I get to do this everyday!

One of my favourite things to do as a Christian is to get time alone with God. For some reason, I don’t think a lot of people who “love Jesus”, love spending much alone time with Him. There’s probably a lot a play with this, and there are times I lose sight of the great benefits of deliberately carving time into my day to abide in His presence without distractions.

But I’m having great times meeting God these last few weeks. That’s for sure, its keeping me focused and joyful in the midst of the UK lockdown. I wanted to share the routine I go through, partly because I’ll end up looking back on this post later down the line with fond memories. And partly because I think it might encourage other people to spend time with Jimg_0918esus.

I put on the coffee, I have one of those fancy hob-cooking coffee machines, I actually bought this to have “special coffee” with God. So I only make coffee in the hob-cooker when it’s me settling down to meet with my King and maker. (Kind of like going somewhere nice for a date!)…

Then I sit down in my special chair, with my special coffee and read my Bible. (Very lucky to have one of these, heard about a boy who had to pray and fast for weeks in order to get one in China during cultural revolution.) Sometimes I might find my mind wandering, so I’ll have to stop and ask God to help me focus. It’s usually early in the morning, and despite the coffee, it can take me a while to get in the zone. I want to hear what God is going to say to me.

img_0917

As I read I’m underlining, and making little notes in the margins. I’ll transfer these into my notebook when I’m finished reading. But I find I lose track of what I’m reading if I’m stopping frequently to make notes.

Then, when I’ve finished the readings. I move over to my desk, pull out my journal and switch on the Inner Room app I’ve got on my iPod. And pray through some of my prayer points. I love this app, because it stops you half way though and tells you to “Now, listen to God’s voice”…pen down and listen. I make a couple of notes afterwards, if I feel Him say something I want to remember.

That’s exciting, hearing from God. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the praying time get shorter and the listening time get longer. Because I kind of already know what I’m praying about, and some of the things on my list – I’ve prayed for over and over again. So listening is the exciting part. The last few days, I’ve felt like I’ve got my ‘daily marching orders’ and God’s given me specific tasks for the day ahead.

Then I enter the day. Filled with God’s word, with a soul that has been heard, and ears that have listened for their Maker’s voice. He leads me.

I get to do this every day, for free, and so do you. And I reckon, you probably want to do it too. So what’s stopping you?

A reason for Journaling

Here’s a warning, you know how people talk about having a love-hate relationship with things? Like Marmite, work, exercise or [[something humorous], well that’s not the case for me with Journaling (apparently a new verb to the English language!).. No, Journaling has had a love-like relationship with me for many years.

I started when I was a kid, pretty much as soon as I had my first encounter with God at a Christian summer camp. I started writing down things, like the day’s events, and prayers, and any “prophecies” I’d received that day. My summer camps were cool like that. I try not to take my “charismatic” upbringing for granted – but that’s another story for another post – don’t hold your breath.

My youth leader said, a journal, didn’t have to be anything fancy or the like – just a place where I could record what God might be saying to me. Click, I was hooked. Add to that my nerdish obsession with notebooks and… Worrlah!

Over the years my approach to Journaling has changed, (at one point, I had 3 different note books for 3 different purposes!) but for the last few years I’ve had a model which seems to have stuck.

But why? Why Journal? If Simon Sinek says ‘Start with Why’ , then why do I journal?

I don’t think I could put together a comprehensive list of my reasons. Firstly, because that’d require a lot more thinking and remembering than I’m prepared to give to a mid-week post. And secondly, it’d be quite a long list! And we all know, how important punchyness as a virtue to this site.

So instead, I want to mention the reason that it’s been on my mind lately. The one that caused a bit of a revival in my love-to-like-to-love relationship with Journaling.

Reason why I journal: It slows me down.

I am a fast pace kinda guy, at least that’s what I tell myself. I like getting through to the end of activities. More of a cross the finish line, than appreciate the flowers along the way. Results > process, in my mind. (Not that the process is bad, or useless, it’s not.) But I like moving onto the next thing. I like ticking boxes. Point made?

Well, fortunately I serve a God who has been able to use this trait of mine to build up His church, encourage His people and as a tool in discipling others. Huzzah! (as a side note, there’s a “wise-sounding” way of thinking that says “results don’t matter, all the matters is the process”. That’s nonsense too, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t talk about judging by fruit!) Nevertheless, there are still areas where this trait negatively works itself out. And one of which is in my personal devotional life, my quiet times, my walk with God in the mornings.

If I go about my quiet times without Journaling, I often simply focus on getting through my readings, and presenting my prayers. But Journaling slows me down. I won’t belabour the importance of slowing down. (I’m running out of time – ironically!)

But it is important to enjoy God’s presence, and savour it. Not just to tick it off a morning activity. This is not how I approach marriage or any meaningful friendship. Why would I subject the greatest relationship, the most character forming communion, the spiritually maturing, fruit producing, life exploding moment of my day to that!

When I simply gaze upon Jesus – I trust that I am being transformed. Journaling helps me  to do this. It helps me to slow down.

I would encourage you to try it for a week, see how  it affects your walk with God.

The White Flag: Called and Equipped to do much.

One of the significant activities God has been leading me into over the last 5 months is the process of ‘stepping out of ministry’. This has been an interesting time and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to share a bit of that journey and what it’s all been like.

Since October 2017, I have been doing what I called ‘bi-vocational’ ministry. I was working 9-5 for Cancer Research UK in their clinical trials unit, and at the same time running a student ministry with Navigators UK. It was great fun, it was a great challenge, it had it’s ups and downs like any ministry endeavour – but it was incredibly rewarding.

My average day started around 4.30-5am with all the regular routines and disciplines I needed to sustain me through the day (quiet times, exercise, reading and study), then I’d be out to meet with a small group of students on campus at around 8. We’d often simply read our Bibles and pray together. A fantastic way to start a working day, a fantastic way to approach discipleship, a fantastic way to grow friendships. Meeting daily in the mornings, you really do get to see each other on good and bad days – weaknesses exposed, yet together meeting to encourage each other and bring our days before God.

Then I’d be at work. I might meet someone at lunch (the trials unit was based at the university!). Then, depending on the weekday – I’d either be meeting a student 1-on-1, attending/leading/hosting a Bible study. It was busy. But being in my early twenties I have/had a lot of energy and time to spare for these good endeavours.

After a year at this pace, I added to my life FFM (Foundations For Ministry – a 3 year training course with Navs) and my wife and I took up our Church’s youth group’s mid-week gathering. Wow. Oh, and on top of all that, I was being allowed to preach once a month at Church (something I deeply cherish, and feel so honoured by!)…. Looking back on all this, it sounds like too much. But honestly, God sustained me.

I held firmly onto two verses which inspired and motivated and kept us both going…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!” – Col 1.28-29 (which continues beautifully and relevantly into chapter 2!)

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;” – Ecc 11:2 (I felt God give me this verse one morning in my quiet time, it also came with the word: there is a difference between investing and managing)

With these verses, which I genuinely believe God gave me, I was encouraged to do all the many works I felt He was asking me to do. He put the work before me, and then enabled me to do it. I would say to myself, and to anyone else, that they really shouldn’t do as much as I was doing, unless God has specifically called them to it – and to remember – He probably won’t call you to it permanently.

…And then at Christmas 2018, we felt very clearly God was telling us to start drawing back…

 

Heroes of the Faith

And it’s Monday again, and it’s a bank holiday at that, so I’ve had another good long weekend. Feels like I’m getting a lot of time off work at the moment – which isn’t a bad thing. But I forced myself to write this on Monday evening again, trying to build a regular habit of posting, even though I probably could have done something this morning. I figure if it’s the same time every week it’s easier for me to create a “habit” out of it. Regular postings are key. Consistency is at least. Nevertheless, excuse my rustiness.

img_03511.jpgAnyway, it’s been an eventful bank holiday and I wanted to write about an amazing lunch I had on Sunday. We were invited to dinner with some real hero’s of the faith! Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf. An older couple at our Church who have an amazing story to tell (in fact it’s so amazing he put it in a book, one I’d highly recommend!)

The Long View Forward

We’ve known this couple for years and Wolfgang in particular has had a giant impact in the way I live out my faith on a daily basis. When I was in youth group as a teenager, he came in  to deliver a session for us instead of the normal youth leader. He came in and shared about his personal devotional time. What he’d been doing for decades and decades!

Every morning he wakes up at 5am and reads his Bible and prays. To a wide-eyed teenager I was so convicted and challenged and awed at this man’s dedication to meeting with God. This was my target. And now as a 24 year old, I’m still doing it. Waking up early because some “old-person” in our Church told us that’s what he did to keep close to God. What an example to imitate! Let’s never be scared to talk about our devotional lives and what helps us connect with God with others’ because we don’t want to be perceived as proud, who knows what some eager listener might adopt as a result.

Anyway, long story short this couple spent a large amount of their lives in the middle east as missionaries. Now retired, they are still living out their faith passionately loving Jesus and providing themselves as a beautiful example for younger generations of disciples. I want to be like that when I’m old!

We really got to know them through their daughter and her husband who mentored us through our dating years and who now serve as missionaries in Egypt. Thank God for amazing role models, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the example, mentoring and investment of a stream of amazing hero’s. Wolfgang preached at our wedding on a highly unconventional & difficult passage we’d given him (Rev 19:1-10)

We got to spend time with them again for lunch at theirs after church… and well, what hospitality, what interest they showed in us, what vulnerability in what they shared, what hope they displayed for the future and what love for Jesus…what legends!

 

Role Maps

Holidays usually seem to be a great time to refocus and evaluate what I’m doing at the moment.

Am halfway through “What’s Best Next“, which is an interesting book which looks at how the Gospel impacts our view of productivity. He pulls together knowledge from a wide reading of “self-help” books and combines them together accepting the gift of “common grace” in each of them. But also going further and looking at which ways they are limited and how “gospel-lenses” (a term he doesn’t use) can help us see these methods and ideas in a more complete (or “redeemed”) way.

I think its a really interesting book, and hits similar themes as Every Good Endeavour – Tim Keller. Still not finished it yet. But I wanted to share a part of something I’ve put together in response to what I’ve read so far. In the book he calls them Role Maps. Alongside them I put probably what most people would call mission statements and core values.

Vision I’ve blotted out some names probably best not shared.

Although this is a work in progress and due to be updated in time. I found it really helpful to think through some of these things and just to write them out. This book and the Clinton one I’ve shared a bit from recently both seem to be the right books for me to be reading as I pray and think through options for next year.

I’ve made more graphs like the role map for personal and work for each of the categories on the Life one. Apart from having a lot of fun thinking through some of these things and trying to articulate them. It was a very useful exercise!

Two notes: “sermon prep” has the weekly symbol next to it, this doesn’t mean I’m giving a sermon every week. But simply that I’m trying to write a sermon a week at least structure out some points and put together notes. I’ve only every scripted a sermon once, so this isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Also “blogging” has the daily symbol next to it. This is far from reality. So the symbol functions more as a goal.

Simple conversation amongst zombies!

I am really impressed with people who are confident and able to make natural everyday conversations with strangers. Aside from it opening up great opportunities for sharing faith, and hopefully the gospel, it just seems so good human wise. Too often I look around the bus and see everyone sitting in isolated bubbles ignoring one another!

Our friends who are serving as missionaries in Egypt explained how this was a cultural difference and in Cairo this is reversed! I also appreciate that there are definitely times on a long journey or after a hard day where I need the space afforded on the bus. Just to “zone out” and reflect or shut down…and if I need it at times, I’m sure others will too!

Saying all that, I think we’ve lost something as (Christians and as) people in that it seems awkward and inappropriate to start these conversations. (Maybe, this is all in my head!) The opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead reflect this to an extent – people are kind of acting like zombies to each other – before the “apocalypse” even begins!

Yesterday I spent an extra hour or so in Leicester with one of my Connect leaders, and unintentionally and without effort I watched him engage two separate strangers in conversation. The first was the person serving us at a food court, simple questions like “How long have you worked here?” and “How’s your day been?” sparked a two way conversation which resulted in my friend talking about his own job in a pastoral role and how he trusts God for the finances.

The second was a conversation with a PhD student who was sitting next to us. I can’t even remember how the conversation started. My friend simply extended his hand to shake the stranger’s…

I must add, my friend’s motives weren’t to force the gospel in or anything Christian for that matter.  Just simply to engage people on a personal level, and initiate conversation. But what a benefit for me to watch, observe and be part of! The trick wasn’t confidence or knowing the right “gospel diagram” or having a perfect “evangelistic question”, but simply to ask how their doing, showing interest in another’s life, and smile!

As I sit in Costa, I take out my headphones and quietly ask God to make it’s obvious if He wants me to start or be part of spontaneous conversation. I ask that I would seem approachable and friendly to those around me…and I get on with my work.


…and who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? – Esther 4.14

I carry this verse, and change it: who knows [Paul] but that you have come to your [seat in Costa] for such a time as this… Who knows what God can do and might be planning to do… So Lord open my eyes. Amen. 

 

The Substitute for Habit

A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday, and I e-mailed my brother about an idea I had. I want to write a book by the end of this year. Or at least have a half-decent first draft of one. I worked out it would take about 3,000 words a week. I asked him if he would be willing to read my 3,000 every week and give me some feedback. Friday’s are my submission day.

Now, I usually get nervous about telling other people my resolutions, especially when I’ve kept them going for less than two months, even more so when I’ve only managed two weeks! But I’ve learnt something these last two weeks. And it’s not that other people help me keep to targets, and are really encouraging (although that is true!).

What I’ve learnt is the simple fact there is no substitute for practice. You see, I meant to do this project in January, as my new years resolution. Instead I focused on these youtube seminars by an author: Branden Sanderson. And also, I started reading Creative Writing for Dummies. I feel like I learnt a lot.

However, I remember my first week, I really struggled to put my ideas into words. Simple fact though, next week it got easier. I’m not saying it will only ever get easier, of course it won’t. I’m also not saying all that reading and watching and note taking was useless, it definitely helped!  But there was no substitute for practice.

milan-economy-dugout

…before I jump into a substitution metaphor related to football or something. Practice is also really important for consistency. You see, I don’t reckon that there’s many people who can flick a switch on and overnight become a consistently consistent person. No, they needed practice. If you are struggling to consistently get up early for your quiet times (there we go,  I spiritualized it!), practice. Don’t be afraid to fail, just keep practicing. See every oversleep, as an opportunity to try again tomorrow.

My mind is now racing for a scripture…resisting the urge to google one…Micah 7…Or 6. 7.

But as for me, I will look to ADONAI, I will wait for the God of my Salvation; my God will hear me. Enemies of mine, don’t gloat over me! Although I have fallen, I will rise; though I live in the dark, ADONAI is my light….That will be the day for rebuilding your walls 

Micah 7:7-8,11

So more often than not, I tend to write these organically. I don’t have a plan with where their going, just with the goal in mind that they glorify God, even if it’s through my weakness.

Above, in my opinion is worldly knowledge. It’s the sort of thing you’d read in a self-help book. Maybe even in  a Christian self-help one. A relatively safe bottom line, that you could probably work out, and test according to experience. The Bible passage I quoted seems to fit. So it must be true. I’m not saying its not. I’m just saying the Bible actually has a better answer to what is the substitute for Habit.

I reckon it’s Dependence on God and a focus on Him.

Matthew 6 I reckon it could be applied to Habits, quite as well as Food, Drink & Clothing. Because it says “For it is pagans who set their hearts on these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.”

Consider firstly, how many pagan (“non-Christian”) books there are on habits: “they set their hearts on these things”…Consider the words of Psalm 1, about the blessed man who meditates on His Word (Scripture) “day and night”…Is that not some that God our “Father knows you need”? What’s Jesus’ answer for those seeking after Habits?

Matthew 6.33: Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Maybe it’s a big leap? Consider as well the words of Romans 8:13 “If, BY THE SPIRIT, you keep putting to death the practices of the body, you will live”. We are called to fight our sin “By the Spirit”, in His power, strength and ability.

When it comes to building habits, the true substitute is Pursuing God. Practice helps…But God helps more. Pray, get on your knees, get into God’s word (Eph 6.17), call on His name.. It may be that the habit you want to build isn’t what God wants, no matter how “Christian”…Live by His Spirit, by His strength. Do everything to Glorify Him. 

Longest blog-post yet, I reckon. Thanks for coming on my meandering journey, with me, this morning.

Perseverance in exercise

My first, and probably last post of October…my blogging effort has been pretty pants lately. Part of it has been the busyness of my work, part of it has been finding structure, another is different priorities and the remainder is bulk laziness. So its with great hypocrisy that I write this post entitled: Perseverance.

I’ve been hearing the word a lot lately and it keep resonating – in a good way. I want to share how perseverance, a word which I struggle to spell every time and am resorting to right click the red squiggly line, is important in my life.

Since college/6th form I have been very interested in “working out”, by this I mean using weights and building muscle. I bought my first set of 10kg dumbbells when I was 17, because I had recently started my first serious relationship (with my now wife) – and I wanted to impress her. Throughout my two years at college I worked out about 4-5 times a week depending when my “rest” days were, very consistently. It was great to have a hobby I could seriously invest in. By the end of college I had bought another set of weights and was watching and learning a lot about exercise. Including vlogs from youtube fitness channels such as Elliot Hulse, the Hodgetwins and Sean Thompson.

By the time I was half way through my first year at Uni, my “home gym” had grown to a bench, pull-up bar and EZ-Bar. And I was still going at 4-5 times a week, now with a steady diet – counting calories and downing protein shakes…

Then new year came 2014 and for no apparent reason I stopped. Consistency stopped. I would exercise 4-5 times a week for about 2 weeks then have a month “off”. I couldn’t keep the habit going for longer than a month. But I was invested, I’d bought the equipment, I’d learnt lots and lots of knowledge about how many reps/sets and fitness terms…

I got Engaged. Then married. Still no consistency. Lots of attempts to start up again, but nothing lasting.

Then a couple of months ago I joined a gym. Hoping that maybe by having to leave the house, paying a monthly fee and seeing a familiar crowd training would keep me going…Well, it worked. For the last two months I’ve been in my gym 4-5 (mostly 4) times a week training!

Perseverance, in my opinion is less about consistency and getting it right every time. But still trying to work it all out in the face of continuing failure. I wouldn’t say I’ve been consistent in “working out” the last 4 1/2 years, not by a long shot, but I have persevered in figuring out what system will work for me.

I am aiming to leave the gym I’m at now and slowly transfer back to using the “home gym”. Life’s circumstances at the moment mean that I’m leaving the house at 6.30am most mornings and returning around 5pm most evenings. Because Monday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings I’m involved with various groups, the only set-time I will be able to “work out” consistently will be in the mornings. So I have resolved that if I wake up at 5am I will exercise at home, if later e.g 5.30 or 6 I will go to the gym. My plan being that eventually I will nail 5am wake ups. As of now, I will use the gym to be my crutch until I am able to motivate myself enough at home.

This is one example of per-sever-ance in my life. Perseverance I finally learnt a way to spell it right every time!

download-2