• 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!

Do you see Jesus for who he really is?

throw-yourself-cliff-jumpI listen to a lot of messages and sermons.  Sometimes in the midst of all the teaching that you and I receive (or give), we can miss the essential, the very heart of the Christian faith.  And that is Jesus.

One of my colleagues here had sent me awhile back an email with a link to a message given by one of my former lecturers (or professors in American English).  You know how it goes?  You get so many articles and links to read or listen to that you ‘backburner’ or file them for a later time.

Well, yesterday I pulled out that email again and started listening to this message by Sinclair Ferguson: 38 Years Waiting – God’s Word Fulfilled – There is a Hope.

The message of the Gospel for both non-believers and believers rang out clearly.  It reminded me again of how much I need Jesus every day.  In the story in John, chapter 5, everyone was missing the centre?  They were missing Jesus.  They were not really seeing Jesus for who He really is.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to this message, and as Sinclair challenges us, to ‘throw ourselves in’, into the arms of Christ once again.

Praying in a gospel centred way

Prayer is essential.  As I shared in the last post: “No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”  We could enlarge that statement to read: “No team or group of workers can progress in grace in ministry to others if they forsake prayer.”

A perennial question that arises is: how should we pray for one another?  We could pray the ‘one another’ commands as a team.  We could pray the promises that God has given in His Word to sustain and encourage us.  We could pray for the perseverance to stay faithful in ministry together.  All of these prayer points are ones you and I have prayed many times for one another.

Gospel-Centered-Discipleship-Jonathan-Dodson-SomaThen another thought came to mind.  How should we pray for one another in a ‘gospel centred way’?  Prayer is one of our guiding principles, and the Gospel is the ultimate guiding principle from which the others flow.  So, what would it ‘look like’ to pray in a way that drives us back to the Gospel and our dependence upon Him?

Take a practical example.  During our World Team Day of Prayer, we might find this prayer point among others: Pray for our team to remain united together around the common vision of multiplying disciples and communities of believers.  During our concert of prayer together, one of our team members might add: Yes Lord, search our hearts and show us how often we create disunity among us because of our willingness to put our own self above others.  Remind us that the Son of God came not to be served, but to serve and that His sacrifice frees us from self-love to be other-centred.  May our hearts be warmed by that grace again today so that we might grow in unity and have the gospel power to be able to see the vision of our team worked out. 

I can so often fall into the trap of thinking I can ‘do’ all that is expected of me as a worker.  That is why the challenge to pray in a ‘gospel centred way’ would help myself, and I expect many others, to keep my eyes upon the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Feel free to share examples of how you might pray a prayer point in a gospel centred way.

Just pray

just-prayThere are many good resources on prayer.  One was the focus of our WT Global community study a few years ago, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller.  However, in the end, all of these resources bring us back to the same conclusion: we just need to pray.

We would all agree that we can spend more time sharing prayer points than actually praying for those requests.

Preachers, pastors, theologians and writers of long ago remind us of the importance and necessity of prayer with words that could have been written in our day:

No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”

If you may have everything by asking in His name, and nothing without asking,

I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is.”

Prayer and praise are the oars by which a man may row his boat into

the deep waters of the knowledge of Christ.”

So, what should we do?

First, we should not hassle one another because of our common tendency to talk more than to pray.  We all fall into the same trap, particularly because a prayer point is a way to share our heartfelt need.  Second, we should lift up Christ before one another more and more.  What that simply means is we need to point one another to the Hearer of our prayers, rather than to the prayers in themselves.  It’s Christ we are ultimately after: to know Him more deeply.  Finally, we just should call one another to prayer by those simple words: “Let’s pray”.  Entering into conversation with our God & Father does not mean that our ‘sharing’ is over with.  We can share further needs and praises in prayer because, in the end, it is He. who listens to our heart groanings, to whom all our hopes are directed.

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.