7. Covenant Reassurance

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  7. Covenant Reassurance

Gen 26:24    That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Life had been somewhat tumultuous for Isaac. For twenty years he had failed to be a father and his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Then his wife conceived and bore him twins, twins who will be in constant competition, one of them a schemer and the other oblivious of the significance of his family background. Then his father died, and he is now the patriarch, wandering in Canaan. A famine comes, and he goes to Gerar, in the south, where he gets in trouble with the king, just like his father had done before him. Eventually, “Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (v.16) Affluence can make others insecure.

So he wanders the Land with his flocks and herds and finds shortage of water so, “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,” (v.18) but the locals claim the water is theirs, and this is repeated again and again, until, “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (v.22) He has every right to feel insecure and wonder whatever is going on in his life, but then the Lord turns up.

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” And so we find another, “fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ situation, but what is the reason he is given not to be afraid?  It starts out simply, “for I am with you.”  Yes, but what does that mean? You are with me, but my life circumstances are confusing and questionable.

Ah, we need to see the words before that: “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Ah, this starts to make sense. His father would have told him of all the dealings he had had with the Lord, the unseen One who had called him to leave his homeland and travel nearly a thousand miles to Canaan, with a promise that He would end his childlessness and make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2) and would give them this land (Gen 12:7). Then there had been a most solemn covenant made (Gen 15:9-20) that the land would be for his descendants.

There it was, a solemn covenant, a solemn promise accompanied by ritual, whereby the Lord declares this land will belong to the descendants he is yet to have. Once made it will stand and so Isaac will know of it and his children will know of it and their children and children’s children will know of it. That is why, Isaac, you can rest and be at peace in the midst of these confusing circumstances and not be afraid of them, of kings, of the peoples of the land, and of the future. The present circumstances may appear confusing, but God has promised a good outcome.

Similarly, for you and me, we have a new covenant (Lk 22:20), promised centuries before, (Jer 31:31) and now part of New Testament teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 11:22, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6,8,13, 9:15, 12:24) that Jesus died on the cross to take our sins to enable us to be justified and become Holy Spirit empowered children of God. That is our covenant in which we can be secure, so that whatever the circumstances, we know these truths do not change and thus we are part of God’s family and God is for us in them. Hallelujah!

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45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

43. Relevancy again

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 43. Relevancy Again

Luke 4:18,19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

May I take a couple of quotes from earlier studies in this Part of this series. First, “Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?” Look at those last words: “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. Second, “I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community.”

Now I want to link these quotes back to the study that I am sure raised some questions, about the relevancy of our faith in the face of the enormous changes that are taking place in our world, social and environmental changes as well as scientific, cyber and technological changes. The whole teaching about the kingdom of God is incredibly practical. Consider the things that took place in the simple imaginary story about the prayer meeting and the things that followed it:

  • It brought a change in faith expectancy in Alan
  • That led to him being able to help his younger member of staff.
  • It also opened up the way for Alan to offer to pray for his boss’s family and then pray over his boss, which opened his heart to Alan.
  • It also changed his approach to his client which in turn brought a complete change in him.

That prayer meeting? Part of “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. The changes that took place could be summarised as:

  • Faith released
  • Compassion, care and concern released
  • Faith for further prayer, including healing prayer
  • Three sets of circumstances, involving unbelievers, changing.

Now you might say, yes, but no one got saved! Hold on, it was an imaginary story and so I could have made the office junior, the boss and the client all come to the Lord, but I left that hanging, a possibility for the future. The changes that will take place in respect of the kingdom of God will

  1. Come as we pray (and listen)
  2. Occur as we step out in faith, and
  3. Involve the sovereign working of God to change people and circumstances.

In the light of the prophetic words from Luke’s Gospel above

  • The (spiritually) poor (the unbeliever) will hear the good news
  • Those who are in prisons that are emotional or mental will find freedom
  • Those who are (spiritually, and maybe even physically) blind will be enabled to see
  • Those who are spiritually oppressed will be released
  • And those we touch with His love will realize that this is indeed the year when He favor is available to them.

Changed lives, changed circumstances, the coming of the kingdom or rule of God. And how?  Through “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. That is what all this talk about Jesus being glorified through his ascension goes, this is where it ends, these are the practical outworkings. Is that your church? Is that mine?

There is another facet of all this that we haven’t really touched on because it was necessary to first of all pick up on the fact of the largely absent belief in much of the modern church that Jesus is alive today wanting to do exactly the same things he did on earth two thousand years ago. It is the aspect of the compassionate and generous and hospitable expressions of the church. It is the practical ministry summarized so often as ‘caring for widows and orphans’ but which has been observed throughout the church era as establishing schools, hospitals, clinics and so many other things that have impacted our worlds for good.

“Good works” (Mt 5:16) are not to be one thing or another, but both spiritually supernatural and humanly natural. The ‘supernatural’ may include the miraculous or simply people and circumstance changes, as we’ve recently been considering, or they may be the incredible grace that sometimes enables believers to act as they do beyond usual abilities. The ‘natural’ is being kind, compassionate, caring, hospitable and generous and, of course, all these are expressions of Christ, expressions of his grace in believers. It’s not one or the other, it is both. Both require the power and the presence of the Lord and both reveal the kingdom of God in action – but it is action.

I have just now suggested why we have taken so much time working on our faith levels for the works of Jesus through the body – the absence of it so often in the modern church – but there is something else linked to this that I have observed in the modern church. It is the ‘good intentions’ that people have to reach out to the world around them with the good news of the Gospel of Christ, and even start community projects which are in themselves good.

However, what I also witness is an absence of the manifest presence of God so often in these things, absence of clear direction to start these things, or how to go about these things, i.e. their origins that should be clearly coming from the heart of God, people ‘doing stuff’ but with the absence of the presence of God or the revelation of God (because they haven’t learn to listen) or the power of God to bring changes. i.e. often such ‘projects’ seem such hard work because they come from human enthusiasm, and they operate with human effort so that when crises come (and they do) the resources are not there to cope. The truth is that a lot of charities and other ‘good works’ operate in a godless environment. Our activities must originate from the Lord and be carried out with the revelation of the Lord and the power of the Lord. When this does happen, the world will know, and God will be glorified. That is what all this kingdom stuff is about. May it be so.

41. Subduing the Earth

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 41. Subduing the Earth

Gen 1:28  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In the previous study we wrote, “Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing.”  That is the New Testament mandate, post the Cross, but for an even wider picture we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible.

Now I have to confess I considered putting this particular study in the ‘Theory’ section of Part 3 but eventually considered that unless we see it in practical terms it really just remains head knowledge, and almost pointless. So here goes, first the theory.

In our verse above we have what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Creation mandate’ and it is basically in two parts: i) “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth,” and then, ii) “and subdue it.”  The word ‘rule’ that follows clearly puts mankind in a superior position to any other living creatures but what ‘rule’ means there is left to speculation but the words we have picked out, “and subdue it,” leave little room for speculation especially, later on, when we see that working the earth after the fall is going to be hard work (see Gen 3:17-19). Now as population and culture developed, a literal ‘working the earth’ became the domain of only a relative few.

The vast majority of us are not involved in agriculture or horticulture. But if ‘earth’ is taken to have a bigger meaning – the whole of human life existence on this planet – then it suggests something much, much greater. Any activity to do with mankind’s habitation of this planet must fall under this heading and that must include anything whatsoever that improves life for mankind and so that includes medicine, science, technology, food provision, government, and the arts to mention just some of such areas.

Now a false dichotomy has grown up in popular thinking, between spiritual and non-spiritual, a hangover from the thinking of Plato (how these things hang around!), but anything that can be included in my list in the previous paragraph is ‘spiritual’ because it is something given to us to do by God. Now the only things that are outside that will be things that go expressly against God’s design for His world, so anything specifically harming or oppressing other people (e.g. slavery) is obviously outside that mandate. Producing, selling, and distributing illicit drugs would also be a no-go. You may think of others.

Now those running on an ‘environmental ticket’ might question whether doing any sort of work that can harm the world or the people on it (e.g. working in the tobacco industry) might fit that ‘no-go’ growing list and where we are in questionable areas, we have to ask ourselves and the Lord, “If this the area I should be in, and if not, what else could I do?”

So far, in recent studies, we have been considering things that are usually considered well and truly spiritual things, things to do with the bringing in of the rule of God to overcome sin, but whenever I have read people writing on this ‘creation mandate’ and the nature of our jobs in this present world, it seems to be that most effort is made in justifying what were once called ‘secular’ jobs (as I have done above) to such a degree that the writer only works on a ‘do your best in your job’ approach meaning be the best worker you can be. Now although I agree with that, it can be a godless approach and everything I have been saying in this entire series is to be seen from the viewpoint of ‘God first’ or at the very least, ‘God involved’.

In the relatively recent studies, I did four that considered a hypothetical series of events that sprung out of a prayer meeting that took the life of God into the job of one of the prayer group. Now if that just seemed too way out for you, then perhaps the question should be raised, “Can you see God in your workplace, someone spoken about at least to those closest to you, can you see opportunities for informally sharing your faith, and offering prayer?” How many of us tolerate working environments or learning conditions that are unrighteous or, at the very least, could be seriously improved?

Bringing the kingdom of God into these environments, I want to suggest, probably needs to start in a prayer group as I showed, who should then bring that working environment to the Lord to see how He might want to change it – possibly through you. I look back on my working life into these sorts of environment with regret. No one taught me these sorts of things and so I was a lonely example of righteousness in an ungodly environment in otherwise fine and acceptable careers.  I don’t think I did it well, even though I believe I did my job well; there was a better way and I have sought to show that in these recent studies. It is not spiritual or secular but God in every sphere of work. The big question is, how far will be let Him have space to move so that we can be people of faith in the midst of these places? Can other people find and meet God in work or learning environments through us, or will we accept ungodly thinking that relegates such things to ‘church’ or ‘missions’ or ‘campaigns’? May that not be so.

39. Exercising Authority

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 39. Exercising Authority

Rev 2:26,27 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations …..  just as I have received authority from my Father.  

Right, back to our being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, working with him to bring in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Just a reminder: it is not us, it is him in control. Jesus is the one seated at his Father’s right hand. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus telling his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:18,19) Note the ‘therefore’ that links him with us. We also see, When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.” (Lk 9:1,2).

Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing. To actually do this requires faith, a positive response to his words. We speak as he speaks, we act as he prompts us to act. Much of the time we just witness, share Jesus, the Gospel, with seekers, but sometimes, especially when the enemy is clearly evident and present, we are called to exercise Jesus’ authority.

Depending on the way the Holy Spirit leads us in prayer we may:

  • PROCLAIM the truth to set free (Jn 8:32)
    • this often releases faith and action
  • TESTIFY to the truth of the situation (see Rev 12:11)
    • this overcomes the lies of the enemy
  • COMMAND something to happen (see Mt 21:21)
    • giving instructions by faith as led by the Spirit to remove an obstacle
  • BIND the enemy (see Mt 18:18)
    • to stop enemy activity we declare on earth what has been decreed in heaven
  • LOOSE people or situations (see Mt 18:18)
    • we release people who have been bound up by the enemy
  • PRONOUNCE the name of Jesus into a situation (“in Jesus name”)
    • we speak as Jesus into the situation

Let’s check each of these out. First, proclaiming. (See Jesus Lk 3:18, 7:22) Here is the person who is suffering because they have believed the lies of the enemy and yet they have come for prayer and are open to the Lord moving on them.  As we pray over them, we proclaim the truth: they are a child of God, loved by Him, not condemned but loved. As we pray with authority and anointing, the Spirit takes our words and applies them to the heart of the person being prayed over and suddenly they know that is the truth and they are freed. The kingdom has come.

Second, there is testifying. (See Jesus, Jn 8:18) Again, this is declaring the truth of what has happened to us and as we so do it, the Spirit confirms it with assurance and faith is released. It tends to be that we proclaim over other people and testify for ourselves, but in both cases the Spirit affirms the truth and change is brought. The kingdom comes.

Third, there is commanding. This is declaring the authority of Jesus, as he leads, to bring about change. I was in a house group situation recently where two of the women prayed over a third woman and as the Spirit led them, one of them commanded a sickness to go – and it did. Jesus often did this with both healing and deliverance; sometimes he instructed the demon or sickness to leave, other times he instructed someone to do something. He also commanded and took control over the elements (e.g. Lk 8:29, Mt 8:3,13,26, Jn 9:7)

Fourth, there is binding. Jesus taught his disciples, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”   (Mt 18:18) When we bind something (usually the enemy, often in the form of an evil spirit) we limit or restrict him. If in the process of casting out a demon, it seeks to make a lot of noise and gain publicity for the enemy and create fear, you may bind him and silence him (see Mk 1:25) and then proceed to command that he leaves. Binding is about restricting the enemy, limiting his activity, and the kingdom prevails.

Fifth, there is loosing, the exact opposite of binding, when we release someone who has been restricted or limited by the enemy. Again, Jesus did this with demonically oppressed or possessed people. (see above)

Finally, there is pronouncing, “in Jesus’ name”. Very often people use this phrase almost as a good luck talisman at the end of a prayer. When the Holy Spirit is leading us in ministry we speak that out as a declaration of the Spirit-inspired, Jesus ministry, that we ARE doing or saying what Jesus IS saying from heaven.

Remember, these things we do as we learn to let the Holy Spirit lead us by putting these things into our minds at the appropriate moments.  In each case it is the WORD OF GOD, from God for us at that moment, imparted by the Spirit TO HAVE EFFECT.

When we speak out the word BY FAITH in response to the Spirit’s prompting, we may expect things to change in the heavenly realm, which in turn will change things here on earth.  Remember, it is AS WE ARE LEAD BY THE SPIRIT that these words are released in us so that we may release them OUT LOUD, either to PRAY or to PROCLAIM.  It is speaking them out that is the act of faith on our behalf which enables the Lord to bring change.

In this way our words act as weapons of the Spirit and the enemy is defeated and the rule of God, the kingdom, is expressed, just as it was when Jesus was on earth in a single human body. Now he is here through multiple bodies.  All he looks for is his disciples who will be open to hear him, be sensitive to the leading of his Spirit, and who will speak out and become the channels of his power and authority here on the earth.  Hallelujah!

38. When the sky falls down

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 38. When the sky falls down

1 Pet 4:17   it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household

We always try to maintain balance and I am aware that for some, the past four studies seem almost too good to be true, but the truth is that this is how it can be – but not always. I seem to remember, when our children were small, reading the story about Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little) and the frequent reference to the ‘sky falling’. Well there are times in life when, to use a variety of phrases, it all goes pear-shaped, all hell breaks loose, or the sky falls down, and I think we need to remember that and carefully hold the balance.

Only the other day someone said to me, “Yes, but Christians get cancer and there are as many divorces in the church as outside it.” He was making this point that things go wrong and that for Christians as well, and he was right, but there are comments to be made. My first reply was, “Well yes, but as far as the divorces in the church goes, that is more a condemnation of the poor spiritual state of the church in the West.” I went on to talk about the fact that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong and we are living as part of that but, I concluded, the big difference is that we have the Lord with us for when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) He meant He would always be with us in whatever was happening. We also have the encouragement of Rom 8:28 that He will be there working for our good in it. The illustration of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11), shows that he doesn’t stand there dispassionately, even though he knows the will of God is being worked out, but he grieves with us in it.

But Jesus being there and feeling with us in it, doesn’t take away the pain and anguish that such circumstances seem to bring. How do we respond in the crisis when natural responses are, “Why should this happen to me?” or “Where is God? Why doesn’t God turn up to help?” Perhaps understanding some of the dynamics of the kingdom of God in which we live might help.   A kingdom, after all, is ruled over by a king, and our king – Jesus – the Son of God, as God, is all wise and he knows that our lives can only change and improve (and that includes our families, our learning, our business and our social and community lives) when they are brought in line, and are lived out, in accordance with the design and will of God. Now if we had an indifferent God, He would simply sit back and let us stew in our own mess, but He’s not. He is love and love constantly looks for and works for the best for the object of its love – you and me.

There are certain passages of Scripture that we dislike. For instance, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2). There is also, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb 12:6). If we are honest, thoughts of discipline and of trials don’t thrill us! That is natural but both those things from God are designed to bring us into a better place than we are now. I am sure sometimes the Lord looks at the path we are taking or the attitude we have and He, knowing all things and knowing the future, sees that without realising it we are taking a path that is likely to have severely negative consequences.

Understanding how God disciplines and how He brings trials might help. My studies of the judgments and disciplines of God suggest that sometimes the Lord just lets us continue down that dangerous path knowing that at some point it is going to cause the sky to fall on us. As we said earlier, He will be there in it with us and will be working for our good, but the pain of the circumstances we have brought upon ourselves, will teach us and, like chastened prodigal sons, we may come to our senses and return to the father (see Lk 15). When He sees the folly of mankind settling in us – pride, self-confidence, self-reliance (check out Jer 2:13), apathy, indifference, self-importance, even godlessness, conceit etc., He knows there needs to come a time of correction before those things utterly destroy us.  Whether we hear it or not (because it often comes in that ‘still small voice’ format) the Lord always warns and warns again about the path we are taking, so if the discipline comes, it means we either didn’t hear, or ignored it. But He’s not put off!

But I believe, reading His word, that He not only sometimes, allows us to fall into the pit of our own making over a long period of time, but sometimes He shortens the time, by either lifting off His hands of protection or restraint from us so the crisis comes sooner than later.  Sometimes He simply lifts off His hand of protection from us and illness strikes (see 1 Cor 11:29-32) and we are chastened and repent or even, on occasion, His children go to be with Him prematurely. Face the truth of His word. Removing restraint is something else. Most of the time, I suspect, we are not aware of the Holy Spirit’s restraining work in us and it is the only way that I can explain what I have seen a number of times – Christians who otherwise appear wise and bright, who for some inexplicable reason open their mouths wrongly or take an obviously stupid course of action, and the sky falls on them! (I have been there!)

As Christians, we tend to suffer two major failures. First, we just do not realise how much God loves us. Second, we fail to remember He is a holy God who calls us to be holy, and a simple definition of holiness is “to be utterly different like God.”   Put the two things together and we have a loving and holy God who is determined to do all He can for His children to get them to heaven, and to do that He has to be there, working on our behalf for decades, to counter the works of sin, self, and Satan, that are the biggest threats to us. (Remember, when it comes to Satan, the Lord may use him and give him some space to move upon us, but it will always be “thus far and no further” – see Job 1 & 2 + Lk 22:31,32 + 1 Cor 10:13)

To conclude, ‘to discipline’ means to ‘bring about a process of change in us, to get us to conform to His likeness, to His perfect design for us’, to be even better than we are now. Trials come to test our faith or our faithfulness. Will turning to Him be the first thing we do when a problem or difficulty arises? Are we regularly inputting and feeding on His word so that we have inner resources when the temperature rises? When the pressure comes will we endure, persevere, hang in there, and remain faithful to Him? Those are the sort of things trials reveal.   A crisis never happens just like that in the kingdom of God; it always builds and builds, even though in our short-sightedness we fail to see it, until suddenly the sky comes down. And when it does, most surely, we will moan and groan, and yet hopefully with His grace we’ll come through, scathed and changed with the marks of the cross on us, and a new and stronger spirit in us, and when we get to heaven (and we may have to wait until then to see the whole picture), we’ll then say ‘Thank you!”

32. Listening and Speaking

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 32. Listening and Speaking

Jer 1:12,14  The LORD said  to me….

Present Goal: In the past two studies I have made a variety of comments and given several testimonies about ‘hearing’ God. Moving on into yet a third one about the same subject you might, quite understandably, be asking yourself, why is he keeping on about this, especially if you feel unsure about it yourself. I have two reasons. The first is exactly that: in the modern church there is almost a fear about daring to say, “The Lord said to me,” and when it comes to church services the communication is all one-way. The second reason is that the matter of ‘hearing’ God is vital to all other activities in our position of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he works in and through us to bring the kingdom of God to the earth. I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community, but for the moment I really want to confront us with this matter of hearing God.

Look out for ‘said’: There is a word in the Bible that my concordance says occurs over 3000 times, a word I am absolutely certain most of us read without any thought to the wonder of it, and it is the word ‘said’. Yes Satan speaks, and men and women speak but the wonder is the fact of the Lord speaking. From now on, every time you read your Bible, when you come to the words, “and God said….” or “and the Lord said”, pause up there and consider the wonder of that. It’s not only that God spoke but SOMEBODY HEARD Him! For it to be recorded, somebody actually HEARD God and there are hundreds and hundreds of times when it happens. It is the norm for the Bible.

Excuses: “Ah, but with the completion of the canon…” Hold on before someone rolls out that unbelieving old Chestnut, do you realise that if you hold that view you are worse than the unbelieving Jews of Jesus day, because they had the entire set of scrolls that we call the Old Testament and yet were open to the fact that a new prophet could be in their midst, e.g. John the Baptist, and then Jesus. God’s communication did not stop once the last of the minor prophets had been written down.

There is nothing in the New Testament, seen in context, that says God has ceased to be a communicating God. It doesn’t diminish the value or worth of the New Testament, in fact it says believe every word of it and don’t put time stops on any of it, so when Paul says, I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy,” (1 Cor 14:5) it is only our unbelief that says all that stopped when the canon was agreed. A study of history shows it continued somewhere in the church throughout the Church age. What is the point of you and me seeing ourselves as being seated with Christ in the heavenly places if it means he cannot communicate with us and we can’t communicate with him?

Ah but he can communicate through his written word, comes the reply. Er how? Well it is all truth, so we obey it all. Agreed. And he can highlight specific verses and make them stand out to speak specifically to us. Right! Hold on, isn’t that just as subjective as ‘hearing God in your mind’, you could be making it up, that ‘specific application’ couldn’t you? The moment you start talking about God speaking specifically through His written word, you’ve inadvertently climbed into the boat of faith with me. Why is this important? Let me tell you a simple little story I heard from a preacher-teacher who I respect and trust. I will repeat it as accurately as I can, but it was a long time ago – but the main point was exactly as below.

A Christian steps out: There was a lowly Christian at a Bible conference and he understood the idea of hearing God but wouldn’t say that he fitted into that understanding. However, in the middle of the worship and prayer he had this almost overwhelming desire to speak out a word from God, as he felt it must be. He wrestled with it and eventually when there was a pause in the prayers, he stepped out in ‘faith’ and started, “The Lord says, ‘Do it…” and to his horror his mind went blank and he dried up. He nearly died with embarrassment. A few minutes later after the worship and prayer continued, he felt the same feeling and prayed, “Lord if this is you please give me the whole word,” and at an opportune moment he launched out again, but exactly the same thing happened. More embarrassment. To his horror it continued and was exactly repeated a third time. He nearly died.  At the end of the meeting he slunk away as quickly as he could but was stopped by a man who came rapidly up behind him and took his arm.

Understanding: “Please stop,” the man asked. “I want to say thank you to you. For the last few weeks I have been catching a sense that the Lord is calling me to (and he named a ministry in eastern Europe, I believe it was) and I came here looking for confirmation. When you first spoke out it went straight to my heart, and I felt sure it was for me, but I am not strong in these things and so I prayed, “Lord, if that is you, please will you say it again,” and you did! And that was wonderful, but I still doubted and so prayed, “Lord, please forgive me for my doubting but if that was you – and I know it was wonderful the same man said it twice – but if it is you sending me, then please get him to say it just once more and I will go without question – and you did, and I am going. Thank you so much.”

Facing the Problems: As we said in a previous study, we can have a multitude of immediate needs and although we know the truth of His written word, we need something personal and God loves being personal. I was in another church recently where I was just visiting with family, and the young pastor at the end of the meeting said, “If anyone has a word to share, while we sing the last song, come and share it with me.” Nobody came. I know him quite well, having visited there a number of times on holiday staying with family abroad, and I spoke with him afterwards.

Where I was located, with the layout they had, it was almost impossible for me to get out and get to him but I am certain there were at least five people in his congregation who ‘heard’ words of strengthening, encouragement or comfort, either for the congregation at large or for individuals, but they just needed encouraging to come out, to be reassured that they had ‘heard’ but a) they weren’t laid out for movement (they didn’t expect it and so hadn’t made access and movement easy) and b) he didn’t follow through and bring a further encouragement.  My ‘five people’ was a word and the Lord didn’t want me to be the main message bringer, just the encourager, but it wasn’t possible.  So why did He speak to me like that?  To teach, to face the inadequacy of the situation (sharing it with the young pastor) so we can learn and get it right next time, and there will be a next time, and next time will still require us to be people of faith and ‘risk it’. You may not be in a place where this is acceptable, and change won’t come (but talk with your leaders to make sure it won’t come) so go somewhere where it will. Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?