayer. But as ever, it’s getting the balance right. We see Jesus investing a huge amount of resources, his time and energy, in prayer – especially at key moments. Even when he was desperately needed, Jesus would make himself unavailable so that he could pray to his Father, not always successfully as people tracked him down to the other side of the lake. But at the same time, he did things. As Peter explained to Cornelius “Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38). Clearly there is a balance, even a tension, between prayer and work, between looking to God to do the work and doing the work ourselves. The apostle Paul knew this, of course - and so the apostle writes to the Philippians: “Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. (2:12 GNB). So we do both. We seek to keep at it, working hard for the Gospel – but on the understanding that when it comes down to it, it is God doing the work. And not only does he work through us, he works even in what makes us tick. It’s not just that we work for Christ but much more, that we want to work for him. Such is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And such a mindset only comes when we honour God in prayer, even when we are tired and battle to hold concentration. It’s the most important thing we do. So off to pray, just in time.