Thought: How to ask God for wisdom

1. What is wisdom?

Wisdom is the ‘how to’ that goes with knowledge. We know quite a lot about coronavirus, but we desperately need a breakthrough in this area of ‘how to’ – how to cure the infection and how to prevent it. God, who is all-knowing, has that wisdom – and we are the ones who know how how to ask Him.

We need wisdom! Our death rate the highest in Europe. New admissions are still rising. There is no clear end in sight from what the Prime Minister described as “this devilish illness” ( he was right about that).

We desperately need the missing piece of the puzzle, the clue that unlocks the conundrum, the solution no one has thought of yet.

James, writing to first-century believers in newly-started home-based churches outside Jerusalem, has an answer. Like us, these early believers were facing risk – look what had happened to Stephen – and living in uncertain times, trying to work out the ‘how tos’ of being a church. This is the advice James gave them:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

It seems too simple to take seriously. “You should ask God…”. Well, he would say that!

But we SHOULD ask God, and repent of seeking wisdom in every other quarter apart from a word from God — which might just be a scientific discovery from God!

James assumes two things that would have been completely normal and expected in any church gathering of that time.

First, he assumes hearers will have come to a committed, personal relationship with Jesus, accepting His sacrifice of Himself for our sins, and also submitting their lives to Him as Lord.

Second, He assumes they have all had an empowering encounter with the Holy Spirit, like the first believers did at Pentecost.. This was general. They needed more than KNOWING how to live in the new life Jesus brings – they needed to be empowered to DO it, to have revelation of the reality of resurrected Jesus in their lives.

The relationship with Jesus is like the manual we get with a new appliance from Curries telling us to make sure the machine is plugged in. It will also say, make sure the power is on and flowing!

2. How to seek God’s wisdom

What has this to do with James’ question? Everything. We have two-thirds answered it already .

Wisdom comes to us when we turn to Jesus, by the Holy Spirit giving us revelation. It is all about the relationship – and we have that relationship. Or rather, we are given that relationship by Jesus because He is like that.

Two-thirds of the way – but there is one more thing.

We have to ask. To actually ask, as those serious about getting an answer.

3. How to ask.

  1. ADMIT our need of God’s wisdom as ours is insubstantial.
  2. STOP the various ways we pursue our own wisdom. Put them down. This is not ‘Plan B’, not a back-up for our own efforts.
  3. Humbly, but confidently – ASK, expecting that wisdom will come. Not always an immediate flash of insight, but it will come. now here’s the thing. Suppose there is a boffin out there – an eminent researcher, I should say – who had a line off study that seemed to have reached a dead end – and work was stopped. It could have been a plant derivative, or a genetic theory, or a medical trial. And they were prompted to revisit it – and made a discovery that no one could have predicted! Entirely possible by prayer and faith – and we are the ones who know how to do that.
  4. So we ask God for the breakthrough which we RECOGNISE is in heaven. He is all-knowing – so without doubt He has all the answers. Our job is to pray that wisdom down to earth. So we do, and thank God for it, in anticipation.

For a suggested prayer based on this message, go over to the associated site with its focus on encouraging prayer for communities, GLOW Weobley

The PEACE process when fear comes calling

A three minute thought

The post below goes with the video and gives a bit more explanation, and help to pray at the end

Three-minute thought by Ian Greig

Anxiety is real enough

A recent UK Ipsos-Mori survey found that almost two-thirds of those surveyed were fearful about the epidemic, and if restrictions were lifted, would be too anxious to go out and socialise. About a third would dread going t o work on public transport, or shopping.

Young people, who are less at risk, actually reported having the greatest anxiety in the survey.

This anxiety is real enough but I think it is fuelled by the media which report exceptions, like young fit people who develop severe symptoms, because unusual instances are more newsworthy than people who are making a good recovery.

Risk and failure is also exaggerated by the media needing to find stories at a time when the news is quite predictable and slow-paced.

So with lockdown and distancing and infection control set to continue indefinitely, there’s plenty out there to fuel my anxiety.

What is God saying about it?

What He is saying to us now will come out what He has always said (His Word). The ‘now’ word is more specific and we often hear it where a particular word seems to buzz for us at this time.

It is said that there are 365 instances of “fear not” in the Bible! That’s one for every day of the year, but only if you need to ration them out.

But how, in practice, DO I “fear not” when my mental state is very anxious-feeling?

That highlights an essential difference we commonly get confused between the religion and the relationship. Christianity the institutional religion is not the same as the personal relationship with God which comes through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, accepting Him as Saviour from the penalty of sin and Lord of life’s direction. Of course there is overlap but there’s also a real tension because the values are rather different and even opposed at times..

Formal religion teaches “you shall”, “you ought not” and “you must not.”

The religious way of thinking teaches that favour with God is achieved by merit through observance and good deeds. It emphasises the relative importance of different people and activities – so there is a hierarchy of clergy, often called priests, whose religious activities are seen as especially important, and what we do in the direction of ‘church activity’ is perceived to trump our mission and witness to the wider world. Following the resurrection, there was no need for any further sacrifice, the old order of priesthood was abolished and every believer in Jesus comes to share the priesthood of representing God to man – witness and evangelism – and representing man to God – shepherding and intercession. As we have our own relationship with God, the remedy for our anxiety is found in that relationship, not through another person standing between us and God.

And just as Jesus was criticised for looking beyond those who belonged to the covenant of the Nation of Israel, by loving, healing and delivering all comers, and by His willing exposure to the grimy and poverty-stricken world He was born into, we invite criticism by following Jesus. For Him there was no ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ but the kingdom of God in all and over all. His way, His presence and above all His peace is not restricted to a church service! The present crisis is bringing that home to us as never before, and it is a good lesson God is bringing out of a bad situation.

The relationship with God as a Father that comes through spiritual rebirth in acknowledging Jesus Christ as God who took human form, has a different tone. It is new life and new understanding, in an encouraging and enabling partnership around the phrase: “You can”. The Holy Spirit is central in this understanding of ‘You can” and it leaves “You ought” looking distinctly unhelpful. The “you ought” way of thinking does not help our anxiety – it increases it.

We view the word of God brought in earlier times through a different lens and with more light than was available then.

You might remember that the Holy Spirit was poured out on a crowd around this time of year (May) and every single one of them was moved to change their lives around and receive Jesus as their Lord. Three thousand of them (just counting the men) went into the water to wash off and bury the old life and come out into the new. But it wasn’t just a nice symbolic thing to do. They received an endowment of the Holy Spirit that empowered them to know that Jesus is resurrected and real, and to live differently by knowing Him.

That is a key understanding. And with that understanding, the verse that follows is a promise we can hold on to.

The Good News

You (God) will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You.
Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Let’s put with that a verse from one of John’s letters where he explains what receiving God’s love does for our assurance:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love DRIVES OUT fear, because fear has to do with punishment…
1 John 4:18 NIV

The deep-down root of all our fear and anxiety, is the fear of judgment – and God’s final judgment would be something to be VERY fearful about.

Except that, when we turn to Jesus and ask Him into our heart, we receive His love and acceptance and forgiveness. The condemnation we were carrying inherited from Adam and built on by us, is lifted off. We are loved by God!

With no legal right to oppress us any more, there’s not a lot the enemy can do about our new status, except shout threats at us. But they are empty threats now, for those whose thoughts are fixed on the Lord.

This is how it works.

That battle goes on in our thoughts. Not all thoughts come from us! We can choose what we think about, and what we believe, when the devil attacks us (as he did Jesus) with not-quite-true thoughts which are actually subtle lies.

So you can listen to the news reports and perhaps it’s about a young, fit person who has become very poorly. It’s remarkable — because it is not usual. “It could be me,” says the anxious thought.

That is not completely untrue — but it is not completely true, either.

And this is where you have a choice-to entertain the nagging fear, and let it grow. Or to tell that fear to go back where it came from, and make an intentional, believing choice to trust God, who is faithful, and receive His peace and love air ash so there isn’t room for the fear.

It’s a battle – but a winnable one. It’s a choice, conscious at first but then it becomes more of a familiar routine.

PEACE is like this:

P = POSITION yourself to know where the thoughts come from

E = EXERCISE faith. That is believing God actively, by putting it into practice.

A = ADMIT to your Father that you can’t do this alone. You need His help! He knows that, but it is good to take that step of dependence.

C = CHOOSE who you believe and who you disbelieve — a quality decision, not a ‘flip-flop’ one. Christ is who you choose. He is the Living Word and will point you to the written word which is your way to silence the devil and his nagging thoughts and fears

E = ENGAGE with the fear thought. Ask the Holy Spirit of Jesus to help you. Then In the authority of Jesus who is Lord, silence that fear thought and put it out. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with His security and peace – and with praise!

Prayer

(You don’t say the letters, they are just for reference!)

P for position
There is no fear in love. But perfect love DRIVES OUT FEAR because fear has to do with punishment… but I am troubled by a nagging, critical voice threatening me.


E for exercise faith
I put my trust in You once again. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for saving me. Thank You that I am not just a struggling sinner, but someone You have chosen, died for and wants very much.


A for admit
I need Your help. I can’t handle this on my own.


C for choose who you believe
You are the One I have trusted with My life and I trust You now.


E for engage
Jesus, You are Lord of my life and in Your name and authority I say to that fear of (name it) “Be silent and obey Jesus.”
Holy Spirit of God, fill me again, let me be full of a sense of Your love and peace – and joy! You are great, You are good and Yours is the glory. Amen.

Good and Evil around an Epidemic

A “two minute thought”

Addresses a question many are asking – and the answer is easier than you might think

The question

Is Covid-19 just one of those epidemics that happens, or is there a spiritual dimension we can tap into?

Well, how spiritually aware are you?
If your viewpoint is all evidence-based about “following the science” that is rigorous and good but it doesn’t leave much room for the spiritual perspective. To be holistic, we want engage with both aspects .

Hospital medicine likes certainties: scans, tests, proven treatments.
But doctors know that a person’s expectations and attitude have a lot to do with how they recover.
People are spirit, soul and body, so we want to help all three.

An epidemic like Covid-19 causes more than respiratory sickness. For the rest of us, it has a fear factor. That summons up whatever Christian faith we have, to be dusted off and brought to bear.

But how do we pray? What is God doing?

Joining the spiritual battle

There’s a side to the battle which is not seen. It is just as real.
All of us need to get stuck into this one – and it’s a lot easier than you think.

The encouragement

A verse in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome stands out to me. It’s very simple, very practical – and very true.
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:21 NLT)

“Doing good” is just that. Not threatened, not hopeless, not powerless
The GOOD NEWS is any of us, at any time, can turn to God to receive His love and goodness, then we just overflow that to others in little acts of encouragement, meeting practical needs etc.

The Christian way of doing good always involves relating to the One who is good:

  • doing what we ‘see’ the Father doing
  • following the small nudges of His Spirit
  • allowing His creativity to stir our imagination.

All we have to do is to look to Him and align ourselves with His flow of goodness and love.
We will find ourselves prayerfully “doing good”, the good that God shows us, and that, according to the verse above, is a really effective way of pushing back spiritually against the tide of evil. No need to make it more complicated…

So whatever is getting to you today:

  • your job, or perhaps your business
  • the threat of sickness for you or a loved one
  • the cold grip of fear

You turn to the One who has overcome it — by doing, thinking and expressing what is GOOD, because that is what agrees with Him, and it is in the opposite spirit, cancelling out the one sowing the sickness and fear.

We think practical and spiritual are different or even opposed, but they are not separate in God’s sight, but all part of the same flow of His goodness.
And good news again: yes, we can invite and direct that flow.

Let’s pray

Father God, everything about You is good.

You are always doing good, and You look on us with love and patience.
You always have time. You are full of generosity in every way.
Fill us with Your Spirit and Your love, to join with what You are doing.
And let Your good, coming through us, conquer the evil behind today’s troubles – and give glory to You.

Through Jesus we pray. Amen.

‘Follow the science’ but let God have the first and last word

Humility comes before honour” – Jesus, ultimate example of both humility, wisdom and honour is also called the Lamb of God.
Lamb near The Birches, Sarnesfield Coppice, image credit Ian Greig

Thought for the Day, April 25, 2020

Proverbs 15:33

Wisdom’s instruction is the fear the Lord,
and humility comes before honour.

Before we get successful we have to get humble, especially in terms of who God is and how we defer to Him.

This is teaching about holding God in greater awe than everything else.

  • Greater than ‘following the science’.
  • Greater than public opinion.
  • Greater than the particular political ideology that we follow.
  • Greater, too, than the voice of reason.

Sometimes churches put forward “fear of the Lord” as being beholden to church tradition and its hierarchies. All denominations and even modern streams have them! But that is fear of man, not being in awe of a loving God.

What’s the bad news?

In this epidemic, people are dying, others are very poorly and it could be us, or our friends or neighbours. The anxiety, the uncertainty and the need for isolation and distancing is set to go on and on — and we don’t have the wisdom for a clear way out of it.

In the present pandemic, we hear daily opinions from experts in science, medicine, epidemiology and data interpretation. But as one commentator remarked drily (on BBC Radio 4 Today), “Scientists like to think they are expert at everything.”

And so do we in our unguarded moments.

Education and knowledge is good and helpful. I studied the science streams and then engineering in early life. I know the value of following scientific evidence and then developing the engineer’s ingenuity in thinking outside the familiar ways, to construct a better solution.

Bringing that into the disciplines of Christian philosophy brings thinking skills which are very helpful in finding our own framework. We all need a framework for what we believe. But it is important for that framework to include the values that come from what we believe, because the values we hold are are what really steer what we do, or avoid doing. We might believe that God is all-powerful and all-wise. If we put a high value on finding out what His wisdom is, we’ll be ready to listen and learn.

All of this is really helpful in making a kind of landing pad for what God might be saying to us. We have to bring it down to earth… and we need a way of processing what we discern spiritually. The language of heaven isn’t the language of earth, so we have to translate the whisper of the Holy Spirit and the glimpses of revelation He shows us. We have to do the work of joining them up. The disciplines drummed into us through education and experience help us do this… until they start to take over, and then they don’t help, they hinder. Because then we are putting our faith in the process rather than the source.

“Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord…” and that means learning to listen with an openness to hear, and hear differently. The comfortable religious routines offer their own pre-packaged answers, and the danger is that we find it easier to substitute these for the harder work of us seeking God for Himself.

So this Thought can do no more than encourage you to go back to God with a renewed humility and sense of His majesty and all-knowing perspective, and agreeing with Him that man’s answers are insubstantial and flawed help, compared with His

The Good News is…

… that believing and trusting Jesus is the one simple thing we can all do, which opens the door for His Holy Spirit, to be the light which guides our way and the revelation insight that shows us simply, what we struggle to reason out by ourselves.

“Fearing the Lord” starts out as something that sounds ‘heavy’, but really it is just putting first and foremost God our Father who first loved us, who gave His Son Jesus for us and who loves to honour us as we get to know Him

What do we do?

Consider the question: “Who am I listening to ?” And then, work on ‘tuning in’ to what He is saying and making that our ‘front page news’.

Revival of kindness

A willingness to learn new habits and behaviours – the stretched-out queue waiting to be admitted to the Tesco, Belmont, Hereford.
Image credit: Ian Greig

Thought of the day

Luke 9:23-24 NIV
Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it.

Ian Greig writes: My thought today is not about the difficulties, anxieties and losses from Covid 19, real though they are. The other side of the coin is the huge outflow of good that is being seen, not just in hospitals and care homes but among neighbours and in goodwill within communities.

There is a growing realisation that we need one another. And at a challenging time, to support one another without condition. It looks like what we read in the Bible is just happening…

Many people are asking, what is God doing in all of this?Let’s be clear, He doesn’t bring sickness and hardship but at many time in history He has allowed it, and used it. What is intended for harm, He can turn to good.

The turning to good is not always seen directly. Much good political reform came out of the damage of two world wars, but the change was more about people gaining a will to live (and take decisions) differently, than a landmark moment.

What can we see God bringing out of the Covid-19 pandemic? What are we seeing that is good, creative, caring – that reflects God’s goodness? You might add to my list…

  • Selfless dedication (as we clap the NHS and carers)
  • Neighbourly kindness, caring and (in certain ways) sharing
  • Exploration: people seeking and finding spiritual insights and answers
  • Self-discipline: the majority sticking to the guideline restrictions
  • Social creativity: people finding new ways to socialise
  • Innovation and development: from ‘Formula 1’ positive air pressure devices to ‘Airbus’ and ‘Dyson’ ventilator machines and apps for group conversations and streaming.
  • Cycling, running, walking: distancing outdoors
  • Learning new habits: from handwashing to the stretched-out queue and maintaining distance in the aisles.
  • Reflection and slower pace: where the practice of mindfulness was bolted on to busy routines, now restrictions make us think about what we are feeling and doing, and learn as we go.

Very few of these will have been motivated by the thought of being Jesus’s disciples, or even if the cost of followership. They are doing what they believe is right, having put personal gain to one side and personal cost to the other side.

Their beliefs might not yet have caught up with who Jesus is, but their values are reflecting HOW Jesus is. And that, to me, looks like the beginnings of a move of God.

Link to prayer

A suggested prayer on this theme

How weeping can become refreshing

A place of refreshing springs…” Willows growing by the side of the Newbridge Brook between Weobley and Dilwyn.
Image credit: Ian Greig

Thought for the day

Psalm 84:5-6
What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.

On a walk, what we see in the distance can be quite different when we get close. Similarly in life, our reaction to what we see can change dramatically, when we get a different perspective. This is a story of how what appears one way, can turn out differently.

At certain times of year, groups would set out to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival at the Temple. They would walk on bad roads with hills, valleys and dangerous ravines, and they probably gave them nick-names, like we do.The psalm writer’s Valley of Weeping (Hebrew baka) could also be called the Valley of Poplars, a double meaning not lost on the original hearers.

  • Poplars grow close to water — so travellers in a dry, dusty country who saw poplars on the horizon would anticipate being able to drink.

  • There’s a deeper meaning here. The ones “walking through the Valley of Weeping” , are “on a pilgrimage“. So this is a picture of believers on a journey of faith, who (like all of us at times) have hit difficulties. Sometimes difficult times can be dry times — a sense of abandonment, nothing coming from the Lord, no fresh direction. The Valley of Weeping is the right name.
  • But the Valley of Weeping can be turned into the Valley of Poplars, and there’s running water in that valley. There’s a place to drink and be refreshed.

  • The place of “refreshing springs” is where the “times of refreshing” start, Acts 3:19. The psalm points to God’s greater purpose, which is always to bring spiritual renewal.

Those whose strength comes from the Lord” are the ones “on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem” — walking with the Lord and knowing their destiny with Him. “For you,” the psalmist says, “the valley of tears will become the place of refreshing. Why? Because when we come to the end of ourselves with the Lord, we can find Him in a new way. He’ll let us struggle on for a time, but only so we find the place of refreshing — which we always do if we turn to Him.

The psalm holds out that exact promise.