“The antidote to chaos”: Psalm 62

A sermon for the Thames Valley churches of Christ

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” (Psalms 62:1–2 NRSV)

I spoke on what Psalm 62 has to teach us about what to do with the chaos in our lives. We looked at how Jesus has the rest, salvation and hope we need because of the power of his resurrection and the evidence of his love shown us on the cross.

 

If you have any questions about quiet times in general or about the class material in particular, please drop me a line.

I hope you find this a blessing.

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

Thanks again for watching and listening. Have a super day.

God bless, Malcolm

“What to do when you are stuck with God”

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 47

In last week’s episode (number 46) we looked at more reasons why we need a specific place for study. Please let me know how you’ve been getting on with your own study.
 
This week, let’s talk about what to do when you are stuck in your relationship with God. We’ve all been there. I have many times. I will be again, and so will you. What is it that will get us out of our rut?
 

Neither shallow, nor introspective.

We cannot stay shallow. Equally, we dare not become introspective. Perhaps a change of perspective will help. We’re not really trying to go deeper into ourselves, right? We’re attempting to go deeper into God. As Richard Foster puts it,
 
“I do not mean to turn inward by becoming ever more introspective, nor do I mean to turn inward in hopes of finding within ourselves some special inner strength or an inner saviour who will deliver us. Vain search! No, it is not a journey into ourselves that we are undertaking but a journey through ourselves so that we can emerge from the deepest level of the self into God.”*
 
Yes, that’s right. We emerge into God. In other words, we take action and discover that the faith involved in that action brings the reward of a renewed connection with God. It’s so important to remember that a relationship with God is not, in its essence, a concept or a feeling. It is something built by our faithful actions.
 

Confidence comes from action

Confidence with God grows as we take action. It has always been thus in the Christian life.
  • Jesus said, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17 NIV11)
  • The faithful of Hebrews 11 are commended for taking action, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (Hebrews 11:7 NIV11)
  • Abraham is held up as the example of faithful action, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:22 NIV11)
If you want to grow in depth and intimacy with God – take action. Pray. Often. Read. Often.

Experiment with the ‘examen’

One action you could take is what’s called the ‘examen’. Psalm 139 sums it up:
 
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)
 
The prayer of ‘examen’ consciously invites God to reveal truth in us. The revelation of truth is a startling stimulus to growth. We do not know what we will discover. As a result, we need to deal with the fear of what is turned up. Foster inserts this prayer at the end of his chapter on the topic:
 
“Precious Saviour, why do I fear your scrutiny? Yours is an examen of love. Still, I am afraid… Afraid of what may surface. Even so, I invite you to search me to the depths so that I may know myself – and you – in full measure. Amen”*
 
Why not pray this prayer, and then practice one of these four suggested methods for going deeper with God?
  1. Meditate on scripture – such as Psalm 62
  2. Pray the ‘Lord’s prayer’, Luke 11.2-4
  3. Pray through the ‘Ten Commandments’, Exodus 20.1-17
  4. Pray through and/or meditate on one or more of the ‘Beatitudes’, Matthew 5.3-12
If you want to grow in depth and intimacy with God - take action. Pray. Often. Read. Often. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

Try one of these suggestions for a period of time and note what you learn. What does God reveal? Let me know how it goes.

Question

What happened when you took action on one of these ideas? Were some easier than others? Why might that be?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
Would you like some coaching in the spiritual disciplines? You can find me by clicking the button below.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 
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“The best blend for balanced prayer”

Quiet time coaching: Episode 36

A lack of balance is a problem. Just ask any would-be cyclist. But it can be learned – as my children discovered after falling off their bike for the umpteenth time. Balance was eventually achieved.
 
What makes for blessed balance? Not different components working independently – but blending. Eyes, hands, feet, muscles, nerves and the rest of what makes up a human being. All working together to bring a blended power to achieve balance.
 
Our spiritual life is rather like that. Prayer especially so.
 
I listened to an interview with Richard Foster on prayer (Renovare podcast).¹ He referenced three aspects of prayer from his book, “PRAYER: Finding the Heart’s True Home”. I bought the book and will share the basic thrust of the blend.

1. Moving Inward

“The movement inward comes first because without interior transformation the movement up into God’s glory would overwhelm us and the movement out into ministry would destroy us.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 5). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer without an intention for that prayer to change us is shallow. Part of the purpose of prayer is to help us along the path of growing Christ-likeness.
 
Do you spend time in prayer examining your heart and actions in the light of the character of Jesus?

2. Moving Upward

“We are exiles and aliens until we can come into God, the heart’s true home. Pride and fear have kept us at a safe distance. But as the resistance within us is overcome by the operations of faith, hope and love, we begin moving upward into the divine intimacy. This, in turn, empowers us for ministry to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 83). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer connects us with God. It is one of the channels which bring us into contact with God’s joy and parent-love.
 
Is there anything preventing you from drawing close to God in your times of prayer?
 

3. Moving Outward

“Transformation and intimacy both cry out for ministry. We are led through the furnace of God’s purity not just for our own sake but for the sake of others. We are drawn up into the bosom of God’s love not merely to experience acceptance, but also so we can give his love to others.” Foster, Richard. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p. 177). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.
 
Prayer which ends with the inward and the upward dimensions is incomplete. If we are connected with God’s heart, and if we are growing in Christ-likeness, we will also be growing in concern and compassion for the world.
 
Are the needs of people around you featuring in your times of prayer?

Conclusion

In John chapter 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, for his disciples, and for the world which his disciples would transform. We see there a balanced blend of personal transformation/strengthening, intimacy with God and concern for the world.
 
Whatever your habitual balance, why not make this next few days of prayer a blend of the upward, inward and outward?
 

Question

What helps you to pray for inner transformation? What helps you to connect in loving intimacy with God? What helps you when praying for the world?
 
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
¹ Famous for his book, “Celebration of discipline
 
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“How to be kind to kinaesthetic learners”

Tuesday Teaching Tips: Episode 102

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

The value of this approach is that it increases:

  1. Attention
  2. Contribution
  3. Stickiness

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

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

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

God bless, Malcolm

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Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 91: “Jettison the Jargon”

If you confuse you lose

What’s the danger with jargon?

As someone said, “If we confuse we lose.”

We talk this week about the problems with jargon and some common pitfalls to avoid.

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.

Thanks again for watching. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

How to stop your smartphone getting between you and God

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 16: Your smartphone isn't Satan's tool, but it can be his friend

When is your smartphone your friend and when is it your enemy? What does it do to your relationship with God? I have tips to make it a spiritual asset.
 
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SmartPhones are not the answer to all ills. Neither are they the reason for any societal decay you care to highlight. They are here to stay. As with all new technologies they have the power to enhance or detract from our spirituality. I have found my phone a great help at times, but a distraction at others.
 
“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (Luke 10:40 NIV11)
 
Martha was not distracted by something evil, but something good. Hospitality is a Biblical command, after all. 
 

The “iPhone Effect”

Research illustrates the effects of a phone on relationships. The details are in the links provided. In summary, when a phone was visible the quality of the conversation diminished. People felt less connection, less empathy, less warmth. Even if the phone was not turned on. I know families who have a rule to counter this issue. No phones at the dinner table. 
 

Pause the Phone

We must consider the application to our walk with God. Especially our devotional times. Those moments we set aside for focused prayer and Bible study are precious. Will the phone help or hinder? Here are a few pointers.

When you want to avoid distraction

  1. Put the phone in Airplane Mode – vibrations can be enough to cause distraction
  2. Put the phone in another room – i.e. out of sight
  3. Leave the phone behind – if you go out for a prayer walk or into the garden

When you want to use it to help your prayer time

  1. Open a prayer app – I use “PocketPrayer” and “Daily Prayer” weekly
  2. Open a Bible study app – for praying through scripture
  3. Keep a notes app open for recording prayer thoughts – I use Drafts and save to Evernote
 

Conclusion

The key is to be intentional about your use or non-use of the phone. Where do you need to alter the way you use your phone? Remember, the phone is not the issue. The use of it is. You are in control.
 

Question

How do you prevent your phone from becoming a problem in your quiet times? In what ways do you find it 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 quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 

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“How to Make your Relationship With Jesus Personal”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 15: "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." Exodus 33.11

Our friendships are personal. No two are alike. Jesus offered his followers friendship,
 
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends..” John 15.15 (NIV11)
 
What about your relationship with Jesus? Is it personal? Is it unique? Or is it a cookie-cutter friendship? One where you are trying to fit your experience of walking with Jesus into a mould someone else invented?
 
What does it mean to make our relationship with God personal? We’re going to look at this today because of something that happened last Sunday.
 

Jesus meets us where we are

The most recent sermon in the Watford church of Christ focussed on the Bible’s teaching about grief. We were looking for material to help grieving friends.
 
Among other passages, we looked at John 11. Lazarus dies. Jesus goes to comfort the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. I’ve preached on this passage many times and written about it in my book. But I have missed something. Jesus treats Mary & Martha differently. They both come out to see him. They both accuse him with these words,
 
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died”, John 11.21 (Martha) & v32 (Mary).
 
However, they approach Jesus differently. Martha comes out straight away. Mary stays at home. Martha discusses the situation with Jesus. Mary does nothing more than state her accusation. With Martha, Jesus discusses the next life, his identity and belief. With Mary, he weeps.
 
The women are different with Jesus. Jesus is different with them. It’s personal.
 

Careful with the comparisons

Do you see your relationship with Jesus as personal? Do you see him treating you as you are? Not what you are ‘meant’ to be? Are you measuring yourself against others?
 
Taking inspiration from other people is fine. The example of others is helpful:
 
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13.7
But comparisons are odious. I spent a good part of my years as a Christian feeling that my relationship with God was inadequate. I did not pray long enough, loud enough, intensely enough, and so on.
 
The guilt piled up until I realised Jesus did not want to have a relationship with me defined by how others connected with him. Instead, I was invited by God into a relationship with him that was personal, and would develop over time.
 
How can we develop the personal side of our walk with Jesus? There are many ways, but here are three that I have found most helpful so far.
 

Power up the personal

  1. Try new things: Follow rabbit trails that interest you. Bible verses, characters, themes, book ideas. Try lighting a candle, going for a walk, experimenting with set prayers.
  2. Learn from others: Pray with people (see Luke 11.1), listen to podcasts (including this one!)
  3. Bring your whole self to God in your prayers: Read David’s Psalms (Psalm 18.1; 22.1). He was one never shy of being himself with the LORD. God seemed to appreciate it (1 Samual 13.14).

Conclusion

There is no ‘standard’ for a QT. There is no checklist. But there are ways to learn, to grow.
 
No quiet time has to be perfect – nor can it be. It needs to be authentic. The three practices above will deepen your personal walk with God. Persevere in them and you will experience a more and more personal and therefore satisfying relationship with God.
 

Question

What helps you to make your relationship with God personal? Do you have any tips for me? Are there any examples, verses, in the Bible?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm

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ARE YOUR PRAYERS A FENCE OR A GATE?

Our responsibility to pray and God's responsibility to act

Do your prayers fence God in, or release the power of his Spirit?  Consider these verses: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name…….” (John 14:13) “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7 NIV)

The rodeo bull is frustrated waiting for the gate to open but all explosive energy once let loose. I wonder sometimes whether my prayers are more fence than gate. Granted, the metaphor is limited. I’m not suggesting God is a bull, nor that you are his rodeo rider. But, can we consider the gate and fence images for a moment?

Prayer Gaps

I use a prayer app to record my prayers. They are categorised by topic. Recently I reviewed the list. The majority are for people I know to be converted. Some are for the healing of friends. Not many are about world events. None were for politicians. Where are your gaps? Are they the fences that keep God penned in?

God’s Vision

Our vision is limited. But God’s vision for answering our prayers is bigger than ours: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV11)  If God can see further than us, it makes sense to pray for things that are beyond what we can see, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV11)

Clearly, our prayers must line up with God’s vision. He will not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. But, do we use that possibility as an excuse to avoid praying for the ‘impossible’?

Everyone and Everything

Prayer is for everyone, and for everything that is in our hearts and minds. No matter how ridiculous or impossible an answer may appear to be. It’s the only way to make sense of what Jesus said about prayer. Are we fencing God in by only praying for a few things in a few areas, instead of everything? God can do more that we think.

In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul finishes his thoughts with a sentence that sounds like a prayer to me:  “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 3:20–21 NIV11)

Our prayers open the gate to the action of God’s Spirit when they are about him, his power, his glory. We fence him in when our prayers are about our weakness, our sins, our limitations, our fears. Of course, it is right and good to bring those to him, but we do not have to end there. Instead, could your prayers move on to focus on the abilities of God?

Relevance

The Apostle Paul saw everything as relevant: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV11) Nothing is off-limits where prayer is concerned.

Only if we lay everything before God in prayer will He be able to enact the promises of John 14:12 & 14.  The phrase, “If you ask … I will do”, appears 6 times in John chapters 14-17.  Jesus is trying to get something fundamental but new across to his disciples. Have we ‘got it’?

Divine Action

In his book, “Don’t just stand there… Pray something!”, Ronald Dunn writes this:

“…prayer is set forth as the primary human factor in the accomplishment of God’s programme on earth .. Divine action .. is conditioned upon believing prayer. This prayer is set forth as the chief task of the believer.  It is his responsibility to ask.  It is God’s responsibility to accomplish.”  p29

Consider this saying of Jesus: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13 NIV).  Why do we not pray to God about everything?

Question

What do you pray about most and what do you leave out?  What helps you pray for the impossible?

Please leave a comment here and post your ideas. We’ll all learn better when we share our thoughts.

If you have answered prayers, tell the story here. We’d be grateful for the inspiration.

God bless,

Malcolm

If you’d like some coaching for your prayer life or any of the spiritual disciplines, please contact me via the button below. I’d be honoured to assist your walk with God.

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Praying to the “Father” – which one?

Recognising the riches of the Father's qualities

When you pray to the “Father”, what’s in your mind? There are riches that we may not recognise. In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father using three different descriptors.

  1. First we have the plain vanilla address: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (v1) And again, “Father, glorify me in your presence,” (v5), as well as, “that all of them may be one, Father.” (v21), and, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” (v24)
  2. Secondly: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11 NIV11)
  3. Finally: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.” (John 17:25 NIV11)

Why these different forms of address?

Plain “Father”, reminds us that our God is also our ‘pater’, daddy. Then, he is ‘hagios’ – separate from common condition and use; dedicated. Our Father is loving, and also pure, uncorrupted, sinless, perfect. Finally, he is ‘dikaios’ – just, equitable, fair. The Father to whom we pray will treat us with absolute integrity. He is righteous and just (e.g., Ps. 116:5; 119:137; Jer. 12:1).

How about praying to your Father using one of these ideas for your next three prayer times, focusing on one attribute at a time? Dwell on God as ‘pater’, ‘hagios’ and ‘dikaios’. If it was meaningful to Jesus it can be meaningful to us.

A suggested prayer-starter for each one could look like this….

  1. Father, you are the father of all fathers. You are loving, kind and discipline me for my best interests. I am so grateful you have taken me as your son/daughter …
  2. Holy Father, you are pure, uncorrupted, sinless and perfect. I am in awe of your holiness. Thank you for not considering my sinfulness a barrier to showing me your love …
  3. Righteous Father, you are fair, just, unswayed by human opinion and always act with integrity. It is a privilege to know you. Thank you that I can trust your promise to be equitable and honourable in all your dealings with me….

Have a wonderful time praying to our wonderful Father.

God bless, Malcolm

PS – do you have prayer questions? Would you like more direct coaching in your prayer life? Why not consider taking me up on some prayer coaching. Click here for details.

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“How to make sure God gets the glory in your ministry”, John 17

eg 300w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/John-17.001-768x576.jpeg 768w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/John-17.001.jpeg 1024w, https://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/John-17.001-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />HOW TO MAKE SURE GOD GETS THE GLORY IN YOUR MINISTRY

Reflections on the prayer of Jesus in John 17 and what it means for those of us who have an area of ministry.

Introduction

“Ministry” is simply another word for area of service. It is about service, not title. The responsibilities God gives us can be a burden, or a thrill. Hard, yes, but exciting. Best seen as an adventure of faith, rather than a task to be done. Jesus carried more responsibility than anyone, and carried it out with enviable peace. His secret? How did the Gospels becoming Acts? He, “often withdrew” to pray, Lk 5.16, and his praying had an impact on the disciples, Lk 11.1ff. John recording his prayer, John 17, at least in part so that we could learn from him.

1. LOOK UP FOR A BIGGER VISION

“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heavena and prayed: Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” v1

Q: Do you have a vision as to how God will be glorified in and through your ministry? Pray for that.

 

2. ACCEPT WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU

“For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” vv2-4

Q: Does anything stand between you and fully embracing the ministry God has given you? Pray for that.

 

3. OUR TASK IS TO REVEAL GOD TO PEOPLE

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” v6

Q: In that way can people get to know God, and know Him better through your ministry? Pray for that.

 

4. GIVE THE WORD TO CREATE ONENESS

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. …I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” v11b-15

It’s noticeable that Jesus does not use the word ‘unity’. Instead – “one”. This is more relational than structural. The goal in ministry is not to have the same goal, but the same heart and mind in pursuit of that goal. This comes through giving people the Word, v17. One hundred pianos all tuned to the same tuning fork will automatically be in tune with one another. Let’s tune people to Jesus through the Word.

Q: How is the ‘oneness’ of your ministry? Pray for that.

 

5. SEND PEOPLE OUT

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” v18 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” vv20-23

It’s not just about us, but the next generation.

Q: What plans do you have to send people out? Pray for that.
Q: Who are you praying for that will ‘believe’ as a result of your ministry? Pray for that.

 

Conclusion

“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” v26
It’s all about love in the end. Was this prayer answered? Survey the book of Acts and I think you get your answer. God got the glory, the whole church embraced their purpose, God was revealed in His power, inclusivity and love, the church remained one despite challenges – in fact, made stronger by them – and sending was in the church DNA and continued into next generation.

When praying for your ministry, you could use this acronym to remember the points above:
God
Accept
Reveal
Oneness
Send

G.A.R.O.S. spells, ‘garos’, which, as we all know, is the Greek-Cypriot word for, “donkey”! Why not join me in praying the ‘garos’ prayer for your ministry this week?

God bless,

Malcolm