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.



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

Can A Christian Be Racist?

Photo By Tricia Victoria From #blacklivesmatter

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.

There’s a short answer to this question and it is very short.


A Christian cannot be racist.

A Christian cannot be racist because the whole good news of the whole Bible is wholly international in its scope, embracing every people group right across the globe equally. This good news could be summed up thus:


1. All humans, from every people, are made in the image of God

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth. (Acts 17:26a)

The Bible has a lot to say about the first human, Adam—not least that every human since has inherited his image (Genesis 5:1-3). Made in the image of God, Adam has passed on to his children an image that is marred and faded but still holds inherent dignity and value.

But one thing that the Bible has to say is that, in the beginning, God created the human race from one man. Which means, whichever ethnic group you belong to, you have common ancestry with every other ethnic group; you come from the same place, a man lovingly crafted by God.


2. All peoples can be included in the family of the church

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

It doesn’t matter where you come from or what color skin you have; through faith in Jesus, you belong in God’s great family, a family that He is gathering from all the nations. This doesn’t mean that every person will have faith in Jesus but that any person from any people group can have faith in Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die and rise again for white people.

Paul states this truth so strongly here that he almost goes so far as to say that the things that define and divide us as humans don’t even matter in God’s family! “There is neither Jew or Gentile,”  he says. What divides Christians is nowhere near as strong as what they have in common. You have something more substantial in common with a believer on the other side of the world than you do with your unbelieving family—faith in Christ Jesus.


3. All peoples will be worshipping Jesus round his throne

. . . there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . . And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

At the end of time, God’ great family will come together to sing the praises of the one who died and rose again to save them, and the truth is that every people group will be represented. It’s going to be amazing.

This is why Christian missionaries have always travelled across the globe to find peoples that don’t yet know Jesus; He deserves to have people from every nation know Him. And this is why there is something particularly beautiful about a Christian church that is truly diverse; it’s a snapshot of how we’ll be spending eternity.

Now with these three truths in mind, you can see that racism, any belief that one’s own ethnicity or race is superior, simply has no room in the Christian religion. Whereas racism tends to overemphasize and deride the differences between peoples, the New Testament has always been revolutionary in affirming and uniting peoples from across traditional divides. It’s one of the best things about the true church!


. . .”But what about the Crusades, the slave trade and the KKK?”

Given all that is above, it makes it particularly tragic that the history of Western Christendom is marked by episodes of intolerance and racism. People who have claimed the Christian religion for themselves have even tried to use the Bible to justify the belief that their own particular race is superior to others, thereby “permitting” them to carry out all kinds of atrocities against “sub-standard” peoples. “How can a Christian justify that?” you may ask.

The answer is that you cannot.

Someone may claim that they are a Christian or may act in the name of God—those people in all the above examples did. They may have an intellectual understanding of the “faith” or be churchgoers but, if they are acting in a way utterly inconsistent with the Bible’s clear teaching, they are not Christian and their professions are useless.

Such faith is dead and, on the day He comes to judge, Jesus will name it as the evil that it is.


A Christian cannot be racist. . .but a racist can become Christian

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Here, Paul names a whole list of sins. The list is by no means exhaustive; they just happen to be the problems the Corinthian church seemed to be struggling with, so there’s a sense in which you could insert any sin in there.

What’s interesting is how strict Paul is here; there is no excuse for consistently and habitually committing these sins, nor does he even allow them to continue to “struggle” in them, committing them every now and then. He tells them that, if they are now Christian, then all these things are in their past. They have been made clean in Jesus’s blood, made holy by His sacrifice and made righteous by His work. Now their whole identity has changed and there’s not a trace of these old sins left.

The same offer is on the table for racists. There is no room in God’s family for racism but there is room in the family for them.

We seem to have lost the word “repentance” in some modern expressions of Christianity. Christians are people who repent, who turn away from their sin and their old selves and turn anew to Jesus, His death, resurrection, and promises. It’s a word that implies a dramatic break from a past that is wrong. It’s the perfect word for our current discussion.

The controversial truth is that racists can be made children of God, people endowed with the very Spirit of God. But they must repent, leaving their racism at the door. There’s no room for it in God’s kingdom.

The stakes are high. We’ll all either spend eternity singing Jesus’s praises shoulder-to-shoulder with people utterly unlike us or we’ll spend eternity in suffering, surrounded with people just as selfish as we are. It’s our own choice.

Is Christian Work Better than Secular Work?

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.

It’s unusual that you’d find someone who would come right out and articulate the view that Christian work is better than “secular” or “non-Christian” work, or that the only activity under the sun that matters is evangelism. But, if we’re honest, it’s easy to see the way that view has influenced what we say and how we feel about our work.

We see it in:

  • the worker who longs to quit her job in retail and do something meaningful like youth work, even though she is perfectly suited to the first and not to the second
  • the businessman who is consistently told that the best thing about his profession is that he can fund other people to do proper gospel work
  • the pastor whose sermon applications never cover any topic other than evangelism in the workplace
  • the church who is happy that they are sending a couple of young people to university to study economics or medicine but are ecstatic that one is off to study theology

These are some examples of how our thoughts, feelings, words and behaviors betray this line of thought—that Jesus is much happier with some jobs than He is with others. That Jesus is only really pleased with you when you’re telling people about Him, not when you’re head down and working.

This attitude is not entirely wrong. Let’s look at these verses from Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Given everything Paul says about the majesty of Jesus (v15- 20) and the magnitude of His redemption (buying back) of you (v21- 23), it’d be strange if telling people all about Jesus didn’t feature highly in our priorities. It’s something that we can do regardless of who we are and whatever job or situation we are in—so long as there are other people with us. And evangelism is the one activity that only the church is going to do; if we don’t do it, we rob the world of the only hope available to it. One day, uncountable numbers from every tribe, every tongue and every nation will be standing before God and worshiping Jesus forever, and there are few joys greater in life than knowing that you have contributed to another person being present on that day.

But I think there’s also something not quite right about thinking that evangelism and church work are the only things that Jesus cares about, not least because we can see more than that from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here are a couple of points that may help address that:

Jesus has redeemed every part of creation

Both Paul’s description of Jesus’ identity and his description of Jesus’ achievement are colossal. Jesus is bigger than creation, bigger than all powers, bigger than the church (this one feels more obvious); in other words, everything that makes God God dwells in Jesus. And what does He choose to do with this immense power? “To reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Jesus couldn’t be more committed to His physical creation. He created it. He sustains it. He entered it. And when He died, He won it back to Himself.

This idea is not unique to Colossians, but runs right through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. We don’t see a deist god who creates a universe and then walks away. We don’t see a gnostic god who creates spirit but hates the material. We see the triune God who cares enough for His physical creation to task humanity with working to steward and keep it. We see a God who will commit to its redemption completely. We see a renewed creation at the end of time, a new creation that is filled with cities and art and culture, and people who love to work for God’s glory.

So, if God cares that much for this world, shouldn’t we?

This is the reason why God commanded mankind to “fill the earth and subdue it,” in Genesis 1, something theologians like to call “the Cultural Mandate.”[1] God is effectively saying, “Go out and display that you’re made in my image—that you’re creative—and care for everything in the world. Fill the earth with culture and life and cool stuff!” It’s a mandate that still applies, and which you and I and everyone else obeys whenever we work hard at art, our work, our families or anything that shows care and influence over this creation.

Perhaps part of the reason we struggle with our “secular” jobs is because we struggle to see the value of caring for this world and for other people when we work. As a result, we struggle to see that there are no “secular” jobs at all.

It doesn’t mean that we’re carrying out the same redemption as Jesus through our work or that He is only doing His work through us; Paul makes clear that what Jesus achieved on the cross was a one-time act because only He could have secured such a redemption. But when we work in nursing, retail, construction, art, banking or whatever field God has placed us in, we are reflecting the love of God for His creation, helping to steward a world Jesus created, committing ourselves to its flourishing, and practising for a time when we shall work in a new creation.

Jesus has redeemed every part of you

When we act like God only really cares about Christian work, we act like He is mean. We act like there’s whole swathes of our life that our Father has little real interest in, or that He is a slave-driver who just wants one thing out of us. Plus, we imply a kind of Christian dualism where God only cares about “spiritual” and not “material” matters.[2]

Our Father is a lot kinder than that and He cares so much about you whom He redeemed that He cares about your work too. If He’s given you gifts, passions and opportunities in a certain direction, He doesn’t simply want you to ignore them and shoe-horn yourself into a job that doesn’t suit you.

In fact, given the colossal Jesus that Paul represents in chapter 1, the application he gives in chapter 3 is remarkable. He doesn’t even seem to command much evangelism from his hearers but instead gives instruction that encompass both our relations in the home and relations at work. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters…” (Colossians 3:23) So, you should know that your work matters because all of you matters to your Father. The redemption that Jesus has won for you is big enough to touch, redeem and dignify every part of your life.

Jesus has redeemed a whole church family

We live in an individualistic culture, so we tend to come at this question as individuals.

We are right when we realize evangelism is vital, when we think that some should become full-time church workers, when we discover that we could fill our diaries with church activities and not just hangout sessions with our friends. We are right when we realize that, for the church of Jesus Christ, making disciples who love and follow Him is the priority that trumps all priorities! We are right in thinking that it would be no good if everybody was caring for creation, serving as lawyers and joining sports teams, but no one was set apart to give the church vision, leadership and teaching.

But we are wrong when we think that the salvation of the world is all down to us—as individuals.

Paul writes this letter, just as he writes most of his letters, to church families. Every address is in the plural, none of it in the singular—something that is lost with the general English translation of “you.” And with families we have the opportunity to represent Christ in many different professions and places at the same time. Rather than always thinking “What’s the single most important job that I as an isolated individual could do for Christ?”, perhaps a much healthier question would be, “How can I use my skills, passions and opportunities to represent Jesus and serve this world in a way that complements what my church family is doing here?”

That way, we are free to choose a role in society and church that will see us flourish, not to mention a much more humble and realistic view of ourselves.

Just think what we would be communicating to the world if we got this one right! That Christ is not just for Sunday but is for our 9-5 too. That the truth about Jesus isn’t just true when we’re in church but is true for every person everywhere too. That God the Father is not a mean Father who only cares about driving you to evangelism but cares about every part of your life. That Christians are not isolated loners but part of a family that is working to steward creation and make Christ known.

And if we’re communicating all that, I have a feeling that we’d all make much better evangelists.

[1] It sometimes seems that theologians have little better to do than sit and make up long and confusing names for stuff.
[2] For more on this, read Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2012), particularly the excellent chapter “Work as Service”.


Don’t Mess with The Tongue

Day 16 | Today’s passage: James 3:1-6 | Historical context of James

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

We usually think that teaching the Bible is a noble profession. We know there is a pressing need worldwide for missionaries, pastors, teachers, and evangelists, and there was even more so in the early church. So why does James, quite abruptly changing the subject, discourage people from teaching?

Well, as James changes gear into the second half of his letter, he wants us to see that words are powerful. Every great movement in history is driven by a great speaker—Jesus, Mohammad, Lincoln, Hitler, Martin Luther King. A teacher’s greater capacity for influence comes with greater responsibility before God. So, James says, teachers should feel a healthy caution and care.

Of course, James goes on to say, this really applies to all of us.

1. Watch your tongue because it has great power for good

If you’re a city-dweller, you may never have seen a real one up close, so let me tell you as a country boy: horses are massive. Much larger than you’d think. And yet, four-year-old girls can learn to ride and control them—without being eaten—all because of the “bit.” The “bit” is a strip of leather or metal that goes between the horse’s teeth and acts like a steering wheel. If you control the bit, you control the whole horse, whatever your size.

The same is true of a ship. No matter how large they are or how strong the winds get, if you control the rudder (a tiny piece of equipment), you are in control of the whole ship.

It’s exactly the same with the tongue. “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” (v. 5) The body tends to follow where the tongue leads. So, if you were to control your tongue, you would be perfectly self-controlled.

James quite rightly reassures us in verse 2 that none of us are perfect and we all get things wrong, especially in the words we say. But imagine if you never said anything wrong! How brilliant would it be if your words were always uplifting, always challenging, always loving, always kind? Imagine the good you could do in the world! In fact, you would be like Jesus.

Sadly, although James gives us something wonderful to aspire to, the tongue more commonly directs us into boasting and evil.

2. Watch your tongue because it has great power for evil

In January 2001, a motorist driving along a highway in San Diego County, US, flicked a cigarette butt out of his car. It sparked a forest fire that eventually burned more than 10,000 acres, destroyed 16 homes, and burned 64 vehicles.

All that from one spark.

The tongue is the same: it is small but destructive. James calls it evil, and even one carelessly uttered word can cause huge damage. Of all the parts of the body, verse 6 says, the tongue has the capacity to corrupt the whole of our being. It’s no use controlling the rest of you; if your tongue is going to spout evil, your whole body is doing evil.

It’s difficult to read a passage like today’s and not feel convicted. Even this week, I can see a situation that would have been better had I held my tongue.

Now, obviously, James is speaking metaphorically. It is not that our tongues have a life of their own and are somehow horrendously evil, and we ourselves are just innocent victims of its work. The truth is, as James repeats later in verse 12, the “mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. Our tongues are evil because our hearts are evil. Our tongues show our desperate, sinful state before God, and how badly we need Jesus to come and change us.

The good news is, as we will discover in other parts of the Bible: that’s just what Jesus is all about.

—James Bunyan, England

Questions for reflection

1. Think of the godliest person you know. How self-controlled are they with their tongue?

2. In what way does your tongue have the capacity to “corrupt the whole body”? Is it through gossiping; crude joking; being a harsh boss, spouse or critic; being overly negative or lying?

3. How can you practice the opposite this week?

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.

Read 30-day James Devotional