Ministry of the Word and Prayer

My friend Sam pointed me in the direction of one of my ancient blog posts about the phrase “the ministry of the word and prayer” the other day, and it got me thinking. My nagging conscience is quick to remind me of the importance of praying whilst preparing to lead Bible studies or whilst writing talks I’m going to deliver, but I often think of that purely in terms of praying for God’s help in my preparation itself. “Please God, help me to concentrate whilst I write this.” “Please God, help me to properly understand this passage.” “Please God, give me some good ideas for illustrations.”

The helpful phrase “the ministry of the word and prayer” reminds me that prayer is an essential part of the ministry itself. I don’t just pray so that my word ministry will go well; rather I do the twofold ministry of teaching the word and praying for those I teach it to. Ultimately it is God’s ministry that he has graciously invited us to be a part of, and so it’s natural for us to pray to him, asking him to be at work in people’s hearts and minds; it’s only then that we get on with using the tool he has given us for the job: his living and active word, the Bible.

Ambition and Insecurity

I’ve just been away on a church event called The Annual Student Conference (or TASC), where we take lots of our students away to a place called the Frontier Centre near Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. The title this year was “United We Stand”, taking a look through the book of Philippians (amongst many, many other things). This was especially handy for me, since I’m about to preach on Philippians 2 in a couple of weeks time!

Charlie Skrine helped us to see the link between ambition and insecurity: if our identity is found in what we do and in what people think of what we do, then we’re going to be reluctant to give those things up if putting other people first requires it. If my identity is in being the Curry Man who organises Bank Holiday trips to Brick Lane, then I’m going to fight hard to hang on to that role long past the point where it would be good to get somebody else to do it. If my identity is in having a cool job that makes people react a certain way when I introduce myself, then I’m going to fight hard to find jobs that are interesting rather than necessarily the job that will enable to serve Christ most effectively. If my identity is in being the Bible-teaching Computer Games guy, then I’m going to be jealous and hostile towards other Christian games developers I perceive as a threat to that identity. Our insecurities lead to ambitious rivalry.

Meet, then, the most secure man who ever lived,

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

Jesus’ rock-solid security in being God himself enabled him to give up all pretences at ambition and become a weak, pathetic human baby, who grew up to be a weak, pathetic man hanging on a Roman cross – despised and rejected by men, written off as a lunatic or a blasphemer. If Jesus had stood on his rights for even a second – where would we be?

Because of this amazing humility on the part of Christ, the Christian’s identity is rock solid – we are children of God, those who have “encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, and participation in the Spirit” – so we have every reason to be some of the most secure people around. So are you willing to consider others’ needs above your own? Are you willing to consider others as more significant that yourself? Charlie’s rather penetrating examples included being willing to train somebody else until they become better than you and easily outshine you – being willing to let others have a chance even when you think you could do a better job, when the circumstances allows.

Where does your identity come from? Lord God – may you give us the mind of Christ!

Some New Years Goals

In years gone by I have had a tendency to scoff at the notion of New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m increasingly coming to see the value of a clean break and an obvious opportunity for reflection (which is offered equally well by a birthday, a new academic year or moving into a new flat – there’s nothing special about January 1st). This year I have a few goals which I shall now proceed to share with you.

1. Paying For Online Services I Use

I suspect this one is inspired by Jeff Atwood somewhere along the line, but I’ve decided that in a struggling economy it becomes even more important to pay for what you find useful. Sites like Wikipedia, ToodleDo and Flickr add immense value to my life, and they rely upon paying users to keep them running for the long term. Just because we’ve got used to having stuff online for free doesn’t mean that’s a sustainable state of affairs.

2. Finishing a Puzzle Overview Document

I’ll probably blog about this one in a bit more detail some time, but I hope to finalise the list of puzzles and solutions for my first Bible-teaching computer game within the next few months. It may be hard work, but it helps to have goals!

3. Learning To Live Sustainably

No, I don’t mean I want to “go back to the land” and learn to grow my own vegetables (though having said that…). By “learning to live sustainably” I mean getting out of the mindset that leads to short-termism and burnout. Years of disposable accommodation lived in for 12 months and then discarded, along with the housemates I shared it with, has led to all sorts of bad habits. Moving regularly could be considered the brute force solution to an aversion to cleaning, but it’s really not sustainable in the long run. Similarly, the pattern of overcommitting yourselves during the term, massively overdoing it and then crashing during the holiday break from Bible-studies and so on might work if you only expect to be at the same church for a year or two, but if you’re staying long term then something has to change. In 2009 I wish to learn to live sustainably.

4. Investing in Christian Community

This is another one that I eagerly hope to blog about at more length, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how to build true Christian community with genuine, deep friendships, and I hope to start putting some of that in to practice in 2009.

What are your goals for 2009?