16. The Unrighteous Judge

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 16. The Unrighteous Judge

Luke 18:1-8:  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Purpose & Context: The purpose of this parable is there in the first verse: “they should always pray and not give up.”   Now that is very obvious and this is one of parables that addresses a problem we face regularly in the Christian life – my prayers don’t seem to be getting answered and so the temptation is simply to give up. Again it is one of those parables that doesn’t say what you think it is going to say but the end result is still quite clear and as Jesus clearly thinks that prayer is an integral part of a life of faith, the final punch line is challenging: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Content:

  • there is an unrighteous judge – didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people thought of him.
  • a woman comes to him to demand justice for her situation.
  • he clearly takes no notice for she has to keep on coming to him, and he refuses to hear her.
  • eventually he gives way and gives her justice.
  • his thinking is that although he doesn’t fear God or care about what people think, he is eventually worn down by her coming and even fears that in her frustration she might attack him; for this reason alone he will hear her.
  • Jesus’ teaching concludes that if this unrighteous judge eventually hears this woman – and he is unrighteous, unfearing of God and man, won’t God who does care for us (implied) hear us and respond to us when we keep on praying.

Reasons for No Answers: In the 3rd study, the Parable of the Good Friend, we faced this same situation and I noted there the following reasons why sometimes we have to pray and pray and pray: First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realizing what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

Why God Answers: The obvious first reason is that He loves us and loves to talk to us, and that must always be our starting point, but reversing the reasons above for no answers:

  • first, He will surely answer when He sees our urgency. When the Lord spoke to Moses at the burning bush He said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Ex 3:7) The Lord does feel with us and for us as a loving heavenly Father.
  • Second, even though we may not be receiving an answer, He is attentive to us, appreciates us and loves to hear from us, just like any father loves to hear from their child in need.
  • Third, when we have caught His heart, He will answer: And I will do whatever you ask in my name,” (Jn 14:13) which the Message version paraphrases, “whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it,” e. when the Father sees we are in line with the Son’s guidance, He will answer.
  • Fourth, we just have to recognize that we are often in spiritual warfare and the enemy seeks to hinder us. Perhaps more for this one than any of the others, as we saw in Luke 11, Jesus says ‘keep on badgering heaven, don’t give up’, and now says the same thing. It is like he is saying, if you think you’re on the right track, don’t be put off, keep at it, keeping praying, keep asking. Not wanting to be depressing, it appears that Isaac prayed 20 years (Gen 25:20,21,26) for Rebekah to conceive (either that or it took him nineteen years to get around to praying!)

I don’t know: Prayer, I believe, is the most mysterious part of the Christian life. It is amazing that we can talk to Almighty, all-knowing and all-wise God. We can come up with suggestions such as above but at the end of the day all we can say is that the Son of God encouraged us to pray and keep on praying. That is at the heart of two of these parables we have considered. Put aside intellect and engage heart – and pray.

3. The Good Friend

Meditating on the Parables of Luke:  3. The Good Friend

Luke 11:5-8  Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Purpose: The purpose of this parable is apparently to motivate us to pray, if for no other reason, than just do it to get results. I’ll open up on this shortly.

Context: The chapter starts with, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1) which is followed by the teaching we often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. That perhaps doesn’t help us a great deal but what follows the parable certainly does: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 11:9,10) Note that word ‘So’ at the beginning which links it to the parable before it. It is all about prayer – the disciples’ desire to pray, the prayer outline given by Jesus, and then the direct teaching to ask and keep on asking (as the verb tense indicates)

Facts of the Parable: The story or illustration includes the following:

  • there is a person in need of bread (quite a lot actually!).
  • he has a friend who he feels might be able to help out.
  • he goes to him at the middle of the night, knocks on his door and explains his need.
  • his friend, put out by the time of night, replies, ‘Don’t bother me.’
  • he explains that the house is locked and the family asleep; it is inconvenient.
  • yet (implied) the original person continues to ask.
  • the friend inside, to keep the peace, opens up and gives him what he wants.

The Teaching: Jesus explains the following:

  • friendship was not enough to get him to open up,
  • however shear audacity, keeping on asking in the middle of the night, did.

A Picture of God? If this is about asking in prayer, doesn’t the home-owner / friend appear as God? And doesn’t this put God in a poor light? The answer to this comes in verses further on: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) In other words, these verses should be read with the parable to conclude, ‘If the home-owner will respond because of his friend’s audacity, how much more will God respond to His children calling out to Him. We thus have a parable that gets its full meaning only by being read in the light of the surrounding teaching.

Repeated Teaching: First of all there is the repeated asking. In the parable the first man asks and asks, and eventually gets. In the teaching of v.9,10 the tense of the verbs indicates it should be, ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. But then there is the repetition of the teaching itself: the parable says keep on asking, the verbs say keep on asking and the conclusion that the Father will give good gifts to His children implies keep on asking. (Later on in chapter 18 there is the parable of the unrighteous judge which teaches the same thing – keep asking).

Why the Need? We often have to ask, why would Jesus tell a parable like this, and the answer has to be to meet a specific need. The need in this case, I suggest, is that prayers don’t always get immediate answers. I have several reasons for this, I believe. First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realising what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

The Encouragement: For these reasons above, we find we need that encouragement to keep on praying. This particular parable seems to suggest, don’t go on logic, but just keep on praying even if (and especially if) you think God is getting fed up with it. There are times in scripture when God says don’t pray, but until you hear Him say that to you – keep at it!

Snapshots: Day 42

Snapshots: Day 42

The Snapshot: “I am sending you…” (Ex 3:10) It sounded good when God had said He saw, He had heard, and He had come down to rescue His people. Yes, it had been good up to the point He added, ‘I am sending you’. Our natural cry (and it took Moses nearly two chapters of arguing to make this point) is, “I’m not up to this!” Of course we’re not, that’s why He said, “I will be with you.” (v.12) So often as Christians we pray for God’s help to change the circumstances when all the while He wants us to pray for wisdom (see Jas 1:5) so that we can play our part in His plans to change those circumstances. For some crazy reason – I think it’s to do with love – He wants us imperfect people to join in His perfect plans, to be part in changing this world.   Amazing! Incredible!

Further Consideration: As little children we like hearing fairy tales of handsome princes who come to the aid of distressed damsels. As grown up Christians we like praying for our family or neighbours to come to the Lord – because we know that is what the Lord would want us to do. But then comes the shock: I will speak to your family – through you. I will be a witness to your neighbours – through you.

We ask the Lord to change us and hope He will give us a tablet that tastes nice that will change us or wave a magic wand over our circumstances to change them, but then comes the shock when He says, “I want you to change them.”

Just recently I presented our prayer workshop group with a question that the Lord put before me: In this Fallen World where the circumstances often seem bad, does God want to change me through the circumstances or to change the circumstances through me? The answer came loud and clear: BOTH!

We would much rather sit on the sidelines and watch while God beats up the enemy, while Jesus heals the sick and delivers the demon possessed, or the Holy Spirit sweeps in with revival power, but instead He has given us the most incredible privilege – He has called us and made us “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27) and so for most of the time (and yes sometimes He does move sovereignly without using us), Jesus who is the head of the body (Eph 4:15) seeks to guide us and direct us to do the works he started doing (see Lk 4:18,19,  Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12)

Now when Jesus says, “I am with you,” he is reminding us that he indwells us by his own Holy Spirit and so He will be the guide, the director who shows us what to do and how to do it, and He will be the power that enables the changes to come. No longer on the side lines but utterly involved; that is His calling.

Snapshots: Day 26

Snapshots: Day 26

The Snapshot: “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife”. Another childless couple? History repeating itself? But thank goodness for a godly husband who prayed for his wife. But he prayed for twenty years!!!! Why did he have to wait for so long? Mysteries that will remain mysteries until we get to heaven and get answers. Until then I must learn to trust, trust that God never ever makes mistakes. Until then I must learn my part as I weave my way through the mysteries of life – with Him. Can I learn to persevere in prayer, keeping hope alive? Can I learn to trust while waiting, come to a place of complete peace in the knowledge of His wisdom and love? Is this my part as I confront some of the pains of living in this Fallen World? Lord, I receive your grace for this moment today.

Further Consideration: Prayer is one of the strangest features in the life of a Christian. I don’t mean the ‘prayers’ found in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ but those that don’t seek to cover all the theological bases well, as do the prayers in that book that help remind us of the truths of the Faith. No, the prayers I have in mind are those that pour out of the heart that might so often summed up as, “God, please help!”

The difficulties are that such prayers may come out of total selfishness that add the word ‘me’ to that summary prayer.   Such prayer often forgets that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt 21:22) and “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn 14:13) So belief that we are asking in line with Jesus will, what he wants to happen, is key to seeing answers.

So I wonder what Isaac prayed, because we’re not told in detail, simply that he was forty when he married Rebekah and sixty when she had her children (Gen 25:20,26). Twenty years of married life and no child, so we can assume that perhaps he was wondering if he was having to walk the same path as his father, and perhaps he was growing desperate – so he prayed and prayed. Was he praying in line with God’s will? Most definitely. Why? Because he would have known of the number of times God had said to his father that He would make a great nation out of him, and that was not out of anyone other than through Isaac (see Gen 17:15,16).

Have you and I entered into everything the Lord has for us, have we got all the Lord wants for us? Perhaps He is waiting for us to come to that understanding so that we pray for what we have come to realize is God’s greater will for us. Tomorrow I’ll give an instance of this but for now, check it out, has God got more for you that you only half apprehend? When you pray it becomes clearer – then it comes!

26. Spiritual Expressions

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

26. Spiritual Expressions

1 Cor 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

Eph 2:10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God-centred: at the beginning of the previous study I spoke about focusing on what church was all about, summarized in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people’ your second priority, and we started considering the first of those two things, the need (often taken for granted and therefore not practiced) for being God-centred. This, we said, should impact every expression of our relationship with the Lord and our ministry, and noted how obedience is to be virtually the key starting place for both of those. Now I am aware that this is all about vision, and although these are not things we want to spell out in a brief mission statement, they are nevertheless the realities that we need to keep before us. So rather than plough on into ‘building people’ we need to flesh out some of the aspects of the Christian life and ministry, seen under the magnifying glass of this part – “Being God-centred”.

Spirit-Led: I fear if you go into many churches and randomly ask people in the congregation, what it means to be Spirit-led, you would receive a lot of blank looks, because I have rarely heard it preached upon and taught. Surely we need to build a people who are open to the Holy Spirit, who are learning to sense/listen to Him and respond to Him, producing leaders who lead in the ways of the Spirit, who can be an example and go ago ahead (that’s what leaders do!) in the Spirit.  Surely we need to encourage our people who are unquestionably people of the Word and of the Spirit, to feed and drink and then feed others and enable others to drink, being seen to be people stepping out in faith and in the Spirit and trusting God to turn up, not being afraid to get it wrong.

Spiritual Expressions (Disciplines): If we are to be God-centred, God-focused, we also need to major on Prayer, creating meetings that do not just utter words but who learn to listen to God and then pray out of what they hear. We should encourage leaders to always be at them, and encourage the church to be at them, and give it high profile at every opportunity

In Preaching, we need to focus on who we are rather than ‘this is what you do’ to build assurance, confidence and faith, challenging people to rise to a vision of ‘this is who we ARE and this is therefore what we can rise to’.  i.e. we motivate by preaching grace not law, vision not vices, hope not guilt, reaching up, not driving up. Beware teaching ‘law’ (more Bible reading, more prayer) but instead show attainable goals that build faith. Again and again, can we place an emphasis on being God-enabled in this, rather than just intellect driven.

In Teaching encourage our leaders and then our flock, to be well read, both in the Bible and outside it, feed people and give them a strong base for their belief, also equipping them to resist the thinking of the world, knowing who and what they are and why, to give a springboard to ‘becoming’. As above, again and again, may we motivate by grace and flow out of our relationship with the Lord, being God-orientated at all times.

In Worship, can we encourage expressive and involved and Spirit-inspired worshipping and, as the Spirit is allowed to move, be seen to be an initiator, enabler, a totally involved follower.

The Problems of Leadership: Our greatest failure is to look to people who are successful in the world. I can remember in my youth being in a church where the diaconate of twelve men trouped out of a door at the front of the auditorium with the Minister, twelve men in suits, twelve men at the top of their game, bankers, lawyers, accountants and the like, and the church was proud to have such men at the front. But there were at least six problems with that. First, these were committee men, men good at running organisations, not organic bodies like the church. The church is the body of Christ and he is its head and the Spirit is its energizing and directing force.

Second, there is a great deal of difference between a business man and a spiritual leader. One might suggest that being a deacon is merely being a servant who helps administer the practical side of the church (see Acts 6) but actually the Biblical requirement is that they be filled with the Spirit (back to God again!). The other thing, in my past experience in that particular denomination was that deacons sought to exercise power and authority (in the role of elders) without having either the calling or equipping for that. We’ll look at this in detail later in the series. Third, these men were so proper, so respectable, that I am sure none of them would have dared step out in the Spirit if He might encourage them to do something ‘undignified’.

Fourth, this respectability drove such a wedge between them and the poor people who they were supposed to be serving. Some might say their lives were so different from some of the poorer members of the church (past tax-collectors and sinners?) that they would hardly know how to communicate with them. Fifth, and this goes back to an earlier study in an earlier part, humility was often lacking in these men, so not so good examples of Christ-like servants. Sixth, perhaps associated with this, these men could be seriously opinionated and so when there was a difference of opinion, politics came into play, and church is not the place to play politics. Now all I am doing here is showing from a past example what church leadership should NOT be like. Where the emphasis is on God, on serving and obeying Him, being those who respond to His Spirit and who are filled with the Spirit and with gifts of the Spirit, these things above, tend to disappear.

True Leaders: Now this may not be something that you want to work into your vision materials but it is, I suggest, nevertheless, stuff you want to hold before you as you think about ‘church’. What is a true spiritual leader? First of all, in general outlook, they are not someone who is perfect but someone who knows who they are in Christ, what their calling is, where their resources are, what their limitations are, and what they do when they fail.  I suggest, as far as God is concerned, they will be people of prayer and people of the word. Generally they will people of faith, people who listen to God and who respond to Him, people who are filled with the Spirit and are led by Him, people of vision seeing possibilities that are realistic in God and in the light of the people available, people of humility but who are not afraid to lead with the calling they have in God.

One would hope that they are hungry for God and when tiredness, weariness and exhaustion blunt that, they have the wisdom and humility to step back, sit down and get refreshed. They will recognize availability in the flock and will encourage people to recognize the gifts God is giving them, encourage them in those gifts and maybe even pray for them for those gifts to be released.  They will not be one-man ministries and they will not lord it over others as a CEO but will act as the chief servant being an example to all (see Jesus in Jn 13). We could no doubt add to that list (and may do in subsequent studies) but for now that should be enough to help refocus on the nature of this body we call the church and those who lead it. More will come later but there is just one more thing that needs mentioning here in this context.

Accountability: Leaders need to find spiritually mature (if possible) people who are for them, inside the church, to whom they can be accountable as they share with them, making opportunities for them to sit and listen to, question and encourage them. ‘Outside people’ cannot do this because they will not be there on the ground to watch and be there in it (and our natural tendency with ‘outside people’ is to only share with them things we are comfortable sharing).  ‘Insiders’ should be given permission to be honest, which doesn’t mean you have to follow everything they say but go away and weigh it – and you are more likely to get a realistic assessment. This is simply a safety measure and where it is real and there grows a close and open relationship, it will help guard against the temptations that the enemy would bring that has caused the downfall of so many leaders who did not have that protection.

And So? We have been considering how we can make the church what it is meant to be – a living expression of a relationship of people with their God, something that goes beyond simply mouthing words, and becomes reality that not only blesses the Church but also reveals the Lord to the onlooking world. May that become how it is for your local church and mine. But if we said the starting point for ‘church’ is making the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, we said, second, making ‘building people’ our second priority and that is what we will move onto in the next and concluding Part on ‘vision’.

18. Self-glory or…..

(We’ll put aside reflections on the Church and pick up John 7 again for the next week) 

Short Meditations in John 7:  18.  Self-glory or….

Jn 7:18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

I sometimes conclude a prayer of petition with, “Father, may it be for your honour and glory,” or “Lord Jesus so that your name will be praised.”  I do it not only because I want that but also so that it will act as a reminder to me that this is what it is all about. We would be foolish to think that we never have mixed motives but praying like this does act as a reminder (and challenge?) that we serve the Lord of Glory, not the other way round.

The crowd have wondered how Jesus can teach as he does and Jesus declares it is from his Father in heaven (v.16) and the person who is committed to God will recognize this (v.17). But then he speaks what is a general principle but one that directly applies to him.

It is very simple, a speaker who comes of their own volition, speaks on their own behalf and, therefore, for their own glory. One who comes at the behest of another, coming on their behalf, seeks their glory or prestige. Now the clear implication in the light of v.16 is that Jesus speaks to the honour and glory of his Father in heaven and, being His Son, he speaks absolute truth and there is nothing false either in him or in what he says.

Again and again we see it in the Gospels, Jesus speaking and pointing the world to his Father. He is not there for his own glory but for the glory and honour of his Father in heaven. That is what these three years of ministry are all about – about pointing people to the Father and revealing the love of the Father for them. It is that simple. His even bigger task will be to die on the cross to take the sin of the world, but before that he is there to testify to his Father.

Perhaps this should come as a challenge to us. Our temptation may be to see the woes of the world and seek to address them through the ‘Law’ of the scriptures and seek to remedy the world’s problems in this way, but that is inadequate. Simply saying, this is how we ought to be living, is inadequate.

We have the problems we have because mankind is at odds with the Father in heaven. It is only by coming back into a right relationship with Him – made possible by Jesus’ finished work on the cross and now administered by the Holy Spirit – can lives be truly changed and problems addressed. If this is not foremost in our understanding then everything simply becomes another ‘self-help’ approach and we might as well write a book, “Following God’s laws is the answer.” Well it isn’t, it is coming back to the Father.

23. Prayer

Short Meditations in John 6:  23. Prayer

Jn 6:23   Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.

What a strange verse! The next verse will show us that some of the crowd at least went off in these boats back across the lake to Capernaum, the rest of the crowd of five thousand presumably walked back round the Lake. If they were going to Capernaum they had a long walk. But why does John mention this detail? He wasn’t there, he was with Jesus back across the lake. The answer simply has to be that he later heard what had happened when these boats with some of the crowd came back across the lake. It simply happened; it is not something you would bother to make up.

But note also John’s description. These boats, however many there were, however big or small they were, landed on the shore in the close vicinity of the place where Jesus had been teaching and then feeding the crowd the previous day but John gives quite a different and almost strange description: the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks”. He doesn’t say, “the place where Jesus had performed the miracle,” for it seems he has something else in mind. He doesn’t even say “where Jesus had broken the bread and fed the crowd.”

The strange words that almost seem out of place are “after the Lord had given thanks.” Before a meal the head of the family would have given thanks for the food. John doesn’t record the Last Supper words about bread and wine (the other three Gospels have covered it adequately). Luke includes that (Lk 22:17,19) but also the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was only when Jesus gave thanks and broke bread that they realised who he was. It almost seems as if there is something significant about the way Jesus gave thanks. What could it be?

Well, I have taken to watching how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those – the most sadly – who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray’. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship with this latter group and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. Prayer was not formality for Jesus, it was a time when he spoke personally, intimately with his Father in heaven. Giving thanks was no mere formula, it was a sacred act of Son to Father, the Son of God to the Almighty One, ruler of heaven and earth, on whom he was as much reliant as we are. May we pray similarly.

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

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!

13. Prayer – He is here!

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 13. Prayer – He is here!

Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

A New Way of Looking: Oh no, you may be thinking, this is degenerating into basic studies about spiritual disciplines. Well, yes and no, Yes, in that we are going to consider one or two of those things that are often referred to as spiritual disciplines but no, in that we are looking – hopefully with fresh eyes – at these things as expressions of the ‘resurrection life’. Resurrection, remember, is all about power, God’s power, and so we will be looking at these things as expressions of the working of God and will try to see how the power of God takes us to a new, divinely supernatural level of experience.

Jesus’ Resurrection shows the Way: Why do I say that? Because that is what the resurrection of Jesus was, an expression of the power of God that first brought life back into the body of Jesus and then enabled him to do things that his human body had not been able to do before.  So now I ask the question, can we see prayer in this same way? Can we see ‘prayer’ as an expression of the power of God flowing through us and does it enable experiences to happen that cannot happen in the non-Christian?

Poor Prayer?  That challenges us to think just what prayer is. For many people prayer is uttering words into space and hoping for the best. The only thing is that that is exactly what unbelievers do in a crisis so if that is what we do, it puts us on the level of the desperate and superstitious unbeliever!

Prayer and God’s Presence: Let’s be as basic as possible. Throughout I hope I convey a message: “God first!” Whatever we are thinking about in the spiritual realm – start from God. When it comes to prayer, the starting point must be that He is there, or rather, He is here! He really is! So often, as I watch other people leading in public prayer, they shoot straight off speaking into the air, giving no thought whatsoever to the fact that He is HERE!

The ‘Presence of God’:  Instead of blurting out words, we can pause and sense His presence. Oh dear, we’ve just moved into an area that makes many of us feel uncomfortable, looking to feelings, senses, and that can be deceptive or questionable. Yes, of course it can, we can get it wrong but that can be true of anything, and so we simply have to learn!

So, OK I confess that very often, if I pause before launching into prayer, I will simply sense a simple quietness and, as nice as that is, that is all it is. However, I am also aware that there have been other times when it was considerably more than that, almost a tangible presence of God (and actually it is more than occasionally!). This is the thing, God is always present wherever you are, whenever you are; the presence of God is always there. But then there is what is sometimes called the ‘manifest presence of God’, God’s presence becoming manifest, made obvious, in some way.

An Example: A little while ago I was with a group of leaders in America and we were sitting around a table to discuss a way ahead, but we started in ‘prayer’. I simply said to them, “Let’s just be aware of the Lord with us shall we,” and then prayed, “Lord, please draw near to us.”  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (Jas 4:8 NKJV) All I can tell you is that there was an almost tangible silence that went beyond mere silence; it was a presence, His presence, and we just sat there bathing in the wonder of Him and it went on and on. In fact it became obvious that when I eventually called the leaders to ‘come back’ there was a visible reluctance to leave and move on. What we are talking about here is the supernatural presence of Almighty God which is wonderfully beautiful and awe-inspiring and simply inspires and releases worship of the heart (not the words or tunes only type of worship that is so common).

Becoming Aware: I think I have told this experience before in my writing, but it bears repeating. Many years ago I was witnessing to a young woman and although she was fairly receptive to what I was saying she said, “I just don’t seem to get it.” I think it must have been the Lord because I said, “Would you like to try an experiment. Humour me. I want you to pretend there really is a God and I want you to close your eyes and I will pray a few words. Then I want you to humour me with this experiment and you speak into the air some words that you think might constitute prayer, maybe starting, ‘God if you are here.’” She looked a bit embarrassed but agreed to do it. I said a few words out loud to the Lord and then went quiet. A moment or three passed and eventually she started and prayed something (I don’t remember what it was) and then there was a silence and then the sound of snuffling. Out of curiosity I opened my eyes and she was sitting there with tears streaming down her face and she whispered, “He IS here!” She went on to pray ‘the sinners’ prayer’.

The Effect of Talking to a Person: I believe it is vitally important to make this emphasis because so often when I go into a new church group I simply witness prayer meetings where people are just throwing words at the wall and there is no sense of the Lord’s presence and no sense of speaking to a PERSON who is there. The moment we start to catch the sense that we are in the presence of, and are addressing Almighty, Holy God, everything changes.

Change No.1 – we stop focusing on what we want, and it becomes what He wants. When we recognize we are in the room, if I may put it like that, with the all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God of the universe, it changes our perspective.

Change No. 2 – If He knows everything (and He does!) the only reason for telling Him all about the circumstance that troubles us, is to clarify it in our own minds; it is for our benefit.  If He is all-wise (and He is) then we realize we are foolish to tell Him what He ought to do (which is what so much modern prayer is!)

Change No.3 – when we start realizing these things, we realize that prayer needs to become as much about LISTENING as it is speaking. We briefly mentioned this yesterday, but we are now talking about the mystery of ‘listening’, another questionable area in the lives of many insecure modern Christians.

Let me give you an example. The prayer I find the Lord answers most for me is, “Lord, I need your wisdom. Please show me what you want me to do here.” The next thoughts that come, again and again, are thoughts about what to do – the wisdom needed. But it does need me to watch what is happening ‘between my two ears’! This is where faith comes in, because to take note and act requires faith.

Group Praying: Moving in this dimension in a group, corporately if you like, means we listen to God through each other. I often say to a group, “Let’s wait on God and listen, and then as you start to catch a sense of what direction, one person start off and when they finish, see if someone can follow on the thread they have started with.” When we ‘flow’ like that we then find the Lord releases faith and revelation and pictures start getting shared, awareness of direction comes, and more faith is released. Inevitably, direction of what we need to do, as an outworking of the revelation received, also comes and we are enabled to step out in life with a new sense of faith.  Prayer thus becomes more of a “what do you want Lord?” exercise, than merely uttering personal needs, but we’ll look at that as the next subject.

To conclude here – dare we step out in prayer in a dimension that is God-inspired, with revelation, insight, prophecy, knowledge, understanding (all things that come from Him) that make us different from the world around us, for this is what the Lord calls us to in this newly empowered resurrection life?