Tuesday Teaching Tips: “How to include God” – VIDEO

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Are our lessons really about God? It’s easy to emphasise practical application at the expense of a focus on God.

I share two practical ways to make sure we keep God the main thing.

What are your ideas to keep God front and centre as we speak? Please leave a comment below.

Many thanks,

Malcolm

Tuesday Teaching Tips: “How to include God” – AUDIO

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Are our lessons really about God? It’s easy to emphasise practical application at the expense of a focus on God.

I share two practical ways to make sure we keep God the main thing.

What are your ideas to keep God front and centre as we speak? Please leave a comment below.

Many thanks,

Malcolm

PRAYERS THAT MOVE GOD TO ACT – Part 1

How to Pray So God Hears and Acts

One way you can develop a healthy prayer life is to pray in such a way as to be confident God will act.


Filip Mroz

Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of omnipotence.”[1]. Nerves are so tiny, aren’t they? I’ve got some damaged nerves from knee surgery. Hit me on my left knee in just the right place and I won’t feel a thing. I don’t think I’ve ever physically seen a nerve, but the movement of my muscles depends on them. Spurgeon saw prayers as the nerves that move God’s mighty muscles. I like that picture. It reminds me of Psalm 89.9-13,

“You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies. The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.”

My prayers often feel more like invisible, fragile nerves than mighty muscles or a strong arm. But I guess that’s the point. I’m the nerve – God is the muscle. I don’t need to worry about how ‘powerful’ my prayer is. My faith should be in God’s ‘muscles’, not my own.

So, how are our ‘nerves’ and God’s ‘muscles’ working? How should we pray? What should we expect? Let me offer the first of three thoughts …

Prayer is satisfying when God is who we are seeking

Did your mother or father ever accuse you of loving them only for their money? God wants a relationship with us, and we need a relationship with him more than any ‘gift’ he has for us. John Piper is quoted as saying, “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”[2]. Why not spend the first part of your prayer time communing with God – before asking him for anything.

Discipline your mind and heart to speak only to Him of who He is and what it is about Him that impresses you the most. Pray through this passage:

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4 NIV11)

Follow up by meditating on these verses:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalms 63:1–4 NIV11)

We’ll look at two further points in upcoming articles.

Questions: Have you been more focused on your requests and problems than God Himself? What will help you get your priorities straight? What will you do differently in your next prayer time? Leave a comment in the comment section.

Your brother,

Malcolm

Audio of this post can be found here.

Would you like some prayer coaching? Contact me by clicking here.

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[1] Twelve Sermons on prayer, Baker Books, p 31

[2] Quoted in The Joy of Fearing God, J Bridges, Monarch, p 254

 

 

How to start praying

What to do when we're stuck for the first few words

Have you ever sat down to pray, or stepped out for a prayer walk and not known how to start? I’d guess you’re not alone. Let’s take a look at a prayer-starter, inspired by Jesus.

After the last supper he says, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1 NIV11) Note he begins with, “Father”, just as he told us in Luke 11: “When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name,” (Luke 11:2 NIV11) It seems to be his common practice. The agonised prayer in Gethsemane begins with, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV11)  Earlier in Matthew he prayed, ““I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned” (Matthew 11:25 NIV)

What do we learn from this? Jesus took his thoughts, needs and hopes to his Father in all circumstances. Whether he was rejoicing, teaching, reflecting or mourning in prayer, the focus reminded on the Father. Why is this important? Because it was the Father who spoke of love to him, “a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” (Mark 1:11 NIV11-GK)

We have that same voice speaking to us conveying the same devotion, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV11)  We are as loved by the Father as Jesus was and is. Thus, we can call on him, connect with Him and find strength from him any time we want to or need to. No matter if we are happy, sad, confused, tired or grumpy! We have a loving Father and he is interested – all we have to do is open our mouths.

The next time you’re stumped for a prayer-opener, why not try praying one of Jesus’ prayer-starters? Address the Father and go from there.

In the next post we’ll take a deeper look at John 17 and the way Jesus sees his Father.

Until then, happy praying, and God bless.

Malcolm

PS – do you have prayer questions? Would you like more direct coaching in your prayer life? Why not consider taking me up on some prayer coaching. Click here for details.

“The Judge and the Lover” – A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

god-first
“The Judge and the Lover”

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

  • Preamble
    • Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.
  • Summary
    • Campbell argues that since God is interested in relationship above all, we do better to recognise him as lover first and judge second. His argument develops in a little over 100 pages divided into eight chapters, plus an overview and afterword. A devotional reflection on the events of Good Friday concludes the book. Whether you agree with his emphases, you will find much to stimulate a healthy reassessment of your view of God.
  • Body of the Book
    • If there is a theme scripture to the book it would be, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4.10,19 (NIV11). Campbell would have us find our motivation from the prospect of reward rather than the fear of punishment. Of course, fear can be a helpful motivator, but it is not a mature one (“The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4.18b NIV11). Although I do not recall him putting it in so many words, perhaps the Christian life is an on-going transition from a fear-dominated motivation to one dominated by love. This may depend on one’s starting point, character, personality, family and church upbringing and other factors. Yet, there is not much worth arguing about regarding becoming more and more ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ (GK: teleioo) in love as we grow in Christ.
    • It must be pointed out that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Prov. 1.7 NIV11, (and many similar scriptures), hence defining ‘fear’ would be helpful. Campbell does not spend much time on this issue, and it might have helped some readers for him to have done so, since Jesus does not eschew fear as a helpful tool (see Luke 12.5).
    • Our words betray our views (Luke 6.45). I found fruitful reflection considering Campbell’s challenge to evaluate whether the words coming out of my mouth are consistent with the Bible’s description of God. Do I speak about a loving God as much as the Word does? When I speak of God, do I talk about Him as one with whom I have a relationship? Although the relationship is not exactly the same as human one, it must share some of the same language and focus. And, also important, do my actions match my words?
    • Campbell’s forthrightness is refreshing, as when he writes, “The funny thing is, of course, that an unconditionally loving God will only ask of us what is for our own good. But then, many of us are afraid of what might be best for us. Stupid, but true!” page 38. And he is correct in stating that we want intimacy with God, but fear it at the same time. Our relationship with God is just as complicated as any human relationship, indeed more so, since He will retain some elements of His mystery until the next life. How do we deal with this? Jesus is the one who, “can bridge that fearful gap between creature and creator.” p36
    • His portrayal of the atonement will relieve some and confuse others. It appears he is suggesting a Christus Victor and/or healing model and not allowing for the redemptive aspect of the cross, “The idea of redemption is burdened with the overtones of buying back and repayment. Love does not demand redemption; love forgives.  A loving God does not need to redeem us; a loving God forgives us.” p52. But God’s love is so intense that He will redeem (see Hosea). Is there not a place for both redemption and forgiveness as a gift? I remain a little unclear as to whether he is arguing almost completely against the concept of redemption, or simply considering that the issue of salvation, God’s love for us, is primary. The role of Jesus on the cross is not something he avoids, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world can be richly understood as removing all that blocks our acceptance of God’s love rather than as paying off the debt of sin.” p101 But, again, I’m not sure these issues are contradictory.
    • Chapter 8 on “The Mystery” is helpful in that it accepts the unknowable aspects of God as a challenge, while holding to the knowable as a reality. What we can and do know leads us to a place of desiring greater oneness with God, not less. This God has given us unconditional love, thus, “In accepting a loving God, we may be letting go of God the fixer.” p90 God may not ‘fix’ everything they way we want because his love for us is enough, and he is more interested in love than justice.
    • Some would argue with the assertion, “Christ’s incarnation is the central expression of God’s unconditional love of human life.” p99  A case can be made for the cross (and resurrection) as central, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  • Conclusion
    • A book written by a scholar, but wearing his intellect lightly. Much to be admired.
    • Personal stories and those about other people illustrate significant points. Some hit the mark for me and others missed, but that’s a personal choice.
    • In decrying the authoritarian interpretation of scripture, consequent distancing of God as a relational figure, justification of fear as a motivational agent and use of such fear to manipulate people, I applaud Campbell’s work. He writes persuasively on the theme of God as one who loves first, foremost and always.
    • Perhaps he overstates his case, not in arguing for the fulsomeness of God’s love, but for the inappropriateness of fear, and for a model of the atonement that appears to deny a direct connection between the cross and salvation.
    • “God first loved us” may be a help to anyone looking to grasp God’s love better. I made plenty of notes that refreshed my view of God, and the subsequent prayer times were deeper.

Malcolm Cox

www.malcolmcox.org

What we’re reading: “God First Loved Us”

god-first

 

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.

“Anyone for Tennis?”

Herewith, the sermon at the outdoor service of the Thames Valley churches of Christ.

“Spirituality and Emotional Health – a Devotional”

Our devotional reviews the recent series of classes on spiritual, emotional and mental health. We then take a look at the example of God’s caring compassion for Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and His desire to “feed” him. We spend some time reflecting on our own need for “refuelling” and where we are most in need.

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“Wonderful Grace”, Malcolm Cox