…to Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God I come.”
Back in the days when I was well enough to be involved in leading retreats for ministers and church leaders here and overseas, God graciously blessed many people. Sometimes that setting seemed to be safe enough for very deep thoughts, feelings etc. to be shared. It is an aspect of ministry I miss. Lives and ministries were renewed and transformed by the Father’s love.
Occasionally moments of hard to explain blessing happened in what we called “Prophetic Prayer.” Each person in turn was prayed for not just by the leaders of the retreat but by the others in the group who were learning to use gifts of the Spirit in ministry. Indeed that was part of the purpose of those retreats.
I was remembering a time when a lovely young couple were being prayed for. My memory does not extend now to their names, the country of the retreat or even what they looked like. I shall however never forget what happened. As well as receiving prophetic input they asked for prayer for their childlessness. That is something which we had a rule not to prophesy into for obvious reasons, despite it being quite frequently done in the bible!
It was our practice in these days to record on cassette tapes what was prayed and prophesied for each person or couple. Each tape was new out the packet. After we had prayed for the couple about the particular matter they had spoken about and shared prophetic words on other matters, the tape was checked to see the recording was successful. There were words on the tape at the start that no one in the room had spoken, said in a voice belonging to none of us: “Look! A baby!” It was a fear of the Lord moment. I can’t explain it… and before you ask, I did not check up with the couple in months or years to come. Maybe that shows my lack of faith. Maybe not. But what happened, happened just as I have shared.
I put this in the category of miracle which at times in the bible seems a separate part of God’s work in Christ and the early church from healing, deliverance etc. Into that same category I would put other things I have experienced over the years like the appearance of fragrant oil and/or gold dust in meetings at CLAN and Holy Trinity and on one occasion in Thurso. I would also put in that category an occasion when Morag and I had left something at home that we needed on holiday, but it appeared on the dining table of the caravan. There it was, on the table, when we got back from a walk lamenting our forgetfulness. Then there was the time God transported us car and all to another location… Above all there were times when people found themselves in church and coming to Jesus for no other reason than God had drawn them. No contact with believers, no invitation, just the action of God for which no person or mission effort could claim any credit at all.
Why am I writing like this? Well, for this reason. God seems to be anointing this thought again and again. “Get ready for impossible things. Believe for the impossible.” Get ready for Him to act in defiance of all our sincere strategies for mission, our five year plans, our SMART goals in the light of statistical measurements that lead us to say things like “the church needs to…” or “God can’t… God won’t…. unless we do this…”
We had our rule about not speaking into childlessness for good reasons and kept to that rule. We were extremely happy to discover that God did not feel bound to observe our careful planning.
Would you be happy if God came and worked in a way that defied any planning you have made for yourself, for mission, for church life? Will you happily let Him do what your planning says cannot happen? Would you be happy for Him to show He is God and can do whatever He pleases.
Get ready for the action of the God who defies the sincerest of planning, shows the wisdom of man is at times a sheer and utter nonsense even. Do you want God to do what we cannot predict or control?
If we are willing to humble ourselves and our planning to Him, making it all very much secondary to our desire for Him to do what He wants, well, who knows what people may write about in blogs to come.
In earlier days of adjusting to all the very sudden changes ill health brought into life I was greatly blessed by a Counsellor with whom I was paired by the Church of Scotland. Those Counselling sessions were invaluable to me so in what I am about to say, I want you to keep in mind my great thankfulness and indebtedness to the Counselling ministry.
I want to share a dream I had while still working as a minister. The dream was about a lady I had never met. I had no reason to believe during or after the dream that she was anything other than a figment of my imagination. In the dream she was involved in counselling young adult Christians in a church setting. There was however in the dream a sense of seediness and decadence. The impression was that she was counselling people towards worldly ideas of wellbeing and wholeness even when it meant departure from the ways of God and the teaching of the bible. She could have been a secular counsellor, but in the dream her ministry was definitely happening in a church. There were very few in the dream who were not passing in and out of the hand of her influence. Here is where it gets strange….within a week of that dream I met that very woman. She looked exactly as she had looked in the dream. Despite not knowing her, I felt I just had to talk with her. It turned out that out she was indeed invovled in the ministry of counselling in a church setting.
If or when you are aware that the Spirit of God is leading you towards seeking out the help of a Counsellor, I hope and pray that somehow you will experience a good “match” as was brought about for me. At the same time I would urge you have the same caution as should be exercised when receiving any ministry. Number 1 rule for me would be, “As a result of this ministry, am I being helped to make my own choices of faith, trust and obedience into the paths of God revealed in his Word, the Scriptures, and in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?” For me that is the test I would expect people to apply to preaching, bible teaching, prophecy, prayer ministry etc. The ministry of Counselling should not be excused from that same positive scrutiny.
I am not sure why I felt led to write about that memory at this point. Perhaps there is someone reading this who has to choose between where a counselling session seems to be leading and where God would lead you by His Word and by His Spirit? Perhaps you are considering going for counselling. I hope what I have written here will not discourage you, but may be helpful truth and grace from God as you pursue that possibility.
… is as important as when to speak. At times Jesus said nothing. He told us there are times to not even share God’s precious truth.
Not long ago He told me there was an issue He would not speak on again nor was I to speak about it to anyone.
Pray to have a disciplined ear and tongue.
Felt a fearful sense of the story from Scripture quoted below being a “now” word for some men in ministry. By that I mean ministry of the ordained, church sanctioned and set apart type. You have a “Revd.” before your name and maybe even a few letters after it. I specifically felt this was for men in such a ministry rather than women and it was for right now, for this moment in time, maybe for this very hour of posting.
Before you either sneak or skip off into adultery read this story, especially the opening words. In the charismatic world, especially in the conference speaking scene, we live in days of easy restoration. The more famous the ministry, the more likely the church at large will be make light of a fall into adultery, calling it just about everything but sin, applauding the return to ministry – usually within a few months, offering mercy where there has been no turning from sin, no repentance leading to the action of breaking an adulterous relationship – conveniently forgetting that somewhere there is a rejected, sinned against wife and often hurting and angry children as well for whom life will never be the same but will have added difficulties which may well hamper them forevermore. Felt such grief about that tonight. That is the reality of adultery.
Anyway, here is the reading, the story. It may well save some of you from taking a wrong step which would mean that even allowing for mercy from God, there will be consequences. I hope that you might not be so far gone as to be unable to look beyond the selfishness of your intended and therefore premeditated and wilful l breaking of God’s commandment. We reap what we sow, and what we sow sadly affects others caught up in our selfishness and sin.
I offer this knowing that any one of us can fall. There is no judgement in my heart towards any other living person as far as I know. I am a sinner saved by grace capable of anything should I move out from the purposes of grace for me. I have in the past, on more than one occasion, sat talking with Christian leaders intending to commit sexual sin, but trying to hide that fact from me, as we talked. The fearful thing on each occasion was that I felt the Lord had nothing to say. Never think the Lord never shows your sins to someone else. He does when it so pleases Him. I found myself strangely silent and unable to talk in the midst of such awarenesses. The feeling of wilful deception being fed into a friendship is not a nice taste.
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” (2 Samuel 12:1-10)
I was quite proficient in basic Hebrew in my University days. There is a gold medal I received for it lurking somewhere in the house. I never kept it going though. On the whole I don’t regret that, but just occasionally I do, for there are times when going bak to the original languages unlocks a meaning in the biblical text that English translations hide.
I was reminded of that today in David Strutt’s excellent daily reading book “Sanctuary.” He draws attention to the psalmist encouraging us to give thanks to the Lord in Psalm 105. The Hebrew word is very physical. It can mean to fling your hands in the air in worship, to hurl a stone, to wring our hands in distress even. The point is that physical action is involved in the expression of thanksgiving.
Perhaps you are a person like me who tends to live in your head, in your thoughts. I found todays’ reading a good reminder to involve my body in worship. Something happens when we do, or at least something happens to me when I do! When I extend my hands to God in worship, it somehow makes me feel I am not only giving Him praise, but extending my territory in God into the physical world in which I am living out this day. I feel the scope of my being is enlarged. I feel bigger, which is a great blessing for someone only five foot four inches tall – and possibly shrinking slightly and gradually!
Do you need to get out of your thoughts and step into a bigger space of faith in your circumstances and in the world around you? Why not stretch out your hands to God as you give him praise and feel yourself grow in God?
Are you up for playing, “ The Psalmist says…?”
The Psalmist says, “ Fling your hands in the air and give thanks to the Lord! ”
For some reason, I was remembering back over the years to a time when I was looking for guidance from God and it did not seem to be coming. What I wanted to know about, was not something the Spirit of God seemed to want to speak to me about!
In that quandry, I had a dream of a spirit standing beside me and bending in a very friendly way towards my ear, ready to speak with the guidance I was looking for. However I was aware as I dreamed that this spirit offering guidance was not the Holy Spirit, nor an angel sent by God my Father to my aid. In my dream I said “No,” and the spirit offering “guidance” left.
In the morning, the whole experience crystalised into this decision. If God is not speaking into a situation, I will live with that, and live with that happily. If His Spirit is not speaking to me about a matter, then so be it. He is the Lord. He knows when to speak and when to remain silent on a matter, and His speaking or silence in relation to my life, both come from His heart of wisest love for me.
At Struthers Camp this year, it was mentioned in passing that sometimes there can be a bit of an admixture in us spiritually speaking, esepcially if we are a spiritually open sort of person. I have met people occasionally over the years who will tell me of spiritual experiences that they believe were good, but which the Spirit of God within me is indicating were deception. It can be hard at times to persuade people to let go of what has been meaningful for them, and they are not always open to hear that they may indeed have to. I am reminded of a story which David Watson told of a married couple who told their minister of the clear guidanace they had been given through a ouija board. The minister was wise and saw their unwillingness to think that something that had so guided them and blessed them could possibly be dangerous. So the minister simply prayed that the power behind it all woud reveal itself. A couple of days later she got a phone call from the couple. A destructive wind had swept through their house, overturning furntiure, wrecking everything in its path.
It is good practice every so often to come before God and just to ask him that if we have either deliberately or in ignorance opened ourselves to any other spiritual influence other than the Holy Spirit of God, He would forgive us, cleanse us, and break any hold that deception may have introduced into our living. That may even mean we have to be willing to look upon something that we thought was helpful as an evil which is harder to do than you might think. It is always good to remember that the devil can appear as an angel of light. The warning is there in Scripture and we would do well to pay heed to it.
Here is the test. Did that experience of “spirit” draw you to Jesus Christ, to believe in Him, to trust in Him, to follow Him and serve Him, to glorify Him as God? Did it lead you to a greater love for God’s Word, the Bible, and into closer fellowship with His people, the Church? If not, then for all it may seem to have been a precious moment, may God help you to renounce it, let go of it, and dismiss it without another moment’s hesitation.
Up early today… and remembering…
I was sitting in a wood beside a dark and still stream the other day, having some time alone with God. He spoke to me in a rather unusual way. Very clearly I “saw” a musical chord on a piano keyboard. It was an F Major 7th. It is a chord which when you play it on a piano, invites a further note or chord to be played, suggests a further melody or another movement to come. When it is used to end a song or a tune, it somehow leaves everything alive and lingering in the air to be savoured, enjoyed, and thought about more deeply. It is hard to put the sense of this in writing, but the best I can do is say that is not a closed sound, confident and self assured, but has quite a mysterious flavour especially if played gently with a light touch as an ascending arpeggio.
As I thought about the sound of that chord, I naturally thought of the names of the notes which make it up: F.A.C.E. Through the unusual “word” of that chord, I think God was simply saying to me what I now pass on to you: if we are prepared to FACE up to any reality in our life and circumstances with integrity about where we really are spiritually then one or both or two thoughts will usually emerge. Firstly, we may become aware of a new and onward movment in God’s purposes of mercifual love and grace for us. Secondly, we may feel drawn to linger at the point in the music of our life we have reached, suspecting we have perhaps not heard all of its sound or savoured its depth, be that in its sublime simplicity or in its intricate and well tbought out complexity.
Hugh Black, one of the founders of the Struthers goup of churches, said this on one occasion: “I would strongly urge you to be a realist.” As we stand in the grace of God given us in Jesus, that is something we can become without fear of condemnation. As we FACE up to what is happening in life and to where we are or where we are not with God, the fruit of that honest realism is paradoxically a sense of mystery: a sense of the mysterious purposes of God being unstoppable. What looked like an uncrossable river, a brick wall, turns out not to be. There is always a way through, an onward step; songs of deliverance, a melody of peace and faith, truth and hope, hanging in the air.
I hope this may be of help to you, as it was to me, even if you are not musical at all! At the moment you may feel that if you were to dare to be a realist before God, all you would hear would be a series of jarring and discordant notes that make no sense, as though all meoldy, all tunes have been disallowed in favour of random and haphazard sounds. Of this I am sure: God is not a composer who has a penchant for random, chaotic and unconnected noise. May he attune your ear and mine more keenly to the thread of the melody of His good purpose which He has written into our lives and circumstances, even for this very day and this precise moment.
It may seem obvious that someone should be able to walk into a Church service and hear about God in Christ.
I have been reading Thomas Merton’s confusion upon entering a Protestant Church when he felt he wanted to go to church. The minister seemed to speak of English literature and politics instead of what as a seeker after truth and God he expected, “God and religion.” Merton said that he felt the minister didn’t know what his vocation was and had “taken upon himself some function in society that was not his and which was, indeed, not a necessary function at all.” That impression was affirmed by contact with Protestant Churches and ministers he encountered before and after that moment.
Let’s pray that seekers who decide to try out church this coming Sunday will hear about Jesus and realise He is the One they are searching for. Let’s pray what may seem an unnecessary prayer: that the church in Scotland would remember what it’s vocation is in its essence.:
“Jesus, Son of God, Saviour, we humble ourselves before such a testimony and ask, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ Have mercy upon us, upon your church and all its servants. Allow us more time to share You and your gospel with people in this land and beyond.
You walk among the candlesticks and hold the stars in your hand. Please, don’t remove our candlestick! You say that is a possible happening when you speak and your church does not listen. Let your people in Scotland find our first love rekindled where it has grown cold.”
My fear is that this part of Merton’s testimony, which comes from the early half of last century, may be frighteningly relevant to our own day, and may well be replicated, sadly, in many gatherings called “church.”
“You tell me anyone on this church who has suffered more than me!” So I did…they were not pleased.
Never make your significance, or public or personal identity, out of how hard a time you have had. In Christ you are The Father’s delight. There is no competition. No need to establish your worth or why you should be noticed. Peace to you this day. He knows the story and your suffering can find its rest in His.
Make the telling of your story of suffering what you want people to listen to and make them listen to and listen to listen to and listen to, and make them in an odd way admire, and you will end up very lonely, for their attention will eventually waver and you will doubt their love and your own worth. The rejection you are trying to beat will then overwhelm you once more. It need not be so. Learn to bring down that giant rather than feed its secret growth.
Everyone’s story in unique but not so unique that we need different weapons for the fight from every other person. There are weapons that prevail and weapons that don’t when it comes to Rejection. Humbly learn about them and how to use them. It is not so hard, once you see your story is not to be treasured above your being free from it.
“Do you want to be healed?” asked Jesus. He never asked a superfluous question.
The idea of not needing your terrible story as a crutch will make some who read this react in anger, panic, or break out into a cold sweat. That in itself should be sounding alarm bells for your attention. Take a look at that reaction and bring it to Jesus who will help you understand it and be free at a deeper level; free to be you rather than being an image to impress.
I am sure God likes it when I pray and read His word. I have felt his delight also when I drink coffee, play the piano and listen to Ray Charles and BB King playing the Blues…just saying…He ain’t religious, baby…let me say it again, He ain’t religious baby…and when you’ve got the blues….He’s sitting right there next to you….mmh mmh….uuh uh….yes He is alright…
“I have much to say…but I won’t…,” said Jesus. Listen to the Father today, even in the midst of full flow when you see the next sentence that would press home a point, show the errors of others, really help a person to see truth.
We are not the Father, nor are we called to be. If we are prepared to speak as those who only speak what we hear, not all that we know, the Father will be glorified. If I am prepared to be the child, the Father will be able to show Himself as Father in me and through me.
I remember sitting on a plane to go and speak at a conference in another country and culture, feeling a bit nervous. The conference was on the Father Heart of God. I said, “Father, how can I represent you, I can’t do it…?” He said, “I never asked you to represent me. You go and be a Son, and I will be there as Father.” He made it clear that if I ever ceased to be a Son in my attitude and approach to ministry, if I ever lost the secure vulnerability of being a child, held by His hand, listening to what He is saying, He could not show Himself as Father through me. If the Father cannot reveal Himself through me, I have lost connection with the ministry of Christ.
It is a test of whether we have the heart of a son and daughter of God that we limit what we could say, subject what we know to the Father’s will. It is not an easy discipline, especially if we feel the need to win the argument, prove our point, or look good in the eyes of others.
We are followers of a Saviour who looked utterly defeated. I hope you are free from the need to look and sound good. Maybe that will be the battle we need to win if we are to win the battle to only speak what we hear the Father saying.