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Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”


A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”

And:

“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.

Half-year update on us trying to read more books

It was sometime towards the end of last year that I realised that, in comparison to the hundreds of articles, blog posts and Facebook updates that I skim through on a daily basis, I wasn’t really doing very well with old-fashioned book reading.

So this year we’ve tried to build it into our family routines more. When we’re home for dinner, we try to read a portion of the Bible (right now the girls all get to listen to Jeremiah, since that’s the book being preached at this year’s Stand Conference). In addition, we try and read as a family after meals (alternating between fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). And then I read a few books myself too (usually ones that Cheryl wouldn’t find interesting).

It’s actually nice to look back and see that God has used the time to help us engage with quite a few books. So far in the last half year, we’ve read:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) – aside from the unfortunate tale of Emeth, really enjoyed this. Cheryl had read the series as a kid, I had not. Even E was able to say Aslan after we’d gone through a few of the books.
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield – so much helpful thoughts about hospitality, parenting, evangelism, and an insightful look into the life of a former lesbian feminist professor turned Christian (I reviewed this last year – we read it together this time as a family)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – a delightful tale about a girl who loves to read and is very intelligent, but misunderstood by her parents and headmistress at school. Very humorous. We have a whole lot more Roald Dahl books to enjoy.
  • Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull – we are up to chapter 20; it’s meant to be our date night book but I often forget to pick it out and read it (perhaps because it’s an e-book)
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – we started this last night (a short book about pride,  something we both want to work on).

During the day, Cheryl has been reading to Eden. They’ve gone through dozens of books in this way, including Big Picture Bible, Jesus Storybook Bible, Dr Seuss’s Library, Goodnight Moon, Peepo and others (thanks, Auckland Libraries!)

In addition, here is my personal reading:

    • A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke – I’m stuck in chapter 10. It’s a really boggy book to be in… I’m determined to read more though.
    • Engaging with God by David Peterson – A biblical theology of worship. Very detailed and scholarly, some of it going over my head but lots of helpful thoughts. Very succinct big idea: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms He proposes, and in a way that He alone makes possible.”
    • Passing the Baton by Colin Marshall – A short book outlining a vision for ministry apprenticeships
    • The God Who Is There by Don Carson – Started this and got a few chapters in before getting sidetracked
    • Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith – Started this too, a little underwhelmed. I got the big idea fairly quickly (we are not containers for ideas or beliefs, but rather beings who desire a vision of the good/ultimate life, and this should shape how we think about worship, education, culture), but I don’t see why he has to take so much time and use so much complexity to get his points across.

Also, Cheryl is working through Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley with Kelli and Kat from church.

What books are you currently reading? Any suggestions on what we could read next?

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Praying for more than your meal

Prayer is one of those things a new Christian often learns by osmosis. My first attempts at conversing with God would have sounded much like what everyone else in my youth group were praying at the time: trite and clichéd.

It takes a lot of effort for me to break out of this mould. Even today, my prayers often take mental shortcuts and follow a very formulaic pattern: “Dear Heavenly Father… thank you for a, b, c, … I pray that we would have a, b, c, in Jesus’s name, amen.”

One thing I’ve noticed when reading the prayers of Christians from earlier generations is that they’re so rich and full of variety.

I keep reminding myself that the best way to learn how to pray is to do it more. But I’ve also recently found a few resources and tools could help me broaden and improve this spiritual discipline:

  • Matthew Henry’s “A Method of Prayer”, free. From the website: “Reading and re-reading through it will train the Christian in the use of biblical truth and language in prayer.” Includes a helpful section on The Lord’s Prayer.
  • God’s Prayer Book by Ben Patterson – His big idea is that you can read any passage of Scripture and practise the following: Rejoice, Repent, Request.
  • Bryan Chapell’s “Praying Backwards” – he challenges readers to begin their prayers with Jesus’s name, instead of it becoming little more than a cue to open one’s eyes
  • The ACTS model – a simple model where you work through Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
  • Prayer sermon series – I listened through Peter Somervell (my pastor)’s series on prayer and found it helpful and practical.

Any tips from prayer warriors out there? How do you keep your prayers fresh on an ongoing basis?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thess. 5:16-18

 

E2 and sisterhood

I’m writing this on Eden’s 2nd birthday. It’s starting to sink in that we have a two year old in our house – it feels like we have been parents forever, even though I know that’s not true!

Eden is part of a growing group of super-intelligent beings known as girls. She is joined this year by younger sister Harmony (currently 3 and a half months old), who is fast catching up in size. And not pictured but just as part of the sisterhood is Eden’s cousin, who has just turned one and started walking.

These girls have shared lots of things so far: clothes, toys, baby capsules, and more. Our prayer is that one day they might share a bond stronger than family bloodlines, the blood of Jesus Christ.