Last week I wrote about my plans for the homegroups that I was due to lead on Wednesday and Thursday. Following the old pattern of Lloyd-Jones my intention was to see whether people in the group had a question for us to discuss and to spend around an hour or so trying to come up with a biblical and practical answer. In my last blog I promised to report back.
From my own perspective (and other should feel free to disagree below!) we had two very encouraging evenings. Whilst I wouldn’t run a homegroup like this every week it would certainly be something that I would do again should the groups be willing.
It wasn’t a problem to come up with a potential question. Possibilities across the two evenings included “Who would Jesus vote for?” (presumably off the back of my Romans 13 sermon), “Why should I pray when God already knows what He will do?” and “How can I avoid grace turning into grounds for complacency?” However, it was two other very practical questions that the groups decided to discuss.
On Wednesday night, our question was essentially this- “It feels like I have too much to do. How can I decide my priorities and how do I deal with a sense of guilt over the fact that I feel like I should be doing more- perhaps especially more Bible reading and prayer?” It is a very good question and one that resonated with much of the group. We had a very helpful discussion and I wish I had made notes on it. However, a week on the following points remain with me:
– We need to make sure our image of God is right. If our image is of one who demands that we do more than is possible then our image is wrong. Frequently in this context I go back to Psalm 103- the Lord has compassion on us because He knows how we are formed and remembers that we are dust. The God whom we worship understands that we are those who get tired and sick. We will put ourselves under unhelpful pressure if we forget that.
– At the same time hard work is commended. If you read 2 Corinthians Paul knows what it is to feel hard pressed. We shouldn’t necessarily anticipate long hours of leisure!
– One of the crucial issues is this: what does the Lord expect of us in terms of our use of time? It seemed to us that he expects us to work, to care for our families, to play our part within the body of the church (perhaps using the gifts He has given us), to witness as we have opportunity and to do all of that whilst relating to Him. Potentially we could run into two problems here. One would be if any of those became too much the focus of our attention (work commitments overwhelming family responsibilities or family becoming so all consuming that we lost any sense of belonging to the church for instance). The second problem comes when we see ourselves as accountable to other people rather than God for our use of time. I remember some wise advice somebody gave me- don’t let your email inbox become your “to do” list otherwise you end up prioritising the latest request rather than what God has called us to do. We would be greatly helped if we asked the question “What does God expect of me?” and then did that.
– So what of the “quiet time”? Perhaps controversially, it was asked whether we made too much of it. In the end I think we came to a nuanced position. We want a concern to pray and pay attention to God’s Word to run throughout the day- for instance at family meal times rather than just a particular period of time. There was a desire to emphasise meditation on God’s Word- perhaps allowing a verse to dwell in our mind as we go through the day. The importance of ongoing prayer (even brief prayers) during the day’s events was mentioned. I rode my usual hobby horse of the benefits of periodic (say monthly) times of lengthy prayer and reflection often accompanied by a good walk. One point I found particularly useful. Given that young parents often feel permanently exhausted, it is important that they have a store of biblical thinking to draw on at a period when it may be hard to take in much that is new. It is why it is worth people in their early twenties being devoted to amassing Biblical knowledge,
All in all, these were helpful reflections on what God expects of us- hopefully thus avoiding false guilt. Tim Chester’s book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness was mentioned as worthy of study.
On Thursday evening, we addressed the topic of prayer. “How do I persevere in praying for something when it all feels a bit dry?” Again, I think the group regarded this as a helpful practical question. Here were four reflections that we had:
– Perseverance in prayer is commended by the Lord: indeed it is almost regarded as synonymous with faith in Luke 18. It is good for us to persevere.
– We noted that when prayer feels difficult, questions can often loom in our minds. If God has already decided what will happen, why pray? The answer I gave- because I had written my sermon on Genesis 18 earlier in the day- is that God wants us to participate in His purposes rather than simply being passive observers. In that sense He gives us a great privilege.
– Somebody else in the group mentioned the value of the Lord’s prayer. I was grateful for this- I think I had lost sight of that. In some sense using the Lord’s prayer as headings for our prayers can be a very helpful discipline as it turns prayer away from our own agenda or shopping list and on to the things that God desires. And writing this blog is a reminder of what I said to myself at the meeting- it would be good to re-shape my prayer life along these lines.
– Perhaps above all, though, we talked about prayer as unhurried time with our Father. There is a danger that if our prayer life has become cold it is because we have lost a relational element. We are drawing near to our loving Father- it is worth enjoying that.
And if you want a book to help you to pray, I would seriously recommend Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, which is terrific.
These were good meetings. It reminded me that all of us face real questions as we live as Christians and there has to be some opportunity to discuss them. I felt we had a good balance in asking two questions as we sought to handle the issues- “What does the Bible say?” and “What does that look like practically?” A number of the answers helped me personally: I am looking forward to trying it again.