“Why you need a specific place for study”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 45

Where do you go to engage in the spiritual discipline of study?

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of a podcast I listened to the other day. I like the Renovare podcasts, and enjoyed the recent one entitled, “Spiritual director and author Fil Anderson and lawyer Justin Campbell talk with Nathan Foster about how to study for transformation instead of just information.” If you would like to listen to it yourself, you can find it here.

One of the interviewees spoke of the helpfulness it was to him having a separate room in the house for study. The interviewer, Nathan, does not have space in his home for a separate room, but has a chair set aside for study. Nothing else happens in that chair except study. When he is in that chair he does not allow himself to have his phone within reach or any other device that might distract.

Why do we need a place free from interruption? We need it because intimacy and understanding are bred in a focused environment.

It is well known that Jesus took himself away in order to be with God. In Mark he, “went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NIV11). In Luke he, “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV11)

Jesus may not have had a house with a study room, nor a chair for regular study. But that did not prevent him from being intentional about removing himself from people and other distractions in order to be focused on God.

To be honest, I’ve let this slip in my life. Therefore, here are my new resolutions. I would like to know what you think of these, and I’d like to know the practices which you have found helpful.

Here are the specifics of what I will do to enjoy more satisfying study:

1. Phone out of sight

The phone will go into my pocket, behind me on a shelf, or in a drawer. I have already disabled almost all notifications on my phone, but even the sight of it can be a temptation to distraction.

2. Noise-cancelling headphones

I have a really nice set of Sony noise cancelling headphones. I need to put them to better use. I already have a favourite piece of music I play when I’m doing my Bible study (Mozart piano concerto in D minor K466 if you’re interested). Now I will pipe it straight into my ears and allow the noise cancelling technology to keep me in my study-world.

3. Clear the desk

I don’t have much on my desk. I think better without clutter. However, I do have one or two things on the surface such as my Full Focus Planner and gratitude journal. These, and anything else I will remove from the desk surface.

Conclusion

I shall try these for the next month and let you know how it goes. Of course, this is not intended to create some new rule as if to say this is the only way to do it. Nor is ‘study’ exclusively connected to Bible study. This could apply to reading books, magazines and other materials.

Your study space might be a particular seat on the train, a park bench, the passenger seat in your car. It does not matter so much where it is. It matters more that we find and make the most of a special space for study.

Question

What do you need to put out of site? What do you need to turn off, or turn on to help you be focused? What else do you do to enjoy deeper study?

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

Would you like some coaching in the spiritual disciplines? You can find me by clicking the button below.

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

God bless, Malcolm

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“What happens when you grab for the wrong support”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 44

My morning prayer walk was messier than expected. It was all caused by a casual grab at the wrong support.
 
 
One of my favourite prayer walks takes me to the edge of a canal. There is no bridge at this point, but you can cross by walking along the top of the lock gates. It’s narrow, but there are handrails. This particular morning I stepped up onto the top of the gates. I reached out towards the ironmongery with my right hand to steady myself.
 
Instead of feeling the cool iron under my fingers, I sensed a sticky gooey mess. I stopped, looked at my right hand and saw thick black grease. Instead of grabbing for the handrail, I had mistakenly reached for the mechanism which moved the sluice gates. They are heavily greased to protect them from the water.
Stepping off the lock, I approached a tree. With the help of several leaves I removed most of the grease from my hand.
I reflected on what lesson there might be for me from this experience. What do I grab for? What do I reach for when I need support?
 

1. Superficial support

Too often I prioritise feeling better instead of getting better. The instant-fix support sees me turning on the television, listening to a podcast or raiding the fridge. None of these are wrong in themselves. They are meant to be enjoyed – God gave us lots of things specifically for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17).
 
It’s just that they cannot provide the kind of support I need when I am struggling with something spiritual. You know the kind of thing. When I don’t want to persevere. When I don’t want to love someone. When I don’t feel like praying.
 
The problem with reaching for the superficial support is twofold. Firstly, it is only a temporary diversion and distraction. The original problem comes back with a bang.
Secondly, the consequences are a stickiness in my soul – rather like the grease on my hand. Because I have delayed dealing with the situation spiritually, procrastination is now clogging up my spirit. If I had dealt with the matter in a more spiritual manner, I could have moved onto the next challenge to my faith. Now, however, I have one piled on top of another. Not a good situation, and not a winning feeling.
 

2. Spiritual support

What I really need is spiritual support. What does that look like? Here are two suggestions.
 
i. Church support. I don’t mean the organisation, but the network of relationships. We are meant to be interconnected. If we are, we will feel the support of our community. Paul made the point in Ephesians:
 
“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV11)
 
Those friendship-ligaments are a source of support when I am weak. Are you connected enough to feel that support? What is your part in that?
 
ii. God support. He is a very willing supporter. We don’t have to push him into it. We understand this intellectually. The point, however, is to grasp it from the heart. The Psalmist accepted this:
 
“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalms 94:18–19 NIV11)
 
There is no substitute for the support of the Lord. It is his love that convinces us of his unconditional support. It’s personal with him. He wants to support us not because it is a duty or a project. No. His heart is one of compassion and connection. He is able to grant us not only the fact of support but the feeling of support if we are willing to accept it.

Conclusion

What did Jesus say? “I am with you”, (Matt 28.20). Reflect on him walking with you. Today. Pray to be aware of his presence and support. Next time you need some support, pause before reaching for the remote. Take a moment to call a friend and call on God.
 
If he is with me, that’s enough. He may not change the situation. His support may not change how I feel. But I know he’s in it with me, and that’s enough.

Question

What happened when you tried this? What difference did it make to your day?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community. Pass the link on….
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
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“What difference would it make if your enemy was anointed?”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 43

One Bible verse had a profound effect on my prayers this morning.

As I often do, I turned to the Psalms before going out to pray. I have been working through the Psalms of Ascent and have reached Psalm 133.

“A song of ascents. Of David. How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.” (Psalms 133:0–3 NIV11)

Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org.

It is a Psalm of beautiful idealism. God’s people living in unity. Not something that existed for very long at any point in Israel’s history. Not something which exists in many denominations and amongst Christendom today. And, frankly not something that exists consistently in my own network of relationships.

In particular, I focused on this phrase from the psalm:

“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” (Psalms 133:2 NIV11)

Anointed

I reflected on the fact that, “In Israelite practice anointing was a sign of election and often closely related to endowment by the Spirit.” (IVP Bible Background Commentary).

At some point in the past, I had studied this Psalm. I had noted a quote from a book by Eugene Peterson called, “A long obedience in the same direction”. He said this:

“When we see each other as God’s anointed, our relationships are profoundly affected.” (p181)

I determined to go out and pray for someone I found difficult to love. To hold them in my mind and heart before God as someone anointed. Someone special to God. Someone chosen by him and just as specially favoured as I or any other person.

As I walked through the park on my prayer walk, I picked one person and focused on seeing them as anointed. What a humbling experience. All of a sudden I stopped looking down on that person. Instead, I could see that he and I were on the same level ground.

I felt differently about him. I felt differently about myself. I could and would love him.

Conclusion

Is there someone you find difficult to love? Someone close to you. Why not decide to hold them in prayer before God and before your spiritual eyes as someone chosen, elected, adopted and anointed by him? Give it a go in your next prayer time.

Question

What happened when you tried this? What difference did it make to the way you see this person and feel about this person? Will it change your behaviour?

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 win the cup”. Sermon for the Thames Valley churches of Christ – outdoor service at Wellington Country Park.

Malcolm asked us to make Jesus our mentor for life. This life and the next.

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

Do you have a question about the Bible or the Christian faith? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a super day.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

“What a drowning deer taught me about the heart of God”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 42

It was about 6:30 AM this morning. My customary prayer walk was taking me through Cassiobury Park and into the conservation area close to where I live. My mind and my prayers were centred on Psalm 130. All was well.
Approaching a bridge over the Grand Union Canal, I came across two dog-walking women in animated conversation. One of them saw me. She walked over and declared, “There’s a deer drowning. It’s fallen in the canal. I can’t help because my dog will scare it. Can you rescue it?”
 
Her face was contorted with worry. I could not say “no”. I had no idea how I was going to get a soaking wet heavy deer out of the canal. But I knew I had to try.
 
Annoyed, because she had interrupted my prayers and my walk, I trudged reluctantly into the undergrowth between the path and the canal. Soon I was surrounded by stinging nettles. I was wearing shorts. Not the best combination.
 
After multiple stings, I reached the canal bank. Now even grumpier. No deer in sight. No sound of a deer. No sign of a deer. The lady shouted at me through the undergrowth, “It looks like it got out. Thank you for trying.” I fought my way back through the stinging nettles to the path. Fully fed up now. Interrupted prayer time, interrupted walk, fruitless search, throbbing calves.
 
Then I considered this Psalm:
 
“Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” (Psalms 119:175–176 NIV11)
 
The Psalmist wants to praise God. He has experienced God’s life-sustaining teaching. Yet he is aware of his tendency to stray. Many other Psalms talk about seeking God. But I love this verse. It is a plea for God to seek his servant.
 
And, of course, it reminded me of what Jesus said in Luke’s gospel:
 
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 NIV11)
 
In this wonderful parable, God is portrayed as the seeking Shepherd. The master of the flock is not grumpy about the effort, annoyed at the time involved, bothered about being interrupted, nor reluctant to seek. I have to confess that some evil thoughts went through my mind about that deer. If it was stupid enough to fall into the canal it deserved what it got. No, I know that’s not the right attitude. Sorry.
 

Conclusion

I’m so glad that God is not like me. I hope that deer did get out of the canal. As far as I can tell it did. What a relief. How much more of a relief it is that God doesn’t treat me as I deserve. He seeks me out to rescue me, take me home, and – He rejoices all the way.

Question

When you pray, do you reflect on the seeking nature of God? Could you meditate on Psalm 119 and Luke 15 in your next prayer time? What helps you to be grateful for the seeking Shepherd?
 
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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“Why the prayer of relinquishment matters”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 41

Is it possible to be surrendered to God’s will without feeling like a pawn?
 
I bring you a sixth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home“. In the most recent chapter I’ve been reading, Richard talks about the significance of the prayer of relinquishment.
 
 
Richard quotes Andrew Murray, “..union with God’s will is union with God himself”. That being the case, how can we afford not to pray the prayer of relinquishment? In other words, the prayer that says, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV11).
 
Easy to say. Not so easy to do. And even harder to mean it.
 
This week we explore why the prayer of relinquishment is so important. We will discover the correct motivation for the prayer. Next week we will look at how to practice the prayer of relinquishment.
 

1. The example of Jesus

Jesus is our inspiration in all things. No less in this prayer of relinquishment. Without this prayer – no cross. Without this prayer – no sins forgiven. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed the prayer of relinquishment more fully, more powerfully, more painfully than at any other point in his life,
 
“not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV11)
 
As Foster remarks, 
“To applaud the will of God, to do the will of God, even to fight for the will of God is not difficult . . . until it comes at cross-purposes with our will.” p51
Thank goodness for the example of Jesus!

2. The door to hope

The Scriptures tell an interesting story – if you are called by God, you will struggle with God.
 
Jesus is the ultimate example, but what about Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Paul? They all struggled with God’s will for their lives. But, when they came to a place of relinquishment, they discovered that God’s will was better and more glorious than the choice they preferred.
 
When we struggle, and submit to God’s will, and discover his wisdom, it gives us hope for the next struggle. Because there will be another struggle. It’s how we grow. It’s how God gets his will done. It’s how God makes sure he gets the glory instead of us. But even though he gets the glory, we get plenty of joy.
 

3. The soil for fruit

When we pray the prayer of relinquishment we are offering God fertile soil for him to bear fruit. That’s why Jesus said,
 
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)
 
When we make ourselves available to God, he is able to produce the fruit of the Kingdom in us and through us. As Foster says,
“..we hold on so tightly to the good we know that we cannot receive the greater good that we do not know. God has to help us let go of our tiny vision in order to release the greater good he has in store for us.” p55
 
We don’t have to pray the ‘right’ prayer, we just need to pray the relinquished prayer.
 
Such a self-death brings us the freedom of self-forgetfulness which does not negate a person but sets us free to become all that we can be in Christ.
 

Conclusion

The Apostle Paul found himself at peace with the prayer of relinquishment,
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19–20).
 
What a blessing it is to arrive here. A place of contentment, free from anxiety.

Question

Do you have a prayer of relinquishment which needs to be prayed? In which areas in life right now do you sense a struggle? Have you prayed the prayer of relinquishment in those areas? How do you feel about praying such a prayer? What holds you back from doing so?
 
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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You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool“, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

“Jealous or Curious” – Acts 5, Sermon, 17th June 2018

Are you jealous or curious? Guilty or curious? Is anything stopping you from living life with curiosity? What gets in the way of being curious about spiritual matters? We explore this topic with the help of an incident recorded in Acts chapter 5.

You can find more videos on my YouTube channel.

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

Do you have a question about the Bible or the Christian faith? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions.

Thanks again for watching. Have a super day.

God bless,

Malcolm

“How and why to pray the prayer of penthos”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 40

Is there a place for tears in prayer? Is crying a sign of indisciplined emotions? Or is it a sign of spiritual health?
 
I bring you a fifth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home”. In the most recent chapter I’ve been reading, Richard talks about the significance of the “Prayer of tears”, or, ‘Penthos’.
 
 
Last week we look to biblical examples of penthos. Old Testament characters, Jesus, and the apostle Paul. All found the ‘prayer of tears’ to be spiritually beneficial. This week we will explore the spiritual benefits of Penthos.
 

1. A source of joy

It might sound unlikely. Certainly, it is paradoxical. But, tears lead to joy. The Psalmist understood this: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalms 126:5 NIV11) Some years ago the church I loved was virtually destroyed by a combination of our own sin, and the disciplining hand of God. I was not the only one who cried at the state of the church. And I was not the only one who despaired for a positive future. 

However, I took some time to go away, climb a Welsh mountain, and open my heart to God. I confessed my sins. I confessed our sins. I admitted my fears about the future. My heart broke and I wept. After some time, I felt a deep sense of assurance. I realised that my heart was in sync with the heart of God. I knew for a certainty that he felt as I did. And, joy of joys, it dawned on me that he had not given up on me or the church. Therefore, there was hope. This hope burst upon me with deep joy. 

I went up the mountain heavy laden. I came down the mountain with a light heart.

2. A source of inner growth

Parts of who I am remain hidden to me. The undergrowth of my soul is too thick for ordinary prayers to penetrate. Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am. As Foster says in his book,
 
“..unless the emotive centre of our lives is touched, it is as if a fuse remains unlit.”
 
In the prayer of penthos we allow God, we invite God to part the tall grass and reveal what is beyond our sight. Sometimes what comes into view are aspects of our character. At other times it is our sinfulness. How do we discover the truth? Let me lay out the steps suggested by Foster:
 
  • Ask: Request that God help you to have a soft heart. Trust what David knew, that God will not despise, “a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalms 51:17 NIV11)
  • Confess: Open up to God about the sin of which you are clear. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.’
  • Receive: Trust that God, “will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV11) Do not give in to the Devil’s lie that you are unworthy. Of course you are unworthy! That’s why Jesus went to the cross. But now, because of his victory, and your adoption, you are made worthy.
  • Obey: Where it is within your power, do right to the people you have wronged. Change your behaviour in areas where you have damaged your relationship with God.
Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am Click To Tweet

Conclusion

The prayer of penthos may not come naturally to you. That’s OK. We have a lifetime to develop all these different aspects of our relationship with God. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. God is.
 

Question

Why not try the four-step process above? If you do, let me know how it goes. Do you feel any hesitation in asking God to help you with the prayer of penthos? Can you identify what it is that is holding you back?
 
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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