Life after fifty…

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“…a man to fulfil my purpose.” Isaiah 46:11David in snow

God needs people like you and I to get His work done on earth. In the Old Testament He set apart the Levites as a committed band to serve in the temple.

“Of all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the Tent of Meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.” Numbers 8:19

The above phrase uses the Hebrew “nathan” twice to emphasise the fact that the Levites were “gifts” (nathan) to the community. Ministry begins when we are able to give our lives as a gift to our families, friends and peoples around us.

The word nathan also reminds us of the classic verse in Ephesians 4:8 which describes the five-fold ministry functions as gifts to the Body of Christ.

“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 

Numbers 8:24-26 gives a specific ministry season for the Levitic ministry.

“This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.”

This is a fantastic encouragement to all the twenty-five year olds amongst us. Imagine the awesome possibilities of pioneering and establishing a work of God for a twenty-five year period. Not just a short-term stint but two and a half decades of wild excitement, living on the edge of faith with the all providing Holy Spirit. Nothing is a greater pleasure or privilege.

Twenty-five is the year for taking responsibility and going for your Holy Spirit inspired dreams. Before twenty-five we can be mightily touched by God but are still in a period of training and preparation.

However, on reading the above passage, the fifty plus contingent may be getting slightly discouraged? What about me? Is it time to retire lamely to the old age Levites home?

Why did God in his wisdom set a fifty year cut off point?

I can think of at least two reasons.

1) Necessary Kenosis

At fifty years old one is at a spiritual, mental and experiential peak. You’ve built a work, you’ve made a name, you’ve paid the price. What next? There is an African proverb which says:

“A tree born in the shadow of a great Baobab dies a small bush.”

The smaller, growing trees need space and sunlight to fulfill their growth potential. You need to make space! Other personalities need to emerge to fashion new forms in the works of God. God encouraged such a necessary kenosis (emptying, diminishing, space Baobabmaking) in His Levitical model, but the principle – evidently in a non dogmatic form, is still relevent to us all today.

2) To avoid too great a cultural and generational distance being established in the temple

It is hard for older people who are naturally and wonderfully limited to their established paradigm of life and thinking to understand the new ways of the younger generation and the rapidly changing emerging cultures. Jesus is seen walking through the lampstands in Revelation 2:1, and God straddles time and culture with ease, constantly applying His eternal truth to the necessary paradigms and world views of each generation and culture. His Church is not a monolithic, one size fits all cheese cutter, but a supple, radiant, top model bride. He set up the Levitical model to avoid a cultural and generational bottle neck with the old hegemonies owning all the power. Again this truth can be applied to our situations today.

So is all this bad news for the over fifties? (By the way if you get wonderfully saved at fifty you can carry on till seventy-five!)

There will no doubt be pain and crisis, but these can also be the necessary birth pains to thrust you into a new season of life.

Let’s take a close look at an older minister, Simeon – our personal model, in Luke 2:25-35 to discover seven new wonderful ministry options that open up to this chosen and precious generation.

1) After twenty-five years of faithful service one possesses immense spiritual and personal capital 

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

Simeon, as an example for many mature men and women, had learnt to walk in righteousness. “Devout” has negative, passive overtones in today’s language, but the original Greek, eulabes, meant to grab hold of something good with a violent passion! While so many others aggressively grabbed for the useless idols of this world,  Simeon had learned to hold on to the life of worship, prayer and meditation.

He had learned the patient wait of expectant faith. Younger men and women are necessarily and vitally impatient in their need to pioneer and build. A deeper waiting can be found in the soul of such Serene Disciples.

He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He had revelation and great sensitivity to the heart of God as the verses in Luke mention at least three times how this old covenant man was covered in the presence of the Holy.

2) Consolation

“Waiting for Consolation…” So many mature ministries have been so wounded by their years of building, battling and thankless toil. We are not like Beckett’s lonely tramps vainly “Waiting for Godot” but royal priests to whom Jesus himself gives a clear promise. Even as you read now, hear his personal promise from John 14:18

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

Jesus, ever-living to intercede for us, asks the Father to give us another Counsellor – Comforter – Consoler – Paraklete, to be with us for ever – the Spirit of truth.

3) Seeing Jesus beyond death and failure – a vision of resurrection

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Never die without a clear vision of Christ!

Although I grope for my glasses as my aged physical eyes can no longer read the Bible alone, my inner eyes see even more clearly the victory of the man-child.

4) Discerning of the next decisive step

“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required…”

I have a question for you. Where is the Holy Spirit moving you to?

There is always a new beginning for the old baobabs! Do not let anything quench the Spirit’s fire in you. Awake the dream and respond in renewed youth to the heavenly Bridegroom’s touch.

Simeon with JesusSimeon was led to an anonymous poor couple presenting their fragile new-born. Despise not the kenosis and dare to embrace the seemingly insignificant moments and people who may, after all, contain the future seeds of hope.

5) Recognise, receive and bless the “little Christ” who appears humbly on your new journey

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying…”

You have your own “sayings” and authority to bless the emerging generation. Make your arms available and open to encourage every new beginning that you encounter on this post fifty journey. There is nothing sadder and more damaging than the withheld embrace and bitter curse of the rejected and wounded Simeon.

6) Nune Dimittis – Be at peace with God, family and the world through a vision of God’s mission – Missio Dei

“…now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Maturity brings a growing inner sight of God’s triumphant purpose and passion in winning a world of people to Himself. Still active in sharing Jesus as a light to the nations, we find an even greater strength of intercessory prayer which flows from the inner revelation of God’s salvation reaching the nations through an ever-increasing global community of missionary pioneers. We have peace not just to be dismissed to heaven, but peace to be dismissed – even sent (apoluo), into a new season of powerful missional ministry.

7) Be one who carries cross centred truth and a  prophetic blessing

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Speaking out “destiny”  is an awesome responsibility for those who have walked long years with the Master of all our destinies and who have learnt to passionately love and embrace the truth of His Word. Simeon could painfully discern the shadow of a cruel cross over the promised Messiah and, in the midst of all the exciting promises, he was not afraid to speak plainly of the sword – the cost of ministry.

May these seven ministry options encourage many to step into the new horizon of life that beckons you as you hair greys in wisdom and authority.

The best wine is yet to come!

 

Suffering – Ten lessons from Peter

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Everybody hurtsI have never met anyone who has never known some degree of suffering in their lives. As the famous song from R.E.M. says,

“Everybody hurts sometimes.”

The key is understanding how to glean the best from such experiences, how to light a candle in the dark rather than just cursing the abyss. Peter’s first letter to a suffering church gives us some good guidelines.

Before I begin I need to say that I am not a masochist! I do my very best to avoid needless suffering. I pray for Shalom and protection every day. The tradition of the Church has sometimes earned a bad reputation for a kind of perverse glorification of suffering coupled with a hatred of the natural body. I certainly do not want to lead you down that path. However, in rejecting the extremes, let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. There are some difficult verses in the Bible concerning suffering. What does Paul mean in 1 Colossians 1:24?

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

There can be no insufficiency in the Lord’s finished redemptive suffering on the cross. What is lacking is the application of that redemption, via the mission of the Church, into the world. Suffering must have a purpose, a missional purpose. The lasts posts have dealt with such missional suffering via intercession.  This was Peter’s message which he condenses into ten lessons to help his flock understand and cope with their own persecution and suffering.

1) Suffering tests and builds up faith.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

2) Suffering unjustly is a grace, giving us deeper intimacy with Christ.

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable (charis – grace) if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-19

3) Don’t experience “useless suffering” through your own sin.the scream

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God… If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” 1 Peter 2:20 & 4:15

4) Suffering is part of our calling as we follow Jesus and take up our cross.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

5) Suffering sanctifies our lives and character – it gives us depth.

‘Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2

6) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian experience – everybody hurts sometimes.

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

7) Suffering, not in the present experience but in the wild faith perspective, calls us to rejoice in our missional communion with Christ.

 “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13

8) Suffering releases a hidden blessing and anointing on your life.

“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4:14

suffering9) Suffering builds confidence and faithful perseverance in our mission.

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19

10) Suffering is limited in time but it makes us strong, giving us an indestructibility which fits us for eternity.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

So, do not lose heart, focus on the invisible, focus on the Lord Jesus.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Intercession series summary and quotations

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Oswald Chambers“True intercession involves bringing the person, or the circumstance that seems to be crashing in on you, before God, until you are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance. People describe intercession by saying, “It is putting yourself in someone else’s place.” That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having His mind and His perspective.”  Oswald Chambers

Corrie ten Boom

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.” Corrie ten Boom
Martin Luther

“In his life Christ is an example showing us how to live, in his death he is a sacrifice satisfying our sins, in his resurrection a conqueror, in his ascension a king, in his intercession a high priest.” Martin Luther
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
J.C. Ryle

“Fear not because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you.”
J.C. Ryle
Enjoy and be edified by the following devotions in the “Intercession” series:
You might also enjoy:
May you find a new season of joy and power in your prayer life!
“God has old prayers of yours long maturing by Him. What wine you will drink with Him in his kingdom…So if you are averse to pray, pray the more…As appetite comes with eating, so prayer with praying. Our hearts learn the language of the lips.” Forsyth

Intercession – The purity and the triumph

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eve-in-the-garden-of-edenIn the previous post Paul modelled for us the intercession of the Church, and before that we had considered the woman of Revelation 12 as being the image of Israel via Jacob’s prayerful battle. We are now coming to our last and final foray into this mysterious sign.

Faithful mother’s have founded history and the story of the people of God.

Right from the beginning we encounter Eve as she receives the painful covenant of child-birth. Like many of my wonderful Pygmy friends who live in the heart of the Equatorial forest, she is closely associated with the beautiful garden of creation. The woman of revelation is also in harmony with creation as “the earth” helps the woman escape the Satanic deluge. Most scholars see this as referring to the foundational crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus, but it also shows the close link between our intercessory cries and those of the natural world:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time…In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray , but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  Romans 8 :22,26

Mother nature is also crying out!

Earlier,  I ventured to mention that the woman of Revelation 12 is also very much:

“the vital seed bearing “Mother”  figure representing all the courageous women from Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and many anonymous others, who birthed the line of the Messiah through the ages, culminating in the glorious fulfillment of it all through mother Mary’s miraculous birthing of the Messiah in the flesh.”

The seed of the Messiah has always been viciously contested, almost devoured, throughout history and Sarah had to hang on and fight the battle of faith to receive Isaac. Isaac himself had to intercede for his sterile wife – like we need to intercede for our so often sterile church, so that she could carry on the chosen line.

“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” Genesis 25:21

The patriarch Jacob instinctively understood the importance of the Messianic geneology – the appearing of God in human line and human flesh, when he prophesied over his son Judah.

“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs – the Shiloh, and the obedience of the nations is his.” Genesis 49:10

This suddenly fast forwards us into the realms of the male child born with a sceptre in our chosen passage. Jacob almost invents a word, Shiloh, to express his prophetic longing. Shiloh can have roots in Shalom, the Prince of Peace, or Siloam, the Sent One. The NIV chooses to express the Messianic ownership of the rule and reign.messiah

Let’s take a look at this emerging Shiloh as he is carried through history in the womb of intercession. The opening chapter of Matthew gives us some beautiful insight into all of this as it describes the genealogy of Jesus. As you read it, why not do as the French say and “Cherchez la femme!”

In the male dominated society which brought the Bible to us women do not have a place in most accounts. This makes it all the more extraordinary to find five women listed here.

Did you find them?

“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife… and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Matthew 1:3,5-6,16

The first four ladies are wounded heroines owning life’s more difficult stories.

The Canaanite wife, Tamar, after double widowhood to abusive men had to resort to prostitution with her Father in law in order to save the line of Judah. She saved Israel as much as Joseph did in between whose story she is sandwiched.

Rahab, a pagan prostitute holed up in Jericho, and yet recognising God’s hand and risking life and limb to help anointed strangers.

The Moabite Ruth – the fruit of Lot’s daughter’s incest and famine stricken widow. Her hard work and faithful support of her mother in law coupled with her obedient reverence to Boaz saw her birthing King David’s granddad.

Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, victim of a royal stalker and adulterer. Her faithful husband was cynically murdered and her first child died. Through her beauty courage and perseverance she ended up birthing him that was loved of the Lord, Jedidiah, Solomon.

To think that the Son of Man’s earthly history should pass through such imperfect people and situations. Some use this to denigrate Christ, but, on the contrary it elevates Him all the more as He was willing to gracefully step into fallen human history – He identified with life’s difficult stories…he understands your story too.

What a struggle to uphold the “male child”, God’s purpose hanging on such a slender thread with that “ancient serpent” constantly looking to devour.

Blessed-Virgin-Mary-Mothe-of-InnocenceThe genealogy is crowned and bought to wonderful fulfilment by Mary, known as Myriam to her Jewish friends and husband! Here stands a true virgin daughter of Israel. Her story is full of Shalom. She is Holy, Kadosh, a pure virgin bride loved by her husband.

Does she stand apart from the other stories in holy separation? Quite the opposite. Not holy separation but holy penetration of the damaged line with her promise of Shalom – Hail Mary – Shalom Myriam!

Mary’s virginity is not just some attribute in itself to give her “goddess” standing. It is far more profound and beautiful. At the end of a long line of weakness, impurity and pain she stands as a portent of hope and redeemed wholeness. Her very miraculous virginity pours back pristine purity into the past, healing the victimized womb of humanity as the Christ flows into the world with glorious healing in His wings – a truly immaculate conception…and redemption!

It is fitting that she too, Myriam the humble Jewish intercessor, should identify suffer and pray for her beloved boy. Simeon, who was waiting to see the revelation of the “male child” Messiah, spoke prophetically over Mary as well, recognising her unique role and gift of intercession.

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ…Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  Luke 2:26,34-35

A sword piercing a soul. What a compelling description of intercessory prayer. The final sword of curse on King David’s line was to fall on this child at the cross, and his mum would carry her pain too. Not the redemptive pain and authority that is reserved for Christ alone, but the pain that all mum’s carry for their families, the pain the Church can still carry for the world and the pain of the daily swords we all have to bear. Let it be…

So, we come to the end of our own journey into intercession. Have we discovered who the woman of Revelation 12 really is? I’m sure there is much more to say, and greater scholars than me have put their minds and prayers to the task. These devotionals are my simple contribution to the debate – to be felt and practised with passion rather than dissected in the cold operating theatre of dispensationalist theology.

To conclude, she is the heavenly Jerusalem, the Mother of us all.

“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Galatians 4:26-27

She is the people of God, both Israel and the Church, beautifully free, in harmony with the longings of Creation and the Holy Spirit, beautifully, redemptively pure yet birthing the reign of Christ – your Kingdom come, into the world, overcoming the ancient serpent and fulfilling the ancient promise.

 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15

She is still crying out in you and me as we choose to take on our inherited mantle of intercession. Apocalypse, is not just some future speculation, it is “Apocalypse Now.”

Find your own rhythm and life style in the longings. Choose to overcome. Be courageous. Follow Christ!

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

 

Intercession – My heart’s desire and prayer

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praying chrch movement diamond 2We saw in the last post how the woman in Revelation 12 could be seen as Israel. Now we look at the second option of her as the Church. This time the twelve stars could be seen as the twelve disciples and the sun and moon representing the breadth of the Church as her members “shine like stars” in a dark world. However adding metaphor to metaphor is not the real point. We, as a Church,  are a people called to pray.

The early apostles set the identity of the Church and Paul, like a Moses of old, wrote down the grace principles in his letters and his life. In one word Paul modelled intercession. He, like the sign of the pregnant woman, knew all about making disciples through painful spiritual travail.

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4:19

We see this same committed intercession at the end of Romans 8, a passage which “hinges” significantly to the beginning of Romans 9, and which shouldn’t be stopped by the chapter numbers,  but should flow on to reveal Paul’s pained identification with his brother Israelites. One thread  of chapter 8 is the incredible commitment and love that God shows in Christ to His people. There is NOW, “no condemnation”. For If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  There is also no accusation:Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And no separation: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  Romans 8:31-35

The climax to all this come in the last verse as Paul emphasises the certainty and indestructibility of our place in God’s heart:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.” v.38-39

He is emphasising the “no separation” love he knows of Christ – and yet he is prepared to go beyond promise, beyond even his own blessed experience of Christ’s intimacy, stepping boldly into the realm of identification and suffering for his own people.

“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers , those of my own race, the people of Israel. ”  Romans 9:1-4

The man who so confidently proclaimed to the Philippian church: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” now has unceasing sorrow for his brothers. This is the paradox of our Christian pilgrimage on earth. Sorrow and joy often meet in the same heart, sometimes in the same instant, both intensely real and yet not hijacking one another in the mature believer. Tears and laughter can share an instant in the hidden heart of the intercessor.tears and laughter

Like his ancestor Moses of old, and his beloved Jesus of the cross,  he is willing to sacrifice even his own salvation, such is the passion of his prayer.

“But now, please forgive their sin– but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Exodus 32:32

Christ’s living body on earth also modelled the obedience of intercession as an almighty God identified with the pain and lostness of His people with powerful tears.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”   Hebrews 5: 7

Before a waiting and watching world, imprisoned in the depths of sadness and suffering, the Church, the body of Christ, stands. May the multitudes see our tears and prayers as we are sent out in the same intercessory spirit as Christ himself.

Paul makes an interesting statement of Christ’s passion in Colossians 1:24,

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

What is lacking? Surely there is no lack on the side of Christ’s full redemptive act. The lack is on the other side of the cross, as the Church is challenged to pick up the missionary baton of intercession and take Christ’s love to the end of the earth – on knees first, and then aeroplanes! It is not a redemptive lack, but an intercessory missionary lack! The power and passion awaits those who dare “rejoice” in suffering for the Gospel.

“To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” v.29

This is a call for the church to “labour”, to birth the reigning male child, Christ’s Kingdom, into the world.

I’ll end by going back to Romans 10:1, which encapsulates Paul’s longing – the Church’s longing and hopefully our own longings in intercession, for people to be saved. Paul prays for his brother Israelites here, but you can use these lines to pray for those closest to your own heart.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”

Intercession – Who is the woman of Revelation 12 ?

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Woman_and_DragonWe ended last week’s post with the above question. Who is this dramatic “sign” in heaven? Many scholars and theologians have addressed this question over the years. I even read recently that some people interpret her as the zodiac sign of Virgo who awaits the time to have a certain configuration of moon and stars around her.

However, the main explanations that have emerged from various ecclesial traditions ask these three questions:

Is she the Church ?

Is she the Virgin Mary ?

Is she Israel ?

Now, as a fairly ecumenical Protestant, I cannot fully accept the Mary solution. However, so as not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, I prefer to redefine this explanation as the woman representing the “Mother” figure and essentially all the courageous women from Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and many anonymous others, who birthed the line of the Messiah through the ages, culminating in the glorious fulfillment of it all through mother Mary’s miraculous birthing of the Messiah in the flesh.

The vulnerable child, born it seems in hopeless weakness to be devoured before the dragon’s gruesome mouth, is in fact born with an innate Messianic promise. He holds the “ancient” sceptre, to fulfill the “ancient” promise of the garden  (Genesis 3:15) to overcome the “ancient” serpent.

“He said to me, You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Psalm 2:7-8

The “male child” is neither crucified nor devoured but lifted up to heaven echoing the prayer that the Lord Jesus gave his people in Matthew 6:10: “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”iron sceptre

This is a great encouragement to us. So often our ministry and its vulnerable fruits seem ready to be devoured by persecution and strife…but what is born out of intercession and promise carries innate authority and will always survive against all the odds!

I’ll come back to this “Mother figure maintaining the line of the Messiah”  later in the study, so let’s move on.

The classic interpretation is that she represents Israel with the miraculous salvation from the waters reminding us of the crossing of the Red Sea in the famous Exodus story and the forty-year “desert” period wandering. The twelve stars might speak of the twelve tribes and the sun and moon are images used by Joseph in his dream to emphasise the family, and hence the roots back to Abraham – and even beyond to the early garden creation.  Israel gave us Christ. Other commentators would emphasise that in the “new alliance” she represents the Church who has been grafted in to the aged root. In this, and the next study or two we will cast a brief glance over these three options in the light of intercession.

She is Israel

We need to go back to Genesis 32 :22 to find the beginnings of Israel’s name. We find Jacob wrestling with “the man”. For an excellent study of this “man” and the passage click on Allen Ross’ paper here. The prophet Hosea comments this passage by stating that:

“In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favour.” Hosea 12:3-4

It is a story about struggle and transformation.

” I will not let you go unless you bless me. “ v :26

This is the language and posture of intercession.

His own physical and soulish strength is broken in the process: “…he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”  v :25

True men and women of God, those trained in the school of life and intercession, do not walk with a swagger but a limp. “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.”   v :31

Bless meHe “overcame” an all-powerful God through his faith to hold on in weakness and vulnerable love, refusing to let God go. Pain and suffering often tempt us to push God away, but we can be transformed as we “overcome ourselves” and hang on. The Father’s righteous wrath was “overcome” on the cross as Jesus hung on for a blessing to all mankind.  “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and man and have overcome.”  v :28

Israel means “he struggles with God.”, and Israel, with the great prayers of Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets have always been an intercessory people. It is the key to understanding their persecution by the dragon throughout history.

With the blessing he received, leaning on his staff, Jacob went on to bless Pharaoh (Genesis 47:10.) Our intercession can bless the world. He also had a prophetic blessing to pray over his sons, the next generation to carry the blessing.

“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.” Genesis 49:28

Our intercession must also prophetically rally and bless the emerging generation of pioneers.

Go and bless your world and family today!

Having seen the woman as the “fighting, praying, suffering, and broken” Israel we will move on to look at the “praying” Church in our next post.

Intercession – Calling all Mums

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Pregnant womanEvery Mum is an intercessor !

All mums display the three essential ingredients of intercession that we mentioned in the previous article. They fully identify with the growing baby in their womb, they suffer in that identification through the initial birth and permanent care of the child and they have their own motherly authority of love over their offspring.

The Bible is full of this “Motherhood factor”, –  the literal or spiritual birthing of significant children, the birthing even unto Christ through intercession; the power and the pain. Let’s consider a few key verses :

” All these are the beginning of birth-pains. ”  Matthew 24 :8

“To the woman”  he said, ” I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing ; with pain you will give birth to children.”       Genesis 3 :16

The world had been lost through sin. God began his redemptive strategy by giving prayer and work to mankind. Adam was to sweat it out labouring the fields, getting rid of the thorns and thistles while Eve was to cry out in labour giving birth to new lives. It is interesting that the monastic movement founded by Benedict in the middle ages which transformed Europe had these two principles as its founding credo: “Orare Laborare” – Prayer and Work. Eve, our ancient mother,  began redeeming the fall through the “gift “ of labour pains, suffering – intercession. The previous verses of Genesis 3 :15, which speak prophetically of Christ’s intercessory victory over Satan,  emphasise the warfare context of such labour.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The ancient battle and enmity between Eve and Satan traverses history, stretches into the future and finds ultimate incarnation in the fruit of Mary’s womb.

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever ; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1 :30-33

Even the natural world of “Mother Nature” seems to be flowing in this ancient rhythm of intercession inherited from the first fallen creation.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time…In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray , but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. ”  Romans 8 :22,26

The natural world, frustrated by decay, is our ally in intercession.

A place of barrenness in our lives, lands and ministries is always an opportunity for fruitfulness via intercession. Don’t blame the barrenness but sing beyond it.virgin-mary-stylized1

“Sing, O barren woman,
you who never bore a child ;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labour ;
because more are the children of the
desolate woman
than of her who has a husband. “  Isaiah 54 :1

The great pioneer Paul, also took up Eve’s spirit as his entire life was consumed with the birthing and nurturing of churches through his apostolic intercession.

” My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,.. ”  Galatians 4 :19

In the same breath he mixes a number of metaphors – as does John in Revelation where a Bride interchanges with the Heavenly Jerusalem, pointing to a heavenly principle which echoes the redemptive birthing of the early garden and brings it to fulfillment:

“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Galatians 4 :26

The veil is mysteriously drawn back in John’s Revelation of the Church and Christ and their ultimate victory and consummation is described from a variety of colourful, metaphorical and gloriously sacramental viewpoints.

At the beginning of Revelation 12, the scene shifts into showing some of the hidden spiritual rhythms and realities lurking behind history and reaching through our present into the future:

“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven : a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth…The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.”  Revelation 12 :1-5

Another Mum!

What does this breathtaking sign mean? Who is this woman of Revelation 12?

Let your mind and spirit do some creative thinking for a few days until I come back with the next article to add a few more thoughts to the exciting debate.

Happy meditation!