Browsing articles from "July, 2012"
Jul 31, 2012
neil

‘How was your weekend?’ Speaking for Christ at work – 11 top tips

It’s never easy to speak up for Christ at work. Here’s 11 top tips to aid our evangelism

1. Be known as a Christian from the start

2. Remember you are paid to do your job not to evangelise. Credibility as a witness means not abusing a trust. Make the most of an opportunity but don’t stop work for extended conversations.

3. Watch the way you live as well as speak. It might be a small thing but turning up for work on time (or not!) adds or detracts from your witness to Christ.

4. Recognise that the approach to witness will look different depending on your workplace context.

If you work in a place with a large turn-over of staff you may only have one or two opportunities  with people. Being bold is the key.

If your workplace involves you working with the same people day in and day out then gentleness is crucial.

If you work in a place where you are very much a junior colleague being patient might be the key.

‘Earning’ the right to be heard might be necessary in a more hierarchical organisation that will require perseverance.

Working alongside more vulnerable people; hospital patients, school children, etc. will require discernment as to when it is appropriate to share.

5. Recognise that you can go long periods of time without an opportunity at work. The work place environment is not naturally conducive to deeper conversations.

6. Build trust by demonstrating the values of friendship – compassion, loyalty, vulnerability, openness.

7. Remember details as people have shared them with you eg. Partner’s name, children’s names, ages, interests and then try to follow them up in natural conversation.

8. Pray by name for people!

9. Read a Christian book at lunch-time but think carefully about your choice. Pick a title or topic that might open up conversation eg at the time of the Olympics a biography of Eric Liddell.

10. Prepare for Monday morning and the’ interesting weekend?’ questions that might come. Have something curious to say that provokes a response.

11. Be cautious of getting too friendly or personal with someone of the opposite sex. Friendliness on our part because we want to share Christ can, in a non-Christian’s mind, be confused for romantic interest.

Jul 30, 2012
neil

‘Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer’ – lessons in prayer

A section from yesterday’s sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3 where we took some time to consider the purpose of praying to a sovereign God:

A lot of 2 Thessalonians is prayer. For Paul the key to holding on to the end is a growing confidence in God’s ability to keep us – even in the face of suffering. Look at v.3-4.

Paul’s confidence for the Thessalonians future rests in God’s faithfulness. All the way through 2 Thess. we have seen that God’s sovereignty over evil is crucial to our ability to endure and prayer is where we show that we know God is in control.

Prayer isn’t like a tug-of-war: I used to do a summer camp with a sports day that ended in a tug of war – the leaders on one side and the teenagers on the other. We were stronger but they were twice as many and so every year it was touch and go who would win but we shouldn’t think of prayer as  grabbing the rope to pull with  God’s team to try and win victory. All the way through 2 Thessalonians Paul has stressed that Christ’s victory over evil is certain (see 1:8-11, 2:8)

Prayer is where we show we know that God is in control.

But that makes prayer a bit of a mystery to many people including many Christians.  We can’t quite see the purpose of prayer, after all if God has it all under control, if he is working things out, how is that an incentive to prayer?

Why pray to a sovereign God?

Two reasons.

a) Prayer changes us.

Prayer is God’s means of helping us hold on to him. All the great prayers of the Bible are prays for God to do what he has promised to do and so through prayer we grow in trust that God will do what he has promised to do.

I wonder whether you are ever struck by the fact that Paul was a man who absolutely believed in the unstoppable plan of God was a man who prayed and he didn’t just pray occasionally he prayed  constantly for the Thessalonians (1v11).

Why should you and I pray? We pray because it changes us….

John Bunyan said Prayer opens the heart to God, and it is the means by which the soul, though empty is filled by God. As we pray we practise putting our trust in God and so our confidence in him begins to grow.

Bunyan again: The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it burned into my heart by prayer.  Prayer will change you. Will you let it? Will you give yourself to prayer.

Persecuted Christians pray and they pray because they very thing God has promised to do is the very thing they most need him to do , to deliver on his promises to keep his people and then to vindicate them on Christ’s return. Maybe the reason we don’t pray is because we don’t think we need God – not to live today or tomorrow.

We’ve said in this short series in 2 Thessalonians that suffering works for us and not against us and one of the ways that works is that at times of suffering we more quickly turn to God. Abraham Lincoln said I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go.

We also pray because

2) Prayer changes things

Paul prayed because he knew God’s plans includes our prayers. God takes our prayers and uses them.

God is sovereign but he’s not a computer programme, he’s not a machine. We need to understand that God is sovereign but he is also personal and because he’s personal he chooses to achieve his purposes through his people.

Imagine I want to wash my car I could take my sons and drive the car into the machine at the petrol station. The key when you wash your car with a machine is that you need to sit still, stay in the car and let it wash over you, literally! But I could wash my car by filling three buckets full of  soapy water and saying to my sons let’s wash it together.

God wants us to pray because he wants us to achieve his purposes together.

Don Carson says in his excellent book on Paul’s prayers A Call to Spiritual Reformation Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer; something is amiss in our theology if you theology becomes a disincentive to pray.

Prayer changes us and prayer changes things, God calls on us to be people of prayer.

Jul 29, 2012
neil

If you don’t pray I can’t preach

Why a congregation must pray for the preacher from C.H. Spurgeon:

Shall I give you yet another reason why you should pray? I have preached my very heart out. I could not say any more than I have said. Will not your prayers accomplish that which my preaching fails to do? Is it not likely that the Church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? Oh dear friends! Let us agonize in prayer.

Jul 28, 2012
neil

‘the unexpected in-between’ – Wisdom for any who are single but wish they weren’t

What is God’s purpose in when we want to be married but have to live contented lives as single people? Justin Taylor has pulled together a bunch of resources (books,audio & video) for anyone wanting to think through issues of singleness and the Christian life.

Jul 27, 2012
neil

Should I stay or should I go now? When should you change job because of stress?

The third installment on our series on work, stress, anxiety & the gospel. Today an opportunity to consider whether a time might come where the best way to deal with a difficult work situation is to move on. 14 useful questions to guide you;

How can I tell if I should persevere or leave my job?

 

Is this stress a one-off situation or a sadly all too predictable pattern?

Is it having a negative impact on my family that would be quickly removed by a change of job?

What is this job doing to me spiritually? No amount of job-satisfaction can possibly compensate for spiritual damage.

What is likely to happen if I do nothing about it for the next week, month, 6 months?

Is the stress leading to sin? Worry, or worse!

Is the stress leading to illness? Physical, emotional, spiritual

How is stress affecting my performance at work? Am I no-longer capable of doing this job well? Am I motivated enough?

How is stress affecting my witness at work? Is it obvious to all that I just don’t want to be here. Although there are other godly ways of staying and dealing with attitude issues it might be right to leave.

What are the alternatives before me?  Eg. Resign, sign-off sick, take a different role in the same firm, etc.

Is it easily avoidable? Ie Am I the primary cause of the stress in which case how should I change the way in which I work?

Are there opportunities for witness that make it worthwhile to suffer stress? (Maybe we are all in the same situation and I can be a help to others, etc.)

What would I say to someone else if they were in my situation?

What spiritual support have you sought? Are there ways of being helped through it by the church?

What does my church-leader think?

Jul 26, 2012
neil

Under pressure? When stress at work leads to anxiety over work.

Following on from an earlier post on work & stress here is part 2 on worry, stress & work.

What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

It’s quite normal in conversation to use the ideas of stress and anxiety interchangably as if they were either one and the same thing or necessary partners in crime but it’s important that we see that they are really very different things. Stress is a reaction of mind and body to increased pressure (Jago Wynne) and a normal experience that comes from living in a fallen world. There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about feelings of stress and we saw that both Paul and Jesus experienced stress in the work God called them to do.

Worry is an attitude of the mind. In the context of stress we can worry before, during and after times of stress. It is an attitude and response to stress. Jago Wynne summarises it this way - When we worry, we are stressed in the present about some event that may, or may not, happen in the future.

What is the relationship between stress and anxiety?

The key reason we need to appreciate the difference is that stress at work is often unavoidable but worry about work is always avoidable. It might be helpful to think of the relationship between temptation and sin in general. Jesus was tempted but without sin. So we might be tempted to sin as we glance at an attractive person as we walk along the street but we then make a choice to turn a situation of temptation into a sinful response when we lust after that person. We might be tempted to gossip about someone when we get asked a nosey question about them but we choose to sin when we give the information being sought.

So when it comes to the relationship between stress and anxiety Jago Wynne comments;

As Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he drew a division between two groups of people. Not a division between those who faced stressful situations and those who don’t, because we all face stressful situations. The challenge is that Jesus says, when it comes to the area of worry and stress, many of us who think of ourselves as very religious and Christian actually act just like those who are not Christian.

What should we do with worry?

4 things to understand;

1. Worry is usually sinful

We really do have a choice as God’s children not to worry that must be true because Jesus commands us not to worry about some things. So in Matthew 6:25-34 he tells his disciples I tell you, do not worry about your life before going on to give at least four reasons not to worry! More on that theme at an earlier post When worry becomes a way of life.

When we worry we demonstrate what someone has called a ‘practical atheism’.

 2. Worry can spiritually destroy you

If we do allow stress to turn to anxiety and worry it can be spiritually very harmful, even fatally so. When we start to obsess about our work so much so that it becomes the focus of our thinking the burden can become overwhelming and it will be a huge distraction from our key priority - our relationship with Christ.

Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

And in Luke 21:34 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We need to understand that not only is worry sinful but it is a danger to us.

 3. Worry about the right things

Maybe it is a surprise to you to hear that Jesus’ concern is not that we shouldn’t worry but that we should worry about the right things. Only if we stop worrying about the wrong things can we choose to worry about the right things.

Growing in our godliness is about being free from wrong concerns precisely so that we can be concerned about the right things.

Paul certainly knew what that felt like. In 2 Corinthians 11:28 writes And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Paul felt under a daily pressure in his work and it led to anxiety.  This sense of ‘anxiety’ flowed from reports he received about the churches he had founded such as the Corinthians themselves. His anxiety was godly and profitable in that it led him to pray and work for their salvation.

Jesus warns us all in the sermon on the mount not to worry about life (which includes our work) but to give our attention to seeking first the Kingdom of heaven. We should worry when that is not our number one priority.

4. Worry should drive us to Christ

Stressful situations such as the daily pressure of work lead us to a place where we quickly become conscious that we have run out of resources to cope. The purpose of stress, like all temptation is to drive us to Christ.

The apostle Peter urges us to Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

When stress leads to anxiety we must give those anxieties to God.

Two more posts to follow; 1) managing times of stress and 2) when should we persevere in our work & when should we leave our job?

Jul 24, 2012
neil

Stressed out? Work, anxiety & the gospel

Last Thursday we looked at our second in a series of 3 seminars on issues relating to work. Posts on the first session ‘work & ambition’ can be viewed here and here.  Here is the first of three posts on coping with stress and anxiety.

Work & anxiety

 What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labours under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:23

Introduction

What is stress and how do you know you are stressed?

1. Stress can be defined as ‘the reaction of mind and body to increased pressure’Jago Wynne

2. Although it can have positive effects  it is usually a negative response to pressure. It can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illness and ultimately to a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with work.

3. Stress affects pretty much everyone at some time and is now the most common cause of sick leave from work.

A. Stress and work – a brief Bible overview

 

1. Stress has its origins in God…

We only experience stress because we live in a world subjected to frustration by God (Romans 8:20-23). That’s why your computer crashes!

We experience stress because we now live in a world in which work in particular is affected. In Genesis 3 we remember that work now has a downside ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’

2. Stress is exacerbated by our sin and the sin of others

The sin of others impacts our lives. Pride, selfish ambition become evident in work-place bullying, cultures of overwork, etc.

Our sin, particularly when we make work or what we derive from work our idol, means we choose to work in unhealthy, unsustainable ways and we put unfair and unrealistic pressures on ourselves.

 

3. Stress finds its resolution in Christ

In our culture we are given all sorts of remedies for stress. But if  ’Stress originates in God’s righteous punishment, and only he is able to deal with it.’ Rodney Green

It makes sense that we should therefore look to him rather than to coping mechanisms to relieve feelings of stress. Restored to a right relationship with God through Christ we can now find rest in Christ. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28 .

4. Stress can have a God-given purpose in our lives

As Christians much stress is as a result of circumstances thrust upon us. How can we trust a sovereign God in times of stress and work?

Stress is not sinful in and of itself. It can infact be a godly reaction to circumstance. A sense of feeling overwhelmed becuase of trial, temptation, suffering, etc., is in no way wrong.

Reading Paul’s own account of stress directly as a result of the work that God gave him to do in 2 corinthians 1:8-11 and we find him describing himself as ‘under great pressure’ and ‘beyond our ability to endure’ so much so that he ‘despaired even of life’. Paul was certainly no super-hero immune from daily pressures.  But through a time of trial he could testify that God had allowed him to endure so that he ‘might rely on God.’

Stress as an experience of suffering in a fallen world is common to all and God allows his people to suffer times of pressure so that we might not rely on techniques, breathing exercises, stress balls, etc. but on God himself.

The greatest encouragement for us when we go through difficult times at work is that it is Jesus himself who knew what it was to be stressed because of the work that God gave him to do (John 17:3). In the garden of  Gethsemane we remember his experience of anguish (from the Greek word agonia) and we remember his response – prayer. He took his stress to God and God met him in his need. We are told that he experienced God’s grace through the ministry of an angel.

5. Stress will finally be gone!

Romans 5:2b-4 shows how suffering has the purpose of creating hope in our hearts. It works out character, perseverance and finally hope for the future. Whatever our struggles in a world of stress we do know that one day they will be gone and in the new creation work will be free from the effects of sin and judgement.

Next post: Worry, stress & work. What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

 

Jul 22, 2012
neil

Eric Liddell – Olympic Gold medalist, Chinese hero & Christian missionary

A great BBC post on the legecy of Olympic Gold medalist and Christian missionary Eric Liddell

Jul 20, 2012
neil

Even an apostle must read – CH Spurgeon on pastors and reading

On tuesday I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye. For those unfamiliar with this beautiful Welsh town it is the second-hand book capital of the world. One sleepy village with 38 second-hand book shops! Pride of purchase for the day was Henry Wace’s Bampton Lectures of 1879. Buying books is the easy bit but making time to read is a constant struggle. Yesterday in a post entitled ‘Pastors: Fight for the time to read’  Justin Taylor posted the following extract from CH Spurgeon reflecting on Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4:13 to bring Paul’s books to him in prison. Stirring stuff!

We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.

Even an apostle must read.

Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!

How rebuked they are by the apostle!

He is inspired, and yet he wants books!

He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!

He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!

He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!

He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!

He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).

The man who never reads will never be read.

He who never quotes will never be quoted.

He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.

Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers and expositions of the Bible.

 

Jul 18, 2012
neil

Putting Ambition to work

Here’s the second part of the seminar I ran last week on work & ambition. You can find part 1 here.

B. Ambition in practice

1. Putting Ambition to work:

The Bible has a lot to say, especially in books like Proverbs & Ecclesiastes to help us define and pursue a godly ambition.

‘Diligence’ – a case-study in Proverbs adapted from Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms by Daniel Estes

Proverbs 22:29 – Work hard, learn a skill and This kind of diligence will lead to distinction (Estes)

Proverbs 11:27 – Estes comments - Failure can come in two ways. On the one hand, a person can focus on the wrong things, such as power, fame, convenience, popularity, or fun. Seeking fullfilmnent by these means leads inevitably to disappointment. On the other hand, one may have the right things in view, but be unfocused on them. This approach to life leads to aimlessness. True diligence stays focused on what is crucial, and in doing that, the person who searches intently for what is good will indeed find it.

Proverbs 21:5 – Hubbard draws out the point here - The diligent person not only works hard but plans well, measuring each step in the process and then carefully implementing the strategy. The ‘hasty’ settle for an approach that is quick and dirty, sloppily planned and halfheartedly implemented.

Proverbs 10:4 – Alden notes The generalisation here is that the industrious, conscientious worker is eventually recognised by his superior and promoted, while the man who constantly watches the clock and puts forth as little effort as possible will stay in the same slot forever, if he manages to keep his job.

There are character studies too that help us learn how to apply godly ambition. So the example o f Joseph, Genesis 39:2-6, or Daniel, 1:17-21, are two examples of God rewarding hard work.

2. Ambition frustrated

As Christians we are to pursue godly ambition but living in our fallen world we have to be prepared for some of our good ambitions to fall. Why might your ambitions go unrealised?

a) Unemployment or underemployment

Waiting is often God’s reorientation program aimed at our definition of success. – Dave Harvey

b) Unfulfilled ambitions

No one gets all he ever wanted or accomplishes all she set out to do. Our ambitions are strained through the limits of opportunity, resources, or our own physical capabilities. In other words, God’s sovereignty fixes certain limits to our lives. – Dave Harvey

c) Rejection for being a Christian

Read 1 Peter 2:18-22.

Q. Which of these three issues is biggest in your own mind? How does God’s sovereignty speak into unfulfilled ambition?

Making the connection between our circumstances and God’s goodness can be the difference between delight and disillusionment. This will transform the way you think about that promotion you didn’t get, the job interview that tanked, or the sales commission of the year that somehow evaporated. The denial of ambitions isn’t ultimately a penalty or punishment. It’s the gracious work of a loving God defining the path for our walk. – Dave Harvey

 3. Ambitions prioritised

If we are ambitious for God’s glory above all things that will relativise our ambitions to glorify him through our work.

As Christians we have other priorities that might come before work; family, church, etc.

Q. Given the prospect of a promotion how do you decide whether it is the right next move for you?

How else ought your ambition for God’s glory be evident in your life that might limit your ambition at work?

4. Ambition and witness

If we work for God’s glory that should be evident to those around us.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:1 ‘All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect,so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.’

If your father or mother, your sister and brother, if the very cat and dog in the house are not happier for your being a Christian, it is a question whether you really are – Hudson Taylor

5. Ambition put to the test

a) I work with a true humility

Selfish ambition says ‘I have to have it and it will crush me if I don’t.’ Ambition rooted in God, an ambition that flows out of a secure identity in Christ says ‘I don’t need it; I’m happy to accept it.’

 

b) I am more concerned for holiness even if that costs me in my career

Matters of integrity, honesty, godly humility, may mean the loss of a competitive edge but produce in me a godly contentment.

 

c) God’s priorities are my priorities and work finds its proper place

God, spouse, children, church, job – in that order!

d) I am just as concerned to make a success of others as myself at work

Spurgeon wrote: The best ambition is: Who shall be the servant of all.

e)  A failure to succeed at work (maybe even relative to others within the church) does not lead us to despair but humble trust.

f) Godly ambition puts the building of the church at the centre of our dreams

 

Conclusion

 What is the biggest challenge to you when it comes to work & ambition?

How can others in the church help you pursue a godly ambition?

What is the first thing you’d like to change about your attitude to work to bring your thinking into line with God’s design for your work?

Further thinking on ambition head for Dave Harvey’s site www.rescuingambition.com

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