29. Aspiring to Worship

Aspiring Meditations: 29.  Aspiring to Worship

Ex 8:1    Let my people go, so that they may worship me

1 Chron 16:29  ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

Isa 29:13  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men

In the modern church, when someone says, “Let’s have a time of worship,” often all that is meant is ‘let’s have a time of singing praise songs’. Not wanting to be too disparaging of this, let’s acknowledge that it is a good starting place but worship means more than this. My dictionary has, “Worship = reverence or devotion for a deity; religious homage or veneration, a church service or other rite showing this, extreme devotion or intense love or admiration of any kind.”

Notice the key words: reverence, devotion, homage. These are heart and commitment words, words that go further than mere outward acts. Indeed Isaiah was most scathing about this as he brought the word from the Lord: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isa 29:13) What a condemnation. The people came into the sanctuary, actually bowed down before God and yet their hearts weren’t in it, they we doing it because the Law told them to, not because their hearts were filled with love for God. But is that what we do week by week, simply because we’ve got into the habit of doing it?

Let me give another definition of worship: the reverence, by bowing down and paying homage, that is shown by a lesser being to a greater being. Now that ‘bowing down’ may be literal or simply in the heart and it is an acknowledgment of greatness and of superiority of the one being worshiped. The moment we say that is the moment we see the distinction between true and false worship that is seen in so much of the Old Testament. True worship can only be worship of the one true God for He alone has greatness and ultimate superiority. Worshiping anyone or anything else must be false worship because, whether it be wooden idols or even people, none of them can fit the definition of greatness and superiority. A king in olden times was only great as long as his army supported him. In himself he was nothing.

This was seen in the account of Moses confronting Pharaoh in Egypt as again and again he brought God’s word, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” The only trouble with that was that Egyptian culture declared that Pharaoh was a deity to be worshiped – but then so was the Nile! Like the various Roman emperors centuries later, the call to worship God challenged the cultural call to worship the king. It was this that so often caused persecution of God’s people. Reality in the cold light of day, says why should we worship a mere human being who is exactly the same as us in his daily habits and his vulnerability to getting colds or other illnesses.

Worship is reserved for the ultimate deity, the Lord Himself and only Him. As David wrote in his psalm, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” (1 Chron 16:28,29) i.e. give God the glory that is due to Him. When we truly worship we bring ourselves in line with reality. God is great, God is glorious and all we are doing is acknowledging the truth of that and acknowledging that we are vastly inferior. True worship brings a right perspective.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized this in the light of the work of Christ which was bringing the kingdom of God, or the rule or reign of God, onto the earth in a new way, the presence of the Lord coming to the earth in a new way: “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb 12:28) When we really think about what Christ has achieved, and now what is going on in our midst as his Spirit works, convicts and brings individuals to their knees before the Lord God Almighty, we realise that He is here in His world working and moving and that should create in us a sense of reverence and awe (but that will only be perceived with those with spiritual eyes to see).

But the apostle Paul saw the significance of this and realised that true worship was to be an utterly wholehearted thing, something that involved every aspect of our being if we are born-again believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12;1) We may, we say, have given our hearts to the Lord when we came to Christ, but hearts are expressed by daily physical lives lived out and so, says Paul, the logical outworking of this is that you give your entire body to God as an act of worship, every single aspect of your lives being submitted to Him in reverence. Nothing, but nothing, of our lives is thus outside of this attitude.

There are many more verses from Scripture that we could cite in respect of worship but let’s conclude with the thought that in our testimony, like the apostle Paul, we should be free to acknowledge we worship God: “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.” (Acts 24:14). Yes, I need to aspire not only to seek to put meaning into Sunday morning singing, I also need to look at all aspects of my life and lay them down before Him for His inspection or whatever else, and also unashamedly declare, “I admit that I worship God” and in so doing testify to His greatness. Yes, definitely something to be worked on here.

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9. Aspiring to Brotherly Kindness

Aspiring Meditations: 9.  Aspiring to Brotherly Kindness

Rom 12:10  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

2 Pet 1:7   make every effort to add togodliness, brotherly kindness

1 Thess 4:9  Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

Now even as I said previously that I find there are some of these characteristics that come more clearly into perspective, I think there are some that seem less significant, but that is a mistake. For instance there are at least three words used in the original Greek for love: Agape, Philadelphia and Eros. Eros doesn’t appear in the New Testament text, it refers to physical love expressions. Agape is the main word that we’ll consider more fully in the next study. It is the one in the middle, Philadelphia, that we have before us now and it doesn’t appear that many times in the New Testament, a word that seems to speak of a love of lesser importance. I say that because much is made of agape and when Jesus instructed his disciples to “love one another” (Jn 13:34) we might wonder why ever employ a lesser word or even have his servants instruct, Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (Heb 13:1)

Well, a dictionary definition of Philadelphia is ‘Warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” We might say, ‘think well, speak well and act well towards the family of God.’  Trying to tie down ‘love’ or even this ‘brotherly affection’ is not easy. I came across a heavy-handed discipling program recently that used questions to prod on believers to growth and one question asked, “Do you love everyone in your community?” I’m afraid I responded, “That is a meaningless question,” but then I did add, “unless you can express it in specifics.” We are told to love our neighbour by the Lord and we know He loves everyone because He is love.

But what does that mean? It means He thinks and feels well towards all people, some might say, but actually love is expressed in a whole variety of ways. A father may express it with a child as he watches them from a distance, by the smile that appears on his face that expresses something of what he is thinking and feeling as he watches. It is love. But then he may sit with the child and read with them or listen to them. Some times he will say ‘No’ to the child as he brings correction or direction, and at other times he may bring discipline to impose a sense of seriousness over some misdemeanor. All of these are different expressions of love. There can be great differences in the expression of love. There can be the giving of a present at a birthday, which is simple and straight forward, or there can be the mother who pushes her child off the road infront of an oncoming speeding lorry, and who is killed.

The sacrificial love (agape) of Jesus that took him to the Cross is certainly different from ‘warmhearted affection’ but sometimes that ‘warm hearted affection toward all in the family of faith’,  can seem for the moment equally hard. The trouble is people are not perfect, none of us are, but so often we expect the people of God to be. When the minister/pastor/vicar produces a rubbish, boring sermon, it is difficult not to be negative. When some of the old ladies seem more concerned about the flower rota than seeing people saved, it is difficult to feel charitable. When long haired, tattooed young people turn up in your nice respectable church, it is difficult not to be defensive, even when you find they out are outrageous evangelists. When someone doesn’t care about scripture / comes out with wrong understandings of scripture / brings heresy, it is difficult to be graceful in the face of their less-than-perfect expressions of church life.

The world would be so much easier without people, it seems sometimes. But then other people probably think that about us as well. I know I haven’t always found words of grace to drop into a difficult situation and so I have needed the love, grace and forgiveness of others at times, those things that put content to that description, “warm hearted affection”. Tell me, how do you react when someone really lets loose and blows it, and speaks out in anger, frustration and hostility? I saw that once and those around drew back like Pharisees withdrawing from Jesus, into a critical, gossiping huddle. Instead it needed someone to put an arm of love around them and say, “Come and sit down. What is going on here old friend?” How easily that “warm hearted affection” flees out the door!  How easy it is to become a Pharisee and look down our spiritual noses at others who are not handling life as well as we are!!!

Oh yes, we’ll need God’s grace to actually have that “warm hearted affection” when people are being people. It doesn’t matter that they are believers, that seems to make it worse. If we can get God’s grace, why can’t they?  I think one of the most poignant stories I’ve heard was of the man who stepped into an almost empty carriage on the Underground, accompanied by his two noisy and boisterous children. As the train rattled along through the tunnels, another nearby occupant struggled not to spit out, “Why don’t you control your noisy children. Get them under control!” but didn’t. When the train came to the stop where the man and his children was alighting, he turned to the other occupant whose face clearly showed what he thought and said, “I’m sorry I’m a bit distracted and let my little ones upset the peace. We’ve just come from the hospital where their mother is, and I’ve just been told my wife has probably only got about three days to live. I’m sorry,” and then they stepped off the train. The occupant suddenly felt different.

I’m told there is an old native-American saying (we used to call them Indians): “Never criticize another until you have walked in their moccasins.”  We don’t know what is going on in one another’s lives in church. Yes, the grace of God is there for us all, but it’s not always easy to appropriate it. Sometime we need the loving acceptance of our brothers and sisters and their gentle encouragement to make it through. That’s why I think there is this fairly rare reference to brotherly-kindness, this Philadelphia love, this “warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” Yes, I need more of it. Yes, it is something I need to aspire to even more, for the sake of my local church, and for Jesus’ sake. May he find it in me.

7. Aspiring to Perseverance

Aspiring Meditations: 7.  Aspiring to Perseverance

2 Thess 3:5  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Pet 1:6    For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance

Rom 5:3,4  we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope

Let’s from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance’. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It’s like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I’m afraid you won’t get fit (that’s ‘endurance’) until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.”  Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn’t thrilling!

In spiritual terms it is the same: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won’t let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you’ve just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you’ve just got to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added,  “but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!”

That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering’ before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)

Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.

So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance’ into me. But don’t ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he’s mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don’t believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here’s the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace’ being God’s resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.

So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial’ was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God’s direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.

But then in Paul’s speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn’t want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.

For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter’ also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us.  Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might’ happen in the future – it might not! And whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!

4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

3. Aspiring to More Faith

Aspiring Meditations: 3.  Aspiring to more faith

Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Heb 11:6  without faith it is impossible to please God,

Mt 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.

We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn’t give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith’. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.

But of course it doesn’t end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.

How does this faith – both passive and active – come about?  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow, we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear’ the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear’ the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.

Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.”  Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for you to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!’ and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.

Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on.  Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)

Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God’s resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.

Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did!  For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.

So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith’, implying they could do better, and that he surely hoped for the future.  Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear’. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen.  It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let’s aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

3. Heart Desire

Short Meditations in Philippians: 3. Heart Desire

Phil 1:9b  that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight

Put very simply this is what Paul wants for the Christians to whom he is writing, that he wants their love to get bigger and bigger and overflow – and he gives the way it is to overflow (abound); it is by having more and more knowledge and insight. Of what?  Surely, of the love and the goodness and the grace and the wonder of God as revealed to us through His word, through His Son and through His Holy Spirit.

This is what their apostle wants for this people, this group of Christians to which he is a father-figure, and as such he is an example to us, first to leaders but then to each of us. He focuses us on this particular desire for these people.

If you are a church leader of any kind, what is it that you want most for your people? Is it that they will be good, loyal members of your church or group? Is it that they will be good volunteers, to be those who serve the church? Do we have any describable desire for people or are we so taken up with ourselves that we really don’t think very much about others, and certainly don’t work on their behalf to bring about such desires as Paul now expresses?

Please really think about this seriously. So often I think preachers want to either just fill in the Sunday morning preaching slot with nice encouraging words, or maybe they might have the desire of imparting knowledge of God’s word, but unless these things are always undergirded by this one over-arching desire, we fall short of God’s desire for His people and what He wants to achieve through us.

Above all else, I am certain as I read the whole Bible that the Lord’s greatest desire is that we know Him and in knowing Him we know the One who IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16), and when we experience love we will express love. I express love the more I receive it. It’s how it works. We are transformed by experiencing His love and part of that transformation is that we express love more and more, because we will be expressing Him more and more as His indwelling Spirit lives and works within us.

Do I want other people to be transformed? Yes! Why? Three reasons. First, because God wants them to be transformed. Why? Because, second, He has something better for each of us than what we are now, and third, that ‘better’ is a life more enjoyable, more fulfilled, more resourced than it is now. This is what His love wants to achieve in us – MORE than we have now. This is what I want for each person I have in mind when I write, or each person I meet in church; it is a realistic desire because it is what God wants and is working for.