Category Archives: Pursuing Love

Jesus commanded us to love one another. The pursuit of love is the highest priority in our Christian lives: without love, all our achievements are worthless.

Take Heed How You Hear

“My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7:12)

There was a story going round in Christian circles a few years ago about a dream that someone had had, of people sitting at a long table covered in food, but with knives and forks that were too long to actually get the food into their mouths. The solution was simple: they just fed each other. It’s a lovely illustration of how God wants us to live: not for ourselves, but for others. I saw an illustration of this principle operating in the natural world the other day, when I had the pleasure of watching these two spoonbills recently at a nature reserve near Leeds in the UK. Their beaks are too long to preen their own necks, so they preen each other’s.

After teaching the crowds with the parables of the Sower and the revealed light, Jesus says this: “Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” (Luke 8: 18). Immediately after that He illustrates exactly what he meant by that. Luke’s account continues: “Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. And it was told Him by some, who said, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.” But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” (vs 19-21)

The sequence here is not random: He told the parable of the Sower at that moment, following it with the illustration of the revealed light, because He knew in His Spirit what was going to happen next. We can either hear actively or passively. When we hear actively –“with a noble and good heart”- we do the sayings of Jesus and we bear fruit. Choose your metaphor: our talent multiplies; our seed bears fruit; our light shines; the river flows. When we hear passively, like someone who looks in the mirror and turns away (see James 1:24), we bury our talent in the ground, we hide our light under a bushel, our seed has no root or is choked with thorns, our river is silted up. The Greek word “kalos”, translated here as “noble,” has a strong sense of ‘goodness in action.’ One of the top-level Strong’s definitions is “good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends.” A good and noble heart is a heart with integrity; the opposite of the heart of the hypocrites, of whom God says they “draw near to Me with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matt 15:8). The fruitful heart, the light that shines so others may see it, is the one that willhear the word of God and do it.”

James 1:17 tells us that “All good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of Lights.” I have written about the Father’s waterfall here:  the Father calls us to it so that we can pass on what we have received. This chapter of Luke carries on with a sequence of miracles; illustrations of faith in action beginning with Jesus calming the storm and culminating in the raising of Jairus’s daughter. Our spoons are for sharing. The Gospel is “for babes:” it might not be easy, but it’s simple. Carry your cross and walk after the Spirit who always wants to give life, and don’t walk after the flesh that always wants to hang onto it. We all want to see Jesus, but we stay outside unless we do what He says. And when we do, and those seeds of His take root in a noble and good heart, anything can happen.

Mountains and Waterfalls

The flowers of the grass

“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 
because


“All flesh is as grass,
And all
 the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the LORD endures forever.” 

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” (1 Pe 1 22-25)

I was on a mission trip to Switzerland in May, staying at a Bible college up in the hills overlooking a lake, facing some prominent peaks of the Alps. I was walking down a path one morning to check out the bird life, having read the above passage from1 Peter before I left. In all the times I have read that scripture, I had never thought about “the flower of the grass,” until this moment when I found myself standing in it, looking across the valley at the view which the photo above captures a corner of. I took the picture from where I stood with the flower of the grass at my feet, the Bible school behind me, representing the enduring Word of God, looking across the valley at the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, drinking in liquid bird song and the flutter of butterflies among the wildflowers, drenched in peace, and above all feeling cradled in the love of the one who had made it all. After nearly 40 years in the Lord, I felt the Father’s love in a new, intimate way that morning.  And while I was standing there trying to contemplate the majesty of my loving Father through this tiny fragment of His creation the thought occurred to me: the flower of the grass doesn’t even last anything like as long as the grass itself. And this is as much as our glory is worth!

The thoughts tumbled in: how often do we try to elevate ourselves with our opinions, our superior “wisdom,” our spirituality, our ”rightness” – especially our rightness? But our glory is no more than the flower of the grass at my feet compared with the glory of God in all His majesty and the eternal truth of His Word, and my opinions are of no more value by comparison than a used bus ticket buried in the folds of  my pocket. “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.” And yet we carry within us the glory of the One who made the mountains. How can I possibly offer people my bus tickets instead of letting them know something of the love, the peace and the glory that has been poured out into my heart by the Holy Spirit of Creator Father God? Why do I even look at them?

Without love, we stand alone, and all we manifest is what is corruptible;  the flower of the grass. When we reach out in love to others we can manifest the glory of God and the incorruptible truth of His word, quickened by the power of His Spirit. Switzerland is full of waterfalls. I was telling a wise friend about my experience on the hillside, and likened the idea of standing in the flow of God’s love to standing under a waterfall (I am hardly the first person to do so…) My friend said “A waterfall pours into a pool, then flows out of it. Our job (actually he said “your job,” but it applies to all of us) isn’t to try and direct the flow of the water, but just to stand beneath it. It will take its own course out of the pool.”

Our hearts are that pool. The love of God has been poured into them (Romans 5:5), and it pours out as rivers of living water (John 7:38). I don’t think we can truly love unless we stand under that waterfall. Jesus came and died to make it possible. The Father’s waterfall carries no negative pollutants; it always brings forgiveness, always drives away hurt. It always renews, always washes away the old, it is always fresh, always new, always clean, always pure. It is the Father’s waterfall that drives the dynamo of His power on the Earth. When we stand beneath it we cannot hold onto pain and disappointment, but letting go we can let the water come, and in our own situations we can be like Jesus, “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23)

“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17), and so the greatest and most perfect gift of all, the love of God, must also come down from above. It can’t return from where the waterfall has already passed. If we look to any other source to meet our deepest need we are looking for secondhand water.

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me. The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life. |
(Psalm 43:7-8)

Isaiah exhorts all who are thirsty to “Come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). When we do, it is not just our thirst that is quenched, but the thirst of those around us as the Lord commands His lovingkindness with the water that pours out of the pool of our hearts. If we will stand in the Father’s waterfall we will see the glory of the mountains made manifest, not just the flower of the grass.

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 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.

The Path of the Just (2): The Needle’s Eye

“God be merciful to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us,

That Your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.”
(Psalm 67: 1-2)

“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved? But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:24-26)

I sometimes think that we can get so caught up in our desire to see revival sweep across the nations that we can lose sight of why revival is sent. We know for a fact that one day the Glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, because it is stated in God’s word; and we can be fairly certain – because the message has been given consistently through a number of reliable prophetic voices, including Smith Wigglesworth’s notable 1947 “The Last Move” prophesy – that God is preparing a move of the Holy Spirit that will eclipse anything the world has seen up till now. But if God is going to be merciful to us and bless us with an outpouring of His presence, and if He is going to cause His face to shine upon us and bring His light into the darkness of broken communities, broken lives and broken bodies, it will be for a purpose: that His way is known and His salvation revealed.

God’s Way is of course revealed in Jesus. Jesus is the Way; we, the Church, were first called “Followers of the Way, or even at times just “the Way.” So far so easy. But it tends to get more difficult when we look at exactly how Jesus Himself described the way He came to reveal, because He isn’t just the Way; He is the Narrow Way: “Small is the gate, and narrow the way leading to life, and few there are who find it.” (Matt 7:14). His is the way that humbled Himself to death on the cross (Phil 2:8); who “didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Way is “meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29); and although “He was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.(2 Cor 8:9). When God mercifully pours out His blessing it is to reveal the way of His Kingdom, which is a life lived without self-interest, motivated only by the needs of others. Indeed there are few who find it.

We all know Romans 8 28: we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” but we don’t all quote the following verse quite so often: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” The word “for” connects the two verses: God’s purpose for us, within the frame of which “everything works together for good,” is that we are “conformed to the image of His son.” Within God’s Kingdom purpose there is an inevitable progression as the blessing of God causes all things to work together for good, whereby the followers of the Way become part of the Way themselves, and in doing so are able to show the Way to others. Yet if the entrance to this salvation is narrower than a needle’s eye, and we (certainly in the rich developed world) are at least as fat as camels, how, as the disciples asked, can anyone be saved? (Matt 19:25)

Jesus answered the disciples’ question succinctly:  “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (verse 26) God doesn’t take away the eye of the needle: what He does by His Spirit is to make us small enough to go through it. When the Son of God came as the Son of Man He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant” (Phil 2:7) He sat the disciples down and told them very clearly: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35), and John’s gospel shows how He demonstrated the Kingdom way of Lordship by washing the feet of his disciples. (John 13: 1-17). “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (vs. 13-125)

These are familiar scriptures. They all illustrate the same thing: that God’s ways are not our ways. To walk in blessing, we bless others. To walk in authority, we serve others. If we give, it will be given unto us. If we want to walk without fear of our needs not being met, we meet the needs of others; because it is our “Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32). This is the Way that God desires to make known on earth, the way of the Spirit that the flesh is ever opposed to (Galatians 5:17), the needle’s eye.

A sister at our church had a dream in which the Lord showed her that we, and all our fine plans, were like rocks that needed to go into a bottle in order to be poured into the places where He would direct. The rocks needed to be broken down and sieved into fine sand before they could go through the narrow neck of the bottle in order to be poured out. Only God can do this. He will only do it when we give Him permission, and our flesh will try to deny that permission in every possible way. Even if all our intentions are to serve the Lord and His Kingdom our best efforts are worthless if the rocks we bring Him are not so broken and sieved that He can direct them where, when and how He wants, and not where, when or how we think He wants.

I have just returned from a birdwatching holiday, where a group of us were taken by a guide to various birding “hotspots”  in and around the Scottish Highlands. Two members of the group had cameras with such big, powerful lenses that they could only use them when they were set up on a tripod: I would need more muscle strength than I am endowed with to even lift them to my eyes. They could take brilliantly clear pictures of a Slavonian grebe a quarter of a mile away on the other side of the Moray Firth, once they were set up and focussed on the bird; but they would have completely missed the crossbills flitting between the treetops that I could capture an image of with my lightweight handheld gear. It is God’s word, borne on the wings of His Spirit and received in an obedient heart that brings His life, not our cumbersome structures and heavyweight programmes.

For those of us who might feel that we are more reliant on the impromptu leadings of the Holy Spirit than organised missions and programmes, there is still a “heavyweight lens” that will keep us from passing through the needle’s eye, and this is the lens of signs and wonders, the prophetic lens itself. God will “cause His face to shine upon us, That (His) way may be known on earth.” The purpose of all that He does in a time of outpouring will always be to see more lives conformed to the image of His Son, swelling the numbers of those who walk the Narrow Way. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human  wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2: 1-5) Paul’s ministry clearly manifested the power of God, but his life was just as obviously a demonstration of the Narrow Way. He could write 1 Corinthians 13 because he lived it.

Psalm 85:13 tells us “Righteousness will go before Him, And shall make His footsteps our pathway.” If we are seeking for signs and wonders to follow the words that we preach and for revival outpouring to fall on our churches, we tend to focus on the mechanics of ministry – how to share Jesus, how to move in words of knowledge, how to prophesy, how to lead worship etc – but what about how we can “make ourselves of no reputation” so that we can be small enough to walk in His footsteps through the eye of the needle? There is plenty of training on prophesy, evangelism and all the fivefold ministries, and I am not saying that these are not valuable; but I have yet to see a course on how to be meek and humble of heart like Jesus so that we can demonstrate His Way in our lives on Earth.

Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16) To pray “in the name of Jesus” is not a mantra that we tag onto the end of every supplication, but it is to ask the Father what Jesus would ask Him for, because we are walking in His ways and conformed to His image. From the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles this obviously worked for Paul: he saw the  power of God at work, and he saw His Way established on Earth: he bore fruit that remains. We need the power of God as much as Paul did: not just to demonstrate His sovereignty, but also to make us small enough to make His way known on earth.

Psalm 62:11 says this:

God has spoken once,
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God.

Power belongs to God; the narrow way belongs to us. It is when they work together that the Kingdom is built.

The Parable of the Dragnet

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50)

When Jesus compared the Kingdom to a dragnet he was talking to people for whom they were central to their daily life: if they weren’t fishermen themselves, they were dependent on what the  nets brought in for their daily sustenance. In a very real sense, the dragnet was part of the very fabric of their lives. And  since the King said that His Kingdom is like one, we can expect the image to speak into our lives as Kingdom people today.

The strength of a net is in its connections. Peter wrote: “If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever.” (1 Peter 4:11) We are part of the dragnet when we are reaching out and making connections with others. Since we can only operate fruitfully “with the ability which God supplies,” in His strength and not our own, the connections themselves – the knots in the net – have to be made by the Spirit of God and not by our own selfish desires. Put simply, we either reach out to others to give them something that we have got (Kingdom, Spirit), or to take something that they can give us (self, flesh).

What I have I give you,” said Peter to the cripple at the Gate Beautiful. (Acts 3:6) What I have may be a Holy Spirit gift of healing or prophesy, it may be my time, my skills or (what Peter and John didn’t have) my money; but if it’s a connection made in love it will glorify God and it will add to the net. If I am just reaching out to take – your knowledge, your resources, your reflected status, your companionship, your approval – I am not making a Kingdom connection; I am actually doing nothing more than the beggar at the Gate who was reaching out his hand for whatever he could get. Spiritually I am as crippled as he was.

The Law Jesus gave us is to love one another, and when we obey His law we build His net. He said to his disciples: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt 7:22-23), and He clearly defines what He meant by lawlessness in Matthew 25:41-43, where, put simply, it’s another word for lovelessness:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

So we can even be moving in the power of the Holy Spirit and yet not be making Kingdom connections. God is sovereign and can use the results of what we do for His purposes, whatever our motivation; but if our hearts are not in the right place and we are seeking our glory and not His, looking after our own needs and not those of others, we are not adding to the dragnet. The context of this parable is the principle of fruitfulness: a good tree bears good fruit, He tells us in verse 17. If our “mighty works” are not grounded in Love, they will be a flash in the pan and will not bear fruit that endures. A local revival may be birthed in power, but starved of love the flames die out, and the net finishes no bigger than when it started.

“As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

There are many squares in the dragnet, many connections. All the squares are the same size, there are no greater or lesser  squares, and they all do the same job, which is to catch fish. A strong thread in many messages coming from the Holy spirit to the church through prophetic ministers today is that God is, and will be, pouring out His anointing on unknown members of the Body of Christ who have no status in their churches, no public platform ministry and no website or You Tube channel, but who are full of the compassion of God and are wholly submitted to His will. As they believe the Word of God and trust the power of the Holy Spirit, these, the unknown brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for love, will be the ones who make the connections and cause the net to spread out across the oceans of the world.

The dragnet is a parable for the end times. The devil clearly tried to use the Covid pandemic to pull apart our connections right across the globe in an attempt to weaken our love, but God “turns a curse into a blessing” (Neh 13:2) and now not only do we seem to value our relationships more than we did pre-Covid; but church networks are growing in an unprecedented way through the use of virtual meetings. The time of the dragnet is approaching. How are our relationships? Will they break when the dragnet is drawn to shore, or are we giving what we have “with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever?”

The hole in the wall, or the windows of Heaven?

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
“(Mal 3:10)

Although cashpoints are beginning to disappear from our High Streets, the idea that there isn’t somewhere fairly close by where we can feed our card into the “hole in the wall” and walk away with some cash is still relatively untenable. Even more untenable in today’s world is the idea that the hole in the wall is still there, but is no longer delivering the goods because the money has run out.

But how much longer will the economic systems of the world carry on? In 2008 there was a hiccup in the flow of credit and many people lost their homes and their livelihoods as loans were called in and money ran out. But soon the wheels that had come off were rolling again and (unless you were one of the victims of course) everything was back to normal. Was it though? World systems are on thin ice covering a lake of debt. When cracks appear behind us we don’t head back to the shore, but run further out into the middle of the lake…

One day the ice will break and the banking system will go spinning down into chaos. But God has another system, another bank. It’s the bank of Love and Faith – the Kingdom Bank. In this system we love others and give to them, and God, who loves us far more than we could ever love anyone, gives to us out of the measure of His love:

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

This, along with the passage from Malachi, is a familiar scripture. We often hear one or the other of them when we are being exhorted to give into ministry, and as Jesus said of His words “they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Yet, as can often be the case with some familiar scriptures, they can have the effect of inoculating us against the life they deliver rather than encouraging us into the radical lifestyle change that they hold out. If we hear the words of the Spirit with the mind of the flesh we will respond according to the flesh, so ‘they will not be mixed with faith and will not profit us.’ (Heb 4:2) We will either ignore them completely (“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”), or we will just give the small amount of money, time, energy, personal space etc. that our flesh can afford. We will be giving out of the resources of the hole in the wall.

But if we have bought into the Bank of the Kingdom we give out of God’s supply. If we receive those scriptures with the mind of the Spirit, ‘as a doer of the word, and not a hearer only’ (James 1:22), we draw on the life that is in them and walk in the blessing that they promise. Giving is like dieting: for it to be meaningful, it needs to be a lifestyle and not an exception to our norm. If we “go on a diet” for two weeks then resume our previous eating habits, we very quickly ‘find’ the weight that we had lost; the sacrifice of the two weeks was meaningless, and we have to do it all over again to enjoy the benefits of that fitter, healthier body. But if we adopt a new regime to replace the old eating habits for good (I speak from experience here), we enjoy all the benefits on a daily basis and no longer crave what we used to fill ourselves with. It is when we habitually look for opportunities to give, that we become the cheerful givers that God loves:

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Cor 9: 6-8)

Just like prayer, worship, and operating in ministry gifts, giving is an expression of life in the Spirit. When giving is part of our lifestyle we have moved away from the hole in the wall and are standing under the windows of Heaven. If we can grow our faith in this area while the cashpoints are still loaded we will find it much easier to rely on the Lord when they are empty.

(I was talking about “Two Seconds to Midnight” on UCB – a Christian radio station in the UK – recently, and used this image when asked by the presenter to sum up the message of the book. If you want to listen to the interview it is here: https://ucb.lightcast.com/player/31342/427999)

If the body were an eye, where would the hearing be? (1 Cor 12)

Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in the church and the diversity that He has placed within the body of Christ is a well-known passage. In the first part Paul shows how the Holy Spirit distributes supernatural gifts among His people when they meet together to reveal Jesus, the second part shows how each born again believer is a unique gift to the body of Christ that helps enable the kingdom of his Love to  be established on the Earth.

The world and worldly culture celebrate diversity. However the politically correct emphasis on diversity that we see in today’s society is not an expression of the rich variety that God has put into His creation, but is a worship of diversity for its own sake. Diversity in the world has become an idol: worshippers gather round it In abandonment to their lusts just as the children of Israel gathered round the golden calf and “rose up to play.” (1 Cor 10:7)

The devils’ idols are always a substitute for God’s truth. If the Lord is doing something in Heaven, the enemy will try to set up his copy on Earth, so where the Kingdom of God is advancing there is often an idol to be pulled down in order for God’s will to be done. If we look at the counter culture that the enemy is seeking to establish on Earth, we can often see the emphasis of the heavenly culture that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the church. Diversity is an example of this. The devil is seeking to establish his doctrine of diversity in the flesh, according to which every divergence from God’s created order is to be not only accepted, but celebrated. There are many bodies, but no membership.  In fact membership of any one group is often regarded as sectarian.

In God’s kingdom there is one body, and we are all members of it. Like the snowflakes, each one of us is different and each one of us is beautiful, and each one of us is a unique expression of God’s perfect order. But we are all made of water. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:13)  The devil, on the other hand, would have us celebrate snowflakes made of plastic, rubber, bronze…

How does this translate into Gods kingdom purposes today? I believe that the enemy is parading his version of diversity in front of our eyes because he wants to blind the world to the beauty of God’s Kingdom truth. Jesus is calling His body to unity, but in that unity is the essential principle that we recognise the diversity and beauty that He has put into each individual. A prophetic theme currently being expressed is that God will be removing many leaders from the platforms and podiums where they have become exalted, and raising up the unknown and lowly to minister in the power of his Spirit when he sends the next great wave of Revival. We will no longer gather around denominational flags and banners; we will just gather around Jesus under his Banner of Love, honouring and serving Him as we honour and serve one another. The Unity won’t command the blessing because we all sing the same songs, have all read the same books, or all agree with the same teachers; and not even because we all pray in tongues and prophesy (or not!): the unity will command the blessing when we love, serve, and prefer one another.

We will all be one when we have recognised that we are all different. If you are an ear and I am an eye, we may look like we have nothing in common, but the same blood flows through us, we both serve the same body, and we both have the mind of Christ. I’m not inadequate because I can’t hear like you, and – even more important – I’m not superior because you can’t see like me. When we really celebrate each other’s uniqueness I believe those beautiful snowflakes will fall more and more thickly, until the glory of God covers the Earth as the waters cover the sea.

“God told me…” The question of divine guidance.

My beloved put his hand
By the latch of the door,
And my heart yearned for him.
I arose to open for my beloved,
And my hands dripped with myrrh,
My fingers with liquid myrrh,
On the handles of the lock.
I opened for my beloved,
But my beloved had turned away and was gone.
My heart leaped up when he spoke.
I sought him, but I could not find him;
I called him, but he gave me no answer.”
(Song of Songs 5: 4-6)

As the Lord’s plan for the ages unfolds, and we appear to be drawing towards the closing stages of this generation, the separation of the Kingdom of God from the kingdoms of the world is becoming increasingly apparent and necessary. As I wrote in “Not by Might nor by Power” lawlessness is abounding and “the love of many” is already “going cold.” If we are to separate ourselves from the world and its ways we also need to be separating ourselves from its direction. To follow after Jesus in the labyrinth of deception and destruction that surrounds us we have to be able to depend on his voice and his guidance, and we know that we, His sheep “hear His voice (John 10:27); that He promises to “lead us in the Way everlasting” (Ps 194:24); and that He to give us His counsel (Psalm 16:7). The question is: do we hear it, and even more significant: if we do hear, do we heed it?

Jesus is constantly calling to His bride, encouraging her to prepare herself for the time when He comes to take her to be exclusively His own, forever. Like The Beloved with His hand on the door latch (Song of Solomon 5:4) He draws close: His heart is for us to arise from our sleep and seek Him diligently. But sometimes we open the door to Him, and He isn’t there. Does that mean that the bridegroom isn’t speaking to His bride? Certainly not. What this passage (and the ensuing chapters) tells me is that maybe the voice of our beloved isn’t speaking to us as often as we might like to think, especially when we are metaphorically lying on our beds and ‘can’t get up;’ that when He speaks to us it is a special and a wonderful experience that He wants us to cherish and to seek out because we long for His presence more than for anything else.

So how do we distinguish the voice of our beloved from the voice of our own desires and imaginings, or, even worse, the deceiving voice of the enemy? Here are a few signposts that I think may be helpful. They relate specifically to how we receive counsel and guidance from the Lord in our own lives rather than words of knowledge or wisdom that we feel we may have for somebody else.

God doesn’t drive; He leads.

God is never in a hurry. Patience is a fruit of the spirit; haste isn’t. He is more interested in what He is doing for us and in us and what we are doing for Him. He builds with gold, silver, and precious stones: lasting minerals that are purified and refined, not hastily thrown together with “wood, hay and stubble.. that will burn up with fire.” (1 Cor 3:12) This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to move quickly sometimes: He may prompt us to act quickly over a particular situation, and if that is the case we will feel a repeated prompt in our spirit that won’t leave us alone until we have acted on it. But this is very different from rushing to put something together that doesn’t bear the hallmark of beauty and perfection that identifies it as a Kingdom project. When God created the heavens and the Earth it was good. When we create something in His name – because everything we do, if we are His brothers, is in His name – He wants it to be good as well. So if you feel that God is telling you to do something, He’s not likely to be saying you have to rush it. And while you’re doing that thing for Him, He will also be doing something in you. God doesn’t drive; He leads.

Love, Life and Fruitfulness

Because God is love, His words are words of Life, and His desire for us is that we are fruitful. His plans always lead to love, life and fruitfulness. If the plan that you feel is from the Lord is taking you away from the people that He has given you to love, it is very likely that those plans are from your fleshly nature, not the heart of God. Always ask yourself: where is the love in what I’m doing? I have mentioned elsewhere that I enjoy birdwatching and photography. One day I was praying about my hobbies; in particular I was saying to the Lord that they seem very self-centred and not very “Kingdom”, and what did He think? His answer was very clear: “Why don’t you share them with others?” So I have started taking people from church on birdwatching excursions that they have really enjoyed. Love, life, and fruit. He didn’t take away my enjoyment: He actually expanded it by adding love.

Opportunity – or temptation?

God is creator and master of the universe. And because that’s true, He can arrange circumstances to speak to us, just as He speaks to us through all of creation. But that doesn’t mean every time events line up in favour of something that we desire to do that it is the Lord who is arranging them and giving our plans a green light. Yes, an opportunity can be a confirmation, but it can also be a temptation. Anne and I come from a new age background and we have seen the powers of darkness line up events to further the devil’s plans for us, not Gods. God saved us out of that, and in doing so He has allowed us an insight into the workings of the spiritual domain that we were in. It isn’t pretty.

God doesn’t lead us into temptation, but He allows it so that we can recognise it for what it is. And He doesn’t allow any temptation without also providing the means to escape (1 Cor 10:13), and very often that means of escape is provided through other people. An important scripture in the context of guidance, again given to the Corinthians, is 2 Corinthians 3: 1 “in the mass of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.“ We may feel God is guiding us in a particular direction: that would be a “word“ that we have. A door of opportunity appears to open that confirms that word. But that opportunity is only one witness: on its own it confirms nothing. In fact It may actually be a temptation. But if a brother or sister also confirms the “word“ that we have received, we can possibly start to think that God is indeed leading us – as long as that leading also fulfils the requirements of Love life and fruitfulness. God put us into a body so that we can be carriers of His love. As we love one another the world can see we are His disciples, yes; but also as we love we can support one another in our discipleship walk. God puts us alongside people so that we can hear His through them and likewise so they can hear Him through us. It is through the body that God often provides that second or third witness which may be the way out of temptation.

Two or three witnesses

Scripture refers to “two or three” witnesses. When is two enough, and when do we need the third? If we need to step out in faith and rely on supernatural resourcing for a certain course of action, I think we need to hear supernaturally that those resources will be available from the One who supplies them. Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of God: the word that we step on has to be irrefutably from God before we put our foot there. Generally speaking that would mean a confirmation being brought through a prophetic channel that has no natural connection with the plans we are considering. In this context I would say that even “godly conversation” with a trusted brother or sister is not enough. David said to Nathan that he wanted to build a temple for the Lord. Although David obviously had the resources available, such a project clearly would need Gods approval. Nathan encouraged David to go ahead, but the Lord corrected Nathan’s words in a dream that night to change David’s plans. God spoke supernaturally into the situation.

So “the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (One Corinthians 12: 21) We need each other. Again, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.“ (Proverbs 11:4) God is not interested in a loose assembly of Mavericks all pursuing their own ends and saying that God told them what to do, even though He didn’t tell anybody else. He loves us too much for that. He wants – and we need – a temple of living stones that are “fitly framed,” (Eph 2:21), set alongside one another and depending on one another for support, to be effective channels of His love and carriers of His presence.

Building the Temple

Zechariah 6: 12-13 says:
“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH!
From His place He shall branch out,
And He shall build the temple of the LORD
Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD.
He shall bear the glory,
And shall sit and rule on His throne
.” (Zech 6: 12-13)

He shall build the temple of the Lord. This is God’s master plan. I think that this may be the only place in the Bible where a phrase is directly repeated in this manner, emphasising it within the whole canon of scripture as a statement written in red letters, bold and underlined. Alongside this in importance is the beautiful obsession of the Bridegroom for His bride-to-be. The closing chapters of the Song of Solomon are rich in detailed descriptions of the lovers’ attributes as the dialogue switches between The Beloved and His bride while they speak of their knowledge of each other. Jesus, The Beloved, longs for the time when “We shall know Him even as we are known.” (1 Cor 13:12) In the divine scheme of things, knowing Him has surely to be more important than knowing what to do.

And so we return, finally, to the two Great Commandments: we love the Lord our God, and we love each other. In one way or another, everything that the Holy Spirit does on Earth in the name of Jesus is connected to His master plan and with our relationship with Him, the Master. If our guidance isn’t, then we have to assume it is not from the Holy Spirit.

The Unity of the Spirit

“All these men of war, who could keep ranks, came to Hebron with a loyal heart, to make David king over all Israel; and all the rest of Israel were of one mind to make David king. And they were there with David three days, eating and drinking, for their brethren had prepared for them.” (1 Chron 12: 38)

When David was at Hebron, the men of Israel came to make him King. We too are going into battle, to see our King installed. The commander of our army is calling us, too, to “keep ranks.” But our unity is not of the flesh, and as we prepare for war we need to understand what it is in the Spirit:

Unity is the garment that covers the body of Christ when we love and serve one another in meekness and humility. It is held out to all who are of one mind to make Jesus King. It is the psalm 133 anointing on the royal priesthood that comes when the Father sees our love and answers the prayer of His son in John 17. It does not come about by preaching or prophetic utterances or by doctrinal argument; it is not a work of the law but of the Spirit; it is spoken in a gentle whisper and not a strident shout. Unity is in the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit joining the hearts of every believer who understands that we love and serve the Lord when we love and serve one another (Matt 25:40), and that we can’t draw near to Him when we close our hearts to our brothers and sisters. Unity is  not a robe that we can put on with our own hands and parade in our churches and our streets: it is the wedding gown of the bride of Christ, and the bridegroom will see it reflecting His glory when He comes to receive His own.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in you all.”

(Eph 4: 1-6 NIV, except NKJV adds in “you” all)