Stepping out and Finishing well: (i) The Constancy of God in the midst of Uncertainty
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever’ (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
Continuing well is all about finding the particular stream we are meant to flow in. Jesus could have done other things, but He chose not to do so because He knew the work His Father had called him to do.
We are called to run the particular race that He has called us to – and in order to do that, we can’t afford to be diverted – either by our own lack of self-discipline and mental preoccupations, or by trying to do and to be what others want us to do and to be.
At a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has been admitting that the economic profession has been getting so many predictions wrong, it is reassuring to meditate on the constancy of God and the call to run our race well for Him. Our God is not shaken by financial or political uncertainty and turmoil!
Humanly speaking, the one thing we can be certain of for the coming year is that it will be a time of considerable upheaval and uncertainty on both the national and international scene – and that for us as individuals too there are sure to be challenges as well as blessings.
The New Testament speaks of there being many mysteries in life: the mystery of lawlessness as well as the mystery of true godliness, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He is often willing to help us make sense of what is going on.
In fact, He often got frustrated with his disciples: “Having eyes yet do you not see, having ears do you not hear? Don’t you remember” (Mark 8:18) – He asked, before going on to remind them of the miracles He had done in multiplying the loaves. He badly wanted them to remember not just the physical baskets full of leftovers of miraculously multiplied food, but also the spiritual significance of what He had done. He is the one who not only sustains all things but who multiplies them. May we experience that this year in whatever area we are most in need of His provision. How lovely that we can rest and count on the constancy of God’s love.
The world is facing so many challenges that it is hardly surprising that scientists have started to dream of inhabiting other planets to ensure the survival of the human race. We’re such a very long way from being able to press a button and say, “Beam me up Scottie!” that it is all absurdly far-fetched at the moment, but the fact that people are even beginning to talk about evacuating this planet – rather than just looking to steward it better – is a sign not just of humankind’s desire to explore new frontiers but also of how deeply people are feeling the shadow of all the uncertainties that are affecting the world.
As the technology involved in artificial intelligence, AI, continues to develop at an exponential pace, the gap is continuing to narrow between the natural and the artificial, blurring the boundaries between virtual reality and true reality. Increasingly, the real challenge to people’s jobs comes not so much from migrants as from machines: automation in other words.
Of themselves, none of these developments look set to do anything to help people strengthen their grasp of spiritual realities. Rather, Jesus warned that people would be in fear as the shaking of the nations continues. ‘On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world’ (Luke 21:25-26).
A number of recent mega ‘quakes – those in Japan and Chile for instance – have been so severe that they have actually shifted the earth fractionally off its axis, measurably increasing Earth’s wobble and microscopically shortening the day, as well as shifting Japan’s coastline by several feet.
Some see events last year such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory as being the political equivalent of such earthquakes. Whether you regard these election results as being answers to prayer, or the exact opposite, this is clearly an extremely important time to pray for our leaders – for wise decisions and good leadership skills every step of the way. When you think of the vast array of decisions they have to take, and how quick people are to heap criticism on their heads, and pour scorn on their efforts, who’d be a leader?
Theirs is a far from easy task – and in today’s swirl of aggressive nationalistic pretensions, any unwise brinkmanship or premature action, or any dilatoriness for that matter, could swiftly lead to major complications. It takes specialist skill to handle someone as complex as Putin – pray for this. The things he will take offence at and that will cause him to retaliate. It’s the same story with Donald Trump; the least whiff of criticism and he can’t resist lashing out. I suspect it it’s the same story again with the leader of North Korea.
So here we have the leaders of at least three serious military powers who are easily offended touchy people – touchiness is a real problem in the body of Christ as well as on the international stage – and China’s leadership adopting a more aggressive stance to. I highly recommend John Bevere’s book The Bait of Satan which shows how satan deliberately sets out to provoke people to make them respond out of feeling offended.
There is massive scope for unnecessary inflammation here and ramping up of situations. History provides us with only too many horrendous examples of the consequences of the failure to achieve diplomatic solutions to national and international tensions – so many wars that cost millions of lives that could so easily have been averted had pride not got in the way. The one thing that hasn’t changed is all that God has designed us to be and to do. He created humankind just a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honour (Heb. 2:7). Even before faithful souls receive their crown in Heaven, He has crowned us with glory and honour. We are the jewel in His crown.
As Paul puts it nine times in his letter to the Ephesians, we are in Jesus, and in touch with the love that lies at the heart of the universe, which enables us to approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12), and to be being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit, (2:21-22)
He is truly an ever present help in the midst of our troubles. I have been re-reading recently accounts of how incredibly the Lord watched over His suffering church in Eastern Europe during the Soviet days. It is just incredible how much so many suffered under Communist persecution – and how amazingly God was with them in it. And how gracious He was in raising up a courageous handful of people who were prepared to go and serve the suffering church.
I was reading, for example, about a Romanian man who found himself in a place where he didn’t speak the language, desperately needing help to find a house for which he had only a totally inadequate partial scrap of an address. Nobody he asked had the faintest idea where it was, and he was at his wits’ end when he heard footsteps coming up behind him, and a voice speaking to him clearly in his own language, telling him to go straight on and to find a tall house through a gate. It was a wonderful angelic visitation – and by no means the only time he received such supernatural help when he desperately needed it.
It is so thrilling to be in touch with the Lord who is the Lord of Heaven’s armies and yet who is concerned about even the smallest details of the situations we find ourselves in.
Across the face of the planet there is no lack of activity from volcanoes and super volcanoes and earthquakes and other convulsions in both the natural and political spheres, but the Lord is drawing history to its intended close. His desire is to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ, whether things on earth or things in heaven, and to bring everything in heaven and on earth together under the authority of Christ (Col. 1:20 and Eph.1:10).
All the more important, therefore, to hold on to the perspective we see hinted at throughout the Scriptures: for example, in Psalm 65 verses 7-8, and then in more detail in the book of Revelation:
“You stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, and evening fades, You call forth songs of joy.”
His promise is that we will be a part of this new world for ever.
I have the feeling that we sometimes focus a tad too much on the thought a lot of epitaphs on gravestones imply, that we go to Heaven as though just to a paradise park in order to put our feet up, and quite forget that the scriptures speak about service in a fire-redeemed and Christ-ruled Earth.
“The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of My God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them My new name” (Rev. 3:12).
Therefore we must get into training, for we have only this life in which to prepare for eternity! It’s the only time when we have to live by faith and not sight. The way we live and the way we are now will have its effect on how we will be then. In the Lord’s sight, there will prove to be profound links and continuity between the two. The qualities and characteristics that are of Him will continue – our bodies will continue but resurrected. He sees and knows every effort we make to be transformed and conformed to the image of His beloved Son.
In a world where Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and President Xi are all trumpeting “Make Russia / America / Britain and China great again,” and strong nationalist forces are on the rise again right across Europe, may our heart’s cry be rather for God to make His name great. How much more precious is that?
In amongst these cosmic convulsions and great global trends and tendencies, the beautiful thing is that God still has time for the individual, lovely personal touches. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord in Isaiah 66:22, “so will your name and descendants endure” God is interested in who and how we are, our circle of friends and family and their history; He is making our history, His story through what He does in and through us.
For if there is suffering and uncertainty on every side, there are also incredible and powerful moves of God. I love pointing people to video clips of a whole series of mission meetings that Reinhard Bonke led in which well over one million people made decisions for Christ in each place. This is quite simply revival never seen before.
Even in Reading – no, not Redding California – the one that is just down the road, on the way to London, God has brought many into His Kingdom through street preaching. There is nothing coincidental or arbitrary about this: the leaders of the churches in Reading have been wonderfully diligent in meeting together to pray and cry out for the Lord to work.
Many likewise found the Lord in the recent move of the Spirit through the meetings in Cwmbran in South Wales. God is on the move across many fronts; our task is to be in the particular flow He wants us to be in.
It was Sir Francis Drake who reminds us that There must be a beginning of any great matter, but [it is] the continuing unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished that yields the true glory. Nothing gives God more joy than when we seek to do the will of Him who sent us, and to finish the work that He has given us to do (John 4:31, cf 5:36, 17:4, cf Eph. 2:10).
Here’s a serious question to ponder: what would be the point of throwing yourself into the flow of the Severn Bore if you were actually meant to be sailing down the Thames?! Just as there are many roles and responsibilities in an army, apart from that of being on the front fighting line, so there are many roles, ministries and giftings in the work God has for His people to be getting on with.
I am first and foremost a word person; others hear the Lord and express their love for Him primarily through song or dance, music or art, walking or exploring . . . or a thousand different things. We have a friend, for instance, who is an incredibly anointed photographer. Somehow the expressions that she captures on people’s faces or in their gestures are sublimely telling. Whereas most of us just point and shoot and hope to get lucky, she has a genuine gifting.
May the Lord whisper words to us about our calling this year and give us grace to act on them – and show us the steps we need to develop them.
For each of us there is a special anointing that comes on us once we are exercising the gift He has given us and are in our calling. This anointing is just for us – but it soon spreads out to bless others too. Every gift God gives is contagious!
[A friend brought me a book called Le Choix du silence, The Choice of Silence that she beautifully describes as God’s Family photo album – photos taken inside convents and monasteries. The holiness on their faces speaks volumes. Many of these lovely faces are wrinkled and spotted with age, but how beautiful they are! They have found their hearts’ true calling and have lived it out, through thick and thin.]
Often we discover that God has seeded the idea of our calling and giftings in thoughts and desires that He gave us way back in our childhood and adolescence, and which He brings back to realise and develop years and even decades later. At other times He gives us entirely new gifts straight from His heart.
Do you remember the gifts that were given to the children in Narnia: to Peter the Magnificent a sword; to Susan the Gentle a horn that would summon help when it was most needed and to Lucy the Valiant a cordial that healed serious wounds. Edmund received no physical gift, because he was away at the time with the White Witch, but he was given his life in exchange for Aslan’s – and later we see him exercising such wisdom and insight that he became known as Edmund the Just.
St Peter, the Galilean fisherman that is, rather than the Narnian High King, reminds and urges us that, ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ (1 Pet. 4:10).
He is with us as we step out, operating, as it were, on the other side of the door. I spent a precious hour yesterday with a leader to whom God has been giving accurate words of knowledge to pass on. He was staying somewhere lately, and was preparing to leave when the Lord reminded him, “You haven’t given the word I ask you to give.”
As so often happens in such cases, this man had to take courage in both hands to go and share with a stranger something that was challenging as well as precious, but he did – and the word proved so timely. If we hesitate, so much will be missed. We can’t afford to let the fear of man prevail. You really can’t steer a parked car! There is a right time for stepping out. Love is still spelt RISK as John Wimber put it.
May we be of those who are described in Chronicles as having served the Lord and done what is right, as opposed to those who started out with good intentions, but who ended up as fully paid up members of the “Self-preservation Society”– more concerned with their own status and comfort than with using what they had been given for Kingdom purposes.
May it be that at that moment when we stand before our Father on the last day, which is really just the first day of eternity, we will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you’ve completed the specific tasks that I allocated to you . . .’
And as we faithfully fix our eyes on Him, and on the finishing line, however far away it may appear, and how far short we feel ourselves to be, let’s remember that He is faithful. His lovingkindness never ceases, His compassion never fails. The Lord told Zechariah to ‘Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime . . .’ (Zech. 10:1). Let’s make that our prayer too!
Let the Spirit of God lead you on in prayer . . . Father we give you our national and spiritual leaders at this time . . .
Is there a country the Lord would place especially on your heart for this coming year? A profession, region, or a friend? Ask Him to make it clear and to make you faithful in carrying it. Ask Him to give you specific goals, short and long-term, and the ‘middle planks’ you need to turn these into a reality.
Don’t forget to pray for the leaders of the regions, countries, professions, churches, fellowships God lays on your heart.
And now, let’s come back to that thought of the gifts and callings the Lord has given us. Let’s imagine ourselves coming in to His presence, and as it were unwrapping something that we are receiving from Jesus . . .
What aspect of His grace has He made you steward of? Maybe, for example, you have received the gift of discernment, or perhaps the gift of prayer? Or hospitality? Let’s receive from Him now!