Always Deeper?

Every time we come to a biblical passage to preach it we should find ourselves going deeper. We don’t want to stay at a previous level of familiarity or response, because that is ultimately a recipe for growing stale ourselves. Here are five ways to probe a familiar passage for greater depth:

1. Mark up a clean print out of the passage. I find it helpful to print out the passage I am looking at. If my Bible is written in, then old markings can trigger old message outlines, or focal points of the passage. Even if the Bible is unmarked, the layout on the page can sometimes obscure details because of line breaks, columns, etc. So print out the text and analyse what you see. What words are repeated? What structure or flow of thought becomes evident? I was looking at Jonah 1 for the last couple of Sunday sermons. The use of the word “hurl” and “fear” both stood out, along with the centrality of the conversation between Jonah and the sailors.

2. Take the opportunity to probe the original language. If you are able to pick up the original text and read it, great, do it. If not, then a more technical commentary can help us delve to new levels of insight in a familiar text. My Hebrew is not good enough to just read the text straight, but a commentary helped me spot the intriguing use of the word for “dig” being used instead of the more natural word for “row” in Jonah 1. This more vivid term underlined the difficulty the sailors faced in rowing to shore, but also perhaps prefigured something of Jonah’s burial at sea. I might not make a big deal of that when I preach, but I want to at least notice it for myself.

3. Approach the passage from some different perspectives. You might ponder the passage from the perspective of different characters within the story (i.e. look at Jonah 1 through the eyes of the pagan sailors, or through God’s eyes, instead of just the more familiar Jonah perspective.) Or you could look at the passage using a couple of commentaries that aren’t your usual go-to resources from people you always agree with. You could even engage a passage with a couple of friends who would have their own unique perspectives.

4. Dig into the cultural background for new insight. We must never forget that we come to a Bible passage as an outsider. We may be familiar with the content, but we are not native in the historical context. A bit of digging can help us to gain greater insight into all that is being assumed or hinted at in the passage. Again, in Jonah 1, when the sailors asked Jonah where he was from, what was his occupation, what people did he belong to, etc., that sounds like an invitation to give a brief personal introduction. Actually, in that culture those questions would all be pointing in the same direction … which of your various gods have you offended? Is it your hometown god, or is it your career idol?

5. Prayerfully walk through the passage in light of your current circumstances. When we engage with a Bible text, there is always more to see in the text itself. But there is also the different eyes with which you see it. The truth doesn’t change. But your circumstances and experiences do. When we recently preached through Acts, we found the 2020 Covid-19 context gave us a fresh perspective for much of what was already so familiar. I am sure that Jonah will be the same this time through – same book, more to notice, and a different world in which to preach it!

What other ways do you find to go deeper when you come back to a familiar passage?

Why Return to Church In Person?

I have friends in places where the church is now able to meet again.  Here we are able to have small groups gathering for home groups (limited in number, and only outdoors).  Eventually we will be able to meet on Sundays as a whole church.  But even then, there will be limitations and hassle – social distancing measures, some restrictions, some unable to meet because of heightened personal vulnerability.  It is going to feel complicated for quite a while!

So, after months of “meeting” online, or even just watching some elements of church services online, we have all grown accustomed to a much freer Sunday.  It has become normal to just tune in on a Sunday, or if anything else is going on, to not bother at all without anyone knowing.  And most churches will presumably continue to livestream in some way because some people can’t be there in person.  So why return to church and meet in person if possible?

I was thinking about this and then saw David Gundersen’s article on the Crossway site giving 10 reasons to return to church.  His reasons are: we’re embodied creatures, the church is one body, the Spirit is drawing us, we’re a spiritual family, preaching is a sacred moment, there’s nothing like singing together, we need baptisms and communion, you have a job to do, our worship is a witness, and greetings change lives.

Without repeating too many of those good reasons, here are 5 more reasons to meet, in person if possible, from me:

1. To let your shepherds shepherd you.  I think I can speak for most in church leadership when I say that we have been trying, but it is much harder to care for people you can’t meet.  So we have been praying for you, trying to stay in contact with you, and learning how to put elements of church online for you.  But we’ve also discovered even more keenly how hard it is to shepherd without the regular interactions of normal church life.  That is where little conversations and interactions allow people to notice when each other are struggling, or just “not themselves.”  Meeting in person if possible is key to knowing where to pour pastoral energy.

2. To play your part in building the body of Christ.  What is true for those in pastoral positions of responsibility is true for us all.  Your brothers and sisters at church need you to care, encourage, ask questions, greet, smile, check in, share life, and every other aspect of lively fellowship.  A normal Sunday may not seem spectacular, but just as others can make a difference in your life, so you make a difference in theirs.

3. To show yourself who you are.  I’m not sure how to write this one, but let me try.  You can say you belong to Jesus and are trusting Him for your salvation and with your eternity.  But if active in person participation in the body of Christ becomes an option again, but instead you would rather be less inconvenienced and just watch a bit of church online, or maybe not at all … what are you really declaring to yourself?  I’m trying not to move into guilt trip zone and twist your arm to be there because you should.  I just mean what are you saying to yourself?  We are all capable of self-justifying with the “I can worship God just as much on a walk in the woods or in my living room at home as I can at church” type of statements.  But do you?  Maybe it would be healthier to be honest with ourselves, “I love Jesus and his people a bit, but I love my own comfort and this TV show more.”

Drifting spiritually is a danger for us all and being honest about it is much more helpful.  The red hot coal soon cools off when separated from the fire.  Maybe you have decided you aren’t trusting Christ for salvation any more and don’t want to be part of his people after all – that is desperately sad, but say so, say it so you can hear it yourself and make sure you are settled on that course.  Don’t just drift and deny you are drifting – that is such a rubbish way to go.  And if you aren’t giving up on Christ, then jump back into in person church when you can – its actually only a small statement to yourself in the big scheme, but it is an important one.

4. To reconnect with family.  Your church may have handled the lockdown differently.  We have combined livestreaming with some Zoom gatherings.  But some people really struggle with Zoom for various reasons.  You may not have interacted with those choosing to only view the church service elements for months.  In person if possible will be a family reunion.  You are part of the family and it will be precious to be together.

5. Because the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.  John Wesley said that and he was right.  As you read through Acts and the epistles you will see reference after reference that assume ‘in person if possible’ is the context for church life and health.  Lockdown hasn’t changed that.

Who is Spiritual?

Apparently, we live in an age of increasing spirituality.  Magazines and websites are full of articles explaining how to increase the spirituality that is latent within each of us.  The advice is often connected to the diet we eat, the attitude we have toward others, or the practice of daily habits like meditation and prayer.  If only we could practice patience, tell the truth more, find something to believe in and join a spiritual community, then we would be more spiritual, or so we are told.

We live in a generation that seems to be obsessed with this kind of spirituality – one that is fashionably new, and yet at the same time, rooted in ancient practice.

Everything I have written so far could be written about your natural-food-eating, yoga-practicing colleague.  But it could also be describing someone totally different.  In John 3, Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus.  He was in many ways much more like the impressive moralist of two or three generations ago – that is, someone who looks impressive because of the standards they keep and the things they don’t do.  But still, in today’s terms, he is not unlike a 21st century spiritual leader.

Nicodemus believed there is a latent spiritual life within that can be cultivated and developed if you live well.  He ate a strict diet, had a certain attitude toward others, and was diligent with daily habits not unlike meditation and prayer.  He may have practiced patience, taken pride in his honesty, definitely believed something and been at the heart of a spiritual community.

He really was not a 21st century spiritual man, nor a 19th century moral man, but he was an impressive 1st century spiritual leader and example to others.  Nicodemus was morally impressive, highly educated, significantly influential and personally powerful.  In almost every respect he was at the top of the pile, and I suspect all of us would have been intimidated if we met him.

Jesus wasn’t intimidated, nor impressed.  Nicodemus wanted to talk spirituality with Jesus, but Jesus couldn’t talk spirituality with him.  Why?  Because, despite everything he had learned, achieved, cultivated and developed, he was yet to even begin being spiritual.  Jesus knows what is inside every man, and as he looked inside Nicodemus he saw absolutely no evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God.

This is a massively important point for us to remember – the spirituality of the New Testament is always absolutely defined by the presence of the Spirit of God.  It is not a quality latent in humans.  It is not something our meditating and travelling neighbor can develop outside of faith in Christ.  As Jonathan Edwards writes in his Treatise on Grace, spirituality is not given its name because it is connected to the soul or the spiritual part of humanity, but because it comes from the Spirit of God.  In fact, Edwards makes it clear that people who are not saved are not just lacking enough of the Spirit of God, they actually don’t have Him at all.

Why is it important for us to be clear that true biblical spirituality is completely wrapped up in the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit?

1. Spirituality outside of Christ? We must not be fooled into thinking that spirituality is a quality that some humans can develop more than others, and that they are doing so outside of Christ.  Hopefully you are clear that outside of Christ there is no access to true spirituality. However, there may well be people in your church who are not clear about that.  We live in an age where a certain kind of tolerance is celebrated, and so there will be young and biblically untaught believers in your church who assume all spirituality is genuine – after all, they have been trained by our age to not question the experience of others.  If our churches are going to be effectively evangelizing this generation with its version of spirituality, then we need to help people understand the radical and eternity-changing difference between human spirituality and true Christian spirituality.

2. Confused spirituality within the church?  It is not just how we view the world around us that matters.  We also need to be clear within the walls of our churches, too.  The church reflects its surrounding culture more than we realise.  I wonder how many people in our churches assume that spirituality is a quality that is latent within each person, which can be developed and grown by Christianised versions of non-Christian practices and ideas?  It could be the case that we have lots of Christians investing lots of energy into approaches to spirituality that are inherently missing the point.  For all their apparent Christian devotion, it could be that their healthy living, daily meditation and prayerful practices are more oriented to what they assume lies within them naturally, instead of fixing the gaze of their hearts on the person of Christ by the Spirit of God.

3. The profoundly personal nature of true Christian spirituality. Self-focused spirituality is not a 21stcentury invention.  It is not even an ancient idea originating with Eastern religions.  Self-focused spirituality goes right back to the Fall of humanity into sin.  We have a deep inner pull towards our own independence that goes back to Genesis 3.  We think we are alive when actually we are spiritually dead.  That was Nicodemus’ problem.  And apart from Christ, that is my problem.  In fact, even as Christians, because of our flesh, it is still our problem.

We need to ask God to grow in us a discernment concerning any spirituality that poits our hearts to self, rather than to Christ.  Let us thank God for His Spirit living within us, who always wants to pour out God’s love into our hearts and nudge our hearts to fix their gaze on Jesus. True Christian spirituality is not primarily about a quality within us, but about a person we love.  It is profoundly personal, and Christ will always be the focus when the Spirit of God is at work.

And if the Spirit of God is not at work, then call it what you like, but it isn’t spirituality.

What to Do With Your Heart?

“The heart of the human problem is the human heart.”  I wrote that a few years ago, and had probably picked up the language from somewhere else along the way.  Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all sorts of evils (Mark 7:21-23).  Earlier, Jeremiah lamented the state of the human heart, calling it deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our hearts control us, for we will do what we love, but we cannot control our hearts.  The desires within our hearts are influential, but we don’t generate those desires. They are responses rather than our responsibility.  And we all know that our desires are often in conflict with each other.

In terms of our salvation, our hard and stony hearts are dead toward God and require the miracle of a Spirit-given new heart for us to start living for God.  The New Covenant is a wonderful blessing, for in it God not only forgives our sins, but also gives us a new heart and puts His Spirit within us so that we can live in responsive fellowship with Him.

So now, as we live for God, what are we to do with our hearts?  After all, we have these new hearts given by God, but still we feel the raging battle of desire versus desire within ourselves – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the new heart are definitely at odds with each other.  Two little instructions that can really help us:

1. Guard your heart.  At your core you are a responder, and so what gets into you will shape you.  If you spend hours each week feasting on the poison of pornography, then that will shape the desires inside you.  If you binge watch violent television, or open up your heart toward the values of this world, then you will be influenced.  None of us are as neutral or objective as we like to think we are.

The wisest man who ever lived (apart from Christ), was Solomon.  He had God-given wisdom and wrote thousands of proverbs.  But in Proverbs 4:23 he writes, “Above all else…” That should get our attention.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  All of life flows from your heart, so guard it.

That means that while you cannot shut the door on your heart and refuse all influence from the outside, you can be careful what you allow in.  How is your heart?  Are you being poisoned by a sewage pipe of unhelpful input through your phone, through the internet, through what you read or what you watch?  If a sewage pipe was pouring into your home so that every meal was poisoned, you would do something about it.  But how easily we leave the sewage pipe to pour into our lives as we sit in front of a screen and swallow the poison that is there.

2. Incline your heart. In Joshua 24, Joshua urges the people to choose to follow God.  They say they will, but he challenges them that they are not able to do it.  Again, they declare that they will, so he tells them two things in verse 23.  First, get rid of the foreign gods (effectively, guard your hearts from guaranteed damage).  Second, he tells them to incline their hearts to the Lord.

It is interesting that he doesn’t tell them to determine, to follow, or to always obey, or to be perfectly faithful.  Rather, he tells them to lean their hearts in God’s direction.  That is, just as we guard our hearts from dangerous input, so we can lean our hearts toward God in order to live in response to Him.

What might that look like today?  There are probably many ways we can incline our hearts toward God.  First, by giving thanks in every circumstance, we incline our hearts to God.  When things are going well, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we are recipients of God’s grace.  When things seem to be going wrong, our thankfulness reminds our hearts that we have a God with a good plan, even if we can’t see it.

Second, by reminding our hearts of truth, we incline our hearts toward God.  Lloyd-Jones wrote that “most of our unhappiness comes from the fact that we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves.”  We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.  Remind your heart that you are a sinner deserving nothing but wrath and judgment from God.  Remind your heart that God’s love was demonstrated for you in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  Remind your heart of who you now are because of the redemptive rescue and transformation by God’s amazing grace.

Third, by speaking to God in prayer, we incline our heart to God.  As we learn to speak to Him in every moment of every day, we are only leaning into the fellowship that He wants to have with us.  As we set apart time to really pour out our hearts to Him, we open ourselves up to all that He has for us.  Just like giving thanks, or speaking God’s Word to ourselves, so in prayer we simply lean our hearts in God’s direction.

There are other ways in which we can incline our hearts to God.  But maybe we should start right there.  Get rid of any foreign gods, or anything you already know is leading you astray from Him.  Guard your heart.  And then incline it.  Lean it toward God.  Look to Him and how He wants to stir righteous desires in your heart.

Life Stage Preaching

As a simple principle of parenting, there are two stages.  The first, from 0-10ish, is the time to pour in Bible content.  The second, from 11ish-adult, is the time to help them wrestle with two questions:  Is it true?  And is it personal?

Let me explain that a bit more.  Children tend to be able to absorb content like a sponge.  They are not particularly equipped to discern, but they are brilliantly equipped to remember.  So it is the time to teach Bible stories, to memorise lots and lots of Bible verses, to help ground them in familiarity with the truths of God’s Word.

Pre-teens and teens are in that transitional stage from childhood to adulthood.  They will be facing two questions as time passes.  Is this stuff true?  They will face challenges from school, from peers, from the media.  Fairytales told in childhood won’t hold when sophistication becomes a secular alternative.  Therefore make sure they know we don’t believe fairytales.  The historicity of the Bible, the credibility of our theology, the consistency of our worldview, and the life changing reality of our faith…this all needs to be the stuff of training teens.  But knowledge is not enough, it needs to be personal.  They won’t be able to surf on their parents’ faith through college, let alone adult life.

If this post were about parenting, we could leave it there.  But what does this mean for the preacher?

1. Make sure the ministries of your church are age appropriate.  Don’t babysit children when they could be absorbing truth.  Don’t fairytale teens when they could be wrestling with the truth of that truth and what it means for that truth to take root in their lives.

2. Help parents know how to target their input to the age and stage of their children – no matter how good your kids and youth ministry may be, the parents are the primary influencers (and disciplers, if the children concerned are blessed to be in a Christian family).

3. Consider your preaching.  You may have only adults in the room (by physical age), but I can almost guarantee that you have spiritual newborns, spiritual children, and spiritual adolescents in the congregation.  Does the principal apply exactly?  Not necessarily.  But there will be people craving milk, and others needing to wrestle with some meat.  There will be some who need to know content, and others who need to wrestle with the truth of what you say, and everyone who needs it to be personal in their lives.

7 Pointers from Stephen’s Sermon

This morning I listened to the section of Acts this includes Stephen’s great speech (Acts 7).  This is the longest speech in Acts and well worthy of studying.  Obviously it was a unique situation and not a planned sermon for Sunday morning in church.  Nevertheless, here are some basic thoughts to nudge us in our ministry:

1. Stephen preached for a response.  While the response was not what we would prefer Sunday by Sunday, there is no doubting that he went for it.  He knew it was do or die – either they would be cut to the heart or his life would be cut off.  He didn’t hold back but boldly proclaimed God’s message.

2. Stephen preached for Christ’s glory, not for his own comfort.  He was in a legal situation where every natural instinct would be self-preservation, but instead he lifted Christ very high.

3. Stephen knew his Bible.  If this message was not prepared (it may have been, but that doesn’t really change the point here) then he clearly knew his way around the Hebrew Bible.  Not only could he tell the story of Israel, but also…

4. Stephen carefully selected material.  Too many summaries of this sermon skim over the body of it with a statement like, “Stephen reviewed Israel’s history.”  Not so simple.  Stephen reviewed Israel’s history with God in locations other than the temple mount.  He reviewed Israel’s history with rejecting God’s messengers.  He carefully selected his material to fit this particular message.

5. Stephen knew his audience.  He knew the people, their pride, their antagonism, their recent history with Jesus.  That is why it was do or die … this was not the time for gradual seed sowing, he knew what they needed to hear, and he probably knew where it would lead.  Which is why we can also say….

6. Stephen knew his audience of one.  He knew that the only listener that ultimately mattered was the one standing to receive him into glory.  If only we could always preach with an overwhelming sense of our ultimate audience!

7. Stephen built to climax.  He didn’t just talk until the stones flew, or until the time ran out, or until people started to leave.  He built towards a climax, towards the point of response and ultimately the point of no return.

Lots more could be said, but these seven thoughts might be worth pondering as you read or listen through Acts 7 and think about your particular context, audience and ministry.

One Improvement

Whatever ministry we are involved in, there are numerous ways we could pursue improvement.  Preaching, for example, is a combination of dozens of factors working together each time we preach.  Evangelism, likewise, is a combination of many many factors at work in each encounter.  Whatever our ministry, potential areas for improvement are manifold.

I want to suggest one improvement that should be right near the top of our list.  This will help if we preach, if we are an evangelist, an apologist, a parent, a teacher, a children’s worker, etc.

The improvement is connected to faith.  Not so much our faith, but theirs.  And not so much the amount of it, but its object.  Lots of Christian ministry is invested into encouraging people to have and exercise more faith.  But what people really need is to catch a better glimpse of the Christ who is worth believing in.  Let me put it like this:

Present the object of faith better, don’t just pressure people to have better faith.

It is easy to turn up the pressure.  Whether we are preaching to a church, witnessing to a non-believer, coaching our children, or whatever, we can easily put the burden on them to believe, to believe more, to believe better, etc.

Once we see that faith is a response to something, then the focus can shift.  Instead of the pressure being on them to work up more faith, the privilege is with us to better present Christ so that they might believe.  Don’t tell them to inflate their response, look for ways to offer a better something to respond to.

What might this involve?

1. You have to be infected to be infectious – do you love Jesus?  Since love, like faith, is a response, then the only way to increase your contagiousness is to spend time with him for yourself.  Like Mary, we need to sit at Jesus’ feet and let him minister to us before we try to minister for him.

2. Evaluate the content of your communication. In column A, notice all the content in what you say that presents Christ/God/Gospel, etc.  In column B, notice all the content that points listeners to themselves, their effort, their discipline etc.  Where are you investing your minutes as you preach, speak, teach, etc.?  Some preachers offer so little of Christ in what they say that it is shocking anyone ever walks away thinking about anything other than themselves.

3. Present the person, not just points of fact.  Perhaps you say a lot about Jesus, but what you say is somewhat impersonal.  Imagine I was telling you about my wife and all I ever mentioned was a list of facts: her height, her hair colour, her shoe size.  That would have far less impact than speaking of her character, her values, her worth in my eyes.  The same is true of Christ.  Some Christians only seem to speak of points of fact from the creed, but never speak of the person they are in relationship with.  People are more likely to respond with relational faith to a Christ that is more than mere data.

4. Pray about it.  This is not first and foremost an encouragement to pursue improvement as some sort of solo exercise.  Nobody cares more about presenting Christ well than the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Don’t just try to do better at this, but instead speak with God about your ministry.  This is an improvement that you can be confident is in line with God’s will for you!

There are hundreds of ways to improve every ministry we are involved in.  But it is hard to think of an improvement that has more than this one – to prayerfully ask God to help you present the object of faith more effectively for the sake of those who hear you.

Home for Christmas!

Christmas is a time when many people head home, or think of home, or long for home. For some it is a special time of great joy and satisfaction. For others it is a painfully empty season when memories of a home now broken by death or divorce come flooding back.

The Christmas story as it is told each year tends to include some reference to the wonder of God the Son leaving his heavenly home to come down to earth. His welcome? Humble shepherds. Animals by their trough. Not even any place in the inn, but just a lowly stable.

I am not wanting to tread on anyone’s nativity set, but things were slightly different than we tend to think. Luke 2 tells us that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

What was it really like? The “inn” was not a reference to a public inn as in the story of the Good Samaritan, an ancient motel of questionable standards. Rather the word used by Luke refers to the guest room attached to the back or the top of a single room family home. Joseph, with his heritage would have received a welcome in the city of David, not to mention his pregnant Jewish young lady (and if they hadn’t, then Mary’s relatives not too far away would have been offended that they didn’t head there).

They didn’t get the guest room, because other visitors were already there. Instead they were probably brought into the single room residence of this humble family in Bethlehem. At the front end of the room there would have been a drop down to the area where the animals would be kept at night (for their security and for central heating). The sheep would have a wooden or stone manger, the family cow and the donkey would eat from the trough cut into the floor at the end of the human living space.

This was typical of the homes then, and culturally this would have been the situation. Perhaps not quite the quaint stable, but what a startling image nonetheless! The Messiah wasn’t born in a palace, but in a humble home. (This, incidentally, would have been important information in the message of the angels to motivate the shepherds to come for their visit. Furthermore, if he were born in a stable, the shepherds would have insisted on a transfer to their humble homes.) The young family didn’t even get the guest room, but the special little one came in the family home, with the women of the home helping Mary, then the men coming in to gaze in wonder at the new boy.

When we study the details of the first Christmas we may find ourselves correcting a few of the Christmas card images.  But far more importantly, we should find ourselves stirred to worship God more than ever.  The real first Christmas is not a fairytale or a myth, it is the remarkable launch of a rescue mission that changes human history.  We may be emotionally attached to the stable story, but let’s allow our hearts to be gripped by Christ’s move from heaven’s throne to a humble human home.  What a guest!

Let’s sing with renewed passion this Christmas:

Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Christmas is a time when our thoughts turn toward home. What a truly glorious thought, that Christ left his home to come and be born in a humble human home. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. He is our God, with us!


For more on the wonder of the Incarnation, please check out Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014).


In Luke 11:5-7, Jesus drops a little parable in after teaching the disciples “the Lord’s Prayer” – it is one of those, “which of you…” type stories.  If your friend shows up in the middle of the night, you will go to your neighbour to get the food you need to show hospitality, right?  Right.  And your neighbour won’t be delighted at you waking up his household, but he will give you the bread you need because of your … persistence?  No, that is not the word here.  Impudence.  Temerity.  Shamelessness.  Audacity.

Some thoughts from this parable in its context and its application to us:

1. Father God.  This kind of audacious boldness would work with a friend next door.  But a far more familiar situation may be in view here.  After all, Jesus has just taught his disciples to call God, Father (v2).  He will conclude the section by underlining the graciousness of God the Father (v13).

Jesus did not teach us to call God, Boss.  When we talk to our boss we tend to negotiate, pointing out our good performance or avoiding the boss when we have failed to reach targets.  Our focus is on what we might gain, rather than the security we feel in the forever compassion of a good good father.

Jesus did not teach us to call God, Genie.  If we pray like God is a genie then we will focus on rubbing the lamp properly.  What is the right approach?  How can I say enough adoration, confession and thanksgiving to activate the mechanism and get what I want?  Again, the focus is on my technique and not God’s goodness.

Jesus told us to call God, Father.  Shamelessly.  Audaciously.

2. Bother God!  The friend in his house may say “do not bother me!”  But a good father does not.  My children will approach me at two a.m., shake me and tell me they have a need … “so and so is crying,” or “I feel sick,” or “I had a scary dream,” or whatever.  No respectful introduction, no box of chocolates, just an unhesitating boldness.  God is our Father, he wants us to bother him.  How easily do we drift into prayerlessness?  Or into a formulaic ritualistic prayer pattern that essentially denies the closeness of the relationship we have been given in Christ?

3. Giver God.  Jesus draws a comparison at the end of the passage – if you who are evil know how to give good gifts… we know what is coming, right?  How much more will your heavenly father give good gifts?  No, that is Matthew.  Here in Luke it says, “give the Holy Spirit.”  This probably feels disappointing to many in our churches, but is it disappointing?  Not at all!  Chase the wonder of what it means to have the Holy Spirit because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  To have the Holy Spirit means to have profound, communicative, assured relationship with God.  It means that we get to participate in the very life of the Trinity.

As a preacher I am not immune to the human tendency toward autonomy any more than you are.  We drift that way all the time. Our tendency is to think that we can handle life, but autonomous life is a lie.  We are most alive, most human, when we pray.  When we are expressing our dependence on and need of God, then it is our prayer that makes us most human!

Apologies for Silence

I thought I should add a note to say sorry for the silence on this site during these weeks. We are currently visiting prayer and financial partners of our ministry for several weeks.  Obviously this needs to be our focus during this time, but I should be back blogging on here before too long.

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