April 2017

Reflection of Prayer and Spirituality

Fr Owain Mitchell

Christian spirituality is primarily about being attentive to God. It’s about listening to God with our whole being – heart, spirit, mind and body. And it’s about allowing God to speak His love to us, and responding to this still, small voice. Being a Christian disciple involves us responding to Him, and saying ‘Yes’ to God. It mean’s prayer and action – we cannot pray that God will change things, if we are not willing to take our part in bringing about that change. It means opening our hearts to God, and allowing Him to transform our lives, so that the image of Christ becomes the image in us and we become Christ-like. Over the past few months, we have reflected on why and how we pray, we have considered some of the barriers to prayer and how, through our attentiveness to God, we learn to love more. Another element of living as disciples and of our spirituality, one which we perhaps give too little time to, because it makes us feel uneasy or we find it embarrassing, is the area of stewardship.

Stewardship – our attitude to, and use of God’s gifts to us – is rooted in scripture. There are many passages in the bible guide which should shape our attitude to money, and how we use it. You may wish to reflect on a few from Luke’s gospel – 12:13-31; 18:18-30; 19:11-27; 20:20-27; 21:1-3.

In the Eucharist, we often pray “Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is Yours. All things come from you, and of Your own do we give you”. This prayer comes from scripture (1 Chronicles 29, verses 11 &14).  So as we present or offer to God the collection, we are acknowledging that we offer back to God a proportion of all that He generously gives to us.

 

The Church of England, of which we are all members, teaches the following –

God gives us so much, and asks us, as His followers, to be generous in return. In the New Testament, we are taught to give in proportion to our income, and to do so in a regular and disciplined way. Our giving should be realistic to the need, done in secret and done joyfully. This all suggests that God is more concerned with how we give than how much. The Old Testament model was to tithe, or give one tenth of your income. For some, this will be easy, and they can afford to give more, for others, a tenth is something to work towards”  General Synod’s Resolution

General Synod carried the following motion:

“That this Synod, affirming that God gives abundant gifts to us as individuals and as a Church, and that we are stewards of all that God has given us:

(a) encourage church members (including children and young people) to live generously as disciples of Jesus Christ, joyfully giving time, skills, money and other resources to God’s mission in the world, in times of economic stringency as well as of plenty, in response to the lavish generosity of God to us in Christ who made Himself poor that we might become rich;

(b) reconfirm its challenge to church members to assess annually their financial giving as a proportion of income and to adopt as an initial target the giving of 5% of their after tax income to and through the church, and a similar amount to other work that helps to build God’s kingdom; and

(c) commend the Giving for Life guide (GS 1723a) to parishes and dioceses/deaneries for prayerful discussion and action”

As we approach the start of the new Parochial Church Council year, all five parishes know that we face an uphill struggle to raise the income necessary for maintaining a Christian presence in our communities. We must therefore both pray that God will provide us with the resources needed, but we must also reflect on whether we could give more – time, help, money, etc. – to our churches. Our spiritual growth and our discipleship means more than just growing in prayer, it’s a whole life transformation. And we know that the Church, as a charity, is in competition with many other worthy causes which call for our support. Neither is the Church the only charity which God works through, whether the other charities would recognise and accept this or not.

Stewardship as a strand of our spirituality shapes both our understanding of what God does for us, and what we as Christians ought to do for others. The basis of our spirituality challenges us, to stop, pray and think about how we use not just our money, but all of God’s gift to us. We live in a materialistic, consumerist society, but the call to discipleship is an invitation from God to be counter cultural. As disciples, we are called to be examples to the world around us. Our spirituality transforms us, and enables us to know, obey and live in accordance with God’s will. Our example must therefore reflect God’s generosity towards us; we do not seek to benefit for ourselves, but seek to share from God’s abundant love with those around us. This should shape not just what or how we give, but also the spirit in which we give.

Lent is a great time to think about how our lives in the Spirit are shaping our lives outside of Church.  Our readings, prayers, study and the whole sprit of Lent speak of denying ourselves, sharing in Christ’s suffering as we take up the cross and follow Him. Many people give things up during Lent, others take things on.  Are our Lenten disciplines really just symbolic? I imagine not? Are they really just New Year’s resolutions picked up again?  Certainly not!  They are a fresh attempt to align our lives and wills to that of God demonstrated in Jesus.  So some of the children in one of the schools I go in use the money they save by giving up chocolate to give to charity.  Yet we can live sacrificial lives, without being miserable about it. We can discipline ourselves joyfully. So other’s (and I do this myself) carry on as normal, but for every treat they have, they give some money to charity. Neither does this attitude need to be confined to Lent, we can think this way throughout the whole year.

 

As we enter more deeply into a fuller life giving relationship with God, and our spiritual lives deepen, we open ourselves up and allow ourselves to grow more fully in Christ’s image. We become the Christ-like people God calls us to be. Our attitudes and points of view about our whole lives are challenged and transformed. Through these little, but often difficult steps, we become more acutely aware of God’s love for us. And as we receive from God’s abundant heart, our hearts overflow with thankful abundance, as we learn to share with others what we have received from Him.

May I take this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of the PCCs, for your generous giving over the past year. It is hugely appreciated. May God continue to bless you, and His Church, in the coming year.

(Includes extracts for EMMAUS: The Way of Faith (2003) and GS1723 Giving for Life: A report by the  National Stewardship Committee)