Carolyn McCulley has written a super post for church leaders on how to pastor single people well in church life.
Carolyn is also author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? a book that as a married man I’ve found to be full of insight that has helped sharpen my applications in preaching in all sorts of ways.
Providence is mysterious, God wants to keep it that way and I guess we need to get used to it.
If you’re looking for a definition here’s one from the Heidelberg Catechism;
Providence is “the almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand” (Question 27).
As Christians we live out our lives knowing nothing takes God by surprise and nothing ever happens to us that does not come from his ‘fatherly hand’.
Why is it then that wherever I turn I keep finding Christians fighting God for the right to decide what is best for our lives. It is a rare thing to find sufficient maturity in a Christian heart that someone is ready to accept what comes from God’s hand, submit to his will and trust that what God has given will turn out to be for our good.
For those, like me, who too often want God to stop interfering in our plans here are some words of advice from CS Lewis;
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.
Jim Packer on the secret of the Christian life; being sure of who you are.
The immediate message of adoption to our hearts is surely this: Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? my own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother too.
Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait in traffic, any time your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it all to be utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret (of a happy life? – yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say). This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, of a God-honouring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours and fully mine.
Christian audio has a great range of books to listen to including one free download a month. This month it’s John Piper’s Think.
Are we ‘cultivating an online evangelical culture of self-projection. Trying our hardest, of course, not to look like we’re self-promoting. This is not where God’s power lies.’
Dan Ortland asks some hard questions about our use of Social Media.
Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful piece on how when parents get stressed the health of our children suffer.
It’s a challenging read if you are a parent but the principle that being stressed has a damaging impact on our reaction to and our relationship with others works too. So whether married or not, with kids or without, here’s an opportunity to ask;
What impact is my stress having on my relationships (at home, work, etc.)? Do I see the impact that is having?
What is causing stress in my life? Is it anxiety over the future, needing to be in control, tiredness, overwork….
How do I need to remember the gospel, to enable change, so that I can be a blessing to others instead of a burden?
Preparing to preach from Exodus 3 this Sunday on the bush that did not burn up I came across this tremendous reminder of how God’s self-existence and his self-sufficiency is our great hope for the Christian life;
God lives forevermore, a flame that does not burn out; therefore his resources are inexhaustible, his power unwearied. He needs no rest for recuperation of wasted energy. His gifts diminish not the store which he has to bestow. He gives and is none the poorer. He works and is never weary. He operates unspent; he loves and he loves forever. And through the ages, the fire burns on, unconsumed and undecayed.
Skimming through some of my old paperbacks I came across ‘Pressure Points: How to survive in your stress filled world’ by Peter Meadows.
He offers some good common sense advice on learning to say ‘no’ to people when they make demands of our time. In the book he refers to the ‘seven steps of saying ‘no’’.
1. Make up your mind before any request is likely to come. It is easier to set boundaries when not confronted with specific requests.
2. If caught unaware, at least play for time by, asking for more information or a chance to think it over.
3. Remind yourself that if they feel they have the permission to ask, you have the permission to say no. You are free to set your own priorities, express your own opinions, assert your own values – without feeling guilty or selfish.
4. Deliberately speak slowly, steadily and warmly to avoid the danger of sounding rude or abrupt.
5. Say ‘no’ clearly, firmly and without any long-winded explanation, invented excuses or self-justification. It might help to own up to your feelings – ‘I feel embarrassed about this, but I’m going to have to say “no” or “I feel guilty saying “no”, but that’s the answer I’m going to have to give,’
6. Stick to your statement, repeating it as often as is necessary to get your message across.
7. Don’t hang around. To do so could send out misleading signals and encourage those who are asking to try to persuade you to change your mind.
But why can’t we just say ‘no’?
Meadows offers some good advice but wouldn’t it be even better to ask some questions when we are struggling to say ‘no.’ Here’s our opportunity to dig a little deeper and ask ‘why is this such a problem for me?’ and ‘what exactly is at work in the motives of our hearts when we just can’t say ‘no’?
In trying to identify reasons we might find a number of different motives at work in different circumstances.
a. A godly motive. Sometimes there are situations in which it is a godly response to say ‘yes’ even if you would rather say ‘no.’ Perhaps a moment of crisis in which you have to step in to prevent something bad from happening. There are times when you must sacrifice time and other plans to meet an urgent need eg a pastoral crisis or to cover illness.
b. Pride or flattery. Maybe we are struggling to say ‘no’ to something simply because we’re feeling good about being asked! We feel noticed, important, valued. It might be that we’re glad for an opportunity to show what we can do, to make a name for ourselves or establish a reputation at work or church.
c. A sense of importance that comes not from the individual request but from the cumulative effect of being too busy. Some of us love the adrenalin rush from over-commitment and a sense of things being out of control. Like a drug we love being simply too busy!
d. Guilt. There is an evangelical guilt that is self-induced rather than God-induced. We feel we ought to say ‘yes’ because that is the Christian thing to do even if that means denying our higher calling of loving our spouse or children perhaps. Maybe we feel that we would be letting God down or that he would be disappointed in us if we don’t. We might even reason that we must say ‘yes’ because ‘if I don’t do it God’s purposes may fail’.
e. Fear. At other times we don’t want to say ‘no’ because we are afraid of what impact it will have on our relationship with others. What it might do to a friendship or working relationship. What others will think of us. We fear their rejection and their condemnation. A general fear of rejection or retaliation if we don’t can be a powerful factor in simply being unable to say ‘no’.
Assessing your motives:
At heart, the issue is whether if I say ‘yes’ I can with integrity say I am doing this for God and not for me. Is this me working from a secure identity in Christ or working for an identity in my work?
The following questions might help:
- Would you be as happy for someone else to do it as for yourself to do it?
- Do you think God can’t do this without you?
- In saying ‘yes’ would you be putting your work ahead of other, higher, calling. E.g to family.
- Are you more worried as to what others think of your decision than what God things of your decision.
Paul David Tripp warns:
The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. Desires are a part of human existence, but they must be held with an open hand. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God and his Kingdom.
Various other strategies may help:
1. Time out! Recognise that even 24 hours may help you decide the wisdom of saying yes or no. So ask for the request to be sent in a-mail because that gives you time to reflect. It also happens to be easier to write ‘no’ than to say ‘no’ so it will help with the fear of man!
2. Involve others in your decisions.
That may be a boss, it may be a spouse or good friend. It’s easier for others to help you assess whether it would be appropriate to say ‘yes’.It’s also easier to say ‘no’ if you can tell the person who’s made the invitation that it was a team decision.
Paul David Tripp writes in Instruments in the Redeemers Hands
If my heart is the source of my sin problem, then lasting change must always travel through the pathway of my heart. It is not enough to alter my behaviour or to change my circumstances.
James Calvert (1813–1892) was a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands. As they arrived at the Islands the ship’s captain tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the life of those with you if you go among such savages.” To which Calvert replied ‘We died before we came here.”
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most brilliant men Scotland has ever produced. Amongst his many achievements he was chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews University and later chair of theology in Edinburgh. His influence and impact were truly massive and this short biography is well worth a read by way of introduction.
It is his sermon ‘The expulsive power of a new affection‘ by which he is probably best known. It is based on 1 John 2:15 ‘” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” and in the sermon Chalmers shows us how the gospel is God’s means not only of forgiving our sin but bringing about the heart transformation that God promises us in the New Covenant.
Chalmers demonstrates how the gospel alone has the power to truly set us free from sin. Where will-power and external religion are powerless to bring about the necessary change of heart it is the gospel that has life-changing power.
How does it work? Quite simply ‘the ONLY way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one ‘ because ‘what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed‘.
As we strive for godliness and if we’re in ministry as we strive to lead others to godliness let us seek the beauty of Christ and let us nurture a new greater love, the love for Christ that delivers us from sin.
Below is an extract from the sermon:
The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one….Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine [leading to godliness]….
On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities that he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.
Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable…to…godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.
Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.
[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed–and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.
It is thus that the boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more 'mature'] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable….
The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us–it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, and the only way that deliverance is possible.
Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies….Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.
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