|Series Theme: Probing Deeper Meditations|
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 1. Obedient?
Mt 28:19,20 “ go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
For some time now I have found myself wondering, ‘what will it take for God to be able to use us, His church, if He comes in renewing power?' It is a thought that has rattled around in the back of my mind and just won't go away. It is a thought that has unnerved me for two reasons. First, because I don't know the answer (yet) and, second, something in me suggests that we, the Church need to change.
Now this latter thought is not just because I sense the Lord wants us to change (although I am sure He does), and not just because I hear ordinary people coming out the other side of the Covid-Pandemic making healthy noises about not wanting to return to the old style of ritualistic and legalistic services we became used to, but because I sense there is something so much more glorious that I believe the Lord wants to do in and through us in this desperate world that seems in so many ways to be unravelling.
But behind all these thoughts I find this unnerving wondering when I open His word – do we believe this and is our absence of belief the cause for so much of the powerlessness we find in the church? These are the things I believe we are going to have to consider in this month ahead, and I am going to discipline myself to cover this in a month.
So I return to my starting question: ‘what will it take for God to be able to use us, His church, if He comes in renewing power?' and I think the starting answer (and there may be many more answers) is obedience. But then as I have pondered on Scripture I have wondered, “How?” I hope you'll see this as we go through this month – if you dare come with me. I have few answers but many questions, which is always uncomfortable, but is a good starting place.
Whatever ‘brand' of Christian we are, can we start by pondering, dare I seek to be obedient to ANYTHING I find in scripture? This is not to produce guilt, but to face the reality we may need more of God's grace than we thought previously. I do need to emphasise this. If you find some of the verses I am going to put before us, dispiriting because you don't know the ‘how', please don't be put off but simply put these things on the back-burner so to speak and pray over them and ask the Lord to give YOU revelation: why are we not doing this particular thing, why is it not real to us, what do we need to do to bring our lives in line with His revealed will?
Again, things not to make us despondent but perhaps things we can see as God's curriculum for the kingdom, things He wants us to learn and DO (obey). Come with me. Pray for grace and look upwards.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 2. Hesitant?
Mt 21:28:29 “He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' ‘I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.”
My tendency in these meditations has always been to take a thought, deal with it in one study, and then move on to the next one. It's probably what we do with most sermons. The trouble is that we then fail to take in the thought and work it through. We rarely absorb, chew over, apply, and act upon thoughts like that. I recently asked someone about a sermon of three weeks ago. They couldn't remember a thing about it! We need to pause up and think more deeply; after all the title of this series is ‘Probing Deeper'. We dare not just skim the surface and then move quickly on.
‘Obedience' is a slightly unnerving subject – but critical in the kingdom of God. This parable from which our starter verse comes, told by Jesus, has two sons, the first of whom openly says, ‘No!' but then changes his mind and goes. He is praised.
I have a sense that many of us, if we can be honest, will have shied away from some of these verses we are going to look at, but my feeling is that the Lord stretches out his hands to us and says, ‘Take them and let me lead you into a new reality.' Dare we take his hands? Dare we far more deeply and honestly think about some of the verses of Scripture that we normally skim over because we are uncertain of them or, more importantly, we recognise they are alien to our twenty-first century experience as Christians.
What are we saying here? Many of us, I am sure, live lives of semi-guilt where we hide away in the woods so to speak, lives where we know deep down we are not expressing the life and wonder of the kingdom where we could let the Spirit bring revelation to us and truth bursts forth like a volcano. No, instead we are like a tree hidden in the woods, a tree like all the other trees who fear being replanted out in the open of the world so that we interact with the world and there we bear the fruit we were designed to bring.
As we read our Bibles – and we do that daily because we are good Christians – we come across verses that we either don't understand or just seem beyond us and so we skitter away like a frightened deer, afraid to stop, be still and let the wonder, the awfulness or the potential of the word envelop us and transform us. If I did this – if I was obedient to this word – I might never be the same again and, if I am honest, I fear what might be. But, as in this parable, I change my mind and go and work in the vineyard I may know a level of fruitfulness I've only ever yearned for but never experienced – so far!
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 3. Words or Acts
Mt 21:30 “ Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,' but he did not go.”
Again the temptation is to move on to something else – do we tend to look and say, “Oh, no not again,” or do we think, “Ah, great, another opportunity to probe more deeply into some of these things we so often take for granted. If we may, let's follow up on this same short parable and ponder on ‘the other son'.
Again I am trying to be patently honest here – I have a horrible feeling that we get so used to Sunday sermons that we take them like a quick snack. We hear them and then move on to something else a bit later, forgetting the truths we heard before. The problem with that, is that we give a token commitment to the teaching but like Jesus ‘seed on the path' (Mt 13:4) we allow it to be snatched away so we do nothing with it – and certainly don't think and pray it through to a conclusion of obedience, i.e. let it bring a life change in us. So we say yes to ‘the father' but in reality don't end up serving in the vineyard. Hmmm.
Sometimes – maybe the majority, I don't know – the word we hear preached or the word we encounter in our reading is for the ‘now', for this immediate moment. I think of Mary speaking to the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Do what he tells you.” (Jn 2:5) That is a good example of contemplating obedience. It was clearly an instruction for the moment and when they obeyed Jesus, a miracle took place. And yet, as we think about it, it is an instruction, even a principle, to be applied to our lives generally – do whatever Jesus tells you.
But the point about our second verse and the second son is that he appeared to acquiesce here, agreement or compliance with the father's wishes, but they are only in the words and they never get translated into action. The result was that the son never went into the vineyard to work.
As a gardener, I find a great sense of achievement, if not fulfilment, in clearing up the garden, pruning the trees or bushes that need pruning, pulling out the weeds or briars. I feel like, in a minor way, I am complying with the creation mandate (Gen 1:28). I therefore like the thought of the son who goes to work in the father's vineyard to help working to produce a crop of grapes, father and son working together, a beautiful picture, a picture of harmony. But it is a picture that the disobedient son – the son of words only – does not enter, does not experience. He misses out on that. I think I may have said before that I wonder if we need a sermon on “The Things we are missing out in in today's church life.” I am sure there are many things we are missing out on because, often inadvertently, we are failing to be obedient.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 4. Fruitful?
Jn 15:8 “ This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit.”
I am aware in a recent series we covered this but I consider it now as a follow-on to Jesus's parable we've just looked at in Mt 21:28-30 where the father calls two sons to ‘work in the vineyard'. It is an interesting picture that Jesus uses, that of a vineyard, a picture Jesus often used for his parables, e.g. Mt 20:1- employers workers for the vineyard, then Mt 21:33- the unfaithful tenants, or the unfruitful vineyard in Lk 13:6,7. In some of them at least the vineyard is clearly shorthand for the nation of Israel, but in Jn 15, as we commented in the earlier series on the Last Supper, the word fruit occurs 8 times as Jesus makes the point that in our close relationship with him, a natural healthy expression of that relationship, is that we bear fruit.
So, for the sake of space can we just ponder briefly on the ‘fruit' that our lives bear. Through the time of the Pandemic, my wife and I have prayed every morning, “Lord, please bless this day and guide us so we look back on this day with a feeling that it has been fruitful and fulfilling.” Most days that prayer was answered and in the evening we had that feeling of achievement, fruitfulness, fulfilment. When our daughter was very small, when she enjoyed her food, her most common words were, “More, more, more!” Can we pray that for today?
But what, you might be asking, is the fruit that we should be talking about? What is it that we should be praying for? Well, to start with there is the ‘fruit of the Spirit': “ love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Gal 5:22,23) or as Paul put it elsewhere, “the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth,” (Eph 5:9) and prayed elsewhere, that we be “ filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:11) or more generally, “ bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10)
In respect of this last very general reference, I came across an interesting description in a devotional book about some nuns. The author wrote, “Their vocation is not their career. Their vocation is Jesus. And the different jobs along the way are simply assignments, one not necessarily more important than the other. Each assignment is merely an opportunity for them to say yes to him.” Wow!
Do you see the link to the subject of obedience we've recently been considering? Perhaps simply seeing each day as a gift from God but also as an assignment in which we may bear good fruit, might be a new way of looking at life for some of us. Can we dare pray, “Lord, please enable me to have a sense of purpose and achievement and indeed, fulfilling fruitfulness, in this day”?
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 5. Glorifying?
Jn 15:8 “ This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit.”
At a very basic level our lives are who or what we focus on. My neighbour, an unbeliever in anything other than themself, focuses on just living and that involves them making myriads of decisions every day and what they will think, do or say. It is a life based on self and so it is full of ups and downs, often more downs than ups. Their self-environment is constantly being invaded or interrupted by what the rest of the world says or does and their life is often like a small boat bobbing about in a stormy sea.
But then my friend, a Christian believer, is somewhat different. Yes, they make myriads of mundane decisions every day and yet there in the background their whole focus is looking heavenwards to the One who is there, the Lord of Creation and His Son, their redeemer. From time to time they turn towards Him and speak, from time to time He, by His Spirit, brings information or direction into their innermost being. But then, undergirding this two-way interaction, there is the growing awareness that HE knows everything, knows best, He is the wise one of this partnership, and He is wonderful. In fact the more they go through life and the more this interactive relationship is worked out, the more they realise the wonder that the One revealed in the Bible is exactly who He is and He is amazing. This One doesn't just exist in the misty realms of our wonderings, He is really there and He is as glorious as His word so often declares.
There is a Christian song with the lyrics, “In my life Lord be glorified.. be glorified today. In your church Lord be glorified.. be glorified today.” I fear sometimes we utter words but they fall short of meaning. We are touching on the most fundamental and basic things in the Christian life in these early thoughts. The Westminster Larger Catechism starts, “Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man? Answer: Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever,” but to do that means that first we have to catch this wonder of who He is and bring our lives under His sovereign rule and that is where we come to listen to Jesus as he talks about us being fruit.
It is fruit that flows out of what I have referred to as this interactive relationship, fruit that is born, grown, created, through this relationship and when it flows out of it, then it will truly glorify the One whose life flows in us to bring it.
Does my life do this, does this happen? I am sure it does, it is just that often I'm not aware of it. How can I do this? Do I want to do this? Can I be honest? Is this true of our church experience as well? Simply questions to ponder as we go on.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 6. Believers? (1)
Jn 14:12 “ I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”
This I find one of the most unnerving verses of the New Testament. For Jesus' works see Lk 4:18,19 & Mt 11:5. Now my escape clause for this is that we are all part of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) and I only have some of the gifts and others have other gifts, so we can only do parts of the whole. But the question then follows, am I functioning in this body alongside others also being inspired and empowered by the Spirit so that collectively we are together doing these works that Jesus spoke of? Are we seeing lives being transformed by our activities as the Spirit leads? If not (and I suggest not) we need to do some serious thinking and praying. Not guilt, but goals.
Now having said this it seems we've said all that needs saying, but the truth is that in the same way the Bible will often cover the same ground, so it is scriptural to do this, for the apostle Peter did just this (2 Pet 1:12-). So let's look again, perhaps more deeply.
“Whoever believes in me.” That seems a simple starting point and I suspect most reading these notes would say, “I believe in Jesus!” But why therefore do doing the works of Jesus make many of us feel uneasy? Yes, we can use my escape clause that I used above, but nevertheless we realise it is just that, an escape from responsibility. In the first three studies we considered obedience and then in the last two the thought of fruitfulness. If we sit in the ‘pews' Sunday after Sunday, and are just nice and good people but otherwise we leave our ‘religion' hanging in the wardrobe for our next ‘church' experience, we know deep down that somehow we're missing something, there must be more than attending services? There is. So what are these works that I may be doing?
I suppose the most commonly accepted one is sharing your faith with unsaved family, friends, neighbours, workmates etc., and we covered creating an attitude of faith and expectancy in the previous series entitled ‘Purposing Change'. We take opportunities and make opportunities to do this.
But a less common but very simple ‘work' is praying over people and asking the Holy Spirit to come with revelation or power and then watch the changes taking place. As I said previously that may involve us proclaiming the truth to set free (Jn 8:32), testifying to the truth to overcome (Rev 12:11), commanding things to happen (Mt 21:21), binding the enemy (Mt 18:18), loosing people or situations (Mt 18:18) and pronouncing Jesus' name as our authority (Jn 14:13 etc.). This may be a simple faith-learning starting place.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 7. Believers? (2)
Jn 14:12 “ I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing .”
We mustn't ‘pass by on the other side' and ignore this wounded verse, so often left by us at the wayside, written off as for only done by apostles and prophets. I always remember what one old sage said: “Careful you don't write off that young person, they may be tomorrow's apostle or prophet. If you troubled to look up Jesus' works in Lk 4 & Mt 11 yesterday, your natural defense mechanism may have been, “I can't do those things!” Put aside the ‘body thoughts' of yesterday for a moment. If you have been in the boat on the lake when Jesus came walking by, after Peter got back in the boat again, might your thought have been, “Oh blow! That could have been me!” When Jesus says, “Come”, you can. Am I listening I wonder?
There may be some for whom your faith is a little shaky and I don't want to undermine it and disturb a fragile conscience, but I am calling to those of possibly more robust faith, faith that is there and sure and in this whole series I am trying to stand before the Lord with an open heart and with transparent honesty. I love the church, I have been a leader in it for many decades but I look back with sadness that comes with hindsight and see that for most of those decades I faithfully – yes faithfully – served the Lord and planned and led services, Bible Studies, Prayer Meetings, evangelistic outreaches and so on.
However, as I have waited on the Lord and as I have looked at what we have done and the fruit we have NOT seen, and the way we have largely left our communities untouched in any major way, I have become more and more convinced we have fallen short. Short of what? Of becoming the church we see in the New Testament (and yes I have heard the excuses made about those churches being imperfect which was why Paul wrote so many letters).
The big picture is there calling to us – a community of God's people who are referred to as ‘the body of Christ', called into existence to express Christ as our starter verse says: “ whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing .” We lack the divinely supernatural dimension of this gifted body, led by Spirit-anointed ministries of apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher or evangelist, moving with revelation and power, the two things only the Spirit can bring.
THIS IS the teaching of the New Testament and if we struggle with that, then we really do have a ‘belief' problem. The answer? Well part of it at least has to be to acknowledge our shortcomings and to call out to the Lord, “ I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). This is not about creating shame but about releasing faith.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 8. Abiding (1)
Jn 15:7 “ If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ”
I have to confess that this is the verse that set me off down this path, when we considered it a little over a month ago. Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you!!!! I think when we ask for things, more often than not, we are asking out of desperation over our own circumstances and I am not sure we see lots of answers to prayer (we'll tackle healing later), and so I find myself pondering am I focusing on the right things and the big question in this verse, do I know what it means to remain in Christ or ‘abide' in him as older versions said? No smart answers, just setting up the curriculum of the kingdom. We'll think some more as we go through the month.
But with meditation you can focus on one simple word and immense challenges follow and it is true here of that starting word, ‘if'. The starting place of ‘if' is the assumption that there are two paths that can be chosen to be followed and we have to choose just one of them. And so I turn our minds to the recognition that is behind this whole series that actually in the modern church (and perhaps before) it is common to ignore this verse and not let our minds go into its depths, and so the truth of our experience is quite likely that we do NOT ‘remain in Christ', we do NOT ‘abide in him'. Please, this is not seeking to stir up guilt but to simply ask us to be honest about the depth or otherwise of our daily experience.
Remaining or abiding has a sense of resting about it, about having arrived at a place of peace ‘in Christ' but, as we gaze back over the period of the Pandemic and its subsequent lock-downs and restrictions, that was a testing ground, testing hearts, testing location and identity, if you like, and by the comments that are made, very many of us were found wanting. It was not peace that reigned in us but fear or anxiety.
Even only yesterday I was told about a young man who just collapsed mentally because of the struggles he had been through in life that were dragged to the surface by the pandemic conditions. Now he happened to be a non-Christian, but how many of us believers have been in a place of stress and strain in this past year and a half?
Abiding means dwelling in a place of peace and security ‘in Christ', aware of his ever-present care. I find myself praying for the ‘p's that we need: his presence, his peace, his provision, his protection and his power. All of these things come as we ‘abide' in him, rest in him, are aware of his presence there with us, aware of his stated intentions towards us, aware of him drawing us into his plans and purposes. This awareness comes as we learn to rest in him, remain in him.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 9. In Christ
Jn 15:7 “ If you REMAIN IN ME and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ”
I don't know what things you have ever felt part of. We can be ‘in' something and yet not feel part of it. We can be in a family and yet somehow not ‘feel' part of it, we can be in a club or a class or a church and yet, although we ‘participate' we don't really feel part of it. I wonder if that is how we sometimes feel about being part of ‘the body of Christ'. Yes, we know as believers we are members of ‘The Church' but it is supposed to be something more than this. This being ‘in Christ' means we are one with him, one with the Son of God himself, and thus with the whole Godhead.
Remain in me? Well we did touch in this in some measure yesterday but to really anchor it within us, we need to keep thinking about it. so yes, the New Testament speaks of me as being part of Jesus' body (e.g. 1 Cor 12:27) and he is our head (Eph 4:15). But remain in him? What does that really mean for my daily experience?
Am I sensitive to him as my ‘head'? Can I learn to listen to him in a new way, that I catch his heart and flow with it? Can I perhaps pray for that at the beginning of the day and then jot down what I've heard by the end of the day? I'm sure that these sorts of things, these ‘words' are sometimes for that day and sometimes to learn of the bigger picture of my life, and more often than not they start with his words of acceptance and approval of me, as amazing as that is. Can we each learn to hear such things – daily?
On Father's Day this year – not some day I particularly celebrate usually – as I came downstairs in the morning I heard the Lord say to me, “This is Father's Day and I am your Father.” It was simple but significant and as I sat in prayer I bathed in the wonder of being His son, and then of the wonder of my own human father's love, who I am sure I never fully appreciated. Hold on, I sense you say, this is supposed to be all about abiding in Jesus ? Yes, but that's what happens when you are consciously abiding in him, you get the whole package, Father and Spirit as well, there is no differentiation.
I had come downstairs from a restless night's sleep in need of a sense of peace and as I bathed in His presence and prayed and listened, I was conscious of a tremendous peace – Him. In Him we have all things, we are told, and sometimes when it happens just like that, we find we need ask for nothing because He is everything we need, but that sense only comes as we ‘abide in' Him. It comes with our submission; it comes in silence and it brings anticipation and then provision. This is just one expression of ‘abiding in him'.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 10. His words
Jn 15:7 “ If you remain in me and MY WORDS remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ”
Forgive me if I make a false assumption about you if I appear to make an all-inclusive statement. I don't mean to offend but the very genesis of this series comes from observation and, I hope, listening to the confirming words of the Lord. My feeling from my listening to people and observing their apparent approaches to the Christian life is that there are relatively few who have that often considered old fashioned ‘quiet time' in the morning.
I feel that is sad because I watch and listen and observe the struggles many believers have with modern life and I am absolutely convinced that their absence of peace would be resolved in two ways. First, if they spent time offloading to Him early in the morning and learning to sense His presence and listen to Him in such a time. Second, if they cultivated an approach to life of ‘practising the presence of God' in the rest of the day, being a way of living in His light, with His eyes on you, and His wisdom and power available to you. Both are different expressions, I believe, or ways of working out this idea of resting or remaining or abiding in Him that John speaks about.
But now he speaks about Jesus' words abiding in me. His words remain in me? Well yes. Yesterday we pondered briefly on learning to be sensitive to Jesus speaking into me. For some of us, if we write a journal we'll only catch something once a week, for others it will be daily – but it is a learning process. But note it is WORDS we're writing down, words that we sense convey something with which HE wants to encourage us, guide us, help us. This is where the parable of the Sower comes in. We must make sure these words are not lost to the enemy or to daily worries. He wants them to build faith in us.
So to extend my initial concern that I started out with today, not only do I fear there are few who really benefit from ‘the Quiet Time', that time in the presence of Gd early in the day, but I also fear there is a dearth of experience of Christ as a living partner with us throughout the day. I have observed this recently in this way.
If your church leader asked at the Sunday morning service, “Is there anyone who has a testimony from this past week of the Lord's blessing, or of some truth He has imparted to you, either for the first time or perhaps as a renewal of understanding, or is there anyone who senses they have a word from the Lord for us that will comfort, strengthen or encourage?” would you be able to be a responder? You may need to read this paragraph again to take in it's scope but these are things we become aware of when we abide in him.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 11. Whatever????
Jn 15:7 “ If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ASK WHATEVER YOU WISH, and it will be done for you. ”
There may be some who read these meditations regularly and you may be saying, Hey, didn't we cover all this stuff in a recent series on lessons from the Last Supper, and the answer is yes, we did but the fact is that I believe these words that many of us have possibly read many times, are nevertheless words that are frequently not understood and certainly not applied. If we dare call these studies, ‘Probing Deeper' we need to keep hanging around this particular street corner until it becomes so familiar it becomes a place of security and fruitfulness and reality.
In the previous series we dealt with it in the reverse order – asking and then abiding but for the last few days we've been focusing on the abiding part of the verse. Now we come to the part that kicked off all my thoughts down this particular path – asking. I think it did that because we hear a lot of calls for prayer for our loved ones who are either sick or going through difficult times and it strikes me that so often we pray almost superstitiously or as a last desperate measure. Now don't hear me wrong, I think it is fine for little children to cry out to ‘Daddy' when they are in need, but the more we grow up, the more we mature, the more prayer should be a natural flow of our lives and not just when we need a life belt.
So now we focus again on this amazing statement that if we ask whatever we wish, it will be done for us – and that is the hope of those praying for their sick etc. No, that hope should simply be in a loving heavenly Father who cares. This amazing statement, almost more than any other scripture, needs to be read in context.
No, this is not about having a luxury yacht or similar, because if I have been learning to be sensitive to him, to catch and hold on to his words, then it will also mean that his presence and his will, will have taken on a new importance in my life and so what I ask, I will now be asking FOR HIM, not for me. When I am truly asking for him, then he promises it will be done. Why? Because he has a different agenda: to honour and glorify the Father and to bless others around me. So perhaps my prayer life will take on a new direction: Lord what do YOU want to do, what do YOU want to happen, what do YOU want to do in and through me? Whoops, the world just went upside down!
Do you see this? It is momentous? It changes us from pleading, often grovelling, uncertain orphans, into children of God who are more concerned for their Father's wishes and learn to realise that His heart is so big, there are much bigger things to pray. For another day.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 12. Leaders praying
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” (Jas 5:14,15)
We need to see this in the context of what we have been considering these recent days, not as some abstract verse with no context. Let's be honest, this is another of those verses that says the modern church (us) is not what it could be. I mean, how many churches do you know where regularly the elders pray over anyone who is not well and they are healed? And let's not go anywhere near the Pandemic! Yet we have just been reflecting on what may happen when we ‘remain in him' when we ‘abide in Christ' – fruitfulness, things enabled by God. Surely this is such an example?
I did warn you this might be uncomfortable. If you consider yourself a leader, great, but first, how many sick people have you prayed over (and there are quite a lot around!) and second, how many have you seen healed? Of course we need to create an environment of expectation and obedience first and need to start praying over any sick person who calls, and perhaps, just perhaps, we might start seeing the church being transformed – and then people queuing up outside for prayer – just like they did with Jesus.
Yes, let's do what we have started to do again and again in this series, go back over the basics that we have stated and seek to take it deeper. Let's have a little realism: expecting sick people to get well normally in life only comes when accompanied by a doctor and a course of medicine or other treatment. If we can touch on the mental realm in passing, we expect people with mental problems to go to a therapist for weeks if not months or (and I sometimes hear) years.
To pray over someone and expect instant physical or mental changes is the realm of faith and it seems largely lacking from the church and one cannot help but wonder why? If you do a little digging in history – and that includes modern history – you will find numerous examples of God moving in healing crusades or through individual ministries and people were healed or delivered instantly. No what we need here is a change of perspective, a godly perspective that when God's word says something, we believe it and act on it.
One of the things Jesus did more than anything else apart from teaching was healing people, so why do we have such an aversion to stepping out in faith in prayer and giving him the space to continue that healing ministry? If we are leaders we need to start doing it and keep on doing it until real faith grows in us and we see its fruit. May it be so!
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 13. More about prayer?
1 Pet 3:7 “ so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
We have considered, earlier, that so often our prayers are ‘please help me' rather than the ‘please show me how to serve you' and as someone said to me only this day, the trouble is in church we hear lots of requests for prayer but rarely do people tell of answers to prayer. Now this may be that (a) they simply can't be bothered to report back or (b) they feel it is a bit super-spiritual to talk of ‘getting answers' or (c) they simply didn't get answers. In other words the prayer part of the Christian life is frequently not so clear cut as we'd like it to be.
Now I remember many years ago in an early book I read on prayer, the writer giving the illustration of ironing. If while doing the ironing (assuming you do such a thing) you were using an electric iron and suddenly found it having no effect on the item you were supposedly pressing, you wouldn't turn round and say, “Oh dear the iron isn't working,” and simply give up doing the ironing. Probably you might check that you weren't suffering a power cut, next that a fuse hadn't blown on the plug and in the absence of those two things that some other connection within the iron hadn't failed.
I say again, you wouldn't just give up ironing, you would try to find out why it was no longer working. So if prayer doesn't seem to be working, we don't seem to be getting answers (assuming we still are praying), why don't we face the truth that we are just uttering words to no effect. This is where the apostle Peter enters the arena.
Of course Peter is talking about husbands needing to have right attitudes towards their wives, (so pay attention men!) but beyond that it is clear that attitudes can hinder the Lord moving in and through us. If we have bad attitudes (and we'll check one or two of these out as we go along) they always tend to be in respect of other people and that drives a wedge between them and us which stops the Spirit of unity flowing through us.
Perhaps it should go without saying that tolerating things in our lives we know are wrong (sin), means we cannot expect God's blessing. At Communion, Paul encourages us to do a spiritual check-up (see 1 Cor 11:28,29) but we shouldn't just wait until then. If you want to risk a dangerous prayer, pray, “Lord please will you show me anything in my life that grieves you.” (Eph 4:30) Remember, if there is something that your conscience or the Spirit brings to your awareness He does it for your benefit, so that more fully you can enjoy your life in Christ, know the intimacy that comes as you wait on him in prayer, and have the confidence to stretch out in asking for things that will bless and honour him. May we each have that.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 14. Heart Obedience?
Mt 5:44 “ love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Following up on yesterday, wrong attitudes will stop God's renewing process. We often think of enemies as atheists, communists, those against us etc., but in fact they are anyone who raises hostility in my mind. There are many groups or individuals today who are hostile to the Christian Faith and it is so easy to be hostile back. BUT! There it is, we are called to do two things in respect of anyone who might fit the description of ‘enemy' – even people who just bug us, get on our nerves, or even threaten us by their confidence in the Lord. First, love them – attitude change (that will be needing grace). Second, pray for them, which will also bring about change of attitude and open up doors of blessing.
Right, let's step back and look at this more realistically for that's what we keep needing to do if we are probing deeper. There are two basic and fundamental issues about being a Christian. The first is that we must not pretend we are something we are not. We ARE redeemed sinners but that does mean we need to recognise the ‘sinner' potential bit and realise that without God's grace we will continue to struggle with sin. Faith brings us to the place where we can say with the apostle Paul, we are no longer slaves to sin, (Rom 6:6) nevertheless it is a battle that continues to be fought.
The second issue is that we are supernatural beings empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now put these two things together and we have a situation where a) we struggle with people but b) we have been given power to overcome that struggle. So, yes, there are people who at first sight either raise hostility in me or maybe even fear, but as we abide in the Lord, as Jesus spoke about in Jn 15:5 etc. we will bear fruit – peace, love, compassion.
And what is the outworking of that? We no longer have ‘enemies'! They may view us as enemies (let's be realistic – for we are upholders of truth and righteousness and they may not like that!) but as far as we are concerned they are lost, confused, and mixed up needy people. This is not looking down on them but realistically seeing them for what they are, and we view them with compassion as we pray for them.
We do pray for them don't we? This is where the obedience bit we considered much earlier comes in. It demands we climb over the mountains of fear and defensiveness and so on, and get to a place where we view ALL others through Jesus' eyes. The political world of recent years has become polarized and seriously hostile. There is NO room in that for you and me. When did you last pray for the party you don't agree with?
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 15. Renewed Thinking?
Rom 12:2 “ Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Most of the time we don't tend to think about how we think. Often people refer to our ‘world view', how we perceive the world, what we think about life and existence, but for most of us most of the time we don't consciously think, “Ah, this is what I am thinking.” Yes, we have thoughts, ideas, feelings and so on, but we don't stop to think about them – until we come to a verse like our starter verse today.
It seems to fall into two parts that overlap. The first part in a number of versions says, “don't be conformed to this world”. One version says, “Don't be like the people of this world.” Another says, “Don't be shaped by this world.” They all suggest that life and the way others think and behave can make us think and act in the same way, but we're to be different!
The second part of the verse shows how: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Again one version speaks of “a new way of thinking,” and another simply says, “change the way you think.” Knowing God, knowing Christ, knowing what he has done for us, all of this Paul suggests, will change our whole outlook on life and make us very different people from others around us. The question as we probe deeper is, does it?
So let's look again. The Living Bible puts it: “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think.” This doesn't just mean have a different outlook in respect of the drink-drugs-sex trio of unrighteous possibilities. The ‘pattern of this world' starts with ungodliness – the absence of God in outlook, so the question might arise, how often do we put God into our thinking and actions, how often do we rely on His wisdom. There was a time some years ago when ‘WWJD' prevailed and was seen on bracelets and anklets – what would Jesus do? Perhaps the question, “Lord what do you want of me here?” should perhaps not be far from our thoughts each day.
Such unworldly, new-kingdom thinking refuses to allow prejudices to prevail, sees all people as needy people in God's sight who need redeeming, puts concern for others before self, looks to the Lord to see what He wants to say or do in any particular trying situation, refuses to let Satan stir dissension or division, discord or disunity, seek to praise rather that criticise, looks for the best in people not the worst, hopes in the face of adversity, tragedy, calamity, or confusion, trusting in the One who provides all the grace we need to let the transformation go beyond my thinking into all I do.
‘Probing Deeper' Meditations: 16. Limiting faith?
Mt 13:58 “ he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
Faith opens doors. Faith, put most simply, is hearing God and responding positively to Him. Faith, said the apostle Paul, comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). Real faith, it seems to me, is so often absent from the Church. No or little faith is needed to plan and run ‘services'. You can plan a Bible Study without faith. You can utter words at a Prayer Meeting without faith. Faith involves the awareness of God's presence, faith is being godly, involving God (really) at every step of the way. Faith was there in Jesus and it was there in the apostles in Acts. Faith was the crucial ingredient for life to flow.
But now we come to a scripture that tells us that Jesus was limited because of the lack of faith of the people where he was. I wonder how we view this scripture? Is it that somehow some mystical power called ‘unbelief' made Jesus impotent, or was it rather that because the people were negative in respect of him, they simply avoided him or didn't come near him with their needs?
Elsewhere, when the crowds came to him in numbers he healed them all (e.g. Mt 8:16) but here not a lot happened. This was not down to either Jesus' unwillingness or his apparent impotence. Do we perhaps stand apart from Jesus in this respect, fearing he might put mud in our eyes (Jn 9:6) or he might ask us to wash seven times (2 Kings 5:10)?
Now if we are to probe a little deeper I need to ask, why did I say earlier you can run services, bible studies and prayer meetings without faith. Look below the surface of that.
It is possible to ‘perform' each of those things without any revelation, without any sense of the Lord's direct guidance. I've been there, I've done it. If you are a leader it is as if sometimes you run on autopilot. Choose a few favourite hymns, say some appropriate sounding prayers, concoct a right sounding sermon and you are home and dry. Now please understand – God CAN use such times – but not as much as He would like. Jesus obviously performed some miracles here but “not many”. He expected normally to perform many but here he was limited.
Let's put out some measuring sticks: in your ‘church services' can and does God turn up with prophetic words of direction, speak personally into specific people's lives, do people say their lives have just been transformed by the ‘message' or given answers to crucial questions they have over life at the present, are people healed or delivered in our presence? People may say ‘nice sermon vicar' or ‘what a nice service that was' but are their lives being radically and clearly changed week by week to become faith-visionaries? Honest answers on a post-card.