For many years I have loved this quote about Hudson Taylor the famous missionary pioneer (I recently re-read it here),
To him, the secret of overcoming lay in daily, hourly fellowship with God; and this, he found, could only be maintained by secret prayer and feeding upon the Word through which He reveals Himself to the waiting soul.
It was not easy for Mr Taylor to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers remember travelling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow, with the poorest of inns at night. Often with only one large room for [laborers] and travelers alike, they would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and see the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr Taylor, however weary, was poring over his little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God. That flicker of candlelight has meant more to them than all they have read or heard on secret prayer; it meant reality, not preaching but practice.
The hardest part of a missionary career, Mr Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study.“Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”
Howard Taylor, from, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret.
Personally I think we live in an ear of weak preaching, possibly this is caused by a lack of reality in the feedback preachers receive. My first wife was usually pretty straightforward (brutal) in her comments about my efforts in the pulpit so I had to listen and learn or cry myself to sleep.
Our daughter cited this comment as an example of how a wife might encourage her husband in his preaching:
As an alternative approach, here’s how Ann Phillips, grandmother of Dr Lloyd-Jones’s wife, answered the question “critic or carer?” as she supported her preacher husband Evan:
He [Phillips] laid great store by his wife’s judgment, particularly where it concerned his preaching. On one particular Saturday evening he confided in her, with great concern, that he had nothing to give to his people the next day – truly, a preacher’s nightmare. She replied that she was not sure that he ever had anything to say! … On another occasion she asked Evan to explain to her what exactly he had given the people after a morning meeting. Before he could answer, she said, “If you have not better for this evening, I would advise you to stay at home so that they can have a prayer meeting!”
– Lynette G Clark, Far Above Rubies: The Life of Bethan Lloyd-Jones
I am reading Alex Ferguson’s book, Leading. In his introduction when talking about the similarities between football management and teaching, he states,
The best teachers are the unsung heroes and heroines of any society…
If this day you are receiving from a teacher then honour those who stand before you. If you are the teacher conduct your lesson with humility and grace always aiming to inspire your ward towards greatness.
Whatever your stage of life might I suggest that you take a moment to thank God for those teachers who have helped to mould and shape your life.
I saw this on the Desiring God Instagram feed, it seems worth remembering.
I read an article by Donald Whitney on the CS Lewis Institute website which listed “10 Questions to ask to make sure you are still growing”. You can access the full article here. It is a good read and asks questions worth considering if you want to continually become more Christ-like.
If you like headlines and then filling in the blanks in your own style here are the questions Whitney posed:
1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
2. Are you more and more loving?
3. Are you more sensitive to and aware of God than ever before?
4. Are you governed more and more by God’s Word?
5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others?
6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you?
8. Are you more and more aware of your sin?
9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others?
10. Are you thinking more and more of heaven and of being with the Lord Jesus?
When I have read an article like this I try to ask how this list can help me. I think it is important not to be dogmatic in addressing every detail but spend time prayerfully (usually as part of my quiet time) reflecting upon the questions and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal what I am really like. Then I will skim over parts of the list as I realise the Holy Spirit is highlighting areas of concern and so I address those with greater gusto. I then use a journal to write down my observations as well as looking for specific growth points that are immediately apparent.
I live in a part of the world where many people have yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a tragedy (a real one not the sort we hear spoken of by people when referring to a minor aspect of life that doesn’t go well) that we have so many very rich Christians who are not using their money to spread the Gospel around the world through real day-to-day projects to touch the hearts and minds of people who have never heard the name of Jesus properly proclaimed.
Living in a non-Christian culture makes it interesting to read reports of what is happening to Christianity in the USA which has had the Christian message preached to it for many years, and which has reached the point where vast swathes of society are now rejecting that message.
Barna in their latest report gives a picture of the Post-Christian USA and offers some definition of what it means to be “Post-Christian”.
The obvious, and not too surprising, fact, is that many of the ideas of Post-Christian and Pre-Christian are identical (or at least very similar). I imagine many of the Pre-Christian would like to hear what Post-Christian USA has to rapidly rejected.
Anyhow here’s Barna’s list:
To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals had to meet 60% or more of the following factors (nine or more). “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of these 15 criteria).
Do not believe in God
Identify as atheist or agnostic
Disagree that faith is important in their lives
Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
Have never made a commitment to Jesus
Disagree the Bible is accurate
Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
Agree that Jesus committed sins
Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
I am not an intelligent man. I am not an academic. I am a simple guy who believes the Bible.
When I became a Christian I had lots of questions. Foolishly I thought all believers would be the same, thinking about their faith, pondering things, asking questions. I confess to being disappointed to find out that I was wrong.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
How can we love God with our mind without thinking? Surely our obligation is to weigh, to reason, to consider what the Bible says in order that we might fully love God with our minds?
In The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide by David S. Dockery and Timothy George, Robert Louis Wilken is quoted saying this in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought:
“Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices, it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history. For Christians, thinking is part of believing.”
Church, small group, discipleship programme, fellowship dinner, men’s and women’s programmes, you name it, they all should be involved in helping men and women who love the Gospel of Jesus Christ to think more and love God with their mind.
Appendix B of Bill Hull’s The Complete Book of Discipleship (p 310) contains a list (from original research by George Barna) of what makes churches effective at disciple-making. It is well worth reading as many churches appear to have little idea of how to make disciples. It should also be noted that churches that made disciples didn’t do all of these, they did a few of them well.
Barna’s research showed that “a church engaged in effective discipleship is a church that will grow steadily and solidly.”‘ In addition, the research demonstrated how churches can correct the nine flaws above. Every church doing well did a few of the following nine things well.
1. The leaders had passion for making disciples.
2. Depth: Personal growth and spiritual reproduction were one and the same.
3. Maturity: The end product was for a person to reach his or her highest earthly potential in Christ.
4. Practice: The repeated acting of the will created habits and therefore, character.
5. Process: Discipleship is not a destination but a journey. The process is lifelong and one must be patient.
6. Interactive: Discipleship is done in community, not in isolation.
7. Multifaceted: The process incorporates a variety of thrusts toward building us up in Christ.
8. Lifelong: Every day of life for all of life. Don’t think program, trust the process.
9. Christ-like: The marker is Jesus, being formed into his image; all else is a waste of effort.’
More from Dallas Willard in a section entitled The Radical Ruin of our Soul, pages 39-40 of Revolution of Character,
From the most hardened criminal to the most devout person, everyone has had some form of spiritual formation. In one of C. S. lewis’s more striking passages, he challenges us to remember this,
“The dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals, whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Strangely, it is precisely the intrinsic greatness of the person that makes it “a horror and a corruption such as you now meet…in a nightmare.” If we were insignificant, our ruin would not be horrifying. G. K. Chesterton somewhere says that the hardest thing to accept in the Christian religion is the great value it places upon the individual soul. Still older Christian writers used to say that God has hidden the majesty of the human soul from us to prevent our being ruined by vanity.[Emphasis added]
This explains why even in its ruined condition a human being is regarded by God as something infinitely worth saving. Sin does not make a person worthless — only lost. And in its lostness it is still capable of great strength, dignity, and heartbreaking beauty.
This day you will encounter all manner of men, women, children, there is a God-given beauty in each of them just waiting to be unveiled. Maybe you are the key.
R. R. Reno posted an article, Empire of Desire, Outlining the Postmodern Metaphysical Dream, on the First Things website. In concluding Reno makes this statement:
The greatest threat we presently face is not Islamic terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation, genocide, or poverty, pressing as these problems may be. The antinomian revolution in the postmodern West poses a more fundamental existential threat to the human future, because it erodes the cultural capital necessary to respond to these challenges, and to others. The richest and most powerful countries in the world are dominated by an intellectual class that, however individually self-disciplined and well intentioned and personally influenced by inherited moral traditions, give metaphysical priority to desire. They train us to live as docile, dutiful citizens in the Empire of Desire, asking never what is right and true but instead what is “healthy” and “empowering.”
Reading this in the light of last weeks Supreme Court decision in the USA, I think Reno might be on to something about society in general.
However of greater concern in my thinking is the implications of such thinking for the church of Jesus Christ. In recent years has become commonplace for churches to preach long sermon series, and to offer studies on the idea of personal destiny, in effect we teach men and women of God that it is “all about me.” The result is a church that lacks power and credibility in a world that desperately needs it to have both.