These thoughts have been going through my mind as I work on my forthcoming book on Stress!
What is quite clear is that everyone seems stressed; everyone worries (at least in the western world). And, because Christians are not exempt they are also tend to add “guilt” to the list, assuming that believing in a sovereign, loving God should mean that we don’t worry and don’t feel stress.
We cannot expect perfection in this life. Moreover, we live in an overstretched world; consequently we often feel close to breaking point. Of course, the Bible has plenty to say about how to live a life trusting God and with an expectation that God will supply all that we need in Christ (e.g. Phil 4:19- “… my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”). But how can we put this into practice?
As I have continued to ponder this issue, two dominant themes from early days as a Christian have returned to me. In my teens I attended a large Sunday night youth group. I remember a talk which I gave entitled:-
God wants warriors not worriers
The theme was that we dissipate worry by getting to work fighting for the cause of the Gospel. It’s not bad advice, of course. But, again, I ask: how does this work in practice? If you tell a worrier not to worry then you add to their worries their own anxiety over worry itself!
When Jesus told his disciples “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25) He spoke about the futility of worry (you won’t live any longer by worrying – actually it is likely to have the opposite result!); He said: you need not worry because your heavenly father looks after the lilies and the birds, so how much more will he look after human disciples; and He encouraged a God-directed focus so as not to be preoccupied with the affairs of this world. “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness…” (v33).
My other regular teenage activity was night fishing. After several hours peering into the water, imagining my float was about to go under, ever expectant of hauling another fish out the water, exhausted, I finally went to bed. But then sleep was elusive as my mind was swimming with the sight of fish swirling around my mind!
Worry causes sleeplessness, of course. Not least because the mind is filled with all the activities and stresses of the day, swimming around the mind!
Part of the answer to sleeplessness is the redirection of one’s gaze. Christian meditation is not about emptying the mind, but rather filling it with thoughts of God. Telling a worrier not to worry doesn’t help. But assisting them focus on the God who won’t give us up and won’t let us down, is the perfect displacement.
This leads me to a related thought which also came from my teenage youth group.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
We used to end every Sunday evening singing the same song:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
These were good thoughts: staying focussed on Jesus does put this world properly into perspective. This is consistent with the advice we find in the Bible: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
More on this anon, but before I finish writing my own book on the matter, you might like to check out two helpful recent IVP books on these matters:
* The Worry Book. Finding a path to freedom (Will can der Hart & Rob Waller); and
* You can Change. God’s transforming power for our sinful behaviour and negative emotions (Tim Chester).
I was preaching on Matthew 5:27-30 today and used an extended illustration of the health of the lawn being analogous to the health of the human heart.
I know it is hard to imagine this at the moment but try to think back to the hot summer months in sultry heat (!), enjoying the lushness of the garden, with a gentle hum of electric fly mowers in the background.
It can be quite irritating to have the peace and quiet of summer shattered by lawn mowers, but I suspect that many people mow their lawn frequently as a fairly fool proof way of making the garden look nice and well tended.
At the heart of the growing season, if you leave your lawn for little more than a week tell-tale signs of its true nature will be revealed. This is certainly true in my case. If I fail to mow regularly, the apparently lush, well tended lawn shows its true nature – dandelions begin to sprout yellow and eventually shower umbrella seed replicating themselves all over the lawn. Big green dock leaves shade the delicate grass. Untendered weeds spoil what initially appeared to be a lush lawn.
You see the problem with only cutting the grass is that it deals superficially with the weeds. It doesn’t deal with root causes. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount tells me that I must not live the Christian life at the level of superficial appearances. I can fool other people most of the time; I can fool myself some of the time; but I can never fool God
There are two more fundamental care issues related to my lawn which need attending to if I am going to have a healthy lawn – they involve feeding the soil and weeding out the roots of the intruder!
Feeding your spiritual lawn means tending your heart. Psalm 119:9-11 this:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (NIV)
Tending to the state of the heart needs to happen in order for the Christian to be healthy and pure and not controlled by lust.
Weeding your spiritual lawn requires pulling out sin at its source
Behind adultery lies lust (And behind murder lies anger). In order to deal with lust radical action is required – metaphorically gouging out eyes and chopping of wayward hands. Controlling what we watch and controlling what we do with our hands is necessary for a godly Christian life. If I make myself blind, deaf, mute and paraplegic, yet retain my soul then I am of greater value than if I have a beautiful body and prefect facilities yet corrupt my soul…
As ever, Jesus’ words challenge and provoke. But a godly life is a healthy life and, moreover is the only way to avoid hell!
See www.simonvibert.com for full sermon.
I was delighted and privileged to be present at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford this Good Friday. The service itself was dignified with excellent music. The sermon, given by Professor Nigel Biggar, was also very encouraging to me. Regrettably, those who are engaged in academic theology are inclined to demythologise the Easter stories, assuming that they are ‘myths’. Myths in this sense, are not fantasies, but stories that speak of the spiritual significance of events. The assumption is that the resurrection is a spiritual event, transforming the hearts and lives of dejected disciples, subsequently written up as if it were an historical narratives. Those who read the accounts as historical records make a genre mistake about the literature.Dr Biggar helpfully pointed out in his sermon, that the resurrection experience of Jesus’ disciples, of new life, hope and faith, follows the actual event of crucifixion and resurrection, recorded as historical events by those who were first hand witnesses. The experience of resurrection faith is groundless without the physicality of Christ’s resurrection.It has always seemed to me that the most persuasive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that Peter, Thomas and other disciples were so swiftly transformed from dejected and doubting followers to bold professors and preachers of the Gospel. Nothing other than the veracity of the actual death and actual resurrection of Jesus Christ could have effected such a change.For contemporary people to look upon Easter as Good News requires them to become convinced of the actual events, which in turn should to lead to the wonderful experience of the resurrected Jesus as a present, life transforming reality. He is risen indeed!
Another blog, another airport!
This week has been a good week of teaching in Orlando at Reformed Theological Seminary, 1st Presebyterian Church, Northland Church and St Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral. The three of us from Wycliffe have been warmly received. I confess that it is a challenge getting one’s mind around the cultural differences, not just in terms of “2 nations dividing by a common language” (Mark Twain?), but also the differences in church culture. Northland is a congregation of about 10,000 in a fantastic new facility. The music and worship experience is very contemporary and high quality, although when we arrived 5 minutes after the start of the meeting one of the Pastors was reading a great section from John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion!
I preached at both services at St Luke’s Cathedral where I was made very welcome and enjoyed the impressive music and choral tradition. I was also invited to teach the “Dean’s Hour” adult Sunday School Class on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I was able to tell the dramatic story of the martyrdom of Ridley, Latimer and Cramner on a spot less than a mile away from Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. These three men felt that the changes which were enshrined in the 1552 Prayer Book (substantially the same as 1662) were worth dying for: an unritualistic, Christ Centred liturgical service which focussed on the state of the heart of the person who received the bread and wine, rather than on the act of Consecration. I was given complete liberty to tell this story, but do wonder what the attendees thought about the subsequent service which literally did have “bells and smells” and seemed to have a liturgical approach to the sacrament rather at odds with the evangelical convictions to which the Cathedral holds.
But I guess the main lesson in all this is that we are all blind to our own cultural practices (whether that be Anglican, Presbyterian or Episcopalian), because we cannot clearly see the culture in which we live until we get outside of it. For that reason, these trips are immensely valuable, not least because of what my American friends are able to highlight about my own cultural short-sightedness. I particularly value, for all its weaknesses, the confidence and strength of the American Evangelical Church and their “can do” attitude which is immensely refreshing.
St John’s Gospel is a Christmas favourite. The climax of the Carol Service readings is usually John 1:1-18. It is well said that John’s Gospel is “a pool where children may paddle and elephants may wade”. For some years now I have been wrestling with this marvellous Gospel. Is there a central theme, or key which unlocks the book? Clearly John’s own explanation is in John 20:30-31 – “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.“ Some have seen 7 signs and 7 discourses which John has collected in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God. I am sure that this makes a lot of sense of the first 12 chapters of the Gospel.
Many have also pointed out that John overlaps numerous themes – such as his demonstration that Jesus is greater than Jacob, Moses and Abraham; that he is the “I am”, everchanging eternal God; that he comes to fulfil the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacle festivals. I am sure that John is “layered” in this way, often having more than one theme going on at a time.
However, I have also become convinced that John collects together stories of highly colourful individuals, and groups of people, who themselves have come to have life in the Son of God by believing in his name. We have Nicodemus in John 3 – a respected Jewish teacher; the Samaritan woman and outcast in John 4; the healing of a paralysed man in John 5; and the healing of a man born blind in John 9. In each of these encounters the individuals emerge (to a greater or lesser degree) from darkness to light as it dawns on them that Jesus is more than a prophet or a healer, and none other than the Son of God who is worthy of worship. John interwiews collective encounters with crowds of people who are largely fascinated by Jesus, but more as a celebrity than as Divine; and a hostile and plotting religious establishment.
But, for all the complexity of this Gospel, I commend it again as a series of testimonies to the true identity of Jesus, the Son of God. Yes, John is a record of Jesus’ words and deeds during his time as “Word Made Flesh” on earth. But I wonder whether sometimes we have overlooked the human drama played out in the lives Jesus changed, as they mirror back for us something of the true identity of Jesus. They invite us to examine him afresh so that we along with Thomas might say ”My Lord and My God” (see 20:28).
I wonder, is that your testimony? Have you come to worship the Son of God we meet in John, and have Him change your life for good?!
- Preparing for suffering with the help of Job
- Existential Threats
- Some biblical wisdom on dealing with Stress and Worry
- The Hunger Games – Christian Review
- Wouldn’t you like to be a castaway?
- Lessons from the Long Distance Cycle Ride
- An Easter Word for Exhausted Preachers
- the agnostic, the atheist and the Christian
- Tim & Kathy Keller “The Meaning of Marriage”
- resources for training preachers in Osijek, Croatia
- with great thankfulness to John Stott
- a tall story
- back from the dead
- Bible by the Beach
- Big Ben
- Big Issue
- Bishop of Rochester
- Charlie Cleverly
- Christ Church Cathedral Oxford
- Christian Focus
- Christian Leaders
- Don Carson
- Egyptian Plagues
- Episcopal Church
- fellowship of word and spirit
- Fundraising Bike Ride
- General Synod
- John Piper
- John Stott
- John the Baptist
- John's Gospel
- Millennium Wheel
- New Testament
- Nigel Biggar
- no-go areas
- Oxford Church
- Professor Wotton
- reformed theological serminary
- Richard Turnbull
- Rowan Williams
- shi'i law
- Simon Vibert
- Son of God
- Song of God
- St Aldates Church
- St Paul's cathedral
- third millennium ministries
- wycliffe hall
- wycliffe hall students