Tag Archives: God’s provision

God really will supply our every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus, whether spiritual, physical or emotional.

The Refit: Part two

“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 11:3)

We all know this verse – or if we don’t, it’s about time we did. What we may not be fully aware of is the full meaning of the Greek word katartizo which is translated in the above version (NKJ) as “framed”, and (weakly, I would say) as “formed” in the NIV. Here is the Strong’s definition:

katartízō, kat-ar-tid’-zo; to complete thoroughly, i.e. repair (literally or figuratively) or adjust:—fit, frame, mend, (make) perfect(-ly join together), prepare, restore.”

This word katartizo  sits squarely on the picture of the Church’s mission plane undergoing a refit, which was one of the prophetic words brought to Wildwood and, I believe, to the wider church, on 8th Novenber. The word talks of God working on us by His creative power, so I want to unpack something of what I see in how we can respond to it. And before going any further I want to emphasise what a strong sense of His love and grace in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit it carries: He is going to repair, mend, and restore, both individual people and ministries. There will be adjustments to make and new parts to fit, so that we can be perfectly prepared and thoroughly complete for the mission ahead.

So I believe that God is going to refit the Church by the same process as He made the worlds, because that is what He works with. But if this is the case, Hebrews 11:3 teaches that we have to understand His workings by faith, not by human reason. Many years ago I was flying to Bolivia and was sitting in the transit lounge at Caracas (Venezuala) airport where our plane stopped to refuel. But while it was there on the tarmac just outside the transit lounge window, something else was going on. I looked on, horrified, as a mechanic with a toolbox stood at the bottom of a pair of steps, while another mechanic standing on the wing reached into one of the engines with something, shook his head, passed it down to his assistant and took something else to try.  Fortunately whatever it was must have worked, but I was very glad when that plane landed. But I don’t think God is planning a tinkering job just to get the plane over the next leg of the journey, and we cannot use the toolbox of our human reasoning on what we see in order to understand what He is going to do, because “katartizo” creates  by His Word out of things which are not visible.

We often use the word “grasp” when we talk of understanding. God has put His law into our hearts and written it on our minds: this is part of His new covenant with us. So although we cannot rationally understand the infinite dimensions of His provision, we can reach into the Spirit that He has given us and “grasp” them. I believe that this is what Jesus teaches when He talks about faith like a mustard seed in Matthew 17:20, and the faith that moves mountains in Mark 11:23. I believe that we can only do this by prayer and by revelation. So what “seeds” do we need to grasp by faith so that we can be ready for the refit? Here are four that are at the top of my list, which I offer in full knowledge of the fact that there are many, many others.

Who He is in us.
He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords; the universe was created by Him, through Him, and for Him; He is sovereign over all, and He dwells within us by His Spirit. If we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, we acknowledge His total lordship over our lives. These are the worshippers that the Father is seeking. If we aren’t sensitive to His Spirit when we worship, we aren’t worshipping Him in spirit. If we aren’t in submission to His lordship, we aren’t worshipping Him in truth.

What He has done for us
“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”(Heb 10:14). Although our sanctification is an ongoing process, Jesus has made us “perfect forever” in the sight of God by His sacrifice at the Cross, “Therefore … we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Heb 10: 19) So although we may not think we are “good enough” or “mature enough” to be of any use in the purposes of God, we have all been “made perfect” before the Father and can therefore all draw near, whoever we are, to receive from His hand whatever He has for us and for those to whom He sends us.

What He has given us
As well as opening the way to the Father and giving us eternal life, giving us all the promises and principles of His Word, redeeming us from the curse if sin and death and pouring our His love and mercy into our hearts, God has given us precious and powerful gifts. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have all gifted the church and each of us as individuals in different ways. Father “has dealt to each one a measure of faith,” and we find His giftings in Romans 12: 3-8. The Son gave the five ministry gifts to the Church, and we find them in Ephesians 4: 11-12. The Holy Spirit distributes a variety of gifts “to each one as He wills” – 1 Cor 12 and 14. It is the combination of all of these gifts from the Godhead that enables the plane to fly properly as we follow the instructions that He has given us in the  flight manual – the Bible. I believe that they all need to be functioning fully if we are to be prepared for the next mission, and that God is going to focussing on all of them as part of the overhaul that He seems to be planning.

What He will do for us
He will do whatever we ask – as long as we abide in Him and His word abides in us. Greater works than Jesus did, because He has gone to the Father and left the power of resurrection life with His body, the Church. He will give us the power and authority to heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead in His name. He will provide for all our need according to His riches in Glory by Christ Jesus. He will be our strength and our shield in the battles that we are going to face. He will always be with us. Whatever we give He will give to us, but according to His dimensions – pressed down and running over it will be poured into our laps. He will give us our daily bread, forgive our sins, and deliver us from evil, and His Kingdom will come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

This list is just a faint, watery thumbnail sketch of a handful of glimpses of the mighty Lord who loves us and lives in us and whom we serve. But if we can reach out with our faith and grasp even these principles I think we can be in a place where He is able to shine the beam of His light into the machinery of the aeroplane and begin the work of the refit. And if we want to have some idea of what might come out of the hangar when God has finished the refit, and just how far beyond ‘anything we could ask or imagine’ it is likely to be, have a look at Andrew Baker’s prophesy of The Amazing Plane.

I love the sound of the word Katartizo. It’s like something out of a superhero comic book when the hero saves the day.

Ka-boom! Katartizo!

My Yoke is Easy: the Stairs and the Escalator

I had a picture of a staircase with someone with a very heavy backpack on that was really burdening them and weighing them down. Each step was getting harder and harder to climb. They had nearly reach the top, when they had to go back to the bottom. They were then complaining, saying “Why Lord have  I  got to do it again? You know how hard it’s been for me, how long it’s taken me and how much I’m aching in pain carrying this load up the stairs.”

God gently answered, “I know”.  He pointed to a button at the bottom of the stairs and said, “My child you have carried this burden under your own steam and on your own, now press that button and watch what happens.” The person pressed the button and the stairs weren’t actually stairs, they were an escalator. The Lord then said: “In my power  you can take of the back pack and place it on the escalator beside you, and ascend with ease in my power. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jacob Dominy

Jake sent me this picture this morning, but he hadn’t been shown who it was for. I actually thank there are three levels to this. On one level, it is a specific word for certain individuals, – whether you’re at Wildwood church or anywhere else in the world! – and God is speaking to you about a specific situation that at the moment looms large in your life. Receive the word, put down that backpack gratefully, press that button in prayer and feel the escalator start moving. You won’t realise it is happening until you notice that something that you were facing has started to slip behind you, because God has dealt with it. That’s your sign.

Also I think the Holy Spirit has just shown me a detail for someone (a particular person, not everyone) who is reading this, about the backpack: inside it are three fairly large wooden blocks, like the old-fashioned wooden building bricks that were made for small children maybe 40 or 50 years ago. You are hoping to start building something, and you’ve been carrying them for a long time. The Lord says to you “Don’t just put the pack down, but give me the contents as well and let me do the building.” But as I said, this is a word of knowledge for an individual: otherwise the general picture of the heavy weight applies.

The second level, I think, is a much more general teaching point. I am sure most of us find ourselves walking up that escalator at different times. In fact I’ve just had a phone call since writing that last sentence which this picture speaks into. We face situations every day and often think that we’re just walking up stairs, often steep ones, often carrying a heavy load as well. We just say to ourselves, “That’s life!” But it isn’t: the reality is the escalator, not the stairs. The reality is the spiritual dimension. The reality is the power that raised Jesus from the dead who dwells within us. In Him we live and move and have our being. And the button of transformation isn’t miles away at the top or at the bottom of the stairs; it’s right where we are, on our hearts. How often do we forget to press it, and pray?

The final point comes from a devotional I read yesterday on Jacob’s Ladder. Just as the angels ascended and descended Jacob’s ladder, the Lord want us to go up and down the ladder ourselves. We go up the escalator to receive from Heaven, and we come back down to bring to Earth what we have received, so that God’s will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven. If we can take our simple, childish wooden building blocks into heavenly places and leave them there with the Lord, He will transform them into Heaven’s resources to bring back down to Earth.

I’m going to finish by repeating Jake’s picture, as I don’t want what I have written to detract from the original word:

I had a picture of a staircase with someone with a very heavy backpack on that was really burdening them and weighing them down. Each step was getting harder and harder to climb. They had nearly reach the top, when they had to go back to the bottom. They were then complaining, saying “Why Lord have  I  got to do it again? You know how hard it’s been for me, how long it’s taken me and how much I’m aching in pain carrying this load up the stairs.”

God gently answered, “I know”.  He pointed to a button at the bottom of the stairs and said, “My child you have carried this burden under your own steam and on your own, now press that button and watch what happens.” The person pressed the button and the stairs weren’t actually stairs, they were an escalator. The Lord then said: “In my power  you can take of the back pack and place it on the escalator beside you, and ascend with ease in my power. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Saddle: Seated with Christ in Heavenly Places

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2: 6-7)

Are you born again? Because if you are, (and if you aren’t you need to be) this is what happened when Jesus entered your heart: you were raised up, united with Christ, and seated with Him in heavenly places. God picked you up and put you on the saddle. When you were raised out of the waters of baptism it was a symbol not only of your new life in Christ as you live out your discipleship on the earth, but also of God’s own hand lifting you from the “miry clay” of sin to be seated with His Son in the Spirit. And to be absolutely clear, Scripture gives us more detail of exactly where in the heavenly realms Jesus is seated. When God raised Him from the dead by “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead,” He “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” (Eph 1: 19-21).

Since we are seated with Him, our saddle is there as well. So what does it mean to be seated?

It means the job is done. The death and resurrection of Jesus completed the work of salvation for all time, and we sit with Him, sharing in that completed work. He won the victory at Calvary and we share in the spoils. Nothing we did put us in that seat – even the faith that we had to believe in Jesus was a gift of God. God lifted us, and God seated us. And the power with which He lifted us with now dwells within us, and is available to us when we “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4) However we must also remember that Jesus is not just sitting with His feet up at the right hand of the Father now that His work is completed: He is busy interceding for us (Heb 7:25). So as we sit there with Him we can be engaged in the same activity, and we can be talking with Him about what He wants us to pray for.

Being seated means we are in the place of authority. Jesus is seated “far above all principality and power and might and dominion.” Not just a bit above, but far above. I have never been given revelation on the topography of the heavenly realms, but those who have tell us that the second heaven is the area of the demonic principalities and powers, whereas the third heaven – where Paul was taken and “heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor 12: 4) – is where Jesus is seated, and where we, in the Spirit, are seated with Him. We are not just above the forces of the enemy and their destructive works on Earth, we are literally on another level. If we think about demonic activity from an earthly or carnal perspective, we can easily feel intimidated or uncertain; and this makes sense because the second Heaven is obviously on a “higher” level than our earthly abode. This of course is exactly what the devil wants. But if we look at the enemy from where we are seated we have a very different picture, and it is no longer us who are intimidated, but him.

Finally, being seated means being in the place of rest. I am sure you have seen someone on a mountain bike, pedalling up an impossible-looking slope, with their legs moving faster than their wheels, but nonetheless moving forward in their lowest gear, remaining seated, and not even appearing to exert themselves. Hebrews 4 talks about the rest of God, and verse 3 tells us that “we who have believed do enter that rest.” Later in the same chapter the writer exhorts us (v. 11): “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (ie the disobedience of the Israelites.) Peter too exhorts us to “be diligent to be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (2 Pe 3:14) If we keep short accounts with God and with one another “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) and our peace remains with us. Even though we may be pedalling hard, the saddle remains a restful place. And when we are in it, whatever the path looks like, our God “will supply all (our) need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4: 19). The right gear will be there on the bike when we need it. We do not need to get out of the saddle to exert more pressure on the pedals, and we certainly do not need to get off the bike to help God by pushing it up the hill.

The Tyres: Be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

“But for those who are righteous,
the way is not steep and rough”
(Is 26: 7, NLT)

A bicycle is not going to get very far without tyres, and those tyres need to be filled with air. For us, as we cycle along the track on the Mountain of the Lord, the air in the tyres is the breath, the Ruach, of the Holy Spirit. Without labouring the point made repeatedly on these pages, we do not progress far in our Christian walk unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit as instructed in Ephesians 5:18; and that filling has to be repeated and ongoing, as the tense of the Greek verb used translates as “be being filled…” We cannot move if our tyres are flat: they need to “be being filled” – pumped up – with the Ruach, the breath of God.

The old “penny farthing” cycles of the latter part of the nineteenth century had a massive single wheel above which the rider perched precariously, that was driven directly by pedals that were affixed to the axle and had a solid rubber tyre. In lots of ways it is a good picture of dead religion, running along a single wheel of the letter of the law, no chain (the connected body of Christ – that’s the next article), without the Holy Spirit, uncomfortable to ride, and certainly impossible to take onto the mountain track.

The penny farthing: a picture of religion.

For a more detailed study on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, see “The Name of the Father,” but for the purposes of this article we’ll just limit ourselves to some basic principles of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. And, as with the other parts of this series, these are just a few (relatively) concise notes for you to unpack further, either on your own or with other believers.

So what do we have in our tyres?

Love

“God’s love is  poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) The pre-eminence of love in the life of the Christian disciple is a given: I don’t need to add here to the millions of words that are already written on the subject: it’s enough that Jesus has commanded us to love one another. What is relevant here is that we cannot love one another as commanded; or love the world as God did by sending His Son, unless it is with the love that He has filled us with. God’s love prefers others, serves , gives unstintingly, blesses, builds, and doesn’t seek approval or reward. These are not qualities of our flesh. If we have compassion on the poor and needy without reaching into the heart of God for His resources we are just another social action group whose work will, ultimately, not stand. God in Christ loved His friends by washing their feet, and reached out in compassion to the fallen world. We need to pray for His compassion to fill our hearts if we, as His disciples, are going to do the same.

Our identity

God has given us the Spirit of Adoption, by which we cry out “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15) The Holy Spirit fills us with the revelation of our identity in Christ: it is only by the Spirit’s power that we know that we are children of God. Anyone can believe in their heads that they are a child of God or call themselves by that name. Some religious worldviews would say that we are all God’s children, because we are His creation and man was made in His image. But sin marred that image and broke the spiritual bloodline. Every man and woman is God’s creation and is a child of the first Adam; but God is Spirit, and it is only as brothers and sisters of the second Adam, Jesus Christ the Son of God, that our original spiritual family line is restored. Galatians 3: 26 makes this clear: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Every Christian is of the Seed of Abraham (See Galatians 3: 29), yet when the Jews claimed that Abraham was their Father Jesus retorted that their father was actually the devil. (John 8:44) It is only by the Spirit of God, through the blood of Jesus, that we can be children of God. And as true children of God, let us be filled with the knowledge of His parenthood.

God’s faithfulness

Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until “The Promise of the Father” was poured out from on high (Acts 1: 1-5). The promise was of redemption and blessing for himself and all his children, who would be numerous beyond count, and can be found in Genesis 12: 1-3. When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost this was like the uncorking of a great cask of blessing that had been stored up in Heaven since the time of Abraham, and it has been pouring ever since. Every time a believer is filled with the Spirit, whether for the first time or subsequently, God is re-affirming that He keeps His promises. And this affirmation is in itself another promise: it’s the very promise of Heaven, the deposit or guarantee of our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Cor 1:22). Meanwhile in this life, the promise that fills us is the promise to bless. Whatever obstacles or pitfalls might lay across our path, it tells us that He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4) We carry within us the promise that, by the power of His Spirit, “in all things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Filled with blessing, faithfulness and promise, our tyres will take us over everything that comes our way on Earth, and they will carry us on to our eternal destiny in Heaven.

Power

Paul tells Timothy – and us –“You do not have a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7) The Spirit that is in us is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We all know this Bible verse in our heads, but do we have it in our hearts? If we have within us a deposit of the power of the God who created all things, we don’t want to just know this truth as a fact, but we want to experience it as an aspect of the breath that fills our tyres, the ruach that we are riding on. What did I experience today of the power that raised Jesus from the dead dwelling in me? When I prayed, did I just mumble the first thing that came into my head that matched the need I was considering, or did I wait for the Spirit of God to reveal His perspective and release His provision?  What interactions have I had with other people, in or outside the church, that Jesus may have wanted to touch supernaturally through the operation of a gift of the Holy spirit? Paul says to the Corinthians: “Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5) Many of us in the church today could probably benefit from following the same injunction.

A sound mind

The word translated as “sound mind” is sophronismos. Sometimes translated as self-control or sobriety, it is more than that: it is actually an admonition to walk in full control of one’s faculties; to be disciplined. The full set of meanings listed in Strong’s concordance under the verb sophronizo are 1) restore one to his senses,” 2) “to moderate, control, curb, disciple,” 3) “to hold one to his duty,” and 4) “to admonish, to exhort earnestly.” Did you spot the word “disciple” tucked into the list? I don’t have an Amplified Bible translation to hand, but if we used the Strong’s definition of the original Greek for the noun translated as “self control,” or “a sound mind” to do our own amplified version, we could say that the Holy Spirit gives us “a restored mind that responds to an earnest exhortation to stay on course and not to wander out of control and go off track.” In other words, a renewed mind that responds to being discipled. Or quite simply, a discipled mind.

As well as filling us with God’s love and power, His fatherhood and His faithfulness, it is the Holy Spirit who disciples us. Jesus called Him the Counsellor or The Paraclete, the One who Comes Alongside. But it is up to us to keep our tyres pumped up.

Hold on at all times: the handlebars

“Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (2 Peter 1: 5-7)

We have all seen cyclists – usually young men or boys – cycle along without holding the handlebars. I remember when I was a boy and first learnt the skill. I also remember that, as a rule, it was only a skill I employed when I knew other people were watching…  But there are two circumstances that every cyclist riding “no hands” has in common: this particular skill can only be accomplished on as smooth terrain, generally a road or another paved surface; and it is not something that can realistically be attempted when cycling uphill. As Christians, we have left the paved surface of the road, and are heading up the mountain on a dirt track. If there is one thing we need to do, it is to keep hold of the handlebars.

There are many exhortations in the New Testament, whether from Jesus, Paul or any of the other writers, to persevere in our faith. Perhaps the most frequently quoted is from Pauls’ letter 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.” (Phil 3: 13-14)

The word translated as “diligence” in the introductory passage is spoude, which means earnestness, eagerness, being full-on, not just in the desire to accomplish something but in the energy and persistence applied to carrying it out. Elsewhere Peter writes be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (2 Pe 3:14) Paul exhorts Timothy to be diligent in pursuing godliness “so that (his) progress may be seen by all,” (1 Tim 4:15), and to the Galatians he writes “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9). References to being committed and wholehearted are set like precious stones throughout Proverbs. The rewards held out by the Lord to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation are all for those who “endure.” And these references only scratch the surface of what is a very deep-veined theme running through the whole of Scripture. Diligence is the name written on our handlebars: if we don’t hold on, we will fall off.

At this point there might appear to be a tension between the fundamental truth that we are saved by Grace (the Cross of Christ) and not by works (staying on the bike) However there isn’t one. The bike itself is a gift from God. The desire to ride it and to stay on is a gift from God, just as faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1). And Psalm 37:24 tells us: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with His hand,” so even our ability to stay on the bike is by the Grace of God. The very words that are given to us by the Holy Spirit encouraging us to be diligent and to endure also give us the desire and the ability to carry them out. I think it can reasonably be said that those who to fall away are the ones who never really got on the bike in the first place – who confessed with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, but never really believed it in their hearts. (Romans 10: 9) So if you, like me, are picking your bike off the ground and getting on again for the fiftieth time this week, don’t beat yourself up over it and call yourself a failure. The good news is, you never were a success in the first place! All of that glory belongs to the Lord. The fact that you are getting on your bike again is proof that you are, by the grace of God, being diligent.

So, holding onto the handlebars, we press on towards the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We carry on pedalling along the mountain track. Sometimes there are downhill stretches and easier sections, but the call is upward and the overall direction of the track is always to take us ultimately “further up and further in,” as Aslan says in the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia. And this leads us to the other essential function of the handelbars: they are what gives the bike direction. We don’t just hold on “with all diligence” in order to stay on the bike; we hold on to stay on the path. And we always look forward: looking back brings disaster. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, we steer along His track to  the top of the mountain.

Being born again isn’t about boarding a train in this life and stepping onto Heaven’s platform in the next one: it’s about the slow process of growing to maturity in Christ as we consistently reveal to the watching world that He is the one who is keeping us on track. The higher up and further in we go, the closer to Him we get and the more like Him we become, so that “Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:3)

The Mountain of God is the Mountain of His presence, where Love rules and His Glory dwells. It’s where He met with Moses and gave the Old Covenant to His people, and it’s where He meets with us to lead us forward by His Spirit today. There is one simple test that will tell us if we are on our bikes or completely off track, and it’s the question I referred to in the chapter on the pedals: are we learning to love? Jesus has individualised lessons for each one of us, and they will all be somewhere along the route that Peter maps out in the scripture that opens this section. But learn them we must if we are to progress up the mountain, because

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

This is where our direction must be set. We can keep moving, with both wheels on the ground, our feet on the pedals and our hands close to the brakes, gripping the handlebars tightly. But whenever we hurt or destroy we’ve lost our way.

The Off-Road Vehicle

I have held the material for this post for a couple of weeks, but I think now is the time for it, as it is saying something very similar to what I felt the Lord gave me yesterday about the mountain bike. I believe that the Holy Spirit is emphasising to the Church that we need to be equipped for an exhilarating, but rough ride. The first part refers to something I read in an online daily devotional; the second part is a word that Jake was given at the end of July. He hadn’t seen the material referred to above, but it follows on seamlessly:

Are we ready to be led off-road?

A daily devotional I subscribe to recently told how church leadership has become a high-risk career for insurers, as an increasing number of pastors are suffering from stress-related health problems at an early age. (This is in the USA: I don’t know how much it applies to other nations, but I have a feeling it probably does.) The writer, an internationally known leader himself, compared some ministries to motor racing, where the emphasis is on always building and driving a better and faster car – but it’s a car that keeps going round the same track without actually going anywhere. The word was a warning to church leaders to concentrate on building a ministry that would take God’s people where He wants them to go; not one that looks flashy and successful in the eyes of the world, burning out the driver as he fights to keep up in the race.

“I believe the lord is saying as individuals and as a church we have built the wrong car: we have built a car that has instant power for smooth track racing, but although it’s exhilarating as soon as we hit bump we tend to lose control and break apart. I believe God wants to build a jeep or land cruiser type of vehicle that is designed for a rough ride with obstacles in the way.  It has higher seating for better vision and power that is built up over time, and although it’s built for off road we know it will be comfortable inside. (The comfort is the peace and rest that we have in His presence – Bob) This doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth or easy, but it will help to enjoy the challenges of off road driving and the obstacles we will encounter. The tyres have immense grip even in the most slippery of conditions. God has given us the traction we need to stay on the right course.”

Do not be conformed to this world

“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 12:2)

The other day Anne and I went to Curry’s buy a new vacuum cleaner (If you’re not in the UK, Curry’s is one of the major electrical retailers over here.) Yes, we WENT to Curry’s – we didn’t www it! But when we had made the purchase, the bullying began. “We just need your name and an email address for the invoice, please….”

“No,” said Anne.

The assistant was shocked. This is a normal procedure. People don’t say no.

“Madam, I can’t give you an invoice unless I have your name. It’s for the guarantee…”

“No.” (This is an abbreviated version of quite a few sentences, explaining that Curry’s were not, under any circumstances, going to have out personal details; and that their invoice wasn’t necessary because we can register directly with the manufacturer.)

I won’t spin this out: Curry’s didn’t get our details; we did register for the guarantee as soon as we got home: there was a huge QR code on the inside of the box lid. As we left the shop, Anne said this: “Conform, conform, conform. We’re bullied into conforming with their procedures, just so they can get our personal details on their records. How many other people today have refused to give their details? This week even? This month?”

The episode made me think of Paul’s word to the Romans, and to us: “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.” The word “conformed” – syschematizo – is only used in one other place in the New Testament, and it’s  by Peter: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance” (1 Peter 1:13-14) It means to fashion oneself according to another person’s pattern. The word “schema” comes from it. Paul and Peter are both telling us the same thing: we need to free our minds from the schemas of the world and the flesh, so that we can say “No!” to their bullying and “Yes” to the Kingdom of God and to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Peter tells us to “gird up the loins” of our minds. The image refers to tucking one’s long robe into a girdle in preparation for action, free of the restrictions of the garment. The key to not “conforming” – whether to the world, or to the flesh – is to act as “obedient children,” free to walk in “the wisdom that is from above.” (James 3:17) I was praying for someone recently and the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the memory card that I had just taken out of my camera. We need to let Him take out our memory cards that are full of all the mental habits that we have accumulated since childhood, and let Him put in a new one where the memory files consist of what He has promised, what He has done, and what He has told us to do. Most digital cameras today have SD cards, but some newer ones have more powerful XQD cards. SD stands for Sin and Death. We are new creations: we need new, powerful XQD cards.  XQD begins with a cross.

So which pattern are we conforming to? I have just been reading the story of Esther. I love the glimpse that account gives us into the sovereignty and providence of God as He acts for those whose lives are submitted to Him. Haman was the chief minister under Xerxes, King of Persia. He hated Mordecai because he would not bow down to him, so Haman vowed to destroy all the Jews in the Kingdom of Persia where they were exiled. It is interesting to note the meanings of the names here. Haman was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the nation that God had commanded Saul to completely destroy and a biblical type of the demonic. Fittingly, the name means “I will overtop.”  Haman means “magnificent,” and Hammedatha means “double.” Mordecai means “little man.”

Who is the magnificent one who was “the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” (Ezekeil; 28:12), whose desire was to “overtop” the very throne of God, and who, once cast out of Heaven, set himself up as the double of the true ruler of this world? The prime minister of Persia in the story of Esther stands for none other than the devil himself, whom Jesus called the prince of this world. The little man refused to bow down to him, and ultimately Haman was destroyed, having been made to lead Mordecai round the city in one of the King’s own robes.

We too are “little men.” Our enemy is a bully and a manipulator. He starts to build his thinking into us from the day we are born, teaching us independence rather than interdependence; self-preservation rather than trust in God; retaliation rather than gentleness; greed rather than generosity; pride rather than humility, and many other demonic “doubles” of godly values. We need to learn that we can, and must, say “No!” to his schemas; to “set the Lord before us at all times” (Psalm 16:8) just like obedient children looking to their parents for direction; and to let the Holy Spirit renew our minds by replacing our thinking with His.

In today’s world, especially in the West, this still may seem a little optional; extreme even. But even now the scene is changing, and we may already be heading into a very different world. Under the guise of health protection as virus infections threaten, “track and trace” can be used as a tool for persecution. As identity theft and financial crime proliferate, and as the debt burden of printed money increasingly threatens our fragile financial systems, a new, one-world blockchain digital currency (like bitcoins) would protect the interests of world trade and keep individuals safe from scammers. Excellent, for the world system. But for a persecuted Church it will call for endurance, as it would also mean that the authorities could follow the movements of every penny that is spent or given away, and it would have Christians finally staring down the barrel of the mark of the beast as the new financial system requires their unique bank details to be microchipped under the skin of their hand or their forehead.

However, as we know, it is the King of Kings who has the last word, not the prince of the world, who ‘has nothing on him.’ (See John 14:30) He has given us His royal robe, and our names are in the Book of Life: we do not have to put them anywhere else, whatever the pressure.

“For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.
Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you;
give justice to those with honest hearts.
Don’t let the proud trample me
or the wicked push me around.
Look! Those who do evil have fallen!
They are thrown down, never to rise again.”
(Ps 36:9-12 New Living Translation)

This is “that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Ask, and it shall be given.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5)

We all know how Solomon responded to this. Even if you have never read any of the Bible you will have heard of the wisdom of that God gave to Solomon because it is what he asked for, and you will have heard of the great wealth and power that God also gave him because he didn’t ask for them. I sometimes used to wish that God would appear to me like that, and I would think about what my answer would be if He did, and all the amazing things He would give me that I hadn’t asked for. Have you?

The point is: God has said the same thing to us. Jesus said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened… If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt 7:7-8, 11)

Luke renders this slightly differently. He says (Luke 11:13)”… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him”

Paul writes (Romans 8:32) “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

This is not God appearing to us in a dream in a specific time and place; these are words that are written in Heaven for every child of God for all time, for us to appropriate by faith and make our own. The only question is: what is God exhorting us to ask for? Is it “good things,” “all things,” or “the Holy Spirit?” We need to know what to ask for.

I understand it like this. “Good things” have to be God’s things. Since Jesus said that only God is good (Luke 18:19), this has to mean that Jesus would not call anything “good” that does not come from Heaven, where God dwells. Everything that is good exists in the realm of the Spirit. As James 1:17 tells us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” Whatever we receive from the Father of lights comes to us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, so when the Bible says that God will “Give the Holy Spirit” to those who come to the Father with requests, I think it simply means something like: “the entire storehouse of Heaven is available through Him; what exactly are you looking for?”

Scripture shows that there is no doubt that Jesus wants us to ask for “good gifts” from the Father:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matt 18:19)

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt 21:22)

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)

and whatever we ask we receive from him, becausewe keep his commandmentsand do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22)

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)

There are clearly some conditions; nevertheless that is a lot of encouragement to ask! God is emphatic about it. When we pray in the name of Jesus and our prayers are answered, “the Father is glorified in the Son.” Jesus tells us that it is “The Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32) Our call as disciples is to carry on the work of the Master and see His kingdom come. We can’t build the Kingdom of God for Jesus: He has to do it Himself, by His Spirit; and He won’t do it unless we ask Him. He appointed us to bear fruit by asking the Father to give us the Kingdom. In the Spirit it is all ours already, as we are seated in heavenly places with Jesus the King. But on Earth we need to pray it into being: every time a prayer is answered we bear lasting fruit, the Father and the Son are glorified, and that is another bit of the Kingdom that has come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So what are the conditions? Really, they can be summed up in two statements: we have to ask in faith, actually believing that we have received what we have asked for; and we have to be walking in His will. If there is sin or disobedience in our lives the heavens will be brass. If God has told you to do something, do it. You’ll just be walking through cobwebs in your spiritual life until you do. James also gives us a useful clue: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4: 3) If our motivation is worldly or carnal, we are wasting our time. Such things do not come into the domain of “good gifts,” however good we may think they are.

What if we feel that we have fulfilled the conditions, we are praying in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we are seeking God’s kingdom and not the fulfilment of our own desires, and we are still not seeing answers? There may be reasons, often to do with the timing of other situations in the bigger picture, that only God knows about; but there is one common one that we can do something about ourselves, and it’s this: we are giving up too easily, and are not being fervent enough. We have to remember that we are in a battle. There is opposition. Daniel waited 21 days for the answers he was seeking while a battle with the demon prince of Persia was being played out in the spirit realm. Maybe we need to fast. Maybe we’re just not on our knees for long enough. Maybe we should actually try getting onto our knees instead of praying on the sofa. Maybe we just need to ask God what the problem is. But as Smith Wigglesworth put it, the fact is that God wants to answer far more that we want to ask.

When Jesus posed the unsettling question “Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?” (Luke 18:8) it is preceded by the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. It would seem that faith, in this context, is knowing that God will eventually answer if we just keep banging on the door. The tense of the verbs in the “Ask, seek and knock” verse is the present continuous: ask and keep on asking; seek and keep on seeking; knock and keep on knocking. . When Bible teacher Andrew Wommack held prayer meetings at the start of his ministry they used to keep praying, sometimes through the night and often doing battle with the enemy, until they saw breakthrough; because they believed that God had the “good and perfect gift” for them. It’s the fervent effective prayer of a righteous man that avails much. (James 5:16).

A final point. David just asked for one thing:

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

I think Jesus may have been alluding to this when He said (Luke 10:42) “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus made it clear throughout His teachings that if we seek first the Kingdom of God, “all these things” – the things that “the pagans” ask for, from the world and the flesh – will be given to us. If we give to others, God will give to us. Whatever we “forsake” on earth for the Kingdom’s sake will be given back to us, multiplied a hundredfold. (With persecutions!) This is not to say that God doesn’t care about our material needs. He does, and we can remind Him of His promise that “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. …” (Phil 4:19). In fact we are explicitly taught to ask for our daily bread, and not just to assume it will be on the table. By asking for it, we are recognising that everything we have comes from Him: it’s an acknowledgement of His provision, and as such can even be considered part of our worship.

To put all this together, I suggest the following:

1) Like David, we hunger above all for God’s presence. Apart from anything else, this is the only place where real faith is stirred.

2) We recognise that God is our provider, we trust Him to supply our needs and we remind Him of His promises over our lives. I put this before the next point because it means what we can take our personal “stuff” to the cross and leave it there, while we get on with the business of number 3 below.

3) We get on our knees, physically or metaphorically, and realise that God is saying the same to us as He said to Solomon all those years ago.

So what are we asking for? Is it a good and perfect gift that will increase the Kingdom of God on the earth? Do we really believe it is there for us? Are we in a right place with God, or does something need dealing with so that we ourselves are walking in His Kingdom ways? Is our priority, above all else, to know the presence of God? If the answer to all of these is yes, then we keep asking until it “comes down from the Father of lights.” And if it’s taking its time, that may simply be because we are in a battle, and we need to “endure to the end.”

God is saying to us all, “Ask! What shall I give you?” And we aren’t dreaming.

The Narrow Door

A few weeks ago I published a word from a friend of ours called “You have not been this way before.” On the same day I felt the Lord showed me a little pathway that I have driven past hundreds of times, but have missed every time – until I slowed down to walking along the same road.

We often miss God’s direction and His word because we are in too much of a hurry, and instead we are pulled along by the flow of the world or the demands of our flesh. Jake had a vision of the abundance of God’s Kingdom and His provision for those who seek Him, where the entrance was just a nondescript building between two much more palatial ones. God doesn’t want us to miss what He has for us in the Spirit, but we have to take our eyes off the world’s standards, and open them to His if we are going to enter into all that He has for us.

“I had a picture of  a small door to what appeared to  be a narrow corridor type building with a  church type front between huge beautiful buildings looking great on the outside and very appealing to the eye. But as one entered it was was the most amazingly spacious and beautiful palace anyone has ever seen. The rooms and courtyard were vast and too many to ever count or explore in eternity. The vibrant colours were breathtaking; far more beautiful than an eternity on earth could reveal. Although it was so vast and so astoundly decorated, with amazing colours, gold , silver and all the most valuable jewelss and precious metals and materials it felt so welcoming and homely. The dining hall was huge;  full of more food more than the entire plant could consume in a  several hundred generations, and it never seemed  to be depleted : the more that was eaten, the more  it was instantly, in a blink of an eye, replenished. It was full of such joy, music and happiness.   I could see beautiful angels playing music, with living creatures similar to those in Revelation. The whole place was full of joy. The atmosphere in the dining hall was far more exciting than all the best sports events that have ever taken place. It spilt out all around the building, and could even be heard outside the front of the  building entrance, where people were standing outside listening in.

I felt that  this was like Heaven on Earth. This small narrow door in the corridor building is the entrance to the kingdom of God, and the inside is what God has prepared for us for us once we are saved. It is what living a spirit filled life as a disciple is like: endless adventures with a huge table that I believed to be the table that he has set out for us in the presence of our enemies. “

Jacob Dominy.