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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lord Sugar at the Kerith? Thanks, Ascot Baptist...

Jeff (name changed) appeared suddenly at Bracknell Baptist Church during late summer, 1978. He was tall, extraordinary good looking, had longish hair, wore a orange satin silk shirt which was open at the neck to display a silver cross on his chest, and played his part well as a proud strutting peacock. He certainly performed well as a group of young ladies, including his future wife, swooning over him and baying for his attention as any female fan of a well known pop idol such as David Cassidy, Englebert Humperdinck or Cliff Richard, would have done a decade earlier.
In turn he boasted of his university degree and his prospective career as a Computer Programmer at a high tech company, one of several that had set up office to trade in what would become the Silicon Valley of Britain, straddling across the M3 and the M4 motorways (freeways) branching out of London.
But Jeff did not only attract the unmarried ladies in the church. He also caught the attention of the Elders, or Deacons as they were called in those days. In next to no time they were swayed by his charm, confidence and high level of education. He became the only unmarried house-group leader, a status looked with seriousness in those days, with conditions that the leader should be married and have full control of his children. (For those not in the know, a house-group, sometimes called cell-group, or as today, life-group, is a group of church members who meet at a private home during the week. Usually the leader is the host himself, but that was not always the case. We hosted house-group on several occasions, and allowed the guest leader to continue in his duty as normal.)
But the bane of all this was during singles evening, when we all met at a deacon's home on Sunday evening, after the service. This particular elder, who moved away from Bracknell during the late 1990s and no longer at the church, was a devout Englishman and a Tory, and I believe, a devotee of, or at least sympathetic with the school tie and the class system. It was through him, in the late 1970s that my delusion with Englishness has had it roots, along with a rotten sense of self-esteem.
Activities were organised at his home to strengthen fellowship and our spiritual health. One activity was tennis. Who arranged it? Jeff. And who learned the intricate switching of the church heating system? Jeff. And who organised other group outings or activities? Jeff.
When I offered to take on a responsibility, I was told that I was not capable of it. How did he know?
"You don't look confident" was his reply. "You're not even sure of the task, aren't you?"
And not to mention that my speech and accent in no way convey confidence!
What a put down! And how all this made me feel small and insignificant.
And that despite that on one evening Jeff was actually called a big-head by the Pastor himself, right within earshot. More than once as well.
All this was the theme of my last blog, Come on, Lord Sugar... where I demonstrated the consequence of the British class system and how it could influence the local church back in the '70s and '80s, a period when I was still looking for my personal destiny.

Kerith Centre

But in this blog, which could be considered as a follow up to my last one, I want to portray the positive side of having fellowship with Christian believers. Most of my friends were and are Christians.
But should the reader get the impression that I was a castaway in the fellowship, this wasn't true. There was Derek, who told me that he was impressed with my knowledge of the Bible and the faith I had in it. A lovely complement. After moving to Milan as part of his employment contract, he invited me over twice, in 1981 and again in 1982. He hosted me for a few days both before and after a stint of backpacking around Italy, including Sicily.
Also in 1981 a new friend, Geoff, arrived at Bracknell. He took up employment at the same company as Jeff. He also took up residence with two other graduates, Jon and Tim. Geoff was keen to learn to play squash, and it became a custom that every Tuesday Geoff and I would pair up and play squash together. After this, we walked back to Jon's house, where he lodged, for a coffee and toast. It was here that Jon, Tim and Geoff became good friends, much to do with teasing each other. Jon came down one late evening with a hot water bottle, a specific Englishman's companion when bedding on a cold night. It became the butt of constant joking and laughter, but it bonded friendships.
Tim was to play an important role in my life. In fact, I can credit him for changing my life altogether. An accountant, he played rugby, became a coach then team manager of a football club and a devout Christian, Tim was the one who directed me to my destiny. In more ways than one. Aside from wrestling with each other and trying out our physical strength, he also become my house-group leader, and he was the one who would open the door to let a little of the Alan Sugar in me to come out, after being shut in for so long after being told many times of my incapability.
Tim eventually left Bracknell Baptist Church, the forerunner of the Kerith Centre, and joined Ascot Baptist Church, of a town three miles from Bracknell. But by then he was already Chairman of Bracknell Saints Football (soccer) Club, consisting of players both from Bracknell and Ascot Baptist Churches. While still at Bracknell, Tim became involved with a hospital therapeutic broadcasting station, Radio Heatherwood. (Heatherwood being the name of the hospital.) In truth, it was a cable service, not a proper radio. But after become team leader for the Friday Crew, in Spring, 1981 he invited me up to give it a go as a Presenter. From that first Friday evening I became hooked, and I was to be presenting for the next five years, during that time Tim had moved on, mainly due to his temporary work location, and team leadership was thrust into my hands by the Chairman of the League of Friends (which owned and ran the station).
It was on one occasion that Radio Heatherwood began to run low on funds. So I made the decision to run the 1984 Bracknell Half Marathon, collecting sponsors from both Bracknell Baptist Church members and window cleaning clientele. As a result, the funds were raised which restored the station's financial balance.
It was also then I began to get to know two more Christians, Keith of Ascot Baptist and Gareth from Warfield Parish Church (of the Church of England). Gareth, who worked in a Bank, moved into Tim's house which, like Jon's, was also near my bachelor's apartment. All committed Christians, we had something in common between us.
So there were times when Tim, Gareth, Keith, sometimes Paul (another Christian from Ascot Baptist) and I went out cycling together, both in the UK and abroad. One of the most remarkable trips we did together was Holland, Belgium and Germany, one long circuit which linked all three countries.

With my Christian mates

Then in 1986, I completed another half marathon, which in the same race was a friend from the Reading Life-saving Club. He was the one who introduced me to the sport of Triathlon, a multi-discipline race of American origin, consisting of swimming, cycling and running, normally in that order.
I handed the reigns of leadership of the Friday broadcasting crew to my successor, another Christian, this time from Bracknell Baptist, and joined Thames Valley Triathletes, one of the UK's largest triathlon clubs which was based in Reading, and soon after I was training with them and competing in triathlons across Southern England. Venues included Swanage, Bournemouth, Winchester, Newbury, Farnham, Arborfield, Reading, Hampton Wick, East Grinstead, Romford and Eastbourne.
It was at Winchester of Summer 1986 that while competing in one event, something of a vision took place in my mind. There was no triathlon in my area, whether in Bracknell, Ascot or any other locality.

Winchester Triathlon, inspiration for the Bracknell Triathlon

As I was pondering on this, the penny dropped. Do I need sponsors to finance a triathlon? No! It's paid for by the competitors themselves, but capital must be available to kick start in the organising.
And that's when I raised the issue with Tim at his home. He was at first sceptical but he did suggest holding a mini event over at the nurse's pool at Heatherwood Hospital.
But I preferred the idea of an event for Bracknell, based at the pool at the Sports Centre. When Gareth arrived home, I shared the vision, and he was more keen, but equally cautious, and suggested we share the idea with Keith.
So a few days later, all four of us were at Tim's home. When we told Keith our prospective vision, he jumped with enthusiasm and began to spout that we must get this and we must get that and this and the other...
Whoa! We have the biggest obstacle to tackle first, hiring the swimming pool.
I turned up at the Sports Centre Administration Office without an appointment one weekday morning during the Autumn of 1986. I had to wait as a man in a suit was being seen to, amidst a group of faces all smiling and nodding of approval. Luckily for me, it was an issue which had nothing to do with pool hire. When it was my turn to sell my idea of a triathlon in Bracknell and that we would like to hire the Competition Pool for the occasion, I was told flatly, no. But I suppose "No" really meant "Wait" and I explained with detail how the event would be organised, the details of the cycle and run routes, and any other connecting matters would be submitted in due course. The Administrator then called in the General manager. The three of us talked and discussed the idea, and eventually the Manager offered us one lane of the pool for a certain Saturday in June of the following year. I was excited! Single lane feeds are possible if the field is very small or the swim leg is short. Arborfield Triathlon used this method. But the deal would be signed only after I submitted everything they asked for.
Soon afterwards, I contacted Tim and Gareth and told them the news. Tim, Gareth, Keith, along with Dan and John and I met at Tim's home, and a Committee was formed, of which I was Chairman. I began to draw up what could be called a constitution - all in the Committee must be born-again Christian believers and each attend a church of their choice. Tim, Keith, Dan and John attended Ascot Baptist, Gareth at Warfield Parish and myself at Bracknell Baptist. All members of the Committee, except myself, were members of Bracknell Saints Football Club, hence we named the Triathlon after the name of the Committee - Bracknell Saints Triathlon.
We targeted the field to 300 competitors. I also drew the plan for the cycle and run routes, both highly complicated, easy-to-get-lost circuits, the run route being the one used by the Bracknell half-marathon. I contacted the Police to submit the routes to them, and I received their approval. The St John Ambulance was also arranged, the officer of this came to visit me at my home. But most important of all, the event had to be sanctioned by the British Triathlon Association (BTA) a move which would make the difference between success or disaster.
When entry forms were dispatched, using the BTA-affiliated club master list, together with our event listed in the BTA annual event guide, entries began to come in, which I registered on Tim's desktop Computer. Soon I had to return to the Sports Centre Administration, and by explaining the situation, they were willing for us to use the whole pool, which was divided into four lanes, with six swimmers per lane, giving a feed of up to 24 swimmers in the pool at any one time.
The entire Committee - all Christian believers - sacrificed a day's holiday from their jobs to help me set up the two courses the day before the event. Along with the colour-coded swim hats, direction arrows, trophies, finisher's medals, tons of paperwork and everything set for the event the next day, we were so excited that we failed to see that a disaster was looming! We were short of volunteers for stewarding, or marshaling.
And sure enough, when the competitors arrived, about 260 of them, there were no pool marshals, so each swimmer was left to count his own laps in the pool, leaving the door wide open for cheating.
But worse of all, some of the carefully placed direction arrows were torn down, leaving the run route difficult to navigate, some of the runners getting lost and the event would have come to ruin had not a few friends stepped in and saved the day by getting a result.
Afterwards, I went home thoroughly dejected. I lay on the bed for a long while. Utter failure.
Then suddenly, as if by inspiration, I telephone the Sports Centre Administration and there and then booked up the pool hire for the following year, 1988. Hope flooding back into my soul.
I found it so amazing that after the failure of our first triathlon event, all Committee members were raring to give it another go. Some months later, we had our first meeting at Tim's house and each committee member were assigned specific tasks, and I asked them all to be dedicated to their position, and not switch from one to the other as with the previous event. The set up was as follows:
Keith, then a Porter, and Dan, a Financial Advisor - Marshal Coordinators. They were responsible of making sure there were enough stewards to guide the competitors, and to assign them to specific positions along the two routes.
Gareth: Time keeping coordinator. In charge of the three timekeepers.
Tim: Entry tabulator, Programme publishing and Results.
John: Assigned by Keith to be in charge of the drinks station located on the run route.
Myself: Event promoter, take in entries of all competitors, relate to all serving bodies, e.g. St John Ambulance, Police, Commentary Caravan, Market stall, Palmers Scaffolding Hire (for the bicycles to be attached to a horizontal rail by the handlebars, leaving the front wheel just a tad above ground) as with the BTA and Media publishing (Bracknell News, Bracknell Times, Reading Chronicle, national Triathlon and Running magazines, BTA Event guide, national and international.)
All six of us made up the Bracknell Triathlon Committee spanning social class and professions. Not only this being a good model of a church, we also worked together in harmony and even allowed a joke and some laughter during our pre-event meetings.
To cut a long story short, the 1988 event was a flying success!
Two of the big changes were of the two routes. The cycle route was simpler, faster and safer in relation to the traffic. The run route was an out and back system, although I had to make it safe by creating a small circuit after Gareth warned me of a potential danger of tired runners finishing being hit head on by fast cyclists fresh out of the pool.
Also Paul, who accompanied us on our bikes to Holland, took care of the Registration Station we set up just outside the pool changing room.
We staged the Bracknell Triathlon every year for seven years. What I found so encouraging was that the majority of competitors forgave us for the fiasco of our maiden event and despite almost doubling the price of our entry fee, the field swelled in size, reaching more than 360 by 1990. Also the coffers at Bracknell saints Football club began to swell - and that's despite paying fees to organisations such as the Rotary Club and to the charity, Wells for India, for sending volunteers as marshals. One Triathlon club even made our event their annual Championships. News of it spread through the international Triathlon media as far as the USA and Australia.
But what's behind all this?
The love and dedication of fellow Christian believers, mainly from Ascot Baptist, who caught the vision. It took sacrifice, taking time off work, working into the night, even the need to spend our own money if necessary. But most of all, I believe that they lived up to Jesus' own mission:
A bruised reed he will not break, neither will he quench a smouldering flax.
Back in the seventies and early eighties I was a bruised reed or a smouldering flax. I was of average or below average educated among a church of graduates. I felt small. God felt differently. He inspired some of his own people to fan this smouldering ash to a blazing fire. But not merely that I feel good about myself, but rather that I could benefit from his love and on rebound, learn to trust in him more and to honour him better.
Just this Sunday I visited Bracknell Community Church (after leaving it to join Ascot Baptist in 1990). Gareth and Keith were there, and after the service I chatted to them both. With Simon Benham as present Pastor, I can see great hopes for this church for the future. I wish it all God's blessing.
Lord Alan Sugar started his career as a seller of flowers at a street stall.
I would never be like him, but it's good to see a little bit of him in me come alive.
Thanks to the support of other Christian believers.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Come On, Lord Sugar, They're Not That bad, Are They?

Ben and Catherene Mullany, both 31, from Pontardawe in South Wales, strutted along the Caribbean beach of Antigua like two proud peacocks as they enjoyed their two-week honeymoon in July, 2008. They where white, middle class and oozing high levels of education, professionalism and in turn, wealth. Their wealthy exuberance were further enhanced by staying at the £330-a-night Cocos Hotel. This would have added up to £4,620 on accommodation alone. On top of this, there would have been the cost of the air tickets, travel insurance and pocket money. I believe that the total cost of the holiday would have been greater than the annual income of many of the locals, many struggling day by day to make ends meet. Then again, their strutting should not have come as a surprise. Ben was once in the Army, followed by a stint as a Police Officer before becoming a student Physiotherapist. His bride, Catherine was a Paediatrician.
Then in the early hours of July 27th, the day they were due to fly back to the UK, two would-be robbers burst into their bedroom. They were suspected as being 23 year old Kaniel Martin and Avie Howell, 20. They shot the sleeping couple each at the back of the head. Catherine was killed instantly. Her husband Ben survived the ordeal, but died a week later at a UK hospital.
The gang got away with just their mobile phone.
Envy struck again.
Maybe, had this couple spent their honeymoon in the UK - sure, at times they would have been bored, stuck in their hotel while the heavy rain clattered on the window panes from outside, then wrapping up warm as they strolled along the wind-swept shingle beach, watching the grey, murky seawater churn on a strip of exposed sand while picking at the hot cod and chips from the large paper wrapper - then who knows, at present Catherine would have had a child crawling across the lounge floor of their home while breastfeeding her newborn. And afterward, after Ben comes in from work, their memories would have relished on their washout of a honeymoon, how it strengthened their bond between them.
Yes, it can be difficult at times to bury my face into a pillow and soak it with my tears over their fate.
Or the case of Gerry and Kate McCann.
Gerry was a Consultant Cardiologist, while Kate was also a Doctor. They with their three children flew to Praia du Luz in Portugal for a holiday during late Spring, 2007. One evening while the children were asleep, they enjoyed a bite at an eatery, close to their apartment. It was then, on 3rd May, that their eldest daughter Madeleine disappeared, presumed kidnapped.
The Media was on the case for weeks to follow. Both the BBC News and the newspapers spewed out article after article on the case of missing Madeleine. It was not surprising that I felt my sympathy dry up after repeated hearings and readings. Then one evening I was browsing the Daily Mail online, and one of the commentators under the McCann article wrote words to this effect:
If Madeleine had been the daughter of a single mother working as a Tesco Shelf-Stacker somewhere up North, this case would have been long forgotten!
I had fully identified with this writer. The British Establishment have a reverence for the higher standing, don't they?
As in the case of the 2012 London Olympics. Again, according to the Daily Mail article published a couple of weeks previous to this, 250,000 of the UK's public applied for seats at the 80,000 seat athletic (Track & Field) stadium. Of these, 36,000 were allocated, leaving the rest - 44,000 to private sponsors.
In all, these sponsors contribute £1.4 billion to the Games. If this seem a large contribution, it will be dwarfed by the £12 billion of taxpayer's money. (In this article, the Imperial billion is used, which is 1,000,000,000,000.)
Of some of the sponsors, head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter and his colleagues will enjoy a £1,500,000 mega-freebie and at the same time stay at the May Fair Hotel at a much reduced price, while competitors themselves were unable to secure their families with accommodation.
Even the Government is giving freebies to it VIPs and dignitaries. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport had spent £750,000 for 9,000 seats at the stadium. This equals £83.33 per seat.
Newspapers have labelled the ticketing ballot "grossly unfair" to the British public, whose taxes makes up the largest proportion of funding, yet Lord Sebastian Coe, 1980s Olympic 800 metre champion and Tory MP, says that the ballot was seamless.

Track & Field Stadium

Is it another way of showing class favouritism?
Staying with sport, this article was written at the start of the 2011 Wimbledon Tennis season. Our star is Andrew Murray, the only Brit who stands a chance to win the Grand Slam at the men's singles final. Murray may be Britain's only hope, but unfortunately for the English, Murray is a Scotsman. The only Englishman ever to win the Grand Slam was Fred Perry, a son of a coal miner, who in 1934 defeated Australian Jack Crawford.
As the story goes, the officials would not present the trophy to a coal miner's son. So he was told to lift it himself. But the officials were much happier to present the runner up prize to the upper/middle class Australian. By 1936, Perry felt so betrayed by the fierce snobbery within the All England Lawn Tennis Club that he defected to the USA.
Nowadays bankers makes a good example of the Middle classes, the backbone, so we read in the newspapers, that holds Britain together and acts as a power engine for its economy. They are generally hated by the public for their pre-credit crunch greed, but still given adoring respect by the Establishment.
One good example of this was Sir Fred "The Shred" Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland. At his present age of 52, I take it that he was one of the 1980s City Yuppies, and therefore one of "Thatcher's Children". (Yuppie is the acronym for "Young Urban Professional." - now generally obsolete.) Goodwin as head of the RBS brought the Bank to its knees, and it would have gone bust had it not been bailed out by the taxpayer. Yet for this dramatic failure, he was knighted in 2004 for "Services in Banking". He resigned in October 2007 and is the recipient of a £700,000 pension pot.
There were many MPs in Parliament who lobbied to have Goodwin stripped of his Knighthood, but as far as I know, the Establishment had allowed him to keep it.
So it was of little surprise that by watching The Apprentice a couple of weeks ago, that I felt a smidgen of satisfaction when Lord Alan Sugar swore at contestant Jim Eastwood for bringing his task to ruin for the rest of his team.

Lord Alan Sugar

Perhaps what makes The Apprentice so entertaining is the way Lord Sugar takes these contestants down a peg or two when faced with failure. And in view of the whole nation, which I think, enjoys blaming them for the economic mess, the Recession and spiralling inflation with which we all suffer. A man in a suit is an easy target, isn't it?
But it is one thing to point the finger at the Establishment. It is quite another to see class discrimination and favouritism within the churches.
Neither the Establishment nor the public need to be reproved for class favouritism. They don't need such reproof. What they need instead is individual conviction of sin and the need of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Salvation is their need, not mere reproof. But Christian believers are very different. They uphold Jesus Christ as Saviour and their Lord, but I have still seen class favouritism among English churches. Plenty of it.
On a personal front, the attitude shown among Christian believers leaves a lot to be desired. Back in the 1970s and the 1980s, I was a member of what was Bracknell Baptist Church, the forerunner of the present Kerith Community Church. Members of my age were very forward with their University degrees, especially when communicating with the opposite sex, or seeking favours or responsibilities from the Elders. They tended to rate class as a more personal importance than their love and commitment to Christ. Youth leadership were chosen by the elders apparently by their level of education rather than of spirituality, as some discredited Divine Creation in favour of Evolution, therefore calling God a liar (for declaring that He made everything in six days when actually to them this was not true). Oddly, I found that nearly all the graduates who joined our church in my younger days believed in Evolution, and held their degrees and social class as high priorities.

We are one in Christ. No class favouritism here

Here I'm in danger as playing the judge. Everyone is accountable to God, and to God only, not to any of us. Therefore I have no right to act as a judge. God alone will judge us all.
But we believers need to take heed of what the Apostle James wrote to believers who were snobbish in his day. In chapter 2 of his letter, he wrote how bad it was to pay honour to a well dressed man who enters the assembly, and then treats a man in unbecoming clothes who also walks in with scornful disrespect. He calls this murder and therefore no better than a physical killing. Snobbery, class favouritism, honouring the rich, showing disrespect to the poor, shunning humble tasks - all these things are classed as murder and should not be seen among Christian believers.
Rather, we should put Jesus before national or class superiority. I would say that being filled with the Holy Spirit will dispose of such attitudes.
After all, we shall all die, and then all these things we be done away with. They are not eternal.
I bet Ben and Catherine Mullany would have wished to have walked along the cold, wet windswept beach in the UK with their raincoats flapping in the breeze instead of the warm, calm sunny tropical Antigua's beach lapped gently by the turquoise blue sea.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Prayer Is Hard Work

I called round to Tim's house one weekday evening sometime in the 1990s. Soon he served up a meal, as he often did. While sitting on one of his armchairs, I began to tuck in.
"Daddy!" cried his young daughter, "Uncle Frank did not say grace!"
I blushed slightly, expecting my mate to walk into the room scowling, for I perceived as showing a bad example to his children. Instead he had a big grin and said words to the effect, "Saying grace before meals is all religion, isn't it?"
I was relieved. The guy understood.
When I first became a Christian in 1973, I used to say grace before meals at home, before I flew the nest. It was done as an attempt to win my agnostic parents into God's Kingdom. Then on one occasion we all sat at the dinner table and after giving thanks (the only family member to do so) I immediately protested to my mother,
"Mum, you know that I don't like garlic!"
And began to pick them out.
"YOU HYPOCRITE!" My father shouted across the table. "It just goes to show what a hollow sham all this thanksgiving really is."
We both looked into each other's eyes. I knew full well he was right. Religion. After that I never said grace before meals again, except as a guest at a Christian's home.
But grace before meals is only a small portion in what is sanctimoniously called prayer. What is prayer? Truly, it means "Having a chat with God" which is a result of a good relationship.
But as a child, prayer was something quite different. While in English the word carries a religious ring to it, in the Italian language the meaning was more blunt. The Italian for Prayer is Pregare which literally means "to beg." Even in classic English, much now archaic, the original meaning of the word "pray" was used in the context, "I beg you" For an example, a request like this was most likely used,
I pray you allow me more time to repay the loan.
From my childhood days, prayer was about religion. As with grace before meals, we were taught to pray at morning assembly, something which I had to do from age five to 15, when I left school and was able to put all that pretence behind.

At junior school we were told to hold our hands together (as shown in the above illustration) and shut our eyes. Of course, I believed that if I posed otherwise, then it's not prayer. This stayed with me well into adulthood and even after my conversion. During school assembly we recited the Lord's Prayer every morning, starting with Our Father, which art in Heaven... with some feeling that God was not my Father, and in those days he wasn't. We also subconsciously associated our image of God with the strict, cane wielding Deputy Headmaster, who would cane a pupil for just talking while filing through the corridor to our classrooms. Little wonder there were a growing number of atheists particularly among the boys. I was more than glad to ditch this religious stuff the moment I walked out of the school premises for the last time in 1968.
To recap, Prayer was no more than Recital. At the Catholic Church with which I grew up, prayer was more to do with reciting the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Act of Contrition. These were set prayers, and I had to be mindful not to get the words wrong. More devoted Catholics had the Rosary, a string of beads with which a set prayer was recited at the handling of each bead.

A traditional Rosary

A silver Rosary opened out to show its structure. A prayer is recited with each bead held.

Recital prayer is the binding force of every religion. Hindus, Muslims, Judaism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, even Church of England services. It is relatively easy to recite a prayer at a set time and place. It is easy for a priest to instruct a penitent to recite two "Our Fathers" and eight "Hail Marys" with the aid of a Rosary each day at 10.00am and 3.00pm.
But supposing all recital prayer is removed from our Christian lives altogether? What then? Church prayer meetings?
Going to a prayer meeting is something totally different from a lifetime of recital, especially in non-formal churches such as Baptist or Pentecostal. In these there are no fixed prayers. One imagines sitting for a hour or more, wondering what on earth is he going to pray about. It does not excite enthusiasm.
Dave Rogers, an elder at Ascot Baptist Church and a personal friend of mine, could not have been more spot on. Standing at the front, he unreservedly announced:
Prayer is hard work!
And so it is. The big issue here is what to pray about. And how to keep on praying for a full hour long after you have run out of ideas.
Furthermore, I tend to feel put down when I read or hear of the likes of Martin Luther or John Wesley so patronisingly declare that one cannot be spiritual, nor care much for God's affairs unless he prays for up to four hours every morning! Whew! Fine for a full-time minister living in a much slower, agricultural world than the fast paced service/industrial world we live in today which takes up the greater part of our working day.
Various aids were put out to help us in our prayers. One of them originated from Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago. He formulated ACTS, taken from the name of the New Testament book. It is an acronym, and when the code is unscrambled, we get this:
Although this formula, no doubt have been a help for many in their prayer lives, it is a formula. Therefore there is a tendency to turn this aid into another religious format by believing that this is the way to go about it. And this in particular when it was shown to have worked with certain or even with many individuals.
So what is prayer to me?
Personally, I find spontaneous prayer more functional than set prayer meetings. Spontaneous prayer is turning into prayer a thought that have dropped into my mind. Setting out to work in the morning, often whether its sunny or dismal, it's good to thank God for this new day, thanking him for keeping me alive to see this day in human history. Counting all that I have and thanking God for them. This kind of thanksgiving exceeds grace before meals by a long shot. Along with thanking God for food and drink, I can thank him for good health, a roof over our heads, our clothing, my spouse, my job - without we would not be able to eat - our tax credits, our holidays, and everything we have - computer, TV, cooker, microwave oven, washing machine, tumble dryer and all other utilities as well as niceties which grace our home with little luxuries.
Along with thanksgiving there at times a need to confess my sins. It is this that at times puts me off prayer. Confessing is something I feel I need to "clear the air" before settling down to prayer. Then again there are supplications, asking God for things. I don't feel it's wrong to complain to God that we are hard up and we could do with some financial uplift. Often enough, this problem resolves itself, often with an offer of extra work, or a backpayment from a client just returned from holiday or other absence.
Then there is intercession, to me the most difficult form of prayer. Difficult due to the intensity of love for this other person or group of people. It is much easier to pray for someone I love than it is for someone I don't love.
All these can be spontaneous prayer. I'm lucky enough as a self-employed worker to stop what I'm doing and start praying if such a thought drops into my mind. For those at work for an employer, this could be much harder to accomplish. Although I don't have this kind of experience, maybe jotting down on a piece of paper the passing thought before it's forgotten does not sound a bad idea.
Then my friend Dave Rogers, along with the other church elders, spend time in prayer and Bible study each morning before doing anything else. This requires being shut alone in a quiet room, undisturbed. This is praiseworthy and demonstrates a high level of self-discipline. With me, because I tend to be less strong on discipline, so far I have accomplished the Bible study bit, reading a chapter each morning. Whether this is right or not, I rely more on spontaneous prayer than fixed times.
And I should say here that the will and ability to pray comes from God in the first place. True prayer is a gift of God, not human strength, and therefore not recital. But how one conducts his walk with God is a matter between each person and God. No one in the church should judge or criticize an other's walk with God.
Prayer is hard work. Especially in fixed times. Talking to God in one sense is like talking to a parent or a friend. But when the other person replies straight away, when one finishes prayer, all there is is silence. It takes faith to believe that God has heard (paid attention) to prayer.
But for believers in Jesus Christ, having a chat with God is as essential as breathing.