James’s Blog: No Rest for the Righteous.

James’s Blog:  No Rest for the Righteous.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about spiritual warfare, it’s that Satan is no gentleman. He isn’t one to say, “Hey, James has had a really rough week. Let’s go easy on him for the moment.” Quite the opposite in fact. There may be times where the conflict is more overt, and I am more aware of it, but rarely do the guns actually stop.

As a preacher, I know that the build up to a sermon can be a time of conflict. The act of preparation, with the temptation to take shortcuts or play fast and loose with the truth, feels like a battle. When we’re working towards something specific, we can be conscious of the spiritual struggle, wrestling with motives and prayer, but it’s a mistake to think that after the event there’s a ceasefire. As soon as the seed has landed on the path is the best time for the birds to swoop. The moment the preacher sits down is as good a time as any to push him into pride or drag him into despair.

However, as relentless as the Enemy is, God is even more so. The truth doesn’t ever stop being true. There is not a moment where resisting the devil doesn’t cause him to flee from us. I don’t stop being a child of God because I’ve had a bad week. We are always vulnerable to attack but, equally, the Enemy is always vulnerable to the truth.

James’s Blog: In Gratitude for Dianne Tyson.

James’s Blog:  In Gratitude for Dianne Tyson.

I didn’t ever meet Dianne, but that didn’t matter.  She didn’t even reach sixty, but that didn’t matter either.  A lot of things about Dianne didn’t seem to matter.  The fact that she was plagued with crippling health problems and constant pain – that didn’t matter either.  She had a lot to bitter about, but she didn’t let those things matter. Read more

James’s Blog: Little and Often.

James’s Blog:  Little and Often.

Imagine that you own a plot of land. You want to plant something in it, but it’s not in great condition. There are weeds that need to be removed and rocks that need to be cleared. It’s a big plot of land, so it’s a big job.

The good news is that there’s no immediate rush – you’ve got time. Even if you only move one rock or dig up one weed a day then you’ll manage it. It might take a while, but you’ll get there. On the other hand, it is a big job. It’s a bit overwhelming. You can’t help but wonder if it’s worth it.

A friend of my wife once told her about her grandmother’s attitude towards housework – “Little and often.”

Good advice for housework, and equally sound when it comes to developing your spiritual life. Little and often is far better than allowing yourself to become paralysed by the size of the task ahead. It takes time and work to nurture the garden of your soul into fertile soil, but not as much time and work as you might think.

Move a rock here, dig up a weed there. A few verses here, a minute of silent reflection there.  The only way that you won’t clear that land is if you do nothing.

James’s Blog: A Letter from God.

James’s Blog:  A Letter from God.

A little while ago, my three-year old daughter told me that she wanted to write a letter to God. I wrote, while she dictated. It wasn’t a very long letter, more of a note, concerned primarily with finding out if God owned a) a cat and b) a space hopper. We put the letter in an envelope and that was that. Naturally, being me, I sensed a teaching opportunity, so I decided to write a reply.

Dear Imogen,

Thank you for the letter that you wrote to me. I loved to receive it. I do not have a cat, but I do like cats. I love everything that I made. I do not have a space hopper, but I don’t need one at the moment. Perhaps if I do, I could borrow yours? I love you very much & thank you again for your letter.

Love God.

Apart from the dubious theological statement that God likes cats, I thought it would be a nice moment for Imogen. I put it in an envelope, and a couple of days later ‘delivered’ it. Imogen was fascinated at first, but after I had read God’s reply to her she became quite frightened. I believe the correct phrase is ‘she freaked out’. My parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.

On reflection, it makes sense. God is very much a part of our family life, so Imogen is aware of Him, but she is only a child after all. She has never seen God, and is not explicitly conscious of Him working in her life. The transition from God being an abstract idea to a concrete reality that could interact and intervene was probably a bit too much for her at that moment. We all have a crisis point where we have to decide whether or not God is that real, and I probably brought it on a bit early…

Still, to be able to talk about God and to be willing to talk to Him, but to be surprised and terrified when He decides to talk back? I can understand fear as an initial response, but eventually we have to decide to either walk away or be all in. Hanging around the fringes, still afraid, doesn’t help anyone.

James’s Blog: Giving God Room to Speak.

James’s Blog:  Giving God Room to Speak.

When I set aside time to spend with God, I make a habit of trying to spend some of that time listening. This can take many forms. Sometimes it’ll be about what I’m reading, or what has been happening in life, but often I will have a time of silence where I wait on God and see if the Holy Spirit has something to say.

When I was the dean at Cornerstone Canowindra I would get phone calls from people who were interested in coming to spend a year studying and working with us. Sometimes, as the person told you their story, you would get a clear feeling that them coming wasn’t going to be a good thing for them or for the community. But, if I could, I would avoid saying “No” right there and then. My preferred option was to explain to them what my concerns were, and then suggest to them that I have a few days to think and pray about it, before getting back to them with my final recommendation. After all, it’s in your own interest to give God the opportunity to let you know if you’re about to make a mistake.

The Listening Book has this thinking at its heart. It’s really nothing more than a tool to help you slow down and give God some space to speak. You don’t need it – there are plenty of ways to do that – but it’s an important idea to me, and I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to have a book about it. I know that when I talk about ‘hearing God speak’ there are all kinds of things (and warning bells) that can go through people’s minds, but I am convinced that we don’t really expect God to speak to us, so we don’t even give Him a chance, and so it’s no wonder that we never hear anything.

James’s Blog: Walking with God.

James’s Blog:  Walking with God.

There are many reasons why I like to go for a walk, but two of them are as follows:

a) I like to get away from people every now and then.
b) I like to spend time with God.

However, those two reasons are not mutually exclusive, which is a common mistake we introverts often make. Another mistake is to assume that during those lonely strolls the only thing God wants to do with us is internal. Those of us prone to mysticism can be so lost in our thoughts that the rich young ruler could come to us and say, “What must I do to be saved?” and our instinctive response would be, “Push off, I’m praying.”.

The thing is, when you try to get away in order to spend time with God, you’re climbing into the ring with Him, and sometimes He fights dirty. You just want a bit of peace and quiet in order to reflect and have Him all to yourself, but He just can’t help trying to draw your attention to the universe outside. If you really want to spend time with God, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Thankfully, I’ve had some excellent teachers, so now I tend to go for my prayer walks with one eye on my soul and the other on the world around me.

Richard Wurmbrand tells of the first time that he ever entered a church. As an eight-year old he went in with a school friend who had been sent to deliver a message to the Catholic priest. After the message had been passed on, the priest spoke to Richard.

“What can I do for you, little fellow?”

“Nothing. I just entered with my friend,” said Richard.

“I am the disciple of One who has taught me never to allow anybody to pass near me without doing him at least a little bit of good. It is hot outside. Would you allow me to bring you a cup of cold water?” said the priest.

Wurmbrand said it was the best cup of water he’d ever tasted.

That’s pretty good. I would like it if the word ‘Christian’ was synonymous with ‘One who never allows anybody to pass nearby without doing at least a little bit of good’. I try to keep that in mind when I’m out and about, because God’s always at work. If I’m trying to hang out with Him then I should expect to be dragged into such things.

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