1 Kings 19, Carrying burdens, community of grace, Depression, Discipleship, Ministry, self awareness, vocation

Success or faithful obedience….

Some more thoughts from the prayer room yesterday…

I was feeling really sorry for myself, perhaps a bit of post Christmas blues?

I did feel a bit rubbish, the prayer room was empty, struggling to get teams out with Street Pastors as often as we’d like, Church has been particularly challenging over the last term…

It’s probably not on the same level as Elijah in the cave following the firey show-down on mount Carmel with Ahab and Jezebel wanting to murder him (1 Kings 19) -but I wasn’t feeling great.

As a side thought, I was chewing over a friend -Kevin Lewis’- Blog who talked about not being “disillusioned or disappointed” but rather deflated, because if we are ‘deflated’ we can be ‘inflated’ again…

And another side thought, I also, was thinking about ‘restoring the joy of our salvation’ somehow in real life, real ministry, with real people, I want to know the real truth of the “Joy of my Salvation”.

Anyway, into the prayer room walked Derek from Carmel whose fire for the Lord was infectious, little guy but with big heart for God, and then walked in my friend Paul Mundy… and as we prayed together I felt my Spirit lift. It reminded me of a picture from the Bible which used to hang in my dad’s study, which has Moses sat on a rock, with two guys holding his arms up. The story behind it can be found in Exodus 17, Moses is praying with his hands raised whilst Joshua is fighting a battle bellow, and whilst his hands are raised in blessing they have victory and when they fall they are losing, so two guys support him and hold his arms up when he tires and is unable to stand anymore Sometimes we need to encourage of re-encourage one another. Sometimes just being, our presence alongside, there can really help, encourage and inspire someone else.

Today as a Church we went off to Clevedon and met Michael Eden, who was also talking about Moses, who also had times of struggle in his life and ministry when in the middle of the desert and his people turned on him and grumbled, and Moses must have felt pretty low.

Yet Michael reminded us that when Moses encountered God in the burning bush, God was the one who was moving but the invitation for Moses was to partner with God.

We forget we are partnering with God and think it is all down to us, we rate ourselves and our self-worth from the successes and failures we face, and if you are like me we are often unduly harsh with ourselves.

Moses must have found it a longish and tough call going through 10 plagues and umpteen rejections from Pharaoh until eventually he saw the people of Israel freed, but the success wasn’t down to Moses but rather it belonged to God, Moses wasn’t responsible for the success of failure of the task,  no, his call was simply to be faithful and obedient.

 It is a liberating thing to know that our call is simply to be faithful to the call of God, because this sets us free from comparisons, looking and watching other peoples’ race -often we play our blooper reel over someone else’s highlight reel- and feeling like a failure.

Yet the call is not about apparent success but about faithful obedience, the fruit rests in the hands of God, sometimes we don’t see the fruit we are involved in birthing -Philip probably never knew the extent of the Ethiopians Eunach’s gospel endeavours- but just because we don’t see the fruit doesn’t mean it’s not there, and even if we have a Church crammed full of people listening to us preach doesn’t actually mean that anything fruitful and worthwhile is actually happening.

Ultimately the fruit, the growth, the success rests with God, our call is to be faithful. Sometimes that call to faithfulness can be feel tough, Jackie Pullinger the missionary from inside the walled city of china, slogged for 7 years without a convert, and yet broke through and thousands have been blessed by here, but if her emphasis had been on her own success she wouldn’t have hung on in there and seen the blessing.

Bill Wilson who leads the worlds’ largest Sunday School talks about Christians often quitting before the miracles kick in.

Often God makes us hang on for a bit that maybe we know our dependence on him, allows our pride to be dealt with and our desire for fruit for no other reason that to bless and bring joy to God.

The truth is that if we want to have fruit, and fruit that will last, the only way of achieving comes from our ‘remaining in him’, he is the source of all life. Success is God’s job and we’ll only see much of what God has done through us the other-side of the grave.

Victory only comes through faithfulness and obedience, doing it God’s way, ultimately the only way to be fruitful comes from the path of surrender, the saying “not my will but yours” and seeking to be faithful.

So let us encourage and bless one another to keep on seeing Christ glorified in what we do, lets seek him and follow him, worrying more about whether we are in the centre of Gods will, surrendered to him, rather than just doing our own thing and hoping God blesses it.

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prayer, presence, Spirituality, Worship

The Power of Presence…

I have recently been thinking a lot about worship.

I have suggested that those of us who regularly join together for Pints Of View ought to meet up and pray and worship first.

Something I am keen to suggest too for us as Street and School Pastors before we go out.

I think worship is the key to everything… yet when we worship because it is the key to everything we are missing the point, because to worship in order to get a key sounds more like playing Super Mario than living in a right relationship with God.

I think when we come to God in worship, we are reminded of who he is, he greatness and might, and also of our dependence on him, so often in our meetings although he is acknowledged with a prayer at the beginning our focus often remains very much on ourselves and our capabilities. When we worship we focus on him and his abundance, provision and power. His faithfulness to do all that he has called us to do through us is liberating, because we need to be reminded afresh that we don’t do what we are called ‘for’ God but rather ‘with’ him. The less we worship the more we get this wrong.

Worship is often an act of will, to be honest when life is tough, we are tired and stressed, often we squash our worship out of the agenda, yet often when we are feeling the least like worshipping, often it is when we need to worship the most. We discover that in worship there is a refreshing of the soul, a re-energizing of the will, a renewal of the mind that need, but don’t always need.

Yet not only does worship reminded us of who God is, and not only does it require us to shuffle of the thrones of our own lives and let Christ re-take his rightful place, it also affirms us in who we are in Christ. We are his beloved children.

I believe that because sometimes we live in worship poverty, that is a contributory factor in why so many Christians struggle with their identity in who they in Christ, and of the Fathers great love for them.

Worship shows us God, but as we worship God somehow we discover afresh something of God’s love for us, a divine exchange seems to happen, as we pour our love at his feet, he pours his love over us.

I’m struck by how we use our bodies in worship.

When our hands our  lifted up symbolise surrender, which is I believe at the heart of what worship is, even though we don’t understand what is happening around us, why it is happening, it is a surrender and saying to God even though I don’t understand, I still trust you with my life.

When come before the communion table with our empty hands, we are reminded that we come to God empty handed, but come before a generous God who will provide all we need as we seek to follow him.

When we are down on our knees we remember God’s might and majesty… his rule over our life, who he is, and us pledged to his service.

Yet worship isn’t just a need for us, but I do believe that when we spend time in God’s presence we become more like him, we become like those we hang around with, which is true when we are with God, we become like him, he shines from us.

I love the story of Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining because he had been in the presence of God, so much so he had to put a veil over his face… His encounter with God shone out to the people, who noticed the presence of God on Moses.

It’s a picture often picked up in scripture, the treasure shining from the broken clay vessels, gleaming out of the cracks, proclaiming “Christ in us the hope of glory”.

The presence of God with his people is so important and powerful that when God offers to let the people of Israel go into the promised land without him, Moses says “if you don’t go with us, how will we be different from the other nations of the world”.

God’s presence is beautiful… he’s the one who draws people to himself, but gives us the privilege of partnering with himself.

On twitter I came across a Catholic picture of the Communion Elements with the words above them “you are what you eat” -and although I’m not into transubstantiation-  I love the picture, the more you celebrate Christ in Communion, the more of him dwells within you.

I think that too often we approach God with functionality, e.g “we ought to pray”, rather than as a Father “I just want to be with you”… Yet when we are with him we are changed and the world notices. “They realised that they (Peter, James and John) were ordinary unskilled men who had been with Jesus”.

When we worship we realise that it is less about technique, or style and more about God’s love overflowing from us.

I believe that the “when Harry met Sally” quote “I want what she’s having” ought to be something that happens more regularly, that Christ is seen in us, not just that we have clever words, we have beautiful flyers or we inviting them to a great event.

If you were going on a long journey or doing something important most of us would charge up our mobile phone (if we had one) just as when we go out on mission (which is actually what any of us do the moment we walk out of our front door, or into work, or the kids playground) we can’t go out on empty, on drained and with the dreggs of God’s presence.

This doesn’t mean you have to turn up at Church all the time, it could just be encountering and worshipping God with CD in your car, or just taking some time out on a park bench before leaping into whatever situation.

My suggestion is that we need to be intentional about worship.

Worship not just when you feel like it, but actually probably more worthwhile when you don’t feel like worshipping that’s probably when you need to do it the most.

Work out times and places that will feed your soul with encountering Christ, engaging with the Father, rather than praying out of a understanding of its importance functionally.

God knows we need him, he loves to hear from us, but so often our prayer and our worship is often as a ‘warm up’ to doing something or for a sermon rather than simply because he is a good good father who loves you.

Sometimes I think we should stop all Churchy work, and just take time just to encounter Christ again, pursue his presence.

The key to it all is the presence of Christ, at times his presence has convicted and converted people without any words uttered, we carry the presence of God, but too often this wonderful light gets hidden under bushels.

I love the image of overflow, when we encounter Christ, the overflow of his presences in his people, splashes out to a hungry and thirsty world, who seem him in his people and the thirsty world is drawn to the one who quenches our deepest thirsts and satisfies our deepest hungers.

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Church, Exodus 17., prayer, Unity

Holding Up the Arms of Moses…

Ex.17.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

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It is a great picture of Moses praying with his arms raised, and whilst he is praying the army is being victorious in battle, but when he tires and lets his arms down everything changes, the Israelites begin to loose the battle and everything begins to deflate and unravel.

I think my first point is that we need to first realize we are actually in a battle, this is a real fight with a real enemy… too often we don’t realize that we are in a battle, we are surprised when we stick our necks out for Jesus and get persecuted (even sometimes sadly from those who we thought were meant to be on our own side).

The other point to realize that prayer is not an optional extra, a bit of a garnish like a sprig of parsley, to our normal every day lives (nor a bit like a hobby), it effects everything, including whether spiritual victories are won or lost (I know before someone says it that the war was won with Christ on the cross) but there are many victories which I believe the church tragically offers Satan and the enemy armies on a plate simply because we aren’t praying!

I know what it is like to be like Moses, praying away with good intentions, but I know that I can tire and the good intentions get harder work and become more costly and sacrificial it is easy to simply stop praying, or praying less, or less passionately, or with less belief that God is going to show up.

The truth is we need each other to keep us sharp, to encourage us, to challenge us, to stand alongside us, to hold us up when we are struggling, this is a challenge in our massively individualistic culture, yet God wants his Church to be a community, living corporately… praying together and standing alongside each other. Proverbs reminds us that just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, Hebrews 10 urges us to ‘spur one another on’…

When we do street pastors, we always have a few people, praying for us back at base, and as all the rest of the Street Pastors team will testify, it makes such a difference when we are out on the streets knowing that there are people back at base praying for us.

I’d challenge us to get back up and start to intercede afresh like Moses did, and watch and not be surprised that our prayers change and transform the course of the battle, to keep praying even when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial (perhaps even ‘especially when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial’), to get other people to stand alongside you in those critical battle moments like Aaron and Hur… Also, I’d challenge us to be like Aaron and Hur to look out for those prayer warriors who are flagging; those brothers and sisters who are struggling to pray for themselves; the discouraged and despairing and stand alongside them holding their arms up for them…

What are we like?

I see things like this blog as like Aaron and Hur, that is coming alongside the Churches in this nation, where many have like Moses flagged a little, and we are challenged to stand alongside our tired family members holding up their sore limbs and support them with both our love, prayers and commitment to them, Christ and his battle.

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