Tony’s Experience of Personal Prayer

posted in: Prayer, Tony Thompson 2

For many, many years I have tried to start the day by setting aside time to read the Bible and pray. Whilst I was working in industry and had a young family I would get up early to spend time with God before the rest of the family were awake. At one stage my boys would join me and we would read a children’s bible and pray together, special times and memories.

However, I always found reading the Bible easier than praying and I ended up spending much more time in Bible study than in prayer. In the months, immediately before leading my first church I was challenged about the depth and quality of my prayer life, was it sufficient to build a church on? I knew the answer was no. I therefore set myself the task of developing my prayer life. What I put in place then has stood the test of time, I follow the same basic structure now, over 20 years later.

I am not suggesting you follow my pattern, but I am encouraging you as part of our focus on prayer this month to review your prayer life and see if it needs any development.

My pattern has four distinct elements.

  1. I read a chapter or two from the Bible, a different section each day.
  2. I then journal in a note book. I write todays date and then the word yesterday. I then prayerful reflect on the previous day, writing down what I learnt, what I felt God was doing.
  3. I then read from a devotional book. Currently it is a biography of Martin Luther, before that it was a theological book by Tom Wright, one of my favourite authors. I try to read a book to encourage my praying at least once a year.
  4. I then write out my prayers in the same book used for my journal. I write prayers under four heading, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. ACTS.

If you feel challenged to develop your prayer life may I suggest that you start by reading a book on prayer as well as setting aside some time each day to pray.

Books I have found helpful include

Too busy not to pray by Bill Hybels (The book that more than any other revolutionised my prayer life so many years ago.)

Ordering your private world by Gordon MacDonald (Covers much more than just prayer, but another book that helped me develop my relationship with God.)

Prayer by Tim Keller (I more recent book, a little harder to read but worth it.)

The circle maker by Mark Batterson (His story of the power of prayer in his ministry, easy reading)

Fresh wind, fresh fire by Jim Cymbala (Another story of the power of prayer)

 

May 2017 be a year where your prayer life moves to a different level.

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

New Year Challenge – becoming more like Christ

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I recently read a book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney, that talked practically about spiritual maturity, godliness and how to attain it.

Whitney identified three different ways that God helps us grow spiritually to be more like Christ.

He identifies the people God brings us into contact with as a way God changes us, as the Bible says iron sharpening iron. If we spend time with godly people who are more mature than us, something rubs off on us.

The circumstances that come into our lives, particularly the difficulties and challenges that we face are also a means of growth. None of us wants hard times, but my experience of the challenges of the last few years, I realise, has helped me grow. I am a better man because of them.

In many ways, we have little choice regarding the people and circumstances God brings into our lives, but the third means of growth is much more in our hands, discipline. As Whitney says, in my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline…….we can decide, for example, whether we will read the Bible or fast today.

Spiritual maturity therefore happens when the efforts of a Christian and the work of God come together. In his letter to the church in Colossae Paul writes of his labours to help believers become “mature in Christ,” declaring, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). The desire and the power for them are produced by the grace of God. But Christians themselves must practice the Disciplines.

To make the impact that we believe God wants to make in Luton and further afield we need to grow in maturity as individuals and as a church. We must become more Christlike, godlier if we want people to see Christ in us.

Despite the example of Jesus and the teaching of the New Testament about Christianity as a life of disciplined spirituality, many professing Christians are spiritually undisciplined and seem to have little Christlike fruit and power in their lives.

Physical fitness comes through the discipline of exercise, going to the gym, a walk or a jog. Spiritual fitness comes through spending time studying the Bible, praying, reflecting on what God is doing in our lives.

As we approach a new year, and with it new challenges and opportunities, may I encourage you to toil with all his energy to grow in spiritual maturity. Invest time in it, time reading the Bible; time praying; time reading Christian books; time listening to sermons; time trying new things e.g.  if you have never fasted try it; time with more mature Christians.

God spokes to me early in my Christian life – he told me that I wanted to be used by God, but he wanted to make me useable. I think that is still true.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

A Defence of Christmas

posted in: Tony Thompson 2

Some of those we love and work alongside are passionate about not celebrating Christmas, not having Christmas trees or decorations. Some mark the incarnation of our Lord at different time, notably at the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, others don’t mark this at any special time. For example the Jesus Army say, “The popular Christian festivals such as Christmas are not celebrated, on the quite accurate grounds that they have Pagan origins. (One of the reasons that Christianity took root throughout Europe during the Dark Ages was its habit of taking over local Pagan festivals and sacred sites, adapting the customs of the Winter Solstice into Christmas, and of the Spring festival into Easter, and building churches over ancient wells and springs.)” This is a historic position amongst reformed people, the Puritans shunned Christmas and it was against the law to celebrate Christmas Day following the civil war.

 

Maybe you are wondering why have a tree and mark the festival? Or maybe you wonder how to answer those who bring objections to celebrating Christmas? I want to spend a few lines making a defence of our practice. In the end this is not something that is essential to our salvation so is a matter of individual conscience. It does bring out important principles that are worth considering.

 

One of the missionary tactics of the early church was to look for points of contact between the culture they were going to and the Gospel. So when evangelising Jewish communities Christians would show how the festivals of the Jewish year pointed to Christ. When evangelising Gentile communities that would not work because these communities had no knowledge of the Jewish Festivals. So when Paul went to Athens, he found an altar to an “unknown god” Paul used this point of contact, along with quotes from Greek poets and philosophers, to preach the gospel. He encouraged Titus to do the same in Crete, quoting local poets. Imagine how modern Christians would react to Paul’s sermon? He quoted no scripture, he used a pagan altar as an illustration and referenced pagan writers.

 

Most northern hemisphere cultures held a mid-winter festival, the early Church missionaries used this festival as a point of contact. Most of these festivals were held around the time of the winter solstice and called for the return of the sun. Christians used these festivals to preach that the true Light of the world had come amongst us. Like Paul in Athens they used that which was familiar to people to bring the gospel message. They subverted local traditions to convey truth. As the Jesus Army acknowledge this was a powerful evangelistic tool, it was using these means that the gospel was brought to Europe.
What about today? We live in a secular nation that holds a mid-winter celebration, we continue to take those customs people are familiar with to preach a gospel message. Like the early missionaries and Paul himself, we are inserting a message into a festival and we compete with other stories that are told at the same time. Christmas is a point of contact with our society, an opportunity to teach truth, in my view we should take it. Use the Christmas tree to teach of God’s everlasting grace, use the darkness to teach about the true Light who came into the world and show to the world true joy that Jesus gives.

 

So, at Christmas and at other times, we could be pure, absolutely right, so right we become dead right enslaved again by law, or we can joyfully seek to share our faith with a world that is dying. I know what I want to do!

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Exploring Growth: Prayer in the context of growth – the Lord’s Prayer

We believe that God has been speaking to us about growth, growth in influence and numerical growth. He has also been speaking to us about the need to make changes to accommodate and facilitate growth. However, as we have seen, it is God who causes things to grow. The best we can do is work with God, trying not to get in the way. Prayer becomes even more important than normal. Prayer declares our total reliance on God; prayer is how we come close to God; prayer is how we hear from God.

The best place to start when talking about prayer is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. Luke 11v1-4, Matthew 6v9-13. However it is also difficult to say something brief about this prayer. I will try to be succinct!

Firstly Jesus taught the disciples to pray this prayer because they asked him to. See Luke. They had obviously noticed how regularly Jesus would go away to a quiet place by himself and spend time talking to his heavenly Father. This was unusual and distinctive. They wanted to know how to do it themselves. If we are looking for motivation to pray we can’t do better than follow the example of Jesus.

Other things worthy of note are –

  1. Jesus starts by saying that Jesus is “Our Father” not “My Father”. Even though we pray alone there is a corporate element about our relationship with God. He isn’t just my Father, or Jesus’ Father – he is our Father.
  2. We should address the person we are praying to, see him, consider him, picture him as Father as we prayer. Not as our experience of earthly Father, good or bad as that may be, but as the picture of the ideal loving, intimate Father. The Father that human Fathers are meant to emulate.
  3. Our focus on prayer should be on God rather than ourselves and our needs, especially at the start of our prayer. Our desire should be that God’s name will be honoured and glorified, that His will is done. We suspect His will is for us to grow in influence and numerically, lets pray for His will to be done.
  4. We should be looking and asking for our basic needs to be met, our daily bread, without that we will not be able to do God’s will.
  5. Similarly we need to ensure that we ask for and receive forgiveness as this will impact our ability to do God’s will. As will the fact that we haven’t forgiven others.
  6. Temptation is something else we want to avoid as that too gets in the way of doing the Father’s will.

Let us prayer as Jesus did, as regularly as he did, and focusing on the Fathers will rather than ourselves!

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 20th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

Growth Pains: Acts 6:1-7

We are part of what is called the “restoration movement”, a movement seeking to restore New Testament Christianity to the modern church.

However, New Testament Christianity was not without its problems, we can’t assume that church life will ever be trouble free. The church in Corinth had problems with drunkenness, sexual immorality, divisions, even abuse of the poor.

We can despair of the modern church, despair of the history of the church across the centuries, I have often done both. We must remember the NT church was not perfect, either. We can long for the church in the UK to experience the growth of the early church, as I do. However, if we experienced that growth, it may not feel as we would expect. It may bring its own difficulties. That was the case in the New Testament church as described in Acts 6.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Grumbling and complaining clearly not just a 21st Century phenomenon. Part of everyday church life since the early days! Grumblings and complaints are as old as Moses – what Jews did when in slavery and then when released from slavery.

The context here is that widows needed support, part of the structure of early church life. Hellenistic Jews, those from a Greek background felt they were disadvantaged compared to widows from a Hebrew background.  

Growth put strains on the church, growth pains. The tension was along racial lines, a volatile thing in a multi-cultural church.

We are seeking to build a church that embraces many cultures, like this church in Jerusalem. Which creates greater potential for grumbling, especially during periods of growth!

We should not be surprised by complaints and grumbling. We should expect them – we are growing, change is happening, we have lots of different cultures. I can’t believe there are no issues. Mention them, don’t hide them, don’t sweep them under the carpet.

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

The leadership didn’t get defensive, they recognised there was a problem and did something about it. Although they only knew about the problem because people told them.

We expect difficulties to be doctrinal, they rarely are, they are usually very mundane and practical. Paul and Barnabus parted company not for doctrinal problems, but over whether to take John Mark with them or not.

People can feel overlooked, undervalued, under represented. This is exaggerated in times of growth, which puts pressure on structures developed when the community is smaller. Unless dealt with growth, momentum will stall.

It is not surprising that the prophetic words we have received about growth also talk about the need for change, restructuring, a change in our expectations of church.

The issue was practical, the response administrative, organisational.

 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

They chose Greek people, as the issue was racial – bringing Greek believers into a multiracial leadership.

Leadership had not been representative, a real vulnerability. Dealing with these practical issues removed barriers to growth.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Application.

As we grow we need to change structures, how we do things. It often happens after the event! When done, growth can continue.

We have already identified some changes that need to be made –

an acceptance that no one person can know everyone in our church. We are used to knowing everyone and many have tried to do this even as we have grown. It is nearly impossible at 150, totally impossible at 200.

an acceptance that no one person can support and care for everyone. I cannot know everyone; I can’t care personally for everyone. I find that difficult and have tried and failed to do so even at 150 attending. It is impossible as we grow further. Unless I focus on identifying, releasing and supporting others to care and lead it will result in people feeling let down and me feeling I have let people down.

an acceptance that not everyone can know the church leader and have a close relationship with them.

an acceptance that many people are gifted and able to take increased responsibility. This is evident on a Sunday morning, but also at other times. I need to support and encourage this, rather than taking back things.

an acceptance that we need to do things differently and better. This is already happening in some areas such as welcome and communications. It needs to also happen in other areas.

As in the early church we need people of all cultures stepping up, taking responsibility, coming into leadership. We need to change our structures.

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 13th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

God is calling us to grow in numbers and influence

In a previous blog (found by clicking here) I shared prophetic words we have received as a church which we are taking very seriously and appear to be suggesting that we should expect God to grow us numerically and in influence.

In this blog, I am trying to weigh these words, which is what we are told to do.

When we look at scripture we discover that healthy bodies, including churches, grow.

e.g. 1 Corinthians 3v5-9.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

God gives growth, we work with him. Things are meant to grow.

e.g.  Parables of the Kingdom. Matthew 13v31-33

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Obviously, these parables are about expecting growth beyond the church growing numerically, they are about influence. We should expect the kingdom, where God reigns, to keep growing. However, we should include growth in Christian community.

Clearly growth is a good thing, a sign of health, hence the consistent use of the metaphors of plants.

Historically the church has grown numerically and in influence.

This was the experience of early church, see Acts 2v46, 47; 6v7; 12v24. It has been true ever since and it is the experience in most parts of the world today.

We need to keep in mind that our experience in the UK and the west generally over the last few decades is unusual and should not be thought of as the norm.

The suggestion that the days of Christianity and religion generally are numbered is not supported by the facts. It comes from a narrow, secular perspective, we should not allow ourselves to be caught up in the lie. Anyway, we believe in a God who raises the dead!

Growth is not painless; it brings growth pains.

This is very clear from Acts 6, but is shown throughout the book of Acts, where growth occurs in the midst of difficulties, especially persecution.

There are barriers to growth that need to be overcome. More on this next week.

Conclusions we can draw.

We should desire growth, numerically and in influence as a church and as individuals within the church. God has been telling us this will happen and it is consistent with the general thrust of scripture.

This should not be in competition or at the expense of other churches, people just moving from other churches.

It should not be numerical growth at the expense of influence (changing society). It is not just about more people coming to church, it is about an increasing number individuals being equipped and sent out from Hope into the world.

However, we cannot be complacent; God gives the growth but we work with him. We need to address the fact that we haven’t consistently grown numerically over the last few years, we need to do this openly and honesty. We also need to do it with faith and trust in our God, being willing to pay any price required.

 

This links with the sermon preached on Sunday 7th November which can be found by clicking here

Written by Tony Thompson

Tony Thompson

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