Some prayers defy logic. Our lives are full of situations that need the impossible, in short, a miracle. Our reliance on modern life with all its perks and assistance, often gets in the way of us asking God for the miraculous. However, a decade ago, a friend of mine sent a text asking me to pray as she was late for a meeting. The meeting was in an hour, but she was two hours away from the venue. I have to admit that I didn’t think there was much I could do except pray that the meeting time could be moved to later in the day. For various reasons the meeting couldn’t be moved so the only option was to pray for the impossible. And that’s when I remembered the story of the Lord making time stand still…
My first prayer was to ask the Lord to bring the situation into alignment with his will, secondly, I whispered “if there is a way you can stop time to make this happen, we are willing to receive.” Over the course of the next hour, my friend regularly updated me that against all odds, the traffic seemed to be moving and that she was making progress. However, she noted that something strange was happening, every time she looked at her watch, the hands hadn’t moved far or at all. It was as though time was standing still. There was no logical explanation for what was happening, but it seemed time had slowed down to help her progress twice as fast.
To our contemporary minds, these kinds of stories seem ridiculous, yet we know from Joshua 10 that this phenomenon has happened before. The Lord delayed the sun going down for a full day so that the Israelites had enough daylight to defeat their enemies. The question we should be asking ourselves is “why aren’t we asking the Lord for greater miracles in our lives?” Not just in the big issues, but in the mundane problems such as not having enough time to get to a meeting. The Bible is littered with examples of daring prayers that give us hope that the Lord can do anything we ask. There is always a Biblical principle which is a prayer key to unlock the answer.
Perhaps our reliance is in the wrong place, and we should be looking to God first for answers rather than a last resort. Perhaps we’re too scared to ask for God’s help. Or perhaps asking God hasn’t occurred to us. But what I can tell you from my experience, is that if you ask, God will always answer.
Earlier this week I was feeling discouraged about my prayer life, mainly that I haven’t seen many answers to my prayers over the last year. Having moaned at God for his lack of communication, I decided to dig out my journal to see what I was talking to the Lord about this time last year. I always write down the situations and people that I am praying for, plus how I feel and what I think God might be saying. Looking back through last year’s entries was revealing; it’s amazing how much I have forgotten and how quickly life moves on. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail of everyday life and forget where I was a few months ago and what God has done for me.
This time last year I was asking the Lord for several things that needed his help and advice. Although some of the situations did not change immediately, over the last year things have slowly started to move and improve. Some of the answers were small and could have been easily missed, whereas others were much clearer. If I hadn’t had written down each incident and response from God, I would have missed what he was saying and doing. Looking back, I can see how he was working behind the scenes to bring me to the point of understanding what he was doing and what he was asking me to do next. And although the whole answer may not be fully visible yet, there are signs of change.
There’s so much more that comes with God’s answers; our mindset changes, I could see in the pages how my thought processes have changed and how I’ve grown in faith. My beliefs about who God is and his involvement in my life have changed for the better. He uses our prayers to develop us mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as bringing breakthrough to our petitions.
By journalling I can see God’s participation in my life, it encourages me to keep persevering and walking with him. By rejoicing at what he is doing, I remember to be thankful for what he has done. Our praise creates a way for God to do more in our lives as it keeps our hearts and minds in line with him. In Joshua 4:6, Joshua builds a memorial marking the miracle that God performed when they crossed the river Jordan. He did this so that future generations would remember their relationship with God and learn more about his character. God knew that the Israelites would soon forget this miracle, and that they would become focused on their daily lives, so he asked them to continue to rejoice at what he had done for them.
Journalling keeps us on track with our requests. Some situations require persistent prayer over a period of time; by writing down our thoughts and the changes we can see, we maintain our focus on our prayer requests. One of the most common reasons that we don’t see answer to prayer, is that we give up too soon or our commitment to asking for change fades away.
If you’re struggling with your prayer life, try writing down your requests and keep track of God and what he is saying. You may find it that you’re much further into the process of change than you thought.
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How often do we pray for a situation and the results of that prayer seem elusive? It seems as though nothing is happening nothing is changing, and we are stuck in difficulty. There are other times when we pray, and the situation seems to worsen, and we wonder whether God has heard us at all. The reality is that conflict happens when we pray. We might not be able to see it, or understand what is happening, but our prayers are powerful and precious to God, and this attracts spiritual opposition. The enemy does not want us to receive the goodness of God and uses tactics to put us off praying. We know that prayer is so powerful that it attracts antagonism.
Praying to God was made illegal. In Daniel 6, we learn that praying to God was outlawed and that you could only pray to the King. If you were caught, the act was punishable by death notably in the lions’ den. But let’s think about this for a moment: praying was so powerful that it was made illegal. The effect of those prayers was bringing an outcome different to human agenda, and it was noticed by those who wanted to keep control of society and they attempted to block it. Most of us don’t realise how effective our petitions are, and that we can change the course of history through just one heartfelt conversation with God. But in Daniel’s era, the government knew what a relationship with God could do on earth, so they tried to get rid of it. Because the Lord wanted to bring glory to his name, he placed an angel in the lions’ den with Daniel, and as a result Daniel was unharmed and the edict to stop prayer was overturned. There are occasions when we make prayer illegal in our own lives. We can shut down our communication with God because we believe that we can solve the problem ourselves. We refuse to deal with our sin and unforgiveness and as a result our prayer life and walk with God becomes weak. There are also times when we believe that God isn’t all powerful and can’t fix the situation, and we sink into despair that he has abandoned us and that the situation won’t change.
Prayer can be delayed. The opposition can delay the answer. In Daniel 10, the answer to prayer is delayed by 21 days as the angel is detained by spiritual opposition. Daniel’s prayer was so powerful that the enemy tried to stop it, but it didn’t work. No matter how bad our situation is, the answer to our prayer is always on the way, it can’t be blocked or held back for long as God is more powerful than any obstacle. This should encourage us to keep praying and seeking God’s answer! It is quite incredible to think that a small prayer could cause conflict in the unseen spiritual world; it’s almost beyond our comprehension. Sometimes that conflict is visible to us as we experience pain and difficulty in our situations, other times it is happening behind the scenes and we can’t see it.
All of these things are direct assaults on our communication with God. All designed to induce fear, weariness and to stop us from praying. The Biblical passages tell us that none of the attacks succeeded in stopping prayer; God was victorious every time. If we can learn anything from these passages, it’s that our conversations with God are so effective that the enemy wants to take them out. Prayer is to be highly valued and protected; we should make the most of it at every opportunity. Why would satan attack something that is ineffective? There would be no point in doing that. We can take hope in knowing that we are taking part in petitions that are making waves, bringing change and inspiring hope.
The waiting time before the answer arrives may test our faith and resolve, but we become stronger from seeing the creative ways that the Lord answers our requests. And the Lord always answers us; it may be yes, no or wait, but he always answers. The sign of conflict in our situations should give us a clue to the size of the blessing on the other side of our prayer. If our prayers are being contested, that should encourage us that we are on the right lines and to keep going. In the passages from Daniel, the Lord always shows himself strong and is victorious on every occasion. One of the best ways to remind yourself of past victories with God, is to keep a prayer journal and note the answers you receive. When we remind ourselves of what God has done, we are encouraged to keep going and pursue God more. So don’t be alarmed by the way that a circumstance looks, or the opposition you are receiving to your prayers, or if you feel like quitting. Rest assured that God is at work to bring solutions to your life. Just keep praying.
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A few years ago, I saw a meme that said “Dear Lord…” and then showed a big pile of Scrabble letters that were in a mess. If I could describe my prayer life to you right now, that meme would accurately describe it. Today I had one of those moments where my prayers were car-crashing into each other. I arrived at church in good time (this is unusual, make no assumptions here!), and from the minute I sat down, my thoughts were scrambled up. No prayer was coherent, I’d start a sentence and not be able to complete it before the next thought took my mind captive. The sheer weight of all the situations I’m carrying weighing down on me.
“Lord, I need help with…”
“Please heal Jo…”*
“Do I need to be worried about…”
“Tomorrow I have to…”
“I’m not sure I can…”
Not one sentence made sense. My brain was raising one issue after another with no space to think. I said to the Lord, “I hope you understand all of that because it’s the best I can do right now.” And in that moment, I had a deep peace that the Lord had understood my heart’s cry and that he will answer me.
In Luke 8, the woman who was bleeding and came to Jesus, received her answer to prayer without actually saying any words in the moment of breakthrough. She may have prayed before the event, but scripture indicates that she doesn’t say anything to Jesus, she just touches the hem of his cloak and is healed. In the moment of the miracle she has no words to say, yet Jesus’s spirit knows her need and meets it.
Hannah got to the end of her rope in her situation. Desperate for a child and being tormented by husband’s other wife, her endless prayers became cries where her mouth moved but no sound came out. The situation had driven her to the point where she prayed until there was no sound left to make. We know that Eli the priest actually thought that she was drunk because of her distressed behaviour. Realising that she was petitioning the Lord out of sheer desperation, he came into agreement with her and the vow she had made to the Lord to offer her child back to God. The result was her prayer being answered. I’ve had occasions where I’m screaming my prayers at the Lord; those are raw yet powerful prayers as they lead me to submit to the Lord’s will. When faced with an impossible situations, I’ve learnt that the best route is the Lord’s plan.
The Lord can take our broken, messy prayers and still understand them. He knows what we are crying out for and can read our hearts and minds even when we don’t make sense. Our words and sentences may be crashing into each other or there may be no words at all, but the Lord hears and sees it all. These stories remind us that we are not alone in journey and that the Lord always answers are prayers even if the answers are unexpected. All he wants is for us to turn to him and ask for wisdom, mercy and for his will to be done in our lives. Be encouraged that your jumbled prayers make sense to Jesus.
One of the questions I have asked over the years is “why isn’t God answering my prayers?”. There have been many occasions where God has asked me to pray for someone and yet I’ve never seen the results of those petitions. Sometimes I wonder why God would ask me to be involved in prayer for situations that are seemingly impossible to change.
A few years ago the Lord asked me to pray for someone that had fallen away from their faith. It was a gut-wrenching situation watching a friend change and become someone different to the Christian I knew. At first, I met this prayer challenge with gusto and great hope that God would do great things. The years past by and my prayers began to wane as the task became harder, I could see no result to my requests and I lost contact with my friend. Doubt was creeping in: had God really asked me to pray for this person and is he going to do as he said he would? After a couple of years of praying, the Lord gave me a Bible verse that is a promise of an expected good outcome to this situation. It renewed my passion for prayer and reminded me that God is in control of the situation.
However, a few more years past, and the Lord started to give me specific information on what to pray. These nuggets of information would challenge me to look at what the Bible says and line up my prayers with God’s word. However, one day I kept having a picture of this person in a wheelchair, it made me panic-stricken that this person was going to have a serious accident. Was God asking me to pray for protection? The Lord reassured me that this was not the case, but the picture persisted for awhile so I began to ask the Lord what he wanted to me learn from this picture and what was its meaning.
One night after I had put my kids to bed, I crashed out in the armchair, picked up my Bible and came across the story in Mark 2 of the friends who carried a paralysed man to Jesus. They were so persistent in their request for an audience that they tore open the roof of the house Jesus was in and lowered their friend down right in front of Jesus’ face. I can remember being stunned as I immediately knew why I was seeing my friend in a wheelchair, when the reality was quite different. Jesus was indicating that my friend was spiritually sick because they had fallen away and that my prayers were bringing this person to him on a regular basis. Jesus was hearing my persistence and he honoured it in the following verse (Mark 2:5):
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “son your sins are forgiven”.
When Jesus saw my faith, he reminded me that he would indeed answer those prayers in his timing and in his way. The actual phrase he gave me was “because you believe” and because I believe that he can work wonders in this situation, he will move in power through the stirring of my prayers. It is often in our weakness and doubt that God send us a gem that inspires us and spurs us on to pray his will.
Interestingly if we look at Mark 2:3, Mark mentions the friends before the paralysed man. The friends aren’t insignificant in this story, they are the lynch-pin and central characters to the message that Mark wants to get across. In other gospel accounts of the story, the friends are also mentioned first; this is about bringing our friends and family to the Lord in prayer with diligence. It’s about the importance of intercession and more than anything, it’s about belief and faith in what God can do even when things look bleak. I always think that verse 12 gives us hope that God’s glory will be displayed in our situations, as the crowd exclaim “we have never seen anything like this.”
The friends weren’t worried about being seen the paralysed man, they got their hands dirty and publicly carried him to the Lord. They tore down the structure that was getting in the way of them reaching Jesus, and we should repeat the same through prayer, asking the Lord to remove everything that is stopping our loved ones seeing the Lord’s face. It’s never our place to judge the people who God calls us to prayer for, but its our responsibility to carry them to God in prayer and leave the outcome to him. It’s likely that those prayers will change us before they change the person we’re praying for, certainly the friends had to develop faith an belief for their request to be granted.
So be encouraged today, that God is lifting our situations up and moving in ways that we cannot see. The paralysed man could not bring himself to Jesus, his friends had to do that for him, a true indicator that we should do this for those who are blind to God or cannot do this for themselves. Our prayers move the heart of God and he will answer in the best way, when the timing is right. But more than anything, he will answer them because we believe.
The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on.
Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity.
Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do.
Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it.
So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make.
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On Christmas Day, the last thing I wanted to hear was that George Michael had died. In a year where we have lost so many well loved and exciting musicians, this seemed like the last straw. It’s no secret that I was a massive Wham fan when I was growing up, and that I followed his solo career closely. It’s taken me awhile to write a tribute to him, mainly because I just needed to go off and be a miserable git about the whole thing for awhile. My musings have led me to this realisation though: the press have often portrayed his life as tragic yet over the years I’ve garnered hope from his watching his life and career.
In the last month, I’ve pondered on what George’s legacy might be for artists and music makers in general. His artistic progression from bubblegum pop to jazz and dance, shows his ability to compose without limitations. I have wondered that if he had not died, where his art would take him next. Over the years I’ve had many an industry professional struggle with the fact that I produce music from a variety of genres; to them it’s not marketable and they “can’t work out who I am”, but in George’s case, it was his strength and give his career and work depth and credibility. Surely we want to see the artists we love grow and develop? So if George can do this, there’s possibility for the rest of us.
His courage and tenacity were demonstrated during the early 1990s, when he fought an industry that treated him unfairly. He stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to see it through whatever the consequences. It was a classic case of art and business colliding; where there is talent, there are people who want to capitalise on it. Though he did not win his court case, a precedent was set that encouraged other artists to speak out in a difficult industry where “fairness” isn’t high in the agenda. Through all of this he kept going. Even the incident in a Beverly Hills toilet didn’t hold him back; he turned a faux pas into a hit record.
After his death, we have also learnt of George’s spiritual development and philanthropy. For years I prayed that he would have an encounter with Jesus, and in the last few weeks we have learnt that he was in regular contact with Christians and that they would pray with him before shows. His financial generosity has shown us that he loved to help others and see them fulfil their dreams. He understood the responsibility that comes with wealth and the opportunities it creates to change lives. In the short time since his death, we have learnt more about George Michael as a person that we had in the previous thirty years.
I’m so glad that I had the opportunity of seeing George live in November 2006 at Earls Court on the Twenty Five Live tour. I discovered that his live performance was far greater than his recorded performances and that despite his protestations that he is not a natural performer, his performance was in fact mesmerising. Though George was generally shy of public life, and admitted that he lacked confidence about his music, his legacy proves that he was a man who grew and matured creatively, spiritually and emotionally. If we can learn anything from George’s life, it’s that we should throw off the past and keep moving forward, after all, it’s something that he did time and time again. Setbacks and knocks, don’t cripple us, they help to reinvent who we are and make us stronger.
How I helped to change the life of a 90s pop star…
In 1993, I was 16 (yes do the maths and work out hold I am…) and obsessed with music. There was one particular single that I was desperate to hear. I can remember going to Woolworths in the seaside town where I lived to buy it and then running at full pelt to my friend’s house the other end of town to play it. My friend greeted me at the door with a copy of Smash Hits in her hand (for those of you under 20, this was the magazine you bought to get song lyrics long before Google was ever invented); she showed me an interview with the very same pop star… The interview was sad. This singer was in trouble. It was distressing. Then my friend piped up “we should pray for her!”. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew about the power of prayer but at 16 I thought I was too cool for all of that. However, being young I thought “OK what’s the harm? Let’s go for it.” I had no idea what we had started…
A few years later that same pop star became a Christian and her life changed for the better. I can remember reading an interview at the time and being amazed; I had no idea that the tiny prayer I prayed with my friend would change someone’s life so dramatically. I’m not claiming that we were the only people who prayed for her, I’m sure there were many others, I just didn’t realise how powerful the effect of our actions was.
In 2012 I got to meet this 90s pop star and I decided to pluck up some courage and tell her what my friend and I had done. To be honest, I thought that she would be nonchalant and thank me politely and walk away thinking “Helen is a total looney”. I had no idea what was coming next… She threw her arms around me and burst into tears, shouting “thank you, thank you, I knew someone was praying for me when things were so bad!” I was shocked and so was she; she couldn’t believe that two teenagers cared enough to pray for her. The moral of the story is people always need our prayers no matter how small.
Recently I’ve had some moments where I’ve felt my prayers are ineffective and God isn’t listening. Maybe God is out, maybe his voicemail is on, maybe He thinks I’m insignificant. And when I was moaning at God about this, he reminded me of this story and that He is always listening and interested in what is on our hearts. So be encouraged: prayer changes everything!