Called to a LIFE of Prayer

October 16, 2018
2018

Start a House of Prayer?

Peter writing… I had been asked if I wanted to start a House of Prayer in the Upper Room of Tree of Life Christian Bookshop. And I had been asked, separately, if I wanted to take on the role of catalysing and coordinating prayer for the various churches gathered under the banner ‘Together For The Harvest’.

Both questions were no-brainers.

This is what God has called me to do: to pray and proclaim the promises of God until the city is filled with night and day worship overflowing in mission to the ends of the earth. Our city was Cambridge, now it is Liverpool. We may not have quite succeeded in reaching the goal of overflowing night-and-day worship in Cambridge, but it wasn’t for want of trying. And now we have a second chance. This time with a specific central public place that is actually explicitly asking to become a House of Prayer. And this time with an established network of churches that have already been connected in unified prayer for the city.

Surely my answer was Yes– “For zeal for your house has consumed me!” “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I will seek–that I may dwell in His house all the days of my life”. “For in your presence there is fulness of joy–at your right hand there are pleasures forever”. These are my verses: I have prayed them, proclaimed them, underlined them, annotated them, talked about them, taught on them, wrestled with them, wept over them. “Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is nothing on earth I desire besides you! My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord…” But somehow, something wasn’t quite clicking into place.

Prayer, yes. Not as dead religious ritual but as constant communication with the Creator of heaven and earth; not as mindless repetition of spiritual slogans but as dynamic invitation to release the power of heaven into the problems of earth; not as a wearysome chore to be completed or a meritorious task to earn extra points with the Lord, but as a nourishing rhythm to impart life to your spirit. Prayer in specific places? Maybe. ‘The hour is coming,’ says Jesus, ‘when the true worshippers will worship neither on the hill of Samaria nor the Temple of Jerusalem–but they will worship in spirit and in truth.’ But since we are embodied creatures whose habits are shaped by the architecture of our surrounding habitats–and since in order to gather with other people we need physical spaces to do so–specific places can be helpful. But they also take time and energy just to maintain, and all too often can become just an end in themselves…

Prayer in a cafe. The natural gathering point of contemporary society. The safe third space (first comes the home, then comes work) where social activity occurs. The place where artisanal creativity intersects with ethical entrepreneurship. More than one person I have known has been gripped by a vision for combining coffee and Christian ministry. But although I understand the rationale, I’ve never quite caught the bug.

In a Bookshop.

Prayer in a bookshop. Well, there are bookshops and there are bookshops. Which is to say that there are some bookshops where the focus is being a shop which sells things, and books happen to be among the things that are sold; and there are some bookshops where the focus is books, and selling happens to be one of the things that you can do to help people discover and read enjoy and treasure and savour and learn from books. All too often in my experience a Christian bookshop is the former — a shop which exists to sell things to Christians: Christian books, and while we’re at it, greetings cards and Veggietales DVDs and Footprints posters. But what if one were to do things differently…

So I started dreaming about how my love for books might connect with my call to prayer, and wondering how God might be able to use a bookshop as a catalyst for the coming of the Kingdom. What if a Christian Bookshop didn’t just sell books about ‘mere Christianity’, but sold all manner of books as a starting point to engage with people of all backgrounds and as a tool to provoke people to ask questions about the deep things of life. Which is to say — what if we didn’t just sell books by C.S. Lewis but were actually the sort of shop from which C.S. Lewis (a Professor of English Literature) would buy books? What if we took inspiration from Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri, and their conviction that true Christianity has answers to all the questions – philosophical, artistic, existential, etc. as well as ‘spiritual’. What if we were inspired by our neighbours News From Nowhere and the possibility of being a ‘radical’ bookshop that is not afraid to sell a wide range of books reflecting every aspect of their core beliefs. What if we were to be inspired by The London Book Review bookstore and the possibility of a publication that could go out (perhaps quarterly?) from the bookshop to the city, encouraging and equipping thinkers across the city and beyond to cultivate a deep and thoughtful worldview.

Now, we all know that Amazon in particular, and online-shopping in general, make for challenging times for bookshops – but on the other hand charity bookshops are thriving (see this and this). And the very failure of most Christian bookshops to survive the transition of technological era, (alas, Wesley Owen, we’re looking at you) means that if we were to work out in Liverpool a model for a {Christian bookshop/house of prayer/evangelistic launchpad/missional hub} in a way that was economically sustainable, then that model might more easily multiply into the gap that Wesley Owen has left on highstreet corners across Britain.

Joining the Gladstones team

So I rolled up my sleeves and said Yes to the challenge of helping transform Gladstones Christian Bookshop into a House of Prayer, a Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Which meant before anything else that I rolled up my sleeves and spent most of July chopping vegetables in their kitchen, after the cook had unexpectedly handed in his notice. After a few weeks of that– during which I passed my Level 2 Certificate in Food Hygiene! — I was replaced by our new chef, an Albanian lady named Qeli who has added freshly-baked scones to our menu as well as all manner of delicious daily specials — and is also something of a prayer warrior.

It was that awkward moment before the start of the Friday morning prayer meeting, when someone asks how everyone is, and no-one really responds–and then Qeli began sharing how she really felt that God was speaking to her about praying not just for the usual small things, but for mercy for the nation — ‘and I’ve never even thought about praying for a whole nation before!’ And then she continued to share about how when she was volunteering at Gladstones several years before, she had stepped outside into the street and God had given her a vision of all the people walking past: ‘and they were dead inside — I really felt it!’

Anyway, once my culinary skills (!) were no longer needed in the kitchen, I then spent August trying to teach myself how to code in Python, so as to create a bookscanning app to keep track of what the shop has in stock. Previously if you wanted to know if your book of choice was included in our selection of 1500 new books, you just had to look and see if it was there on the shelves (and woe to you if you wanted to try and track anything down in the two basement rooms filled with at least five times that number of second-hand books). But I am rather pleased to say that you can now search online (http://www.treeoflife.org.uk/bookshop/) through a database of more than three thousand books (and yes, that means that I haven’t yet worked out how to catalog all the second-hand books — how did people do this in the days before scannable ISBN barcodes?)

On the 1st September the Tree of Life team was joined by a large group of regulars to bid a fond farewell to Peter Buckley, who has spent the last seven years as Bookshop Manager (not to mention his time working in the bookshop back in the 1980s). I have thus been given the title Bookshop Coordinator — the differing title is intended to be an indication that while I will have responsibility for the books, I won’t be doing precisely the same job!

On the 23rd September we had two new people move into our house. I’ve mentioned before Abigail Bramble, who connected with the ABLAZE worship events and was feeling called to move to Liverpool and join in with the ministry here. Well, she then met James Baskett (who as it happened, had met us before during a brief stay at the YWAM Cambridge house) — and in a whirlwind of romance and prompt wedding planning, the two were married in the summer. And we’ve invited them to come and stay with us for three months of discipleship-in-community. (You can take a disciple out of the ship, but you can’t take discipleship out of a disciple!)

And on the 1st October I sat down with Peter Gray and John Greaves to confirm the framework for our rhythm of prayer which has now begun: Tuesdays and Friday, 10-11am and 4-5pm; with some responsive Liturgy, some Intercession for the city and the nations, some Free prayer however else the Spirit leads, and some time at the end praying for Each other. You’ll spot that those four ingredients acrostically spell out LIFE — pray that it would indeed be a rhythm which imparts spiritual life to the Tree of Life Christian Bookshop and Cafe, and to all who come–or even just pass by!

Pray that whatever the name of the ministry, God would set us ablaze with His love. Pray that the books we sell would be fuel for the fire (and not in an Acts 19:19 sense!) Pray for our little household community that we would connect easily, love wholeheartedly, forgive immediately. Pray for mercy for this nation. And pray for us.

Still trying to do what God has called us to do, Peter & Taryn