Friday, 3 January 2020

The Busy Man

A long time ago I may have made a big mistake.  I have always been interested in people’s life stories.  I have a shelf on my book case that’s devoted to biographies of men and women whose lives have had an impact on others for good.  Often I find myself challenged by reading these, and long ago one significant Christian leader became someone I wanted to emulate.

Charles Haddon Surgeon will be a name known to most Baptists, and possibly others of my generation.  There are several things about Spurgeon that might have stood out to me, but in fact there are just two.  Probably what inspired me first was what Spurgeon was able to achieve in his life. A faithful pastor of a large congregation, he somehow found time to establish a training college, engage in wider aspects of the Baptist Union, set up orphanages, be a driving force for missionary endeavour, and write copiously.  How could one man achieve so much (most of which still continues today, 150 years later)? I wanted to live a full life of service for God if I could.

Another aspect of his life was the realisation of the importance of supporting ministry in prayer.  I believe that when he was preaching at the famous Tabernacle in London, he would always have a group of men who would meet in a room below the pulpit and uphold his ministry in prayer.  To a lesser extent that this has also been a model for me, which is why I write these bulletins and encourage people to become faithful prayer partners.

A TOO busy man?
But now, some 56 years since I first heard God’s call into ministry and mission, I wonder if I have been too busy.  Personally, I think I am not busy enough, but perhaps I try to do too many things (trying to follow Spurgeon’s achievements), and should have put more time into fewer things.  I have tried to keep my prayer life in balance. Martin Luther is recorded as having saidI have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”  Most of my hours of prayer a sprinkled through each day as I work and pray, with occasional times of stopping to listen to the other side of the conversation.

Since mid-November I have struggled to work as I became afflicted with arthritis in my hips and spine and acute sciatica, such that it has limited my mobility significantly.  So I have had enforced reduction of activity and had to focus on fewer things. This has also come at a time when my wife’s health issues are a priority. Usually, whenever I have had a bout of illness, my ‘Job’s Comforters’ are quick to suggest that I am too busy and my illnesses have been God telling me to do less or even to take a break!  This time, I have had two marked encounters with God as a result of the relative stillness.

The first is a fresh encounter with God’s grace.  We are probably all familiar with God’s response to Paul’s pleading to be delivered from his ‘thorn in the flesh’.  But “My grace is sufficient for you” does not mean that there was just enough to get Paul through.  God’s “sufficient grace” is actually abundant. While on the one hand I have been more than able to keep praising the Lord despite the acute pain, I have also noticed God’s grace in other ways.  Sometimes help has come just when I needed it.  

I have also had more than the usual answers to prayer with the provision of convenient parking spaces.  Over the years, when it has been relevant I have asked for and found a useful place to park my car. Bit over the past six weeks, time and again, I have found the perfect parking space to limit how far I have to walk.  After a few weeks of this, I was driving to do some shopping and made my usual request for a space in the free time-limited parking area. But I began to wonder whether I was being a little selfish or taking advantage of God’s ability to provide these ideal parking spaces.  So as I drove I added a postscript to my prayer, asking whether I was taking advantage of God’s grace. As I turned into the packed car park I had to laugh. As I moved towards the free area, three cares pulled out at the same time, all of which were perfect for me!   Coincidence?

It would be nice to be healed and delivered from the pain, but I have been encountering and understanding God’s more-than-sufficient grace in new ways.

Another important aspect of this enforced relative stillness has been a series of dreams.  Night after night I have awoken from a dream related to the mission to which I have felt called.  I have found myself working with small rural churches and having to cope with a variety of challenges.  But these have not been ‘stress dreams’ as I have felt detached from the realities in the dreams. Some time before I awoke today I found myself in the company of a successful business man who also lectured on time management.

This was an opportunity not to be missed so I shared with him my problem of never having enough time to do what I feel I should do each day.  As part of the conversation in which I engaged, I explained that no matter how carefully I planned my work time, important phone calls and emails come to interrupt and frustrate my plans, leaving some tasks undone.  There is insufficient space here to share all the good advice he gave me during this dream. The embarrassing thing is that it was all common sense and exactly what I teach to others!  

Wasit my subconscious mind addressing my work anxiety, or was this, and the whole stream of dreams, God’s way of helping me to do what I should do better rather than try to take on other tasks that get thrown at me.  Amusingly, at one stage in the dream I was sitting at a table listening to this man when his wife passed by with a plate of biscuits. Unnoticed by her, a few biscuits fell from the plate onto the floor. I instinctively broke away from what I was doing, rose and picked them up.  I could have left it for others to do. It seemed God was saying, “Why do you feel you have to respond to every need you see?  Stay focused”

The wise advice on time management I received in the dream, I have started to put into practise.  Please would you pray for me. I have reached an age where I still have unfulfilled visions and dreams, and I do not want to waste the time I have left or the accumulated wisdom that could help others.  Pray for wise management.

But, so that this is not wasted time writing this, I ask you, what do you feel God wants you to do, how have you planned to achieve this, and how are you organising your time to avoid waste and inefficiency?  We only get the one chance, so we need to get it right.

Thank you for reading through, and thank you for your prayers.  Do let me know if you have found my ramblings helpful. No other prayer requests this week.  Fewer engagements at this time of year, no school ministry during holidays, but prison ministry continues mid-week, and this is a time to plan and get organised for the coming year.

God bless you super-abundantly,

Barry
30th December 2019


Sunday, 1 December 2019

A Lost Passion

WHERE DID THE PASSION GO?
As we approach Christmas my great concern is regarding the lost opportunity in so many churches.  Yes, many churches will have special services and some may engage in caroling, but with what aim?

When Jesus was born, heaven could not keep the news to itself but shared it with the only people likely to be at work and awake: the shepherds.  The news was that a Saviour had been born.  The shepherds hurried to check it out and afterwards, they could not contain themselves but shared the news with anyone they could find.  About the same time a group of scientists set out on a long journey to discover what the strange astronomical phenomenon meant.  The story is full of excitement and passion not because of a newborn baby, but because of the salvation message.

Sunday after Sunday Christians in the UK will hear and repeat words from the gospel but mostly dispassionately.  It is almost as if the repetition has anathematised them from feeling God's heartbeat.  Pastors and other preachers will preach sermons without including advice or invitation to respond to God's word.  Many seem to have forgotten that we are called to be fishers of people.  I remember the occasion when I asked the vicar of a church who had invited us to conduct a mission, if he would give an invitation for people to signify that they wanted Jesus in their lives by coming forward as we sang the closing hymn.  Rather reluctantly he gave that invitation and then went and knelt at the communion rail.  When he rose at the end of the hymn he saw well over two dozen men and women standing at the chancel steps.

If we were sufficiently passionate about the truth and about our wonderful Saviour, surely we would exhort people to respond.  Is it fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, or just a lack of passion that prevents us?

If we don't know how else to encourage a response we could at least put the address of a good website such as Christianity.org.uk on our carol sheets, notice sheets, take-home invitation.  Let's put the passion back into Christmas this year.

Incidentally, there are lots of good ideas at www.Rural MissionSolutions.org.uk for making the most from the opportunities at Christmas and through the winter months.  Follow the link on the Home Page.


Do you use the Prayermate app?
Many of us are now familiar with using apps on our phones, tablets or computers. They are a quick and simple way to access all kinds of applications. Several times over the past 18 months I have wondered whether it would be possible to have an app that would bring you new and prayer requests at the touch or click on a button.

A few days ago, Gordon Banks, our Chair of  Trustees introduced me to PrayerMate. A simple app designed to help Christians in their daily prayer life.  With PrayerMate you can adapt it to enable you to get the latest requests for prayer, items for thanksgiving and more.  You can set it up easily to link to various mission societies or individual Christian workers provided they have registered with PrayerMate including Rural Mission Solutions.

It works with both the Apple platform (IOS) and Android.  I encourage you to go to your application store and download the app which is completely FREE.  Once you have the app on your device search for Rural Mission Solutions.  Most will find this an easy process, but I plan to create a short video with step by step instructions soon.  You will find that there are various ways in which you can adapt PrayerMate to suit you.  If all this sounds new to you you could take a look at this video.  Once you have set up the app, or if you are already using it, please send me a short email to let me know.



Barry - 230th August 2019.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Loving God means...

How do We Love God?
Recently I have been pondering the New Testament references to Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5.  The NIV translates the Hebrew, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”    The more I ponder the more Iam aware that loving God is about more than an emotional response.

There are three references to this in the Gospels.  Matthew and Mark both have Jesus quoting it in answer to a question about what is the greatest commandment.  In Luke, we find it being quoted by a pharisee in answer to a question from Jesus.

Matthew adds the word “mind”, but omits “strength”.  Mark adds “mind” and retains “strength”, as does Luke.  Since this is described as the greatest of commandments and on which all the other commandments hang, it is well worth taking some time to think through exactly what the text is saying.  So, I have been asking, “What does it mean to love God?”, and “How does this relate to heart, soul, mind and strength?”

The answer to the first question is probably best answered by the words of Jesus to his disciples: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Here, and in all three places where the text from Deuteronomy is quoted, the word,”love” is translated from the Greek word “agapao) which many might describe as the highest form of selfless love.  We cannot claim to love God if we fail to act in ways that pleases him.

We are left with the question, how do we love with “all our heart”, with “all our soul”, with “all our mind” and with “all our strength”?  While our New Testaments in English are translated from Greek, It is probable that Jesus spoke in Aramaic.  Aramaic was a language closely related to Hebrew. It is probable that Jesus would have known Hebrew and also Greek, but the common language in Israel at the time of Jesus was Aramaic.But it’s not just the original language of the text that is important, we also need to understand how those with whom Jesus spoke would understand these four concepts.

In Hebrew thought, and probably therefore in Aramaic, “soul” is not a part of you.  It is the essential you; what it means to be a living being.  It has a root that links it to breath. God breathed into Adam and he became a living being. So, “loving God with every breath in my body” might be helpful.  It about putting your whole being into it.

In the Hebrew scriptures there are many verses where heart and soul are mentioned in the same sentence.  In English we sometimes talk about putting our heart and soul into doing something Strangely in Hebrew thought, heart was more than about emotions; it was also the centre for mind and thought.  It was seen as the place where thoughts originate. So in Moses time, to love God with all your heart has to do with mental application and attitude of mind.

Did you notice that Deuteronomy 6:5 does not include the word “mind”.  This is only added in the references in the gospels. Philosophical reasoning had developed much later with the emergence of the great Greek philosophers, some 400 plus years before Christ.  So by adding the word “mind” to the text in the gospels it emphasises the aspect of attitude of mind and thought.

Within our British culture we think of falling in love as an overwhelming emotional experience.  However, when that experience leads to a commitment by a couple to live together where each is exposed to many unattractive aspects of the other party, it is a conscious decision to love that keeps couples together.  I have heard frustrated parents say to an annoying child, “I don’t like you, but I do love you”.

A man whose wife’s personality had substantially changed through dementia, spoke of a daily determination to love the person who had replaced the person he had fallen in love with.  By so doing they were able to continue to share precious times together.

Reflecting on Deuteronomy 6:5, and its use in the gospels has made me see loving God in a different light.  The focus has moved from an emotional response to conscious wholehearted determination and commitment, while feelings are not excluded.  The Song of Songs, which most Christians take as a metaphor for our relationship with Jesus is about passion. The post-resurrection conversation between Jesus and Peter has an emotional undertone (See John 21).  

Deut 6:5 is not a suggestion; it is a command.  Obedience to it is a matter of choice not chance.  The first time I realised that the awfulness of Christ’s death on the cross, and all that was involved, I encountered God’s love.  I felt it. My response there and then was expressed in singing the final verse of Isaac Watts hymn, When I survey the wondrous cross
“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”.  It is a response that needs to be refreshed and renewed every moment of every day - all my soul, all my heart (thoughts), and all my strength.

I started these reflections on loving God last Saturday, but other matters hindered my completing it.  So it is now Tuesday evening. This morning at school assembly I was asked “How did Jesus die?”  I did my best to describe the crucifixion honestly yet sensitively to very young children.  As I was leaving the school a lovely little girl in Key stage 2 asked me, “Did Jesus give his life as a sacrifice for me?”  What a precious moment!  I told her, “Yes, that’s how much he loves you”

Barry - 10th September 219.

Friday, 6 September 2019

FELLOWSHIP OR NETWORKING

What do you understand by the word "fellowship"?  Is it different from friendship? How does it differ from networking?  How do we express fellowship in our churches and between churches?

Following the amazing experiences  on the Day of Pentecost, thousands of new believers in, and followers of Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."  Luke's brief summary leaves us asking questions in the 21st Century.  With over 3,000 new believers how did they undertake the teaching programme?  Does "breaking of bread" refer to shared meals or what we call Communion or Eucharist?

From Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, it would have been more of a meal than a bit of bread and wine.  Prayer is more easily understood.  We know that there were gatherings for prayer both in the temple and in homes.  How often they met and what they prayed is uncertain.  But what did Luke mean by "devoting themselves to... fellowship"?

The Greek word Koinonia that is translated as "fellowship" in English Bibles, is best understood from the context in which it is found.  It becomes clear that this is more than meeting up.  The apostle Paul uses it to describe generous and sacrificial giving, and also as a willingness to suffer for Christ's sake rather than denying him.  So, where we use it to describe meeting up or having refreshments after a service, we are dumbing down the real meaning.  All too often we ask "How are you?" but the response we get may be hardly listened to.

If we do hear someone sharing with us that life is difficult at this time, are we ready to show real fellowship by exploring how we might help a person in need, or at the very least, take a few moments to pray with them?  The sad consequences of a lack of real fellowship is that too often we give or get a dishonest answer to the enquiry, and pretend that there is nothing wrong.

The first believers, showed fellowship by selling surplus property and sharing with one another, calling nothing they possessed as exclusively their own.  The first believers showed fellowship by ensuring that widows were properly cared for with adequate meals.  The first believers collected money on Sundays, not to support a building or even to support a minister, but to give away their money to Christians in other places who were suffering in a famine.  The believers in  Philippi gave up their own comfort to provide resources to help Paul in his mission work.

All of these examples come from places in the New Testament where the work Koinonia is used, which we translate as "fellowship".  Koinonia implies a generous level of commitment to one another within our churches and between churches.

So "fellowship" is more about what goes on seven days a week, and about how we truly express a love for one another that puts others before ourselves.

What then is going on when we come to church on Sundays?  It is doubtful that it is fellowship in the biblical sense, or even the beginning of fellowship.  It might be better described as "networking".  We meet up, we chat, we catch up with the news, but to what does it lead?  Sadly, sometimes it isn't even friendly.  I have heard some people describe going to the local pub as more friendly than their experience of church.  But what might people think if we could only get fellowship right, genuinely love and prefer one others before ourselves?

Here are some suggestions about putting fellowship back into the character of Christianity and church.

  • When you ask how someone is, please be sure that you are willing to listen to the answer and then, if there is a need, to do something about it.
  • Ensure that people can give an honest answer if things are not so good, because they know they are talking to someone who cares.
  • Don't allow someone to sit or stand around on their own when they come to church and while others are grouped in conversation.
  • Re-think your financial giving.  Could you go without to help someone in need or to advance the gospel mission?
  • Re-think how you use your free time when you are not attending church meetings.  Is there a lonely or isolated person who might appreciate your company, for a few hours, or the offer of a lift to do some shopping?  Is there someone who might appreciate your cooking or baking?
  • Try to be more empathetic.
Let's move from networking to fellowship if all we have been doing is networking.  If, on the other hand you are already demonstrating what "devoted to fellowship" means, then that is great.  Please pray that the rest of us will make a better job of it.

May the Lord abundantly bless you.
Barry - 2nd September 2019.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Speech Therapy Needed?

Speech Therapy Needed?
The New Testament has many examples of people who met with Jesus and who could not keep quiet about that experience.  Some shared how they had been healed; others simply told their friends, or their entire community, what an amazing person Jesus was.  There was no need for any kind of training; they simply shared what they had experienced.

There are some 10 million people living in the rural areas of the UK.  From the age of 17 I spent the following 25 years as a ‘professional’ evangelist, telling people in villages around Britain about Jesus and how wonderful it is to know him as a personal Saviour.  But I became aware that all the rural mission societies put together were only reaching around 2% of the rural population. There had to be a better way to make Jesus and salvation known.

When we started Rural Mission Solutions in 1988, our vision was to encourage and enable Christians in rural locations to articulate the gospel, and for churches to become mission oriented.  I feel that, to date, we have largely failed, and I wish I knew why. What can I do to get rural Christians intentionally talking about Jesus?

The first sermon I preached in a church, at 18 years old, was on Numbers 32:6, ‘Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? “  Even then I was clearly concerned about the passive Christians who form the majority of church congregations.  The story behind the text is Moses seeking to motivate a section of the People of Israel that sought to compromise on the plan God had for them.  Since then I have preached and spoken similarly seeking to motivate Christians to action and to sharing the message of the gospel. Various texts and passages of scripture have been used, such as the following.

2Kings 7:9 “‘What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”  Four men with leprosy had seen God’s saving power and stumbled on food supply vital for the survival of the people starving in the city a short distance away.

Ezekiel 33: 6 “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”

Roman 10: 13-15 “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
But, despite a lifetime of encouragement and exhortation, the vast majority of rural Christians (including possibly the clergy) fail to make the message clear and plain to others.  It is as if it does not matter whether they hear about the effect the cross and resurrection could have in their lives. Do we think that our silence has no consequences?

I have a friend who is a speech therapist.  There are several different aspects and causes of speech impediments. Her skill and experience brings the gift of speech to those who would otherwise remain silent or stammering.  Her aim is not only to get them talking but able to converse effectively. I have been wondering whether some kind of therapy is needed to get Christians talking about Jesus.  

What might be the cause of the problem?  In some cases it is that people in our churches know about Jesus but have not come to actually know him.  In such situations they will have nothing to say. Others maybe struck dumb with fear of embarrasment We are frightened of looking silly or being judged.  Still others are convinced that only professional preachers called and gifted by God to speak can tell people about Jesus. And some might like to talk about Jesus but wrongly feel that they need special training and be competent to answer every awkward question.

My first efforts as a new Christian and a teenager were was then called “fishing”.  I stood outside an evangelistic meeting with a bundle of leaflets and simply asked people to come in.  A few days after that I gave my personal testimony in a meeting. That was followed by giving out gospel tracts and simply inviting people to read them  I did this to people sitting on Hastings seafront and sitting in local cafes. I had not training, and was probably not always as effective as I could have been, but confidence and ability grew from these beginnings.

A great tool that used to be available to help get conversations started was an enamel badge which I believe used to come from an organisation called Turn to Christ (no longer existing?).  The badge consisted of three steps sequentially coloured black, red and white. People always enquired what the symbols meant. These days we are careful about using black as a symbol of sin as it can have an unintended racial interpretation.  But there are great badges with the words “Ask Me” that will do the job.

In previous issues of P&P I have written about the value of Guest Services for churches.  Special invitation cards can also be conversation starters. One organisation wisely suggests getting some experience in personal evangelism by working alongside someone who has done it before, and also doing it somewhere other than the village where you live - at least for starters.
I would love to hear from you.  You might like to make a start talking about Jesus and just need some support.  You might have developed your own way of starting conversations. Or the whole idea might terrify you.  Please let me know. We have 10 million people in rural Britain and most still need to hear about Jesus and the change he can make in our lives.  Somebody somewhere needs to be making a start. Is it you?

Please contact me at barry@ruralmissionsolutions.org.uk.  I’d love to encourage you or hear your stories.

Barry 19th August 2019

Sunday, 11 August 2019

PRAISE THE LORD!

“It is good to praise the Lord…” Psalm 92:1

A story is told of a Pastor of a church who became concerned about the lack of response to his preaching from members of his congregation.  Such was the silence, no matter how splendid was his text or his carefully crafted sermons, that he wondered whether they were actually listening to him.  For that reason, one Sunday, he ascended into the pulpit with a bag of beans in his hand as well as his well worn Bible.

Moments before the service was due to begin, he had arranged for an elder in the church to sit immediately below the pulpit facing out into the congregation.  He had carefully explained the reason for the bag of beans. “If I drop one bean on your head during the sermon, I want you to say ‘Amen’ in a loud voice.” Somewhat bemused the elder had agreed to this.  “Furthermore, “ the Pastor continued, “If I drop two beans on your head, I want you to say ‘Hallelujah’. And if I drop three beans on your head, I want you to say, ‘Praise the Lord!’”.

When the time for the sermon came round, the Pastor made a good point, and there being no response from the congregation as usual, a bean discreetly fell from the pulpit onto the head of the elder.  “Amen!” shouted the elder rather excitedly as it had taken him by surprise. The Pastor noted a stirring in the congregation at such an unusual occurrence. As the sermon progressed, occasionally another bean produced another “Amen!”, at which someone else in the congregation added an “Amen!”.

Now the Pastor was encouraged, and at appropriate moments dropped a couple of beans, and even the occasional three beans.  Each time the elder faithful declared “Hallelujah!” or “Praise the Lord!” as appropriate. By now the congregation was listening intently and each time echoed whatever words of praise the elder declared.  Soon everyone was joining in. Encouraged at hearing this response to his sermon, the Pastor became excited and failed to notice in time as the bag split and all the beans poured out over the elders below.

And that was when they had the revival!

Of course it is probably untrue, but the story does carry an important message.  Revival cannot be created by religious exclamations, no matter how many. But revival has often produced a peon or praise where previously praise of God was rare.

As a teenager I went to an Operation Mobilisation conference in Chigwell, Essex.  Three other male friends and an Austrian Brethren lady had made the journey from Hastings.  It was through Heidi that we had learned about OM. She was working as an au-pair dor one of the leaders of the main Brethren Assembly in Hastings, and always dressed soberly and wore her hair in a bun underneath her hat. It was my first experience of this kind of gathering and I drank it all in enthusiastically.  On Saturday we had spent much of the day doing personal evangelism around London before attending a packed meeting in a London church where George Verwer, founder of OM gave a challenging address. Sunday morning saw around 500 of us filling a large tent for a communion service  The sense of God’s presence was awesome.

That evening, as we drove back home, the car radio picked up Sunday Half Hour.  As the words of much loved gospel hymns filled the car, I found that I couldn’t help from praising God out loud.  “Hallelujah”s and “Praise the Lord”s burst from my heart and through my lips uncontrollably as we drove home. Laughing, I declared “I don’t know what’s happening to me.  I think I might be becoming Pentecostal!”. Pentecostals were the only Christians I had ever heard saying these words that were now coming from my mouth. It certainly did not characterise the people at the Baptist Church where I was a member.

As we dropped Heidi off where she was staying, she lent through the car window and thanked us for taking her to the weekend’s experience.  Then, looking straight at me she said in her Austrian accent, “And Barry, if you t’ink you are becoming Pentecostal, please don’t stop yourself”.

I remained a Baptist, but my friends and I began praying for the people in our church.  We prayed for revival, and that God would make us all willing to experience all the fullness that he longed for us to enjoy.  We supported the short midweek prayer meeting that preceded the choir practice. Spontaneous and sincere words of praise that were familiar to us in our revival prayer meetings, began to puncture the silence during and between the prayers at the midweek meeting.  Soon, other more stayed church members began to feel confident to add their own “Amen” and “Hallelujah”. We were often late getting to choir practice. It marked the beginning of a radical change in the life of that church. It burst into life that brought many to find Jesus as their Saviour over the following years, including my sister and my mother.

God does not need our praise, and praising God is not the prerogative of any particular denomination.  Praising God aloud should be a spontaneous result of an experience of God’s love and grace, and our enjoyment of his saving power.  Do you praise the Lord?

Psalm 92 begins with the words, “It is good to praise the Lord, and make music to his name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,”  So there is no room for the old chestnut, ”I’m praising God quietly in my heart”  As we freely and openly declare how much God loves us, and recite the ways in which he has shown this, we will certainly find our day lived consciously in the enjoyment of that love.  When evening comes, we will look back and wonder at how faithful he has been to us.

Why is it good to praise the Lord?  Because God delights in our enjoyment of our relationship with him and our experience of his goodness.  It is also good because others can hear how wonderful it is to know God and Jesus as our Saviour. If praising God has not been a natural part of your prayer life, try singing a hymn or song of praise to start or end your quiet time.  Tell the Lord each day what he means to you. It’s a great way to start the day. And don’t worry about what others might think. You’ll soon discover how good it is!

But be warned, praising God can be contagious and change churches!

Barry Osborne - 10th August 2019

Monday, 29 July 2019

Ministry Stress

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19: 9 and 13)

In past issues of Praise & Prayer News I have emphasised the importance of caring for those who carry the burden of pastoral leadership in our churches.  They are usually a church’s greatest asset, but often more care is taken of the building than of the pastor.

All of us experience degrees of stress.  Some stress can be valuable. Other aspects of stress can be debilitating or worse.  Those of us in ministry must be watchful for the signs when stress is building to serious levels.  Ignoring it can be disastrous. Those of us who are part of a church but not carrying the burden of leadership, should ensure that those who do are well supported and given sufficient time for physical, mental and spiritual refreshment.

Some years ago, a Christian friend commented deridingly about the concept of full time ministry.   He pointed out that he had to hold down a full time job, carry domestic responsibilities and also attend church services.  “Surely”, he implied, “that was just as demanding as the pastor’s role!” But while going to church on Sunday is one thing for a member of a congregation, but quite another for the one for whom it is another work day, especially in a week of workdays.

Leadership is often described as a lonely position.  It is just as true in Christian ministry as in other aspects.  In fact it sometimes carries additional stress where the hours of loving service seem to be unappreciated and often criticised.  It would take a fool to go into Christian leadership without a strong conviction that this is a call from God. Those who take on such a responsibility do so often with unhealthy, or potentially unhealthy expectations.  In addition to their own expectations of themselves, there are those of their congregation, in rural contexts there are the expectations of the wider community, the expectations of family and friends, and for those in hierarchical denominations: the expectations of their seniors.  All such expectations generate stress.

Have you ever wondered why Elijah, one moment full of courage, suddenly ran away? Or why Moses lost it at Meribah, striking the rock twice in frustration when what he should have done was to speak to it?  Or what made Peter, who hours before had protested his dying loyalty to Jesus, declare that he never knew him? Each indicates a degree of stress that made a man act uncharacteristically. Such incidents seem to spoil an otherwise exemplary man of God.  While we can explain aberrative behaviour as being because they were only human, to fail to discern the causation is to miss an important lesson. Faced with the sudden threat of a painful death, or weariness with the conduct of others, or shear exhaustion, stress levels can suddenly reach breaking point.

As a carer, I know that when I am worn out and when the person being cared for, because of her medical condition, behaves in a frustrating way, I find it harder to cope and understand why some don’t.  As a pastor I once lost it with an elderly and demanding woman who failed to appreciate the selfless sacrifices her loving husband made day after day. I was bringing her home from the hospital where her GP had sent her to give her worn out husband a short break, when she started telling me how selfish her husband was. I stopped the car and informed her in a loud voice that she was the most selfish person I had ever met and that I was disappointed and disgusted with her.  Immediately, I was filled with guilt at my loss of control. But she was far more considerate after that, and when she reminded me of my extreme behaviour afterwards, it was usually with some humour in her voice.

Months of pent up stress caused by her behaviour and contained by my own expectations of how a loving pastor should behave, had finally given way.  Looking back, I think it was actually one of my better moments as a pastor, for her and her husband’s sake, and probably my own. Afterwards, she and I had a far better relationship, as I refused to back down from what I had said to her.

Realising that stress allowed to build up can have serious consequences should make us careful to manage our stress levels.  If I listen to my kettle when boiling water for tea, I know precisely what stage it is at many seconds before it boils. So watch out for the signals of aberrative behaviour such as a loss of control of your thought life or unusual bad language.If you spot it, and know what is causing the stress, take appropriate action.

Good Christian leaders will always live with a degree of manageable stress, but it needs to be managed.  Those of us who are or who want to be beneficiaries of their leadership should take care not to become a cause of unnecessary stress.  A few kind words or a loving act from you might save someone from following the examples of Moses, Elijah and Peter. After all “We’re only human!”

Barry Osborne 28 July 2019