“What happens when you grab for the wrong support”

My morning prayer walk was messier than expected. It was all caused by a casual grab at the wrong support.
 
 
One of my favourite prayer walks takes me to the edge of a canal. There is no bridge at this point, but you can cross by walking along the top of the lock gates. It’s narrow, but there are handrails. This particular morning I stepped up onto the top of the gates. I reached out towards the ironmongery with my right hand to steady myself.
 
Instead of feeling the cool iron under my fingers, I sensed a sticky gooey mess. I stopped, looked at my right hand and saw thick black grease. Instead of grabbing for the handrail, I had mistakenly reached for the mechanism which moved the sluice gates. They are heavily greased to protect them from the water.
Stepping off the lock, I approached a tree. With the help of several leaves I removed most of the grease from my hand.
I reflected on what lesson there might be for me from this experience. What do I grab for? What do I reach for when I need support?
 

1. Superficial support

Too often I prioritise feeling better instead of getting better. The instant-fix support sees me turning on the television, listening to a podcast or raiding the fridge. None of these are wrong in themselves. They are meant to be enjoyed – God gave us lots of things specifically for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17).
 
It’s just that they cannot provide the kind of support I need when I am struggling with something spiritual. You know the kind of thing. When I don’t want to persevere. When I don’t want to love someone. When I don’t feel like praying.
 
The problem with reaching for the superficial support is twofold. Firstly, it is only a temporary diversion and distraction. The original problem comes back with a bang.
Secondly, the consequences are a stickiness in my soul – rather like the grease on my hand. Because I have delayed dealing with the situation spiritually, procrastination is now clogging up my spirit. If I had dealt with the matter in a more spiritual manner, I could have moved onto the next challenge to my faith. Now, however, I have one piled on top of another. Not a good situation, and not a winning feeling.
 

2. Spiritual support

What I really need is spiritual support. What does that look like? Here are two suggestions.
 
i. Church support. I don’t mean the organisation, but the network of relationships. We are meant to be interconnected. If we are, we will feel the support of our community. Paul made the point in Ephesians:
 
“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV11)
 
Those friendship-ligaments are a source of support when I am weak. Are you connected enough to feel that support? What is your part in that?
 
ii. God support. He is a very willing supporter. We don’t have to push him into it. We understand this intellectually. The point, however, is to grasp it from the heart. The Psalmist accepted this:
 
“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalms 94:18–19 NIV11)
 
There is no substitute for the support of the Lord. It is his love that convinces us of his unconditional support. It’s personal with him. He wants to support us not because it is a duty or a project. No. His heart is one of compassion and connection. He is able to grant us not only the fact of support but the feeling of support if we are willing to accept it.

Conclusion

What did Jesus say? “I am with you”, (Matt 28.20). Reflect on him walking with you. Today. Pray to be aware of his presence and support. Next time you need some support, pause before reaching for the remote. Take a moment to call a friend and call on God.
 
If he is with me, that’s enough. He may not change the situation. His support may not change how I feel. But I know he’s in it with me, and that’s enough.

Question

What happened when you tried this? What difference did it make to your day?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community. Pass the link on….
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
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“Why preaching is a positive nuisance”

This quote from Gustav Holst (British classical music composer) is interesting;
“Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you.”
I would say that the same holds for preaching.
  • Many of my sermons have been delivered with a sense of relief (I had to get that out), but at times some have lacked the itch.
  • Why ‘preach’ if you have not felt the imperative?
  • Why speak if the holding in is not more painful than the letting go?
  • Jeremiah felt the pain we are talking about here:
“Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:8–9 NIV)
  • Peter and John experienced something similar when they were instructed not to preach:
“But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”” (Acts 4:19–20 NIV)
  • Those of us granted the grace to preach the Word of God have a responsibility to make sure we are responding to a deep inner authentic call emanating from God’s Word, stirring our soul and spilling out onto the ears and hearts of the hearers God has gifted us.
  • How do we develop this ‘positive nuisance’?
  • Here are three tips:
1. Get a soaking – while quality is more important than quantity, it is undeniably true that more time reading, thinking about and studying the Bible gives us a clearer sight of the heart of God. Spend quantity time in the Bible regularly.
2. Ask the questions – questioning the text opens up our own imagination, which in turn prompts the heart. Questions such as, “What did the hearers think this meant?”, “What did the writer intend his hearers to understand?”, “What action might God have hoped we might take from this passage?”
3. Pray the text – praying through the passage or about the themes of the passage helps us to deepen our conviction levels. Often I have experienced God’s hand putting the truth of a passage onto my heart through a time of prayer.

Conclusion

  • Put these tips into practice and the ‘nuisance’ value of scripture will grow in you as in me.
  • Jesus taught as one with authority (Mk 1:27) and the people were amazed at him.
  • There were several reasons for this, but one was that when he spoke everyone could tell he was not able to stop himself.
  • It just had to come out.
  • Let it be like that for every sermon we preach, every lesson we teach.

Questions

Your thoughts? Please post a comment and pass it on ….
God bless, Malcolm

“How to turn any problem into a springboard for success”, Acts 6, Thames Valley churches of Christ

“Pre-service and Post-service Music”

Today I respond to Funlola‘s comment on last week’s post:

“I think starting music so people are walking in to it is good also – not walking into a warm up but walking into a worshipful atmosphere.”

I explain what we’re going to experiment with in Watford this coming Sunday. Let me know what you do.

Please leave a comment. Pass the link on to anyone who might benefit.

God bless, Malcolm

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

“What difference would it make if your enemy was anointed?”

One Bible verse had a profound effect on my prayers this morning.

As I often do, I turned to the Psalms before going out to pray. I have been working through the Psalms of Ascent and have reached Psalm 133.

“A song of ascents. Of David. How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.” (Psalms 133:0–3 NIV11)

Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org.

It is a Psalm of beautiful idealism. God’s people living in unity. Not something that existed for very long at any point in Israel’s history. Not something which exists in many denominations and amongst Christendom today. And, frankly not something that exists consistently in my own network of relationships.

In particular, I focused on this phrase from the psalm:

“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” (Psalms 133:2 NIV11)

Anointed

I reflected on the fact that, “In Israelite practice anointing was a sign of election and often closely related to endowment by the Spirit.” (IVP Bible Background Commentary).

At some point in the past, I had studied this Psalm. I had noted a quote from a book by Eugene Peterson called, “A long obedience in the same direction”. He said this:

“When we see each other as God’s anointed, our relationships are profoundly affected.” (p181)

I determined to go out and pray for someone I found difficult to love. To hold them in my mind and heart before God as someone anointed. Someone special to God. Someone chosen by him and just as specially favoured as I or any other person.

As I walked through the park on my prayer walk, I picked one person and focused on seeing them as anointed. What a humbling experience. All of a sudden I stopped looking down on that person. Instead, I could see that he and I were on the same level ground.

I felt differently about him. I felt differently about myself. I could and would love him.

Conclusion

Is there someone you find difficult to love? Someone close to you. Why not decide to hold them in prayer before God and before your spiritual eyes as someone chosen, elected, adopted and anointed by him? Give it a go in your next prayer time.

Question

What happened when you tried this? What difference did it make to the way you see this person and feel about this person? Will it change your behaviour?

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 give your listeners time to turn to the right scripture”

Summary

  • Gaining attention is the first goal of preaching
  • Understanding is the second goal of preaching
  • “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.” (Matthew 15:10 NIV11)
  • Give people time to turn to the scripture
  • Non-Christians might not know where to start
  • Makes it look like what you are going to say about the passage is more important than the passage itself

How

  1. Mention scripture before you go there
  2. Pause while people find it
  3. Put the reference on screen
  4. Plan what to say while people are searching for the passage

Conclusion: Don’t empty the Word of its power!

What are your thoughts on the significance of this issue? Do you have any other ideas to help us avoid rushing to the reading?

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

God bless, Malcolm

 

PS: If you would like some coaching in spiritual disciplines, look me up here.

PPS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

“How to win the cup”. Sermon for the Thames Valley churches of Christ – outdoor service at Wellington Country Park.

Malcolm asked us to make Jesus our mentor for life. This life and the next.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about the Bible or the Christian faith? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: www.malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for watching. Have a super day.

God bless,

Malcolm