Monday, 27 December 2010

The Door of Opportunity

Rev 3.2 says that Jesus has the key of David; the authority to open and close doors. He then goes on to tell the church at Philedelphia that He has set before them an open door. Paul uses similar language when he speaks to the Corinthian church; 1Cor 16.9 For a great and effective door has been opened to me and there are many adversaries.

I call this the door of opportunity. They rely on a number of unique things coming together. The first is timing. Most opportunities are time sensitive. They are not there forever. At some point a decision must be made. To procrastinate can often mean the opportunity is lost and we are left with a horrible feeling of regret. To quote Shakespeare;

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
(Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3)

It's a powerful metaphor. Ships can only sail with a high tide. To miss the tide is to miss the opportunity. Fortunately for ships tides return. There is another opportunity, albeit on another day. But life doesn't always present us with another chance. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they had missed the hour of their visitation. The door of opportunity was closing on them. They had missed their time to recieve the Saviour, Luke 19.41-44. (A final opportunity will come at the end of the age, but they must wait for it and be provoked to jelousy by a triumphant church that lives in the fulness of the blessing that naturally belongs to the children of Abraham, Rom 11.11,25-27).

This leads on to another issue. Opportunities need to be discerned. The nation of Israel did not take the opportunity because they did not see it. They were blind to it. Most doors of opportunity need to be spiritually discerned. Simon Cowell is reportedly one of the most famous people alive today. He is known for many achievements; The X Factor; Britain's got Talent; American Idol; as well as being a successful television and record producer. But he is also known as the man who refused to sign up 'The Spice Girls'. A Missed opportunity in a field he is normally good at.

Think of Jesus in John 4. Scripture records that He 'needed to go through Samaria' John 4.4. This route was not the normal road taken by Jews travelling to the Holy City. The antipathy between Jews and Samaritans meant that most Jews avoided this road. Instead they took a longer more circuitous route to avoid any contact with a Samaritan. But Jesus breaks with tradition and taboo and takes the shorter more direct route. This led to His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. An encounter that led to the salvation of an entire village. An encounter that shocked His disciples and changed the destiny of a community, John 4.39-42.

Notice how Jesus challenges the thinking of His disciples; "Do you not say 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest?', Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest", John 4.35. He is inviting them to 'see' more clearly; to discern what God is up to and to walk through the door of opportunity.

Doors of opportunity also require some risk taking on our part. Think of Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1Sam 14. They were outnumbered by the enemy Philistines; two against an entire garrison. But Jonathan saw a door of opportunity. He knew that the issue was not about numbers. "For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few", 1Sam 14.6. The real issue was discerning God's favour to breakthrough and defeat the enemy. He asked the Lord for a simple encouragement by the way the Philistines would respond to his challenge. He got the answer he was looking for and these two men defeated their enemies.

It is a great credit to Jonathan's armour bearer that he followed him in this venture. Jonathan saw the opportunity and his armou bearer trusted his judgement. At the end of the day that is what leadership is all about; people trusting your judgement. That's why you need to get it right consistently. It builds trust. It builds confidence. It establishes your leadership track record. Everyone can forgive a few missed calls but they must be few. Then people will willingly follow. We lead out of discernment, not position.

Doors of opportunity sometimes come dressed as a Goliath; big, intimidating, loud and mocking. But faith allows us to go beyond this to see and experience victory. Another feature about doors of opportunity is that they are usually seen and pursued by those who have a pioneer spirit; people who like to push the boundaries; who are not content to live with the status quo but long to see change and advancement. Jonathan was such a man and his armour bearer recognised this and followed him.

I believe that every day the Lord has doors of opportunity for His church to walk through. Doors that need faith on our part. Doors that can only be seen by the discerning eye. Doors that require us to strike while the iron is hot. Doors that pioneers point out to us and we do well to follow their lead. But Paul also said that with this door of opportunity there were also many adversaries. In the Western world the church may not yet experience the persecution that was a regular part of Paul's ministry but there are other adversaries, no less intimidating to pioneers.

The first adversary is the power of unbelief. It is generated through negative confession. Remember Joshua and Caleb who were the only two spy's that brought their confession into line with God's promise to take the land. The other spies brought an 'bad report', Num 13.32 and it discouraged the heart of the people. Unbelief spread like a virus and the whole nation was affected. It robbed the whole nation of the opportunity to posses the land for forty years, Num 13.26-14.10,22-24.

Be careful what you say and what you hear. Words are powerful. They either build or destroy faith and faith is essential if we are to dare to risk going through a door of opportunity. Our western world view has developed a strong scepticism towards the miraculous. We've even written it into some of our theologies. It's called cessationism. It claims that spiritual gifts and miraculous healings should not be expected by the ordinary Christian today. It was there to establish the early church and then passed away with the death of the first apostles.

But God's word is true for all generations. He doesn't change. With the outpouring of the Spirit is the ongoing promise of His gifts and power. It is, after all, described in the book of Hebrews as a 'better' covenant. How can healing and the miraculous be part of the old and part of the early church, but not part of our inheritance today? This view doesn't come from an honest reading of the Bible. It is a theological imposition rooted in rationalism. A world view that has dominated Western thinking for four hundred years.

Postmodernism has created a new opportunity for the church. People are open to new beliefs in a way they weren't thirty years ago. Science and rationalism have not brought the promised benefits and peace people claimed they would. Instead we have suffered two world wars and been left in a spiritual vacuum. What a great opportunity to proclaim the truth; not through argument but meaningful involvement, servant hood, caring and praying.

Currently we have over 250 mothers registered in our soft play program that operates out of our ministry centre called 'The Hub'. Over 100 customers a day use our coffee shop. Our manager is effectively a pastor to the unchurched who come through our doors every day. And now some of them come on Sunday too. It's a door of opportunity. We saw it. We invested in it. Now we are making a difference - little by little. Our door of opportunity has become their door of opportunity. Through it many are finding faith and forgiveness in Jesus.

The other great adversary we face is fear. One of the enemy's greatest tactics to stop us moving forward into the opportunities God is giving us is intimidation. This is what Goliath tried to do with David. His size, his experience his intimidating language put fear into the armies of Israel. Only David rose above this and proclaimed his faith in God to gain victory over the enemy. What the armies saw as a frightening foe David saw as an opportunity for glory. And he was right!

Fear paralyses us. It gets our minds focused on the wrong things. What if....? We imagine scenarios that may never happen but in our minds they become certainties. And that is where the battle must be fought first; in our thinking. Fear always works by getting us to forget about God and His promises. Whenever Jesus turned up on the scene with His disciples His mode of entry was never conventional. Walking on water; appearing in locked rooms; these events all shocked them and so His first words were either; 'Peace to you'; Luke 24.36 or 'Don't be afraid'; Matt 14.27. He helped them shift their focus away from fear.

When our hearts are focused on Jesus and the promises He has made, fear cannot get a grip on us. In Matt 10 Jesus warned His disciples that they were being sent out as sheep amongst wolves. That doesn't sound safe. And it isn't! They would need wisdom - like that of a serpent and hearts that were pure and harmless like Doves. He also reminded them that the worst that could happen in life was being killed, but God had power to destroy body and soul in Gehenna. The fear of the Lord would keep them from the fear of man; Matt 10.16,28.

This is why we see such boldness in the early church. They knew how to walk through doors of opportunity without being intimidated ,either by Rome or the religious leaders of the day. Their hearts were fixed on God and His unfailing promises. Think about all the times in your life where you didn't take a risk to do something your heart told you would advance the Kingdom because of fear. I've been there. I've made that mistake, but I also learned from it. Now I am more determined than ever not to let fear rule when God is opening a door.

I used to teach at an International Bible College. One of my students came from Pakistan. He went back to his country and over a ten year period planted over 60 churches. His ministry regularly touches 20,000 people every day. For years he asked me to go and visit him to see what God had accomplished through him and to minister to the saints there. Now Pakistan is not the safest region to visit. Only two flags have been burned in Pakistan in recent history; the Danish flag (where I lived and worked for eight years) and the British flag (my nationality).

Eventually I said yes. But in my heart I needed to deal with some fear. I remember saying yes to this assignment even if it meant this was the end for me. I came to the place like Paul where he said, "So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death", Phil 1.20. It was fruitful time. Three hundred came to Christ in one meeting. I spoke every day in many cities. When I came to Islamabad a man came in with a gun to assassinate me. It was all caught on video, I'm not exaggerating. One of the ushers saw him and tackled the gun from him while I was very unceremoniously thrown into a car a driven out of the city!

I explained to my host that I was still willing to preach. I really had no fear. He politely told me that they may send others to do the job and if they missed they might harm one of his congregation instead of me!! Fair enough. It was probably the right decision. But think of those three hundred souls in that one meeting who would not have heard about Jesus had I not been obedient; had I not overcome my fear. When we stand and face the enemy God releases His blessing - and we grow in faith.

I believe that 2011 is going to be filled with many new doors of opportunity for the church to walk through. As we do we will advance the Kingdom of God. Watch your language. Make sure it builds faith. Check your heart. Make sure it is trusting God and not giving in to fear. Be awake and discerning to the opportunities that are before you; opportunities to serve; to bless; to give; to lead and to speak about Jesus. Every door of opportunity opens up into something new and unexpected. See it as an adventure and dare to go through. Who knows what you will find, accomplish or enable to make happen through that simple step of faith.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Open and Closed Doors

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open, Rev 3.7

In His letter to the church at Philadelphia Jesus presents Himself as the one who holds the Key of David. Whatever else this means, it conveys the idea that He has Kingly authority to open and close doors. This is a powerful metaphor. We all know what a door is. It is the place where we enter or exit a building or room. To those who have the key, entrance is easy; to those who don't, the room or building remains off limits to them.

Scripture uses the door as a place where many things were transacted. It was at the gates (doors) of a city that the elders would meet to make important decisions, Ruth 4.11. Likewise the threshold of a doorway held great significance. Jesus reminded the church in Laodicia that He was on the wrong side of the door. They had pushed Him out and He wanted to come back in, Rev 3.20.

Doors don't just keep things in, they help to keep things out. In that sense they are a door of protection. We see this in Ex 12 when the Israelites were instructed by Moses to take a lamb less than a year old that had no blemish and to kill it. The blood from this lamb then needed to be applied to the lintel and doorposts of each home. Only by doing this could the firstborn from each family be protected from the angel of death.

God's instructions were clear; "And when I see the blood, I will pass over you", Ex 12.13. In other words through their faith and obedience, the life of that innocent lamb counted in place of the eldest born son. Think of the shock and impact this would have on each family. The lamb was taken in on the 10th day of the month. This marked the beginning of months for the Israelites. A new beginning; a new birth. The lamb was kept 'til the 14th of the same month, five days.

On the first day it would have been seen by all the children as a cute pet. By day two it would have been named. By day three the children would have argued who should feed it. By day four it was now part of the family. Then on day five the father in each home had to take the lamb and kill it. Imagine the horror on the faces of all the small children. Imagine the protest; "Why must it die?" And then the father must explain that an angel of death will pass through the land that night and if there is no sign of blood on the door then their oldest brother would die.

How powerful this picture is. It points forward to Jesus whom John declared to be, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", John 1.49. Like the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus was spotless, innocent and pure. Nothing about His life deserved the death penalty. Yet He willingly gave Himself as a sin offering to save those would trust in Him. For when we believe in Jesus, it's as if we too put the blood on the door posts and lintel of our life. Judgement passes from us and is taken by Jesus. We are safe behind the door, John 10.7.

Unlike the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus is a willing victim. Love compelled Him. He surrendered His life in order to give us the opportunity to begin again. It's a compelling story. For all those safe inside the homes, with the blood visible from outside they were protected. The door became a door of security, a door of protection. Death could not cross that threshold. It held no power over those within.

This is why the NT takes such a different view on the death of a believer to that of a non-believer. For the believer is said to have passed from death to life; taken out of the kingdom of darkness and placed in the kingdom of God's dear son, Col 1.13 and sealed with the Spirit untill the day of redemption, Eph 1.13. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8.1. Judgement has passed over. They are protected.

So the NT language for a believers death is 'falling asleep, John 11.7, 1Thess 4.16. Woody Allen once said; "I don't mind dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens". Clever. Funny! But none of us can escape 'being there'. However for the believer, death is like falling asleep. For when we die we go to be with the Lord, 2 Cor 5.8; Phil 1.23. And we are with Him till the resurrection!

This sense of protection was emphasised by Jesus when He sent out His disciples to preach in Matt 10. They were sent out as 'Sheep among wolves', Matt 10.16. In other words they were walking into hostile environments. So Jesus encourages them, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna", Matt 10.28. Finally He reminds them that even the hairs on their head are numbered by the Father in heaven, Matt 10.30. They are watched over, they are protected, they are valued, Matt 10.31.

I find this inspiring. I think this truth lies behind the great boldness that the early church demonstrated in its witness. Jesus had removed the sting of death - sin, 1Cor 15.55-56. So they did not live in fear of having to pay the ultimate price for their faith. To use Paul's language; "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain", Phil 1.21. They really did see it as a gain, not a loss. So when brothers or sister died they did not mourn in quite the same way. There was a natural grieving process to go through, but there was also a sense of joy, even victory.

This protection extended to God watching over the health of the Israelite nation, provided they learned to walk in His ways and obey His commands, Ex 15.26. They were in covenant relationship with Him and so their deliverance included the promise of health and healing. The Levitical laws prescribed the kind of food to eat, how to prepare it and sanitation rules that ensured good health for the nation. Add to this the rhythm of Sabbath rest and Holy days of celebration, we see a nation that was given a prescription for life that would ensure good health. It was a holistic approach.

Much of our treatment of sickness today focuses on symptoms. The Biblical approach always goes to the root of the problem. So in the scriptures healing begins with dealing with the human heart. For out of the heart proceed all the things that lead us into sinful practices. It is this exchange of heart that the new birth promises. With a new heart comes the possibility of re-ordering our lives so that healing can flow into every area; including our relationships.

Another important door I want to look at is the door of promise. In Gen 18 we have the account of God meeting with Abraham to confirm His promise of a son. Only this time the meeting is to tell Abraham very specifically when it will happen. Interestingly the meeting takes place at the door of Abraham's tent. He is on the outside eating and talking with the Lord, while Sarah remains the other side of the tent door, but within earshot of all that is being said.

Now when she hears the Lord renew His promise to Abraham of a son she laughs; not out loud so she can heard, but within herself, Gen 18.12. It's a mocking laugh. It's a laugh of unbelief. But God heard it. And His response was simply to ask a question; "Is anything to hard for the Lord?" How is it we can believe in a God that has created such a vast universe with the power of His word, but we find it difficult to believe He can intervene in our world; our situation; our need?

Rom 4.19-20 tells us that when Abraham heard this promise he was strong in faith. I find it significant that Abraham was one side of the door and his wife was on the other. One side was faith, the other was unbelief. It was the same Lord speaking at the same time to the same couple. But the response of the heart was different for each of them. We could say she was on the wrong side of the door. For the door here represented an entrance into the promise. It simply required faith.

What promises has God given you that you have almost given up on? Which side of the door of promise are you? Do you want to stay there? Jesus challenged Thomas not to be faithless but believing. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Can He do what He has promised? Human weakness and frailty does not limit the power of God; only unbelief. Remember it was a burning bush that housed the fire of God, but it did not feed the flame; it housed the flame.

This is why Paul could say "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.", 2Cor 4.7 NIV Through our weakness God's strength can shine. This ensures that He alone gets the glory. Faith does not look to human ability before it embraces God's promise, rather it embraces God's promise, even in weakness and boasts in God's power to do what He says.

Finally consider the door of provision. In Luke 11.5-8 Jesus tells us the parable of the man who comes to a friend at midnight seeking for bread to give to a late visitor. He is teaching about prayer that releases God's provision. Jesus goes on to tell His disciples to ask, seek and knock. Some doors appear closed, but when we ask the Father in heaven He can open them to us. The point of the parable is that God is eager and willing and we can trust in His nature. When we ask for something good we won't get something bad instead! He knows how to give good things to His children, Luke 11.11-13.

Doors of provision require us to knock on them. They will open to us, but not without some perseverance on our part first. God had provision for Israel in the wilderness; but they had to ask for it. Most of the time they complained before they knocked on God's door. Somehow they believed He had brought them there to kill them, Ex 16.3. That's crazy thinking in the light of all He had done for them. The Bible calls this kind of crazy thinking unbelief.

The teaching of Jesus in Luke 11 clearly shows that this provision of 'good things' even extends to receiving the Holy Spirit; Luke 11.13; Matt 7.11;. God has all that we need and can supply it when we need it; if we ask! I remember in the eighties some of the controversies surrounding the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. People warned me that I might receive a demonic tongue if I opened up in this way. How contrary to the words of Jesus in this parable this is. Our Father in heaven is bigger and better than that.

25 years ago I distinctly remember beginning to knock on the door of provision for spiritual gifts. Over the next two years I came into contact with leaders who helped me experience more of the dynamic of the Spirit. The person who probably had the biggest impact on my life in this area was John Wimber. He had what I call a relaxed spirituality. It lacked pentecostal hype. It was down to earth. I could connect with the way he used spiritual gifts and knocking on that door opened up a new level of faith and ministry to me.

What area of your life do you feel some lack? Where do you need God to close a door so you can know His protection? Is there a promise that awaits you to move to a different side of the door? Or perhaps you need Him to open a door of provision for you? Asking and knocking are expressions of faith. They position us to walk through doors into new places of freedom, blessing and protection. And if you knock you have the promise of God's word - the door will be opened.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Isaiah 49.13-14 says:

Sing O heavens!
Be joyful O earth!
And break out in singing O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have mercy on His afflicted.

But Zion said,
"The Lord has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me"

What a contrast! God is encouraging praise in the earth because of His commitment to have mercy and comfort His people, but they aren't having any of it. They see it differently. "God has forsaken me. He has forgotten me. I'm abandoned".

Have you ever felt like that? Forsaken! Forgotten! Abandoned! What's wrong with this picture? How is that the people of God could be so far from recognising how God truly felt and how committed He is to their well being?

In the following verses we have a clue. Isaiah 49 15-16 says:

Can a women forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

When the Israelites were taken captive many of them made a print of the walls of Jerusalem. They then had this tattooed on the palm of the hand. It reminded them of their heritage, of what they had lost, of where they hoped to return; one day. God uses this as a powerful metaphor to demonstrate to Israel His love and commitment to them as His people. He is a God of covenant and remains committed to them, despite their failures.

This picture points to the New Testament where Jesus bears in His resurrected body the marks that secured our forgiveness. They are a permanent sign to Him and us that we are loved. They are there to inspire faith in us. Jesus invited Thomas to place his fingers in His nail pierced hands and put his hand into the side of Jesus with the comment; "Do not be unbelieving but believing", John 20.27.

Isn't it remarkable that we will have perfect bodies in the resurrection but His body will bear a permanent reminder to us of the cost of redemption. We will never forget His deep love for us. But what now? How do we handle the trials of life? What inward posture should we adopt that will help to see us through?

I want to show you how some Biblical characters handled life to inspire you in your journey. Let's begin with Sampson. This is a man with great strength physically. From birth he was called to be a Nazarite. No razor came upon his head and his great strength lay in his long hair. But this man also had a weakness, beautiful women. He wasn't very discerning about the kind of women he got involved with.

The story of Sampson and Delilah is probably one of the best known in the Bible. Through her continual requests to know the secret of his strength he finally gave in. The Bible says he told her all that was in his heart. What amazes me is that on the first three times that he lied about where his strength lay she had the Philistines lying in wait to attack him. How can you be that stupid? He doesn't seem to connect that she is behind the whole thing. This is a woman who is out to exploit him for money and he is besotted with her. The first blindness that came to him was one of good judgement.

Having told her where his strength lies, she shaves his head while he is asleep and he is taken by the Philistines and they blind him. The sad part is that he didn't even recognise that his strength had gone. Having been taken captive by them they then mocked and humiliated him. He was used to entertain them. Imagine how he felt; betrayed, humiliated, alone, forsaken, forgotten.

But the Bible makes a small statement that is easy to miss. His hair began to grow back again. This speaks to me. It speaks of the power of redemption, the power of forgiveness, the power of the cross. Hair can be cut, but if the roots remain it will grow back again. Roots are what sustain growth in hair, in trees and plants. They are hidden beneath the surface, but they are what really counts.

So despite his great failings in life Sampson believed he could be strong again. Having lost his sight, he regained his vision. The lust of the eyes was what got him into this mess. Now he could see more clearly. His spiritual vision sharpened. Given all he had done wrong he prayed an outrageous prayer. It was full of faith. Sampson relied on one fact; God knew Him, God had called Him and God could be relied on even now to help. Here's his prayer in Judges 16.28:

"O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me just this once, O God, that I may, with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!"

Remember me. And for those who are engraved on the palms of His hands, He cannot forget. Despite our weaknesses and failures, God is faithful. God's power and grace are never limited by human failure and sin. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, Rom 5.20.

Imagine what was going on in Sampson. They mocked and humiliated him. They used him to entertain them. He had to 'perform' for them, Judges 17.25. Not only that, they gave honour to their god Dagon declaring, "Our god has delivered into our hands Sampson our enemy!" Judges 17.23-24. But Sampson believed God was bigger and he dared to ask for strength. 'Remember me'. And God did.

The sacred text records that Sampson killed more in his death than he did in his life. 20 years of fighting the enemy and his greatest victory is at the end. God remembered. Think of what would have happened if he had just given up; if had resigned himself to a life of constant humiliation and mockery by the enemy; if he had said to himself; "I've blown it, now God can't use me".

What failure in life haunts you? What part of your history does the enemy use to mock you? How long will you 'perform' for the enemy before you dare to ask God for strength. God did not answer Sampson's prayer because he deserved it. He answered it because of His grace. He remembered this man and Sampson ended his life a hero.

Notice that Sampson did not look for an easy way out. He knows it will cost him his life. Listen to his last words in Judges 16.30, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Yet his final resting place is in Israel, in his father's tomb. Through sin his life was cut short but through God's gracious remembrance he defeated the enemy, silenced their mocking and showed that their god was no god at all. No wonder Heb 11.32 cites him as a man of faith.

Let's turn to Hannah; a women in deep distress because she is childless. Not only that, there is another wife who mocks her and a husband who does not understand her pain, "Am I not better to you than ten sons?" Doesn't that sound a tad egocentric? Not put off, she goes to God in prayer. The heart of it is, "Remember me", 1Sam 1.11. She is ready to act, but she needs God to act first. And He does. He remembers Hannah. He answers her prayer. She gets a son and God gets a young man dedicated to Him. Win win.

Unlike Sampson, Hannah had done nothing wrong. She was a godly woman; a prayerful woman; a righteous woman. In her pain and distress of wanting a son she came to a realisation. Maybe God wanted something too. She may not have known how bad Eli's sons were or God's plan to judge his house, but she intuitively felt that God needed her to surrender this child back to Him. So she promised to give him in service to God. It was another amazing act of faith. In the end she was blessed with three more sons and two daughters, 1Sam 2.21. God is no mans debtor.

What need is there in your life that you feel desperate about? Are you praying to have that need met? Maybe, like Hannah, you need to ask with a view to giving it back to God. The problem so often with what we receive is that it becomes 'ours'. And our possessions can eventually possess us. Hannah's prayer included a promise to give back to God what He gave. This released God's provision for her. In her pain; in her need; in her frustration, she discerned something of the purpose of God and He remembered her.

Finally think of the Thief on the Cross in Luke 23.42. We know nothing of his background. Was he a good man who went bad? Was he someone who hit on hard times? Was he simply a bad person all his life? We don't know. What we do know is that when the other thief began to berate Jesus, this man spoke up. His conscience was sensitive to the fact that Jesus had done nothing to deserve death. He knew Jesus was righteous. Not only that, he knew that he and the other thief both deserved their punishment. They were indeed guilty.

While defending Jesus and admitting his own guilt he dares to say something to Jesus as they both hang there - soon to die, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom". Jesus answer shows it's never too late. Dying prayers can still change destinies when the grace of God is at work. Sampson, Hannah, the thief with no name. All of them with a deep need. All of them in anguish. All of them prayed. All of them asked, 'Remember me'. All of them received an answer.

Each one of these Biblical characters teaches us something. No matter where we are coming from in life, God is ready to act on behalf of those whose hearts turn towards Him. He remembers, for we are engraved on the palms of His hands. Remember that next time you are tempted to give up. It isn't over 'til it all over. Faith has the capacity to write an epilogue, just when you think the story is finished.

If God is telling us to break out into singing, perhaps, despite our perspective, He knows something we have yet to learn. He is truly, madly and deeply committed to us as His people. And Jesus bears in His hands the proof of that love. How can He ever truly forget?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Book of Remembrance

Journaling is a long established tradition that has a new following today. We are encouraged to write our thoughts and impressions about what has impacted us for that day and then reflect on them at a later time. It is a good discipline pursued by many. Well God is into journaling too. The only difference is that His journal is a record of overheard conversations that people have about Him. It's called the Book of Remembrance. Take a look at Malachi 3.16.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name.

This little verse captures my imagination. The Hebrew word for listened implies that what was said caught God's attention. Sometimes I find myself in the Hub coffee shop. It's packed with people eating, drinking and talking. Conversations and exchanges going on all around me as I try to focus on writing. But then I hear something that peaks my interest. Someone starts to comment about the atmosphere of our church coffee shop, the friendly staff, the brilliant Fun Tots program for mothers with children under five.

As casually as possible I listen in. You see they are speaking about something I am personally interested in and committed to. The subject matter gets my attention. This is similar to what is happening in Malachi. There are some kinds of conversations that grab God's attention and He listens in. Now I understand about God's omnipresence and that at one level He hears all things that men say. But here we are talking about something different. Not only does He hear in the sense that He knows, He hears in the sense that He responds.

The text goes even further. The Hebrew behind the word 'heard' is 'Shama'. It is used often in the book of Deuteronomy and is well known by all Jews as a title for Deut 6.4; "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One". In many of the instances it is used in Deuteronomy there is an implicit expectation that the people will hear and respond or act in obedience to what God is asking of them. To 'shama' the Lord is to respond and obey Him.

It is this word that is used to describe God hearing the conversations of those who honour Him. In other words He hears and acts on what is said by them and it is all recorded in a scroll or book. He makes a permanent record. Interestingly this book is 'written before Him'. It is literally written in His presence. God doesn't send one of His servants away to make the record, He commands the book to be written before Him, in front of Him, right where He is! That's impressive.

So what is it that is said that captures the Lord's attention? Whilst we are not told the content of what is said we do know a number of things about the people speaking.

1. Twice in the text we are told that the people who spoke 'feared the Lord'. This is a common way of referring to the honour that believers had towards God. They held Him in great honour. Now in the days of Malachi this was a big issue. One of God's complaints against the people in this book was the way that they dishonoured Him, especially when it came to sacrifices and offerings. God was a great King and deserved the best. Those who brought an offering were meant to bring from the best of their flocks and herds.

But the people of Malachi's day on the whole didn't do that. They came to worship but they brought an inferior offering; animals that were lame, blind, stolen or disfigured in some way. Their actions revealed an attitude of heart. They did not truly value and honour the Lord, Mal 1.6-8, 13-14. They went through the motions but it lacked truth and sincerity of heart. And God saw it. Further they were marrying foreign women and taking on their religious practices while others were disloyal to their marriage partners, Mal 2.10-14. Finally they kept back their tithes and offerings from God, Mal 3.8-9.

Their lives and their worship were a sham. But in the midst of all this hypocrisy there were a group of people who loved and honoured the Lord. These people worshipped God in spirit and in truth. They were genuine. Our text goes on to say they 'meditated' on His name. The Hebrew word includes these meanings, to esteem, to regard, to reckon upon, to think about and to value. It shows their attitude of heart. This ability to put God first gave them great boldness to speak about Him, in a context were most people didn't want to listen.

2. The text tells us they spoke to one another. But the word translated 'another' is translated as 'neighbour' 102 times; 'friend' 42 times and 'another' 23 times. This implies that there was a missional dimension to their speaking as a well as a fellowship dimension. With believers they were edifying one another; with those who were not truly walking with God they were witnessing.

Consider the apostles in Acts 4.15-20. They were strictly warned not to speak about Jesus after they healed a lame man. But Peter's response is telling. He is full of boldness and declares; "We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard". Notice that his testimony came out of his personal experience of what he had 'seen and heard'. It was first hand. It was genuine. It was real and he couldn't stop talking about it.

Christian's don't need to be compelled to do evangelism. They need an encounter with God that leaves them changed. That's what Peter had. That's what the woman at the well had. That's what the man born blind had. They could not help but speak about an event that was so life changing for each of them. It flowed out of them. This is why the enemy tries to intimidate believers. Anything so that they don't tell their story. But our stories are one of our most powerful weapons. It is the word of our testimony that helps to overcome the dragon, satan, Rev 12.11.

The Holy Spirit has been given to us that we might speak about Jesus, boldly, fearlessly, proudly. In Acts 5.17-32 we have another account of the apostles. This time they were arrested and thrown in prison. But an Angel of the Lord released them with this command, "Go stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life", Acts 5.20. Amazing. Released in order to speak about this life, about Jesus, the way the truth and the life, John 14.6.

Notice Acts 2.40; "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them....." Peter is speaking to neighbours and friends and other believers about Jesus. It had an impact. The church grew. Lives were changed. God was honoured. It is this kind of speaking that gets God's attention. This is what He has recorded in a Book of Remembrance.

3. Finally these people met together. It was intentional. They were intentional about meeting their neighbours. They were intentional about meeting their friends. They were intentional about meeting one another. Acts 2.42-47 shows that the early disciples met together daily, in public places where they could witness and house to house where they could share food, prayer and fellowship. The temptation when we come under pressure is to cut out things from our schedule. But many times these choices are driven by expediency rather than destiny or purpose. And so we often cut out the wrong things.

Heb 10.24-25 says; "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much more as you see the Day approaching".

To forsake something is to leave it behind. Intentionally meeting together with others who provoke you to be better and do better is never a bad thing. Just as gifts must be stirred up so must love and good works and that happens through relationships. More specifically through relationships where we speak words of encouragement. And when we do God leans in, listens and acts on our behalf recording all the details in His book.

The 'Day' spoken of here in Hebrews is the 'Day of the Lord', the return of Jesus. Each day we draw closer to that event. The writer to Hebrews tell us to meet and talk more as we see that 'Day' approaching. When I was at school we often played 'I dare you'. The idea was to think of something that required some act of courage and then dare a friend to do it. Of course as teenagers we often did stupid things. But as believers we too can dare each other to do more and go further for God. Barnabas encouraged Paul, Paul encouraged Timothy, Moses encouraged Joshua and Jesus encouraged the twelve.

Who are you speaking to about what God has done in your life? Who are you doing life with and daring them to do more for God? Who in your life provokes you to want to live more radically for Jesus? Do your conversations reflect the reality of Jesus in your life?

Two years ago I was in Calcutta looking into the room where Mother Teresa slept for many years and visiting the orphanage she began. The room contained nothing but a bed a table and a small shelf. I spent an hour playing with many of the abandoned children at the orphanage. I was provoked, stirred, challenged. Like other occasions I've had, it made me want to make my life count. Though dead, her life was speaking to me that day. She penned these words in her personal diary, "I want nothing for myself, I want everything for Jesus". I was touched. I wept.

Let me encourage you to speak words to others and live life in a way that will take people closer to Jesus. God will take note and make a record of it in His Book of Remembrance. I suspect that one day the Lord will read out all the things you said that impressed Him, Rev 20.12. And on that day, all of heaven will know the impact your life has made on others. What a wonderful thought. Be purposeful with your words. Let them flow out of your devotional life and encounters with God. And in your heart remember that God is there too, recording what you say so that He can reward you.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Power of Remembrance

Memory is a powerful thing. It connects us to our past and so helps us form a sense of our identity. Without that connection we would loose that sense of who we are. Our lives are a unique history of choices, some good, some bad. Memory gives us a sense of continuity. Through memories we are connected to our past and these help to shape our future.

God often reminded the children of Israel to look back and remember where they had come from; Isaiah 51.1; "Look to the rock from which you where hewn and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug". When the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan river they established a memorial (or remembrance); on the West side of the Jordan with stones taken from the river bed, Joshua 4.1-9. These stood as a memorial to the faithfulness of God who brought them over on dry ground and would give them victory over their enemies.

And throughout Israel's history they established landmarks that were reminders of God's gracious deliverance. Even the Ark of the Covenant was a 'memorial' to remind the people that they were in a covenant relationship with God. It contained the tablets of stone given to Moses, Aaron's rod that budded and a pot of the Manna from the wilderness. These were all testimonies to God's greatness, faithfulness and power to save. They stood as a reminder to the people, what God had done in the past He could do again, for those who walked with Him.

Even the land of Canaan was divided by using landmarks that were never to be removed; Prov 22.28. They identified where one tribal possession ended and another began. These landmarks were often large, like a mountain or coastline. You couldn't miss them. Other times they were man made, like when Samuel set up a rock called Ebenezer, (literally Stone of Help), after the Lord defeated the Philistines; 1Sam 7.12-14. When everyone saw this rock they were reminded of God's victory on their behalf.

Experience has taught me that it is impossible to live the Christian life without establishing some landmarks or memorials - places that we can look back to and remember the goodness and greatness of God. I believe this is why the first command for a new believer is to be baptised. By doing so they are in fact establishing that first landmark.

In the NT this was done hard on the heels of any profession of faith; often on the same day. Consider the Ethiopian Eunuch who asked Philip a simple question; "What hinders me from being Baptised?" All that Philip required was a confession of faith. This is a far cry from some of the spiritual hoops we make people jump through before we allow them to be baptized.

Consider too communion. This too is a memorial; a remembrance of Jesus, to use His words, 1Cor 11.24. It constantly pulls us back to the foundation of our faith and what God has done in Christ, paying for our sin and setting us free to live for Him. This simple act of remembrance has great power to encourage our faith. But it doesn't end there. We are called to walk by faith and any walk of faith is bound to establish a personal history with God - landmarks that give us confidence. More of that later.

As I read Paul's final letter to Timothy I am struck by how often he uses the power of memory to help this struggling pastor. At that time Timothy was back in Ephesus. False teachers had risen up, as Paul had predicted in Acts 20.29-30. He had personally disciplined three of them, Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus, 1Tim 1.20; 2Tim 2.17. Timothy now had the difficult job of appointing new leaders and dealing with the fallout from the false teaching that had gripped much of the church. It wasn't easy.

In second Timothy we see Paul appeal the three things in his opening verses that will encourage Timothy. Look at the text 2Tim 1.3-6 NIV:

"I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline".

The first is wonderful. Paul remembered Timothy in his prayers - night and day. It wasn't like Paul carried a list with him. Rather he carried Timothy in his heart; like a son. He couldn't help but pray for him. He valued him. He cared. He remembered his tears, the pressures he felt of ministry and Paul wanted Timothy to know above all things that he was covered in prayer. Someone was watching his back, Paul the apostle no less.

Scripture tells us that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. He prayed for Peter, He prays for us too. But we can at times feel this truth is too disconnected from our reality. Again experience has shown me that Jesus invites others to share His ministry of intercession. He does this by placing a burden on a fellow saint to pray for the needs of others. This is essentially the ministry of intercession. It is Spirit inspired prayers on behalf of others.

I have always believed on the power of prayer that covers and supports ministry. During the late eighties I had two very special women, both over retirement age, who believed that the Lord had given them a burden to pray for me and my ministry. I felt the difference. Outwardly they looked very helpless and frail. One was a widow. But their prayer life was powerful, full of discernment and faith. I valued what they did. You see gifting is not enough. We need unction. The Spirit's touch on our words and ministry that makes it powerful and effective. Pray brings this unction.

Paul reminded Timothy that he had a seasoned warrior backing him up. Learn to welcome the prayer of others over your life and ministry. In turn be faithful to pray for those God puts on your heart. When you do so you are participating in the ministry of Jesus - now! Most often this will reflect the people you feel most connected to. Those you have come to love and appreciate. Every remembrance of them becomes an opportunity to support them in prayer. As we remember those we are connected to, our prayers are fuelled with love and passion for their success and protection. They have an impact.

Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on to remind Timothy of his spiritual heritage; the faith that dwelt in his mother and grand mother and was now in him. Generational faith. Notice that this was passed on to him from his mother and grand mother, not the men in the family. Paul seems to have stepped in as the spiritual father who helped to develop Timothy's faith and ministry. But the seeds of it were sown through the women who nurtured him as a youth. This is a wonderful testament to these godly women, something Timothy should be reminded about.

Each one of us has a spiritual heritage. Neither of my parents walked with God while I was growing up. But others in the church became spiritual parents to my brother and me. They had a profound impact on us. We looked to them for spiritual guidance and it made a difference. Others I know are second, third and forth generation believers. What a blessing. Embrace it. Thank God for it. Value it. And remind yourself that others have gone before you fighting the good fight of faith. Paul was in effect saying this. "The faith that was in your mother and grandmother I see in you. Now get your head down and get on with the job, not giving in to fear".

Finally Paul reminds Timothy to stir up of the gift of God that is in him, "Through the laying on of my hands", 2Tim 1.6. Notice the reminder of how he got the gift. Paul was there, part of the team laying hands on Timothy and imparting spiritual gifts to him, 1Tim 4.14; Rom 1.11. It was a great day and Paul draws Timothy back to that momentous occasion. Not only does Timothy have a spiritual covering in prayer but he has a spiritual heritage and a spiritual gift. But something is required of him!

Stir up the gift is best understood as fan into flame. If you know anything about open log fires you will understand this text. Fires can begin to die out unless they are fanned with a set of billows. In effect more oxygen is being added and this causes the fire to re-ignite and burn brighter and better. Spiritual gifts need to be used if they are to be effective. How could Timothy do this? What was involved? What did he need to do, practically?

Here is how it has worked in my life. First I remind myself of all the times in my life where the gift of God has operated to great effect. I am building faith by doing so by reminding myself of the faithfulness of God. This is what David did when he wanted to go and face Goliath. He had a secret history with God and he began to declare it to King Saul. "Your servant has killed both lion and bear...." 1Sam 17.36. The same gift would operate as he faced Goliath. Notice that David resisted using Saul's armour. It was untested - by him. He relied on what he knew worked.

Secondly I begin to praise God, with thanksgiving. This helps me get the right perspective about the challenges I am facing. It helps me focus on God and His greatness rather my problems and the people causing them. Praise in effect says, 'God is bigger'; bigger than me and bigger than my problems.

Finally I put myself in a position where I need to operate in my gift. David stood in front of Goliath. He pushed himself forward rather than backing away in fear. That's the essence of Paul's encouragement to Timothy. Despite how he felt, despite his tears, despite his fears, Paul saw the spiritual heritage and gifting of this young servant of God and was convinced he was more than able to deal with the problems in Ephesus. And he was right.

People who work out at the gym have a phrase, 'Use it or loose it'. Muscle that is developed has to be used or it atrophies, becomes weak and wastes away. Spiritual gifts are a bit like this. They are best developed by using them. And as we do, we can become sharper in how we use them.

Try to be someone who reminds others of what God has already invested in them. Dare to provoke them to embrace the challenges of life and ministry so that, like Timothy, they can fulfill their calling and destiny. And if God has used you in the past but you feel a little sidelined at the moment, that start to fan into flame the gift of God in your life. Put yourself in a place where you can defeat a lion or a bear so that you will be ready to face a Goliath when that day comes. And when it does, don't shrink back through fear. Just make the flame of your gift hotter and be astonished what God can do, through you.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The 'How to' of Blessing Others

This article is focused on one essential question; 'How do I go about blessing another person'. In a way this is easy to answer. Just follow the 'golden rule' - Matt 7.12, Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. It's a great approach. Almost anything we do from that motivation is going to bless others; whether it's giving someone a lift to church or inviting someone over for a meal. The list is literally endless.

Scripture however gives us a view of how to impart blessing that often has a common pattern. So, without taking away from the golden rule, consider how people in the Bible imparted blessing. Think of Isaac when he blessed Jacob; Gen 27.33-37 (I)have blessed him? yes, and he shall be blessed...... And Isaac answered and said to Esau, Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now to you, my son?

Despite the deceit used by Jacob, he received a blessing from his father Isaac; a blessing that rightfully belonged to the firstborn son, Esau. It couldn't be reversed or undone. It stood firm once spoken. The full effects of the blessing played out generationally but that encounter with his father positioned Jacob and his descendants to inherit the blessing.

We see this authority to bless expressed by Jacob too when Joseph presented his two sons before their grandfather. Unlike his father Isaac, who was blind and deceived, Jacob was intentional when he crossed his hands to bless the younger son with his right hand. He was moving in discernment about the two destinies of these boys and blessed then accordingly, Gen 48. Joseph's protest would not force Jacob to change his mind, Gen 48.18-19. He knew what he was doing.

When we look at the way this and other blessings were imparted a number of key elements come together.

The first is the power of touch. Take a look at Mark 10.13-16:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus was happy to oblige these eager parents. I love the picture Mark conveys of Jesus picking up little children, laying His hands on them and blessing them. Imagine that. This is not quite the formal blessing that Issac gave Jacob but, nonetheless, something of the blessing of Jesus was passed on to these children through this encounter. And Jesus encouraged it.

I remember when our children were small. Most nights I would tell them a bedtime story. Then at the end I would lay hands on them and pray a blessing over them. Sometimes I waited until they were asleep before praying. There was less giggling! None of my children have ever protested about receiving prayer or blessing. They grew to love it. They believed in it's power to influence their lives for good. When they couldn't sleep or had bad dreams we did the usual stuff, sleeping in our bed, staying with them, but we always spoke blessing and peace over them and rebuked any attack from the enemy. It made a difference.

So many people in the gospels experienced the blessing of Jesus through touch. The woman with the spirit of infirmity received her deliverance as Jesus spoke to her and touched her,Luke 13.12-13; But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

He laid His hands on her. You get the picture. Even more astonishing is when we see Jesus touch the untouchables. Leprosy was a feared decease in Biblical times. Some forms were highly contagious. Yet Jesus reaches out to touch and heal these people, Matt 8.2-3; Luke 5.13. Many times Jesus healed people just by speaking words. But with lepers and outcasts He is far more intentional in reaching out to them in this way. I would say that touch, in such a context, suggests four things about what is in the heart of Jesus:

1. Acceptance. Jesus accepted people just the way they were without any preconditions. He did not judge them, despite their problems, whether it was sin or sickness; He received them to Himself, Rom 15.3.

2. Boldness. Jesus was not afraid of the power of sickness to infect Him. He is the Lord of life and sickness and death had no power over Him. Not only that, He would not come under the judgement of others who considered these people as outcasts. Jesus boldly broke with this kind of view and reached out to people. He was fearless.

3. Compassion. Jesus loved people. To be touched by another human being when no one will go near you or accept you is powerful. It is a visible, tangible, concrete expression of love. We call this compassion. It always moves us to action.

4. Value. The worst thing about being any kind of outcast is the way it erodes ones sense of personal value. Even children in our first reference to Jesus blessing them were perceived as a bother. Within my own generation we grew up with our father's telling us, "Children should be seen and not heard". I believed it until I was an adult. Now, having raised six children, I am persuaded that this statement is ridiculous. Children have value and silencing them is a way of censuring the truth and reality that they often perceive.

When Jesus touched people they immediately felt valued. Think of when the media captured the attention of the world because Princess Diana went to the bedside of an Aids victim and held his hand while speaking to him. She touched him. A Princess touching an untouchable. It captured the imagination of a nation. Suddenly the British Monarchy, that she represented, was seen in a new light. She was demonstrating a Kingdom value that Jesus taught and the world took notice.

The power of touch was formalised at times in the Bible with the phrase, "The laying on of hands". This was done on special occasions such as the appointment of new leaders/ministries, Acts 6.6; Deut 34.9; healing the sick, Matt 8.14-15; 9.18-25 or being filled with the Spirit; Acts 8.14-17.

Such an occasion was a powerful statement to those watching. Any combination of the following three things was happening:

1. Identification was demonstrated between the one blessing and the one being blessed. This is why Paul warned Timothy not to do this hastily when appointing elders, 1Tim 5.19.

2. Imputation, as when the worshippers in the Old Testament laid hands on the animal they had brought as an offering to the Lord. Their sins were considered to be imputed to the animal and it died in their place, but only after the had placed their hands on the animals head; Lev 1.4-5; 4.1-4, 13-15, 22-24.

3. Impartation where the Spirit or some spiritual gift is given to another person and becomes activated in their life; Acts 19.1-7;1Tim 4.14.

Whether it is a casual touch like an arm on the shoulder, a simple greeting through a handshake, or a more formal 'laying on of hands'; touch is a powerful means of imparting blessing. But a word of caution. In order to touch someone I must enter their personal space. And to do that I must be invited. Often before I lay hands on someone at a meeting when they come forward for prayer, I tell them I will do so and ask if that's OK. Why?

Let me offer you three reasons that have come out of thirty years of ministry experience:

a) We live in an age of abuse. People abuse substances like drugs or alcohol. But many of them do so to hide their pain of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The NSPCC, (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), tell us that more than one third (36%) of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16 years of age. Three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. 27% told someone later. Around a third (31%) still had not told anyone about their experience(s) by early adulthood.

Given this reality we need to be sensitive to the fear that these victims can experience when a well meaning person touches them. I have seen people shut down during a time of prayer to bless them simply because they became fearful as soon as they were touched. Let people know what you are doing and ask for their permission to lay hands on them.

b) Not only is it a good idea to ask people for permission to touch them, tell them where you will put your hands! On the head or shoulder or your hand on their hand. This is really important when ministering to the opposite sex. I have witnessed lots of inappropriate hand placing, even if the motivation was pure.

Often with a sickness it's a good idea to lay hands on the area of pain - but not always. There are some parts of the human anatomy we need to respect by not touching. Let the Holy Spirit do it - not you!

c) My final reason has to do with what I see as overenthusiastic praying. I speak as one who has served for ten years within a Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition. Perhaps it's me but they seem to be the worst offenders. With this model when you go forward for prayer, hands are laid on you, (usually your head), in a forceful way that you are suddenly aware of being pushed backwards! Here's how I've handled that in the past when I'm on the receiving end of such ministry.

In my early days of going to such a meeting I just allowed myself to fall back. Fortunately there was someone to catch me, because these meetings were geared for this to happen. Was it disappointing for me? Yes. You see when I came forward for prayer I was genuinely looking for a touch from God. This felt more like theatrics.

Later, when at similar meetings, I just took a step back (wondering how many steps I would have to take before the person praying got the message I wasn't going down with their help!). I even did a little limbo posturing on one occasion. Well, I thought it was funny. But there have been a few occasions, without any assistance from the person praying where I have gone down, because God touched me. Those occasions were genuine and meaningful for me. I don't go looking for them but I can't deny they happened either.

So my encouragement to all those who pray for people is, lay hands gently. Don't push. Let God do what He wants to do in their life at that moment. In fact if a person starts to fall I often put a hand on their back to keep them upright. The key thing is not to try and produce an effect. We are being channels for God's blessing; not providing a show!

Let's move on to the second way that blessing is conveyed in the Bible; prophetic words. Remember that New Testament prophecy is not characterised by sharp rebuke as it was in the Old Testament. 1Cor 14.3 tells us the three essential ingredients of NT prophecy; edification (words that build up); exhortation (words the encourage); comfort (words that strengthen and console). So when we speak an encouraging word we don't need to preface it with "Thus saith the Lord" for it to carry prophetic weight.

There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them in my opinion is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit, who witnesses to the truth, John 14.17. That's what He does. When we get a word of encouragement that is from God, something within us resonates in our spirit and we know it is the truth. Now imagine the power of combining touch with encouragement. That can be a awesome means of conveying blessing. Prophetic words of rebuke should be reserved for those who carry a prophetic office and filtered by those who carry the leadership responsibility for the congregation.

Think of how Jesus did this. He spoke to Peter and called him a rock, Matt 16.18. It conveyed the image of stability, reliability, something you could build on and trust in. Jesus spoke to his destiny. Until that moment in time it did not speak to Peter's experience. Peter's mouth often took him to where his character could not keep him. But Jesus saw past all this. He spoke words of encouragement.

Think of the number of times in a day when you encounter people who are grumpy or having a difficult time or even hiding their pain, but you sense it's there. Try reaching out to God for a word of encouragement for them. Try a gentle hand on the shoulder. We need to use the gifts of the Spirit in the workplace where we can truly shape peoples lives by blessing them. Mark Twain once wrote: "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

Encouraging words build up the lives around us. As you affirm others you will benefit. People who express heartfelt encouragement to others find it easier to express gratitude, feel joy and achieve success themselves. Today, go out of your way to positively affirm another person. It will bless them!

Finally we can bless people through prayer. James speaks of healing the sick with oil and prayer; James 5.14-15. Peter was about to face a sifting trial but Jesus could remind him; "I have prayed for you....", Luke 22.31-32. How amazing to know that Jesus prays for us as our great high priest, Heb 7.25. How wonderful that, often, He puts it on to the heart of one of his servants to pray for us too.

Think of how Jesus chose Ananias to go and minister to Saul (Paul the apostle), after his conversion. He took some persuading! Saul of Tarsus had a reputation and Ananias was wary. But in obedience to Jesus he went to him, laid hands on him, prayed for him to see and baptised him. Through this bold step he gave Paul a clear message; "You are valued and accepted". The obedience of Ananias led to Paul being blessed and through him we have been blessed too. We read his letters today!

When the twelve appointed the seven in Acts 6, scripture records their names and says; "Whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith", Acts 6.6-7. This event of recognising and appointing new leaders with prayer and laying on of hands led to more disciples, even priests; those considered the hardest to reach at that time. What a blessing.

As we connect through touch, speak words of encouragement that build up and pray for each other, we are conveying the blessing of the Lord that can lead to many believing and being obedient to the faith. It will make a huge difference to their lives. So let me encourage you to step out in this way and be a blessing to someone today.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Prayer of Jabez

Jabez knew the importance of blessing. He cried out for it after years of pain (his name means one who causes pain). Parents are supposed to bless their children. Not Jabez. In the genealogy recorded in 1Chron 4 his father is not even mentioned. It begs the question, "What did he do that was so bad that his name is not recorded in the generations of the different tribes?"

I wonder. It can't be that he just died. Such an omission of a name in scripture is significant. Either she had this little boy out of wedlock or the father of Jabez was so evil that his name is struck out of the genealogy. (In the genealogy of Jesus some of the kings of Judah are omitted because they were evil). Whatever the reason, there is no mention of his dad. Nothing!

We are told that at the birth it was his mother who named him, Jabez. She took all the disappointment and pain of that experience and put it on to her son. In effect she cursed him and he grew up with a label that brought nothing but frustration into his life. The negative effects of his name played out in his life.

Now in the Bible names have great importance. They reflect things like character, destiny and calling. The potential that a person has in life. So when name changes take place these too are very significant. Jacob became Israel; Abram became Abraham; Sarie became Sarah and on it goes. The name change indicated something about the destiny God wanted them to walk in.

The early chapters of first Chronicles are a genealogy; a list of names of all the descendants of the different tribes. Chapter four focuses on Judah. This was the tribe of Praise. That's what the name means. It is also the tribe that would bring forth the Messiah - Jesus, the true son of David and rightful King of Israel. Thus anyone descended from Judah had an inheritance. This was a royal tribe called to show forth the praises of God. That was the inheritance that belonged to Jabez.

The truth of what he experienced in life was far from this wonderful destiny. It was characterised by one word - pain. In a way Jabez situation portrays the gospel. His parents passed on to him something that was negative, less than what God intended. Like Adam who sinned, we too have received a destiny that is not what God intended. His goal for humanity was the tree of life. Instead we inherit death, a curse instead of the blessing.

Right in the middle of this genealogy the writer comes to Jabez. He is arrested by this man and his testimony. It's almost as though to only mention his name is to do a disservice to the quality of his character and prayer. And so he digresses to give us the inspirational story behind the prayer of Jabez. Let's read these amazing verses and see what keys they may hold for us in gaining blessing in life and ministry, 1Chron 4.9-10.

Now Jabez was more honourable than his brothers and his mother called his name Jabez saying, "Because I bore him in pain". And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain! So God granted him what he requested.

The first thing that is said about Jabez is that he was more honourable than his brothers. Brothers in this context means his fellow tribesmen. Paul uses a similar phrase in Rom 9.1 to speak of his Israelite 'brothers'. Jabez stood above them in honour. An honourable man is true to his word, noble in character and trustworthy. David is described as an honourable man when he was in the house of King Saul, 1Sam 22.14. Samuel too is described as honourable, 1Sam 9.6. Some of David's mighty men also carried this distinction, 2Sam 23.19,23.

The Hebrew word for honour here is Kabad. It is sometimes translated glory or glorious and has the sense of weight. When God's glory appeared people felt the weight of His presence. Often they fell to their knees. Men of honour are noticed both by their presence and by their absence. They add weight to words and deeds and often emerge as leaders. Jabez was such a man.

But despite these personal qualities Jabez grows up with limitation in his life. His life plays out his name. But then something happens. We are not sure. Maybe he was inspired by the blessing he saw on the lives of others. Maybe he just had enough of failure, disappointment and pain. Maybe he looked at the fact that he was descended from the tribe of Judah and reasoned that his life experience did not match his inheritance. What is certain is that he believed a number of things about his situation that have significance for us.

First of all he believed that God could make a difference. He did not accept that because life began with a curse it had to end with a curse. He believed things could change. He saw a different life for himself; a life of blessing - that's faith. He actually believed God could change his world, change him!

Where are you in all this? Do you believe that God can change your life, your circumstances? Is your view of God such that, in your world, He can make a difference. Take inspiration from Jabez. God has made salvation available in Jesus. All the promises of God in Christ are yes and amen. You can begin to claim those promises and see your life change too. "Nothing is impossible with God", Luke 1.37 NIV.

Secondly he was not passive in the process. God could change things but Jabez had to dare to ask. He had to take the initiative. Remember James' exhortation for us to 'Draw near to God and He will draw near to you', James 4.8. God meets us at our point of faith, not our point of need. Where do you need to be more proactive in your life? What things have you accepted as your lot in life that in fact you should be fighting against? Don't develop a 'Que sera sera' attitude. Dig into the promises of God and start to mix faith with them.

Thirdly he was specific about what he wanted. There is nothing vague about his request. He asked that God would bless him indeed and then unpacked what he meant by that. He knew what he wanted and he went for it. He dared to ask big. There is no shyness here. No inferiority complex. No self hate; just the firm belief that he needed more in his life and God could give it to him. It was his inheritance by birth but it needed it to be activated in his life.

What areas of your life need a specific intervention? James tells us we have not because we ask not, James 4.2. Jesus promised, "If you ask for anything in my name I will do it", John 14.14. Daring to ask is such a key to receiving from the Lord. It's a simple conditional promise, "If you ask....I will do it". Not only that Eph 3.20 indicates that the Lord delights to go , "exceeding abundantly above and beyond all that we can ask or think". Wow!

Now let's look at the four things that were part of the blessing Jabez cried out to God for.

1. Enlarge my territory. Jabez felt closed in by life. In Biblical times the family inheritance was always defined in terms of territory or land. The story of Ruth is about a family who nearly lost their inheritance because of the death of Elimelech and his two sons. There was no-one alive to inherit the land. Boaz becomes the 'kinsman redeemer' who enables the inheritance to stay in the family.

Now in those days there were a number of ways to increase your territory. One way was to do what Ruth did, get married. Her marriage to Boaz secured the family inheritance for Naomi's grandchildren. Another way was for a wealthy Israelite to buy territory from a fellow Israelite who had hit hard times. This would last until the year of Jubilee when all lands titles reverted back to the family/tribe they originated from.

This is what made Ahab's possession of Naboth's vineyard so evil, 1King 21. Naboth refused to sell his land to Ahab who clearly wanted it as a permanent possession. The King, under Jezebel's influence, had him killed and took possession. Even the king had no right to do this under the law. So God sent Elijah to speak judgement on the house of Ahab for this evil. The final way to increase territory was through warfare. Many times Israel's borders changed, depending on whether they lost or won a battle.

The text is not specific as to how Jabez increased his territory - but we know that God granted his request. Maybe he married well, maybe he won a battle or maybe he became wealthy and bought land. The point is he expanded his territory. Think about this in terms of your own life. Where in your life do you feel restrained; closed in; limited? To increase your territory is to increase your influence. Where in your life would you like to do that?

Perhaps you are in a job where you believe you deserve a promotion. Dare to ask God to do that for you. I know a young accountant once who was the newest and youngest member of a firm of accountants. They began to interview for a promotion. Others spoke to him that he shouldn't bother to go for the interviews as he was so new. I encouraged him to ignore their counsel and pray. He asked the Lord to increase his territory - to give him the job.

He promised the Lord to sow the first months increase of his salary into missions as a thank offering if he got the job. And he did, to the astonishment of all who worked there. He felt a restriction in his job, like there should be more, despite his age and lack of experience. Remember Joseph? Regardless of where he found himself he was promoted. It was part of his destiny.

2. Jabez asked was that the hand of God would be with him. This is a big ask. Ezra speaks of the hand of the Lord being with him in the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra 7.28. Ezekial, several times, speaks of the hand of the Lord being on him as he experienced divine revelation of God's purposes, Ez 37.1. To have the hand of the Lord with you implies a number of things that are best summarised by the word favour.

Think of the favour that Nehemiah experienced that gave him the following:

a) It allowed him to have special travel documents as he passed through all the countries under the Persian king, Neh 2.7.

b) He had a royal escort that ensured his protection, Neh 2.9

c) He was given letters authorising him to have free timber for the building of the gates, Neh 2.8 .

To have the hand of the Lord with you is to guarantee success in any venture you undertake. That's what Jabez wanted - and he got it.

3. He asked that God would keep him from evil. It almost sounds like the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil", Matt 6.13. He is in effect asking for guidance. He wants to follow a path of righteousness.

David rejoiced in this same truth in Psalm 23. "He leads me in paths of righteousness for His names sake". The valley of the shadow of death is bearable if God is with you. He keeps you from evil. The danger today is not in discerning the evil - that's obvious. It is discerning the evil in the good. The devil can present himself as an angel of light, 2Cor 11.14. Christians often end up doing the wrong thing because they have been deceived. Truth keeps us from evil.

4. Jabez deals with his name; the thing that has plagued him all his life; a label that had more to do with what his mother was going through at the time of his birth, than it had to do with him. In effect she projected her disappointment with life onto him. This wasn't the first time this had happened in the Bible. Rachel did the same thing with her son, calling him Ben-Oni, meaning son of my sorrow (or pain), just before she died, Gen 35.18-19.

But in that case something wonderful happened. His father Jacob stepped in and immediately re-named him. This was brave. Rachel was Jacob's first and great love. His disappointment into marrying Leah was tempered by the marriage to Rachel. The Bible tells us that the seven years he worked for her flew by, he was so in love with her. Yet now at her death he does not allow his loss and her pain to dictate the destiny of this son. Jacob renames him, Ben-Jamin, meaning son of my right hand.

The allusion to Jesus is obvious. He is, humanly speaking, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, Is 53.3. He is the 'son of my sorrow'. But after His death on the cross He rose again, victorious. And now God has 'highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every other name..." Phil 2.9-10. This Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of the Father and is now truly the, 'son of my right hand'.

Think of how different the life of Jabez might have been had his father stepped in the way Jacob did with his son. But the reality is that Jabez's father was not there, for whatever reason. Instead of becoming angry Jabez calls on God. And here is the final part of his request, "That I might not cause pain". In other words he did not want to live in the fulfilment of a negative prophecy. He wanted to live in his Godly inheritance.

The thing about an inheritance is that it must be claimed. Jabez is fighting for what is his birthright. Not with natural weapons, but in prayer before God. And God granted him his request. Unlike other biblical characters we don't read of a name change for this man, but we do read that things were different for him after this encounter with God. And that is the important thing.

I remember my first week of secondary school. We had an assembly for the whole school - about eight hundred teenagers. The deputy head called out my name and two other boys, asking us all to stand. Everyone was looking at us. I had no idea why. Then he announced; "Stay away from these boys, they are all trouble makers". I was so embarrassed. Something in me snapped. I thought to myself, "Well if that's how you see me then I won't disappoint you". And I didn't. For the next three years I was always in trouble.

This label stuck. Then one day a teacher at the school befriended me. He encouraged me. He believed in me. He went to the headmaster on my behalf and I was moved into a higher learning stream. My results improved and so did my behaviour. Looking back I realise that he didn't accept the label that had been put on me. It wasn't long before I wanted to shake it off too. I surprised the other teachers by going on to do A levels and then Civil Engineering at Manchester University.

I wonder what things you believe about yourself that are not rooted in God's evaluation of you? I wonder what you have come to believe about yourself that is rooted in a lie; something someone put on you that came out of their disappointment and bitterness? Jabez reached a point where he said in effect, "Enough is enough". And he called on the God of Israel. The result was that his life changed and dramatically improved.

Let me encourage you to learn from Jabez. He connected with his inheritance that promised blessing. We too have an inheritance in Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, Eph 1.3. Dare to believe that God can make a difference in your life. Dare to approach Him with your request. Dare to be specific about what you want to see changed - and watch what happens!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bless the Lord

We've looked at what it means to be blessed by God. Now I want to explore how we can bless God. The idea may seem a little strange at first. After all, He is the creator and we are part of His creation. Him blessing us is easy to understand - but us blessing Him....... I wonder?

The scripture makes it clear that there is a very specific way we can bless God. Take a look at Psalm 34.1-3; "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth". We bless God every time we express praise to Him. That praise is vocal; it is with our mouths. David goes on to say; "My soul shall makes its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together".

Picture this. David is praising and boasting in God. "I will bless the Lord...". Others hear it and begin to smile. They are glad. David sees their response and calls on them to join him. Suddenly personal praise is now corporate praise with others responding to this call to worship. They bless the Lord together and this brings joy to the Lord.

God's goodness towards us should evoke in us a heart of thanksgiving. When Paul thought of all the blessings we have received in Christ he penned these words in Eph 1.3; "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ". Can you hear the expression of thanksgiving coming through? It's in the phrase, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".

To bless God is to show our appreciation to Him. This is most frequently done through praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 66.8 says, "Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard". When we are making His praise to be heard it brings Him blessing. The Psalm begins, "Make a joyful shout to God all the earth! Sing out the honour of His name; Make His praise glorious. Say to God 'How glorious are Your works!'".

This praise is loud. It's sung. It's focused on God. It's about Him and His wonderful works. The Psalmist tells people what to say. The content of their worship is prescribed to make sure it is bringing Him honour. The final exhortation is to make it 'glorious'. In other words, 'give your best'. This is not half hearted worship. It is whole hearted, enthusiastic, God centered worship.

Listen to Psalm 103.1-2; "Bless the Lord Oh my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name! Bless the Lord Oh my soul and forget not all His benefits". I wrote last time about seven benefits of being blessed. Reminding ourselves of God's benefits should inspire our praise. The Psalmist says, 'And all that is within bless His holy name'

I sometimes think we loose sight of this when we gather for worship. If God is the centre of our worship and we are reminding ourselves of all He has done for us and who He is, it should engage us; every part of us, mind, emotions, will and body. The whole man. Passive praise does not bless God. Psalm 33.1 says; "Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful".

A saying that dates back to the 3rd Century BC in Greece says, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". It's true. When God looks at the heartfelt praise of His people it is like a fine piece of art to Him - beautiful, even captivating. It captures His attention so much so that Psalm 22.3 says, "But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel". An older translation says he 'inhabits' the praises of Israel.

When we bless God in praise and thanksgiving He is delighted. To Him it is beautiful and He 'inhabits' those praises. His presence is there in a special way. And it is God's numinous presence that we need. (Numinous is used by theologians to describe God's felt presence, His supernatural presence). Blessing Him by praising Him invites His presence; it honours His presence; it joys in His presence.

Psalm 134.1-2 Says, "Behold, bless the Lord. All you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord". Notice that. When we lift our hands we are blessing the Lord, not just with our words but with an action. Psalm 63.3-4 says, "Because your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You, thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name".

Blessing people is one thing, but blessing God is an amazing privilege. It puts praise and thanksgiving into a different realm. It's not really about us, it's about Him; all that He is and all that He's done. In worship God is the centre of the universe. And that's how it should be. Scripture tells us we have the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, Is 61.3. Heaviness in the Hebrew means to be weak or feeble. God's remedy? Blessing Him and not forgetting all His benefits.

When we take time to bless God it changes us. We become refreshed, renewed, restored. It's what happens when you spend time with God's people in His presence. This then empowers us to bless others. Think of David when he brought the Ark back to Jerusalem. He blessed God in the dance, 'with all his might', 2Sam 6.15. He did this wearing only a linen ephod. In other words he could have been anyone. Nothing in that moment distinguished him as the king. And that's the point!

It wasn't about being royal, maintaining as image or impressing others. It was about celebrating God's presence and blessing the Lord. Michal, his wife didn't get it. Like her father, King Saul, she was more concerned about the opinions of others. She was too conscious of her image and status to appreciate what was happening. David had been blessing the Lord. "Then David returned to bless his household....", 2Sam 6.20. David was excited, refreshed and wanted to pass the blessing on to his household.

But on entering his home he was greeted with a scathing, sarcastic criticism by his wife, "How glorious was the King of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows uncovers himself!" Ouch! What a come down after such a great event. He came home to bless her and was greeted with that response. Painful.

David is resolute and secure in his motivation, "It was before the Lord....Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this and will be humble in my own sight....", 2Sam 6.21-22. You see the difference? David is focused on God, Michal is focused on the opinions of others. It's old testament Pharisaism. And she missed out on the blessing. Worse, she had no children to the day of her death. How sad.

People who don't enter in to blessing God, often end up judging others who do. They don't realise the curse they bring upon themselves. God will not allow that kind of attitude to be reproduced. It leads to barrenness. We are called to fruitfulness. We secure that fruitfulness by honouring God and blessing Him at every opportunity. Hold back from criticising praise that is offered to God. He looks on the heart. He is not impressed with dignified worship that is about posturing an image.

Whenever the High Priest blessed the people he did so by raising his hands towards heaven and then he spoke a blessing over them, Lev 9.22, (Jesus did the same thing in Luke 24.50). The most famous blessing recorded that the priests were commanded to make over God's people is Aaron's blessing in Num 6.22-27;

"Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, "This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace."'
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I shall bless them."

God wants to bless people but He looks for someone to 'invoke' His name. When this is done blessing flows. The priests could do this because they were called to this task. They spent time in God's presence blessing Him, Deut 10.8. I find that when I spend time praising God I operate in a different level of authority when it comes to blessing others. By blessing God I become bathed in blessing - and I pass it on.

I have said more than once that the focus of our praise needs to be in two areas. First the beauty of God; His perfection and character. Who He is. Secondly what He has accomplished; in creation; in redemption; in us. When the seventy returned from the mission Jesus had sent them on they were joyful. But Jesus challenges the focus of their joy. Luke 10.20; "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven".

The focus is to be on an eternal reality that does not change. Each day the disciples could wake up and thank God for the fact that their names are recorded in the Lamb's book of life. Wow. As they lived in that reality they could bless His name. And if nobody was healed or delivered on a particular day, it didn't matter. God was still God and they were still saved. In that truth they could rejoice - every day. Choose to bless the Lord and stay focused on Him. It will deliver you from the disappointments of life.

So next time you are with God's people dare to go to a knew place in your praise. Be a little louder; a tad more enthusiastic; somewhat more energetic; slightly more expressive. Take it to another level in blessing the Lord. Make His praise glorious! If you are a singer in the worship team then you too should go further. Learn all the songs you sing at church off by heart so you are not constantly looking at a crib sheet. It distracts from worship.

If you are musician then you too should learn to play without music. It's not difficult; it just takes practice, with others. Dare to have fun when you practice so that when there is the opportunity to jam during a song, your skill is at a level that can go there, Psalm 33.3. We seldom do on stage what we haven't done in private. Use your practice time as an opportunity to bless the Lord. Let praise infuse this time too. As you bless Him in this way, He will bless you.

When something good in life happens to us we should get into the habit of blessing the Lord. Remember, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights....", James 1.17. It's a benefit that should inspire thanksgiving from us.

Deborah faced a critical situation in Israel during the period of the Judges. She writes that 'village life ceased', things were so bad, Judges 5.7. Imagine that. Raiders and marauders everywhere. But then God raised her up as a 'Mother in Israel' and a group of rulers responded to her leadership - willingly. Her response? "Bless the Lord", Judges 5.9. She showed her appreciation by writing a song of deliverance. Israel learned this song and used it to, "Bless His name".

The psalmist wrote: "I will extol You my God o King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and I will praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts", Psalm 145.1-4.

Notice that he encourages God's people to bless the Lord daily. This daily blessing is to be perpetual - 'forever and ever'. And this praise is to be generational. We pass on to another generation the stories and greatness of God. This was one of the reasons God established the passover meal, Ex 12.24-27. It created an opportunity for His greatness to be spoken about and passed on down the generations.

Listen to Psalm 145.10,21 "All your works shall praise You O Lord and Your saints shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power....My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh shall bless His holy name forever and ever". This is addressing the power that our testimony has to influence all things to bless the Lord.

Take a little time to look at these scriptures that encourage us to 'Bless the Lord'.1Chron 29.20; Neh 9.5; Psalm 96.2; Psalm 103.20-23; Psalm 104.1;35; Psalm 115.18; Psalm 135.19-20. As you read them try and be honest with yourself about where you are on this journey. Let me leave you with a few thought provoking questions:

1. When you praise God or talk of His greatness are you able to focus on Him and be less concerned about the people around you?

2. Do the opinions and judgements of others hold you back in heartfelt praise?

3. Are you someone who judges others when they show more enthusiasm than you during a time of praise and worship?

4. Do you take time daily to intentionally, purposefully bless the Lord, both for who He is and what He has done?

5. Are you prepared to go to a new place in your expression of praise or are you content to stay where you are?

6. How passionate are you about blessing God?

7. Could someone watching you worship say, like they did of David, "You did that with all your might".

8. What's holding you back from blessing the Lord?