Mission Matters commendations

Here are some of the commendations for my book Mission Matters: Love Says Go which is an introduction to world mission.

‘If you want to fire up your church with a vision for global mission, this is your book! … It should carry a spiritual health warning.’ – David Coffey OBE, Global Ambassador for BMS World Mission

‘For years, I have been looking for a short, approachable book which would give a thorough introduction to the biblical, theological and practical aspects of mission, something to help people understand why we do mission and what some of the key issues are. I’ve just found that book and will be recommending it very widely indeed!’ – Eddie Arthur, mission blogger and Director for Strategic Initiatives for Global Connections; Former Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators

‘Many are telling us that the day of global mission is over: the needs ‘at home’ are so overwhelming, and the dangers so great, that God cannot want us ‘to go’ as he did in the past. But God does care, and he still wants us to care with his compassion for a world of need. I am sure this book will provoke many people to respond to the challenge, as they realize that there are still thousands waiting to be introduced to the Saviour who alone saves and cares.’ – Dr Helen Roseveare, missionary, speaker and author

‘Easy to read, clear, practical and challenging, this excellent book explores the great story of the mission of the Trinity in Scripture and gives a thrilling account of how it has been weaved into the story of the Keswick Convention.’ – John Risbridger, Chair Keswick Ministries, Minister and Team Leader Above Bar Church, Southampton

 

ThinkIVP are offering a special offer for readers of my blog. If you buy it through these links then you can enjoy £3 off the book and £4 off the eBook. It looks like it will also be available in US here from amazon.com, but it can’t be pre-ordered yet.

How do I know I’ve received the Spirit?

I was recently asked, “How do I know I’ve received the Holy Spirit? How long does it take?”

Here’s my reply.

The big question you have to ask yourself is this. Do I believe in Jesus? For Romans 8:9 says everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit. Indeed no-one puts their faith in Jesus without the Spirit opening their eyes to his glory. So the first and biggest sign of the Spirit is faith in Christ.
Here’s a second question. Do you pray? For Romans 8:15-16 says everyone who calls on God as Father does so through the Spirit. Without the Spirit, pray feels like talking to the ceiling. It is the Spirit who assures us that God is a Father who is willing and able to hear our prayers. So the second main sign of the Spirit in our lives meaningful prayer to God as our Father.
Sometimes the Spirit does dramatic things in our lives. But these are not the norm. Nor are they the most reliable signs of the Spirit’s work. The key signs are faith in Christ and prayer to the Father.
Who on Earth Is the Holy Spirit? by myself and Christopher de la Hoyde is available in the UK from thinkivp.com and in the US from thegoodbook.com.
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Special offer on Mission Matters

My latest book, Mission Matters: Love Says Go, is published today by IVP. It’s a popular-level introduction to world mission and is part of Foundations Series of the Keswick Convention.

ThinkIVP are offering a special offer for readers of my blog. If you buy it through these links then you can enjoy £3 off the book and £4 off the eBook.

It looks like it will also be available in US here from amazon.com, but it can’t be pre-ordered yet.

Here’s the contents:

Part one: The God of mission
1. In the love of the Father
2. In the name of the Son
3. In the power of the Spirit

Part two: The story of mission
4. A promise for the nations
5. The hope of the nations

Part three: The who, what and where of mission
6. Everyone, with the church at its heart
7. Everything, with proclamation at the centre
8. Everywhere, with the unreached as the priority

Part four: The challenges of mission
9. The cultural challenge
10. The personal challenge
11. A big ambition and a big God

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Justification and Busyness

Perhaps the biggest reason why people are too busy is that they are trying to prove themselves. Busyness has become a mark of honour in our culture.

Think about how we use the word ‘busy’. Take an expression like ‘I’m a very busy man.’ what does it mean? It doesn’t mean: ‘My life’s out of control.’ It means ‘I’m a very important person – you should show me some respect.’ And technology is the badge we wear our busyness on. We have our mobiles phones and laptops so that people know we are busy, we are important, we are indispensable, people need us, we matter.

It didn’t used to be like this. The Greeks and Romans despised work. Work was for slaves. The cultured classes were the leisured classes. and in the medieval church the really spiritual people were the contemplatives who didn’t work. Work was for lay monks. Or work humbled you – but it only humbled you because it was undignified.

What changed all this was the Reformation. In the Reformation worldview, you glorified God and served other people through your work. And so people blame our over-work culture on the Protestant work ethic. But in Reformation thought you work for the glory of God. And you also rest for the glory of God. You find your identity in knowing and serving God. The problem is the secularisation of the Protestant work ethic. Secularism takes out the God-bit. Now work has become an end in itself. People find identity and fulfilment through work itself. And so no wonder we work so hard – it is our salvation; it is what will give us meaning and identity. No wonder we are busy, busy, busy.

And into this frenzy Jesus says: ‘Come to me … and find rest.’ We have good news for our busy culture. Proving yourself is just another term for justifying yourself. And we have good news of justification by grace.

Gospel ministers are not immune from this. We too are often busy because we want to prove ourselves – to God, to other people, to ourselves. We are busy because we don’t believe in the grace of God. We can preach justification by grace, for example. But all the time we are practicing justification by preaching, seeking identify in the success of our sermons.

At the first ever management course I went on, they told us: ‘If you tell people you are busy what they will hear is “I don’t have time for you.”’ And it’s true in church life. If you tell people you are busy, they won’t come to you with their problems.

So what do you tell people you’re busy? What are you trying to communicate? ‘I’m doing a good job, I’m worth my pay, I’m important, I matter, you should admire me, you should value me.’

I have a friend who used to be a senior management in a well known Christian organisation. He used to see the time sheets that the workers produced. He told me that they varied hugely. Some people were working twice as much as others. But, he said, the over-workers were the most insecure people in the organisation. They were busy because they were trying to prove themselves.

If you are busy trying to prove yourself then you will always be busy. You will never get the job done – because you can’t prove yourself. You will be like a dog chasing its tail.

Jesus cried on the cross: ‘It is finished’. The job is done. The task is complete. There is full atonement. There is nothing left for you to do. Here’s what you need to do about your busyness: nothing; everything has already been done.

This post is adapted form Tim Chester, The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness, IVP which is available from Amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

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Review: Paul Rainbow on Johannine Theology

A review of Paul A. Rainbow, Johannine Theology: The Gospel, The Epistles and the Apocalypse, IVP/Apollos, 2014.

Available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

I’ve been dipping to Johannine Theology, a new book by Paul Rainbow, Professor of New Testament at Sioux Falls Seminary. Its distinctive contribution is its attempt to create synthesis of John’s theology based on John’s Gospel, the Johannine Epistles and the book of Revelation. This, of course, presupposes that the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John which is rarely accepted in modern New Testament scholarship. But Rainbow makes a strong cases in the introduction (42-51). He is especially good on the linguistic links across the Johannine corpus and the reasons for any variations.

The synthesis is organised “according to the relationship among the divine persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and the world made up of its various constituents.” (28)

The result is an impressive piece of scholarship. The footnotes reflect a thorough interaction with secondary literature, but these rarely intrudes into the main argument.

It does, however, a feel a little like a pick and mix approach. At no point did I really feel the book gave me a handle on the main message or argument of any of the books under consideration. We are not shown how key themes unfold through the argument of individual books or the Johannine corpus as a whole. I realise Rainbow is attempting a synchronic synthesis, but I’m not persuaded this can be done in isolation from a diachronic synthesis. At times it feels like points are made and then proof-texted. We preached last year through 1 John and the structure of the Epistle is so important to its message. I came to Johannine Theology with particular interest in the book of Revelation because of work I’m currently doing on the book and was disappointed that it added to my understanding. Revelation, more than most New Testament books, requires some sense of how it works as a book before you can distil its theology. Yet, for example, the meaning of the millennium is only dealt with in a footnote (320-321). Perhaps as a result of this, the conclusions are weak. It would be hard to claim they include any distinctive correctives to evangelical theology or lead to clear practical implications or grip the imagination.

Although the introductory material makes of the synthesis across the Johannine corpus, the focus is on the Gospel. Moreover interaction with the book of Revelation focuses on the beginning and the end of the book plus one or two other familiar passages. This, at least, was my hunch reading the book. It appears to be borne out in the index. The Gospel has four times as many entries as the book of Revelation and the five chapters of the First Epistle have one and half as many entries as the 22 chapters of Revelation. And there are no entries at all for chapters 15-19 of Revelation. But then there are no entries for Revelation 2-3 or 14 which are often referenced in the text. So something appears to have gone badly wrong with the indexing.

These disappointments aside, Johannine Theology is a great achievement. There is much to mine here. Rainbow is particularly interesting on the inter-Trinitarian relationships. I’ll leave you with the following quotes.

‘We are not to envisage an act of generation in time like a human birth, bringing the Son into being out of nonexistence. Rather, to have life in oneself, to be characterized by aseity, has been “granted” to the Son by the Father (Jn. 5:26).’ (101)

‘To be θεός, to have life in oneself, belongs to God alone. It belongs to both the Father and the Son, but it belongs to the Father intrinsically and to the Son by gift. Aseity is of the Father, and he communicates it to the Son.’ (102)

The three persons have one point of origin, the Father. Deity is the intrinsic property of the Father (Jn. 17:3; 1 Jn. 5:20; Apoc. 15:4), who stands alone as the “begetter” of the Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 1 Jn 5:18) and as the one from whom ultimately the Spirit proceeds.’ (255)

‘The three exist in a harmonious union of love facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Insofar as the Son is differentiated from the Father, their difference is bridged by the Spirit, who is the agent of intersubjectivity. Since Father and Son must cooperate in granting to the Spirit to have life in himself, the very donation of self-existence to the Spirit establish a bond between the first two … In giving the Spirit to the Son without measure, the Father expresses his supreme love for the Son, and in receiving the Spirit, the Son expresses his love for the Father, cementing the relationship (Jn. 3:34-35).’ (256)

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Rosner on Paul and the law

Here’s a brief summary of the central argument in Brian Rosner’s very helpful book on the law in Pauline theology.

Brian S. Rosner, Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, Apollos/InterVarsity, 2013 (available here from amazon.com and thinkivp).

Paul and the law is a complex issue because Paul makes apparently contradictory statements about the law: sometimes involving negative critique or suggesting the law is abolished (e.g. Ephesians 2:15) and sometimes involving positive approval (either implicitly as in Ephesians 6:1-2 or explicitly as in Romans 3:31).

The three main positions are:

The Lutheran View: Christ abolished the law and the law is the counterpoint to the gospel, showing us our need and driving us to Christ.

The Reformed View: We are saved by grace, not by obeying the law, but once saved we obey the moral law to please God.

The New Perspective: Paul opposes the use of the law to exclude Gentiles from the people of God.

Part of the problem is that Paul uses the term ‘law’ in more than one sense. He clearly uses it to mean the legal system or legal material of the Pentateuch. But he also uses it to refer to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (including the narrative passages).

So, following Donald Hagner, Rosner distinguishes between ‘law as commandments’ and ‘law as Scripture’.

In Galatians 4:21, for example, Paul uses law both negatively and positively: ‘Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?’ This is best understand as follows: ‘you who want to be under the law-as-commandments, are you not aware of what the law-as-Scripture says?’

Rosner then considers 1 Corinthians 7:19: ‘Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.’ ‘Keeping God’s commands’ cannot means keeping the law of Moses because Paul has just said the Mosaic law of circumcision is nothing. The tripartite division of the Mosaic law into civil, ceremonial and moral law (the latter of which is said to continue for Christians) is not a solution. First, it is an anachronistic imposition that would not be recognized in the law’s original context of a theocratic state. Second, many laws defy such classification. Third, it does not do justice to Paul’s unqualified statements about the end of the law (in other words, he never says Christ abolishes the law except the moral portions). So ‘keeping God’s commands’ must refer to something else. This is born out in other passages where a repudiation of circumcision is matched by the substitution of an alternative (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). 1 Corinthians 7:19 is not a paradox, but a polemic. Instead of obeying the law of Moses, what matters is keeping the commandments of God which are implicit in the gospel as laid out in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:37) and elsewhere.

Paul does three things with the law and each one must be fully heard without prejudicing the others: (1) polemical repudiation; (2) radical replacements; and (3) whole-hearted reappropriation (in two ways). These respectively correspond to treating the law as legal code, theological motif and source for expounding the gospel and for doing ethics. (39)

In 1 Corinthians 7:19 the law as legal code is repudiated (‘circumcision is nothing’) and replaced by the commands of God, that is, apostolic instruction (‘keeping God’s commands’). We see the same pattern in 1 Corinthians 9:21: ‘To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.’ We also see reappropriation as prophecy in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 and reappropriation as wisdom in 1 Corinthians 5:13 and 9:24.

Evidently, Paul does not think his utter repudiation and radical replacement of the Law of Moses entails its complete redundancy. The question to ask in these cases is not which bits of the law are still useful, but in what sense is the law valuable for Christians. In short, Christians are instructed by the law, but not as Jewish law. Instead, Paul models reading the Law of Moses as prophecy and as wisdom. (40-41)

In his letter Paul undertakes a polemical rereading of the Law of Moses, which involves not only a repudiation and rejection of the law as ‘law-covenant’ and its replacements by other things, but also a reappropriation of the law ‘as prophecy’ and ‘as wisdom’. (44)

In summary Paul’s approach to the law of Moses includes:

  • repudiation
  • replacement
  • reappropriation as prophecy
  • reappropriation as wisdom

Paul and the Law is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Marcus Peter Johnson on adoption

Marcus Peter Johnson has some helpful comments on adoption in his book One with Christ which I recently reviewed.

‘The term translated “adoption” in the New Testament is unique to Paul’s letters. The Greek term is huiothesia, which Paul uses five times (Rom. 8:15; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). It is a compound of huios (“son”) and thesis (“placing”), and could be literally rendered “placed as sons,” although there is some disagreement among biblical scholars about how best to translate it.’ (157)

‘There may indeed be some merit in attempting to understand Paul’s use of huiothesia against the cultural-linguistic backdrop of his day, but there is compelling reason to think that his use of the term was influenced far more my theological considerations than cultural ones. In other words. when Paul speaks of Christians as “placed as son,” he has at the forefront of his mind our being place in the Son, Jesus Christ.’ (157)

‘As such, Paul is not “reaching” for cultural analogies as conceptual bridges to explain what it means that we are adopted by God; rather, he is working with a more basic theological notion: the Father-son relationship that is intrinsic to God’s own being, and which we come to share by incorporation into Christ.’ (157)

The fact that God adopts us and we thereby become children of God is based in the reality of God’s own relationship with his Son. It is not a reality that is derived from God external to himself – a category of blessing that God creates outside of the Father-Son relationship internal to his being – but an existence that is derived from within God’s communal being as Father and son. That is exactly what is so stunning about adoptive sonship – it is sharing in the Son’s own relationship with the Father: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father.” (John 14:21) There is no adoption, no other way to be children of God, no experience of the fatherly love of God except through the Father’s love for his only begotten Son.’ (150)

 

One with Christ is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Making a Meal of It

Here’s an article I wrote some time ago on meals and mission for UCCF which has also appeared on the Theology Network site.

How did the Son of Man come? Luke 19:10 and Mark 10:45 tell us why he came – to seek and save the lost; to give his life as a ransom for many. But how did he come? What was his modus operandi? Preaching? Healing? Teaching? He certainly did those things. But Jesus himself says ‘the Son of Man came eating and drinking’ (Luke 7:34). Eating and drinking – a lot. New Testament scholar Robert Karris says: ‘In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.’ So much so that his enemies accuse him of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ – someone who eats too much and drinks too much. ‘The Son of Man’ is a reference to the representative of God’s people who comes in glory before the Ancient of Days to receive authority over all nations (Daniel 7). What is the Son of Man doing when he comes to earth? The Jews expected him to come with a bang, defeating God’s enemies and vindicating his people. Instead he shares a meal.

Meals are a powerful of expression of welcome and friendship in every culture. This is why Jesus’ meals are so significant – they embody God’s grace and enact God’s mission. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were traitors not only to the nation, but also traitors towards God for they were collaborators with the Gentile occupiers who had defiled God’s holy land. So the table companions of Jesus led the Pharisees to conclude that he couldn’t be from God (Luke 5:30; 7:39; 15:1–2). A reasonable conclusion – unless God’s grace is so amazing that it allows him to eat with his enemies and unless God’s grace explodes all our expectations (Luke 5:27–39). Meals are central to the mission of Jesus because they embody and enact the grace of God.
Meals still have this power today. What was true in the culture of first century Palestine is still true in the present day universities and colleges of Britain.

In Luke 14 Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee. He suggests we shouldn’t invite our friends to our parties. Instead we should invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind’ (Luke 14:13). Why? Because God himself invites ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’ (Luke 14:21) to his great banquet. Our experience of God’s grace should shape our mission. Often we do things for the needy, which is good. However, it puts us in a position of superiority – we are able; they are unable. We may proclaim grace, but it’s readily interpreted as ‘you should be like me’. But what happens when we eat together? We share food as friends. We sit at the same level around the table. Then we can talk about our shared need of God’s grace. We love to run projects, but nobody wants to be someone’s ‘project’. They want friendship.

It’s not just that the table is a great context for community and mission. Food is central to who we are, how we relate to God and to the story of salvation.

Food reminds us of our dependence on other people. We are tied into a network of farmers, traders, shopkeepers, cooks, families, traditions of gastronomy. Above all we are dependent on God. We are finite beings who need sustenance to sustain us. We need to ‘refuel’. But food is so much more than fuel. Think of all your favourite foods. Steak and chips. Thai green curry. Crumble and custard. It didn’t have to be this way – biscuits would have sufficed to sustain our lives. But God is ridiculously lavish in his creativity and generosity. God’s first act after creating humanity was to present us with a menu: the fruit of all the trees in the garden. Every meal is an opportunity to receive God’s good gifts with thankfulness – perhaps we need to refresh the practice of saying ‘grace’ before meals as an expression of our dependence and God’s generosity – and food is an opportunity for human creativity and generosity in the image of the Creator.

But food is also at the heart of our rejection of God. The very first act of rebellion was an act of eating. Ever since that time, our relationship with food often goes wrong because our relationship with God has gone wrong. We find comfort in food instead of refuge in God. We use food – or avoid food – to make ourselves desirable so others worship us. Our fractured relationships and greed mean many in our world go without food. We over eat. We under eat. Food is integral to our humanity, so it’s no surprise to find that our brokenness shows up in our relationship to food.

Against this backdrop of food-gone-wrong, God promises a feast. Again and again in the Bible salvation is pictured as a feast with God. When God leads the Israelites out of Egypt, the leaders of the people are invited up to Mount Sinai to eat and drink with God (Exodus 24:9–11). The rescue from slavery in Egypt – the defining act of Israelite identity – is itself commemorated in a meal, the meal of Passover. At the high point of Israelite history, in the reign of Solomon, we are told ‘the people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy’ (1 Kings 4:20). Even when things begin to unravel, God promises another meal on a mountain, ‘a feast of rich food for all people’ (Isaiah 25:6–8). On this occasion death itself will be on the menu and God will swallow it up. This is an eternal feast that no one need ever leave. Jesus provides a foretaste of this feast when he feeds the five thousand. Here is a feast which need never end. Indeed there’s more food at the end than there was at the beginning. It’s a pointer to the fulfilment of God’s promise: that one day we will feast forever in his presence.

So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent God’s coming world. But at same time they give that new reality substance. They’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff, it’s not ideas. It’s something you put in your mouth, something you taste, something you eat. And meals are more than food – they’re social occasions that represent friendship, community, welcome.

Our invitation to the feast of God comes at a price: the precious blood of Jesus his Son. We are outsiders, enemies, excluded. But Jesus takes the judgment we deserve. He becomes the ultimate outsider – pushed out of the world onto the cross; forsaken by his Father. As a result we become insiders, friends, included. The invitation goes out to all.

It’s not an accident that at the heart of what it means to be the church is a meal. Jesus told us to remember him not in a pattern of words, but in a meal (scholars believe communion was celebrated in the early church as part of a meal).

The film Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a girl, Olive, who by default gets through to the regional final of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. So her dysfunctional family head off in their dysfunctional van. She’s a fat girl with big glasses about to enter a beauty contest. At one point Olive says: ‘I don’t want to be a loser because Daddy hates losers.’ Her father is a failed motivational speaker and his conversation consists of clichéd aphorisms that berate people for being losers. The irony, of course, is that he’s a loser and his family are losers. At one point he says, ‘There are two kinds of people in this world: winners and losers.’ On the word ‘losers’ the camera pans round his family: his foul-mouthed father, his suicidal, homosexual brother-in-law, his son who refuses to speak, his down-trodden wife, desperately trying to hold them all together, and himself, the failed businessman who can’t face his failure. And they’re thrown together in a VW van, which is itself dysfunctional – the door falls off, the horn is constantly on and they must push start it every time.

I sometimes look round my congregation and see a bunch of dysfunctional people thrown together, somehow managing to be family. And I smile at the ridiculous grace of God. There’s a moment in the film when they suddenly realise Olive isn’t in the van. They’ve left her behind at a gas station. We see the van moving across the screen in one direction and they whisk her up into it, without stopping (because if they stop they won’t be able to restart it). Then we see the van moving back across in the other direction and we hear the father’s voice: ‘No-one gets left behind, no-one gets left behind.’ That’s the church: the place where no-one gets left behind.

We live in a graceless culture. A culture of competition in which we’re all trying to get ahead. A culture of insecurity in which we’re all trying to prove ourselves. A culture of spite in which we hold grudges, envy success, protect ourselves. In this culture our shared meals offer a moment of grace. A sign of something different. A pointer to God’s coming world. ‘Life in the kingdom,’ says Peter Leithart, ‘demands that we adopt a new set of table manners, and as we observe this etiquette, we become increasingly civilized according to the codes of the city of God.’ Around the table we offer friendship and celebrate life. Our meals offer a divine moment – an opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life, a more human existence.

Jesus ate meals with people. If we routinely share meals and we have a passion for Jesus then we’ll almost certainly end up doing mission. It’s not that meals alone save people, people are saved through the gospel message. But meals create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what we’re saying.

One of the great things about mission through meals is that it enfranchises the people of God. We don’t have to understand missiological jargon or hold a crowd with our oratory. We don’t even need to be able to cook. We just need to be people who eat and people who love Jesus.

I’m not suggesting adding something new to your all too busy schedule. You already eat three meals a day – that’s twenty-one ready-made opportunities each week to do mission and community. You could meet up with another Christian for breakfast on the way to work – read the Bible together, offer accountability, pray for one another. You could meet up with colleagues at lunchtime. You could invite your neighbours over for a meal – better still invite them over with another family from church. That way you get to do mission and Christian community at the same time – all the while letting your unbelieving neighbours see the way the gospel impacts our relationships as Christians (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21).

Francis Schaeffer says:

Don’t start with a big programme. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community … You don’t need a big programme. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin.

My book A Meal with Jesus is available here from amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

Obstacles to prayer

In his book, Praying in the Spirit, John Bunyan identifies five obstacles to prayer:

  1. When men regard iniquity in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God … (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31) …
  2. When men pray for show, to be heard, and thought somebody in religion … (Matthew 6:7) …
  3. When either men pray for wrong things, or if for right things, yet that the thing prayed for might be spent upon their lusts, and laid out to wrong ends … (James 4:2-4) …
  4. [Prayers] made by men, and presented to God in their own persons only, without their appearing in the Lord Jesus … (John 14:13-15; 15:16; 16:23-26) …
  5. The last thing that hinders prayer is, the form of it without the power … These men are like a painted man, and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and their prayers are an abomination (Proverbs 28:9 … Hosea 7:14). (49-53)

John Bunyan, Prayer, Banner of Truth is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Praying in the Spirit

John Bunyan wrote a book on praying in the Spirit. He said: ‘There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by assistance of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray.’ ‘There is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer.’ ‘The soul that rightly prays, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it.’ He explains:

O how great a task it is, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith but this one world, “Father!” … O! says he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God’s people for this very thing, to cry Abba, Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it.

Without the Spirit we wouldn’t pray. Do an experiment with me. Every day for a month ask the Queen for something. Wherever you are, speak out loud a request to the Queen. I suspect you won’t keep it up for a month because it’s a futile exercise. Try it now. Say out loud, ‘Hello your Majesty. Could I have an invitation to Buckingham Palace?’ It feels stupid. For one thing, she’s not there with you. What’s the point of asking for something when she can’t hear you? And even if she was in the room with you, her likely response would be, ‘Who are you?’ Or perhaps she would just call security to have you removed. She might respond to one of her children, but you have no claim on her.

Why doesn’t prayer feel like this? The answer is that we have the Holy Spirit. When we pray we feel connected to the Father because that’s what’s happening – the Spirit is connecting us to the Father. When we pray we feel the Father hears us because the Spirit assures us that he is our Father (Romans 8:14-16). If the Spirit wasn’t at work in your heart then you just wouldn’t pray. Every time you tried to pray you would feel like a mad man ranting in the street or a child talking to their imaginary friend.

But we do pray, we can pray, we should pray because the Spirit assures that God is our Father who longs to hear us. The Spirit of God enables us to share the experience of sonship that God the Son experiences. That is a glorious gift of grace. It means confidence, intimacy and joy.

Adapted from Tim Chester, You Can Pray, which is available from Amazon.com and ThinkIVP.

John Bunyan, Prayer, Banner of Truth is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.