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.

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)

The Cave of Adullam

The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth”

(Ps 34: 7-16)

I heard a particular advert recently on the classical radio station that I listen to in the car, and I found myself crying out to God for mercy on our nation: it seemed that the judgement that He poured out onto Sodom and Gomorrah had to be coming our way. I felt the Lord say “I am bringing judgement, but it will not fall upon my people.”

Judgement and mercy. The next day I read Psalm 34, and I found the same theme again: “The eyes of the Lord are on the Righteous…” but “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Again I felt the Lord speaking as I read the words, saying “I am separating the darkness from the light, the righteous from the ungodly; and the separation will be clear: the righteous will shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”

David wrote psalm 34 when he was fleeing from Saul: the inscription is “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.”  There are prophetic levels to many of the psalms and to the character and the story of David, the man after God’s own heart and forerunner of Jesus, our Messiah King. And as well as finding Jesus the King represented prophetically in David the king, we can also see aspects of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth – past, present and future – revealed prophetically in the rise of the Kingdom of David in Israel. David was anointed King as a young man, but spent the first part of his life serving Saul in his court. Saul broadly represents the world and the flesh; David represents the Life of the Spirit. So the Church, anointed by the Holy Spirit, has spent most of the first phase of its growth in many parts of the world living in the court of Saul, and since Constantine’s edict of Milan in 313 AD has lived side-by-side with the state.

This is changing. In communist and islamic states it has changed already, and the church is being persecuted as Saul persecuted David. But now Christians in the West are also starting to face psalm 34 decisions: those who stand up for biblical lifestyle choices are increasingly facing persecution from those who deny God, and a body of legislation that seeks to outlaw Christian choices is growing like a cancer in the USA, the UK, and mainland Europe.  If we look at the story of David after he has left Saul, I think we can see some of the path ahead for the Church as Jesus builds a Kingdom on Earth that is separate from the Kingdom of this world, but which it will ultimately be subject to when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15)

For a start here will be persecution, typified by the slaughter of the priests of Nob by Saul’s senior servant, Doeg the Edomite. Jesus promised it; David pointed to it; we must prepare for it. The church will be driven into the Cave of Adullam, and just as David welcomed the cast-offs of society into his company so we, too, bring the poor, the needy and the broken into the fellowship of the Kingdom. Judah crowned David King, and as the praises of His people surround the throne of Jesus, His power and His love become visible to all in revival power. And finally, just as all Israel received David as King, every tongue and tribe will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Where are we in this story now? I think right now the spear of Saul is aimed at David. For “the man who desires life and loves many days” it will soon be time to flee, because a time will come when there will be a stark choice before us: we either compromise our faith and stay in the comfort of the court of Saul where we will ultimately have to give assent to the murderous intentions of Doeg the Edomite; or we fear God and move out into the unknown, where our trust is in God and not in the systems and provision of the world, and where He has to be the one who delivers us from our enemies because it is no longer in our power to deliver ourselves. We either hide in the darkness for fear of persecution, or we reveal our light and be ready to flee. But Judgement will come on the house of Saul, so our only place of safety is to be outside of its courts. And, as David writes in Psalm 34 and the Holy Spirit repeats echoes in our hearts today, it is the fear of the Lord that will be the key to our deliverance and our provision.

“I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” writes David. It can be hard to reconcile the message of the Grace of God with the idea of the fear of the Lord. If we are saved by Grace and cleansed of all our sin by the blood of Christ, and our place in Heaven is secure, what is there to fear- especially as we know from scripture that perfect love casts out all fear of judgement, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? (See 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:1) For me, the answer to this conundrum is that biblical fear of the Lord has nothing to do with fear of punishment or pain. I think the fear of the Lord is the emotion that accompanies a visceral awareness that each of the three persons of our Triune God has in the intensity of their gaze the power to create and destroy galaxies, that the depth of love that gave us Calvary is as deep as the recesses of the universe itself, and that the cradle that bore Jesus in Bethlehem and that cradles us when we are rocked by our anxieties is the cradle of all history, from beginning to end. When we contemplate this God, from whom the merest flicker of a thought could annihilate our very existence – even if we know He never would – I think we can begin to know what is meant by the fear of the Lord. This is someone we take seriously.

The verses from Psalm 34 above give us five ways to take God seriously, to “fear Him.” If we can take them on board they can help us to prepare for the years ahead and the choices that we will face.

Firstly, we “taste and see that He is good.” He is there; He is real; the power that made and sustains the Universe is within Him; and, most amazingly, we have access to His person through the cross of Christ. How can we not want to taste of His goodness; for it to be a reality in our experience, not just an idea in our minds? To take Him seriously we cannot ignore what the God of the Universe Holds out to us by His Spirit. When we “taste and see”, we can trust Him. We trust someone that we know. We trust Him because we know He is good; we have experienced His goodness.

Secondly, we seek Him. We understand that He has the details of our lives worked out, even if we haven’t worked them out ourselves. The “young lions” who jockey for success in the world, hunting down status and wealth, will go hungry because ultimately the world will fail them. If we will learn the lesson, COVID has already taught us that we cannot rely on what was always there, and that only God is the sure provider that we can trust. As I wrote about somewhere on this site (sorry – can’t remember which post!) – when the whole world was buying up toilet rolls at the beginning of the first lockdown, God sent a vanload of them to park at the adjacent pump in the gas station to the woman who said “Lord, I’m not going to panic buy; I’m going to seek you!” We don’t run after the provision; we seek the Provider.

Thirdly, we guard our tongues. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov 18:21) This doesn’t just apply to the people that we speak to: it applies to us as well. As we give so we will receive. If we tongue-lash others, we will get a lashing. If we bless, we will be blessed. If we build up, we will be built up, and if we pull down, we will be pulled down. Words create or destroy, and Jesus tells us that we will be held responsible for every “idle” (fruitless, barren) word that we speak (Matt 12:36). If we “desire Life” and want to “see good,” we must speak life and speak what is good. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:8)

Fourth, we “Depart from evil and do good.” The gospel is about how we live; not the songs we sing, the books we read, or the words that we prophesy. It’s about how and who we love. It’s about “whatever we have done to the least of these…” (Matt 25: 35-40) It’s about faith that works with love. It’s about 1 Corinthians 13 being the anchor for chapters 12 and 14. What will hold us together in the Cave of Adullam is our love for one another; and it is that unity that Jesus prophesied in John 17 that the world will see when Judah arises in power.

Finally, we are to “seek peace and pursue it.” Not just because Jesus is the Prince of Peace do we make pursuing peace a serious objective in our lives, and not just because the peacemakers are blessed and “shall be called the children of God” (Matt 5:9) – although these in themselves are both very real reasons to seek peace. But the peace we are to pursue is not just peace with other people; it’s the peace that settles in our hearts which the Lord promises to give us (John 14:27) to keep our hearts from being troubled and fearful. After the massacre at Nob David says to Abiathar, the one surviving priest, “”Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.” (1 Sam 22:23) To be safe, we need to be close to Jesus. When we are close to Him – yoked to Him – we know His presence and His peace directs our steps. “Stay safe” has become a mantra of the COVID world. The only real way to stay safe is to seek the peace of Jesus, and pursue it.

We are at a critical moment in the life of the church. God is separating the light from the darkness: as He did right at the beginning of creation, so He is doing in the days of the new creation. I fell that this is what He is saying to us:

You are the light of the world: come out of the darkness and gather to Me! Taste of my presence, trust My provision, speak My words, walk in My ways, pursue My peace! The Cave of Adullam is ahead, but in that place you will know a warmth of love that you have not hitherto experienced, and out of that love you will see the light of my Glory arise and you will know, and the world will know, that I the Lord am establishing my Kingdom on Earth. The wheels are moving quickly now. Do not delay. The enemy of your souls would say that you can sit back, that you are fine as you are, but I say Consecrate yourselves because I am taking you to a place where the ground where you will be standing is holy. So prepare yourselves. For in the cave of Adullam all that you had in the court of Saul will have been taken from you, but everything that is yours in the courts of Heaven will be available. The enemy will say that you will be dying, but I say Die to yourselves, and Live! Live!”

“I Put before you Life and Death”

A word given to Louise Davidson, published on her Facebook page “HeartBeats by Louise Davidson” and reproduced with her permission.

“It is time for My people to mature: there is too many that are still motivated by fear especially, fear of man’s opinions. This fear paralyses my people and it is time to render account repent and allow the Holy Spirit to come and reveal where there are foundations that need to be repaired. The is no time to stay in the background and hope that all will pass you by so you don’t have to get involved. Being lukewarm is not an option if you desire to live in My Kingdom. It’s all or nothing. Time is short and I am bringing a move of My Spirit upon the earth, that has never been seen before!
NO man can say that he was the source, and take MY Glory, no one group will be singled out but it will be My power through the Holy Spirit that will sweep through the earth and bring conviction of sin like never before.
I stand at the door and knock … will you give me entrance to your heart and will you enter into My kingdom completely. Now is the time to decide, as when the great awakening comes there will be great distress for those that have sat on the fence and accommodated the world with one foot in the world and one foot in MY Kingdom. Come now today is the day of your redemption. I put before you LIFE AND DEATH… just as I did with Adam and I say choose LIFE.”

Revelation 3:13-15
13 So the one whose heart is open let him listen carefully to what the Spirit is now saying to all the churches.
14 Write the following to the messenger of the congregation in Laodicea, for these are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the originator of God’s creation:

15 I know all that you do, and I know that you are neither frozen in apathy nor fervent with passion. How I wish you were either one or the other!

Jeremiah 21:8
8 “Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

The roar of rushing waters at Lauterbrunnen falls.

There is a waterfall in Switzerland called Lauterbrunnen, where the glacier melt from high mountains pours down through the rock into the valley below. The water pours at a rate of 30,000 L per second: the roar of those rushing waters and the power of them is breathtaking. Yet when you look at the stream in the valley that runs away from the foot of the waterfall there is nothing impressive to see. It is just a little river running over some stones.

We often sing in church of the greatness and all surpassing majesty of God; the God of the heavens, the creator of the universe. When I look at Lauterbrunnen I am reminded that the same power and majesty dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. All the power and resources of the kingdom of heaven are within us, yet most of the time our experience of the God who lives within us is more akin to that trickle over the stones than the roar in the rock. In our awareness of this reality, we cry out to the Holy Spirit to come – even asking him at times to “come down“ – and fill us some more; to pour in the waterfall to cover our barren stones.

Yet he has already come down: we don’t need to ask Him to come again – He hasn’t left part of Himself behind. When God pours out his Holy Spirit He doesn’t pour it from a cloud that somehow floats our head; He pours it from His own presence that is already here on Earth, living in every believer that makes up the church. When God pours out his Holy Spirit he pours from us, not into us. Rivers of living water flow out; they don’t flow in. We are exhorted to be filled with the Holy Spirit – that is, to be filled on a continual basis, not just once – so we tend to carry some sort of picture of a jug full of Holy Spirit pouring down into our rapidly emptying bowls a we hold them up to him. But I don’t think it’s like this. I think the space He fills is the space that we give Him. If we aren’t full of the Holy Spirit it is because we are full of ourselves. We must decrease, as John the Baptist said, so that He increases within us. God prepared the church for the Pentecostal revival at the beginning of the last century with the holiness movement: His people sought to make room in their lives for the presence of a holy God, and the result was that the Holy Spirit filled the space they gave Him, resulting in an outpouring of His love and power that has gone round the world ever since and brought millions of lost souls into the Kingdom of the living God.

Today, prophetic voices all around the world are declaring by the Holy Spirit that a new and even greater outpouring is on the horizon. But before Pentecost comes holiness. To be full of the Holy Spirit we need to be empty of everything else; otherwise we are not full, we are only partly full. But the Bible tells us to be filled, and keep on being filled. Jesus wants to operate through the Holy Spirit to be Lord of all of our lives, not just bits of them. He wants to be Lord of our thoughts, our emotions, our plans, our motivation, our will, our bodies; worshipping with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, all our strength. The extent to which we are filled with the Holy Spirit is the extent to which He is Lord.

He is calling the church today into a renewed commitment to His lordship, and when we respond to the call He will reveal Himself in a way that is unprecedented In the history of the church. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we will know the roar of the waterfall instead of just the trickle of the stream. And when we do, we will no longer be satisfied with anything else.

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy

“And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:10) 

The key word here is testimony: martyria, meaning evidence given, record, report, testimony, witness. The testimony of Jesus is the evidence if His reality. Those who have the testimony of Jesus are those who testify to the truth of who He is. When Jesus left the disciples at the mount of ascension He said “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The word He used, although in a different grammatical form, is the same: the witness is the one who gives evidence. The term “martyr” has come to mean one who physically lays down his life for Christ in the ultimate sacrifice that is evidence of the strength of their faith, but the original Greek is broader in its meaning, and it applies to every Christian: we are all called to lay down our lives on a daily basis, and, through the power that we have received from the Holy Spirit, to give testimony to the reality of Jesus. But I think there is an important connection between our call to witness, and the testimony of Jesus that the angel spoke about to John.

Jesus said to the Jews (John 5:30): “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. If I bear witness (martyrio)  of Myself, My witness is not true.”

Jesus said that his testimony had no validity if He just talked about Himself. Referring to the law (Deut 19:15), He said: “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (John 8: 17-18). When Jesus promises the disciples that the power of the Holy Spirit would come on them and they would be His witnesses, He was saying that the signs and wonders that followed their ministry as the Lord worked with them (Mark 16:20) were not just a bonus to their preaching, but were the necessary ‘second witness’ that proved that their testimony was true.

There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved… But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness (martyreō) of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me.”(John 5: 32-34, 36-37)

Jesus speaks “that you may be saved.” It is the words of Jesus that bring salvation. Only He has “the words of eternal life (John 6:68). But for Jesus’ words to be proven true the “testimony of man” is not sufficient: the works done in His name by the power of the Holy Spirit are what bring the witness of the Father. The truth about Jesus, the proof of His reality, has to come from the Spirit of God, not the spirit of man; so when the Father bears witness of Him through the Holy Spirit, He can speak and bring salvation.

“He who believes in the Son of God has the witness (martyria) in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony (martyria): that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5: 10-11)

The testimony of Jesus that every believer has within himself is that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. But I don’t think that the scriptures encourage us just to tell people about Jesus and move on, or that quoting His words alone will bring eternal life.  The testimony only has weight when there are at least two witnesses: the disciple speaking in His name, and the Holy Spirit confirming the disciple’s words and transforming the testimony of man into the testimony of Jesus. It is only through the revelation of Jesus that anyone can receive eternal life. I think our words are of little or no effect – and can even push people away from Jesus instead of drawing them to Him – unless the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is working with us to reveal Jesus. We need Him to be leading us in our conversations, and who to have them with; and to be revealing His love for the people we are talking to, often through gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of prophesy – the essence, the breath, the pneuma – is always the revelation of Jesus, confirmed through the Holy Spirit, speaking words of salvation. The angel tells John what we must do to walk in it:

“Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophesy

The spirit of prophesy isn’t the gift of prophesy, the ministry or the office of the prophet. It’s the very heart of what prophesy is, the God-life that flows in it. The key to walking in this is worship. This isn’t just singing songs: it’s worship in spirit and truth. I think worshipping in spirit in the context of the church service  is allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us, to make room for His ministry and be led by Him into the presence of God. But that is only one half of the story, because we need to be worshipping in truth as well. And we aren’t worshipping in truth if we are not obeying Him by loving each other, and we’re not loving others if we are on our own agendas. To be worshippers we have to be continually checking our agendas. Am I on God’s agenda, or my own?

David prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 23-24: ) David only knew the Old Covenant Ark of the Testimony, but he looked forward prophetically to the testimony of Jesus and revealed it throughout his psalms. Just as the Old Covenant Ark carried the testimony of the Law, we, the church, are the Ark of the New Covenant, and we are the carriers of the Testimony of Jesus. If we pray David’s  prayer on a daily basis (at least!) we give God permission to examine our hearts and  minds for hidden self-centred agendas, and our worship will begin to reveal the truth of who He is.

Here are just a couple of those “wicked ways” to be going on with. Paul writes to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15). Approval. Am I looking for God’s approval, of Man’s? Do I want to give my testimony because I want people to hear my dramatic story, or because the Holy Spirit is going to work with me to reveal Jesus? Only the last one is the testimony of Jesus: the first is the testimony of man, which He doesn’t receive. And secondly: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7) Is everything I am saying and doing grounded in God’s power, His love, and the realities of salvation – or is there fear lurking somewhere in the woodwork? Fear hides in surprising places, and nothing prompted by hidden fear will bear good fruit. We all need to allow the Holy Spirit to flush it out of our lives, because it will keep us off God’s agenda.

I think we are like water channels that can get silted up: the deeper the silt, the shallower the water. If as individuals and churches we want to see the Spirit of prophesy bring the testimony of Jesus into people’s lives, we need to worship in Spirit and in truth: we need deep to be calling to deep (Ps 42:7), which means praying those verses from Psalm 139 every day to keep dredging the silt out of our lives.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

A prophesy given to me on 8th-9th Sept 2021

“Many of you are like phones that are running out of charge. While some are topped up, others among you are running at 40%, 30% or 20% charge. Some of you are on low power mode. You need to be fully charged. You need to be connected to me all the time, so that you never run out of charge. For I am doing a new thing in the Earth and the ground is being prepared. You are the Light Brigade, bringing light into the darkness in my name and in my power. Unlike the first one, which was done in the strength of man, this charge will not fail; but you will need to be fully charged to complete the mission. It will be as in the day and Gideon, when my people revealed their lights as one and the massed powers of darkness fled before them. Stay connected to me, so that when I blow the trumpet and say “Charge!” you will both hear the call and have the power for your light to shine. Those who are connected will hear the call, and all around the world my Light Brigade will shine as one. Do not be like the phone that cannot receive a call because it is out of battery, but make sure you are fully charged, connected to me. This is my charge to you.”

(Historical note – for those not familiar with UK history, the “Charge of the Light Brigade” was a famous military disaster that took place in the Crimean War in 1854. It has been the subject of much literature and art , especially the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, as an iconic example of pointless heroism.)

He that is in us is Greater than he who is in the World

We’ve all seen this sign: there is a bumpy road ahead. There are bumps ahead for all of us: political and economic bumps as systems weaken and collapse in the face of “the beginning of sorrows” that Jesus prophesied in Matt 24:7, and emotional bumps as we navigate our paths over them. Some will be minor disturbances; some will be catastrophic upheavals. Some we will face as individuals; some as churches, and some as nations. But whatever goes on in the world, the truth is this: “He that is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Is this truth something that is alive for us, burning in our hearts like a bright fire against the cold and the dark, or is it just another Bible verse – albeit a powerful one, we acknowledge – that we know is true but that somehow we don’t experience the truth of? We know that He has given us His peace, “not as the world gives,” but do we walk in it? “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) As we hit the bumps  we need to know how we can receive the peace that the One who is in us is giving. The apostle John gives us some pointers:

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4: 12-16)

By this we know…

If we wanted to write down two of the central planks of New Testament theology it would be that we are in Christ and He is in us. In these five verses we find four references to God being in us, and three references to us abiding in God.

We know it’s true that we love one another. (verse 12) We might not express that love all the time, and we may not feel it consistently; but there are times in our lives when we know that the love that God has “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)  flows through us and reaches a brother or a sister. John tells us that this love that we carry in our hearts for one another is the proof that God “abides in us”, because it comes from Him, not from our own flesh. However this is still head knowledge, and to have the proof in our heads is not enough for it to become the experience of our hearts. John – and Jesus – wants more than that for us. He says “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

More head knowledge, you may say. But I don’t think it is. To “know” – ginōskō – is to know fully and intimately, empirically as well as intellectually. We know fully and completely the reality of God dwelling in us when we experience the person of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives. “By this we know – have experiential knowledge – that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

So the proof that he abides in us is that we love one another, but the experience of that truth is the empirical knowledge of the Holy Spirit who has put that love into our hearts. What follows from those two statements is this: the more we express the love that we have for another, the better we know the one who is in us. And the better we know the One who is in us, the better we know that He is greater than the one who is in the world, and the more we are able to express the love that He has given us for one another.

Gently does it.

And so we come to the bumpy road and a practical application of these verses. How do we go over the bumps? By going slowly. Gently does it.  If we don’t go gently we are likely to crash. This is not just an application of material experience to spiritual ideas: it is a scriptural principle. Gentleness is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus tells us to learn from His gentleness in Matt 11:29. When we hit the bumps in life, our first recourse must be to behave gently and not be quick to react. The victory that has overcome the world is our faith (1 John 5:4), and we need faith to slow down instead of being driven headlong into the bumps by our flesh. It is only by trusting God and not our own abilities that we can be still enough to listen to Him and be led by the Spirit in gentleness. Those bumps might be out there in the world, or they might be right inside our own front doors. Wherever they are, trusting God enough to be gentle gives us time to love, and when we love we walk in the proof of His presence within us, the One who is so much greater than he who is in the world.

There is bumpy ground ahead: when we face it, we need to remember to walk slowly enough to love one another, because

When we love one another we can know His presence,

When we know His presence we can feel His power,

And when we feel His power we can receive His peace.

By This We Know Love

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)

We all know John 3:16. 1 John 3:16 is less celebrated, although it is of course a familiar scripture. A reading of John’s first letter probes the heart and challenges us in our walk of faith, and no more so than in this verse. We can imagine the apostle remembering the words of Jesus that he recorded in his gospel account (John 15:13) as he sat down to write this letter: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” and thinking, ‘Yes, this is at the heart of it all.”

What do we think when we read it?

I once watched a seal in the River Liffey in Dublin. A school of salmon was swimming up the river, which in itself was a splendid spectacle; and I stood for a while and enjoyed the glitter and flash of the darting shapes in the water. The seal was enjoying it for a different reason, which was in its mouth, half-eaten. But a detail I remember clearly was that there were also three or four small crabs clinging to the mutilated body of the salmon, having their own little feast How they had got there and how long they had been clinging I don’t know, but it was definitely one of those “I wish I had my camera” moments and it is printed very clearly on my memory. There are at least two “crabs” attached to this Bible verse.

One of those crabs is religion. Religion reads those words and says: “See! You must live a life of sacrifice. No fun for you. Don’t even think about enjoying life. Look at the rules! They say you must always put other people first. They say you have to be a doormat. It’s good to be a doormat! Who knows, you might even have to be a martyr. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said? He laid down His life, and he expects us to be willing to lay down ours, literally…” And so it goes on, seeking to present to the world the image of a joyless, dour and discontented assembly that the world will shun. And for centuries it has succeeded.

The other crab is the intellect. This is one I know well. The intellect reads scripture, thinks about it, maybe writes about it, tears off little pieces with its claws and puts them into its mouth to savour – but doesn’t live them. The intellect loves to dwell on the theory and the theology but doesn’t apply them to the here and now. We see examples of this from time to time when well-known ministries are discovered with their hands either in the church finances or on someone they shouldn’t be touching – or both – but the problem is far more widespread than the public fall of a few high-profile individuals. A couple of verses on from our opening scripture John wrote : “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) It’s easy to talk and write about love, but what counts is when we do it. The widow who gave her mite almost certainly had far less knowledge of the Law than the Pharisee who withheld his fortune.

So what is meant by the principle of laying down one’s life? Yes, we are called to serve. Yes, we are called to give. Yes, we may be called to literally die for our faith. Nothing that the religious spirit speaks of is untrue in itself, but it leaves out the most important part of the picture:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25)

The Bible doesn’t teach us to lay down our lives out of duty, but out of desire. We have to desire to follow Jesus, and when we do, we will find our lives. At the beginning of his letter, John says “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” We lay down our lives so that our joy may be full. This is not the religion that shrinks the soul or the intellect that puffs it up: this is the abundant life that Jesus came to give us (John 10:10). The life that we find is not the life that we were born with, but the life that we were born to: it’s the life of the Spirit that is ours in Christ. Whenever we find that life we find peace and joy, we find patience and self-control, we find kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and above all we find love: all the fruit of the Holy Spirit flows like rainbow colours in that living water. And if we need a gift from Him for someone that we are with – healing, prophesy, a word of knowledge – it will be there for us, carried along on the current, whenever we lay down our lives for Jesus and the gospel.

Whenever, not when or if. Because, as we know from many scriptures, that stream is always there for those who are born of God. Although it flows out of us (John 7:38), we also have to step into it (Ezekiel 47); and to step into it we have to step off our own dry land. But to do so is not difficult or complicated; it does not need the worship band or the anointed speaker, and we don’t even need to remember this morning’s Bible verse or even – shock, horror – to have had a quiet time, for “His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) To step into the river we just need to step into Love, and this has just one simple prerequisite: to love another person we need to leave our own agenda on the bank.

I really do believe that it is as simple as that. Whenever we give ourselves to the person we are with, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to flow into the relationship and bring His agenda into it. By contrast, whenever the outcome that we desire is for the person we are with is, one way or another, to give themselves to us, the river of Love will just flow past. We can worry so easily about what will happen if we let our agenda go, but if we believe the scriptures we know that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1: 17), and that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12: 32).

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) writes Paul. This is the life that Jesus holds out to us when we lay down our own to love another. How can we not desire it? Because surely it is to die for.

Abiding in Him

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6)

Sometimes I go birdwatching if I wake early  in the morning. I like to leave early, but usually spend a bit of time with the Lord before I go. (The prayer time also involves coffee…) If we abide in Him and He abides in us this will involve our leisure pursuits (assuming they don’t involve ungodly activities!) as well as everything else we do, and He will use them to His purposes – sometimes just to bless us, because He loves to do that – and sometimes because He has something else in mind. Here are three examples of why it matters.

An important aspect of my hobby is taking photographs of interesting birds that I see. Taking the pictures and looking at them afterwards is a big part of the enjoyment for me. A few weeks ago I woke at about 6.30 and decided to go up onto Cannock Chase, our local beauty spot, and see what might be around before the dog-walkers and joggers started to turn up. Because my “window” of hopefully uninterrupted time was relatively short, I decided on that occasion not to even bother with the coffee or the prayer time – I’ll do that when I come back, I thought – and headed straight up to Cannock Chase. I parked the car, and my head was full of what I might see at this time of day. I switched off the engine and reached for my camera. It wasn’t there. I had gone out to photograph birds but I had left my camera behind.

It doesn’t take a word of knowledge to work out what the Lord said to me through this. Proverbs 3:6 tells us “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” As I have written more than once before, the word “acknowledge” here means to know, not just refer to. The sense is closer to “abide in” than what we understand by “acknowledge,” which is just to accept or admit the existence of something or someone. I didn’t acknowledge the Lord in the sense of Proverbs 3:6 before I went birding, and He quite categorically did not direct my path.

There have been a couple of times since ten when, equally categorically, He has. One was on my birthday, which was nine days ago at the time of writing. I woke at about 6.00 am and decided to go birding. There are various hotspots within half an hour’s drive of our house, and I decided I would go to one of those rather than just go up onto the Chase. This time though, I had my coffee with the Lord. When I left, I felt strongly that I should go to a particular reservoir that is actually managed as a nature reserve by West Midlands Bird Club, of which I am a member. My favourite birds are warblers – little two ounce balls of fluff that migrate thousands of miles to breed in the UK and bless us with their various tweets and twitters from our woods, heaths and hedgerows. There are about ten warbler spieces in the UK, including some rarer types, that an informed birder has a reasonable chance of seeing in the UK, depending on where they are. One of the rarer warblers is the grasshopper warbler, and a few breed on a patch of heathland about the same distance from me as the reserve I was heading for.

As I drove down the motorway, I thought: “Perhaps I’ll go to Norton Bog in the hope of seeing a grasshopper warbler, and not the reservoir?” “No!” came the thought back. “Go to the reservoir. Stick to your original decision.” So I stuck to the plan. When I arrived I found that a small team from the bird club were ringing birds. They put up nets in strategic places, a bit like volleyball nets, catch the birds, inspect them for their general health, their age etc, ring them and of course release them. The activity plays an important part in the scientific study of bird populations. When I saw them I said “Have you got anything interesting?” “Yes, said one of the ringers. We have got something special.” I could spin this out, but I won’t. It was a grasshopper warbler. That morning I saw six different spieces of warbler, including another one that I hadn’t seen since I was a boy of about 11 (that’s sixty years ago!) and took some lovely photos. What a birthday present from the Lord! Why did He give it to me? Because He loves me, and wanted to bless me on my birthday! He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Eph 3:20) and we can so easily forget this. I could, probably would, have traipsed around Norton Bog and seen nothing of interest. Instead of that, His power at work in me directed my paths and blessed me with a birdwatching birthday present that I am going to remember for ever, and which I would like to think I will thank Him for personally when I get to Heaven. Not only will His immeasurable power do such wonders for us, but He will do them for others, through us, if we will only seek His presence and believe His word.

A grasshopper warbler being ringed. More than I could ever ask or imagine…

The final example of how He directed my paths on a morning birding excursion has got more of an immediate “Kingdom” aspect to it, and happened just three days ago. Again, I had my coffee with the Lord, and felt that I would go a bit further afield, to a place called Barr Beacon. I left at about 6.30, but when I was nearly there I was slowed down by the first wave of commuter traffic so by the time I arrived the first dog-walkers were already out. However, I was blessed almost as soon as I got out of the car by a little family of yellowhammers, and once again I tried to allow the Holy Spirit to “direct my paths.” After about 20 minutes I was on a particular path, trying to get a picture of a willow warbler in a tree, when a man came in my direction with his dog. “Oh, well; bye bye willow warbler,” I thought, and made a fuss of the friendly little dog which came up to me with its tail wagging. The man and I exchanged pleasantries, then he called his dog and went on.

I was going to move on myself, but I felt a prompting to stay around there. Maybe the willow warbler will be back, I thought. Actually it was the man and his dog that came back after a few minutes. In fact the warbler hadn’t gone far, because I could hear it calling from the hedgerow. Max (the dog) stopped to say hello, and the man stopped and we chatted some more. He told me he had heard something in the hedge, and we started chatting about  warblers and the wonders of migration. I started thinking, “Lord, is this where You come into the conversation?” Soon He did, and I was talking about the God of Creation. He was agreeing with me, and before long we were referring to the Bible and I was thinking the Lord may have led me to a brother in Christ. I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said with a little smile, “No. Actually I’m probably the devil to you, because I am one of Jehovah’s witnesses!”

I had been directed to that place at that moment to testify to a Jehovah’s witness of how I had been led to our conversation by the Holy Spirit that he didn’t believe in.

We had a couple of the inevitable conversations and he fished a tract out of his pocket and gave it to me (I was convicted: why didn’t I have one in mine?), but I felt strongly that God hadn’t sent me there to argue with him. Just like Paul with the Corinthians, I don’t believe that we convince JWs “with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” (1 Cor 2:4). Like a lens on a camera, they have their own lens that they put on the Bible, and they view everything through it. The Holy Spirit has to get them to change lenses. I felt that my mission was to make two declarations of truth concerning the Trinity, and to leave them with him. I said, “Born-again Christians and Jehovah’s witnesses always argue, and I don’t want to do that. I just want to make two declarations to you: there is a personal Holy Spirit (they believe that He is a force), and Jesus isn’t a created being (They translate John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was a God.) At that, we parted company amicably. His name is Kevin. Please pray for him!

One last little story. The next time I went out after the episode where I had left my camera behind, I opened my Bible to the psalm I had been reading the previous day. It was Psalm 84. Straight away I noticed verse 3, which says: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God

We will even find an anointing on the subjects of our leisure interests if we stay near the altar of our King and our God.

To Be a Pilgrim

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.

(Psalm 84: 5-7)

I came to faith as an adult, but God was preparing me for my journey many, many years before I finally made a decision for Christ. I loved singing certain hymns in Primary school, for example. I didn’t understand them, but I remember how uplifted I used to feel, and how I didn’t want them to end; and looking back I can see how that was the presence of the Holy Spirit touching my young heart and drawing me to Jesus. One such song was “Guide me o though Great Jehovah:”

“Guide me O though Great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak but though are mighty,
Guide be with thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more!”

The second line, especially the word “Pilgrim,” conjured up something heroic in my imagination; something romantic, something above the humdrum of the daily routine of school desks and the constraints of parental authority, something that had mountains, deserts and jungles in the background. I had read “Pilgrim’s Progress” (almost certainly a children’s version!) when I was seven or eight, and another song I loved was “He who would valiant be,” by John Bunyan, taken directly from the book:

“He who would valiant be
‘Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.”

I didn’t really know what a pilgrim was when I was 9, but I knew I wanted to be one.

The Hebrew מְסִלָּה (pronounced mĕcillah), translated as “set on pilgrimage” in most modern versions, is actually a noun meaning a road or causeway, a raised way or a highway. A more literal translation of the text rendered whose heart is set on pilgrimage” would be something like “at the core of whose very being is a highway.” We can set our hearts on a thousand different objectives, from something we want to buy or somewhere we want to go, to a particular career or someone we want to marry; but in every case the objective is the destination, and not the journey to it. The psalmist had a different vision: the man is when he sets his heart on the journey, not the destination. And even though the Holy Spirit makes it clear where the journey will end, which is “Before God in Zion,” at the core of our pilgrim’s heart is the walk with the Way Himself, Jesus, as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14) God took care of the destination at Calvary, so that we can focus on the details of the journey.

Verse 6 tells us where the path takes us, which is through the Valley of Baca. “Baca” means weeping, probably (according to the Blue Letter Bible) suggesting gloom and barrenness. Jesus sends us to bring His life into a dark, barren world, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Where there was darkness, He sends us to bring light; where there was weeping, springs of Life. And as we let His rivers of living water (John 7:38) flow out of us, this scripture promises that the rain will also come and “cover it with pools.” Although we often find valleys of weeping in our own lives, where the Lord works in our hearts to bring healing and life, this scripture tells us that it’s the pilgrim, not God, who makes the barren valley into a life-giving spring. The purpose of the pilgrimage is for us to bring God’s life and love to those around us, rather than to receive it for ourselves. And as we set our hearts on this purpose the Holy Spirit does what only He can do: He covers it with pools. Supernatural manifestations of the presence of God will gather in the valley as the pilgrim passes through releasing the love and power of Jesus into the barren place.

These promises are fulfilled for the one whose strength is in the Lord (verse 5); who trusts and relies on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish those things that are impossible for the human frame. The more we draw on the strength of God, the more it increases in us. As we get older the natural course of our human strength is to diminish with every passing year, but in the Spirit the opposite is the case: we go from strength to strength as we walk on the path of faith.

Jesus is the Way: to say that the core of our being is our journey of faith is really another way of saying that Jesus is Lord of our life. Our journey ends when we “appear before God in Zion,” but we do not have to work for our acceptance: Jesus has paid the price for that, and our Heavenly Father has already received us as His babes when we were born again. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

To be a pilgrim is to have no objective other than to walk the Narrow Way with Jesus and to have our hearts set on the journey, knowing that the destination is already taken care of and our purpose is to turn the barren places into springs of water as we pass through them; and believing the promises that His strength in us will increase as we do, and that pools of revival will gather as He pours out His Spirit on the thirsty land. What a blessing!

He who would valiant be
‘Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound –
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
Though he with giants fight:
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Us with thy Spirit,
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim

John Bunyan (1628-1688)