37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue with this fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, to see how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Now let’s move on to see the final phase of this story:

(Proactive after further prayer)

Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two days’ time. In that waiting time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.

 (Approaching the Client)

Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.

As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don’t know why I am bothering with you! I’m thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You’re a blithering idiot!”

“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.

“Well, that’s a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.

“Yes, I’m really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I’m afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing, and I fully understand that it upset you, and I’m really sorry.”

(A change of response)

The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn’t expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let’s order and as we’re here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you’re thinking.”

They ordered and talked.

Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn’t you put it like that in the first place?”

Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I’m sorry.”

More smiles. “Right, well let’s talk some more.”

An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.

And that is the end of the story. But let’s consider the lessons that come out of this particular part of it. It doesn’t matter that it was fictitious for it demonstrates how things need to be and how they can work out.  First, for this part of the prayer request, Alan recognised that he needed to be proactive. Second, before he acted, he prayed, made contact and then requested further prayer backup. Third, in his approach to his client he exhibited humility. Fourth, and this is vital for us to see in these things, God clearly moved by changing the man’s heart. Our expectation must be for God who answers prayer to move and bring changes to the circumstances. Our role of to pray (stick close to Him), be alert and watch the changing circumstances and be ready to move within them with His grace. In that we are watching to see these moves as the hidden hand of God.

The story of Esther is famous for not having clear and obvious signs of God moving dramatically (as, similarly, with the story of Ruth) but we do see what we call the providential hand of God – circumstances changing to make way for God’s people to move in. In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, we find first of all in respect of Potiphar, Joseph found favour in his eyes,” (Gen 39:4) and then in prison, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.” (Gen 39:21) i.e. God moves on the heart of unbelievers on behalf of His people. As people of faith, we should be expecting this when we are available and seeing ourselves as seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)

Now our danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it’s only a story. It’s not that easy!” Well it is, and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on the wider story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:

  • The praying people had learned to listen to God for HIS will as they prayed.
  • What they ‘heard’ from the Lord became a resource for further prayer for encouraging activity afterwards
  • The ‘answers’ involved Alan stepping out in faith in the week ahead:
    • looking at what was happening as the Lord provided opportunities for him to speak and act,
    • being willing to be humble, gracious and available for whatever came up,
    • being willing to accept that he perhaps hadn’t handled some of the people very well previously but, even more importantly,
    • here were opportunities to be a blessing to others, despite the past.
  • The ‘answers’ also involved the needs of other people coming to the surface and providing a basis for Alan to show love, care and compassion and faith – and then for God to move some more!

Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way. In the Prayer Meeting faith and encouragement and future direction were given when the people listened to God. After the Prayer Meeting, things happened (answers came) when the person in question was willing to play his part in bringing answers. Or to put it in yet another way, simply praying words out loud in a prayer meeting can be unbelieving ritual. Praying, listening and then acting on what you hear is faith building and opens the way for God to move in a much greater way. Simply praying weekly ‘shopping lists’ does little to build our faith and we remain unchanged – and circumstances and people around us only change a small amount. ‘Listening prayer’ followed by ‘available obedience’ develops faith and enables us to grow to be more available and more like Jesus, and so that God can work, and circumstances and people can be radically changed. The kingdom comes!

36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, as an example of how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Let’s move on to see what happened next.

(Alan’s Boss)

It had been two days after the prayer meeting that Alan had been in his boss’s office talking through various pieces of work. When they came to the conclusion of it, Alan realised there was something he needed to mention.

“Boss, I’ll be off in a couple of days, just for the one day, I’ll take it out of my annual leave. It’s just that my daughter is applying for Uni and we want to go with her to the Open Day of one she has her eye on, if that’s all right with you?”

“Yes, no problem,” the boss replied and then added almost as an aside, “I wish I had got stuff like that happening with my kids.”

“Sounds like it’s not going well?” Alan enquired lightly.

“You’re joking. My boy, the older of the two, is coming up to his A-levels and we just can’t get him to work. And then my wife caught the younger one, my daughter, and she’s only thirteen, talking to a friend on the phone about using Cannabis. I really don’t know about kids today! Who would have ‘em!”

Alan made non-descript noises and made for the door, then paused in the opening, “Mind if I pray for them, boss?”

His boss didn’t answer and just turned back to papers on his desk.

Alan left feeling a little rebuffed – but that night he did remember to pray for them.

It was the day after his day off, when he was back in the office, and again had to talk some business stuff through with the boss. His boss seemed a bit more irritable than usual – which was saying something! – but they talked through the stuff and then as Alan was about to leave his office, his boss said in a casual but nervous, if not embarrassed tone, “Er… I don’t know if you prayed about my kids the other day but there’s been a remarkable change in them in just a few days. My wife has managed to have a good talk with my daughter about the dangers of drugs – which she seemed to accept – and my son suddenly seems to have got down to revising for his exams like there’s no tomorrow.” He winced.

“Are you all right, boss, you look like you’re in pain?” Alan ventured.

“Yes, I don’t know what it is; I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. I can hardly move it and it’s agony!”

Now it was Alan’s turn to feel nervous. “Er… would you like me to pray for it?” he ventured again.

“You can do what you like; I’ll take anything to get rid of this!”

“No, I mean would you like me to pray for you now, here, this minute?”

His boss looked uncomfortable. “Well shut the door then.”

Alan shut the door and went over to his boss. “I’ll just put my hand on your shoulder as I pray, if that’s all right?” His boss said nothing, so he did. “Lord Jesus, I know you love us both and I know you healed anyone who was ill when they came to you when you walked on this earth, so can I ask for you to heal this neck right now. Father, please let it be, in Jesus name. Amen.” His boss said nothing.

Alan opened his eyes and to his surprise saw tears running down his boss’s face and the older man was swivelling his head.

“That’s amazing. How did that happen? The pain’s completely gone!”

“Jesus just healed you because he loves you,” Alan found himself saying.

“Sit down, I need to ask you some things,” his boss replied.

Forty minutes later Alan came out of his office very thoughtful and with tears in his eyes.

Now this may be making some of us seriously uncomfortable. I was recently in a well-known annual ‘Bible Convention’, led by good evangelicals and they had invited a delightful head of a bible seminary to take the morning Bible studies – and she was excellent. On the last one, as a natural outflow of the Bible book we had been following, she suggested that the Lord might want to heal people there, that morning, and graciously turned to the man who had been compering the morning, if that is the right word for such a time, and said, “I’m just a visitor here, how do you want to do this?” I have never seen someone look so discomforted and he replied after a moment, “Well, people can just pray for each other where they are,” which was not a faith-filled answer as she had already spoken about people with real needs coming to the front for prayer. Many of us are good at receiving ‘the Word’ but as soon as it means stepping out in faith, we move to the back of the boat and let the brash Peters of the world step over the side. God delights in His children who ‘risk it’.

Alan, with the sense of high expectation that we mentioned yesterday, ‘stepped out of the boat’ and God turned up. He had already pushed the boat out (to change the metaphor slightly) by offering to pray and when he got no answer, just went home and prayed – and things happened! Because they happened, when his boss was in such pain he was past caring what happened, the way was open for Alan to pray for healing and leave the answer to the Lord – who healed!

I was at a brunch for the vulnerable in society recently and a young man (well a good bit younger than me) walked in, a man I had known some ten years before and whose family and work situation was dire! I noticed that he could hardly hobble his way in, with back and leg problems, so I greeted him and, knowing he had been anti-Christian and had forbade his wife to go to church, nevertheless sought to reach out to him. (We’ll call him Rick.) When I offered to be available to pray for him in private he hedged. “Look,” I said, “the best that could happen is that you get healed completely, the next best is that you get partly healed and the worst that could happen is that nothing happens! You can’t lose.” He still went out refusing prayer. How crazy is that! Make yourself available with humility and gentleness, and the worst that can happen is nothing and they might think you rubbish. The best that might happen is they get healed and might just turn to the Lord. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) Go for it!

35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We are pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came. We need to move on to see what happened and then draw some lessons from it.

(The office junior)

When Alan went onto the office the next morning he went with a slight sense of apprehension. What should he say or do? The easy answer was nothing but just watch. In his interactions with his junior over the next couple of days, he was particularly careful to be open and friendly and gracious. Nothing happened. It was on the third day that things started to change. As he happened to be passing the young man’s desk, he noticed he was just sitting there staring ahead and doing nothing.

He paused. “Kev?”

No response. He pulled up a chair. There was no one within listening distance. He tried again, very gently. “Kev, what’s up?” Kevin seemed to suddenly realise he wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry Alan, it’s nothing.”

“Are you sure? Do you need to talk about something?”

“No, not really, no it’s fine, it really is…. well …. I don’t know what to do. My wife’s has been diagnosed with cancer. We’ve known about it for a number of months, and it’s the bad sort and now at the hospital yesterday they say it will be touch and go, and…” his voice trailed off as he fought back tears.

Alan found he had tears running down his own face. “Oh Kev, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. Anyway why are you crying, you don’t even know her!”

“Well that’s right but I just don’t know how I would feel in your shoes. I am so sorry. Look you’re not going to be able to concentrate on some of this stuff you’ve got on your desk at the moment. Let me get one of the others to lighten your load. What can I take from you?”

They discussed the possibilities and Alan took several files to redistribute round the office without saying why to the other staff.

“Do you need some time off? Is there anything you can be doing for her?”

“Well not really, but I suppose I need to arrange for the kids to be picked up from school in the days to come. Oh, what are we going to do?” He fought back the tears as a floodgate looked like it was just ready to burst.

“Look let’s not worry about that for now. Take one day at a time. Look, the other stuff you have here is not urgent. Go home now and just come in when you can. Kev, would you mind if I asked my church to pray for her?” Kev just nodded. “What’s her name so we know who we’re praying for?

“Marianne, but we call her Merry. Alan, I just don’t know what to do, and I know my work’s been going to pot, and I’m struggling with some of this stuff anyway.” He looked miserable.

“Look Kev, let’s not worry about that now. Let’s see how this works out and then perhaps in the future I can get you on that training course that is up on the notice board.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Thanks.”

“Come on, let’s go and get a coffee into you then you get back home, and we’ll take it from there – together.” The two left the office for coffee.

Back in the office, Alan thought to himself, “well that was an answer to prayer I wasn’t expecting!”

I am tempted to follow on with the other two things the group had prayed about, but this is all about bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth and there are some things in the story above that bear thinking about.

New Expectation: Because the group has prayed. and revelation had come, Alan is now in a state of expectation about an outcome. He doesn’t know what it will be, but he is on the lookout for something to happen. He is looking for the Lord to move, but that isn’t always in ways that we might expect.

New Concern: We may say (being really pious) that as Christians we should always be loving, gracious and caring for those around us, but the truth is that in the mundane ongoing-ness of daily life, especially life at work, it is so easy to stop making an effort to be a blessing to all those around us. However, now Alan is in a new state of expectancy, that has caused him to be particularly alert to those around him, and especially his young subordinate. It is because of this, that he spots the young man looking down, and needing some help.

New Compassion: Something different has happened and, because he is on the watch for such things as maybe part of God’s moving, he pauses up and gives the young man time, care and consideration, expressed in a variety of ways to help him with his present situation.

Spiritual Input: Don’t rush here, for there will be time to go further, yet Alan does gently ask him if he may share this with his prayer group. Don’t be surprised or cynical about the response because very often people may not be ready to hear the Gospel and certainly not be ready for church, but they will very happily receive prayer.

Conclusion: Perhaps the most important change here has been that in Alan himself. He has suddenly gone on the alert because someone dared to say they thought they had heard from God and he is now watching to see how God will open the situation up. As we said before, don’t prejudge how the Lord might move, but just be open and available to Him and, working with Him, you prepare the way of the Lord, for Him to come more fully into this situation: In the wilderness (of the office) prepare the way for the Lord.” (Isa 40:3) Tomorrow, we’ll see what else happens to Alan

34. Hearing leads to Action (1)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 34. Hearing leads to Action (1)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Just in case we’ve lost the thread, let’s remind ourselves that in the big picture of ‘ways to grow’, we are now considering how, as part of the body of Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms, we can be part with him in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth. For the last few studies I have been talking about how important it is to learn to listen to God. Now I will have said this before, but it is so important we need to hear it again here: hearing must be followed by obeying. Now that may sound heavy and so I want to divert from what we do usually and instead reiterate an example of this I have written elsewhere. This takes place in an imaginary prayer group. Now don’t be put off by the word, ‘imaginary’, because is does work like this. To make it easier to take in I will insert sub-headings so you can see how they proceed:

(Alan’s ‘issues’)

Alan, (our imaginary Christian) comes to the weekly church prayer meeting and shares about the difficulties he is having at work. There are several issues:

  • he has a member of staff below him who is not performing well and who gets angry and irritated if challenged over it.
  • Alan has received indications that the firm is in financial difficulties,
  • A bad-tempered client slammed the phone down on him yesterday.

Alan asks the group to pray. Very well, let’s see how this church responds.

 (The young member of staff)

As they start to pray and thank the Lord that He is in charge of their lives, one person stops the group praying.

“Alan,” she starts, “just as we started praying, I had this picture of your young member of staff and they were in their home, sitting with their head in their hands, crying. I believe the Lord wants you to reach into his life and help him.”

The prayer group leader joined in. “That’s great. One thing I noticed about life in the Old Testament, was that they sought the Lord for an answer, got a sense of it, and then prayed for it. Would someone like to pray for Alan then in respect of this young man?”

One of the other group members prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan an opportunity at work to speak to the young man, and another asked the Lord to give Alan wisdom to know how to gently ask about his home life.

(Alan’s Boss)

There was a pause after the prayers and then one of the others in the group spoke up, “Well, this seems a bit weird. I’m sorry about this Alan but I saw your boss in tears as well.” There was laughter around the group. “No, no, this wasn’t because he’s in trouble,” the other replied, “it seemed to be for some other reason, but you were sitting across his desk from him, Alan, so I don’t know what was happening.”

The group leader broke in again. “Well it looks, my friend, as if the Lord has got something for you to do with your boss as well.” He grinned.

Alan grinned back, “Well, I don’t know about that; he’s a hard-bitten old something or other, and I can’t ever see him in tears.”

“Well, somebody pray for Alan and his boss then,” the leader suggested.

Another of the group prayed: “Lord, this is starting to get heavy. We can’t see how Alan’s boss is ever going to be in tears, but will you help Alan to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to him and give him wisdom to know what to say or do when those opportunities arise. Amen.” The group responded with an ‘Amen’. Alan sat there wondering what was coming next.

(Alan’s client)

Someone in the group giggled. “I’m sorry, Alan, I don’t have a picture of your angry client in tears. In fact, quite to the contrary, I see him getting even more angry, but somehow you say something, and I see him smiling. I know that’s not much help, but that’s what I see.”

In came the group leader again, “Well that’s all right; it may start out worse but that looks like a good outcome. Sorry, Alan, you’re getting dumped with rather a lot here tonight because it looks like you are the catalyst that will change him from fury to smiling. OK, folks, this is getting harder. One or two of you pray for Alan and his client, would you please.”

One person prayed and asked the Lord to give Alan a gift of faith to believe in this possibility, another prayed that the Lord would give him grace to just cope with this client graciously the next time he spoke with him, and another asked the Lord to give him wisdom in speaking to this client.

Alan sat there wondering why he had risked asking for prayer, yet he realised that deep down there was a sense of excitement within: three people had received pictures for him and a number of them had prayed with real care and concern for him. Yes, that was good, but what would the future hold?

I say again, when we are open to the Lord’s leading, when we risk ‘hearing’ from Him, He shares His heart and brings revelation that will take us on. Now I used as our opening verse those famous words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, and they should act as a constant reminder; this is not to entertain us, this is to let us know how we are to proceed. I have said it before, one aspect of listening prayer is to ask, “Lord, is there something you want me to do to be an answer to this prayer? Is there a part you have for me to play in this?” If we come with this sort of attitude, watch out, the kingdom is coming!

Oh, the outworking of Alan’s situation? I’ll share that tomorrow.

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. Persevering for Peace

Short Meditations on Peace 9. Persevering for Peace

Prov 4:11  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

I am aware that the previous meditation was a little short and abrupt (the downside of ‘short meditations’). I spoke of life callings or careers but the biggest problem here is when we identify the sort of person we are and then (maybe with help) match it with a career or job. But then jobs may not appear obviously available and so prayer for wisdom and help from God is an obvious course to take.

Most of us have to work to earn to pay for life, but that is another subject we’ll tackle another day, but nevertheless this is the path we are forced to take (few of us being fortunate enough to inherit large sums!) So here comes this smart preacher who says ‘pray about it, seek God’s wisdom’ and it sounds so easy. It might be easy if we all had ears that caught every word from God’s lips, if I may put it like that, but actually ‘hearing’ God isn’t always easy and often it takes time. The thing is that the Christian life is not an automatic machine that always works the same way for every person and in every circumstance. Sometimes, the Lord simply remains silent because He sees the path ahead of you is simple and obvious and it is going to open up for you quite naturally. We don’t always have to ‘have a word’, we just have to be patient.

If I am honest, and I always try to be, I really struggle when I watch and listen to younger Christians, maybe parents worrying over the way their children are going, because my own experience says that in my life and that of my family, as we look back, some of us had no guidance at all, others had glimmers of desire for a certain direction, and one went one way and ended up backing off and going a completely different direction – but with God’s blessing.

I look back on my life, from school days, through college, into one career, then another career and then a third career and finally a fourth career (yes!), I have no doubt that I see the hand of God throughout that time, including before I became a Christian, leading me on and on. Much of it appears as coincidences and much of it was a matter of circumstances and timing, and yes in later years we did pray, and did note disquiets and did sense some directions but often His hand was out of sight and yet there. Now you may get a specific word, “this is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:21) but if not, hold on to various things. Know He IS for you (Rom 8:31), He IS working all things out for you (Rom 8:28) and even though you cannot see or hear him (1 Pet 1:8), He loves you. Be at rest in those things. His purposes for you may take time to become clear, but be at peace in the meantime.

7. Visible Faith

Meditations in Colossians: 7. Visible Faith

Col 1:3,4   We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus

I find every time I am examining one of these things the apostle Paul says, I am lining it up alongside the modern church and churches that I know. Paul had reason to thank God for these Colossians because he had heard of their faith.  Now if someone said of you or of your church, “I have heard of your faith,” what could we take that to mean? They clearly have in their mind’s eye things about you and about your church that are obviously visible. What sort of things might they be?

Well before we look at specifics, we need to remind ourselves what the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, says about faith. Giving a general description of faith, the writer to the Hebrews explained,faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11;1)  That is the nature of faith – a way of seeing. He then goes on to show it is all about relating to the Lord. Faith is a relational thing.

The apostle Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17) i.e. faith comes as a response to hearing from God. Every act of faith is a response to what God has said. Faith is thus simply a response to what God says to you. So when we speak of a person who ‘has faith’ we simply mean they are someone who has heard God and responds to Him. The response may be in the mind (Abram believed God and was justified – Gen 25:6) but what starts in the mind is turned into action (Jas 2:17) Thus when Paul says he has  heard of the faith of the Colossians he will have in mind things he has heard about them, things they have done, so let’s consider some of the things we may expect to ‘see’ in believers.

  1. Change of Life. When someone is ‘born again’ they have been convicted by God’s Spirit, have surrendered to God declaring their belief in Jesus’ death for them, and have received His Holy Spirit and a new life. They are changed, they are different: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) When a person is born again we may expect to see a change in life. For each of us there will be different things that stand out. For some the positives will stand out – they become more compassionate; for others it will be the negatives they will be most aware of. For me the habit of swearing was broken, and lots more other things have changed over the years, but that was a big issue thing for me. And why do these people act like this? Because they heard God and responded to Him.
  1. Change of Values. This new person suddenly starts thinking in a completely new way and that involves their moral or ethical values. The apostle Paul described our old life in the first part of Eph 2 and he starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:1,2) Previously we lived according to the standards of the godless world and at the beck and call of Satan (see also 1 Jn 5:19). He describes what went on in us: “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) The values that we had were utterly self-centred. When we came to Christ that all changed, we become God centred and caring and concerned for others. Instead of inward looking we became upward and outward looking. We found we had become concerned for what God wanted and what God was doing in us and so things like reading the Bible and praying and worshipping became expressions of our life. We became more concerned for His will than what the world encouraged us to do. His values became ours.
  1. Change of activity. Meeting with other Christians became a norm and we came to realise that we were the church and being a part of it, God had plans for us, to release gifts and abilities in us, and as we recognized and used them so we found He gave us opportunities to bless and serve others and we found joy in serving others. We looked for and took opportunities to share this new found love with others, we looked for and took opportunities to bless others, and every time we did, it was the Holy Spirit prompting and guiding, leading and equipping us to be a blessing to His world. Every time we did we were hearing God and responding to Him – that was faith.

Now I have written with the assumption that this is how it has been for each and every one of us who call ourselves believers, Christians, but it is possible you have looked at these three paragraphs above and questioned whether that has been your experience, that faith has not been a visible element of your life, that the likes of Paul would not be able to look at you and ‘see’ faith. It has not been visible because it has not been there. To conclude may I give three quick reasons why that may be your case.

  1. Never born again. Very simply you may never have come to the place of crisis where you surrendered your life to God and called out for the salvation that only the work of Jesus on the Cross can bring to you – forgiveness of your sins, cleansing and adoption as a child of God. But if this is what you want, why not do that today – come to Him in surrender, declaring your belief in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord and putting your life in his hands for the rest of your days on this earth. Do it today.
  2. Early days. You may be born again but you are only a young believer. That’s OK, it is a learning process and we will continue to learn every day this side of heaven. Simply ask Him to take you on deeper in the knowledge of His love for you and His plans and purposes for you and be open to receive all He has for you.
  3. Slipped away.  You might have found yourself reading this page and realised that that was how it used to be but for a variety of reasons you have stopped listening to and responding to God and life has gone cold and stale. It’s not too late to change that. It requires confession, acknowledgement of failure and a desire to start again. You know it is that simple but, yes, it is hard to make that fresh commitment, but it is worth making. Why do you think you were reading this today? This is Him calling you back. Heed His call.

So there we have it, the possibility of being people of faith, people with visible faith. Don’t let the enemy suggest this is for spiritual super-heroes; this is actually the normal Christian life as the Lord has spelled it out in the New Testament. Accept nothing less!

12. Origins of Faith

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 12:  Origins of Faith

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

The truth is that there are some verses in Scripture that are more important or more significant than others. This particular verse, I believe, is one of the most significant verses for the life of the Church today. But let’s see it in context first, to see how Paul uses it. In verses 14 and 15 Paul spoke about the fact that the Gospel HAD been preached and was available to all. He quoted Isaiah, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isa 52:7)  The focus is all on the word that came from God, the Gospel proclaimed and heard. The effects of preaching had been twofold: some had received it and responded to God and been saved, but others, who were blinded to it, failed to ‘hear’ it and failed to respond to it, and that was the bulk of his countrymen.

But the fact of their blindness and their refusal does not annul the truth of this word – “faith comes from hearing.” You cannot have faith until you have heard from God. We sometimes wonder that there is so little faith in the modern church and the probable reason is that there are so few anointed preachers bringing the word directly from heaven. It may also be that the riches and affluence of modern day materialism blinds many to the wonder of the word from heaven. It may also be that we are so rarely taught to listen to God and so fail to hear the word from heaven. All of these things add up to a failure to hear the word from heaven and so there is so little faith.

We repeat it: “faith comes from hearing.” That is the key to what Paul is saying. It is the message of the Gospel that releases faith and faith releases response.   Yes it is hearing “the message” that has come from God, a communication from God that He wants us to hear and respond to, and it is the word about Christ. Where there are open hearts, this Gospel message is gladly received and faith rises in a person.

Perhaps we should ask in a meditation like this, what is faith? Well according to the writer to the Hebrews, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1). Faith is, very simply, believing what God says and acting on it. We hear the words of the Gospel spoken and something within us rises and we say, “Yes, it IS true! I see that now! I am sure of it!”  It seems that suddenly we ‘know’ it is true and we must respond to it. THAT is faith. It is not some wishy washy half belief, it is “being sure” and “being certain” and that sureness and that certainty only comes when we heard God’s word with an open heart and the Holy Spirit takes it, makes it come alive and applies it.

Now just to make doubly sure that we are taking this in, note that there are THREE aspects to this that I have mentioned. First, there is hearing. Now hearing can include reading so the word from heaven to our hearts may come as we are reading the Bible, through the words before us, or it may come as we are praying and we suddenly find a strong conviction about something we suddenly sense, or it may come as direct words into our mind as God communicates directly with us, or it may come through preaching or prophecy brought by another. Obviously if we don’t read the Bible or we don’t pray, we are ruling out two of the most common channels that God uses to speak to us. If we don’t attend church and don’t hear either preaching or prophecy, then we miss out on those two channels of His communication and our ‘hearing’ is going to be strictly limited.

Second, there is the matter of having an open heart. Now God can and does speak to people who don’t have open hearts but they are unlikely to hear Him. I sometimes wonder if Moses’ burning bush (Ex 3) was God’s way of catching the attention of that failed Prince of Egypt whose sense of self esteem or self worth had been long gone in those forty years in the desert with just sheep for company. So, yes, the Lord can break through to those who might otherwise appear closed, but how much better when He can find in us an open, seeking, searching, hungry heart that just yearns for Him and yearns to hear His voice. Be honest, do you yearn to hear His voice?

Third, there is the matter of the work of the Holy Spirit. His work in this instance is to illuminate the word that is coming so that suddenly it comes alive. Have you ever had that experience where you are reading the Bible and suddenly, it seems, a verse seems to leap out at you with great significance?  Whether it is in praying, preaching or prophecy, He does the same thing when He sees an open heart.

Perhaps we should add a fourth aspect to this. As James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Jas 2:17) Faith requires action. I’m never quite sure of this but I suspect that this is directly linked to having an open heart. If you have an open heart you will also have an obedient heart, a heart that wants to do what God says, and so when the word comes, your heart is open and the Spirit illuminates the word, you will respond and you will act in obedience.

What is the Lord looking for? Faith! “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)  When God speaks, He wants His people to hear with open hearts so He can illuminate what He says and faith will rise up, action will follow and He will act in power and the world will be changed. That is how important this is.

72. Use it!

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 72. Use it!

Mk 4:24,25  “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Remember, Jesus has been talking about responding to God when He speaks, and the importance of revelation. Revelation – the truth – what this is all about, about how we hear and what we hear. Hence Jesus instructs, “Consider carefully what you hear.” He is still focusing them on what they hear from God. What follows is still all about what we do with what we hear. Previously it had been the different responses to hearing; now it is to those who apparently do hear and it challenges them as to what they do with it.

You must hold on to this: it is the truth or revelation from God that Jesus is talking about here. When he says “With the measure you use it” he is saying that if you receive it and respond to us and allow it to have its work in you and change you and maybe you even pass it on, THEN you will receive even more. The crucial question or vital issue here is how much we DO with the truth. If we just hear it on a Sunday morning, or we casually read it in the Bible, and we remain untouched and unmoved and unchanged, then we will become stagnant water and receive no more.

We should be using what we have received and then receiving more from God. The old illustration of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is a good illustration. Water flows into and out of the Sea of Galilee and the sea is fresh and alive. Water flows into the Dead Sea but not out of it and so it is dead. This IS the truth and it is a challenge!  How many Christians are neutral about the word of God? Yes, it is the word of God and it is important and I do read it and I do hear it on a Sunday morning – but nothing more.

It is supposed to change us and transform us; it is supposed to be passed on to others, to seekers and to new younger Christians. The word is not to be listened to; it is to be responded to, it is to change us and change others. But there is a terrible negative in what Jesus says. If you don’t do all we have been saying about God’s word, what has been given to you will be taken away. Yes, you will start to lose the significance of what you have heard and the truth will start to cease being important to you and it will soon stop being a deterrent against sin in your life. It is a downward slope. Beware!