The Sunday Sample – 20th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 20th August 2017

Location: Watford & Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

Speakers

I spoke in Watford. Ben Dannatt preached in Bracknell. The same line-up as last week. A coincidence – not planned that way! Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

In Watford, we had some Q&A as well as a discussion. This helped the congregation’s attentiveness, and I learned from the replies. The congregation were relaxed and we had quite a few laughs when parts of the service did not go to plan. It’s such a help that we’re good friends and can laugh together! My questions were more appropriate this time. It was interesting to use Noah as an example of the kind of faith talked about by Jesus in Luke 21. I don’t often dip into the OT in this way, and it was refreshing.

Ben spoke well in Bracknell. His application of what it means to have spiritual friendships was relevant and imitate-able. The warmth with which he shared about his friends Alex, Elliot and Heinrich was genuine and inspiring. I was reminded how important good friendships are. Luckily I was able to experience that straight away. Reinhardt asked if we could talk over a cup of tea in the cafe after church. Sweet fellowship!

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: connect OT & NT more often in sermons

Music Worship

Old school: We went old-school this week in Watford and Bracknell. No instruments. Simple is beautiful. The change was refreshing. Maybe we should do that once a quarter or so. The vocal harmonies are clearer, and the songs that work well a capella are uplifting if led well. Talking of leading well, CJ gave us a thoughtful introduction to the service in Bracknell. He read a Psalm before starting the song, “I will call upon the Lord”. I noticed that the congregation started the song with great togetherness, & sang it more heartily. The connection between scripture and the song lyrics helped us to remember what we were singing about and who we were singing about.

We need monitors in Bracknell. The singers sang so much better this week without instruments because we could hear ourselves. We love singing with the instruments too, but we need monitors to help us to be our best.

Note to self: plan some dates for a capella services 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Bracknell: keep the song service simple. The PA experts are away. – done
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday.
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

How to Walk Your Way to Better Prayer

Why you will want walking to be part of your prayer routine

Are your prayer times varied? Do they contain creativity? Have they become stale? You need to go for a walk. A prayer walk.

The Dog That Changed My Life

Fifteen years ago my prayer life was transformed. By a dog. We bought a puppy. Little Jack needed many things. Cuddles, socks to chew, balls to chase and – walks. Snow, sun, rain, fog – it didn’t matter.

I discovered something on my daily date with Jack. Once you’re outside and walking, you might as well pray. It’s not that I didn’t pray before. But the regularity of the routine caused tremors in my prayer universe. I found greater creativity, depth and intimacy in my times with God.

Three years ago old Jack left us for doggie heaven. But my walks are as regular as ever. I cannot now abandon the habits that helped me have a better prayer-relationship with God than I ever imagined possible.

Prayer Places

There’s a place for prayers in our ‘room’ (Matthew 6.6), or even on a ‘roof’ (Acts 10.9). But prayer outdoors is legitimate. Jesus did it many times (Mark 1.35; Luke 9.28). Others spoke to God outdoors, such as Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24.12), Jonah (Jonah 4.2ff) and Moses (Deuteronomy 34.1ff).

How about getting outdoors for your next prayer time? Here are some reasons to do so, and tips to help make it happen.

Seven reasons why walking is good for your prayer life

  1. You see something new every day. Even if the route is the same, people and nature alter what surrounds us. New sights prompt new prayers.
  2. You see something that prompts you to pray for people. I walk past a homeless man sleeping rough on one of my regular routes. I pray for him and people like him. I have stopped to talk to him when he’s awake too.
  3. You are reminded of reasons to thank God. On today’s prayer walk I saw a blackberry bush and stopped to pick some blackberries. As I did so, someone walked past. He said, “Picking a healthy breakfast?” I replied, “Yes. And it’s free!” I was reminded to thank God for all the things I take for granted. The food in my fridge, the place I live (where free food is available on bushes!), the friendliness of strangers, the physical ability I have to walk in the woods, the fact I have time to come out and pray like this, and so on.
  4. You are reminded of reasons to praise God. The fresh air, the green grass, a tall tree, the moon in the sky, the exuberance of young children, the playfulness of a puppy, the energy of a fitness fanatic, the beauty of a lake, the splendour of a sunrise…….
  5. You have different distractions. Distractions always exist. But when you’re out you cannot be distracted by your normal back-at-home distractions. Removing the home-based distractions helps us pray with greater clarity.
  6. You have better vision. Walking and praying helps our vision because we see things from a different perspective. Looking at Watford from the park instead of my car changes the way I pray for my town. Stopping to chat with dog-walkers connects my prayers to real people and increases my faith that the harvest is plentiful.
  7. You can imagine Jesus walking with you. He goes with you all through the day, of course. But a prayer walk can help us trust, believe, accept that he is walking with us just as he did with his disciples.
Walking and praying helps our vision because we see things from a different perspective. Click To Tweet

Three ways to build walking into your prayer life

  1. Know your ‘why’. Don’t do it because I said it’s a good idea. Have your own motivation. Pray about finding the right motivation, then write it down.
  2. Know ‘when’. One day a week, every day, days of the week that start with an ‘S’. It doesn’t matter, but create a routine. Monday is a longer walk for me (6.45 am). Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are long-ish (6.45 am). Wednesday, Saturday (8 am) and Sunday (7 am) are shorter walks. I vary the schedule, but that’s the way it is most of the time.
  3. Fully commit. No matter what, you’re going out to pray. I walk every day. Sometimes an hour. Sometimes 10 minutes. But I walk every day. Rain, snow, sunshine, feeling great, feeling lousy. Whatever your frequency or timing, make it something that nothing can compromise.

Conclusion

I don’t want to give the impression this is an exercise in military-style discipline. I’m not known as someone with strong discipline. But I’ve got to share that regular prayer walking has changed my relationship with God. It has changed me for the better. It has led to spiritual breakthroughs. It has deepened my love for God. I’m not giving up something this precious.

And no excuses! If you can’t arrange a walk in the woods or the local park, how about the walk to the bus stop, to the car, to the office, to the shops to the school, to a friend’s house, to the back of your garden, to church?

How about you?

Do you walk and pray? If so, what do you find helpful about that practice? If you don’t, what stands in the way? Can I help you to make walking part of your prayer-routine? Contact me on coach.me if you’d like some regular coaching.

Please leave a comment with your reflections and ideas. We learn best when we learn in community.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

One caveat: I know that some bed-bound or house-bound people may not be able to go for a prayer walk. You can still have a fulfilling prayer life. “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” (Psalms 63:6 NIV11) I’ll write about that another time.

The Sunday Sample – 13th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

A snippet from Ben’s sermon

 

 

Date:  Sunday 13th August 2017

 

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Speakers

I spoke in Watford. Ben Dannatt preached in Lower Earley. Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

In Watford, we sat in a circle – lots of people on their holidays. My lesson was on Luke 21.5-19 with discussion and interaction. The situation was a challenge. Lots of interruptions for seeing to the needs of babies, and latecomers. I wonder if we’d have been better off taking the chairs outdoors and sitting in the sun. The weather was good. Next time.

The discussion part of the lesson was helpful, but my questions were not quite on the mark. Next time I need to think through whether the questions are driving to the heart of the issue.

Ben spoke well in Lower Earley. His personal vulnerability was endearing, and his questions to our faith were probing.

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: think through the questions more carefully

Music Worship

Watford: The depleted numbers gave their best, and Charl was rock-like. He showed a good connection with the congregation when acknowledging that one of the songs was not one we’d taught thoroughly. He led the song with stronger direction as a result which the church appreciated. The song was sung better than usual.

Lower Earley: the new projector is brighter. It lifted the mood of the whole church including those leading worship. Knowing all images and lyrics will be seen clearly was a boost.

We sang the “bread and wine” song seated, with no one up front leading it. A more meditative rendering of the hymn was the result. We’ll do that again.

Feedback was positive about the variety of songs, and the spiritually uplifting way they were led.

Note to self: vary the methods for songs to be led

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: Double-confirm who is leading which song by Friday at the latest – done
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford – not done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Bracknell: keep the song service simple. The PA experts are away.
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

How to ‘Stand’ Despite Your Sin

Reflections inspired by Psalm 130

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.3.
 
Who gets to stand before God confidently? Anyone? I’m not confident standing before my friends, let alone the Almighty! But confidence before God is available.
 
We can, “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” Heb 4.16. We can have, “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10.19. Sounds good, but is it your experience? Not always, if you’re like me.
 
What gets in the way of confidence and what can we do about it?
 
 

Silencing the Laughter

I was thirteen. My conscience was troubled. On a hot summer’s night, I stared at the ceiling. Was the Devil’s face above me, laughing? What was going on? I’d been shoplifting for a while now. Sweets, toys, magasines, books and other things. I was a ‘good’ boy. A church chorister and youth group member. My father was a Methodist lay preacher and headmaster. What would he think if he knew?
 
Summoning all my courage I put on my dressing gown and headed downstairs. My parents were watching television and mighty surprised to see me. They knew something was wrong. I remember it so clearly. I confessed all. They were appalled. We agreed a suitable punishment. I went to bed and slept in peace. The Devil’s laughter was silenced. The smile wiped off his face.
 

Relational

The Psalmist is right when he asks the rhetorical question, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.3. But this is not God’s final word. He wants a relationship with us. What to do? Two challenges must be faced.
 
  1. Confidence is compromised by hidden sin.
  2. Confidence is weakened by pretence.
The Psalmist knows he and his people need forgiveness, “with you there is forgiveness,” v4, and “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” v8.
 
No hiding. No pretence.
 
What shall we do with sin? Confess it. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
 
What do we do with weakness? Admit it. If we do, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26). We’ll find a sympathetic ear in Jesus, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2)
 
The goal of confession is not providing evidence you are a sinner. God already knows that. The goal of confession is a better relationship.

Movement

Confession moves us back into close relationship with the God we have offended. When Peter confessed his sinfulness, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV11), he expected Jesus to move away. The opposite happened.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10–11 NIV11)
Would you like to move closer to God? Confession is a crucial part of what makes intimacy possible. We’re kidding ourselves if we think deep friendship will happen without confession.
 

Good News

Confession is good news. It’s good for our spirit. If it’s good for our spirit, we can be sure it’s also good for our mind, emotions and body. Scientific evidence is building up that confession is healthy.
 
God did not send Jesus to the cross to punish us because of our sin, but to liberate us. Since we are free from the effects of sin, we are free from the guilt and shame of our sin. How sad that we might hide the sin that Jesus came to forgive. Instead, set yourself free to enjoy the good news of forgiveness by bringing your sin into the light.

Conclusion

Pray for greater sensitivity towards sin. Take time each morning to ask God for spiritual soberness, and to have the humility of heart to accept your sin of the previous day.
 
Pray for people who sin against you. Holding them in compassionate prayer may help you to confess your own sins. See Matt 5.44; Col 3.12-14.
 
Beware compulsive confession. If you find yourself compulsively confessing with no sense of relief, contact a friend to talk it over. You may find articles on the Mind and Soul website helpful.
 

Question

What helps you to confess sin and weakness? What advice would you give to people struggling with confession? Please leave a comment below.
 
God bless,
 
Malcolm
 
“Confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation….”

The Sunday Sample – 6th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 6th August 2017

 

Location: Watford & Bracknell

 

Special Occasion: Church service and barbecue at Debbie’s home in Watford

Speakers

I spoke in Watford and Bracknell. It was a busy day! Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

For the Watford service, we sat in a circle outside. The sunshine was a bonus! I taught a lesson on the calling of Levi (Luke 5) with discussion/interaction. I liked the informal atmosphere. It felt more like what Jesus did in homes and impromptu teaching sessions.

Bracknell was a different setting. I attempted to bring extra impact to the lesson using three methods.

  1. Good slides
  2. An interactive physical illustration (water, a colander and bucket were involved)
  3. Personal vulnerability

Whether that worked is a judgment you will have to make after watching the video. I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: consider different approaches to a lesson in different locations

Music Worship

Watford: We sang in Debbie’s garden. There’s something special about singing outdoors. I hope we didn’t offend the neighbours. As far as I know, no one complained.

Bracknell: the team gave their hearts. The PA was a nightmare! It was one of those days when you wonder if we’re getting it all wrong using amplification! Memo for next time in Bracknell – voices only. Until we get the PA experts back from holiday we need to cut our losses and go for the easy option – which means no instruments.

A practice that did go well was congregational reading of scripture. I had the church recite Psalm 130 twice. Once at the beginning of the service and again before the sermon. I hoped this would cement the text more clearly in the hearts and minds before I spoke on it. When I say it went well, I mean I think it was worth trying. The impact on the congregation is a little harder to judge.

Note to self: keep it simple when other factors make a service more complicated

Other Thoughts

Preaching and leading the worship team in Bracknell was too much. Next August I need to not preach when the other instrumentalists and the PA experts are away on holiday. It’s too much to think about at once.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Prepare the first set well for Bracknell – done
  2. Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Bracknell – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Lower Earley: Double-confirm who is leading which song by Friday at the latest
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

HOW TO FIND HOPE WHEN YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR DEPTH

How to pray when you're drowning

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalms 130:1–2 NIV)
 

Hope

Hope is attractive. Magnetic. What kind of hope are we talking about? We are ‘hopeful’ our team will win a trophy. But such hope is uncertain. A wish. It is never a certainty.
 
Even the most confident hope is knocked off balance when we’re in over our head. Have you had that drowning feeling? Then you and the Psalmist are normal humans. Is there a way to hold on to genuine hope while struggling in the deep?
 

Helpless

I’ve often felt overwhelmed. But I use that word too glibly. True devastation is rarer. A better guide to the theme of this Psalm is the time I felt most helpless. That occasion happened a few years ago. My son was rushed to hospital. It turned out he had meningococcal septicaemia. The consultant gave him a 50/50 chance of living or dying. We were stunned. Penny & I mounted a round-the-clock vigil by his bed. When not at his side, we were in the hospital chapel praying. We were out of our depth. We were out of our minds with worry. We were crying out to the LORD. He recovered. We are so thankful.

Pain

“The bottom has fallen out of my life” is what this Psalmist is saying – in other words, this is more than normal pain and problems. It is real suffering that has led to despair.
 
Hope is a stranger.
 
We all have this experience. The question is whether we have God in the middle of that experience, “The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no God to cry to out of the depth.” Forsyth
 
Psalm 130 ‘sings’ through the suffering – acknowledging and not ignoring it. The suffering is not a skeleton in a closet, nor a puzzle to be explained. It is expressed.
 
Do you feel that suffering and pain shouldn’t exist or that they’re ‘wrong’ for a person of faith? This devalues the experience and value of suffering. It denies reality.
 
Our suffering connects us to Jesus on the cross just as his suffering on the cross connects him to our suffering.
 

Secret

The secret of this Psalmist’s confidence is found in the fact that God’s name is used eight times in as many verses. These references tell us that He:
  1. Forgives sin
  2. Comes to those who wait and hope in him
  3. Is steadfast in love and redemption
  4. Makes a difference
  5. Acts positively towards His people
  6. Is not indifferent, not rejecting, not ambivalent, not arbitrary, not stingy
…and much more.
 
These characteristics of God would make an excellent outline for a prayer time. Use it when you are feeling the despair captured in this Psalm.

Expectation

What do we do when we are in the depths? We call to the one who can save us (Psalm 69:1f, & Psalm 69:14f). The word ‘call’ in the Hebrew has an expectation of response. This prayer is not a cry into emptiness, but to a person who is expected to respond. God hears your voice. Your voice is as important to Him as anyone else’s.
 
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
 
Our suffering has a purpose (Romans 5:1-5), and it will end at some point. In the meantime let suffering do its work to mature your heart and your faith. If you do, you will grow more and more into the character of Jesus.
 
Have you ever been overwhelmed? What did you do to find hope?
Please leave a comment here so we can all learn how to find hope – even in the depths. Especially in the depths.
 
God bless,
 
Malcolm

The Sunday Sample – 30th July 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

CJ in full flow

Date:  Sunday 31st July 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: None

Speakers

CJ Wakefield was our visiting speaker in Watford. Obi Abuchi spoke in Lower Earley. Both lessons were excellent. Personal sharing was vulnerable, application to real life was solid, and Biblical exegesis was sound. Video of Obi’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast. CJ’s audio is findable on the Watford church podcast, and the video is here.

Note to self: value personal vulnerability

Obi Expounds His Point

Music Worship

The song services went well in both locations. The stand-out success was the opening set in Lower Earley. Francois played the guitar on “I’ve been redeemed” for the first time in public – and a fine job he did, too. The atmosphere on “Wade in the water” was super – Rynhardt led the song with great poise. The songs had a thread of “father” as a connection to Obi’s sermon theme. This worked well and helped pull the service together. We learned a new song (“You’re the Word of God the Father”) as part of the service. An unusual approach, but it worked well.

Someone remarked to me afterwards that the congregation picked it up more quickly than most songs we learn. He felt it was because the congregation had got used to learning songs – fearing the process less. An interesting insight. If you’re in a congregation that does not like learning new songs, you may first need to teach them how to learn songs. Then persevere, and see the fruit come through in time – by faith!

Note to self: carry on teaching new songs

Other Thoughts

Last week I said:

  1. Involve Francois in the musical accompaniment – done
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Prepare the first set well for Bracknell (we have house church in Watford)
  2. Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Bracknell

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

HOW TO FIND TIME TO PRAY

Seven Tips To Find the Time for Prayer

You’ve already decided prayer is a priority. But life is busy. Crazy, even. You make resolutions about consistency. You have a good streak. But something trips you up. Inconsistency is the only consistency. What can you do? You don’t want to give up or feel guilty. Well, I have good news. You can find what Michael Hyatt would call the ‘margin’ for prayer.

Personal Seasons

In different seasons of my life, I’ve found different ways to create ‘margin’ for prayer. When younger, I prayed while cycling to work. Later, I prayed in my car. While working on a farm one summer, lunchtimes were a prayer-window – sitting on hay bales. Middle-of-the-night prayers were common during the teething phases of our children’s childhood. In some seasons I’ve found the way to pray. In others, I’ve given in to prayerlessness.

Busy Jesus

No one in history had more on their plate than Jesus. Quite apart from the disciples, his enemies and the crowds, he had huge responsibilities and challenges. To name but a few: remaining sinless; hunger; thirst; tiredness; anticipation of his arrest, mistreatment, crucifixion and death; the salvation of humankind. And the rest.

Still, he made time to prayer. He inconvenienced people in order to pray. He prayed when he could have been healing or teaching. He prayed, somehow, no matter what.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”” Mark 1.35-37

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV11)

Time Exists

Time for healthy, satisfying prayer exists. We can find it, uncover it, release it. How? Let’s look at seven ways from people in Scripture. Which one will help you?

Time to Pray

1. In the morning – Jesus

We’ve already mentioned Mark 1.35 above. Praying in the morning is no obligation, but it has good effects. Psalm 88:13, “But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.” “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Ps 5.3 Can you find 5 minutes to pray in the morning – at home, walking to the bus stop, getting from your car to the office?

2. In the moment – Nehemiah

“Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.” Neh 1.11 Nehemiah had only a moment to pause and pray before talking to the King. Sometimes we’ve only a second or two for prayer. Breath and pray before answering the phone or speaking to your boss.

3. In the fish – Jonah

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” Jonah 2.1 Rebellion against God got Jonah into the fish, but once there he did the right thing. He prayed. Our sin takes us into foul-smelling places. The next time you wake up to the aroma of fish, decide to pray.

4. In the cave – David

“A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer. “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.””, Psalm 142:1. Persecution knocks us off balance. Saul chased David over rocks and deserts until his home was a cave. Even in the cave, David prayed. Are you facing opposition? Pray for your enemies (Matt 5.44). Do it before (instead of) answering with words you cannot take back, or sending a tweet you’ll regret.

5. In the open – Daniel

He prayed with the windows open (Daniel 6.10). Hannah prayed close to Eli. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out (that’s one way to pray in public). “Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.””, 1 Samuel 1.13-14. She didn’t care what he thought. Can you find time to pray by praying in public?

6. In the fellowship – disciples

“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”” (Luke 9:18 NIV11) It looks like Jesus was praying with his disciples. Next time you’re with a fellow-disciple, pray together. My friend Ben never lets me go without us praying together. We’ve prayed on skype, on the phone, in person, in my car. He’d ask me to pray anywhere.

7. In the home – Peter

“Peter went up on the roof to pray.” Acts 10.9 Strictly speaking, Peter was praying on his roof, not in his home. But you get the point. We don’t only pray at ‘church’, but home too. Find time to pray with your children, your spouse, your housemates, or on your own – at home. Do it instead of watching TV, doing a meaningless chore or moaning to your spouse about the boss.

Conclusion

Which of the seven examples above could you imitate this week? This day? I know we’re all pressed for prayer-time, but, even if you don’t have a spare hour, I bet you’ve got a spare minute. Make the most of those minutes because they add up to hours.

Question

What have I missed? Are there more opportunities to pray that you’ve tried? How do you fit prayer into your life? Leave a comment so that we can all learn and grow.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample, 23 July 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 23rd July

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: Outdoor ‘Bandstand’ Service in Watford’s Cassiobury Park

Speakers

II spoke in Watford. Johnson spoke in Lower Earley. I really enjoyed listening to him speak, and his wife Cicily sharing. It was good to hear about how God has moved in India.

I loved doing the outdoor service in Watford. The preteens got involved in my sermon in a similar way to the outdoor service at Wellington country park. It helped their attention and provided a compelling illustration for the adults present. An improvement on my lesson in Wellington was the addition of concluding illustration about a missing lottery ticket. I was struck by how much a powerful illustration at the end of the lesson made a difference to people’s reception of the point. Might be good to do something similar more often.

Video of Johnson’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast. My audio is findable on the Watford church podcast.

Note to self: put effort into illustrations. Don’t view them as a bonus, but essential.

Music Worship

The song services went well in both locations. In particular, the variety of songs old and new, more and less familiar, traditional and more modern in Lower Earley helped bring a freshness to the singing. One song we sang, which I wrote, needed more work. It was not helped by the fact that we do not mike up the women. Their part was important because it was only a two-part song. Next time we need microphones for the women.

I have discovered a hidden guitarist in Lower Earley – François. Good news! I shall send him chords for a song this week, and let’s see if he can take part next Sunday.

Note to self: consider whether the men’s and women’s parts need to be heard by the congregation

Other Thoughts

The projector at Lower Earley is not powerful enough. We need to buy a new one. I shall look into that this week. The text is fine on screen, but images are terrible. So much of communication is about images now. It is worth the investment to make sure the pictures are clear.

Last week I said:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley – done, but not perfectly executed!
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – did not happen.

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Involve Francois in the musical accompaniment
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – carried over

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

HOW TO PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE – HEBREWS 10.19-22

Coming into the presence of God without inappropriate fear

Would you like to pray with confidence? God wants us near him – otherwise why send Jesus? Yet, even so, why is it we lack confidence in approaching him? Or, when in the act of praying, suffer from debilitating doubt? Today we’ll look at Hebrews 10.19-22 and discover three tips to help us pray with confidence.
 

King Cantona

We lived in Manchester in the ’90s. Man Utd were supreme, and Eric Cantona was the King. I was in awe of him, occasionally praying for him and wondering if I or another member of our church might have a chance to invite him to a service.
 
My daughter was learning the piano. We needed a metronome. My son and I went to a music store to buy one. We wandered upstairs and, to my surprise, there was Cantona with two of his friends. He was trying out some trumpets (or possibly bugles). We bought the metronome and went outside.
 
I waited for what seemed like hours (it was a few minutes) until he came out. Almost choked with nerves I managed to stammer “Hello”. He, and his rather large minders, turned towards me. I felt like a worm in the presence of a hungry hawk. Stammering, I gave him a church card and invited him to join us at a church service. He looked at me and said, “Non”.
 
He was polite in his tone, but there was not a glimmer of interest or engagement. I left the scene exhilarated to have met him, but emotionally exhausted!
 

Bridge Building

Certain people scare us. They leave us dry-mouthed, and tongue-tied. With some it is an overwhelming respect, with others it is downright fear. Neither soberness regarding our sin, nor recognition of God’s utter righteousness are meant to be barriers. In fact, the gulf between us and God is something he bridged in Jesus.
 
What does this mean for our times of prayer? According to Hebrews 10.19-22 we have an answer to this challenge. The passage reads thus:
 
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19–22 NIV11)

Complete Confidence

Our confidence in prayer is built on what God has done in Jesus. It depends on God, and not on us. The word ‘confidence’ is important in Hebrews (see Heb 3:6; Heb 4:16; Heb 10:35 as well as this passage). We need never lack confidence for at least three reasons.
 

Three Thoughts

  1. The price of entry was the body of Christ. Therefore we adore, worship and offer thanksgiving. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV11). If God is willing to pay that high a price for our company, you can be sure he wants you near him.
  2. The barrier no longer exists. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38 NIV11) If the ultimate barrier is torn to shreds, we have nothing standing between us and our loving father.
  3. One baptism is enough. Old covenant priests were subject to frequent washings. But, because of what Jesus has done, one immersion is enough. The bodily cleansing here is initiatory (in the Greek perfect tense) and therefore refers to baptism. Perhaps some of the Jewish Christians still had an idea that more washings were needed to stay clean. If you’ve been baptised, you don’t need anything extra.
 

Confidence Restored

If you know and have accepted what Jesus has done for you, if you trust that the veil no longer exists, if you have participated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2.36-42; Romans 6.1-10), then you have nothing to fear. Go to God in prayer. He’s waiting, and he’s interested.
 

Question: What helps you to pray with confidence?

Please share your ideas. We need each other’s advice. Leave a comment below so we can all learn and grow.
 
God bless,
 
Malcolm