pperseverence, prayer, presence, priorities, Self Care, sin, Spiritual Dryness, Spiritual Health, Spiritual Warfare, Time, Try?

“Got to pray just to make it today”

If prayer is the most powerful thing we can do as human beings, in fact by is an instinctive response, yet why is it something we all struggle to do?

It is said if you want to make your congregation feel guilty “talk about prayer”.

we all know we should do it, but probably none of us does it as much as we should, or even as we would like.

we claim to be too busy, but in reality that is about priorities, we can always make time, but the truth is we don’t always.

-Made more ironic by the fact that when we actually are able to pray, it often feels good, and I often end up asking myself “why don’t I do this more often?”

The illusion of to busy, or too tired, or a distraction there are so many things that just pull us away for a few seconds, and we never get around to doing that important thing of actually praying.

Intending to pray is not actually the same as praying.

Then as I began to think more about prayer, not only is it hard sometimes to do, we need to make the effort, grasp the moment and maybe even do that unfashionable word of self discipline/Spiritual discipline, to challenge ourselves to do that which we know we should.

Yet I wonder too, how often we don’t pray because we are comfortable and the urgency or necessity to pray doesn’t really grab us, we think we’ll be okay and our comfortable western lives often cushion us to forget our dependence on God.

Even theological truths of lost eternity or human compassion don’t always force us to our knees until God has our hearts fully, and paradoxically, if we don’t pray we never give God our hearts or let him have ours.

I think the real reason the Church in the west is failing is actually because Christians aren’t praying. God says “You have not because you ask not”. Jesus talks about us being like “salt”, the idea is to make us thirty for God, and yet too much of the Church seems comfortable and complacent.

I think too, we struggle to pray because of fear and lack of faith, we fear disappointment, we fear getting our hopes raised -even sometimes we fear God answering our prayer. I remember that terrified moment when I felt “wow, God is actually real” as he answers prayer shocks and shakes us from our complacency.

The pain too of seemingly unanswered prayer, when heaven seems to be silent, and times of suffering and confusion can cause us to struggle too, and ask where are you God.

Too often we think that in the Christian life we will always get a charmed life and always have a parking space, where in reality it is tough, confusing and painful.

Often too our own sense of guilt, apathy, sin, pride can all keep us away from God’s loving arms, these times when perhaps it is easier to run away from God is the exact time we need to instead run to him.

For me, one of the best ways to keep me praying has been personal accountability, over the last 20ish years -sometimes more regularly than others- I have had some great guys who I have met up with too pray, and without that companionship on the journey I don’t think I’d have made it this far.

Also, I need to be reminded that prayer works, that God answers, my soul needs to HEAR the stories of peoples encounters with God, or prayers answered and God speaking. we need these stories to spur us on. Yet we also need to TELL those stories too when God meets and speaks to us, answers our prayers, we need to share it too.

So, the challenge for us all is let’s not just talk about prayer, as though it is a good thing to do.

Let us not even intend to do it.

Let us be people that actually pray.

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Church, priorities, self awareness

A wonderful hospital without any patients…


I don’t know if you have ever seen this classic episode of “Yes Minister” where the Minister discovers this amazing, well ordered fantastic hospital only to discover that it doesn’t actually have any patients or treat any sick people.

It is a classic case of people having forgotten their reason for being, they are not doing what they are supposed too so they try and justify their existence by celebrating what they actually do do (a well run hospital without any patients).

Yet many of our Churches are like this, Mission Centres through which tragically no one other than their regular members have heard the good news of Jesus. Discipleship programmes where the people are exactly the same after the course as they were before it.

Perhaps we as Christians are like this, we profess to be Christ’s people but don’t do anything Christ-like or Kingdom advancing.

I have a book called “what on earth is the Church here for”, yet I wonder whether our answers to that question might sound a bit like the civil servants justifying the existence of a hospital without any patients? If we are not reproducing the DNA of Jesus in our lives and in our communities then we are just “a rotary club with a pointy roof” or a person that is a “clanging gong or a noisy cymbal” (to quote St. Paul).

So, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves as individuals and collectively as Church “why are we here?” -Are we really like a hospital with no patients? If so, let’s roll up our sleeves and return to the Kingdom work.

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call, cost, Deep, Discipleship, Discipline, faithfulness, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, priorities

“There is nothing remotely sissy about the women’s auxiliary balloon corps”.

A quote from Blackadder from Captain Darling, both trying to work out ways of avoiding death in the first world war by trying to escape the trenches, yet neither of the two men wants to admit that actually they are afraid of fighting and dying.

Captain Darling, manages to get a safe job behind a desk, and Blackadder tries (and fails) to be posted elsewhere.

This picture reminds me of uncomfortable (and maybe uncharitable) thoughts and conversations I have had with Christians about mission and evangelism.

The truth seems to be they’d rather be doing something nice and pleasantly Christian rather than the costly and sacrificial following of Jesus.

Interestingly, we were doing an outreach on Easter Saturday, and the Church was full of people doing flowers, but only one person came out onto the streets to do outreach with us.

I remember once we were desperately short of people to help with out teenagers and one person emailed to say she couldn’t do it because she was the only singer who could sing soprano (or something like that) in the choir.

The problem is this is it is majoring on the minor.

Prioritising the trivial over the transformative.

Our will being done, not Christ’s will be done.

Discipleship cannot be conditional discipleship, following Jesus only when we happen to be going in the same direction.

Christianity lite.
Decaf Christianity with extra milk foam.

when I was at college there was a cartoon that said “God I will go anywhere you call me too” and underneath it said “provided it is in Surrey”.

It made me think, is the problem with discipleship in the west that it is discipleship on our terms?

A phrase that often challenges me is “If Christ is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

I think all of us find it easier to serve God when it is fun and rewarding, it is harder when it is seemingly making little progress.

Rather than being a backseat driver I fear when the call looks costly, or it is hard-work and a slog, we wrench the steering wheel out of God’s hand or pull up the handbrake and rush for the nearest cushy and consumerist gathering and end up seeking out roles of maximum kudos for minimum cost, the safest option.

The truth is following Jesus is either about obedience and faithfulness or disobedience and sin, the problem is that too often we try and give sin and disobedience a sugar coating of religiosity and respectability.

Blackadder sought glory but not the danger, wants recognition without risk, medals without cost, honour without achievement, and reward without sacrifice.

Yet Christianity has never been safe.

Jesus talks of picking up our cross and following him.

Following Christ will cost us everything we have, it is an “everything or nothing choice”.

As I thought about this blog, I wondered about getting David Beckham to make the squash at football matches. It is a job he could do, but it is substantially short of what he is capable of, and leaves the wider body deprived and should short.

Too many are full of potential that they leave deliberately untapped, because -as a proverb says- “many opportunities are missed because they come in overalls and look like work”.

Lets not give God the fag butts of our time, energy, gifting and resources rather than our first fruits.

So, let’s not be like Captains Darling and Blackader trying to slope off the battle-field, but instead bravely give all that we have, our best efforts and richest resources in the service of King Jesus.

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call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

I remember the Vicar who is leading one of the Churches my dad used to lead, telling a story of his previous parish in the leafy Sussex Countryside which went something like this, :

“Treasurer:- Unless we sought out our giving this Church will shut!
Vicar:- Unless we sought out our evangelism, mission and outreach people will go to a lost eternity”.

We often get obsessed about keeping the lights on in our Church building, rather than our calling of “seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” as we fulfil the great commission and “make disciples of all nations”.

Jesus never promised to keep open our particular building, but he did say “I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it”. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.

Too often we neglect the “seeking first the Kingdom of God” to worry and stress about our building, our constitutions, our processes and 101 trivialities, which from an eternal perspective are cul de sac’s, diversions from our main focus.

Paradoxically, I have seen on many occasions, when we focus on the Kingdom of God the things we so often stress about are resolved -unexpected legacies come in, or people with needed gifting come out of the woodwork.

When we put Jesus first, he sorts out the rest, in fact that is what he promises “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.

You see it is not the Church that has the mission of God, rather it is the missionary God who has the Church. We collaborate and partner with the ‘Missio Deo -the mission of God’, yet too often we become curators of dusty buildings.

As I thought more about this tragic picture I remembered the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy making Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want (in fact the one who fed the 5000 probably wasn’t that worried about missing lunch!), how often are our Churches stressing and wasting our time stressing on things that God himself will sort.

Ironically too, the best way of ‘keeping your building open’ is by keeping in step -living in obedience- with the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The often stated phrase of “keeping the show on the road” is only a laudable aim when the show is orchestrated and choreographed by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, otherwise it is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We forget the warning in scripture that reminds us that “unless the Lord builds the workers labour in vain”.

Often people are very keen on keeping their buildings open, but the question has to be asked, is there anything in this building that is worth preserving? Are we being a Matthew 25 Church? Are we being an Acts 2 Church? Are lives being transformed by Christ?

To me, it seems like much of the Church in the UK has the telescope the wrong way around distancing us from what should be close at hand, a false perspective -a distortion- that brings complacency.

So, let’s ask God to transform our vision to coincide with his vision.

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call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

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priorities, values, Worth

Fools Gold.

On Friday I met up with my friends AJ and Chris, and we hung out for a couple of hours, consumed some saturated fats, shared and prayed together.

My friend Chris used a phrase “living from your guts” meaning living from your deepest convictions at the heart of who you are.

This is something I find hugely challenging (as well as incredibly inspiring) as it is really easy to say I am passionate about things, but living in such a way that my deep convictions are shown in my life is very different.

Chris has sat in the path of a tank whilst picketing and arms fayre, would I do that, or would I simply write a ‘strongly worded tweet’?!  -these things that make us feel like we are doing something, without actually doing anything, are dangerous for authentic discipleship that looks Christ-like.

Conversation moved to talking about discipleship, and saying about how we often listen to people because they appear successful, ministers of large Churches, and yet the challenge isn’t primarily for broad appeal, but rather depth of discipleship.

The Bible talks of building with Gold, Silver and Costly Stones, rather than with straw and hey which get burned up in the fire. The question behind this verse is asking if what we are investing so much of our lives in actually having any lasting or eternal value?

As we talked AJ or Chris talked about ‘fools gold’ -iron pyrites- it looks like gold but is worthless. Often sometimes we get so caught up with keeping the show on the road, delivering the product called Church, keeping everyone happy that we end up filling our treasurers in heaven with ‘fools Gold’.

It is very easy to build where Christ isn’t building, it is very easy to fill a diary rather than find ‘only doing what I see my Father doing”, “O let me see thy footprints  and in them plant my own, my hope to follow duly is in thy strength alone”.

Perhaps growing a large and comfortable Church, might look wonderful, but unless people are moving deeper in their relationship with Christ actually its fools gold.

It is easy to run around and keep everyone happy,  but unless people are changed and transformed by Christ -not just fobbed off and made to feel better- again its simply trying to build with fools Gold.

Or perhaps a Bible Study/Sermon filled with Greek and other pretentious knowledge which might sound truly wonderful, but if it has no results in making people more like Jesus then it is simply a waste of hot air, or fools Gold.

When we go along with everything anyone says and please people, although we may be a little bit popular, again we are chasing Fools Gold.

The World is full of “Good” ideas, but I want to do “God’s” ideas, Good is the enemy of great. Fools Gold might sparkle, but lets be discerning enough to see the fake Gold from the real thing.

“Good ideas might be good, but they will never be truly great, or truly fruitful”.

So lets build with Gold, real Gold, pure God and ignore the distracting sparkles of false God.

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Jesus, priorities

Keeping the most important thing the most important thing.

I wrote recently about Church being US, you and me, living it out in community and relationship with each other, needing each other, and other people needing us.
The acknowledgement that we sometimes as individuals and community don’t get it right, but still with the challenge to seek to live it out. Ending with the prayerful challenge of John Wimber “Lord, Send Revival, Start with me!”
The sense of personal responsibility for the Church, our role within it, and our calling serve Christ and one another, to keep ourselves and our brothers and sisters sharp, as a friend once said “Contending for one another’s hearts”
I did the whole article without mentioning the words, Leader or Pastor or Vicar, because actually in one sense before the cross of Christ we are all equal, sinners in need of grace, we all have a calling, and I believe a calling to leadership is a call to serve, following the call of him who took a towel and washed his disciples feet.
In our culture Politicians talk about serving us, but really rule us, this shouldn’t be so for the Christian as the only one called to reign is that of Christ Jesus.
Christian ministers we are called to serve, as Jesus himself said: “I have not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many”.
Too often, as I have said before we have a model of leadership which looks more like Alan Sugar than Jesus Christ.
Yet we do need leaders.
I’ve seen Churches become leaderless, or their leader not step up to the plate, and an unlead Church doesn’t go anywhere,  the Church normally grinds to a halt… rust sets in, and the Church fossilizes.
Leaders need to lead.
If Moses had offered no leadership the people of Israel would still be slaves in Egypt.
If Nehemiah had not offered any leadership the walls of Jerusalem would not have been rebuilt.
If Jesus had not lead the Disciples you probably wouldn’t be reading this now.
Probably all of us lead in some form or another, but the key question is what and where are we leading God’s people in?
I did a course called the Arrow Course, A course designed for younger leaders, it’s strap-line was “To be LED BY Jesus, to LEAD like Jesus and to LEAD more too Jesus”.
Leadership centred in, through, by and to Jesus Christ is the kind of leader I want to be like. Christian leadership like everything in the Christian faith when boiled down to its key components should be totally and unapologetically ALL about Jesus.
If I wanted a biblical picture to try and sum up what I want my life to be all about, I’d choose the pearl of great price, a picture of giving up everything for Jesus, I’d like to be the kind of person who if I was a stick of rock has the words JESUS emblazened through my very core… I know I fall short of this many times, but that’s got to be the vision.
“The Vision is Jesus”, it’s not about me.
Yet we end up with the same problem we have with Church, we want something divine, and we encounter something very human, because his followers are people with treasures in jars of clay.
The joke in clergy circles is every Church wants the Arch-Angel Gabriel to come along and be their Vicar!
 We know that we as leaders are human, and are fallen, and yet almighty God does choose to work through you and me, when we come and make ourselves available to him.
To quote an old cliché “God is more interested in your availability than ability”…”God is not limited by your limitations”…
It is about following Christ where-ever he leads, as faithfully as we can, in partnership with one another, iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another.
Leaders need people like you and me, to pray for them, to bless and encourage them, to (in love) challenge and inspire.
Leadership is all about these questions, what is God doing now? What is God saying now? Where is he leading now? Will you go?
The Green Cross Code Hedgehog used to say “STOP, LOOK, LISTEN and STEP OUT“…
That’s what Christian leadership is all about, stopping and looking and listening to what God is doing and then taking the step of faith, out of the boat, to where God is leading…
This part that needs us to ask God for bravery and courage, faith spelled by John Wimber as R-I-S-K.
One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is King David who is described as a man after God’s own heart, the book of Ezekial talks about God giving us a new heart, his heart, of flesh not stone, a heart where God has put his Spirit within it.
A dangerous prayer is “God break my heart for what breaks yours”.
What is God saying, what is doing, where is he leading, will you?
And will you keep going no matter what is thrown in front of you?
The problem most leaders start of okay, but it’s not just how you begin that matters, being a Christlike leader is not just about starting well, but continuing well, walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Recently I re-read James Laurences wonderful book growing leaders and he talks about how leaders start off okay, but sadly many

Fade out

Fall out

Sell out
Burn Out
Fade Out, ‘loose your first love’ end up from longing to see heaven invade earth and God’s Kingdom advance, to plodding on keeping the flower arrangers happy, not quitting but  that spark has gone, the fire has petered out, and nothing is happening other than a disillusioned show on the road shuffle towards retirement.
Sell Out, compromising truth for the sake of popularity and comfort,  bowing to pressure when society and biblical values part company or bending to whatever theological pressure group shots the loudest. The Civil Service talking of breaking a new government minister with the phrase “house trained”… Let’s not be house-trained!
Fall Out, how many leader do we hear who cash and burn, sex/money/power takes another scalp of someone who started off in love with Jesus and seeking to serve him, but whom the enemy has taken out the game, because they didn’t realise their vulnerability and take precautions.
Burn Out… Similar in many ways to fall out, but without the sex/money/power scandal, but crash and burn through exhaustion, depression and disillusionment.
The truth is that all of us can in our faith can FADE OUT, FALL OUT, SELL OUT or BURN OUT, just as our leaders can.
I’ll close by something I came to see when I worked in rehab about leadership, the group was lead by an alcoholic in recovery, he was a ‘wounded healer’ but yet he’d  been sober for many, many years but still didn’t take his recovery for granted.
We may be broken people, yet God’s power is bigger than our brokenness, in fact our weakness enables and strengthens our dependence on the only one who truly is faithful and trust-worthy. He is only one that can ‘keep you from falling’… ‘he who will not let your footslip’ -the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
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