Sunday, 21 February 2010

Praying in the Secret Place

The word devotion means profound dedication or consecration. It is seen as an earnest attachment to a cause or person. We sometimes speak of the devotion of wealth and time to these things. I want to show how we can gain traction in our life by making this part of our daily routine. Various names have been given to what I’m talking about; a prayer time; a quite time or a devotional are common. Perhaps you know others. The real issue is setting aside time with God. It’s the place where we try to shut out distraction and be with Jesus, in our secret place.

For me there are four key elements to a good devotional time that I find really helpful. Think of them as ingredients to making a meal. They can be mixed together in different proportions on any particular occasion, but we gain traction best when they are all present. The four ingredients I have found the most valuable are, Worship, Bible reading, Prayer and Confession. Let me unpack these so that we understand what I mean by these terms. The text I find most inspiring in developing this model is Matt 6.5-15.

This is often called the Lord’s Prayer, but that is a misnomer. It is the prayer He taught His disciples to pray, so it is really the Disciples prayer. Jesus could never pray vs12, “And forgive us our debts”. That was for our benefit, not His. This whole passage is a response to two errors in the way the Pharisees prayed. The first was their hypocrisy. They did it to be ‘seen by men’. In contrast Jesus speaks of a secret place – a room where we shut the door and all are excluded.

The second error was the heathen approach to prayer. The use of ‘vain repetition’. Prayer became a mantra – a word or phrase repeated over and over as though through repetition it would finally be heard. This was something the prophets of Baal did in 1Kings 18.26-29. It was not characteristic of real prophets who knew how to pray.

Jesus helps us understand why we should avoid both these errors. The danger with public prayer is that it can easily play to the ego. After all we get noticed. We can impress people with our rhetoric and knowledge of God. We can as it were ‘play to the gallery’ and lack any real sincerity. This is hypocrisy. Their only reward for such praying is the recognition they get at the time. But in the secret place, where no one else is listening but God, all of that is removed. God sees. God knows. God hears. And in the end that is what really matters. And He is the one who rewards us.

The second error assumes God is ignorant of our needs and therefore has to hear over and over our petitions. Wrong! Our Father knows the things we need before we ask. That’s interesting. Then why do we need to pray? Now we start to touch on the real nature of prayer and devotion. It is not just about requests – it’s about relationship. God knows our needs but He wants to spend time with us. We were made to spend time with Him. We are hard wired this way. People try to find substitutes for this deeply ingrained need, but those substitutes can’t truly satisfy the God shaped hole in our hearts.

Notice how Matt 6.5 begins; “When you pray....” Jesus doesn’t say, “If you pray”, but “When you pray...” The assumption is we will! (This is true throughout the teaching of Matt 6. It is “when you give...”, “when you fast....”). He assumes we will schedule time to do this. It’s a given. He advises us to find a place where we can be alone, shut away from all distractions. This was His practice.

Mountains seemed to be one of Jesus' favourite spots. In Luke 6.12 He went to a mountain to pray and stayed there all night, praying. Then in the morning He chose the twelve. He climbed a mountain with Peter, James and John in order to pray, Luke 9.28-29. As He did so He was transfigured! In Matt 14.23 He was up a mountain, alone, praying. He prayed in the wilderness, Luke 5.16 and often went to the Garden of Gethsemane when in Jerusalem. This too was on a mountain, Luke 22.39-40; Matt 26.36.

If we are going to spend time with God it needs to be a place where we can unwind and stay focused; a place where we feel at peace with little or no possibility of distractions. That’s hard to do today, but necessary. We need to be somewhere where mobiles and phones can’t break into our time with God. That is sacred. Imagine going on a date where your partner constantly speaks to other people on their mobile, in your presence. What signal does that send? How would you feel? What does that communicate to you about the value they place on the relationship?

Choose a place that inspires you to connect with God. For the most part Jesus chose outdoor places, for they sounded forth the mastery of the creator. Rising long before dawn He would have gazed at the same stars that Abraham looked on. He Himself was the fulfilment of all the covenant promises given to Abraham. And in this place of solitude He communed with the Father, inspired by the awesome display of His creativity and power displayed in the Heavens, Psalm 19.1-6.

During His busy schedule Jesus made time to be in the presence of His Father, regularly. Hear Mark’s record; “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed”, Mark 1.35. It was His first priority of the day. Notice too that this followed on from a day of ministering to people, well after the sun had set, Mark 1.32-34. His passion to do the Father’s will drove Him to seek His face as a priority. We should take inspiration from Jesus. It’s about keeping the main thing, the main thing.

Mary learned that lesson and sat at Jesus’ feet, while Martha got all hot and bothered doing good things – for Jesus! To paraphrase Jesus – “Martha, you’ve missed it. The good stuff is robbing you of the most important stuff. Take a lesson from Mary”, Luke 10.38-42. King David understood this principle; “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple”, Psalm 27.4.

So let’s unpack these four ingredients of a good devotional:

1. Worship. By that I mean engaging our hearts in praise and adoration for who God is. This is the essence of the phrase, “Hallowed be they Name”. The first thing a young man does when he goes on a date is to comment on how nice the girl looks. It’s the first thing that catches his attention. This is what worship is like. To use David’s words: “To behold the beauty of the Lord”. Something captures our hearts and we speak it out in praise and adoration. In doing so, our hearts get caught up with the greatness of God.

This comes before any request or petition. It’s where we take time to admire the Lord. Scripture encourages us to offer thanksgiving to God. I usually do that during my worship time but it can be added almost anywhere in a devotional, Phil 4.6; Eph 5.19-20.

To make this easy I sometimes go to YouTube or Spotify and put on a worship song that I either sing along to or just listen to and soak in. One or two songs are all I need to be in God’s presence. Through this my heart and mind become oriented to receive for that day.

2. From here I move to reading the Bible. I learned this from the writings of George Muller. He struggled to enjoy prayer. It was hard work until he hit upon the idea of praying after reading the Bible rather than before. It changed his devotional times and revolutionised his prayer life. He found that scripture inspired him to pray. There were promises that he claimed, for himself and others. It became a life-long pattern for him. He read the Bible in order to understand its message and to receive personal promises, rebukes or encouragements he could apply to his life. That is exactly what the early believers did in Acts 4.21-31. They prayed using scripture, which gave a new level of authority to their petition.

This is different to Bible study which is more intensive and more in depth. Every morning when I open my computer there is a daily reading of scripture. It enables me to read the whole bible in a year. That part takes me about ten minutes to do but you don’t have to be so adventurous. A little often is the key. If I miss some days I don’t beat myself up. I just carry on with that days reading. Have a pen and paper nearby to write down what impresses you. I often try and memorise a verse so that I can think about it for that day. This is called in the Bible meditation.

Unlike Eastern meditation, which requires you to empty your mind, this is just the opposite. You fill your mind with a thought or scripture and dwell on it. Joshua was given this as a command by the Lord in order to ensure success in life and ministry, Joshua 1.8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.”

Once a scripture is memorised it is easy to return to it and think about it at any time, day or night. Meditation opens our spirit to receive revelation, which is how God communicates with us. It is knowledge we receive that goes beyond learning with the mind. You don’t have to get a new scripture every day. Begin with one that you have for the week. In a year you’ll have learned fifty two!

3. Prayer. Looking at how Jesus did this, we may well call it listening prayer. It’s dialogue. For as we speak, we also listen. God is a speaking God and He wants to direct us. Many times I will pray with a pen and paper to hand. I expect to hear something. Now, in case you think I have a hot line to heaven, let me explain how that works for me. While I am enquiring over a particular issue I will often get a thought, an impression or a scripture. I write these down and pray over them, asking for confirmation. I allow time for conviction to grow in my heart about what I think God is saying. I may carry this for days, weeks or even months.

I also speak with friends I trust, seeking their wisdom. I am open for God to speak in other ways too. It’s a process. I don’t rush it. Eventually I act on what I believe God is saying. I never reach the point of 100% certainty. There is always a knowledge gap that requires faith. I think that’s how it’s meant to work!

The scriptures highlight three specific kinds of prayer helpful in devotionals:

a) Petition or asking, such as “Give us this day our daily bread”, Matt 6.11. The focus here is any needs that we have.

b) Intercession, where we pray on behalf of others, like Jesus did for Peter, Luke 22.32 and Paul did for the churches, Eph 3.14-21.

c) Inquiry, where we want understanding or direction. David used this often; 1Sam 23.9-13; 30.7-9. It is during this part of our praying that we should expect God to speak and be open to prophetic revelation. In the New Testament this was often done corporately. That is where personal convictions were always weighed and tested, Acts 13.1-3; 16.6-10.

4. The final part of a good devotion is confession. This operates at two levels. The first is about keeping a clean slate with the Lord. 1John 1.9 says; “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. In Jesus language we say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, Matt 6.12. Notice that this works in two directions.

When we ask God to forgive us for the things we have done wrong we must be prepared to forgive those who have offended us in some way. These are two sides of the same coin. The point is so crucial to living a blessed life that Jesus returned to it at the close of the prayer, Matt 6.14-15; “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Whenever Jesus spoke of forgiveness He used money as a metaphor to help us understand the real nature of forgiveness. It all about releasing debts; releasing people from things they owe us. He doesn’t focus on how we feel about it. That’s where most people make a mistake. Forgiveness is like accounting. You’re either in debt or not. There may be emotional issues to resolve, but forgiveness is a choice based on what God has done for us in Christ. This is the point of Jesus teaching in Matt 18. Our debt to God is huge compared to what others owe us; and He has forgiven us!

The other aspect of confession is about what we say. Our language needs to reflect the promises we carry in our hearts. Salvation comes to us by making the right confession, Rom 10.10. But this confession must reflect a heart revelation. It has to be real for us on the inside or we just parrot words. Take John’s prayer for Gaius in 3John 2. “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”. Let’s turn that into a confession and make it personal. “Today I will prosper in all things and be in good health even as my soul prospers”.

Joshua and Caleb are two examples of me who allowed their confession to line up with God’s promise to take the land in Num 14.6-9. However the other ten spies confessed their unbelief and discouraged the heart of the people. They missed their inheritance! Words have such power. Let the close of your devotional time be a confession you take with you for that day. If it’s rooted in a promise it has the power to take you and others into your inheritance. That’s what I call building traction into your life.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Building Inclusive Relationships

I want to address how we can get traction in our relationships. Getting the body in shape is one thing. Getting our own life and relationships in shape is another! I’ve written about building good relationships in other places. On this occasion I want to give some keys about how we can move forward into our destiny. What I write is all learned from personal experience and resonates in scripture.

Prov 13.20 says this; He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. Wow. Is it really like that? I’m now in my fifties and life has shown that this is absolutely true. Who you hang with has a tremendous influence on your life. And so it should. The key is to choose wisely who you allow to be your friends and companions. For you will end up like them, for good or for bad.

Paul picked up on this when he warned the Corinthian believers, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” (NET) 1Cor 15.33. He had written them a letter (before 1Corinthians) warning them not to keep company with sexually immoral people. They had completely misunderstood his point and were avoiding all unbelievers. So in 1Cor 6.9-13 he wrote again and clarified his meaning. I’ll do a liberal paraphrase for you.

“I’m not talking about people in the world. I expect that from them. That’s how they live unless they get saved. You need to interact with them. How else will they hear the message – the good news of Jesus? I’m talking about people who profess to be believers but their lives are not changed. They can’t walk the talk. Those are the people you should censor. Don’t even eat with them - they’ll corrupt you”.

You get the point. Now let’s be clear here. Paul is not talking about people who have areas of weakness in their life and are in a process of dealing with those issues. They are to be respected and applauded for facing their problems and wanting them resolved. Paul is addressing those who are proud and unrepentant about their lifestyle that is unbiblical. They make continuous accommodations for behaviour that is clearly challenged in scripture. They are deceived.

Prov 1.10 says: “If sinners entice you, do not consent”. In other words learn to say no to things you know to be wrong. But saying no to some people is not easy. We’ve all experienced peer pressure. The famous line we sued at school was, “I dare you!” Or worse, “I double dare you!” Backing down from such a taunt was never easy. You risked unending amounts of tease and ridicule. But there comes time when we need to see where that kind of friendship is taking us and pull back.

Heb 10.24 tells us to, “Provoke one another to love and good works”. That’s what I look for from my friends. Do they stir me to love God and others more? Do I find myself involved in things that have virtue and value? Can I admire the way they live and how they do life? Am I stretched to go further for God when around them? Do they help me explore my full potential and gifting? Choose wisely. Destinies are at stake.

The second thing that has helped me in life is being genuinely accountable to another person. There has to be someone to whom you can say, “I give you permission to speak into my life”. Risky business? Yes, but without it you’ll never make any significant step forward into your future. Find someone who cares, who is mature, who is a few steps ahead of you and commit to a season of being mentored by them.

In 1Cor 16.15-16 we read; “I urge you brethren – you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints – that you also submit to such and to everyone who works and labours with us”. Paul reminded the church of Stephanas and his household. They were early converts in the region of Achaia (where Athens and Corinth were situated). Paul lifts him up along with the members of his household as an example of someone they could submit to and be lead by.

The twelve followed Jesus. Paul followed Barnabas. Timothy followed Paul. John Mark followed Barnabas then Peter. Moses had his Joshua and Elijah had his Elisha. Who are you looking to? Who is looking to you? Discipleship is not discipleship without accountability. It takes a while to mature as a Christian. John talks of those who are children, young men and fathers in the Kingdom. I see this as three distinct phases of spiritual growth. Interestingly he addresses fathers after children and not after young men, 1John 2.12-14. Why?

Rather than be chronological in the development of a believer, John highlights the key figures in reaching maturity; fathers. There they sit right in the middle of the whole process; for they are the ones who help children transition into young men. That’s how I grew as a Christian. And the casualties I’ve witnessed over the years often lacked real spiritual fathers they could be accountable to.

Jesus made it clear in His teaching that we are all accountable to God for our life choices. The whole of Matthew 25 highlights this principle. Jesus borrowed from real life to make this point. When accountability is missing deception or corruption can take root. Remember Nick Leeson? He’s the rogue trader whose unchecked risk-taking caused the biggest financial scandal of the 20th century. The collapse of Barings Bank (personal bank to HM The Queen) in 1995 is one of the most spectacular debacles in modern financial history. How could one trader bring down the banking empire that had funded the Napoleonic Wars? It wasn’t just his lies. The problem lay in the lack of accounting safeguards. There was no real accountability to expose his deception until it was too late.

Accountability shows us our blind spots. It often requires us to rethink a decision and come back with a new one or a stronger conviction about the first choice. Accountability makes us face reality, not as we perceive it to be, but as others around us see it. And in doing so we are often set free from subtle egocentric frames of reference that keep us back from seeing the big picture. Accountability keeps us honest, with ourselves and others. It is the gift that allows righteousness to truly reign.

The third thing that has helped me to grow in my relationships has been to learn how to take the initiative. Prov 18.24a is translated two ways. One version puts it like this; “A man that has friends must show himself friendly”. Another translation says: “A man of many friends will come to ruin”. There is some ambiguity in the Hebrew. But the reality is that both are true. In order to make friends you have to be friendly. But if you have too many ‘friends’, they are likely to be shallow relationships who abandon you in your time of need.
That is what happened to the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he had money everyone was his friend!

Yet it is possible to build lasting relationships, but someone has to make the first move. Jonathan took the initiative in his relationship with David and both were enriched. He watched out for David always taking the initiative to speak up on his behalf when he wasn’t around to defend himself. We do well to follow in his footsteps. Who knows how many David’s are in the wings waiting for someone to be an older brother to them in the real sense of that role?

Don’t wait for others to open up to you. You take the first step. Don’t wait for others to talk to you. You strike up a conversation. Having overcome your fear of initiating a conversation, stay with it. Get past the surface level stuff of who you are, where you’re from and what you do and go a little deeper. A man with many friends doesn’t dare to do this. It’s too vulnerable a place to be. Yet each of us desires that quality of friendship.

The challenge is to continually be willing to add people to our world. Those who don’t, form relationships that remain exclusive. They soon become cliques. There is an elitist feel to the group. They have their own ‘in jokes’ that outsiders can’t share in. Including others in our world is part of the gospel – for the gospel is universal, impartial and open to all. That needs to be reflected in the way we relate.

How would you encourage a new believer? It’s not rocket science. It’s as simple as inviting them to be part of what you do, not just the meetings you attend. We’re talking life here. Make it easy for them to say yes by going the extra mile. Give them a lift to an event instead of having to make their own way; at least in the initial stages. Introduce them to your friends. Be friendly.

How would encourage a believer who is a bit stuck in the mud? It means taking the initiative. Get close. Earn the right to say something. Begin by speaking to their potential – all the good that you see. Letting go of the bad is easier when we get a vision of the good. Maybe you even tell them about this series design to help believers get some traction in their life. Offer to hear it through with them and walk it out together. This is discipleship at its most basic.

Taking the initiative can be applied to almost every area of our Christian experience. Don’t allow passivity and indifference to hold you back. God always takes the initiative. He didn’t leave us lost. Like a shepherd He came to look for the lost sheep, leaving the ninety nine who were safe. If we are filled with the life of God we too will do the same. Listen to James on this: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins", James 3.19-20.

According to James it’s not just God who saves souls! We partner with Him in the process, but only when we take initiative. The word initiative means an introductory act or step, a willingness to take action. That is what I am challenging us to do. 1John 3.17 says our response to the needs of others is a test of God’s love in our hearts. And only an open heart can dare to be moved and take that step.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

My Body, His Temple - Fit for Service

This begins a new series I’m doing on how to get traction in your life. Traction is about ‘pulling power’. Sometimes our life becomes ‘stuck in the mud’. Like a car that is in snowy weather or on a muddy field we may be revving high but our wheels are spinning. However, some vehicles are made for those kinds of situations. They are called ‘four by four’ or ‘off roader’ cars.

These vehicles apply the drive to all four wheels so that if one or two start to lose their grip and spin the others provide the needed grip to move forward. I want to suggest that we need that kind of approach to living the Christian life. Drive has to be applied to a number of areas. So over the next four weeks I’ll be looking to challenge us to develop in four areas of life: physically; relationally; spiritually and practically.

In one sense all of life is spiritual, because we are whole beings. But I want to give a specific meaning to each of these terms that will make it meaningful for us to grow in each of these areas. Let’s look at the first, staying physically fit.

John writes to a good friend called Gaius and shares his prayer for this man; “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”, 3John 2. The inner life of the believer is important. This is the area of the soul and spirit. Here is where we receive revelation from God and process knowledge and understanding in order to live. But John’s prayer extends beyond his inner world to include the body. The great apostle John tells us we should prosper in all things and be in health.

A person can be sick and experience healing. This is great. Yet even better is to be in such good health that we don’t get sick. Our immune system operates at such an optimum level we are able to fight off decease and infection. In order to do this we need to be physically fit. Think of Moses in Deut 34.7, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigour diminished”. Think of that. When Moses died he was as fit as a fiddle.

Consider Caleb’s testimony in Joshua 14.10-11, “And now behold the Lord has kept me alive, as He said, these forty five years, ever since He spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now here I am this day eighty five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in”.

These two examples seem to go beyond enjoying good health. They are what I call ‘life’. Each of these men had the strength of a man half their age. And the implication is they looked young too! My belief is that if we walk in obedience to God we can participate in His life. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in our mortal bodies. And Paul says that Spirit is able to quicken or make us alive; Rom 8.11.

Now I understand that within the context of the passage he is speaking of the certainty of the resurrection – our resurrection; but it also implies that the Spirit can impart life to our bodies in a way that sustains us beyond our normal limitations. Think of Elijah. He ran away from Jezebel, fearing for his life. An angel of God met him and made him eat a cake he had prepared. Elijah was able to run in the strength of that food for forty days from one end of Israel to the other. It was supernatural for sure, but I am intrigued that he actually had to eat something to be nourished and go in the strength of it. The text is explicit; “and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights”, 1Kings 19.5-8.

There are other examples of men in the Bible who were fit. Asahel was David’s nephew, brother to Joab. He was so fast at running that they said he had the feet of a Gazelle, 2Sam 2.18. All of David’s mighty men were fit and able to fight with their swords in either hand. They trained hard and developed great skill.

Four of the disciples were fisher men – tough guys. Yet when Jesus invited Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray they were so exhausted from the journey they all slept, Luke 9.28-32. Not Jesus. He was a builder, a carpenter. And perhaps He was feasting at a table they knew little about, John 4.34.

Now to be sure the New Testament emphasises Godliness above all else. In 1Tim 4.8 Paul says; “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come”. But notice that Paul doesn’t say bodily exercise is useless. There is some value to it.

Also Paul sees the human body as being a temple for God’s Spirit. He lives in us – in our bodies. This implies that we need to honour our bodies by taking care how we use them, 1Cor 6.19-20.

There are many things that we can do that lower the body’s natural defences. Let me give you four areas that science has proven we need to watch and how their findings resonate with the wisdom of the Bible.

1. In Biblical times they had a good diet and sensible sanitary laws. Leviticus lays out what a good Jew could and could not eat. It prescribes the importance of washing over running water and how certain kinds of mildew could only be removed by destroying the garments they had contaminated – thus stopping the spread of disease. Many of these restrictions made sense in the light of a culture that didn’t have refrigeration. Certain animals were restricted because now we know their digestive systems left them vulnerable to absorb disease into their skin and so make people sick.

We may be free from a legalistic application of these laws, but it makes no sense to keep eating only processed food. Our bodies are nourished best with fresh fruit and vegetables. Many diseases today can be traced to the way we process food and the poor eating habits we have developed. So let me give you the first challenge. Start to eat more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat less carbohydrate foods and less fatty meats. You’ll soon feel the benefit and your immune system will thank you by keeping away decease.

2. They exercised far more than we do. Scientists tell us that a 2-3 km walk a day reduces risk of death by disease by 50%. In Biblical time they walked everywhere. It was part of life. The two on the Emmaus Road walked seven miles with Jesus and then returned the same day, fourteen in total. Jesus walked all over Israel as did Paul. Now they weren’t against technology. Paul sailed in boats and Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey. But life in an agricultural society meant hard work.

This is increasingly missing for those who have been born in the city. Those who are in jobs that are more pedestrian in nature need to be more intentional about getting regular exercise. So here is challenge number two; instead of jumping in your car to go to the local shops, walk. Take up a sport that requires some aerobic exercise. Do a little, often.

3. They slept well. Jesus said, “Are there not twelve hours in the day”, John 11.9. My dad used to say to me, “Son, don’t keep burning the candle at both ends”. Good advice. I didn’t listen and learned the hard way. I got ill. Psalm 127 talks of rising early, staying up late and eating the bread of sorrows. It’s a description of a person who had taken the weight of the world on their shoulders. They think it all depends on them. They put in more and more effort but they are no happier; quite the opposite. This is not God’s way. He watches over the city and He builds the house. When we’ve done our part we can go to bed! “For so He gives His beloved sleep”, Psalm 127.2.

I love this psalm. God is in control – not us. As a young pastor I remember being conscious of all the needs of the flock. At the end of the day I used to pray like this, “Lord they are your people and your problem; I’m off to bed, goodnight”. That may seem irreverent but it was an expression of faith. Going to sleep when you haven’t been able to do everything enables you to be refreshed for what a new day will bring.

Listen to David; “Lord how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God’. But you O Lord are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke for the Lord sustained me”, Psalm 3.1-5.

Right in the midst of trouble and pressure David cried to God then went to sleep! He felt God sustain him. Jesus slept in the back of the boat during a raging storm, Mark 4.35-41. He was at peace while all around Him was in turmoil. Sleep allows the body to rest and recuperate. It allows repair to go on and at the subconscious level many problems we face can be processed so that in the morning we know what to do.

Here is challenge number three; get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown that the average person needs between seven to nine hours sleep a night. If you drink coffee late at night it contains caffeine which will act as a stimulant and keep you up. Use the end of the day to unwind, then your sleep will be sweet.

4. God’s people learned the importance of rest. This is different to sleep. The Bible says we labour for six days and rest on the seventh. There is meant to be a rhythm to life. Even creation has a rhythm, spring, summer, autumn and winter. There is a time for harvest and a time for the land to rest. It is part of the order of creation. Remember man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. It is there to serve us. Again it requires faith because it means we take time to acknowledge the creator, to worship Him and appreciate all that our labour has accomplished that week.

The world system tends towards exploitation. This was Egypt’s model; slave drivers who always want more. But God has a different agenda. He wants to bring us into rest. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, Matt 11.28-30.

The problem is that we are wearing the wrong yoke. Jesus has stuff for us to do but He wants us to learn to do it with Him alongside us. The yoke He gives has a good fit and is not heavy. Labouring with Jesus is satisfying. We find rest in it.

In the Old Testament the Israelite’s had Holy days. It’s where we get our word holiday from. Seven feasts were given to Israel as Holy days alongside the weekly Sabbath. Three times a year they had to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate these feasts. God provided holidays for family and friends to get together and enjoy all the blessing He had given. We need to continue with seasons of celebration and rest. Without them we burn out.

So here comes challenge number four; have a regular ‘Sabbath’ that is down time for you and purpose to rest. Do something you find relaxing. Make sure you get holiday time away from your normal routine. That’s what the Israelite’s had to do.

Finally, the best way to know where you are with your health is to get a regular check from your doctor. We take cars to be serviced because we know it’s a lot cheaper to replace the oil than to replace the engine. Professionals can help us understand where we need to pay attention to what is going on in us. Don’t ignore pain or problems. Pray by all means, but you can’t pray yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into! Proverbs says, “Get wisdom”. Wisdom is the ability to know what to do when. It helps us live life well. So take my challenge and mixed with obedience to God’s word who knows if God won’t give you the same promise he gave to the tribe of Asher, “As your days, so shall your strength be”, Deut 33.25.