Category Archives: Christian Life

Seeking God’s presence and walking in His ways as a Spirit-filled believer.

The prayer of the unprofitable servant. 

“So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded [a]him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ “ (Luke 17: 6-10)

The parable of the unprofitable servant was the Lord’s answer to His disciples’ request to increase their faith. We can read it as saying that increased faith comes from increased obedience, but the context that we are given is far less straightforward than such a simple equation: real faith, even as tiny as a grain of mustard seed, will accomplish impossible acts. Even a tree that has no ears will obey a command that is given out of faith, when that faith is itself an obedient response to a command from Above.

Every believer wants to increase their faith, and we all long to command those mulberry trees to be planted in the sea. Whether we spiritualise the image or take it literally, we want to see God’s hand transforming our landscape. And all the while that this desire motivates us, we can be wrestling with another question: what is it that God has asked me to do, so that I can obey Him?

If we know our Bibles at all, we can quote any number of Bible verses that give us the answer, and many of them will be found in the writings of John: if we want to obey Jesus, we love one another. Simple. The trouble is that obedience to the New Commandment isn’t of itself a guarantee of progress along the pathway of faith: the imperative to love can be a guiding principle in the Christian life without being a requirement for mustard-seed faith, and while this guiding principle is fundamental – there is no Christian life without it –  it is not enough alone to equip us to “be strong and do exploits” as promised in Daniel 11:32. Love is the only good ground where the seeds of faith will be fruitful, but the seeds have to come from the Sower as well. The question is, how do we get those seeds?

Again, many answers come readily to mind, because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and His sheep hear His voice in many ways. But about a week ago I said something to the Lord that I have never said before. It was this: “Lord, are there any jobs you want me to do today?” I suppose you could say it was the prayer of the unprofitable servant. And there was. It wasn’t a miracle on the streets, and no-one fell to their knees and said ‘What must I do to be saved?’ It was just (just?) a simple manifestation of our Heavenly Father’s lovingkindness. This is what happened.

I was on a birding mini-break, driving out of a pub where I had had lunch, and was flagged down by an elderly lady walking up the road who asked me if I knew how far we were from a certain village. I checked on Google maps and told her, “Two miles.” She was devastated: she actually lived there and had gone for a walk, but had taken a wrong turning and got lost. When I offered to drive her home her gratitude was palpable. I was able to tell her that I had asked the Lord that very morning if He had any jobs for me, and this was clearly one – so He was the one to thank for sending me to rescue her! She said “I will!” She was a Christian herself, and told me that she had been at church the previous day to celebrate Ascencion Day. We chatted a little more on the short journey, and she arrived home thoroughly blessed, and with a story to tell about how much the Good Shepherd cared for her by sending a “good Samaritan” (this is what she called me) to rescue her when she was lost.

I was so encouraged by this unexpected answer to my  prayer that I asked the Lord the same question the following morning. “Is there anything you want me to do today, Lord?” I said. I was spending the day at RSPB Minsmere, which is a lovely nature reserve in Suffolk (Google it if you’re interested). I arrived early and saw no-one else around (birder’s bonus!) until I was walking along a path and saw a chap behind me looking with binoculars into a field that a rare protected species is known to frequent. I waited for him to catch up. “Did you see the stone-curlews?” I asked. “Nah,” he replied, and we fell into step and started chatting birders’ talk. We were heading for the same hide, and went in together. As we both watched the birds through our optics – me with my camera and zoom lens, he with his binoculars – we soon started chatting about ourselves. He was about 15 years younger than me, but looked fairly grizzled by life’s mill. We warmed to each other, beyond the pages of our field guides, and defences came down. His name was Bert.

Bert told me he used to be a new age traveller, living off-grid for years in the 1980’s. He was steeped in new age spirituality, actually calling himself a “born-again pagan.” Before I met Jesus in 1983 I too was a “new ager,” so we had many touching points in our pasts; and before long I was not only sharing the gospel in the context of my testimony in a depth of detail that he could identify with, but was suggesting that he should read the gospel of John and revisit the account of Jesus with fresh eyes. And all of this was happening as we looked out from the bird hide and shared what we were seeing. The conversation went something like this: “Look! Little ringed plover there on the mudflat! Actually my background is Catholic”– “Yes, got it! Look at him running along the water’s edge. I love those little birds. But if you read John you get the spiritual truth behind the packaging of religion. You need to know Jesus for yourself. There’s a black-tailed godwit by the reeds – have you got it?” “Yes, I can see it. Beautiful male. It’s Matthew Mark, Luke and John, isn’t it?”

And so it went on. It was one of the warmest and most authentic evangelistic conversations I have ever had, and by Bert’s question about the location of John’s gospel I know he was listening – please pray for him with me. You can read the story that I shared with him here, (scroll down the the section entitled “Which Yoke?” and you’ll see how significant it was in the context of that meeting; but the main point is that I had asked the Lord if He had any jobs for me that day, and that’s what He gave me to do.  

I pray that prayer every morning now, and each day so far has been marked in some way by a fresh and unexpected unveiling of God’s purposes for my life in the path that I am walking. And what is more is that I am more aware of the reality of His Love and of that guiding principle of the New Commandment as I walk it, because I am looking out for the next job He has got lined up.

Try it for yourself. We are unprofitable servants. All you are doing is showing up for work, doing what it is your duty to do. The Sower will send the seeds.

The principals of flight.

Jesus tells us clearly in chapter 14 of John’s gospel that loving Him is keeping His commandments. In practically the same breath He says “and I will send you another comforter… I will not leave you orphans… If my word dwells in you my Father and I will come and manifest ourselves…“ ((John 14 :16, 18, 21)  As He approaches the end of His days on Earth with the first citizens of His kingdom, Jesus goes to great lengths to make clear what life and service in His kingdom entails: we are to do what He says, the Holy Spirit will come to help us, and if we do, with the Spirit’s help, He and the Father will make their presence known among us and His Church will be built.

When Jesus tells the disciples about the coming Holy Spirit, He calls Him Spirit of Truth, and promises that this Helper will come and bring to remembrance everything that He has said. The word He requires us to keep, that He had spent three years teaching and preaching, was the truth about His kingdom. If we want to find the summary of this truth – the manifesto of the Kingdom – in one Bible passage, we usually look to the sermon on the mount at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew. To put it simply and succinctly, Jesus teaches here that God’s ways are not our ways, and that if we want to live a life that pleases God it must be according to his Ways and not ours.

He spent the next three years preaching this message, and demonstrating by His miracles that He had the authority to preach it. At the end of His ministry, when He was giving His disciples the concluding message recorded by the apostle John, He sums up His teaching with the one commandment: “love one another.“

The kingdom values outlined in the sermon on the mount are the values of the King who is love: they are the roadmap to the Narrow Way; the same map that He says is impossible to follow. (Luke 18:27) The sermon on the mount is like a set of instructions on the principles of flight to people who don’t have wings. For three years Jesus taught an earthbound world how to fly, then through the cross He says ‘I know you have no wings. It’s alright: you can have mine,’ and “He gave us the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And so we have the bookends of the gospels. At the beginning we have the principles of flight, a life that pleases God. At the end we have the instruction to love one another – because this is what pleases God – by using the wings that God has given us, with the promise that the Holy Spirit will remind us of the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Without them we cannot fly, and what pleases God is flight. This is the gospel of the Kingdom. Between the bookends is the demonstration of flight.

We have been sent to preach the same gospel. The question for us is this: is it the gospel that we are preaching? Because if we preach the sermon without the wings we give people religion, and if we preach the wings without the sermon we ignore the truths of repentance and the requirements of Love. Without both bookends the message does not stand and the books fall over. There is only one gospel of the Kingdom, and Jesus demonstrated His authority to preach it by the works that he performed (John 10:38). If we want to see the Holy Spirit confirming the word that we preach with “signs and wonders following,” (Mark 16:20) we need to preach the Word that we have been given.

Fulfilling all righteousness

Jesus said that He had to be baptized “to fulfil all righteousness.“ (Matthew 3: 5) He was the Son of Man and the Son of God; He was flesh and He was Spirit. For all righteousness to be fulfilled, the flesh has to be in total submission to the spirit. As Paul wrote, John’s baptism “was a baptism of repentance.” (Acts 19:4) Sin brings corruption to all flesh, even the flesh of Jesus, and brings it under the law of sin and death, so Jesus submitted His flesh to righteousness in order to demonstrate that all flesh has to repent of the sin that dwells within it. The end of Christ’s journey as a man walking one hundred percent in the Spirit was Calvary; the beginning of this journey was not His birth, but His baptism.

Righteousness dwells with God. It was when Jesus was baptized that the Voice from Heaven came and audibly declared His divine Sonship with the words: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” At the same time the Holy Spirit visibly came and settled on Him. The coming kingdom that John had prophesied was born in this moment, when repentant flesh, Holy Spirit empowerment, and divine Sonship were sealed together in one act of righteousness.

Repentance is more than an idea or a decision, it’s an act. This is what Jesus demonstrated by being baptized. For Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees he had to actually pack his bags, step outside the city and go and dwell in tents. For us to demonstrate our repentance to our Heavenly Father we have to live differently, not just think about it. As has often been said, in order to walk on water we need to step out of the boat; we have to leave our comfortable habits behind and put our feet were they haven’t been before, where only the power of God can sustain them. Because righteousness only comes by faith: the Scriptures declare it (Romans 3: 21-26), and Abraham demonstrated it. Peter’s walk on water is a picture of righteousness as well as a picture of trust and obedience, because righteousness and faith cannot be separated from each other.

Jesus taught that the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven is the one who “does and teaches these things.” (Matthew 5:19) There is always a temptation amongst those of us who teach others to want to appear great in the kingdom because of the inspiring content of what we teach. However God will call us “great” because of what we do and teach, not because of what we teach. Just as faith has to work through love, so too does all ministry, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13. When Jesus allowed himself to be baptized so that “all righteousness would be fulfilled,” he was introducing the foundational truth that the sermon on the mount went on to expound: the life and ministry of the Kingdom only operates when the flesh is immersed in submission to the ways of God’s love.

Divine empowerment and sonship are ours in Christ, but they begin with active repentance, demonstrated by the daily habit of loving and preferring others. It is when the three work together that the Kingdom of Heaven comes to Earth: as it began in the life of the King, so it continues with us.

I Will Build My Church


Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell so not prevail against it.“ We are in the world, but we are not of it.  Jesus was from above; we too are born from above. All good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of lights.  All that Jesus builds of his Church is from above. When the kingdom of God comes on Earth as it is in Heaven, it comes from above, and what is built is from above. What is built is not of the world, even though it is in it. What is of the world is passing away; what Christ brings into the world is eternal. As the apostle John wrote:  “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17) Even in the rubble and devastation of war, the eternal Kingdom of God is being built in the hearts of men and women who love him. (Other references from this paragraph: Matt: 16:18, John 17:16, John 8:23, James 1:17.)

That is all solid scriptural truth, and it’s easy for me to sit in my armchair and dictate it into my iPhone, in the comfort and convenience of the Western world and its technology. But if a bomb landed on my house now as they are landing in Ukraine, and took away in seconds all that I have built over 40 years, where would my heart be?

David wrote “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” (Psa 101:2) If my house collapsed around me, I wonder if  my heart still be perfect? I think not. I don’t have to look back very far over the last 24 hours without seeing glaring imperfections in my heart. In fact there is only Jesus, whom David prophesied in that psalm, who can say in truth that He walks within His house with a perfect heart. And we are all His house; (Heb 3:6) By His Spirit He does walk among us, building His Kingdom as we give Him the building materials of our lives. As Christina Rosetti wrote in the words of the Christmas Carol, all that we can give Him is our hearts, and when we give Him our hearts, He builds with them. His house is the place where righteousness dwells, and where love, truth, peace, and joy are found.


Paul wrote: “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.“ (2 Cor 5:15) If I’m living for myself I’m not building His house, but I’m building my own. If my heart is attached to the house that I build, to my own satisfaction, my own peace and joy, and it falls down around me, I will be devastated. But If my heart is truly devoted to building His house, and I live  for Him through loving others, I will not care if mine collapses,  but I will pick my way through the rubble looking for people who have been hurt by falling stones. And as I do that His kingdom will be built in that place on Earth, even though not a stone of my house remains standing.

I am a long way from this, as I expect most of us are. But we can choose on a daily basis to build His house rather than stay huddled in our own, simply by preferring one another…

The Key of David

I was recently at the UK National exhibition Centre (the NEC) where our company was exhibiting and I was a speaker at an event. It’s a while since I have set up our exhibitions stand at a show, but the people I usually delegate weren’t able to do this one, so the lot fell to me, and because I have had other priorities over the last couple of weeks – and because I tend to leave things till the last minute anyway – my preparations were minimal, and I arrived at the exhibitor traffic control entrance for the exhibition hall expecting the procedure to be the same as last time we were there. It wasn’t.

“Have you got a QR code for me, mate?”

“QR code? Sorry, what QR code?” Apparently I should have registered on the (new) traffic control website to be given allocated a timeslot for setting up. I would have been given two hours. There had been road works and a diversion just before the NEC where it had seemed like every access to the centre was closed, and I had gone badly astray,  and with other (more self-imposed) delays I was already over an hour behind my hope-for schedule. I was on my own, and I had a van full of stuff to unload to build my stand and set up my display. This was not what I needed.

 However the gate attendant was very friendly and helpful, and said, “Don’t worry mate. You can do it now.“

So I logged onto the site on my mobile phone, filled in my details, (hassle, hassle!) and pressed register. Nothing. I pressed register again. Still nothing. I could not register on the site. No matter how many times I pressed the “register“ button, the site failed to respond. I called the attendant over. “I can’t log on!“ I shouted through the van window. I had asked the Lord for help with setting up – angels, I was thinking – as it’s a good few years since I have set up a big exhibition on my own, and at this moment I did not see the help that had just come my way.

The attendant grinned. “Ah! Site crash!“ he said. “Don’t worry mate – hold on a minute.“ He went back to his little hut, and came back with a printed form, which he started scribbling on. “ Here you are!” he said. “You’re Dave today! Put this on your dashboard. That will keep security happy.”


He gave me the form he had filled in, and “Dave” was written in the space where my name should have been. Why he didn’t ask my name to fill in I wlll never know, but what I did know straight away was that I am a brother of Jesus, and Jesus was the Son of David. I was very happy for Dave – David – to be my name. Revelation 3: 7 says And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true,”He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens,” and right now this was my key of David, and indeed it opened the way into the exhibition hall for me.

But that isn’t the whole story, and of itself would hardly be a tale worth telling. What is worth telling though is that because the traffic control website crashed, I wasn’t allocated a time slot on the system. It took me four hours to set up my stand. A heavenly hand had frozen the system for me because God knew how long I would need, and what the key of David opened for me no-one could shut…

But it doesn’t end there. I left the hall at 7.30 – the last man standing, in fact – and headed for where I thought the hotel was. I found a multi-story car park and a brightly-lit complex called Resort World, but nothing that said The Genting Hotel. I drove round some cones in the road to ask another gate attendant if he could help me (The NEC is full of cones and gate attendants), but all he did was shout at me for driving round the cones and point me to the multi-story car park, where the entrance to the one-way system yawned like the gates of hell I had two suitcases – mine and Anne’s, my laptop, and another large shoulder bag, and I had visions of having to park the car and still go looking for the hotel, carrying all that luggage.

Actually the Genting Hotel is inside Resort World, but I didn’t know this until I had gone to the very top of the multi-story, parked the car, and saw the sign by the entrance to the lift.

When I came out of the lift at the bottom I was in a world of loud music and bright lights: the shopping arcade and the bars and restaurants of Resort World, but I saw the entrance to the hotel off through an archway. So by his time I had got lost in the diversion, been unable to find the hotel – oh yes: I hadn’t been able to find the exhibition hall loading bay  either – had an unwelcoming encounter with a gate attendant, and now found myself in a world of noise and bright lights and shiny people heading for their night out, when all I wanted was rest,  dinner, and my bed. I was supposed to have been at a speaker’s welcome dinner at six o’clock, so that ship had truly sailed. I felt like an alien in Babylon.

However when I finally got to my hotel room it was delightful, and I did manage to find a restaurant where there was no loud music and I could eat a nice meal in pleasant surroundings, and when I went back to the comfort of my room and reflected on the evening I saw a glimpse of the story that the Holy Spirit was writing…

Hebrews 12:23 says that we have “come to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” Because I am registered in heaven there was no need for me to register for my limited timeslot, because my Father was going to supply all my need (4 hours) according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, not just half of it. (Phil 4:19) By Christ Jesus He gave  me the Key of David which opened a door that none could shut. I felt like an alien in Resort World because I am one: I am not of the world, even though I am in it.  And in that world there is going to be opposition – traffic diversions, confusing road signs or lack of them, unfriendly officials, all seeming to conspire against me fulfilling the purpose I was there to accomplish.  But Jesus has overcome the world, and in the midst of that alien environment He didn’t just give me a few scraps that would keep me going, but He looked after me as a child that He loves, and whom he had sent into that place for a purpose.

What was my purpose at the event, as a speaker and an exhibitor? My talk was well-received, and the exhibition of our products was a success commercially. But none of that was really the purpose of my mission: they were just aspects of the marketplace where the Son of David was walking with His key on His shoulder, ministering His truth and love. Because in the course of the social events of the following evening He opened opportunities for me to speak of Him to four different people: a lapsed Baptist, a liberal vicar, and two agnostic academics.

Whatever we are doing, our purpose in the world is to reveal Him through it. Whatever opposition we receive, all things will work together for good because we love the Lord and are called according to this,  His purpose. Because we are his beloved children, registered in Heaven, He will meet our need according to His riches in Christ Jesus and not our poverty; because we are His masterpiece walking in the works prepared beforehand for us in this crumbling world, and because we are His light shining like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, He will make a way where there is no way. (Rom 8:28, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:19, Eph 2:10,  Phil 2:15,  Isaiah 43,  2 Cor 3:3)

We are the epistle of Christ: what is the Holy Spirit writing through you today?

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11: 1-13)

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them – and us – the Lord’s prayer. We tend to think – or at least I always have – that the Lord’s prayer is His answer to their request. But the teaching doesn’t end there. In Luke 11, the first four verses are the prayer itself, the next four are the illustration of the value of persistence in prayer, and the next five are the illustration of the Father’s generosity towards all who “ask seek and knock.” We have 13 verses of teaching, not just four: what to pray, how to pray, and how we can expect the Father to answer.


It’s been said before, but what strikes me about the illustration of the persistent friend is that he isn’t asking for bread for himself, but for the traveller who has come to his house. Jesus isn’t teaching us about how to pray for ourselves, but how to pray for others. Actually what He does teach us about praying for ourselves is quite short: basically He says our Father has got what we need before we even ask Him! (Matt 6:8)  If we walk in daily relationship with our Father Jesus says that He will feed and clothe us without the need for our shopping list. It’s  when we have nothing in our larder for those who come to out “house” that prayer is a requirement.


The model that the apostle Peter gives us for evangelism is to always be ready with an answer for those who ask us about our faith (1 Peter 3:15.  I wrote about it last week). I think we can read the reference to our “house” as being more than the bricks and mortar that we live in (if we are fortunate enough), but our whole area of influence and the network of our relationships. In a sense, whoever we are with is in our “house,” and the Lord wants us to feed them with His bread. We don’t feed them with our bread; we feed them with His bread. We have nothing in our personal larders they can feed anybody else’s spirit: we have to go to the Lord for His provision. And it seems that sometimes we have to pester Him before He provides. Why? I wouldn’t like to say that I know, but it might be that He wants us to show a bit more love for and commitment to the needy person then one quick request. It may be our persistence is a hallmark of our love and also, maybe, a measure of our faith. But whatever the reason, Jesus teaches us to ask until we have received what we are asking for.

And this leads on to the final section of the teaching. Having shown that we need to be persistent when we “ask, seek, and knock” (the Greek tense means “ask and keep on asking), the Lord’s teaching goes on to tell us how faithful the Father is to answer. The persistent friend kept on asking for bread to give to his visitor. Jesus said that if we, as “evil” mortals, know how to give “good gifts” to our children, our good Father can surely be counted on to give “good gifts” to us, His children. In the next verse, the idea of the Father giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask (v 13) seems to come out slightly of left field in the context of the passage, but if we think of asking the Father to give us “bread” for others it follows on very clearly.

“Bread” is an accepted image for Words of Life. Our “daily bread” is the spiritual sustenance we receive through God’s word as well as the sustenance we need for our bodies. When we need Words of Life to give to someone, there is only one person we can turn to, because only Jesus has them (John 6:68). The only way we can receive those words of life are by the Spirit.  It is not unintentional that the writer of the Book of Acts quotes Jesus as making a connection between the Father giving the Holy Spirit and earthly fathers giving “good gifts” to their children. If an “evil” earthly father can give “good gifts” to his children, how much more will our Heavenly Father give “good gifts” when He gives the Spirit to those who ask (persistently)? And those good gifts, I would say, are precisely what the context suggests they are: they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We get “bread” for our friends by asking our Father for gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If Jesus’ passion is to build His church, and our commission is to get the job done in His name, especially by having an answer for everyone who asks us about our faith, we have in Luke 11 1-13 a classic three-point sermon on how to go about it:

1: We walk in God’s ways. If we live out of the Lord’s prayer from our hearts we will be doing that, and our light will be seen by others. (vs. 1-4)

2: They will come to our “house” out of the darkness because they will see that light and they will need to be fed. (vs. 5-8)

3: We can’t feed them ourselves, but we know someone who can give us the best bread of all – the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (vs. 9-13) To adapt Zechariah 4:6, it’s not by might, nor by power, nor by any human “bread” that we can share the gospel, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. All we have to do, whenever someone sees our light and comes to our “house,” is to ask. Persistently.

Ready to give a defense…

When we are talking about sharing our faith, we often quote the apostle Peter, who wrote “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (From 1 Peter 3:15). Many people who don’t know the peace and blessings of knowing the love of Jesus Christ have been turned off Him by well-meaning Christians who have been so focussed on the first part of this scripture that they have ignored the second: they have been given the reasons why it’s so good to know Jesus without ever having asked for them. Peter is basically saying that we should always be ready to answer questions about our faith to everyone who asks them. The challenge here, as I see it, is not so much having reasons that answer the questions that people ask, but to give people a reason to ask the questions. If they don’t ask the questions, they aren’t ready for the answers. If the hope that is in us isn’t evident to the people we are with, why should they be asking about it?

The fact is, that we tend to only quote half of the scripture. The full verse is this: “But sanctify the Lord God  in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15) Being ready with answers to questions about our faith goes alongside a mindset of holiness (having the Lord God “sanctified” in our hearts) and an attitude of meekness towards others and reverent fear towards the God who has commissioned us with this task.

I am not the greatest living example of these attitudes, but I do have a story of one occasion (there aren’t many…)  where I definitely had “sanctified the Lord God in my heart,” and as a result was asked a question about my faith which led to an opportunity to minister to some strangers. I have written about it in “Two Seconds to Midnight,” so if you have read the book you will recognise it. Here’s the extract:

“I sat down to start this chapter on January 4th; my eldest daughter Shelley, her husband and their three children had gone home two days earlier after spending ten days with us. Lisa, our middle daughter, her husband and their two-year-old were also with us for three days over Christmas. So the holiday was noisy and messy, with lots of clearing and washing up, governed very much by the routines of the children and punctuated by the sound of their unwillingness (the older ones anyway) to comply with them. Now I love my family, and Anne loves to be surrounded by them; but I also like to spend time in quiet solitude, reading, writing, birdwatching, doing photography or listening to music. As you can imagine, there is a clash of interests here, and I have to confess that at times in the past I have let my irritation at the level of mayhem in the house when my grandchildren are roaring around get the better of me. So I had really been asking the Lord to help me, and particularly to give me wisdom throughout the day if any tensions or difficulties arose, so that I didn’t get bad-tempered and spoil the atmosphere for everyone else.

In my morning quiet time I had been reading through the gospel of Matthew. About a week earlier I had been struck by Jesus’s words to a would-be follower: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head” (Matthew 8:20). The Holy Spirit showed me that as soon as things got noisy I was looking for somewhere to “rest my head”, but that this wasn’t an option for me any more than it was an option for Jesus. Instead I was to seek His peace, which as we know is “not as the world gives” (John 14:27). This verse became a great support for me in the ensuing days, and when the family had gone Anne remarked how well I had coped with everything, and (although she didn’t specifically use the word) how much more pleasant I had been on this visit than on some previous occasions. God had sent me His word as I spent time with Him reading through Matthew, and it had been living and active through my circumstances, bringing His peace into my spirit when my flesh could find no rest:  “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” (Prov 3:17)

But the story doesn’t end there. Anne had seen some furniture on eBay that was perfect for her plans to do some redecorating in our living room. The complication was that it was in London, and I would need to drive our company van (not my favourite driving experience) down to pick it up – three hours each way. In addition, it became clear that I needed to go immediately. It was the weekend, and I had planned to spend it recovering from the busy week before going back to work on Monday. But after Anne and I had discussed it, I was able to give the whole thing to the Lord, and I had an assurance that it was right to go. I felt a real peace about the trip which dispelled all my anxieties (I drive an automatic and the van is manual; I was worried about driving the big van through London streets; I was worried about getting too tired to drive safely, etc.), and I even started to look forward to it. A total turnaround.

Bear in mind here that I had been reading, thinking and praying about God’s peace for this chapter of the book. The furniture (it was a three-piece suite) was being sold by a Greek family. I spent six months in Greece in my backpacking days before I met Anne and had learnt to speak it fairly competently, so it was a touching point that I was able to say a few words to them in their language. Soon we were sitting down and drinking tea in the kitchen. One of the first things that the man I had been dealing with (I’ll call him John) said was how much more peaceful I seemed than other people. (Interesting, I thought. “My peace I leave you . . .”) We chatted a little more, and soon they were telling me how John’s sister had died suddenly, aged 21, less than two years ago. The mother – I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Mama – was fighting to hold back tears as she talked. I told them about our baby Miranda who died at ten weeks. I began to feel that this visit was not just about a three-piece suite. Then Mama said something really unexpected. She said, “As soon as you came in, I saw that there was something about you, and I got goose-bumps all down my arm!” John then repeated to Mama what he had said to me earlier about the peace that he saw on me. I explained that what they felt was the presence of the Holy Spirit, and soon I was praying with them, asking the Lord to comfort them in their grief, and that they would know His presence. Then I was on my way home.” (Adapted from Two Seconds to Midnight by Bob Hext, Malcolm Down Publishing)

The chapter goes on to develop other points, but I think this is a helpful real-life example of 1 Peter 3:15 in action. Because I had sought God to put my heart right in an area where I knew my behaviour could easily become ungodly, the light of sanctification that shone in me as I submitted to the word of God also shone out of me onto other people.  I’m not aware of any other occasions when the presence of the Holy Spirit on me has given anyone goose-bumps, but one is a start… The point is this: we are called to be light in the darkness, but unless we have our light switched on nobody is going to ask us why we are shining. Being a witness is drawing others into our light; witnessing is shining a torch in their faces.

The Overbearing Invader

The map of Europe has been pencilled in by man, country divided against country. When divisions arise and nation rises against nation, all that happens, as a friend of mine said, is that the lines are etched in more deeply; and so I saw recently a newspaper report on the Ukraine crisis that declared: “The map of Europe is being re-drawn  in blood.“ If the war in Ukraine – any war, in fact – makes one thing clear, it is that only God can erase those pencil lines and bring unity; it’s only when the government is on His shoulders that will this happen, and until then nation will continue to rise against nation.

We however are citizens of another country; we are pilgrims in the world and citizens of the kingdom that is to come. We don’t belong to a nation; we belong to the kingdom of God. His Kingdom is the realm of love, peace and unity. What happens when divisions arise between us? I would not like to count the number of times that I have been in an argument with someone (usually my wife)  and told myself how completely untenable the their position is,  and have done nothing except justify where I stand (usually in the vain belief that by raising my voice I increase my powers of persuasion), convinced that ultimately they will see my point and change their ideas. I don’t see that the place where I am standing is actually on their toes and it hurts. When I keep explaining why I am sanding there, all I am doing is hurting them all the more.

God’s ways and God’s thoughts are not our ways and our thoughts. God’s way is the way of love. If what I am doing and saying makes complete sense to me but you are hurt by it, the fact that you are hurt is of far more importance to God than the fact that what I’m saying makes sense to me. It’s His righteousness that goes before us, not my rightness. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7) I don’t fear God if I say I know better than you. If one ministry is pulling down another, it is not in the Spirit of Jesus that they are ministering.

When we are about to let our overbearing attitudes crush and invade another person or another ministry let’s remember Ukraine, because it’s the same bear that is trying to work in our own hearts.

Come up Higher

The Lord is inviting us to come up higher. I believe He says “Come higher up the mountain, where the air is fresh and untainted, and the ground is white with snow. The higher you come in your love and service to Me, the more I will show you how low you can descend in your love and your service to your brothers and sisters. For I descended from the greatest of all heights to the lowest of all depths, to death on the cross, out of love for you and love for my Father. And the lower you descend in your love and service of one another the higher I will take you up my holy mountain. And as you rise up higher you will see more from my perspective, and more of my plan and vision for the world. You will see how, even in the fires and devastation of the crucible of war, I am working out my purposes for my Kingdom on Earth, and you will see how all things are working together for good for those who love me and are called according to My purpose.

The Path of the Just (3): Wars and rumours of Wars

It is no surprise that the West seems to be moving towards war with Russia. This isn’t because of the political situation that has been developing, or the apparent belligerence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but it’s because Jesus warned us of it 2,000 years ago at the same time as He warned us about Coronavirus:

And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matt 24: 6-7)

When we came to Christ we were born into a battlefield. Sometimes the battle is invisible, and sometimes it is visible: the same spiritual forces are stirring the hearts of men today as when Goliath taunted the Israelites, and the commander of the Lord’s army is the same person today as when Joshua met Him outside the walls of Jericho. What is important for us today is not that we react to Goliath waving his spear, but that we listen to what our Commander is saying and obey it.

First of all He tells us not to be troubled, because “these things must come to pass.” If we are praying for them not to happen we are ignoring the fact that they are already in God’s diary, which means that our prayers should be leading us in a different direction. Instead of asking God to take away what is troubling us, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us stay untroubled. As we all know, Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt 5:9). And as Jesus also said – again, we know the verse – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.

When the wars and rumours of wars come to pass, as they must, we can remain untroubled if we let His peace rule in our lives. The quiet of His peace is louder than the shout of war; His stillness is stronger than the tumult of any storm. It is true that a peacemaker can sometimes be one who brings reconciliation between warring parties, but I think a true meaning of the word in the context of Jesus’s teaching is this: a peacemaker is one who brings others into the peace announced by the angels that God brought to Earth in the person of His Son.

So how can we be peacemakers amid the clamour of war? The key, as I have said, is to know His peace ourselves, because unless we do we have nothing to share. But knowing His peace means so much more than not being afraid, because when we are still we know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), and when we know His presence among us we can also expect to hear Him speaking His word into our lives. When we hear Him speak we can have faith for His provision, whatever privations wear might bring, because “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) When we act in faithful obedience to a word from God we do see mountains move and impossible things happening, which then strengthens our faith and helps us to keep walking along the narrow way.

And because the Way of love is narrow we can easily stray from it, so we have to walk in the close company of our Good Shepherd, who guides and comforts us through the valley of the shadow of death. If we are cringing in terror ourselves, we will find it difficultreach out to bring peace to another; if we aren’t trusting the God who feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies of the field for our provision, we cannot participate in Heaven’s economy by meeting someone else’s need when our Commander calls us to do so. At Jericho Joshua asked the Lord whose side He was on, and, like every other verse I have quoted here, most of us will know what He said. It was:  “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14) Jesus doesn’t take sides in our battles: He brings us the peace emanating from the Father’s love that He won for us at the cross, and He also asks us to pass it on to others. When the rumours of war are loud and the storm is raging, uncertainty screams at us from all the media: that is when the certainties of faith are our anchor. We don’t hold onto the anchor chain with hands that can be ripped from it by every passing wave, but by the nails that held Jesus to the cross.

When Jesus began to make it clear that He would soon be leaving them, Thomas was uncertain. He said: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” When we have the certainty of knowing that we are no more going to be separated from the anchor chain than Jesus was going to come down from the cross, we can trust Him enough for our feet to stay on His path. David wrote:

“I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy,
For You have considered my trouble;
You have known my soul in adversities
And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy;
You have set my feet in a wide place.”
(Psalm 31: 7-8)

The child of God brings His peace when the world is rife with rumours of war. It is when we stay on the Narrow Way that our feet are set in a wide place.