At the moment my holiday reading is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, which I thoroughly recommend! It’s a seriously powerful read which challenges us to dream huge dreams, audacious, crazily impossible dreams…unless God were to get involved!
This book has provoked me to reflect on my own circles of prayer…
Prayer for a place to live… if I’m perfectly honest, at this stage of my walk with God, in 2002 ago, it wasn’t so much a prayer as a cry of my heart, as back then I had no idea of praying for my everyday needs.
This prayer was answered by the owners of the bed and breakfast where I stayed as part of my relocation for my first post-uni job, who suggested a flat just a few doors down from them which was available to rent. Consequence? I was ideally positioned to see for myself how vibrant a church Trinity was (although I still wasn’t in the parish, even though I could see it from my front gate – it’s a truly tiny parish!); then I realised I’d really found myself in the perfect place when I discovered that a couple of my age leading a home group lived nearby…in fact in the flat above! Coincidence or God-incidence??!
Prayer for my now husband, then boyfriend, to ask me to marry me…I had asked him many, many times. I look back now and wonder whether it was simply justice that, having started out quite brutally in our relationship at university saying to him that I couldn’t guarantee this going any further than the remaining two terms of uni (bad history with ex’s), once he’d been away with Tearfund on one of their Transform teams over the whole summer, I then realised that this was the man I wanted to marry (after six months together)!
Unfortunately for me, The Lord clearly decided to teach me a lesson in patience and perseverance, as well as simply waiting for His timing, as we were together for two years and three months (not that I was counting!) before he popped the question. (He had had to tell me to stop asking him, else he would never ask me!!). The Lord was so gracious in that time, and during one of the many times I went forward for prayer at church, and prayed with my prayer partners, I was given, by a complete stranger, the picture of a ring – I could have wept with relief!
Consequence? I’ve learned a lesson in persistence, and in not forcing God’s plans. Our wedding wasn’t the timing I would have planned, but I look back and am glad that God made me wait and really press in for this marriage so that later on I would know how much I wanted to fight for it when things got tough.
Prayers for our wedding venue…we desperately wanted a particular venue, and for it to be on the first May bank holiday weekend, at the same time as the Cheltenham Jazz Festival which was where we’d been the evening of our engagement. It didn’t look like we were going to get it, but after much prayer it came through. Consequence? I learned that our God is the God of the details, and when we care about things, so does He. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get exactly what you pray for, after all He may have a much better plan for you, but it does mean He sees, he hears and He cares.
Prayer for my wedding dress…Our wedding was planned on a tight budget; we had a spreadsheet and everything (designed by my beloved), and moreover I actually used it! I had an amount set aside for my wedding dress, which in reality, I had no idea how it was going to buy me one of the beautiful dresses I’d clipped for my scrapbook from one of the many magazines I’d had. On my very first outing dress shopping with one of my bridesmaids, when I was really only expecting to browse and try a few things on, I found it! My perfect dress, in my size, as an end of season sample, and the only one of that kind left – I loved it! It came in exactly on budget, much to my fiancé’s amazement and delight, and at a fraction of the made to measure cost. Wow!
Prayer for a new job…after I was made redundant from my graduate job, I had some time out of work, which although tough mentally and financially proved to be a blessing in some respects, as I could take time to plan our wedding and I could offer some support to my Mum caring for my Nana during end stage cancer. It also meant that I got some ‘outplacement’ support as part of the redundancy package and therefore the opportunity to really think about what it was that I wanted to do with my career.
Just before our wedding, I received an offer to become an Employment Advisor with a company up in Birmingham, which had a contract from the JobCentre to help people on benefits back to work, and was able to start immediately on our return from honeymoon. It was tough commuting on the train for over two years, but I loved my job and the people I met, and it was the perfect place to gain the skills I would need for my next role: communicating with people from all cultures, walks of life, nationalities, languages and class; learning how to run training programmes, learning about recruitment and induction, becoming a coach.
Prayer for a way out from a job(!)…I loved my job in Birmingham, but as it was target driven, and I was doing more and more training over fellow advisors, of clients, coming up with new programmes, working with the ‘hardest to help’, it became impossible to keep hitting my targets (doing the training was in theory an optional extra). I got quite ill with stress and ended up in hospital with chest pain, which culminated in the third person (two of whom didn’t know God) using the exact same phrase, word for word, to me, “no job is worth your health”. I finally got the message from The Lord! I was dedicated to my colleagues and my clients and really didn’t want to leave, but being performance managed was no fun and I had to accept that looking after myself was as important as looking after others.
I prayed, and asked my husband if we could survive for a little while on just his salary, and he tentatively said yes. When I prayed some more, Jesus very clearly told me to leave my job at the end of August; it was mid-July. So I gave seven weeks’ notice – a bit longer than usual, and I hoped my continued job hunting would finally pay off – after all it was I was employed to do for others, so I should be able to sort myself out!!
In the meantime, my bosses did everything they could to try and persuade me to stay, including asking me to come back as a consultant on a day rate – a very attractive proposition!
However, God had made his will clear and I had to step out in faith, job or no job. I left, secure in the knowledge that I was being obedient, even if my long-suffering hubby was now none too sure about the route we were taking, despite having hated taking me to and from the rail station all that time!
Praying for a new job… I found a couple of temp jobs, my parents gave us a financial gift and then all of a sudden I found a job, through an agency, which had the briefest of descriptions – in some ways I didn’t really know what I was applying for in terms of the organisation, simply that it was a Training and Development Manager post.
What you should also know, is that I had applied, during my notice period, for a similar role at a Christian charity which supported ex-offenders to resettle after their release, and a I felt a very clear prompting to go for this job from the Holy Spirit. “Woohoo, this is it, this job is earmarked for me!”, I thought to myself. I was utterly convinced.
I was terrified about giving 5 minute presentation on how I would approach training, to the Chief Executive and one of the Directors, but it went really well. Everyone around me was really excited for me. Except one friend, who was enthusiastic and supportive, but at the same time, felt that The Lord had laid it on her heart to pray for a job for me that was within 10 miles, and the head office for this place was about 25 miles away, with a tiny office more locally where I hoped I could potentially be based…but she was cautious about this being the one. Of course, she turned out to the correct and I didn’t get the job as another candidate had more experience in a particular area of training qualifications. They did however give me some very positive feedback on the creativity and content of my presentation. I was completely gutted at the time and convinced I must have heard wrongly from The Lord.
I look back and realise that something can be right and wrong at the same time. When I got an interview for the job that I had applied for through the agency, I was quickly called back to a second interview that same week (which I couldn’t have done had I still been employed up in Birmingham), and I had to deliver a 15 minute training session to…the Chief Executive and all the Directors, as well as the Head of Human Resources! Well, I was scared, but not half as terrified as I would have been had I not had that positive experience of the ‘practice run’ with the other charity!! Wow, God really does provide; I was humbled. I started within the week, and my new company was delighted that they didn’t have to wait for me to work out a notice period as unbeknownst to me, they’d already tried to recruit a couple of times previously, without success!
And the consequence of not knowing too much about the organisation from the agency’s write-up?? Well, had I known that it was a quasi-public sector organisation working with lots of academics, I might well have run a mile – I don’t think I would have thought I was good enough for the academics, merely having a degree and no post-graduate qualifications! And having had such dire experiences of dealing with the benefits offices, tax credits office and the JobCentre, I had pretty much sworn to avoid all the bureaucracy and committee structures of the public sector! The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he aligned all those things for me! And after my initial misgivings, here I am over eight years later still here!
Prayer for next steps… Over the last 6 months I’ve been really quite ill with severe anxiety and depression, and now diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD :-/. (I expect at some point I will start to write about that to untangle what has been happening and why, and how the Spirit has been with me in this time.) For now I’m waiting on my heavenly Dad to show me how I should go forward. After all, whilst the pause button might have been pressed on my work life – in my workplace, life continues apace with the only modern constant: change.
For some around me not knowing what I’m doing next is intensely frustrating and even frightening for them – will I be well enough to go back to my job, will I be able to handle the changes? For others in my life they are focussed on helping me simply to get well, my job is less relevant to them; others still are concentrating on holding me step by step as I move forwards whatever that means.
And for me? It’s scary, it’s exhausting, it’s a sad time where I’m struggling, it’s a time where I’m trying to appreciate the opportunity to be still, and to press into going deeper with God, and it’s a huge exercise in trust. I’m asking/crying out/sighing to God daily, “what do I do?? what am I doing – I’m so confused and lost? what will I do? and how will I do it?? I just want to be well, and I want to use my gifts and experiences and talents to serve you and others, to fulfil my purpose in this life!!
“Do you trust me?”
“Take each day as it comes, one step at a time. Wait on me.”
“My plan is perfect. My timing is perfect. I am equipping you.”
My deeply held secret?? I’m not so good at waiting! Or being. Or especially being patient with myself. I’m good at doing! At being busy!
I sense a lesson at work here. The penny drops, I suspect God is using this difficult time – not that he has caused it, but now that it has occurred, to deepen my reliance on him, and trust him and his plan for me. To learn patience. To learn that in my (very great) imperfection that in His eyes I am already perfect, that I don’t need to relentlessly strive, and try to make it on my own.
And as I reflect on these select circles of prayer, I see that I have come full circle (no pun intended!) – as when I was desperate to marry my now-husband, I realised God was teaching me patience, and perseverance, and it looks as though now I’ve moved onto the next level of learning these things and going deeper with God.
My prayer? That God will indeed ‘take all these things and use them for good, for those who love him’ – for me and my family, but for many others too. That this painful time will be transformed into something beautiful which blesses others in a way I could never have imagined.