1. What is God doing?

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 1. What is God doing?

Mt 4:19 “Come follow me,” Jesus said.     

There are high points in life, and low points. At Easter it was the other way round, there were low points and then a high point: He has risen! We live in a world full of high points and low points and for the unbeliever every day is a day of uncertainty, a day of potential worry. But there is another way. An academic-cum-poet, Minnie Louise Haskins’, in 1908 wrote a poem, “The Gate of the Year” that gained fame by being used in King George VI’s 1939 Christmas broadcast, facing the early days of the Second World War. They are still appropriate for today:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”  So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

Writing in Spring 2021, I find myself gazing into the future, wondering. I gaze at the horizon and wonder. What is God doing? Is He coming soon? I wrote elsewhere recently that Spring is a time of peering at the earth with expectancy. I had sowed tomato seeds and each day peered at the seed tray looking for signs of life. Eventually each seed broke the surface and so then I watched their growth with the expectancy that one day, later in Summer, I would be harvesting sweet, small, orange tomatoes. I knew what they should be, I knew it when I sowed the seeds, but would life come forth?

In March this year, we ‘celebrated’ (well the media made a meal of it!) a year since the start of the first of three lockdowns in the UK. At this point in time, optimism is strong on one hand, while realism keeps rearing its ugly head in the form of Government scientists warning or more to come. But a combination of large percentages of the population receiving their vaccine shots, the lengthening of the days of Spring, and the hopes of Summer and of coming out of restrictions, mean that many are peering at the light at the end of the tunnel with hope and optimism.

But for me and you as believers, what is the reality? The bigger question that I find impinging on my consciousness day after day, is what is the Lord doing? For some time now voices have been raised around the globe suggesting that revival is just around the corner. The trouble is that optimism can take our emotions beyond where God is at the moment. Is He coming soon in revival in the world, or renewal in the church? We can but watch and wait. Note those two things, for they are what I sense need to be behind all I write for the remainder of this month. Watching speaks of anticipation; waiting speaks of holding a right attitude until He comes. For the sake of these studies, these meditations, these reflections, can we consider ourselves ‘visionaries of God’, those of His children who will watch the horizon with a realistic anticipation, who seek His heart and will, in order to perhaps hasten the day or, at the very least, prepare for the day.  

But, I wonder, can we think of this in a wider sense, not merely in respect of revival or renewal?  Will He come to my family, my unsaved loved ones, my prodigals, the needs I have been crying out for, for so long? Will He come to the church, to my locality, my nation? Is there really hope – of an end to the pandemic, of change in my family, church, and nation? Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel?

But then I have to come back to basics, to the beginning and ponder on my calling to be a disciple. The mentality of disciples is simply to obey the call – follow me. It was those simple words that made four fishermen leave their nets, a tax collector leave his booth, and others put down and walk away from their daily activities. Where were they going? What did the future hold? It’s been a picture that has grabbed me a number of times in recent years. We like a religion that is neat and orderly, where we know what is happening because we are the ones in control, where we know what is going to happen because it is us doing it – but that is not the calling of a disciple of Jesus who takes on the name ‘Christian’.

No, Jesus’ disciples had one calling, to follow him, without knowing what was coming, without being in control. When Jesus walked, they walked, when Jesus stood still, they stood still, when Jesus ate, they ate, when Jesus slept, they slept, when Jesus performed healings …. yes, they eventually performed healings, when Jesus cast out demons… yes, they eventually cast out demons.

So what is happening today that he calls me to enter into? Well, one thing I do know, and that is what is NOT happening. Thousands of people are not turning to God in revival around the world. The church is not dramatically coming alive with revelation and power. When I pray for healing it only happens occasionally. When I share the gospel it rarely produces an instant reception and life transformation. But does that mean God has packed His bags and gone off to some other universe? I don’t think so! Every now and then, I observe little signs of Holy Spirit activity and encouragement, just like I see the shoots and buds and seedlings coming into life all over the place in Spring. So what is His call today? I believe it is to watch and wait – and DO what He gives us to do when He gives it, to take the opportunities He gives, when He gives.  It’s a call to realism and a call of hope, a call to still involve us in the work of His calling. How can we do that, how can faith rise up in us for these days? Let’s kneel and listen and watch, let’s be available and obedient. Join me in this pilgrimage this month.

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

Mt 11:29   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Heb 5:12-14  though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Students:  When we speak about a learning curve we refer to a person’s progress in gaining knowledge and experience. When we speak of a ‘steep learning curve’ we mean there has been a lot of learning in a short period of time. If it is a shallow learning curve it means we have learnt very slowly over a longer period of time. On a graph of learning (the vertical axis) and time (the horizontal axis), a straight horizontal line denotes no additional learning taking place. Now I wonder what your learning curve looks like?  Not long ago, after I had retired from leading my own church, we went to a large local church (large for the UK that is) and both my wife and I were dismayed at the ignorance that was obvious in this church.

Learning what? “Hold on,” I hear some saying, “what are you suggesting you wanted to see there? What do you want for us?”  Well, let’s talk about what first of all, and then why.  I heard someone the other day say out loud, “My knowledge of the Bible is rubbish,” and yet I know that person has been a Christian for many years. What have they been doing, what has their church been doing all those years? When I became a Christian over fifty years ago, within two years I was leading seven different bible studies a week. I was hungry for God’s word and found others who were similarly hungry. And then I go into the church prayer meeting and I hear people just throwing out requests to God like He was a market stall holder giving out goodies. Where is the sense of the God of strategy and purpose who is found when we wait upon Him and seek Him in prayer? Why haven’t these people been taught what prayer is all about so they see it as the lifeblood of the church’s experience? So I look around and hear people confessing how difficult their lives are and I wonder about the absence of teaching about overcoming, about spiritual warfare in prayer, and personal prayer ministry? Where are these things? And that’s just a start!

But why? Stop and think what has happened when a person becomes a believer. Listen to how the Message version puts Paul’s description of what our old lives used to be like: “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.” (Eph 2:1-3) Look at that – you let the world tell you how to live, a life of unbelief and disobedience, and self-centred in every way. To the Romans he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

The ’what’ again: So we turned away from our old life which was going nowhere except downhill. We were convicted by the Holy Spirit of the mess we were in and we turned to God and received His salvation through Christ. Right! Now before us we have a whole new life, one that is not self-centred but Christ centred, one that is not godless but God-focused (godly). We have so much to learn! Now I would suggest that there are the following areas of learning we need to look at:

  • learning who God is and what He is like (correcting all the old false ideas we had previously),
  • learning what a relationship with Him means,
  • learning the character He wants to form in us that is Christ-like,
  • learning how to relate to others in a Christ-like way,
  • learning how to manage my life righteously (e.g. handling money at work etc.),
  • learning to recognize my gifts and talents that he has given me,
  • learning how to become like Jesus and do his works as he leads me (part of his ‘body’ that we will consider in detail in a later Part).

The call of a disciple: Those who Jesus followed in the Gospels were called disciples. A disciple is first and foremost a follower who learns to be like their ‘master’ (or teacher or mentor) and the important word is ‘learns’. When Jesus commissioned the church he told them, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). It was a call to create a church who learnt to be like Jesus, not only in character but also in action. Sadly in the modern church we focus on the character part, but we limit the ‘doing’ to what some have called the ‘spiritual disciplines’ – prayer, Bible reading, worship, witnessing – and have stopped there.

A Step Further: But is that all that Jesus expects of us? He taught a lot on prayer, but virtually nothing about preaching or bible reading, although there is this strong indication that the church should be teaching the truths we have been talking about. Worship, yes, a natural expression of love for God when we come together. Witnessing, a natural sharing when we rub shoulders with our neighbors and they ask us why we are so good, loving, gracious, caring, compassionate etc. etc. as we are. But consider what Jesus said he was doing: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) and then his teaching, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)

A New Mandate for your Life? Now it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus meant each of those things literally and physically, so somewhere along the line, I suggest, we need to learn to do those things, or at least get the whole body to do those things, because (and we’ll see it in a later Part) there are some described as those with the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28,30) which implies not everyone – so relax, it may be you or not.

But how about spiritualising those things above, which I think is legitimate for this exercise, to take the pressure of those who fear the literal translation. Let’s see if this is any easier for you. Can we expand that verse in Mt 11:5 as follows: “(i) those who have been spiritually blind and have been unable to understand and receive the gospel, have been enabled to see and understand it; (ii) those who are limping through life, lacking strength, lacking purpose, lacking clarity, have been enabled to walk tall with purpose; (iii) those whose lives are blighted by past bad relationships, bad experiences and lies from the enemy, have been ministered to by the love of Jesus, forgiven, cleansed, restored and set running with purpose; (iv) those who had apparently been unable to ‘hear’ what we had been saying to them, suddenly now start showing they are hearing it; (v) those who are clearly spiritually dead heed the Gospel and receive his life and are raised to new lives, and (vi) those who have been made to feel they are nothing have received the good news that in God’s sight they are precious. How about that as a fresh mandate for your life, what has happened to you, for the things you say and do, and for the mandate of the church?

Challenging the Impossible: But, I hear some saying, I’m not sure I can do that. Isn’t it merely a matter of you learning to do it, learning to listen to God, learning to seek Him for His wisdom, His words, His faith? But I’ve got so little faith, I hear another say. Excellent, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)  Go back to the study on a faith people. Faith coming from hearing. When you hear God and respond to what you hear, THEN stuff will happen, but it is a learning exercise and it starts with that realization. The truth is that Jesus is the Master-Teacher and he knows you are a slow learner (!!!!). Why do I say that? Because he chose twelve close disciples who traveled with him for three years and who saw all the incredible things he was doing and heard all the amazing teaching, but still got it wrong, still argued who was the greatest, still wanted to call fire down on those who didn’t agree with them, still betrayed him, still denied him, still abandoned him – but he kept on with them. Peter is our best example of a failure and yet still appointed to lead the church (read Jn 21). Amazing! Then see him in Acts doing the stuff. Talk about a learning curve!

And Us? Hungry for the truth? I hope so. Become a learner. Got questions? Become a learner. Got doubts? Become a learner. Got a murky past? Become a learner. God failures? Become a learner. Unsure of the future? Become a learner. Unsure of your part in the church, the body of Christ? Become a learner. Learning knowledge? Yes, but more than that, be a doer, a listener to God, one in whom faith grows, one who learns to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s daily leading, grow in it. And when you stumble and fall and get it wrong, get up again and learn from it. Learning includes failures and mistakes and Jesus doesn’t abandon you when you get it wrong; he wants you to learn from it. It’s a life of learning, lifelong learning. Amen? Amen!