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Friday, June 19, 2009

Change of Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

Over the last few weeks I have been confronted head on by my own sinfulness. Looking into my heart I had not seen the anger there until someone started "pressing my buttons." He very successfully, though not deliberately, brought to the surface a rage I didn't think myself capable of. My own heart had deceitfully hidden this from me and I had thought more highly of myself than I ought.

Grace Makers
We can respond in one of two ways when faced with unexpected negative emotions. The easy thing to do is to blame the other person. They shouldn't have such ridiculous opinions, they are uneducated, they are stupid, they are naive, they are arrogant. It's all their fault.

Or we can acknowledge that the fault actually lies with us. Why did I get so angry? Why do this person's opinions trouble me so much? It's because I have a sinful nature. It's because I have not yet permitted the Holy Spirit full access to my soul to allow His fruit to grow there.

If I take this attitude I won't have to wish that person, who so quickly winds me up, would leave the church, I won't want to tell them they're an inadequate Christian and need to repent. Instead, remarkably, I can see them as a "grace maker," someone the Lord has allowed into my life to show me the truth about myself and to knock off some hard, sharp edges.

Self Control
Of course, there's a place for righteous anger as Jesus demonstrated when He cleared the Temple. But anger that is uncontrolled is a dangerous thing. Even if it doesn't turn to physical violence, the words we say when we're angry can to great harm.

Trying to change on our own won't be enough. Of course there is a need for confession and repentance. But we should also ask God to so fill us with His Holy Spirit that the fruit of self control develops in our life.

Prayer College Assignment
Next time you find yourself justifying behaviour in you which you would find unacceptable in another, ask the Lord what He wants you to learn from the situation. Be grateful for the difficult people in your life because they reveal the truth of what is in your heart.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Be Prepared

"If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." John 15:20

This week I've been reading A Time to Speak
by David Waite. It includes many accounts of how Christians in Britain have suffered for their faith. I can't say any of them surprised me as they reflect stories I've heard elsewhere. What is concerning is that over the past decade the number of such stories have been increasing year by year, but the church still seems to be holding on to the naive idea that such things are rare.

In recent years my preaching has focused on the need for each individual Christian to develop and strengthen their own personal spiritual lives. We gain strength and comfort from being part of a worshipping community, but that is not enough. If we are depending on our pastors, our daily reading notes, or Christian television to feed us, we will be very vulnerable when we experience our own persecution.

Note that I say when, not if. The Bible is clear that if we follow Jesus we will experience persecution. When that happens the only person we can guarantee will be at our side is Jesus. His may be the only words of comfort we hear. We need to have firmly established our relationship with Him before we reach that point.

Starting Now
That means we need to work on it now. When you're in that challenging situation you won't be wishing you'd spent more time in front of the TV, but you might be wishing you'd spent more time learning verses from the Bible. You won't be thinking you should have spent more time at work, you might be thinking you're time could have been better spent listening to the voice of God.

The rewards of spending "much time in secret with Jesus alone," to use the words of the old hymn, will not only be seen in the testing times. Paul talked about "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ," in comparison with which everything else is rubbish (Phil 3:8).

Imagine how that would be, to feel as though anything other than knowing Jesus is an utter waste of time & energy, that the only reason for doing anything is to please Him. Imagine preferring to spend time in prayer than go to see the latest film, or spending money on building His kingdom rather than buying yourself new clothes.

Prayer College Assignment
Take some time to reflect on your priorities. Be honest with yourself, where does the Lord Jesus come on your list, what are the things you'd resist sacrificing for His sake? Are there changes which need to be made? Don't try to make them in your own strength. Ask Him to change your heart so that His desires become yours.