“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 be confident your audience will remember your point”

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 92

What has a piece of string got to do with your audience remembering the point of your lesson? We learn from my friend Barry Edwards, and the prophet Ezekiel.

“Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.” Ezekiel 5:1–2 NIV11

Please leave a comment or a question.

Please pass this on to one other person who might benefit.

God bless, Malcolm

Episode 15, Sunday Sample, 10 December 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

 

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Locations: Watford and Lower Earley – in theory

Special Occasion: Lower Earley Carol Service

Heavy snowfall meant I never made it to my second service. Traffic ground to a standstill between Watford and the M4. The Carol service in Lower Earley went ahead without me.

I was bringing the laptop, and all printed materials. Luckily I was able to stop and send the order of service and song sheets via WhatsApp. The worship team accessed the song lyrics via their phones and iPads. The PPt was emailed over.

I was so impressed with the attitude of the worship team. No complaining, just a desire to make the service the best it could be, and make sure God was glorified. The lesson of the day for me was how grateful I am that the service did not depend on me. Others were willing and able to step in.

Question to you if you are the worship team leader: Could you miss church and be confident the worship would be God-honouring and encouraging?

We must plan for redundancy.

The service in Lower Earley was videoed. Some of the singing and the nativity play are below…..

Speakers

The snow also frustrated many from attending our service in Watford. Around half made it to the venue, and we were blessed to have some extras who live near us but were not able to travel to their normal places of worship. The snow brought us blessings as well as challenges! 

We adopted a more informal format as a result of the conditions.  The sermon on Luke 24 was conducted more as a discussion than a ‘lesson’. Small group work surfaced interesting insights as to the experiences of the people encountering the risen Jesus. Our theme was, “Jesus Turns Confusion to Joy”.

Here’s my summary to the session, as well as two years of preaching through Luke:


  • We end Luke’s gospel with the disciples worshipping Jesus.
  • He has taken them from curiosity to confusion and, finally, to clarity.
  • They started out thinking he was a military Messiah, and ended up discovering he was a suffering Messiah.
  • At the beginning they wondered what was in it for them, but at the end they realised the message was for the world.
  • They thought Jesus was a King come to establish Israel’s dominance over the nations, but found out he was establishing a bridgehead of the kingdom of heaven.
  • Luke’s gospel is full of shocks, surprises and revelations.
  • At the conclusion to this two years in Luke, what has helped you the most?
  • Take some time to review your thoughts and write down a summary of the main things you learned.

Music Worship

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to carols and their harmonies. However, I must admit liking this version below. I don’t know who put it together, but I suspect it may have been Tidu Mankoo. It’ll be messy if done with the tradional harmonies. But if the congegation sing the tune in unison, then this works very well. We did this version in Watford on Sunday.

GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN Dm

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Watford: Deliver an interactive sermon on Luke 24, and do it all in 30 minutes or less. Done
  2. Lower Earley: We’re singing carols. Some are long with many verses. Create variety in the carols so that they don’t drag. – I was not there!

Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Watford: It’s our “pop-up” Nativity service. I’m going to do a communion with a difference.
  2. Bracknell: It’s the carol service. The best thing I can do is to be calm! That’s my prayer.

Please comment on what you’re doing with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

Episode 12, Sunday Sample, 19 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

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Locations: Watford and Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Bracknell this last Sunday. Our entry to the building in Watford was delayed due to a misunderstanding about parking, but we got in eventually. Everyone rushed around setting up before taking a deep breath for a pre-service devotional. We needed it. We were all frazzled.

We reflected on Hezekiah’s prayer, then God’s promise of healing, followed by the King’s poem of praise, culminating in this phrase:

“The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 NIV11)

He knew why he was singing. His fellow-congregants knew why they were singing. See the “we” word in verse 20?  We also know why we sing. The point is not “what” we are about to do, but “why”. Focussing on the “why” helped us to worship and to lead worship with a clearer mind and heart. It’s an important reminder to me that we need those few moments to pray and remember what it’s all about.

Speakers

Charl gave us a communion talk with a difference in Watford. You may see the table, tablecloth, vase and flower between Barry and Kate in the photo above. He asked for volunteers for a demonstration and then set up Barry and Kate as if on a date in a restaurant. Romantic music played through the PA system. Charl spoke about what makes meals special before going on to describe the extra-special nature of the communion. His points were sound and well-made. But what I especially appreciated was the creative thinking that went into preparing and presenting his talk.

Osagie is in action below preaching in Watford. He is another one never short of a handy way to illustrate his points. His use of children’s play tiles was masterful. You’ll have to click here to see him in action on the YouTube channel.

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Music Worship

We tried a new song-sandwich in Watford. The first three verses of “Soon and very soon” were followed by “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and concluded with the final two verses of “Soon and very”. All in G.It didn’t really work. The problem was that we started too fast and had to slow down for “Shine” and then speed up again for the final part of “Soon”. It wasn’t a disaster, but the effect I was looking for didn’t happen. I’m going to try it again this coming Sunday in Lower Earley. We’ll sing the first half of “Soon” slowly, segue into “Shine” and then speed up for the second half of “Soon”. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.

In Bracknell, the stand-out musical item was a new song by Geraldine Latty, “Lord, you hear the cry“. I thoroughly recommend it. How many songs do we sing about the marginalised and needy? Not many. It goes well with the point in our services when we take a collection for HOPE Worldwide UK. Have a look at the lyrics and chord charts here.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford. Done.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Done.

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have a devotional for all the service participants that includes one minute of silence – “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62.1, (NRSV)
  2. Have a second bash a the S&S song-sandwich in Lower Earley.

Please comment on what you’re doing with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample – 27 August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 27th August 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Both Watford and Lower Earley were empty! Seriously think we should consider having house-church on the August bank-holiday weekend. Not only are many away on holiday, but a bunch of Thames Valley folk are off at youth camp. We had a good time anyway, but a more intimate home-based service would be better.
 
The Watford service benefitted by us taking off from the school as soon as the service ended and popping across the road to the park. A new playground opened recently. The children had fun on the equipment while the parents picnicked in the sunshine. We must do that again. It rather looked as if some of the adults had fun too!

Speakers

I spoke in both locations. Not a common practice, but not a problem.
 
My lessons were OK. Not great, but not bad. Let me know what you think. The heat and small numbers made for a less energetic atmosphere than usual. But the engagement was reasonable. I know that my own assessment of my lessons is not always objective. I’ve often found that the lessons I think went well had little impact. The lessons I don’t like sometimes get the best feedback.
 
I aimed for 25 minutes in both locations and went longer. 29 minutes in both. Oh well, not far off. If you have any tips on shortening lessons, please leave a comment. See also this video on my YouTube channel.
 
Videos are here and here. Audio available at the Watford and Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcasts.
 
Johan shared a deceptively simple, but profound communion talk. Here are his main points explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper using 1 Cor 10 & 11 as his source texts:
  1. Discernment – make sure we have a correct focus going into the Lord’s Supper
  2. Separation – from idols
  3. Communion – 1 Cor 10.16 – as in sharing together in something
  4. Remembrance – his name, works, life, exaltation
  5. Bond of Christian fellowship – 1 Cor 10.17
  6. Powerful proclamation – vital facts of the gospel
Note to self: keep working on succinctness.

Music Worship

Leon was awesome in Watford! Danny & Charl lead most of our songs, but they were away. Leon stepped in a led with passion and professionalism. He even got a round of applause for his leadership of one song. It’s endearing to see the way congregations warm to people stepping up to serve in faith.

Our song service in Lower Earley was super. Obi was majestic in his role as lead song-leader.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday. Done
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes. Working on it….

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. I’ll explain next week.
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 20th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 20th August 2017

Location: Watford & Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

Speakers

I spoke in Watford. Ben Dannatt preached in Bracknell. The same line-up as last week. A coincidence – not planned that way! Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

In Watford, we had some Q&A as well as a discussion. This helped the congregation’s attentiveness, and I learned from the replies. The congregation were relaxed and we had quite a few laughs when parts of the service did not go to plan. It’s such a help that we’re good friends and can laugh together! My questions were more appropriate this time. It was interesting to use Noah as an example of the kind of faith talked about by Jesus in Luke 21. I don’t often dip into the OT in this way, and it was refreshing.

Ben spoke well in Bracknell. His application of what it means to have spiritual friendships was relevant and imitate-able. The warmth with which he shared about his friends Alex, Elliot and Heinrich was genuine and inspiring. I was reminded how important good friendships are. Luckily I was able to experience that straight away. Reinhardt asked if we could talk over a cup of tea in the cafe after church. Sweet fellowship!

I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: connect OT & NT more often in sermons

Music Worship

Old school: We went old-school this week in Watford and Bracknell. No instruments. Simple is beautiful. The change was refreshing. Maybe we should do that once a quarter or so. The vocal harmonies are clearer, and the songs that work well a capella are uplifting if led well. Talking of leading well, CJ gave us a thoughtful introduction to the service in Bracknell. He read a Psalm before starting the song, “I will call upon the Lord”. I noticed that the congregation started the song with great togetherness, & sang it more heartily. The connection between scripture and the song lyrics helped us to remember what we were singing about and who we were singing about.

We need monitors in Bracknell. The singers sang so much better this week without instruments because we could hear ourselves. We love singing with the instruments too, but we need monitors to help us to be our best.

Note to self: plan some dates for a capella services 

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Bracknell: keep the song service simple. The PA experts are away. – done
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday.
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 6th August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 6th August 2017

 

Location: Watford & Bracknell

 

Special Occasion: Church service and barbecue at Debbie’s home in Watford

Speakers

I spoke in Watford and Bracknell. It was a busy day! Both lessons are available via the Watford and Thames Valley YouTube channels and their respective podcasts.

For the Watford service, we sat in a circle outside. The sunshine was a bonus! I taught a lesson on the calling of Levi (Luke 5) with discussion/interaction. I liked the informal atmosphere. It felt more like what Jesus did in homes and impromptu teaching sessions.

Bracknell was a different setting. I attempted to bring extra impact to the lesson using three methods.

  1. Good slides
  2. An interactive physical illustration (water, a colander and bucket were involved)
  3. Personal vulnerability

Whether that worked is a judgment you will have to make after watching the video. I’d be interested in your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Note to self: consider different approaches to a lesson in different locations

Music Worship

Watford: We sang in Debbie’s garden. There’s something special about singing outdoors. I hope we didn’t offend the neighbours. As far as I know, no one complained.

Bracknell: the team gave their hearts. The PA was a nightmare! It was one of those days when you wonder if we’re getting it all wrong using amplification! Memo for next time in Bracknell – voices only. Until we get the PA experts back from holiday we need to cut our losses and go for the easy option – which means no instruments.

A practice that did go well was congregational reading of scripture. I had the church recite Psalm 130 twice. Once at the beginning of the service and again before the sermon. I hoped this would cement the text more clearly in the hearts and minds before I spoke on it. When I say it went well, I mean I think it was worth trying. The impact on the congregation is a little harder to judge.

Note to self: keep it simple when other factors make a service more complicated

Other Thoughts

Preaching and leading the worship team in Bracknell was too much. Next August I need to not preach when the other instrumentalists and the PA experts are away on holiday. It’s too much to think about at once.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Prepare the first set well for Bracknell – done
  2. Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Bracknell – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Lower Earley: Double-confirm who is leading which song by Friday at the latest
  2. Watford: Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Watford

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 30th July 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

CJ in full flow

Date:  Sunday 31st July 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: None

Speakers

CJ Wakefield was our visiting speaker in Watford. Obi Abuchi spoke in Lower Earley. Both lessons were excellent. Personal sharing was vulnerable, application to real life was solid, and Biblical exegesis was sound. Video of Obi’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast. CJ’s audio is findable on the Watford church podcast, and the video is here.

Note to self: value personal vulnerability

Obi Expounds His Point

Music Worship

The song services went well in both locations. The stand-out success was the opening set in Lower Earley. Francois played the guitar on “I’ve been redeemed” for the first time in public – and a fine job he did, too. The atmosphere on “Wade in the water” was super – Rynhardt led the song with great poise. The songs had a thread of “father” as a connection to Obi’s sermon theme. This worked well and helped pull the service together. We learned a new song (“You’re the Word of God the Father”) as part of the service. An unusual approach, but it worked well.

Someone remarked to me afterwards that the congregation picked it up more quickly than most songs we learn. He felt it was because the congregation had got used to learning songs – fearing the process less. An interesting insight. If you’re in a congregation that does not like learning new songs, you may first need to teach them how to learn songs. Then persevere, and see the fruit come through in time – by faith!

Note to self: carry on teaching new songs

Other Thoughts

Last week I said:

  1. Involve Francois in the musical accompaniment – done
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – done

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Prepare the first set well for Bracknell (we have house church in Watford)
  2. Add personal vulnerability to my sermon in Bracknell

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample, 23 July 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 23rd July

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: Outdoor ‘Bandstand’ Service in Watford’s Cassiobury Park

Speakers

II spoke in Watford. Johnson spoke in Lower Earley. I really enjoyed listening to him speak, and his wife Cicily sharing. It was good to hear about how God has moved in India.

I loved doing the outdoor service in Watford. The preteens got involved in my sermon in a similar way to the outdoor service at Wellington country park. It helped their attention and provided a compelling illustration for the adults present. An improvement on my lesson in Wellington was the addition of concluding illustration about a missing lottery ticket. I was struck by how much a powerful illustration at the end of the lesson made a difference to people’s reception of the point. Might be good to do something similar more often.

Video of Johnson’s lesson is here. Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast. My audio is findable on the Watford church podcast.

Note to self: put effort into illustrations. Don’t view them as a bonus, but essential.

Music Worship

The song services went well in both locations. In particular, the variety of songs old and new, more and less familiar, traditional and more modern in Lower Earley helped bring a freshness to the singing. One song we sang, which I wrote, needed more work. It was not helped by the fact that we do not mike up the women. Their part was important because it was only a two-part song. Next time we need microphones for the women.

I have discovered a hidden guitarist in Lower Earley – François. Good news! I shall send him chords for a song this week, and let’s see if he can take part next Sunday.

Note to self: consider whether the men’s and women’s parts need to be heard by the congregation

Other Thoughts

The projector at Lower Earley is not powerful enough. We need to buy a new one. I shall look into that this week. The text is fine on screen, but images are terrible. So much of communication is about images now. It is worth the investment to make sure the pictures are clear.

Last week I said:

  1. Agree in advance who is leading which song at Lower Earley – done, but not perfectly executed!
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – did not happen.

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Involve Francois in the musical accompaniment
  2. Use the Psalm 100 devotional for all participating in the service in Watford this week – carried over

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you? Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm