Assuming belief in the supernatural, if humans have a spirit, can it grow?
Christians would answer affirmatively, but maybe the real question is whether its’ development is something that they take an active part in. Physical training is undoubtedly vital for sportsmen and women, who live lives dedicated to getting the best out of their physical bodies and skills. They commit to following a monitored diet and fitness regime. They don’t expect to simply turn up and be able to perform and play to the best of their abilities. Similarly, I believe that if Christians are to take their faith seriously, then the same principle of training and commitment to a certain lifestyle needs to be applied. Whilst Christians are saved by God’s grace, and cannot earn their salvation, they are clearly responsible for their lives and how they live them. St. Paul says that “while physical exercise has some value, spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next” (1 Tim 4:8). In my view, the question of what this “spiritual exercise” looks like can best be answered by studying the spiritual disciplines such as solitude and fasting that have long been practiced throughout the ages and that were also central to Jesus Christ’s life – Christ was tempted by the devil whilst in the middle of a long period of fasting and before he was arrested to be crucified, He purposefully spent time alone in prayer.
See: Dallas Willard – ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’.
Categories: Biblical Scriptures
Tags: belief, discipline, exercise, faith, fasting, fitness, Paul, Prayer, silence, spiritual, Timothy, training, workoiut
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint Jeremiah 31v25.
I have been feeling emotionally and physically drained recently. A few weeks ago I completed a Masters in Education which took me over five years to do, with the last six months proving to be especially grueling.
Reason dictates that in order to restore strength I should now rest. My default position in any case is to watch movies whenever I can and put my feet up. The problem is, it only works up to a point and doesn’t bring back much ‘strength’.
Society is full of books and people who give us step by step plans designed to help us feel rested and strong, whereas the Christian way of life almost seems too easy, as the first thing that God often wants from us is to just spend time with Him, primarily through prayer. The simple act of doing this may be ‘refreshing’ for our souls.
“The thing that keeps God out of our lives is not our sin. It is our compulsion to pretend, to cover up our nakedness with fig leaves, to climb sycamore trees in order to see without being seen”.
Pete Greig. God on Mute. Page 78.
I’ve been challenged recently to be constantly and habitually honest in prayer. I’ve realized that I actually find it a lot easier to be honest to those closest to me than to really be honest to God. I find in prayer that it is all too easy to follow the same old format, to repeat the same fixed expressions, true and meaningful though they are. Even after looking through the Psalms and seeing how brutally honest some of those laments are, even after reading and talking to others about how God responds to our honesty, how it unfazes Him and how he responds to it, this still hasn’t meant that I’m any closer to being honest with God on a daily basis when I shut the door and pray to Him.
Possible Solution: Pray for God’s help to be more honest!
I have recently been encouraged by the published UN report which details the labour and prison camps currently being enforced by the North Korean dictatorial regime. The report compares the systematic human rights abuses that are being carried out to those of the Nazis and has already referred the matter to the International Criminal Court. Ever since I read Blaine Harden’s book ‘Escape from Camp 14’, which relates the account of one man’s escape from such a camp, I have had North Korea very much on my mind. The constantly changing political landscape and the instant, immediate way that the news is broadcast nowadays means that it is easy to adopt a passive indifference every time we hear of a new dictatorship that has emerged or a civil war that has sprung up, but I believe that the situation in North Korea has been going on for far too long for the West to continue to justify turning a blind eye to it. Prayer and action can make a difference!
Here is one of many petitions being run online to raise awareness. This one is being carried out by the British Government:
Here is a video taken from a North Korean tour bus which gives a very brief glimpse into the hardships taking place:
Here is an insightful article about the UN report, taken from the UK’s Guardian newspaper:
Categories: Human rights
Tags: abuse, action, belief, camp, christianity, dictator, faith, human rights, media, news, North Korea, politics, Prayer, prison
“Although God lives in the souls of men who are unconscious of Him, how can I say that I have found Him and found myself in Him if I never know Him or think of Him, never take any interest in Him or seek Him or desire His presence in my soul? What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall short of Him.”
Thomas Merton. ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’.
If I don’t know any of the players on a soccer team, am oblivious to any of the team’s achievements, and never watch any of their games, can I still call myself a supporter? Technically, yes, but doesn’t being a supporter of a team mean that one has to provide some kind of support? Surely one has to invest some part of his/her time or resources into following the club, otherwise the word ‘supporter’ simply becomes meaningless. I think an approximate analogy can be made regarding one’s relationship with God. If we don’t invest anything into our relationship with God, do we still maintain the right to call ourselves a believer in Him?
Tags: analogy, belief, believer, contemplation, faith, investment, Prayer, relationship, Religion, soccer, soul, supporter, team, Thomas Merton
I’ve been challenged recently about how one can easily disengage the heart when praying and slip into the familiarly repetitive, pre-meditated expressions that almost seem to be solely for our own benefit. The quote below is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’.
“Genuine prayer is never ‘good works,’ an exercise or a pious attitude, but it is always the prayer of a child to a Father. Hence it is never given to self-display, whether before God, ourselves, or other people. If God were ignorant of our needs, we should have to think our beforehand how we should tell him about them, what we should tell him, and whether we should tell him or not. Thus faith, which is the mainspring of Christian prayer, excludes all reflection and premeditation.
Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When men pray, they have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action.” (P.163)
Tags: belief, bonhoeffer, christian life, discipleship, faith, good works, hidden character, needs, personal, Prayer, Religion, self-display, talk to God, trust
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (New International Version)
In J Warner Wallace’s book ‘Cold Case Christianity’, the author offers a fresh perspective on the difference between believing in something and believing that something will happen. The author recounts how a policeman friend of his was called to a crime scene where he was suddenly threatened at gunpoint by a convicted criminal out on parole. Before the policeman could draw his own gun, he realized that the convict was going to shoot him in the chest, and so in that brief second of realization he was forced to trust in the bulletproof vest that he was fortunately wearing. He had naturally been briefed before that bulletproof vests can protect the wearer from the force of a bullet, but, as the author points out, there is a big difference between believing that bulletproof vests can save your life, and actually believing in them.
The link between this story and faith in God is evident, and I think that the dramatic situation of being forced to believe in something at gunpoint is also very relevant. The Bible verses quoted at the top of this blog are some of my favourites, as regrettably it often seems to me that my default position when things in life are going well is to ease off from praying and trusting in God. It sometimes feels like I have to be suddenly confronted ‘at gunpoint’ with the potential gravity of a situation, before I will sincerely come before God in petition and prayer.
Tags: belief, believe in something, bulletproof, criminal, faith, God, gunpoint, James, perseverance, Prayer, testing, trial, trust, Warner Wallace
Modern man: When I have finished my current piece of work and that long awaited side project, when this venture has finally been completed and I eventually get round to starting that job and seeing it through to the end, then I will find myself once again at the mercy of whatever life throws at me next.
To its great cost, society places little value on sanctuary. Silence is considered to be for the monks, meditation to be Eastern, and prayer an act of desperation. We are totally dependent on background noise. Something has to be happening, all of the time. Society’s ultimate tool, the internet, is great for information, but is an enemy of thought.
I am not yet going to propose a radical solution. For the time being I just wanted to reflect on this state of affairs and encourage us to consider the consequences that this has on our lives.
“There is no ‘human rights issue’ in this country, as everyone leads the most dignified and happy life.”
North Korean Central News Agency.
“North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photos, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.”
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. By Blaine Harden.
Blaine Harden’s book ‘Escape from Camp 14’ details the true life story of a young man who was born into a North Korean prison camp and 23 years later became the only person known to have escaped. The first half of the book describes the unbearably harsh conditions that he was exposed to as a child, the second part depicts his escape into China and subsequent years of gradual rehabilitation up until the present day and his current role as a human rights activist working in South Korea.
I do not intend to review the book here, instead I imagine it is suffice to say that I easily read it in a day, and then immediately wanted to tell others about it.
I simply wanted to promote awareness about the political prison camps in North Korea as I believe they warrant our attention and prayer.
Blaine Harden’s website: http://www.blaineharden.com
Wikipedia page on human rights in North Korea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_North_Korea
I want to briefly deviate from the proposed apologetics / social concern / human rights theme and shortly write about what has been happening at home recently. It fits in quite well to my first blog about prayer.
Last week both my wife and son were consecutively admitted to hospital with suspected food poisoning. I was naturally fearful about it and started to pray that they would both be ok. However, shortly after I prayed for their well-being, I realized that I was still just as worried as I was before.
If one does not sense some kind of peace of mind or reassurance from prayer, then one could deduce that s/he does not fully trust in whom s/he is praying to.
I cannot claim that after several days of hospital visits, anxious moments and earnest prayers that I now feel completely at ease with a still ongoing situation, but can state that I have found genuine encouragement and belief through several verses written thousands of years ago by people going through some considerable troubles of their own.
A few memorable ones:
“But when I am afraid, I put my trust in you… I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 56 verses 3-4. Written by King David when his enemies had captured him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3 verse 5. Written by Solomon, the third King of Israel, between 971-931 B.C.