Archive for

March, 2012



1 comment

Picture a tug-of-war. A rope that’s being pulled by both ends. One word describes that situation: tension.

Image credit: Andy Beercroft, re-used under CC license

And we’re often in a similar situation, where we have to choose between two opposing things. Where we’re being pulled in one direction by comfort and habit, and in the other by a calling. This can take many forms – being friendly vs challenging someone; living in sin vs dealing with it; etc. But at the root of it, where there is a tension, it is because there is a hidden, but deep knowledge of what should be done. There is always a sin vs calling dichotomy.

That tension feels natural.

It isn’t. Sin is not natural, and while we do live in a fallen world, sin should have no hold over us.

That tension can be dangerous.

You can snap. Regardless of the direction you snap in – whether it is towards the “healthy” calling, or towards the ways of habit – it will be ugly.
If the snapping causes you to go back to sin, the loss is obvious. If it causes you to abandon your past ways, there will be parts of yourself – for instance, old friends, old hobbies – that will stay behind: a chunk of the rope entirely in the hands of the sin team.

It can also be helpful.

It can lead you to explore different areas of your faith. It can highlight areas of your life that are holding you back. Thanks to that tension, you can grow stronger in your faith and give over more to God.

What you shouldn’t do:

Add more hands to what you see as the “healthy” side. This only increases the risk of snapping.
Simply forget the tension exists/has existed. For one thing, there are probably others who live with similar tensions to yours. Knowing where you are/have been and being open about it helps build real relationships and will help those with similar tensions. And while tension can be helpful, it is only so when you are conscious it exists.
Moan about the tension. Like I said, there are ways in which that tension can be helpful. But by just talking about how difficult it is to deal with that tension, you’re not actually dealing with it.

What you can do:

Talk to someone about it – not to justify your tension, but rather to make it into something that is not inevitable – something that is tangible and which you can work on.
Realise the tension isn’t natural, and welcome God to remove those hands that are pulling the “sinful” side. There is something quite powerful in the Lord’s prayer there: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil“.

Self-worth, hospitality and evangelism

no comments

Today, when hearing about church action and church hospitality in the student context, something along those lines came up:

“When they come to a Christian circle, students find people who are genuinely interested in who they are”

My first reaction was “that’s great!” And true enough, without that, there can be no real relationship. No connection – and therefore no discipleship. I even blogged about the importance of relationship over argument-based evangelism some time ago.

In the context of today’s talk, though, it got me thinking that we’re considering “genuine interest” as something others are looking for – a magnet for lonely students*. But what if you have low self-esteem and feel your life is basically a succession of failures? Would you want people to be interested in that?
For instance: I’m a PhD student. People sometimes ask me what I’m working on. It is a question I dreaded – and yet people were only trying to be nice by asking it. The reason I dreaded that was that I felt my research was (a) boring (but that can be overcome by people who show genuine interest) and (b) completely worthless (methodological nitpicking). It is the famous impostor syndrome. This happened to me, and yet I don’t see myself as a particularly insecure person. It can genuinely happen to anyone, and not just about worklife. To people in that situation, regardless of how genuine interest is, it is scary.

In other words, the question I’m asking is where does genuine interest turn into scrutiny – not in your own eyes, but in the eyes of the person you’re trying to welcome?

Self-worth issues within Christianity can be seen as “covered by grace”: we’re not worthy anyway, but then, none of us are, not even “to gather the crumbs under God’s table”. No, we’re not deserving of God’s love – and it’s quite healthy to remember that. But it does not mean we are not worthy of each other’s love. Yet I would assume (and I’m saying that without any qualification on the topic, so please do correct me if I’m wrong) that for people already struggling with self-worth, that particular message will echo in a very strong way, and ultimately be harmful both to the person’s health and to their access to the Gospel.

So how do we make sure that, when we’re trying to build up a relationship, it stops short of unwelcome scrutiny or does not bring about undesirable feelings of worthlessness?

*ok, that’s a caricature, and the interest is genuine. But there’s a reason why we mention it when we talk about outreach…

10 reasons why leading people is like making a pot of tea


Image credit: Phoenix Han, reused under CC license

1. Different blends suit different people. Do not assume what worked with someone will also work with someone else!

2. When you’re making a teapot, you make it both for others and for yourself. In the same way, your leadership style needs to be suitable both to your personality and to the personality of those you follow.

3. Different blends suit different times of the day and different moods. Even when you know people’s tastes, you won’t start off their day with a Lapsang Souchong*. In the same way, be sensitive of people’s personal struggles, joys and adapt your message so that your love and care shine through.

4. A dash of milk does make a cuppa better – but ultimately, you’re not in control of how your guests will take your tea. In the same way, people may take your leadership in the way you intended, or change it (for better or for worse). Respect that!

5. Rinsing the pot with hot water (and warming it at the same time) makes the tea a lot better. Leadership is not something you do on a whim. It is much better when it’s not improvised.

6. Making and drinking tea is a pretext to sharing a good time with others. In the same way, leading people is not an end in itself, but only worth it inasmuch as it challenges and changes people you ultimately care for.

7. Patience is key, or else you’ll find your leadership very weak. Let your ideas brew enough for people to be changed, and challenged by your leadership. But don’t let them brew for so long your message becomes bitter!

8. Once it’s ready, don’t put off giving it to your guests. Tea is best hot. People won’t drink cold tea. In the same way, people won’t follow a message that’s no longer relevant to them – regardless of how carefully and lovingly it’s been prepared!

9. Some people will prefer coffee. You’ll always find heretics who won’t welcome your leadership.

10. Letting tea go to waste is sacrilege. So just don’t. In the same way, don’t let your leadership skills go to waste. Respond to God’s calling.

*why you would ever make Lapsang Souchong is beyond my understanding, but ah well…

Praying with others


There is a large extent to which I used to have issues with praying out loud. To me, prayer was (and still is) between God and me, and there was little point in sharing that moment with others. On the contrary, it seemed to me that, in praying out loud, I was more trying to conform to my small group’s expectations: that I was praying in order to be seen to be praying.

Matthew 6:5-6 is of little comfort there:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (ESV)

And yet we have prayer meetings, pray out loud, whether in church or in small groups. Here’s some reasons why:

1. The prayer flows more naturally, and has a more natural close. Speaking the prayer forces your mind to slow down and be fully concentrated on the prayer.

2. It helps build others up.

3. It brings discipline in your own prayer practice. If only because you arrange to pray with others regularly.

4. It brings accountability to your prayer practice. People remember what you pray for, and will ask you how that went. You will know when to push through with prayer.

5. “Praying for” something or someone is vague. With other people praying with you, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, more aspects will be covered.

These reasons have helped me appreciate corporate prayer and rid me of the feeling that I complied with the practice as a hypocrite. Praying with others for the sake of being seen praying is, obviously, wrong. Praying is not a tickbox on a behavioural list.

But if you are in that place where you are  not sure why you say some of your prayers, push through – it will end up making your prayer life much richer.

It’s ok to be afraid


Some of the Bible’s most encouraging verses tell us not to be afraid – that God is with us. Some argue the fear of God is the only good fear.

This can lead people to a feeling of inadequacy or worthlessness.

Leaders, especially, should not be afraid… because they know they can rest on the Lord, and should set a good example of a peaceful heart. And they should exhort their followers to show no fear and a complete boldness in everything they undertake.


Image: Wil Wheaton, reused under CC license

God knows us perfectly. He knows our fears, and he knows how to deal with them if and when appropriate. Look at what he says to Gideon:

“But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.” (Judges 7:10, ESV).

Gideon does not try to look tough in front of God. He does not try to pretend he’s not afraid. He takes God’s advice, acknowledges his own fear and goes down to the camp.

In the same way, we should not try to pretend we’re not afraid: it can only lead to that fear taking hold of us, or to a feeling of undue pride and self-importance.

Conversely, though, we should recognise when our “fear” is a lie. When it is simply disguising laziness or fickleness in front of a decision. The fact that God knows us and loves us and is on our side means that he will deal with our fear, if it is real, in due time.

Ever since I started to feel a call towards ministry, I have felt the fear that I was mistaken. That I wouldn’t be up to the task. God has dealt with that fear, in many various ways (including making me stumble upon a few great bloggers – thanks Ben; and including leading me to certain parts of Scripture). But still now, I sometimes feel like I’m afraid to make the wrong decision. That fear is a lie – it is simply a way for me to justify putting off decisions; and recognising it helps.

Which of your fears are lies? Which are real?