“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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“How to be kind to kinaesthetic learners”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 102

We look at how to help not only those with a preference to auditory or visual learning, but those whose preferred learning style is kinaesthetic. Are they the most neglected of all?

The value of this approach is that it increases:

  1. Attention
  2. Contribution
  3. Stickiness

Helpful scriptures: John 6.9; 12-13; Matthew 16.5-12

I hope you find these thoughts helpful. What have I missed? What else is important?

Please leave a comment and pass the link on to one other person ….

God bless, Malcolm

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“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 2”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 26

Last week I introduced the question as to which might be the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple. My suggestion was these: humble, hungry and smart.

The book, “The ideal team player: how to recognise and cultivate the three essential virtues” by Patrick Lencioni, provides a fascinating insight into the significance of these three qualities in a secular situation. However, the spiritual applications seem obvious.
 
We tackled humility last time. Today we will look at the second of these qualities.
 

Hunger

What does it mean to be spiritually hungry? And how does it affect our prayer-life? Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount: 
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NIV11)
 
According to him, being hungry is healthy. It takes us in a good direction. A hunger for righteousness implies a desire to connect with the source of that righteousness. That sounds a lot like spiritual ambition.
 
What’s the difference between selfish ambition (Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16) and spiritual ambition? It has to do with benefitting other people.
 
For example, the ambition of the Apostle Paul was directly connected to people hearing the gospel:
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20 NIV11)
 
That is perfectly good and fine, but what we do when we don’t have the hunger?
 
Here’s a quote from the book in the section dealing with how to help people with their hunger:
“The first and most important part of helping that person become hungry is to find a way to connect her to the importance of the work being done. Until this is accomplished, a manager cannot expect much change.” 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 202). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
If we are going to refresh our hunger, we must first connect with the significance of our relationship with God. How can we do this? Here are three suggestions.
 

1. Pray for Hunger

I don’t like being hungry. But I have to say that I have a clearer mind when my stomach isn’t full. Ask God to create a healthy dissatisfaction in your soul. It may not be comfortable. But it will ultimately be satisfying.
 

2. Pray to Remember

God has acted in the past when you were hungry. Can you recall times of spiritual hunger? The situations that led you to seek God. The circumstances that opened your heart to repentance. Pray about them, and ask God to recreate the same spiritual hunger in you today.
 
Make sure you take communion in a meaningful way. The Lord’s supper is your weekly opportunity to remember and refresh your spiritual ambition.

3. Pray for Vision

It is when we are stretched beyond our resources that we feel the hunger. When God gives us vision we recognise our poverty, and reach out to him. It is in that reaching that we find his supply. It is in that stretching that we find his support. Can you pray for a faithful vision?

Conclusion

Trying praying these three prayers this week. Pray to be hungry, pray to remember, and pray for vision. The prayers remind me of the heart and life of the Apostle Paul. his spiritual ambition has always been an upward call to me. While I am not Paul, I know I will be closer to God if I imitate the faith of that great Christian.
 
We will look at smart next time.
 

Question

What do you think is the best way to develop spiritual ambition? How do you get it back when you’ve lost it? How does this affect your prayer life?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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“How To Be Humble, Hungry and Smart – Part 1”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 25

What are the most essential spiritual qualities for a disciple? How about these three: humble, hungry and smart?
 
 
Written as a fable, it tells the story of Jeff and his baptism of fire in becoming a CEO. The story is well written, short and illuminating.
 
The conclusion? The qualities of being humble, hungry and smart are critical to performing well in a team, and the team performing well. True enough. But what of the application?
 
Am I humble, hungry and smart? What would other people say? I can bring to mind recent events when I have been deficient on at least one of these areas.
 
We’ll start a three-part study of these three qualities and how they influence our relationship with God and others.
 

Humility

Today, we will examine the issue of humility. Of course, this is a huge topic. But we will look at the basics as they impact our prayer-life.
 
Here’s a quote from the book in the section defining humility:
“Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually.”
 
Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (p. 157). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
I felt a combination of ‘ouch!’ and overwhelm at reading that. Before you and I run away screaming, “It’s impossible!”, let’s have a look at what the Bible tells us about humility.
 

1. People Prayer

Humility in prayer, or a lack of it, is revealed by the way in which we talk about other people.
 
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11 NIV11)
 
Comparing ourselves to others in prayer reveals an insecurity with God. If we think we have to portray ourselves as better than others to God, we fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his love for humankind. He has no favourites. He loves all equally.
 

2. Submissive Prayer

Submission is a bit of a dirty word these days. But we’re not talking about forced submission. Biblical submission is always willing. Not that it’s easy. But a sign of prayerful humility is that we submit our requests according to God’s will.
 
This is what lies behind the famous phrase in the Lord’s prayer: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NIV11)
 
This attitude is best illustrated in Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV11)
 

3. Confident Prayer

A characteristic of humble prayer is confidence. Why? Because this demonstrates trust in God. As the writer to the Hebrews says:
 
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV11
 
To approach God with trepidation, fear, uncertainty or hesitation indicates we believe our judgement about ourselves to be more valid than God’s judgement about us. That looks a lot like pride and not much like humility.
 

Conclusion

What does this mean for our daily prayers? Let me make three suggestions.
 
i. Pray for the good of others. Pray to see them as God sees them. Pray to see them as Jesus saw the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).
ii. Pray to be willing for God’s will to be done in your life. Pray for the strength to trust him when his will is different from your own. Pray for the kind of joy that Jesus had even though he went to the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).
iii. Pray with the assumption that God wants to hear your prayers, likes to hear them, and really loves you (Revelation 8:3).
 
We will look at hunger next time, and finish with the issue of being smart in the third article.
 

Question

What do you think is the best indicator of humility in prayer? How do you see it in action? What is the difference between confidence and pride? What is the difference between false humility and true humility? How does this affect your prayer life?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best, when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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“How to be heard by God”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 23

It’s very frustrating to be ignored. When it’s a stranger it’s an inconvenience. When it’s your children it’s an annoyance. When it’s your spouse, it’s an emergency!
 
But what about when it’s God?
 
 
I took my usual prayer walk this morning in the park. I saw many dogs and their owners. I didn’t see many owners ignoring their dogs. But I saw lots of dogs ignoring their owners! One person in particular was trying to get their dog’s attention by shouting loudly and blowing on a whistle. I could see the two dogs halfway across the park having a great time, with clearly no intention of returning to their owner anytime soon. On one level it was quite funny. It certainly entertained me! But it wasn’t healthy.
 
What do we do when it doesn’t look like God is listening? We can’t answer every angle on this question today, but we will take a look at one verse in Hebrews which can help us.
 
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5.7 (NIV11)
 
What does this passage teach us about how to be heard in prayer? I suggest two things to ponder:
 

1. Peace Plant

The word translated ‘petitions’ is ‘hiketeria’. It is an olive branch held in the hands of someone who wants peace. They are not coming with a demand, but with a request. They are not being passive, but taking initiative.
 
If you want your prayers to be heard by God, come to him on his terms of peace. Approach him, with confidence (Hebrews 4.16), but with humility, understanding that peace is in his hands to give, not in yours to demand.
 

2. Wholehearted Heart

Jesus prayed with fervent cries and tears. A rabbinic saying goes like this:
 
“There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (‘there is no door through which tears do not pass’).”
 
It is not necessary to weep every time we pray, of course. But, ask yourself if you are praying like you mean it.

Conclusion

Jesus was not delivered from death. Does this mean he was not heard? Not at all. We know he would have preferred to live (Matt 26.36ff), but his greater preference was for God’s will to be done in his life. The evidence he was heard is that, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Luke 22:43 (NIV11)
 

Question

What helps you to come to God with the confidence that you will be heard?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

 

 

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“How To Have Fun in the Mist”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 11: James 4.14 and combining memory verses

Fog of Life

Have you ever got lost in the fog? The fog of war is well-known. But what about the fog of life?
 

Dog in the Mist

Walking across Cassiobury Park this morning on my regular prayer walk I heard a man shouting. Shouting in the fog. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. Then, there he was. A shadowy outline in the mist. He pulled back his arm and threw something. It was then I noticed a smaller figure. It was his dog. The dog ran after the ball that had been thrown.
Then the man did something rather unexpected at 7 o’clock in the morning. He started laughing. While the dog was running after the ball in one direction, he took off in the opposite direction. I could see him running and hear him laughing. His dog picked up the ball, turned around and, in confusion, could not see its master. It soon heard him laughing and ran after him. I chuckled to myself as a former dog owner recognising this child-like desire to play games with one’s pet.
 
If you look really closely you might be able to see the man in the photograph.
 

Vanishing Mist

Mist can be an opportunity for fun. But it can also be an opportunity for soberness. As James wrote,
 
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 NIV11)
 
We don’t know about tomorrow. It may never come. As Jesus said,
 
“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34 NIV11)
 

Misty Humility

We are a mist. James does not write this because we do not matter, but to prompt us to humility. A healthy Christian mindset carries an equal blend of security and humility. We are unquestionably loved more than we can imagine. We are also undoubtedly unloveable. At least in human terms.
 
How can we carry both the confidence of God’s love and the humility of our mistiness together in a healthy way?
 

Misty Momento

I’d suggest we take a leaf from conquering Roman Generals. When they returned from victorious campaigns the adoring crowds saw them paraded in a chariot. The General heard two ‘voices’. One was the adulation of the crowd cheering their name. The other was that of a slave whispering in the ear, “Memento homo (remember you are (only) a man).”
 
They heard legitimate praise and sobering advice at the same time. We need the same. Combining memory verses makes this possible. Put together two verses of the Bible. Here is one example:
 
Combine,
 
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9 NIV11),
 
with,
 
“clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV11)
Thus the prayer could be, “Father, thank you for loving me as much as you love Jesus, help me to enjoy this love and to clothe myself with humility toward others, because you oppose the proud but show favour to the humble.”

Over to You

If you were going to combine two verses with these areas of focus, what would they be? Put together several combinations and commit them to memory. Recite them and pray them.
 
We may be in the mist. We may be the mist. But we’re laughing in the mist. Joyful in our mistiness because we know we’re loved. Rejoicing in being loved because we know we’re on our way to him.
 

Question

Have you tried this verse-combo practice? Which verses work for 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 quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 

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How to Pray for Kings

How to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness

Have politicians and public authority figures ever been more derided? Perhaps, but not in my lifetime. We’d agree they need our prayers, but do we, in fact, pray for them? What does the Bible have to say?
 

Pleasing God

Our key passage is 1 Timothy 2.1-4.
 
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4 NIV11)
 
Paul wrote this. He had first-hand experience of the injustice of authorities. Yet, his perspective was pure. We could forgive him for a rant, a diatribe, a list of complaints. Take for example his illegal beating and imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16.37). This might, in our day, have been followed by a twitter storm. But no. He acquires an apology and moves on. What is going on here?
 

Two Reasons to Pray for Authorities

Paul recognises that God wants all people to be saved. The appeal to pray is for “all people”. Paul goes on to mention “kings and all those in authority” for two reasons.
 
1. Firstly, they have more power to stand in the way of the spread of the gospel than other people. They also have the power to facilitate conditions favourable to the Gospel.
2. Second, they are often the last category of people we think to pray for. Unpopular decisions, questionable morality and insensitive pronouncements lead us to dislike them. Perhaps even hate them.
 
Jesus said this, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV11). If we are to pray for our enemies, then we can’t leave our kings and authorities out. No matter our differences.
 

Suggestions

1. Pray for those who influence your community: local councillors, your MP and the like
2. Pray for those who influence your country: parliamentarians, party leaders, kings, queens, Prime Ministers and Presidents.
3. Pray for those with global influence: world leaders, the secretary-general of the United Nations and leaders of other global organisations.
4. Pray for your enemies: the authorities you complain about
 
If we spent as much time praying for these people as grumbling about their decisions, we would see the Gospel spread more rapidly. Some of them might become followers of Jesus. We could find ourselves in a better spiritual and emotional place.
 

Conclusion

Pray for them by name. Do it personally, and do it in church gatherings. If you are a church leader, I urge you to call on members to pray in this way.
 
I believe I am called to pray for Baroness Dorothy Thornhill (Mayor of Watford), David Gauke (MP for where I live), my Queen, Theresa May, President Trump, Kim Jong-un, António Guterres – and othersPraying for them does not mean I agree with them. It simply means I acknowledge they are sons and daughters of God just as much as me.

Question

Which kings and authorities do you pray for? What motivates you to do so? What points have I missed?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

“Unexpected Fall”, Matthew 10.29-31

bridgeAutumn is upon us (‘fall’ for my American cousins). The leaves are falling. Change is everywhere. However, not everything progresses as expected. An unusually warm season means we’re mowing more often that usual. Today I trimmed some hedges because they’ve put out new growth at a time when they would normally be conserving their energies in advance of winter. That’s not the only unexpected sight I’ve come across recently.

Yesterday morning’s prayer walk took me over a bridge. What did I see? A leaf. But not in its normal place. It was not on the river bank, or the path, not floating on the water. It was suspended in mid-air. It was as if frozen. A freeze-frame leaf moment. I continued over the bridge and found that from a different angle it was possible to see a spider’s web stretched from a tree on one bank right across to a tree on the opposite side. Kudos to the 8-legged beastie. That was one weird web-tastic wonder!leaf

We don’t always ‘fall’ as we expect. Neither do events. Last night Joe, another member of the Watford church of Christ, & I met on a similar nearby bridge to pray. One of our themes was asking God to give us the humility to be useful to Him as He sees fit, rather than as we would like be used. The early church did not expect to be scattered as they were (Acts 8.1-4). Paul did not expect to be confronted with Jesus (Acts 9.4), nor to be “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13 NIV11). It doesn’t look like Timothy expected to be a church leader (2 Tim 1.7), and Philemon didn’t expect to get Onesimus back – as a brother! (Philem. .16). I could go on.  Have you ‘fallen’ into a place in life you did not expect, desire or like?

We know not what will befall us. Worry could set in. How do we avoid anxiety? Perhaps this passage helps:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31 NIV11)

If God knows all the sparrows and hairs we can be sure he knows what’s going on. Even the tiniest details of our lives matter to him. And if we are worth more than a bunch of sparrows we’re confident in his consistent care and company as we walk through the unexpected lifts and falls of life.

Whether you’re on the path, the river bank, the water, or suspended in a spider’s web, I hope and pray you’re able to trust God that he’s watching out for you and only has your best interests at heart.

God bless,

Malcolm

Dannatt Destiny Date

14_parable_wedding_jpeg_102430 years ago yesterday two friends of mine walked onto Kew Bridge in London and their lives changed for ever. Tim asked Shevvy if she would consent to be his girlfriend, she said, “Yes” and they are still together today.

As we sat together talking about this it was clear the event was etched in their memories with crystal clarity. They spoke about taking hands and walking across the bridge as if they were actually there. Rather sweet! I remember the wedding and a story about Widor’s toccata – but that’s a story for another day.

I’m speaking on Matthew 22.1-14 this Sunday. It’s often called “The Parable of the Marriage Feast”. In summary, a king invites pre-invited guests to his son’s wedding meal. They ignore him, and, despite further attempts by the king to persuade them, they go off to pursue other interests. Finally they kill the messengers.

The king responds by destroying those who insulted him, then inviting “the bad as well as the good” (Matthew 22:10 NIV11) to the feast. The parable takes an unexpected turn when the king pops in to inspect his guests. One is inappropriately dressed. The sovereign asks, “‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’” (Matthew 22:12 NIV11) The man has no response. His fate is the same as the murderers of verse 7. Why? They killed the king’s servants. This fellow wore the wrong clothes. Sounds harsh. But is it?

I’ll be doing my best to unravel this mystery and find the relevance for our times on Sunday. Pray for me – and send me your suggestions if you have any.

Malcolm