Strategies for spiritual boredom.

Recently, I felt bored and stressed.  Nothing extraordinary you might say, but I was bored and stressed in conversation with God.  Talking with God; the almighty, the creator of the universe, the all-glorious and all-beautiful one; I was bored and stressed.

To me, one of the most convincing arguments for the reality of an accessible God is His intervention in human consciousness through prayer.  Famously, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) asked God for ‘the mystery of a peanut’, and subsequently derived over 300 different patents from this unassuming beer accompaniment.  Prayer is very real.  At the centre of my faith is a God who is limitlessly powerful and consistently unpredictable, whose words and ideas are thrilling to the human spirit. To me, spiritual boredom is unacceptable; it is obtuse, unbelieving and even stupid.  And yet, there I was.

In the midst of this place of boredom and stress, God spoke to me like He sometimes does, by showing me an image in my mind’s eye.  I saw myself like a little child kneeling over something I was holding in my hands and I was clearly frustrated by it, like it was a toy I was trying to fix, and I saw my Father standing over me wanting to help me but He couldn’t seem to get my attention while I was so engrossed in my own task.  I realised that the object I was holding in my hands was prayer itself.  God was showing me that I was trying to do prayer with my own agenda and my own understanding of what the results should be.  My eyes were fixed down when they should have been looking up to my Father. I had missed the vision of heaven. God wanted to talk to me about cities and nations while I was fixated with a comparatively petty prayer list of practical concerns for the following weeks and months.

Much of the Christian Church is in this position.  ‘Strategy’, ‘model’ and ‘agenda’ have become Christian buzzwords that make us feel professional, but increasingly seem to betray a heart that is departing from the Lord.  We have become very good at ideas, but I’m not sure how much we are truly growing in the heart of God.  Jesus said it would be those who ‘abide’ in Him who would bear much fruit.  But are our goals His goals, and is our vision His vision?  Are they even becoming more united?  Too often it seems that the goals of Christian organizations and churches are about increasing ‘web hits’ and ‘likes’ on a facebook page, rather than the transformation of culture by the Word of God; the salvation of souls and renewing of minds.  The calling of a Christian was never to be ‘liked’.  We are called into fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9)

While we are counting how many likes, shares and comments were achieved on our social media feeds in the last week, and how many heads there were in our Sunday services, 37.5 million babies were aborted globally so far in the past year alone.  There are 36 million trafficked in an exploding global slave trade. The number of displaced persons has reached around 60 million.  The USA, still the world’s most prominent ‘Christian nation’, ranks among the the top ten ‘most divorced’ nations with a rate of 53% of marriages (the UK is not far behind with 47%, and 6 of the other top ten nations are from western Europe).  Over 200 million Christians around the world are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith according to the World Evangelical Alliance, and 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month (Open Doors).  Israel, God’s chosen nation through whom He communicated all of the scripture and whom He has restored to their land as promised repeatedly in the Prophets, is reviled and mocked globally and is condemned by the UNHRC more times than all other nations combined including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Libya, Syria etc… etc…  According to Psalm 149, God’s people are called to ‘execute judgement’ in the place of prayer and praise.  Matthew 18:18 says that we are given authority in prayer to bind everything that disagrees with heaven.  In Luke 18:6-8, Jesus promises that God will ‘speedily’ answer those who cry out to Him for justice.

So seriously, there are bigger fish to fry.

When Jesus, the commander of heaven’s armies, met Joshua on the plain of Jericho, He did not come to hear Joshua’s plan to conquer the city.  He came to give Joshua His strategy for victory.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:13-14, NKJV)

Jesus’ strategy was bizarre.  He says to Joshua (paraphrase…), ‘I want you to walk round Jericho once every day for six days, then the next day I want you to walk around it 7 times and afterwards get the priests to blow trumpets.’  Jesus’ plan sounds crazy, but obedience in fellowship with Him releases supernatural power to break down the strongholds of the enemy.  The walls of Jericho fell down flat.

It is much easier for us to create comfortable human strategies than to walk in fellowship with Jesus, but it is so much more boring and exhausting.  If Joshua had been offended by Jesus’ strategy for victory, the alternative would probably have been a very protracted and potentially costly process of siege warfare.  God had a miraculous solution available, if Joshua was willing to walk in fellowship with Him.  God doesn’t want us to go through the pain of our own plans and strategies!  He wants to release miraculous solutions to us in our jobs, relationships and in building His kingdom but these strategies will never come from human intelligence and are often offensive.

In a very similar instruction, but a very different need, in 2 Kings 5 God asked Naaman the Syrian through the prophet Elisha to wash in the Jordan river 7 times for his healing.  Naaman became offended at God’s plan.  He didn’t want to wash in an Israeli river.  He thought that the Syrian rivers should be good enough for him.  But that wasn’t what God said, and he wouldn’t have been healed if he had washed in a Syrian river.

God already has a strategy for global revival at which a large proportion of the body of Christ are offended because it involves the nation of Israel, and politics has clouded a lot of vision on the subject.  Like Naaman, they do not accept Israel’s strategic place in God’s purposes, even though His Word is absolutely clear.  Romans 11:11 states that a core purpose of the gospel coming to the gentiles was in order to provoke Israel to jealousy for their own Messiah.  A remarkable statement and an element of God’s global purpose that is completely ignored by large sections of the Body of Christ, and sidelined by others.

There are now endless ‘mission strategies’ available in Christian media.  There are new methods of outreach produced on seemingly a daily basis and yet God says He wants to bring ‘life from the dead’ for the whole world (or global revival) through the Israel’s acceptance of their own Messiah (Romans 11:15).  God’s response to the cry of His Church for global revival is Isaiah 62:

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isaiah 62:6-7, NKJV)

God is calling out for watchmen who will embrace His purposes for the world, and agree with His agenda and His strategy.  He is looking for men and women who will lay down their lives in the place of prayer and allow Him to move through their lives in remarkable and supernatural ways.  He longs to find men and women who will embrace His heart for the nations, no matter how offensive it is to them personally.  He longs for those who will let His priorities become theirs, so much so that they become the burning cry of their hearts, day and night.

It is a mystery, and it looks like foolishness, but God has chosen to release healing to the world through an Israeli river!  God is going to set up His throne in Jerusalem and a river is going to flow out from His throne that will turn bitter waters into sweet.  Trees will grow on the banks of that river that will be for the ‘healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).  Israel is not the only element in God’s plan for global revival, but it is a central element in His ultimate divine solution and the Church will witness a supernatural revival in its prayer life and a dramatic increase in fruitfulness when it embraces its role in intercession over Jerusalem and Israel.

As you read this, I pray that a fire might be kindled in your heart to let God draw you into an encounter with the Commander of the heaven’s armies, and that you might find divine strategies for your life and for nations as you walk in fellowship with Him.

 

 

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The Church’s schism of the heart.

My present view which only grows stronger is that the Church today is in possession of a schism of the heart.  Were it only a brokenness of heart, as we cry out to our Father in Sunday services and offer to Him in devotional times, then there might evidently be a grace which would flow though our brokenness with the Divine presence.  But as it stands it is a schism which has been labelled as a ‘holy’ and ‘contrite’ brokenness.

What am I talking about?  It presents itself in lives which are confounded: broken homes, broken marriages, broken bank accounts, broken bodies and (most tragic of all) broken churches.  Were it a brokenness of heart of which the Psalmist spoke, which is a yieldedness of being to Divine will, then what Paul spoke of himself would also be true of us today.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV)

The truth is that most of the weakness and brokenness that the Church is enduring today is weak and only weak; broken and only broken.  The Divine presence is not active in divorce, bankruptcy or cancer any more than it is in hell itself.  We cry, ‘All things work together for good!’ and tuck ourselves into our cosy religious beds without any requirement for an earnest searching of our hearts for necessary change.

I would like to suggest to you that the cause of all the brokenness in the Church today goes to a schism at our roots.  This issue has been touched upon by much of the teaching about our identity as sons and daughters of God in Christ.  The miracle of salvation is supposed to uproot us and replant us.

[The Father] has DELIVERED and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has TRANSFERRED us into the KINGDOM of the Son of His love,  (Colossians 1:13 AMP, emphasis added)

The essence of our redemption is found in an understanding of the kingdom into which we have been translated.  In this kingdom, we have rights and privileges that include freedom from all of those dynamics of brokenness that were described above.  It includes sonship.  We are no longer orphans in this new kingdom.  But we have neglected a full understanding of this kingdom, which was defined throughout the Old Testament in God’s first covenant people, Israel.

Paul again describes the process of salvation in Romans.

…you were CUT OUT of the olive tree which is WILD by nature, and were GRAFTED contrary to nature into a CULTIVATED olive tree…  (Romans 11:24 NKJV, emphasis added)

God spent over 1,500 years cultivating Israel, the olive tree referred to here, in His ways and His character.  He gave them the privilege of His presence, the privilege of sonship, the privileges of health and provision; all included under the blessing of a covenant of union with Himself.  A summary of the blessing God gave to Israel is found in Deuteronomy 28.  These privileges, in spite of Israel’s frequent rebellion, were guaranteed in the blood of Jesus to all who will accept Him (Galatians 3:13-14).

Yet most Christians, if they do not reject outright their covenant association with Israel in Jesus, are at least made very uncomfortable by it and try to minimise the significance of this association.  Truth be told, this is philosophical insanity.  You have been implanted into a new identity in which are held all your life and benefits, you even accept and affirm that your life is found in this new identity, and yet you reject this core identity!?

Every Christian, whether they like it or not has, in Jesus, become part of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2).  This can be defined as the wealth held common as a gift from God to the nation of Israel.  I don’t for one minute suggest that gentile believers should pretend to be Jewish, but we need to embrace a unity of spiritual destiny and inheritance which we now possess with the nation of Israel.  Paul adjures all believers specifically in the book of Ephesians to remember this truth.

Therefore REMEMBER that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being ALIENS from the COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL and strangers from the COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been BROUGHT NEAR by the blood of Christ.  (Ephesians 2:11-13 NKJV, emphasis added)

In Jesus we have a new home, a new nation, a new family and a new inheritance.  This truth has often been expressed in preaching and teaching, but rarely has the further step been made to specify that this new home, nation, family and inheritance is Israel.

Whatever be the cause of our reluctance to embrace our association with ancient Israel, God’s plan is moving ahead and they are once more in the land to which God promised through His prophets that they would return.  We are nearing the time when, as Paul said, the natural branches will be ‘grafted into their own olive tree’ (Romans 11).  They will look on Him Whom they pierced and mourn for Him, as it says in the prophet, Hosea.  It will be ‘life from  the dead’ and ‘riches for the world’ as it says in Romans 11.

I can’t help but think that much of the Church’s reluctance to accept her identity is simply to do with latent generational antisemitism.  Surely the popularity of ‘Israel-bashing’ in the modern media also has much to do with it.  But we have to overcome this problem in prayer if we mean to enter into our identity as God’s bride in the fullest expression, as it says in Ephesians 5, ‘not having spot or wrinkle’.  I am convinced that our ‘schism of the heart’; our corporate ‘identity crisis’; will be used as a channel for hell’s legions until the breach is healed.

But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were [so] far away, through (by, in) the blood of Christ have been brought near. For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has MADE US BOTH [Jew and Gentile] ONE [body], and has BROKEN DOWN (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by ABOLISHING in His [own crucified] flesh the ENMITY [caused by] the Law with its decrees and ordinances [which He annulled]; that He FROM THE TWO MIGHT CREATE ONE NEW MAN [one new quality of humanity out of the two], so making peace.  (Ephesians 2:13-15 AMP, emphasis added)

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:24-25 NKJV)

It’s time to get our house in order and get our kingdom in order, or we will not be able to stand.  I would invite you to read the following extract from the Victorian novel Daniel Deronda, in which Deronda (a Jew who is unaware of his identity as a Jew) interacts with Mordechai who is inviting him to share in the plight and destiny of the Jewish people.  The Church must find herself in these words and others like them.  It is not enough that we feel compassion for the Jews, or even help the Jews; we must find our identity in union with the Jewish people and the Jewish Man, Jesus, Who has purchased our souls.

“I feel with you—I feel strongly with you,” said Deronda…”That is not enough,” said Mordecai, quickly, looking up again with the flash of recovered memory and confidence. “That is not all my trust in you. You must be not only a hand to me, but a soul—believing my belief—being moved by my reasons—hoping my hope-seeing the vision I point to—beholding a glory where I behold it!”—Mordecai had taken a step nearer as he spoke, and now laid his hand on Deronda’s arm with a tight grasp; his face little more than a foot off had something like a pale flame in it—an intensity of reliance that acted as a peremptory claim, while he went on—”You will be my life: it will be planted afresh; it will grow. You shall take the inheritance; it has been gathering for ages. The generations are crowding on my narrow life as a bridge: what has been and what is to be are meeting there; and the bridge is breaking. But I have found you. You have come in time, You will take the inheritance which the base son refuses because of the tombs which the plow and harrow may not pass over or the gold-seeker disturb: you will take the sacred inheritance of the Jew.”  (George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Chapter 40)

Longing to be reconciled

Recently, I have been struck by the inadequacy of many friendships. It’s not that I have encountered great bitterness, or hatred, just a superficiality masking a deep and crippling reality of isolation and rejection.

I have lived in London for the past seven years; one of the largest and most densely populated centres on the planet. But I have encountered far more who struggle with loneliness here than in the small provincial town where I grew up.

What’s the root here?

I think its mostly that we keep trying to get past the person in front of us. We’re so ‘connected’ that we’re actually disconnected from the moment. We can’t see what is here right now because we’re constantly trying to get what is a little bit further ahead.  We’re all together in the same place, but we’re not really together.

At the close of the film, Boyhood, the central character, having just arrived at college and taken an impromptu visit to a nearby desert area, sits on a small hill with another college student. She turns to him and says,

You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the opposite. You know, like, the moment seizes us.

I was struck by this as being surprisingly profound. In the modern world we act like we own time and we are the ones holding our universe together.

The past few days, I have had Ephesians 1:10 bouncing round my brain.

…that in the dispensation of the FULLNESS of the times He might GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. (NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus actually owns time, and he is using it to work out His purpose.  The psalmist said, my times are in Your hands; the prophet Daniel said God changes the times and the seasons.  In Greek, the word ‘fullness’, above, speaks of a maturity. Jesus is maturing time like a fine wine until all His purposes come to completion. Yet we treat time like something we can seal up in bottles and keep in the cupboard.

One of Jesus’ main purposes revealed in Ephesians 1:10 is to gather everything together to Himself. His heart longs for everything in this world that has become separated from Him to return to Him. No wonder so many feel separated and lonely. We refuse to yield to His order, which would actually include gathering us together, and we try to institute our own order in our lives.  To help myself grasp this, I put a note on my wall with the words,

I don’t seize time.  Time is God’s.  I let God seize me in time.

Why don’t you take 90 seconds right now, and consider what it would mean for you to let God seize you in every moment.

Colossians 1:17 says:

And He Himself existed before all things, and IN HIM all things consist (cohere, are HELD TOGETHER). (AMPLIFIED, emphasis added)

I’ve heard many Christians talk and pray about healing division in the Church, and the need for healing between the Church and the Jewish people.  I’m convinced it starts with surrender.  Many times, we don’t have rewarding relationships with those around us because we have neglected right relationship with our Creator.  If we genuinely surrender to God’s long-term purposes in our daily moments by loving the one in front of us and ‘practicing God’s presence’ in constant prayer, I’m convinced that we will begin to see the healing we are looking for; healing in our relationships with those around us, healing in the Church, and healing for the Jewish people.  It’s only in abiding in Christ, by the power of the Cross, that His purposes will be fulfilled in and through us.

For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by abolishing in His [own crucified] flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15, AMPLIFIED)