From the mountain, to the valley

Way back in 1988, I was at a youth retreat named imaginatively “Encounter ’88”. It was a camp filled with fun, but there was a serious side too. There were the usual talks and singing (not sure we called it worship back then). I remember it was the first time I had raised my arms in surrender to a God who deserved every part of me. I was a Christian prior to this, but something clicked that camp, and I and a lot of others just “got it.”

We came away from the experience convinced that we could take on the world. We were “soldiers in an army, that God was raising up to change the world.” I remember thinking that everything was going to be different from this point forward. God was on our side. We were floating on experience, and emotion. 

Before long though the emotional side had drifted, as reality hit. There were some that had simply been along for the ride. Others, who hadn’t experienced what we had doubted the reality of the change that had occurred. We had to go back to school and get on with life. From a mountain top experience to a valley of reality.

31 years later, I found myself reading 1 Kings. One of the Syrian Kings came against Israel.  They fought them in the mountains and lost. The Syrians were convinced that the reason for the loss was that the God of the Israelites was a God of the high places, of the mountain tops. If the Syrians were to be victorious, they must take the fight to the valleys, and the plains. This they did and lost again.

What they failed to realise is that God is a God of both the high places and the valleys.

31 years ago, I was on a mountain top with God. I felt closer to Him than I ever had before. What I didn’t realise was that when normality hit, He was the same God and would be just as close.

There are some reading this, who only feel able to come to God when things are going well. We don’t feel that we are worthy if we have spent too long in the valley. Some of us even feel that there is something we can do to make us worthier of approaching the throne.

The truth is that whatever you are going through today, whatever the stage of your climb towards the mountain top experience, whether you have been floating with God, or have been brought back down to earth with a bump, He is right there beside you, fighting on your behalf. You don’t have to wait to call on Him. You just have to call.

It’s ok to just do that. Just to call on Him. Isaiah 40 tells us that “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, they will rise up on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary the will walk and not faint.”

Wait, and let Him take you to the mountain top like the eagle. Just remember that He looks after the sparrows at ground level too.

Use your imagination

How many times did you hear the words “Use your imagination”? It’s a phrase used by teachers and parents alike, it is usually an encouragement to try to think more outside the box, to think for ourselves, and sometimes, especially if used by parents, for us to just go and do something anything, somewhere else.

Depending on how tired we are and how used we are to hearing these words, our imagination can take us to a good place or a dark place. We can use our imagination to think of pleasant things or allow it to drag us into despair. I wonder how vivid your imagination is?

I find it interesting that in a culture where we believe that Grace means that nothing can separate us from God, our imagination can still convince us that we are unacceptable to God, that our destiny is unsure, and that we need to work harder to get back into God’s good books.

 I read something a couple of days ago, which made me think about how I deal with my imagination. “Unconfessed sin will mess with your head. Joseph’s brothers were convinced that an invitation to dinner was going to get them killed. Don’t let the accuser have any room to convince you that the Father has anything but good for you – in the presence of your enemies.”

The brother’s imagination was running riot. Convinced they were being punished for selling Joseph, and telling their father that He had been killed, they spent the rest of their lives up to this point believing that God was looking for an opportunity to deal with their sin.

We often struggle with the same conviction.

The fact is, Jesus came to pay the price for our sin. We don’t have to do anything. There was nothing we could have done that was enough. Jesus paid it all. When the accuser starts to try and tell us that we need to be afraid of the judgement of God, the only one of us who should be afraid is him. I would suggest that instead of worrying about the coming judgement, we take the opportunity to confess any known sin, and move on. Don’t let a lie prevent us from experiencing all the Father has for us.

The Father has more in store for us than we can ask or even imagine. How vivid is your imagination? Take a moment now and think about the best outcome for any given situation. He wants to give you more. What is the most outrageous thing you could think of asking God for? There is more than that available. The beauty of this is that not only is it available, it gives the Father pleasure for us to dream about things with Him. It’s ok to tell Him what you want to see. I can’t promise that you will see the answer you want immediately, but He will come through on His promises. When I started to pray for people to be healed I didn’t really think it was going to happen. I believed that it could but not really that He would. I believed that God healed, I just didn’t really think it would happen through me. I really, really wanted Him to though. So I began to imagine what God using me to heal would look like. I began to ask God to use me. To show me more. To make my heart beat in time with His heart.

I haven’t seen everything I’ve dreamt about yet. There is far more to see and do. The thing is that when I’ve seen some of the Fathers heart, I want more, so the dream keeps changing.

Your imagination was given to you by the Father. You were designed to use it. Don’t let the accuser rob you from your destiny.

Oh, and that dream you had, wasn’t nearly big enough.

Now and not yet

Veruca Salt was one of the spoiled children in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. She demanded a golden goose, and when told she couldn’t have it sang the song “I want it now, I want it right now.”

The film was released in 1971, but I think it gives an amazingly accurate description of the state of the world today. In a world of fast food, Amazon prime (other next day delivery options are available), we are becoming less and less used to having to wait for things. The media tells us every day that if we want something we should just reach out and take it. We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of anything we want. It doesn’t directly condone stealing, but quietly suggests that we should take whatever we want by whichever means are necessary.

The Kingdom of Heaven is different. We are encouraged to ask for more, and to ask for things “now”. The difference is that these things are all available to those who believe. We don’t have to take that which isn’t already ours.

I find it interesting that many Christians simply don’t ask. I wonder if it is because they want to seem different from the world, or if it is because they think that God is somehow going to withhold good things from them?

The bible says that anything we ask for in the name of Jesus, will be given to us. We are told that we will do the things that Jesus did, and greater things too, and yet the media perception of the church is that it is ineffective and out of date.

Perhaps it is because our experience is that we pray, and nothing happens. We struggle to explain our unanswered prayers, so we change our interpretation of the bible to fit our experience. We read things like “Jesus doesn’t give instruction on how to deal with unanswered prayer, because it was never meant to be part of our Christian walk” and we feel like we are failing as a Christian.  Although true, when you are not seeing answers, this doesn’t always help. There are two possible responses. Either we stop praying, or we press in to heaven for the answer that has been promised.

Perhaps we put our lack of answer down to the phrase “Now and not yet.”

It’s a phrase that has been overused in my opinion. I used to love it. It was the perfect get out. I’d pray for someone, nothing would happen, and I could confidently say that it was because we live in the Kingdom of Heaven “Now and not yet”.

There is no doubt that there is truth in the statement. God created a perfect world (if you don’t believe me read Genesis 1) Man had been given dominion of the earth (Genesis 1:26) but surrendered it. There is a struggle going on. God is revealing more and more of Himself. We are seeing more and more of Heaven breaking through. Light is shining in the darkness. There are still areas of darkness though. Sickness, disease and death are still an inevitable part of life. We do live in a world where the Kingdom of heaven is “Now and not yet.”

As I said at the start, I was using it as an excuse for lack of success. The thing is, when I used it, what I was actually doing was prophesying the answer. I found that whilst I was praying for a miracle, there was no expectation of an answer. I didn’t have to believe, because I could place my lack of success safely in the Now and not yet box.  

I’ve recently finished reading the Bill Johnson book “God is good – He’s better than you think”. He wrote something that changed the way I look at this phrase. He asked, “why do we emphasise the not yet part, and not the now?” It has completely changed the way that I look at that statement now. I believe that the bible tells us to persevere in prayer for things that we don’t see. I believe that, like David, I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. I am determined that lack of success will not deter me from praying for breakthrough. I will press on, not satisfied until I see heaven on earth. I believe that Jesus taught us to pull heaven down (on earth as it is in heaven.) If this isn’t my experience (and at the moment it isn’t), the problem isn’t on God’s part. He has promised, I am told to expect.

We live in a now and not yet world but hope you will join me in pressing in to a world with more “Now” rather than “Not yet.”

I don’t know about you, but “I want it now.”

Whats in your jar?

I remember a few years ago it was trendy to give cake or cookie mix in a jar as gifts. All that was needed was to add some “wet” ingredients, a little love and you had something nice to eat.

All very nice, until you have a reoccurring dream about them. Over the past couple of nights, I’ve been running around with one of these jars looking for a place to use it. Details are sketchy (aren’t they always in dreams?), but the one thing that was clear was the fact that the ingredients were wrong. There was butter in with the flour already, and though I knew it wasn’t right, I was pretty sure I could make something edible out of it. I just needed a kitchen, and people to stop chasing me.

I don’t know about you, but when I have reoccurring dreams, it is usually because God is trying to say something to me. Sometimes the lesson is specifically for me, sometimes its for the wider church community. I’ve been asking Him today which this one is. Even difficult lessons are worth it if God is involved, but I think this one is for more than just me to learn.

Sometimes we carry things that we know aren’t quite right, but we feel the hassle of admitting things aren’t OK outweigh the benefits of stopping and readjusting. The burden of others depending on you for something are often so heavy you are scared to put things down in case you are unable to pick them up again. So you continue, rushing about, making things up as you go along. When you started, you had everything in place. You spent time planning, praying, asking God to help you, to bless the project or ministry. Lately though, there has been less and less time for all that, and every now and again, you look and realise that things aren’t quite how they should be.

. Too often in church life we carry on with things that we have done for a long time we do things out of habit rather than out of relationship with the Father. Doing things in the Kingdom should scare us a little. Not in a fear way, but in a “there is no way I can do this without God” sort of way. Spending time with Him both before starting any task and during is vital. He is the only one who knows the recipe, and which ingredients need to be put in when, and in which quantities. There is an old saying that “If a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well.” The fact is, if a job is worth doing it’s essential that you continually reassess, continually ask God what He wants of you. Ask Him daily to stretch you. To check the ingredients in your jar. To change them if needed.

If we try and put things together ourselves, we will invariably fail. If it’s a “God task” we may well end up with something edible, but it won’t be the gastronomic experience it was meant to be.

Thoughts for a New Year

A highlight of Christmas day for me is to watch the Queen’s speech. It isn’t a highlight shared by many of my family, but I figure 6.4 million people (the number that watched with me on Christmas day) can’t be wrong. I love that in recent years she has taken the opportunity to speak more openly about the faith that she has and how it has sustained her throughout her reign. Amongst the festivities, excitement and food, I find it comforting to take a moment to remember the reason Christmas is celebrated at all.

The internet response to the speech seemed to fall into two camps dependent on where you found the commentary. The evangelical side championed the faith aspect of the speech, thankful that we have a monarch who is a Christian, who bases her life on the values that we hold dear.

On the other side, there was a growing number of people very vocal, almost angry in places that she could speak of the country pulling together, and being one nation, whilst sat in front of a gold piano.

I began to ponder the perception of monarchy in general, and in this country in particular. It seems that the royal family is a bit like marmite. You either love or hate them. You either find them essential to “being British”, or you think that the time for people being placed on a pedestal is for a bygone age and we no longer need them. Even if you love them, it is usually due to a fascination for a life that most of us can only begin to imagine what it is like.

The fact is that for most, the royal family exists only as a figurehead for those who truly hold power. Even around this time of year, when the Queen bestows honours on those who have made a difference to society, we recognise that it isn’t really the Queen who decides who is worthy of honour.

As Christians we are taught and told to share the Kingdom of Heaven with people we meet. Many of us find this difficult. I wonder if sometimes the reason for this is we have a distorted view of royalty. You see, a Kingdom is the dominion of the King. If we don’t feel that Kings and Queens are relevant to todays society, how are we going to represent the King of Heaven to those who need to experience Him? It is difficult to get others excited about a concept that we don’t ourselves believe in. God is much more that a concept. The Kingdom of Heaven is one of righteousness – yet our perception of a King or Queen is simply one of a figurehead with no real power to change things that they see as unjust.

The Kingdom of Heaven is one of Peace – yet devoid of authority, todays monarchy has little power to bring about peace.

The Kingdom of Heaven is one of Joy – yet the royals we see in the media rarely look joyful. They carry the weight of rule with very serious faces.

 The Kingdom of Heaven is one of love – yet the Kings and Queens that we see today are so distant from real life, that it is impossible to feel real love for them, or to feel that they love us.

Only those in the King’s inner circle know the affairs of the King. Only those who spend time with Him, enquire of Him, will be told His secrets.  Without intimate knowledge of the King’s affairs, we will never be able to represent Him to the world.

May I encourage you, at the beginning of this New Year, to spend more time in the Presence of the King. The King that we represent in public is more accurate the more time we spend in His presence out of the limelight. Only an accurate representation of the King will encourage a country apathetic towards Royalty to want to encounter Him. Only an encounter will change this nation.