Blogroll Category: Christian Resources
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"If only then I would be happy." We're all prone to sub-consciously thinking about life in this way, even if it's just an internal thought. Some of us may be brave enough to admit it to a family member of close friend, but Jennie Pollock has written a book about it.
Jennie always wanted to be a stay-at-home mum, but it hasn't happened. In If Only she writes candidly about her struggle for contentment and helps her readers to take their eyes off the things they wish they had and instead enjoying the character of the God they do have.
We want to share with you a preview of A Better Than Anything Christmas, a new Advent devotional for families from Barbara Reaoch. As you read together, your family will get more excited about Jesus than anything else Christmas has to offer. The following extract is a devotion for the first day in December.
[inline_product:betterthan]December 1st: All God's Promises
Read Luke 1 v 26-33
- What words are used to tell us about Mary? (verses 26-30)
What promises from God did the angel give Mary? (verses 31-33)
At Christmas, we want all our dreams to come true. We hope everyone keeps their promises. But even our best friends can’t always keep their promises. It hurts when a promise is broken. God is not like that. Nothing will stop God from keeping his promises. Jesus came to give us something better than a best friend’s promise.
Mary had questions. How could she be a mother? Why would God choose a poor girl to be the mother of God’s Son? The angel told Mary, “No word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1 v 37). Whatever God promises will happen. We do not have to see it before we believe God.
God kept his promise to Mary. Mary’s baby Jesus is the Word from God that never fails. Jesus makes all God’s promises real to us. Through Jesus’s life, death on the cross, and resurrection to newness of life, we know that God alone has all power to keep all his promises. The Bible tells us that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1 v 20). Christmas says that Jesus came so that all of God’s good promises come true.
- Why is God’s promise of Jesus a “better than ever” promise?
How do we know that God always keeps his promises?
What do God’s promises mean for your life?
Where do we find God’s promises?
Father God, you are always true to your word. Thank you for sending Jesus. We know that you alone have all power to keep all your promises. Help us to know you and love you more this Christmas and always. Amen.
At the end of each day, there is some journaling space provided for each family member to write or draw their own response to what God has shown them. To find out more about A Better Than Anything Christmas and to get your copy, click here.
Feel free to take this and make it your own. But if you are doing it in the open air at a street carol service, please keep it short!
Bible text: Colossians 1:19-20Introduction:
This is not the Christmas we expected. Christmas is a time when we gather, embrace, and see the faces of loved and distant family. But it’s only when we mustn’t do those things that we realise how precious they are to us. The government is telling us to remember Hands, Face, Space to keep us safe. And that is the message of Christmas too.Space:
Christmas is first and foremost about a rescue plan God put into place. We have faced many problems during lockdown, but the Bible tells just that we have a serious problem that we don’t give enough thought too. We are separated from God — not socially distanced, but spiritually distanced. Christmas is about the initiative God took to close that gap. And he did it by sending his Son into the world. We need to be reconciled to God, we need to be forgiven by God, we need to find peace with God (Col 1:20). And this was God’s Christmas plan.Face:
The centre of Christmas is the birth of the Lord Jesus as a tiny helpless baby. But this is no ordinary baby. The Bible tells us that "The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). What this means is that God is no longer a mystery to us or a guessing game. When you look in the face of Jesus Christ, you are looking in the face of God. Jesus was born to reveal God to us in all his fulness — and we discover a God who is just and righteous, but also loving, merciful and full of compassion towards the weak and the helpless. But how would this rescue happen?Hands:
Parents are always amazed at the tiny hands and fingerprints and fingernails of infants. The tiny hands of the first Christmas baby grew to be the strong hands of a carpenter. Strong hands that healed with the power of God. Strong hands that did amazing miracles to show who Jesus truly was. But they were hands that were pierced with nails when Jesus gave himself up to die so that we might be reconciled to God. So that the space between us can be closed. So that we embrace God again, and look into his face as a loving father, not as a righteous judge. Our passage says that at the first easter, Jesus was " making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20)
Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for us to gather with family and friends and neighbours. To share gifts, to sing songs, to celebrate all the ups and downs of the last year. But is also the opportunity to respond to God’s greatest gift of forgiveness, new life and a fresh start with Jesus. Will you pray with me?
For a warm, gentle introduction to the Christian message, take a look at our Christmas tract for this year, Christmas hope in a covid world. It’s ideal for churches to put through doors or for you to slip into a Christmas card. We also have a matching card available here.
Amber and Nate did not grow up in the church. As new followers of Christ, the church gave fresh hope for their lives. It became their haven. They relied on the church to teach them and their children about God and his Word. Enter—the pandemic! Everything changed and keeps changing. Along with many parents, Amber and Nate wonder, “What will happen to our kids?” They miss the church’s support in discipling their children. How can it be, that even in the lockdown the world keeps on shaping our kids into its mold?
Many parents in the church today fight a spiritual enemy who tempts them to think they are not equipped to disciple their kids. They gladly let the qualified church staff assume this role. What will this time away from our regular church programming mean for our kids’ lives? What will be the eternal consequences? How will the church respond? Pastors and ministry leaders are initiating ways to support parents as they disciple their children.
What guiding principles will the church give parents to help their children as the pandemic changes kids' ministry?
What guiding principles will the church give parents to help their children as the pandemic changes kids' ministry?1. God has given parents the primary influence in a child’s life
God commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know his statutes, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. Psalm 78:5-7
God has appointed parents to share his Word with their kids. Parents have the amazing responsibility of leading their kids to know and believe the glorious truths of the gospel. The family is our greatest mission field. Is God stretching parents to trust him in new ways? Yes! The church can help parents trust and depend on God for this assignment. Parents start by cultivating their own relationship with God. Parents’ growth in God produces sweet truth for their children. The whole family will taste and see that the Lord is good!2. God has made every child’s mind and heart pliable
Kids are impressionable. Whatever they see and hear easily influences them. They know when things they see and hear are wrong. What they don’t realize is how what they see and hear is reprogramming their worldview. God made a child’s mind and heart pliable for a reason. Childhood is when they are most likely to listen and believe. Children are not skeptics; they are not judgmental or cynical.
The church can coach parents on how to talk about God with their kids. Families can learn to talk about God as they would school activities, sports, or anything else! Give tips for reading the Bible together. Make God the focus and ask: “What is God showing us about himself?” “What does God want us to know about ourselves?”3. God has designed childhood as the time to discover his wonders
Our children are exposed to lots of information all the time. Much is good, helpful, educational, and even spiritually beneficial. But kids don’t yet have a solid biblical immune system. Information that contradicts godly principles can easily infect their tender hearts.
How can the church help parents immunize their children spiritually? Pastors and ministry leaders can come alongside parents. With the wealth of teaching resources available, parents need to know how to choose. Create a list of books with deep doctrinal truths. Recommend books with simple language that can teach children and parents alike.
The challenges of 2020 give churches the opportunity to provide families with helpful tools for discipleship at home. A Better Than Anything Christmas is an example of this kind of resource. Daily Bible discussions, interactive questions, and lots of extra activities provide the help parents need. The whole family will enjoy 25 days of devotions to help make Christmas 2020 better-than-anything!
The challenges of 2020 give churches the opportunity to provide families with helpful tools for discipleship at home.4. Children belong to God
“Children are a gift from God….” Psalm 127:3
Children do not really belong to us. God “gifts” them to us for a season so we will disciple them. Parents have the privilege of teaching their child what it means to know God and love him.
Church leaders need to know Christian parents want to disciple their kids, but just thinking about it overwhelms them. School is so demanding; how can they make the time? There are so many resources and tools, how do they choose?
Today’s crisis gives the church a unique opportunity to strengthen Christian families. What plans will your church leadership make to help parents grow strong disciples for Christ in their family?
Barbara Reaoch is the author of A Better Than Anything Christmas, a new Advent devotional for families. In the lead-up to Christmas, families will explore 25 reasons why Jesus came, and they will see that what Jesus gives us is better than anything else we could wish for.
Bake Through the Bible came about through a shared desire to talk to our children about their Saviour Jesus through the everyday moments. That desire hasn’t changed, but the challenges are ever changing (not to mention that we have more children to share Jesus with now!).
On top of this, half term is very different this year: the usual lifelines of days out and visits to friends and family can’t happen for many of us. So we wanted to share some of our thoughts of how we intend to share the good news of Jesus with our children in the reality of this challenging time.
It’s also the time of year when shops, schools, neighbours’ windows, and the TV is full of Halloween. So some of our thinking has been around how to make sure our children don’t feel they “miss out” on all the fun they perceive their friends are having by “celebrating” Halloween, and instead create moments to celebrate the many, many good things that God has given to us. Here’s a little of what we have planned for this half term holiday.Bekah
My thinking began with pumpkins, as we managed to grow three in our garden this year. However, they are mostly green with patches of orange struggling to break through, and my son Francis (7) is still not convinced they are actually pumpkins, so we’ve bought “real” ones for carving for the town’s Pumpkin Carving Competition!
Francis has painted a rainbow on his pumpkin, and carved the word HOPE so a candle inside will light it up. I love that rainbows became a universal symbol of hope in lockdown, but I want to ensure Francis knows where our true hope comes from and why we really can trust God. So I’m hoping to make some bread shapes from Bake Through the Bible with him this week (to enjoy with pumpkin soup?)—a chance to teach him that God promised Abraham that his family would grow, and it did, because God always keeps his promises! And maybe I will create a window display with Francis’ pumpkin sharing our hope with our neighbours…
Simeon (9) likes the idea of his pumpkin becoming the Cookie Monster, so I’m thinking we’ll make some creation cookies from Bake Through the Bible to sit inside its mouth and provide an opportunity to remind him that God is the king of creation. Cookies are great for a child with a very short attention span, as I can do much of the prep beforehand (or buy ready-made cookie dough), and he can simply cut out the shapes and decorate. I’ve discovered edible writing pens, so he doesn’t have to struggle with traditional icing pens, and it creates less mess.Susie
The prevalence of pumpkins has got our household thinking too. We enjoy an annual visit to a Pick Your Own Pumpkin farm, as much for the quintessentially autumnal sight of a field peppered with these orange globes as for anything we bring home. The variety of shapes and sizes of different kinds of squashes are a visual delight and offer plenty of potential in the kitchen too.
We’re planning an autumn banquet—in essence, a focal point at which to channel our creative efforts and use as an opportunity to celebrate God’s abundant provision. Some kind of homemade vegetable soup will feature: there’s a role for everyone in the preparation, whether it’s peeling and chopping for the older ones or throwing the pieces into a pan. We’ll make a salad with as many different colour vegetables as we can manage, and the centrepiece will be a whole baked and stuffed pumpkin, which has become something of a family favourite. Simply put, you scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin and then fill it with a mixture of softened onions, breadcrumbs, double cream and grated cheese. Perfectly warming as the nights draw in. The gooey chocolate desserts from Bake Through the Bible will most likely make an appearance too: this is a banquet after all! My hope is that the conversation around the meal table will include the opportunity to give thanks—for some of our favourite foods and many other things besides—and to point forward to God’s new creation where life will be immeasurably more wonderful!
Susie is married to Pete and lives in Southampton (UK). They have four children: Joshua (9), Molly (7), Roseanna (4) and Joel (6 months).
Bekah is married to Nick and lives in Spennymoor (Durham, UK). They have three sons: Simeon (9), Francis (7), and Phoenix, who is already in Heaven with Jesus.
Most of us are over familiar with the events of the first Christmas. But what if there's more to it than we thought?
Sitting President of The Southern Baptist Convention, JD Greear joins us on the podcast to tell us about the new Christmas evangelistic book he's written, what it really meant for him to surrender his life to Jesus and how so much of his teaching centers on rejecting "cultural Christianity" in all its forms.
All children know that presents are at the heart of Christmas. Most of us can remember, as kids, waking up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day and asking, “Can we get up now?” Until I was 10 or 11, that day was the best day of my year. Why? Materialism. I knew I would get lots of great gifts from people who loved me. Later, I would learn that it was fun to give good gifts to people I loved, too.
Christians believe that at the heart of Christmas, and of life, is one particular present—God’s gift to us of a baby. But what kind of present is it?What Kind of Gift Is Christmas?
Is Christmas a gift that’s really imaginary—non-existent? Is this baby just like the Santa Claus myth, which makes you feel comforted and sentimental in the Christmas season, but that’s it, because it’s just make-believe? Or is this gift one that is given without much effort, that costs little to the giver, and that changes nothing very much? Or is it carefully planned, expensively bought, and given with love?
I want to show you why God’s gift to you falls into the third category.Christmas is a Carefully Planned, Thoughtful Gift
Let’s rewind back through history, but not to the first Christmas and the events we’re so familiar with—the manger scene, shepherds watching sheep, angels singing their songs, and wise men arriving. I want to go back further than that because there’s more to the Christmas story than those oh-so-familiar events.
The most unlikely birth in human history was a “sign” from God that he is real, and that he really gets involved, because he really cares.
I want to land back around 800 BC. It was at that point that a man named Isaiah, claiming to speak as a messenger from God, announced that “the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive [and] have a son” (from the Old Testament Bible book of Isaiah, chapter 7, verse 14).
A baby was coming who would be born in the most unlikely—humanly speaking, impossible—circumstances. Now, maybe the part of the Christmas story when a virgin gets pregnant is the part where you check out and file it as myth. But I think that’s the part where you should sit up and listen: because that event was foretold over 700 years before. God had been preparing for the first Christmas centuries before Mary first laid her newborn baby in a feeding trough.Christmas is a Gift That Shows God Cares
This isn’t a Santa Claus myth but real history. The most unlikely birth in human history was a “sign” from God that he is real, and that he really gets involved, because he really cares. The people to whom Isaiah made this prophecy—the people of Israel—were desperate to hear something, anything, from God. They were, said Isaiah, a “people walking in darkness.”
It was a time of national crisis. Economically, they had been devastated. They were facing invasion, and so their very existence as a nation was under threat. There was a darkness of uncertainty about their future, of fear about their safety, of the feeling that they were all alone, of the sense that they were helpless and they were hopeless. There was the darkness of knowing that things had gone wrong and knowing that there was no way to put things back together the way that they were supposed to be.
The people were searching for something to hold on to. And God said that what they needed was the birth of a baby. What they were searching for was what he would do at the first Christmas.
[inline_product:search]Christmas is the Gift We’ve Been Searching For
As we come to the end of this year, we too know how it feels for everything we thought was certain to become suddenly uncertain. We know the sensation of the ground shifting and even sinking beneath us. We’ve experienced the sense that there is no way to put things back together the way they used to be. We’re aware more than ever, and perhaps for the first time, that prosperity, state-of-the-art medical systems, our nation’s economy, and even our own lives are more fragile than we’d like them to be.
Most of us know something of the darkness and the shadows this Christmas. Maybe this Christmas you’re unsure about what the next year holds for you: your job security is shaky; your marriage is crumbling; your health is fading. Maybe this is the first Christmas that you’ve felt alone. Or maybe you’ve felt like that for longer than you can remember. Maybe you don’t know where to go or where to turn. Or maybe things are ok, but still you wonder if there is more, and you sense that maybe that “more” might involve God.
We are searching for something to hold on to. And God says to us the same as he said to those people facing darkness all those centuries ago—that, perhaps without knowing it, we’re searching for Christmas.
Strange as it may sound, God says to us that, in times of plenty and in times of crisis, what we most need is the birth of a baby: “A child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9 v 6)
This is an extract from Searching for Christmas by J.D. Greear, an evangelistic book that goes beyond the birth of Jesus to look at what he did when he grew up and how he fulfilled the names given to him centuries beforehand by the prophet Isaiah.
In a compelling, insightful, winsome and personal way, J.D. Greear shows that if we get to know the God who lies behind the Christmas story and at the heart of the Christmas story, we'll discover the joy, hope, purpose, and belonging we're all searching for.
We are thrilled to be continuing our support of Compassion this year through the sale of our Christmas cards. Last year we were delighted to support 60 young people in Tanzania gaining skills in baking, carpentry, filmography and photography, and I wanted to share with you an update from Paul Dymott at Compassion about how our donations are going to be used in the year ahead.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many households across Africa hard, and with local markets closing, people who sell food for their livelihoods now have nowhere to do this and consequently are struggling to obtain the basic necessities for living. This is affecting every area of life and means that Compassion’s child sponsorship programmes are as vital as ever, but so too are interventions that will empower the next generation of workers to not have to rely on these precarious sources of income.
One of these areas that needs more support is the funding of education scholarships for university education. So we plan to use donations from The Good Book Company to support as many students as possible with the equivalent of around £1,000 each to fully cover the costs of their degrees. Without this, the students wouldn’t be able to attend university and the cycle of poverty in their families would be no closer to being broken."
Here are two Togolese students who will be receiving scholarships for their university education. It is a privilege to be able to contribute towards such incredible work and we are thankful to all of our customers who, through the purchase of our Christmas cards, make this support possible.
Don’t miss our Early Bird Christmas Card Offer!* Get 3 packs of 6 Christmas cards for just £6 until October 31st. Use the code 3FOR6 at the checkout. Pick up a great deal today. *This offer is only available on our bestselling Christmas card designs in the £2.99 price range.
A great new Bible Study Resource…A new resource written by Robin Sydserff
ReadMark is a Bible Study Resource that has been developed over a number of years at Chalmers Church in Edinburgh. It is a thorough and detailed exploration of Mark’s Gospel that keeps the text front and centre with supporting short videos and an accompanying booklet.
PT are really excited to make this material available to everyone for free and you can access the material at proctrust.org.uk/readmark.
The material is great for people who want to study Mark’s Gospel for themselves, it is a great resource for one-to-one’s and is also very good to be worked through in groups. It is a good next step for people who want to have a second look at Mark’s Gospel having completed a course like Christianity Explored.
We are really pleased with it and would love you to have a look, give it a trial and feedback to us how it can be improved.
We are very grateful to Robin Sydserff and the church family at Chalmers Church for giving us permission to make this widely available and for free. It is a great accompaniment to Teaching Mark which is the newest edition to our PT Teaching series…
“What are you doing for Christmas?”
Back in August, when the annual conversation-cum-negotiation around our families’ Christmas plans began, the assumption behind that question already seemed unwise. Scroll forward a few months and it’s now clear that it will be an unusual Christmas season, to say the least.
We’re unlikely to be able to gather in large family groups or to invite friends to carol services. What will working from home do to our witness? How will social distancing affect seasonal cheer?
Yes, December is going to be strange. But while the events of our Christmas celebration might be different, the events we celebrate are unchanged. The good news of Christ’s incarnation is unaffected and can go on being proclaimed and celebrated.Fixing our eyes on eternal certainty
So, this Christmas, whatever it looks like, let’s use both the familiarity of the traditions we can maintain and the strangeness of the current time to teach our children. Both can remind them of the timeless wonders of the gospel and the unchanging character of our Saviour. And through both we can encourage them to marvel for the first time at some truths about our Lord Jesus they may not yet have encountered.Using the familiar:
- Music can still happen, so let’s sing Christ’s praises! This year, gather round an instrument or a playlist and enjoy songs with your children. As a family, why not tell the Christmas story or set verses of Scripture to familiar Christmas tunes?
- Gifts might be second-hand or home-made. They might be promises of service rather than tangible items, but we can still enjoy gift-giving. As we do, let’s talk to our kids about the King who came to give not take, who is a gift himself from the Father, who gave himself at the cross, who sent the gift of his Holy Spirit and who guarantees us the gift of eternal life.
- We will still eat! It may not be a festive feast with friends and family, but sitting down together as family over a meal gives us all sorts of ways to talk about Christ and the big Bible story – Passover, meals Jesus attended, the last Supper, Peter’s breakfast on the shore, the banquet of the lamb. As you enjoy meals with your children this Christmas season, why not say, “Let me tell you about a meal that the people of Israel celebrated/that Jesus spent with his friends/that we will enjoy one day…”?
"sometimes the jolt of the strange can take our eyes off the Christmas trappings and focus them on Christ"Using what is strange:
- If our children are struck by the difference of the Christmas season this year, let’s take the opportunity to speak of the God who does not change, who is never taken by surprise, who is in sovereign control and who acts in surprising ways through surprising circumstances. Consider together God’s sovereign control in the Christmas story – all the Old Testament promises fulfilled as God directs everyone to the right place at the right time. Notice all the surprises of the Christmas story – the announcement to Mary, Jesus’ humble birth to a humble family, his first visitors, the Magis’ gifts…
- If it is a Christmas of not seeing loved ones, of loneliness or disappointment, we can use our experience of those emotions to help get inside the Christmas story: how would you have felt if you had been Mary or Joseph, away from home and family? How did God look after them? How does it make you feel that Jesus was willing to leave his home in heaven to come to earth for our sake?
- If venue problems or local lockdowns mean we can’t gather in person as a church this December, let’s use the opportunity to get creative about our at-home Christmas celebrations, perhaps even establishing lasting traditions! Make Scripture decorations with your children. Inaugurate your own family Christingle celebration for your kids and invite others over Zoom. Spend time as a family recording and sending round a Christmas greeting that speaks of the One we celebrate. Look for ways to serve together to be a blessing in your neighbourhood.
Using the strange among the familiar could be a powerful teaching tool this Christmas.
And though I can’t claim to have planned it, if you’re looking for a way into talking about some of these ideas with your children, the unexpected amongst the familiar is at the heart of my new children’s book There’s a Lion in my Nativity. It’s a rhyming story about children performing a familiar Christmas play in which incongruous props and characters steal the show, each one highlighting some aspect of Christ’s identity or mission. And this year it’s unintentionally but especially relevant: sometimes the jolt of the strange can take our eyes off the Christmas trappings and focus them on Christ.
However we do it, this Christmas, as much of what is familiar might be lost or limited, let’s keep praising the Lord Jesus and pointing our children to him.
Lizzie Laferton is the author of There's a Lion in My Nativity! This rhyming book with warm, quirky illustrations teaches children profound truths about Jesus. It makes a beautiful Christmas gift for children who are 4-7 years old.
David Mathis, executive editor at Desiring God, is passionate about words and Jesus. His new advent devotion, The Christmas We Didn't Expect, ties these passions together as he helps readers renew their sense of awe during advent. Listen as he shares about his own story of coming to faith, writing as a means of ministry, and his desire to help Christians marvel at Christ, especially during the Christmas season.
How quickly can you skim this article to work out whether you want to read this seriously? You probably don’t have long, so I’ll cut to the chase. You’re busy. We’re all busy. Your schedule is full. And your mind is working on overdrive. You’ve got one hundred and one things you’re trying to think, plan and remember—and another hundred and one things you’d really like to stop thinking about.Why We Need to Slow Down and Meditate On God’s Word
Most of us sense the same problem in our spiritual lives. I remember the day I discovered I could listen to a sermon podcast at 1.5x speed. New heights of efficiency! Listen to the same amount of teaching in less time? Awesome. Or not.
Perhaps, like me, spending your days scanning e-mails and racing through life in general means that when you sit down to read your Bible, you struggle. You struggle to become immersed in the passage or respond emotionally; you find yourself having to re-read paragraphs and often can’t remember what you’ve read a few hours later.
When we skim, we may get a general sense of the meaning, but we miss out on really understanding, perceiving beauty and grasping complexity.
So when it comes to God’s word, maybe it’s less about 1.5xing it and more about slowing things down; giving ourselves completely to meditating deeply, slowly and carefully, so that God’s word captivates our minds and moves our hearts.
That’s biblical meditation. And that’s what my book, Deeper Still, is about.
[inline_product:deeper]4 Things Biblical Meditation Can Do
#1: Take You Deeper Into God’s Word
Biblical meditation will help you to go deeper into God’s word, and help God’s word to go deeper into you. It’s a way to listen carefully, memorise, chew over and digest slowly what the Lord is saying to you.
#2: Still Your Mind
Biblical meditation will still your mind. It’s an opportunity to dial down the volume on your frantic thought-life and rest in God’s unchanging truth. So that even when the Bible is not open in front of you, God’s words are still at the forefront of your mind.
#3: Fill Your Heart
Biblical meditation will fill your heart. It means listening to God’s word in a way that impacts us deeply, so that we keep thinking about it throughout the day; soaking in God’s truth so that it moves us to delight, empowers us to obey and enables us to hold fast.
#4: Give You Power to Take God’s Word and Live it Out
And it’s worth saying this: biblical meditation is not as hard as you may think. Meditation is not about spending hours and hours stuffing our heads full of Scripture but about coming to Jesus for life. As we look to him, we find not only the grace that forgives but the power to take God’s words and live them out.Finding Clear Minds and Full Hearts through Biblical Meditation
I invite you to read Deeper Still to consider some Bible passages that explicitly mention meditation and explore how they help us to live out the truth we hear in God’s word throughout the day—particularly as we seek to delight in God, fight sin and endure suffering.
I’d encourage you to read with a pen in hand to help you concentrate, question and remember. Above all, my prayer is that this book will take you deeper still into the wonderful truths that God has revealed in his word, so that they fill your heart and fix your mind on him. So please… don’t just skim it.
This is an extract from Deeper Still by Linda Allcock. This book will help Christians who feel overwhelmed by their thought life, as well as those who want to go deeper in their devotional life.
Naming a child is a big decision. So imagine the weight that would have been on Joseph’s shoulders that first Christmas.
He and his betrothed had been told—by angels!—that this otherwise inexplicable pregnancy was “from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Indeed, this child, at last, was the long-awaited heir to King David’s throne, the so-called “Anointed One,” the Messiah (Hebrew), the Christ (Greek). And Joseph and Mary were to give this child a name? And Joseph, as “the father,” would take the lead. What an awesome and sobering task.
But the angelic announcements relieved them of at least this one burden, and ensured there would be no confusion on that score at the first Christmas. As the angel said to Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus. Yeshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.”
Jesus is the name he received at that first Christmas—and it’s a name that is wonderfully familiar to us. And yet, the New Testament also speaks in at least three other places of Jesus receiving another “name.” So what is this name—and how might it breathe fresh life into our worship of Jesus this Advent season?
[inline_product:expect]His Inherited Name (Hebrews 1)
Hebrews 1:4, in the last great flourish of one single magnificent sentence (Hebrews 1:1–4), celebrates that Jesus—in dying, rising, ascending, and sitting down—has become “as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” The name he has inherited. What name is it that Jesus might inherit?
On a first reading, we might think it’s Son. Verse 2 announces him as the “Son, whom [God] appointed the heir of all things,” and verse 5 quotes Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, which both speak of Israel’s king as God’s “son.” And yet Son is not a name. And besides, Son is not a title one inherits. By virtue of being a son, one might inherit, from a father, a first or last name. But the title son is not what is inherited. Rather, as Richard Bauckham observes,
it is because he is Son, as the angels are not, that he inherits his Father’s name, as the angels cannot. (Jesus and the God of Israel, 239)
And what, then, is his Father’s name? Readers of the Hebrew Scriptures will make the link with the often-repeated phrase “the name.” The Name — the one revealed to Moses at the burning bush. The Name repeated again and again in Israel’s stories and poetry, in its prophecies and psalms. The Name so holy — as holy as God himself — that many ancient Israelites dared not take it on their lips for fear of misspeaking or mispronouncing and inadvertently dishonoring this holiest of designations. The Name that appears more than six thousand times in the Old Testament and was read aloud in ancient Israel as Lord (Hebrew adonai) rather than take the risk to say it. The Name is not “Son” but “the name” of God himself: YHWH.
The name Jesus inherits, the Name of God, is (with vowels) Yahweh. The immediate context of verses 2 and 5 might point readers to Son, but when we expand our vantage, beyond the verb inherit, to the whole of this opening scene, the awe-inspiring reality becomes more plain. God’s personal name, Yahweh, is now conferred on his Son as he takes his seat in heaven.
"For Jesus to inherit his Father’s name is for Jesus to be the very revelation of his Father—his perfect embodiment"His Newly Given Name (John 17)
Jesus himself, on the night before he died, in his high priestly prayer in John 17, spoke to his Father about “your name” which he says the Father has given him. What name would this be that is both the Father’s and now also the Son’s? Neither Father nor Son are the answer. Nor is Jesus. The answer is the name of God himself.
Three times in John 17, Jesus speaks to his Father of “your name” (verses 6, 11, and 12). He says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6). In other words, the Son revealed his Father. He showed his people what his Father, and theirs, is like. So he prays in verses 11-12,
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. (John 17:11-12)His Name Above Every Name (Philippians 2)
Hebrews 1 and John 17 indicate the name without saying it, and then in Philippians 2:9-11 we come to Paul’s clearest reference to the name. Having traced Christ’s self-humbling from heaven to human to obedience to death, even death on a cross (verses 6-8), he writes,
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
For our purposes, the key question is, Are there two names here or one? Is “the name of Jesus” now “the name above every name,” or, like Hebrews 1 and John 17, might an unspoken name—indeed, the great unspoken name—also be in view here? Paul’s every-tongue confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” makes it plain. Remember, “Lord” (Greek kurios) is the stand-in for Yahweh. A fair summary of the Old Testament might be “Yahweh is Lord.” And how remarkable, then, that the central confession in the New Testament is now “Jesus is Lord”?The Name They Didn’t Say
Attributing “Lord” to Jesus here shows us two names are in view. First, there is the name we don’t say—“the name that is above every name,” the enigmatic, yet revealed personal name of God himself.
Here we are at the heart of good news almost too good to be true. Not only has the one true God acted in history to save his people, but he himself came in the person of his Son. Yahweh came. As the angel told Joseph, he has, in fact, acted to save his people from their sins, and he himself came to do it. Yahweh is “the name above every name,” the name that is “as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:4).
And yet, strikingly, Paul here claims this “name above all names” no longer stands alone. Now another name, “the name of Jesus” has risen and ascended, not to rival it, but to be identified with it. To profess, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” is to make the declaration.
The Name We Do Say
Now, with glorious clarity and simplicity, there is the name that we do say, “the name of Jesus.” That name now stands with and for and in the name we do not say—indeed, now the name “Jesus” even surpasses the unspoken name.
What is the significance of Jesus being given the name of God? The significance for us, for the world, is that Jesus is the climactic revelation of God. One’s name represents his character, his person, his very identity, and all that is true of him.
For Jesus to inherit his Father’s name is for Jesus to be the very revelation of his Father—his perfect embodiment, his great and enduring word to the world. In the words of John 1:18, “He has made the Father known.” Period. No qualifications. No need to rush in with edits and amendments. The Son reveals his Father so centrally, so substantively, so completely, so tellingly, that John writes simply, “He has made the Father known,” with no need to nuance it.
And so rightly have Christians learned to sing of Jesus as “name above all names” and “the sweetest name I know.” And we dare not keep it from our lips for fear of misspeaking it. He has freed us from those shackles. Yahweh himself has come in the person of his Son, and the name the angel told Joseph to call him that first Christmas, has now risen with him, and reigns with him, as the greatest name we know and say.
David Mathis is the author of The Christmas We Didn't Expect. These Advent reflections help us to lift our eyes to wonder of the incarnation and worship the one who came to save us and make our futures certain.
It was only once I moved out and became responsible for my own home I began to covet adhesive-backed plastic hanging hooks. They seemed ideal for hanging pictures or dust mops or calendars... until I actually tried them.
I would position the hook just so, gingerly place the picture frame on it, and step back to judge if it was level. Satisfied, I’d go on with life until an hour or a day or a week later I’d be startled out of my skin by a loud crash.
Once my heart rate slowed and I determined there wasn’t a burglar or poltergeist, I’d find the frame twisted and broken with the hook lying nearby, completely detached from the wall. It simply wasn’t strong enough to hold the weight. And yet, for some reason, I’d just grab another hook and try again.Hanging Our Happiness On Weak Hooks
We hang happiness on hooks the same way I hang pictures, thinking that our jobs, for example, can bear the weight of our expectations. The problem, though, is that our expectations for happiness are too heavy for the hooks we use.
Rarely, if ever, do we consider whether our hooks are strong enough to support the happiness we expect.
“Most of us quietly believe that work can support the weight of our happiness.”Should We Hope for Work to Make Us Happy?
It’s always exciting when you see an announcement on social media of someone starting a new job. For the first few weeks they’ll post regularly about how thrilled they are about this “new adventure” and how great their co-workers are, sharing pictures from the new office.
Then, over the next few weeks, the posts will slow to a trickle then dry up completely. This is what I like to call the “Expense Report Pivot”—the moment when reality has set in and they realize this “dream job” involves some level of drudgery too.
The day-to-day reality of what they hoped would change their lives turns out to not be all that glamorous or exciting. The hook of a new job could not hold the weight of their hopes for it.Why Work Can’t Support All Our Happiness
So before long, they search for another hook just like the last one but in a different place. Most of us quietly believe that work can support the weight of our happiness.It’s a belief encapsulated by a guy who told me, “Man, if you don’t love your job you should quit and go find something else.” All we have to do is keep looking for that perfect job, the one we just love, that truly grand adventure. It is a seductively believable attitude. If only it was true.
Switching jobs is not sin; it can be good and necessary. Sometimes a work situation is untenable because of poor fit, poor leadership, unethical practices, or the like. Sometimes we need to find a new job because we cannot support ourselves or our family financially. Sometimes God makes it clear that we should pursue something new.
None of these reasons is based in, “I just don’t love it.” None of them is seeking to move our happiness from one weak hook to another.Adjusting Our Expectations About Work-Related Happiness
Work is a good hook for the right expectations. We were created by God to be workers. In Genesis 1 and 2 God gave mankind “dominion” over the earth. He gave Adam a garden to cultivate and the task of naming every animal.
From the very beginning work has been part of our purpose, and at its best, work does make us happy because it allows us to exercise our talents, use our creativity, partner with other people, do something beneficial for others, and find a measure of fulfillment.
But work cannot fulfill our dreams or make us lastingly happy: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
We work hard now, and our work matters in this life.
We work for the good of family, society, and self but not to find eternal meaning or identity.Finding True, Lasting Happiness
Work— like many other things in life- is a means of finding happiness. It’s designed by God and is a good thing. It’s a good hook for the right things, but too weak to hold our hopes for total happiness.
Take a look back at your experiences with jobs. Can you think of a time when you experienced the hook break? What weighty expectations were you placing on work? What other weak hooks are you relying on for happiness?
It’s incumbent on us to be aware of our expectations and gauge whether they align with reality and what is true according to God. We are not doomed to repeat this cycle of shattered hopes and broken happiness. There is a way to get expectations right and find strong hooks on which to hang them—there is a way to be happy.
This is an extract from Hoping for Happiness by Barnabas Piper. A biblical framework for living a grounded, hopeful, and genuinely happy life, this book gets far beyond the topic of work and helps us to throw off both the unrealistic expectations that end in disappointment and the guilty sense that Christians are not meant to have fun.
Growing up in conservative American Christianity I encountered a cultural phenomenon that never felt quite right to me. I call it “evangeliguilt”—a perpetual low-grade guilt about enjoying things.
It seems to have its roots in a perception of the puritans—our 17th century spiritual forebears—as dour, sour, no-fun, dry-bread gnawing, lukewarm-water-sipping killjoys. Since the puritans are so seminally important in our church history, this perception has flavored our ability to enjoy good things today.
Evangeliguilt is not outright skepticism about fun or happiness or pleasure. Rather, it exhibits itself much more in the tendency to make excuses for fun or to temper descriptions of enjoyable experiences so that they don’t sound too lavish or expensive.What Evangeliguilt Looks Like
It’s evangeliguilt that makes people say things like “I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner,” when what they really mean is that they have an impressive wine cellar and appreciate a good Malbec with steak or a Sauvignon Blanc with whitefish.
Other times it is revealed in response to a compliment. You might say “O, that is a nice jacket” and the response will be quick-draw fast: “Thanks, I found it on sale!” so as not to let you think they bought a name-brand item at full price.
By minimizing the impression of our indulgence in this way, we also avoid falling victim to other people’s evangeliguilt—that silent judgement on another’s “lack of stewardship” and the fact they really could have used that money to bless others.
Evangeliguilt applies to work ethic too. We must earn leisure through hard work (what is often called a “puritan work ethic”) almost as if there is a ratio we must follow: eight hours of hard work earns one hour of relaxation, or something like that.
We also have to earn our caloric intake by being consistent in working out. Even on a day like Thanksgiving, we feel we have to go for a morning run to earn a right to feast. And vacations? In our guilt-ridden minds those are stressful interruptions in exhausting work schedules that just create more work when we get back. And we better not give the impression that we spent too much money on them either.
“Somehow our awareness of sin and fallenness has made us suspicious of over-enjoying anything.”Where Guilt Over Happiness Comes From
Almost none of this is expressed directly. It is much more of a gut feeling of guilt and a quiet sense of skepticism toward other, more ostentatious people (even as we feel jealous of their freedom to just enjoy).
In one sense, evangeliguilt is actually a twisted offshoot of good theology: belief in man’s sinfulness and our propensity to idolize things and expect too much of them. But somehow this proper theological emphasis has been misapplied so as to diminish our enjoyment of cheeseburgers and movies and dancing and laughter and myriad other delights of life.
Somehow our awareness of sin and fallenness has made us suspicious of over-enjoying anything. This is a problem, and not just because it’s a drag. It’s a problem because it’s not how the Bible depicts how life should be.The Trouble with Evangeliguilt
In contrast to our evangeliguilt, James 1:17 says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
I love this verse because of the constancy and generosity it depicts in God. He is the giver of all good things and he will not change. He is not a capricious giver prone to whims or mood swings. He is a provider, rich with goodness for his followers.
At the same time, it’s easy to grab verses like this and slap them on anything we like to say “See? It’s from God!” as a sort of spiritual trump card to back up our preferences and desires.
But we don’t get to define what counts as a “good gift” or how we use them. Instead we need to look across the whole of scripture to get a picture of how God wants us to engage with and enjoy his good gifts.Enjoying God’s Good Gifts
As Julie Andrews once sang in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Genesis 1 lays the foundation for understanding what these “good and perfect gifts” are.
Time and again as God spoke creation into being he declared it “good.” This isn’t a term of comparison, as in “good-better-best.” This is “good” as in exactly what God intended, complete, perfect. The world God created was not ok or decent or fine; it was exactly right. It was good.
“Nothing is completely as it should be, but neither is the world utterly corrupt.”
We need to keep in mind what went wrong with the world (Genesis 3). But what we often forget is that sin and the curse did not evaporate the good and replace it. They did not recreate the world as a heinously evil hellscape. Sin corrupted the good, but the world still has God’s fingerprints all over it and tendrils of Eden woven through it.
Nothing is completely as it should be, but neither is the world utterly corrupt.
The good that once defined all of creation still shines throughout it.
In some situations it really does feel like we must search for the good and persuade ourselves it will be worth fighting for.
But there is more than just “some good” in this world; there is an abundance if we would open our eyes, discard our evangeliguilt, and recognize that this is still God’s creation. It is still the creation of the Father of lights from whom every good and perfect gift comes.
And Christians are invited to get in on the fun: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”(1 Corinthians 10:31).
This is an extract from Hoping for Happiness by Barnabas Piper. A biblical framework for living a grounded, hopeful, and genuinely happy life, this book gets far beyond the topic of work and helps us to throw off both the unrealistic expectations that end in disappointment and the guilty sense that Christians are not meant to have fun.
This is a special bonus episode podcast. We’re not talking about the latest release from the Good Book Company, instead we've got three pastors and theologians to think through the changing landscape of how we respond to the coranavirus lockdown measures, imposed by the civil authorities.
Up and down the country – in UK, US and all over the world – there have been many imaginative solutions both high tech and low tech which have enabled virtual meetings of church, but are they actually church? What are the theological implications of that? And have we rushed to practical solutions but failed to address the much bigger more serious ones of what happens when God’s people do not gather to worship, to sing and to hear his word. I have three guests who’ve given this a bit of thought.
Out three guests include Dr Dan Strange, College Director of Oakhill College, Andrew Wilson, teaching Pastor and Elder of King’s Church London from the New Frontiers network, and Dave Gobbett, Lead Pastor of Highfields Church Cardiff.
Letter from Church Ministers and Christian Leaders to UK Prime & First Ministers: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdOxHQEWd_auOAWlqh4MPvq2avgnjYLIEQ8TY8GsCfNGiE2GA/viewform
Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Cultural Liturgies) by James K.A. Smith https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awaiting-King-Reforming-Theology-Liturgies/dp/0801035791
Barnabas Piper has written a book encouraging Christians to be happy. You may be forgiven for thinking that Christians are the last people who should need a book about happiness—after all, they're saved and loved by the creator of the universe—but happiness is surprisingly fleeting and requires wisdom to know how to find it in the way God intended.
Christmas is a key moment that in the church year for outreach. Put on a carol service, kids’ nativity play or Christmas fun night and people usually come flocking through the doors. But this year will be different—very different. Even if lockdown eases quickly, most churches will not have the time or energy to run events like they are used to.
So what is the alternative?
I recently set out to try and inspire churches in the UK with thoughts and ideas from around the country that would make life easier this term and leading up to Christmas. We’re all getting a collective sense that most (if not all) of our “usual” activities are not going to happen.Keeping community work going
Like churches, local schools are operating under a variety of restrictions. These are making life difficult for them— but also making it almost impossible for churches community to engage the children who attend them. How can we address that issue this term and perhaps beyond?
A couple of churches (one being my own) are using Tales That Tell The Truth Lesson Plans as the basis for RE lessons, and even giving the storybooks to schools as a gift. One children’s worker is recording herself reading the stories as a way of keeping the contact going with the school and the children. Here’s an excellent example of how this can be done using the free illustrations available on our website.Ideas for Christmas
We have got used to people coming to us for Christmas — but perhaps it is time for us to go to them.
A number of churches I’ve spoken to are working towards holding an outdoor carol concert as opposed to the usual indoor service. What an excellent idea! It may be that the best way to engage with the community is to make use of the local football, cricket or rugby club. Others are looking at planning a nativity trail in their neighbourhood.
A church in the Midlands is producing a “homemade nativity”. They will distribute craft kits that will enable families to do their own nativity performance in their street or among wider family bubbles. If you’re thinking of doing something like this, be sure to check out There’s a Lion in My Nativity. It contains a great gospel message and it’s deliberately priced for bulk purchases.
A church in the North East is going big and creating a Narnia trail as a very creative way to use the church surroundings. Now that is something I would love to see for myself!
And finally, online nativities or carol services seem to be high on a lot of people’s lists of things to try. If you’re looking for some extra content for your online services, be sure to have a look at our Christmas Hub which contains loads of children’s storybook read-throughs.
As before, if you have any wonderful ideas you’d like to share, do email me on email@example.com and I’ll include them in my round-ups. Likewise, if you would like more detail on the above ideas, let me know and I’ll do my best to provide those for you.
Some while ago I wrote a short blog about how to put a spring in the step of your pastor. Here is a Covid update. How about this for four ways to cheer your pastor in these pandemic days? Each arises partly out of conversations I have had with pastor friends.1. Belong – really belong! – to your church fellowship.
The command not to neglect to meet together was given to Christians suffering from pressure and persecution (Hebrews 10:24, 25). A pastor friend commented to me that there is some similarity with the Covid-19 difficulties. For different reasons we may feel reluctant to meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ. He commented that, in the church he serves, there are three groups. Quite a few are coming to church (which is wonderful – albeit odd with social distance, masks, and no singing). Then there’s a second group who have genuine medical reasons to stay at home and join online. So far, so good. But there’s a third group who could come to church but don’t. Those are the ones he is worried about. I think he is right.
Never has church shopping and church hopping been so easy. Where shall I tune in this Sunday? With one click I can “join” whatever church seems to me to offer the best “product” to meet my needs. Except that I am not joining, not in any substantial or relational sense. I am tuning in; but I am not committing to this particular fellowship of brothers and sisters, all of us struggling to go on believing in Jesus and to persevere in obedient faith. Not at all; I am shopping around for whatever takes my fancy, for whoever lays on the best show, with the music that suits my taste and the preaching I enjoy. It’s not so very different from browsing Netflix.
Pastors are sometimes a little encouraged to know how many “hits” their church livestream gets. But they are not very encouraged. Because they are savvy enough to know that a “hit” doesn’t necessarily mean commitment. Never has it been more important really to belong. I think that means that, when a church is able to begin again meeting in person, you and I should be really keen to be there, in person, if we possibly can.
I’m so glad to belong to a church where people are so keen to meet in person that the building is oversubscribed and we have to sign up and hope to get a place. I’m glad to belong to a church where people – including some of my generation and older – genuinely believe that to die is to be with Christ, which is better by far.
"So let’s learn forbearance. When your church leadership have made a decision, abide by it even – especially – when you would have chosen differently."2. Maintain the unity of the Spirit by forbearance with your fellow-believers, even when it doesn’t suit you.
It’s very interesting that James finds it necessary – when writing to Christians under pressure – to warn them, “Do not grumble against one another” (James 5:9). Pressure does that. It can divide a church. Covid pressures are not persecution; but many pastors struggle with the divisions they are experiencing.
Pastor after pastor says they are struggling to hold a church together in unity. Just as responses to the pandemic divide society deeply, so they divide churches, sometimes bitterly, with some really keen to be braver and more adventurous (within the government rules) and others desperately cautious. Ministers have to lead a church through all this, holding together different opinions as to how to do things, what “unlocking” might mean, which music to have and how, what to do in person, what by zoom, and what by livestream, and so on. Sometimes it feels as though there are as many opinions as there are church members. And it’s hard to feel that – as the pastor – you are the pressure point where all these opinions clash.
So let’s learn forbearance. When your church leadership have made a decision, abide by it even – especially – when you would have chosen differently. Abide gladly, loyally, cheerfully, willingly. The unity of the church fellowship is a lot more important than what suits me. In one of the great understatements of Scripture, Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Romans 15:3); we are called to walk in his footsteps.3. Take more trouble than usual to tell your pastor when you need help.
Our pastors are called to keep watch over our souls (Hebrews 13:17). In normal days, they will watch us lovingly, on Sundays and at church meetings. They will likely notice your slumped body language, or some tell-tale signs that things are not right. You will feel a gentle tap on the shoulder and hear a quiet word of support as they seek to counsel you with the word of God, to pray for you, to encourage you in faith.
"Don’t hesitate to message them. It’s a mistake to feel that they will resent this. Not at all. They will be thankful you care enough about your walk with Jesus to ask for help"
In normal times. But these are not normal times. It’s really hard for them. A rectangle on zoom is very hard to read for those unspoken signals that something is wrong. You can help by reaching out to your pastors for help when you need it, before the crisis breaks. Talk to them. Don’t hesitate to message them. It’s a mistake to feel that they will resent this. Not at all. They will be thankful you care enough about your walk with Jesus to ask for help – with a troubled marriage, with redundancy, with troubled teenagers, with mental health challenges, with doubts, with sad falls into sinful habits. Whatever it is, talk to them. They will be so glad to be asked for help. They really will.4. Be intentional about encouraging your pastor.
I guess that on a normal Sunday (for example) you are the kind of thankful Christian who takes the time to say an encouraging word to the pastor after church, a thank you for something you found helpful in a sermon, gratitude for how they led the meeting, a word of appreciations to the musicians, or whatever or whoever it might be. I assume that is you. I certainly hope so.
Now, however, you have fewer opportunities to say those brief words of encouragement. So take the trouble still to say them, even though it takes a little more time. To be honest, it doesn’t take a lot more time to send a three line message of thanks. Make it brief, keep it thankful, make sure they know it doesn’t need an answer. It will cheer them out of all proportion to the time it takes.
Christopher Ash is the author of The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) in which he encourages us to remember that pastors are people and to pray for them as they serve us. Between now and the end of October we’re offering this at a special discount price of £4, or get it for just £2 when you buy it as an add-on item with any other book or resource.
I once made friends with a Danish student who was a huge fan of mindfulness meditation. She said it had cured her diseases and given her immense inner calm—and to be fair, she looked as if it had. She had bright, piercing eyes and exuded a quiet confidence as she enthused that I really should try mindfulness too.
Most of us would like to take a break from the stream of negative voices in our minds. My friend and millions of others claim that they’re able to do that by practising mindfulness. In recent years there’s been an explosion of books, apps, colouring books and even recipe kits claiming to help people become more mindful. So what exactly is this trend, and where has it come from?
[inline_product:deeper]A Brief History of Mindfulness
The mindfulness boom began when Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn—an American researcher with a PhD in Molecular Biology, and a student of Zen Buddhism—realised he could bring meditation to a much broader audience by stripping it of its Buddhist elements. In the 1970s Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week course teaching secularised meditation. The model he built was simple, replicable and effective.
Since then it has been woven into a number of medical therapies, and is widely used to treat conditions from depression, drug addiction and binge eating to asthma and psoriasis. Most of us have experienced hurried, distracted thoughts. We are carried away by the lie that if we can just get to that next thing, then we will be satisfied. But we all know that once we are there, our minds will be jumping ahead to the next thing again. So mindfulness is about learning to be satisfied in the present.How Typical Mindfulness Practices Work
Mindfulness meditation typically starts with breathing: noticing the rhythm, sounds and feeling of your own breath; listening for the background noises you normally zone out of; feeling the temperature of the room, the fabric against your skin; recognising the tension in your muscles and relaxing them one by one.
Another way to describe it is to picture the mind like a waterfall. The water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions running through our minds. It’s as if we live with this constant flow crashing onto us. But mindfulness takes you into the space behind the waterfall, against the rockface—here you allow your thoughts to pass in front of you like a wall of water, without being impacted by them. And when you find yourself being carried away by the stream, you don’t react, you just simply return to focusing on your breathing.
There is no doubt that this practice can be therapeutic. When I wake in the night, overwhelmed by feelings of “guilty, worthless, useless”, I’ll sometimes use some of those techniques to help me relax and drift back off to sleep—allowing those thoughts to pass by without engaging them, relaxing my muscles one by one, focusing on the feeling of the firm mattress beneath and the thick duvet above. That said, there’s a limit to who and how much it can help.
"Biblical meditation is fundamentally different—and so much more hopeful. The treasure is from outside of us, not within us."The Limits of Mindfulness Meditation
Remember my Danish friend? As the conversation continued, it became clear that one painful struggle remained: her sister was battling serious depression. The sister had tried mindfulness meditation but couldn’t manage it.
This encapsulates the essence of, and the problem with, any sort of secular meditation: it is something I do. Tolle promises that mindfulness will allow me to unlock “the radiant joy of Being” and give me a “deep, unshakeable peace”. How? By accessing the “treasure within” (The Power of Now, p 12).
Secular meditation starts with me. Hence its popularity. It’s something I can do to escape from the incessant voices in my head. If I can practise the techniques, and discipline my mind not to react to the negative thoughts passing through…if I can forget the pain of the past and disengage from future fears… then I can find peace.
But what if I can’t? What if the struggle is too hard, the battle is too intense?How Biblical Meditation is Different
Biblical meditation is fundamentally different—and so much more hopeful. The treasure is from outside of us, not within us. We don’t duck behind the waterfall and allow it to pass. Instead God steps in to transform the water’s source.
Jesus says that the waterfall of our thoughts is not a pure blue stream, gently flowing from its source high up in the mountains. Rather, it is a murky torrent of evil.
The problem is not actually the thoughts themselves but what they reveal about the source—that our hearts don’t love God. This all sounds a bit harsh, but when you stop and think about what you’re thinking about, it is quite revealing. We’ve already noted that, essentially, I’m always thinking about me: my feelings, my rights, my desires. Even when I’m thinking about others, it’s usually how they compare to me, how they have impacted me, what they might think of me.
"There is nothing I can do to deal with the root of the problem—that my heart and mind love me, not God."Biblical Meditation Brings Us Closer to God, Not to Ourselves
But the problem goes deeper than the fact that my thoughts revolve around me. The real issue is that there is no thought of God. That’s what “folly” means (see Psalm 14 v 1). We haven’t just forgotten him. The Bible describes the mind in its natural state as being “hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8 v 7).
That’s why secular meditation cannot lead us to God. There is nothing I can do to deal with the root of the problem—that my heart and mind love me, not God. And while secular meditation offers to lead us to a space behind the waterfall of our evil thoughts, Jesus has a far more radical solution.
Secular meditation leads us to a space behind the waterfall of our evil thoughts. Jesus leads us to the cross.
This is an extract from Deeper Still by Linda Allcock. This book will help Christians who feel overwhelmed by their thought life, as well as those who want to go deeper in their devotional life.