Praying like Jacob

I stumbled across the following prayer from Genesis 32:9-12 last week, where Jacob is talking to God about a family reunion his is dreading with his older brother Esau. For those who don’t know, when the two brothers were younger, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright as a firstborn son. Later on, Jacob would then deceive his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Leaving Esau out of pocket and furious.

Jacob fled, and started a new life, married and had kids, but knew that the time had come for him to come home.

Maybe we have something dreaded around the corner, whether its family or work-related. But we might find encouragement and guidance in the prayer of Jacob.

  • Recognition and Worship: Oh God of my father Abraham and Isaac. When we start we can remember who God is, that He is personal and intimate with us. He is also God over us. Too often we dive straight into petition, and our faith is weaker, because we do not first remember Who it is that we are speaking to. Somehow, faith arises in us when we recall Who God is.
  • Gratitude: I am unworthy of all the kindeness and faithfulness you have shown me. Similarly our faith increases when we recall God’s goodness to us. I was recently reading a Puritan Prayer which started similarly:
  • Plea/Petition: Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother.
  • Honesty: For I am afraid he will come and attack me and my children. I think we are often scared to be honest with God in our prayers. Honest about our doubts, our sins, our failings and actually our feelings. But God is big enough, and He delights that we can come to Him honestly. This is one of the reasons Christ died for us, so He could meet us where we are at.
  • Holding to the promise: But You have said “I will surely make you prosper”… There are so many promises in the bible we can hold to and present to God in prayer. May we find verses of promise in His Word that give us hope in prayer.

Peace – is not dependent on circumstance

I recently came upon a quote that really really annoyed me. I was reading a book about Christian leadership and the author had used a quote from John Wesley.

“Though I am always in a haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of Spirit”

His point that we should be weary about becoming overburdened by the stresses of ministry. In fairness he had a point, many church leaders burnout and enter extreme moral failures because of overworking.

Nevertheless it still irked me. So much so I had to put the book down, pull out my notebook and dig deeper in my heart as to why this annoyed me so much. Here is my thought-splurge (please excuse my honesty):

Why this annoys me:

  • The Peace of Christ for our spirit is NOT dependent on how much work we undertake.
  • The poor, the weak, the uneducated, the desperate and tired, are the ones who God most delights to use! The single mum juggling three jobs, two infants and a terminal illness, is just as able to go through ‘with perfect calmness of spirit’, as the wealthy church leader who has the luxury to choose which work he will undertake each day.
  • Ultimately, even John Wesley, cannot determine every day, this is for the Lord to do. We have peace not because we choose our workloads but because we trust in God.
  • May we have more spiritual leaders who are examples, in that they can show us how to seek first God’s kingdom in the midst of busy schedules, hectic jobs and family chaos. May we have examples of people who maintain ‘perfect calmness of spirit’ in the midst of intense trial.

Trust in the Bible

Following on from yesterday’s post, I wanted to share a handful more thoughts and ideas around this concept of trust.

Trust is connected to love – we often make trust a separate factor. But the Bible teaches us that ‘love always trusts’ (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is a risky position to take, do we trust those we claim to “love”? (If I could put Selah in a blog post, without feeling pretentious I would!) But consider the love of God, who entrusted to us the body of His Son, knowing that we would crucify, mock, and reject Him. God is love, and He trusts us. When considering our giving of trust to others, let us not measure them and their “trustworthiness”, instead let us measure love. We may be surprised, by how little we actually love.

There is probably a caveat there. But I want to cover more.

Trust in God produces peace – Isaiah 26:3-4 says ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you’. Our feelings of peace are not circumstantial. They are dependent on our trust in God. This is uncomfortable. This sounds insensitive. I know. And yet, does Jesus not say ‘do not worry’, and Paul ‘do not be anxious about anything….the peace of Christ, that transcends all understanding, will abide in you’?! This peace, which comes from trusting God, does not make sense, in the midst of unemployment, terminal illness, national suffering, COVID-19.

Quietness and Trust is Strength – Isaiah offers more wisdom on trust, in 30:13, when he says, ‘in quietness and trust is your strength’. Do you need strength, to get you through your days, the demands of your job, the pressures of family. Then seek it in quietness and trust. My mum would always say ‘the noise is always loudest in the shallow end’ (talking about public swimming pools)…likewise though, we often mistake strength for loudness. The way of God though is to give strength to the humble, grace to the weak and to hear the hidden prayers of the men and women who cry out to Him in their rooms with the door shut!

There are two further stories in the Bible of two characters in the Bible who exhibited trust. May we as people called to great love emulate them.

Ruth who trusted Naomi (Ruth 1:16-18)

The armour bearer who trusted Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:6-8): ‘Do all that you have in mind. Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul!”

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.

Genesis 2:4-25 Part 5 A Vision for Marriage and Friendship

In this chapter we see human relationships as God originally intended. We will explore 4 dynamics of this vision, and consider an application for each.

1) Equality

When God made woman, He used a rib, taken from man’s side. If you read the footnotes in your NIV you’ll see that the word ‘rib’ was taken from ‘part of the man’s side’. Why is this significant? Because it denotes equality between man and woman, not sameness, but equality.

But is this a modern reading, have I only come to this conclusion because I’m a 21st century reader in the western world?! No, see Matthew Henry’s Commentary (written in 1708) written over 300 years ago:

“That woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, or out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him” (pg. 8)

This was God’s original intention for relationships between man and woman. Equality, protection and love. How far we have come from this! How far we have rejected God’s plan and decided our way was best. How wrong we were!

In terms of an application, as people of a New Covenant, who live for the Kingdom of God, let us pursue equality.

2) A Song of Appreciation

We see some of God’s creative qualities arise in man, at the sight of his new companion! Man composes the first ever song, and it wasn’t a “worship” song! It was a song of appreciation towards his wife!

Too often we take relationships for granted, either that or we idolise them. Here Adam models for us a healthy middle option, appreciation and thanksgiving. May we do the same!

3) Leaving Parents, Cleaving to Wife

A challenge all couples are faced with, abandoning the old and enjoying the new. Marriage does not work if we carry our parents into it. Boundaries are required.

Jay Stringer uses the dichotomy of simultaneous “honour” and “honesty” when we think about our parents. We are to honour them, even as married people, but we must also be honest about how they have impacted us (for good or for ill). Part of this honest assessment is choosing to abandon that which was wrong, hurtful and damaging.

We all carry childhood baggage, either intentionally and explicitly handed to us, or subconsciously and unwittingly received. May we choose to leave this behind. At the same time let us seek to honour, and thank God for good parents who loved us and attempted to pattern for us God’s parental love.

4) Naked and Unashamed

This was God’s intention. And we see that it is one of the very first things to be destroyed by sin. Shame creeps in, people want to hide themselves, and forgo intimacy. We may hide physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively, verbally, or even behind various personalities. We dare not let people in.

And we have very good reason not to, have you see the damage and harm “letting people in” can do? We have all been betrayed, and hurt by those closest to us.

In marriage, may we lead by example in vulnerability. In our friendships may we match

One of my favourite definitions of intimacy, is a cheesy word-play: “in-to-me-see”. Within intimacy, we allow others to see into us, for who we truly are, and we are allowed to see into them.

I am stirred by the concept and power of vulnerability. So here is one final thought: We are most tempted to cover-up and feel shame over our weaknesses. We hide them, whatever they are. But in marriage God invites us to be truly vulnerable, to share our weaknesses. The Bible says that God’s power is, in fact, made perfect and complete in our weaknesses. Chose to reveal yourself in marriage today, not hide.

Tuesday Tools: Take the Initiative

I recently read through the Book of Jonah and one of the things that struck me was the complete lack of initiative on Jonah’s part. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the man who God told to go somewhere and preach, who then refused, got eaten by a fish and then spewed out and given another chance to obey God.

So where is Jonah’s lack of initiative? Firstly, it is God who tells him to preach. He doesn’t see the need, and if he does, he has been ignoring it til now. Secondly, in an attempt to flee God’s will he joins a ship heading in the opposite direction. A storm comes and all the sailors are trying to work out a solution. Jonah is burying his head in a pillow when they ask him to help.

Rather than immediately explain that the storms are probably here because he’s disobeying God, he lets the sailors draw lots (in the middle of a storm)…only then (when he is found out) does he explain. Even then its the minimum amount of information. At every point Jonah is hesitant and reluctant, every time he is waiting for someone or something to initiate for him. Be it God, a storm, a lot draw, a fish, a plant to be provided, an immature attitude to be corrected…

Thankfully, the Bible goes on to tell of a God who is not so reluctant, or stagnant, who does take the initiative to rescue us (- even while we were still sinners!)

I found this table produced by John Maxwell, it summarises why we fail to take initiative, perhaps you can relate (I know I can):

But initiative isn’t just a useful approach for living the Christian life. It is also a great benefit in many other areas.

1) Building Friendships – Over the last few weeks, I have taken the initiative to plan getaways with several groups of friends, and a couple of meet ups. I have been so surprised how eager people are for meeting. Likewise, another friend recently took the initiative for meeting with me. It is an amazing feeling when a friend makes the first move. It communicates value, both to me and to the friendship.

2) Exercise – One of the reasons I don’t struggle to exercise regularly is because I take the initiative. I don’t wait for motivation to strike, I just start lifting. Even when I don’t feel like it! Often, it is only when I have started that the mood actually “takes me”. This also applies to studying, reading, working, and lots of other areas. If we want something done, we need to take the initiative. We won’t be spoon fed.

3) Battling Sin – We are all tempted, each by certain things. Sin abounds in our human nature. But we don’t have to be passive about it in our life. If we struggle we lust, let’s take the initiative to put in place accountability procedures, remove trigger points as far as we can, learn to process and understand our unwanted behaviours. What battles do you face? Think of three things you can do today to take the initiative against it. For me, I recently realised how frequently I was buying things from Amazon on an impulse. So I took the initiative to uninstall the app on my phone.

What do you want to happen, what do you feel needs to happen, where would you like to be in five years time? Now take the initiative.

The Power of Dependency

charity

And I was charity shop browsing yesterday with my wife who was looking for new work clothes. We’ve recently got into this, because we really enjoy playing board games with guests…but we don’t have many games. So one friend advised us that we shouldn’t buy games brand new, because their so expensive instead get them second hand. One thing lead to another and now my other half is exploring the novelty of cheap clothes.

Anyway, whilst she tries on a multitude of dresses, tops, trousers etc…I’m looking through the bookshelves seeing if there is anything that might be interesting (either Star Wars or theology/leadership)… I spot “the Power of Habit”.

Recently I’ve been complaining to myself about how un-disciplined and inconsistent my life seems to be. It’s not so much that I’m not exercising, or not waking up early, its that I’m really struggling to pin it down for longer than two weeks. I’ll go a few weeks reading my Bible at 5am and then stop, or go really intense in my exercising and then stop. It’s probably why “the power of habit” caught my eye.

Later that day, I’m in Starbucks reading a different book “how people grow”… and I get to a part that talks about where a husband had a control issue with his wife – always trying to control her happiness. And he learnt to yield it to God. It’s a bit confusing unless you read the details, but at some point the authors write:

Self control was the fruit of giving up the God role and regaining the human role of yielding

and:

In your work with people, you have to be a funeral director…[showing them that] all their efforts have not worked, and they need to die to trying…

So I’m left thinking how do I die to trying to be self-disciplined, and rather rely on God’s gift of grace to allow me to be Self Disciplined. I’m thinking that Self Discipline is a fruit of the Spirit, and therefore not a result of self-effort (even if that’s confusing because of the name). Therefore I need to admit to God my inability to be truly self-disciplined, and ask Him to pour out His grace to me.

All of this to say that I’m learning my God does not drive us into action but draws us into following Him. 

 

Driven Dilemma (3)

Marathon

Once a week, a group of 3 lads (including me), read a chapter of a book and then meet up at our Pastor’s house together to chat about it. A couple of weeks ago we started “On the Human Condition” – St. Basil. We usually seem to only read the long-gone olden day theologians, which makes a nice change from my regular reading. The discussion began to border on motivation and drive. So at the risk of annoying everyone, and taking us down a tangent which was totally irrelevant, I put forward my recent dilemma about being driven for God’s glory. I didn’t regret it!

My Pastor, Andy, told me about when he was young he read an interview about an Olympic Runner (I think it was a runner) who got a gold medal. The article basically explained how many sacrifices the runner made in order to get the Gold medal. In other words he was driven to get the medal, and would sacrifice anything to get it: family, money, nice food, time, energy etc. Andy said when he read that as a young twenty something he was really inspired. If a man can give up so much just for a medal, how much more should I give up and be driven by a desire for God’s glory! 

Andy said that although this language of running a race and stripping off everything which slows us down is biblical (1 Cor 9:24-25, Phil 3:12-16). That there is definitely a cost to following Jesus, a cross to carry, a driven-ness that should be there. It doesn’t necessarily work itself out in the same way.

Pause. I want to be careful not to misinterpret what he said. I want to be careful that I present this well and correctly. I am not saying, or going to say, that living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t to be difficult, isn’t to be costly – BUT active, surrendering, submitting, sacrificial, with “every effort made” and “making the most of every moment”.

However…when we run the race. The driven-ness for God’s glory, does work itself out differently. It works out through our lives, deeply. The Joy of the Lord, which is our strength, demonstrates itself in our marriages, our work, our friendships, our exercise, our eating, our sleeping. Not separately for them.  (Tension: There are seasons where God calls us to fast from food, exercise, to rest from work and even to surrender certain friendships up to Him.)

So what does this actually mean, in relationship to my dilemma: How does my desire for God’s glory drive me to a greater degree than the desire for my own glory.

  1. I think it means, that I should expect this new sort of driven-ness to produce in me a different sort of fruit than what the other one did. Whereas one produced an appearance of holiness, sorted-ness, success, etc – this one may produce humility, dependency, patience, love, joy.
  2. I think it also means that the things I am going to need to sacrifice as a result of this desire, to an extent, will be different from the old. For example, whereas before I may have needed to sacrifice sleep in order to get up early and have a work out, I may need  instead to sacrifice self-dependency (2 Cor 1:9) so that I can rely on Him for my strength.

Thanks for bearing with my rambling again, as I try to work these things out! I am sure this isn’t the end of it, but I am excited to see what God is unearthing!

Aside from being comforted to know that my pastor has struggled with these questions, I am reminded of the power of God’s body (the Church) working together to build up; encourage; teach and sharpen each other!

The Driven Dilema

Excuse my mess as I try to present God’s work in me.

I read a couple of books last summer which have had a major impact on my life. Largely because they challenged my thinking about driven-ness.

Firstly The Spiritual Man – Watchman Neeadmittedly I didn’t finish this book. (In fact I barely got half way.) Watchman Nee as far as I know, is a 20th Century Chinese Theologian, and therefore does not have an extremely westernized version of Christianity. He points out (in the first half of the book) that a lot of what we do – we do out of the “flesh”, rather than the Spirit. Basically a large part of the message to the Galatians. And that when we do good works and “kill sin” from the strength of the flesh, it can easily lead to pride rather than sanctification. (Or at least that’s how I understood it, like I said still have to read the other half…and I want to do it with someone else).

Secondly, was a Gordon MacDonald book: Ordering your private world. MacDonald has yet to write a book which hasn’t been helpful for me in terms of understanding the state of my heart. In the first section of this book MacDonald points out the difference between a life which is “called” and a life which is “driven”. According to him a driven person is one who works really hard in order to feel called, and a called person is one who knows with confidence that they are called by God (loved, accepted…) and their work flows from that. And as I read the descriptions, I realized that my life definitely rode on the driven tracks!

Therefore I began a process of stripping away some of the unhealthy driving forces in my life: desire for recognition, affirmation, success, appearance of holiness, security. All things which in their proper place probably aren’t too bad but when they become the driving force behind your actions, any progress doesn’t lead to God’s glory but yours. This was a surprisingly painful thing to do, and I’m not convinced I am on the other side. I still spot new reasons why I seem to need recognition and approval, and have to pray about them, soak the lies in the truth of scripture, and ask for help from friends.

(As far as possible, I have been trying to do all this “in the Spirit”, rather than in my own strength. I am learning that this is much more about the posture of my heart than effort, (but it would probably help if I finished Watchman’s book).)

Trying to keep this blog post readable and short-to-the-point is a challenge. It has been almost a year long process, with many different roads of thought contributing to the discussion in my mind..So, long story short, where am I now?

As I stripped away the driving forces in my life, I became more and more aware that I wasn’t replacing them with anything. But what was there? My mind told me that I should be driven by a desire for God’s glory, let my life be driven to lift Him high – anything else seemed to fall short. But in my sinfulness, I couldn’t muster the level of driven-ness for God’s glory as I had for my own…

And so a lot of things stopped still including, frequent workouts, my reading of a book a week, my early mornings, even my punctuality and attendance at uni. I became a disorganized person (ironic given that one of the books was: “ordering your private world”). Maybe my private world is more ordered now, and its a matter of bringing my outside in order again – this time with a healthy motive. I am unsure. Maybe I need to have a greater glimpse of His beauty…