Tag Archives: by faith

Pictures from China: 3) The Narrow Way

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;

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

Along with John 3:16, these are probably two of the best-known verses of the Bible: we all want God to direct our paths- especially if it is along the Psalm 23 route of quiet waters, with the table that He has set before us somewhere along the way. When we visited the Great Wall I knew I would write something about it, as it is such an iconic monument, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. What I’ve got is a few thoughts on the paths that He directs us on.

The paths of righteousness

The verb translated as “direct” our paths is to maintain the straight and right, from the same route as the word used to describe Job, who was an upright and blameless man. This verse doesn’t just mean God will tell us what to do, and where to go; it means that if we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will lead us in His paths – the paths of righteousness. And not actually for our own benefit, but for His name’s sake, as Psalm 23 (v3) also tells us. The blessings and benefits do come our way of course, but it’s always when we seek His path and not our own…

Lifted up

Before walking along the path you have to reach it. And the way up is by cable car. We have to be lifted up to start the journey. Cue Eph 2:6 “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Or, if you want a more active version, Hab 3:19 “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon my high places.”

We can try and lift ourselves up of course, and indeed we can achieve a lot: in China and all over the world the testimony to mankind’s efforts to re-create the Tower of Babel is multiplied in taller and taller concrete towers, like these office blocks in Dubai.

Or, we can let God lift us up and build with His stones. God’s kingdom doesn’t go up towards Heaven; it comes down from it. What we build in the spirit is always in the higher place, and when the work is complete, the New Jerusalem will come down from Heaven.

The Unprofitable Servant

So what the Great Wall has left me with is a picture of discipleship. The paths that God will direct us in are the paths of righteousness. Righteousness is by faith (Romans 3:21), but living faith is evidenced by works (James 2: 14-24). To walk in the works that God has prepared for us (Eph 2:10) we obviously have to do what He asks us to do, just like the “unprofitable servant” of Luke 17:7-10; and it is this obedience to Jesus (not the words we sing on a Sunday) that is the evidence of our love for Him: “If you love me, you will do as I command.” (John 14:15). And we all know what He has commanded us to do. When we love Jesus, we love one another. Unless we do, there is no walk of faith.

It’s not about you

Faith can be a lot closer to home than the stories in the Bible or the books we read. In fact it needs to be, because without faith in our hearts that recognises that God has a plan that we cannot see but that we nonetheless desire to serve, we do not have the ability in ourselves to lay down our lives and die to self. It is Faith that says “I can’t see the point of this, and I don’t want to do it, but if it will bless somebody else that the Lord loves I won’t think about what it costs me, but I will rejoice in the blessing it is bringing to the other person and will trust that God is going to look after me as well.”

The word that Jesus brought to Nabeel Quereshi (author of “Seeking Allah, finding Jesus”) at his moment of revelation was: “This is not about you.“ It is faith that keeps these words alive in all our hearts, and when we can walk in their truth we are walking the narrow way.

Pictures from China: 2) Sojourners and Pilgrims

As we often remind ourselves, we are no longer of this world if we are born again of the Sof God; we are merely in it. We are sojourners and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11), looking for that heavenly city which is to come as we walk after the spirit and not after the flesh. At least, that is how it’s supposed to be. What is true is that our spirits have been born again into the spiritual dimensions, but our flesh still lives in the world that it was created for – or indeed that was created for it. Our challenge as Christians is to respond to the messages that come to us in the Spirit, and not override them with the signals from the world and the flesh.

Another missed call

Sometimes though, spiritual life is like walking along that street in China, shown above. We are there by faith, but we don’t understand much of what is going on, and if we are getting any signals we often don’t recognise them or understand what they mean until the moment has passed and they are like another missed call on our cellphone. How often do we lament, “Oh, I knew the Lord was telling me (not) to do that! If only I’d listened!” The signals that we follow the most faithfully are the ones generated by our own bodies and our own minds. We might be spiritual beings, surrounded by spiritual realities, but often we might as well simply be creatures of the flesh for all that we are responding to the spiritual dimension.

Our Guide

What we need of course in an alien environment is a guide, and Jesus has given us just that: a guide to walk with who will make sense of the spiritual world that we have become citizens of. I mean the Comforter of course, the Holy Spirit. But He is a gentleman: He won’t translate for us unless we ask Him. And as well as being a gentleman, He is love, so He won’t guide us in His purposes unless our purposes are committed to His. I have a feeling that God is dealing with many of us as individuals to set us free from our self-centred agendas and align our hearts with His own, so we can be prepared for whatever He is about to do on the Earth. We need to be walking with our Guide.

Solid Food

Because I think the Lord wants to lead us into far greater revelation that we have been accustomed to – the “greater things” He spoke of – and He is saying to many of us that the season of spiritual milk is over. We’re  no longer babes, and we need solid food. We have had plenty of lessons in how to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we have seen something of the reality of the power of God, but these have mainly been school days and now it’s time to grow up. Classes will always continue for those who need them, but the solid food of living in this world as citizens of the kingdom of God is the same food that Jesus spoke of to His disciples, which is to do the will of the One who sent us. As He sent out the 12 and the 70, He sends the Church out today. To graduate from the classroom requires faith and sacrifice, but it is when we are in touch with the reality of love that we can expect the truth of love to guide us in spiritual realms, and the Power of Love to quicken our lives and flow into the lives of others. We will start to read the signs all around us as we walk: “Reach out here. Touch there. Speak these words. Bring my healing to this sick person. Intercede for this city.  Cast out this demon…”

“Mercy and truth met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth shall spring out of the Earth,
And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him
And shall make His footsteps our pathway.”

(Psalm 85, 10–13).

The School of Love

I won’t repeat what I wrote a few days ago: we do not know the day or the hour, but there are abundant signs – in the world, and for those who look upward, in the heavens also – that the return of the King really is at hand. Our mandate is to go into all the world and preach the gospel, preparing the way for that time. Our priority must be to reach the lost. Our light must increase as the darkness deepens. It will do, because Isaiah 60 1-11 says it will: the question that each of us have to face is whether we want to be part of that brilliance or not. To do so we need to grow in three areas: faith, power, and love.

Faith: for ourselves
We will need to grow in faith –we will need it as individuals, to depend increasingly on Jehovah Jireh as the provision of the world fails. If, as Revelation 13:17 says will happen, we are forced to choose between trading in the system of the world and its banking and being true to our King and His Kingdom, we will need to walk day by day in the expectation and experience of God’s supernatural provision. I wrote a couple of years ago about the time at the beginning of lockdown when everyone was panic-buying toilet rolls and there were none in the shops:  God told us not to join the panic but to rely on Him, and when we were down to our last one a delivery van full of them pulled up next to my wife at the local petrol station. God delights to show His little flock that they need not fear. (Luke 12:32) But this is just one example of God’s faithfulness and practical care out of three years of living by our bank cards and not by faith. How prepared are we for this to be a way of life?

The Bible verses abound, beginning a small selection with Hebrews 10:38 : “The just shall live by faith.” Paul reminds us that “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) “The prayer of faith will heal the sick,” declares James. (James 5:15). Hebrews again: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him,” (Heb 11:6) and to finish, Paul’s pithy statement to the Romans: “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” However we choose to look at our walk with God in these last days, there is one truth that is paramount: every step we take has to be a step of faith.

Power: for the world
Faith is not just for our daily bread of course: we will need it to grow in power, the second area of need. The world will need to see us move in the power of the Holy Spirit if the multitudes who are in the valley of decision are to see the word of the gospel confirmed in signs and wonders and come to faith. Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel  “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…” As I wrote in Rainbows and Chickens,” those who believe that God moves in signs and wonders today need to preach the gospel to see the power of God at work; and those who regularly preach the gospel need to have an expectation of God to confirm that word with signs and wonders. Word and Spirit must work together. Hebrews 4:2 is a key verse:

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them,  not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”

So here is the equation: Faith + the gospel = power to save. Paul wrote this to the Galatians: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:17) This is not theoretical language; this is truth. To be baptized in the Holy Spirit is to be immersed, soaked, in the Spirit of Christ. Being “in Christ” isn’t just theology; it’s the reality of being soaked in Him.  And if we are soaked, we can expect people to get wet when we touch them – wet with the miraculous life of Christ. Jesus told us that the way to increase our faith is to understand that we are just “unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were told to do.” (Luke 17:10.) So if we couple the faith of simple obedience with believing the reality of who we really are – who God says we are – in Christ, we can expect to leave a trail of the soaking wet Life of Christ behind us whenever we “go” and preach the gospel. And when those signs and wonders happen, faith rises in many hearts and mixes with the word that was preached, and souls are born again into eternal life.

Love: for the Church
And finally we will need to grow in love – the church will need it, because it’s the unity that commands the blessing and it’s by our love that the world will know that we are disciples of Christ. Faith and love are the two poles of the magnet that powers the dynamo of Kingdom growth. We have all read 1 Corinthians 13 (I am speaking to Christians here: if you aren’t one yet, now is your time), and we know that even faith that moves mountains is nothing without love. To the Galatians Paul says: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6) Without love we are nothing, and our faith and our gifting are to no avail. I don’t think Jesus commanded us to love one another just so that we could be a sort of spiritual shop window for His glory (although we are that: see Ephesians 3:10): the teaching of Jesus on Love puts His command to the church in a far more radical context:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matt 5: 43-46 NIV)

School of Love
I think the Church is our school of love: if we cannot learn to love one another in the church, what hope does the world have to receive what Christ has for them? As Peter writes: “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pe 4:7) We cannot  grow in faith and power unless we grow in love as well. Revival is messy and demanding. Converts need to become disciples. Just like the 5,000, the poor who have had the gospel preached to them need to be fed. The lonely and isolated need befriending. We will need to have compassion on the hungry crowd, not send them home – or to someone else’s church. So we need faith and power to see revival happen, but we need love to live with the results.

Jesus wants to come back for a loving bride that is on the same page as Him. I’m not sure if I’m ready for Him yet. What about you?

You have an Anointing from the Holy One

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have all read what Paul wrote to the Philippians:

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

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

The Rope Ladder in the Sky

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

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

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

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

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

Stepping out of the boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Your way, your son lives.

A nobleman’s child was at the point of death. He begged Jesus, “Come down to my house before he dies!“ Jesus said, “You people will not believe unless you see signs and wonders.“ The man said again, “Come down…“ Jesus spoke the word: “Go your way, your son lives.“ The man believed him and went his way. (John 4: 46-54)

How often do we want the Lord to come into our circumstances until we see that He has changed them? We stay in the place of fear until we see the miracle. But the Lord tells us that He is in them already; He asks us to believe that promise before we see the difference that He makes. That father had to make a choice: believe the words of Jesus, or keep begging Him to come down to his house to heal the boy – maybe even thinking that his status as a nobleman would hold some sway. And he didn’t just live down the road: we learn at the end of the passage that his house was at least a day’s journey away. He had to walk away from the Healer, holding only onto His words, knowing that his son would probably be dead by the time he arrived if those words weren’t true.

We went to Liverpool to a football match recently, to watch one of the early games in the Champions League competition. We had hospitality tickets, which included a coach from the hotel to the ground, and then a return coach from the ground back to the hotel. With 50,000 people pouring out of the stadium after the game it was very reassuring to know that the coaches would be there waiting for us after the game. We were told at the hotel where the coaches will be picking us up, and that it wasn’t the usual location. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the announcement because I knew (so I thought) that we would see where the coach would be dropping us off.

However the coach left the hotel too early for our liking, so after the hospitality meal we decided to book a taxi for half an hour later. When we got to the ground I realised I had forgotten where the coach pickup point was to be. I have to say here that catching buses, trains and planes has always been a particular point of anxiety for me: I have always wanted to be certain that I would be at the right place in plenty of time to make my journey safely. So a dark blanket of panic started to fall: where would  the coaches be? How would we get back to the hotel if we didn’t find them? It was too far to walk and there would be no taxis for hours… “Jesus! Come quickly! My son is dying!“

With Anne’s help, I was able to trust that the Lord was in control. “Go your way. Your son lives.“

I regained my peace, knowing that we would either find the coaches or get back to the hotel another way without having to face the walk. And we did: despite being given some directions we never did find the coaches, but we were able to get a taxi once the crowds had dispersed (which wasn’t long, to our surprise) after a wait of only a few minutes, and we arrived back at the hotel in time to relax in the bar and enjoy some post match TV. And here is the important point: it wasn’t just that we got back to the hotel okay, but that God did something in my heart that will last longer than the journey from Anfield (the ground) to our hotel: He didn’t just deal with the journey but He dealt with my anxiety. That journey is over, but I know that the anxiety which has plagued me for so long on my life‘s journey is also defeated, and I know that whenever I am going I can go on my way in peace.

We won the game. Jesus won the competition once and for all at Calvary. Life has defeated death. The Cross has spoken. Do we have any “sick sons?” Because we can go our way, trusting that our circumstances live, even when it seems that they are at the point of death.

Peace Be With You…

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4: 6-7)

Jesus is the Prince of peace. The Angels announced peace on Earth. Jesus promised to leave us His peace. The above scripture is a very familiar one. But when our hearts and minds are assailed, and our prayer life seems to have packed its bags and moved to another planet, where do we find this peace?

We know Jesus is always with us because He promised that He would be, and because His Spirit dwells in us. But at the heart of a victorious and fruitful Christian life has to be the experience of walking in the reality of His presence. And if we are experiencing His presence we will be experiencing His peace. If you are like me these experiences are often short lived and irregular, like those occasional moments on a cloudy day when the sun breaks through and illuminates life in liquid gold. How do we get to walk in the sunshine?

There are different areas where this applies, but the main one – for a people called dwell in love – has to be the area of our relationships. This is where we need our hearts to be guarded. Following close behind that must be wisdom in decision-making, and here it’s our minds we need to guard; but I will look at this in another article.

As we know, the devil’s mission is always to destroy, and as often as not our sunshine is ruined not by destruction in our circumstances, but by destruction in our relationships. Paul famously goes into detail about how to stand against the onslaughts of the enemy In his letter to the Ephesians. Specifically, he writes about “all the fiery darts of the evil one.” Fiery darts often come in the form of unexpected negative reactions from someone close, often a loved one. if we let those darts penetrate our hearts, we flare up too: fighting ensues, and a fire starts, damaging the relationship. Yet we have been given a resource in that will extinguish those darts, and we all know what it is:

“Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesians 6:16)

If we quench those darts with the shield of faith there is no fire. Behind the shield of faith we can find the peace of Christ.

All well and good, but how? There are 2000 years’ worth of applications of the image of the shield of faith, so I do not pretend that the following is the only way of understanding the scripture. But in this context I see the shield that we hold as the one that tells us that Jesus has overcome the world, and has lifted us into a heavenly place of fellowship with Himself and the Father. Now it becomes simple. When a fiery dart comes our way, do we sit on our heavenly seat with Jesus, and say: “excuse me Lord, while I just pop down there and argue with my spouse?“   Or do we receive His peace and hide our hearts behind the shield that tells us that His peace is ours?

This still may sound easier said than done, and I am sure it is, especially when she said this! And he said that! And that’s just not true! Maybe so. But at His trial Jesus said nothing to His accusers, and went on to tear down the veil of the temple with His love. The trials of “unfair“  words that come our way are not even the tiniest whispers in comparison with what Jesus went through on our behalf, so if we cannot respond with a healing word  to the hurt/anger/disappointment that in some way we have caused, then at least we can say nothing and stay behind our shield where God’s peace reigns. We don’t put our heads out again until we can share what the Prince of peace has given us.

If we hold up our shield to the darts that come our way we can be peacemakers, but if we don’t we become peace breakers. We know which of the two groups are called the children of God.

Take Heed How You Hear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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