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Posts Tagged ‘bible reading’

Recently, while taking part in a Christmas carol service, I found myself sitting straight and tall in my seat and automatically taking a deep breath before singing each line. After all, I did not want to gasp for air halfway through—and definitely not halfway through a word as I sometimes hear singers doing on TV and elsewhere. I also tried to sing all the words clearly, even though I was certainly not giving any solo performance. But then I laughed at myself. You see, suddenly I realised that, without any conscious effort on my part, I had slipped back into singing exactly as I had learnt to do over sixty years ago! It all felt so natural—and so wonderfully fulfilling too.

During my middle school years, I belonged to two different choirs. The first was the Queensland Junior Conservatorium Choir which I joined after a nervous audition with the rather scary Director there at the time. In that choir, we learnt so much about the basics of good singing and about performing two-part songs well. The second was the Brisbane Junior Eisteddfod Choir where I ended up in the second soprano section as we sang three-part madrigals, sacred anthems, folksongs and all sorts of other beautiful music. In this choir, I learnt to keep my eyes on the conductor at all times, to listen to the other singers around me and to commit our whole repertoire to memory. We practised long and hard and in a very disciplined way, yet it was all so enjoyable, especially when we staged our own concerts and competed at eisteddfods.

These were the same skills then that popped up all over again, even in a humble little carol service. And I was glad. Perhaps you have experienced something similar in another context—perhaps you may have discovered to your great surprise that you still know how to ride a bike or swim or knit or sew, things you put a lot of effort into learning when very young. What a joy to find you still remember the basics, even if you might be a little rusty on the actual execution of your hard-won skills at this stage!

On the other hand, like me, you may also have other less joyful skills you acquired early on and have honed over the years so that they are second nature now. For me, I suspect they may be things like easily becoming defensive, too readily judging others, finding it difficult to apologise, not caring enough about others—the list goes on. Instead of celebrating these skills and continually resurrecting them, I need to let them disappear forever. And to do that, the best way I have found is to listen to what God says, both in Scripture and directly through the Spirit.

Perhaps you were blessed to learn to do this early on in your life so that it is second nature for you now. Yet this is a lifelong lesson we all need to keep learning, isn’t it? So, in 2023, let’s do exactly this— then faithfully put into practice everything we hear and learn.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

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Jo 23‘I enjoy the challenge of learning new things,’ one of our pastors told me, as he settled me in front of those glaring lights, ready to record a segment for our online church service last Sunday.

I agreed—albeit a little weakly. You see, I was about to do something I had never done before. I had been asked to pray out loud for our church while being filmed, with just the two of us present. And that felt a little weird to me.

I decided I would begin with a few verses from Psalm 40. I had thought of writing my prayer out in full, but felt that was not me. Usually, I like to be more spontaneous when I pray. Yet now, with that camera on me and those glaring lights shining in my face, I wondered if I had made the right decision. I had jotted down some things I had been asked to pray about, but that was it. Would my mind go blank? Could I truly trust God to show me how to pray?

The first time through, I stumbled a few times but soon became immersed in praying. There are so many urgent needs in people’s lives right now. Some have big financial concerns facing them. Others are seriously ill and undergoing tricky medical procedures or in the midst of long-term cancer treatment. Then there are those who are not in a good place mentally and emotionally who need to know God does indeed hear their cry, as Psalm 40:1 says. I feel for them all and meant every word I prayed. But at the end, we decided we should film it one more time—and make it a little shorter too.

We started again. Soon I was in the midst of praying for the same people and situations once more, although in a slightly briefer and more restrained way. But afterwards, I felt unsettled and even worried. Had I truly prayed from the heart that second time around? It had sounded a little flat to me and I hoped no one would feel short-changed as a result, particularly those I had prayed for in such difficult situations.

Later, however, as I reflected on the whole experience, I almost laughed out loud. What a silly way of thinking! After all, God knew it was my desire to pray earnestly for our church and for those going through challenging times. God saw my heart. And, judging by what Jesus said about those hypocrites who wanted everyone to notice how well they prayed or the pagans who used so many words (Matthew 6), surely what I said or how I looked was irrelevant?

Yes, there is always something new to learn or something different to experience. But there is nothing like that old, familiar experience for me of being held in God’s loving arms, knowing my prayers have been heard and feeling that firm rock once again beneath my feet.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

God hears. God understands. God cares. And we can be at peace.

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Jo 23I wonder if, like me, you have discovered that there are some people who are easy to get on with and others who … well, perhaps I should leave it at that! Of course, you and I both know we belong to the former category rather than the latter. After all, how could anyone ever have trouble getting on with us? Ridiculous! If they do, then it must be their problem, not ours!

As I woke up one morning recently, I realised with a jolt that I was about to spend part of my day with someone who I have to say irks me more than a little. This prospect did not fill me with glee and, not being a great morning person anyway, I grabbed some coffee and headed to my study in even grumpier mode than normal, feeling hard done by. Why me? I had more than enough other things to do than waste time with this particular person.

Still grouchy, I reached for my Bible and the study guide we had been given to help keep us connected with the current sermon series at our church. As I did, I was reminded of the title of the message I had heard only a few days earlier: ‘Learning to live peacefully’. Snippets of what had been said that day floated into my mind, but I quickly pushed them away. I did not care to remember them at this point. Instead, I wanted to wallow in my grouchiness for just a little while longer.

Yet somehow that did not seem to be God’s ideal plan for me right then. I glanced at the reading set down for the day—Galatians 5:22-26. And, despite myself, verse 22 caught my eye:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.

Hmm. I noticed verse 25 too:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Hmm again. I had been all set to ignore the Spirit’s voice that day, for sure.

In the end, our guest came and went—and no one had made too many waves. But I am an expert at post mortems, so I was still grumbling more than a little by the next morning, ready to criticise and condemn our visitor for this and that. Then I turned to my Bible reading for that day and my heart sank, because I knew I would find some verses there that I did not want to see.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32

Oops! Sometimes those gentle rebukes from God are more like sledgehammers landing on one’s head, don’t you think? Yes, our guest may have been one of those ‘extra grace required’ kind of people. Yet surely, if I say I know and love God, I should be able to take a deep breath, listen to God’s Spirit and allow that love and grace of God to flow out to others, whoever they are?

I hope there aren’t too many more ‘oops’ moments like that in my life—but I suspect there might be!

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In a recent blog, I described how one of my granddaughters has a unique theological approach to playing Snakes and Ladders. I have now become used to listening to her anguished pleas for God to help her throw a six and to observing the desperation on her cute, little face as she does so.

The other day, however, I discovered she has further refined her attempts to win. She now has a couple of additions or ‘postscripts’ that follow on after these heart-wrenching pleas to God.  When I heard the first one, I was a little shocked, I have to admit. You see, it was in the form of a veiled threat:  ‘Pleeeeeaaaaase give me a six, God – or I won’t be your friend!

It occurred to me, however, to wonder if some of us respond like that when God doesn’t seem to give us what we have asked for. How many of us feel really short-changed when things we have prayed about don’t happen – or at least not in the way we had hoped? Do we perhaps pull back and distance ourselves just that little bit from God? Maybe we choose to serve God just that bit less. Or perhaps we simply spend less time with God in prayer or bible reading.  But of course we’d never acknowledge this even to ourselves.  At least my granddaughter is being honest.

Then her next words made me think too. After threatening God with the withdrawal of her friendship, she decided God needed reminding who was actually doing the praying. ‘It’s Olivia here!’ she muttered, kind of under her breath as an afterthought. In other words: ‘Just in case you can’t quite tell who’s asking, God, or are a bit hard of hearing, I’m letting you know my name’s Olivia!’

Well, I tried to put her straight at that point and tell her God knows who she is and what she needs, so doesn’t need reminding – obviously she thinks God is perhaps like one of her grandfathers, who sometimes can’t quite tell which of his granddaughters he is talking to on the phone. And of course when he asks, she tells him in a hurt voice – ‘It’s Olivia here!’ So why not treat God like that too? Besides, God might be a bit absentminded as well and not quite remember her.

Olivia’s too young to understand fully yet that God in fact knew her long before she was even born and is intimately acquainted with us. In Psalm 139:2-4, we read:

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

So God knows our names and will hear us. Yet that doesn’t mean we will always get the ‘sixes’ we think we want or need – or at least not immediately. And it also doesn’t mean that when this happens, we sulk because we can’t control God. But I can’t help wondering, as I listen to my granddaughter, whether God would be more honoured my life if I were equally honest with him about my thoughts and feelings when I pray. After all, God knows them anyway – why pretend?

So let’s be God’s true and honest friends – all the time!

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