Good – but not what I expected!

I’m now a quarter of the way through my sabbatical and thought it might be a good time for another update.  These first three weeks have been really good, but not at all what I’d expected…

Week 1 – Family Holiday in Northumberland

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Edge of the Cheviot Hills, Northumberland

The first week was a lovely family holiday with some friends in Northumberland.  It was just what I hoped for – good weather, in a lovely place, doing very chilled out things and enjoying some great food with lovely people.  I don’t think that there’s any part of that week that I’d have changed if I could – other than perhaps having slightly larger beds in the house we were in, and remembering to take some sun cream – despite it being Northumberland in April I got rather sunburnt.

But what surprised me was that at the end of a lovely week’s holiday, with nothing really to do but relax, I found myself feeling more rather than less stressed.  In fact when we were back home at the end of the week I was positively grumpy.

Week 2 – Shepherd’s Hut in the Lake District

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The Hut (pink like my sunburn)

And that meant that when I headed off for the second week – a week on my own in a shepherd’s hut in the Lake District – I was feeling somewhat apprehensive. Would I come back feeling even more stressed and frustrated?

Well I’m pleased to say it was an excellent week, and by the end of it the feelings of stress and frustration had entirely gone, and I wouldn’t be surprised if how that happened means that week turns out to be the most important of the sabbatical. What that week was more than anything was time to think, pray and read.

The hut was very comfortable and completely free from electricity, internet, and most of the time phone signal. The weather was tremendous so I had some really lovely walks, bagging the first few fells of the Sabbatical – Loughrigg (1099 ft), Stone Arthur (1652 ft), Great Rigg (2513 ft) and Heron Pike (2003 ft).

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The first thing that a combination of isolation and exercise did was enable me to rest really well. For the first time in literally years I found myself waking up in the morning feeling thoroughly rested and not at all tired. It was such an unusual sensation that I wasn’t sure what it was at first!

The second thing was that I had some time to think about what was making me feel stressed, frustrated and grumpy. And when I gave a bit of time to thinking about it a flood of things from the last several years came to mind – things that I thought I had forgotten about. Some were work things that hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, others were relationships that had been strained, and others were just things that, for whatever reason, had been hurtful. Few of them were of any real size, although some had been fairly big deals. I was really surprised how things from years ago, as well as some more recent, were able to affect how I was feeling in the present.

Before coming on sabbatical a friend recommended a book that he found very helpful at the start of his sabbatical some time ago, Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall. It’s a book that firstly makes Jesus’ command that we forgive people who have hurt us starkly clear, and then secondly gives some really practical steps we can take to be able to do so. I spent the Tuesday of that week reading it and found it very helpful. I spent that evening praying for God to bless the people I was feeling most hurt by and had the most tremendous sense of a burden lifting and a wonderful sense of peace.

I think this has taught me something quite important: I need to get much better at processing things that have frustrated me. None of the things that came up are things that I had consciously tried to bury, but the nature of the pace of my working week, and the fact that I spent much of my time with people who are dealing with far more painful things than I have, meant that rather than pay any attention to the things that were bothering me I would simply move onto the next thing in my diary.

A Study Project – Forgiveness and the Imprecatory Psalms

Thinking about forgiveness like this, though, has also raised an interesting study project that I spent some of that week working on and that I plan to spent much more time looking at. It’s really a project about the relationship between the imprecatory Psalms and Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.

The imprecatory Psalms are the ones like Psalm 69 where David appeals to God to judge his enemies. Many Christian pastors, myself included, see these Psalms as a helpful way for people to deal with anger in a godly way. It is inevitable that people will, from time to time, wrong us, and when Jesus taught his disciples to pray ‘forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us’ he was assuming that people would be ‘sinned against’.  So it’s inevitable that people will feel anger from time to time. The question is what should we do with that anger?

One option is to take it out on the person we are angry with, or even worse on an unrelated third party who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the revenge option, and it’s not a good one.

A second option is to somehow repress the feeling of anger and to not give it any expression. This is the burying option, and although it’s not as obviously destructive as the first psychologists do tell us about the dangers of repressing strong emotions because they have a habit of festering and reemerging some time later. The burying option can actually be as destructive as revenge, only it’s a different person who gets damaged.

The imprecatory Psalms give us a third option, handing the anger over to God. When a Christian prays a Psalm like 69 today he or she can effectively pray something like ‘O God – you know what _____ has done to me, and you know how angry I feel about it. I would love to do something to get even, but I know it is your place, not mine, to judge. So I am telling you just how strongly I feel and how cross I am, and right now, in the heat of my anger, I feel that I would love you to do _____ to them. But it’s a good thing that you’re an impartial judge and able to make a much better decision on what should be done than I am. So whilst I might love them to take a nice confident step in bare feet on an upturned plug I am going to leave it to you, O just Lord, to do what is right.’

This third option avoids the destruction of revenge or burying and gives an appropriate outlet for strong feelings, handing it over to God for him to deal with.

But the question I am now wrestling with is how does this fit with Jesus saying Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt 5:44) or Paul saying Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them (Rom 12:14)? Have I, along with many other pastors, misunderstood what the imprecatory Psalms are for, and was David in fact wrong to pray in the way he did? Or is there a way where the two come together and give a fuller picture of how a Christian should deal with anger? If you’re someone who prays I’d very much appreciate your prayers for me as I continue to wrestle with this question.

Week 3 – Back Home

ppsThat lovely week of studying and walking was followed by an equally lovely, but very different, week back home. Highlights of that week were going to some friends’ wedding in Oxford, helping Ali shovel coal into the biggest steam engine we’ve ever seen at Papplewick Pumping Station, taking Ali to the cinema  (Boss Baby is not a great film…), a day that Kate and I had to ourselves with Ali at nursery, assembling an Ikea kitchen island, and repairing my grandmothers old kitchen table.

I’m now back in the Lakes, with still more perfect weather. I rather overdid the walking yesterday – Hardknott (1801 ft) and Harter Fell (2128 ft) – although not huge were part of significantly longer walk than I’ve done recently and I was very grateful for a lift in a 23-year-old Ford Fiesta for the final bit back to the car at the top of Hardknott Pass.  Absolutely stunning views throughout the day though.

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The rest of this week will be a mixture of walking and studying.  And this time I’ve remembered to bring sun cream.

 

 

Beginning the Sabbatical

So I’ve just finished my last bit of ‘normal work’ for the next three months, and am about to head off on Sabbatical until 17th July.  It’s a very strange feeling indeed!  The last few days have been frantically busy tying up all the loose ends before heading off, and it’s only really now that I’m having a chance to pause and think about it.  And as I do that there are a few thoughts and feelings uppermost in my mind.

  1. Gratitude!  I am so grateful to a generous diocese, wonderful colleagues, and a hugely supportive church family who together have made it possible for me to take this time off.  The list of people who are shouldering extra burdens while I’m away is too long to include here, but I must mention our superb curate Tom who is hugely stepping up into new roles. 

    But even more than to the diocese, Tom, and the rest of the family at St. Mary’s, I am so grateful to the Lord of the Sabbath, who wonderfully invites his people to rest.  What a generous God who includes periods of rest in his commandments for how his people should live.

  2. Tiredness.  Or perhaps I should say exhaustion.  I am absolutely shattered!  Partly from the last few weeks – who on earth thought it would be a good idea for me to be getting ready for Easter and finishing off everything else in readiness for sabbatical at the same time?  The last week in particular has been full of very long days and not all that much sleep, so i’m not entirely surprised that I’m feeling it now, nor that I seem to have caught a stinker of a cold.

    But there’s a deeper tiredness than that.  I’ve been trying to serve St. Mary’s for very nearly ten years now, and I’ve definitely felt myself flagging and getting a bit stale in these last couple of years, and in these last few months in particular it feels that I’ve somewhat run out of steam.  I’m really praying, and I’d value your prayers too, that this time off will enable me to come back with way more energy, and a much fresher and more enthusiastic approach to the work that I love so much, and a closer walk with God.

  3. Apprehension.  I really don’t know how I’m going to find this time.  I’ll be spending two out of every three weeks away from home, and one out of every three weeks on my own.  There are so many people (the church family) and things (my coffee machine) that I’ll miss, not least the work that has become so familiar over the years!  I suspect that without the routine of daily prayer meetings, service planning, staff team meetings, sermon writing, pastoral visits and so on I’ll feel quite disorientated.

    That, I think, is part of why it’s so valuable to have a sabbatical – it’s not just about the rest but it’s also about reconnecting with what it is to simply be a person – a Christian, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and so on – without it all being about the fact I wear a dog collar from time to time.

    This is one of the reasons why I’m still going to be visiting St. Mary’s from time to time on a Sunday – for me to learn, and perhaps for everyone else to learn, what it is for me to simply be part of the family without having any particular role.

  4. Excitement.  Despite the apprehension I am really looking forward to it. Tomorrow morning we’re leaving the house in the hands of a friend and the dog and are heading off to Northumberland for what will simply be a family holiday with some friends.  There’s no big agenda here – just to unwind and and enjoy a holiday.

    Then in a week’s time, I’m beginning the sabbatical proper with a week on my own, in a hut in a field in the Lake District.  I’m excited about lots of time to read, pray and think, whilst taking lots of the form of exercise I enjoy most (fell walking) and getting lots of fresh air.

    And I’m excited about the prospect of several weeks like that – some in a tent by myself, some in a cottage with family and friends, and some back home in my study.  I’m excited that several weeks like that – eleven to be precise – should enable me to come back to St. Mary’s refreshed, re-energised, and re-envisioned for another decade of ministry.

Right – I think I’d better go and get packed!

Please don’t give up chocolate!

Have you given any thought as to how you could make the most of Lent?  Are you planning on giving up something this year?  If so the interesting question to me is not what, but why?  What benefit do you hope to derive from it?

There are all sorts of good reasons that people have for giving up the traditional unhealthy luxuries – chocolate, alcohol and so on – but are you doing it for the best reason?  Lent is traditionally a time when some people choose to fast, because it’s a time that remembers Jesus’ time of fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), but what really is the point of fasting?

The easiest way to describe the point of fasting is that we fast in order to feast.  We fast from earthly treasures in order to feast on our treasure in heaven.

In Matthew 6 Jesus’ teaching on fasting (vv. 16-18) is immediately followed by him saying

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (vv. 19-21)

The point seems to be that when our lives are rammed full of treasures on earth, the earth is where our hearts will be, and we’ll be oblivious to a far greater treasure in heaven.  The point of fasting is to clear our some of the earthly treasures, that get in the way, so that we might better appreciate our heavenly treasure, which is nothing less than Jesus Christ himself.  We fast in order to feast on Christ.

So a question to consider is whether what you’re thinking of giving up is actually going to help you appreciate Jesus more.  Personally I’ve never found that avoiding chocolate or the like much changes how I think about him, and therefore I’d question its value.

Where I’ve found fasting really helpful is when it doesn’t just deprive me of some trivial luxury but it actually frees up time in my day that I can spend in God’s word and in prayer.  It’s interesting that the majority of occasions when the Bible talks about fasting it goes hand in hand with prayer – so often it speaks not just of fasting but of ‘prayer and fasting’.  Fasting should enable us to pray more.

There have been times when we as a staff team at St. Mary’s have agreed to forgo lunch on a particular day (or a particular day of the week for a number of weeks) and to spend the time when we would have been eating praying together instead.  But of course it doesn’t have to be food – it could be anything that regularly takes up your time.  A favourite TV program? Facebook? Paul even advocated couples fasting from sex on occasion (1 Corinthians 7:5).  The idea is that it will clear out space in our overcrowded lives for our relationship with Jesus to grow.

I am a bit of a Modern Family addict, and I was thrilled to be given the box set of seasons 1-5 for Christmas.  My Lent is going to mean me not watching it, and using the time that frees up to follow a series of Lent readings devised by a friend of mine.

The point of fasting is not to make us miss out on things we like, but rather to stop us missing out on something even more precious.  If you’re going to give something up this year will you be fasting in such a way as to help you feast on Jesus?

Why quiet times actually really matter…

As someone who believes that grace is at the very heart of the Gospel I’ve always tried to be careful to avoid saying things that people could interpret as a call to legalistic observance of religious duties.  That has particularly been the case when I’ve talked about things like reading the Bible, praying, and going to church regularly.  I do not believe for one moment that those are things that can earn our way into God’s ‘good books’ or our place in heaven, and I would always caution people to avoid doing such things out of a sense of obligation or duty.  Our justification is achieved by faith and not by works.

As I’ve been pondering John 15:1-17, though, I’ve started to wonder whether my carefulness to avoid preaching law rather than grace might have made me downplay just how important things like quiet times and corporate worship are.  I have wanted people to be clear that they need not fear divine retribution for missing quiet times or church, but I wonder whether in so doing I’ve given the impression that these things are ideals that none of us actually achieve and that we really don’t need to be too concerned about our failure.  John 15 shows that they really are essential and that we must take them very seriously indeed.

In this passage Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine and its branches to describe the relationship between Jesus and us.  There are two types of branches: those that bear fruit and those that don’t.

The branches that do not bear fruit are taken away (v.2), because they have withered, and are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned (v.6).  Fire and burning are images that are often used by Jesus to depict the final judgment.  Jesus’ message is clear: someone’s failure to bear fruit is evidence that they are not in fact a genuine Christian and so will face God’s wrath in the final judgment.

Whilst the fate of branches that do not bear fruit is dreadful God’s treatment of those that do is truly wonderful.  They are branches that have been made clean by Jesus’ word (v.3) and are pruned (v.2).  Pruning is a process whereby some interests and activities are removed so as to leave the branch more fruitful, and although that pruning may at the time be painful it leads to greater fruitfulness (v.2, 5), which proves the genuineness of that person’s faith, and in so doing brings both glory to the Father (v.8) and the fullness of joy to that person (v.11).  Branches that do not bear fruit are destined for fire and those that do are destined for the Father’s glory and their own joy.

But what does it mean to bear fruit?  There are a few possibilities as to what Jesus meant, none of which need to be exclusive.  One is what he meant in Matthew 13:8, where it seems to be an advancement of God’s work and kingdom in the world; another is the sort of changed character that Galatians 5:22-23 talks about.

What determines whether a branch will bear fruit or not is simply a question of whether or not that branch ‘abides in the vine.’  A branch that does not abide in the vine cannot bear fruit (v. 4); in fact it cannot achieve anything of any significance (v. 5).  A branch that does abide in the vine, though, will bear much fruit (v. 5).  The difference, then, between our fruitfulness, or lack of it, and therefore whether we will face joy or judgment, is simply a matter of whether or not we abide in Jesus.

The important question for us, then, is what does it mean to abide in Jesus?  How do we abide in him?  There are three glimpses of an answer in the passage.

Firstly, abiding in Jesus involves having his words abiding in us (v. 7).  Abiding in Jesus includes listening to what Jesus has said, dwelling on it, and keeping it as part of us.  For a 21st Century believer this most certainly includes reading and meditating on the Bible.

Secondly, abiding in Jesus involves asking things of him (v.7): “ask whatever you wish”.  For a 21st Century believer this means prayer.

Thirdly, abiding in Jesus involves obedience to his commandments (v.10) which is not a dull drudgery but actually leads to a profound experience of God’s love.  The commandments that Jesus gave are many and varied but his words in v. 10 surely include the commandment that he gives in v. 12, to love one another as he has loved us.  Part of abiding in Jesus, therefore, is fellowship with other believers, and for a 21st Century believer that must surely include regular involvement with a church family.

Abiding in Jesus, therefore, includes reading and meditating on the Bible, prayer, and involvement with a church family, or to put it even more simply, quiet times and corporate worship.

The connection between doing these things and bearing fruit could not be clearer in this passage.  Not doing them will inevitably lead to fruitlessness, because it is impossible to bear fruit without abiding in Jesus (vv.4-5).  Doing them, however, will lead to great fruitfulness; someone who abides in Jesus won’t just bear some fruit but will bear much fruit (v. 5).

The ridiculous thing in the lives of so many of us is that it is our desire to bear fruit that stops us abiding in Jesus.  Our thinking is so often that we have too many things to do, many of which are very noble and worthy, and so we cannot afford to spend time ‘abiding in Jesus’.  We have things to do so we cannot abide.  That is the exact reverse of what Jesus says: unless we abide we will not be able to do those things.  Unless we abide we can do nothing.  If we do abide we will achieve a very great deal, or bear much fruit.

This is the logic of faith.  Faith says ‘it is worth spending a good portion of the very limited time available to me having a quiet time, because if I do that not only will it bring glory to the Father (v. 8) and joy to me (v. 11) but it will also enable me to achieve much more in the remaining time than I would have been able to had I spent the whole time doing the things that I need to do.’  In worldly logic that makes no sense, because it is self-evident that the more time we have available the more we will get done.  But worldly logic does not acknowledge our weakness or know an all-powerful God who will keep his promise that we will bear more fruit through abiding in him than we possibly could apart from him.

The other thing that stops us abiding in Jesus is that we think it is going to be boring and devoid of pleasure.  We think we will enjoy it more if we spend our time doing something other than having a quiet time.  Again such thinking is the opposite of what Jesus said: it is through abiding in him that we experience his love (v. 10) and that our joy will be full (v. 11).

The consequences of not abiding in Christ are almost too dreadful to consider.  Not abiding leads to not bearing fruit which serves as evidence that our faith is not genuine and therefore leads to the fire of v. 2.  Whilst I still would not want someone to fear divine retribution for skipping their quiet times from time to time I would want them to be aware of just how important abiding in Jesus actually is.  It is not something that we can neglect lightly.

Conversely, though, if we all committed ourselves to making our private quiet times and our corporate worship an absolute priority there are four outcomes that Jesus promises here:

  1. We will be more fruitful (vv. 2, 5): we will achieve more and greater things for his kingdom.
  2. The Father will be glorified by the evidence of the genuineness of our discipleship (v. 8)
  3. We will enjoy greater intimacy with Jesus (v. 10)
  4. Our joy will be full (v. 11)

Our individual lives and our church would be transformed.

In saying what I have just said have I preached law rather than grace?  Have I replaced God’s merciful treatment of us with duties that we must perform?  Certainly Jesus’ words emphasise God’s mercy and grace.  He speaks of guilty sinners being washed clean by his word (v. 3), and the word translated as ‘prunes’ in v. 2 (kathairo) has at its root the word for clean in v. 3 (katharos), so even the language of pruning is related to God’s work of making us clean.  The passage does not imply we make ourselves clean or worthy through our quiet times or by going to church, but makes it very clear that that is the work of the Father, the vine dresser.  But that does not stop Jesus saying that there is a choice of judgment or joy and which we receive is determined by whether or not we abide in him by having his words abide in us, asking things of him, and obeying his commandments, including the commandment to love other believers.

Why Money Is Not The Root Of All Evil

It has been very interesting to see how Jesus has been adopted by the protestors outside St Paul’s Cathedral, who have clearly assumed that he is an anti-capitalist who would automatically endorse their views. There is much that we read in the gospels that clearly shows Jesus was profoundly opposed to the exploitation of the poor and that he cared deeply about justice, and it’s not only in the gospels that we see God’s attitude to poverty.

But does it follow from this that poverty is always a more godly state than wealth? I fear that a very profound and challenging message of Jesus has been turned into a rather shallow and simplistic message that it is better to be poor than rich and that God is inevitably more pleased with the poor than the wealthy. But is that really the case?

Jesus was obviously concerned with people’s physical condition, which is why we see him healing the sick and feeding hungry crowds, but actually his concern for people’s physical condition always seems to have been secondary, with his concern for their spiritual condition being rather more important. When he met a paralysed man who had been lowered through the roof he firstly addressed that man’s spiritual needs by forgiving his sins. He then went on to heal him, but his reason for doing so, he tells us, was to prove his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). Similarly when he fed the hungry crowds he did so not just to satisfy their hunger but in order to show them their real need, which was not bread but himself, the ‘bread’ that leads to eternal life (John 6).

The Bible is often misquoted as saying ‘money is the root of all evil’, but actually that’s not what it says at all. What it says is “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10). The comparison is not between rich and poor, but between those who love money and those who don’t. It’s not only the rich who might love money – the poor can long for it just as much, or perhaps even more so. The real issue in the Bible is not whether or not we have money, it’s whether or not we love the money that we may or may not have more than we love God.

It’s not just the capitalists that Jesus would point his finger at, but actually he calls everyone to evaluate our attitude towards money, and if we love it more than him, if we trust it or any of our other material things for our security or comfort instead of trusting him for those things, then he calls us, rich or poor, capitalist or socialist, to repent and to see him as our greatest treasure and our only hope.

Why it is our job to stop the Bible contradicting itself

There seems to be a contradiction in Deuteronomy 15.  V.4 says “there will be no poor among you.”  V. 11 says “there will never cease to be poor in the land.  So which is it to be?  Will there be no poverty, or will there always be poverty?

If God’s people rise to the challenge of vv. 7-8 there will be no contradiction.  God instructed the Israelites to be generous in their support of the poor.  “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” If God’s people rise to that challenge there will be no contraction: there will always be poor people in our midst but they will be so well cared and provided for that their poverty will be brought to a quick end.

Two quick reflections on these verses.  Firstly God’s instruction is to our thinking as well as our action.  We are called to respond to poverty with both our heart and our hand.  We should be moved by it, and we should do something about it.  We should have compassion, and take action.  It’s no good having one without the other.  It’s probably obvious to us that having compassion but not doing anything about it is no good to anyone, but it might come as a surprise that being generous, but without really caring, isn’t good enough either.

Secondly, a word about lending.  In this context lending is no different from giving.  The chapter is about the Sabbatical Year.  Every seven years the Israelites were to write off all their debts.  If you lent in the first year you had the best part of seven years in which to be repaid.  If you lent in the seventh year, well the chances were that you wouldn’t be repaid.  But God is very clear in vv. 9-10: the fact that you might well not be repaid was certainly not a valid reason for not lending.  “Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near’… you shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him…” We have the same point made more forcefully on the lips of Jesus in Luke 6:35 “…lend, expecting nothing in return…”

God’s people, then, are called to care about poverty and to do something about it. This should come as a great challenge to those of us who care a great deal about evangelism but who care and do little about poverty.  It is of course right that we never allow social justice to take place of evangelism: what good is it to set people up for life if they remained ruined for eternity?  But if we think that evangelism means that we are excused from caring about, or doing anything about, poverty, then we deservedly come under God’s rebuke.


Why the people who would never have thought of coming to Home Houseparty are actually the ones who will benefit the most from it

Lots of people looked forward to the NUCU Home Houseparty, “Knowing God”,  earlier this week as something that would be a bit of fun between the end of exams and the start of the summer holidays.  And fun it certainly was.  But here is why it was much more than just a bit of fun, and why it was people who didn’t come that will benefit the most from it.

Of course the people who did come benefited a great deal from it.  They heard the Word of God taught.  They were encouraged by praising God with others, and were made wonderfully aware of the presence and love of God.  They were inspired towards a greater prayerfulness.  In short they came away knowing God better.  And that is the greatest thing that any human being can ever have.  So Home Houseparty was great for everyone who came.

But actually the people who will benefit the most from it are the non-Christians at Nottingham University.  I am expecting that the fruit of those two days will be that many people, who did not even know it was happening, will become Christians.  You see in the Bible there is so often a link between how well people know God and how passionate they are about evangelism.  One of the clearest examples is in Ephesians 3.

In the first half of Ephesians 3 Paul, the author, outlines how the Church exists to make the Gospel known.  It is God’s intent that through the Church his great plan and offer of salvation should be made known to the whole universe (v. 10).  Having explained all this to the Christians in Ephesus he goes on to pray for them, which is what the second half of the chapter is all about.

What Paul has just said about the Church existing for evangelism determines how he goes on to pray for them.  In v. 14 he says “for this reason [because the Church exists for evangelism] I kneel before the Father…”  And then he tell us what he prays for them.  He doesn’t pray for opportunities to tell people the Good News.  he doesn’t pray for strength, or wisdom, or eloquence.  He doesn’t pray for protection from the persecution they would go on to face.  Do you see what he does pray?  He prays that they would have the Spirit’s power so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith (v. 17).  And then he prays that they may have power to grasp “how wide and long and hight and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (vv. 18-19).  He’s praying that they would know God better.  That they would know him living within them, and that they would know the enormity of his love.

Paul’s logic is brilliantly clear.  What the Church is for is evangelism, so what the Church needs is to know God better. And it makes perfect sense.  Knowing God better ourselves will mean we are more and more eager for others to come to know him.  Knowing him better will give us much greater confidence to to do the awkward thing of talking about him to people who will think we’re religious idiots.  In short knowing him better will make us much better evangelists.

And what this should mean, then, is that as a group of Christians at Nottingham University have come to know God better their evangelism will be turbocharged.  And so the people who will benefit the most are the people who as yet are not Christians.