At a crossroads

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

Whether we are in a mid-life crises, or choosing what to buy in our weekly food shop. I think many Christians would benefit from the advice of this verse.

How often do we stop, look and ask for directions from God. How often do we consider the decisions we make, whether they are financial, time-related, work, relationship, family related. Do we stand still? Do we look at the possibilities? Do we ask God for direction?

If we don’t is it surprising that we don’t experience rest for our souls?

Stand at the crossroads. This means stop walking. Stop going on without thinking. Stop and stand. How often in the Bible, God commands His people to stand firm. In fact in one place He says, don’t fight, this battle is not yours, simply stand firm. Elsewhere, God tells us to don the armour of spiritual warfare and stand firm. When the breath of God enters the army of dry bones, what do they do? Advance? No, they ‘stood on their feet’. Stand.

And look. So often we are oblivious to the many options presented to us. But after, even a short while of observation, we can see many roads and directions ahead of us. We must be careful not to be overwhelmed by ‘decision fatigue’. But at the same time, we may end up fatigued by staying on the incorrect path. Look.

Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is. Do we do this? Do we invite God to direct us in the small decisions as well as the big ones? I challenge you today, to try asking God whenever a decision presents itself, however small. You may hear nothing, you may be directed in an unusual way. But take the time to ask. What time shall I wake up tomorrow? Which route shall I take to work? What should be my first words to colleagues? Shall I have lunch or shall I fast? Does God want me to call anyone on my commute home? How shall I spend my evening? Is there a part of the Bible I need to re-read tonight? Etc etc. Ask.

Finally, we need to – walk in it. So often, it is easy to hear God’s word and direction and to ignore it. No this promise is tied, undeniably, not just to stopping, looking, asking but also to obeying. The promise of rest for our souls is based in part on our obedience to God’s direction. Just like the wise man who built his house on the rock, is like the man who not only hears Jesus’ words, but also ‘puts them into practice’. Walk in it.

Blessings

Praying like Jacob

I stumbled across the following prayer from Genesis 32:9-12 last week, where Jacob is talking to God about a family reunion his is dreading with his older brother Esau. For those who don’t know, when the two brothers were younger, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright as a firstborn son. Later on, Jacob would then deceive his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Leaving Esau out of pocket and furious.

Jacob fled, and started a new life, married and had kids, but knew that the time had come for him to come home.

Maybe we have something dreaded around the corner, whether its family or work-related. But we might find encouragement and guidance in the prayer of Jacob.

  • Recognition and Worship: Oh God of my father Abraham and Isaac. When we start we can remember who God is, that He is personal and intimate with us. He is also God over us. Too often we dive straight into petition, and our faith is weaker, because we do not first remember Who it is that we are speaking to. Somehow, faith arises in us when we recall Who God is.
  • Gratitude: I am unworthy of all the kindeness and faithfulness you have shown me. Similarly our faith increases when we recall God’s goodness to us. I was recently reading a Puritan Prayer which started similarly:
  • Plea/Petition: Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother.
  • Honesty: For I am afraid he will come and attack me and my children. I think we are often scared to be honest with God in our prayers. Honest about our doubts, our sins, our failings and actually our feelings. But God is big enough, and He delights that we can come to Him honestly. This is one of the reasons Christ died for us, so He could meet us where we are at.
  • Holding to the promise: But You have said “I will surely make you prosper”… There are so many promises in the bible we can hold to and present to God in prayer. May we find verses of promise in His Word that give us hope in prayer.

Time Management – 6 Myths

Peter Drucker, known for much sage advice, has said that: ‘Time is inelastic (it can’t be stretched), irreplaceable (it can’t be replaced or reclaimed), and indispensable (it can’t be done without)!’

In other words, time is important and how we manage it is also important.

In order to manage our time well, it helps to understand it as well. To this end, please find below a list of 6 myths surrounding time management in a leadership context:

  1. We are individually responsible for saving the world. Few people will admit believing this myth, but our actions speak louder than words. I am definitely guilty of this, thinking the whole system rests on my shoulders. The clinical trial I work on in my day job. The wellbeing of my family and friends. The Spiritual health of those I’m discipling. It is so easy to succumb to the belief that it all rests on me. Not only is this bad time management, it is bad theology. Yes, may we take as much responsibility as is appropriate for our actions and input, but let us not mistake this responsibility for what it is. A gift from God, that we are to steward with thanksgiving, and humility. Humility to admit, it doesn’t all depend on me.

The Vision – as recorded by Pete Greig – in the 24/7 prayer movements has a couple of lines about the ‘rising generation’: “They pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on them!

May our prayers be the evidence that we do not hold to this myth.

2. Time is running out, too little is left of it. Yes, time is short and the days are evil. But just as the farmer has learned patience, he is the one who has learned that the best things grow in time. All we can do is follow the proper sequence of planting, cultivating and harvesting. No harvest can be enlarged by frantically hurrying about. In fact, to mix metaphors, if we pull an cake out of the oven before it is ready, we will have wasted time rather than saved it.

3. A leader must be constantly available for all emergencies. This comes out of the belief that was outlined above. God has made us in such a way that we are not omni-present. We are not everywhere at once and we can’t be. In fact when we try, we will only hurt, disillusion and frustrate others. Yes, there is a time to be sacrificial with our availability, but not at the expense of pretending to be God.

4. Rest and recreation are 2nd class uses of time. If you are anything like me, you will be tempted to view working time, and productive time, and efficient activities more highly than reading a book, having a quiet time, being still, watching tv, eating a nice meal. But God Himself, engaged in rest. And it was not a 2nd class use of His time. Rather it was a time where He blessed creation, dedicated it as holy, and admired His work. Next time, you are pressured to surrender rest and recreation, to the demands of workaholism. Consider, if this is wise.

5. Burn out is heroic. I used to think this one. Even though I never ever would have admitted it. I used to think the burnout pastor, spiritual leader was like a battle worn soldier. Until I came to that point myself. There is nothing heroic about burnout, and in fact, it is often symptomatic of a lack of faith and trust in God. Yes, may we be people – who like Paul – ‘strenuously contend with all the energy that Christ supplies us’ (Col 1:28-29). But may we not seek to go beyond that, into reserves of fuel that He has not provided. This is the path to bitterness, resentment and judgementalism.

6. Family must pay the price. Many a Pastor’s family have been told this lie. “Since your husband, wife, father, mother is in ministry you must lose out on deep relationship with him/her”. This is nonsense, and in fact, according to the Bible, will actually disqualify a person from leadership. For if a person cannot keep their house in order how can they be trusted with the household of God. Keeping our house in order, is more than forcing kids to go to school and not take drugs. It is about representing Christ to them, loving them sacrificially (even at the expense of work, reputation and promotion) and being so present that you become an example to them in their faith.

I hope this has helped debunk some common leadership related time-myths. For further reading:

Bible Stories: Moses (Exodus 18), Jesus (Matthew14:9-16)

Wisdom: Ephesians 5:15-16, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, James 4:13-15, Matthew 6:25-34 (with focus on verse 33).

Sunday Summary 17th January – A new bookshelf!

This week I continued in the spirit of DIY and put up a new bookshelf to replace the one we’ve had since we first got married (5 and a half years ago!). It was beginning to fall apart and wasn’t looking too stable. It was quite fun trying to sort through the books, work out which ones I wanted to keep, which to give away (or give back to the people I’d borrowed them from!). And then, I tried to use each ‘block’ in the new bookshelf to separate different genres. It’ll probably need some tweaking.

The new one is a different style but actually has a little less space, so we got a mini book shelf (see below). I’ve used the top two shelves on this new one to keep all my ‘favourite’ books – although this will also need some tweaking!

My top three are ‘Invitation to a journey’ – Robert MulHolland, ‘Making of a Leader’ – Robert Clinton, and ‘Red Moon Rising’ – Pete Greig. Although that was a lot more difficult a decision to make than I thought it’d be and I’d probably change my selection on another day.. They’re all very good on those top two shelves.

In other news, I made very little progress with my own book writing. Although I have now written out a checklist of all the different sections I still need to edit. The list is on my wall above my computer, so I’m hoping that will motivate me to get on with it.

This week also saw me have a great catch up with a friend via Zoom. We talked about sharing our faith, work, aspirations and callings! He has agreed to read the edited versions of each section of my book when I’ve edited it. Hopefully this will also provide some accountability and more motivation next week.

In work updates – please pray for me (if you’re the praying type!). I have a mammoth task over the next month and I’m really not sure I will get it done. I’m in the process of transcribing 700+ pathology reports onto our trial related forms. Aside from having no medical training, these reports seem to be written in another language. So it is very slow going. Especially that it’s all on top of my usual job. But thankfully, other areas of the trial have been quiet this last week so I made good progress. Still have a long way to go.

The view on my walk home from work one night!

Anything else going on?? Not really, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a video I posted on YouTube a week or so back, has around 400+ views. I didn’t expect it to do so well (I know relatively that’s not much, but it feels big for someone with only 3 subscribers.

Peace – is not dependent on circumstance

I recently came upon a quote that really really annoyed me. I was reading a book about Christian leadership and the author had used a quote from John Wesley.

“Though I am always in a haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of Spirit”

His point that we should be weary about becoming overburdened by the stresses of ministry. In fairness he had a point, many church leaders burnout and enter extreme moral failures because of overworking.

Nevertheless it still irked me. So much so I had to put the book down, pull out my notebook and dig deeper in my heart as to why this annoyed me so much. Here is my thought-splurge (please excuse my honesty):

Why this annoys me:

  • The Peace of Christ for our spirit is NOT dependent on how much work we undertake.
  • The poor, the weak, the uneducated, the desperate and tired, are the ones who God most delights to use! The single mum juggling three jobs, two infants and a terminal illness, is just as able to go through ‘with perfect calmness of spirit’, as the wealthy church leader who has the luxury to choose which work he will undertake each day.
  • Ultimately, even John Wesley, cannot determine every day, this is for the Lord to do. We have peace not because we choose our workloads but because we trust in God.
  • May we have more spiritual leaders who are examples, in that they can show us how to seek first God’s kingdom in the midst of busy schedules, hectic jobs and family chaos. May we have examples of people who maintain ‘perfect calmness of spirit’ in the midst of intense trial.

Downsizing Word Output

“Our instinct is too often to speak of everything we know, as if doing so is the only way to authenticate ourselves”.

“Talking too quickly, too much, and too cleverly is [oftentimes] destructive…the spiritual men and women I’ve come to admire were generally quiet-spirited and more silent than verbose”

It is probably ironic that on a blog, where it is my job to write, monologues of thoughts, I am recommending speaking less. Nevertheless, words are powerful and good, God-created and utilised by Him. Words are not the problem. Too many of them, used at the wrong time, in the wrong way – that is the problem.

How can we downsize our word output:

  • Ask more questions
  • Listen (to the person in front of us, as well as the Spirit of God who loves both of us)
  • Renounce fixing as a way of life – so often we are tempted to be the problem solvers in people’s lives. Rather than to be the people who sit with them in the midst of suffering.

Our opinion, our endorsement, our rebuke is often much less needed than our Presence.

The Bible agrees that we ought to downsize our word output: with God (Psalm 46:10, Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) and with Man (Job 2:13, James 1:19).

In fact when we look at one of the first interactions with God and man, we see that God is a man who asks questions before He speaks, judges, vindicates and promises (Genesis 3-4).

Trust in the Bible

Following on from yesterday’s post, I wanted to share a handful more thoughts and ideas around this concept of trust.

Trust is connected to love – we often make trust a separate factor. But the Bible teaches us that ‘love always trusts’ (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is a risky position to take, do we trust those we claim to “love”? (If I could put Selah in a blog post, without feeling pretentious I would!) But consider the love of God, who entrusted to us the body of His Son, knowing that we would crucify, mock, and reject Him. God is love, and He trusts us. When considering our giving of trust to others, let us not measure them and their “trustworthiness”, instead let us measure love. We may be surprised, by how little we actually love.

There is probably a caveat there. But I want to cover more.

Trust in God produces peace – Isaiah 26:3-4 says ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you’. Our feelings of peace are not circumstantial. They are dependent on our trust in God. This is uncomfortable. This sounds insensitive. I know. And yet, does Jesus not say ‘do not worry’, and Paul ‘do not be anxious about anything….the peace of Christ, that transcends all understanding, will abide in you’?! This peace, which comes from trusting God, does not make sense, in the midst of unemployment, terminal illness, national suffering, COVID-19.

Quietness and Trust is Strength – Isaiah offers more wisdom on trust, in 30:13, when he says, ‘in quietness and trust is your strength’. Do you need strength, to get you through your days, the demands of your job, the pressures of family. Then seek it in quietness and trust. My mum would always say ‘the noise is always loudest in the shallow end’ (talking about public swimming pools)…likewise though, we often mistake strength for loudness. The way of God though is to give strength to the humble, grace to the weak and to hear the hidden prayers of the men and women who cry out to Him in their rooms with the door shut!

There are two further stories in the Bible of two characters in the Bible who exhibited trust. May we as people called to great love emulate them.

Ruth who trusted Naomi (Ruth 1:16-18)

The armour bearer who trusted Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:6-8): ‘Do all that you have in mind. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul!”

How to build Trust

“People will follow you for a while because they picked you. But they’ll follow you over the long term because they trust you.”

“Charm and charisma are like a glider; they fly, but not indefinitely. And they do not do well in turbulent times”

Trust is essential for leadership. But it is also essential for everyday living. My parents used to tell me that in order to drive on the motorway, you needed to attribute a certain level of trust to the drivers on the road – that they would continue to move forward.

But the level of trust required for effective leadership is a little higher. So how can we build more trust?

  1. Consistency (in good and bad, in the secret place as well as the public place)
  2. Dependability (do we make good on what we say)
  3. Openness and honesty (even, and especially, in areas of failure and weakness)
  4. Hard work (oftentimes a reputation of being a hard worker will trump success)
  5. Impartiality
  6. Longevity (it can be harder for a new leader to acquire the same level of trust as one who has ‘stuck around’)
  7. Intimacy and Pursuit of Jesus (As Christian leaders, and Church leaders, people will cotton on to your motives. We can do “all the right things” without a passionate pursuit of Jesus – and people will notice. In contrast, we can make all the mistakes, yet have an evident intimacy with God – and people will notice. Consider the words of the great king: We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You. Consider the words of the great church founder: I made to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ. Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss. I did not come with wise and eloquent words, but rather with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

May we, as Church leaders, as Christian leaders, be people who have large accounts of trustworthiness. In a world where trust is savagely dismembered towards our leaders, may the Church step up with leaders who are trustworthy.