|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 9: Am I Secure?
9.1 Facing Ourselves
We need to start with ourselves
In this chapter we start considering the whole question of our own personal security. We'll start by considering the reality of our own personal position and then go on to start to paint a picture of security. The past few chapters have had a lot of Biblical content and I'm aware they've been fairly solid, so this and the next chapter are going to have a lighter, personal touch about them. This isn't just academic theory, this is the core of Christian life - and we're human beings - so what follows is now going to have more of a human face to it.
Having said it will be lighter, I have to warn you that if you haven't recognised the hand of the Master Potter on your life, some of what comes next will be difficult. For others who identify with these experiences, what follows will hopefully come as a light in the darkness!
In considering the subject of a secure church we must start with ourselves. If we're going to try to create a secure environment for others, it seems fairly obvious that we have got to do what we can for ourselves first. As we approach this, we each probably fall into one of three possible categories. It may be that you consider you are already a secure person, perhaps you recognise that you are insecure, or perhaps you've never really given it any thought.
Suppose we believe we are secure. I wonder how true this is? When we say this we, again, open up several possibilities. Perhaps we delude ourselves, for in fact perhaps we're quite insecure. Perhaps we get our security from a wrong source. Perhaps we are actually mature in this area and have a right basis for our security, which is genuine.
Signs of Insecurity
Years ago I protested that I felt I was a completely secure person. It was only God, the years, and other people, who helped show me that this was far from the truth. So how do we know if we're not secure? There are various tell-tale signs:
The importance of this is, that until we face the truth about ourselves, we can't work in harmony with the Holy Spirit, at bringing change to us, and while we remain insecure, we create an insecure environment around us!
If we're a leader and if we've been leading for any length of time, hopefully we know we are there by God's calling, but in the course of time it's possible that we've taken our security from what we do. It's so easy to get our sense of self-worth from the area of specialist ministry we've moved into.
9.2 When Things go Wrong
Security from Ministry
The problem with getting our security from our ministry is what happens when circumstances force us to lay it down. It is quite possible to carry on serving God, and quite effectively too, while trusting in wrong things, but yet not realise it. God blesses and uses us while we are less than perfect! We carry on and think that everything is all right.
However, when a crisis comes, perhaps through health breakdown or simply change of circumstances, and we have to put down our ministry, we suddenly feel very vulnerable, almost naked as if the clothing was removed. For some it is almost too much and there is an accompanying breakdown of faith.
Security from Experiences
But it's not only ‘ministry', it can also be the reliance on some form of Christian experience. The end of the twentieth century was a period of superficiality in many parts of the Church and the shallowness was revealed for many by the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing'. The Lord probably had a number of purposes in bringing that wonderful time of refreshing to many of us, but I suspect that one of them was to reveal to us the superficiality of our lives. For many of us we revelled in the wonder and fun of what God was doing. We hadn't expected it, it wasn't of our making and we just enjoyed the wonder of it all. And then it stopped! At that point many of us felt bereft, like little children who had had their toys taken away from them.
Why can't refreshing or revival continue for ever? Because if it did we would put our trust in manifestations and not in the Lord Himself! In the last decade of the twentieth century there was much talk, even many prophecies, about coming revival, but as we went into the new millennium the word that summed up Christian life for many was “disillusionment”. The failure of revival to arrive coupled with the disappointment over the Toronto Blessing abatement was, for many, eventually too much.
So what does all this signify? Simply that for many of us there has been a shallowness in our spirituality, in our relationship with our Lord. We have relied upon gifts, ministries, manifestations but not upon the giver of them. When everything else is stripped away what have we got left?
When shaking comes
A couple of lovely Christian people moved into their sixties after years of knowing and loving their Lord and being an example to many people. Suddenly a series of devastating ill health incidents and accidents forced themselves on this lovely couple. Initially their response was to trust and pray, but as the darkness grew more and more intense it was not so easy to hang on. Eventually they started to question, “Lord, where are you? Why aren't you answering our prayers?” and despair began to impose itself on them. Will this ever end?
What was happening there? What was going on in these Job-type situations. As they were prayed for, a picture was given. It was as if on such occasions we are taken into a cell without windows. Everything we've known and trusted in is shut out, and then it starts getting dark.
A Presence in the Darkness
Eventually, there in the darkness, we find ourselves utterly alone and nothing of our past knowledge or experience is left. Yet, as we sit there in utter darkness and utter loneliness, with no reliance on anything, we gradually become aware there in that place we're actually not alone. Gradually we become aware of a Presence that is there. It is Him. He's not communicating, He's just there. Until that point we had heard with our ears, read with our eyes, considered with our minds, the wonder of Him. But now we just KNOW!
The knowledge of Him is the most precious thing that can be known to any man or woman on this earth, yet for most of us, most of the time, we're content with just the fragrance of His presence, the blessing that He declares over us, the gifts or ministries that He imparts to us. Our security is very fragile, based upon the gifts we've been given, not on the loving presence of the One who gave them.
9.3 Worked upon by the Potter!
Moulding is good to start with
Where does that personal, individual security come from? It comes through the years by the working of the Master Potter on the clay. There we were, a piece of clay. We were aware we were clay. When we came to Christ we had no illusions. We knew what we were like, but we had aspirations of what we would become. We dreamt of becoming great prayer warriors, great preachers, great evangelists and we knew it would all be for the glory of God! And as the years went by we sensed the hands of the Potter moulding us, we caught a glimmer of where He was taking or making us. Perhaps there was a prophetic word that came about our future and our hearts rose, “Yes, Lord!”
Moulding becomes painful
And then came the devastating disappointment! We felt we were unable to bear it. It felt like the Potter was dashing the clay on the wheel and starting again. We wondered what it was all about. Slowly, gradually, we regained some strength and purpose and direction again and we began to feel that at last we were moving in the divine purpose for our lives. For some of us we rose in gifting and ministry. For others we stayed where we were. For some it was heady excitement, for others the more humdrum existence. But then came the awareness, “This is not what I thought it was going to be!” Whether in ministry or the daily rat race, we wondered.
Values are changed
Some fearfully approached forty and looked back and wondered what it had all been about as they realised it is only the naivety of youth that thinks it is in control. Where had the years gone? What had been achieved? Is this that famed ‘mid-life crisis'? And as the years rolled on and the hands of the Master Potter continued to mould, you realised that the values of your life were something quite different from what you had first thought.
Whether the aspiring cleric at theological college, the brilliant technophobe pushing back the frontiers of the communications revolution, or the enterprising entrepreneur planning to make ten million before twenty five, the message eventually gets through. His goals are not my goals, His thoughts are not my thoughts, my ways are not His ways, and gradually we realise the most important issue is about bringing us in line with Him.
Trying to manipulate God?
Yet so many of us still try to manipulate Him, whether it be in trying to get Him to do what we want in ‘worship' or by berating Him for not doing what we feel He should be doing for us or in the lives of the people around us. God is probably the most ‘advised' Being in the entire universe!
But for those of us moving towards some degree of maturity we begin to realise that He is actually often more concerned with the process in our lives than the end product. We so often fasten our eyes on the future, on what we think He is trying to achieve and we forget that the most important thing is what is happening to us at this moment, and how we're responding to it. Today is the day of salvation, not twenty years time. Today He has brought me thus far and it's a good place to be, but I've a long way to go yet. Suddenly we realise we're not just clay, we're jars of clay (2 Cor 4:7), earthenware pots that are not very beautiful, but they contain the glory of the most wonderful Being in all existence. It is all about Him, not about us.
9.4 Some personal testimony
Let me tell you a few things the Lord has said to me over the years, things that brought a new awareness to me. I suspect the times when God speaks really formative things to us are actually few and far between. Look at how few times Abraham the “friend of God” has a recorded conversation with the Lord over his many years of walking with God.
Before I do this, I realise that at this point there may be some who think it presumptuous to say, “God said”. Well, all I know is that the Bible is full of “God said” situations and on occasion I have ‘heard' Him. How? In my mind. I'm going to record three very brief things I believe the Lord said to me and all I can say was that at the time they came like devastating revelation, beyond my natural understanding at that time, and they changed me!
a) Conversation over a crib
The first such conversation, and it was a conversation, came many years ago when we had our first child. Esther was just three months old. She was in her crib upstairs in our bedroom. On this particular occasion I crept upstairs as a new dad and peered into the room to check on my wonderful daughter. As I looked at her, I sensed the Lord speak to me.
“What do you think of her son?”
“Oh, I think she's wonderful, Lord”.
“What does she do?”
What a strange thing to ask. “Well, she cries a lot, Lord. And she regularly wakes us up in the middle of the night. She's always wanting to be fed and she makes terrible smells and needs changing.”
“And what do you think of her?”
Without a hesitation. “Oh, she's wonderful Lord. I love her”
“Because, she's mine.”
“And that's why I love you, Son. Because you're mine.”
There was a long silence and I was changed. I had read it in The Book. I had heard it preached dozens of times. I had responded to it many years before, but now these words had been said to me - personally to me. I am loved - simply because I belong to Him!
b) A Reading Interrupted
The years passed by. I moved into ‘ministry'. I am now ‘serving God'. On this occasion I was quietly minding my own business, reading a book. This particular book made reference to American evangelists who were caught at being less than perfect in their moral lives. As I read, righteous indignation seemed to rise within me.
Without being aware of addressing the Almighty, I was aware that I was thinking, “Lord, how can you use them!”
Before I had a moment to think further the Lord spoke very clearly back. “The same reason I use you!”
That sounded bad news. I wasn't expecting the Lord to turn up. I wasn't expecting to be spoken to.
This needed thinking about, but before I could think on, the Lord added, “Son, I use you not because you're right but because you're available.”
Again there was a long silence and I was changed.
The simplicity of it was devastating. For years I had tried to always be right, tried to get be excellent in all I did, and often felt bad when I missed the target. I was aware that so often I was trying to please God, trying to get Him on my side, trying to live up to His standards, trying to achieve a measure of righteousness, self-righteousness. Now I could afford to be wrong, I could risk just living in His love, risk missing the mark, knowing that I would still be loved! I was loved, even when I got it wrong!
c) A Question of Fasting
The third encounter was a more painful one. At this time I was travelling from time to time to minister abroad. Whenever we did this we prepared by a sustained time of prayer and fasting. Even before this time I had fasted for eight days seeking the Lord and so these preparation fasts were not a shock. On this occasion as I was thinking of preparing for the trip, I felt the Lord say “Son, you are not to fast.”
Now I don't know if you are like me, but I question what sounds dubious. I had come from the school of prayer and fasting. The Bible taught it, so I should do it. I concluded it must be the enemy. I would fast. After all, the Lord surely couldn't object to me doing something as spiritual as this, something His word clearly spoke about. I set aside a week to fast and seek the Lord.
Now whenever I had fasted previously, yes, it had not been the most glorious of experiences, but I coped with it without a problem. By the end of the first day I had usually felt hungry, and that was to be expected, but nothing beyond that. On this occasion though, after four hours I was a wreck. I felt violently ill and was literally crawling around on the floor in agony.
In desperation I cried out to the Lord, “Lord, where are you, what is happening, please help!”
A simple word came straight back. “Son, I told you not to fast. Stop it!”
The word was so clear and strong, I made for the kitchen and ate. The sickness went immediately.
As I sat there the word of the Lord came again, and this was the revelation: “Son, I will bless your obedience, not your spiritual acts”.
I was changed.
Suddenly I saw that so much of my life was doing things to get God on my side. Suddenly, and at times like this you know it's the Lord giving the insight, I saw that my security for ministry abroad had been the fact that I had fasted . It was not that the Lord was for me, not that He loved me and wanted to bless others through me more than I wanted to bless them. Suddenly it was like scales fell away from my eyes and I realised I could just go in His love, secure in HIS intentions for me and for this trip.
As we went, I was aware of a new sense of security, aware that I didn't have to prove myself to my heavenly Father. On that trip the Lord blessed my ministry more than ever before.
Some time later I went to do another trip abroad. Was I to fast? Was that just a one-off time? The word came, “You will not fast again until I tell you to.” And again the Lord blessed more than I had ever known before. I was now moving in a new sense of God's love for me. I was not perfect but I was more secure!
Now one of the amazing things about all this was that I knew all this stuff in my mind but it just hadn't grabbed my heart. In fact if you look at the things the Lord said to me, you'll see that they are remarkably similar:
Now the legalists among us at this point cry out, “But what about holiness? What about righteous living? How can God use an impure, unrighteous vessel?” The answer to that is that God IS working all of that into me but those aren't the grounds for His loving me, those aren't the grounds for His acceptance of me - or you! As He loves me, as He accepts me, I am being changed. Those are goals He has in mind for me, but they are goals and not conditions of His love. We'll say more about that in the next chapter.
9.5 And So?
So, as we come to the end of the chapter, what are the questions we ought to face ourselves with?
What is the basis of my security (genuinely)?
Serious questions that deserve some serious thoughts for a few minutes. Please don't rush by them, don't ignore them. Don't treat them as just words to be read and then passed by.