Other blogs

Great expectations?

What expectations do you have in life? How do they affect you?

I learnt to juggle when I was around 12 years old, and it didn’t take long. Partly that’s because young people pick up new skills quickly, and partly it’s because juggling isn’t really very difficult. Over Easter I spent a bit of time trying to learn to ride a unicycle, and it was much harder. I suffered from a combination of being almost a decade older, and unicycling being a much more challenging skill to learn.

To give you an idea of the progress I made from a week of regular practice, I have progressed from sitting on the unicycle holding onto two stationary objects to being able to cycle while holding onto a wall for a few feet before falling off. It’s slow progress, but I’m happy with it. Why? Because I read on the internet that unicycling is a difficult skill to learn, and takes a lot of practice. Also, a friend who is able to unicycle told that there was no shortcut which could remove the need to practice. I started to learn with the expectation of a difficult challenge, so when I made a small amount of progress I was pleased about it.

Imagine if my expectations had been different. Imagine I’d expected to be a skilled rider at the end of the week, perhaps learning to perform basic tricks. Imagine if I’d gone to a skate park, and tried unicycling up a ramp. It wouldn’t have ended well for me, that’ s for sure! Having the right expectations was important for how I felt about my progress, and is important for how we feel about life more generally.

What expectations should Christians have of what their lives will be like? Do we expect life as a Christian to be no different from anyone else’s life? Do we expect to radically and rapidly transform into a state of joyous perfection? Do we expect some compromise between the two, or perhaps a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs?

I continually forget what the Christian life is like. I’ve been a Christian for years, but still my expectations get warped out of all reality. I typically find myself making one of two mistakes – either expecting an easy life or expecting life to be so hard I can never progress.

The Christian life isn’t an easy one. Even without any external suffering (and there is no guarantee of freedom from that) there is a constant battle with sin. No Christian is free from it, and only an unhealthy Christian doesn’t keenly feel it. When I forget to expect this, I am discouraged by my frequent failures to live up to my own moral standards, let alone God’s! But when I remember to expect it, I can turn to God for help fighting my sin. I can remind myself that it is God who works in and through me, and it is God who makes me progressively more holy. And I can have joy in the fight.

The opposite mistake could actually be viewed as the flip side of the same wrong expectation. It is remembering that there is a fight to be had, but forgetting to actually fight it! When I forget that progress is to be expected, and expect stagnation, I am essentially surrendering the fight. I despair at my sinfulness, and my helplessness to change it. But when I remember to expect change, I can turn to God for the necessary power to change. While I still acknowledge my weakness and inability to change, I can remind myself of the God who is changing me. And I can have joy in the change.

Getting the right expectations matter. They protect me from expecting too much, and the discouragement which comes when I don’t live up to my own expectations. They protect me from expecting too little, and missing out on progress God is delighted to give me. I need the right expectations. I need gospel expectations.

What expectations do you think are important in your life?

(For the articles which inspired this one, see The secret cause of discouragement and How to turn ordinary experiences into extraordinary ones, both by Joshua Hood.)

The ground of salvation

I’m currently in the middle of a surprisingly busy fortnight, but I thought this quote I found earlier today at the gospel driven church was well worth sharing:

A young minister, while visiting the cabin of a veteran Scotch woman who had grown ripe in experience, said to her, ‘Nannie, what if, after all your prayers and watching and waiting, God should allow your soul to be eternally lost?’

Looking at the youthful novice in divinity, she replied, ‘Ah, let me tell you, that God would have the greatest loss. Poor me would lose her soul, and that would be a great loss; but God would lose his honor and his character. If he broke his word, he would make himself a liar, and the universe would go to ruin.’

The veteran believer was right. Our only real ground of salvation lies in God’s everlasting word.

—- Theodore Cuyler, “Wayside Springs”

What a reminder of the centrality of God’s character to everything!

Let them leap to hell

I don’t often post stuff midweek, but this quote is worth reading.

If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

C.H. Spurgeon

Found at Tim Challies’ blog.

Command and circumstance

When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out about my life, my family, and my job – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.  In other words, that I have a ‘right’ to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.

Francis Chan

I came across this quote on one of the blogs I follow, and it seemed very relevant to students such as myself at exam time.

J C Ryle on zeal

Another gem from J. C. Ryle quotes:

I have but one request to make, and that is that you will persevere. I implore you to maintain your zeal and never let it go. I urge you never to stop doing the things you did at first, never to leave your first love, never let it be said of you that the things that you did in the first part of your Christian life were better than the things you did in your latter years. Beware of cooling down. All you have to do is to be lazy, and to sit still, and you will soon lose all your zeal. You will soon become another person from what you are now. Oh, don’t think that this is a needless exhortation!

Resolutions for a new year

It’s coming up to a new year, and as is traditional millions of people will no doubt make resolutions for the coming year. The nation will decide to give up smoking, go on a diet, and make use of their gym memberships. Until half-way through January, at which point it will all seem like rather too much effort. Prices of gym equipment will, as usual, be lowest during February as realistic people get rid of their purchases from a more optimistic moment.

I’ve always been a cynic with regards to new years resolutions. People seem to enter into them with either a ludicrous optimism, genuinely thinking that making a resolution at the start of a new year will enable them to do something they’ve been failing to do for months; or they make a resolution with the expectation of failing. A nominal resolution, I suppose you could say, for there is no actual resolve behind such ideas.

But this is what a resolution is. Having resolve. And this seems to me to be incredibly appropriate for each and every Christian. If we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling are we not to have resolve? Not with an optimism which ignores our past failures, and certainly not with an expectation of failing to keep the resolution, but with faith in God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Christians should resolve to work out our salvation in the knowledge that God is at work in us.

So with this in mind, I have (for probably the first time since my mother forbade me from resolving not to go to school) decided to commit to some new years resolutions. Actually, only one. I could list any number of ways in which I wish to change to enable me to serve God more, but such a broad focus would defeat the objective. Instead it seems better to focus on one area in which I wish to make particular progress over the coming months. That’s a piece of advice which comes in at number 5 in this list of ten tips for keeping new years resolutions.

The list also recommends sharing one’s resolution, so I will. I resolve to get into a habit of going to bed around 11pm.

Some people may wonder why this is the resolution I chose after talking about God. Wouldn’t it be better to resolve to spend more time praying, or reading the Bible, or telling people about Jesus’ death? Maybe. But I chose this resolution very deliberately. Anyone who knows me would tell you that I typically go to bed in the early hours of the morning, and consequentially struggle to get out of bed in time for the next day. The knock-on effects of a bedtime are huge. Someone said that the battle for tomorrow is fought tonight, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. Going to bed late usually causes me to get up late, be grumpy, have a less productive day, cut out spending time with God to try and get some work done, waste the evening out of frustration, then go to bed late again. Thinking that an early bed time will fix all these problems would be another example of the simple optimism I was scathing about earlier, but I see it as a step in the right direction.

And it’s a direction which goes against nature. I’m not an early person. To adapt to a later day (i.e. getting up and going to bed later) is easy – simply stay up late, be tired, and sleep in. The reverse is harder, because going to bed early doesn’t help, as your body isn’t yet ready for sleep. Going to bed early and getting up early will (experience has taught me) reduce the amount of sleep I have. But (I hope!) only for a short time. Once in the routine of getting up early and working throughout the day, I hope an early bedtime will be more reasonable. We’ll see.

A Christian’s friends

A lot of Christians do, in my limited experience, tend to find that their closest friends are other Christians. This is only natural, as they are connected by the close bond of unity and fellowship which comes from being in the body of Christ, the global church. It is also actively encouraged much of the time, as it is rightly pointed out that the negative influence non-Christians tend to have on a Christian is greater than the positive influence of the Christian. In the words of JC Ryle,

The good go down to the bad, and the bad do not come up to the good.

Is this why so many Christians struggle to be living out the experience which the apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, sharing not only the gospel with the people around them, but also inviting them into their lives? I realise this is a broad brush stroke, but do Christians struggle to share the gospel in a personal and meaningful way because they are afraid of making close friendships with unbelievers? I would suggest some do.

I can testify that at university I have found it far easier to make Christian friends, even when I have naturally got on better with a non-Christian. It is a source of constant pain to me that I have so few close friendships outside of my various holy huddles. Having said this, God is gracious, and He is pleased to bless me with a number of friends who do not know the gospel, and He is strengthening my friendships with them. It is my prayer that I will grow in my love for God so that I may be able to love them more, sharing not only the gospel but my life.

BNP on Question Time

A friend of mine who I met on a UBM team over the summer holiday has just started a blog, and has put up some interesting thoughts about the BNP and the recent Question Time debate with Nick Griffin. As a free speech advocate, the BNP always produce a discussion which interests me greatly, and this one is no different. If you’re interested, the below links are to his blog.

BNP on Question Time – written before Question Time was broadcast

Did Nazi Nick win Question Time? – written after the broadcast