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 []

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 []

And now we need rain!

Castle Field on the Garnstone Estate, Weobley, Herefordshire
Image credit: Ian Greig

FOR many — if not most — of us, this warm dry weather has been one if the best things to offset the lockdown restrictions and gloom. At least we have been able to get out and enjoy clean air and beautiful countryside at a special time of year.

Fields are greening over with growing cereals and the cattle and sheep are clearly enjoying their pastures.

But there is a side that is not so positive for people whose livelihood comes from the land.

“Many farmers are already feeling the effects of a dry April and May”

After winter floods, one of the driest springs on record is threatening grass recovery and the supply of winter forage. And the spring-sown crops, just established and without root systems yet to give them resilience, are starting to show signs of being checked.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday (May 29): “…The dry weather is having a particularly bad effect in farmers, with many fearing an ‘extremely challenging’ season ahead.

“Stuart Roberts, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: ‘Many farmers are already feeling the effects of a dry April and May, with some cereal crops already suffering from this early dry spell.’ “

Sheep farmer and Oasis church pastor Phil Arnold, over the river in Preston-on-Wye, is seriously concerned about the prolonged dry period and its effect on his grass recovery. He told me: “Two months ago after the floods I could hardly have imagined asking people to pray for rain again. But we desperately need it!”

TO REFLECT IN PRAISE

Psalm 147:5-11 NIV
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp
He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.


PRAYER AND BLESSING

For the prayer that links to this, go to the associated prayer site www.glowweobley.com on this page

Follow the science but let God have the final word

Thought for the Day

Scientific advisors with the Prime Minister at daily briefing.     Image credit: The Scotsman

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 about who God is, and how we defer to Him.

This is a challenge to us 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, even, 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!

What’s the bad news?

In this epidemic, people are dying, others are very poorly and no one has clear answers. It could be us, it could a friend or neighbour from the same village, it could be someone with an existing common health condition. The anxiety, the uncertainty and the need for isolation and distancing is set to go on and on – and we don’t have a way out of it.

In the present pandemic, we hear daily wisdom 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. But it is if we put a high value on finding out what His wisdom is, that 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, when we are attending. 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.

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, and never quite succeed, 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’.

Prayer

Wisdom’s instruction is the fear the Lord,
and humility comes before honour.
Proverbs 15:33

Lord, we hear that our priority is to respect You in an attitude of awe at Your incomparable might, majesty – and love.

We understand that the relationship works by our acknowledging our need to depend on You.

We find it hard to depend.
We find it difficult to admit that we don’t have the answers.
We struggle to admit that answers will not come through our diligence alone, but by Your grace in giving them.
It’s human pride, and we ask Your forgiveness again.

Help us, and those who lead the country at this time, to approach You in awe and deference – and be humbly receptive to what You tell us as the final word. Amen.

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.

‘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’.