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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.

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?

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).