Tag Archives: Renewing the mind

As we take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ we purify our hearts and renew our minds.

Be Renewed in the Spirit of your Mind

Changing the points…

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4: 20-24)

The verses that follow (Eph 4: 25- Eph 5:5) give the Ephesian church – and the rest of us – a blueprint of what “true righteousness and holiness” look like as we walk in love as children of light and imitators of God. So we read them, maybe underline them in our Bibles; we pray over them, we memorize them and write them down – and yet we find that the old man is stubbornly clinging on like an unshakeable shadow. “O wretched man that I am,” we cry, quoting Romans seven, and maybe go back to our Bibles and our worship, feeling weak and defeated in our personal walk but thanking Jesus for His saving love. But we will have missed a key, though: like changing the points on a railway line, there is a course of action from which all those attributes of godliness can flow, and it’s that little one-liner that makes up verse 23: “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” If we can really grasp verse 23, the rest of the verses will follow.

The Blue Letter Bible lexicon defines the word spirit (Greek pneuma) as it is used here as “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any body.” Paul’s exhortation is quite uncomplicated: instead of letting the “old man” influence our thinking, we allow our minds to be filled and governed by the “new man.” To move the language away from first century male-dominated culture and into the twenty-first, I am going to use the term “new creation” from now on where Paul uses “new man.” The new creation is born of the Spirit, and, just as Adam and Eve before the fall, is made in the image of God. Since God is Love and He is light (1 John 1:5), the disposition of the new creation is always towards love and light. The new creation is a spirit being and has to walk in the light, and will always pursue love: not to do so is not to walk in the spirit. To be renewed in the spirit of our mind is to let our thinking be controlled by the desire to love.

We can get up at 5.00 am and spend three hours in prayer and worship to God, but if at 8.05 our words to the person next to us are negative and unloving, the spirit of our mind has not been renewed by the previous three hours spiritual activity. If we have not love, we are nothing. Jesus hasn’t called us to spend three hours with Him in Heaven and not to bring Heaven with us when we come back to Earth. He taught us to pray “You will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” and the Father’s will is always going to be to show His love. In all our communication and all our interactions, this has to be our priority. It is only the thinking of the renewed mind that is in line with the loving purposes of God, which is what Romans 12:2 makes clear: “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.”

Taking the steps
So how do we take the steps to walk in this direction? A few people are called to spend most of their time in prayer and public ministry, but for most of us the majority of our Christian life is spent with the relatively small number of people with whom we live and work. We work out our salvation in the close relationships of our daily lives. Our interactions may involve works of service and may involve prayer ministry, but most of all they are the words we exchange concerning the issues that affect us. These are the conversations that either build us up or break us up. We can either tend towards Ephesians 4: 14 “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ;” or Galatians 5: 15 “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another.” It all depends on whether or not we are renewed in the spirit of our minds.

A key to the renewed mind is in the well-known phrase “speaking the truth in love.” There are two aspects to every conversation: the content, and the relationship. The way of the world – that Romans 12:2 says we are not to conform ourselves to – is to “tell it like it is”, to “have our say,” to “tell them straight,” etc., or at a corporate and governmental level to “have talks.” But the purpose is always the same: it isn’t to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” but for me to prove to you that it’s my will that is good and acceptable, and that you should comply with it. The discussion is about the content; relationship is secondary. If “talks have broken down,” at whatever level, so too has the relationship.

The Kingdom way is the opposite. Relationship comes first. It’s love that endures forever. If we are keeping in mind the law of Love we prefer one another (Romans 12:10); we submit to one another (Eph. 5:21); and through love we serve one another (1 John 4:7). Every conversation is an opportunity to allow the love of God to flow into a situation. Speaking the truth in love starts with considering what the other person wants from the conversation. This is what causes the body to grow “into Him who is the Head, Christ.” (Eph 4:15) Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies,” writes Paul (1 Cor 8:1), and to the Ephesians he writes “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph 4:29) Corrupt words come from the old creation, which “grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Words that impart grace are what edify, and have their origin in the new creation, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

Changing the Points
According to these scriptures, then, the purpose of everything we say should be to build up the other person and “impart grace” to them, releasing something of the love of God into their life. Every time we do this, prioritizing relationship over content, we establish our minds in the new creation rather than the old. Bob Dylan released the Christian album “Slow Train Coming’” in 1979. In one of the tracks he sings: “I’m gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules.” When we change our way of thinking, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind; and when we renew our minds, as Romans 12:2 says, we start to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We do literally change the points, because the purpose of my words is no longer for you to get my point, but for me to get yours. And once we have let go of our own agenda, it is a small step for me to move from trying to consider your agenda to actually being open to hearing God’s agenda for you, and to catch something of His perfect will for your life.

So if we want to impact the lives of others with the truth and the power of God, we start by seeing every conversation as an opportunity to love instead of an opportunity to make our point. And when we do this, we will be built up in our own lives too, because as we give, it shall be given unto us (Luke 6:38).  As Atticus said to Scout in  Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Jesus climbed into our skin, walked around in it and was crucified in it so that we could be renewed in the spirit of our mind and live, speak and act out of the new creation, rather than out of the old one that was crucified with Him. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

Becoming established
It is because the Son of God did this for us that we can to put off all the corruption and self-centredness of the flesh, and put on the new creation that has been born of the Spirit of God. We do this every time we make the decision to love. The more we do it, the stronger the new creation becomes, and the fainter the shadow of the old. This is what I think is meant by the idea of being “established” in God that we find, for example, in 1 Thess 3:13, 1 Pe 5:10, and Romans 16:25. The more we make it our habit to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, the more the new creation will walk in the love and the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing blessing to others, manifesting the character of Christ in the fruit of the Spirit, and building the Kingdom of God at every step. Who knows what miracles will flow, when we are open to God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” for the person that we are talking to?”

Pursuing Love (Teaching)

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:1)

We all know the above scripture: it’s wheeled out often enough as a proof text for the prophetic and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And we all know the context: it follows Paul’s famous treatise on Love, and is sandwiched in the middle of the New Testament training manual on exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Both the “command” words are emphatic in their meaning. To pursue is to chase after someone until you have caught up with them, not just jog behind then a t a distance; and to desire has a connotation of a zealous, earnest longing and reaching for something, not just a wishy-washy want, an “it would be nice if…”

Chase after love, reach for spiritual gifts, especially prophesy. How do we respond to this verse in the context of church? And is one of these two injunctions more important in God’s sight than the other? I think the following story can give us some insights:

And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying. But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ ” But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.” Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8: 41-48)

There are many points in this story that we can ponder on, but one thing that stands out for me is this: Jesus stopped for the woman who touched him. I can imagine myself in that situation. It would probably go something like this: ‘I’ve just got a call to pray for the daughter one of the city’s leaders; and not only that, but she is dying! So not only am I being called on by a VIP, but this is serious stuff, and it’s urgent. Out of my way everyone! I can’t stop! I’m on an important mission…” And so on. How many snares for the flesh there are in that scenario. And even if had “perceived power going out of me,” I would probably just have thought “Great! Someone ese has got healed too. That’s cool. Now how much further to Jairus’s house?”

How different is the way of the Spirit. “Who touched me?” The disciples just wanted to get to Jairus’s house and thought Jesus was being ridiculous, but they hadn’t understood the meaning of “touched.” They saw just the clamouring of the flesh, but the touch that Jesus felt went beyond the flesh and reached His Spirit. So He put the “important” mission on pause while He stopped to give the woman her life back. Not only did she receive her physical healing, but He affirmed her identity (“Daughter”), He encouraged her heart (be of good cheer), He built her faith, He ministered wholeness beyond her symptoms, and He gave her peace. He did not just impart a gift of healing; He loved her.

Again, when the 5,000 were fed, it was because Jesus allowed their need into His agenda. He had just heard of the death of john the Baptist and was in a “remote place” with His disciples, where the context suggests He had planned to spend some time processing and no doubt praying over what had just happened. But the crowds followed Him, and he had compassion on them (Matt 14: 13-21). On this occasion the gift of the Holy Spirit was the working of miracles, and He empowered the disciples to minister it. But again the vehicle, as it was throughout His ministry, was love.

I see gifting like an Arabian coffee pot with a long curved spout, full of coffee. This is our gifting. We stay full of the Spirit, and we keep the coffee on the heat – close to Jesus. It’s full of everything in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. But the “most excellent way” that Paul shows is in chapter 13 is how we pour the coffee: we pour it carefully, in love, into the cups that come our way. We do not pour unless God tells us to, and He shows us which cups to pour into. Sometimes, as with the 5,000, there may be more cups than we have coffee in the pot, but if God has told us to pour, we pour. And He will keep filling the pot as we do. However it happens. we direct our gifting in Love. Because if we don’t, it goes all over people’s laps…This “most excellent way” is actually the ONLY way: without it, as 1 Cor 13 emphasises, we are nothing.

Jesus Himself makes it clear that it is possible to have gifting without love:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt 7: 21-23)

To do the will of the Father and to keep the law of Christ is to love. To minister without it is to practice lawlessness: it’s that simple. So to come back to the original question: can we say that love is more important than gifting? The answer, I think, is that we can’t. Not because of the relative values of each, but simply because we can’t weigh them against each other. I think the assumption for first century Christians was that everyone could expect to move in supernatural giftings. I don’t think anyone at Ephesus, or Sardis, or even lukewarm Laodicea would have thought of saying “I don’t operate in any gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I’m full of love!” In His letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus didn’t tell any of them to work on their prophesy and healing ministries: He told them to return to their first love; not to tolerate compromise, and to persevere to the end, even unto death.

I think most churches today are probably a long way from the level of faith of first century believers.  In the last century – since Azuza Street – the Lord has been leading His people to contend for that faith again. And now, since Covid, the world has changed:  one of the consequences of lockdown has been a proliferation of digital meetings, and along with that trend an increase in both the awareness and the availability of training courses for ministry, especially in the realm of the prophetic, to help believers satisfy their biblical desire for spiritual gifts. Even though we can’t meet as churches, the Holy Spirit is making sure that the resources are available for the five-fold ministries to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” But in this digitised, Covidised world, where we can no longer say “Who touched me?” it is even more essential that we “pursue love.”

Proverbs 25:16 says:
“Have you found honey?
Eat only as much as you need,
Lest you be filled with it and vomi

If we pour, God will fill. But if we make the filling, rather than the pouring our priority – the pot rather than the cups, the spiritual gifts rather than the way of love – we run the risk of swelling in self-importance rather than growing in faith, and we will “vomit” instead of pouring. We don’t pursue the gifts; we pursue love, desiring the gifts. And as we concentrate on the cups and let them interrupt our agendas, God will give us what He wants to pour into them.

The accuser of the brethren has been cast down.

 “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (Rev. 12:10)

We have been raised with Christ and are seated with Him in Heavenly places. We know that those heavenly places are vast beyond any notion of human measure, and we also know from Ephesians 6:12 that somewhere “up” there “the principalities and powers of this present darkness” are doing battle against the will of God and the saints of the Lamb. But Ephesians 1:21 gives us some detail about where, in those heavenly places, Christ is seated. He is seated “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.” And not only is Christ seated there, but we are too:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2: 4-6)

We have been raised to those same heavenly places above the same principalities and powers, by the love and mercy of God, to be seated there together with Him. And while we have been lifted up there, Satan, the “Accuser of the brethren,” has been cast down:

 “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (Rev. 12:10)

If you have been born again – and you almost certainly have been, or you wouldn’t be reading this – you know this as a fact, and it’s always good to remind ourselves of the scripture where that truth is declared. But I think many of us – me included, for sure – can take a massive stride forward in our walk of faith if we live every day in the knowledge that any accusing words coming into our minds originate from the devil, and that when we walk free of the accusations of the enemy we can walk in salvation, strength, the kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ. It’s what Revelation 12:2 says. Accusing is what the devil and his fallen angels do. And now that they have been cast down, and “there was no place found for them in Heaven any longer,” (Rev. 12:8) their desire is always to bring us down with them. Whether we are accusing ourselves, or accusing others; whatever the accusation and wherever there is a pointing finger, we can be sure that the voice doesn’t come from heaven, because there is nowhere in Heaven that accusation has a place.

By contrast, we read the following in Revelation 4: 1-2 “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” In the book of Zechariah, the prophet writes five times that he “raised his eyes” to see what the Spirit was revealing. If we too “raise our eyes” we also can sometimes catch a glimpse of what God is doing. Jesus has opened a door in Heaven and has given us access to where we can look in the Spirit to the One who is seated on the throne. And if we keep looking, we can see ourselves seated there as well.

Zephaniah said this:
“The LORD has taken away your judgments,
He has cast out your enemy.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
You shall see disaster no more.”
(Zeph 3:15)

The accuser can have nothing more to say to us, because the Lord has taken away our judgements. Even in our trials we can “count it all joy” (James 1:2) because of the enduring fruit that is borne by the testing of our faith. So when we look up to where we are seated and praise the One whose great love lifted us there, we are not only encouraging ourselves and giving Him glory, but by the very stance that we take we are doing battle with the enemy of our souls.

The psalmist knew this battle well:

“As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
(Psalm 42: 10-11)

Our praise to God is always an act of war.

I enjoy Premier League football and occasionally go to watch matches. One day we had tickets for an away game: it was the last game of the season, and our opponents on that day were in a relegation battle with their bitter rivals from the same city. Normally all attention is on the game taking place in the stadium, but on this occasion the home fans were far more interested in the score from their rivals’ game as it flashed up on their mobile phones than what was happening on the pitch in front of them. When it was obvious that the rival team had lost and would be relegated, the following chant reverberated round the stadium: “We’re staying up; you’re going down! We’re staying up; you’re going down!”

When the enemy whispers his accusations in our ear, we just have to remember one refrain, adapted slightly from the football chant: “We’re staying up; you’re staying down!”

Dabbling Ducks and Goosanders

Goosanders: sawbilled fisher ducks, swimming in the deeper water.

In a pond near where I live there are two types of waterfowl: there are dabbling ducks, and there are goosanders. The dabbling ducks (mallards and a couple of domesticated spieces) on this pond are so called because they feed on or near the surface of the water, mostly on aquatic vegetation, small molluscs etc. And of course on whatever is thrown in for them by people who go along, usually with children, to “feed the ducks.” We commonly see these ducks “dabbling” as they upend in the water to feed.  Goosanders are altogether different. Although still a type of duck, they belong to a group called “sawbills,” that have thinner beaks with serrated edges for catching and gripping fish. And not just tiddlers – a goosander will grapple with a trout or perch, or even a salmon, nearly as big as the bird itself.

Jesus has sent us, His disciples, out to “catch fish” – to be fishers of men, like Peter. We don’t need to be reminded of the story of Peter’s life, and the transformation that he underwent at Pentecost. We probably know his story best of all, because he tended to go for the “epic fail” rather than just the ordinary fail; but none of the disciples actually caught on to any of the Kingdom truths that Jesus was feeding them until the Holy Spirit brought all His words to life at Pentecost. For three years they had been dabbling ducks that understood nothing of catching fish. But when the Holy Spirit fell they were transformed into sawbilled goosanders, and they began fishing for men.

In a pond like this one, a significant portion of the dabblers’ diet is what is fed to them by local humans. You will probably see them congregating on one side of the pond, in the shallow water where they can get to the aquatic vegetation and where the food is thrown in. But here is the point: dabbling ducks do not grow into goosanders. It doesn’t matter how much, or how well, you feed them; to become goosanders equipped to catch fish they have to be transformed into sawbills, and only an encounter with the Holy Spirit can bring that about. Without people having that encounter you just have a pond full of dabblers. Jesus loves them of course, and loves to feed them, as we all do; but what He longs for even more is to see them continue their journey in the Spirit just as Peter and the rest of His original flock of dabblers did.

For some churches, it is a central platform of their ministry to create a current in the water that will lead all the dabblers out of the shallows and into the deeper waters where they can be transformed by the Holy Spirit. For others, the sawbills are there because they happened to fly in, or because they wandered over to the deep water on their own individual journey round the pond. For others still there might be large (or small) flocks of dabblers quacking and splashing, or maybe just sitting on the bank waiting for the food to arrive, but not a sawbill to be found. It is only one part of the church’s mission to put out good food that will attract the ducks. The other part is to lead every dabbler into the present power of the Holy Spirit, so that they become the sawbills that Jesus has called them to be.

I believe this is one of the Lord’s main priorities as He works on the overhaul of His church.

God’s “New Normal:” The Floodplain of the Jordan.

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?”
(Jer 12:5)

In 1987 Rick Joyner received the visions from which he wrote “The Harvest”, which was a revelation of an end-time revival of epic proportions – the same outpouring, probably, that was seen in the twentieth century by Smith Wigglesworth and others – in a context of equally epic unrest and socio-political breakdown. When he wrote it he said he wondered if he would even see it in his lifetime; now things are accelerating so quickly in the spiritual realm, while at the same time fault lines are opening up on the Earth- not least in the USA- that he is wondering if they will happen before the year is out.

Whatever credence one gives to the various voices that can be heard on the current prophetic stage, there is no doubt that the battle in Heaven is intensifying as every day brings us closer to the final one. Is the Tribulation just round the corner? No one knows. A recent prophecy from Wendy Alec says that it isn’t yet, but we are experiencing the beginning of the tremblings. Where does The Harvest fit in on this time scale? Do we even need to know? There will be a great harvest; there will be tribulation: how they fit together is God’s business. What we need to know is this: Jesus is calling His church into a place of intimacy where we can hear His voice more clearly, both to advance his purposes and to receive His provision and protection in the specific circumstances that lie ahead.

He is leading the church up a new path, like a mountain track. The old routines no longer apply; he is doing something new and we need to be able to adapt to it. Opposition to God’s purposes will be stronger: whereas we are used to running against men, we will be running against horses. The time of “The Land of Peace” is over, with its easy routines of meetings and ministry times: we are heading into the floodplains of the Jordan where the tide of revival will be sweeping souls into the Kingdom from every direction and in many unlikely contexts.

If we are open to the Holy Spirit we can expect, even now, to find that He is leading us into new things in our lives. Not just Zoom instead of meetings, not just online shopping instead of the supermarket, but new experiences in our walk with God and in our relationships that bring us closer to him. A phrase that has come out of the coronavirus culture is the “New Normal.” God is leading us into a new normal as well, where the culture and the power of the Kingdom of Heaven will prevail. The changes that some of us are experiencing are the beginnings of that shift, the fingerprints of His hand on our lives.

God’s new normal will be a different dimension, a time of the “Greater things;” of Resurrection life. He wants to use us in miraculous ways to demonstrate the kingdom of God to others, and he wants us to have faith for his miraculous ways to bring his kingdom provision to us. This is the environment of the mountain path. And along with intimacy, power, and faith, comes holiness. None of this can be achieved without a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit.

There is a challenge here for leaders. Just as Ezekiel had his responsibilities as a prophet clearly spelt out (Ezekiel three), our responsibility as leaders is to ensure that everyone in the church is hearing what God is saying. Not everybody will respond, and those who don’t will miss God’s best. But if the cloud is going up the mountain, then everyone has to know. And the challenge for leaders is this: we cannot show people how to follow the cloud unless we are doing it ourselves.

Anything You Ask: Resurrection Life

“Lord,” I said. “I need a word from you!”

It was the evening before School of Prophesy and I felt I had nothing to bring to the group. In fact I had been feeling barren all week, so I wasn’t just asking Him for a word for School of Prophesy, it was for me as well. “John 11:22” came into my head, clear and specific. It was Martha talking to Jesus after Lazarus had been dead for four days. The verse God gave me was this:

“But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus says practically the same words to us in John 14: 13. We know them well: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John will have heard what Martha said to Jesus: he recorded it. So her words won’t have been lost on him when he heard Jesus say to the disciples who were with him, and us of course, that He would give us whatever we ask in His name, just as the Father gave Him whatever he asked. Through the Son, Abba Father is open-handed to all his children, because “both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11) Whether it is Jesus, the firstborn, who is asking, or any of His brothers and sisters, the Father will give us all whatever we ask, because He is our heavenly Father who loves us, and because by giving to us because Jesus is our brother, He is demonstrating to the principalities and powers in heavenly places that His Son is the Messiah, and that “there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

No born again believer will deny the doctrinal truth of what I have written above. But straight away we hit a problem: our experience does not reflect the doctrine. We ask God for things, and He doesn’t give them. James addresses this when he writes: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) Yet when we are praying for someone else and God doesn’t seem to be paying attention, are we asking for ourselves? We know that we aren’t. So the issue is never resolved, and disappointment creeps in to weaken our faith. Yet Jesus promised to give us whatever we ask in His name, and we know that He doesn’t just speak the truth; He is the Truth. So how do we understand a truth that doesn’t always ring true?

When Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away, Martha said:  “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” (John 11:39) Whether we are looking at personal situations or at a global crisis, we can find ourselves in circumstances that stink. But I believe that the Lord is emphasing today that He is with us outside that tomb. Just as He promised Martha that her brother would rise again, He says to us that however hopelessly entombed and stinking our situation might be, He will bring resurrection life. He says to us, as He said to Martha: “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11: 40)

I don’t think that Jesus is just talking here about having faith for the specific circumstance – our “specific Lazarus.” I think a key to understanding this passage is in verses 25-27: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Her answer was to say: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Once she had declared the truth of His identity, the Lord never asked her whether or not she believed that Lazarus would be raised. If our hearts are full of faith in who Jesus IS, we will have no problem believing what He can DO. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and He stands with us, actually alive in the very heart of our being, outside that tomb. He will give us whatever we ask, and the answer will come in resurrection life.

How then do we keep our faith in who He is strong, until we see Him bring the answer to our prayer? We felt the Holy Spirit reminded us of three things in School of Prophesy this morning. Elaine saw in her spirit something like a heavy line drawn underneath a bank of rain-filled clouds. The rain of blessing that was in the clouds and that should have been falling was being held back. We need to discern if there is opposition to us receiving the answer to our prayers, and pray until that opposition is broken. We have the authority to bind and loose, so we might need to bind the power of the opposition and loose what is held for us in heaven so that we can receive it on earth.

Eva shared that a strategy for her to stay strong in her faith is to ask the Lord to give His peace in the area where she is awaiting her answer. Isaiah 26:3 tells us “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” Our peace comes from our trust in Jesus, and we can trust Him because we know who He is. If we find our trust is wavering and our peace is broken we need to spend some time “staying our minds on Him,” dwelling on exactly who it is that lives within us, and say with Martha: “Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” In that place of peace patience is born. And it is “through faith with patience” that we inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:12)

Finally, we were reminded of the importance of praise. We don’t have to look far in scripture to find an exhortation to praise God in all our circumstances, because He is always worthy of our praise. Again, when we praise Him, we remind ourselves of who it is who is standing with us outside that tomb. Hebrews 2: 12 quotes Psalm 22:22, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” When the Holy Spirit within us lifts our hearts in praise to God it is Jesus Himself praising the Father, and revealing Him to us. And not only does it do our own spirits good to praise the Lord, but the enemy hates it, as Psalm 149 vs 5-9 makes clear:

“Let the saints be joyful in glory;
Let them sing aloud on their beds.
 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
To execute vengeance on the nations,
And punishments on the peoples;
To bind their kings with chains,
And their nobles with fetters of iron;
To execute on them the written judgment—
This honour have all His saints.”

So when the situation stinks, we need to focus on who Jesus is rather than what we want Him to do. We need to stay in His peace and praise the glory of His name, and if, as we do that, any demonic powers standing in our way haven’t already fled in the face of our resistance ( James 4:7), we need to do battle with them until they have.

I believe that the Lord wants us, His Church, to expand our vision of resurrection life so that we can live in it more fully. If we think about wheels and moving vehicles our imagination will be based on what we see on the road, what we work with, what’s on our drive or what we would like to see on our drive. But it will all be rooted in our experience. We catch a glimpse of God’s version of wheels and moving vehicles in Ezekiel 1 16-21. Here is just one detail: “As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them…” Because Jesus has gone to the Father, we will do greater works than He did, provided that we believe in Him: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12) Jesus doesn’t elaborate on how much “greater” these works will be, but Andrew Baker catches a glimpse of it in the “Amazing Plane” vision that God gave him recently. It’s worth reading Andrew’s prophesy again and revisiting Ezekiel 1, and asking the Lord to expand our vision of what we can expect from Him.

I am not writing this out of my own imagination or knowledge. The same afternoon as our John 11:22 meeting, Muyiwa (one of our group if you aren’t at Wildwood Church) received a message from an aunt in Nigeria. It started: MATTHEW 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the  door will be opened to you.” God confirmed His word from thousands of miles away. Another one of our group, Linda, needed a riser recliner chair for her disabled father-in-law. Not an everyday requirement. We are clearing my late mother-in-law’s house on Wednesday, where there are two. God is speaking to us, and He wants us to walk in the truth of what He is saying. Nothing is impossible for our God. The wheels on His vehicle are awesome.

The answers to our prayers are being stored up, and when they come they will come in resurrection life. I believe the time is coming soon that the church is being preparing for now, when He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” We will “run against horses.” (Jer 12:5). Our enemies will “come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” (Deut 28:7). Our calling until that time is to ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to bring resurrection Life into those stinking situations that currently appear to be entombed in a cave, to thank Him for the answers that are on their way, and to wait in faith, peace, patience and praise until we see them arrive. Because we believe that Jesus, who lives in us by His Spirit and who stands with us outside the tomb, is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” We need who He is to come into our thinking.

Faith: The Mind of Christ

“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16)

Jesus wants His church to be built through works of “faith expressed through love.” (Gal 5:6) James tells us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” And since Hebrews 11:16 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” we are left with the inescapable conclusion that there is a call on the life of every Christian to demonstrate the love of God through acts of faith. But when storms rock our boat, faith and love can be the last things on our minds: all we want to do is cling, shivering, to the gunwales, like the disciples in the tempest on the Sea of Galilee when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the water. So while the storm is crashing all around we have a choice, as they did: we can either grip the side of the boat in desperation and wonder if Jesus is going to get to us before it sinks, or we can step out of it at His word and walk the impossible in His direction.

Paul writesthe whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16). To put this a bit more simply, the whole of the body of Christ  grows when we all build each other up in love by playing our different parts effectively. The problem, as I have already said, is that we don’t usually feel very effective when it seems like our ship is about to sink. But we can easily miss an important detail of this verse. The word  translated as “effective” is energeia. Energia is a “power word”: it is only used in the New Testament for supernatural power. In other words, the effective working by which every part does its share”- the acts of faith expressed through love by which we build each other up and cause the Body of Christ to grow – have to be supernatural.

Faith is only a theory unless we stand on it. And standing on our faith is like walking on the water: it involves trusting in the supernatural.  We don’t actually live out our Christian lives on the boat; we are only “effective” on the water; either walking on it towards Jesus, or, like Peter, being pulled out of the waves and into His presence. And as Peter found out, even if we do momentarily sink it’s better to be on the water than in the boat.

Great Expectations

Faith isn’t just about trusting in the supernatural; it’s about expecting it. I did a lot of hitch-hiking in the 1970’s, both in the UK where I live, and further afield including parts of Africa where the roads were very different to what they are today. I would set out with a destination in mind, and I knew I would get there eventually. I expected nothing else. Faith is a bit like that: we know where we are going, it’s too far for us to walk, we don’t have any other means to make the trip, so we wait until God shows up and takes us there by a power that is not our own. We expect nothing else.

What expectations do we bring to our journey? The 1949 revival in the Hebrides came about when God answered the persistent prayers of two elderly sisters who drew a circle on the floor and said to the Lord that they were going to kneel there until He poured out His Spirit on their thirsty land. They waited by the road until they got their lift. We have a church intern living with us at the moment. If I say we are going to have some time together at 9.00 pm, there is a knock on my study door at 9.00 pm and a voice saying “Bob, are you ready? It’s nine o’clock!” And if I’m not quite ready I stop what I am doing because I said I would be. Jesus said “knock, and the door will be opened to you.” What has God said He would do, for us and through us? Do we knock on His door and wait until He comes out because He said He would? Because as Smith Wigglesworth famously said: “God is more eager to answer than we are to ask.”

The Heart of the Matter

We talk sometimes about doing something because it is “in our heart,” or conversely not carrying something out because it “isn’t in our heart to do it.” There are many obstacles on the path of faith, but one of them is surely that we have certain promises from God in our heads, but we don’t have them in our hearts. Romans 10: 9 says “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Faith, whether for salvation or for seeing the miracle working power of God, is a matter of the heart, not the head. Mark 11:23 and Matthew 21:21 make this clear: Jesus tells us that we will see the mountains moved if we believe “and do not doubt in our hearts” that God will do what only He can do.

For those of us who sometimes find it difficult to make that shift from head theory to heart faith, help is at hand. Paul wrote: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16). The Greek word nous, translated as mind, means all the faculties of perceiving and understanding as well as those of feeling, judging and determining. When we were born again, God didn’t just give us a new heart, but He also gave us His nous. Jesus didn’t doubt in His heart that He had authority over the waves: for a start, they belonged to Him. Our human minds will never grasp the dominion that we have in the Spirit, in Christ; but we don’t need them to because our Father has given His children the mind of His son. It is a gift to all of us, if we will receive it. It is only by the mind of Christ that we can receive the mustard seed “faith of God” (Mark 11:23) that moves the mountain. If we can take hold of this gift we will really get it into our hearts that nothing is impossible with God. Even walking on water.

How do we do that? We go and knock on His door, ask Him for it, and wait. But I’ve got to stop writing now: it’s nearly nine o’clock.

Following the Light

Adele brought this encouragement for the church on Sunday:

“We have to stand up and say that God is working in our lives; that we can trust our loving God and that He will get us through all the difficult times we have had to go through. He is our light through the darkness.”

While we were singing “Cornerstone,” just before Graham shared this, I had the following from the Lord, which confirms what Adele shared:

“You see clouds in the sky, but I am the light you see them by. You say the clouds block out the sun, but they will bring the rain that this dry land needs.”

Again and again, God is encouraging the church not to look down, but to look up. 1 Thessalonians 5 vs 4-5 says this:

“You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”

As the darkness around us thickens, the light will get stronger. The message the Holy Spirit gave to two people through “The Tall Building” encourages us to look out of the window and be aware of what is doing; in other words to “watch and be sober.” If you haven’t read this, I encourage you to do so, particularly as Wildwood Church itself has been spoken of prophetically as a tall building that is a light on a hill.

Like the Pillar of Fire that led the Israelites through the desert, the Light is leading us to new places. As children of Light we need to be alert to what He is doing. I have heard it said that the journey from Egypt was only a twelve day trek: it was the Israelites’ refusal to accept God’s leading that cost them forty years and a lost generation. Let us take this opportunity to trust and respond to the Holy Spirit, who is the Pillar of Fire that is leading us now just as He was back then, and let’s take hold of the Promised Land ourselves: we don’t want the Lord to have to wait another forty years for a church that will follow Him.

Because He will do: He has all the time in the world. And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to spend much longer in this wilderness. The way out of the darkness is to follow the Light as closely as possible.

Applying the Brakes: Take Every Thought Captive

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10 4-6)

The brakes are one of our weapons of warfare that are essential, but not often talked about: they are the “check” that we have been given to apply to everything that goes through our heads. Before we draw the sword of the Spirit, before we hold up the shield of faith, the Word encourages us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (If we are thinking in terms of the spiritual armour of Ephesians 6, we can see this as part of the function of our helmet of salvation: the helmet is our filter that will only allow Kingdom thinking do go on in our heads – if only we would remember that we are wearing it…)

Sometimes the Holy Spirit tells us sovereignly when to brake: we just sense that He is saying “No. Not that.” We’ve all had the times, probably too many to count, when we’ve had that check, ignored it and carried on our own way; then found out when it’s too late and we’re picking ourselves up off the ground why the Lord was stopping us. But we also know the far more satisfying corollary when we feel the check, stop, and then find out what would have happened if we had carried on. Those are good moments on our journey. However I don’t think the Lord wants us to rely solely on His intervention to know when to stop, because His instruction is to take every thought captive, not just the ones He points out. And this is not just about our sanctification: it is, as I have said, about warfare.

It is often said that the main battleground in the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged is the mind. Sin always starts with a temptation: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  (James 1: 14) Sin was crouching at Cain’s door, and he let in in (Gen 4:7). It crouches at our doors as well, and we must recognise it for what it is and  keep it out.

Any seed that is left in the right conditions will take root and grow. The devil will sow negative thoughts in our minds at any time, usually seeds of temptation to do or say something unrighteous and unloving. We may not do anything with them at the time, but perhaps we entertain them. They take root and grow bigger. They start to look enticing; we entertain them some more; they start to grow, and like dandelions they get more and more difficult to pull out, until ultimately they give birth to sin and death. These are the thoughts that need to be taken captive and rejected as soon as they land, before the root starts to form.

Again, we may be in a conversation that covers sensitive topics. Something is said that maybe piques the flesh and a defensive reaction rises up. Do we entertain it and let it give birth to destructive words? If we do, sin is crouching at our door, and will jump in as soon as the words come out, because the door is open. Or do we take that thought captive to the obedience of Christ and refuse to give it room? To choose Life in these circumstances we have to die to the reactions of our flesh, but the rewards are always worthwhile. These moments are like points on a railway track, where we have a choice to make: if we choose the wrong way we can be led down a track that will waste time, cause emotional damage and end up just hitting the buffers. If we choose the right way we grow in Christ and sharpen the discernment that makes it easier to take the next thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.

As the spiritual battle around us intensifies, so too does the battle for our minds. One of our best defences is to make it second nature to keep our hands constantly close to the brakes. We have to remember that it is our spirits that are in control, not the slope of the flesh’s path that is enticing us: at every moment we choose to either use them, or to carry on careering down the hill.

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
(Psalm 51:6)