Friday, 26 August 2011

Prayer Changes Things! - When Life Doesn't Go as You Expect #4

I know it probably sounds obvious to say, “Pray” when trouble hits – but I think most of us don’t pray half as much as we could, and are worse off because of it. I think two of the biggest obstacles to us praying are thinking it doesn’t do much, and not knowing what or how to pray.

Why should we pray?

God is on our side: We can bring a petition to the King of the Universe, the Creator of everything, who is more powerful than anyone, and He is for us. Also in hard times it can seem like there is no-one who understands or loves us, but God does.

God wants us to ask: Even though God knows what we want before we ask it, He will often wait till we ask to give it to us. Torrey says, “Prayer is God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

God is our loving Father and wants to bless us! ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!’ Matt 7:11

We are fighting against forces of evil: we need to pray for God’s help against them; it’s crazy to try and fight them by ourselves.

We’re promised peace if we pray: ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ Phil 4:6,7

Prayer is powerful! I have received so many answers to prayer which were miraculous. Revivals have come about because one person has started praying fervently. Hundreds of people have been saved because someone set aside more time to pray.

God gives us strength when we wait on Him: When life doesn’t go how we expect it to, we can suddenly lose our strength, and our will to keep going - ‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ Isaiah 40:31.

It is at these times of trial that we should pray more than any other, because we need His supernatural strength.

How to pray

When you don’t know how… the Psalms are a great place to start. There are quite a few Psalms that start out as a desperate cry for help, and then by the end they are praising God, as in Psalm 22. Sometimes if I am really desperate I will turn to the psalms and just flick through them and read them out loud to God, turning them into my own prayers.

When you feel like you have done too much wrong… if you have not asked Jesus into your heart yet then this is a great time, because he wants to forgive you of all those things, but is waiting for you to ask for His forgiveness and to believe in Jesus and follow Him.

If you are a Christian but have been in sin, then it is important to know that whatever we do wrong, we can always come to God and ask for His forgiveness and He will forgive us and we can start again. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1Jn 1:9

When you feel too distressed… you can talk about it to God like you would with a friend. If my mind is under too much stress to know how to pray, I will often collapse on the couch, or the bed and just start slowly talking to God, telling Him about what is going on and what is in my mind, and asking Him all the questions that come to me. Then as I talk I gradually start to filter what I’m saying through Biblical principles, and start to make more sense out of the situation, and am able to pray more clearly.

If you want to be inspired to pray you can read George Muller’s biography, or ‘The Kneeling Christian’ or ‘How to pray’ by Torrey, or ‘Answers to Prayer’ by Finney. One book that has made me pray more than any other is ‘The Diary of Andrew Bonar’. He was such a man of prayer that I could only read a few pages before I had to stop reading and start praying!

You can find the rest of the series on when life doesn't go as you expect here:
1. Being Prepared For Trials
2. Trust that God has a Plan
3. Hold On to What You Know
5. Take Responsibility
6. Keep Pressing Toward the Goal
7. 10 Ways to Support Christians in Trouble

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Hold On to What You Know - When Life Doesn't Go as You Expect #3

I’m a bit slow in posting at the moment because we are still settling in at our new house, so there is lots to do!

I wanted to carry on the series I started on what we can do when life doesn’t turn out as we expect it to.

Last time I wrote about trusting that God has a plan, and I want to go on to how we need to hold on to what we know.

When life doesn’t go how we thought it would, and things go wrong, it is natural to wonder if God has left us. We think we won’t be able to handle this. We think He’s forgotten us.

Chuck Smith, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, says when you are going through trials,

“Don’t give up what you know for what you don’t know.’

It’s always struck me as a bit odd that in the book of Job, some of Job’s most famous words seem totally out of sink with his surrounding thoughts. He is talking about all the bad things that have happened, and then suddenly out of nowhere come these amazing words:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God Job 19:25,26

I think that after he had lost his family, possessions and health, this is how he kept going – he held on to what he knew about God.

We may not know why this is happening to us, but there are things that we do know. Here are some that we can keep reminding ourselves of - I have put in the Bible verses because I think it helps us to understand the weight of it when we see it written in God's word:

God’s love for you is everlasting

The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.  Jer 31:3

God will never leave you

For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" Heb 13:5,6

God will never forget you

 "Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. Isaiah 49:15,16

God cares for you

 "Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:6,7

Nothing can separate you from God’s love

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38,39

God will never give you more than you can handle

1Co 10:13  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

If you doubt that some of these things are true, remember what God has done for you and others in the past. And remember God is faithful  - He will keep to what he has promised. 

If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. 2Ti 2:13 

As one of my favourite hymns says:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

You can find the rest of the series on when life doesn't go as you expect here:

1. Being Prepared For Trials
2. Trust that God has a Plan
4. Prayer Changes Things
5. Take Responsibility
6. Keep Pressing Toward the Goal
7. 10 Ways to Support Christians in Trouble

Monday, 15 August 2011

How Can We Parent in a Liberal Culture?

I was reading some news articles the other day which were talking about how lack of proper parenting was one of the problems behind the London riots.

Prime Minister David Cameron noted that the rioters have “a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals - that is what we need to change.”

With regard to what he said about parenting, I am sure there could be other factors involved too, such as the bad influence of friends - which can upturn the influence of even the best parenting. But I think it is very true that parenting makes a real difference, though it is not a guarantee of the right behaviour.

The Head teachers' leader, Brian Lightman, said:

'"Parents are not willing to say 'no'. That short, simple word is an important part of any child's upbringing. It's desperately important that children have a sense of right and wrong. But we often come across children who have never been told that something is wrong."'

Then I read the Guardian where they talked to a mum and youth worker:

'Dropping her six-year-old son off for football class, Chris (who did not want to give her surname) said she felt under pressure not to discipline her children. "Responsibility has been taken away from parents. People here will call social services if they hear you disciplining your children. Children hear about Childline at school. It's all very well trying to be liberal, but parents need to be given back their right to parent," she said.'

"Parents are fearful about how they chastise their children," Clasford Stirling, a veteran youth worker, who runs the football club at Broadwater Farm community centre in Tottenham, said. "There's been an erosion of authority for a long time. Parents move very gingerly not to upset their own kids – that's the reality."'

So they acknowledge there is a problem, and children aren't obedient, and aren't taught the word 'no' - yet our liberal culture is almost preventing us from teaching them that. I have talked to people who wanted to discipline their children but were afraid they would tell other children at school and then the social services would get involved. 

What can we do as parents?

As Christians what are we to do in a situation where we need to teach our children to obey but the culture is so against discipline?

There is a lot we can do to train and teach by being consistent and patient. I teach my children to say please and thank you by gently reminding them to say it before and after I give them something. I have got stubborn teenagers in our youth group to put their seatbelts on by saying, "I'm not going anywhere till your seatbelts are on", and following through!

I think the most important thing is to be consistent. So that means that if you threaten a punishment then you follow through on it, and if you tell your children to do something, you make sure it is done so that they learn obedience. That also means that it is very important to be careful what sort of punishment you threaten, as you may have to carry it out.

When I was a child, I was disciplined (which sometimes meant smacking) lovingly, and am glad of it, as it taught me to be obedient and respect authority. However I know it is controversial and some situations don't allow that, such as fostering, so I wouldn't want to say anyone had to do that. But I do believe it is very effective, and indicated in the Bible.

When it comes to corporal punishment, I think we need to know the law. Many people in the UK think it is illegal, whereas the law in the UK at present is that you are allowed to smack your children if it is a reasonable punishment, so long as you don't leave a mark.

Then we also need to know what the Bible says. If you don't know - just read through Proverbs, as it has a lot on the subject and has encouraged me many times! Here is one verse:

Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul. Pro 29:17

I think you can implement the 'rod' in other ways - the important thing is that rebuke and punishment of some kind are needed, and that they learn to obey for their own sake, for ours as parents, and for others.

Tips for helping children to be obedient
  • Love them, first and foremost
  • Never punish when angry - make them wait somewhere until you have calmed down
  • Always hug them afterwards so they know you love them
  • Be consistent - don't make threats that you wouldn't follow through on
  • Talk to them first to make sure you have the story straight
  • Assess if punishment is really necessary - sometimes they are tired, or need talking to or reminding
  • Don't yell - if you punish promptly on disobedience you shouldn't need to raise your voice as it won't get to that point!
  • Deal with problems promptly so the situation doesn't escalate
 I want to recommend two of the best books I have read on the subject of bringing up children in a loving yet firm way. They have very practical advice, and are both written from a Biblical standpoint:

Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, available here in the UK, and here internationally

Child Training Tips by Reb Bradley, available here in the UK, and here internationally

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Choosing Pleasure or Sacrifice

Last week at Creation Fest, this poem was quoted by Pastor Joey Rozek. It was so powerful that I wanted to share it on here. If you read it out loud I think it has more impact.

I said: "Let me walk in the field";
God said: 'Nay, walk in the town";
I said: "There are no flowers there";
He said: "No flowers, but a crown."

I said: "But the sky is black,
There is nothing but noise and din";
But He wept as He sent me back,
"There is more," He said, "There is sin."

I said: "But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun";
He answered: "Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone."

I said: "I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say";
He answered me, "Choose tonight,
If I am to miss you, or they."

I pleaded for time to be given;
He said: "Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in Heaven
To have, followed the steps of your Guide."

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said: "My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?"

Then into His hand went mine,
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light Divine,
The path I had feared to see.

--George MacDonald

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Trust That God Has a Plan - When Life Doesn't Go as You Expect #2

In my last post I wrote about how we need to expect that bad things will happen in our lives, as they do at some point for most people, and how we can prepare for that as Christians by knowing God’s word and His promises.

The example of that in my life was when I failed to get the A level results I needed to get into university but was greatly helped by being prepared for it.

Trusting that God has a plan

The verse that I kept telling myself even before I got the results was this one:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

This verse was perfect for the situation, because I had done the hard work and now everything was beyond my control, and in God’s hands.  I have learned that when we can't do anything about our circumstances we don’t have to worry, because God is in control.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray. But once we have done what we can, and prayed, then we can trust that God will work it for our good.

An illustration I have heard many times is about a piece of tapestry. If you look at the back it looks a complete mess, but if you turn it over it is a beautiful picture.

That is what our life is like in God’s hands, to us it may look a mess, but years later when we look back, we often understand more of why those things happened, and how God used them for our good and for others, and for His glory.

Anyway, because I was clinging onto this verse, when I got my results and called the university and realised I hadn’t got in, though shocked, I was actually EXCITED! I had been telling myself this verse so much that I was excited to see what God’s plan was!

It was still a difficult time of course, but being prepared for what might happen, and trusting that God had a plan really helped. I think we need to often remind ourselves when we worry or when life doesn’t go how we expect, that God is in control, He loves us and has a plan for us and will work it out for our good.

Then we can sit back and watch what He is going to do! In my case, if I had got the grades I needed, I would never have had a gap year where I went abroad to stay with missionaries, and went on lots of outreach teams which gave me great experience in ministry. This was a great help to me since I later felt God calling me out of university to do ministry, and my husband is in full time ministry. I also would never have gone to Dundee University, where I had great opportunities and met some great people.

Good things that come out of hard times

There are some things that can always come out of trials and difficulties, though more so if we respond the right way.

Our faith is strengthened – like gold is refined through fire, we are refined and grow through affliction. I have heard many people say that though they have had a really hard time, they are now closer to God and have grown more as a Christian through it.

We can comfort others – God ‘comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’ 2Co 1:4  - no matter what you are going through, you can use what you have learned to help others. When you have been through a situation yourself, you are then more able to know what to say to help others who are going through similar circumstances.

I was listening to Pastor Brian Broderson teach on trials at Creation Fest yesterday, and he said, “What is your job? To just simply trust Him”. We need to keep holding on to the fact that God is in control and will work all these things for our good, and He is faithful so we can trust Him.

Brian Broderson also talked about how he had met recently with Greg Laurie, a well known American evangelist. Greg Laurie lost his 33 yr old son 3 years ago in a car accident. Apparently when they met he shared that only the night before he had dreamed about him, and that day had missed him desperately. But he said, "I'll never figure out why this happened. I've just been trusting the Lord, and God has been faithful".

When I struggle with trusting God I keep talking to myself. Every time I start worrying I tell myself what the truth is, that God is in control, and bring the situation to Him in prayer. I find that if I keep doing that, eventually I worry less and less and grow more at peace.

Do you have any other verses or truths that help you trust God? Or any experiences where you only later saw why you went through it?

You can find the rest of the series on when life doesn't go as you expect here:

1. Being Prepared For Trials
3. Hold On to What You Know
4. Prayer Changes Things
5. Take Responsibility
6. Keep Pressing Toward the Goal
7. 10 Ways to Support Christians in Trouble

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Being Prepared for Trials - When Life Doesn’t Go as You Expect #1

My friend recently asked me to post something about what you do when life doesn't go as you expect. Since there are many different aspects to this, and it affects so many people, I thought I would do a series. I will post some thoughts from a mix of my experience, counselling course and Bible study. If you have more to contribute as I go along please do comment!

My experience of the unexpected

I have had many times when I was thrown into unexpected challenges and trials, not least of which was the experience of being a stay at home mum of three small children – my biggest ongoing trial yet! But one of the most catastrophic things to happen to me was when I failed to get the A level results I needed to get into university.

If you have had a lot of bad things go on in your life you are probably thinking that’s nothing! But at that time it was like my life had been going along beautifully and then all of a sudden the bottom dropped out.

I had been aiming for quite a while by then to be a doctor, and was doing all the right A levels, had good results in mid-term exams and good homework grades. All I needed was an AAB to get into Cardiff university which I was really excited about because it was in Wales – one of my top favourite places in the world! My parents and teachers all seemed confident that I would be fine. I worked hard and didn’t slack off.

But then the results came, and I got ABB – one grade different but it made all the difference. Cardiff wouldn’t let me in, and though you can get into other courses through clearing, medicine is very difficult to do that with. My parents had not expected it at all and were shocked, and I suddenly had no idea what I was going to do next!!

Being prepared for the worst

After I had done the A level exams, and was in that seemingly endless time of waiting for the results, I told my mum, “You know, I might not get the grades” but she was completely confident I would. However I still knew that I might not.

I have always had the philosophy with exams that it is good to prepare for the worst in case it actually happens! And I think it is a good philosophy for life in general, since we are promised that we will suffer trials and persecution. The best way to prepare for the worst is to know and apply what God says in the Bible.

Even now I sometimes purposefully remind myself that one day my husband or children may die or be taken ill, and try to prepare myself to have the right attitude if those things happen.

That is why I find it difficult to sing the song, ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ joyfully. I love the song, and the words, and the story behind it, from Job. But ever since singing this song while pregnant and thinking, ‘What if I have a miscarriage?’ it has always reminded me that one day I may have to say these words: "You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name".

While I don’t believe we should fret and worry about these things, I do think it is good to prepare ourselves to have the right attitude for them. When I think about the ‘what if’s’ with my children, I remind myself that they are on loan from the Lord for me to look after, and one day I may have to give them back.

Knowing that there was a chance I might not make those exam grades (especially since I was never very good at revision or exams!), I often prayed that God would help me get what I needed, but also prayed that His will be done, and that He would help me to trust Him if I didn’t get them. Being prepared for that, I was a lot better equipped to deal with it when it actually happened!

I think we all need to realise that in most people's lives tragedy strikes at some point, and do our best to be prepared for that, by knowing God's word and His promises.

You can find the rest of the series on when life doesn't go as you expect here:

2. Trust that God has a Plan
3. Hold On to What You Know
4. Prayer Changes Things
5. Take Responsibility
6. Keep Pressing Toward the Goal
7. 10 Ways to Support Christians in Trouble

Monday, 1 August 2011

What Guys Say About Girls' Clothes

I have been a bit quiet because we did actually move house last week and I haven't had much time to write or think (after writing my last post where I was under the stress of wondering if we were or weren't!). We haven't got proper internet access yet, and my computer and books are still packed away, but I did manage to get on here briefly!

Someone just alerted me this week to a really eye-opening online survey called 'The Modesty Survey' that was done in 2007 and endorsed by a lot of good solid Christian people, and I wanted to share it on here. The website which organised it is called 'The Rebelution' and they have defined themselves as, "A teenage rebellion against the low expectations of an ungodly culture".

I feel very strongly that we, as women and girls, should do our best to avoid tempting men to sin in their thoughts by the way we dress. And recently I pulled together a few links on modesty for that purpose.

However I have always thought that it is hard for us to really understand the full importance of this, without actually hearing from men, since our minds are wired completely differently. We really have no idea of what goes through their heads!

It is also not something that we would generally talk about in a cross-gender conversation unless we are married. I have learned a lot more about it since being married and being able to quiz my husband on which clothes are good and which aren't.

This survey takes of that! Over 200 Christian girls submitted their questions about specific modesty issues and over 1600 Christian guys gave their responses, with many written replies in addition.

The survey was answered more by younger men, as it was done by a teen website, but I think these issues would be similar for older men too. It has questions about all kinds of clothing, and probably everything you may have wondered about whether it stumbles a guy or not.

Here is one of the open questions with an answer I picked out, and there are also many more specific questions about things like jeans, layering, posture, dresses, and swimsuits.

If you could say one thing to your sisters in Christ about modesty, what would it be?

One answer by a 24yr old:

Sisters in Christ, you really have no concept of the struggles that guys face on a daily basis. Please, please, please take a higher standard in the ways you dress. True, we men are responsible for our thoughts and actions before the Lord, but it is such a blessing when we know that we can spend time with our sisters in Christ, enjoying their fellowship without having to constantly be on guard against ungodly thoughts brought about by the inappropriate ways they sometimes dress.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul presents believers as the members of one body - we have to work together. Every Christian has a special role to play in the body of Christ. That goal is to bring glory to the Savior through an obedient, unified body of believers - please don't hurt that unity by dressing in ways that may tempt your brothers in Christ to stumble.

For me I found this survey very eye-opening, and I hope that you will also go and have a look. I would suggest you read the Overview first before going to the results, as it gives a good explanation. Just be prepared to be scared, convicted, ashamed, and change your way of dressing if necessary, for the love of your brothers in Christ!

If any guys are reading this, feel free to comment anonymously if you think it might help some of us :)
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