Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 85. “How to tell the difference between imperfect humility and perfect humility.”

Humility is a big deal. Biblically, one falls or rises depending on one’s possession of godly humility:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5–6 NIV11)

It is, of course, possible to have a false humility as outlined by the apostle Paul: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you.” (Colossians 2:18 NIV11). And it can be tricky to distinguish a Christ-like humility (Philippians 2:3ff) from a pharisaical humility (Luke 18:9-14).

Despite these challenges it is possible to grow in humility. How do we do this? Let me offer something that might be useful. 

I have been reading a book written in the Middle Ages by an unknown author (“The cloud of unknowing”). Part-way through his book about connecting with God, he describes two kinds of humility. Both helpful, but one superior to the other. Tell me what you think about his ideas. Here is the relevant quote:

“Humility in itself is nothing but a true knowledge and feeling of oneself as one is; for certainly anyone who could truly see and feel himself as he is would be truly humble. There are two reasons for humility, and they are as follows. One is humanity’s impurity, wretchedness and weakness, into which we have fallen by sin, and which we must always feel to some degree while we live on earth, however holy we may be. The second is the superabundant love and excellence of God in himself, at the sight of which all nature trembles, all scholars are fools, and all saints and angels are blind; so that, were it not that through the wisdom of his Godhead he made their vision proportionate to their capacity in nature and in grace, I tremble to say what would become of them. This second reason is perfect, because it will last eternally; the first reason is imperfect, not only because it will cease at the end of this life, but also because it may often happen that a soul in this mortal body will find its longing so heightened through the abundance of grace that, as often and as long as God deigns to bring it about, the soul will suddenly and completely lose and forget all knowledge and feeling of its existence, paying no attention to whether it has been holy or wretched; but whether this happens often or seldom to a soul in this state, I believe that it lasts only a very short time. During this time it is made perfectly humble, for it knows and feels no reason but the chief one; and whenever it knows and feels the other reason associated with it, even if God is the chief reason, it is imperfect humility. It is good all the same, and must always be had; and God forbid that you should understand it in any other way than I am saying.

The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Locations 1396-1408). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  1. Imperfect humility. This is the humility brought to our attention by a consciousness of our own sinfulness.  Imperfect humility is useful, because it is a reality with which we need to reckon, and which can help us to understand our need for God.  It can be the creator of a helpful  soberness (Romans 12.3).  However, it is focused on ourselves rather than God.
  2. Perfect humility.  Such an humility is ours when we are focused on the holiness of God, his magnificence and glory.  Perfect humility is perfect because it is an humility engendered by a contemplation of perfection.  As such, it is superior to the imperfect humility.

It is my supposition that most of us have a preponderance of focus upon either imperfect humility or perfect humility. In other words, our humility is inspired by an awareness of our sinfulness, or an awareness of God’s righteousness.

Doubtless we find both useful from time to time, but perhaps due to our personality and experiences we might find that one predominates.

Which one is it for you? Do you have them in balance?

If your focus is imperfect humility, what could you do to develop “perfect” humility. If your focus is exclusively perfect humility are you missing anything by not contemplating the source of imperfect humility? Do we need both? Is one superior to the other? 

The next time you go out to pray, why not pray about both your wretchedness, and God’s righteousness?

Please report back and let us know the effect of praying about both kinds of humility has on your connection with God. Good or bad, helpful or unhelpful.

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: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

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

God bless, Malcolm

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

Quiet Time Coaching, Episode 83: Psalm 5.2

“Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament. Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

(Psalm 5:1–3 NIV11)

“Hear”

His expectation that God will hear presupposes he has been done an injustice. 

“My”

  • Personal connection with God, “my King… My God”.

“Cry”

  • Cries for help are heard
  • “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)

“King”

  • Puts David’s own kingship into correct context.
  • Demonstrates humility and also understanding of his limitations.
  • His problems are not solvable by his own power. 

“God”

  • Elohim: emphasis on strength and power. 

“To you”

  • Rather than attack his enemies, and stoop to their level of behaviour, he takes the high ground and submits himself to God, committing the situation to him. 
  • Be careful in how we react to enemies – Proverbs 26:4-6
    • “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison.” (Proverbs 26:4–6 NIV11)
  • Bear in mind we are called to love our enemies
    • “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44)
  • And not to get distracted
    • “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”” (Nehemiah 6:2–3 NIV11)

Most significant phrase for me – “MY”…


“You’re my Friend and You are my Brother, Even though You are a King. I love You more than any other, So much more than anything.”    

As the deer pants

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: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

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

God bless, Malcolm

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

“I am he who searches hearts and minds”

Tom McGuirk opened the Friday morning session at the “Alpha and Omega” leadership conference in Izmir. A few notes on his presentation follow……

The churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 are inspiring in their faithfulness despite persecution and opposition. Yet they are also a helpful call to soberness,

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet.”

(Revelation 2:20 NIV11)

Jesus has a passion for the church, his bride, and will do whatever it takes to help her be pure and inherit the promises he offers.

Why would we tolerate the sin that enslaves when promises like these are available?

“To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star.”

(Revelation 2:26–28 NIV11)

Victory over sin is available. It will take:

  1. Believing that change is possible. Past ‘failures’ do not mean victory is not possible now. If God is with us all things are possible.
  2. Investing the effort and getting our hands dirty. It might be hard work, we might be misunderstood or even opposed, but it is worth it. God will honour our efforts.
  3. Being honest about our own struggles so that we do not feel like hypocrites when talking to others about their sin. And doing this not for the sake of example, but because a life of purity honours God.
  4. Recognising the problem is sizeable and urgent. Complacency about sin is not becoming for a follower of Jesus. The long-term effects on current and future members could be catastrophic. The younger generation are the most vulnerable.

Questions to consider:

  • Do we need ‘purity groups’ in our churches?
  • Do we have people who we can count on to listen to us confess our sins and temptations?
  • Are we intentional about using scripture to help our spirit be strong against temptation?
  • Are we making best use of software on our devices to block unhelpful materials?
  • What are we doing to equip parents in the church?

Tom spoke passionately and from the heart. I am grateful for his honesty and openness.

God bless, Malcolm

Turkey Conference – Prayers Requested

On Thursday 7th February I’m travelling to the “Alpha & Omega” conference in Izmir, Turkey.

It’s a gathering of leaders from all around the UK, Ireland, other parts of Europe, Scandinavia, the Nordics, and the Middle East.

We’ll be learning from one another and visiting several Biblical sites located in that part of Asia Minor. Please pray that I and all who attend will return with our faith refreshed and our hearts purified.

Where wifi permits I’ll be posting updates as we go.

God bless, Malcolm

The last time I was in Ephesus, 12 years ago. Andrew, Simon and I sang “The impossible dream” in the amphitheatre. I wonder what the Apostle Paul would have made of that!

“Dealing with distractions”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 67

How do we stay spiritually focused when distractions are dominant? I bring you a slice of my own experience from a recent prayer walk through my neighbourhood.

If Paul and Silas managed to stay connected to God whilst in prison (Acts 16:25), and Daniel found the discipline to pray despite his life being in danger (Daniel  6:10), it must be possible to remain close to God no matter what else is going on.

I would be grateful for your feedback and experiences. 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: http://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

 

Music in this episode courtesy of: Life in Romance by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org/

“When God is Silent”, a new book by Douglas Jacoby

Doug’s new book

The Problem of Human Suffering

We inhabit the same world Jesus did—one of pain, joy, surprise, suffering, and wonder. At times life is good, joyous, and fair. At other times it’s dreary, unfair, and hard. We may pray with little sense that God is listening. In many ways, divine silence is part of this life. It can be deeply unsettling when we have been wronged, misrepresented, defrauded, violated, or betrayed. Inwardly or perhaps vocally, we cry out for divine justice. To hear nothing in response is difficult, even disorientating.

In this work, Douglas addresses questions we all ponder:

• How long should we keep praying if God is not answering?
• If a person with mental illness commits suicide, can God have mercy on them?
• What about tsunamis, floods, and other “acts of God”?
• Why does God allow the death of the innocent?
• Why wouldn’t an all-powerful and all-loving God prevent humans from doing evil?
• Is there purpose in suffering and can good come from it?

You can order it from the publisher’s website here.  

God bless, Malcolm

A NEW CAROL, “BETHLEHEM: CITY OF JOY”

Each year I set myself a Christmas carol challenge. Two years ago I wrote a piece for a quartet of men to sing. Last year I wrote a song for myself to sing with piano accompaniment. This year I’ve decided to write a congregational carol.

It’s called “Bethlehem: City of Joy!”, based on Luke 2:8-20. I made it deliberately very simple and easy to learn. The lyrics are not particularly deep.  Celebration and joyful energy are meant to be the feelings behind the carol.

You will see that it has a simple set of harmony parts. I am teaching the congregation to sing those to the best of their ability, but, more importantly, if the worship team can sing the parts that should be enough to make the carol work.

A PDF of the lyrics is here: Bethlehem Carol lyrics

A PDF of the sheet music is here: Bethlehem Carol Sheet Music

Recordings of the various parts are below:

All four parts:

 

Alto:

 

Bass:

 

Soprano:

 

Tenor:

 

You are very welcome to use it or adapt it if you think it would be helpful for your services.

I’d also welcome some feedback and any ideas for possible improvements.

Many thanks. God bless, Malcolm

“Where should the shock come?”

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 133

My friend Stefan Wolmerans preached recently using a video illustration with a sizeable shock factor.
It made me consider how we decide where to put our surprises in our lessons. At the start, later, at the end? Where would you put it?

Croatia’s win against Russia in the quarter final on Saturday sent them crashing into the semi-final of the World Cup, but these firefighters had to rush out to an emergency moments before the crucial penalty. As the Zagreb Fire Department watch the final penalty by Ivan Rakitic the callout bell rings, launching the firefighters into action. Without hesitation and without even glancing back at the screen they race over to their protective gear and get it on within seconds of the bell ringing.
At the start?
“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.” (Luke 15:11–12 NIV11)
Later on?
“In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:30–34 NIV11)
How do you decide where to place the surprises in your lessons?
Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.
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: http://www.malcolmcox.org.
Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.
God bless,
Malcolm

“A Gethsemane Devotional”

Quiet Time Coaching, episode 62

My wife and I were privileged to be in Israel for two weeks recently.  One of the highlights was a communion service in Gethsemane. Douglas Jacoby shared some thoughts before we took communion. I recorded the audio in the hope that it will give you special spiritual fuel for your next devotional time with God.

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: http://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