Jill Weber, Global Convenor of The Order of the Mustard Seed, lives near the ruins of a 12th century monastery on the Waverley Abbey Estate in the United Kingdom. Her response to the question “Does prayer really work?” is just as lovely. The following is a transcript of Jill's episode on Open to Wonder. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
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Karen: It’s not everyday that you get to interview the Global Convenor of The Order of the Mustard Seed (from her home near the ruins of a 12th century monastery on the Waverley Abbey Estate in the United Kingdom). But that’s exactly what happened for Chris and I when we sat down with Jill Weber.
Jill Weber serves on the International Leadership Team of 24-7 Prayer and she’s Director of Spiritual Formation at Emmaus Road Church. She’s the author of Even the Sparrow: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Prayer, Trust, and Following the Leader.
During our wonderful conversation with Jill, you’ll get the lowdown on The Order of the Mustard Seed. You'll find out why she’s living at Waverley Abbey. You’ll learn how hosting Spaghetti Tuesdays gave her a glimpse of God’s kingdom. You'll discover the simple steps you can take to be more intentional about practicing your faith. And finally, you'll hear her oh-so-encouraging answer to my hard-to-ask-in-church question: Does prayer really work? All that and so much more during our conversation with Jill Weber.
Chris: Jill, it's so good to see you again. I've been looking forward to our conversation today, actually for a while. Even while we were planning season one I was like, “Oh, we've got to get Jill Weber sometime.”
And as I’ve been thinking about today and planning for our conversation, I remembered a few years ago when we were both living in Hamilton, Ontario, and you and I sat down at a Tim Horton’s. And we were both in seasons where we were discerning ways that God was calling us in what felt like new directions.
And now here we are, both of us living in different countries than we were at that time, and both of us serving in different roles. You are living in the UK at an ancient place called Waverley Abbey, and you're also serving as the Global Convener for The Order of the Mustard Seed.
We'll get to the Mustard Seed in a moment. Karen wants to ask a question about that one. But I'm wondering if you could tell us a bit about the Abbey and what it is you are doing there.
Jill: Yeah, sure. Happy to say that. So we, my husband and I, live on the Waverley Abbey estate, which is where the ruins of a twelfth century monastery are. So the Cistercians came in 1128, here to the Abbey, and before that actually the land was given around the time of 600 AD for a Celtic monastic site. So there's literally been about a thousand years of prayer on the site here at Waverley Abbey. And so this is becoming the home of 24/7 Prayer, which is an international global prayer movement. We've been looking for a home for the movement. And it looks like—we're nearly there—it looks like God is gonna give us this place for our home. We're in the final phases of conversation with the owners of the site.
And my husband and I have been living here for two years. And we've been building the Seed Community, which is a local expression of our global 24/7 prayer movement.
So we cultivate places of prayer. We work with churches in our area. Chris, you'll be happy to hear this: We had the churches of our town together on our lawn this last Sunday. So there were about 400 of us on the lawn praying together, towards doing mission in Farnham together, coming up this fall. So that was really exciting.
So, we just help people pray. We help churches pray more. We help churches pray together. And we do it here. This is just going to be a bit of an experimental place, a house of prayer, where individuals from churches in our area can gather together and explore an experiment in prayer, mission, justice, hospitality, creativity, and learning.
Chris: Sounds wonderful.
Karen: Wow! Yeah. What a beautiful picture! And Chris mentioned a moment ago, The Order of the Mustard Seed. As we prepared to chat with you, Jill, Chris and I explored the website—and we're gonna link to that in our show notes so our listeners can check it out, too. One thing that really struck us was the simplicity of the words on the homepage. Be true. Be kind. Go. In fact, I said to Chris, I need a t-shirt that says that.
Jill: We're definitely gonna get some merch.
Karen: Ok, that’s awesome. So can you say more about that? And more about The Order of the Mustard Seed and how that community is learning to follow Jesus together?
Jill: Yeah. Happy to do that. The very first Order of the Mustard Seeds started in 1716. It was led by a young German nobleman who—actually it was a student movement at the time. He was entering into his equivalent of college, saw a lot of people just kind of falling off the rails in their Christian faith, and so he gathered friends around them. They created something called The Order of the Mustard Seed. And they made these commitments to be true to Christ, kind to people, and take the gospel to the nations. Be true. Be kind. Go.
And so hundreds of years later, the 24/7 Prayer Movement had been really fueled by the story of this young nobleman and the communities of prayer and mission that he created over his lifetime. And we just thought, well, what would it look like for us is a global movement of prayer, mission and justice to invite not all, but some people in the movement, into a lifestyle focused intentionally around these three commitments And so in 2005 they thought, “Well, we'll just do it as an experiment.”
So about 50 of them took vows in The Order of the Mustard Seed. So “lay ecumenical religious order”—all that means is lay people. It's for everybody. Not for religious professionals. It's for everybody. “Ecumenical” meaning, If you could sign up to the Nicene creed and sort of the central tenets of Christianity you're in. And “religious order” just means that we are ordering our lives around certain commitments and some shared practices together as a community, and kind of cheering one another along that way. Is that helpful?
Karen: Yeah, that's amazing.
Chris: Could you say a little bit more, Jill. about the types of shared practices that go into that Order of the Mustard Seed.
Jill: Yeah, the six practices that are kind of at the heart of it and help shape our lives together are prayer—you know, for us 24/7 prayer is a big thing. Creativity; and so what does it look like for us to be creative? So I’m not just talking about art. I'm talking about entrepreneurialism.
I'm talking about good organizational skills. Any type of creativity. Hospitality. And justice, mission, and learning or evangelism. And so those are kind of the six things that shape our lives.
And if you are familiar at all with Lectio 365 daily devotional app. That—I'm gonna let you in on a secret—that's the prayer book of The Order of the Mustard Seed. And so 24/7 has created that app, specifically built around those three commitments, and then the six practices.
So we’re just sort of sneakily inviting the whole world to pray with us along those lines, and inviting God to shape our lives together in those ways.
Chris: Well, I sneakily joined you this morning as I did. And today, you were actually the one who was talking! I was like “Oh, I get to hear Jill's voice a couple of times today. So it's a gift you are actually giving. I know you're inviting people in, but it is a gift. And I think a lot of people need that emphasis on prayer. This is a guided, simple way for people to enter into prayer and to learn the rhythms of prayer. I really love how you engage Scripture both in rejoicing and in reflecting through that practice.
Jill: Yeah, we love it. I write mine here at Waverley Abbey and record them here. So it's just coming out of the heart of what we do as a gathered community. And I think for me— even before the Order of the Mustard Seed—I've always been sort of a prayer missionary of sorts. For 22 years now, praying the Bible has been a way to keep our hearts alive in prayer, and to keep us from going off in kind of weird directions. To just to learn how God reveals His heart to us and the things that He would like for us to say ‘yes’ to with him in prayer. And so the Bible has been an essential guide for us through decades.
Chris: Hmm...wow! What a gift! But you know this season for us—and really more broadly for our ministry—we've been talking over the last couple of years about faith practices. And we talk about faith practices as being regular, repeatable actions that really do three things. One: They help us to grow in our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Two: They help us grow in the character and way of Jesus Christ. And three: they deepen our love for God and for others. So that's kind of how we've been describing faith practices.
I'm wondering if you could share one or two practices that you personally have found in your own faith journey, something that's been meaningful as a way of shaping you and into those three things.
Jill: I think for me…you know people kind of look at me and go, “I guess prayer is your thing.” And I respond, “No, Actually, if I was to look at one spiritual practice that kind of was a container practice that held my life, it would be hospitality. And so for hospitality for me: I'm being hospitable to the Holy Spirit, hospitable to the presence of God. So I open myself to him and help other people to make space for him in their homes in our lives.
Back when we lived in Hamilton, Chris, I remember what we used to do: We lived in a community house. So my husband and I went on the experiment of “What does it look like for us to share our home with others?” And so over the course of about eight years, we had 17 or 18 people live with us at various times. So that is an exercise in hospitality and life-on-life discipleship, which was challenging, but so rewarding.
And one of the things we did for hospitality: We had something called Spaghetti Tuesday. And every Tuesday night at our house, for eight years, we served spaghetti. The same recipe, the same spaghetti. And we invited friends and neighbors and strangers into our home. Every night, we'd have anywhere from 5 to 35 people in our house. And some people who maybe would come to a soup kitchen. It's actually a bit different when we're sitting around a family table together. And so that was our practice of hospitality in that iteration of life and ministry: complex, messy, risky, and beautiful. Those times, around the table—it was really fun, because a lot of students from Redeemer University would come too and sit around the table with prostitutes, addicts in recovery. And they were like so clean cut, and then sitting with some of our friends in our neighborhood. I just kind of looked over and went, “You know what? This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.” I loved it.
I love those times at the table. Sweetest memories. And so I just love that, and just even the hospitality around whoever walks through my door, into my day today, asking “Is that person that person a threat, or a gift?” As much as our culture would say that person is a threat for whatever reason, however, we kind of “other” other people, it’s like “no.” This person has come into my space. They are a gift to me that God has brought. And maybe it's just the gift that teaches me patience. But a gift to me, nevertheless. And so we get that opportunity then of like, “Okay, the presence of Jesus is in the midst of this human interaction. He is here now, and if I can be open to him in that, then anything could happen.”
And so hospitality has been a really foundational practice for me that shaped my whole life and ministry.
So that's a big one. I think and then learning, I think, for me as well. It’s interesting. I kind of look back at my life, and I go “How am I doing what I'm doing?” I am not formally educated. I tried to go to university when I was younger, but life circumstances didn't permit it. And so I've just had to feed myself my whole way through. And somehow I found myself in roles and responsibilities I'm completely unqualified for, educationally, my whole life.
My life has been too big for me. But for me it's just been a commitment of “I just need to be constantly learning.” And whether that's from a book or in a relationship or in a life circumstance—it's just like God is always shaping and forming me. He's always at work in me, drawing me to Himself, and giving me an opportunity to become more like Christ in those areas where I'm not yet like him. And so that learning is gonna happen till heaven, if those are the learning objectives.
Karen: Jill, I have some questions for you about prayer. Because, of course, we have you here so we're gonna ask you some prayer questions. But I just wanna just reach back a minute and just thank you for what you just said. Your description of those spaghetti dinners, you said it was messy, but it was still beautiful. And I think sometimes, we have this vision in our head, “Oh, well, it should be this way. It should be this perfect little thing.” And then it's not. Or it's “It's just gonna be so messy that there won't be any beauty in it.” And thank you for just painting such a beautiful real picture.
And you wouldn't know this, but the other people we've talked to during this series, they've all mentioned something that you just kind of linked to—this idea of holy interruptions. This idea of saying ‘yes’ to God when God puts a person in your path. So thank you for just mentioning that, because that was just beautiful.
But I'm gonna ask you some prayer questions right now. Because no matter where people are in their faith journey, they—and I, if I'm honest—have so many questions about prayer. And so I'm gonna ask you three of them. One is: If someone said to you, “Jill, what is prayer?” What would you say?
Jill: Prayer is communion and conversation with a God who is nearer to me than I could ever imagine, and who loves me more than I could ever dream or hope for.
Karen: Wow! You mentioned conversation and that brings me to my next question. You have a book, Even the Sparrow, that I've been paging through. And we’ll link to that as well. But one of the journal prompts that you suggest invites people to “Reflect on how God might be initiating contact and conversation with you.” And that just kind of stopped me in my tracks. Because I thought we so often—again, maybe it's just me—think of prayer as “Well, I should bring that to God in prayer. I should go to God in prayer.” And that just flips something for me.
This sense of it's not always about me coming to God. It's not just me initiating a conversation with God. God wants to initiate contact with me, which is a new thought to me. So I'm wondering if you can say more about prayer as a way of responding to and engaging with God, this God initiation.
Jill: Yeah. First of all, if you think about it theologically: We love because God first loved us. Love came first from God to us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. These images of the shepherd, leaving the 99, going after the one—this is a God who pursues. That's why He incarnated Himself in the Son to come into us to reach into our lives and to communicate Himself to us. And so, theologically, God is the initiator. And so, if we understand that, then it stands to reason that if he was then, that He still is who he is.
And so for me, the task and the joy has been trying to notice God's initiative in my life, into conversation. And becoming attentive to the presence and to the activity of God in my life. How might he want to speak to me? And so prayer then, becomes not just talking. Prayer becomes noticing and listening, and just even wonder.
Where I live—you guys, Surrey, England, is extravagantly beautiful. I'm used to the streets of Hamilton and I could measure my street in Hamilton by how many squad cars lined up down the street. That's how I knew.
Here I am surrounded by green, verdant green hills, and swans and cows, and no sirens. And there's these moments of wonder at about five o'clock at night looking out through my window at the ruins of this beautiful abbey, and the sun just hitting it the way it does at 5pm. And it just catches you. And God is speaking. God is speaking. And so, do we have ears?
Jesus said “If you've got ears to hear,” you know. God is wanting to initiate that conversation through Creation, through Scripture, through conversations with others.
And so oftentimes, I think when we’re having conversations with friends—in one sense, you think, “Well, I'm just having a conversation with a friend.” But there are moments in the conversation when our hearts begin to burn within us like those on the road to Emaus going “There's something going on in this conversation.” And I realize it's actually a three-way conversation. God is engaged in our conversation speaking to us in that place. And so that also is prayer. Does any of that make sense?
Karen: Yeah. I think we don't often talk about it like that. We don't often teach it that way—the sense that God wants to talk to me. It's not about me unloading on God. I mean that's allowed. That's encouraged, too. But the sense that God is speaking—I find that really comforting and hugely helpful.
Jill: And the Scriptures are so clear. I mean he loves us with an everlasting love. Jesus says “No one comes to me unless the Father draws them.” There's this drawing, this yearning in the heart of God to commune with us. And in a sense it says in Genesis, God saw man, it wasn't good for man to be alone. I actually think even—if you go a little further back—God was God, and God decided it was not good for God to be alone, even amongst the fellowship of the Trinities. Like “No, I need someone to be with, to pour my love into. And so He created man and woman. And so that's the kind of tender, affectionate relationship we’re being invited into. At least that's how I read the scripture.
Karen: Well you kind of led into my third question. And it is one of those “hard to talk about in church questions.” But I think a lot of people ask it—and you've kind of described the point of prayer differently in ways than we've learned about it, so maybe you've kind of answered this. But people will say, I will say: Does prayer even work? I mean why bother? Does it work? And so I'm wondering, how do you respond to a question like that?
Jill: That's such a funny question. I get asked that question a lot. And I think that how we frame that question says some interesting things about ourselves. So, I will turn back to the person and say, “So, does conversation with your husband work? And they're like “Oh, wait a second.”
So, prayer is not a machine where I punch the right numbers. Or, it's not magic where you've got this magic incantation that's gonna give you what you want. That's not it. It's not a machine, not magic. Prayer is community and conversation with somebody who wants to be with you, and somebody who wants to love you. So does that work? You know what I mean? Like I tell people the only wrong way to pray is not to pray.
Chris: You're totally reframing the conversation of what people ordinarily think of prayer.
And whether it's in response to a tragedy in the world, or it's in response to something personal that they want, prayer is often us giving a list to God or a set of requests to God. And the way you're framing it is: it's relationship and conversation. It's being present with. And that opens up the possibility of prayer simply being silent. Not as in “I'm praying in my head,” but just “I'm sitting with God, just sitting in God's presence and we're sitting together.” And that's a different understanding—I think a more robust understanding—of what prayer is. And, as you're pointing to, much more in line with the communion and the affectionate language that God puts in Scripture about His desire for us.
Jill: Yeah. And I think Scripture is clear, too, that God does say “ask,” right? And so I do ask my husband for things, and that's a part of our relationship. We let each other know where we're at. We let each other know what we need. And so that's the reciprocity in that relationship. And so there's room for asking. He tells us to ask. He tells us that he is a generous father, who loves to give good gifts to his children. Right?
I love—I come back to this one again and again—“do not be afraid, little flock. It's your father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He doesn't give it because he has to. It gives him pleasure. He loves to. He loves to invite us into this kingdom, the place of His rule and reign, where there is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Chris: Even the way you just phrased it there—and I think it was in the Lectio 365, today—the language of little flock: it’s an affectionate term. And I think the way you're describing prayer actually challenges not just our understanding of prayer but our image of God. Do we see God as someone holding things back from us? Or do we see God with an open hand toward us? And that changes everything.
Jill: I would argue that Scripture is very clear that God is generous, and holds an open hand.
Chris: Yeah. So, Jill, one last question that we're gonna ask today and kind of see where you go with this one. On this season of Open to Wonder, as we've said, we've been focusing on face practices. But we recognize that a lot of people are like “I don't even know where to start.”
If I'm gonna enter into faith practices, what do I begin with? So I'm wondering if you could offer one suggestion to our community listeners about how they could take a simple step into more intentionally practicing their faith, what would you recommend?
Jill: Yeah, I have this conversation with lots of people, as we think about how to shape more spiritual practices into their lives. I actually tell people: The first thing you need to do is take an inventory. Because I think we sometimes think we just need to pile stuff on and do more and more. Or you've got this little aspirational, idealistic view of what you think it should look like. And I just say, take stock of what's already in place in your life. And I think, if people honestly do that, and really look at what's going on in their life that they will notice that they're probably talking to God more than they think they are. They probably have more faithfulness, sort of massaged into their life than they think they do.
And so I just say, take an inventory first. And then number two—I'm gonna tell you three things, sorry—Number one: Take an inventory. Number two: Subtract. What are the things in your life that are robbing you and stealing you of time? What are the time wasters? What are the auto-pilot type things that don't help you live with focused intention. And then number three, what's the invitation of the Holy Spirit? What's he inviting you into? And those will be things that you notice. There'll be little nudges, something that you read that sparks your heart, something that you see somebody else doing and going “Oh, that thing.” And to pick one small thing, whatever it is, that just is stirring within you. And I would say often that stirring is an invitation from God to step into a grace that he wants to give you. And so to just go on that experiment, whatever that might be. Is that helpful?
Karen: Yeah, I've just written down, “Add. Subtract. Enter.”
Jill: No, no. Number one: inventory. Notice what you're already doing. I do this with churches all the time. They’re like, “Oh, we need to pray more as a church.” I say, “Great. Tell me what you do.” “Oh, well, we only do this. And then we only do that. And then we only do that. Well, I think we kind of do that, too. And maybe that.” And I'm, like “You guys, you're already praying so much! But you don't notice what you're doing.” So inventory, then subtract, and then respond to God's invitation, something that he's inviting you to add.
Karen: Super helpful.
Chris: This has been such a gift today, Jill. Just to be able to hear your heart coming through, to hear your wisdom about Scripture, and prayer. But even more broadly than that, about being the people of God together: what does it mean to be living in community and be attentive to God's work in those still small voice nudges that the Spirit gives along the way?
Thank you so much for joining us for sharing your heart with us today.
Jill: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. It’s good to be with you.
Karen: Thanks Jill.