Agile Approach to Prayer

At work, I’ve been moved onto a new project. This uses an Agile approach, a technique for managing the development of software and systems.

One of the components of this methodology that I’m rather fond of is the daily scrum meetings. These are limited to 15 minutes and each person on the project answers the following questions:
– What did you do yesterday?
– What are you going to do today?
– Are there any blockers?

I’ve found this immenseley helpful to stay focussed. It maintains accountability between the project leader and those doing the work, keeping the relationship active. It also reminds me at the start of the day what my focus should be.

I’ve started to I’m trying to apply this to my prayer life. The aim is to build consistency, transparency and to encourage focus. I don’t want it to be the only praying I do, but to be a framework for the relationship. I’m using it to remind me what I want to achieve at the start of each day, as a remedy to getting lost in the busyness of life.

Review: Noah

Before I get to my review, I think it is best to add some context. As you can see from my previous posts, I’m a guy who likes the story of Noah. Genesis is without doubt my favourite book in the Bible and Noah is one of my favourite stories in that. It’s very short I know, but it has such an epic scope. I have had thoughts about adapting it as a science fiction film myself, with the ark being a spaceship and our planet being completely destroyed.

When it was announced that there was to be a film based on the character, naturally I was curious. I followed production eagerly, fully aware that the man creating it was not a christian. His first comments on the news was that he saw Noah as a great environmentalist, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having seen it, I now get his point (and agree with it), but from the very start I knew that this was going to be someone’s reaction to Noah, not a traditional adaptation. I was still curious though, and wanted to see what makes someone who questions the Bible want to make a film about it. I kept updated with news, laughed when filming was halted by flooding and was wowed by the first trailer.

When it eventually came out (I heard of it being an option back in 2007) I was too busy to see it immediately. I therefore saw the reviews before I got to see it myself. To put it simply, they are mixed. Some love it, singing its praising for acting, scope and bold scriptwriting, while others criticised all of those things and more. Christians too were divided on what they thought of it, with some praising it, others condemning it as evil. I asked my friends on facebook, and all were negative, some of whom hadn’t even seen it. I’ve made that mistake before (see Sucker Punch here) but in short, the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile.

There have been a lot of claims that this film is unbiblical. That is a big claim, especially since the bible passage is very short. For example, in the film fallen angels help Noah build the ark.  This is not mentioned in the Bible at all, so does that make it unbiblical? I suppose it depends on your definition on what that word means. It is as unbiblical as dinosaurs are I guess, which in my opinion is not at all; they have just been left out for some reason.

After doing more research, I have found out that this is following the Jewish tradition of midrash, where they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks from stories in scripture. This is not done to set the record straight on what actually happened but to give flesh to the bones provided and see what holds up in context of the details we know.

In this light, I think the film makes a lot more sense. The director has a strong emotional resonance with the story, there is no doubt about that. He wants more than the Bible says and has spent years imagining what those look like. Coming from a Jewish background, now being an atheist, his view is not fully formed, but it has a lot of interesting questions. This is what frame of mind you should see it in. This is a film of one man’s reactions to the story which has been told as a sweet story to children in churches but when thought about as an adult has a lot more depth than simply getting all the animals onto a boat.

With the parts he has imagined, there are details which contradict the Bible but I believe the film’s core holds true to the story. Aronofsky employed someone to ensure that he did just that. The contradictions to the text are always used to illustrate a point, either about humanity or about God. The story speaks of judgement and mercy, two things that are rarely covered by Hollywood.

So what did I think of it? In short, I loved it. It was simply superb and while I can see people’s objections, I thought that it was excellent filmmaking and a must watch. The acting is for the most part very good with each character coming across as fully formed, complex and believable. The story is grand in scope and mainly serves to highlight the theological ideas and questions that Aronofsky has.

What I particularly loved about it was that Noah was a real person. He has very big character flaws, something which many people have found difficult. All that we know about Noah from the Bible is that he was a man of faith, deemed righteous among his generation. This film focuses on the first part, showing a man who did amazing things without ever seeing clearly. The latter is harder to explain, as he most definitely sins. This is shown in the Bible though, when he gets drunk and naked in Genesis 9. This is shown in the closing moments of the film and it’s clear that the director has extrapolated backwards to try and explain why Noah would have turned to drink after leaving the ark.

I know that some people fear that because Noah is a more unconventional film it will turn people away from God or confuse them. I would disagree for several reasons. At the core, it is the same God being presented and I truly believe that only a few details have been changed. Secondly, this film is not intended to replace the Bible; only that is the word of God. Also, I believe that God can use a negative reaction, one of repulsion, to the parts which are not of Him to drive people away from what is wrong and closer to Him. And finally, I think that people with questions are likely to ask people about them and that conversation will have greater impact than a blockbuster ever could.

I know of another christian film released at the same time, the Son of God, an adaptation of the Bible television series for cinematic release. I’ve heard nobody talk about this, know nobody who’s seen it and only one person, a christian, who wanted to. That I imagine would most definitely falls into the safe conservative film category, something Noah would not do. This is a risky, controversial film that definitely leads to a reaction. It does not present a God that most people know, but shows them another side to the God called Creator.

I would highly recommend this film.  It is worthwhile film making that made me spend 2 hours engaging with big questions and with God. A film studio have never spent as much (a reported $125 million) on adapting a biblical story before. Even though the director was not a christian, there would have been many working on it, praying for it and hoping that this would be a success.

Please, if nothing else, give it a chance. Don’t write it off without having seen it; God can work miracles. If you’d like to watch it and live in the UK, you can currently get a 2 for 1 offer all this week if enter the code NOAH at this website and is accepted at most major cinema chains.

 

Mrs Noah and sons

Another thing that makes me ponder about Noah is what his wife did.

I can imagine things were a bit awkward in bed that night.

“I need to build a massive ark”
“Why dear?”
“God told me too. He said all men are wicked, but because I have found favour, he will save me and my family. I just have to build this boat and we won’t be destroyed by the deluge.”
“What’s a deluge?”
“Not sure exactly, but it can kill, so I don’t want to find out.”
“How are you going to pay for this ark? You promised that I could have some new sandals.”

And so on. I highly doubt she accepted it as a command straight away.

I imagine though, that there was a point where she realised her husband wasn’t going to give up. Did she at this point decide to support her husband and decide to leave her questions unanswered or did she remain critical and seek out other options? The Bible doesn’t say either way, but because we know the ending, we really want her to have had faith alongside Noah.

I don’t imagine Noah’s wife to have been a very good carpenter. She probably thought there was nothing she could ever do to help at one stage, but I doubt she stopped there. She kept looking at what was going and upon seeing what she had in her hands, she pitched in. She could have made food and drink for the workers, or kept records, or helped with making the pitch. I don’t know what her skills were, but I’m pretty sure that there were jobs she could do.

In a large venture of faith, there is a lot that needs to be done. Some tasks are visible, others are more behind the scenes, but all are worth doing. Noah was probably leading the ark building, but I imagine the whole family were involved. His sons would be aware what was going on, and I imagine that if nothing else, they prayed for success.

I hope people won’t look at my lifestory and wish I’d had faith in the crazy ideas I rejected. I’d much rather be seen as someone who tried lots and was willing to give it a go. I want to be someone who did things, not just saw them. I don’t care what it is I do, that’s not the point. I just want to be involved in something spectacular, that’s much bigger than me.

A faith commandment

I think most christians have a favourite part of the Bible, for no logical reason, but for the simple fact that’s what clicks with you. For me it’s the book of Genesis. I love the stories of familes so different to our own, tales of pioneers who were the first to do everything. I like the narrative of the book, and particularly Noah.

I was re-reading the story again and (as often happens) I picked up on something new.

I’ve never realised how difficult it must have been to build an ark. In Chapter 6, verses 14-16 show all the structural details God gave to Noah and I guess I never really questioned how he worked with just this. For me, a guy brought up in a christian home having seen countless pictures of practically identical arks, I’ve never had to imagine what an ark looks like. Working from that image, I might in time be able to come up with something like a blueprint, but getting the ark from those instructions, not likely.

It had never clicked that although the instructions are specific, they are not complete. God hasn’t laid down exactly how He wants it to be, but He gives Noah some freedom. The size has to be sufficient for the need and only certain materials will do, but otherwise God gives Noah creative control.  There is no indication as to whether Noah had any carpentry experience, but he was almost certainly not a ship-maker. I imagine it was a big case of trial and error.

Despite all this, Noah still chose to do what God said. That choice was not a simple thought, but an active lifestyle change. He had to seek out new skills, scour the earth for animals and keep them alive, all to no specific deadline.

If that were me, I imagine my first reaction would be to pray for a clear plan. “God”, I’d say, “please show me what to do, so that I may glorify you.” I wonder if Noah did that for a bit too? I doubt he got an answer. That would probably have led to me going back to my normal life. I would have gone, “If you want me to do this, give me a clear sign of what it is.”

I don’t believe that Noah waited for that. It says in verse 22, “And Noah did everything that God had commanded him.”

This tells me two things. One, that Noah (or at least the author of Genesis, but by implication, Noah too) took these words as a command. It was a non-negotiable order, not just a suggestion that was in our best interest. It was not a picture of the sort of thing that he should do, but a direct instruction. That affected his whole attitude and gives an indication of how he reacted. A command implies that he didn’t just put it on his to do list, but it was his to-do list. A soldier is never issued 2 commands to do at once. They are given a sequence of events, to be followed straight away.

The second thing is that he did it. The story makes it clear that he built an ark, but this proves that he managed it. That means that if we get an equally obscure word, why should we dismiss it? If we haven’t got the skills required, we can always learn them.

It was 100 years after the command was received when the flood came. That is a long time to be doing something so unconventional without any proof he wasn’t wasting his time. That said, imagining the consequences of refusing is even more terrifying.

A nation changing testimony

Last week, I was aware that a cyclone was about to hit India. I didn’t know much, but it was going to be a big one, the size of which hadn’t been seen since 1999 when tens of thousands of people were killed.

On Sunday, in the morning service at church, God prompted me to pray for them. I was in worship at this point, and just started going there, spiritual-pedal-to-the-metal. I prayed for people’s protection, that they would be kept safe in Jesus.

Later that day, I’m eating lunch in a pub. I see on the news a story that 78 people have died during a stampede at a temple where people were praying about the oncoming storm. They had been rushing across a bridge and afraid it was going to fall.

I have a real heart connection with India as a nation, so this hurt. I once again asked God to protect this nation and then, because I’m not perfect, I just continued with my meal.

The next day I see an article numbering the people killed by cyclone Phailin at nineteen. 1. 9. Not 5 figures, but something I can count on my own fingers and toes. WOW!!!! The government had ordered the people to evacuate ahead of the storm and the number of lives saved is phenomenal!

Whether you believe that was caused by my prayer is actually irrelevant. The fact of the matter is it happened and who am I going to give the glory to for that? The weathermen who foresaw it and the ministers which acted so promptly to save the people they represented both did amazing work, sure, but God is the one I praise here. As I try to do in all things, I want to acknowledge His glory in what has happened.

The how and the reason are almost irrelevant. (I personally do think my prayer had an impact, hence the title.) If God did just sat back and left people by themselves to figure out how they could predict the weather, how to communicate at rapid speed across a nation and move them all quickly to points of safety, then that these created beings are capable of so much is still miraculous!

I am consistently astounded at how much we are capable of and what great things then human race can do.  We are made in the Father’s image and have been given very great power.

John 14:12
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

A parable rewritten

A homeless man was lying in the road. He’d got in a serious mess and was now begging not for change but for help.

The first person to walk by ignored him. They thought to themselves, “what can I do to help? He probably deserves it anyway, after all, he made the choice to turn to alcohol, cigarettes or illegal drugs.”

The second person to walk by offers to buy him something to eat. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The third person to walk by gives him enough money to stay in a night shelter. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fourth person to walk by offers to take him home where he can have a hot meal and sleep on the couch for the night. The homeless man accepts but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fifth person to walk by advises him to join a back to work program. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. He follows the steps for a while, but he slips back into old habits and is kicked off the course for bad behaviour. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The last person to walk by sits down beside him. They say they’re here to love him and will stay with him . The man smiles and feels at home.

Learning to ride a bike

When I was very young, thinking double figures was a long way off, I loved my trike. It was fun to rush round at a speed that I thought rivaled jet engines. In my old house the garden was on a steep hill, which meant I could stress test the brakes. When we moved, this was replaced with a smaller square arrangement, which to my mind was dull. It gave my parents the chance to develop some colourful and varied borders, taking full advantage of the better soil, but the bike (I’d upgraded) wasn’t as fun.

At this point I was ten and the stabilisers had always been firmly attached. Removing them wouldn’t make me go down the hill any faster so why bother? As the bottom had been occupied by concrete patio slabs, the risk had always seemed too great. I knew that a lot of kids my age had already mastered this, but peer pressure has never had much sway with me.

I remember there was one time after we’d relocated when my Dad tried to teach me with only two wheels. It lasted half an hour at most and I was not an overnight cycling sensation. I didn’t get it. Riding on the flat wasn’t as fun either, even when I didn’t fall off.

I never had another lesson. I didn’t want it and my parents were not going to force me to do so. I respect that choice, but it hasn’t been easy.

Just saying that I can’t ride a bike is still difficult. It’s embarrassing and comes with a sense of guilt. It hurts to hear people’s reactions, blaming either me or my parents for not doing what they clearly think is mandatory for everyone my age. I know they are trying to show they care, that they don’t want me to be missing out, but I still have to fight to not feel like a failure.

I know that if I had gone back to my parents for another lesson they’d have obliged, but I didn’t want to. That was my choice and I take full responsibility for that. My parents could have made me learn, but they didn’t and I know that was out of love.

Raising children involves making a lot of choices. Some things you have to do for your kids own good, like teaching them to read. There comes a point though when you have to back off and let them live their own life, learning from their failures.

It’s the same with God and us. He won’t make us do what is best for us; He loves us too much for that. He wants us to learn, to develop and mature. He’ll show us enough to work out how, but it’s up to us to do it.

Free will is a fantastic thing, but it comes with consequences. We don’t always chose to do the right thing, but at any moment we can make a fresh decision.

I’m 25 and I’m starting to learn to ride a bike. I made good progress in my last attempt and I will achieve this. I feel no condemnation for choosing not to do this earlier. I decided to do this now for a good reason; I was born for such a time as this.