1 thing God looks for – and how to develop it

Anyone who has a working knowledge of the Bible will be familiar with Caleb. The biographical detail provided about Caleb ( Numbers 13 & 14; Joshua 14) reveals a man of deep conviction and faith. A man confident in God. And it also reveals that Caleb had the strength of character to nurture and protect a promise God made to him for forty-five years before he saw it fulfilled. And it seems that his conviction somehow mysteriously conserved his strength to the point that he was ready to fight with giants at the age of eighty-five!

How was it that despite the disappointment and setback he experienced when the people rejected his report on the land of Canaan, that he his faith remained rock solid?

Caleb was commended by God and by Moses for one thing: wholeheartedness.

Everyone of us experiences setbacks. Everyone of us experiences disappointments. And too often many of us allow those things to knock our faith out of shape and ultimately knock our life out of shape.

Like Caleb, it is wholeheartedness that is an absolutely key quality to successfully navigating those “faith knocks”.

So how do we develop wholeheartedness ?

Firstly, if you want to develop wholeheartedness, learn to manage the threats to wholeheartedness.

Perhaps the biggest threat is that of disappointment.

Unfulfilled expectations, unexpected diversions and undesired circumstances can tempt us to move into the territory of halfheartedness. They also expose us to the temptation to ditch God’s promises. Or to detach from God’s people.

How do you manage those threats? By taking your thoughts captive. Numbers 13.30 says that Caleb silenced the people. Sometimes we have to silence the voices that speak negativity and halfheartedness.

Secondly, make the most of where you are.

Caleb spent most of his life in places he didn’t want to be. The first forty years of his life were spent in slavery in Egypt. The second forty years were spent wandering in the desert. Those years of desert wandering were not his fault. He was living with the consequences of decisions others had made. He had no option but to wander in the desert with the rest of the Israelites. Yet he still kept wholehearted in his walk with God.

Sometimes we find ourselves in places where we don’t want to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find God there. When Jesus went into Samaria, He found Himself in a place where no self respecting Jew of His day would want to be. But Samaria was the place where He transformed the life of one woman and eventually that of a whole city (John 4).

You can find God wherever you are.

Finally, be prepared to modify your image of God.

It’s amazing how faulty our image of God can be. For example, people often think that difficult circumstances are an indication that God is upset with us and is punishing us. Yet the Bible says we have peace with God (Romans 5.1) and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8.1).

What we believe about God impacts on us. It affects the way we think and that in turn affects our faith.

Caleb was wholehearted for God because He knew God was wholehearted for him. How did he know that?

Caleb was from the tribe of Judah. Judah was a tribe to whom God had given great authority (Genesis 49.10; Psalm 60.7 & 108.8). Caleb lived in the blessing and promise that God had put upon his tribe. He knew who He was and he knew his God.

In Christ we have every blessing Caleb had – and more. If we want to live wholehearted lives, conforming our understanding of God to how He reveals Himself in His word is a priority. We will never be wholehearted for Him, if we feel He is halfhearted about us.

If we can learn from Caleb the power of wholeheartedness, we can push through every setback and disappointment. And more importantly we will attract the smile of God.

Pentecost Plus One: 3 Things The Church Did After The Day Of Pentecost

What do you do after you have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit?

I don’t know how many reading this post have had experience of a powerful move of God. Many, perhaps most or even all, have been in meetings where God has been powerfully at work. Or even seasons when God has been powerfully at work. But what do you do next?

The early church found itself in that position on the day after the day of Pentecost. One hundred and twenty previously fearful believers had been impacted by the Spirit in a way that was as public as it was powerful. And the church had three thousand new believers.

Now it was Pentecost plus one. What was next?

Perhaps what they didn’t do is as instructive as what they did do.

They didn’t try to revisit the events of the day before. No retreat to the upper room to wait for the rushing wind and tongues of fire. They weren’t looking for a repeat performance. They didn’t turn the life that they had experienced into a liturgy – a mistake sometimes made in the Pentecostal / charismatic world. We experience the Spirit moving in a particular way and then try to revisit the experience again and again. We use particular songs and even phraseology that “gets a response”.

God, because He is gracious, does meet us. The tendency is, however, to become “stuck” in a way of doing things, impeding the church’s further progress.

So what did the church do on Pentecost plus one?

Firstly, it developed a shape of corporate life.

That’s a fancy way of saying that the church gathered together at certain times, and it gathered together to do certain things.

Acts 2 .42 explains that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Putting that in more contemporary terms, they prioritised learning (apostles’ teaching), spending meaningful time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread) and prayer (prayer!).

I recently attended the annual conference of a church denomination in the developing world. In its own country it has seen extraordinary growth. Miracles are not uncommon. Yet one of the major concerns was that they had seen a slight decline at their mid-week prayer gatherings.

Impressive enough was the fact that they knew how many attended mid-week prayer throughout their denomination. Their urgency in addressing the matter was even more revealing. They made the connection between maintaining the flow of the Spirit and the shape of their corporate life.

Churches that want to stay Spirit-filled must develop a Spirit-shaped corporate life that revolves around engaging with the practices of teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer.

Secondly, they were open to the Spirit moving in fresh ways.

There were no recorded miracles or healings on the day of Pentecost. The only miracles were miracles of salvation.

That changed the day after. Acts 2.43 highlights the fresh move of the Spirit:

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Notice a couple of things here.

Firstly, it was different to what happened the day before. Nothing like this had happened on the day of Pentecost.

Secondly, this was not a sovereign move of God as had happened on the day of Pentecost. It was more a case of God responding to the apostles’ faith.

Pentecost plus one teaches us to be ready for different.

It is also a reminder not to be waiting passively for God to do something. We can spend all our time waiting for Him, when all the time He’s waiting for us.

Finally, this was a church that was seen.

We know that they met publicly – in the temple courts (Acts 2.46) and they enjoyed the favour of all the people (v.47). It was a high profile church, certainly not a private club.

It is so easy for the church to resemble the latter. It’s a more comfortable existence; high profile churches attract favour and criticism.

I once heard someone say that a church can be internationally famous, yet locally anonymous. That has never been more possible than it is today. Our social networks and social media can lead us to the most exotic places without us ever having to confront the challenges on our own door step.

A church that is impacted by the Spirit will be visible locally, however visible or not it is internationally.

Pentecost plus one must have been a challenge for the early church with its three thousand new believers. But they rose to the challenge. And we can too. After all, it is the same Holy Spirit, is it not?

 

7 Roadblocks to healing

Anyone who has ever read the Bible could hardly deny that God is presented as a healer. And if you have even glanced at the gospels, you could hardly deny that Jesus healed people, many people. Turn over a few pages to Acts and the story is similar. Healings, exorcisms, the dead being raised, extraordinary miracles – they are all there.

And throughout the world today we have similar stories of God’s healing power at work.

But the nagging question for many is why, given that God is able and willing to heal, are so many unhealed?

I realise that any attempt to tackle this question is like walking into a theological and pastoral minefield. Upsetting just about everyone who reads the article is a real possibility. People get upset if they think the stress on faith and God’s willingness to always heal is not strong enough. People can get upset if you suggest that there are reasons why some are not healed other than the theological reason that God has not chosen to heal because He is sovereign.

You might be thinking “Why bother?”

And the answer is that what we believe about healing ultimately affects people and affects the way we see God. The intent of this post is to help us find a way to enable people to receive healing that is faithful to God’s word and treats people with respect. Unfortunately, many have sought healing only to find themselves on the receiving end of condemnation and criticism for a perceived lack of faith or been told that they must have unconfessed sin in their lives.

Below I set out what I have called “seven roadblocks to healing”. You might be able to add to the list. Or you might disagree with what is on the list.

Let me say by way of qualification that this isn’t a checklist to use when praying for the sick! It is simply an attempt to provide some perspective on a sometimes complicated subject. And hopefully that perspective will build faith and release compassion.

So what are the roadblocks?

Delay

Sometimes healing hasn’t happened yet. Paul explained to Timothy about Trophimus’ illness:

“Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus ill in Miletus.” 2 Timothy 4.20

Epaphroditus was ill and almost died.  But, says Paul, God had mercy on him (Philippians 2.25-27)

Sometimes healing doesn’t take place immediately. But because it has not happened yet, doesn’t mean it is not going to happen. Sometimes we give up too easily.

Dysfunctional attitudes

It is unfair to people to say that because they are sick must mean that they have unconfessed sin in their lives. That kind of pronouncement is so damaging. Especially when the person is already weak. Jesus never required anyone to repent of their confessed sin before He healed them. He did however talk about sin in the context of healing. On one occasion He instructed a man He had healed not to continue sinning (John 5.14). On another occasion He rejected a link between a man’s blindness and sin (John 9.1-5).

However, there are some sins that are a major blockage to healing.

Sins that would be described today as negative emotions – like unforgiveness, anger or bitterness – have the power to make us ill.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus links our experience of God’s forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others. And in Matthew 18 he tells a story about someone who would not forgive, implying that those who do not forgive open up their lives to pain.

And it’s not just Jesus that makes the link. A Johns Hopkins report makes a similar connection.

Bitterness not only blocks healing, it causes illness. And I am sure you can add to the list of sinful attitudes that are a block to healing.

Why is that? I think it is partly (i) because it is hard to have faith and hear God when you harbour anger or unforgiveness or bitterness; (ii) the negative emotions that result affect not only your emotional wellbeing, but can potentially impact on your body as well. The links between negative emotions and physical disease are well established. Just google unforgiveness / bitterness / anger and physical illness.

Depending on grace

Sometimes an unhealed area of our lives can cause us to rely on grace.

When you read Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12 you find that his pain caused him to rely on God’s grace:

 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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. 10 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. 2 Corinthians 12.7-10

Notice a number of things:

  • Paul was in pain
  • The pain came from Satan
  • He expected God to remove his pain
  • But God gave him grace instead

This may or may not refer to physical need. The point is that one area of Paul’s life was unhealed and it made him depend on God’s grace.

Those areas of our lives where healing has not yet come are opportunities for us to lean into grace.

Deficit of love

Loneliness is a major problem in our society. “Skin hunger” as some psychologists call it, has consequences for our emotional health.

Two major studies on loneliness and isolation revealed that there was around a 30% higher risk of stroke and heart disease for those isolated or lonely. And isolation and loneliness often contribute to early death.

I have no doubt that it is one of the reasons the Bible emphasises fellowship again and again. A spiritually and emotionally healthy Christian is strongly connected in fellowship. A spiritually and emotionally healthy church is hot on fellowship.

Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 4.15:

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Being in a small group might do far more for you than seeing a counsellor!

Diet

If you want to be healthy and set yourself up for healing, watch your diet!

I suppose I don’t need to talk about junk food, but here’s a reminder:

(i) It damages your physical health

For example, junk food can cause heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, amongst other conditions.

One study of health in the UK has indicated that 10.8% of poor health is caused by diet – that’s more than smoking!

(ii) It damages your mental health

World Health reported that “Changes in diet over the past 50 years appear to be an important factor behind a significant rise in mental ill health in the UK, say two reports published today.

The Mental Health Foundation says scientific studies have clearly linked attention deficit disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia to junk food and the absence of essential fats, vitamins and minerals in industrialised diets.”

Give your body the respect it deserves:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6.19-20)

Your body is a temple, so treat it with respect!

Desire

Although perhaps not often the case, but certainly sometimes the case, healing does not happen because there is a lack of sincere desire to get well.

Both Tony Robbins and Henry Cloud have been credited with the quote, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

I wonder if Jesus was looking for a statement of desire when He asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51)

There is no single explanation for a lack of desire for healing. Research indicates that there are numerous reasons why people sometimes want to stick with their illness rather than get well.

Some people, for all sorts of reasons, just don’t want to get well. Sad but true.

Conclusion

I hope this article has provided some fresh perspective on why healing is either slow to come or doesn’t appear to arrive at all. It is not intended as a diagnostic tool for ministry! Healing ministry should be fuelled by compassion, not a desire for explanation!

Nor is it proposed as a way to explain why your friend has not got well. It is simply intended to expand our thinking on what is often a very sensitive and complicated subject.

Farewell 2016

For many, Christmas is a bitter sweet experience. For some it is more bitter than sweet. Somehow the Christmas season brings a heightened expectation of life. The real Christmas story has well and truly been mugged by Western materialism and sentimentalism. Eternal hope has all but been displaced by seasonal hype. And it’s created an environment that is not an easy one for people who come to the end of the year carrying all sorts of losses and disappointments.

So as we approach the end of the year, how do we say “Goodbye” to 2016?

If you have had a “good” year you might not want to say “Goodbye” to 2016! But you still have to! The best thing you can do is to thank God for the way He has blessed you.

But what about those for whom 2016 has been a year of difficulty or a year of loss?

Realistically, changing the date from 2016 to 2017 doesn’t necessarily change anything. But the season of Christmas and new year is a good time to look to God for His help to leave behind those things that are causing us hurt and pain.

How do we do that?

In Psalm 37, David was clearly struggling with something that was painful to him. Stated briefly, his issue seemed to be that God was blessing bad people while he was struggling. As the Psalm unfolds we see how David began to walk out of his difficulty into the clear light of God’s revelation.

First of all he faced his pain.

Verse one says : Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong. That was the issue for David: people who are doing wrong seem to be doing well. And perhaps he wasn’t doing so well.

That might not be your issue, but whatever your issue, you can’t begin to move beyond it until you acknowledge it.

Secondly, he developed a godly perspective.

If you read through all forty verses of the Psalm you will be able to trace a whole line of counsel that shifts David’s focus on to God.

Let me give you six ways in which he began to develop a godly perspective:

Develop an eternal view (vv.1-2)

Trust –and do good (v.3)

Enjoy God for who He is (v.4)

Commit your way to Him (v.5)

Be still and wait for Him (v.7)

Manage your negative emotions (vv.7-8)

If over the next few months you gave yourself to developing the kind of perspective that David developed, your outlook would be changed and your heart would begin to find healing.

Finally, he embraced God’s promises.

We often say that we don’t know what the future holds. That is true. We don’t know details about future events.

Yet in another sense we do know what the future holds. How? Because God has given us promises about the future.

Here are five that are set out in Psalm 37:

Protection and plenty (vv.18-19)

Ability to bless others (v.21)

Solid ground (vv.23-24)

Provision (v.25)

Security (vv.27-28)

The call to let go of the past is also a call to lay hold of the future.

I hope 2016 has been a good year for you. If not, I hope that by God’s grace you will leave the year with a fresh perspective and a strong grip on the promises of God.

Instead of writing to Father Christmas, why not write a letter to the Father of Lights?

“What do you want for Christmas?” is a question most of us will both ask and be asked in the run up to 25th December. No doubt more than a few have already sent off their annual letter to Father Christmas.

And it’s big business. The Retail Gazette reckons that people in the UK will spend a whopping £73 billion – yes billion not million – on Christmas this year.

In case you weren’t aware, the Bible doesn’t mention Father Christmas, even though he has connections with the St. Nicholas of church history.

It does however refer to our heavenly Father as the Father of Lights. James, Jesus’ brother is the one, the only one who uses this title for God:

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.(James 1.16-18)

Here’s my suggestion: amongst all the giving and receiving that you do this Christmas, why not ask the Father of Lights for a special gift?

How can you ask and be sure you will receive?

First of all, ask with a right motive.

James again:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (4.3).

It’s possible to ask for something for the wrong reason. God will not give you a “something” that revolves around your pleasure!

Secondly, ask for what is in line with God’s revealed will.

Here’s what Jesus’ disciple John said about asking God:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5.14-15)

Wow! If what we ask for is in line with His will, we know that He hears us, and because we know He hears us we know we will receive what we asked for!

The Amplified Bible drives home the point even more strongly:

This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that [c]if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us. 15 And if we know [for a fact, as indeed we do] that He hears and listens to us in whatever we ask, we [also] know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted to us] the requests which we have asked from Him.

The question therefore is how does what you are looking for line up with God’s will?

There are lots of things we don’t know about God’s will. But there are lots of things we do know about God’s will. That He wants us to be full of the Spirit. That He wants us to be more like Jesus. That He wants us to have a godly influence on the people around us. That He wants our families to know His love. That He wants to give us wisdom.

Finally, what result would a positive answer to your request produce?

The prayer Jesus taught His disciples, that we know as the Lord’s prayer gives us a guide to the kind of results we should look for from our prayers:

  • Extension of God’s influence – your kingdom come, your will be done
  • Needs being met – give us this day our daily bread
  • Strengthening our relationship with God and others – forgive us our sins as we forgive
  • Prevailing in spiritual conflict – lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

Why not get writing to the Father of Lights? After all, it’s not like He’s keeping a big brother-like eye on you to make sure you’ve been a good boy or girl.

No, He gives to all without finding fault (James 1.5) .

Mary: when God puts your life out of shape

Even in a culture that is not very familiar with the Bible, the outline of the Christmas story is still known to many people.

Even those long disconnected from church recognise the Joseph – Mary – baby – donkey sequence (Even though the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey). And they might even remember that the baby was Jesus.

Of course, some of us know not only the historical detail but the spiritual significance of that detail and how it ties up with the prophecies made about Messiah by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

What we can easily miss, however, is the profound impact that these events had upon Joseph and Mary and how the entrance of God into the world turned their world upside down. It put their lives out of shape.

Firstly Mary was physically put “out of shape”.

It goes without saying that pregnancy affects a woman physically! Some of the changes can be seen. Others are unseen, but no less felt. Carrying a baby changes your body. It changes your world.

When we are “carrying” God’s presence and purpose it changes us. It changes us as individuals. It changes churches.

Secondly, Mary’s relationships with people were out of shape

Joseph didn’t greet Mary’s pregnancy with wonder and delight. It was rather a mixture of sadness and disappointment. And then a plan of action: divorce (Matthew 1.19).

You can hardly blame Joseph for thinking the worst. Put yourself in his shoes. Would you believe Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy? It was unprecedented.

Can you begin to imagine what the other people in her village thought when they found out that she was pregnant? Can you begin to imagine how Mary felt as the gossip spread?

Her whole personal and social world was descending into chaos.

Why? Because no-one understood what was really happening. Joseph eventually understood because an angel intervened.

The difficulty that Mary faced was that there was no precedent for what was going on in her life.

When God is at work in our lives, it can result in misunderstanding. Sometimes that misunderstanding is because people have no template for what God is doing. Some people eventually get it – because God intervenes. Some don’t.

It is hard to handle misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is frustrating, even hurtful.

But it’s part of the price we pay for “carrying” God’s purpose.

How do you handle misunderstanding?

1 Peter 2.23 says that when Jesus was misunderstood and rejected that He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

Sometimes you just have to leave it with the Lord.

Mary’s prospects for the future were out of shape

We can’t in any way claim to know what Mary’s hopes and dreams for the future were. I think it is safe to say, however, that she probably didn’t envisage having a baby out of wedlock (Luke 1.31-35) miles away from home (Luke 2.4-5). Being treated like a criminal by Herod and end up in Egypt for two years as a refugee (Matthew 2.13-18).

When you are a vehicle for what God wants to do, you might be surprised at some of the places He drives you to!

Sometimes we talk about the future as if we have control over it when we don’t!

What’s your dream? What if God told you to abandon your dream? What if God’s priority is not for us to have a clear view of what He wants us to do in the future, but instead to carry His presence in the present – and let Him shape the future how He wants?

When God begins to do something new in our lives or wants to do something new in the world, the impact brings dislocation. Our lives are put out of shape.  When that happens, we often find ourselves wondering if this really is God.

In Mary and Joseph’s case, it really was God at work.

And if God’s purpose pressed their lives out of shape, don’t be surprised if the work of His Spirit has the same impact on you.

3 things Jesus teaches us about mission – that we don’t always get!

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9.37-38

At the end of Matthew chapter 9 Jesus spoke to His disciples about the harvest.

His words are so well known that they sometimes lose their impact or impact us in a way that they are He didn’t intend.

The harvest is huge – it is not small

The first thing to note about what Jesus said is the way He describes the harvest. The harvest is plentiful. It’s huge!

If the harvest is plentiful, we have grounds for expecting to reap a huge harvest.

The problem with the harvest is not the harvest.  It is the lack of people who will work to bring in the harvest.

Heavenly conviction about our role in bringing in the harvest is crucial to bringing in the harvest.

We need to have a real concern for people. Jesus did.

But concern in itself will not enable us to reap the harvest. We need a heavenly conviction that we have been sent into the harvest field.

It might seem unusual that Jesus simply exhorts the disciples to pray that workers would be sent into the harvest field. Especially since Matthew 10.5 records that He sent them Himself!

When we pray about the harvest in the way Jesus instructed His disciples, we develop a conviction that we are central to bringing in the harvest. In short we become the answer to our own prayers.

The harvest field is His – it doesn’t belong to the devil

Finally, the harvest field belongs to God – not the devil.

Sometimes we talk about the harvest as though we are going into Satan’s territory. Without in any way diminishing the forces of darkness and their opposition to the gospel, it is worth acknowledging that the harvest belongs to God.

Understanding that the harvest belongs to God, gives us confidence in our witness.