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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.

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.

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.