Monday 9 July
Chris Fox is the associate pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Ealing and part of the New Wine England team. Here’s a summary of his seminar on Monday at #Sligo18.
Many people still fall into the trap of trying to get God’s attention. What God is after was relationship. There is nothing we can do to impress God and we don’t need to because He loves us. He sees us. Let’s begin by remembering that He delights to walk with us!
In his book Soul Keeping, John Orberg tells the story of an old man who kept the water source of a village clear of weeds and rubbish. When he lost his job, the stream quickly became clogged up. The life of the village had depended upon that stream. Eventually, they re-employed the old man. Within a short time the spring was clean of rubbish. Life returned to the village. Ortberg says, that stream is your soul!
“Our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength direction and harmony to every other area of our life” - Dallas Willard.
St Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Growing a secret life with God
It is important that we have a corporate life. We cannot grow by ourselves. We need each other. But there is a point where we need to retreat to be with the Father. Jesus did that. We are invited into this relationship with God. A secret life is how we invest in that relationship.
I used to think that God was waiting for me to step up to the mark. Our covenant relationship is our response to His love that has already been given to us! God says come for a walk.
There are two aims for a secret life:
Getting to know God better - we are made for intimate connection with Him. There is conversation. We draw sustenance from Him. We come alive as we are connected to the Father. Paul said, “I want to know Christ...” Discipleship begins with an invitation, “Come follow Him.”
Becoming more like Jesus (in character and life) - if we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. But He is also the perfect image of humanity. If we want to know what a human, being living in perfect relationship with the Father, looks like, we look at Jesus.
Jesus would minister, preach and teach. He would then retreat into the wilderness to spend time with His Father. He had that regular pattern of retreat. The disciples watched Jesus and they said, “Teach us how to pray.”
In John 15, Jesus talks about abiding in the Father. Remaining in Him. It is all about relationship. Becoming more like Jesus. Modelling our lives on Him. And it all begins with His love.
We don’t invite God to walk with us, we respond to His invitation for us to walk with Him.
In John 8, the woman caught in adultery was dragged in front of Jesus. It is an incredible moment of shame, despair and fear. The Pharisees didn’t care about her. They just wanted to catch Jesus. She was lying on the floor. The Pharisees said, “She deserves to die, what are you going to do?” The first thing Jesus did was to get down on the dust with her. His posture changed. He wrote in the dust and said, “If you are without sin, throw the first stone.”
The psalmist says we become like the one we love and worship. And the more we receive love, the more our hearts learn to love. That can only come from relationship as the spirit of God pours His love into our hearts.
God doesn’t rate us on our walk with Him. He wants relationship and He holds out a constant invitation to us.
Habits that shape us
My wife Nell and I have been married 18 years in September and we have one daughter If I don’t invest in my relationships with my wife, my daughter and my friends, then those relationships won’t grow and thrive. Relationships grow when we are intentional.
When we talk about habits to practice, we look at what Jesus did.
Reading from Matthew 6:1 - 18
If we are going to be people who intentionally pursue the presence of God and put ourselves in the place where God’s grace is available to us then developing our secret lives with God is key. We cannot change ourselves. Lasting, deep change in our lives is the work of the Holy Spirit. By immersing ourselves in these habits we will imitate Jesus and put ourselves in a place to experience God’s work.
Spiritual practices are not a barometer for a person’s spirituality. (If they were the Pharisees would be on top!) They are definitely not a way of earning God’s favour. But they are opportunities to draw near to God.
John Ortberg defines spiritual discipline as, “Any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modelled.”
We are always learning. This is a relationship (not a training course). It is in the practising, that we encounter God. In this passage in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes the three key pillars of Jewish righteousness but gives us a new way of practising these habits (Giving, Praying, Fasting).
An expectation: The first thing we notice is that Jesus assumes that these are habits in our lives. He says, “When you give... pray... fast”. There is an expectation that His followers will engage in these disciplines.
Giving: A committed Jewish person would tithe (giving a tenth of their income). It was compulsory. It wasn’t up for discussion and on top of that, the Old Testament talks about giving to the poor. This wasn’t a compulsory practice, but it was a sign of someone devoted to being righteous. There is an expectation from Jesus that His disciples will be generous. Giving is an act of worship that re-orientates our hearts to God. When we give to the poor, we worship God. Generosity breaks the power of greed in our lives.
When you see a need, let your reflex be to give, a reflex of compassion. Have you ever walked past someone who is in need? I want my right hand to have given before my left hand has a chance to stop it! I would rather give to someone who is untrustworthy than constantly analyse who is “worthy”. When you see someone in need... give. We need to practice generosity until it becomes a natural part of who you are.
Prayer: Prayer is at the heart of a secret life with God. It is the on-going, continuous conversation with God. It includes silences, listening and speaking. There is an expectation that followers of Jesus will pray regularly.
Jesus says, don’t let everyone see what you are doing. When you pray, go into your room and pray to your Father. We make a place holy by regularly going there to pray (be it a room, a chair, a walk). Some of us have really busy lives. God understands. Where might you sit or walk to find God? Even for a few moments?
Jesus gives us words to use. Don’t babble on. Tell God what you need and thank Him for what He’s done. Telling God our needs is for our benefit rather than His. He already knows. Jesus says, “Ask.” We need to give God those things that we are worried about. The Father says, “Ask me.” because that is for our benefit.
Prayer can be passionate, angry, emotional, creative but always for an audience of ONE. Most of us know the Lord’s Prayer off by heart! If you don’t know what to say, pray the Lord’s Prayer.
We also have forgiveness to give. We walk with God and He will help us to forgive because we cannot do it in our own strength. The grace of God enables us to forgive.
Sometimes you have to forgive people daily. It may be because you have suffered a terrible betrayal. Talk to the Lord. Walk with the Lord. It is a practice.
Fasting: Jesus is talking about abstaining from food. The Jewish people would fast regularly as a time to focus on God. The early church would fast twice a week. When we fast, we become aware of our physical hunger and it reminds us of our spiritual need. We fast from food because it is a basic human desire. (NB: Some people cannot fast from food for health reasons. Think of something that you will miss.) Fasting adds weight to our prayers. It brings to the surface things that need confessing. It sharpens our other senses. Fasting develops self-control.
With fasting, start small! Start by missing one meal and when you miss that meal, take extra time to pray so that it gives it focus. Drink loads of water and celebrate everything you do. God loves that we are hungering for Him.
Secrecy and Integrity - It is important to do these things in secret rather than showing off about them. There should be no hypocrisy. God knows. He doesn’t need you to let everyone else know about it. If we do it in secret, we have integrity. How can I have more integrity? Don’t tell people about your personal times with the Lord.
An audience of One - Focus on the Lord and remember He is willing to get down into the dust with you.