Those post-preaching blues (Peter Somervell)

In less than an hour after I finished preaching I was only a few steps out the door of the church when it hit. It’s hard to explain but I think those who suffer depression might relate. It’s a feeling (and yes I’ll have to use that word) of deep emptiness, hollowness and gloom. Doubts began to form in my mind:

‘That was a really bad sermon’, ‘You’ve been preaching this long and you still manage a fail-boat like that?’, ‘So you had two people who liked it; if only you knew what the others were thinking.’

It’s not just psychological. It’s physical. There’s a heaviness of spirit and it isn’t imaginary. I really felt like I weighed an extra 10 kg but with less strength. Everything was an effort. Even opening the car door seemed like work.

If you are in Christian ministry of any kind your spiritual antennae is no doubt starting to twitch – big time. You’re thinking, ‘That’s not just a simple case of the blues. That’s a spiritual battle.’ And you’d be right. Those thoughts of doubt and despair were not merely human in origin; they had another source – Satan. And I happened to be preaching about him – well not him directly, but the place where he is heading. And I was warning others not to follow him. Obviously that’s not going to go down all that well, with him or with any of his helpers. So it was not that surprising that he might show his displeasure with me. I was preparing for his attack in the days leading up to my sermon but not after. I was caught badly off guard.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-18,

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

You may have heard it said, “You don’t have to fight any battle, the Lord fights for you.” That sounds all very spiritual but I don’t think it’s entirely accurate. Paul says we wrestle. He’s talking about believers. We are in a battle. We are facing off with the enemy.

So here I was an hour after preaching a very difficult message, afflicted with disappointment, doubt and great heaviness of spirit. I’m experiencing a spiritual battle and I’m receiving hits from the enemy. So what do I do? What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

1. Be strong in the Lord, or seek strength from the Lord. You’re weak. You’re vulnerable. You need spiritual strength. And Jesus can supply it. So ask him for it. Later in the afternoon after I rested I started to do that. I should have started a lot earlier.

2. Put on the armour of God. Fasten the belt of truth, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness, lace up the gospel shoes, take up the shield of faith, put on the helmet of salvation and grab hold of the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. I want to focus on one of these in particular – the shield of faith. What’s a shield for? Deflecting missiles – in the soldier’s case, arrows and spears. In the Christian soldier’s case – spiritual arrows and spears. Paul calls them “fiery darts.” Satan is continually shooting “fiery darts” at our hearts and minds – lies, impure thoughts, sinful thoughts about others, doubts, fears, suspicions, and misgivings. We need to deflect these darts and extinguish their flames. And we do that with the shield of faith. Faith by definition looks away from self to God alone for help. Faith locks on to God and his trustworthiness. Put your trust in him. Trust his strength, trust his promises, trust his character and trust his wisdom.

3. Stand firm. Don’t go chasing Satan and don’t run from him. Just stand your ground. Be firm in your faith. Hold on to Jesus and there’s not a lot he can do.

4. Pray, pray, pray. Pray yourself and get others praying for you. A friend sent me a text later in the afternoon. When I told him what was going on he replied straight away, “Praying for you.” And it made a difference. Spiritual battles need to be fought using spiritual means and prayer is one of the most (if not the most) powerful.

There are some other practical suggestions I would like to add to this that I have learned by way of experience:

· Share. Tell someone you trust what is going on. You need others looking out for you. That’s what the body of Christ is for. Tell your husband or your wife or a friend that you can confide in.

· Rest. Preaching and teaching is exhausting work. Your body needs some time to recharge. Find some where quiet and close your eyes.

· Eat. Preferably eat something healthy. A good, healthy meal well help replenish the energy that’s been released.

· Serve. Take an interest in the people around you. Ask how they are doing. Listen and respond. Help your wife. Do something for one of your kids. It will help you get your eyes off yourself and slipping into too much morbid introspection.

Postscript: Shortly after writing this (I penned it the same day) my head began to clear, the weight began to lift and my joy was restored. That’s the power of meditating on the Word of God. It really is a sword.

The Golden Rule is Silver (Chris Spark)

When Jesus, a large number of secularists, and a whole lot of other religions all agree on something, you might figure you are on to something.

“Love you neighbour as yourself.”

This, and it’s close cousin “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is a point where many secularists and many non-Christian religious traditions agree quite substantially with Jesus (and the Apostles, who are also big fans – Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8). I suspect this fact has made this principle a pretty good starting point for a lot of discussion and working together. It seems to be on to something.

This in turn fits with it being referred to as ‘the Golden Rule’, both in general and by Christians in particular.

This is all good stuff. Frankly if any of us are following any part of Jesus’ teaching (as he picked up Old Testament teaching) that can only be good for us and for society as a whole.

However for Christians this will never be enough. And I wonder if some of us are in danger of forgetting that – thinking that if we get the Golden Rule right, we will get everything right.

Problem is, the Golden Rule is actually silver. It is good and vitally important – and frankly we could all do a lot more living it out. But, it is second – silver. It only makes ultimate Christian sense when it is understood in the light of the real Christian Golden Rule.

When someone came up to Jesus and asked him the most important commandment, here is what happened:

29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’1 There is no commandment greater than these."
(Mark 12:29

Here we see it very plainly – loving God with all our beings is first (the real Christian Golden Rule), and flows into the second, which is loving our neighbours as ourselves (the Christian Silver Rule).

What this does is makes sense of reality – if God is there, he deserves to be loved first. Jesus puts it in that order. But it also ends up providing motivation – if you really love God with all your being, you will love creatures made in his image, and you will have the resources to recognise that all humans are indeed made in his image, and are therefore rightful objects of your love. (When people who call themselves by Christ’s name forget to love in their speech and actions, that is a good opportunity to call us to return to being true to our love of God by loving others.)

In light of this, I have stopped calling ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘do unto others’ the Golden Rule. As the Silver Rule, it is still vitally important, and it can still be stated on its own of course (as Jesus and the apostles do at times). But calling it the Silver (rather than Golden) Rule reminds us that there is indeed another command that is Golden. And that in urn reminds us that to really get the Silver Rule in its depth, with the sorts of implications Jesus saw in it, and to really have the resources to live this Silver Rule out in its Christian fullness, you need the real Golden Rule firmly in your heart and mind first.

But of course, Christians will realise that even knowing that the Golden and Silver Rules go together is not enough to motivate us to keep them when it is really costly – and Jesus clearly thought it would be costly (see the Good Samaritan for example, Luke 10:25-37). The only thing that will really cut it to motivate and resource us to live lives shaped by these rules is the Love to which both rules point – the Love that teaches us how to love both God and neighbour; the Love shown us in the one who loved others (to the point of death) in the way they had positively not loved him; the Love which moved that one to give his whole being – heart, soul, mind and strength – for us, when we didn’t even care for him.

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)

REFERENCES TO THE GOLDEN AND SILVER RULES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

The Two Together:

Matt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-8

Love your neighbour as yourself:

Matt 19:19; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8

Do unto others:

Lk 6:31; Matt 7:12

More precious than gold (Rob Harrod)

Having had the opportunity of recently doing some further reading on the background to, and beginnings of, Gospel work here in New Zealand two hundred years ago, I was again impressed with the power of God’s Word to accomplish His purposes. Re-reading the classic ‘Christianity among the New Zealanders’ (1867) written by one of the early CMS missionaries, William Williams, is an ongoing challenge to trust God to do His work through His own appointed means. These early missionaries had a real and deep confidence in the power of God’s Word as a "hammer that breaks the rock in pieces" (Jeremiah 23:29) and as the "sword of the Spirit" that cuts deeply into men’s hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Consequently their ministry was all about bringing men, women and children into living contact with the Word of God that both saves (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctifies (John 17:17).

The translation of the Bible into Maori, its printing and distribution, and its preaching and teaching were central to their ministry. Their confidence was not in their organization, their resources, their finances, their methodologies or their gifts; it was in the Spirit of God to use his Word as the "power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16) and for the building up and equipping of God’s people (Acts 20:32). We need to recapture this same confidence in our day.

A small 31 page book of Scipture portions in Maori was printed in Sydney in 1827. It is interesting to note the chapters of the Bible that were chosen to form this book. It included Genesis 1-3 (establishing God as Creator and Lord and man’s fall into sin), Exodus 20 (setting out the Ten Commandments), John 1 (setting forth the wonderful person of Christ as the Word of God and the Lamb of God, and the necessity of faith in Him) and Matthew 5 (with something of the character and priorities of the true Christian).

God was pleased to give a great and growing hunger for the Word of God to many Maori in the 1830s, 1840s and beyond. William Williams records a great illustration of this when he tells us of a Captain Symonds of the Royal Navy who was traveling through the North Island and wished to ascend the snowy mountain of Tongariro. He was opposed by local Maori on the grounds that it was a sacred place and if the tapu were violated some evil would befall them. Symonds and his party offered gold to an old Maori chief to induce him to change his mind and let them climb. This chief’s response was memorable: " They offered us gold, had they brought us some [New] Testaments we would have consented to them going up the mountain. Tell the strangers that if they return in the summer, and bring Testaments with them, the tapu shall be removed." The Bible was valued more highly than gold!

May God bring about such a high valuing of the Bible as the Word of God once again in this country. May He turn people around from being lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure into being true lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). May we once again see in the words of King David, that God’s commandments are "more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold." (Psalm 19:10). And may God make us sincere and genuine Christians whose lives and words point others to Him and illustrate the truth of His Word.

Story time (Scott Mackay)

I’ve been struck recently by the challenge of knowing the stories of the Old Testament deeply. At church we’ve been going through the Abraham narrative in Genesis 12-25, and it’s remarkable how the message of Genesis is so deeply embedded in the contours of the story and its characterisation and themes. For those of us who are used to learning via explicit propositions, the subtlety of biblical narrative can feel a bit subjective at times but is incredibly rewarding once we take the time to read deeply.

When the stories of the Bible begin to seep into us as stories, they can have a powerful effect! I suspect we miss out on a lot of what God’s word has to offer us simply because we don’t know the stories of the Bible well enough, and we don’t often operate on that level of communication.

But additionally, our lack of familiarity with Old Testament narrative can let us down when reading the New Testament too. Take for example the use of the classic Old Testament ‘woman at the well’ type-scene in John 4, where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman. Perhaps surprisingly, there are some incredible parallels between this story and the story of Abraham’s servant taking Rebekah as a wife for Isaac:

  1. A man goes on a journey to a foreign land (Gen 24:10; John 4:4-6)
  2. Along comes a woman to draw water from the well (Gen 24:15; John 4:7)
  3. The stranger asks the woman for a drink (Gen 24:17; John 4:7-8)
  4. They begin to talk, and the man asks about her family (Gen 24:22-28; John 4:16-18)
  5. The woman rushes home to bring news of the stranger (Gen 24:28; John 4:28)
  6. The visitor is urged to eat, but the man say he a job to accomplish that is more important than food (Gen 24:33; John 4:34)
  7. The man is invited and stays the night (Gen 24:54; John 4:40)
  8. The people recognize that this encounter is from the LORD (Gen 24:50-51; John 4:42)

For someone familiar with the Genesis story, the echoes are unmistakable. There is a kind of marriage being proposed here by Jesus, an invitation extended to this woman to join the people of God, an incredibly attractive proposal to come a drink of the water of life. A divinely appointed marriage is offered to even the unattractive Samaritan woman who shows no hospitality and is by no means an eligible young maiden like Rebekah. Yet God’s grace in the Messiah overflows even to her.

So here’s to reading and knowing the stories of the Old Testament more thoroughly! What opportunities are you giving your congregation and your family to read and enjoy the stories of the Old Testament? When and where are these stories told and retold and enjoyed as stories, so they can become familiar and loved, from the dinnertable, to the Sunday gathering?

What did you expect? (Rob Harrod)

We have the privilege of being involved in helping facilitate the planting of a new church. The Lord has wonderfully provided many resources, human and material, for this work, and we are deeply thankful to Him for His abundant provision. Yet we are a small church ourselves and we know the challenges ahead as later this year we will ‘lose’ some much-loved and committed brethren as they become part of the new work. So there is an excitement about being involved in the extension of God’s kingdom in this way, but we know that it comes at a cost.

Thinking about this ‘bittersweet’ experience ahead for our church has again caused me to reflect on the nature of Christian ministry. Progress often comes at a real cost. Serving Christ in this world will not always be ‘smooth sailing’, but is often beset with difficulties and challenges. As Paul put it in Acts 20:23, he knows that "the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." He expects that Christ will continue to build His kingdom in the world, and he expects that he will know trials in the process. Throughout the New Testamant it is made plain that the carrying forward of God’s purposes in the world will be vigorously opposed at every step. Paul also said to young believers and churches at the end of his first missionary journey, that it was "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) These gospel realities must shape our ministry expectations. We must not nurture false, unbiblical expectations that, in the end, work against true hope and undercut gospel perseverance.

The early Christians in Acts laboured in hope – yet it wasn’t the false hope of unhindered progress and easy, universal ‘success.’ The church at Antioch commissioned two of their much-loved leaders, men who had been foundational to the ministry of the Word in their midst (Acts 11:26), to take the gospel to other places. At the clear leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-4) they parted with Paul and Barnabas on this first missionary journey. Surely everything will go smoothly and the work will prosper, after all it was so clearly a work of God! Yet, almost immediately, these Holy Spirit-directed missionaries are strongly opposed by an influential false prophet in Paphos (13:6-8). Then, in Pisidian Antioch they are contradicted and reviled by Jewish leaders (13:44), before a ultimately being driven from the city (13:51). In Lystra a crowd attempted to stone Paul to death, and he was dragged out of the city, with his enemies assuming he was dead (14:9). What was the report of these two men back in Antioch at the end of this ‘mission trip’? "Brethren, we must have mis-read the leading of the Spirit – we almost died out there!" No, they joyfully reported that God had "opened a door of faith to the Gentiles"! (14:27) Many people had been brought out of darkness into light, disciples had been built up and equipped, churches had been established, and leaders raised up (14:21-23), all through "many tribulations."

Likewise, in Acts 16, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man calling out for help, and concluded that the Lord was calling him to preach the gospel in Macedonia (16:9,10). Thus, again clearly called of God, Paul and Silas go to Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia. Surely everything will go smoothly and people will flock into the kingdom of God in great numbers! But, no, again they face strong opposition, are severely beaten and thrown into gaol and find themselves with their feet in the stocks in the inner prison. You can almost imagine Silas leaning over to Paul and saying "Are you sure it was Macedonia?!" If these men had expected zero opposition and instant and total success they would have been sadly mistaken. Yet again on this journey the gospel went out faithfully, a number of people were converted and churches were planted – all in the face of intense and prolonged opposition.

What is the clear message of this for the church in every generation, and for us in the 21st century? We have a right expectation of opposed, costly progress to ultimate triumph. Jesus Christ WILL build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18) Jesus warned His disciples that they will have tribulation in this world, but that they should be of good heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). So as we seek to preach the gospel, make disciples and plant and strengthen churches, we know we are in a real battle, we expect that we will be opposed at every turn (1 Peter 5:8,9), and we know that no ground will be won without a fight. Yet we are confident in the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. May the Lord strengthen us to labour in hope and to persevere through "many dangers, toils and cares" for His glory! And may He deliver us from all false hopes that undermine our faith and perseverance.