3 Prayers to Go deeper with God

The following Prayers were extracted from Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 33:

  1. “Teach me Your ways.” We are surrounded with the ways of our society, culture, friends, family and social media. Depending on where we live, we may be subject to capitalist or communist ideals. But we are from another Kingdom, and Kingdom of people belonging to God. And so we ask God, to teach us His ways, the ways of His culture, His Kingdom, His methods.
  2. “Guarantee to me, Your Presence.” Without His presence, how can we partner with Him in His global, eternal mission. How can we be distinct like stars in the midst of a dark world? How can we set an example to believers in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity?
  3. “Show me Your glory.” This is a prayer of a brave man or woman, who dares to speak to God face to face. This is the prayer of someone who is not satisfied with seeing worldly vision statements, plans, and ambitions. Who wants a Why that will empower all their actions. This is the prayer of a man or woman who hungers for the fulness of joy and pleasure forever more. This is the prayer of the person who wants to overcome sin, shame, addiction and brokenness. This is the prayer of the saint who wants to worship God powerfully.

Motive for Ministry

Gordon Macdonald, in His book Building Below the Waterline, vulnerably shares four flawed motivations for his entering ministry.

  • Need for Approval
  • Validation by Achievement
  • Longing for Intimacy
  • Power of Idealism

Motives are very rarely pure, when I first considered taking a year out of work to serve a Navigators ministry at the university. I asked my pastor at the time for wisdom. I admitted to him that my motives were quite muddy, either way. His response was that ‘motives are very rarely pure, even when they are they remain susceptible to twisting and distortion’.

This has been a principle for me in discipleship all these years later.

But if motives are so susceptible, what can we do about it?? 2 quotes from Macdonald which may help:

“Only the man or woman who baptises his or her motivations every dat will have any hope that things will not turn sour down the road”

“The moment you think of the Kingdom as a place to achieve, to become valuable, to connect, or to be a major player, you will quickly discover that this was never what Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Follow me’.”

May we be a people who ‘baptise our motivations’ daily, and purge ourselves (with the Spirit’s help) of any and all fleshly residue!

Spiritual Regimen, Rhythm or Intention

If you’re anything like me, you will know the feeling of setting yourself new resolutions and goals. After hearing a talk, reading a book or meditating on scripture we may feel prompted to act on the message we’ve received.

But how should we respond.

It may be tempting to respond by implementing a Spiritual discipline, such as prayer, fasting or solitude. We may want to commit to a 30 day plan of Bible reading, purity or a couple of months of attending Church whatever the weather.

This is all well and good. I love spiritual disciplines! But as many devoted Christians will have already discovered, after the 10th quiet time, our lives can quickly become full of new spiritual practices. And we soon struggle to maintain our new morning routine, exercise regimen, Thursday Fast, 1-on-1 weekly discipleship meeting, helping out at a local charity shop on the weekends, all the while serving our family with lovingly made dinners each night.

This is why the framework of Spiritual Regimens, Rhythms or Intentions is helpful!

Dr. John Coe, in his course on Spiritual Formation, recognises that as zealous Christians we may be tempted to overload our lives with activities and plans. But we must also remember that we are finite Christians as well (- and his finiteness, should draw us to God, just as much as our zealousness!) And so Dr. Coe suggests three categories of response (and they’re not complicated!):

  1. Spiritual Regimens – This could be a set time period (e.g. a week, month or year) whereby we will stick to a plan/regimen of particular conduct, in order to give God room to challenge and grow us in the area. For example: taking an online course, watching a series of lectures, starting a small group for a book, not buying anything online, etc.
  2. Spiritual Rhythms – This could be a particular discipline, such as Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fasting from cakes, Netflix or video games, silence, etc. We agree to incorporate such a discipline in our daily/weekly lives to strengthen the “muscles” of our faith.
  3. Spiritual Intentions: This is where we acknowledge, a calling from God to change our behaviour, grow our character, exhibit a virtue. But also acknowledge that there isn’t room in our finiteness, to incorporate yet another discipline towards this end. And so we offer up ourselves in prayer to God.
    • Present – “God, here I am, confronted by the challenge/example/conviction of x, y, z”
    • Recollect – “God, I understand that this is my current status because of everything you have done for me”
    • Honesty – “And yet, I am reluctant for whatever reason to change, thank You for revealing this to me.”
    • Discernment – “God, what are you doing, what is Your will, what is from You and what is not. Please give me wisdom on how to respond”.

It may be after praying in such a way, God will lead us to a regimen or a rhythm. Or it may be the case, that God simply wanted us to talk to Him about it and leave it in His hands. In Spiritual Intentions, we lean upon God’s power to transform us, and rely on His grace to work in our weakness. Yes, there will be times to actively co-labour with God, but there are also times to trust God’s Spirit at work – producing fruit – in us.

There is a real danger when we try and bring about the formation in our own strength, with countless lists of disciplines and plans. Rather, it is better to seek wisdom and ask God how we ought to respond to such truth.

And so next time you are challenged in a quiet time or talk, or even a walk in the park. Consider whether to turn this challenge into a Regimen, a Rhythm or an Intention.

Why do I pursue God’s heart?

I’ve been taking a course online over the last month and a bit, and I hit a bit of a wall. In the course we are taught a little about The Dark Night of the Soul, a season in life where we find very little pleasure in pursuing God’s heart. We may be reading our Bible, praying, worshipping, going to Church and all of this, but to be frank it is: tough going.

We just don’t feel like it.

One of the aims of the course is to explore the purpose of these seasons and help believers understand the work God is doing. So we can be encouraged and encourage others.

The course guides us to consider that God is weaning us of the ‘pursuit of spirituality for pleasure’s sake’.

It is here that I hit a wall. So I stopped reading and started thinking through why this troubled me.

It wasn’t long before I identified my main obstacle.

Belief 1 (from before the course): God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
Belief 2 (from the course): Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature.

So how can I reconcile these beliefs, are they compatible. Is one true and one wrong. What does wisdom say? Pen and paper out, Bible opened up.

I wrote down the beliefs more fully on a notepad:

Belief 1: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, God promises pleasure to those who pursue Him (Psalm 16:11)
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature. Therefore, God uses seasons of “Desolation” to teach us to pursue Him for His sake rather than pleasure. (James 1:2-3)

Then I asked myself some questions: What motivates me to pursue God? What should motivate me? What do I want to motivate me? Is there scripture to back up these reasons.

  1. I pursue God for my sake and He is glorified in this (Exodus 33:12-19)
  2. I pursue God because it is Right and He has taught/convinced me of this (therefore I cannot boast!) (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)
  3. I pursue God for His Glory’s sake and His glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3-8)

Perhaps both beliefs are true, and yet, incomplete without each other. I would phrase slightly differently to demonstrate this:

Belief 1: God is glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, He is gracious to fulfil His promises of pleasure to those who pursue Him.
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake alone is immature, though it is not necessarily wrong. Oftentimes, God will uses seasons of desolation/dark night of the soul, to teach us to pursue Him for His glory’s sake.

I hope this helped. Why do you pursue God’s heart?

I want to know You more

Sorry for a quiet week of posts (or lack of!) I promise I’ve got a meaty one lined up!

In the meantime I wanted to briefly share a song that blessed me tonight: knowing You Jesus , by Graham Kendrick.

It’s largely based off Philippians 3. I count all I once held dear as garbage compared to knowing Christ.

If you read the whole chapter and continue into chapter 4, there are some pretty cool verses that add to this theme and establish the mindset further.

V12 not that I’ve already attained all this (including the mindset) but one thing I do…

V15 all of us who are mature should take such a view of things

V17 join with me in following my example in this…

V18 because, as I have told you before, even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross…when we hold our religion, our self-righteousness, our tallies of good deeds, our material possessions etc, when we hold onto these things instead of knowing Christ, we make ourselves enemies of the cross. No! Let us count them as garbage.

4:1 therefore…stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!!! We must be reminded and encouraged to continue counting as garbage what we once held dear.

Such a powerful message and scripture passage. I pray that God would subdue the various idols in my mind and enable me to see them as garbage, to persevere in the race of treasuring Christ about all! I pray that God would bring me to maturity, that I would not be flattered by the things of this world but be content with Him.

Knowing You, Jesus
Knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all, You’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love You, Lord

Why I will listen to Bethel Music

In-house, Christian-matters. I don’t usually agree to post Christian debate issues on my blog, because I don’t think it’s actually helpful or encouraging. In this case I will because 1) my blog’s not popular enough, 2) the debate is happening anyway, 3) I think I’m writing towards a peaceful resolution between the two sides. And 4) I have been asked about this several times by other Christians and find myself having to rethink it all again – it is much easier to have it written in one place.

There is a bit of a hot debate going around some Christian circles and websites at the moment. And it’s one I’ve had to give some thought to because of a particular preacher I listened to several times each week during my teenage years.

It’s a strain of the prosperity gospel (as defined that God wants to bless you, with health, wealth and happiness), which is based on faith. Most prosperity gospel have their roots in blatant legalism – “Do good, get good”.

This faith-based prosperity gospel, says – “believe and get good”. Implying, when bad happens, it’s because you don’t believe enough, or you’re not “claiming” it in faith. Also implying, it’s always God’s will to answer your prayers – provided you believe.

(Aside from the common obvious points that several of Jesus’ prayers were not answered with ‘yes’…”Father let this cup pass from me”, “Father I pray that the Church would be united in love, that they would be one as We are one”…. [For more read: God on Mute – Pete Greig]. )

Popular churches that seem to espouse this teaching include: Bethel, Hillsong and a lot of the GodTV cast. Since Bethel and Hillsong also write a large fraction of the worship music out there, a common response is to stop playing their music at churches etc.

The reason being 1) they don’t want to financially support ministries with false teaching, 2) they don’t want to encourage new believers to seek out false teachers 3) they want to protect their flock.

All pretty legit reasons.

Here are some of my counter thoughts though:

1) Jesus, when confronted by his disciples complaining about people casting out demons in His name, responded: “whoever is not against us is for us”. I do not honestly believe that the majority of people in these churches, are opposed to Christ. (Furthermore, I don’t think it is my job to determine that.) Matthew 12:30-42

2) Paul writes, that no one can claim (and mean that) Jesus is Lord without the help of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 . I know this is a loose application, and that there are false teachers who can claim this. But I think we may be underestimating the truth of this passage to dismiss such worship leaders so quickly.

3) God consistently uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Some of the people God has used throughout scripture and history, have had enormous doctrinal flaws. Consider the precious puritans and their slave ships. Consider Paul, the worst of sinners. Consider me!

4) Not all worship music, and not all prayer, needs to be doctrinally sound. A quick perusal through the Psalms reveal prayers and songs that were not “theologically correct”. Is it Psalm 137 that talks about the happy man being the one who dashes infants against rocks.

Prayer and worship is about coming honestly before God with our true selves, bringing it before Him knowing we are loved and accepted. If we start censoring songs and prayers, don’t we encourage people to only present their “best self” to God. Isn’t this one of those things that Jesus came to set us free from?

5) Paul writes in Philippians, “it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love…the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble…But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, CHRIST IS PREACHED. And because of this I rejoice.” (2:15-18)

I’m not fussed if Hillsong and Bethel are making a lot of money, or even if this is their primary motive, IF their songs lead people to Christ. I rejoice. Personally, I have encountered God’s presence whilst listening to their music, and I know many have been encouraged to the Father’s arms via “Mighty to Save”, “Oceans”, “No longer a slave to fear”…

6) Linked to this is, my lack of concern about money going to these mega churches, that have dodgy teaching. All money belongs to God, He can reduce empires and build them up. As a matter of interest, do the Christian who refuse to listen to bethel, also refuse to buy clothes made in sweatshops, coffee that isn’t fair trade, computers from large tech companies. Micah 6. It seems a little showy and divisive to make a stand only in regards to music.

Furthermore, since God owns all the money, and gives all the authority and platforms…(see Jesus when He tells Pilate that the authority he has is only from God). Do we trust Him.

7) There is a measurement of conscience, love and faith in this. See 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14. In short, (I’ve explored in another blog post), Paul talks about how knowledge can be used to puff up, or can be used in love. He talks about eating meat offered to idols, and how it may be right for some to eat, and it may be right for some to abstain…depending on their conscience, faith and love.

There is a cutting line here: “Whatever is not from faith is sin”. If we can’t eat meat offered to idols, listen to music produced by Bethel with a clear conscience then we shouldn’t. If we can’t listen to Hillsong’s songs, without causing our fellow believers to stumble than we should abstain. Will we let love and conscience impact how we carry out our faith.

8) Jesus said “my sheep know my voice”. Do we trust that this is true? Yes, there is a place for warning against the wolf-like false teachers. But there is also a place for trust that those who are God’s children can recognise His voice.

9) Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. Do we trust that this is true? When it comes to false teaching and heresy and people’s faith, we often work ourselves into a state where fool ourselves into believing we care more about this all than God does. No, God cares, and He hates lies. I don’t mean to belittle the impact of false teaching and lies. I love scripture and God’s truth, it is my life!

Just as the prophet declared about the early Church… “Therefore in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” Acts 5:38-39

Simply Sit and Be Still

God’s presence is so good. We can just sit and abide in it.

Bring Him questions, ideas, thoughts, fears, wishes and dreams.

Jesus has worked this privilege for us. We can enter God’s presence and dwell there.

Try it. Make yourself physically comfortable, and sit, be still. Once you’ve finished pouring yourself, emotionally, mentally etc, to Him…let Him pour Himself out to you.

It really is incredible. We can become one with God.

On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you (John 14:20)…. may they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are One – I in them and You in Me…. (John 17:21-23)

We would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.

Black and White – or Grey

I am young, relatively, at least in my mind. I still tend to see the majority of decisions as black and white. When I turn the heating on, it’s either “fully on” (5/5 on all the radiator dials) or “fully off”.

When I order a pizza, unless my wise wife stops me, it’s a ‘large’ with all the sides.

These are trivial examples. The more controversial: who should I vote for? How honest should I be? Who can lead a Church, who can preach, and who can’t…and why? What is gender, can it be changed, can it be defined? What is loving, what is not? Should I sell all my possessions to the poor?

I know a lot of people say that as you get older things become less black and white, and a little bit more grey. There is balance, there is nuance, there are caveats and conditions.

I think I am old enough to believe this.

But, at the same time, I think I’m young enough to know the importance of black and white clarity.

Black and white clarity, enables confidence. Where greyness, implies compromise.

Balance. So, was Jesus black and white, or was He grey? A few moments spring to mind:

1) When asked whether His disciples should pay tax, He said: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.

2) What speaking on promises and vows, He taught that: we shouldn’t swear by heaven or earth, but let our ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ mean ‘no’.

3) When confronted with the woman caught in adultery, He challenged the accusers ‘to throw the first stone only if they had not sinned themselves’.

4) When asked upon which mountain worship was to happen, He foretold: that a time was coming where people would worship in Spirit and Truth.

5) When asked if He was the Son of God, He replied: This is what you say I am.

6) When asked whether or not the disciple John would live forever, Jesus explained: “If I want Him to remain alive, what is that to you”

7) When asked “who is my neighbour”, He told a story and asked in return: “which man was a neighbour?”

It seems our Lord and Saviour was black and white in certain areas, with a wisdom and Gandalf-like ambiguity in other areas. He spoke plainly to some, in parables to others and in riddles to many.

Pain does not equal effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your experiencing pain, check why.