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.”
So do buy that book here and get in the 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!”