Calm down my worrying heart

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When I toss back and forth in my bed
And a hundred thoughts run through my mind
When the night feels like an eternity
And my worries too many to bear
I look to the one who calms my heart
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I worry of that which I cannot change
My fears run to a future so uncertain
It looks bleak and feels like the end
So I toss again with hopelessness
And I cannot calm my worrying heart
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I could toss all night and change nothing
I wet my sheets with my tears for nothing
Perhaps if I knew the future I could do something
But it’s not mine to know or change
Mine only is to surrender my heart to him
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So I give you this little heart and my worries
I offer my pain and distress as a sacrifice
Take it, Lord, as a pleasing aroma of my worship
I surrender this my heart and mind to you
For only you can calm this worrying heart
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It’s another night and fear looms in the dark
A new day comes and new problems are born
Where can I run far away to peace everlasting?
I will hide in the arms of my loving Father
The one who calms down my worrying heart
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Christian, don’t waste this Pandemic!

Title borrowed from John Piper’s book, Don’t waste your Life.

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If as Christians we believe that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 then we need to ask whether we are missing the good out of this Pandemic?

It’s inconceivable to the human mind that anything good would come out of tragedy but church history since the Exodus to the Cross and the birth of the early church proves it happens this way. Suffering is the gateway to Christian growth and will ultimately usher in eternal glory with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

It was Jesus suffering and death in the hands of evil religious leaders and a cowardly ruler that bought us eternal joy and salvation. The groom and darkness of that Friday birthed the precious Easter Sunday. We were reconciled to the Father and given the hope of eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus from this life of suffering and death is the foundation of our faith and what informs how we live now. Otherwise, as Paul says:

… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15.

So going by this foundation it means death won’t be the end of us. Our hope of resurrection goes beyond the threat of diseases and economic breakdown. Those things will affect us and to some of us worse than others but they won’t steal our hope. On the contrary, God can use this time to shape us to be more like Christ in his sufferings. To grow in the flames of suffering in our love and trust for God if we align ourselves with his plan and purposes.

This could turn out to be a memorable time of Church growth numerically and in regard to its discipleship. But it could also be a time of great confusion and backsliding if we focus on the bad, the uncertain and forget our sovereign Lord is still in control. My cry is that we won’t waste this time but make the most use of it to live for Jesus as we always ought to as strangers in this world.

To turn to God in prayer. Seek to grow in our knowledge and love for Jesus and his Word. Seek to expand his kingdom by our witness in word and deed. To look at the fields as Jesus would say and see it’s ripe for harvest:

I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. John 4

This is the time to reach out to friends and family with the Gospel truth and Gospel love. It’s the time to soak in fellowship with God in our devotion and prayer. It’s time to model family devotion and fellowship. It’s time to learn Biblical reflection. Time to encourage one another with the life-giving truths of the Gospel. Time to create and develop good spiritual disciplines. Time to preach. As Steve Lawson echoed;

There has never been a greater hour to preach the gospel. The darker the night, the brighter the light.

We don’t know how long this COVID-19 will take before a cure is found or we recover from it. And we should continue praying for a cure and be wise in controlling it’s spread. But as Christians, we should also make the most use of the time as we live for King Jesus even in this.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5.

Why praise as you pray?

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Why praise as you pray?

This is a question I should have asked when they taught me the ABC of prayer as a young Christian. But back then I didn’t think it was right to question matters of faith as that would seem like a sign of doubt or unbelief. But now I know God would have wanted me to ask that question because he’s interested not with my blind faith but with my Biblically informed faith and trust in him.

So why then do we praise as or before we pray? Is it that God just loves being praised? Is this how we bribe him so he can act on our behalf? Why did Jesus teach his disciples to start with honoring God’s name in the Lord’s Prayer? David in the Psalms and the apostles all seem to adopt this approach when they write their prayers. Is it merely a tradition?  We’ve actually adopted this in our Sunday service where we start with praise songs, thanksgiving prayer before we make our requests before God. It’s a great tradition but I’m afraid to some this could be just a tradition, something they do without stopping to ask why this is the case.

Why pray at all?

Perhaps the bigger question is why we pray at all? Why pray when God knows our needs and is able to do it without us asking? And my best attempt on that is to say that prayer isn’t actually a transaction between us and God. Though it’s about God and about bringing him our needs, it has a lot more merits for us in building our faith and trust in God. This means prayer will benefit you regardless of the outcome because prayer is our exercise of faith. It means not once does a Christian pray and leave empty-handed even if God didn’t answer that prayer as they wanted. There are times I have gone before God with my needs, desperately wanting him to act on my behalf only for him to do this by strengthening my faith in him. Sometimes I come out of this and my needs are still before me but my confidence in God is reassured.

I believe this is the reason why praise needs to come before or as we pray because prayer has more to do with our confidence in God than simply getting our needs sorted. We need to know we can trust him before we bring him our requests. Praise changes our perspective because it reminds us of who God is and what he has done. By the time we finish praising him, we should have no doubt that he’s a good God who is able to do far more than we think or imagine. We should be soaked in his merits that our needs seem like nothing before him. And by the time we make our requests, our faith in him is already strengthened. As a matter of fact, I would say, our greatest prayer is already answered when we do this. Our trust and confidence in God are re-established when we praise him.

How do we praise him rightly?

But how do we praise God in a Biblical and genuine way without simply buttering him with words as pagans do? As I said, remember this isn’t merely a transaction to get what you want but a gift from God to build your faith. So how do we do this in the right way?

I’ll say we need to know and believe in God’s Word like David, Jesus and the apostles did. Their prayers are full of Bible language because prayer is speaking back to God in response to his Word. God delights when his people take him by his word and in prayer echo what they believe. But I don’t simply mean that you know the Bible so you can quote it back like a lawyer in a courthouse.  I mean what Paul says in Colossians 3:16 :

 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

This will take careful and disciplined meditation of God’s Word in your devotion, through sermons, Bible fellowship and through good Biblical songs. It’s what David teaches us in Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Start where you are

I hope and pray that this will lead you to praise and pray more with confidence. You don’t have to wait until you have studied the whole Bible to do this. You just need to start by meditating on what you are reading in your devotion or from a faithful sermon.

Praise God for what he has said in his Word, for what he’s teaching us about himself and what he’s done for us in Jesus. I have been doing my devotion in the book of Psalms and they are a great way to do this but I’m sure you can do the same with any other book of the Bible. I pray that God will give you the requests of your heart as you turn to pray. But above all, I pray that he will grow your faith as you focus on him, his character and his deeds as ultimately reflected in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3. 

 

Faithful disciples precede gifted Bible teachers

They say experience is the best teacher and although that’s a dangerous way to learn there’s truth in this. You can be good in theory but the practice is the real test. When I started training to do Gospel ministry I used to try work out some of the things that would be challenging in my future ministry and think of how my Gospel conviction might inform these. I thought of where I wanted to serve, the kind of church, who to partner with and even the ”fights” I was ready to fight informed by my Gospel conviction.

In all this, I never assumed I might be the biggest challenge to all I wanted to do for the Lord. I thought other people and their sin, perhaps lack of Gospel clarity, good systems and structures were what might hinder my ministry. But increasingly I started realising my sin, my unbelief and unreal expectations are what can hinder me from serving King Jesus wholeheartedly as echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

It’s me who needs the Gospel more for ministry to flourish not just those I teach and work with. It’s me who needs my Gospel conviction to be applied in my day to day living. If I lose this personal battle it doesn’t matter how many external battles I fight well.
I need this body crucified everyday in submission to God and his Word before I call on others to look to the Saviour and do his will.
I need what I know in my head to be what I believe in my heart and what I do with my life. I need the knowledge of the truth that teaches and leads to godly living as Paul instructs Titus:

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness… Titus 1

I recently did a talk on servant leadership and as I prepared for this I realized how I knew this in my head and wanted it in my heart and yet how often I hate to be treated as a servant. What I knew differed with my practice making me a hypocrite. In this situation, it’d be easy to run to Romans 7 and say Paul had a similar experience not always doing what he wanted but I think I shouldn’t be quick with excuses. I need the grace that bears the fruit of the Spirit in my life and not merely the knowledge that acknowledges the fruit I should bear.

I’m helpless on my own and yet I know how powerful the one in me is. He’s the one whose voice made the world and by his breath will one day destroy it. He’s the one who made me into a new creation and the one who works in me by his Spirit. I don’t want to hide my failure but rather present my weakness to him who works in me and through me.
I call for his help to work out this salvation in fear and trembling. To make me not just a teacher but his faithful disciple. That I might preach and teach what I truly believe in. Because like Paul I don’t want to guide others to the prize and later be disqualified:

27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9.

Running the race with Jesus

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On Saturday, I sat comfortably to watch Eliud Kipchoge attempt his 1:59 marathon challenge. I know I didn’t contribute much but was proud to see him cross the line and achieve his goal. My Facebook wall then became all about this man who seemed to do the impossible and my friends joined the world to cheer fellow man to greatness.

But as I sat there I wondered how this compares to the race that we are in as Christians. I think there’s something very different about the Christian race. You see regardless of all the preparation and help accorded to Eliud by his pacemakers, at the end of the day he was the hero. A lot more depended on him: his readiness, his hashtag philosophy and a constant reminder why he has to make it to the finish line. It was his race and he therefore deserved the honour at the end of line.

But that’s the difference with our Christian race because a lot more depends on another and therefore the glory goes to him.

Our race is motivated and ensured by the one who went ahead of us and is now sitted in victory, Jesus Christ the founder and perfector of our faith as we see Hebrews 12:2:

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Yes there are things we can learn from those like Eliud that have gone ahead of us as we see in Hebrews 11, but the object and power behind our faith lies not in us but in him. The impossible is not overcome by great determination and planning but by dependence on the one who called us and sustains us by his Word.

There’s a call to strive and persevere to the end but as we see in the context of the books of Hebrews all that hinges on knowing and holding fast to Jesus and his Word as we see 2:1:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

You could say that what really determines our Christian success at the end is our view of Jesus, what he has done and is doing in us by his Word. And when we win the race it’s him not us who will have won it.

This gives me great encouragement because I don’t think I need to be like super Eliud however much I admire the man. What I need is my eyes on God’s Word to see Jesus for who he is and my knees on the floor to call on him assured that only he can help me in my weaknesses, 2:18:

18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

And I know I will make it because he will achieve it in me as I hold fast to him and his Word.

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A leap in the dark?

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3 years ago I set on a journey to leave friends and family behind for a life abroad that I had only seen in missionary journals mixed with some television drama.

Some would say it was a leap in the dark, a step of faith. But looking back I beg to disagree. Not least because this turned out to be the most instrumental years of my life but as I learned from God’s Word, it never really is a leap when we know the God we have believed.

Starting a new friendship, getting married and a new job overseas might be a leap but not trusting God. One of the things that have amazed me this year studying the Bible Overview and Mark’s Gospel is how much God has amassed in his Word not only to help us know him but help us believe and continue believing in him. To me, it’s an undeserved blessing and one we rarely recognize or praise him for. It’s almost as if God knew how stiff-necked we can be! That even with all the facts and evidence on the table, we would need more to deal with our hard, sinful hearts.

I have been struck by how much one can know about God and yet not believe in him. The mind can be full and the heart as hard until God does his life-giving work. But it’s not just a one-time miracle that stops at our Christian birth, he is doing this miracle in every day of our Christian life.

Nothing pains me more than seeing my sinful craving despite all the wonders of God’s revelation. It’s more than foolishness that I would settle for the temporary that is vanishing away when I can have the permanent glorious reality. But I see it all the time and not just in others but I hear the lies linger in my ear and my sinful heart is drawn to them. I’m convinced that if I didn’t have God at work in me by his Word then I would fall like a man who never heard of God before.

So this is my joy and conviction as I set forth in the unknown if you like, that I have a friend who will never leave me. One who will carry me by his Word to his eternal home. I dare not trust my knowledge or my weak strength but in the one who never fails.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40.

Trusting in him is not a leap in the dark. It’s only a leap when I trust in my own strength. It would be a great step of faith if I trusted my knowledge, even my own knowledge about God and the Bible. But since I have the God of the universe by my side, at work in my heart by his Word and leading me on the way then I have the full assurance to live for him now ahead of living with him forever.

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No more Pain!

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No more pain!

No more pain is what I expected after seeing my dentist. That finally I could fall asleep quickly and not constantly be aware of my teeth. Time to do away with the painkillers if only for a time. Who knew something so small could cause such discomfort.

While in pain we realise the weakness of these bodies that we treasure so much and see the reality of life in this world. We groan, toss in bed and cry to God whether we believe in him or not. And at that point we realise that we are not invincible despite what the world sells to us on TV. I know I’m not. 

But mostly we just want pain to disappear and stop interrupting our daily lives. Who has time to be sick in this rat race? Not forgetting how much it may cost us in time.

Pain and death are not unnecessary disruptions but reminders that all is not well with our world.

But sometimes, I wonder whether we have become so glued to the cycle of our daily lives that we have forgotten we live in a broken world. That we live in a world where people don’t always get to do what they want. That pain and death are not unnecessary disruptions but reminders that all is not well with our world. This is the world we live in: a world of pain and death.

Living in hope

But I shouldn’t use tooth pain and my headaches to generalize or undermine this matter. Many are suffering in ways most of us will never understand. The last thing they need is someone to say their pain doesn’t matter as we live in a broken world.

For us pain is not an end in itself but a reminder we are not yet at home until our Lord Jesus returns.

But without seeing the problem we wouldn’t appreciate or even understand the solution God gives in his Word. For that’s precisely why Christians long and yearn for the new world God promised in the Bible. For us, pain is not an end in itself but a reminder that we are not yet at home until the Lord Jesus returns. Then will live without pain and death in the new creation:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21.

Some will say visit a GP and move on with life. Face life, deal with your losses and move on. Live to the fullest while you still can. But I think such people miss the opportunity that pain and death teach us about the reality of life on earth and the amazing hope we can have in Jesus. When we talk of living to the fullest in this world we must bear in mind such weaknesses. It’s a broken world after all.

What’s more, we are so busy to move on that we forget we are actually moving on to the grave. We are so quick to get on with life and tick off our bucket lists that we never stop to ask where this road is headed. If we did I think we would pay more attention to what God has to say in his word in response to this broken state of affairs.

Pain-free, yes, please!

What if there’s more? What if we can truly live, not in the momentary comfort we crave in this life but truly live without ever worrying about pain and death? What if we can have it all and much more? The Bible claims that such a future awaits those who turn to trust and wait on God:

7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

9 In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Isaiah 25.

What the Christian faith offers is not just what we all desperately crave but more: eternal life with the God who made us. A world of abundant blessings, peace with God and without pain and death.

Taking your life seriously 

Perhaps all we can do for now is to visit a dentist and see a GP. But before we run back to our busy life why not stop to consider the claims of the Christian faith.The offer of eternal life is a free gift to those who would turn to trust and live for King Jesus now. Do not dismiss this without further investigation, turn to him by faith or at least reconsider:

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you (Israel) did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness…Hebrews 3. 

 

Have you even considered this could be true? Not the stories you heard growing up or in religious debates. But have you thoroughly investigated the message of the Bible for yourself as an adult? You owe it to yourself to care about your eternal future.

If this is true, then pain and death is not your worst nightmare. No, you are wasting your life in a cycle of events that will be the end of you. And the worst is yet to come. Not to scare you but to tell you the plain reading of the Bible.

Pain is not purposeless when we see it from the eye of God’s Word. Let your pain count for something greater than momentary comfort.

To find out more: I would suggest going to a Bible teaching church, perhaps start by reading a Gospel account and asking questions as you read through. Let the Word convince you. And if this is something you would be interested in investigating further then please ask a Christian friend or inbox me for more details.

Pain is not purposeless when we see it from the eye of God’s Word. Let your pain count for something greater than momentary comfort.

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Hear me oh frail heart!

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You amaze me how easily you worry

How much you get scared over small affairs

Don’t you know who you are?

Have you now forgotten your identity?

Hear me oh frail heart; the Lord is in control!

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You do have many things to worry about

For there’s no end in man’s fears

But not with you my heart

No for your trust is not in you

But in the one who fails not

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How you surprise me dear heart!

Do you know your God truly?

Don’t you understand his power?

At least to know he’s always in control?

You of all people shouldn’t fear

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Come to me now and let’s talk

Hear the wisdom of all ages

The Lord your God is sovereign

Nothing happens without his control

Fear him and nothing else

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Oh little frail heart, hear me out now;

Though there be a hundred things to worry

None of them should scare you at all

Fear God only and fear nothing else

For he’s in control and forever sovereign

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