Pain does not equal effort

There’s a bunch of sayings out there that propagate the myth that pain means effort, or effort means pain. And that without pain, we aren’t making an effort.

We measure the amount the work someone puts in by how much they’ve had to suffer. And when someone doesn’t feel any pain and yet succeeds we automatically assume they had it easy and success “fell into their lap”.

This line of thinking infects our spiritual walk and we begin to measure someone’s commitment to God by how much they “suffer for the gospel”.

Yes, often great efforts produce great pains. Yes, many achievements – historic and contemporary – have been born at deep personal and communal costs.

And yet, not all effort results in pain. In fact, when someone continues to feel pain we can oftentimes know that they are doing it wrong.

For example if you keep pulling your shoulder muscle when you do overhead press, you probably have bad form. Likewise, if you keep crashing your car and getting whiplash, you may benefit from driving lessons.

Sometimes we need encouragement when pain comes, sometimes we need course correction. But sometimes we encourage those going in the wrong direction and attempt to correct the course of someone who should persevere.

Just because your legs ache from 26 miles of running, doesn’t mean you crossed the finish line, stayed the course or even started the Marathon Event.

If your experiencing pain, check why.

Prayer Projects

I’ve been taking a free course at Biola Learn , on Spiritual Formation and the temptations of moralism. It’s part of God’s recent dealings with me to dismantle unhealthy patterns of relating to Him, and to replace them with a more grace filled, spirit empowered, cross-entered faith.

Anyway, as part of the course there are these assignments called “Prayer Projects”. You are instructed to find a quiet place and pray through particular issues over a set period of time. It’s a practice that is surprisingly new to me….

But I love it!!!

You’re given a bunch of topics to pray through systematically, and encouraged to spend extended time in God’s presence processing the material.

Because the lecturers expected ‘Prayer Projects’ to be new to most of the participants, they gave us some fantastic Q&A guidelines. Here is one of the Questions with an Answer that I found particularly insightful. I’m sharing because I think it helps address the many feelings of guilt and obstacles to spending long times with God in prayer.

Enjoy!

What might I experience during my Prayer Project?

At the outset, it is important that the Spirit governs the encounter in prayer, and as such each experience will vary. That said, here are some common occurrences that happen during Prayer Projects and how you might respond to them:

Consolation/Joy – This is when you experience a deep sense of joy, of being loved, of being at peace in the presence of God. This is a real gift from the Lord – cherish it! No guidance is necessary for this – the Lord will direct your heart.

Distraction – So very common for all of us in prayer. We start to pray about one topic but find our hearts and minds wandering elsewhere. This is an opportunity to ask the Lord what He wants to do with that thought. You don’t have to try to resist it. Rather, mention it to the Lord in your prayer. (Example: “Lord, I find my mind wandering to ____. What would You want me to do with this?”) Then see how He responds. In general, it is worth staying with the original prayer topic unless you experience a strong sense that you should pursue this new thought.

Fatigue – You might feel tired in prayer, even to the point of falling asleep. If this happens, and you realize that you have been asleep, pay attention to the feelings that arise in your heart as you awake. Talk with God about those feelings, whether they be gratitude at the gift of rest or anxiety about having fallen asleep on Him. This is your honest experience in prayer, and even this can become a topic for conversation with God.

Guilt, Shame, Anxiety – You may experience guilt, shame, or anxiety over what you’re praying about. This is particularly so if you’re praying about something that has been hidden in your heart, something you may not have talked about before. What is most important to remember during these times is that you are completely loved by God just as you are, regardless of whether you feel that or not. The temptation is to hide our guilt and shame and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we might panic before God and try desperately to get Him to reassure us that we’re okay. You are encouraged instead to name your feelings to God. If you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or anxious, tell God exactly that. Trust that if He has brought those feelings up, then He wants to meet you in them. He is using them not to condemn you, but to draw closer to you.

Despair/Darkness – You may have times when you feel like God is distant, like your prayer life is dark. Or you may be tempted to despair, to think that God is not listening to you or is not even present. You may feel so overwhelmed by your spiritual failure that you think that your situation is hopeless. These can be very hard and painful times in prayer. If you are able, continue to pray. Name what you’re feeling to God. Tell Him about the darkness and distance and despair.

Note: You might reach a point where the darkness feels too overwhelming for you and that it feels too difficult to go on in prayer. If you reach this point, then pull back. You may stop your prayer at this point. Find a passage of Scripture instead, especially one reminding you of the love of God (e.g., Psalm 139:1-18, Romans 5 or 8) and read it for the remainder of the prayer time. Please also contact a trusted spiritual advisor, such as your pastor, small group leader, or mentor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. Allow this person to offer you more specific encouragement and guidance for your situation.

For more information please visit: Biola Learn: https://www.biola.edu/learn/catalog

Have a Sense of Urgency

I came across this phrase this week in one of the podcasts I listen to.

A story is told of a boss who had a name plate on his desk, and on one side (the side facing visitors) was his name. On the other, (the side facing him) were the words: Have a sense of urgency.

When I heard this story it made me instantly think about my faith and the way I live. The various goals and milestones ahead of me. As well as a bunch of other life problems and situations.

One of the reason things clog up, halt to a stand still, is because we are paralysed by complacency. The task isn’t life or death, it’s not even that important. But because it is not moving other things are held up, a simple to-do list grows.

The biblical writer says something similar: Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

In our work, in our relationships, in our to-do lists, our habits, our routines, may we have a sense of urgency and not be content with sitting back.

Obviously we can’t live “urgently” in everything, we’d tire out, but I reckon we could dial it up a considerable amount before we got there…

Advent #1 – Hope

Thanks to Scott Burns for great Advent talk, looking forward to rest of this series 🙂

What I liked:

1) Advent for Mary and Jospeh comes in the midst of despair: Roman occupation, teenage pregnancy, potential divorce, chaos and confusion, community shame. This is where hope shines the brightest. How relevant for us in the midst of 2020

2) Advent isn’t just about Jesus’ first coming but also His second.

3) we can cultivate hope by:

  • Reflecting on Gods work in the past
  • Bringing the end of the story to bear on our current circumstances
  • Being aware/knowing experientially of Gods presence -here today- and how that impacts everything

Christ bids a man – come and die

Christ asks me to take up my cross daily, to die to self, die to my own efforts (even those to “work for Him”. To die to it all.

But where does this leave me? Where does this leave me in terms of my commitments and ambitions – shall I not simply become flimsical and waversome in all my resolves?

1) this leaves me on Christ’s cross. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I surrendered this right to being when I was baptised into His life.

2) my commitments and ambitions are naught and meaningless. So is my character, honour, reputation and even my relationships. It is all nothing compared to Christ. Only Christ – this is the call.

3) flimsical? Waversome? Not in the slightest. For His power and love and joy and peace are at work in me (this clay jar) – emptied like Christ – and will be proved mighty and steadfast.

I cry with John, or rather His spirit compels me to cry, “He must increase, I must decrease”

3 Descriptions

In the story of Noah, we are given three distinct descriptions:

  1. He was a righteous man
  2. He was a blameless man
  3. He walked with God

Righteous – we know from Hebrews 11:6-7 that it was Noah’s faith that made him righteous. Blameless – we know from James 2:21-24 that true, saving faith is evident in the way that a person lives and therefore Noah was blameless.

Finally, Noah, like Enoch, walked with God. He continually and habitually maintained a relationship with God.

  • Righteous by Faith
  • Blameless by Conduct
  • Walked with God by Relationship

We also know from later reading that Noah developed a drinking problem and had failings as a father. This is a reminder that without God’s grace we will never be righteous, blameless or maintain a relationship with God.

I want to lean into God for provision of increased faith, power for self-control in my conduct, and the ability to grasp the height, depth, breadth and length of Him who loved me first.

To plead with the desperate father: Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

To ask like the son for a loaf of bread: Holy Spirit dwell in me, that the fruit of self-control would be manifest (Matthew 7:9)

To enter into the disciples’ experience and walk ‘in the dust of the Rabbi’ -t hat we might receive the Lord’s reply to Phillip in John 14:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?… “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

A few awesome quotes on evangelism

Me and a group of guys have slowly (but surely) been working through a book on Discipleship over the last few months. Each week sharing our top three things from the particular chapter we were reading.

Coming to the end of the book, second to last chapter, we’ve hit on the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

For a very familiar passage, I wasn’t giving it my 100% receptive heart! But the under the sub-heading : Making Disciples by Baptizing, my highlighter got very busy.

Here are three thought provoking, challenging quotes:

1) Baptism is an act of initiation and conversion. It speaks powerfully of the time a person comes under the rule of Christ.

As someone who reads a lot I keep coming across the fashionable idea that people simply “drift” towards Christ. I can’t disagree, but we must be wary that this mentality drives us to complacency in our evangelism and discipleship. At some point people must choose to come under the lordship of Christ. This is baptism.

2) We need a surer understanding of the gospel, a deeper love for people, a strong commitment to intercession, a greater wisdom so we can share winsomely – at the right time and in the right way.. finally we need more courage.

I love a concrete list. These are definitely areas I want to pray into, and trust God to increase in me. Particularly commitment to intercession, courage and a deeper love.

3) we may need to repent of our lack of evangelistic passion, but we must not despair.

These words are much needed for the Church and for me. I tend towards despair when I consider the lack of evangelism in my own life and in the Church I see. But such despair is symptomatic of doubt in Gods power and conviction for His global mission. Great words!

To finish this post I want to leave you with a picture of some of my notes on a talk given by a friend. In it he shared 8 types of evangelism.

Faith mixed with Revelation

Genesis 6:22 says that Noah did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

It’s easy to do some of what God tells us. It’s easy to do everything God tells us, but in a slightly different way. (For example he could have made a slightly bigger boat etc). But the challenge is to do everything, just as commanded.

Noah mixes the revelation of the coming flood with the faithful obedience of a righteous man. It’s easy to keep these things separate: what God tells us and what we think is true and important.

The men and women of scripture challenge us to mix faithful obedience with the revelation of Gods will/word.

When God says go, do we go? When God says speak, do we speak? When God says turn the other cheek, love your enemies, bless those who insult you – do we?

Obedience isn’t easy, especially when we disagree. This is why faith is required into the mixture.

Today, may we be like Noah who did everything, just as the Lord commanded Him.

Peter: “But because You say so, I will” Luke 5:5

“Whatever God wants, whenever He wants it, whatever the cost”

Mary: “do whatever He tells you” John 2:5