31. Press on!

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 31. Press on!

Phil 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.”

That was Paul declaring his long-term goal that would continue into eternity. For a month we have been considering a long-term goal in respect of our loved ones, prodigals, friends etc. Merely because in the next month I will move on to a new theme – YOU stick with your goal until you see it happen (if you haven’t already).

In this month we have merely been considering establishing a way of thinking, praying, and acting, as we purpose to reach out to our loved ones, and it doesn’t stop at the end of the month.  Let’s aim to continue seeking to cause much joy in heaven (Lk 15:7,10) and pleasure in Jesus’ heart as he is able continue his ministry (Lk 19:10) through you and me as he reaches through us to our loved ones, prodigals, friends etc. Amen? Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, enough of the frivolity, let’s bed this thinking down a little more clearly and firmly and reflect back over where we’ve been in this month.

Vision: First of all, we sought to re-establish within us this possibility that the Lord wants to draw to Himself our loved no-yet-believers, our prodigals, our occasionally interested friends, colleagues, work-mates etc. We challenged the unbelief that years of seeing no change cause in us and stirred the thought that we can positively establish an ongoing strategy that believes that God can bring change in us and through us that results in this group of people turning to Him.

We are at a point of history where many of us are sensing the Lord’s yearning – and maybe the Lord’s preparation – to come either in revival (His powerful impact on society at large) or renewal (His powerful impact on and through the Church) and are sensing a call to get ready and ‘prepare the way of the Lord’. These studies have been that but in particular respect of those closest to us. Establishing the vision was an initial primary part of these studies. If you have caught something of that, don’t let go of it, pray it daily.

Godly: But then there was the recognition that this had to be a work of God, for the work of drawing others to Christ can involve us but ultimately it has to be a work of the Holy Spirit, and for that we have to have our eyes constantly on Him and daily call for Him to come and work, being open, available and obedient to His leading.

Involvement: That led us to consider various ways we can be involved in this ‘project’, establishing new levels of faith in us, preparing our testimony, doing all we can to create a loving environment into which we can speak as the Lord moves and we see responses in those near us. We thought about the opportunities that arise around us, when good things happen, and bad. We saw there were specific attitudes and actions that could guide us to be instruments in the Lord’s hands in such a project.

Perseverance: But we also recognized that this may be a long-term project (it may not!) and if it is, then it calls for patience and perseverance in us, to keep on praying and acting, day after day, trusting that little bit by little bit, the Lord is speaking into the lives of these people. When Paul declared, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me,” it was no doubt the call to heaven, but why don’t you and I make this our warfare slogan for this project to help keep us going. We don’t stop simply because, coming to the end of the month, I change the theme of the next studies. No, we continue, we “press on”. The Message version puts it, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Imagine the end goal – see Jesus standing alongside your loved one, now-a-believer, your prodigal, now returned, see him standing with them and them glowing with his love and life. Hold on to that picture and keep praying for it to come, keep working for it to come, don’t let other things distract you. There may be other goals in your life as well but keep this one up front and personal. Hold on to it and get ready to join in with the joy and rejoicing of heaven when your loved one stands there with a big smile on their face and they say, “OK, I’m in, I’m back” and tears of joy run down your face. Hold on to that picture and don’t let it go! Bless you!

30. Resist!

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 30. Resist!

Jas 4:7,8 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

One of our greatest dangers as believers is to forget that we are spiritual people interacting with God in a spiritual sphere engaged in a spiritual battle with the Sin from the past, Satan lurking in the background, ‘Self’ ever present, and the surrounding unbelieving world.

We need to remind ourselves of our identity, children of God (1 Jn 3:1,2), those who are ‘more than conquerors’ (Rom 8:37) because in one sense Christ has done the battling over our sin for us on the Cross, and in another sense the outcome of the battle has been decreed – Satan and his minions will be cast down (Rev 20:10) and we have a place with God in eternity in a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-7). Yes, all that has been decreed. As one saint used to say, God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

And yet the truth is that we are very much material or physical beings and it is easy to focus on the physical and forget the spiritual. There are clever people all around us, running their lives on the basis of their intellect and yet the truth is they are actually bankrupt. I think of one clever crusading atheist who is on his third marriage. Clearly relationships are not his strong thing. Life without God leaves us vulnerable to our own weaknesses and those of others.

So, just a reminder that this is a long-term spiritual battle which, for some, may go on a while! The fact that we don’t know how long we will be called to battle on this front, as we’ve noted before, makes it often tiring and a potential area for enemy attack. In the light of this we need to be constantly reminding ourselves of some of these truths. ‘In Christ’ you are a scary warrior in the spiritual realms and the enemy is a coward. Yes he is strong and seeks to appear so as a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and subtly sneaky as an angel of light (2 Cor 11;14) but, as with all bullies, he flees when resisted.

Remember he comes with lies (Jn 8:44) – “You are rubbish, give up.” He is a deceiver (2 Cor 11:3) – “it’s never going to happen,” and he’s a tempter (Mt 4:3, 1 Thess 3:5) – “Tell them what you think of them, that will sort them out!”  Don’t fall for any of these – lies, deceits, untruth in action. Stand your ground (Eph 6:13,14), maintain your goal, keep praying, loving, be there for those the Lord wants to rescue through you.

There is also the bigger understanding of why the Lord tolerates Satan’s presence. As a fallen angel we might sometimes wonder why the Lord doesn’t just wipe him out, but that is not the Lord’s way. Even as He uses bad things (see Acts 2:23) for ultimate good, so He uses Satan in the same way. For you and me it is to strengthen us spiritually as we learn to resist him and say, “Back off!” as we remember our starter verses and hold to them throughout this project: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

Getting close to the Lord and staying close, is our strategy and when we do that, we can resist him and tell him to leave. You don’t need to be rude or abusive about it (remember, Jude had something to say about that – Jude v.8-10) but simply take the authority of children of God and say, “Leave, you have no part in my life or the life of my family.” As we more and more catch the Lord’s heart for our loved ones, we can declare, “this one who you accuse is in the process of being snatched from the fire by God, so back off!” (see Zech 3:2) Well you may not hear quite that but if you listen to the Lord, it will be something like that. When you hear the Lord speak His will over your family, hold that word and don’t let the enemy snatch it away. Hold on to it, declare it, believe it, and claim it!

29. The Power of Tongues

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 29. The power of tongues

Acts 19:6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

In these recent studies, as we are drawing more near to the end of the month, we have been focusing more sharply on the spiritual aspects of the warfare that can sometimes rage over the lives of those who don’t yet know the Lord. It is always a mystery the balance between free will and the sovereignty of God, between the willingness or otherwise of the human heart and the prompting of the Lord. All we can do is be there, be available and be obedient to the Lord. Our part may be to share words of truth – the Gospel and explanations to questions – it may be to perform acts of love and kindness and must certainly be to pray. It is in this latter part that we move into spiritual areas in which many of us may feel uncomfortable. Yet I believe we have to walk on this path today, but I want to do it gently and sensitively if possible just in case you are not here yet.

If your faith is not here, please give today a miss or go and seek the Lord. I know many lovely Christians who are faithful in testimony and service but who shy away from these things, but that should not be the cause for us to speak about spiritual realities that have been proved in experience by many.

The natural mind struggles over this but those who have walked these paths before know the truth – when you have been filled with the Spirit and have the gift of tongues, (the use of tongues in private, just you and the Lord) it releases an inner strength and sense of worship, praise, and purpose, in ways beyond ordinary prayer. It is a relinquishing of the will and ‘our thinking’ that leaves it up to the Spirit. The enemy dislikes it and rushes out of the room. If you have the gift use it every day, just you and the Lord, and watch your worship flow, and watch for changes to take place.

Clearly in the several places in Acts when people were baptized in the Spirit and filled with the Spirit (when you immerse [baptize] a cup in water it is filled) tongues and/or prophecy flowed. Probably the original earliest book on this subject was John Sherrill’s ‘They Speak with other Tongues’ subtitled ‘A Skeptic Investigates this Life-Changing Gift’ that originally came out in 1964 and has been reprinted a number of times since. He helpfully points out that there have been times when tongues are literal other languages understood by others (Acts 2:8) but they are also, more commonly, unknown languages, prayer to God (1 Cor 14:2) that edifies the one praying (v.4) unless interpreted (v.5). As Sherrill and others have pointed out, tongues bypass the intellect and are an act of faith where there is a yearning to pray but the person praying has run out of words. Thus the Spirit continues the prayer but without the comprehension of the one praying. Testimonies through the centuries by many have indicated that ‘praying in tongues’ almost inevitably releases a fresh sense of worship and adoration of the Lord as well as enabling the one praying to have a greater sense of fulfillment when praying for a difficult subject. Such praying also seeks to release a fresh wave of faith. The apostle Paul was able to say to the church at Corinth, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,” (1 Cor 14:5) having just said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. (v.1) The simplest thing I can say is that God loves you without tongues but has provided it for your blessing if you want to ask Him for it. Without doubt tongues can be used as we pray for our loved ones to sustain us in our praying, release faith in us and, maybe, even bring breakthrough. If this study is not for you, don’t let it detract from your primary goal that we have been considering for the rest of this past month.   

28. Take Authority (2)

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 28. Take Authority (2)

Acts 19:15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”

In many ways the Christian life is – or should be – a life of experiment. We can’t ‘see’ God and so it is an act of faith to pray. We are often uncertain of what we think we are hearing from God, and so it is an act of faith (we hope) to launch out on what we think we hear. It is an act of uncertainty to go to share the good news of the Gospel with family or friends. To experiment is to test or try out something and observe its outworking. In the material realm it is relatively easy – we know, for example, things that give pleasure to our loved one or friends, it is easy (almost) to bless them.

However when we step into the spiritual realm, to consider us sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6), faith becomes even more ‘experimental’. We speak and we do and we trust we have got it right. We hope we have caught the prompting of the Spirit and so perhaps we sometimes step out with audacious demands or even commands. The we have to just trust that we got it right and if we didn’t, we then have to trust in Jesus’ love and understanding of us that sees our childlike stumbling and loves us anyway as he reaches out a hand to steady us.

Yesterday we thought about commanding life to come forth when death reigns but as a follow-up to yesterday – here is an example of spiritual warfare that went wrong, of stepping out in presumption instead of faith, and I dare risk us covering this to ensure balance.

In Acts 19, on one hand we see Paul laying hands on new believers and them being filled with the Holy Spirit. Power – also signs and wonders through Paul – see v.11,12 which included deliverance.  But then there were Jews just ‘trying’ to use the name of Jesus to deliver people and being thoroughly rebuffed by the enemy.

Deliverance ministry is different from what we are suggesting in prayer but the lesson is the same. These men used words and assumed they were magic. They weren’t.  Paul did this but he was a man full of the Spirit AND led by the Lord. Yesterday we recommended being ready to pray in a particularly authoritative way, but unless we are filled with the Spirit AND being led by the Lord, don’t expect changes. When we are filled AND led, then expect changes WHEN He leads and shows us the time is right to move down this path.

Don’t be discouraged if this is a new path for you.  Stick close to Jesus and it will be well. When Jesus taught on prayer such ministry wasn’t included, that came with Paul after the Spirit had been poured out on the church at the Day of Pentecost. From then on they were able to minister in new ways, more in accord with Jesus’ teaching (Jn 14:12) But in Jesus’ teaching in Mt 6 there is an emphasis on relationship – “Our Father” – on a spiritual realm – “in heaven” – of His unique holiness – “hallowed by your name”. Then there is the desire for HIS glory – “your kingdom come” – and for His purposes – “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Only then come the personal requests for provision, forgiveness, guidance, and protection. If we are uncertain in our ‘experimenting’ in prayer, then we fall back on these sure foundational guidelines. For your loved one, prodigal, friend, neighbour, or workmate, know that the Father in heaven longs for them to return to the homestead after their time away and is out looking for them (Lk 15:20), perhaps through your eyes, ready to welcome them, perhaps through your mouth. We cannot force their will to change but when there is a growing willingness we can join in with what is always a spiritual battle and our part is very simply to have open minds and hearts and ears to the Lord and to the prompting of His Spirit. Partly it is about persuasion, partly about spiritual releasing, all things we may have a part in as He enables it.   

27. Take Authority (1)

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 27. Take authority (1)

Jn 11:43Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

We have recently considered the ‘Come and See’ approach, but we also recognised that there is a spiritual dimension that is important to understand – that unbelievers are just that because they are held prisoners to unbelief. But, as part of Jesus’ activity to release the prisoners, our role is twofold: to pray AND to do what we can to help our unsaved loved ones, prodigals, friends, neighbours, workmates etc. to get ready to open their hearts to Jesus. Having considered various practical possibilities, I want to return to the spiritual dimension that is so important.

We are back with Jesus raising the dead. For some of us this may be entering a new realm, that we have previously loosely referred to as Spiritual Warfare, or starting to operate in the spiritual realms, the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12, 1:20, 2:6). This is where we sense Jesus’ heart as we are seated beside him and we speak out his desire which in this case is to speak to the spiritually dead – our loved ones etc. – in prayer, to call them out of death (Eph 2:1) into life.

This is done with Jesus, not with them. This happens in prayer, it happens while we pray, and it happens as the Holy Spirit prompts in prayer. I noted in a previous series (and it seems appropriate here) that there is releasing a surge of faith so that, taking the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph 6:17), we proclaim the truth to set free (Jn 8:32), testify to the truth to overcome (Rev 12:11), command things to happen (Mt 21:21), bind the enemy (Mt 18:18), loose people or situations (Mt 18:18) and pronounce Jesus’ name as our authority (Jn 14:13 etc.).

Sometimes it may come as a word of knowledge (1 Cor 12:8). Many years ago I was praying with a friend who lived in a small village where a man had been enticing his wife away. As we prayed I had that ‘surge of faith’ and declared, “John, he will never bother you again.” The next day that man enticing his wife, fell over badly and was in hospital for months and never went near her again. A word of knowledge speaks of the intentions of heaven. Are we open for that? Are we open for the Spirit to prompt us to use the word of God in the six ways I noted above?

Very well, we are aware of these realities now, and so you will be open to the Spirit WHEN He wants you to step out in this way, as you catch a wave of faith washing over you from heaven and just maybe, in this context, you will have the faith released to you to declare with the prompting of the Spirit, “Lazarus come out,” the call from death to life that breaks into the natural order and releases spiritual life – except of course you will pray your not-yet-a-believer’s name.

I need to say it again, because in many good evangelical or other circles there is an orthodoxy of belief but it often falls short of action, we need to learn to move in faith in the heavenlies, in the spiritual realm. Jesus said to his followers, Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18) Remember not IF but WHEN – and not before. But be alert, be listening, be available. The enemy may tell you this is rubbish, but many saints have learned the truth: we are the ‘body of Christ’ and as such we are called to do the things he did (Jn 14:12). Can we learn to be those who operate in the spiritual realm? Can we learn to take the authority of sons of God? (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6).  I use the term ‘sons’ because the picture of ‘sons’ in the Old Testament was of those family members who entered into the father’s business. And our heavenly Father is in the business of setting captives free and does it through His Son who sits at His right hand, and His Spirit who moves in and through us, His children (Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1), so let’s learn to step out in faith in prayer to declare His will as He prompts.

26. Get them ready

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 26. Get them ready

Acts 12:8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.”

Yesterday we said imagine your loved one etc. as a prisoner (which is what they are). Then we wondered how much of a prisoner we might be ourselves and I concluded suggesting it was time to get ready for God is on the move.

Now step back into Acts 12 and Peter in prison. I believe the Lord wants us to grab hold of some spiritual realities as we think about this story some more. Having woken him up, the angel told Peter to get dressed. He will need clothes on outside. This is seeing your loved one in their new state, getting ready to leave their prison.  You are preparing them in the spiritual realities for what is to come.

In your Spirit now go back to Zech 3:1-5 where the scruffy Joshua is being reclothed. Now imagine your loved one etc. standing before the Lord in the best of clothes. See them being touched by the fire of God (Isa 6:6,7) and being transformed into a man or woman of God with a task (Eph 2:10). THIS is what is on the Lord’s heart for them. Now pray it! OK, you just read it, but now we need to really seek to take it in. See the different stages:

Stage 1: We come to believe this is possible, that the God who opened prison doors for Peter can open the doors of belief for me and the prison doors for my loved one, prodigal etc. We need to declare that truth out loud and thank Him for it.

Stage 2: We start praying, for this is a spiritual event, this ‘being born again’ and it may only come after a spiritual battle in the heavenlies when you have prayed and prayed, shouted victory and thanked God for it.

Stage 3: We start doing something. For Peter it was getting dressed ready to leave the prison. For you – and sorry about changing the analogy – it is preparing the road, asking the Lord to show you obstacles in the relationship you have with your loved one and the wisdom to remove them, to show you the holes in your relationship and the wisdom to know how to fill them. This is going beyond prayer although prayer is involved; it is purposefully seeking to make the way more possible for your loved one to travel on it to faith or, to see it the other way round, to make it easier for the Lord to come to them and be accepted by them.

We have previously considered the ‘changing perceptions’ strategy, which may include food or any other means of blessing them. These are all things that help them ‘get dressed’ ready to change and leave the prison. We considered the ‘Come and See’ strategy, yes, another way of getting them ready, getting them dressed. They may not be the things that actually cause the change – for that will only be the Holy Spirit – but they can be things that help bring preparatory changes in them. Only God can open the doors, but we can help them ‘get dressed’ to get ready.

Now the picture in Zech 3 of Joshua being given new, clean clothes, says something else. He is coming from a place of failure, he is scruffy looking and is being accused by Satan because of his failings that his ‘filthy clothes’ speak of. But the big issue is that God wants to reclothe him and give him a fresh purpose in life, He has things for him to do and He knows Joshua will be responsive and thus be up to it. God doesn’t focus on your loved one’s past so much as their future. Only He knows what is possible. Can you look beyond the present person you know, the person whose failings and foibles you know all about, and ask the Lord to give you a glimpse of the person they yet can be? I am praying for a prodigal someone who seems successful in life but not yet in the kingdom. I have seen something of what I sense the Lord wants to help them become, and it’s wonderful and it motivates me even more to pray daily for them. Ask Him to do that for you. 

25. Release the Prisoner

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 25. Release the  Prisoner

Lk 4:18 He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”

We talk a lot about freedom and yet the truth is that it is an elusive commodity. Anyone who is unthinkingly locked into a way of thinking, anyone who is locked into a set of attitudes, anyone who has habits they cannot break, has not got freedom; they are a prisoner.

Now of course my atheist friend might challenge me and say I am a prisoner to the Christian faith, but the difference between us is that I (yes, after having come to faith) have very thoroughly researched the origins of my faith, the origins of religions, the origins of the Bible, have read the Humanists manifesto, the arguments and books of Richard Dawkins and his like, and so I have examined other religions, other belief systems, as well as the depths of my own, and am utterly convinced in the veracity and integrity of my own.

The past year has seen the coming out into the open of various prisons – the prison of racism, the prison of sexism, the prison of Covid-deniers, all emotion-driven bad prisons of the mind. Some are locked into the prison of affluence, having to make money, of having to keep up with others, of being envious of others in the family, perhaps, who appear better off. These are all prisons of the mind and so when Jesus said, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”            that was a reference to mind, emotions and the spirit. He has come to bring a sense of contentment and peace in respect of who we are and how we view others and, as I said earlier, it is often an elusive commodity.

Anyone who is locked into ‘self’ is a prisoner. Self-awareness is natural, self-concern is natural (akin to self-preservation) but ‘self’ that is blind to God, to spiritual realities, and is utterly inward looking – is in prison. After you have read this today, close your eyes, imagine your love one, prodigal, friends etc. standing in chains and imagine yourself leading them, hobbled by the chains into the throne room of heaven and petition Jesus to set them free. Yes, they have to change outlook etc., but plead with the Lord to send His Spirit, angels, whatever it needs, on behalf of this prisoner to help them see the truth. Keep asking.

Now I want to speak to someone who has been living in a prison of their own making. You felt guilty when you married your partner for you knew they didn’t hold the same beliefs as you, but you went through with it. Since then you have imposed what is tantamount to a curse upon yourself – I have done this, I have got to live with the consequences of this and it will be like this until I die. No, it won’t! In Jesus’ name I come against that lie.  This series has been for you, Jesus wants to set you free, first from the prison of this lie and then by saving your loved one!

Jesus doesn’t just observe our mistakes and leave us with them, he comes to redeem us in them. Note that ‘in’ them, not from them. Yes, there have been consequences and sometimes you have regretted them but Jesus now comes to do something more glorious – redeem your loved one. He will step into the circumstances as they are and bring good in the midst of them. He knows you love him with a faltering love, but it is love and He is there working in all things for you and for your loved one. The thing with prison walls is that they seem so impenetrable, so solid, so unmoving. I am sure Peter, sleeping in the prison in Acts 12, didn’t have any idea of getting released, he didn’t know the church were praying for him, he didn’t know God wasn’t going to tolerate the antics of Herod, so he just lay there accepting the situation until, Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.” (Acts 12:7) I love this. I see this angel kicking Peter in the ribs to wake him up. In my words – come on Peter, it time to change all this and get you out of here. Peter thought he was dreaming but he wasn’t. Hey, this is your wakeup call. Get yourself ready, God is on the move! 

24. Come and See

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 24. Come and See

Jn 1:46 Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.”

I believe that sometimes, with a project of faith like the one we are embarking on, we need to enlarge the panorama of our understanding, not only about what is happening but also about what is possible. I am sure there are probably multitudes of wives (for it is usually this way round) who have invited their husbands along ‘to church’ and been rebuffed, but merely because you might have done it a dozen times with no result, in a day when God is moving, who knows but the thirteenth time might be the fruitful one.

The trouble is when life just goes on unchanging, it is very difficult to think that tomorrow might be different. At the mundane level I have noticed this with the unpredictable and normally changeable British weather. I noted when we have had two weeks of clouds and rain, it is very difficult to think, “Tomorrow the sun will shine.” And then it does. We had some friends who moved into a new street and could not get any response to their greetings from one of their next door neighbours. This went on for ten years! The woman in particular just appeared totally antisocial, and virtually ignored my friends whenever they saw them out front of the house, and then one day, without any warning, she was out front when one of my friends happened to be leaving the house and she turned to my friend with a big smile and just started talking. I have no idea what caused the change but change there was – with absolutely no warning! The door of her heart was now open!

Whether it is change of circumstances, change of health, something they have seen on TV or read in a book or paper, sometimes people can change completely without any warning. This is not to say they immediately open up to Christ, but they may open the channels of communication as a first step. The thing is that more often than not, we have no warning that it is about to happen so, like my friends, you have to keep on smiling and being there for them, until the Holy Spirit can bring the opening up.

When a conversation does open up about Jesus, sometimes the wise approach is not to try to convince by argument but simply say, “Come and see.” Encourage them to experiment – maybe with an Alpha course, maybe just ‘coming to church’. We know a man, a husband of a wife who had recently come to the Lord, who was as anti and antagonistic as you can be.  However, clearly with the Lord’s hidden nudging, he came to church and said he would give it a try for six weeks and if nothing – that it would be it! However, on Sunday one of our young women went out front with an open prophetic word which convicted him, he went to the back and was lead to the Lord. Who knows what the Lord might do for your not-yet-a-believer in such a situation? If our church services are open to the Holy Spirit, who knows what He might want to do and say.

Sometimes our partners are just fearful of what might be expected of them, fearful of not being able to sing, fearful of weird people called Christians – we’ve all heard of those freaky characters turning up on the front door step with big black bibles in their hands and a batch of bible verses to hit you with! Sometimes – and this is not diluting the power of the Gospel – it is a useful strategy to put on some ‘non-religious’ event ‘in the church’. 

My present church, prior to the Pandemic shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 were brilliant at this sort of thing. Entirely non-threatening events from the Christmas Bazaar (which I hate), through to art exhibitions, music evenings, barbecues at Halloween, and so on. These should be no substitute for proper times of sharing the Gospel etc. but they may on occasion be helpful in starting to take down some of the fear barriers our family, friends etc. may have. “Come and see” is the invitation for Alpha’s, special Sundays, barbecues etc. In a previous church we used Remembrance Sunday in November, to remember all loved ones who had passed on, and allowed people to light candles etc. for them, possibly one of the most moving services we’ve ever held – and not-yet-believers appreciate such times as well and can have their hearts really opened up by the Lord. The scope for “Come and See” is as big as we will pray and think.  

23. Gradual Changes

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 23. Gradual Changes

Jn 3:4 How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked.”

One of the discouragements the enemy will whisper in your ear is, “See, nothing is happening, you’re wasting your time.” No it is never a waste of time to embark on a journey to seek the salvation, to seek God’s blessing on those you love, on those who don’t yet know Him or who have drifted away from Him. Indeed we might suggest that second to our own quest to ‘know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow Hm more nearly’ (as Richard of Chichester prayed), THE most important quest in the world is to seek those in our own sphere of life who don’t know Him or who have drifted from Him. As James wrote, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Jas 5:20) So when the enemy whispers, “Nothing is happening,” think of Nicodemus in Jn 3.

Nicodemus is a bright guy but he just can’t see what Jesus is getting at. Jn 3 is interesting in that it doesn’t show us any positive outcome to this conversation. So you may talk with your not-yet-a-believer and they may seem to walk away from the conversation unmoved. But Nicodemus wasn’t unmoved. We see him twice more in John’s Gospel. The first time he speaks up on Jesus’s behalf and gets rebuked for it (Jn 7:50-52), and the second time he turns up with Joseph of Arimathea (Jn 19:38-40) to claim Jesus’ body and embalm him. Oh yes, he came through to faith and is, no doubt, on the way to full commitment and belief in Jesus. Steps and stages. Be patient, persevere, believe, and watch.

Yes, remember that each one of us comes to Christ in steps and stages. Even the person who hears about Christ for the first time and immediately accepts him as Lord and Saviour, even that person will have been going through preparations, for that’s how the Lord works.

For people in Israel in Jesus’ days, they had years of history and a culture pointed in God’s direction that was their starting place. Although our nations in the West may have strong elements involving God in their history, it may be our loved ones know little of that and so the ‘background history preparation’, if I may call it that, pivots on the wrongs of each society that the Holy Spirit will point out to them, maybe even their own checkered history, and these concerns just simmer below the surface until God starts ‘raising the temperature’ so they become conscious concerns.

Then maybe they encounter another believer through work or even just in life’s circumstances and a few words are spoken and another seed is planted. It is sometimes suggested that there are usually six links in the chain that eventually brings someone to Christ. I believe those may be words, people or circumstances that the Holy Spirit uses. The trouble with the Holy Spirit, if you don’t mind me putting it like that, is that as Jesus said to Nicodemus, He’s a bit like the wind and He blows where and when He will and you never quite know what He’s up to. So Nicodemus went away from Jesus but we are not told in what state of mind. Jesus didn’t seem to rush to push him into the kingdom. He knew that it is a work of the Father (Jn 6:37) and of the Spirit and the time has to be right and, even more, these things often take time and He is able to work in stages in us until we come to that critical point where we are willing to bow the knee and surrender our lives. So keep doing what you do – pray, love, be alert, be there for them, and just watch and wait and speak and move when the Lord says so. Remember, it’s His work and we’re just helpers from time to time, and He is in no rush because He is thorough and persistent. While you wait, just continue to praise, worship, and thank Him.   

22. Changing Perceptions

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 22. Changing Perceptions

1 Tim 4:12b set an example… in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

If we’re able to be honest with ourselves we all have our ideas that we’ve formulated through the years, ideas, perceptions, observations, all of which go to build up what are often called our ‘world view’. For us as believers that view starts with the existence and reality of God and the possibility of Him interacting with us because of what Jesus did on the cross. But our not-yet-a-believer hasn’t yet got that same world view, they need persuading and there are various ways we can go about that.

The first, hinted at by Paul to Timothy might make us feel uncomfortable. This is not about us appearing good for our sake but that somehow our not-yet-believer will see something in us that bugs them, rankles them and makes them wonder. Paul had just told Timothy Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young,” (4:12a) implying, win them over by what they see in you. Now we can expand this to say, win over any one of these we are seeking to reach by the way we live.

But there needs to be a warning here: unless God shows them, they will still miss it. When Jesus taught, “you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5:16) he was saying that others WILL be able to see him in you, so pray that it will be so, something that moves and challenges their hearts. This is what was behind what we considered about wives and husbands in studies 16 and 17.

But there is also something very practical that we can do and I will simply summarise it by saying, create a pleasant environment. I wonder how many relationships break up because one of other (or both) partners weren’t working to create a good environment at home, thinking of the other person particularly.

We considered Esther in an earlier study in respect of getting team support, but her example of softening up her husband’s heart is worth thinking about. She needs to get this somewhat capricious, fickle and unreliable king in a good mood before she makes a possibly difficult request of him. How does she do it? She invites him to a banquet that she lays on. She knows he likes eating – lots – and drinking – lots – and showing off – lots (Est 1:5-11) so she invites him to a feast, and then another one (Es 5:4,8). It’s a fun story because between banquets the Lord starts speaking with the king (Es 6) so at the second banquet he is ripe to receive her request to save her people and deal with Haman.

This is not being sneaky, just being nice. It’s what businessmen, politicians and diplomats do all the time, wine and dine those they wish to influence because they know that when you feel good, you are more open to suggestions. You will have to pray and think and decide how you can act in such a way that it blesses your loved one, prodigal, friend etc., so they will feel good. Seriously, I ask the question again from a different angle, when did we last purpose to bless our partner, friend etc., so that the feel really good? Isn’t such a thing an act of love? Yes, this will require wisdom but God is good at giving wisdom (Jas 1:5) because if you are not careful, you will just appear manipulative, but if what you do is a sign of a new expression of your love, friendship etc., something you want to introduce regularly into your relationship, you may completely change the whole atmosphere of that relationship and in such an atmosphere, heart sharing becomes much easier. I know I have changed more in my life by being loved than by being told off or instructed. It is true of all of us, so can we bring change through love?