Snippets from the Saints

olives-357849_960_720“Women received their dead raised to life again” (Hebrews 11:35)

“Nothing is far from God” (St Monica).

Monica, the mother of St Augustine belongs to that eternal choir of praying mothers, whose tears, as they cry out for the souls of their children, husbands and loved ones, flow like gentle streams before the throne of our God from generation to generation. The sum of Monica’s life was this – she prayed and her prayers were heard. So, she joins the many daughters of Sarah in that great hall of faith who were commended for persevering in prayer, travail and hope till they had ‘received their dead back to life’.

As a wife – her Berber Christian parents had given her in marriage to a Roman pagan – Monica’s heart was broken by the adulteries of her husband, Patricius. Her piety and gentleness, however, persuaded her mother-in-law to seek the Lord. Although her prayers and deeds of charity annoyed her husband, he respected her, and before his death, came to believe in Christ. She was known to be a peacemaker among her neighbours, devoting her time to healing discords and settling disputes.

She sought to bring her children up in the true faith; but Augustine grew up to be a wayward son, who pierced her Christian soul with many thorns. She grieved as this gifted young man wasted his talents at the altar of pleasure. Worse, he converted to the strange cult of Manichaeism – this grieved her so much that she almost drove him out of their home, but was persuaded by a dream to reconcile with him. A bishop to whom she turned for comfort reassured her that “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Finally, her prayers watered by tears bore much fruit when Augustine consecrated his life to Christ, and was baptised by the Bishop Ambrose. So, they spent a few peaceful years travelling together to preach the gospel, and rejoicing in their shared love for the Son of God, who had died to save sinners like themselves. Augustine recalled one of his last conversations with his mother-

‘Such things was I saying; and if not after this manner, and in these words, yet, Lord, You know, that in that day when we were talking thus, this world with all its delights grew contemptible to us, even while we spake. Then said my mother, “Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in this life. What I want here further, and why I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are satisfied. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly, so that I see you despising all earthly felicity, made His servant, what do I here?”‘

So she departed this world with great joy to take hold of the crown which Christ had set apart for her. Augustine recorded his thoughts about his mother during those last moments in ‘The Confessions’-

“And You sent Your hand from above, and drew my soul out of that profound darkness, when my mother, Your faithful one, wept to You on my behalf more than mothers are wont to weep the bodily death of their children. For she saw that I was dead by that faith and spirit which she had from You, and You heard her, O Lord. You heard her, and despised not her tears, when, pouring down, they watered the earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed; yea, You heard her.”

“For Your hands, O my God, in the hidden design of Your Providence, did not desert my soul; and out of the blood of my mother’s heart, through the tears that she poured out by day and by night, was a sacrifice offered unto You for me; and by marvellous ways did Thou deal with me.”

“Soon after to us both (St Augustine and his brother) she says, “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.”! And when she had given forth this opinion in such words as she could, she was silent, being in pain with her increasing sickness.”

She had previously expressed a desire to die in her own country; but, in those closing moments, being far from her own home and people had no power to disturb her mind. She realised then, as never before, that “Nothing is far from God”; so she was at peace.

“May she therefore rest in peace with her husband, before or after whom she married none; whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit unto You, that she might gain him also for You. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire Your servants my brethren, Your sons my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that so many of them as shall read these confessions may at Your altar remember Monica, Your handmaid, together with Patricius, her sometime husband, by whose flesh You introduced me into this life, in what manner I know not”.

Father, we thank You for praying mothers like Monica who call out to You, day and night. May their cry always come before Your throne, and may their prayers be answered beyond all expectations, In Jesus’ name.

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The Keys to Answered Prayer

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“And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 BSB)

Like most Christians, I have been privileged to receive answers to prayers, and some answers were almost miraculous. Yet, I have wondered why certain prayers, often on subjects closest to my heart, never seem to cross the threshold of heaven. I realise, of course, that God is not deaf to our entreaties, nor does He willingly afflict us; and, that in His inscrutable wisdom, He sometimes chooses to withhold the desired result at least for a time. The delays, and the rare denial – have seemed unfair and most inconvenient, and occasionally caused much sadness. Does God not realise how important these things are to me? If He really loved me, would He not answer my prayers more quickly?

In retrospect, I realise that the seeming delays have always strengthened my faith, and the denials have invariably worked out for my advantage. Despite these experiences, every new trial raises the same questions in my mind – “Why does God who loves us, and who has given us this promise – ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you’ (John 16:23) – wait endlessly to answer some prayers? Is there anything wrong with me, and is there something I ought to do differently, before God will answer. Having prayed and pondered over these questions for some years, I am convinced that there is indeed a relationship between a Christian’s maturity and God’s response. Let us look at the subject of answered prayer in more depth.

Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name”, the Father will give. What does ‘in My name’ actually mean? We are Christians, not pagans, and ought to understand that this phrase is not a mantra to open a magic door. It implies a relationship as well as an alignment of interests. A father would do for his child what he would do for no other; equally, a good son would do nothing to disgrace his father’s name. A wise father would not readily hand over his estate to an immature or untrustworthy child, for he realises that the actions of such a child could ruin his future prospects. Withholding a request can be an act of great kindness, and God knowing that we would use a particular ‘blessing’ foolishly, might delay in bestowing it.

The first key to an answered prayer is, therefore, a righteous life – meaning a life of consecration and obedience. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). As Christians, our ‘positional’ righteousness – or the righteousness which God imputes to us because we trust in Christ’s perfect work on the cross – gives us access to the Father’s throne. After we have been adopted into God’s family, we must continue to walk in obedience. The choice to deny the flesh, and walk in the Spirit stimulates spiritual growth – as the innate selfishness common to us all, steadily diminishes and we learn to put the Kingdom first. When we obey Christ, it proves that we love Him (John 14:23). Just as we prove our love for Christ by our obedience, we prove our obedience to Christ by the love we show our neighbours. This obedience constitutes what has been described as the believer’s ‘personal righteousness’. The apostle John mentioned that one who does not love, walks in darkness and does not know God.

Obedience produces a clear conscience, and a special confidence as we come to the heavenly throne. “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and we will receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:21-22 BSB). The assurance that grows in our hearts as we choose to walk in the light and love of God has the profound effect of releasing faith. This brings us to the topic of faith.

The second key is faith“Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24 HCSB). Jesus, during His earthly ministry had full confidence that God always heard His prayers – ‘Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing here, so they may believe that You sent Me”‘ (John 11:42 BSB). Certainly, Christ’s obedience meant that He had God’s ear; still, His unshakeable confidence in the Father’s eagerness to hear Him also rested on His knowledge of God’s character. As Jesus pointed out to the disciples, God is surely better than any earthly father; so why should anyone doubt His willingness to bless us? A deep trust in God’s love and wisdom unlocks the storehouses of heaven; and when we truly begin to know God, our hearts are filled with hope in the midst of our troubles.

Let us consider the example of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-24), who refused to give up in the face of the Lord’s apparent rebuffs. First, Jesus ignored her pleas for her demon-possessed daughter; then He said He had come for the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ and not for Gentiles like her; and finally that He would not take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. She retorted, Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. Her trust did not rise from an extensive knowledge of the scriptures, but from an instinctive understanding of God’s nature.

Sadly, the children of Eve too readily listen to the Serpent’s voice – “Did God really say? Indeed He did not mean it…” Our hearts and minds are constantly tossed to and fro by the uncertainty of human experience, and we attribute to God the same lack of fidelity we see in ourselves and our neighbours. The experience of walking close to God gives us a greater insight into the workings of His mind, and quells such fears. As we begin to understand God’s mercy, generosity and faithfulness; the anxiety gives way to trust, our hearts are strengthened and then, we boldly put forth our hands to receive.

The third key is perseverance. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). We have the duty to ask, and those who do not ask will not receive. Some prayers are answered as soon as we ask, but for others we must wait longer in prayer. As we seek God earnestly to know His will in every matter that we have placed before Him, His Spirit will guide us to align our requests more closely to His purposes for us, or point out areas of our lives that need changing. And finally, some prayers require an even higher level of tenacity, likened to the urgent knocking on a firmly shut door, simply because the enemy is intensely opposed to these requests being fulfilled. We are, literally, pursuing a case in court where the devil has set up obstacles and deceptions to thwart the purposes of God from being fulfilled in our lives.

The Lord told His disciples the story of a persistent widow to “show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV). The widow went before an unjust judge pleading, “Grant me justice against my adversary”; for a long time, this judge ‘who neither feared God nor cared for what people thought’ ignored her pleas; but she finally broke through his iron resistance. He ‘feared’ that she would eventually ‘wear him out’ by her persistence. Jesus said, And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” .

There is a reason why God sometimes makes us wait; our patience gives Him a special reason to bless us even beyond our original request; moreover, it is His will to bless many others through the answer to our prayers. Consider Hannah’s sorrow and her prayers, the result of which was Samuel, a man of integrity and wisdom who led Israel at a crucial time in its history. “It is good to wait on the Lord” and “the Lord is good to those who wait on Him”. A believer must, in some cases, go through a more arduous refining process than usual, when God’s Spirit of engages closely with our spirits, and His fire burns away the impurities in our lives, before we receive the answer to our prayer. As God prepares the answer to the believer’s prayer, so He prepares the believer to receive the answers. The blessing is received in the ‘fullness of time’, when its impact is more profound than it would be otherwise.

As Paul pointed out, perseverance produces character; and character, hope, that is so closely linked to faith, for it springs from the expectation that our prayers are being heard. This hope, we are told, “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). So, we see how closely the 3 keys operate to unlock the answer to our prayer. 

Praying for a New Reformation

IMG_0003.JPGAll Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 2:16-17 BSB)

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
(The Collect for today)

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation Day. In 1517 an emissary of the pope, John Tetzel toured Germany to raise funds for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As in the 21st century, many well-meaning Christians emptied their pockets hoping to be ‘blessed’. Unlike in our age, when tele-preachers promise material prosperity in return for donations, these poor believers gave their money out of a deep concern for the souls of their loved ones who had died and were ‘suffering in purgatory’. These souls, they had been promised, would be freed and drawn upwards to heaven if they made a suitable offering. According to Tetzel “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs”. To such depths had the church leadership fallen – bishops lived in great luxury, indulged in sexual immorality and in power struggles, while exercising absolute authority over their flock – that the eternal destiny of human souls no longer mattered to the Pope or his bishops. The poor Christians of Luther’s generation believed these men held the keys to heaven, for they knew nothing of the Christian scriptures. The Bible was read aloud to them in churches in Latin and never in their native tongues.

In an age, when the slightest sign of dissent could cost a person his life, Martin Luther’s act of unparalleled courage – he fully expected to be killed for heresy, as he posted the Ninety Five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, challenging the sale of indulgences – broke the stranglehold of the Roman church over the people of Europe. Forgiveness, he declared, was God’s to grant, and the pope’s false assurances only served to draw people away from their devotion to Christ. He also translated the Bible into the German language, making it possible for common people to understand the real message of Christ, and so discern the falsehoods peddled by the Roman Catholic priesthood. So began a great spiritual awakening of faith in Germany, with parallels across other cities and nations of Europe. Thanks to Luther and other reformers, a millennium of darkness ended, and the faith of the early Christians was restored, at least in part, to its former glory. The reformers formulated the solae of the Christian religion as a defence against heresy; the original 3 solae were ‘scripture over tradition’ (Sola Scriptura), ‘faith over works’ (Sola Fides), and ‘grace over merit’ (Sola Gratia); to which were added Solo Christo (through Christ alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (all glory be to God alone).

Sadly, in our age, a great darkness has overwhelmed the church in Europe. We see a great turning away from the faith and a total disregard for the sacrifices of their forebears. The continent that once bravely guarded the pearl of great price, and enjoyed all the blessings of a Christian heritage has now turned to false idols. So terrible is this rebellion in God’s eyes that He has given the people over to be led by foolish and wicked leaders, who aim to erase all traces of Christianity from their laws, schools, homes and, even churches. For example, a student was recently expelled from Sheffield University for expressing his view privately on Facebook, that same-sex marriage was wrong in God’s eyes. Anyone who stands up for the faith is now labelled a bigot, fined, imprisoned or vilified in the media. The rulers of Europe, in their ignorance of history, have opened their doors to a fresh invasion by Islam, the faith that attacked Jews and Christians for the past 1400 years.

Without another reformation and spiritual awakening, the freedom and tolerance, the scientific and cultural progress, the peace, order and prosperity, birthed by the Reformation in Europe, will die in our lifetimes, and the invading hordes once repelled at the Gates of Vienna, will overrun the continent. Certainly, we have Christ’s own promise that the Gates of Hades will never prevail over His church – so we may be certain that He will preserve a remnant in Europe that will never bow the knee to Baal; yet, the treasures of this glorious Christian inheritance will be lost to future generations.

So, before the door of opportunity finally closes, we must besiege the heavens with our prayers for the lost souls of Europe, for the children and youth who have been deprived of all light and truth, and are forced to bow their knee to the false gods of this age. May God have mercy on them and us, may He grant us a spirit of repentance and salvation, and draw millions back to Himself. Let us plead with God to raise up reformers in this generation who will courageously take up the banner of Christ. For nothing is impossible with God.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never-failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Martin Luther

Father, have mercy on us and send us a new awakening. Turn the hearts of people back to you. Raise up courageous men and women who will contend for the faith. May your kingdom come, Lord Jesus.

Obedience- the Lord’s Way

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“If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15 NIV).

Last Sunday, I listened to a sermon on obedience, which served as a reminder to me of my many shortcomings in this crucial area. However, the final bits of the message also gave me hope as they drew my attention once more to the overwhelming forgiveness of God. How thankful I am that we serve a God who does not treat us as our sins deserve; and indeed, when do we need the grace of God, His forgiveness, His love and most of all His divine attention more than in the hour of failure, when we have stumbled? The elder exhorted us not to give up when we have failed, but to return to God. How encouraging to ones, who like me, struggle so much and fail too often. This brother kindly gave me permission to share my thoughts on his sermon in this blog.

As Christians, we need to be reminded, often, that God sets great store on our obedience, and there are great benefits when we obey. Eve’s disobedience brought endless sorrow to her descendants, but Christ’s obedience translated into great victory for humanity. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus gently reminded His disciples, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me… Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 15:21, 23 NIV). When we disobey, it proves that we have forgotten His love and forgotten to love Him in return; and so, our disobedience grieves the Beloved.

What sort of obedience does God require from us? Prompt, eager, cheerful and complete. An obedience preceded by a minimum of fuss, reluctance, debate. Obedience that fully sees the cost, and yet counts it a small thing because of the joy it will bring to the Beloved. Remember Mary’s words- “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38 KJV). If only we all learnt to obey like this, what great peace we might have, and what joy we might impart to those in heaven, as well as those on earth. To properly understand the nature of true Christian obedience, we must compare it to its inferior versions, for much of what the world labels obedience, is lacking in one or more of its vital qualities, and therefore rendered fruitless and ineffective. Even great men of God have stumbled at times in this regard, not to mention the more habitually sinful souls; God’s words of rebuke, and the consequences some of them suffered, have been recorded as a warning to us.

Delayed obedience: Remember the foolish Israelites (Numbers 14) who came out of Egypt with Moses? How they grumbled and cried at every obstacle along the way to the Promised Land – despite having witnessed the many miracles of God, His timely deliverance and provision. Where does such behaviour spring from but a heart of rebellion? They laid the final straw on the metaphorical camel’s back, when, upon being informed that there were giants in Canaan, they not only refused to go in but threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who had ‘a different spirit’ from the other ten, and dared to see things from God’s perspective- “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

God would no longer tolerate their conduct, which rose from an attitude of contempt for Him, and they were punished with forty years of wandering in the wilderness until nearly every last one of the older generation had died away. Only two of that generation, Joshua and Caleb, who held steadfastly to God’s promises, would live to enjoy the Promised Land, while the other ten spies died in the plague that afflicted the wanderers. When Moses pronounced God’s sentence on them, they had a seeming, and temporary, change of heart. ‘“When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, ‘“Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned! ” But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies…” Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country… Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.’ In this example, delayed obedience resulted in defeat rather than victory.

Partial obedience: This is best typified by the actions of King Saul, a man chosen by God to lead His people and endowed with every mark of nobility, except a heart of obedience. He was commanded by the prophet Samuel to inflict God’s judgment on the Amalekites, Israel’s inveterate foe (1 Samuel 15 NIV)- “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys (vs. 3)”  At the point of victory, Saul chose not to obey God fully – “Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (vs. 9).

When confronted by Samuel about this, this is what Saul had to say- “But I did obey the Lord.. I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.” 

Sadly, in Saul’s case, what began as a seemingly innocent act of imperfect obedience, gave way to a growing separation from God, many more rebellious actions, including divination and in the end, a terrible death on the battlefield.

Wrong attitude: Moses’ failure (Numbers 20) is a warning, and equally a source of hope, for us. The Israelites had come to a place that came to be named for their quarrelling – Meribah. Here there was no water to drink, and they began to harass Moses – ‘”Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water”‘ (vs. 5-7). Moses, furious with his countrymen and frustrated with his lot, instead struck the rock with his staff, and water gushed out. But God was not pleased with his attitude. He said,“Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (vs. 12). Moses’ apparently innocuous act reflected his deep frustration with God at that point. When faced with the quarrelsome Israelites, he refused to continue in his former reverence towards God, and allowed himself to be carried away by his external circumstances.

All Moses’ sacrifices had apparently come to nothing; yet, for this man of God, his failure was not the end. He picked himself up, and clinging to God, walked again in implicit obedience. He refused to spend his days bemoaning his loss, and chose to invest his energies into equipping the next generation of Israelites to possess the Canaan that he had been forbidden to enter. He continued to seek God’s face, and came to be known as His friend. Moses’ failure was a brief blip on the graph of his walk with God, for he returned to serve God with even greater fervour than before.

Perfect obedience: Finally, we come to the perfect obedience of Jesus, of whom the Father testified from the cloud, in the presence of Moses, Elijah and the three apostles, Peter, James and John- “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 NIV). So we are commanded to listen to Him, and follow His example. The reason for the Father’s pleasure in the Son was His unswerving obedience to the Father’s will. As He told those who questioned His call as God’s Messiah, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own… for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:28-29 NIV).

The obedience of Jesus was most evident during His passion at Gethsemane. Here, we see His anguish when confronted with the reality of His impending cross, when He would be forsaken by His friends and be separated from the Father- ‘“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will”…He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done”‘ (Matthew 26:38, 39, 42 NIV). Equally, we see His commitment to obey the Father, as He boldly faced the hour of His betrayal and death, saying to those who followed him, “…the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11 KJV). His obedience resulted in a mighty triumph over the powers of darkness, as He obtained our release from captivity. The impact of His perfect obedience is described in Philippians 1:5-11

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus 

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

The secret behind His success lay not in His being part of the Godhead, but in His humility- He had emptied Himself and worn the mantle of a servant. His attitude was the opposite of Saul’s, in its complete willingness to efface Himself, in obedience to the Father. May God grant each of us the grace to imitate our Lord’s obedience, so that we may also share in His joy.

Father, increase our desire to obey You, and keep us from stumbling. Forgive us for the many times we have disobeyed You in the past. In Jesus’ name.

Emptied, To Love

book-1659717_960_720.jpg“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Upon eating that fruit, the ancient Serpent promised, she would receive special knowledge and become like God. Suddenly Eve, formerly so intent on obeying God, was enticed by the marvellous possibilities laid out before her and forgot that God is the Giver of every good gift. Doubting God’s goodness and the sufficiency of His love for her, she sought the promised new experience- self-fulfilment through knowledge. How deceived she was, as she soon  found out! Eating that fruit brought nakedness, shame, fear, sin, death and separation from God.

“So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge… I concluded that even this endeavour is like trying to chase the wind!” (Ecclesiastes 1:17 NET). Solomon, the wisest of men, likewise, discovered the vanity and emptiness of intellectual pursuits that exclude God. Blessed  with superior intelligence, wealth and leisure beyond the lot of most humans, he learnt through bitter experience that the greatest of human achievements, in the end, fail to bring true satisfaction. For too often, we seek even things that are good and noble for wrong reasons-  envy and rivalry, for example- “I saw that all labour and all skillful work is due to a man’s jealousy of his friend” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 HCSB).

Yet, the scriptures describe wisdom and learning as desirable, rather than inimical for human flourishing. Consider the following scripture verses-

By wisdom the LORD founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens” (Proverbs 3:9 NLT). “Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NHEB)“Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJ2000).

These scriptures acknowledge the creative power of godly wisdom and exhort us to eagerly seek it. Studying and learning the Bible, for example, build spiritual resilience. There is no virtue in ignorance and far too many Christians are led astray by their lack of understanding of scriptures. However, if the quest for knowledge, whether worldly or spiritual, is driven by pride and selfish ambition, the end result will be marred, as Eve learnt. Consider the impact of scientists who use their knowledge and skill to develop ever more destructive bombs. Their achievements- which might bring wealth and success in this life- will neither promote human welfare nor bring them honour before the Judgement Seat of God.

Worse, what happens when believers pursue spiritual gifts- prophetic powers and the knowledge of mysteries- out of a desire for power, worldly acclaim or material gain? Even a superficial knowledge of divine ‘mysteries’ will cause them to grow proud, and pride is a fertile soil for deceptions to take root. Pride caused the fall of Lucifer, and scripture warns us that all who yield to pride will meet the same end unless they repent. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 NIV). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Christian leaders who are puffed up by their own understanding will employ their learning in ways that hinder rather than advance the gospel. All of us in church circles have heard of Christian congregations being split up by possibly well meaning, but spiritually immature Christians, who rely on their personal charisma and supposed knowledge to influence others into accepting new and untested ideas. They refuse to submit to their leaders; and lacking in spiritual discernment, they force people to choose sides in needless arguments. The church soon becomes embroiled in pointless disputes as many, especially newer Christians are won over to their side of the debate. Instead of being ‘nurtured by the pure milk’ of the gospel, these believers and those who imitate them grow arrogant, lukewarm, unloving, bitter and quarrelsome; holding to forms of legalistic righteousness devoid of grace and power.

As Paul explained in Romans 14, while Christian morality and core beliefs ought never to be compromised, there are a whole host of situations where believers are free to decide for themselves based on their individual consciences. As I wrote on another blog-

“It is possible for Christians to hold a wide spectrum of opinion on [what are called] ‘indifferent’ matters. Some, for example, might believe the chapel to be sanctified space set apart to honour God in worship, and therefore to be used only for religious activities, while others might say, ‘This is just a room- there is nothing special about it’. One view is not necessarily superior to the other in God’s sight. The important thing for us Christians is not to break the unity of the Spirit over non-essentials. It offends God when we judge someone who thinks differently in these things, because He sees that they mean to honour Him in what they do. We must leave all judgment in such matters to God, for only He can do it perfectly.”

Yet, how many churches have splintered during the course of history over relatively trivial matters that have no bearing on salvation and are of no value as far as spiritual growth is concerned. Silence on ‘disputable’ matters is often the way of wisdom and of love. So Paul advised Romans on the best way to handle such issues- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22 NIV). 

Solomon, having carefully investigated the value of wisdom and knowledge towards human well being concluded that, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 NET).

To avoid the pitfalls of vain knowledge, we should seek love before understanding, and carefully evaluate the potential impact of what we teach on others. Will our arguments, valid though they may be, cause another believer to act rashly or unjustly, or produce disharmony within the body of Christ? Then all such knowledge and arguments are best kept to ourselves. Ayone who is wise in his own eyes distances himself from God, and the knowledge of which he is so proud is partial and deficient, because it is disconnected from God, who is the fount of all wisdom. The final result of such knowledge is feeble and ugly, incapable of achieving any goodZ “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know… (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 NIV). 

In order to exercise godly wisdom in our conversation and actions, we must prayerfully empty ourselves of pride and selfish ambition, and pursue love in all we say and do. Let us “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). There is a hierarchy of priorities in these matters; in the Bible we are commanded to seek 1. God, 2. His kingdom and righteousness, 3. Peace, 4. Love, and then, 5. Wisdom- in that order.

How does one find wisdom? If anyone lacks wisdom, James instructs, let him ask the Father who gives liberally without finding fault” (James 1:5). The Holy Spirit will reveal to us more of the nature of Christ, who has become for us “wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “The wisdom from above”, which the Father imparts to us, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Ephesians 3:17 ESV). Here is the key to wisdom- when we compare the above verses with 1 Corinthians 13, we find that wisdom is remarkably similar to love in all its characteristics- it is indeed love’s identical twin, and where you find one you will find the other. So seek only to grow in love, and wisdom will inevitably follow.

Father, we pray that we will grow in love and wisdom, so that we may be a blessing to others and live lives that are pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name.

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When I was a young teenager, newly converted from atheism, having just met Jesus, I attended a Christian youth camp.

Amongst the many discussions we had, the tears that were shed as we shared our lives, the laughter of new friendships formed, I was taught the importance of taking time out every day to be alone with God in prayer and bible study.

I struck gold!

I had learned an important secret to living the abundant life.

In the decades to follow, the storms of life would rage – incredible financial loss, national tragedy, suffering, cancer, death of parents, illness – alongside the normal tides of college, exams, job interviews, unemployment, problems at work, marriage, parenting…I had found an anchor of hope behind the veil.

I knew, no matter how hard life got – through every crisis, big and small, or not – I could go to Jesus in…

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Love and Noisy Gongs

bell 3“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

We all speak in the tongues of men, and some may imagine that they speak in the tongues of angels, exhibiting great pride in their gift of eloquence or powers of persuasion. The power of these gifts must never be underestimated for history has shown that weak or stupid arguments, when presented by someone with great charisma or eloquence can triumph, at least briefly, over a cast iron case or what we consider to be enduring values. Take Hitler, for example. The power of articulation, the ability to find loopholes in laws, to conceal, selectively display or twist true facts, has made lawyers richer than scientists and inventors. Nimbleness of the tongue, therefore, has a higher value in many worldly settings than great intelligence. In God’s kingdom, however, the eloquence of love surpasses the loftiness of speech.

Some of the most influential men in the Bible – and therefore in history – lacked this much coveted skill. Consider Moses with his halting speech and stuttering tongue or Paul who boasted to the Corinthians that he presented the truth to them not with natural eloquence but with the power of the Spirit – “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God… My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…” (1 Corinthians 2:4-6 BSB). So the lack of communication skills is not a barrier for anyone intent on serving God.

Now, a noisy gong or a bell has its purpose; they were designed to make a sufficiently loud noise at the right time, and a noiseless gong is quite useless. The sounding of a church bell heralds the start of the service and the school bell reminds pupils of a new lesson about to begin or the end of a day. Yet, a ceaselessly ringing bell can be quite irritating. Speech is an important part of our Christian witness, and we are taught about the need for grace and wisdom as well as proper restraint in our language. A rash or uncontrolled tongue indicates lack of maturity in a Christian. Indeed, St James goes so far as to say that “If anyone does not stumble in – is never at fault in – what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2). So, we should all strive to steward our speech wisely in our service for God’s kingdom.

What God intensely desires for His people is for us to reflect His love to one another. For the day will come when human tongues are, in a sense, stilled, but love will endure. In heaven, cleverness or excellence in speech will have little value, and our tongues will no longer be employed to deceive or to control our neighbours or to convince judges or to conceal the true intentions of our heart. The light of heaven will expose all motives, and few explanations or arguments will then be necessary. In eternity, our tongues will be used mainly to praise God, and love one another. On that day, those who walked in love on earth will be greatly rewarded.

In practical terms, this means that Christians ought to learn to speak the language of love now. We must eliminate from our repertoire, words that are negative, unkind, harsh, critical, scornful or sarcastic. It might, on occasion, be loving to point out a wrong, but this must be done in a spirit of love and gentleness. The key is to consciously practise using our tongues as instruments of love, and this, of course, is a work of time. Indeed, all Christian virtues need cultivation – effort, tears and patience. We may fail many, many times, but let us not grow discouraged or weary. So many times we may have used our tongues unwisely or without love; yet if we humble ourselves before God and others, we receive forgiveness and the grace to continue.

The prophet Isaiah was given a special ministry of encouragement. Where other prophets were commanded to pronounce judgment on Judah and Israel, Isaiah was sent with God’s healing balm. In order to quip him to be an effectively minister of God’s comfort to His people, God dealt with Isaiah’s speech and his hearing. He was first made aware of his past failure in the use of his tongue. This revelation filled him with a sense of profound horror, and then as the angel ministered healing, a new urgency to be sent with the message of God’s peace. ‘“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:5-8 NIV).’

Then, the Lord  ‘awakened’ Isaiah’s ears to hear exactly what God would have him say – “The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4 NIV). Although he was sent to a people who were resistant to the things of God, he was commanded to speak words of hope and encouragement. “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed… (Isaiah 40:1-2 NASB). These words have brought hope to generations of believers in their darkest hours.

So the power of words prompted by love and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is tremendous. As we practise yielding our tongues to the control of the Holy Spirit, as Moses and Paul learnt to do, we will discover the truth of these words –“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Proverbs 25:11 NASB) and “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15 ESV). As we depend on Christ to help us use our lips as instruments of love and grace to build others up, and draw them closer to God, we ourselves will be continually refreshed by the dew of heaven (Proverbs 11:25). 

Father, take our lips, and make them an instrument of Your love. Fill us with Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name.