|Series Theme: Watching & Waiting Meditations|
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 1. What is God doing?
Mt 4:19 “Come follow me,” Jesus said.
There are high points in life, and low points. At Easter it was the other way round, there were low points and then a high point: He has risen! We live in a world full of high points and low points and for the unbeliever every day is a day of uncertainty, a day of potential worry. But there is another way. An academic-cum-poet, Minnie Louise Haskins', in 1908 wrote a poem, “The Gate of the Year” that gained fame by being used in King George VI's 1939 Christmas broadcast, facing the early days of the Second World War. They are still appropriate for today:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”
Writing in Spring 2021, I find myself gazing into the future, wondering. I gaze at the horizon and wonder. What is God doing? Is He coming soon? I wrote elsewhere recently that Spring is a time of peering at the earth with expectancy. I had sowed tomato seeds and each day peered at the seed tray looking for signs of life. Eventually each seed broke the surface and so then I watched their growth with the expectancy that one day, later in Summer, I would be harvesting sweet, small, orange tomatoes. I knew what they should be, I knew it when I sowed the seeds, but would life come forth?
In March this year, we ‘celebrated' (well the media made a meal of it!) a year since the start of the first of three lockdowns in the UK. At this point in time, optimism is strong on one hand, while realism keeps rearing its ugly head in the form of Government scientists warning or more to come. But a combination of large percentages of the population receiving their vaccine shots, the lengthening of the days of Spring, and the hopes of Summer and of coming out of restrictions, mean that many are peering at the light at the end of the tunnel with hope and optimism.
But for me and you as believers, what is the reality? The bigger question that I find impinging on my consciousness day after day, is what is the Lord doing? For some time now voices have been raised around the globe suggesting that revival is just around the corner. The trouble is that optimism can take our emotions beyond where God is at the moment. Is He coming soon in revival in the world, or renewal in the church? We can but watch and wait. Note those two things, for they are what I sense need to be behind all I write for the remainder of this month. Watching speaks of anticipation; waiting speaks of holding a right attitude until He comes. For the sake of these studies, these meditations, these reflections, can we consider ourselves ‘visionaries of God', those of His children who will watch the horizon with a realistic anticipation, who seek His heart and will, in order to perhaps hasten the day or, at the very least, prepare for the day.
But, I wonder, can we think of this in a wider sense, not merely in respect of revival or renewal? Will He come to my family, my unsaved loved ones, my prodigals, the needs I have been crying out for, for so long? Will He come to the church, to my locality, my nation? Is there really hope – of an end to the pandemic, of change in my family, church, and nation? Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel?
But then I have to come back to basics, to the beginning and ponder on my calling to be a disciple. The mentality of disciples is simply to obey the call – follow me. It was those simple words that made four fishermen leave their nets, a tax collector leave his booth, and others put down and walk away from their daily activities. Where were they going? What did the future hold? It's been a picture that has grabbed me a number of times in recent years. We like a religion that is neat and orderly, where we know what is happening because we are the ones in control, where we know what is going to happen because it is us doing it – but that is not the calling of a disciple of Jesus who takes on the name ‘Christian'.
No, Jesus' disciples had one calling, to follow him, without knowing what was coming, without being in control. When Jesus walked, they walked, when Jesus stood still, they stood still, when Jesus ate, they ate, when Jesus slept, they slept, when Jesus performed healings …. yes, they eventually performed healings, when Jesus cast out demons… yes, they eventually cast out demons.
So what is happening today that he calls me to enter into? Well, one thing I do know, and that is what is NOT happening. Thousands of people are not turning to God in revival around the world. The church is not dramatically coming alive with revelation and power. When I pray for healing it only happens occasionally. When I share the gospel it rarely produces an instant reception and life transformation. But does that mean God has packed His bags and gone off to some other universe? I don't think so! Every now and then, I observe little signs of Holy Spirit activity and encouragement, just like I see the shoots and buds and seedlings coming into life all over the place in Spring.
So what is His call today? I believe it is to watch and wait – and DO what He gives us to do when He gives it, to take the opportunities He gives, when He gives. It's a call to realism and a call of hope, a call to still involve us in the work of His calling. How can we do that, how can faith rise up in us for these days? Let's kneel and listen and watch, let's be available and obedient. Join me in this pilgrimage this month.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 2. Maintaining the Right Foundation?
Mt 6:33 “Seek first his kingdom.”
We have embarked on a new path, a road for ‘visionaries'. Now of course such a word has, according to the dictionary, a very general meaning: “ a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like,” but that is not what I sense this is to be about.
Elsewhere I have written about the possibilities of what the Church could or should be, but that's not the goal here. In some ways I sense this goal is very narrow, very limited. It is simply to help us be people who fix their eyes both on heaven and on the horizon to see if we can sense what God is doing or wants to do, and how that can involve us. As we go along I think we'll see various facets of that which, hopefully, will raise our faith levels and thus equip us to be more fully available to Him both as we wait and then in whatever He may bring.
Enthusiasm can be a dangerous thing. It is a temporary excitement that stirs activity. A better word for us to consider, maybe, would be zeal because it tends to be associated with religious piety and practice. But actually that is still inadequate for what we want here. Saul of Tarsus was zealous but for the wrong thing. Billy Graham used to illustrate it by the story of an American Football player he once watched who in the mayhem that was going on, on the pitch, grabbed the ball and ran the full length of the pitch and made a touchdown – at the wrong end! Enthusiasts get carried away with their own hopes and dreams. Zealots get carried away with their version of spirituality. What are we seeking for?
May I suggest it is summed up in these four words of our starter verse that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount. Unfortunately, they are words that have been used in many a sermon and often used to batter the half-hearted Christian into submission. Yet the truth is that they speak of something very different.
‘The kingdom' is the kingdom or rule of God and when Jesus expressed the love and the power of his Father, he was demonstrating how that rule worked. As he himself said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working …..the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn5:17,19) That ‘rule' is the expression of God from heaven, communicated as far as we are concerned, through humans on earth. It is what God wants and what God does through His people. And that brings us back to the nub of what these studies are about – watching to see what the Father is doing, watching to see if He is coming soon, watching and sensing what part He wants us to play both as we watch and wait AND when He comes.
I suggested in the first of these studies what I believe we are NOT seeing today, and that list of things should, I believe, energize us to pray, energize us to watch and wait. With few exceptions – and there are exceptions – most of the church has not been moving in revelation and power, has not been demonstrating to the surrounding world the wonder of the power and presence of God in our midst. If we can see this, surely this should be a motivating force to watch and wait, to seek Him for what He is doing and is about to do? But it's what HE wants isn't it, not what we want, for our desires, even for the kingdom and certainly for ourselves, always falls short, I believe, of what He wants to do.
So our starting place has got to be, surely, checking our spiritual temperatures, so to speak, checking to see if His will, His kingdom, His righteousness, are the most important things on our agenda. It was A.W.Tozer who said , “We please God most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms.” He also said, “ If men and women are not willing to assume a listening attitude, there will be no meeting with God in living, personal experience.” Of course this old sage had much to say about this subject so try, “When I am praying the most eloquently, I am getting the least accomplished in my prayer life. But when I stop getting eloquent and give God less theology and shut up and just gaze upward and wait for God to speak to my heart He speaks with such power that I have to grab a pencil and a notebook and take notes on what God is saying to my heart.” What good advice.
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘your kingdom come.'” (Mt 6:9,10) As we look to the horizon, wondering, one thing is clear: whatever God brings is an expression of His kingdom, His rule. That is what we must focus our hearts, minds, and eyes on. “ Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:32) That is His intent, that we express His kingdom rule. How? We look for it, pray for it, and act it out as His Spirit leads us. Kingdom is about change, restoring the world, people, to God, and them being transformed. Hold on to that goal for your family, friends, church, community, and nation, and never lose sight of it.
Oh, just one other word: “Seek”. Seek means to go searching for something. Jesus told a simple parable about a woman who lost a coin and lit up the house, cleaned it out and kept searching until she found it. (Lk 15:8) Yes, surely that refers to salvation but doesn't it today, for us, also refer to finding His will, finding His heart, so that as His children we can share in the activity and joy of the Father? Will we ask the Holy Spirit to shed His light on us as we watch, ask Him to show us what needs cleaning out of our lives that might be hindering our searching hearts, ask Him to help us persevere and keep on and on watching and waiting so that, as we said before, He can raise our faith levels and thus equip us to be more fully available to Him, both as we wait and then in whatever He may bring.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 3. Standing at Watch
Hab 2:1 “ I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me.”
I fear when I write these studies that neither I nor you will actually do anything in response. I start with a blank canvas and, having waited on the Lord, I write what He puts on my heart. Having written I feel satisfied that I have done what He desired of me, but therein is the error. I may write out of obedience and with the possible hope that someone may be blessed, lifted and encouraged and, maybe, given a clearer goal for the days ahead of us, but if I stop there, I have only done half what He wants. The bigger goal, I realize, is to let these words touch my heart, change me and ensure that tomorrow when I come down in the morning, I grab hold of the things He said on the previous day and apply them.
As Jesus said in his famous parable, if I build my house on sand, if I do not obey all he says, I am in for trouble.
So Habakkuk has got questions on his heart. He pours them out to the Lord (Hab 1:2-4) and then the Lord gives him an answer (Hab 1:5-11) – trouble is coming on my people. Habakkuk doesn't like the answer for it includes talk of God using a pagan enemy, and that doesn't seem right, so he complains again (Hab 1:12-17). Having poured all this out, there seems a pause. God often pauses to see how we will respond a) when He answers AND b) when He doesn't answer. Habakkuk's response to this silence is our starter verse above. I need to get into listening mode.
I have two wonderings. First I wonder how many of us bother to pour out our questions that we have to God. I heard of a survey recently (I believe this was in the UK) that suggested that during the time of the Pandemic, there was approximately a 5% increase of people coming to faith BUT there was also about 4% who claim to have lost their faith. This latter figure was a concern to church leaders. I suspect there is a much bigger percentage who have been enjoying not going to the weekly ritual, have enjoyed picking up worship and teaching online at home, and have wondered is it worth going ‘back to church' if nothing changes there?
However, my other concern is for that 4% who claim to have lost their faith. Without wanting to sound too hard, I wonder how shallow their faith was before the Pandemic, how real was it? Two of the seeds in Jesus' parable (Mt 13:1-23) didn't produce fruitfulness because they weren't sown on good soil. Good soil, I would suggest represents the life that is hungering after God, after truth and after righteousness, and is truly convicted by the Spirit and brings forth repentance and its fruit – a changed life.
I mention these things because they are particularly pertinent for would-be ‘visionaries of God'. The state of the heart has always been a mystery to me. Why is it some people, as in Jesus' Sower parable, are good ground, why some stony ground, and so on? Why do some come to Christ and lead mediocre almost mundane lives and others come out of the corner fighting and achieving great stuff? Why am I at the place I am? In some senses these questions don't matter except in as far as we respond to the call of God for the moment that we hear.
I wonder how many of us are so caught up in the affairs of this shambolic world that we never wonder what is on God's heart for what He wants to bring next? The heart of a visionary of God is the heart of a seeker, a listener, a watcher. What is He doing, what little signs are there of His activity in my family, my friends, my neighbours, my church, my country? Am I watching, am I listening? Perhaps this is a late New Year's Resolution I need to adopt, but not one to be dropped after a week. Visionaries keep on watching. Do I need to establish a new ‘listening post' in my life, a time and place where I do nothing but listen? Dare I commit myself to that by His grace?
Ah, there's another truth. To be a watcher and one who waits, we need to do two things. The first we already hinted at. We need to purpose to make some time, some space and perhaps some place where we can be still, where we can wait quietly on God, where we can read His word and let it speak to us, to teach us, where we can perhaps read a paragraph or so of some devotional book that might likewise teach us and prove to be a vehicle through which he can speak. Every morning before I write, I pray, I read His word, I check in with an online devotional and I read a chapter (currently by a prophetic prayer warrior) of a book that enlarges my vision and challenges me.
That's the first of the two things I believe we need. The second is His grace. I find I am rubbish at prayer so even before I really get down to it, I ask Him to draw near and draw me near, to wash and cleanse me in the blood of Jesus and to fill me with His Spirit. Without these things I am a nobody. To pray, to cope with the day, to seek to be available to be used by Him, I need His grace. Without it, I'm dead in the water, going nowhere.
I am saddened by those believers I see who are struggling with life, who are suffering in the everyday problems of life in this fallen world, but who don't seem to have the resources to handle it. I'm just the same – on those days when I don't spend time on the ramparts watching. And this is before any talk of becoming a visionary, this is just to cope. So, if we are going to be players in God's Great Production, find that quiet spot and sit and watch, listen and wait.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 4. Don't be misled or distracted
Judg 9:36 “ You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men.”
Gaal, a revolutionary is at the city gate watching for ‘enemy' attack. Zebul, the city governor, is against him because he still supports Gaal's enemy, and when Gaal sees the attack coming over the horizon, the governor rubbishes it and tries to distract him by wrong ideas. Whether it is impending enemy attack or impending coming of the Lord, the enemy will seek to confuse us, distract us, throw us off course.
The Bible is full of deceptions. It starts of course with Satan coming to Eve to confuse her, change her thinking about what God had said (see Gen 3). Then there are the Gibeonites (see Josh 9), locals who pretended they were foreigners, to save themselves from destruction by Israel. Then there are little deceptions, called lies, like that of Elisha's servant (see 2 Kings 5) or Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5) or the big distractions and attempts at deception that came through Satan to Jesus in the wilderness (see Mt 4). Paul warned the Ephesian elders about those who would come to ‘distort the truth' (Acts 20:30). Jesus warned about coming false messiahs and false prophets (Mt 24:24). The battle is so often a battle of the mind – or of the spirit.
But for our thoughts in this present context, the big question is will we put aside all human thinking and focus ourselves on God's thinking. Millennia ago, the Lord warned through Isaiah, “
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.” (Isa 55:8). Again the apostle Paul spoke of the distinction between human thinking and spiritual thinking when he wrote, “ This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Cor 2:13)
For some of us, this sort of language may seem another world, and if that is so, then indeed we have things to learn through these meditations. For others they will come as dew that falls on the spirit and nourishes and refreshes us.
As we have pondered these things so far, we have observed that seeking God's rule, God's will, is of foremost importance, and that if we are to discern His will for the coming days and our part in it, we will need to learn to ‘get up on the ramparts to watch'.
But I believe these things will come in stages. If you are like me you'll go through various stages in this enterprise. The first stage is to catch sight of the enterprise – I could become a visionary of God's, one who sits on the ramparts to watch and wait. Awareness of the possibility. The second stage is to put it into operation, which in itself may be a struggle. For some of us, especially those with young families or a spouse, to be able to take time out somewhere in a place of solitude will, at first sight at least, appear a near impossibility and so this stage for you becomes a battle ground in prayer to even achieve this possibility.
But I suspect that sometimes the Lord will take us along a path we never saw coming. I have a picture of a young woman with a young child and instead of cutting herself off from that child, she explains to her what she is wanting to do, and the child snuggles down beside her, content to just be in her company, while she quietens herself before the Lord, and as she does the peace of the Lord descends on the two of them. Perhaps you?
So if the second stage is attempting to do it, the third stage is battling the distractions that come. So often people say to me, “Well when I sit down to pray, my mind is full of other things, things I need to do in the day. Well, two things: if they are things of your life, just offer them one by one to the Lord, committing each thing to Him and asking for His blessing on it. Second, realise you are embarking on a course of action that may be foreign to you and it is going to take time. Part of this stage may be to learn to fill your mind with God thoughts and yesterday I wrote of how I go about that; I read a passage of the Bible, sometimes out loud, sometimes silently. I read a paragraph or maybe a short chapter of some devotional book. I listen to a reflection online. These are all ways to take us out of the daily realm of hustle and bustle and slow our hearts, minds, and spirits down.
The fourth stage, and this may surprise you, is not to looking for great revelation. God may give you that but initially don't go seeking it, there is something more important to seek in your watching and waiting tower – His presence. This morning as I just sat there and sought to focus in the stillness on Him, I just sensed Him saying, ‘come and sit with me and look'. I ‘saw' a bench on a hillside where we sat together. What now Lord? Nothing, just sit here and look. Look at what? Whatever you see. I didn't see anything particularly significant. I just sat with Him. I stirred. No, stay still, keep watching. So I did until I sensed it was time to stop and turn to His word, but then I became aware of something else. The most important thing of this experience was the awareness that I was sitting next to HIM. Nothing else mattered, and as I stepped out of it, I suddenly became aware I was different. His peace permeated me. Not the peace of the experience but of HIM and as I started to read His word out loud, it came with a new sense, a new reality, this was God speaking, it really was HIM.
Our watching and waiting is first and foremost to know Him, to experience His presence. I needed that reminder again. The revelation can follow, but He has saved us to be with Him. Just as in that little picture I shared earlier, the child delighting in just snuggling up to her mother, so He encourages us to snuggle up to Him. The rest will follow.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 5. Keep at it!
Mt 7:7 “ ASK [and keep on asking] and it will be given to you; SEEK [and keep on seeking] and you will find; KNOCK [and keep on knocking] and the door will be opened to you.”
Visionaries of God know that sometimes God tests His children's maturity by waiting, so perseverance in prayer and purpose grows in us. We have emphasised the tense of each of the verbs in the verse above. If we want to be those who can be at rest in the uncertainties of life in 2021 we need to learn to be those who will ‘station themselves on the ramparts' [at least for a short time every day] and will not take their eyes off the horizon and will keep watching and calling out. Why? Because, mysteriously, God uses prayer to bring His purposes into being on the earth and He wants us to know our part in it.
There can be many temptations to give up praying; perhaps it is Satan whispering, “You're on a fool's errand, this is going nowhere, and anyway who are you to think God is going to share His heart with you; this thing you're seeking is not possible for you, it's only spiritual giants who hear God, stop this nonsense and get back to having a simple quiet time where you read a scripture and that's it.”
The temptation also comes when you are having to wait. Perhaps it is God maturing us, perhaps it is just spiritual warfare and the enemy seeks to hinder us. Daniel shows us this after he had been praying for some time and an angel came to him and said, “‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days . Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people .” (Dan 10:12-14) Prophecy then followed but note it only came after three weeks of praying.
I believe there are also times when we want to give up because we feel we are in a wilderness or we are in a desert where fruitfulness is limited. At the end of my waiting-in-silence time this morning – which I had not felt had seemed to be very fruitful, I was aware of some of these negative thoughts swirling round, a moment of self-awareness being given me, a recognition that I felt the Lord had said something to me a while back about a coming fruitfulness and yet the opportunities at the present (like so many in Covid-lockdown) seemed very limited. And then it came, so simply, “Son, you are in a cocoon stage.” Wow!
Do you know anything about cocoons? The dictionary says, “ the silky envelope spun by the larvae of many kinds of insects, as silkworms, serving as a covering for the insect during its stage as a pupa.” So I look up ‘pupa'. “the life stage of some insects undergoing transformation between immature and mature stages.” So, I'm in a protective covering during a stage of transformation. I look further: “ During pupation, larval structures break down, and adult structures such as wings appear for the first time.” Wow, I'm, old structures are breaking down and I'm waiting for wings to grow to enable me to fly. A little while ago the Lord gave me, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.” (Isa 40:31) You will soar on wings like an eagle.” Awesome.
Now I share this not only because I believe it is God's general intent for all of us, but also because, as far as our outward circumstances and inner consciousness goes, God works in us in ‘seasons', and you know what seasons are about. They are about change that you cannot rush. As we learn to deepen our times with the Lord, we need to realise that, as James taught us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:8) We can seek to draw near to Him but He is a person and He chooses how and when He will respond and in what measure. So going on asking, seeking, and knocking, is our side of the equation but He is the Lord and so He decides when He will respond, when He will come close into our awareness, when He will speak, how much He will speak and so on.
But to come back to this idea of ‘seasons', Spring is when life is beginning to bud, Summer is when life is bursting forth, Autumn (Fall) is life changing appearance, and Winter is life appearing dormant, BUT we need to realise that ‘life' is there all the time but in differing stages, different expressions. Our praying, our asking, seeking knocking needs to carry on, perhaps in different forms, but carrying on nevertheless. In a ‘Spring-season' we may find a great sense of anticipation, in a Summer-season we may find a great sense of joy and great and powerful awareness of the wonderful presence of God, in the Autumn (Fall)-season we may sense a drawing inwards, and then in the Winter-season we may simply find an amazing sense of stillness, tranquility and waiting and being at peace in it.
Such ‘seasons', being spiritual may last days, weeks or months , but for us, the most important thing will be that, whatever the ‘season', we sense Him, we continue to focus on Him, we refuse to be distracted from that focus. Whether He creates a sense of anticipation in us, or abundant joy in us, or a sense of needing to draw back, or simply being still and at peace, is down to Him. He knows what He wants to be doing with us. The other side of the coin is that we don't let the enemy intervene and cast a negative slant on the ‘seasons' – “You're expecting great things? Well they didn't happen before did they! You're blessed? It won't last. He's cutting you back. Yes, I told you so, He doesn't really love you. See, He's gone and left you, I told you so!” He's a liar, a distorter, don't let him do it. Draw near to God – and keep on drawing near – resist the enemy and he will flee (Jas 4:7) Enjoy your season and keep on.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 6. Let Him stir your heart
Psa 27:8 “ My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Hunger is a strange thing. It gnaws at us and when it is extreme is becomes a craving, but however it comes, it heralds a need that our body cries out for, we need feeding, we need food, our body needs resourcing. Then Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Mt 5:6) and, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied,” (Lk 6:21) speaking of spiritual hunger. Hunger drives us to the kitchen, to the fridge or the larder, hunger recognises a need to be satisfied. Spiritual hunger drives us to our knees.
A gourmet is a connoisseur of fine food, someone who probably does not live in the poorer parts of the world, who has the privilege of living in a land of affluence and has the opportunity of experiencing not merely a variety of food, but a variety of fine foods. This is language that the poor of the world cannot comprehend, I recognise, but as we turn to life in the Spirit there is value in recognising both hunger and the wonder of the experiences in the Lord. I write this because I have a horrible suspicion that for many Christians, the traditional ‘quiet time' is either an alien experience or a shallow experience.
The Internet, the mobile phone and the iPad have all helped us open up a new world that enables us to feast on such a variety spiritual delights, such a variety of online reflections, devotions and so on. There are literally hundreds of them available today. Indeed since the advent of the Covid Pandemic it seems that many more pastors are putting on line their daily devotions for their flock, devotions that are available for the world to see. But, I have to wonder, to what effect?
Visionaries of God are those who allow the Lord to stir a hunger in them for Him, not for the latest and newest online devotion. The heart, that mysterious central core that links emotion and will, often prodded by the Spirit, stirs a yearning in those who are open and available, in those who want their love for Him to be deepened, that looks beyond service and doing, in those who know that “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psa 145:18) Visionaries of God put first, not seeking the outworking of the will of God, but seeking God Himself. All else is secondary. We've considered this before, this seeking Him first and foremost, but may I share some thoughts that have been coming to me.
A connoisseur of food, that we referred to earlier, will almost certainly have passed through various stages of food-appreciation development. As a child they were fed food by their parents. As they grew up they were able to choose what food they ate. Then, being well off, they were able to start differentiating between foods, between textures and tastes, and the more they did that, the more they realised the incredible variety of textures and tastes there are that fit into the definition of ‘food'.
Now consider the believer. We are all different, we all have different experiences depending on who we are and how God deals with us. Differences are a mystery. As a new believer many years ago, I found myself within a couple of years leading seven different Bible studies a week. Looking back, I don't know how it came to be. I became (and there was no link) part of a youth evangelism team and the leader of that team opened up our horizons by taking us to training days or conferences that opened up the world of the Spirit. (Not linked) I got filled with the Spirit. I wasn't looking for Him but He was obviously looking for me. Somewhere along the way I learned to pray and fast up to ten days. When, years later I was linked to a nationwide group of churches of a new stream and had the opportunity to travel in ministry teams abroad, fasting became a regular preparation until the Lord told me to stop because I was relying on the experience and not Him. Interesting!
I have prophesied over many people and been prophesied over numerous times, but in all these many and varied experiences, the times that stand out to me most are not the wonder and excitement when the Lord uses you in ministry, but the times (rare) when I have been so aware of His holy presence that I hardly dare utter a sound or make a move. On a slightly less rare level, there are also the times when He clearly speaks to me personally, and sometimes it is only a matter of a few words, but the sense of hearing from the Almighty is unlike anything else. I know evangelists get a buzz from preaching the Gospel and seeing people saved, teachers get a buzz from imparting the truths of God, and prophets get a buzz from imparting the now word, but these are all wonderful expressions of service and glorious and wonderful as they are, they do not compare with the now word that comes as a quiet whisper when you are alone with Him.
I remember John Wimber talking about a young girl in a big meeting where healing was being demonstrated, and she came forward to pray for others and he led her to a lady, I think it was, with a large lump on her arm and he instructed her to command it to go. When she overcame her natural nervousness and did it and saw the lump disappear before her eyes, he commented, from then on she was wrecked. The first one was free and easy, but from then on she wanted more and it would cost.We talk about hungering after God, but like the food connoisseur, we start out by habit, we learn to pray, then to listen, and then as He graciously whispers into our spirit, we are hooked. Initially we don't realise we need to feed on Him, then awareness grows and we hunger for the reality that is Him, and we start yearning for more, and the more we ‘see' and the more we experience, the more we want, and the less we become. We'll think on this some more. Ask Him to create a hunger, a yearning for Him, within you
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 7. Let Him stir your vision
Heb 11:10 “ he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God .”
There was a time I can remember when one of the mostly commonly quoted verses was, “Where there is no vision the people perish” or its various other interpretations (Prov 29:18) and then “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov 13:12). Without dwelling on either of them in any depth, when you put them together there is a reality that we need vision but unless that vision is fulfilled, we will find ourselves saddened, anguished, even burdene
d and if we are not careful the enemy can turn burdens into guilt.
So how does all this come into our thoughts of watching and waiting, becoming God's visionaries? I think the answer is that in our search we must be realistic.
For example, we read of people like Brother Lawrence, a lay worker in a monastery of Paris and his ‘practicing the presence of God', and we may be put off by the level of devotion that such a man achieved and yet in reading what he wrote I observe such words as, “ For the first years…” and “Thus I continued some years…” and, “At length I began to….” and then, “Such was my beginning.” This all speaks of a process that took time. Our Christian experience of God is spread over time, it grows over time and so if we make a start down a particular avenue of investigation of experience of God, it is only the foolhardy who expect it to be achieved in a matter of days.
We catch a vision, usually a glimmer of what could be, and we find the Lord drawing us to it, but then as we ponder on it over days or weeks or even years, it may develop and as it does we realise there is so much more than we saw at first and the initial temptation is to feel down that we are going nowhere so slowly! This is simply to say that there are many facets to any vision and it is no less true of the vision of watching and waiting for God and on God than anything else.
Having quoted Brother Lawrence, I realise I need to read him again. His short book is available free on line if you want to go looking. But even the title I find speaks to me. The word ‘practicing' can simply mean carrying out an exercise or role, like a doctor ‘practices' medicine. But then change just one letter and ‘practise' becomes repeating something regularly in order to improve it. So when we speak about prayer and watching and waiting on God, we can mean the activity of doing this but then, being realistic, we need to add, we need to practise this, work on it, improve it and so on.
Another aspect to be recognised here is that there is no one way for these things. If you have ever read Richard Foster's ‘Streams of Living Water' you will have been introduced to the different ‘traditions' across the Christian Church – Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, Incarnational, all different ways of seeing and experiencing. Our problem sometimes, as believers, is that we come across one approach, or one style of church (the ‘Purpose Driven' movement is a good illustration) and we latch on to someone else's ‘success' and think this is the only way. The only way is the way God puts before you at the present for your unique situation.
We have been focusing over these recent days on being still and listening but we mustn't feel that this is the only approach to God. I still maintain it is vital that we learn to do that, but the truth is – as I have observed while readings the writings of various other prayer warriors – that if we dare be honest, we will have days when in the stillness we will have an incredible sense of the holy presence of God, and on other days it will seem like He's gone off down the other end of the universe. He hasn't but if we're honest, it feels like that.
I have to confess that this morning I went into my prayer sanctuary and our starter verse and thoughts of ‘vision' had already started to appear in my consciousness and so without thinking I just burbled at the Lord for a couple of minutes and then confessed, “Oh Lord, I'm sorry that was just an outpouring and also a shopping list.” I sense a chuckle from heaven with a reply, “That's fine, son, I love to hear my kids when they are excited.” I then went into ‘stillness mode' but He then poured out lots more thoughts about vision which I'll perhaps share tomorrow.
But back in Hebrews, the writer was referring to Abraham who, “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went,” (v.8) and “lived in tents,” (v.9) “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (v.10) But he then goes on and adds, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth,” (v.13).
Do you see that? They had the vision but never received it because it was a vision, not of earth but of a future heaven and earth (Rev 21:1,2) but that didn't stop them yearning for it, seeking it, asking for it, working for it. The hope of this vision may seem distant but we must never let it ‘make the heart sick.' Spend times in silent waiting, intersperse it was burbling your heart out to God, sing and dance and praise the Lord; this waiting and watching with our Creative God, will be more like a kaleidoscope with its changing shapes and colours that are so beautiful. Experience more of it as you watch and wait. More tomorrow.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 8. More on vision
Heb 11:10 “ he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God .”
We continue to ponder on the different aspects of watching and waiting and yesterday we reminded ourselves that there is a variety of different ways we can do that and we started thinking about ‘vision'. Now usually in scripture we read about “a vision” meaning a specific revelation given by God, but of course vision can also mean a more general view of what is coming. Outside the Christian world, who do you think are the greatest visionaries?
I suggest architects, those men and women commissioned to build an office building, a great public building. Their client may specify volume and usage but after that it starts in the mind's eye of the chief architect. Look at some of the skyscrapers in London, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuala Lumper, to mention but a few that now fill our landscapes; amazing buildings that started off in the mind's eye of the architect that was then conveyed down the chain to a whole team of architects, engineers and so on.
Politics is probably the next in line when considering vision. I was reading only recently of a man in the UK in the 1940's by the name of William Beveridge who wrote a visionary report entitled, unsurprisingly, The Beveridge Report about possibly founding the Welfare State. From that a politician named Nye Bevan helped created the UK's National Health Service that today provides free health care for every citizen. Ten years ago when my doctor diagnosed a torn retina I was in the hospital within six hours and on an operating theatre within another hour – all free. And yet from the start the NHS came under immense opposition from, of all places, doctors. Today it is a health system that is the envy of many in the world – and it all came about by a vision.
But vision is something that works at the most simple levels. Authors have a vision of a completed story or book, artists of a completed work of art, crafts-people of whatever skill or artistry, and gardeners when viewing their plot in Winter, thinking of what it will look like in six months – vision. We all use it.
But what about in the spiritual world of prayer? Do we pray for what we can see or do we ask the Lord to envision us? For instance, does the Lord want your unsaved loved one to turn to Christ? Very well, envision the change that will come about in them, in your relationship with them, and allow the Lord to stir your faith so that you believe it is a reality that CAN be, and then pray for it, AND IF He gives you enough faith, Claim it! The same thing can apply for our prodigals, those who have drifted away from the Lord. Or perhaps there is your next door neighbour.
But this needs a health warning: if you start praying these things and catch the possibility, then also be ready to listen to the Lord for the part He might want you to play in it all. Perhaps a need for forgiving others? Perhaps a resurgence in love for them. The Bible is relatively light on what it says about these things but it does say, for instance, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Eph 5:25) which means a sacrificial love, so if you want to win you wife, start asking Him what that means for you? And ladies, the apostle Peter has some clear instructions in 1 Pet 3:1-6 for you for your unsaved partner. Are you doing it after you have talked to Him and He's shown you how? Oh husbands, there's another verse for you in verse 7 that follows on.
Hold on, I hear someone saying, I thought this was supposed to be all about watching and waiting for the Lord to come? Well of course it is. Sometimes we have the Isa 40:3, “prepare the way of the Lord” verses in our mind as God just coming over the horizon in power and revival appears, and sometimes in history He has done that and maybe He is about to do it again, but sometimes the preparation activity of those verses means that you and I need to be doing something and all we've been talking about so far is us eyeballing our own present situations and saying, what here does the Lord want to change (e.g. loved ones turning to Him) and what part does He want me to play in this?
If you are a church leader you shouldn't only be teaching your people by putting these visionary things before them (which is the grace approach of ‘this could be' rather than the legalistic and guilt-building approach of ‘you ought') but also catching a vision of the church as it could be, for example, the church is called to be a witness to God to the rest of the world. This call goes far beyond simply speaking words and should include all aspects of expressing Jesus – love, goodness, revelation and power. As a leader this will involve us teaching and directing the church to enter into,
• expressing love and goodness both within it and to the world outside it,
• learning to operate in gifts of revelation, within the church and then outside it,
• learning to allow the Lord to develop faith in us, to flow through us in imparting power that brings transformation, gifting, anointing, healing etc. both within the church and then outside it.
Is that a vision worth praying for and asking the Lord for the wisdom to impart it to the rest of the church enabling them to become this?God's visionaries look beyond the present, as important as it is, to see what the Lord is building, both tomorrow and in eternity. But it's not a project with human origins, it's not our hope and dreams, it is far better than that for we never think big enough. No, it's HIS project and unless we allow Him to build it, stone by stone (Eph 2:22), any project we build, we build in vain (Psa 127:1). Let Him create your vision as you pray, simply be available and obedient, and let Him build it.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 9. No Panic
Reb 8:1 “ there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
Habakkuk went up on his ‘ramparts' onto the walls of the city where he could look out, pray, watch and listen and wait. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Lk 5:16) See also Lk 6:12, 9:18, 22:41) Lonely places are quiet places, places that are free from interruption – mostly! (Mk 1:36,37) It seems clear that in such times of prayer Jesus communed with the Father and got a sense of what was next on the Father's heart, hence he prayed before choosing the twelve. (Lk 6:12,13)
But I wonder if there were times when heaven seemed silent when he prayed. I am sure he would have been praying on the cross and as the weight of the sin of the world came on him and shut off his vision of his Father, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) For that unique moment in history the God-Son on earth was separated from the God-Father in heaven and he was utterly alone carrying the guilt of the world.
But that cry was a cry that David had initially penned (Psa 22:1) but the psalms are littered with such cries, for example, “Why, Lord , do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psa 10:1) or “How long, Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa 13:1), or “Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” (Psa 69:17) I say littered but there aren't that many of them, but enough to show us that there were times when God seemed far off and heaven appeared silent.
And then we come to our starter verse when we are told there was silence in heaven for a half an hour. Commentators wonder about why there was this half hour of silence. Was it to take in the awfulness of the state of the earth that was to receive terrible judgments in order to try to bring mankind to its senses? We don't really know, we aren't told. But one thing we can know, it isn't because everything has got out of control. God is NOT having a half hour break to think through what to do next. It's never like that. As someone I read recently wrote, “ There is no panic in heaven, only plans.” As we pray and watch and often have to wait, we wait for the revealing of God's plans, thought through before the world began. Always remember that, whatever happens, and don't panic because He's not!
We need to let these truths sink in some more. Let's summarise the difficult bits: sometimes when we pray we don't seem to get answers, sometimes when we wait on the Lord, heaven seems silent and He seems distant. For me, this morning was one of those times. When I went into my quiet place and waited all I heard was silence, all I sensed was alone-ness. Have I sinned so that He stands at a distance? Not that I am aware of. Have I been casual in my entry into His presence? I don't think so. So what is happening at such times.
I believe the truth is that at such times the Lord is probably teaching us, or reinforcing teaching we've already had, and three reasons come to mind.
The first is that prayer and listening is not mechanical, it is not automatic, if we speak the right words He will speak words back. It doesn't work like that, it is all about relationship, two people communicating and so if one wants to remain silent for a moment, that's fine. It's not what we expect from communication between two friends, but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes one of us would just like to be quiet and be a listener and not a contributor, and we've got to learn that.
The second reason, I believe the Lord sometimes goes silent on us is so that we don't become proud and present ourselves of super-spiritual people who have an automatic hotline to the Almighty. No, whatever we hear, whatever experience of the Lord we have, is pure gift, it is grace, it is mercy. Almighty God doesn't have to communicate with us, He is God! We are simply His children, recipients of all of His goodness which we don't deserve. There is no room for spiritual pride here. No man or woman of God has room for boasting.
As Paul once wrote when he was expounding the wonder of justification, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.” (Rom 3:27) and as he pointed out to the Corinthians, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 21:28,29) and later, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) When it comes to us and spiritual matters, we have no room for any boasting and so sometimes, I believe the silence that comes in the waiting times is just a reminder of that.
The third reason, I believe, is that we learn not to trust in emotions. It is wonderful when the Lord turns up and we have amazing experiences of Him, but the reality is that we must not rely on emotions. We can exalt in them but not make them the basis of our spirituality. That comes from Christ on the Cross and from nowhere else.
So, as we pursue this pilgrimage of learning to watch and wait, let's hold the whole enterprise lightly and remember that we are learners and God is the teacher and He will teach us at the pace He sees we can handle and if sometimes He goes silent, it is only to help us remember how precious the times are when He is not silent. The working of humility comes in various ways.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 10. No Pressure
Rev 8:3 “ He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God's people, on the golden altar in front of the throne.”
Sometimes in our watching and waiting, as we utter prayers hoping we are on target, we may wonder, “Am I on right track?” What is fascinating about this verse is that it doesn't say “all the right prayers of God's people”, just “all the prayers.” Now the thing about incense throughout the Old Testament, is that it is burnt to please God, so incense AND prayers being offered means that ALL of our prayers (at least uttered meaningfully from open hearts) are a blessing to God and please God. As our loving heavenly Father He just loves to hear His kids pouring out their hopes and dreams to Him, so don't get too stressed about whether they are right or wrong. We will consider in the next study how we may seek to ensure our prayers are more ‘on target' but for the moment I want us to just focus on this sense of being God's children.
When I have observed the travels of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan, I have noticed that there were two parts to their journey. Part one was leaving Egypt, escaping through the Red Sea and then making their way round the Sinai peninsula along what might have been a familiar route for Moses because it was an area that had mines in it, worked by the Egyptians, and he might well have visited them in his time in the first forty years of his life as prince of Egypt, and he almost certainly would have gone that way when he had originally escaped from Egypt forty years earlier before ending up in Midian.
The first half of the journey thus took them to Mount Sinai where Moses had originally met with God and where God inferred he would come back to. (Ex 3:12) Now here is the thing I noted about that part of the journey: the Israelites grumbled and complained and all God did was provide for them. It was as if He realised they were having to learn about Him and were like little children in respect of their heavenly Father, so He treated them very leniently, very gently.
The next phase of the journey involved a stop-off at Mount Sinai where they had amazing revelations of God, received the Law from Him, and entered into covenant with Him. When they left Mount Sinai on the last leg of their journey north to Canaan, it was very different. When they complained and grumbled, they were disciplined. Why the difference? They were no longer ‘little children', they had grown up in terms of experience of God.
On the first leg they simply had their knowledge of God through what had been passed on to them down the generations from the patriarchs and then, almost at a distance, their experience of God bringing the ten plagues on Egypt (which largely missed them) and then His deliverance out of Pharaoh's hands as God led them through the Red Sea. On the first leg, they experienced His provision for them of food and water. Now on the last leg, they have all that plus the knowledge and experiences of God that they have had at the mountain, and they have agreed to be His people who would obey Him – and that at least twice. So now they can be considered ‘grown up' and thus when difficulties occur, God expects them to simply ask Him for help, via Moses, not complain. God disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:4-13) because not only does He want to teach them how to live as His children, but He wants to train them to carry on ‘His business'. We'll see more of that tomorrow.
But before all that happens God wants us to realise what it means to be His little children. In an earlier study we quoted, “ Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:32) The fact that they were, his disciples, a ‘little flock' reminds us there weren't many of them yet, but also it has the implication of immaturity, of them being in their early days of being disciples. It is probably that reason that accounts for the fact that Jesus put up with Peter opening his mouth only to change feet, James and John talking about calling down fire on those who were not with them, and all the while knowing that one of those days they would all abandon him and Peter would even deny him three times.
It was early days and Jesus understood that. After his death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, it was a different thing all together! Ananias and Saphira found themselves on a quick track to heaven, as did some of the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:30). When revival comes and God is moving more openly and powerfully, understand that discipline is also meted out more powerfully and openly.
And so? So if we are in our early days of seeking to watch and wait for God, put aside all fears for your rambling prayers and stumbling faith, God knows and God understands and delights in His children. Yes, He wants us to grow up as we'll see next, but in the meantime enjoy the privilege of being a small child with a loving heavenly Father. Amen? Amen!
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 11. Growing Up
Heb 12:23 “ the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.”
We talked yesterday about being like little children with our loving heavenly Father, free to just burble at God, sometimes with shopping list prayers, sometimes full of doubts and questions as children do, sometimes full of excitement and joy. We also said we would go on and think about ‘growing up'.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as ‘the firstborn', the first of the God-men, the God-children, but our starter verse speaks of us by that designation, partly because we're the church of Jesus' followers and partly because we are made in his likeness and being changed into his likeness. (2 Cor 3:18) So if there are aspects of him being ‘the first-born' and all that that means – more than just being the first one to be raised – there are things we need to think about that similarly apply to us.
Now in the Old Testament the firstborn son was privileged, he would be taking over the care of the family, he would take over the business, when the father died. The picture of ‘the first-born is one who grows in maturity to join in and take over the father's business. We said yesterday that God loves all our prayers, but He loves it even more when we mature and understand His ‘business' and share His heart as we pray.
So, as we said, Jesus is the ‘first-born' because he was the first of the new kingdom to be raised from the dead, but there is more to it than that. Today, the Father has entrusted to him the oversight of the kingdom.
In recent days I find a delight in those verses that speak of that: “ The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psa 110:1,2) Peter, anointed by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost to preach, used these verses because they were familiar to the Jews, but he pointed out that in this psalm of David the second ‘lord' couldn't be David because David didn't ascend (Acts 2:34,25). No, says Peter, this refers to the Messiah, this is the Father talking to the Son who, when he takes over oversight of the kingdom of God, will rule in the midst of his enemies, will be administering ‘the Father's business' as he sits next to the Father in heaven.
Then the apostle Paul picks up the same thing when writing about the resurrection and Jesus coming again, and says, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) This is the work of the ‘first-born' who has taken over the ‘Father's business' and as the Lamb seen in Revelation 5 is undoing the scroll of the last days, presiding over all that is happening there. This is the work of the ‘first-born' Son of God, granted to him by the Father.
But, we said, we are growing in his likeness. More than that Paul caught something even more incredible. First he says, “ he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) God the Father raised up Jesus (see also Acts 2:24) so he is now exalted at the Father's right hand, in a position of rule (see also Mk 16:19, Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:55, Col 3:1, Heb 12:2, 1 Pet 3:22)
But then he adds later, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6) In the spiritual dimension, not only are we being changed into Jesus' likeness, we are also to see ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11), having died with Christ (Rom 6:8) and been raised with him (Rom 6:4,5) in order that now, by the Spirit, we may learn to join with him in administering his Father's business, the kingdom, and this will carry on until he returns again.
Do you start seeing what I meant about growing up? Yes, the Father delights in us burbling at Him like little kids, but His desire is that we grow up and we learn to understand,
- our position and how Christ earned it for us,
- our role in sharing in his rule, as he leads us by his Spirit
- our limitations as simply being obedient to Jesus and only going as far as he says,
- our ministry extent that stretches out as he enlarges our faith.
Ok, hold onto you seat. How do we do this? Remember, first and foremost, it is being led by his Spirit, but that involves using righteousness, acting rightly (2 Cor 6:7) as a weapon, being led in prayer by the Spirit (Eph 6:17) and taking the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph 6:17) so we proclaim the truth to set free (Jn 8:32), testify to the truth to overcome (Rev 12:11), command things to happen (Mt 21:21), bind the enemy (Mt 18:18), loose people or situations (Mt 18:18) and pronounce Jesus' name as our authority (Jn 14:13 etc.).
Remember it is as we are led by his Spirit, we speak out, whether in prayer or proclamation, by faith. When we start doing this as ‘The Church' the world will be impacted and captives set free and the kingdom of God extended and God glorified. May it be so!
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 12. Obedience taken for Granted
Jn 2:5 “ Do whatever he tells you.”
It hardly needs saying because it should be so obvious, but blessing follows obedience. Mary so instructed the servants at the wedding in Cana. It sounds obvious but the tricky part comes when you hear Jesus' words. For these servants, filling six large water pots with water would seem a pointless exercise. ‘Go out and find a merchant with wine', would have appeared far more sensible, but the currency of the kingdom is not sense, it is revelation. When Jesus speaks it, you may not see how it can possibly help but when we follow his instructions, all manner of things can happen. Don't walk by sight but by faith (2 Cor 5:7) in your waiting and watching on the ramparts.
There are times, I have to be honest, when I wonder what this is all about. They are usually the times when I am stumbling when, for whatever reason, the Lord seems distant, questions hover over me like little dark rain clouds about to drip droplets of icy, spirit-quenching doubt. Then the Son comes out and light is shed and I wonder how I could have been so negative, and gradually the truth permeates me afresh: I am just an ex-sinner with that propensity lurking in the background to let that self-centred godlessness be resurrected in me. It will either be by my own foolishness or by the lurking, whispering enemy of souls who is still allowed to test me with his temptations, his deceits, his lies, to check out my faith levels and trust issues.
In the midst of such times I become aware of something that is so crucial to our walk, so crucial to our understanding as we watch and wait. It is the propensity, the natural inclination, to choose a path that is self-focusing, self-concerned rather than the path of disciple-obedience. We have probably all heard many sermons on obedience in one form or another, it is at the heart of our faith. Yes, that we know, that we would acknowledge, and maybe we might even be asking, why bother with something so obvious? Surely it's foundational that disciples are obedient to the calling of the Master?
Well, I think the reason I raise the issue, apart from the fact that I believe the Lord put it on my heart, is that there are a variety of reasons why obedience is not so obvious as we'd like to think. I have already given a first one, a couple of paragraphs back. It is because we are emotional beings and emotions can often be linked to physical well-being or more probably its absence (and even such things as a bad night's sleep, catching a cold etc., can do it), so that we find ourselves with David in the psalms crying, “Why are you cast down my soul?” (Psa 42:5,11, 43:5). Those emotions that can drag us down may have physical origins as I have been indicating, or spiritual origins when Satan attacks with doubt, fears, etc., or relational when we are out of sorts with others, or simply when we are confronted by circumstances that threaten us. Yes, living in this fallen world means there are a whole raft of reasons why our emotions may take a nosedive, and when that happens we become self-focused and obedience can slip out the door without our noticing.
So often, it's not that we are purposely being disobedient, but that we get confused or more probably distracted by things around us and before we know it we've slipped over the boundary of what is right, because of course the road to life is narrow (Mt 7:14). When we are spiritually alert, “ Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isa 30:21) Yes, the Holy Spirit is there to remind, to guide and direct. I always find fascinating the account of Paul's travels where we read, “ Paul …. having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia,” (Acts 16:6) and then, “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (v.7) Wow! That is spiritual sensitivity! After that he gets his vision of a man calling him to Macedonia so they go there. How easy it would have been to have disregarded that nudging of the Spirit and ploughed on into a land where they might have got into difficulties or that just wasn't ready to receive them. As we watch and wait, we need this spiritual sensitivity.
You know it is so easy to be distracted and if the Lord has called us to watch and wait, it is so easy to give up and, like Peter, shrug your shoulders and say, “I'm going fishing.” (Jn 21:3) i.e. nothing is happening here, let's get back to familiar territory. There was a time when the Lord was teaching me this and I was walking beside a lake and I suddenly caught the sense of the Lord saying, “Son, stand still and watch that bit of water there before you by the bank.” I dutifully stopped and watched. I guess about a minute and a half passed and I allowed my eyes to drift up to a bird on an overhanging branch and the moment I took my eyes off the water there was a loud ‘Plop!' and I missed whatever it was. I sensed a chuckle from heaven: “I told you to keep watching.” One of many such lessons.
Another distractor to obedience is human intellect or human reasoning, we can't see the purpose in respect of what we're called to. There are many examples of crazy obedience in Scripture so we'll check a few out in the coming studies. Obedience is not always such an obvious thing as we'd like to make it but it does require a little more thought and application maybe.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 13. Creating a Stink
Jn 11:39 “ But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odour.”
We finished yesterday noting that human reason can be a problem to us because sometimes the things that the Bible and Jesus call us to appear, frankly, crazy. Thus obedience may be a struggle because it is humanly illogical.
So here we are today, looking at the plaintive cry of Martha, the practical sister. Jesus has turned up late and Lazarus has died. When Jesus arrived, “Mary stayed at home.” (v.20) Perhaps she who had sat at Jesus' feet (Lk 10:39) was the more sensitive one and now the one both grieving for her dead brother and annoyed that Jesus had not come and saved him. It's Martha, the more forthright one who gathers herself together and goes out to greet Jesus. In her forthright way she greets him: “ Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) But then perhaps it touches her that perhaps that was a bit too blunt for then she adds, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.22) Jesus tells her, “ Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) She displays her knowledge that she will have received at Synagogue: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day .” (v.24) Good answer but, just like we do sometimes, shows we cannot apply the Bible truth to the present moment. So Jesus takes her a further step on in faith building: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v.25,26) She responds, “ Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (v.27)
Now I have included that conversation because it shows Martha as a believer – she believes the Scriptures and she believes in Jesus. The question that is about to come, is but does she believe what he can do? We may be believers IN Jesus, that he is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, but do we allow that to be translated into daily life?
In the story, Jesus asks to see Mary and so Martha goes and calls her and Mary has her own conversation with Jesus. When she comes she falls at his feet – weeping! The sensitive one. This moves Jesus. They take him to the tomb and he weeps. Another sensitive one. He instructs that the stone be rolled away and it is Martha – and this is important to note – who comes out with these words of protest: “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Human logic, human reasoning from a good practical believer.
What this suggests, and I believe it is very common, is that we all have belief but it is like a road that runs out. We can go some way down it but, to use a common phrase, there comes a point that is a bridge too far. I can ‘believe in Jesus', I can believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can believe in prayer, I can believe Jesus saves people and they are ‘born again', I can believe he answers some prayers but when he says, “Take away the obstacle to life being released by your actions and words,” we may stumble and say, “But Lord, that will cause a stink.” Sometimes we say, ‘it will kick up a stink' and by that we mean it will cause upset, and the enemy whispers in our ear, “Yes, if you do that there will be a lot of people who won't understand and will get upset by it and say nasty things!”
It's particularly true in the life and ministry of leaders who, when the Lord invites them to step out in faith, think, “But what will people say?” The Bible has a number of instances of people who were rebuked and chastised for their lack of action because they did not care enough what God thought. But it is also particularly true of any person of faith, any person who has been watching and waiting on the Lord and who has caught vision and direction. It's easy to pick up Isaiah's word, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” (Isa 40:3) but what does it mean to make straight the road so it's easy for God to come? For Gideon it meant tearing down his family altar to Baal (Judg 6:25,26) and replace it with a proper altar given over to God. In modern terms that may mean, stopping family activities or behaviour that is unrighteous or ungodly and replacing it with godly, righteous behaviour.
But we need to back up and see some more aspects of this account about Lazarus. Rolling the stone away is only the first step towards a miracle. The next step is to call the dead to life. Can we do that? Can we sense Jesus' will is to bring life to a (spiritually) dead person you know? Dare you in prayer, command life to be released, as you wait on him and he puts a loved one, or an unsaved friend or neighbour before you? Can we command strongholds of unbelief be broken as our faith rises, as we start to hear his heart's desire for such people? Can we move from prayer comfort to prayer warfare?
Which comes first, the putting surrounding circumstances right or warring in prayer? There is no automatic right answer. Ask the Lord as you wait on him and sense what he wants you to do. Faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17) so the most important thing is that you hear, but when you do, don't start reasoning, just act, and let Him do the impossible and bring life where there is only death.
“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 14. Crazy Hearts
Mt 14:29 “Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”
Yesterday we pondered on the craziness of lifting off a gravestone when a body has been dead for four days. I can't help but feel there is a picture there – we need to lift off the covering over the church and reveal the deadness that is so often there, and then speak life to it to bring change. If the Lord puts that on your heart, do it.
But faith is crazy – from a human perspective at least. It is catching the heart of God which is far bigger than our natural understanding. I find there are times when people who have ‘seen' something speak it out and I struggle with it – is that really so? For example, John Piper is a writer of excellence. There are some writers whose work when you read it leave you feeling well fed. Piper is one such writer with such a depth of knowledge, experience, and insight. In one of his books, ‘Desiring God', he sums it up as, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” i.e. I glorify God most when I am most blessed, contented and blessed by Him. That needs thinking about! When I am happy in God, He's glorified.
In more recent days, another pastor, Dane Ortlund, in his book ‘Gentle and Lowly', picks up a similar thread, that Jesus is most blessed when we allow him to perform his ministry of meeting us in the low points of our life: “When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them.” i.e. Jesus is most blessed when he's helping us. Wow! Those truths I find my natural inclinations struggle with, but I do believe they are true, nevertheless.
These things simply underpin the truth, I believe, that faith is not easy. In some senses it is crazy – always – because it means stepping out on a whim, or rather a feeling, a sense that I have heard God and something inside me says, ‘Go for it!' and so we do the crazy. The Christian heart did that at the beginning anyway. We had lived our lives by our own wisdom but when that had provided insufficient, when we heard of Christ and we heard his call on our lives, we surrendered – without knowing how it was going to work out. As Paul wrote, the message of the cross is foolishness to so many, to the Jews who demand signs and the Greek intellects who demand wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-25) but to us it was like a straw to be grabbed at as we drowned.
But then we embarked on the ‘crazy life', not really knowing where we were going, because Jesus doesn't explain, he simply says, ‘Follow me' and who knows where he will take us. So we move on from outside Lazarus's tomb, yesterday, to a storm on the Sea of Galilee, a big lake with often capricious weather. Jesus has sent the disciples on ahead of him in their boat. They are on ‘home ground' – all right water! – it's the territory that four of them at least know all about, even being in storms.
So they are on their own, “a considerable distance from land” (v.24a) and it's rough and the wind is against them. Then they have a really terror-making experience. Right out there in the middle of this big lake, they see Jesus walking – yes walking! – towards them. And this figure calls to them across the waves, “Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.” (v.27) It's got to be a ghost, but then loud-mouthed Peter gets a crazy sense – it IS Jesus, the real Jesus, it IS him! But people can't walk on waves! And he suddenly finds himself yelling across to Jesus through the tearing wind, “Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (v.28) Peter, have you lost your mind. This is crazy stuff.
All very well to read it on the pages of the Bible but to try doing it – stupid. Well it is stupid if you don't have an open, available heart that says, ‘Lord, if it's you bid me come to you', crazy if you haven't heard Jesus say, ‘Come', and he doesn't want you do it otherwise. But here's a reality check as we watch, wait, and listen: is my heart truly open and available for whatever he might say? Would I hear if he only said one word? Could I trust him to raise my faith level to act? Could I trust him to enable me to do what is otherwise not only impossible but stupid? Such situations raise all these sorts of questions.
I did say that faith is not easy and to quote John Wimber for the umpteenth time, “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K.” I might get it wrong, I might have heard wrong, I might have heard the enemy, it might just be wishful thinking, yes all these things are possibilities, but unless we do actually step out at his bidding, we'll never have the testimony Peter has.
If you run across Peter in heaven and ask him, “Hey, did you really, actually walk on water?” I suspect you may find a slightly bashful response formed by the ingrained humility created by reality, “Well, yes, it was only a few seconds, then I sank and, as always, I needed the Lord to haul me out. It was no big deal.” These things are never ‘a big deal' afterwards. I have testified elsewhere of being in Malaysia and met a team of three young people who had been into the interior with the gospel, and the girl recounted with no emotion, “I prayed for this blind lady, and she was able to see.” It was no big deal – afterwards.
So dare you and I, as we watch and wait, allow the Lord to speak crazy words into our hearts? But remember two things: first, it is only what he says and, second, he only says what he knows you are capable of. Yes, he'll do the enabling, but you can speak the words to your unsaved friend, you can pray the words over your sick friend. The worst that can happen is nothing, and they'll soon forget it anyway, but the best might happen – He convicts and they get saved, He acts and they get healed. Simple!