Where does grace show itself in our lives?

You might remember the old acronym of GRACE, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. The thing about this is that grace is about us receiving God’s riches! Do we actually put ourselves in a place of receiving his riches? Do we even believe that we deserve to receive them?

Very often I have heard in churches, people speaking about receiving gifts from God and how they are not worthy of receiving those gifts. They focus much more, if not totally, on the unworthiness to receive, rather than on the fact that God, our Father, wants to give us gifts in the first place.

We speak so much about what God has for people when we talk to others, yet they may find themselves in a church community or environment where we put ourselves down so much that it creates an atmosphere where they will put themselves down as well. This can get in the way of them receiving any gift that God might want to give them.

This is not to put us at the centre, because God is always at the centre. Nor is it about building our egos or anything like that. What it is about is realising that God wants to give us gifts and those gifts are good gifts. The more we put ourselves down, the more we put ourselves in a place of not receiving all the gifts that God has for us.

In Genesis, God talks about how mankind is made in his image. Therefore, if we are truly made in God’s image, why wouldn’t he want to give us gifts? – he sees something of himself in us, the people whom he has created. And maybe if we started putting ourselves in a place of receiving God’s gifts, the rest of the world might get to understand more about what it means to receive God’s gifts. How can others know the God who loves, the God who gives, if they don’t see it in the people who are meant to live their lives as though they know him and receive from him?

So, let’s change our posture, our positioning, and place ourselves in that place of receiving from God, being open to his riches. And out of receiving, let’s enable ourselves to be even more giving people, so that others also receive all that God has to give to them.

The reality of pruning for leaders

Gardeners will understand the necessity of pruning for growth better than I will, but I have heard a number of people talk at length about the need to cut back, the need to prune, to enable whatever is growing to become what it is meant to be – and this is not just in the context of gardening!

Pruning is one of those things we talk about, we even suggest to others, but when it hits us, how on earth do we cope with it?

The first thing to understand is that if we are to grow, and if what we are part of is to grow, then pruning is not just something to talk about, but it is an absolute necessity. We often don’t like to face up to this reality, but it is true, and if we are serious about growth, then we had better get to grips with the truth of pruning.

Growth is something I am sure we would all sign up for, so what is it that stops us from embracing the reality of pruning?

Some suggestions:

Fear: we often have a fear that to be pruned means that we will no longer engage with what we have engaged with, and that we will be seen in a different light. Often our fear comes from how we think others will view us, rather than the reality of what it is that God is doing with us. Cutting back in our lives by God could and will mean that God has other growth for us to live out. Fighting against that pruning and allowing the fear to dominate will stop the growth for ourselves, but also for what God has for us.

Comparison: out of fear, comes our thoughts around comparison. If we are being pruned and things are being taken off us, and others are running with what we have been involved in, we may experience fear of being compared to this other person, especially if that person takes what you were doing to the next level. We see things in the light of comparison as opposed to seeing things in the light of building. Often we will be part of God building something, but then be pruned, to enable others take it to the next level, and maybe even for us to start something new.

Proving self: out of comparison comes our human instinct to prove ourselves to others around us. Proving is human nature, but it isn’t from God. We don’t need to prove ourselves to him – Jesus didn’t need to before he heard the words, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased”, at his baptism. But often we will fight the need to be pruned, because it doesn’t necessarily look humanly good, and so we want to prove ourselves to others around us.

Need to build: out of our need to prove ourselves, can come the instinct to need to keep building. We don’t embrace the idea very well that pruning can and does strengthen the foundations for the growth that is to come. Often as we grow, or things grow around us, there can be, and often is overgrowth, and things start to look messy once they have overgrown. Pruning needs to take place to ensure that overgrowth doesn’t happen, and that things can grow in the way that they are meant to, looking as God wants them to look. So we need to put aside our own thoughts of us continually pushing to grow what it is we are involved in, to enable it to be what God wants it to be.

Pruning in John 15 is a good thing, a necessary thing, a godly thing, a growth thing, and a releasing thing. The truth is, we will not be the people God wants us to be unless we are prepared to face up to the reality of pruning.

These are just some starter thoughts – there could well be more as I reflect upon this over the summer, but maybe this is something to think through as summer moves on. Where is it that God is wanting to prune you? What does pruning feel like, and are you open to the growth that God has (and therefore open to the pruning he wants)?

Dream new dreams

Recently, I had the fortune to go with a close friend to see U2 perform the Joshua tree in concert, it was an amazing evening on many levels, but profound to here them perform the whole of this album, which they had not done before, but also recognise the prophetic nature of this album for the time we are in now, not just for the time when it was released 30 years ago.

One song that stood out, was In Gods Country, and the opening lines: “desert sky, see beneath the desert sky, rivers run, but soon run dry, we need to dream new dreams tonight.”

Having not just worked with young people, and released leaders, over a number of years, I recognise the prophetic and challenging nature of these words.

As I reflect upon them, i am reminded of where I used to go as a boy on holiday, and one of our first reflections on arriving there, was that the rivers on the strand beach, had changed! often in width, or depth, but more often than not, in direction, but still the river flowed.

In these words from U2 certain things stand out:

1: Desert: for so long now so many have observed the desert nature of where we are currently at in regard to youth discipleship. observing that not only are fewer young people engaging with God, or the christian faith, but fewer are holding on to that as they grow older. the landscape for which youth discipleship currently exists, is very much a desert landscape.

2: the River: the words in this song, are so poignant, as they say, “rivers run, but soon run dry”. There are indeed rivers in the desert landscape of youth discipleship, but these are rivers that are largely formed out of how we have defined the river in the first place. We have decided that the river of youth discipleship has to look and flow in a certain way, if not, then it isn’t discipleship. Similar to the river of my childhood, i wonder whether we have to become more open to the river flowing in different ways, changing courses, and not being defined by how we want or expect it to flow, but defined, by where it naturally flows. Often we have got stuck into a place that says that God only disciples in certain ways in certain places, and placed our human expectation upon how discipleship takes place, without recognising where the spirit is flowing, and where God is at work. Similar to the river of my childhood, which adapted to its surroundings, and habitats, i wonder whether it is time for us to lose our constructed definitions of how the river of discipleship should flow, and be open to where God is moving.

3: dreaming: these words moe than any other have stuck with me since seeing U2 on that night at the beginning of July. “we need to dream new dreams tonight”, and why? well just remember what the previous line said, the “rivers soon run dry”.
Even though there are rivers of discipleship which are there in our desert landscape now, the reality is that more and more of the defined structured rivers are running dry, which is why we need to dream new dreams.

We should give thanks for those rivers that are still flowing, but also recognise that those rivers are getting fewer and fewer, and starting to run dry, and maybe part of this is because the rivers are not adapting to the context that they need to flow in.

For so long we have held on to our constructed definitions of discipleship and not asked the question first, where is God at work? where is his spirit flowing? If we actually asked these questions first, then maybe, just maybe, the rivers would be a greater feature in thelawdscape, and not be running dry so quickly.

So where are the dreamers? are we prepared to release them, support them, encourage them? Are we recognising those who are up for and able to redefine how the river of disciplehsip can look, to enable more rivers to stand out and less of the desert stand out.

Wouldn’t it be great if in 5, 10, years time, we were recognising more rivers and less desert? More young people were encountering God, and not just for a short period of time, but for life?

As I said, referring to the river of my childhood, no-one ever said, that because it changed, or didn’t look like it did the previous year, it is no longer a river! it still held its identity as a river, and maybe this is our challenge, to stop thinking that everything has to look like the way it always has done, and that is the only way it can look!

We need to dream new dreams tonight, if not then the rivers will indeed continue to run dry, and the desert will not only continue to be the dominant feature, but increase in its domination.

Do we assume too much?

When we engage with others and start a discussion around faith, what is our start point? What are we assuming from the outset when we get into the conversation?

When Paul went and engaged with people, he was asked, “What is this new thing you are talking about?” Acts.17.16-32.

Paul, through his observations and time with people, realised that they were starting from a point of not knowing, not having anything to hold onto in the discussion – that Jesus was something new to these people.

Do we need to move our thinking from the perspective of assuming people have some kind of understanding, some kind of knowledge of what we’re talking about, to recognising that most don’t? Do we need to stop making assumptions about what people know or don’t know and actually spend time engaging, understanding and listening, so we gain that perspective and are able to join with God in bringing revelation to them in a way that makes sense?

What does it mean about our approaches when we make assumptions?
How can we ensure that we stop making assumptions?