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!

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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!

36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

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

We continue pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, as an example of how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Let’s move on to see what happened next.

(Alan’s Boss)

It had been two days after the prayer meeting that Alan had been in his boss’s office talking through various pieces of work. When they came to the conclusion of it, Alan realised there was something he needed to mention.

“Boss, I’ll be off in a couple of days, just for the one day, I’ll take it out of my annual leave. It’s just that my daughter is applying for Uni and we want to go with her to the Open Day of one she has her eye on, if that’s all right with you?”

“Yes, no problem,” the boss replied and then added almost as an aside, “I wish I had got stuff like that happening with my kids.”

“Sounds like it’s not going well?” Alan enquired lightly.

“You’re joking. My boy, the older of the two, is coming up to his A-levels and we just can’t get him to work. And then my wife caught the younger one, my daughter, and she’s only thirteen, talking to a friend on the phone about using Cannabis. I really don’t know about kids today! Who would have ‘em!”

Alan made non-descript noises and made for the door, then paused in the opening, “Mind if I pray for them, boss?”

His boss didn’t answer and just turned back to papers on his desk.

Alan left feeling a little rebuffed – but that night he did remember to pray for them.

It was the day after his day off, when he was back in the office, and again had to talk some business stuff through with the boss. His boss seemed a bit more irritable than usual – which was saying something! – but they talked through the stuff and then as Alan was about to leave his office, his boss said in a casual but nervous, if not embarrassed tone, “Er… I don’t know if you prayed about my kids the other day but there’s been a remarkable change in them in just a few days. My wife has managed to have a good talk with my daughter about the dangers of drugs – which she seemed to accept – and my son suddenly seems to have got down to revising for his exams like there’s no tomorrow.” He winced.

“Are you all right, boss, you look like you’re in pain?” Alan ventured.

“Yes, I don’t know what it is; I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. I can hardly move it and it’s agony!”

Now it was Alan’s turn to feel nervous. “Er… would you like me to pray for it?” he ventured again.

“You can do what you like; I’ll take anything to get rid of this!”

“No, I mean would you like me to pray for you now, here, this minute?”

His boss looked uncomfortable. “Well shut the door then.”

Alan shut the door and went over to his boss. “I’ll just put my hand on your shoulder as I pray, if that’s all right?” His boss said nothing, so he did. “Lord Jesus, I know you love us both and I know you healed anyone who was ill when they came to you when you walked on this earth, so can I ask for you to heal this neck right now. Father, please let it be, in Jesus name. Amen.” His boss said nothing.

Alan opened his eyes and to his surprise saw tears running down his boss’s face and the older man was swivelling his head.

“That’s amazing. How did that happen? The pain’s completely gone!”

“Jesus just healed you because he loves you,” Alan found himself saying.

“Sit down, I need to ask you some things,” his boss replied.

Forty minutes later Alan came out of his office very thoughtful and with tears in his eyes.

Now this may be making some of us seriously uncomfortable. I was recently in a well-known annual ‘Bible Convention’, led by good evangelicals and they had invited a delightful head of a bible seminary to take the morning Bible studies – and she was excellent. On the last one, as a natural outflow of the Bible book we had been following, she suggested that the Lord might want to heal people there, that morning, and graciously turned to the man who had been compering the morning, if that is the right word for such a time, and said, “I’m just a visitor here, how do you want to do this?” I have never seen someone look so discomforted and he replied after a moment, “Well, people can just pray for each other where they are,” which was not a faith-filled answer as she had already spoken about people with real needs coming to the front for prayer. Many of us are good at receiving ‘the Word’ but as soon as it means stepping out in faith, we move to the back of the boat and let the brash Peters of the world step over the side. God delights in His children who ‘risk it’.

Alan, with the sense of high expectation that we mentioned yesterday, ‘stepped out of the boat’ and God turned up. He had already pushed the boat out (to change the metaphor slightly) by offering to pray and when he got no answer, just went home and prayed – and things happened! Because they happened, when his boss was in such pain he was past caring what happened, the way was open for Alan to pray for healing and leave the answer to the Lord – who healed!

I was at a brunch for the vulnerable in society recently and a young man (well a good bit younger than me) walked in, a man I had known some ten years before and whose family and work situation was dire! I noticed that he could hardly hobble his way in, with back and leg problems, so I greeted him and, knowing he had been anti-Christian and had forbade his wife to go to church, nevertheless sought to reach out to him. (We’ll call him Rick.) When I offered to be available to pray for him in private he hedged. “Look,” I said, “the best that could happen is that you get healed completely, the next best is that you get partly healed and the worst that could happen is that nothing happens! You can’t lose.” He still went out refusing prayer. How crazy is that! Make yourself available with humility and gentleness, and the worst that can happen is nothing and they might think you rubbish. The best that might happen is they get healed and might just turn to the Lord. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) Go for it!

35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

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

We are pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came. We need to move on to see what happened and then draw some lessons from it.

(The office junior)

When Alan went onto the office the next morning he went with a slight sense of apprehension. What should he say or do? The easy answer was nothing but just watch. In his interactions with his junior over the next couple of days, he was particularly careful to be open and friendly and gracious. Nothing happened. It was on the third day that things started to change. As he happened to be passing the young man’s desk, he noticed he was just sitting there staring ahead and doing nothing.

He paused. “Kev?”

No response. He pulled up a chair. There was no one within listening distance. He tried again, very gently. “Kev, what’s up?” Kevin seemed to suddenly realise he wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry Alan, it’s nothing.”

“Are you sure? Do you need to talk about something?”

“No, not really, no it’s fine, it really is…. well …. I don’t know what to do. My wife’s has been diagnosed with cancer. We’ve known about it for a number of months, and it’s the bad sort and now at the hospital yesterday they say it will be touch and go, and…” his voice trailed off as he fought back tears.

Alan found he had tears running down his own face. “Oh Kev, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. Anyway why are you crying, you don’t even know her!”

“Well that’s right but I just don’t know how I would feel in your shoes. I am so sorry. Look you’re not going to be able to concentrate on some of this stuff you’ve got on your desk at the moment. Let me get one of the others to lighten your load. What can I take from you?”

They discussed the possibilities and Alan took several files to redistribute round the office without saying why to the other staff.

“Do you need some time off? Is there anything you can be doing for her?”

“Well not really, but I suppose I need to arrange for the kids to be picked up from school in the days to come. Oh, what are we going to do?” He fought back the tears as a floodgate looked like it was just ready to burst.

“Look let’s not worry about that for now. Take one day at a time. Look, the other stuff you have here is not urgent. Go home now and just come in when you can. Kev, would you mind if I asked my church to pray for her?” Kev just nodded. “What’s her name so we know who we’re praying for?

“Marianne, but we call her Merry. Alan, I just don’t know what to do, and I know my work’s been going to pot, and I’m struggling with some of this stuff anyway.” He looked miserable.

“Look Kev, let’s not worry about that now. Let’s see how this works out and then perhaps in the future I can get you on that training course that is up on the notice board.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Thanks.”

“Come on, let’s go and get a coffee into you then you get back home, and we’ll take it from there – together.” The two left the office for coffee.

Back in the office, Alan thought to himself, “well that was an answer to prayer I wasn’t expecting!”

I am tempted to follow on with the other two things the group had prayed about, but this is all about bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth and there are some things in the story above that bear thinking about.

New Expectation: Because the group has prayed. and revelation had come, Alan is now in a state of expectation about an outcome. He doesn’t know what it will be, but he is on the lookout for something to happen. He is looking for the Lord to move, but that isn’t always in ways that we might expect.

New Concern: We may say (being really pious) that as Christians we should always be loving, gracious and caring for those around us, but the truth is that in the mundane ongoing-ness of daily life, especially life at work, it is so easy to stop making an effort to be a blessing to all those around us. However, now Alan is in a new state of expectancy, that has caused him to be particularly alert to those around him, and especially his young subordinate. It is because of this, that he spots the young man looking down, and needing some help.

New Compassion: Something different has happened and, because he is on the watch for such things as maybe part of God’s moving, he pauses up and gives the young man time, care and consideration, expressed in a variety of ways to help him with his present situation.

Spiritual Input: Don’t rush here, for there will be time to go further, yet Alan does gently ask him if he may share this with his prayer group. Don’t be surprised or cynical about the response because very often people may not be ready to hear the Gospel and certainly not be ready for church, but they will very happily receive prayer.

Conclusion: Perhaps the most important change here has been that in Alan himself. He has suddenly gone on the alert because someone dared to say they thought they had heard from God and he is now watching to see how God will open the situation up. As we said before, don’t prejudge how the Lord might move, but just be open and available to Him and, working with Him, you prepare the way of the Lord, for Him to come more fully into this situation: In the wilderness (of the office) prepare the way for the Lord.” (Isa 40:3) Tomorrow, we’ll see what else happens to Alan

34. Hearing leads to Action (1)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 34. Hearing leads to Action (1)

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

Just in case we’ve lost the thread, let’s remind ourselves that in the big picture of ‘ways to grow’, we are now considering how, as part of the body of Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms, we can be part with him in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth. For the last few studies I have been talking about how important it is to learn to listen to God. Now I will have said this before, but it is so important we need to hear it again here: hearing must be followed by obeying. Now that may sound heavy and so I want to divert from what we do usually and instead reiterate an example of this I have written elsewhere. This takes place in an imaginary prayer group. Now don’t be put off by the word, ‘imaginary’, because is does work like this. To make it easier to take in I will insert sub-headings so you can see how they proceed:

(Alan’s ‘issues’)

Alan, (our imaginary Christian) comes to the weekly church prayer meeting and shares about the difficulties he is having at work. There are several issues:

  • he has a member of staff below him who is not performing well and who gets angry and irritated if challenged over it.
  • Alan has received indications that the firm is in financial difficulties,
  • A bad-tempered client slammed the phone down on him yesterday.

Alan asks the group to pray. Very well, let’s see how this church responds.

 (The young member of staff)

As they start to pray and thank the Lord that He is in charge of their lives, one person stops the group praying.

“Alan,” she starts, “just as we started praying, I had this picture of your young member of staff and they were in their home, sitting with their head in their hands, crying. I believe the Lord wants you to reach into his life and help him.”

The prayer group leader joined in. “That’s great. One thing I noticed about life in the Old Testament, was that they sought the Lord for an answer, got a sense of it, and then prayed for it. Would someone like to pray for Alan then in respect of this young man?”

One of the other group members prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan an opportunity at work to speak to the young man, and another asked the Lord to give Alan wisdom to know how to gently ask about his home life.

(Alan’s Boss)

There was a pause after the prayers and then one of the others in the group spoke up, “Well, this seems a bit weird. I’m sorry about this Alan but I saw your boss in tears as well.” There was laughter around the group. “No, no, this wasn’t because he’s in trouble,” the other replied, “it seemed to be for some other reason, but you were sitting across his desk from him, Alan, so I don’t know what was happening.”

The group leader broke in again. “Well it looks, my friend, as if the Lord has got something for you to do with your boss as well.” He grinned.

Alan grinned back, “Well, I don’t know about that; he’s a hard-bitten old something or other, and I can’t ever see him in tears.”

“Well, somebody pray for Alan and his boss then,” the leader suggested.

Another of the group prayed: “Lord, this is starting to get heavy. We can’t see how Alan’s boss is ever going to be in tears, but will you help Alan to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to him and give him wisdom to know what to say or do when those opportunities arise. Amen.” The group responded with an ‘Amen’. Alan sat there wondering what was coming next.

(Alan’s client)

Someone in the group giggled. “I’m sorry, Alan, I don’t have a picture of your angry client in tears. In fact, quite to the contrary, I see him getting even more angry, but somehow you say something, and I see him smiling. I know that’s not much help, but that’s what I see.”

In came the group leader again, “Well that’s all right; it may start out worse but that looks like a good outcome. Sorry, Alan, you’re getting dumped with rather a lot here tonight because it looks like you are the catalyst that will change him from fury to smiling. OK, folks, this is getting harder. One or two of you pray for Alan and his client, would you please.”

One person prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan a gift of faith to believe in this possibility, another prayed that the Lord would give him grace to just cope with this client graciously the next time he spoke with him, and another asked the Lord to give him wisdom in speaking to this client.

Alan sat there wondering why he had risked asking for prayer, yet he realised that deep down there was a sense of excitement within: three people had received pictures for him and a number of them had prayed with real care and concern for him. Yes, that was good, but what would the future hold?

I say again, when we are open to the Lord’s leading, when we risk ‘hearing’ from Him, He shares His heart and brings revelation that will take us on. Now I used as our opening verse those famous words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, and they should act as a constant reminder; this is not to entertain us, this is to let us know how we are to proceed. I have said it before, one aspect of listening prayer is to ask, “Lord, is there something you want me to do to be an answer to this prayer? Is there a part you have for me to play in this?” If we come with this sort of attitude, watch out, the kingdom is coming!

Oh, the outworking of Alan’s situation? I’ll share that tomorrow.

33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?