Flabby or Fit?

Don’t worry; this isn’t a post about pre-Christmas physical fitness!

If you know me well, then you’ve probably learned not to get me talking about the gym. I love it and I will bore you with all kinds of talk about it! However, the Bible includes a few exercise analogies, and so I hope you’ll forgive me if I use one today too.

As with previous posts (here and here) I’m still thinking through the subject of faith. Specifically growing in faith, and living it out day to day.

Living by faith can feel like something I do once in a while when I’m out of other options, rather than an everyday habit.

(By ‘living by faith’ I mean: following Christ and living out the gospel boldly, obediently, and sacrificially within the contexts and opportunities that God has provided, even when we feel weak, afraid, and ill-equipped.)

One of the problems with this is that trusting God bears some similarities to exercise. The more often you work a muscle, the stronger it gets and the easier and less painful it is. But if you only exercise occasionally you’re in for a lot of discomfort!

I wonder sometimes if trusting God can feel so uncomfortable because I’ve let it become an occasional thing rather than a daily part of my life. And just like sporadic gym attendance, it doesn’t feel very natural, I’m anxious, and my enjoyment of the process is ruined!

pexels-photo-gymPerhaps like me you need some reminders of why living by faith is so good, and why it should be an everyday thing instead of the final option we choose when our resources run out:

1) God is utterly trustworthy and wise. As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. Ps18:30

2) Fear and worry are cruel and fruitless masters. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matt 6:27

3) God loves to be good to his children. For your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matt 6:8  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11

4) Trusting in God is a privelege. In contrast to him, we are unreliable, short sighted, sinful, and weak, with many circumstances outside of our control. It should give us great peace of mind to trust in someone greater in every respect than ourselves!

5) God is weaving us into his story. As his people, by faith we get to be part of something greater and much more meaningful than we can imagine. (See Hebrews 11!)

6) As disciples we are followers. Having to trust in God’s leading and to wait for his help or resources protects this dynamic, lest we stride too far ahead on our own without his guidance.

7) Trusting God daily preserves his kingdom priorities: He is the King, we are his servants, we are to live for his glory and to further his kingdom.  31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’. . .  33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt 6:31, 33

8) Living by faith makes us distinctive and attractive witnesses in a world where it’s ‘every man for himself’. By this we model to friends and family a better way to live – as loved and satisfied people cared for by a faithful God. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Matt 6:32

9) It’s a protection for us against wilful independence, idolatry, and self centredness. When we experience questions, doubts, or need, we necessarily draw near to God.

10) And as I’ve hinted with my exercise analogy, living by faith causes us to grow – in faith, in Christian maturity, in hope, and in love for our God. As we see him guide and provide for us we are humbled and blessed, and our faith is reinforced.

So the challenge for me (and I hope for you) is:

Am I growing strong in faith? Do I daily rely on God’s power and provision? Or do I think “Phew! Glad that’s over, hopefully I can relax for a while before I need to flex those faith muscles again.”

 

Why does God want us to be in constant attendance at the gym of faith? It’s part of growing in trust-filled relationship , walking with him more and more intimately, and enjoying seeing him work according to his will. Ultimately and unsurprisingly it’s for our blessing.

Join me in praying to our good God with the honesty of the man in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

 

Nim

 

Quiet Time Qualms

Most Christians try to earmark regular time to spend with God, and it’s often referred to as a ‘quiet time’. I’d certainly recommend it, it’s great to have dedicated time each day to read the Bible, pray, and enjoy the close relationship that God invites us to have with him. Yet I know that I often sabotage myself in this area.

I get up in the morning, fetch a cup of coffee, and sit down for some time with God…and then I heave a sigh, and try to psych myself up to approach him!

Surely God has better things to do?

I expect he doesn’t want to see me after those failures yesterday.

I’m so aware of His awesome holiness and power.

I already feel guilty because I went to bed late and snoozed the alarm this morning.

My phone is urging me to check my Facebook feed.

The day’s tasks are calling for me to begin them.

I can nearly persuade myself in that moment to walk away from my Bible, and put off prayer until another time! Can you relate to this?Quiet Time Qualms

Here are some things I think the Bible has to say to me and to others who struggle with feelings like these. If you are a Christian:

God has already saved you and will not let you go now

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God Ephesians 2:8

You don’t have to persuade God to draw near to you

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty . . . whoever comes to me I will never drive away. John 6:35,37

You don’t have to persuade God to love you

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

You don’t have to persuade God to be gracious to you

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-2

 

We mustn’t forget how much we need God’s presence and work in our hearts and lives. We must prioritise personal, regular time with Him.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5

Nevertheless we don’t do this in our own strength, but with the help of God’s Spirit, and in light of God’s great love and mercy towards us!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Matthew 5:3, 6

 

Let’s rejoice and take courage from these truths!

 

Nim

For the times when you don’t understand what God is doing

I sometimes look back wistfully at the early days of my Christian faith, when God spoke simply and gently, a father to a little child, feeding me with spiritual milk, easily digestible for a baby. But as I’ve grown I’ve needed solid food.

There have been times of rejoicing at learning new things, and less enjoyable periods of discipline, and difficult lessons to master. It’s sometimes been painful, and often confusing.

greener-home-home-renovations

C.s Lewis says it better than I can, but I have to agree with his description:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― 
C.S. LewisMere Christianity

Here are some thoughts that help and encourage me when I don’t understand what God is doing:

1. I don’t expect to understand everything he is doing – his thoughts are higher and wiser than mine! (Isaiah 55:9)

2. I don’t need to understand –I’ve given my life over completely to him, and he is the grand architect who will make me into a suitable home for my King.

3. I remind myself of his character, so that my trust will come more easily: Love, faithfulness, mercy, wisdom, justice, kindness. Such a God must have a good and wise reason for any pain he causes me in the process of his amazing renovations!

4. I remind myself of Job. Do you know his story? In the Bible book named after him, Job is a sorry character, he experiences great suffering, and God does not reveal to him why he is afflicted ( although it is revealed to the reader).

Instead God reminds Job of his character, his superior wisdom and power, the might of the things he has created. He asks Job if he understands how any of it came to be, if he knows the mechanics of the world around him, if Job was present when they were created. Job’s reply shows his righteousness, and the mouth-stilling superiority of God:

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Or as Lewis puts it in another good book of his:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

Nim

Innocent Diversions

What are your “innocent diversions”?

If you’re anything like me, then you appreciate sitting back to watch your favourite TV shows, indu

lging in a good book, spending time with friends, good food, sports…there are so many good ways to spend our ‘down time’. We are designed to need rest, time away from work, and opportunities to switch off from things.

But I’ve realised that personally, my innocent diversions can become unhelpful.

By nature a diversion diverts! It takes our attention away from something else. This can be a blessing, but it’s also something we need to keep an eye on as Christians so that it doesn’t  become a snare to us.

Last week, I determined that I was going to spend some extra time praying about some issues that I needed to hear from God about. Great! (I thought) An opportunity to really do business with God…or rather, give him the quality time to do business with me!Unfortunately for this resolution of mine, the next day I discovered a new TV series… and did that thing where you make up for lost time by watching back to back episodes at every convenient moment, and a few inconvenient ones!

I enjoyed myself greatly.

I didn’t pray.

I didn’t even remember my resolution until I reached the end of the first series.

I was shocked at the simplicity with which my innocent diversion had thoroughly diverted me away from my resolve to pray!

It’s made me think that I need to pay more attention to what I do in my leisure time.

Because good things can so easily divert us from great things.

How often has Satan effortlessly diverted you from some call to spiritual battle and fruitfulness by waving a new and attractive diversion in its place? We don’t even notice, as we unstrap our armour, and settle down on the sofa once more, handing over our sword in exchange for the remote, or the kindle, or the hockey stick.

Please hear me carefully.

Rest is good. Hobbies are good. Diversions from daily stresses and responsibilities can be a great blessing!

But keep your armour on, and stay alert.

I’m learning that Satan can disarm us before we put one foot on the spiritual battlefield.

5 Reasons Why You Should Read Christian Biographies

Recently I’ve been enjoying reading about the lives of a couple of influential Christians.

I’ve realised that although I read quite a lot of books, I rarely read Christian biographies, and I’ve benefitted a lot already by adding a few into my literary diet!

The nosy part of me enjoys a glimpse into someone else’s world, but I have a few other good reasons that I want to share, in the hope that you too will add a Christian bio’ or two to your reading list.

So here you go – Five reasons – let me know if I convince you!
1. They are a great source of encouragement 

A good Christian biography usually demonstrates that the true hero of the story is God. It’s so encouraging to see that God is willing and able to use normal fallible people like you and I in his service. I love reading about dramatic or impossible situations where God steps in, and about the unlikely people who end up doing amazing things in his strength.

2. They remind me to “fight the good fight”

This life is short and quickly over, Christian biographies encourage me to live for God while I have the opportunity, instead of getting sidetracked by many good but ultimately worthless goals. They remind me to be prayerfully on the lookout for how God might want to use me.

3. They restore my realism.

I can easily develop an idealistic and even ungodly expectation of my life here on earth – that it will be problem-free, featuring blessing after blessing, as long as I follow God faithfully. Reading the stories of faithful Christians reminds me that we are not exempt from the troubles of life, that many Christians experience deep suffering. But that they are also sustained by someone much greater than themselves, and look forward to a glorious future with Jesus Christ. By reading about those who have gone before I can keep going and see God’s faithfulness proved when the difficulties come.

4. I learn from the spiritual lessons of others

Reading biographies is a great way to grow spiritually if you pick well. You get to learn from the experiences, mistakes, and successes of other Christians, and sometimes hear in their own words how they dealt with them, and how God taught them.

5. I learn about the history of the church

I’ve read a mixture of books about Christians from the past, and those alive today. They are all helpful, but reading about the lives of Christians from past generations can be useful in learning about Christian history, and widening my understanding of things outside my own context. It’s been great to learn a bit more about the Reformation, the history of missions, the role of Christians in British history, and more from the biographies I’ve read so far.

What do you think? Any reasons you would add? Any Biographies you’d recommend?

Here are a few to get you started:

My Heart in His Hands by Sharon James

The story of Anne Judson, missionary to Burma. I read this book over a weekend it was so hard to put down, a dramatic and compelling story! Based on Ann’s diaries it’s a humbling and challenging insight into the life of a women who trusted God to use her as he wished, bringing great spiritual fruit from her life at great cost.

Get it here

David Brainerd – May I never Loiter on My Heavenly Journey by John Piper

A short biography of one of the first missionaries. “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints, who cry to him day and night, to accomplish amazing things for his glory” (p. 9).

Get free e-book version here

On Giants’ Shoulders by Mike Reeves

This is a book that introduces you to the lives and influence of key Christians from the past, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards. If you’ve heard these names but don’t really know who these people are, this is a great book to start with. Reeves makes each of them come alive in an engaging and entertaining way.

You can get it here

Growing Pains

This week I’ve been thinking about Christian growth and maturity.

What can I be praying and doing to encourage real change in my heart and life? (With the help of God’s Spirit!) Should it really feel this difficult?! I sometimes feel that all that happens is that I become aware of more sin in my life, seemingly without changing much at all.

In the gracious way that God often uses, he brought a friend across my path to guide me in my thinking.

She keeps this in her Bible, and I found it wonderfully honest and helpful – It’s a hymn by John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace).

…It’s nice to know that I’m not the only Christian who feels this way, and the last verse renewed my excitement and expectation of the work that God is doing in me.

Have a read and tell me what you think!

I asked the Lord, that I might grow

By John Newton

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know;
And seek more earnestly His face.

Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair!

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins–and give me rest!

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part!

Yes more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe!
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds–and laid me low!
“Lord, why is this!” I trembling cried,
“Will you pursue your worm to death?”
“This is the way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may seek your all in Me!”