Prepare now for your next spiritual drought

Farmer working in the fields with tractor.

Have you ever tried to read the Bible only to realise that after ten minutes you have not taken in a word? Or spent time with your eyes closed attempting to pray but really chasing anxious thoughts as if herding cats?

It is normal to go through seasons of spiritual dryness. Times when prayer and Bible reading become exercises in raw discipline or diminish to nothing. None of us want to remain in such a barren place, but how long we have to endure is God’s call, not ours.

I think it is good to always attempt to nurture your relationship with God, even when it feels as if you are just ‘going through the motions’. I also think it is valuable to accept the barren season for what it is and not heap guilt upon yourself when the going gets tough.

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces. I now try to fill up with the disciplines of Bible reading, memorization, and prayer during my times of plenty. This gives me a reserve to draw upon when it is difficult to read the Bible and God seems distant.

In seasons of growth, make the most of it. Farmers use the growth seasons of spring and summer to make hay to feed their stock through the dark winter months. Be wise and use easy times (or even just ‘normal’ periods) to grow spiritually. Hard times will come again and once they arrive it is too late to start building spiritual condition.

When the fight is difficult, it is enough to stand (Ephesians 6:13).

If you are able to read the Bible today, do so. If you can pray even a little, take the opportunity to come into God’s presence. Go to church, or homegroup, even if it is tiresome or inconvenient. The day will come when you will wish you had done all this much more.


Scripture references:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

A church like your brain

This week’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is ‘Connect’

Go:

Your mind is amazing, far more powerful than the most sophisticated computer ever constructed. Your brain can quickly and constantly adjust to the ever-changing environment around and within you by making new synaptic connections and pathways. These new connections enable new thought processes to occur and enhance how you can approach novel problems.

To maintain such connections the mental pathways need to be used so that the connection is strengthened, otherwise it will be broken down and discarded to maintain the lean, mean thinking machine of your mind.

God has designed the Church to work a bit like this too. Jesus told us to always remain connected to him, the true vine from whom we draw our life. Stemming from this life He gives we connect with others and build them up, gaining new strength ourselves from the interconnected relationships.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)

Stop!

(Five Minute Friday is when we use the prompt chosen by Lisa-Jo and write for 5 minutes without over thinking or editing. Then link up to Lisa-Jo’s post and leave a comment for the person who linked up before us. Easy, and fun!)


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Image: iStock

Why do Christians get so nasty?

Christians like to claim we are peaceful, sadly we are not.

If you want to witness heated debate, parliament is a good place to find it. If you want to see nasty, divisive debate, go to a church meeting or poke around on blogs written by Christians. The current hot potato is gay marriage, though women in ministry seems to also be ranking high in certain sectors, and in the US gun control is good to get a reaction.

These are all issues which should be discussed and even debated within the church, but why do people become so astonishingly nasty in their words and even actions over mere issues when we are supposedly all united in Christ?

Reading Philippians 4:7 would make me assume that Christians would be able to enter discussions about even contentious issues with a deep peace that regardless of the discussion outcome they remain secure in Christ:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

This is particularly appropriate given that Paul introduced this paragraph pleading for some Christians to reach agreement on some divisive issue between them:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2 ESV)

Instead of agreeing, it seems that many folks take this example of disagreement in the ancient church as license to foster disagreement in the modern church. Perhaps our problem is a lack of rejoicing in the Lord, and failing to let turn over our anxieties to God in prayer?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.(Philippians 4:4-6 ESV)


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Good to be back

For the last month I have been rostered on weekends at work, so it was great to be able to go to church this Sunday. During our worship it occurred to me that some of the songs we were singing would be sung all over the world in many different languages.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

As you are probably aware, I have just finished a month of praying for, and reading and writing about the Shan people of Burma. There are are very few Christians in this ethnic minority, so I would guess that their churches are fairly small. Maybe this is why I kept thinking of them this morning as our little church met to worship. We also are a small group of believers without the resources to pay a pastor, living and working in a culture that is very negative about Christianity.

When I have been unable to get to church for a while it is very noticeable how much I have missed it when I finally get back. This is my spiritual home, these people are my family. We can take each other for granted at times, but boy do I miss these folks when I’m not able to see them for a while!

If this is what other small struggling churches are like also, then I suspect God is very happy when we all meet together in our little congregations all around the world, praising Him in all our stumbling ways.

Training for transformation

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 22

Local believers are taking steps of faith to put on the first training of believers in their area. The training is using oral storytelling as many in this area are illiterate, The goal is for every believer to realize they too can go out and share and start fellowship groups even if they cannot read and have had no Bible training.

The Good News is not restricted to those who are well-trained or educated. God can use a believer even with only partial knowledge, though He is also likely to call others to help train such people (see Acts 18:24-26). Bible training for Shan Christians is occurring. Several organizations are training Shan Christians in Bible study and interpretation. These folks are able to more effectively communicate the Gospel in their own culture and language and are also very valuable to the church in building up other Shan believers.

Some of those being trained will go back into Burma to reach their people and strengthen the church. This is a potentially dangerous mission which requires not only knowledge and wisdom, but also courage and boldness from the Lord.

Pray for:

  • The training as it occurs in October, that the Holy Spirit will empower the Shan.
  • New churches to be established as a result of this training and outreach.
  • Courage, vision and empowerment from the Lord as Shan reach out to their own people.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Images : The Shan Project

How do we do church?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 21

The question of how to do church has bothered Christians for 2,000 years. It is by no means restricted to Christians from cultures dominated by other religions such as Buddhism. The number of denominations, new experimental ways of ‘doing church’ and even virtual ‘churches’ within the white, western middle classes is testimony that we are really not quite sure if we are getting it ‘right’.

Yet when Christians from other cultures take the Gospel to Shan people, they unconsciously also take their own habitual way of doing church. But God has in fact placed very few restrictions upon how we are to meet together in worship, He simply makes it clear that we should meet together.

Therefore there is ample scope for Shan Christians to worship Jesus in ways that fit comfortably with their own cultural heritage while still remaining distinctly Christian in content. To do this requires strength (see Romans chapter 14). This will be a hard call for Shan Christians to be strong in the face of weaker western missionaries.

There will be cultural practises which are in fact acceptable to God in the worship forms of Shan Christians that may appear to be wrong to westerners. It is the Shan folks who know their culture best. They know what is irrevocably Buddhist or animist in their culture, they also know what is a cultural form which can be adapted for use in worshipping Christ.

In turn, outsiders can sometimes identify church practises which are only cultural but are so ingrained that they are thought to be essential components of Christianity. We can all learn much from each other’s cultures because western Christians are carrying a lot of extra church baggage which may be better left behind.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:23-24 ESV)

Pray for

  • Believers to be bold in embracing their culture in a way that is faithful to Christ (Hebrews 3:5-6).
  • Festivals and traditions such as Kan Taw to be door openers for people to come to faith (John 7:38).

Other posts related to this topic:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Images of Shan churches: Daphyyy in Thailand, Surehope, MissionsMyanmar.org

The pastoral scapegoat

After writing this post and submitting it for publishing, I realised that it does not fully reflect my thinking on the topic. Do read the two comments below the main body of the post as they illuminate this a bit. I’ve also seen the huge benefit that finally employing a part time pastor in our little church has brought and this has further changed my viewpoint. I’m leaving this post on the site as it is a reminder to me that I’ve always got much more to learn and can easily get cocky in my views.


the-pastoral-scapegoat

“We are too small to be able to afford to pay a pastor, the church will have to close.”

Bad call!

Employing a pastor is not a necessary requirement of a healthy church. In many cases it is really a convenient way to make life easier for the elders and church members.

Many small churches are struggling to balance budgets, yet the last expense to be cut is usually the pastor’s salary. As an elder myself I would never want to make a pastor redundant, but after our part-time pastor resigned a year and a half ago we did not employ anyone to replace him. Despite some doubts, our congregation is still thriving, we have an excellent Sunday school program, great sermons and heartfelt worship singing each week.

I would like for us to employ a pastor, but my reasons are largely selfish – it would make life easier for me. It would probably also tempt me to disobey God. My responsibility as an elder is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). I cannot push that responsibility onto someone else by casting my vote to pay them a salary from the church budget. The commission to shepherd (pastor) God’s people was given to me when I accepted the office of elder.

Likewise, no Christian can delegate their obligation to love one another onto a pastor by virtue of contributing to his salary. Responsibility for serving God’s people lies with all believers according to the grace God has given (1 Peter 4:10).

At its best, a group of believers would act in accordance with the exhortations of Romans chapter 12. Those with particular abilities use them for building up the whole group. God promises to give what we need to serve Him, so we can assume that He will place within each group the skills, or ability to acquire the skills, required to fulfill the purpose He has for that group. The leaders in such a group of believers would be:

  • Experienced
  • Stable and above reproach
  • Humble
  • Willing servants
  • Committed to the wellbeing of those in the group (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-5).

What is missing from this picture? Plenty, if you are using contemporary churches as the measuring standard. A couple of obvious things are buildings and a pastor. But if we use the New Testament as our standard, buildings are barely mentioned and neither are pastors.

We do see elders as a required church office in the Bible, and that those who labor for the gospel and in preaching are worthy of wages for their work. It is OK to pay those who labor in ministry, but nowhere are we told that a church must employ a pastor. The responsibility for shepherding (pastoring) lies with the elders.  If we can trust God to give all we need for life and godliness, and if we believe that spiritual gifts are given for the common good of the church, then it is reasonable to assume that within each congregation of His people God provides grace to corporately fulfill His mission without dumping most of the work onto one man.

In order to follow such an ideal of church leadership we have to adjust our expectations. By accepting that God gives the grace to achieve His call on each fellowship, we also have to accept His standards and priorities for His work. We know God doesn’t judge outward appearances and that He is happy to accept people who are shunned by everyone else. So elders, brace yourselves for a shakedown of any appearance-based expectations and to be called-out on substandard shepherding.