To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

…….do the most. Is that true? Many would say that it cannot be. The argument goes that all that time spent in prayer could be utilized more usefully in doing something productive. But that argument is wrong! It is true; those who pray most do the most.

Martin Luther memorably (and challengingly) said “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business, I cannot go without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Such reasoning is completely counter-intuitive because we can see prayer as “dead” time and doing as “living” time.

To think that prayer time is dead time is a gross folly. Rather, in prayer we become alive to God so the we can live lives that bring life and good to others. A praying man is a person who is alive.

When we pray we are forming ourselves in the mind of God. This means that our activity is conformed to the ways of God. We are being saved from wasted activity. Prayerless activity tends towards the chaotic and impotent. Prayer filled activity tends towards profit and productivity.

If you look at the life of David you can often suss what is about to happen as regards to whether or not he seeks the Lord. When he seeks the Lord the trajectory is good and good outcomes are anticipated. When he fails to pray, the trajectory of his life and activity is bad.

Engaging in any activity without praying displays presumption on our part. We presume that we can go forward without God. In such a scenario we become the deliverers of the kiss of death into our activities and the lives of others.. Rather than turning things to gold we turn things into corpses.

As a concomitant of praying much and doing much we also enjoy much. As God works through us we can know His joy in the things we undertake. The meshing together of the flow of our lives for Christ is seen when Paul says to the Thessalonians

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thess. 5:16-22).

We notice here how rejoicing, praying and giving thanks pile on top of each other as we work out the Spirit and Word filled life. Accordingly, we learn that no only do the people pray do the most they also enjoy the most.

Ultimately this is all to do with the fact that prayer is about communion with God. And how much am I praying? The answer to such a question will really indicate whether or not I am living well.

Bill Lewis

Bill was converted to the Lord when he was 73 and that must have been around 1982. He was a truly great man. He was a man who was faithful. In terms of reliability he probably outshone anybody I have ever known. He was the ultimate incarnation of an age where commitment to fulfil one’s responsibilities trumped any thought of doing what pleased me.

He worked in Park Royal making buses. Often we would talk about the need to preserve his memories by doing an interview with him, but we never did. Of course it goes without saying that he was utterly faithful to his wife of many years; Elsie.

He must have passed away in around 1998. He surely went to his reward in heaven. I once remember thinking him for doing something in church. His response was to say that he did not do it for me, but for the Lord. That was not to despise my thanking him, but was to show his motivation.

To have known someone like Bill is to be reminded of the essential godly characteristics of reliability and faithfulness. Bill never took any public part among the people of God. But he displayed the loveliness of Christ in so many ways.

As I remember him I am spurred forward in a longing to be faithful and reliable like Bill. It may not be glamorous, but it is such an essential character trait for all who would want to follow Christ. In doing so we are emulating him who is the ultimate faithful one.

Margaret

It is a year ago today since our dear friend, sister (and mother) in the Lord, Margaret Lee was delivered out of her temporary sojourn on earth into the everlasting presence of Her Lord.

Among her possessions was a coaster which delineated the character of a “Margaret” as follows:

From the Greek word for “pearl”. She is reliable, hardworking, very smart and she certainly knows her own mind. A great conversationalist.

I don’t know whether these things are completely made-up, but there is certainly a good deal of truth in those statements concerning Margaret.

I knew Margaret for some ten years at the end of her life. Many happy times were spent with her whether they be individually, with our family, with friends or in church. She was a lady with a heart for the Lord. She was truly a Christian lady. She loved her Lord.

She was a woman of her word and certainly thereby reliable and trustworthy. Her home was a refuge for many. So many knew reviving of their hearts and a renewing into their life ahead at 26 Felbridge Court. She was a great listener; which is such a rare gift. Often this was to her her own detriment as she would give lengthy amounts of time to others when she needed rest herself. But that was Margaret she wanted to spend and be spent on the Master’s service. She always wanted to encourage as well. She seized opportunity to spur you on in serving the Lord.

This of course, leads me on to mention her servant-heartedness. She reflected her Lord as one who wanted to serve and bless others. And permeating this ministry was her desire to share about her Saviour with those in need.

The fact that she did all this in the midst much struggle made it all the more admirable; and dare I say, it was the fact that she suffered and knew weakness that made her all the more accessible. It was not as if Margaret was one who had got everything in life sussed. Rather she served and witnessed out of affliction.

And yes she did know her own mind and at times would firmly communicate such. We were not always in agreement with each other and we had our awkward moments, but I always knew that she loved and cared.

Paradoxically, it was the fact that she was not perfect that made her life in Christ the more attractive. This is most cogently expressed in the words of Paul: But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7). That was how dear sister Margaret was: the surpassing power of the Lord was on display through her jar of clay.

And how she was interested in people! As a result people were drawn to her because they knew she was interested. I have written previously here of her welcome. This was all reflective of her interest in people.

And I call to mind those sweet times of prayer. Again so many were encouraged by being able to spend time praying with her.

So I say finally my life is the better for having had Margaret a part of it for those years. She loved me, cared for me guided me and told me what I needed to know.

An online memorial to Margaret is here. Also her funeral and thanksgiving service is here.

Encouragement

Richard Johnson retired from being a horse racing jump jockey last Saturday; the details are here. A part of that article reads:

In a message to followers of the sport, he said: “Thank you for every cheer, every shout of encouragement, it’s given me enormous strength over the years. I am so very grateful to you all.”

Here is a man who has been a the top of his profession for some twenty years or so and he wants to draw attention to and focus upon the encouragements he has received. Through this he has been strengthened to persevere in his calling.

This raises the issue of how valuable encouragement is. I have written about it here previously. So why not give someone a cheer or a shout of encouragement today. They may be feeling like giving up in the walk of faith; they may be feeling like quitting their ministry. Your word may be the means God uses to rescue them for productive ministry in the future.

I wonder if, without the cheers and shouts of encouragement, Mr Johnson might have concluded many years ago that the bashes, bruises and injuries that inevitably come with being a jump jockey were all too much and he was quitting. How many winners he might have been deprived of were it not for the “ministry” of others to him through their cheers and shouts of encouragement.

To transfer the sporting analogy to the spiritual realm I am led to think of Hebrews 12:1-3. In v1 we are told: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. The witnesses in a sense cheer us on in the race of faith. they have gone ahead and know that it is all worth it. So we laid aside the weights and the sins so as to maximize our effectiveness in the race.

And then we set ourselves to be looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted (vv. 2-3). The cheers and encouragements from the witnesses drive us on into the right way and that way is looking unto our beautiful Saviour Jesus.

Oh how vital cheerers and encouragers are. Go and be one today and who knows what big things might happen as a result. Through your cheers and encouragement strengthening might come to a believer and as a result great good might come to a church and a ministry and a marriage and a family and………………….

Oh and finally good intentions never strengthened anyone. So go and actually cheer and encourage.

Am I A Pharisee?

The Pharisees were the religiously orthodox, but spiritually impotent, Jewish leaders who lived and served contemporaneously with our Lord Jesus. The were the severest critics of the Savior and also were the targets for His severest rebukes. The spirit of the Pharisee lives on today. In fact it is a spirit which enduringly afflicts the people of God in whatever age. So how can I know if I am a Pharisee.

I want to give one test which I believe is helpful in teasing out whether or not I tend towards Pharisaism. This is a test which works to distinguish the Pharisee from the genuine wholehearted believer in Christ our Lord.

The test involves observing the reaction of someone or even of a whole church as regards to someone of a transgender lifestyle coming in to attend the gathering of the church.

If you are a Pharisee you will immediately think of lifestyle modification. If you are a true believer you will immediately think of gospel transformation.

The Pharisee observes someone with a non-Christian, even anti-Christian, lifestyle and concludes that that person needs to change their lifestyle before they can be accepted by God and therefore by us. They make this clear in their response to the visit by the transgender person. There is a discomfort with the person being among them even a shunning of them because of their offensive presentation.

The true Christian rather expresses interest in the person. They want to interact with them. They want to show them something of the Christ who ate with tax collectors and sinners. There is a demonstrable loving interest in the person and desire that they would come to find Christ. If necessary there will be comment upon what is appropriate as a lifestyle acceptable with God. But never will this get in the way of the commitment to work for and long to see this person come to Christ.

The Pharisee may speak about a longing for the person to find Christ, but they show their heart by what they prioritize. The presumption that the visitor needs to reform and then repent and come to Christ shows a spirit which is contrary to the Christ who saves sinners.

So take the test: Am I or are you and/or my/your church pharisaical? If so repentance is needed.

Church Newsletter

Here is our church newsletter for April 2021. It has a message about unity.

Kindness

“Most people are too busy to be kind.”  These were the words my Auntie Kath once said to me. They are sobering words. Has kindness been sidelined in my life as a result of being too busy?  Do I justify my non-interest and non-involvement in the needs of others by saying: “I’m too busy.”

It is good to remember that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness (see Gal. 5:22). So for myself as a Christian, kindness is to be an essential part of my life. If the inclination towards kindness is not manifest in my life then I am most likely not a true follower of Christ.

But what is kindness? It is that desire to bring goodness and benefit into the lives of others. It is a generous, warm-hearted concept. The Good Samaritan was a kind man. We read that:  a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him (Luke 10:33-34). He saw the need of the man who had been attacked by robbers and got involved to do good and bring benefit to that man.

But sadly, as my Auntie said, most of us are too busy to show that generous interest which brings benefit to others. We say that we just cannot spare the time. Accordingly, parents never get a call or visit from sons / daughters who are too busy.  Shut-in neighbours never have contact with anyone, because those nearby are too busy, of course. And there is no listening ear for our work colleagues who are carrying the burdens of life because we cannot spare them the time. This list could go on – and all because people are too busy to be kind.

We must remember, though, that the Good Samaritan did not have to go and help the man who had been attacked on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (he was after all on the road to Jericho), if there was such an individual. His responsibility was to be kind to the pressing need on the road to Jericho. This is because he was on that road. But when the need did press upon him; he did meet it with kindness. It is not ours to chase around for situations into which to express our kindness. Rather, the important thing is to show kindness into the next situation we encounter which requires it.

So, am I, are you, too busy to be kind?

(Originally published at Venabling on 2nd  August 2013. Re-published here with slight alterations)

A Sad End

1 Samuel 30 and 31 provide a telling contrast. In 1 Samuel 30 the anointed, but not yet enthroned, king, David, is strengthened by the Lord and enjoying success. In 1 Samuel 31 the king after man’s own heart, Saul, is full of weakness and failure.

1 Samuel 31 actually marks the end of Saul’s life and reign. It is a chapter of sadness and shame. Saul, himself, his three sons and his armour bearer all die. The shame is compounded by the nature of Saul’s death – suicide. Upon the demise of Saul and his family and the accompanying triumph over Israel the Philistines celebrate together and place the armour and body of Saul in the house of their gods (see vv. 9-10)

Upon hearing news of the demise of Saul the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead take action to seek to retrieve some honour for Saul by giving him a decent burial (see vvv11-13).

It is interesting that no-one else in Israel makes any response, only the people of Jabesh Gilead. What can we learn from this? We need to go back to 1 Samuel chapter 11. We see there Saul demonstrating courage and commitment to deliver Jabesh Gilead from their imminent demise at the hands of Nahash the Ammomite. This was the high point of Saul’s life and ministry. It left the people of Jabesh Gilead always in Saul’s debt for what he had done for them. Upon his death they showed their gratitude by taking action to retrieve some honour for Saul.

But where were the others? It is as if it was the Jabesh Gileadites, and them alone, that owed anything to Saul. No-one else in Israel had benefitted from his reign and ministry. The only demonstration that Saul had done any good during his reign were the Jabesh Gileadites.

Although it is good to acknowledge the faithful response of Jabesh Gilead it is sad to recall that in Saul’s death there was such a lack of tangible benefit brought to others. So what about us? How many people will gather together to show their appreciation for how we have helped them when we pass out of this world.

To pick up this theme have we been a wood, hay and stubble people who although saved have nothing what lasts into eternity or are we gold, silver and precious stones people who have many works which last and show off our God and Saviour. Paul draws our attention to this in this way:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:11-15)

And how many friends will we have on the day of eternal judgement who will be declaring thanks to us because of how we have used our resources well and to their benefit And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings (see Luke 16:9).

When I pass from the world what will there be to declare that I have faithfully served the Lord.

Parenting

I was asked recently about my three top tips for parenting. Here are the three I mentioned

Listen.

It is a basic life-skill which few of us appreciate and fewer of us practice. The skill is to be a good listener. A good listener seeks to hear what another person says. However, good listening goes beyond of just hearing; it includes a desire to understand what they are saying. Good listening takes time and energy.

Our children need to know that they are being listened to. This demands that we are giving them our attention. It means hearing them out and not giving them an inappropriate dollop of our thoughts before they have told us what is on their heart and what is troubling them.

Here is a piece I have previously written on listening.

Honouring their mother.

There should be zero tolerance of any dishonouring of their mother. They should know that you will not tolerate their being disrespectful to your wife in any way. So you will expect them to speak well of her and that they will treat her well.

In all this you will seek to make sure that your children know that your wife is a special woman to you. If you do not honour and respect their mother then you cannot be expecting them to do the same.

Space.

I am referring here to dealing with issues when you have got some space away from the arising of the issue. Often when an issue arises it arises in the context of friction and conflict. Something wrong might have been said or the behaviour was just not appropriate.

When the children are very young things can generally be dealt with immediately in a reasonably satisfactory way. However, as they get older wisdom needs to be used to make sure that the issue can be calmly and healthily dealt with. This means you will seek, as a parent, to get through the immediate situation. Then at when all is calmer to chat through what happened. Accordingly, it is good to log in your mind some inappropriate behaviour upon it occurring and revisit it with your child at a more conducive time.

Talk Talk Talk

For the four years, up until early 2020, our media and our conversation was full of Brexit. And just when we felt we could be returning to the regular substance of life again, along came Covid-19. This has meant that for the last year we have seen Brexit replaced by Covid-19 in our media and conversation.

And so our conversation is again filled with that which presses in upon us according to time and sense and immediacy. Yet in giving that last attribute of the content of our conversation I am arrested. Why is it that these passing things of Brexit and Covid-19 become so all consuming. The things that should be of the greatest immediacy to us should be those of eternity. These are the real things; these are the things that matter.

Paul establishes the right perspective which we should be cultivating when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We have to expect that the world around us will be preoccupied by what is impinging upon their earthly world. But surely it should not be for us believers, who know that our lives are not ultimately bound up with Brexit or Covid-19 or whatever encumbers us in this world. Paul again instructs us here, and challenges us, when he says to the Colossians: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:2-2)

Alas I fall so far short here and my mind’s pre-occupation is revealed in my speech content. We are to be a “things that are above” people, but so often we are just a “things that are on earth” people.

Now I am a not arguing here for some delusionary living which rejects the realities of life for some artificial spirituality which is divorced from any eternal or earthly reality. Ignoring the realities of where we are living is not godly. But what I am challenging myself and fellow Christians to is an examination of our perspectives.

And finally what a time it will be when we start to hear conversation around us focussing on the Christ and the new birth and eternity. We should long for such revival times. If we do not long for such times then we are not looking forward to heaven because heaven is a place where the Christ is all the theme of the conversations.

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