Tired of Going Through the Motions?

Written By James Bunyan, England

James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life; he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Twickenham (London), where he works as a CU Staff Worker for UCCF: The Christian Unions, a student mission movement, and he recently married his best friend, Lois. That was a good move.

 

Dear friend,

I know exactly how you feel.

Christianity is meant to be brilliantly exciting. Jesus is meant to be the most dynamic person of all history, the powerful resurrected king, the most scintillating teacher. Preachers speak of eternal life, of light conquering darkness, of lives revolutionarily changed. Churches are supposed to explode with growth, friends are supposed to have their lives turned around, you are supposed to be living in victory.

So why does your Christian life feel so ordinary? You read your Bible, you say your prayers, you go to church, you feel  guilty occasionally, but very little ever changes.

Perhaps it did not always feel like this; once upon a time you loved being a Christian but now you wonder if those earlier days were just a sort of honeymoon, filled with naivety.

Dealing with suffering or persecution is one thing. But how should we deal with boredom?

Well, first of all, don’t worry; this feeling is normal. It’s worth saying that, even as a Christian, everyday life can feel a bit . . . everyday. A bit ordinary. Even as the most amazing destiny awaits you, even as God invisibly works in and through your life, it can feel like you’re going through the motions.

But that’s not all there is to say. And to say more, let me point you to three long dead, but brilliant Christian friends whose works brim with lessons learned from long, difficult years of following Jesus.

 

1. Persevere because you are slow to learn . . .

[The gospel] is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.

– Martin Luther

 

Fairly colourful chap, old Marty. Here, in his famous commentary on the book of Galatians, the great Reformer is commenting upon the difference between the law and the gospel; the former shows us our need for Jesus and the latter shows us Jesus.

Why does he implore us to beat the gospel into one another’s heads? Simply because, as fallen humanity, we are slow to learn to love as we ought. It is rare for someone to hear the gospel one time and then live the rest of life buoyed by an inexpressible feeling of love. Our hearts are a lot harder and our minds more closed than that, so teaching ourselves takes more work than we realise.

Probably, part of the reason you feel like you are going through the motions is because you have found teaching yourself the riches of God’s grace difficult and have slackened off a bit. Quiet times are short and trite. Reading is non-existent. Questions have dried up. The remedy is to persevere in teaching yourself the good news every day until your mind catches alight and your heart begins to follow. This takes time—sometimes a whole lifetime—so persevere.

And the good news is that the good news is far from dull. The Bible expresses it in a myriad of different ways; the truth of it is simple enough that a child can understand but deep enough that a seasoned scholar would still have plenty to learn.

So, beat it into your head every day.

 

2. Look often to Jesus because you are quick to forget . . .

For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!

– Robert Murray McCheyne

 

Chances are that when we are a little bored or going through the motions, we begin to think much more about ourselves, our comfort and entertainment, than we do about Jesus. Or we are too pre-occupied with all the things we are failing to do for God, rather than dwelling often on all He has done for us. And as our eyes drift downwards to ourselves, it becomes a lot harder to see He who is above us.

Well, as Robert the 19th century Scottish preacher would tell us, the remedy to this is to wrench your gaze from your navel and to lift your eyes back to Jesus. You should think about Jesus more than you think about yourself, especially when you are tempted to wonder why your life is so ordinary.

After all, He who is with you is far from ordinary.

 

3. . . . and, sooner or later, joy will come!

. . . as if Christ had said, “You will lie prostrate, as it were, for a short time; but when the Holy Spirit shall have raised you up again, then will begin a new joy, which will continue to increase, until, having been received into the heavenly glory, you shall have perfect joy.” 

– John Calvin

 

Calvin has this reputation of being a misery. It is totally unfair. Here he is in his commentary on John 16, talking about the brief time that the 12 disciples had to go without Jesus after his death, before His Holy Spirit came to fill them with an unconquerable joy. He shows us that the apostles will find a new sense of joy growing in them and continuing to grow until the day they walk into eternity and their joy is consummated. Whilst their joy will always have room to grow this side of eternity, it will be no less genuine for it.

And that is the normal Christian experience. The Bible makes clear that considering Jesus and all He has done for us does bring us a real joy. But it is a joy that, whilst perhaps seemingly slight and fragile, is designed to grow and grow, all the days of our lives until we are with Him. It is like a deposit, guaranteeing greater things to come.

So, friend, if you feel like you are going through the motions, carry on. Your joy will increase as you press on, and one day it will be perfect.

 

As we come to a close, having heard three kind words from three dead men, it’s worth hearing this word confirmed by God’s Holy Spirit, alive and speaking through God’s Word today:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Dear friend, you may be in a tricky season. Your joy may feel buried under a landslide of the worries of daily life. You may wish for more than you feel.

Know that Jesus has given you so much! He gave you his Word. He gave you his Spirit. He gave you a new destiny and a whole church, bursting with brothers and sisters who will run with you. For your joy, He endured the agony of Golgotha and all its shame. He rose again to sit at the right hand of God, interceding for you by name. He pioneered your faith and He will not stop until it is perfected.

Therefore, throw off anything that stops you from knowing this gospel deeply! Rid yourself of the sin that stops you from looking to Christ! Persevere in learning His gospel. Look often to this Jesus. And, He promises you, your joy will grow and grow until it is all you know.

See you soon.

Yours,
James

 

P. S.: You may be struggling to do something because you are not sufficiently motivated to do it. Indeed, there is a trend among Christians these days to believe that an action is not legitimate unless it is wholehearted, as if it is somehow hypocritical to do something unless you really, really want to. I’ve heard, for instance, Christians decide not to read their Bibles on a given day because “I’m not feeling it and I don’t want to bring my scraps to God.”

The problem is, that’s not how our desires, feelings, or affections work. In the New Testament, love is always action first, a feeling second (for example, see John 13:34-35, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Therefore, desires are fed by actions or habit and starved by lack of action or habit. But, sadly, it seems like our generation has gotten out of the habit of cultivating habits. It means an awful lot of good is left undone simply because we are too scared of hypocrisy; therefore, we rob ourselves of some of the joy that could be ours.

Listen to one more saint talking about the habit of love:

Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… [What about loving God?] The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” When you have found the answer, go and do it.

– C. S. Lewis

How Do I Love God When I Can’t Understand His Actions?

Written By Andrew Purchase, South Africa

Andrew Purchase hails from South Africa, but has lived in Singapore since 2009. He has experience as a litigation lawyer, has a love of calligraphy, is terrible at choosing restaurants, has too much sugar in his coffee and adores T. S. Eliot. He is married with two daughters and works as a pastor at Redemption Hill Church.

How do I love God when I can’t understand His actions?

This was a question I asked myself some years ago. I was in the middle of a crisis. I had to close down a church that I had planted. I felt like I had been obedient to God. Yet, I felt like I had failed.

It felt like God had called me. Yet it felt like God had abandoned me in some way.

Many people face their own version of the same question: How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers?

I discovered that this is a question with a surprising answer. Part of the answer is flipping the question.

While I was in my dark place—confused by God’s actions and asking how I was to love Him—it felt as if God had flipped the question on me. It felt like He was asking:

When you don’t understand what I am doing, why don’t you ask whether you can experience My love in those moments?”

O happy day, what an answer that brought!

Love can occur even in the absence of complete understanding. One of love’s greatest virtues is that it can transcend our understanding of our problems.

The Bible is emphatic on this point. We can experience God’s love even in situations where we don’t have complete knowledge or understanding:

. . . that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:17-19, emphasis added)

Christ’s love surpasses knowledge. It’s bigger than human understanding. Love supersedes knowledge.

In my state of confusion, it was as if I had heard an authoritative whisper say, “Let Me love you first; and answer your questions second.

What’s better? Knowing the details of God’s sovereign workings; or knowing and experiencing the full dimensions of His love?

I decided that knowing God’s love was the superior choice. Focusing on receiving God’s love, as opposed to making total sense of hard topics—was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It’s hard to describe what God’s love feels like. For me—at that time—it was the knowledge that no matter what, God was going to look after me (Hebrews 13:6).

God’s love was also this: Even in my heap of failure, God did not love me any less than when I was ostensibly a success. I realized that His love is greatest when I need it most (Psalm 73:26).

At my lowest, I felt His love go deeper than my low. How far I had tumbled. Yet how much further down His love extended. To find me, it had to go there (Psalm 139:8).

And down there, I had an experience of God. It was the experience of a lifetime. I learned to enjoy God’s company, just for His company’s sake. I learned His friendship. I learned that to worship at a deep level is to worship at a high level. I learned that His presence is ever near—even in the toughest of times. I learned to be conscious that He is close.

And now—years later, when all is well—I have answers.

One of my best answers is that difficulties are great times to experience God’s love and to know Him more intimately.

Thus, when we are tempted to ask, “How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers to my questions?” we need to take a step back. We need to remember that when it comes to God and love, God is the First Mover. He loves first. It is His pattern, His way.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:10, 16, emphasis added)

He loves first. When we can’t love Him, He loves first. When we lack understanding, we can at least understand that He loves us.

So when we are confused about life and God’s actions, and have mailed a list of 100 questions to God (but feel like we got no reply)—what can we do?

The answer is deceptively simple. The answer is God Himself. He is not just an Answerer; He is the Answer. And His answer is to be with us to love us.

The truth about Christianity is that Jesus has made it possible for us to be with God now, to know Him, and to feel the warmth of His face now. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. He has promised to always be with us. We have the Holy Spirit.

Some questions are illogical and have no answer (“Lord, can a square ever be round?”).

Some questions God does not answer yet as a matter of timing.

Some questions God does not answer because they distract us from asking a better question.

But there is one question God always answers: “Lord, can you be with me now with your love and peace?”

It is a question He doesn’t necessarily answer with words, but He answers it with His own presence and His love.

As C. S. Lewis famously put it: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” (from Till We Have Faces).

In moments of confusion and frustration, the best way to love God is often to simply be loved by Him.

4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Rest

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

It happened to me again: a long weekend promised an extra day of rest, but after the break, I was dragging myself out of bed and not relishing the start of the work week.

Had I rested? Sure, the days had been full of non-work activities: a walk in the park, quiet time, visiting an aunt, grocery shopping, dinner with friends, and late-night Netflix! So why did I still feel tired after it all?

Do you, too, feel paradoxically in need of more rest after taking time off to recharge? Why do our modern lifestyles so often deprive us of true rest, and what is the Bible’s idea of rest? After searching for some answers to my dilemma, here are a few reminders I’ve come up with:

 

1. Recognize that leisure is not always rest

We tend to think of rest as anything that is non-work—from doing nothing, to indulging in our favorite interests. The truth is, however, that although our leisure activities may be a break from the work we usually do, these activities could either be physically tiring in themselves, or we could be pursuing them in a way that leaves us physically, mentally or spiritually drained rather than refreshed.

For instance, as much as an overseas holiday can be a refreshing break from work, travel can involve its own kinds of stress, from countering jet lag to negotiating culture shock, unexpected setbacks, young clamoring children, or a hectic itinerary.

Also, modern entertainment options can leave our bodies untaxed but our minds over-stimulated. With Internet streaming, digital news, social networking, e-commerce services and so much more, all readily accessible, we scroll, click, tap, swipe and hit “play” compulsively. Whether we realize it or not, information overload saps our mental energy. Our time is sucked away, and our minds become glutted with information and vulnerable to the world’s shifting values, trends, and opinions.

No wonder, then, that our leisure choices aren’t truly restful. But what does real restfulness look like?

 

 2. Understand the kind of rest that God calls us to

In the Old Testament, God commanded the people of Israel to observe a “Sabbath day of rest.” It was a day of rest from work, but it was not simply physical inactivity; it was also a rest to the Lord (Exodus 20:10). By resting, the Israelites remembered and celebrated that God had rescued them from Egypt, and that they belong to Him. Indeed, rest was a reminder that God had set His people apart (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Moreover, the Israelites understood that they were on a journey toward a land God had promised them, a “resting place,” where they would be safe from enemies and where they would live with God (Deuteronomy 12:10). Every Sabbath, they should cease from work—the everyday activities that put food on the table and clothes on people’s back—to look forward to the promised rest and trust in God’s present provision.

During the time of the New Testament, however, the Pharisees and teachers of the law had misunderstood the nature of true rest. They had reduced the Sabbath to myriad prohibitions that relied on their own standards of righteousness instead of trusting in God. Yet, Jesus stakes His claim as Lord of the Sabbath and announces the arrival of “something greater than the temple” (Matthew 12:6-8). God was now dwelling with humankind in the flesh!

Jesus, the Lord of rest, calls us to stop looking for meaning in our own sufficiency or in bogus standards of security. Instead, He offers us rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). True rest is about where we put our trust day to day. Ultimately, true rest is nothing less than the eternal rest of salvation.

Hebrews 4:3 makes this clear: “Now we who have believed enter that rest”—the rest which God had spoken to Israel of. For us, today, the way to eternal rest is believing that Jesus has paid for our sin on the cross. His burden is light because He carries it all; there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation.

 

3. Seek the things that nourish us, inside and out

As Christians we probably know all this, but we may not have connected it to the way that we rest. How often, for instance, is our rest really about remembering and relying on God’s saving and sustaining power, and rejoicing in His presence? How would rest look like if we were intentional about spending time with God?

As I begin to rethink my own days of rest, I wouldn’t necessarily throw out travel, exercise, friends, or Netflix—we enjoy good things with a heart of thanksgiving. Perhaps I’d guard against physical and mental exhaustion by planning for recovery time after an adventure holiday, or by unwinding to light music instead of checking out my favorite YouTube channels before bed.

But more than that, I’d like to be recharged by the things that truly nourish my soul and anchor me in the peace of God:

  • Reading and remembering God’s Word – “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” (Psalm 19:7);
  • Talking to God – “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b–7);
  • Confessing sins and asking for forgiveness – “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord …” (Acts 3:19);
  • Praising and thanking God – “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5–6);
  • Having fellowship that strengthens our faith – “In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.” (2 Corinthians 7:13).

It is no coincidence, by the way, that church should be about all these things. Perhaps we might prioritize our weekly gatherings, and find ourselves truly and mutually refreshed there!

 

4. Go to bed; get enough sleep

Lastly, although rest is more than physical, it is not less than that. We are embodied souls, and so physical exhaustion or ill health can take a toll on our mental and spiritual wellbeing. I don’t want to minimize Satan or sin’s role when we respond with a lack of thoughtfulness or love, but not getting enough bodily rest does contribute to attitudes and behaviors that don’t please God: short-temperedness, impatience, rash decision-making, selfishness, and so on.

These scenarios, for instance, show me that I am in dire need of more sleep: when I’m a different (and worse) person before my morning caffeinated brew, when I am kept awake by anxious thoughts, when I frantically desire a 48-hour day just to get more things done, when stress makes me more prone to anger or over-hasty judgments, when I feel grumpy if someone asks for my time . . .

In fact, at the end of a diligent day’s work, refusing to stop and go to bed can reveal that, deep down, we don’t really trust that God is in control. We may subconsciously be seeking security in our to-do lists, purpose in our productivity, refreshment in our entertainment, or sustenance in our caffeine hits. In the long-term, none of these things will bring us the rest our bodies and brains need. The God who designed us for a 24-hour day knows what He is doing, so we can rest assured, and awaken refreshed for the next day.

 

Friends, what will you do differently in your rest? I wish you times of refreshing and pleasant dreams. In the words of the psalmist, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

How Can I Worship God Through Tough Times?

Written By Julian Panga, India

Julian grew up in India and then lived in Australia for 12 years. While working in the banking and finance Industry in Melbourne, he also served as a church elder, missions trainer, and Bible teacher. In 2014, he returned to India in response to God’s calling and is currently involved in pastoral ministry and theological training. He is passionate about teaching and training as well as engaging the youth and those in the marketplace with the Gospel.

Worshipping God is easy to do when everything is going well. However, when things get tough, we can feel as if God is far away, or that He doesn’t care. During those times, it can be hard to worship God—to love Him, honor Him, and acknowledge Him for who He is, what He has done, and what He is able to do.

I went through a period where my work was so demanding that all other areas of my life suffered, including my devotional life. I was frustrated to the core with my work—I felt sidelined, dissatisfied, and angry. As a result, I isolated myself from my colleagues and friends, and even distanced myself from God. I could not see any purpose to life, and simply wanted to give up on everything.

Our emotions are easily influenced by our circumstances. If we base our worship of God on our emotions, it could become a painful drudgery on the inside and a deceptive facade on the outside. While our emotions might fluctuate, God is unchanging—His mercy, love, and grace remain with us through difficult times. When we focus on that, we can worship Him whatever our circumstances.

Through navigating the different challenges of life, I have realized that the one sure way I can break the shackles of discouragement, disappointment, and disillusion, is to worship God wholeheartedly. And surrounding myself with people who genuinely love and honor God is also important for me to be encouraged and motivated to worship God even when life gets tough and demanding.

Here are three ways that I consciously remind myself to worship God, especially in hard times. These actions help draw me closer to God and prepare my heart for worship:

 

1. Remember God’s Past Actions

One time I was traveling home, and found myself alone in a train compartment with a bunch of miscreants who were intent on stealing from me. Another time my family and I were in a car, and only narrowly avoided a serious accident because of a drunk driver. Each time I could only gather enough breath to muter “God, I love you; please help me!”

Immediately I would remember times where God has helped me in the past. Those memories of God’s faithfulness and protection remind and encourage me that God is my tower, my refuge, and my fortress in times of trouble (Psalm 31:3, 62:6, 91:2). I can run to Him and find safety, security, and comfort.

Each time I struggle in life, I remind myself of God’s timely actions in my past, and all those many junctures of my life where I have clearly seen God’s hand of protection, provision and strength. God keeps His promises to His children always, and has proved Himself throughout history as well as in my own life. When I remember God’s nature and His past actions, I am encouraged to worship because I know that whatever the circumstances, God’s faithfulness and benevolence will not cease towards me.

 

2. Draw Encouragement from the Holy Spirit

God assures us in the Bible that His presence is always with us. When we accept the Lord into our lives and are born again, we have a constant counselor, companion, and guide who dwells in us—the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26; 15:26). So when worshipping God in hard times, I take comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in me, leads me, and guides me. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth—He helps me understand God’s Word, and I can respond to God through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Romans 8:26-27).

The crossroads of life can be confusing. At one point, I faced a decision about serving in full-time Christian ministry. I strongly desired it, and felt that this was something I was being called to. However, there were challenges ahead I did not know how to face. During that time, I was reminded that as a believer I have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. I could rely on His counsel and guidance. As I considered the future, I was assured that God who called me will faithfully take care of me and my needs, and I just needed to surrender myself to Him in obedience.

When I surrendered, I felt a huge burden lifted off my mind, and I attribute that to the work of God’s Spirit in my life. He has not stopped leading and guiding me to this point of my life, and I know He never will.

When faced with problems, I remind myself that the Holy Spirit continually encourages me, assures me of God’s presence and guides me forward. I can rely on and trust God even through hard times, and I can worship Him knowing that His Spirit is always with me, encouraging me, and working in and through me to fulfill His purposes (Proverbs 3:5-6, Philippians 2:13).

 

3. Assure Yourself of God’s Everlasting Love

God’s Word assures me of His perfect love towards me, and prayer keeps me connected with Him and listening to His heartbeat. God’s perfect love, unlike human love, is unconditional. God’s love is forever and lasts for generations to come (Psalm 100:5). This truth about God comforts my fearful mind. It reassures me of God’s hand on my future, however uncertain and daunting that future may be. I know God has my best interests at heart, even as Philippians 1:6 says, God has begun a good work in me, and He will carry it out to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

I know that I can safely hand over my troubles to God, trusting Him to give me victory over those life situations. Even though it is hard to stop worrying entirely, knowing and experiencing God’s love for me helps me re-focus my entire being to worship. And when I worship God, even my worst troubles pale in the light of His love.

Ultimately, while life’s hardships are difficult to deal with, they are still temporary. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 that while we waste away on the outside, inwardly we are being renewed everyday. Our momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and so let us not to lose heart! When we honor God through worship that He alone deserves, our inner selves are being renewed. Our troubles may last for a while, sometimes even for a lifetime, but worship is for eternity.

 

Worship ushers us into God’s presence, where there is peace, assurance and calmness of heart. And that is what we especially need in those hard times. Worship helps tide us over those difficult times of life, and gives us hope for an eternity—where there will be no more tears, death, suffering, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). Come, let us worship our God!