Category Archives: intercession

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)

I believe..

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN

I belong to a church where we do not have much of a liturgy, so to attend an Anglican service while on holiday last week was a great treat, although it can be a challenge to know whether one is meant to be speaking or singing at times! One of the things I love best about the liturgy of the Anglican church is this recitation of the Creed, our statement of faith. In the earliest days of the church, Christians were known simply as ‘believers’, because their salvation depended solely upon belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sins, and their future in  eternal life with God. In reciting the Creed, we are reminded of our total dependence on Jesus, and that of ourselves we bring nothing of worth to God.

These brief words contain sufficient material to keep us thinking, praising and adoring our precious Saviour, and the working out of them in practice is the employment of a lifetime. Today I am thinking particularly about that little phrase ‘ the communion of saints’, and what it can mean for us in practice.

In his great prayer the night before his death, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and for all who would come after into the family of believers, asking ‘ that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.‘ (John 17 21-23).

This, this astonishing unity and intimate connection, is what we mean when we talk about the communion of saints. It is not mere friendship, but a profound union, arising out of our union with Jesus himself. As we believe in Jesus for salvation, he dwells in us, we live by his life; and because our fellow believers also live by that same life,  we have bonds at the deepest level of our being with them. We have the same Father, and the same great elder brother, and we see in one another evidences of his life working to transform us into his likeness. Our ultimate desires and ambitions are the same – the glory of God, the saving of souls, and the blessing of the church family – and our means of receiving from God are the same – reading the bible, praying, taking communion,  practising baptism.

The apostle Paul explores the implications of this unity many times in his letters to the young churches of Asia, including his assumption that believers will pray earnestly and intelligently for one another, even though they may never have met, share no cultural or language experiences, and have only their faith in common! It makes sense… when we are all part of the one body – with Christ as our head – then the suffering of one part calls for the support of the rest, and any practical help which may be given. Similarly, the joys of one part bring gladness to the whole body, so that everyone may be encouraged in their faith and hope.

I was blessed to have grown to faith in churches where it was a matter of routine to pray for christians all over the world – missionaries, ministers, and those to whom they were sent; persecuted believers in troubled lands, churches which were experiencing great blessing and growth. It never occured to me that it was odd to pray so earnestly for people I had not met, and I was taught to pray for them with as much passion as I might for those nearest and dearest to me. It was a wonderful lesson to learn early, and continues to bring great blessing, because when we come before God in order to pray for our brothers and sisters, we forget our own troubles, and fix our eyes upon him. We are reminded, even as we remind God, of his own promises to bless his children, to glorify his name, to provide resources for his work and to guide his servants – all these things which we also desire for our own situations.

So let us give ourselves to prayer for our fellow-believers, rejoicing that when we pray, we are together in God’s presence, in a fellowship which will be surpassed only in the resurrection when we meet face to face. What a blessing is the communion of the saints!