Translate

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Jewel of Prayer

What does one say in the 100th post on a blog about prayer? What could there possibly be left to say? Week by week I have prayed about what I should write and each time a slightly different thought has come to mind - 99 different aspects of the prayer life.

Many Facets
Prayer is indeed like a many faceted jewel, there are so many different ways to pray, so much that can be learned only through praying. Yet I have this feeling that we have mostly looked at it from one perspective and haven't yet discovered the myriad of delights which can be perceived from other angles.

The focus of Prayer College has primarily been on personal prayer and building our own relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason is because I believe that without a firm foundation in our life with Him, we cannot truly pray with any degree of faith or any confidence that we are praying according to His will. The same Lord who said, "remain in me and I in you," also said, in the same discourse, "apart from me you can do nothing," (Jn 15:1-5). That includes effective prayer.

Primary Focus
The first purpose of prayer is to develop our relationship with God, to set down our roots in a life with Him. In prayer we see the awful contrast between His perfect holiness and our sin. In prayer we recognise our weakness and His almighty strength. In prayer we discover the lavishness of His love compared with the poverty of our own. In short, in prayer we gain a correct perspective of our creatureliness before our Creator.

Before we encounter God in prayer we may think we want a better paying job, a bigger car, more worldly recognition. But when we shut ourselves away in the secret place and meet with Jesus we begin to learn there is nothing more sweet than the sound of His voice, nothing more beautiful than being permitted to worship Him.

Secondary Facet
And when these things start to get a grip on our soul, our intercession for others who need His touch is no longer a duty, but a privilege we grasp with joy. To be able to come to the Father through Jesus and ask Him to mend broken relationships, to heal the sick and suffering, to reveal Himself to those who have not yet met Him, becomes the desire of our heart. We don't intercede because we can't think of any other way of helping (all I can do is pray) but because we know our heavenly Father loves those about whom we are concerned and wants to touch their lives.

So, I make no apology for my emphasis to date on developing intimacy with God, but perhaps the time has come to start to move beyond that to consider other aspects of prayer.

Prayer College Assignment
It has been said that the main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. In other words, never forget the original purpose. God's original purpose was fellowship with man and to win a bride for His Son. We need to continue to maintain our personal devotions as precisely that, expressions of devotion to the Lord. But if that does not develop into a vigorous intercessory life we will become bloated and our growth will be stunted. As we come to the beginning of a new year, ask the Lord to develop your prayer life so that you become increasingly effective for Him in the next 12 months.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Truth About Christmas

"I am the way, the truth and the life." Jn 14:6

On today's news I heard a report about a survey into people's belief in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. It was disturbing to hear that a quarter of those who profess to be Christians don't believe the Bible narratives to be true.

Skeptics
Alongside this, I have been debating online with someone who professes to be a Christian but is upset by the "My King" video which they describe as "frenzied, hysterical ranting," making comparisons with the Nuremberg rallies. In our discussions it has become clear that this person's concept of scriptural truth is very different from mine.

What is Truth?
Pilate posed the great fundamental and philosophical question, "what is truth?" The answer is that the Lord Jesus is the Truth. Humanity has always wanted to work out the truth for itself, it was our great downfall in Eden. But we have finite minds, incapable of comprehending the infinite mind of God. We cannot possibly know truth without having it revealed to us.

Jesus The Truth
When Jesus claimed, "I am the truth," He preceded that statement with, "I am the way." Until we bow to His authority and accept that His way is the only way, we will not be able to comprehend the truth. As long as we go our own way, any truth we discover will be distorted. Indeed it will be something less than truth.

Jesus is, "the way, the truth and the life." That life is abundant life, a life which we desire to live to the glory of God and in praise of who He is. There is nothing more satisfying to the human soul than to experience God in worship.

Christmas Truth
We are in danger this Christmas, as at every other Christmas time, of forgetting what it's really all about. It is not simply the biggest birthday party in the world. It is the revelation of the greatest truth ever told: that the Creator is so passionate about His creatures, He will become one of them in order to restore intimate relationship with them.

Human reasoning without revelation will always conclude that there are no such things as angels, that a virgin birth is impossible and that Jesus was simply a remarkable man around whom many myths and legends grew. It is just too uncomfortable to admit that there is a God big enough to do miracles because if we do it demands something of us. We would rather believe something less that a miracle and allow ourselves to live comfortable, rather than abundant, lives.

Prayer College Assignment
Re-read the gospel narratives of the nativity away from all the context of a carol service & all the Christmas trimmings. Let all the dazzle of the festivities slip away and place yourself as an observer in the scene. What to you hear? What do you see? What impact does it have on you? What is the truth about Christmas?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We Would See Jesus

"Let's go and see ..." Lk 2:15

Like everyone else, and despite all my best intentions, I've become caught up in, even consumed by the preparations for Christmas. Out of my thoughts go the manger, shepherds and wise men. In come Christmas tree, turkey and where to hide the children's presents so they don't find them before Christmas day. Consequently the weekend had passed and I still haven't written PrayerCollege.

Taking Christ Out of Christmas
As Christians we are as prone to get off track at this time of year as everyone else. we are not helped by "Christmas Specials" on TV or the fact that this year's stamps have pantomime characters on them, unless you specifically ask for "religious" stamps. Then the counter clerk will go to the back of the post office and rummage around for the sheet of stamps reserved for those of us who are determined to fight back against the secularisation of Christmas (provided we're not so fraught by all the Christmas stress that we remember to ask). Will the Royal mail be producing Ede or Diwali stamps next year?

Religion in Christmas
There may be little of Christ left in most people's Christmas but there is in fact a lot of religion. There's the religious attitude that says you have to send cards to everyone you work with, to people with whom you've had no contact since the last card. There's the insistence on spending way too much money on more food than any reasonable person could possibly consume over the holiday. There's the installation of massive displays of lights outside people's homes which, with fuel prices as they are, probably require the owner to remortgage their home. The school nativity play must have a donkey, an innkeeper and 3 kings despite the fact that none of these are mentioned in the Bible. There may of course also be Father Christmas, reindeer, snowmen and even penguins in one production I saw a few years ago.

Jesus in Christmas
Christmas is full of religion and tradition but has little to do with what happened in Bethlehem in 6BC. Then the concern of those who believed something had happened which was worth celebrating was to get to see this baby. The Shepherds' response the herald angels was, let's go and SEE. The Magi travelled hundreds of miles because they wanted to SEE. Anna and Simeon in the temple were overjoyed to SEE.

The problem with Christmas is we no longer take the time to gaze in awe and wonder at this astounding miracle which is God coming to us as a baby. I don't know about you, but I can't comprehend that. I believe it by faith and in the church services I attend around Christmas I want the opportunity to be still and to reflect upon this great mystery of history with worship and adoration.

But somehow it all gets lost in mince pies and wrapping paper. The manger has been cluttered up with so much junk that even the devoted find it hard to see Jesus, let alone those who don't know enough to look for Him.

If the world can't see Jesus in Christmas then we must ensure that they can see Him in us. There has to be a bigger difference than just including a nativity scene in our decorations. It is essential that if Jesus is not at the centre of Christmas, He is at least at the centre of our hearts.

Jesus In Christians
How can people see Jesus in Us? This is only possible as we take time personally to gaze upon Him in awe and wonder. Then we will reflect His glory (2 Cor 3:18). Perhaps we might even dare to admit that the secularisation of Christmas is our fault because we have failed to truly see Jesus ourselves and consequently the world has not been able to see Him. He must be born in our hearts before the world can see Him born in Bethlehem.

Prayer College Assignment
Being a Christian is not about what we do or how we celebrate Christmas, but about how much we have seen of Jesus. When we live in intimate fellowship with Him and take time each day simply to gaze on Him, we will make more of an impact on the world than we will with all our self-righteous pronouncements about this season of festivity. Make an extra special effort to take time alone to fix your eyes on Jesus. Make that your gift to Him this Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Together

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

My husband's definition of fellowship is a group of Christians all together in the same boat.

Fellowship
We all need fellowship. We all want to have the comfort of feeling that there's someone else who has an understanding of what we're going through. Mary sought out the company of her relative Elizabeth when she discovered what lay in store for her. Quite possibly it was an expedient trip to silence the wagging tongues of judgemental neighbours gossiping about how such a "nice family" could end up with a daughter who'd been sleeping around and got herself pregnant. But the visit also enabled two women, both with an unexpected pregnancy, both with the touch of God on their lives, to share their experiences and to draw strength and comfort from one another.

Jesus, too, had a desire for sympathetic company. We see that most starkly in Gethsemane when He asked the disciples why they couldn't even watch with Him for an hour. But we see also His relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, with the twelve, with Peter and James, and especially with John. There were times when Jesus craved to be alone to spend time with God, and other times when He wanted His friends around Him.

Drawn Together
Mary in her crisis, for despite her humble willingness to be the mother of the Saviour she faced huge challenges, sought out someone she knew who would understand and support her. Age difference didn't matter because they both loved God and recognised they were drawn together by circumstances He had ordained. When they met their fellowship in the Lord was sweet. Elizabeth prophesied and blessed Mary who produced a psalm on a par with those of her ancestor David.

Mary stayed for 3 months and it must have been a joy for these two women to share fellowship and pray together. They would have had so much to pray about - Elizabeth's health as an older mother-to-be and strength to cope with the demands of a new-born; the pain of Mary's tarnished reputation.

Praying Friends
And if Jesus too needed friends, even praying friends (Matt 26:38), how much more do we. I am firmly convinced that every believer needs a praying friend, someone who will love and accept without judgement, who will take your needs to the throne of grace and who can be trusted to keep their mouth shut with everyone else. We need someone in our lives who understands us, who has shared similar spiritual experiences, who can be a guide or fellow travelling companion on our spiritual journey.

I have benefited hugely from such friends. Sometimes circumstances deprive us of each other's company. Often the things we do together or the conversations we have are very ordinary. But there are precious times when these praying friends help us to win battles against temptation, encourage us to stand firm through trials, or simply love us with the love of Jesus. The best of these friends will hear our confessions, keep our secrets and encourage us to press on to our goal of becoming more Christlike.

Prayer College Assignment
Are you a praying friend? If not, look for opportunities to become one. Such friendships cannot be manufactured, they are God given but you can open yourself up to Him working through you in this way by praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bread of Life

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry." (John 6:30)

The people had come to Jesus, reminding Him that God had given the Israelites bread from heaven, manna, in the wilderness. Jesus' response was to explain that He is the true bread from heaven and people need to feed on Him.

The Lesson of the Manna
We can learn a lot about feeding on Jesus by studying the way God provided manna to his people. Seven points emerge from the account in Exodus 16.

1. Heavenly Supply
v4 tells us that the supply of manna was from heaven. In fact Psalm 78:23-25 states that it was the bread of angels. Eating the manna sustained the Israelites physically. Feeding on Jesus, spending time in His presence and in His word, sustains us spiritually (Jn 6:27).

2. Daily Supply
v4 also tells us that the manna was provided daily. The food gathered in the morning sustained the people throughout the day. Likewise we need to feed on Jesus daily, preferably as the first thing we do when we wake up, if we are to be sustained spiritually.

3. Sufficient Supply
v 8,12,18 show us that the manna was sufficient, whatever the need. The day before Jesus claimed, "I am the bread of life," He had fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. We can keep gathering our bread until we are replete. In our feeding on Jesus we should aim to gather from Him until we have eaten sufficient to satisfy our spirit. Equally, if what we find enough quickly the wise thing to do is digest it rather than to keep gathering more.

4. Overflowing Supply
v16 indicates that the people gathered not just for themselves but also for dependents. When we feed on Jesus we will be able to gather enough to overflow into other people's lives. Heb 5:11-14 tell us we should grow up to become teachers ourselves. The question is, are you one of those who looks to feed from the supply others have gathered, or are you one of those who attracts people seeking what you have gathered?

5. Fresh Supply
v5 shows how manna needed to be gathered daily. Except for the Sabbath, they could not be sustained by what had been collected the previous day. Nor can we live indefinitely on what the Lord has given us in the past. We need something fresh from the Lord each day. We need the whole counsel of God's word, not just our favourite passages of Scripture. 2 Tim 3:16 says, "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteousness." In Deut 8:3 Moses explains to Israel that one purpose of the daily supply of manna was, "to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." There is so much in Scripture that there will always be a fresh supply to sustain us spiritually.

6. Mysterious Supply
v15,31 reveal that the Israelites did not know what the manna was. In fact, the very word, "manna" means, "what is it?" The Lord Jesus, when speaking to the church in Pergamum, refers to hidden manna (Rev 2:17). The sustenance we receive from feeding on Jesus and His word is not something than can be adequately explained or described. But those who live on the bread of heaven know how powerful and effective it is.

7. Sweet Supply
v31 also tells us that the manna tasted like "wafers made with honey." Ps 119:103 says, "how sweet are your words to my taste." Ps 34:8 says, "taste & see that the Lord is good." Ps 19:10 describes God's laws as "sweeter than honey." Our times of feeding on Jesus are meant to be very sweet.

Prayer College Assignment
Are your times with Jesus sweet? Do they sustain you throughout the day? Do you find you discover things that help others as well as yourself? If you do, you will need no encouragement to persist in feeding on Him. If not, do not be discouraged. Press on, daily feeding on Him and His word. You will grow to appreciate those precious times of sweetness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pray Continually

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thes 5:16-18

Smith Wigglesworth, the Pentecostal pioneer, claimed that he never prayed for more than half an hour, but that he never went half an hour without praying. Is it possible for mere human beings to obey this command to pray continually?

In Christ
Another famous preacher has said that God never asks us to do anything without giving us the resources to do it. The apostle Paul put it this way, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength," (Phil 4:13).

The Thessalonian passage makes it clear that these things are accomplished, "in Christ." As we abide in Him and He in us, these things become a possibility. In his book, Hungry For More Of Jesus, David Wilkerson makes this beautiful statement:

There is another kind of love that few Christians ever experience. It is an affectionate love with Christ such as occurs between a husband and wife. This love is expressed in the Song of Solomon.

In Union
Paul, talking about the union of the Lord Jesus with His bride, also makes the comparison with marriage (Eph 5:32). The act of marriage brings about the "one flesh" relationship, but being united in this way is just the beginning of what should be a growing depth of love, appreciation, care and affection for one another.

I know that it is possible to hold hands with my husband and to enjoy his company without a single word being spoken. Or we can be in the same room doing different things but aware of one another's presence and experience the simple acceptance of knowing there is a bond of deep affection. In the same way it is possible to be constantly in the presence of the Lord Jesus, enjoying His company in even the simplest things. It is possible to have the deep joy of knowing we are securely His, it is possible to be in prayerful communion, it is possible to maintain a truly thankful heart. This is what God wants for us because it is the abundant life promised in Jn 10:10.

Intimacy
How do we do this? How do we develop such intimacy with the Lord Jesus? By abiding in Him and by obeying His commands (Jn 15:9-11). Then we will experience the ultimate blessing of being loved by Jesus in the same way that He was loved by the Father as He walked this earth.

Prayer College Assignment
It is really very simple, ask the Lord to teach you how to abide in Him so that you can be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hallowed Be Your Name

"This, then, is how you should pray: our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." (Matt 6:9)

A friend of mine this week was outraged by the fact that he had seen, on national television, a woman apparently using occult powers to perform impossible feats. His passion was aroused and He wanted to see the Lord glorified by miracles performed in Christ's name being broadcast.

Do We Mean It?
Whether or not that would be an effective form of witness or even a good idea is debatable. What is commendable though is that my fiery friend wanted the name of our Father to be respected, honoured and glorified. It caused me to wonder how many of us have recited the Lord's prayer countless times but never actually stopped to think what we're praying, particularly when we say, "hallowed by Thy name."

Jesus made it clear that vain repetition doesn't count as prayer (Matt 6:7). If our minds aren't engaged then we're not praying. But this part of the prayer, that the name of God would be honoured and glorified is skimmed over time and again. We've missed the point. Even in our extempore prayer, while we may pray for our needs to be met, for our sins to be forgiven and for God's kingdom to grow, how often do we pray that the name of the Lord will be treated with respect and held in high honour?

Profanity
In the world around us the name of our precious Lord Jesus has become a profanity. People no longer write to complain when it is used in the media in such a way. Some Christians even manage to dishonour the name of God with their own lips. Do you say, "oh, for God's sake," when you feel frustrated? Do you say, "oh God," when things go wrong?

The Jews hold the name of God in such high honour that where YHWH appears in the Scriptures it is read as Adonai. If you look at a Jewish website today, you may well find that "God" is written as "G*d" to avoid offense.

As Christians we can come freely to God and call Him by any of His revealed names without fear of offending Him. The name of the Lord Jesus is particularly sweet on our lips. But does the honour due to His name matter as much to us as it should? Do we pray that his name will not be used profanely? Do we pray that when people hear the name of Jesus something inside them will stir?

Every Knee Shall Bow
We know that one glorious day, every knee will bow to the wonderful name of Jesus. We pray now in His name and see answers to our prayers. There is power in His name. Even before I became a Christian I was aware there was something different about the name of Jesus, I was uncomfortable saying it. Now it is the most precious word I know.

Prayer College Assignment
Pray that the names of God, especially the name of Jesus, will be treated with honour and respect. Pray that those who use the names of God profanely would be convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin. Pray that you will not fall into the subtle trap of using any of His names lightly or casually. Ask the Lord to show you if you are already doing so without realising and repent quickly if it ever happens.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Apart From Jesus

"Apart from me you can do nothing," (Jn 15:5).

One afternoon this week my eleven year-old son came out of school and announced, "we started World War II today." Having three boys, I know their ability to create chaos but I think even together they would find it difficult cause global conflict.

A High Opinion Of Ourselves
Of course my son didn't actually mean what he'd said, but something quite different. However, it does seem to me that we often like to claim credit for things that turn out well while blaming someone else, (the devil, the husband, the worship leader, the prime minister, perhaps even God) when things don't go according to plan.

For example, when we've felt the touch of God in our hearts during a service, it's because we are spiritually in tune, free from sin, praying more than everyone else. When we don't feel a buzz during the worship time it's because the pastor chose the wrong songs, the guitar was out of tune or the person behind us kept coughing.

Actually, none of these is the case. We experience the Lord because He is gracious enough to reveal Himself to us.

He Gave Some
We can make the same mistake with our ministries. We want to be recognised for the number of people we've witnessed to, the impact we've had on people we've visited, the loving acts we've performed. We forget what the Apostle Paul said to the Ephesians in chapter 4 verse 11 to 12, that it is the Lord who raises up people for ministry - He gave some to be ...

I was brought up short by the Lord last weekend when I was struggling to put a sermon together. After 5 hours I still wasn't confident that I had the right message for the congregation. A good friend reminded me that it was God's responsibility to speak to His people not mine. I repented of my pride & arrogance in thinking I had to do a good job in order for them to hear Him & asked for the Lord's anointing.

You'd have to ask someone else whether God spoke to people that morning, but I got the message. If Jesus doesn't show up it doesn't matter how eloquent I am, people's hearts will not be changed.

Apart From Jesus
Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing." We would prefer that He had said, "apart from me you can do some things but if you want any help just call." Until we recognise that Jesus actually meant what He said and said what He meant, the outcome of our efforts to please Him will be patchy at best.

This is particularly true of prayer. We pray many prayers that seem to go unanswered. We see results which are contrary to what we prayed. Sick people decline instead of getting better, marriages fail, loved ones die without professing faith. There is no standard answer we can give to explain these things, except this: Jesus said, "if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you," (Jn 15:7).

I know I haven't fully grasped what that means. If I had, I would be able to list many more answers to prayer than I'm currently able to. But I do know that it has something to do with abiding in Jesus and that in some sense I'm not entirely aligned with His will when I pray. It perhaps is as simple as believing in the power of my faith or the power of my prayer rather than in the power of my God.

Prayer College Assignment
Acknowledge before Jesus your complete inability to accomplish anything on your own - unless the Lord builds the house the workers labour in vain (Ps 127:1). Ask Him to teach you about abiding in Him so that you can learn to live and pray in such a way that it brings glory to Him.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Living Sacrifice

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this your reasonable act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to prove what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2)

I have heard many, many sermons in recent years about how to receive blessings from God. Some have been of the "name it and claim it" variety, others have focused on changes we need to make in order to be ready to receive God's gifts, most have put the emphasis on the benefits the Christian will gain.

An Uncomfortable Word
There is no doubt that Jesus brought great blessing to those He touched during His three year earthly ministry. But He also said, "anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me," (Matt 10:38).

Contrary to what some people believe, our cross is not something imposed on us from outside but something we choose to take up of our own will. It is not a cross of physical suffering or financial hardship. The context of Jesus' words is that of ensuring that, in all things, He is first in our lives, even above our closest and dearest family.

The Lord Jesus has to be the top priority of our lives, to the extent that we are willing to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him. Some people will say that Jesus has made the one sufficient sacrifice so that we do not have to. His sacrifice was for our redemption, He paid the full price so we can have peace with God. There is nothing more we can do to earn our salvation. But that is just the beginning.

As Paul was at pains to remind the Corinthians, "you are not your own, you were bought at a price," (1 Cor 6:19-20). One we have received our salvation we belong to God and He has rights over us. And through the words of Scripture He says to each of us, "offer yourselves as a living sacrifice."

All To Jesus I Surrender
Christianity is not about sitting in rows on Sundays, singing our favourite hymns and songs, listening to a sermon which makes us feel better about ourselves and having coffee with like-minded people.

Christianity is about surrendering ourselves to Jesus for Him to work in and through us, whether we like the consequences or not. We cannot say, "but Lord," because where there is a "but" Christ is not Lord. Our job is not to reason out the why and how of what He asks of us. Our job is to be obedient, whatever the cost, otherwise we become excess baggage in the church, hindering the work of the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
A life surrendered to Jesus consists of a series of days surrendered to Him. Begin each day by offering yourself as a living sacrifice and then endeavour to be obedient moment by moment, remembering that you can do nothing without Him (Jn 15:5) and relying on Him to provide the strength you need (Phil 4:13).

Friday, October 24, 2008

In Memory

Today we attended the funeral of my husband's aunt Muriel. It was a sombre affair. We do not believe she had put her trust in Jesus and there was no sign that any of her family believed. The minister who conducted the service at the crematorium clearly did not know the family and twice referred to the deceased as Beryl.

A Quiet Passing
One nephew read a popular but distinctly un-Christian poem, while another talked briefly about the highlights of Muriel's life, one of which was a "gorilla-gram" on her 60th birthday. The congregation sang, rather weakly, two well known hymns and the prayers were formal, straight from the service book.

All in all it seemed rather a pathetic end to a life. No doubt Muriel brought joy to many people and enriched the lives of her family and friends. But today, for the minister and the organist, she was just another old lady to be dispatched. As far as I could see, neither of them were thanked for their services.

In Contrast
Gayle Williams, on the other hand, has had her name and face splashed across the media. She is the Christian charity worker murdered in Afghanistan this week. She died serving the Lord, but if she hadn't been killed in such a fashion I doubt any of us would have heard of her.

Does It Matter?
The truth is that most of us live entirely ordinary humdrum lives and even the few remarkable things we may be able to achieve will not come to the notice of the world. So does it matter how we live and how we die? Does it matter how many people know our name?

God said to His chosen people, "fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine," (Is 43:1). It doesn't matter who knows our name or what we've achieved. What is important is that God knows. Countless Christian martyrs have died without recognition from the world. But every single one of them is recognised by God. Many times more have lived simple faithful lives without being called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. But the Lord has seen them set their alarm clocks to wake early in order to give Him the first part of the day. He has seen them on their knees as they plead with Him for the needs of others. He has seen their sacrificial giving of their money, their time and their very selves. He has seen them stand firm against temptation when no-one else was watching. He has seen their worship and adoration.

Such people may pass quietly and unremarked from this world, but they will enter the next with a fanfare and a party. They will be welcomed home by their Heavenly Father as conquering heroes and there will be no question of their names being forgotten for they are written in the Lamb's book of life and graven into His palms.

Prayer College Assignment
Who are you seeking recognition from? We're all tempted at times to be more concerned about the impression we make on others than what the Lord thinks of us. But in reality, He is the only one who matters and we matter more to Him than to anyone else. He never gets a name wrong. However mundane you think your life is, determine to live it for Jesus and no-one else.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beginnings and Endings

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Rev 22:13

I'm told that the wonderful composer JS Bach wrote a series of initials at the beginning and end of each of his compositions. He began them with JJ, the initials of the phrase Jesu Juva, Latin for "Jesus, help me." He ended them with SDG, the first letters of Soli Deo Gloria, "to the glory of God alone."

In All Your Ways
Proverbs 3:6 says, "in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." That appears to have been Bach's experience. Like that other great Christian composer Handel, the results of his labours have a quality about them which makes us feel as though the writer must have had a glimpse of heaven in order to create such beauty. In fact whilst Handel was composing The Messiah he is believed to have turned to his servant and said, with tears in his eyes, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself."

Whatever we do, if we give the Lord Jesus priority at the beginning, and acknowledge at the end that any achievement is not ours, but for the glory of God, we will find our lives transformed.

Beginnings
Jesus Himself claimed to be the beginning. When we look to Him at the beginning of the day, surrendering to His plans and His will for us, the whole day can be lived for His glory. We will find unexpected ways through or around difficult situations; we will discover more ways to serve God; the mundane activities of the day will become more meaningful as we honour God in them.

Endings
Often days begun with the Lord Jesus will prove to be more productive. We may have more opportunities to witness, we may gain greater victory over temptation, we may simply perform better at work and earn praise from our employer. The temptation in such circumstances is to pat ourselves on the back and to pride ourselves in all we've achieved.

But Jesus is the end as well as the beginning and all that we do should be for His glory. If we have been successful in overcoming temptation, or sharing the word of God with someone, or completing a task ahead of schedule, it is simply by the grace of God and His ability to direct our paths.

In Parentheses
We need to learn to live every aspect of our lives bracketed by our commitment to Jesus and our glorifying of Him. It is right to begin and end our days with Jesus, to give ourselves to Him for each fresh responsibility we face. We must not fall into the trap of thinking there are certain things we can handle on our own, and taking glory for our achievements.

The Lord Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing," (John 15:5). We do not grasp how reliant we are on the grace of God for every aspect of our lives. If we become complacent He may well decide it's time to take us down a peg or two and show us how vulnerable we are when He withholds His hand.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to remind you to give Him your day at the beginning and to give Him the glory at the end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where's Your Treasure

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jer 29:7)

The prosperity of our nations, or the lack of it, is something which consumes the interest of the media at present. Every day the headline news is of the crash of share prices, the demise of banks somewhere in the world or the attempts of governments to solve the problems by making vast amounts of money available to the financial institutions. One expert noted that, in Britain we were now budgeting more for the rescue of our financial system than for the entire NHS which makes a complete mockery of the arguments that certain drugs which can extend or save lives are too expensive.

Where is Your Security?
Jesus told us not to store up treasures on earth because they are so vulnerable and we will set our hearts on them (Matt 6:19-21). In the prosperous West we have not taken those words seriously enough. We have pretended that what Jesus really said was, if you store up treasures on earth don't make the mistake of becoming too attached to them. But Jesus wasn't offering some good advice, He was giving us a command, "do not." In the light of recent weeks we can perhaps begin to see why. How many Christians have stored up pension funds based on shares, some of which are worth only half of what they were a week ago? How many have put their trust in the money markets to provide for them, rather than in the Lord? How many have felt wealthy because the value of their property has soared in recent years.

Throughout the history of God's people, whenever they have put their trust in something or someone other than their true Sovereign, He has removed their prop from them. It is what happened in Jeremiah's day. Many of the people had been carried off into exile by the Babylonians. But see what the Lord tells Jeremiah to write, "I have carried you into exile." The Babylonians were simply God's instrument to discipline His people.

Restoration
There was no quick restoration for the people of Judah. They remained in captivity for 70 years. But from the outset they had God's promise that He would bring them home, He would return them to their own land. In the meantime it was their responsibility to pray for the place where they were exiled. Though they were in great anguish because their world had been turned upside-down (see Ps 137) the Lord told them to get on with life, to settle and live ordinary lives. They were told to pray, not that they would be returned home, nor even that they would be blessed where they were. They were told to pray for the prosperity of the very people who had taken them into captivity.

The Lord Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. We now have a wonderful opportunity to reassess our values and our dependence on God. We may live in turbulent times but it is only what has been permitted by the hand of God. Nothing we can do will shorten the period of this financial chaos. Instead, like the people of Jeremiah's day, we are called to pray, not for our own good but for the blessing of our nations.

Prayer College Assignment
Our nations will be most greatly blessed if they turn in dependence to God. People have been praying for revival in Britain for many years. Now is not the time to become discouraged but to redouble our efforts. Pray that those who have been or will be adversely affected by the financial crisis will seek out the true treasure of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord (Phil 3:7-8).

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Revelation

A man can only receive what is given him from heaven. Jn 3:27

When Peter declared, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus replied, "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven," (Matt 16:16-17). Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that they would, "know the love that surpasses knowledge," (Eph 3:19).

Two Kinds of Knowledge
There are two kinds of knowledge: worldly knowledge which is learned by our senses through teaching and experience; and spiritual knowledge which we can only acquire as God reveals it to us. There is a danger for Christians who listen to many sermons, read many books, and study their Bible diligently, that their spiritual knowledge does not match up to what they have learned with their minds. They may have heard many talks about the love of God, they may have read volumes of material on the subject and learned to quote relevant verses of scripture. But observation of their lives shows they have not truly understood that the Lord loves them. They are still anxious and fearful about the circumstances of their lives, they haven't fully shaken off the sense of guilt for past sin, they do not enjoy the presence of God.

We cannot simply learn kingdom truths with our mind. Many heard the teaching of Jesus, saw His miracles and witnessed His lifestyle, but they did not recognise who he was. Peter received a revelation - the Father opened the eyes of his spiritual understanding so that he received a revelation that Jesus was the Messiah.

Our Knowledge
When I became I Christian, I first accepted, intellectually, the truth of the Gospel but it was some time before the Lord knocked at the door of my heart, I invited Him in and received my first revelation of Him. It was the most intensely real experience I had had up to that point in my life.

But revelation isn't supposed to stop at conversion. It should be an ongoing experience. We can have too many sermons, read too many books, so that we begin to think we know a lot when, in reality, very little of it has become real in our lives.

I remember a little over two years ago when I received a revelation about forgiveness. I must have heard dozens of sermons on the subject, I had a theology of forgiveness, but I didn't have a knowledge of forgiveness that affected my life. Then, one morning, when I was helping out at a children's club, the leader spoke to the children about forgiveness and suddenly a light went on in my spirit. I had such a revelation of forgiveness that I was able to forgive people I had not been able to forgive for 35 years! I had received a revelation.

Receiving Revelation
If we can only truly know things through revelation, what can we do about it? Are we stuck with just waiting to receive what God deigns to give us?

On the contrary, we have an active part to play. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). He also tells us that the word of God "penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit," (Heb 4:12). It is in the mind, part of the soul, where worldly knowledge accumulates, but it is with the spirit that we receive revelation.

The word of God, the Bible is essential to us receiving spiritual understanding. This is why Bible centred preaching is essential, and the public reading of Scripture even more so. But most vital of all is personal devotional reading of God's word which opens us up to the still small voice of the Spirit. If you need a revelation about something, study the scriptures on the matter, meditate on those passages which speak about the subject which concerns you.

The other important aspect is, of course, prayer. Not the kind of prayer that is seeking answers to requests, but that which seeks to lay hold of God Himself. Jesus commanded us to abide in Him (Jn 15:4), He prayed that we might know God (Jn 17:3). When our heart is devoted to knowing God, rather than knowing about Him, He will increasingly reveal Himself to us.

Sadhu Sundar Singha Sikh convert to Christ, said, "prayer is a breathing in of the Holy Spirit," (At the Feet of the Master). Those who have discovered this aspect of contemplative prayer will understand precisely what is meant. Prayer was never intended to be a vending machine where we put our requests in the slot and God dispenses His answers. Rather, it is the means of fellowship, a sharing of intimacy, with our beloved Lord Jesus.

When Paul told the Ephesians that the relationship between husband and wife was a picture of of Christ's relationship with His bride, he gave us a beautiful image which not only sanctifies the act of marriage, but reveals to us the intensity of intimacy it is possible to have with Jesus. But only for those who will submit themselves to Him, abiding in Him, & taking the time to spend alone with Him in prayer.

Prayer College Assignment
Do you need a revelation of how much God loves you, His hatred of sin, or His passion for the lost? Whatever is lacking in your spiritual knowledge, spend time in Scripture seeking God's word on the matter and seek His face for a revelation.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Story In Every Cell

You created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully & wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:13-14

David the psalmist recognised the wonder of what God had done in creating man and it inspired him to praise. Yet he knew only a fraction of the story. We know so much more, particularly about the development of children during pregnancy. It should motivate us to worship our Creator yet, in Britain alone, almost 200,000 babies are the victims of abortion every year.

Fearful and Wonderful
We have lost our awe of the sacredness of human life. We no longer see individuals as carefully woven together by God to be unique individuals. Even in the church we are often asked to conform to particular behaviours or belief systems which have little to do with our faith but which are required of us if we want to fit in.

The Lord is building his church, not from uniform, characterless bricks, but living stones. Like the man constructing a dry stone wall with hundreds of uniquely shaped pieces of rock, He fits us together perfectly making a structure which holds together not with mortar, but simply because of the irregularity of the stones and the skill of the craftsman. It wouldn't work with every stone the same, and the church won't work without people of different backgrounds, distinct personalities and odd little idiosyncrasies.

The Image of God
We are all different, we can all praise God for our uniqueness and the fact that He has created each of us for a task only we can fulfill. Yet we are all the same in a very fundamental way - we are all created in the image of God. There is something which reflects God in every human being.

This was brought home to me in a startling way this week which left me awestruck. I was sent an email by a friend recommending I look at a video clip on a particular website. I confess I didn't check it out straight away because I am so often sent items of trivia or inconsequence and it's easy to become rather jaded by all the hype that often surrounds what is little more than junk mail.

Several days after receiving that email I thought I'd better look at it because I would by seeing my friend and she would want to know what I thought. When I did watch the 8 minute video clip it "blew my mind." My immediate response was a desire to tell everyone about it. I'm not going to say any more because I want you to have the same experience I had in watching it, which was one of awe and inspiration to worship the God who created us so fearfully and wonderfully.

Prayer College Assignment
Visit the following web address by clicking on it. Then watch the video (make sure the sound is turned up) and allow the content to inspire you to worship.

http://www.godtube.com/lyndascotson

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Who's In Charge?

God placed all things under Christ's feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. (Eph 1:22)

The success of any organisation depends on the quality of its leadership.

A Story of Success
Twelve months ago my husband was made a governor of a local, failing secondary school. A new head, with a reputation for turning such schools into a success, had just been appointed. Nothing else changed. There was no injection of cash from the local authority, the pupils were the same, the building was not refurbished. But in the space of a year and a half the school has been so transformed that it has achieved the best exam results in the locality and became the most improved school in the country.

The difference between success and failure was simply down to leadership. The new Head, Liam Nolan, reinstated concepts of respect and of the teacher being in charge of the classroom. He ruthlessly cut dead wood from the teaching staff and changed the management structure of the school.

His changes have not only resulted in improved exam results, but in better behaviour from the children both within school and in the community. Youngsters who used to get into fights at break times no longer do so. Those who used to push their way past members of the public to get on buses at the end of the day actually stand back and wait.

No one who has witnessed this transformation could have any doubt about the quality of the Head Teacher and his ability to lead. Perry Beeches School has become a success and it reflects well on the man who turned it around.

Jesus Our Head
The question this prompts for me is, how does my life reflect the quality of my Head, the Lord Jesus, and His ability to transform lives? Is my life a success or am I a failing Christian?

The word "Lord" slips so easily from our lips. Sometimes it seems to be little more than a verbal tic in our prayers. Perhaps we have become too casual about His authority and don't show Him the honour and respect which is due to Him as our King. We see ourselves as citizens with rights rather than subjects from whom absolute submission and obedience is required.

Until we learn to surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Christ our spiritual lives will be pockmarked with failure and we will be unhappy, restless people having a gnawing feeling in the gut that we have never quite lived up to our potential. Submission to the Lordship of Jesus is not about obtaining the material blessings which the world regards as signs of success. It is about living under the protection of our Sovereign and experiencing the peace which comes from his tender loving care. It is about a quality of life which causes others to ask what has made the difference and how they can have the same for themselves.

Prayer College Assignment
Read through the hymn, All To Jesus I Surrender, and think about how uncompromising those words are. Ask God to teach you more about what it means to live under the kingship of Christ.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Heart of Intercession

"My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend." Job 16:20-21

When we think of intercession we often think in terms of a simple list of requests to be made to God on behalf of others, but this is not the Biblical concept of intercession.

Standing in the Gap
My Collins English dictionary defines the word "intercede" in this way, "to come between parties or act as a mediator or advocate." To intercede with God on behalf of another is to stand between that person and the Lord and to plead, to use Job's word.

Standing between a king and his subjects is a dangerous place to be as Nehemiah understood so well. He was a high ranking official in the entourage of the great king Artaxerxes yet, when he came to intercede with the king, he was "very much afraid," (Neh 2:2). Queen Esther, despite being married to her king, Xerxes, knew that she risked her life in pleading for her people (Est 4:15-16). Moses, in praying for the rebellious people of Israel, was prepared to lay his own eternal destiny on the line before God (Ex 32:31-32).

The Greatest Intercessor
So the list goes on, with greatest act of intercession being that of our Lord Jesus on the cross, pleading for us with His blood. We are told that He continues to intercede for us now (Rom 8:34). This is the truth revealed to Job in the depths of his anguish - there is someone who always intercedes for us. This intercessor is our greatest model in praying for others, but all those Bible heroes I have mentioned also show us the greatest truth about intercession - to be effective their must be an identifying with those for whom we intercede.

Identification
Jesus identified with sinful people by submitting to baptism; Nehemiah, undoubtedly a godly man, confessed the sins of the Israelites as if they were his own; Esther revealed her nationality when all the Jews were under threat of death. And so the list goes on - Daniel, Moses, Abraham, all identified with the people and stood in the gap at risk to themselves.

Have we ever interceded like that? Have we ever come before God, so desperate for our prayers for another to be answered that we identify with them completely, that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for them? Have we wept and fasted as part of our intercession like these great saints? Have we pleaded with the Father for Him to act, I mean really pleaded?

Prayer College Assignment
God is actively seeking for people to stand in the gap, to intercede for others (Ezek 22:30-31). Remarkably, it seems that He will change His plans if we will but identify ourselves with the people around us and plead with Him on their behalf. Take up the challenge and offer yourself to Him as an intercessor. You may be all that stands between someone and their destruction.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:11.

This is a very well known verse in the midst of a passage that is not so well known. It's comforting and encouraging when we don't understand what's going on in our lives. It has often been directed my way in difficult times. But when these words were originally spoken through the prophet, he actually told them precisely what was going on.

An Uncomfortable Word
Jeremiah had told the exiles from Jerusalem, taken away by Nebuchadnezzar, that they were to spend 70 years in Babylon. This was not what the people wanted to hear. They wanted to believe the words of the false prophets telling them everything would be alright.

I expect most people were just plain confused. They would have had a hard time deciding who to listen to and how they should respond. They we're simply ordinary people apparently caught up in the plans of the political powers of the day - just pawns on the chessboard. Their lives had been turned upside down, they had lost loved ones, been dragged away from their ancestral homes to an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar laws and practices. They didn't feel like people with a hope and a destiny (which is what the Hebrew word translated "future" actually means).

Advice For Confused People
Jeremiah brought these poor disillusioned people two great words from the Lord. The first was, get on with life. He tells them to settle down and live their lives. Build homes, he says, plant gardens, have children, give them in marriage, and seek the prosperity of the city where you live. In other words, don't behave any differently to the way you would in your homeland. That's a sobering word for anyone waiting expectantly for the Lord to change their circumstances in some way. Don't put your life on hold while you wait for God's intervention. Carry on with the daily routine, work, bring up your family and trust that He will bring about any necessary change in His own good time.

That's the first part of the programme. The second part is what Prayer College is all about. In v12-13 we have a call to prayer with the promise that, "you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Whilst the people go on living as normal they are not to neglect God. Rather, they are to give themselves over to seeking God with everything they've got.

There are a number of important points to be drawn from this. The first is that they are not told to pray for deliverance or change, but simply to seek God. He wants their hearts set on Him and not on their own hopes and desires. How easy it is for us to focus on circumstances we're not comfortable with and to concentrate our prayers on that and not on worshiping the Lord and seeking His face.

The second point is that they are to seek Him with all their heart. It is an undivided focus on God and it is not an intellectual seeking to understand His will or His ways. They are to seek an encounter with the Lord and to keep seeking until they find Him. Thirdly, they cannot find Him simply by striving. In v14 the Lord says, "I will be found by you." The mental image I have is of a father playing hide and seek with a young child. The child cannot find the father if he hides himself well but, in the spirit of the game and because he loves his child, he will make himself easy to find. Our heavenly Father wants to be found by us and so allows Himself to be found when we've done our part by searching Him out.

My youngest son is constantly searching me out to give me a hug. I will be lying down for a rest, working in the office on the computer or preparing a meal in the kitchen and he will track me down simply for the pleasure of a hug and to say he loves me. This is the picture we are given in these verses, this is the kind of prayer the Lord wants from us, seeking Him out to say we love Him, not to complain about our circumstances or to ask for change.

Then The Change Comes
Having told the people to live out their ordinary lives, as they would have done at home, and to seek Him wholeheartedly in prayer, the Lord says, "I will bring you back ... I will gather you."

There is a very profound teaching here. If we don't like our circumstances, it is not our responsibility to try to change things. Our role is to carry on with normal daily life, seek the face of God in prayer, and trust Him to bring His will to pass. That is not as passive as it may sound. There is nothing passive about getting on with life or spending serious amounts of time in prayer. Passivity is saying, I'm doing nothing until I get some clear guidance. This is not God's way.

Isaiah, the other great prophet, brought this word from God, "whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way, walk in it," Is 30:21. It is as we walk through ordinary life that the Lord directs us. You can't steer a stationary car, nor can you get guidance while you're sitting around waiting for something to happen. Neither will you hear that still, small voice of direction as you walk, unless you have learned to recognise it in the time spent seeking God with all your heart.

Prayer College Assignment
So this is what you do when you don't know what to do. Number one, keep on living your normal, ordinary daily life; number two, seek God with all your heart, not for answers, but simply to know Him, to love Him and to learn the sound of His voice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dealing With Wandering Thoughts

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts & minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

I have been thinking a lot in recent weeks about the statement the Lord Jesus made in John 15:5, "apart from me you can do nothing."

Surely He Doesn't Mean That
Nothing is a very big word. It's one of those all-encompassing statements which the Lord Jesus was so fond of making to His listeners. They challenge us to the core if we have the nerve to stop long enough to consider them seriously. Did Jesus really mean that we can't do anything without Him. Paul certainly seemed to think so - the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20).

A Hare-Raising Example
I had a perhaps seemingly trivial example of how dependent we are on the Lord while we were holidaying with my parents. A wild hare has taken up residence in their garden. Or so I was told. As the week went by, everyone had seen the hare - except me. I was beginning to wonder if the hare really existed of whether the whole story was concocted by my family as part of a joke at my expense!

So when I was told, yet again, that I'd just missed seeing this elusive creature a little cry of frustration rose from my heart to heaven, "why haven't I seen the hare?" Immediately there came a reply in the form of a thought that popped instantaneously into my mind, "because you haven't asked me." So I responded simply, "please can I see the hare."

Within a couple of hours my youngest son came to search me out to tell me the hare was in the middle of the lawn nibbling at the grass. To my absolute and somewhat childish delight I was able to look out of the window and enjoy watching the hare as it munched it's way first through the grass and then through the weeds on the patio.

Turn Everything Into Prayer
That little episode showed me how absolutely dependent we are on the Lord, even for those things we take for granted. The Lord wants us to live a life of prayer, bringing everything to Him as Paul so eloquently reminds us in that well known Philippian passage. And this is where we come to how to deal with the wandering thoughts we all know so well when we're trying to pray.

You know the kind of thing I mean: I must remember to get those batteries when I go shopping; I wonder if she realised she offended me by what she said; what am I going to give the family for tea; I've nearly finished that book, I wonder what I could read next. And so it goes on. Our brain has a seemingly limitless supply of such distracting thoughts which can, on occasion, fill the whole of our time alone with the Lord.

The source of these thoughts may be our own mind, but we're also suspicious that some of them are planted there by the one who doesn't want us to pray. But what if it's the Lord who's reminded us about the batteries or wants to deal with the offence we feel? What if He desires to be so intimately involved in our lives that He wants to share in conversation about meals and what we choose to read?

Getting The Victory
It really doesn't matter where these thoughts come from, the Lord wants us to turn them to prayer. Whether it be a request for help, a repentant heart, a minor decision that needs to be made or thanks to be given, these apparent distractions can actually add to our praying as we begin to present all of our requests to God instead of thinking there's some of these things we can handle by ourselves. Then, instead of beating ourselves up at the end of an unconstructive Quiet Time because our thoughts have been all over the place, we will have the peace Paul talks about in Phil 4:7.

Prayer College Assignment
This one is so simple, but such a joy. When faced with wandering thoughts in your Quiet Time, turn them to prayer. With some of the stuff which passes through our minds we might have to be creative to think of a way to turn them to prayer. But with a little bit of imagination, and as we acknowledge our need of the Lord to help us pray, it can be done.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Name of Jesus

I've been thinking a lot about the wonderful name of Jesus in the last few weeks and, as I pondered what I should write for Prayer College I realised that, back in January, I'd already written what I wanted to say. Why not refresh your mind and click on this link for The Perfect Prayer.

A New Hymn
I also want to share with you a new hymn.

Jesus, I long to see Your face,
To gaze into Your eyes,
To glimpse the beauty of Your grace
And claim at last my prize.
.
I want to bow before your throne,
The shimm'ring crystal see,
To join with thousand, thousand tongues,
In adoration sing.
.
It is my heart's desire, Oh Lord,
To sing the praise You're due.
To fall upon my face, my God,
Give all my love to You.
.
You are the fairest of them all,
Your name - perfume poured out.
You are the Lover of my soul
I would not live without.
.
I cannot give what you deserve
While to this flesh confined,
But I will offer all I have
Of heart and strength and mind.
.
(c) Lynda Scotson 2008
.
Please feel free to use this hymn. It fits a number of well known tunes including CRIMOND (The Lord's My Shepherd) and LYDIA (Jesus, The Name High Over All).
.
Prayer College Assignment
Take a piece of paper. Close your eyes and think about the name of someone you know well. As you do, you will find that things they have done, aspects of their character and personality, and your feelings about them will come to mind. Now do the same with Jesus. Think about Him, His character and personality, the things recorded about Him in the gospels, and your personal experience of and feelings towards Him. As these thoughts come to mind, write them down. I hope that they will provide you with an ongoing prompt for worship.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Truth About The Hot Water Bottle And The Premature Baby

I've decided I'm starting a campaign for truth. Christians don't like to think of themselves as gossips, but we do like passing on testimonies. There's nothing wrong with that provided we get the details right. The problem is that we sometimes manage to create a web of Chinese whispers of truly Olympian proportions.

The Story Of The Hot Water Bottle
I don't know if you've come across this piece of wonderful testimony which is doing the rounds at the moment. It's an account of how God's answer to a child's audacious prayer to send a hot water bottle to Africa resulted in the saving of a premature baby's life. It truly is the story of a wonderful miracle and it should be told.

And it was told - in the book, Living Faith by Dr Helen Roseveare of WEC, a medical missionary in Congo/Zaire, and first published in 1980. In my copy the story, which occurred about 50 years ago, appears on pages 52-54 and is related just as it unfolded before Dr Roseveare's eyes.

The various versions I've read recently are clearly taken from that book as they are almost verbatim copies. Yet none of them attributes the story to it's original source, a remarkable Christian woman, who suffered brutally at the hands of rebels during the uprising in that country, being beaten and raped for her commitment to the Lord and to the local people she was serving as a doctor, people who loved her and were willing to lay down their lives to try to protect her.

Why Does The Truth Matter?
The story has most recently been reported to me as being from South Africa which is blatantly incorrect as the content clearly states the events took place in equatorial Africa. In fact, it was in a small village in the rain forest where Dr Roseveare had been instrumental in setting up a medical facility to meet the needs of thousands of people across hundreds of miles.

Is it glorifying to God when we take testimonies out of context? Is it glorifying to God when we make factual mistakes in what we tell? Is it glorifying to God when we give the impression that something which happened half a century ago is a recent event?

If a seeker, impressed, perhaps even challenged to faith, decided to try to validate this report they would struggle. The events are not recent as implied by some of the versions I've seen, so will not be reported in the Christian press. They did not happen in South Africa so it's no good trying to contact organisations working in that country. Our researcher would have to conclude this was the Christian version of an urban myth.

The Importance Of Context
But it is true, and all the more dramatic when read in the context of Dr Roseveare's life and work in Congo/Zaire. The story currently passed round might give the impression she was a woman of little faith yet she recounts numerous miraculous answers to prayer and miracles throughout her missionary career and beyond.

It also disturbs me that words which clearly indicate the doctor concerned was a woman have been removed from the text of the "hot water bottle story". Helen Roseveare gave up the very genuine opportunity of marriage to serve God as a single woman and a pioneer missionary in conditions most of us would consider impossible.

We are being shortchanged by this little piece of testimony as it stands. The failure to attribute the account correctly not only infringes British copyright law, it means that we are deprived of the opportunity to discover more of this remarkable woman's life, to read her books and to be challenged to live a more dedicated and consecrated life.

The book in which this testimony occurs also includes what is possibly an even more remarkable account of how the Lord led her on a 400 mile round trip to another country to share the gospel with an illiterate herdsman who emerged from the trees as she took a coffee break. He simply asked if she was, "a sent one, by the Great God, to tell me of the thing called Jesus." All he knew of the gospel was that the word Jesus was "sweet in my heart." She was able to lead him to the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
Do some research, track down some information about Helen Roseveare, try to get hold of one her several autobiographical books. Living Faith, where the "hot water bottle story" is told, is available from our bookstore. Reading these remarkable accounts will challenge you in how you pray.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Heeding the Warnings

As I write this I am sitting on the beach while my youngest son attempts to dig the deepest hole ever made by a human in sand. The surf is up and dozens of people have taken to the waves with their boards. Periodically a message is broadcast across the beach advising swimmers and surfers to stay within the area marked by two red and orange flags.

Personal Warnings
The broadcast is not recorded. That's clear from the message which asked that the three people at the left of the beach move back between the flags. A recorded message may have some effect, but there's more response made to the personal warning of danger. Every time the lifeguard's voice has boomed across the beach there has been an immediate response from those in the water.

I wonder if the same is true of our walk with Jesus. The orange and red flags are provided by scripture. It tells us where our boundaries are. But sometimes the Lord speaks a personal word of warning to us. Do we heed it?

Are We Listening?
I used to be part of a church drama group. I remember the performance of a sketch in which a Christian was praying the Lord's Prayer and was somewhat annoyed when God began to try to engage them in conversation. It went something like this:

Christian: "Our Father which art in heaven,"
God: "Yes!"
Christian: "Our Father which art in heaven,"
God: "Yes!"
Christian: "would you mind not interrupting? I'm trying to pray!"

And so it went on with the Christian trying to fulfill their duty and God unable to get a word in edge ways.

Prayer was always intended to be a two-way conversation with the Lord at least equally involved. We have to cultivate this quiet intimacy with Jesus. It's extremely rare that He broadcasts His warnings through a megaphone so we must learn to recognise His still, small voice during our alone times with Him so that we can hear His warnings when they come.

Do We Respond?
The other aspect to this is how we actually respond when we do hear that warning voice. What do we do when we experience that disquiet which is the Holy Spirit communicating with our own spirit that we should not continue on a certain course of action? That probably depends on how much we want to do it!

When the Lord convicts us that what we are about to do is sin, or will put as in a position to be tempted to sin, it is vital that we respond by turning away from the sin. If we don't do this our conscience will be seared (1 Tim 4:2) and we will find it increasingly hard to hear the voice of God.

But He doesn't only issue warnings about blatant sin. Paul says that whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Sometimes the Lord asks us not to do something that many of our Christian brothers and sisters participate in with a totally clear conscience. It is not sin for somebody else, but it becomes so for us because we have had a personal word from the Lord which was, "no." It may be that we have a particular vulnerability which He wants to protect us from or simply that He's asking us, "will you be obedient to me in this, even if you don't understand why?"

Prayer College Assignment
It is essential to our spiritual well being, but also to our physical well-being, that we learn to hear and to respond to God's warning voice. Learn to listen as well as talk in your quiet times and you will be better equipped to hear His words of warning or correction as you live out your life day by day.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. (Rom 12:1)

Last Friday my 75 year old father and his identical twin brother slid along a steel wire from a 5 story structure, 250 metres across Portsmouth naval dockyard to land beside the world famous HMS Victory. The "zip-wire" was undertaken to raise money for charity. My dad was elated with this achievement.

Secret of Success
You might expect to see in a newspaper somewhere a headline saying, "75 Year Old Twins Zip To Charity Success." But good things done by good people don't draw press attention unless they have a good publicist.

As Christians we are told to keep our good deeds secret and that includes praying in secret. Of course we need to pray with one another, we are the body of Christ and we need to be together. We know there is a need to share our amens.

But public and corporate prayer are rarely the place where we encounter God in a genuinely life-transforming way. We may get caught up in the emotion of the moment when worshipping or praying together. But it is usually when we come to Him alone and in secret that these things become consolidated and firmly established in our hearts.

Alone with Jesus
In the wonderful old hymn, "Take time to be holy," WD Longstaff says,

Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone -
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be.

It's not at the convention or in church where we become like Jesus, though we may learn valuable lessons there and be challenged about our Christian walk. It is in the times we spend with our Saviour, within the veil, in the sacred place where He has taken up residence in our life, that we are transformed into His image in such a way that others begin to see Jesus in us.

My father may or may not have been changed by his "leap of faith," to use his description of the experience. But it is impossible to spend time day by day alone in the presence of Jesus and not be transformed from "one degree of glory to another." It may even be a greater risk to place my life in His hands than in those of a naval officer because, unlike my father who knew his destiny was to land beside Nelson's great flagship, "I do not know what lies ahead," to quote another famous hymn.

Prayer College Assignment
Give prayerful consideration to what degree you are willing to take the risk of putting yourself in the hands of the great Potter, for Him to mould you and make you the person He wants you to be.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Grace

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

We often rattle off this blessing, or a modification of it, at the end of a service, prayer meeting or Bible study. But do we think about what it means or do we simply think of it as a wordy way to say, God bless you? What are we actually saying to one another?

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
"Grace" can seem something of a woolly word, perhaps because we don't have much use for it in modern English. There are a number of popular definitions of the word for example, God's Riches At Christ's Expense. Another contrasts grace with mercy - mercy is when God doesn't give us what we do deserve but grace is when God does give us what we don't deserve. A more theological definition might be, God's unmerited favour.

The Greek word "charis" means "gift" and has the connotation of something which brings joy, so the Christian use of "grace" came to mean any gift from God which brings us joy. Our greatest joy is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses these titles to emphasis all that He is to us. His very name, Jesus, means Saviour; He is our Lord, a word whose value has been diminished with over-use but means He is our Master; and Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed by God to reconcile us to our heavenly Father.

The Love of God
There are no words adequate to tell of the wonder of God's love. I am completely convinced that most Christians have not begun to grasp the enormity of what it means to be loved by God. If they did, they would talk differently they would live differently, they would worship differently. Paul prayed in the Ephesian letter that his readers would "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ & know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God," (Eph 3:18-19).

This is a prayer we should echo with all our hearts. The world is looking for love. Since God is love they are seeking Him though not realising it. We are God's ambassadors in this damaged and hurting world. He wants to lavish His love on them. But who is going to believe that if they look at a Christian and see just another brand of discontent and misery because their life is not full of the experience of being loved by God.

The love of God is not a theological construct, it did not begin and end with Golgotha. It is, as my husband is fond of saying, "not pie in the sky when you die, but steak on the plate while you wait." We are meant to experience the love of God in our daily lives in His tender care of us, the love gifts He sends our way, and our very real fellowship with Him.

The Fellowship Of The Holy Spirit
Another of my husband's clever comments is that fellowship is two or more people in the same boat. One of the wonders of our salvation is that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to live on the inside of us. He is our paraclete, a Greek word that does not have a direct equivalent in English. It has been variously translated as counsellor, comforter and advocate. The Holy Spirit comes to our spirit and enfolds us in a loving embrace more intimate than is explicable. He is the Spirit of our bridegroom Jesus, He is the Spirit of our Abba Father and the fellowship we experience with Him is the most healing experience it is possible to know.

The Trinity
Paul prays in this blessing that we will know the joy, love and fellowship of all three persons of the Godhead. He wants us to experience within our spirit, as well as within our daily life, what it is to be in relationship with God.

Prayer College Assignment
Next time you are asked to say this grace, don't let it just roll from your lips. Think about exactly what it is that you are praying for your brothers and sisters and expect to receive these blessings in answer to their prayer for you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Bride of Christ

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Is 62:5)

Paul tells us in Eph 5:32 that marriage is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church. Frequently the Old Testament prophets compare God's people with an unfaithful wife, and poor old Hosea is told to marry an adulteress as a demonstration of the prostitution of Israel with other gods.

In The Image
The power of the image of the unfaithful wife has been diminished in our culture. Adultery, divorce and remarriage, uncommitted relationships have become unremarkable because they are so common. The breakdown of marriage is not only desperately sad for the individuals involved, it does damage to our understanding of our relationship with Jesus, the Lover of our souls.

But there is another powerful image which can reveal something more of the relationship between the Lord and His people. It is the image of God in us. When He created humanity He said, "let us make man in our image." Every individual since, though created unique, has been born with the image of God stamped in them like the lettering through a stick of seaside rock. Each one of us has been made to reflect that image in a way no other person can.

Since we are uniquely different and individual in character, personality and spiritual qualities we have a unique place in the Bride of Christ. Without us the Body, of which we are a part, would not be complete. Without us there would be something missing from the beautiful Bride which the Father is preparing for His son. Without us the Bride would not be perfect.

Created to Ravish His Heart
In the Song of Songs the lover says, "you have ravished my heart, my sister my bride." Dare we believe that the Lord says this of His Bride. Of course, because no human love affair can come close to that between Jesus and His people. This is why God was so jealous over Israel's unfaithfulness. Always the heart of God is to woo back His people to Himself. He comes to you personally and lavishes His love on you. Why? Because you were uniquely created to be a part of His Bride and there is a place in His heart that can only ever be touched by you.

The Hole
There is, they say, a God-shaped hole in each of us that can only be filled with Jesus. I believe the uniqueness of every individual, whom God has created in His image, means that there is a you-shaped hole in the heart of God. When you give Him your heart, when you live your life for Him that hole is filled and He rejoices over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Prayer College Assignment
In John 14 we see Jesus first promising to prepare a place for His disciples and to come back for them, then telling them He and the Father will come and make their home with them. That sounds to me like a passionate desire in the Lord's heart to be in our company. Take some time to meditate on the fact that your uniqueness delights God's heart. Realise that your personal relationship with Him does not have to conform to anybody's norms. All He wants is for you to be yourself with Him and to allow Him to conform you to His perfect image.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cast Your Cares

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5:7)

Often it's the little words which hide the greatest meaning. In this verse it's the word, "all." Paul makes a similar statement when he says, "do not be anxious about anything," (Phil 4:6).

Anxiety
I do not know a single person who has not experienced anxiety at some time. Even my 10 year old son recently showed symptoms of anxiety when he was faced with a science test at school. But a close friend of mine, who's family situation has given her more reason than most to be experiencing anxiety and stress at the moment, has been telling me how the experience has changed the way she prays.

While I, with a bit more emotional distance, can pray about the details of the situation, she is so closely involved that it is hard for her to know how or what to pray. It is when we reach this point that casting all our anxieties on the Lord Jesus becomes the only way in which we can pray.

Casting It All On Him
My friend has found that simply offering the situation to God and trusting Him with her family has brought her a great peace that she did not have whilst struggling to pray considered prayers. It doesn't matter that she hasn't known what else to pray, the Lord has taken control of the circumstances and has moved to bring about change and positive outcomes.

All and Nothing
We will all reach that point at some time when we know there is no alternative but to cast our cares on the Lord Jesus. When I recently underwent surgery there was nothing I could do to influence the outcome. All I could do, as I succumbed to the general anaesthetic, was pray, "Lord Jesus, I trust You."

But we shouldn't wait until we find ourselves in extremis before taking on board this concept of casting our cares on Jesus. Peter says, "cast ALL your anxiety on him." Paul says, "do not be anxious about ANYTHING." We should be practising this with every little concern we have so that when the really big test comes we have learned how to trust Jesus completely in the trial.

That's not to say we should neglect praying where we are able, or acting where we have responsibility. But we have to learn that ultimately everything is in the Lord's hands and that trusting Him rather than being confidently self-reliant should be our goal.

Prayer College Assignment
Jesus Himself said, "do not worry," (Matt 6:26). I am by nature a worrier. My husband has joked that I would worry if I found I had nothing to worry about. I have decided to give up my addiction to worry. It is a decision any Christian can make because we have a place to take our worries where we can leave them in trustworthy hands. We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves but to the lost around us, to accept the peace that Jesus offers. People are only going to be interested in Jesus if they see He makes a difference. Determine today that you are going to show the world that Jesus can bring peace where there is fear and anxiety.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Look Who's Talking

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Cor 3:1-3)

When Paul wrote these words he was addressing people who were proud of their spiritual status. After all, didn't they have prophets among them, weren't they active in the use of spiritual gifts, wasn't the Holy Spirit working powerfully among them?

Mere Infants
But Paul points the finger at their spiritual character rather than their spiritual gifts and says, "you just don't get it, you're nothing more than babies and that's the way I have to treat you. You need to grow up before I can begin to teach you anything meaningful."

He describes them as worldly, literally "fleshly." Whereas they should be seeing the world from the spiritual dimension, informed by the voice of the Holy Spirit within them, they see only the evidence of their eyes. They have not grasped the difference between fact and truth.

Facts and Truth
The fact was that Lazarus was dead and rotting in the grave with no hope of another day of life. The truth was that it was always the intention of the Lord Jesus to raise him from the dead and to bring glory to God through the miracle (Jn 11-12).

Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). Facts bind us, the truth liberates us. Innumerable times during His earthly ministry the Lord said, "I tell you the truth." He is the only reliable source of truth. If we are to know the truth we need to be completely steeped in His word, in Scripture. This will enable us to recognise the difference between the promptings of the spirit and our own response to the world around us.

Look Who's Talking
Back in our original passage Paul uses a word to describe the Corinthians which is most illuminating in its original Greek form. That word "infants" literally means "non-speakers," in other words those who haven't learned how to talk yet. This was how Paul knew they were immature spiritually - by the way they talked. Their words came from thoughts dictated to by the world, by what they experienced through their flesh. They talked about facts as though facts were the only reality, consequently there was jealousy and quarrelling. Their spirit, on the other hand, was so undeveloped that it had no voice. It was not informing their thinking or their actions.

Prayer College
We all have a need for our spirits to grow. We all should be striving for spiritual maturity. The way to do this is to actively cultivate our spiritual lives and not just wait for God to bring about our growth. Bible reading, fellowship with more mature believers and spending time in the presence of the Lord Jesus in prayer and worship are key to this process. When we see our lives from a spiritual dimension we will be more able to cooperate with the Lord in His work to make us His bride. Make a fresh commitment today to do your part in the growing up process.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Knowing Love

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the 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 to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph 3:17-19)

Often, when I'm praying at the beginning of my preparation of a sermon, I will be aware of the Spirit of God whispering to me, "tell my people I love them." It seems such a basic truth - the Lord Jesus loves us. Yet as I talk with fellow believers it is becoming increasingly clear to me that a significant number of Christians don't actually know that God loves them.

Hearts and Minds
It is quite simple to give mental assent to the idea that Jesus loves us. We see the evidence in His sacrifice at Golgotha. But there is a difference between knowing that someone loves us and knowing their love. In this passage we see that Paul's desire was for Christians not simply to understand that they are loved, but to experience it. John tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) so to be filled with the fullness of God as Paul prays, is to be filled with love, to know Christ is to experience love.

The love of Jesus for His people is completely unconditional. Paul uses language of physical dimension to try to describe the endless, infinite quality of His love. Earlier, in verse 9, he talks about the "unsearchable riches of Christ." In verse 19 he says that the love of Christ, "surpasses knowledge." He even invents words in His attempt to convey to his readers the immensity of the Lord's love for us.

In Love With Jesus
Twice in the past week I've heard testimonies in which people have described their relationship with the Lord as "falling in love with Jesus." Some would wince at that kind of language for relationship with a holy God but I am reminded of something someone said to me many years ago, "a fanatic is just someone who loves Jesus more than I do."

Sometimes believers get stuck in the growth of their relationship with the Lord. They receive salvation with great gratitude but can't quite get past the idea that they are sinners saved by grace. But there is so much more to being brought into the Kingdom of God. We are meant to have life in abundance (Jn 10:10), we don't have to wait until we get to heaven, our eternal life starts now (Jn 3:36). Jesus made it clear that He loves us so much that He wants us to share His home in heaven (Jn 14:2-3), but also that He can't wait until then so He comes to us now (Jn 14:23).

Marriage
In Eph 5:21-33 Paul talks about the marriage relationship. We often focus on the role of the husband and wife, but Paul says something astonishing, "this is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church," (v32).

"The Bride of Christ" is a term that falls rather glibly from our lips at times, but it is an awesome concept. Paul indicates that human marriage is meant to be lived as an illustration of the love relationship of Jesus with His people. "It is not good for the man to be alone," (Gen 2:18) was God's view of humanity from the beginning. The idea of marriage came from the heart of the Father because He knew He wanted to prepare a bride for His Son.

Whatever feelings of love and desire we may have felt for a marriage partner, they pale into insignificance in comparison with the love and desire which the Lord Jesus has for each of His people.

Song of Songs
Sometimes people wonder what the Song of Songs is doing in their Bible. It is a passionate love poem, far more erotic than most English translations of it permit themselves to be. But like the marriage it describes, it has two purposes. One is to give God's seal of approval on the joy and pleasure of physical intimacy within marriage. The other, as many believers have discovered, is to serve as an illustration of the relationship between the Lord and His church.

Some interpretations are too allegorical and find hidden meanings behind the words. But there is enough in the plain meaning to delight the heart of someone who loves Jesus. Who, who has found themselves whispering the name of Jesus during prayer or worship, would not agree that, "your name is like perfume poured out," (SoS 1:3)? Who would not rejoice to say, "his banner over me is love," (SoS 2:4)? Many hymns and worship songs have incorporated concepts from the Song.

Human love is never meant to surpass the love we have for the Lord. No human love, even that expressed by the lover in the Song, can come close to the love of the Lord Jesus for us. But it takes a revelation for us to begin to grasp this in a way which makes a difference to our lives, which is why Paul prays this amazing prayer for the believers. If we could get deep into our soul some heart understanding of this vast love, our concern would be less about whether we were putting a frown on God's face and more about looking for ways to put a smile there.

Prayer College Assignment
The love of the Lord Jesus is beyond measure. However much you've experienced, there is more. Pray this prayer in Ephesians for yourself and for others, especially those who are experiencing challenging times.