• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Drilling down

ArchibaldAlexanderArchibald Alexander was a professor for many years in the mid nineteenth century at Princeton Theological Seminary (USA).  In his work, Thoughts on Religious Experience, he asked ‘why’ we grow so slowly as Christians.  Ray Ortlund records Alexander’s response to his own question in this way:

First, he rounded up the usual suspects: “The influences of worldly relatives and companions, embarking too deeply in business, devoting too much time to amusements, immoderate attachment to a worldly object,” and so forth.  But then he drilled down further and asked why such things even get a hold on us, “why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.”  He proposed the following reasons: 

  1. “There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.” Even when the gospel is acknowledged in theory, he wrote, Christians define their okayness according to their moods and performances rather than looking away from themselves to Christ alone.  Then, in our inevitable failure, we become discouraged, and worldliness regains strength in us, with nothing to counteract it.  “The covenant of grace must be more clearly and repeatedly expounded in all its rich plentitude of mercy, and in all its absolute freeness.”

Two things stand out for me in Alexander’s response.  One is the relevancy of his words almost two hundred years later.  How often do you and I determine our ‘okayness’ by our feelings or our actions, as if God’s favor towards us depends on our ‘work’ rather than His work?  So many of the things Alexander describes can still ‘catch us in their web’ and keep us from turning our eyes regularly to Christ.

The other is the importance of ‘speaking the gospel’ to ourselves daily by ‘expounding the (the covenant) of grace in all its rich plenitude of mercy’.  To put it in other words, when we ‘preach the gospel’ to ourselves daily, it is not by a simple repetition of the facts of the Gospel.  Rather, when we ‘speak that gospel’ to one another, we are to search together to know more and more the height, width, depth and breadth of His love for us (Ephesians 3:18)

How might you describe the depth of the richness of His mercy today?  Why not share that in a note or a whatsapp message with a fellow worker in the Gospel?

Prayer is a guiding principle

praying manThe World Team Ministry Framework describes our commitment and calling to prayer this way:

“Prayer is real conversation with God and is vital to a growing relationship with Him and ministry in His name.  Prayer reflects our belonging and submission to Him, our need for direction and provision, and our acknowledgement that we can do nothing without Him.

We believe that personal and corporate prayer manifest obedience and humility, submitting ourselves to God and His agenda, and for His power.  Such dependence nurtures alertness to the spiritual dimensions of our undertakings and equips us with wisdom and knowledge for our calling.  Above all, prayer changes things because it is God’s desire that we ask Him to work.”

We pray because God wants us to talk with Him.  One of the catechisms of the Church puts it this way: “Question: What is prayer?  Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”

What I like about both the statements above is that there is no sense of an ‘obligation’ to pray, as if it is a work that I must do in order to somehow bend God’s will to mine.  Prayer flows from a heart that recognizes what God has already accomplished in opening the door to relationship with Him.  Prayer is the simple acknowledgement that we need Him in light of all that He has done and continues to do for us.

It’s only natural then that throughout the day, our hearts would turn to Him: when we are working on a project; before we spend time in conversation with others; and when someone is leaving our apartment and we’re standing at the front door.

It’s not a duty.  We’re ‘offering up our desires’ to Him, asking again (and again) that He would work for His glory.

Getting things done

It’s the title of a book I read several years ago that has some very helpful ideas for organising one’s day to day work to accomplish ministry tasks.  I have often recommended it to others.

getting things doneYet, how do we ‘get things done’ while depending wholly on God?  We could put the same question in other ways, such as ‘how might planning run counter to the Spirit’s work in our lives?’ or ‘where does the importance lie: with prayer or with planning?

I believe we do ourselves, and the discussion, a disservice by putting prayer and planning in opposition to one another.  The biblical text calls us to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6) — our calling, our finances, our plans and all the other elements that make up our life.  At the same, the biblical text exhorts us to consider, plan well and act on the projects and plans we put together (Luke 14:28).

So which comes first?  Which is more important?  Both!

Prayer leads to good plans and planning leads to much more prayer.

Sometimes, it’s just good in the midst of a planning session to stop and turn the discussion over into God’s hands asking for His wisdom and insight.  Sometimes, after a time of prayer, it’s just good to start jotting down ideas of how a new ministry project that is forming in our hearts might get worked out in reality.

The World Team Global community is working on a new ‘three phased approach’ to launching new CP projects among the unreached that would include prayer, research and mobilisation. It’s our way of trying to put into practice this idea of prayer&planning.  More on this new project in the coming weeks.

Why the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ plagues us

Most of us have the best of intentions when we start out our day or our week.  Some of us may even have spent time reflecting, ahead of time, on what should be our ‘most important’ ministry tasks in that coming week. However, the week gets started and … two or three ‘urgent’ emails come into our box needing ‘immediate’ attention; a ministry partner calls and asks if you could do lunch together today; and the one hour Skype call turns into a two and one-half hour discussion.  It’s the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ where everything that comes across our desk needs to be addressed now.

tyranny of the urgentThe ‘tyranny of the urgent’ plagues all of us.

Our hearts, as cross cultural workers, are attuned to the needs of others and so we genuinely want to meet the needs of others; whether it’s an email, a luncheon appointment or an online discussion.  We just have a hard time saying ‘no’ in the moment and learning to juggle our days in light of His mission to which He has called us.

‘Interruptions’ are certainly God given opportunities for growth and ministry.  However, God has given us a missional task that calls for us to focus our energies, not dissipate them in a flurry of activity that may not lead us to seeing that missional task realized.

Perhaps the following steps (or others) might help us stem the tide of the plague of the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ in our lives:

Ask the simple question: Do I really need to do this now?  Oftentimes, I place the expectation of immediate response on myself.  When I go back to a person and ask if I can meet with them later or if I can answer their question in a few days, they are happy to give me that added time.

Solicit the help of others.  Many of the leadership teams I have worked on have helped me to respond to an immediate request by saying: “I need to talk to my leadership team about this before I can give you an answer.”  This lets me to put that activity in a larger context and to get the input of others first.

Ponder whether the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ activity helps to fulfill the larger calling of God on one’s life that week.  The answer may be a resounding ‘yes’ and you can jump in with all your gusto.  Or it may be a ‘no’.  Yet, by placing it in that larger context, it gives you the ability to sort out those ‘tyranny of the urgent activities’ so as to keep your mind and heart focused on the larger objective.

Driven to other-centredness

It’s a book with which many of us are familiar.  Its storyline points us  to the redemption carried out for us in Christ; our being ‘bought back’ by His work on our behalf just as Naomi and Ruth were by the work of Boaz.

However, ‘behind the scenes’, we can also discern how a deepening appreciation and experience of God’s lovingkindness and steadfast love (‘hesed’ in Hebrew) drives God’s people to become more and more other-centred.kid-heart

In Ruth chapter 3 (3:10), we read this insightful statement on the part of Boaz in regards to Ruth’s actions: “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter.  You have made this last kindness greater than the first …” In referring to the ‘kindness’ expressed, Boaz uses the same word (‘hesed’) that is applied to the lovingkindness of God.  How was this ‘kindness’ expressed by Ruth?  Simply put, she placed the needs of her mother-in-law ahead of her own. When she went down to the threshing floor that night to meet up with Boaz, she called on him to fulfill his responsibilities as a kinsman redeemer (3:9). In other words, she called on him to provide a future for Naomi, not just for herself.  Boaz immediately understood the import of her request and knew that the one who would be the ‘beneficiary’ first and foremost of his actions would be: Naomi.

Becoming other-centred is not a matter of working harder at considering the needs of others.  Other-centredness is the natural outgrowth of a heart where God’s lovingkindness is sending its roots deeper and deeper.

Other-centredness applies not just to our passion to see others come to know and experience God’s forgiveness and steadfast love. Other-centredness also applies to our relationships with one another as cross cultural workers.

When I notice, or when another helps me to notice, a spiritual dashboard indicator of low other-centredness, then it’s time to ‘add’ more energy to understand and experience His steadfast love displayed to me: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  (Psalm 136:1)

What do I have to learn from ‘older’ people?

In a word, what those who are ‘older’ in their journey have to offer is: experience.

I know there are many other things that one can learn from those who are ‘older’ in the faith than we are.  However, ‘older’ people just have more experience than you or I in life and ministry.  Those experiences can be ones filled with joy and fruit as well as those which were more difficult and served as defining moments for that person and his/her journey. mentors

Pulling on someone’s experience does not mean that we will do exactly what they did or that we will make the same choices as they did.  Pulling on someone’s experiences means that we will ‘mine’ their experiences for guiding principles to help us when we have to face those decisions currently in front of us or in the future.

For the past number of years, I have always sought to have a mentor who is just a few years older than myself.  What these mentors offer me is life perspective that helps me as I navigate this phase of my life and ministry. They have never told me what to do.  They have listened and offered their experience (and wisdom) as a help to my decisions and process.

What I have found interesting in recent times is that ‘younger’ people seemingly seek this kind of mentoring relationship with someone ‘older’; while ‘older’ people tend to not allocate significant portions of their time and energy to this kind of facilitation and training of those who may be younger than them.  Interesting in light of these words:

Likewise, urge the younger men (and women) to be self-controlled.  Show yourself (older man or woman) in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech.”  (Titus 2:7-8)

What do I have to learn from others?

Rebecca and I attended another local church this past Sunday.  A friend had asked if I would be willing to preach there during the month of July. It was the first time Rebecca and I had ever attended this church, even though it’s only a fifteen minute drive from where live.

Despite the fact that it is a local church of a sister organisation, most of what happened during the worship service was very ‘different’ for us.  ‘Different’ not in a bad sense, but ‘different’ in that it made us consider other perspectives or ways of approaching life and ministry.

Never stop learningLet me give you a couple of examples.  First, during the time of prayer, everyone prayed, all at the same time.  In our local church, maybe in yours as well, people pray out loud one at a time, one after the other, during time dedicated to open prayer.  Now I had experienced this kind of ‘all together’ prayer in small group contexts, but never in a church meeting of 40+ people.  Second, they gave room for people to grow in their gifts and talents.  The young woman leading worship explained, at one point, that a year ago she did not know how to play the guitar.  However, the need arose when their main worship leader left.  So, the church encouraged her to learn how to play the guitar and let her ‘grow’ in her ability over the past year.  She is now writing worship music which local Christian editors would like her to include in a new release of songbooks for churches. Third, for a small church they had an exciting and adventurous vision.  At the end of the service, the pastor explained that he would be leaving for Africa that week because of a ministry opportunity the church had to train a group of women in microfinance.  This would allow these women to meet the physical needs of their families as well as open doors of opportunity for the church to minister to the community where these women live.  As we left, Rebecca and I both commented on how amazing it was that such a small church could have such a large vision.

So, what happened for us in that two hour time frame this past Sunday?  We learned that we have plenty to learn from others.  I certainly shared from God’s Word which I believe encouraged and built up this group. However, I think we learned tons more from being with and interacting with this group of believers most of whom we had never met before.

What do I have to learn from others?  For one, that God works in a myriad of ways in the lives and hearts of His people.