Reading: Isaiah 50
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. Isaiah 50:4-5 NIV
How beautifully this scripture describes the Holy Spirit at work, in and through Jesus. Speaking though Isaiah, Jesus reveals his attentiveness to the voice of his Father, and how the precious words he heard became, in his own mouth, such a blessing to others.
These were no ordinary words. They carried the power to save, to sustain the weary and bring hope to the broken hearted.
Not one word that the Father spoke to Jesus fell by the wayside. Rather, they were welcomed and acted upon, for this was his life and ministry – to do his Father's will.
Here too is my life's calling, to hear the voice of the Spirit, and to obey it. Just as Jesus was filled with Spirit, so too God has graciously imparted his Spirit to me, and to all who would receive him.
This entire week I have the privilege of 'escaping' to the beautiful Maniototo Basin in the South Island of New Zealand for the express purpose of learning to hear the voice of God and move in the gifts of the Spirit. With the guidance of Rodney Francis, Len Butner, and John Fergusson, I am discovering that, more than I ever knew, God is speaking to me.
I have often struggled with those gentle promptings. Is that God speaking to me or is it just my own thoughts? So this week, I have put it to the test. I have been asking God to speak to me, to give me specific words for the people around me – words that would encourage and minister to them. Most of these folks I have only met this week.
Trusting God for those first thoughts and impressions that come, and sharing them with those people in a spirit of love (and with some trepidation), I have discovered to my delight that the words really are from God. He has given me things I could never have known about those people and enabled me to speak healing and encouragement to them, often in very specific ways.
I feel so encouraged! The Sovereign Lord really is giving me “a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” He is “waking my ear to listen like one being instructed.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit and is, I believe, a ministry for all believers.
For so long I have prayed that God would open my ears, and it seems that perhaps, they were open all along. And so, with Jesus I declare that I will not be rebellious or turn away. Nor will I be constrained by fear. Instead, I will seek his voice, listen and obey.
Thank you so much Father for your Spirit, and the gifts he brings. Thank you for your voice. Please help me as I endeavour every day to listen for your promptings, to put aside fear, and to bless others by sharing your precious words with them.
Reading: Numbers 7 – 9
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. Numbers 9:22-23 (NIV)
When God led his people Israel into the desert, he gave them no itinerary. There was no route guide, and no time frame. He simply said, “Follow me.” They were “the People of the Presence”.
Every moment of every day, God's visible presence could be seen by every one of them, from the oldest to the youngest. He was in the cloud that hovered over the Tent of Meeting. By night, the cloud was still visible and looked like fire.
“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped.” (Numbers 9:17-18)
And so it was that for forty years, whenever the Israelites set up camp, they did so in the knowledge that they could be leaving again in the morning. Or, they could be stopping for a year. They just didn't know.
There was no opportunity to put down roots in a physical location or become dependent on the land's resources. Instead, God was both their home and their provider.
God is also my home and my provider. And the Holy Spirit is my fire and my cloud. My citizenship now is in heaven (see Phil 3:20), and even as I write, Jesus is preparing a place for me there (see John 14:2). In the meantime, he has urged me not to worry about my needs. They will all be met as I seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness. (See Matt 6:25-34)
Just as Israel looked to God every day to see how he would lead them, I too need to be constantly looking to God, ready and willing to follow his every prompting.
So easily I put roots down into those things that would seem secure. And how hard that makes it to move when God himself is on the move. If however, my roots are in God, I need never uproot again. I will be free to move whenever and wherever his Spirit would lead me.
In ballroom dancing (when done well), the woman follows the gentle promptings of her partner so closely that the two move across the dance floor as one. There is no hesitation and no dispute. It works because each partner understands their role, one to lead, and the other to follow. And the result? Harmony and beauty.
This is my desire Lord, that without hesitation or dispute, I might follow the promptings of your Spirit, that your purpose would be my purpose, and your desire mine. Help me to look to you for all I need, and to seek you and your kingdom above all else.
“…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NIV)
Reading: Psalm 139
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-11 (NIV)
The presence of God is not like a WiFi hotspot. I can go wherever I like, even to furthest-away places imaginable, and still be connected. And, I can go way beyond my comfort zone and be no less supported by God than if I was right here in my sweet spot. Yes, “even there [in the farthest reaches of my world], your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
The problem is, my sense of confidence is still partially founded on my own limited skill set rather than on God's infinite power. I know this to be the case because I have a “comfort zone”, and when I go beyond it, I get anxious.
If I really had fully accepted the truth of God's constant love and presence, I wouldn't have a comfort zone. Instead, I would feel comfortable everywhere. I would certainly still have a “competence zone”, but beyond that I could nonetheless rest in the knowledge that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
As it is, my competence actually comes from God anyway, whether I'm working within my own gifts and abilities or not.
So the current situation is this: The all-knowing all-powerful God of the universe loves me and is with me 24 hours per day, but my sense of competence and security is still, to some degree, based on my own limited natural abilities. Hmm…
When I'm considering, “Can I do this thing?”, my default setting is to measure the task against the “possibility-limiting hurdle” of my own capabilities. But when I do this, it simply shuts me down, squashing my trust in God and capping the level of my obedience. I will never step into all that God has for me with this approach.
Clearly my default setting needs to be changed! What if I ask the question, “Can God do this thing?” The answer will invariably be “Yes!”, which really opens things up! Getting over my own inadequacy puts me in a much better position to decide what I should do. Because fear will no longer be part of the equation, nor my own limitations, but rather, God's enabling presence. What a refreshing place to be!
Lord God, I want my confidence to be totally in you. I want to live the life of faith. I confess that fear has sometimes limited my obedience to your promptings. Please help me as I say, No more! Fear, be gone! Holy Spirit, I give you permission to lead me. Wherever we're going, whatever we're doing, I am willing.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Why not read the whole of Psalm 139! It's such a good reminder of God's constant presence, and of his intimate love and concern for each one of us.
Reading: Joshua 23:1 – Judges 3:6
Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua 24:31 (NIV)
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord… Judges 2:10-11 (NIV)
Head knowledge will always be trumped by personal experience. Though stories be a powerful influence and storytelling vital to sharing and passing on my faith, being IN the story takes it to a whole new level. To walk on the bed of the sea with water heaped up on either side, to feel the heat and the power of God manifested in a pillar of fire, to see water spontaneously gush from a dry rock, and to collect bread from heaven every morning – these are experiences that no handed-down story can match.
In the days of Joshua, these and many other encounters with God influenced the heart of the entire nation. They knew God not just because they had heard the stories, but because they were in them. But as these encounters with God became past history, even by just one generation, the faith of the nation began to crumble.
It's not enough just to share stories handed down from others. I need my own stories. I need my own first hand experience of the power and presence of God. I need to have been on the receiving end of his goodness. I need to have been healed. I need to have prayed in faith and seen miraculous answers to my prayers. These things form the basis of my personal testimony.
Not only that, but others need to be able to see God at work in me and through me. Why would people be drawn to my faith if the substance of it was simply the stories of others? How much weight would that carry? No, I need my own stories.
It's not that my own faith depends on it. But the faith of others just might. Jesus himself expected that some would believe in him because of his miracles: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)
And in the very next sentence, he reveals his expectation that some would believe in him because of miracles happening in and through me: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12).
These things aren't for my benefit. They're for those who don't yet know him, because just as it was in the days of Joshua, so it is in this day: To see God at work first hand, and even more, to experience him – to be IN the story – that is the stuff that turns hearts and generations to God.
Lord Jesus, I so want to be a generation changer! To be salt and light in this world and to see your hand at work, to be a testimony to all whose hearts would turn to you. Please break the power of low expectation that has defined my generation, and release in us faith to move mountains and to do the work you have commissioned for us, that through us your love and glory might be clearly revealed, in our generation.
Reading: Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
The old me is dead. I “died with Christ” (Colossians 2:20), and then three days later, I was “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). This happened at a specific moment in history nearly 2,000 years ago, but I got to “share in it” when I made my own personal decision to accept Jesus as my Lord, and be baptised. With that burial and resurrection, I became a brand new person, a “new creation”. Home is no longer where it was. My new permanent address is now “hidden with Christ in God”.
But with this monumental shift in the spiritual realm comes the realisation that all my old settings need to be re calibrated – the way I think, the way I respond, my priorities, my focus, the things I pursue – everything.
Calibrate: Correlate the readings (of an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument's accuracy; adjust to take external factors into account; carefully assess, set or adjust.
It's still happening, this Re-calibration. In fact, the more time goes by, the more I discover in my heart and mind that doesn't correlate with those of the 'Standard'. As I read my Bible, I keep becoming aware of things in me that don't line up with the way that Jesus is, or his expectations of me.
Yet I don't feel guilt. Rather I feel hunger. I find that I am wearing some old attitude that I suddenly, desperately want to get rid of. I see a standard of faith that I fall woefully short of, and I desperately want my faith to grow to meet that new standard. I discover once again that God desires intimacy with me, and I long to go deeper in my relationship with him.
What a wonderful privilege to have the Spirit of God doing this work in me. He really is re-calibrating me. It's as I turn my heart and my thoughts toward him that he truly can have full reign to do his work. Coming before him as I read my Bible, setting aside time to walk and talk with him, and choosing in all my decisions to honour my declared devotion to him – these things open the way for God to reset and restore everything in my life that needs putting right. How good is that!
Holy Spirit, I offer myself into your hands, and say, “Have your way.” Please re-calibrate me so that I might be like Jesus. I want to love like him, and be pure in every thought and motivation. Jesus, I thank you that my future is now in your hands, and for the privilege of being able to walk with you now, and every day. Come, Lord Jesus!
Reading: Matthew 26:57 – 27:31 (NIV)
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63-64 (NIV)
It's interesting to reflect on the challenge that the high priest made to Jesus. He said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The reply he got was exactly what he wanted. He knew that Jesus was compelled to tell the truth, and he welcomed it, not as truth, but as a succinct unambiguous claim of identity: “Yes,” Jesus said, “it is as you say.”
With this statement, Jesus had nailed himself. But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He added a powerful prophetic statement to leave them in no doubt, and to lay down a warning: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Anyone there who really was open to the possibility that Jesus might in fact be who he said he was would have cause to swallow hard about what they were planning to do. It was a stark warning, but it fell on hard hearts. The company present would kill Jesus, and his words would come back to haunt them.
There was perhaps one man in that gathering who did have fresh cause to reconsider his opinion of Jesus. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. He had been there when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. It was he who had his right ear cut off as impetuous Peter lashed out with his sword. And, it was he who looked up to find that the very one they had come to arrest was reaching out his hand, and touching him, and he was healed. It was a moment he would never forget.
I wonder if in that moment, something softened in his heart? Enough to give him reason to pause, and consider afresh, “Could this man actually be who he says he is?”
Humility before God is the only way for us to know truth. It's being prepared to lose face by stepping away from our old attitudes toward Jesus in order to stand with the very one we had previously mocked. Or shunned. Or perhaps simply ignored. It's being able to come before him with hands empty and heart open to say, “I was wrong. And I need you.”
Father God, your approval is what I want more than anything. Ultimately, the opinion of others matters not. Only that you would forgive me, and accept me, and enjoy me. May arrogance be far from me as I thank you, and humbly accept your incredible gift of grace.
Reading: Acts 16
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV)
A good thing is not necessarily the right thing to do. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, yet the Holy Spirit kept Paul from preaching the Word in the province of Asia, then later blocked his entry into Bithynia to do the same thing. Finally Paul has a vision from God which clarifies where he is to go to preach the Word. All three options were obeying Jesus, but only one of them was the right one.
Why did God not just show Paul and his friends in the first place where they were to go? Was there something he wanted to teach them on the way? Knowing with certainty what is happening next does bring a feeling of security and of being in control. But what if God takes this certainty away? Then, instead of trusting in our circumstances, all we can do is either worry, or trust in him.
I am sure the latter is what God really wants, and is the reason why he sometimes seems to leave us hanging. He is putting us in that place where all we can do is be patient, trust him for the next step, and rest in his hands knowing that he knows the next part of the road even though we don't.
So long as God is in control, I can relax. Then, rather than waiting for my circumstances to give me certainty, I can find certainty in the knowledge that God is good, and he has everything in hand. When options present themselves, I can pray, asking God for wisdom, and then tentatively step forward, trusting God to close some doors and open others. In the meantime, I need to relax and embrace the freedom of not knowing my next step, but knowing that God does.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example to learn from. Help me to let go, and simply rest in your arms. And when it's time to move, please guide me into things that are not just good, but also within your purpose for me. Holy Spirit, open my ears to clearly hear your voice and help me to keep in step with you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:1-6 (NIV)
To wait: To remain inactive or in a state of repose until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.
When the psalmist talks here about waiting for the Lord, it's clear that no one else will do. No one else can satisfy the cry of his heart. If God doesn't come through for him, he is sunk. There is no plan B. I'm reminded of the lyrics of a Hillsong United song:So I look to you So I look to you No one else will do No one else will do
It's often when I'm at my lowest that I get to truly appreciate how much I need God. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” Because when all I delight myself in ceases to satisfy and the things I lean on give way, it's then I see with clarity my absolute need of God. Even those closest to me can't truly satisfy the deepest desires of my heart, but only the One who holds my very soul in his hands.
And yet, God is not 'the god of instant gratification'. He allows me to become hungry so I will come to his table. He allows me to become needy so I will seek provision from his hand. He even allows me to become desperate so my floundering feet will discover that he really is my Rock and upon him I can stand. Otherwise I might put my faith in what cannot deliver and my hope in what is doomed to fail.
But God can deliver, and in him my hope is secure. And so I can rest in that hope, I can “Be still and know that God is God”, and I can say with the psalmist:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Father, you are good! I can trust you when my circumstances seem bleak and help isn't forthcoming, because you will never fail me. Help me to rest in your love as I wait for you, and never to lose my hope in you.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)