“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 ask people to pray for you”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 24

Is there something wrong with asking people to pray for us? Do you feel uncomfortable doing so? Is it selfish? Is there a right way and a wrong way?
 
 
I received a prayer request from a friend of mine this morning. It was for a friend of theirs. Nothing wrong with that. And I immediately prayed for their friend. However, it made me reflect on the fact that I don’t often receive prayer requests from people that are for personal needs.
 
Then I reflected on the fact that I rarely ask for people to pray for me. What stops me? It didn’t bother the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example.
 
“Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Hebrews 13:18–19 NIV11)
 
He (or she) wasn’t the only one. Let’s have a look and see what this passage and others teach us about asking for prayer.
 

1. Be specific in what you request

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews asks for two specific outcomes. Firstly, that he might be “restored” to them. And secondly, that it would be “soon” (see also Philemon .22).
 
Jesus gives us permission to be specific in our prayers to God: “Give us each day our daily bread….Forgive us our sins…” (Luke 11:3-4 NIV11). If we can be specific in our requests to God, it follows that we can be just as specific when asking our friends to pray for us.
 

2. Ask for things that will also benefit others

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has a personal prayer request. But it is not only for him.
 
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19–20 NIV11)
 
This request is specific, and it is personal. But its answer will also benefit others – that they will come to know the gospel.
 

3. Be vulnerable in your requests

In the passage above Paul is implying that he is frightened to preach the gospel. Otherwise, why use the word “fearlessly” twice? Something similar is happening in the Epistle to the Romans:
 
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.” (Romans 15:30–32 NIV11)
 
He is in a “struggle”, he is afraid of the danger from “unbelievers”, and he is anxious that he may not be “favourably received” by God’s people in Jerusalem. This is a significant level of vulnerability from an Apostle.
‘If we can be specific in our requests to God, it follows that we can be just as specific when asking our friends to pray for us.’
 

Conclusion

If the Apostle Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews both felt it was appropriate to ask people to pray for them, we can enjoy the same permission. When we ask people to pray for us, and when we in turn pray for other people, it is as if we are joining hands in prayer. 
 
Let us be specific, mindful of the benefits to others, and vulnerable.
 

Question

What stops you from asking people to pray for you? What topics do you ask people to pray for when they pray 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 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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“It will be worth it. Hold on to your ticket.”

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 22

Life is not always lived in the light. Not even the Christian life. Especially not the Christian life. What do we do when the darkness invades the light?
I’m deep into the Epistle to the Hebrews at the moment. We’re teaching through it in the Thames Valley churches of Christ (click the link for recordings).
 
One example of faith after another piles up in chapter 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses…and the rest. All are “commended for their faith,” (v39), but none “received what had been promised” (v39). At least, not all they were promised. They had a tough time of it.
 
It’s true that Abraham received his son, Noah saved his family, Daniel shut the mouths of lions and Rahab was spared her life.
 
But what of those who were “tortured..faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment..put to death by stoning..sawed in two..killed by the sword..went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated..wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (vv35–38)
 
There is just as much darkness caused by doubt, fear, suffering and disappointment as there is light caused by victory.
 
What do we do when the darkness arrives?
 
Here are two thoughts for reflection to help us when the dark days arrive.
 

1. Darkness is temporary

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” (Psalms 18:28–29 NIV11)
 
Darkness is not permanent. It will depart. It does not always feel that way, but no darkness can hold God back. Hold on to him and wait patiently by faith for the dawn to arrive.
 

2. Darkness is directional

“The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed….I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” (Psalms 143:3–6 NIV11)
 
When the darkness closes in we are left with only one direction to go in search of light. To God. Can you allow your darkness to direct you back to God? That’s what David did in this Psalm.
 
Corrie Ten Boom said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
 

Conclusion

Are you going through a tunnel? Now is not the time to jump off. Now is the time to pray all the more.
 
Pray for the patience to hold on until you see the light. And pray for the confidence to approach God even while you are still in the darkness. After all, he knows what the darkness feels like (Matt 27.45).
 
Do not throw away your ticket. “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10:35 NIV11)
 

Question

What does the darkness do to your relationship with God? How might it be helpful?
 
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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PRAYERS THAT MOVE GOD TO ACT – Part 3

More of, "How to Pray So God Hears and Acts"

We’re having a third bite at this topic: developing a healthy prayer life by praying in such a way as to be confident God will act.

Part one is here. Part two is here.


Filip Mroz

Sometimes being specific can be very important. Back in the ’80s together with a housing Association, we bought a part-share in a flat – 30% owned by us, 70% owned by the Association. After 18 months we had to move, but in the meantime, the housing market had crashed. The property lost £14,000 of its value (a lot of money now, but a whole lot more then!). We would have taken the hit if the split of the loss had been 30/70, but we had not noticed a specific detail in the small print. Profits were shared 30/70, but losses were wholly our responsibility. And there was no sub-letting clause. We made an agreement with the Association for sub-letting, but it was over a decade before we could sell the flat without making a loss.

Not being specific can have long-term consequences. Prayer is rarely satisfying nor meaningful if we go into our times of prayer without a willingness to be specific in our requests. Jesus was specific many times. For example, when he prayed for Peter:

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:32 NIV11)

In the previous two articles, we discovered two principles. Prayers that cause God to act are effective, 1. When God is who we are seeking; 2. When we are willing to be changed. Let me offer the final of these three thoughts…

Prayer is satisfying when what we’re praying about is specific.

God answers prayer! Reflect on these words of J. C. Ryle, “Prayer has obtained things that seemed impossible and out of reach. It has won victories over fire, air, earth and water. Prayer opened the Red Sea. Prayer brought water from the rock and bread from heaven. Prayer made the sun stand still. Prayer brought fire from the sky on Elijah’s sacrifice. Prayer overthrew the army of Sennacherib. Prayer has healed the sick. Prayer has raised the dead. Prayer had procured the conversion of countless souls.”[1]

Not so long ago I prayed with a friend. One of our prayers was for those who had lost their faith. Two hours later, through a combination of odd circumstances, I walked through somewhere I hadn’t planned to visit. I bumped into the son of a former member of the church. He told me his mother had said to him she wanted to come and visit the church again. After that encounter, he visited the church and his sister came regularly. Coincidence, or an answer to specific prayer? I forget who said it, but I love the quote, “The more I pray, the more coincidences happen.” God-incidences are more frequent when we pray specifically!

Let’s seek God’s satisfying presence, open our hearts to become submissive to His will and pray specifically for Him to answer our requests.

Questions: What stands in the way of you being specific in your prayers? What will you do differently in your next prayer time? Do you have examples of answers to specific prayer? Leave a comment in the comment section below.

What are we waiting for? Let’s exercise the prayer-nerve and God will move the muscle!

Your brother,

Malcolm

 

[1] A Call to Prayer, pp. 29-30

 

PRAYERS THAT MOVE GOD TO ACT – Part 2

More of, "How to Pray So God Hears and Acts"

We’re having a second bite at this topic: developing a healthy prayer life by praying in such a way as to be confident God will act. Part one is here.


Filip Mroz

It can be hard to change your mind. My wife and I were raised with different perspectives on many things. One that threatened to cause a divorce in the earlier years of our marriage was the right way to peel vegetables. With a peeler that peeled away from you, or a peeler that peeled towards you? We settled on a compromise. We have our own peelers. Mine peels away from the body (the correct way, of course), and hers peels towards the body (false doctrine if ever I saw it). Joking apart, some attitudes do not need changing. But some do. It’s going to be hard to have a healthy prayer life if we go into our times of prayer without a willingness to change our hearts and our minds.

In last week’s article, we focussed on the idea, summed up in the quote from Spurgeon, that, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moveth the muscles of omnipotence.”[1]. How should we pray? Our first insight was to see that, 1. Prayer is satisfying when God is who we are seeking. What of our second insight? It is this.

Prayer is satisfying when we are willing to be changed

I’m not sure if prayer always changes God’s mind (he is sovereign after all), but I am sure it changes mine. Consider the example of Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane for his will to be in line with God’s – “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mk 14.36. He was changed and strengthened (enabled to go through with the crucifixion) “because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

How do we do this? I suggest three steps:

  1. Ask for the right heart. “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:12 NIV11)
  2. Consciously commit the issues to God. “Commit your way to the Lord;” (Psalms 37:5 NIV11)
  3. Trust God that the outcome will be best for the kingdom, and for you. “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” (Psalms 25:1 NIV11)

Charles Finney wrote, “prayer produces a change in us that makes it fitting for God to do what would not have been fitting otherwise.”[2] In other words, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that God will act when we’re not prepared to be involved. We cannot be detached from what we’re praying about. In praying for something, I’m effectively saying, “I’m ready to be involved in seeing that prayer answered with whatever I can do.” Let’s be sure that we’re willing to be changed and used by God.

We’ll look at a final point in one more article next week.

Questions: What stands in the way of you being willing to do God’s will? Is there anything you know He is asking of you that you are resisting? What is at the root of the problem? Do you have some tactics for dealing with these challenges that have worked for you? What will you do differently in your next prayer time? Leave a comment in the comment section below.

Your brother,

Malcolm

Audio of this post can be found here.

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

[2] Lectures on Revival, Bethany House, p 38

The Weeping God

Luke 19.28-48

I’m preaching on Luke 19.28-48 tomorrow. What a corker! The verse central to the section is:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41 NIV11)

Jesus weeping. It’s not the first time (John 11.35) and he’s not the only one (Luke 7.13; 8.52; Romans 9.2-3) But why now? Why here? Is he weak? Is he controlled by his emotions? Are the tears motivated by regret, fear or horror? The word translated ‘weep” could equally be ‘wailed’. Jesus burst into sobbing. Something serious and meaningful is happening. But what? Let’s note three things:

  1. Jesus saw things as they really were. The crowd rejoiced (19.37), but Jesus wept. It was not that they should not rejoice, just that they could not see the bigger picture. How we all struggle with this. Are we willing to accept the reality of where we are in our faith, our relationships, our parenting, our marriage? Or are we so blind as to not see and admit where we are in the wrong, where we are weak, and where we need help? Are we also ready to accept the lostness of the world around us? We do not need to despair, but we do well to lament.
  2. Jesus lamented the lost opportunity. He did all he could to speak truth and act in love so as to convince people that the kingdom was coming/had come. Yet, the vast majority of the people who heard him, saw his miracles and felt his love did not respond. Jerusalem (city of peace) was to be a war zone in a few years. It’s ironic, but terribly sad, that the city of peace does not know how to enjoy peace. Has God put an opportunity before you to respond to his love? Take it while you can. You do not know how long you have.
  3. Jesus wept for others, not himself. The self-forgetfulness of Jesus is inspiring and, in fact, divine.¹ He was not weeping because he was to suffer and die in the city spread out before him. That would be reason enough, but his focus was not, and had never been, on himself. He knew God had a plan and, though it would be difficult, it was a good plan – for the the people he could help. How tragic, then, that those he longed to help and could help, are the very people rejecting such help. No wonder he wept!

Why is Jesus weeping? Because he saw things as they really were, because he longed to gather people to a place of peace with God, and because he knew how much he could help.

He did not weep every day, and neither should that be our goal, but a little weeping could go a long way to help us have the heart of Messiah.

God bless,

Malcolm

¹For more on this see Keller’s excellent short book:

Here’s just one quote, “The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.” Jesus is so different, he feels no need to make comparisons. Instead, his energy is used for compassion.

“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

How to Beat Burnout

ZealA review of “Zeal without Burnout” (seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice) by Christopher Ash.¹

Preamble

Burnout is prevalent in church leadership.² How do we avoid it? Not by becoming lazy, but keeping ourselves, “fuelled and aflame.” (Rom 12:11 MESSAGE) Christopher provides us with seven simple but profound practical truths to maintain spiritual fervour instead of experiencing spiritual failure. These apply to those serving in Christian ministry, whether on staff of a church or not. Anyone practicing the seven keys with diligence will undoubtable find refreshment and renewed faith.

Summary

The most important aspect of maintaining spiritual health while under strain is soberness, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” (1 Cor 10:12 NRSV) A buyer of the book is, presumably, aware enough of their challenges to recognise the symptoms of burnout either in full view or coming over the horizon. However, we are not the best judges of our fitness and need books like this to conduct a periodic review. I recommend this as a readable and succinct book that could be best used by pulling it off the shelf at least once a year for a checkup.

Body of the Book

Christopher reminds us that sacrifice (good) is not the same as burnout (bad). Statements such as, “I would rather wear out than rust out” (George Whitfield) may be well intended, but smack too much of machismo. The problem with burnout is not simply the effect it has on us, but also on colleagues, friends and especially family. In essence, burnout is avoidable and thus is akin to selfishness. We are called to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice,” (Rom 12:1 CENT) – not a dead one! It helps to remember that we are creatures of dust (Gen 2:7; Psalm 90:3; 103:14).

Having reminded us of our limitations Christopher gives us his “Seven Keys” to sustainable sacrifice:

  1. We need sleep
  2. We need sabbath rests
  3. We need friends
  4. We need inward renewal
  5. A warning: beware celebrity!
  6. An encouragement: it’s worth it!
  7. A delight: rejoice in grace, not gifts

Rather than go into detail, I’ll simply add a couple of points not covered in my vlogs.

Each short chapter reviews differences between us and God. We have needs that He does not, and thus we do well to take advantage of the resources He has provided to continue to do the work He has in mind for us. Christopher carefully treads the line between self-care and selfishness.  Christian work does make you tired! Paul and others had “sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor 6:5 NIV11). Our writer is not advocating a comfortable cross, but a sustainable life of discipleship.

The example of a firefighter is a helpful thread throughout the book. It is not selfish to guard our devotional times any more than it is selfish for a firefighter to take a break before heading back into the fire. Remaining in the burning building beyond his or her capacity for strength or air would be folly, not faith. “To neglect sleep, sabbaths, friendships and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

In essence the book is concerned with self-awareness. Once we are aware, we then must be humble enough to surrender any fears or selfish ambition to God. Hard to do unless we also share our predicament with at least one trusted friend. Perhaps, if I have a criticism of this book, it would be that it lacks detail on what to do when you find yourself in a place without ‘safe’ people around. It’s a situation I have faced in the past as do many in Christian service. I’d like to have heard Christopher’s thoughts on this topic.

Conclusion

The book’s brevity does not indicate a superficial treatment of this vital topic. There is enough between the pages to bless your burnout – or even prevent it in the first place. A more detailed exploration of many of the themes can be found in the works of Gordon MacDonald (“Ordering your private world”, “Restoring your spiritual passion”, “A resilient life” and others).

Let’s hope and pray that we can live out the instruction that Paul gave the Romans, and that he himself lived, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11 NIV11).

His concluding poem/prayer is a helpful meditation:

“I am – and will never, this side of the resurrection, be more than – a creature of dust. I will rest content in my creaturely weakness; I will use the means God has given me to keep going in this life while I can; I will allow myself time to sleep; I will trust him enough to take a day off each week; I will invest in friendships and not be a proud loner; I will take with gladness the inward refreshment he offers me. I will serve the Lord Jesus with a glad and restful zeal with all the energy that he works within me; but not with anxious toil, selfish ambition, the desire for the praise of people, and all the other ugly motivations that will destroy my soul. So help me God.”

Malcolm Cox

3 October 2016

¹ thegoodbook company, hardback, 123 pages, 2016

² In the USA it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. A third of pastors say they feel burned out within just five years of starting ministry, and almost a half of pastors and their wives say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.

 

Miscarriage – A Death in the Family

008-jesus-diesWhat do you say when friends lose a baby? Tomorrow I take a memorial service for the son who arrived too soon. The experience of preparing what to say has prompted deeper thinking and searching. Here I share a few thoughts that may connect for those with similar circumstances. But even if you’ve not had this harrowing experience, you’ll doubtless know someone who has – or you will.

1. A Death in the Family

This is not a ‘miscarriage’ nor a foetus. It is an personal tragedy. A death of a loved one. Our friends have lost their eagerly anticipated son. We do well to remember this and talk about ‘him’, not ‘it’.

2. We Don’t Know Why

Well-meaning people can be the most cruel. Offering our opinion as to why this happened is unhelpful – and actually dishonest. We don’t know why God causes or allows things any more that Job. Let’s be humble. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV11)

3. We Can Trust God

We may not know why God allows pain, but we know he has experienced it himself, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).” (Mark 15:34 NIV11). If he knows our pain he will make sense of it at some point – just not maybe while we are on this earth.

4. Give God the Future

We are not the judges of what happens to those who die young. God knows how to judge correctly, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”” (Genesis 18:25 NIV11). Let’s leave such matters to him and look to a better future. When David lost his son he said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”” (2 Samuel 12:23 NIV11)

5. Look to God for Peace

My friends sent me two beautiful scriptures. Here is the first, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV11). Peace is possible with the presence of Jesus. This is not a peace of forgetfulness, but a peace that embraces reality, yet retains hope.

Conclusion

And we also need strength. Where to find strength in such stressed moments? “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16–21 NIV11)

God provides a strength beyond human capacity, just as he offers compassion of divine quality, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5 NIV11)

My friends have conducted themselves with spiritual integrity and human honesty. I admire them greatly. I hope that those of us present tomorrow at the memorial service will be what they need us to be. I know God will be what we need Him to be.

Malcolm Cox

 

Footnote

I’m indebted to the book, “The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach.” contributors: Tim Keller, John Piper, Michael Horton, Jerram Barrs, Dan Doriani, Robert S. Rayburn, Mike Khandjian, Wilson Benton, Bob Flayhart, Jack Collins, George Robertson, Bryan Chapell