In all life’s uncertainty and change — what is God saying?
But the LORD’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken. Psalm 33:11 NLT
WE HAVE BECOME over-used to short-termism — unhealthy adaptation to a fast-changing world — which has infected all of life.
Partnership has become more normal than marriage. There is no ‘job for life’ and most people will experience redundancy and career changes. The kettle we buy today will be taken to the dump in a year or two. “Fast fashion” creates mountains of discarded fabric which, unlike cotton, doesn’t readily recycle.
Sometimes there IS a need to live one day at a time. For some people on the front line during the Covid crisis, it was just like that. But that’s what we would call a coping mechanism, not a strategy.
Away from the pandemic, we have endured governments publicising constant new initiatives which last for a year and quietly disappear; companies downsizing their workforce to improve the share value prior to takeover; roads patched repeatedly when resurfacing would have been a far better, less costly solution; and hospitals managed on bed occupancy occupancy (like a hotel) removing the resilience needed to cope with epidemics.
God doesn’t work this way. His timescale is longer… in fact, eternal. Unlike us, He is not influenced by short-lived trends.
Here’s a report on one of God’s plans that has stood firm from the beginning. This intention started with a promise given to Abraham, gained momentum by being proclaimed through the prophets, was given new impetus by Jesus — and then was worked out by the first Christians. Now it has come down to us.
Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God.Acts 11:1 NLT
This was God’s purpose that knowing Him and the invitation to worship Him would be for ALL people. And it has been consistently fought by the ‘insider’ people. The Jews of Jesus’ time found, in His love without boundaries, a reason to hate Him. The new freedom of salvation by personal faith alone in the Reformation was fought with a restating of the doctrine of salvation only through (one particular) church. In our day in a church setting, we find social and cultural diversity challenging. We are naturally (rather than supernaturally) ‘birds of a feather’, more comfortable among other people who are socially similar. And it’s not only church treasurers who prefer to consolidate what we have — not give it away, and spread ourselves thin with mission.
But the LORD’s plans stand firm forever…
God’s intention to establish His just and balanced rule, the kingdom of God, is a very long-term plan. In fact, it IS His plan!
To follow God’s plan, our prayer requests for short-term needs need to be set in the context of the priority of God’s kingdom. The prayer the Lord taught us turns on the phrase: “Thy kingdom come!”
That’s why every Christian and every church needs to come together in agreement with the prayer for revival. Revival in our communities — a turning to Jesus — is like a tide rising that floats all the boats in the harbour.
Revival is the ‘big need’ that also answers all the little ones. The big need is the kingdom coming for people who enter into it in salvation and new life in Jesus, ready for Jesus’ return. And in turning to Him, our lives get sorted out and all kinds of other needs come right.
God’s long-term, stated purposes stand in sharp contrast to our ‘reactive living’ and short-term mind set. We should pray agreeing with what God is doing as a solution, rather than the requests of those overwhelmed by immediate concerns.
For a prayer based on this verse, go over to www.glowweobley.com and this page
And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep My commands. John 14:13-15 NIV
“Whatever you ask….”
IT’S TEMPTING to dismiss this before engaging with it. Or to trivialise it by praying for a lottery win or a sports result. But let’s slow down… and see this for what it is. A promise of Scripture… and a clear promise of God’s Son, Jesus. What He says is what He says.
What is the context? Jesus has been drawing His disciples out on the question of who He is1. So Philip’s lesson is that seeing Jesus is like being able to set eyes on the Father. He is also “the way” — the one way we can access to the Father.
Religions and philosophies (including the Christian church variants) put forward their own suggestions of paths to God and these have similar requirements: combining correct observance of prescribed worship, obedience or pilgrimage, participation in rites or ordinances, and living charitably and sharing wealth. Worthy objectives — but this is not the path that Christ set out for us. Yes, He did teach living unselfishly and imitating His unconditional love, but *not* as a means to salvation. Rather, the result of it.
The Good News — and what it isn’t
All religious redemption is based on us doing, or performing, or going without, something for God. Faith in good works is the opposite of faith in Jesus and the gospel. The Good News of Jesus and His kingdom is all about who He is and what He has done. The way, the truth and the life that Jesus spoke about — using the divine name I AM — is about whether or not we believe the reality, or truth, of who Jesus is, and receiving and trusting in Him for rebirth into life with a renewed spiritual dimension — a life that continues into eternity in fellowship with Him.
So the promise “Whatever you ask in My name” is about Jesus and His kingdom. AskingTo keep the context the same, we are asking for what brings His rule and reign and justice. Our personal needs, important to the Lord who loves us, have to be submitted to that greater purpose.
So what about those “difficult” questions about physical and emotional healing? What about material things?
Keeping a focus on the kingdom
All our needs are on God’s heart and part of His concern — as part of His desire to bring the just and fair rule and order of His kingdom. This brings with it a general prosperity or “well-doing”, of spirit, soul, body and our situation.
Why do we not see dramatic and visible healing in the way recorded about Jesus’ ministry in the gospels? The answer is we do, but not as repeatably or often! When Jesus in person drew near to a person, the kingdom of God drew near — and justice of the kingdom with it. There was an intensity of the presence of Jesus — as you would expect with the visible person of Jesus present.
Intensity of presence
Today, Jesus is seated in the heavenly places. However, where much prayer has been invested in a gathering, there can be an intensity of the Holy Spirit presence of Jesus. The kingdom draws near, and the signs of the kingdom, healing among them are manifested. By contrast, the routine reading out of names week after week in formal church service intercession may not have that preparation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, and may not be shared with a level of expectation and faith as our human counterpart.
The Lord will meet us in our “asking” prayer, but first things first — our “praise prayer” acknowledging Him as king of His kingdom is a necessary approach. So is our general awareness of His kingdom purpose, and our wanting, most of all, His rule and reign in our hearts and communities: not just coming to Him for our need of the moment to be met.
If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice. — St. John Chrysostom (lived 347-407)
“Ask me for anything” invites the equal and opposite follies of asking God for what is inappropriate, and not asking for what tests our faith. The context of the verse helps us find the balance — Christ is drawing out from His disciples who He is. He alone is the way into the kingdom — and that kingdom life and kingdom order meets everyone’s needs, your personal ones included.
For a prayer linked to this verse, see glowweobley.com on this page
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. Psalm 27:4 NIV
David knew all about anxiety, with his life and reputation under threat even from those close to him. But he also knew God and His goodness. He knew where to find peace. We are better equipped to practice the presence of God, even in our busy lives — we have the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who will always lead us to finds heaven’s perspective on our situation.
Life is stressful, unpredictable, full of anxiety — any casual conversation will settle into this theme at some point. At a time of objective uncertainties — an epidemic which is still glaring up, no certainty about future protection and no actual cure, economic collapse and no roadmap for recovery — there is plenty to be anxious about. But David, whose life and reputation was continually threatened, had a way of regaining personal security.
David, writing this poem, was concerned with security. He became idolised by Jews as their greatest and most God-fearing king, which is partly why it was so significant that the Messiah was of David’s line.
David, we could say, was Israel’s best king but he had the worst enemies, and some of them were in his own court! Security was important to a man who was constantly under threat of being murdered, physically or verbally.
Security in God’s will
And for David, security was first and foremost about being close to God, in His will and tracking His guidance.
The “one thing” for Him is “dwelling in the house of the Lord”. So how does that translate? Becoming a cathedral verger?
For David, the place of God’s presence was the tabernacle. He didn’t get to build the actual temple — Solomon did. But under the Old Covenant, the sense of place was important. The Samaritan woman took issue with Jesus about which mountain was the place to offer God worship — Mt Gerazim for the Samaritans, Mt Zion for the Jews.
In Christianity it is a quite an extreme ‘high church’ view to see a church building as the place of the presence of God. Those who have come into a personal relationship with God through receiving Jesus have a freedom to experience God through their personal relationship, and their reading of His word. That’s any place, any time, and no need for an intermediary.
We live in the presence and awareness of God through having given our lives to the One who gave His life for us — Jesus.
We can live in the presence of the Lord, to be aware of the beauty of the Lord, and to seek Him by asking the Holy Spirit to be our connection with heaven. And this is our security.
The context of David’s words are full of “the day of trouble” with armies besieging, the wicked advancing, and false witnesses making malicious accusations. There were plenty of people around to give him a rough ride! When we feel insecure, it is that same feeling of being surrounded, of not being in a safe place.
David knew God was for him
But David knew that God was bigger, and he knew that God was for him. He had God’s covenant promises. He knew His call — it had been delayed, opposed, with frequent attempts on his life, before the actual coronation. His security was knowing God in His life and listening to Him, not the rattling spears of his enemies.
We can translate that into our world. Our God is the same faithful God. It’s easier for us to draw close to Him because of Jesus. If we draw near to Him, He draws close to us and reassures us that we a re His.
Perhaps it’s a bit more difficult for us to hear His voice, with all the noise and distractions of life, broadcasts, media, travelling and general busyness — but that is an area we can control. We can create some quiet, give God some space. It is up to us to seek Him, to be living in His presence and seeking the true perspective which the Holy Spirit shows us.
That’s God’s remedy for anxiety, and there’s no kind of lockdown that can keep us from that.
The good news is that we can ask Jesus into our heart and life and make that transition to knowing God personally. We don’t have to find Him in His temple because we ourselves become a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I feel assaulted by life, and fear and anxieties keep pressing in.
But I come to You in Jesus and I ask You this: that I might draw close to You, to know Your presence and gain Your true perspective.
Thank You so much that I have privileged access to You at any time, and I have Your promises all the time.Remind me again, as I regard Your beauty, Your kindness — and Your wisdom. Amen.
Design a way that works for you, to create some ‘holy space’ when you can talk to God and He can talk to you.
Tell Him about your two or three biggest anxieties right now. Resolve that during the day, you are going to be mindful of what He may be saying to you, or showing you, about them
How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:17–18 NIV
Once we have become friends with God through Jesus, we have a conversation going with Him. But a listening attitude is important if we are going to hear His voice — not pretending we know best. Agreeing that His thoughts are precious is a good way of seeking His wisdom for our lives.
Conversation with God
Some people are better at conversation than others. A couple of things that are the mark of every good conversationalist, are the ability to ask good conversational questions, which empower the response of others… and listening to them.
And one of the most common of those empowering phrases is: “What do you think? Or the variant, “What did you think of…?”
People find it easy (too easy, sometimes) to give their opinion, and asking for their opinion is honouring. God doesn’t need our help in conversation… or does He? He speaks all the time. But like the quiet participant in a noisy group, He doesn’t always have opportunity to say what He thinks, to give His perspective.
“What do You think? What are You saying, about what is on my mind?” In conversation generally, we need to draw out the quiet person. We have to show that we are listening. We have all been trapped in situations where no one is listening and we don’t see any point in putting forward a view just to be shouted down.
Does God struggle with our strong opinions and prejudices? Because it is as if we don’t care about His perspective.
Have you ever tried to participate in a conversation where you held the high ground in terms of knowledge or experience, but no one would listen? They were all too busy offering their theories, over-assertive as people who are unsure of themselves often are. It’s like a hospital doctor trying to help someone who is full of having consulted “Dr Google”, or a traffic cop trying to talk down gently someone three times over the limit.
That can be our approach to God, which blocks His wisdom and disrespects His all-seeing, all-knowing higher perspective.
When we agree “How precious to me are YOUR thoughts” we are putting ourselves in the right place to listen.
How does God share His thoughts with us? The first way is through His word. Often He draws our attention to what He has already said, and giving it a sense of how it applies to us. So to make this prayer approach, we need a Bible (or online Bible or app) ready.
God is always speaking and the second way is by an impression in our spirit. Occasionally this can be so strong that it is almost audible, but often it is more of a whisper. We’ll need to check it out in the word — He never contradicts Himself — but God also uses the principle of “two or three witnesses”, in other words, He repeats Himself and uses more than one avenue. When we are hearing the same thing from slightly different sources, this gives us confidence to believe what God is saying.
The third way is through other people who love Him and hear Him. It could be a Christian friend, a preacher, or through spiritual gifts.
“How precious are Your thoughts” is a way of asking for God’s wisdom. James, in his letter, says we should ask but should not doubt what we hear, but act on it James 1:5–8.
It all starts with our relationship with Him. This needs to be the Jesus kind of relationship, the personal belief and trust and connection. This is how we count His thoughts precious and receive them as life-giving.
O God, Your thoughts are precious, of incomparable value by the measure of man’s wisdom. You see all, understand all, and know the end from the beginning.
Help me to be a hearer and a doer of Your Word1. Where my thoughts crowd in — my anxieties and doubts, my wrong judgments and the opinions I proudly uphold‚ forgive me, help me to quiet my soul and — to make space for You to speak and me to hear.
My way too often proves to be no way, but Your way is life and salvation. Your words are like gold2 and taste sweeter than honey3.
Thank You, holy and Almighty God, that You delight in speaking to me as I come to You in Jesus. Amen.
Find a time and place to be quiet. It could be at home, out for a walk, even driving the car — or a quiet spot in a church building.
List your most pressing concerns — the thoughts You are full of — and park them with God.
Commit the listening time to Him, ask the Holy Spirit to help you and read the Scriptures mentioned again. And note down whatever God shows you, whether it seems to make sense or not.
Be open to God speaking to you subsequently and give you confirmations, like Scriptures that go with what you sense you are hearing. To share this with a pastor or trusted Christian friend can be very helpful.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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”…
…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.
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.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 NIV
TODAY’S news leads with alarming increases in coronavirus cases where regions — and individuals — have disregarded the call for isolation. Rallies, protests and rave parties have shown people who look like “fools despising wisdom”, and reported surges in hospital admissions give evidence to the connection.
Independence is part of the human condition and it is not all bad. We were created in the beginning to be thinking people with free will and the ability to exercise judgment – either well, or badly, in the case of Adam and his legacy to us.
We have been created to exercise good judgment in this world, administering it well under God. This goes back to the earliest of all the covenants when God spoke:
God created mankind in His own image… male and female… blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase… rule over every living creature…” Genesis 1:27-28.
This is freewill combined with responsibility in covenant with God whose creation it is. Everything we have, we have and hold for God and His glory.
Fast forward to the here and now, and church buildings have been closed for three months. A limited opening of buildings is beginning, but restrictions on gathering and worship (no singing!) remain. What is the Lord saying about this?
For people whose church experience is centred on a building, part of a historic institution, presided over by a minister sometimes called a ‘priest’, whose identity is very much about having reserved functions and even access in that building — the restrictions have been a severe blow.
But is this a set-back or a wake-up? In the NT, the priesthood of Aaron’s family ended at the Cross — the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom during the crucifixion, a rather big hint. A generation later, the temple itself had gone, completely destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem. Now there were no priests, no ritual, no buildings — and the teaching in the early church went a quite different direction, emphasising how every believer was a specially shaped “living stone” of a new kind of spiritual ‘temple’.
Now with Jesus ascended and enthroned as the great and permanent and — dare we say — only High Priest, the ‘priesthood’ has now been shared out, not among those of a particular priestly tribe or privileged order, but involving every single committed Spirit-filled Christian believer who looks to serve Jesus and represent Him to the wider world. This is not about a ‘holy person in a holy building’ and it is not about the performance of an elaborate ritual — there is no hint of either of these things in the NT record. Where there were attempts to institutionalise the church and put existing Jewish traditions on to new believers, Paul writes in forthright terms saying: “It is for freedom you have been set free!” Don’t go back into [religious] slavery!1
That makes lockdown restrictions a God-given opportunity to recalibrate and reassess. He didn’t send the pandemic, but He is adept at turning what is intended for evil, to His own good – and using times of difficulty and, one hopes, increased prayer – to help His people rediscover, re-imagine and re-align with His purpose.
Perhaps God wants His church back! With buildings closed and the usual routine of activities curtailed, it is our opportunity to exercise some “fear of the Lord” as Proverbs puts it. That for us is intentionally putting Him first, giving Him what is His, willingly deferring and setting aside our own preferences and priorities. Not simply wanting the imagined security of the old routine.
Some churches have been forward in finding creative ways to connect and share worship without physical contact. Church by livestream compels something more engaging, more relevant, more participative. There’s no room for anything lengthy or boring on a small screen, and no one has to stay on the link!
As one church leader told me, “We realised almost immediately that there was no point in trying to replicate what we used to do week by week — we had to be different.”
Others trying (I think misguidedly) to recreate a formal Sunday service in formal clergy attire and mannerisms over Zoom from a kitchen have given a mixed, and strangely discordant message!
It would be tragic if there were a return to the old ways of church being building-centred and clergy-dominated when it has just been pushed out into the community. People have been encouraged to learn to celebrate their Lord by hearing and sharing the word for themselves, express their own prayers of adoration and intercession, and remember His sacrifice with their own bread roll and wine glass.
This is the true fear of the Lord, awe of Him, which is the beginning of walking in the knowledge of Him. This is the seedbed of revival.
Let’s not trample this new growth, these small green shoots of revival, with a return to dull and wordy religiosity.