This week’s edition is based on the talk I gave last weekend at friend’s inauguration service, minus the personal points!
There was once a learned preacher who preached an extensive sermon, basing his points around the initial letters of his University: YALE. When he had finally finished, an exhausted student was heard to say, ‘Thank goodness he didn’t come from the Massachusetts Institute for Science and Technology). The acrostic I have come up with here is a bit shorter than that: it’s based around the initial letters of the words, TEAM TALK. Today we’re at the TT races:
T is for Tortoises and Triumph.
Thanks be to the Lord who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus and leads us in triumphal procession (1 Cor. 15:57 and 2 Cor. 2:14). Some battles can be won simply by releasing the Lord’s victory into situations; others require a great deal of arduous travail (Gal. 4:19). Since speed is not the principal issue, may I commend to you the tortoise – which only makes progress by sticking out its neck!
Territory is taken for Christ through two absolutely vital qualities: Courage and Endurance. Without these we lack either the morale or the strategy to get under way effectively – rather like the tortoise I saw the other day in a televised race. A slug, a snail and a tortoise had all been lined up in lanes, and a reward suitable for their palate was placed at the far end of the course as an inducement. In theory the tortoise should have won – it can shift at an breath defying quarter of a mile an hour when it sets it mind on it, but this one was sleep or fear bound and never showed up for the race.
We need to take care of our ‘tortoise shell’! No, I’m not speaking about multi coloured cats: we’re looking at whether the shell around our heart is leading to hardened and encrusted attitudes, where habits are turning into strongholds.
If you’ve ever been out in Africa you may have seen oxpeckers hitching a ride on the backs of rhinos and other large mammals, tidying up all the parasites that would otherwise irritate their host. It’s all part of God’s elaborate and skilfully balanced eco system. Long ago converted a certain well known advertisement to make the important point that ‘the prayers of others can reach the parts our own cannot.‘ It’s so important to give each other permission to dust off our shells when they spot it accumulating, before it becomes encrusted!
The shell on the underside of a tortoise is called the plastron. All of us have our ‘undersides’, and the enemy often concentrates his fiercest attack there.
They attacked [confronted] me at my time of trouble [in the day of my distress/calamity/disaster], but the Lord supported me [was my stay] . . . If you give up [show yourself weak] when trouble comes [ on the day of distress/trouble], it shows that you are weak [ your strength is small]. (Psalm 18:8, Proverbs 24:10 Expanded Bible).
A lot of people who have been in the pastoral ministry for many years get badly hurt and end up developing a hard carapace to protect themselves from further pain. (Sadly, Christian leadership can often be an abrasive business)! Whilst we cannot possibly open our hearts fully to everyone, the good news is that the Lord can use the troubles that we go through to make our hearts stronger rather than harder. Isn’t that a lovely concept?
Something that will help us here is to remember the image of the Roman tortoise formation. You will remember how the legionaries used to lock their shields together above and around the whole troop so that together they were sheltered from flying arrows and missiles. We are not talking here about covering up but of developing the right level of watchfulness towards each other which goes a long way to help and protect each other without becoming narrowly exclusive.
This is all part of the outworking of Paul’s instruction to, ‘Honour one another above yourselves.’ Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honour than you want for yourselves [or Outdo one another in showing honour; or Be eager to show honour to one another] (Rom. 12:10 Expanded Bible).
May the Lord show us specific ways in which we can demonstrate your togetherness for Christ by honouring our loved ones, colleagues and fellow believers.
Observing a different animal for a moment, I love the image that when rams keep their gaze focused on the Shepherd, their woolly coats run companionably up against each other – but when they look at each other they see only horns!
It is when we are united in heart as well as in place that the Spirit falls, just as He did on the disciples at Pentecost. Such togetherness is attractive and contagious, and there’s no limit to what God can do through it. As the Lord prophesied many years ago, at the very first nationwide prayer conference we led, ‘When My people are one, I will do great things in your midst’. Or as my father said of Ros and I at our wedding: ‘Like antiques, they are more valuable as a pair!’
Whether your normal pace of life is that of a tortoise or a typhoon, remember the thirty seconds I have been recommending people take with the Lord before plunging into action. This is so helpful for keeping our hearts focused on the Lord rather than just on the issues in hand. You’ll be amazed how much you are able to share with Him in that time, how much He is able to arrange, and how much will come about because of it – and of course you’ll often find it expanding well beyond the thirty-second mark!
There are many other scrap-ends and moments throughout the day that we can put to good use seeking the Lord – not least when we pull up at red traffic lights. To see such things as a call to prayer is so much better than becoming impatient, or fulminating against people who are carrying their own load of cares and concerns – and it is a strategy that will definitely help us to take territory for Christ.