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Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't Look Back

"But Lot's wife looked back ..." (Gen 19:26)

A Bad Press
Lot's wife gets a very bad press over her failure to respond correctly to the word of God. It's not enough that she ended up as a pillar of salt. She is held up as an example to us of what happens if we're not obedient to God, or if we're reluctant to leave our sin behind.

If we're not careful, we can find ourselves taking a superior attitude as though we think we would never make such a fundamental mistake.

The Fine Line Of Obedience
What we perhaps miss is how close Lot's wife was to getting it right. She was, after all, being obedient and running away from Sodom and the depravity there. How many of us can say that we actually run from sin? We all know the experience of the internal struggle we sometimes have to do the right thing when what we really want is to do the wrong thing.

Lot's wife was being far more committed than we often manage to be but she still wasn't wholeheartedly obedient to the Lord. She had been told not to look back (v17) but she thought she could get away with a quick glimpse behind her as she ran. The result was devastating.

Responding To God's Voice
Was the Lord harsh on Lot's wife? Should He have punished her so severely for one little slip? Look more carefully at v26. The woman's fate was not God's doing, she brought it upon herself. Her death was a direct consequence of her disobedience.

When, in our Quiet Time, we hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin there is one route away from destruction and that is rapid flight without looking back. Paul told the Corinthians to flee from sexual sin and idolatry (1 Cor 6:18 & 10:14) and Timothy to flee from the evil desires of youth (2 Tim 2:22).

There is no room for compromise in dealing with sin. Jesus said, "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matt 5:30). He knows more about conquering temptation than anyone and we should heed His instruction. Lot's wife should be a warning to us. Don't take the slightest chance with sin. The consequences could be devastating.

Prayer College Assignment
Give some thought to whether there is an area of compromise in your life. Are you struggling with a besetting sin, but unwilling to make the commitment to run from it wholeheartedly and never return? Take some time, like David, to let God search your heart (Ps 139:23), and reveal the truth to you. Determine you are going to run, with everything you've got, away from sin and, fixing your eyes on Jesus, complete the race marked out for you (Heb 12:1-2).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wholly Available?

A pentecostal minister I know told me this week that he had stopped his congregation in the middle of a hymn because they were singing words he knew they didn't mean. He had tried to set up a Saturday morning prayer meeting and the people had not responded. Yet on Sunday they were singing, "Here I Am, Wholly Available."

Why Aren't We Available?
Why do we do this? Why do we sing songs with words we don't mean? Perhaps we're not thinking about the words but we like the tune. Maybe we are being carried along by emotion - we really do mean the words at that moment, but get us outside of church and the enthusiasm fades. Sometimes, it's that our fear of man is greater than our fear of God and we're more concerned about what people around us will think if we don't sing, than what God thinks about the difference between what we say and what's in our hearts.

But to me, the more interesting question is, "why are we not wholly available to God?" I think the answer to that has to be that we don't know Him well enough to fully trust Him. We're afraid that if we do make ourselves wholly available He will ask us to do things we don't want to do. I've heard people express the fear that the Lord might call them to the mission field in a remote and underdeveloped part of the world. There are all sorts of fears - fear of being called to open-air preaching, fear of not being permitted to marry, fear of being told to give everything away and live in poverty. We all have fears and the devil plays on these to try to make us think that the Lord will tell us to do things that will be uncomfortable or embarrassing. This can be very effective at limiting our prayer lives because we become afraid of listening to God for fear of what He might say.

Heart's Desire
In Ps:37:4 David says, "take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires" (NLT). This is a two-edged promise. On first reading it seems to be a simple counter to the fear that God will ask us to do things we don't want to do. It appears to be saying that if we delight in the Lord we will receive the things we really want. We just have to work out how to take delight in the Lord and then we'll have the key to answered prayer. But there is much more to this verse because there is a dynamic we miss as we rush towards the words "heart's desire" and start thinking about all the things we'd really like to have.

David says, "take delight in the Lord." We take delight in the Lord by spending time with Him, reading His word, praying and worshipping. As we do this we are changed, transformed, to become more like Jesus. Part of that transformation occurs within the desires we have in our hearts. Things which once seemed important to us slip away into the shadows as our priorities change and we fall in love with Jesus. The old desires fade and we find that God himself is planting new desires in our hearts. He literally gives us our heart's desires. Where we were once enthralled by sin, we want holiness; the obsession with material wealth gives way to a desire to build up a storehouse of treasure in heaven; boredom with church is replaced with a desire to spend time with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

There is no need for fear of what God will ask us to do because, if we are delighting in Him, He works to transform our desires to conform with His will. That is not to say that it will always be easy to do what God wants, but when He asks something challenging of us and we look within ourselves for our response, we will always find there is a seed of desire within our hearts to be obedient to Him that will enable us to do whatever he asks.

Prayer College Assignment
God seems almost to take it as a personal challenge when we say, "I will never ...". Most Christians with some experience of walking with the Lord will find themselves doing and even enjoying, things they once said they would never do. Let's make it our goal to so delight in the Lord that we have no fear of what He might ask of us. Then we will be able to say, "here I am, wholly available."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Meditation

I'm rereading the old classic testimony of a devout Hindu who became a Christian, Death of a Guru. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about the massive differences between Eastern mysticism and Christian spirituality. Any follower of the Lord Jesus who thinks yoga is simply a kind of exercise should definitely read it. Yoga is a form of Hindu meditation which has the "ultimate goal of union with the Absolute".

The Big Difference
There are Christians who have become sidetracked down the route of Eastern-style meditation. Some accounts I have read of such ventures sound remarkably like the experiences of Rabindranath Maharaj described in Death of a Guru. Consequently there is a backlash in some quarters of the Evangelical community against what is, in the Christian tradition, known as contemplative prayer which can appear to share some characteristics with Eastern meditation. It's important therefore that we understand the primary and fundamental difference between Christian and Hindu meditation.

Hindu meditation is practised by emptying the mind in order to gain a higher consciousness and ultimately to experience nirvana or "nothingness". Christian meditation is not about emptying the mind but about filling it with thoughts of God and this is best done by contemplating Scripture.

Christian Meditation
The apostle Paul says, "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3:16) and this beautifully describes the act of Christian meditation. In Ps 119 the writer says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart" (v11), "I meditate on your precepts" (v15) and prays, "open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (v18).

Christian meditation is about prayerfully absorbing Scripture into our very being and there are a number of practices which can help us to do that.

The first is memorising. When we memorise a single verse or a longer passage of Scripture it becomes available to us when we need it. There are countless times in my life when I have faced temptation or needed a word from God and a memorised passage has come to mind which has been pertinent to the situation. Memorising takes discipline and the older we get the more discipline seems to be required to lodge new things in our brains. I have heard it said that about the age of 7 is the best time to learn by memorising as that is the age at which the brain is particularly receptive to that type of learning. That's why traditional education had us all reciting our "times tables" in primary school. If you have responsibility for children in that age group it's a great opportunity to teach them Scriptures that will stay in their minds their whole lives. The rest of us will have to work harder at it, but repeat a Scripture often enough and it will stick.

The second practice I want to mention is what I call mulling over Scripture. Like a cow with the cud we can take a verse or two and, instead of just assuming we know what it means, we can chew it over in our mind, turning it around to look at it from different angles, thinking about what each of the words means. For example, 1 Pet 1:16 quotes several Old Testament passages - be holy, because I am holy. What is holiness? What does it mean that God is holy? How can I be holy? I am not told to BECOME holy, but to BE holy so what are the implications of that? We have to be careful that when we answer these questions we do so in the light of other passages of Scripture and not with our own bright ideas. But as we explore Scripture in this way we will come to understand it more fully.

The third form of meditation I want to mention is imagining. By this, I don't mean making things up, but rather taking a passage of the Bible, usually from the gospels, and using your imagination to place yourself within the scene described. There is a principle of learning which is expressed in the following way: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand. By taking a passage such as Lk 8:40-56, the healing of the sick woman and Jairus' daughter, and using our imagination to place ourselves in the crushing crowds and follow the events as they unfold, we can gain a deeper insight into the intensity of the emotions involved, the pain and joy experienced by the participants and the awe of the bystanders at the power of Jesus to intervene in life-changing ways. The passage speaks more powerfully to us.

Prayer College Assignment
If there is one of these methods of meditation that you have never tried or not used in a while, why not explore one of them this week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Father's Song

My favourite song at the moment is Matt Redman's, "The Father's Song" from his album Blessed Be Your Name. I like his lyrics because he has a poetic way of writing which, for me, expresses what is in my heart. This particular song is inspired by Zeph 3:17,

"He will rejoice over you with singing."

It is an awesome thought that God sings, but it explains why song is such an important part of worship both here on earth and in heaven. Even more awesome is the concept that the Lord sings over us and does so with joy.

The Father's Song by Matt Redman

I have heard so many songs,
Listened to a thousand tongues,
But there is one that sounds above them all.
The Father's song, the Father's love,
You sung it over me
And for eternity
It's written on my heart.

Heaven's perfect melody,
The Creator's symphony,
You are singing over me
The Father's song.
Heaven's perfect mystery,
The King of Love has sent for me
And now you're singing over me
The Father's song.

God's People Sing
When I was training with Wycliffe Bible Translators I heard a missionary talk about the transformation the gospel had made to the people group amongst whom she had worked. Astonishingly their culture included no music or singing. But as they came to faith in Christ they literally found their voice and, without any influence from the missionaries they began to sing.

Wherever there are believers there is singing. A whole book of the Bible is dedicated to recording the songs of worship of the people of Israel. Something that interests me is that one of the features of the development of worship over the past 30 years has been that, increasingly, the words of Christian songs are directed to God rather than talking about Him.

Personal Singing
Most of us have no problem lifting our voice in song in corporate worship. Some of us are more tuneful than others, but it is regarded as normal to sing in church. Yet, somehow, we seem to be more self-conscious about singing in the course of our personal devotions. It's one thing to have a worship CD in the car and belt out a rousing chorus as we drive to work. It is something else to sing to the Lord whilst on our knees in the prayer closet.

Perhaps it is because we become very aware that we are all alone, centre stage, singing for an audience of one. We can't hide behind the rest of the congregation as we do in church, or the professional worship group on the CD. To sing to the Lord, on our own, during our quiet time is a very personal and intimate thing.

Matt Redman talks about the Father's song over us being one of love, one that is written on our hearts. It seems to me to make sense that our response to such a love song should be our own sung expression of love. With the volume of Christian songs that have been produced in recent years, alongside the old favourite hymns, we should be able to find songs that express our own love for the Lord Jesus.

A New Song
But there is something which I believe will touch God's heart even more than singing a song written by Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech or Graham Kendrick, and that is the song with words and a tune that spring up direct from our own souls. "Sing a new song to the Lord," says the psalmist (Ps 98:1). God has created us all as individuals and he loves to hear the sound of our own voice singing our own song and He really doesn't mind if you make it up as you go along.

Prayer College Assignment
You are created in the image of God and He sings so why not try singing as part of your daily time with Him. You could use a hymn book to start with but do try just pouring out your heart with the words and music that come from your own soul. When you feel liberated to do this you will find it adds a great blessing to your devotional times.