Spirituality

Another Work Week ...

Work

As we come to the end of the weekend (a long one for those living in Victoria and Tasmania, Australia), another work week awaits for most people. It is interesting that in the ancient Hebrew mindset, the day begins in the evening - with rest (see Genesis 1 where it repeatedly says "... and the evening and the morning were the first day"). We are to fill our tank (with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy) and then work from this position of fullness. This is in stark contrast to the common Western worldview that sees the evening or the night as recovery time after a day's work. It's only a slight paradigm shift but what a world of difference this kind of thinking can make.

Breathe in ... then breathe out.

Fill up then pour out.

Rest ... then work.

Even Jesus often ended the day or began the day in solitude, before the crowds of people, with all of their needs, concerns and questions, started to gather around him. 

After Jesus had dismissed the crowd, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. Matthew 14:23. 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35. 

This was a regular occurrence in Jesus' life and obviously was a key habit undergirding his life and ministry work. Of course, if he needed this kind of refueling and recalibration, how much more do we in today's demanding, pressured and fast-paced work environment. 

Here are some suggestions for making the most of each of your days this coming work week:

1. Stop whatever you are doing, find a comfortable place, be still and simply notice what is taking place around you. 

2. Set aside 10 minutes to focus on your breath. Breathe IN ... slowly ... then breathe ... OUT slowly. As you breathe out, let go of worry, anxiety, fear, anger and envy. As you breathe in, thank God for his joy, his peace, his love, and his comfort.

3. Take a few moments to slowly read the poem Morning Moments.

I hope you have an enjoyable and meaningful week.


Trinity

A few years ago, when I was on a week-long prayer and silent retreat, I had just finished dinner and I walked out to the retreat centre's garden area. A lot of it was over-grown and unkept but there were some beautiful spots. Great places to sit, meditate, reflect and pray.

I had this image of being invited into fellowship with the Trinity. I put 3 chairs in a semi-circle in front of where I was sitting - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Spirit. It was quite impacting. I could feel their warmth and love. [See the photo below which I took]

Trinity Chairs

I had a few reflections at the time:

  1. This is the centre of reality as it exists - one God living in a community of 3 persons.
  2. I am invited into this divine centre. Not alone, but with others too.
  3. It is a fellowship characterised by love. I too am loved, cherished and I have dignity and honour - because of who I am.
  4. My relationship with the Trinity is to be one of intimacy and closeness - I am a family member (not an employer) and a son (not a servant).
  5. I am to feel at “home” here, not a stranger or a visitor, who is somewhat awkward. I must admit, I didn’t feel as comfortable as I think I should have, which showed that I had not been living in the sense of intimacy and partnership that was available to me. Why the distance?
  6. Sometimes it felt like I was just sitting there alone and God was merely a figment of my imagination ... like the place was empty of life. At other times I sensed God's presence tangibly ... though quiet and peaceful. God was just there. Then occasionally, God would speak ... sweeping over my heart and mind with a rush of thoughts. I realised that I was more wired for God doing  something and if not, I quickly headed back to what I was doing ... rather than being content to just be together.
  7. Thinking about my proximity with the Trinity. Am I content just to be still and present with God OR does something always need to be happening for me to remain attentive?
  8. When it says that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, it must have been the Trinity, not a single God! I too can walk and talk with the Trinity wherever I am. Where are they? Behind me, alongside of me or ahead of me? Think spatially.
  9. What will dictate my direction today? The Spirit is like the wind. You aren’t sure which way it is coming from or where it is going. Jesus said, “Come and see”. He didn’t give his followers an answer or a plan but rather an invitation. It was an invitation into a relationship and a journey together that would unfold along the way.
  10. Trinity fellowship leads to amazing resources for life and ministry - love, power and wisdom, ALL I need or could ever want.
  11. Where is the Trinity inviting me to today? Where are they drawing me? What are they drawing me into? Will I follow? Or will I get busy doing things I want to do. Will I get distracted and preoccupied with trivial matters? The choice is mine. The river is there. The Spirit calls, “Come and drink” and “Come up here”. Will I hear and see what God is showing me today? Prophets look and listen. They feel the pathos of God and know his thoughts. Apostles hear instruction and receive revelation. They are commissioned and sent ones. Ambassadors, representing heaven’s throne room. Called, then sent. Come, then go.
  12. What am waiting for? What else could be worth my time and effort? How deceptive the enemy is in alluring me away from this water of life to other containers that contain no lasting life at all.

Trinity ... is it time for you to join the dance?

SEE also: An Invitation and the poems Invitation and Morning Moments.

 


Is it time to SLOW DOWN a little?

Slow

Many years ago, not long after moving to Chicago into a new fairly high pressured ministry position, John Ortberg asked his mentor, Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to stay healthy and alive spiritually?” Long pause. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”, he said at last. Another long pause. “Okay, I’ve written that down”, John told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John had many things to do and this was a long distance conversation, so he was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least time possible. Another long pause. “There is nothing else”, Dallas said.

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry can destroy our souls and can keep us from living well. As we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it – preventing us from a depth of spirituality. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Today, many of us suffer from what has come to be known as ‘hurry sickness’. We are a generation that is not into ‘good food’ or ‘cheap food’ but ‘fast food’! Even after fast food was introduced, people still had to park their cars, go inside, order, and take their food to a table, all of which took time. So we invented the Drive-Through Lane to enable families to eat in their cars, as nature intended.

Meyer Friedman defines ‘hurry sickness’ as “above all, a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more or participate in more and more vents in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons.”

Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.

John Wesley, at the age of 70, said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

Hurry is not a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state – inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present. It is an inward state of being ‘hassled or frantic’.

What are the symptoms of ‘hurry sickness’. John Ortberg, in his excellent book The Life You've Always Wanted, lists these for starters:

1. Constantly speeding up daily activities. We read faster, talk faster and even when listening, nod faster to encourage the talker to accelerate. At the stoplight, if there are two lanes and each contains one car, we find ourselves guessing – based on the year, model and driver of each car – which one will pull away the fastest. At the grocery store, we try to discern the quickest line. Then we keep track to see where we would have been.

2. Multi-tasking. We try to do as many things at one time as possible.

3. Clutter – lots of stuff and gadgets.

4. Superficiality – lack of depth.

5. An inability to love. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.

6. Sunset fatigue – we come home too tired, too drained and too preoccupied to love the people who are most important to us. We rush constantly and we live with an underlying tension.

Jesus never hurried. If we are to follow Jesus, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives – because, we can’t move faster than the one we are following.

We can become unhurried people. Practice ‘slowing’ – drive in the slow lane, put your horn under a vow of silence, eat your food slowly, take the long check out line or don’t wear a watch for a day. Often hurried people are actually less productive.

The theology behind all of this is that God never requires more of us than we can do.

F.W. Boorham, an Australian writer, once said, “One of the supreme aims of a man’s life is to secure a margin. A good life, like a good book, should have a good margin. The most winsome people in the world are people who make you feel that they are never in a hurry.”

When people are with you do they feel like the most important person in the world?

The kingdom of God is not a hurried kingdom. We cannot do anything of quality when we are in a hurried inner state. Also, when we are tired or exhausted we don’t connect well with God or people.

One of the keys to developing a depth of spirituality is eliminating hurry from your life.

After all, God will not compete for your attention.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 8)

SG

A Few Important Qualifications

Here are a few important truths about ‘spiritual disciplines’ (from John Ortberg):

  • “Spiritual disciplines are not the barometer of spirituality”. The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people (see 2 Thess.1:3). The real issue is what kind of people were becoming NOT the exercises of spiritual disciplines we may be engaging in. We engage in spiritual disciplines not because they prove how spiritual we are but because they can lead us into God’s life.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant.” Sometimes, we wrongly think that for an activity to count as a spiritual discipline it must be something we would rather not do. However, if we are training for a life characterised by love, peace and joy then we should assume that some of the practices are going to be enjoyable, especially when we understand their purpose and benefit to our lives. Also, all the disciplines are ‘self-validating’, in that we should see the fruit of their exercise in our lives.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favour with God.” Salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God’s grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation” not work for”. Spiritual disciplines are not about trying to be good enough to earn God’s favour. They have value only as they help us to change and grow. They are a “means of grace”. They are activities that we engage in to open ourselves up to God’s transforming power. Always, the purpose is freedom and life. This is not a competition with others. Disciplines are not ‘righteousness’; they are ‘wisdom’.

Creating a Spiritual Growth Plan

Life should be viewed as a circle with God at the centre and everything else finding its meaning and perspective from that ‘centre’. God wants to be involved in every area of your life – not just your spiritual life. All of life is to be done with God. He is interested in every aspect of our lives (Col.3:17). Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about. How is this going to happen? Well, one thing we know for sure - we are unlikely to do this if we adopt a casual or haphazard approach to our lives. We need vision, intention and means. ‘Means’ include not only a variety of ‘spiritual disciplines’ but also a ‘plan of action’ for their implementation in our life. Certain things are ‘basic’ and should be done by every Christian. Other exercises can be added in with a specific focus and possible for a specific season of time. Use creativity and be willing to experiment. What disciplines you decide to practise regularly will depend on your own sin tendencies that you are seeking to resist as well as the opportunities for loving service to God and others. Create a plan to strengthen and overcome your weaknesses. Some spiritual disciplines can be done simultaneously. Some of these can be done with other Christians, which makes their practice more enjoyable.

The first five disciplines we covered could be referred to as 'disciplines of engagement' as they refer to things we do in an active manner. They are helpful for dealing with sins of omission. The last five disciplines can be referred to as 'disciplines of disengagement' as they involve not doing something. They can be helpful in overcoming sins of commission. We need both types of discipline, kind of like breathing in and breathing out. A good balance is essential.

‘Hurry’ is a great enemy of our spiritual life. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state (inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present). God will not compete for our attention.

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience, if any, with each of the spiritual disciplines. Which ones have been most helpful in your own spiritual growth?
  2. What are the dangers of making the practice of spiritual disciplines THE mark of spirituality?
  3. Think about the difference between being ‘busy’ and being in a ‘hurry’. What things can we do to ‘slow’ down our lives so we can experience a greater quality of life?

Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 6)

SG

Here are some more spiritual disciplines ...

6. Solitude. Solitude is intentionally spending time alone with God away from people and from busyness or distractions. We choose to be alone. It is one of the most important and fundamental of the spiritual disciplines, especially if we are to do some of the other disciplines well. Jesus spent a lot of time in solitude throughout his life (Mt.4:1-2; 14:23. Lk.4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12). Jesus taught his followers to do the same (Mk.6:30-32). Take some regular time for solitude, preferably each day. Begin the day with some time alone with God. Take breaks during the day and end the day reviewing the day with God. It is also good to have occasional extended periods of solitude (half a day, a day or a few days throughout the year). Solitude is about withdrawing from conversation, from the presence of others, from noise and from the constant barrage of stimulation (phones, TV, friends, music, books, newspapers, etc). If we never pull aside into solitude we can tend to hide beneath the busyness of our life and never really find ourselves or God. As a result, our spiritual growth and development can be stunted. In contrast, when we choose to make time to be alone, solitude provides an environment for us to find ourselves and to find God in the deep places of our heart. We also gain clarity and perspective on our lives, our ability to plan is enhanced. Much growth and change can emerge from these times.

7. Silence. In silence, we close off ourselves from ‘sounds’, whether those sounds be noise, music or words. Silence can be frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It leaves us with just ourselves … and God (Is.30:15. Ecc.3:7. Ex.14:14. Ps.4:4; 37:7; 46:10. Hab.2:20). Silence creates a break from the world that is bombarding us. Silence positions us to listen to God. There is also the silence of ‘not speaking’. Talking often gets us into trouble. In the practice of silence we learn the value of words. James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jas.1:19).” Practice in ‘not speaking’ can help us gain better control of our tongues so that they don’t go off ‘automatically’ as much. It helps to create a ‘gap’ where we have more time to consider more fully what we’re about to say and the impact of those words (see Mk.14:61). It also allows us to stop managing the world and especially our appearance in the world. We stop trying to impress people with what we know and what we can say. Become conscious of conveying grace from your speaking. This comes from an inward quietness where you take time to receive from God things that will benefit those who are listening to you (Eph.4:29).

Part 7.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 5)

SG

Another spiritual discipline ...

5. Serving. A very important discipline is the discipline of ‘serving’. It helps us to work hard against our ingrained bent towards self-centredness. Naturally, we’d all prefer to ‘be served’ than to ‘serve’. However, in the kingdom of God, God calls us all to be servants – to take on the nature of Christ and to choose to serve others, willingly and joyfully (Mt.20:25-28. 1 Cor.12:7. 1 Pet.4:10). We are called to serve - at home, at work or school, in our neighbourhood and in our church family.

When we don’t adopt the posture of a servant we continue to live life centred on ourselves and as a result we can tend to become self-absorbed, proud and unattractive people. When we choose to serve, we please God by imitating him, we make a difference in the lives of others and we position ourselves for growth in humility, character and genuine love.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the difference between the concepts of ‘trying’ and ‘training’.
  2. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘spiritual disciplines’?
  3. Jesus intended for his disciples to know the fullness of his joy. Is being a Christian seen as a joyful experience by the world today? If not, why not and what can be done about it?
  4. Think about the most impacting prayer time you’ve ever had. What happened?
  5. How does fellowship and relationship with other people help us grow spiritually?
  6. What are the spiritual growth benefits of serving?
  7. Out of the five disciplines discussed so far, which one spoke the most to you? What could make the biggest different in your spiritual growth? Is it … celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship or serving?

So far we have looked at five common spiritual disciplines that can help us grow spiritually - celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship and serving. These are all disciplines of ‘engagement’ - things we ‘do’ to help us grow spiritually. They are all ‘action orientated’. Next, we will look at another five spiritual disciplines that will also be a help to us.

Part 6.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 4)

SG

Some more spiritual disciplines ...

3. The Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. It contains his thoughts about life. It is our guidebook for life – how we are meant to live in the kingdom of God here and now (2 Tim.3:16-17). God’s Word is given to us not just to give us ‘information’ but to help bring about a ‘transformation’ in our life. Paul speaks about us being cleansed by ‘the washing of water by the word” (Eph.5:26).

Read, study, memorise and meditate on the Word of God (Ps.1:1-3). Get his thoughts into your heart and mind. Ask God to speak to you as you read. Your goal is to encounter God through his Word. Have an open heart. Desire change and transformation. Determine to be responsive and obedient. Remember it’s not always ‘how much’ you read but ‘how’ you read that makes the biggest difference.

God’s Word is powerful! It can literally change your life! When I choose to ignore God’s Word I remain stuck in my natural habit patterns, deceived by the subtle lies of the enemy and I never enter the fullness of the life God has for me. When I choose to saturate my heart and mind with the Word of God, I am filling my inner world with God’s heart and God’s wisdom for life. As I embrace and then apply God’s Word, it can literally transform me from the inside out.

4. Fellowship. Spend time with other believers. Christianity is not a ‘solo sport’ or ‘do it yourself religion’. It is a community or family of believers following Jesus together. Sometimes it can be easier to be alone but God wants us to enter into the discipline of fellowship. It’s in interacting and relating with other people that we have the potential to grow and change. We can learn a lot just through being with other people – observing and listening to what God is doing in their life (Acts 2:42-47).

We must focus on doing things that build loving and healthy relationships. We must also avoid things that destroy relationships. Jesus’ number one command or instruction to his disciples was that they love each other as he had loved them (Jn.13:34-35). THE measure of our spiritual growth is the indication that we are becoming a more loving person which shows itself in our increasing ability to get along well with other people – even difficult people (1 Cor.13). Our ability to get along with a wide variety of people is not only God’s will for our lives but it is essential for success in life.

Part 5.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 3)

SG

Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are like ‘habits of effectiveness’ for the spiritual life, much like exercises, are used to develop habits of effectiveness for other areas of life (sport, music or language). Richard Foster says, “The disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” They get us in God’s presence so he can grow us. A ‘discipline’ is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. The effect of the discipline is to enable us to do what needs to be done when and as it needs to be done (see Mt.26:41. Josh.1:8. Ps. 119:9, 11). Today we want to talk about a number of spiritual ‘disciplines’ or ‘exercises’ that can help us change and grow.

1. Celebration. Choose to celebrate. Choose to enjoy God and the life he has given you. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings because joy is at the heart of God himself. The trouble is that most of us seriously under-estimate God’s capacity for joy. The truth is God is the happiest being in the universe. Yes, he also knows sorrow, but like his anger that is only a temporary response to a fallen world. Joy is God’s basic character and as people created in his image, he wants us to know joy in life (Ex.23:14. Dt.26:11; 28:47-48. Ps.16:11. Jn.15:11-12). Jesus lived a life of joy and celebration – despite the fact that he was acquainted with grief and sorrow. He calls us to do the same.

We can make a choice to rejoice – to embrace an attitude of gratitude that focuses on the good things in life rather than the bad (Phil.4:4. 1 Thess.5:16. Ps.9:2). You can be a joyful person. The biblical writers would not command it if it were not possible. But joyfulness is a learned discipline. We have to take responsibility for our joyfulness and for some of us this may not come easily. Too many Christians never engage in the discipline of celebration. They’re grumpy, sombre and negative. They don’t laugh enough. Let’s face it, most of us worry too much, complain too much and get angry too often. We lose our joy over the silliest things!

The psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” He doesn’t say, “Yesterday was God’s day – how happy was I then.” Nor does he say, “Tomorrow will be the great day – I’ll just endure things until then.” He says, “This is the great day to rejoice!”  True joy, it turns out, is often ‘in spite of’ something. If we don’t rejoice today, we may not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day.

Celebration can literally change the climate of your inner and outer world! Things such as praise, worship and thanksgiving are all ways we can celebrate God. When we don’t celebrate, we get caught up in the negativity and temptations of this world and we greatly hinder our own personal growth. We become ‘victims’ to our circumstances. When we choose to celebrate, we embrace the very heart of God and his joy can transform our inner world. We become ‘victors’ over our circumstances.

2. Prayer. Talk to God. Obviously, prayer is an important part of developing our relationship with God but it is also a spiritual discipline to help us grow and change. Talk to God – praise and thank him, tell him how you feel, ask for his help, talk to him about others and pray for them (intercession), use your spiritual language and listen for his voice (listening prayer). Some people find the use of a journal or diary helpful so they can write out their prayers (Ps.82:8).

Jesus was a man of prayer and he calls us to be people of prayer (Mt.14:22-23. Lk.6:12). God responds to heartfelt honest prayer. He is not looking for empty tradition or religiosity. Just consider Jesus’ many teachings on prayer (Mt.6:5-15. Lk.18:9-14). Other people can pray for you but no one can do your praying for you! There’s no single ‘right way’ to pray - just do it! Find a quiet place OR talk to him in your car on the way to work or pray silently in the midst of a crowd. Learn to ‘practise the presence of God’ (Brother Lawrence) by being aware of him all throughout the day. This is a discipline that you can learn.

When we don’t pray, we’re basically saying, “God I don’t need you right now, I’m coping quite fine by myself.” When we choose to pray, we’re saying, “God, I love you and I need you in my life.” The difference between those two approaches makes all the difference in the world when it comes to who you are becoming and the amount of change taking place in your heart and life.

Part 4.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 2)

SG

Spiritual Growth is a Process

When we commit our lives to Christ, a new life begins (2 Cor.5:17). We are “born again” or have a chance to start over. It’s not just turning over a new leaf. It’s getting a new life and a fresh start. We now have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. God then begins a process of change in our lives (Gal.4:19). This reality shouldn’t make us slack but it should make us both patient and persistent in our spiritual journey.

Spiritual Growth is a Partnership

Spiritual maturity occurs through a team effort between God and you. Believers are to ‘work out’ their salvation while God is at work within them, enabling each one to will and to act for his good purpose (see Phil.2:12-13). It is a partnership between God and us. We have to assume our share of responsibility while we also require God to infuse our choices with his power in order to counteract the effects of sin.

God “works in” us by His mighty power. God is involved in the process of spiritual maturity (1 Thess.5:23-24). He gives us his Word, which contains his instructions for life (2 Tim.3:16-17) He gives His Spirit by whom all true change occurs and He works through the circumstances of our life, whether good or bad, to develop his character in us (Rom.8:28-29).

We are to “work out” our salvation. God will do His part as we do ours. Sanctification also requires our cooperation. We must renew our thinking (Rom.12:1-2), daily depend on the Holy Spirit, make choices in alignment with his will and seek to respond correctly to the circumstances of our life. Spiritual maturity doesn’t just ‘happen’. It requires our deliberate and intentional focus and effort (2 Pet.1:3-9).

Note that Paul does not say “work for” your salvation. To work for something means to try to earn it or deserve it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we have to work for. It is God’s free gift of grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation.” He is talking about a “spiritual workout”. In a physical workout, you develop or tone your muscles. In the same way, each believer needs to do some spiritual exercises, which are far more profitable than physical exercises (1 Tim.4:7-8. 1 Cor.9:24-27). We often think that being a Christian is about trying hard to be like Jesus. Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.

Summary

Sanctification is a process that begins at new birth and goes on for a lifetime. The process will be finally complete when Jesus Christ returns and “we shall be changed” (1 Cor.15:52-53). Then “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jn.3:2-3). Should this truth make us slack? Definitely not! John goes on to say, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1 Jn.3:2-3).”

God is at work in your life right now – through His Word, His Spirit and the circumstances of your life. Are you responding and partnering with him? Are you renewing your thinking patterns, depending on the Spirit and responding properly to the circumstances you are in right now? As we do our part, God will do his and we will experience spiritual growth.

Reflection Questions

  1. How is it possible for someone to be a Christian for many years yet not really change?
  2. Discuss Rick Warren’s five myths of spiritual maturity and where you think they come from.
  3. ‘Holiness’ (or sanctification) was once a very strong emphasis in the church world. Today it is not talked about that much. Why do you think this is so and what are the results of it?
  4. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘legalism’? Why do you think legalism (an overly strong focus on externals) often becomes a substitute for authentic transformation?
  5. Discuss John Maxwell’s statement, “Most Christians are educated beyond the level of their obedience.” Is this true? Why do you think so? What can we do about it?
  6. Share about an area where you’ve really been able to change or grow in. How did this change occur?

Part 3.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 1)

SG

This term we are doing some training with our staff on genuine spirituality. I'd thought I'd put a summary of our teaching up on the BLOG for everyone's benefit. 

Spiritual Growth

As we get to know God, his desire is to transform and change us to be like him. We were created in God’s image and likeness. Through sin that image was broken. God is now restoring us to his original intentions. This process of change is what the Bible describes as ‘sanctification’. To ‘sanctify’ means to set apart for holiness, to purify, to make free from sin. To be made holy is to be made in God’s likeness, to be conformed to his nature, and to reflect his character. Sanctification is the restoration of God’s image in the human life.

Since Jesus Christ is God made visible among humans, sanctification in its simplest definition is to become Christ-like. This is clearly presented as the goal for each Christian (see Rom.8:29; 12:2. 2 Cor.3:18. Eph.4:13, 23-24; 5:1. Col.3:8-10. 2 Pet.1:3-4. 1 Jn.2:6). There is only one Christian life for all believers and that is following our model, Jesus Christ. Sanctification is not an ‘optional extra’ for the Christian (Heb.12:14)!

God Works "Inside Out"

God always begins his work on the inside of us first – our desires, our motives, our attitudes and our thoughts. When true inner change occurs, the result is an external change in lifestyle – our words and our actions. The Pharisees, who were very religious, focused on externals – how they looked and “appeared” to others – and neglected the internal issues of the heart. They measured their spiritual life in superficial ways. Jesus was radically different. He focused on the centre, the heart of spiritual life. The real issue is the kind of people we are becoming. Am I growing in love for God and people? God desires authentic inner transformation, not just outward conformity (legalism) or doing a bunch of religious or Christian things (see Mt.12:33-35; 15:16-20; 23:25-28). Our lives should be marked by greater amounts of love, peace and joy.

Myths about Spiritual Maturity

There are a number of misunderstandings about ‘spiritual maturity’. Here are a few of them (by Rick Warren):

  1. “Spiritual growth is automatic once you are born again.” Maturity is not measured by how long a person has been a Christian or by how many times a person attends church (although that can help). We can’t just sit around doing nothing and expect to grow. The truth is that spiritual growth must be intentional.
  1. “Spiritual growth is mystical and maturity is attainable by only a select few.” The truth is that spiritual growth is very practical and it’s for everybody.
  1. “Spiritual maturity can occur instantly if you find the right key.” Don‘t believe that all you need in order to become mature spiritually is Bible study, church attendance, water baptism, ‘speaking in tongues’ or any other important Christian experience. The truth is, as wonderful as experiences like this are, they do not necessarily produce sanctification. In fact, the church at Corinth was probably the most spiritually gifted church in the New Testament and yet Paul had to confront it repeatedly for instances of sinfulness and carnality. The Biblical teaching on the subject of sanctification suggests that there is no short cut to obtain it, but that it is a lifelong human endeavour. Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. It takes a variety of spiritual experiences and disciplines with God to produce spiritual maturity.
  1. “Spiritual maturity is measured by what you know.” Christian maturity is not measured by the amount of Biblical knowledge you have. The truth is spiritual maturity is demonstrated more by ‘behaviour’ than ‘beliefs’. Sometimes the last thing a person needs is another Bible study. They already know far more than they are applying in their life. John Maxwell says, “Most Christians are educated far beyond the level of their obedience.” Often what we need is not more knowledge but help living out what we already know!
  1. “Spiritual growth is a personal and private matter.” The truth is Christians need relationships to grow. In fact, it is in the context of community that most personal change either takes place or is worked out.

Part 2.


Jesus: I AM the Vine

I AM 1080

John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV

These are some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He has spoken about his departure and assured them of his return (John 14). Now his focus is on his disciples remaining or keeping connected to him as they live in the world following his departure. Jesus was probably walking through a vineyard with his disciples when he gave this teaching. He often drew analogies from the culture around him and from ancient Jewish traditions, infusing them with fresh spiritual meaning. The vine and the vineyard were old and sacred images in Judaism. The vine represented Israel: God’s covenant people who were meant to bear fruit (see Psalm 80:7-9. Isaiah 5:3-5). Jesus boldly declares, “I am the true vine” (his seventh and final “I AM” statement in this Gospel). He has taken the place of Israel as God’s true planting, the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. His Father is the gardener and we as his disciples are the branches.

A Challenge

God wants his children to live an abundantly fruitful life. That’s why he put us on this earth (see Psalm 1:3. John 15:8. Titus 3:14). Fruit represents ‘good works’ - a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies him. The fruit from our life is how we bring honor to God on earth. We bear inner fruit when we allow God to nurture in us a new, Christ-like quality: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” We bear outer fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring him glory. That includes sharing our faith but also serving others in love. Fruit-bearing flowing out of an intimate relationship with Jesus is why he chose us (John 15:16. Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus describes four different levels of fruitfulness in this teaching (see vs.2, 5): (1) “no fruit”, (2) “fruit”, (3) “more fruit”, and (4) “much fruit”. The Father wants more fruit from us so much that he actively tends to our lives so we will keep growing - from a barren to a productive branch. We were created to bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit! Of course, the fruit of our good works does not refer to things we do in order to earn God’s grace but are simply an overflow of the life of Jesus in us. Jesus calls us to do more of our life with him not just more for him. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? How’s your fruit?

An Application

Any vine or bush left to itself will become straggly and tangled, and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good fruit (or flowers) rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will, quite literally, get in its own light. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, particularly, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, toward the light. You prune, in other words, to help the plant be its true self – to focus its energy on producing good quality fruit, rather than lots of second rate ones. That’s why any good gardener knows the value of pruning. Through pruning, growth that is dead or dying is removed, adequate sunlight is allowed to get to all the fruit-bearing branches, the size and quality of the fruit is improved, and new fruit is encouraged to develop.

Pruning, like loving discipline, is painful at the time, but it results in the potential of more fruit (vs.2). Sometimes ‘less is more’ and through removing certain things in our lives or hearts, we make room for more. Is God doing some pruning in your life right now? Is there some pruning you need to do – of certain commitments, or possessions, or lesser priorities?

An Insight

The key to fruitfulness is that we as Jesus’ disciples abide (or remain connected, attached) in him, as he is our life source. Apart from him we can really do nothing of lasting value. Connected to him, we can bear much fruit. Discipleship is not a matter of merely acknowledging who Jesus is (a set of doctrinal beliefs); it is having Jesus spiritually connected to our inner lives (a way of life characterized by love).

Abiding in Christ is a command for all disciples, not a suggestion or a request. But how do we do so practically? Throughout history, followers of Christ have connected closely with Christ in different ways – what we could call ‘abiding styles’. Here are five of them:

  1. Contemplative – people who love creation, quiet, solitude, meditation and reflection.
  2. Intellectual – people who love mentally stimulating material and studying the Bible.
  3. Serving – people who love putting action in their faith by helping others and using their gifts.
  4. Relational – people who love doing things with other people, including prayer and serving.
  5. Charismatic – people who love spontaneity, the unexpected and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider when you feel closest to God and most alive in Christ then lean into your primary style. Of course, it’s important to accept others who are different. Most importantly, develop an appreciation for all the styles so you don’t develop an imbalance. Each style taken to an extreme has weaknesses. Jesus balanced all five of these styles to keep connected to the Father. He is our model for abiding, which is the key to fruitfulness. When we develop the ‘Mary’ aspect of our life (a depth of intimacy and spirituality) then the ‘Martha’ aspect will be more effective (fruitfulness and productivity). If we separate these, it leads to frustration. Abiding in Christ is much like a tree producing its fruit – it is a natural outflow that occurs quite effortlessly.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. As these are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, why do you think this matter of fruitfulness and abiding in Christ were so important to him?
  2. How do we practically measure the fruitfulness of our lives?
  3. How can we avoid the Christian life degenerating into a long list of things we DO for God and others but without the joy and life of Jesus flowing through us?
  4. Can you describe a time in your life where you felt you were experiencing some ‘pruning’? What was it like and what was the end result?
  5. Today there is a growing social movement towards simplicity, down-sizing, essentialism and minimalism. What can we learn from this trend in our society? What could God be saying to us through it?
  6. What is your personal abiding style? How could you lean more into it?
  7. Finish by praying for a greater intimacy with Jesus resulting in a greater fruitfulness in your life.

Your Home Base

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Luke 5:16. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer. The Message Bible

This is an amazing description of how Jesus lived and did ministry.

  • He loved solitude - by the sea or in the country, on a boat or in a garden. 
  • This required withdrawal from people, busyness and activity. 
  • It was his home base - the place he continually returned to. 
  • He spent as much time there as possible. 
  • Out from here, he left to do ministry and serve the people God had sent him to.
  • His life was full of conversation with God - Father and Spirit; a dance of divinity. 
  • Maybe this was the key to not only his survival from the pressures of life and ministry and also his triumph over the pressure of life and the temptations from the devil.

What's your home base?

[Picture: The Sea of Galilee: View from Magdala]


Living a Life of Gratitude

Living-a-life-of-gratitude

Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

How to Connect with God (re-post)

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Jesus told his disciples to “abide” in him (John 15:5). They were to stay “connected” at all times. The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was to “know God” (Phil.3:7-11). His prayer for the church at Ephesus was that they might “know Him better” (Eph.1:15-17). But how do we get closer to God? How can we experience God in a more intimate and meaningful way?

Different people give different answers: “Get up early and spend hours in prayer”, “Stay up late and write in a journal for hours”, “Fast regularly”, “Go on spiritual retreats all by yourself”, “Memorise lots of Scripture” or “Speak in tongues for an hour each day”. Well-intentioned people often tell us that their way is the “right way” and the proof of spirituality. Often we try these things that may work for others, yet for some reason they may not work for us, so we end up frustrated and wrongly believe that maybe being close to God is just for a few special people.

You’re Unique 

As humans, we have a lot in common – a lot of similarities. However, we are also each very different and very unique in the way God has made us (personality, spiritual gifts, etc). We also experience God differently. We each have a unique relationship with God that is different than anyone else. We need to discover how God has “wired us” to best “abide”. The activity or means is not as important as the fact that you do “abide”. When do you feel closest to God? What is your “abiding style”? How do you best experience God?

Ways of Connecting with God (“Abiding Styles”) 

There are different ways that we each experience God. Each style represents different traditions of the Christian faith. We will have a natural bent to one or more styles and may find some others more difficult.

1. Contemplative Style

* People with this style enjoy silence and solitude, possibly out in creation. They like isolation and therefore guard their alone times. They don’t fill their diaries up. They like to walk, visit a forest, journal or go for drives out in the country (environment is important).

* Too much time with people and activities drain them. They prefer to be “un-busy”.

* They have enormous capacity for extended prayer and worship times. They enjoy being quiet – meditating, reflecting and thinking deeply. Sometimes they may appear “in the clouds” and forget stuff.

* They march to a different drumbeat and at times seem to be out of step with other people. They are very sensitive spiritually. They can be the church’s spiritual “conscience”. Often great songwriters and authors are contemplative.

If you’re not this style, then this kind of stuff drives you crazy. Historically we can think of people such as the Apostle John, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon and Henri Nouwen.

2. Intellectual Style

* Their mind has to be fully challenged before spiritual growth occurs. They enjoy reading and studying God’s Word to gain deeper understanding. They enjoy reading intellectually stimulating material.

* They struggle with just testimonial or experiential activities or church events. They want “substance” and “theology” not froth and bubble. Where’s the “meat”?

* When they are convinced about something, watch out! There’s no stopping them. Once the mind is convinced, passion and decision follows.

* They’re passionate about “renewing” people’s minds (Rom.12:1).

Historically we can think of people such as Paul, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and N.T. Wright.

3. Serving Style

* Some people feel closest to God (most joyful, exited and alive in Christ) when helping others and using your gifts. Even more than when doing prayer or Bible study.

* They thrive spiritually when they are labouring in the kingdom. They enjoy being an instrument in God’s hands.

* This could be within the church, through social action (feeding the poor, etc) or social justice.

* People with this style enjoy making things happen. They love to see the church or their ministry advance and grow. They revel in a challenge-intensive environment. They are most enthusiastic when fully challenged. They feel best when going all out for God.

* They are at their spiritual best when at top speed. They live at full speed, to the point that others fear for them. They are action orientated and love to live on the edge. They thrive on being active and motivating others.

* They pray more and live in more dependence when spending and being completely spent for the kingdom of God. They are kingdom maniacs. They choose to live like this. Try to slow them down and they’ll find a way to do something. I’m not suggesting that “insanity” or “out of control” is right.

Historically we can think of people such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, William Booth (the Salvation Army) and Mother Theresa.

4. Relational Style

* Isolation doesn’t work. Praying alone, doing Bible study alone, serving alone or worshipping alone is hard.

* When they get together with other Christians, their spiritual experience of God comes alive.

* A community component is essential. “Together” is the key. Groups are essential. Their favourite Scripture is “Where two or three are gathered together in my name …” (Mt.18:20)

5. Charismatic Style

The focus is on what the power of God can do. It thrives on the manifest presence of God among His people.

* Experiencing supernatural things like prophecy, visions and dreams, spiritual warfare (including deliverance), speaking in tongues (or “spiritual language”) or ministry time (“falling down”) brings them closest to God.

* They flourish when they can “feel” or “see” something.

* They enjoy praying for people (for physical, emotional or spiritual needs), waiting on God for “words” or direction.

* They thrive when they can sense or see evidence of God’s power.

* Their heart is opened to God through music and a worship atmosphere. King David was like this. Worship brought him close to God (Psalms). “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart (Eph.5:18-19).”

Historically we can think of people such as Evan Roberts, Aimee Semple McPherson (the Pentecostal movement and charismatic renewal), Kathryn Kuhlman and John Wimber.

Which is the ‘right way’? All of them!

Cultivating Your Style

1. Identify your primary abiding style(s). You may have more than one. Don’t pick the one you think that you should have or want to have. Accept the way God has made you.

2. Arrange your life so you have ample opportunity for doing what connects you most to God. Invest lots of time into doing what draws you closer to God and helps you “abide” better. Create a spiritual formation plan around your style.

3. Understand and accept how other people are different. Help others discover the way God has made them and give them permission to “abide” that way. In marriage, understand each other. On your team, understand each other.

4. Learn other ways to connect with God. Develop an appreciation for all the styles. Jesus modeled all of these styles in perfect balance during his life on earth. We are to imitate him and walk “in his steps” (1 Pet.2:21). Avoid the imbalance that can come with attention to only one style.

5. Consider the implications of this model for leaders – of teams, small groups and churches. Create an environment that encourages expression of all of these styles, not just the one you are most comfortable with.

Recommended Resources

* Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard Foster (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998).

* Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), chapter 11, “The Leader’s Pathway”.


Stages of the Life of Faith

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God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Luke 13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Ephesians 4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Colossians 1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages:

Stages in the Life of Faith

1. Recognition of God. This is where we all begin our journey of faith. The experience of faith at this stage is the discovery and recognition of God. It is accepting the fact of the reality of God in our lives. Someone bigger than us really exists and He truly loves us. This may occur in childhood or later in life as adults. For some people this is a very identifiable experience, like a moment in time where everything changes. For others, there is a gradual realisation, with no certainty as to just where or when the experience began. Either way, we simply ‘know’ that God is there. Factors contributing to this experience can be either a sense of awe or a sense of need in our lives.

2. Life of Discipleship. This stage is about learning and belonging. We begin to learn, explore, absorb and put into place our set of beliefs or faith principles. In this stage we learn the most about God by association with others we respect and trust. We are apprentices. We need others because we are relatively unsure and insecure at first in our growth and what we believe. The group also provides a sense of belonging, which helps to alleviate some of our feelings of fear and even inadequacy that accompany the excitement of new learning. The group begins to give us a sense of identity and security. We start to feel at home, with family. We are loved and accepted, despite our struggles. It’s not always easy but we are with our kind of people. We have a sense of security and comfort in our faith.

3. The Productive Life. This stage is best described as the ‘doing’ stage as it is the period of time where we find ourselves most consciously working in service for God. It’s now time to give in return for all we have received. This is usually a very active stage of our journey. It is positive and dynamic, centred on being productive in the area of our faith. This stage nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding. It operates on goals and achievement, building and creating, which can be exciting, fulfilling, inspiring and fruitful. We start to feel unique within our community. We are taking on extra responsibility. We feel a degree of confidence because of our experience. Leadership may be part of this stage.

4. The Journey Inward. This stage is a deep and very personal inward journey. It almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it. Until now, our journey has had a very external dimension to it - the community of faith, serving with our gifts, leading others, and productivity. Upon entering this stage, many people experience a period of questioning, exploring, doubting, and even uncertainty. This can be caused by a life or faith crisis. For the first time our faith does not seem to work the same as it has before and our answers seem inadequate, leaving us feeling quite vulnerable. Some people refuse to engage fully with this stage. Therefore they become inadequate guides for others who enter this stage.

The Wall. Somewhere near the end of Stage 4, we experience the Wall – a face to face experience with God and with our own will. This is a critical experience. It represents another layer of transformation and a potentially renewed layer of faith – for those who have the courage to move into it. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives. This is a time of mystery and not something we can do through our own strength or wisdom. This is a pivotal moment. We are afraid, yet drawn to surrender, knowing it will not be easy, but that it will be worthwhile. We are dying to self and letting God be God. [Click here for some thoughts on "Growing in the Dark"]

5. The Journey Outward. This is the next step after rediscovering God and accepting his love. We surrender afresh to God’s will to fully direct our lives. This outward journey may seem similar to earlier stages, but our focus is different. We have changed. We endure suffering gracefully, because of our confidence in God. Our primary motivation in life becomes the desire to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes. There is a fresh sense of calling, vocation or ministry. We start to focus more on other people’s best interests. We start to experience a deep calm and stillness. We allow for a new certainty in God while being comfortable with ambiguity.

6. The Life of Love. At this stage we reflect God to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible. We let our light shine in such a way that God is given the credit and the thanks. We have lost ourselves yet truly found ourselves. We are selfless. We are at peace with ourselves, fully conscious of being the person God created us to be. Obedience comes naturally. We give our all without feeling that it means surrender or sacrifice. We are at one with the Spirit of God. God becomes everything to us.

There is a mystery to our journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will experience variations in their individual journey but we are all headed in the same direction – closer to God. It is helpful to view this journey as a circle rather than as a linear progression. God is at the centre. He is at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to Him in each season. There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Stages may overlap and we may re-visit stages at times.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own journey of faith and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognise or identify with?
  3. Select two Bible characters and see if you can see this pattern in their faith journey.
  4. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  5. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage - and especially the stage you are at right now?
  6. Click here for a list of additional reflection questions for each stage of faith.

Showdown in the Desert (pt.2)

Desert

Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story.  

1. We are in a spiritual war.

We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. 

Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve, leading them to sin and forfeit their inheritance of dominion over the earth (Genesis 3:15-16). All through the Old Testament we see conflict between the “seed of the woman” (the godly line) and the “seed of the serpent” (the ungodly line). 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod attacked the new-born babies. When Jesus’ ministry begins, he is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him personally. Throughout Jesus ministry Satan tries to trick him, even through one of his disciples, Peter. On the cross we have the ultimate battle against darkness.

Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8. Acts 10:38). On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus prayed that the Father would “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) and told his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).”

The early church portrays a community of people advancing into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan attacks and persecutes but does not overcome (Matthew 16:18-19. Romans 16:20).

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks of the struggle (literally a wrestling match) we experience in life against the “schemes (methods or tricks) of the devil” in the spiritual realm. We enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation - pressure and hardships (Acts 14:22).

Revelation 12:1-20 gives us a prophetic picture of a pregnant woman about to give birth to new life - a son who will rule the nations. There is also an enormous dragon representing the devil or Satan. He is standing in front of the woman about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Then there is war in heaven as Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels. On earth again, we see the dragon pursuing the woman who is taken into the desert ... out of the serpent’s reach. Satan is enraged ... waged war against the rest of the woman’s offspring.

God has a plan and the devil has a plan. We are in the midst of this cosmic battle.

God is always seen as “birthing” something into the world. He is the creator. He is moving forward, taking ground for the kingdom and freeing those oppressed by the devil. God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing - offensive activity (Matthew 11:12). Satan is always seen as seeking to deceive or destroy and to hinder God’s work. Like a thief, he comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

2. Satan will attack us.

Because we are in a spiritual warfare, we will know what it is to be tempted, tested and come under the attack of the devil. Satan is real and he hates God’s work in our lives. Again, it’s important to realise that not everything bad that happens to us is the devil at work. Sometimes our own sin or foolishness is the cause of our pain. At others times other people can cause us difficulty. Don’t blame everything on the devil! 

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." NIV

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

James 4:7. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. NIV 

We are in a spiritual war and we will be attacked, so we need to be alert and on guard. Satan may not tempt us in exactly the same way as he did Jesus, because as we are not the unique Son of God. However, he tries to trip us up and offer us shortcuts that hinder our walk with God.

Tests or temptations are not bad. In fact, they may be sent by God (James 1:2-4). If we are to grow spiritually, we can expect trials. The main issue is our response to the test. Do we look to God to guide us through? Do we trust him or do we reassert our control?  Sometimes opting for comfort means selling our soul to the prince of this world. Our work, our status, our possessions, our family or even our ministry can stand in the way of knowing God. Satan always offers us an easy path without suffering or difficulty. When we lack trust in God, we try to force him to act on our behalf. At times we can attempt to control God rather than follow his leading.

Satan attacks all believers and especially leaders, seeking to destroy them. We must defend ourselves and conquer him in order to be effective ministers. We know that Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from hearing or understanding the gospel. He binds them in fear and hopelessness. Satan seeks to attack individual Christians through temptation, doubts, fear, deceit, sin habits and other strongholds. He seeks to hinder them from living in victory and especially from becoming active ambassadors for God’s kingdom. He will use anything from attacks on the mind to demonic spirits, sickness, curses (generational) or emotional wounds (bitterness, inferiority, fear, etc). This is a spiritual war, not fought with physical weapons or in the material plane. The battleground is within us. He is subtle and deceptive.

3. Our enemy targets our weakness.

Our spiritual enemy knows where we are vulnerable and targets his attack there. Satan has “schemes” which he uses to try to outwit us. He prowls around looking for a foothold or for an opportunity to take advantage of us.

Pray about your vulnerable or weak areas. It’s easy to gradually drift and Satan often uses subtle shifts or distractions to trap us. Imagine you’re the devil (just for a moment) or a head demon. Devise a strategy to defeat you! When are you most vulnerable? Build defences in these areas. Strengthen what is weak. Who’s praying for your weakness?

Deception is Satan’s only power over us. He comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses the philosophies of the world, sin, riches, pride, idolatry, wrong desires or whatever he can. His plan is to deceive the whole world. He is a liar and the father of all lies and falsehood (gives birth to, sustains, source, author, begins). The lie began in heaven with Satan - he deceived himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). He is the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3,8,10. 2 John 7). He is the enemy of the truth. He hates it and there is no truth in him (2 Thessalonians 2:9. 1 John 2:21,22. Acts 5:3,4).

4. We can overcome!

Jesus has already defeated Satan at the cross. We have His authority and His power so we can defeat all the works of the enemy. Jesus Christ in us is greater than he who is in the world. The Second Adam did what the First Adam failed to do. He conquered temptation. He now lives in us and gives us the power to overcome, to escape and to resist the devil.

Jesus overcame the world, Satan and sin even though he was tempted just like us. We overcome by faith - trust and dependence upon Jesus, not our own strength. Christ in you. Let Him live (overcome) through you. As we watch and pray we can overcome temptation.

Mark 14:38. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (NIV)

Luke 21:36. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (NIV)

Use your weapons and your authority (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Ephesians 6. Romans 12:1-2) – prayer, the Word, forgiveness and the name of Jesus.

Resist the devil! Flee, stand and fight.

5. Personal victory precedes public victory.

Jesus faces his temptation alone and we only know about it because he must have told his disciples what happened. In order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, Jesus would have to defeat him (Mark 3:22-27) and resisting temptation was the first of Satan’s defeats.

Jesus’ ministry was described like this. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38 NIV).” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

Like David, we must defeat the “lions” and “bears” in our own lives (personal problems and bad habits) before we can take on the Goliath’s on behalf of a whole nation (1 Samuel 17:32- ). He learned to use his weapons. Jesus overcame Satan then the world.

As we deal with our own personal battles, we gain confidence and strength to help others overcome. By faith we must enter into this victory and storm the gates of hell. People need to be set free from the power of Satan.

Paul’s ministry was much like that of Jesus. God said to him, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18 NIV).”

Jesus wants to help us overcome and be part of his army of warriors who, despite the overwhelming odds, will free many from the clutches of the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What are your private giants? Are you conquering them? Or do you need help (counsel, accountability, etc)? Have you given in to the lie that you will never overcome?

Conclusion

  1. Are you awake and alert to the spiritual battle we are engaged in?
  1. Are you aware of your weak or vulnerable areas? 
  1. Are you taking steps to guard yourself against the devil so that you can overcome him? 
  1. Do you see the importance of overcoming the enemy? You need it and so do others.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that followers of Christ will have a fresh awareness and understanding of the spiritual battle that we are in as believers so that we are more awake and alert spiritually. 
  1. Pray that we will have our eyes open to the ways the devil attacks us personally. 
  1. Pray that we will become aware of their own weak and vulnerable areas. 
  1. Pray that we will take practical steps to guard ourselves against the devil in those areas. 
  1. Pray that we will see and believe that we can overcome every attack, temptation and test of the devil. 
  1. Pray that we will see the importance of personal victory so that God can use them to help set others free.

Showdown in the Desert (Pt.1)

Desert

Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself.

Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger was the greatest and his resistance the lowest.

As Christians, we sometimes face our greatest struggles right after conversion or some act of recommitment, rather than before. This should not surprise us.

God in his sovereignty initiates this time of testing. However, he allows no temptation except which furthers his ultimate purposes. Yet he never directly tempts anyone (James 1:13) and is wholly disassociated from evil. Because the Holy Spirit initiated these temptations, they should be understood not as a defensive struggle but as an offensive attack on the rule of Satan. The kingdom of God had come and the rule of this evil age was now challenged.

This test is similar to the 40 years period that God led Israel through the wilderness to humble them and test them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Also, 40 days and nights recalls the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; 34:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

Whereas Adam failed the great test and plunged the whole race into rebellion against God (Genesis 3), Jesus was faithful and demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour. Jesus shows his moral qualifications as messiah by relying on God and his word, rather than like Adam, reaching for the power that Satan tempts him to take. What Adam as son of God was not, Jesus is. He is ready to minister on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus was also tempted as we are so that he could become our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16). He becomes a model for us. These were real temptations. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, yet without sin. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists Satan.

The three temptations are somewhat unusual, in that they don’t appear to be a temptation to real “evil”. In each case, Satan uses a selfish tactic in justifying the action he wants Jesus to take. It was a temptation toward independence.

There are fascinating parallels between these three temptations of Jesus, the three temptations in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) and the three kinds of temptation 1 John 2:16 lists to summarise “everything in the world.”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

1. First Temptation (Luke 4:3-4)

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone’”. 

Satan questioned Jesus’ identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God …”

The devil tempts the Son of God to use his supernatural powers for his own ends. This seemed attractive, as Jesus was very hungry. He tried to get Jesus to use his power and authority to fulfil his own natural desires or appetites. However, Jesus didn’t use his miraculous power for personal benefit. Satan questions God’s provision and care and lures Jesus to act independently of the Father.

“Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.”

It was not a temptation to a crime or sin in the traditional sense. It is a test as to what kind of Messiah will Jesus be – one who uses his power for his own ends or one who lives in dependence and trust in the Father to provide his needs.

On the cross, Jesus would have the same temptation to use his own powers to “save himself”. A criminal scoffed, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Spectators took up the cry: “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him .” But even with 12 legions of angels at his disposal, he would not call on them (Matthew 26:53). He would trust instead on the providential care of the Father. For Jesus to save others, he could not save himself. There was no easy, painless path.

This was the “lust of the flesh” and compares to “the tree was good for food.”

Yes, there is nothing wrong with feeding yourself, but when it conflicts with what God has ordained, it is sin.

Jesus conquered Satan’s attack with the “sword of the spirit”, which is the Word of God. Jesus knew the Word of God. It was in His heart and mind. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11). He didn’t discuss, contemplate or reason with the tempter. He gave a decisive “No!”

Jesus relied on his Father for food, not his own miraculous power. Jesus understands that life is more than food and is to be lived in obedience to God. For Jesus, the spirit ruled. His spirit was strong through feeding on God’s Word even though His body was weak through lack of food.

2. Second Temptation (Luke 4:5-8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’”.

The kingdoms of the world and their splendour were offered to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the tempter. This was a temptation to power, prominence, fame, fortune, and glory. Satan, as the “prince of this world” and the “ruler of this present age”, had the power to do this. Jesus did not challenge his ability to make such an offer. This is not an attempted deception by Satan to give what he could not.

This was the “lust of the eyes” (appealing to the ego or self) and compared to the fruit being “pleasing to the eye”.

The devil was tempting Jesus to avoid the sufferings of the cross. The temptation offered an easy shortcut to world dominion. It was a “cross-less solution” to the world’s problems. However, Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship. The world needed a saviour that would provide forgiveness, reconciliation with God and salvation from future judgement.

“Surely the Father wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”

Jesus answered emphatically: “Away from me, Satan! (Matthew 4:10)” Resist the devil and he will flee from you! (James 4:7). 

God must be first and only. Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Let Him be your treasure, your desire and your focus in life. Jesus’ entire focus was on pleasing His Father through worship (relationship) and service (ministry).  His eyes were not on material rewards whatsoever. Jesus’ drive was to do the will of God - obedience to the Father’s commands. His priorities were to worship (love) and to serve (obey) God.

3. Third Temptation (Luke 4:9-12)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”.

This may have been a vision-like experience. The temple in Jerusalem had a Royal Porch on the Southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. Josephus mentions that just looking over the edge made people dizzy. To cast oneself down from such a height and survive would take divine intervention.

Satan was testing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. This time Satan quoted Scripture, those he misused or misapplied Psalm 91:11-12. He twists its meaning and uses it for his own purpose. This was a test of presumption - putting God to the “test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Surely God would care for his own and not let Jesus suffer pain.

“Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out?” It is a dare on Jesus’ part to make God rescue him.

This was the “pride of life” and is similar to Satan saying that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom (so as not to die).”

Jesus answered with Scripture as he had on the other two temptations, quoting Deuteronomy. We should marvel at Jesus’ restraint. Why didn’t he just blast Satan away!?

Jesus overcame all three temptations. He was totally dedicated to God’s will and call. He will take only the road God asks him to follow and refuses to take any shortcuts.

Result:

  • The devil left Jesus until an “opportune time”. Satan continues with his testing throughout Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 8:33), culminating in the supreme test at Gethsemane. Jesus is also about to confront demons very shortly (Luke 4:31-44).
  • Angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11).
  • Jesus then returned to Galilee in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and his public ministry began.

Tomorrow: Lessons from Jesus' Temptation 


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life.

The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of this empowering was “spiritual language” (speaking in tongues) and a boldness to witness for Jesus (Acts 2).

Spirit-Powered Living

We have all experienced the frustration of trying to live a good life in our own strength. After all, we all have weaknesses, sinful tendencies, bad habits, wrong desires and good intentions we don’t follow through on. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The foundations of the Christian life are seen in Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

1. Repentance – a decision to make. This is about new life (conversion) through faith and a relationship with the Father God.

2. Water Baptism – a command to obey.

3. The Holy Spirit – a gift to receive.

The Christian life begins with repentance and faith that results in an inner transformation (salvation, eternal life, being 'born again'). The next step is to be baptised in water, an outward declaration of our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These three steps are just the beginning and form a firm foundation for a strong Christian life.

There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - God's nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God.”

In the first century, at times people experienced all these things simultaneously. In other cases, these things happened at different times. God deals with each of us in different ways and we all respond differently to His work in our lives.

How are your spiritual foundations?

Further Reading:


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41).

After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9).

Jesus has developed a close relationship with his heavenly Father beginning as a child (age 12).  Jesus was obedient and he did those things that pleased his Father.

This statement by the Father indicated that Jesus had:

  1. Identity - “my Son”.
  2. Acceptance - “whom I love”.
  3. Approval - “well pleased”.

This endorsement of the Father is like a personal commissioning of Jesus, not making him something he wasn’t before but recognising that the much loved Son will launch out into actively exercising the authority he possesses.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was the source of his strength and the foundation of his life. This enabled him to stand firm even when his identity was attacked by others (“If you are the Son of God ...”) and or when others did not accept or approve of him. Jesus was not shaken because he was not dependent on nor did he base his life on the opinions of other people. Jesus' relationship with his Father is the source of his confidence and direction for his ministry.

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father is not for him alone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called into the same intimacy and security of the Father’s love.

1. Identity – we are the children of God, his sons and daughters. He is our Father and that makes us special, important and significant ... simply because we are his. We are not slaves or simply servants of God. We are sons, daughters and heirs of the promises.

2. Acceptance – God’s love for us is not based on our goodness or our performance. It is a love given as a free gift, even though it is undeserved. This is the power of grace.

3. Approval – as we obey God and follow his ways, we can also know his pleasure and approval. Obedience pleases God. However, obedience isn’t to be done out of self-effort to try earn God’s love but rather as a response to the grace he already has shown us.

Following Jesus Christ and living God’s way will put us in situations where people may not accept us or give us their approval. They may laugh and even mock us. Unless our roots are deep and strong in the Father’s love, we will falter at those times, compromise our faith and lose our potential impact. May your life be rooted and grounded in the Father’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19), not rejection, insecurity, inferiority or fear.

How?

  • See who you are – a son/daughter not a slave.
  • Believe what God says about you.
  • Take captive every contrary thought and bring it under submission to Christ.
  • Live with this truth as your daily foundation.

Stories Around the Cross - The Denial

Rembrandt-01

The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72)

The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50).

Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on the whole mob and staying near the courtyard in a quiet boldness. We should be amazed at his courage not just shocked at his fall. Every person has their breaking point.

Peter is not surprised by the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. He does not defend their cause but strongly defends his own cause, “I will not! (vs.29)” He sees himself as the exception to the rule; where others fall, he will stand. There’s more than a little self-confidence and pride here. Jesus interrupts his bravado and says, “Today … yes tonight … before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times (vs.30).” Peter does not back down. He insists emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (vs.31).” Notice that “all the others said the same.”

Peter follows Jesus “at a distance” (vs.54) and eventually there is an escalation of three charges and three denials (vs.66-72). After the rooster crowed the second time, suddenly Jesus’ words flooded through Peter’s mind … and “He broke down and wept.” Humiliated, Peter is overwhelmed with guilt and shame, most likely morphing into sorrow and repentance (unlike Judas who was remorseful but not repentant).

Failure

Have you ever fallen flat on your face? Have you ever disappointed yourself, others or God? Maybe it was a sin, a mistake or a personal failure. Like Peter, you didn't live up to your own expectations or promises. We have all experienced this, at one time or another. Sometimes, over-confidence, arrogance and pride are catalysts. At others times, they are not.

When personal failure occurs, we experience guilt, embarrassment and at times shame. Guilt is the result of a convicted conscience. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us and it is always specific and aimed at response – remorse (genuine sorrow) and repentance (change – turning away from sin). Shame is from the enemy and moves us from “I did something wrong” to “I am a bad person”. It involves an ongoing feeling of condemnation and self-loathing, with a general sense of not being good enough. Shame is very harmful and engenders a feeling of unworthiness. This often leads to destructive and negative behaviours.

The Restoration of Peter

In John’s Gospel, we learn some more details about how Jesus took time to restore Peter (John 21:1-19). By a charcoal fire on the beach, bringing back memories of Peter’s denial by a charcoal fire in the courtyard (John 18:18), like a good shepherd, Jesus’ heals the wound of Peter’s denial and failure. Gently, Jesus brings this memory to the surface and heals it with love and forgiveness. Jesus gives Peter a chance to profess his love for Jesus, to affirm everything he has denied – three times. Old failings, old sores, old wounds are healed. Jesus not only forgives Peter but commissions him. It's time for him to be a shepherd, to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them. Jesus is trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work. Jesus is sharing his own ministry with Peter. Jesus is after all the “good shepherd” (John 10).

This is the foundation of all ministry – despite our faults and failures, Jesus forgives us and gives us an opportunity to join him in his work on earth. These are not things we do to earn our forgiveness. It’s all grace from start to finish. They are things we do out of the joy of being forgiven.

The Power of Vulnerability

It speaks volumes both for the accuracy of the Gospels and the humility of the leaders of the early church that Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times, in all its graphic detail, remains there starkly in all four gospels - the same man who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Peter himself is most likely the source of this story. It served as a warning to other Christians who themselves would face persecution that even if the prince of the apostles denied Jesus they might do so also if they were not prepared. Even the best of us can slip and fall, as our human weakness falls prey to strong temptations. Not even the best leader is immune to failure. Nor beyond the promise of grace! We can be honest about our sin … because God’s grace is even greater.

Jesus did not give up on Peter … and he does not give up on us. Who would have thought that Peter’s negative example would have given courage to young and innocent Christians for years afterwards to stand up to questioning, persecution, torture and death rather than deny Jesus. Some even faced lions in the amphitheatre and did not deny their Lord.

Authenticity takes courage and compassion. Everyone around you has the same issues and struggles you do. Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of shame. All this is emotionally unhealthy. It makes your self-worth dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Vulnerability is the cure for shame. It is the willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. It helps you build up resilience to shame and to feel happier about who you are in Christ and what you do have. In fact, the moments we feel most connected to others are usually those in which we have opened up to someone and experienced their empathy. We've all experienced the relief of opening up to others, our problems melting away as we begin to feel understood. This is a truly powerful weapon against shame.

Like Peter, may you know the joy of forgiveness from all sin and failure, of standing unashamed, and of being commissioned to join Jesus in his work on earth. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Think of a a time when you failed or did something that humiliated or embarrassed you. What did it feel like and what have been the affects since that incident?
  2. Compare the difference between guilt and shame. How do we know the difference?
  3. Why are qualities such as openness and authenticity so difficult for us as humans?
  4. What’s the impact of vulnerability? Why is it so powerful? Why do some see it as weakness?
  5. How does being vulnerable help us overcome feelings of shame?
  6. Listen to Brene Brown's TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. What did you learn?
  7. What can leaders (whether parents, teachers, pastors or managers) learn from Jesus in how to create an environment where people can be open and honest about themselves, rather than building a toxic, shame-based culture?
  8. What are some indicators that we have made God's grace the foundation of our life and ministry?
  9. Pray and ask God for complete freedom … from guilt and shame.

[Picture - Rembrandt's Peter Denying Christ]


The Supper

Passover-unleavened-bread-and-wine

As we move towards Easter, let's take a look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26.

Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us.

The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families around the story that told them who they were - God's people rescued from Egypt. Jesus takes this story and infuses it with new meaning, changing the script to point it towards the work he would do through his death and resurrection. He instituted a new meal - a new supper - for us to connect deeply with him and each other. 

This sacred meal is known by a number of terms including breaking bread, the table of the Lord, communion, and the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving).  Jesus instituted this practice when eating with his disciples just before his death (see Matt.26:26-29. Mark 14:22-25. Luke 22:15-20). Luke shows how the first disciples carried out the instructions of Jesus as they broke bread together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11. Luke 24:19, 30). This practice was originally associated with a meal (Luke 22:20. 1 Cor.11:25) but later became a separate celebration. Paul also commented on the Lord’s Supper when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Six Dimensions of the Sacred Meal

Partaking in communion is not merely a religious exercise or tradition. It is intended to be a meaningful experience of God and His will for our lives, both personally and as a community of Christ-followers. We must not allow the routine of partaking of communion regularly turn it into a ritual rather than the significant celebration that Jesus intended for it to be. One helpful way to ensure that we retain the meaning of this sacred meal is to explore the breadth of its meaning. As we partake, we should look in at least six directions.

1. Look Backward. In the Lord’s Supper we look backwards to the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross. His death was not an accident or that of a martyr. His death was a substitutionary one in that he took our place and paid the price for our sins once and for all so that we could be forgiven. This was a complete act of grace and not because of any goodness or merit on our behalf. We can now rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross knowing that he has done everything that needs to be done for us to be right with God. He suffered for us. His body was broken and His blood was split for our salvation. Communion is a powerful reminder of this foundation of our faith, which is in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is central to the Christian faith (Gal.6:14. Col.1:20). It may seem foolishness to those who do not believe but may it never be foolishness to the contemporary church (1 Cor.1:18). May we never forget the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life for us!

2. Look Forward. Communion is much more than a morbid recalling of the passion.  Believers “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes (1 Cor.11:26).” In the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the time when the kingdom will come in full and we will enjoy personal fellowship with Jesus in a celebration meal together. We look forward with confidence each day knowing that our future is secure, whether we live or die. We look forward with joy at his return to earth to right all wrongs and to deliver us from sin and death. We also understand that there will be a day of account where we will be rewarded for the works we have done in this life. Finally, we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth – whether there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain or death (Rev.21:1-4). This accounts for the joy and gladness of heart in which the communion was celebrated (Acts 2:46).

3. Look Inward. Paul reminds us that the celebration of communion is also an important time of self-examination. Those who live in blatant sin when approaching the table are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27-28). Communion times can be important occasions of looking inward at one’s heart and holding oneself personally accountable before God. The original Lord’s Supper was partaken of in the context of betrayal and denial. This should serve as a warning to us and a sober reminder to take heed lest we fall. Paul says that some become weak, sick and even die because of not handling this dimension of communion properly (1 Cor.11: 29-30). No doubt, Jesus’ teaching about reconciliation applies here (Matt.5:23-24).

4. Look Upward. The Lord’s Supper also looks upward as we remember that Jesus’ death on the cross and burial in the tomb was not the end of the story. His resurrection seals the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death accomplished our full salvation. We now look up with conviction and joy knowing that the Savior lives and that He is seated at the right hand with the Father interceding for us (Heb.7:25). Jesus is alive! His resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the assurance that we too have been raised from the dead with him to walk in the power of a new life. We are citizens of a new kingdom. We seek for his will to be done and for his kingdom to come in all its fullness.

5. Look Around. Communion is also a time to reinforce the communal nature of this sacred meal. In John’s description of this time in Jesus’ life he includes the well-known story of Jesus taking on the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet (John 13:3-16). It was a powerful reminder of the calling we have to serve one another (Matt.20:20-28). That same evening Peter boastfully declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if the others did. This self-deceptive pride set him up for certain failure. Without others we can so easily fall away. We need each other’s friendship, encouragement, and accountability to stay faithful as we follow Jesus together. Communion is a time to look around and remind ourselves that we need each other. We are one body in Christ, regardless of differences.

6. Look Outward. Finally, there is an outward dimension to the Lord’s Supper. As Paul reflects on the communion, he reminds us that as we partake we “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he comes (1 Cor.11:26). We live in a world where people need to know the good news that Jesus has provided salvation from our sins through his death on the cross. Communion is a time to remind ourselves of those who haven’t heard or responded to this message. As we go from the table, we go with renewed commitment to pray, to love, and to share the good news of Jesus with others as we have opportunity.

As we can see, there is rich and deep meaning to this ancient practice. At communion we are to look backward (to Christ’s death), look forward (to Christ’s return), look inward (in self-examination), look upward (fellowship with God), look around (fellowship with each other), and look outward (to proclaim God’s word to others). May we all experience more and more of God’s amazing love for us as we celebrate communion together.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. Which direction do you find most meaningful or easiest to look when taking communion?
  2. Which direction is new to you or something you haven’t thought much about?
  3. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup in communion.
  4. In the Old Testament, the entire family partook of the Passover meal together, including the children. What implication does this have for whether children should partake of communion or not today?
  5. Share with your family, friends or small group about what communion means to you. Pray for each other and then partake of communion together. 

Is it time to slip away ...

Lake_boat_by_lembrant-d6h834x

As I read the Gospels, there is a refrain that continues to play throughout the stories of Jesus. Jesus is actually not this ministry machine, who is always teaching, praying, healing and helping people. He regularly slips away ... to be by himself.

Matthew 14:13. When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. MB

Matthew 14:23. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. MB

In solitude, we often find perspective for our life, as well as restoration for our soul from the rigours and pressures of daily life and relationships.

Is it time for you to slip away ... for an hour or two?


Start Small

Small

Some encouraging advice from Jesus today:

Matthew 10:41-42. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing. The Message Bible

Sometimes we can easily get lost in reaching for big dreams and huge visions that we lose the importance of the everday and the ordinary. Jesus wanted his disciples to take the good news of the kingdom to the world (that's BIG!) but he wanted them to do so by taking simple steps each day - as simple as giving a cup of water to someone right in front of you who is thirsty.

Mother Teresa got this:

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

"There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things."

What small step will you take today?


The God Who Pays Attention

Hairs-on-headJesus tells us that we have a Father who pays attention to our lives - down to the very details.

Matthew 10:29-30. God cares what happens to it (a small canary) even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head.

Numbering the hairs on our head (an easier task for some of us than others!) is not a statement of God's mathematical prowess but rather of his caring attention to even the minute details of our life.

The priestly blessing says this:

Numbers 6:24-26. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

What would it look like to realise that every moment of every day, God is looking at you - with full attention. And that he is doing so with a smile on his face - shining on you, as it were. Well, it's true!

May you live with that awareness today and may it release amazing love, joy and peace into your heart. So much so, that is overflows onto others around you.


Relax

Relax_1

Today, some words from Jesus as recorded in Matthew 6:31-34 (Message Bible translation).

What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's givingPeople who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he worksSteep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be metGive your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Wow, what incredible insight there is in those words. 

What phrase or word spoke to you about how you could go about your life today in a more relaxed an peaceful manner?


An Invitation

Invite

John tells us that when Philip and Nathanel met Jesus he gave them an invitation - "Come and see" (John 1:39). Jesus does not offer them an argument but an opportunity to enter into a daily relationship with him. 

Here are some more profound comments from Jesus:

Matthew 11:27. The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

Think about that. The God of the universe is offering us not only a relationship but an invitiation into knowledge of the very mysteries and purposes of life. 

The sacred text of Scripture and the Spirit of God call out to us each day. Will we turn aside to see and to listen? Or will we go on our merry way, purusing the bright lights and distractions of this world? 

The prophet Jeremiah once lamented ...

Jeremiah 2:13. "My people have committed a compound sin: they've walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns - cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves."

How often we run to things that never truly satisfy while we have a personal invitation to drink of living water.

An invitation requires an RSVP.

It's your move.


The Power of a Clear Conscience

ClearThe apostle Paul spoke a lot about a 'clear conscience' back in the first century. Here are two examples:

  • "Friends, I've lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment." Acts 23:1. MB
  • "I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people." Acts 24:16. NLT
  • "The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith." 1 Timothy 1:5. NLT
  • "Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked." 1 Timothy 1:19. NLT

A deep awareness of right and wrong, as well as a desire to do what is right (and an inability to always do it!), is a unique aspect of all human beings, regardless of a person's culture, race or background. Most people prefer justice over injustice, love over hate, peace over war, and forgiveness over violence. We may not always work for it; but we know it's right. It's just the way things are. For people of faith like myself, this is one of those indicators of God's fingerprints in our world. The presence of a 'law' reflects the existence of a 'lawgiver'. He has written that law on our hearts.

Our conscience is that part of us that indicates to our mind and heart whether we are doing what is right or wrong, urging us to do the right.

I heard the story of an American Indian who was asked to describe a 'conscience' to a young person. He described it like this:

"Your conscience is like a wooden triangle on the inside of you. When you do something wrong it turns, causing pain and urging you to stop. If you heed it's warning, it stops turning. If you don't, it keeps turning. However, if you ignore it long enough, over a period of time, the edges of the wooden triangle will wear off. At that time, when you do something wrong, it will still turn, but you will no longer feel anything."

What a profound answer!

To me, living with a clear conscience means:

  • No unsettled accounts - with God or people.
  • Everything repented of ... and forgiven.
  • Finishing each day with nothing left undone.
  • Beginning each day with a clear slate.

It means there is nothing that I am aware of between me and God or any other person that I have not done my very best to make right. Oh, the joy of a clear conscience. It leads to peace and an inner sense of well-being, enabling us to live fully present each moment ... without guilt or regret about the past or fear and worry about the future. 

The apostle John, Jesus' closest disciple, put it this way:

This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there's not a trace of darkness in him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we're obviously lying through our teeth - we're not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God's Son, purges all our sin. If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins - make a clean breast of them - he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we've never sinned, we out–and–out contradict God - make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest–Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good - not only ours, but the whole world's. 1 John 1:5 - 2.2. MB

May we know and experience the power of a clear conscience each day. 

 


Calm

Calm

One day, when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking over the boat. Jesus was asleep. Matthew tells the rest of the story this way, in his Gospel (Matthew 8:25-26):

The disciples went and woke him (Jesus), shouting, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.

There are many 'storms' in our world today - political storms, racial storms, economic storms, and relational storms. We also all have internal 'storms' - emotions, thoughts and feelings that rise up and overwhelm us at times. The prophet Nahum tells us that God has his way in the whirlwind and the storm - whatever their source may be (Nahum 1:3).

Thankfully, Jesus is present - in this world and in our lives. He is in our boat. We will not drown. He has the power to rebuke every wind and every wave coming against us. One word from him and there can be a 'great calm'. I love that word - 'calm'. It speaks of peace, rest, joy, serenity and tranquility.

One way to position ourselveves to know God's peace (true 'calm') is to learn to be still. 

Abraham's son, Isaac, once went out into the field to 'meditate' (Genesis 24:63) - to be still and to focus his mind on God and his world. This was centuries before the time of Bhudda and the rise of Eastern meditation, as well as the modern-day mindfulness trend. The practice of meditation has its source in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. 

How can you develop daily rituals to help you experience the calm desires for you? 

Prayer, Bible reading and stilness can help. 

There are also a variey of web sites and phone apps that can assist us, creating natural ambience and/or guiding us in slowing down from the frantic pace of our lives. [Check out www.calm.com as an example (this is not a 'religious' site). I like their free phone app]

Whatever it takes, my prayer for you today is that you would see Jesus, that His words would speak powerfully into your world, and that you would know his peace and his calm deep in your heart and mind.


They Sailed On

Sailing

Each time I read the Gospels, I never fail to see something new about Jesus and the way he brought transformation to people who he came in contact with.

After Jesus calmed the storm, he said to his disciples, "Why can't you trust me?" (Luke 8:25. Message Bible) That's a good question to consider after God brings you through a tough time. 

Luke goes on to say:

Luke 8:26-27. They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn't worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. Message Bible

I started to move on to the next story but felt to slow down and have a closer reflection on those simple three words - "They sailed on ..."

"They". This speaks to me of team, of community, of friendship, and of partnership. Life and ministry are not to be done alone but with other people. Jesus and others are in your boat. 

"Sailed". There are two main ways to get across a lake - rowing or sailing. Rowing is through our own strength while sailing is a different approach altogether. It's about catching the wind. It requires dependence, proper positioning, sensitivity and discernment. We are to be Spirit-driven people.

"On". We haven't arrived yet. There is more to come - experiences, transformations, miracles and challenges. Although there are times when we need to pause, to rest and to reflect, God's purposes are about moving forward - not backward or staying where we are.

Response:

1. Take time today to encourage three people in your 'boat', expressing gratitude for what they mean to you.

2. Pray for an increase of the Holy Spirit's work and power (wind) in your life.

3. See yourself as moving forward together - with your family, your friends, your small group and your church community.

"They sailed on."


Fuel - Focus - Faith

At our staff prayer meeting a few weeks back I was prompted to think and pray about three things as we began a new term of ministry: Fuel, Focus and Faith.

Fuel

In Ephesians 5:18-20, the apostle Paul tells us to, "Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit." Like a vehicle whose petrol tank gradually moves towards empty and like a technological device whose battery gradually dies down, we too have limited capacity and energy. It is vital that we stop and fuel - allowing ourselves to draw on the un-ending strength God provides. 

See also Renewing Your Energy

Focus  

One of the wisest person who ever lived said this:

Proverbs 4:25-27. Fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. NIV

Focus is essential. We live in a world of continual distraction that can so easily pull us aside from what is important. It takes effort and discpline to concentrate, to be fully engaged, to live in the here and now, to be completely present.

Faith

In the gospel of Luke, we read about a Roman Centurion desiring his child to be healed by Jesus. he said this to Jesus: “Just say the word and it will be so” (Luke 7:6-10). Jesus commended his simple trust and his understooding of authority. 

Despair comes from believing that tomorrow will be the same as today. Faith realises that in one moment, God can change everything! Just one word. Today's reality is not the last word. The story is not over. Have faith in God. He is bigger than any challenges you are facing right now.

Three simple questions:

1. Are you running on empty? Is it time to fuel? 

2. How's your focus? What is distracting you right now?

3. How's your faith in God today? 


Lessons from Jesus on Prayer (Pt.2)

Pray-like-jesus_poster_img
 
Yesterday, we looked at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
 
Before teaching that pattern or pathway for prayer, Jesus gave these important instructions:
 
Matthew 6:1-8. When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don't be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! 
 
Here is a quick summary of these helpful prayer tips:
 
1. Don't pray in order to be seen or to impress people.
2. Pray in private, in a quiet, undistracted environment. 
3. Your Father sees your prayers and will reward you for them. Prayer does make a difference!
4. Don't babble on and on when you pray. Talk to your Father as to a person who knows you, including what you need. Be relational not mechanical. 
 
That's prayer, the Jesus way.