Somebody emailed me recently with a very important question, and I thought other people might benefit from an answer, so with permission I’m posting (a slightly paraphrased version of) the email here:

“I am currently in the midst of making a difficult decision. I think my current job isn’t really helping my career anymore. The work is boring and not very exciting. The way the company does software development just isn’t right.

The problem is that as a Christian I am part of a church in area which has really helped me grow in college and in my first year of work. If I quit this job, I might not be able to find another suitable job in the vicinity and would have to move state. I struggle with this because it feels like I’m not placing God first in my life, but at the same time I don’t think it would be helpful to remain at this job.”

Firstly, let me start by saying that I relate to this problem 100%. I know firsthand how demoralising it can be to work in a job where you feel like you are stagnating – and how this can sap all your energy in a way that affects far more than just the 9-5 that you’re actually in the office. I also know the internal struggle of wanting to put God first, and not wanting to let your career drive decisions about church rather than the other way around. This can sometimes be made even worse by the amount of guilt that well-meaning Christian friends can lay on your shoulders as they encourage you to stick in your current situation no matter what.

But secondly, let me encourage you to listen to your conscience on this one. Though it may well be right to seek a change in your circumstances (and we’ll come to that in a bit), you definitely do want to approach this in a way that seeks God’s will first, and leaving a good church should always be something that we treat very seriously and with great reluctance. This isn’t something that we need to do with a heavy heart, but a path we can embrace with joy: as Jesus said “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [that God knows you need] will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The way of the cross often means sacrifices in the here and now – and it often will look like foolishness to the watching world, but no matter what you miss out on in this life, if it’s for the sake of obeying God, then you will not regret it in the life to come. In once sense, so what if your career languishes in the duldrums because you chose instead to commit to your church family? When Jesus returns, “those who are first will be last and the last will be first” – and all the value systems of our culture will be overthrown. I once turned down my dream job making computer games because it would have meant leaving my church and moving cities, and though it’s probably completely changed the course of my life, I don’t regret it one bit.

Thirdly though, I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t want us to be miserable just for the sake of it. Yes, he’s more concerned with our holiness than he is with our happiness, but often we’ll be much more able to serve him with enthusiasm if we’re joyful and excited about life than if we’re feeling drained and burnt out. I’d suggest seeing what work you can find in your local area that would allow you to stick at your current church – even if it’s not necessarily your dream job, you might find that just having a bit of a change helps you feel like you’re growing and learning something. And in the mean time, I’d fight to find joy and thankfulness in your current role. Make a list of the things you can be thankful for about your current job – the fact that it does allow you to be part of a great church, and conversations you’ve been able to have with colleagues about your faith, the income it’s provided, the contributions you’ve been able to make to the business and so on. Being able to choose our jobs is a luxury that has not been available to most people throughout history.

The book I’ve found really helpful in times like this is Kevin DeYoung’s “Just Do Something“. We often spend so much time fretting about “what is God’s will for my life?” and trying to find exactly the right job to choose, exactly the right path. Ultimately, God has revealed very clearly what his will is: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) – he wants us to be holy. Pretty much anything else is up to us to choose – using the wisdom and the brain that he has given us.

I can’t tell you exactly what to do, but I would strongly encourage you to find a way to stick at your current church if you can, whilst also trying to find ways to restore the joy that you’ve lost. Maybe it means finding fulfilment in some more extra-curricular software development activities – getting stuck into an Open Source project, launching your own mobile app or web service, whatever it is that helps you feel like you’re growing (and which in turn will open up more doors for taking another job as it’s all stuff you can show on your resume). Whatever you do, if you do decide you need to move state, be doubly sure that there’s a faithful, Bible-teaching church in the area you move to before you apply for a job there.

And keep praying about it! God will lead you where he wants you if you keep trusting it to him.

 

Over on my Old Testament Adventure blog I wrote a review of a new David vs Goliath game by a group called “Righteous Tales”:

In “David vs Goliath”, Righteous Tales have really set the standard that all subsequent Bible-based games are going to have to live up to. It’s a genuinely fun game that really gets you beneath the surface of the Bible account and communicates the drama of the story wonderfully, including some truly memorable characters along the way.

If you’re on iOS, please buy this game so that they can make more!

 

A few hundred yards from where I lived as a student lies Tyndale House, “a Christian community dedicated to researching all the primary evidence relevant to the study of the Bible”. They have some fantastic people based there doing all kinds of important Biblical scholarship, and more recently they have also birthed STEP: Scripture Tools for Every Person. The vision of STEP is “to equip churches in every country with the tools to study the Bible in its original languages from the best that Cambridge and international scholars have to offer” – in other words, it makes world-class Biblical scholarship and tools available completely free of charge, in a way that can be a blessing to the worldwide church.

“STEP is for everyone interested in the Bible, from those just starting to read it to those who want to dig deeper. Typing a few letters into a single box enables readers to pick a language, a Bible translation, a passage, a subject, or a word. It will work out whether readers want to find all the passages where a word or subject occurs, or if they just want to read a passage.”

They’ve just released a brand new v2.0 which looks absolutely fantastic, and you can read their press release here. I’m sure that the STEP project will be a huge blessing to many – so do spread the word!

I’ve known one of the developers, Chris Burrell, for a number of years now, and I know he’d love to hear from any Christian developers out there looking for a project to volunteer on! You can read more about opportunities to help here.

 

Do you ever get that feeling that you’ve been doing something for years, but are still only just beginning to figure out what you’re really supposed to be doing? I’ve been feeling a bit like that with PrayerMate for a while now. It’s grown considerably over the past year or so, both in terms of features and in terms of the number of people using it and the number of organisations publishing their prayer points through it (over 80 now!) One of the downsides of doing something as a side-project, and being massively overworked, is that you don’t always get to invest the amount of time as you would like just polishing the little details.

I think over the years I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by all the positive encouragement I’ve received from people about PrayerMate, when the truth is that there’s lots about it that could be better. The truth is that the positive encouragement all comes from people who have managed to figure it out and have started using it, whereas the negative feedback comes in the form of silence from the people who downloaded it, tried it once, couldn’t really figure out what it was for or how to get going with it, and then never came back to it ever again. It’s only very rarely that you get emails from those people, so it’s easy to miss just how many of them there are.

This last month or so I decided that enough was enough, and whilst my wonderful iOS beta testers have been trying out the new (as-yet-unreleased) syncing functionality, I’ve been taking a break from that brain-melting hardcore coding kind of work to tinker with the basic interface to try to improve the useability of the app, especially for brand new users. I’m still only really half-way through my list of ideas (with some of the more dramatic changes still to come!) and I haven’t yet had a chance to port these over to Android, but I thought I’d give you a little taste of what’s coming up when Apple approves the next release.

Improved onboarding process

I did a little experiment with a new onboarding process back at Easter, but for various reasons I don’t think it hasn’t proved too successful. Instead I’ve opted for more of a light touch approach. The user’s first session now starts and ends with these two pages:

useability_first_session
useability_last_page

The first page introduces some vocabulary (“My first prayer session”) and now gives a more explicit call to action (“Swipe left to start”). The last page urges people towards the key value-add action: adding your own subjects to pray for.

Revamped ‘Add subject’ process

That leads nicely onto the next big change, which is a totally revamped process for adding new subjects. Over time the subject settings page has become a slightly overwhelming and scary mess of options and features, and from the very earliest days I know people have struggled how to do even the most basic task of adding a new subject. Taking the approach that people basically want to focus on one thing at a time, PrayerMate will now hold your hand a little bit more through the process.

useability_new_subject_page

It starts off by asking you just to enter a name for your subject. I’ve observed that the majority of new users stick entirely to the default categories, so I thought I may as well make the most of that and tailor the description you see based on which of those default categories you’re adding to. So you’ll get given different instructions and example names if you’re adding family members to if you’re adding Biblical prayers, for example.

Historically there’s also been a bit of a discovery problem: people didn’t know that the feature existed to download prayers or subscribe to online feeds, so the new “Add subject” page is the perfect place to direct people towards these alternative ways of getting new content into the app.

Scheduling modes explained

When choosing the scheduling mode for a subject, you now get a very brief explanation of what each option means:

useability_scheduling_modes

Downloadable biblical prayers

Although previously there was a gallery of Bible verses that would make for good prayers, for copyright reasons I was unable to make the text of those verses available for download directly into PrayerMate. Instead it took you to BibleGateway in your browser, from where you could copy and paste into PrayerMate. For various reasons, this really sucked. Mark Strivens has donated a huge amount of time to contact various Bible publishers and has managed to secure permission for me to include extracts directly from the NET Bible translation. He’s then set it all up, so now if you want to download a Bible prayer the text is right there and you just have to hit a button to turn it into a subject in PrayerMate.

“Download all” in prayer gallery

This one was sheer laziness on my part when I first added the prayer gallery: it’s been obvious all along that there needed to be a quick way to download a whole bunch of prayers all in one go. So now if you’re a wife wanting to pray for your husband, you can open up Jen Thorn’s “Seven hard things to pray for your husband” and download all seven with the touch of a button.

useability_download_all

Much better!

Changes to how feeds work

When I first added online feeds to the app last year, I had an inkling that people would love it, but I didn’t really know what it was that I was making. As people have started using it, and as more and more organisations have come on board, it was inevitable that there would be some changes required. The Android app benefitted from this hindsight and got built properly the first time around, but now iOS is catching up. The biggest change I’ve made is that feed subjects are now scheduled just like any other kind of subject – so I could say “I want to pray for Tearfund on Wednesdays and UCCF on Mondays”, and feed subjects no longer receive priority in the way that they used to, making it a bit easier to have several subjects all in the same category.

I’ve also tweaked the lingo when you first subscribe to a feed, so that instead of confusingly saying “View prayers” it now makes it more obvious that a new subject has been created for you. There’s also a little indicator of how often a particular feed is likely to be updated (daily, weekly or monthly)

useability_feed_changes

When viewing your feed subject, I’ve also broken out the upcoming prayers into a separate “feed items” page, making the subject page a bit more manageable:

useability_feed_items_page

Action button on prayer cards

I’ve been resisting this one for years, but it seems that no matter how many ways I try to teach people, most people still don’t realise that you can press and hold on a card whilst you’re praying to open a menu of actions. If you don’t know this menu is there, the app is so much harder to use. So I’ve finally succumbed, and added an explicit button to each prayer card to open the action menu:

useability_explicit_button

More tiny tweaks

There’s plenty more tiny little tweaks here and there. One user commented that it’s a little strange that the “Archive” button should be green when it’s really kind of a negative action. So that’s now orange:

useability_archive_button

PrayerMate is done as a labour of love in my spare time, but it does cost me real money to keep it all running month by month. Would you consider making a donation towards the work? Click here for details.