A Childlike Faith

Children, especially young children, don’t get a say in what happens to them or around them.

A baby may express its desires (food, comfort, changing etc) but the when and the how of what happens in response to that is out of their hands.

A toddler is dressed by its parent. The parent chooses the food they want the child to eat. The parent decides to go out/stay in. Visiting friends, shopping, holidays – all decided by the parent.

A young child may get up by themselves in the morning, and get dressed. But the clothes were laid out by the parent the night before, and the child is told what is an acceptable time to get up (ignore the points where a child challenges these things – just bear with me here for the sake of a serious point).

By the time they are, say, 11, the child is choosing what to wear – but the clothes have still been bought by the parent. Even if the child gets taken to “chose” the clothes that are bought, it is still within parameters set by the parent.

What school to go to? Where to go on holiday? Moving house? Visiting relatives? All the sort of things that are still outside of the child’s control.

As we grow up, our involvement in the decisions that affect us grows. We learn consequences. We learn decision making.

When we are old enough to get our first paper round/Saturday job, we have money that we have a right to spend pretty much how we want.

By the time we reach 18, and certainly when we finally leave home, we are fully in charge of the choices we make. Even if circumstances remain outside our control (the flat tyre, the difficult boss, unrequited love) we are aware of the ability to chose how to react to them, and what steps to take in response to them.

This is how it should be. This is independence. This is maturity.

Christian maturity however is (like most things in the Kingdom of Heaven) completely back to front.

From the moment we are “born again” we start a new life. A new journey. However, unlike our physical journey and life progression, this is all about losing our independence.

Bear with me here.

Jesus said “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3)

Remember the child who is dependent on the parent?

Each morning, from a very young age, my boys would ask “what are we doing today?” Even as teenagers and young adults, they still come to us (only now it is last thing at night!) and ask “what’s the plan for tomorrow?”

When they ask this, they aren’t asking about the big things. They don’t want a 6 month or 5 year plan. This isn’t a philosophical question. No, they are asking about the plans we have made for the day so they know how they will affect them.

My 10 year old knows he will have clothes to wear each day and he knows they will be cleaned when they get dirty. He knows there will be food in the kitchen and a hot meal prepared for his dinner. He knows the bills are being paid which means there are lights, heat, water and (because he is a modern 10 year old) internet connection!

He doesn’t fret about those things.

When he asks me in the morning what the plans are, he wants to know if anything different is happening. Anything exciting. Anything that will give a structure to the day, give him focus.  He has an expectation that I will take care of the big stuff, he just needs to know about the day to day stuff.  That day.  Today.

When you give your life to Jesus, and you are born again, the single hardest fundamental thing you are likely to spend the rest of your journey grappling with is losing your independence. Becoming child like.

Surrender.

Not my will but Your’s Lord. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done. Not my way but Yours. Not my plans but Yours. Not my righteousness but Yours.

Slowly but surely you need to learn how to give up the need to know, to be in control, in charge.

Doesn’t that sound tough? Weak? Are you feeling threatened and argumentative in response to reading this idea or challenged? I know I felt genuinely stunned by the picture God gave me earlier this week in response to some serious (and right motivated) prayer time over issues to do with our future.

There is a lot of stuff going on in our lives and the lives of those around us in the church that is making things seem “out of control”. There is a lot I currently don’t understand! A lot of seemingly unanswered prayers. In some cases, we seem to have had the completely opposite answer to the one we were seeking!

It’s tough. I don’t like it.

It seems right and correct to “seek His Will” for our lives, but sometimes we misuse this “seek ye first” attitude and, if we are truthful, it becomes an excuse to justify our constant drive to KNOW, to understand, to control.

That was what hit me – like a spiritual truck – when once more I cried out to God “Why?! What is going on?!”

I have to tell you, I did not like the picture I received.

But it made sense. Total sense. I have to abandon myself to Him. Surrender all. How often do we sing those words in church on a Sunday or listening to worship in the car? “You can have it all Lord!”

Really?

I challenge you to become more childlike this week. Go to your heavenly Dad in the morning and thank Him for the new mercies of the day. Be thankful for the clothes set out for you. For the food provided. For the material comforts around you.

Acknowledge that He pays the bills. I don’t just mean the obvious big one, THE price He paid for us, but also I recognise that the financial provision in my life – job or benefits – ultimately come from Him.

Chose to live this week as if you truly believe He has charge of the big things. He has a Plan. He has a 6 month, 5 year, 50 year Plan for you and all of His creation. He knows the beginning from the end and He can work ALL things together for our good – if we let Him, if we leave the big stuff to Him.

Ask each morning “what’s the plan for today?” Who does He want you to talk to? Where does He want to take you? Is there anything exciting on the cards?! Be expectant of the good Father has for you.

Don’t sweat the big stuff. Focus on the small things. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

This isn’t an unhealthy dependence. This is truly living.

Can I ask one more thing? Can you pray for me? You see, I’m trying to respond to what God has shown me, and I am purposing this week (surely I can manage one week?!) to be more childlike. However I am aware of my flesh rebelling against the very idea. I am a list maker. A planner. Organised. I like to be in control (oh BOY do I like to be in control). I like to be prepared.

At the moment I am none of those things and apparently that is how it is meant to be!

Even as I write those words though, Holy Spirit is whispering in my ear, reminding me that I CAN be prepared. That it is still ok to be organised. But, His ways are not mine. I can be prepared by reading His Word. By listening to Him. By trusting. I can be in control by subjecting my will to my spirit – which is partnered with His.

Guess you’ve been praying already? 🙂

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How Much Spirit Do You Have?

Language often gets in the way of understanding.

We talk about being filled with Holy Spirit. We sing “Spirit break out”. We pray “fall afresh”. We “come in to His Presence”. We ask for more of His Presence. We seek it.

The language suggests something that we can have more or less of, something outside of us, something out of reach.

The truth is, from the moment we surrendered to Christ, His Spirit came to live within us, our newly created (born again) righteous spirit united with His. That is the same – that is EQUAL – in all of us.

We are body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit.

We all have a body. They may look different, they may work differently, but we all have one.

We all have a body (we are equal in that fact) but someone may become an athlete, or work out at the gym, and become stronger and fitter. They start with more or less the same muscular, vascular, skeletal system as me but theirs sure ends up looking different to mine – because of what they learn to do with it. They grow new muscle. Blood vessels can enlarge or even grow. Bone density can increase. The body can be remodelled.

We all have a mind. Generally speaking, they are the same. Some may seem to function better than others, and weigh slightly differently on the mortician’s scales, but we each have one.

We all have a mind but someone can train theirs. Grow it. Make new synaptic connections. Study. Increase their knowledge. They seem “brainier” than me. Cleverer. We talk about someone having a sharp mind.

We all have a spirit. When we are born again, this spirit is made new. A new one is given to us, we are spiritually a new creation, and Holy Spirit can unite with this righteous spirit we now have.

We all have a spirit. As born again Christians we have a righteous spirit. Equal to each other. So how come some people seem more spiritual? Like the gym going person, or the clever person, some people learn to make more of it, do more with it, Whilst that doesn’t change the fact that we still only have one, the same as each other, that effort they apply means they have become more spiritual, more in tune, more aware – mature in their faith.

It isn’t my spirit that enlarges in me but the old nature that recedes. I can learn to subject my body and soul to my spirit. I can make more room. Like a goldfish in a tank, my spirit will “grow” (develop) to match the size of the restrictions I place on it. A fish with better quality water and a larger tank, will grow bigger than one in poor water and a small fish bowl.

We need to focus on the quality of the “water” and size of the “bowl” in order to allow our spirit to grow. Immersing ourselves in the things of God – Scripture, prayer, worship – provide a better quality environment for our spirit. Enlarging the space means making actual time for God, withdrawing like Jesus did, giving opportunity for Him to speak, to teach, to fellowship with us. When we do these things, we feel stronger, more spiritual, maturer in Christ, because our spirit has grown in strength and is exerting more authority over the weaker body and soul.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, through His Spirit He gave us for that purpose. Nothing is impossible. We have everything we need.

When it doesn’t feel like it, when those Scriptural truths look like a lie in the light of our day to day life and experience, it is the same as when I watch the Olympics and think “I couldn’t do that!”.  Actually, I “could”.  I have all that I need to get started – a body! The drive, the determination, the dedication, the practice, the progression, the strengthening… that is what needs to be added to make an Olympian.

I have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I have the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2: 12). The same power that conquered the grave lives in me (Romans 8:11).

What I do with it is up to me.

 

Know Thy Enemy

“Satan can’t read your mind so when you take a stand against him, it is important to declare it out loud”

I’ve heard that taught many times over the years and understood the truth behind it, and seen that truth in action in spiritual warfare, and in seeing people set free from bondage and lies. There have been times however when it has been something that has troubled me.

If the enemy can’t hear my thoughts, why does it seem that he can? I know I’m not alone in experiencing time and time again when the lies that he whispers seem to match what I’m thinking.

When I’m feeling unlovable, he whispers to me that no one cares, that I’m all alone. When I’m battling temptation he tells me I’m a sinner and God isn’t going to forgive me.  Whatever the battle in my mind, he is there whispering a lie designed to hurt, confuse, rob and steal.

If he can’t hear that battle in my mind, how does he know what to say?!

I had a bit of a revelation today. Like all revelations it is immediately so obvious that you wonder why it has come as such a big deal when it was surely plain to see all along!

Have you ever heard of mentalism? Mentalism is not magic, but a clever use of science that revolves around understanding human behaviour and predicting different outcomes to mimic the act of reading somebodies mind.  Mentalists use social engineering, reading body language – 55% of all communication is non verbal – (called cold reading), hot reading (having some prior knowledge of the subject), the Forer effect (taking vague and general statements and using them in a way to make the reader feel they are specific – think horoscopes) and various other aspects of human psychology.

We understand that a person can learn to “read” another person and appear to know what they are thinking and we understand that this isn’t magic but science (well at least I hope you do dear reader!).  So it seems pretty darn obvious that satan and the other fallen angels can do this.

They were there when we were created. They have had thousands of years to study us.  Thousands of years of experiments to work out what motivates us.

The first such experiment was the Fall.  If you think about it, satan – as an angelic being created for worship – was most jealous of the fact that God gave man free will – something the angels didn’t have.  Knowing how it made him feel, he could surmise that man would also see not having control was unfair.  He suggested to Adam that surely God didn’t mean for him to not be in control, surely He didn’t mean to restrict his choice, surely it would be ok for him to make his own decision about what to eat and what knowledge to have…

The enemy does not know the specific plan, purpose and promise God has given you until it is declared out loud over you, but he certainly knows The Plan and The Purpose. The enemy knows Scripture (probably better than many of us) and he knows God’s promises to us and over us.  He knows that God uses the weak, the poor, the despised and the downtrodden to confound the wise and bring His truth to the world.  This shows him who to target, shows him who is likely to be the most useful, key people in God’s plans.  He knows that the love of money is the root of all evil so he concerns himself with keeping riches where he predicts it will do the most harm.

The enemy can read our body language. He can hear our words.  He can “sense” our emotions by the vast experience he has gathered on what makes us tick and how we react. Using that knowledge, at any one point, he can appear to know what we are thinking and strike with just the right lie, the right weapon, designed to find our most vulnerable parts.

That is one of the reasons the Psalmist learned the importance of telling his soul (body, mind, emotions) to rejoice and to be subject to his spirit.  We can take authority over those things and so rob the enemy of his source material.

It is also vital to appreciate that, because he isn’t omnipotent, the enemy cannot tell you the future.  Certainly, like the writers of the horoscopes, he will find the right vague statement, a fitting outcome, to suggest to you as your future.  But he does not know.

Satan only knows your past.

Jesus knows your past and still chose the cross, thereby assuring your future.

Don’t ascribe the enemy a power he doesn’t have.

Those thoughts you have?  That mental struggle?  The battle in your mind?  It isn’t the enemy IN your mind, but it is definitely his work.  When we take his lies (whether through direct attack or via the words or actions of people around us) and we internalise them, they do damage.

A bullet can’t hurt you until it penetrates – and the deadliest bullets are those that are designed to ricochet or disintegrate inside the body thereby doing so much more damage than just making a hole in us.

The lies of the enemy are bullets.  They can hurt us but the real harm lies in when they get in and rattle around.

Focus on renewing your mind, learning the promises, declaring them out loud at every opportunity and taking a stand on the Scriptures.  Find ways to spend time in His presence, and feed your spirit by spending time in worship, by speaking in tongues, allowing your spirit to communicate with Holy Spirit, and draw from that the strength to take authority over your mind and your emotions.  Remember, they are yours to control not the enemy’s.

What is the Truth?

I live in a beautiful seaside town. The guide books describe its vibrancy, the quirky shops, the golden sands, the amazing vistas, and its incredible sunsets.

If you got off the train today however, guidebook in hand, expecting to see all those things, you’d find the “reality” very different.

Thick fog obscures everything. Despite the weather app showing full sunshine and 16c for the day, it is currently only 6c and it feels colder as the damp fog envelops you. It is early so everywhere is shut. What the book describes and what you are seeing are very different.

Which version is true? What is the truth? Is this a beautiful picturesque town or a grey uninviting one? Is the beach amazing? Are the sunsets beautiful?

According to what I am seeing, my experience, the book is lying.

I know many Christians who struggle with what the Scriptures say about life. They hear a preach on the promises of God or on His blessings. Maybe they become a Christian after attending a particular service and they start out with this great hope. Their friend who brought them, and the person who preached, described this fantastic life, full of prosperity and peace, free from sickness and worry.

The guide book to that life, that Kingdom, the Bible, is quite clear. You meet people who confirm that yes the Kingdom of Heaven is just like that. God’s promises are true.

But you are unwell. Your job is tough. Your husband is having an affair. Your friends never call. Life is hard. Financial worries, depression, loneliness… even at church you don’t feel connected. You feel as you listen on a Sunday and hear people saying “amen!” and agreeing with the preacher that you must be doing something wrong… your life doesn’t feel like they describe. Your relationship with God doesn’t match theirs. He doesn’t answer YOUR prayers. Your life isn’t life abundant.

You didn’t get the job you prayed for. Your relationship didn’t mend. The cancer didn’t go and your friend died despite your prayers.

Which is true? The Book or what you can see with your eyes?

You can’t pretend all isn’t grey. There’s no point lying and saying you can see a good future or even just a way out of this place. But just like this morning, despite the true and real evidence of my eyes that say otherwise, the truth is this IS a beautiful town and the skies ARE amazing.

I just can’t see that for myself today.

Will that visitor go home and say the guidebooks lied and there wasn’t a great beach and beautiful skies? Will they deny the truth? Or will they just accept that on that day, today, they didn’t get to see it for themselves?

It is all too easy to drag the Truth of Scripture down to the reality of our lives. When my Dad was dying and I prayed for his healing but he died anyway, I could have denied the truth that God heals. I could have blamed God. The evidence I saw was that God doesn’t answer prayers and doesn’t heal.

When we had no money, facing losing our house, as my husband couldn’t find work, and we were surviving on food parcels from my Mum, I could have doubted God’s promises to supply all my needs, to prosper me.

Those things seemed true. But they weren’t The Truth.

The sun is still shining just as hot in the sky now as it does every day. Yet the fog means I can’t see it and I can’t feel it’s benefits. I don’t blame the sun and say it isn’t shining but instead I recognise that the fog is obscuring it.

Today, identify the fog in your life. Recognise the reality of the things that are preventing you from seeing the Son, from seeing His promises. Determine in your heart that you will believe what the Book says, what the Bible says, about the life you have and all your heavenly Father has for you.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Use the Bible as your reference point and purpose to live according to what The Word says, declaring it as the truth over your life and in your life.

The enemy wants you to be grey, cold and miserable. Once you are saved all he can do is bring fog in your life. He means for you to miss the beauty around, to bump into obstacles, to trip up, to feel alone.

But rejoice for in Christ, by the power and wisdom of Holy Spirit, we can overcome those obstacles and learn to see through the fog. As you spend more time in His presence, as you seek His face, your vision will improve. You will be able to “see” the truth despite the fog.

Learning to walk with that spiritual vision is like having night vision goggles!

When we trust Him and not our own senses and understanding we get the opportunity to see His promises and experience His goodness regardless of whether or not there is fog around.

That’s the secret to being content in every situation (Philippians 4:11).

The fog will clear. I promise you.

Making Sense of What You See

When I parked up this morning the visibility was good. I could see the wind farm clearly on the horizon and I counted seven ships.

There was one thing I could see that I couldn’t make sense of though. Right on the horizon was an odd shape. It looked like a dark plume of smoke. I watched it for a few moments and realised that it wasn’t moving so knew it wasn’t actually smoke.

I then rationalised that it must be a ship. The problem was that my brain couldn’t, on the basis of the information provided by my eyes (even with my glasses on!), make that shape match a ship.

It didn’t matter how long I looked at it, I couldn’t picture what must actually be there and make it fit what I could see. It didn’t make sense.

Then the sun came out.

Suddenly the object became clear. Of course it was a ship. The outline was now very clear, as the angle it was at meant the white container ship was dazzlingly highlighted by the sun. The “dark plume” was revealed to be simply the other angles of the ship that were in shadow.

It made sense. It was obvious.

When the sun came out it changed nothing about the truth of what was there, but it completely altered what I could see.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

Everything makes sense in the light of the Son.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not remain in darkness” John 12:46

When you read Scriptures, they change nothing about the truth of what is around you, your day, your job, your relationships, your hopes, your mental health…. yet they can completely alter what you can “see”.

“For the Word of God is alive, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12

Whatever it is that you are struggling with right now, that thing that doesn’t make sense, that you can’t get your head around, the thing you are wrestling with, shine the Light on it. Find appropriate Scriptures to read. Ask Holy Spirit to remove the clouds and let the Truth of the Word shine on to the situation.

Nothing will change – other than what you can “see”.

Replace the truth of what you see with The Truth of who He is, what His Promises are.

Everything will look a lot better!

Be on your guard though. When the sun went behind another cloud, despite the fact that I now KNEW what was there, the shape I could see went back to being incomprehensible. Not immediately. My brain retained the shape of the ship at first, but after I looked away and then back again, I realised my brain was trying to match shapes again, seeing smoke or leaping whales, instead of what it “knew” was there.

The same happens with us.

A good meeting at church, prayer time with a friend, reading this blog… the cloud clears and God illuminates your situation with His truths. Then your focus shifts again. You go home. The friend leaves. You surf on to another site.

The clouds come back.

The Truth you saw so clearly before now is murky again.

The enemy will always, always seek to fog your vision. It is easy pickings for him.

“…because your adversary the devil walks around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13

The answer? Being transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:2

Read the Word daily. Sit with God daily. However short or long the opportunity.

Keep in touch all day – talk to Him in your head throughout the day.

Keep blowing those clouds away by declaring The Truth, His Promises, every time the clouds start to thicken. Write them out and put them on the walls, on your screen saver, on the wallpaper picture on your phone.

Renewing is an ongoing process.

Who is Waiting for Whom?

I had a clear picture/vision this morning during worship at church.  To my shame, I did not share it at the time.  Sadly, sometimes, the voice of self doubt shouts louder than Holy Spirit and by the time I’d quietened it, the opportunity to share the picture had passed.

I’m hoping sharing it here will still have value.

The picture formed from the juxtaposition of two songs that we sang.  Firstly, “Boldly I Approach (The Art Of Celebration)” by Rend Collective, followed by “Waiting Here For You” by Christy Nockels.

The first song conjured up a vision of the Throne Room – actually a personal vision of mine that I’ve had since the age of 4.  The second song came and suddenly the picture changed as my perspective shifted, and I came out of the Throne Room and in to a waiting room outside.

The waiting room was full.

Many were waiting there for an invitation to go in to the Throne Room.  Despite the fact that they HAD such an invitation in their hands, “good manners” stopped them from just walking in.

Imagine the Queen of England had sent you a Royal Invitation to the Palace.  It gave you a date and time and said that, when you arrived, you were to go straight in to the Throne Room.

You wouldn’t, would you?  You would turn up, in the waiting room, and, well, wait.  You knew in theory it said “go straight in” but no one does that!  Not in to the Queen’s presence! Surely there is an etiquette? A butler?  If you wait around, someone is bound to come past and you can let them know you are there. Ask if it is ok to knock and go in.

Why is it that we are like that with God?

We have in our hands The Invitation. The Gospel. It says we can “boldly approach the Throne”.  It says we are Sons and Daughters.  We have a right to go straight in.

Yet we sing “waiting here for you” whilst God listens from inside His Throne Room, waiting THERE for YOU.  Arms wide. Lap empty.

Others are waiting out here. For them, for a variety of reasons, they wait in the waiting room because that’s what you do when you get summoned but for them, there isn’t an exciting encounter waiting on the other side but judgement.

They sat in waiting rooms outside headmaster’s offices.  Outside the boss’s office.  Outside the divorce lawyer’s office.  Outside the bank manager’s office.  Outside the doctor’s office.

For them, sadly, the experiences they have had means they really truly don’t believe an invitation leads to something good. Whatever awaits them, it doesn’t really fill them with hope but rather fear.

Whilst we wait, the outside door is flung open and some children pile through.  With the noise, bustle, fun and energy of youth they run across the waiting room and straight in to the Throne Room, without even a moments pause.

Go back to the analogy of the Queen.  Do you think, when her children were little, that every time they came in to the room she was in, they stopped and thought “that’s the Queen of England”?  Or do you think they thought “Mummy!”.

When her grandchildren visit, do they wait or do they catch and glimpse and run up shouting “Nanny!” and put their arms out for a cuddle?

They of course get taught as they get older how to behave “in public”, they get taught who Mummy/Nanny is and how important.  But I’m pretty certain the FIRST thing they see when they see her is Mum/Nan NOT Queen.

Holy Spirit is nudging us today, those of us loitering nervously in the waiting room.  He is whispering: “Look up.  Look at the doorway”.

If you do, if you look up at the doorway between the waiting room and the Throne Room you will see it is open.

“Here I am! I stand at the door!” Jesus is calling.  He is the Way to the Father.  He has MADE the Way to the Father.  The written invitation in your hands, the Gospel, is the Living Word who stands at that open door.  There is no barrier between the waiting room and the Throne Room.  This is an “open plan” Kingdom.

God is in Heaven, and Jesus is at His right Hand.  We have to, as it were “go to Him” now, in spirit because He first came to us.  As a man. Immanuel. God with us. Because He came to us we can now go to Him, as spirit, hand in hand with Holy Spirit, in to His Presence. In to the Presence of Father.

Please, please don’t sit in the waiting room.  Don’t picture a door or a barrier between you and Daddy.  Instead become like a child again and run with abandonment to Him, to Daddy, because as His Child you have that right and He is waiting for you.

Fog

Today’s quiet time at my favourite spot lacked the view. Thickening fog obscured the beautiful vista that normally soothes my soul.

As I am prone to do, I immediately saw the analogy between the fog and where many of us can find ourselves.

I know the sea is still there – I can hear it even if I can’t see it. I know the horizon is there somewhere. The sky. Ships. Intellectually, I know they are there even though my direct experience – what my senses are telling me – suggests they aren’t.

I’m sure you see the parallel. As Christians, especially if we read the Scriptures or listen to Biblical teaching, know the Truth. I know God loves me. I know I have value. I know He has good plans for me. I know nothing can separate me from His love. I know He can work all things together for my good if I allow Him. I know He will never leave me nor forsake me.

Sometimes though, my “direct experience” doesn’t match what I know. Sometimes I feel alone. Sometimes there seems to be no hope. Sometimes it seems He isn’t listening. Sometimes He doesn’t even seem to be there. Sometimes I’m scared.

If you find yourself in that place, remember the fog. Remember that it isn’t sensible to only trust what you can see. To place experience over knowledge. Circumstance over Scripture.

If you were out walking and the fog came in, what would you do?

Maybe you would stay still. Stay where you know you are – where you knew you were before the fog came – and wait for it to pass.

Perhaps you are the sort of person who would get out their phone (let’s assume you had signal!) and rely on the map, the blinking dot, to tell you where you are and show you how to get where you want to be.

Perhaps you have no phone (or no signal!) and instead decide to trust in instinct and common sense. Find a road, find the edge of the field, the shoreline. Find a feature and follow it, knowing all roads lead somewhere and sooner or later you will come to a road sign.

Those are all good options for us when the fog of circumstances or our feelings cloud our trust in God’s Truth.

Stay where you are. Rest. Remember it was ok before and it will be again. This too shall pass.

Take out your Bible. See what it says about where you are and where you are going and rely on what it says instead of what you see.

Find a truth you do still believe, that you can still see, and follow it. Stay with it. Keep confessing and clinging to it until the fog clears and you can see more of the Truth.

One other part of the analogy from today’s fog… The longer I sat in the car the less vision I had. Not just because the fog thickened but because the water condensed on to the window screen and obscured my vision.

When I turned the ignition on and used the windscreen wipers to clear the screen I saw that actually the fog wasn’t as bad as I thought! The lack of vision came from where I was positioned…..

Do I need to spell it out?

Sometimes where we are is what is causing us to doubt, to fail to trust in God’s Word. That relationship. That attitude. The influence of that friend. The TV show you watch. The book you are reading. The music you listen to. That wrong teaching.

Find a friend you trust, someone you know walks closely with God, and get them to be your windscreen wiper. Ask them to pray and seek God for what is blocking your vision or, if you suspect you know the answer, deal with it.

Move from where you are currently positioned and see if your vision clears. Take a break. Go for a walk. Take an afternoon off. Sit in the prayer room. Have a holiday. Go visit someone. Anything to break the position you are in.

If you wake up feeling down and sit around all day on the sofa watching daytime TV, by the end of the day you will feel more tired, more sluggish, greyer, than if you’d got out of the house and gone for a walk or done some gardening… Where you are will affect how you feel and therefore what you can “see”.

Remember I write these words as someone who has been in all those positions, battled mental health issues, fought clinical depression, fought spiritual fatigue, been to the depths of emotions, the edge of sanity… I’ve been there and back.

If you are struggling in a place where you can identify with what I have described, I pray this post has at least wiped the windscreen for you and given you a moment where things are a little clearer. If so, please grab that moment and use that clarity to reposition yourself.

Looking for a Storm

After a week of spending my daily quiet time in the new 24/7 prayer room at church, I’m back this morning by the sea.

As a storm is approaching, it is high tide. The waves are crashing and smashing and the wind howling around the car, rocking it around like crazy.

But I’m watching the seagulls.

They are divided into one of three actions. The most breath taking are the ones that are flying. I’m watching them soar, swoop and just hover – wings out, riding the 40 mile an hour winds and looking like the 60mph gusts are just a whole lot of fun.

Some of the birds have landed on the sea. As well as being birds designed to fly and use the wind, they are of course sea birds. They look just at home on the sea. With the waves piling up, an increasing swell, they ride on top of it, the ultimate roller coaster, looking like that is fun too. They certainly look better than some of the ships moored up here waiting for it to pass.

Every now and again though, some of the birds land on the promenade – and then they don’t look quite as at home. Facing into the wind, they are almost immediately blown off balance, feathers ruffling, looking ungainly. They usually take back to the air – just a few feet away from the ground, but seemingly finding it easier/more pleasant to ride the wind wings outstretched than try to balance on two legs against the gusts, on the ground.

It hit me, hard, that it probably mirrors our Christian walk – certainly mine!

When the sea of life is rough, I probably try to drop anchor and brace – instead of owning the waves and riding it out, trusting that my Maker has designed me to be able to do just that. When the winds of circumstance gust, do I try to stay on land, solid ground, and get buffeted around or do I spread my wings and face into it?

More than that, to use the wind differently in the analogy, how about when the Spirit blows strong around me? As I write I am listening to a spontaneous worship session from Bethel, that I’d listened to a lot in the prayer room last week. Throughout the hour and a quarter session you can hear and sense the rhythm of Holy Spirit as He moves. His “wind” gets stronger, then becomes gentle, then builds up to stunning strength with breath taking “gusts”. Thank God for anointed worship leaders, musicians and singers, who have learnt to just spread their wings and FLY when that happens! You can see in their faces, their bodies, their words and music, the exhilaration of being in the full face of His wind.

I want that! I have decided to pursue that. Always in worship (and we are blessed at our church to have people in our worship teams who are also learning to do just that, walking deeper every week into His Presence and taking the congregation with them) but more than that – in all of my life.

I’m praying dangerous prayers! I’m praying for Godly storms of His Holy Spirit, to see the full power of His Holy Spirit move. I want to see that for my church – I want to see us soar, calling out in exhilaration at the gusts, learning how to position ourselves to make the most of His power, His presence. I want those in our community, in our lives, our circles of influence, to watch us with the same amazement I’m watching those gulls – marvelling at how they are soaring, admiring their beauty and design. Because if they marvel at us, it will be because we are demonstrating God, His majesty, being His hands and feet, the visible expression of His grace and mercy.

I don’t want to be a ship, man made, surviving, riding it out. I want to be God’s creation, working in harmony with the rest of His creation, doing what I was designed to do, embracing Him fully, and soaring on the never ending wind of His Spirit.

Not of This World

“I have given them Your word. And the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” (John 17: 14-26 MEV)

This morning I was pondering on this verse as a train of thought connected to something I had read. However I got well and truly side-tracked as I come up against a fresh revelation on it’s meaning – and how it looks in the life of a modern Christian.

It involves using a slightly dangerous analogy; dangerous because it refers to a rather emotive, political issue that people have strong opinions on. I ask you though to set aside your personal reaction to the subject and instead focus on the way the parallels can help illuminate these verses.

The issue? That of people living in a land not of their birth. I do NOT want you to think “refugee” or “immigrant” as those are the trigger words today. Think instead of ex-pats, those that have emigrated, moved home. I believe that analogy can help us unpack this lesson of how to be “in” the world but not “of” the world.

I have a passport that states I was born in the UK and that I am a resident of the UK. I am British through and through. Many British people – at retirement or earlier – sell up and move lock stock and barrel to France, or Spain. These are the “ex-pats”. They apply for citizenship, get a new passport. Spain becomes their new home. They live in a new land. A new culture. Sunshine instead of rain. New exotic foods. A new lifestyle. A new language.

I’ve always failed to understand though why so many of them seem to stay “British”. They live in ex-pat communities with other British people. They have a local shop that sells them English tea, Worcestersire sauce, Branston pickle – or they get visiting friends to bring “British” supplies with them or family back in Blighty to post regular food boxes. They talk English and socialise with each other.

I look at them and think “why did you move?!” If you love all things British, why go to live in a foreign land?

From Heaven’s perspective, I’m afraid many of us Christians must look like those ex-pats.

Jesus bought us a new citizenship. We were born again – no longer does our spiritual passport say we were born “in the world”. I have a new passport that says I was born in the Kingdom of God (not the United Kingdom). My address is Heavenly. My birthplace Heaven not Kent. My Father/next of kin is God. Jesus paid all my removal costs and now I am living in a new land!

I believe the Bible clearly teaches that Heaven starts here, on earth, in the heart of the believer. That is why Jesus taught us to pray “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. That is our daily prayer surely, that in us and through us we see heaven established on earth.

So why do we insist on keeping our old ways? If I am now living in the Kingdom of God, why am I not only speaking it’s language? Why do I still use the words, the phrases, the message of the world, where I used to “live”?

Why am I still feeding myself things from the old kingdom? I have the store house of Heaven at my disposal but I’m sustaining myself with the things of the world. Instead of feeding on the Living Word of God – the Water of Life which we can drink of and never be thirsty again (John 4:14), the Bread of Heaven that we can eat of and live forever (John: 6: 51).

If the Angels look at me, do they see someone fully integrated into Heaven, or someone who may have technically moved location but has remained of the old world? As a born again Christian, I have “moved” spiritually and nothing can change that. But why go to all that effort of “moving” and then effectively stay where you were? Like those ex-pats, living on the Costa de Sol eating fish and chips, drinking tea, English lager, with their Heinz baked beans, talking English and playing English music.

They are missing out on the richness of the culture, the food, the people, the life style – the very things that made them fall in love with the place the first time! Whatever their passport says, they have stayed British.

Are you doing that? Despite your spiritual passport saying “heaven” have you kept the ways of the world? What riches are you missing out! We should be filling ourselves daily with the glorious riches that are ours in Christ and fully immersing ourselves in this new culture.

As I thought about this and how it applied in my own life, I found another analogy that looks at it from completely the other way and yet still makes the same point.

I was thinking first from Heaven’s point of view, with us as the people who had changed citizenship. But then I thought of it from the other way around, from those around me here in the world. Do I look to them as if I am “not of this world”? From that perspective actually I should look to those around me like those ex-pats do to the Spanish.

Think about it.

Do you have any areas near where you live that are known for being populated by people from another country? Most places I’ve lived have had known pockets/areas that might be, say, Chinese, Polish etc. It is understandable because if you were moving to a new country the idea of settling somewhere near “your own people” could appeal. Especially if you were unable to speak the new language.

When you become a Christian, Heaven should be able to look at you and see someone fully “in the Kingdom” as I said before. But, because we are still in the world (though no longer of it) to those around us we should now be different!

There is much debate over Sharia law and Muslims following that Islamic law even when it goes against the law of the land they are living in (if they are in a non-Muslim country). We perhaps need to reflect that, as Christians, our actions should regularly be showing up as following a “different law”, a different set of standards to live by, from those around us.

How often have you not gone along with something at work, with your friends, where you have known it was not right? Have you ever spoken out about it?

Do your non-Christian friends look at you and see someone who lives by different standards? Do we stand out?

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in making the church “relevant”, our services “seeker friendly”, our language “accessible” and our approaches “modern” that we completely and utterly miss the point.

WE ARE MEANT TO BE DIFFERENT!

Church isn’t meant to be like the rest of the world. Christians aren’t meant to be the same as everyone else.

Jesus expected us to be hated because we were His followers! He talked to Father about it! He expected our behaviour to make us stand out and, instead of asking God to change that, to take us out of this world, He asked for us to not be tempted or harmed by the evil one (the ruler of this world) whilst here.

If I look at my life, does that prayer seem necessary? Am I that much in danger because I stand out? If the answer is no then frankly, I’m doing it wrong.

If Jesus expected me to be ridiculed, mocked, lose friends, family ties broken, misunderstood, persecuted… And yet the reality is my friends might not even know I believe in God, then something is wrong.

You don’t have to be a pastor, an evangelist, “in ministry”, serving in some desperate part of the world, in danger of being killed for your beliefs for this to apply. In your workplace your faith should mean you are open at anytime to being mocked, over looked for promotion by your atheist boss, or know that at a family gathering your cousin (who is very anti religion) will make a beeline for you and start an argument.

We aren’t called to be different in order to judge, or to be “holier than thou” (because the moment you do, you are the same as the Pharisees), to say we are right and everyone else is wrong in condemnation. We are, however, still called to be different because by that difference, we demonstrate God’s message.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have for one another” (John 13:35 MEV)

By the fact that Jesus said this meant He knew our behaviour – motivated by God and His Grace – would lead us to behave in a fashion different to those around us. He knew having love – the “love your neighbours” kind of love – we would be different. We are to be lights – which suggests something pure, shining, guiding, leading – in the darkness of the world. Again and again, He taught His disciples to be different.

I’m going to spend time honestly examining my life. I want to know that in Heaven I am “fully integrated”, but that in the world’s eyes, I am different – from another country and culture. I pray that the Holy Spirit will gently show me those areas that I need to focus on and give me the wisdom and courage to make the changes, and to be different in the way that Jesus called me to be, a way that loves, heals and saves and never condemns.

I invite you to do the same.

Kingdom First

At this time of year people begin to feel conscious of their over indulgence during Christmas. It is a time to consider a change of diet. Reducing calories. Eating more veg.

It is also atime for reflection on the year as it ends, and a time to look forward to a new year, a new start, fresh slate.

For some people this is a positive experience filled with happy memories and bright expectation.  For others it is a very negative time full of regrets and hopelessness.

Following the principle of “Kingdom first” though, any reflection should first and foremost be spiritual.

What indulgences have I had this year? What worldly habits or temptations have I succumbed to? Things I know are “bad” for me, that make me “fat” in the ways of the world?  What harmful thoughts do I need to stop feeding myself?

Just as going on a diet is not the way to get fit and lose weight (we don’t really need the experts to tell us that they don’t work, don’t last, and don’t make lasting change!) but instead one must make lifestyle changes, tackle habits and triggers for poor eating choices in order to make changes that are permanent, so it is with our spiritual health. If you are making poor choices on what to feed your soul – who you hang around with, what you watch, what you read, what you are focusing on, the actions you take – then a “diet” of some guilt based fast, a “giving up” is not going to help.

You need to look at what makes you vulnerable to those bad choices. You need to look at feeding yourself with “whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report” (Phillipians 4:8 MEV).

Focus on the right things rather than trying to give up the bad. That’s the Kingdom way. The Holy Spirit convicts of righteousness not sin (John 16:8)

Look at your spiritual “activity” levels. Are you lazy? Do you make an effort to pursue the things of God? Are you active in your church? In your community? Do you use your gifts or have you buried your talents in the ground rather than take the time and energy – and risk – to use them and therefore multiply them (Matthew 25:14-28)?

What spiritual lessons can you take from this year and how can they guide you in the new year?

Look back on the ways God has worked in your life throughout the year. See how He has turned all things to your good – and be honest enough to see where you have stopped Him from doing that by your wilful actions.  Those times when, if you are honest, you knew you were going against His best plan and purpose and stepped out from under that covering promise.

Let’s before God over the next few days with our honest evaluation and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any areas we have missed.

Lay it all before Him and just spend time with Him, letting the Holy Spirit minister to you, to the hurts, the pains, the disappointments.

Let God have those desires of your heart, the hopes and dreams for next year.

Lay down the burdens and let go of the things that have been holding you back. Write it out if that is it what works for you, or speak it out.

Instead of making New Year resolutions, make a list of Scriptures that proclaim God’s promises over your life and consciously purpose to start 2016 firmly holding on to them. Have a list of 10 Scriptures and resolve to confess them and stand on them in faith. I can promise you that that will be a far more powerful and effective way to make changes in your life that any resolution!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you” (Matthew 6:33 MEV).