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Prepare The Way For The Lord_DavidBevans

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					            Prepare The Way For The Lord!
                      Letting God be the One and Only Master.

                         PART I - The Foundations
      Copyright © 1999-2000 David Bevan DavidandPenny@compuserve.com

                            Here is a draft of chapter 1:

(All footnotes including Scripture references were lost in conversion to HTML format)


                         1. How Big is Your God?
     Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.

In his book Passion For Jesus, Mike Bickle asks the following question:

               Who is the Lord that you should honour and obey Him with all your time,
               money and talents? Who is the Lord that you should resist the pleasures,
               opportunities and positions that are outside His will for your life? Who is
               He that you should hunger and thirst for Him and set aside time to seek
               him diligently? He is the magnificent King filled with infinite splendour
               and beauty. He is the Lord who possesses unlimited, majestic, sovereign
               power over all creation!

It is with our majestic God, then, that we begin:

Our God is a totally AWESOME God! Overwhelming in His Mighty Power!
Breathtakingly Glorious in His Splendour! Completely Perfect in His Matchless Purity!
Unsurpassed in the passionate depth of His Mercy and Love! There is no other like the
                              ,
Lord — Majestic in Holiness Awesome in Glory! If we try to describe the Infinite,
Eternal, Transcendent, Sovereign, Omnipotent God as He Truly Is, we soon run out of
superlatives for He is the Indescribable One, Magnificent beyond the farthest stretches of
our imagination. Even the greatest of our songs and hymns of worship fall far short of
what is required.

Our God is greater than the greatest rulers who have ever lived! More Powerful than the
most impressive armies that ever marched to war! More Mighty than the devastation of a
nuclear explosion! Stronger than the destructive force of the fiercest hurricane! More
Powerful than the most violent earthquake! Triumphantly victorious over the power of
death, from Abel’s murder to the wars, famines and plagues of the present day! Mighti re



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than the thunder of the great waters, Mightier than the breakers of the sea — the Lord on
High is Mighty! How Awesome is the Lord Most High, the Great King over all the earth!

We have a God who, in the beginning, created the whole of the universe out ofabsolutely
nothing, who flung every one of the trillions and trillions of stars into space, placing them
in beautiful galaxies thousands of light-years across. It was our God who designed the
intricate structure of the cosmos, the way the elementary particles combine to make the
elements, and how they in turn join together to produce every type of matter. It was He
who constructed a world in which there was light and darkness, warmth and cold, air and
water. And here He placed a quite extraordinary variety of living creatures and — the
pinnacle of His creation — human beings, made in His Own image.This is our God! His
own hands stretched out the heavens; He marshalled their starry hosts. It is He who made
the earth to be inhabited and created mankind upon it. He is the Lord, and there is no
other!

Our God is the One who performs great wonders. He divided the Red Sea so that His
people could pass through on dry ground with a wall of water on either side. He was
present with His people in the wilderness as apillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by
night. He came down upon Mount Sinai in His Glory in a dense cloud, in thunder and
lightning, with a loud trumpet blast, with smoke and a consuming fire, and with a violent
shaking of the earth. This is our God. He performed miraculous signs and wonders in
Egypt and has continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind!

And then on one glorious day yet to come, when the dead have been raised, Our God will
show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The
sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and
dreadful day of the Lord. He will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth
                                     ns
and the sky will tremble. The heave will disappear with a roar; the elements will be
destroyed by fire, and so will the earth. And He will create a new heaven and a new earth,
the home of righteousness and peace. Every knee shall bow before Him, every tongue
confess that He is Lord. This is our God!

               There is a louder shout to come, there is a sweeter song to hear;
               All the nations with one voice, all the people with one fear.
               Bowing down before Your throne, every tribe and tongue will be;
               All the nations with one voice, all the people with one King.
               And what a song we’ll sing upon that day!

               Now we see a part of this, one day we shall see in full;
               All the nations with one voice, all the people with one love.
               No one else will share Your praise, nothing else can take Your place;
               All the nations with one voice, all the people with one Lord.
               And what a song we’ll sing upon that day!

Your God Is Too Small




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This portrait of God presents a problem for many of us. We can’t really relate to it. We
                                                         as,
live in a society of the mundane and the trivial, that h for the most part, forgotten how
to be awe-struck, forgotten how to truly wonder. There is little encouragement for us to
consider and marvel at the heavens, "the work of the Lord’s fingers, the moon and the
stars, which He has set in place" — if we can even see them beyond the streetlights! We
are taught from early on that it isn’t really ‘cool’ to get too excited about anything. We
live in a culture that no longer has any true heroes to admire and relegates accounts of
great exploits to the fictional categories of myth and legend. We are a cynical, ‘knowing’
people, happier to explain (or even explain away) the mighty acts of God than to let God
thoroughly transform us through them. Our society encourages us to believe that the
spiritual world is unreal, or if real, pretty much irrelevant to the practical matters of
everyday living. And our education system is, in practice, based on the totally false
premise that you can have the best education possible while remaining ignorant of God
and His ways.

As a result, however hard we may try to avoid being conformed to the pattern of this
world, many of us find it hard to see God as more ‘real’, more significant and substantial,
than the ordinary things of our everyday lives. To most people God is an inference,a
cloudy vagueness, not a Reality whom we can know. But the truth is that the fact of God
the Great I AM should completely and radically alter the way we go about living. How
we understand God, what picture we have of who He is and what He is like, will
significantly affect our behaviour. Our experience of God, and our on -going relationship
with Him will, to a large extent, determine how we live and how much we will be being
transformed into His likeness.

                                                   od.
Sadly, many of us have a very superficial view of G Some years ago, A. W. Tozer
penned the following words:

               The Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the
               twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the
               Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers
               something amounting to a moral calamity. With our loss of the sense of
               majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of
               the divine Presence.

Tozer recognised that the low view many of us entertain of God "the high and lofty One"
was the primary cause of much, if not all, of the church’s weakness and lack of influence.
Jim Packer has written similarly:

               Knowledge of the greatness of God is knowledge which Christians today
               largely lack, and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our
               worship so flabby. We are modern men, and modern men, though they
               cherish great thoughts of man, have as a rule small thoughts of God. When
               the man in the church, let alone the man in the street, uses the word ‘God’,
               the thought in his mind is rarely of divinemajesty. …




                                                                                          3
               Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth
               is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort
               as we are — weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic.But this is not
               the God of the Bible!

We do well to compare our perception of God with the Scriptural accounts. When the
Israelite army faced the Philistine champion Goliath, they all ran from him in great fear
because they left God out of the equation. But David just laughed at Goliath, recognising
his weakness before the might of the Lord of the heavenly hosts: "Who is this
uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? You come
against me with sword and spear and javelin, butI come against you in the name of the
Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the
Lord will hand you over to me … and the whole world will know that there is a God in
                                                  d
Israel.", he declared. Would our understanding an experience of God cause us to behave
like this, expecting the Lord Almighty to act, or would we be more like the frightened
soldiers, theoretically acknowledging the Lord as God but behaving as if He was
impotent?

The fact is that whatever our Christian tradition, it is probably the case that our concept
of God is too ‘small’, and that as a result we limit His ability to work in us and to bless
others through our lives. We will need to let God out of the box of our limited
understanding and imagination ifwe are to become all that He wants us to be. We will
need to let God be GOD! For the most part, those outside the church see little in us that
would attract them to the message of the gospel. Unless the true nature of our Great God
is clearly reflected inthe way we live, we can’t expect to have any significant impact in
the world.

Fearing God

How, then should the ‘bigness’ of God affect our lives? What is our reaction and
response to the ‘awesomeness’ of God? When the Israelites saw the great power the Lord
displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him.
Later, when the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the
mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and saidto Moses,
"Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."
Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of
                                                                   e
God will be with you to keep you from sinning." Again, when Mos s came down from
Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his
face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites
saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

Fear was, and still is, the natural response of mortal man when God chooses to reveal
Himself in His Majesty. When Daniel had a vision of a Man whose face was like
lightning, whose eyes were like flaming torches, whose arms and legs were like het
gleam of burnished bronze, and whose voice was like the sound of a multitude, he
described his experience in this way: "I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the



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men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and h     id
themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face
turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard Him speaking, and after He had
                                                                             rd
spoken, I stood up trembling." Five hundred years later, an angel of the Lo appeared to
some shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, and the Glory of the Lord shone around
them — and they were terrified! Fear was also the reaction when the might and glory of
                                                                          d
God was revealed in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, woken from sleep in the mi st of a violent
storm on the Sea of Galilee, yells into the screaming wind and waves, "Quiet! Be still!",
and suddenly there is complete calm. The disciples were terrified. Even the apostle John,
                                                               ell
who had been Jesus’ closest friend when He was on earth, "f at His feet as though
dead" when he had a brief glimpse of the Lord in all His awesome majesty and glory.

Few of us have experienced God in all His fearful Power and Might, and it is perhaps for
this reason that the Old Covenant refrain to "Fear the Lord!" communicates so little to us.
We need to be reminded that the Lord our God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. God is
great, mighty and formidable. In our generation, sadly many of us have domesticated God
                                                h
by focussing so much on His grace and mercy t at we have lost sight of who He really is.
We think we can ‘play games’ with Him. But as C. S.Lewis would have said, He is not a
tame Lion! We should stand before Him in both loveand fear for He extends mercy to
those who fear Him, from generation to generation. Blessed are all who fear the Lord!

We should fear God — and fear nothing else. But, so often, like the Israelite soldiers
before Goliath, we have things backwards, being more concerned about how others treat
us or what might happen to us, more afraid about losing our reputation or comfort or
health or wealth — things we don’t need to worry about — than about giving God His
rightful place in our lives. As Jesus said, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those
who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should
fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I
tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is
forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid;
you are worth more than many sparrows."

At the dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem in 958B.C., when Solomon had
                                                                           f
finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt ofering and the
sacrifices, and the Glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the
temple of the Lord because the Glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the
                                                               ,
fire coming down and the Glory of the Lord above the temple they knelt on the
pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the
Lord, saying, "He is good; His love endures forever." Then the king and all the people
offered sacrifices before the Lord. And King Solomon offered a sa   crifice of twenty-two
thousand head of cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats!

What does our worship look like in comparison? Whatshould our response to the God of
Glory be? In the Hebrew mind, there was clearly a connection seen betweenfearing God
                                                         F
and worshipping Him. The Old Covenant commanded, " ear the Lord your God, and
                                                                  Worship the Lord your
serve Him only.", a decree that Jesus quoted in the wilderness as "



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                                                                      F
God and serve Him only." And at the end of time, the angel will call, " ear God and give
Him glory, because the hour of His judgement has come.Worship Him who made the
heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water."

But, what should our worship look like? We are not called to sacrifice a hundred
thousand animals, though surely our tribute should be no less extravagant. No, God
desires something else. As David prayed, "O Lord, You do not delight in sacrifice, or I
would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a
broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." A broken spirit, a
broken and contrite heart — this is our proper response before the Lord Almighty. Are
we willing to be truly broken before Him? It has been said that worship should be spelt
s u r r e n d e r. Are we willing to surrender all to Him?

God demands total obedience, but we are a proud and arrogant people. We think we
know better than Him and pick and choose which of His commands to obey and which to
ignore. We think we can select which parts of our lives to let the Lord control and which
to retain control of ourselves. We believe we have the right to choose how to live our
own lives, but it is the Lord who is God, not us! We live in a society in which we are
taught to question and challenge authority, rather than submit to it. We feel free to
disobey the law of the land if it suits us (for example, by breaking the speed limit). And
our attitudes to human authority affect our attitude to the King of kings. We may weaken
and trivialise His demandson us, but surely our presumption will be our downfall— for
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble; He sweeps away the proud, but
lifts up the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand. Circumcise
your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is
God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, Mighty and Awesome. For, absolutely,
with a Master’s right, Christ claims our hearts, our lips, our time. Are we willing, as the
people of God, to let the Lord take His rightful place in our lives?

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually,or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

   1. Do you find it hard to believe that the Lord God is more substantial than the world
      around us which will one day pass away? Spend time pondering some of the
      descriptions of His breathtaking Majesty inthe Scriptures and let the Awesome
      Reality of God change the way you see your life and the world around you.
   2. Read one of the Scriptural accounts of God revealing Himself to His people in Power
      and Might. Imagine being present; how do you feel? If you were to have such an
      experience, what effect do you think it would have on your life?
   3. If we could see how much You’re worth,
      Your Power, Your Might, Your endless Love,
      Then surely we would never cease to praise.




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       Spend time considering some aspect of the work of God in creation and then
       express your thoughts and feelings in worship and adoration.

   4. How do you feel about a God who demands total control of every part of your life?
      Does part of you rebel against the idea? In what ways do you ‘play games’ with God,
      resisting His Lordship? Are you willing to let Him have His rightful place? Use the
      words of Psalm 19 to help you offer yourself to Him afresh to do with you whatever
      He wills.

                                                    Copyright © 1999-2000 David Bevan

                          2. Love Beyond Measure
                                 Christ’s love compels us.

"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come;
the whole earth is full of His Glory!" sing the seraphim before the throne of God. If there
is one aspect of God that describes the difference between Him and us,it is His holiness.
But what does it mean to say that God is holy? Some have suggested that the basic idea is
that of separation, of His being "Wholly Other", but it is not obvious that this is really the
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primary Biblical understanding. Rather, the Scriptu emphasis seems to be on the fact
that God is righteous and good — "the holy God will show himself holy by his
righteousness". In everything He does, the Lord is completely pure and utterly good. Our
awesome God is a good God.

Many of us have trouble relating to God’s holiness, because we associate it in our minds
with judgement and condemnation. But if we understand His holiness as His
unimaginable goodness, then this changes the picture dramatically. We often also have an
unresolved tension between God’s holiness and His love. However the Scriptures teach
us that it is because He is holy, because he is good, that He loves us. In the book of the
prophet Hosea, the Lord addresses sinful Israel as follows:

               How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My
               heart is changed within me; all My compassion is aroused. I will not carry
               out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God,
               and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.

Here in one sentence, the Lord expresses that His immense and outrageous love for His
people is because of His holiness. God is not like us, because He is the Lord, the Lord,
the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." "His anger
lasts only a moment, but His favour lasts a lifetime." As Trevor Hudson has said, The fire
of God’s holiness is the fire of His blazinglove. God loves because He is holy.

Again in the book of Isaiah, the prophet invites the people to



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               Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let
               the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to
               the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will
               freely pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your
               ways My ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the
               earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your
               thoughts."

We have all read these last words many times and yet somehow totally missed the
manner in which the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He is not like us
because His nature is always to have mercy, always to freely pardon, always to love and
forgive, whereas our nature is not that way. In God, mercy triumphs over judgement!
Hallelujah! The Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues
through all generations. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures
forever. "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing
love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord,
who has compassion on you.

Unconditional, Supernatural, Extra-Special, Wonderful Love

It is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of God’s love. His love is perfect. God is
love. Our great and awesome God is the greatest lover in the universe! He holds us in His
arms and carries us close to His heart. He delights in His people. The Lord your God is
with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with
His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Do you know how God feels about you?
God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. He forgives you. He comes to love, not to
condemn. You are precious and honoured in His sight, and He loves you.

It is clear that God’s love for us is a matter of feelings, of emotions, of passion.
Amazingly, He explains His love for us in terms of that of a husband for his wife, or of a
father for his children. Here is God’s heart expressed to unfaithful Israel:

               "I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak
               tenderly to her. … There she will sing as in the days of her youth … In
               that day," declares the Lord, "you will call Me ‘my husband’; you will no
               longer call Me ‘my master’. … I will betroth you to Me forever; I will
               betroth you in righteousness and justice, inlove and compassion. I will
               betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord."

Here the Lord chooses to describe His love for His covenant people in terms of the
deepest, most intimate of human relationships. We are that special to Him!

To illustrate the nature of God’s love for us, Jesus tells a parable about a man with two
sons. Here is the father’s behaviour when the younger son returns from squandering all
that the father had given him:




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               While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and wasfilled with
               compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and
               kissed him.

This is the love our heavenly Father has for us. Can you imagine God running towards
you, throwing His arms around you and kissing you? Can you imagine Him accepting
you back with such great joy after you have let Him down? Have you felt the passionate
                           ve
depth of this incredible lo in your own heart and spirit? How great is the love the
Father has lavished on us, that we should be called God’s children!

Astoundingly, the Father loves us in the same way that He loved the Son. We can
experience the same love and delight that God the Father had for Jesus. At the end of His
life, Jesus says to His Father, "I have made You known to them, and will continue to
make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them." Jesus is still at
work revealing the Father to us so that we might experience His love!

As a nation, we are often dubious of excessive emotion, and at times in the church have
tried to redefine God’s love in a way that excludes emotional content. But love without
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emotion is not love at all! God’s love, like the lo of a groom for his bride, overflows
with extravagant emotional content. God’s love, as someone once said, is "better felt than
‘telt’"!

Knowing God’s Love

In his epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul writes as follows:

               I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power,
               together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
               is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

Paul prays here that we would both grasp (or comprehend) the vastness of Christ’s love
for us and also know (or experience) this love that is too deep to fully fathom. There has
to be both an objective and subjective component to our knowledge of God’s love for us.

At the centre of our objective understanding of God’s love for us stands the cross. Here
we see a love so great that the Father would sacrifice His own Son for us. And a love
between the Father and the Son so deep that the Son was willing to do His Father’s will
                                                        ur
and endure complete abandonment by His Father for o sake.

               Here is love vast as the ocean,
               Loving kindness as a flood,
               When the Prince of life, our ransom
               Shed for us His precious blood.

               On the mount of crucifixion
               Fountains opened deep and wide;


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               Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
               Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
               Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
               Poured incessant from above,
               And heaven’s peace and perfect justice
               Kissed a guilty world in love.

However important an objective comprehension of God’s love is, it is ultimately
worthless unless we experience that love for ourselves. Indeed, Satan and his demons no
doubt have some objective knowledge of the love of God, while completely rejecting it.

At the centre of our subjective understanding of God’s love for us stands the work of the
Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul writes that God has poured out His love into our hearts by
the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. If we are to live as God desires us to, we need
daily to experience His love deep in our souls. Mike Bickle, in his bookPassion For
Jesus, writes, "The Holy Spirit must quicken the knowledge of God’s passionate love and
make it alive in our hearts."

Charles Finney, the great nineteenth -century American evangelist, described an occasion
                                                                       r
when, as he put it, "… the Holy Spirit descended on me in a manne that seemed to go
through me, body and soul … it seemed to come in waves of liquid love; for I could not
express it any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. … No words can express
the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love. …"
Later, another evangelist, Dwight L. Moody had a similar experience, "… oh, what a day!
— I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name.
… I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and that I had such an experience of
His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. …" We all need to let our lives be taken
over by the Holy Spirit’s revelation of God’s indescribable love for us.

                                                                            -
God’s love for us is not like human love— wavering, fickle, unreliable, self centred. No,
God always loves us with a pure love, a sure and certain, steadfast love. We can adapt the
apostle Paul’s hymn of love in 1Corinthians to describe God’s attitude towards us:

               God is patient, God is kind.
               God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud.
               God is not rude, God is not self-seeking.
               God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs.
               God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
               God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
               God never fails.

Although the Lord sees us exactly as we are, with all our shortcomings and mixed impure
motives, he accepts us and affirms us. As Gerald Coates has said, God is never
                                                            s
disillusioned about us, because He was never under any illuions in the first place! We
can trust Him never to reject us because of what He sees in us. God is the nicest person
we’ll ever meet!



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An experiential knowledge of God’s love for us can thus liberate us from the need to rely
on fallible human love for theacceptance and affirmation we all need. As Mike Bickle
puts it,

               A focus on Jesus ultimately leads us to the knowledge of His heart of
               affirmation. This is absolutely vital. As important as human affirmation is,
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               it is woefully inadequate without God’s affir ation of us. It is the
               knowledge that we are loved, accepted and valued by God that gives us a
               sense of value and true self-worth. When we are secure and confident in
               God’s love, we grow out of our fears. When we know we are pleasing
               Him, criticism and offences from others won’t affect us as easily.
               ‘Proving’ our value to others ceases to be the dominant drive in our
               emotional makeup. God’s pleasure and His approving smile are all we
               need.

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If we know His unconditional acceptance of us, then our lives can r spond, living freely
out of the overflowing of His love, rather than living captive to a need to seek to gain
love and acceptance from others.

This, then, provides the motivation for us to live as God requires. The Lord’s desire for
us is that in every part of our lives we be motivated by our knowledge of Him and of His
ardent love for us. The greatest motivation for obedience to the Lord is a growing
revelation of His passionate love towards us. As Philip Yancey has written, "Although
power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one
thing God wants from us and the reason He created us." We love Him because He loves
us, and because we love Him, we do what He desires of us. We will gladly surrender
control to a Father who loves us so profoundly, for, as John Arnott writes, "When the
love of God impacts your heart to the fullest, no mountain is too tall, no ocean too broad,
no valley too deep that you would not go through it for Him."

If we truly desire to live our lives for the Lord, then we must make His love the bedrock
and foundation of our lives. We must seek every day, and in every way, to let His love
live deep in our hearts. Our lives must be full to overflowing with the knowledge of His
immeasurable delight towards us. The loving, passionate heart of God must pulsate at the
core of all we do and are. We must walk in His love. We must never allow the truth of
God’s overflowing, unwavering love to be forgotten and fade away in our hearts. Its
development must never be neglected. We must make the pursuit of the knowledge of the
Lord’s love in our lives a continuing primary concern, for we will never exhaust His love
or outgrow our need for it. We should always be seeking to know more of His love, for
there is no limit to what the Lord desires to lavish upon us.

               His love is higher than the highest of mountains.
               His loves goes deeper than the deepest of seas.
               His love, it stretches to the farthest horizon,
               And His love, it reaches to me.




                                                                                         11
               His love is stronger than the angels and demons.
               His love, it keeps me in my life’s darkest hour.
               His love secures me on the pathway to heaven,
               And His love is my strength and power.

               His love is sweeter than the sweetest of honey.
               His love is better than the choicest of wine.
               His love, it satisfies the deepest of hunger,
               And His love, in Jesus it’s mine.

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

   1. Do you find it hard to believe that God really loves you and delights in you so
      deeply? Spend time pondering some of the descriptions of His breathtaking love
      in the Scriptures and let His love soften your heart towards Him.
   2. Let me know the kisses of Your mouth
      Let me feel Your embrace
      Let me smell the fragrance of Your touch
      Let me see Your lovely face

       Do you ever just let God love you? How do you feel about God ‘kissing’ and
       ‘embracing’ you? Have you ever experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s
       personal love for you? Open your heart to the work of His Holy Spirit, and use
       these words, based on the Song of Songs, to ask the Lord to reveal His love for
       you in increasing measure.

   3. Why do you do the things you do? Are you motivated by the need for approval from
      others? Resolve before the Lord to make time daily to ‘soak’ in His love and
      acceptance, and so let your life be lived out of your knowledge of His delight in you.

                                                          Copyright © 1999 David Bevan

                   3. Free Offer or Take-Over Bid?
                                    Come, follow Me!

So far we have painted two pictures of God. The first is perhaps a somewhat disturbing
portrait of a mighty, awesome God who demands our obedience. The second is perhaps a
more comforting portrayal of a God whose passionate love overflows towards us. It has
been said that it is the work of the preacher to "comfort the disturbed" and to "disturb the
comfortable". In Jesus’ own preaching of the good news of the Kingdom, we see this
very tension.


                                                                                           12
An Easy Yoke

In Matthew 11, Jesus makes the following offer:

               Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you
               rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and
                                                                              o
               humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My y ke is easy
               and My burden is light.

Oh, what an offer! Do any of us, in our busy world, not find ourselves weary and
burdened at times? Do any of us not need to let Him take from our souls the strain and
stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of His peace? As the Apostle Peter
writes, we are invited to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us. He wants to
set us free from all that weighs us down, all the tension, all the pressure, all the striving.

Surely, this is the heart of the gospel, a free offer so astonishing as to be almost beyond
comprehension. We, who have done absolutely nothing to deserve it and indeed much to
disqualify ourselves, are given the possibility of being totally set free from slavery to sin
and from all condemnation and guilt, of knowing the God of glory personally as our
heavenly Father, of being filled with the Holy Spirit thus enabling us to live in His power,
of being transformed into His wonderful likeness, and of looking forward to dwelling
forever with God. And all we have to do is come to Him — and place His yoke on our
shoulders.

But, why on earth does Jesus offer us a yoke? For His listeners, the word "yoke" was
used to symbolise bondage and the burdensome servitude of a nation; it was a symbol of
oppression. Surely, Jesus should be offering simply toremove the yoke! But no, Jesus
knows that the only way we will find peace and joy and rest for our souls is to let Him
direct us, to be joined to Him as it were by a yoke and led the way He knows is for our
greatest good — indeed, to follow Him as those first disciples did. When we try to run
our own lives and make our own decisions we often end up pressured and stressed, trying
to do too much. Jesus, who was never rushed off His feet, offers us an alternative. His
yoke is one of peace and contentment — of shalom. We cannot be yokeless. If we are not
under Jesus’ light yoke, then we will find ourselves under the harsher yoke of our own
weaknesses and of the expectations of our demanding society.

A Great Banquet

In Luke chapter 14, we read of Jesus telling the following parable to describe the
Kingdom of God:

               A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At
               the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been
               invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."




                                                                                            13
               But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, "I have just
               bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me." Another said,
               "I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.
               Please excuse me." Still another said, "I just got married, so I can’t come."

We are all invited to the great Messianic banquet to come. What a day that will be! The
offers Jesus makes to us are surely the greatest ever made! But, sadly, we recognise
ourselves all too easily in the guests who make excuses, living lives in which the
everyday and the trivial often take priority over responding to Jesus’ invitation to come to
Him, to spend time with Him, to walk with Him, to receive from Him.

Immediately after telling this parable, Jesus goes on to say:

               If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife
               and children, his brothers and sisters— yes, even his own life — he
               cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and
               follow Me cannot be My disciple.

He concludes, "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My
disciple." The gospel Jesus preaches seems to look rather different from what we preach
today! Jesus not only makes the most astounding free offer ever made, but also the most
preposterous take-over bid of all time. He expects to have every part of our lives. And not
in some abstract ‘spiritual’ sense, but in reality. He wants control!

Unfortunately, much of our evangelism this century has been very on   e-sided. A whole
generation of Christians has come up believing that it is possible to ‘accept’ Christ
without letting Him take control of their lives. We have made ‘converts’ but not obedient
disciples who are taught to obey everything the Lord commands. Yet surely the true
challenge of the gospel is much closer toJesus Christ is Lord! What are you going to do
about it? than we would like to think.

Os Guinness makes the following observation about Jesus:

                                                                 u
               Jesus was a forbidding and unsparing leader. He iss ed an invitation, but
               made clear His demands. He supplied needs, but required sacrifice. He
               made promises, but emphasised costs. He was as offensive as He was
               appealing. No one who chose to follow Him could have done so with their
               eyes closed.

How different from the spiritual diet most of us feed on. The "scandal of the cross" is
almost unrecognisable in the ‘gospel’ that is preached today. Christianity is considered
respectable — surely a contradiction in terms if ever there was one — and almost no real
demands are made on those who join the church. As a result, our faith is considered an
irrelevance by the vast majority, and also often has very little real impact on the way we
go about much of our daily lives.




                                                                                         14
Lord and Father

When we pray, we refer to God as "Lord" and "Father". But do we mean anything by
these words or do we just use them as names? Jesus once asked His followers, "Why do
you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?" For the word "Lord" means master,
and was most commonly used when talking about masters and slaves. As a master had
complete ownership of his slaves, and the right to decide how they spent every moment
of their lives, so too, our Master should have the same position of authority over us. Like
the centurion who came to Jesus, the Lord should be able to tell one of us, "Go", and he
goes; and another, "Come", and he comes; and yet another, "Do this", and he does it. We
should be those who not only believe that "Jesus is Lord", but behave as if He is too.

And what of the word "father"? Rightly, perhaps, we focus on the amazing truth that
through Jesus we can know God personally and intimately. For Jesus’ use of the Aramaic
word for ‘Dad’ (Abba) to refer to the Almighty God was a revolutionary departure,
indicating the close nature of the relationship we could have with God under the New
Covenant. However, if God is our Father, then surely that too is a relationship in which
He should have complete authority over His children. In Jesus’ day, children were
expected to obey their parents. Indeed there was provision under the Old Covenant for a
rebellious son to be stoned to death! And even today, living in a society in which respect
for authority continues to decline, fathers still expect their children to do what they’re
told, even though our children don’t address their fathers as "Sir" as they do in some parts
of the southern United States. If only we had the same attitude to God that we desire of
our children towards their parents! As the Lord said to the Jews through the prophet
Malachi, "A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the
honour due Me? If I am a master, where is the respect due Me?"

Total Surrender

                                                                                t
Surrender to the Father’s will was the hallmark of Jesus’ life, seen most poignanly as He
faced His death, when He prayed in anguish, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup
from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." We are called to follow Him, surrendering
all. C. S. Lewis expressed it like this:

               Christ says, "Give Me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much
               of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I haven’t come to
                                                                -measures are any good. I
               torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half
               don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the
               whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which
               you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked— the whole
               outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself:
               My own will shall become yours    ."

We are not supposed to give Jesus only a part of our lives, not just the ‘religious’ or
‘spiritual’ part, or even the best part. No, He desires to have all of us, every hour and
minute of our days, our work and leisure, our wealth and all that we possess, every



                                                                                            15
conversation and relationship, every thought and emotion, every like and dislike, every
dream and desire. Jesus says that if we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves and
take up our cross. Similarly, the apostle Paul testifies that those who truly belong to
Christ Jesus have crucified the old nature with its passions and desires. It has been said
that a man on a cross has no further plans of his own, and surely this is what this
                                                                      y
language of "denying ourselves", "taking up our cross", and "crucif ing the old nature" is
talking about. We should no longer be our own, but in all we are and do, demonstrate that
we are God’s and His alone.

So, is God in charge of our lives or is He merely one of the crew? Does He decide things
or only help us to carry out our own plans? Is God in the driver’s seat controlling where
we go or is He only a passenger whose advice we heed when we feel like it? Do we seek
to be God-driven, Jesus-driven, Holy Spirit-driven people in every aspect of our living, or
do we want to hold on to some parts of our lives for ourselves?

Finding Life

Does this seem a hard thing with little reward, to hand over everything to God? One
saying Jesus repeated on a number of occasions was this, "Whoever wants to save his life
will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it." Jesus
‘invitation’ to us to deny ourselves and take up our cross seems very strange until we
recognise that it is the key to the full, abundant life that He came to give us. The glorious
benefits of the gospel become ours only as we surrender ourselves fully to Him.

Three hundred years ago, François Fénelon wrote the following words out of His own
experience:

               Those who are God’s are always glad, when they are not divided, because
               they only want what God wants and want to do for Him all that He wishes.
               They divest themselves of everything and, and in this divesting find a
               hundredfold return.

               Happy are those who give themselves to God! They are delivered from
               their passions, from the judgements of others, … from the misfortunes
               which the world distributes to wealth, from the unfaithfulness and
               inconstancy of friends, from the wiles and snares of the enemy, from our
               own weakness, … from the cruel remorse attached to wicked pleasures, …
               The more one loves God, the more one is content. The highest perfection,
               instead of overloading us, makes our yoke lighter.

               What folly to fear to be too entirely God’s! It is to fear to be too happy. It
               is to fear to love God’s will in all things. It is to fear to havetoo much
               courage in the crosses which are inevitable, too much comfort in God’s
               love, too much detachment from the passions which make us miserable.




                                                                                            16
               Those who are wholly God’s are always happy. They know by experience
               that the yoke of the Lord is "easy and light", that we find in Him "rest for
               the soul", and that He comforts those who are weary and overburdened, as
               He Himself has said.

For His views, Fénelon was denounced by the pope for "having loved God too much, and
man too little"! But how can we love God too much? It is the divided, double-minded
heart — in which God the King has a place but isn’t truly on the throne— that misses out
on the inexpressible and glorious joy that Jesus desires to lavish on us.

Commenting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book,The Cost Of Discipleship, Dallas Willard
has written:

               It was right to point out that one cannot be a disciple of Christ without
               forfeiting things normally sought in human life, and that one who pays
               little in the world’s coinage to bear His name has reason towonder where
               he or she stands with God. But the cost of non-discipleship is far greater
               — even when this life alone is considered— than the price paid to walk
               with Jesus.

               Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love,
               faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for
               good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of
               circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.
                                                                    n
               … The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an i strument of liberation
               and power to those who would live in it with Him and learn the meekness
               and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul.

Let us seek to find life by losing it completely to Him!

Reflections

The following questions and exercisesare to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

       Do you find it hard to accept that the Lord’s yoke really is a light one, leading to
       rest for your soul? Choose to submit areas of your life which weigh you down to
       His yoke, letting Him lead you and minister to you, and know His peace.

   1. In your own life, how have you experienced the tension between the‘free offer’
      and the ‘take-over bid’ in the gospel? When you chose to follow Christ, how
      aware were you that following Him meant handing over control to Him? In what
      ways do you let the trivial and mundane prevent Him from having His way in
      your life? Renew your resolve that He, rather than your situation, should be your
      Master.


                                                                                          17
   2. All I once held dear, built my life upon,
      All this world reveres and wars to own,
      All I once thought gain I have counted loss;
      Spent and worthless now compared to this:

       Knowing You, Jesus
       Knowing You, there is no greater thing.
       You’re my all, You’re the best,
       You’re my joy, my righteousness,
       And I love You, Lord.

       What is it that you hold dear? What dreams and desires, which of your
       possessions and plans are important to you? Use these words, based on Paul’s
       testimony in Philippians 3, to hand them over to the Lord for Him to take and do
       with as He wishes.

   3. In what ways has it been your experience that the more you have given yourself to
      God, the more you have found contentment and joy? Do you agree that letting God
      be Lord and Master and taking on His yoke is the key to having life in all its
      fullness? Try it! Taste and see that the Lord is good!

                                                     Copyright © 1999-2000 David Bevan

                  4. God Helps Those Who Let Him
                              My grace is sufficient for you.

We live under a New Covenant, a covenant of the heart and the Spirit, a covenant of
knowing God, a covenant of eternal life, and above all a covenant of the forgiveness of
sins through the death of Christ. There is a sense in which under the NewCovenant,
because it is a covenant of grace, we are the recipients of unconditional blessing, not
dependent on our obedience. As the apostle Paul writes,

               Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive
               with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … For it is by grace
               you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is
               the gift of God.

Praise God that salvation is available as a sheer gift that we simply receive with the two
open hands of repentance and belief!

However, there are many promises in the New Covenant of the Kingdom that are
conditional on the extent to which we let the King reign and rule in our lives. Speaking to
His disciples, Jesus said,




                                                                                        18
               I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or
               mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to
               receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers,
               sisters, mothers, children and fields— and with them, persecutions) and in
               the age to come, eternal life.

Jesus offers us lavish recompense both in this life and in the next if we place Him and His
desires above our pursuit of comfort and wealth and above the love we have for our
families.

God Will Meet All Your Needs

One of Jesus’ most amazing promises is found in the sermon on the mount:

               I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or
               about your body, what you will wear. … Do not worry, saying, "What
               shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" Fo the r
               pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you
               need them. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all
               these things will be given to you as well.

God promises to make sure that all our needs are met if only we would "seek first His
Kingdom". He tells us that if we do this, then we can be totally free from worry, that we
don’t ever need to be anxious that we’ll be short of anything.

                                                                               r
Probably very few of us really experience the radical truth of this astounding pomise
because, rather than seeking first God’s Kingdom and trusting God to meet our everyday
needs as He chooses, we give first priority to meeting our needs, and only then consider
the Kingdom of God. After all, it’s only ‘common sense’ that we must makesure we
provide for our food and clothing and housing! As a result, though, even the wealthiest of
us find ourselves unnecessarily worrying about tomorrow. Indeed, as Jesus recognised, it
                                                                     y
is the poor who find this promise much easier to accept because the have less to lose and
more to gain!

We need to recognise that the ways of the Kingdom of God — in which giving is the key
to receiving and dying the key to life, and where the humble poor rather than the rich and
powerful are blessed — are not going to fit very well with our ideas of ‘common sense’!
Everything in our upbringing and culture is likely to scream that we are being foolish,
that abandoning ourselves to God’s extravagant bounty will lead to disaster! But, has not
God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Is not the foolishness of God wiser than
man’s wisdom?

So, what does it mean to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? The Kingdom of God is
where God reigns, where His will is done. Supremely, the Kingdom was personified in
                            as
Jesus Himself whose will w always one with His Father’s. So, to seek the Kingdom of
God is to pursue His Kingship, His Lordship, in our lives and let Him run the show. Do


                                                                                        19
we want what we want or do we want what He wants? Kingdom living isn’t about doing
‘spiritual’ (as opposed to worldly or secular) things. Rather, it is about livingSpiritually:
doing whatever it is that the Holy Spirit desires of us, whether that is something mundane
like going to work or washing the dishes or spending time with friends, or whether it is
some ‘spiritual discipline’ like prayer or worship.

The apostle Paul describes the alternatives as between living "according to the Spirit"
(which means living as the Holy Spirit desires) and living "according to the old nature"
                                      s
(which means living as we ourselve desire). Those who live according to the old nature
have their minds set on what the old nature desires; but those who live in accordance with
the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. For the old nature desires what
is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the old nature; they are in
conflict with each other. We have a choice as to which way we live.

If we ‘waste’ our time and talents and money and relationships on all and only what God
desires then He promises to meet all our needs — and our loving, faithful God never
breaks His word! He is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. It
has often been said that "God helps those who help themselves", but, although there may
be a grain of truth in this about the avoidance of laziness, essentially this is one of the
enemy’s deceptions. God helps those who let Him by living their lives His way under His
direction. God wants to shower His blessings on us, but we need to co-operate. This was
the apostle Paul’s expectation and experience too. To the Philippians he wrote, "My God
will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." and to the
Corinthians, "God is able to make allgrace abound to you, so that in all things at all
times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." What an all-
encompassing promise! He will meetall our financial needs, all our material needs, all
our emotional needs and all our spiritual needs if we let Him. The division of
responsibility is clear: we seek first His Kingship, andHe will provide for our needs. It is
not our duty to make sure we are fed and clothed and housed and protected and loved and
valued; it is the Lord’s.

                                                            r
Does all this seem unrealistically naïve and simplistic? Fous, it’s often the case that
‘earthly’ security seems like solid ground that we can trust whereas God’s unbreakable
promises seem like a flimsy bridge over a deep canyon, liable to rupture at any moment.
The opposite is true! The enemy has deceived the people of God into believing his lies!
What possible risk do we take in depending solely upon God? What risk do we run by
abandoning ourselves completely to Him? God is enough! Hallelujah! He is completely
                                                      e
sufficient for absolutely every need we may face. H knows our needs before we ask. We
can trust Him totally. Whatever problems we may have, God has the solution. And if we
place our trust in anything else (our own abilities, financial or physical resources, human
wisdom, other people, etc.) to meet any of our needs then we demonstrate that we believe
Satan’s lie. When we need something, we shouldn’t ape the world’s ways— worrying
and running after these things — but let the Lord guide and provide. We don’t need to
look for help anywhere else. Indeed, whereas God’s resources are infinite and He will
never let us down, our own abilities and wisdom are strictly limited and other people
often fail us. What peace we forfeit when we give ourselves to worrying about what the



                                                                                          20
Lord promises to provide rather than seeking first His Kingdom, and what deep
contentment and joy is ours when we know we’re living as He wants and are set free
from worry about tomorrow!

However, we do need to recognise that in meeting our needs, God’s ways of dealing with
us may be very different from what we want or expect. We daren’t put God in a box by
trying to force Him to work in a particular way or we’ll miss out on the blessing. If we
lay down our own agendas so that we desire only what He desires and His Kingship is
established in our lives, we can’t then tell Him how to go about meeting our needs! We
can’t necessarily expect Him to behave in the way we want. We must let God be God!
His wisdom and purposes are much higher than ours. It’s dangerous to try and second    -
guess God, He’ll probably surprise us by behaving differently from what we expect.

He may meet our needs in what to us is a very ‘natural’ way: providing finances through
having employment, healing through medicines, accommodation through owning a
house, and meeting emotional needs through having loving family and friends. On the
other hand, He may choose to work in what we might consider less natural or even
‘supernatural’ ways: providing finances through gifts from strangers prompted by the
Holy Spirit, providing healing through the laying on of hands, providing accommodation
through the generosity of one of His wealthy children, and meeting emotional needs
through the direct deep inner work of the Holy Spirit. The important thing is that it
should be His choice, not ours, as to how He meets whatever kind of need we have.

The story of the prophet Elijah during the time of drought provides us with an illustration
of the Lord’s provision:

               The word of the Lord came to Elijah: "Leave here, turn eastward and hide
               in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook,
               and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there."

               So Elijah did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine,
               east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and
               meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from
               the brook.

               Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the
               land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: "Go at once to Zarephath of
               Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply
               you with food." So he went to Zarephath.

In order to receive the Lord’s provision, Elijah had to be obedient to His direction: to
travel first to the Kerith Ravine, and then later to Zarephath. Both of these places were
outside Israel. If Elijah had not done what the Lord asked Him, or had been too busy with
his own plans to hear His voice, then he would have gone hungry. If we are interested in
                                                                               e
experiencing God’s bountiful provision for ourselves, then we need to decid first and
foremost to let Him direct our lives.



                                                                                        21
A major danger for us is that we look at the channel of His provision and idolatrously
place our trust in that rather than in the Lord who is the origin of both the channel and the
assistance it conveys. So, we trust in our job or in our relationships, rather than the Lord
who gave us the job and the relationships — and can take them away again and provide
for our needs in another way. We need to recognise that all that we have comes from the
Lord and that whatever means He uses to meet our needs, it is he who is the Provider.
Trusting in something other than the Lord is asking for trouble, for the Lord God is a
jealous God and we should worship Him and serve Him only.

At times, God’s ideas about meeting our needs may not look quite like what we would
desire. We live in a society that seeks to avoid suffering and pain at any cost, but that’s
not the Lord’s way. On occasion, He may choose to let us face hardship rather than
relieve us from it in order to give Himself the opportunity of fulfilling in us His priorities
for our lives. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be
praised.", said Job in worship after receiving the news of the loss of all his oxen,
donkeys, sheep, camels, servants and children! Are we people who would praise God like
that in the midst of overwhelming loss, or do we complain at Him the moment we face
any light and momentary difficulty? Can we trust Him that He knows what He is doing
when He lets suffering come our way? Do we believe that this too can be part of His
provision for our needs?

On the other hand, when He does want to deliver us from some plight, He can make a
way where there isn’t a way. When our situation seems hopeless, nothing is impossible
with God for with God all things are possible. He promises to look after us, so we can be
confident and without fear, expecting great things of God. As the old missionary hymn
says,

               Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees
               And looks to God alone,
               Laughs at impossibilities
               And shouts it shall be done!

We are totally and completely safe and secure in His loving arms. Sadly, like rebellious
children, we often want to do things our way, and so miss out on all that He wants to give
us. We have a God who desires to do for us immeasurably more than all we ask or
imagine! Let’s let Him do so by seeking His Kingship in our lives above everything else.

Ask And It Will Be Given To You

When Jesus walked on earth, He made some astounding promises about our prayers
being answered:

               Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door
               will be opened to you. I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not
               doubt, you can say to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and
                                          e
               it will be done. If you beli ve, you will receive whatever you ask for in



                                                                                          22
               prayer. If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you
               wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear
                                                                              t
               much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples. I tell you he truth, my
               Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.

In their letters, the apostles James and John seem to agree:

               If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to
                                                                           hen
               all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But w he asks, he
               must believe and not doubt. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
               And when you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong
               motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. If our hearts
               do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him
               anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases
               Him. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask
               anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears
               us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of Him.

These promises shock us in their absoluteness and we find them hard to square with our
own experiences of unanswered prayer. What is the problem? How can we know the
fulfilment of these promises in our own lives, as the Lord desires? There seem to be three
keys in these Scriptures, all concerning the kind of relationship we have with God.

The first of these is that we "must believe and have faith and not doubt". We have a God
who is totally trustworthy. He always keeps His word and delights to give His children
good gifts. Do we know Him well enough to know that we can trust Him? Jesus said,

               Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he
               asks for a fish, will give hima snake? If you, then, though you are evil,
               know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your
               Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

Faith is simply believing God, taking Him at His word, placing our trust in the things   He
has said to us. But, so often we behave as if there’s an element of uncertainty when it
comes to God’s promises, as if they might be true, but we’re not totally sure. We pay
                                                                                 en,
heed to the doubting and deceiving voices, asking like the serpent in the gard "Did
God really say?" instead of rejecting them outright. Does Jesus exclaim over us, "O you
of little faith" as he did so often over His disciples? Let us choose to trust unconditionally
in the promises of the One who never lies.

The second key to the unlocking of our prayers is that we need to pray "in Jesus’ name",
"according to His will". To pray in the name of Jesus means that we pray in unity with
Jesus’ purpose and desire. As James reminds us, we can’t expect to receive what we ask
for if we ask simply for our own pleasure. We need to be praying, not what we want, but
what the Lord wants as He directs us.




                                                                                          23
Often we pray out of the limitations of our own minds, from human wisdom only, caught
in the pit of our own understanding, but God desires us to pray His will, out of the fount
of His insight and knowledge. We need to learn to listen to Him before we open our
mouths, and to let the Holy Spirit guide us as we pray. Listening to the Lord is the first
                                                ssary for successful intercession. It is
thing, the second thing, and the third thing nece
essential that we must attune ourselves to His gentle voice.

This, surely, is also what both Paul and Jude meant by "praying in the Spirit": not some
special form of prayer, but prayer directed and controlled by theHoly Spirit of God. John
writes, that we "receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and
do what pleases Him". If we want Him to answer our requests then we need to allow Him
to take charge of our asking.

After studying the New Testament teaching on prayer, Richard Foster wrote the
following:

              The apostles and prophets obviously believed that they knew what the will
              of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed
                                                               countered a specific
              in the milieu of the Holy Spirit that when they en
              situation, they knew what should be done.

How did they do this? The final key, which is in a sense the master key, addresses this
question. Jesus said "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you
wish, and it will be given you." Abiding in Him, as a branch in the vine, developing an
inseparable relationship with Him, is the cornerstone of knowing the will of God. As we
live in this way, remaining close to Him and spending time with Him, we get to know
Him, we learn to recognise His voice and get to know His thoughts and desires and
longings, His ways and His purposes.

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

       Do you find it hard to believe God’s promises to meet all your needs? In what
       areas of your life do you seek to meet your own needs, rather than seeking first
       His Kingship and letting Him provide? In what ways have you seen the Lord’s
       provision when you’ve taken the risk of following His direction in your life?
       Decide upon one way in which you can pursue His Kingship rather than seek to
       satisfy your needs.

   1. Do you find yourself trusting in ‘earthly’ security rather than in the Lord Himself
      for your needs? Do you recognise that putting your faith in the channel of
      provision is a form of idolatry? Consider all the different ways in which the Lord



                                                                                       24
       provides for your needs, financial, material, emotional and spiritual.
       Acknowledge before Him that He and He alone is the Provider.
   2. I am trusting You to guide me,
      You alone shall lead;
      Every day and hour supplying
      All my need.

       Use these words to express your confidence in the Lord to guide and provide, and
       your commitment to trust in Him alone.

   3. What is your experience of listening to the Lord and letting Him direct the way you
      pray? Seek this week to be quiet before Him before you ask for anything, so that
      He can direct your thoughts and requests.


                    5. Pursuing Intimacy with God
               My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.

In Jeremiah chapter 31, the Lord makes the following declaration to His people:

              The time is coming when I will make a new covenant withthe house of
              Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made
              with their forefathers ... I will put My law in their minds and write it on
              their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer
              will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the
              Lord," because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the
              greatest.

Being a Christian is about relationship with God. It is not primarily to do with knowledge
about God, about theology and doctrine, important as that may be. We can know a great
deal about God without much knowledge of Him: "You believe that there is one God.
Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder." Nor is it primarily about religious
                                m
'rituals' and disciplines (baptis , communion, worship, prayer, Bible reading, etc.),
however valuable they may be. Nor is it primarily about good behaviour, about holy
living, although that too is required. Like the Pharisees, we can know a great deal about
godliness without much knowledge of God Himself.

No! The essence of New Covenant living is knowing God. This is what was to distinguish
it from the Old Covenant: "They will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest."
                                                            od.
It is about having a genuine relationship with the Living G And this is not supposed to
be something abstract and theoretical, but an ongoing experiential reality affecting every
part of our being. It is not just about head-knowledge, but also about heart-and-soul-and-
spirit-knowledge. Do we truly know God personally, or is He just a vague acquaintance
whose book we've read? It seems that many of us are happy to talk about knowing God
without there being a deep daily reality behind the words. What a calamity that being a
Christian has so often been reduced to accepting a few truths and following a few rules.


                                                                                       25
As Jeanne Guyon wrote three hundred years ago, "What inexpressible damage new
Christians - for that matter, most Christians - have suffered because of the loss of an
                                          i
inner, spiritual relationship to Jesus Chrst."

Jesus said that eternal life was to know the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ
whom He sent. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the heart of our faith. But even before
Jesus, knowing God was commended and valued. The Lord said through the prophet
Jeremiah, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his
strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that
he understands and knows Me." Is this what we boast about or are other things more
important to us?

Whatever the depth (or shallowness) of our relationship with God, we can always know
Him better. In this life we shall always only know God in part, but Paul's prayer for the
Ephesian believers should also be our own daily prayer forourselves: "I keep asking that
the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom
and revelation, so that you may know Him better." There is no greater pursuit than the
pursuit of a deeper relationship with God and no  thing that should have a higher priority
in our lives. Jim Packer summarises it like this:

               What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves
               in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives?
               Knowledge of God. ... What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy,
               delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. ... What,
               of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure?
               Knowledge of Himself.

As Henri Nouwen once put it, "The only thing that really matters is your relationship
with Jesus."

God's Friends

But what kind of relationship can we expect to have with the Lord Almighty? How are
we supposed to relate to the infinite, awesome, holy King of the universe who reigns in
glory and majesty? The answer to this question is really altogether astounding.

We would perhaps expect that His "wholly otherness" would create an insurmountable
chasm between the Lord and us, and that we could only know Him at a distance. But that
isn't how He relates to us at all. His amazing love has completely bridged the gulf
between us and He calls us His friends. On His way to Gethsemane, Jesus said to His
followers, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's
business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father
I have made known to you."

Even under the Old Covenant, it was possible to know God as a friend. Three times in
Scripture, Abraham is described as God's friend. Similarly, it was said of Moses that the


                                                                                          26
Lord would speak to him face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. And in the dark
days of his suffering and apparent abandonment by God, Job exclaimed, "Oh, for the
days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house!" How
much more should we, who have received the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant, know
God as our intimate friend!

The King of kings wants us to relate to Him as friends and not just as His subjects. We
can relate to Him just as we relate to our closest human friends. As our friend, we know
He is committed to us. He understands us and is on our side, wanting the very best for us,
sticking with us through think and thin. We can relax with Him and be totally open with
Him because we can trust Him because He is for us. He wants us to share our lives with
Him and for us to do things in partnership with Him. He desires to be our companion in
all we do.

God's Wife or Bride

But, not only is God our friend, He is also our husband or bridegroom. Jesus referred to
Himself as the bridegroom and His return is described in the book of Revelation as the
wedding of the Lamb. Jesus is returning as the bridegroom for His beautiful bride.
Indeed, Paul sees human marriage as but a reflection of the profound mystery of the
union between Christ and His church. In the uniting of man and wife is an illustration of
the intimacy of the relationship God desires to have with His people.

Again there are echoes under the Old Covenant. As we have already seen in chapter two-
in words very similar to those of Jesus above - the Lord says through Hosea to His
people, "You will call Me 'my husband'; you will no longer call Me 'my master'".
Similarly, He promises through Isaiah, "As a young man marries a maiden, so will your
Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over
you."

We are the bride of the King of kings. We can relate to Him as His wife and not just as
His subjects. The relationship between husband and wife is an intimate one, in which
everything is shared, a relationship of oneness and love. This is the kind of relationship
Jesus wants us to have with Him. He desires to draw us into the depths of His heart.

God's Children

                                                                       re
As well as being friends of the Lord and the bride of the Lamb, we a also God's
children. In his first epistle, John exclaims, "How great is the love the Father has lavished
on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

Under the Old Covenant, the Lord declared, "I am Israel's father, and Eph raim is my
firstborn son." And the Psalmist proclaimed, "As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." But Jesus revealed a new closeness
                                                                      her.
to this relationship. He knew God as His personal loving heavenly Fat "This is my
Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased." came the voice from heaven at both His


                                                                                         27
baptism and His transfiguration. And, as we noted in chapter three, Jesus' use of the
Aramaic word Abba - the word of intimacy from child to father - to refer to the Almighty
God was a revolutionary departure for the Jews.

The astounding fact is that, like Jesus, we too can know God as Abba, father, 'daddy', by
His Spirit whom we have received. We, too, can have the same depth of relationship with
God that Jesus did. We, too, can call the Most High God our 'dad'. Just before His arrest,
Jesus prayed to His Father for us, "I have made You known to them, and will continue to
make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them." We, too, are
God's beloved children and can know the same kind of relationship with Him that Jesus
did.

We are children of the King of kings. We can relate to Him as His children and not just as
                                                                         d
His subjects. Our relationship with God should be like that of a small chil who delights
in being with his or her father. We should never grow out of that simple trust and joy and
become like cynical 'teenagers' towards our loving Father. He desires us to love Him and
be reliant on Him as our heavenly Dad.

How Well Do We Know Him?

Jim Packer, in his book, Knowing God, writes the following:

               Not many of us, I think, would ever naturally say that we have known
               God. The words imply a definiteness and matter   -of-factness of experience
               to which most of us, if we are honest, have to admit we are still strangers.

And yet the expectation of Jesus and of the New Covenant prophecies is precisely the
opposite: that we would not only know God, but that we would know Him as our closest
                                                           ever, few of us would
friend, intimate lover and loving heavenly father. Sadly how
naturally respond to question, "Who is your best friend?" with the answer "God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit".

Are we willing to lay down other goals in our lives in order to pursue the highest goal of
all, that of developing and deepening our intimacy with God until we can truly say that
He is our closest friend and confidant - until we are captivated and absorbed by Him and
passionately in love with Him? For this assuredly is our primary calling: to love God.

Loving God

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
mind and with all your strength." This is the first and greatest commandment. This is a
pretty all-encompassing, radical type of love, isn't it? If only we pursued thisfirst
commandment more than any other!

There are Christian churches with many different emphases: worship, prayer, preaching,
pastoral care, healing, evangelism, care of the poor, etc., etc. But only very rarely does


                                                                                          28
                                                        est
one come across a church that explicitly gives the high priority to loving God - even
though that is the first and greatest commandment! Perhaps equally revealing is the fact
that none of the ancient creeds or confessions of faith (nor indeed the modern "doctrinal
statements") contain mention of this first requirement of Christian discipleship: to love
God.

If we truly experienced the Lord's extravagant love for us, then our hearts would respond
in kind. For it's our experience of His love for us that causes us to love Him in response.
We love God because He loves us. A. W. Tozer expressed it as follows:

               Perceiving, as other mortals have not perceived, the burning love of God,
               the saint gives God love for love. He cannot help it. Certainly it is not the
                                                                        art
               fruit of labour. Having seen the love of God, his own he leaps in
               response. His heart is drawn out of him and lost in God's immensity.

This dynamic of love responding to love should be at the very heart of the expression of
our faith. "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him", the apostle Peter wrote, "and
even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an
inexpressible and glorious joy."

We have already explored, in an earlier chapter, something of the depth of God's amazing
love for us. But what should we expect our love for God to look like? Surely it should
look like the love of a man or woman for his or her friend, the love of a husband and wife
for each other and the love of a child for his or her father. Each of these human
relationships at best is but a weak reflection of what we can experience in our
relationship with God, but the affection and fondness, the attraction and desire, and the
devotion and commitment that characterise human love relationships should also be
present in our fellowship with God. There should be adeep emotional content to our
relationship with our heavenly Father. But true love affects not only our emotions, but
also our minds, our wills and indeed the very depths of our being. "For love is as strong
as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty
flame." Every part of us should be on fire for God! There is no upper limit on how much
we can love Him.

And there are no fanatics as far as loving the Lord is concerned— just people who love
Him more extravagantly than we do! Jim Packer made the following comments about the
behaviour of John Bradford, who was martyred in London in 1555:

               As is often true with God’s saints, there was a marked individuality, even
               eccentricity by ordinary social standards, in the devotional focus of his
               life. This should be seen as natural rather than strange. Holy people who
               love God, like couples in love who have eyes and thoughts only for each
               other, are apt to add oddly in company. Pursuing the one relationship that
               really matters to them, they will ignore everything and everyone else for
               long periods, for they are pre-empted by love. Bradford’s heart was
               altogether for God, and his behaviour showed the love that was there.



                                                                                          29
Are we those who’d readily confess that our Loving HeavenlyFather and His Son Jesus
are all the world to us?

Service Is Not Love

Sadly, in our relationship with God, many of us often substitute other things for love. As
Jeanne Guyon wrote, "For some reason men try to love God by forms and rules. Can you
not see it is by these very forms and rules that you have lost so much of that love?" But
love is not the same as good works or obedience or service or sacrifice. Certainly these
things should flow out of our love relationship with God; they are expressions of andour
response to love, but they aren't themselves love. John Arnott has expressed it like this:

               We think, "If I work hard for God, that means I love Him." Our culture
               promotes this. We are a very goal-setting, results-oriented people. But that
               is not all the Lord had in mind. When Jesus summarised the law in two
               sentences, He was saying, "God wants to have a profound, emotional and
               meaningful relationship with you ..." ... Relationship takes precedence
               over service. Our good works do not prove we have an intimate, heartfelt
               love affair with Him.

Perhaps the Scripture that elucidates this most clearly is Jesus' letter to the church at
Ephesus, in the second chapter of the book of Revelation: "I know your deeds, your hard
work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have
tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have
persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." This
sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But Jesus continues, "Yet I hold this against you: You
have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen!" The
Ephesian Christians used to be radically in love with Jesus, but now they're just working
for Him.

How many of us have lost our first love for God? Some of you will remember what it
was like when you first experienced God's love for you personally: how it eclipsed
                                                  -on-Jesus' love you had, and how your
everything else in your life, the passionate 'crush
mind re-interpreted every pop song to be speaking of God's love for you! How has your
love for the Lord fared since then? One of the saddest things is when the love of a new
believer dies away over time and this is considered normal. Of course this initial love is
immature but, like the love of a wife for her husband, its depth shouldincrease, not
decrease, as it develops into maturity. If your love for God is not growing stronger, it will
grow cold. As Mike Bickle has written, "Those who do not press on in pursuit of the
breadth, length, height and depth of God will eventually become bored with their faith.
Their shallow understanding doesn't capture their imaginations, much less inflame their
passions." God made us to have a passionate, committed relationship with Him.

But, so often, we replace service for relationship, focussing more on what we do for God
than on loving Him. We are like the older son in Jesus' parable who complained to his
father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.



                                                                                          30
Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.", to
which his father replied tenderly, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I
have is yours." Is our focus on being always with the Father and knowing His bounteous
generosity or on our 'slaving' for Him?

As the apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth, any kind of ministry or service
without love is worthless. The idea of "doing our duty to God" is totally absent from the
New Testament, yet for many of us, much of what we do is out of sense of duty rather
than as a love-response to His grace towards us. It's not our work and achievements that
please God, but our loving Him. He is more interested in the attitude of our hearts
towards Him than in the work we do for Him. The only true success is to know Him
better. Our fellowship with Him should always be central. Then our 'ministry' can flow
out of the relationship we have with Him.

If we are not careful, we may find that we place the ministry God has given us aboveour
relationship with Him. This is, of course, idolatry and spiritual adultery, but it is sadly
very common among those in Christian leadership. Do we get more excited about God
Himself or about the things we do for Him? Some of us may need to heed the wo of     rds
Rick Joyner concerning the behaviour of the prophet Jonah:

               Jonah's story is a warning to the church. The church is running from the
               presence of the Lord. It is running to activity in place of seeking the Lord's
               presence. You may call your activity 'm inistry', but it is actually running
               from the presence of the Lord. ... You must turn to the Lord instead of
               away from Him. He can untangle any mess, and He can bring you up from
               the greatest depths. Run from Him no longer. Run to Him.

Are we more concerned about the fruitfulness or 'success' of our ministry, or about what
people think of us, or about our status as ministers, than about how well we are 'getting
on' with God? Often our busyness keeps us from drawing near to Him and in fact
separates us from His presence. Let us seek to abide with Him above all else.

Knowledge Is Not Love

Maybe, however, for you it is not service that takes the place of relationship, but the
pursuit of knowledge. The apostle Paul writes, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds u   p.
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the
man who loves God is known by God." Some of us love doctrine or theology -
knowledge about God - more than we love God Himself. We behave as though it is more
important that we understand God than that we know Him. But if we wait until we
understand everything about God before offering Him our devotion, we will never find
Him. Our passion to know God, in humble dependence on Him, has to exceed our
passion to understand everything about Him.




                                                                                          31
Others of us place a higher value on studying the Bible than on developing a deep
relationship with God, loving the 'book of the Lord' more than the 'Lord of the book'.
Here are Jesus' words to the Pharisees on the matter:

               You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His word
               dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He sent. You diligently study
               the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.
               These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to
               Me to have life.

Studying the Scriptures does not guarantee relationship with God. This is because
Spiritual truth is discerned not through the application of our intellects, but through the
work of the Holy Spirit. It is not intelligence and education that is required (indeed the
Bible itself suggests that these may be more of a hindrance than help), but humility and
"coming to Him". The condition of our hearts is the important thing, not the ability of our
minds. Oh that we would pursue true 'heart knowledge' of God with the same discipline
and persistence that the scholar pursues 'head knowledge'! As Gene Edwards has put it,
"You need Christ - not in your mind, but in a consuming encounter."

Come!

How, then, can we go about deepening our relationship with God, getting to know Him
better and loving Him more? Firstly, we need to decide that it matters enough to us that
we're going to do something about it. In his book Passion for Jesus, Mike Bickle writes
the following:

               The first step toward experiencing intimacy with Jesus is our decision to
               pursue Him more than we pursue other good things such as anointing,
               health, happiness and success.

Lindy Croucher, a young Australian woman, expressed it like this in her first sermon:

               In order to find God, our passion to know Him must exceed all other
               passions. We must desire Him more than we desire a new house or a better
               friend or relief from our grief and loneliness, or the solutions to our
               problems, or the answers to our questions, more than we desire becoming
               a better person, feeling happy, or even enjoying good health. God longs to
               be known by us far more than we long to know Him, and He is relentlessly
               committed to working on our hearts until our passion to know Him is
               stronger than all other passions.

But just desiring isn't sufficient, we need to make the effort to draw near to God. Rick
Joyner writes:

               More than bearing fruit, your call must be to know the Lord. If you seek
               Him, you will always find Him. He is always near to those who draw nea.  r


                                                                                           32
              Many want His presence, but they do not draw near. You must do more
              than want Him: you must seek Him. This is part of your call. There is no
              higher purpose. Your victory will be measured by your seeking. You will
              always be as close to Him as you want to be. Your victory in life will be
              according to your desire for Him.

God is most available to those who are most available to Him. The ones who find Him
are those who seek him with all their heart.

                                                           t
As has often been pointed out, the Bible is one long invitaion to come to the Lord. From
God calling to Adam and Eve in the garden at the beginning of Genesis to the Spirit and
bride saying "Come!" at the end of Revelation, God entreats us to seek Him, to come
close to Him, to draw near to Him. "If you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if
you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul.", teaches Moses. "Come, all
you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
                                                  h
Come, buy wine and milk without money and wit out cost.", invites the Lord through
Isaiah. "Seek the Lord until He comes", calls Hosea. "Come to Me, all you who are weary
and burdened, and I will give you rest." "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and
drink.", offers Jesus. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.", writes James.
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I
will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.", says Jesus to the church in Laodicea,
inviting the believers there- and each of us now - to deepen our relationship with Him.

              Waiting in expectancy,
              Surrendered to Your sovereignty,
              We're hungry for true intimacy, Lord,
              For the things of Your heart.

Time For God

In order to get to know God better, we need to give time to Him. When we want to
develop relationships with our friends, with our husband or wife, with our parents or with
our children, we set aside time to do so. Indeed we talk about spending "quality time"
with someone when we want to work on our relationship with them: that is, time spent
with someone alone with no agenda and no distractions. God wants to spend quality time
with us, time when He has our undivided attention. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and
Martha, understood this:

                                                       ir
              As Jesus and His disciples were on the way, He came to a village where
              a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called
              Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said. But Martha was
              distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him
              and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work
              by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered,
              "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is




                                                                                      33
               needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from
               her."

Mary chose to spend time with Jesus and refused to be distracted; Martha chose not to
spend time with Him. And Jesus said that Mary had chosen better. (Later, we see Mary
express her devotion to Jesus in a most extravagant way, pouring a bottle of extremely
expensive perfume over Him. Again, Jesus commends her action.) Jesus invites us to
learn from Mary and spend time with Him as she did, letting Him change us by the
encounter.

                                                   rd?
How much do we value spending time with the Lo Does the idea of being with Him
fill us with expectation and joy as it did Mary? Given how incredibly wonderful God is, it
is somewhat astonishing how little time many of us spend on deepening our relationship
with Him. When a young man and woman are c       ourting, only things over which they have
no control will keep them apart. If we let God captivate our heart with His love, then we
too will desire to be with Him above anything else.

The gospel accounts record various occasions when Jesus Himself withdrewto places of
solitude to spend time with His Father: Once, "very early in the morning, while it was
still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed."
Another time, "after He had dismissed the crowd, He went up on a mountainside by
Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone." Luke writes that "Jesus often
withdrew to lonely places and prayed." If this was part of the rhythm of Jesus' life, how
                                                                es
much more do we need to build it in to the rhythm of our liv too.

Are we willing to invest time in our relationship with God? Western society is so goal   -
oriented (in contrast to the more relationship-oriented cultures of much of the rest of the
                                                                      o
world) that we often find it hard enough for us (especially perhaps f r men) to invest
adequate time in developing deep human relationships, let alone in deepening our
relationship with God. There is a Filipino description of Westerners as "people with gods
on their wrists". This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in thetypical British attitude
to the length of church services, in which the watch (rather than anything God might
desire) is clearly king. It seems ludicrous that we are so unwilling to invest more than an
hour or so each week in meeting corporately with God. We should take note of the often
repeated observation that the churches that are growing are those with the longest
services. The trouble is that giving time to just being with God, to just being in His
presence, is in conflict with the values of the worldwe live in. Are we willing to 'waste
time' in this way?

We may need to make some tough decisions to do this. Spending time with God is
important - indeed it's of crucial importance to the way we live- but it never seems
urgent. As a result we find it easy to postpone, delaying indefinitely until it never
happens. But, the window of opportunity is now: "Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on Him while He is near.", says Isaiah. We need to "seize the day" before the years
pass away and God misses out on the best part of our lives. Why let slip the opportunity
of having a close relationship with Him now? Most of us will need toplan in order to



                                                                                         34
give time to communion and fellowship with God. We need to make practical decisions
about how we use our time. We should all arrange to have a regular 'date' with God.

Carl Jung tells the story of a man who was seeing him for counselling. The man wanted
an appointment at a particular time on a particular day. "I'm sorry," said Jung, "but I have
an appointment at that time." When the two met together the next time, the client was
furious. "You told me that you had an appointment on Tuesday. But I happened to see
you. I know exactly where you were and what you were doing. You were sitting on the
bank of the river, doing nothing other than dangling your toes in the water!" "That's
right," said Jung. "It was my appointment with myself and Inever break it!" We should
have a similar attitude about meeting regularly with God. It should be an unbreakable
appointment.

God is unlikely to force us to spend time with Him (though sometimes He may let us go
through a time of illness or unemployment to help us see what is important). In his book
The Sixty Minute Father, Rob Parsons gives the following advice to busy human fathers:
"Plan as soon as possible a half day with your child when you can spend time alone doing
ordinary things together." He explains that "the problem for children is that they do not
have the power of bosses, customers or colleagues." With God, it is not that He doesn't
have the power, but rather that He doesn't use the power He has to compel us to spend
time with Him. He longs for us to give Him time as a result of our own choice- because
we want to - rather than under compulsion. Our loving heavenly Father' desire to be with
                                                                        s
us is much greater than ours to be with Him, but He always allows us to reject Him and
remain distant from Him. It's our choice.

Do we believe we're too busy to find time for this? Our society seems to honour
busyness, but we need to decide whether we can afford not to plan time alone with God
into our timetable. Rob Parsons writes, "The truth is that there are many demands on our
time that we can't do much about, but so often the biggest time pressure is the
unnecessary busyness that is created by us." Some of us work long hours irrespective of
any real need to do so and many of us pursue unnecessary goals (perhaps most obviously
greater wealth and a higher 'standard of living'). Probably all of us spend time on things
that are neither urgent nor important, so-called 'busy work'. How we spend our time
shows what we value. We can't do everything. We have to choose. Are we choosing not
to spend time with God, in favour of other activities? Or are we willing to sacrifice the
unimportant, saying "no" to some of the demands we or others place on us, in order to
give time to God? How much is our relationship with God really worth to us?

What this means in practice will vary widely according to our circumstances. For some, it
may just be necessary to enter unbreakable appointments with God in a Filofax or diary-
and then keep those appointments. For others, it may be right to give up participation in
Sunday sports in order to be able to attend church regularly. Others may decide that a
change in employment is required. A recent BBC 1 Songs Of Praise programme
contained the story of a woman who had given up a lucrative job as an architect to
become a cleaner in order, in her own words, "to spend more time with Jesus". In pursuit
of intimacy with the Lord, are we willing to reject the values of our culture? Are we



                                                                                         35
willing to choose a lower 'standard of living' in order to pursue the higher 'quality of life'
that we find as we live in close communion with our loving heavenly Father?

In addition to our regular daily and weekly times spent with God, it is also good to plan
some more extended periods of time for the sole purpose of deepening our relationship
with our Father. Structuring a short private retreat with God every few months is likely to
be one of the most profitable things we ever do. If we give a day or weekend totally over
to meeting with God, the benefits are likely to far outweigh any 'sacrifice' we make. We
may feel we are too busy to do something like this, but we have no problem findingtime
for holidays, or to spend with family and friends, or for pursuing our hobbies or making
progress in our work. No, the most difficult problem is not in finding time but in deciding
that it is important enough to find the time. If we truly love the Lord with every part of
our being, it should be evident in our diaries and calendars!

Time With God

Relating to God is like any other relationship. If we relate to Him as a person then we
                                                                          e
will develop a personal relationship with Him. The primary focus of tim we spend with
God must be on God Himself - on our relationship with Him - rather than on either what
we can do for Him or on what He can do for us. We should not be coming to Him
primarily to be given orders to obey (as if we just worked for Him), or to ask Him to meet
our needs (as if He worked for us), but to relate to Him deeply and profoundly as our
closest friend, lover and father. Henri Nouwen once gave a lady the following advice:
"Just take five minutes a day every day for two weeks to sit quietly and ask to be with
Jesus, and ask for His presence." It is His Presence, not His presents, that should be our
priority. Anthony Bloom tells the story of a peasant who would daily slip into a certain
church at a particular time and sit, apparently doing nothing. After some time of
observing this, the parish priest asked him why he wasted his time in this way. The man's
answer: "I look at Him. He looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other."

We need to be honest with ourselves as to whether the way we spend our 'God time' helps
or hinders deepening our relationship with God. Are we like the peasant man who simply
gave time to be with the Lord or do we fill the time with our activity? The danger is that
we rush into His presence with our thoughts and desires uppermost, pour out our requests
to Him, and rush away again, without ever discovering His thoughts or desires and
without giving Him any real chance to minister to us. No human relationship could
develop based on one-sided encounters like that! We must give space for God Himself to
speak and act and tenderly touch our lives. Jack Deere has expressed the problem like
this:

               Many people are content to spend thirty minutes or an hour, morning after
               morning, reading the Bible and praying, thoughthey experience no real
               presence of God. These same people would never be content to speak to
               one of their friends for an hour without the slightest indication from the
               friend that he or she was listening to them. But years of practice have




                                                                                           36
               taught them to be satisfied by the performance of religious duties quite
               apart from the experience of God's presence.

The Scriptures repeatedly speak of the need to be still before God and wait on Him: "Be
still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him", "Be still, and know that I am God", say
the psalmists. "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your
strength, but you would have none of it.", says the Lord through Isaiah, "The Lord longs
to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. ... Blessed are all who wait for
Him!" "It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.", say Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The stillness that is required is a stillness of mind and heart, of soul and spirit. Many find
                                 s
stillness of body helps with thi - sitting or kneeling or lying down; others find it easier to
be still before God while engaged in some simple activity like walking the dog or
washing the dishes. The important thing is that we learn to rest in His presence, to slow
down and turn off the noise inside, and to set aside our busyness and our own agendas.
We need to recognise that coming to God is not about us doing or achieving anything
(even 'praying') but about relationship, so we need not strive but only relax and be silent,
becoming aware of His loving presence. God can reveal Himself to us more in one
minute of quality time spent with Him, than in hours of 'distracted' time. This is the road
to true intimacy.

For intimacy is entering into God's glorious presence: not remaining at a dist ance but
drawing close. Intimacy is two-way: receiving His love for us and expressing our love to
Him, our spirit being united with His Spirit. Intimacy is a place of transparency and
                                                                           and
vulnerability: where we receive both His incredible, unconditional love also healing
for our hurts. Intimacy is a place of security, protection and peace, of acceptance and
affirmation, of restoration and healing, and of refreshment and renewal.

The Benefits Of Intimacy

                                                     e
For the benefits of a true, deep relationship with th Living God are beyond measure. We
discover how true it is that we are blessed with "every Spiritual blessing in Christ". It is
as we draw near to God that we find out how wonderful He is. It is as we enter into His
presence that we discover for ourselves His incredible unconditional love: that we are
completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and deeply loved by Him. And as
we get to know God's perfect acceptance and affirmation, no longer will we feel that we
need to meet certain standards to feel good about ourselves; no longer will we feel that
we need to be approved by others to feel good about ourselves; no longer will we be
afraid of failing or of rejection because we will know how God feels about us. Through
knowing Him, He desires to meet all our emotional needs.

Mike Bickle has put it this way:

               Intimacy with Jesus brings a deepened security in the inner man. As we
               interact in a deeply personal way with Him, we grow in our knowledge
               that we are accepted and cherished by God. This knowledge progressively



                                                                                          37
               frees us from feelings of insecurity and the intimidating, paralysing fear of
               others' opinions or actions against us.

               A focus on Jesus ultimately leads us to the knowledge of His heart of
               affirmation. This is absolutely vital. As importantas human affirmation is,
               it is woefully inadequate without God's affirmation of us. It is the
               knowledge that we are loved, accepted and valued by God that gives us a
               sense of value and true self-worth. When we are secure and confident in
               God's love, we grow out of our fears. When we know we are pleasing
               Him, criticism and offences from others won't affect us as easily. 'Proving'
               our value to others ceases to be the dominant drive in our emotional
               makeup. God's pleasure and His approving smile are all we ne d. e

Every inner need we have can be perfectly met, not because we have the supply, but
because God does. No material possessions can bring us true joy. No human relationship
                                                                                   a
can fill our hearts with divine love. No circumstance can provide us with God's pece.
God - and only God - can truly meet all our needs perfectly. He gently invites us to let
Him do that.

Another great blessing of having a relationship of intimacy with God is that we know the
                                                                r
Healer who heals the wounds of the human heart, the Delivere who sets us free from all
that seeks to overwhelm us. Many of us are hurting and are broken-hearted in one way or
another. Many of us face painful struggles of one sort or another. Some of us struggle
with pains and hurts from the past. Some of us are in despair, and close to defeat. But,
whether our struggles are due to our own sin, due to the sin of others, or simply due to the
situation we find ourselves in, God wants us to come to Him and let Him take away our
fear, wipe away our tears, heal our pain.

For our God is a Father with a tender heart towards His hurting children. He desires to
restore and refresh us: to heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds, to comfort
those who grieve, to wipe away our tears, to comfort the downcast, and lift up our heads.
We can give our tears to God, because He is our comforter. We can give our fears to
God, because He is our confidence. We can give our pains to God, because He is our
healer. We can give our stress to God, because He is our peace. We can give our
heaviness to God, because He is our joy. We can give our loneliness to God, because He
is with us like no one else could ever be. We need only to come close to Him and no
                                                                                  at
longer remain at a distance, to risk being transparent and vulnerable, and enter th place
of complete security, where the self-protecting walls we have built up around our hurting
hearts can be gently and lovingly broken down so that we can be set free.

Joyce Huggett, in her book Listening To God, describes intimacy as "when your heart and
mind and will are relaxed, focussed on Him, surrendered to Him, cleansed and renewed
so that you are ready to gaze on Him in adoring love and to know yourself the object of
                                                                             e
His undivided affection and attention." She goes on to describe her own experi nce of
spending time in the Lord's presence:




                                                                                         38
               I find prayer exciting because I never know in advance how God is going
               to meet with me. The Divine Lover sometimes comes as the Father, the
               One who is saving the best robe for the worst child, the Father who gave
               His own Son, such is the generosity of His loving. Sometimes my Lord
               comes as the loving, searching Shepherd, sometimes as life. Sometimes as
               energy. ... My knowledge of God is becoming deeper. It is far less an
               intellectual knowing and is progressingtowards the intimate knowing
               experienced by husband and wife: union. Sometimes he comes to me as
               the Bridegroom to His Bride and in that knowing there is such awesome
               love. As I write now, it seems too wonderful that Almighty God - the
               generous One - should meet me in that way and yet that is part of His
               generosity that it is He who takes the initiative.

Here's another testimony, from Philip Keller, of the delights of true fellowship with the
Lord:

               For the man or woman who has come to know and love the Lord God in
               the depths of such intimacy, the times of solitude are the most precious in
               all of life. They are a rendezvous with the Beloved. They are anticipated
               with eagerness. They are awaited with expectancy ... For the person who
               has found in God a truly loving heavenly Father, gentle interludes with
               Him alone are highlights of life. For the one who has found Christ the
               dearest friend among all the children of the earth, quiet times in His
               company are the oases of life. For the individual conscious of the
               comradeship of God's gracious Spirit in the stillness of solitude, these
               intervals are the elixir of life.

Out of true intimacy with God, comes the power to live as He wants us to. Indeed,
without it, we are impotent. As Jesus said as He was on His way to Gethsemane, "I am
the true vine ... No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can
you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man
remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;     apart from Me you can do nothing."
These words are a challenge to our independence and often we don't really believe the
truth of them, but Jesus says that we need to be attached to Him as a branch is to a tree if
                                                      eek
we are to accomplish anything. Sadly, many who s to minister in Christ's name give
relatively little time to attaining true intimacy with Him, preferring constant activity
instead. But (unsurprisingly) they achieve almost nothing, seeing few results in terms of
significant Spiritual growth from yearto year as they minister out of their emptiness.

Two of the values that are high on God's list are humility and vulnerability. We must set
aside our pride and fear and come to the Father. However much our hearts or lives are
                                 .
broken He will gently heal them We must refuse to minister when the well is dry but
come to the Father and then He will renew us and refresh us as we rest in His presence,
bathing in the light of His love and drinking the Water of Life. Oh that the Christian
leaders in this land wouldgive as many hours to spending time being with God as to




                                                                                          39
trying to do things for Him. Oh that they would fall in love with Him again and the joy of
being with Him would spill out into everything they do!

Meeting With God Together

Spending time in God's presence should not only be the focus of our times of private
devotion but also of our times of fellowship and corporate worship. Where two or three
come together in Jesus' name, there He is, longing to meet with us. As we gather as
brothers and sisters in Christ, we should expect to meet with Him through each other. It
should be God we have fellowship with, not just each other. Whether we pray with our
marriage partner or have family devotions with our children, whether we meet with just
one prayer partner, or in a small group, or as a congregation, or as part of a large
conference or celebration - whenever and however we meet - we should always expect to
come away knowing that we have met with the Lord, and that He has deepened our
relationship with Him as a result of the encounter.

This is particularly true of our weekly church services, as the local body of Christ comes
together. What is the purpose of our services? Sadly, it seems that many believers go to
church on a Sunday expecting to leave the same as they enter, with the same unresolved
problems and struggles, and the same limited awareness of God's desire to transform their
lives. Often, attending church seems to make almost no discernible difference to us. We
rush off at the end and couldn't tell anyone the next day what the Lord wanted to say to us
or do in us through the service. No doubt there are a variety of good reasons for attending
church, but surely the primary reason should be tomeet with God. Of course, we can
meet with God anywhere and at any time, but the New Testament makes it clear that
there is a sense in which the Lord is uniquely present by His Spirit when His people
gather together in His name.

If we choose to go to church in order to meet with God, we will go with expectancy,
knowing that God will meet with us as He has promised and that our encounter with Him
will bear fruit in our lives. We will be looking to relate with God through each other as
we worship, when the Scriptures are read, through the praying and preaching, through t eh
sharing of our lives with each other, and even in the announcements. We will focus our
attention on the Lord and choose not to be distracted by how much or little the service
                                                                                ng
matches our personal likes and dislikes. (The immature criticism and complaini about
the form of services that occurs in most congregations must surely be one of the most
depressing things the Lord has to put up with in His children.) If we let Him, God will
meet with us and speak to us every time we gather in His name, deepeningour
relationship with Him and bringing transformation to our hearts and lives.

Living With God

Our heavenly Father invites us to walk along the path of life with Him. But sometimes
we go our own way, diverted by something in the distance that attracts our attention more
than Him, or else we are so busy that we don't notice we're following a different road,
wandering away from Him. Many times we lag behind, drawn aside by something at the



                                                                                       40
side of the road, happy to enjoy the scenery where we are; but God moves on and we
don't follow. Occasionally we run ahead, having been shown where He's taking us, not
noticing that He wants us to walk more slowly or to take a different route to the
destination. He wants us walking with Him, holding His hand, listening to Hi voice, in
                                                                               s
step with Him. As Enoch and Noah were described as men who "walked with God", so
should we be.

For the real goal is not just to "find time for God", but, by giving Him time when He is
the total focus of our attention, to learn to relate to Him and experience His presence with
us throughout the day, knowing Him in the midst of all our activity. Jesus, as He
wandered Galilee and Judea, looked on His time as God's time, and was completely
available to fulfil His Father's desires. We too, need to bealways available to God,
always in communion with Him. It is quite possible for us to give God half an hour every
morning and an hour on Sundays and never to be available to Him outside that time. We
must let Him completely own our days, with the freedom to reorder them any time He
chooses. In the next chapter, we will consider this in more detail.

Knowing God Is Everything

Mike Bickle says, "God designed the human soul to be passionate, abandoned and
committed. ... God intended our souls to be captured, consumed and enthralled with
Jesus." Those who have a deep love-relationship with God value Him so much that
everything else pales into insignificance in comparison. Charles Spurgeon expressed it
like this: "Believers love Jesus with a deeper affection thanthey dare to give to any other
being. They would sooner lose father and mother than part with Christ. They hold all
earthly comforts with a loose hand, but they carry Him fast locked in their bosoms."

This has been the testimony of God's people throughoutthe ages: "You are my Lord;
apart from You I have no good thing.", declares David in the Psalms, "I have seen You in
the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than
life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You aslong as I live, and in Your name I will
lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips
my mouth will praise You." "Whom have I in heaven but You? Andearth has nothing I
desire besides You.", sings another psalmist. "But whatever was to my profit I now
consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared
to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ... I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.", writes the apostle Paul to the Philippians.

More recently, Malcolm Muggeridge expressed it like this:

               I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful
               man. People occasionally stare at me in the street - that's fame. I can fairly
               easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the
               Inland Revenue - that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame
               even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions- that's
               pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote



                                                                                           41
               was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a
               serious impact on our time - that's fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg
                                                                           on,
               you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a milli add them all
               together, and they are nothing - less than nothing, a positive impediment-
               measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the
               spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask
                                      d
               myself, does life hol , what is there in the works of time, in the past, now
               and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the
               refreshment of drinking that water?

Benny Hinn puts it like this:

               But then, there is the absolute truth that when you are in God's presence
               and tasting His goodness and His love, you say, "Who wants anything
               else?" He just consumes you. ... The amazing thing is that He loves you so
               much, and yet you're not always right with Him. I mess up, and I miss the
               mark so often, and I grieve Him so often ... But when I do miss, He gently
               comes and deals with me on my sins and failures and weaknesses, and I go
               on, forgiven.

Those of us who have truly tasted something of real intimacy with God have no trouble in
declaring that nothing else in lifeis worth anything in comparison to knowing Him.
Drinking deeply from the River of Life soon removes any desire for the empty things of
the world that enamoured us so much before. Knowing the Lord personally and
                                            s
relationally so far surpasses all other thing in value that their net worth is zero; they are a
total loss. As we open ourselves to experience the Lord's love, it both satisfies us deeply
in a way nothing else can, and yet also makes us hunger for more. May this be the
testimony of each and every one of God's children!

At the heart of any relationship is communication. And this is no different with our
relationship with God, for God promises to speak to His friends. So, in the next chapter,
we will be looking at how we can hear what He has to say to us.

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
                                                                   iends.
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between fr

   1. How is your relationship with God? To what extent does it match the pictures of
      joy and delight painted in this chapter? In what ways have you experienced God
      as friend, lover and father? Ask the Lord to reveal Himself to you in some new or
      deeper way than before.
   2. Do you find it hard to say that you love God? Was there a time when you were more
      in love with Him than you are now? To what extent has working for, or knowledge
      about, God replaced relationship with Him in your life?



                                                                                           42
       No-one but You, Lord,
       Can satisfy the longing in my heart.
       Nothing I do, Lord,
       Can take the place of drawing near to You.

       Only You can fill my deepest longing,
       Only You can breathe in me new life;
       Only You can fill my heart with laughter,
       Only You can answer my heart's cry.

       Father, I love You,
       Come satisfy the longing in my heart.
       Fill me, overwhelm me,
       Until I know Your love deep in my heart.

       Use these words as a prayer to draw near to God and to ask Him to increase your
       love for him and your awareness of His love for you.

   3. What is your pattern of daily and weekly coming aside to be with the Lord? Are
      occasional private retreat times part of your practice? Is the focus of these times
      primarily on developing intimacy with God, or on other things? What changes (in
      structure or content) do you think you should make to your routine? Decide what you
      are going do and ask the Lord to help you fulfil your resolution.
   4. Why do you go to church? To what extent is the focus of activities in your church
      on relating with God? When you meet with other Christians, how aware are you of
      the Lord's presence with you? What part does He play in your meetings? What
      changes (in your attitudes or in the activities themselves) could you make to make
      meeting with God a greater focus?
   5. "Apart from Me you can do nothing." How much does your life flow out of your
      relationship with God? In what ways is He involved in your 'everyday' life and your
      Christian ministry? Choose one area of your life in which you want to walk with God
      in closer fellowship than before, and invite Him to walk with you.

Further Reading

One or more of the following books may be useful if you feel you'd like more direction in
pursuing intimacy with God:

       Mike Bickle, Passion For Jesus, Kingsway - A powerful book to help us to know
       God's overpowering and intimate love and to develop a holy passion for Him.
       One of the finest books written recently. A 'must read'!

       Joyce Huggett, Listening To God, Hodder and Stoughton - Combines personal
       testimony and practical help for discovering a new depthof relationship with
       God. Chapters five and six are especially valuable as guidance in drawing near to
       God.


                                                                                      43
       Richard Foster, Prayer, Hodder and Stoughton - Subtitled Finding The Heart's
       True Home and with the words "Prayer is a love relationship with God"on the
       back cover, this book explores many facets of prayer as an inward journey of
       change, an upward journey into intimacy with God, and an outward one into
       ministry.

       Richard Foster, Celebration Of Discipline, Hodder and Stoughton - A best-selling
       guide for developing a personal devotional life. Based on the classical Spiritual
       disciplines.

       Andy and Jane Fitz-Gibbon, The Kiss Of Intimacy, Monarch - Reflections on the
       Song of Songs as a beautiful picture of the relationship between God and His
       people, designed to lead us into deeper intimacy with our magnificent Lover.

       Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ, SeedSowers - Madame
       Guyon says in the preface, "I have written this book with a desire that you might
       wholly give yourself to God." Written in French 300 years ago, this book is
       probably the most famous and influential Christian book ever written by a
       woman: François Fénelon, the early Quakers, Count Zinzendorf, John Wesley,
       Hudson Taylor, Jessie Penn-Lewis and Watchman Nee all highly recom       mended it
       to the believers of their day.

                        6. Listening to Our Father
                      He who belongs to God hears what God says.

In his book The Celebration of Discipline, at the beginning of the chapter on "The
Discipline of Guidance", Richard Foster writes the following:

               In our day heaven and earth are on tiptoe waiting for the emerging of a
               Spirit-led, Spirit-intoxicated, Spirit-empowered people. All of creation
               watches expectantly for the springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered,
               martyr people who know in this life the life and power of the kingdom of
               God. ... Such a people will not emerge until there is among us a deeper,
               more profound experience of an Emmanuel of the Spirit- God with us, a
               knowledge that in the power of the Spirit Jesus has come to guide His
               people Himself, an experience of His leading that is as definite and as
               immediate as the cloud by day and fire by night.

What is our expectation of the Lord directing our lives? We make hundreds of decisions
every day: To work or rest, to play or pray, to eat or fast, to speak or be silent, to spend
time with others or to be alone with God, to buy or not to buy, to sell or to give away.
There is a "time for everything", but how do we choose what to do? God promises to
guide His people, but in our everyday decis   ion-making do we let Him? The psalmist
declared, "I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with
Your counsel." "If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me,


                                                                                          44
                                           t
Your right hand will hold me fast." Do we le the Lord hold our hand and direct us in all
we do, or do we make many of our decisions without seeking His input?

God Speaks

At the heart of any relationship is communication. And to a significant extent, the quality
                                      e
of a relationship is determined by th quality of communication within it. A relationship
that does not have on-going two-way communication is a dying relationship. Our
relationship with God is the same. And yet many of us have a very strange kind of
'relationship' in which the communicationis nearly all in one direction. Displayed in
some Christian homes is a plaque with words that begin, "God is the head of this house,
the silent guest at every meal ...". There seems to be an expectation in much of the church
and for many of us in many areas of our lives that God is silent. We don't really expect
Him to speak to us!

Surely such an expectation directly contradicts the picture the Scriptures paint of God.
The Lord starts speaking in the first chapter of Genesis and doesn't stop until the last
chapter of the book of Revelation. As soon as He created Adam and Eve, He spoke to
them to direct them - to procreate and to not eat from the tree of knowledge. In the Old
Testament we read that "the Lord said" or "God said" about 350 times, and from Genesis
to Malachi we read more than a hundred times that "The word of the Lord came to" one
of His people. God spoke to Adam and Eve, to Cain, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob, to Joseph, to Moses ("face to face as a man speaks with his friend") and to Aaron;
to Joshua, to Gideon, to Samuel, to Nathan, to David and Solomon, to Elijah and Elisha,
to Isaiah and Jeremiah, to Ezekiel and Daniel, to Hosea, Joel and Amos, to Jonah, Micah,
Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi- and to numerous others
less well known - until finally, after another four hundred years, "in the fifteenth year of
the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the
desert", calling him to prepare the way for the Messiah and drawing theperiod of the Old
Covenant to a close.

Under the Old Covenant, there was a clear expectation that God would be communicating
with His people. Indeed, when God didn't speak it was considered a national disaster and
                                          ss.
a judgement on the nation for its sinfulne Amos and Micah both foretold such a day of
judgement: "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "when I will send a
famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of
hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to
east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." "Then they will cry out
to the Lord, but He will not answer them. At that time He will hide his face from them
because of the evil they have done. ... Therefore night will come over you, without
visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day
will go dark for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all
cover their faces because there is no answer from God." Woe to us when we consider
there to be nothing wrong when God is silent!




                                                                                         45
The New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah and Ezekiel was inaugurated with the
dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the infant church on theday of Pentecost. In
the midst of the wonder and confusion, the apostle Peter interpreted what was happening:
"This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel", he says, "'In the last days', God says, 'I
will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and da     ughters will prophesy, your young
men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men
and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'" The desire
of Moses, "that all the Lord's people would be prophets and that the Lord would put his
Spirit on them all!" is finally fulfilled. No longer is it just patriarchs, princes and prophets
that hear the Lord's voice, but by the work of the Holy Spirit all of God's children -
                                      s
women and men, children and adult , young and old - are now part of a new era of
revelation. James can write that "Elijah was a man just like us" because the Holy Spirit
who anointed and empowered Elijah's extraordinary prophetic ministry is now available
to us, bringing relationship andthe knowledge of the voice of God. We too may hear the
"gentle whisper" of the Spirit - the "still, small voice" - that Elijah heard.

This is just as Jesus promised to His disciples the night before His crucifixion. The Holy
Spirit would replace Jesus Himself as the one who would teach and reveal the Father's
will to those who would follow Him: "The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father
will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have
said to you. When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will
not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet
to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to
you." Later, in his first epistle, the apostle John assumes that his readers have experienced
this function of the Spirit as teacher: "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all
of you know the truth. ... The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you
do not need anyone to teach you. ... His anointing teaches you about all things." We can
expect God to speak to us, to teach us and to guide us through the work of His Spirit in
our lives.

                                                                    an
This was also clearly the universal experience of the first Christi believers as recorded
in Luke's account in Acts. For, with the exception of chapter 17, every chapter of Acts
contains examples of, or references to, communication from God to His children. Here's a
selection of them: In chapter 8, an angel appears to Philip and directs him to go to the
desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. The Holy Spirit then tells him to go up to the
chariot of the Ethiopian treasurer. As a result, the Ethiopian responds to the gospel
message and is baptised. In chapter 10, the Lord speaks to Peter in a vision, and then,
while Peter is still thinking about the vision, the Spirit says to him, "Simon, three men are
looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have
sent them." As a result, the gentiles receive the gospel for the first time. In chapter 11,
Agabus predicts "through the Spirit" that a severe famine would spread over the entire
Roman world. As a result the disciples in Antioch decide to provide financial help for the
believers in Judea. In chapter 13, while the believers in Antioch are worshipping the Lord
and fasting, the Holy Spirit says to them, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the
work to which I have called them." As a result Barnabas and Saul are sent off on their
first missionary journey. In chapter 15, the apostles and elders write to the gentile



                                                                                           46
believers that "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" not to burden them with the
requirements of the law of Moses.

And so it continues - everyday life in the early church,guided and directed by the voice
of God: In chapter 16, the Holy Spirit keeps Paul and his companions from preaching in
the province of Asia and from entering Bithynia. During the night Paul has a vision of a
man begging him to "come over to Macedonia and help us." Thus the gospel spreads to
Europe. In chapter 18, when Paul is in Corinth but considering moving on because of the
persecution he is facing, the Lord speaks to him in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on
speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you,
because I have many people in this city." As a result, he stays there another 18 months
and many come to Christ. In chapter 21, in Caesarea, Agabus takes Paul's belt, ties his
own hands and feet with it and says, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of
Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the gentiles.'"
showing Paul the road ahead of him. In chapter 23, following a great commotion when he
spoke to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the Lord comes to Paul at night to encourage him,
saying, "Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also
testify in Rome." Finally, in chapter 27, as he is onboard ship in a violent storm before
being shipwrecked on Malta, an angel speaks to him, "Do not be afraid, Paul. You must
stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with
you."

For the early church it was an implicit assumption that God speaks to His children to
direct and encourage them. Not only do we see this again and again in the narrative in
Acts, but in the epistles too, the writers, almost incidentally in many cases, refer to the
Lord speaking. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that "to one there is given through the Sp   irit
the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same
Spirit, ... to another prophecy, ..." and that "when you come together, everyone has a
hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. ... And if a
revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop." Paul
doesn't feel he needs to explain what he means by "message of wisdom" or "message of
knowledge", or a "revelation" coming to someone, because he is writing of the n    ormal
experience of the Corinthian church. In 2Corinthians, he writes of receiving
"surpassingly great revelations" and that the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for
you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." without any suggestion that there is
anything unusual in receiving visions and revelations or in the Lord speaking to him.
Elsewhere he writes of speaking in words not "taught us by human wisdom but in words
taught by the Spirit". To the Galatians, he writes that he once went to Jerusalem "in
response to a revelation" In Philippians, he writes that he expects that God will reveal to
his readers the truth of what he writes. For the Colossians, he prays that God will fill
them "with the knowledge of His will through all Spiritual wisdom and     understanding",
and for the Philippians, that they may increase "in knowledge and depth of insight" so
that they can discern what is best. James, similarly, writes that if anyone lacks wisdom,
                                                                  g
"he should ask God, who gives generously to all without findin fault, and it will be
given to him." Throughout the epistles it is assumed that it is the common experience of
Christian believers that through the Holy Spirit, God speaks to them.



                                                                                           47
What is our experience? How does it match up to that of the New Testament church? If
we have very little experience of hearing God's voice, then we need to recognise that by
both Old and New Testament standards our experience is abnormal. The Bible shows that
                                                                          ce
our God is a God who habitually speaks to His people. If our experien is abnormal then
it is likely that our expectations are too. If we don't expect to hear God, then we are
unlikely to make the effort to listen to Him. And if we don't listen to Him, we certainly
won't hear Him! And if we don't hear Him, then we may makethe assumption that He
doesn't speak! There is a great danger in making our own limited experience the basis of
our understanding of God, rather than letting God's self-revelation challenge and
transform our experience and practice. We can, perhaps, 'get by' living without hearing
from God, but we are being short-changed if we do, missing out on the 'abundance of life'
that Jesus came to give us.

Jesus' Example

During His life on earth, Jesus lived in total dependence on revelation from His Father. In
John's gospel we can read His own remarkable testimony concerning His life:

              "The Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His
              Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the
              Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does." "By myself I can do
              nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to
              please myself but him who sent me." "I have come ... not to do My will
              but to do the will of Him who sent Me." "What I have heard from Him I
              tell the world." "I do nothing on My own but speak just what the Father
              has taught Me. ... I always do what pleases Him." "I did not speak of My
              own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and
              how to say it. ... So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to
              say." "The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather it is the Father,
              living in Me, who is doing His work." "I love the Father and I do exactly
              what My Father has commanded Me."

                                                      ake
This is the man whom we are called to follow and m our primary role-model. Living
in the power of the Holy Spirit, He knew that He could do nothing by Himself. If this was
true of Jesus, how much more is it true of us! Jesus' judgements were not His own; He
judged as He heard from His Father. How often do we make false judgements of others!
Nor were Jesus' words His own; rather He spoke what His Father told Him to and
expressed Himself in the way His Father directed Him. As John the Baptist testified of
Jesus, "The one whom God has sent speaks the words of God." How few of our words
are like that! Neither were Jesus' actions His own; He did all and only what His Father
revealed Him to, working in co-operation and union with His Father. Is this the pattern
for our lives? Finally, He was able to testify th He always did what pleased His Father.
                                                at
"My food," He said, "is to do the will of Him who sent Me." Here, truly, was a man who
lived not on bread alone, but on every word that came from the mouth of God His Father!




                                                                                        48
From His first recorded words to His parents at the age of twelve, "Didn't you know I had
to be in My Father's house?", Jesus demonstrated that He knew what His Father wanted
Him to be doing. As He wandered Galilee and Judea, His life was one of constant
communion with His Father. He knew when to weep and when to rejoice, when to keep
silent and when and what and how to speak. Often He spoke in parables so that His
hearers would "be ever hearing but never understanding", but at other times He spoke
                                                 i
only too clearly and risked being lynched for t! He knew both when to flee arrest and
also when to march inexorably towards it. On some occasions Jesus healed all who came
to Him; on others He withdrew from the crowds that were following Him. One time He
                                              ah
refused to minister healing at all, citing Elij and Elisha as precedents; another time He
healed just one man from among many who were disabled. Jesus knew what His Father
wanted of Him and wasn't deflected by the desires of others. He didn't respond to every
                                                at
human need He encountered; He only did wh He saw His Father doing. When a
Canaanite women pleaded with Him because her daughter had a demon, He initially
ignored her. When He heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He refused to go to him for
two days so that the glory of God might be seen when Lazarus was brought back to life.
Jesus' heart and mind and soul and spirit were one with the desires of His Father.

On numerous occasions, Jesus exhibited extraordinary knowledge and insight into the
situations and people He faced. He knew the voice of His Father giving Him the
information and understanding necessary to bring about His Father's will: When He was
talking to the Samaritan woman, He knew that she had had five husbands, and that the
                                                                 e
man she was living with was not her husband. Jesus' knowledg so astounded her that she
said to her neighbours, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did." and as a
result of her testimony many believed in Him. On two different occasions, He told His
disciples to lower their nets again after they'd fishedall night without catching anything
and astonished them with an enormous catch. Faced with the need to pay the temple tax,
He told Peter, "Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open
                                   -
its mouth and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for My tax
and yours." When He sent Peter and John to make preparations for the Passover meal,
Jesus knew they would meet a man carrying a jar of water whom they were to follow and
then ask the owner of the house that he entered for the use of his guest room. They found
things just as Jesus had told them. Jesus knew beforehand of the suffering, death and
resurrection that He was to undergo, and also of the destruction of Jerusalem that took
place forty years after His death. And, at the last supper, He knew who was going to
betray Him and what Judas was about to do. Thus we see that throughout His life, Jesus
modelled for us a pattern of listening to His Father before acting or speaking, of living in
a constant "conversational relationship" with His Father- to use Dallas Willard's helpful
expression. Only thus was Jesus able to fulfil in His own life the words He taught His
disciples to pray, "Father, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.", and only thus
will we achieve in our lives all the good things that God has prepared in advance for us to
do.

Imitating Jesus




                                                                                        49
As Jesus' disciples, who follow Him, our lives should look like His did. Jesus should be
our role-model in every area of life. Our aim should be that wetoo become people who
do all and only what pleases our Heavenly Father. Jesus was always where His Father
wanted Him to be, doing what He wanted Him to be doing, and so should we. "Whoever
claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.", writes the apostleJohn. Peter also writes
of Christ leaving us an example "that we should follow in His steps", and Paul
encourages the Corinthians to follow his own example as he follows the example of
Christ. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us - to follow the example He set.
"Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing.", said Jesus to His first
disciples. We should live as Jesus lived.

For Jesus, when He walked the earth, lived as a man and experienced the limitations of
human frailty. He faced the same temptations and trials that we do - but without sinning.
As Paul wrote to the Philippians, although He was "in very nature God", He "made
Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" and
experienced hunger and thirst and tiredness. For, as God Incarnate, Jesus laid aside His
glory and subjected Himself to the restrictions of being human- only being in one place
at a time, not knowing everything, and having limited power. God the Son didn't use His
being God as a 'shortcut' to living, but humbled Himself and lived as He expects us to
live - in the power of the Holy Spirit in communion with and complete dependence on
God the Father. As the apostle Peter said, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy
Spirit and power, and He went around doing good and healing all who were under the
power of the devil, because God was with Him." The resources that Jesus utilised are also
available to us: God is with us, and we too are anointed with the Holy Spirit. We can live
as Jesus lived, walking in communion with the Father and hearing and responding to His
voice.

This was Jesus' assessment: "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason
you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." On another occasion, He spoke of
what He expects of us as His disciples by using the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep:

               The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The
               watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He
                                               nd
               calls his own sheep by name a leads them out. When he has brought out
               all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because
               they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they
               will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's v     oice.
               ... I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me -
               just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father - and I lay down My
               life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must
                                                   e
               bring them also. They too will list n to My voice, and there shall be one
               flock and one shepherd. ... My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and
               they follow Me.

Jesus' clearly expects us to be a people who know the voice of their Shepherd well and
can clearly distinguish it from other voices, and a people who listen to that voice in order



                                                                                         50
to follow the Shepherd's leading as He guides us in paths of righteousness for the sake of
His name. There is a spirit of peace and gentle ease in this pastoral picture. When we try
to make our own decisions we often find ourselves trying to do too much. Jesus offers an
alternative. We are not being called to a life of frantic busyness, but to take the Lord's
easy yoke and find rest for our souls. As Jean-Pierre de Caussade said, "All we need to
know is how to recognise God's will in the present moment." We do not have the time or
energy to go to places or do things that God is not leading us to do. We should not
consider doing something or going somewhere unless the Lord has spoken. If we do not
seek His voice, we will increasingly fall out of timing with Him. We will be at the wrong
place, doing the wrong things. And because of this, we will bear little fruit. But devotion
to hearing from the Lord will enable us to be fruitful with the resources and time
entrusted to us. If we walk hand-in-hand with Him, in conversation with Him, we will
always be doing the right thing at the right time. As Rick Joyner has written, "The basic
                                                                                    de
calling of every Christian is to abide in Jesus Christ. When we come to fully abi in Him
we will live the way that He lived by seeing what He sees, hearing what He hears, and
understanding all things with the discernment of the Holy Spirit."

Ways Of Hearing God

                                                                           st
Although, in much of the church (and outside it), there is renewed intere in hearing
from God, we live in a day when there seem to be few who truly model a life of continual
conversational relationship with God. There is a lack of competence and experience, and
                                                                 r
hence of realistic and insightful teaching in this area. The mateialistic and rationalistic
world view of our society has left us to a great extent without an adequate vocabulary or
psychology of the Spiritual life. As Dallas Willard says, "Distinctions in the individual's
experience of God which were once widely under     stood and utilised are now either
unknown or wholly the object of scholarly curiosity." "Why is it", Lily Tomlin asks, "that
when we speak to God we are said to be praying, but when God speaks to us we are said
                                               at
to be schizophrenic?" The answer is surely th we have let the materialism of our culture
blur our perception of the spiritual (because materialism considers only the physical to be
real) and let its rationalism hinder ourunderstanding of the spiritual (because rationalism
                            t
only considers things tha can be completely understood to be real). As a result, there is
much confusion about what we should expect in terms of hearing God speaking and of
His directing of our lives. Two hundred years ago, St. Seraphim of Sarov, said the
following:

               In our days, the words of the Bible seem odd to us, such as ... those in Acts
               where it is said that the Holy Spirit, after 'preventing' Paul the Apostle
               from going into Bithynia, 'sent' him to Macedonia. ... Some say these texts
               are incomprehensible, or else deny thatman can experience God directly.
               This incomprehension is due ... to the lukewarmness of our faith ... our
               inattention to God's intervention in our life ... and the fact that we have
               lost the simplicity of the early Christians.




                                                                                         51
We need to accept the challenge of these words: to repent of our lukewarmness, to give
grater attention to God's intervention in our lives, and to cast off our proud sophistication
                                            -
to walk in simplicity as little children handin-hand with our Father God.

God's communication to us comes in a great variety of forms. Elihu said to Job, "God
does speak - now one way, now another - though man may not perceive it." As Malcolm
Muggeridge has written, "Throughout every moment of existence God is trying to say
                                  i
something to us if only we will l sten; that in every happening, large and small, from the
bite of a flea to a nuclear explosion, from a muttered word while sleeping to Beethoven's
symphonies, the Creator speaks to His creation." Sometimes He speaks loud and clear,
sometimes in a whisper. Sometimes He speaks in a dramatic, spectacular fashion; other
times He speaks through the mundane and ordinary. God is God and will use the channel
of His choice. As God spoke to our forefathers at many times and in various ways, so He
desires to speak to us. His communication may be accompanied byspecial acts of
intervention like a bush on fire but not burning up, or a hand appearing and writing on a
wall, or the descent of a dove, or tongues of fire. He may speak through the visitation of
an angel, or through a dream or vision, or with an audible voice like He did to the boy
Samuel. We may hear Him as we read the Scriptures or in the words spoken by a friend
or preacher, or recognise His voice speaking to us through our own trials and
experiences. Or it may be by words or impressions experienced in our minds or
imaginations that we hear Him speak. Of course, it is not for us to decide how God may
or may not speak to us - to limit Him by blocking our spiritual ears to certain forms of
communication. On the contrary, we need to learn how to be open to hear Him however
and whenever He desires to communicate with us.

There are two equal and opposite errors here. Some of us are in danger of seeking and
                                                              oth
valuing the spectacular over and above the more ordinary. B Jesus and Paul warn us
against this kind of attitude. And certainly, having extraordinary Spiritual experiences is
not a sign of Spiritual maturity. We should not get excited simply because God speaks to
us in a dramatic or 'supernatural' way; rather what should delight us is the good fruit He
brings forth in people's lives through what He says, whether He speaks with powerful and
miraculous signs and wonders or quietly and inconspicuously. We must beware lest we
end up refusing to recognise God's voice in the unspectacular and everyday and hence
miss out on what He is wanting to say to us through our own situation, through the
wisdom of others or through the silent thoughts He places in our minds.

On the other side is the danger of falsely equating thespectacular with immaturity.
Although it is a sign of immaturity to seek the spectacular from God for its own sake, we
see from Genesis to Revelation that God delights in communicating with His people
                                                          ces.
through dreams and visions, angels and strange experien God loves to use prophetic
symbolism, and moments of great significance in His dealings with men have been
accompanied by great signs: The giving of the ten commandments was accompanied by
                                                               und
thunder and lightning, dense cloud, smoke and fire, and the so of a loud trumpet. At
the dedication of Solomon's temple, fire came down from heaven and consumed the
sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. When the Messiah's birth was
foretold, the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, and at His nativity a great company of



                                                                                          52
angels was sent to announce it. At Jesus baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Him in
bodily form like a dove and a voice spoke from heaven. At the turning point of history,
                                                             rn
when Jesus gave up his life, the curtain of the temple was to in two from top to bottom,
the earth shook, the rocks split, tombs broke open and many people were raised from the
dead. Then fifty days later, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the infant church with a
                                                   t
sound like the blowing of a violent wind, with wha seemed to be tongues of fire, and
with the ability to speak in other languages. God delights in putting on a show when it
serves His purposes!

We may have various reasons for desiring that maturity be associated with a more quietist
experience of God speaking, but such an identification doesn't match the testimony of the
Scriptures which portray the dramatic as a sign that God is at work. "In the last days",
God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will
prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." And the
apostle Paul writes, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with
contempt.", and "Eagerly desire Spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." There is
certainly no sense in the Scriptures that we should expect to mature to a state in which
God speaks to us only in a "still small voice" and no longer gives technicolour displays
on appropriate occasions. Rather, we should expect the spectacular as a part of the Lord's
gracious communication with the people He loves, and should always remain open to
Him speaking with us in whatever manner He chooses.

Conversing With God

In 1 Samuel 16, we read of the prophet Samuel being sent to anoint David, son of Jesse:

               The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have
               rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your
               way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his
               sons to be king." But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it
               and kill me." The Lord said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come
               to sacrifice to the Lord.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you
               what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." Samuel did what
               the Lord said.

When Jesse and his sons arrived,

               Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here
               before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his
               appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look
               at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the
               Lord looks at the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in
               front of Samuel. But Samuel said, "The Lord has not chosen this one
               either." Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but S  amuel said, "Nor has the
               Lord chosen this one." Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but
               Samuel said to him, "The Lord has not chosen these." So he asked Jesse,



                                                                                         53
               "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse
               answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we
               will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in. He
               was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord
                                                                   uel
               said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." So Sam took the horn of oil
               and anointed him in the presence of his brothers.

Here we have a beautiful example of the kind of conversational relationship the Lord
desires each one of us to have with Him. As Samuel went about his business, he was in
constant conversation with God. For God is not distant from us but a friend who is closer
than a brother. We don't need to cast lots or roll dice to discover His will. We don't need a
'hotline' to God, as though He were far away on the other side of the world, for He is here
with us. We can have a relationship with Him as full of two    -way communication as any
of our human relationships. We can expect much more from Him than just vague feelings
                                                                              t
or impressions or hunches. The Lord wants us to hear clearly the specific hings He has to
say to us for our encouragement and growth and direction. He wants to communicate
clear and detailed cognitive information to help us and guide us. He wants to share His
heart with us, for us to hear from Him about the things that matter to Him. And as He did
with Elisha and his servant, He wants to open our eyes to see the spiritual reality of our
situation - to see Him and what He is doing, so that we, like Jesus, can do what we see
our Father doing. If the Scriptures are in any sense a normative account of normal life in
communion with God, then that life is fundamentally one in which God "walks with us
and talks with us along life's narrow way", as the words of the old song put it.

Following Israel's exile, after the wall around Jerusalemhad been rebuilt, Nehemiah
testified, "My God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the
common people for registration by families." Like Samuel six hundred years previously,
and the first Christians five hundred years later, andlike many, many others both before
and since, Nehemiah knew God's voice speaking within. Paul Wallis has described this
experience as follows:

               Insight from God is often no more dramatic than a thought from God. It
               may be a word, a phrase, a dream or a mental picture - just like any other
               thought or dream. It is not the form that is different, rather the source, the
               inspiration.

There is mystery here, God's words breaking into our thoughts, though perhaps the sense
of mystery is greater for us due to the relative lack of familiarity with such experience in
the church today. After all, we're perfectly used to the equally mysterious equivalent in
human conversation: thoughts are converted into words in one person's mind and then
become sounds when spoken; these sounds are then interpreted as words and converted
back into thoughts in another person's mind. The Lord speaks to us in a similar way, but
normally bypasses the audible and sometimes bypasses the words too- as He places
verbal or non-verbal thoughts or mental pictures into the mind. Teresa of Avila, writing
of hearing words from God, expressed it like this:




                                                                                           54
               Some of them seem to come from without; others from the innermost
               depths of the soul; others from its higher part; while others, again, are so
               completely outside the soul that they can be heard with the ears, and seem
               to be uttered by a human voice.

Similarly, David Pytches has written concerning the receiving of visions:

               Sometimes the Holy Spirit flashes a picture across the inner screen of our
               mind with or without the intrusion of conscious thoughts, even when we
               are not in a particularly Spiritual frame of mind. ... Sometimes a vision
               flashes vividly across the inner screen when we are in the act of prayer
               with no conscious prompting, often catching us by surprise. We know we
               have done nothing to induce it. As if watching a TV screen, we find
               ourselves involuntarily observing something that is happening.

Conversation with God should be as natural for us as conversation with our friends and
family. Tracy Williamson, describing a dialogue she had had with God, wrote the
following:

               It had seemed such a natural thing, just as if I was talking with a friend.
               The thoughts that came to my mind in response to my questions were
               definite and strong; both challenging and changing the way I was thinking
               myself, yet at the same time it was almost as if they were my own
               thoughts. I was amazed by the wisdom and humour inherent in them and
               realised that God had spoken to me just as a dad might talk to his child.

She went on to express her reaction when she first experienced hearing God in a
conversational way:

               When God spoke to me the first time, I remember feeling awed and
               amazed. It was not just that He spoke with such loving compassion. It was
               the fact that He also listened to me and then responded again, just as in a
               normal conversation. It was as if He actually wanted to hear what I had to
               say, even though my words were full of self pity and anger.

                                                                        ise
When we hear God directly for ourselves, in His voice we will recogn His character
both in the way He speaks and also in the content of what He says. He speaks as one who
has authority. And, whether speaking to comfort or to convict, He always speaks out of
                                                               tle,
love, for our good, to build us up. As James writes in his epis "The wisdom that comes
from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy
and good fruit, impartial and sincere." This is the opposite of other voices we may hear,
voices that are self-centred or leave us feeling condemned or confused. E. Stanley Jones
puts it like this:

               The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but
               the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just


                                                                                        55
               speaks, and is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within
               it.

And in a similar vein, Bob Mumford, describing one particular occasion when the Lord
spoke to him telling him what He wanted him to do, writes:

               It couldn't have been any clearer if my wife had spoken the words right
               next to me. It was spoken straight and strong and right into my spirit. It
               wasn't a demanding, urgent voice. If it had been, I would immediately
               have suspected the source to be someone or something other than the
               Lord. The vocal impression was warm, but firm. I knew it was the Lord.

We can trust God to give us all the Spiritual insight and direction we need. "I will put My
law in their minds and write it on their hearts.", says the Lord through Jeremiah. And
Jesus said, "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not
worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will
teach you at that time what you should say." The apostle James writes, "If any of you
lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and
it will be given to him." But he then continues with the challenge, "But when he asks, he
must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and
tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he
is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.", and later writes, "You do not have,
because you do not ask God." James' readers were like we so often are, full of uncertainty
                          y
and indecision, not reall expecting God to fulfil His promises to adequately guide us and
hence not really asking Him for the wisdom He wants to give us. We ought to expect God
to give us the direction we need and have confidence that He will communicate with
                   o
sufficient clarity s that we can live as He desires.

Seeing Through A Glass Darkly

However, it sometimes seems that God's words to us aren't as clear or as full as we'd like.
As the proverb says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter". "We know in part and
we prophesy in part ... we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.", writes the apostle
Paul. And Jesus often communicated elliptically. As Matthew testifies on one occasion,
"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them
without using a parable." "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they
do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.", He explained enigmatically.
                                                                                     l
But why? Clearly God is not a God of confusion, a cosmic trickster trying to bewi der us.
And yet at the same time neither does He want to throw His pearls before swine. As Gene
Edwards explains,

               The Old Testament told all about Christ, but when men of old read the Old
               Testament, they did not see Him there. God is like that. He keeps His
               highest revelation slightly veiled. Why? So men will not trample it
               underfoot.




                                                                                            56
We are not ready for a full revelation of God in all His glory. It would most probably kill
us! Nor are we often ready to know or understand the answers to the questions and
complaints that we fire at God out of our weakness and frustration. At the end of his
terrible suffering, when Job finally got a response from God, He never did satisfy Job's
desire to understand what had happened to him. But the Lord's reply did achieve H  is
greater purpose of restoring Job's faith in His perfect goodness. Even as a human father
doesn't disclose everything to his children (even things of pertinence to them) because to
                                                                           e
do so would be unhelpful, even damaging, to them, so God at times, will r fuse to satisfy
our curiosity. God never 'owes' us an explanation and we will only ever know "in part"
this side of heaven.

On the other hand, the communication we do receive from God is always enough, always
                                             e
totally sufficient, for us to live as He desir s. And on occasion the use of oblique
communication may suit the Lord's purposes better. David Pytches writes the following:

               Because of our fears, pain, preconceived ideas, and stubbornness, a direct
               revelation may sometimes be counter-productive, whereas an indirect
               revelation which requires some praying through and puzzling out ... may
               yet become effective. Since these come to us apart from, or even despite,
               the controlled conscious mind, dreams, visions and 'enigmatic speech'
               have ways of bypassing other blockages and gaining our attention.

Prophetic symbolism and parables may be more effective in attracting our notice and then
remaining in our memory - and, as a result, bearing greater fruit in our lives. What we see
or experience is likely to have a greater impact on us than those things that we only hear.
So, for example, in foretelling the restoration of Israel, the Lord gave Ezekiel an
unforgettable vision of a valley full of dry bones coming alive: "There was a noise, a
rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and
flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, ... and breath entered them; they came to
life and stood up on their feet - a vast army!" Imagine the effect of this on Ezekiel! Jesus'
parables, too, command our attention and remain in our minds longer as a result of their
form. So it is that the Lord sometimes communicates what He wants to say to us in a
somewhat obscure way that it would take stronger root in our souls and bring forth better
fruit.

However, perhaps the main reason that God speaks to us in an oblique manner, is that it
sends us back to Him so that He can explain what He has communicated. In doing this,
He encourages us to live in greater dependency on Him (and also in greater
interdependency with one another). One of our biggest problems is our tendency to try to
live our lives independently from God. If He speaks clearly, we may we assume we
understand everything and run ahead with what He has given us without interacting with
Him further. If He speaks so that His message is partially concealed, we have no choice
but to continue to wait upon Him for greater revelation. Above all He wants relationship
with us and for us to live in a way that acknowledges that we are totally dependent on
Him. Thus He communicates in images and figurative language that require us to seek
Him to interpret. For God, and God alone, can provide the interpretation. We are in grave



                                                                                         57
danger if we think His communications are conundrums for us to puzzle out with our
minds on their own, as if our minds used independently were adequate for determining
God's truth.

Hearing God Through The Scriptures

This is, perhaps, of no greater relevance than in our approach to the Scriptures. We
cannot discern spiritually the Biblicalmessage apart from the Holy Spirit. This is
because, as Paul writes to the believers in Corinth:

               No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have
               received the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God
               has freely given us. ... The man without the Spirit does not accept the
               things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him,
               and he cannot understand them, because they are Spiritually discerned.

Without the Spirit of God, we are deaf and blind to all that God wants to say to us and
show us. How essential for us then that God gives the Spirit without limit to His people!
As William Law has put it, "Without the present illumination of the Holy Spirit, the
Word of God must remain a dead letter to every man, no matter how intelligent or well-
educated he may be." "All Scripture is God-breathed.", writes Paul to Timothy. And as
God breathed the Scriptures, so He needs to breathe their truth into us as we read them. If
the Scriptures are to be a vehicle for us to hear from God, we must come to them in an
attitude of prayer trusting the Holy Spirit to make the truths in them a living reality in our
lives. For it is the Spirit who brings to life for our specific situation the general truth
found in the Scriptures.

True knowledge of the Scriptures is not, in any case, the academic understanding of
scholarship and study, but the incorporation of God's Biblical self-revelation into the very
fabric of our lives. We must never behave in any way that suggests that greater edu   cation
is the key to better understanding of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not the province of
the letter-learned scribe, but of the man or woman open to the Holy Spirit of God. If
                                                                     i
we're not careful, Bible study can become a serious snare for us; it s all too easy for our
knowledge of the Scriptures or our self-perceived expertise in interpreting them to
become a source of pride for us which then becomes a serious barrier to us hearing God
                                                                on
effectively at all. Dallas Willard makes the following remarks this matter:

               Your aim is not become a 'scholar' or to impress others with your
               knowledge of the Bible - a dreadful trap for so many fellowships claiming
               to be 'biblical'. That aim will only cultivate pride and lay a foundation for
               the petty, quarrelsome spirit so commonly observed in those outwardly
               identified as the most 'serious' students of the Scriptures. ... There is all the
               difference in the world between an experience of the Scriptures in which
               there is a word of God that seizes me, and an experience in which I am
               simply seizing the words on the page - however interesting this may be in
               a work of scholarship.



                                                                                            58
Or, as Thomas à Kempis put it, "Forsake curious questionings; but read diligently matters
which rather yield contrition to thy heart, than occupation to thy head." So, we must
come to the Bible in humility with the aim of letting God speak, coming as to a place
where we will have a holy meeting with the Lord. Our aim should not be not to master
the Scriptures but to be mastered by the Lord through them:

               Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;
               My spirit longs for Thee, O Living Word.

               O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
               That He may touch my eyes and make me see;
               Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
               And in Thy book revealed, I see Thee, Lord.

There is, of course, one pretty basic assumption implicit in all of this. That is that we
actually read (or listen to) the Scriptures regularly so that God can speak to us through
them. While many of the world's Christians have no access to a Biblein their own
language and are crying out for someone to translate it for them, here in the English  -
speaking church there is widespread 'Biblical illiteracy' as many of our Bibles remain on
our bookshelves unread. What a tragic waste of the resources the Lord has given us! Let's
pursue Him daily in the Scriptures and not miss out on this most fundamental and
powerful way of hearing Him speak to us!

Learning To Listen

Throughout history, God has been looking for listeners - people who will humbly listen
to Him and promptly respond. Only rarely has He found them. Under the stipulations of
the Old Covenant, the Lord expected His people to attend to His voice: "If anyone does
not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him to
account." Yet despite all that He did for them, they often blocked their ears to His voice.
In the following extracts from Psalm 81 and Proverbs chapter 1, we can feel some of the
                                                                               th
Lord's heartache over His people's rejection of conversational relationship wi Him:

               Hear, O My people, and I will warn you - if you would but listen to Me, O
               Israel! ... But My people would not listen to Me; Israel would not submit
               to Me. ... If My people would but listen to Me, if Israel would follow My
               ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn My hand
               against their foes!

               If you had responded to My rebuke, I would have poured out My heart to
               you and made My thoughts known to you. But since you rejected Me
                                                                               ot
               when I called, ... since you ignored all My advice and would n accept
               My rebuke, ... then they will call to Me but I will not answer; they will
               look for Me but will not find Me. ... Since they would not accept My
               advice and spurned My rebuke, ... the complacency of fools will destroy




                                                                                         59
               them; but whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without
               fear of harm.

Ultimately, Israel's unwillingness to heed the Lord's voice led to them being driven out of
the Promised Land into exile. Here is Zechariah's account some years later:

               This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Administer true justice; show
               mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the
               fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each
               other." But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their
               backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint
               and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had
               sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was
               very angry. "When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I
               would not listen", says the Lord Almighty. "I scattered them with a
               whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was
               left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how
               they made the pleasant land desolate."

Are we any better? Are we listening to God? We dare not assume that we have the mind
of Christ unless we actively listen to what He is saying to us. Often we complain that God
                                                 fort
hasn't spoken, and yet rarely spend any real ef listening. Unless we listen we won't
know what He's got to say! Simply having 'spiritual ears' doesn't ensure that we use them
effectively. Repeatedly, Jesus would say, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." And on
one occasion He admonished His dis      ciples for their spiritual blindness and deafness like
this: "Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes
but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" We have a choice in this. "He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.", says Jesus to each of the seven
churches in the book of Revelation, and also to us today. Are we going to be the kind of
listeners the Lord is looking for? If so, we will need to make the effort necessary to attune
ourselves to hearing His voice.

"God speaks to those who keep silence.", wrote Charles de Foucauld. Often, we are too
enamoured with the sound of our own voice, and with our own thoughts and feelings to
                                                                      ,
hear Him. When we pray, rather than having the attitude of Samuel "Speak, Lord, your
servant is listening.", it's often more like "Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking!" We
often focus more on our problems and concerns than on the One with the solutions to
them! As Søren Kierkegaard once observed: "A man prayed, and at first thought prayer
was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realised that prayer is
listening." Some people refer to their times of prayer as "quiet times". But so often we fill
these 'quiet times' with the noise of our own thoughts and worries, and as a result are
unable to hear God above the racket! If we want to hear the voice of the Lord, then we
will need to learn to quieten all the other voices that we give our attention to. For God
rarely shouts over them or interrupts them. He doesn't usually 'invade our space', but
waits for us to shut up and invite Him to speak.




                                                                                          60
In 1 Kings chapter 19, we read the account of the Lord appearing to Elijah on Mount
Horeb:

               The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the
               Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind
               tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the
               Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the
               Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the
               Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When
               Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at
               the mouth of the cave.

Would we have recognised that the Lord was present in the gentle whisper, but not in the
earthquake, wind and fire? Would we have even noticed the whisper? In order to hear
God's voice, we need to practise being still and quiet before Him in order to cultivate the
silent inward space of constant listening.

If we want to hear God speaking to us more clearly, if we want to reach that place where
we are in continual conversational communion with Him, then we will need to make it a
                                                                     sus
daily priority to learn to recognise and listen to His voice. Like Je did, we will need to
give the highest priority to making space in our busyness to listen to what God is saying
to us. Although hearing God is simple - so simple an uneducated child can do it- we may
                                            -
not find it at all easy to lay aside our self reliance to seek Him. But the Lord promises us,
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.", and "If you call
out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and
search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find
the knowledge of God." If we let Him, He will unblock our spiritual ears and teach us
how to listen as He did for the prophet Isaiah: "The Sovereign Lord ... wakens me
                                       r
morning by morning, wakens my ea to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord
has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back."

Although the final goal is to be aware of the Lord's presence and to be listening to Him at
all times in the midst of whatever activity you're engaged in, the starting place is to learn
to hear Him in silent times of withdrawal from your everyday activities. Plan these times
daily. Lay aside your concerns, still yourself and invite Him to speak into your heart. Or
quieten yourself and read a short passage of Scripture or ponder some part of His
wonderful creation asking Him to speak directly to you through it. Like gaining or
developing any ability, learning to hear God takes practice. It will be necessary to set
aside regular time specifically for this purpose. In time you will become familiar with the
'sound' and 'feel' of His voice. For, as a small infant learns through experience to
recognise and respond to the voice of its parents, so also does the ability to recognise and
distinguish God's voice come with experience. Eventually, as a woman can hear her
husband's quiet voice across a noisy room, so you will be able to hear His whisper even
when other voices are screaming at you. Be willing to experiment, and remember you are
not learning a technique but developing a friendship.




                                                                                          61
When alone, always seek to be aware of God's presence with you. Choose to focus on
Him and seek to reach the place where your heart and mind automatically return to Him
when they're not otherwise occupied. Greet Him when you wake in the morning. Talk
things over with Him, including Him in your deliberations, asking for His input and being
quiet enough to hear what He has to say - no part of your life is too unimportant for Him.
As you meet with others, be open to Him to direct your words or for Him to speak to you
through the words of the other. As you pass people in the street, pray the Lord's blessing
on them, listening for His guidance as to how to pray. And, whenever God does speak,
value His words by giving time for them to bear fruit. Ponder them, don't rush on,
because God never speaks for no purpose. All His words are designed to bring forth His
good purposes. Let us be people who can testify like Job, "I have treasured the words of
His mouth more than my daily bread."

God Speaks To His Friends

If we want to hear God, then we need to do so in His way, for His reasons. Not only do
we need to learn how to listen but we also need to become the sort of people that God
would want to talk with. Why do we want God to speak to us? And why do we think He
should want to speak to us anyway? Do we just come to Him when we think we need to
hear from Him, for our gain, to meet our needs, or do we come to Him because we know
                                         o
it pleases Him? Jack Deere writes the foll wing:

              God wants a relationship. But sometimes we only want results. He wants
              to talk. But we only want Him to fix things. It's not that He is against
              results or minds fixing things. He actually enjoys serving us. But He wants
              to be more than a servant. He wants to be a friend. Though I fear
              sometimes we want only a servant.

This is mind-blowing: the King of Kings wanting to be our friend, and happy to be our
servant!

Is it friendship with God that we want, or do we just want the good things God does for
us? Woe to us when we want to hear His voice only for our own self-centred reasons.
Jack Deere continues:

              Real friendships can't be forced. They must be chosen, and then pursued
              and purged of ulterior motives. Friends share secrets, and understanding of
              each other grows - so does trust and appreciation. If the friendship
              deepens, one day you wake up and realise that you love your friend for
              who they are, not for what they can do for you. In fact they don't need to
                                                            e
              do anything for you. Just being with your fri nd is the highest joy. Yet the
              truth is that there is nothing you wouldn't do for your friend and nothing
              your friend wouldn't do for you.

Let us choose to pursue deep friendship like this with the Lord!




                                                                                      62
For it is within such a relationship of friendship that we will hear His voice. Abraham
was God's friend. So, when God was about to destroy Sodom, where Lot (Abraham's
nephew) lived, He said to Himself, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?"
and revealed His plans to Abraham. Moses too was God's friend, and with him God
would speak "face to face". It is His friends that God speaks to. "I no longer call you
servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called
you friends, for everything that I learned from My Fa   ther I have made known to you.",
said Jesus to His disciples. Oh that we too would become the kind of people God is happy
to call His friends and reveal His heart and plans to.

                                                                               u
Do we truly love God so much as our friend that we would be willing to do absol tely
anything for Him? Is our desire to comply with His every wish? In the next chapter, we
will be looking at such a life of unreserved availability to the Lord.

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

   1. To what extent do you expect God to speak to you? In what ways are your
      expectations coloured by your own experience? How much are they affected by
      the materialistic and rationalistic assumptions of Western culture? Ponder the
      testimony of the Scriptures and ask the Lord to bring your expectations in line
      with His.
   2. Do you have a "conversational relationship" with the Lord like Samuel or Jesus?
      What practical steps can you take to deepen or develop such a relationship?
   3. In what different ways have you experienced God speaking to you? Are you more
      likely to overvalue or undervalue the more spectacular ways in which God
      communicates with His people? Why do you think this is? Set aside some time this
      week to seek to hear the Lord in a way with which you are less familiar.
   4. Do you read the Bible regularly? Do you think your approach to the Bible is too
      academic? What is your experience of hearing God speak to you through the
      Scriptures? How can you make it easier for God to speak to you in this way?
   5. Do you find it hard to quieten your mind and heart enough to hear God speaking to
      you?

       O let me hear Thee speaking
       In accents clear and still,
       Above the storms of passion,
       The murmurs of self-will;
       O speak to reassure me,
       To hasten, or control;
       O speak, and make me listen,
       Thou Guardian of my soul.



                                                                                          63
                                                                 ds
       Set aside time to be silent before Him and use these wor as a prayer, asking the
       Lord for His help in opening your 'spiritual ears' to His gentle voice.

   6. Do you come to God for friendship, or for what He can give you? What are you
      currently doing in order to develop your friendship with Him and your ability to hear
      His voice more clearly? What changes do you think you should make?

Further Reading

There are many books available on learning to listen to God. You may find one or more
of the following useful:

       Joyce Huggett, Listening To God, Hodder and Stoughton

       Tracy Williamson, The Voice Of The Father, Hodder and Stoughton

       Jack Deere, Surprised By The Voice Of God, Kingsway

All three books draw on the authors' own experiences in learning to listen to the Lord and
each describes both the rewards and the struggles as they offer practical encouragement
to those who would learn more in this area. Joyce Huggett's book draws significantly
from the wisdom of those experienced in contemplative prayer. Jack Deere's book comes
out of his pilgrimage away from a position of believing that today God only speaks to us
through the Scriptures.

              7. Responding to the Voice of the Lord
                Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.

"Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.", lamented the writer of the book of
Judges. Independence from God and disobedience were perennial problems for Israel. In
Numbers chapter 14, we read that in their presumption, the people decided to invade the
Promised Land despite that not being the Lord's will for them at that time. Their action
failed because the Lord was not with them and Moses responded, "The Lord said to me,
'Tell them, "Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated
by your enemies."' So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the
Lord's command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country."

Again and again throughout the years, the Israelites, God's covenant people, would
decide to do things their own way rather than His. Seven hundred years after Moses, the
Lord censured His people through the prophet Isaiah for not paying attention to what He
wanted for them:

              "Woe to the obstinate children", declares the Lord, "to those who carry out
              plans that are not Mine, forming an alliance, but not by My Spirit, heaping



                                                                                        64
               sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting Me; who look for
               help to Pharaoh's protection, to Egypt's shade for refuge."

               For day after day they seek Me out; they seem eager to know My ways, as
               if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the
               commands of its God. They ask Me for just decisions and seem eager for
               God to come near them. "Why have we fasted", they say, "and You have
               not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?"
               Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your
               workers. ... If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from
               doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and
               the Lord's holy day honourable, and if you honour it by notgoing your
               own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you
               will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights
               of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth
               of the Lord has spoken.

Are we any different? Do we carry out plans that are not God's plans for us - and then ask
Him to bless them? Do we like to run our own lives and do as we please, rather than
letting the Lord call the shots? Do we recognise the arrogance and presumption in our
hearts when we do this? Surely, as the Anglican General Confession puts it, we have
often "followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts". "We all, like sheep,
have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way" as we have done what we want,
rather than what pleases our Lord.

Our highest purpose in life is to live in relationship with God, to hear His voice and to
follow Him, doing whatever He tells us to do. Obedience in our hearts- our willingness
to do the Lord's will - is the key to what He wants to manifest in our lives. For, if we are
obedient, He can do through us that which might take a lifetime to do if we resist doing
His will. Our Spiritual discernment also rests on our readiness to obey, because it is to
those who are willing to do whatever He asks that God reveals Himself most fully.

Obedience And Friendship

"My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.", says
Jesus to His disciples. Later, He says, "You are my friends if you do what I command. I
no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.
Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have
made known to you." Thus, as far as Jesus is concerned, doing what He wants is essential
if we want to know Him as our friend and brother and for Him to reveal His concerns to
us. Obedience is central to having relationship with God. The apostle James, in his first
epistle, puts it like this:

               We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The
               man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a
               liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God's love



                                                                                          65
               is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him:
               Whoever claims to live in Him mus walk as Jesus did. ... Those who obey
                                                 t
               His commands live in Him, and He in them.

God does not expect us to run our own lives, but to let Him do so. If we want to live with
                                                                                    it
Him and for Him, we need daily to seek to relinquish control of our lives and hand over
to Him. Lindy Croucher expressed it like this:

               Obviously if you want to walk together with God you have to go in the
               same direction. And God doesn't negotiate. He invites you and me to join
               Him. And He doesn't come along on our side trips. God has clearly stated
               His purpose: Paul says in Ephesians 1:10 that He is committed to bringing
               "all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ".
               So agreeing to join Him requires that we have the same agenda. Every
               other ambition in our hearts has to become secondary to promoting Christ.
               And if anything contradicts that purpose it should be abandoned. We so
               easily come to God not to walk with Him, but to persuade Him to supply
               the energy and power needed to fulfil our own purposes. God's terms for
               relationship with Him are that we surrender our own agenda to serve His
               instead, fully aware that He does not always guarantee the immediate
               comfort of His children.

               If we want to walk with God we need more than a prayer of commitment
               and a few extra efforts to discipline ourselves into spiritual shape. We
               need to agree to go in for surgery that will probably be painful and will
               definitely be ongoing. Our lack of trust in God's goodness, and our self -
               centredness are so deep rooted in us that if we want to be aligned with
               God's purposes, we have to let Him cut out every demand that things go
               our way.

The international maritime signal flag for the letter X is an upright blue cross on a white
background. When displayed by itself, it signals the message,    "Stop carrying out your
own intentions and watch for my signals." This is the way of the cross, to lay aside our
desires and let the Lord direct us. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the
                                                      v
old nature with its passions and desires. Since we li e by the Spirit, let us keep in step
with the Spirit.", writes Paul to the Galatians. To live by the Spirit- to be directed by the
Holy Spirit's 'signals' and to live empowered by the Spirit in relationship with God
through the Spirit - requires us to lay down our own intentions and desires and hand
control over to the Lord so that we can walk together with Him.

Love And Obey

Throughout Scripture, our love for God is inextricably linked with our obedience to His
commands. Joshua summarises the law of Mose as follows: "to love the Lord your God,
                                                s
to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with
all your heart and all your soul". Both Nehemiah and Daniel refer to the Lord as "the



                                                                                          66
great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and
obey His commands". Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command. ...
Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves
                                                  e
Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will lov him and show Myself to him." As we
saw in chapter 5, obedience itself is not love. However, if we truly love God, it will be
expressed in joyful obedience to what He asks of us. For, as the apostle John writes, "His
commands are not burdensome". Love for God without obedience to His desires is not
really love at all.

On the other hand, obedience without love is worthless, empty religiosity. Saint
Augustine expressed it like this:

               If a commandment is kept through fear of punishment and not for love of
               righteousness, it is kept slavishly, not freely, and therefore is not truly kept
               at all. For fruit is good only if it grows from the root of love.

Our obedience should flow out of the overflow of our love for the One who loves us with
                           ve.
an inexpressibly great lo It is a matter of the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts: "I
will write My law on their hearts.", declares the Lord, "I will give you a new heart ... and
I will put My Spirit in you andmove you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My
laws." The New Covenant is written "not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." And so, we serve "in the new way
                                                                                   t
of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code, for the letter kills, bu the Spirit
gives life".

The Lord doesn't coerce us or force us to obey Him. He desires, not robotic or grudging
obedience, but free obedience born of love. He gently turns our hearts towards His as we
                                                      ve
let Him, so that as we experience His immeasurable lo towards us we fall in love with
Him. And as we love Him above all else, we want to do His pleasure rather than our own.
We don't want to do anything other than to live for Him. "Compelled by His love", our
                                              h
only desire is to hear His voice and follow wit delight.

Listening With A Soft Heart

The Lord is looking for those who will respond whenever He speaks; those who, like
Jesus, will "humble themselves and become obedient", those who truly understand what
Jesus meant when He said that His food was to do the will of the One who sent Him,
those who are unreservedly available to Him, committed to live the rest of their earthly
life for His will. In Genesis, we read that when the Lord gave him instructions, Noah "did
                                              t
everything just as God commanded him", tha again and again Moses "did just as the
Lord commanded him", and that David too "did as the Lord commanded him." These are
the kind of people God is looking for. How responsive are we? Oh that we would respond
instantly when our Father whispers to us - that we would react as quickly to Him as a
loving mother does to the sound of her infant crying!




                                                                                           67
Our God is much more willing to direct us than we are to listen to Him and obey. He
won't force obedience from us because He loves us too much to do that. No, He will wait
for us to come to Him ready to obey, gently tugging at our hearts by His Spirit. Because
of the depth of His love and humility, He'd rather do this than ride roughshod over our
wills and make us do what He wants - even if this means He gets a bad name as a result
of our resistance to Him. But we are the ones who miss out when we resist for there is
great joy and peace and freedom in responding eagerly with a soft heart to whatever He
asks.

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it
comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." With these
words spoken to Nicodemus, Jesus drew a picture for us of the kind of life He expects us
all to have, willingly responsive to every breezeof the wind of the Spirit to blow us
where He wills. We are to be like a yacht on the ocean. We need to cut the slow chugging
engine of our own control of our lives, resolving to do without it even in the midst of a
calm or a storm, and to learn how to adjust the sails of our spirits to catch the wind of the
breath of God. If we have a heart inclined to hear and eager to follow, if we are vessels
ready to do His bidding, then we will see His kingdom come and His will done in us and
through us by His Spirit.

The House On The Sand

"Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not do what I say?", entreats the Lord Jesus,
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only
he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." Jesushad a very high view of
obedience to God's commands:

               Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have
               not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until
               heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a
               pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is
               accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these
               commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in
               the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these
               commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you
               that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the
               teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

We live in a society that has a serious problem with the idea of submitting to authority.
Until the last century, Christian teaching was almost universally seen as revelation from
God to be accepted. But now, the questioning of all and every authority has become a
way of life, and religious observance is considered a matter for personal preference, on a
par with choosing whether to join a tennis club or not. But, whatever value there may be
                                                                                     i
in some level of scepticism towards human authorities, there can be no real place n our
lives for questioning God's authority over us. So, at this point we need to decide to go
against the expectations of our culture. For nothing does more damage to our relationship



                                                                                           68
with the Lord than choosing not to do what He asks of us. It is a mistake to think that we
can pick and choose which aspects of His revelation to embrace, and that ignoring some
of the His commands is perfectly acceptable. We seem to be unaware of our precarious
                                                                   d,
position: disobedience not only damages our relationship with Go but also hinders His
work in our lives and in the world and gives ground back to the enemy in our hearts.

This is what the parable of the wise and foolish builders is about. Whatever we may
remember about this story from Sunday school, Jesus' stated aim in telling it was to
emphasise the fundamental importance of doing what He says, and the total foolhardiness
and stupidity of disobedience:

               Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is
               like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the
               streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not
               fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone whohears
               these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish
               man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose,
               and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great
               crash.

Many of us love to hear God. We love to hear the Scriptures expounded every Sunday, or
to receive a 'word' from the Lord. But are we as keen to live by the words that He speaks
to us as we are to hear them? When God speaks, we must always ask ourselves, "What
are we going to do about it?", "How do we need to respond?" So, as we read in the epistle
to the Hebrews, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the
rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me
and for forty years saw what I did." As James writes, every time we listen to God without
doing what He says, we enter into deception:

               Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it
               says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a
                                                                              m
               man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at hi self, goes
               away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks
               intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this,
               not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what
               he does.

If we desire to hear God speak to us, then we'd better be ready to obey, because once we
have heard, we have a greater responsibility. As Jesus said:

               The servant who knows his master's will and ... does not do what his
               master wants will be beaten with many blows. Butthe one who does not
               know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few
               blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded;
               and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be
               asked.



                                                                                        69
If we know that the Lord has said something to us, and we have no intention of doing
what He has said, then, like the man who built his house on the sand, we're heading for
disaster. Are we willing to take God's words to us seriously? Are we willing to surrender
our wills and desires to His? Dallas Willard comments concerning the Scriptures that
"anyone who rejects the general counsels of Scripture is in fact planning not to be guided
by God", and gives the following advice concerning how we read them:

               We will be spiritually safein our use of the Bible if we follow a simple
               rule: Read in a submissive manner. Read with readiness to surrender all
               you are, all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as
                                                                                    to
               intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never merely find
               the truth, and still less merely to prove something. Subordinate your desire
               to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out!

If we are obedient in the things the Lord has already spoken to us about, then we can
expect to hear from Him again. In Jesus' parable of the talents, the master says to those
who made faithful use of what He entrusted to them, "Well done, good and faithful
servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many
things." On another occasion, Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with little can also be
trusted with much." Can the Lord trust us to make good use of what He says to us, or do
we let His words fall to the ground? To progress, we need to obey. If we choose to resist
doing what He asks of us, we are unlikely to hear much more from Him. Spiritually, we
will go nowhere. Why should God waste His voice on us if we treat His word so lightly?
As Jack Deere writes,

               He commands us very plainly to love our enemies, do good to those who
               hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us. Who
               wants to hear these things, let alone obey them? The church can't even
               stop cursing those who curse us, much less bless them. Why should God
               speak more plainly to people who ignore His clearest commands? Why
               should He unlock the secrets of His kingdom to a church that seems bent
               on mutual destruction?

The dangers of disobedience when God entrusts us with His word are clearly spelled out
                                                      o
in the Scriptures. After a life of obedience, Moses l st the opportunity to lead the
Israelites into the Promised Land because he disobeyed. When the Lord told him to speak
to a rock so that water would pour out of it, instead he struck the rock with his staff. As a
result, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in Me enough to
honour Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into
the land I give them."

In 1 Samuel, we read the similarly sobering account of Saul being rejected as king over
Israel by the Lord because of his disobedience. First, Saul takes things into his own hands
at Gilgal by making a sacrifice rather than waiting for Samuel as the Lord had told him
to. When Samuel appears, he says to Saul, "You acted foolishly, you have not kept the
command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, He would have established your



                                                                                         70
kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure." Then Saul
refuses to deal with the Amalekites as the Lord commands him and the word of the Lord
comes to Samuel, "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away
from Me and has not carried out My instructions." Saul's response is then to make
excuses and he is decidedly economical with the truth, provoking Samuel's reply: "Does
the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the
Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For
                                                                                        you
rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because
have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king."

How about us? How do we feel about always doing whatever God demands? Do we
behave as if we think we know better than He does how we should live? Do we make
excuses for ignoring His commands? Are we listening to Him to hear only those things
which are agreeable to us? Ultimately, our attitude to the idea of submitting our wills
entirely to the Lord's direction demonstrates the extent to which we have let Him win
over our hearts. For if we have truly tasted of His everlasting goodness and unconditional
love then we will know without a doubt that His ways are perfect and that He directs us
for our own good. We will love Him so much that even the thought of disobedience will
be repulsive to us and we will delight in doing what He asks of us. For, deep in our
spirits, we will recognise that, as David sang,

               The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
               The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
               The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
               The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
               The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
               The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
               They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold.
               They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
               By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Making Decisions

"I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.",
prayed Jeremiah. And yet, when going about making day to day decisions, we often go
about it in exactly the same way as the world, weighing the advantages and disadvantages
of the options and relying on 'common sense', rather than letting God direct. What does it
say about our attitude to the Lord and the kind of relationship we have with Him if we
leave Him out of our decision-making? Within the church, many of our decisions seem to
be driven by 'needs' or people's personal agendas and preferences. But we are calledto be
a God-driven, Jesus-driven, Holy Spirit-driven people, a community living under the
immediate and total rulership of the Lord who want only what the Father wants. And so,
when we make decisions, above all we need to seek to determine what He has got to say.
When asked why we are doing something, we should always be in the position of being
able to say that we are doing it because we believe that it pleases God for us to be doing




                                                                                         71
                                                                      it
it. Our lives should be lived completely under the direction of the Spir of God. As
Jeanne Guyon expressed it:

               Yield yourself to the guidance of the Spirit of God. By continuing to
               depend on His action, and not that action of the soul, the thing you do will
               be of value to God. Only what you do in this way is of value to God and to
               His work on this earth.

               The working of the Spirit deep within you must be the source of all your
               activity. Let me repeat: All activity - both that which is surface and
                                                                     -
               visible, as well as that which is hidden and internal must come from the
               working of the Spirit.

But, if we want to receive God's guidance then we will need to practice laying down our
own personal agendas in order to hear what He wants and submit to His agenda. We will
need to come to Him so that He can tell us what He desires us to do, and not so that we
can tell Him what we want Him to do for us. As Rick Joyner has said, "It is presumption
to only call upon the Lord when you want something. You should call on Him to ask
what He wants, not what you want." But do we always want to kno w what He wants? Or
do we only want His guidance when we're in some kind of a fix? Dallas Willard makes
the following comment:

               The doleful reality is that very few human beings reallydo concretely
               desire God's guidance in their lives. This is shown by howrarely we look
               for it when we are not in trouble or faced with a decision which we do not
               know how to handle. People who understand and warmly desire God's
               guidance will, by contrast, be as concerned to have it when they are not
               facing trouble or big decisions as when they are. This is a test which we
               should all apply to ourselves as we go in search of God's voice. It may
               reveal that our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact
               that we do not in general want God to guide us except when we think we
               need it.

We will need to give up the false security that comes from thinking we're in control of
our own lives. For, as the proverb says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord
determines his steps."

The Lord described David, son of Jesse, as a man after His own heart. Why? What was it
about David that meant that God honoured him like this? Perhaps one clue can be found
in the fact that repeatedly in the Biblical account of his life, we read that David "enquired
of the Lord." David knew better than to rely on his natural abilities and resources. As
king, he had access to all the expert advice he might want and yet preferred to ask the
Lord for direction: "Shall I go and attack these Philistines?", "Shall I pursue this raiding
party? Will I overtake them?", "Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?", and so on.
Consulting the Lord was clearly David's long   -established practice as can be seen from
Ahimelech the priest's response when questioned about an event while Saul was still



                                                                                         72
king: "Was that day the first time I enquired of God for him? Of course not!" And, in
contrast to his predecessor, Saul, whose demise we looked at above, David knew that
waiting for God's guidance was better than doing the wrong thing. Are we more like
David or Saul?

Narrow Path Or Wide Boundaries?

During the past few years, there has been discussion in some quarters concerning how
'wide' a road we will find ourselves on if we seek to follow the Lord's guidance in
everything. Some have argued that the way is very narrow. One small step to the right or
left is to leave the designated path of the Lord's perfect will for us. After all, Jesus did say
that "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter
through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find
it." On the other hand, others have argued that the New Covenant is a covenant of
"glorious freedom", and that God's guidance provides only broad boundaries within
which we can walk as we choose: "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a
cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.", writes Peter. "If you really keep the royal law
found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbour as yourself', you are doing right.", writes James.

However, these positions create a false dichotomy, for both propositions, in different
ways, seem to disregard the fact that true Christian guidance is built on having a direct
relationship with the Lord. God's guidance of us is not mechanical, and certainly not
dependent on 'techniques' or 'methods', but is part of a richly interactive relationship with
God in which we choose consciously to co-operate with Him. So, we can't really expect
                                                                                      i
guidance to be the same all the time. As is the case with a human father with his chldren,
at certain times our heavenly Father tells us very specifically to do a particular thing, but
at other times He leaves us great freedom of choice concerning what we should be doing.
                                                                    o
When He tells us to do something specific, the path for us is narr w; when He gives us
the choice, the path is broader. But, we should always let Him determine whether for us
at a particular season He is calling us to walk a broad road or a narrow one. If He wants
to direct us specifically as to where to live or where to go on holiday or whatever, that is
His prerogative. On the other hand, if He chooses to let us decide, that again is His right.
We dare not assume that the path He has for us will generally be broad and only
occasionally narrow, (nor indeed the opposite, that it will normally be narrow and only
seldom broad).

Whatever the specifics of the Lord's dealings with us, even when He gives us great
                                                                                 -
freedom to choose what we desire, this must not be mistaken as a license for self centred
choice but as an opportunity to seek to choose responsibly - in a way which will bring our
Father the greatest pleasure. In 1 Kings, we read that the Lord appeared to Solomon in a
dream and said to him, "Ask for whatever you want Me to give you." Solomon's response
was to ask the Lord for "a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish
between right and wrong". The Scripture records that "the Lord was pleased that
Solomon had asked for this" and not for long life or wealth for himself, and gave him a
wise and discerning heart, so that there never was nor ever will be anyone like him. Our




                                                                                            73
desire should always be to please the Lord in our decision-making, to further His
purposes by our choices rather than our own.

Living In Dependence On God

Knowing God's direction in our lives is something that should flow naturally out of the
relationship we have with Him. As Jesus was in continual fellowship with His Father, so
we should be in constant fellowship with Him too, by way of the Holy Spirit. "Pray
continually", writes Paul to the Thessalonians. As Benny Hinn puts it,

               I don't talk to my wife just when I need her. I'm supposed to have a
               relationship with her. It's the same with the Lord. You pray - all the time -
                                                                                    n
               so your fellowship can remain. You can't say, "I'll talk to You whe I need
               You", and then ignore Him for a while.

This is important. If we try to understand God's guidance and direction independently of
having a close and constant love-relationship with Him, then we will miss out on the
heart of the matter. In recent years, W.W.J.D. - What Would Jesus Do? - bracelets have
become popular in some Christian circles. But, how do we understand this question as a
basis for deciding how to live. If we think about it in terms of trying to decide for
ourselves how Jesus might behave if He was in the particular situation that we are in,
then we are working with an implicit assumption that God is, in a sense, distant and that
we don't have direct access to Him ourselves. What would Jesus do? He would be
walking in continual communionwith and total dependence on His heavenly Father,
doing what His Father wants Him to, always open to His direction in everything. This is
the heart of guidance, and how we should be living.

But, how much guidance can we expect? There seem to be two possible errors here. On
the one hand, some speak as if they believe that we can expect explicit direction every
minute of our lives, if only we would listen well. When Jesus walked the earth, His
communion with His Father was so great that He was at all times obedient. Yet there is
no indication that even Jesus was continuously receiving revelations as to what He should
do next. Nor is there any evidence of such an expectation in the lives of others in the
Scriptures. At times the Lord speaks to direct us specifically and at times He remains
silent. Sometimes we might wish that He spoke more, but our responsibility is to be
totally obedient to what He has said to us, and always to have ears open to hear and
respond to whatever He wants to ask of us next.

On the other hand, there are those who speak as if it were a sign of Christian maturity to
receive less explicit guidance than others. This belief seems based on a false extension of
the Father-child analogy of our relationship with God. We are God's children, butthere is
no growth from children to adolescents to adults in the Kingdom. We are not expected to
progress towards increasing independence from our heavenly Father. Unlike the situation
in our society in which children are expected to mature away from depe   ndence on their
parents, Christian maturity can not be equated at all with independence from God.
Indeed, the opposite is surely the case, for we are called to "change and become like little



                                                                                         74
children" in humble dependence on our Father, for "the kingdom ofheaven belongs to
such as these". Childlike dependence on God is at the heart of Kingdom living, and
Christian maturity is to remain as little children and to learn to live inincreasing
dependence on the Lord. For independence from God is at the heart of our sinfulness. We
are not expected simply to do good things that we think of, but to do the things the Lord
shows us to do. Marco Schulz has put it like this:

               Our understanding of what is good is often related to our understanding of
               sin. Sin is not just something bad or evil: it is independence from God.
               Even doing good is sin if we are not in the will of God, and we can do a
               lot of good things without being in His will. To do something good is
                                                                              y
               often an excuse for us to act independently of God. We simpl want to do
               our own business. When we begin to see that good is not always God, we
               are delivered from much of the fear of man which will keep us in bondage
               to do people's expectations.

                                                                      i
Doing good things is often the enemy of doing the best thing, the partcular work that
God has "prepared in advance for us to do". It is easy to come up with good things to do.
There are needs all around us. And it is easy to presume that we know what is on God's
                                                             d
heart. After David was established as king over Israel, he sai to Nathan the prophet,
"Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.", and he
planned on providing a more appropriate place for the earthly throne of Israel's divine
King. Nathan replied, "Whatever you have in mind, goahead and do it, for the Lord is
with you." But he hadn't consulted the Lord, and that night God told him that David was
not to build a temple for Him but that rather He wanted to establish an eternal dynasty
through David. Even with all the right motives,both David and Nathan initially missed
God's greater purposes by relying on their own wisdom rather than depending on the
Lord for direction.

The Foolishness Of Human Wisdom

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your
ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.", says the proverb. When
uncertain of the way ahead, we love to have the Lord direct our paths, but the
precondition that we "lean not on your own understanding" presents many of us with a bit
of a problem. We like to believe that human wisdom has some real value, but the
                                                                               S
testimony of the Scriptures is in the opposite direction. Spiritual truths are " piritually
discerned" and dependent on revelation, and human wisdom is often more likely to
impede our discernment of the Lord's will than to help us. This is why Paul exhorts the
Romans to let God's revelation to their hearts and spirits transform their understanding
and comprehension:

               Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed
               by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve
               what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.




                                                                                       75
In the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul contrasts at length the apparent foolishness
of God's great wisdom with the great foolishness of our apparent wisdom:

               Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel - not with words
               of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the
               message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us
               who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will
               destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will
               frustrate."

               Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of
               this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in
               the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God
               was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those
               who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs andGreeks look for wisdom,
               but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness
               to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks,
               Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of
               God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than
               man's strength.

Paul emphasises here that message of the cross and the teachings of human wisdom are in
conflict. The cross stands in absolute, uncompromising contradiction to human wisdom.
God's ways of doing things look utterly foolish to those who think they are 'wise'. We,
who have responded to the message of the gospel, easily forget how absurd it is that our
                                                -
salvation should rest on the execution of a first century Jew by the Roman authorities.
But our response to the gospel message was not the result of being wise; on the contrary,
it was a product of the work of the Spirit of God in our lives. Gordon Fee paraphrases
Paul's argument as follows:

               So you think the gospel is a form of wisdom? How foolish can you get?
               Look at its message; it is based on the story of a crucified messiah. Who in
               the name of wisdom would have dreamed that up? Only God is so wise as
               to be so foolish?

                                                                           dn't
If the foundation of our faith is so apparently nonsensical, then we shoul expect that
lives built on that foundation should depend on what is 'sensible' from the perspective of
human wisdom. God's folly is wiser than man's wisdom, and before His wisdom all the
wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent is asutter stupidity - but human
'wisdom' will never recognise this. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and
knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements, and His paths beyond tracing
out!"

Paul continues:




                                                                                         76
               Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you
               were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were
               of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the
               wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He
               chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the
               things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast
               before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has
               become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and
               redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the
               Lord."

               When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior
               wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to
               know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
               I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.My
               message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but
               with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest
               on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

Why should God work in this strange way? Why should Jesus say, "I praise You, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and
learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good
pleasure."? Wisdom and understanding are great sources of pride and hinder us from
receiving Spiritual revelation. "God opposes the proud", so, if our lives are to be lived in
total dependence on God, then we must be set free from pride in our own understanding
and 'wisdom'. For this reason, God chooses to work in ways that may often seem foolish
to us.

Paul wraps up his argument like this:

               We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not
               the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to
               nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been
               hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the
               rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have
               crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no
               ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those
               who love Him" - but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

               The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who
               among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within
               him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit
               of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is
               from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is
               what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words
               taught by the Spirit, expressing Spiritual truths in Spiritual words. The



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               man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit
               of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them,
               because they are Spiritually discerned. The Spiritual man makes
               judgements about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's
               judgement: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct
               Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

God's true wisdom comes to us, not through reasoning or intellect, but by revelation
through the Holy Spirit to our spirits, hearts and minds. We can receive God's hidden
wisdom only by "leaning not on our own understanding" and becoming foolish in order
to receive what the Lord would show us - and hence becoming truly wise, having the
"mind of Christ". As Paul writes a little further on in 1Corinthians:

               Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the
               standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become
               wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is
               written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord
               knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." So then, no more boasting
               about men!

Common Sense

Perhaps only a small minority of us would claim to be wise according to the world's
standards. But God's wisdom strikes at the heart, not only of the arrogance of the
'geniuses' amongst us, but also at any kind of decision-making that leaves God out. God's
'foolish wisdom' is the great divine contradiction toall our merely human ways of doing
things. And, in practice, the tool we most often make use of in deciding what to do is that
of "common sense". But what is common sense? And how does it stand up to the wisdom
of God? Common sense may seem marvellous to us, but does it seem marvellous to the
Lord?

The common-sense action in a particular situation is the one that seems 'obvious' to us.
But why does it seem so obviously correct? An analysis of what different people consider
to be common sense would show that it varies widely between different cultures (hence
the feeling of disorientation felt in cross-cultural interaction). For the most part, then,
common sense is simply a product of our culture, a codification of our society's values
and ideals built up over the years and instilled in us as we have grown up. To us, com      mon
sense often has the "appearance of wisdom", because generally we accept the
presuppositions and values of our culture without thinking about them. But we are called
to be conformed no longer to the pattern of this world. As Christ said, we do not belong
to the world but to Him. "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and
deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this
world rather than on Christ.", writes Paul to the Colossians. Is 'common sense' h    ollow
and deceptive philosophy? Common sense is certainly not necessarily 'God sense', so we
should be wary of automatically basing our decision     -making on such a shaky foundation.
Of course, the primary problem with relying on common sense is that doing so once  ,



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again, seeks to bypass the relationship we have with our heavenly Father- in this case by
trusting in the 'wisdom' and common values of our culture rather than revelation from
God.

As an example, we could consider the contrast between common sense and 'God sense'
concerning the use of money. "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses
for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted,
where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.", said Jesus, and commended the action
of a poor widow who placed her last few coins in the temple treasury, promising, as we
saw in chapter 4, to provide for all our needs if we seek first His Kingdom. As Paul
writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, the God's desire for us is cheerful generosity
in response to the "indescribable gift" of Christ who, "though He was rich, yet for our
sakes became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich". This is in direct
opposition to common sense and the wisdom of the world which teaches us to spend our
wealth on possessions and to hoard (or 'save') rather than give away - and if we are to
give, only to give out of our excess rather than sacrificially of what we need to live on.
Common-sense human wisdom is foundedon getting rather than giving, on investing for
financial increase rather than for others' benefit, and on security based on hoarding rather
than on God's promise of provision. We will consider our attitude to wealth and
                                    e
possessions in more detail in a lat r chapter. The point to note here is simply that
common sense can be a very poor guide if we desire to live God's way. We need to make
a regular habit of checking what is 'obvious' to us against what the Lord has to say.

Crazy Commands

Somehow, we expect God to be rather like us, and for His advice and direction to be little
more than 'sanctified common sense'. Although, much of what He says to us does make
sense to us, God is also in the habit of giving commands to His people that make little
sense. At times, from a human perspective, He definitely seems somewhat crazy! For
example, in Genesis chapter 6, we read of how He told Noah to build an enormous boat
(150 yards long) in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from the sea. Then in
chapter 17, He tells Abraham that every man in his household is to have his foreskin cut
off! Some time later, the Lord asks him to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt
offering. Because these accounts are so familiar to us, we may miss their absurdity and
offensiveness. How would we have reacted in these situations?

The God who said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways",
often works in ways that offend our comprehension. Joshua was a trained military man
(we meet him first leading the Israelites in an attack against the Amalekites), but, at the
pinnacle of his career, his military training and insight was worth very little as far as
God's purposes were concerned. While he was considering how to take the fortress of
Jericho, a man appeared claiming to be the "Commander of the Lord's Army" and gave
him apparently senseless instructions about marching around the city together with a
promise that obedience would lead to the city walls completely collapsing! On another
occasion, it was Gideon who has the recipient of 'crazy' military advice from the Lord.
When he was preparing to attack the innumerable forces of the Midianite army with a



                                                                                          79
force of thirty-two thousand men, God told him that he had too many men and proceeded
to direct him to reduce his army to just three hundred, before instructing him to attack!

Although we clearly recognise the strangeness of God's dealings in these and other
similar situations, somehow we usually fail to make any connection to our own lives, and
so have no expectation that the Lord may ask us to do equally 'weird' things. But, we
need to expect that God may have a markedly different perspective from us in any
particular situation, and that He may have a way of dealing with it that does not make
sense to our minds. God's thoughts and ways are far above ours, and when He speaks,
what He has to say may well contrast dramatically with our way of doing things.

Following God's leading is often somewhat more 'open    -ended' than many of us are
comfortable with. Our obedience cannot be dependent on understanding what we are
being asked to do. We need to have hearts that will obey even when we don't understand
why. Requiring that we know where the Lord is taking us can be a hindrance to hearing
and obeying Him. Handing con over to Him may mean that He chooses not to tell us
                                  trol
where we're going - sometimes literally. In the 1960s, a young woman called Jackie
                                                                           go.
shocked her family and friends by announcing that God was calling her to When they
asked her where she was supposed to go, she replied that she didn't know, she was just to
go. She got on a ship and when she reached Hong Kong, felt that the Lord wanted her to
stay there though she had no idea what she was supposed to do in Hong Kong. But thirty
years later, Jackie Pullinger's story has become one of the most amazing missionary
stories of our time. Thousands of people have been led to Christ and set free from drugs
through her ministry. Jackie was willing to look totally foolish to her family and friends
and step out in faith along the road God had shown her, not knowing where she would
end up or how she would earn a living. As a result, God was able to extend His Kingdom
among the Triad gangs in Hong Kong.

Tracy Williamson, in her bookThe Voice Of The Father, recounts the experience of Jane,
a young woman who was studying at a Christian training centre in West Sussex. One
night, a thought kept breaking into her dream: "Go to Manchester Airport!" After waking
and praying with her neighbour, she set off with no idea whyor what she should do when
she got there. When she arrived at the airport, she decided to go and sit in the departure
lounge. Shortly, a lady came and sat next to her and Jane found herself having to explain
that she was at the airport because she was a Christian and God had woken her up and
told her to drive there!

The lady then told her that she was flying to meet her estranged daughter who had written
to her for the first time in many years to say that she had become a Christian and asking
for forgiveness and reconciliation with her mother. She said that she did want to start
over in her relationship with her daughter but felt so full of hurt and bitterness that she
couldn't. Jane was able to explain that Jesus could deal with her pain, and as a result,the
lady gave her life to the Lord there in the airport. She left to catch her flight, now really
looking forward to meeting her daughter, while Jane headed back south, praising God for
leading the lady to Himself, having promised to write to her at her da   ughter's home.




                                                                                         80
On returning to the training centre, Jane switched on the television just as a newsflash
began: "A plane crashed on take-off at Manchester Airport", said the announcer. Jane
                                                                   a
telephoned the enquiry line. The lady had been killed. Later that dy, Jane was able to
write to that lady's daughter to tell her that her mother had become a Christian and had
forgiven her just before she got on the plane.

This story is deeply challenging to the way most of us lead our lives. What would we
have done in Jane's situation? Would we have recognised the Lord's voice? Would we
have just turned over and gone back to sleep? After all, that would have been the
humanly 'wise' thing to do. In about a.d. 35, an angel said to a man called Philip, "Go
south to the road - the desert road - that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.", so he
headed for the middle of the desert, not knowing why he had been asked to do so. As a
result, a high-ranking Ethiopian official gave his life to the Lord and was baptised. Nearly
two thousand years later, the Lord spoke to Jane as she dreamt, "Go to Manchester
Airport.", so she drove two hundred miles, not knowing why she had been asked to do so.
As a result, a lady gave her life to the Lord minutes before she entered eternity. God
desires to be able to use us all to bring His love to others. But in order for Him to do so,
we need to give a high priority to listening for His voice and obeying without question
when He speaks. The Lord is looking for men and women with ears and hearts open to
Him like those of Philip and Jane.

False Confidence

In Luke chapter 5, we find an account of Jesus telling Peter how to fish. Peter had a bit of
a hard time accepting and obeying the Lord's instruction. After all, Peter was an expert at
fishing. And Jesus? Well, Jesus was a carpenter - but, so much more than just a
carpenter! When Peter obeyed, he caught more fish than ever before. In astonishment, he
fell at Jesus' knees with a new awareness of his unworthiness before the Lord. Often we
are in the same place Peter was that day, believing we are the 'experts' in various areas of
our lives or work, and that we know all that we need to know. The trouble is that this
false confidence will prevent us hearing the Lord telling us how to do whatever we do
well in a way we've never done it before, perhaps even in a way that seems utterly
ridiculous to us when viewed through the lens of common sense. For it is often hardest
for us to hear the Lord's direction in the areas of our lives in which we are naturally gifted
because in these areas we tend to live in independence from God trusting in our own
might and power, rather than in the Spirit of the Lord. Ultimately, it is a question of being
humble before God in the areas in which we think we know best- as if we could know
better than the King of the Universe! Jack Deere puts it like this:

               God mainly shares His thoughts with the humble on a need-to-know basis.
               The proud, no matter how knowledgeable, usually don't penetrate the
               thoughts and ways of God because they are convinced that they already
               know them.

We so easily get things upside down, expecting the Lord to co-operate with our way of
doing things and bless our plans and projects, rather than co-operating with Him and



                                                                                           81
participating in His undertakings. Perhaps that's why He chooses to work in strange ways
on occasion - to draw attention to the difference between His ways and our ways and to
build humility, trust and ready obedience in our hearts.

We need to be willing to let God's voice disturb us and challenge ourway of seeing and
doing things. When He asks us to do something that seems a little crazy, we need to be
willing to take the risk of obedience and step out on the basis of what He has said to us,
and to look foolish in the eyes of others if necessary. Godis perfectly able to overcome
our mistakes as we step out in faith - if our heart-attitude is right before Him. For we will
only get to experience the Lord at work in our lives in any significant way if we do things
His way. Then we will see that all that is achieved is the result of His power and His
wisdom, not ours - and, like Peter, our response will be to worship our Lord in
amazement at His understanding and authority.

The Secular Versus The Sacred

"Apart from Me you can do nothing.", said Jesus to His disciples shortly before His
death. This must surely rank as one of the Scriptures least believed in practice. For most
of us live great chunks of our lives without reference to the Lord who said of Himself,
"The Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing." If
this was true for Jesus, how much more essential is it to us who are full of weakness and
self-will. Do we let God direct every aspect of the way we live, or do we restrict His
input to just a small 'religious' comp artment, letting the values of our culture rule the rest?
In his recent book, Mustard Seed Versus McWorld, Tom Sine presents the following
critical analysis of the current state of the Western church:

               I really believe that we have permitted modern cultureto define why we do
               what we do in both our personal lives and even how we organise our
               churches and Christian organisations and never realised we were caving in
               to aspirations and values counter to biblical faith. ...

               What we have done, I am convinced, is to succumb inadvertently to a
               dualistic model of discipleship. In spite of all the talk about 'Lordship',
               everyone knows that the expectations of modern culture come first.
               Everyone knows getting ahead in the job comes first. Getting ahead in the
               suburbs comes first. Getting the children off to their activities comes first.
               And we tend to make decisions in these areas pretty much like everyone
               else does - based on our income, our professions and our social status.
                                                              i
               Essentially most Western Christians unquestoningly allow modern culture
               to arrange most of the furniture of our lives. ...

               On the other side of this dualism, following Christ is too often trivialised
               to little more than a devotional lubricant to keep us from stripping our
               gears as we charge up the mountain trying to get ahead in our careers, the
               suburbs, and our children's activities. ... In this model we wind up with a




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               highly privatised and spiritualised piety that is often largely disconnected
               from the rest of our lives.

                             i
Making decisions in relat onship with God is not just for some areas of life- for the
'spiritual' or 'sacred' part. No, we should be relating to Him and open to His direction in
everything we do: when we're seated before the computer at our desk, as we sit down to
dinner with the family, when we're called before the boss at work, while we relax with
friends at a party, as we race along the motorway on the way to an appointment, when
we're playing with the children at the park, while we share a pint with mates down the
pub, as we wait in the supermarket checkout queue, during times of intimacy with our
wife or husband, in the midst of an examination we're sitting, as we watch the news or the
late film or the football on television, as we answer the telephone, as we fill in our tax
return, when we make decisions at work or about how to spend our holiday or what to do
with our money. Nothing we do should be done independent of our relationship with our
loving heavenly Father. Nothing should be done based on our desires and plans alone
without discovering what the Lord's desires and plans for us are. We need a radical return
to listening to Him in everything that we do. In both the big things and the little things
                                                                           e
there should be a constant pattern of turning and listening to Him for dir ction.

All of our time and all of our money is God's and should be under His control. Whether
we live in Bangalore, Bangkok, Bangladesh or Bangor should beHis decision, not ours.
Whether we take a particular promotion opportunity in our work or not should be His
decision, and certainly shouldn't be based on the world's values concerning career
'advancement'. What we do with our 'spare' time and holidays should beHis decision not
an opportunity for us to escape from living under His Lordship. God desiresus to come
to Him and let Him do with us as He wills. His plans for us are unimaginably good, but in
order to discover this, we will need to lay down our desire to be in control.

Perhaps few of us have much idea of what it would look like to let God run ou    r
businesses, our homes, our recreational lives, even our churches. So much of what we do
is driven either by the expectations of our culture or by our own personal likes and
                                                                                u
dislikes that it can be very hard to imagine what life would really be like for s if God
was clearly and explicitly the Boss in all aspects of our living. What does a business or a
church look like when the Lord is running it, whenHe is the Managing Director or Senior
Pastor and the buck stops with Him? Surely it looks very differentfrom most of what we
see around us, for God's thoughts and ways are very different from ours, and His values
diametrically opposed to some of the most important values of our culture.

Seeking The Lord Together

At the heart of a God-directed life is the determined choice to seek His face in
everything, to move only under His direction, by the blowing of the wind of His Spirit. In
the world, decision-making revolves around the weighing of pros and cons or around
pleasing people and respecting the desires ofthe majority (or influential minority). And,
sadly most decision-making in the church and the lives of Christians simply apes the
world's approach - in which God is assumed to be absent or at the very least quite



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irrelevant. But, if we desire to be a people living under the Lord's command, then our
church councils, our business meetings and our day    -to-day planning cannot be like this.
In the church, at work and in our homes, we must reject democracy in favour of
theocracy and come to Him, surrendering all our agendas and human analysis, seeking to
know only what the Father wants of us. For, if we aren't willing to lay down our agendas
and our solutions, and do what God desires, then we certainly can't expect to hear much
from Him. At the heart of our meeting together must be the belief that God desires to lead
us and will do so if we come to Him in humility. Richard Foster writes the following:

               Business meetings should be viewed as worship services. Available facts
                                                            iew
               can be presented and discussed, all with a v to listening to the voice of
               Christ. Facts are only one aspect of the decision-making process and are
               not conclusive. The Spirit can lead contrary to the available facts or in
               accord with them. He will implant a spirit of unity when the right path has
               been chosen and trouble us with restlessness when we have not heard Him
               correctly. Unity rather than majority rule is the principle of corporate
               guidance. Spirit-given unity goes beyond mere agreement. It is the
               perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.

We need to return to a model of living in which it is God the Father, God the Son and
God the Holy Spirit who call all the shots. In Acts chapter 13, we read, "While they (the
                                                              e
church at Antioch) were worshipping the Lord and fasting, th Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart
for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had
fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent
on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus."
Commenting on this, Richard Foster says,

               With all our modern methods of missionary recruitment we could profit by
               serious attention to that example of corporate guidance. We would be well
               advised to encourage groups of people who are willing to fast, pray and
               worship together until they have discerned the mind of the Lord and have
               heard His call.

But it is not just in 'spiritual' matters such as missionary work that we should be fasting,
praying and worshipping together in order to discern the mind of the Lord. This
desperately needs to become the daily pattern in our homes and workplaces as well as our
churches.

Being Fruitful

When God speaks and we obey, He is able to bring about His will in the earth. "Your
kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.", we pray. If we want to see
this prayer answered, then it is up to us to listen to the Lord and act in ready obedience
whatever the cost.




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A Chinese Christian worked for a mining company and part of herjob was to blow a
whistle each day when it was time for the miners to come up. One day she 'heard' a voice
telling her to blow the whistle. It was far too early, so she tried to ignore it but the
summons grew more and more urgent. In the end, despite the fact that it would probably
get her into serious trouble, she did blow it and the miners came up. The last one was just
clear when there was an earthquake. Most of the shafts were destroyed but not one miner
was hurt. When the miners asked her what made her whistle then, she confessed that she
was a Christian and described how God had told her to whistle. Hundreds of them
became Christians that day and many more at an official enquiry where she gave her
testimony.

                                               d
Many incredible things have come about as or inary people have heard God's voice and
responded in obedience to what they have believed He was saying to them. That
obedience may be costly - the Chinese lady obeyed at the possible cost of losing her job
and being persecuted for her faith - but we follow a man who "became obedient to death -
even death on a cross!" And without our obedience, we will never see the good fruit God
wants to produce in us and through us. For, when God speaks and we respond, things
happen! As Tracy Williamson writes, "We needto understand that what He tells us will
always be for a purpose. He never just engages in idle conversation, but speaks to us in
order that we might know His strategies or that we might be changed, comforted or used
to show somebody else His love."

Obedience to God's commands will always bring forth good Spiritual fruit. But that fruit
may well be hidden - much Spiritual growth is. So we need to take care that we do not
judge by the fruit that we see, but do what the Lord wants us to do simply because that is
what He has asked of us. He is looking for obedience, not 'results' or 'success' as we
measure it. The fruit of our obedience is God's responsibility, not ours. And there is no
need for us to do more than obey; indeed, doing more than He has asked ofus is no better
than doing less than what He wants. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you
should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horseor the mule,
                                                                     l
which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bride.", says the Lord.
The horse bolts and the mule stubbornly stands still but we are to be neither. Rather, we
are called to be the Good Shepherd's sheep in relationship with Him who follow Him
because they know His voice.

Perfect obedience to our heavenly Father is His best for us, and the source of great joy.
Jesus said, "If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have
obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love.I have told you this so that My joy
may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Let us all pursue this obedience that
leads to us receiving complete joy!

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.


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1. Do you find it hard to embrace certain aspects of God's revelation of His will for
                                                                              y
   our lives? Why do you think you find these things difficult to accept? Are ou
                                       -
   willing to let Him change your heart attitude towards what He says? Read
   Psalm 19:7-11 and ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to see His commands and
   ordinances as He sees them.
2. What is your experience of God directing you? Have you found that hearing God but
   not obeying Him has impeded your relationship with Him? Are there any ways now in
   which you are being disobedient, living in a way contrary to His will or refusing to do
   what He has asked of you? If so, do something about resolving the situation.
3. What is your practice concerning seeking the Lord's direction? Is it restricted to
   times when you are in trouble or perplexed? Do you want to retain control of parts
   of your life or do you really want His direction in everything you do? Plan changes to
   your life that will give God more opportunities to direct you, and ask Him for His
   help in implementing them.
4. What experience have you had of the Lord giving you 'crazy' directions, that you
   didn't understand or made you look foolish? If you did what He asked you to, what
   were the results? When have you found that common sense dictated behaviour
   contrary to God's will for you? In what areas of your life do you believe that
   common sense and human wisdom, rather than God's revelation, still control your
   decision-making? What can you do to place God's wisdom above human reasoning in
   these areas?
5. To what extent do you limit God's guidance to the 'religious' parts of your life? How
   much is your everyday decision-making like that of an unbeliever, ignoring the
   possibility of God's input? To what extent do you find that you live in independence
   from God in your areas of natural strength? Decide on ways in which you could
   increase your dependence on the Lord's direction in your workplace and home life.
6. What experiences have you had of fasting, praying and worshipping together in
   order to discern the mind of the Lord? What was the outcome? In your church or
   business, how do you think procedures could be changed so as to become a true
   theocracy in which God Himself is the Director? What role could you play in helping
   to bring this about?
7. To what extent do you find that your heart has been captivated by God's love to the
   extent that you will do whatever He asks of you? Use the following words to ask Him
   to continue to soften your heart towards Him:

   Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart,
   Teach me to move in the power of Your Spirit,
   Teach me to walk in the light of Your presence,
   Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.
   Teach me to love with Your heart of compassion,
   Teach me to trust in the word of Your promise,
   Teach me to hope in the day of Your coming,
   Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.

   Let all my movements express
   A heart that loves to say 'yes',


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       A will that leaps to obey You.
       Let all my energy blaze
       To see the joy in Your face;
       Let my whole being praise You.

Further Reading

Chapter 12, "The Discipline Of Guidance", in Richard Foster's book,Celebration Of
Discipline (Hodder and Stoughton), provides an excellent introduction to the subject of
guidance, emphasising its corporate nature.

                        8. Steps Towards Maturity
         Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

               Most Christians do not feel that they have been called to a deep, inward
               relationship to their Lord. But we have all been called to the depths of
               Christ just as surely as we have been called to salvation.

With these words Jeanne Guyon, writing three hundred years ago, began her book,
Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ. God’s desire is for us to be continually
increasing in Spiritual maturity. We should daily be growing in the knowledge of God, in
faith, humility, righteousness and love, and above all in conformity to Jesus. The "deeper
                                                                                        a
life" is not just for those with a ‘special calling’ but for each and every one of us. Sdly
though, much of what passes for Christian discipleship today encourages us to think that
we can have Spiritual life without seriously pursuing Spiritual growth. And so, many
enter God’s kingdom only to make little further progress in pursuing maturity But life
                                                                                 .
without growth isn’t really life at all — at best it is simply stagnation; at worst it’s the
beginning of a slow death.

Jesus calls us to become disciples, that is "learners" or "pupils". He wants us to be people
who are growing and moving on. For, although He loves us and accepts us just as we are,
His love for us is much too deep for Him to want us to remain as we are, in spiritual
weakness and poverty. He sees all our imperfections, and because He loves us so much,
desires us to leave them behind and grow up into full maturity. Our aim should be to
"become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". This was the
goal of the apostle Paul’s life. To the church in Philippi, he wrote the following:

               I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the
               fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death …

               Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made
               perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold
               of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But
               one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is
               ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called


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               me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such
               a view of things.

There was no place in Paul’s life for remaining static, for "resting on his laurels". Day by
day, he eagerly pursued the objective of knowing Christ fully and being conformed ever
more to His likeness in his mind and heart and will. For Paul,maturity was to be
demonstrated in pursuing even greater maturity. For, whether we have been following
the Lord for just a day or every day for a whole century, as long as we walk this earth,
there will always be heights yet to be scaled and depths yet to be plumbed in our Spiritual
development. There is always more of the nature of Christ to be formed in us.

Sadly, however, few of us make Spiritual growth a high priority. Superficiality is the
curse of our age and Spiritual immaturity abounds. Not that this is a new problem:
Writing about Christ’s eternal priesthood "in the order of Melchizedek", the author of the
epistle to the Hebrews wrote as follows:

               We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explainbecause you are
               slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you
               need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over
               again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being
               still an infant, is notacquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But
               solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves
               to distinguish good from evil.

               Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to
               maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead
               to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of
               hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement.

It is a salutary task to compare the epistle-writer’s understanding of foundational truths
with today’s fare. For example, the number of believers participating in "Alpha" courses
is surely evidence of the extent to which many of us are still Spiritual infants, needing
reminding of the "elementary teachings" of the faith.

The apostle Paul also faced a problem with spiritual immaturity that he had to address in
his first epistle to the Corinthians:

               Brothers, I could not address you as Spiritual but as worldly — mere
                                                                          u
               infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for yo were not yet
               ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since
               there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you
               not acting like mere men?

Is this not true of many of us too? Do we not act like "mere men" and see nothing wrong
in it? Paul clearly expected that Christians should behave, not like ordinary men and




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women, but increasingly like the Lord Himself. After all, we have the Holy Spirit of God
living in our midst!

The fact is, if we want to see the kingdom of God grow in the church and in the world,
then we will need first to be committed to its continuing growth in our own lives.
Spiritual growth isn’t automatic; it depends on our active co -operation with the Lord. So,
in this chapter, we will be looking at some of the attitudes and dynamics involved in
pursuing Spiritual maturity.

Honest Self-Assessment

To start with, we need to be honest about ourselves. Many of us live in denial of our own
spiritual impoverishment (though we may claim to see itin others!). Like the church in
Sardis, we may have a reputation of being alive, but yet be close to being dead. We may
be spiritually asleep but unable to recognise it because we’re asleep! We need to heed
Jesus’ alarm call: "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not
found your deeds complete in the sight of my God." Such a wake-up call may be
unpleasant; we often don’t like having to face up to the truth about our spiritual state.
                                                   ut
But, if we resist being awakened, we will miss o on the great liberation of being honest
with ourselves. If we refuse to accept our true situation then we will remain in it. But if
we admit to our spiritual deadness, then God can gently and lovingly begin to bring us
back to life. As Martin Luther wrote many years ago:

               If you do not know or recognise your needs, or think you have none, then
               you are in the worst possible place. The greatest trouble we can ever know
               is thinking that we have no trouble for we have become hardhearted and
               insensible to what is inside of us.

If we are honest, then we will recognise the truth that if we, the church, had not been half
asleep, then our nation would not be in the state that it’s in — increasingly turning its
back on God and His holy ways. We, and especially thoseof us who do have a reputation
of being Spiritually alive, are answerable for the bankrupt spiritual and moral condition
of our society. It is we who are responsible because God has chosen us as His
ambassadors to the world we live in.

But sadly, instead of repenting of our failures and changing our ways, so often we
compare ourselves against the world’s standards and think we’re doing OK. Although our
lives look nothing much like the kind of glorious holy commitment to God and His ways
that we see in His people in the Scriptures, because we use our own limited experience as
the measure to gauge ourselves against, we see nothing wrong with our relative
immaturity and half-heartedness. We are like spiritual pygmies measuring ourselves
against other spiritual pygmies and getting excited if we’re a little taller! We need to set
our sights higher than this, and seeking to throw off everything that hinders us work at
growing Spiritually tall. Jim Packer has expressed the necessity of honest self  -appraisal
like this:




                                                                                         89
               First, we must recognise how much we lack knowledge of God. We must
               learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our
               gifts and responsibilities, but by how we pray and what goes on in our
               hearts. Many of us, I suspect, have no idea how impoverished we are at
               this level. Let us ask the Lord to show us.

We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us to assess ourselves realistically.
We cannot afford to lie to ourselves. If we don’t tell ourselves the truth, we’ll never
progress beyond the start line. Jack Deere recently wrote the following:

               Some of us in the church never progress spiritually, because we lie to
               ourselves and to each other. … We don’t grow automatically with the
               passage of time. Some of us have been Christiansa long time, but instead
               of progressing beyond the novice level we’ve ended up repeating the same
               mistakes again and again. We have not only become content with a
               Christian experience far below that of the New Testament, we have even
               developed theologies to justify our inferior experience. … Growth begins
               when we recognise our spiritual poverty and powerlessness.

This was the problem in the church in Laodicea. Jesus addressed them as follows:

                                                                                  n
               You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thi g." But
               you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I
               counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become
               rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful
               nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I
               love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand
               at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will
               come in and eat with him, and he with Me.

Are we willing to let God open our eyes to see the extent of our own spiritual
wretchedness, pitifulness, poverty, blindness and nakedness? Whatever we have already
experienced of God, we always need to be in the position where we acknowledge our true
emptiness. Indeed, it is often those who are already well on the road towards maturity
who are most aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings. The more we grow the more
we realise that we need to grow more, that we continue to be poor, blind and naked,
dependent on God to give us His amazing riches, to heal our spiritual blindness and to
clothe us with His glorious righteousness.

The Way Up Is Down

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.", said Jesus to the
crowd, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." But, who are the poor in
spirit? Who are the meek? Surely it is those who recognise their spiritual needs, those
                                        -
who are not spiritually proud and self sufficient, those who humbly acknowledge their




                                                                                            90
dependence on the goodness and grace of God. It is they who are the "blessed" ones who
                                                                      -known parable:
will receive the kingdom. Jesus illustrated this with the following well

               Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax
               collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank
               you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or
               even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I
               get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up
               to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
               I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before
               God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who
               humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke’s account continues:

               People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have Him touch them. When
               the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to
               Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them,
               for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth,
               anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will
               never enter it."

The danger for us is to think that Jesus is talking here exclusively about conversion, about
new birth, as if childlike humility is a prerequisite only for initial entry into the kingdom
rather than necessary too for our on-going life and growth, and without which we are in
danger of forfeiting our place in the kingdom. Tragically, many of us who began like the
tax-collector in humble repentance soon end up like the Pharisee totally blind to the pride
that has sullied our hearts. We set out trusting in Jesus, but then look to ourselves to
continue. Our disposition before God should always be such that we come to Him
recognising we have absolutely nothing except that which He has given us. The kingdom
belongs to those who live before God in such an attitude of continual humility. Humility
before God is the essential condition for Spiritual growth to take place. He who makes
himself humble will be exalted. For the way to grow in the kingdom of God is
downwards. The way up is down!

The Upside-Down Kingdom

               The disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the
                                                                               d
               kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stan among
               them. And He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become
               like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore,
               whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
               heaven."

Who is the greatest? In the God’s kingdom and value system, it is the one who isleast
who is the greatest! We need to realise that the values of the kingdom of God are totally



                                                                                         91
inverted in comparison to the values of this world. When Jesus walked the earth, He
wasn’t impressed by the kind of people who normally impress us. Philip Yancey has
written as follows:

               Various scenes in the Gospels give a good picture of the kind of people
               who impressed Jesus. A widow who placed her last two cents in the
               offering. A dishonest tax collector so riddled with anxiety that he climbed
               a tree to get a better view of Jesus. A nameless, nondescript child. A
               woman with a string of five unhappy marriages. A blind beggar. An
               adulteress. A man with leprosy. Strength, good looks, connections, and the
               competitive instinct may bring a person success in a society like ours, but
               those very qualities may block entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
               Dependence, sorrow, repentance, a longing to change — these are the
               gates to God’s kingdom.

The beatitudes show the kind of attitudes that are highly valued by the Lord: poverty in
spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, mercy, purity in
heart, peacemaking, and righteousness resulting in persecution. These are not the things
our society values at all! Blessed are the powerful, blessed are the arrogant, blessed are
the self-sufficient, blessed are the successful, blessed are the influential, blessed are the
wealthy, blessed are the sexually promiscuous— these are the values our world believes
in as we hunger and thirst for a good time and look out for ‘number one’ (a quite
extraordinarily blasphemous expression). Meanwhile, Jesus’ wisdom on these things is
strikingly different:

               Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
               Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
               Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
               Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers
               treated the false prophets.

Success in the kingdom of heaven doesn’t look remotely like success in the world. In the
world, success is measured by such irrelevancies as wealth and career advancement. In
God’s kingdom, ‘success’ is measured by the extent to which our attitudes are in line
                             m
with His. Jesus "humbled hi self and became obedient", and humility and obedience are
still the hallmarks of those who truly follow Him.

More than any other virtue, it is humility that the Lord places a high value on:

               The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O
               God, you will not despise. Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the
               lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.

               For this is what the high and lofty One says— He who lives forever,
               whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also w himith
               who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to



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               revive the heart of the contrite." This is the one I esteem: he who is
               humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word.

It was for humility that Moses was commended in Numbers chapter 12: "Moses was a
very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." As a result,
Moses was able to have a much closer relationship with the Lord than others were. These
are the words of the Lord three verses later: "When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I
reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my
servant Moses ... With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the
form of the Lord." It’s no coincidence that these verses occur together like this. Humility
before God is a prerequisite of knowing Him intimately. Humility draws us close to the
God who loves us; lack of humility drives us away from Him.

The Potter And The Clay

The kind of humility that fa   cilitates Spiritual growth is that which grants God the
freedom to mould us as He desires. It is the opposite of resistance to His work of
transformation in our lives. Four times in Scripture, the image of a potter is used to
illustrate the sort of attitude we should have towards the Lord:

               You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the
               clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make
               me"? Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing"?

               Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd
               among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, "What
               are you making?" Does your work say, "He has no hands"?

               "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the
               Lord. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house
               of Israel."

               But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say
               to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’" Does not the
               potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery
               for noble purposes and some for common use?

Do we try to give God orders? Do we argue with Him? Do we fight what He wants to do
with us? Do we live as if we know best, without reference to Him? Such behaviour can
only hinder God’s work in our lives. We should be pliable in His hands. Our attitude
should be such that it is evident that it isGod who is our God, and not ourselves, that we
surrender to Him:

               You are the Potter and I am the clay,
               Help me to be willing to let You have Your way.




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               Jesus, You are changing me,
               As I let You reign supreme within my heart.

As John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must become greater; I must become less." Let us
submit ourselves to the Lord and allow Him to have His loving way in usand reign
supreme in our lives.

Making Excuses

At the heart of true humility is an stance of submission. However, the account of Moses’
commissioning encounter with the Lord serves to remind us that sometimes what looks
                                   posite:
like humility is in fact just the op

When the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, "I have seen the misery
of my people in Egypt. … So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people
the Israelites out of Egypt." But Moses responded, "Who am I, that I should go to
Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

The Lord replied by promising that He would be with him, but Moses continued,
"Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to
you’, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them?"

So the Lord revealed His covenant name to Moses and gave him a detailed description of
what was going to happen, promising that the elders of Israel would listen to him. But
                                                  d
Moses’ focus was on himself; no promise from Go was sufficient for him, so he
questioned the Lord again: "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The
Lord did not appear to you’?"

The Lord then gave him the ability to perform signs and wonders to convince any
possible sceptics. But Moses continued making excuses: "O Lord, I have never been
eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of
speech and tongue."

The Lord’s patience was now running thin and He replied, "Who gave man his mouth?
Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the
Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." But Moses
wouldn’t give up: "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."

Then the account records that "the Lord’s anger burned against Moses". For, although the
Lord is "slow to anger", neither does He withhold His anger or punishment from His
disobedient children for ever.

Moses’ reluctance here to do what God asked of him may look to us something like
humility, but it is really pride dressed up in humility’s clothing. The problem is that
Moses was focussed on himself. Moses was looking at his own inadequacies and failures
and not at the Lord. God Almighty would speak, and Moses would say, "But …". When


                                                                                        94
we look at ourselves and base our response to Him on our limitations, we are placing
ourselves and our weaknesses above the Lord God and His certain and sure promises.
                                                                            -focussed at
And placing ourselves above God is a form of pride. True humility is not self
all.

We should be looking not at our inadequacy — it’ll always be there — but at the Lord’s
complete adequacy for us, which will also always be there for us. So many of us use our
limitations or circumstances as an excuse for not moving on, for denying the Lord’s
challenge to let Him change us. "I’m so weak!" or "It’s so hard!", we cry. And the Lord
gently replies, "Yes I know, I know how you feel, but I AM with you and that is more
than enough. Please just do what I say." Of course, God is astoundingly patient withus as
He was with Moses, but many of us habitually presume on this mercy, "showing
contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising thatGod’s
kindness leads us toward repentance." There should be no place for ‘pity-parties’ in the
kingdom of heaven! Let us decide that we’re not going to make excuses to God whose
desire is always and only for our good, but joyfully submit to His word to us.

Post-Modern Tolerance

Our presently emerging ‘post-modern’ culture encourages another form of false humility.
Postmodernity has begun to dethrone the false ‘certainties’ of the outgoing modern
vision. The worship of the intellect and of the god Science is now less common, and this
is a good thing. The arrogant belief that we with our finite m inds could wholly
understand the workings of the creation of the infinite God certainly needed to go, as did
the belief that scientific categories of thought, with their implicit atheism, could provide
adequate answers to all our questions. But these false gods have not been replaced by the
true and living God, the eternal King, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but by an
extreme relativism with its loss of confidence inany universal truth — except that there
is none! As a result, tolerance towards all and every point of view (except perceived
intolerance) has become the new ethic. And tolerance certainly looks something like
humility. Of course there is a kind of tolerance that is an expression of forgiveness,
                                            nce
kindness, patience and love, but the tolera of today’s relativism is, to a great extent,
not like this.

Firstly, the tolerance of the post-modern era encourages us to treat matters of right and
wrong lightly to avoid giving offence, claiming that morality is a matter of personal
preference rather than of God’s revelation and viewing any appeal to absolute standards
as "bigotry". While we are called to a life of radical love for our neighbours and enemies,
we should never behave as if immorality and ungodliness don’t matter. The Lord hates all
sin and so should we. Specifically, He expects us to have an attitude ofintolerance
towards unrighteousness within His body, the church, for we are called to be aholy
people.

Secondly, this kind of tolerance encourages us to relegate truth to being subjectto
individual opinion and ridicules those who claim to know what is finally true about life.
But when God speaks, it’s not so that we can debate whether we agree with Him or not!



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He speaks the truth in order for us to live by it. We should be those who del ght in the
truth, not those who argue with it because we don’t like it, or water it down because
we’re afraid of giving offence. We should seek to be like Jesus, who was described as a
man of integrity who taught the way of God in accordance with the truth and wasn’t
swayed by men’s opinions. We may well be offended by some of the things God says         —
the gospel has been described as the "offence of the cross" and Jesus as the "stumbling
stone" for good reason. But we dare not use the post -modern ethic as a way to prevent
God’s words challenging and changing our beliefs and behaviour.

Thirdly, post-modern tolerance promotes uncertainty, doubt and unbelief as being virtues.
As Dallas Willard has said,

                                                                          d
               We live in a culture which has, for centuries now, cultivate the idea that
               the sceptical person is always smarter than one who believes. … Today it
               is the sceptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful
               intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as
                                  t
               wildly individualisic and unbearably bright.

While it is undeniably true that there are great mysteries at the centre of our faith and we
see "through a glass darkly", there is much that has been clearly revealed to us. When the
Lord has spoken plainly we are called to take Him at his word and not doubt. Throughout
the Scriptures, unbelief is castigated and faith frequently commended. God is remarkably
patient with us in our doubt, but as Jesus said to Thomas, we need to "stop doubting and
believe", and if we struggle to trust God’s promises, we should ask Him in His grace to
help us to overcome our unbelief.

Above all, this sort of tolerance encourages us to sit on the fence when God wants us to
                                                                                is
nail our colours to the cross and be willing to be nailed there ourselves like H Son if
necessary. In each of these areas, today’s ethic of tolerance refuses to accept God’s (or
anyone else’s) right to tell someone what to believe or how to behave, and places our
preferences and desires above God and what He has to say. This kind ofrelativistic
tolerance needs to be recognised as a form of rebellion against God and the requirements
He places on His creatures. It is another manifestation of pride masquerading as humility.
Let’s take care that we are not led astray by the world’s values, and seek to let our loving
heavenly Father build in us true righteousness, truth, faith and love.

More Than Oxygen

We live in a world which values independence and self     -sufficiency rather than seeing
these attitudes as creating a barrier between us and God. We need to recognise and reject
the presumption of trying to build a world apart from God. Our society praises those who
say, like those who first sought to build the tallest building in the world, "Come, let us
build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a
name for ourselves". We need to live lives that make a name for God, that cause others to
glorify Him, and to renounce all self-glorification and self -sufficiency.




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For, in addition to submission, being humb before God is about accepting that we are
totally dependent on Him for everything. Humility is about reliance on God in every
season of our life, and about presenting ourselves before Him completely open to being
                                           ted
equipped by Him, taught by Him and direc by Him. All that we have comes from God
— every skill and talent, all our possessions and wealth, each of our relationships and
friendships. We should joyfully acknowledge thatwe are nothing at all without Him,
indeed that apart from Him we can do nothing. Four hundred years ago, Francis de Sales
wrote these words about our human insufficiency:

               I can do nothing alone; my own will, however hard I exert it, does not
               suffice; my own plans, however astutely and systematically devised, all
               fail. So, there is nothing for it but to hand myself over to God, truly and
               wholly, so that He may use, or, for that matter, in His wisdom not use,
               whatever capacity I possess to serve Him.

This last point is very important. When God grants us ability in a certain area, weneed to
return the gift to His hands for Him to use or not use as He sees fit. There is a pitfall any
of us can fall into, of receiving a gift from God and then using it aswe think appropriate.
Having started in total reliance on God, we try to continue in our own strength, no longer
relying on His direction and help. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Are you so foolish?
After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"
As Charles Spurgeon wrote,

               Beware of mixing even a little of self with the mortar with which you
               build, or you will make it untempered mortar. The stones will not hold
               together. If you look to Christ for your beginning, beware of looking to
               yourself for your ending. He is Alpha. See to it that you make Him Omega
               also. If you begin in the Spirit, you must not hope to be made perfect by
               the flesh. Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began. Let the
               Lord be all in all to you.

                                                                         s
Another mistake is to behave as if human effort will take us a certain di tance and then,
having got that far by ourselves, God will take us the rest of the way. We must realise
that human effort by itself is worthless, unable to achieve anything of eternal value. Henri
Nouwen has written the following:

               Prayer requires that we stand in God’s presence with open hands, naked
               and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and to others that without God
               we can do nothing. This is difficult in a climate where the predominant
               counsel is "Do your best and God will do the rest." When life isdivided
               into "our best" and "God’s rest", we have turned prayer into a last resort to
               be used only when all our own resources are depleted. … Discipleship
               does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On
               the contrary, it means to recognise that we can do nothing at all, but that
               God can do everything through us. As disciples, we find not some but all
               our strength, hope, courage and confidence in God.



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God’s grace teaches us two things: firstly that apart from God we can do nothing, and
secondly that with Him all things are possible. We can do everything through Him who
gives us strength, for what is impossible with men is possible with God. Indeed, our
weakness becomes the stage on which God can display His glory. The Lord places His
treasure in "jars of clay" to show that the power comes from Him and not from us. As the
Lord said to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made
perfect in weakness." Therefore, like Paul was, we should be glad that we are totally
impotent in ourselves, because it means that Christ’s power can made evident in us.
Humility is about doing things in God’s strength, "through Him", rather than trying to do
them in our own strength, without Him.

Our need for the Lord, in order both to begin and to continue to live in the way He desires
is greater than any other need we have. Brian Doerksen has expressed something of the
depth of this need in his song, "More Than Oxygen":

               More than oxygen, I need Your love.
               More than life-giving food the hungry dream of,
               More than an eloquent word depends on the tongue,
               More than a passionate song needs to be sung,
               More than a word could ever say,
               More than a song could ever convey —
               I need You more than all of these things.
               Father, I need You more.

Let us ask our loving Lord to open our eyes and reveal to our hearts and minds and wills
the fact that we do need Him and His work in our lives more than we need food and
clothing and shelter, and even air to breathe. For only God Himself can produce in us
fruit that will last.

Co-operating With God

Submission and dependence are the attributes of genuine humility. An honest recognition
of our spiritual poverty, and humble submission to and dependence on the Lord— these
are foundational attitudes essential for any Spiritual growth. But what can we do in order
to progress towards greater humility?

In his monastic rule, Benedict of Nursia, founder and abbot of the monastery on Monte
                                                                                     ay
Cassino, gave some practical steps in pursuing humility that are as relevant to us tod as
they were to Benedict’s sixth century situation. Here is a summary of some of them:

               Having constant reverence for God and mindfulness of His commands
               Rejecting our own will and desires and doing God’s will
               Submitting to others in obedience
               Accepting hardship and enduring with patience the injuries and afflictions
               we face
               Confessing all our sinful thoughts and actions



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              Having contentment in all things, especially in having little
              Recognising our utter unworthiness before God
              Learning to keep silence and to speak gently with few and sensible words

Nine hundred years later, Thomas à Kempis wrote similarly of four steps in "the way of
peace and true liberty":

              First, strive to do another’s will rather than your own. Second, choose
              always to have less rather than more. Third, seek the lower places in life,
              dying to the need to be recognised and important. Fourth, always and in
              everything desire that the will of God may be completely fulfilled in you.
              The person who tries this will be treading the frontiers ofpeace and rest.

              Oh, if only you could know how much peace for yourself and joy for
              others your good efforts could bring, I think you would be more anxious
              for Spiritual growth!

Practical suggestions such as these give us direction as to how to co-operate with the
work of our loving heavenly Father in transforming us into his likeness with ever -
increasing glory. Humility and Spiritual growth will not come to us if we simply sit
around and wait for God to pour it into us. But neither can we ourselves effect the
changes God wants to bring about in our hearts and minds and wills. Mike Bickle has
written of God’s transforming work like this:

              Being transformed from glory to glory is an operation of the Holy Spirit
              on the inside — in our minds, wills and emotions.It is being strengthened
              with power through His Spirit in your inner being. …

              Many people make solemn resolutions about what they are going to do
              from now on or about what they are never going to do again. But unless
              God changes you, you’ll always be the way you are. We may drag
              ourselves into the prayer closet on a regular basis, but only God can
              change the heart. It happens by His grace working in you. Grace is God’s
              power enabling you to do and be more than you ever could in your own
              strength.

We cannot change our own hearts and we are not expected too. It is not our work, but
God’s to work deep within us. Through His Spirit God reveals Himself to our spirits and
in His grace, does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.

And yet we are not free from responsibility. "Continue to work out your salvation with
fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His
good purpose.", wrote Paul to the Philippians. Paradoxically, we do have to do something
even though it is God who does all the real work Himself — both the "willing" and the
"acting" — within us! As Richard Foster reminds us, the part that we are expected to play
does not itself achieve our transformation:


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              The classical Disciplines— fasting and prayer, for example — have no
              virtue or merit whatsoever in and of themselves. They merely place us
              before God in such a way that He can begin building the kingdom -
              righteousness within us.

So the onus on us is to co-operate with God’s work, to offer ourselves, our wills and
hearts and minds — inasmuch as we have control over them — to the Lord for Him to
transform by the working of His Spirit.

              Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;
                                                                            o
              it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless y u remain in
              Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in
              him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone
              does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and
              withers.

These words of Jesus remind us that we grow as God causes us to grow when we remain
connected to the Head. If we do not remain tapped in to the vine, our growth will cease
and we will wither. Ultimately, our responsibility is that of pursuing, in every manner we
can, deeper relationship with our Lord. For it is the openness of our relationship with
Him that provides the environment in which He can bring about Spiritual growth in our
lives.

The Need For Zeal

                                                                     od
In addition to a foundation of humility, another need we have is for G to kindle in our
hearts a zeal and enthusiasm, a deep longing and desire for His work in our lives and our
society. The Lord described Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, as being "as zealous as I am for
                                                            y
My honour" when he took decisive action against immoralit among the Israelites. We
need to become people like this who are zealous for God’s honour within the church and
the world.

Cynicism — especially in respect of profound religious enthusiasm— is a prevailing
British disease. Commitment and conviction areoften disregarded as being ‘fanaticism’
and ‘fundamentalism’. As a nation, we are generally suspicious of excessive excitement.
Like Michal, king David’s wife, we are often too concerned about appearances:

                                                                  rd
              David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lo with all his might,
              while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with
              shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the
              City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And
              when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she
              despised him in her heart. …

              When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of
              Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has


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                                                            s
              distinguished himself today, disrobing in the ight of the slave girls of his
              servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

              David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than
              your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the
              Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become
              even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.
              But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour."

God, who looks at the heart, honours those whose love for Him is such that they are
happy to look foolish for His sake.

Our calling as the church is to be a committed and passionate people, radically devoted to
God and His ways. If we can’t get excited about God and the gospel, what hope is there
                                             ut
for us? We should be never lacking in zeal, b full of Spiritual fervour. For, as Martin
Lloyd-Jones said, "Dislike of enthusiasm is to quench the Spirit."

Sadly though, many of us express little Spiritual passion in our lives. We are more likely
to get excited about the football results (or about whatever other sports or hobbies we
enjoy) than we ever do about God! Half-heartedness and superficiality are common. Our
hearts remain unbroken and passions unstirred by the plight of those "without hope and
without God in the world." We often spend little of our time in prayer and care little for
holiness. Such spiritual lukewarmness is never going to change our society. No, we need
to be people who burn with an unquenchable Spiritual fire.

Perhaps it is just that we are unwilling to pay the cost of a true response from the heart,
                                                                         —
for true godly zeal will assuredly lead to sacrifice, pain and suffering as well as joy
beyond measure. Thus we live spiritually undisciplined lives with little impact, failing to
do what needs to be done when it needs to be done — rather like the kamikaze pilot who
                                               -
flew seventeen missions! However, such half heartedness places us in danger of facing
the same judgement that Christ pronounced to the church in Laodicea:

              I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were
              either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor
              cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth.

What is the cure for this endemic spiritual lethargy? What will awaken our cold hearts to
godly enthusiasm and passion, and lighta blazing fire and mighty flame in our souls?
Surely, only God Himself can awaken us from our slumber. Let’s cry out to Him:

              Don’t let my love grow cold;
              I’m calling out, "Light the fire again."
              Don’t let my vision die;
              I’m calling out, "Light the fire again."




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A. W. Tozer, who wrote a book entitled The Pursuit of God, knew that this was one of
the primary needs in our day:

               Almost every day of my life I am praying that "a jubilant pining and
               longing for God" might come back on the churches. … This longing or   f
                                                                                   -
               God that brings Spiritual torrents and whirlwinds of seeking and self
               denial — this is almost gone from our midst.

Mike Bickle has written similarly more recently:

               There must come a time in the lives of mature believers when we are
               awakened to holy fervency. When we cry, "God, I’m tired of serving You
               from a distance. I don’t care what it’s going to cost me. I want to be
               wholly Yours in the deepest part of my being."

Spiritual zeal does not depend on personality. You can have the gentlest human
disposition possible and still be consumed with the fire of God. What it does require
though is an attitude of self-denial. Are we willing to use Mike Bickle’s words, "I don’t
care what it’s going to cost me", as we cry out to the Lord to fill us with fervent passion
for Himself?

We must also be clear that it is not human energy or natural zeal that we require. Human
passion will never last the course and is incapable of producing Spiritual fruit. No, what
we need is for God Himself to awaken in us a burning desirefor Himself. Mike Bickle
has expressed it like this:

               It takes God to love God. It takes a progressive revelation of God’s
               infinitely satisfying love, His exuberant affections and His indescribable
               beauty to awaken the church and compel her to give herself wholly back
               to Him.

O Holy Spirit, awaken your church again to holy passion!

Hungering And Thirsting

One of the Biblical paradigms for Spiritual growth is that of spiritually thirsty people
                                                                     t
coming to the Lord to drink and spiritually hungry people coming o Him to eat:

               Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no
               money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and
               without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on
               what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and your
               soul will delight in the richest of fare.

               On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud
               voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever


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               believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow
               from within him."

               I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is
               thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

               The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say,
               "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him
               take the free gift of the water of life.

God invites us to come and receive what He desires to give us. But, significantly, the
invitation is offered to those who thirst. For, if we aren’t spiritually thirsty, then we are
unlikely to make the effort to come — and if we don’t come, we can be sure we won’t be
filled.

Sadly, few today in Britain know what it is to truly hunger and thirst after the Lord. Our
lives are comfortable and we are much too easily satisfied by the empty pleasures the
world offers us. Too often, our material wealth numbs us to our spiritual poverty. We
need to wake up to the fact that money and material things are never going to meet our
spiritual needs — nor will worldly success, or sensual or romantic human relationships.
"Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?",
asks the Lord. Genuine spiritual hunger and thirst make usdissatisfied with all the joysof
the earth.

As Dallas Willard has put it, "Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they
are for cornflakes or toast and eggs." Indeed, most of us read and sing the psalmists’
descriptions of spiritual desperation without really having muchin our own experience to
match their feelings against:

               As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.
               My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. My tears have been my food
               day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Whereis your God?"
               These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the
               multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy
               and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

               O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my
               body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I
               have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory.
               Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will
               praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My
               soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my
               mouth will praise You. On my bed I remember you;I think of you through
               the watches of the night.




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               I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all Your works and
               consider what Your hands have done. I spread out my hands to You; my
               soul thirsts for You like a parched land.

                                                                                   —
Physical, mental and emotional anguish, sleepless nights and unremitting crying these
are the characteristics of true spiritual longing as portrayed by the psalmists. Dowe have
this thirst to know God and be with Him? Do we want to have such a thirst?

Spiritual thirst can be the result of recognising our spiritual dryness and drought. Indeed
God may choose to make us thirsty by letting us go through a dry and barren season if
His invitation to come and drink isn’t enough to get us to respond. Alternatively, spiritual
hunger can come from tasting the sweetness of the Lord and desiring more: "I have seen
You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Your love is better than
life" For the experience of the presence of God is truly ‘moreish’— what has been called
a "dissatisfied satisfaction". John of the Cross called it "a living thirst … the urgent
longing of love." David Brainerd, the eighteenth century missionary to the American
Indians, described it like this:

               When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable and
                                                                                  pain.
               my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable. O, this pleasing
               It makes my soul press after God.

More recently, Melinda Fish, described her own experience as "that wonderful sense of
Jesus’ presence that makes you feel hungry and full at the same time and keeps
prompting you to ask God for more." The Lord wants us to keep coming back to Him, to
always have this deep yearning and longing for more of Him, not to be satisfied to drink
just a mouthful and then withdraw.

If we desire to see His work in our lives, then we need to ask God to give us this hunger,
this overwhelming desire for Him. For God responds to hunger and thirst — "He satisfies
the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things." This spiritual truth was something that
Mary, Jesus’ mother, recognised: "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent
the rich away empty." As Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled." "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already
received your comfort." It is those who are consumed with a passionate desire for more
of God in their lives who shall be filled. He satisfies those who recognise their need, who
are empty and broken, who are at the point of desperation, who are panting for Him in the
way a deer pants for water in the desert. To a great extent, t he degree of hunger we have
for God will determine how close to Him we will become. God will answer the heart that
cries. As Philip Yancey has written, "Human beings do not readily admit desperation.
When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near."

If you were physically dying of thirst, how long would you be willing to queue to receive
water? Would you give up after a while, or would you stay in line as long as necessary?
How much would you take? A cupful? A bucketful? As much as you could carry? How
often would you come back for more? The Lord God is the spring of Living Water that



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satisfies our spiritual thirst. He gives us drink from His river of delights for with Him is
the fountain of life. He makes rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the
valleys of our lives. He turns the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into
springs. How thirsty are you for that divine water? How much do you want to drink of
Him and be refreshed? How much are you willing to expend on coming to Him to drnk?      i
How much of this Living Water will you take? Will you return to Him again and again
and again for more and more until your life is saturated with His glorious presence and
His extravagant love, and the Living Waters of the River of Life flood your sou    l?

               Hungry, I come to You for I know You satisfy.
               I am empty, but I know Your love does not run dry.
               Broken, I run to You for Your arms are open wide.
               I am weary, but I know Your touch restores my life.

Receiving In Order To Give

The truth is that many of us try to live for God without drinking anything like enough,
without giving sufficient priority to feasting on the abundance of God’s house. We tend
to construct our lives around doing things, around being busy, around giving out, around
the exercise of our ministry and the fulfilment of God’s particular calling on our lives, but
we do so without availing ourselves of the necessary Spiritual resources from the Lord
Himself. Our diaries are unbalanced: full of times for ‘doing’ but not matched with
spaces set aside for ‘becoming’. As a result, the situation of "the preacher preaching
when the well is dry" and in need of Spiritual renewal is only too common. Like ancient
Israel, we have often forsaken the Lord, the spring of Living Water, and have dug our
own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Our ineffectiveness is the result of
trusting in our own strength by not coming to receive what we need from our Father in
heaven who loves to give the good gifts of His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

For many of us, a primary cause of this behaviour is that our identity is tied up in our
works and accomplishments. To be satisfied we need to feel that we are ‘productive’,
‘achieving something’ or even that we are seen by others to be achieving something. But
the Lord wants our identity tied up in our relationship with Him and Him alone. Are we
willing to accomplish things in the spiritual realm of prayer, where there is no obvious
                                                                              g
task completed? Are we willing to sit at Jesus’ feet and pray? Are we willin to be
involved in things where no one can say, "Look what he has done."? Are we willing to
have people wonder if we are out of line because we are obeying the Lord and not their
                                                                             i
expectations? Indeed, are we willing to care only whether the Lord is satisf ed with us —
to live our lives as before an audience of one? For if we are concerned more about
‘achieving’ than obedience, concerned more about being seen to be "doing something"
than with the Lord’s delight in us, we are unlikely to give the necessary priority to the
hidden works of prayer and fasting in which the reward is Spiritual and often unseen.

Our ministry, our work, indeed our whole lives should issue out of theoverflow of what
we let God pour into us. As Jesus said, we should be a people from within whom streams
of Living Water from God flow. If we want to produce good fruit for God then our lives



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and ministries will have to flow out of His fullness in us. What is required is a pattern of
coming to God and then going to bear fruit. One famous church where this fundamental
truth is given priority has the mission statement, "To walk in God’s love and then give it
away". Neither the coming nor the going is sufficient on its own. Obviously, receiving
from God must lead into ministry for Him, but formost of us the greater danger is that of
granting unthinking priority to work and busyness. Intense activity must be punctuated by
periods of uncluttered rest when we draw our sustenance from God. Work must give way
to prayer. Each of us needs to learn to integrate our giving out to others with receiving the
necessary equipping from the Lord.

The monastic religious communities have probably got quite a lot to teach us in this area.
                                                                               e
Their daily rhythm that encompasses sleeping, eating, manual labour, servic, relaxation,
celebration, corporate worship and private prayer shows an integration of receiving and
ministering that eludes most of us. Perhaps we could all move forward by reflecting on
                                                                   e
their lifestyle, comparing it with the hectic rushing that charact rises most of our lives,
and seeking to translate its strengths into our varied situations.

During a time set aside for reassessing his priorities, Henri Nouwen received the
following advice from Abbot John Eudes:

               Establish a new rhythm of prayer, make it known, and make it a priority.

               Make a daily discipline of listening prayer a must by plotting periods of
               the day when you determine that you will ‘waste time’ with God.

               Recurring days of retreat will be really fruitful only when this daily
                             i
               discipline is f rmly established.

               Integrate prayer and work.

Sadly, few of us seem to be willing to discipline ourselves and adjust our routines
sufficiently to give the appropriation of Spiritual nourishment the place it requires. The
following words, spoken in October 1992 by R. T. Kendall demonstrate just how serious
the problem may be in our nation:

               A recent poll was taken suggesting that the average clergyman in Britain
               spends an average of four minutes a day alone with the Lord. Do you
               wonder why the church is powerless? Martin Luther once said. "I’ve got a
               very busy day. I must spend not two but three hours in prayer."

If the men and women who have been called to pastoral oversight exhibit lives of such
extreme prayerlessness, what of the rest of us? The fact is that there are very few of us
who couldn’t, if we wanted to, arrange to spend an hour or two each day alone with the
Lord who loves us. Some of us might have to sacrifice certain leisure activities or perhaps
even change to a job that demands less of our time in order to do this, but if we valued




                                                                                        106
making space to receive from God’s bounteous provision highly enough, we would be
willing to make whatever sacrifice was necessary.

Where do our priorities lie? In storing up earthly treasures or in gaining heavenly
treasure? As Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." And where
our heart is controls how we spend our time. In our society, stillness is often
misinterpreted as passiveness, unproductiveness and laziness, and many of us know lit     tle
of entering into God’s rest and soaking in His bountiful love and grace. But,a prayerless
life is one of practical atheism, and so, like Martin Luther did, we need to recognise that
if we are going to live a fruitful life the way God desires, then itwill require the spending
of significant amounts of time, and not just a few snatched minutes here and there,
joyfully drawing water from the well of salvation and drinking deep draughts from the
river of life.

God’s Empowering Presence

In John’s gospel, this Living Water that we are to drink deeply and that is to flow from us
to bring blessing to others is identified with the Holy Spirit:

               On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud
               voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever
               believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow
               from within him." By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed
               in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given,
               since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The apostle Paul follows up this connection when writing to both the Corinthians and the
Ephesians: "For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or
Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." "Do not get drunk
on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." And we read in the
book of Acts too that a high value is placed on being one who is "full of" or "filled with"
the Holy Spirit as a primary characteristic of Spiritual maturity. Stephen and Barnabas, in
particular, are described as being men who were "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit".

What do we know of being filled with the Holy Spirit of God? Do we know the daily
experiential reality of Hiswork in our lives? Would others describe us as those who are
"full of the Spirit"? Commenting on the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit,
Gordon Fee has written as follows:

                                                                                       l
               For Paul the Spirit, as an experienced and living reality, was the absoutely
               crucial matter for Christian life, from beginning to end. … For the
               contemporary church it seems much less so, both in the academy and in
               the actual life of the church. I do not mean that the Holy Spirit is not
               present; He is indeed, or we are not of Christ at all. Nevertheless, despite
               the affirmations in our creeds and hymns and the lip service paid to the




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               Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit is largely marginalised in
               our actual life together as a community of faith.

Writing of the same contrast in the Introduction to his Letters to Young Churches,
J. B. Phillips stated:

               The great difference between present-day Christianity and that in these
               letters is that, to us, it is primarily a performance; to them it was a real
               experience. We reduce the Christian religion to a code … a rule of heart
               and life. To these it was quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new
               quality of life altogether.

Is it one of our primary aims to let the Holy Spirit invade our lives? The apostle Paul’s
assumption was that the dynamically experienced work of the Holy Spirit would be
clearly evident in the everyday lives of believers. This is the reason Paul criticised the
Corinthians for "acting like mere men". They, and we, should be acting like ‘Spirit  -men’
and ‘Spirit-women’, living in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in human powerlessness.

It is the experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is the fulfilment of the New
Covenant promises that God would once again be present with His people. The Spiri is    t
not an impersonal force or power but the presence and power of the Almighty Living
God in our midst, God with us, Christ in us, the hope of glory. By the Holy Spirit, we
have the working of God’s mighty strength to empower us in our daily life and wit ess.n
We need to be clear that as the people of God we are expected to live our lives "by the
Spirit", as the apostle Paul expressed it, and not in the same way as people who do not
have the Spirit.

Because we have the Spirit of God like Jesus did, we are enabled to live God’s way like
He did, with the same opportunities to bear fruit in the power of the Spirit as He did. The
great tragedy is that many of us, notwithstanding the fact that God gives the Spirit
without limit to His people, set our sights so low, believing the lie that we are "only
human" when we have the Holy Spirit living in us both individually and corporately. This
very fact — of God being with us by His Spirit — should enable us to live in a way that
makes us easily distinguishable from th without the Spirit. God’s people are expected
                                         ose
to be different. The way we live should provide a radical alternative to the ways of the
world around us. This is the import of Moses’ prayer at Mount Sinai:

               If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How
               will anyone know that You are pleased with Your people unless You go
               with us? What else will distinguish Your people from all the other people
               on the face of the earth?

Let this be our cry too!

Living According To The Spirit




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In his epistles, particularly Romans and Galatians, the apostle Paul describes the contrast
between the two possible ways of living as, on the one hand, "life according to the
‘flesh’" (Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ to refer to our old nature, outside Christ) and, on the
other hand, "life according to the Spirit" (our new nature, in Christ). For, as Paul writes
elsewhere, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has
come!" We should not understand the ‘flesh’    -Spirit contrast as between a physical, down-
                                     -worldly existence. Not at all! No, the contrast is
to-earth life and a ‘spiritual’, other
between real life without God and real life with God. The point is that God’s presence
through the Holy Spirit should make all the difference in theworld as to the way we live.
Here are Paul’s words to the Galatian believers expressing the contrast between the two
ways of life:

               Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Forthe
               flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary
               to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other; consequentlyyou may
               not do whatever you want.

Paul wrote in a similar vein to the Romans:

               Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the
               flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their
               minds set on what the Spirit desires.

As people of the Spirit, we are expected to live in a new way that is completely different
from the way of life of those not of the Spirit. Firstly, the old life is one of "doing what
we want", whereas the new life is one of doing what the Spirit wants. We no longer have
the empty ‘privilege’ of doing whatever we wish; we now do as the Spirit leads. The two
                                                     d
ways of life are mutually incompatible and we nee to be ruthless in leaving the old self     -
centred ‘flesh-life’ behind and living under the control of the Holy Spirit:

               Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are
                                                                                     e
               controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God liv s in
               you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong
               to Christ.

               Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions
               and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

                                                                        human
Secondly, the old ‘flesh’ life is ‘worldly’, unSpiritual, based on merely
considerations, whereas the new life is Spiritual, godly, based on wisdom and
understanding from God. The following extracts from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, in
which the Greek ‘fleshly’ is translated as ‘worldly’, demonstrate the contrast:

               Brothers, I could not address you as Spiritual but as worldly — mere
               infants in Christ. … You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and




                                                                                          109
               quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere
               men?

               We have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations
               with you, in the holiness and sincerity that arefrom God. We have done so
               not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. … Do I
               make my plans in a worldly manner?

               I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be
               toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world
               [literally "according to the flesh"]. For though we live in the world, we do
               not wage war as the world does [literally "according to the flesh"]. The
               weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world [literally
               "fleshly"]. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish
               strongholds.

                                              n
In our thinking, our judgements and our planni g — indeed, in every aspect of our
conduct — it should be evident that we go about things in a way that is dependent, not on
the wisdom and values of the world, but on the revelation and direction of God.

                                                 m
Thirdly, the old life is a life lived with only hu an resources, whereas the new life is
lived in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Too often we do not avail ourselves of the
Spiritual means available to enable us to live as God intends. We need to heed the
                                            n
criticism Paul levelled against the Galatia Christians:

               Are you so foolish? After beginning with theSpirit, are you now trying to
               attain your goal by human effort [literally "the flesh"]?

Is this not so often true of us? We start our walk of faith in weakness trusting totally in
God to achieve in us what He needs to, knowing that we can do nothing. Then, bit by bit,
once the Christian walk becomes familiar territory, we begin to trust less in God’s
intervention and more in our new ‘Christian’ habits and disciplines to be sufficient to
move us forwards.

Be Filled

The Holy Spirit, as the personal presence of God’s power, is absolutely critical for
Christian life and growth. We cannot expect merely human capabilities to enable us to
                                                                    e
live the kind of new life God expects of us. Unfortunately, it is oft n not obvious in the
way we go about things that we really believe this to be true. "Not by might nor by
power, but by My Spirit", says the Lord Almighty through the prophet Zechariah. But
                                                                        an
much of the time we live in almost total dependence on our own hum strengths and
abilities, on ingenuity and sophistication, rather than in reliance on the agency of the
Holy Spirit.




                                                                                         110
It is an oft-repeated suggestion that if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church
today, ninety percent of the church would go right on as though nothing had happened.
This is, no doubt, an overstatement of the case. Yet nothing of eternal value can take
place without the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Without the Spirit’s work in
our midst we are quite literally impotent. He is the essential constituent of the whole of
Christian life. This is why, before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples to wait for Him
to send the Spirit to them:

               It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor
               will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. I am going to
               send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have
               been clothed with power from on high. Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait
                                                                      d
               for the gift My Father promised, which you have hear Me speak about.
               For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with
               the Holy Spirit. … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on
               you.

We must let God, through His Holy Spirit, supply us with the necessary empowering, the
essential enablement without which we will know only pathetic ineffectiveness. For the
kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. In order to grow, in order to live as
                                                                                   i
God intended, in order to achieve anything of value, we need to know experientally for
ourselves the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit of God. We must come to God each
day to drink of the Spirit, for it is only when the Holy Spirit comes upon us that we
receive the power we need to live as the Lord desires. As Hudson Taylor said,

               It is divine power we want, not better methods. Let us give ourselves to
               prayer for nothing less than to be filled with the Spirit, and made channels
               through which He shall work with resistless power.

The apostle Paul wrote that we should be those who are filled with the Spirit. What are
we doing about it? Let us each day make space to seek the Spirit’s infilling, for, if we are
going to be effective as God’s ambassadors in the world, we will need the daily anointing
of the Holy Spirit. We can never go wrong seeking more of the Holy Spirit. Let us both
individually and corporately make Evan Roberts’ Welsh Revival prayer our own:

               Send the Spirit now for Jesus Christ’s sake.
               Send the Spirit powerfully now for Jesus Christ’s sake.
               Send the Spirit more powerfully now for Jesus Christ’s sake.
               Send the Spirit still more powerfully now for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Reflections

The following questions and exercises are to help you to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.




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1. Do you find it hard to be honest about your level of spiritual maturity? What kind
   of ‘measure’ do you think you should use? To what extent do you think it is
   reasonable to say that we are all spiritually "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and
   naked"? How does honest self-assessment promote Spiritual growth?
2. How do you understand ‘success’ in the kingdom of God? What is it that God values
   in us? How does this affect your perspective on ‘worldly’ success? What concrete
   Spiritual goals do you have for your life? What steps can you take towards achieving
   these goals?
3. Do you sometimes argue with God? Why? Do you tend to use your circumstances as
   an excuse for not progressing spiritually? How can you avoid the tendency of
   focussing on your limitations rather than on God’s great resources?
4. What do you think are the strengths and the weaknesses of the contemporary
   emphasis on tolerance? In what ways do you think God’s revelation of Himself
   challenge attitudes to ethics, truth and doubt in today’s society? How can you
   express your commitment to God’s ways in an appropriate way in your interactions
   with others?
5. What are you passionate about? Do you get excited about God? Or are you
   sometimes cynical about religious zeal? Ask the Lord to fill you with holy passion for
   Him and His kingdom.
6. What experience have you had of Spiritual hunger and thirst? Have you known the
   "dissatisfied satisfaction" that makes you feel full and also hungry for more? Ask
   the Lord to both increase your Spiritual thirst and also abundantly satisfy it.
7. Do you find that you plan your life around ‘doing’ rather than ‘receiving’? What do
   you think can be learned from the daily rhythm of the monastic communities about
   integrating prayer and activity? How can you bring a better balance to your schedule
   so that your life can flow out of what God pours into you?
8. What is your experience of "God’s empowering presence", the Holy Spirit at work in
   your life? How do you understand "living according to the Spirit"? Plan ways in which
   you can regularly fulfil Paul’s injunction to "be filled with the Spirit".
9. Use the following words as a prayer for the living waters of the Holy Spirit to flow
   into your heart and out from you to others:

   Is anyone thirsty, anyone?
   Is anyone thirsty? Jesus said:
   "Let them come to Me and drink,
   Let them come to Me."

   O, let the living waters flow,
   O, let the living waters flow,
   Let the river of Your Spirit
   Flow through me.

                            9. A Holy People
        Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.



                                                                                     112
One central aspect of the Spirit’s work is that of the manifesting of God’s holiness within
us, for the Spirit is the Holy Spirit of God and life lived by the Holy Spirit isholy life. So
any lack of holiness in our lives is a sure sign that in that area we are not living by the
enabling power of the Spirit. As the people of a holy God, we are called to live holy lives.
For, when the Lord inaugurated His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, His desire was
for His people to be holy like He Himself is:

               You will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. … You are to
               be My holy people.

               Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

As we have seen in an earlier chapter, God’s holiness is His moral goodness, His purity
and righteousness. Under the Old Covenant, the Lord gave extensive directions as to how
His people should live in order to reflect His holiness in every aspect of their lives. These
detailed commands are recorded in the four Biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers and Deuteronomy and summarised in the ten commandments. Their extent by
itself demonstrates the high value God places on holiness in His people.

Holy living is no less of a requirement for the peopleof God living under the New
Covenant. We too are called to be God’s holy people, as these extracts from the New
Testament epistles testify:

               Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit,
               perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

               For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and
               blameless in His sight.

               God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

               Make every effort to … be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

               But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is
               written: "Be holy, because I am holy." … You are a chosen people, a royal
               priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

               You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of
               God and speed its coming.

However, under the New Covenant of grace, the emphasis is no longer on the
commandments of the law as such. As the apostle Paul explains, the detailed regulations
                                                                    e
of the Jewish law, though given by God and so Spiritual, holy, right ous and good, have
been replaced under the New Covenant by the gift of the Spirit, and so the law’s time has
come to an end. For those living under it, the Jewish law could do no more thaninform of
God’s standards of righteousness. It was unable to bring about righteousness, neither in


                                                                                         113
terms of a right standing before God nor in terms of behaviour conforming to God’s
character. However, now, under the New Covenant, the former (‘justification’) has been
achieved for us through Christ’s atonement and our response of faith, and the latter
(‘sanctification’) through the work of the Holy Spirit poured into our lives. With the
death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Spirit everything changed and as a
result, the Jewish law is now obsolete. Nevertheless, its standards remain for us for we
are still called to a life of holiness. As Paul writes to the Romans, "Do we, then, nullify
the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."

For Paul, life under the law was ‘flesh’-life, belonging to the old nature:

               When we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the
               law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now,
               by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so
               that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the
               written code.

               For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh,
               God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin
               offering. And so He condemned sin in the fle in order that the righteous
                                                             sh,
               requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live
               according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

So, what are the implications of this for us? We may not be "under law", but neither are
we supposed to live ‘lawlessly’. The commands and precepts of God’s holy law point us
to His requirements of righteousness — the righteousness that characterises the Lord God
Himself. These requirements are then met in us as we walk by the Spirit. As Gordon Fee
has put it, "the power lies not in externals, but in the Spirit, who indwells believers and
by grace is renewing the ‘inner person’, transforming us into God’s own likeness." The
Holy Spirit turns our hearts towards obedience and enables us to live in such a way as o  t
express the intent of the law in the first place — to create a people for God’s name, who
bear His likeness in their character. For through Christ, we have been set free from
slavery to sin and have become slaves to God, producing the fruit of holiness.

All this, of course, can be seen foreshadowed in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel,
spoken nearly six hundred years before Christ, that talk of a time when the covenant of
the written code would be replaced with a covenant of the Spirit, but the standard of
righteousness would remain unchanged:

               "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make anew
               covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not
               be like the covenant I made with their forefathers … I will put My law in
               their minds and write it on their hearts."

               "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be
               careful to keep My laws."



                                                                                         114
Be Perfect

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
teaches concerning the relevance of the requirements of the law for New Covenant living.
His words emphasise the high standard involved in true holiness. It is perhaps worth
reminding ourselves of Jesus’ own words, the core of His ethical teaching:

              Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have
              not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until
              heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a
              pen, will by any means disappear from the Law untileverything is
              accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these
              commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in
              the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these
              commands will be called great in the kingdom of h     eaven. For I tell you
              that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the
              teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

              You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not murder,
              and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement." But I tell you that
              anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.

              You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you
              that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed
              adultery with her in his heart.

              It has been said, "Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate
              of divorce." But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for
              marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone
              who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

              Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not
              break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord." But I tell
              you, Do not swear at all. … Simply let your "Yes" be "Yes", and your
              "No", "No"; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

              You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I
              tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right
              cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and
              take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to
              go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do
              not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

              You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbour and hate your
              enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who
              persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes


                                                                                         115
                                                                                  hteous
                his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the rig
                and the unrighteous.

                Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What are we to make of such apparently unrealistic commands? Here Jesus presents us
with a shocking picture of what true holiness looks like in human form— a seemingly
impossible perfection — and with all seriousness He charges us to keep it. How should
we react?

When we read elsewhere that the entire law can be summed up in a single command:
                                                                                  ,
"Love your neighbour as yourself.", or that "love is the fulfilment of the law" we are
inclined to want to interpret this as a watering down of the detailed requirements of the
law. But Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to imply the opposite — that
true heart-fulfilment and love  -based realisation of the law requires an intensification of its
demands! We like to think that ‘little’ sins don’t matter very much because ‘love’ is all
                                                                                       is
that is required. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees shows that while love absolutely at the
heart of all righteousness, this fact can never be used as an excuse to ignore God’s
standards in any area of our lives:

                Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a
                tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the
                more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You
                should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind
                guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

                                 -
Undeniably, we should not self righteously and hypocritically focus on the ‘gnats’, and
neglect the more important ‘camels’ (the Pharisees’ fault), but neither should we ignore
the ‘gnats’ on the false basis that only the ‘camels’ matter. Despite what we might have
expected, Jesus did not suggest to the Pharisees that the tithing of a tiny harvest of garden
herbs was unnecessary pedantry for them. No, in even the smallest of things, God’s
righteousness should be expressed in our behaviour.

When the "royal law of love" is spelt out in detail like Jesus does in the Sermon on the
Mount, it seems totally unattainable to us. And yet, not only did Jesus mean what He
said, His own actions matched His words. There once was One who did live like this,
One who was tempted in every way, exactly as we are — yet was totally without sin.
And, as Jesus was, so should we be for we live by the same Holy Spirit Jesus did. As
Philip Yancey has written,

                In Jesus not only do we have a window to God, we also have a mirror of
                ourselves, a reflection of what God had in mind when He created us.
                Human beings were, after all, created in the image of God; Jesus reveals
                what that image should look like. … In a most unsettling way Jesus
                exposed our failures as human beings. We tend to excuse our many faults
                by saying, "That’s just human." A man gets drunk, a woman has an affair,



                                                                                            116
               a child tortures an animal, a nation goes to war: that’s just human. Jesus
               put a stop to such talk. By enacting what we ought to be like, He showed
               who we were meant to be.

Cheap Grace

                                                                             rn
This seriousness in Jesus’ ethical teaching conflicts sharply with our mode approach. In
our present-day society, the concept of sin is, in general, completely trivialised. Sin is a
joke — "naughty, but nice". And, sadly, in many cases, the church has followed the
                                                                    ho
world and unrighteousness is treated very lightly indeed. Many w call themselves
Christians behave as if sin really doesn’t matter very much. These days it is very common
indeed to find the preaching of a ‘gospel’ message (if it can honestly be called that) in
which repentance for sin plays little or no part at all.Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warnings
against preaching a perverted gospel of "cheap grace" have gone generally unheeded
since he wrote them sixty years ago:

               With cheap grace, no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be
               delivered from sin. … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without
               requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion
               without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace
               is grace without discipleship.

               True grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it
               calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life,
               and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because
                                                                          r
               it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinne. Above all, it is
               costly because it cost the God the life of His Son.

Cheap grace encourages complacency about sin. A certain measure of sinful attitudes and
actions is considered normal and acceptable for the ordinary believer rather than an
aberration and grounds for improvement. Failure in others is used to excuse sinful
behaviour in oneself. The fact that God loves sinners and forgives the repentant is taken
to indicate that we needn’t bother too much if we sin. And when those whose earnest
pursuit of holiness threatens the casual approach to sin inevitably fail themselves to live
up to the standard they aspire to, this is simply used as an opportunity to reject the
challenge of their message outright and criticise them for "moralising". Tony Lane
summarises this attitude as follows:

               Cheap grace starts with the fact that even the best Christians remain
               sinners and uses this to justify living a life of sin. Any attempt to lead a
               serious life of discipleship is branded as legalism.

Cheap grace provides no motivation to change. As Bonhoeffer said, the result of cheap
grace is that "I can therefore cling to my bourgeois secular existence, and remain as I was
before, but with the added assurance that the grace of God will cover me." Such an




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attitude is now so commonplace in the Christian churches in our land that it can be hard
to find a church that doesn’t preach a gospel of cheap grace.

However, in rejecting the false notion of cheap grace, we dare not lose sight of the true
grace of God towards us. Our sins are forgiven freely and we are accepted
unconditionally as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place, not on account of anything we
have done or will do. And it is only through grace that we can be totally free from the
mastery of sin over our lives. The message of the free gift of God’s grace to us always
will be misunderstood by some as granting them the freedom to continue in sin. Indeed,
as Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, if our message is not being misunderstood and
misinterpreted in this way then it is unlikely that we are preaching of grace at all. But
those of us who have already received the free gift of salvation should, in grateful
response, use our freedom to wholeheartedly set ourselves against those of our attitudes
and behaviours which are not pleasing to the Lord.

In our society, to renounce and wage war against sin — perhaps especially against
covetousness or lust — is to ask to be ridiculed. But sadly, the situation within the church
is often not much better. Flannery O’Connor wrote,

               The Christian believes that you destroy your freedom by sin; the world, I
               think, believes that you gain it that way. There is not much possibility of
               understanding between the two.

But this doesn’t seem to the case any more. To a great extent, the church has simply
colluded with the spirit of the age. Our consciences have been atrophied by worldliness
and prosperity, ‘success’ has replaced sanctification as the goal, and ‘niceness’ has
displaced righteousness as the practical measure of godliness. The desire to a ppear
‘reasonable’ reigns supreme and so the prophetic voice for purity within the church has
been almost silenced. Every kind of sin is tolerated, out of fear of being seen as
                                                                                  )
‘judgemental’ (or perhaps of having to face up properly to one’s own sinfulness. As
immorality that’s as old as history has been re-cycled as the "new morality" for a new
generation, the church has in general kept quiet, and even, in certain quarters, condoned
blatant sin. Woe to those who have called good that which is evil in theeyes of God, and
evil that which is good! Over the last century we have slowly let the world’s moral
weaknesses thoroughly undermine the ethical foundations of the life of the contemporary
church.

Purity In The Church

How different from what we see in the Scriptures. From the beginning of Genesis
through to the end of Revelation all and every kind of sin is unambiguously and clearly
condemned as evil. The importance of righteous living is focal under both the Old and the
New Covenants. For example, here are two excerpts from Paul’s epistles in which he
addresses practical issues of righteousness among God’s "holy people", the church.
Firstly, from Ephesians, a passage listing some of the basic ethical requirements of new
life in Christ:



                                                                                        118
               You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your
                                                                           to
               old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; be made new
               in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like
               God in true righteousness and holiness:

               Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his
               neighbour, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin":
               Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the
               devil a foothold. …

               Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what
               is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may
               benefit those who listen. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger,
               brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.Be kind and
               compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God
               forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and
               live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a
               fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

               But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of
               any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s
               holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking,
               which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be
               sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater
               — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one
               deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath
               comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with
               them.

Always tell the truth, deal with your anger, don’t swear or tell dirty jokes, always forgive
completely any who offend you, flee all sexual impurity, do not be greedy the —
Scriptures are full of such practical teaching. But how often are basic injunctions such as
these even taught as part of Christian discipleship today? In seeking to avoid ‘legalism’,
elementary teaching on Christian morality seems to have been dropped from the chur      ch’s
agenda. We can no longer expect Christian morals to be taught in our schools, upheld by
those in authority, or portrayed as important or even relevant by the media. Indeed, in
many quarters, ethical ambiguity and the rejection of God’s clear standardsis seen as a
sign of maturity and clear-cut answers written off as immature. As Don Carson has
written,

               In the contemporary literary world ambiguity in moral questions is
               universally revered, while moral certainty is almost as universally
               despised. The modern mood enjoys novels and plays where the rights and
               wrongs get confused, where every decision is a mixture of right and
               wrong, truth and error, where heroes and antiheroes reverse their roles.




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If we, God’s holy people, don’t teach righteousness and seek to educate our consciences,
no one else will. To one degree or another, we have all become victims of our sick
society’s moral decadence, our consciences battered by continual exposure to messages
                                                               ue
that mock God’s standards of holiness. An emphasis upon tr Christian liberty — which
is the freedom, in the power of God, to live a life totally pleasing to God— within the
context of clear moral parameters is sorely needed in our churches today. Moral duty may
sometimes be difficult to determine, but it is anabsolute not a relative matter. When God
has spoken, we must obey. We need to educate ourselves to stand against the extreme
moral relativism of our modern world. As William Law wrote in the eighteenth century,

                                                            y
              The simple point is this: either Christianit prescribes rules to live by in
              our daily lives, or it does not. If it does, then we must govern all our
              actions by those rules if we are to worship God.

In the second passage, from 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses a specific case of unrighteous
behaviour within the church he is writing to:

              It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a
              kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.
              And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and
              have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? … Your boasting is
              not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole
              batch of dough? …

              I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral
              people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or
              the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to
              leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate
              with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral    or
              greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a
              man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the
              church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
              "Expel the wicked man from among you."

                                                                      —
For Paul, being a disciple of Jesus had clear ethical implications, and quoting the
refrain from the law in Deuteronomy — he taught that it was inappropriate even to
associate with those who claimed to be believers but did not accept the moral
requirements of Christian discipleship. For the presence in the fellowship of someone
who opposed Christ’s standard of righteousness was liable to lead to the contamination
the whole community. Paul took the purity of the church very seriously. Impurity amo ng
God’s holy people required remedial action.

We should note, though, that purity within the church — that is, the daily lives of
Christian believers— does not require separation from unbelievers. No, we are expected
                                    ur
to be fully involved in the life of o society. As Gordon Fee comments on this passage:




                                                                                        120
              The Pauline principle is simple: Free association outside the church …;
              but strict discipline within the church, because in its free association with
              the world it may not take on the character of the world in which it freely
              lives.

Sadly, however, compassionate church discipline of the persistently unrepentant believer
is almost absent in our age — and the church looks more like the world than ever. The
false isolationist approach to holiness has, rightly,been rejected, but without internal
discipline the church has let the world set the moral agenda, so that now— to give just
one obvious measurable example— divorce is almost as common within the church as
outside it. Claiming a distorted notion of ‘freedom’, the question for many believers has
become, "What can I get away with?", rather than, "How can I live a totally pure life
pleasing to God?" We seem to be afraid of being seen as too holy, rather than concerned
that we’re not holy enough!

But God’s values haven’t changed simply because our society has rejected them. The
purity and uprightness of His character, and His judgements as to what is good and what
is evil are fixed and immutable. So, as God’s "temple" in the world, in whom His Holy
Spirit dwells, holiness needs again to become a priority in the church. Righteousness as
an expression of God’s character in His people’s lives is not an option. We need a radical
return to the pursuit of the kind of holiness which pushes us away from a casual view o f
sin and reawakens in us that lost sense of awe for our Lord who is a "consuming fire". To
treat sin lightly is an offence to our Father God whose own valuation of its seriousness
can be seen in the agonising death of His Son. As Jim Packer has written,

              Sin (lawlessness, missing the moral mark, failing to practice righteousness
              with all one’s heart and soul) is a major matter. Secular Western culture,
              which has deliberately atrophied the sense of God’s majesty, finds this
              hard to believe, but it is so. Some sins are intrinsically greater and
              intrinsically worse than others— but there can be no small sins against a
              great God.

              God’s purpose in our creation, as in our new creation, is that we should be
              holy. Therefore, moral casualness and unconcern as to whe   ther or not we
              please God is in itself supremely evil. No expressions of creativity,
              heroism, or nice-guy behaviour can cancel God’s displeasure at being
              disregarded in this way.

Hating Sin

Are we willing to reject the false values of our society and allowGod to build in our
hearts and minds and wills His own perspective on sin and righteousness? God loves
righteousness and hates unrighteousness as the following selection from Proverbs
demonstrates:




                                                                                        121
               There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him:
               haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that
               devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false
               witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among
               brothers.

               The Lord detests men of perverse heart but He delights in those whose
               ways are blameless.

               The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.

               The Lord detests the way of the wicked but He loves those who pursue
               righteousness.

               The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are
               pleasing to Him.

If God hates all sin, "condemning sin in sinful man", then so should we. If we love God
and are becoming like Him, we will love what He loves and hate what He hates. Our
hearts should, like His, be set against all sinfulness. Richard Foster makes the following
comment about the seriousness of sin:

               Today we take far too lightly our offences to the love of God. If we had
               only a tinge of the sense of revulsion that God feels towards sin, we would
               be moved to holier living. God pleads with us, "Oh, do not do this
               abominable thing that I hate!"

Sin brings destruction and ruin to all that God created "very good". So the defeat of sin is
high on His agenda. One day Satan, the Destroyer, and all his evil workswill themselves
face eternal destruction. As yet, however, God withholds His final judgement, for "He is
slow to anger." Yet neither will He leave the guilty unpunished.

While judgement is still deferred— because of His abundant mercy — we may have one
of two possible reactions: We may become frustrated that God just lets evil abound. If He
hates it so much, why doesn’t He do anything about it? This was the basis of Habakkuk’s
complaint to the Lord:

               Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong. Why
               then do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent while the
               wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

However, it is God’s great compassion for the lost that delays Him in bringing
judgement. He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to
repentance. His forbearance is for our salvation. If we find ourselves frustrated with the
abounding of sin, we need to ask the Lord for His heart of compassion towards those who
are without hope and without God in the world.


                                                                                        122
Alternatively, and more dangerously, we may be tempted to deny that God’s judgement
against sin is coming at all. This was the problem the Lord had with His people in the
time of the prophet Malachi:

              You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no
              longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from
              your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the
              witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken
              faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage
              covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? … So guard yourself in your
              spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce",
              says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man’s covering himself with
              violence as well as with his garment", says the Lord Almighty. So guard
              yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

              You have wearied the Lord with your words. "How have we wearied
                                                                   n
              Him?" you ask. By saying, "All who do evil are good i the eyes of the
              Lord, and He is pleased with them" or "Where is the God of justice?"

              "See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me.
              Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple … But
              who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears?
              … I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against
              sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers
              of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive
              aliens of justice, but do not fear Me", says the Lord Almighty.

Are we too a people who "weary the Lord with our words" while rejecting His basic
standards of righteousness — and then complain when He doesn’t answer our prayers?
Or do we align ourselves with Him, hating the things He hates and seeking to live holy
lives? For the future historical fact of God’s judgement against sin should inform and
affect the way we live. The apostle Peter addressed this issue in his second epistle:

              You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and
              following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this ‘coming’
              He promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has
                                                                         g
              since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately for et that long ago
              by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water
              and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and
              destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved
              for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly
              men.

              But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a
              thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow
              in keeping His promise, as some understand slow   ness. He is patient with



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               you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
               But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear
               with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and
               everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this
               way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and
               godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

As Peter reminds us, on one awful occasion before, man’s rebellion against God led Him
to bring widespread destruction on the earth:

               The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and
               that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the
               time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His
               heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I
               have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures
               that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I
               have made them."

And so, in due course, "every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out."

The story of the Flood and the prophecies of end-time judgement provide for us a
                                                                 righteousness and is
salutary reminder of the dreadful nature of sin. God abhors all un
totally opposed to all wrongdoing. "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.", writes Paul
to the Romans, echoing the words of the prophet Amos. If we want to live lives pleasing
to God, then we will need to detest our own sin with the same kind of hatred that God has
towards it.

It is when we consider things in this context that the following strange words of Jesus
begin to make some kind of sense:

               If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is
               better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be
               thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and
               throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for
               your whole body to go into hell.

For, when we begin to hate our own sin as God hates it then living pure lives before Him
will become more important to us than having two hands or two eyes. Not that we engage
                                                                                        d
in self-mutilation, but our desire for holiness will make us willing to deal as deeply an
drastically as necessary with ourselves in order to root out the sin we see in ourselves.
Rather than cutting the flesh, we will be willing to be cut to the heart by God’s word to us
                                                                         n
which penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, a d judges the
thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

The Foundation Of A Holy Life




                                                                                          124
Having re-examined the high value God places on holiness in His people and the extent
of His opposition to sin, the pressing issue for us then becomes that of how we should g   o
about progressing in holiness. Becoming reacquainted with the Lord’s standards— and
how far they contrast with much of what is practised in our day — while an essential first
                                                                            motivate us to
step, is unlikely, by itself, to achieve a great deal in our lives. What will
pursue a life of purity? What will enable us to leave behind sinful actions and desires and
thoughts, and replace them with holy attitudes and behaviour?

                                                                                      o
As in every other area of life, our motivation for purity has to result from our relati nship
with God. Our being holy pleases God, so if our desire is to give Him pleasure, we will
pursue holiness and battle against sin for His sake. Our sin separates us from God— with
                                                                           o
Him the wicked cannot dwell — so if we place a high value on our relati nship with
Him, we will be prompt to deal with any impurity in our lives in order to return to close
fellowship with Him. By harbouring sin, we limit our intimacy with God. If we truly
know God and His unconditional love for us, we will want to do nothingthat would
break that relationship and isolate us from Him. Philip Yancey, has written the following,
commenting on words of the French Catholic writer François Mauriac:

               Mauriac concluded that self-discipline, repression, and rational argument
               are inadequate weapons to use in fighting the impulse toward impurity. In
               the end, he could only find one reason to be pure, and that is what Jesus
               presented in the beatitudes: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see
               God." In Mauriac’s words, "Impurity separates us from God. The Spiritual
               life obeys laws as verifiable as those of the physical world. … Purity is the
               condition for a higher love — for a possession superior to all possessions:
               that of God. Yes, that is what is at stake, and nothing less."

There are many reasons put forward for living a holy life, but being in love with God—
loving Him in response to His love for us— is the only thing that comes anywhere close
                                                                     -
to providing sufficient inducement for declaring total war on our selfwill. As Gregory of
Nyssa wrote in the fourth century, being God’s friend provides the only truly adequate
motivation to pursue a virtuous life:

               This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we
                                                                      e
               servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because w hope for rewards, as
               if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business -like arrangement. On
               the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which
               have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as
               the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only
               thing worthy of honour and desire. This is the perfection of life.

A true awareness of God’s love for us, and the resultant desire to please Him —and
nothing else — will provide the driving force nec  essary for us to stand against the spirit
of the age and the laissez-faire attitude in much of the church. If our hearts have been
captivated by His love, His ethical standards will not seem burdensome, but light and




                                                                                          125
easy to us. We will want to do whatever gives Him pleasure, and to avoid anything that
would cause Him sorrow. As Rick Joyner has written:

               The primary motivation for legalism is guilt, but the motivation for "the
               perfect law of liberty" is love. We do not purify ourselves just because we
               are afraid of judgement, but because we are the bride who is so in love
               with the Bridegroom that she is consumed with being perfect for Him, not
               wanting a single spot or wrinkle on her gown. How could we who have
               been freely given such a great salvation do less?

Mike Bickle has written similarly,

               Jesus isn’t coming for a church that’s gritting her teeth, struggling to stay
               free from sin, secretly wishing she could indulge in a little immorality but
                                                                                  i
               abstaining because of being afraid of getting caught. No, Jesus s coming
               for a church passionately and utterly devoted to Him — one that is free on
               the inside.

Through Christ, and in the power of His Spirit, we can leave behind our old nature and its
control over our lives and live in the liberty of grace. In the sixthchapter of his epistle to
the Romans, the apostle Paul writes at length on this:

               We have died to sin; how then can we live in it any longer? … For we
               know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin
               might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. … So,
               count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Do not let
               sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer
               the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather
               offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to
               life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of
               righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under
               law, but under grace. …

               You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
               … Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity
               and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to
               righteousness leading to holiness. … For now that you havebeen set free
               from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to
               holiness.

Let us pursue this true Christian freedom — the freedom to live holy lives in the power of
the Holy Spirit who lives within us!

Standing Against Temptation




                                                                                         126
Having a love-relationship with our glorious heavenly father provides not only
motivation, but also conditions for effectively resisting temptation. Being tempted in
itself is not sin, for all are tempted — even as the Lord Jesus was. However, entertaining
temptation and taking pleasure in it is. Our love for God and His love for us will give us
the necessary motivation to say "no" to sin when enticed. We will want to have nothing
                                                                                     e
to do with those things that would hinder our relationship with God and His purpos s in
our lives. Nor will we want anything to do with those things which would further the
purposes of the enemy.

However, Struggling directly with temptations, as many have observed, often has the
                                                         h
effect of intensifying them. The reason is that, without t e Lord’s help, we are impotent
to fight our tendencies towards sin. But if we turn away from the source of temptation to
the Lord whom we love and who loves us, we will receive His strength to resist, and our
                                             l;
heart’s desire will be for Him. God is faithfu He will not let us be tempted beyond what
we can bear. And when we are tempted, He will always provide a way out so that we can
stand up under it. Jeanne Guyon wrote insightfully of this:

               A close, intimate relationship to Christ shouldalways be your soul’s only
               purpose. Therefore, when you are tempted toward sin or toward outward
               distractions — no matter the time, no matter the place, nor the provocation
               — simply turn away from that sin. And, as you turn, draw nearer to your
               Lord. It is that simple.

               What does a little child do when he sees something that frightens him or
               confuses him? He doesn’t stand there and try to fight the thing. He will, in
               fact, hardly look at the thing that frightens him. Rather the child will
                                                      h
               quickly run into the arms of his mot er. There, in those arms, he is safe. In
               exactly the same way, you should turn from the dangers of temptation and
               run to your God!

What a picture of God! The Lord waits for us to turn to Him when we are tempted. Let’s
                                    e
avail ourselves of His help and choos not to toy with temptation when it comes our way.

Fulfilling the Law

Genuine righteousness has to do with the heart, for all true holiness isheart-
righteousness. External ‘obedience’ counts for nothing on its own. This was the point of
Jesus’ repeated charge of hypocrisy against the Pharisees, who appeared so righteous to
people on the outside. There can be no true Christian ethics without Christian Spirituality
because growth in righteousness is about the transformation of the heart, not about
keeping rules. The first commandment is that we should have no gods before the Lord.
And the greatest commandment is that we love the Lord our God with every part of our
being. It is the attitude of our hearts towards the High King of Heaven that is at the
centre of holiness, and it is at precisely this point that the apparently morally upright
unbeliever misses the whole point. Right relationship with the Lord God— Father, Son
and Holy Spirit — is the essential foundation of all genuinely righteous living.



                                                                                        127
As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating
and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Richard Foster has
expressed it like this:

               Holiness is not rules and regulations. Elaborate lists of dos and don’ts miss
               the point of a life hidden with God in Christ. … All external legalisms fail
               to capture the heart of holy living and holy dying. Holinessis sustained
               attention to the heart, the source of all action.

Unfortunately, in the attempt to avoid destructive external legalisms, many today seem to
throw the baby out with the bath-water at this point, replacing God’s clear moral
standards with some form of ethical relativism or ‘situation ethics’ in which we, rather
than God, decide what is good or bad. What Jim Packer calls "the antinomian idiocy that
rattles on about love and liberty, forgetting that the God-given law remains the standard
of the God-honouring life" is all too common. Many rail against ‘legalism’ or
‘moralising’ but in doing so leaveno secure moral foundation at all. Holinessis about
right living. Righteousness requires obedience to the revealed will of God. Our freedom
from a law-based approach to ethics is a freedom that enables us, living by the Spirit, to
pursue a greater, not a lesser, measure of holiness:

               You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to
               indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is
               summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself." …
               So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
               For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is
               contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other … But if you are
               led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

               The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and
               debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage,
               selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and
               the like. … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
               kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self   -control. Against such
               things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the
                                                                              rit,
               flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spi let us keep
               in step with the Spirit.

As we see from this passage, ethical life in the Spirit is not opposed to prescriptive lists of
appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. The fruit of the Spirit are in contrast to the acts
of the ‘flesh’, and godly love for your neighbour implies avoiding such actions and
attitudes.

The failure of legalism is firstly that it focuses on the externals rather than on the internal
transformation of the heart by the work of the Holy Spirit, secondly that it focuses on
rules rather than relationship, legislating where God hasn’t, and thirdly that it lacks any
power to enable us to live as we ought. However, many who attack those they see as



                                                                                          128
                                                                                  n
‘legalistic’ seem to believe that the deficiency of legalism is that it is too demading.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Commenting on Jesus’ ethical teaching, Philip
Yancey has written the following:

               The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognise the great distance
               between God and us, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow
               moderating its demands misses the point altogether.

               The worst tragedy would be to turn the Sermon on the Mount into another
               form of legalism; it should rather put an end to all legalism. Legalism like
               the Pharisees’ will always fail, not because ti is too strict but because it is
               not strict enough. Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount
               proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and
               temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all
               desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being
               who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have
               nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.

                                                                     e
So, how do we avoid the dangers of legalism while holding on to th goal of perfection
that has been set before us? Surely, the key is, once again, the context of all our
discipleship, our love-relationship with God. God’s rules for righteous living do not come
to us as edicts from a far-distant God, but from our Father who loves us and is always
present with us. They speak not impersonally from the outside but by the gentle ministry
of the Holy Spirit to our hearts. Thus, when we read of some ethical requirement in the
Scriptures, we recognise in the command our divine L    over’s voice and so obey through a
heart motivated by love. And when the Lord speaks to us to redirect our behaviour
towards greater purity — whether profoundly or on some apparently ‘trivial’ matter—
we know that His loving desire is always for our good. If we take the risk of drawing near
to God and granting Him control, He will surely direct us towards and empower us for
greater holiness, for He is much more committed to our transformation into His glorious
                                               ard
likeness than we’re ever likely to be! As Rich Foster points out, we often set our
sights far too low:

               We are terribly prone to settle for less than what God desires for us. We
               are glad enough for God to remove an irritating behaviour from our
               personality (a sour disposition, for example), or a des tructive addiction
               (like alcoholism), but it is a very different thing for Him to begin
               restructuring our inner affections. … We simply must understand that God
               is seeking not to improve us but to transform us.

With the inauguration of the New Covenant, the fulfilment of the God’s standard of
righteousness is now possible through hearts changed by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Many of us perhaps believe that the godly life isn’t really a possibility for us. Certainly,
there is no power in the external rules of legalism. As Paul wrote to the Colossians,




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               Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a
               religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a
               shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in
               Christ. …

               Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as
               though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle!
               Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use,
               because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such
                                                                                 -
               regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their selfimposed
               worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but
               they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

But, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit our hearts can be changed so that our desire
to be holy is in line with our Father’s, and we no longer have any appetite for impurity.
                                                                                   s
We are to be people who have the law inscribed deep in our hearts. For, those of u who
have had our hearts transformed in this way will remain faithful to the Lord’s commands
whatever temptations come our way. Sin we will hate and holiness we will pursue for the
rest of our days.

Avoiding The Vicious Circle

But there is a problem. Tragically, for many believers, the whole issue of sin is associated
with fear, guilt and condemnation. Perhaps that has been your reaction on reading the
first part of this chapter. The fruit of such a negative association in our minds and hearts
is an inability to act appropriately when we sin, because feelings of condemnation drive
us away from God rather than towards Him. Only too common in many of God’s people
is a vicious circle generated by this unhealthy condition. The cycle begins with sin not
being honestly acknowledged and repented of. Following in the steps of Adam and Eve
in the Garden, we hide from God out of fear, or blame others or our situation for our
failings. This then prevents us experiencing the Lord’s gracious love, acceptance,
forgiveness, healing and freedom, and causes a barrier to be erected between us and Him.
Consequently, God seems far away and so we are then unable to draw on His resources to
overcome temptation, leading to further failure and a repetition of the downward spiral.

For this reason, many of us would prefer not to call our sins "sin" at all— "weakness"
perhaps, but not "sin". For if these things are not really sin, then maybe we won’t have to
                                                                             y
face up to them. We con ourselves into thinking that ‘little’ sins don’t reall matter, or
that God’s high standards have changed and that He doesn’t mind a bit of unforgiveness,
bitterness, covetousness, lust, or whatever any more — not that we’d be honest enough to
admit that’s what we’re doing! In this way we vainly attempt to assuage our consciences
by rejecting God’s evaluation of our behaviour, and as a consequence our ability to
distinguish between right and wrong slowly and dangerously shrivels.

If only we knew the pure joy of repentance, the great freedom found in receivingGod’s
forgiveness, the deep peace that comes through confession — then things would be



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totally different! Then, when the Holy Spirit brought conviction to our hearts, we would
gladly acknowledge our sin and come before our loving Father in confession and
repentance. Having been astounded again by His unmerited gift of forgiveness and
unconditional love, we would be drawn into ever closer fellowship with Him and,
empowered by His Spirit, would seek to resist temptation and grow in holiness, knowing
that with His help we could avoid sin, but that if we failed He would remain faithful to
His holy nature, loving and forgiving us. This upward spiral (or ‘virtuous circle’) that
draws us closer to God and helps us overcome sin is the Lord’s plan and desire for us.

How great a tragedy it is that such a pattern seems to be the experience of so few of
God’s children in our day. What has gone wrong? What is the root of the problem?
Surely it is that our view of God has become seriously distorted. His desire for us is th at
we receive His forgiveness. For, while God detests and condemns sin, He also loves,
forgives and justifies repentant sinners. But lots of us have trouble believing the second
                                                                             e
half of this assertion. Indeed, for many it is only too easy to believe the en my’s lie that
God’s attitude towards us is one of condemnation and rejection when we fail Him—
rather than one of deep love desiring to confer forgiveness and restoration upon us. Such
a misperception of God has drastic consequences. If we believe God co     ndemns us, we
will be afraid to own up to our sin, and so to try and get ourselves off the hook will
attempt to convince ourselves that the first half of the proposition above is also false. As
a result we will end up very uncertain of God’s attitude towards us and insecure in our
relationship with Him — not sure whether He hates and condemns us or whether He
‘loves’ us with an inferior kind of ‘love’ that simply disregards our sin as unimportant. Of
course, neither of these is the truth, nor adequate to meet our needs: God loves us
passionately with a ‘tough’ love that takes our sin very seriously indeed and does
something about it. God condemns sin and justifies sinners— not the other way around!
His greatest delight is to forgive. And we do not have to make Him willing to do so.
Before we ever asked, He put together a rescue plan for us, and He is now at work in us
to make us willing to seek His forgiveness.

Surely the lack of seriousness concerning sin, and the pursuit of wholeness without
holiness in today’s church is a sign of how little many of us know of the experience of
God’s daily forgiveness of our sins and His power available to enable us to live in
freedom. If we were secure in the knowledge that God accepts us as we are and always
forgives us when we return to Him in repentance, then we would be free to hate and turn
away from even the smallest iota of sin we find in ourselves. For only experiential
knowledge of God’s absolute unmerited grace and forgiveness can motivate us to pursue
God’s absolute standard of holiness. Let us seek to discover the great freedom and joy to
be found in pursuing true purity in close relationship with our loving God.

Conviction or Condemnation?

                                                                        e
One thing that contributes to the false view many of us have of God is th widespread
confusion in distinguishing between theconviction that comes from the Lord and the
condemnation that comes from the Accuser. As a result of failing to distinguish Satan’s
whining accusations from the loving voice of our Father, many of us areweighed down



                                                                                       131
by a false sense of guilt for past sins and so miss out on the freedom of forgiveness and
the close relationship God wants us to have with Him. The father of lies would like to
                                                                   t
convince us that God’s forgiveness is not available to us and tha we sit under His
condemnation. But this is deception for there isno condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus. Jack Deere has written of this as follows:

               Many people mistake the condemnation and accusation of the devil for the
               conviction of the Holy Spirit. When the devil speaks to us about our sins,
               he makes us feel worthless and condemned. He nags and whines. His
               impressions make us feel we have always been this way and will never
                                                                                  re,
               change. When we confess our sins, he tells us that we are not since that
               we have done these things before and confessed them, and that we will
               simply end up doing them again. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, He
               confronts us with the reality of our sin, but He brings hope through the
               blood of Jesus.

In writing to the Corinthian believers, the apostle Paul describes the way an earlier letter
of his acted as a vehicle for the Lord to bring them under conviction. He distinguishes
helpfully between "worldly sorrow" that brings death and "godly sorrow" that brings
repentance and leaves no regrets:

               Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did
               regret it — I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while — yet
               now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your
               sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended
               and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings
               repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly
               sorrow brings death.

There is all the difference in the world betweenthe accusation of the enemy and the
conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit. The former is unclean and destructive; the
latter holy and beneficial. Discernment of the contrast is not really that difficult. When
your thoughts and feelings of remorse drive you from God you are being accused by
Satan. Resist and reject the deceit, and return to the arms of your loving heavenly Father.
But when your sorrow draws you to the Lord to confess your wrong you are being
                                              h
convicted by the Spirit. Yield to Him throug repentance.

Owning Up

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.", wrote Paul to the Romans. Despite
the power of God at work in us, we all fail at times, and the first step in repentance is a
realistic recognition of, and owning up to, our faults. But so often we fall at this first
hurdle. We don’t like to admit we’re in the wrong. "If we claim to be without sin, we
deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we claim we have not sinned, we make
Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.", wrote the apostle John and
such self-deception concerning our sin is very common. Indeed, we would often prefer to



                                                                                        132
"make God out to be a liar" than to confess our sin. This is tragically ironic, for, as Os
Guinness has pointed out, one of the defining features of becoming a Christian is a
willingness to face up to being totally in the wrong, yet many Christians never seem to
admit that possibility again. Christian corrigibility, the openness to being corrected
                          t
which, in principle, Chrisians are supposed to have is rarely practised.

Our present culture of excuse-making and scapegoating doesn’t help us at all. Some of
those around us never take responsibility for their failings, preferring to place the blame
                              o
on their upbringing or situati n, or simply to deny that they’re at fault at all. Sadly, those
in authority over us — whether in government, at work, at school, in the home, or even in
the church — are sometimes the worst offenders. For in the eyes of the world, the
confession of sin is seen as weakness, rather than as a sign of moral strength, and so is
often avoided by those who are concerned about their reputations. And so, within the
church, the apostle James’ instruction, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each
other so that you may be healed.", is widely ignored and the resulting benefits forfeited.

In this context, Kenneth Chaffin has written of the responsibility that parents, and
especially fathers, have to acknowledge their weaknesses and failures before their
children:

               A father needs to be willing to be finite and mortal in his children’s eyes.
               … The image which needs to be shattered is that fathers are the ones who
               know all the answers, can take charge in all situations, are always right
               and never make mistakes. What needs to be communicated is that fathers
               do have a great responsibility in the home but that it is possible for fathers
               to misunderstand a situation, to make wrong judgements, to get their own
               ego involved in a situation, and to need forgiveness.

As one nine-year-old wrote, "My dad’s most important quality is his willingness to ask
forgiveness from me when he is wrong."

In the light of our propensity for self-deception in this area, we need to make sure that we
allow God to show us our faults — because we won’t do the job properly ourselves. If we
do not make a practice of laying our souls open before the Lord so that He can enlighten
us concerning our sins, we are unlikely to make much progress in growing in holiness.
There can be no pretence in confession. We regularly need to make time to invite God to
place His finger gently on the specific situations and attitudes in our lives that are
currently blocking our relationship with Him so that we can then deal with them before
Him. Jeanne Guyon wrote the following about this:

               Depend on your Lord, not on yourself, to expose your sin and to show you
               the extent of your sin. Please understand this fact: It is not your diligence,
               it is not your examination of yourself that will enlighten you concerning
               your sin. Instead it is God who does all the revealing. You see, if you try
               to be the one who does the examining, there is a very good chance that
               you will deceive yourself. You will never really allow yourself to see your



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               true state. That is the simple fact about the nature of your own self-love.
               "We call the evil good, and the good evil." Ah, not so when you come to
               your Lord. He can be so thorough, so exacting, and so demanding!

If we are serious about being God’s holy people, then we must make a habit of letting o  ur
souls come under His gaze so that, in His love, He can show us those things within us
that we need to turn away from and receive forgiveness for. We should be praying for the
conviction of the Holy Spirit to come upon us daily to expose any harmful waysin us.
Let us allow Him, even now, to search our hearts so that the past will be dealt with and
that we may go forward into the present clean and whole, forgiven and released.

A Life of Repentance

                                                         c
Repentance is absolutely central to the Christian life. Ac ording to Matthew’s gospel,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." was Jesus’ message. "I have come to call
sinners to repentance.", He said to the Pharisees. Then, on the day of Pentecost, Peter’s
charge to the people who had been convicted through his preaching was, "Repent and be
baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."
And, ever since, as Jesus said would happen, " repentance and the forgiveness of sins"
                                               e
have been preached in His name throughout th world.

However, despite its foundational place in our faith, repentance doesn’t seem a very
popular topic today, even in the preaching of the gospel message to unbelievers. Indeed
                                                                               f
much modern evangelism seems to try to bypass repentance completely, and alsely offer
entrance to the kingdom of God without it. But not only should the call to repentance be
focal in our evangelism, repentance should also be central to the daily life of every
                                            -five theses, nailed to the Wittenburg church
believer. The first of Martin Luther’s ninety
door in 1517, declared:

               When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent", He willed that the
               whole life of believers should be one of repentance.

                                                                                  o
We are called to a life of habitual repentance. As the ancient proverb says, "He wh
conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds
mercy."

Churches with a liturgical tradition provide prayers of penitence for use at all their
services. There is great wisdom in this, for it emphasises the central placerepentance
should have in our relationship with God. Many other church traditions seem to ignore
repentance completely in their meeting together. However, there are also two dangers
inherent in a prayer of "general confession". The first is that vague rep  entance that
doesn’t name and take responsibility for the specific sins being renounced hardly
deserves to be called ‘repentance’ at all. It is far too easy to avoid our real guilt in a
                                                                         a
generalised confession. We need to repent of particular sins, particul rly. The second
danger is that repentance may become a weekly ritual, rather than our automatic reaction
when we fall. Now is the day of salvation and we should be clearing the blockages



                                                                                        134
between us and our Father as soon as we become aware of them, not putting it off until
the next Sunday!

But what is repentance? In a day when even a simple apology is becoming rare, and the
word "sorry" is used almost meaninglessly, this is an important question. Repentance is
certainly not just saying we’re sorry. Rather it requires true sorrow of the heart — an
abhorrence at having committed the sin and deep regret at having offended the heart of
the Father. Repentance also requires that we desire and are determined to be delivered
                                           u
from and leave behind our sinful behavio r, that we yearn for holy living and hate the
unholiness we see within. True repentance is the ultimate act of humility, a turning away
from sin and a turning to God. As one child put it, repentance is "being sorry enough to
stop", for repentance is about changing and being changed, about reversing direction,
about renouncing and rejecting part of our past and resolving that, with God’s help, it
shall not be part of our future. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

               The word of forgiveness is addressed to those who from the bottom of
               their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which
               hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by
               their daily faithlessness and sin.

True repentance is like a door. On the other side are God’s blessings of forgiveness and
cleansing, of joy and freedom, of power and light. The door seems heavy, the price of
opening it seems great to us, for it involves dying to our desire to sin. Genuine repentance
                                            tly
is never without pain, but the benefits grea outweigh the cost. If we sow in tears we
shall surely reap with shouts of joy! Certainly, at times, sorrow for our sins should indeed
cause us to weep — even to be wracked with sobbing like Peter after the cock crowed —
at the way we have caused hurt to the Lord or to other people through our words or
actions. Sadly, such deep contrition is very uncommon in our day and almost totally
absent from our expectations of the Christian life. Oh that we would let the Holy Spirit
pierce the very core of our being with His convicting love!

Also entailed in repentance is a deep awareness of our unworthiness to receive
absolution. We do not deserve to be forgiven for having offended the Most High God.
Our attitude should be like that of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable whose only words
were, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner.", like that of the prophet Isaiah who cried, "Woe
to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the
                                                       ss
Lord Almighty.", and like that of the thief on the cro who acknowledged the justness of
his punishment.

The Joy of Confession

However, a life of repentance is not a life of melancholy introspection, depression and
misery. Not at all! As Paul Cain and Rick Joyner have said,

               True, godly repentance does not produce a perpetual gloominess and the
               tendency to flog ourselves, but rather the opposite. It is liberty.



                                                                                       135
Benny Hinn has written similarly:

               God does not want His people sitting around crying all the time. That is
               not repentance. He wants us to be sensitive to our sins, to deal with them
               immediately, and to get on with lives of joy in the power of God.

We can know forgiveness within moments if we pour our heart out before the Lord in
true humility and brokenness. Repentance should be ourimmediate reaction when we
become aware of having offended God. Why delay? For the Father longs for us to return
to Him so that we can receive His forgiveness. He longs for us to come and, like the
prodigal, say to Him, "I have sinned against heaven and against You. I am no lo   nger
worthy to be called Your child." Then, He throws His arms around us and kisses us, He
says to us, "Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this child of mine was dead and is alive
again; was lost and is found." God throws a party for repentant sinners! We can rejoice
and celebrate with God every time we return to Him! Confession should always lead us
to celebration, for through the door of repentance is sweetness and tranquillity, the
experience of God’s forgiveness, and deep feelings of His love pouredout within us.

Blessed indeed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted! Blessed indeed are you
who weep now, for you will laugh! True repentance speaks from the heart, causing the
tongue to tremble and speak aloud, "Lord, forgive me!" And when this question is asked,
the Lord gladly responds, breaking the yoke of guilt and condemnation. Oh, the depth of
the peace and joy that awaits us in confessing our sins! For if we confess our sins, God is
faithful to His nature and will completely forgive us andpurify us from all
unrighteousness. For, while God’s standards are absolute, His mercy is greater. As the
apostle James wrote, "Mercy triumphs over judgement!" The Lord delays His judgement,
                                                                      e
but not His mercy — how could He? And He quickly forgives any fr ely acknowledged
sin, removing our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. He tears up
the record of our sins and throws it away. To hear the Lord lovingly say to us, "I forgive
you" when we have come back to Him after failing Him yetagain is surely one of the
sweetest sounds in the universe.

If we reckon our sins as small and think that they are easily forgiven— when in reality
they cost Jesus His agonising death — then we are unlikely to experience the depth of the
generosity inherent in God’s clemency towards us. But if we do recognise how much we
have hurt our Father by our actions and how undeserving of forgiveness we are, then we
will be unlikely to take God’s repeated mercy towards us for granted. We will be
constantly amazed at the fact that the Sovereign Lord, Holy and True responds to our
confession with unconditional acceptance and forgiveness time and time again.

Towards the end of his life, the apostle Paul described himself as "the worst of sinners"
                      r
and expressed in his fi st letter to Timothy something of his own gratitude to the Lord for
His mercy and grace:

               I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He
               considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was



                                                                                        136
              once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy
              … The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly …

              Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the
              worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst
              of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an
              example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.
              Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and
              glory for ever and ever. Amen.

More recently, Geoff Bullock, the Australian songwriter, has also written movingly of his
own wonder at God’s continual acceptance of sinners and of his own experience of
forgiveness:

              June 1996. I was thinking constantly about the love of God expressed in
              Christ. I could not stop thinking about the cross. I was amazed that God
              would even bother with us. But to die for us, becoming our very sinfulness
              — it takes your breath away. It silences your best adjectives. It makes
              your sweetest melodies seem very insufficient.

              September 1996. A very dark time. A place of failure. I could not see my
              way ahead, and there was no way back. Have you ever been in that place,
              where your own actions have sentenced you to a burden that you cannot
              carry. When all hope is gone. In times like these, thefaithfulness of God is
              proved to us. In times like these our only hope is in Him. we have no plea,
              there is nothing that we can do. We have been confronted with the reality
              about ourselves. The only defence left to us is the cross of Christ.

              And so we walk into a new day. Behind us is the cross. It stands between
              us and the judgement that our past demands of us. The cross offers us
              God’s forgiveness, His ‘forgetfulness’, and His life in us, stretching ahead
              of us. A life that has been freed by His works for us. A life that is to be
              celebrated and shared. We have seen His face, we have heard His voice,
              we know His love. He has rescued us and we will never be the same again.

              I have found that when all I see is my own failure and the consequences
              that must flow from that failure there is something stronger than the
              shame, something that holds on when all of life is shouting to let go: The
              unfailing love of God. The grace and mercy of God. The faithfulness of
              God. The hope we have in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Is this our experience too? Are we people who are constantly amazed by God’s faithful
acceptance and repeated forgiveness of us? Or do we tend to take for granted what was
purchased for us with the blood of Christ? And when we hear of the sin of another, dowe
recognise that "there, but for the grace of God, go I"? Or do we think that we don’t need
God’s grace to avoid failing Him?



                                                                                      137
               Oh, the mercy of God, the glory of grace,
               That You chose to redeem us, to forgive and restore,
               And You call us Your children, chosen in Him
               To be holy and blameless to the glory of God.

The Fruit of Righteousness

The fruit of righteousness is peace; the effect of righteousness is quietness and
confidence forever. Obedience to the Lord’s commands brings peace like a river and
righteousness like the waves of the sea. Indeed, as the psalmist said, "righteousness and
peace kiss each other." The prospect of the righteous is joy, for joy is shed upon the
upright in heart, those who love righteousness are anointed with the oil of joy.

Such is the testimony of the Scriptures. Sadly many of us go about this backwards,
pursuing joy and happiness mistakenly thinking that it will eventually lead to peace. But
                                                                                       ,
this is a dangerous illusion. However, if we set our wills to pursue righteousness first we
will then find true peace and joy in the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.He who sows righteousness reaps a
sure reward.

Reflections

                                                    ou
The following questions and exercises are to help y to respond to what the Lord has
been saying to you through what you have read. They can be used in any way you like,
either individually, or for discussion in a small group or between friends.

   1. Do you find it hard to accept God’s standards of righteousness as taught in the
      Scriptures? What is your reaction to Jesus’ ethical teaching in the Sermon on the
      Mount? Are you sometimes tempted to ‘water down’ the biblical teaching on
      holiness? What part does God’s judgement on sin play in your life? What
      practically does it mean for you to be one of the holy God’s holy people in a
      world that rejects God’s standards?
   2. How seriously do you take your own sin? Would you say that you hate the sin you see
      in yourself? Do you make excuses for your ‘little’ sins? Which of your sinful
      attitudes and habits would you prefer not to call "sin"? Take time to be honest
      before God about any moral complacency you see in yourself and covenant with Him
      to let Him change the attitude of your heart.

   1. Is the preaching of a gospel of "cheap grace" common in your experience? What
      about the teaching of Christian ethics? Does such teaching focus primarily on
      externals or on the transformation of the heart? How seriously does your church
      take the practice of disciplining those who persistently refuse to accept God’s moral
      standards? How can you encourage your church to give greater priority to the
      pursuit of holiness amongst believers?
   2. What is it that motivates you to resist temptation and pursue holiness? Do you
      struggle with feelings of guilt and condemnation? Can you distinguish the enemy’s



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     accusing voice from the conviction that comes from God? What is your experience
     of the Lord’s total acceptance and abundant forgiveness when you have confessed
     your sin to Him? Ask God to open your eyes and heart to His great desire to bestow
     forgiveness upon you and walk in unbroken relationship with you.
  3. What is your experience of repentance? Have you ever wept over your sins? Is
     confession a door to freedom and joy for you? Do you make a habit of repenting
     immediately you are aware of offending God? Do you know the blessing of pursuing
     righteousness? Spend time letting the Lord to convict you of any aspects of your
     life that He is not pleased with, so that you can turn away from them and receive
     His peace.
  4. Use the following words from Psalm 51 as the basis of a time of confession and
     repentance, naming your sins specifically:

     Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
     according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
     Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

     For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
     Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
     so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
     Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
     Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost
     place.

     Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than
     snow.
     Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
     Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

     Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
     Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
     Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain
     me.

Further Reading

     J. I. Packer, A Passion For Holiness, Crossway — Written as a response to the
     sidelining of personal holiness in preference for a focus on fun andfulfilment
     within the church, this book shows us that holiness is nothing less than a lifelong
     passion for loving God and His ways.

                          10. The Refiner’s Fire
   Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.




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If we are going to become mature disciples of Jesus and if we are going to become God’s
holy people, we will not achieve this without experiencing suffering and learning to
respond appropriately. For the troubles and struggles that we face constitute a
fundamental component of the Lord’s dealings with us. What the Bible refers to as God’s
"discipline" is essential to our Spiritual growth. Indeed, probably the most dominant form
of suffering that is specific to God’s people, according to the Bible, is the discipline that
God Himself metes out. This theme is prominent in both the Old and New Testaments,
but perhaps one of the most important Biblical passages on this issue is in the epistle to
the Hebrews, where the writer reminds his readers of a portion from the book of
Proverbs:

               In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of
               shedding your blood. You have forgotten that word of encouragement that
               addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord’s
               discipline, and do not lose heart when He re  bukes you, because the Lord
               disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a
               son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what
               son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and
               everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not
               true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us
               and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the
                                                                       s
               Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined u for a little while as
               they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share
               in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later
               on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those
               who have been trained by it.

In this remarkable passage, the emphasis is on our growth in righteousness, our "struggle
against sin". Because He loves us, because we are His children, the Lord disciplines,
rebukes, trains and even punishes us forour benefit through unpleasant and painful
hardships, so that we might become holy and righteous like He is and know true peace.
We should therefore be encouraged rather than discouraged in times of difficulty— for
our troubles are evidence of His great goodness towards us — and gladly submit
ourselves to His work in us, however hard it may seem.

Trouble From God

All through the Scriptures we read of God inflicting suffering upon His people in order to
achieve His redemptive purposes for them. The prophet Amos provides us w one ofith
the clearest descriptions of the Lord’s use of affliction in an attempt to draw Israel back
to Himself:

               "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town,
               yet you have not returned to Me", declares the Lord. "I also withheld rain
               from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one
               town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none



                                                                                        140
               and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get
               enough to drink, yet you have not returned to Me", declares the Lord.
               "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with
               blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,yet you have
               not returned to Me", declares the Lord. "I sent plagues among you as I did
               to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your
               captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,yet
               you have not returned to Me", declares the Lord. "I overthrew some of you
               as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick
               snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to Me", declares the
               Lord.

Under the Old Covenant, God promised that all kinds of trouble would come upon His
people if they were disobedient to His commands. But His desire incausing them distress
                                                                     -
was that it would bring them to their knees in repentance, as the well known words that
the Lord spoke to Solomon at the dedication of the temple remind us:

               When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to
               devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are
               called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face
               and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will
               forgive their sin and will heal their land.

The Scriptures attribute all sorts of suffering to God. Wars, plagues, famine, disease,
mental illness, loss of status, barrenness, bereavement, sudden death, and much else
besides are ascribed to God’s activity. The Biblical writers seem to see no problem n  i
ascribing apparently bad things to a good God: "When disaster comes to a city, has not
the Lord caused it?", asks Amos. "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both
calamities and good things come?", asks Jeremiah. "I bring prosperity and create
disaster.", says the Lord through Isaiah. In discussing this perspective on suffering that is
found in the Old Testament, Burkhard Gärtner has written the following:

               Whenever Israel was called upon to suffer, she always endeavoured to
               understand what the Lord was doing in history. If the Lord is not a dead
               but a living God, then both good and evil come from Him, although He
               may use secondary causes as well. The Old Testament therefore leaves
               practically no room for suffering that is fortuitous.

Since God is absolutely sovereign, He is ‘behind’ everything that happens; nothing
happens that is not in conformity with the purpose of His perfect will. Thus there can be
no place in our thinking for any concept of ‘luck’ or ‘fortune’, whether good or bad. As
the proverbs say, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.",
and "The Lord works out everything for His own ends — even the wicked for a day of
disaster."




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However, the fact that evil ‘comes from’ God does not mean that we can hold God —
who is unfailingly good— morally responsible for evil. Don Carson has helpfully
elucidated God’s relationship to good and evil the following manner:

               God stands behind good and evil in somewhat different ways; that is, He
               stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. God stands behind evil in
               such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of His
               sovereignty, yet the evil is not morally chargeable to Him: it is always
               chargeable to secondary causes. On the other hand, God stands behind
               good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of His
               sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to Him, and only derivatively to
               secondary agents.

Thus, when "an evil spirit from the Lord" came upon King Saul, the moral responsibility
for this lay, not with God, but with Saul himself, for he had turned away from the Lord
and refused to carried out His instructions. On the other hand, when the evil spirit would
                                                                                   d
depart and relief come to Saul as a result of David playing his harp, the moral ‘cre it’ lay
primarily with the Lord who was at work in David’s life, and only secondarily with
David for his obedience to God.

We do not live in a dualistic universe in which God and Satan are equal opponents. Not at
all. The enemy’s schemes are not outside the extent of God’s sovereign rule, so we can’t
ascribe some bits of our lives or circumstances exclusively to God and other bits
exclusively to the devil. For the working out of God’s redemptive work in the world
                                            f
involves Him using things which are evil, or which others are held responsible. Thus the
apostle Paul described his "thorn in the flesh"simultaneously as "a messenger of Satan",
sent to torment him and as something given to him by God to keep him from becoming
conceited. And although Paul pleadedwith the Lord to take the ‘thorn’ away from him, it
served God’s purposes better not to do so. The life of Joseph provides another example of
God working out His purposes through human sin and suffering. Joseph’s adolescent
arrogance, his brothers’ hatred of him, and Potiphar’s wife’s lust and deception caused
Joseph to be sold into slavery and then thrown into jail. But later, when, as vizier of
Egypt, he met his brothers again, Joseph told them,

               "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me
               here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … God
               sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save
               your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me
               here, but God. … You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good
               to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

Thus we see that God makes use of evil to achieve His good will. As F. I. Andersen has
expressed it, "Only God can destroy creatively. Only God cantransmute evil into good.
As Creator, responsible for all that happens in His world, He is able to make everything
(good and bad) work together into good."




                                                                                        142
But it is at the very centre of our faith, in the crucifixion of Jesus, that God’s saving use
of injustice and pain is seen most directly. According to the prophet Isaiah, "It wasthe
Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer." Thus the proclamation of Peter to the
Jewish crowds was, "Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and
foreknowledge", and, "This is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the
prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer." And the infant church used the following
                                                                                   s
words in their prayer: "Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentile and the
people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You
anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
                                                                                     r
Thus, through the evil actions of Judas Iscariot and the Jewish and Roman leades which
brought about the execution of an innocent man, God fulfilled His purposes for the
salvation of the whole world.

Whether we like it or not — and perhaps many of us don’t — the picture the Scriptures
present to us of the Lord is of a God who can quite reasonably be described not only as
permitting suffering but even as inflicting it upon humankind. Why is God like that?
Surely it is because through our experience of pain and hardship, He is better able to
achieve His good and perfect will for us. If we misunderstand God’s love to mean that He
is always going to be ‘nice’ to us, we may at times fail to recognise the wisdom of His
‘severe mercy’ towards us. For, rather than being evidence of God’s absence, suffering
may be a sign of His presence. Indeed, the fact that we are suffering may well be a
demonstration of our Father’s love for us and a sign that He would go to any lengths in
order to achieve the very best for us. The Lord disciplines those He loves.

Realism About Suffering

However, being realistic about suffering in our modern society can be difficult. For in our
culture, we don’t even like to be inconvenienced, let alone to experience serious hardship.
                                                                                          t
Nearly all pain of any kind is rejected as a form of evil, and suffering is avoided at almos
any cost. The wisdom of the writer of Ecclesiastes was that "sorrow is better than
laughter" and mourning better than feasting, but such teaching seems laughable to us
now. As Jim Packer has put it,

                                                                      d
               This is a soft age in the West, an age in which ease an comfort are seen
               by the world as life’s supreme values. Affluence and medical resources
               have brought secular people to the point of feeling they have a right to a
               long life, and a right to be free from poverty and pain for the whole of that
               life. Many even cherish a grudge against God and society if these hopes do
               not materialise.

Such a perspective on the "problem of pain" is a relatively new one, being dependent on
living in a society in which many face little in terms of deep hardship and are outraged
when faced with calamity (especially if a scapegoat can be found). Outside of the modern
Western world, of course, such a view is not so common. After all, hardship and
suffering are prevalent and unavoidable for the majority.




                                                                                         143
But the real problem for those of us who pursue ease and comfort, and seek to avoid
suffering is that such a lifestyle is in opposition to the priorities of true Christian
discipleship. Sadly, once again, to a great extent, we in the Western church have taken
our cue from the world and, as Eugene Peterson has expressed it, "We have somehow
ended up with a country full of Christians who consider suffering, whether it comes from
a broken body or a broken heart, a violation of our spiritual rights."

Of course, we have no rights before God, and such an attitude is seriously detrimental to
growth in Spiritual maturity and holiness. Such a misunderstanding of the place of
suffering in God’s purposes for our lives prevents us responding appropriately to His
                                     n
"discipline". Indeed, God’s discipli e is much too little thought about by many Christians
in the West, where discipline of any sort is frequently in short supply, not least in the
                                                                              d
church. We have become soft and undisciplined, even though surely an unisciplined
disciple must be a contradiction in terms! By doing everything we can to avoid suffering,
we fail to achieve our full potential, for, as with the sportsman who trains rigorously for
the pursuit of the prize, the best can only be bought at the cost of great pain.

When the apostle Paul was in Caesarea at the end of his third missionary journey, a
prophet named Agabus took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said,
"The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt
and will hand himover to the Gentiles.’" Those with Paul pleaded with him not to go to
Jerusalem. But Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready
not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When
Paul would not be dissuaded, they gave up and said, "The Lord’s will be done." When
faced with suffering, are we more like Paul or more like his friends? When something is
hard, difficult, a struggle, do we give up, or are we like the man Paul followed and lived
for, a man who had prayed, "Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. If you are
willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.", before going to
His death?

There is a false assumption in the thinking of many of us that the primary desire of a
good God would always be to remove our suffering. Indeed some modern theologies of
healing are founded on this particular mistaken premise. The elimination of suffering
surely is part of God’s work in the world. Indeed, in the new Jerusalem, there will be no
more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed
away. And dramatic healings have always accompanied those who have believed as a
sign of the kingdom. Our God is a God who does heal and deliver — and He delights to
do so when we ask Him to according to His will. But, in this age, we still await the
fullness of God’s kingdom and the "renewal of all things". Meanwhile, as we live in the
tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’, between the kingdom p  resent now and
the kingdom yet to come, God’s desires will on occasion be better fulfilled through our
perseverance in the midst of trials than through their removal. We need a theology that
embraces both God’s healing power and the place that suffering plays in His purposes. In
both our thinking and practice the Biblical notions of redemptive suffering and divine
healing need somehow to be combined, for the kingdom of God experiences triumph both
through sickness dramatically overcome and through transform    ation brought about as a



                                                                                       144
result of sickness. After all, kingdom growth is about holiness, not health, about our
spiritual state rather than our physical state. So God’s main purpose is often not to solve
our problems but to bring about a change in our attitude to those problems.

Suffering has a significant place in our development into maturity. The ancient proverbs
recognise the benefit of pain in developing moral character:

               Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he
               will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

               The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces
               his mother.

Indeed, suffering had a crucial place even in Jesus’ development. The writer of the epistle
to the Hebrews tells us that, "It was fitting that God should make the author of our
salvation perfect through suffering." and, "Although He was a son, He learned obedience
from what He suffered." Although Jesus never disobeyed His Father, He was trained for
ever greater depths of obedience through the trials He faced. The temptations and pain
Jesus experienced were real and the battle for victory difficult, but He resisted and
prevailed. Jesus’ greatest test was at the end of His ministry, in the garden of Gethsemane
and on the cross, but His public ministry began with testing too when the Holy Spirit sent
Him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. If it was the Father’s will for Jesus to learn
                                                                              ilar
through suffering, how much more should we, who are sinful, expect a sim treatment
if we want to grow into Spiritual maturity.

Reacting to Trials

In practice, most of us are probably much more concerned to avoid suffering than to
avoid sin. We do our best to insure ourselves against all kinds of eventualities, seeking
security where none is to be find, storing up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth
and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. We may believe that money can
                                                                                  u
buy us protection from suffering, but the truth is that there is only one real ‘ins rance
policy’, and it is to be found in laying up treasure in heaven. As Don Carson has written,
"We want security; we want it desperately. But it has very little to do with the security of
belonging to God, everything else being negotiable." As a result,when we are oppressed,
our focus is more likely to be on gaining relief from the situation we’re in than on the
Lord and His purposes. As Elihu lamented,

               Men cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm
               of the powerful. But no one says, "Where is God my Maker, who gives
               songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth
               and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?"

When in pain, we pray for relief— and that is good. But if that’s all we do then we are in
danger of missing God’s work in the midst our hardships. When faced with tragedy or
danger, we pray for protection and safety — and that’s fine too. But if that’s all we do


                                                                                         145
then we are unlikely to see God’s hand transforming our hearts. Indeed we may find
ourselves fighting God Himself, trying to put out the refining fire He has kindled to burn
away the dross in our lives! As Cleland Thom has written, "All of us need to keep God’s
                                                                              .
training programme well in focus as we learn to cope with life’s bitter blows" When we
suffer, are we going to set our sights on Spiritual growth or on escaping from the pain and
trying to have an easy life?

God is totally good. So when He allows us to pass through trials we know we can trust
                                        is
Him completely. He has everything in H hands. Even the sifting brought by the enemy
has to come through His permission. So when our lives are being shaken, we can be sure
that He is at work — tearing some things down and building other things up. We need to
learn to acknowledge His goodness towards us not only in the easy times but also in the
hard. Lindy Croucher expresses it like this:

               In the midst of our suffering (or God’s surgery), Christ offers hope, not
               necessarily relief, and He commands us to pursue Him ardently even when
               we’d rather stop and look after our own well-being. And God’s peace that
               passes understanding is promised to those who have confidence in His
                                                              -
               goodness even when life is tough and their selfesteem is low. We must
               call God good even when we suffer — because He is! And, when things
               are going well, we must call Him good for reasons that go beyond our
               immediate blessings. Otherwise, when we hurt, we will speak harshly
               against God, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to satisfy our
               selfishness. We will be more tro ubled by our discomfort than by our
               unholiness.

When we suffer, God is looking to see how we respond. For we all suffer, but we don’t
all grow as a result. Crises can drive us away from God or towards Him. We can become
bitter people or we can become better people. The choice is ours, for it is not through the
suffering itself but through our response to misfortune that we mature and develop. If
self-examination under suffering shows us how we can improve, then we should improve.
It’s bad enough to go through suffering, but it’s worse to do so and not profit from it.
After all, if we fail to learn the lesson the first time we are likely to be tested again on the
same point later. So what are we going to do about it? Are we going to let the Lord speak
to us in our situation or are we going to struggle and complain? Giving our energy to
blaming our circumstances or other people, or rationalising God out of the equation will
hamper the production of good fruit the Lord desires for us. Here is some more wisdom
from Elihu:

               The godless in heart harbour resentment; even when God fetters them,
               they do not cry for help. … But those who suffer He delivers in their
               suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction.

As Don Carson has written, "If our heavenly Father discip  lines those He loves, and
punishes those He accepts as His children, then to chafe unduly under such punishment is
to betray our immaturity — or even, finally, to call into question our desire to grow in



                                                                                           146
conformity to our heavenly Father." When Job was afflicted with terrible sores, his wife
said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job replied,
"You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
In all this, Job did not sin in what hesaid. Both Job and his wife recognised the
seriousness of the choice before Job as to how he reacted to his suffering.

"Be patient in affliction." "Endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." So wrote
the apostle Paul. Patience is a virtue that is in very short supply these days. We’re even
too impatient to learn patience; we want it now! It is even rarer to find those who exhibit
patience under trial — "forbearance" or "longsuffering". We don’t like to wait or put up
                                e,
with any kind of inconvenienc let alone suffer for long! The Scriptures, however, place
a high value on perseverance when the going is tough:

               Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood
               the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised tothose
               who love Him.

               Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer
               waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the
               autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the
               Lord’s coming is near. … Brothers, as an example of patience in the face
               of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you
               know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of
                                                                     l
               Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord final y brought about.
               The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Like Job, we are called to face our suffering in faith, but not with fatalistic resignation or
dispassionate stoicism — that is not what "bearing one’s cross" is about — but with a
realistic confidence in God, knowing Him experientially at work in the midst of our pain.
The ability to handle suffering depends on where our focus is. Are our eyes fixed on the
author and perfecter of our faith at work in us, or on our troublesome situation? As the
old song goes, "When the road is rough and steep, fix your eyes upon Jesus." Are we
awaiting the end of our suffering, or the completion of the Lord’s goal for it? Here are
some words of Andrew Murray, known as his "formula for trial" that provide a good
basis for our response in times of difficulty:

   1. He brought me here. It’s by His will I am in this straight place. In that fact I will
      rest.
   2. He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
   3. Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to
      learn.
   4. In His good time, He will bring me out again — how and when He knows.

                       So let me say: I am (a) Here by God’s appointment. (b) In His
                       keeping. (c) Under His training. (d) For His time.




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We need to make sure we don’t waste the trials we face, but rather seize them as
opportunities, offering our affliction back to God who has permitted it to make of it what
He wills. As the seventeenth century Quaker, Isaac Penington, put it:

               Do not be grieved at your situation or be discontented. Do not look at the
               difficulty of your condition, but instead, when the storm rages against you,
               look up to Him who can give you patience and can lift your head over it
               all and cause you to grow.

For, as we welcome God’s work and abandon ourselves to His will, we will learn, like
the apostle Paul did, true contentment in every situation, whether good or bad:

               I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is
               to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the
               secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or
               hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

If we don’t want to remain as we are, but want to become more like we were made to be,
                                           o
then we will need to give God permission t disturb us when necessary, to allow
ourselves to be vulnerable and teachable in His hands, and to recognise and respond to
His work in our pain and suffering.

Loving the Father’s Discipline

                                                                le
If by letting us go through periods of suffering, the Lord is ab to achieve His purposes
in us more effectively, then we should not only expect suffering but also positivelyvalue
it. Such a statement sounds almost heretical to the ears of modern man, but the teaching
                                                f
and testimony of the Biblical writers is that sufering may often be regarded as a precious
gift from God. Thus the psalmists proclaim,

               "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word. … It was
               good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees. … I know,
               O Lord, that Your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness You have
               afflicted me." "Let the Righteous One strike me — it is a kindness; let
               Him rebuke me — it is oil on my head."

Similarly, the ancient books of wisdom declare that the person who is truly wise will love
discipline: "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the
Almighty." "The corrections of discipline arethe way to life." "Whoever loves discipline
loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." As Don Carson has written,
"When you stop to think of it, the prospect of disciplinemust be encouraging to those
who genuinely want to please their heavenly Father."

The apostles of the New Covenant were no less convinced that we should have a positive
attitude towards the pain we experience and the difficulties we face:




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               We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also
               rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces
               perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

               Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
               because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
               Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and
               complete, not lacking anything.

Many of us would prefer to rewrite or reinterpret these verses to say something other than
what they actually say — that we should be happy that we suffer. They do not say just
that we should remain happy in the midst of suffering but that our trials should be cause
for us to rejoice. Our troubles are not evils simply to be endured, but something to be
gloried in. As we exult in "the hope of the glory of God", in the same way we should also
exult in our afflictions and hardships! This teaching should not surprise us, for Jesus
Himself said something similar, though in His case talking specifically about the
suffering of persecution:

               Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all
               kinds of evil against you because of Me.Rejoice and be glad, because
               great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the
               prophets who were before you.

An unbridled pursuit of happiness and pleasure has replaced, for most of us, the pursuit
                                                                               c
for holiness that should characterise our lives. And it is this purely hedonisti approach to
life that makes us totally undervalue discomfort and pain, and causes us to find
unacceptable the idea of being happy about our suffering. But God’s idea of happiness, or
‘blessedness’ is of a different order from ours. He Himself wants to bethe source of our
aspirations and delight. Our satisfaction depends, not on our fragile circumstances or
achievements, but on our relationship and pursuit of God. Thus in the Scriptures
blessedness is often linked, not with comfort and ease, but with hard  ship, obedience and
discipline. So the psalmist can sing, "Blessed is the man You discipline, O Lord." For it is
discipline — not sheltering and pampering — that we need in order to discover true
happiness.

                                                 y
We should note that this has implications not onl for ourselves and how we respond as
God’s children when we suffer, but also for the way we raise our own children. For do
we not often seek to protect them from pains and struggles through which they could
grow? And are we not often in danger of cosseting them too much and disciplining them
too lightly? Do we not often excuse their sin and rebellion rather than take it as seriously
as God did in Christ? Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, would we not often rather
have our children happy rather than holy? And what of our long-term goals for them? Do
we not often prize a good secular education more highly than growth in godliness, and
worldly success more highly than Spiritual depth? Eleonore van Haaften asks,




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               Do we want our children to become men and women of God and are we
               willing to accept God’s ways of bringing that about? Or is our main aim to
               provide our children with the best circumstances— a stable financial
               position, good health, stimulating relationships— and to protect them
               from problems? Can we accept that God’s plans might have different
               ‘ingredients’, yet still be the best? Can we accept for them a ‘career’
               completely different from what we thought it should be like?

                                                                           ns
If we are truly God’s people then we will want our prayers and aspiratio for our
children to be aligned with His will— above all that they might know Him and might
develop into Spiritual maturity. Don Carson has written the following of his own
parenting: "I look at my children, and I wish for them enough opposition to makethem
strong, enough insults to make them choose, enough hard decisions to make them see that
following Jesus brings with it a cost — a cost eminently worth it, but still a cost." Are we
willing to let God take our children through suffering we would not c   hoose for them, and
to be determined not to interfere in His work? After all, if pain is required for us to grow
in faith, so will it be for our children.

Suffering is part and parcel of our calling as Christians and so, contrary to all the
expectations of our culture, we would do well to welcome and embrace it rather than
resist and fight it. For through pain rightly accepted we can grow to be more like Christ.
Let us not limit His work in us to that which we find agreeable. As Jeanne Guyon wrote
many years ago,

               You may abandon yourself to the Lord hoping and expecting always to be
               caressed and loved and Spiritually blessed by Him. You who have given
               yourself to the Lord during some pleasant season, please take note of this:
               If you gave yourself to be blessed and to be loved, you cannot suddenly
               turn around and take back your life at another season … when you are
               being crucified!

               Nor will you find any comfort from man when you have been put on the
               cross. Any comfort that comes to you when you are knowing the cross
               comes to you from the Lord.

               You must learn to love the cross. He who does not love the cross does not
               love the things of God. It is impossible for you to truly love the Lord
               without loving the cross. The believer who loves the cross finds that even
               the bitterest things that come his way are sweet.

Help in Times Of Trouble

It has often been said that Jesus promised His followers three things: firstly constant
trouble (not escape from tribulation), secondly constant joy (based not on our
circumstances but on our relationship with Him), and thirdly His constantpresence (in
any and every situation). For the Lord does not leave us to suffer alone. He is not a



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distant impersonal god, but the personal Immanuel, Godwith us. He will never leave us
nor forsake us. He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Although
He may afflict us for our own good, He does not abandon us. In the midst of the suffering
that comes from Him, there we will find Him with us, to strengthen us and help us and
uphold us with His hand. Furthermore, our God is a God who knows what it is like to
suffer for in Christ He entered our world and identified with our situation. We do not
have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who
empathises with us and comforts us. Let us then approach the throne of grace with
confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Moreover, our God is not looking for reasons to send us trouble. Indeed the opposite is
true; He is slow to anger. The Lord corrects and chastens us only to the extent that He
knows is needed to bring about His good purposes in us. Shortly before Jerusalem was
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. as part of the Lord’s disciplining of Israel, H e
spoke through Jeremiah to say,

               "I am with you and will save you", declares the Lord. "Though I
               completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you,I will not
               completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will
               not let you go entirely unpunished."

A few years later, after Jerusalem had fallen and the inhabitants of Judah were in exile,
Jeremiah wrote the following words, poignantly describing his experience of the Lord’s
harsh treatment. He acknowledges the rightness and goodness of the Lord’s discipline
and our responsibility to offer ourselves humbly and patiently under His affliction. But,
above all, Jeremiah calls to mind with hope the Lord’s compassion and reluctance to
bring suffering upon His people:

               I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has
               driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed,
               He has turned His hand against me again and again, all day long. … He
                                                                                t
               has broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dus. I have
               been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My
               splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord." I remember my
               affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember
               them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and
               therefore I have hope:

               Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His
               compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your
               faithfulness. … The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the
               one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
               It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. … Let him offer
               his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.
               For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He




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               will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not
               willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.

God disciplines His children in the measure that He deems necessary. The    trouble He
sends our way is strictly limited. We certainly do not get what we deserve— which is to
be thrown into hell, not gentle discipline— for the Lord’s wrath is restrained by His
mercy and the full extent of His just judgement is held back by His love.

The Lord will never test us beyond what we can endure. His discipline is that of a gentle
Father. Even though at times we may feel at breaking point, a bruised reed He willnot
break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. For God is for us not against us. His
aim is not our destruction but our reconstruction in His image. And to this end He will
use painful surgery to destroy and break the power of all that is unhealthy and unclean in
                                                               ith
our lives. If something is taken away, He will replace it w something better. For His
desire is not to hurt us, but to set us free from all that is destructive within us. He may
tear us to pieces but He will then heal us; He may injure us but He will then bind up our
wounds. For His purpose is to restore our souls.

               Broken, I run to You for Your arms are open wide.
               I am weary, but I know Your touch restores my life.

               You are the God of the broken, the friend of the weak.
               You wash the feet of the weary, embrace the ones in need.

If we keep the goal of our suffering in view, we will have a sure and certain hope. For the
future can only be better if our suffering bears the good fruit of God’s work in our lives.
But it is not only the immediate future that gives us hope in times of trial. For if we have
an eternal perspective, seeing things in the light of the ultimate End, then our present
struggles may seem a small price to pay as we are prepared for our supreme Goal:

               We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet
               inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary
               troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
               So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is
               seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

               Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of
               trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold,
               which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and
                                                                              v
               may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is re ealed.

However distressing our situation, we can be sure that our present sufferings are nothing
in comparison to the glory that will be revealed in us. We can afford to suffer now; we
have an eternity of respite ahead. Our days on this earth are but a drop in the ocean in
comparison to our eternal reign. For we are not people of this world any more than Jesus
was. Rather, we are aliens and strangers longing for a better country — a heavenly one.


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Indeed, our pain and sorrow in this life may be used by Godto make us homesick for
heaven and help us recognise the temporary nature of all the things of this world we so
easily end up attached to. As Thomas à Kempis wrote,

              It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time,
              for trouble often compels us to search our own hearts. It reminds us that
              we are strangers in this world, and that we can put our trust in nothing that
              it has to offer.

In addition, even though now we may only partially understand the place our suffering
plays in the Lord’s good purposes, we know that we can trust the One who always sees
human life from an eternal perspective. And one day we too shall know fully, even as we
are now fully known by Him. Meanwhile, in this world we will always have trouble. But
we can take heart for Jesus has overcome the world.

The Good Fruit

We know that in all things God is at work for the good of those who love Him, who have
been called according to His purpose. In our various experiences of suffering God works
in a variety of ways, shaping us, tempering us, moulding us, toughening and softening us,
educating, reforming and redeeming us. Through the troubles we face, He is teaching us,
rebuking us, correcting us, and training us in righteousness— so that we may be
thoroughly equipped for every good work. Pain is the anvil on which He forges our inner
growth, character development and Spiritual formation — things that do not come easily
in our culture of immaturity and quick fixes. For we have the opportunity of growing
more swiftly when placed under pressure.

The storms we face are not necessarily chastening or correction for the moral failures of
yesterday, though they may partly be that. Normally they have more to do with the future
                                                           e
than the past, being concerned with making us more like J sus and preparing us to be
more effective vessels for the Lord’s use. For without thorough preparation, we may be
more of a liability than an asset to the work of His Kingdom. So whatare some of the
intended effects of the suffering the Lord allows us to experience?

Revealing What’s Inside

First of all, God, in His grace, sends us trouble to wake us up. Bodily comfort easily
breeds in us complacency and thus ineffectiveness. We can be so busy working, enjoying
life, pursuing our careers, even ‘serving theLord’, that we no longer are really taking
proper notice of God at all. So He seeks to get our attention by removing that comfort and
disturbing our complacency. Pain often awakens us to ask questions about the purpose
and focus of our living. In the words of Richard Baxter, "suffering so unbolts the door of
the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance." Many have come to faith in Christ through
turning to Him in times of heartache, and God continues to make use of crises in our lives
to send us back to Him when we let Him drift from the centre of our vision. Our personal




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tragedy and disaster may well be God’s hammer on our hearts causing us to awaken and
face up to spiritual reality.

For God wants more than just that we wake up. His desire is that we take note of and do
something about our spiritual state. And suffering has a way of showing us what we’re
really like, if we’ll let it. In his farewell address to the Israelites, Moses reminded them of
the reasons behind their desert wanderings:

               Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these
               forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in
               your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. … Know then
                                                                         d
               in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lor your God
               disciplines you.

What is in our hearts? God knows, but do we know? And are we going to do anything
about it? These are important practical questions, for what is inside us comes out in the
way we behave and affects our usefulness to God’s Kingdom purposes. We live and
minister out of what we are. For, as Jesus said,

               The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,
               and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
               For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

and

               What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within,
               out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,
               adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and
               folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.

In our pride, we would often prefer to stay behind our masks, hiding our character
weaknesses and covering up our shortcomings. But God in His loving gentleness may
well pull away our inadequate crutches and strip off our ineffective sticking plasters so
that we can face up to our true state and properly address our areas of dysfunctionality.
This process is undeniably painful and unpleasant, but if we are to grow into Christ’s
                             s
likeness then the things in u that bother our Father will need dealing with. And if we’re
going to resolve these issues then they will have to come to the surface where we can
recognise and take responsibility for them. So God places us under pressure, because
when we are pushed out of our ‘comfort zone’ we show what we are really made of.

For example, how do we react to others letting us down, to unfair treatment and false
accusations? Do we take offence or do we show God’s loving grace and forgiveness?
And what is revealed in our reaction when we face disappointment and discouragement,
or when our lives are falling apart? Anxiety? Resentment? Insecurity? Frustration?
Despair? Lack of self-discipline? Impatience? Pretence? Lack of love? Inconstancy?
Selfishness? People -pleasing? Harbouring of grudges? Lack of integrity? Harshness?


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                                                                                      —
Self-pity? Or is it the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that is displayed love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self   -control?

Lindy Croucher has spoken insightfully of God’s use of suffering to test what’s in our
hearts:

                 Joni Eareckson Tada became a paraplegic in a diving accident when she
                 was seventeen. In her book Seeking God, she uses the illustration of
                 squeezing an orange. Of course what comes out is orange juice, unless
                 someone has tampered with the orange. She then asks, "What happens
                 when life squeezes a Christian? What is revealed is whatever is inside. A
                 hypocrite, or someone who simply pretends to be a child of God, resents
                 affliction and runs when troubled times come. Their cowardice and
                 pretence come out. A self-centred Christian may complain for a while, but,
                 in time, affliction can bring them to their knees. Then their heart can be
                                                                                  b
                 drained of the selfishness and resentment, making them better a le to
                 approach God as a child would seek their father." Only when knowing
                 God becomes our greatest passion can the struggles of life become an
                 impetus to find God.

She continues,

                 Perhaps, like me, you struggle to see that you’re all that self-centred. I
                 have become convinced that when we really, truly, want to find God, and
                 plead with Him to do whatever it takes, He will work all things together to
                 achieve that good purpose. Often He will use the circumstances of our
                 lives to ‘squeeze’ us, so that we can see just what ugly stuff is still within
                 us. And if we’re still willing the surgery continues. And the effect of the
                 operation is that down the track we realise that we’re giving more energy
                 to pursuing God’s purposes, and that we’re more acutely aware of any
                 contrary agendas of our own. Still we hurt when others let us down, but
                 we begin to grieve more over our weak commitment to Christ than over
                 whatever harsh treatment we endure. And we rejoice more that God is
                 good, than that we feel good about ourselves.

So when the heat is on, it may be that the fire is bringing impurities to the surface. When
we feel pressed on all sides, when we feel like exploding and don’t understand what’s
happening to us, it may be that things we didn’t know existed in our heartsare being
brought into the light. This is good and is God’s work. We need to see what’s there and
allow the impurities that are revealed — all that is unhealthy and unclean within us— to
be removed, along with the pride that kept them hidden, so that we may be set totally free
of their hold on us. Will we keep coming to our Father in repentance and brokenness over
what He has shown is inside us, until we have received from Him forgiveness, cleansing,
healing and complete liberation?

Purifying Our Hearts



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God wants us to be pure, so He lets us pass through His refining fire in order that the
dross within may be burned out. This was His purpose in having His Old Covenant
people exiled to Babylon: "I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of
the sin of My people?" "I will turn My hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away
your dross and remove all your impurities." The Lord’s "furnace of affliction" is designed
to bring forth the gold of godliness in our lives and purify us from everything that
contaminates body and spirit. In the Scriptures, this refining process is particularly
associated with the approach of the end of the age:

               Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and
               made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the
               appointed time. … Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but
               the wicked will continue to be wicked.

               [The remnant] I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and
               test them like gold. They will callon My name and I will answer them; I
               will say, "They are My people", and they will say, "The Lord is our God."

               But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He
               appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will
               sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine
               them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring
               offerings in righteousness.

                                                                                     s
The church is desperately in need of purging and cleansing. We often ask God for uccess
or power, but He is crying out for purity — purity in our thinking, in our motives and in
our worship. The Lord wants a people for Himself who are spotless, who live righteous
lives, who are not a mixture of the clean and the unclean but reflect Hispurity to the
world. In order to achieve this He will put us through the mill so that the impurities can
be tenderly and lovingly cleared out of us. As we cry out to God to create in us a pure
heart, He will send us through His fire to bring us to a placeof repentance, of grieving
over our sinfulness, of recognising our unworthiness to be His children. Then every trace
of darkness can be burned up and His light and glory can shine into the hidden places of
our being. Then our propensity to do what is evil can be overcome and be replaced with
His strength to always do what is right.

We need to be willing for Him to turn up the heat where necessary and to expect to
experience great anguish of soul. For grieving is a gift from God and tears are part of the
cleansing because they help to soften our hearts. We need to let the pain do its work, and
to allow the Lord to go deep into the recesses of our hearts, into areas that were
                                                                                      l
previously off-limits to Him. We can never bring ourselves through to freedom, not east
because we’re often much too soft on ourselves.

C. S. Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of his Narnia chronicles, tells of a
boy, Eustace, who was trying to remove the dragon skin in which he had become trapped




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                           ss.
as a result of his selfishne He repeatedly scraped away one set of scales only to find
another set underneath. Eustace describes what happened next:

                                                -
               Then the lion [Aslan, the Christ figure in Narnia] said — but I don’t know
               if it spoke — "You will have to let me undress you." I was afraid of his
               claws, I can tell you, but I was nearly desperate now. … The very first tear
               he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And
               when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever
               felt. … Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d
               done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt …

A significant measure of the pain and part of our struggle in the refining process comes
from our attraction to and identification with those things the Lord wants to remove from
us. We aren’t always so keen to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so
easily entangles. Part of us often prefers to remain in our dysfunctionality. We need to be
willing to let the divine Surgeonhave His way and cut as deep as necessary, even to pray,
"Send the fire today!"

Building Confidence in God

Another possible effect of trials and tribulation is an increased faith in and dependence
upon God. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church,

               We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we
               suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond
               our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our
               hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not
               rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us
               from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our
               hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.

When our lives are falling apart and there seems to be no way forward, we are forced to
decide whether we are going to trust God with our lives and the outcome of our
circumstances or not. When we experience loss or conflict or sickness or persecution or
confusion, God has us in a place where we can learn that He is totally dependable and
will always meet our needs in His way if we let Him. Often it seems like the Lord pushes
                                                                                   ch
us off a cliff only to catch us just before we hit the bottom simply in order to tea us that
we can trust Him completely — God is faithful and loving and will never let us be
smashed to pieces. Thus what looks like devastation to us becomes an opportunity for us
                                                                              f
to deepen our faith and confidence in our heavenly Father whose desire is or our best.

We are called to be a people who rely on the Lord alone, but so often we place our trust
elsewhere — in finances or material things or human relationships. In doing so, we let
                                                                    lf
these inadequate securities take the place that only the Lord Himse should have. So, at
times, He works in our lives to destroy the props that we look to for safety and comfort.
He shakes us so that what we have built and relied upon can be brought down and



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replaced by an unshakeable trust in God who alone is totally reliable. In these situations,
we need to be careful that we don’t try and fix what God is breaking or rebuild what He
is destroying, but let Him transfer our security back to Him. For God and His kingdom
cannot be shaken.

Unless the Lord takes us into situations in which we can’t cope without Him, we are
                    -confident and unlikely to recognise our profound need to rely on
likely to remain self
Him in everything. Jim Packer has written of this as follows:

                                                                            lf.
               Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to Himse How does
               God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by
               the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome
               and frustrating circumstances, nor yet by shielding us from troubles
               created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing
               us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own
               inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the
                                                                                        s
               ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with trouble
               and perplexities of one sort and another — it is to ensure that we shall
               learn to hold Him fast. …

               When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm
               to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when
               we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and
               our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall
               thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life
               is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thank  fully to lean on Him.
               Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in
               Himself — in the classical Scriptural phrase for a godly man’s life, to
               "wait on the Lord".

                                                                      s
We often prefer to be self-sufficient, and like to think that our need are being met as a
result of our industriousness. But our Father wants us to live in complete daily reliance on
Him for all that we require. So at times He will place us in situations in which we have no
choice but to wait for Him to act, in which there is no way out without a miracle. When
the Old Covenant people were wandering in the desert, they had no option but to rely on
the Lord’s daily supply of manna and quails:

               Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these
               forty years … He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding
               you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach
               you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes
               from the mouth of the Lord.

But some of the Israelites immediately demonstrated their lack of faith in God’s
provision by trying to hoard the manna for the following day. For when we are no longer
in control of our situation in the way we like, we are often tempted to believe that we’ve



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got to do something, even when all the Lord is asking of us is that we trust Him. Oh the
folly of moving ahead of God’s guidance! Learning to seek His direction before acting,
and to wait for the leading of the Holy Spirit in everything we do— rather than acting on
our own initiative independently from God — is a lesson we all need to learn at some
time. And God will allow us to go through hard experiences to teach us this.

Another temptation we face when we are in distress is to believe that God owes us some
kind of explanation for what happens to us. Our difficulties may be compounded in our
minds because they don’t make sense to us and we wonder what on earth is going on. In
these situations, it is very likely that God will leave many of our questions unanswered,
and in this too we have the opportunity to grow in our ability to trust Him. Satan will do
his best to sow seeds of destructive doubt in our minds: "Is God really good?" "Is He
really in control?" When tested like this, will we hang on to the Lord’s promises or give
in to discouragement? When we are in the dark, will we trust that Almighty God is
sovereignly orchestrating events to bring about His unfailingly good purposes for us?
When faced with the painful mystery of suffering, will we acknowledge that, for reasons
too deep for us to comprehend, the tapestry of His work must contain black threads.
Above all, will we remain faithful to Him who sees the big picture and holds us and
everything in His hands? Here are some words of testimony from Charles and Carol, a
couple whose daughter René lost her life in an accident when she was in her thirties:

                If we hadn’t firmly believed in and held on to God’s sovereignty, we
                wouldn’t have survived René’s death. … We had to consciously accept in
                faith that God was in control of this situation. Somehow we were kept
                from going under in despair. …

                We decided we didn’t have the right to doubt God’s ways and to call Him
                to account for our daughter’s death. … I needed to say it out loud because
                I realised that Satan was trying to use our whys to somehow get into this
                situation and undermine our faith. There were so many whys. … But the
                closer we are to God, the fewer questions we have. In our lives and walk
                with Him we learn to accept whatever He brings on our path, because
                what we encounter can be an instrument in His hand to mould us and
                shape us into the person He means us to be.

Our faith is not true faith if it is based on sight. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, it is
being "certain of what we do not see". And this is the sort of faith we should all aspire to:
a certainty that remains rock-solid even when our circumstances seem to suggest the
opposite of the truth. God is good beyond measure, and absolutely and completely in
control, even when it doesn’t seem like it. But faith is notblind or irrational either; it is
not a "leap in the dark". No, it is based on God’s gracious revelation of Himself to us.
Our experience of our relationship with Him teaches us that He is totally faithful and
wholly trustworthy, and the testimony of the Scriptures is the same. "For I know the plans
I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to
give you hope and a future." These words, spoken to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, testify




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of God’s character and His love for His children. Once our eyes are opened to these
things, we will be able to leave all distrust, doubt and suspicion behind.

At times, all we can do is hang on to God’s promises and recognise that when we come to
the end of our tether He will be there for us, a refuge and rock providing us with the
necessary grace to keep going. He repeatedly promises never to forsake us. He is always
with us and He holds us by the hand. Even if we walk through the "valley of the shadow
of death", He will be there with us.

               Faithful One, so unchanging,
               Ageless One, You’re my Rock of peace.
               Lord of all, I depend on You,
               I call out to You again and again.
               I call out to You again and again.
               You are my Rock in times of trouble.
               You lift me up when I fall down.
               All through the storm Your love is the anchor,
               My hope is in You alone.

Sometimes the Lord uses our wilderness experiences or situations of emptiness simply to
create in us a deep longing for God Himself so that we will seek Him and come to
discover His love for us anew. Coming to the end of ourselves can, by His grace, drive us
back to Him and impel us to encounter Him more deeply. For our communion with God
is more important than anything else. The prophet Habakkuk experienced something of
this when the Lord revealed the coming destruction of Israel to him. His words provide
one of the strongest affirmations of faith in all the Scriptures:

               Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
                                                                                  gh
               though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, thou there are
               no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
               I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

As Don Carson comments on this passage, "Habakkuk resolves that, however great the
privation he must suffer along with the cov  enant community, he will delight the more in
God. It is almost as if the threatened loss of all material blessings and security drives him
to enjoyment of God: there is nothing and no one else to rely on, and therefore nothing to
mask the enjoyment of God that ought to be the believer’s focus." Let us, too, allow
ourselves to be brought to the place where we recognise that God alone is enough.

The Strength of Weakness

In English, the expression to be "on one’s knees" has two meanings: on the one hand, to
be in a state of weakness and despair, or on the other hand, to be in humble submissive
prayer. Similarly, to be broken-hearted is to be overwhelmed with sorrow or grief, but
                                                                                    a
brokenness also has the meaning of humility or contrition: "The sacrifices of God re a
broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.", sang king David



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when himself broken as a consequence of his sin. But the link is not just linguistic, for an
attitude of humility can be the fruit of being brought to our kneesand reduced to despair.
As we have seen in an earlier chapter, meekness and lowliness are very highly valued by
God, and suffering is one way He goes about producing it in His people. We can choose
                                                          n
to humble ourselves, or, if we are unwilling, God can bri g us low Himself through
painful circumstances. As long as we fear humiliation, we are still full of pride that needs
subduing, and if we don’t pursue humility voluntarily, in time God will bring us to a
place of weakness and failure where we can more easily learn humility.

In our society, those who exhibit strength and success are exalted, but God is more
impressed by those who know they are weak and utterly incapable of living His way
without His grace. Perhaps few of us are like that. Many of us tend to be strong, like wild
horses, and need breaking in and disciplining before we are of any significant use to God.
Cleland Thom, in his book on the life of Moses, writes of this taming process as follows:

               God sometimes has to disable people in order to be able to use them. …
               He did it to Jacob, who had made a career of trying to make God’s plans
               work on his terms. God finally caught up with him, wrestled with him for
               a night and then injured his hip so badly that it left him with a limp. But at
               least that wounding encounter meant that Jacob was then capable of
               fulfilling God’s promise to him of fathering a nation. Far better to walk
               with a limp than to miss out on God’s best!

               God did the same to the proud self-righteous Paul. First of all He left him
               blind for three days; then later He rendered him vulnerable to a satanic
               messenger for the rest of his days. And He similarly disabled Moses,
               taking a man who was powerful in word and deed and reducing him to
                                                                               as
               someone who apparently had a speech impediment and who w a mass of
               excuses and inadequacy.

               … Some people are so strong, so talented, so able, that they are of no use
               to God — even though they might have a heart to serve Him. The problem
               is that even though they want to serve God, ultimately they don’t need
               Him. They are strong enough and clever enough to fulfil His plans on their
               own. But God catches up with them in the end and often has to deal with
               them severely in order to release their true potential. It’s not that their
               talents and strengths are of no use to Him. That’s not the issue. It’s more
               that He needs people who are capable of trusting Him and, more
               important, capable of obeying Him.

Thus God works in our lives to make us weak because weakness and failure is often the
necessary starting point for us to achieve anything significant for Him. For when we
come to the end of our own means and are so weak that we can’t do it, then God can
come to us and display His strength in us. All that is of ‘self’ has to die so that God can
be revealed in us. In the second of his letters to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul
writes of this in two passages:



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               God made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the
               knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this
               treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God
               and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
               perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down,
               but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
               so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are
               alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life
               may be revealed in our mortal body.

               To keep me from becoming conceited …, there was given me a thorn in
               my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with
               the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, "My grace is
               sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I
               will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power
               may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in
               insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak,
               then I am strong.

Are we willing, like Paul, to boast not about ourselves, but about our weaknesses? Paul
recognised that God’s purposes are better served and His glory increased by the
manifestation of His grace and power through a weak human vessel, because in this way
there could never be any confusion as to the source. In our pride we often try to add to
what God does, try to do some of His work ourselves, and so end up taking some of the
glory for ourselves. But this only obscures and tarnishes what He is doing, as we get in
the way of others seeing God at work in us and through us. True humility makes us
invisible; only the glory of the Lord is seen. Are we willing to be made nothing for Him
— even if the road to emptiness and total surrender is a painful one? O Lord, shake us
and break us so that we might become vessels for the display of Your glory!

Jesus once said that a certain man had been born blind "so that the work of God might be
displayed in his life", and then He healed him. How much do we want God’s work in our
lives? How highly do we value Hishonour? Are we willing to experience a similar level
of brokenness and heart-break so that the Lord’s glory might be revealed in us as a result?

One of the fruits of being broken is an increased empathy and compassion for those who
suffer. This was true of Christ, who, because He Himself suffered when He was tempted,
is able to help us when we are being tempted, and it is true of us. Those who have known
God’s grace in times of trouble are more able to be channels of that grace to others:

               Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of
               compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our
               troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we
               ourselves have received from God.




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Being brought low can make us gentler people, able to understand more deeply the pain
of the broken-hearted, and less likely to give glib answers to those who suffer and grieve.
We are called to speak sensitively and tenderly to those who are struggling, not stridently
and harshly. We should be full of loving -kindness and grace like our Lord who is
compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. But, if we are
to grow to resemble Him more truly in this way, then the price may be that we ourselves
must first be crushed, bruised and broken — but not destroyed — in order to make our
hard hearts softer.

Conflict

God’s refining work may come to us through many different channels. Oneof these is
when others harm us, usually unintentionally, by their attitudes or actions towards us. In
our social interactions, from time to time, we all suffer as the result of others’ failure and
                                                             r
sin. We may experience pain at the hands of either believes or unbelievers, and in either
case such situations provide us with an opportunity for growth — though in practice,
conflict with other believers can be harder to cope with because of the expectations
                                                       i
(either reasonable or unrealistic) we may have of Chr stian behaviour.

We should, of course, expect opposition from some unbelievers if we are serious about
following Christ: "You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends,
and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate youbecause of Me.", said
Jesus. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.",
wrote Paul to Timothy. We follow a Man who knew much suffering and rejection and
                                                                   ith
should expect no less ourselves. In fact, if the practice of our fa doesn’t cause us
trouble, we need to ask ourselves if perhaps there isn’t something wrong. In the early
centuries of the church, Christians were accused of "hatred of the human race" for their
                                                             ld
perverse disloyalty to the values of their society. We shou be no different. Our loyalty
should be to the King of Kings and His Kingdom only. We should be those whose lives
show clearly that we dissent from our society’s false values and don’t believe what the
system says we should believe. If we were to do so in a principled manner, we would
surely encounter opposition more regularly than many of us in fact do.

Often we don’t gain the benefit we could when we are let down or mistreated by others
because we tend to focus on our feelings of hurt and on their cause and so respond self-
centredly out of our pain. But, if we choose instead to pay more attention to our own
attitudes in the midst of conflict, we will have the opportunity of growing as we become
aware of some of our own character weaknesses and deal with them.

Perhaps the most common reaction when we are treated badly is anger. But anger can
easily take root and grow into a poisonous tree of unforgiveness and bitterness, so when
we are angry, we need to decide what we are going to do about it. The apostles James and
Paul wrote as follows:




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               Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become
               angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God
               desires.

               "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still
               angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. … Get rid of all bitterness,
               rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.Be
               kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in
               Christ God forgave you.

We have a choice: to harbour our anger and bitterness or to release our feelings to God
and, in His strength, forgive those who have let us down. Our resentment won’t do either
us or those we are angry with any good at all; only the enemy gains from it. The opposit    e
                                                                     -
of anger is meekness, an attitude that responds to injury without self pity or retaliation.
We are called to be those who do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us,
and pray for those who mistreat us. We need always to forgive those who sin against us
as completely as we ourselves have been forgiven. But, in addition, we need to be open to
recognise our own share in the responsibility for the negative situation, and to confess
and apologise for our sin without making excuses.

When people fail us, or deal with us unreasonably, or criticise us unjustly, true
                                                                                     -
forgiveness implies that we choose to accept the injustice and avoid the route of self
vindication. God wants to bring us to the place where we respond to inequity and pain
without complaining, where we can be treated unfairly and will keep quiet about it,
because that is what Jesus did. For, when they hurled their insults at Him, He did not
retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him
who judges justly. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans,

               Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is
               written: "It is Mine to avenge; I will repay", says the Lord. On the
               contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, givehim
               something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his
               head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We should be quick to admit to our faults, but when we are in the right we should be slow
to justify ourselves. Our aim should be to respond in a way that is the reverse of the
normal behaviour of the people of the world, who remain silent when in the wrong and
loudly protest innocence when accused falsely.

Our society is becoming increasingly litigious. Those whose mist     akes cause others
suffering are more and more likely to find themselves involved in bitter and prolonged
legal proceedings. This is partly the result of the growing use of the concept of the
‘rights’ of the individual as the basis of moral and judicial decisions. The whole idea of
rights is, in some ways, quite seriously wrong                                    -
                                                -headed since it makes ethics self centred
— "my rights" become the controlling factor. In Christian ethics, the focus is on others,
                                                     ,
being based on our obligations and responsibilities both to the Lord God (before whom



                                                                                        164
we have no rights at all) and also to one another. So when injured, our responsibility is
for our attitude to those who harm us not for any rights we think we might have, so a self-
centred desire for justice or compensation is not an option for us. Indeed, in addressing a
situation in which some believers were in dispute with one another, the apostle Paul
writes to those involved,

               The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been
               completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather
               be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this
               to your brothers.

We need to learn how to lay down our rights, rather than fighting for them, and let God
vindicate us if He wants. For it is far more preferable to suffer wrong without protesting
than to be seeking our own gain.

In responding appropriately to mistreatment from others, especially to unjust criticism,
we may also have to face up to the issue of our pride. As Thomas à Kempis wrote six
hundred years ago,

               It is good that we sometimes suffer opposition, and that men think ill of us
               and misjudge us, even when we do and mean well. Such things are an aid
               to humility, and protect us from pride. For we more readily turn to God
               when men despise us and think no good of us. We should, therefore, so
               root ourselves in God that we do not need to seek comfort from men.

Rejection and criticism will come to all of us at times and when it does the question we
have to face is whether it matters to us that people think badly of us, or whether we have
died to the desire to retain a good reputation? Other people’s estimation of us, even that
of our friends and family, should have no control over us except to the extent that it
reflects the view of God Himself. For we should be living our lives as if before an
audience of One, responding only to what He has to say to us. We should be jealous for
the glory of God, not concerned about the level of our popularity or notoriety. Leslie Pitt
has recently expressed the benefits of this kind of refining as follows:

               In our journey we will be jostled, our reputations will be attacked, and all
               of our motives questioned. Through this we are delivered from the fear of
               man and learn to place our confidence in God’s op  inion rather than man’s.

Our obligation is to God, to be living in submission to Him, not to be seeking to please
men and women, or living in fear of their disapproval and condemnation. We should not
be those who are tossed back and forth on the tides of others’ opinions, but those who
know and respond to the Lord’s voice. So when our character or actions are attacked we
need to discern what, if anything, the Lord is saying through the words of criticism.
                                                    y
Where there is truth in the accusations, even if the are delivered with completely the
wrong attitude, we need to humbly respond appropriately in repentance; but where there
are lies, we should quietly reject them as the work of the enemy and refuse to let them



                                                                                        165
have control over us. When received appropriately, conflict can be a catalyst to drive us
back to the Lord with a new desire to hear His voice with greater clarity and persevere
along the path He has for us.

Failing Well

                                                                                   re
Sometimes our suffering is not the result of others’ sin, but of ours. When we a facing
hardship and struggles of one sort or another, it is good first to ask whether our own poor
decisions are, at least partially, the cause for our situation. Many times, it seems, we are
unwilling take responsibility for our condition. We criticise   someone else for the state of
our relationship with them when we are a significant part of the problem. Or we complain
of there not being enough hours in the day when it is our fault that we are trying to do too
much. Or we moan that we’re short of money when we need to do something about our
profligate spending. Or we lament that we’re overweight when it is the product of our
overeating. Our failings have consequences that may be more or less painful for us, but if
we permit it, these too can be used by the Lord to lead us into greater Christlikeness.

There are, of course, different kinds of failure, and not all failure is bad. Failing to live up
to our own or others’ false agendas for us, or to the worldly expectations of our society
may well be God’s will for us. Our society worships success and idolises those who are
successful, but God has not commanded us to be successful but to be obedient to Him.
We should be very wary of letting the world’s understanding of success and failure
control us. In particular, success in work probably matters to many of us a lot more than
it should, and the pursuit of financial security and career advancement may well be
detrimental to God’s work in our lives. Lots of things don’t really matter in the eternal
scheme of things and we may need to learn to fail to our society’s expectations in these
areas. After all, God is unlikely to congratulate us on having had a successful career!

The sort of failure that always does matter is when we fail to live as God desires us to.
When we are tempted, our integrity is being tested. Will we be loyal and true to God and
His ways? Or will we cave in to the temptation and let Him down? And when we do fail,
will we learn from our failure or remain unchanged? To fail ‘successfully’ involves
recognising the flaws in our character that caused us to fail, and in repentance seeking
God’s help to overcome them once and for all. The suffering we experience as the result
of our sin is an act of God’s grace as He confronts us with our wrong so that it can be
dealt with. This was something that king David recognised:

               When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day
               long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was
               sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and
               did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to
               the Lord" — and You forgave the guilt of my sin.

If we don’t learn from our failures, we can expect to repeat them until we do — and each
time it will get harder as we let the pattern of dysfunctionality establish a stronger root in
our lives. Many of us waste years of our lives in relative unfruitfulness repeating the



                                                                                           166
same lessons because we don’t let the Lord in to deal with the roots of our habitual sins.
If we are serious about being God’s people, we need to wage war in cooperation with
Him against everything within us that prevents us living in the liberty of obedience to
Him. With God’s assistance, our failure can be turned into kingdom success as He uses
our sins and mistakes to further His ends within us. Not only will He instil in us new
strength of character and self-discipline, but by responding correctly to our wrong
decisions we will also grow in wisdom and the ability to make right decisions.

One of the situations in which the Lord will allow us to face trouble is when we make
decisions without properly discerning what His will is. We are so used to doing aswe see
fit, that nearly all of us, at some time, need to be disciplined in order to learn thatwe
should not do other than what the Lord has told us to. Often we want to have the place
that God should have in our lives and so we try to help God work things out, using our
own initiative independently of Him. This can be a recipe for disaster, sometim withes
long-term repercussions.

Abraham learned this to his detriment when he accepted Sarah’s suggestion to assist the
Lord in fulfilling His promise to them, and slept with her maidservant, Hagar. The
consequences of Abraham’s actions are still with ustoday in the continuing hostility
between the descendants of Ishmael and those of Isaac. Another Biblical example
showing the results of failing to seek the Lord’s direction is the account of how the
Gibeonites tricked Joshua into making a peace treaty with them, expressly contrary to
God’s direction. The Scriptures say that the men of Israel sampled the Gibeonites’
provisions but did not enquire of the Lord concerning them. The impact of Joshua’s
                                                            h
failure were still being felt in famine and bloodshed four undred years later in the reign
of King David.

Our failures may not have such long    -lasting effects, but similar conduct by us will
similarly have negative ramifications. When we fail to act as the Lord has directed us to,
or we make decisions without listening to Him first, we are likely to suffer as a result.
And when we choose a human alternative rather than doing what God has pointed out, or
we attempt to help Him with our ideas when He doesn’t want our assistance, we are
asking for trouble. For, if He is to teach us that His way is always the best, He will
continue to let us experience frustration and disaster until we finally give in and agree to
do nothing more or less than what He tells us to. If we want to be those whom He can use
to achieve His purposes, then He needs to know that He can trust us never to say "No" to
what He asks of us, never to behave as if we know better than Him, and never to initiate
something without knowing what He thinks about it first.

Isolation

Another common way in which God deals with us is to set us aside from our normal
situation, and especially from things we tend to rely on. Sooner or later, if we mean
business with God, He will lead us into the ‘wilderness’ or ‘desert’. As Cleland Thom has
put it,




                                                                                        167
               God’s training programme almost invariably involves a time when He
               works on us in private … when He strips us of our props and pretences,
               removes us from the crowd and puts us in His crucible where we can get
               to know Him as a true friend. It’s just us and Him — and these times can
               be painful, lonely, and very tough. But they can also be times of great
               intimacy, when our relationship with God is established at a very deep
               level.

                                                                            -
The immediate cause of our being laid aside can be various: sickness, burnout or mental
breakdown; bereavement, divorce or the disintegration of some other relationship;
redundancy or retirement; homelessness, bankruptcy or even imprisonment. Our isolation
may or may not be the consequence of our own sin, and it may or may not be the result of
others’ mistreatment of us. In a sense the cause is irrelevant because wilderness times are
essentially God-initiated. He drives us there because we’d be unlikely to go otherwise.
The isolation of our desert may be physical, through, for example, imprisonment or
extended hospitalisation. Or it may be primarily psychological as we feel let down by
friends and family who don’t understood our situation. Here is Cleland Thom’s
description of entry into the wilderness:

                                                                       f
               One day we’re fine — we’re full of confidence, full o prophecy and ready
               to take on the world and the devil … and then suddenly, or maybe
               gradually, we find ourselves with our plans, our dreams and our visions
               lying in a heap at our feet, together with a load of Bible promises and
               faith-filled prayers. We feel confused, disappointed, disillusioned and
               betrayed — especially by God Himself. It happens to anybody who wants
                                                                                     -
               to be truly used by God to their full potential and to go beyond a fair
               weather friendship with Him.

In God’s purposes, the desert is a place of transition, of ‘in-betweenness’, of apparent
inactivity and unproductiveness, of character transformation in preparation for future
activity and usefulness. Indeed, God may spend many years preparing us and training us
for a particular moment. God’s formation of us takes time, and often involves an
extended period of seemingly fruitless waiting in the wilderness. This is clear from the
many Biblical examples of such experiences:

                                                                          t
Joseph, as a result of his parents’ favouritism, his own boasting, his brohers’ envy, and
Potiphar’s wife’s lust and deceit, spent thirteen hidden years, firstly as slave and then in
prison before the dreams the Lord had given him as a teenager could begin to come to
fruition. Or consider Moses. Already somehow aware of God’s calling on him to bring
deliverance to the Israelites, he hot-headedly killed an Egyptian and had to flee two
hundred miles away to Midian where he then spent forty years in apparent idleness
looking after his father-in-law’s sheep before being ready to fulfil the role the Lord had
chosen for him. Later, the Scriptures describe Moses as the meekest man alive. King
David also experienced an extended desert time. Soon after being anointed by Samuel as
king of Israel, he found himself an outlaw and remained onthe run from Saul and his
men for fifteen years, apparently achieving nothing, before gaining the throne after Saul’s



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suicide in battle. The Lord described David as a man after His own heart. The apostle
                                                    n
Paul too faced a time of hidden preparation. Followi g his dramatic conversion on the
road to Damascus, he spent fourteen years on the sidelines, including three in the Arabian
desert, before he was ready to begin his missionary work.

When we’re thrust into the desert we discover the true extent of our relationship with
God and what’s really in our hearts. We find out what we do when we’ve nothing to do.
In our aloneness and loneliness, do we turn and seek God’s face or do we look for
satisfaction elsewhere? We may say that the Lord is at the centre of our lives, but what
actually happens when our normal coping mechanisms fail us? If we are to become those
who always turn totally and completely to God in times of emptiness, we may have to
                                                                         n
face up to and address the addictive behaviours we substitute for seeki g Him. Or we
may need to deal with our dependence on things or people rather than Him. If we let it,
the desert can lead us into a relationship of greater depth and maturity with our heavenly
Father. Times of being set aside and waiting are not times to w  aste, but to use to increase
our understanding of God and our intimacy with Him.

The wilderness enables us to see what unholy attitudes and reactions surface within us
when our props are taken away. In particular, any pride in our own ability is likely to take
a battering as we are disabused of the idea that we can achieve anything of value on our
own. With our plans in tatters, the desert is the place where we finally ‘give in’, take off
our masks, and accept our own helplessness before God. We may have se      cretly been
proud of our spiritual state, but the desert uncomfortably exposes the sham. As we find
ourselves vulnerable and insecure standing alone before God, we acquire a greater depth
of humility as we discover how little we can do for Him and we learnto think little of
ourselves and our achievements, and focus much more on how good the Lord is and how
great His mercy is towards us.

The desert is also the arena for spiritual warfare. As Jesus was sent into the desert to do
battle with the devil, so too the wilderness is for us a place of engagement in the battle
that is not against flesh and blood, but against the dark spiritual forces of evil. The heart
of this battle, as it was with Jesus, is temptation. The experience 1,700 years ago of
Antony of Egypt, who chose to enter the Egyptian desert in order to encounter God, was
much the same. Almost immediately, he was assailed with temptations in all his areas of
vulnerability. By the grace of God, Antony learned to resist these attacks through faith
and prayer and fasting.

There is much talk (and shouting) about spiritual warfare in some parts of the church
today, but very little of it seems concerned with resisting temptation. Yet surely this is
where we must start, with the war within our own hearts and minds, the war we wage
against our sin face down in repentance — not in stomping and dancing, sword-swinging
and shofar-blowing. In the desert we come face-to-face with the ‘demons’ within
ourselves. When we are on our own, we see more clearly the process of temptation at
work as we are dragged away and enticed by our own evil desire, which having
conceived, gives birth to sin. And in time we learn to conquer the self, submitting
ourselves to God, and resisting the devil and seeing him flee from us.



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At some point in our wilderness time we may enter what the sixteenth century Carmelite
monk, John of the Cross, called "the dark night of the soul". What is distinctive about this
                                                                                   y
experience is the sense that we have been deserted, not only by other people, but b God
Himself. In reality we have not truly been abandoned, but our perception is that we have
been because God hides Himself from us to test whether it is the pleasure He gives us or
our love for Him that motivates us. (Of course, at times we may experience separation
from God through our own fault, but that is not a "dark night".) Here are some words of
John of the Cross himself on the dark night of the soul:

                God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of His love for us,
                urges us to grow up. His love is not content to leave us in our weakness,
                and for this reason He takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of
                the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness.

                The darkness of the soul … puts the sensory and spiritual appetites to
                sleep, deadens them, and deprives them of the ability to find pleasure in
                anything. … And over all this hangs a dense and burdensome cloud which
                afflicts the soul and keeps it withdrawn from God.

In the dark night, we lose all the pleasure that we once experienced in our devotional life.
During such times of darkness, Bible reading, sermons, worship, Christian fellowship   —
all will fail to move or excite. As God removes the ‘consolation’ or feelings we are used
to in our relationship with Him, dryness and d   epression may overwhelm us. This is the
Lord’s surgery to strip us of overdependence on the emotional life. Have we pursued God
for the benefits it brings us rather than for His sake? How will we respond to the
                                                 c
darkness? Although we find our Spiritual exer ises wearisome, will we continue in them
because they are still the route to the Source of life? Will we love God and live
righteously when there is no immediate reward, when our hearts are heavy, and God’s
word does not seem to come to pass? The dark night teaches us perseverance and
discipline in prayer. For at times like these, there is nothing much we can do except ‘hang
in there’, exercising blind faith in God’s goodness, based on our past experience. As
                                                   o
Isaiah said, "Let him who walks in the dark, wh has no light, trust in the name of the
Lord and rely on his God."

                If You take me to the wilderness
                Or if the desert is my dwelling place,
                I want to say that I will not turn back.
                I’m going all the way; I will not turn back.

It’s Worth It

In 1871, D. L. Moody was seated on a platform when he heard the man preaching make
this statement: "The world has yet to see what God can do with one man who is utterly
committed to Him." Mr. Moody said in his heart, "I propose to be that person." We might
think that anybody who would want to be used of God like that would get the applause of
the angels — that everything would start going right. Within days his church burned



                                                                                       170
down. His own house burned down. Thus the Lord brought a greater refining to Dwight
Moody in preparation for an expansion in his famous evangelistic ministry. Cleland
Thom, in his book on the refining process the Lord took Moses through, writes as
follows:

               Because God’s ways aren’t ours, it’s easy to misinterpret what He’s doing
               — or even miss it completely and give up through disillusionment. I have
               found through many years of counselling that people can cope with most
               difficulties provided that they can understand what God is doing in their
                                                                            t
               lives at the time. And in most circumstances, He is training hem.

Mr. Thom then describes one of his own refining experiences:

               I remember once saying to God: "Do whatever it takes to soften my heart."
               Within twenty-four hours, our baby son, then four months old, was at
                                                             itis.
               death’s door, fighting for his life with mening … During a two-week
               vigil by his hospital bedside my heart nearly broke a thousand times …
               Yes, God softened my heart — and used some of the most awful
               emotional pain to do it. During those dark hours in the hospital ward He
               met me and my wife Rachael with the most unimaginable tenderness—
               and brought complete healing to our son. It hurt. But it was worth it. We
               met God in a new way — and have never been the same since.

                                                                                     g
We tend prefer the easy, the smooth running along on the level. But when the goin gets
tough and the way is steep, if we’re facing the right way and moving forward, however
painfully, then we’re actually climbing and on the way up, gaining more height and
making more progress than we would be on the flat. We need to learn to embrace God’s
discipline, to welcome it, even like Cleland Thom to ask for it, however painful it may
be, because of the greater fruit it produces in our lives. Seasons of being refined are worth
it!

A missionary friend wrote recently from Côte d’Ivoire after her m ission’s local director
and his wife were killed in a plane crash, leaving behind a teenage daughter who’d
already lost her two brothers to malaria. These were our friend’s words:

               One thing I learned during my time in Papua New Guinea with all the
               traumatic situations we had there is: It’s not always ‘safe’ to be where the
               Lord wants us to be — in the sense of how we think of ‘safe’. But no
               matter what He brings about or allows us to go through, He is a faithful,
               loving God who remains on the throne, and by His grace enables us to
               keep going. He doesn’t make mistakes and He is a sweet sustainer.

Let’s trust God to know what’s best for us!

Further Reading



                                                                                         171
      Eleonore van Haaften, A Refuge For My Heart, Hodder and Stoughton —
      Subtitled Trusting God Even When Things Go Wrong, this book looks at how
      Naomi, Ruth, Joseph, Leah and David dealt with their difficult circumstances and,
      drawing out parallels with our struggles, addresses the issue of how we respond to
      our own disappointments and sorrows. Do we become bitter or find strength in
      God to move on?

      D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?, IVP — With the subtitle Reflections on
      Suffering and Evil, this is a pastorally sensitive and theologically perceptive work
      which addresses the tough issues of poverty, war, natural disasters, illness,
      bereavement, death and hell, and helps us to understand the place our suffering
      has in God’s purposes. Parts of chapters 5 and 7 specifically address the issues of
      God’s disciplining of His children.

      Cleland Thom, Moses: The Making Of A Leader, Kingsway — Cleland Thom
      retells the story of the early life of Moses, of a man taken out of mediocrity and
      made into a leader by the Lord, and draws out parallels between the training
      Moses received and God’s work of preparation in our lives.

      R. T. Kendall, God Meant It For Good, MorningStar — Through thirty-seven
      studies from the life of Joseph, R. T. Kendall addresses various issues of God’s
      discipline and preparation of His children.

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/DavidandPenny/PTW.htm




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