The Rule of Six

Here in the UK, the government have now introduced a new rule known as “The Rule of Six,” which means that outside of work or other specific situations, no more than six individuals should meet together. This is an attempt at preventing further spread of COVID-19 which is on the rise across the country right now.

Some have questioned the new rules, accusing the Government of having no science to back this up. While true, there are no scientific papers to support the idea of six people being anything other than an arbitrary number, it is more a practical decision. Previous rules were somewhat confusing about who could meet and when. The premise of the Rule of Six is to simplify things. Sadly I don’t think it has achieved that.

Our family is a family of six, which means we cannot all meet up with any other person or group. Some point to the absurdity of being able to work with a group of seven people but then not being to go out to lunch with them.

It is all rather easy to criticise the Government in this situation. They cannot get it right for trying. No one wanted a lockdown, and yet they were criticised for not locking down sooner. There is obvious contradiction in their seemingly random approach, encouraging us to eat out one minute and stay home the next. I do want to point out what a difficult job the Government have and it is right that we believers pray for them continually.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my usual approach to blogging. Typically I stick to the Bible and leave politics out. I make no comment here on the new or previous rules, and so turn to the Scripture in our uncertain times.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, a great sense of fear was created around this virus. We have never locked down before, and many – rightly – understood this to mean how serious the situation was. The subsequent consequences to the economy pose an equal or even greater threat, so steps are being made to try to undo the damage. Fear is not so easily dismissed as it is created.

We were not created for fear. In fact, we see that fear was the very first negative experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall of humanity.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realised they were naked. They were just as naked before, but now, for the first time, took their eyes off of God and turned them on themselves. Sin entered the world, and the first emotion they felt was fear. There is no evidence of fear prior to this.

The Bible has much to say about fear – far more than I can ever say in this one short post. Suffice it to say that fear is not what God wants for His people. Fear often stops us obeying the Lord or doing what we know is right. Sometimes we fear other people and so don’t fully serve God, frightened of people’s judgement or criticism.

Many places in the Bible tell us not to fear. It does not necessarily mean do not feel the emotion of fear, but rather, do not allow the fear you feel to stop you doing what you know is right.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

So how do we conquer fear? How do we master it in these fearful times? I could write a whole book on the subject, but hope these few points help.

We must start from the point of understanding that God does not want us to be afraid. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion at times, but we must harness it, not allowing it to drive us but instead God’s Spirit. As you act and speak this week, ask yourself if the words or deeds are driven by fear or the Holy Spirit.

We must pray through fear. Fear is not an easy foe at times, and so we must stand firm in prayer and draw on the strength of God. If you are facing a particularly frightening time, then please do seek God more and more. Often the thing we fear becomes tiny and insignificant as we compare it to the splendour and majesty of our God!

My final suggestion is to think through the consequences or outcomes of what you fear. For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a situation which was quite scary. I knew it was coming and was getting anxious about it. As I thought about it however, I realised if it did not work out as I wanted, there were virtually no consequences. at all. Fear and worry about it was a major waste of energy. We play the “What if?” game which can be mentally draining. Many of the things we fear though have little consequence, and even fewer have eternal ramifications.

The world we live in can be a frightening place at times, but you do not face it alone. Fear can be beaten, and we do so in the strength of our Lord. What do you fear right now? Talk to God about it and fight that fear!

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

We take a little break from the book of Acts to consider this question today. Many individuals over the centuries have tried to answer this one, and the vast majority were cleverer than I am! I offer a few thoughts here which I hope you find helpful.

The argument often goes something like this. If God is supposedly all good and all powerful, then how can there be suffering in the world? If God can remove suffering and chooses not to, then He can’t be all good. If He can’t stop suffering in the world, then good He may be, but He is not all powerful. Suffering therefore disproves a good or all powerful God, right?

It is a compelling argument, and one that many have used over the years. The problem of suffering in the world is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. For most, it is sufficient to conclude that there is no God at all, or at least not one that is in any way interested in us.

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

God is a good God. It is easy to say of course, yet we see throughout the pages of Scripture it is true. There are many places in the Bible where God’s love and goodness are demonstrated, but all could be argued away by pointing to other Scriptures are wrath and judgement. In my view, God’s wrath does not diminish God’s love, but is in actual fact a necessary part of that. Love is not love without hatred of evil. Something for another day perhaps!

I can say with absolute confidence that God is a good God because of one single event. Jesus Christ crucified.

Jesus, who we believe was both God and man, sacrificed Himself for the world. If God was mean or distant, there is no way He would have come down as a Man, lived a perfect life and then allowed Himself to be executed in such a cruel and undignified way. Such a mean or distant God would not have cared about whether humans lived or died for all eternity. Such an uncaring deity would have simply washed His hands of us.

Not our God!

Our God is so good and so kind and so full of love for us, that He became a Man and took on the punishment we all deserve. Not satisfied to let us die in our sin and face eternal punishment, He gave up His very self to pay the ransom only He could pay. Praise this wonderful God of ours!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (WEB)

No one who sees the cross and what it took for God to do that, could ever claim our Lord is not good or loving. Suffering is a very real problem, but the cross, if nothing else, tells us clearly that suffering is not on us because God does not love us. The cross has the final word. Even in the midst of all suffering, we can know for sure that God loves us, and He is good.

God is All Powerful

if you accept this, then perhaps suffering exists because God is simply unable to remove it from us. Good as He is, perhaps He does not possess the power necessary to withdraw all suffering from the world.

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

We read in the book of Genesis in the Bible that God made the entire universe, and He did so by uttering a few words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

We cannot comprehend the kind of power God possesses, and must still possess, to have created all that we know. Neither can we restrict this creation to just the physical, as there is an entire spiritual world beyond that which we can see and perceive with our eyes.

There is probably no other example which better demonstrates the kind of power we are talking about here. Yes, God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, and yes, He made the sundial go back and even held the sun in the sky for a time (see 2 Kings 20 and Joshua 10) but do such astonishing miracles compare to the creation of all things?

Are we to say nothing of the resurrection of the dead? We see many examples in the Bible of those who were dead, and yet lived again. None more important than Christ Himself. Could a God who could do all of this and more ever be considered less than all powerful? I think not.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us then? If you accept the points above, then you accept that God is both good and all powerful. Yet, suffering still exists.

We must therefore conclude the following. If God is all powerful, it means He can remove suffering from the world if He wishes. As He has not, then we see that He has a reason not to do so. As we demonstrated above, if He is good as well as all powerful, then His reason for not removing suffering must likewise be a good one. And we do not know what it is…

I put it to you that God, being both good and all powerful, has His reasons for not withdrawing suffering from the world. Just because we cannot comprehend or understand it, makes it no less true or valid. God has no obligation to explain Himself to us.

I would love to be able to sit here and explain to you why you are suffering. If I did though, it would not in any way reduce that suffering. Someone will always ask, “Why me?” and yet, “Why not you?” For us to try and fathom such things is perhaps no small hubris on our part. We are not God, nor can we expect to understand all that He does and knows. Job lost everything, and he was not privileged to know the reason. When he encountered God at the end of the book, he was silenced before the Almighty daring not to even question the God who made him.

If you are in the midst of suffering right now, then these intellectual arguments probably don’t help all that much. Suffering can rarely be explained away, and especially not when we are personally facing it.

If that is you today, then I urge you to look to the cross. I cannot explain your suffering to you in any satisfactory way, but I can grieve along with you. The cross, if nothing else, shows you that the Maker of all things is not distant, but that He chose to suffer and die for you. He knows how suffering feels, and He will walk through it with you every step of the way.

God bless you.

Many Miracles

Today we tackle a fairly short but astonishing passage from Acts chapter 5. It again highlights to us the kind of life that these early believers lived and it is only natural to compare their experiences to our own.

Many miracles and wonders were being performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 But more and more people were added to the group—a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. 15 As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were sick or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (GNT)

Many Miracles

The passage opens by telling us that “many miracles and wonders were being performed by the apostles.” We must not miss this, as it is clear that miracles were “many” and not “few.” The Early Church saw many wonderous works and this is something to praise God for.

As i said above, it is rather natural to compare this to our own experience. I confess that my experience is not of “many” miracles at all, and they are sometimes rather few and far between.

This is partly because of what we mean by “miracle.” This passage shows that these were wondrous works, and if we do not see things that fit this category, then we assume that miracles are not occurring. This is not so! To me at least, one of the greatest miracles is to see a life changed by God. Someone coming to Christ and committing to Him fully is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

I am not trying to sidestep the passage however, and it is a genuine question as to why we do not see the frequency of miracles the Early Church saw. There are many answers to this question, but I do not think it is because miracles are now extinct – far from it.

A few suggestions:

  • We fail to ask for or expect miracles.
  • We are afraid of failure if we step out in faith.
  • Little of value is taught on the subject (in my experience).

From the Outside Looking In

Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them.

Acts 5:13 (GNT)

I have read this passage many times, and yet this is perhaps the first time I’ve really picked up on this verse. Those outside the group dare not join them – why not? Churches are sadly known for their cliques’ at times, and is this the first example of it? I think not.

In reality, the events at the start of this chapter probably have a lot to do with it. If you recall, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for their deceptiveness before God and the church. This story would have gone around like wildfire and I imagine put many off trying to infiltrate the group. For me, it lends credence to the idea that what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was an act of defending the church from those who would harm it.

Note that all the people spoke highly of the early believers. This is a real challenge to us. Some churches do not have a great reputation among their community. This can be for many reasons. Yet we should aim to have a good reputation as it can only strengthen our witness. This is not to say we should water down our beliefs or be swayed by the winds of the world, but as much as we can, we should strive to be well thought of.

A Crowd of Men and Women

Verses 14-16 clearly show that the Early Church was no impenetrable clique. Many were being added to the group due to the acts of the Apostles – hence the name given to this book of the Bible. These men and women, responding to the teaching and miracles of the Apostles, “believed in the Lord.”

Those who were sick were brought in on beds and mats, and verse 16 says that people were coming in from the towns around Jerusalem. The word was getting out about the church, and the things it was doing in the Name of Christ.

Our passage today closes with the words “and they were healed.” We should not gloss overr this fact. The picture is painted of many sick people coming to the apostles, and the passage does not suggest that many went away empty-handed.

We see the same was true for Jesus in Matthew 8:

When evening came, people brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 He did this to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said, “He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:16-17 (GNT)

Acts 5 also describes how the people crowded around, hoping that even Peter’s shadow would fall on them. This is reminiscent of the woman who wanted to just clasp the edge of Jesus’ garment so that she might be healed. In a time when there were no hospitals and medical science was yet to be invented, people strained to receive healing from the Lord. That too may be a reason we do not see these kind of signs and wonders – few are willing to go to great lengths to reach Jesus.

As I finish today’s post, let me encourage you to meditate on this passage. Use your mind’s eye to put yourself in the middle of the scene. What would it have been like to be in that crowd and to see the miracles right before you? Imagine striving through the masses gathered to let Peter’s shadow fall on you.

Praise the Lord for such wonderous works!

Graves Into Gardens

I was having a bad day last week, and not the first during this lockdown period either I’m afraid to say. Work was proving difficult, the children were not exactly enthusiastic about their education that day, and I really wasn’t being the best Christian witness. I came away feeling pretty low if I’m honest. Part of that was due to tiredness, so let me add that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get an early night!

I decided to put on some worship music and a particular song began to play and it really moved me, where I was in that moment. It was called “Graves Into Gardens” and is by Elevation Worship. You can hear it on your music platform of choice or else watch it here on YouTube.

It is a song about our Transforming God – not that he transforms, as He never changes, but rather how He transforms us and the situations we face.

Graves Into Gardens

The title of the song, and the begining of the chorus states how our God changes graves into gardens. It is a picture of resurrection, and how God can bring life even into a graveyard full of death.

In my own mind, I picture this from Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.

51 Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:50-53 (WEB)

As Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was divided, many of the dead saints rose to new life. This is a point we sometimes miss when thinking about the death and resurrection of Christ. Imagine being in that graveyard that evening…!

Bones Into Armies

In a similar way, God also turns dry bones into armies of flesh! He takes the dead and dry, and breathes new life into them. He is a God or restoration!

Again he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them, ‘You dry bones, hear Yahweh’s word. 5 The Lord Yahweh says to these bones: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you will live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.”’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. As I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, there was an earthquake. Then the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I saw, and, behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.

Ezekiel 37:4-8 (WEB)

Seas into Highways

Our God can do the impossible. No matter the size or inertia of the obstacle before you, God can make a way!

As the Israelites approached the sea, with the entirety of Pharoah’s army behind them, it looked like there was no way out. We dare not limit our Limitless God!

Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today; for you will never again see the Egyptians whom you have seen today. 14 Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.”

15 Yahweh said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. 16 Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. Then the children of Israel shall go into the middle of the sea on dry ground. 17 Behold, I myself will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will go in after them. I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen.” 19 The angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them. 20 It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. There was the cloud and the darkness, yet it gave light by night. One didn’t come near the other all night.

21 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 The children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground; and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Exodus 14:13-22 (WEB)

Nothing is Better Than You

The repetitive refrain of the song echoes that nothing is better than God. Our God is the greatest, the highest, the most wonderful Being in existence! We chase after all this world has to offer, and yet the maker of all things stands ready to be in relationship with us. The sin that separated us has been dealt with at the cross of Christ, and through faith in Him, we can rest in the very presence of the Father.

As I sang this song that day, it moved me as I realised all the cares and worries of this life are literally nothing next to the surpassing greatness of knowing God through Christ. In my weakness and failure, I can still enter into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. All my failures are forgotten and forgiven, and I can worship Him without fear.

I do not deserve the wonders of the Father’s grace, but if I did, it would cease to be grace. At times, I glimpse the glory of God, the depth of my sin, and the lengths He went to to save me from it. There is only one response to this – worship!

Join me today in worshipping our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who transforms us, giving us beauty for ashes. Sing with me that there is nothing, not one single thing, bettter than Him! Hallelujah!

Praying Under Persecution

It had been my plan to complete Acts 4 today, but as I read through the remainder of the passage, I felt that what I wanted to say about the first part should stand alone. We will cover verses 23-30 today, and then complete Acts 4 tomorrow – God willing.

Being let go, they came to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant, David, said,

‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot a vain thing?
26 The kings of the earth take a stand,
and the rulers take council together,
against the Lord, and against his Christ.’ Psalm 2:1-2

27 “For truly, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:23-30 (WEB)

In case you have not read my posts on Acts 3 and the first part of chapter 4, let me catch you up. Peter and John went to the temple one morning, and encountered a man unable to walk and begging at the temple entrance. They healed this man before all the people, and it caused a stir! Peter shared the Good News about Christ, and was promptly arrested and detained overnight with John. The next day, the chief priests and religious leaders questioned them and strictly warned them to no longer speak in the Name of Christ.

The “Being let go…” in verse 23 above, refers to Peter and John being released, and we see them returning to the other disciples which was now quite a number. Peter and John tell them of what has taken place, and the group respond in unison. Note that phrase again in verse 24 “with one accord.”

In the face of this persecution from the religious leaders, the community of believers pray. The focus of my post today is that prayer. As we, too, face persecution in this world for our faith, how should we pray and what can we learn from the early disciples?

Recognition

They open their prayer, as all good prayers should, in recognition of Who God is. They acknowledge that God is He who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them. We were no cosmic accident or roll of the dice, we were skillfully and wonderfulloy made! The One who shaped the stars in the sky is the same One who formed us from the dust of the ground. It is indeed right that we worship and praise Him!

In continuing that recognition, they quote Psalm 2 where King David asks why the nations plot in vain and the kings of the earth gather together against the Lord? It is an act of complete futility, and yet they persist in taking their own council and taking their stand against God and His Anointed One! utter foolishness!

Despite all good sense and evidence to the contrary, there will always be those who stand against God and His Kingdom. There will be those who persecute and kill the church as best they can, and while they may inflict much damage on us, they will never succeed.

Verse 28 says that they gathered “to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen” to the Messiah – Jesus Christ. They acted in vanity against God, hating Him and yet were acting in line with His will and purpose. They were His instruments to bring about God’s will, yet are not innocent of their crimes.

The Request

As they bore the brunt of this persecution, they conclude their prayer petitioning God. What do they ask for? If it were you or I, we might ask for that resistance to be removed from us. They do not.

Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:29-30 (WEB)

They do not ask for the “threats” to be thwarted, but instead for the power to be bold and to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of that trouble. They ask God to stretch out His hand to heal, that as they preach the Good News, they are backed up by the power of signs and wonders authenticating their message.

It is not in their power that they do these things, but in the Name and power of God’s Servant – Jesus Christ.

In the West, we have been largely free of persecution for some time. We have had freedom to worship God without “threats.” Times are changing, as I mentioned yesterday.

This came as something of a shock to me when I started to share this blog on social media. In the large part, many were supportive and enjoyed the posts. As I shared it more widely, I encountered those who mocked the faith and made fun of the message I gave. Don’t misundestand me, I was in no fear of my life as many Christians are across the world, and I do not compare this mockery to the physical threats many face today.

In recent days, a fellow Christian blogger had his posts removed from Facebook without reason or explanation. I saw nothing offensive in his writing, nor have I read anything which covered controversial areas of the faith. So why would Facebook remove it without apparent cause? I can think of no other reason than it is Christian in nature.

This, too, is persecution. Post on social media about all manner of sinfulness or any other religion, and it is fine. But post about the Risen Lord…? It is becoming unacceptable, but let that not prevent us from spreading the Gospel!

If you want to support that fellow blogger, you can check out his blog here – Devotional Treasures.

Persecution

Persecution will come, and in many forms. There will always be those who mock or slander God and the faith of those who follow Him.

Like Peter and John, we must pray and ask God the Father to give us “all boldness” as we speak His word. Not to be deliberately offensive, but to not allow fear to prevent us from standing up for what we believe in. May He also ordain signs and wonders to follow our proclamation of Christ, that He may be glorified and as many as possible turn to Him.

Persecuted we may be at times, but we are also a praying people, and we will stand firm! This world offers its trouble and trials, but we follow the One who has overcome the world! Amen

What a Chore!

What is your favourite part of a church service?

Some might choose the sermon, while others enjoy the musical worship. Still others might prefer the fellowship, and yet others the coffee and snacks afterwards!

I am willing to bet very few would say that the prayers are their favourite part.

Few Christians (in my experience at least) are truly excited about prayer. This is my fourth post on the subject of prayer, and I hope it has encouraged you to want to explore more in your prayer life. But does it excite you?

Have you ever met a Christian who boasted about their prayer life? Perhaps they rise very early in the morning and pray for five hours before making breakfast. Maybe they tell you all about the different things they pray for, and the miracles that occur as they petition the throne of God. As much as we know we should be happy for them, if you are like me you will probably feel somewhat small, or even condemned.

Comparing your prayer life to someone else’s is never a good idea!

When we meet someone like this, we might try to replicate what they are doing. We set our alarm extra early and are all set to rack up the hours. Five minutes in though, and we’ve prayed for everyone and everything we can think of.

We sit it out, watching the clock and struggle through an hour. Ultimately we give up and feel even worse. Why is prayer such a chore!

The Father never intended for us to see prayer as a chore. Sometimes prayer is indeed work, but was not meant to be a drag which we dread.

If you want to subdue a group of believers, just suggest an evening of intense intercession!

The early church was not like this, and never seemed to struggle to pray like we often do.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 1:14 (NIV)


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42 (NIV)


When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

Acts 4:24 (NIV)

So why does the modern church struggle so much with prayer?

I do not mean to paint a bleak picture here. I’ve met many Christians who were passionate about prayer, but often they are those with a particular gift for it. The low attendance at many prayer evenings betrays something about our view of prayer.

Some religions mandate prayer requiring its followers to pray four or more times every single day. For Christians, no such rules exist. I believe that this was a deliberate choice by God, who could have easily demanded prayer at regular intervals.

God does not want prayer to be a chore. It is not something we have to do, it is some we get to do.

If you are not all that excited by prayer, then ask yourself why not. As I think about the answer myself, I suggest these might be some common responses.

  1. I never know what to say
  2. I’m too easily distracted
  3. I am busy and just don’t put aside the time to do it, and I must admit it is not a priority for me right now
  4. My prayers seem to go unanswered

Do any of these ring true for you? They are certainly all true for me at different times!

The first three are largely matters of discipline. If we don’t know how to pray or what words to say, then we can use the Bible to help us or buy ourselves a book of prayers to get us started.

If too easily distracted, then we need to know ourselves and put aside things that will get in the way. It might mean putting the phone in a drawer for a while!

The third item was hard for me to write because it hit home. While I would never say that prayer is not a priority for me, do I actually prioritise it? It is tough to be excited about something you put off.

The last one is a complex one, and it can be very difficult when we feel our prayers are not being answered. Often we mean that they are not being answered in the way we would like, rather than not being answered at all.

We do not have the space here to discuss reasons why prayers seem to go unanswered at times. Sometimes it is simple, and sometimes not. For instance, we do not get the answers we want if we have not asked (see James 4:2). Also, if we ask but don’t really believe we will get it, then we stray into wishing and not praying.

One thing I can say for sure is that God is always listening. He wants to hear from you, and He delights in answering our prayers. Remember that if we were Him, knowing all that He knows, then we would answer our own prayers the way He does.

Let me close by reminding you of what prayer is. It is the opportunity to talk with the Creator of all things. And this is not some distant or unknown character, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He loves you and proved this love at the cross. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we cannot help but be excited by prayer.

Prayer is a powerful and extraordinary thing. We have direct access to the Father and can ask Him whatever we wish. We can stand in His presence, and seek His favour. We can ask Him to bless those we love, and to spread the good news about Jesus across the world. He loves and enjoys our prayers, and delights to say “Yes!”

Let us all stir up our hearts and get truly excited about prayer. It is not a chore, but an adventure! Praise be to the God who hears our every prayer!

Praying in the Moment

We sometimes think of prayer as an activity – a spiritual discipline if you like – which we may do for a certain length of time. Yet, the Apostle Paul encourages us to:

pray without ceasing,

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

So how do we do that? Are we to quit our jobs and just spend our entire lives praying? I do not think so. In fact, I think Paul was instructing us to pray in the moment, while doing whatever other activities we needed to do.

Nehemiah did this.

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah 2:1-5 (ESV)

There is much going on here, so I will try to explain. These events occur after the nation of Israel has been led into captivity. Nehemiah is essentially asking to return and begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

He appears before the king to serve him yet clearly the king recognises that Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah is afraid because you dare not appear before the king with a downcast face. You could lose your head for such a thing!

The king questions Nehemiah, and he shares the reason for his sadness. In verse 4, the king asks what he wants. What does Nehemiah do? He does not blurt out his request, but instead it tells us he prays first. Clearly he did not stand there and hold a prayer evening before making the request. He has only a split second before answering the king. His prayer cannot have been more than a simple “Help me!”

There are definitely times when we need to dedicate a set amount of time to God in prayer. But there are also times when we need to pray in the moment, and simply ask for help.

How much trouble could be avoid if we do this? Imagine the time and energy we could save, or the pain we could avoid, if we just took a moment to pray before opening our mouths. Think of the bullets we could dodge by just asking God what He thinks before we commit and make a decision.

I’ll tell you a silly story, but hope it illustrates the point.

Many years ago, I bought a CD… That alone should tell you how long ago it was! I hope no one reading this does not know what a CD is…!

Anyway, as I was waiting in line to pay for the CD, I got a sense that I shouldn’t buy it. Not that it was sinful but just a gentle nudge inside. I ignored it. And do you know, I never once enjoyed listening to that CD? I recognise now that God was trying to tell me that in advance. if only I had followed Nehemiah’s example and just checked in with God first. I could have saved the money and not wasted the time.

What decisions do you make without praying about them first? Now you have a brain and God wants us to use it. No need to pray about whether you should get and go to work, as that’s a given. But we make a mistake thinking we know it all and can run our lives better than God can.

Pray in the moment. If you are in a conversation which is in danger of becoming an argument, take a moment to pray before you say the next thing which may inflame things.

Pray without ceasing. That does not mean pray instead of doing other things, but while doing other things. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us and wants to be our Guide throughout life. He won’t shout or raise His voice over the din of our everyday lives, so we need to take moments to check in with Him and listen.

What traps or trouble might you avoid today by doing this? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you continually to pray, and offer up prayers in the moments of your day.

Praying Big

Yesterday’s post – What is prayer? – had a really positive response, so thanks to everyone for reading and sharing it. I thought I would continue on the theme of prayer today.

i heard a story this morning which I wanted to share with you. I retell it below in my own words. I’ve no idea if it is true, but it sends a clear message even if fictional.

Alexander the Great was the leader of a huge empire which stretched across much of the world. Despite this, he never forgot the needs of his people and one day every year he would invite randomly selected citizens to come and ask him for something. Whatever they wanted, he would grant it if it was within his power.

For many years, people would come and ask for small things. One would ask for enough food to eat. Another would request some new clothing.

One year, a peasant was selected and he stood before the great leader. Unlike the others, he asked for a great palace to live in, and the resources to invite all his friends and family to come and dine in the palace and take care of them.

Without hesitation, Alexander the Great said “Yes!”

Later, Alexander was asked why he would grant such a lavish request. His response was telling. “Anyone could give extra food or clothes, you do not need to be anyone special for that. But this request made me feel like a king! For only a king could give what this man had asked for.”

I wonder if our prayers to God the Father are somehow reflected in this story?

When I think about my own prayer life, I am humbled to realise that i do not pray anywhere near “big enough.” How often do we find ourselves saying something like, “God, if you would just….” or “Even if you could give a little help…” What does this betray about how we think about God or ourselves?

Perhaps we think God is not powerful enough to handle our prayers? Or, more likely, perhaps we think we do not deserve to receive answers to such big prayers?

Let me reassure you today, God can handle any prayer you care to offer to Him. The lights in heaven will not dim if you ask too much of God. God created the heavens and the earth, and He raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Is anything too hard for God?

Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the time set for it, I will return to you—about a year from now—and Sarah will have a son.”

Genesis 18:14 (ISV)

Abraham and Sarah became parents at a very old age, and that was not too difficult for God.

On the other point, do you deserve to have God answer your biggest prayers? No, absolutely not. But that is why we do not pray in our name, but in the Name of Jesus.

If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.”

John 14:14 (ISV)

When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are approaching the throne of God presenting all that Jesus is and has done. We do not go on our own merits, but on Christ’s. When God looks upon us, He no longer sees our sin and sinfulness, but the perfection achieved by Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross.

I once heard someone say, “I’d rather ask God for everything and get some of it, than ask for nothing and get all of it.” We rarely ask for the “big stuff” because we often don’t think big enough.

There is much I learn from my own children on this point. My daughters rarely limit what they ask for. It does not matter how big it is, they go ahead and ask. It never crosses their mind that I might not be able to deliver! And even when I say no (far too often I am sad to admit) it does not faze them one bit – they just go on and ask for the next thing.

If we ask for more in prayer, then what is the worst than can happen? If we ask for anything from God which is not His will, then it will not happen. So move on and ask for something which is in His will. Clearly we should not be asking for things prohibited by the Bible, but don’t limit God by assuming He will say no before you’ve even asked. At least give God the right to refuse!

Set your minds on God, not just what He has done, but on Who He is. Not only is He all powerful, but He loves you so much He gave us His Son to die for you! If we begin to grasp the depth of His love and the strength of His power, then we will never cease to pray!

Now to the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine according to the power that is working among us—

Ephesians 3:20 (ISV)

God can do far more than we can ask or even imagine. How “big” is your imagination? How much more is God than that!

Start today. Let’s stop praying these tiny prayers as if we are bothering God. Let each one of us, as we pray, use our imaginations to go beyond whatever it is we were about to ask for. Take your prayer and multiply it first, then dare to go further and ask God to achieve it. He is able!

Bear in mind that prayer is not primarily about getting everything we want. Ask for your needs and wants of course, but let us all pray in ways which will last for eternity, not just the here and now.

We praise the Living God who hears our prayers and can do all things! Nothing is impossible for Him! Let us magnify and multiply our prayers a hundred-fold, and give God all the glory as we see the answers come! Amen!

Do Not Murder

The next commandment in our series seems a fairly straightforward one – do not murder. You can find it here in Exodus 20.

“You are not to commit murder.

Exodus 20:13 (ISV)

With a command like this, there may not seem all that much to say about it. Do not go around murdering people. Simple.

I am guessing that most people reading this have never broken this command, and are not likely to do so. But as we have seen with some of the other commandments, there is more here than meets the eye.

To murder

Murder is a very specific word. We may know this commandment from other Bible translations as “Thou shalt not kill,” but “kill” does not quite align with what it says. To kill is a much broader definition than to murder. You might be responsible, for example, for killing someone in an accident, but that is not murder. Neither are good of course, but they are distinct.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here, but such distinctions are important. For instance, in times of war, is it a breach of this commandment to fight and kill the enemy? Soldiers at war are not committing murder as we might understand it in everyday life. The people of Israel, who these commands were given to, battled many enemies and killed them in war.

I am not trying to persuade you to become a pacifist, or to give soldiers a free pass to kill indiscriminately. My point is just to make you think that this simple commandment is more than meets the eye.

As Jesus often did, He challenges us to think more deeply about these words.

“You have heard that it was told those who lived long ago, ‘You are not to commit murder,’ and, ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment.’ 22 But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.

Matthew 5:21-22 (ISV)

Jesus takes this relatively straightforward command, and turns it inward. Very few of us are guilty of murder, and yet none of us are innocent of becoming angry at our brother, neighbour or friend. At first glance, we can dismiss the commandment as having nothing to do with us, and yet Jesus points out that the physical action of killing someone is no different than the internal sin of hating them.

The murder itself is an outward sign of hatred within. While we may have the strength or wits to control our physical actions, we look just as guilty on the inside.

Anger is one of the strongest emotions. I picture it like you see in the movies; a gas explosion in a mine or similar, with fire flooding a narrow tunnel and bursting forth into the air. We feel it start deep inside us but it erupts out of us in word or deed. We may be able to control it to a point, or bury it deep down, but it will come out in one way or another.

This commandment, like so many of the others, cannot be fulfilled by us just because we want or decide to. I might choose not to murder someone, but it is not so easy to just decide not to be angry or to stop hating someone who has deeply wounded me.

For many hearing Jesus’ words for the first time, they reacted in disbelief, “We can’t possibly do that!” And you might be feeling the same. You were fine with not murdering, but now, being asked not to withhold anger or hatred, that’s too much!

That’s the point though. It is too much. The Law was not given to be fulfilled, but to show us how far short we fall. The teachers of the Law, the religious people of the day, thought they were good because they kept the Law. Had they listened to Christ, they would have seen that they were hypocrites who broke the Law time after time.

The truth is we need Jesus. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled every aspect of the Law for us. If we allow Him to be our substitute, then we take up a position of righteousness given to us through Him.

The Law was given to show us we need a Saviour! And that Saviour’s Name is Jesus Christ.

Are you a murderer reading this? Are you hiding anger in your heart towards someone? Both things break this commandment.

But good news! You can be forgiven and set free right now by placing your life in Christ’s hands. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour, and ask the Father to forgive you – not because of your perfect performance, but because of Christ’s!

If you are guilty of anger or hatred towards someone, then can you make a step towards resolution today? Can you call them? Write to them? Even just pray for them? It may be a big step but you can take it with God’s help. Anger and hatred in our hearts eat us from the inside out, and do no harm to the one we hate. Do yourself a favour, and ask the Father to help you start to let it go today.

I’m Still Here!

This is the eighth week in a row where I have published daily posts on the blog. Who knew I had so much to say?!

Most days I have a fair idea of what I want to write about, but occasionally God reminds me that it really isn’t about what I want, it’s about what He wants. I was all set to write about the Ten Commandments, and the commandment to honour one’s parents in particular. But not so for today. Hopefully that will come out tomorrow.

For today, I felt that it was important to talk about endurance.

I know that many of you reading this will be going through all manner of trouble and trials right now. It may feel like life is going drastically wrong and you are not sure how much more you can take. You are seeking some form of success in your Christian walk, yet just surviving has become the order of the day.

But you are still here! You are still going! Others may have fallen by the wayside or given up altogether – but not you!

If nothing else, you can say “I’m still here!”

It may feel like you can’t take any more. The temptations, the trials, the worries of this life may be piling up, but I want to encourage you today and let you know you can make it.

No temptation has overtaken you that is unusual for human beings. But God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Instead, along with the temptation he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ISV)

You may be ready to shout, “God, I can’t bear it anymore!” But, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh or unkind, you’re wrong. You can bear it! God will never allow any temptation to come upon you which you cannot bear. If you are facing it, then God knows you can stand it. If your trouble is great, then that is a compliment to you, because it means you have the strength to face it.

God will always provide a way out for you. Now don’t misunderstand that part of the verse. It does not mean God will always provide a way to stop the trouble or temptation, but provide a way out for you to endure it. Sometimes the only way out is through!

You can endure what it is you are facing. Don’t give up! Don’t quit! It may be hard or even the hardest thing you have ever faced, but you can make it if you stick with Jesus.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (ISV)

You can do all things (that He has called you to do) through “him.” Who is the “him?” It is sometimes translated as “the Messiah” and so clearly points to Christ. You can do whatever you need to do through your ongoing relationship to and with Christ.

Practice carrying each other’s burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah.

Galatians 6:2 (ISV)

Don’t try to go it alone. Draw your strength from Christ, but also seek the support of the family of believers. Let others help you bear the burdens you carry. If there is nothing practical they can do, then they can at least listen to you at this time.

More importantly, they can pray for you. If you have no one in your life who can stand with you in prayer, please get in touch and I will gladly pray for you. Use the Contact page to get in touch.

Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles[a] us, let us keep running with endurance the race set before us, 2 fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ISV)

There is nothing I can add to these words. Many have gone before us, as mentioned throughout Hebrews chapter 11 (such as David, Moses, Abraham etc.) and faced their own challenges and trials. We, like them, must run our own race and run it to completion.

Your race won’t be the same as mine. Some will have a flat course to navigate, while others a steeplechase with all kinds of obstacles in their path. Whatever your race looks like, keep on going!

Don’t give up. And don’t give up on Christ. You can bear up under the temptations you face today and every day. Hard it may be, but you can do it!

If you are one of the few who have no problems right now, then help bear another’s burdens. Support them and lift them up. Pray for them and bless them.

For those who feel they cannot go on, please hold on one more day. Tell God how you feel, and cry out to Him. Job from the Bible lost everything, and he railed at God. He cried out to God and he was angry and in pain. Yet he did it with God.

I pray that God will help you to endure whatever you are facing right now. I pray you will have the strength you need to continue, and to do so in His grace.

If you see no other victory in your life, then your testimony can simply be – “I’m still here!”

Amen!

Don’t Wait (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Don’t wait until you are in trouble to fully seek the Lord – start now!

While times are good, it can be all too easy to forget God. Yet when things start falling apart, He is the first one we turn to.

No one likes to go through troubled times or trials, and when we do, we usually ask “Why would God allow this to happen to me?” There is no easy answer to such a question, but one possibility is to encourage us to seek God more fully.

When you find yourself in a situation you cannot handle alone – a serious health problem, financial difficulties, or the loss of a loved one – you turn to something bigger than yourself, and that is God.

My pearl today recommends you don’t wait until the trouble comes to start seeking God. Start today! Commit yourself to Jesus, and walk with Him closely every day. Spend time in the Bible and in prayer, and make the effort to have a great relationship with Him.

If you do, then there will be no need for the trial that brings you back to God. Even if trouble comes for other reasons, you will be in a much stronger place to face them.

If nothing else, then the COVID-19 crisis has served to bring many people back to God. Praise Him for that GOOD THING COMING OUT OF THIS PANDEMIC.

How is your relationship with Jesus right now? Has it been neglected, or is it stronger than ever?

If you are reading this and you don’t know Jesus personally, then please allow me to introduce you! God made everything, including you and I. He had only one rule, and we broke it introducing something called sin into the world. Sin separated us from God and none of our good deeds can fix it. 

God became a human being who we know as Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, but humanity executed Him on a cross even though HE was innocent. He was our substitute and took our place and the punishment we deserve. If we put our trust in Him, He will save us from our sin and give us eternal life in heaven.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose to life again. Likewise, you and I can escape death and live again through Him.

To start a relationship with God, all you need do is ask. Talk to Him now, which we call prayer. Ask Him to become your friend and to forgive you of all the wrong things you have done. Ask God to come and live within you, and He will put His Holy Spirit in your heart to guide and help you.

Get yourself a Bible or read it online, it will tell you all about God and how He wants you to live. Find a good local church which teaches the Bible, and join with a group of other believers. They will help and pray for you.

Lastly, please get in touch with me. I’d love to pray for you and celebrate your new relationship with God! Bless you this day and always!

Prayer Video – 8th May 2020

Andy shares another prayer video today. Please join him in praying for the recent requests and also for all those suffering persecution at this time.

Andy mentioned the following Scriptures in today’s video.

Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]

John 14:27 (Amp)

If you have any prayer requests which you would like Andy to pray over, then please do send them in. You can comment below, use the Facebook page or use the contact or prayer page on this site.

God bless you today.