Is waiting a waste of time?


‘Time is money’, or so we are told.

In the West we have turned time into a commodity. We talk of ‘spending time’, ‘making up for lost time’ and ‘wasting time’ – all conveying the sense that it is a currency we trade in. In such a context one of the big draws of mobile devices is that they are ‘time-saving’, there to make our lives more efficient (where efficiency is productivity/time). So any moment that you are waiting, and therefore not maximising your productivity, your hand reaches for your phone to check your messages, emails, Facebook or Instagram account. And what’s the problem with this, after all, isn’t God in favour of productivity? Aren’t we told in Ephesians 5:16 to ‘make the best use of time’? While there are of course many verses in Scripture to warn against laziness, one of the casualties of our pursuit of saving time is the art of waiting well. Notwithstanding the fact that much of our frantic activity is actually not very productive (for example there are numerous studies that show multitasking is actually not as efficient as working on one task at a time), waiting time is not a waste of time.

Here are four ways in which waiting, just waiting, without nervously checking messages, emails or social media on your phone, can be a blessing.

1. Waiting cultivates patience

Patience is one of the nine virtues of the fruit of the Spirit and a rare virtue today when we expect everything instantly. 1 Corinthians 13 famously reminds us that ‘love is patient’, Ephesians 4 calls us to be ‘patient, bearing with one another in love’, Romans 12 exhorts us to be ‘patient in affliction’. But how can we be patient, waiting on God and His timing, if we can’t wait. Why not try next time you are waiting for someone or something just to wait? Don’t think because you are not doing something that there is no benefit to you: you will be ingraining the virtue of patience.

2. Waiting gives space to meditate on Scripture

We are told that the blessed person is one who meditates on God’s word (Psalm 1:2) but if our phones are always filling every bit of space in the day then when will we do this? Why not use the next time you are waiting to bring to mind Scripture, perhaps from your daily reading or from the sermon on Sunday, and use the time to mull it over and reflect on its implications for your life?

3. Waiting enables us to be mindful of God’s presence

David wrote in Psalm 16:8 ‘I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken’. God is always with us by His Spirit, but one of the challenges we have is to be conscious of that and letting it shape our lives. Life can be busy and in the busyness it is easy to forget this foundational reality in our Christian walk. Waiting can be a great opportunity to press reset and remind ourselves that God is with us by His Spirit, to be attentive to Him and what He is doing in our lives.

4. Waiting provides space for others

Sociologists note that we live in a monochronic culture where time is seen as one continuum and great emphasis is placed on meetings starting and finishing ‘on time’.

While there is much that is good about this, polychronic societies (like African and Latin-American cultures) emphasise relationships over time. One of the ways we can soften the hard edges of our focus on being ‘on time’ is to make use of the gaps. Think of waiting at a bus stop or in a queue. Today most people will be on their phones and as with all decisions there is a cost, supremely the cost to the relationships you are not forming with those you are waiting with. Why not wait without looking down at your phone and engage in a conversation? Perhaps the Lord will use it to deepen a friendship, start a new relationship or to give you a context to share Christ with someone.

Getting over feeling awkward

As with anything that is new and unfamiliar, waiting will probably feel odd at first. Don’t let that put you off, you are just getting used to a new norm. You may feel awkward and find insecurities exposed, and it may highlight to you that you are actually a bit (or a lot) addicted to your device. That would be a good thing. Either way stick with just waiting and give yourself time to habituate a new virtue, remembering that in Scripture waiting is not just what we do until God gives us what we want, but waiting is often the process by which God makes us into what He wants.

Pete Nicholas is co-author of Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital age. For more resources visit

The master weapon of discouragement

Mike Mellor discusses how to fight the blues in an era of social media ‘success’


The overemphasis upon externals in our age affects us much more than we would care to admit.

The emphasis on image is enormous. The pressure – especially for preachers – to look and sound like the real deal is massive. We have the luminaries of the church coming to us via the Internet and through social media, and we rejoice in so much that is good – but we take a look at our paltry efforts, and slump. The means of encouragement can often be a double-edged sword. We are just not media material. How could we possibly have any impact when possessing ‘the perfect face for radio’, alongside fears that we struggle to impress even our own Sunday School kids?


Yet, when we turn to scripture, church history and Christian biography, we are presented with an array of characters who make us feel almost normal.

If we look at the mighty leaders of the 18th century, we see the squint-eyed George Whitefield, and the dapper, diminutive John Wesley, of whom it was said: ‘He could fall out with his own shadow’. In the next century we see one of the greatest Welsh church-planters, Christmas Evans, who had a glass eye! It is reported that halfway through his sermon the socket would fill up with fluid, so he would remove his eye, wipe it with a handkerchief and pop it in again!

The ugly apostle

Then, of course, the great apostle Paul, according to tradition, was no oil painting. One ancient writer described him this way: ‘He was a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and nose somewhat crooked.’1

There were undoubtedly times when Paul would have heard the taunts of our cruel enemy whispering: ‘Just look at you. Who on earth would listen to you?’ He knew what it was to have ‘conflicts on the outside, fears within’ (2 Corinthians 7:5). In his letters to the church in Corinth we see him having to deal with the divisions that were driven by pride. Revealing the secret of his bold humility, he tells them: ‘I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes’ (1 Corinthians 4:3–5).

There was nothing of that brash ‘I couldn’t care what people think’ attitude about the apostle. He knew what it was to feel the pain of being misunderstood, accused and unappreciated, and we mustn’t think that somehow he was above having to do battle with discouragement. Far from it: there were plenty of reasons for him to want to quit. It must have been rather depressing, for example, for him to look at the church he had planted and see such dreadful behaviour – drunkenness at church meals, members suing other members, sexual immorality, some denying the resurrection – and on top of that to detect their boasting about how spiritually gifted they (the church in Corinth) were. But this man of God refused to allow himself to be overwhelmed by such displays of ice-throwing.

Victory in praise

There may well be occasions when a ‘spirit of heaviness’ comes upon us – perhaps due to pressing circumstances, or a ‘cloud’ may simply descend and remain for no apparent reason. At such times we need to look to Him who came ‘to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair [‘heaviness’, KJV]’ (Isaiah 61:2–3).

Whilst seeking to avoid a ‘silver bullet’ mentality in coping with such experiences, we have to admit that there often is inexplicable power and release to be found in God-focused praise.

Praise decentralises self

Praise lifts us away from ourselves and our circumstances and concentrates our thoughts upon Him. Praise honours God, therefore God honours praise. Note how often in the Psalms the writer moves from lamenting to praising. In Psalm 31, for example, David seems to find sweet release from the burdens that weigh upon him and the snares that encompass him. We were created for worship, not worry; therefore, our souls thrive in gladness, not gloom.

Let us beware of being a slave to our feelings. ‘But I don’t feel like it!’, we so often object. However, our feelings have nothing to do with it. We must praise God! Praise is a sacred duty and privilege – a ‘sacrifice’ we are to offer ‘continually’ (Hebrews 13:15). God always expects His redeemed people to bring Him praise and thanksgiving. ‘I tell you’, said Jesus, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

Praise is a mighty weapon

In 2 Chronicles 20 we see the armies of Moab and Ammon making war against Israel. King Jehoshaphat calls on the people to seek God, and word is sent back: ‘The battle is not yours, but God’s … stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you’ (vv.15,17). As the people ‘began to sing and praise’ God, He dealt with the enemies that threatened to oppress them (v.22). Praise was an essential ingredient in their victory, and victories are still won and dark powers can still be put to flight when God is praised. He is able to break the chains that bind us, remove the dark cloak of heaviness and give us the oil of joy in place of gloom and mourning.

Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find, May Jesus Christ be praised! Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this, May Jesus Christ be praised! . . . The powers of darkness fear When this sweet chant they hear: May Jesus Christ be praised! 2

Music may be a help to us

CH Spurgeon, preaching on the text ‘Now bring me a minstrel’ (2 Kings 3:15), spoke of the effect music can have in bringing relief in times of darkness and oppression. Elisha was passing through a particularly difficult period: ‘The prophet’s spirits were depressed.’ Spurgeon then spoke of this being a common human experience, and how God has provided a means of relief through music: ‘Our minds are disarranged, the machinery is out of order, the sail is furled, the pipe is blocked up, the whole soul is out of gear … “Bring me a minstrel,” said the prophet, for his mind was easily moved by that charming art. Music and song soothed and calmed, and cheered him … Among our own helps singing holds a chief place; as saith the apostle: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” ’

Spurgeon continued: ‘Note how he connects it with peace in his epistle to the Colossians: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts … ” ’3

We need all the help we can get, so, to assist you in your praise, use a good hymnbook (what could be better than the Psalms!) or worship recordings. Praise God, no matter how hard your heart feels or how oppressed your spirit may be.

We do not lose heart

Standing like bookends at the beginning and end of Paul’s great chapter on ministry in 2 Corinthians 4 is the phrase ‘we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16). It is clear that he was often tempted to lose heart, but he tells us that the great motivation that kept him going like an express train, in season and out of season, was his eternal hope in Jesus Christ. He then spurs on those who share in that hope by concluding: ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). Thomas Brooks said: ‘Hope can see heaven through the thickest clouds.’4

This article is an extract from Ice and Fire by Mike Mellor, recently published by Day One, ISBN 978 1 846 256 462, £9.00, and is used with permission.


1. Acts of Paul 3:3, in E Hennecke and W Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2 (trans. and ed. RM Wilson)
2. ‘When Morning Gilds the Skies’, translated by Edward Caswall.
3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon sermon, ‘The Minstrel’, 7 August 1881, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 27, The Spurgeon Centre
4. In John Blanchard, Gathered Gold, Evangelical Press

Hong Kong: Christians at the forefront of protest


Hong Kong’s population has been in fer-ment during June, with protests by millions against an extradition bill proposed by the autonomous city’s own administration.

The situation was triggered by the murder in Taiwan of a 20-year-old Taiwanese woman. She was allegedly killed by her boyfriend, a citizen of Hong Kong, who fled there after the murder. In the absence of an extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong, the suspect was unable to be extradited to Taiwan to face trial.

The Hong Kong Administration, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, proposed a new extradition bill to Hong Kong’s Assembly to enable extraditions to mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, to supplement other such agreements with 20 other countries.

At this point, other complicating factors came into play. Mainland China, of which Hong Kong is a part, has a dismal human rights record, with widespread persecution of Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups. Such persecution has been reported by human rights agencies. Over 1million Muslims in the west of China are currently incarcerated in re-education camps, while raids on underground Christian gatherings and demolitions of churches are widely reported. These activities are designed to ensure that the dominant secular creed of state communism shapes the primary identity of Chinese from all its diverse ethnic groups.

Christian concern

In Hong Kong, with its contrasting approach to freedom of religion, there is concern that the proposed bill will enable communist Chinese authorities to circumscribe religious freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, but denied to mainland Chinese residents.

Christians number around 900,000 in Hong Kong, or around 12% of the population. They hold significant positions of influence. Chief Executive Carrie Lam is a practicing Catholic, while there are very active Protestant mega-churches from a variety of denominations.

Christian protest

In the wake of the announcement of the plan to introduce an extradition bill, Hong Kong residents protested in their millions regularly during the month of June, with the protests taking a distinctly Christian flavour in certain ways. Poster boy of the protests, Joshua Wong, is a devout Christian, and many Hong Kong churches have organised prayer events in support of the protests and opened their doors to protestors fleeing police activity.

A distinctive feature of the protests has been the image of crowds of protestors, both Christian and non-Christian, all chanting the 1970s American Easter hymn ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’, written by Linda Stassen in 1974.

Hong Kong law requires that organised protests must be notified to the authorities in advance, but a religious demonstration needs no such advanced approval. Hence such public gatherings which on face value can present themselves as religious assemblies may be less vulnerable to police action.

Nevertheless, the response by the authorities has been strong. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been used to disperse some of the protests. After the level of public protest reached its peak in mid-June, Lam announced that the proposed extradition bill would be dropped, a significant concession.

Uncertain future

However, Pandora’s box has been opened and the protests have continued, suggesting that the issues at stake are not limited to the issue of the extradition bill alone. On 1 July, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s unification with China, there were violent protests throughout the city. On this occasion, ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’ was not the catch-cry of the protestors. Rather, pro-democracy motivations were at play. This points to a deep-seated anxiety among many Hong Kong residents about the future of the city and its enjoyment of civil liberties and wide-ranging freedoms. Hong Kong’s autonomy status is due to lapse in 2047.

As Hong Kong negotiates its uncertain future, the churches and its active Christian minority will have an important role to play. This has been seen in the prominent role played by Christians in the extradition bill protests. Hong Kong’s status as a former British colony means that British churches have a responsibility to watch developments closely and to stand with their Christian brothers and sisters in Hong Kong in the uncertain times that lie ahead.

Professor Peter Riddell, Vice Principal Academic at Melbourne School of Theology and Senior Fellow of Kairos Journal

We are all Augustinians


The Ancient Church gives us three great gifts: the doctrine of the Trinity, the canon of the New Testament, and the works of the African pastor-theologian Augustine (354–430).

Some might be surprised to see the last in this list, but the truth of the matter is that we, who are heirs of Western Christianity, are all Augustinians, so profound has been his influence.

One gets an idea of his impact when one realizes that 95% of his written corpus survived his death when the Vandals, originally from Denmark, took the city of Hippo Regius at the time of his death in 430. Of his City of God, for instance, there are some 375 manuscript copies from late antiquity that can be used to establish the text of this work. So, what then is his theological legacy and how has he shaped us?

The Confessions

We know so much about Augustine because of his Confessions, which is actually one extended prayer of thanksgiving for the grace shown to him as a sinner by the Triune God. It establishes a new genre, that of the conversion narrative. Thus one sees its influence in such works as John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and John Newton’s An Authentic Narrative. Through the account of his life, Augustine also establishes a theology and spirituality of grace. Augustinian theology and piety are strongly shaped by a perspective that does full justice to human depravity and therefore the necessity of sovereign grace for conversion. This is developed at greater length in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian treatises (411–430) but, in a non-polemical form, it is fully present in his Confessions.

The Confessions also set forth a perspective on God that has had enormous influence on Western thought: God is a being of ultimate beauty. At the very onset of his Christian life, Augustine was deeply concerned about the question of beauty. What is it? What is its impact on the human frame? The Confessions, in a number of its prayers (see, for example, Confessions 10.27), is Augustine’s answer in part, as it develops a vision of God that will enthrall Christians down to the close of the 18th century.

The Trinity

Augustine’s second major work is On the Trinity, which clearly establishes the full deity of the Son and the Spirit from scripture. Because the West by and large did not read Greek, Augustine’s Trinitarianism was what was read and pondered down to the Reformation, and even beyond that to the close of the 18th century.

Most helpfully, Augustine avoids modalism because of his emphasis on the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal generation of the Spirit. Sadly, the rediscovery of Trinitarian thought by evangelicals in the late-20th century was not a return to Augustine, for eternal generation and eternal procession have been questioned and even rejected, and the distinction of persons found in the authority of the Father and so-called eternal submission of the Son. But this move fails to adequately distinguish the Spirit: how does his submission differ from that of the Son? And, more importantly, this move separates the will of the Son from the will of the Father. But if we look at the incarnation we see that will is tied to nature: there are two natures in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth and therefore two wills. But if we apply this to the Father’s relationship with the Son, then we must have two divine natures, and thus at least two – and probably three – gods, or tritheism. No: the Augustinian distinction of eternal generation and eternal procession is the only way to distinguish the persons.

Then, the Augustinian conception of the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son gives rise to (to name but three good examples of Augustinian influence): (a) the defence of the double procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father by Anselm of Canterbury in the 12th century; (b) the spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as found in his sermons on the Song of Songs; (c) and the Trinitarian thought of Jonathan Edwards in hisEssay on the Trinity. This is a tremendous vision of the inner life of the Godhead: it is one ruled by love (note: the emphasis on the eternal submission of the Son presents us with a vision of God in which the keynote is power).

The City of God

Finally, Augustine’s third major work, The City of God, gives to the church a full-blown theology of history in which the church, ruled by love for God and humility, runs its course through history as a pilgrim body. It also develops a very important way of reading culture and politics – through the lens of love. Cultures and political structures are defined by what they love.

To be sure, not all of Augustine’s thought is helpful – one thinks of his view of human sexuality – but there is so much that is gold, that we should never be ashamed to own that our Christian faith is profoundly Augustinian!

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.