20. The Possibilities

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 20. The Possibilities of what you see

Ezek 37:2,3 I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

How life was: I would like to just rerun some ground I covered yesterday, before we finish this series, but with a slightly different slant. Go back a couple of years. I still write in a time that is not normal, not like it used to be, a time of fear for many, grieving for some and uncertainty for all. Remember the days before all this when we had not a clue about what was coming, days when we would turn up at church on Sunday mornings, stop and chat with friends, stand alongside them and sing lustily, pray, listen to sermons, chat together over coffee afterwards, make our way home with wider family or perhaps even go out to lunch with a group of friends.  How we took all that for granted. The trouble was that in that safe and secure environment, as it appeared to be, we also listened to sermons with a half-open ear and went away saying ‘nice word’ but largely unchanged. All over the world preachers preached their hearts out and many responded – and many didn’t.

How life could be: Imagine a new day. The crowd gathers, the Spirit comes, prayer is poured out, people ask for prayer and the Spirit washes, cleanses, empowers and encourages and joy is released, hands are laid on the sick and they are healed, hands are reached out to some and they scream and demons flee, worship breaks out spontaneously and the Spirit inspires words and music and hearts are broken, tears flow, laughter flows, people are anointed and equipped and go out with fresh, clear vision to ‘take the world’. Can these dry bones live?

A Valley of Deadness: And so to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. It’s a vision that has been preached many times and is well known but do we let its familiarity rob us of its challenges. Ezekiel is no stranger to God, no stranger to prophetic visions. He is also no stranger to heart-ache because for years he has prophesied to a succession of kings and still no one heeds the words from heaven. He has in his heart a sureness that the judgment of God is coming and the land will be decimated and Jerusalem and the temple destroyed. Something in him has once or twice wondered is there any future for Israel. He looks at what they are today and almost despairs. It is hopeless, they are spiritually dead, apparently unable to hear the words he has spoken for so long. And then this vision comes. He sees it clearly. It is a valley and it is littered with bones – dry bones, bones that have been scavenged by wild animals and dried out by the sun. They are simply a reminder of lives that had once been but are no more. They are the perfect picture of a people who are no longer.

The Israel that had stood at the foot of Mount Sinai centuries before and declared, “Everything the Lord has said we will do,” (Ex 24:3), the Israel that had entered the land by passing through a dry Jordan, the Israel that had conquered the land, the Israel  that, under David, had subdued their enemies, the Israel that, under Solomon, had become so strong and affluent, the Israel that had known low points but also revivals, is no longer. There seems a complete absence of spiritual life. This is the people of God in name only. King after kings fails to bring change. The prophet in the land (Jeremiah) and the prophet already in exile (Ezekiel) and even the prophet in the kings court in Babylon (Daniel) appear to be having no effect. This is a spiritual dead nation.

And then: And then comes this vision. It is clearly a picture of death but then comes the question from God – can these bones live? Lord, you know. Yes, God knows everything; from the very beginning He saw it all, saw we would respond to Him, saw we would trip over our feet and get it hopelessly wrong, but He also saw what He could achieve with us – He knows!

Partnership: But then comes the involvement bit: YOU prophesy and say, “Hear what God says – I will make you live again!” It’s not what I want, it’s what He decrees, what He is going to do. I just speak it out, that is my part in the partnership. When God said at creation about mankind, “fill the earth and subdue it,” (Gen 1:28) or as the Message version puts it, “Fill the earth. Take charge!” He meant, “in harmony or in partnership with me.” In Gen 2 we see that the Lord planted the garden (2:8) but He put Adam in the Garden “to work it and take care of it”. (2:18) It has the same feeling as we find in Ex 3 when the Lord comes to Moses at the burning bush and says about His people, “I have come down to rescue them,” (3:8) but adds, “So now, go. I am sending you.” (3:10) So here is the big thing about Ezekiel’s vision. It is not only about the Lord’s ability to bring fresh life to His dead people, it is also about Him involving Ezekiel in it. Ezekiel has a part to play.

And Us? So here we are with all this talk about seeing in a fresh way. At the end of it, can we believe God is here, can we believe God wants to act in and through the Pandemic (or whatever other negative is coming through your present circumstances), can we believe He has something on His heart much greater than we have experienced previously, can we believe the vision, can we believe what God can do with a deadly situation? And here’s the heavy part: can we believe we have a part to play in this so that, as we make ourselves available to Him and seek Him with all our heart, mind and soul, He WILL use us in it all to bring transformation to the Church and to the world, and will bring glory to Him? Amen.  

19. Eyes to See?

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 19. Eyes to see?

Rev 3:18  “I counsel you to buy from ….. salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Psa 34:8  open your eyes and see— how good God is.

And So: So I believe we should be drawing near the end of this short series about seeing, but what have we been saying? That seeing – how we see – is all important in life, and especially in the Christian life. But isn’t it obvious? Perhaps not. There are various meanings to ‘seeing’ so let’s just refresh our thinking by looking at them again.

Observing: Looking at something is step one, but taking note of it must be step two, and although that sounds so obvious it isn’t. The other day my wife commented on a dahlia flower she had brought in and stood in a vase on the windowsill over the sink in the kitchen the day before. It had been there twenty four hours and although I had been at the sink half a dozen or more times, I had not ‘seen’ it. Yes, no doubt my eyes had viewed it but my mind had just not registered it. But I think that is how it is with the world so often, we see but don’t see.

When I am on holiday and we may be sitting in a café in some town or village I find myself looking out the window and considering the architecture of buildings opposite. I love seeing the different features, especially in old places where buildings may be two or three hundred years old. But so much of the time we just take for granted the buildings we pass every day, so caught up in ‘life’ we get, missing what is all around us.

And if it is true of buildings, how much more true so often is it in respect of nature? As I write we are entering Autumn, or the Fall, when leaves are turning into the most amazing colours and will then start falling, leaving so many different types of skeleton. And if it is true of nature, how much more is it true of people? Have you ever just sat in a café seating area in a mall and watched people? What variety, what stories, what joys, what pains, what fears, what a mix we are. How about the people in church on Sundays? The bigger the church, the more likely it is that many of them are merely faces but behind every face is a story, a testimony, a concern – but we are supposed to be the body of Christ, impacted by one another’s lives (1 Cor 12). Are we just observers or do we dare get involved? Involvement starts with talking and listening, empathizing and understanding.

Understanding: Yes, that takes us on to the second aspect of ‘seeing’, going beyond merely observing, to understanding what we see. Jesus challenged the church in Laodicea for their wrong assessment of themselves: “You say you are rich. You think you have become wealthy and don’t need anything. But you don’t know that you are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17) We might say their problem was half-heartedness and deception, but if that wasn’t bad enough his words to the church at Sardis was even worse: “People say that you are alive, but really you are dead.” (Rev 3:1) In so many churches, what we do is good, socially. We turn up, we talk, we are friendly, we look and sound a nice place to be. We sing our songs gustily, we join in the responses to prayers, we listen to the preacher, we commend him on the way out, and we go back home and little has changed.

Understanding the ‘church’: We may not like this description but all that I have just described is ‘performance’, an outward activity that is preplanned, familiar, routine, even habit – and nice. Sometimes (if we are lucky) the preaching will be ‘nice’ and people go away saying “nice sermon pastor”. It’s a terrible word, it speaks of lukewarmness. When did you ever say or hear someone else say, “Awesome sermon, pastor, it really convicted me and challenged me; I’ll never be the same again”? When did you last feel ‘fed’, built up, challenged, stirred, convicted, brought to tears, brought to your knees, brought to your feet with your arms reaching up to heaven in adoration? These are signs of ‘life’ but do we see this happening? Do we see the poverty of so much ‘nice’ modern church life? Tomorrow I will try and finish with a vision of ‘life’ but dare we be honest about what we ‘see’ of the church today, or don’t we ‘see’?

Understanding the ‘world’: I am aware that I have travelling this path before in a previous series about guilt, but it bears repeating. I think I have written it earlier, but recently I felt the Lord saying, the big issue is not Covid-19, it is the lostness of so many in the Western world. I know that Rev 3:17 challenge was to the church but I believe it applies tenfold to so many in the world. In the West, our affluence our communications, our technological toys and so much else have deceived us into think we are doing so well but while we still have the poor with us, while we still have under-privileged groups within society, while we still have ‘big-people’ creaming off massive profits while others are being paid a pittance, justice is being ignored, and so, so, so much more says our modern western societies are spiritually and morally bankrupt- and we don’t see it. When were you last part of a prayer meeting that cried out in desperation for the needs of the lost, for the majority outside the church and perhaps most importantly, for the honour and glory of the Lord?

And So: So this is what I believe has been coming through from heaven this year, a cry for us to ‘see’ as we have not been seeing, to appreciate the wonder of the world around us and worship, praise and thank the Lord for it, yes for buildings, architecture, art, literature and music and so on, for nature, the incredible natural world around us, and then for people and our own lives, and above all to ‘see’ the Lord and to see afresh how good He is (Psa 34:8). Lord, please open our eyes.  

18. Be ready to move

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 18. Be ready to move

Josh 3:3 When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”

Recap: In the previous study we noted that Zechariah needed an angel to wake him from either sleep or a simple reverie, perhaps as he had got caught up contemplating all he had seen so far. But now there was a new vision to see, one that was all about the Holy Spirit being their provision. As important as the previous visions were, there is now a new one to take in. The apostle Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration shows us our natural desire to hold on to the present revelation as he asks if he can make shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:4) but I wonder how much of the Gospel accounts we would have missed out in if Jesus had set up camp in one location, say a few miles out of Capernaum. But he didn’t, he kept moving as his Father led him. Every day there was something new to do, places to go, people to meet, blessings to bring, teaching to impart.

Watching for the Move: It was pretty easy for the disciples for Jesus would have simply told them over breakfast, we’re moving on. “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mk 1:38) But for us, it is life by the Spirit and we have to catch his prompting. I found myself wondering recently about prayer and about why sometimes God holds back on answering. I found myself thinking back to February of this year (2020), before we really had any inkling of what was coming. No doubt many of us might have been praying as a normal part of our Christian experience, no doubt asking for things, perhaps for friends or family, perhaps for changes of circumstances, but  I guess there were very few indeed who heard from heaven about what was coming. Perhaps if we had had ears to hear we might have heard Father reply, “Those are all very good things and things I would like to do, but I am afraid there is something very big about to break on the world scene and so we’ll have to put a hold on some of these other things you want. Some of them will be worked out in the midst of what is coming, some you will realise in what is coming, are not very important.” Back in Study no.15 I shared what I felt I was hearing while I was praying, “the big issue today is not the pandemic, it is whether my people will rise up and become what they were called to be, the big issue is the numbers of people outside the church who know nothing of me, the big issue is how they will come to hear and see my power and presence if my people will not reveal it.” Now if I was hearing aright,  and I believe I was, I would suggest these are calls to arms, calls to get ready to be part of what Jesus, seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies to bring in the kingdom, is coming to do.

Follow the Ark:  Our starter verse today comes at the time when Israel are about to cross into the Promised Land and will have to cross the Jordan: When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”  The ark was the symbol of the presence of God that usually dwelt in the Tabernacle, and so they were being told, follow God’s presence because when you do you will see spectacular things happen. That spectacular thing is soon reported: “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.” (v.15,16) Put most simply, God opened up a way for them to move ahead where previously there appeared an obstacle (the river) blocking them. Taking a million or more people through a raging river in full flood was not something to be done. So God stops it flowing. That simple. Don’t try and explain it, you can’t explain miracles except to say nothing is beyond the God who created this world to start with.

But there was another aspect to this. God had led them by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night but there is no reference to when that ceased. Manna ceased being given once they ate the fruit in the land (Josh 5:12) but there is no mention of the pillar leading them over the Jordan. It seems guidance now came by direct instruction and when they obeyed that they were successful. The command now, is simply to follow the ark across the river. The rest will follow. They are to follow the ark and, “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” (Josh 3:4)

God’s Guidance: The guidance from the Lord comes in different ways. We’ve seen here: visible cloud & fire, direct instructions, follow the ark, but is this a major thing the Lord is seeking to communicate to His Church through this time: stop planning, stop organising, stop trying to be clever, but instead listen to me and follow me. As that last vision of Zechariah we referred to, communicated, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4:6) Will we have the courage to sit still and listen and wait until Jesus shares with us where he next wants to take us? This is the simple lesson: be alert to see Jesus going ahead. Sometimes we don’t see because we don’t look – we are looking in wrong direction, not expecting him to move. Israel had to keep an eye on the priests and the ark. When they started to move towards the Jordan, it was time to stand up and get ready to follow.   

17. Be clear on the vision

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 17. Be clear on the vision

Zech 4:2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand 

Review: In this whole subject of ‘seeing’ in a spiritual sense, it means seeing with our eyes, understanding with our mind, seeing with our spirit and discerning with our soul; outward and inward seeing, observing and sensing, comprehending, perceiving. It may sound obvious and you may wonder why we keep on about it, but I believe the truth is, as we said right at the outset, we live in an ever more conscious material world of the physical and mental senses and unless we are careful they will subdue or submerge our spiritual senses as believers.

Zechariah: A while ago I found myself being drawn to Zechariah and you’ll see there is a short series of meditations simply titled ‘Zechariah’. He started having visions and initially he kept asking of an angel in the visions, “What are these, my lord?” as various pictures appeared before him (1:9,19) in the first chapter. In the second chapter, seeing a man with a measuring rod, he asks, “Where are you going?” (2:2) He is not so overawed by what he was seeing that he didn’t stop asking about what he saw. The revelation just keeps rolling out before him in chapters 2 and 3 but by the time we arrive at chapter 4 we find, Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”” (4:1,2) Zechariah seems to have reached either a point of saturation or of weariness (because it is still nighttime 1:8 – ongoing flow of visions) and needs waking up

Covid-Weariness: Now a new expression has come into our vocabulary in the past year – “Pandemic Fatigue” – which refers to what people feel when they get fed up constantly hearing about the pandemic and the constantly changing opinions of scientists and politicians, some of the latter of whom seem to be using it for political expediency. Pandemic fatigue often presents itself as feeling restless, irritable, lacking motivation, and difficulty concentrating on tasks and so on. But from a spiritual angle, what it means is people losing spiritual focus, being taken up with the material world more than the spiritual world. More than ever before, to maintain faith we need to be exercising what are sometimes referred to as the spiritual disciplines – praying, reading God’s word, worshipping etc.

Zechariah again: So Zechariah is woken up by the angel who asks him what he sees. Suddenly Zechariah is back in his stride and having seen the golden lampstand and two olive trees, he’s back asking questions again: “What are these, my Lord?” (4:4) Then comes a mini dialogue where the angel asks him, “Do you not know what these are?” (4:5) There almost seems an assumption that he should know but he has to confess ignorance, and this is repeated (4:13). Now please note he is not scolded for his ignorance. Twice Zechariah was asked what he saw. Jeremiah was also asked the same thing a number of times. God seems to delight in asking His prophets what they saw. It is God calling attention and saying, “Don’t be casual about this. Pay attention!” 

And us? Do you see (understand) what God is showing you? But I’m not a prophet, you might reply. So what? Do you spend time reading His word? What do you see?  Can He speak to you through what you see (read) there? Do you see how wonderful it is? If not, start by asking for His help with the cry, “Lord I want to see!” Many years ago, a teenage girl said to me, “I have such difficulty reading the Bible, it seems so hard.” I challenged her over it. “But I’m not very bright, I’m not clever. It seems like you have to be clever to understand it.” I suggested to her that that was not true – either about her not being ‘clever’ or about needing to be clever to understand it – you needed to have a heart after God, you need to be spiritual. She took it to heart and became a woman of God. Awesome!

Are you satisfied reading notes, listening to spiritual two-minute reflections on your phone or iPad apps? May I encourage you to do more. May I suggest these are like taking supplements each morning, additional to your breakfast. This has been a period of history where we have been given time. No longer could we make the excuse for not giving God time by saying, but I’m so busy. Can I encourage you to write or simply do (although having a notebook and writing your own notes is so much better) your own studies or meditations and when you have a passage before you, imagine an angel asking, “what do you see?” Let me just grab a random verse, “At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17) What do you see?

Without much thought I see Jesus calling people who he knows will follow him. Then I see something about him that made them just dump their livelihoods and go. I see an example of faith, following Jesus without knowing where he will lead, just trusting him for the future. Conclusions? Jesus knows me when he called me but, even more, I can trust him for the future. Possibly so much more if we took time to meditate on it, and that in turn leads to pray and worship, commitment and trust. All because God asks us, “What do you see?” and we woke up and looked….. and looked …..and looked…. and saw. Perhaps it leads to asking God questions, “What does that mean, Lord?” He delights in his children asking questions; just keep an open heart to listen for the answers that will come.  Be blessed.

16. Limited Vision?

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 16. Don’t let your vision be limited

Gen 13:15 “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.”  

The Land: Originally “the Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) Now we often talk about Abram not knowing where he was going but a bit later we read, “and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there,” (v.5) which rather has the feel that the Lord had told them where to aim. But possibly it was a bit vague for the writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham…went, even though he did not know where he was going.(Heb 11:5) Now if you think I am making a bit of a meal about this it is because, as we’ve already noted in these studies, it is not always clear where we are going; the call may be clear but the destination may not be so clear.  

However, as our verse above indicates, when he got to Canaan, had gone through the debacle in Egypt, returned from Egypt, gave Lot the option of what land to take, once Lot has left him, he just stands there looking around him and it is then that the Lord speaks these words to him, which the Message version puts very clearly: “God said to Abram, “Open your eyes, look around. Look north, south, east, and west. Everything you see, the whole land spread out before you, I will give to you and your children forever.” I like that! “Open your eyes.” Was Abram standing there at Bethel in the middle of the land with his eyes shut? Of course not! It just simply means, wake up, take a careful look at everything you can see around you – that’s yours, or rather it will be for your descendants.

Watching People: Now as someone who has been around people receiving words of personal prophecy, I know that many of us struggle to accept it when God says He’s going to bless us, and on that basis I could imagine Abram, if he was a modern Christian, saying to himself, “No, surely not, not all of this land as far as the eye can see! I mean, there are other peoples here, so what claim have I got on this, I’m just a stranger who has only recently arrived? Perhaps I am imagining it, this voice in my head is just a delusion. I’ve already messed up twice so perhaps this is the third time.”   Now to answer the claim part, where we might say, “what right have I to expect that to happen?” the answer is because GOD has said so. If He was a big, nasty God who was just having fun at your expense, it would still be the same – if He wants you to get into trouble taking this land, there’s not much you can do about it, so get on with it. But the truth is far from that, He is love, He is good, He is faithful (unchanging) so you can trust Him. If He says He has, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer 29:11) then believe Him that He has good stuff on His heart for you from the moment you turned to Him (Eph 2:10)  

Understanding ‘Land’: So Abram gazed out over the land of Canaan as the Lord promised it to his offspring. Land and offspring, the two crucial elements that stirred Abram’s heart. We don’t have a physical land like he did, our land is spiritual, our land is called the kingdom of God – do we understand what it is? It is what Jesus is working to bring, the rule or reign of God over all things in any particular locality. One day (1 Cor 15:24,25) he will complete that work but today he is still working and the Father is still leading and inspiring him (Jn 5:17,19) as he leads and inspires us to bring our lives and our circumstances under his rule. It is a long ongoing process and requires patience and perseverance and faith – and a big vision.

The Bigger Vision?  Why do we so often have just tiny little ideas of what God wants to do with us? Two reasons, I suspect. First, we live in a fallen world that has often beaten us up, slapped us down and told us we are rubbish. Second, we still have this negative propensity called Sin that, although we have considered it dead (see Rom 6) just waits to rise up given half the chance, if we are sufficiently unwise as to listen to the enemy’s lies that he whispers to us: “It’s all right, He just wants you to be nice, so keep yourself to yourself, don’t go getting any bright ideas above your station. You are just a small person so don’t let pride make you think you can be anything more.” Do you see that? No blatant temptation to commit some big wrong, such as adultery, (that might come later) just the suggestion that you should keep your head down, don’t expect too much, and don’t go upsetting anyone.

The Bigger Land? But consider the kingdom. We said it is where Jesus reigns. Where is he? Everywhere, and he’s just looking for his people that he can lead, encourage, equip and empower and embolden. Look around you in your life. Who is there who is needy? Everyone? Well, who does he want you to go to, to help? You’ll only know the answer when you ask him, and then listen. Or perhaps he will bring someone across your path who is looking for help, for encouragement, a friend. Don’t limit your vision. Be alert for anyone in your circumstances. Is Jesus nudging them, prompting them to come to you? Is he just waiting to give you wisdom, boldness, words of encouragement and friendship? Is he wanting to open up opportunities for you to fulfil that desire you’ve kept hidden away, deep in your heart that you’ve never had the courage to speak about? Are we limiting our vision and therefore what could happen? “Open your eyes, look again, look around you.” What do you see?    

15. Face what has happened

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 15. Face what has happened

Mk 8:18  Do you have eyes but fail to see?”

2 Kings 2:16 “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”

Not Believing: I think seeing the impossible happen must challenge the mind. I knew some people who attended a miraculous healing ministry in Africa a number of years ago and when they returned they reported how for the first few days their minds just struggled with the ‘impossible’ miracles of healings they saw by the hundreds day after day. Their eyes saw the amazing things happen but their minds struggled to take it in. Yesterday we pondered on the disciples gazing up at the sky after Jesus has ascended and they must have had something of that same feeling of unreality.

Elijah: The Old Testament equivalent must be the departure to heaven of Elijah in a whirlwind.  The onlooking ‘disciples’ were young prophets, now left with Elisha. They saw the chariot of fire that came between them to hold them back as Elijah was carried up in the wind, but they could not believe that was the end of his life and ministry on earth. Elisha knew the reality of what had happened but the young prophets insisted on sending out search parties to see if they could find where the wind had put him down.  Of course there was no body to be seen. The body will not come back, in this form at least.

Feeding the Crowds: Back in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples struggled with what they saw. The had witnessed Jesus feed first five thousand and then four thousand with virtually no food. A short while later we read, “The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”  (Mk 8:14,15) The yeast he referred to was sinful, wilful unbelief. The disciples were confused about talk of bread and yeast, they had been watching the Son of God at work but hadn’t taken in the enormity of what they had seen and thus failed to consider the consequences – this was God in their midst for only God can perform miracles.  

And Us? Spiritual sight is not about what you see with your eyes but what you perceive in your spirit. It goes beyond the physical to see the realities of what is going on around us. For many years we, the church, have ben contented with an existence that is so much of the time devoid of the power and presence of God. We have got used to the absence of miracles and so today we struggle to believe in the divinely supernatural. We have in 2020 allowed our vision to be filled with a Pandemic (or a Presidential election) but the Lord said to me the other day while I was praying, “the big issue today is not the pandemic, it is whether my people will rise up and become what they were called to be, the big issue is the numbers of people outside the church who know nothing of me, the big issue is how they will come to hear and see my power and presence if my people will not reveal it.” He added, “unless this happens, this church will simply become a dead monument to past religion,” yet as He said that I sensed this was not what He wanted to happen and we felt a fresh surge of intercession against that outcome.

How do we come to have ‘spiritual sight’? Three ways. First by immersing ourselves in God’s word, second, by spending time in His presence in prayer, and third, by obeying what he says.  Spiritual realities (1 Cor 2:13) are understood by spiritual people. Can we make that a target regardless of what the rest of the world is doing? Will we be like Jesus’ disciples and fail to have spiritual vision to understand what he is doing in our midst? Will we be like his disciples when he ascended and just stand there immobilized? Will we be like Elijah’s disciples who could not believe his ministry was being brought to an end? We’ve been saying it over and over again but it does bear repeating: the 2020 Pandemic has brought changes through which we must learn that the world – and especially the church – cannot be the same again afterwards, if there is an afterwards.

Many of us struggle with this because we want to get back to comfortable, undemanding discipleship where obedience, faith and sacrifice aren’t the currency of the day, but that is not what the Lord wants. He looks for a spiritual people, a people who will look with the eyes of the Spirit, who will have understanding as revealed by the Spirit, who will see it is possible to walk on water when Jesus says, ‘Come’, a people who will believe in a Saviour who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) who still teaches and brings revelation, who still speaks and demons flee, who still speaks and the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and lepers are cleansed – and who does this through his people (Jn 14:12). Will we heed His call and rise up and be this people?  

14. Uncertain Future

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 14. Uncertain Future

Acts 1:10,11 They were looking intently up into the sky…why do you stand here looking into the sky?

Pauses: I don’t know about you but I sometimes think life goes on pause. Something happened you were not expecting. It just seems like you are left wondering and you realize you are standing there doing nothing, just like it must have been with the disciples. Jesus had risen and they had spent a number of weeks with him up in Galilee, not ministering to the crowds but just being alone with him while he taught them about the kingdom. Now what is strange is that Luke doesn’t tell us any more about what he taught; in a sense that was past history and when he wrote he was more concerned with what followed, how the Holy Spirit came and led the early church. But in between the teaching and the moving of the Spirit there comes the unique event – a one-off never to be repeated – of the Ascension.

Jesus literally rose before their very eyes and disappeared from sight in a cloud – gone! And the disciples are left standing, probably with their mouths wide open, saying nothing, with their minds full of a combination of fear and wondering. It was the most amazing thing they had ever seen. Yes, they had over the past three years witnessed amazing healings, deliverances and even some being raised from the dead but all that was not almost  a dreamlike past as in front of them the one they had followed for three years, literally started lifting off the ground and continued going up and up, his clothes perhaps flapping in the wind, and then he’s gone! Silence reigns. No one knows what to say and they just stand there still gazing up.  But then, from nowhere, two men in white appear and challenge them.

Stop it! Now they don’t actually tell the disciples to stop it and get on with life. All they do is tell them that one day he will come back the same way they’ve seen him go, in the sky. That is the most important thing. Don’t expect him to just turn up at breakfast tomorrow; you’ve got a long wait. Don’t expect him in the years to come to just walk into the room where you are. It won’t be like that; the whole world will see him coming again. And with that there is an air of finality about the present.  All they can do is go back to Jerusalem and do what he said – wait for the Spirit to come. End of present phase of life.

I can’t help but think of another time when it is the end of one phase and beginning of another: “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Sam 16:1) As we are continuing to consider how we see life, we need to realise there are phases in God’s economy, seasons if you like, when one season comes to an end and a new one begins. We aren’t so good at coping with change because most of us like what is familiar. Moreover we are not sure about what is to come because it is unseen and as yet unknown. There is a truth in the old adage ‘we’ve never walked this way before’.

A New Day: But here’s the thing, getting near the end of the first year of the Pandemic (will there be another year of it?) many of us struggle to hold on to the past and resurrect it and bring back what we knew before, what was familiar. We must stop doing that. If the Pandemic was just a ghastly mistake by some scientists in China, a mistake with no meaning or purpose of positive outworking, then we might as well just remain miserable and despondent, but I don’t believe it was. At the risk of repeating myself, then yes, I do believe it was the work of careless, sinful mankind, but I believe the Lord allowed it for a variety of reasons. One of them was to put a brake on the Church, the way it was going in order that we may stop and reflect and consider how we had been falling short of the divine plan.  

One thing I am sure of is that God does not want us to just continue on as we did before, whether it is in respect of a Pandemic or a Presidency. Just recently I restarted a prayer meeting in our church – socially distanced and conforming to Government strictures for numbers and meeting indoors (before it was shut down in the second UK lock-down. As far as prayer meetings go, it was pretty reasonable but afterwards I had this distinct feeling that we had missed it, we had not moved on, we were still doing the ‘same old, same old’.

Now I’m still not sure what the new is but at the second one I went into it with no plans or expectations other than we would turn up and, without any direction from me, we would let the Lord lead us – and He did! We prayed with some of the most authoritative and power praying I’ve known for many a year. Is this the message from heaven – let me lead at the moment? Wait on me for new power? If the Lord allowed the Pandemic to herald the end of one season and the beginning of another, we really need to ask for His grace to be able to let go of the old. Samuel received a firm word to get him moving on to herald in the new era, even while the old one was still in existence.

That’s the thing, the old one still seems to be in existence in some ways, but don’t let that deceive you. God wants His church back, He wants it to stop planning and strategizing with human thinking, He wants to lead it, He wants to release power in it and through it, He wants to transform it. As He said to me the other day, if we don’t let Him, if we don’t pray for it, some of us will simply be left with buildings that stand only as monuments to past religion. As I wrote a few studies back, in the meantime we are to remain faithful, available, obedient, prayerful and yearning for Him to come, as we wait for His coming in power and revelation. Don’t cling to the past, look to the horizon for signs of His coming with power.  

13. A Clearer Day

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 13. A Clearer Day

1 Cor 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror.”  

Hazy-View Life:  I believe there are many people who just go through life with little thought to its meaning, little thought about their role in the scheme of things, little thought about God, little thought about whether they can improve the world by being in it. I suspect, as I listen around, many people simply struggle to survive the day or the week. Life is a round of routines, of things that must be done – getting up, getting dressed, getting fed, getting the family dressed and fed perhaps, getting kids out to school, going to work and so on. For them, the words of Ecclesiastes ring true: The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” (Eccles 1:5-7) In other words, ‘same old, same old’. No wonder life often seems tedious.

Before and After: But in 2020 all that changed, for a while at least. Writing near the end of the year, while it still drags on, same say life will never be ‘normal’ again, and it is perhaps for that reason that I am writing this particular series about the way we see, because it seems that one of the things we are being challenged about, apart from simply surviving, is the way we actually view life. Once upon a time we got up in the morning and looked out the window and saw the blue sky and sunshine and took it for granted. We went to the fridge and took out our food and took it for granted. We went places, went on holidays and took them for granted. Suddenly we become more aware of these things. If you live in the country you are more likely to be aware of the wonderful world around you. In the Fall, spiders’ webs on hedges in the early morning, covered with dew or frost, become objects of beauty that are never seen in the city. If you live out of town, stepping outside at night you are enthralled by the panorama of the night sky filled with stars, a view denied the town-dweller by light pollution. But even those of us in the country can start to take these things for granted and it’s like we see it all as through a dirty glass; it’s there but that’s all. Now we peer more carefully at these things around us. Before the Pandemic they were just there; now they are things to be seen, considered and appreciated in a new way.

And People: How easy it is to take people for granted. They are always there. Same faces, same characters, same comments, same expectations. And then suddenly we were barred from meeting and Internet communication suddenly took off in a way previously unknown. Before we took church for granted then we were told not to meet. Some focused on their ‘rights’ as if that was the important issue, while failing to see that actually seeing people face to face, relating to them, fellowshipping with them, was the all important things. People stopped being pew-fodder and became important members of a dwindling congregation or at least a separated congregation. I wear glasses (spectacles) as does my wife and like all spectacle wearers we both know that it is so easy for the glasses to become smeary and in need of a clean with a soft material. And then we laugh and say, “Oh, I wondered why it was getting foggy”. It’s exactly the same thing as Paul was seeking to convey when he wrote our starter verse.

The way it is: Now I have been taking this verse to apply to the way it is worked out so often in our day to day living, but I have been implying that that need not be so, we need not look at life or at one another as through a misty piece of glass or through smeary spectacles and I think that is a valid challenge that the Lord has been bringing to us throughout this year. Yet there is the bigger truth that Paul was conveying, that we do not see spiritual things very clearly this side of heaven. The various translators try to convey this:  “ For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror” (NIV), or “For now we see in a mirror, dimly,” (NKJV) or, “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror” (JBP) or, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist” (Msg) or “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” (KJV) Paul is teaching that for now ‘seeing’ God, ‘seeing’ spiritual realities is a bit blurry.

Coping with ‘Blurry’: How do we cope with ‘blurry’ sight, indistinct sight, for this side of heaven that is how it is for every single believer, whoever they are. Not putting aside anything we’ve said above, about learning to see the world around us with new eyes because of the Pandemic, how does the believer cope with not being able to see God, not always being clear about what He is saying or where He is leading? The first answer has to be, accept it and don’t feel guilty about it. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, as we’ve noted more than once already, about having the eyes of their hearts opened, he prayed that because it wasn’t natural, it was revelation, and those believers needed help to ‘see’ these things. Second, which hopefully should be most obvious, we should pray, Lord please open my eyes that I may see more clearly. Yesterday we considered the blind man partially seeing and noted that clear sight was the goal. We may not be able to see everything clearly this side of heaven but that should not stop us being those who read and study and pray so that we see more clearly than we do now. The Holy Spirit was sent to teach us (Jn 14:26). To learn we need open teachable hearts, hearts that don’t take blurry sight as normal but who ask Him to make it clearer by the day. May that be us.   

12. Need for Adjustment

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 12. Need for Adjustment

Mk 8:24He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Incomplete Vision? The story of Jesus healing this blind man is a strange one and you can’t help by wonder why Jesus did it like this – in two stages. “They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spat on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mk 8:22-25) But why did he spit on the man’s eyes? Was he cleaning them? Why did he put his hands on the man? Was this what we would call ‘laying on of hands’ that involved prayer? He asks the man if he sees anything. That’s unusual because normally when he healed blind people they just saw straight away but here it is initially only a partial healing. The man sees indistinctly and it is only when Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes that he sees clearly.

I cannot but help wonder if this is for our benefit to say, “if you pray for healing and it only partially comes, keep on praying.” I am sure there is something of that in it. But in these days, as I have been suggesting that God wants us to see with new eyes the world around us and our part in it, I also wonder if there is a challenge here. I am sure most Christians would say they see clearly, they understand something at least of the Gospel and so on.

Our Partial Seeing? Yes, but that’s the point, we see ‘something’ but I wonder if that is only a very limited something.  I said just now that God wants us to see with new eyes the world around us and our part in it, but if I am honest, and I do not mean to upset anyone, I believe most Christians get taken up with the day, taken up with surviving in the 2020 Pandemic, taken up with government officials, doctors and scientists who are all uncertain but trying to sound knowledgeable, and the result is, I believe, there are still many Christians who are casualties of this time.  How can we gain a greater assurance of who we are and how we can cope? Here are some suggestions.

Looking Back: Isaiah cried, “To the teaching and to the testimony,” (Isa 8:20) John spoke about how the saints at the end overcame the enemy, “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) Holding on to the Bible’s teaching, holding on to the fact that we are saved by the blood of the Lamb who died on the Cross AND holding on to the testimony of what God has already done for us, how He has kept us and provided for us and protected us – so far. But how many believers can recount the basics of the Gospel and, even more, how many can look back and tell of specific ways God has guided them, provided for them, and so on? We can say ‘something’ perhaps, but is our vision as we look back clear?

The Present: Again the question arises, are we aware of who we are and the resources that we have today?

The apostle Paul for the Ephesian saints that, “you may know … what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19). See the words: ‘glorious inheritance’ (to be received now), and ‘immeasurable greatness of his power’ for us. Forgiveness, cleansing, sonship, power, authority. How many of us can personalize Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “God is able to bless me abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that I need, I will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8 personalized). How many of us see this clearly and rejoice in our lives today?

The Future: But Paul also wrote about his prayers, “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” (Eph 1:18) Hope is about the future and the future starts now and so it includes the rest of our lives here on earth as well as our eternal destiny. I know we covered these things in an earlier study but I am simply using them now to ask how clear our vision is. Have we taken on board these truths, are we at peace about tomorrow, are we confident that He is there for us at all times, however uncertain they may be, providing for us, protecting us, being all we need?  

And So? Are these things, things we only vaguely see? Do we need to ask the Lord to touch our eyes again, so to speak, so that we may see them with such clarity that we will be anchored firm and steady in the Rock, our Refuge, our Lord, regardless of what today or tomorrow brings? Again the apostle Paul’s teaching on warfare was that, “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand,” (Eph 6:13)  We are in evil days, evil as far as the Pandemic is concerned, evil in respect of the world’s godless thinking that leads so many further and further stray. Our belief system as seen through the Bible, is our ‘ground’. I imagine it as a plot of land over which Satan has no say. He may scream over the fence but we are to ignore his lies. Hold the truth, get it clear in your mind, get your vision utterly cleared, about the past, the present and the future, and rejoice and rule.

11. Big Vision

(we pick up again on this series we started recently)

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 11. Big Vision

Heb 11:13They 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.

Disappointments: Over recent decades, in the West at least, there has been a clear trend: many people have given up on church because its failures have become more clear. Yes, this is far from true for everyone and in various places life has abounded, yet for many it has still been true, many have dropped away, maybe not from belief in God, but belief in church.

For some shear repetition has become boring. For others the hurts, caused by thoughtless or insensitive people not being held to account, have created in many a cry that, “I do not feel safe here,” and they have gone. Others have had high expectations of what church should be, could be, but when those expectations, those hopes, never seemed to come about, a sense of disillusionment set in. Some even stepped out in new ventures, new approaches, but years on they find themselves with ‘the same old’, and are wondering.

Proverbs 13:12 declares, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life,” or as the Message version puts it, Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.Over the years I have watched and seen all the above causes why people drift away, and even experienced some of them myself.  I would expand this verse to, “when your hopes, dreams and expectations seem to come to nothing, it creates within you a sense of disillusionment, disappointment, and discouragement, but when that inner God-yearning is fulfilled, it releases a whole new creative energy and supply, a new resource by which to live as you enter into those hopes, dreams and expectations.”    

Faulty Sight (1): Now this creating of an army of not-quite-prodigals has, I believe, two causes and both involve faulty sight or a wrong way of seeing. The first of those failures is genuinely a failure to see what church should be and what it actually has become in the twenty-first century. The failure to see what church should be comes from a casual and sometimes defensive reading of the Bible. When we see great things happening after, say, the day of Pentecost, we excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, yes, but that was the equivalent of a revival where the power of the Spirit was obvious, but we’re not in such a time.” Well possibly not, but surely the characteristics of such a time should suggest to us that this is what God desires. The nature and characteristics of the church are seen throughout the New Testament, and even Jesus’ expectations of his church in Rev 2 & 3. I have written it elsewhere but I believe it bears repeating. I believe the New Testament portrays

“a church that is alive with the presence and power and revelation and activity of God by His Spirit, where God is truly honoured, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life and the world is impacted and transformed”

If we respond defensively to such a vision then the answer must be that we need to pray and seek the Lord for grace and wisdom to play our part and for Him to come in power. The point in this study, is that many sense that this is what the church should be, could be, and seeing no one taking steps towards it, have become disillusioned and fallen away. 

Faulty Sight (2): The second of these failures, involving faulty sight or a wrong way of seeing, has been the inability to catch the big picture. Let me explain. Heb 11:13, our starter verse speaking of the Old Testament people of faith, reads, “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.” The JBP version of this is particularly good: “though they had seen them in the distance, had hailed them as true and were quite convinced of their reality.” So. I am utterly convinced of the reality of that stated vision above and that it is what is on God’s heart. However, the big picture recognises that these things only come about by the grace of God. While we pray for His grace and pray for His coming in power, we need to recognise various things: a) He is sovereign and they will only come when He releases His power, b) His timing is not always ours, and that sometimes means a call for patience and perseverance,  c) our part is to remain faithful, available, obedient, prayerful and still yearning for the vision while not being put off if it appears delayed.

Today: This is where I believe we are today nearing the end of 2020. In many places church numbers have continued to drop. In a few places they have continued to rise. In numbers there is a sense of disillusionment and in even more there is an accommodation of the world’s way of thinking for the same reasons as above. So two schools: the ‘it’s not working’ and the ‘but He’s coming in power’. Both are right and both are worth listening to, but in the meantime remain faithful, available, obedient, prayerful and yearning. These are the ingredients, I believe, the Lord desires in us while we wait in these imperfect days. May He find them in us.