14. Place of Transformation

Wilderness Meditations: 14. The Place of Transformation

Isa 31:1,2  The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God

And So:  And so I believe we come to the end of this brief series of reflections about the experience and lessons of life in the wilderness, a life most of us would wish to avoid and yet, in 2020, a new life imposed upon us where for a while human resources were limited, freedom of activity was limited, and yet still a time where we learnt that the Lord was still there. For some of us it came as a shock, for others as a welcome respite from the busyness of the life that had been.

Transformation?  Have we been changed by the experience of ‘wilderness’? For the good? Are we more confident in Him or have we allowed ourselves to be almost overwhelmed by the uncertainties and fears? Have we seen this as a time of restriction or a time of potential for God to come and bring glorious transformation? Again and again the prophets of the Bible come out with these amazing pictures of the transformation that God promises. How do our hearts respond? Have we been become those who can reach out to others, or those who have become too beaten down by the circumstances that they need others to reach down into the cistern of mud and despair that they feel they are in, and carefully lift them up again? (see the picture of Jeremiah – Jer 38:11-13) Do the words of the prophets thrill our hearts with an anticipation from the Spirit that this is His goal for this time – transformation of us and the world about us. Let’s put three of these sets of verses before us and ask the Spirit to release faith in us as we read them:

 Isa 31:1,2 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” What an amazing picture from a land of silence, solitude and barrenness to one where life bursts forth. Have you ever seen one of those films that show life bursting out of the ground after the rains come? It is amazing. Can we pray for the rains to come now?

Isa 35:6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is no more than happened when Jesus came (see Mt 11:5) and no more that he said was possible for us (see Jn 14:12). Is it something we have been praying for or had we, as I suggested previously, allowed our expectations to be quashed by the enemy and the unbelief of the world around us? Read it again: healing and an outpouring of His Spirit. Now pray for it – and keep praying.

Joel 2:22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.”  The wilderness, He promises, is not one of dry lifeless existence, but a place where He seeks to bring transformation in and through His people, a church that is alive with the presence of God by His Spirit,  where life and vitality, fellowship and friendship, power, authority and revelation pour through the congregation of His people, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the world is impacted and transformed. Can we believe for that? Pray for it. Work for it.

Watch: But Joel’s word reminds us that often these things come gradually. How the Lord decrees His coming is up to Him. Maybe He will just suddenly turn up, maybe as in this word there will be gradual signs building and building. Gardeners and horticulturalists know this. They watch for the various stages of development; first the leaves form after winter, blossom appears and falls, tiny fruits gradually appear and grow bigger and bigger until ready for picking. Jesus nudged his disciples on one occasion, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” (Jn 4:35b) But that was after he had just said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?” (v.35a) Don’t look at the natural seasons, he was saying, just look at the people coming, there is the harvest.

Today? “He began to say to them,Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) Jesus had just read one of the Isaiah Messianic prophecies. Jesus has done his part; he’s come and done all that was necessary for salvation to be opened up to all who will come. Now we wait on him to see the next phase of his work and he continues to work in the midst of his enemies to bring in the kingdom. Elijah waited for the rain and as soon as he saw the glimpse of a small cloud (1 Kings 18:44) he knew the rest was about to come. Are we looking for it coming? Are we gazing at the horizon to see the signs of the coming of the Lord in power? In recent weeks I have started to make a note of the little signs that ARE appearing of Him moving in our midst in a new way. In the space of two weeks I have noted six specific things, six different people revealing the presence of God coming in a new way. He wants to come and transform the wilderness, He is coming, be alert, be full of faith (Lk 18:8), pray, watch, make ready, you may be His means of bringing it. Yes??? Yes!

14. Personal Provision

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 14. Personal Provision

2 Cor 12:9    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In the previous study we emphasized that the new resurrection life means a new awareness of the presence of God, and that especially in the matter of prayer and I am aware that in the things I was suggesting yesterday about prayer, it may be that you felt I was saying there is no place for asking for things for ourselves in this approach; quite to the contrary, we have a new confidence to ask things of our loving heavenly Father.

Paul’s Need: In Paul’s very personal second letter to the Corinthians he uses the word ‘grace’ eleven times and nowhere does it contain such significance as in our verse above. Let’s just define ‘grace’ very simply as God’s provision for His children. Now Paul had been suffering something he simply called ‘a thorn in the flesh’ (v.7). Now we don’t know what it was and many have speculated what it was, especially as he also refers to it as a ‘messenger of Satan’, but we will simply say, for the sake of what we are saying here, that it was something that was at its best, a nuisance, and at its worst something totally debilitating that pulled him down.

So, when the Lord says these things to him, we need to note two things that He says. First, whatever this thing is, God’s resources for Paul to cope with it are adequate. Second, and this is implied, the Lord isn’t going to take it away (at least not in the immediate future) because His power will be revealed in Paul’s weakness, i.e. he will still have it, but God’s power will be so obvious that he will be able to cope with it.

God’s Alternatives: Within this we can realize two important ways that the Lord works. Sometimes He delivers us from the situation (e.g. in Acts 12 He miraculously delivered Peter from prison) and sometimes He delivers us in it, i.e. He gives us the grace to cope while we are still in the midst of the trying, difficult or even apparently impossible circumstances. We may ask to be delivered from it but sometimes He wants us to learn to receive from Him the resources to cope with it or handle it while we are still in it or surrounded by it. These things are not only material, e.g. illness or infirmities, but they can be intellectual, where we need wisdom how to act, or they can be spiritual.

Temptation: An example of a ‘spiritual difficulty’ might be temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13) Note the basics of what he says here. First, we will never encounter anything that others have also not already encountered (“common to mankind”). Second, God will never allow anything beyond what we can bear. Third, He will always provide a way to cope with the temptation. So there it is, it doesn’t matter whether it is physical or material, mental or emotional or even spiritual, the message is the same, God WILL provide.

The Resurrection = God’s Provision: Now of course the greatest demonstration of God’s provision was in respect of the resurrection: “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death,” (Acts 2:23,24) so, if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Now whether that means now on this earth (e.g. perhaps in healing) or in eternity with new spiritual bodies, is open for debate, but the main thrust of the message is clear: God’s resource is His own Holy Spirit and He will be there for us to energize us now and into eternity.

Our Resurrection Provision: As Jesus exercises his rule at the Father’s right hand in heaven, we see and experience the fruit of that rule as his Holy Spirit is His provision: physical healing where he declares it, mental healing, similarly, healing of emotions, wisdom for the intellect, His power changing the circumstances or us in the circumstances, all of these being His provision, His grace in every and any circumstance.

Waiting: Now we have already said that sometimes His way through a crisis is to provide grace for us, whereas in other circumstances He may simply change the circumstance. Sometimes we may have to wait for answers to prayer to appear while at other times we will ask, and the thing will happen immediately. From our end of things, the big thing is, will we trust and remain faithful while we are waiting either for the circumstances to change or the resources to appear and be experienced? The big truth is that God IS there for us in the circumstances and He will move those circumstances or provide the grace to handle them: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28) The resurrection life is a life of provision. Not only has God brought new life to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit but that same Holy Spirit is also the channel and means of God’s ongoing provision in our lives.

New Possibilities: Once we fully take this in, life is never the same again. The truth is that we no longer have to put up with the circumstances as they are. The Scriptural testimony is clear: our God delights in stepping into our circumstances and either changing them, and/or changing us. Now, because the Christian life is a partnership between us and God, we have a part to play, and that part is called faith and faith involves learning. Faith means reaching out to God but sometimes that means persevering, but that is another story!

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?

39. Love & Death

Meditations in 1 John : 39 : Love and Death

1 John  3:14,15   We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

The word ‘life’ appears 12 times in this letter. Death just appears twice here and three times in chapter 5. John’s focus is, therefore, very much on life, but here he contrasts it with death. We have seen how a number of times he contrasts light and darkness; well now he does the same thing with life and death. Of course this is spiritual death he refers to because he says “we have passed from death”.  We had been dead but now we are alive. Link this with the light and darkness concepts and think of death being like living in the darkness of a cave. That was not where we were designed to live but sin had imprisoned us there. Through the work of Jesus on the Cross we have now been delivered out of that cave into the open air, into the light where we are free to enjoy the world as God designed us to do.

Let’s chew on this idea a bit more. The psalmist uses this idea of a big open place to contrast the imprisonment he felt when opposed or oppressed: They confronted me in the day of my disaster… He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psa 18:18,19) and “You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” (Psa 31:8) Life means enjoying the freedom of God’s world in the way God has designed us to enjoy it and that includes enjoying Him. Spiritual death refers to being unable to sense things – a dead man senses nothing – unable to sense the goodness of God’s world, unable to enjoy it as we’re designed to, unable to sense God Himself. Yes, we have passed from death to life.

But that’s only the start of what John is saying. He has been talking about being children of God (v.10), loving one another (v.11), evil Cain hating his brother in the same way the world sometimes hates us (v.12,13) and now he says that this expression of our love for our brother is a sign of how we have come out of death and live in life. In other words, now we live in this big place of light and freedom, we are freed from the things of darkness (hatred) and are free to enjoy and indeed love those close to us.

Of course the other side of the coin refers to those who don’t love. Anyone who doesn’t love, says John, is still in that old place of death. Real, genuine love is one of the indicators of just where a person is – in life – and if they do not have love it is obvious that they have not come into life and are still spiritually dead.

Spiritual life is the very presence of God Himself in our life, the presence of the Holy Spirit living out His life in us, and again, as we have noted before, later in the letter John says “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). He brings life to our spirit and we start to become aware of the Lord and of His will for us, the wonder of His plan and purpose for our lives but if we have never invited Him into our life, then we are still spiritually dead. This is such a fundamental teaching in the New Testament. But when His life comes to us His love also comes to us. With God, life and love come together. Likewise death and the absence of love go together. Love is always outward looking, wanting the best for others. The absence of love is self-centredness, wanting the best for me. When we come to Christ we lay down our old self-centred life and it dies and it is replaced by the God-energised life which is always outward looking and looking for the wellbeing of others.

Now John pushes this a stage further to show how bad hating another is. He has already recently mentioned Cain who was jealous of Abel and hated him and eventually killed him. So now John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”  If you actually hate someone you want their destruction and so whether you have got round to achieving it or just think it in your heart, you are still a murderer, at the very least a potential murderer, but that is what you want to achieve at the end when you hate someone. When we get to this place of hating someone we want to get rid of them from our life, our wishes are for their destruction, for them to be removed from us. Hatred can be the outworking of upset and hostility and breakdown in relationship. When we have been deeply hurt we can want the source of that hurt to be removed from us, to end the hurt, we want their death and although we may not have done it, we hold the desire for murder in our hearts.

But, says John, you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.  Eternal life is the life of God, of the Holy Spirit living within us. If we hold such feelings and desires, we stand in opposition to God who desires life and love for everyone. While we hold such feelings we quench the Spirit and deny Him access in us. Hatred is darkness and light and darkness cannot exist together. If we have been hurt and hatred arises in us, we must seek the Lord for His grace to be able to come to a good place and good attitude towards the one who has offended us, because until we do, we are living a stunted life. The amazingly good news is that in such situations the grace of God is still working to draw us back into a good place. We may not realise the darkness we are living in, the lack of His life flowing in us, but He will be working to show us our state and bring us to repentance to release that person so that they too might come to repentance and seek our forgiveness, but until they do we must ensure we hold a good attitude towards them because God’s love wants to reach them as much as He wants to reach you. Let Him bring it.