Monday, 6 August 2012

"Whenever, wherever, alone & together"

Is there a “best” time, place and way to pray? Should we follow a particular pattern of, e.g., 30 minutes alone every morning in our bedroom? Should churches stop worrying about attendance at prayer meetings?.......

Read the rest of this article now on the Going Deeper With God website blog:

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Praying with Scripture - Part Four - Checking our priorities

What do you pray about most? Do you say the same things or pray about the same issues every time you pray? Sometimes, persisting in prayer is necessary. Yet, at other times, it may be that our balance is not quite right and that we could do with changing the tune and praying about something else.

It is easy for us to get too focussed on one or two issues in prayer. This might be because they matter to us, or it might be because we have run out of ideas. Praying for our needs, e.g. health, is a good and right thing to do. Yet, do we remember to pray for our spiritual needs as well? Similarly, how much do we pray for other people's spiritual lives as well as their health and general well-being?

If we look at some of Paul's letters, we see some interesting ideas for praying for ourselves and others:

  • "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)
  • "Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV)
  • "making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power" (Ephesians 1:16-19, NKJV)
  • "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you," (Colossians 1:3, TNIV)
  • "And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding," (Colossians 1:9, ESV)
  • "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." (Colossians 4:2-4, NIV)
  • "My dear friends, we always have good reason to thank God for you, because your faith in God and your love for each other keep growing all the time." (2 Thessalonians 1:3, CEV)

Even if we don't use this precise language, we can still pray along these lines for one another. They were themes that clearly mattered to Paul and they would have helped the churches he planted to get a sense for his priorities in prayer, particularly in pastoral prayer for others.

Perhaps you could take one of these ideas and add it to your prayer for today? 

Praying like this for others is an act of love. Praying intelligently about details of people's lives and following up to find out if prayers have been answered are great ways of building relationships and communities. Perhaps our vision as individuals and churches can grow through thinking pastorally and theologically about how we pray.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Monday, 16 July 2012

Praying with Scripture - Part Three - "Negative" Emotions

Is prayer just for praising God and asking politely for things we'd like? Maybe that is what happens if we think God is an Englishman - we can't go round showing emotions, can we?

The "stiff upper lip" doesn't seem to have been an Israelite trait. The Psalms are full of direct, searching questions, born out of frustration, fear, loneliness, desperation and other "negative" emotions:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer..." (Psalm 22:1-2, NIV)

"Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;  there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin" (Psalm 38:3, TNIV)

"O Lord, all my longing is before you;  my sighing is not hidden from you." (Psalm 38:9, ESV)

"O God, listen to my complaint. Protect my life from my enemies’ threats" (Psalm 64:1, NLT)

"Our God, why have you  completely rejected us?  Why are you so angry  with the ones you care for?" (Psalm 74:1, CEV)

"Listen to my prayer, O Lord, and hear my cry for help! When I am in trouble, don't turn away from me! Listen to me, and answer me quickly when I call!" (Psalm 102:1-2, GNT)

It is not just the Psalmists that are so frank with God about how they are feeling, others do it too:

"O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me... Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?" (Jeremiah 20:7, 18, NIV)

"'It's too much, Lord,' he prayed. 'Take away my life; I might as well be dead!'" (1 Kings 19:4, GNT)

"'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Everything is meaningless!'" (Ecclesiastes 12:8, NIV)

Yes, it is true that in many instances these feelings are turned around and a positive attitude of faith then follows. However, this does not mean that the initial feelings didn't occur, were invalid or inappropriate to bring to God. The turning point seems to have come after these emotions were voiced.

So, how honest are we about our feelings in prayer? Do we tell God how we really feel or hide behind a veil of piety, saying what we think we are "supposed" to say?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Friday, 13 July 2012

Praying with Scripture - Part Two - Praise & Worship

Do we instinctively know how to praise? Is the language of Christian praise and worship something that comes naturally or do we need to learn it?

Some of us, at least, find praise and worship difficult. We don't necessarily know what to say and perhaps don't really know what we mean when we say "praise God". Given that praise and worship has always been part of the life of God's people, we thankfully have many experiences and much teaching to draw on. This post explores learning the language and ideas of praise from Scripture.

In 1 Chronicles 29, David "praised God in the presence of the people" (29:10). So, what did he say? Essentially, David runs off a list of God's attributes. He acknowledges that everything is God's and lists qualities he associates with God such as greatness, power, glory, majesty, splendour, the source of wealth and honour, etc. (29:10-12). David's praise was like a description of God's character, attributes and abilities.

In Nehemiah 9, the people stand to praise God and confess their sins. Their praise, similarly to David's, speaks about God's character, who He is and what He does. God is acknowledged as creator (9:6-7), the one who chose Abram and made a covenant with him (9:7-8). God has kept His promises, freed His people, done miraculous things, given a covenant at Sinai - all these things form part of their praise.

"Praise His name", or "blessed be Your name" are common themes in prayer passages, such as the Psalms. God's name is His character, His reputation, the picture that He has built up of Himself through what He has said and done. So, it would seem that praise and worship may simply be retelling what God has done and who we know Him to be. Praise rightly describes God and reminds us who we are dealing with.

We might use different "names" to help us to describe God and offer our praise and worship. For example, Lord, creator, redeemer, saviour, father, Sovereign Lord, my shepherd, our rock - these are all "names" found in the Bible to speak of God and there are many more, too.

How might this help us to praise and worship God in prayer? Maybe we could draw directly from Scripture, using other people's words and making them our own. Perhaps we could think of what we know God has done for us and the kind of God we know Him to be.

Are there any "names" you might consider using to praise God with? Do you have any favourites? Have you found any of your own creative ways of expressing your praise - maybe a name not found in Scripture?

Praise can also spill over beyond words. If we know God to be the creator, maybe we find ourselves drawn to attending closely to His creation. Perhaps taking careful photos to express nature's beauty or planning how our garden might look best could also be described as acts of praise.

When we think creatively about all the attributes and acts of God, we can find many ways to connect in praise & worship. From thanking God for our food or wage packet to retelling the story of what God has done for us in Christ - our prayers of praise can be wide and varied.

How do you like to praise God? Is all praise & worship prayer of some kind?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Praying with Scripture - Part One - Form & Creativity

Over the coming weeks I hope to post a few ideas about praying with the Bible. Today's focus is on the topic of form and creativity.

Are you creative? Chances are, if you are made in the image of a creative God the answer is "yes". Perhaps you might not think of yourself as creative because you think it means "arty", but there are many forms of creativity. What form our creativity takes reflects who we are as individuals and our personalities. Some are better with words, others with pictures, others with music, still others with food, carpentry, flower-arranging, finding novel solutions to problems, etc. Prayer is an intrinsic part of the Christian life and it can be enriched by finding creative ways of praying.

The Psalms provide us with a wide variety of forms. They have long been recognised as prayers that may be said or sung. This suggests that we might bring music into play in our prayers - turning them into songs, perhaps, or using music as a backcloth to set a mood, for example. Even if melody or harmony is not used, we might still find rhythm helpful - whether it is a rhythm behind the words, like a poetic "meter", or the rhythmic repetition of something akin to Psalm 136 ("...His love endures forever" at the end of each line).

The variations of poetic forms in the Psalms might provide creative inspiration for new forms of written or spoken prayers. Some use an "acrostic" pattern - starting each new line with the next letter of the alphabet. Others take us through a transformation from dark to light moods. There are no set rules about how a Psalm must always be written - the authors have exercised their creativity. By imitating them in this regard, we can find new ways of praying familiar themes. This can help relieve boredom in prayer and bring a freshness to our thinking. 

It doesn't have to be poems, though. Creative form can vary greatly. Paul's letters often include sections that are prayers of some sort, e.g. Romans 16:25-27. We might even wonder if the stories of Jesus collected into John's Gospel are perhaps a kind of prayer - "these things are written that you may believe (and go on believing)..." (John 20:31). Is John offering his narrative/"biography" as a "prayer"?

Sometimes we just want to speak to God quickly and naturally; we don't always have time to try something else or aren't always feeling in a creative mood. Yet, occasionally, it might be worth spending some time crafting our words carefully, focussing on bringing out what we really want to express. This can be a gift of worship to God - a bit like a letter or poem to a loved one. It can enable us to express emotions and ideas more deeply and personally. It might also be something that could help others with their prayers - our creativity is not just something between us and God. Others can benefit from our prayers, perhaps by being inspired to be creative themselves or by connecting with the experience and emotion of our words/pictures/music.

Have you ever tried to write a prayer down before? If not, why not have a go? Try writing it like a letter or a poem, for example. You could take a particular passage such as a Psalm and have a go at doing your own version. Especially if you are finding prayer a bit hard or dull at the moment, I would encourage you to use something of whatever creative skill God has planted in you to enable you to connect in a new way.

A few prayers based on Scripture can be found on the Going Deeper With God website. The prayer based on Psalm 145 is particularly relevant to this post. These prayers are not offered as models showing "the right way" to do things, but as examples of one person's attempts to connect creatively in prayer. I hope they may encourage you.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

"Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you"

"Dear friends," writes John, "let us tolerate one another", thereby echoing the great words of Jesus - "tolerate one another as I have tolerated you". Similarly, "by this all men will know you are my disciples - if you try to tolerate one another". No? Isn't that what it says?

So often as Christians we can end up not even tolerating one another, never mind loving one another. Jesus shows us that love is a costly thing. Love means self-giving, putting the other first, making sacrifices so that the relationship can continue. Amazingly, despite all their errors of doctrine, dubious practises and downright disobedience, God did not stop loving His people. Again and again He called them back to Himself and offered forgiveness - and He still does today.

Jesus said ,"greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NIV). As Paul writes in Romans 5, God demonstrates His love by the fact that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Love does not come only after perfection is reached. Love comes to the unlovely and comes at great cost. Love is willing to work with messiness - seeing the potential for something beautiful.

How fundamental is love to the gospel? How fundamental is love to our theology, to our God? "God is love", writes John. God exists in loving relationship and seeks to draw others to Himself in love. It is interesting then that we might sometimes choose to make certain matters so fundamental to our Christian identities and denominations that we use them to override the command to imitate our God and love one another.

It is doubtful whether we can even claim to tolerate one another sometimes. Tolerance requires that we acknowledge that we disagree, but will still respect the other person's view. (Note that contemporary society misses the meaning of tolerance, too - it means learning to live together despite disagreeing). This is not to say that there aren't ideas and theological concepts worth standing up for. But, we do need to recognise and respect differing ideas on aspects of the faith and its practise - we cannot and should not make all Christians think and act the way we do.

Love crosses boundaries. It goes beyond mere tolerance to seek the well-being of the other. Can we be happy for other churches or denominations when they flourish? Can we send one of our own church members to another church because we know they would fit better there or do we try to hold on to them come what may?

Paul's ideas about justification by faith don't just tell us that we can't earn salvation. They also show us that Jewish or Gentile ways of being Christian aren't "better" or "worse". Paul refused to allow the early Christians to impose on one another their ways of following Christ. Gentile Christians did not need to become Jewish Christians. Can we do something similar today? Or, are we too busy trying to make more Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, etc.?

Fortunately, many are already engaged in trying to cross denominational boundaries and respect their fellow-Christians. Seeing that others have put their faith in Christ gives them confidence to view them as a brother/sister. Ultimately, of course, we cannot know for sure how another person stands before God, so this should help us adopt a more humble attitude instead of judging who is "in" or "out".

Working to love across boundaries should equally never become a reason for Christians to think they are better than others. Being more ecumenical doesn't make you a great Christian or better than your peers. We are all falling short and we can all learn to grow. Perhaps it will be easier if we allow each other to come to the table and share the treasures we all have to offer one another. Love can only be learned in relationship.

For the sake of the gospel and our sake as the body of Christ which should resemble its Saviour, may we learn not just to tolerate but to "love one another deeply, from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22, NIV).

© Joe Lenton, June 2012

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Year of Jubilee

The year of Jubilee

Let the trumpets sound
Let the guns salute
Freedom for the slave, debts released
Whilst nobility sits imprisoned by a crown of jewels

Land returned, laid to rest
Lady enthroned bearing the weight of expectation
For the year of Jubilee has come
Wish her long life as she strives on

A time to look back on service rendered
A time to reclaim honour and respect
Does anyone really know the toll it has taken?
Consecrate the year, let us celebrate

A family rejoices, grateful it wasn’t their burden
A nation looks on with pride
Do the will of God, let his decrees be obeyed
Call a feast, raise a cup - it’s the year of Jubilee

©Joe Lenton, April 2012

Monday, 28 May 2012

Fancy a biscuit, in the name of Jesus?

How about a cup of tea, in the name of Jesus? Do take a seat, in Jesus' name. Now, tell me about your problem, in Jesus' name.

No, I haven't gone completely nuts. Please bear with me. Years ago I heard one of those comments that has stuck with me ever since. Some people were discussing the prayer meeting at a church and the topic moved on to the pastor and how he prayed in public. Then, someone said something along the lines of:

"Do you know, I don't think that the pastor believes in praying in Jesus' name."
"Oh? why not?"
"Well, he never says it after his prayers. Surely he should know the power of praying in Jesus' name? Doesn't the Bible tell us to do so?"

This bothered me somewhat. Does saying the words "in Jesus' name" at the end of a prayer suddenly transform that prayer into a better one? Does the Bible really insist that we do this? Well, according to Paul in Colosians 3:17,  "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." So, does that mean everything a Christian does should be followed by the words "in Jesus' name"? No. Yet, on occasion it might do us good to think it, even if all we are doing is offering some tea and biscuits.

Asking for things in Jesus' name (e.g. John 14:14; 16:23-24) or doing things in his name (Colossians 3:17) is not about a formula, a special set of words we have to use to make things happen. God will not ignore your prayer because you don't say "in Jesus' name", nor will he always do what we want just because we have said the "right" words. There is much more to it than this. As Tim Chester writes in "The Message of Prayer" (Bible Speaks Today, IVP, p.178), "when we pray in Jesus' name we pray as Jesus' representative in accordance with the revelation of Jesus' purposes." It is as if the prayer were one that Jesus himself would happily say or put his own name to. This includes, amongst other things, the motive behind the prayer. We would not expect Jesus to pray selfishly, with an ulterior motive. Yet, how often might we have done so and stuck those "easy" words "in Jesus' name" on the end? Similarly, we can clearly pray in his name without having to say those words. If our thoughts and intentions match up with what we might expect of Jesus then we can be praying "in his name" without saying so. Also, if we know that we can only pray this way because Jesus has made it possible, then we do not need to feel guilty for omitting the words to express this. Words can be useful reminders of truth, but the words themselves are not a guarantee that we are acting in line with that truth.

This can be extended to Paul's words, too. How can we do everything in the name of Jesus? We can do it in such a way that Jesus would be happy that we are representing him well, that we are acting in a way and out of a motive that he would willingly share. So many tasks we do without love or care. Maybe if we were to pause and think to ourselves that I am offering this meal, this listening ear, this money, this cup of tea in the name of Jesus, then perhaps we might do it differently.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What a difference a day makes

Just one day - be it a lousy one or a great one - can make so much difference. It can affect not only our mood for those few hours, but leave its mark for days, weeks, months or even years. Only weeks ago, Christians all around the world celebrated one day that is still influencing lives 2000 years later: Easter, the resurrection of Christ. One day changed not only the mood of a few Jews from despair and disappointment to hope and rejoicing, but the whole course of history. Overnight, Jesus went from being dead to fully alive again. In the space of 24 hours, the power of death was undermined and Jesus' claims were vindicated. It is a day whose full significance is still not fully understood - scholars, people of faith and those who dismiss Christianity have all been wrestling to understand, explain and come to terms with the stories that day has generated.

This coming weekend sees the celebration of another momentous day. At Pentecost we remember the day that the Spirit was sent in a special way to empower, guide and be present with the followers of Jesus. This day transformed a timid bunch into powerful characters who would carry the story of Jesus to thousands. Understanding, clarity and the ability to carry out tasks they couldn't have imagined themselves doing before suddenly broke through in an unforgettable day.

But, life isn't really made up of one day of incredible life-changing experiences after another, is it? Aren't such days the exception? What difference can a day, an apparently boring old run-of-the-mill day, possibly make to you or others? Perhaps we underestimate the significance of the passing of another 24 hours and what we have done. Maybe, this leads us to expect little and attempt little the next day and the day after that. But, as this simple repeating pattern itself shows, each day can have an impact on the next, whether for good or ill.

Each day is made up of a variety of choices - what to eat, whether to watch TV, which person to talk to, whether to tell the truth, and many others. Today, for example, you might have the choice whether to encourage someone or not. What does it matter? Someone else might do it, you might think that your "constructive criticism" is enough or it may just feel like one task too many. But, what if that person is depressed or losing self-confidence? One nice word from you might be enough to save them from days of a downward spiral into sadness and despair. Also, suppose you decide each day for a week not to bother with encouraging others deliberately, for whatever reason. Each day that you make that choice (no matter how thought-through) you are developing a deeper habit. The choices we make have the power to shape who we will become and the lives of others. One choice pattern, embedded through one "normal", apparently insignificant day after another has power to affect you, others and the world we live in. What about the many hundreds of decisions made on a "normal" day, then? Over years, what might they achieve?

Each day, we exert an influence on ourselves and others through what we say and do or through what we chose not to say or do. This influence can make us more like Christ, or less. It can help others see God, or it can obscure Him from view. There is no such thing as an insignificant day. Your presence, the fact that you are still alive, means that you are caught up in this web of influence. Every day also has the potential to be truly incredible. God is with us and at work in us, so we never know what might happen. Perhaps one day - maybe even today or tomorrow - you'll be involved in something that shapes people's lives on a scale you had never imagined.

© Joe Lenton, May 2012

Monday, 23 April 2012

A Monday Morning Prayer/Rant

A tongue-in-cheek version of what we've probably all wanted to tell God at one time or another:

Lord, is it really Monday again?
Why does it come round so fast?
The weekend never seems quite long enough
And before I know it, it’s past.
I know that we were made to do work,
But why must it be every week?
Couldn’t it at least be a bit more fulfilling,
Instead of looking so bleak?
I mean, it can all seem so pointless sometimes;
What difference could it possibly make
If today I just stay curled up in bed?
At least then I won’t have to fake
An interest in a task that I loathe
Though, strangely, tomorrow I’ll love.
Getting going, you see, is what makes it so tough
And next weekend is just so far off.
Can’t you do something about Mondays, Lord?
Or at least do something with me?
It won’t be long ‘til the next one comes round
And I’ll grumble again - you’ll see!

© Joe Lenton, Apr 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

No Substitute for Experience - Luke 24:13-35

There is a saying - “there’s no substitute for experience”. When it comes to being really sure about something, being certain about the truth of a matter, then experience is clearly an important factor. Theories are tested by experience. Our suspicions are confirmed or denied. We rarely doubt experience as a key to knowledge - if we have experienced something then we feel a strong conviction of facts.

What about for matters of faith? Is experience relevant? Perhaps all we need are other people’s testimonies of what they say happened to them. Maybe a familiarity with the Bible is enough; or, maybe not. Luke presents us with a story about two travellers on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were sad, they had lost hope and they were confused. They thought that Jesus was a prophet “mighty in deed and word before God.” They understood what we call the Old Testament to have pointed towards someone who would redeem Israel and they thought this was Jesus. But, Jesus had been killed. He was dead, so that was that. Sure, they had heard some stories about some women who claimed to have seen a vision of angels telling them Jesus was alive and others had confirmed that the tomb was empty. But, as far as these travellers were concerned, that was not enough. Jesus was clearly dead and you don’t come back from death - that's final!

Then, later on in the story, we find these same two travellers dashing back to Jerusalem - 7 miles away - at night. You didn’t travel at night - there were no street lights and robbers and bandits as well as wild animals hid in wait for anyone foolish enough to stray out in the dark. Nevertheless, they rush back, convinced that Jesus is alive, desperate to tell others. They are full of joy, their hearts burning as they begin to understand.

So, what has made the difference? What has enabled these unhappy men without hope, convinced of Jesus’ death to suddenly be full of joy, enthusiasm and a certainty that Jesus is alive? The answer - they met Jesus and he enabled them to understand. It was an experience of the risen Jesus that overcame their doubts about the resurrection and it was an experience of having the Bible opened up to them by Christ that enabled them to gain a fuller understanding of what had been promised and what the Old Testament pointed forward to.

According to Luke, these disciples, like the others whom Jesus later appeared to, needed an experience to really change their mind and transform them. Maybe this is something that we also need? Perhaps we have a vague appreciation of who Jesus is; maybe we think he was a prophet. Possibly we have heard others tell us that they are convinced that Jesus is alive. We may have some understanding of Scripture that makes us think that Jesus could be someone special and think we know what the Old Testament is about. Yet, despite this, like those travellers we might need an experience to really change our minds. We may lack joy, enthusiasm, the certainty of conviction that Jesus has risen and feel we have little to share with others. Maybe we are confused. It could be that we need an experience of Jesus, an experience of the Bible suddenly being made clear to us so that our eyes are opened and our hearts transformed.

These travellers did not know in advance what their experience of Jesus was going to be. In fact, they thought there wasn’t going to be one at all. I’m sure like Thomas they thought “unless I meet the risen Jesus then I won’t believe it”. They weren't looking for a particular experience or emotional high. There was nothing they could do to make this encounter happen. But, they did have to make the choice to invite Jesus to join them. They could have let the moment pass, but they asked him to come with them, even though they still didn’t understand what was going on.

We do not know in advance how we might experience God or how we might ourselves meet Jesus. It is not likely to be in precisely the same way as these men did. But that does not make it any less real. Yearning to encounter him for ourselves and asking him to continue with us is all we can do. We don’t have to figure it all out ourselves. God can help us to understand, little by little. We don’t have to start from a position of strength and happiness - God will meet us in our sorrow, sadness, hopelessness and confusion.

This is not just something for people who are new to faith or are meeting Jesus for the first time. These men clearly had been in Jerusalem, probably seeing what Jesus had done before his death. They may well have heard him teach. This doesn’t mean that they would never again need to experience Jesus - Immanuel - God with us. No matter how long we have been people of faith, we can always benefit from Jesus’ presence by his Spirit. The Spirit continues to teach us individually and also corporately through gifted people and other means. The Spirit can bring us joy, hope, peace and the desire to tell others and overcome our fears.

We cannot manufacture encounters with God. We cannot force God to meet with us in a particular way. We can know that He is present, because God has promised to be with us. We can ask to be more aware and have our eyes opened so that we may see Him walking with us. So often, God is there with us and in the lives of those we love, but we fail to see it. God can help us to see.
God can help us to understand more about Him, about Jesus and the plans for the renewal of creation. As Paul writes in Ephesians 1, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (NRSV).

Jesus does not just meet with us once - he can do so again and again. We can feel a joy in our hearts as we read Scripture and can feel it coming alive and making sense. We can have our joy and hope rekindled by him meeting us in our confusion and sadness. When we turn to Jesus, he takes away the veil that hinders our understanding. By his Spirit, Jesus helps us to see and not only that, but to be transformed ever more into his likeness so that we reflect his glory. Until we experience the revealing power of the Spirit of Jesus at work in us, our minds are dull, unable to make sense of it all.

The good news is that this is not something for a special few, but for all of us. Peter was only able to understand and preach at Pentecost because God’s Spirit helped him to do so. He had a profound life-changing experience. He later goes on to say that this is for everyone who will turn to Christ - all can receive the promise.

Revelation 3:19-20 says, “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (NRSV). Sometimes we choose to keep Jesus outside, refusing to open the door, refusing to ask him to join us on our journey. If we ask him in, if we repent, then he will join us and we can know the joy of being with him.

Do you need an encounter with God? Do you need to know the companionship and loving guidance and teaching of Jesus? Why not ask Jesus to come with you? Why not ask for an experience of our risen loving saviour by his Spirit that you might be freed to know and enjoy the truth and have the desire and strength to share it?

© Joe Lenton, Apr 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Glad to be uncomfortable

We all like a bit of comfort, whether it’s comfortable clothes, a comfy chair or being surrounded by familiar, approving faces. Comfort can be good for the soul, bringing reassurance, rest and a sense of belonging. But, can we make the simple equation “comfort=good” or “uncomfortable=bad”? Is feeling comfortable always a good thing?

What makes you feel uncomfortable? Poor-quality fabrics? Badly-built old chairs? Being alone in a sea of unfamiliar faces? The feeling of being uncomfortable is a response to problems or stress-factors. It also alerts us to the fact that we can’t always have things our own way or limit our experiences to the familiar and pleasurable. Perhaps we might say that it is an invitation to engage, to re-think, to act, to change. These feelings present us with a choice - how will we deal with them?

Many people claim that they want to grow, to mature, to become a more rounded person as God intended them to be. Yet, many of us who make these claims make choices that avoid what we claim to seek. How can we grow if we only experience the familiar? How can we mature if we never have to learn new ways of being? Is it possible to become a more rounded person without re-thinking, without change?

When we read the Bible it initially feels quite strange; it is a foreign world that is hard to enter into. After time, it becomes more familiar, we learn “answers” to help us cope with the trickier parts. Then, if we are not careful, we tame the Bible. We seek and see only comfort. We smooth off any rough edges so we don’t catch ourselves on them. We re-explain difficult passages so that they can be read without any sense of awkwardness or trepidation. In so doing, we might justify this to ourselves by claiming that it feels comfy because it is like an old pair of shoes - we’ve been using it regularly and have immersed ourselves in it, so are learning to live with it. This is partly true, of course, yet this half-truth may serve to inoculate us against discovering anything more. If reading Scripture is always comfortable and familiar, where is the opportunity to re-think, engage or change?

It might be that in our drive for comfort we are allowing ourselves to plateau; we are (subconsciously, perhaps) deciding that we’ve changed and grown enough. We avoid difficult people, tricky Bible passages and awkward experiences in favour of familiarity and assurance. When faced with being uncomfortable, we have chosen the path of avoidance. If, however, we are serious about growing and changing, maybe we need to embrace the odd moment of discomfort. Perhaps instead of seeking immediate resolution we can live with the tension and explore what is going on. There may be a lesson to learn about ourselves, others or God. Our worldview might need challenging so that it can be reformed. We might discover that the apprehension we felt was misguided and find ourselves flourishing if only we can push on through.

Life is a mixture between easy and difficult, familiar and unfamiliar, comfort and discomfort. Does God work through them all? Could it be that you can look back on a difficult or awkward time when you carried on regardless and can now say “I’m glad that happened and I grew”? Can we learn to be glad to be uncomfortable?

© Joe Lenton, March 2012

Thursday, 26 January 2012

This is the way it has to be

In the story of Jesus' arrest in Matthew 26:47-56, things seem to be vastly unfair. Jesus hasn't done anything wrong, yet he is arrested in a humiliating way, betrayed by one of his disciples. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of his companions fights back to defend Jesus. But, Jesus assures them that this is how things have to be (verse 54).

Jesus points out (verse 53) that he could call out to the Father and summon legions of angels to intervene, but he chooses not to. Somehow Jesus' suffering is going to achieve something great. Somehow, these horrible acts will fulfil God's plans. Jesus could change things - he is not powerless - and God could have intervened to stop his son suffering, but mysteriously they both choose not to stop this suffering.

I wonder if this is sometimes true for our circumstances, too. It is not that God cannot do anything or enjoys watching us suffer. It is not that our prayers are somehow inadequate. Instead, could it be that in some mysterious way our suffering might also help fulfil a plan and spill over into something good, blessing others? Is it possible that sometimes, horrifying though it may be, this is the way it has to be?