Another 'About me...'

CJ Mahaney has recently been interviewing some great people on his blog about themselves and their ministry. In yet another shameless act of robbery and self-promotion, here are my answers to his questions.

Please describe your morning devotions. What time do you wake up in the morning? How much time do you spend reading, meditating, praying, etc.? What are you presently reading?

I’m a guy who finds routine really helpful, so here’s how most days of the week (Sunday, Tuesday – Friday) usually go. My alarm goes off at 6.30am and I have a 10-minute snooze, then get up, have a shower, get dressed and eat breakfast – I want to be really awake before I spend time with God!

I start my time by reading one chapter of the Bible. I go through a book of the Bible at a time, usually alternating between the Old and New Testaments. At this rate it will take me about four years to get through the whole thing but I love spending a long time with each book, I get a real feel of what it’s about. Having read the chapter once, I then look through the notes provided by my ESV Study Bible, which are often very helpful. I then ask myself three questions: 1. What does this teach me about God? 2. What has stood out for me in this chapter? 3. What application to my life do I need to make as a result of reading this? I’ve found those questions really help me explore what I’m reading and give God space to speak to me.

I then spend ten minutes praying in tongues, trusting God’s Word that this is spiritual weight-training.

My prayers follow a general pattern of thanks and praise to God, then various topics. I pray a lot for myself because I am my biggest challenge! I want to know God more, be filled with the Spirit, witness well, have passion and perseverance. I pray about the things I’ve got coming up that day, and the various responsibilities I have. I pray for my girlfriend – for the things going on in her life, and for our relationship – that we would honour God and know His leading. I pray for my church that God would use us to change Bedford and beyond. I pray for friends and family, for the nation and the world (often those last two categories are fairly brief and general, to be honest).

My weakness here is that I’m good at talking and less good at listening.

In the evenings I usually journal my thanks to God for the day that I have had, and I’m reading through Charles Spurgeon’s Cheque book of the bank of faith – a devotional related to a promise from God for every day of the year.

What book(s) are you currently reading in these three categories: (a) for your soul, (b) for pastoral ministry, or (c) for personal enjoyment?

(a) Spurgeon’s Cheque book… as mentioned above, but also...

(b) I find myself challenged here because in the busy-ness of reading for projects I’m not reading to grow! I have just started The cross of Christ by John Stott but I really need to make more time for this.

(c) My bedtime reading is currently Church history in plain language by Bruce L. Shelley – that’s right, I’m a Christian geek! I like reading just before I go to sleep so Christian biographies or non-Christian literature that doesn’t challenge my worldview is best.

Apart from Scripture, what book do you most frequently re-read and why?

I had read Lord of the Rings every year for the past five or so years (around Christmas time), until this year. Maybe I’ve grown up? Tolkein created such a vivid world that rereading it is like travelling to a familiar place.

When you finish a book, what system have you developed in order to remember and reference that book in the future?

Hm, this is where terms like OCD begin to be bandied about. When I’m reading a book for study purposes I make a note of everything I find useful/memorable and after I’ve read the book I go through it again with my list and type those quotes up into a document. I then print and store that document in a box-file arranged by author’s name, and add a reference for that book to a database I’ve created, including the main subject of the book. I also put any especially memorable quotes in another database arranged by topic so that if I’m preaching on money, for example, I have instant access to all the good quotes I’ve read on that! Finally, I have created The Vault where I store anything good I find online. This is a pretty long process but gives me easy access to the stuff I’ve read.

If you could study under any theologian in church history (excluding those men in Scripture), who would it be and why?

Though not primarily famous for his theology, I would probably most like to study under Spurgeon, and do so to an extent through his many published resources. I’d just love to hear him preach, to see how he made doctrine so alive, and so that I could smoke cigars with him!

What single piece of counsel (or constructive criticism) has most improved your preaching?

Preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Also: ‘You’re a young man with a lot to say, and a long time to say it.’ Implication: don’t preach everything every time!

What books on preaching, or examples of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

The best thing that ever happened to my preaching was attending Preach the Word!, a conference organised by Greg Haslam at Westminster Chapel, bringing together the finest preachers in the land to speak about every aspect of preachers and preaching. By God’s providence this happened just as I was starting out in preaching and so I’ll never fully know how formative it was. (All the talks were collated into this book.)

What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your effective use of time?

It wasn’t counsel so much as the realisation that I should use different days, and times of the day, for different things. So Tuesday is really busy in the office so I should use it for meetings; Wednesday mornings are quiet so I use them for study; I’m always a bit sleepy after lunch so I should do smaller, easier things then, etc. This has saved me a lot of frustration.

What single bit of counsel has made the most significant difference in your leadership?

Probably when my church leader told me, ‘You know the calling on your life is leadership.’ He called something out of me then which I only really knew was there when he said this.

Where in ministry are you most regularly tempted to discouragement?

In my leadership (as opposed to ministry, i.e. preaching) that I’m not doing as much as I should, the root of which is a combination of pride and insecurity that God has graciously done so much to change.

Do you exercise? If so, what do you do? If not, why not?

Physical fitness is so often closely related to emotional and thus spiritual fitness so I try to stay fit. My body really seems to enjoy cycling so I’m trying to do that more. I also am privileged to be able to walk to work every day: 20 minutes each way over a small hill definitely counts as exercise. Plus I play sport…

Currently, what sport do you like to play and/or watch?

I play football every week, despite being pretty bad at it. Golf is much less frequent and no more successful. Evening or weekend meetings often get in the way of watching sport, but it’s good to make sacrifices, even if they’re small ones. I like football the most: I’m much better at watching it than playing! I also enjoy watching Test cricket and rugby involving England, the golf and tennis Majors, American Football, and darts (yes, it’s a sport!)

What do you do for leisure?

Hanging out with Debbie is definitely the most fun thing I get to do, though whether that counts as leisure or not I don’t know! I watch a bit too much TV, do this blog, hang out with friends as much I can when most of them are located elsewhere/busy/married! I also enjoy chopping up logs for my stove – I’ve been told it’s pretty much the only manly thing I do.

If you were not in ministry, what occupational path would you have chosen?

I really wanted to be a music journalist but when God grabbed hold of my life that all changed. As someone said to me recently, that would have been ‘such a waste’ of who God made me to be. Post-life-change, probably a teacher.