Archive for June, 2016|Monthly archive page

Strength

A political observer today might think that bullying equals strength.

Whether it’s the American presidential campaign or the Russian takeover of the Crimea, bullying seems to work.  At least, up to a point.

But Christ had a different view of strength.

Some of his followers wanted him to make “Israel great again” by stirring up a revolt and overthrowing the Romans by force.

Instead, Jesus chose to go to the cross to die for the sins of billions of people.

It wasn’t easy – he sweat drops of blood in agony the night before the crucifixion.  He knew that the Father would turn his face from him the moment he gave up his life because of the dark sin he had voluntarily taken upon himself.

But Jesus embraced the will of God and died for us.  In the end, it was the world’s greatest victory and the Father placed the world at Christ’s feet.

Jesus’ strength came from obedience and the power of God.

I know myself that this approach to life doesn’t come naturally.  I tend to rebel against the thought of sacrificing my comfortable, pleasant life to follow the path that Jesus walked.

But there is an inner dissatisfaction within me when I wander away from what Jesus is asking me to do.  He knows – and I know – that inner peace only comes with obeying and relying on God.

The apostle Paul points me in the right direction in Ephesians 6:10: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

Paul says I can’t do it on my own.  I need God and the spiritual armour he has given me to fight the dark forces that try to pull me away from Jesus.

In Ephesians 6, the apostle lists those pieces of armour.  To cap it all, Paul says I am to pray constantly, calling on God for his help.

Down through the centuries, people who have followed the example of Jesus have changed the course of history.

They appeared weak but, inside, they were strong.

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No signpost

What do you do when you reach a fork in the road and there is no signpost to show you where to go?

Don’t we all face that at some point in our lives – in our families, in our careers, or in our faith journeys?

I have been thinking of that as I have the leisure now to consider the next step in my own walk with Christ.

Typically, in the hurly-burly of my earlier years, I made rapid decisions, largely based on my own evaluation of circumstances and opportunities.  In the big issues, I prayed to God, but with my own opinions as to what was best for me – and possibly others.

But Jan Johnson offers another approach in her book The Soul That Listens.  Her book is sub-titled “Finding rest and direction in contemplative prayer” and that is a good summary line of what she is talking about.

Like most of us, Johnson’s prayer life used to be largely about requests to the Lord.  She notes there is nothing wrong with making requests – indeed, Christ urges us to approach God with our needs.

But now she focuses on seeking God for himself in silent prayer – often called contemplative prayer.

She opens her book with a story of a man on a committee she led who had disrupted a committee meeting.  He was belligerent, insisting on his way so that the committee was polarized – him against all the others.

After the meeting, she sat in her car waiting for her son and started praying for this man.  She prayed angry prayers – in effect, asking God to make him see things her way.

Then, she thought: “Wow, who do I think I am – judging this man and telling God what to do?”

Then, she took a few deep breaths, opened her hands – palm upward – and silently told the Lord: “He is yours, God.  I leave him to you.”

Then, in silence, she said: “More of Jesus, less of me.”

Now, she felt calmer and started enjoying the summer evening air.  She was ready to ponder what God’s will might be for that man.

Now, she asked God: “What do I need to know about this man?”  She repeated a favourite “breath prayer” of hers – asking God to show her this person’s heart.

Her son jumped into her car and, on the way home, told her that this person had fought in Vietnam.  He had felt helpless with no control over his life.  She also knew he had lost his job at a large firm and had a difficult son.

As she questioned God about this person, asking the Lord what she needed to know.  She then realized that he had no control over his life and over his son.

That led to a decision to give him control over a small part of the project the committee was working on while the committee handled the rest.  The project worked out well for the committee and this man.

The lesson for me is that I need to pursue an ever closer relationship with God above all.  I need to pray John the Baptist’s words on seeing Jesus: “More of Jesus, less of me.”

She quotes a question asked by Peter Lord in his book Hearing God: “If God gave you nothing but himself, would you be satisfied?”

That’s a life-altering question.  Am I so focused on my own ideas of what I need and want that I would choose something else rather than an intimate relationship with God?

The answer to finding my way when there is no signpost in the road is to choose God as my guide and abandon myself to him.

Stepping out of the boat

Years ago, a 16-year-old Filipina ventured into the unknown, leaving home to be a nanny in Singapore so her wages would help support her family back in the Philippines.

She found herself in a very different culture – she was virtually alone.  A lukewarm Christian when she left home, she found herself turning to God and the tattered Bible her father had given her.

Today she is in Canada – another very different world – heading up family ministries in our church.

She shared her story during a recent prayer service in our church, calling on us to “step out of the boat” and our comfort zone – trusting God.

Her reference, of course, was to the wonderful story in Matthew 14:22-33 where Jesus walks on water toward the terrified disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

“Lord, if it’s you,” says Peter in the boat, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus says.

So, Peter gets out of the boat and walks on water until he sees the waves.  Then, he starts sinking, calls out to Jesus to save him, and is rescued by the Lord.

It’s much easier and less stressful to stay in the boat.  But Jesus used this incident to teach the disciples of the necessity of faith in our Christian lives.

I am reminded that I am not in this world to live comfortably and to avoid stress.  I am here to grow more like Jesus – and that involves risking myself to love and care for God and others.

Jesus was constantly stepping out of the boat during his sojourn on earth.  He risked the ire of Jewish leaders and King Herod to reach out to the poor and needy around him.

Looking at the great Bible characters, they stepped out of the boat, too.  In some cases, they almost had to be pushed out of the boat.

One of my favourite characters – Gideon – had to be constantly nudged by God to stand up to worshipers of Baal and invading armies.  But, gradually, he learned to trust God and his power until he and his people were able to drive the enemy out of Israel.

I find comfort in the story of Gideon.  God has an assignment for me, and he will not be surprised if I have to be pushed out of the boat to carry it out.

The key for me is to listen to his voice and take the plunge.

Compelled to sing

There will come a time when the children of God can’t help but sing to God with joy.

That may frighten you if, like me, you are a monotone.  But if you are a follower of Jesus, you will have a new body and a new voice in heaven – and you will want to shout and sing and cry out praises to God.

The typical picture of heaven among Christians is that worshiping God is going to be a burden.  How can we sing and praise God continually?

The answer is love.  We will be so enraptured by God’s love for us and our love for him that we can’t help expressing our feelings.

I am not suggesting that we will do nothing but sing and worship God.  There are indications in the Bible that we will be busy doing other things in heaven as well.

But worship and praise will be part of the fabric of life with the Lord.

Worship is sprinkled throughout the Book of Revelation written by the apostle John following a remarkable vision years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven after the crucifixion and resurrection.

Angels, elders and the redeemed sing to God and praise him, honouring him as creator and as redeemer.  There is overwhelming joy and awe.

Why do I, as a believer, find it so hard to worship God here on earth?

There are probably many reasons, but I can think of a few.

Here are a few questions I ask myself:

  • Do I really grasp how much God loves me? Psalm 139 paints a picture of God in passionate pursuit of his children, always near us and filled with mercy for us in our stubborn, sinful ways.
  • Do I understand who God really is?  I need to explore what the Bible says about the character of God and meditate upon this.
  • Do I grasp what Jesus did for me on the cross?  That is worth spending my remaining years in contemplation.
  • Am I ready to give myself to him without question, trusting he has a good plan for me?  I need to read and reflect upon what God has already done in the lives of faithful followers – particularly in the Bible.

Worship poured through the everyday life of the apostle Paul.  He longed to be with Jesus in eternity.  He praised the Lord in the midst of the most hurtful and life-threatening circumstances.

Like Paul, I have an opportunity now to practice joyful praise and thanksgiving in preparation for unreserved rejoicing in heaven.