“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

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“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 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 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
Get coached on Coach.me

“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
Get coached on Coach.me

“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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