Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Try making this your prayer for the rest of the week - you never know what might happen!

'Lord, save us from off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, sissified, three-carat Christianity.


- Billy Sunday (former Baseball player turned Evangelist; early 20th Century)

Who can boast the most!?

Recently, I have spent hour upon hour filling in job application forms. And I mean - HOURS! Whilst doing so this morning, I was listening to a version of 'How Deep the Father's Love for us'. A spine-tingling set of lyrics that gets me every time.

'But I will boast in Jesus Christ', they sing. A.k.a Galatians 6 verse 14: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

It's funny to weigh those words, because those hours I've spent applying for jobs have basically been hours spent boasting about myself. When I am asked to describe skills and attributes that I could bring to a role, I am quick off the mark and able to give chapter and verse about what I have done in my very short and chaotic career - I can wax lyrical about my achievements, without a second thought. I wonder, if I could boast with such determination and conviction about Jesus, when it really mattered?

My greatest achievement is a Bachelor's Degree. His are vast beyond all measure.


Thursday, 22 September 2011

I've just watched a man steadily walking up the road. I've known him for some time now. He is fairly old, reasonably frail and very unassuming. People overtook him along the way, and probably didn't give a moments thought to who he was or where he'd come from.

He used to smuggle Bibles into China though. I wonder what they'd say if they knew that!?

Part 3: 'Effective'!

So, apparently, the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (!?). Not bad, eh?

Depends on your definition of 'effective' really. If effective means that God gives you everything your heart desires, then that's not a true statement. If your prayer life is one long list of demands, instead of an ongoing dialogue, then I dunno how effective it's all going to be. If by effective you're hoping for immediate answers/satisfaction to your situation, then you might be one very unhappy service-user (which is basically what you are if you treat time with God like it's some kind of customer service complaint line).

But if your time with Him (each day!) involves stopping, listening and then responding, you might get somewhere. I've been making a concerted effort recently to stop and listen before I make my 'demands'...and it's so hard! I get about 20 seconds in and then start reeling off the list!

If our hearts desires aren't given straight away (or ever), it doesn't mean that prayer is ineffective. We're still getting God's response, which is far more helpful in the long run - whether that's a 'No', Yes' or 'Not yet' (think of His responses like a set of traffic lights next time you're weighing it up).

I found this verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 pretty helpful when waiting on the 'effectiveness' of my prayers: 'The One who called you is completely dependable. If He said it, He'll do it!' (v24 MSG).

He's not likely to forget about you, is He now!?!

Such planning. Such precision. Such an adventure.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The second part...

'The prayer of the righteous man is POWERFUL and effective' (James 5 v16b)

There is such power in the name of Jesus. I have friends who have told me in the past that they pray. They aren't churchgoers and they have hardly ever turned the pages of a Bible; yet they assure me they pray to something. To who/what exactly, I'd ask? God! They reply (as though my question was ridiculous).

I'm not certain if they hear much back. They didn't seem to back then, and I don't think much has changed since then. From what I could ascertain, it was more of a superstitious ritual than a dependence on a relationship with their Maker.

But I know full well that if faith is placed in the name of Jesus and prayers are lifted to Him, there is power. I've seen it first hand: lives restored, sick people made well, depression lifted, addictions crushed in moments. These are are the kind of signs which encourage my prayer life and leave them flabbergasted when I attempt to explain.

There are probably parts of the Bible that I still struggle to fully get my head around, if I'm being honest. But I believe the parts where power (strength to overcome, ability to heal the sick, revelation of truth etc) has been added to individuals who seek Kingdom truth in the name of Jesus. And it's the same power that can be experienced today.

Such might. Such potential. Such Love.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

This is the babbling of a guy trying to get his head around a verse. Please be patient with him.

I've been thinking about one of my favourite verses recently. It's fairly well known and has proved very helpful to me in the last couple of weeks.

It's James 5 verse 16b: The prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

If you were hoping for absolutely ground-breaking theological insight...look elsewhere. Because the next three posts (God willing!), will pretty much be primarily for my benefit!

Thought I'd have a go at looking at three particular words individually, to help me get my head around this verse even more. Righteous. Powerful. Effective.

First of all: Righteous.

You might recall last week that I was pretty pissed with God. Quite stupid really, especially with some hindsight. As a little reminder that He continues to work things out for my own goodness, I'm sitting here without the reactions of last week clouding my walk with Him. Because He makes us new again, each and every day. So while I react like a petulant child in one moment, He restores me to become more and more like His Son, in the next. I probably needed a smack on the bum from my heavenly Father, like a stroppy child...instead I get something of HIS righteousness. Renewed again and again and again and again.

It is because when I come to Him in prayer, I walk with faith because of what I know His Son did for me on the cross. Therefore, I don't speak to a false god or imaginary friend because of this; but it is in fact one-to-one access with the Creator that I continually get to fall back on. If this doesn't make me a 'righteous man', then I don't know what will.

Such a gift. Such forgiveness. Such access.

It means that my prayers, while they may often be selfish and lacking in vision, are able to be said through a heart that comes clean before God each time, because of how He has revealed Himself through situation after situation in my life. That time I forgot it; this time, I've remembered it.

In Psalm 119, King David says: 'Your righteousness is eternally right, your revelation is the only truth.' (v142, MSG)

And later...'The way you tell me to live is always right; help me to understand it so I can live to the fullest.' (v144)

Thank His goodness for that revelation!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Knee-deep in a very fruitless job hunt, I come across this pearl of wisdom in Matthew chapter 6:

'What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.' (v31-33, MSG)

Remarkable comfort.

World philosophies & getting high? Or Jesus? You choose.

A year ago, a friend of mine completed the Alpha course. If you haven't come across it before, it basically tackles issues/questions surrounding the Christian faith and creates an environment for these topics to be openly discussed, over the course of 10 weeks. Along with a second friend of ours, the three of us did this course together, and it provided the perfect platform for me approach the questions they had about what I believed in. At the end of the 10 weeks, neither of them had been compelled enough to make an active response to the claims and teachings they had been listening to, which was understandably disappointing to me. I had been especially hopeful considering they had stuck with the course and attended all 10 weeks; showing genuine enthusiasm.


A year later, I find this same friend in my flat. The same discussions. The same peaks and troughs of agreement and disagreement over some of the questions he continues to raise, 12 months later. In that time, he has continued to find joy and fulfilment in the same things as the previous 12 months. And probably the previous 12 months before that. Travel, philosophy, hash, sex. None of which seem to have done it for him.

He would say that it's all part of his journey of discovery, and I would agree to certain extent.

But then, what about the coming 12 months. What's gonna happen if (or when!) those things fail to get him through significantly more difficult circumstances. He's been blessed enough to have had a fairly clear path over the last 12 months. So the questions he had for me on the Alpha course, still haven't apparently demanded such an urgent answer (in his opinion).

But as we both chatted about this, amongst a hundred and one other issues, it was hard to convey to him just how urgent this realisation needed to be.

Yes, he has had a happy and care-free 12 months. Yes, his philosophies and ways of doing things have left him unscathed for another year. But what if life comes crashing down around him tomorrow? Or next week? Or next month? Will he want to be clinging to his rizlas and care-free living?

Or to The Rock of Ages who has been there with all the answers, all the hope and all the direction, all along...?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sometimes, it's really hard to know or understand God's purpose over our lives. Yesterday, for the first time ever I think, I was genuinely angry with God. I mean, really hacked off! I know He can more than handle my frustration, and would rather that I prayerfully vent that anger towards Him, than sinfully elsewhere. But like a midget kicking the walls of a skyscraper, He got the full force of my frustration. 

I have the whole 'plans to prosper and not to harm you' verse going round and round in my head; which I'm taking unusually small comfort from, in the midst of a very fruitless job hunt. To cut a long story short...I thought I had very clearly heard His direction towards one job, which I'd completely been sold out for. It was the job I'd been hoping for, for months. Much prayer, planning and enthusiasm followed. Only to find that it was an unsuccessful application.

So I'm smack-in-the-face back to square one, and trying to listen to Him again; albeit with a ringing in my ears.

His love is big. It is totally and utterly for us. And now, like a stroppy little toddler,  I'm in the part where it's tough getting my head around my Father's perfect plan. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

I've just watched the All Blacks make an emphatic start to their World Cup campaign. With excited chills running down my spine, I defy anyone to NOT watch in awe as the Haka war dance is performed. It's impressive, inspiring and terrifying, all in one go.

But with those three emotions in mind, I want you to do something. Just for a moment, put down what you're doing. Don't refresh that profile page or check out the latest Youtube phenomenon. Take just two minutes out of your incredibly busy schedule to think about the name of Jesus. 

Whether you believe in Him or not, just take a moment to consider those five letters. It would be wise to make time everyday to stop what you're doing to consider that name. Because, as it says in the book of Philippians: 'God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (ch2 v9-11)

It's a name which we all bow a knee to one day, one way or another. Makes sense to start contemplating it beforehand, I guess. There's certainly nothing more pressing for you to be doing in the next few moments.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nip, tuck, poke, stab, binge, splurge. Forget it!

I've been thinking about what bucks the trend recently. Getting wasted? Nope. A quick glance on facebook shows that most are planning for that. Back stabbing to get ahead? Nope. Most plots on TV involve something similar. Being obsessed with money? Nope. Most businesses are falling over each other to get your money or encouraging you to develop ways of making more and more. No-strings-attached sex? Nope. A glance in most directions, on the shelf, internet or highstreet support this. Giving to those in need? Nope. Most spend more on McDonalds or makeup each week. 

It looks like most trends are hard to avoid or change.

But then what would the Bible say?

Don't get wasted; don't swindle and self-promote to get ahead in life; give lavishly of your finances; find a husband or wife and commit solely to them for the rest of your life, despite all the odds; discipline yourself to read and pray, even if you can't be bothered that day; have faith in someone you'll probably never actually see, especially as He first walked two thousand years ago; love people who might hate you; and what's more, love them even if the world tells you you should really hate them yourself; forget popularity, fame and gold; don't worry about nipping it and tucking it, you're made exactly how He intended...

...the trend bucking could go on and on and on and on. And most would probably think it made no sense and was a waste of a 'free' life. 

Well it says in Romans, chapter two that 'if you go against the grain, expect splinters'.

Consider some of these little 'splinters' as incredibly worthwhile, compared to the nails that were really due. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

While I was thousands of miles away, it was strange to see London in the headlines. Fires, fights and rioting quite literally on my doorstep. It doesn't take the work of a skilled analyst to read the reports and suggest that those individuals desperately need direction and prayer.

But yesterday, our church began a new series, working through the book of Romans - a city whose leaders were up in arms and which famously was set ablaze as well. Paul wrote to them, assuring them that they needed to know Jesus was King in the midst of the lawlessness. He'd say the same to us today.

Now, I know this topic comes a few weeks late. But as I was reminded yesterday...most of London has resumed business as usual. The scares and scars of August are old news now and those who were frightened to walk the streets before, are now confidently striding back towards comfort again.

The title of this new series is 'London has a new King'. For the purposes of this post though, I'd like to change that slightly: 'London has an old King'. He's the same one that has dealt with unrest, violence, disobedience, discomfort and anger since ancient Rome. But more importantly, He's the same one that deals with comfort, self-reliance, pride and selfishness. While I was away, every single Facebook status was about the riots. People were questioning why it was happening, what could be done and most importantly probably, how they could avoid it effecting them.

Just because you can walk comfortably down the streets again, don't forget those ruffled feathers you had a few weeks back - God still has the answers, even though the dust has now settled.

'Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples.'
(Matt9 v 35-38a, MSG)

His heart breaks for the rioting crowds; but it also does for those tutting, avoiding and questioning as well.