All posts by Andy Geers

Christian Video Game: The Call of Abraham

I rarely post on my Old Testament Adventures blog these days, but I made a rare exception today to highlight a new Kickstarter campaign for a Christian Video Game called “The Call of Abraham“.

I don’t know the people involved, and I have no idea whether the game will be any good. But I decided to help fund it, because I think projects like this deserve a fighting chance. It takes money to make a decent game – and I’m sure we all desperately want this game to be done well, however sceptical we might feel. I don’t think we can keep moaning that there are no good Christian games if we’re not willing to lend our support when people with the guts to get on and try something ask for it.

They’ve got just 26 days left to reach a pretty ambitious target – so support the Kickstarter today.

PrayerMate now available on Android!

144x144 Ever since I launched the PrayerMate app back in May 2011, people have been asking if it could be made available on Android. I’m thrilled to announce that the day has finally arrived, and a basic version of PrayerMate is now available on Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.

PrayerMate is an app designed to help you to actually pray for all the people and causes you care about. You create a little index card for each person, and every time you fire it up it picks a selection for you to pray through. It’s that simple!

Just to set your expectations – this is a VERY cut-down version of the app for now, with just the basic features needed to make it useful. It doesn’t let you subscribe to online feeds or attach your PDF prayer letters yet – it doesn’t even let you add photos at this stage. But it’s a start – just as the iOS version didn’t do any of those things when it first launched either. You can help determine the future direction of the app by voting on the survey linked from the “Settings” menu within the app.

A HUGE thank you to the generous support of everybody who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to make this happen – I couldn’t have done it without you! And also big thanks are due to London City Mission, whose sponsorship means that the app can be offered free of charge until 31st March 2014.

Do try out PrayerMate for Android, tell all your friends, leave a review on Google Play if you like it, and get in touch to tell me your experiences and if you need any help.

PrayerMate Now Sponsored by London City Mission

London City Mission Logo I’m very excited to announce that the PrayerMate Christian Prayer App is now sponsored by London City Mission until 31st March 2014. Thanks to their generous support, you’ll be able to download the iOS app completely free of charge for the duration of their sponsorship (and the Android version too once that goes live Update: the Android version is now LIVE on Google Play and Amazon Appstore! – sign up here to be notified).

Graham Miller, the CEO of London City Mission, says this:

“London City Mission will only make progress on our knees. I give thanks for PrayerMate making it easier to bring our needs to God. The technology that so often distracts from our spiritual walk is being used to call us back to a healthy habit of daily prayer.”

London City Mission exists to share with the people of London, patiently, sensitively and individually, the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, and to enable them to join his church.

London City Mission staff and volunteers go to the people of London:

  • Where they live – through community ministries based in local churches or the Mission’s own centres and cafés, and through schools work
  • Where they work – through chaplaincy ministries, especially among the transport and emergency services
  • Where they have settled – through specialised ministries to immigrants and ethnic minorities
  • Where they are marginalised – through ministries to prisons, homeless people and street people
  • Where they are being cared for – through hospital visiting and pastoral work in care homes for the elderly.

How to transfer your PrayerMate data to a new device

Syncing your data to the cloud

If you want to keep your PrayerMate data safe at all times backed up in the cloud automatically, the best thing to do is to “sign in” to the app. Go to PrayerMate’s “settings” page (a cog button whilst praying – at the top on Android or in the bottom tab bar on iOS). There you should find a “Create an online account/sign in” option (it will say “My Account” instead if you are already signed in). Sign in and wait for the sync progress to reach 100% (this could take a while if you have a lot of data).

Syncing to a second device

If you wish to then sync this to a second device, the best thing is to start with a fresh PrayerMate installation on that device – if you already have it installed on the second device then consider uninstalling it and reinstalling. On the very first screen when you launch PrayerMate afresh it should give you a cog button in the top right with the option to sign in and sync. Again, you’ll have to wait for progress to reach 100%, which could take a while due to the decryption that has to take place.

Export/Improt via Dropbox

It is also possible to transfer your PrayerMate data via Dropbox. Here’s a step by step guide of how to do it.

Step 1: Export your data from your old device

Open up PrayerMate on your old device, navigate to the app’s main “Settings” menu (accessible whilst praying), and choose the “Export data” / “Export to Dropbox” setting. You’ll need to log in with your Dropbox credentials if you haven’t already (and possibly you’ll first need to set up a Dropbox account)

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If you want any photos you’ve attached to people to be transferred, choose the “Export with photos” option:

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It may take a while to upload all of the photos, and you’ll see a little progress indicator whilst you wait. Once it’s complete you should see confirmation:

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Step 2: Import your data on your new device

It’s then time to switch over to your new device. Download PrayerMate if you haven’t already. Then go to the app’s main “Settings” menu again, and this time choose “Import data” (N.B. on some newer 64-bit Android phones Dropbox isn’t directly integrated with PrayerMate – but if you choose “Import from another app” you can use the separate Dropbox app if you’ve installed it, and browse to the folder “Apps/PrayerMate” within your Dropbox). After you’ve logged into Dropbox, you’ll be presented with a list of files in your PrayerMate folder. Look for the one with today’s date:

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If you exported photos on the first device, make sure you choose “Import with photos” on this second device too:

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Again, you may have a bit of a wait, but eventually you’ll be presented with confirmation of how many categories and subjects were imported:

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“Can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server” syncing Android phone with Google account

My wife was trying to sync her data from her old Android phone to a Google account so she could transfer them to a new Android phone. Whilst trying to add her Google account to her old phone, she kept getting this error message:

Can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server. This could be a temporary problem or your SIM card may not be provisioned for data services. If it continues, call Customer Care.

Annoying, huh? Search the internet and you get forum thread after forum thread of people having the same problem over years. Many people seemed to suggest that the only solution was to do a hard factory reset, losing all of your data in the process which totally defeated the object!

Hilarious, then, to discover this super simple solution:

“Just try signing into the YouTube app with the account you want to sync and it will automatically add it to the list of your accounts. Kapish!”

Sure enough, that instantly fixed the problem in a matter of seconds. Amazing!

Using PrayerMate in your small group

PrayerMate is a great tool to help you pray regularly for your small group. If you’ve not discovered them already, there’s a couple of features to help you in this, and even more in the pipeline for future releases.

At the end of our small group meetings, we always share our prayer requests with each other. If you’re anything like me, your instinct is to type them straight into a subject in PrayerMate. But then what? Naturally, you want to actually turn to pray for them, right there and then! Open up the subject you’ve just set up, then on iOS there’s a little up arrow button by the subject details, or on Android there’s a “…” button in the top right. Press this, and you’ll get the option to pray for them straight away.

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android_small_group_features


You can also email out the prayer points to your group using this same up arrow button. iOS lets you create a “group” of contacts in your address book, which you can easily access from PrayerMate, or I find it easiest to email them to myself and then forward the email to the rest of the group when I’m at my desktop.

Getting Started with PrayerMate for Android

A Beginner’s Guide to PrayerMate for Android

What is PrayerMate?

PrayerMate is an app for Android and iOS that helps you be more faithful in prayer. Enter the people and causes you care about, grouped into lists of your choosing, and every day PrayerMate will pick a selection of these subjects for you to pray through, one at a time.

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Your first prayer session

The very first time you open PrayerMate, it will create a few default lists for you – my friends, my family, and so on. It will also create a small number of default subjects, for example the Lord’s Prayer. Since you only have a small number of subjects in the system, for now you’ll be shown roughly the same set of subjects every time you run the app – which may get a little repetitive!

Creating new subjects

To get started, I suggest you dive right in and start creating some subjects to pray for. I started off with each member of my family (on the “My family” list), some close friends (on the “My friends” list), and some organisations and countries around the world that I care about (on the “World mission” list). The simplest way to create a new subject is to press the “+” button at the very top of the screen, select which list you want to add to, then type in a name for your subject (e.g. “Mum & Dad”). When you’re done typing press the “Done” button in the top right.

Now when I open up the app, I’ll still be shown the Lord’s prayer, but I can now swipe it to the left to see my first family member, and swipe again to the left to see one of my friends, then swipe left again to see a world mission item. Each time I swipe to the left I’m telling PrayerMate that I’ve “prayed” for that item, so that next time I fire up the app I’ll be shown a different item from that category instead.

Managing your lists

As well as being able to pray through a selection of items that PrayerMate chooses for you each day, you can also access all of your subjects at any time by pressing the “Lists” button at the very top of the main screen. You can swipe sideways to find a list, or press any entry on the initial “Lists index” to jump straight to a list.

At the bottom of the “Lists index” you will also find some special lists: the archive, your recently prayed subjects, and a “Books” gallery of downloadable prayers.

How items are scheduled

PrayerMate’s default mode is to show you no more than one subject from each of your lists every time you open the app, up to a maximum quota that you set using the “+”/”-” buttons on the first “Coming up” slide. Within each list, it will always show you the item that you prayed for least recently – so over time you’re guaranteed to get through all of the subjects in your list. If you want a bit more control, you can also manually adjust the number of items from each list that you’ll be shown from the settings screen for each list. For example, you might want to pray for one family member each day and three friends. To access a list’s settings menu, tap the “Lists” button at the very top of the screen, scroll sideways to the list in question, and tap its settings button (it looks like a cog). There you can switch on the “Manually set items per session” setting.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably feel that some of your lists are more important than others – for example, you want to always pray for your family every day, but you mind less about not praying for a world mission item every single time. Switching on the manual items per session setting on a list tells PrayerMate that it should always do its best to show you items from this list. But use it sparingly! It works best if only one or two lists are configured in this way.

Other features

You’ll probably find it helpful to make specific notes against each subject giving you some ideas about what to pray for them. When looking at a prayer subject, press the edit button in the top right (it looks like a pencil in a box) and you can then start typing any text you want to into the largest box that appears (it should say “tap to add details…”).

Many people have said that they find it helps them to pray for people more if they attach a photo to their entry. You can do this by editing a card and then tapping the circle that appears.

PrayerMate also allows you to set an alarm, reminding you to pray at a set time every day. You can do this through the “Reminders” page accessed by pressing the alarm clock at the very top of the main screen. Set a time, and you’ll then get a prompt saying “Time to pray?” at that time each day.

Advanced scheduling

As well as the default scheduling mode described above, PrayerMate also allows you to set some slightly more sophisticated scheduling rules. On a specific subject you can change the scheduling mode, to either default (which you now know about), by date (where you pick a specific date from a calendar on which you want to pray for this subject) and day of the week (where you can choose one or more days of the week on which you want to pray, e.g. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). You can do this by pressing a subject’s settings button (it looks like a cog) and then changing the “Scheduling mode”.

You can also set an ‘auto-archive’ date on subjects. Once this date has passed, your subject will be moved into the archive, so that you’ll no longer be asked to pray for it. You can always get access to archived items at a later stage through the “Archive” menu on the options page.

See also: PrayerMate Frequently Asked Questions

For all the tips and the latest news, sign up for the PrayerMate email newsletter here. I won’t send emails more than once a month.

To get up and running, I’ve created a five step plan.

A video introduction

You may find this handy video that the Chapel Life has put together useful:

PrayerMate App from ChapelOutreach on Vimeo.

PrayerMate iOS Frequently Asked Questions

PrayerMate Logo 1Following are some frequently asked questions about the PrayerMate app for iOS.

Can I sync my data between two devices?

Yes – go to the app’s “Settings” page and you can choose the “Create an online account / sign in” option.

Is there a desktop version of PrayerMate?

There is not currently any official desktop client for PrayerMate, but if you export your data from the app’s “Settings” page then you can load it into this unofficial community tool by Dean Montgomery, make your changes, and then load the data back in to the app.

How do I edit cards? What happened to the pencil icon?

In the latest update you don’t need to press the pencil icon to edit cards, just tap the card to edit.

Can I increase the font size?

Yes, you can do this from the app’s settings page.

Is there a way to temporarily pray every day for a special event?

There’s instructions here on how to pray daily for a special event.

How do I remove a reminder alarm?

On the reminders page, you can swipe any alarm to the left to reveal a “Delete” button.

How to run a Heroku rake task via the API

For various reasons I was looking for a way to make a Heroku app run a rake task on another Heroku app. I looked into using the excellent Heroku API to achieve this, but couldn’t find any documentation on the subject. After a little bit of playing around, I discovered that you can achieve it by making a POST HTTP request like so:

curl -n -X POST https://api.heroku.com/apps/<your-heroku-app>/ps \
-H "Accept: application/json" \
-H "Authorization: $TUTORIAL_KEY" \
-d "command=rake my_rake_task"

(see here for details on how to build the $TUTORIAL_KEY variable)

How should Christians engage with technology?

Update: This is really old and there’s a more recent follow-up post that goes with it

Computer keyboard

The other weekend I went to speak at a men’s breakfast at St. Luke’s Wimbledon Park on the topic of “how should Christians engage with technology?” It’s something I’ve been wanting to put together a talk on ever since my time studying on the Cornhill Training Course and working as their IT guy, a period of my life which gave me plenty of time to think about how theology and technology interact (this was also when I first developed the PrayerMate app).

I think this is a topic which Christians ought to be encouraged to think about a lot more than we do, because it’s something that’s both really important and all too easy not to think about all that hard. For that reason, here are my notes from my talk.

The fact is that technology is absolutely everywhere. Even if you think you’re a luddite who’s hopeless with technology, there’s a chance that you own a pair of glasses – well, that’s technology. There’s a very good chance that you use electric lighting to stay up beyond sundown – that’s certainly technology. Even if you go to bed at 5pm in the winter, you’re certain to have read a book or two in your lifetime (though frankly, if you’re going to bed at 5pm, I don’t know where you find the time!) The humble book employs an enormous amount of technology – from the paper it’s printed on, to the printing press used to copy it (perhaps one of the most revolutionary pieces of technology ever invented), to the alphabet itself, which believe it or not hasn’t always existed and once upon a time somebody sat down and invented.

“Technology” is basically anything that is created by human beings to help us reach beyond what we would be able to do without it – whether that’s just doing an old thing more efficiently, or whether it’s doing something that was entirely impossible before. Technology is all around us, and it’s so deeply woven into the very fabric of our lives that we barely even notice it’s there. That’s precisely why it’s so important that we do take time out to consider it from a Christian perspective – because the technology we use always changes us.

There’s masses and masses I could say on the topic, but I’m going to basically address three areas: technology is not morally neutral; technology changes how we think; and some practical thoughts on using technology.

Technology is not morally neutral

When it comes to technology, it’s very easy to respond in one of two ways:

  • There’s the approach that just rejects all new technology outright – we don’t like the change it represents, so we reject it en masse as evil. It took me years and years before I got my first mobile phone, and in the mean time I stubbornly rejected it.
  • The other common response is that we embrace it wholeheartedly as an unambiguously positive force for good. The culture around us often portrays all technological progress as a step forwards – newer is always better, and just because something can be done, then that something should be done.

But if we look at what the Bible has to say, then I think we can say that both of these approaches are lacking. Have a look at Genesis 1:27-27:

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”

So we see that God is a creator – he makes things. And one of the pinnacles of his creation is that he creates men and women, and he creates us in his image, so that we too will be creators who in turn like to make things. As we master the world around us and bring our ingenuity to bear on the problems that we face, we’re actually reflecting something of the image of God, and that’s a good thing and a right thing. It’s part of how we’re going to fulfill that creation mandate that God gave to Adam and Eve, to “fill the earth and subdue it” and rule over it.

So our ability to create technology is a good and a positive thing that reflects something of the image of God. But we also need to recognise that we live the other side of Genesis 3: in Genesis 3 we see humanity rejecting God’s good purpose for our lives, and in judgement God puts a curse on his creation.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17)

So things are now distorted and warped. The creation order is turned upside down, the things we created to help us master the creation now try to master us. It’s a few chapters later that we get the first clear example of technology in the Bible, in the hands of one of the murderer Cain’s descendants, “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” – it’s not loads clear, so don’t attach too much weight to it, but it’s not presented as entirely positive. Then you get the first major building project in the history of humanity in the form of the Tower of Babel, which again is not exactly portrayed in an overwhelmingly positive light. There it’s an example of technology being used to exert independence from God – making a name for ourselves apart from our relationship to God.

So the basic principle which we need to establish when thinking about technology is this: technology by itself is what we might call “amoral” – that is, it is neither overwhelmingly good nor inherently evil. Like lots of things in this world it’s something with great power for good but which is also deeply affected by the fall. What’s important is how we use that technology – what we use it to do, and what we allow it to do to us.

Technology is neither overwhelmingly good nor inherently evil – it’s how we USE it that counts.

Some of the benefits of technology are easy to spot – maybe it’s an app like PrayerMate that can help you in your prayer life, maybe it’s a Facebook message to a struggling friend that gives them the encouragement they need to keep going, maybe it’s just the way that electric lighting and central heating helps our midweek Bible studies go better, or the way that the printing press has enabled the Bible to be distributed far and wide and put into the hands of ordinary people. Technology has enabled some wonderful things.

But technology can also very easily become an idol in our lives. Most of what I have to say here is really inspired by Tim Challies’ book “The Next Story” (which you should all go out and read immediately), and he says this:

“Though the devices and tools we create are inherently amoral, at the same time we would be foolish to believe that they are morally neutral. The things we create to assist us in overcoming the consequences of the curse also seek to dominate us, drawing our hearts away from God rather than drawing us toward him in dependence and faith.”

Anything created has the potential to become an idol in our lives – something that we put our trust in instead of God. And technology has perhaps a greater-than-average risk of being turned into an idol because it is so powerful in extending our abilities and what we’re able to achieve – it promises to help make us a little more like God, and overcome our finiteness and weakness. And that’s something we need to be aware of and pray against. It can be that the technology is an idol in itself (the latest iDols from Apple, perhaps?) or they can enable other idols, such as my pride, as I project an image of living the most remarkable life imaginable on Facebook, or lust, in the form of Internet pornography and so on.

My goal here is to encourage us all just to be a little more thinking in our attitude to technology – not to reject it outright, nor to embrace it unquestioningly. Instead, to try to see beyond the superficial and to think a bit more about how it affects us, and why we feel about it the way we do.

Technology changes how we think

It’s really important to recognise that our technology has the power to radically alter how we perceive and think about the world around us. If you’ve ever read Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death“, he argues that the advent of television completely revolutionised how we engaged with everything from politics to education (had the internet been invented at the time he was writing, I’m sure he’d have said his hypothesis was even more true of that). Because of the television, we’ve become a very visual culture. Postman talks about how important it is these days for politicians to look the part if they’re to get elected, because so much is decided by the public watching them on telly. He asks how many of the great leaders of the past would still have been elected if they were to run for office today?

So, technology can change how we think. How many of you have ever made a decision about what to wear or what to do, because you’ve been thinking “how will this look on Facebook?” Or maybe that’s just me!

Let’s briefly consider just two examples of ways that technology changes how we think. Even if you don’t think these are relevant to you, they’re sure to be relevant to your children or the people that we’re trying to reach in our churches.

1. Technology means we’ve redefined community

In the old days, your community was defined by your physical geography – where you lived – and primarily that usually meant your family who you shared a house with. So if you wanted to contact somebody, you’d call the family telephone, or you’d write a letter to the family address. Now it’s shifted from our geography to being much more about the individual, and our preferences – so our community can be a virtual one defined by common interests. You email me as an individual, you send me a text message as an individual – and it’s all completely cut off from my geographical context, my family context.

So does that mean I should throw away my mobile phone, close my GMail account and refuse to communicate with anybody except by snail mail? Of course not! Apart from anything else, it’s probably too late for that! But being conscious of the way that our technology has changed us, we can be armed to think about how this might have a knock on effect for our godliness, how we relate to God and to one another. There’s no doubt that this is one of the reasons why as a culture we increasingly find church so hard work these days, because very often we don’t have a whole lot in common with the other people we go to church with, we’re not that bothered about our local community, and it all feels a little bit too much like hard work. We’re going to need to go back to our Bibles to figure out why we should bother with church, and how to persuade the next generation to bother with church in a world where meeting together physically in one place is increasingly less interesting. Communication is increasingly about “mediated” contact these days – it’s much less daunting to send a text message or an email to somebody that they can read at their leisure than it is to look them in the eye and give them my full attention and require their full attention in response. Going to church is such an alien concept in a world of mediated contact!

2. Technology means we’ve redefined truth

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried anything on Wikipedia before – but there are very strict guidelines that determine what you’re allowed to say on Wikipedia. It’s all based around the concept of “consensus” – everything you write has to have a citation from another source, everything has to be backed up by somebody else who agrees with you. They explicitly say that it’s not a place for original ideas or new thinking.

Or if it’s not about consensus, it’s all about “relevance”. As sites like Google and Facebook have to deal with larger and larger volumes of information, they’re getting more and more sophisticated in filtering things out so that they only show you what they think you’ll consider “relevant”. You’ll see more and more content from the friends that it thinks you engage with and less and less content from the friends that it’s decided you’re not really that interested in, and it’s all very self-reinforcing.

Both of these ways of defining the truth – consensus and relevance – have problems for the Christian, because we believe in revelation. Biblical truth often clashes with consensus, and doesn’t necessarily seem all that relevant to an outsider who’s thinking superficially. But it’s the ultimate truth, and it’s supremely relevant because it’s about our eternal future – if only we have the ears to hear.

Obviously there’s loads more we could say on that topic – plenty of further examples of ways in which our technology changes how we think. But in summary: be on your guard! Don’t engage with technology unthinkingly and expect to come away unchanged.

Some practical thoughts on using technology

Really I just want to talk about one thing under this heading, and that’s distraction. Our technology these days increasingly leads to distraction. If we allow it to, our technology can really begin to own us, with all of the beeps and buzzes and notifications that constantly vie for our attention and drag us away from the real interactions with the people right in front of us.

As a result of all this distraction, we’re less and less able to concentrate for long periods of time, we find ourselves less and less able to do something simple like just sitting and reading a book. It can even get to the point where we find ourselves feeling quite anxious and fidgety if we have to sit with our own thoughts and nothing to distract us. It can draw us away from the people we’re face-to-face with, and be a disaster for our working productivity.

Our hearts long for that little beep, so we feel like we need to leave the volume turned up. But the reality is that the world will still go on if our emails go unread for 30 minutes, and we’d be much better off if we just turned the notifications off and instead just checked in every once and a while.

All this can be a real issue for habits of personal devotion like having quiet times where we spend quality time in God’s word and praying. So many times I’ve been trying to read the Bible, only to find myself checking my phone or my iPad because some idea has occurred to me part way through, and before I know it I’ve completely forgotten what I was looking at.

I think if we’re going to be serious about putting God first in our lives, we have to be pretty radical with our technology.

For myself, it’s a real discipline of trying to make sure that my Bible reading is the first thing I do in the morning, rather than checking my email. It just feels to me like it says a lot about my own priorities that I’m more excited to know if anybody around the world has sent me a nugget of novelty in my inbox, than I am to hear from the Creator of the Universe who has some eternal truth to share with me – and trying to make sure I hold off checking my email until I’ve listened to what he has to say just feels like the right thing to try and do. Apart from anything else, often I’ve only got about 3 minutes of peace and quiet before the baby wakes up, and if I use it to check Facebook then the quiet time may never happen!

Coupled with the short attention span, we have less and less need to exercise our memories, as we become more and more reliant on Google to give us the answers. We don’t know how to memorise scripture any more, because we know we can just look it up on Bible Gateway instead. How much the poorer are we for it?

So let me urge you: keep reading your Bibles, keep reading good Christian books, and why not try to memorise the occasional Bible passage?

Questions to ask our technology

I am aware that this was a bit of a whirlwind tour, with lots left out. However, I hope there’s been something there that was vaguely useful, and some fuel for further thought on the subject.

To close, let me leave you with some questions from Tim Challies that we should ask of any technology. You’ve heard of the discipline of talking to yourself – well here’s some ways you can talk to your mobile phone instead:

Help bring PrayerMate to Android

144x144 The PrayerMate Christian prayer app for iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch has helped thousands of people be more faithful in prayer. I’ve been blown away by how many people have used it and got in touch to say how helpful they’ve found it – for something I wrote during an Easter holiday as a little side project, that ain’t bad! But there are still many many people out there who I’m sure would benefit from it, who are unable to use it because they’re Android users rather than Apple users.

That’s why last night I launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring PrayerMate to Android. If you’ve not heard of Kickstarter before, it’s basically a way for creative projects like this to raise a specific finance goal directly from its supporters. You can pledge anything from £2 to £350, and if we don’t raise the full amount needed to complete the project, nobody has to pay a penny. Even the smallest donation would be appreciated, and would help show your support for the project, but if you pledge more then you can get access to some great rewards like an exclusive PrayerMate hoodie.

Watch the video for all the low-down of how we’ll be using the funds:

Even if you’re not in a position to support the campaign financially, please spread the word far and wide – tell everybody you know: your postman, your cat, your Bible study group at church. We’ve got 29 days left to make this thing happen – support the campaign today!

PrayerMate v3.1.1 Now Available

PrayerMate Logo 1 Today there is a new update to PrayerMate. Mostly it is a minor bug-fix revision:

  • The address book “Quick import” now works properly, and quickly as well. I hadn’t realised quite how broken this was in the previous version, so apologies for that!
  • Cards scheduled by day-of-the-month will display more than once – if you tried setting things up like this and found that they weren’t appearing, this should now be fixed.
  • The first card now says “Coming Up” instead of “Today’s Prayers” to better reflect the fact that they’re not supposed to stay the same all day long. I know that a lot of people still want them to stay the same all day long – I have an idea for how to make this an option in the future, but for now it is what it is.
  • If you want to edit a prayer card whilst praying, you can now press and hold anywhere on the screen (since the redesign you had to press on the grey box, which was potentially quite a small area, depending on how many details you had)
  • I’ve implemented a workaround for a bug in iOS7 which means the keyboard was obscuring the last line of text as you were entering it.
  • For those with a keen eye for detail, I’ve now made it so that all four PIN digit get filled in before the lock screen is dismissed.

That said, there are also a few new features:

Reordering subjects

Each category page now has a “Change subject order” button. This allows you to manually change the order of subjects within a category, as well as automatically sorting the categories either alphabetically or in a random “shuffled” ordering.

There is one final feature here: “auto-shuffle”. If you turn this on for a category, then PrayerMate will keep track of how many subjects in this category you have prayed through. Once you have prayed through every card in the category, it will then shuffle the order of all of the subjects in that category, until the next time you’ve prayed through them all. This is useful for those people who find that things get a bit stale when you always pray for people in the same order.

Design tweaks

In all honesty, there was a real sense of urgency getting the redesign of PrayerMate ready in time for iOS7, since the app did not work at all in iOS7 prior to that update. As a result, there were a few things which I knew were a little less than ideal. In particular, the iPad layout left a lot to be desired. The new update makes a few changes to the layout:

  • The contrast of the text has been increased to improve readability – yes, I know I screwed up on this one
  • I’ve added some extra padding on the iPad
  • Photos have been repositioned to stop the title from floating in the middle of nowhere and looking a little lost
  • In iOS7 it now respects the user font size setting. If you want bigger text, you can now do this through your main iOS settings page
Before Screenshot
Before
After Screenshot
After


Photos in Dropbox imports/exports

When exporting to Dropbox, you now have the option to include photos. Naturally, when importing again you can then also choose to import those photos. It goes without saying that this could use up a lot of bandwidth, so you probably want to make sure you’re on Wi-Fi before using this feature.

What’s next

Syncing

Now that the most serious bugs are addressed, I’m knuckling down to get syncing between devices working. I know that this is an important feature for a lot of users, so it is absolutely my highest priority now. I don’t plan on using iCloud for this, since using iCloud would prevent syncing with any future version of the app running on any non-Apple platforms.

PrayerMate for Android

As an independent developer with a family and a full-time job (which is NOT to develop PrayerMate), it’s hard enough to find time to work on the iOS version of PrayerMate, let alone develop an entirely new version for other platforms such as Android. However, I recognise the vital importance of there being an Android version, and so I have plans under way to get another developer to build it on my behalf. Paying developers requires finance, however, so I’m planning on launching a crowd-funding campaign via Kickstarter to raise the funds needed (unless you fancy writing me a cheque for £2,000 to fund it yourself). If you would like to be kept up to date on progress in this area, please sign up for the PrayerMate newsletter.

Pray for Students Around the World Tomorrow

World Student DayTomorrow IFES has organised World Student Day – a day where they are encouraging people to commit to praying for students in one particular country. Their goal is to sign up 5,000 people to pray – whether you’re a student yourself or not.

Being a student is such a crucial time in one’s life, where there’s real opportunity to grapple with the truths of the gospel. Christian Students have an unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel with those around them, such as they may never have again during their lifetime. Do think about whether you might sign up to pray for one particular country. IFES will then send you a handy fact sheet specific to that country to help you know how to pray.

Handily, the fact sheet is in PDF format, which means that it’s perfect for slotting in to PrayerMate, to help you remember to pray tomorrow. You can download the PDF directly on your iPhone and choose “Open with PrayerMate”, or you can stick it in PrayerMate’s Dropbox folder and import it through the “Advanced Settings” menu (full instructions here). I suggest you create a separate “World Student Day” category on your phone with just the one item in it, and set that category to “Pinned” to guarantee that it’ll show up all day long.

Shortlisted for Christian New Media Awards 2013

144x144 I’m chuffed to bits that PrayerMate has been shortlisted for the Christian New Media Awards 2013 under the “Christian Mobile or Tablet App of the Year” category. What an honour! Thank you SO much to any and all of you who helped make that happen by giving it your nomination.

2013 has been a big year for PrayerMate, that has seen lots of big new features. You can now subscribe to online prayer diaries from over twenty Christian organisations; it’s had a major redesign by the wonderful Dan Gould, including a super-snazzy new logo; you can now easily import lots of items through Dropbox, including PDF attachments; and PrayerMate also celebrated its 3,000th download since it launched back in May 2011.

I still have plenty of ideas for new features in the pipeline, and in many ways it feels like I’m still only just getting started. My prayer is that it will continue prove to be a great tool to help people pray, and that it will do so more and more as it slowly grows and develops.

Medjool: Ruby Date Parsing With Context

The Date.parse method in Ruby on Rails is a really useful little function. Yes, it probably comes with huge overheads, and no, obviously you wouldn’t want to be using it in performance-critical code. But every now and again it’s really ace.

Except for one thing: you can’t provide it with any context whatsoever. “Tuesday” always means next Tuesday, no matter what. “1st” always means 1st of the current month, come what may.

When building the “Quick Import” feature of PrayerMate.net, I needed a little more flexibility than that. The goal was to allow churches to copy & paste their prayer points from their weekly notice sheet, and for the site to just “know” what each date meant. So, for example, if you’ve just parsed a prayer point for “Tuesday”, odds are that when you come across a prayer point for a “Wednesday”, that almost certainly means the day after the Tuesday that you just processed. Date.parse can’t cope with that. That’s why I built Medjool – all the simplicity and flexibility of Date.parse, just with a little more context.

p = Medjool::Parser.new({:now => "2013-09-31".to_date})
p.parse("1st") => 1st October 2013
p.parse("3rd") => 3rd October 2013
p.parse("1st") => 1st November 2013
p.parse("Wednesday") => Wednesday 6th November 2013

I looked into doing this with Chronic, but Chronic is really geared towards Time processing rather than simply Date processing. It also seems pretty buggy when it comes to dates, and gives different results depending on the exact input date format. Medjool, by contrast, ALWAYS delegates parsing to Date.parse, it just then sometimes plays around with the result it gets back to make sure it’s after the previously parsed date, if there was any ambiguity.

The Mixed Blessing of a New iOS Version

As a independent developer of a small app targeting a niche audience, a new version of iOS is a mixed blessing. It is always accompanied by some fantastic new features which will inevitably make my app work better – but at the same time, there are costs associated with upgrading to make use of them. Finding the time to redesign an app from scratch to work nicely with iOS7 is no mean feat when you have a full time job as well. And then there’s that age old dilemma: do I drop support for older iOS versions and devices in order to make the most of the new features? Apple has a way of always making this decision more urgent than it would otherwise be: when the iPhone 5 came out with it’s 4″ screen, you could only target that if you were running a version of XCode that no longer supported the older armv6 devices like the original iPods and iPhones; likewise, you can’t compile arm64 code for the new iPhone 5S if your app still targets iOS5, like mine does.

But according to The Next Web, Apple has made a small but significant change to the App Store which would significantly reduce the stress involved in these decisions: users of outdated iOS versions will apparently now get the option to download older versions of an app which still supports their hardware. This has the potential to be HUGE, and we could well see a surge in developers targeting the latest features since they no longer have to worry about all of the users who will no longer be able to download their app as a result.

Well played Apple.

Update: Simon Maddox has pointed out that this can also prove to be a support nightmare, since out-of-date versions that don’t play nicely with your current APIs are now hanging around forever. But to some extent, this would have been the case anyway – I still have plenty of out-of-date apps running on my iOS5 iPad.

Why we’re wrong to fear opposition

Opposition in the book of Acts

I’ve just recently finished reading reading my way through the book of Acts. A big theme of the book struck me afresh this time, which I’m not sure I’d really noticed in quite the same way before.

Acts is a book filled with examples of opposition to the gospel. The chief priests and religious leaders oppose the early disciples and try to stop them preaching. The Jewish people largely seem to reject their message, often hounding them out of their synagogues. The people of Ephesus even start a riot because they’re so offended by Paul and his gospel. And yet time and time again, we see that the disciples are unfazed by these responses. Indeed, in Chapter 5:41 we read that “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They rejoiced that they got to suffer on behalf on Jesus. What on earth is going on?

Opposition is God’s plan

Right near the start of the book and right at the end of the book we have a couple of quotes from the Old Testament that I think help explain this a little. In Chapter 4 we have a quote from Psalm 2:

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one”

In Psalm 2 we see the powerful ones of the earth attempting to rise up against God, and what does God do? He laughs. Even the mightiest people on the planet are like puny ants trying to start a fight with the Creator of the Universe, and it is laughable. Peter goes on to say “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” When the kings of the earth conspire against God, all they end up achieving is bringing God’s purposes to pass.

Then at the end of the book, Paul gives an extended quote from Isaiah 6:

“Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.”

In other words, God knew that the Jewish people would reject the message of the crucified Messiah Jesus. It wasn’t a surprise to him – it was in his plan all along. Paul concludes: “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” This rejection that we’ve been seeing right through the book of Acts is all part of the master plan to fulfil Jesus’ promise to take the gospel to all Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Not fearing opposition

This encourages me. What is the number one reason I don’t share the gospel with more people? It’s got to be the fear of rejection. But the book of Acts tells me that when opposition happens, God expects it, and indeed God uses it to further his purposes. The Apostle Paul knew with certainty that if he went to Jerusalem, he would be bound hand and foot. But did that stop him going? No! He was compelled to preach the gospel whatever the cost – sometimes even because he knew that the opposition he received would only help him preach the gospel in even more places. When he does finally get arrested in Jerusalem, it allows him the opportunity to go to Rome to speak the gospel before the Emperor himself.

So don’t let the fear of opposition stop you from speaking up about Jesus. Know with conviction that God is in charge, and God is bigger than any opposition we might face. His will is that the gospel will go out to all the earth, and it’s a privilege to get to be part of that work.

Getting more out of PrayerMate with Dropbox

(Please note: this blog post is now very old… and whilst a lot of the information about import and export via Dropbox still works perfectly well, the best way to sync data between two devices is to go to the app’s “Settings” page and tap the “Create an online account/sign in” button to connect via the cloud)

Actually… getting more *IN* to PrayerMate

For many people, one of the things that stops them using PrayerMate more is the challenge of actually getting their prayer points into the app. Typing on a mobile is slow and cumbersome, and perhaps you already have lots of prayers in another system that you wouldn’t want to have to enter all over again.

With the newly released PrayerMate 3.1.0, getting your data into PrayerMate is easier than ever, with a little help from the wonderful Dropbox. Here are three ways that Dropbox can help you.

1. Migrations and backup

One key use of Dropbox is to allow you to backup your PrayerMate data, so that you can import it again later in the case of a lost or reset phone, or migrating it to a second device. Under the app’s main “Settings” menu within PrayerMate (accessible whilst praying), hit the “Export data” / “Export to Dropbox” button. Depending on your device, you may then be given the option to export “via Dropbox” or “via another app” – try “via Dropbox” and if that doesn’t work then try via another app instead (and if you have the Dropbox app installed, this should even come up as one of the options). The first time you use it you’ll be prompted for your Dropbox credentials, and then it will save your entire database into a special folder within your Dropbox called “Apps/PrayerMate” as a .json file with today’s date. You can then import this again later, or on another device, using the “Import from Dropbox” button.

When you import, it will look for existing categories and subjects with the same name and reuse them where possible, so in theory you could import more than once without causing duplication. However, it is not going to prove a very satisfying experience trying to use this to continually keep two devices in sync with each other. I’m working on a proper solution to the syncing issue as a matter of priority (Update: this is now live via the “Create an online account/sign in” option in the settings menu).

2. Importing new data

dropbox_import Whilst the first point was all about moving existing data around, Dropbox is also very useful for getting completely new data into PrayerMate. If you place any text file with a “.txt” extension in your “Apps/PrayerMate” Dropbox folder, then you can use that to create a new subject. Hit the “Import data” button under the app’s main “Settings” page, and you should see your .txt file listed. When you tap it, it will then begin the process of creating a new subject with the same name as your .txt file (underscores ‘_’ will be replaced with spaces) and the contents of the text file will be used to populate the description.

There’s also now an “Import all” button. Hit this, then choose one of your categories, and it will load in all of the .txt files in the current directory and create one subject for each. You can create sub-folders within your Dropbox, one per category, if you want a little more control – then just use “Import all” within specific sub-folders.

3. Adding PDF attachments

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly being sent prayer letters as PDFs that you read once then promptly forget. Now, if you add them to the “Apps/PrayerMate” folder within your Dropbox, when you hit “Import data” you will see those PDF files listed with a paperclip icon. Once you select the file you want, you’ll be asked to pick one of your subjects, and it will attach that PDF file to that subject. When you’re praying you’ll then see a “PDF” button which you can tap to view it fullscreen.

Sign up to Dropbox here or download PrayerMate here.

Converting a Transparent Background EPS to PNG

I’m going to blog this so that I don’t have to work it out from first principles again every single time I want to convert an EPS file with a transparent background into a PNG whilst preserving that transparency (you can export EPS files to PNG on a Mac simply using Preview, but annoyingly it always gives them a white background).

You’ll need to install ImageMagick (which you can do simply and easily on Mac OS X using Homebrew). Then simply run a command like this on the terminal:

convert -density 400 -colorspace rgb TransaprentBackgroundEPS.eps -transparent white Output.png

The important bit here is that the “-transparent white” bit comes AFTER the name of your EPS file, not before.

The only case where this doesn’t work (which may well be a very important case, depending on the image) is if the image itself has white in it. In those cases the white bits will disappear – as was the case for me with the PrayerMate logo I was trying to convert.

Edit: if you’re having colour issues when going from EPS to PNG, try using “-colorspace srgb” instead

PrayerMate: The Next Generation

PrayerMate LogoFor the past six months I have slowly been chipping away on a major new update to the PrayerMate app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Today I am thrilled to announce that v3.0 is now live on the App Store – and though I say this every time, it really is the most exciting version yet! Here is an overview of the new features you’ll find.

Subscribe to online prayer diaries

uccfUntil now, PrayerMate has focussed on letting you enter your own personal prayer points. Now, in addition to that, you can also browse a gallery of prayer feeds from organisations such as Open Doors, who provide bulletins from the persecuted church around the world; UCCF The Christian Unions; Christians in Sport; Church Society; and a number of local churches. The PrayerMate app will then automatically download new content every time it is published, helping you be faithful in prayer for the organisations you care about.

Any church or organisation can request to be added to the gallery – all you need is an iCal feed (if you’re using Google Calendar) or if that’s not possible, then an RSS feed (as generated by most popular blogging platforms). Alternatively, there is also a new companion website, http://www.prayermate.net/, which makes it incredibly easy for churches to publish their prayer points online by simply copying and pasting from your church bulletin or newsletter.

New features for new users

I’ve made a few tweaks to make it easier for new users to get up and running more quickly: improved default data, including a few tips on using the app; a link to the “getting started” blog post; and a new “Quick add” feature that lets you create lots of subjects in one go by simply selecting entries from your address book. Linking a subject to an address book entry will now also pull in any associated images from that contact.

Send SMS messages whilst praying

Once you have linked a subject to a contact in your address book, you can now send both emails and SMS text messages to that person whilst praying for them by pressing and holding on their card.

Improved Dropbox syncing

Whilst this version of the app does not yet support continually keeping two devices in sync automatically, it does pave the way for that functionality in the next major update (I promise that this is top of my list of priorities!) It does, however, improve the Dropbox import/export functionality so that it no longer duplicates your data each time you use it, but will reuse existing categories and subjects as long as the names have not been altered.

 

And in case you hadn’t noticed it, PrayerMate now also has a shiny new logo, designed by the wonderful Dan Gould.

app_store_badge


If you’ve found PrayerMate helpful, and you live in the UK, please consider nominating it for the Christian New Media Awards so that even more people can hear about it.

Double-Minded

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of “double-mindedness” in the life of the Christian. What Jesus calls “trying to serve two masters”. Trying to be a faithful Christian, but all the time looking over our shoulder at all the things we’re missing out on, all the opportunities missed, all the ways we could find more success in the eyes of the watching world if only we weren’t so “restricted” by our convictions.

It’s a topic that the New Testament book of James tackles head on, and it’s worth hearing what he has to say on the topic. Here’s how he introduces the idea:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

The double-minded person prays to God for wisdom, but then doesn’t really like what he hears back in return. He doubts that what God recommends will really work out. “Are you sure, God?”

What God says is often very counter-cultural. He values different things to what our friends do. His wisdom is frequently surprising and very often not what we want to hear.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

When we start to listen to the world, we enter into an internal conflict. We try to live with a foot in both camps. We want to be successful by the world’s standards, whilst still clinging onto God’s truth and God’s priorities. But the world is opposed to God and his truth. The one who lives a life wholy faithful to God will rarely be able to find ultimate success in the eyes of the world. It simply requires too many compromises, too much time and attention invested in the wrong things.

When we start to embrace God’s approval as its own reward, suddenly it matters less what the world thinks of us in the process.

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

There is hope for us who fail at this every day. It is never too late for repentance, and indeed the Christian life is one of daily repentance. Daily confessing our failings, including our double-mindedness.

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

And so we have to make a choice: will we seek above all to be successful according to the world’s priorities, or will we seek first the kingdom of God? To choose the latter doesn’t necessarily mean some of us won’t also be granted the former. But it does mean to accept the possibility that we will have to forego success in this life, to stop chasing it as the number one purpose of our existence.

Independent Businesses on the Web

At Hubbub, we help small independent shops compete with the supermarkets, because we believe this leads to thriving local communities. There was a great article on A List Apart this week taking that same principle as a metaphor for businesses on the web:

I am happy with my small shopkeeper status. I talk and write about bootstrapping because I want to show other developers that there is a sane and achievable route to launching a product, a route that doesn’t involve chasing funding rounds or becoming beholden to a board of investors. I love the fact that decisions for my product can be made by the two of us, based on the discussions we have with our customers. If we had investors hoping for a return on their investment, it would be a very different product by now, and I don’t think a better one.

I think it is important for those of us succeeding at this to talk about it.

I found the article fascinating on the back of a year working at Hubbub, but also as an independent developer essentially running my own software company on the side. This has been a fantastic year for my PrayerMate app, and in many ways, I feel like I’m only just getting started, with some seriously major updates coming up in the next few months. Being a one-man team has its drawbacks, but I also love being able to build a product that I want to use myself without being beholden to anybody else’s agenda for what features I should be adding, and without the pressure of it being my primary source of income (not that I wouldn’t love to be able to devote more time to it if sales picked up enough!)

Gluten Free Pasties in Cornwall

Where can you find a gluten free pasty in Cornwall?

When you go to Cornwall, it is mandatory that you eat a pasty. That’s just the law.

But what happens if you are wheat or gluten intolerant? Where can you find a gluten free Cornish pasty in Cornwall?

When my wife and I went on honeymoon to the Lizard last year, it just so happened that the first cafe we stumbled upon sold excellent gluten free pasties. It’s called Harbour Lights in Coverack, and they also do gluten free cream teas. Their full gluten free menu can be found on their website. We went back again this summer and they’re still going strong.

Resisting a Prosperity Prayer Life

I had something of a realisation this morning as I was firing off a quick text message to my wife. My first draft read “I hope today isn’t too stressful for you” – as parents of a teeny tiny little baby, there are many reasons why the day might turn out to be pretty hard work. Then I remembered the Bible study we did at church the other week on Ephesians 3:14-21, looking at the apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church. Paul’s prayer could have read “I bow my knees before the Father and pray that he would stop bad stuff happening to you and that your life would be stress-free and straightforward”. Thankfully he didn’t, and what a rebuke to me that has been:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

It’s generally fairly easy to spot the more crass forms of the Prosperity Gospel when it rears its head: the idea that if you obey God then he will abundantly bless you right here and now. But I realised that it’s all too easy for the same spirit to creep into our prayers without even realising it. How often do we treat God like a genie whose sole purpose is to make our lives easier?

So what would it mean to resist this kind of “Prosperity Prayer Life”? What would a more Ephesians 3-style prayer look like? In the end I decided to send this to my wife: “I hope you know God’s grace through the challenges of today”. God’s desire isn’t to make our lives as easy as possible. God’s desire is to make us more like Christ, and he will use the struggles and the stresses of each moment to achieve it. Like gold, we are refined through the fire, not by sitting around on a comfy sofa.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that through everything, they might be given supernatural grace to more deeply understand God’s love for them. How much richer our prayer lives would be if we shared that same desire for one another! Next time you’re wondering how you can pray for me, feel free to pray Ephesians 3. It may not be what I would have asked for, but it’s certainly what I need!

If you’re a PrayerMate user, why not create an “Ephesians 3” index card that appears at the start of each session, reminding you how you could be praying for each of the people that you’ll be praying for that day? To do this, create a new category, make sure that it is “Pinned” so that it appears every session, and change the order of your categories to make sure your new one is at the start of the list. Add a single subject, and perhaps you could copy and paste the passage from Bible Gateway.

A New PrayerMate Mascot?

Goosey, goosey gander,
Wither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who would not say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

Perhaps Goosey should have suggested he buy himself a copy of PrayerMate instead?

Waiting for a baby

It turns out that waiting for a baby to make an appearance in the outside world really is a great analogy for waiting for the return of Jesus. You know it has to happen at some point, but you really have no idea when it’s going to be. You keep getting little signs that it might be imminent, and then it turns out to be a false start. You kind of have to get on with real life, rather than just sitting around all day until it happens. But at the same time, you have to make sure you have your mobile phone on you at all times when you go to work, and you know not to book any foreign holidays any time in the next couple of weeks, and of course you have your hospital bag carefully packed in a corner – in other words, you need to be ready for it to happen at any moment. It’s given me a much better appreciation of the emotions of Romans 8:18-27:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

I’m waiting eagerly for the arrival of Mini-Geers, but how much more should we be waiting eagerly for that moment when Jesus comes back, and those who trust in him will get brand new bodies, freed from our bondage to sin and decay! The Mrs and I are eagerly longing to meet this little person, but how much more should we be longing to meet the one who made them and us!

So, we do our best to wait for it patiently (but boy is it hard!!)

A Habit of Prayer

A good friend of mine who has a real gift for tracking down little-heard-of Christian books that turn out to be total gold dust recently presented my wife and I with a copy of “The Upper Room” by J.C.Ryle, the one-time Bishop of Liverpool (a bishop who believed the gospel – they do exist!!) He had bookmarked a carefully chosen chapter titled “The Duties of Parents”, which so far has been inspiring and daunting in equal measures. One duty in particular stood out as especially germain to this blog: “VI. Train them to a habit of prayer”. Allow me to quote:

Prayer is the very life-breath of true religion. It is one of the first evidences that a man is born again… Prayer was the distinguishing mark of the Lord’s people in the day that there began to be a separation between them and the world. “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4v26).

Prayer is the peculiarity of all real Christians now. They pray,-for they tell God their wants, their feelings, their desires, their fears; and mean what they say. The nominal Christian may repeat prayers, and good prayers too, but he goes no further.

Prayer is the turning-point in a man’s soul. Our ministry is unprofitable, and our labour is vain, till you are brought to your knees. Till then, we have no hope about you.

Prayer is one great secret of spiritual prosperity. When there is much private communion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after rain; when there is little, all will be at a standstill, you will barely keep your soul alive. Show me a growing Christian, a going forward Christian, a strong Christian, a flourishing Christian, and sure am I, he is one that speaks often with his Lord. He asks much, and he has much. He tells Jesus everything, and so he always knows how to act.

Prayer is the mightiest engine God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty, and the surest remedy in every trouble. It is the key that unlocks the treasury of promises, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need. It is the silver trumpet God commands us to sound in all our necessity, and it is the cry He has promised always to attend to, even as a loving mother to the voice of her child.

Prayer is the simplest means that man can use in coming to God. It is within reach of all,- the sick, the aged, the infirm, the paralytic, the blind, the poor, the unlearned, -all can pray. It avails you nothing to plead want of memory, and want of learning, and want of books, and want of scholarship in this matter. So long as you have a tongue to tell your soul’s state, you may and ought to pray. Those words, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4v2), will be a fearful condemnation to many in the day of judgement.

I for one feel really challenged by all that. But also really encouraged that prayer doesn’t have to be this really complicated thing- it’s just a talking to God and asking him for the things we need. Let’s resolve to be people who pray. And if you’ve not tried it already, may I recommend to you a handy little app for iOS called PrayerMate which you might find useful in getting going in a habit of prayer!

A startup that believes in something

Almost a year ago now, I took what felt at the time like a big risk by accepting a job as a web developer at Hubbub, a delivery company with a difference currently based in London. I’m not generally a big fan of risk, and pretty much by definition, when you take a job at a startup you’re not entirely sure if they’re going to sink or swim. That, combined with the horror stories you hear about people burning themselves out working all hours of the day and night for startups, meant that I was a little uncertain whether this was exactly the adventure I wished to embark upon just as I was getting married.

But ten months later, I can honestly say I am so glad I took that chance. There’s all sorts of reasons that Hubbub give you about why it’s an awesome place to work – the free lunches sourced from some really unique shops, the generous staff discount, and not to mention the year’s supply of free bacon you get as a recruitment bonus.

Above all, however, I think there’s one key attribute of Hubbub’s culture that really makes it stand out – it’s a company that really believes in something. The driving force behind Hubbub’s very existence is the belief that local independent shops make our communities a  better place. As the government sets up the Future High Streets Forum, it’s clearly not just us who recognise it either. The local butcher, baker and candlestick maker – they add a richness and a vibrancy to community life that a big, faceless, corporate conglomerate like Tesco could never offer. But the sad reality is that they’re under enormous pressure in today’s economic climate, and Hubbub gives them a real boost by allowing them to pool their resources and extend their reach to people who would love to get there in person if they could, but for whatever reason find it more convenient to do their shopping online.

I’ve worked for companies before where the only thing that ultimately mattered was squeezing every possible penny from our visitors to our site, even if it made their experience worse in the process. I’ve worked for companies where we had a lot of fun doing cool stuff, but which at the end of the day hardly made much of a lasting dent in the universe. There’s something so much more satisfying about going to work and knowing that you’re contributing towards a larger picture, helping make people’s lives a little better and serving a loftier goal than mere profit alone.

As a Christian, and especially as one in the middle of reading Every Good Endeavour by Tim Keller, I know that saving the local high street isn’t the ultimate goal in life. However hard we fight, there will come a day when the high street is gone forever – because I believe this world itself won’t be around for ever either. But as the original job ad that first attracted me to Hubbub stated, a business that helps save the local high street sure beats working for another social cat coupon website.

Our work really matters. We spend a huge proportion of our lives at work. Wouldn’t you much rather devote that time and energy contributing towards something that made the world a little better in the process?

Did I mention that Hubbub is hiring?

Praying daily for a special event with PrayerMate

We’re in the midst of university mission season at the moment here in Britain. Last week was the London-wide UCCF mission, this week it’s Imperial’s turn. It’s not uncommon that you have periods like this where you want to pray for something intensively, and then eventually whatever it is comes to an end and no longer needs that kind of focussed prayer (though of course it’s always worth praying for follow up after a mission!)

I’ve found PrayerMate really useful in my own attempts to pray for some of these missions, and so I thought I’d write up a quick tutorial on how to use it in this way.

Step 1: Creating a prayer card

Before we can do anything else, we need to create a card for our mission week. Tap the “+” button in the top left of the home screen. We’ll give it a name, “Mission Week”, and click the “Tap here to add details…” button as well if you want to type in a fuller description to guide your prayers.

 

Step 2: Praying for it every day

By default, PrayerMate will just show you a subject every few days, after you’ve finished praying through all of the other subjects in the same category. For our intense mission week, focus, we want to temporarily change this.

The easiest way I’ve found is to schedule it to appear every single day of the week:

Selecting week days

Tap the “Scheduling Mode” button, and select “Day of the Week”. When presented with a list of week days, tap each one until it is ticked. PrayerMate prioritises day-of-the-week subjects over those with a “default” scheduling mode, so this will make sure you’re almost guaranteed to see it each day from now on.

 

Step 3: Auto-archiving at the end of the week

Optionally, if you want, you can specify an auto-archive date at the end of the mission week. This will tell PrayerMate to move your subject to the “archive” once that date is reached. It won’t be deleted altogether, but it will mean that this subject won’t appear any more in any new prayer sessions.

Setting an auto-archive date

 

Have you got a tip or trick that’s helped you to pray using PrayerMate? Send it in to prayermate at geero.net or tweet @PrayerMateApp so that it can help other people too.

Announcing PrayerMate 2.1 – Attach PDFs and More

I am thrilled to announce yesterday’s release of PrayerMate 2.1 on the App Store. This is a significant new release with many changes, both visible and under the hood, as well as a significant number of bug fixes. Here’s a run down on some of the new feature:

Attach PDF Prayer Letters to Items

This was actually the idea that first inspired PrayerMate way back when. My inbox often seems full of prayer letters from mission partners, that if I’m totally honest I often just read once and then rarely look at again. Well, now if I open them up on my iPod using Safari, I can use the “Open with…” button to get them into PrayerMate and attach them to one of the items there. In a prayer session, when I get to that item, there’ll be a little envelope icon – tap that and it will open the PDF full screen, and I can zoom in, scroll around, etc. Hopefully in the future you’ll be able to import these from Dropbox too, but that’s a way off yet.

Support for iPhone 5

Inevitably I’ve had a few eager iPhone 5 users wondering when I would support the new bigger screen size, and now here it is. Sadly, because of the way Apple has organised things, this also means dropping support for the oldest (armv6) devices and iOS 3 – things like the original iPhone, as well as the first and second generation iPod Touches. This was a tough call, which is why I have deliberated for so long, but it looks like there are now very few users of these old devices, so if you’re one of them, I’m really sorry but I’m not sure I had much choice.

New “Menu” Card

I was a bit unsure about this one at first, but the more I’ve used it myself the more I’ve come to love this. Now when you start praying, before all of your actual prayer cards, you’ll see a new one labelled “Today’s Prayers”. This will list all of the items that will be prayed for in this new session.

A little tip on this: my wife finds it really helpful to close and reopen PrayerMate in order to take another peek at this card after she’s prayed – so that she knows if she needs to email anybody to get up-to-date information on how she can be praying. She finds it so helpful that I might see if I can incorporate this formally into the app, but we’ll see. If you think that would be useful – do let me know!

Day of the Month Scheduling

PrayerMate has long supported scheduling cards to appear on a certain date or a certain day of the week, and now you can schedule them to appear on certain days of the month as well (e.g. the 1st of every month, or the 15th and 30th).

Integrated Email Support

I’ve added two new features related to email.

The first is to let you email the person you are praying for from within the app. Often when you’re praying  for someone, it makes you really want to get in touch to let them know you were thinking of them. Now if you press and hold on the card, you’ll get an “Email contact” button. This will work for all subjects, but if you’ve explicitly linked it to a contact in your address book then it will be able to pre-fill the email address for you as well.

The second is to let you email the details of an item from within the app to anybody you like. I’ve started using PrayerMate to record my small group’s prayer points each week, and now once you’ve filled in the details, on the edit subject page there’s a button to “Email these details”, so I can send them to everybody in the group. Quick tip: set up a contact “group” in your address book (this needs to be done on Mac OS X / Windows and then synced across, I believe) – this at least let’s you quickly skim through each member of a group and easily select all of their names.

Bug Fixes Galore

But PrayerMate 2.1 wasn’t just all about adding new stuff, it also includes a significant number of little tweaks and bug fixes, largely based on the invaluable feedback of my wonderful users. If you ever experience a glitch, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, or even if you just have a thought about something that would make the app even better – there’s a “Send Feedback” button on the very final page when you’ve finished praying (the one after the blessing) and I read every email I get and I love hearing from people. PrayerMate is also on Twitter now: @PrayerMateApp.

Here are some of the fixes:

  • Fixed a problem on the “Edit details” page that made scrolling and editing impossible in landscape mode
  • When editing details, the cursor now defaults to the top of the card rather than the bottom
  • Restored some missing photos, and make sure they survive updates in the future
  • Addressed some problems with Dropbox import and export