“Spiritual Disciplines Class 2, Thames Valley churches of Christ”
by Malcolm Cox

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11 August 2017

““How to ‘Stand’ Despite Your Sin”, Psalm 130”
by Malcolm Cox

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“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.3.

Who gets to stand before God confidently? Anyone? I’m not confident standing before my friends, let alone the Almighty! But confidence before God is available.

We can, “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” Heb 4.16. We can have, “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10.19. Sounds good, but is it your experience? Not always, if you’re like me.

What gets in the way of confidence and what can we do about it?

How to ‘Stand’ Despite Your Sin

Reflections inspired by Psalm 130

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

Silencing the Laughter

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

Relational

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

Movement

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

Good News

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

Conclusion

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

Question

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

“HOW TO FIND HOPE WHEN YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR DEPTH”
by Malcolm Cox

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HOW TO FIND HOPE WHEN YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR DEPTH

How to pray when you're drowning

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

Hope

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

Helpless

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

Pain

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

Secret

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

Expectation

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

“HOW TO FIND TIME TO PRAY”
by Malcolm Cox

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30 JULY 2017

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

When you’ve listened to the recording, please leave a comment. How do you find the time to pray? What works for you?

God bless, Malcolm

HOW TO FIND TIME TO PRAY

Seven Tips To Find the Time for Prayer

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

Personal Seasons

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

Busy Jesus

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

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

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

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

Time Exists

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

Time to Pray

1. In the morning – Jesus

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

2. In the moment – Nehemiah

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

3. In the fish – Jonah

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

4. In the cave – David

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

5. In the open – Daniel

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

6. In the fellowship – disciples

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

7. In the home – Peter

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

Conclusion

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

Question

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

God bless,

Malcolm

“HOW TO PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE – HEBREWS 10.19-22”
by Malcolm Cox

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20 July 2017

Dino Reichmuth

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

Leave a comment after you’ve listened to the podcast. What helps you have confidence in prayer?

HOW TO PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE – HEBREWS 10.19-22

Coming into the presence of God without inappropriate fear

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

King Cantona

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

Bridge Building

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

Complete Confidence

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

Three Thoughts

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

Confidence Restored

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

Question: What helps you to pray with confidence?

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

Sunday Devotional 16 July 2017 – Psalm 100

Photo by Phú Nguyễn on Unsplash

This Sunday our pre-service devotional for the speakers, singers and instrumentalists involved in the service is focused on Psalm 100.

The more I read it, the more I realise how appropriate it is to prepare us to lead others in collective worship. Here is the text:

“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 100:1–5)

Brueggemann points out that, “the summons to praise are utterly yielding to God.” (see book link below) Look at how many times “the Lord…him…God…his” are mentioned. The eyes of the worshippers are firmly fixed on the object of their worship.

It is not one-way traffic, however.

The worshippers understand that they are in good relationship with God: “We are his..his people..sheep of his pasture..enter..love endures..his faithfulness..”. The worship is wrapped in confident expectation of God’s love.

We are preparing to lead others in corporate worship. What is a healthy way to be thinking as we step up to speak, sing, or play? Two thoughts will help:

i. Speak to God, not just the people physically present

ii.Reassure us of God’s promises

What are your thoughts on this Psalm and how we prepare to lead people in worship?

Please leave a comment below.

God bless, Malcolm