Category Archives: Ilford

Don’t draw the wrong conclusion from unanswered prayer

Here is something that puzzles me and I expect puzzles you too.

Ever since we’ve started prayer meetings in Ilford, we’ve prayed for people we know to come to Jesus. I’ve not counted how many such prayers we’ve offered, but there have been many. And yet we’ve seen very few clear answers. The puzzle is this: “are we really more anxious to see people saved than God himself is?”. That’s how it can look and feel. We really want people to become Christians; if it were in our hands, we’d save everyone straight away. So, it looks like we’re more merciful than God.

In his book, “Only A Prayer Meeting”, the preacher Charles Spurgeon puts his finger on that issue and tackles it very, very helpfully. So, this is me basically regurgitating his answer!

Here’s the answer: it’s just an optical illusion. That’s only how it looks at a casual glance. But if we probe further, and examine ourselves a bit more, we’ll see that we’re seriously misrepresenting our own hearts. We’re being pretty puffed up about quite how zealous we really are. Isn’t our compassion pretty hit and miss? Are we as intense in our desire for people’s salvation as we like to tell ourselves? This kind of self-satisfaction is not a good sign at all. It suggests we think our work for God is up to scratch. We’re being pretty conceited. That’s hardly a good pre-condition for God to work. If God were to answer our prayers this Sunday, wouldn’t we be tempted to steal the honour and feel smug about ourselves, secretly thinking: “we’ve done things pretty well as a church; we somehow deserve this”?

God’s plan in salvation is always to make ourselves smaller that he might be bigger. The trouble is: “Some trumpets are so stuffed with self that God cannot blow through them. Some pitchers are too full of their own muddy water for God to pour the water of life into them” (p.29). So, part of our reaction to our unanswered prayers for conversions should be to ask: “what have we got to learn from our non-success?” Paul experienced “the anguish of childbirth” before Christ was formed in the Galatians’ hearts (Gal 4:19). The psalmist first sowed in tears, before he reaped in joy (Psalm 126:5). God wants to form us into men like Moses, who was ready to have his name blotted out of the book that Israel might be saved (Ex 32:32), and like Paul, who was ready to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers (Rom 9:3). Spurgeon says: “We cry, ‘Arm of the Lord, awake!’ and he replies, ‘Awake, awake, O Zion!” (p.30). In other words, let’s not kid ourselves that God’s the one sleeping, when, really, it’s us!

So, don’t draw the wrong conclusion from our unanswered prayers for conversions. When God delays to answer us, let’s not secretly tell ourselves we’re more compassionate than him; rather let’s humble ourselves and pray we’ll start to show just a fraction of the compassion that he has for sinners.

Helpful links on children in church

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them” (Matthew 18:14).

Had another exhausting Sunday trying to get your children to sit through church?

Wondering why on earth we don’t get the kids out so that the adults can listen to the sermon in peace?

Getting frustrated at the noise levels on Sundays?

Questioning what the point of children sitting in a service is when most of it seems to go over their head?

These are all common feelings, to which we need to respond in principled rather than pragmatic ways. And to encourage you: inconvenience is a much more valuable aspect of worship than many of us appreciate. What if God uses our experiences of frustration much more than our easy and convenient experiences to make us the Christ-like people he’s calling us to be?

Anyway, to help you think through the subject, here’s a link to a great collection of resources, compiled by the minister of Gareth’s home church in Stranraer, Stephen Steele. Have a browse, if you get the chance. If you want a light-hearted look at the subject, I enjoyed video at the bottom.

Tax Collector Love

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Matthew 5:46.

In this verse, Jesus describes “tax-collector” love. What is “tax-collector” love? It’s love that is natural. It’s love that loves its own kind. It’s natural for mothers to love their own babies. It’s natural for the English to love the English (though, it’s also natural for us not to show it!). It’s natural for West Ham fans to love other West Ham fans. It’s natural for Hindus to love Hindus. It’s natural for tax collectors to love tax-collectors. This “tax-collector” love can be sincere and sacrificial. “Tax-collector” love can be willing to put itself out for fellow tax-collectors, when it sees them in need. “Tax-collector” love can be produced by team-building exercises, and by socialising together. It’s built up over time, as you experience the highs and lows of life together. There’s nothing wrong with “tax-collector” love.

But, in this verse, Jesus wants Christians to show a love that is higher than “tax-collector” love. In the context, Jesus call us to love our enemies (v.44). But this raises the question: is the love we have for one another as Christians just another version of “tax collector” love? Is it any different to the way members of the local chess club could start to care for each other, if they tried? I think it’s important to recognise the real danger that believers’ love for one another can, at times, be nothing more than “tax collector” love. It can be based merely on going to shared meetings, singing the same songs, and socialising lots.  So, how do we stop our love being merely “tax-collector” love? The puritan, John Owen, answered that question like this in a catechism that he wrote: we need to be committed to the true worship of God. He points out that the real origin of Christian love isn’t natural but supernatural (or “evangelical”, as he calls it). It comes from our adoption by the same Father, our union with Jesus our elder Brother, and our indwelling by the same Holy Spirit. John Owen says:

“that love which is not built on these principles and foundations [of worshipping the Triune God] is not evangelical, whatever other ground it may have, or occasion it may pretend unto” (p.462, vol 15, Works).

Isn’t that a challenge? What ground is our love for each other built on? Let’s aim to show Ilford a love that is worlds apart from “tax collector” love. How? Well, it won’t be by drumming it up from inside ourselves. It won’t come from simply concentrating on each other, and learning about each other. It won’t come from team building exercises. No, the source of “evangelical” love is God himself. So, let’s give our all to worshipping him. Turn up on Sunday ready to engage with him. Sing your heart out to him. Adore Christ’s grace to you. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. The way to love our brothers and sisters with something higher than “tax collector” love is to give ourselves to God.

Moving to London?

“Come over to … [Ilford!] and help us” (Acts 16:9).

Are you moving to London for work? Are you looking to buy in London but wonder how you can afford it with the property prices? Consider buying in Ilford for the sake of the gospel!  Recent data shows that Newbury Park and Redbridge are the most affordable stations to live close to in London.  They are both local to us at All Nations Church Ilford. More information here

If you want a nice house, this may not be the best place. If you want a big garden, Ilford may not be your top choice. If you want to hang out with lots of people like you, it’s probably not for you. If you want to play it safe, look elsewhere. If your goal is comfort and convenience, try south west London! But if you want to bring the good news of Jesus to a hard place, where there are lots of Muslims, and complete freedom to speak, then why not think and pray about coming to help us at All Nations Church Ilford.

We’ve been going for two and a half years, and have lots to thank God for, but we’re still praying for God to send us more keen Christians, who want to get stuck in to the unglamorous but glorious life of Christ’s church.