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?

Friday, 1 October 2010

7 Benefits of being Blessed

Last time I wrote about seven characteristics of the man who is blessed. We saw in general terms that his life situations turn out for the best. Trials he may experience are, in fact, only present for a season.

I'm going to focus now on seven benefits that flow out of being blessed. It's not meant to be an exclusive list, or the last say on the matter. They are just things that have impacted me over the years. They are also things I've had to contend for, so that they truly became my experience.

Before I go there it's important to understand that, from a biblical perspective, blessing from God primarily flows out of obedience, either ours or someone elses. Someone elses obedience secures blessing for me? I can almost hear Paul's objector in Romans, as I write the words. "That can't be true. It must come down to my personal obedience". We'll come back to that point later. It has validity. But the amazing truth is that the gospel, the 'good news', is about the obedience of Jesus that has secured what we could never work for, forgiveness of sins and righteous standing before God, Eph 2.8-9.

Acts 3.29 records Peter's preaching in Solomon's Portico. It says; "To you first God, having raised up His servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from your iniquities". The plan of redemption is summarised as God sending His Son Jesus to "Bless you". And the blessing that comes to us flowed out of His obedience. Our obedience is always a response to what He has already done. That's why He is called the author or forerunner of our faith, Heb 12.1. He goes ahead of us in all areas of life. He pioneers and then acts as our High Priest to help us through, so that we too overcome, Heb 4.14-16.

"Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need".

Our obedience has to be seen as a response to the empowering presence of God's grace. Anything less than this puts us into another subtle self-help program. That's where we try and better ourselves, only using Christian values and teaching to do so. It's the road to legalism. Lasting change is always an inside out approach. That's Paul's point in Rom 12.1-3.

Luke 1 records the details of the pregnancies of John and Jesus and the impact they had on their respective mothers. Both women are recorded as breaking into prophecy when they met. Listen to Elizabeth first; Luke 1.45, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord". Notice that. The blessing came because of faith in what God had said. It was not her faith itself that brought blessing, but the object of her faith; the promise of God. And Elizabeth called her blessed.

Mary then responds, Luke 1.46-48; "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed". Elizabeth said she was blessed and Mary said all future generations would call her blessed - and they have! I'm not talking about venerating Mary, I'm speaking about how her willingness to say yes to God released His purpose, for her, for Israel and for the world. Blessing flows from obedience and deserves to be honoured.

Rev 1.3 says, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it...." There is reading, hearing and keeping in this verse. Reading and hearing bring a measure of blessing but keeping what we read and hear is what transforms us and releases lasting blessing. And that's what I'm after.

So let's move on to those seven benefits of being blessed:

1. The blessed man is a fruitful man - in all areas of life. But what does that fruitfullness look like in real terms? In the scriptures fruitfulness is measured in terms of the ability something has to reproduce itself. This only happens with things that are organic - that have life. A fruitful tree produces fruit. Remember the fig tree where Jesus looked for fruit, Matt 21.18-22? It wasn't there, so He cursed it. Fruit is the ultimate sign of blessing. The tree was not fulfilling its purpose. It could not reproduce itself. It had the appearance of life, roots, trunk, branches and leaves, but no fruit. Jesus was not impressed.

In Gen 1.22,28 and 9.1 we have the record of two beginnings. One with Adam and Eve and the other with Noah after the flood. The command is the same on both occasions, "Be fruitful and multiply". I love that. Note it doesn't say 'be fruitful and add' but 'be fruitful and multiply'. This is God's heart for creation. And because creation reflects His life, it has the ability to reproduce life, 'after its kind'.

Have you noticed that there is not just one seed in an apple, there are many. All fruit contains many seeds and each seed has the power to reproduce something that is a multiplication of the original. It's amazing. God build this into creation as a picture of how the Kingdom operates.

The measure of a church is its ability to create other churches. Think about how transformed a church could become if instead of planning everything they do to maintain what they have they begin to think missionally. Just to dare to ask the questions, "How can we reach out more?", "Who is ready to send?" "What if we put money aside so we can release a church planter?".

The measure of successful ministry is how many other ministers were we able to release. Jesus reproduced His ministry in the twelve. They passed it on to the 'Seven' in Acts 6. We see Stephen and Philip moving in the same kind of apostolic authority as the 'Twelve' who had been with Jesus. 2Tim 2.2 shows that Paul was very intentional about reproducing ministry and leadership in others. He commands Timothy to have the same approach.

But there is also qualitative measures of fruitfulness as well as these more obvious quantitative measures. The church has authority to pray for governments and see peace released into society so the gospel can advance, 1Tim 2.1-3. Peace is something we bring to bless society. At the birth of Jesus a heavenly host was heard to cry, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men", Luke 2.14. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God", Matt 5.9.

Shalom (peace) is an amazing thing. We know when it's there and we know when it isn't. Peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is a sense of security that gives us confidence to act and dare great things for God. As the church we have authority to bring this about. In the midst of the strom Jesus spoke one word - peace. He released what was in Him into the situation and it changed.

The fruit of the Spirit, of which peace is one manifestation, are all inward qualities that shape both us and the communities that we are part of. They are more intangible at the beginning but in time become apparent. Like growing trees, we need patience to wait for the fruit. It's the last thing that appears!

When it comes to bearing fruit we need to be careful that we don't set up false dichotomies. I remember hearing preachers that focused on being faithful rather than being fruitful. They gave examples of missionaries who saw very little in the way of results, yet persevered for years with no apparent fruit - but they were faithful and that's all that counts - so they said. Others emphasised the importance of faithful service and considered any sign of ambition in ministry as a bad thing. Faithful people were humble people content to stay where they are, doing what they've always done. Right?

Let's unpack both those ideas a bit. They are in fact false dichotomies. The Biblical view is that if you are faithful you will be fruitful. You can expect it. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and thinking you'll get a different result. Most of the time when something isn't producing fruit it needs to be abandoned or done differently. Businesses wouldn't survive if they didn't do that. And that's often why churches don't survive! If we are not being fruitful something is wrong!

Take the issue of ambition. Now the Bible roundly condemns selfish ambition for sure. But what about being ambitious for the Kingdom, for God's glory, for impacting the world for Jesus? Paul said if a man desires the office of a bishop he desires a good thing, 1Tim 3.1. It's possible to have the right motive. Sometimes your gifting will make you frustrated with the way things are done because you know you could do it better. Being faithful to your call in that situation is more important than being faithful to a job description. You get my point?

We should expect fruitfulness, results, increase, multiplication. That's what life does! For those of you clever enough to think of Isaiah, who preached for a lifetime to a rebellious people with no results, consider this. God warned Him this would happen, Is 6.9-13. He prepared him. The fruit of his words would come generations later and he knew it. He wasn't left wondering. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do to some churches is close them and start again. That's life. There is a time to be born and a time to die. God help us to discern that moment.

2. A blessed man has power to bless. Think of Abraham. God blessed him so that he could be a blessing - to the nations, Gen 12.1-3. In fact the word bless is used three times in this text. Not only that, how people positioned themselves in relationship to Abraham determined whether they were blessed or cursed. To bless him was to be blessed - by God.

God's heart is to touch the world, but He looks for a vessel; someone He can trust; someone who will be a channel for His blessing to flow to the world. Abraham was such a man. He followed God and obeyed Him to the point of offering up Isaac. Listen to God's response to this act of obedience;

Gen 22.16-19, "Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son - blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice".

It sounds like God is going OTT here, He is so excited about Abraham's obedience. Blessing within blessing and blessing upon blessing. Wow. And that is the destiny of the church. We are blessed in order to bless others, Eph 1.3. Peter tells us, "Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing", 1Pet 3.9. This is consistent with Jesus in Matt 5.44 and Paul in Rom 12.14. We don't have to curse people. Sin has already done that. It has trapped and ensnared people so that now they must face the consequences of God's broken law.

This is why Jesus, "has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, (for it is written cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith", Gal 3.13-14. Jesus took the curse so that we could receive the blessing and bless others.

Think of how many times you have heard people over-react to a situation and get angry. Think of the words of criticism, defamation, put downs and insinuation that have come out of their mouth. All of that is cursing. It's not New Covenant. It's not Spirit filled living. It's not Kingdom lifestyle. Listen to James on this:

"But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men who are made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren these things ought not to be so", James 3.8-10.

When I find myself being criticised or attacked in any way, I remind myself of these scriptures. I seek for grace and then try and respond in the opposite spirit, blessing those who curse me. I go beyond myself to do this and reach out to Heaven's grace that empowers me. I have authority to bless for I am blessed by God Himself. Those who curse me will have God to deal with. Like Abraham, we don't have to lift a hand against them. God knows their situation and His judgements are always just. We can leave it to Him to deal with them.

This is such an important issue. As a pastor, husband and father I have authority to bless my church, my wife and my children. I remember speaking blessing over all our children, both when they were in the womb, on the day they were born as we presented them to the Lord and throughout their childhood. Most nights I would bless them and pray over them. Occasionally I discerned things that were attacking them and used the power of blessing to overcome them.

Think of the way Jacob blessed Joseph's sons. He laid hands on them and prophecied over them speaking to their destinies. Joseph presented the oldest in front of Jacob's right hand and the youngest in front of his left hand. The right hand of course speaks of the place of higher honour. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. But Jacob moves prophetically and crossed his hands. Unlike his father who was tricked into blessing Jacob, the aged Jacob knew exactly what he is doing and Joseph's protests wouldn't stop him. He blessed the lads.

Look at the actions of Jesus in Mark 10.13-16: "Then they brought little children to Him that He moght touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brougt them. But when Jesus saw it He 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 and laid His hands on them and blessed them".

This is an amazing text. Jesus was 'greatly displeased' when the disciples tried to stop these people bringing the children to Him to 'touch them'. Blessing comes through touch. Jesus laid His hands on them and blessing was imparted. He took time to do it. It wasn't an inconveniance to His ministry, it was part of HIs ministry. It should be part of our too.

3. Blessing releases deliverance and victory. Gen 14.18-20 records the encounter between Melchizedek and Abraham after Abraham returned from defeating King Chedorlaomer. And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand". Remember God's earlier promise to Abraham to possess the gates of his enemies? Now it was begining to happen.

Abraham went to deliver his nephew Lot. It was a risk. There were no guarantees. But Abraham was living in the blessing. This fight was to deliver Lot, not to increase his own power and wealth. And God honoured him by delivering Chedorlaomer into the hand of Abraham. The King was defeated.

On his return from this battle Abraham had an encounter with Melchizedec. It is significant. For after it, Abraham goes on to meet the King of Sodom who offers him all the spoils of the war; stuff that was stolen when Lot was captured. It would have been tempting to take it. Victors take the spoils. That was accepted practice in war. But this encounter changed Abraham. He knew it wasn't his victory. God had given it to him. It was part of the blessing. And he made a vow not to touch it, Gen 14.21-23.

Think of Joseph. Every time something bad happened it worked for good. His brothers wanted to kill him but he was delivered from death because one brother spoke up for him. He was sold as a slave but became a successful manager in Potiphar's house. He was falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison but then was promoted to run the place. And eventually he was made second in power only to Pharaoh. Deliverance followed him because he wass blessed. He was a son (descendant) of Abraham.

We too are sons of Abraham, by faith, Rom 4.16. Jesus promised His disciples, "Behold I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means hurt you", Luke 10.19. This is a promise of victory; a promise of protection; a promise of ultimate deliverance. We are sent out as 'sheep among wolves', Matt 10.16.

That sounds crazy! Wolves eat sheep. Sheep have no inherent power to overcome a wolf. They are vulnerable, easy prey. But Jesus is making a point. He is with us. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. We are of more value than many sparrows. And He protects and delivers us. Listen to Paul on this subject, 2Cor 1.8-11.

"For we do not want you to be ignorant brethren of our trouble which came to us in Asia; that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength. so that we despaired even of life", 2Cor 1.8. Paul is saying that the pressure was so great, he had resigned himself to dying. He came to the end of himself. He gave up. Now listen to him as in the next verses he gets revelation on how to understand his situation.

"Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death and does deliver us; in whom we trust He will still deliver us", 2Cor 1.9-10. Three times the word deliver is used in the past, present and future tense. He did deliver us, He does delver us and He will delver us. Amazing!

There is only one problem in believing in a God of resurrection - everything has to pass through death! Isaac, Joseph, your marriage, your ministry, your vocation, your friendships - everything. And if it survives, if it comes through, if you are delivered, you know God did it and God is in it. We are a blessed people through Jesus Christ and we can expect God to deliver us. What comes from Him survives death.

4. Blessing releases revelation - an open heaven. Peter made a famous declaration about the person if Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", Matt 16.16. Now hear Jesus' response; "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven". The revelation Peter received was a sign of blessing.

The new birth has secured for us a new heart; a heart that has received the Spirit of God. To have the Spirit is to have the blessing of God, for He is the fulfillment of the blessing promised to Abraham, Gal 3.14. And to have the Spirit is to have the possibility of hearing from God through revelation. Read 1Cor 2.10-12.

"But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit......Now we have received not he spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God". We receive in order that we might know. We are blessed in order that we can move in revelation.

The problem with so many books is that they are filled with information instead of revelation. We clamour for the latest book on how to do church (or whatever) more successfully. I guess they have their place. What bothers me is that most of those books came about because of a uniquely personal journey. They came as a result of hearing and obeying. They were usually birthed in revelation. But when we read them we often reduce it to technique, principles, ways of winning. Why not live in the blessing of being able to hear from heaven for ourselves?

We live in the middle of a technological revolution and an information revolution. They are connected. One has made way for the other. And now we are in information overload. David Beckham has 4,273,296 friends on Face Book as I write. Right? Every time he writes something around 8-13 thousand people respond. Of course it's not a real personal exchange. It is more of a vouyeristic collaboration where we read what he wants us to read about his life. And from a PR perspective, it works.

But the reality is that he has a few close friends where real exchange takes place. Those people truly 'know' him. There is no substitute for this kind of personal knowledge. It is how we are wired to live. And it's why casual sexual relationships never fulfill us. They are like a drug that gives us a high but then leave us empty til the next fix. We were made for more than that; to know and be truly known. And when it comes to sex this is meant to be by one other person - a lifelong partner.

Revelation gives the church its edge in the world. It makes us truly prophetic so that our voice speaks to the real needs and pain of the world with a message of hope. Often I have seen churches reduce the gospel to a set of precepts to be accepted. These then define us as 'orthodox'. But the gospel is more than that. Our reducitonist approach may help us gage what people know but I doubt that it help us to impact our culture and community.

Jesus told His disciples not to worry when they were brought before kings and rulers about what to say. He declared; "For it will be given you in that our what you should speak; for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you", Matt 10.19-20. Think about that and compare it to all the messages you've heard or given over the years. Jesus is saying that in the most pressured, life threatening situations the church will find itself in, it will have a prophetic voice. That is amazing.

I was discipled by an American. He knew a secret that he passed on to me in my early years of training. It had a profound effect on me. I've never forgotten it and I try to live it - daily. Here is what he told me: "Peter, most preachers spend their time preparing a message. For this they need advanced notice of when and where they will speak. Try to spend your time having a prepared life and you'll always have a message, no matter when or where you are asked to speak".

I like that. It touches on the prophetic nature of our calling. We are to be ready in season and out of season, 2Tim 4.2. We need a prepared life not just a prepared message. Now that doesn't mean we don't prepare or do our homework. What it means is that we process what we learn and let it become part of us so that God can use it when He wants.

Joshua was told to study the law and not let it depart from his mouth. He was told to give himself to meditation. The word had to become part of him. It shaped him. It prepared him. It opened him to receive more revelation. And he led the people of God into their destiny. His worst mistake was when he made a covenant without seeking God and getting revelation from Him. He took things at face value and it was a trap.

As the people of God we are blessed with the Spirit of God. We have a heads up on things if we go to Him and ask for His perspective. There is stuff in life we can't get from flesh and blood. The deepest insights come from above. Live in revelation. Imagine a business man who brings this attitude to his business deals. He asks God which deals to say yes to and which to say no to.

Imagine a teacher who is struggling with a difficult pupil. She asks for revealtion and God speaks about this childs homelife. He gives her insider understanding. Now she has compassion. She can pray for a new approach. She is no longer frustrated becasue she has insight. She is blessed. Like Jesus with the woman at the well she is able to speak to the needs of the heart. Learn to live in the blessing by drawing on revelation knowledege. It will transform the way you deal with people.

5. Blessing always brings an inheritance. 1Pet 3.9 and Matt 25.34 speak of this. Jesus said; "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". The blessing promised to Abraham included an inheritance, part of which was the land of Israel. We are promised the Kingdom as our inheritance and, through the Spirit, we can begin to taste it now, Rom 14.17; Heb 6.5.

The idea of inheritance is very important in scripture. Esau despised his inheritance and sold his birthright to Jacob, just because he was hungry, Gen 25.29-34. You see an inheritacnce is all about the future. It's about what we have, kept safe for us, Matt 6.20. Now because it is in the future it is sometimes hard to see why we should wait for it. Why not meet our needs now? What is its real relveance after all? That was Esau's thinking. "I might die before I ever get to expereince the inheritance, better to have a good meal now and meet my need now". It is short term thinking that overestimates the importance of our needs and underestimates the value of our inheritance.

An inheritance is not just about us, it's also about all the successive generations that follow us. The promise to Abraham passed to his son Isaac and then Jacob and then on to his twelve sons. It was a generational inheritance. Peter says that, "The promise of the Spirit is to you and your children....", Acts 2.39. When we make decisions in life we should remember that they have an impact, not just on us, but on our families too and all those who come under our influence. This is why the actions of leaders always have a bigger inpact - they are influencing more people.

The book of revelation was written so that the church would overcome and receive a full reward. Jesus speaks to the church at Philidelphia and says, "Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown", Rev 3.11. This is not about loosing salvation it's about loosing rewards. It's about the possibility of not getting the full inheritance. The overwhelming theme in these first few chapters is for the church to repent - to have a different view, heaven's view of life and living. Wihtout it they are likely to miss out.

The last one hundred years of church history has seen the church recover more of its inheritance. There has been a recovery of our understanding of the person of the Spirit. We have recovered an understanding of the message of the Kingdom. We have seen the restoration of ascention gifts and the gifts of the spirit, not as toys but as tools to do the job. And in the last twenty years we have seen a greater recovery of worship. And in this new season we are contending for a better understanding of mission - God's mission. It is part of our inheritance; something we should fight to keep and hold on to.

What part of your inheritance do you need to reclaim?

6. Blessing releases miracles and healing! Think of Jesus in Luke 4.18-19; as He reads from the prophet Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me for He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted; To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord".

This is more than metaphor. Jesus moved in the miraculous and empowered His disciples to do the same. The blessing of the gospel brings freedom in every area of life. Part of that freedom requires, at times, a miracle or a healing. When the woman of Nain was following the funeral procession of her son, Jesus intervened. She makes no request. Noone asks Him to get involved. He is simply moved with compassion and acts. He blesses her by raising her son back to life, Luke 7.11-17.

James and John both warn us about having the language of blessing without the acts of blessing, James 2.15-16; 1John 3.17-18. Part of this is deeply rooted in our fear that there won't be enough if we give what we have. But Jesus teaches us a different way. In Mark 6.30-44 is the account of the feeding of the five thousand. After a full day of ministry the disciples decide to give Jesus some advice and tell Him to send the crowds away. Not a good idea. Giving Jesus advice on how to conduct His ministry; hmmmmm. Something tells us that is not going to go well for them.

So Jesus turns the whole thing around; "You give them something to eat", Mark 6,37. (Whenever I'm tempted to give Jesus some advice I always remind myself of this story and shut up). They immediately think of the cost for meeting such a need. Jesus asks how much bread is available and works with that. Notice the simplicity of the account, "And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples to set before them....", Mark 6.41.

We could summerise it like this; He took, He blessed, He broke, He gave. Jesus could only bless what was surrendered to Him. It had to be given, freely. Notice too that as He blessed the loaves He was looking to heaven. And a miracle took place. Needs were met, people were fed, the disciples were humbled and amazed and loads of bread was left over - a basket full for each disciple. Something to remind them that our resource never limits God's ability to bless and do miracles.

What resource do you have that currently looks insufficient to meet the needs that surround you? What miracle lies in wait until you surrender what you have to God? What do you constantly pray for but are unwilling to step into because the resource just isn't there yet? What advice have you given to God that isn't really working for you? Maybe it's time for you to act? Maybe it's time for you to realise that you carry blessing and miracles flow out of that blessing.

7. Finally blessing brings prosperity. I've left this til last to deal with because if it had been first many of you would not have persevered with this article. Properity has taken a beating from the evangelical world, and not without some justification. Many of the prosperity preachers I've heard have a strong focus on personal prosperity. It's been about getting more and getting on. The reaction of some to this appraoch has been scathing. Now we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Joshua was told that if He lived according to God's law he would be properous and successful, Josh 1.8. This is Biblical truth. What is important to understand is that properity is not just about material wealth. It's about prospering in all areas of life; our personal life, our relationships, our health, our vocation, our academic development - everything. John the beloved disciple writes to Gaius and says, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers", 3John 2. A prosperous soul leads to a prosperous life. John wants Gaius to prosper "in all things".

But let's focus on the issue of money for a moment. I grew up being told that money was the root of all evil. Then I read the Bible and found that it's the love of money that is the problem - not money itself, 1Tim 6.10. The problem really lies in the heart of man. But what happens when a man who loves God gets money? Now he is able to direct it towards Kingdom purposes. He can use his wealth to bless others. But men like that are rare breads. God has to deal deeply with areas of pride and self sufficiency to prepare them to handle wealth.

I've met a number of wealthy people over the years. Most have an inherent mistrust of others because they are often asked for money; so they enter relationships gaurded on the issue. It's not surprising. Often they get hurt if their generosity is taken advantage of. If it happens in a church context they usually withdraw. But instead of finding healing I have seen many find comfort in their isolation. They still give, but they do it from a place of safety. They are firmly in control.

They loose sight of the teaching of scripture. When we say, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth......you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant..", Deut 8.17-18. God blesses us with wealth. Like anything else in life, wealth and money are a stewardship; something we are accountable to God for. God saw the tendency of the human heart towards pride and so warned the Israelites that their success and wealth were a sign of His covenant blessing, not their cleverness.

I've met wealthy people who are humble, broken and yeielded to God. They have trusted friends, Godly people, who they seek counsell from when it comes to giving or investing. I've met others who leak arrogance. It's not overt but it's there. The bottom line is that when it comes to letting go of large amounts of money they really see it as their money, not a stewardship of God's resources. Here are some signs:

1. When they give there is often a string attached. The gift they have been speaking about is now an interest free loan. Dare to ask why!

2. When they give, they look for a way to have a stake in what you are doing. "I'll buy the property and you can use it for as long as you want". Really? Ask for a 100 year lease and see how they respond. The real way to have a stake in anything is to give freely into it. God sees and God rewards.

There's nothing wrong per se with any of the above. But I've often seen that these offers cause leaders to compromise what they truly sense God is leading them to do. Like Pharaoh, those in power give, but also hold back. Pharoah told Moses he could go and sacrifice in the land of Egypt, Ex 8.26. How tempting. It's better than what they had but not what God was after. So Moses said no.

Moses knew that as the people of God they were blessed and that His blessing meant they would prosper - in time. And that is what happened. When they finally left Egypt the Israelites spoiled the Egptians. They took their gold and silver, payment for all the years of slavery they endured. Hold out for God's blessing. And when He prospers you, use it to extend the Kingdom.

One final word on this issue. I struggled for years with expecting prosperity in my life. My own propensity of character, along with my family background and church tradition left me well prepared for handling lack. I had definately learned how to be abased. But Paul knew how to abound too, Phil 4.12. Later in verse 18 he says this, "Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you...." Listen to those words, all, abound, full.

There came a point in my life where I dared to ask God for more. I remember living in a three bedroom semi with our six children. Now life teaches us that as a child grows you change the clothes to fit the child. Right? Shoes were always our biggest expense. They grew out of them before they had worn them out. It always amazed me. So I began to think, "We need a bigger house to fit our family". Selling off the kids was not an option. So I dared to ask. First we converted the loft and gained two more bedrooms, well one bedroom and enough room for a matress outside it.

That was good for a few years til the kids got bigger. I kept asking. Then I got a job in Denmark. With it came a six bedroom house with three bathrooms, two huge lounges and a massive utility room. I remember how deligthed the children were to each have their own room. God prospered us so that we could grow and serve Him more effectively in that nation. We were blessed. But I had to dare to ask, to beleive God would give me more and that I was worth more.

I have a friend in ministry. He needed a car. He took it as a prayer request to the elders. One of them offered him A bike. He said no thanks. Them another offered him a beaten up old car, (all three elders drove cars less than three years old). Again he declined. They accused him of being proud. He responded, "The God I serve has a new car for me, He wouldn't give me the rubbish you want me to have". Now how would you react to that answer? The elders were convinced, he's proud and arrogant and now ungrateful to boot and needs to repent. So my friend challenged them. "If I don't get a new car then I will accept what you are offering but if I do, then you all need to repent of a poverty spirit". Confident, they accepted.

Within two weeks a man rang him. I haven't slept for weeks. God told me to give me you my new car but I didn't want to. Now He won't give me any rest. I have to obey him. My friend ended up wth a beautiful new estate car; hardly driven, less than a month old. Guess who did the repenting? Sometimes faith can look like arrogance. My friend just beleived that our Father in heaven had something better than what the elders were offering - and he was right.

Dare to ask for God's blessing to prosper you. It empowers you to bless others and shows the world that God is no mans debtor. Jesus was able to pay the temple tax money for Himself and Peter from the mouth of a fish! He has a creative solution for your needs too. Live in the blessing that is your inheritance. Let's allow Paul to have the final word. Remember this is said in the context of taking up an offering for the poor;

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you, through His poverty, might become rich", 2Cor 8.9