Tuesday Tools – Deep Work

Around January last year (according to my Goodreads account) I finished Cal Newport’s book: Deep Work. It’s a book that argues that we come up with the best ideas and most meaningful progress when we engage in focused, uninterrupted and undistracted work.

It claims that for “knowledge workers” deep work is becoming increasingly rare, with the deluge of immediate-response social media, attention-stealing technology and the demand to stay on top of e-mails and messages.

Since the ability to engage in deep work is rare, it is also becoming significantly valuable.

I jumped back into this audiobook during my exercise yesterday, to refresh my memory, and started with the beginning of Part 2.

In the chapter I listened to yesterday, he explained that we need to choose which “philosophy” fits our work best.

1. The Monastic Philosophy – this is where you take weeks and months apart from ordinary life to focus on deep work. He gave the example of an author going to a cabin in the woods for weeks to study. I think JK Rowling also did something similar when she wrote the last Harry Potter – checking into an expensive hotel for weeks until it was done!

2. The Bimodal Philosophy – this is where you take some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits of work. It could be Mondays and Tuesdays that you are “unreachable” and don’t answer the phone or e-mails. It could be using a week to focus on working deeply.

Suprisingly, most people will respect decisions to isolate for the sake of productivity at work, provided 1) the times of distance are well-advertised and well-defined and 2) you are available and able to complete other tasks the rest of the timme.

3. The Rhythmic Philosophy – This is where you set aside, say 90 minutes each day to pursue deep work. It is less about “getting away” and more about “setting apart” your time, consistently and habitually.

When it comes to implementing the Rhythmic Philosophy, you will find many of the tools for keeping up with other habits useful.

4. The Journalistic Philosophy – This is where you switch into deep work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Cal Newport warns that this is the most difficult, and few people can actually do this well. However, for some this is the only option available.

I personally have found options 2 & 3 useful. When it comes to writing the book I’m working on, I have taken a week off at a time work to write. Waking up early and finishing late, just focused on the single task of writing the book.

However for my 9-5 job with Cancer Research, I tend to use the Rhythmic Philosophy. Setting aside portions of my day when I turn Teams, Skype Chat, E-mails off and simply focus on work that pushes my cognitive abilities to their limit.

If you are interested in finding out more about deep work, (this post only really covers one chapter of the book!) and want to get the book please use my affiliate link below to support this blog:

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Thanks for reading!

Reflections: A New Bible and a New Season

This week I got myself a new Bible.

Christmas 2011, my Nan gave me an NIV leatherbound Bible. It was the last Christmas gift she would ever give me, passing away the following summer. It would replace the tattered Youth Bible I’d taken to many a Christian camp.

Since then, I have read that Bible through so many times I’ve actually lost count. I’ve even had to tape back in Romans 8 from when I memorised it. Most pages contain, notes in the margins, highlights, emphatic underlines, messy circles and various squiggly shapes. On one read through I even tried to highlight with blue every time there was a lesson on integrity. Another time, I put a red dot every time ‘blood’ was mentioned in Leviticus. These pages are littered with nuggets of gold gleamed from the hundreds of sermons that I listened to. Clever cross references that I’ve come across in books and talks and in my own quiet times.

This book has a weight of history and intimacy, and not just because it contains the very words of God. I have held this book in prayer, in preaching, in worship, in study. I have held this book and prayed my heart out, this book has seen me through my whole time at university and into the first five years of marriage.

Since my “old” Bible had scribbles everywhere, it is interesting that the cover page had not been touched at all. So when I got the new Bible, I decided I wanted to fill it up

Old and New

In the top left, I’ve listed all the people who I’ve befriended and ended up studying God’s word alongside. At the bottom left I have listed the 6 significant mentors I’ve had the honour of meeting over the last 9 years. These people taught me to pray, to read, to study. They inspired me to pursue God’s heart and to encourage others.

Then below these are an extensive list of everyone (I can remember) who has taught me important truths about God. It is a combination of people who I know personally and closely, as well as far off preachers whose sermons I have listened to over and over again, or whose books I have treasured.

In the bottom right corner are all the places that I have been allowed to preach. All the Churches, groups, camps and conferences. Truly humbled to think through this list. I was actually taken a back. How many pastors, vicars, leaders, youth workers, trusted me to speak and teach. Even at the young age of 16/17…How God has grown this gift in me over the last few years. I am especially grateful to St. Christopher’s who’ve undoubtedly had to bear with the good, the bad and the ugly – when it comes to my preaching. And yet, they steadfastly sought to encourage God’s Spirit at work in me.

All these lists fill my heart with gratitude! Surely I have not walked this path alone. God has truly surrounded me with a great cloud of witnesses, of fellow travellers, teachers, guides, mentors, friends. He has given me such fantastic opportunities and experiences.

So I would lastly like to thank the Author of this fantastic book. The author and perfecter of my faith. Who has not only spoken to me, but also connected me with the right people at the right time, and spoken through them.

A New Season

So why a new Bible?

Back in December 2019, I felt God leading me into a time of Isolation, an extended period away from Church ministry. No longer preaching on a monthly basis, not helping with youth group, worship ministry, community groups, Navigators, 1-on-1 discipleship…It’s a long story, but now 8 months into this (for want of a better word): Sabbatical, I feel like I might be being nudged slowly back towards public ministry. I think there is still more hidden work to do, and I’m in no rush, but it does feel ‘just around the corner’.

Nevertheless, I wanted a new Bible to represent the new work that God has done in me and has prepared me for in this next season.

New Book – New Seeds of Contemplation

Can’t promise I’ll be making notes on every chapter, but this is what I’ve just started. It’s a little out of my comfort zone and a little “left field” from what I’m used to.

But it was highly recommended from a friend/mentor I look up and respect! Wish me luck!

Chapter 1 explored ‘What is Contemplation?’. The best summary I found was “Contemplation is the awareness and realisation, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who live in me”.

In other words, its about being aware that Christ is living in us, and this awareness being an experience.

It’s a little over my head, but I’m prepared to engage with it. This will definitely stretch me in my faith!

I’ve included an affiliate link in case anyone is interested and wants to read as well. The book was pretty tricky to get in the UK and I had to wait a month. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

An Overview of the Bible

In case you haven’t heard, I’m studying the Bible!

If you’ve got yourself an ESV study Bible, you’ll notice there’s about 50 odd pages of introductions before you actually get to Genesis 1:1. Being an enthusiastic person, who struggles to do things half-heartedly. I’m reading through the introductions and studying them too (a slight distraction).

But whilst this may seem like a slight distraction, it is actually a rewarding activity. The introductions are filled with Bible passages and quotes and are providing a good overview of what to expect, how to use the beefy-book, and some fun facts along the way.

For example, did you know that whenever the Old Testament uses the word ‘LORD’, all capitals, it’s because it’s representing the four letter word ‘YHWH’ (which is called the ‘tetragrammaton’) and is read ‘Adonay’?! What fun?! #slowlybecominganerd!

But that’s because God is so Holy the Old Testament writers wanted to honour Him and distance themselves from His holiness out of respect. Awesome! I think that alone will spice up my studying. Maybe I’ll pause when I read that word and think about God’s holiness, every now and then.

Anyway, another introduction was called an overview of the Bible, and I wanted to share my notes from that here:

I highlighted my three favourite things…apologies for any zooming you’ll have to do to make anything out of the picture.

Essentially my three top things about this article are:

1) The Bible shows us that God has an ultimate and unified plan for all of history. And that plan is: to unite all things to Christ (Eph 1:10) and to do so for His glory (Eph 1:12). I love that. It’s all about Jesus.

2) It talked about how the Old Testament uses shadows, prefigures and types to demonstrate Christ. I loved this, but I knew it already. What I’d not really considered though, was that if we are in Christ, we part of this as well. For example, Jesus preeminently fulfil’s the OT symbol of the temple, by become God’s dwelling place, but we also become God’s dwelling place!!!!!! Likewise, Jesus fulfil’s the OT’s mediator-role of Priest, and become the True High Priest, but we too become a kingdom of priests!!!! Wow, what an honour! He truly is the Firstborn among many brother’s and sisters!

3) The Old Testament saints reaped the benefits of Christ’s work, before He had done it, for their benefit. This is an awesome thought! Moses was able to receive the 10 commandments because of the same grace extended to him as we received. It’s concepts like this that make me awe filled at an awesome God. I see it Hebrews 11, when it talks about how the OT characters looked forward in faith to our age when Christ fulfils the promised salvation. Mind blowing thoughts!

Looks like studying the Bible will be fun.

To Him alone be the glory!

God Chasers

I finished Tommy Tenney’s book, the God Chasers this week. Interestingly, I’d already read a different version of the book as a teenager, and so many of the concepts, ideas and challenges had already become foundational to my faith. But nevertheless it was good to revisit them.

I was personally challenged, that my hunger for God isn’t enough. I mean, I have a lot of the key practices down, I know how to cultivate my relationship with God, through Scripture, Prayer, Worship, Witnessing etc. But my hunger for God’s presence was not overwhelming enough.

The vision of hunger I want is to be so filled with God’s presence that people are drawn to Jesus, simply by me being present. That’s what I’m hungering for. I want lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to pursue God’s heart. I am boosted towards this goal by His presence in my life.

Before I had settled for being close to God. But now I want other people to be close to God, simply by being close to me. It takes the calling, to be Abraham’s descendants and a blessing to the nations (Gen 12) to a whole new level.

I do find it a bit odd to tell myself I’m not hungry enough. But these words echo those famously said by CS Lewis “we far are too easily pleased”:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Yes, the morning quiet times are good, yes the journaling and prayer walks are helpful and a useful step in the right direction. Yes, the dependency on Jesus’ works not my own…all of it good. What is now being challenged anew is the heart for God.


And yet, since being a teenager, I have been heavily influenced by Christian teaching that emphasises it is all by Grace alone, teaching I stand by. The temptation with a book like this is to feel like I’m not doing enough. And to make more effort to read more Bible, pray for longer, pray better, witness more, do more etc. And I don’t think this is what Tommy Tenney intends, and more importantly, I don’t think it’s what God wants.

The last thing we want to do is come under more guilt and shame, or put ourselves under a different “set of laws”. Trying to earn God’s presence with more purity, better prayers, more hunger for Him etc.

The truth is, it’s already been earned for me. I can come with confidence before God’s throne. (Good news, right?!) This book challenged me, not to try harder, but to aim higher. I can receive so much more from God than I’m currently experiencing. How? By trying harder? No. By having longer quiet times? No. But by coming to my Good Father who freely gives all that Christ has earnt for me, through faith-filled-prayer.

Life Purpose

A few years ago, I sat down with Robert Clinton’s book: Strategic Concepts – strategies that clarify a focused life. And worked slowly through it, day-by-day, doing the activities and journaling through many of the questions. The end result was, among many other things, a statement which I have defined as my life purpose.

Over the years I have tweaked it and modified it. Here it is as it stands in July 2020:

‘To be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same”

Each phrase and word in this sentence is packed with meaning for me, but together it provides itself as a helpful tool I have repeatedly used to make decisions and determine the habits and relationships I have engaged with.

I endeavour to be a man after God’s own heart, through a:

  • Dynamic relationship with Him (Gal 5:25)
  • Lifestyle and attitude of unconditional obedience and worship (Rom 12:1)
  • Posture of receptivity and learning (1 Peter 5:5)

I endeavour to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same, through:

  • My life’s example (1 Cor 11:1)
  • The various offices of my life (e.g. disciple, husband, mentor, member of St. Christophers, Trial Coordinator for CRUK, friend etc)
  • A wise stewardship of the gifts I have received (including teaching, preaching, encouraging, serving and energy) 1 Tim 4:14, Rom 12:6-9, Col 1:28-29
  • The various postures of encouragement (vulnerability 2 Cor 12, servanthood John 13, Phil 2, and prayer 2 Tim 1:3)
  • A resolved and deliberate attitude towards the Church
  • An enjoyment of friendship and love

This is my life’s purpose. What’s yours?

First Draft Done!!!

Sorry everyone for my inconsistent posting. I have an excuse, a valid one this time. Honest. A couple of years back I felt an urge to write a book. Me being me, a lot of focus was put on the planning side of it. However over the last few months, basically since 2020 I started hammering out a steady pace of daily typing and flexing out my plan. Last month I took a week off work to focus just on writing. And yesterday, 24thJune 2020, 80,243 words later, I finished the first draft!

It summarizes, most of what I’ve learnt about my faith and discipleship since being a teenager, so has been a long time in the making – even sub-consciously. The journey from here is much more outside of my hands, so I should be able to write blog posts a little more frequently. (Plus I have a lot of ‘draft’ material I can upload if I’m stuck for ideas!)

For those interested and who want to be praying blessings over my efforts. I would be most appreciative! As far as I can see, or know, the next steps are:

1)     Look through the first draft, clean it up, make sure the sentences make sense, double check I’m not repeating myself, cull the blatantly bad bits, give nutrition to the good bits etc etc. Then I’ll have a “second draft”. [My personal deadline for this process is 10th July– Pray for me please]

2) Then I’m sending it to one or two friends who are SUPER-SMART/have written things I know and like. I’m already sending out feelers now for possible people.

3) While these amazing friends read and edit, look for heresies and grammatical failings, I’m getting in touch with a few friends and friends of friends who have published books already. Trying to network, further edit my ideas, and give me advice about publishing etc.

3.5) I’ll also be using this time to begin putting together a series of seminars, teaching on the content in the book. The power-points, extra reading material and handouts at least.

4) Once all this is done, I’ll start approaching publishers. I think this has to be done through a third party, who will store a copy of my book proposal and let mainstream publishers look it over and weigh it up against the risks of signing a new author.

I’m sure it won’t be as clear cut, but that’s the journey I’m likely going to be on over the next few months. Please do pray, I have a feeling, I’ve not yet reached the halfway mark. 😀

P.s. I was so proud and chuffed to have finished a first draft, I paid to have it bound. Here’s a picture of me basking in the various chemicals associated with pride and achievement:

Assumptions: Identity and Self-worth

I love audiobooks! For the last few years I’ve had an audible account-subscription which has given me 1 “free” audiobook a month. This year I have enjoyed listening again to the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie and the Cal Newport trilogy of books all about working hard and efficiently. I tend to listen on my walk to work each day (roughly 30 mins each way). This means I usually finish my month’s book before my next credit!

Now because, I don’t put Newport’s advice into action, and I don’t like the idea of walking with no audio-input* – I turn my attention to podcasts when the book finishes! This last month I’ve stumbled into Ali Abdaal’s podcast, with his brother Taimur: Not Overthinking. A weekly show where they discuss topics related to ‘Happiness, Creativity and the Human condition’.

This podcast is an awesome listen, real fun – I find myself laughing and smiling along on my commute. There are so many great things about this, least of all is that these guys aren’t Christian. Which means they’re actually trying to work through answers to their questions, intelligently and seriously, and aren’t satisfied with shallow answers. I often find that Christians assume the “outside world” are content with shallow answers to life’s difficult questions.

This is not true. Here is an example of what I’m trying to get at:

On an episode I recently listened to they talked about dealing with rejection. They explained that one of the reasons rejection hurts so much is because it messes so much with our sense of identity and self-worth.

Now the typical Christian assumption I’ve heard, about where people get their sense of self-worth from is 2-fold: 1) External factors: e.g. how much they earn, type of job, grades at school/university, clothes and status symbols, friends etc. OR 2) Internal factors: e.g. self-confidence, my own dreams, sense of individual potential, what I am able to tell myself about myself etc.

Christians then seem quick to quip the rhetorical question: “well, what if one of these factors fail you?!”…Which leads on to their tirade about how our sense of worth & value, our sense of Identity needs to be received from the unconditional love of God demonstrated in Jesus. This will never fail.

[Insert parable about a scrunched up bank note still having value compared to a scrunched up piece of printing-paper]

Great, I agree.

But, this 2-fold view of how people get their sense of self worth is shallow to say the least. What Taimur and Ali Abdaal reckon is that our sense of identity should be Diversified. By this they mean, that we don’t just lean upon one external factor and/or an internal factor but that we rest it on all the different and diverse things that go into defining us.

Until we appreciate that people who don’t know Jesus have much more sophisticated methods of coping without Jesus than we assume – we will find it very difficult to bridge the gap and offer them something that they actually ‘feel like they need’.

This Diversifying strategy is complex and sophisticated and reveals why people aren’t flocking to Jesus as a source of self-worth the moment they lose their job or fail their course.

So what can be done about this? It’s all well and good easy to complain, but what solutions?

  1. Listen and learn: feast guidelines. I’ve been had the benefit of working with this Birmingham based charity called the Feast! Who are all about having conversations (and food) with people of different beliefs. They put together this guideline for good dialogue. I really like the top-centre one:

Do not tell others what they believe, but let them tell you.

Maybe this way we can have more effective conversations and be less condescending.

Guidelines-for-Dialogue-blue

*I do think it is important to have time in silence as a spiritual discipline. I try to fight for this in other moments in my day & week!

Discipleship – Multiplying life

img_0493There we go, there’s a nice, big, blocky, pixilated photo for you all to fix your eyes upon. I’m sure we’ll all enjoy zooming in and out of that with the tiny smartphone screens. Thanks for stopping by.

I wanted to share the contents of a chapter I read today from Mike Breen’s book: Building a Discipling Culture. Now I have some bones with this book, bones to pick, things I don’t like. And since it’s much easier to criticize and complain, I think I’ll start with that. 1) It’s pricey, pricey for a book. You’ll be dishing out close to £20 for a book < 300 pages. 2) I find the Bible examples very loose supporters for the ideas and concepts this guy/organisation are introducing. 3) The number of shapes used for diagrams, borders on the ridiculous.

So there’s 3 whinges. Here are three positives 1) I’m a sucker for shapes and diagrams, 2) the concepts are pretty good and probably biblical (but even if not,  they feel like reasonable common sense and the writers seem to have a hefty bit of experience and know-how). 3) Who can put a price on knowledge, knowledge is power and all that, so it’s an investment. You can always buy it second hand.

Along the way reading this, I’ve been taking notes and journaling a bit through my thoughts. Another benefit of reading with others, is that it slows you (/me) down and forces you (/me) to actually soak, reflect, think about the content beyond mere word-to-eye consumption.  Yum.

So here, in this picture which I presented you all with, we have an example of a diagram. This one is called: The Square. I think my notes around it make it pretty self explanatory. But here’s some key points/context:

  1. It’s about making disciples.
  2. It looks at 2 journeys, 1) that of the Disciple D1, D2, D3 & D4 and 2) that of the leader L1, L2…
  3. At each stage of the journey the Disciple and the Leader are supposed to take different postures in their relationship with one another. E.g. at the beginning the leader is High Direction and Low Consensus (in other words, leader says jump – disciple jumps), but towards the end the leader delegates work to disciple, trusts they’re competent and invites their advice.

So, now that that’s out the way…the real reason you’ve tuned into this fantastic blog. My opinion. What did I like about this? Why am I sharing it?

  1. I was really struck by how this diagram/concept reveals my failings and inabilities in leadership. One  of my questions to myself at the bottom of the page, reflects this. “Where am  I stuck? What are my next steps to overcome”.
    • Stage 2: Leader to be available for the Disciple in the discouragement. To be in the midst of the struggle and provide Grace (aka – reminding this is God’s work not ours, we are partners God will work through) and Vision (aka – reminding why the cost is so high, holding out the why and the hope.)
      • How do I move forward? – Take time to listen to the discouragement of others/myself and apply Grace and Truth. [Journaling activity]
    • Stage 3: Leader encourages journey towards intimacy not novelty. I get so impressed with novelty in Christianity (although I pretend I’m not). Not the novelty of emotional experiences and conferences – although I did at one point – but of books, techniques/disciplines and sermons. These are all good things, but they don’t compare to knowing Christ.
      • How do I move forward? – Spend more time promoting/modelling my walk with God, instead of the latest book, podcast or talk I’ve listened to. The quiet times, the practicing presence, the friendship with Jesus.
  2. As a disciple, and someone who has been lucky enough to have had several key mentors/(or as Clinton might call them “Divine Contacts”), in my life throughout my teenage years. I was able to go round the square and think through how each mentor/rabbi/teacher, discipled me in various ways. I’ve initialled them on the picture
    • AG – the importance of God’s presence, journaling, heart for worship and leading it,
    • L&S – being invested in, music/worship leading training, training for ministry skills, being known/significant, heart for world mission and supernatural, heart for holiness.
    • SB – techniques/disciplines for spiritual formation (journaling, Bible read through, reading), training leaders (like-attracts-like), importance of weakness for Discipleship.
  3. This book also challenged me to review the legacy of the relationships I had as a disciple of Jesus-loving followers, (as an imitator of Jesus-imitators!)… Where did each one “drop me off” on this square? Which areas do I need to grow in? With those who currently influence my walk with God and journey with Jesus, where are we at?

There we go, for those who enjoy lists and sub-lists, this was the post for you. Hope this is helpful and encourages you in discipleship to Jesus. I also hope this tool sparks again the challenge to walk in obedience of the Great Commission. (However you go about it!)