16. Sowing with Expectation

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 16. Sowing with Expectation

Mt 13:3  A farmer went out to sow his seed”

Many of us may not have gardens or even ‘back-yards’ and so talk about gardening seems rather alien, but the truth is that it was part of the culture of Jesus’ day and so his short stories about sowing seeds etc. came into a community that knew about farming, and they come with principles that speak to a much wider community, all of us today. We may not grow them, but we almost certainly do know about sowing seeds to produce crops.

We have recently been thinking about the crazy aspects of faith and yesterday about our lives being seen as fallow ground that needs some preparation to receive seeds, but the thought of sowing seeds in our lives may seem somewhat strange for some of us, so pause with me while we give it some thought because it does raise something very significant that I believe we may have to think about – our expectations.

The other day my wife found half a dozen broad beans in a packet that was clearly four years old and being the enthusiast that she is, she planted them in pots. Now seeds of all sorts lose their potency after two years so I don’t have the expectations that she does about them germinating and turning into plants. But what about the things we do in our Christian lives, do we have an expectancy about them?

Let’s start with prayer because this whole ‘watching and waiting’ thing starts there. I wonder, if we are people who have such times of ‘waiting on the Lord’ or even simply having a daily morning ‘Quiet Time’, do we approach that time with a sense of expectation that it will be more than a time of us simply bouncing words off the walls? May I suggest that even before you speak words, you sow expectation and anticipation, both of which are cousins of ‘hope’, that you ‘station yourself on the rampart’ with the expectation that you will see something, hear something. You are not going there to just wile away the time or fulfil a guilt-motivated ritual that leaves you feeling unfulfilled. No, you come with a sense of expectancy that you are going to (somehow) encounter God. It may just be a sense of His presence, it may be a verse imparted into you to release faith, it may be a full word of encouragement or direction. What it is, is not down to us, but us going into the quiet place with expectation, that is the important thing.

So, in the context of prayer, watching and waiting, the seeds need to be things that will bring a harvest of faith. That brings us back to listening, for the seed will surely be his word (Lk 8:11). In ground that we have allowed to be prepared, that is open to receiving such seed, that is ready to receive the rain of His Spirit, when the word from heaven comes to our open, waiting, and expectant hearts, it will be received with joy, will burst forth with faith that shouts, “Yes, Lord!” and will energize us to move on to the next phase, to get ready to receive Him as He comes over the horizon of our expectations. Prayer has that possibility. So not only are we sowing expectancy, but we are also sowing prayers and, dare I suggest it, we are sowing silence, time when we just sit still in His presence, and each of these things can bring forth life, germinated by His Holy Spirit.

But as we watch and wait in these ways, as we’ve just suggested, words may come back, impressions of intent or however else the Lord will communicate and as He does so, those things become seeds to be sown in faith, things He puts into our mind to be done. Sometimes such things will come in this time of waiting, at other times – and because we have increased our sensitivity in such times of waiting – they come as gentle promptings in the circumstances that face us. If we see such things as seeds from the Holy Spirit, we may expect Him, as we ‘sow them’, to water them and cause them to germinate and life to come forth.

So you may be simply sharing your experiences, your testimony if you like, with a friend, as the Holy Spirit opens the way up. See this opportunity to share as sowing seeds and quietly ask the Lord to water your words to bring that life in the one with whom you are sharing.

Or perhaps you find the Lord presenting you with a person in need, need of encouragement perhaps, need of help maybe, or even financial help. As you respond, see what you are doing as seeds that can bring forth something perhaps much greater than you might expect. I love the kingdom idea that Jesus speaks about, of the mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds,” (Mk 4:31) but yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” (4:32) You never know if what you are sowing in faith will, with His enabling, grow into something great. But it does need that expectancy.

Or perhaps a friend shares with you that they are feeling ill and suddenly the Holy Spirit drops a seed of faith into you mind – “Pray for them.” You mean at home? “No, right now.” Will you have the courage to offer to pray over them, then and there, expressing Jesus love, doing exactly what Jesus said we would do (Jn 14:12), simply because we ‘believe in him’, believe that he is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) that he wants to turn up through his people and do what he did while on earth. The farmer “went out to sow his seed” because he expected the seed to bring new life, a harvest. Will we?

15. Grab a Spade

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 15. Grab a Spade!

Hos 10:12 Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord.”

Bad habits? Casualness? Indifference to the plight of the church and the world? Complacency over the ways of the western world that are so destructive? Lacking knowledge of the Bible and ability to stand up for it? Self-concern that outweighs concern for the Lord, His honour, the needs of others that He wants to reach? These are the signs of a life that has gone fallow, hard, not seeded, turned to weed or grass, that is unfruitful.

Let’s say that again. ‘Fallow ground’ is under-used ground, ground that has been allowed to get hard, ground that’s no good for sowing seeds on. The words before this instruction include ‘sow righteousness’ i.e. let right attitudes, desires, goals be sown in your heart, but of course you can’t do that if your heart is set, contented, complacent, indifferent, apathetic, not open to anything new, not open to a word of direction from the Lord.

How do you ‘break up’ such ground? With honesty, conviction (from God) and repentance and commitment to be available to Him, so that watching and waiting isn’t just an academic exercise but one where the Lord can bring His plough to work before sowing new seed. Dare we risk it?   What is possible with our lives?

This raises the question in me: am I making the most of my life in the Lord? Am I open to Him for Him to speak into me, guide me, inspire me, set me on fire, fill me afresh with fresh vision or do I just sit there in life, so to speak, like a piece of fallow, unproductive ground? How can I be productive? Face these negatives, I suppose, these words like complacent, indifferent, apathetic, and challenge them, asking the Lord to sweep them away in the torrent of a fresh outpouring of the river of His Spirit. As I watch and wait upon Him, dare I ask Him to release that river in me and on me to bring a new spiritual dynamic in and through me?  We’ve used that word ‘visionary’ before. Dare I ask to become a visionary? Fallow ground is content with being what it is – stodgy, unproductive and unused, it doesn’t like the thought of being dug over, either by a plough or by a spade. To get rid of weeds you have to either dig a spade’s depth and turn the soil righty over so that the weeds go deep, are starved of water and light, and so rot, or you take a fork and tear it through the soil so the weeds and their roots come loose from the soil and can be separated out and removed. We need clean soil, loose soil, soil that can receive seeds at the right time of the year.

And that takes us back to seasons that we’ve considered before. In the Winter the soil is turned over so it is left open and the frost breaks it up even more and kills the weeds. In the Spring, you clean off the surviving weeds, harrow the topsoil and sow the seeds. It’s a time for planting. Summer is a time of watching and rejoicing in the obviously growing fruit or vegetables or flowers. Autumn is a time of cutting back the dying off plants that have done their job, produced fruit or veg or flowers and seeds for the next year. But everything about this description is about working the ground in order to bring forth beautiful flowers or vegetables etc. It is all about life and growth and fruitfulness. Fallow ground does none of those things. It just sits and does nothing.

But then, here is something interesting: fallow ground is important, it is necessary according to the Law. “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.” (Lev 25:3-5) That seventh year was a year of rest for both the farmer and the land and whatever the land produced on its own, was available to all. Now that’s interesting because although the ground was not being worked by man, it would still keep producing what has been planted before in previous years so self-seeded crops would grow, grapes would continue to grow and so on. So even if we go through a period of no work, there will be fruit in the life that has been productive previously. Such a ‘rest’ reminds us that God is the provider and we just help as we work the land. I can sow seeds but that’s as far as I can go. I didn’t design seeds to germinate and grow and bring forth fruit as they do.

So the concept of ‘fallow ground’ first raises awareness of what the ground is intended to be used for – fruitfulness. It raises awareness of what it means to be fallow, together with the challenge that something needs to be done to make it fruitful again. So coming right back to watching and waiting, this is not to be a time of just sitting and doing nothing – though that is important – but it is a time where the Spirit can reveal to us, things that we need to deal with in our lives, things that hinder us being fruitful: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn 15:8) and “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. (Jn 15:16).  This is not to cause guilt, but to help us make a healthy assessment of our watching and waiting. Rachel cried to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Gen 30:1) She wanted to be a producer, that was part of her role in the family setup and while it wasn’t happening she was in anguish. Do we need some similar anguish? 

14. Crazy Hearts

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 14. Crazy Hearts

Mt 14:29 Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

Yesterday we pondered on the craziness of lifting off a gravestone when a body has been dead for four days. I can’t help but feel there is a picture there – we need to lift off the covering over the church and reveal the deadness that is so often there, and then speak life to it to bring change. If the Lord puts that on your heart, do it.

But faith is crazy – from a human perspective at least. It is catching the heart of God which is far bigger than our natural understanding. I find there are times when people who have ‘seen’ something speak it out and I struggle with it – is that really so? For example, John Piper is a writer of excellence. There are some writers whose work when you read it leave you feeling well fed. Piper is one such writer with such a depth of knowledge, experience, and insight. In one of his books, ‘Desiring God’, he sums it up as, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” i.e. I glorify God most when I am most blessed, contented and blessed by Him. That needs thinking about! When I am happy in God, He’s glorified.

In more recent days, another pastor, Dane Ortlund, in his book ‘Gentle and Lowly’, picks up a similar thread, that Jesus is most blessed when we allow him to perform his ministry of meeting us in the low points of our life: “When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them.” i.e. Jesus is most blessed when he’s helping us. Wow! Those truths I find my natural inclinations struggle with, but I do believe they are true, nevertheless.

These things simply underpin the truth, I believe, that faith is not easy. In some senses it is crazy – always – because it means stepping out on a whim, or rather a feeling, a sense that I have heard God and something inside me says, ‘Go for it!’ and so we do the crazy. The Christian heart did that at the beginning anyway. We had lived our lives by our own wisdom but when that had provided insufficient, when we heard of Christ and we heard his call on our lives, we surrendered – without knowing how it was going to work out. As Paul wrote, the message of the cross is foolishness to so many, to the Jews who demand signs and the Greek intellects who demand wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-25) but to us it was like a straw to be grabbed at as we drowned.

But then we embarked on the ‘crazy life’, not really knowing where we were going, because Jesus doesn’t explain, he simply says, ‘Follow me’ and who knows where he will take us. So we move on from outside Lazarus’s tomb, yesterday, to a storm on the Sea of Galilee, a big lake with often capricious weather. Jesus has sent the disciples on ahead of him in their boat. They are on ‘home ground’ – all right water! – it’s the territory that four of them at least know all about, even being in storms. So they are on their own, “a considerable distance from land” (v.24a) and it’s rough and the wind is against them. Then they have a really terror-making experience. Right out there in the middle of this big lake, they see Jesus walking – yes walking! – towards them. And this figure calls to them across the waves, Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (v.27) It’s got to be a ghost, but then loud-mouthed Peter gets a crazy sense – it IS Jesus, the real Jesus, it IS him! But people can’t walk on waves! And he suddenly finds himself yelling across to Jesus through the tearing wind, Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (v.28) Peter, have you lost your mind. This is crazy stuff.

All very well to read it on the pages of the Bible but to try doing it – stupid. Well it is stupid if you don’t have an open, available heart that says, ‘Lord, if it’s you bid me come to you’, crazy if you haven’t heard Jesus say, ‘Come’, and he doesn’t want you do it otherwise. But here’s a reality check as we watch, wait, and listen: is my heart truly open and available for whatever he might say? Would I hear if he only said one word? Could I trust him to raise my faith level to act? Could I trust him to enable me to do what is otherwise not only impossible but stupid? Such situations raise all these sorts of questions.

I did say that faith is not easy and to quote John Wimber for the umpteenth time, “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K.” I might get it wrong, I might have heard wrong, I might have heard the enemy, it might just be wishful thinking, yes all these things are possibilities, but unless we do actually step out at his bidding, we’ll never have the testimony Peter has.

If you run across Peter in heaven and ask him, “Hey, did you really, actually walk on water?” I suspect you may find a slightly bashful response formed by the ingrained humility created by reality, “Well, yes, it was only a few seconds, then I sank and, as always, I needed the Lord to haul me out. It was no big deal.” These things are never ‘a big deal’ afterwards. I have testified elsewhere of being in Malaysia and met a team of three young people who had been into the interior with the gospel, and the girl recounted with no emotion, “I prayed for this blind lady, and she was able to see.” It was no big deal – afterwards.

So dare you and I, as we watch and wait, allow the Lord to speak crazy words into our hearts? But remember two things: first, it is only what he says and, second, he only says what he knows you are capable of. Yes, he’ll do the enabling, but you can speak the words to your unsaved friend, you can pray the words over your sick friend. The worst that can happen is nothing, and they’ll soon forget it anyway, but the best might happen – He convicts and they get saved, He acts and they get healed. Simple!

13. Causing a Stink

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 13. Creating a Stink

Jn 11:39 But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odour.”

We finished yesterday noting that human reason can be a problem to us because sometimes the things that the Bible and Jesus call us to appear, frankly, crazy. Thus obedience may be a struggle because it is humanly illogical.

So here we are today, looking at the plaintive cry of Martha, the practical sister. Jesus has turned up late and Lazarus has died. When Jesus arrived, “Mary stayed at home.” (v.20) Perhaps she who had sat at Jesus’ feet (Lk 10:39) was the more sensitive one and now the one both grieving for her dead brother and annoyed that Jesus had not come and saved him. It’s Martha, the more forthright one who gathers herself together and goes out to greet Jesus. In her forthright way she greets him: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) But then perhaps it touches her that perhaps that was a bit too blunt for then she adds, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.22) Jesus tells her, Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) She displays her knowledge that she will have received at Synagogue: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) Good answer but, just like we do sometimes, shows we cannot apply the Bible truth to the present moment. So Jesus takes her a further step on in faith building: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v.25,26) She responds, Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (v.27)

Now I have included that conversation because it shows Martha as a believer – she believes the Scriptures and she believes in Jesus. The question that is about to come, is but does she believe what he can do? We may be believers IN Jesus, that he is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, but do we allow that to be translated into daily life?

In the story, Jesus asks to see Mary and so Martha goes and calls her and Mary has her own conversation with Jesus. When she comes she falls at his feet – weeping! The sensitive one. This moves Jesus. They take him to the tomb and he weeps. Another sensitive one. He instructs that the stone be rolled away and it is Martha – and this is important to note – who comes out with these words of protest: “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Human logic, human reasoning from a good practical believer.

What this suggests, and I believe it is very common, is that we all have belief but it is like a road that runs out. We can go some way down it but, to use a common phrase, there comes a point that is a bridge too far. I can ‘believe in Jesus’, I can believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can believe in prayer, I can believe Jesus saves people and they are ‘born again’, I can believe he answers some prayers but when he says, “Take away the obstacle to life being released by your actions and words,” we may stumble and say, “But Lord, that will cause a stink.”  Sometimes we say, ‘it will kick up a stink’ and by that we mean it will cause upset, and the enemy whispers in our ear, “Yes, if you do that there will be a lot of people who won’t understand and will get upset by it and say nasty things!”

It’s particularly true in the life and ministry of leaders who, when the Lord invites them to step out in faith, think, “But what will people say?” The Bible has a number of instances of people who were rebuked and chastised for their lack of action because they did not care enough what God thought. But it is also particularly true of any person of faith, any person who has been watching and waiting on the Lord and who has caught vision and direction. It’s easy to pick up Isaiah’s word, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” (Isa 40:3) but what does it mean to make straight the road so it’s easy for God to come? For Gideon it meant tearing down his family altar to Baal (Judg 6:25,26) and replace it with a proper altar given over to God. In modern terms that may mean, stopping family activities or behaviour that is unrighteous or ungodly and replacing it with godly, righteous behaviour.

But we need to back up and see some more aspects of this account about Lazarus. Rolling the stone away is only the first step towards a miracle. The next step is to call the dead to life. Can we do that? Can we sense Jesus’ will is to bring life to a (spiritually) dead person you know? Dare you in prayer, command life to be released, as you wait on him and he puts a loved one, or an unsaved friend or neighbour before you? Can we command strongholds of unbelief be broken as our faith rises, as we start to hear his heart’s desire for such people? Can we move from prayer comfort to prayer warfare? Which comes first, the putting surrounding circumstances right or warring in prayer? There is no automatic right answer. Ask the Lord as you wait on him and sense what he wants you to do. Faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17) so the most important thing is that you hear, but when you do, don’t start reasoning, just act, and let Him do the impossible and bring life where there is only death. 

12. Obedience Taken for Granted

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 12. Obedience Taken For Granted

Jn 2:5Do whatever he tells you.”  

It hardly needs saying because it should be so obvious, but blessing follows obedience. Mary so instructed the servants at the wedding in Cana. It sounds obvious but the tricky part comes when you hear Jesus’ words. For these servants, filling six large water pots with water would seem a pointless exercise. ‘Go out and find a merchant with wine’, would have appeared far more sensible, but the currency of the kingdom is not sense, it is revelation.  When Jesus speaks it, you may not see how it can possibly help but when we follow his instructions, all manner of things can happen. Don’t walk by sight but by faith (2 Cor 5:7) in your waiting and watching on the ramparts.

There are times, I have to be honest, when I wonder what this is all about. They are usually the times when I am stumbling when, for whatever reason, the Lord seems distant, questions hover over me like little dark rain clouds about to drip droplets of icy, spirit-quenching doubt. Then the Son comes out and light is shed and I wonder how I could have been so negative, and gradually the truth permeates me afresh: I am just an ex-sinner with that propensity lurking in the background to let that self-centred godlessness be resurrected in me. It will either be by my own foolishness or by the lurking, whispering enemy of souls who is still allowed to test me with his temptations, his deceits, his lies, to check out my faith levels and trust issues.

In the midst of such times I become aware of something that is so crucial to our walk, so crucial to our understanding as we watch and wait. It is the propensity, the natural inclination, to choose a path that is self-focusing, self-concerned rather than the path of disciple-obedience. We have probably all heard many sermons on obedience in one form or another, it is at the heart of our faith. Yes, that we know, that we would acknowledge, and maybe we might even be asking, why bother with something so obvious? Surely it’s foundational that disciples are obedient to the calling of the Master?

Well, I think the reason I raise the issue, apart from the fact that I believe the Lord put it on my heart, is that there are a variety of reasons why obedience is not so obvious as we’d like to think. I have already given a first one, a couple of paragraphs back. It is because we are emotional beings and emotions can often be linked to physical well-being or more probably its absence (and even such things as a bad night’s sleep, catching a cold etc., can do it), so that we find ourselves with David in the psalms crying, “Why are you cast down my soul?” (Psa 42:5,11, 43:5). Those emotions that can drag us down may have physical origins as I have been indicating, or spiritual origins when Satan attacks with doubt, fears, etc., or relational when we are out of sorts with others, or simply when we are confronted by circumstances that threaten us. Yes, living in this fallen world means there are a whole raft of reasons why our emotions may take a nosedive, and when that happens we become self-focused and obedience can slip out the door without our noticing.

So often, it’s not that we are purposely being disobedient, but that we get confused or more probably distracted by things around us and before we know it we’ve slipped over the boundary of what is right, because of course the road to life is narrow (Mt 7:14). When we are spiritually alert, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isa 30:21) Yes, the Holy Spirit is there to remind, to guide and direct. I always find fascinating the account of Paul’s travels where we read, Paul …. having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia,” (Acts 16:6) and then, “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (v.7) Wow! That is spiritual sensitivity! After that he gets his vision of a man calling him to Macedonia so they go there. How easy it would have been to have disregarded that nudging of the Spirit and ploughed on into a land where they might have got into difficulties or that just wasn’t ready to receive them. As we watch and wait, we need this spiritual sensitivity.

You know it is so easy to be distracted and if the Lord has called us to watch and wait, it is so easy to give up and, like Peter, shrug your shoulders and say, “I’m going fishing.” (Jn 21:3) i.e. nothing is happening here, let’s get back to familiar territory.  There was a time when the Lord was teaching me this and I was walking beside a lake and I suddenly caught the sense of the Lord saying, “Son, stand still and watch that bit of water there before you by the bank.” I dutifully stopped and watched. I guess about a minute and a half passed and I allowed my eyes to drift up to a bird on an overhanging branch and the moment I took my eyes off the water there was a loud ‘Plop!’ and I missed whatever it was. I sensed a chuckle from heaven: “I told you to keep watching.”  One of many such lessons. Another distractor to obedience is human intellect or human reasoning, we can’t see the purpose in respect of what we’re called to. There are many examples of crazy obedience in Scripture so we’ll check a few out in the coming studies. Obedience is not always such an obvious thing as we’d like to make it but it does require a little more thought and application maybe.

11. Growing Up

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 11. Growing Up

Heb 12:23 the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.”

We talked yesterday about being like little children with our loving heavenly Father, free to just burble at God, sometimes with shopping list prayers, sometimes full of doubts and questions as children do, sometimes full of excitement and joy. We also said we would go on and think about ‘growing up’.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as ‘the firstborn’, the first of the God-men, the God-children, but our starter verse speaks of us by that designation, partly because we’re the church of Jesus’ followers and partly because we are made in his likeness and being changed into his likeness. (2 Cor 3:18) So if there are aspects of him being ‘the first-born’ and all that that means – more than just being the first one to be raised – there are things we need to think about that similarly apply to us.

Now in the Old Testament the firstborn son was privileged, he would be taking over the care of the family, he would take over the business, when the father died. The picture of ‘the first-born is one who grows in maturity to join in and take over the father’s business. We said yesterday that God loves all our prayers, but He loves it even more when we mature and understand His ‘business’ and share His heart as we pray.

So, as we said, Jesus is the ‘first-born’ because he was the first of the new kingdom to be raised from the dead, but there is more to it than that. Today, the Father has entrusted to him the oversight of the kingdom.

In recent days I find a delight in those verses that speak of that: The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psa 110:1,2) Peter, anointed by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost to preach, used these verses because they were familiar to the Jews, but he pointed out that in this psalm of David the second ‘lord’ couldn’t be David because David didn’t ascend (Acts 2:34,25). No, says Peter, this refers to the Messiah, this is the Father talking to the Son who, when he takes over oversight of the kingdom of God, will rule in the midst of his enemies, will be administering ‘the Father’s business’ as he sits next to the Father in heaven.

Then the apostle Paul picks up the same thing when writing about the resurrection and Jesus coming again, and says, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) This is the work of the ‘first-born’ who has taken over the ‘Father’s business’ and as the Lamb seen in Revelation 5 is undoing the scroll of the last days, presiding over all that is happening there. This is the work of the ‘first-born’ Son of God, granted to him by the Father.

But, we said, we are growing in his likeness. More than that Paul caught something even more incredible. First he says, he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) God the Father raised up Jesus (see also Acts 2:24) so he is now exalted at the Father’s right hand, in a position of rule (see also Mk 16:19, Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:55, Col 3:1, Heb 12:2, 1 Pet 3:22)

But then he adds later, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph 2:6) In the spiritual dimension, not only are we being changed into Jesus’ likeness, we are also to see ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11), having died with Christ (Rom 6:8) and been raised with him (Rom 6:4,5) in order that now, by the Spirit, we may learn to join with him in administering his Father’s business, the kingdom, and this will carry on until he returns again.

Do you start seeing what I meant about growing up? Yes, the Father delights in us burbling at Him like little kids, but His desire is that we grow up and we learn to understand,

– our position and how Christ earned it for us,

– our role in sharing in his rule, as he leads us by his Spirit

– our limitations as simply being obedient to Jesus and only going as far as he says,

– our ministry extent that stretches out as he enlarges our faith. Ok, hold onto you seat. How do we do this? Remember, first and foremost, it is being led by his Spirit, but that involves using righteousness, acting rightly (2 Cor 6:7) as a weapon, being led in prayer by the Spirit (Eph 6:17) and taking the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph 6:17) so 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.). Remember it is as we are led by his Spirit, we speak out, whether in prayer or proclamation, by faith. When we start doing this as ‘The Church’ the world will be impacted and captives set free and the kingdom of God extended and God glorified. May it be so!  

10. No Pressure

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 10. No Pressure

Rev 8:3  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne.”

Sometimes in our watching and waiting, as we utter prayers hoping we are on target, we may wonder, “Am I on right track?” What is fascinating about this verse is that it doesn’t say “all the right prayers of God’s people”, just “all the prayers.” Now the thing about incense throughout the Old Testament, is that it is burnt to please God, so incense AND prayers being offered means that ALL of our prayers (at least uttered meaningfully from open hearts) are a blessing to God and please God. As our loving heavenly Father He just loves to hear His kids pouring out their hopes and dreams to Him, so don’t get too stressed about whether they are right or wrong. We will consider in the next study how we may seek to ensure our prayers are more ‘on target’ but for the moment I want us to just focus on this sense of being God’s children.

When I have observed the travels of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan, I have noticed that there were two parts to their journey. Part one was leaving Egypt, escaping through the Red Sea and then making their way round the Sinai peninsula along what might have been a familiar route for Moses because it was an area that had mines in it, worked by the Egyptians, and he might well have visited them in his time in the first forty years of his life as prince of Egypt, and he almost certainly would have gone that way when he had originally escaped from Egypt forty years earlier before ending up in Midian. The first half of the journey thus took them to Mount Sinai where Moses had originally met with God and where God inferred he would come back to. (Ex 3:12) Now here is the thing I noted about that part of the journey: the Israelites grumbled and complained and all God did was provide for them. It was as if He realised they were having to learn about Him and were like little children in respect of their heavenly Father, so He treated them very leniently, very gently.

The next phase of the journey involved a stop-off at Mount Sinai where they had amazing revelations of God, received the Law from Him, and entered into covenant with Him. When they left Mount Sinai on the last leg of their journey north to Canaan, it was very different. When they complained and grumbled, they were disciplined. Why the difference? They were no longer ‘little children’, they had grown up in terms of experience of God.

On the first leg they simply had their knowledge of God through what had been passed on to them down the generations from the patriarchs and then, almost at a distance, their experience of God bringing the ten plagues on Egypt (which largely missed them) and then His deliverance out of Pharaoh’s hands as God led them through the Red Sea. On the first leg, they experienced His provision for them of food and water. Now on the last leg, they have all that plus the knowledge and experiences of God that they have had at the mountain, and they have agreed to be His people who would obey Him – and that at least twice. So now they can be considered ‘grown up’ and thus when difficulties occur, God expects them to simply ask Him for help, via Moses, not complain. God disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:4-13) because not only does He want to teach them how to live as His children, but He wants to train them to carry on ‘His business’. We’ll see more of that tomorrow.

But before all that happens God wants us to realize what it means to be His little children. In an earlier study we quoted, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:32) The fact that they were, his disciples, a ‘little flock’ reminds us there weren’t many of them yet, but also it has the implication of immaturity, of them being in their early days of being disciples. It is probably that reason that accounts for the fact that Jesus put up with Peter opening his mouth only to change feet, James and John talking about calling down fire on those who were not with them, and all the while knowing that one of those days they would all abandon him and Peter would even deny him three times. It was early days and Jesus understood that. After his death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, it was a different thing all together! Ananias and Saphira found themselves on a quick track to heaven, as did some of the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:30). When revival comes and God is moving more openly and powerfully, understand that discipline is also meted out more powerfully and openly. And so? So if we are in our early days of seeking to watch and wait for God, put aside all fears for your rambling prayers and stumbling faith, God knows and God understands and delights in His children. Yes, He wants us to grow up as we’ll see next, but in the meantime enjoy the privilege of being a small child with a loving heavenly Father. Amen? Amen!

9. No Panic

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 9. No Panic

Reb 8:1 there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

Habakkuk went up on his ‘ramparts’ onto the walls of the city where he could look out, pray, watch and listen and wait. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Lk 5:16) See also Lk 6:12, 9:18, 22:41) Lonely places are quiet places, places that are free from interruption – mostly! (Mk 1:36,37) It seems clear that in such times of prayer Jesus communed with the Father and got a sense of what was next on the Father’s heart, hence he prayed before choosing the twelve. (Lk 6:12,13)

But I wonder if there were times when heaven seemed silent when he prayed. I am sure he would have been praying on the cross and as the weight of the sin of the world came on him and shut off his vision of his Father, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) For that unique moment in history the God-Son on earth was separated from the God-Father in heaven and he was utterly alone carrying the guilt of the world.

But that cry was a cry that David had initially penned (Psa 22:1) but the psalms are littered with such cries, for example, Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psa 10:1) or “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa 13:1), or “Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” (Psa 69:17) I say littered but there aren’t that many of them, but enough to show us that there were times when God seemed far off and heaven appeared silent.

And then we come to our starter verse when we are told there was silence in heaven for a half an hour. Commentators wonder about why there was this half hour of silence. Was it to take in the awfulness of the state of the earth that was to receive terrible judgments in order to try to bring mankind to its senses? We don’t really know, we aren’t told. But one thing we can know, it isn’t because everything has got out of control. God is NOT having a half hour break to think through what to do next. It’s never like that. As someone I read recently wrote, “There is no panic in heaven, only plans.” As we pray and watch and often have to wait, we wait for the revealing of God’s plans, thought through before the world began. Always remember that, whatever happens, and don’t panic because He’s not!

We need to let these truths sink in some more. Let’s summarise the difficult bits: sometimes when we pray we don’t seem to get answers, sometimes when we wait on the Lord, heaven seems silent and He seems distant. For me, this morning was one of those times. When I went into my quiet place and waited all I heard was silence, all I sensed was alone-ness. Have I sinned so that He stands at a distance? Not that I am aware of. Have I been casual in my entry into His presence? I don’t think so. So what is happening at such times.

I believe the truth is that at such times the Lord is probably teaching us, or reinforcing teaching we’ve already had, and three reasons come to mind.

The first is that prayer and listening is not mechanical, it is not automatic, if we speak the right words He will speak words back. It doesn’t work like that, it is all about relationship, two people communicating and so if one wants to remain silent for a moment, that’s fine. It’s not what we expect from communication between two friends, but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes one of us would just like to be quiet and be a listener and not a contributor, and we’ve got to learn that.

The second reason, I believe the Lord sometimes goes silent on us is so that we don’t become proud and present ourselves of super-spiritual people who have an automatic hotline to the Almighty. No, whatever we hear, whatever experience of the Lord we have, is pure gift, it is grace, it is mercy. Almighty God doesn’t have to communicate with us, He is God! We are simply His children, recipients of all of His goodness which we don’t deserve. There is no room for spiritual pride here. No man or woman of God has room for boasting. As Paul once wrote when he was expounding the wonder of justification, Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.” (Rom 3:27) and as he pointed out to the Corinthians, God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 21:28,29) and later, What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) When it comes to us and spiritual matters, we have no room for any boasting and so sometimes, I believe the silence that comes in the waiting times is just a reminder of that.

The third reason, I believe, is that we learn not to trust in emotions. It is wonderful when the Lord turns up and we have amazing experiences of Him, but the reality is that we must not rely on emotions. We can exalt in them but not make them the basis of our spirituality. That comes from Christ on the Cross and from nowhere else. So, as we pursue this pilgrimage of learning to watch and wait, let’s hold the whole enterprise lightly and remember that we are learners and God is the teacher and He will teach us at the pace He sees we can handle and if sometimes He goes silent, it is only to help us remember how precious the times are when He is not silent. The working of humility comes in various ways.   

8. More on Vision

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 8. More on Vision

Heb 11:10 he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

We continue to ponder on the different aspects of watching and waiting and yesterday we reminded ourselves that there is a variety of different ways we can do that and we started thinking about ‘vision’. Now usually in scripture we read about “a vision” meaning a specific revelation given by God, but of course vision can also mean a more general view of what is coming. Outside the Christian world, who do you think are the greatest visionaries? I suggest architects, those men and women commissioned to build an office building, a great public building. Their client may specify volume and usage but after that it starts in the mind’s eye of the chief architect. Look at some of the skyscrapers in London, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuala Lumper, to mention but a few that now fill our landscapes; amazing buildings that started off in the mind’s eye of the architect that was then conveyed down the chain to a whole team of architects, engineers and so on.

Politics is probably the next in line when considering vision. I was reading only recently of a man in the UK in the 1940’s by the name of William Beveridge who wrote a visionary report entitled, unsurprisingly, The Beveridge Report about possibly founding the Welfare State. From that a politician named Nye Bevan helped created the UK’s National Health Service that today provides free health care for every citizen. Ten years ago when my doctor diagnosed a torn retina I was in the hospital within six hours and on an operating theatre within another hour – all free. And yet from the start the NHS came under immense opposition from, of all places, doctors. Today it is a health system that is the envy of many in the world – and it all came about by a vision.

But vision is something that works at the most simple levels. Authors have a vision of a completed story or book, artists of a completed work of art, crafts-people of whatever skill or artistry, and gardeners when viewing their plot in Winter, thinking of what it will look like in six months – vision. We all use it.

But what about in the spiritual world of prayer? Do we pray for what we can see or do we ask the Lord to envision us? For instance, does the Lord want your unsaved loved one to turn to Christ? Very well, envision the change that will come about in them, in your relationship with them, and allow the Lord to stir your faith so that you believe it is a reality that CAN be, and then pray for it, AND IF He gives you enough faith, Claim it! The same thing can apply for our prodigals, those who have drifted away from the Lord. Or perhaps there is your next door neighbour. But this needs a health warning: if you start praying these things and catch the possibility, then also be ready to listen to the Lord for the part He might want you to play in it all. Perhaps a need for forgiving others? Perhaps a resurgence in love for them. The Bible is relatively light on what it says about these things but it does say, for instance, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Eph 5:25) which means a sacrificial love, so if you want to win you wife, start asking Him what that means for you? And ladies, the apostle Peter has some clear instructions in 1 Pet 3:1-6 for you for your unsaved partner. Are you doing it after you have talked to Him and He’s shown you how? Oh husbands, there’s another verse for you in verse 7 that follows on.

Hold on, I hear someone saying, I thought this was supposed to be all about watching and waiting for the Lord to come? Well of course it is. Sometimes we have the Isa 40:3, “prepare the way of the Lord” verses in our mind as God just coming over the horizon in power and revival appears, and sometimes in history He has done that and maybe He is about to do it again, but sometimes the preparation activity of those verses means that you and I need to be doing something and all we’ve been talking about so far is us eyeballing our own present situations and saying, what here does the Lord want to change (e.g. loved ones turning to Him) and what part does He want me to play in this?

If you are a church leader you shouldn’t only be teaching your people by putting these visionary things before them (which is the grace approach of ‘this could be’ rather than the legalistic and guilt-building approach of ‘you ought’) but also catching a vision of the church as it could be, for example, the church is called to be a witness to God to the rest of the world. This call goes far beyond simply speaking words and should include all aspects of expressing Jesus – love, goodness, revelation and power. As a leader this will involve us teaching and directing the church to enter into,

•  expressing love and goodness both within it and to the world outside it,

  learning to operate in gifts of revelation, within the church and then outside it,

•  learning to allow the Lord to develop faith in us, to flow through us in imparting power that brings transformation, gifting, anointing, healing etc. both within the church and then outside it.

Is that a vision worth praying for and asking the Lord for the wisdom to impart it to the rest of the church enabling them to become this?

God’s visionaries look beyond the present, as important as it is, to see what the Lord is building, both tomorrow and in eternity. But it’s not a project with human origins, it’s not our hope and dreams, it is far better than that for we never think big enough. No, it’s HIS project and unless we allow Him to build it, stone by stone (Eph 2:22), any project we build, we build in vain (Psa 127:1). Let Him create your vision as you pray, simply be available and obedient, and let Him build it.

7. Let Him stir your vision

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 7. Let Him stir your vision

Heb 11:10 he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

There was a time I can remember when one of the mostly commonly quoted verses was, “Where there is no vision the people perish” or its various other interpretations (Prov 29:18) and then “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov 13:12). Without dwelling on either of them in any depth, when you put them together there is a reality that we need vision but unless that vision is fulfilled, we will find ourselves saddened, anguished, even burdened and if we are not careful the enemy can turn burdens into guilt.

So how does all this come into our thoughts of watching and waiting, becoming God’s visionaries? I think the answer is that in our search we must be realistic.

For example, we read of people like Brother Lawrence, a lay worker in a monastery of Paris and his ‘practicing the presence of God’, and we may be put off by the level of devotion that such a man achieved and yet in reading what he wrote I observe such words as, “For the first years…” and “Thus I continued some years…” and, “At length I began to….” and then, “Such was my beginning.” This all speaks of a process that took time. Our Christian experience of God is spread over time, it grows over time and so if we make a start down a particular avenue of investigation of experience of God, it is only the foolhardy who expect it to be achieved in a matter of days.  

We catch a vision, usually a glimmer of what could be, and we find the Lord drawing us to it, but then as we ponder on it over days or weeks or even years, it may develop and as it does we realise there is so much more than we saw at first and the initial temptation is to feel down that we are going nowhere so slowly!  This is simply to say that there are many facets to any vision and it is no less true of the vision of watching and waiting for God and on God than anything else.

Having quoted Brother Lawrence, I realise I need to read him again. His short book is available free on line if you want to go looking. But even the title I find speaks to me. The word ‘practicing’ can simply mean carrying out an exercise or role, like a doctor ‘practices’ medicine. But then change just one letter and ‘practise’ becomes repeating something regularly in order to improve it. So when we speak about prayer and watching and waiting on God, we can mean the activity of doing this but then, being realistic, we need to add, we need to practise this, work on it, improve it and so on.

Another aspect to be recognised here is that there is no one way for these things. If you have ever read Richard Foster’s ‘Streams of Living Water’ you will have been introduced to the different ‘traditions’ across the Christian Church – Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, Incarnational, all different ways of seeing and experiencing. Our problem sometimes, as believers, is that we come across one approach, or one style of church (the ‘Purpose Driven’ movement is a good illustration) and we latch on to someone else’s ‘success’ and think this is the only way. The only way is the way God puts before you at the present for your unique situation.

We have been focusing over these recent days on being still and listening but we mustn’t feel that this is the only approach to God. I still maintain it is vital that we learn to do that, but the truth is – as I have observed while readings the writings of various other prayer warriors – that if we dare be honest, we will have days when in the stillness we will have an incredible sense of the holy presence of God, and on other days it will seem like He’s gone off down the other end of the universe. He hasn’t but if we’re honest, it feels like that. I have to confess that this morning I went into my prayer sanctuary and our starter verse and thoughts of ‘vision’ had already started to appear in my consciousness and so without thinking I just burbled at the Lord for a couple of minutes and then confessed, “Oh Lord, I’m sorry that was just an outpouring and also a shopping list.” I sense a chuckle from heaven with a reply, “That’s fine, son, I love to hear my kids when they are excited.” I then went into ‘stillness mode’ but He then poured out lots more thoughts about vision which I’ll perhaps share tomorrow.

But back in Hebrews, the writer was referring to Abraham who, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went,” (v.8) and “lived in tents,” (v.9) “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (v.10) But he then goes on and adds, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth,” (v.13). Do you see that? They had the vision but never received it because it was a vision, not of earth but of a future heaven and earth (Rev 21:1,2) but that didn’t stop them yearning for it, seeking it, asking for it, working for it. The hope of this vision may seem distant but we must never let it ‘make the heart sick.’ Spend times in silent waiting, intersperse it was burbling your heart out to God, sing and dance and praise the Lord; this waiting and watching with our Creative God, will be more like a kaleidoscope with its changing shapes and colours that are so beautiful. Experience more of it as you watch and wait. More tomorrow.