Go Out Into Deep Water

 


My five-year-old daughter Ada got out of the pool after her swimming lesson last week and her first words were: “I don’t like this new pool Dad. It’s too shallow.”

It was her first lesson at a new swim centre after a year at a different pool complex, where her lessons were in an Olympic size pool with deeper water. She was now in a smaller, shallow pool and Ada wasn’t a happy camper. She could touch bottom. She couldn’t jump in and go under. She yearned for deeper water. She was no longer satisfied with a shallow water experience.

In Luke 5 we read the account of Jesus calling his first disciples, including fisherman Simon Peter, James and John as he taught by the Sea of Galilee.

The fishermen had been working all night and had caught no fish. They would have been tired and looking forward to a rest, but as they encountered Jesus he called them to go back into the water to let down their nets.

I picture that Simon Peter would have had two competing voices in his head. As a seasoned fisherman, I imagine he would have questioned why Jesus would ask them to cast their nets again when they had been unsuccessful in their fishing overnight. And yet Simon has heard of Jesus. He knows he is a special man. He knows there is something unique about this teacher. He is different to others around him. So, Simon chooses to step out in faith, despite the circumstances. He chooses trust. He chooses obedience and a result he positions himself to experience the power of God in his life.

I am struck by these words in Luke 5:4 – “Now go out into deep water.”

For Peter to experience the “more” Jesus has for him, for Peter to turn his faith into action, for Peter to share in God’s miracle, he has to leave the shallow waters and head out to the deep. He has to go out on a limb and trust Jesus, despite the fact that humanly he probably doubted there were fish to catch.

This encounter challenges me about the need for followers of Jesus to be ready and prepared to “go out into deep water”.

We can become satisfied with “shallow water” faith. It can quickly become the norm in our Christian experience and we can miss out on so much of what God has for us. We can go through the motions, we can be active in ministry and serving others, we can do lots of good things, but we can be in control and do life and faith on our terms.

I know from my own experience and from chatting to many other Christians that most people yearn for more, but the longer we play in shallow water, the harder it is to leave.

And yet Jesus continues to call us to go out deep!

When Ada plays in shallow water she can touch bottom, she is in control, there is little risk. When she encounters deep water suddenly things are different. She no longer wants the safety of shallow water. She wants the adventure of deep water.

What does it mean in your life today to embrace “deep water”? Where might God be calling you out of your comfort zone? Where might God be calling you to choose trust and obedience, despite the circumstances? Where might God want you to leave behind “shallow water” and dare embrace the deep?

Having experienced the adventure of deep water Ada doesn’t want to go back to the shallows. May it be that we follow Jesus into the deep, where we abandon our control, put aside our agendas, give Jesus our fears and experience faith like never before.

When Peter pushes out into the deep and experiences the miraculous catch Luke records he was awestruck at what Jesus had done. It was a day he would never forget.

Audacious faith is risky. It calls us often to act despite the circumstances. But the results as we trust God can leave us awestruck as well.

Scott Pilgrim

Letting Jesus Take Control

 


Control. It’s something we all grapple with in life. Many of us like to try and stay in control of our lives, while for others life can seem like it is perpetually out of control. It’s a constant and life-defining challenge. What we do with this thing called “control” shapes our thinking, attitudes, actions, relationships and potential.

I’ve been reflecting on this over recent weeks in my own life with the help of two passages in the Gospel of Luke where we see two very different people flesh out the control challenge.

In the first story in Luke 7 we meet a man of influence – a high ranking Roman officer, a man who operates with power and position. The man has an urgent need; a highly valued slave is near death and the man of power is suddenly struck by the reality that despite his human influence there is nothing he can do in his own power to heal the dying slave.

The Roman official has heard about Jesus. He doesn’t fully appreciate who he is, but he does see him as the answer to his need. And so what does he do? In a beautiful and inspiring act of faith he humbles himself – he lets go of being “in control” – and he reaches out to Jesus. He invites Jesus to take control. He surrenders his needs and preferred outcome to Christ.

We read the officer’s humble words in Luke 7:7 – “I am not even worthy to come and meet you, just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed.”

And Jesus’ response. He honours the man’s authentic faith and he acts and the slave is miraculously healed.

I always find this encounter challenging and refreshing. In a world where I am bombarded with the call to be “in control” I am challenged about the need to keep yielding control of my life and future to Jesus. I can easily be seduced by a world where I am told to put myself first, to make decisions that benefit me, to write my own script, to live tight-fisted, to pursue power and position. But the Roman officer – a representative of “in-control” living – suddenly reminds me of the need to remain humble, grounded, trusting and faithful.

Today are you living with the “in-control” default setting in life?

Are you feeling weighed down and stressed because you are seeking to do life in your own strength and according to your own script? Today, like the Roman officer, do you need to let go of control and hand it back to your loving and faithful God?

Yes some of us are held back in life because we always seek to be “in-control”, while for others life seems to always be “out of control”.

That was the situation in Luke 8. Starting at Luke 8:43, we read about a woman who had suffered from constant bleeding for more than a decade.

Luke paints a picture of desperation. Here is a woman with a physical health condition that in the culture of the day would have forced her to the margins. Beyond her physical condition she would have been emotionally stretched. She would have known the pain of isolation. She could find no cure, no answers. She lived on an emotional rollercoaster and she represents a life “out of control.”

You may feel that way today. You may feel like you can’t cope with much more at all. You may be stretched – physically, emotionally, relationally or financially. You may feel that things just seem to go from bad to worse. You may be feeling vulnerable and lonely, as I am sure the woman in Luke 8 did.

But here again is a great lesson and challenge for all of us. What does the woman do, having encountered the reality of Jesus in her midst? She reaches out to him. She – from a very different position to the Roman officer – dares surrender to him in the hope of change and healing. She positions herself in the crowd and despite her fears she touches Jesus’ robe in an act of beautiful faith and immediately her life is changed.

Just like in our earlier story, Jesus’ response is to honour and celebrate faith.

There it is. Faith. Ultimately, faith is yielding control. Ultimately, faith is letting go of living with an attitude of “in control” or “out of control”.

Faith in action says: “Jesus I need you to be in control”. I need your Holy Spirit to lead me in my good days and dark days. I need you to help me make wise choices, to trust in the Lord in challenging circumstances, to persevere when stretched, to have God-given confidence to seize new opportunities, to move beyond my comfort zone, to humbly listen to the voice of God, to seek first Kingdom priorities, to live with and model a generosity of spirit and grace.

One of my colleagues at Crossway shared this reflection recently: “As hard as it can be at times, I am learning that as I let go of trying to be in control, God can extend my influence. I have to keep asking myself do I want personal control or godly influence?”

That’s so good!

Today what are we pursuing in life? Do we always want to be in charge? Do we always want control? Or do we feel like we have no idea of what tomorrow will bring and life seems out of control?

In Luke 7 and 8 we meet two very different people, but we see the same life-transforming outcome as they humbly yield control to Jesus. Yes, it’s a cliché – but they both “let go and let God.” I need to do that more and more in my life. Maybe that’s also your challenge and prayer today!

Scott Pilgrim

In my opinion…

“Well in my opinion …” We’ve all heard those words many times before. We all know opinionated people, be it in our family, friendship or work settings. We all know people who are more than ready to offer their opinion on anything and everything – from politics to parenting – from their way of doing things to how we could shed some weight or improve some aspect of our life.

A wise old boss of mine used to say: “There will always be those ready to give you their opinion, but don’t chase opinion, seek wise counsel and good advice.” Brian Houston says: “Opinionated is like marinated. We are soaking in it.”

Yes, we are!

We live in a world of opinion overload. Much of our media has moved from news reporting to opinion sharing; much of it done in an arrogant, insulting tone that is intentionally aimed at creating community divides.

And all too often in our personal lives we can be negatively swayed by opinionated voices, someone we have become too prone to listen to, someone always willing to offer us their opinion, but with no regard for its impact on us.

I’m sure within the next 24 hours, after reading this post, be it in the staff room, the lounge room, the gym, the bus stop or school pick up you will engage with someone who will offer you their personal opinion on matters that they ultimately know little about. There is 100% guarantee of this happening on our social media feeds.

Mike Barnicle writes: “We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”

Yes, in a world where we are bombarded with information; where we are saturated by media options, where we spend much time on social media and where many people are so quick to offer their opinion we need to be very careful about the voices we are listening to.

There will always be people ready to offer us their opinion. But wise people the Scriptures remind us are not quick to listen to the opinionated, but rather they seek out wise counsel, good, sound, helpful and trusted advice from people of integrity.

 

In Proverbs 12:15 we read: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who listens to counsel is wise.” And in Proverbs 19:20: “Hear counsel and receive instruction that you may be wise.”
  

I’ve learnt that these wise words make such a difference in life. I know the mess I can get myself in when I try and please others too readily, act irrationally or listen to the opinions of others whose motives are poor or who want a quick fix or an easy win. In contrast, I am so thankful for the difference wise counsel brings to life – good advice from trusted people.

I was chatting with a colleague a few weeks back and they were sharing about how they had intentionally needed to make the tough choice to limit contact with a life-long close friend.

“He is in a very negative space and he was constantly speaking negativity and discouragement into my life. He was always criticising, always telling me what was wrong with other friends … always quick to offer his opinion … always quick to highlight deficits in my life … he was sucking life out of me.

There it is. Hear that sentence again: “He was sucking life out of me.”

I’ve learnt that wise counsel and good advice do just the opposite – they speak life into me, they strengthen me, they encourage me, they fuel the soul, they make me a better person.

And yes, even when such counsel may be challenging or difficult to hear, if I know it is coming from someone I trust and respect, someone I have invited to speak into my life because of their example and integrity, then I know the motive behind challenge or correction is always for my good. Their wise words are about building me up, never pulling me down; they are always seeking to expand my capacity, not box or limit me in my potential.

Here are three simple, but ultimately life-transforming questions to ponder this week:

Who is speaking most into my life? [People and platforms]

Who should I be listening to less?

Who should I be listening to more?

Yes, they are simple questions, but what a big difference the answers make in our everyday world, where the voices we listen to have such a big impact on our sense of worth, beliefs, attitudes, priorities and relationships.

I’ve found listening to less voices rather than more is vital.

I’ve learnt people who authentically reflect the character of Jesus to me are certainly worth listening to.

I’ve learnt I need to actively seek out wise counsel from trusted people who want to see me grow.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt that I need to listen to what my “Abba Father” says about me as a love and valued child of his.

Treasured Possessions

I have a number of keepsakes in my office that represent different stages of my life and they all carry memories from my past.

In the photo above, you will see two of these items. One is a 1970s typewriter that I’ve carried around with me through a number of house and office moves. With it you will see a more than 80-year old sporting trophy.

I am sure none of you would want to part with money for them, not even at a “trash and treasure” sale and I wouldn’t expect bidders on Gumtree. They aren’t going to feature on Antiques Roadshow. The fact is they are not for sale. They may be worth little to most people, but they are incredibly valuable to me.

Their value is found in their ownership. They belonged to my much loved grandparents. They are a treasured possession of mine, just like a number of other special family collectables in my work office and home study.

It is 20 years this month since my grandmother died and I carry with me such strong memories of my time with her. She has left an indelible mark on my life and as small as it is; her vigoro trophy on my bookshelf is a small but special token of her legacy. As a child I would often hold the modest trophy as she would describe this strange game of vigoro, a sport that combined elements of cricket, tennis and baseball.

Sitting in my grandparent’s humble kitchen I would also watch my grandfather type meeting agendas and minutes from his beloved South Newcastle Lions rugby league club that he served in voluntary capacities for more than 70 years. There he was back in the 1970s with the Imperial 200, touch typing, not missing a beat. How the world has changed. He would have been lost on the MacBook I type this post on now. And I smile each time I watch my five year old Ada come into my office and sit and play with “Tom’s typing machine” as she calls it.

As I look again at these two small pieces from the past, I am reminded of how loved I was by these two special people in my life. I am reminded by how much I loved them. Most of all, I am struck afresh by the worth they fuelled in my life. They believed in me; they cheered me on; they stood by me from childhood into adulthood; they built self-esteem in me.

We live at a time where so many people yearn for worth and acceptance in life. We live in a world where we are bombarded daily with messages from the media and the marketers that impact how we see ourselves; often with an emphasis on the externals of success, image and materialism. We live at a time where all too many people will make decisions on their worth based on social media followers and influences.

In such a culture it is good for all of us to pause and ask ourselves where we derive our sense of worth and value. What are the primary drivers that shape our identity and how we see ourselves? These are fundamental questions and they shape attitude and action in our lives.

The older I get, the simpler and clearer the grid becomes for me.

I have learnt the dangers of looking to career, performance, success and others to shape my worth and value. Yes, these can all provide a temporary fix, but they are not lasting, particularly in seasons of turmoil, failure and loss.

At Crossway we have just completed a weekend series looking at 1 Peter; a letter written to a people being squeezed by Rome, a people under pressure, a people being persecuted and tested, a people with every reason to question their worth and purpose.

The bottom line message of 1 Peter is a reminder to the first century believers that they are known and loved by their Father God.

Peter uses this simple, but profound descriptor: “You are God’s special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)

That’s it – their value is in their ownership. They belong to their Creator God. They matter to God. They are his special possession – not because of who they are or what they have done; but all because of God’s grace, love and goodness.

Suddenly this grid changes everything for them. They can be secure in their identity, which opens the door to purposeful living. They are not bereft. Even in the midst of big challenges they know they are not alone. They have the resources of heaven at their disposal. They have hope. They have worth. They have value!

Today are you chasing worth in your work – seeking to climb the corporate ladder, accumulate more, tick the achievement boxes, but still yearning for “more” in life? Are you running in circles always seeking to please others; seeking to be accepted and valued, but feeling like you never make the mark? Are you more concerned with your social media status and image than your authentic personal story and journey? Do you feel alone and unloved? Have you lost sight of your real identity and purpose?

Today I invite you to join me in speaking Peter’s truth over your life again. Speak it into your mind and heart. Let it sink in – deep down. “You are God’s special possession.”

When we live with the reality that we matter to the One that matters most, we open the door to life-transforming worth, meaning, purpose and hope in our lives. And we are invited to bring this beautiful message of love, care and acceptance into the lives of others around us. That’s the treasure of knowing we are treasured!

 

— Scott Pilgrim

Ears To Hear

 


The following story has a “gross warning”. It involves my ear wax but stay with me as I think it provides a powerful picture for all of us living in a world where we are bombarded daily with noise and information.

Poor me – over recent weeks I’ve been fighting of “man-flu”! Yes, I’ve had a cold and as often happens when my nose is running and I’m fighting of the deadly “man flu” disease my ears get blocked. Over the course of a week my capacity to hear was increasingly impeded by a build-up of wax in my ear drums. I was feeling “full” and something that most of us take for granted – hearing – was becoming a challenge as people’s voices and sounds were more and more muffled.

Now this is not something new for me and so I treated my ears with wax softener and then it was time for a syringe to work its magic. A number of squirts later and suddenly my ears were no longer blocked and everyday sounds suddenly seemed so much clearer and sharper. It’s an amazing feeling – it’s like my hearing is taken to a whole new level. [Please don’t try this at home – seek medical attention. There is my health warning!]

As I reflect on the experience I am reminded that as well as physical ear blockages we all face the challenge of spiritual and emotional hearing blockages, particularly in the world we live in today.

In commencing a new series at Crossway last weekend, focusing on 1 Peter, Pastor Tim Piesse reminded us that we live in a “YouTube world” where we can look online and find out just about everything we want to know about anything, but with no guarantees on the reliability on the information or for that matter how helpful it will be.

Tim asked the great question: “What is your YouTube?” In other words, what and who are we listening to? What are our primary reference points in a world of information overload and media saturation? Who are we listening to in a world where we have so many conversations?

In such a world it is easy for our ears to get “blocked”. It is easy for our minds to dwell on things that hinder how we see ourselves, others and the world around us.

• We can so easily get seduced by the media’s flawed messages in regard success, self-worth, power, love, appearance, relationships and materialism.

• We can so easily get distracted by “noise” and lose sight of vision and purpose and the things that matter most in life.

• We can find ourselves over exposed to critical voices – family members, friends, colleagues – that consistently discourage us; that pull us down, rather than build us up.

• We can fail to take stock of internal voices that question our worth, limit our potential, harm our relationships and foster fear.

Yes, what we hear and what we do with what we hear on a day to day basis has a huge impact on our physical, emotional and spiritual health – the voices we listen to shape life direction and destiny.

Again, in the past week it has been good to remind myself of the need for regular spiritual and emotional “hearing” checks so I can ensure the voices in my world are filling my life with truth, hope, purpose, encouragement and grace.

In John 10:27 we read the words of Jesus: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Behind this verse is a beautiful picture of intimacy, connectedness and hope. Behind Jesus’ words is a wonderful invitation to journeying with him in all seasons of life.

At Crossway we talk often about growing as people who reflect the words, works and ways of Jesus. In other words, how do we allow Jesus to become our primary reference point in a world that offers so many choices, options and pathways.

I’m reminded of jumping into a hire car with my father a number of years ago in Sydney. I’m showing my age as this was pre-GPS days and we needed to make use of the UBD street directory. The only problem was the directory was ten years old. It didn’t even have the new south-western suburb we needed to visit listed in the index.

In a world of information overload and media saturation we are presented with so many “life maps” – we are offered so many different options and choices. There are many potential pathways, not to forget detours, distractions, potholes and risks.

The reality is that we need a reference point that is unchanging and unfailing and that is what relationship with Jesus offers us.

The older I get the simpler some things in life become.

One simple truth I hold fast to today is that I know I can’t rely on the voices of the world, the voices of others or my own inner voice. As helpful as all can be at times, they all are lacking at times. Their messages can often be distorted. My ears can become so blocked by competing voices that I can struggle to hear truth – I can struggle to hear what will help me most in life.

That brings me back to Jesus’ wonderful promise in John 10:27. Jesus wants to be in a deep, growing, loving and personal relationship with each of us and the stronger my bond with him, the greater my capacity to not only trust him in all circumstances, but the greater my ability to hear his voice – to hear his voice of truth in a world of noise and lies.

Just like wax softener and a syringe can work its magic on blocked ears, there are intentional things that I can do to keep my “spiritual ears” open.

• Praying regularly and remembering that listening to God is more important than telling God what we need.

• Opening up God’s Word with a spirit of expectation.

• Praying the promptable prayer “Come Holy Spirit”.

• Learning more and more about the words, works and ways of Jesus so we can mirror these in our attitude, speech, relationships, priorities, values and ethics.

• Intentionally placing myself around discerning, encouraging, Christ-like people – people worth listening to; people I need to listen to.

• Taking stock of what I am watching, listening and reading and how this can impact my thinking – negatively and positively.

• Trusting God more and more as we respond to the nudges of the Holy Spirit.

I’m thankful for Pastor Tim Piesse’s regular reminder that God is already at work in my world and my our life and that the Spirit has been given to each of us to help us be in tune with what God wants to

do. It’s good to live with our eyes and ears open to what the Spirit wants us to see and hear in the midst of everyday life. This is not weird, spooky stuff, this is sheep hearing the voice of their shepherd.

It feels so, so good to hear properly. Suddenly with clear ears I can hear differently. My mind is open to new sounds. Today, the Spirit is here – syringe in hand – ready for us to pray afresh: “Open my ears Lord, let me hear you anew”.

Scott Pilgrim

Stage Fright

 


My two little girls love to put on “concerts” at home. They love to sing and dance, usually asking for a judge’s score at the end. It always reminds me of my childhood days when my cousins and I would put on plays for the family to watch as we all gathered at my grandparents’ home. It’s no wonder two of my cousins ended up working professionally in theatre.

As the little girls sang and put on their best dance moves a few nights back it came time for my six-year-old-boy Arli’s turn. He took to “the stage” with a big smile but then as the music started he quickly exited stage left, straight into the laundry. A few minutes later he reappeared and said: “I got stage-fright. I lacked confidence.”

After a big comforting hug, we sat for a time and talked about confidence – a word and concept he is learning about at school. As we chatted my mind went back to my early school days and to similar challenges I had as a result of a lack of self-confidence.

So much of our life is impacted by our confidence or lack of it. Ultimately as adults we are “big kids” and we can all still struggle with “stage-fright” in the midst of the circumstances of life.

We focused on this theme at our Crossway staff meeting this week, reminding ourselves of what I see as a key tipping point when it comes to confidence. Search the topic online and you will find so much material on how to build self-confidence. And yes, while this is very important in all our lives, whatever our age, I don’t think it satisfies our deepest needs.

What I have come to learn is that self-confidence only takes me so far. If I am drawing only upon my own resources, my own capacity, my own self-belief, then as I have experienced many times, my confidence bucket can quickly empty in the midst of the pressures and anxieties of life.

I could easily write a post today on, say, ten keys to building self-confidence (and I would encourage you to read more on such a helpful topic). But I am convinced that for a time such as this, with so much angst and uncertainty in our world, where at times we can feel so stretched, there is a need to dig deeper into the well of confidence.

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is written to a group of early believers who were being squeezed from all sides. They were facing persecution while trying to find their way in the faith and support each other.

In Hebrews 10 they are encouraged: “So do not throw away confident trust in the Lord” and later they are reminded: “For we are not people who shrink from our faith”.

Here is the deeper well for each of us. A well that we can draw from with confidence, not in our own strength, but with absolute confidence in a strong, loving, faithful and good God who can be trusted in all seasons of life.

We, like the Hebrews Christians 2000 years ago, are reminded to take our eyes off our circumstances and challenges and to refocus our hearts and minds on God who will never leave us; God who is here for us today – in the small and big things of life.

I was speaking to a group of leaders from across Victoria this week and was asked what helped me most to move through difficult and challenging times. Quickly these four things came to mind.
 

Prayer

Not glib words or clichéd prayers, but rather the cry of the soul, knowing that I have a robust and accessible God who is ready to hear from me and who knows better than I what I most need in life. Experience has taught me that when I feel like I can’t keep going, or when life seems uncertain and difficult, the best posture I can assume is a praying one. It may be as simple as “God help me today”, “God I need you today”, “God I can’t do this on my own anymore”. When we pray these prayers we invite God to refocus our attention. We allow the Spirit to bring assurance, peace and confidence in God.
 

People

As I shared with the leadership group this week I reflected on how God had used a small number of significant people to speak confidence, faith, worth and belief into my life, particularly during challenging seasons. Elsewhere in the Letter to the Hebrews the early believers are reminded of the importance of other people in their lives – people who serve as examples, encouragers and inspirers. Who are these people in your life? Do you need to search some more out? Do you need to dare reach out today and let another person support you in your journey? Is there someone today that God’s Spirit may be leading you to as a vessel of His confidence, love and grace?
 

Past

The third “P” that came to mind was the past. By that I mean we all have a past – we all have stories and experiences of how we have made it through tough times. I find that my resilience grows as I look back and remind myself of God’s faithfulness, of the many times that God has turned up when I faced big challenges or was about to step out of my comfort zone. We can all learn from the past. The past also weaves a confidence tapestry. We can look back and see how God has journeyed with us. We can draw on His strength in the present. We can hold onto hope for the future.
 

Perspective

It is worth noting that the writer to the Hebrews says: “Do not throw away confident trust in the Lord”. They have had this confidence. They have had this faith. They know God can be trusted. So now, faced with perhaps even bigger challenges and greater tests, they are challenged to grab their buckets and draw again from God’s well. They are reminded of the importance of perspective.

Today are you experiencing “stage-fright” in the midst of life?
Do you feel overwhelmed with the pressures of life?
Are you yearning to seize a new opportunity, but holding back because of fear?
Have you for too long drawn on your strength and capacity, but your personal well is running dry?

Today we can draw confidence from a well that will never run dry. We can stand confident in a God who is with us every step of the way. Today we can dare to take to the stage of life and play our part, knowing we are enabled by a God who wants to use us to make our unique difference in the world.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Scott Pilgrim

Sing a Brand New Song

 


Last Saturday I needed to nurse my wife’s car home from Sydney to Melbourne for repairs. Under the mechanic’s instructions I couldn’t drive above 80km. Need I say more. With three kids in the back seat it was a long, long, long day.

On such a big trip all kids are going to have their “moments” and yes, I did resort to some additional screen time for my backseat passengers. But on such trips, or even shorter ones around Melbourne, here’s something I have discovered. The kids are at their best with each other when they are taking it in turns to pick a worship song.

They all have their current go-to tracks. Imogen will choose Hillsong’s beautiful new track Who You Say I Am, while Ada will do her best to remember some of the words to Chris Tomlin’s Good Good Father. Come Arli’s turn, he will belt out his finest version of Reckless Love, while I smile in the front seat realising that neither I or my youngest boy have been graced with singing voices. But in his beautiful innocence Arli gives it his all:

“And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give yourself away Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

As they were singing many times over last weekend I was struck again by the difference praise can make in our lives. Opening our mouths and declaring praise to our God changes our context. Opening our ears and minds to the sounds of worship can have a profound impact on each of us in our day to day lives.

Last week as I stood with more than 20,000 people from around Australia and the world at the Hillsong Conference I was reminded of the effect that worship has on us.

Here I was, a created being, offering a “brand-new song” to my Creator – and I was struck again by God’s perfect and beautiful design. The Scriptures remind us that God loves to receive authentic, heart-felt worship and that we have been created to express such worship.

 

The reality is that we are all wired to worship.

Let me encourage you to ponder that truth again today. The yearning to worship is innate in all of us. We either worship our Creator God or we worship other things – other gods or the “idols” of today’s culture, such as money, celebrity, power, sex, relationships, or even ourselves!

When my kids lean in and their minds focus on words of worship I see the work of the Spirit in their lives. Without even knowing it they are doing something good for their souls (and for their Dad’s peace of mind on a marathon road trip).

As we open our mouths in worship ….

  1. We are rightfully positioned

    In a world where we are seduced with the me-first messages, worship positions me afresh to see God for who He is. Positioned right, everything beckons me to praise.

    “O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth. Your glory is higher than the heavens.” [Psalm 8:1] “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all who live in it.” [Psalm 24:1]

  2. We gain valuable perspective

    Whether standing on the ‘mountain top’ or moving through the ‘darkest valley’ in life I have learnt that praise always gives me a new and fresh perspective. In the hardest seasons of my life I have discovered that even when my mind says I have little to praise God for, my heart can enable me to see life through a different lens.

    At such times I realise that as I open my mouth in praise I see the world differently. I realise afresh that I am not alone; I am not bereft of hope. I have a God who lavishes His love and grace upon me. I have a God who is with me each and every step of my life. I have a God so worthy of praise.

    I remember a comment that my former Pastor Marty McCrindle would often make: “Praise changes the atmosphere.”

    Today if you are doing it tough in life can I invite you to dare praise and see what happens. Your circumstances may not change, but your attitude and perspective will change as you allow the Spirit of God to give you a ‘brand new song.’ Is it time to change the atmosphere?

  3. We embrace both peace and power in our lives

    As we praise God we are actively co-operating with the work of the Holy Spirit, who wants us to experience more of God’s peace and power in our lives. Yes, praise brings both comfort and confidence. As we declare praise we experience ‘the peace’ that only God can bring into our lives and we step into the power that Jesus has for us in life as His followers.

  4. We open the door to new possibilities

    In Matthew 1 where Jesus’ ancestral line is listed we read in verse 3: “Judah was the father of Perez.” Older translations say: “Judah beget Perez”. I love the picture created here. Judah in Hebrew means “praise”, Perez means “burst forth”. What a powerful reminder for all of us. Praise leads to new things bursting forth. Praise leads to breakthrough. Praise leads to new possibilities in our life.

Today, you may find yourself in the midst of battle and the Bible would remind you to stand firm and praise. The battle isn’t God’s final word. He is with you! Today, you may be yearning for breakthrough. Don’t give up. Don’t believe the ‘brand-new day’ isn’t coming. Praise opens the door to new possibilities.

Do you need to take your eyes off circumstances, challenges, hopes and dreams and refocus your eyes on your good, good Father; a God worthy of our praise – a God worthy of all we have to offer him?

Last Saturday my three kids started singing worship songs and the atmosphere in the car changed. Today where does the atmosphere in your life need to change? Are you being called to praise? Are you being called to a brand-new song?

 
Psalm 96 (The Message)

Sing GOD a brand-new song!
Earth and everyone in it, sing!
Sing to GOD—worship GOD!
Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,

Take the news of his glory to the lost,
News of his wonders to one and all!
For GOD is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.
GOD made the heavens—
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.
Bravo, GOD, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.
Bring gifts and celebrate,
Bow before the beauty of GOD,
Then to your knees—everyone worship!

Get out the message—GOD Rules!
He put the world on a firm foundation;
He treats everyone fair and square.
Let’s hear it from Sky,
With Earth joining in,
And a huge round of applause from Sea.

Let Wilderness turn cartwheels,
Animals, come dance,
Put every tree of the forest in the choir—
An extravaganza before GOD as he comes,
As he comes to set everything right on earth,
Set everything right, treat everyone fair.

Scott Pilgrim

Cannonball!

 


My kids love swimming. They love getting wet. Even in the middle of a Melbourne winter they look forward to swimming lessons each week.

Last week as I sat poolside watching my youngest child, five-year-old daughter Ada, memories came flooding back of similar experiences I have had with all my kids. There she was “cannonballing” as she likes to call it as her instructor invites her to dive in. In my childhood days it was “bombing” but Ada looks at me as if I am speaking a strange language. “It’s cannonballing Daddy” as she smashes into the water with little grace, but a huge smile on her face.

As the instructor wipes the water from her face, suddenly I’m picturing PJ, my almost 22-year-old, discovering the joy of deep water when he was Ada’s age. It’s something I’ve experienced with all my kids. They all love the water. They’ve taken after me.

But they’ve all started in the same place; in the comfort and security of the wading pool!

Why did they love the wading pool? They felt safe. The water was shallow. They could touch the bottom. They were in control. There was no risk. There was nothing to fear!

But then things change. Suddenly shallow water no longer satisfies. The big pool beckons. The deep water calls.

Yes, there was PJ – probably about three – at the mighty Lambton Pool in Newcastle. I’m already in the water. He stands on the verge of deep water of the Olympic Pool. He pauses a few times as he prepares to take the big leap. Adventure overtakes nervousness and fear and he jumps. He goes under. Water surrounds him. He quickly makes his way back to the top and he looks at me with a smile I will always remember. He is alive! He has done it. And what are his first words to me ….

“Dad I want to do it again!”

Many years later nothing has changed for Ada Rose. When she is at the pool her favourite activity is jumping in the water. She no longer needs her bubble on. She feels “all grown up” and time after time she cannonballs her way under the water.

All too often in life we can be satisfied with “wading pool” experiences. Life is safe. It is predictable. We like to be in control. We like life on our terms.

But I know for me – and I am sure for most reading this post – the predictably and safety of “shallow water” experiences never fully satisfies. There is often a yearning for more. There is an innate beckoning to experience more of life; to live a more purposeful, adventurous, exciting and impacting life.

Yet sadly all too often we can choose safety over surrender. We can choose to live as we are, even with regret, rather than embrace risk.

And here’s where the big pool comes in. Just like PJ, or Ada for that matter, I’ve learnt that to truly experience and appreciate “the more” that God has for me in life requires faith and risk. Ultimately it requires faithful abandonment.

Yes, the Scriptures call us to live “deep water” lives; to be people who abandon ourselves in faith to a God who has plans and purposes that extend beyond our vision and dreams.

And seizing such opportunities always starts with taking a first step. I love the quote from Martin Luther King Jnr: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Today when you think of your hopes and dreams – when you think of new possibilities and opportunities, when you think of new doors God may be opening, when you think of the mark you would like to make, when you think of something you might try if you thought you wouldn’t fail – what things come to mind for you?

Opening the door to a new vocation or new business venture, chasing a new ministry opportunity, a restored family relationship, a marriage that looks so different to what it is today, a life free of addiction, a life where fear no longer holds you back, a life where complacency and procrastination are left behind; a life where you are passionately pursuing things you know you are called to and created for!

Today is it time to leave behind shallow water in some areas of your life? Is it time to dare to embrace deep water anew in your life?

It’s hard to believe the first half of 2018 is behind us. Time flies by. It has been eighteen months since Megan and I and some of our children moved to Melbourne to join the Crossway team. Accepting the invitation to join the team here was a big jump into deep water. It wasn’t easy to leave Newcastle, particularly loved family members and friends. I was in a great job but I knew God was stirring change within me. We were very comfortable in Newcastle. Life was good, but Megan and I knew that God’s Spirit was opening a new door of opportunity. Humanly it was scary, but faith calls us to unchartered territory.

And here’s what I have learnt over many years and certainly through our southern move. When you step out in faith in life, when you embrace deep water, God is with you every step of the way. It doesn’t mean the path will be easy. It doesn’t mean there won’t be tough days, even doubts, but our faithful, loving, robust, caring, good God will provide you with all you need. He’s the God of deep waters!

So often in life it comes down to this – faith or fear. We see this tension, this stark choice throughout the Bible. Today where is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone? Where is he inviting you to embrace new possibilities? Today are you ready to “cannonball” and experience more of what God has for you in life?

Scott Pilgrim