Archive for

June, 2012


Rejecting growth?


Growth is natural. Where there is no growth, there is wilting and ultimately death. This is as true of the physical realm as of the spiritual realm.

Photo credit: Danya Bateman, reused under CC license

Looking back, there have been a number of events which made me grow up. Big steps, if you like. But most of the time, the growth was incidental: sometimes I didn’t choose to go through what I went through; and sometimes I got involved in some activities because I thought I could be useful there. How those activities would change me was never present in my mind. There is one salient exception to this – one time where I was specifically seeking change, but “all” I did then was pray about it: there was no effort or drive in that willingness.

In the past year, though, I started to consciously and consistently seek growth. It was tough at the start. Growth is scary, because with growth comes differentiation, and therefore the fear of going down the wrong track. It is scary, because of misplaced feelings of inadequacy: because my growth requires both my own and other people’s investment. What if I’m squandering other people’s resources? is a question I’ve asked myself a fair few times recently, although this may simply be an expression of my reluctance to grow.
But I ended up going for it. I applied for a gap year type scheme, after much deliberation and prayer. Even though that fell through (due to the uncertainty associated with being a doctoral student), it was the trigger in a chain of decisions that came later. For the past few months, I’ve said yes to pretty much every opportunity to move forward, and got involved in – even sometimes started – some activities deliberately to gain some experience and simply go further.

I ended up being at a state where I’d say yes for the sake of saying yes – not out of a misplaced feeling of obligation, but because I was indiscriminately welcoming all opportunities for growth, particularly where church was involved. I got a phone call about a new project, and said I was interested before stopping and thinking of it in terms of where it would lead me; and it is only after a few days of prayer that I realised it wasn’t “for me”, even though it was an opportunity for growth.
I rejected growth: I said no for the first time in a few months, and not on simple, practical grounds.

But I did not reject growth altogether: I still grow in other projects, and keep on seeking growth elsewhere. I got involved in other projects I potentially would have neglected otherwise. This was pruning, not restraining.

And sometimes, that’s necessary – for growth.

How do you seek growth?

How do you cope with saying “no” to those golden opportunities?

What does it mean… worship?


“Worship” is one of those words we use, and think we know… but it is also one of those I find really hard to translate into French. And that’s because there’s no equivalent: the French would tend to use “adoration”. So I have found myself in the situation where I have to explain what “worship” is. And I struggled. So I asked my friends on twitter and face-to-face, but their answers generally didn’t tell me much about the essence of worship. That should have told me I was looking in the wrong place, but I think I got there eventually.

Photo credit: Mauro Cateb, under CC license.

So here’s a few thoughts I picked up along the way:

  • The Greek word used for “worship” in most instances in the New Testament is proskuneo. The translation is a bit contentious: one I’ve read is “to lean forward to kiss”, which conjures up, in today’s society, images of two close friends greeting each other. Other translation guides seem to point towards lying down, prostrate, to kiss the feet of a sovereign; and towards the evolution of the word to mean simple submission.
    Regardless of the actual meaning, though, there are  two important elements:
    Pro at the root of proskuneo implies a movement and a direction.
    There is a definite closeness involved in kissing. That should also be the case in worship.
  • The Latin used in some hymns is colo, from which we get the word colony. The first meaning is to cultivate a land, but ultimately, it means properly inhabiting a place. Indwelling brings the idea of closeness to a new level which encompasses our entire being.
Most importantly, though, worship is relational. It is not something that comes from us – the only thing we bring is an attitude of submission which allows us to respond. Worship is then our response: “a feeling of awe and wonder, your mind gets blown away and worship is the response that you can’t control”. That was the first answer I got when I asked people how they defined worship. I wasn’t satisfied because I wanted to be able to look at worship separately from anything else. But I realised such a task is impossible: worship does not make sense in an empty space; it does not mean anything apart from God. It is, first and foremost a response.

This is where modern languages are less helpful. Worship comes from worth-ship: thus worship is about declaring God’s worth (as compared to other things). Worship taken literally is nothing else than magnifying God. The German word used for worship songs means “praise (and prayer)”. The French, as I mentioned above, is the same as “adoration”. None of these mean anything independently of God, but they can be performed in a vacuum.
And it looks to me as though we have lost something in the process. Worship can sometimes be understood as constricted to worship songs, which in turn can be limited to praise, and literally describing God’s worth. Now it is right to give God thanks and praise, but worship is about so much more than that!

How do you see worship?

And, even though I just said worship isn’t just when we sing, singing can help worshipping, so:
what is your favourite worship song?

The benefits of inbox zero


I love GMail – conversation grouping, labels, filters are all great. But one of the tools I’ll use the most is “Archive”. This removes a conversation from my inbox without deleting it. So when I’ve replied to an email, or dealt with whatever it required me to do, the conversation can get archived – leaving the inbox as some form of to-do list.

Emails will always keep on coming – but my inbox count becomes a nice, quick indicator of whether I’m letting emails pile up too much. So I would never be happy with more than 50 conversations in the inbox: this would generally trigger a culling of the inbox, until I was satisfied – generally with fewer than 20, sometimes 10 conversations left.

A couple of weeks ago, and for the first time since I set up the account, I reached Inbox Zero. The Holy Grail of email management. That’s not “Zero unread”, that’s “Zero I need to do something about”. Going for that absolute has had one very positive consequence:

Before, when I would get an email difficult to answer (because it’d make me look weak, or lazy, or simply because it was a complicated answer to give), I’d think “right, I’ll leave it in the Inbox and reply later”. The double digit target meant that it would sink to the bottom of those ten and take months before getting answered. I received one such email recently. It didn’t exactly require an answer, but it’s the kind I’d have been unsatisfied with until I’d have given one. Because I wanted to keep Inbox Zero, though, I gave an answer fairly swiftly.

Personal correspondence has been mightily improved too – this webcomic sums up pretty well my personal email habits up till Inbox Zero. Now I’ve had fruitful correspondence with a new friend with many emails exchanged over the past week. I’ve got back in touch with old friends.

Obviously, it means the time I spend on emailing has increased – but it has been massively worth it.

The lesson

Sometimes, we can lead ourselves to believe we’re keeping on top of our lives because we manage to keep our inbox down to single digits. There’s many areas that are concerned: sin, work, relationships, … And yes, to an extent, we are. But this got me thinking: what am I missing out on by letting those old conversations rot and rust at the bottom of my inbox?

What about you? 

10 ways in which the Queen is like Jesus


1. She is only there through her father. Not only does Jesus proceed from God the Father, but the authority he carries he receives from him.

2. It is frightfully easy to live one’s life forgetting she’s in charge. This is particularly true for policy-makers, democratically-elected leaders who present manifestos. But ultimately, they carry out the Queen’s instructions. The laws need to be vetted by the Queen before they come into place. This knowledge of who we work for is all too readily forgotten as we seek our own goals.

3. Her position at the helm is criticised by a vocal and self-centred population, generally on the grounds of “common sense” or “independence”. The Queen is a waste of the taxpayer’s money, they say. There’s no reason that anyone should be in such a position through birth, they say. People should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want (implying, of course, monarchists are stupid or just holding on fast to their old, traditional ways). Can you see a parallel forming here?

4. Her birthday is celebrated on a day on which she wasn’t born. Fact.

5. She is the head of the church. Well. Of a church, but that church has had such an inclusive approach over the past few decades that her role as Defender of the Faith can be seen as far more inclusive than simply concerned with the Church of England.

6. She brings stability to an ever-changing world. The Queen has seen 12 different Prime Ministers, 12 different US presidents, during her sixty years of reign; and has brought both unity and stability to the nation – through her own, unchanging existence, which is embedded into the fabric of England in a variety of ways.

7. She has ordained the manufacturing of tea. And of many other things. Including coffee, weirdly; though everybody knows coffee is the drink of heretics! ;-)

8. She loves all, even those who broke away from the yoke of British monarchy. If you’re reading this from the USA, friends… hint, hint!

9. Her very existence is cause for celebration. Though I’m sure some will disagree with me, this week-end’s celebrations have shown that some people hold that to be true. But do we get as excited about Jesus?

10. Some people only remember her at Christmas. The Queen’s Christmas message is a highlight of the festive season for me, and her love for her people always shines through it. But the rest of the year, except for the last couple of years, she isn’t in the limelight that often.

As I close this post, I feel it necessary to do two things:
a) make it very clear that I am not suggesting in any way, shape or form, that the Queen is God. This post is light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek! Still, I am convinced that some of the parallels can make us relate more easily to our own understanding of our relationship with Christ.
b) congratulate Her Majesty on sixty years of wonderful leadership. May you have a very happy Diamond Jubilee!