6. God’s Confusing Will

Lessons from the Nativity: 6:  God’s Confusing Will

Luke 2:4,5   So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

The problem, I believe, of going to Nativity plays at school each year, or watching Christmas films on TV  is that we get soaked with sentimentality and lose the reality of the Christmas story. It is not a story of warm fuzzy feelings, it is a story of uncertainties, and in that respect is reflects how life really is, especially when it comes to God. If you come from a church background where all you hear are nice warm words of how wonderful the Christian life is, it is time to grow up and face reality. Consider what I am saying in the light of the nativity story.

First we’ve seen poor old Zechariah struggling and failing to cope with God’s arrival and God’s good news. It’s beyond his comprehension. Come on now, how many of us struggle with the wonder of God’s love for us and struggle to accept the good things said to us about His good desires for us? Then there is young Mary being invited into the world of impossibility and who knows where that will lead! Then we saw Joseph struggling to maintain his righteousness but submitting to grace and no doubt still left with a bunch of questions about the past and the future.

And then the great and mighty Roman emperor wades in: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Lk 2:1)  Brilliant! That will mean upheaval for millions of people. Why not count them where they live, why insist they go back to their town of origin to be counted? ‘Augustus’ simply means ‘exalted one’ and was a title given to him by the Roman senate in 27 BC. Without doubt he was a great and might ruler who did much for Rome but at the moment he is doing no favours for this young couple we have been considering. Time has moved on and Mary is well advanced in her pregnancy – not the best time for travelling.  There they are settling in to accept God’s will up there in Nazareth up in Galilee, but Joseph’s origins were in Bethlehem in the south in Judea, some eighty miles away. Eighty miles without modern public transport when you are nearly nine months pregnant is not fun!  And this is the will of God?

Little did they realise there were big prophetic dynamics at work here. Long back Micah had prophesied, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” (Mic 5:2) but actually was Micah simply seeing how Augustus would act and what he would cause to come about?  Or was there more about associating Bethlehem with king David so that this one, naturally descended at least from David would be known as the Son of David? There are spiritual interweavings here that are not clear, but that is so often how it is with the will of God. So often He speaks His will but it is unclear how it will work out; the end product is spoken out but the process has to be walked by faith.

And that is how it is for this young couple. They have both had angelic encounters and so both have had direction from heaven, but the way ahead was not spelled out; they have to live within the life circumstances that are being played out around them, and they are both inconvenient and confusing and, in the light of Mary’s state, worrying.  Will she have the baby on the journey which may well take her a week to do? Where will they stay when they get there? How long will they have to stay there? Where will she be able to have her baby?  These are all good and valid questions, questions which will not get answers until they happen!

If you complain about living in a day when so often it is morally questionable, where Satan so often seems to have the upper hand and the world seems to be going crazy, where possible world-wide terrorism has cast a shadow of fear, where climate change seems to have brought uncertainty and chaos for many people, then look again at this most important couple, heralding the Son of God into the world, and think again. Their uncertainties were different – they are in every age – but uncertainties there were because it is a Fallen World and things go wrong and people do nasty or inconvenient things; that’s just how it is.

But in the midst of this – and this IS the reality – God is sovereign and He is working. Yes, He has worked in Mary to enable her to conceive, He has worked in Joseph to get him to accept it, He is working in Wise Men who are probably just about starting out on their quest, He will work in the heart of an innkeeper to provide somewhere for them to stay, whether it was a back stable or a cave, whatever! He will be working with some shepherds to come and greet the new baby and he will work in the wise men of Jerusalem to guide the Magi to their destination, and He will work in Joseph to get him to escape with his little family to Egypt.  Oh yes, it may be confusing, it may be chaotic, but hold on to this fundamental truth – God IS in the midst of it and He is there for you as He was for Mary and Joseph!  Hallelujah!

26. God’s Will for you

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  26. God’s Will for You

1 Thess 5:16-18   Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

These is still one part of this verse that we have not yet covered: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It may look fairly obvious but we should not take it for granted. These things that Paul has been speaking about are God’s will for us, the things God wants for us, the way He has designed us to be. We speak so easily of ‘God’s will’ but perhaps we should examine it carefully.

God’s will is His particular desire, purpose, pleasure, choice, which may be expressed in respect of us as a command or decree. But what determines God’s will? Why does He purpose one thing as against another?  The whole thing must come back to His character, His very being. Now in previous studies we have noted two things about God: first, He is love, and second, He is perfect. This means that everything God wants, desires, purposes or decrees must be good for it comes out of love but, more than that, it is perfect and cannot be improved upon. Hence Paul spoke to the Romans about His “good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2)

Now in the meditation on giving thanks we spoke of God’s ‘permissive’ will. We said His loving wisdom has given mankind free will and therefore whatever takes place – including all bad things – come within His permissive will. He permits it for the sake of granting us free will.  Now we should not think that ‘permissive’ means less than perfect. Consider, would God rather we had not sinned? Would He rather Jesus didn’t have to go to the Cross? Would He rather never bring judgment? I am sure the answer is yes to all those questions but because in His perfect design, for love to operate with meaning (and He is love, expressing love and wanting to generate or bring about opportunity for more love) He made us with free will and permitted those things to follow, but they were the perfect responses or outworkings of that free will and the plan of salvation is perfect, which means it cannot be improved upon. The biggest mystery starts with God Himself, the mystery of love, this benign attitude towards all else that wants the best for them. Why IS He love? We don’t know, but He is and EVERYTHING else flows out of that.

Everything He thinks is an expression of love and is perfect, so when He thought of the world to be – including human beings capable of receiving and giving love, they had to be beings with free will, for love only operates within such a state. His ultimate goal is a people who will love Him but without coercion, and we do that only when we have fallen in sin, realised our terrible state, and received His forgiveness through the Cross and been united with Him by His Spirit. At the end we are redeemed beings, but beings who love Him without coercion.  This is His ultimate will, He ultimate desire and everything else is subservient to that, He creates a world of beings united with Him who receive and return His love, and between whom that love flows.

So what do we have this side of eternity, here in the years we have on this earth? We have the start of that eternal life, a life linked to Him by His Spirit, a life where love starts to flow and grow, starts to overcome the Sin that previously bound us.

To understand this more fully we have to appreciate the difference between what we HAVE been made and what we ARE BEING made. One is a matter of standing and the other is a matter of outworking. For example the writer to the Hebrews said,by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14) To the Romans Paul said, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9) In each case there is the present standing (or reality) set against the future outworking which will be completed in each case when we come face to face with Him.

The point I need to make more strongly is that although we have been established as God’s forgiven children, the outworking of us learning to live as His children will now take up the rest of our lives. We are helped to apprehend that new life by realizing who we now are, but that is only part of it. We are also helped to take hold of that new life as we relate to God by His Spirit in us,  and receive guidance through His word how to live. Thus all the things Paul has been seeking to convey to the Thessalonians have been part of God’s design for us new beings, part of His will for us. Everything you read in the New Testament is about this – bringing you and me into the fullness of sonship. It is what He is working for and what he wants us to be working for.

Paul spoke of this: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28,29) Note the order: teaching – presenting as perfect – working empowered by the Spirit. We ARE perfect in His sight and He is working to change us to become perfect in daily outworking. THIS is His will for you, to realise who you ARE and who you ARE BECOMING, to rejoice in the first and to work for the second. Hallelujah!

31. Food Source

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 31 : Jesus, Source of Hidden Food

Jn 4:31,32     Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

In the days of Israel’s post-exile history, Malachi shows us that this was a people who hardly dared believe that God was there, and as a result their spiritual activities were almost negligible. Today, in a word of great busyness and stress, the ‘church experience’ of many Christians has been reduced because, “I am too tired’. The assumption seems to be that God cannot refresh. It is a wrong assumption!

Yes Jesus got tired, that’s why he was sitting at the well while the disciples went to find food (4:6,8). We might have just stood and watched as the woman came to the well and draw water, but Jesus obviously responded to the prompting of his Father and entered into this life changing conversation we’ve been considering.  What was Jesus’ priority in life? My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (v.34). Yes, the will of God was the crucial thing that guided him in all he did and he knew that he had been sent by the Father with a purpose (see 5:30; 6:38; 8:26; 9:4; 10:37-38; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10; 17:4).

For Jesus, doing God’s will was energy giving; it was like food to him. Now the reality is that when we do God’s will He will provide for us. At the heart of the Old Testament covenant were blessings and curses (Deut 28). When the people obeyed their side of the covenant, God’s side wasn’t that He would leave them in peace. Oh no, it was that He would bless them with great abundance. Abundant material provision for His obedient people was His side of the agreement.

The apostle Paul came to realize this same thing was there as part of the new covenant that comes with Jesus.  Jesus himself is the source of our provision. Listen to Paul’s extravagant language: God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8). Does this say that you will have all of God’s grace to sit around feeling good? No you will have it so that, you will abound in every good work! As we obey the Lord’s prompting and so enter into His ‘work’ He will bless you with all you need. (Remember our calling: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works – Eph 2:8). Not sure about it still? Listen to some more of Paul’s words: my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19) and I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13).

The key to not getting over tired is not to do what God hasn’t led you to do, and not to use up resources He hasn’t asked you to use, because He will not replenish what you have squandered. The other side of that coin is that when we respond to His leading and do the things He’s guided us to do, in the way He shows us to do them, then we find that there are resources there we previously didn’t know about.  Will we get tired? Yes. Will we be exhausted? No.  Why?  Because the difference between tiredness and exhaustion is the difference between God’s will and going beyond it, and between receiving His resources and going beyond the supply (and most of us do that at sometime in our life – it’s a learning thing, and we sometimes have to learn again and again!) Jesus is our model, the Son who had the Father’s will in the forefront of his thinking, and responded to His Spirit to do what His Father did. Result?  Food! Resources!

49. Armed with Attitude

Meditations in 1 Peter : 49: Armed with Attitude

1 Pet 4:1,2 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Here we have another of those ‘link’ words, “Therefore”, i.e. as a result of what we have just said, this is how it should be worked out. This takes us back to the previous argument: It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (3:17,18) That in turn flowed out of his argument for us to behave righteously when we are suffering under unjust mistreatment. Christ suffered, doing God’s will, so that through it we might be brought to God. Having referred to Christ in this context, after a brief aside in verses 19 to 22, he now picks up Christ’s example to guide us in the way we should live.

Twice in these two verses he refers to suffering in the body meaning first Christ’s death on the Cross, and then our death to self.  The Cross was the ultimate submission to the will of God. It is clear from Christ’s anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, that it was something that, humanly speaking at least, he wanted to shy away from: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) The writer to the Hebrews explains that it was only as he looked to the future that Christ could cope with the Cross:  “for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2). Peter applies the picture of the Cross to our lives in the same way Paul did: “we have been united with him like this in his death…. our old self was crucified with him…. that we should no longer be slaves to sin…. count yourselves dead to sin …. do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Rom 6:5,6,11,12)

So, says Peter, arm yourself with this same thought that, as Christ died to the world in his death, so we have died to sin, in our dying to self and coming to him in surrender. When you “arm yourself” it is like you pick up a weapon. We are to arm ourselves with this same thought or this same attitude. Today in street language we talk about someone having ‘attitude’ and we mean they have a belligerent outlook on life. We too are to have a belligerent, negative attitude towards sin; we are to be hostile towards it. It is not something that should appear in our lives any more because when we came to Christ we died to that sort of life, as we came in abject surrender to God, sorry for our sins that we wanted to be rid of. So, the new life is to be one without these things in it because we are to consider that, in the same way that Christ died on the Cross, we died to the old sinful life when we came to Christ.

Having made this declaration, Peter then gives us an overall summary:As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” The result or outworking of this, says Peter, is that we don’t live our lives like we used to, with ‘human desire’ being the motivating or energizing force in our lives. No, that’s not how we will live out the rest of our lives. No, instead, from now on we will make the will of God THE most important thing in our lives.

Jesus said it slightly differently: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” (Mt 6:33), i.e. put the rule of God, or the will of God that leads to receiving and living out His righteousness, as the first priority in your life. A little earlier he had made that the focus of prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:9) The apostle Paul’s challenge was, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph 5:17). Sometimes he would preface his teaching with the focus that it was God’s will, for example, It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body.” (1 Thess 4:3,4) and sometimes he would wrap up a teaching with the reminder, for example, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

Similarly other writers focused on God’s will: “May …. God….equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (Heb 13:20,21) Of course, possibly the most well known reference to God’s will comes again from the apostle Paul.  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2)  Even as Peter has been saying in today’s verses, get a change of mind in line with Christ and you will know the will of God.

To summarize: for the Christian today, the will of God, the plan and purpose of God for our lives, is to be the all-important thing we focus on. Our lives should be given over to discovering this will of God and living it out. May it be so!

55. Example of Elijah

Meditations in James: 55: The Example of Elijah

Jas 5:17,18 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Most of us can look back and see people who, if they weren’t quite role models for us, were certainly people who impacted our lives (for good or bad) in some way. Perhaps we took them for granted, but nevertheless they still made an impression upon us. They might have been a family member or they might have been a friend or a teacher or a leader of some kind. It is natural to look at other people and be touched by their good example, especially. Many Christians come across a character in the Bible who seems to stand out to them and impress them in some particular way. We learn, not only by direct teaching, but also by example.

James uses just such an example to help us focus even more on what he has been saying. Do you remember back in chapter four he called us to side with God against the world?  He called us to live lives submitted to God, lives lived out in the light of our relationship with God. Yes, it was our relationship with the Lord that he went on to talk more about, until in recent verses he comes to talk about prayer as a natural expression of that relationship. In trouble? Pray! Happy? Pray! Sick? Pray! Guilty? Pray! Oh yes, as we’ve said previously, prayer is the classic expression of faith, of this relationship with the Lord being lived out.

But now he wants us to also realise the impact of prayer, the power of prayer, the importance and significance of prayer, and to do that he uses Elijah as an example. Now he’s aware that because Elijah was a great prophet who was remembered for doing great things, we might consider Elijah was right out of our league and therefore not identify with him. Hence he starts off, Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, he did do some great things, but in many ways he was a very ordinary sort of person. Read Elijah’s story some time (1 Kings 17 on) and you’ll see that he really did have feet of clay sometimes, a very ordinary man. But He prayed. Elijah had a relationship with the Lord and it was that which made him stand out for some of the things the Lord enabled him to do.

But more than that, He prayed earnestly. As he came to God, he obviously caught something of God’s heart, and prayed it some more. As he prayed he found he was getting an assurance from the Lord about what he was praying so, He prayed earnestly that it would not rain. Now when we look up his story we don’t find that part recorded. All we find is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1). Because he was so sure that he had heard God, he conveyed it to Ahab the king. Now if you’re like me, I guess that at that point, he is really praying! Once you step out in faith on what God has said, you really want to be justified and see it happen!

Well, he prayed and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Was it Elijah making it not rain for that time? No, it was the Lord, but Elijah shared in it in as much as he shared in the Lord’s heart and was the messenger to convey it to those on the earth who would be affected by it.  Then James tells us,Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. Again we are not told in the Kings accounts exactly what he said. What we find is, And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:41,42). Still in the Spirit, following his episode with the prophets of Baal, Elijah turns to Ahab and finds himself basically saying, “OK, now it will rain, now the land has been cleansed of this apostasy.” What is this climbing to the top of Carmel and bending face down and puting his face between his knees? He is praying, and he carried on praying earnestly, for the same reason as before, until the signs of rain came, followed very rapidly by the rain itself.

Now did you see something in that? If we are right in our assessment of how things happened with Elijah, he had a relationship with the Lord in which, as he prayed, the Lord conveyed His heart to Elijah. All that it needed was for Elijah to respond, which he did, which then provided an even greater motivation to pray. In all this it was God taking the opportunity of the relationship He had with Elijah, to make His will known on earth before He acted. Both times He wanted to do something, and used Elijah to convey it. Both times, as James says, it was as Elijah prayed that he caught the sense of God’s will and was able to declare it. Prayer is the doorway to heaven whereby we catch the will of God and are able to express it on the earth. As we express what God has conveyed to us, He then does it and people realise that it is indeed an act of God and He is glorified.

This is why James wants us to maintain this relationship with the Lord, rejecting the world’s advances, so that we can become instruments to bring glory to God. Isn’t that wonderful! Let’s be that!

45. In God’s Will

Meditations in James: 45 : At Peace in God’s Will

Jas 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In the Advent story, when the angels came to the shepherds, they declared, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14). God’s desire for mankind is peace, yet peace, so often, seems such an elusive thing. Yesterday we considered the tendency of affluent, modern, Western man to travel and to plan. We envisaged the hard working office worker, locked into their daily routine but looking forward to the two or three week’s escape each year to the sun and sea of some far off exotic land. Yet see those same people as they return and so often it takes them three days at least to get over the tiredness of that holiday. Was ‘peace’ a word that described them before, during or after their holiday? Rarely!

We also considered the uncertainty of life, the many negative ‘storms of life’ that can befall us in this Fallen World. We never know what might come. For some people that uncertainty creates fear – and peace and fear never reside together! The lives of so many people are characterized by busyness and uncertainty and with those two things go stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. However, none of these things are the things God has designed for our lives. They are in fact the characteristics and fruits of godless living.

Ah, that is the key!  We just spoke of ‘godless’ living. That is what creates busyness and uncertainty and stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. You can be very active in God’s service but that is a very different thing which may produce tiredness, but there is an accompanying peace and sense of well-being that goes with an awareness of flowing in the will and purpose of God. God has designed us to be at peace and harmony when we are flowing in His will and purposes. When we are not in that place, our life is out of kilter and busyness, uncertainty, stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear are the things we experience. For many, these things are so familiar we assume they are the norm, the way life just is. But that’s not the norm!

The norm is what God has designed for us, to be at peace and harmony in His will as we respond to Him and live out His purposes in our lives. There is a verse we often quote: 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). This describes Christians as people who have been designed by God to do good, and the good we do has been planned by God for us. This is the wonder of the Christian life. It is a life designed by God. We find the apostle Paul using such phrases as,live by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:16) and led by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:18) and keep in step with the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25). These all imply a life that is guided and directed by God’s Holy Spirit which He has put in our lives.

If we can come to a place where we have surrendered our will to God’s sovereign will, it takes all the strain out of life. The apostle Paul, again, shows us this. Consider his attitude to his life in the following: as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (Acts 18:21) and, I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing,” (1 Cor 4:19) and, I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits(1 Cor 16:7). He seemed very relaxed in God’s will. What he was basically saying was, “I hope to be able to do this if that is what God wants, but if He wants something else and it works out differently, no problem!”  The writer to the Hebrews had the same approach: Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…. God permitting, we will do so.” (Heb 6:1-3). However we should note that there were times when the apostle Paul did seem to be quite clear about God’s will: I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Phil 2:24).

They key is being surrendered to God’s will and that is what James is trying to bring us to. He knows the very best place to be is right in the heart of God’s will and that is a place of faith whereby we simply say, “Lord, please lead me and I will go wherever you want and do whatever you want.” and we learn to rest in that, trusting in the guidance we sometimes get, trusting that whether we are conscious of it or not, when our heart is fully inclined to the Lord, He will be leading us.  He never forces us, but when we are surrendered to Him, He gently leads us, sometimes by direct and obvious words of guidance, and sometimes just by the gentle moving of His unseen hand, gently moving us and the circumstances around us.  However, He’ll only do that as He sees we are surrendered to His will, because He won’t force us or steer us into His goodness if He sees a fierce resistance in us.

The Message version of Rom 12:1,2 sums it up well, especially what we’ve been thinking about in respect of taking sides with God against the world: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Isn’t that good!

8. God’s Will

Meditations in Romans : 8 :  Entering God’s Will

Rom  1:9,10 I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Prayer is a mystery, but that shouldn’t stop us thinking about it. At one extreme there are people who say you can’t understand it and so don’t pray. At the other end there are those who seem to have it completely wrapped up and all they do is pray.  I suggest a middle way – we can understand some apparent aspects of prayer and we can make it a meaningful part of our lives. We have previously considered Paul’s motivation for what appears, at times, a life of prayer (although in fact he spent much time talking with people) and now he shares a request he has been making of God.

This is in addition to what he has been praying about them; it is almost as if as he prays so he has had this even stronger realisation of a desire within him, and he recognises that he needs to pray about that as well. That is one of the things about prayer: as you pray things come more clearly into focus and you realise things you previously hadn’t been aware of, or things you had hardly taken any note of, but now they come into focus and you realise these things are part of God’s will and so you pray them.

I have noticed in the psalms and the prophets in the Old Testament, that a writer or prophet would catch God’s will and that would spur them on to pray and ask for it. Hold you, you might say, why pray for what you already know IS God’s will? If it is His will then why bother to pray for it? Surely if it is His will, He will bring it about anyway?  No, merely because something is God’s desire, that doesn’t mean to say it will automatically happen for He has given us free will and He invites us to enter into the process of bringing it about – and part of that process is us coming to the realisation of His will, establishing it in our hearts and minds in prayer, and then being ready to be whatever part of its fulfilment that God has for us.

Within the teaching on prayer in the New Testament, there is this sense that we pray for what we confidently believe is God’s will. When we do that we know we’ll get the answer.  Yes, there will be times when we pray in uncertainty, and there we just have to trust in God’s love and hope we’ve got it right, and He will eventually show us whether it is right or wrong.  Yet the better way is to wait on the Lord and catch a sense in your spirit of what His will is and then pray it out.  But even then it’s not that simple!

So look again at what Paul says here: “and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” Note those words, “now at last.” We’ll see in the next meditation something of his frustration at not having been able to get to see them previously.  He has been waiting and wanting but hasn’t been able to go to see them in Rome, but now, as he writes to them, he has had this fresh desire to go, and with that awareness he has prayed.  There have been things that previously have blocked his way, that have stopped him going to Rome but, as he has started to write and this desire to go has risen afresh in him, it has spurred him to ask the Lord to open the way for him to go.

But note also his phase, “by God’s will.” The NKJ version says in v.10, “now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come…..” That I prefer.  Paul is completely submitted to the will of God.  We find him at Ephesus saying, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (Acts 18:21).  He would like to come back but was submitted first and foremost to what God wanted.  Near the end of this letter-book, we find him writing, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” (Rom 15:30-32).  He knows he has to go back to Jerusalem and there will be faced by unbelieving Jews who will oppose him, and he also needs the approval of the Christians there, but if these things can be resolved then he may be free to come to Rome to encourage the Christians there.  He believes it is God’s will for him to come, but for that to happen various other things have got to happen first.  Thus he gives them specific things to pray for that we’ve just seen.

Isn’t this convoluted!  It’s God’s will for him to come to Rome but that is subject to various things coming about which are imponderables that are dependent on human responses.  Note in that last quote, “by praying to God for me.” Then note what he wants prayer for: first for divine intervention to protect him from the unbelieving Jews, possibly for divine wisdom to cope with those Jews, and finally divine grace to be able to fulfil his ministry in Jerusalem to the satisfaction of the church there.  So, finally, what we have here is God’s overall will for Paul to go to Rome (which Acts tells us he eventually did, but as a prisoner), but then various specific parts of God’s will to enable that to come about.

Now here’s the tricky bit: did that all happen?  Well yes, he did end up in Rome blessing the Christians there but, no, he didn’t escape the hostility in Jerusalem because he ended up a prisoner under Roman protection (?) and it was only as a prisoner that he got to Rome.  Conclusion?  We may catch God’s overall will but how it is going to be worked out, only God knows, for we live in a Fallen World with sinful people and they may make the path very twisty and windy to our final destination.  But carry on praying, carry on trusting, and carry on seeking to do God’s will.  That’s what faith is all about – listening with imperfect ears and seeking to do our best at obeying what we believe is right.  Hopefully much of the time we’ll get it right; sometimes we won’t – but God will always we working in the background to bring good out of it all (Rom 8:28). Hallelujah!   

52. Prayer

Ephesians Meditations No.52

Eph  6:18-20 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Prayer is the greatest mystery in the Christian experience. Why pray? Why does God want us to pray when He knows every word before we utter it? Does Almighty God limit Himself according to our prayers or lack of prayers? We may have lots of questions and wonderings about prayer, but one thing that these verses tell us is that the apostle Paul totally believed in prayer. We’ve seen it earlier in this little book – he prays, he believes prayer is an essential part of the Christian experience. So let’s see what he says about prayer in these verses that continue on from this whole part that speaks about the body of Christ, the church, about unity, and about spiritual realities.

He starts, And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” This is about specific sort of prayer but applied in a variety of situations in a variety of ways. The specific sort of prayer? Prayer “in the Spirit,” or prayer led by the Spirit. Isn’t all prayer like this? Obviously not otherwise Paul wouldn’t describe it like this. How often do we ask the Lord to inspire and guide us in prayer, I wonder? Or do we just pour out prayers that are self-centred. Spirit-led prayer is first prayer that is submitted to God’s will and puts that first. It is prayer that is inspired, that flows out of a flow of the Holy Spirit from within us, and Spirit-led prayer is revelatory prayer that prays with God’s understanding. Spirit-led prayer emanates from heaven, is expressed through us, and sees answers. A variety of situations? Yes, because Paul says “on all occasions.” i.e. not just at special times, not just ‘in church’ but in a whole variety of places, anywhere you are in life, turn it over to God, seek His will and let Him inspire you to pray. This is a life of prayer, prayer in every areas of life, bringing God into every aspect of life. A variety of ways? Yes, all kinds of prayers and requests.” I’m not sure what this means but at least it means that there is not just one way of praying. Prayer as you feel inspired in whatever way it comes!

But then he says something quite significant that links this in with the context we have referred to already: “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” This is about the body. “All the saints” are all the believers you know. See your praying as resourcing other people, being a channel through which God’s blessing can flow to other people as you pray. Ask the Lord to show you the needs of other people and also what He wants to do for them, and then pray it. I first saw this with Isaiah. He caught what God’s will was, and then prayed it. Well surely, if you know what God’s will is, what is the point of praying? Surely God will just bring it into being? That is how some people might respond to this. Well no, God seems to delight in involving His children in His activities, in helping them to come to understand His will and then in praying for it and perhaps even, sometimes, being the answer to it. He delights in making it a “God and us” thing. Our part is Spirit-led prayer. I wonder if the church is sometimes so weak because so many of His children don’t understand this and don’t pray?

He continues: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” This is amazing. This is the great apostle Paul acknowledging that he needs God’s resourcing  and that he’s aware that that resourcing is enabled by the prayers of other people. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard a testimony that says, “The situation just seemed impossible and then suddenly there was breakthrough and I later learnt that there had been people praying for me.” Coincidence? As a friend used to say, well all I know is that when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening. Within our own church I use a small band of faithful praying people with whom from time to time I share things confidentially and I know that that testimony above is true. I was without energy, or a situation seemed impossible and then something changed; energy flowed, wisdom was given, circumstances changed, and I later found out it was as the people had prayed. It’s a mystery but it’s a mystery that works! You need resourcing? Pray! You want a stronger, more united church? Pray!

15. God’s Will


15. Grounded in God’s Declared Will

Matt 1:22 -25 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

There is a bizarre phenomenon in the West in the twenty first century. It is of people declaring their freedom from God, from religion, from ritual and from rules, and who yet are, increasingly, slaves to upsetting and destructive lifestyles from which they cannot escape. Psalm 2 is a psalm that speaks of people who think that they are in chains and fetters because of God’s requirements and plot against God (Psa 2:1-3). It is pure folly, the psalm reveals, because God is all-powerful and He is Lord and He rules over the affairs of men. But there is another reason that it is folly, and that is because all God intends for mankind is good, and any restrictive laws are purely to protect man and maintain the good.

Joseph, in his dream is being confronted with a course of action that is in direct opposition to all that he had felt before he went to bed. He is confronted by an angel who tells him that what is happening to Mary is God’s will. It is part of God’s previously declared will and has now come about by the power of God. As we considered yesterday, the questions before Joseph now are, is this really God speaking and will I do what is being said? He clearly decides in the affirmative to both questions. He reverses his previous plans and instead proceeds with his betrothal, marries Mary and looks after her, even though he’s had nothing to do with the baby! This is a major step of faith.

But let’s consider further just what it is that he has done. He has basically said, I will trust this is God and therefore, even though I do not fully understand it, I will put myself fully into God’s declared will and do that which has been asked of me. This means that he takes on some possible comments of the onlookers who will soon realize that Mary is pregnant and that conception came before the marriage and, even more, he’s going to have to learn to live with the fact that he’s going to be father to a child that is not his, and he’s going to continually have to remind himself that this child is by an act of God, else he may have bad feelings about Mary. However many other children they may have in the future (and they had at least six more – Mk 6:3), the eldest one would always have a question mark over him. Yes, this was a major step for him to take.

We will see from later on in the story that God’s choice of this man was well-founded because his ability to receive guidance from God made him a good protector of the baby. At the time we may not be able to see why God is instructing us to move in a particular way, but we need to realize that God’s plans for our individual lives are part of His bigger plan and He will always provide all we need to comply with His wishes. It is only, in fact, when we put ourselves into God’s declared will, that we find blessing and fulfilment. Only with the sense of walking in the path He has for us, do we find true satisfaction. We may not fully understand it, but we will receive peace and we will receive blessing. Are you aware of His calling? Can you let go your fears and step into that calling?

6. Those who Hunger


Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

To catch the full import of this verse we need to recount the previous three verses and see this one in context. First there had been the requirement to recognize our spiritual poverty. Second, simply recognizing it was not sufficient, there had to be a mourning or grieving over it that showed we understood how awful being dead spiritually was. Third, and following that, there had to be a willingness to submit utterly to God’s will, for nothing less than that could open the way up for His blessings to flow into our lives.

But now comes a further aspect of the same thing. If on one hand we saw and rejected our old lives, recognizing the failure to be good that there was in that life, what there also needs to be is a yearning for the good life, for a life that is good and right. Do you see the importance of these stages? You can be aware of your poverty and just wallow in that and remain there. You can see it and anguish over it but be unable to let go your self-centredness and so you stay there in it. You can be aware of your poverty, mourn over it and want God’s will and yet only desire it for what it can bring you – and that is still self-centred.

To go the whole way you have to come to this point of submitting to God’s will whole-heartedly and yearning for a right standing before God. That is what righteousness is – right standing before God, right living before God. Again, do you see the two aspects there? When we become aware of our poverty, aware of our failure, aware of our guilt, for the work to be fully done, there also needs to be a yearning to be freed from the guilt and shame and to be put right with God. In the awareness of our spiritual poverty there also needs to be the recognition that it involves sin against God. Do you remember in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, when the son returns to his father he declares, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.(Lk 15:21). When the Holy Spirit brings conviction it is not merely of our failure, but our failure in respect of God. As we realize that, we understand we have offended God and that needs to be put right. Somehow we need to be reconciled to God – but we cannot do it ourselves. It is only as we hear the good news of Jesus dying on the Cross in our place that we realize that the Father alone has provided the means for us to come back into a right standing with Him.

But there will also be a yearning to change our way of living, to get rid of things that offend God, and to live rightly before Him. Behind this hungering and thirsting, this heart yearning, there will also be this desire to lead a good life, a life free from sin. The New Testament shows us the nature of that life, and particularly the apostles’ letters put detail to that, but the main thing we find, is that God provides His own Holy Spirit to live within us, so He is there to direct and guide us, to show us the way in any particular situation, He is there to empower us to enable us to overcome and live as God’s child. Whether we recognize it or not when we look back, this is the work the Holy Spirit does in us when He convicts us of our need – a recognition of our poverty, an anguish over it, a desire for God’s will and a desire to be put right with God so that we can live the life He wants us to live, as His children. Those are the facets of what goes on within any person as they come to God to be born again.

And this is where we come to the latter part of the verse: they shall be filled. When someone is hungry, they are empty. When their hunger is satisfied, they are filled. It is a picture of being completely satisfied. At the end of a banquet, people are heard to say, “That was wonderful, I am full up. I couldn’t eat another thing!” And that’s the truth; when God does His work in us He does it completely and there is nothing more to be added. Every aspect of what we have considered has been covered. From being poor isolated wretches we become children of God with all the blessings of God. Our mourning is turned into rejoicing. We rest and rejoice in coming into the purposeful will of God, where we sense a new purpose and direction in our lives. The yearning to be put right with God is completely satisfied as we are declared forgiven, cleansed and totally pardoned and, as the Holy Spirit comes in, we are energized to live the new life. We are filled, we are utterly satisfied. Yes, we are filled with the goodness of God and of His Holy Spirit as we submit ourselves to Him and let Him do what He wants with us. How wonderful when it happens, how scary for the person who wants to remain in their self-centred isolation!