It is no surprise that the West seems to be moving towards war with Russia. This isn’t because of the political situation that has been developing, or the apparent belligerence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but it’s because Jesus warned us of it 2,000 years ago at the same time as He warned us about Coronavirus:
“And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matt 24: 6-7)
When we came to Christ we were born into a battlefield. Sometimes the battle is invisible, and sometimes it is visible: the same spiritual forces are stirring the hearts of men today as when Goliath taunted the Israelites, and the commander of the Lord’s army is the same person today as when Joshua met Him outside the walls of Jericho. What is important for us today is not that we react to Goliath waving his spear, but that we listen to what our Commander is saying and obey it.
First of all He tells us not to be troubled, because “these things must come to pass.” If we are praying for them not to happen we are ignoring the fact that they are already in God’s diary, which means that our prayers should be leading us in a different direction. Instead of asking God to take away what is troubling us, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us stay untroubled. As we all know, Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt 5:9). And as Jesus also said – again, we know the verse – “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.
When the wars and rumours of wars come to pass, as they must, we can remain untroubled if we let His peace rule in our lives. The quiet of His peace is louder than the shout of war; His stillness is stronger than the tumult of any storm. It is true that a peacemaker can sometimes be one who brings reconciliation between warring parties, but I think a true meaning of the word in the context of Jesus’s teaching is this: a peacemaker is one who brings others into the peace announced by the angels that God brought to Earth in the person of His Son.
So how can we be peacemakers amid the clamour of war? The key, as I have said, is to know His peace ourselves, because unless we do we have nothing to share. But knowing His peace means so much more than not being afraid, because when we are still we know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), and when we know His presence among us we can also expect to hear Him speaking His word into our lives. When we hear Him speak we can have faith for His provision, whatever privations wear might bring, because “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) When we act in faithful obedience to a word from God we do see mountains move and impossible things happening, which then strengthens our faith and helps us to keep walking along the narrow way.
And because the Way of love is narrow we can easily stray from it, so we have to walk in the close company of our Good Shepherd, who guides and comforts us through the valley of the shadow of death. If we are cringing in terror ourselves, we will find it difficultreach out to bring peace to another; if we aren’t trusting the God who feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies of the field for our provision, we cannot participate in Heaven’s economy by meeting someone else’s need when our Commander calls us to do so. At Jericho Joshua asked the Lord whose side He was on, and, like every other verse I have quoted here, most of us will know what He said. It was: “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14) Jesus doesn’t take sides in our battles: He brings us the peace emanating from the Father’s love that He won for us at the cross, and He also asks us to pass it on to others. When the rumours of war are loud and the storm is raging, uncertainty screams at us from all the media: that is when the certainties of faith are our anchor. We don’t hold onto the anchor chain with hands that can be ripped from it by every passing wave, but by the nails that held Jesus to the cross.
When Jesus began to make it clear that He would soon be leaving them, Thomas was uncertain. He said: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” When we have the certainty of knowing that we are no more going to be separated from the anchor chain than Jesus was going to come down from the cross, we can trust Him enough for our feet to stay on His path. David wrote:
“I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, For You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities And have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place.” (Psalm 31: 7-8)
The child of God brings His peace when the world is rife with rumours of war. It is when we stay on the Narrow Way that our feet are set in a wide place.
Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40: 7-8)
How often do we step out of our daily routine to draw aside with God, and then bump into a word that speaks directly into a situation that we are praying about, in a portion of Scripture that we read that very day? What never ceases to astound me as how that word has been waiting for this moment. I want to invite you to put on sunglasses for a moment and stare with me into the blazing glory of the substance of the Word of God.
The psalmist writes that Gods word is “settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89) The Hebrew word for settled means established, standing firm. This is the word that created the universe, and that sustains “all things;” (Heb 1:3) it is the Word that was in the beginning before becoming flesh. (John 1:14) Jesus says that His words will remain even though Heaven and Earth pass away (Luke 21:33). He tells us that His words are “Spirit and they are life.” He does not say that they are from the Spirit or that they bring life; He says that they are spirit and they are life. God’s word is living and active. It seems that the substance of the word is actually part of the substance of God himself. John 1:1 affirms this, because the gospel writer tells us clearly that “the word was God.” God’s words do not just come from Him; they are part of Him.
Speaking through David by the Holy Spirit, Jesus says (Psalm 40 verses 7 to 8) “Behold I come, it is written about me in the scroll of your book. I delight to do Your will Oh Lord.“ He made it clear to the scribes and Pharisees that the law and the prophets revealed Him: He was written there long before He came in the flesh. We find many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, but I think the clearest of them all is actually Psalm 22, where we find not only Christ’s experience of the crucifixion described in great detail, but also His birth and life (vs 9-10), His resurrection (v 21), the Church age (v 22) and His coming Glory (vs 27-29) as well.
The Psalm famously starts with Jesus’s cry from the cross: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“ And it tells how He can count all his bones, how He is “poured out like water“ and “all His bones are out of joint“, how His hands and feet have been pierced. how His enemies cost lots of His garments, how He is mocked and taunted. (vs. 12-18) Then, like a blazing comet in a dark sky, comes a single sentence set on its own: “you have answered me.“ (v 21)
Following this, we see in quick succession the establishment of the church “my praise should be of You in the great assembly“ (v 22), and the fulfilment of the kingdom promises of justice and mercy: “I will pay my veins before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him will praise the Lord.“ (v 26) The final declarations of this wonderful psalm focus on the end time promise that “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. (Verses 27 to 28)
When Jesus came to do the Father’s will, these words were already settled in Heaven and written about Him in the scroll of the book. When He cries out “My God My God why have You forsaken Me?” He is not only declaring God’s judgement of and turning away from the sin of all mankind, He is also connecting with the eternal word of His purpose and His posterity that is settled in the scroll of Heaven. In the extremes of the greatest anguish known to man, the Son of God is trusting the Father because He had already declared that He was, and that His prayers had been answered, 1000 years beforehand. It was settled in heaven.
As Jesus so powerfully and finally demonstrated from the point of the cross, when God’s word comes alive in our circumstances it comes with all the power of Heaven. Our lives too are written in the scroll of God’s book, as we know from Ephesians 2:10 that talks of the works prepared for us beforehand “that we might walk in them.” When we pray and speak words from that book we too are taking hold of words that are “settled in heaven,“ and we are bringing something of the very substance of the spiritual dimension into space and time. We know that we are praying prayers that will be answered, because the answer is there already, just as it was for Jesus (verse 21: “You have answered me.“)
We read in Romans 10: 17 that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.“ When we hear a word spoken by the Holy Spirit, whether it is a word of scripture or a word spoken directly to our hearts, we know it will be fulfilled because God’s word never returns to him void ( Isaiah 55:11) God hasn’t only given the word that is spoken, He is also actually in its very substance in order to fulfil it. Our challenge as disciples of Jesus is to always try to make sure that the words we are speaking and the prayers that we are praying are words that are settled in Heaven. Jesus said more than once: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.“ (E.g. Matt 11:15) Peter says that we are “born again of the incorruptible word of God, ”(1 Pe 1:23) and I believe that these “Ears to hear” are the “hearing” that comes by the word: it is ours at the new birth, and ours to refine as we mature in Christ. It is only this “hearing,” these spiritual ears, that is able to hear heavenly words.
We know that Spiritual things are spiritually discerned; (1 Cor 2:14), and also that “the flesh profits nothing.” (John 6:63) If we read words from Heaven that are written in the Bible with our ears of flesh, they cannot impart faith: we cannot receive the life that is in them, and the consequence will be disappointment. We will profit nothing. We know that Heaven’s answer will always come from Heaven, but we can so easily forget that our prayers, like the prayers of Jesus on the cross that we read in Psalm 22, must also come from Heaven if they are going to bring Resurrection life into situations. These are prayers of mustard-seed faith; this, as well as praying in tongues, is praying in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray (Romans 8:26). If we want to see more prayers answered, we must always remember to ask Him for His help.
Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:4).
Jesus calls us to have “the faith of God,” (Mark 11|:22), and this faith is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). This is the God-faith by which He “calls those things which are not as though they are.” (Romans 4:17) (See the article “the evidence of things not seen” )To walk the path of faith, however, does not mean that we spend all our time walking in the miraculous, although for some this is the call on their lives, and for the rest of us it is always a possibility and is part of the fabric of what Watchman Nee calls “The Normal Christian Life.” What we are primarily called to as the people of God is actually to demonstrate His righteousness on earth. As Psalm 23:3 tells us, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” For God’s name to be glorified, we are to walk in righteousness. Yet we know we trip up constantly, and it’s forgiveness and grace that we walk in, not righteousness. We don’t stride, we stumble. I am a new creation, but my old man has to die daily because he won’t lie down. I am crucified with Christ, but I keep jumping off the cross. I have to keep renewing my mind because the old thoughts still hang around. I have a new heart, but there isn’t a saint alive whose old one is still there, feeding his flesh. And “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
There is only one way to walk in righteousness, and that is the way that God has given us, which is the path of faith. As Paul writes (quoting Habakkuk 2:4) at the beginning of his letter to the Romans, and Luther declared again to Rome some 1,500 years later, this is the power of the gospel: “In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just (the righteous) shall live by faith.’” Faith doesn’t come to the person who is righteous; righteousness comes to the person who has faith. Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:4). Isaiah 51:1is a word from God to all of us, not just the Jewish people of the time:“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.” The blessing which is our inheritance was poured out on Abraham and his descendants, and again on us by the Holy Spirit, because he acted on the word of God: “Go to a place that I will show you . . . Take your son whom you love and offer him to Me . . .” (see Genesis 22:1-2). Abraham had the faith of God, so through him God’s righteousness was revealed.
I am an evangelical Christian, and I certainly do believe that the moment when I trusted Jesus for salvation, accepted His forgiveness of my sin, made Him Lord of my life and was born again, is the moment when I received the robe of righteousness that I am wearing today and that I will be wearing for eternity. It is the gift to me of God’s grace. But I don’t think it stops there. If the Holy Spirit leads us in the paths of righteousness so that God can be glorified, if we are to look to the model of Abraham in order to seek after righteousness, and if the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith”, it is this revelation of righteousness to the world that the Spirit of God is urging us on to, not just the security of knowing that we’re dressed properly for the wedding feast. We reveal His light to the world as we walk from faith to faith; one step of faith to the next. My faith yesterday was for yesterday. What is God asking of me today? Where am I exercising my faith in the next couple of hours? When did I last make sure that I was tuned into His wavelength? Are my decisions based on what I feel in my spirit God is telling me to do, or am I just following the path of conventional wisdom and doing what is expected? Am I walking by faith, or by sight?
Our pastor, Markus, demonstrated this walk of faith for me one night when I was with him at a 24/7 prayer meeting. He told me to stand in the corner of the room, then picked up some small floor mats, about 18-inches by 18-inches square. He said, “Cross to the other corner of the room without your feet touching the floor!” It was of course impossible – by sight anyway. “Go on,” he said, “cross over!”
“OK, whatever . . .”, I thought, and started out as if to walk. Immediately Markus dropped one of the mats in front of me, and I put my foot on it. Then he did the same with another mat, until I had crossed the room. So I did the impossible thing I had been told to do. I “set out for the place I did not know”, and arrived there. I could not have done it, of course, if I had not been close enough to Markus for him to drop a mat where my foot was about to go.
God is calling us all the time to stay close enough to Him, moment by moment, so He can whisper those floor-mats of His words into our spiritual ears for us to see where He has put the next mat and step onto it in confidence. And so we walk, faith-step by faith-step, from faith to faith, led by the Holy Spirit in His paths of righteousness, so that Jesus is glorified and His righteousness is revealed.
(From “Two Seconds to Midnight,” chapter six: The Path of Faith)
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
The evidence of our senses.
“I saw it with my own eyes.“ This is the statement a person who knows that something is real. An eyewitness to an accident or to a crime testifies the truth of the event by declaring the evidence what he or she has seen. In a court a witness will swear for the truth of the events that he described as the evidence of his own eyes and it is taken as truth. What we see with own eyes is the evidence of its reality. The same is true about other senses: we know something is real if we smell it, hear it tasted or touch it. The chief quest of history is to point to the evidence of events in the past to prove the veracity of historical accounts. Primary evidence is the holy grail of the historian. The scientist cannot state that the theory is true without showing the evidence that support his claims. The evidence of our senses gives us a consistent and true account of the world our bodies inhabit. We can reasonably expect that the Sun will rise tomorrow and that grass will still be green next week, and not red or purple, because the evidence of our experience tells us that this is the truth.
The domain of the spirit
However here is another world, an enduring eternal world which the body of man rejected at the Fall; where God dwells, which our human senses do not naturally perceive and which scientific evidence can no more grasp than a hand made of fog could can clutch a stone, and which even the measurement of time cannot encompass: the world of the spirit. The truths of this world cannot be grasped by the senses with which we engage with the natural world. And yet if our spirits have been born again and we’ve been raised up into the eternal domain of the spirit, I think it is possible to say that our spirits also have a sense of their own, and that sense is faith. If spiritual things are spiritually discerned, faith is the sense that does the discerning.
Without faith we cannot please God. Righteousness dwells in Heaven, and without faith we cannot see Heaven, neither can we perceive the truth of righteousness. When we are born again of the Spirit our spirit is born with its sense of faith, which is why even faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8): our natural bodies do not possess it. And just as a human baby is born with senses that function, so the spiritual baby is born with faith in its heart. In the new birth, the battery is included.
Our Living Hope
Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pe 1:3). Through the perception of faith our living hope comes alive in the person of Jesus: hope for the present manifestation of supernatural realities, and hope for the future realisation of our incorruptible Kingdom inheritance. And so (we are) “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last Time. In this you greatly rejoice.“ (1 Pe 1:5)
Faith is not a belief system: it is substance; it is evidence. Because Jesus had the faith of God so he could see what the Father was doing even though it was still unseen in the material realm. (John 5:19). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for. This hope is not the “maybe, someday” hope of the English language, but a certainty of something yet to happen- more like the destination of a journey being travelled than the possibility of one not yet embarked on. All of Jesus’s miracles were hoped for as certainties before they were manifested: since He had this faith as evidence of what the Father was doing, he was able to “do also in like manner.”
Seeds of faith
So faith is not generated by how we think: it informs and shapes how we think. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14): our flesh cannot have faith, although it can be changed by it. Faith is not an extension of the imagination, but when faith is operating our imaginations can be the screen upon which the Father can project impressions of what He is doing, just as He did for Jesus. We cannot grow our own grains of mustard seed: they have to be received in the Spirit realm. We don’t need extra or bigger grains for bigger miracles: if we have faith we can see what the Father is doing and we can do likewise, whether He is moving mountains, mending hearts, healing bodies or releasing resources; and when we see with our faith what He is doing, we can receive the substance of faith as a seed that we plant in the material realm. We know that we will see on Earth what we have seen in Heaven.
In Jesus all the promises of God are Yes and Amen, but if we want to live in the victorious Christian life that all those promises lay before us, I think we need to perceive each one as a spiritual reality grasped with our own personal faith-sense as “evidence of things hoped for”, and plant our feet on their substance, step by step, knowing that they have been “set in a broad place.” (Psalm 31:8) We cannot walk in the truths of the word just because we know them or can read them: they have to be revealed to us in the Spirit, by faith.
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). In these days of uncertainty there is nothing more important than staying in the presence of God so that we can hear Him speak seeds of faith into our hearts. Because when we can see what the Father is doing, we have the evidence of His light shining on the path that He is calling us to walk, however dark or confusing the world around us may seem.
“My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my heart yearned for him. I arose to open for my beloved, And my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the lock. I opened for my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” (Song of Songs 5: 4-6)
As the Lord’s plan for the ages unfolds, and we appear to be drawing towards the closing stages of this generation, the separation of the Kingdom of God from the kingdoms of the world is becoming increasingly apparent and necessary. As I wrote in “Not by Might nor by Power” lawlessness is abounding and “the love of many” is already “going cold.” If we are to separate ourselves from the world and its ways we also need to be separating ourselves from its direction. To follow after Jesus in the labyrinth of deception and destruction that surrounds us we have to be able to depend on his voice and his guidance, and we know that we, His sheep “hear His voice (John 10:27); that He promises to “lead us in the Way everlasting” (Ps 194:24); and that He to give us His counsel (Psalm 16:7). The question is: do we hear it, and even more significant: if we do hear, do we heed it?
Jesus is constantly calling to His bride, encouraging her to prepare herself for the time when He comes to take her to be exclusively His own, forever. Like The Beloved with His hand on the door latch (Song of Solomon 5:4) He draws close: His heart is for us to arise from our sleep and seek Him diligently. But sometimes we open the door to Him, and He isn’t there. Does that mean that the bridegroom isn’t speaking to His bride? Certainly not. What this passage (and the ensuing chapters) tells me is that maybe the voice of our beloved isn’t speaking to us as often as we might like to think, especially when we are metaphorically lying on our beds and ‘can’t get up;’ that when He speaks to us it is a special and a wonderful experience that He wants us to cherish and to seek out because we long for His presence more than for anything else.
So how do we distinguish the voice of our beloved from the voice of our own desires and imaginings, or, even worse, the deceiving voice of the enemy? Here are a few signposts that I think may be helpful. They relate specifically to how we receive counsel and guidance from the Lord in our own lives rather than words of knowledge or wisdom that we feel we may have for somebody else.
God doesn’t drive; He leads.
God is never in a hurry. Patience is a fruit of the spirit; haste isn’t. He is more interested in what He is doing for us and in us and what we are doing for Him. He builds with gold, silver, and precious stones: lasting minerals that are purified and refined, not hastily thrown together with “wood, hay and stubble.. that will burn up with fire.” (1 Cor 3:12) This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to move quickly sometimes: He may prompt us to act quickly over a particular situation, and if that is the case we will feel a repeated prompt in our spirit that won’t leave us alone until we have acted on it. But this is very different from rushing to put something together that doesn’t bear the hallmark of beauty and perfection that identifies it as a Kingdom project. When God created the heavens and the Earth it was good. When we create something in His name – because everything we do, if we are His brothers, is in His name – He wants it to be good as well. So if you feel that God is telling you to do something, He’s not likely to be saying you have to rush it. And while you’re doing that thing for Him, He will also be doing something in you. God doesn’t drive; He leads.
Love, Life and Fruitfulness
Because God is love, His words are words of Life, and His desire for us is that we are fruitful. His plans always lead to love, life and fruitfulness. If the plan that you feel is from the Lord is taking you away from the people that He has given you to love, it is very likely that those plans are from your fleshly nature, not the heart of God. Always ask yourself: where is the love in what I’m doing? I have mentioned elsewhere that I enjoy birdwatching and photography. One day I was praying about my hobbies; in particular I was saying to the Lord that they seem very self-centred and not very “Kingdom”, and what did He think? His answer was very clear: “Why don’t you share them with others?” So I have started taking people from church on birdwatching excursions that they have really enjoyed. Love, life, and fruit. He didn’t take away my enjoyment: He actually expanded it by adding love.
Opportunity – or temptation?
God is creator and master of the universe. And because that’s true, He can arrange circumstances to speak to us, just as He speaks to us through all of creation. But that doesn’t mean every time events line up in favour of something that we desire to do that it is the Lord who is arranging them and giving our plans a green light. Yes, an opportunity can be a confirmation, but it can also be a temptation. Anne and I come from a new age background and we have seen the powers of darkness line up events to further the devil’s plans for us, not Gods. God saved us out of that, and in doing so He has allowed us an insight into the workings of the spiritual domain that we were in. It isn’t pretty.
God doesn’t lead us into temptation, but He allows it so that we can recognise it for what it is. And He doesn’t allow any temptation without also providing the means to escape (1 Cor 10:13), and very often that means of escape is provided through other people. An important scripture in the context of guidance, again given to the Corinthians, is 2 Corinthians 3: 1 “in the mass of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.“ We may feel God is guiding us in a particular direction: that would be a “word“ that we have. A door of opportunity appears to open that confirms that word. But that opportunity is only one witness: on its own it confirms nothing. In fact It may actually be a temptation. But if a brother or sister also confirms the “word“ that we have received, we can possibly start to think that God is indeed leading us – as long as that leading also fulfils the requirements of Love life and fruitfulness. God put us into a body so that we can be carriers of His love. As we love one another the world can see we are His disciples, yes; but also as we love we can support one another in our discipleship walk. God puts us alongside people so that we can hear His through them and likewise so they can hear Him through us. It is through the body that God often provides that second or third witness which may be the way out of temptation.
Two or three witnesses
Scripture refers to “two or three” witnesses. When is two enough, and when do we need the third? If we need to step out in faith and rely on supernatural resourcing for a certain course of action, I think we need to hear supernaturally that those resources will be available from the One who supplies them. Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of God: the word that we step on has to be irrefutably from God before we put our foot there. Generally speaking that would mean a confirmation being brought through a prophetic channel that has no natural connection with the plans we are considering. In this context I would say that even “godly conversation” with a trusted brother or sister is not enough. David said to Nathan that he wanted to build a temple for the Lord. Although David obviously had the resources available, such a project clearly would need Gods approval. Nathan encouraged David to go ahead, but the Lord corrected Nathan’s words in a dream that night to change David’s plans. God spoke supernaturally into the situation.
So “the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (One Corinthians 12: 21) We need each other. Again, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.“ (Proverbs 11:4) God is not interested in a loose assembly of Mavericks all pursuing their own ends and saying that God told them what to do, even though He didn’t tell anybody else. He loves us too much for that. He wants – and we need – a temple of living stones that are “fitly framed,” (Eph 2:21), set alongside one another and depending on one another for support, to be effective channels of His love and carriers of His presence.
Building the Temple
Zechariah 6: 12-13 says: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne.” (Zech 6: 12-13)
He shall build the temple of the Lord. This is God’s master plan. I think that this may be the only place in the Bible where a phrase is directly repeated in this manner, emphasising it within the whole canon of scripture as a statement written in red letters, bold and underlined. Alongside this in importance is the beautiful obsession of the Bridegroom for His bride-to-be. The closing chapters of the Song of Solomon are rich in detailed descriptions of the lovers’ attributes as the dialogue switches between The Beloved and His bride while they speak of their knowledge of each other. Jesus, The Beloved, longs for the time when “We shall know Him even as we are known.” (1 Cor 13:12) In the divine scheme of things, knowing Him has surely to be more important than knowing what to do.
And so we return, finally, to the two Great Commandments: we love the Lord our God, and we love each other. In one way or another, everything that the Holy Spirit does on Earth in the name of Jesus is connected to His master plan and with our relationship with Him, the Master. If our guidance isn’t, then we have to assume it is not from the Holy Spirit.
A friend of mine said that when we approach to cross we see a sign saying “welcome all who enter here,“ and then after we have passed through it and look back from the other side we see another sign that says “chosen before the foundation of the world.“ Both of these statements are scripturally true, yet by any human reasoning the one appears to contradict the other. I know people whose faith has crumbled to dust because they’ve stumbled over a doctrine of predestination which has convinced them that they are excluded from God’s grace. I know of others whose faith has become meaningless because they have believed that ultimately nothing matters since everyone is accepted in the Beloved anyway. And I know somebody else who he is tying himself into tighter and tighter knots because he’s trying to square the circle by making sense of them both with his intellect. So how can we reconcile these two doctrines?
The fact is that we can’t. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. We are saved “by grace through faith, and that a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) Faith comes to us from above: we do not grasp it with our understanding. At the cross the vertical, heavenly, plane meets the horizontal, earthly, one; and Jesus hangs there with his arms stretched across one and his feet nailed to the other. Only He can bring the two together. We receive His life when we believe in His name. We enter into this life where the vertical and horizontal meet: at the meeting point of the human and the divine, at the point of the cross.
Jesus thanks the Father that the gospel was revealed to babes, not to the wise and learned. (Matt 11:25) Paul tells Timothy to avoid controversies and speculation because they only cause strife (2 Tim 2:23), which James would tell us is earthly, demonic wisdom and not “the wisdom from above.” (James 3:15 ) The first epistle of John uses the phrase “by this we know” eight times. We know that we know God, that we abide in Him and He in us, that we are walking in the Truth and can discern the spirit of error, that He loves us and that we love one another. By what do we know these things? By the facts that He has given us His Spirit, that we love Him, and that we keep His commandments. We do not know them by the striving of the intellect.
We are called and sent to dwell in peace, love and unity, and to build a Kingdom where righteousness reigns, where God’s will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Sitting in a Roman dungeon and knowing that the day of his execution is probably near, Paul writes to Timothy “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…” (2 Tim 2:24). Those who strive to assert the validity of their understanding above that of a brother or sister are excluding themselves from everything that they are trying to prove. For the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth the world has to be overcome, and it can only be overcome by what we receive from above: “whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
If the human brain could grasp what our God-given faith tells us is true, the cross would have no point.
Before I became a Christian in 1984 I was immersed in “new age” thinking: I believed that there was a higher level pf consciousness that we called God, but that there were ‘many paths up the mountain.’ (I write a bit on how I met with Jesus in the middle of this fog of deception – including my conversation with a demon masquerading as the spirit of the pharaoh Ahkenaten that I was writing a novel about – in “Two Seconds to Midnight.”) So I was fascinated by all things spiritual, unless of course it was the Truth – that can only be found in Christ – and that had long been consigned to the intellectual bin of narrow-minded dogma. I love to think back sometimes on my winding road to salvation. The apostle John wrote “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining,” (1 John 2:8) and I think that is what happened to me: the light in the fog gradually came nearer, then one day I saw where – Who – it came from. (If you are a non-Christian reader who has somehow googled your way onto this page, that is happening to you now.)
One significant time marking the approach of that Light for me was when I read the first epistle of John. I can’t remember why I read it at that time, because I wasn’t yet a Christian, but it was the first book of the Bible that I ever read, and what struck me about it was its deep spirituality. I didn’t understand it (although I probably thought I did at the time), but I realised that here was something in the Bible that was talking to me about spiritual matters on a level that I enjoyed. It pushed my buttons. Ever since then I have been drawn to that book. I have been challenged by it, I have meditated on its many pithy statements, I have been encouraged by it, I have been swept along by the tides of its all-encompassing pronouncements such as “God is Love,” “God is light,” “Perfect Love casts out fear,” “By this we know Love, that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us,” and many more. But only now, after 37 years, do I see the point of it. John himself tells us plainly why he wrote this letter: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1).
It’s easy to lose sight of the basics in our complicated, hyped-up modern world. Our senses look for more and more stimulation, and we expect it to come more and more easily. And just like the world constantly lures us with calls for “more,” we can bring the same consumerism into our Christian lives: we can look for “more” of God and heightened levels of spiritual experience, and at the same time lose touch with the whole point of the Christian message, which is that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15.) Jesus went to the cross so that we would stop sinning.
John’s logic is clear and compelling: when we are born again we are born of God; we are no longer of the world. We have “passed from death to life.” (1 John 3:14) God is light and God is love: there is no darkness in Him and He cannot sin. Sin is from the devil who “sinned from the beginning.” Jesus came to “take away our sin” and to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3: 5, 8). “Whoever has been born of God,” writes John, “does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”
If we are born again we cannot sin and we don’t sin. Hmmm. Have you sinned recently? I know I have. Are you born again? I know I am. How do we reconcile these contradictory statements? John even writes himself: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) It must be possible to square that particular circle, because John himself clearly has no problem with it. Strong’s tells me that the meaning of “commit sin” is to have nothing to do with God’s law, to wander away from it; to miss the mark. It means to persistently live without reference to God’s righteousness: in other words, to sin is to walk in darkness. If we are born of God, who is Light, we cannot spend our time walking in darkness because there is a “seed” of light that remains within us.
What happens of course is that there are times when we don’t walk on the path where the light is shining; and when we stray from that path we stumble. If we are not born of God we remain in the world, “and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one;” (1 John 5:19) however if we are born of God, we have overcome the world: “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
If we are not born of God by faith, whatever we do and however we worship (however good it may seem in the world’s light) remains in darkness, because the world and all that is in it is in darkness and is passing away. As Jesus Himself put it: “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23) On the other hand it is possible to walk by faith and stumble because we have looked away from the light, because “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
So the difference between walking by faith and having religion is this: religion is thinking you are walking in the light while your “eye is bad,” whereas faith is knowing that we are children of the light even if we have stumbled out of it, and knowing that Jesus will always bring us back from the shadows and into the eternal sunshine.
Our path in the light doesn’t have to be a haphazard one, though, because we have been given a torch to keep hold of: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10). We all know Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet. And a light to my path.” This light to our path is not difficult to hold, or as John puts it “God’s commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3 b). In fact all of the law is summed up in one verse: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8) If we obey the command to love, His word is a lamp to our feet. And as loving God is keeping His commandments, (1 John 5:3 a) if we don’t love one another, not only have we dropped the torch, but we aren’t loving God either. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
Jesus didn’t just command us to love one another so that the Church could be a reflection of the values of the Kingdom: He told us to love one another because His purpose was to rid the world of sin. He told us to love one another because “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Pe 4:8) He told us to love one another because the world is dark and we need a torch if we are going to we can walk in the light. It’s not by memorizing pages and pages of scripture, it’s not by reading a new devotional book every week, it’s not by praying in tongues for two hours every day or playing worship music from the beginning to the end of every car journey. All of these things help us to know where the torch is and where the light comes from, and they can help to keep the battery on charge. But the only way to walk in the light is to take hold of that torch with both hands and shine it on the path before our feet. If we don’t love one another, we stumble straight into sin.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6) And then in chapter 6 of the same letter he writes “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything but a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) First he says “In Christ, it’s not about the law, it’s about Grace; and Grace is only about one thing, and that is faith working through love. Then he writes, “In Christ, it’s not about the law, it’s about Grace; and Grace is only about one thing, and that is a new creation.” So by this logic, faith working through love and the new creation are synonymous. We are born again for one thing only, and that is for faith working through love.
If this is the case, what is the work of faith? James famously writes “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.“ (James 2:26) When Paul writes to his friend Philemon he talks about faith becoming “effective:”
“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” (Philemon 4 – 7)
The Greek word translated as effective – energes – is only used in the new Testament for supernatural power. It’s the same used same word translated as “powerful” – or in some translations “active”- in Hebrews 4:12: “for the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword.“ Effective faith is active and imbued with power. It is Faith with Works; not dead but very much alive.
As the writer to the Hebrews says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11: 1-3), and Paul writes to the Romans: “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” (Romans 4:17) God creates by the power of his word. He knows that what he speaks will bring about the fulfilment of his will, and will call into reality things which did not exist before his word was spoken. His creative word carries His life. It “framed the worlds“ and “gives life to the dead.“ The words of Jesus are “spirit and life.“ It is God’s own faith that knows for a certainty that what He says will happen: that His word “will not fall to the ground void.”
So how do we receive this faith ourselves? The answer, as Paul writes in Romans 10:17 is this: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” When we hear God speak His word into our hearts we know it carries his creative life giving power. If we want to move mountains, we need God’s faith.
“So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. (literally “the faith of God”) For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. (Mark 11:22-23)
“If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20)
Paul is clear about the source of effective faith when he writes to Timothy: “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.“ (One Timothy 1:14)
Faith is in Jesus, as indeed is love. When we exercise effective faith we are drawing on the faith carried by Christ in us, not on something we have generated ourselves. If you have God’s faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. This faith is activated by a word from God brought by the Holy Spirit, and it operates in the spiritual realm. Human faith is activated by the soul and operates in the realm of flesh. You can have human faith the size of a mountain, and it won’t even move a mustard seed. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!“ is the cry of a heart that recognises the difference between the two.
What else do we need to operate in effective faith? Paul tells Philemon that faith becomes effective “by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus.” The word translated as “acknowledgement” means precise and correct knowledge. The church is “the Fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:23) Effective faith is borne out of “precise and correct knowledge” of every good thing that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus – has put into us: the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Unless we are operating in the fullness of the Holy Spirit we are unlikely to share our faith effectively – ie, with power. And since any one gift of the Holy Spirit might carry a mustard seed, we need to be open to them all.
Effective Faith takes us from death to life, from flesh to Spirit, from human effort to divine enabling, from standing in the boat to walking on the water. We cannot know it unless we are filled with the Spirit who brings it. “All you who are thirsty, come to the waters!” (Isaiah 55:1)
When spirit-filled faith abounds in the Church, things start to happen… “And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of faith and power, (in other words, effective faith) did great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6: 5-8)
To be filled the fullness of God we need to be empty of the emptiness of self. The works of faith go hand in hand with the labour of love. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.“
The Prophet Bob Jones, who died in 2014, was known for the remarkable accuracy of his prophetic ministry. He is also known for the fact that he temporarily died many years previously, in 1977, after after a short illness. When he reached Heaven he heard Jesus asking everyone the same question. It was this: “Did you learn to love?“ Bob Jones obviously hadn’t, because he came back to this life, and from that time on he was known not only for his gifting and the power of his ministry, but the depth of the love that he showed to others. He was known as “the prophet of love.“ However powerful our ministry, without love we are nothing
Love doesn’t come naturally: it is the result of a choice. At every interaction we can choose love or we can choose self. We can choose life or death. We can walk by faith, or we can walk by sight. We can walk according to the spirit, or according to the flesh; we can live out of the new creation or out of the old. We were born again so that we can learn how to love and bring Gods love into this world. To do this we need to “be renewed in the spirit of (our) mind “(Ephesians 4:23); we need to “put off concerning your former contact, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,“ (Eph 4:22) and “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:24) The new man is a supernatural being. Just like faith, love is found in Jesus, so to walk in love we need to walk in Him. To do so we need to die to self. And dying to self all day is hard! That’s why it’s a labour of love. Actually without the Lord’s help it isn’t just hard; it’s impossible. As Paul says: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
If we keep close to Jesus and keep in mind why He endured His cross, He will help us with our own. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:4)
Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.“ What was His joy? Sit down for this: it was you and me! And the rest of the Church, of course. Paul writes to the Ephesians “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5: 25-27) He has a vision for His bride and He is working on bringing her to the potential that He sees. We need to let His love that is within us show us His vision for each other so that He can work for us to bring others to their potential in him.
We are given a wonderful example of how the Holy Spirit gave one man revelation of his vision for another brother. A young man in the early church was clearly on fire for God, but he was not accepted by the other disciples. Barnabas, like Stephen a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” saw his potential and introduced him to the elders of the Jerusalem church, who accepted him into the group. His name was Saul. “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” Acts 9:26-28 Before long there was an attempt on his life, and the brethren sent him off to Tarsus, presumably for his safety. At around the same time Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church to Antioch, where the Holy Spirit had begun to move in power. After encouraging the brethren there, Barnabas went to Tarsus – a round trip of about 500 miles – to fetch Saul to assist him in the work. The two of them then spent a year ministering together in Antioch. This is where Paul’s apostolic ministry began to emerge, and the term “Christian” was first used.
Barnabus saw the vision that Jesus had for Paul; he connected him with the leaders of the church; he singled him out for an important ministry opportunity in a young, growing fellowship, and almost certainly would have been discipling him during the year at Antioch where he was leading the apostolic team. Later, Paul would write: ““From whom (Christ) the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16). To disciple others and to be discipled by others is a natural outworking of relationships in the church and the supernatural work of faith working through love in the body by the power of the Holy Spirit, and is what moves us closer to our destiny in Christ.
So to have the power, we need to be connected; and to be connected, we need to have the power. The essential characteristic of the new creation is faith that works through love. It is the supernatural lifestyle that brings the supply of Heaven to Earth, releases the potential in others, matures the bride of Christ, and makes disciples.
I felt the Lord showed me a railway line going into the distance, except it was going up into the air, like a fairground ride, not along the ground. He says “The train has been bumping along slowly because it has been running over the sleepers, not along the tracks that I have laid down for it. The sleepers are barriers across the path: divisions, religion, unbelief. All the time my church looks at these barriers it remains stuck on them, rooted to the ground and bumping along slowly instead of rolling freely along the tracks that I have set and rising up into the realm of the Spirit. For the track is the twin rails of faith and love. I am going to lift the train back onto the rails, and the train will surely speed up as the wheels roll freely at last. You will look for the sleepers, but they will be flashing by so quickly that you will not see them, and you will just hear the sound of the wheels speeding along the track towards your destination. Listen: can you hear them? Faith and love, faith and love, faith and love, faith and love, faith and love … The destination is your certain hope, the anchor of your soul. Take your eyes off the sleepers, for it is only faith and love that will get you there. Listen to the sound of train – Faith and love, faith and love, faith and love, faith and love, faith and love …”
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13)
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Gal 5:6)
Our purpose To be yoked to Jesus is to be yoked to His purpose. John tells us that the purpose for which the Son of God was made manifest was to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Our purpose is to bear fruit. Think of the parable of the sower: the seeds sown in and through our lives can’t bear fruit if the devil snatches them away, if they have no spiritual nourishment in which to put down roots, or if they are choked by worldly distractions and worries. The “good ground” is where these works of the devil are being or have been destroyed: this is where we bear fruit and where we find our promised rest. Because rest follows work: we enter into the Lord’s rest when we stand in the victory wrought through the work of the cross. Whatever we are seeking to accomplish in the kingdom of God must be a work of the Spirit: unless we truly believe that Christ has already accomplished at the cross the work we are walking in, we will achieve nothing. If it is not a work of faith, it is a work of the flesh and will simply burn in the fire of testing. The rest that is born out of walking in the purpose that God has birthed in us is the rest that is found in the place of victory on the other side of the cross.
Our Promised Land Our promised land – the “exceedingly great and precious promises that have been given to us” – is this: to be “partakers of the divine nature”. If we allow ourselves to be invaded by the Spirit of God, we not only find ourselves starting to really know Him – to know His heart, His character, His desires for us, and above all His voice – we start becoming like Him. We will do what He did, and we will do the “greater things” promised in John 14:12. We will start to feel His compassion, so it won’t even occur to us to want to feed ourselves before feeding the 5,000. We will speak out of His love instead of our self-interest. Our promised land isn’t our city, the mega-church we want to build, a worldwide ministry, or 10,000 views on our YouTube channel; it’s to be partakers of the divine nature. The prerequisite to entry is that we have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”. All that leaven has to go. Only Jesus can make this happen, because “if the Sonmakes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36) and He will do it by the power of the Holy Spirit, because “the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17). Peter needed Pentecost to be yoked to Jesus. And if it was necessary for Peter, it is necessary for us.
Holiness If you are married, it is very likely that you and your spouse became man and wife because you loved one another. If your marriage is successful, one of the reasons is probably the fact that you were attracted to the qualities you saw in your spouse. You loved – and hopefully still love! – your spouse because of who they are, and because you love the qualities and the attributes that characterise them. We worship God, and tell Him we love Him. It’s reasonable to say that God’s standout attribute is His holiness. So do we love holiness?
If we put a poster on the wall saying “Be holy, for I am holy,” our response to it at any given time would be a good litmus test of whether we are walking in the flesh or in the Spirit. The flesh is corrupt so it will always want to avoid even the thought of holiness, so in the flesh we would most likely just want to take it off the wall and put a photo frame there instead. If we want to run from the poster there is no point praying about anything, because we won’t be praying in the Spirit – unless of course we are praying about not wanting to run from the poster. However, in the Spirit we will see those words and be drawn to Jesus, and coming from our heart will be a cry that He will continue to work in our lives to remove anything that stops the light of His holiness shining in our lives. That would be a good time to pray.
God’s Provision The important lesson for us is that God’s provision is in His very presence. What He wants from us is our hearts: a willingness to trust Him with what is ours, and to place it in His hands. We catch a glimpse, literally, of God’s perspective on our economy when we see Jesus sitting outside the Temple watching people putting their gifts into the treasury. We know the story: the poor widow, whose two mites represented all she had, had put in far more than the wealthy who gave leftovers from their abundance. We don’t see that widow again, but we can be sure that God gave back to her in the same measure that she had given to the Temple. Wealth and poverty have traded places. Our God is a creator, and loves to create, and we can so easily forget that when we look at our bank statements. But if our hearts are rich towards Him, we will see Him create in our material circumstances and fill our baskets, whereas if our hearts are bound by our bank accounts we remain in poverty, and will only ever see the loaves and fishes that we can provide for ourselves.