Making Yourself Heard | Research

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I often get asked for help or feedback about preaching, teaching and general public speaking. In the next few posts I will pass on some of the things that are useful for me. Obviously they will reflect my particular field of communication – but I am sure that some skills are transferable.

Let’s start with the research that is needed prior to the delivery.

 Prayer is your first step in preparation. That way you acknowledge your dependence and humble submission to serve Him and His people. Ask God for guidance/clarity with regards to your message. He might guide you through a passage, an idea or sometimes just speak on what you are passionate about or what you have been asked to.

 Read the passage(s) at least 10 times in different versions of the Bible (see http://www.biblegateway.com). Read slowly and carefully, underlining or circling words that catch your attention. Make sure that you are familiar with it. Take time to tell to yourself what the passage is about – in your own words.

 Look at the context of the passage carefully – make sure you understand it. The danger is that your text might become a pretext. (If you are not careful you can make the text say what you want; it should be the other way around). Get a feel of why that is where it is. What is related to? Is it just randomly placed there in isolation?

 Make sure that you understand what the main ideas are. Ask questions of the text (imagining you are part of your listeners) – and make sure that you understand the ideas, words & principles that you are trying to convey. Don’t be afraid to ‘wrestle’ with the text – as that very often will bring the most rewarding results.

 Read a commentary on the passage/verses (if you can) to see what other thinkers understood from the passage. Try to avoid teh temptation to skip the previous steps. You might buy yourself some time but you are less likely to develop your understnading and be original.

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Intentional Growth

Summer is approaching. It is often a different season in the life of the church. Often we have been involved in seeing and experiencing God’s love in so many different ways. Some go abroad on missions; others go to camps or Conferences/Christian Festivals. Undoubtedly God has spoken to us, touched our hearts, encouraged our souls and challenged our lifestyles. Yet so very often we can fail to build on those experiences and they simply become part of our nostalgic past. I want to suggest to you several ways – general principles that are helpful for any spiritual experience – that can help us go deeper in living the realities of God’s truth in our ordinary days.

Write it down: for some reason writing helps us remember things better and allow them to become more personal. Journal your experiences with God and the promises He makes to you – as well as the ones you make to Him. When things are put in writing it also shows that we are serious – it gives them weight. The other advantage is that later on in the years to come you can re-read those experiences and trace back the faithfulness of God.

Tell others: this often shows our courage in acknowledging the experience and provides great opportunity to become accountable to someone close or even the entire church family. In the process they will be encouraged and their faith will be built up too. As David puts it in Psalm 71:14-19: ‘But as for me, I shall always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you?’

Ask: sometimes it is so difficult to discern what we can/should do about what have just experienced. At times like that it is so important to be prepared to ask/enter in conversation with other believers around us. Paul paints the picture of the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-20) as body – made up of many different yet complementary parts – showing that we need one another in order to function in a healthy way. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, raise issues, express doubts – if that will make our experiences of God deeper.

Do something about it:  this is probably the most important step. The ‘God experiences’ we have are meant to bring change, they are meant to spill out in our everyday life and affect those around us. As James puts it (1:22-24): ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.’ Avoid the trap of simply building up your theology without any practical outworking. So very often our own transformation comes though obedient action. Just do it!

The Mighty Captain

Here is another guest post – this time I am honoured to host my friend Grace – http://graceschienbein.wordpress.com/

I don’t know about you, but too many times in my life I have been guilty of imagining God as a caricature of who He really is.  I’ve been a Christian a long time, since I was a very little girl, in fact.  Unfortunately, because I have been immersed in Church culture for so long, religious tradition can creep into my understanding of who He is.

I hate to admit it, but I have sometimes thought of God as a buddy— he loves me, he’s involved in my life, he cares… kinda. But when all is said and done, he’s got his own stuff to worry about.   When I was younger I imagined him one of two ways, either as my “granddad in the clouds”, possibly with naked, winged babies crowding around him;  or as the perpetual Christ on the cross, broken wounded, spat upon… bleeding all the more every time I sinned.  I’ve even, on occasion, thought of him as some faceless entity, distant and unknowable; who only pays attention to me if I’ve done something very wrong or very right.

But God is, of course, much more multi faceted, much more complex, much more “person” than even his creation.  Fortunately for me, because a relationship isn’t one sided, God creeps into my skewed perspective and transforms my understanding of who he is.

A couple of years ago now, I heard someone give a talk about praising God, and they mentioned asking God to give you a song* to start your day with.  I really can’t remember much else about the talk, not even who gave it… but it sounded good. It sounded Holy.  It sounded like something that would bring about a quick spiritual high, one of those wonderfully addictive things us Christians enjoy very much.

As I went to bed that night I prayed, asking God to give me a song as I woke up.  I even imagined what the song might be and how it might impact my day.  What would it mean?!

When morning arrived, I literally woke up humming Gilbert and Sullivan’s, “Give three cheers and one cheer more—for the mighty captain of the Pinafore.”

I didn’t connect it immediately, and thought to myself, “Where did THAT come from?” Very clearly God spoke to me and said, “You asked for a song, you didn’t specify what kind.”  I sat in bed laughing my head off.  God loves me.  He loves me and He knows me.  He knows I like a little good hearted teasing, He knows that I enjoy a good laugh… he did both.   That ridiculous song not only made me love him more, it made me worshipful that day.  Mission accomplished.

Isn’t God wonderful and personal and… just, amazing really.

*Psalm 42:8 By day the LORD decrees his loyal love, and by night he gives me a song, a prayer to the living God

The Narrow Way

Glad to have my good colleague, friend, poet and brother in arms guest posting this week. He blogs here – http://truthisanarrow.blogspot.co.uk/. Enjoy.

Imagine the widest gate you can think of. Got it? How far apart are the posts? Now imagine a gate even wider than that, so wide that you could not see either of its posts. With a gate so wide it would be entirely possible to pass through it without even knowing you were doing so. Okay. Hold that thought.

I am a frequent user of facebook, it’s fair to say, and when I was asked to write a guest blog for this page (Thank you Cristi) I was involved in an online discussion around the following verses that a friend of mine had just posted. I felt almost immediately that this is what I should blog about.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Easy access?

During the discussion I came to a point of understanding. We often want our words to have a mass appeal, to see hundreds flock into our churches, but Jesus doesn’t seem to see it like that. You will remember that on the day of Pentecost, and early on in Acts, that it is the Lord who added to their number, daily. What were they doing? They were getting on with the business of being the church. Sharing, serving, breaking bread and being devoted to teaching and learning. But it is God who gives the increase. I think Jesus has little time for the mass appeal. Get it right and the rest will follow.

If you look  a bit further along, at the story of the rich young ruler, in Chapter 19 (The young man who goes away sad because he doesn’t want to give his wealth away) , you will not see a Jesus that clamours for the favour of his hearers, or one who seeks to coerce others to belief through persuasive words. Actually you won’t see that kind of Jesus anywhere in the gospels. If anything Jesus seems to seek to put people off. It seems to me like his call is ‘How much do you want this?’ He doesn’t accept the lowest common denominator, which is a loose adherence to Christian beliefs and a willingness to show up on a Sunday.

Narrow entrance

When I was very young my Mother went to pick up the new family car one day. My father had recently got a promotion and this was the first brand new car that they had ever bought, straight out of the show room. Whilst my Dad was at work the call came through that the Vauxhall Victor was ready for collection, a little earlier than expected. My Mum was so excited; bless her, that she had the bright idea of putting the car in the Garage so my father wouldn’t see it when he returned. She would then be able to give him a surprise. She did that alright. You see the Victor was a rather wide American style car (I’m told) and the Garage door was a rather narrow English style Garage door. She had left the door open on leaving the house so she could drive it straight in on her return, which she duly did. The car, with excruciating predictability became a bit stuck in the entrance.

And the entrance requirement is high. The gate to the kingdom is narrow. It’s a squeeze. There is only room for you. Possessions, ego, emotional baggage all have to come off so we can pass through. We may charge in because what we see beyond is so good but we may well get stuck in that entrance.

I think many of us can spend our whole lives stuck in that entrance. The narrow way is hard.

When out walking on my own once, on holiday, I came across a one of those kissing gates.  As I approached, I could see there was something there and, as I got nearer, I saw it was a sheep.  I thought to myself that it would just run off when it saw me coming. But it did not move. This sheep’s running days were well and truly over. To my alarm and disgust I saw that it was dead. I wondered what could have caused its death. Then I saw that its long curling horns had become entangled in the framework of the gate. It must have lain down for a little rest and was unable to ever get up again. It died there of dehydration.

And I thought about what a picture that was, that we become settled and comfortable in this narrow gateway but don’t go through, in effect dying there. Jesus told us to count the cost.  I, for one, do not want to become stuck, or held back from pressing on to take hold of what Jesus took hold of me for.

And, if we become stuck in the gateway, as that sheep did to me, we can cause blockages preventing others from going through themselves.

And the narrow gates pattern is one for our whole Christian life, not just the beginning.  I think we always need to be looking for the narrow way. The thing that personally alarms me most about Jesus’ parable, are the words ‘only a few find it’. I think we need to be at least looking.

The broad road is the default setting, being swept along with the crowd, not questioning anything. And millions will just shrug and say to you ‘gate, what gate?’ I don’t remember choosing any broad road’. But they are on it, and it leads to destruction.

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.~John 10:9

It leads to Life

So where, oh where, is the encouragement in all these bleak reflections? Well here’s the thing. Wherever you make one of those Narrow gate choices it leads to LIFE. Just like the choice you made in the first place to give your life to Christ. It bought such life, such clean and pure joy, such purpose, such worth and such love. All things you couldn’t begin to see from the other side of the gate, when you were dead in your sins. Abundant life.  And there is more yet to come. Things which we haven’t perceived but that are waiting for us when we find that narrow way. Don’t settle for anything less.

Everything Matters

guest-posts

Here is the second of my guest posts – by Vicky Karg (one of my former protegees :)). I am proud of her and honoured to host her guest-post. Here is where she blogs – http://vkacrossthewater.blogspot.ca/ – go visit!

 I read a book recently on the “Starbucks Experience.” Being a recent “coffee convert” and also my interest in marketing had me devouring this book pretty fast! There’s a quote from the beginning of one of the chapters though that’s stuck with me:

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” -Leo Buscaglia

It made me think of God and how it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. And repentance is “to turn a life around” isn’t it? This has been so true in my life. Many people think that God is a God of wrath and judgement, and He is. He’s also a God of love, gentleness and patience. Many times he has been patiently waiting for me to return to Him and I’m thankful that listening to His whisper, i’m sure, has often saved me from his wrath.

So, what does that look like in my own life? Well, there’s been times when I haven’t really felt like responding with a kind word or a listening ear, but honestly, I know that God has prompted and reminded me that that’s exactly what He’s done for me and so I need to follow His lead!

The title of that chapter of the book was “Everything Matters.” More and more I’m seeing that every opportunity and every interaction we have with one another matters. In those moments we have the potential to turn a life around.

This past weekend at a conference we were hosting, the speaker told the story of a time she had felt God prompting her to invite her regular bank clerk out for lunch. She’d told the Lord that she thought that would be a little awkward since she didn’t know this lady, and so she’d let it slide for a while. Every time she drove past the bank though, she heard God’s whisper. So, in she went and asked the lady if she might, perhaps, maybe just like to go for lunch one day with her? The lady jumped at the chance and asked if she was free the next day! It came out in conversation over lunch that next day that the lady, two weeks ago, lonely and desperate, had almost committed suicide. What stopped her was that God told her, He was sending her a friend. They carried on meeting every week for the next 2 years to talk and study the Word together.

What a reminder that the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, even an invitation to lunch can breath Life into someones day. Everything Matters.

Personal Prayer Tools

In order to develop our personal prayer life, I have discovered that:

1.     There is no blueprint; just hints, i.e. The Lord’s Prayer

2.     We have different personalities and communicate with God differently

3.     I keep learning all the time as I grow as a ‘prayer’

Here are some things that I find helpful. Don’t copy them but they might just spark some inspiration.

  • Read – a lot of people are stimulated and inspired by reading
    • Bible, especially Biblical prayer in all their variety
    • Biographies of inspiring believers in history
    • Books – anything spurs you to pray
  • Daily plan – get disciplined but not religious (heartless duty) about prayer
    • This isn’t just about a quiet time
    • Discipline is required – Set yourself reminders
    • Pray as a conversation rather than just an appointment
    • Appointments will make sure you don’t forget
    • Put ‘God’ rather than ‘prayer’ as  a subject
  • Pop up prophetic prompt
    • Sometimes a name or a situation comes ‘out of the blue’ in your mind
    • Turn that thought to prayer
    • Get in touch with the person and tell them you prayed for them
    • Often God’s Spirit matches needs with intercessors
  • Pray through a Week Prayer calendar/church directory
    • If you have a church directory/make one – pray daily for a few people
    • Pray for different topics daily: Missions on Monday, your nation on Tuesday
  • Prayer walk your street and pray for your neighbours
  • Pray a Bible passage through the week: fruit of the Spirit, beatitudes
  • Pray for One More Soul – Pray specifically and intentionally for one person that needs to discover God’s grace

Love the Weirdo

This starts a series of posts from good friends who are gifted writers – much better than me.

They have different backgrounds and come from all around the world. Here is Josh’s (http://joshfox.co.uk/) offering.

Thanks, Josh!

Mark 5:2-5 “When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones”

Out of all the people that Jesus healed and loved, this demon possessed man in chains was the only one he purposefully sought out, all others came to him. Jesus was always open to people coming to him to be healed, but he never pursued them…except for this one time. This one time Jesus went out of his way, he crossed a lake and traveled through a storm to get to this man. Once he had healed him he just went straight back over to the other side to continue his work.

Why did Jesus go out of his way for this man? Why out of all the people he healed did he pursue this one person? Because he was a lost cause. This man had no capacity to pursue Jesus, he had no capacity to have faith, unless someone reached out to him he would have no chance of freedom. The mentally unstable are often the ones who need most attention, they often do not have the capacity to pursue faith. They need someone to lead them, direct them and usher them into a life with God.

We believe in reaching out to the lonely, the broken and the hurting, we preach about it all the time, but in our minds we only imagine reaching the ones who are… ‘normal’. Not the weirdos, not the crazy people, not the ones who creep us out, not the mentally unstable. We are very comfortable reaching people for God, but perhaps only comfortable with those who have a reasonable degree of sanity?

These kind of people are the ones who need our love the most, but the sad thing is they are often last to receive it. Why? Because mental instability is our modern-day leprosy, we are scared of it, we don’t understand it, it un-nerves us and creeps us out. They are the people that we quickly move away from, that we avoid in the streets, those we hope they don’t sit next to us on the bus.

Jesus was willing to touch the leper, but are we willing to reach out and touch the lives of the mentally unstable?