Saturday, 22 September 2018

Lesson 7

Lesson 7: "God loves me"

So, this is the last lesson – and ground-breaking stuff it is too… 😉

You’d have thought that being a Christian for 30+ years I’d have worked this one out a bit earlier. But I guess there’s a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it in your heart

Sometimes it’s easy to slip into a misconception of what the Gospel is. In the past I think I’ve subconsciously believed that Jesus exploited some mystical spiritual loophole that bypassed our sin and let us sneak into heaven under God’s nose – but we’d better toe the line or watch out! But in the last few years I’ve grown to understand that the Gospel isn’t that – the Gospel is extravagant love in action.

I think I’ve spent enough years worrying about whether I’m good enough, or whether I’ve done something that’s going to ‘blow my chances’ of getting into Heaven.

Some time ago I was in the car with my daughter and she was expressing similar fears. It suddenly hit me that God just isn’t like that – He loved and sent Jesus to die for us ‘while we were yet sinners’. It wasn’t Jesus’ death that made Him able or willing to love us, or even look at us. Our Father is not looking for any excuse to keep us out of Heaven. He is looking for any ‘shadow of turning’ – any excuse to get us into Heaven, to be with Him forever. He wants us there!

In one of his books, Adrian Plass noted that often the words ‘God is good and He loves me’ can become stale and meaningless through familiarity. Surprisingly, the realisation of who and how God is can become more powerful when we realise ‘God is nice, and He likes me’.

If we truly understood how our Father in heaven feels about us, why on earth would we worry about anything?

Here endeth the lessons…

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Lesson 6

Lesson 6: "Balance is important – you need times of rest, stillness, silence and solitude to remain in the race"

Genesis records that after God had finished creating the world, he rested on the seventh day. This wasn’t because he’d tired himself out, but to set an example of rest for us. This example was later formalised in the commandments as the Sabbath – a day of rest/non-work that was kept holy for God.

John 4:6 records, “…and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well”. Tony Horsfall uses this verse as the basis for his book ‘Working from a place of rest’, acknowledging that Jesus got tired like us, and pointing out that this verse gives us ‘permission’ to rest along our life journey.

I remember a colleague in Kenya preaching at morning devotions about the pattern of work and rest that is (hopefully) established in our lives: a night’s rest at the end of the working day; a weekend’s rest at the end of the working week, and longer periods of holiday (originally ‘holy days’) during the year. If we are only about the work, we won’t last – and we are unlikely to give God sufficient space in our lives.

‘Vegging’ in front of the TV or hanging out with family or friends, although not bad things in themselves, are not what I’m talking about. To really connect with God in your rest, you need times of ‘stillness, silence and solitude’. Elijah discovered that God was in the ‘still, small voice’, but to hear the still small voice you need to be still and quiet yourself, and in a place without distractions. In Matthew, Jesus talks about ‘going into your closet and shutting the door’ to pray.

In this world of many and varied demands on our time and energy, I think it’s good to be very deliberate about making sure these times of quiet rest happen. Are you intentional about spending quality time with God, away from it all? Do you regularly ‘go into your closet’, or periodically take retreat days just to be with God and give Him time and space to speak to you? Why not think about scheduling something like that right now?

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Lesson 5

Lesson 5: “Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time…”

Several times in his letters Paul refers to life as a race. For example in Philippians 3:14: “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us”.

But just because life is a race, doesn’t mean that we have to be in a hurry. I think we need to recognise that it’s a marathon not a sprint, otherwise we’re going to burn out before we reach the end of the race – and I don’t think that’s what God wants.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times when we have to push that little bit harder and invest more of ourselves in a task – but that can’t be our normal. It’s just not sustainable in the long run; and the long run is what we’re about.

In some ways this is more about our internal pace than what is going on externally. As we have hopefully learned during our Day of Prayer, it is only when we are internally rested that we can really be effective externally and be properly focused on what God wants us to be doing.

I don’t remember any instances in the Gospels where Jesus did anything in a hurry – in fact, quite the opposite – I can think of several instances where people got frustrated because He didn’t do things as quickly as they’d have liked.

Do we do that? Do we think we have to push things along because God isn’t quite responding to the needs fast enough? Maybe we need to move ahead a bit faster and let God catch up with what we’re doing? If we don’t speed up, it might not all get done!

Look for symptoms of this in your life today. I know my internal pace has sped up too much when I find myself striding around the office at top speed. I have learnt to catch myself when I notice that, and slow my pace down to a stroll. This has an internal effect as well, helping me catch my breath, gather my thoughts and remember that I can take my time. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint…

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Lesson 4

Lesson 4: “Being with God is more important than doing for God”

My suspicion is that MAF people in the main tend to be activists – that is, we like to get on and get stuff done. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting stuff done – but like with all things in life, we need to find the right balance.

Nowadays, with all the ‘enabling’ technology that is available, we can do even more. We can be more efficient - doing multiple things at once, and doing all the things that were once only possible at an office desk anywhere, at any time. It is so easy to get sucked into the ‘vortex of busy’ – and suddenly all that efficiency means we actually have no really free time at all.

I believe that God has given us all work to do, but I don’t think that the reason He created the world and people was because he needed a hand getting stuff done. I believe He created us for relationship with Him. And as Christians working in MAF we believe that we are working with Him and for His glory – but the question is, do we still have time for Him?

When Martha got overly busy with the work and started resenting her sister ‘just’ spending time with Jesus, He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it…”

When was the last time you spent time just ‘being’ with God? I’m not talking about a ‘quiet’ time where you squeeze in a few Bible verses and a quick prayer, but really being with God. Just spending time in His presence – not even speaking, but just spending time together.

It’s a discipline that I still really struggle with - it takes time and effort to get somewhere quiet, to be still and to clear your mind of the stuff that swirls around in it. But it’s what we were created for, and it’s absolutely worth it.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Lesson 3

Lesson 3: “I can’t do life on my own – and that’s OK; I was never meant to”

I’m guessing that this lesson is one that applies more to those of us raised in the West – where self-reliance, independence and ‘standing on your own two feet’ are considered virtues.

When this kind of perspective is the backdrop to your life, it can be quite humbling to be brought down to a place where you actually feel like day to day living is beyond your capabilities. This was where I got to – and it was hard. But in the struggle was a lesson that makes life better: I was never meant to ‘go it alone’. God built us to be dependent on Him, and in relationship with other people. Being brought low just enabled me to see the truth that very little is in my sphere of control, but nothing is outside of God’s.

As Jesus taught us, God wants us to relate to Him like little children. Those of you who have children will know that ‘littlies’ (as they call them here in Australia) are 100% dependent on you as their parents. They don’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow, or where their next meal is coming from. They ‘know’ that their parents have everything under control.

How freeing is it to have that kind of relationship with God? To know that everything is under His control – that you don’t need to worry about anything?

I’m not saying it’s easy – but then nothing of value ever is…

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Lesson 2

Lesson 2: “Just because I feel something doesn’t make it true”

This lesson was one of the hardest for me to learn. For as long as my memories go back, I hadn’t known that there was a distinction between what I feel about a situation and the reality.

Let me illustrate: I hated the first day of each school term. I used to get myself into a high state of anxiety and dread. In my mind, the first day of school was terrifying – and nothing and no one could convince me otherwise. In retrospect though, there was not actually anything about the first day of school that made it more dangerous or scary than any other day. It is only now that I realise that my feelings about the day had no basis in reality. They were just feelings.

So what I have learnt is that feelings are an unreliable indicator of reality. Apparently (and I can’t say I’ve checked) the Bible has 365 exhortations to ‘not be afraid’. That implies to me that God thinks any feelings of anxiety or fear we may have are unnecessary. If we really trust God that He loves us and cares for us as much as He says (and that’s a whole other lesson right there), then He is right – we don’t need to be afraid of anything. So it seems to me that if we can get a really accurate vision of God as our Father, than we can stand up to our feelings of fear and say with confidence, “I know you’re a lie”.

Is there anything in your life today that is giving rise to strong feelings – fear, anger, hurt, offence? Is it time to ask whether your feelings are telling you the truth?

Just because you feel something doesn’t make it true…

Friday, 3 August 2018

Life lessons

Earlier in the year, I (Daniel) joined the team in MAF that distributes our weekly PrayerPoints e-mails. Each week these go around MAF accompanied by a devotional 'blurb'. For my first seven blurbs I wrote about my 'life lessons', and I thought I would share these here over the next few weeks. So, here goes...

God seldom allows the opportunity of us going through tough times to pass without teaching us something. There are several life lessons I learnt during my struggles with anxiety and depression. These are they…

Lesson 1: “My value is found in who I am, not what I do – I have nothing to prove”

I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to let my identity and self-worth be defined by what I do. Essentially, that means I value myself based on the feedback I absorb (either rightly or wrongly) from other people.

Of course, the problem with letting other people define your value is that they can also take it away - intentionally or unintentionally - with a look, a passing comment, or a poorly worded e-mail. Giving other people the power to determine how you feel about yourself can, in turn, drive your behaviour - you need to work harder and achieve that bit more, so that people applaud you and you can feel good about yourself again – at least for a while.

But God doesn’t think that way. We talk a lot about God’s ‘unconditional love’, but it’s easy to get used to the jargon and completely miss what that means. Our Father values us for who we are, not what we (or don’t) do. And who we are is defined by His love for us. The song ‘Good, Good Father’ expresses it well:

“…I'm loved by you. It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am”

The true origin and only reliable source of our identity and value is that we are loved and accepted by God - regardless. And He loved us ‘while we were yet sinners’. Nothing you do can make God love you more, or less.

Does that make you breathe a bit easier? Does that help you believe that maybe, even if you don’t work 10 hours today or meet that deadline, your world isn’t going to collapse around your ears? 

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with doing a good job, but if you only feel like a worthwhile human being when you’ve done a good job, then you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of unnecessary pain.

It is vital to realise that there is no relationship between our value as a person and our performance. I have value because God loves me and accepts me, uniquely and individually.

You might think this devotion is a load of nonsense - but I don’t care; God loves me anyway 😊