33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?

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?

2. Faith in the Unseen?

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 2 :  Faith in the Unseen?

Heb 11:1  Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

In our first study we considered, from the so-called ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews 11, that faith is being sure about something, about being assured of something. We went on to use James’ opening teaching to show how it must be without doubts.   We concluded with noting that our verse above has another whole side to it – the ‘hope’ and ‘unseen’ parts which we will now consider.

If I buy a new car and pick it up from the dealers, I know that the dealer will have filled up the tank and done everything to ensure the car will drive. The fact that I had a test drive in it before I actually bought it means that for me to now get into this car and drive it away is NOT going to be an act of faith. There is nothing unseen about this.

Now suppose one day I have a dream and in it I see a neighbour drop in and ask me to heal him (or her) from some particular affliction. I wake up and the dream still seems so vivid. I ponder on it and wonder if it was God speaking to me. Then there is a knock at the front door and it is that neighbour. I am astonished. They come in and we chat and in the course of our conversation they share they have this particular affliction. I say, “That’s interesting. Did you know in the Gospels in the Bible Jesus healed someone of this same thing?” “Wow,” they respond, “I wish he was still around.”  “Well, he is in one sense in that I am his representative. Would you like me to pray and ask him to heal you?” I reply.  My friend looks a bit uncertain but replies, “Well, yes, if you would,” so then and there I simply ask Jesus to set my friend free and I command the affliction to go. I open my eyes and they have tears running down their face. “I’m healed! How wonderful. Thank you.”

That was faith. Let’s examine the components of what happened. I ‘heard’ God in a dream. At least I thought that was what it might have been. But then the dream starts happening as my neighbour turns up. I am now alert. But even more, my neighbour starts talking about the very affliction I saw in the dream. I am now really on edge. This has to be God! Something is rising in me. I test the water a little more and talk about Jesus in the Gospels. How will they take that? Are they ready for this? Yes, they are!  I step out of the boat and pray for healing and of course, they are healed.

Faith doesn’t come in a vacuum. Yes, the object and outworking may be things you can’t see yet with your physical eyes, but often the Lord paves the way by speaking and then by lining up the circumstances. What was the ‘unseen’ thing here? Their being healed, for it was still future up until the moment I prayed. In that situation the key was the Lord speaking to me through the dream. It was then strengthened by the circumstances lining up, but it still required me to step out and do something that in any other circumstance people would call silly or presumptuous. I mean I can’t heal anyone but I BELIEVE that God can and does. Why do I believe that? Because I’ve read it many times in the Bible, and I believe the Bible is one form of God speaking to us and faith starts with God speaking.

When the writer to the Hebrews said it is about “being sure of what we hope for” he nailed the crucial thing about faith – it is about action in respect of something that either is not yet or has not yet happened. It is a future thing. Faith acts now to enable God to move and change a future thing. I am sure I’ve given this example before but it is so strong in my mind, please forgive me for reusing it. It happened many years ago when my wife and I were leading a two week summer mission for Scripture Union.

We had just taken over leadership and would have a team from around the country of about fifteen to twenty young volunteers. However the accommodation that had been used in previous years was no longer available and we enquired and enquired but could not find living quarters for one, let alone for this number. We had rung the local Tourist Information Office and they told us that because it was peak holiday season all accommodation across the area was already taken.  However one day I was walking into work in the City when I sensed the Lord speaking to me. Out of the blue crossed my mind, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, I have prepared a place for you.” As a young Christian I knew Jesus spoke such words in John 14:2 but this was an inaccurate quote and so without more ado I thought back, “But Lord your word says I go to prepare a place.” Back came, “Son, I have said what I have said. I HAVE prepared a place for you.”

I shared it with my wife that evening and decided we needed to write to all the volunteers (before e-mail!) and explain that we had no accommodation but believed God said He had provided it, so we were going. Would they check with their parents and if they felt happy about it, join us on the start day on the Welsh Coast. My wife and I set off twenty four hours early to see what God was going to do. Yes, there was nothing around but when we checked in on one of the smaller caravan sites on the edge of the village, the owner said, “Well, we are renovating two old buildings out back, turning them into future holiday chalets, one is complete and the other mostly complete, we could let you have those for the fortnight if you like, and we do have one rather old caravan that doesn’t usually get used but is serviceable that you could have.” Wonderful! Most of the team sorted! We tried the biggest caravan site in the area who said, “Well yes everything is booked up but we do have one that for some reason isn’t taken.” Done! When the team arrived at midday we were able to accommodate them all. Interestingly that first caravan site with the two holiday chalets became  our home for the next seven years.

I wish I could say I have faith like that every day but the thing about faith is that it is often scary and uncomfortable and, as John Wimber famously said, should perhaps better be spelt R-I-S-K.  Nevertheless it is a key element to the Christian faith, as we shall go on to consider more in the coming days.

10. Jesus the Intercessor

Meditations in 1 John : 10 :  Jesus the Intercessor

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have made reference to this verse before but it is so significant that we need to look at it in more depth now.   As a pastor for quite a number of years, it has always worried me, the lack of assurance that so many Christians have. It may be accentuated when they hear the challenges of the crusading atheists of the twenty first century, together with an unsympathetic media, but it arises, I am convinced, in people who have not been well taught.

The particular lack of assurance that comes to mind in the light of this verse is that very simple assurance that God is for you. Now to some this may appear stupid having to say this, but the reality is that there are many Christians who, when the way gets difficult for whatever reason (illness, negative circumstances etc. etc.), start to question what God thinks about them. They are suddenly unsure about His intentions towards them. It may be when you have been praying your heart out for something and no answer comes. It may be when everything suddenly goes pear-shaped. It is natural, it is human, at such times to question and even David the psalmist did it (again and again). It simply means we have to grab hold of the truth and let it bring us back into a place of reassurance.

Around the New Testament there are various such assurances. For our purpose the first one is here in this verse. John tells us that when we blow it, Jesus is speaking up for us to the Father. Note this: he does NOT sit there and moan about how useless we have turned out to be, but he speaks to the Father “in our defense” In a previous meditation I said, I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.”

When the apostle Paul was writing to the Galatians, he said, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). That is God’s intention that we be restored. He is for us – even when we blow it.

To the Romans Paul asked a rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) His clear implication, his starting point, is that God IS for us! Then he comes up with an incredible piece of logic: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (v.32)  You want to know how God is FOR us? He didn’t spare His own Son in bringing salvation to us. Now, as the outworking of that salvation, He just gives and gives and gives. Paul goes on about how God has justified us (v.33) and how Jesus is interceding for us (v.34) – just like John says – so that nothing but nothing but nothing can separate us from God’s love. THAT is how much He is for us!

Paul is telling us the same things that John told us in his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” (Jn 3:16-18) How can we think that God is not for us when He sent Jesus to die for us and has given us eternal life?  And what is that eternal life? It is life in His Spirit who He has given to us, who indwells us. You can’t get much more committed than that – putting part of yourself into those who previously had been your enemies!!!!

So when we get it wrong, don’t think that God writes you off; He doesn’t!   When you blow it, don’t think God’s big hand of correction is coming to smash you down; it isn’t. When you have fallen and are in the dust, don’t think you are all alone: you’re not! When any of these things happen, Jesus is there interceding with the Father on our behalf to send resources to restore us. Why? Because he loves us and has given his life for us!

You want to know what He feels about you as part of His church? Listen to Paul, recorded by Luke in Acts: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) There he’s only saying what we’ve read elsewhere but he’s put it in such a way that it triggers a further thought. Suppose, ladies, your husband went out to buy you a very special ring and, in the process of getting it, ended up being killed? How would you think about that ring?  I suspect it would be incredibly precious to you. You could never look at it without thinking of your dead husband. Yes, you will no doubt regret that he gave his life to get it for you, but now you have it, it will be incredibly precious to you. Don’t you think Jesus must feel the same way when he looks at us? “I gave my life to get you to this point!”

Wow! Gemstones are precious because they are rare and costly. Do you not think that God feels we are precious to Him, having gone to all the trouble He’s gone to, to save us?  Is He going to give up on us now, just because we fell over our feet? No way! He’s going to continue to do what He’s always done – everything He can to ensure we come through and finish the race.

That’s just the conviction that Paul had: “I always pray with joy ….. being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:4-6) I’m going to carry on praying for each of you, says Paul, because I’m convinced it is God’s will that He is for you and is going to keep on being for you until He’s able to complete it on the last day when He winds everything up. Until then, though, He’s for you and will keep on being for you!  He’s not a quitter! So get up out of the dirt, dust yourself down, confess to Him that you blew it, receive His forgiveness and His love and get on with life again. There’s lots more good stuff to come!

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!

33. Growing in Christ

Ephesians Meditations No.33

Eph  4:14,15 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Imagine you go to a garden centre and buy a small plant which, the attached label tells you, should grow into a large bush. You faithfully tend it and water it and do everything you should to it – but it doesn’t grow one bit. I think you would be disappointed or even annoyed. Why hasn’t it grown? Yet when we come to the Christian life, do we opt for no change? If we stopped every person going into every church in your area and asked them, “Excuse me, can you tell me how you have changed and grown as a Christian in the past three years,” I wonder what sort of answers you would get. I’m sure there would be some just bemused at the thought, and others defensive and others even angry at the thought that they needed to change!

Many years ago I started preaching what I believe the Bible teaches: God loves you just like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than what you are. Why am I saying this? Because the objective of the verses that we considered in the previous meditation ultimately take us towards maturity and these verses today speak of us growing up! Growing up is all about change.

This idea of us growing up comes in a variety of places in the New Testament: “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand,” (2 Cor 10:15) i.e. Paul expected their faith to grow. He also spoke about “the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Col 2:19). He expected the Lord to help the body (church) to grow.

The apostle Peter taught the same thing: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Pet 2:2)) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). The same idea was there when Paul spoke about us when he said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18) again indicating the expectation of us changing. The Christian life as something that is passive and unchanging is not a New Testament concept!

What are the alternatives to this ‘growing up’? Paul tells us: “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Of course if you look at the verses above you will see that this is part of his call that he starts off with no longer be…” He doesn’t want us to be like this, but this is what it is like when you don’t ‘grow up’. If we don’t ‘grow up’ we remain spiritual infants! He says we will be tossed back and forwards. What does that mean? It means in our thinking we will be unstable and we’ll think one thing one week and something else the next, because we haven’t been grounded in the truth and so we don’t know what to believe when new fanciful teachings appear on the scene or people come and try and put us off our faith. Satan’s original unsettling words – “Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1) are still heard today in a variety of guises – and of course the untaught spiritual infant doesn’t know what to believe, and so it is no surprise that they are blown one way and another.

This is especially true when the enemy demeans us and says such things as, “You’re rubbish, you’re a failure,” or “You’re a nobody and nobody loves you”. At such times the spiritual infant doesn’t know the truth and doesn’t know what to answer. What is the answer? That we grow up!

Yes, the alternative to remaining spiritual infants is spelled out: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” But what is the reference to speaking the truth in love’ about? Maturity comes through teaching and teaching takes different forms. Consider Paul’s famous description of the word of God: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim 3:16). Often we see this as a list of four different things the Bible is useful for, but in reality teaching involves the other three. Teaching involves rebuking (pointing out error), correcting (showing the right way) and training in righteousness (showing the way to live according to God’s ways). Becoming mature involves bringing our minds, our thinking and our lives in line with God’s will and that means change and to help that change come about, we need teachers who will speak the truth to us in love.

When that is a regular process in our lives, “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” i.e. we grow in our union with Christ and although we remain separate and distinct from Christ himself, we will harmonise with him in our thinking and our feeling and our actions more and more or, even as we noted above, we are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18). Maturity thus involves becoming more Christ-like as we grow.

So, to summarise, Paul is indirectly warning us against remaining as vulnerable spiritual infants, and exhorts us to grow up as we receive correction and training and become more and more Christ-like. It’s a challenge. May we rise to it!