Downsizing Word Output

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

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

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

How can we downsize our word output:

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

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

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

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

Persistent Widow and Friend

There is the story in the Bible about a persistent friend who stands outside his neighbours house a pleads for food. I think the moral of the story, is to be persistent with God. To keep praying, to keep asking Him for goodness etc etc.

But I wonder if there is a place for being persistent with our friends, neighbours and family about the good news of the Gospel.

Yes, I know at one point Jesus tells his disciples that if people don’t accept their message, they should ‘shake the dust from their sandals and move on’.

But, is there also a time and a place for being persistent? To continue offering past the initial objection?

I heard a priniciple recently from the controversial Jordan Peterson, who explained that most people only have a handful of objections to ideas. If you can get past those, most people will “give in”.

One website backs this up: 80% of non-routine sales occur only after at least 5 follow ups. But despite this statistic, 44% of salespeople give up on a prospect after hearing ‘no’ just once. After 4 objections, 92% of salespeople have fallen by the wayside. By combining these numbers it can be reasoned that the 8% of salespeople who continue to follow up after hearing ‘no’ 4 times will be rewarded with 80% of non-routine sales, which only occur after 5 follow-ups.

I know our job isn’t impersonal salesmanship. And that our friends and family are not customers. But, don’t we have something more valuable than new hoovers, beauty products and subscription package? Is it not worth sticking around past the sub-standard knee-jerk reactions & “4x objections”, and see what happens beyond this.

This won’t be the case for every friendship, conversation and relationship. However, the ones we have with people we care about can probably handle a bit of loving-persistence.

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 1: An Anatomy of Temptation – Isolation

A couple of years ago, I watched this dystopian film with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson – I would highly recommend it. Very thought provoking. Without giving any spoilers away, this film is based on the idea that ‘human beings behave better when they are being observed’.

And whilst this isn’t exactly the message of Genesis 3, it is related. What we learn about temptation in this chapter of Genesis, and what is later reinforced throughout scripture, is that temptation often occurs in the midst of isolation. When we are alone.

There was a little disagreement in the commentaries about whether Adam was there & present in the moment Eve was talking to the snake (see v6) or if he was at a distance hence the dialogue between two not three. Either way, it is clear the enemy is talking his lies to Eve alone. It is a 2 “person” conversation.

A common theme of temptation is isolation.

Perhaps this is why: Cain, Moses, Saul, David and Peter all experienced significant moral failures when they were on their own! Even Jesus was tempted severely when He was in the wilderness (Matthew 4).

We’ve all been there, it is easier to sin when no one is watching. And it is easier to opt for righteousness when others are around. (Maybe Tom Hanks had a point?!)

So, what is the solution?

Is the solution, then, to always be around people?! Or as Emma Watson decides, to have 24/7 surveillance present in our lives? Do we need 100% accountability with everyone we meet? No. Obviously not.

Whilst isolation is often the battle ground for temptation, it is also the crucible in which God develops and grows us. It is the place that He meets us. This is why Jesus withdrew to quiet places, this is why Joshua would stay behind in the tent of meeting when Moses had finished with God, and this is where David learned to trust God’s hand to deliver him as a youth. In the secret, hidden, quiet and lonely places. The Psalmist encourages us to ‘be still and know’ that He is God.

So, what is the solution?

Introducing: the Church. The body of Christ. Regularly meeting, to consider ways in which spur one another on to love and good deeds. To encourage one another, support one another, comforting, rejoicing and mourning with one another. To model a pursuit after God’s heart, declaring to each other ‘follow me as I follow Christ’.

Over and over again the New Testament invites us to live out our faith in the context of community. To fight our temptations together and to strive to obey God’s commands together.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” – Ephesians 5:18-20.

If we want to see significant breakthrough in our addictions, ongoing battles with private sin, let us disarm the enemy early and bring others alongside us.

Do not let the enemy isolate you further with lies that you are alone. See how 1 John 1:7 connects walking in the light, fellowship with other Christians and being purified from all sin.

Caveat: Church Community does not make you immune to Sin

It is obvious from history, that just because we are in a collective does not make us immune to sin. The letters to the Churches, in Revelation, remind us of this. Sometimes we can be collectively “lukewarm”. Oftentimes, it is because everyone else is sinning, that we feel justified. “It’s okay, everyone else does it”, is not a good enough excuse to disobey God.

Finally, on Discipleship

The Greek nerds among us, will know that when Jesus delivers the Great Commission in Matthew 28 He is speaking to a group of disciples. When He promises that ‘I will be with you’ , He is using ‘you’ in a plural form.

If we want to be able to resist temptation it helps to be part of community. Likewise, if we want to obey Jesus’ commands, (specifically, to make disciples of all nations) we should likewise go as a Church together.

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.

Genesis 2:4-25 Part 1 Given Responsibility

When I was growing up, me and my brother had a game which was to invent words to describe situations, feelings, circumstances that didn’t have a name. For example we had a word for that feeling you sometimes get late in the evening and you are thinking really clearly about all your priorities and life style. Coming up with names is fun and creative, it causes you to think outside the box.

In this passage, Adam is invited to name all the animals. God brings them to him and his job is to name them. What an honour, a privilege and a task. In this post I want to explore some of the implications of this process.

1) Adam is invited to work alongside God. We also see this at the beginning of the chapter where it talks about both man’s work and God’s watering being required in order for things to grow. It seems the God of Genesis 2, is not so much interested in accomplishing things, as He is co-working with man. This is why man names the creatures, but it is God who brings them to him in the first place. Co-working with God. We’ll explore this more in another post on work. But for now, let us be encouraged that God wants to work with us to accomplish His goals.

2) Adam can step into some of his God-like Capacity. In the last chapter of Genesis, God decides to make man in His image and likeness – thereby giving him God given capacities. It seems that one of the God-like capacities is naming things. In Genesis 1, God is seen naming things, naming light and calling it day, naming darkness and calling it night. He looks at the water and calls it sea, and dry ground and calls in land. In this chapter God is saying to Adam, “now it’s your turn” name these animals.

3) Adam is tapping into the authority God has given him. We explored in another post that God provides authority and it is our job to steward it. Here that authority is put into action. In this culture, to name something is to declare a sense of authority over it. In fact, one commentary said that in ancient Near Eastern culture to name something was to engage in “destiny decreeing”! To name something, is to know it.

This is pertinent for us as Christians, we should be careful about the words we use. There is power in words. May we speak faith, declare truth and use our words towards purposes of freedom, encouragement and life.

4) God has named Mankind, and He will name us again. In the very last book of the Bible, Jesus promises that to those who overcome He will give ‘a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it’ (Rev 2:17)

We are highly esteemed by God, He values our efforts, opinions and work. He listens to what we call animals and goes along with it. He wants to work with us. God trusts us and wants to work with us.