Tag Archives: Joy

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.”

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Good to go…

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How do you handle space? Empty Spaces

Absence always poses a challenge to us, and mostly we try to avoid it or fill it up with any rubbish to hand. The promise of twelve more “spaces” every New Year rings out over the world…Resolutions are made, and agendas filled…but do we really know how to deal correctly with such opportunity?

Jesus final words to his disciples in John 16 are all about preparing his people to accept absence and space in the right way.

“But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away.” v.7

Parting is indeed, “such sweet sorrow”. But where is the sweetness in absence? What do I fill the gaps with?

“Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”v.7

Like the disciples, we must learn the art of waiting on the Counselor, our friend of truth, the Holy Spirit. When He comes, He will fill up 2 major spaces – one in me and the other in the environment around and before me. He brings both personal illumination and general conviction.

Presence of Holy SpiritJesus explained the external work by talking about how the Holy Spirit of truth would work as an ally to our endeavours, convicting the world of “sin”, “righteousness” and “judgement.” We never have to fill all the “ministry space” ourselves. We simply need to recognise the opportunities He has prepared. Do you indeed have faith that He has gone ahead into your own very situation and environment? Do you expect Him to work and are you waiting on the spaces to seize the amazing opportunity?

Theologians have rightly debated and studied the conviction statements and come to a vast array of insightful conclusions. However, the key is not just in the correctness of interpretation but in the revelation of the fact that we have a Holy Counselor who goes ahead of us into the world to prepare the scenario for our lives, and in the practical experience of this. We also need to vastly expand the horizon of “sin”, righteousness” and “judgement” to see far more involved than just religious doctrine. He goes ahead, in true “misseo dei”, to prepare a way, build the scenery and guarantee answer. His vibrant life is pulsating through history, infusing the future and preparing the answer to our divine dreams, both in the humble stables and glittering palaces of this world. Holiness wins!

He is also filling my inner space…there are at least three consequences of such filling.

1.      “…he will guide you into all truth.”v.13

Without question this includes revealed knowledge from the Scriptures, but “all” seems to promise a journey into the fullest realm of veracity. Honest relationships, encountering the Creator in the truth and beauty of His works, discerning the creative cries of truth in art, literature and the world’s cultures.

Jesus, the way, the life and the truth, is waiting to be discovered.

2.      “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” v.23

The very best thing we can do with space is to fill it with prayer. Space is the womb of prayer.praying_man

Prayer is the gift of the Counselor to us. His indwelling presence expresses Himself in the glorious groaning that words cannot always encompass. Prayer is unlimited influence with God. It is the confidence of provision, a key to heaven which unlocks the door to a smiling Father ever willing to give good gifts to His children.

A group of people engaging the possibilities of their corporate space together in prayer may be another way of seeing the beauty of the Bride as she makes herself ready.

And last but not least…

3.      “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.”

God is longing to enlarge the space of our inner tent. He wants to give us “heart enlargement” so that we can indeed capture a large enough vision of what He is willing and able to do in the world.

His law of faithful provision already covers most of our “tiny” prayers, and He is almost daring us to come up with a prayer that is worthy of an all-powerful, all loving God. Can we expand our vision and expectancy to encompass the generous immensity of our King? Or will we, like Israel in Isaiah 49:6, frustrate Him with our “too small things.”?

“Ask of me!” pleads God, “And I will give you nations!” (Psalm 2:8)

In my early innocent days of mission, our young team would be encouraged to pray “Wild prayers!” Big, crazy, God sized prayers, beyond all we could hope or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) Years have cast the insipid shadow of reason over that chaste simplicity, but I am longing that as I start a new season in 2013 the Counselor will woo me back to a walk on the wild side. I think I should be asking for 50 people to be added to our new little church endeavour in our first year – will you join me in this “crazy” prayer?

Wildness brings joy!

“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” v.24

“We are straightened in our own hearts, not in God.” A.B. Bruce

So expect an illumination of truth, prevailing prayer and enlarged vision for all your spaces…and your joy will be complete.

Shaking the Lulav

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Welcome to Sukkot…the third festival that follows Roth Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If you have been following my own personal pilgrimage through these festivals via “The old goat” and “Hands”, you may be interested in this celebration as well.

We find Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, along with the other festivals, in Leviticus 23:39-43

“So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest.On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month.  Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths  so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

Everywhere in Israel, people build little constructions with openings in the roofs – to see the stars of heaven, in order to remember that they were a “pilgrim people” in the desert, depending on the Lord’s provision and protection.

As I reflect on my own thirty years of walking with the Lord in his service, I can also rejoice in His faithful meeting of all our needs and His careful shepherding of our family throughout our journey so far. In the dry times he has made the water flow and always led us with the cloud and fire of the Holy Spirit in our midst. My years pass and my “roof” has since become many layered with life’s experiences – but keep reminding me Lord to come back to the palm leaf vulnerability that allows heaven’s light to still shine through!

Everybody knows that Jesus was never really born on that cold winter pagan day of the 25th December. Compelling reasons are found to suggest that he was probably born on the first day of Sukkot – and perhaps circumcised on the last day?

The beginning of John 1:14, is perhaps the most persuasive argument to suggest that Jesus “tabernacled” amongst us in taking up the temporary residence of our humanity.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (skenoo) among us.”

The Greek word skenoo could be translated, “to pitch one’s tent”, and comes from skenos which means “hut.”

It is quite difficult from the NIV scriptures to understand what is meant by the various branches, leaves and fruits that the people needed to gather. However, Jewish scholars have translated the original Hebrew as follows:

“On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree (etrog), an unopened palm frond (lulav), myrtle branches (hadass) and willows (aravah) (that grow near) the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days.”

This gives us the famous four species that are seen being waved around during the festival. Most commentators think that this symbolizes the “unity in diversity” of all the Jewish people together before their God. This is a clear call to keeping the unity in our families and communities. An allusion is also made as to whether or not the species (or their fruits) have taste and/or smell, which corresponds to the Jewish tradition of knowing the Torah (Word and prayer) and good deeds. The symbolism is as follows:

The lulav has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds.

The hadass has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah.

The aravah has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who lack both Torah and good deeds.

The etrog has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and good deeds.

This throws some light on the book of James – who clung dearly to the Jewish tradition, when he talks about faith and works in chapter 2 verses 14-26. He may have been thinking of the etrog when he spoke about Abraham’s faith; “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”

Make me a lemon Lord!

As I reflect on my life and ministry I can also see times of dryness and inactivity (aravah) linked to all the other varying degrees of commitment. I’ve had good days and bad days, joys and suffering – the bitter sweet symphony of life to quote the famous song by the Verve. I can take all of this history and wave it before the Lord in a glorious celebration of His gift of life and grace.

The feast of Tabernacles is also mentioned in chapter 7 of the Gospel of John. When the Temple in Jerusalem stood, a unique service was performed every morning throughout the Sukkot holiday: the Nisuch ha-Mayim (“Pouring of the water”) or Water Libation Ceremony. According to the Talmud, Sukkot is the time of year in which God judges the world for rainfall; therefore this ceremony, like the taking of the Four Species, invokes God’s blessing for rain in its proper time. The prophet Jeremiah had earlier used the image of a spring of water to illustrate the people’s need to stay close to their God.They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:12)

The water for the libation ceremony was drawn from the Pool of Siloam (Breikhat HaShiloah‎) in the City of David and carried up the Jerusalem pilgrim road to the Temple. The joy that accompanied this procedure was palpable. (This is the source for the verse in Isaiah 12:3) “And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation (Yeshua)” According to tradition, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”

All this powerfully underlines the dramatic statement of Jesus, who, on the last day of the feast,

“stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

May we know the true joy of continuing to come to Jesus who alone can satisfy our deepest longings.

Finally, the triumphant welcoming of Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19), with the joyous waving of the palm branches and the cries of “Hosanna”, links to the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah,  referring to the tradition that worshippers in the synagogue walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary during morning services.

May Jesus, the Messiah, ride afresh into our lives bringing shalom and true salvation!

In the Gospel of John, this passage introduces us to the “Greeks” who wanted to “see Jesus”. The final chapter of Zechariah also speaks of “all the nations” coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14:16). Surely this festival also points us to the tremendous vocation of Israel to be a “light to the nations”, and grafts us all into the wonderful promise given to Abraham to be a blessing for “all peoples on earth.” (Genesis 12:3)

Jesus is still longing to enlarge the place of his tent, like his outstretched arms on the cross, looking to embrace the peoples of the earth.

I’m praying to find the joy of joining Him once again in a new season of celebration for the nations…Join me on the journey…

 

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Sin energy or Synergy?

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When I first heard the word “synergy” I wondered if it was talking about my special capacity to sin dynamically! The old man always seems to have reserves of energy to sin. However, on closer look at a dictionary, I found a more suitable definition. From the Greek sunergiā, cooperation, from sunergos, working together, synergy means:

“the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.”

Or the,

“cooperative interaction among groups, especially among the acquired subsidiaries or merged parts of a corporation, that creates an enhanced combined effect.”

Synergy is when the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Synergy is created when things work in concert together to create an outcome that is in some way of more value than the total of what the individual inputs is.

There are many verses in the Bible that show how God’s covenant with Israel was meant to create the blessing of “synergy”. Leviticus 26:8 is one of many examples.

“Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.”

Simple mathematical multiplication means it needs 500 to chase 10000. Synergy gives us five times more power.

Do our projects seek simply to multiply the same, or are we discerning the opportunities of synergy with others? Are we only looking to “survive” as “five”, or are we looking to take the step of faith to become a “hundred”?

I believe that the Lord is asking us to lift up our eyes and seek out “synergetic” partnerships. It is only our fear, unbelief and “sin energy” that can stop us.

I’d like to give you three domains for synergy.

  • The synergy of nations.

God’s heart is “all nations to reach all nations.”  In 1 Chronicles 12:22&38, we see the model of many tribes coming together at Hebron, “fully determined to make David king over all Israel.” We need to recognise our own particular “Hebron” in this world’s global village. Standing shoulder to shoulder with different nationalities, and indigenous mission movements we can endeavour to make Jesus the true “King over all the earth.” Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 gives us a glimpse of the redemptive beauty of many tribes and cultures worshiping in glorious diversity in a “synergetic celebration of the nations.”

  • The synergy of generations

The Apostle’s Creed talks about the “communion of saints”. What are we in communion with? Surely not just a superstitious offering to the dead, but more a taking up of the living baton of a previous generation’s love for Jesus expressed through their prayers and dreams.

In the last days, God says,  I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”   Acts 2:17

 The dream of the “old men” must find an interface with the vision of the “young men” of a new generation.

An old man with a dream but without the next generation is doomed to frustration and sterility. The young man with vision but without the discipline of the “dream” of the past will be “rootless”, wrongly ambitious, superficial and lacking direction.

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”       Malachi 4:5-6

 If you are a young man (or a young mission movement), be rooted in the living “dreams” of the fathers. If you are an “old man”, attempt to disciple a few young men with your dream.

  • The synergy of denominations.

We inherit our ecclesial history which is unfortunately filled with schisms and separations.  There are no superficial solutions to healing such deep wounds of division, but the Apostle Paul encourages us to “keep the unity” of Biblical fellowship. Even if we are used to playing our various instruments in different orchestras we can always come together to find another missionary harmony as the Body of Christ moves into corporate action. We read in Matthew 18: 19-20 :

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

The word “agree” is “symphoneo” in Greek which takes us back to the idea of the beautiful symphony of synergy. Let us make every effort to keep the unity, to express a powerful missional thrust by praying across our denominational divides.

We are all called to share the joy of Jesus together.

“It was not men’s grief, but their joy Christ visited, he worked his first miracle for men’s gladness…And indeed, was it to make wine abundant at poor weddings he had come down to earth?”  (Brothers Karamazov)

 True joy is found in sharing Christ together. Change our water into wine Lord!