Day 36 - Issue 28

February 18, 2019

Psalm 23:1 NLT

'The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.'

I have grown to love Psalm 23 over the years. I have come to appreciate its quiet call to calm confidence.

In my youth, like a sheep, I paid little attention to anything other than feeding myself, serving my wants, both real and imagined. My inherent selfishness, perhaps a more contemporary expression for sin, required me to serve its unrelenting demands. I’m not sure I connected with anything other than my own imagined perception of God.

Sounds bad, yet I don’t think I would ever have stumbled upon the corrupt nature of my sincere faith commitment had I not first discovered my own pseudo-spirituality. I was a sheep, bleating in harmony with many other sheep, and certainly part of a recognised flock. However, I had little knowledge of my Shepherd, beyond the metaphor of a kind and caring pastor.

In reality, each sheep is dependent upon the shepherd for protection, finding food, maintaining health and sheering their coat. For this to work, the shepherd has to be prepared to move with the sheep to lead them to fresh pastures once the forage has all been consumed.

My experiences taught me that I needed the leadership of the Shepherd, rather than my initial assumption that I made the decisions and God bailed me out of all my bad ones. All of my problems related to my own poor decision-making; decisions I’d have best left to the Shepherd. I failed to keep my gaze upon the Shepherd, so if I was to be OK I relied on the Shepherd finding and rescuing me. I also rather preferred to follow my own appetites than those of the experienced Shepherd.

QUESTION: Take time to read Psalm 23 again and discover the value of a shepherd. Where is the Shepherd leading you today?

PRAYER: Lord, lead me, guide me, protect me, nourish, shelter and feed me. For only you can do all those things well.

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Day 35 - Issue 28

February 15, 2019

Galatians 6:5,9-10 NLT

'So we are each responsible for our own conduct...So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.'

The final questions I ask myself in concluding my daily Examen is, “How might I have changed my day?” It’s too easy to excuse my behaviour because of circumstance or the actions of another. I must take personal ownership over the way I live out my life each day. This is why the questions I recommend for the Examen are active, not passive.

Scripture reminds me that God is working with me and it is I who can choose to make changes in my approach to life. Society schools us in playing the blame game. There is always some objective reason why I did not do what was expected. We also compare ourselves with others, so we claim we would be successful if we enjoyed the same benefits as someone else. Yet, God has equipped each one of us to succeed. Success is determined by God. It is never a measure of status or possession; always one of greater dependence upon God.

Once, I assumed my success might be measured against the number of situations I had changed through my initiatives, albeit working with others. I also felt as if I was the preacher who would transform people’s lives through my anointed sermons. I was looking for human affirmation and all this revealed was a fractured self-esteem. As I have journeyed with God through difficult circumstances, I’ve discovered that the reality of my life can only be measured by the degree to which I know God. And that is revealed by the degree to which I trust God’s promises in practice. So I can quite simply get on with doing good, with no concerns about where this fits into God’s greater plan. That’s always and only God’s responsibility.

QUESTION: Ask yourself “How might I have changed my day?” Think through adjustments to your behaviour so that you might deepen your friendship with God.

PRAYER: Lord, help me tomorrow to do someone good and to show your goodness to others.

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Day 34 - Issue 28

February 14, 2019

Philippians 4:8 NLT

'And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.'

A critical part of my evening Examen is when I consider my day and consider, “What am I grateful for today?” Everyone should work on developing a “gratitude attitude”. As disciples, we are instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV). So it’s important as I survey my day I allow some time to think about what I am grateful for.

It’s easy to be worn down by life. Yet, among all those annoyances there are bright gems of hope. I remember years ago when my daughter was small that it was essential I left my work outside the front door. Once in the house it was play and story time. I was so grateful for her and knocked out by her love for me that it was sheer delight having moments of pure joy, no matter the crises that awaited me next day.

Often we become so absorbed with difficult things that we miss moments of wonder that cross our path every day. I am so glad I created so many memories that my daughter and I can chat and laugh about. Fun and joy supply the foundation to all great friendships. Without fostering the ability to find something worthy of praise throughout our day, we shall lose heart and often become over-critical and negative.

I used to struggle to find things to give thanks for. Now I find moments of celebration throughout my day, and reconsider them at day’s end. This practice has established a ‘glass half-full’ attitude within me. Changing my attitude and building positive behaviours are directly related to the effort I make to become who I believe God wants of me and what I encounter in scripture.

QUESTION: Take time to consider something from your day for which you are grateful.

PRAYER: Lord, whatever has happened this day, I know that you love me through Jesus Christ and that you have been with me today. For that grace and more, I am grateful.

 

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Day 33 - Issue 28

February 13, 2019

2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

'For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.'

The search for meaning is a high priority for me. I’ve also discovered that everyone is seeking some form of significance. There lies within a deep desire for meaning, even as we wrestle to establish what that looks like.

So my second Examen question is, “How meaningful was my day?” It is left for me to quantify what I measure as meaningful. For me, having taken the decision to live as a contemporary, contemplative, it’s the degree to which I have established a life and time style that offers the means to measure the level of meaningfulness in my day. So how was my 25 minutes of silent contemplation? How did I treat those who crossed my path? Am I staying focused on God, despite the demands daily life presents me with?

These questions are active and not critical. They are intended to provoke a secondary reflection best expressed as, “Did I do my best in serving God?” My natural instinct is only to seek meaning to enhance my own sense of well-being. Yet, meaning for the disciple is only established in the ways in which we love God and neighbour. So I can look back over my day and measure the way I’ve followed my own rule of life and mission statement, as well as how I have fulfilled the fundamental mission of God.

In all of this I refuse to be drawn into a counsel of perfection that’s usually accompanied by an unhelpful dose of guilt. Guilt is unnecessary, since we have confession and the capacity to put right those things we know to be wrong where circumstance allows. This takes both humility and courage. There is no fear in love, and grace ensures that I can keep short accounts with God and forgive myself.

QUESTION: At the end of the day consider if you did your best in serving God today.

PRAYER: END BOLD] Lord, may I work according to your plans, and not my own.

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Day 32 - Issue 28

February 12, 2019

Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

'Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation...For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.'

There are three important aspects in preparing for the evening Examen. I’ve found it’s essential not to leave it too late. When I tried to make my Examen just before going to bed, I was too tired. So interrupt your evening early! Second, go somewhere with limited distractions. Finally, I try to enter the space with a positive, optimistic attitude, otherwise I battle my thoughts throughout, and can become cynical.

My first question is always, “How content was I today?” I reflect on these words of Paul about how contentment is a discipline I practise, not something that is done to or for me. Contentment has everything to do with my attitude and approach. There are things I’d rather not happen, yet where is God in such circumstances? In the morning I showed my irritation with those I worked. I recognised part of it arose from my not fully understanding everything in our process; my irritation was an expression of my sense of powerlessness. All I had to do was to ask for some further explanation, yet I didn’t.

As I ask my first question, “How content was I today?” I explore why I was/was not content, and ask God to reveal my backstory. This is not for the purpose of being hard on myself but for learning.

So as I discern my contentment and acknowledge my irritation, I ask God how to proceed. Is there any action I need to take? In this case, yes, apologise to my business partner for my behaviour. I also reflect upon why I felt inner defensiveness through my lack of understanding. In this way I learn more about myself and can consider practical steps to strengthen this fault line in my character. Self-awareness always precedes effective behavioural change.

QUESTION: Set aside ten minutes, approach the time positively and ask yourself, “How content was I today?”

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, please teach me the secret of contentment.

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Day 31 - Issue 28

February 11, 2019

Philippians 4:8 NLT

'And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.'

I conclude most days with a short time of reflection or Examen, as the Church Fathers named it. It’s an opportunity to reflect upon the day that’s passed and review those “...things that are excellent and worthy of praise”, together with those that are not. This is a means by which I exercise responsibility for my life of service with God.

It’s amazing how quickly the best of intentions unravel. I’ve already written of “ego depletion”, when our stock of behaviour management skills reduces as we manage ourselves throughout the day.

With my Examen, I’ve adopted an approach of asking myself a series of active questions. These active questions ensure I think about myself as agent and not object, subject not victim. I take charge of my behaviours, whatever they turn out to be, and I won’t blame circumstance or my perceived failure of another for my poor performance. Over the next four devotionals we shall look at four key questions I ask myself so that my reflection has some direction and purpose.

My questions ensure I become engaged with the discipleship I want to practise. It is not something I aspire to alone, but intimately engage God in my reflection. I find it holds me to account for how I’m serving God now, not projected onto some well-intentioned future plan. I’ve burned through any number of those unsuccessfully over the years.

The questions are all framed around my seeking to do my best and function in a creative and productive way. Active questions seek to create the space for fresh optimism and positive improvement in each area of my life.

QUESTION: How do you review and reflect upon your day?

PRAYER: Lord, refine me each day so that I reflect more of you for the day that lies ahead.

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Day 30 - Issue 28

February 8, 2019

Psalm 25:10 NLT

'The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.'

My teenage years were rebellious, so it’s no surprise that keeping rules has not been easy for me. From school to the present I remain an independent thinker, and I always want to question if the way something is being done is the best way, not simply the most pragmatic. For me, the most challenging aspect of following Jesus has been obedience.

Obedience is often presented as surrendering to someone else’s authority in today’s cultur But there are times when that’s the best there is. So when ill, I may dislike what my GP tells me, yet I accept their direction. God is the ultimate physician, knowing what’s best for us, body, mind and spirit. As the fourth-century poet, theologian and musician Ephrem said, Jesus is “the medicine of life”.

There are those who will immediately see an analogy with salvation, and that most certainly is there. Yet, I need to find Christ and make sense of my salvation in each moment of each day. Unlike some seldom-used files, I cannot put my salvation on the cupboard shelf for those rare moments when I need to consult it.

Keeping covenant with God has proved difficult. I need to trust God ahead of my own desire to research and resolve unanswered questions. I choose to accept God’s world view ahead of my own, which I feel more than capable of developing. I must trust tomorrow to God, with the sole encouragement that all my yesterdays have, in fact, brought me to this spot. This is already the work of God. Can I, will I, sit comfortably within it, however it looks to my ageing sight?

Covenant, a coming together of two parties to abide by a simple agreement, demands I play my part. Yet, perhaps I’m anxious God won’t deliver on his promises. Or this commitment I made is so much more than I imagined when I signed it. How true is that!

QUESTION: What is the most challenging aspect of following Jesus for you?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you that Jesus was the fully obedient one and yet I receive your unfailing love and faithfulness through him.

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Day 29 - Issue 28

February 7, 2019

Psalm 25:8 NLT 

'The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray.'

There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding sin. I remember as a youth worker having to give talks to groups of teenagers about “not going too far” in a relationship with another, outside of marriage. I wondered at my own hypocrisy in giving these talks and also couldn’t imagine that leaders who’d walked this way ahead of me did not have their own stories of apparent compromise. The talks were always based around core principles without any personal illustration to ground the theory. I’m not seeking to redraw boundaries, I am merely acknowledging that my hormones can overwhelm my best of intentions. Still the silence continues.

I once had a meal with a group of fellow leaders and raised this point. The conversation moved on, yet I felt a distinct lack of authenticity. The reality is, God accepts us as we are, and only as we seek God’s path do we unearth it for ourselves. Even as we discover it, it can take quite a number of attempts to follow it directly. These attempts are the false turns we wander down during our walk.

What I love about God is, like a good parent, he never gives up on us. Whatever wrong turning we take, God is ready and willing to guide us back onto the best path, if we will cooperate. Even a delay in response on my part does not deter God from offering encouragement and help. Of course, it is down to me to establish how to access that help, and this is where I have a choice to make; press on with my own course of action or return to God.

Each one of us has a distinct path to walk with God. There is no form of generic Christian discipleship, which is why models of Christian behaviour are well-nigh impossible to establish. God has made each one of us unique and so each of us needs coaching by God’s Spirit how we might walk God’s way, given our unique make-up. Herein lies the fun of discipleship.

QUESTION: What does discipleship looks like for you?

PRAYER: Lord, show me the path you have for me and how best to follow you.

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Day 28 - Issue 28

February 6, 2019

Psalm 25:7 NLT

'Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.'

I vividly remember my rebellious teenage years. I tried to break every convention because I could. I know I caused my parents grief, yet I was proud of my unconventional and disrespectful behaviour. My meeting with God at 19 radically changed the direction of my life.

When I have flashbacks to specific incidents from my past, attitudes towards others, actions that make me cringe and feel deep sadness, it’s difficult to accept that such feelings reflect my current response while God has forgiven me and moved on (Hebrews 8:12). At the very heart of forgiveness is completeness; that is, my debts, my wrongs are cancelled completely.

Often the greatest impediment to my spiritual formation, and hence growth, is me.

I’ve just changed my car after 167,000 miles and 14 years of faithful service. I originally bought it on a loan deal. Once paid, I did not give that debt a second thought. When scrapped, the car bore all the signs of road weariness with many a scrape and dent, something my daughter calls “urban chic”. That’s a phrase I can live with. So it is with my life. It carries the evidence of my past and has its own form of “urban chic”. No matter how I dress things up, my life is completely dependent upon God and his unfailing love. Without it, I would implode.

Forgiving myself and letting God have my past misdemeanours, as well as those misdemeanours done to me, is a challenge for each one of us. Yet as long as we hold onto them, revisit them and seek to repent all over again for them, we fail to appreciate and enjoy God’s unfailing love.

QUESTION: Are there events and memories that you are continuing to hold on to long after they have been forgiven?

PRAYER: Lord, what grace that you look on me through the eyes of unfailing love because of Jesus.

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Day 27 - Issue 28

February 5, 2019

Psalm 25:4-5a NLT

'Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me...'

I am instinctively lazy when it comes to preparation for a seminar. I think spontaneity will win through and I back myself to do well once on my feet. Yet, there’s a lot to be said for some serious reflection and effort to refine my message so that it truly conveys what I think God is saying. This reflection is always about God showing me the right path in the situation into which he has placed me.

Another weakness is a tendency to make my presentation more about me, moving God to the margins. While my experience can offer a point of contact for my audience, it must only ever be a point, never the key message. Pathfinding is difficult, especially as each of us is invited to pioneer our own path with God. Where God leads me isn’t where God necessarily leads you. None of us can travel through life in the slipstream of another’s pilgrimage.

The point is that through Jesus, God is made known to humanity. We can find God and need not rely on the many voices that surround us across society today. The incessant traffic from social media, public commentators and Christian leaders may offer a suitable signpost, but the path is mine, and mine alone, to first discover and then to walk.

Discipleship is the privilege of learning from Jesus in the present. If the resurrection means anything, it is that God has beaten death, is alive and can be known. Such knowledge is neither a feeling nor a doctrine. It is, in fact, a dynamic friendship. This friendship is revealed through scripture and is one I must make the effort and take the time to build.

QUESTION: Where is God for you today? How well is that friendship going?

PRAYER: Lord God, thank you for raising Christ from the grave and opening the way to friendship and adoption into your family.

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