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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.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Submission

Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord ... This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph 5:21-22,32)

In this passage of Scripture, Paul is talking about the relationship between husband and wife. It's sometimes seen as controversial because of its demand that wives submit to their husbands. The problem is that often that is where the teaching on this passage begins and ends so we miss the most important message which is about our relationship with the Lord.

Marriage
Submission is not a popular concept in today's world. Talk is of rights, self-determination and liberation. Perhaps we want to say that the kind of marriage Paul describes is no longer appropriate now that women's roles in society have changed. There has been much discussion in the media this week about "homosexual marriage" as though it is possible for two people of the same gender to live in a marriage relationship. This has arisen because we have failed to see marriage as it truly is intended - an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church, in which we submit to His authority and He lays down His life for us in love. A relationship in which only one gender is represented cannot illustrate this relationship between the Lord and His people, therefore it cannot be marriage.

Godly Submission
Submission is not a natural instinct and has to be worked at. If we see submission in marriage as simply one person always giving way to another then it becomes burdensome to both partners. However, if we remember that, as married people we are called to illustrate the relationship between the Lord Jesus and His Bride, submission becomes something to be striven for with joy, even if it does take a lifetime to perfect!

A Living Picture
The most important element of this teaching on marital submission is the fact that we are supposed to live lives submitted to Christ. Our daily walk should be about seeking to be obedient to Him in every detail, firstly to His written word in Scripture and then to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit. As we seek to live a life submitted to Jesus we will hear His whisper in our spirits first convicting us of sin and then, as we mature, providing direction and guidance. Sometimes He will even ask us to do things for no other reason than He wants to teach us to recognise His voice and be obedient without question.

In my experience the voice of the Lord Jesus generally becomes quieter as we learn to walk with Him. It seems to me that He does this so that we have to become ever closer to Him to hear what He is saying to us. This requires an increasing stillness in our hearts which can only come as we take the time to be quiet in His presence.

Prayer College Assignment
Think about this. Are you living a life submitted to the Lord Jesus? Are you giving Him enough quiet space that your heart is sufficiently still throughout the day to recognise His whisper? Are you willing to be obedient in what appear to be trivial details in order to grow in your submission to Him?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Looking Out For Love Gifts

"Know this love which surpasses knowledge," Eph 3:19

This week I managed my first walk around the park since my operation. It is a very pleasant environment in which to think and pray and usually there is something which catches my eye and raises a "thank You" in my heart.

A Love Gift
On Monday it was a very proud pair of swans with their brood of five fluffy cygnets taking a walk amongst the trees. I know the "ugly duckling" story but I don't understand how anyone could find these little creatures anything but adorable. And there they were, within a few feet and in just the right place, at the right time, for me to enjoy.

A little later that day I heard a preacher describe several similar incidents of the Lord acting to bless in unexpected ways. Like my swans, none of them were necessary but all brought a great deal of pleasure. I call these tokens "love gifts from Jesus", she used the phrase "a kiss from God."

It has become my practise to look out for these little events and I have come to the conclusion that the more we recognise these love gifts, these kisses from God, the more of them He sends our way. Sometimes they are answers to prayer but on many occasions they come completely out of the blue and have no intrinsic value. Their only purpose is for the Lord to say, "I love you," to one of His precious children.

Living in Awe and Wonder
Our God is a God of infinite love who delights in blessing His people. I have no doubt that we miss more of these love gifts than we actually see. Perhaps we pass them off as coincidences or chance events. We are old and cynical. We need to look at the world not as educated adults but as wide-eyed, wonder-filled children, as though all we are seeing is for the first time. When we recapture a sense of awe at the amazing things our God does for us we will want to reflect back to Him our thanksgiving and praise.

The Israelites were constantly complaining. The Lord did miracles amongst them - rescued them from Egypt, provided water from the rock as well as manna and quail from heaven. He offered them the Promised Land with all its bounty. But nothing was ever good enough and every challenge they faced was too hard. Unlike the psalmists they didn't make any effort to recall all the good things the Lord had done in the past. Consequently they were always defeated by their own gloom. The psalmists however were able to encourage themselves by remembering the blessings of the past, the love gifts of the Lord to His people.

Prayer College Assignment
In January I encouraged you to write a letter to Jesus. This week I want to suggest you do something similar. Look out for the Lord's little love gifts to you and then write Him a letter to say thank you. If you were to do this on a regular basis, even just once a week, you'd soon have a whole pile of paper listing dozens of things you are thankful for. In the hard and challenging times you can return to them and be encouraged.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Please Pray

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. 1 Tim 2:1

This week's PrayerCollege is slightly different because, rather than give you some teaching and an assignment I want to actually encourage you to engage in some spiritual warfare and pray for specific needs. I'm going to draw to your attention three ministries with which I have contact and which urgently need more prayer support.

SNNAPS
Special Needs Network and Prayer Support does exactly what it says on the tin! It aims to provide practical and emotional support for those caring for children with special needs whether at school or in the home. It also has a small network of people who are willing to receive prayer requests in the form of emails. More pray-ers are required. If you'd like to know more or to receive these email prayer requests please respond to Ruth at snnapsprayer@hotmail.co.uk.

Betel
Betel is an outstanding ministry. It works with people who want to get off drugs. It's success rate is phenomenal with many of its current staff being ex-addicts who've got clean through the Betel programme. With no government funding and ever increasing demands on them, they need all the prayer backing they can find. For more information email Mary Alice Martin at m.a@betel.co.uk.

New Hope Foundation, China
Because of the strict "one child" policy of the Chinese government families are sometimes reluctant to care for children who are less than perfect. This leads to many sick or disabled babies being abandoned. Robin and Joyce Hill run a number of centres in China where abandoned youngsters can be loved with the love of Jesus, cared for and treated for their various ailments before being fostered or adopted by new families. Joyce sends out a monthly update on the children and the development of the ministry. To be added to their email list contact Joyce at joyce@hopefosterhome.com.

Prayer College Assignment
Please give careful consideration to whether you can become a prayer partner with one of these organisations. We should always be expanding our horizons and becoming more aware of the concerns of God's heart.

Also, please have a look at the following web page and consider how you could respond in prayer: Christians 'told not to preach'