“The best blend for balanced prayer”

Quiet time coaching: Episode 36

A lack of balance is a problem. Just ask any would-be cyclist. But it can be learned – as my children discovered after falling off their bike for the umpteenth time. Balance was eventually achieved.
 
What makes for blessed balance? Not different components working independently – but blending. Eyes, hands, feet, muscles, nerves and the rest of what makes up a human being. All working together to bring a blended power to achieve balance.
 
Our spiritual life is rather like that. Prayer especially so.
 
I listened to an interview with Richard Foster on prayer (Renovare podcast).¹ He referenced three aspects of prayer from his book, “PRAYER: Finding the Heart’s True Home”. I bought the book and will share the basic thrust of the blend.

1. Moving Inward

“The movement inward comes first because without interior transformation the movement up into God’s glory would overwhelm us and the movement out into ministry would destroy us.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 5). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer without an intention for that prayer to change us is shallow. Part of the purpose of prayer is to help us along the path of growing Christ-likeness.
 
Do you spend time in prayer examining your heart and actions in the light of the character of Jesus?

2. Moving Upward

“We are exiles and aliens until we can come into God, the heart’s true home. Pride and fear have kept us at a safe distance. But as the resistance within us is overcome by the operations of faith, hope and love, we begin moving upward into the divine intimacy. This, in turn, empowers us for ministry to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 83). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer connects us with God. It is one of the channels which bring us into contact with God’s joy and parent-love.
 
Is there anything preventing you from drawing close to God in your times of prayer?
 

3. Moving Outward

“Transformation and intimacy both cry out for ministry. We are led through the furnace of God’s purity not just for our own sake but for the sake of others. We are drawn up into the bosom of God’s love not merely to experience acceptance, but also so we can give his love to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 177). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer which ends with the inward and the upward dimensions is incomplete. If we are connected with God’s heart, and if we are growing in Christ-likeness, we will also be growing in concern and compassion for the world.
 
Are the needs of people around you featuring in your times of prayer?

Conclusion

In John chapter 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, for his disciples, and for the world which his disciples would transform. We see there a balanced blend of personal transformation/strengthening, intimacy with God and concern for the world.
 
Whatever your habitual balance, why not make this next few days of prayer a blend of the upward, inward and outward?
 

Question

What helps you to pray for inner transformation? What helps you to connect in loving intimacy with God? What helps you when praying for the world?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
¹ Famous for his book, “Celebration of discipline
 
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“The Lord is good and his love endures forever.” Psalm 100.5

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 34

We conclude our exploration of Psalm 100 by moving on to verse 5. As mentioned previously, I am planning a church service focussed on the message of this Psalm. I’m writing these blogs to ask for your feedback and thoughts.
 
 
“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
 
The previous verse gives us an invitation and an exhortation. The invitation is to come into God’s presence, and the exhortation is to be thankful and praise God. Today we will explore the following verse which assures us of God’s love and faithfulness.
 

1. Long-lasting love

The word translated “love” is the important Hebrew word “chesed”. It involves the feeling of love, but it means more than feeling. This love is unfailing, loyal, devoted, kind and merciful. Really, it is a divine love.
 
God’s love for us can be trusted because he is loyal to us, just as he was loyal to the Israelites despite their rebellion, failings and weaknessesHe is consistently “good” to us, even when we are consistently “bad” to him. As Jesus said,
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
This is a love that cannot be thwarted. The Apostle Paul had a good handle on this kind of love. Have a read of the MESSAGE version of Romans 8:35-39:
 
“Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
‘They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.’
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
 
How do we know that God is love-loyal to us? The cross and the empty tomb are all the evidence we need. The cross tells us God has already made the supreme sacrifice of love so that we can experience his love. The empty tomb tells us God has the power to overcome any barrier to us experiencing his love.
 
God’s long-lasting love is a compelling reason to trust him with the here and now.

2. Forever faithful

The long-lasting love of God is the reason we can live with confidence. Confident in God’s love for us now, and confident about our future. Both our future in this life, and our future in the next life.
 
The Psalmist says, “his faithfulness continues through all generations” because it does. God’s faithfulness was not only to Noah and Abraham. It was not only to Isaac and Joseph. It was not only to Daniel and Jeremiah. It was not only to Ezra and Nehemiah. It was not only to David and Solomon. It was not only to John the Baptist and Jesus. It was not only to Peter and John. It was not only to Paul and Timothy.
 
God’s faithfulness began in Eden with Adam and Eve and continues today all these millennia later to every person on this planet. Billions and billions.
 
Our unfaithfulness is powerless to prevent God faithfully putting faith in humankind. As Paul put it,
 
“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” Romans 3:3-4.
 
If God’s faithfulness is available to every generation, why do we fear what will happen in the future? If God promises to love our children and our children’s children with equal faithfulness to the love he has shown us, why do we worry about our children?
 
To have a loving concern for our children is healthy, but to worry about them not only creates tension but is an implicit assumption of God’s unfaithfulness.
 
If God has loved you, he will love the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that…
Psalm 100 ends by looking forward with optimism. God has given us many reasons to be thankful, grateful and joyful. We are secure in our identity and safe in his flock. We have good reason to shout and sing his praises.
 
What we see in this Psalm provides a good model for most personal prayer and our times of corporate worship. Pray over it, meditate on it. Let it sink into the mind and the heart.
 

Question

What helps you to believe that the LORD is fundamentally good? In what way have you seen his love remain consistent in your life? How do you feel about the next generation?
 
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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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving. Psalm 100.4”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 33

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

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

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

1. The invitation to enter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The command to give thanks

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

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

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

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

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

The New Testament is full of exhortations to be thankful.

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

God bless, Malcolm

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

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“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:2

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 31

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

1. Worship the Lord with gladness

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

2. Come before him with joyful songs

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

Conclusion

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

Question

What gets in the way of serving the Lord with gladness? What helps you to be joyful in your singing?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 
Get coached on Coach.me
 

“How God Transforms Lives”, Acts 3

Not one, but two versions of the same sermon surveying the first part of Acts 3 looking at the Spirit’s work in bringing grace-poor and grace-rich people together. We learn lessons about noticing people and expecting the unexpected.

The first is the discussion-style version with the Watford church of Christ, and the second is the interactive version with the Thames Valley churches of Christ.

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 us your questions or suggestions.

Thanks again for watching. Have a super day.

God bless,

Malcolm

“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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“The joy of the resurrection”

What caused the joy of the resurrection? Why were the witnesses afraid, yet filled with joy? We examine Matthew 28 this Easter Sunday and find confirmation of our faith, and motivation to spread it.

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 us your questions or suggestions.

Thanks again for watching. Have a super day.

God bless,

Malcolm

“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
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