46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!

45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

44. Distinctive

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 44. Distinctive

Heb 12:14   Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

The Relevant Church: We must be drawing near the end and as we do we need to sharpen some of the things we have said along the way. We have countered the potential accusation that the church is irrelevant in today’s scientific age, with talk of the unchanging truths about God and mankind, while at the same time pointing out that the church which is genuinely acting as the ‘body of Christ’ will be demonstrating the power and revelation of Christ in such ways that lives and circumstances will be changed.

The Distinctive Church: This, you might think, is enough to suggest that the church, seen like this, will be distinctive and will stand out in society as both a lighthouse that sheds light and shows the way, and a rescue and recovery centre for lost and damaged mankind. Yet I must suggest that its distinctiveness must be seen in its very nature or its character as suggested by our verse above – its holiness.

Holiness in God: So what is holiness? It is the very foundational character of God which, put in its most simple of terms, refers to His utter ‘differentness’. God is different in many ways: in His nature, size and scope – He is Spirit, ever present, everywhere present, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. But then there is the ethical or moral element – He is utterly good, totally perfect (cannot be improved upon), beyond criticism.

Holiness in Us – Generally: Now when this is seen in human beings, and it should be seen in some measure in every Christian, this sense of being utterly different should include

  • our godliness (the presence of God with us and being the focus of all we do), and
  • our piety (the way we express our devotion to God), and
  • our spirituality (fully embracing this material world but also clearly operating in the world of the Spirit)

Holiness in Us – Specifics: But these distinctives, these things that make us stand out in the crowd in a good way, should be able to be seen in specific characteristics that the New Testament speaks about. Here are some of the key ones:

Love: Love is a foundational command (see Jn 13:34) still seen in later centuries: “See, they say, how they love one another” (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX). Love is seen in compassion, care, acceptance, all very ‘tangible’ visible things. It is love (total commitment come what may) that was seen in Jesus and is what binds relationships together today. The love that holds us is often expressed as ‘grace’.

Unity: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) The presence of God in us – revealed in the ways we have been considering in so many of these studies – working to make the unity that IS, visible. 

Truth: The word comes up about 35 times in the Old Testament but about 102 times in the New Testament. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Jesus was truly God and truly man, and in both there was nothing that was unreal, nothing false, nothing of pretense, just absolutely genuine. Can that be us, with no pretense, utterly real? Can it be seen in the ways we live and deal with others, seen in honesty and integrity? Can it be seen in purity, having nothing to do with the distortions and perversions of the life of sinful mankind, so clearly and visibly demonstrated in life in the West today?

Goodness: Goodness is difficult to define but obvious when you see it. Something that is good is something that is right, appropriate, pleasant, apt, enjoyable. Goodness is the expression of that and, yes, it does have a moral dimension but goes further that just ‘doing right’, it goes beyond that with such things as mercy and grace that may be seen in generosity or hospitality.

And So? So, yes, we are to be distinctive by the spiritual power and revelation seen through our lives as we allow Jesus to work through us bringing in his kingdom rule, but it is also to be seen in the nature or character of who we are, his children and his disciples, displaying his nature: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) Not work or character, but both: working with his character, both revealing him, both glorifying the Father. This is what the kingdom is all about, this is what the body of Christ is all about. Can we grow in this, for this is what growth is all about?

43. Relevancy again

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 43. Relevancy Again

Luke 4:18,19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

May I take a couple of quotes from earlier studies in this Part of this series. First, “Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?” Look at those last words: “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. Second, “I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community.”

Now I want to link these quotes back to the study that I am sure raised some questions, about the relevancy of our faith in the face of the enormous changes that are taking place in our world, social and environmental changes as well as scientific, cyber and technological changes. The whole teaching about the kingdom of God is incredibly practical. Consider the things that took place in the simple imaginary story about the prayer meeting and the things that followed it:

  • It brought a change in faith expectancy in Alan
  • That led to him being able to help his younger member of staff.
  • It also opened up the way for Alan to offer to pray for his boss’s family and then pray over his boss, which opened his heart to Alan.
  • It also changed his approach to his client which in turn brought a complete change in him.

That prayer meeting? Part of “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. The changes that took place could be summarised as:

  • Faith released
  • Compassion, care and concern released
  • Faith for further prayer, including healing prayer
  • Three sets of circumstances, involving unbelievers, changing.

Now you might say, yes, but no one got saved! Hold on, it was an imaginary story and so I could have made the office junior, the boss and the client all come to the Lord, but I left that hanging, a possibility for the future. The changes that will take place in respect of the kingdom of God will

  1. Come as we pray (and listen)
  2. Occur as we step out in faith, and
  3. Involve the sovereign working of God to change people and circumstances.

In the light of the prophetic words from Luke’s Gospel above

  • The (spiritually) poor (the unbeliever) will hear the good news
  • Those who are in prisons that are emotional or mental will find freedom
  • Those who are (spiritually, and maybe even physically) blind will be enabled to see
  • Those who are spiritually oppressed will be released
  • And those we touch with His love will realize that this is indeed the year when He favor is available to them.

Changed lives, changed circumstances, the coming of the kingdom or rule of God. And how?  Through “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. That is what all this talk about Jesus being glorified through his ascension goes, this is where it ends, these are the practical outworkings. Is that your church? Is that mine?

There is another facet of all this that we haven’t really touched on because it was necessary to first of all pick up on the fact of the largely absent belief in much of the modern church that Jesus is alive today wanting to do exactly the same things he did on earth two thousand years ago. It is the aspect of the compassionate and generous and hospitable expressions of the church. It is the practical ministry summarized so often as ‘caring for widows and orphans’ but which has been observed throughout the church era as establishing schools, hospitals, clinics and so many other things that have impacted our worlds for good.

“Good works” (Mt 5:16) are not to be one thing or another, but both spiritually supernatural and humanly natural. The ‘supernatural’ may include the miraculous or simply people and circumstance changes, as we’ve recently been considering, or they may be the incredible grace that sometimes enables believers to act as they do beyond usual abilities. The ‘natural’ is being kind, compassionate, caring, hospitable and generous and, of course, all these are expressions of Christ, expressions of his grace in believers. It’s not one or the other, it is both. Both require the power and the presence of the Lord and both reveal the kingdom of God in action – but it is action.

I have just now suggested why we have taken so much time working on our faith levels for the works of Jesus through the body – the absence of it so often in the modern church – but there is something else linked to this that I have observed in the modern church. It is the ‘good intentions’ that people have to reach out to the world around them with the good news of the Gospel of Christ, and even start community projects which are in themselves good.

However, what I also witness is an absence of the manifest presence of God so often in these things, absence of clear direction to start these things, or how to go about these things, i.e. their origins that should be clearly coming from the heart of God, people ‘doing stuff’ but with the absence of the presence of God or the revelation of God (because they haven’t learn to listen) or the power of God to bring changes. i.e. often such ‘projects’ seem such hard work because they come from human enthusiasm, and they operate with human effort so that when crises come (and they do) the resources are not there to cope. The truth is that a lot of charities and other ‘good works’ operate in a godless environment. Our activities must originate from the Lord and be carried out with the revelation of the Lord and the power of the Lord. When this does happen, the world will know, and God will be glorified. That is what all this kingdom stuff is about. May it be so.

42. Areas of Rule

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 42. Areas of Rule 

Dan 7:13,14 “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;

In a previous series, “Focus on Christ” in Study No.56, we noted the following about Christ and because it is so pertinent to our present series, we repeat it here. It flowed out of the prophetic picture that Daniel had about the Son of God referred to in our starting verses above, of Christ the ruler, and we will see the areas of his rule:

Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements. If I had more space I could give modern day examples of the same sorts of thing.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. Again we could give many testimonies of the same things happening today.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

 i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case, Jesus remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to and including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

 ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

 iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb), and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinners and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him.

Application: Now that was what I wrote in that series about Christ, but now we have to take and apply this to all we have been saying about being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, ruling with him. He, we said, is the head of the body and so if that is how he exercised his rule, seen in the Gospels in one single body, it must also be how he reigns through us, his body today. So, let’s apply those things.

When we are led and empowered by his Holy Spirit, in the light of these things, we should expect the body to, at times:

  • have control over the elements, the material world,
  • have control over health and life itself, bringing healing
  • have control over ourselves with His enabling, so that
    • we do not let Satan put us down
    • we do not tolerate prejudice
    • we control our speech
    • we are not fazed by ‘big people’, the good, the bad, anyone.

Now our tendency may be to duck and dive and make excuses and say well, these things will only happen through ‘big ministries’, apostles etc., but Jesus did say, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). Admittedly the miraculous, whether in respect of the elements or in respect of human sickness, will only occur when needed, i.e. when we make ourselves available to Christ on the frontline, but why should that not include you and me?  This IS the way Christ ruled and still rules, so if we are seated with him exercising this rule……? Some areas for serious thought and prayer, and maybe reassessing of our ‘belief’.   “Whoever believes”?

41. Subduing the Earth

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 41. Subduing the Earth

Gen 1:28  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In the previous study we wrote, “Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing.”  That is the New Testament mandate, post the Cross, but for an even wider picture we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible.

Now I have to confess I considered putting this particular study in the ‘Theory’ section of Part 3 but eventually considered that unless we see it in practical terms it really just remains head knowledge, and almost pointless. So here goes, first the theory.

In our verse above we have what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Creation mandate’ and it is basically in two parts: i) “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth,” and then, ii) “and subdue it.”  The word ‘rule’ that follows clearly puts mankind in a superior position to any other living creatures but what ‘rule’ means there is left to speculation but the words we have picked out, “and subdue it,” leave little room for speculation especially, later on, when we see that working the earth after the fall is going to be hard work (see Gen 3:17-19). Now as population and culture developed, a literal ‘working the earth’ became the domain of only a relative few.

The vast majority of us are not involved in agriculture or horticulture. But if ‘earth’ is taken to have a bigger meaning – the whole of human life existence on this planet – then it suggests something much, much greater. Any activity to do with mankind’s habitation of this planet must fall under this heading and that must include anything whatsoever that improves life for mankind and so that includes medicine, science, technology, food provision, government, and the arts to mention just some of such areas.

Now a false dichotomy has grown up in popular thinking, between spiritual and non-spiritual, a hangover from the thinking of Plato (how these things hang around!), but anything that can be included in my list in the previous paragraph is ‘spiritual’ because it is something given to us to do by God. Now the only things that are outside that will be things that go expressly against God’s design for His world, so anything specifically harming or oppressing other people (e.g. slavery) is obviously outside that mandate. Producing, selling, and distributing illicit drugs would also be a no-go. You may think of others.

Now those running on an ‘environmental ticket’ might question whether doing any sort of work that can harm the world or the people on it (e.g. working in the tobacco industry) might fit that ‘no-go’ growing list and where we are in questionable areas, we have to ask ourselves and the Lord, “If this the area I should be in, and if not, what else could I do?”

So far, in recent studies, we have been considering things that are usually considered well and truly spiritual things, things to do with the bringing in of the rule of God to overcome sin, but whenever I have read people writing on this ‘creation mandate’ and the nature of our jobs in this present world, it seems to be that most effort is made in justifying what were once called ‘secular’ jobs (as I have done above) to such a degree that the writer only works on a ‘do your best in your job’ approach meaning be the best worker you can be. Now although I agree with that, it can be a godless approach and everything I have been saying in this entire series is to be seen from the viewpoint of ‘God first’ or at the very least, ‘God involved’.

In the relatively recent studies, I did four that considered a hypothetical series of events that sprung out of a prayer meeting that took the life of God into the job of one of the prayer group. Now if that just seemed too way out for you, then perhaps the question should be raised, “Can you see God in your workplace, someone spoken about at least to those closest to you, can you see opportunities for informally sharing your faith, and offering prayer?” How many of us tolerate working environments or learning conditions that are unrighteous or, at the very least, could be seriously improved?

Bringing the kingdom of God into these environments, I want to suggest, probably needs to start in a prayer group as I showed, who should then bring that working environment to the Lord to see how He might want to change it – possibly through you. I look back on my working life into these sorts of environment with regret. No one taught me these sorts of things and so I was a lonely example of righteousness in an ungodly environment in otherwise fine and acceptable careers.  I don’t think I did it well, even though I believe I did my job well; there was a better way and I have sought to show that in these recent studies. It is not spiritual or secular but God in every sphere of work. The big question is, how far will be let Him have space to move so that we can be people of faith in the midst of these places? Can other people find and meet God in work or learning environments through us, or will we accept ungodly thinking that relegates such things to ‘church’ or ‘missions’ or ‘campaigns’? May that not be so.

40. Releasing People

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 40. Releasing People 

Lk 19:5,6 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

I was about to move on into the wider subject of ‘ruling over the earth’ but sense that perhaps we need to put some more body or shape into what we have just been saying in the previous study when we spoke about ‘taking authority’ at Christ’s leading and noted various ways we may speak while praying in authority. Back in Study No.26 we considered ‘The Caring Church’, speaking about being carriers of love. Moving on in Study No.29 we considered being life-bringers, and then went on to speak about being revelation bringers as we are enabled by the Spirit. In Studies 34 to 37 we saw how faith, released through the prayer meeting in Alan, enabled him to move in grace, love and humility to minister to three different people in his work environment and bring about change there.

In the next study we will go on to consider this matter of exercising authority more widely but here I sense we need to consider how we minister in love, and THAT is a means of exercising authority that brings life change. However, before we go into that we might ask the question, what is our goal or intention for the person or people before us, to whom God has given us the opportunity to minister. Now the word ‘minister’ simply means ‘to serve’ and so we come to them as servants, servant of God to bring God’s blessing to them.  Put like that, we can now see that our goal is to present God’s love.

Now I have pictures in my mind from the distant past from Snoopy cartoons. In one of them Snoopy is out in the cold in the snow and two of the other characters come along and note he is cold and in need of comfort so go over to him and both just say, “Be of good cheer Snoopy” and then walk off and leave him shivering in the snow. That is a vivid picture. Our person in church may need us to give them a coat, or dig their garden or paint their house, i.e. a practical matter, and simply uttering cheering words will do little to help them. Money is sometimes what people need, not cheering by words.

However, we have been moving in the area of speaking spiritual truths and very often this needs to be our starting place. Until they are changed on the inside, outward ministrations may act like a plaster or bandage but will do little in the long run. So, let’s see if we can imagine some people who we are likely to find in our congregations from time to time, if not most of the time.

Now anything I suggest is purely hypothetical. The key point here, in line with so much else we have been saying, is that we need to pray and sense what the Lord feels about this person and wants to say about them, to them. Call this prophecy, call it encouragement, whatever makes you feel comfortable, but it is a sense that comes when we pray. This must be true of any situation I may suggest here.

First of all, here is a lady (it might be a man) who has low self-esteem, feels lonely, unloved and uncared for. Now as you pray – with a heart open to convey God’s unconditional love – it may be that the Lord gives you either a verse, or a sentence, or a picture that applies to this person. If it is the Lord, it will impact and lift the heart of this person and they will feel loved and the focus of God’s special attention. As the Lord speaks into their heart through you, they know the reality of that, and are blessed. Nothing has changed outwardly, their external circumstances are still the same, but they are changed, and it came through simple loving revelation.

Second, here is someone who is being pestered by their ex-partner and they are living in anxiety and fear. What can you say here? I don’t know, but God does as you wait on Him in prayer. As the Spirit moves on this thing, once or twice in the past I have sensed the Spirit’s directing to command (in prayer) this pestering partner to be removed from the situation. We had this only the other day in our house group and I prayed accordingly. In the past, twice I have known the Lord to move on someone physically (presumably by lifting off His hand of protection and allowing Satan access as in Job’s case) so they were no longer able to be a distraction. We speculated about this prayer the other day and wondered whether He would lead this person to another part of the country by job circumstances, new partner attraction or some other means. We simply watch this space and the lady over whom we prayed is watching with anticipation and the fear has gone. We dare not pray like this unless sure of His leading. Be careful.

Most of the time it is not by command but by the conveying the grace of blessing. A blessing in Scripture (see the story of Isaac with Jacob and Esau) is a prophetically inspired command for the goodness of God to come. A blessing is also an inspired ‘acceptance by heaven’ (because that it where it originates). We can either pronounce a blessing or we can speak that acceptance in other words.

Our starting verses above are about Jesus calling Zacchaeus down from the tree so that he may eat with him. This little chief tax collector would have been very powerful and almost certainly very corrupt, but Jesus saw his heart yearning for acceptance and gave it to him. He was instantly transformed.  That is evangelism in a different style to that which we normally see.  This was God seeing his ready heart and speaking into it just what was needed to melt it.  The word will either melt it or break it or cause resistance to its already hard state (see Pharaoh with Moses).

The objective of these words is to convey love that melts or breaks. Of course, we do not know that the outcome will be, we don’t know what effect it will have. All our role is, is to bring words of love and acceptance as given by the Spirit. In an earlier study I testified about a most simple word I gave a young man in Malaysia. I had no idea that this word of loving acceptance would break open his heart and release confession.

The more open to being used in this way we are, the more the Lord will use us and bless others. As you mature in this (but only when we mature), the Lord may give you words of correction, but they will always come with love and hope for what follows. I have brought a word that a man’s ministry would be terminated and when his face fell, I was able to add, “only that something greater may emerge.”

For many believers, life just goes on day by day, and they learn to live with negatives, learn to cope with ongoing worry, learn to accept that background nagging fear, or even have questionable guilt hanging over them (the enemies Jesus came to destroy), and then one day some Spirit-filled believer comes up and says, “As I was thinking of you and praying for you, I had a feeling that the Lord had something for you. Would it be all right if I shared it?” And as permission is granted they share, under the Spirit’s leading, God’s specific words of loving acceptance, and the person knows where it has come from, they suddenly know the truth of it, and are changed. The kingdom of God has just come, Jesus has just destroyed some of his enemies – through you! How wonderful, how easy, how marvellous. Isn’t he good!

39. Exercising Authority

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 39. Exercising Authority

Rev 2:26,27 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations …..  just as I have received authority from my Father.  

Right, back to our being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, working with him to bring in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Just a reminder: it is not us, it is him in control. Jesus is the one seated at his Father’s right hand. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus telling his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:18,19) Note the ‘therefore’ that links him with us. We also see, When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.” (Lk 9:1,2).

Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing. To actually do this requires faith, a positive response to his words. We speak as he speaks, we act as he prompts us to act. Much of the time we just witness, share Jesus, the Gospel, with seekers, but sometimes, especially when the enemy is clearly evident and present, we are called to exercise Jesus’ authority.

Depending on the way the Holy Spirit leads us in prayer we may:

  • PROCLAIM the truth to set free (Jn 8:32)
    • this often releases faith and action
  • TESTIFY to the truth of the situation (see Rev 12:11)
    • this overcomes the lies of the enemy
  • COMMAND something to happen (see Mt 21:21)
    • giving instructions by faith as led by the Spirit to remove an obstacle
  • BIND the enemy (see Mt 18:18)
    • to stop enemy activity we declare on earth what has been decreed in heaven
  • LOOSE people or situations (see Mt 18:18)
    • we release people who have been bound up by the enemy
  • PRONOUNCE the name of Jesus into a situation (“in Jesus name”)
    • we speak as Jesus into the situation

Let’s check each of these out. First, proclaiming. (See Jesus Lk 3:18, 7:22) Here is the person who is suffering because they have believed the lies of the enemy and yet they have come for prayer and are open to the Lord moving on them.  As we pray over them, we proclaim the truth: they are a child of God, loved by Him, not condemned but loved. As we pray with authority and anointing, the Spirit takes our words and applies them to the heart of the person being prayed over and suddenly they know that is the truth and they are freed. The kingdom has come.

Second, there is testifying. (See Jesus, Jn 8:18) Again, this is declaring the truth of what has happened to us and as we so do it, the Spirit confirms it with assurance and faith is released. It tends to be that we proclaim over other people and testify for ourselves, but in both cases the Spirit affirms the truth and change is brought. The kingdom comes.

Third, there is commanding. This is declaring the authority of Jesus, as he leads, to bring about change. I was in a house group situation recently where two of the women prayed over a third woman and as the Spirit led them, one of them commanded a sickness to go – and it did. Jesus often did this with both healing and deliverance; sometimes he instructed the demon or sickness to leave, other times he instructed someone to do something. He also commanded and took control over the elements (e.g. Lk 8:29, Mt 8:3,13,26, Jn 9:7)

Fourth, there is binding. Jesus taught his disciples, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”   (Mt 18:18) When we bind something (usually the enemy, often in the form of an evil spirit) we limit or restrict him. If in the process of casting out a demon, it seeks to make a lot of noise and gain publicity for the enemy and create fear, you may bind him and silence him (see Mk 1:25) and then proceed to command that he leaves. Binding is about restricting the enemy, limiting his activity, and the kingdom prevails.

Fifth, there is loosing, the exact opposite of binding, when we release someone who has been restricted or limited by the enemy. Again, Jesus did this with demonically oppressed or possessed people. (see above)

Finally, there is pronouncing, “in Jesus’ name”. Very often people use this phrase almost as a good luck talisman at the end of a prayer. When the Holy Spirit is leading us in ministry we speak that out as a declaration of the Spirit-inspired, Jesus ministry, that we ARE doing or saying what Jesus IS saying from heaven.

Remember, these things we do as we learn to let the Holy Spirit lead us by putting these things into our minds at the appropriate moments.  In each case it is the WORD OF GOD, from God for us at that moment, imparted by the Spirit TO HAVE EFFECT.

When we speak out the word BY FAITH in response to the Spirit’s prompting, we may expect things to change in the heavenly realm, which in turn will change things here on earth.  Remember, it is AS WE ARE LEAD BY THE SPIRIT that these words are released in us so that we may release them OUT LOUD, either to PRAY or to PROCLAIM.  It is speaking them out that is the act of faith on our behalf which enables the Lord to bring change.

In this way our words act as weapons of the Spirit and the enemy is defeated and the rule of God, the kingdom, is expressed, just as it was when Jesus was on earth in a single human body. Now he is here through multiple bodies.  All he looks for is his disciples who will be open to hear him, be sensitive to the leading of his Spirit, and who will speak out and become the channels of his power and authority here on the earth.  Hallelujah!

38. When the sky falls down

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 38. When the sky falls down

1 Pet 4:17   it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household

We always try to maintain balance and I am aware that for some, the past four studies seem almost too good to be true, but the truth is that this is how it can be – but not always. I seem to remember, when our children were small, reading the story about Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little) and the frequent reference to the ‘sky falling’. Well there are times in life when, to use a variety of phrases, it all goes pear-shaped, all hell breaks loose, or the sky falls down, and I think we need to remember that and carefully hold the balance.

Only the other day someone said to me, “Yes, but Christians get cancer and there are as many divorces in the church as outside it.” He was making this point that things go wrong and that for Christians as well, and he was right, but there are comments to be made. My first reply was, “Well yes, but as far as the divorces in the church goes, that is more a condemnation of the poor spiritual state of the church in the West.” I went on to talk about the fact that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong and we are living as part of that but, I concluded, the big difference is that we have the Lord with us for when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) He meant He would always be with us in whatever was happening. We also have the encouragement of Rom 8:28 that He will be there working for our good in it. The illustration of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11), shows that he doesn’t stand there dispassionately, even though he knows the will of God is being worked out, but he grieves with us in it.

But Jesus being there and feeling with us in it, doesn’t take away the pain and anguish that such circumstances seem to bring. How do we respond in the crisis when natural responses are, “Why should this happen to me?” or “Where is God? Why doesn’t God turn up to help?” Perhaps understanding some of the dynamics of the kingdom of God in which we live might help.   A kingdom, after all, is ruled over by a king, and our king – Jesus – the Son of God, as God, is all wise and he knows that our lives can only change and improve (and that includes our families, our learning, our business and our social and community lives) when they are brought in line, and are lived out, in accordance with the design and will of God. Now if we had an indifferent God, He would simply sit back and let us stew in our own mess, but He’s not. He is love and love constantly looks for and works for the best for the object of its love – you and me.

There are certain passages of Scripture that we dislike. For instance, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2). There is also, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb 12:6). If we are honest, thoughts of discipline and of trials don’t thrill us! That is natural but both those things from God are designed to bring us into a better place than we are now. I am sure sometimes the Lord looks at the path we are taking or the attitude we have and He, knowing all things and knowing the future, sees that without realising it we are taking a path that is likely to have severely negative consequences.

Understanding how God disciplines and how He brings trials might help. My studies of the judgments and disciplines of God suggest that sometimes the Lord just lets us continue down that dangerous path knowing that at some point it is going to cause the sky to fall on us. As we said earlier, He will be there in it with us and will be working for our good, but the pain of the circumstances we have brought upon ourselves, will teach us and, like chastened prodigal sons, we may come to our senses and return to the father (see Lk 15). When He sees the folly of mankind settling in us – pride, self-confidence, self-reliance (check out Jer 2:13), apathy, indifference, self-importance, even godlessness, conceit etc., He knows there needs to come a time of correction before those things utterly destroy us.  Whether we hear it or not (because it often comes in that ‘still small voice’ format) the Lord always warns and warns again about the path we are taking, so if the discipline comes, it means we either didn’t hear, or ignored it. But He’s not put off!

But I believe, reading His word, that He not only sometimes, allows us to fall into the pit of our own making over a long period of time, but sometimes He shortens the time, by either lifting off His hands of protection or restraint from us so the crisis comes sooner than later.  Sometimes He simply lifts off His hand of protection from us and illness strikes (see 1 Cor 11:29-32) and we are chastened and repent or even, on occasion, His children go to be with Him prematurely. Face the truth of His word. Removing restraint is something else. Most of the time, I suspect, we are not aware of the Holy Spirit’s restraining work in us and it is the only way that I can explain what I have seen a number of times – Christians who otherwise appear wise and bright, who for some inexplicable reason open their mouths wrongly or take an obviously stupid course of action, and the sky falls on them! (I have been there!)

As Christians, we tend to suffer two major failures. First, we just do not realise how much God loves us. Second, we fail to remember He is a holy God who calls us to be holy, and a simple definition of holiness is “to be utterly different like God.”   Put the two things together and we have a loving and holy God who is determined to do all He can for His children to get them to heaven, and to do that He has to be there, working on our behalf for decades, to counter the works of sin, self, and Satan, that are the biggest threats to us. (Remember, when it comes to Satan, the Lord may use him and give him some space to move upon us, but it will always be “thus far and no further” – see Job 1 & 2 + Lk 22:31,32 + 1 Cor 10:13)

To conclude, ‘to discipline’ means to ‘bring about a process of change in us, to get us to conform to His likeness, to His perfect design for us’, to be even better than we are now. Trials come to test our faith or our faithfulness. Will turning to Him be the first thing we do when a problem or difficulty arises? Are we regularly inputting and feeding on His word so that we have inner resources when the temperature rises? When the pressure comes will we endure, persevere, hang in there, and remain faithful to Him? Those are the sort of things trials reveal.   A crisis never happens just like that in the kingdom of God; it always builds and builds, even though in our short-sightedness we fail to see it, until suddenly the sky comes down. And when it does, most surely, we will moan and groan, and yet hopefully with His grace we’ll come through, scathed and changed with the marks of the cross on us, and a new and stronger spirit in us, and when we get to heaven (and we may have to wait until then to see the whole picture), we’ll then say ‘Thank you!”

37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue with this fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, to see how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Now let’s move on to see the final phase of this story:

(Proactive after further prayer)

Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two days’ time. In that waiting time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.

 (Approaching the Client)

Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.

As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don’t know why I am bothering with you! I’m thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You’re a blithering idiot!”

“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.

“Well, that’s a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.

“Yes, I’m really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I’m afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing, and I fully understand that it upset you, and I’m really sorry.”

(A change of response)

The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn’t expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let’s order and as we’re here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you’re thinking.”

They ordered and talked.

Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn’t you put it like that in the first place?”

Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I’m sorry.”

More smiles. “Right, well let’s talk some more.”

An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.

And that is the end of the story. But let’s consider the lessons that come out of this particular part of it. It doesn’t matter that it was fictitious for it demonstrates how things need to be and how they can work out.  First, for this part of the prayer request, Alan recognised that he needed to be proactive. Second, before he acted, he prayed, made contact and then requested further prayer backup. Third, in his approach to his client he exhibited humility. Fourth, and this is vital for us to see in these things, God clearly moved by changing the man’s heart. Our expectation must be for God who answers prayer to move and bring changes to the circumstances. Our role of to pray (stick close to Him), be alert and watch the changing circumstances and be ready to move within them with His grace. In that we are watching to see these moves as the hidden hand of God.

The story of Esther is famous for not having clear and obvious signs of God moving dramatically (as, similarly, with the story of Ruth) but we do see what we call the providential hand of God – circumstances changing to make way for God’s people to move in. In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, we find first of all in respect of Potiphar, Joseph found favour in his eyes,” (Gen 39:4) and then in prison, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.” (Gen 39:21) i.e. God moves on the heart of unbelievers on behalf of His people. As people of faith, we should be expecting this when we are available and seeing ourselves as seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)

Now our danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it’s only a story. It’s not that easy!” Well it is, and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on the wider story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:

  • The praying people had learned to listen to God for HIS will as they prayed.
  • What they ‘heard’ from the Lord became a resource for further prayer for encouraging activity afterwards
  • The ‘answers’ involved Alan stepping out in faith in the week ahead:
    • looking at what was happening as the Lord provided opportunities for him to speak and act,
    • being willing to be humble, gracious and available for whatever came up,
    • being willing to accept that he perhaps hadn’t handled some of the people very well previously but, even more importantly,
    • here were opportunities to be a blessing to others, despite the past.
  • The ‘answers’ also involved the needs of other people coming to the surface and providing a basis for Alan to show love, care and compassion and faith – and then for God to move some more!

Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way. In the Prayer Meeting faith and encouragement and future direction were given when the people listened to God. After the Prayer Meeting, things happened (answers came) when the person in question was willing to play his part in bringing answers. Or to put it in yet another way, simply praying words out loud in a prayer meeting can be unbelieving ritual. Praying, listening and then acting on what you hear is faith building and opens the way for God to move in a much greater way. Simply praying weekly ‘shopping lists’ does little to build our faith and we remain unchanged – and circumstances and people around us only change a small amount. ‘Listening prayer’ followed by ‘available obedience’ develops faith and enables us to grow to be more available and more like Jesus, and so that God can work, and circumstances and people can be radically changed. The kingdom comes!