Know what’s going on in the spiritual realm

Spiritual realm: image credit: Ian Greig

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV

Paul doesn’t end his letter to the church in Corinth with a cheery “Keep up the good work” but something Churchill could have said in 1940 when threat of invasion was all the talk.

What are we standing firm against?

If we agree that this is God’s word and therefore timeless, speaking to us today as it did to believers in the first century, what are we standing firm against and on our guard to challenge?

Our world is bigger than our everyday lives, what the BBC defines as news, and the government and institutions.

The spiritual realm — and added dimension

We are spiritual people, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, belonging to a Saviour and Lord who doesn’t live in a building and who is not recognised when He makes an appearance. For us, there is a spiritual dimension that has a considerable bearing on our lives and communities, both for good and for evil.

Occasionally in the Bible someone has a visitation from an angel, or an impression of one in a dream or vision. Abraham had some signpost moments like this and Jacob was injured in a wrestling match with an angel. Joshua was given detailed instruction by an angel before the conquest of Jericho. Isaiah encountered an angel as part of his call to speak to the hard-hearted. Joseph received vital direction from an angel three times. Angels at the tomb announced Christ’s resurrection, others reminded the disciples of Jesus’ return, and sprang Peter from prison1

What does this tell us? That these people of giant faith were specially chosen to be visited?

Step back a moment and consider what is happening. Even if angels do appear to specially favoured people (some were, some were not) this mainly tells us that what is happening in the heavenlies, needs to be communicated to someone on earth… to the person who needed to know God’s strategy at that time.

  • What happens in heaven is not divided from what happens on earth
  • The heavenly realm is mostly unseen. That does not make it unreal

We have a real, active and vindictive enemy — completely real in Jesus experience and teaching — out to to spoil what he can get his hands on. He and his demons inhabit the spiritual realm unseen, and prey on our thoughts and lives where we are

We also have help from the heavenly realm, accessible to us because we can ask for it through Jesus. And that’s the point of this verse, this closing reminder from Paul:

Be on your guard
Stand firm in faith
Be courageous
Be strong

He is saying, don’t forget the battle that is going on over every righteous Jesus-centred action you take. Thoughts as well! And so expect some push-back — but stand firm and don’t give in to it.

This is different from the gentle church-orientated religion many of us were brought up in. Those four instructions are not gentle. And this is not about church, so much as the One who said “I will build My church“.

He will. And He does it in partnership with us — as we stay alert and on our guard, spiritually.

For a prayer about this, see this post on GLOW.

  1. Genesis 32:22-32Joshua 5:13-15Isaiah 6:6-7Matthew 1:20-21, 2:13, 19-20Matthew 28:1-10Acts 1:11, Acts 12:6-10 []

God’s assurance and the five common doubts we all struggle with

“Did God really say…” was the devil’s original incitement to doubt. Image credit: Ian Greig 03547

The Bible has particular good news about the security of our salvation in Jesus — our assurance. This article examines the five most common doubts we struggle with, and shows how to resolve them the way Jesus did.

The sowing of seeds of doubt — an old, old strategy

A lot of the spiritual battle of life happens inside our heads. That’s where the devil tries to insert thoughts that we can be deceived into thinking are our own. In reality, they come from the sneaky suggestions of the master liar, the “crafty serpent” of Genesis who, right at the beginning, put a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind with the question: “Did God really say…”1. And so Adam and Eve swerved from dependence on God to independence from God, and sin came into the world. This tactic of tempting us to sin has served him well. He tried it on Jesus, and he is using it on us today. Like Jesus, we learn to disable doubts and show their lack of substance by using God’s word — the truth that sets us free ((Luke 4:1-13; John 8:31-32)).

Doubt no. 1: “Am I really saved?”

“Are my sins forgiven just by believing and receiving Christ — surely that can’t be enough?”

What God says about that, needs to be internalised and set alongside that doubt, to topple it.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” — 1 John 5:11-12

Doubt no. 2: “Why would God hear or answer my prayer?”

.”Is God, who is far away and concerned with BIG things, really be concerned with me and my prayers. Why would He hear them and answer them?”

God loved the world so much that He gave… the most anyone could give, His Son2. And Jesus gave His life for you, on the Cross. He wants you to come to Him in every situation:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

The night before He died, Jesus spoke to His disciples. Over the three years they had all asked Him many things, but He tells them they had not yet asked in His name — as those belonging to Him. Our assurance of answered prayer comes because we can belong to Him, by choice, and we can ask in His name, as He taught the first disciples:

“Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete” — John 16:24.

Doubt no. 3: “I’m a failure — I can’t seem to resist sin.”

“I feel a failure as a believer, when I find I cannot live right and resist sin.”

He empowers us by His Spirit to say ‘no’ in the Name of Jesus, to resist, to live over and above the temptation. But He has also given us a place that we can go back to again and again, the Cross, and there we can receive forgiveness.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” — 1 Corinthians 10:13

Doubt no. 4: “Am I really forgiven?”

“There are things in my life which won’t go away; they haunt me and I feel guilty.”

Satan’s ploy is to try to trap us in thoughts or actions which go against God, and then hit us with the guilt of it, to reinforce and compound doubts 1-3 and deal a mortal blow to our self-esteem.

The reality is, we make mistakes. Relationships go wrong, marriages fail, people get hurt as a result of our actions or words, and these and all the everyday failures things grieve God. But in Jesus, God who became man, we have a Saviour who both understands the pressures and difficulties, and at the Cross has provided a way out for us.

If we are in fellowship with Him and others, and we are being honest with Him about where we have given in to our independence or our selfish desire, His blood cleanses us from all sin. “All” does mean all. And, if you have given your life to Jesus, and your life is therefore hidden in His — “in Christ Jesus” — there is no guilt weighing you down. The guilt has been removed, leaving only the suggestion of it.

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”— 1 John 1:7-9.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus — Romans 8:1

Doubt no.5: “What is my destiny?”

“What is God’s guidance for my life, and am I able to receive it?”

God’s guidance is often not easy to discern. We don’t often get a Holy Spirit-inspired future-revealing dream, or a visit from an angel. The prompts come in much smaller and more ordinary ways, and we can easily miss them — with the enemy sowing confusion and every kind of distraction to put us off. However, a bit like promises of assurance, promises of God’s guidance are all over Scripture, and He can use any part of it to speak to us to give us a little redirect, right at that moment. But here is a foundational verse to commit to memory, to use against that confusion, and to return to as a solid promise that God will meet us as we come to Him with our little bit of faith:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” — Proverbs 3:5-6.

Memorising

Some people find memorising Scripture easier than others, but the principle for all is straightforward — reference, repeat and revisit. Know the reference for where to find them, marked up in your Bible; read them out loud and repeat them whenever you can; and go back to revisit to consolidate your learning.

Doubt can be a killer but God’s word brings the presence of God Himself and is life-giving. Do what Jesus did and tell the enemy and his lies where to get off — and you will grow rapidly in assurance, which is what Father God wants for you.


See also Explaining… Our assurance in the kingdom of God

  1. Genesis 3:1 []
  2. John 3:16 []

The kingdom of God is not the church…

… but it depends on us keeping our house in order

Wheat and weeds growing together near Tillington, NW Herefordshire.     Image credit: Ian Greig

Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-13

Among casual readers of the Bible, there has been a long tradition of confusing the kingdom of God with the church.

This was especially common during the era of Christendom in Europe where the church and state powers were enmeshed, and it persists today where people assume the organisational structures of the church and the power wielded by church leaders is synonymous with God’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, this has led to a dangerous misreading of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds.

In the story, Jesus compares “the kingdom of heaven” to a man who sowed good seed in a field while his enemy secretly sowed weeds. In order to protect the wheat from being uprooted prematurely, the weeds are allowed to grow alongside the wheat until the harvest.

Those who equate the kingdom with the church have understood this parable to mean that wicked, harmful people should be tolerated within the church alongside those seeking righteousness. In other words, it is not appropriate to exercise church discipline or expel anyone for any reason. Such actions, they say, are reserved for God alone at the final judgment.

This view, however, is a complete misreading of Jesus’ parable and requires one to ignore many other passages within the New Testament - and the words of Jesus himself - that call upon church leaders to exercise discernment and discipline in order to protect the church from harm and guide everyone toward godliness. In its worst application, this read of the parable has been an excuse for not removing corrupt or abusive church leaders.

The story of the wheat and the weeds is not about the church. It is about the world. We occupy an age in which the kingdom of God and its righteousness has taken root. It is growing and expanding. But its presence is not without resistance. Alongside God’s kingdom is also the evil of the world. Until the harvest, we must expect the goodness of God’s kingdom and the evil of the world to coexist in tension with each other.

But the fact that evil persists in the world is never an excuse for the church to ignore it within its own community or to silence those who have been wounded by its agents.

Original post by Skye Jethani in ‘With God Daily’, July 9


See also Understanding Revival page with the wheat and weeds passage of Matthew 13, in The Living Word

God’s love came first

Mother goose watches over her baby gosling on Weobley Marsh common.    Image credit: Ian Greig 03412

This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

Why should God love me?

“If you really knew me… knew what was in my life behind the front that I put up … If you really knew me (I suppose God knows me like that) you wouldn’t expect God to love me.”

It’s not a real quote but I have heard a version of that comment many times as a pastor.

The way we see ourselves and the way God sees us, are not the same. The way we value ourselves and the way God values us are not the same.

We work on the premise that our relationship with God works like the way we get to know anyone else. God has to get to know us, and hopefully He will see some things He likes and over time, become warm to us.

Wrong. God loved and accepted us first.

He may not love and accept all our attitudes or behaviour… but He created us and sent His Son Jesus to be the “atoning sacrifice”, to pay the high price to make things right for us.

Is this automatic? The fact of God’s love for us is not a maybe — that’s established. What is not automatic is our love for God, and our acceptance of Jesus for who He is. That requires us to make a choice!

We agree with Jesus about who He is and what He has done in our behalf. What He did was costly. Our decision also has a cost to it – the cost of our independence, of giving someone else a higher place in our lives. But now we realise the extent of God’s love for us that was there all along. We just had to make our move, to receive it.

As the Passion Translation puts it:

This is love: He loved us long before we loved Him. It was His love, not ours. He proved it by sending His Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins.” 1 John‬ ‭4:10‬ ‭TPT‬‬


First responder

Moor Street , Hereford… and no way through. Image credit: Jaggery, Geograph

Where do we turn first?

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; He brought me into a spacious place. Psalm 118:5 NIV

Q. Does God care? Is He there for me?

A. There’s an old saying, which probably originated in Yorkshire, along the lines of: “If you don’t ask, you’ll never get owt”…

Read on
…The so-called Lord’s Prayer, actually the model for disciples to pray, has that kind of “tell it like it is” Yorkshire flavour, mixing declarations, “Thy kingdom come…” with some pretty direct asking in “Give us this day our daily bread“. Luke’s version of the prayer1 looks like a prayer you pray as it is: “When you pray, say….” while Matthew’s2 looks more like an outline of headings for our own expressions of prayer. Either way, it assumes a robust relationship with the One addressed with familiarity as “Father”.

This challenges the person who says (and who hasn’t, at some time), “I don’t pray because God never listens to me – He doesn’t answer.”

In our logic, those two statements are joined into one. 

And answers seldom come, as it were, by return post, and we discount what doesn’t exactly fit with what we asked.

Yet we allow this in the rest of life. Politicians who have come under attack by journalists at the recent televised briefings commonly give a the answer they want to give, or at least a more nuanced response, to the questioner seeking to score points and get an angle for the story. We may not like the refusal to be drawn into a black and white argument but we accept that there is a bigger picture and that reality has many shades and soft edges.

The point behind the psalmist’s verse is about the first response to difficulty, the “what” that follows the “when”.

Our version would be more like: “When I was hard pressed, I did everything I knew to fix it. And when I couldn’t, I cried to the Lord.”

That puts more faith on our ability, and not very much faith or expectation on God as a “might as well” direction to try. How would you respond to such an approach.

Fortunately God, whose character in a word is merciful, is not too put off off by our behaviour (following the Yorkshire theme) being “daft”.

But He does expect us to come to Him out of some kind of relationship, prepared to trust and poised to expect. And when hard pressed, to let Him know all about it — first.

PRAYER

Lord, forgive me to placing more reliance on myself than on You. Forgive me for blaming You when I didn’t recognise what you were doing in a situation — or see the bigger picture of the spiritual battle, and where the discouragement was coming from.

Father, I turn to You again, and rely on You first. You may show me what I must do to be part of the answer to my prayer, but I share with You how I am being squeezed and how it feels to be hemmed in, this ‘no through road’ with nowhere I can see to get through or to turn. 

You have the bigger picture and I say again “Your kingdom come”. You can and will bring me into that more spacious place. I trust You for that — and thank You in Jesus for hearing me again. Amen. 


  1. Luke 11:2-4 []
  2. Matthew 6:9-13 []