Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why is Prayer so Difficult?

Every Christian I know affirms three things about prayer...
  • It is Important
  • We don’t do enough of it – personally, corporately or any other way
  • We are going to try to get better at it

Every church I know or ever been associated with would acknowledge that prayer’s important, yet the prayer meeting is the worst attended meeting of the week.  That's almost universally true.  Something’s not quite right – somewhere between theory and practice there is a disconnect, a breakdown between what we say/think is important and what we actually do.  Somewhere in my life and your life this strange process takes place – a massive gulf between belief and behaviour.  We know prayer changes things, makes a difference and affects people and circumstances as God works in answer. Yet, strangely we don’t really do that which we affirm is important - it becomes difficult, awkward, sidelined, uninteresting and forgotten about.  How come?

Maybe there is something in that. Maybe the reason why it is so difficult, is precisely because it is so important.  Our enemy doesn’t want us to do it – so in his subtle way, he distracts us, keeps us busy and sidelines us from the key task.  Maybe if we did less and prayed more, greater things would happen. Families transformed, communities transformed, churches transformed, societies transformed, workplaces transformed by the power of God in answer to believing prayer.  If you find yourself agreeing to that statement, then stop right now and go and pray.  Praying for the next few minutes is far more important than reading the rest of this blog.  Go on....well?? 

But still we don’t do it – not really.  We need to change something.  Stop being a hypocrite. Either stop pretending it’s important – change our belief – or start practicing it in reality – change our behavior.  Well, what do you think? Send me your comments or better still – see you at the next prayer meeting!

Monday, 8 September 2014

40 Years Ago Today - 8th September 1974

He was just a callow youth with many insecurities.  His god was sport, all kinds but especially if it involved a ball. But in some remarkable ways, strange things were happening in his life.  There was a restlessness and a questioning about eternal issues.  So during the summer, he started reading a Gideons New Testament he had been given a few years before in school.  Then when Sunday rolled around he would go for a summer walk and deliberately pass by a local evangelical church – a church with a reputation for attracting many young people - people of his own age.  He would stand across the road under the awning of the local shops and watch the many young people who were arriving for the 6.30 service.  That was strange he thought – why would they want to be there on a summer evening?  He would walk for an hour or so and then arrive back past the church as they were leaving.  Taking up the vantage point across the road, he would watch with fascination as they poured out.  What was going on in that place?

So it was that he ended up going to that church on Sunday evenings and meeting some of those young people.  He listened attentively for a few end of summer Sundays as the summer gave way to the autumn and each week heard a message he had never heard before.  It centred on Jesus and his love – a love so great that it took him to a cross, and there he sacrificed his life for people like this young man.

He wanted to do something about it, to talk to someone but the pastor was always busy and surrounded by the crowds.  But he jumped at the chance one Sunday night to go with some of his new found friends to a local area, where they were going to engage in open air witness.  He had come to understand enough of this message to know it had to be shared, but not enough to personally grasp it for himself.  But that all changed as they stood at the side of the road as the sun sank and he realised what Jesus had done for him.  Sitting in the back of the car, he came to Christ – willingly, gratefully and totally. It was 8th September 1974.  40 years ago today.

Now that young man is late middle aged and the pastor of Newtownbreda Baptist Church.  For that was me.  This is my story and for 40 years I have tried hard to follow that Jesus I first met 4 decades ago.  It may be a tired cliché to say “I have failed him many times; but he has never failed me”.  But cliché or not, it is still true.  To God be the Glory, Great things He has done.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Listening to God

I was preaching yesterday on the lost art of listening to God.  When I came to Christ at 17, it was drilled into me, as part of my discipleship, to have a daily “quiet time”.  I still do.  But so many seem to have given up on that idea.  How did that happen?  Let’s get back to listening to God.

I was struck by Christ’s words in John 10 v27 “My sheep listen to my voice” yet how few of us really do listen to his voice or hear it among the clamour of all the other voices of a stressful every day existence. 

But Noah heard his voice.  Instructed to build an ark, what seemed like an unbelievably stupid thing to do, he spent 100 years of his life (1/6 of it) working at the project.  He was criticised, rebuked, mocked and jeered, but he held firm, because he heard the voice of God.  Listening to God has a way of empowering you for the most difficult of tasks.
There are various ways we hear his voice.....

We can hear God’s voice in creation – how therapeutic to walk in the great outdoors and see how “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19 v1) ”Their voice goes out into all the earth” (v4).  We hear God’s voice primarily through the Word (that’s one reason why it is the Word!) and no Christian, who desires to grow can ever afford to neglect the Bible on a consistent basis.   

We hear his voice in the public gathering as Nehemiah discovered when he gathered the people together and Ezra preached from a raised platform. 

But we also need lots of solitude and quietness to hear his voice - the still small voice of our God.  Take time.  Close the door.   Switch off the Iphone and the television.  Get alone with the Creator and say as Samuel did, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.  How important this is if we want to know God’s direction for our lives, our families and our jobs, our ministry.  God’s direction.  The Creator’s voice.  And what a privilege it is to hear him and then to obey.  Glorious!!

One of our ministry leaders summed it up beautifully in an email to me, explaining how she got involved in her particular ministry....

“...........the one thing that is very clear to me now is that I hear God most when I make extended time and space to listen to him. It sounds too obvious but it is something that is missing for lots of us.  When I felt God was directing me .................., I couldn't get enough of time in His presence.  He was really working in my life and using your preaching, my personal bible study and the stirring of the Holy Spirit to fill me...................................that I literally couldn't walk away from it.  

Not all times in my life are so marked with clarity on hearing God's voice and direction, but when it happens, there's no mistaking it and it's incredible2".


Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Soarin – a ride in Disneyworld.  But also a challenge to us as Christians. 

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will SOAR ON wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40 v31) ?

What does it mean to soar like an eagle?  That’s a good question and we’ve been looking at that in our summer Sunday morning series!  The eagle is a majestic creature, who soars far above the crazy hustle and bustle of those on the earth.  From his vantage point of 10,000 feet up, he sees with a keen eye and a different perspective.  How can we live like that?
“Those who hope in the Lord....” do this.  The Hebrew word Quavah means be bound to, connected to, joined to.  Those whose lives are closely connected to the Lord will soar.  
Last Sunday, we thought about how we ‘soar’ and develop the QUAVAH relationship by obeying the command of Ephesians 5 v18 “Be not drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery but be filled with the Spirit”.  It’s interesting to see how Paul sets out this contrast.  “Be not drunk.....be filled”.  This contrast is seen in other places in scripture.  It was said of John the Baptist for example before he was born that he would not drink wine or any fermented drink but would be “filled with the Spirit”(Luke 1 v15).  Likewise, when the Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the disciples were accused of having had too much wine (v13). 

Clearly, Paul’s trying to point out that alcohol may affect the brain but we are to be totally influenced by the Spirit.  Be filled – this is a present, continuous, imperative suggesting that this is to be a moment by moment, day by day experience.  The word ‘filled’ (Gk.= ‘pleroo’) suggest the idea of pressure, like the wind on sails, directing it or of permeation, like salt on meat or an alka seltzer in a glass of water.  Totally permeated through and through.  This is different from the baptism or sealing or indwelling of the Spirit.  Every Christian possesses the Holy Spirit, for the essence of salvation is that we are regenerated from death to life and thus are able to understand our sinfulness and the Saviour who died for us.  Regeneration leads to salvation and the Spirit comes into our lives to empower us to live the new life we now have in Christ. 

But the filling is different.  This is a command that has to be obeyed and it must surely be necessary as well as possible to be able to obey the commands of God with his help.  The result of the filling though according to the following verses in Ephesians 5 and into chapter 6 is seen in attitude (singing and praising) submission to one another and healthy relationships in marriage, home and work.  The filling of the Spirit has immensely practical day to day implications for the most basic elements of life.

So how can we do that? Maybe a clue is to be found in the parallel passage in Colossians chapter 3.  Not exactly the same as Ephesians 5, but very similar.  And note that here we are told to let the Word or message of Christ dwell in us richly.  Here’s the clue to the filling.  The Word.  For the Word and the Spirit always operate together.  In preaching, the Spirit takes the Word and applies it.  So if we are to experience the filling of the Spirit of God; the Word has to be absolutely central to our lives.  We are to be Bible people through and through.  Starting today.  This is one key way we are to obey the command.

I don’t know about you but I want my life to count for something and be the best husband, father and man I can be.  So I want to obey this command with God’s help and live like the eagle – rather than the pigeon I often am!!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The day I met John Piper

So there Maggie and I were on a hot day in Florida in June on holiday when who should walk past us but Dr John Piper. He is one of my modern day heroes of evangelicalism, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and I have enjoyed his books and also watched some of his sermons.  His book on marriage called “This Momentary Marriage is an absolute classic that every married couple should read. Why? Because it affirms marriage as the deeply biblical covenantal relationship that it is and elevates marriage to its proper lofty heights as an earthly depiction of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.

But Piper’s real contribution to evangelicalism is in the term  “Christian hedonism” – which was coined in his classic book  “Desiring God.”  In its most succinct form he summarises it like this 

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him"

Our  greatest pleasure and our greatest treasure is to be found in Christ. He is the centre of the gospel as well as its outcome and everything in our lives should be determined by the gospel. God’s highest pursuit ("his glory") and man's deepest and most durable happiness come together in one pursuit—namely, the pursuit of joy in God. That’s it in a nutshell!!

Christian hedonism is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who argued that an action is only moral if you have no desire to perform it, nor gain any benefit from it. By contrast, Piper argues...

But not only is disinterested morality (doing good "for its own sake") impossible; it is undesirable. That is, it is unbiblical; because it would mean that the better a man became the harder it would be for him to act morally. The closer he came to true goodness the more naturally and happily he would do what is good. A good man in Scripture is not the man who dislikes doing good but toughs it out for the sake of duty. A good man loves kindness (Micah 6:8) and delights in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2), and the will of the Lord (Psalm 40:8). But how shall such a man do an act of kindness disinterestedly? The better the man, the more joy in obedience”
Anyway, we couldn’t believe that this formidable Christian scholar and preacher should be in our vicinity, so we did what any self respecting admirers would do – we followed him (!)  until we were sure it was really him and then thanked him for his work and contribution to the kingdom. We were pleased that we were able to do that personally this side of eternity.

He graciously allowed us to be photographed with him. As you can see, Maggie and I were in real holiday mode!! But it made our day!!

Here’s another one of his quotes I read recently......

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day
that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Think about it!!