When in trouble…

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

These are the simple words of James 5:13.

As Christians, it’s good to be aware of the various self-help strategies. But I think, oftentimes, God will let us be in a place where no amount of self-help will help. Where no amount of strategic thinking, leadership expertise, experience or teamwork will do. He brings us to this place, where we are exhausted of all our effort and intelligence and power…

…SO THAT, we can learn to rely on Him. So that our relationship with Him can go deeper, as we learn what it means to depend on Him.

I pleaded with Him to take it from me…THREE TIMES….but He said to me: My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect and complete in weakness. – 2 Corinthians 12

Prayer is NOT the posture of power, but it is the posture of dependence. It is NOT the promise of safety, rescue or even changed circumstances, but it is the promise of being heard, known, loved. It is NOT the invitation of self-reliance, but it is the invitation for God’s will to be done.

Jesus, moments before the cross, prayed “God, please let this cup pass from me”….”but not My will, but Yours be done”

Shadrach, Meesach and Abednego, moments before being thrown into a furnace declared: “Our God is able to save….but even if He doesn’t we will not bow”

Moses, upon hearing that God would leave him, pleaded: “unless You are with us, we will not leave this place”.

When in trouble, pray.

See also: 2 Chronicles 20. Ezekiel 37. Isaiah 37.

Five Traits I’ve Been Trying To Cultivate

I recently came across a quote and a follow up question that have been on my mind. The quote is by a Desert Father called Anthony Bloom who was invited to preach at a mass where a visiting bishop would be in attendance. Bloom refused to preach and said:

If my silence doesn’t speak to him, my words will be useless”

The question is: how would I communicate with people if I were reduced to silence. What virtues would I want displayed in my life?

I’ve been doing some work with God along this theme, talking to Him about why I take notes, why I keep notebooks and why I am so quick to teach everything I learn. It’s an ongoing journey, but in the midst of it I’ve come across this chapter in a book by Gordon MacDonald: Building Below the Waterline. (Would highly recommend any book by this author and I have read two of his books twice!)

1) Humility

““A humble man, is never hurried, hasty, or perturbed, but at all times remains calm. Nothing can ever surprise, disturb, or dismay him, for he suffers neither fear nor change in tribulations, neither surprise nor elation in enjoyment. All his joy and gladness are in what is pleasing to the Lord.” – Isaac of Syria

“The way of the Christian leader, is not the way of upward mobility in which the world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross. . . . It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” – Henri Nouwen

2) Compassion

A question I heard recently about this trait, which I have begun asking myself: “Is my heart expanding or contracting towards others?” (-Especially those who think/believe/act differently to me)

“Compassion [is] the ability to identify at heart level with the vulnerabilities, fears, and sorrows of others. And to identify in such a way that one is not paralyzed but energized with great love” – Gordon MacDonald

3) Steadfastness (not stubbornness)

“Steadfastness means reliability of character, fulfillment of promises, faithfulness to key relationships, and (most important) living in obedience to Jesus.” – Gordon Macdonald

Am I steadfast in my friendships, in my commitment to Church, work and my ethic there, in my walk with God etc?

4) Faith

“Faith [is] an ability to trust in and draw upon the power of God beyond my rationality, my instinctive pessimism, my willingness to settle for less than best.” – G. Macdonald

I don’t just want Faith in God for my job, life purpose, vision or Church. But also for the individuals in my life, my friends and family. Do I have faith that God has good plans for them, that they are God’s handiwork created in advance for good works? Do I have faith that every member of my Church is an essential member and without which I cannot grow or come into maturity (1 Cor 12)?

5) Self Control

This week on the AskPastorJohn podcast, they replayed a segment of a sermon John Piper preached regarding self control and porn. I leave it here, as the means of self-control described can easily be applied to any battle with sin.

Desiring God: You can say no [to sin]

Systematic Theology 1: Introduction to Systematic Theology

Please find below my notes on chapter 1 of Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology.

A couple of notes on my annotations:

  • ‘X’ is short hand for Christ. Fun-fact Greek word for Christ is Christos, and is spelt ‘Χριστός’. I have therefore frequently used ‘X’ to represent Christ – hence ‘Xian’ meaning Christian. I don’t mean to undermine His importance or anything like that, it’s just this is a big book and taking notes on every chapter is a big enough task without copying words out completely.
  • I also tend to shorten the names of books of the Bible to three letter words e.g. Ephesians becomes ‘Eph’. In some cases like for the Gospels I have shorted to two letters, e.g. Matthew becomes ‘Mt’. And for some cases one letter (this is usually for Romans, which simply becomes ‘R’)
  • Whenever I use ‘Gk’ it means Greek and is referring to the language. Confusingly ‘HB’ can mean the book of Hebrews or the language. ‘ST’ is Systematic Theology. ‘OT’ and ‘NT’ are Old and New Testaments.
  • Finally in these notes, the things I have highlighted ‘yellow’ or place a ‘red star’ by are things that really stood out to me and were important. I would have spent some time praying about these things.

Apologies for any zooming you may have to do to fully appreciate these notes, I have found that viewing them on a phone or tablet it a lot easier.

BRT – Philipians

  1. 1.6 God will carry out to completion the good work in me. The longer I walk with God the more I see of my sin and brokenness. At first my sins are obvious and obviously bad, however as God continues His work in me I see me of my “respectable sins”. Pride, independence, unbelief, fear, worry. But this verse reminds me, no matter how bad it looks God is committed to completing His good work in me!
  2. 2:1-11 Simply I want to be a humble person. Reminding me to seek to serve.
  3. 4.6 Again, a popular verse from Philippians: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything…present your requests to God. One of the biggest worry factors in my life, especially as a married man with a wife and a degree of financial responsibility is MONEY! My wife knows this and one valentine’s day she ordered a mug off moonpig with that verse written on it! A couple of weeks ago we had a bit of a problem financially, we had just moved into our new flat (so we had had to pay a deposit and first months rent), and then we had to buy a new washing machine. My budget sheet was knocked off balance. Then my wife didn’t get the pay she was expecting from her work. Long story short, I forgot God, panicked, and stressed. This verse is one that I need to hear, pray, meditate and preach to myself on a daily basis.

Also sorry, if these BRT posts seem a bit rushed…they are. I have a lot of catching up to do. Will try to get a regular routine down for blogging, as I understand that is best…

“really supportive”

We had some friends round for tea last night, a couple we have recently got to know and are trying to build a deeper friendship with. Their a mature couple, who are almost retiring and have served in “christian ministry” most of their lives. They asked us a few questions about our coming to faith, and about personal stories. At one point in the evening the wife, of this couple, stopped me mid-sentence.

“You keep saying “really supportive” about a lot of your friends.”

When I get nervous, or have to speak in front of people, I often get stuck using frequent phrases like: “fantastic”, “okay-then”, “so” and “perfect”. Over the years since I’ve become aware of this I have really made an effort to try and stop it. There is a possibility that last night I was slightly nervous about hosting this couple, however I don’t think my returning to this phrase was accidental.

Over the years I have known, and been encouraged and built up by some “really supportive” people. I don’t think it would be fair to mention their names, but here some of the ways that I have experienced support from people:

  • Financial – This has been in vastly different measures from money towards our wedding, to fare to pay for the train home from a meeting. It didn’t seem to be a “super spiritual” kind of support at the time. But this really did help open doors for great experiences.
  • Prayerful – just read this post, to see how prayer has helped.
  • Words of affirmation – if you’ve ever come across the book about Love Languages, you’ll know that this is one of them. And for me I really really appreciate this! When people are encouraging me with words, not flattery, but genuinely encouraging me I find that supportive. There have been a fair few who have given me encouragement about my gifts, my potential, my past performances etc, that have nurtured a confidence.
  •  Opportunities – as a young christian with crazy ideas, I was so grateful for leaders who took those ideas seriously enough to give me opportunities. Some let me preach at their church, lead worship, start my own young lads small group, one guy even let me use the building to host prayer meetings. What confidence that inspired in 16 year-old Paul!
  • Time/hospitality – one missionary couple let me come round to their house twice a week, (for at least 2 hours a go!). I would ask them questions, listen to their stories and be so so inspired by their love for God. They were supposed to be back in England for a Sabbatical! Another guy committed to meeting with me one-on-one for my first two years at uni, teaching me what it meant to be a disciple!

Like a previous post, writing this list out not only makes me more grateful for all of the “really supportive” people who have invested in me. But it also makes me want to apply that to relationships I have now. I want to be generous; be praying for others; encouraging and building them up with my words; using my positions (limited though they are) to open doors and to invite people into my life. God help me! 

Final thought: I got an e-mail from wordpress, recommending that I put pictures in my posts. As someone who isn’t very creative I usually type in the title of the post and pick something from what displays. However, I chose this one, because it is a support frame (get it, support) for a shelf. The thing is usually support frames (or whatever their technical name is) don’t get noticed, at least not in my mind. I think being a “really supportive” person is like this, your not trying to be noticed. Its about lifting someone else up…maybe the Holy Spirit is now using google to prompt me to grow.


BRT Gospel of John

The three things that stood out to me in the Gospel of John were

3:30 “He must increase, I must decrease”. I posted something last week about this passage. These six words really challenged me in my desire for God’s glory. When someone asks me now what the meaning of life is, or what my life purpose is, I say rather flippantly something like: “to give glory to God”. But I know in my heart this isn’t my real passion. The thing is, a few years back it was. So this passage reminded me that this needs to be restored.

My prayer this week has mainly been “God please restore this passion for Your glory. Let me seek to live every moment in a way that will allow you to increase and me to increase”. The thing is I know how to tell stories in ways, or bring conversations around that eventually the topic will highlight one of my good deeds or great disciplines etc. I want my mindset to be, how can what I say and what I do bring glory to God.

18:22 & 19:4-5 . In the first verse, Jesus is slapped in the face and scorned that “How dare you speak to the High Priest like that?!”. (The irony is, within a few days Jesus will become the High Priest, of a new and better covenant!) In chapter 19, we see Jesus clothed mockingly in a purple robe with a crown of thorns on His head, IN FRONT of an audience. I didn’t realize this before, that the humiliating outfit wasn’t just in front of the soldiers but His accusers.

When I think about this level of humiliation, I realize the cross wasn’t just about pain and physical sacrifice, but about shame and disgrace. Jesus went through humiliation and shame for me. Not only does this make me so much more grateful for the cross. But also challenges me in my approach to dignity and self-image. If Jesus was willing to let that stuff go for me, I want to be willing to let that stuff go for Him.

21:7. In this verse, we have the disciples in a boat after Jesus is killed. And then they spot Jesus on the shore risen from the grave. The rest of the disciple’s turn the ship around and start heading back to shore. But not Peter, this guy JUMPS out of the boat and swims back as soon as he realizes it’s Jesus.

I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus. Even if other Christians show more restraint and think it is a little bit too much. I want to be the one who whatever the cost, jumps out of the boat for Jesus – even if that means getting symbolically (or literally) wet. Too often on a Sunday morning I don’t raise my hands or shout loud, when I am filled with praise for God, because no one else is and it seems different. Well Lord, help me to respond to You like Peter.



Not the Bridegroom, but the best man

So I’ve not been blogging for long, only a few days and I’m already discovering certain issues that I have with it. Mainly, just one big one. There is a level on which I feel that it is a very pretentious & pride-encouraging hobby (at least for me). I post things that I think are clever, demonstrate that I am a thoughtful person (or at least really really try!). Most of the posts (all 3) are about ME, or MY opinions, or what I think other people need to change/know. It seems so self centered, and know-it-all. I assume others who have blogged for longer have had to deal with this issue too.

I fully agree that God uses our weakness to bring Him glory, to build others up and to make us more like Jesus. Nobody needs to be perfect in order to “empty their cup”.

Saying this, I feel convicted that my heart is not in the right place.

Therefore, my approach to these blogs will change. They will be less preachy, less “that’s a good point”, less trying to get people to think “wow, this guy really knows his Bible”. It will be more a record of what I feel God is doing in my life. With the main aim to bring Him glory and to praise Him for what He’s doing with me! Less pontificating, more praise.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend (even if its the best-man) who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for Him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (I know that the party is not really about me, I am here to wait on the Bridegroom). He must become greater; I must become less. – John 3:29-30 Brackets added.

I am not saying this approach to blogging must be for everyone, I am really encouraged by other people’s thoughts, opinions and advice. And I want them to carry on giving it. But for me, for the sake of my weakness to pride, this blog can’t go on like this with my attitude like this. (Even if no one notices it!)

Join me, as I talk about how great God is, what I’m learning from Him. Not what I think others need to know, just where I am at in this journey. If you are encouraged or want to see my posts as advice, that’s great, that’s God’s work in your life. As for me, I will seek to glorify God – alone!

HE MUST INCREASE, I must decrease!

Undignified Zeal

So recently I have felt a desire to read through and begin typing up some of my old journals so that I have them electronically preserved and easier to read. Whilst attempting this tedious task, I have laughed quite a bit as my very excited past-self recalls different church meetings, worship band practices and meetings with my mentors at the time. It’s striking how passionately I write about God, about Church, about my quiet times and my ‘unsaved’ school friends. To me now there is a part of it which seems foolish.

For example my journal entry for 7th January 2009 reads:

LORD SET ME ON FIRE FOR YOU!!! Today I want to hear God. I want to be set on fire!!! So Lord God Almighty I pray that I will meet you today! Lord let me see visions, encourage me. And give me strength to face my temptations…Amen.

The Glory belongs to God forever and ever. Amen.” – Galatians 1:5

Fill me up with Your Holy Spirit fuel. I want this worship club to get started NOW! Lord HELP ME!!! Light the fuse! Amen

One of my close friends and mentors has moved to America recently. This guy taught me a lot about living after Jesus, dying to self, boasting about weakness and examining my heart. So when I remembered a couple of days ago that he used to blog I had to check it out. After doing a bit of searching I found it! It dates all the way back to 2006 back when he was my age, I have noticed that he too wrote in a very excited  manner about God and what Jesus was doing in his life. Maybe I wasn’t sooo crazy!

Whilst I have long heard how important it is to be able to relate to the world and it’s people, (and not just listen to Christian music – for example) I think due to  my desire to please people I have lost some of my original fervor. Even now I look upon my old self as weird, as too excited, (what I imagined the adults surrounding 14 year old Paul thought as well), but truthfully there is a deep part of me that longs for this zealousness – even if it seems weird to those on the outside.

Whenever I read the story of David dancing half naked down the street, I often compare it to my own expression of worship on a Sunday service. Hands in pockets, sometimes eyes are closed and if I’m standing at the back I might even raise one hand. I would hate for someone to make even a comment on my worship. It didn’t always use to be this way, when I used to lead worship at a previous church I was frequently greeted by “remember you’re supposed to be leading people”… “try not to get too carried away” etc. Whilst they do have a point, it’s no good if the worship leader is singing out of time, I envy the self-abandon I had then.

I know ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether my hand are in my pockets whilst I silently think about the words or if I am standing on a chair waving both my hands above my head shouting “JESUS is LORD!”…at the end of the day it is more important that my heart seeks to bring God glory, and has the willingness to express worship both ways.

My prayer is that God would allow my heart to be able to say, like David, as a response to what God has done: ‘I will  become even more undignified/contemptible/foolish than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes’… Lord give me the willingness to die to my pride.