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?

How Can I Improve?

Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.

When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask  it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.

Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!

There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’

I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore. 

Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval,  I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
  2.  There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
      • Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
      • Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
      • Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
        1.  Ditch the activity
        2.  Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.

In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.

 

 

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!

…consider this blog post #1 …again

Well I’m having a pretty awesome evening. It’s Monday after work, and I’m kicking back with some blog writing. It’s been a while and I’m sorry. Sorry to myself for letting this slip. But it’s been a pretty hectic few months, since December, and not in the usual sense. Hectic in what I feel like God’s been doing with me and teaching me and challenging me.

Not hectic as in lots of church activities, in fact a lot of the process has involved stepping back and saying ‘no’. Learning curve!

I think a lot of my posts for a long time have been capturing more of my thinking and less of my story. Which is fine, but it probably means people reading this don’t know much about what I do or what’s going on in my life. I think I want to steer this blog more to capturing the events, activities and moments (life stuff) rather than the thoughts, insights, teaching.

Firstly, I reckon there are lot’s more clever people writing what I’m writing, more eloquently and with more thought behind them. Not that that’s an excuse for people to not write – obviously – otherwise how’d we grow. But secondly, one of the reason’s I started the blog was to record the journey God’s taking me on. My “thinking” has been recorded in prayer journals and sermons and unfinished word documents attempting to become one-day books of awesomeness. But my day to day existence, my journey, my jobs and friendships isn’t really documented anywhere. I want this place to be a website I can look back on for memories, not for cringing moments of regret (how did I ever think that!) and I’m sure I’ll still cringe at photo’s and the way I write.

So consider this blog post#1 of a new start. A new edition of clay jar.

I’m not sure at the frequency of posts, I’m trialling once a week with a Monday evening/Tuesday morning deadline. I’ve had  a great time tonight writing for this page and my shared-blog with my brother, a glass of whisky and a quiet flat to myself. So we’ll aim for this again next week.

Thanks for tuning in and for ‘liking’ these posts – it’s very encouraging!

P.S. This also means I won’t be finishing the Systematic Theology posting series. But I can’t recommend enough the notes on this webpage if you’re interested. P.s.s For those who care about me learning this stuff: I’m still working my way through it, and I think joining with a friend soon to discuss our findings from it (God-willing!) Hopefully I’ll be finished 2019 still. We’ll see.

P.S.S. I’m growing a beard

IMG_0342

Agenda Item #1 See the person

2016-07-Agenda-Papier-2

We all have agendas, some of them are big and important, some a small and silly.

We set ourselves an agenda each week when we go shopping. We look at our watches, outside the doors of aldi, and we see if we can make it round the shop, past the checkouts and back out the door in less than 20mins. Shopping shouldn’t take that long should it? So we set our self the target of getting it done quick.

The thing with agenda’s is that people often get in the way of them. There’s that family with kids running around the aisles blocking your path. There’s the old lady with a walking stick – whose left her basket in between you and your goal (Why is she using a basket if she’s got a walking stick!?) Then there’s that lady at the checkout who is nattering away, like she’s the most sociable woman in the world – totally distracting the customer who is in my way, and also seeming to enjoy a superficial conversation with a stranger!

It’s silly when you put it like this but we all have them – agendas. Whether they’re work related: closing the deal, finishing the project, getting the promotion. Family related? Having dinner together, date nights, movie nights, playing a game of monopoly (and winning it!) Or maybe even “spiritual agendas”: getting to church on time, reading my bible each day or leading the music worship on Sunday…writing a blog etc.

The thing about agenda’s is that they can often make us blind, blind to people.

There is a story in the Bible (Luke 13:10-17) about Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, – anyone who is a teacher or has done teaching will know that you teach with an agenda. They’re called “learning objectives”/L.Os – we had to write them out as school kids, so that we knew what the teacher wanted us to learn. Jesus had an agenda this Sabbath, He wanted people to learn something. But despite His agenda, he saw a woman in the crowd who was suffering. He called her out and healed her. This messed with the agenda of the synagogue leader – who’s agenda it was to make people feel guilty and bad about themselves (joke!) – his agenda was keeping the Sabbath sacred.

Both these agendas are important. Teaching is important (hence the effort that goes into schools in this country: maintaining them, training teachers, inspecting them etc). Keeping the Sabbath is important (it’s the 4th 10 commandment)! But the difference between Jesus and the Synagogue Leader in this story, is that Jesus wasn’t blinded by His agenda. He could see the woman in need.

Who is the person, who are the people – God wants you to see? They may be the very people in the way of your agenda.

 

Reps conference 4 the wall


So far we’ve had 2 sessions (where we all get together, worship and have a talk), 2 seminars (more focussed times in smaller groups, looking at more personalized issues. And a big business meeting which mostly went over my head – where the “Board” talked us through some changes and finances stuff.

I wanted to share briefly, while sitting in a corridor on babysitting duty – apparently a 1st year tradition, about one of the seminars.

The topic was about what to do when it seems you hit a wall/obstacle in life or ministry. The couple walked us through 5 common (and at different times – appropriate responses). 

  1. Fight against it, resist the barrier & attempt to push through.
  2. Give up, this kind of response usually results in blaming others, feeling inadequate, worrying, envy. But can also just look like admitting a mistake or accepting this journey isn’t thee right one.
  3. Change route, so maybe go the “long way round” instead.
  4. Wait, simply wait for the right time when the barrier may be lifted.
  5. Change destination. Instead of France go to Scotland for example.

I found this list really helpful. As I think about my personal calling into Church leadership and the using of my felt gifts. And the obstacles I am up against now. This list seems to spell out my options.

As it hopefully obvious all these responses can be appropriate depending on the situation. And each response can be carried out from godly secure motives or selfish, sinful and insecure motives. 

Am I willing to admit I misunderstood God’s will? Am I able to accept that a calling I thought was for life might have only been for a season? Am I prepared to wait doormant but faithfully until God opens the way? Am I secure enough to face the critiscm of others in my decisions when I hear God’s leading? Am I resiliant enough to weather harsh resistance in the face of the calling? Where is my confidence and sense of identity in all this.

God bring me to maturity, nurture my character, increase my love, faith and hope, develop my competency and tabernacle in me while I remain in You. Amen!

BRT – Galatians

I’m getting behind in posting these up, but I still want to try and keep the books in separate posts.

  1. 4:21-31 . Galatians has the theme of ‘receiving the promises by faith NOT works’ all the way through. And here in these verses we get an amazing example of what happens when we try to go about it in our own strength. The example is from the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah are pr0cde6e532bc2d13e8c7568185081d1d9omised to by parents of a nation – basically! But their old and they doubt God is able to do it, so they try and make the promise be fulfilled in their own strength – by works. The result is Abraham sleeps with another women, who is younger and she gives birth. They have a son they call Ishmael (whose descendants later give God’s people a bit of trouble in the OT). But God does provide for Abraham and Sarah their own son. Anyways, I just like it, lets trust God to provide rather than trying to get things our own way!
  2. 5.8-9 “It only takes a little hametz (yeast) to leaven the whole batch of dough”. Paul is talking about false teaching. I found this challenging, because I really like to listen to sermons from a wide range of denominations and who speak in a variety of ways. And there’s one guy in particular, who I’ve listened to his sermons since I was in secondary school. As I’ve got older I’ve become more and more aware of things I believe He says which contradict God’s Word. There was a point about three years ago when I stopped listening because I got so frustrated by it! Anyway in the recent months I’ve started listening again, this time as an intellectual exercise. I think: “It can’t all be bad, let’s see if I can find the bits I disagree with and find ways to argue against them from the Bible“. But reading these verses in Galatians was like a stern warning to me in this, it is much more dangerous than I imagine. I still think there is some gain in listening to teaching that is dodgy (in that I am learning to see faults and stronger my own conviction and ability to teach others correctly), and I am also convinced every preacher gets it wrong at times. But maybe it would be better to do this “intellectual exercise” with some other wiser and more mature Christians alongside me – rather than handling the fire on my own. This is a stern warning to me, and I want to take it seriously!
  3. 6.12 “It is those who want to look good outwardly who are trying to get you to be circumcised.” Again this is related to false teaching. In this church at the time, part of the false teaching of receiving right standing with God by works – rather than grace – was telling people they needed to undergo circumcision. Paul explains how this is also just another form of ‘works-based-righteousness’ and was wrong! When I read this I saw a connection between them wanting to look good outwardly and false teaching. Again this was a warning for me, one thing I’ve noticed through my Bible reading lately is that desire for reputation keeps coming up as a challenge point. When I read this I felt like God was directing me to be rooted in my Identity which is based on Him rather than my reputation. I find this difficult and have realised that appearance/reputation are the things I often idolize over God’s Word in regards to my identity. I used to think it was achievement, and I guess there is a bit of that in there, but deeper down I think my mind goes: achieve so that you will be recognised/have a good reputation/appearance.

The prayers in Ephesians were good to read to help me in being rooted in His Word over me:

“In my prayers I keep asking the God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the glorious Father, to give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you will have full knowledge of him. I pray that he will give light to the eyes of your hearts, so that you will understand the hope to which he has called you, what rich glories there are in the inheritance he has promised his people,and how surpassingly great is his power working in us who trust him”

“I pray that from the treasures of his glory he will empower you with inner strength by his Spirit, so that the Messiah may live in your hearts through your trusting. Also I pray that you will be rooted and founded in love, so that you, with all God’s people, will be given strength to grasp the breadth, length, height and depth of the Messiah’s love, yes, to know it, even though it is beyond all knowing, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.”

i-face (2): Practical Steps

00c7ff5d74230fd121e57beccb3659c3

This one is probably less Bible based and more common sense. I’ll try and support things with Bible as I can – hopefully the principles will stand. For anyone who didn’t read my last post, the i-face is an acronym for dealing with confidence. There is a situation that seems coming up and I think confidence will be key in helping it. The first post, focused on the letter “i” which was identity, it talked about how our ID should be built on Christ and what God says about us rather than all the other things that are valued: achievements, personality, appearance, popularity etc….

So “FACE” stands for… Familiarisation, Acceptance, Competence and Enjoying…And because I’m not too much of a creative type these words may be a bit of a stretch from what I actually mean by them. But I hope its helpful. Also because I think prioritising is important I’m actually going to order it ACFE. Anyway – my unprofessional-ism is now adequately exposed!

A – Accepting – (the audience), when we looked at “I” we looked at accepting self – not on a “everyone’s a winner” basis, but on a “the God who has ultimate authority over all creation has said these things about me” basis. Here though, we are looking at accepting the audience. In preaching or serving the church this is crucial! We need to love the Church and the congregation. In order to love someone, you kind of need to get to know them first!

It could be said that this would make it harder to be confident! Some people find that it’s easier talking to strangers. But I say it’s harder to truly love strangers – love in the sense of unfailing/despite faults – because you don’t know strangers faults and they don’t know yours. But why is Love important in confidence. WELL, without love our preaching and teaching is pretty useless see 1 Cor 13 on using gifts without love! Therefore if our preaching is without love, then it is not accomplishing much for God’s Kingdom, if it’s not accomplishing me, how can we be confident in what we’re doing! We’ll just be relying on our own strength rather than God’s and that is a formula for un-confidence. Hope that all makes sense and the argument follows!

C – Competence – again it’s important that the “i” is in place first! Without the “i” we can value ability and take our identity claim from that instead! A recipe for disaster. Competence is pretty self explanatory. It helps our confidence if we are good at what we do. Therefore we read up on what we’re speaking on, we talk to experts, we prepare well. We read, listen, ask questions, take classes… The only thing here is not putting competence over “i” in terms of priority!

F – Familiarisation – this is linked to competence, once we know the stuff, once we’ve developed the skill. We want to practice it. Andy Stanley writes about the importance of memorisation when it comes to preaching. How much it communicates about the importance of what you’re saying to your audience and etc etc. I know it’s not possible for everyone to memorise their talks but at least be  very very familiar with the main points and how we plan to present them! This will build confidence!

E – Enjoyment – This is probably deemed as the least important, and maybe out of the four it is. But I still think it’s crucial. People will be able to tell if you’re not passionate and excited about what you’re talking about. They will “feel” whether or not it is a pleasure for you to speak to them or if it is a “chore” or a duty. If you are aware, you will sense this reception. I think it makes sense. Therefore if we want more confidence lets try and find ways to enjoy sermon, or at least  (if it’s a tough or sad topic) realise it’s importance! I find that passion is contagious, so maybe if you don’t get excited about the tabernacle system and how it relates to the new covenant (for example) talk to someone who is – maybe it will rub off on you.


RTTQ – So how can we develop confidence in preaching/teaching?? Make sure our identity is staked in what God says about us, not what others (or self) says. Then take the practical steps of getting familiar with the text, accept and love the congregation, develop competence and finally make efforts to enjoy and be stir passion for the subject – realising it’s significance.

This definitely isn’t the most comprehensive, or exhaustive tips. But I found them helpful when thinking through it for myself with God. Hope you find it helpful too!

i-face (1): Identity Foundation Truths

public-speaking-anxiety

My wife woke me up last night to tell me there’s a possibility I might be preaching at our home church in a few months. Apart from really loving preaching and feeling quite excited that I might actually be able to do it at our home church. (In the past I’ve only done it at churches we used to go to or at youth camps.) I also felt incredibly nervous. The church we are at, at the moment is very clever – not that the others aren’t – but most people there are graduates and the preaching is very expository and detailed. Whereas I’m used to using themes and blah blah blah…In short – I’m nervous and don’t feel too confident.

Even though at the moment preaching only seems a possibility. I got really nervous. And so this morning as part of my quiet time I lifted it to God and asked for Him to help me with confidence. I wanted to share a little seminar/talk/notes I got. The acronym is i-face (like iphone 😉 )

I – Identity (foundation truths). This is probably why I get so nervous about such things! I base a lot of my identity on how other people perceive me. Therefore if I do a “good” talk people will like me and if people like me then I am a precious person! At least, that’s the reasoning in my head. It’s an achievement & popularity based identity. In truth this is a form of idolatry, idolising myself and others – letting their opinion count more than Gods. The book of Ephesians is a great book to help us understand what God’s opinion of us is. Looking at Chapter 1 we see four foundation truths about ourselves

  1. V7 We are Forgiven – No matter what we’ve done wrong and what we should have done but didn’t do right, God forgives us and doesn’t count it against us. He can do this because Jesus died on the cross for our sins!
  2. V4&11 We are Chosen – Although a lot of people have spent a lot of time debating the finer details of what this means, simply it means God wants you on His team. You are good enough (because Jesus died for us on the cross) to be on God’s team. And if you are on God’s side, you have nothing to worry about.
  3. V5 We are Sons/Daughters – In the gospels Jesus unpacks this in many many ways. But one of my favourite is found in the Gospel of John (15.9) “just as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Think about how much a perfect God loves His perfect Son, Jesus says here that that amount is the same for which He loves us! This is HUGE!!! (See: Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:23-4:7)
  4. V12&14 We are instruments for his Glory! – God wants to use us to bring Glory to Himself…This should make us excited.

Therefore our Confidence has to start and be built on these foundation truths! Not on our appearance, achievements and popularity etc. But on what Jesus has done for us.

Because this is longer than I thought it would be I’ll post FACE up tomorrow.


Saying all this, believing these four foundation truths can be difficult especially in a world that does place value on us according to how much we earn, what grades we get, how good looking we are etc. Therefore a really helpful thing we can do is PRAY!!!

In the Gospels we have an account of a Dad whose son is possessed. The Father brings his son to Jesus and says: “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us”. 

Jesus responds by saying: “If you can!… Anything is possible for the one who believes.” 

The Dad says, and I think in regards to struggling to believe the foundation ID claims we should pray like this: “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Father God, I do believe that I am Your son and, I am forgiven, that you see me as Holy and set apart, that you use me for Your glory, that You love me and have Chosen me. And nothing will change this or separate me from Your love. I believe that Your Word over me is infinitely more important and significant than any other man (including myself), but please help me overcome my unbelief – particularly when I forget it! Amen