Reading: Luke 13
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Luke 13:20-21 NIV
Recently I have had the privilege of praying for people in our central city through a ministry called Healing on the Streets. The folks we pray for are passers by who stop to talk, respond to our invitation for prayer, and are brave enough to take a seat and allow two or three of our team to gather around and pray for them, in full view of other shoppers.
I believe that in those few brief minutes of prayer, the folks we pray for truly come into contact with the presence of God.
And so I love this thought that the kingdom of God is like yeast. I like to think that during those short encounters people have with God, a deposit of the “yeast of the Kingdom” is given to them.
And just as yeast, when the conditions are right, will cause dough to rise, so the yeast of the Kingdom, when the conditions become right, can bring to a person life and restoration and the joy of a relationship with God.
Every invitation I make to pray for someone is an opportunity to give that person an encounter with God. For some that encounter will be profound; for others, it may simply be a curiosity. But no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, the kingdom of God is like yeast! Who knows what effect that little deposit of yeast might have as the Spirit does his work.
At work, at school, on the street, at the mall, or with family and friends, I will always have opportunities to offer to pray — opportunities too precious to miss.
Lord Jesus, please give me opportunities to share the yeast of the Kingdom. Help me to see and respond to the needs of those around me, in practical ways, but also by offering to pray. May I be gentle but bold, and always motivated by love as I ask the question, “Can I pray for you?”
Reading: Acts 3
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. Acts 3:6-7 NIV
Faith is the key that unlocks the power of God. The account of Peter healing the crippled man is a great example of faith in action, and there is much to learn from it. But I find myself asking, why had this crippled man not already been healed by Jesus? Is there a less obvious lesson about faith in this story?
For three years, Jesus had travelled the land healing the sick and preaching the good news of the kingdom. We are told in numerous places in the gospels that all who came to Jesus were healed. In fact, all that were brought to Jesus were healed.
Consider the following accounts:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them. Matthew 4:23-24 NIV
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick… Matthew 12:15 NIV
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. Matthew 8:16 NIV
And when the men of that place recognised Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. Matthew 14:35-36 NIV
When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Luke 4:40 NIV
Two things stand out to me in the above verses:
- People brought their sick to Jesus, and
- Jesus healed them.
Presumably, the crippled man who sat every day begging at the temple gate in Jerusalem had not seen Jesus (who actually spent very little time in Jerusalem during his ministry years). But so many sick people had been taken to Jesus. And this man had friends who brought him to the temple gate every day to beg. Could they not have brought him to Jesus? What role could their faith have played in getting this man healed?
Third party faith is important! How many people in Jesus' day were healed not so much because of their own faith, but because of the faith of their friends and family in bringing them to Jesus?
My faith can release the favour of God upon the lives of others. But I don't have to depend solely on my own faith. I can pool it with the faith of others to achieve more than I could ever do alone.
Faith can be tested, and sometimes shaken, but it can also be bolstered by the faith of others. One person's faith can sometimes bolster the faith of a whole group! We truly do need each other.
It's so important, therefore, that I join regularly with others to pray and share encouragement. Alone, I am limited. But in the warm glow of a faith community, my faith can grow and flourish as collectively we open the way for the power and love of God to be released.
Jesus, I ask that you would release power to heal as we pray! I ask for fresh gifts of faith, and opportunities every day to step out and act on that faith, that you would be honoured in the world you came to save.
Reading: Philemon 1:1-7
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers… Philemon 1:4 NIV
Paul is such a tender-hearted bloke towards his children in the Lord. I've never noticed it before, but in the majority of his letters, once formal greetings are out of the way, he just can't help himself from telling them how thankful he is — for them, and for what God is doing in their lives. Just listen to him…
Philemon 1:4-5 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus…
Ephesians 1:15-16 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God … as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Paul is just like a proud parent brimming with joy as he sees his children growing in their faith. They're not all perfect, of course. The “foolish Galatians” are not doing so well when Paul writes (see Galatians 1:6). Nonetheless they are all in his thoughts and prayers.
I suspect too that Paul is feeling that same excitement that a gardener feels when the seed he has planted sprouts up through the soil and begins to grow. He is intensely interested and concerned for that seed. But although he did the planting, he knows it is God who brings the growth. Which is perhaps why Paul feels so much delight when he sees growth happening.
And who shares that delight with him? All of heaven. Together, heaven and earth celebrate in the wonder of new life.
This week, I had the privilege of helping someone invite Jesus into their life — someone I had been praying for. It was such a wonderful occasion, and I was so thankful! I couldn't stop myself from thanking God over and over. Since then, I have had the double joy of seeing the same thankfulness welling up in the man who was saved.
I can so relate to Paul when he says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers…” It just wells up. I feel as though the great celebration that happens in heaven for every soul saved has somehow spilled out of heaven and enveloped me, and I want more of it!
Thank you so much Lord for the privilege of this experience — to be able to bring someone into your family. I offer myself to you as a planter of seeds, a tiller of soil, and nurturer of new life. I want to be your agent of blessing, bringing many more into your kingdom. May I? Holy Spirit, just give me the word!
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: 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: 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)