“Enter his gates with thanksgiving. Psalm 100.4”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 33

We continue exploring Psalm 100 by moving on to verse 4. As mentioned previously, I am planning a church service with a difference based on this Psalm. I’m writing these blogs to solicit your feedback and thoughts.

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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.”
(Psalm 100:4 NIV11)

The previous verse reminds us we belong to God and that “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture”. Today we will explore the following verse which issues us with another invitation and an exhortation.

1. The invitation to enter

The scene is the temple. Imagine yourself there, standing before the enormous gates. Inside you can see the courts. Crowds are praising God. Someone beckons you, and says, “You are welcome here. Come in. Pass through these gates and enter God’s courts.”

For a moment you wonder if you are worthy. According to the Journal of Biblical studies,

‘The Mishnah specifically states that those “unable to go up by foot” were exempt from temple attendance (Hag 2a), and it argues from Ex 23:14 that “the pilgrim must have use of both feet” (Hag 3a). Thus “going by foot” or “walking” was a significant aspect of pilgrimage to the festivals. In order to participate in a feast, a man had to be able to walk…. Lev 21:18 bans a lame priest from approaching the sanctuary.”1

Everyone is invited, but not everyone is permitted. Are you allowed to enter? A new covenant image similar in its significance is found in Revelation,

“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27 NIV11-GK)

The kingdom of God is shut to the unclean. And we are all unclean (Romans 3.23). What is there to do about this tragedy?

As Paul said, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 NIV11)

It’s possible to forget how privileged we are. God cherishes our presence and invites us into a personal relationship with him. For this reason we not only accept God’s invitation to enter, but do so with joyous abandon.

2. The command to give thanks

The excitement appropriate to the privilege of coming into God’s courts is illustrated by the healing of the lame man in Acts chapter 3. After Peter heals him at the site of one of the gates, the lame man,

“…jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8 NIV11-GK)

What a terrific illustration of not only joy following healing, but thankfulness of finally being able to worship at the temple. All his life he had watched people pass by and go through the gates into the temple courts. They were able to worship with other Israelites. They could express their joy in praise. He could only look on longingly.

On the day he met Peter and John everything changed. Now he could join in. Now he could not only observe, but participate. His joy is an example and an inspiration to us.

What do we give thanks for? Why do we praise his name? Above all things, we are grateful for our salvation. For our relationship with God.

The New Testament is full of exhortations to be thankful.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15 NIV11)

“..always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20 NIV11)

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV11)

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV11)

The normal, healthy perspective of a Christian is one of thankfulness. We have our ups and downs. We do well to be honest with God when we are sad or grieving. But, the standard attitude of a heart connected with God is one of praise and gratitude.

Conclusion

Verse four is unusual in that it contains four Hebrew words for praise: todah; tehillah; yadah; barak. They are all connected with grateful worship of God. In piling these words up in just one verse, the author of this Psalm is inspiring us to overflow with gratitude, thankfulness and praise.

It is as if he is using exclamation marks and CAPS.

“Enter his gates with THANKSGIVING!!!
and his courts with PRAISE!!!
give THANKS!!! to him and PRAISE!!! his name.” (Psalms 100:4 NIV11)

Why not reflect on the New Testament passages about your identity in Christ. Think on how lucky you are to be one of his people and invited into God’s presence. Let your thankfulness pour out.

We will continue to explore the Psalm between now and 6 May. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink in to the mind and the heart.

Question

What helps you to be confident in coming into the presence of God in prayer? What is it about being a follower of Jesus that creates the most thankfulness in you?

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

1: From: http://journalofbiblicalstudies.org/Issue3/Articles/keys_to_the_gate_beautiful.htm

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“Know that the Lord is God.” Psalm 100.3

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 32

We continue our exploration of Psalm 100 by moving on to verse 3. As mentioned in previous blogs, I am planning a very special service based on the Psalm. To make sure that it’s focused in the right way, I’m devoting a good deal of time and energy to studying, praying through and meditating on Psalm 100. I’m writing these blogs to help me with this, but also to get your feedback and thoughts.
 
 
“Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”
 
So far we have dealt with “shout” and the invitations to “worship” and “come”. Today we will explore the command to ‘know’ that the LORD is God. We will also look at the implications that follow – considering we are his sheep.
 
Why is the word “know” at the beginning of the line as an imperative? It seems a little strange to make the word “know” a command.
 

1. Yada

The Hebrew word translated “know” is ‘yada’. This is a word connoting intimacy. It is a very personal relationship. It implies experiencing the other person. In other words, not knowing about someone, but knowing their character and their heart.
 
By commanding us to “know” the Lord we are being invited into full devotion to a relationship that already exists, but is not currently as complete in its devotion as it could be. Only if we fully commit ourselves to the LORD will you find an adequately firm foundation for praise. More on this in the next blog focusing on verse four.
 
Those who truly “know” the Lord make more than an acknowledgement of his Lordship, but freely confess his Lordship. When we are wholehearted in our love of the Lord, we voluntarily express our thanksgiving and praise.
 
If you are finding it hard to pray wholeheartedly or sing with all your heart during times of corporate worship, could it be that there is a need to change your thinking about your relationship with the LORD?
 

2. Where we came from and who we belong to

Our gratitude is refreshed when we remember that the LORD chose to make us according to his will. No one made him do it.
 
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7 NIV11)
 
When we remember who formed us, we are also reminded to whom we belong. It’s difficult to praise God if we forget our identity. But if we remember how lucky we are, it becomes much easier to shout for joy.
 

3. The privilege of pasture

Perhaps the Psalmist is thinking of an earlier psalm by David:
 
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,” (Psalms 23:1–2 NIV11)
 
Much of the time we lack what we want. But we never lack what we need when what we need is to remember that we belong to the LORD. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of Psalms 23 and 100 when he said this:
 
“I am the gate for the sheep…whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:7–9 NIV11)
 
We have an extraordinary promise from Jesus. That when we find him, and join his flock, we are not only safe, but in a position to “have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV11)
 
If that’s not a reason to shout for joy, worship with gladness and sing joyful songs, then I don’t know what is.

Conclusion

Have you considered how privileged you are to not only be made by God but also loved by him? Are you willing to fully commit yourself to a relationship with the LORD? Are you finding his pasture to be pleasant?
We will continue to explore the Psalm between now and 6 May. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink into the mind and the heart.
 

Question

What helps you fully commit your life to the LORD? What is the most inspiring aspect of being one of Jesus’s flock?
 
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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“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:2

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 31

We continue our exploration of Psalm 100 by moving on to verse 2. As mentioned in previous blogs, I am planning a very special service based on the Psalm. To make sure that it’s focused in the right way, I’m devoting time and energy to studying, praying through and meditating on Psalm 100. I’m writing these blogs to help me with this, but also to get your feedback and thoughts.
 
 
“Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.”
(Psalm 100:2 NIV11)
 
The New Bible Commentary (IVP) sees this verse as intimately connected with verse 1. We have three invitations in these two verses: to shout, worship and come.
 
We dealt with “shout” last time. Today we will consider the invitations to “worship” and “come”.
 

1. Worship the Lord with gladness

To worship is to serve. Some translations have the word “serve” here. As Warren Wiersbe said, “Joyful noise leads to joyful service”.* Why are we glad in God’s service? Because, just as the Israelites were liberated from their slavery in Egypt, we…
 
“…have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18 NIV11)
 
Hence, we delight to offer ourselves in worshipful service,
 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV11)
 
Are you grumpy about serving God? Perhaps you have forgotten God’s mercy. Are you moody when joining your brothers and sisters in corporate worship? Perhaps a prayer for renewed gladness would be appropriate before entering the building. Resist the temptation to be like the older brother who found little about which to be glad and refused to join in the gladness of his younger brother and his father (Luke 15:32).
 
Refresh yourself with the correct vision of the future. We have much to be glad about:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7 NIV11)
 

2. Come before him with joyful songs

We are invited into the very presence of God. The word translated “before him” is the Hebrew word ‘paneh’. It means ‘before’ and ‘face’. In other words, we are coming face to face with God.
 
That’s a wonderful invitation for us. All the more so for an Israelite, who knew he could not see God’s face and live (Ex 33.20). Although no one may literally see God’s face in this life, God is signalling his desire that we would know him personally. And he is signalling his vision that one day this will be the case.
 
What could be more appropriate, when coming face-to-face with God, than to sing joyful songs? One of the ways we serve God is by coming together to worship him in song.
 
The implication of the “joyful songs” is that we sing with confidence. Not confidence in our musical ability, but singing without hesitation. We do not hesitate in singing to God because we are confident in his mercy to us and, as we shall see in verse three, confidence in our acceptance as God’s people.

Conclusion

Today, and this week, why not explore serving God with gladness? Take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to be able to come face-to-face with him. Make it your intention to sing joyfully the next time you participate in corporate worship.
We will continue to explore the Psalm between now and 6 May. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink into the mind and the heart.
 

Question

What gets in the way of serving the Lord with gladness? What helps you to be joyful in your singing?
 
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
 
Get coached on Coach.me
 

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Psalm 100:1

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 30

We continue our exploration of Psalm 100. I am planning a very special worship service based on the Psalm on 6 May for the Thames Valley churches of Christ. To make sure that it’s focused in the right way, I’m devoting a good deal of time and energy to studying, praying through and meditating on Psalm 100. I’m writing these blogs to help me with this, but also to get your feedback and thoughts.
 
 
Last time we took a birds-eye view of the Psalm looking at its major themes. Today we will begin breaking the Psalm down verse by verse.
 
Psalm 100:1  “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”
 
The best known hymn based on this Psalm is, “All people that on earth do dwell”. But there is another by that famous hymn writer Isaac Watts. The first two verses connect with the global call to praise:
 
1.
Sing to the Lord with joyful voice,
Let every land his name adore;
The British isles shall send the noise
Across the ocean to the shore.
 
2.
Nations, attend before his throne
With solemn fear, with sacred joy;
Know that the Lord is God alone;
He can create and he destroy.
 
Let’s break this down into the three primary phrases of Psalm 100 v1.
 

1. Shout for joy

The Hebrew word translated “shout for joy” is ‘rua’. It means to raise a battle cry, sound a trumpet blast, or shout in triumph. We are not offering a moderate expression of joy. We are expressing an almost uncontained and definitely unconstrained exclamation.
 
Because there is joy, there is a shout.
 
Is energy missing in our prayers because life is tough? Or is it because we have misplaced the source of our joy?
 
Is there less volume in our corporate worship because we don’t like the songs? Or have we lost connection with the one about whom the songs are written?
 
When our joy goes missing, it’s time to reconnect with the Lord.
 

2. To the Lord

Is the Lord our primary source of joy? Is he the one on whom our hopes rest?
 
My broadband gives me faster download speeds than upload speeds. This causes me frustration when I upload large files. But it makes sense because I am even more frustrated when trying to watch something online and the dreaded buffering fills my screen.
I do well to be more concerned about what I’m ‘downloading’ from God, rather than what I am ‘uploading’ to him. If I’m downloading the right stuff then I will have what I need to upload.
 
The shout of joy is offered to the Lord. There is a big difference between praying to hear my own words as opposed to praying to the Lord.
 

3. All the earth

What does, “all the earth” mean? Is the Psalmist hoping that all people will shout to the Lord? Or is it an even bigger vision than this? Is it that all of creation will praise Yahweh? The Psalm immediately before this one gives us some ideas.
 
In Psalm 99 the nations “tremble” (v1) because the Lord reigns. The Lord is “exalted above all the nations” (v2).
 
The vision of Psalm 100 is that the nations who tremble will recognise the exalted nature of the Lord. And they will come to worship him with gladness.
 
Do we have the same vision in our prayers? Do our times of corporate worship contain a strong sense of vision that the good news is not only for us? Is it not also for all around us and all who inhabit this globe?
 
Let us pray for our family, friends, neighbours and nations who are far from God.
 

Conclusion

Today, and this week, why not explore shouting to the Lord because of the joy he has given you. Pray not only that you can enjoy this joy, but that the whole earth will share in your ability to rejoice. Focus your prayers on the Lord more than on yourself.
We will continue to explore the Psalm between now and 6 May. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink into the mind and the heart.
 

Question

What gets in the way of shouting for joy to the Lord? What helps you to be exuberant in your praise of 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
 
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“How to yield to God with joy”, Psalm 100

Quiet Time Coaching" Episode 29

Have you ever seen two drivers coming at a junction from a different direction and each refusing to yield to the other? Perhaps you have been one of those drivers. I’m sure I have! Not a pretty sight. And no one gets anywhere.

Yielding does not have a good image in contemporary society. It is associated with helplessly surrendering one’s liberty, possessions and even one’s life. But is there a more positive way to view yielding, especially when it pertains to our relationship with God?

Psalm 100

The concept of yielding in a healthy way is on my mind because I am studying Psalm 100. The purpose of this study is preparation for a special worship service I am planning for May 6. More on that as we approach the date.

Here is the Psalm in its entirety:

“A psalm. For giving grateful praise.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalms 100:0–5 NIV11)

It is not a long psalm, but it is powerful. It has been called the “Jubilate”, and is often quoted in church services. The famous old hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell” is based on this Psalm. Well worth praying through. The lyrics are below.

There is much to say about this Psalm. Future blog articles will expand on its themes. For today, we will focus on the overall tone of the Psalm. I am guided in this by some comments in the book, “The Psalms and the life of faith” by Walter Breuggemann. He makes the observation that both yielding and covenant are strong themes. Let’s have a look at those.

1. Nothing but yielding

The feel of the Psalm is one of surrender. As Brueggemann says, “In Psalm 100, the summons to praise are utterly yielding to God…There is nothing here but yielding.” p51

The whole earth is to make a joyful noise. We are to serve (worship), come to him, enter his gates, thank him, praise him, bless him.

The scope of the yielding is global. The extent of the yielding is total. The focus of the worship in this Psalm is God, not the worshipper.

Yet it is not a cringing, miserable yielding.

2. Covenant confidence

There is more to say about this Psalm than solely yielding. It is that, within the yielding, there is a relationship. A healthy relationship. The covenant relationship is in view. As is the character of God.

Brueggemann notes: “These invitations [to yield], however, are grounded in a sense of our position vis-à-vis God:…even in this supreme act of yielding, the language of hesed [steadfast love] and emet [faithfulness] is present because Israel knows no other way to sing or to pray.” p52

What is God like? He made us, calls us his own, and gives us what we need (V3). He is good (v5) and will love us for ever (v5). His faithfulness to us will never end (V5).

Conclusion

In this Psalm we see surrender and joy coexisting. A tremendous example from the old Testament are what we see in the relationship between Jesus and the father. We are able to yield to God and enjoy God. This Psalm shows us how.

Why not spend some time meditating on praising and worshipping God in a yielded way and the motivation for doing so.

Question

What helps you to yield to God? What helps you to enjoy that yielding? Which characteristics of God help you to yield?

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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“All people that on earth do dwell”

By: William Kethe, c. 1594; Thomas Ken, 1637–1711 Tune: Old 100th

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;

Him serve with fear, His praise forthtell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

 

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed,

Without our aid He did us make;

We are His folk, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

 

O enter then His gates with praise,

Approach with joy His courts unto;

Praise, laud, and bless His name always;

For it is seemly so to do.

 

For why? the Lord our God is good,

His mercy is forever sure:

His truth at all times firmly stood,

And shall from age to age endure.

 

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

“The Spiritual Benefits of Slow Singing”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 28

Try singing, “Happy birthday to you…” really slowly. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Most songs have a narrow range of speeds within which they can be sung and still make sense. But is there a case for singing ridiculously slowly?
 
 
I’ve made it a habitual practice to sing hymns or choruses as part of my daily quiet time. Not every day. But frequently. By the time you’ve been a Christian as long as I have, you’ve sung them so often at least a few have become lodged in the memory banks! Most of the time I sing them at normal speed. Occasionally, I slow them right down. Why? Let’s think about that.
 

Slow Speed, Deep Dive

We dive deeper when singing slower. Each phrase, each word, even each syllable becomes more significant when it is pronounced slowly, sung slowly, thought upon slowly.
 
If you’ve ever tried eating and chewing at a deliberately leisurely speed, you will know that the textures and flavours come out much more strongly. The same is true of the spiritual sense of songs when they are sung more slowly. This is not to say slow songs are better than fast songs. Not at all. Zealous energy in song is part of what makes praise powerful. It’s just that there are times to slow songs down.
This is easier done in personal devotional times than with a congregation. Why not try it in your next quiet time. Below, I offer two further thoughts on effective slow singing.

1. Lyrical Richness

Some songs are wordier than others. The strength of these hymns is their descriptive power. They use many words to create a beautiful picture of God’s nature or similar. The challenge is that we sing all these words without having the brain space to absorb their meaning.
 
Slow these songs down and you receive a rich deposit of God’s truth and love into your heart and mind. A good example would be the old hymn, “Crown him with many crowns”, or the more modern, “In Christ alone”.
 

2. Lyrical Repetitiveness

Songs with very few lyrics and repeated words do not have the lyrical depth of the songs I’ve been talking about in the earlier point. However, they have their own richness if we truly meditate on the repeated words. Perhaps the best example of this in the Bible is Psalm 150:
“Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.” (Psalms 150:1–6 NIV11)
 
You could try, “Those who hope in the Lord” by David Casswell, or “God is so good”.
 

Conclusion

In the video and podcast version of this blog, I give a demonstration of what this looks like when I do it. I pick one of my favourite hymns, “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”. Oh, and I also sing it to my preferred tune – “Rockingham”. You can hear and see this at the foot of the blog.
 
Have a go in your next quiet time at singing a song you know well – ridiculously slowly.
 

Question

Have you tried singing a hymn slowly? What benefit did you find it bringing to your devotional time? Can you suggest hymns that work well with this kind of treatment?
 
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

Get coached on Coach.me

“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 3”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 27

These last two weeks we’ve been looking at which might be the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple. My suggestions are these: humble, hungry and smart.
 
The reason these are on my mind is because of this book, “The ideal team player: how to recognise and cultivate the three essential virtues” by Patrick Lencioni. The focus of the book is how these qualities affect teams in secular situations. However, the spiritual applications include both how we relate to other people, and how we relate to God.
 
We tackled humility and hunger in the previous two blogs. Today we will look at the third and final of these qualities.
 

Smart

What does it mean to be spiritually ‘smart’? And how does it affect our prayer-life? The book mentioned above defines smart people in this way:
 
“…smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people. It has everything to do with the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware. Smart people tend to … ask good questions, listen to what others are saying, and stay engaged in conversations intently.”
 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 160). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Let’s apply these ideas to our relationship with God.
 

1. Ask questions

We ask questions because something doesn’t make sense. Many things God does make little sense to me. God never penalised someone in the Bible for asking a question. It was only if they asked with the wrong attitude that they got in trouble. Compare and contrast Zechariah with Mary in Luke 1.
 
The word ‘why’ appears in English translations of the Psalms in 22 verses. Psalm 10 is a typical example:
 
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (NIV11)
 
Honesty characterises the ‘smart’ relationship with God. If you don’t understand what God is doing, ask him a question. Just do it with respect.
 

2. Listen

Listening with curiosity is very different from listening whilst preparing your counter-attack. If you’ve ever been in a conversation with a counter-attacker you’ll know that experience of speaking but knowing they are not listening. Very frustrating. And ultimately, distancing.
 
Curiosity is another characteristic of the ‘smart’ relationship with God. When trying to understand God, give him space to make his case. Stay curious. Search the Scriptures for insight. Pray with a listening attitude. In one way or another, he will speak.
 
“If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways,
how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! (Psalm 81.13-14 NIV11)

3. Stay engaged

Trying to have a conversation with someone whose eyes are wandering all over the room behind you is a humiliating experience. When we speak to God, he is fully engaged. Is it the same the other way around? Does our attention wander when listening to God? I know mine does from time to time.
 
Reading Psalm 141, we can sense how strongly David wants to maintain his connection with God:
“…my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me.” (Psalm 141.8-9 NIV11)
Exclusivity of focus during prayer is characteristic of people with a ‘smart’ relationship with God.
 
Make it your goal to maintain a focused meditative connection with God for as long as you can. Try memorising and praying over a Scripture or a favourite hymn. For some people focusing on something physical like a candle or a plant can be helpful.
 

Conclusion

Somebody said, “I like humanity. People are tricky.” The same could be said of God. Loving him is easy. Understanding him is tricky.
 
If you would like a stronger connection with God in your quiet times, consider these three aspects of being ‘smart’. Ask God to help you ask good questions. Ask God to help you listen. Ask God to help you focus on him to the exclusion of all other concerns. God likes answering such prayers. He likes answering.
 
“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.” (James 1.5 NIV11)
 

Question

What do you think is the best way to develop ‘smarts’ in 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
Get coached on Coach.me

 

“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 2”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 26

Last week I introduced the question as to which might be the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple. My suggestion was these: humble, hungry and smart.

The book, “The ideal team player: how to recognise and cultivate the three essential virtues” by Patrick Lencioni, provides a fascinating insight into the significance of these three qualities in a secular situation. However, the spiritual applications seem obvious.
 
We tackled humility last time. Today we will look at the second of these qualities.
 

Hunger

What does it mean to be spiritually hungry? And how does it affect our prayer-life? Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount: 
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NIV11)
 
According to him, being hungry is healthy. It takes us in a good direction. A hunger for righteousness implies a desire to connect with the source of that righteousness. That sounds a lot like spiritual ambition.
 
What’s the difference between selfish ambition (Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16) and spiritual ambition? It has to do with benefitting other people.
 
For example, the ambition of the Apostle Paul was directly connected to people hearing the gospel:
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20 NIV11)
 
That is perfectly good and fine, but what we do when we don’t have the hunger?
 
Here’s a quote from the book in the section dealing with how to help people with their hunger:
“The first and most important part of helping that person become hungry is to find a way to connect her to the importance of the work being done. Until this is accomplished, a manager cannot expect much change.” 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 202). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
If we are going to refresh our hunger, we must first connect with the significance of our relationship with God. How can we do this? Here are three suggestions.
 

1. Pray for Hunger

I don’t like being hungry. But I have to say that I have a clearer mind when my stomach isn’t full. Ask God to create a healthy dissatisfaction in your soul. It may not be comfortable. But it will ultimately be satisfying.
 

2. Pray to Remember

God has acted in the past when you were hungry. Can you recall times of spiritual hunger? The situations that led you to seek God. The circumstances that opened your heart to repentance. Pray about them, and ask God to recreate the same spiritual hunger in you today.
 
Make sure you take communion in a meaningful way. The Lord’s supper is your weekly opportunity to remember and refresh your spiritual ambition.

3. Pray for Vision

It is when we are stretched beyond our resources that we feel the hunger. When God gives us vision we recognise our poverty, and reach out to him. It is in that reaching that we find his supply. It is in that stretching that we find his support. Can you pray for a faithful vision?

Conclusion

Trying praying these three prayers this week. Pray to be hungry, pray to remember, and pray for vision. The prayers remind me of the heart and life of the Apostle Paul. his spiritual ambition has always been an upward call to me. While I am not Paul, I know I will be closer to God if I imitate the faith of that great Christian.
 
We will look at smart next time.
 

Question

What do you think is the best way to develop spiritual ambition? How do you get it back when you’ve lost it? How does this affect your prayer life?
 
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 Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 1”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 25

What are the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple? How about these three: humble, hungry and smart?
 
 
Written as a fable, it tells the story of Jeff and his baptism of fire in becoming a CEO. The story is well written, short and illuminating.
 
The conclusion? The qualities of being humble, hungry and smart are critical to performing well in a team, and the team performing well. True enough. But what of the application?
 
Am I humble, hungry and smart? What would other people say? I can bring to mind recent events when I have been deficient on at least one of these areas.
 
We’ll start a three-part study of these three qualities and how they influence our relationship with God and others.
 

Humility

Today, we will examine the issue of humility. Of course, this is a huge topic. But we will look at the basics as they impact our prayer-life.
 
Here’s a quote from the book in the section defining humility:
“Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually.”
 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 157). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
I felt a combination of ‘ouch!’ and overwhelm at reading that. Before you and I run away screaming, “It’s impossible!”, let’s have a look at what the Bible tells us about humility.
 

1. People Prayer

Humility in prayer, or a lack of it, is revealed by the way in which we talk about other people.
 
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11 NIV11)
 
Comparing ourselves to others in prayer reveals an insecurity with God. If we think we have to portray ourselves as better than others to God, we fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his love for humankind. He has no favourites. He loves all equally.
 

2. Submissive Prayer

Submission is a bit of a dirty word these days. But we’re not talking about forced submission. Biblical submission is always willing. Not that it’s easy. But a sign of prayerful humility is that we submit our requests according to God’s will.
 
This is what lies behind the famous phrase in the Lord’s prayer: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV11)
 
This attitude is best illustrated in Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV11)
 

3. Confident Prayer

A characteristic of humble prayer is confidence. Why? Because this demonstrates trust in God. As the writer to the Hebrews says:
 
“Let us then approach God’s 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 NIV11
 
To approach God with trepidation, fear, uncertainty or hesitation indicates we believe our judgement about ourselves to be more valid than God’s judgement about us. That looks a lot like pride and not much like humility.
 

Conclusion

What does this mean for our daily prayers? Let me make three suggestions.
 
i. Pray for the good of others. Pray to see them as God sees them. Pray to see them as Jesus saw the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).
ii. Pray to be willing for God’s will to be done in your life. Pray for the strength to trust him when his will is different from your own. Pray for the kind of joy that Jesus had even though he went to the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).
iii. Pray with the assumption that God wants to hear your prayers, likes to hear them, and really loves you (Revelation 8:3).
 
We will look at hunger next time, and finish with the issue of being smart in the third article.
 

Question

What do you think is the best indicator of humility in prayer? How do you see it in action? What is the difference between confidence and pride? What is the difference between false humility and true humility? How does this affect your prayer life?
 
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 ask people to pray for you”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 24

Is there something wrong with asking people to pray for us? Do you feel uncomfortable doing so? Is it selfish? Is there a right way and a wrong way?
 
 
I received a prayer request from a friend of mine this morning. It was for a friend of theirs. Nothing wrong with that. And I immediately prayed for their friend. However, it made me reflect on the fact that I don’t often receive prayer requests from people that are for personal needs.
 
Then I reflected on the fact that I rarely ask for people to pray for me. What stops me? It didn’t bother the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example.
 
“Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Hebrews 13:18–19 NIV11)
 
He (or she) wasn’t the only one. Let’s have a look and see what this passage and others teach us about asking for prayer.
 

1. Be specific in what you request

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews asks for two specific outcomes. Firstly, that he might be “restored” to them. And secondly, that it would be “soon” (see also Philemon .22).
 
Jesus gives us permission to be specific in our prayers to God: “Give us each day our daily bread….Forgive us our sins…” (Luke 11:3-4 NIV11). If we can be specific in our requests to God, it follows that we can be just as specific when asking our friends to pray for us.
 

2. Ask for things that will also benefit others

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has a personal prayer request. But it is not only for him.
 
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19–20 NIV11)
 
This request is specific, and it is personal. But its answer will also benefit others – that they will come to know the gospel.
 

3. Be vulnerable in your requests

In the passage above Paul is implying that he is frightened to preach the gospel. Otherwise, why use the word “fearlessly” twice? Something similar is happening in the Epistle to the Romans:
 
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.” (Romans 15:30–32 NIV11)
 
He is in a “struggle”, he is afraid of the danger from “unbelievers”, and he is anxious that he may not be “favourably received” by God’s people in Jerusalem. This is a significant level of vulnerability from an Apostle.
‘If we can be specific in our requests to God, it follows that we can be just as specific when asking our friends to pray for us.’
 

Conclusion

If the Apostle Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews both felt it was appropriate to ask people to pray for them, we can enjoy the same permission. When we ask people to pray for us, and when we in turn pray for other people, it is as if we are joining hands in prayer. 
 
Let us be specific, mindful of the benefits to others, and vulnerable.
 

Question

What stops you from asking people to pray for you? What topics do you ask people to pray for when they pray for you?
 
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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