How to be supplied with spiritual strength from the Psalms

Using the Psalms as God intended

Worship is Work

I lead musical worship in Church congregations. It is a privilege, a joy, and hard work! I need spiritual strength to lead worship. Where is the supply coming from?
 

God’s Songbook

Two weeks ago I chatted about this with my friend Dave Eastman. Check him out on lifechangingworship.com. He shared his conviction with me that a worship leader needs to be constantly in the book of Psalms. It is God’s songbook. A hymnal with 150 songs ready for any and all occasions in the Christian life.
 

Regular Devotion

I love the Psalms. I turn to them from time to time. But I’ve not been devoting myself to them regularly. I wonder how many of us use the Psalms in moments of great joy, or deep crisis, but neglect their day-to-day use.
 
What a shame to relegate this amazing resource to special occasions. They are available to supply us with spiritual strength whenever we need it.
 

A Psalmic Pile

Thanks to Dave, I’ve reflected on my use of the Psalms. So far I’ve made two decisions.
 
  1. I’ve opened a tab in my Bible software specially for the Psalms. That tab stays open no matter which other part of the Bible I’m studying.
  2. I’ve pulled my favourite books about the Psalms off the bookshelves and piled them up in one place. Now I see them every day and am reminded to look into them for insights. The books include: “The Psalms and the life of faith” by Walter Brueggemann (more theological). “Music of the heart”, new Psalms in the Celtic tradition by David Allen. “A long obedience in the same direction” by Eugene Peterson (focussed on the Psalms of Ascent). “Prayer, praise and promises” a daily walk through the Psalms by Warren Wiersbe (a devotional focus).

All About You

Here is a thought from Psalm 86 and some insights from Brueggemann. Read this Psalm, and you will hear a desperate David. But notice that his attitude is not one of self-pity. Instead, he is very focused on the qualities of God. This is emphasised by the use of the word, “You”.
 
Quoting selectively from the Psalm, “You are my God…For you, O Lord are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you… For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God… But you, O Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… Because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.”
 
The force of the Hebrew doesn’t come across in an English translation. But the point does. David knows he must focus on who God is if he is to be supplied with the spiritual strength he needs.
 

Conclusion

I will finish with an old rabbinic prayer quoted in Brueggemann’s book on page 37:
 
Where I wander-You!
Where I ponder-You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You ! You! You!
When I am gladdened-You!
When I am saddened-You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You! Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

Questions

What is it about the Psalms you find most helpful? Do you use them regularly? What books would you recommend to help us understand them and apply their message?
 
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 

Tuesday Teaching Tips Episode 78: “How to blend preaching and pastoral care”

Three tips for knowing when to prepare lessons and when to be with people

What’s the right blend of pastoral work and preaching preparation? How do we know whether we are getting it right? I share three tips to help us make wise decisions about both.

 

Quote in the video taken from: churchleaders.com

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

How to Pray for Kings

How to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness

Have politicians and public authority figures ever been more derided? Perhaps, but not in my lifetime. We’d agree they need our prayers, but do we, in fact, pray for them? What does the Bible have to say?
 

Pleasing God

Our key passage is 1 Timothy 2.1-4.
 
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4 NIV11)
 
Paul wrote this. He had first-hand experience of the injustice of authorities. Yet, his perspective was pure. We could forgive him for a rant, a diatribe, a list of complaints. Take for example his illegal beating and imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16.37). This might, in our day, have been followed by a twitter storm. But no. He acquires an apology and moves on. What is going on here?
 

Two Reasons to Pray for Authorities

Paul recognises that God wants all people to be saved. The appeal to pray is for “all people”. Paul goes on to mention “kings and all those in authority” for two reasons.
 
1. Firstly, they have more power to stand in the way of the spread of the gospel than other people. They also have the power to facilitate conditions favourable to the Gospel.
2. Second, they are often the last category of people we think to pray for. Unpopular decisions, questionable morality and insensitive pronouncements lead us to dislike them. Perhaps even hate them.
 
Jesus said this, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV11). If we are to pray for our enemies, then we can’t leave our kings and authorities out. No matter our differences.
 

Suggestions

1. Pray for those who influence your community: local councillors, your MP and the like
2. Pray for those who influence your country: parliamentarians, party leaders, kings, queens, Prime Ministers and Presidents.
3. Pray for those with global influence: world leaders, the secretary-general of the United Nations and leaders of other global organisations.
4. Pray for your enemies: the authorities you complain about
 
If we spent as much time praying for these people as grumbling about their decisions, we would see the Gospel spread more rapidly. Some of them might become followers of Jesus. We could find ourselves in a better spiritual and emotional place.
 

Conclusion

Pray for them by name. Do it personally, and do it in church gatherings. If you are a church leader, I urge you to call on members to pray in this way.
 
I believe I am called to pray for Baroness Dorothy Thornhill (Mayor of Watford), David Gauke (MP for where I live), my Queen, Theresa May, President Trump, Kim Jong-un, António Guterres – and othersPraying for them does not mean I agree with them. It simply means I acknowledge they are sons and daughters of God just as much as me.

Question

Which kings and authorities do you pray for? What motivates you to do so? What points have I missed?
 
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

What to do when you don’t know how to love God

Three tips to find and grow that connection with God

Connection Crisis

It’s awkward when you don’t know how to connect with someone. Even more so with God. How can we connect with the awesome, pure creator of all we see and cannot see? Let’s talk about that today.
 

Mexican Standoff

I’ve just returned from a few days in Mexico where I was attending a conference on worship. I speak no Spanish and most of the people there spoke no English. In my home church culture, we hug one another as a greeting. But I noticed a lot of cheek-to-cheek kissing going on in Mexico. The women did this with one another and with the men. The men held out their hand to other men in a clasp-like manner and then hugged. I clumsily imitated them. Once I kissed a woman’s ear instead of her cheek. Another time I trod on a man’s foot as I attempted the hand-grip and hug. Coordination was never my strong suit!
 

Shunned No Longer

I was embarrassed about my mistakes and my clumsiness. However, no one shunned me. I was not avoided in case I trod on someone’s foot. Everyone embraced me eagerly. I relaxed, kissed and hugged, and gradually got better at it. I was reminded that God will never shun my attempts to communicate, not matter how hapless.
How are we going to connect with God? By embracing the ways he has taught us to connect with him. And doing so consistently. Practice makes perfect in many things, and our relationship with God is no exception. Here are three ways to connect. If practised regularly they will help you to develop a deeper connection with God over time.

Three Tips

1. Open your heart to God. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18 NIV11). Give him your deepest fears and dearest hopes.
2. Praise God. “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalms 145:18 NIV11). The word, ‘call’ is ‘qara’ in Hebrew meaning to praise the qualities of YHWH.
3. Pray with others. “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalms 34:3 NIV11) Find a friend to pray with and glorify God together.
 

Conclusion

Connection with God is possible. He made us for this very purpose. But we’re limited in our understanding of how to do so. Never fear. God has left us with a huge book with helpful examples, instructions and principles. Put the three above into practice this week and see your connection with God grow and grow.
 

Question

What helps you to connect with God? What have I missed that could help other people?
 
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

Tuesday Teaching Tips Episode 76: “How to preach for the first time” – Part 2

Seven more tips for first-time speakers

What’s the best way to approach preparing your first sermon? I offer seven more tips to help first-time speakers.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

Tuesday Teaching Tips Episode 75: “How to preach for the first time”

Seven tips for preparing your first lesson

What’s the best way to approach preparing your first sermon? I offer seven tips to help first-time speakers.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 74: “How to Find the Answer to a Question”

What's the best way to dig into a question to find an answer?

Once we have identified the questions in a text, how do we go about finding the answers? I give you a peek into my method using MindNode. It’s a tiny tip this week because I’m on holiday and this was pre-recorded.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching and listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

How to Love a God Who Transcends

My Mexico challenge

Is it possible to love a God who transcends? Can we connect with the creator of all we see and all we cannot see? What kind of relationship makes sense when we are mortal and God is not?  I’m not the first to wrestle with this question, but I have a particular reason for asking it now.

Going to Guadalajara

On 20th September I fly to Guadalajara for a conference. The “Reverent” conference for leaders of corporate worship. It’s my first time going to this event. My first time to this country. My first time to this city. I’m excited and a little nervous. Not about the setting, but about my responsibilities. You see, I’ve been asked to speak. The title of my 20-minute slot is, “The God Who Transcends”. Wow! What an opportunity, and what a mystery!

Taking on Transcendence

The goal is to speak on the holiness, other-ness and transcendence of God in a way that inspires and instructs worship leaders to be better at what they have been called to do. No small matter. No small topic. Relevant Bible verses are not in short supply, but what approach would be best? And how do I encapsulate such a gargantuan topic in 20 minutes? Is it possible?

Starting the Search

Well, I had to start somewhere. I sat down recently to contemplate my theme. The verse that came to mind was this one: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV11)  It appears to leave me with no hope. God’s peace is beyond my understanding. What’s the point of trying to grasp his transcendence if even his peace is incomprehensible? However, there is a hint of an answer. The effects of his peace are real. His peace guards my heart and mind. Perhaps this is a clue to the right direction.

Wrestling with the Word

Let’s go back to the word in question. The word translated ‘transcends’ in Philippians is ‘huperechoœ’. It means to excel, exceed, be better than, to hold above, to stand out above, to overtop, to surpass, excellence, preeminence, to be higher, superior. It’s used elsewhere in the New Testament. Here are the other references and the NIV11 translations (the relevant word in bold):

– “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1 NIV11)

– “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3 NIV11)

– “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NIV11)

– “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,” (1 Peter 2:13 NIV11)

Of course, I will be searching the Old Testament for insight in due course, but I wanted to start with the New Testament. The verses above paint a picture of something beyond me, not owned by me, not contained by me, not controlled by me. Here’s where I am so far. God’s qualities which make him God are not understandable by humans like me. When I think of ‘transcendence’, words like omnipotent, omniscience and omnipresence come to mind. I cannot relate. However, the effects of his transcendence are visible, material and tangible. This is the direction I’m following at the moment.

A fruitful enquiry as to God’s transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his invisible qualities (Romans 1.20). Those who trust his nature will benefit from his nature.

Conclusion

As of today, there are 15 days between now and the day I am due to deliver the talk. Ideas are swirling around my head. Your input would be most welcome. I am writing today’s blog to clarify my own thinking and to request your thoughts.

A fruitful enquiry as to God's transcendence might be to consider the effects on his creation of his… Click To Tweet

Question

When you think of the transcendence of God, what comes to mind? Do you have a way of picturing it which helps you? Do you think I’m on target so far? Would you suggest I add anything? Are there any scriptures relevant to the topic? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

I know I will be very grateful and so will other readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast. We learn best when we learn in community.

Many thanks, and God bless,

Malcolm

By the way, if you’d like some personal coaching on developing spiritual disciplines in your life, click on the badge below and find out more.

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Tuesday Teaching Tip, Episode 73: “How to Find the Right Questions to Answer”

What questions are hidden in a passage?

Before we preach from a passage in the Bible, we need to know what the questions are. Those questions need answering before we decide what to bring to the congregation. I share here one of my techniques to discover the questions using Accordance Bible software.

 

Thank you for watching this video or listening to the audio

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching and listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample 3rd September 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 3rd September 2017

Location: Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

The service in Bracknell this Sunday was a delight. Most summer wanderers had returned. It was good to see familiar faces again. Many of which had been significantly tanned. 

Speakers

Tim Dannatt preached. I shared the communion talk. Elliot and Emily talked about HOPE worldwide and the Patel family welcomed us. A few notes on what I observed.
Elliot and Emily teased us about a presentation they will be doing about the Zambia HOPE Youth Corp at the beginning of October. They used the technique of repeatedly saying they were going to tell us things then, but not now. This created strong engagement with the congregation through the humour of the repetition. It also meant that there was no way we were going to forget what they were promoting!
I liked the way that Harry and Saroj involved their children by having them read Scripture. We could tell that neither of the children felt pressurised, although, of course, they looked a bit embarrassed. And I especially liked the fact that Saroj clearly had thought carefully about what she was going to pray about and how she was going to pray. In the devotional before we began the service, she asked if there were any prayer needs. Then when she actually prayed, she did so with a good blend of formal and extemporary tone.
  
Videos of Tim’s sermon is here.

Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Music Worship

I mentioned last week that we were going to try something different. Here’s how it went. We did a three song opening set all in the key of G. Beginning with the first two verses of “Amazing Grace”, then moving straight into “Anchor for the soul”, straight into “How great is our God”, and finishing with the final verse of “Amazing grace”. The congregation loved it!  I can’t claim that I originated the idea – heard it somewhere else. Something about the flow helped the congregation get into the spirit of why we were praising God, and connecting with the God whom we were praising.

Other Thoughts

Here’s a pre-service devotional idea I tried this Sunday. Before starting the devotional I handed a small picture to every person involved in the service. It was a photograph I had taken of a cyclist silhouetted against bright sunlight. I used it to symbolise what God has done for us in bringing us out of darkness into light, 1 Peter 2.9. Then I remarked that we are people praising the one and leading the worship in praise of the one who brought us out of darkness into his wonderful night.

Nothing I said was remarkable, but having a photograph in the hand helped people to connect more strongly with the point. Several of those present mentioned how helpful this was. We must never underestimate the value of physical props helping us to communicate our message.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. Done
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell. Done

The focus for next Sunday: I’m on holiday!

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