Feeling worn down? – Andrew Price

“And he will speak against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One”

Daniel 7:25 NASB

There’s more than one way to win a war.  Sometimes when an all-out assault won’t work, a war of attrition might be more effective. Through persistent attacks over a period of time, little by little, an opponent’s morale as well as their strength can be worn away until eventually they capitulate.  Instead of being defeated by direct overwhelming force, an opponent’s resources and will to win are steadily eroded until they can fight no longer.  

We know that Satan can be like a roaring lion, using fear and intimidation to attack us.  We also know that he can appear as an angel of light, trying to disguise wrong as right, death as life.  But he has another way, more subtle and often more effective.  He wears us down.  

Our position as children of God is so strong.  After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? Equipped with God’s word and standing shoulder to shoulder with other believers, we can resist and overcome the temptations and accusations our enemy hurls at us. But our enemy’s attacks aren’t always obvious, and instead of trying to land one massive knockout punch he may be happy to probe and land little jabs here and there, until we are so tired and bruised we can’t go on.  

Daniel – Integrity in a godless culture

The quote at the start of this article is from the book of Daniel.  Daniel had been forcibly taken into exile.  His people were defeated; their promised land had been lost.  He lived and worked in the greatest city of the time, confronted every day by evidence of the immense wealth and power of Babylon.  The intended message was clear:  Babylon and its gods are supreme.  From the start of his career in Babylon, Daniel was under pressure to submit and conform to the pagan culture that surrounded him.  Sometimes the pressure was direct and life threatening, but there was also a more subtle continuous pressure aimed at wearing him down.  “Why do you worship a God who couldn’t save his people?”, Daniel’s masters may have asked, “can’t you see that our Gods are winning?”.  We in the West might feel some sympathy with Daniel.  A godless culture is in the ascendancy, and Christians are portrayed as losers or bigots.  Government, media and the educational system are increasingly influenced by secular or even anti-Christian ideas and the pressure to conform or despair is relentless.  What can we learn from Daniel?  In Chapter 6, we find that he prayed three times a day, and that he still did this even when it could cost him his life.  The disciplines of prayer and scripture reading are an anchor to reality and a space for hearing God.  And God certainly spoke.  He spoke through scripture, dreams, visions and angelic messengers.  This regular communication with heaven was a lifeline for Daniel, keeping him rooted in truth and life.  We also find that he prayed towards Jerusalem, the city of God.  His orientation was always toward God’s Kingdom.  His refusal to compromise, his devotion to the disciplines of prayer, fasting and scripture, and his awareness of the unseen realm kept him faithful to the end.  Today, the people of Daniel’s God are growing even in the most hostile of environments while Babylon and its gods are just a memory. 

Solomon – when desire defeats wisdom

Solomon was less successful.  At the start he had everything including wisdom and wealth.  Despite all this, Solomon ended his life following other gods.  1 Kings chapter 11 tells us what happened.  Solomon disobeyed God.  He married women from the surrounding pagan nations – against God’s instruction – and eventually they turned his heart to other Gods.  Why did he take this disastrous course?   It seems his desire overrode his wisdom.  I wonder if he thought he could handle the temptation presented by these wives.  I wonder if he said to himself  “I’m the king, I’m so wise, I’m so powerful, these laws don’t really apply to me”.  Certainly it seems that people in positions of power are prone to see themselves as above the rules that apply to others.  Sadly even Christian leaders, misled by their pride, sometimes disobey God’s clear commands.  And when leaders allow themselves to be put on a pedestal, this limits the chances of anyone challenging their foolish behaviour.  Solomon was wise but became foolish, allowing himself to be worn down by putting himself into temptation. 

Ephesus – activity without love

In Revelation we find a whole church that had been worn down.  When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, sometime between 53 and 62AD, they had a reputation for faith and love.  But around 30 years later, in the book of Revelation, Jesus is rebuking them for their lack of love.  We don’t know exactly what happened in the intervening years but we do know that when Revelation was written, they were working hard, enduring suffering and seeing through the deceptions of false apostles, all good and praiseworthy things.  But they had lost the love they had when Paul wrote to them as a young church.  By then, Paul and his generation were gone.  The Church was still going and, on the surface, still strong.  But the fervent love that had been their first response to God’s saving love and mercy had gone.  And without love, as Paul wrote elsewhere, they were nothing.   

Churches can do many good things, but without love they are empty.  Hard work and resilience only benefit if they are animated by love for God and our neighbour.  Sound teaching and discernment are essential but without love, useless. The radical love of the first generation had given way to the loveless work of the second. Churches must engage with the world around them, but without God’s love as the motivator, they are no different to any other social service agency.  As generation gives way to generation, we must make sure that, above all, love is our legacy.  

Learning from their example

What can we take from all of this?  None of us want to lose our edge or be worn down into irrelevance.  No Church wants to find that, despite their training programmes, social justice projects and well-run meetings, they have lost the love that make them worthwhile. Daniel’s refusal to compromise and his devotion to prayer and scripture are an important message to us as we live in an age which wants to squeeze our faith into a tiny private corner of our lives where its explosive truth cannot offend our intolerant culture.  Even when it was likely to cost him not just his job but his life, Daniels’ faith was lived out in public.  Although discipline like Daniel’s is unfashionable, having a routine of prayer and study means that even when we don’t feel like it, we make time to hear God.  And it’s probably when we don’t feel like it that we most need to hear him.    

Solomon’s tragic fall teaches us that humility and obedience are for all of us, without exception.  If we flirt with temptation or fool ourselves that we can ignore what scripture says about how we should live, we will find ourselves in thrall to other gods, such as public approval or career success.  

Above all let’s nurture love.  Love, first for Jesus and also for each other.  If we lose our joy, affection and gratitude to God it’s only a matter of time before we are worn down.  Even in the busiest day, making time to be grateful, and to worship is vital. Our Church community has adopted the discipline of breaking bread every day.  It’s a biblical and practical way of remembering the unlimited love that Jesus has for us and his promise of a new creation.  

Activation

Do you feel worn down?  Take a moment to reflect.  Remember your first love for Jesus, your response to the one who gave up everything for us.  Consciously lay everything on the altar – your work, your relationships, your dreams, and your worries – and worship him just as you are.  He will not reject you.  If he brings to your attention things you need to turn from, trust him.  He knows what is best for you.  Then tell a trusted fellow-disciple what you’ve done and ask them to hold you accountable.  Even though you may feel weak and worn out, God will renew you.  

“Create in me a clean heart, O God

And renew a steadfast spirit within me

Do not cast me away from your presence

And do not take your Holy Spirit from me

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

And sustain me with a willing spirit” 

Psalm 51

The Bible says we shouldn’t worry, even in times like these, here’s how you do that – Roanna Day

A colleague of mine just had her car broken into because she had hand sanitiser on display. Fear has crept its way into the throne room in so many lives and we as the church have to figure out a way to live differently. To be peaceful in the storm; unafraid in the face of a panic. 

Bill Johnson says any storm you sleep through is a storm you have authority over. So; how are you sleeping at the moment? How’s your mental health? When was the last time you relaxed your shoulders and took a deep, long breath? How many extra bags of pasta did you add to your last Ocado order? 

We have a heavenly responsibility to respond and not to react, to move to a different rhythm than that of the rest of the world and it’s times like these when that call becomes just that bit harder. 

Our job is laid out clearly in Matthew: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Do not be anxious. Do not worry. This is non negotiable! Matthew doesn’t write: “It’s fine to worry as long as you pray a lot too.” Or, “go ahead and worry, just make sure you’ve donated to your local food bank.” The message is; do not be anxious. 

Admittedly, this is a touch challenging. I look at my immunosuppressed dad and can’t help but think of what will happen if he contracts coronavirus. I cradle my newborn daughter and worry about how she would survive a high temperature. I wonder whether I’ve washed my hands thoroughly enough, did I remember the back of my thumbs? Suddenly door handles, light switches and TV remotes loom, germ-ridden and passed so easily between me, my dad, my husband. They’ve probably got some baby sick on too! How on earth do I keep everyone safe? Quick! I better order some more bleach. 

“Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not.”

Here’s the hard truth: you determine whether you worry or feel anxious or not. Not the situation, not anyone else, not the coronavirus. You. Whether we worry or not is decided by what we turn our focus to, what we fill our ‘house’ with, what we pour over and what we empower in our lives. 

Later on in Matthew we get a glimpse into how we can live a worry-free life: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

‘Come to me’ says Jesus. Come and I will give you rest. This liberating invitation from our Father God is the key to a worry-free life. It’s the thrumming heartbeat of our faith and in moments like this, it’s our lifeline. 

There is no caveat to this invitation. This applies in times of war and famine, in times of joy and celebration and in times of loo roll shortages and obsessive hand-washing. Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise. 

“Whatever the day, whatever it is you’re carrying, take it to Jesus and he will give you rest. That’s a promise.” 

The other strategy to overcoming anxious thoughts is found in Psalm 34. Verse 14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it”. This verse echoes the command in Matthew when you remember that Jesus is called Prince of Peace. Peace is a person, peace is Jesus Christ and so peace is the presence of Jesus Christ. Taking a touch of creative liberty you can rework the Psalm’s instruction into this: “Seek Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Pursue him and he will give you rest.” 

David gives us another clue to peaceful living in the opening of this beautiful Psalm “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

How does David stay peaceful? How does he find rest in the storm? How does he bring himself to the feet of Jesus in valley seasons? Through praise, constant praise. 

I hate to pile the pressure on, but, it is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day. Our King commands it! Thankfully He handed over the blueprint for peaceful living:

  • Run to Jesus
  • Constant praise

“It is our birthright and responsibility to be peaceful every single day.”

If you’re thinking “that’s all well and good but how do I actually do those things?” then here are some practical tips, inspired by my own journey to peacefulness, to get you started… 

Watch what you consume: what you focus on has power. Watch things that make you laugh, meditate on God’s beautiful creation, read the Bible, listen to a church podcast, catch up with a faith-filled friend. I’m not saying you can’t watch *that* true crime drama but take note of how you feel before and after and just try and tip the scales towards consuming things that provoke joy over fear. 

Stay grateful: a few times a day thank God for a couple of the blessings in your life. This is such an easy way to switch your heart posture from fear to joy. Things I’m grateful for today? Our coffee machine, blooming daffodils and being able to exercise again. 

Listen to worship music: as much as you can, fill your house and your headphones with worship music. Yes, you will know every Bethel song off by heart, yes they all have the same four chords but no, it doesn’t matter. Worship music changes the atmosphere around you and it recalibrates your mind, spirit and soul too. I wouldn’t have survived this season without it. 

Being peaceful in times like these takes effort and discipline but it’s so worth it. It means you sleep soundly at night, it means you become a safe space for others and importantly, it means you become a blazing advert for the goodness of God.

Go meet with Jesus and tell him all about it, a great night’s sleep awaits. 

Freedom for excellence – Andrew Price

My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love. Galatians 5:13 (CEV)

Think for a moment of the glorious liberty won for us by Jesus. Free from guilt, free from fear, free from slavery to sin. Like the Passover lamb his shed blood saves us from death. And like Moses he leads us out of captivity towards our promised inheritance.  We have been released from a debt we could never have paid.  The more we let it sink in, the more we instinctively turn to praise.  But if we are free, what do we do with this freedom?

Let me present you with two very different visions of freedom.  The first pictures it as our ability to make choices unhindered by anyone or anything else.  Here, freedom means an absence of rules or constraints, where no-one can tell us what to do. This chimes in well with our individualistic, rights obsessed society and is reflected in the idea that we should be able to be anything we want to be.  This vision is superficially attractive.  Its obvious flaw is that our choices affect not just us, but those around us.  To use a trivial example, my choice to play music loudly at 3 a.m. limits the freedom of others to get a decent night’s sleep.  In such cases, whose freedom wins? Ultimately, this sort of freedom becomes destructive as competing interests, each one convinced of their rights, fight it out.  Unconstrained, it leads to anarchy or oppression.   

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The second vision of freedom is very different.  Let’s call it freedom for excellence.  Have you ever seen a great musician perform, one who has complete mastery of their instrument? They play with such freedom and such expression, creating moods and feelings with just notes. Or perhaps you’ve seen dancers at the peak of their powers, seemingly free to move, leap or shape themselves in any way they choose. But how have such people reached this place of freedom? The answer, paradoxically, lies in discipline. Such mastery comes only through disciplined practice.  Rather than throwing off constraints or rules, these artists use them like the rungs of a ladder to reach greater and greater levels of freedom, continually refining and improving their skills and technique. Bishop Robert Barron has expressed this paradox very well; “The law is not the enemy of freedom. The law is the condition for the possibility of freedom”. 

This radically different idea of freedom gives us a fresh understanding of God’s law and helps explain why the Old Testament saints loved and revered it.  Psalm 119, for instance, is a love song to the law.  David delighted in God’s laws, precepts and commands.  Why? Because they guided him into a life lived in God’s presence.  He saw them as lamp for his feet and a light for his path.  Like a virtuoso musician whose disciplined practise leads to even greater freedom in playing, David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.

“David’s embracing of God’s law led to the freedom and joy of fellowship with God.”

Now, in Christ, we have a new and even better covenant, one that deals once and for all time with our sin and releases us into our inheritance as the people of God.  This new “law of the Spirit of life” is what sets us free from sin and death.  Instead of being written on tablets of stone, it is written in our hearts and minds.  And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace (Romans 8:2, Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 7:22, 9:11-15). 

“And as we submit to and serve the Spirit we are liberated into life and peace”

Freedom through obedience?  Freedom to serve? These truths do not sit easily alongside popular ideas about freedom.   We need a revolution in our thinking or we will never be able to grasp that the more closely we follow the leading of the Spirit of God, the freer we become.  But this is the true nature of freedom and the greatest example of this is Jesus, who moved with such freedom and power because he only did what he saw the father doing (John 5:19).  Paul clearly saw the link between being free, being a servant and the pursuit of excellence.  In 1Cor 9:19-27 he tells us that “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible”, and then goes on to describe how, like an athlete competing for a prize, he disciplines himself so as to win an eternal crown.  He was so overwhelmed with gratitude, and so gripped by the call of God that he wanted to pour out his life as a servant of Jesus and his people.     

The death and resurrection of Jesus is our exodus, our release from slavery.  But this exodus is just the beginning of a greater journey.  We are now faced with a choice; what should we do with this freedom?  We are rediscovering the truth that being a Christian is not just an individual, private transaction between me and God, where I get my sins forgiven and then go to heaven when I die.  It means taking my place in God’s people, a people with a calling and a mission here and now, not just in the hereafter.  We have the privilege of announcing and demonstrating the good news about this kingdom.  This task is worthy of our very best.  

We are free, but let’s not waste this precious freedom.  Instead, let’s work like an athlete or an artist, to become excellent in the service of the Kingdom of God.  

A call to creativity – Abbie Price

In this season of lockdown, I have to keep reminding myself that life won’t always be like this. It may sound daft, but my very in-the-now brain is prone to forgetting that life was ever any different. Maybe I’ve always lived on this farm in Monmouthshire? Maybe the furthest I’ll ever go will be the local post office? Maybe I’ll only ever see my friends on Zoom…?

I shake myself. Snap out of it, Abbie. No, life has not always been like this. We are in this particularly weird season because of a virus. And in this weird season, we find God is in the business of deconstructing. So many of our norms, our ways of doing things, our daily rhythms, how we do church, how we build relationships, and so on, have been completely and utterly deconstructed. (Or, as it has sometimes felt; torn apart, ripped to shreds…)

He is surely good and we can trust that this deconstruction is not without purpose. In this strange season, God has been deconstructing so that there is space, time, opportunity and willingness in us to rebuild. It may be clichéd, especially after the year we’ve all had, but God is doing a new thing. Because we serve a good God, we can trust that all this deconstruction is in order to make way for something better.

So, in my deconstructed state, I come to looking ahead, to what God might be building in the aftermath. I by no means have the answers. But, I do believe God is calling His people to creativity. In this next season, where so much rebuilding is required; creativity, innovation and craftsmanship will be indispensable. In this next season, being able to envision and dream with God, and to build those visions, craft those dreams will be the essential work of His people. 

Our creator God has made us in His image. So we are, by design, creative. We have the opportunity in the next season to step up to the plate and be the ones who design the future, who build the new. If we don’t, someone else will. In the vacuum of a post-Covid world, the new normal will be rebuilt. It is our absolute honour, as sons and daughters of a good, creator God, to step up and be those designers, those builders, those craftspeople. 

In my own life, post-job, and tentatively forging into another season of freelancing and launching two businesses (I know, I don’t do things by half), I find myself, by necessity delving into creativity again. I’ve always been creative, yes. And yes, I did go to art school. But that was, as they say, another time and another place. For the past decade, maybe more, my biggest creative endeavours have been doodling birthday cards and painting my bathroom wall. 

Now I find myself almost irresistibly sucked into sketching, designing, writing, creating. And you know what? It feels good. It feels right. But it also feels hard. Creativity is risky. Creativity requires putting your skills, your ideas, your very soul on display. It’s not tried and tested, it’s uncharted territory, and it comes with its own special set of anxieties. 

A couple of months ago I had admired a friend’s painting. It had reminded me of my love of abstract art and sparked in me a desire to paint again. I had been looking to buy it, but then suddenly and unexpectedly, it arrived in the post. It simultaneously felt like the most wonderful gift from a beloved friend, but also a gorgeous encouragement from God to keep going, keep pushing into creativity.

This isn’t about how to find your inner creative, or even how to combat anxiety in the pursuit of creativity (if I crack that, I promise, I’ll let you know). No, I’m here to say to you creatives (and that’s more of you than you think), get creating. That quiet urge you had to start writing again, to get the old paint set out, to take a photo of a beautiful sunset, to bake a cake for no good reason…go with it. Listen out for those little nudges of the Holy Spirit and lean into creativity.

It’s not self-indulgence and it’s not time-wasting. Our good God, who has a good plan for our future, is calling you into creativity. Your individual creativity is going to be invaluable in creating the new. After the deconstruction, we have this wonderful invitation to be involved in creating the new; the ways we be church, the places we live, the books we read, the recipes we cook, the songs we sing…

So, let your spirit commune with the Holy Spirit. Start to dream creative dreams with God. And then, and this is the toughie, put pen to paper.