Category Archives: Walking in the Spirit

God gives the Spirit without limit. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the church to equip us to be His witnesses and carry on the work that He started by that same power. To deny that the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to the believer today, or to say, as some do, that God does not speak supernaturally to His people today, is effectively taking Christ out of Christianity.

What made Jesus angry?

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-14)

We don’t often read about Jesus getting angry. We know what He thinks about the Pharisees and how He addresses them, and what He thought about the money-changers in the Temple, but where else do we see His anger provoked?

We see His anger in Mark 10:14. Children come to Jesus, and the disciples turn them away. How did the son of God react? Anger. “Do NOT turn them away!” (My emphasis, but we can imagine him expressing himself like that), He said, and went on to famously teach: “assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom Of God as a little child will by no means into it.“ (v. 15). After declaring this kingdom principle, He received the children in His arms, blessed them, and laid hands on them.

Why did Jesus get angry? I don’t think it’s just because He loved the children and His disciples were hindering them: I think it’s more than that. His declaration was that we need to be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it was the very attitudes that keep us out of the kingdom that were turning the children away.

As a bit of an aside, the context of this passage is interesting: it is sandwiched between Jesus’s teaching on divorce and the story of the rich, young ruler. Sex and money. Probably the two biggest preoccupations of adult life. Most of the cares and pleasures of the world, the thorns that choke the seed of the kingdom, have their roots in one or the other of them. In between the two, Jesus demonstrates the good ground of entry into the the kingdom of heaven: we come as children, with neither of them on our minds; He receives us in His arms, we receive His blessing, and finally, He lays hands on us and we receive the Holy Spirit so that we can truly come of age…

But what made Him angry? I think it’s not so much because our own “thorns” are keeping us out, but because we mistake our thorns for fruit. His arms are open wide to receive us. He has come to save the world by giving us free entry to the Kingdom Of God. He knows all the things that stand in the way of the door to the kingdom. And He sees those who cannot enter in preventing those who could, because they have totally misunderstood the conditions for entry. It’s the same anger that He displays towards the teachers of the law, who don’t enter themselves and who stop others from coming in. (Matt 23: 13-14) I think He is angry at the self righteousness of sin that keeps us away from the righteousness of God, the justification of self that stands in the way of justification by grace. It’s when we think know better than others that we actually know the least of all: I think the Bible shows us that if anything makes Jesus cross, it’s this.

To be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph 4:23) is to renew the childlike attitudes we had before the thorns began to grow. God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It’s actually when we think we’re being the most grown-up that we are probably being the least mature. Like Benjamin button in the 2008 film, we need to be ageing backwards to grow up in the kingdom of God: we need to take to the cross what made Him so cross, and become like the baby in the manger.

Happy child-like Christmas, everyone!

They shall be one…

A murmuration of starlings – click this link for the 2 min video

The video shows a murmuration of starlings gathering to roost for the night. It is only a portion of the 200,000 or so that will have gathered altogether. You can see waves and waves of birds flying over to join the group. They continued to fly in for probably 20 or 30 minutes. Below them, flying backwards and forwards over the water is a group of other birds (lapwings) which for some reason known only to the birds seem to want to join in the dance. It is an amazing spectacle, and I have felt the Lord speak through it, to say something like this…

The massed groups of starlings represent the body of Christ. In these days, the Lord is gathering together all of those who will flock to him, who know the freedom of movement in the spirit, and to choose to belong to one another and love one another as they belong to Christ and love Christ. God is calling His body away from the groups and identities and differences that we have subscribed to, to join together in a flow and movement orchestrated by His Spirit that the world will see and wonder at. Those who have joined the flock have died to self and are part of its flow and pattern as it moves as one.  There are no individuals who stand out, no leaders pointing the way or driving on the groups: they all move together in perfect unity in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is a work that has started and is gathering momentum as more and more of His children move into the work that God is doing, which is a work of beauty and love and unity.

This is how our light will come as darkness descends on the Earth.

“Who are these who fly like a cloud,
And like doves to their roosts?

Surely the coastlands shall wait for Me;
And the ships of Tarshish 
will come first,
To bring your sons from afar,
Their silver and their gold with them,
To the name of the LORD your God,
And to the Holy One of Israel,
Because He has glorified you.”
(Isaiah 60: 8-9)

You have an Anointing from the Holy One

It’s all about the river. The deeper we go the more we know of God’s provision and his power. Either we die to self or we don’t: either the flesh is buried with Jesus or it’s walking. Either we are yoked to Jesus in the spirit, in resurrection life, or we are tethered to self, holding on to our own life instead of losing it. I have been thinking recently about “the anointing,” and how we approach the subject in our various church groups. Belonging as I do to a pentecostal/charismatic stream, it is a word I hear and use a lot. Here are some conclusions that I feel that I am coming to.

A lot of teaching today, especially in prophetic circles, would seem to suggest that there is some sort of historical timeline of levels of anointing that God pours out on the church. I have believed this myself. But I no longer think that it is true. We only need to read the accounts of some of the lives of the Saints in the middle ages and the miracles that they walked in to know that full-blown, high octane, resurrection power is not a manifestation of God’s glory that He has reserved for our generation, but is actually something that has been covered by the successive cloaks of religion, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the spread of industrialisation which are only now, in the 21st-century, finally being seen to wear very, very thin. Just as he did with the Amorites, (Gen 15:16) God has allowed – and still is allowing, (I think) for just a little while longer, the sin of civilisation to come to its fulness before invading it with the kingdom that his old covenant people foreshadowed.

The living sacrifice
1 John 2:20 says this: “but you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” Anointed teaching – that is teaching from the spirit of God and not the mind of man – brings revelation of truth that the Holy Spirit has already given to us but which we haven’t yet accessed with our renewed minds. The Spirit of Truth brought the full download with Him when He came into our hearts: He hasn’t changed or added anything to who He is because He is already the fullness of truth. Growing in maturity in the spirit is becoming more like Jesus, and since the flesh and the spirit are at war with one another this growth is only achieved when the flesh is taken to the cross – whether we are talking about negative though-patterns, self-centred annoyances, ungodly desires, or whatever else is lurking there to trip us upon our walk with Christ. And as we grow more like Jesus, the greater the revelation of the Spirit of Truth within us.  It’s not rocket science.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 1:2)

We know from 1 Cor 2: 16 that “we have the mind of Christ,” yet we also know that God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts. I think it’s as we continually “present (our) bodies a living sacrifice” and are not “conformed to this world,” that we are “transformed by the renewing of (our) mind,” and revelation of what is in the mind of Christ becomes part of our own thinking. To put it another way, I think God’s thoughts become ours by revelation as we learn to walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. The mind of Christ and the anointing that we have from the Holy One are what we were born into the Kingdom with: we access more of them as we mature in Christ and “come…to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13)

Children of Promise
Of his countrymen “according to the flesh,” the Israelites, Paul writes “to whom pertain the adoption, glory, covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises,” (Romans 9:4) Yet not even this rich heritage is qualification for kingdom citizenship. So how much more are we, “the children of the promise“ (Rom 9:8) born into when we turn to Christ? I think that there is enough evidence in the Word of God that has been delivered to us to show that we don’t have to wait for something special to come from Heaven before the Church moves in true revival power. As darkness and light are separated out in these times of shaking and we, the children of the promise, learn to trade in the currency of faith and not the currency of credit, we will be seen increasingly to be standing “in a broad place” (Ps 18:19) by those who are slipping off the narrowing ledges of security that the world affords, and they will want to join us. This is a new experience for most of us living in the West; not so of course for those brothers and sisters in the persecuted Church for whom it has been the norm for decades.

We have all read what Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. (Phil 4: 13-15)

For two thousand years the Church has been growing up, and now it seems that we are starting to come to maturity, individually and collectively. It’s time to put away childish things, and it’s time to realise that we don’t need to wait for Christmas, because we have already been given the presents.  When we have less of Earth in our lives, whether by choice or necessity, we will start to see more of Heaven: the bride will be ready for the Groom, and we will see His kingdom come.

The Lens of Tears

The Lens of Tears

“Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him,  “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).” (John 20: 8-16)

What, Why and Who
The disciples went away to their own homes, but Mary stood outside tomb weeping. We don’t have a film of the scene, but as far as we can imagine from the text, Mary had gone to tell Peter and John that Jesus’s body wasn’t there; Peter and John ran ahead to the tomb to see what had happened, and Mary went back to the tomb with them. We know that John outran Peter, and it seems like they both outran Mary – although since she had run to find them there is nothing to suggest that she ambled back. We don’t know how far they had come or if the men were still in the tomb when Mary arrived, but I think we are safe to assume that they are all within roughly the same time-frame, and there are some things that we do know about the three (human) characters in this scene: Peter and John both saw what had happened and left again, and John not only saw that Jesus had gone, but “believed” –  not just believed that He really had risen from the dead, but presumably believed in Him as the Son of God. And we know that Mary was weeping. Peter saw and recognised what had happened; John saw what had happened and understood why; but Mary was weeping because of who it had happened to. “They have taken away my Lord!” she cried through her tears.

They had taken away her Lord. She said this to two angels sitting by the graveclothes of Christ. Was she so distraught that she didn’t realise that they were angels, or was she so distraught that she didn’t care? Again, we don’t know; but what we do know is that she saw them, and the two men didn’t. Why were they there? Again, we don’t have an answer to that because we don’t need one, but it isn’t wild speculation to assume that the angels had also been there when Peter and John came into the tomb: they had probably been there ever since the dead body of Jesus had been brought in. Mary saw them, then she turned round and saw Jesus.

The Lens of Tears
Mary was weeping because she loved Jesus, and now her last remaining contact with Him, His dead body, had gone. She was crying over her lost relationship with Jesus, and not even the sight of the angels impacted the emotions in her heart. I believe that she saw the angels because she was seeking Jesus with a heart full of love that had just burst: “Where is my Lord?” was her one thought. She was looking through a lens of tears, and through that lens it was Mary who saw the angels that the two men missed, and not only did she see the angels, but when she turned round she saw the Lord she was seeking.

I have never knowingly seen an angel, although I know people who have, including Anne. I would love to, as I would love to see more supernatural manifestations of any sort. But I think this passage may give us a clue as to why perhaps many of us don’t see as much as we would like to in the Spiritual realm. Maybe, like Peter and John in this passage, we accept it too easily and just “go back to our own homes” when the person of Jesus isn’t a reality in our lives, instead of being more like Mary, who stayed by the tomb and broke her heart because He wasn’t there.

There is no rush

Hurry! You’ll miss it!
 If there is one weapon in the devil’s armoury that he uses against us on a daily basis, it is the thought that we have to hurry. We are running out of time. Quick, before the opportunity goes and the window closes! It is embedded in the core language of commerce: “Don’t miss out! Offer ends tonight!“ The thought is always there, lurking, because it’s the language of temptation: make hay while the sun shines, because it could cloud over at any moment  It’s the language of pressure, and the language of manipulation: hurry, we’ll miss the train. Hurry, I’ve got things to do. Hurry, dinner is getting cold. Hurry, Hurry, Hurry. No time to think. No time to look around. No time to just listen, no time to wait for others, no time to love, no time for the Lord.

Be anxious for nothing
I was asking the Lord if he had anything for me to bring to a meeting recently, and after a few minutes he spoke four words very clearly into my spirit: “there is no rush.” I didn’t feel led to share it at the time, as it turned out, and so it has been marinating for a while. The scripture that immediately followed was Philippians 4 vs 6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. If we put the two words together, the Rhema and the logos, we get this: “There is no rush. Be anxious for nothing, but in all things…etc.“

Boundless God
Various Bible passages come to mind very quickly when we consider this. At the top of the list is probably Isaiah 40 vs 31: “Those who wait upon the lord shall renew their strength…“ This is probably closely followed for many of us by the raising of Lazarus from the dead: when Jesus heard that his friend was sick he actually waited two days before he set out for Bethany (John 11:6), by which time Lazarus had already died. Or we think of Saul, who rushed to save his kingdom from the Philistines by making a sacrifice in the apparent absence of Samuel, and actually lost it as a result. (He who seeks to save his life will lose it…) There are many others, but behind them are truths that underpin all of Scripture: God is boundless, and He is love. The biggest thing that limits our capacity to love is what we cling to, because whatever we cling to creates a boundary.

Stinking thinking
An old friend and pastor who is now with the Lord used to talk about our “stinking thinking.” We all have our examples of stinking thinking. Anne and I were out for lunch the other day and the waitress came to take away the plates we had finished with. One of them still had some tasty morsels on it which I thought I would still enjoy, so I told her to leave it on the table. I didn’t enjoy it particularly, and it just put on calories which I didn’t need and which aren’t good for me. I had grabbed what the world was offering because it was about to be taken away. Stinking thinking. God’s thinking says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” (James 1: 17) As we know from Psalm 23, He sets His table before us in the presence of our enemies, so there is no rush to grab at what the world gives. How often we can let our appetites become our boundaries.

The Great Victory
 When Jesus was about to go to the cross, He said “the ruler of this world is coming, but he has nothing in me.” (John 14:30) He could lay down His life because He clung to nothing in the world, not even His own flesh: He just clung to His Father. Because He was free of every limitation, He could give the Spirit without limit. He overcame every boundary on our behalf so that we can enter into His boundlessness. He won the war against the world single-handed, so that we could receive His peace. This was the great victory of the Son of Man.

So there is no rush. We do not need to make hasty decisions that rely on our own understanding, without first seeking the peace that surpasses all understanding; and we do not need to grab the world’s opportunities before they are taken away. We have all the time in the world.

The Man who Saw the Light

He was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.

Whenever I have read the story of the man born blind (John 9: 1-39) I have focussed on the unusual details of the miracle itself, its aftermath, its significance as a sign, the blindness of the Pharisees, and the declaration of Jesus that He is the light of the world:  the stuff of countless sermons. But I have never really thought much about the man’s blindness. When the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to cause it, the Lord’s answer was, as we probably know:  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.“

How long, O LORD ?
The thought that struck me when I read the story this time round was simply this: how long has he been waiting in the darkness for the works of God to be revealed in him?  As we know from the account of water being turned into wine, John sees the miracles of Jesus as signs, and his gospel is structured through a progression of signs that bring an unfolding revelation of the deity of Jesus. The work of God that is revealed in this man is centred on Jesus as being the light of the world. The man born blind stands for all mankind, living in darkness until we see the light. Was he aware of God’s plan and God’s timing as he sat begging for scraps by the roadside? I think not. If he prayed, it probably would have been “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

Transformed to follow
Once God’s purpose was fulfilled his life was totally transformed, and not only was he now able to physically see, but from being a type of Man born in darkness, he becomes a type of Man born again into the Light: he values his testimony above his acceptance by the religious authorities, he is excluded from their system, and he worships Jesus. And from being a nobody by the roadside he becomes probably the best-known man in all of history who ever saw the Light.

Sitting in darkness
God’s ways are so much higher than ours. In His plan, the nations are a drop in the bucket, Isaiah 40:15) and “the glory of a man as the flowers of the grass.“ (1 Pe 1: 24-25) However in the dimension of the Spirit God has plans for us that are of eternal consequence; even though, like the man born blind, we may have absolutely no idea what they could be, and are living off scraps in darkness and uncertainty, unable to see God’s purpose and feeling void of purpose ourselves.

The moment of revelation
Yet the blindness and the scraps were also part of this man’s  calling, as they are of ours: the purpose we were born to was that the works of God should be revealed in us. That roadside is where He has put us, the scraps we receive are from His hand, and that transforming moment of revelation is heading in our direction, walking down the road in Christ.

Caked in mud
With an understanding that God hasn’t just left us in the dark to beg for the rest of our lives but that He has put us where we are for a purpose, it becomes possible to find peace by the roadside. But then the question for all of us is this: when our moment arrives, what will be our response? For the man born blind, an encounter with Jesus began the process of transformation, but it didn’t complete it. After the initial meeting, Jesus put mud on his eyes. Not only were his eyes useless, but now they were caked in dirt as well, and they probably stung. Everything in his flesh would have urged him to wipe it off immediately. Things got worse before they got better. But with the mud came an instruction: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Jesus said of His words, “Blessed are you if you do them,” (John 13:17). So the man didn’t try and wipe the stinging mud off his eyes, but he did as he was told.

Sent from the pool
First the encounter, then the mud, then the walk to the pool. The transformation only happened after he had walked and washed. What do we do when God finally turns up after have been praying “How long, Lord?” but then we just get mud on our eyes? 1 Thess 5 16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.“  Do we get up and walk in  joy and thanksgiving and recognition of God’s will, or do we stay by the roadside and wait for another encounter?

Walk and Wash
 The man’s life changed when he walked to the pool and washed, not when Jesus first met with him. Siloam means “sent.” The pool of the One who was sent is the pool of forgiveness (His blood) and the pool of the Spirit (the Water). For God’s works to be revealed in us we need to get up and walk, and to be washed in them both.

The roadside, the encounter, and the mud are steps in the preparation of God’s purpose for us; but it’s by walking that we get to Siloam, and it’s from there that we are sent to bring the light.

The Rope Ladder in the Sky

Walk on the words that I give you and you will be safe.

“I have called you to walk the narrow way. Some see this as a tightrope, and say: ‘This is too  narrow, too difficult and too high, and I will fall off. I can’t do it. I can’t climb up to it and if I do I can’t stay on it.’

But I say, you don’t have to climb anywhere, because I have lifted you. And it is not a tightrope: it is a rope ladder. The rungs are the words I speak to you. Step on the words that I speak and you cannot fall. A tightrope walker has a balancing pole. To keep your balance you need to have your arms spread out. This signifies two things: one is constant praise to me, and the other is the cross that you carry. If you remember to praise me at all times and remember to carry the cross of death to self you will not stumble or fall. And even if you do, remember my words: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. If he falls he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” ((Psalm 37: 23-24)

So be encouraged. I have lifted you into heavenly places to walk on my word. Don’t look down through the spaces between the rungs at what is going on in the world, but concentrate on putting your feet on the words I give you as I speak into your life, step by step.”

I shared this word at Wildwood Church on Sunday. The idea of the outstretched arms representing the cross as well as praise was brought to me by a sister after the meeting, She was absolutely right: we cannot walk one step in the Spirit without carrying our cross. That is our ultimate balancing pole. And as the elder who led the meeting said: “If you walk this ladder it is safer than any concrete path.”

Walking in Heavenly Places

“No one has ascended to heaven but he who came down from heaven, that is, the son of man who is in heaven.“ (John 3: 13)

Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus, and he was clearly on the Earth. Yes He tells him both that He has come down from heaven and also that He is in heaven. this can only mean one thing: Jesus was on Earth and in heaven at the same time.

Have we really got the significance of this? We are raised up with Him, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places. We know the Scriptures. But as we walk around on Earth, how often do we remember where we are at the same time? Jesus could do what His father did, hear what His Father said and see what His father saw, because He was there in heaven with him. It’s not difficult to hear someone’s words or see what they’re looking at if you are sitting next to them.

Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of heaven is “within us.“  This idea seemed like a mystery to me for many years, because somehow I think I was trying to reconcile earthly dimensions with the heavenly infinite. But now I see it like this: the Kingdom of Heaven is within us because our spirits are within us, and since our spirits are seated in heavenly places, the heavenly places are within us as well. Wherever we are, the Kingdom really is at hand; as much now as when Jesus first told the disciples to preach that message 2000 years ago. This is hardly an original thought, I know; but I suspect for many of us the fullness of the truth that we are the carriers of the Kingdom still has to penetrate our hearts.

So of course, the big question is this: why don’t we see more of the kingdom around us if we carry within us wherever we go? I think one of the reasons maybe found in Matthew 11:12: “ The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Who are the violent? Certainly not people who start fights and carry weapons. The “violent” are people who are determined and forceful, those who push their way in. You can’t force your way into something  by just reading about it, thinking about it or even writing about it. I think Jesus may have been thinking about the “violent” when He said to the church at Laodicea that they were lukewarm, and that He would rather they were hot or cold. And He told the Ephesian church that they had to regain their first love – the love for Jesus that Paul had obviously stirred in them just one generation earlier. They had lost their violence.

Jesus has given us the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever our understanding of those keys may be, one thing is true: we are not going to grasp hold of them if are holding onto the world. if we don’t actually walk that narrow difficult way (Jesus’s words, not mine – Matt 7:14)  where they are to be found, we cannot really expect the windows of heaven to open in such a way that the treasures held within will pour through and enrich the barrenness of our patch of Earth. We need to be “violent” to stick to the path. We need to be like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, not the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5: 2-8) , who saw the water move but only for other people. Like him,  we can lie on our beds (or sit on our sofas) and wonder why it don’t seem to be moving around us and around our churches in the way it is apparently moving in other places. But what did Jesus say to the man who was healed? It wasn’t “Get up and jump into the pool;” it was “Pick up your bed and walk.“ His healing came from walking.

There is only one way that the Bible says God’s children are to walk: that is after the Spirit, by faith, and yes, on water. (See “Stepping out of the boat.”) We can only walk after the Spirit (think of Him in front of us, and we are following after!) if we can see where He is walking, and that is only possible when we have pushed through the distractions and temptations of the world and the flesh to be connected to Him in  the heavenly places that we carry around in our hearts.

The Lord said to Joshua, and therefore to us, in Christ:

“’If you will walk in My ways,
And if you will keep My command,
Then you shall also judge My house,
And likewise have charge of My courts;
I will give you places to walk
Among these who stand here.”
(Zech 3:7)

Jesus was on Earth and in Heaven at the same time, and so are we; and it’s when we consciously walk in both places at once that the will of Heaven can be done on Earth. We often ask the Lord in our prayers  and our worship songs to “come down.“ However, this is the prayer of the man who waits by the pool of Bethesda; it’s not for the child of God. We need to remember that we have been lifted up, and start to walk in the place to which we have been lifted.

Stepping out of the boat

“The boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.“ (Matthew 14: 24)

We know what happens next. It was the middle of the night; the disciples were struggling in the boat; Jesus came walking across the sea towards them, and Peter said: “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.“  (Matt 14:28) And then follows the paradigm of the disciple who steps out on the boat and walks on the water.

This is the story of “stepping out in faith.“ We tend to think of it in terms such as:  moving out on mission, giving on God’s command when we seem to have nothing to give, trusting God for miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, believing for supernatural provision, sharing the gospel, etcetera. The “spiritual” works that we walk in (Eph 2:10) that are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most of the time we probably see ourselves in the boat, rowing across the water. But since Romans 14:23 tells us that “whatever it’s not from faith is sin,” it follows that actually every step of the walk of discipleship has to involve stepping out of the boat. Our life in Christ begins when we die to self, and we only “walk after the spirit and not after the flesh,“ (Gal 5:16)  when it is the Holy Spirit and not the carnal self that is leading us. Seen from this angle, the boat, quite simply, is self.

In Matthew’s account, the wind is “contrary,” and they were “in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves.“ They weren’t about to sink; it wasn’t a storm that was blowing. They just weren’t getting anywhere, they weren’t comfortable, and they couldn’t see where they were going. In John’s account they had rowed “three or four miles” and “a great wind was blowing.” (John 6: 18-19) They had lost their peace and their direction. It wasn’t necessarily a time of life-threatening danger, but it was definitely a time of discomfort and frustration. Instead of Peace, there was turmoil.

What do we do when the wind is contrary? When we can’t make ourselves understood? Or can’t grasp what someone else is asking us? When we just aren’t making headway with the task in hand, or when circumstances just seem to be conspiring to cause the waves to rise and the wind to blow against us? Do we grip the oars even tighter, put our heads down and battle on – or do we recognise that we have lost our peace, rest the oars and look out for Jesus?

John writes: “So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” (John 6:19) 

John doesn’t say that they were afraid of the weather conditions; he says they were afraid when they saw Jesus. How often do we find ourselves like those disciples? The wind and the waves may be alarming, but it’s much less alarming to grip the oars that we know and feel that we control, than it is to let go of them and reach out to Jesus. We may not feel we are in danger, but in truth we will be directionless and there is no peace in a wave tossed boat. And when God is not in control of the boat, who knows what waves might be building up.

The flesh is always contrary to the spirit. (See Galatians 5:17.) And if we are not walking after the spirit and following Jesus, the wind is always contrary, whether we feel the boat is being tossed by the waves or whether we are being deceived into believing that all is well. The kingdom of heaven is where Jesus rules, the one whom the wind and the waves obey (Matt 8:27). Stepping out of the boat isn’t just a matter of the miraculous, but it is a model of everyday discipleship. We cannot walk after the spirit if we are hunkered down in the boat of the flesh.

When Jesus got back into the boat with Peter the wind was stilled and they arrived at the shore. Jesus promises peace and it is an evidence of His kingdom rule, but we have to step out of the boat to receive it from Him. When we do, we find our direction. He is always there, waiting on the water.

Sit still and count the sheep

We are the sheep of His pasture
We are the sheep of His pasture

If you were at Wildwood Church with me on Sunday, you will have heard a sister share the following: (I am paraphrasing as well as I remember.)

“I was on a train in the Peak District recently when the Lord spoke to me strongly. It was one of those little tourist trains. It wasn’t an express. It only had a couple of carriages. It went slowly through the countryside and you sat and watched the scenery while you had a cream tea.

We were all on the platform and didn’t know when the train would be coming in, but the station master knew everything and told us what to do and when to do it. He reminded me of the Fat Controller in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. I felt the Lord say to me: “I am in control. I know the timetable. This is not an express, you haven’t got to hurry. All you need to do is to sit there, look out of the window, and count the sheep.“

Doreen emphasised how the Lord was reminding her, and us, that He is in control. He knows the timetable. He knows our going out and our coming in. We are safe in him and we can relax and be at peace. This was a true “now” word, as the thrust of the sermon that was to follow (and which she obviously hadn’t heard) was, essentially, “be still and know that I am God.” And also I think there are a couple of other details which have prophetic significance, alongside the timely exhortation to rest in Him, which I would like to bring out now.

The first is this. The train was going through the peak district. The peaks are a reminder of all the excesses that we see in the world at the moment: not just the peaks of chaos and anxiety that fill  the news every day, but the peaks of excess that the ruler of this world is consistently seeking to tempt us with. God’s train passes among all of these, untouched by them. In Him we too remain untouched. The only  real peak of human experience is our relationship with God: we do not need to climb out of the train to scale any of the tempting peaks outside, or to run away from the threatening ones, however close any of them seem to appear. If we can be still and know that He is God, we will see them disappear behind us.

Secondly, there were the sheep. Doreen specifically said that we need to “sit there, look out of the window, and count the sheep.” As I was pondering this story I felt the Lord turning it around and saying “the sheep count!“ We are the sheep of His pasture. He is the Good Shepherd. Nothing counts more, collectively and individually, than the sheep that Jesus gave His life to bring into the Fathers sheepfold.

If we rush from one destination to another, all we will see is the peaks. But if we sit still on the Lord’s train, in Heavenly places with Him,  in the seat that He has bought for us, following the timetable that He controls, we will be aware of the sheep of His pasture and they will become more important to us than anything else on our journey. And sometimes He will even bring us a cream tea.