This blog has been a bit quiet recently. Not that life has been quiet – far from it. There are any number of pastoral situations at the moment which are on the go, and it is part of the joy and privilege to accompany people through every walk of life. But the challenge I find in such varied situations is to keep the presentation of the gospel fresh. Nothing puts people off church more than an address which is stale or which gives the impression the minister is bored with the Christian faith.
I guess this is an issue which doesn’t just affect ministers, however. As Christians it’s easy to get into the same old rut, for our Bible reading to follow the expected pattern, for our prayer life to become a perfunctory list of items to be presented before the Lord, for our attendance at church to become a question of going through the motions. I’ve long held that the biggest danger to the Christian faith is not a sudden heresy or violent attack of doubt, but slow, sometimes barely noticeable drift, so that day by day your enjoyment of Jesus becomes a little less, your relationship with your heavenly Father a little more distant and your experience of the Holy Spirit a little less immediate.
So what remedies are at hand? Here are a few suggestions:
Keep looking into God’s word. Yes, Bible reading can become stale and formulaic but at least by persevering you are placing yourself in a position where you can hear God speak. It is possible for God to suddenly surprise us in the middle of a spiritual desert, when a verse or a phrase leaps out at you from the page or you realise something you hadn’t spotted before. Changing your translation or using a different set of notes can help in this regard. And at least be aware of the many resources that are out there, particularly on the web (see our page on How to read the Bible).
Keep looking out for what God is doing. This is perhaps a rather silly example, but one of our hens escaped last Friday. I didn’t have that much time to think about a service I was going to do on Sunday afternoon. I was wondering what on earth I should say, when the idea of a lost hen led me to the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15. And the apparent total disappearance of a chicken caused me to reflect on just how God must care for each and every one of us as His creatures.
Keep looking back to how God has answered your prayers. We are very good at developing spiritual amnesia. I am always struck how often minds go blank on Sunday morning when I ask for stories of answered prayer. It’s something we all do, because there is a deep streak of rebellion in our human nature which means we do not thank God enough for the blessings He gives us day by day. When we sit down and see just how much God has given us in answer to, or even despite our lack of, prayers then surely this is cause enough to learn again the language of thanks and praise.
Keep looking around to what God is doing in the world. God is God of the whole world. So often our picture of God shrinks because we do not look beyond the cares and concerns of our own daily lifestyle. But God is working in many different parts of the world, often in ways we cannot began to imagine. Again, the Internet is a great place to read stories of God’s work. Find a few tried and trusted sites like Tearfund or the Barnabas Fund or the Bible Society and subscribe to them. Or if reading books is more your thing then find accounts of a missionary pioneer. When my mother died a couple of years ago, I took over a collection of some of classic accounts of pioneer work, and they challenge me every time I read them. But of course pioneer ministry also happens today, among surfers in Newquay or schools in tough parts of Manchester, for example. Again, try to find an area that particularly interests you.
Keep looking ahead to the hope that is yours in Christ. I have been so thrilled by our sermon series on 1 Peter. I have found particularly his words in 1 Peter 1:3-9 to be so precious as I have faced a number of particularly difficult situations recently. We have an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. Despite the evidence of all we can see around us, this is the objective reality to which we are heading as believers in Christ. It means that whatever we do for Jesus in this life is of eternal value, and that in the end we carry on carrying on!
Hmm … I seem to have switched into sermon mode. But I am preaching this as much to myself as anyone else. Now on to the application!