Inseparable

To be honest, I have been mulling this post over for a couple of days. It is not controversial in any way, it is just that I have struggled to articulate what God has shown me. It is not some huge revelation either, simply that God met me where I was at, and through His Word spoke directly into my situation. Has such a thing ever happened to you? I’m sure it has…

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Ask and Believe – linked here – where I prayed about something and the answer came. In an entirely opposite way, I prayed for something else and unfortunately the exact opposite happened. It did not shake my faith or anything so grand, as I am slowly learning to trust in God’s will for my life. The unanswered prayer led me to a choice I did not want to have to make, and neither could I put it off. I have since been anxious that I made the wrong decision.

In those moments of fear and worry, I was directed to read the following Bible verses. The comfort they brought is really the intangible substance I am struggling to describe. Perhaps it is best to simply let the words speak for themselves.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Paul was entirely convinced, that is – fully persuaded – that nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. I was not convinced, based on my initial feelings, until God so gently reminded me of this truth.

The things that Paul lists here are heavy hitters. Death, demons, the powers of hell – none of these things will ever be able to remove us from God’s love.

I have been reading these verses over and over, and letting them minister to me. There is nothing – simply nothing – in all creation that can pull us away from the gravity of God’s love. We are inseparable.

When our prayers do not get the answer we wanted, or when we face times of great difficulty, it can be all too easy to start to doubt God’s love. Yet in Christ and what He did at the cross, there is an immovable, unchanging, eternal testimony of that love.

God’s love does not equal instant access to a 100% prayer record, nor a complete trouble-free existence, but it does mean that no matter what happens, He will be right there with you in the thick of it. He is trustworthy. You can fully rely on Him. That love gives you an assurance that when you one day stand before Him, there will be nothing that separates you from His presence. When we put our trust in Christ, receiving that love and submitting to Him, our sins are washed away and our place with Him is irrevocable.

I needed that assurance this week. Perhaps you will need it today? Put Romans 8 before your eyes, read it aloud and trust that you cannot be separated from His unfailing love.

No created thing can come between you and God’s love when you are fully committed to Christ. There is but One who is not created, and that is God Himself. You are anchored and fixed in that love. Draw on that truth this day and always.

Quick update

I hope this blog post finds you well?

I just wanted to post a quick update on why I have been so quiet on the blog these last few days. I am pleased to say that all is well, and actually just taking a few days off of work to spend time with family.

Life, as ever, has been rather hectic of late! I saw an opportunity to take a few days rest, and grabbed it with both hands!

How often do you take time to rest and relax? when you have a strong work ethic, or even a works mentality, it can be very difficult to switch off and relax for a while. Every single one of us needs to stop and rest at times however.

Let us not forget that even our wonderful God, who is infinite in power, took time to rest at the end of creation. This was not because he was tired, but simply because he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

Likewise, he built a specific command in the 10 Commandments for us to take time each week to just rest in his presence.

Perhaps it is not possible for you to take an entire day each week just to rest. But the principle remains, that each of us should take time to re-energise so that we might continue to serve him with gladness.

Whether we work in a secular job, ministry or at home, too many of us burn out because we do not stop often enough. Don’t let that be you dear reader!

Let’s pray:

Father God, we thank you for your loving grace and mercy towards us who believe. Thank you that you are the one who gives us the strength we need for each and every day.

For all who are weary, I pray that you may give them strength and rest.

Help us not to be so busy that we ceased to be fruitful.

As we lift up our voices in prayer and praise, may our strength be renewed.

We worship you, loving father! thank you for your enduring love. Thank you that you walk with us through our everyday lives.

Thank you for the times when you carious, when our strength is gone.

In the mighty and glorious name of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

Ask and Believe

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “Ask” which you can read here. It was all about encouraging us to ask of our generous and gracious God.

At that time, I prayed a specific prayer to the Lord and am thrilled to say that it was fulfilled this week. The content of the prayer is not for sharing, but please do join me in thanking and praising our Wonderful Lord for His faithfulness.

Here’s the thing though… I was more than a little surprised when the answer came. What does that say about my faith in general, or in that particular prayer? If we are surprised when God answers our prayers, it is because we did not expect Him to do so. Let me be clear; if we do not expect any answer to our prayers, then why pray in the first place? Prayer is not simply “wishing!”

I am truly humbled to see this answer come, and God has challenged me to not just pray big, but to really expect the answer to come. I have heard Christians pray for something, say “Amen!” and then immediately say, “That probably won’t happen…” Why do we undo our prayers like that!

In the first chapter of the letter of James, it says this:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

James is clearly talking about the subject of wisdom here, and yet what he says about not doubting applies to all that we ask of God.

Verse six tells us to believe but at the same time, not to doubt. These are two separate instructions, I think. Belief and doubt are not mutually exclusive. For the prayer I referred to above, I did believe God when I asked, but I also doubted it would happen. My doubt was not necessarily in God Himself, but rather in a) my deserving b) that it was His will and c) that the ask was too big for me and my faith right now.

I can say wholeheartedly that I did believe when I asked, otherwise I would not have asked at all. But in the gap between the ask and the result, I began to doubt that the answer would come. Can you relate?

James uses the example of a wave to illustrate his point. A wave is neither on the beach nor out to sea. One minute it is in, and the next it is out. I am fortunate to live by the coast, and so when we take a walk alone the shoreline, I am reminded of this truth. I do not wish to be like the wave. When I pray, I want to be fully in – believing that God will come through and not doubting either Him or myself.

That is why it is so important to pray with the Bible. If we are not entirely sure if something is God’s will, then it is hard to have complete faith in it. However, when we pray with the Word of God, we can be sure that what we are asking for is promised by Him. It gives us full assurance of His faithfulness.

So I am going to continue to pray, and pray big! In an attempt to learn my lesson from this experience, I am going to focus on the Generous God we serve, and try not to allow doubt to talk me out of it. If God shows me that the answer is no, then I shall move on to the next thing!

Tell me your praise reports and prayer testimonies. Are you ever surprised by God answering your prayers? Let’s steadfastly remain in Him, trusting in His goodness and glory.

As ever, do send me your prayer requests. I would love to pray for you in whatever capacity I can. Comment below or get in touch. May your prayers be fruitful this week!

Your Government Needs You

The COVID pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges that has faced our generation, many have said. Governments across the world have grappled with its consequences, and whether you think your political leaders have done a good job or not, you cannot deny the scale of the issues they have faced.

The UK appears to be in an unusual place concerning the pandemic. We were heading for a full release of restrictions on 21st June – so call Freedom Day – but due to rising cases of a COVID variant named Delta, our government have pushed this date back to 19th July.

The challenge facing the UK Government does not end on 19th July however, and a whole new set of challenges begins. Many have lost their jobs over the last 18 months, much money has been paid out to businesses forced to close during the lockdown, and our health service faces a massive backlog of treatment they could not give in the last year.

All of this came to mind this morning when reading Proverbs:

When the country is in chaos,
everybody has a plan to fix it—
But it takes a leader of real understanding
to straighten things out.

Proverbs 28:2 (Message)

Whether you think it fair to describe the current state of affairs as “chaos” is down to you. As above however, this country and nearly all others are facing unprecedented times. Things certainly need to be straightened out in one way or another.

The phrase “everybody has a plan to fix it” stood out to me this morning. At every turn, and every choice the Government makes, there will be someone telling them they are wrong. Commentators, experts and the general public say they should do this or that, but of course, no one can agree. For every expert that says “Go this way!” there is another which says to go the opposite direction.

Such times as we live in, and indeed, any times really, require leaders of wisdom. They must use their wisdom to make sensible choices, and not be swayed by wavering opinions. Sometimes the right choice is obvious… but often it is not.

This is true in our own lives, let alone running a whole nation. We do not always know which path to choose, and so how can our governments when they face decisions which can have implications for generations to come?

Only God has wisdom enough to show us the right path to choose. We, as Christians, must seek Him fully in His Word and be obedient to His call. When we face a choice not clearly described in the Bible, we pray for guidance and lean on the Holy Spirit. We must pray the same for our political leaders. They may or may not be Christians, but they still need godly wisdom to do what is right.

Your government needs you! It needs you to pray, and such prayers will benefit the whole country. It is a Christian’s duty to pray for our leaders, even when we do not agree with them.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (Message)

At times, we may all be guilty of criticizing the government and our national leaders. Their job is extremely difficult, and I am not sure I would want to have the responsibility they hold. I confess that I do not pray for them as often as I should, and clearly they need our prayers now as much as ever.

Some will feel called by the Lord to get involved in politics, local or otherwise, and others will certainly not. Whether that applies to you or not, the Bible is clear that we are to pray for our governmental leaders.

If you are not sure where to start, then here are a couple of suggestions.

As above, ask God to give our political leaders wisdom to make godly choices. When the right path forward is not clear, ask the Lord to show them the right way to go.

Also, pray that the Gospel can be freely preached in your nation. There are places in this world where the preaching of the faith is strictly prohibited. While not banned in the UK, the Gospel is no longer a popular message (if the Gospel ever was) and those who wish to share it are being penned in on every side.

Your government needs you to pray for them. The Bible commands us to do so. Let each of us set aside some time this week to pray for those in authority.

Have a great day!

Prayer for the weary

How has your week been? How about your day today? I feel led to pray for the weary this evening. Is that you? It certainly is me!

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise for your wonderful, never ending love for each one of us. Whether this week has been good or bad, we thank you that you have been with us through every step of it.

As we approach the weekend, I want to pray for all who feel weary or heavy laden at the moment.

Lord, I ask you to give them strength. I pray that they may know that your yoke is easy and your burden is light.

If there are those who have come to the end of their strength, May they draw on your infinite resources.

If need be loving God, then do carry them through this moment.

Increase their joy, heavenly father, as we know joy is our strength. let them draw on your piece which surpasses all understanding.

You know the burdens we all carry Lord, so do help us to know that we do not carry them alone. let us also know the height, depth, length, and breadth of your unfailing love!

When it is time to sleep this evening, may that sleep be sweet and peaceful. Watch over us as we rest, so we might serve you all the better tomorrow.

We thank you that you have heard our prayers. we lift them before you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ!

Amen!

Prayer for a Monday

Heavenly Father, we thank you for this new week and for the opportunities it gives us to serve and worship You. Thank you that you go with us into this week, and we take great comfort knowing that that we do not face it alone.

Lord, we may think we know what this week will bring-both good and bad. But what ever surprises this week may have in store for us, may we grasp every opportunity for you, and rise above any storm which may come.

Please protect us from any temptation which we may face. Give us the strength to say no to sin, and yes to you.

We pray for opportunities to share our faith, and to show the people in our lives the love of Christ. Give us the correct words, in the correct way, and at the right time, to bring others one step nearer to Jesus.

As we work, rest, and play this week, may we do it all for you and your glory! Please help us to keep you in your rightful place at the very centre of our lives.

May we be ever rooted and grounded in your love. help us to know the eternal depths of that love from which we can never be separated.

We worship and praise you this day! we give you thanks for every good thing in our lives! We do not forget you’re unending blessing, or your unfailing love!

May that love drive us forward to live fully for you. Help us put to death the sinful nature of our flesh, and to pick up our cross and follow you.

In the mighty and holy name of Jesus Christ, we pray! Amen

How can I #pray for you?

For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the Good News of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers,

Romans 1:9 (WEB)


Now I beg you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,

Romans 15:30 (WEB)

Prayer should be as essential to a Christian as breathing. Yet, it is often only in difficult times – such as the one we are all facing right now – that we truly turn our hearts to God in prayer.

The Bible encourages us to pray in very many places, and I share a couple of verses above from Paul’s letter we know as Romans.

In the first verse, quoted from the very first chapter, Paul tells his readers how fervently he is praying for them. He says both “unceasingly” and “always” in the same sentence, showing us that this is not some passing, throw away prayer, but a constant remembering of them.

I want to follow Paul’s lead and pray for you in like manner. I will record a video message praying for all the readers, family and friends, and really want to encourage you to send me your prayer requests. If no one responds, that’s not an issue as I have many people I know need prayer at the moment. However it would be great to be able to receive requests from you and pray with you.

You can send your prayer requests to me by commenting on this post, commenting on my social media posts or by using the contact form on the web site. Please confirm that you are happy for me to mention the request on a video, but I’ll always only ever use first names to keep things private.

I have no idea what response I will get. But know that I will pray over every request I receive (unless I get millions of course, and then I might need your help!) and please watch this space for the videos to appear.

Please also share this post with anyone who you think might need prayer at the moment, and encourage them to send any requests they have.

God is faithful, and He is listening. Even though things may seem bad at the moment, please don’t ever doubt God’s love for you and the fact that He is in total control. We who trust in Him have no need to be afraid. Not because bad times won’t come, but rather because He will carry us through them.

Our second verse today sees Paul asking his readers to pray for him also. He has told them how committed he is to praying for them, and asks for that same commitment in return.

While I cannot demand anything anywhere near the same degree as Paul could, I do also ask for your prayers. I need God’s help, mercy and grace as much as anyone and so, even in small ways, please strive together with me in prayer.

Prayer has tremendous power, not because of us, but because of who we pray to. Praise be to the god and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hears and responds to our prayers both day and night! Amen

Hears and Delivers

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17 (WEB)

 

If you are like me, when you read this verse you ask yourself “Am I righteous?” Or rather, “Am I righteous enough?” You may even start to question whether God hears your prayers, thinking you don’t qualify for the help He promises in this verse.

Righteousness however, is not about our performance nor is it something we earn.

Righteousness simply means to be in “right standing with God.” That is, to be in a good place with Him or to have a good relationship with Him. This is not something we can earn, but something we are gifted through the work of Jesus at the cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB)

We are righteous not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because we’ve put our faith in Jesus. He exchanged His own righteousness for our sin, and now we can approach God in freedom through His blood.

So, in short, you do qualify!

If you are a follower of Christ and in relationship with Him, then you are righteous and can be assured that God does indeed hear you when you cry out. This isn’t the only verse to make such a claim, and so you can be sure that your prayers are heard.

This verse also says God delivers us from our troubles. This is a great promise, and I have no wish to limit it. I think we do need to carefully interpret it however.

If you turn on Christian TV, you might find a preacher claiming that Christians should never have another problem or that God will wave His hand over your life and all your troubles will disappear. The really unscrupulous ones may even suggest you exchange your money for such a result.

To put it plainly, that’s not biblical!

So am I saying this verse is a lie then? Not at all!

God does indeed deliver us from trouble. But that does not necessarily mean He takes it all away. Often, God will give us the strength we need to endure through a problem. We may pray that God will take it away, but He would rather we pray for the strength to endure it with a good attitude.

I am not aware of any New Testament prayer that asks God to remove all obstacles out of our way. Rather, saints like Paul prayed for inner strength, power, knowledge, peace, and more, and all to the glory of God.

Don’t misunderstand though, I am not saying God is limited or unwilling, and cannot help. The Creator of the universe is still in control, and very much looks out for the good of His children. We forget sometimes though that god’s primary concern is not our comfort, but His glory.

Whatever you are facing right now, you can trust that God not only hears your prayers, but is ready and willing to deliver you. If you’re stuck in the valley, you might want a helicopter ride out, but be prepared to push on one step at a time. God is with you!

Faith and Unbelief

I want to draw this mini series on healing to a close by thinking about a passage from Matthew 17. There is, of course, much more to say about the subject of healing and this was not meant to be an exhaustive study.

One of the major questions people have is, “Why was I not healed when I asked?” Great question! Some will say that it is not always God’s will to heal, in which case, that is one possible answer. I personally don’t hold that view, but understand I am perhaps in the minority.

There are some things we can learn from Matthew 17, which says:

As they approached the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt down in front of him, 15 and said, “Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and suffers terribly. Often he falls into fire and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:14-21 (ISV)

These events happen shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus. He and the chosen disciples returned from the mountaintop to the unfolding scene described above.

A man approaches Jesus, seeking healing for his son who is described as an epileptic. He had first gone to the disciples, and the text clearly states that they (the disciples) were not able to heal the boy.

Before we dig into this, look at Jesus’ reaction… was He pleased by this turn of events? Clearly not! In fact, He had some rather strong words to say about it.

Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Matthew 17:17 (ISV)

Jesus was clearly not impressed with this situation. He did not react with comforting words, or reassure the disciples that it was not their fault. Instead, He rebukes them! Obviously Jesus was here expecting them to be able to minister to this young boy. If not, He would have said so – “Don’t worry lads, this was too difficult for you to achieve. I’ll have to do it myself.” No, instead He criticises them for their unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy immediately. Don’t miss that fact. He clearly wanted this person well, and delivered him from this sickness.

Verse 19 is important. The disciples ask a similar question to what we often ask, “Why couldn’t we heal him?” Or rather, “Why didn’t it work when I prayed?”

The very fact that they asked this question shows that they expected him to recover from this sickness. If they didn’t expect that, then they would have just moved on. It also shows that they had prayed for and healed others, but for some reason this time it had not worked.

What is Jesus’ answer?

He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ISV)

Let’s read these same verses in other translations so we get a proper picture.

The NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (NIV)

The ESV says:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ESV)

And the KJV says:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20-21 (KJV)

So, put simply, Jesus says you couldn’t heal this boy because of “something”. This “something” is translated slightly differently in the verses above. I think the differences are critical to understanding what Jesus was saying.

The “something” is:

  • Little faith
  • Lack of faith
  • Unbelief

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Little Faith

If this is correctly translated, then I struggle to understand this verse. Jesus says, you couldn’t do it because of your “little faith” and then says, “You only need little faith to move a mountain.” This is an apparent contradiction. On one hand, little faith is not enough and the other it can move mountains.

Lack of faith

This, if correct, makes more sense to me. Jesus says they lacked faith to heal, but points out they only need faith the size of a mustard seed to perform a miracle.

The issue I have with this is reflected in some of the comments I received in earlier blog posts on this subject.

An individual seeks prayer for healing, does not immediately receive it and is then told they “lack faith” for healing. They come away feeling condemned, unworthy and offended. It leaves them in a worse state than they were before.

Let me say this categorically. If you seek prayer for healing, and the individual or church tells you that you lack faith for it, they are letting you down and you should walk away. Such a person is not ministering to you, but judging you. They lack compassion and beyond that, I think they lack understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Am I saying you don’t need faith to be healed? Of course not, clearly having no faith in healing would prevent healing, but that is not the situation above. When a faithful believer seeks healing, they do so “in faith”. If they lacked faith, they would not come forward to ask for prayer in the first place! Something else is happening here.

Unbelief

The KJV translates this as “unbelief” rather than “little” or “lack” of “faith”.

In the Greek, we see that “unbelief” is the word – apistia – and “faith” used here as in “mustard seed sized faith” is – pistis. They are two different words – although clearly connected. This leads me to conclude that actually the KJV is probably the more accurate translation here, and even that “unbelief” is something different to little or no faith.

Many suggest that faith and unbelief are somehow mutually exclusive. If you have faith, then you have no unbelief, and vice versa. I don’t believe this to be true however, and don’t take “unbelief” to mean the same thing as “disbelief”.

In Mark 9, a man approaches Jesus seeking help. Jesus tells him not to doubt, and to only believe.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Mark 9:24 (KJV)

 

Jesus did not correct this man, saying, “You’ve got it all wrong! You can’t have belief and unbelief at the same time!” So it seems possible to me that we can both believe and “unbelieve” at the same time. That, in my mind, is distinct from “believing” and “disbelieving”, which clearly cannot be done at the same time.

I think that this man believed, but that he also had unbelief. We might use the word “doubt” instead.

It is entirely possible that we should have faith in God, and yet have doubts at the same time. We don’t question God’s existence, or our salvation, but perhaps we do have doubts about God’s will to heal, or our ability to receive. Many feel unworthy and so have faith that God heals, but doubt God heals them.

I believe that a sufficient amount of doubt can hinder our faith. So how do we deal with it?

We lack space here to truly deal with the matter at hand, but here are a few ideas of mine.

Focus on the right things

Our minds generally guide the direction of our lives. IF our minds are focused on the wrong things, then that can certainly increase our doubts. If we focus on the problem, rather than the solution, which is Christ, then we cannot help but have doubts.

If you are seeking healing, are you spending time with Jesus and understanding what His Word says about the subject? Or are you googling the symptoms you have and telling everyone how terrible you feel? Don’t misunderstand, i’m not saying you cannot talk about your problems or gain understanding of things through research, but we must try to do these things in a positive way.

Paul says in Colossi ans 3 that we must keep our minds set on the “higher things” that is, the things that are above and not on the things that are below. I’m not talking about “positive mental attitude” here, as that alone saves no one. Rather, I’m saying we should train our minds to focus on the things of God – His promises – instead of the garbage this world offers.

And finally…

What I have said over the last few posts is by no means definitive evidence of guaranteed healing. Nor was that my intention. The subject of healing is more complex than we have had time to really get to grips with .

Some of you will disagree with much of what I have said, and that’s ok. I, like all of us, am still growing and learning. If nothing else, then I hope that what you have read has given you pause for thought. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but I have tried to evidence my points from the Bible and offer alternatives to the traditional views.

I state simply that I believe God wants His people to be well. The healthier we are, the better we can serve Him. The longer our lives are, the more opportunity we have to share our faith with others. That’s not to say anyone who is sick cannot do these things, but what more could we do if we were not hampered by ill-health.

If nothing else, then please pray about these things and seek the Lord for yourself. Pray for me also, not only that I would have a deeper understand of God and His Word, but that I too may be in good health. Thank you.

Love is a Verb (PoW#16)

Pearl of Wisdom #16

Love is a verb

You have no doubt heard this phrase before, but I think it is worth repeating.

A verb is an action word – it describes something we do. Love should be visible.

It is easy to say the words – “I love you,” but do our actions tell the same story? I can wish you well, hope that things work out OK for you, but if I do nothing to help, then I’ve not really loved you at all.

Being part of a church, I often hear of people praying for one another. If you believe in the power of prayer, then that’s a wonderful thing to do. Sometimes though I fear we are praying to God about things we could take care of ourselves.

If someone is without transport, we don’t need to pray for them, we need to give them a lift. If someone has a sick child or relative, we can provide a meal to give them one less thing to worry about. While doing our own shopping, we can pick up a few things for an elderly neighbour.

Love demands action – what is it demanding of you this week?

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

I remember speaking to a man in church once who was telling me about an illness he had suffered with for many years. He believed in healing, and had even experienced a miracle in the past. For this particular illness however, he told me that it was his “thorn in the flesh.” Meaning God would not remove it from him.

I want to explore this today, and think about the interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Many have cited it as evidence for God not always healing the sick, or rather not always wanting to.

Let’s explore the text together and see what we can find out.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Why did Paul have a “thorn”?

Before we investigate what this thorn might have been, let us consider why Paul was given such a thorn in the first place. What did Paul say?

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations…

2 Corinthians 12:7a (ISV)

So we see that Paul’s thorn came to him to keep him grounded. He had received such deep revelations of God, that he needed some kind of anchor to humility. Imagine having the kind of revelation needed to write the vast majority of the New Testament – to be the person who noted down the very Word of God for the church! Imagine if that was you… would you stay humble?

Earlier on in chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, Paul discussed an individual who was caught up to heaven. A man who actually visited heaven – whether in the body or out of it, not even the man knew. It turned out that this “man” was in fact Paul himself. So not only was he receiving such incredible revelation of God’s will and purpose, he also visited heaven! Astonishing!

We really need to understand this before we claim a “thorn” of our own. Few, if any, of us can claim to have received the depth of revelation that Paul did. We ought to be very careful about claiming the same limitations that Paul faced, without the responsibility that went along with it.

Who’s messenger was it?

It is also important to understand the source of this thorn. The text clearly states that this was a “messenger of Satan.” This thorn, whatever it was, came from the enemy. The text itself does not say that God sent the thorn, although of course you can read such an implication from it. At least, many will say God allowed this “messenger of Satan” if He did not send it Himself.

I make this point because we must not read what we think the Bible say, but rather what it actually says. Many teach and accept that God gave Paul a physical thorn, and thus in some circumstances, God will not heal. But it is difficult to obtain such an understanding from these verses – in my view at least.

The text does not clearly say if God did or did not “send” or “allow” this thorn, but it does say definitively that it was a “messenger of Satan.” Nothing good comes from the enemy, and we must understand he is a very real adversary who can wreak havoc in our lives if we allow him.

That is not to say that God cannot use hardships or difficulties to bring about His will or purpose in our lives, of course, He can. I would argue that He would not choose to do so if He had an alternative. I can learn that punching the wall really hurts and that I should not do it, but I can also learn that by instruction.

So then, what exactly was this “thorn”?

In the flesh

Many say that as Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” that it was clearly a physical ailment. There can be no question surely, that this was anything other than sickness of the body therefore. In fact, some go as far as to say that this “thorn” was Paul’s eye condition. I discussed Paul’s sight last week, and so don’t necessarily believe that Paul even had an eye condition, let alone one God refused to heal. It seems more likely to me that the damage to Paul’s eyes was as a result of his stoning at Antioch, rather than an illness.

But are there any alternative views?

Think of this example. If I said to you that “work is a real pain in the neck at the moment.” How would you interpret that? Would you think I was saying that I had injured my neck in an accident at work? No, of course not! You would understand that “pain in the neck” is just a turn of phrase meaning “annoyance” or “frustration”.

Let’s say I’d written this to you in a letter, and someone was reading it 2,000 years into the future. If the phrase “pain in the neck” was no longer in common use, then the reader might struggle to understand my meaning.

This, in my opinion at least, is what is happening with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.

How can I evidence that? Can the phrase be found elsewhere in the Bible, and how is it interpreted?

Here is a verse from Numbers 33:

But if you fail to drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, their survivors will become irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, to prick your sides and afflict you in the very land in which you’ll be living.

Numbers 33:55 (ISV)

This verse is clear, and the meaning apparent. If you don’t drive out the nations before you, then they will become an irritant and “thorns in your sides.” We all understand this is not literal – the enemy nations would not turn into physical thorns and stick in the sides of the Israeli people! Instead, we understand this is a turn of phrase, and one Paul would have been familiar with.

Similarly, in Joshua 23, we read:

know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua 23:13 (ISV)

Again we see here an example of the same sort of phrase. A “Thorn in the flesh”, be it eyes or sides, is clearly meant to indicate an irritation or vexation.

So the thorn was…?

As I say above, it was clearly an irritation or frustration of some kind. The text doesn’t give much more detail than that, although it is my personal opinion that this thorn was in fact persecution.

Persecution would fit the bill because it is clear Paul was persecuted pretty much everywhere he went. He was arrested, whipped and imprisoned multiple times and nou doubt, as faithful as he was, was something hard to endure over and over again.

Paul did ask God to remove the thorn from him – three times in fact, and yet God did not. Why? Firstly, every believer (Paul included) was promised that while they were in the world, that they would have trouble (John 16:33). We should take heart knowing that Jesus overcame the world and its troubles.

Secondly, which is an extension to the first, is that God did not promise to remove persecution from us. As much as we would like it, I see no case in the Bible to suggest that we can simply pray persecution away – even with Paul’s faith and experience.

What does this have to do with the subject of healing?

In short, very little in my view. If it is your belief that Paul’s thorn was a physical illness, then I hope what I have said here at least gives you an alternative to consider.

If what I have said is correct, then actually Paul’s thorn has nothing to do with the ministry of healing and nor should it be used as a reason for “God not healing someone.”

Whatever irritations or “thorns” you are facing this week, I pray that they would be removed. And if not, like Paul, then I believe God’s grace is sufficient. Spend time drawing on that grace and being with God in whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

Is it God’s will for you to be sick?

In last week’s post called “Is it God’s Will to Heal?” I examined a number of Scriptures which I believe supported the idea that it is God’s will to heal us. While that remains my view, I don’t want to put across a one-sided view, avoiding all the other Scriptures which may contradict my point, and want to tackle those Bible verses today.

In all of this, I urge you to search out the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s, study the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind.

The Source of Sickness

Last time, I spoke of Jesus’ ministry and the massive amount of time He spent healing the sick.

In Acts, we read a summary of Jesus’ ministry:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went around doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the Devil.

Acts 10:38 (ISV)

From this summary, we not only learn that Jesus went about doing good, and healing everyone who was oppressed, but also who they were oppressed by – the devil.

Likewise, when we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” we discover its source also:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

I want to explore Paul’s thorn in greater detail in a future post, so won’t say a great deal here. It is certainly a Scripture that many use to support the idea of God sometimes refusing to heal. Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” so clearly in the body right? Well, i’m not so sure about that, but as I say, we’ll pick that up in a future post.

For now though, I want to point out that Paul’s thorn, be it physical or not, was a messenger of Satan. It was not a servant of God, nor inspired by Him – it was from the devil.

This is really important because we cannot have faith to be healed if we in some part believe that it is God who made us sick.

Let’s have a look at some further verses used to dispute this.

Paul’s eyesight

I’ve heard teaching about Paul’s eyesight, and wanted to discuss it here. Some scholars claim that Paul had some form of eye condition, demonstrated by the below verses.

What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Galatians 4:15 (ESV)

And:

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Galatians 6:11 (ESV)

The argument is that if Paul – the great apostle himself – was struck with an eye condition, then who are we to say that God wants us well?

While the above verses can be interpretted like that, I think there is another alternative. Only you can decide which you think is right.

Firstly, Galatians 4:15 where Paul said the Galatians would have given him their eyes if they were able. Clearly, this shows that Paul had some kind of affliction with his eyes. I’m not denying that sickness attacks us at times, and being in a battle with sickness is not something you should feel condemned over.

Scholars suggest that this eye affliction was caused by some ancient eye disease not uncommon at the time. But what about this:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)

Just prior to moving on to Galatia (Derbe is a province of Galatia), Paul was stoned outside the city of Antioch. If he was not dead, then those who stoned him certainly believed he was. It may even be that he was raised to life after suffering this execution attempt.

How badly hurt must Paul have been? Even if raised to new life, his body would still need time to recover. God’s healing power can work instantly, but does not always. Is it not more likely that this attempted stoning was the cause of Paul’s eye problems than an ancient disease?

Scholars point at the other verse, Galatians 6:11 to show that Paul had to write in “large letters” because his sight was so bad. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it was the stoning rather than the sickness that caused this? But actually, the word “large” here is – pelikos – meaning volume or magnitude. And the word “letter” – gramma – meaning document, note or letter. Together these just mean a large letter, a long note, or substantial document. It does not mean large individual characters!

Timothy’s Tummy

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

1 Timothy 5:23 (ESV)

The wine-lovers favourite verse…!

Again, this verse is often used to suggest that if Timothy had stomach problems then clearly God doesn’t always want us well. It feels something of a weak argument to me in this case.

If you were travelling somewhere with low water quality, I might give you similar advice. Likewise, if you were sensitive to certain foods or even allergic, it would be prudent to avoid those things. I think that’s just good sense!

Maybe in this case, Timothy was so firmly convinced that it is indeed God’s will to heal, that he was deliberately drinking the water to prove the point? That is mere speculation of course, but no more so than using this verse to deny God’s will to heal.

The Old Testament

I absolutely love the Old Testament. I know many find it hard to handle, and indeed it takes some study, but it is the Bible Jesus would have read (in a manner of speaking) and without it, the New Testament would be rather thin and meaningless.

When it comes to healing and sickness, we need to properly understand the Old Testament. There are certain occasions when God inflicted sickness on people, that cannot and should not be denied. But we must understand the context first.

Some may deny that God inflicted sickness in the Old Testament, instead using words like “allowed” or “permitted” sickness. While in some cases that is probably true, there are other places where you need to bend or downright change the text to make that so – I cannot condone that at all.

In the space I have remaining, I cannot give you a detailed survey of the Old Testament and its contribution to the subject of healing. Much confusion can be cleared up by understanding the difference between the Law and Grace.

Deuteronomy 28 sets out the blessings and the curses of obeying the Law. Obey the Law, you get blessed, disobey the Law, you get cursed. Simple right? Well not exactly. Israel had made the bold claim that they could do all that God had commanded, and so He introduced the Law (see Exodus 19). This was to demonstrate to them that they were not able to fulfil all aspects of the Law, and that they needed a Saviour.

Listed under the curses, we see things like:

The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness…

Deuteronomy 28:27-29a (ESV)

Sickness is a curse. Plain and simple. For those living under the Law, they would be cursed with sickness when they broke the Law. Many of us Christians today believe this still applies.

Galatians 3:13 tells us:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Jesus took on the curse for us. We could not fulfil the Law and so Jesus did so on our behalf. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 no longer apply to us because Christ became the curse for us.

If good works could not earn us the blessing, then our mistakes now can’t take it away either. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Christ.

Most of the sickness we read about in the Old Testament is a direct result of disobedience, and the curse of the Law. Without a Saviour to stand in the gap, people had to face the consequences of their own actions. Even then, God’s grace is still abundently clear in His patience in dealing with the nation of Israel.

Other examples of the curse of sickness can be found in the Old Testament:

  • Miriam’s Leprosy (Numbers 12)
  • David’s census (1 Chronicles 21)
  • Hezekiah’s sickness and subsequent recovery (2 Kings 20)
  • Elisha’s servant – Gehazi (2 Kings 5)

We could go on, but all of these examples are as a direct result of disobedience leading to punishment.  Jesus took that punishment for us, so we would not have to. God bore the pain on His own shoulders to free us from its curse.

The Old Testament may be difficult in places, but is also full of examples of healing too.

  • Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5)
  • Elisha healing the Shumanite woman’sson (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4)
  • The First Healing in the Bible, that of Abimilech (Genesis 20)

Concluding Thoughts

Again, I point out that I cannot do a complete study in this one blog post. I am simply trying to point out some of the common arguments against healing, and hopefully giving you an alternative view.

As I try to say often, don’t take my word for it! Seek this out for yourself. Study the Bible and find out what it says. If you come up with something different to me, that’s fine, as long as you can support your view from the text. Bear with those who don’t agree.

My point in this series is to help you to understand that it is God’s will to heal. Last time I drew your attention to Scriptures which support this, and I’ve tried (in this post) to address some of the other verses which may appear to go against that view.

Next time we will tackle Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh, as I think there is some confusion about this and it is often cited as a reason for God not wanting to heal.

In the meantime, pray about these Scriptures and talk to God about it. I pray you receive and stand in good health this week.