Growing Up

This week marked my 30th birthday, and thanks to my sister’s secret planning it was the perfect day! However, as much as I enjoy birthday celebrations, I wasn’t really looking forward to this one. Thirty seems like a significant marker. . .of something! And I’m not sure that western society gives us a lot of positive messages when it comes to getting older. Most of the adverts that we see and the messages that we hear are to do with preventing ageing, looking younger, and staying current.

However, as the big day approached, I felt the gentle rebuke of the Holy Spirit about my negativity, and resolved to think about how the Bible guides us in thinking about age.woman-street-walking-girl

Have I unquestioningly taken my attitudes from the world around me? Or am I being shaped by God’s perspective? How can I think both realistically and optimistically about ageing?

We mustn’t ignore the difficulties of ageing in a broken world. There are some very real challenges that no one looks forward to. But the Bible equips us to deal with ageing – whether you’re a teenager or student, scared about your future, or approaching mid-life and wondering whether to have a crisis, or perhaps you’re in your seventies or eighties and laughing at those of us who think that thirty is a momentous milestone!

[I asked my family and a couple of friends for their thoughts, and they had wise things to say. So here you go – my first crowd-sourced post!]

 

1) Enjoy Your Youth & Use It Well: We laughed over Ecclesiastes contributions to this subject – essentially, enjoy your youth while you can, for “youth and vigour are meaningless” and will soon be gone! But we are meant to hear in this the warning to live wisely and for more lasting things.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Ecclesiastes 11:10 & 12:1)

2) True Beauty Doesn’t Fade: We fear losing our strength and beauty as we age, and we go to great lengths to preserve them. But the Bible urges us to stop swimming in such shallow waters!  True and lasting beauty is to fear the Lord, and to develop a character mellowed and shaped by faith and knowledge of God. He is the eternally beautiful one and over time his people start to share his beauty. (1 Peter 3:3-4, Proverbs 31:30) So we should focus on preserving our faith, holiness, and obedience as we age, rather than youth or physical beauty.

3) We Have a Renewable Source Of Strength! In a world where our strength can be taken by age, illness, or accident, we need the promises of God:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

Enduring strength is given to those who trust in the Lord, for his provision never fails. (Psalm 18, Exodus 15:2)

4) We Grow in Wisdom & Influence: A great part of getting older is the opportunity to grow in wisdom and experience, and to enjoy the fruit of this in our work, relationships, and discipleship. We can serve more effectively, counsel and bless those who are younger, and experience new stages and opportunities that won’t have been open to us before. As my Dad pointed out: “The woman in Proverbs 31 is not a young woman, her influence and opportunities have grown as she has aged, and now she has the respect of her family and community, and the means and wisdom to bless many in ways she couldn’t have before.”

5) Ageing Should Remind Us What is Truly Important: Ageing is good for our discipleship(!) It forces us to grow in dependence on God, as we face the challenges of different ages and new stages. The fact that we are followers of Christ should govern our whole perspective on this – who cares what age we are as long as we continue to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.(Matthew 6:33)  

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

So where is my focus? On Christ and the joys of walking with him until my hair is grey . . . or on those grey hairs alone?

6) We Have a Hope That Grows as We Age: My Mum says that she never feels negative about birthdays because “Each one represents a whole year of God’s sustenance and work in me.” As Christians we have unshakeable, certain hopes in the face of the trials of ageing – hopes that go beyond this life. One day we will be resurrected with gloriously redeemed bodies – but we won’t much care about how we look in comparison to the wonder of knowing and seeing Jesus Christ face to face!

 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

There is so much more we could say, but I hope you find it as helpful as I have to think through some of these areas. Let me know in the comments if you have other perspectives to add!

Nim

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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

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

What do you do when the temperature drops?

How should Christians deal with spiritual coldness and discouragement?

In recent weeks, I’ve had several conversations with Christians who are struggling. They feel discouraged, dry, and far from God; and increasingly guilty the longer these feelings linger. I have to confess that although I can readily identify with such times, I have felt shallow in my initial responses, and this post is the fruit of the thinking I’ve done since.

Let me know what you think…

I’m sure there is no neat and tidy answer that will suffice for every situation. Spiritual discouragement can result from any number of causes – real and legitimate worries, depression, suffering, bad experiences within the church, and our ever sinful hearts.

What I’m certain of, is that this spiritual matter cannot be solved with human willpower alone, or with an easy formula. (Which is why this post is not titled “3 steps to relighting your spiritual fire”!)

One thing that we must be clear on, even as we seek to climb out of a rut we’ve gotten into, is that it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit, that a dead and unfeeling heart is exchanged for a new heart that loves and seeks after God. This is a transformation that began when we first heard and believed the gospel. A transformation that accompanied our once-for-all eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, and continues as we start to resemble him.

The discouraged Christian should first rest secure in the knowledge that their name is written in heaven!

Nevertheless, we cannot afford to be complacent or apathetic when we recognise that our hearts have become cold towards God.

We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And it should grieve us and call us to repentance when we do not.

But don’t be surprised at the coldness of your heart. A friend of mine used to say that every morning she had to perform spiritual CPR on her heart. I can testify to this being true. I’m often shocked at my apathy and coldness toward God, and how quickly I forget or disbelieve the gospel!

We need to fight for a constant and growing love and closeness to Christ.

So here are a few things that I suggest, and find personally helpful in these times:

Relearn the gospel, and let it revive you. Immerse yourself in the accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels. Jesus is the friend of sinners; he came as a doctor for those who knew their need of healing. (Luke 5:31-33) He invites the thirsty to come for living water. (Isaiah 55:1-3, John 7:37-39) He ever lives to intercede for his people. (Hebrews 7:24-26) These are just a few of many such passages!

Consider God’s character. Remember that he is merciful, steadfastly loving, faithful, gracious, and kind. (See Exodus 34:6)

Remember that he knows it all – your sin, your bad experiences, how you have come to be where you are now – even when you don’t know! Don’t let anyone or anything make you believe that you have walked too far away to come home. Just read the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. God is far more gracious than any of us deserve!

Begin to talk to him again, as your Father, honestly and humbly. Ask his spirit to give you the words if it’s been a long time.

Make use of the Psalms. Especially Psalm 42Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Don’t give up going through the motions. Seek with God’s help to be obedient. Honour, fear, and follow him, even when you’re not ‘feeling it’, attend a good church, and get some support. Ask him that the right feelings would follow.

Evaluate your diet. This is a particularly practical step. What is going on in your daily life? What are you reading, watching, and listening to? What are the messages that you are receiving? Are you giving yourself a chance for God’s word to sink in and change you, or is it snatched away immediately by the way you spend your time and energy?

Along with asking God’s spirit to renew your love and desire for him, do all that you can to prepare the soil!

Imagine a marriage where a husband and wife only ever talk in the presence of others, never spending time alone. It would be pretty hard to sustain a good level of love and communication! Are you giving God the time and opportunity to speak to you, by spending time reading scripture and talking with him?

2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us that the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Ask for him to do in you what you are unable to do. We need God’s spirit to continue to work in us, so that our hearts will be fully committed to him.

Let me end with a passage that I return to again and again in challenging times:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’

Lamentations 3:19-24

I’m sure there is much more to be said, but I’ve written enough! What do you think? What would you add?

Nim

Personality, Gifting, and Godliness

We all have different personality types, and traits.

Many a team building seminar has exhorted the worth of knowing whether you are a leader, or a facilitator, or another of the personality types observed by the experts. But have you ever thought about how your Christian life and growth might be affected by your personality and gifting?

I work on a great staff team at church, and I love to see how God uses our personalities and gifts to help one another, and make us more effective in ministry as a team, than as individuals.

I have friends who I particularly value for the way they encourage me to godliness, in ways I would not think of on my own.

For example, some people are naturally adventurous. They are quickly willing to step out in faith, to make changes, to push boundaries, to regularly ask of their life and ministry “What if?”

I greatly benefit from people who are like this, because I am not! I’m generally happy with the status quo, and not particularly questioning or adventurous. I like things to be nice and organised, calm and well thought out.

This isn’t all bad, as I’ll go on to mention, but the reality is that Christian life isn’t neat and tidy! And faith in God is not trust in my well-planned schedule or five year plan! We face challenges, change, growth,… or stagnation. Sometimes God’s Holy Spirit will unsettle us from our comfortable routines.

Faith in God often looks like blind uncertainty from our vantage point – but our faith is not placed in where we are going, or the plans that we have, but in the God who guides us! And he is certain and unchanging.

I need my more adventurous friends and colleagues to encourage me to take God at his word and to step out in faith. To risk change for greater growth. To “be an Abraham”, who when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

Yet that’s not all that there is to say, because my personality type expresses itself in other traits that are needed for godliness too!

Faithfulness – plugging away day after day, and not giving up when things are hard.

Pragmatism that blends well with the vision and excitement of others, to produce plans that are adventurous and well thought out!

Organisation – that enjoys working out what a step of faith might look like in practice.

I still pray that God would make me a visionary, someone who is eager to do anything that he would ask, with excitement and faith.

But I also rejoice that God knows how he has made me, and is growing all the parts of my personality to reflect Christ, and be used in his service!

Join me in asking that God would show you your strengths and weaknesses and how he can use you in his church.

Do you need to work on growing in faithfulness? Getting your head down and carrying on when things are tough?

Or is your personality such that you need a kick to get going, step out in faith, and make some brave changes?

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

  1. Ask God to show you where he is at work in, and through your gifts and personality.
  2. Ask Him to surround you with people who will compliment and
    challenge your gifts.
  3. Don’t give up attending, and getting stuck into your local church (chances are this is how he will answer point 2!)