Everyone longs to be known by and to know a few others deeply and well without the fear of rejection getting in the way. This value is a vital building block of family and community and it actually implies our need for Christ's love to make it really happen. Listen to someone's story today and you'll get your chance to tell yours too!
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior's sword. (Zech. 9:12-13)
As followers of Jesus we have experienced a miraculous second birth from above that has changed the very core of our nature. Embedded in this new operating system is a energy tank that is designed to run on the fuel of hope that is provided by the Holy Spirit Himself. If our tank of hope runs dry, we get stuck and are unable to truly advance in our highest purpose for being on the earth. In our immaturity and panic, we often try to refill our tank with the inferior fuel of our self-strength. As a result, we become moved and motivated by lesser things, sometimes without even being aware that we have constructed another kind of prison for ourselves. We are unable to be true to ourselves and we feel obligated to put on a false persona...a characturization of who we really are meant to be. Divine hope is not irrational, but it is trans-rational. Our Hebrew heart is built for and able to contain this hope. The Greek mind stumbles over it and the vulnerability that is required to embrace and consistently walk in it. Bob Hartley has taught me that God graciously "turns our prisons into classrooms", but ultimately, the only way we can fulfill our God-given destiny and calling is to return to the only prison in which we can thrive...the prison of hope...trusting God to make the inaudible, audible; the incredible, credible; the invisible, visible; the intangible, tangible and the impossible, possible.
As a pastor for about 40 years now, I have noticed that most believers...when they really get gut-level honest...tend to believe, think and feel that our Heavenly Father is basically disappointed in them for their various past and present failures, shortcomings, foibles, quirks, imperfections and the like. However, the terrible irony that I have come to see is that if the Father is disappointed in us at all, it it primarily that we wrongly accuse Him of viewing us this way! Now I am committed more than ever to helping this viewpoint to shift radically. I venture to say that we generally struggle longer and harder with putting off the sinful and immature expressions of our self when we hold this unhelpful and distorted view of our Papa's attitude of us.
What if He is basically pleased with us that we have opened our hearts to receive the gift of His Son and Spirit into our lives that He has sacrificed so much to freely lavish upon us? What if He is daring us to believe that we have a new basic nature and a new and purified heart through Jesus? What if He is longing for us to simply accept that He is smiling and dancing over us as we grow progressively into this new life? I have found that overcoming my old self has become a much easier yoke and lighter burden as I have gotten more in touch with His joy over me as His dear child, friend and junior partner.
My buddy and colleague Bob Hartley, to whom I often refer, has many marvelous revelatory encounters with God. (I have my moments too!) When he shares these experiences, they are often confirmed to people by very specific insights into their lives and the lives of people they know through prophetic words of wisdom and knowledge. This dynamic gives people "a reason to believe" that Bob may indeed have heard the heart of God through his encounters. I have been with him on many occasions in which he has received divine revelations like this from the Holy Spirit to share with others. On numerous occasions in 2014, Bob has heard the Lord say that this is a season for us to declare Psalm 67 - A Message of Hope for the World.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
God is like an incomparable many-faceted gem. He has many "faces" to His nature that He wants us to come to "see" and discern. He has faces we have forgotten, faces we have overlooked and many faces we've never seen before. One of the open secrets of spiritual life in Christ is to welcome these "faces of God" to shine down upon us. Encoded in these faces are the knowledge of His ways for us to live by in this world. These ways of God have the power to transform human lives and even whole cities and nations and make them glad through the joy of Jesus. Oh Lord...cause Your face to shine on us that we might know Your brilliant ways and become conduits of Your joyful presence in this world.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
So the apostle says that these three virtues of spiritual life will carry on into the age to come and that they should therefore be a focus in the here and now. All we do to cultivate these spiritual arts will be a fabulous investment and a profound and practical way of changing the world around us for the good. Faith and love do get a lot of press in the church world, but I think that hope is often neglected and marginalized. Maybe this is because our culture refers to it regularly and it often seems to be a humanly generated replacement for faith in God. Maybe it is because defining hope can be elusive. We have all experienced it, but it can be trans-rational and hard to pin down into words.
Biblical hope is strong and mighty and can even be considered a precursor to faith and/or love as in Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen." It is clear that hope always has the future in view...immediate or long-term...but it is a present state of being. Hope is now! It is an atmosphere of Divine optimism conveyed to us directly by the Holy Spirit that surrounds, soaks and buoys our thoughts, choices, emotions, world-view, expectations, basic attitudes, responses to problems, enjoyment of God and the life He has given us to live. It is like a gentle wind that blows the sweet fragrance of Christ within us into the environment around us and nearby the people with whom we interact who may desperately need a whiff of something...anything...good. Hope keeps us from sinking into the ugliness of despair, negativity, unbelief, pessimism, fear, vengeance and the like. Hope floats! And...as long as we cherish and hold it within our breasts, we too will float. God is the glorious lifter of our heads and beckons us to breathe and shine.
I've always been fascinated that in Acts 2:42, the first followers of Jesus not only devoted themselves to aligning their lives to the teaching of the apostles about Jesus, to koininia (community development) and to prayer, but also to "breaking bread" together or eating together. They did this in a regular larger feast (a party!) and also from house to house. Of course, in this context they celebrated the "Lord's Supper", but they simply shared meals too.
I believe that eating with others is a simple pleasure and joy that God has given to us in this world that creates a special bond of trust and affection between us. There is something intrinsically sacred about gratefully sharing food in the shadow of God's presence. I also see it as a living metaphor of how we are able to "break off" a piece of the life of Christ within us and nourish others by sharing this. And...they can do the same for us. This devotion can help counter the evils that attend lonliness, isolation, fragmentation, separation, rejection, fear, selfishness, busyness, distraction, confusion and depression. Are you "devoted" to sharing meals with others as a way of sharing in the life of Christ? It isn't that hard to do! We need to make it a main priority in our church communities, as the first believers did.
In one of my spiritual encounters years ago, the Holy Spirit said something to me that has stuck with me and resonated within me since that time. "Timing isn't everything, but it almost is," is what He said.
An aspect of being and working in the "easy yoke" of Jesus as our leader has to do with keeping pace and rhythm with Him as the senior ox in the team. I have too often found myself pushing ahead or lagging behind His cadence and example, which only serves to result in sore shoulders or a sore neck for me! Despite the hassle I have given Him in these times, He still gets His plowing done, but the work hasn't been as much "fun" for us.
I pray for the grace to learn to be more and more sensitive to the pace of the steps He sets for me in worship, life, relationships and ministry.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
My premise in this series of blogs is that effective prayer...prayer "in the name of Jesus"...is based on our coming to know the truer and fuller nature of God, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is the kind of praying that brings the will of heaven to bear upon the earth, because the person praying has clearly discerned the heart, mind, will and purposes on earth of the God who is in heaven....the invisible realm of God right nearby and interfacing with the visible realm we can see with our eyes.
Praying "in the name of Jesus" implies that the one praying does so as an official earthly representative of the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ. This is the same dynamic that allowed the power of His Father and the Holy Spirit to work through Jesus during his earthly ministry. So Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19
Because Jesus lived, worked and prayed according to the nature or, in the name, of His Father, He was able to pray very simply. Often, He just spoke a clear command to spirit or matter and the sub-normal situations on earth aligned with the will of God. He spoke to fevers, demons, people, fig trees, wind and waves and things that are impossible with men occurred. Then, He told us that we could, would and should operate in life and ministry in the very same manner that He did. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:12-14
Though this concept of prayer has been misused and abused in past religious movements, this does not negate its validity. I have personally experienced this kind of powerful prayer on a number of occasions. I believe that we will yet see the followers of Jesus grow up into the proper and mature expression of Colossians 3:17 - And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (NLT)