Category Archives: intercession

Who are you cheering on?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight…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.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe….I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And 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 – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.

Now to him  who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 1. 2&3, 17-19; 3.16-21)

What a blessing it is to have friends who share scripture with us, who put God’s word into our hands and minds to encourage, challenge and strengthen us. I received the final verse in this quote recently, from a friend who has known many challenges, and has walked with God through great darkness, but whose continuing faith is a wonderful testimony to God’s power to keep his children at their weakest and most vulnerable.

The whole letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus is massively encouraging – try reading it aloud to yourself, and see if you don’t end up quite overwhelmed with the magnitude of the blessings being poured out on you as the beloved child of an amazing God! It can be a terrific antidote to our small vision of the world, to the very real discouragements and problems which we as individuals, as a church, and as a nation, are facing, to look behind the scenes and be reminded of the great dramatic narrative which is unfolding.

Therefore – as Paul often says – we can take these words and use them not only to encourage ourselves, and one another, but also in praying for one another..If the apostle in writing to christians who were small in number, facing possible persecution on many fronts, and with little political clout to protect them, can write prayers which don’t touch on any of those issues, then we need to learn from him.

How often do we focus on physical needs, the issues of safety and organisation when praying for missionaries and friends? We pray for our children’s health, their education and employment prospects; we pray for good weather for particular occasions, and for job interviews to work out in the way we want. Our God is not in the business of doing our bidding, no matter how holy we think our desires are. He is the untameable, unknowable, all-powerful and utterly holy one, and he is in the business of making his people holy, and of making known his ‘manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ through the church.

Let us learn from the apostle, so that in our prayers for one another we put the important things first – the work of God by his Spirit in his people, that they might show forth his glory. This may mean suffering and loss, it may also mean triumph and fulfilled hopes. Let us not dictate to God how things need to be worked out, but in committing the details to him,  trust that his will is good and perfect and that he has more than enough power to achieve it.

Dear friends, I pray that we might be made strong through the indwelling Spirit, walking each day with our ever-present Saviour, and putting down ever deeper roots into his inexhaustible love. May we grow in that love for one another, so that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ might increasingly be a demonstration of the infinite wisdom of a just, holy, loving and merciful God

 

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Barren ground…..

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil…Other seed fell among thorns…Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop.. When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”

(Matt 13.3-8&19)

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

(Ezek 37.1-3)

Jesus said..”How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

(Luke 18.23-27)

How do we maintain our hope and confidence in God when the work to which he calls us seems to bear no fruit, and when the future of our churches is so lacking in promise? Why does the God of the universe, for whom nothing is impossible, choose to withhold the blessing of the work of the spirit in the hearts and minds of men and women, convicting them of sin and bringing them to repentance and saving faith in his Son? Why does Jesus commission his followers down through the ages to go and share their faith, to make disciples, when he knew that the response, if any, would be small?

The mystery at the heart of this is well beyond the scope of this brief writing; the impenetrable operations of Almighty God in the human heart, and the ways in which we both respond to and are worked upon by his spirit. God is the bringer of new life, the only one who can release sinners from their bondage to decay – and yet we speak of a person coming to Christ, as if it were all their own initiative! It is a great paradox of faith, and one which – in the limited nature of our understanding – we must learn to accept and live with. We are called to labour with our God in the business of leading sinners home, of bringing people from darkness into light – by prayer; witness; practical loving and truth-speaking, we play our part in the miracle of new birth in Christ.

But, I return to my first questions again…how do faithful servants, desiring to obey the Lord’s command, make disciples? In our community, there is little or no interest in the gospel outside those who already come to church. People seem to believe that they have understood enough of it to set it aside as dated, irrelevant or even offensive, and they settle for their own world views and faith substitutes, quite content to pass their remaining days and the unknown of death without Christ. We, as a community of believers, are tolerated with humour and affection because we represent some quaint traditional values, and we do some useful things which other people appreciate. But by and large, we might as well be another secular society, like the golf club or sailing club – merely another interest group which occupies its own niche and does no harm.

We believe that our neighbours and friends are dry bones; that without Christ, they might as well be dead as live! We believe that the gospel offers a hope which is worth losing every good thing in this world to gain, and yet our witness is merely tolerated and then dismissed, neither preaching nor outreach have any impact.

God seems to have called us to labour in entirely barren ground; to spend ourselves in fruitless endeavours while yet retaining a lively and joyful hope and confidence in him. I don’t think it is wrong to admit that we find this extremely difficult!! We stand with Ezekiel and look at this desert of dry bones, and say with the prophet, “Lord, you alone know if these bones can live”. It is not for us to presume upon the Lord’s timing or will; but it is also not for us to despair and say that there is no hope..

May the God who brought us to this place, at this time, in his will and for his purpose, also enable and strengthen us, cheerfully to carry out such work as we can, and above all, to continue to trust in the power for salvation which is offered in Christ.

 

It’s all happening..somewhere!

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

(Acts 1.8)

“You know the saying,’Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say , wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ and it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

(John 4.35-38)

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

(Revelation7.9&10)

There are some passages in the bible which I find I cannot read aloud without emotion overwhelming my voice, and this little bit of Revelation is one of them. The picture of the redeemed of all the earth, rejoicing in the presence of God and praising the saving work of the Lamb, our beloved Saviour, is deeply moving, provoking a great ache for the day when I shall be one of them.

It is meant to be an encouragement to persecuted believers; John was writing to an infant church which was coming under appalling assaults, and needed to know that they were on the winning side – no matter what happened! The book as a whole can be quite bewildering, but we certainly get the message by the end – no matter how bitter the struggle, evil is defeated and nothing but glory lies ahead for the people of God as they dwell with him for ever.

The passage is also an encouragement to us in these in-between days, after Christ’s ascension and before his return in glory, to wind up time and sit in judgement upon all humankind. We are shown the end results of the great harvesting of which Jesus spoke in his time on earth – the fruits of all the labours of his people, and the work of the Spirit in transforming hearts and lives. We are called to be workers in his harvest fields, and to toil without losing heart, even when there seems so little to show for our labour. We are so often called to plant seeds, trusting that another will harvest in the future and resting in the assurance that God knows and values our obedience.

I have been encouraged for many years in this quiet labouring by hearing of fruit from other fields – through the work of mission societies around the world. The Spirit of God is at work in so many lives, in so many ways, and we can draw great courage and hope from hearing stories of unlikely conversions, underground or hidden churches, faithful servants in other lands seeing great fruit.

We are so familiar with the story of Philip and the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch  (Acts 8), that we perhaps don’t realise how profoundly miraculous it is, don’t give sufficient glory to God for his power to bring people together in just the right way! There are similar stories happening today, in Latin America, in the oppressed lands of the Middle East, and the closed lands of Asia. God is working, God is no less powerful than before, and the church is growing. Perhaps not where I live, but these stories from around the world help me to believe that even here, even now in my secular society, the Spirit is moving.

Can I encourage you, if you are not already regularly hearing from mission agencies, to make it happen? Spending time hearing about their work, hearing the stories of their workers, and above all praying  for them and their people to the Lord of the harvest, will bring you to a place of hope for your own work and witness.

May our vision of God’s great plan for our world grow ever clearer, that we might labour faithfully – whether planting or harvesting – and contentedly, in the place to which we are called. When we gather before the throne together, we will see that it was all worthwhile!

Misplaced loyalty?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..

(Matthew 6.9)

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world. to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(John 18.36&37)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Philippians 3.20&21)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 11.15)

Who is really in charge? Who truly wields power in the world today? On one level, the answers are obvious – money is power, our multinational corporations are virtually a law unto themselves; military might gives power, the threat of destruction creates domination and control; ideology drives men and women to act in ways which create power, they terrorise and destroy in order to realise their vision.. The ballot box, in a democratic society, is power surrendered to the people, but it depends on their intelligent approach to the use of their votes, on their willingness to vote, and on the integrity of those who are elected to represent them..

I am thankful to live in a society where military might is not abused, where ideology is still restrained from creating chaos, and where legal systems to hold money to account, to prevent the multinational corporations from getting away with any and every form of exploitation. But am I in danger of forgetting that all these are only by the providence of God? Am I at risk of putting my faith in the ballot box, in education and information as hope for the future of my children and neighbours? Our secular society would have us believe that all we have is the result of our own labours, and that we can, with the right tools and time, sort all the problems that remain.

The bible tells me differently, and I think that many would agree on a second look at the state of the world today. Humanity is improving the lot of millions, through technological advances, through education and development. BUT we continue to destroy our planet in our greed; to destroy one another in our selfishness, prejudice, and refusal to love and forgive. The scale of human suffering today is unimaginable, in spite of all the tools available to us to create prosperity, health and stability. Why? Because the problem lies in the heart of humanity, and no system, no power that ever existed can change the heart of man – only God in heaven, its creator, has addressed that brokenness and until we accept his diagnosis and his offer of saving, transforming life through faith in Jesus, we are ultimately hopeless.

I have a duty, as a citizen of my country, to vote, to act responsibly according to the laws of the land and to seek the good of my people as far as it lies with me to realise it. I have a responsibility to pray for those who are willing to shoulder the burden of elected representation – a thankless task, one which brings much frustration and can damage those who undertake it. These people need my support, and encouragment as they(broken and weak human beings) seek to do their best, in a situation where much is outwith their control.

But my ultimate loyalty is not to the nation of my birth, but the kingdom of which I am a member by faith in Jesus. It is the eternal security of that realm which gives me hope for the future, in spite of the growing darkness and unease of the world in which we live today. I believe in a God who is just and good, and who will never leave his people unaided.

Let me not allow political uncertainty, and the abuse of power – of any kind – to undermine my confidence in the absolute security which I have in Christ, my place in the kingdom of God, an eternal inheritance of which I have already received the guarantee. Because of him, in this world of fear, hostility and inequality, I can have peace as the flag flying high over the castle of my heart!

But that’s not my job Lord…is it?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel..

(Eph 6.19)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

(Col 4.2-4)

Finally brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.

(2 Thess 3.1)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.

(Heb.13.17)

I make no apology for the number and length of bible passages quoted this week, because they illustrate the theme which is very strong in my mind, namely our role as church members in supporting our leaders.

I was at a meeting recently where the speaker gave some insight into the ministry of CH Spurgeon, a great teacher of the early 20th, whose sermons and writings continue to bless the church today. He once told his congregation that the day they stopped praying for him, would be the day he hoped to die, since it was only in the power of God, released by prayer, that his ministry had any worth and effect. I was challenged, disturbed, wondering how many of those who bear the burden of leadership in our churches know that they are faithfully supported by the prayers of their people.

Have we any idea how lonely it must be for them? Week after week, disciplining themselves under the word; by study and meditation, wrestling to receive the message which God reveals to them for their people. How much do we take for granted the preaching and teaching which we receive week by week, the knowledge which is required to inform and instruct us in our faith? When did we last take time to talk to our teachers, to share the ways that God in his grace has used them to heal us, to correct us, to encourage and inspire us? They are human too, and while the satisfaction of obedience to their calling is their ultimate reward, they will thrill to know that God is using them. Sometimes it can be what seems a disastrous sermon to the preacher which turns out to be the greatest blessing to the people – but how much better if the preacher knows than if he or she goes home despondent and unaware!

But more than speaking even, is the real responsibility we have, to PRAY for our leaders. And Paul spells out what to pray for them – that they may preach fearlessly and clearly, that the gospel might go out with power, without restraint, and that the end result would be honour to God. When did we last pray, like that?

The point of Spurgeon’s comment was to emphasise that without prayer for the word of God to speak to hearts and transform lives in Christ, there was no point in his preaching. Sometimes the word will be a rebuke, it will hit hard and bring distress – that is why Paul asks us to pray that preachers might be fearless. They must be so submitted to the word that they are willing to deliver hard messages – think of the prophets in the Old Testament who brought dreadful warnings to their hearers! But if a preacher fears the reaction of his hearers, he will be tempted to soften the message, to avoid the hard things, and that will lead him to disobedience and his work will indeed become a burden to him. So let us pray for fearlessness for our preachers.

Clarity – how can we learn if we cannot understand? What a crucial prayer this is, that people might see and know exactly what the good news of Jesus is, that they might be saved and transformed into his likeness. Unrestrained power – praying that the devil will not hinder, distract or dilute the message by hindering the preacher! A pulpit or platform is a battlefield when God’s word is being faithfully proclaimed and we as a congregation can claim victory on behalf of our teachers, so that they are free to preach what they have prepared.

I hope that I will be able to take this challenge to heart in the years ahead, that I might commit to the discipline of praying for my preacher: – fearlessness; clarity; unrestrained proclamation, and above all, that God in his power will speak through the word to transform lives and bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ, our Lord and the focus of all that is said in his name.

 

Just kidding myself….

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.

They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.

You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.

Oh that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!

Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.

As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!

I will obey your decrees….Please don’t give up on me!

(Ps 119.1-8, NLT) 

As I read these words this morning, I had to laugh. Such a perfect articulation of my thoughts this week and written, well, how long ago?! It is marvellous to receive God’s word so directly, to hear one’s own thoughts turned into prayers by a poet/musician who wrote in a completely different culture, and yet voiced the experience of God’s people down across the centuries.

We know that it is not our ability to keep God’s decrees which dictates our acceptance by him. It is all his grace, and what a relief that is! But obedience is our response to that grace, as the psalmist says – “I will thank you by living as I should!”As I go on following Jesus, my life should increasingly reflect his character, so that my thoughts, words and deeds are all in accord, so that I am a person of integrity.

The apostle Paul told his readers in the Roman church that this transformation comes about through our minds – it is by no means accidental or unwilled.:- “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.“(Romans 12.2)

I have a responsibility as a professing Christian, to be actively growing in my knowledge of God, through his word, through prayerful living and sharing with my fellow believers. If I choose to sit back and drift, then I will not find myself growing in holiness, or humility, or self-control. The human default setting is still towards selfishness, laziness, and dependence on self rather than reliance on God. I find in myself a lack of discipline, a mental laziness when it comes to studying the bible, a casual attitude to intercession, and so many ready excuses for not being what I could be…

I have to tread carefully here, since the devil would love to cast me into a pit of despair over my failures, and bind me with a sense of futility about my efforts to change. That is not God’s will for me, and I reject such an attitude. I rejoice in the forgiveness which I have in Christ, in the fresh start which is given to me daily, and the many personal tokens of God’s love which I receive . But the grief of my failure to live up to the  love which is so lavishly bestowed upon me is real, and I will acknowledge it. Indeed, I think I can even be glad that I feel it, because it is a sign that my spirit is still desiring God, longing to know him better, to live more closely with him. If I did not care about my heavenly Father’s heart, I wouldn’t mind falling short of his perfect ways.

So here is the challenge.. to allow my sense of my shortcomings to be strong enough to drive me to seek God’s help in changing habits and thoughts, re-arranging my days if necessary to do so, while not falling into a trap of despair when the inevitable failures happen!

God is not fooled by my efforts to justify myself, and he is not deceived as others may be by my public behaviour. I am known, through and through, by the only one whose opinion really matters. I have a long way to go, but praise God, the work is still in progress, and the divine craftsman is not for giving up!

May God, the source of hope, fill us completely with joy and peace because we trust in him. Then we shall overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.(from Romans 15.13) Amen Lord, so let it be!

Just say “Thank you”…

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…..Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

(Luke 12. 22,23,27,28)

Spring in Scotland can involve every kind of weather – sometimes all in the same day – so we cherish the sunny and warm days when we get them. This April has been  particularly spectacular, and I am full of thankfulness for the season. There has been an explosion of colour, with bulbs flowering and primroses opening carpets of yellow faces to the sunshine. This part of my city is full of great trees, putting forth new leaves like a green lace, each one a different shade as the sunlight pours through their delicate transparency. There are streets and parks where cherry trees are weighed down under great handfuls of pink and white blossom, which turns into drifts of colour along the pavements as the wind carries it off. So much beauty, there for the seeing, for the savouring. One of the things I deeply appreciate about knowing Jesus as my Saviour, is knowing also to whom I can offer thanks for so much beauty poured out day after day for my blessing. And the very act of thanksgiving increases my pleasure, deepens the sense of being nourished deep in my soul by this gift of beauty. It is like storing up light against times of darkness, investing in warmth against the coming chill.

I know that in this world I will have troubles – although at the moment I am humbly aware of how blest I am to live in health and peace under a democratic government, where freedom and life are valued and my children can grow to their full potential. Only a few days ago, our brothers and sisters in Nepal were visited by the destructive power of an earthquake, and so many lives have been destroyed and disrupted – I know nothing of such grief, loss and fear. I am not proud to have been spared, but rather humbled, and challenged, to think what I can do out of the riches which I have, to meet even a few of the needs of those who are suffering so much. This is another result of thanking God for all I have and receive – it reminds me that none of it is mine in the first place, but only ever a gift to be held in readiness, to share with those who need. I have nothing by right, but all by gift, and I have it that I might serve God, love his children and share his glory with the world that needs to see it so badly.

In the passage I quoted above, Jesus is encouraging and teaching his disciples to have the right priorities in their lives as they await his return in glory. The incredible extravagance with which God creates and sustains beauty and fruitfulness all around us is given as an illustration of his power and care for his creation – even the most short-lived and ephemeral parts of it, like the wild flowers. Since our God is like this, should we not trust him to know what we need – we whom the psalmist describes as being made ” a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour?” (Ps 8.5)

Jesus goes on to exhort us, his followers, to “seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12.31). God is not in the business of withholding good things from his children, but rather desires our ultimate and greatest good – that we might live and rejoice with him in his kindgom for ever. We may not understand why our idea of good things is not the same as his, nor why at times we receive good through suffering, pain, frustration and dreadful difficulties. But we have the example of Jesus, who trusted his Father would provide for him, and focused all his energies on obedience and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom. Now he is seated in glory, king over all, reigning and coming again to claim all his own to share in his joy.

As I walk through pleasant places, and pray for those in deep darkness and sorrow, may I be trusting the God who gives good gifts to his children, and thanking him for being faithful. May the beauty around me be a constant reminder that I need not worry about myself, but commit myself to God for his purposes and his glory, saying with the psalmist:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(PS 8.9)