Reading: Deuteronomy 5 — 8
Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! Deuteronomy 5:29 NIV
God so wants to bless us! He yearns for it. “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me … that it might go well with them…”
If my heart is “inclined” toward him — to delight in him, to please him, to obey the promptings of his Spirit — and as I persist with this, God will release his blessing and favour into my life. This is his heart-felt desire and purpose, as expressed in his words above, but it is the inclination of my heart that determines how much his desire for me is fulfilled.
It's as though his desire to bless and bestow favour is pent up, just waiting for the opportunity to be let out. And the inclination of my heart is the key that opens the flood gates of his goodness. No wonder God wants my devotion!
So how do I incline my heart toward God?
Inclination: A disposition or bent, especially of the mind or will; a liking or preference; to deviate from the horizontal or vertical; to lean or bend in a particular direction.
That definition brings to mind certain flowers that turn toward the sun. They don't just stand stock still, pointing straight upwards and unmoved by the sun's presence. Instead, the flower head turns toward the sun and follows it as it moves across the sky. As it does so, the stalk is compelled to bend as well, so that the whole plant becomes inclined toward its glorious source of life and nourishment.
The more closely and consistently that flower can orient itself toward the sun, the greater the “blessing” it receives.
It's the same with me. Not that I can earn God's blessing — it comes as a free gift — but that the degree to which my heart is turned towards him will actually determine how much he is able to bless me.
Father, when I hear your heart's cry for me, I can't help but want to respond — to offer my life wholeheartedly into your hands; to offer to you alone my affection and my devotion. Holy Spirit, help me to hear your voice and feel your promptings. I want my mind and my heart to be fully and always oriented to Jesus, to enjoy his presence and to obey him.
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14 NIV
The time is coming, perhaps soon, when everyone on the earth will know of God. Not just know about him, but know of his glory. They will see it. They will experience it. Everybody will know of someone who has been healed in Jesus' name. Miracles will be common place. The presence of God will be manifest as the Kingdom continues its advance.
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord…”
In the days of Jesus and then of the early church, God's glory was mostly revealed through healing, through “signs and wonders”, and through the casting out of demons. These manifestations of God's power came as first Jesus and then his disciples walked in obedience to the promptings of the Spirit.
It's so important that I submit completely to God. When I fail to act on the promptings of his Spirit, often because of fear, God is robbed of the glory that would otherwise be his.
Yet perfect love drives out all fear, and obeying God is my opportunity to tangibly demonstrate my love for him. Obedience always produces good fruit, and good fruit always glorifies God.
“This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8 NIV
Just imagine the blessing that is waiting on the other side of my obedience, and the glory that might revealed…
- …when I love my neighbour
- …when I offer to pray with someone
- …when I pray for healing
- …when I step out in faith beyond my natural abilities
- …when I share something that I feel Jesus is telling me
- …when I give of my resources
The God of the universe can actually be glorified through me! What an amazing thought! What a privilege! And it begins with me obeying him.
Lord God, I pray as Moses did, “Show me your glory.” Open my eyes to see you as you really are. Father, I offer myself completely to you, and ask that I might reflect your love and draw the eyes of others to your wonderful goodness and grace.
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: 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: John 14
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14:10 (NIV)
“Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work”. When Jesus walked on this earth, the relationship he had with his Father was in many ways like the relationship that I can now have with the Father. God (by means of the Holy Spirit) is living in me, and doing his work. That includes both his work in me and his work through me.
In John 5:19-20, Jesus reveals how the “through me” part worked for him: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
When praying for others, I often just begin praying without giving thought to what God might have in mind for the situation. I suspect things would go a lot better if first I stopped to focus my thoughts on God. “Lord, what are you wanting to do here? What would you like me to do?” I could do this at the time, and even before hand. “Father, what jobs do you have for me today?” For upcoming events or opportunities, I may even choose to fast and pray as I seek to know God's plans for the situation.
Although I don't always find it easy to hear clearly from God, making the effort to listen and to “see” what my Father is doing will surely help. Then I will be able to say with Jesus, “I can do nothing by myself, but only what I see my Father doing, because whatever the Father does, I do too.”
Father God, please open my eyes to see what you are doing. I don't want to work on my own, separated from what you are doing. I belong to you, and I offer myself for your work, to do whatsoever you have in mind – for this moment, for this day, and for the times ahead.
See also, Apart From You, I Shall Do Nothing
Reading: Joshua 21 and 22
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” Joshua 22:5 (NIV)
As I read those words, I feel something leap inside of me. “Yes! That's what I want Lord! To love you, to walk in all your ways, to obey your commands, to hold fast to you, and to serve you with all my heart and all of my soul! All those things – they are the desire of my heart.”
To love, to walk, to obey, to hold, and to serve – these are all verbs, “doing” words, the out-working of my inner faith. Without that faith, my efforts would be like branches on a hollow tree, sooner or later rotting and falling off. Without God's ongoing gift of faith to me, that's all I would be – a hollow tree.
But I am not a hollow tree. I am an “oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” (Isaiah 61:3) There is an inner strength in me based not on my own virtue but on that of Jesus. How wonderful was that divine exchange that happened at the cross! Not only am I renewed and restored, but the Holy Spirit has come to live in me!
Now, as I love and walk and obey and hold and serve, I do so with the enabling power of the Spirit. He is willing me on! It's as if my faith is bursting into life. No wonder my heart leaps at the opportunity to express my love for God. He is truly the heart and strength of my life.
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness… Isaiah 61:10
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever. Psalm 28:7-9
See also, Surprise! It's Righteousness!
Reading: Philippians 3-4
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
“…Becoming like him in his death…” What was Jesus like in his death? Sapped of all human strength, mocked, tortured, tormented by the agony of crucifixion, and carrying upon himself the weight of all our sin – how did Jesus respond?
He had already committed himself to his Father's will: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Still, when it came to it, there was no protest, no pleading for mercy or shrinking back from the atrocity he was suffering. Instead, there was submission.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7-8
Nor did he show resentment, but rather, grace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). In Hebrews 2:10, Paul tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”. Indeed, though he suffered terribly, Jesus responded with enormous courage, with humility and with continuing obedience to his Father, demonstrating for all time the depths of his love for both the Father and for us.
That's what Jesus was like in his death.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). In this verse, it seems like Jesus is offering me a burden, but actually, I think he is offering me a secret, the key to becoming like him in his death. And that is, to put my life completely and utterly into God's hands – to “lose it”, as it were, to him.
But although I offer him my life, I suspect it will not be until I find myself in the 'crucible of suffering' that my submission to him will become complete, and I will, as Jesus was, be made perfect through suffering. And in the meantime, with any suffering that comes my way, I can follow Jesus' example by lifting up my eyes from the suffering at my feet, and instead fixing them on the joy set before me.
Your example Jesus is inspiring. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you, and to understand more deeply the joy that is set before me. May I live my life with courage, humility and obedience as with your help I commit myself daily into your hands.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
See also Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life.