Living by priorities and not by pressure

This is a version of my very first Sunday sermon which I gave at St Andrew’s Church on 30/12/12.  You can hear it here if you prefer!

I love the chance to attend the last morning service of the year because it usually is used to have a look back at the year just gone, and gives us a chance to look forward.

And what a year to look back on! 2012 contained a number of nationwide which encouraged us to time out from the every-day to be part of something bigger and different, something which perhaps a lot of us have never experienced before.

Olympics buntingThe London 2012 Olympics, which we’ve been building up to for almost a decade finally arrived and I don’t know about you but I thought they were spectacular. I went to a couple of events and visited the Olympic Park.

I know people who had the opportunity to be a Gamesmaker and said their lives have changed forever because of volunteering. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was a lot of fun and brought communities together in unforeseen ways.

I am involved in the running of the One Can Trust Foodbank that supplies food aid to children and adults who find themselves in crisis across my hometown of High Wycombe. We have had our times this year when we’ve been low on food, we’ve had our times when we’ve been low on money, but the number of volunteers who have given a their time, a few minutes, a few hours, and some  much more than that, has never ceased to amaze and humble me.

Time & Resolutions

time and resolutionsAnd so as is traditional at the beginning of a New Year, people often make resolutions and think about how they spend time during the year.

Did you know, that if you do as the dentists suggest and brush your teeth 2 times a day for two minutes each time that works out at roughly 2 hours a month.  That’s 24 hours a year. That’s a whole day every year just spent brushing your teeth!

And so how much time do we spend on any specific activity? I dread to think how much time I’ve spent on Twitter and Facebook this year!

Thinking about that, made me think even more carefully about what I was going to do about making year’s New Year resolutions.

Usually resolutions are based on things we’ve done the year before that we don’t want to repeat in the next year such as cut down the amount of time spent watching tv. Or resolutions are promises to ourselves where we have identified something in our lives we want to do more of like exercise or travel. Or perhaps they are even bigger things, such as maybe we resolve to change a job or sort out a relationship that has gone sour.

Over the past 2 months with my church I’ve been looking at 1 Peter, his letter to early Christians, who were finding everyday life as Christians a struggle. In his letter, Peter calls Christians aliens, strangers living in the world and gives advice on what it means to live lives of suffering when the world tries to avoid pain and how to live moral lives in a morally confused world. You can listen to other talks on some of these subjects here

In concluding this series I am looking at the balance between living a pressured, time limited life and suggesting a few  resolutions will ensure we go into 2013 with some foundations we can all put in place that will help us live as strangers in the world.

So what are the pressures on Christians in particular?

  • We live the same every-day lives as everyone else:  we have jobs, children, parents, spouses, studies, debts, mortgages, hobbies, interests….
  • We also have a wide variety of tasks that we should doing specifically as Christians:
    • Making disciples of all nations
    • Love everyone as ourselves
    • Loving ourselves
    • Feeding the hungry
    • Healing the sick
    • Meet needs in our community
    • Plus enriching our lives as Christians with meetings (disciple groups, Sunday services)
    • And as Peter says in the beginning of the reading – the end of the world is nigh so there is the time pressure of the second coming and the end of this world as we know it.

juggleOf course, we all have different pressures on our lives, different people live in different ways. There are people for whom pressure takes the form of not having a multiple or a wide variety of activities and responsibilities in their lives and wanting to have more or to diversify. That pressure may take the form of what to choose to do, sometimes having a choice is as much pressure in itself as having none at all.

Think about the teeth brushing, it can be easy to see time disappear quickly.

A day a year brushing our teeth? Well then how much time do I spend driving my mum to the shops and taking her round Sainsburys? How much time do some of you spend taking your children to classes and groups? How much time do you spend commuting?

These things need doing, they are good things to do. They are serving other people either directly or indirectly. If you are a Christian, they are part of your Christian life and you shouldn’t worry about counting them as time wasted against serving and loving Jesus.

What do I mean by that?

Living the obvious Christian life is important.

Evangelising, telling people who Jesus is, and why he is worth following is really important.

ServingServing others is really important.

Helping where help is needed is really important. Being on the prayer team once a month, leading a Disciple group, cooking a meal for a family who need assistance, volunteering in the office, giving lifts to guests for the Christmas Day lunch are all amazing things to be doing with our time, talents and energy.

However, amongst of all of this, some of us may be exhausting ourselves and getting tied up in knots trying either to serve everyone all of the time.  In that case we may need to identify what it is we should be changing and giving up.

Some of us might need to identifiy what it is we could be doing differently or more of.

For many of us, we find ourselves thinking we are not living out a ‘Christian life’ because of ‘life.’

The words (and in some instances, jargon) we use to describe Christian life, mission, ministry, calling, plan, path, seem to indicate that our Christian life could be seen a separate entity to the rest of our lives. That is, being a Christian is something we do in addition to everything else and it seems impossible that we could ever do everything that is expected of us by God.

So how do we reconcile these two parts of our lives? 

Throughout the Bible, it is clear we’re not meant to distinguish between our ‘Christian life’ and any other type of ‘life’.

In Colossians 2:23 Paul says:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

And 1 Peter 4:11 says:

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. “

I’m not bringing this up to say: make sure you’re better at being a Christian all of the time.

I want to say you ARE a Christian all of the time, whether you feel like it or not.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book Boundaries say this:

“A helpful way to understand setting limits [and priorities] for ourselves is [recognising] that our lives are gifts from God. Just as a good store manager takes care of a shop for the owner, we are to do the same with our souls….when we say no to people and activities that are hurtful to us, we are protecting God’s investment.”

We all have lots of things to balance on a daily basis and it is important to know that there is a big difference between selfishness and being good stewards of our lives.

The Bible is clear that stewardship of our own lives is our own responsibility. We have to take deliberate actions such as when we “ask…seek…knock….” (Matt 7:7) and “we have to work out our own salvation.” (Phil 2;12.)

So let’s be equally clear about three things to start with and set our first resolution.

  • Living lives with boundaries and clear priorities is good.
  • We are in control of what we do and what we don’t do.
  • Everything we do should be done to God’s glory.

Resolution: Resolve to look at what you do already and weigh up if it helpful or harmful.

In 1 Peter 4:7-11, the focus of this sermon, there are plenty of things listed that we should be doing to transform our lives and by turn, the lives of the people around us.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I want to expand a couple of Peter’s instructions to the Christians who were struggling with the balance of every day life:

1. Be sober minded and self controlled for the sake of your prayers

Self control is about mindfulness, it is about actively deciding and doing something, or not doing something.

prayerThe word translated as in our the NIV version of 1 Peter 4 above as “sober minded” when referring to how to pray means “to have a sound mind, thinking about situations maturely and correctly.”

The use of the plural ‘prayers’ means we should be praying constantly, keeping a dialogue going with God, not only because we want to be in touch and communicate with Him, but so that we can respond effectively and appropriately to any given situation.

Peter is saying that by being informed, praying maturely and in ways where we have evaluated situations carefully we will be able to pray really effectively.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with crying out to God in desperate situations for help, nor with nattering away to him all day about the minutia of your life.But what Peter says is that being deliberate and making conscious decisions about your words to God will help YOU as much as HIS response will. The process of praying is as important as the prayer itself.

So be informed: read a newspaper, a book. Talk to a friend about a topic you’re struggling with. Then pray.

The important thing with Prayer is finding out what works for you, find out what connects you with God in a deliberate, self-controlled fashion.

Maybe keep a record of your prayers if that is something you know works for you or if you haven’t tried before. You might be surprised when you look back at what you’ve talked with God about, what answers to those prayers have materialised but you didn’t notice.  I kept a very sporadic prayer journal. Sometimes I keep it, sometimes I don’t. Do not beat yourself up for when you forget. God forgives you!

Resolution: Resolve to explore what prayer means to you: because being deliberate about it will help you pray effectively.

2. Love each other, as love covers a multitude of sins.

love other christiansPeter is quoting from Proverbs 10:12 where the scripture love covers a multitude of sins, first appears.

NT Wright in his book Early Christian Letters for Everyone says about Peter’s words:

“Peter, and Proverbs, doesn’t mean that what we call ‘love’ is a cover up’ operation, hiding things we’d rather not face. Rather the gift of love we are invited to offer one another minute by minute, day by day throughout our lives actually transforms situations, so that the multitude of sins which were there before are taken out of the equation. They are forgive! We can be reconciled! Instead of squabbling and fighting, we can now live together, and work together. ….learn a new habit of love and that will provide the answers.”

Jesus said: They will know you by your love. (John 13:35) Jesus is saying to his followers that if you nourish friendships with other Christians, and love one another, that love will shine out of you. If people see you genuinely caring for each other, what you have become attractive.

So pursuing our Christian fellowships, new and old, and putting time into them is a way of showing Jesus’ love!

In this world, healthy relationships can seem unattainable. Jesus is saying, make your friendships and relationships with other Christians a priority.

Isn’t that amazing –  Spend time with people! Love them! That should be a resolution we make reasonably easily because the way we spend time with each other, care for each other will not only make a difference to our lives, but through the example it sets and the difference it makes to us, our lives will be a beacon to those who might not yet know Jesus.

Perhaps that witness is why Peter is so earnest about this?  The ESV translates love each other deeply as “love each other EARNESTLY”

That use of the word earnest speaks to me of more effort being required. Perhaps we think hospitality and sharing time with other Christians should be easy, but that isn’t reality is it especially when we should be seeking to be more vulnerable with our Christian brothers and sisters than we are in many other relationships.

And so again, we’re back to our theme of Living as Strangers in the world. Being a Christian can be tough, getting the balance right is tough. Peter is suggesting that to combat those difficulties, to benefit yourself and your Christian brothers and sisters, and while you’re at it, set a brilliant example to the world, earnestly love your fellow Christians!

Resolution: Resolve to reflect on how you love other Christians.

3. Practise Hospitality: a practical way of expressing earnest love, especially when it is done without grumbling.

HospitalityWe’ve made it through a Christmas season where offering hospitality without grumbling is nigh on an impossible task. I was round my mum’s house the other day as she was getting her hair cut. Her hairdresser was loudly disparaging her sister who was not ‘taking her turn’ at hosting the Christmas meal that year, and was refusing to invite one of her estranged parents to any part of their festivities.

It is hard, to be hospitable where there are hurts, where there is a cost and where there is a lack of time and energy and money. Sometimes the last thing I want to do on a Wednesday night, when my Disciple group are about to descend, is welcome them in, when really I want to go to bed with my book. A dreadful admission, but a true one.

But did you know, the Bible has much more to say about offering each other hospitality than it ever says about being at church meetings.

And the fact Peter stresses the need to offer hospitality without grumbling, clearly indicates he knows the act isn’t always easy or natural.

Jesus was pretty good at taking parts in acts of hospitality. He was always going where people were and more often than not, people turned up wherever he was! Jesus went to weddings and he went to parties, organised events. He also wandered in wheat fields with his friends and he spent time at his friend’s houses, see Luke 10:38-42 The Message:

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home.

Jesus had gone to a friend’s house and felt ‘quite at home.’ That sounds relaxing, restful, comfortable, genuine.

Jesus also knew there was a balance to be maintained between work, rest and play, and that the balance needed to be demonstrated to his disciples and those that followed him so they would know to keep that balance themselves.

Resolution: Resolve to explore what hospitality means to you.

So in conclusion, how do we do all of this? If any of it were easy we’d have done it before.

In our reading we get the answer, 1 Peter 4:11:

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

If anyone speaks….if anyone serves….they should do so with the strength God provides. That’s the key, God will provide us with the strength we need to do everything we need to do.

How do we know this is true? Well because Jesus gets it. He lived a life full of human tensions too. The balance is tough.

Jesus did go to the Synagogue as he was meant to. He attended the temple when he was meant to. But he didn’t spend all of his time there, nor did he go there to the detriment of his family and friends for the sake of being there.

Jesus, as God, could surely have worked 24/7/365 for the 3 years of his ministry had he chosen to.  He could have healed more, raised more from the dead, taught more. Surely he was capable of that level of work and could have foregone sleep!  But he didn’t.

We should be disciplined as he was disciplined, and we should be deliberate about our lives as he was deliberate.

So coming back to where we started, looking back at 2012 and forward to 2013. Maybe it is time to make resolutions that will help you make informed choices about how to move forward into 2013.

  • Resolve to look at what we do already, how we spend our time, and determine if it is helpful or harmful to us
  • Resolve to explore what Prayer means to you
  • Resolve to reflect on how you love other Christians & yourself
  • Resolved to explore what Hospitality means to you
  • Resolve to take time to explore what it means to be doing things in God’s strength rather than our own.

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