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22 December 2017

The 9-5 with James Catford

The 9-5 with James Catford

Former chief executive of Bible Society (BFBS) and now a consultant, James Catford serves in a number of roles including chair of Renovaré Britain & Ireland. James shows us how he makes quiet time work for his 9-5, and gives us a great idea-list of books helping to create moments of grace that will make a real difference.

Brushing my teeth is a daily ritual. A habit formed decades ago with occasional resistance and a healthy dose of parental supervision.

Now I'd need to work hard to NOT clean my teeth in the morning. I'd need to say 'don't head for the bathroom, don't reach for the toothpaste, don't squeeze it onto the toothbrush'. In the same way, it's perfectly possible to wake up each morning praying. 

Forming habits
Habits take no more than three months to form. What is agonising at first can become second nature. It would be harder NOT to do them. 

It was Dallas Willard who told me about waking up praying. For Dallas is wasn't about running through the day telling God what he wanted done, like some fat-cat tycoon dictating orders to a diminutive secretary. Rather, Dallas would pray through his day releasing each part to the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. This gives us the opportunity to relinquish control and press more fully into God. 

For me it comes down to admitting that I can't control the traffic on the roads. Or the time keeping skills of a family member getting out to work. Or the various meetings I have planned, and especially the meetings I don't even know about yet. 

"I can't make this work" is my most common prayer in the morning, as I turn the day over to God and watch how he walks with me through it.

'Holy habits', as Richard Foster calls them, are a wonderful grace for us. They are not law but practices that Christians down the ages have often found transformative.

Getting into work early can give us a few minutes peace with a cup of coffee. A sacred moment. Simply placing our hands around a mug in an attitude of prayer can be an silent act of relinquishment, of supplication and of listening. 

GK Chesterton said: "you say grace before eating a meal. I say grace before reading the morning paper or opening the door to a friend".

Take a pause
Taking his idea further we can let the phone ring one more time as we invite God into our conversation. Or we can volunteer to make coffee, or do the photocopying, and practice the habit of pausing by the kettle or Xerox machine to reconnect with God.

While chatting to a younger friend on the street one day I stepped out at a pedestrian crossing. Suddenly he grabbed my arm. Alarmed, I looked at him to find out what was wrong. "Didn't you teach us to slow down and wait for the green man before crossing?" he said. 

Point taken. However busy we are and whatever our practice or personality, everyone can find sacred pauses like this. We fold God into our lives or, more accurately, we fold our little kingdoms into God's far greater kingdom.

Moments of grace
A surgeon pulling on rubber gloves, a driver making the most of a traffic jam, a parent holding a sleeping child. Are there not endless moments of grace in any given day, if only we can see them?

Frank Laubach's little book Letters By a Modern Mystic (SPCK) tells how he tried to live life more and more connected to Jesus. A modern equivalent is a book by my friend Nathan Foster, The Diary of An Ordinary Saint (Lion). 

They both had mixed results, but make the point that our focus shouldn't be on perfection, but on progress. We simply want to 'up our average' as we gradually, and slowly, experience a deeper life with God. 

Laubach's classic so frustrated me once that I threw it across the room. Why? Because it set out a vision of what my life could become; ever closer to Jesus in every sphere of life. He created a 'game with minutes' in which he actively sought to walk with Jesus consciously through his day.

I like the idea of a game because it takes the pressure off getting it right all the time.

In my career in commercial publishing I know that I often messed up with the decisions I made. So I'd sometimes slip into the empty company board room and pause for a moment.

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