The world we are living in is nuts, and only getting more nuts. Most people, however intelligent, are seeking rational explanations. But the truth is, there aren’t any. I genuinely think most of us in the West are so blind to spiritual realities that we have an awful lot to learn from other worldviews. I was cleaning up my computer and came across this talk given in 2017. I’d never posted it. But I found that all the more after a short time of living back in the West I needed to hear it. I think it’ll do you some good as well. Do take a listen.
“We are at war, and the bloody battle is over our hearts. I am astounded how few Christians see this, how little they protect their hearts. We act as though we live in a sleepy little town during peacetime. We don’t. We live in the spiritual equivalent of Bosnia or Beirut. Act like it. Watch over your heart. Don’t let just anything in; don’t let it go just anywhere. What’s this going to do to my heart? is a question that I ask in every situation. “ (John Eldredge)
John Piper highlights the critical issue as follows: “Probably the number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for… But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses – not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask for more comforts in the den…
…Most people show by their priorities and casual approaches to spiritual things that they believe we’re in peace, not in wartime… In wartime we’re on the alert. We’re armed. We’re vigilant. In wartime we spend money differently, because there are more strategic ways to maximise our resources. The war effort touches everybody. We all cut back. The luxury liner becomes a troop carrier… Who considers that the casualties of this war don’t merely lose an arm or an eye or an earthly life, but lose everything, even their own soul, and enter a hell of everlasting torment?”
George Orwell wrote about the time a wasp “was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed oesophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”
Back in 1985, Neil Postman wrote ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. The book is obviously dated, but whatever warnings he flagged up back then concerning the dangers of being conditioned and shaped by vapid television content – well, they need to be heard all the more nowadays with social media, Netflix, etc.
Lockdown is such a weird time. Some people are equally or more stretched with work than before, whilst others are on furlough or simply less pressured. I’m in that latter category.
When one’s schedule is full, time has to be well-used. Personally, I have 5 less speaking engagements each week now than during pre-lockdown days. So when things are more fluid, it’s easy to waste time, and become professionally (or spiritually) flabby. That is my biggest challenge, and I suspect it’s the same for many of us.
And my biggest concern is for my (and your) spiritual journey.
Picture yourself in five years’ time answering the question ‘What did God teach you in lockdown?’ I don’t want my answer to be a fumbling bumbling ‘Err… hum… Well, I got to watch 5 seasons of This is Us, 3 more of Homeland, finished off The Crown, etc’.
The biggest danger to our souls – way bigger than Covid to our bodies, I suggest – is amusing ourselves to death.
John Piper writes: “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
I’m scared that might become true of me particularly in this season…
…So as the new year has kicked in, I’m desperate to feed my soul nourishing fare rather than neutral (at best) or positively destructive crap.
Not just desperate… but determined. Can I spend at least as much time reading/praying/worshipping as in front of the box, for example? Hmm…
Anyway, here’s just sharing a few books and a podcast that will do you good, without trying to overload you.
The single most influential book in my life was E. G. Carré (ed.), Praying Hyde: Apostle of Prayer.
I’ll paste at the bottom some of it and what it did to me. You can’t manufacture personal revival, but it absolutely nuked me as I dug deep and spent time in the Lord’s presence. You can buy the book here.
I’m currently reading Jon Tyson’s ‘Beautiful Resistance – the Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise’. You can buy it here. It came out of a superb recent sermon series. In fact, if I have one recommendation for podcasts, his preaching/teaching would be it. He is so insightful, clear and unapologetic on how the Church needs to shape up in this cultural moment. There’s never a duff sermon from him, so do sign up. (Search for his series on the Controversial Jesus – brilliant!)
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. He writes of a man who was born in a gypsy tent, of humble origins, and yet ended up being invited to the White House by two presidents. Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith came into the world in 1860 in Epping Forest, just outside London. 45 times he crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to millions of people on both sides. His passion was almost unparalleled, and there was great fruit in what he did. What was his secret? Private prayer. His praying was even more powerful than his preaching.
A delegation once came to him to enquire how they might experience personal and mass revival as he had. They wanted to be used the way Gypsy was. Without hesitating, he said: “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle round yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”
Another good one is Ross Paterson’s ‘The Antioch Factor’. I liked this book so much when it came out that I bought 800 of them to get the message out! Buy the book here.
Obviously I’d recommend signing up for Choose Life, which many of you have. I’ll be putting out a weekly vlog each Tuesday and there’ll be other things coming out of that to sharpen/challenge/encourage us in the coming year.
I’ll stop there. Don’t be that unsuspecting severed wasp over lockdown! Resist!
Scroll down if you want to read a bit of my encounter with God through Praying Hyde sixteen years ago
Pengwern Jones was a close friend of John ‘Praying’ Hyde. What he observed of Hyde is worth including at length because it can teach us so much:
“I owe him more than I owe to any man, for showing me what a prayer-life is, and what a real consecrated life is. I shall ever praise God for bringing me into contact with him… The first time I met him was at Ludhiana in the Punjab, where he lived at the time. I had been invited to speak a few words on the Revival in the Khassia Hills to the Conference of the United States Presbyterian Mission, who had their annual session at the time there. I had traveled by night from Allahabad to Ludhiana, and reached there early in the morning. I was taken to have a cup of tea with the delegates and others, and I was introduced across the table to Mr. Hyde. All that he said to me was, “I want to see you; I shall wait for you at the door.” There he was waiting, and his first word was, “Come with me to the prayer room, we want you there.” I do not know whether it was a command or a request. I felt I had to go. I told him that I had traveled all night, and that I was tired, and had to speak at four o’clock, but I went with him; we found half a dozen persons there, and Hyde went down on his face before the Lord. I knelt down, and a strange feeling crept over me. Several prayed, and then Hyde began, and I remember very little more. I knew that I was in the presence of God himself, and had no desire to leave the place; in fact, I do not think that I thought of myself or of my surroundings, for I had entered a new world, and I wanted to remain there.
We had entered the room about eight o’clock in the morning; several had gone out, others had come in, but Hyde was on his face on the floor, and had led us in prayer several times. Meals had been forgotten, and my tired feeling had gone, and the revival account and message that I was to deliver – and concerning which I had been very anxious – had gone out of my mind, until about three thirty, when Hyde got up, and he said to me, “You are to speak at four o’clock; I shall take you to have a cup of tea.” I replied that he must need a little refreshment, too, but he said, “No, I do not want any, but you must have some.” We called in at my room and washed hurriedly, and then we both had a cup of tea, and it was full time for the service. He took me right unto the door, then took my hand and said, “Go in and speak, that is your work. I shall go back to the prayer room to pray for you, that is my work. When the service is over, come into the prayer room again, and we shall praise God together.” What a thrill, like an electric shock, passed through me as we parted. It was easy to speak, though I was speaking through an interpreter. What I said, I do not know. Before the meeting was over, the Indian translator, overcome by his feelings, and overpowered by the Spirit of God, failed to go on, and another had to take his place. I know the Lord spoke that night. He spoke to me, and spoke to many. I realised then the power of prayer; how often I had read of blessing in answer to prayer, but it was brought home to me that evening with such force that ever since I try to enlist prayer warriors to pray for me whenever I stand up to deliver his messages. It was one of the most wonderful services I ever attended, and I know that it was the praying saint behind the scenes that brought the blessing down on me.
I went back after the service to him, to praise the Lord. There was no question asked by him about whether it was a good service or not, whether men had received a blessing or not; nor did I think of telling him what blessing I had personally received and how his prayers had been answered. He seemed to know it all, and how he praised the Lord and how easy it was for me to praise the Lord, and speak to Him of the blessing He had given.”
I recently devoured the book containing the above passage, as I hungered for the effectiveness in intercessory prayer of the likes of John Hyde. I was back by myself in Burundi, separated from my precious Lizzie and unborn son for what would be several months. I’d arrived back heavy-hearted, my malaise compounded by my Mother’s freshly-diagnosed cancer. However, what followed were days of unparalleled intimacy with Jesus. Largely undisturbed early from the crack of dawn and late into the evenings, I could spend hours in God’s presence, seeking his face, praising him, and engaging in intercessory prayer. I share an entry from my journal of that season to illustrate some lessons learnt from spending real concentrated time in the Lord’s presence:
“29th September 2005: I’m reading this book on Praying Hyde, and it’s so challenging. As I tried to emulate him by letting rip in prayer for ages on my bed in the dark, it suddenly struck me that these few months will probably be my quietest ones for the next several decades! So instead of bemoaning my loneliness, this could be the most fabulous time of nurturing intimacy with the Lord by spending as much time with him as possible. Let’s be positive! I’m rubbish in general with my own company, but loved the chance tonight to pray so undisturbed – not something I really did much over the last few months of hectic preaching around England. So Lord, I give you this time, I surrender my life afresh, have your way, do whatever you want with me. What a great privilege it is to be a child of the King!
30th September: It’s my fasting day. I feel caught up in an extraordinary state at the moment, somewhat a mountain top experience. It surely has to do with the fact that I’m spending so much time in the Lord’s presence – what a numbskull I am and how slow to learn the fact that intimacy, which we all crave, can only be attained and sustained through disciplined commitment and time given to him. We want effortless intimacy, but it just doesn’t happen that way.
So I was up at the crack of dawn, and jumped out of bed with a ‘Good morning, Jesus!’ I prayed passionately, sang, read the Bible and then started preparing a sermon for Sunday. I wanted to make notes on the computer, but it seemed like it had fused with the latest power cut. The power wouldn’t go on, although everything else electrical was working. I prayed over the computer, and went off to start searching the Scriptures for the right message. I came back to find it working! And then the sermon just flowed as never before. The Lord was being so clear, the ideas and structure flowed so easily. Truly preparation of the messenger is as important as preparation of the message.
God knows how long this season of beautiful intimacy will last, but in any case I want to maximize it. Keep the discipline, Simon, and guard the time spent in his presence. Don’t let business crowd him out. It’s so obvious, and we all know prayer is of paramount importance, but Satan will do anything to distract us from what renders him powerless. I remember someone once asking me, ‘How much do you want of God?’ Because ‘nobody has less of God than they want.’ Keep me hungry and thirsty for more of you, dear Lord!
1st October: …Whilst I was in the bath in the evening, Bruno came round, and so I knew he’d be back again shortly. Instead of viewing him as a nuisance who wanted to use up my valuable time to improve his English, I decided to see him as someone sent by God to come to faith through me. But before reading this Praying Hyde book I would’ve just prayed: “Right, Lord, Bruno’s coming round. Please open the eyes of his heart to see you, and give me the right words. May he come to know you.” Such a piddly prayer would take about twenty seconds. Instead I really prayed, and spent serious time, delaying supper until I’d done so. I worshipped away on the guitar, and proclaimed the Lord’s victory until my fingers were too sore to carry on. I was full of faith, so claimed his life for Jesus, and interceded on his behalf.
Then Bruno showed up again. He’s a nice lad, 22-years-old, we chatted about football, studies, etc, and then I asked him what he thought about Jesus – was he ready to face judgment? Basically I then led him through the gospel and asked him if he wanted to receive Christ as his Lord and Saviour right now – no pressure – but do you want to be ready? He did! I prayed and he repeated after me. He’s coming with me to church on Sunday. Seal your work in his life, O Lord!”
‘Spiritual enema’ is how my friend Kevin describes my daily devotional ‘Choose Life’ – in his words, it ‘clears the decks and provides a welcome shot in the arm’ – metaphors galore! Well, I would definitely prefer submitting to a spiritual rather than to a physical one!
So do you need one as 2020 comes to an end? I think we all do!
From the start of 2021, a whole bunch of churches and individuals are going to be journeying through the year with ‘Choose Life’ as part of the Big Church 365 Read. We’d love you/your family/life group/school CU/church/etc to join us.
Every week over the year I’ll put out a short vlog (weekly video message) relating to what we’ll have been reading, which you can sign up for HERE.
To order your copy of Choose Life and join the journey, click HERE.
If you already own a copy, then please also join in. You too can sign up for the weekly video message reminders.
Here’s to a year of breakthroughs on many levels, God bless you loads!
“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown’, and he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.”
Basically, for £2.50 ($3), Burundians can get a health card valid for three years for the whole family, which will allow them to get treatment at a government clinic without incurring crippling debts.
Sadly, Nadine didn’t have this card to get her daughter treated, and her neighbours didn’t have the money to lend her either, so she hurriedly set about making a clay pot (her skillset) to sell… but there was not enough time, and her daughter’s ‘flu’ proved fatal.
Again, that is so wrong!
So GLO’s Christmas appeal this year is to right that wrong and provide 3000 of these vital medical cards to vulnerable families who our partner organisations have identified.
I love this appeal because everyone can take part. Even my/our kids can afford to help a family, several even. To set a small village free from the constant fear and reality of not taking their loved ones to a hospital (because it’s too expensive) would be approximately £125 ($150). Let’s stop Nadine’s story being repeated.
What do you want for Christmas this year? I know what I want – to save lives – this will be my gift!
I invite you to join me, be it for one family, ten or a hundred – every single one counts.
PS If you are looking for a meaningful and impactful Christmas gift idea, for yourself or a loved one, GLO has a great range of alternative gifts that will help lift families in Burundi out of poverty – do click here to see them.
PPS In the happy event that we meet our goal to provide 3000 health cards, we’ll make sure any additional donations are put to equally invaluable use, distributed to where the needs are greatest. Should you wish to specify a Christmas gift to a specific project or partner, please use this form: www.greatlakesoutreach.org/give-now/
On the back of last week’s blog, here’s some feedback from our adventures on the streets of Bath:
We were out three times this week. We set up our busker’s sound system wherever there was space and plenty of people walking past, and sang carols accompanied by guitar, followed by a quick Christmas message of hope after each song. Most people are on a mission with their shopping, but plenty smile as they walk past; and some linger, listen, or want to engage in conversation. Being a team is crucial because the spin-off conversations are where beautiful things happen.
For example, Libby sat next to Sarah*, who had cried out to ‘god’ for help the previous night, and now here she was, sat listening to us, crying away her tears of loneliness and recognising that God was answering her prayer. Sarah was very keen now to learn more about God and come to church with Libby.
My personal highlight was talking to brother and sister John* and Sue*. They stopped off to listen to us, and I asked them if they understood the Christmas story. She said: “No, I don’t really get it, God up there and us down here.” So I asked her to imagine looking down on ants and wanting them to know that she loved them. She could shout ‘I love you!’ and put food in their paths, but they wouldn’t understand that love as it came from a different dimension. But what if she herself became an ant? And then communicated on their level, and pointed up to the sky and said: “There’s someone up there who loves you, who provides for you, who wants you to know them, etc”
Sue totally got it. She was blown away, and they both listened and then actively decided they wanted to start a journey with Jesus. As they prayed with me, she blurted out: “Wow, wow, wow, what’s going on? I can feel this warmth on my chest, this is amazing!” “Sue, that’s God making Himself real to you. Remember this moment!” We talked further. She said: “I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life!” It was simply wonderful.
There are other stories. Lots of seeds get sown. Do pray for the likes of Sarah, John and Sue. They are out on your streets too. There’s so much fear, loneliness and despair. We’re not any better than anyone else – we’re just better off, because we know the Source of all hope, comfort and peace.
Anyone can do what we’re doing. I’d love to see more of it. It’s not scary (maybe first time!), rather it’s great fun, honestly! Plenty of folks who aren’t remotely interested in God say how lovely it was to hear festive carols, and encourage us to continue.
Could you get together with friends in your community and have a go? Why not give it a shot? And let me know how you get on. We’ll be out another 4 times this week hopefully. Prayers appreciated.
How are you doing? How are you feeling? I’m usually an 8.5/10 but would give myself 5.5/10 in lockdown. I feel like a caged, frustrated animal. Yet I’m aware that although we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat – my boat’s one of the nicest, which makes me feel all the worse for being grumpy and lacking in positivity!
However, I’m determined to combat that darkness, and I want to challenge all of us to consider joining in something like the following:
It’s very simple. I’ve just bought this portable Bluetooth speaker. Now multiple times in the build-up to Christmas, a group of us will go out in the city centre and the streets around Bath to sing a carol and then share a short message of hope – which is the central theme of Christmas, innit?!
There are huge opportunities here, let’s not miss them! I’ve checked and consulted the latest government guidelines (for readers in the UK), and this is kosher.
So many people are fearful, hopeless and depressed right now. Let’s get out there (appropriately space, of course!) and sing/speak out peace, hope and joy.
Could you do that? Ask your pastor for his/her blessing, he/she puts the word out, gather a group of fellow-frustrateds, and just go for it!
Another idea: sign up as a Deliveroo rider! That’s what I’ve done. I’ll get paid to take exercise, and I’ll get to share Hope with everyone I deliver a pizza or kebab to!
You can stop reading now, but please, seriously, what’s stopping you? Let me know how you get on.
Just don’t do a Larry Walters. The blog’s finished, but scroll down if you want to know what I mean by that…
Few will have heard of Larry Walters. He was a 33-year-old truck driver living in San Pedro, not far from Los Angeles. On weekends he used to just sit around and watch TV. But this particular Saturday, he was bored with his usual routine, so he decided he wanted to do something. He went shopping and bought forty-two weather balloons and a deck chair. Returning home, he anchored the chair to the ground with some ropes, and then tied the weather balloons to it. When all was ready, he ensconced himself in the chair, with his air gun nestled in his lap. He then cut the ropes, and rose steadily into the sky.
Within minutes he’d attained an altitude of sixteen thousand feet. The air traffic control tower at L.A. airport reported receiving a number of garbled and incredulous messages from different pilots along the lines of, “You’re not going to believe this, but there’s man floating up here in a deck chair!” Soon Larry’s thirst for action seemed quenched, and he decided it was time to return to planet earth. He shot a number of balloons with his air gun and gradually floated downwards. Forty five minutes later he landed at Long Beach, about seven miles from where he’d taken off.
His excursion made front page news, resulting in a Timex ad and an interview on the Tonight Show. Quizzed as to his motivation for doing it, Larry Walters replied, “It was something I had to do – I couldn’t just sit there!”
Hmm… I’m so desperate not to ‘just sit there’ this Christmas and beyond.
So lockdown started on a national level on Thursday. There’s no pretending these are easy times to go through…
…but I’ve got a proposition for you, which I’d love as many of you as possible to get behind. All the more in our enforced confinement and isolation, this could be a spiritually bonding and strengthening discipline.
We’re teaming up with St Andrew’s bookshop to get as many people as possible throughout the nation on the same page (literally) as we journey through the coming year.
Many of you have already read Choose Life – in which case, could you get your friends, family, youth group or church to join in?
If you’re not familiar with Choose Life, it was voted ‘Devotional of the Year’. It is a collection of 365 daily readings, inviting you to a year of good choices. If you embrace the challenge fully, it may be the most memorable year of your life!
Could you buy a stack load for Christmas presents? One mate has just bought 50 of them for his gang!
This Big Church 365 Read is a great way to connect youth groups, home groups, student CUs etc together during lockdown and being physically apart. Each week, I’ll post a short weekly video message to encourage those taking part.
How do I get involved?
There are two ways to join. You can buy the book for £12 and have access to the weekly videos OR join The Big Church 365 Read Club for only £24 (equivalent of £2 a month) and you will:
Be supporting the work of GLO to the tune of £12
Be sent a copy of ‘Choose Life’
Receive a free copy of my book, ‘Sacrifice’
Receive 10% discount on all purchases from www.standrewsbookshop.co.uk and other offers
Have the opportunity to join a Choose Life trip to visit Burundi – either as an individual or as a group (dates and costs to be confirmed).
If you’re interested in getting 5/10/20/etc copies, then email Steve of St Andrew’s Bookshop for some deals on bigger volume of books.
Thanks for all your support!
No time for God? Make time! Why not get out of bed or off the couch and onto your knees? It may lead to revival. Choose Life gives you 365 daily doses of challenge and encouragement. Blessed are the radicals! – Brother Andrew, Open Doors
Daily inspiration to help us live life to the full. I wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic resource that will help shape your day to be filled with Jesus. – Mark Melluish, Director of Tearfund and New Wine
Actually, the point of the email was to highlight the grace of God as the foundation of our lives during times of crisis, as evidenced so beautifully by many of our precious Burundian brothers and sisters; not to ask for money – that was just a PS at the end, offering you the chance to help out with the 30 KCC staff who had taken a 40% pay cut in solidarity together because of the Covid crisis, and were now struggling simply to live.
But wow did many of you respond…
…and so to this short ‘thank you’ film. Just look how folks reacted when they received the best news they could possibly have dreamt of… There were very few dry eyes left – but this time the tears weren’t of distress, fear, or sadness, but of unadulterated joy. And I invite you to feel free in shedding your own tears of joy as you watch as well.
Again, thank you, thank you, thank you! And thank you Lord!
…I’m in a meeting with folks I journeyed with for twenty years, who are sharing reminiscences of (mostly) highs and (some) lows that we experienced together. And currently they’re battling through some really tough times.
My two biggest prayers for Burundi this year – once the pandemic struck – was that Burundi would be spared the worst of covid, and that the elections would go peacefully. For your encouragement, those prayers have both been massively answered. It genuinely seems like covid is not having an impact here – a few have got it, and all bar one have recovered, officially. Praise God! Truly, I’m so grateful to God and the many who prayed for both those things (and we had a definite and beautiful role to play in the peaceful elections).
But as with so much of the developing world, the economic impact has done far more damage than the disease itself.
Celestin and I shared an office for 5 years at our income-generating King’s Conference Centre (www.kccburundi.org). He quietly asks me for a chat and says he’s speaking on behalf of the staff, several of whom I observed on arrival were noticeably thinner. Due to covid and loss of business, either some workers had to be let go, or everyone would have to take a salary reduction. They decided to stick together, but everyone has had a 40% cut. Imagine your salary was $100/month, and now it’s $60… and food prices have gone up! “Simon, it’s desperate. We can’t afford the bus so are walking each day in the sun all the way, some of us from Buterere or Kinama and back (upwards of 20km).”
It turns out one of the ladies on the team was pregnant, and she miscarried a few days ago as she struggled to walk to work.
Burundians have suffered so much. So many are beautifully stoic, resilient, and full of faith. They will overcome these difficult days, because they always do. They have so much to teach us in the fracturing West, where increasing prosperity and entitlement have not fostered resilience, rather polarisation and victimhood.
Are you feeling resilient?
How will we in the West get through these difficult days?
One answer to that question came from Leocadie last night as we chatted. She said:
“It’s only by grace. We survive each day by grace. Every month, every day, it’s just God’s grace…”
God grant you all such deep and real grace through these challenging times!
Simon Guillebaud in Burundi
PS If you wanted to help the 30 staff recoup those losses (no pressure at all), you could donate here:
Please let us know that this is ‘For KCC Staff’ in the message section of the donation form. In the happy event that we meet our goal to help the 30 staff, any additional donations will be put to equally invaluable use, where most needed.