“How to be heard by God”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 23

It’s very frustrating to be ignored. When it’s a stranger it’s an inconvenience. When it’s your children it’s an annoyance. When it’s your spouse, it’s an emergency!
 
But what about when it’s God?
 
 
I took my usual prayer walk this morning in the park. I saw many dogs and their owners. I didn’t see many owners ignoring their dogs. But I saw lots of dogs ignoring their owners! One person in particular was trying to get their dog’s attention by shouting loudly and blowing on a whistle. I could see the two dogs halfway across the park having a great time, with clearly no intention of returning to their owner anytime soon. On one level it was quite funny. It certainly entertained me! But it wasn’t healthy.
 
What do we do when it doesn’t look like God is listening? We can’t answer every angle on this question today, but we will take a look at one verse in Hebrews which can help us.
 
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5.7 (NIV11)
 
What does this passage teach us about how to be heard in prayer? I suggest two things to ponder:
 

1. Peace Plant

The word translated ‘petitions’ is ‘hiketeria’. It is an olive branch held in the hands of someone who wants peace. They are not coming with a demand, but with a request. They are not being passive, but taking initiative.
 
If you want your prayers to be heard by God, come to him on his terms of peace. Approach him, with confidence (Hebrews 4.16), but with humility, understanding that peace is in his hands to give, not in yours to demand.
 

2. Wholehearted Heart

Jesus prayed with fervent cries and tears. A rabbinic saying goes like this:
 
“There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (‘there is no door through which tears do not pass’).”
 
It is not necessary to weep every time we pray, of course. But, ask yourself if you are praying like you mean it.

Conclusion

Jesus was not delivered from death. Does this mean he was not heard? Not at all. We know he would have preferred to live (Matt 26.36ff), but his greater preference was for God’s will to be done in his life. The evidence he was heard is that, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Luke 22:43 (NIV11)
 

Question

What helps you to come to God with the confidence that you will be heard?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

 

 

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“It will be worth it. Hold on to your ticket.”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 22

Life is not always lived in the light. Not even the Christian life. Especially not the Christian life. What do we do when the darkness invades the light?
I’m deep into the Epistle to the Hebrews at the moment. We’re teaching through it in the Thames Valley churches of Christ (click the link for recordings).
 
One example of faith after another piles up in chapter 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses…and the rest. All are “commended for their faith,” (v39), but none “received what had been promised” (v39). At least, not all they were promised. They had a tough time of it.
 
It’s true that Abraham received his son, Noah saved his family, Daniel shut the mouths of lions and Rahab was spared her life.
 
But what of those who were “tortured..faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment..put to death by stoning..sawed in two..killed by the sword..went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated..wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (vv35–38)
 
There is just as much darkness caused by doubt, fear, suffering and disappointment as there is light caused by victory.
 
What do we do when the darkness arrives?
 
Here are two thoughts for reflection to help us when the dark days arrive.
 

1. Darkness is temporary

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” (Psalms 18:28–29 NIV11)
 
Darkness is not permanent. It will depart. It does not always feel that way, but no darkness can hold God back. Hold on to him and wait patiently by faith for the dawn to arrive.
 

2. Darkness is directional

“The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed….I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” (Psalms 143:3–6 NIV11)
 
When the darkness closes in we are left with only one direction to go in search of light. To God. Can you allow your darkness to direct you back to God? That’s what David did in this Psalm.
 
Corrie Ten Boom said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
 

Conclusion

Are you going through a tunnel? Now is not the time to jump off. Now is the time to pray all the more.
 
Pray for the patience to hold on until you see the light. And pray for the confidence to approach God even while you are still in the darkness. After all, he knows what the darkness feels like (Matt 27.45).
 
Do not throw away your ticket. “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:35 NIV11)
 

Question

What does the darkness do to your relationship with God? How might it be helpful?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
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“How to be confident your audience will remember your point”

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 92

What has a piece of string got to do with your audience remembering the point of your lesson? We learn from my friend Barry Edwards, and the prophet Ezekiel.

“Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.” Ezekiel 5:1–2 NIV11

Please leave a comment or a question.

Please pass this on to one other person who might benefit.

God bless, Malcolm

“Why tasting durian made me grateful for Jesus”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 21

What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tasted? Durian is the one for me.

A few years ago I visited my daughter when she was working in Indonesia. Friends – at least I thought they were my friends up to this point – had what they thought was a good idea. Harliem and Vania said we must try durian. It’s a fruit common in that part of the world. I’m always up for new experiences. When I heard durian was one of Harliem’s favourite foods, as well as that of another mutual friend, John, I felt safe. Harliem stopped the car. We entered a shop. He bought some durian. I popped it into my mouth.

It immediately became clear that this slice must be ‘off’. But no, it was not. How I managed not to spit it out, I will never know. Swallowing was an herculean effort. It’s impossible to adequately describe the taste. Something like rancid socks soaked in fermenting foot-sweat. I thanked Harliem for the ‘experience’, and vowed, “never again”!

But what has all this do with Jesus?

A taste experience

I tasted something horrid, but Jesus tasted something far worse. Death.

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2.9 NIV11)

To taste something is to come to know it. Jesus found death, tasted it, experienced it and embraced it. We will all taste death, but not in the same way.

A diabolical experience

Death is feared by many, but for Jesus it was far more fearful than for the rest of humanity. In death, the full horrors of the penalties for sin were laid on him. His separation from the Father was beyond his comprehension, and so frightful that he prayed for ‘plan B’ (Matthew 26:39).

Only by going through this experience could he defeat the devil,

“so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—” (Hebrews 2:14–15 NIV11)

…and set us free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2.15)

An avoidable experience

Jesus did not need to die. He was sinless.

“we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV11)

His death was avoidable, but he chose it. For our sake. So that we could share in his glory (Hebrews 2.10; Rom 6.8ff; 2 Tim 2.11-12).

A glorious experience

The glory and suffering of Jesus are linked. It’s a theme in Hebrews (2:18, 5:8, 10:32, 11:26, 11:36, 13:12). We have the same sequence here as in Philippians:

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,” (Philippians 2:8–9 NIV11)

Conclusion

Dying gave Jesus the taste of death. It was diabolical and avoidable, but glorious. I will never taste durian again as long as I live. And Jesus will never taste death again. He lives for ever.

Jesus found death, tasted it, experienced it and embraced it. Click To Tweet

Question

What does the fact that Jesus tasted death mean to you? What difference does it make to your relationship with God?

Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.

I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.

God bless, Malcolm

PS – Meet some westerners who actually like Durian!

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“How to avoid the danger of drifting”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 20

Drifting is dangerous. Ask anyone caught in a riptide. But what about spiritual drifting? How dangerous is it? What are the signs?

Drifting and Driving

Not long before Christmas my father drove home from church. He is a priest and, having finished the service, set off home for lunch. Rounding a bend on the narrow Kent country lane, he was startled to see a car coming towards him on his side of the road.
 
He took evasive action, pulling to the left as far as he could. But his Skoda was struck by the Land Rover Discovery. It was not a contest between equals. Fortunately, my father was not injured, but the car was seriously damaged. The drifting driver turned out to be a member of the church and took full responsibility. They could hardly lie to the priest!
December’s drifting driver damaged only a car. But what of spiritual drifting? What damage does it do?
 

Warning from Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews has drifting on his mind. He wrote:
 
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV11)
What kind of ‘drifting’ did he have in mind? The word is, ‘παραρρέω’ (pararreo). In this context, it means to gradually give up one’s belief in the truth. In other contexts, it describes a boat drifting away, or a ring slipping off a finger, or water leaking out of a damaged jar.
 

Drifting Diagnosis

One key to dealing with drifting is to be self-aware of your symptoms. When I taught on this passage recently I asked the group if they knew what their signs were? They said,
  • “When I try to control everything”
  • “When I get frustrated.”
  • “When I stop reading my Bible.”
  • “When I avoid people.”

Are any of those familiar? Some of my own signs are:

  • Not answering the phone when it rings
  • Getting inappropriately angry over trivial things
  • Reading the Bible but not feeling it’s message in my heart
Rudie summed it up best when he said, “When I find myself reverting to type.” By which he meant his unregenerate nature. Do you know your symptoms?
 

Drifting Defences

What are our best defences to the drifting disease? The ones which help the most will depend on you as an individual. However, these will make a difference to all of us at one time or another.
  1. Listen to GodHebrews 3.7, 15Read the Bible, but don’t stop there. Pause before leaving. Ask yourself the question, “What was relevant to me from this passage today?” The better question might be to ask God directly, “What are you teaching me today, Father?”
  2. Listen to FriendsHebrews 3.12-13 (Prov. 27.6; Gal 4.16; Eph 4.15). We need friends who care. They have insight we do not. They see us from a different angle. Listen to your friends, and pray for the strength to accept the truth they offer.
  3. Listen to YouJames 3.14; 4.8. We are responsible for what is in our hearts. A lot of it is good, but not everything. It’s true that just because we have a clear conscience does not mean we are pure of heart (1 Cor 4.4), which is why we need 1 and 2 above. But you have a conscience for a reason. Listen to it. What is it saying? Guard your own heart by being honest with God and other people.

Conclusion

Drifting is inevitable. But its duration is controlled by you. The drift distance is decided by you. With God’s help and the love of friends, we can course-correct before we’ve drifted too far.
 

Question

What do you do to deal with drifting? What suggestions do you have to help me and others? What questions come to your mind about the how and why of drifting?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
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“How to be Consistent in Prayer”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 19 - Doing a Daniel

Growth is about consistency. Whether in savings, health or relationships. The same is true of prayer. The depth of our relationship with God is as much dependant on consistency as any other factor. Few would argue with that.
 
The big question is, if we develop the consistency will we lose the spontaneity?
 

Structure for Spontaneity

The short answer is to remember that developing a routine does not substitute the substance. Spontaneity is not enhanced by inconsistency. Spontaneity is enhanced by consistency.
 
The regularity of our routines frees up our hearts and minds to be spontaneous and intimate with God because it takes the effort out of decision-making. Once we have decided we are going to pray at a certain time in a certain place we are not thinking about the decision. We are set free to focus on God.
 
Two years ago I ‘woke up’ to the realisation that I was less close to God than I had been. My prayer-life was inconsistent, and I was moving into shallower spiritual waters. Not what I wanted. Not what was healthy.
 
I made a decision that changed everything.
 

Penny and the Park

My wife Penny leaves for work at 6.45 in the morning four days a week. On those days she drives past a park. The entrance to the park is a 30-45 minute walk to my house, depending on the route taken.
 
For the last two years, I have donned my walking boots, jumped in the car with Penny, and jumped out again when she pulls over in the layby beside Cassiobury Park.
 
I walk through the park come rain, shine, snow or fog. Once in the park, I am in a place where I pray. I know why I am there. I am not deciding where to pray and when. That part is done and dusted. Now, all I have to do is decide to start praying.
 

Consistency and Intimacy

Some may object that this method takes away the spontaneity of prayer. My experience is the opposite. Consistency maketh intimacy. The more often I talk to God the closer I feel.
 
Imagine I spoke to my wife one day a week. Not good. We don’t talk the same amount every day, but we speak every day unless illness or travel gets in the way. Even then…..
 

Jesus and Daniel

Jesus modelled consistency in his prayer life:
 
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5.16
 
We don’t know what time he prayed (although Mark 1.35 is recorded for a reason). And we don’t know how often he went back to the same ‘lonely’ places (although see Luke 22.39).
 
I imagine it like this. Jesus is travelling, preaching and teaching. He knows he needs to pray. He sees a ‘lonely’ place and says, “Excellent, that’s my prayer spot for today.”
 
Daniel sets a similar example:
 
“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10 NIV11)

Conclusion

We Christians sometimes treat ourselves as if we don’t need ‘normal’ disciplines to grow. I have news. We benefit from disciplne. Treat yourself like a normal human and add some consistency to your prayer-life.
 
Make it your own. Don’t do what others do just because it works for them. Remember that the point is to spend time with God, not to maintain consistency. Consistency is the tool. Growth is the goal. Intimacy is the vision.
 

Question

What do you do? What suggestions do you have? What questions come to your mind about the connection between consistency and intimacy?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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“How to set yourself up for spiritual growth this year”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 18

What spiritual goals do you have for the year ahead? I am writing this in the first week of January. Over the past few days, I’ve done a thorough review of last year and created some goals for 2018.
 

Aim

“If you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it”. But, when it comes to spiritual goals it can be tricky to know how to aim, let alone what to aim at.
 
Spirituality, and growing in it, is about character, integrity and relationship. As such, it can be tough teasing out specific goals that don’t become ‘rules’. The actions endanger the relationship or the substance of the goal. What’s the answer? Firstly, we need to remember the point.
 

Point

What is the point of a goal? The goal is never the thing. The goal is a tool. A means. A method. The point is God. Or Jesus.
 
Is this what lies behind Paul’s desire expressed in Philippians?
 
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10–11 NIV11)
If the point is to be more like Jesus, how do we get there? 

Strategy

All healthy aims need a strategy. Here are four steps for developing a sound strategy for spiritual growth.
  1. Aspiration. Clarify your aspiration. This is not the ‘goal’. Goals change, but aspirations remain. We’ll never achieve full Christ-likeness in this life, thus we aim to grow, not arrive. Examples of aspirations would be to have the compassion of Christ, the courage of Christ, the faith of Christ. Which particular aspiration is right for you, right now, at this point in your life?
  2. One. Find the one tool that will move you in the right direction. That tool becomes the focus of your goal. It could be the Bible, prayer, friends, books etc. Choose only one. Life has enough complexity already.
  3. Action. Now we have an aspiration and a tool we need an action. Make it simple. Include a verb, and make it daily if possible. The action is not the point, but it will move you in the right direction.
  4. Goal. Your goal is to execute your action connected with your tool in pursuit of your aspiration. What is your goal?

Me

Here is my focus for growth this year:

  • My Aspiration: To be like Christ in that he found spiritual food, fuel, and faith from God’s Word. Last year saw significant growth in my prayer life. My Bible focus was OK, but only OK. Not where I think it could be, nor where I want it to be.
  • My One Tool: The Bible!
  • My Action: To spend the first 30 minutes of my day in Bible study before anything else (other than ablutions, a cup of tea and a five-minute gratitude journal).
  • My Goal: To do this every day for 90 days from January first (four days ticked off so far as of 4 Jan 2018).
 

Motivation

Knowing your motivations is vital to maintaining growth. You will get tired at some point and tempted to give up. Here are mine:
  1. To feel close to God and provide me with prayer fuel
  2. To feel spiritually fed and focussed at the start of the day
  3. To have integrity as I teach other people
 

Methods

Write your aspiration, tool, action and goal down. Put them somewhere you will see them. I have three ways of staying connected with mine.
  1. A daily reminder in OmniFocus
  2. A tick-list in my Full Focus Planner
  3. A reminder in the Coach.me app.
If I forget to look in one place, the others should catch my attention!
 

Conclusion

Christians follow Jesus. We think he is amazing. He is our inspiration. Therefore we are aspirational people. God does some of the growing of us whether we plan for it or not. But what better way to honour God’s hopes for our growth, than to make plans in that direction.
 

Question

What is your greatest aspiration for the year ahead? What ideas have I missed? Let me know your own goals, and feel free to comment on mine.
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 

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Quick Quiet Time Thought: Hebrews 2:12

Here’s a short reflection on Hebrews 2:12 from my Bible study this morning.

The writer quotes Psalm 22: “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

This Psalm was seen as Messianic by the early church. Jesus quotes it on the cross, Mark 15:34. The point of the quote in Hebrews is to demonstrate that Jesus praises God to his family. The astonishing fact that we are his brothers and sisters is reinforced by quoting the Psalm. However another point struck me.

Jesus sings!

Jesus delights to sing God’s praises among the faithful.  “Sing” translates humneso, from which we get ‘hymn’. Jesus ‘hymns’ God’s praises to and among his spiritual family. The Hebrew original of Psalm 22.22 is that he ‘ahalls’ God. Halal, when attached to yhwh gives us the word hallelujah.

If Jesus hymns God and hallelujahs him, we’re in good company when we sing God’s praises among our brothers and sisters. We’re singing with Jesus. What a thought!

Do you have a comment on this verse or my reflections? Leave a comment below.

I hope you have a wonderful quiet time today.

God bless, Malcolm

Quick Quiet Time Snippet: Hebrews 2:11

I took a look at Hebrews 2:11 this morning. A profound and inspiring verse. Here it is:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:11 NIV11)

I thought I’d try an expanded explanation to help me grasp its significance. Here’s what I came up with. Not elegant, but comprehensive:

Jesus is holy (divine, sinless); he makes us holy (different from Old Covenant where the impurity of a person corrupted those who were pure); once we have been made holy we return to the status God always planned for us to have – that of his family (in the Greek, ‘from one all are”. Since this is how God views us, Jesus is not ashamed of us since we are his brothers and sisters.

What do you think? Have you tried re-writing a verse of the Bible like this? I find it helps me when I then go to pray about it afterwards.

Let me know what you think. Leave a comment in the box below.

God bless, Malcolm