The Thorn For His Grace

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

Many years ago, before I got married, I was the sweetest, kindest human being you could ever meet. My pastor would tell the congregation, “Look at Mwita. You can call him anything, and it doesn’t trouble him one little bit. He is always at perfect peace!” I was a star.

In fact, I was so lovable that, one day, some ladies from our church paid me a visit. Ours was the biggest Pentecostal church in town, and you can visualize the kind of ladies who attend such churches: not simple housewives, but teachers, managers, office workers, etc.

Anyways, they came in a sizable group and they found me in my bachelor quarters. At that time I was working, so I was living in a nice apartment. After the usual greetings and introductions, they brought out their objective. They all expressed their love and affection for me. After which they let slip that the sun waiteth not even for the king, so to speak. The years were moving on and that I should consider moving on to the next stage in my life. Finally, from the folds of their loving hearts they pulled out a name.

I silently considered their proposition. To be honest, it is many years since, and I do not recall exactly how we wound up that conversation. But the fact that I did not marry that girl means that I turned down their proposal. And the fact that I refused certainly has nothing to do with the girl in question: not only was she very beautiful, but she was also considered one of the spiritual pillars among the youth in the church. But I do remember also that at that time I was fully engaged to Christ and, except for my job, I had no other commitment, hobby or interest except Him alone.

Fast-forward to a few years later when I finally did get married – to a different girl. This girl was not from our church, so she did not know me. Unbeknown to her, though, a nightmare was awaiting her. Within a short period of time into our marriage, she was shocked to find that she had married… well, the devil himself.  Even I was surprised by the change that I saw in me. The Bible says we should be transformed to become Christ-like, but this particular transformation occurred the other way round. I changed from being the picture-perfect representation of the Christ-like life that I supposedly was, to something completely different. I discovered I had little patience – and tons of pride. And she was rubbing up against my pride so hard! My wife originates from a tribe where women do not fear men; while I come from one that seeks to put the fear of God in every soul it meets. I wanted her singing my praises all the time; but that was the last thing on her mind. In fact, she had some unflattering thoughts about me which she was not afraid to voice out loud. Having someone by my side who could not be coerced into playing my tune proved to be the biggest trial of my life.

Not too long after our honeymoon ended, we were into fighting, scraping and everything else in between. And, to the utter dismay of my pastor who had spent the better part of his sermons praising my patience and resilience, my wife and I were now regular visitors to his house; and all for the wrong reasons.

Finally, my thorn had arrived, beautifully wrapped and packaged; and hand-delivered by God Himself. It had come to battle with my flesh. And the flesh in this case was my pride.

There is an immeasurable difference between good old human goodness and the grace of God. When we talk about the former, no man is totally bad. Even Hitler must have had some feelings for his wife and children. However, when we talk of God’s grace, it can only be had if we allow that thorn in our flesh. That was exactly what God told Paul, and we can hardly expect God to tell us something different from what He told the apostles. Paul says to the Corinthians, therefore,

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

It has taken me many long years since then to allow God, through my wife, to put His finger on the one spot He wants to deal with in my life, which is my pride. But a time came when I had to choose between whether I wanted to keep my pride or to carry the grace of God in my life. And it is a choice that I am forced to make every day. Sometimes it is difficult to make this choice. But, whatever the case, I certainly have learned my lesson. If I desire to walk with God and carry His grace, I must allow the thorn to be there in my body, permanently.

[God can use anything to bring about the death of the flesh. The death of the flesh brings much grace to our lives. Are we truly dead and buried?]

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A Humble Heart Above All

6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.

7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.

9 Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.

10 Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these.

11 And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.

12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. 1 Sam. 16:6-13

The other day my wife confronted me about something I had done and I owned up immediately. I said, “Yes, what I said was wrong, please forgive me.”

My wife almost fell down with shock. Being a good reader of my wife’s mind, I could see she was thinking that probably the rapture had occurred without her knowledge and that we were now living in the millennium. She is so used to me defending myself whenever I am confronted that what I had just said was simply inconceivable to her in the old world. But on this ocssion she searched my face and she realized it was real.

What she did not know was that when she came at me, I was prepared. I had been reading about David, the man who made ghastly mistakes but was quick to own up. And David’s heart and life had challenged me greatly.

We can hardly claim to know what God knows, even about ourselves. The Apostle Paul tells us:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Here Paul is saying that it is only when we get to heaven that we shall know things as God knows them.

That said, it stands to the test that we do not know men’s hearts as God knows them. We need to die more to self to arrive at this point. But many today do not want to know the cross of Christ. That is why today men are so full of empty praises. They love praising the mighty and looking down upon the lowly. But if we truly knew people’s hearts, especially with regard to how God sees them, we wouldn’t be so fast with our praising of some and our despising of others.

When Jesse’s sons began passing in front of Samuel, he looked on the outside. Is that not so much like us? We gauge, judge and categorise people based on what we see on the outside. For this reason, men therefore prepare themselves more on the outside than on the inside because everyone’s attention is on the outside; and, in our natural state, we crave men’s praise more than anything.

The seven sons whom Jesse made to pass before Samuel had better qualifications than David in the natural. They were of a better countenance and stature.

Under the new covenant, we could be better men by all standards; but God is not looking for just any standard. We could be better preachers, but God is not looking for good preachers. We may be great singers, but God is not looking for great singers. We may be men and women who do everything right. But God is not looking for people who do not make mistakes. David made the biggest mistake that any man under the sun could make.

But God is not looking for any of these things. God is looking for a heart. And having the kind of heart that God is looking for is the biggest challenge that any man or woman could face.

So what kind of heart did David have? What kind of heart did he have that set him apart from his brothers? What kind of heart did he have which made God to say to Samuel,

“Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”

The answer is to be found in 2 Samuel chapter 12. The answer lies in David’s attitude when he was confronted. He had sinned, and when he was confronted by God’s servant Nathan, David said simply,

“I have sinned against the LORD.” (v.13)

David did not rise up to defend himself. He did not even try to offer an explanation. In other words, he did not give God any conditions. He owned up fully to his sin.

That is the hardest thing with us. The minute we get confronted, our defense mode kicks in. Even if we admit our guilt, we still try to offer up an explanation. But this attitude of heart is of the flesh, not of the Spirit of God. Even when wrongly accused by men, Jesus did not defend himself.

If you want to know that you have the kind of heart that God desires, it is when you desist from defending yourself. That is the humble heart that God desires us to have. That is the heart of faith.

God is therefore not looking to the many great things that we can do. He is looking for a humble heart, one that can quickly fall down, confess, admit and repent. One that can allow itself to be trampled under. We see all this with David especially in his difficult relationship with King Saul.

We may not have many qualifications in the natural. We may not even be gifted with many gifts in the Spirit. But we can all have a humble heart, and this is what pleases God most.

In the Psalms, King David wrote about the relationship that God has with people who have a humble heart. In Psalms 34:18, he wrote:

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

And in Psalms 51:17, he wrote:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

[… for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.]

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Photo courtesy of Carol Lanthier

Beautiful Tanganyika

I wish to apologise for being ‘away without official leave’, meaning not being active on this blog for a quite a while. I hope and pray that everyone can forgive me.
For me, though, I have been through the most beautiful experience. That sounds selfish, but I better own up. I have been visiting with one of our churches in the village. I would come and go, but this was the main reason for my being awol because I simply did not have the time to stop and write. Moreover, internet in the hinterland is sketchy, so I had to leave my computer at home.
One of the real blessings that I count from God is bringing me to the Tanzanian hinterland. Apart from my early childhood, I have lived in cities and towns throughout my life. But for the last four years or so, I have been living in the ‘middle of nowhere’ in central Tanzania – and what an experience it has been! Sure, I live in a town, Singida, but it is a small rural town and, moreover, I have the opportunity of constantly going out into the vast, unlimited savannah bush regions of central Tanzania. This savannah land is what gave the name Tanganyika to the mainland. ‘Nyika’ means open plains. The name Tanzania came out of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
Being in the Tanzanian hinterland is one of the biggest blessings in my life because I love adventure – and there is certainly no adventure in towns or cities, unless you are a gangster or the Mafia. But in the big, unspoilt regions of central Tanzania you can have as much adventure as you want, spiced with a whiff of danger. Just the other day, as we were walking in one trail in the bush, we found the biggest, blackest snake lying in the road. But it was dead; someone had just killed it. I couldn’t help wondering how things could have turned out if it was I who had encountered it.
We also went to visit a man who some nights ago had had an unfortunate encounter with a wild pig. He and his companions had been out hunting and it was he who was holding the flashlight. When they heard movement, he flashed the light in the direction of the noise. The pig, a big boar, thinking the light were the eyes of a lion, charged, kamikaze-style. Before anyone could make a move, the man had three of his leg bones broken.
Those are the kind of adventures that you find in the bush. But there is more. There is the exquisitely different and refreshing cuisine, including delicacies that you only hear of in the town: things like pure honey; and milk, both fresh and curdled. And then there is the night sky… oh, I’d forgotten about that. Yes, the night sky. I once wrote a friend that if I had the gift of time, I would spend it all watching the starry night. And there is no better place to watch the stars than in the Tanzanian hinterland, far from the city lights. While in the village, I asked my host for a reclining chair and I would wake up every night at 1 or 2 a.m. and finish off the rest of the night watching the incredible brilliance of the clear, starry night. I ended up seeing more amazing things and phenomena with my naked eye than you could read of in a book. And all the while feeling the presence of God in me and about me, leading me to worship Him fervently under my breathe.
But, really, nothing I could write here could truly bring out the beauty and pleasant flavor of Tanganyika. If you, the reader wish to take this post as a promotional for my country and my province, it would be my pleasure to concur with you. And to say, “Karibu!”
As for my fellow Tanzanians who love the comfort of the madding towns and cities, all I can say is, you don’t know what you are missing. And this splendour is right under your noses.

The mighty baobab

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No vehicle has ever set foot on this road

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A panoramic view of the home I was staying in

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Eating honey

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Marching to church

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And, finally, church. Here, even the dogs are allowed to listen in on the sermon

Northwest Flight 85

We are all human, and it is impossible to not celebrate human courage – and the endless mercies of God. In this post and others that I will occasionally be putting here, it is primarily to hail the great courage and selfless sacrifice of the men and women who work the great machines that ply the sky. As well as to take a peek at the humanity in us all. Lastly, and most importantly, it is to thank God for His manifold grace.

Here, Northwest Flight 85.

David’s Generous Heart – Part 1

20 And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil.

21 And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them.

22 Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.

23 Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand.

24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.

25 And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day.

26 And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD;

27 To them which were in Bethel, and to them which were in south Ramoth, and to them which were in Jattir,

28 And to them which were in Aroer, and to them which were in Siphmoth, and to them which were in Eshtemoa,

29 And to them which were in Rachal, and to them which were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to them which were in the cities of the Kenites,

30 And to them which were in Hormah, and to them which were in Chorashan, and to them which were in Athach,

31 And to them which were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt. 1 Sam. 30:20-31

I am aware that somewhere in this blog I have written a post on this very scripture, but the subject matter is so beautiful I just have to write on it again. No matter I might end up repeating my earlier post word for word, but still I will write on it again. This portion of scripture is epicly delightful. It sings like an ode – an ode of God’s love for His people. It is not for nothing that David is one of the most 1) loved, 2) admired, and 3)written-about characters in the Bible. And it is not for nothing that God called David:

“… a man after mine own heart (Acts 13:22).

Notice in our key scripture above that it says of the spoil that David and his men seized from the Amalekites, that it was

“…David’s spoil.”

It was his and he was free to do with it as he pleased. But what David did with his spoil draws us to simply love this man of the Spirit.

In the first place, this pursuit against the Amalekite invaders had been incredibly exerting, to the extent that two hundred of David’s men – tested men of war – had fainted and had been forced to remain behind, by a certain brook called Besor. David and four hundred of his men had forged on ahead. They finally caught up with the Amalekites and, for two whole days, they routed them and killed off every one of them.

The Bible proceeds to tell us what followed next.

“20 And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil. 21 And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them.” (v. 20-21)

The men whom David had left behind went to welcome back their leader, their comrades-in-arms, and to hug their wives and children. They were excited and happy.

And David came up to them and saluted them. David saluted the men who had been left behind! And ‘saluting’ here probably means that he came up to them and hugged them. And he said to them, “Gentlemen, how have you fared? I hope you had a wonderful rest.”

I love this. I love it with all my heart. David did not come up to these men with a twisted heart. He came up to them with the love of God in his heart.

But David’s actions did not go down well with some of the men who had gone on with David to the battle. David being pleasant to these men who had not participated in battle was not rubbing off some of his men. But the reason for their antagonism was because they feared what would follow with David being so nice to the stragglers. It was a certain fear running deep down within them that drove these men to do what they did next.

These men got together and came up with a plan. They declared that those who had not gone to battle would be sent away with only their wives and children, but otherwise empty-handed. They would not be allowed to share in the spoils that had been brought back.

But these men were selfish and did not have the love of God in their hearts. It was the fear of losing that was eating at them. And the Bible calls them

“wicked men and men of Belial” (v.22)

They were children of the devil. When we fear to lose we become children of the devil.

I cannot imagine at this stage the condition of the hearts of the men who were so addressed. Their hearts must have fainted within them. They had tried their best, and their best had taken them only up to the brook Besor. And, apparently, their best was not good enough for some of their fellows.

But notice David’s heart.

“23 Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. 24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.” (v. 23-24)

And the conclusion:

“And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day.” (v. 25)

The heart of God was in David. He not only attributed he and his troop’s victory to God, but he also had compassion upon the weak. And upon realizing that there were “men of Belial” within the ranks of Israel, David immediately instituted an ordinance that would forever rule over Israel:

“… as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.”

That is God’s heart for His children. As children of God, it also ought to be our heart towards one another.

God’s Unsearchable Love

I once overheard an old man say, “Heaven is our home”.

The following clip is of a plane in distress as it approaches LAX, in the U.S. No doubt, God wanted these people safely home. And “home” here was not Los Angeles;  home was heaven. And so He, who holds sway over every affair both in heaven and on the earth, intervened on these passengers’ behalf – and on behalf, possibly, of many other people on the ground.

I wonder whether we value God’s perspective  concerning our lives as He does?

Jacob’s ‘Mistake’

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,

16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Gen. 48:13-20

What a contrast! A man who can see God’s plan in the Spirit, and one who does not. And, we see here what happens when someone does not see in the Spirit and is confronted. Notice Joseph was “displeased” by his father Jacob’s actions.

In our country, my tribe is renowned. It is famous for all the wrong reasons, notably anger. I heard there is an anger management centre in New York. What is needed is for my entire tribe (which is very small, actually; this is affordable) to be airlifted to that centre in New York, NY and be given a crash program in anger management. I personally wouldn’t mind such a trip since I would get the chance to set my foot in the land of opportunity (although, truth be told, I was watching a clip of a street in Philadelphia recently and my conclusion was that some part of this great country has gone to the dogs).

Anyways, I was telling you about my tribe. In my country, when you introduce yourself as coming from my tribe, people generally step back a pace or two just to feel safe. We are feared that much.

With such a record-setting reputation, it makes it that much harder for someone from my tribe to have their right taken from them. They will fight to the death to hold on to their right. Nor do they take censure lying down.

That is how it has been for a big part of my life. I have been a fighter, and it was not the good fight of our faith. It took me a long time to finally come to the realization that I had a problem with people generally, but with my wife especially. It started out slowly, but I would criticize whatever she said or did. Nearly nothing she said seemed right or praiseworthy. I reached a point where even the slightest mistake on her part became a Mt. Everest for me. I was blowing up 24/7.

One time we had visitors at home and in the course of their stay, we took them to do some shopping in town. They wanted to buy a certain item, and my wife had already told them the price of the item, without my knowledge. When we arrived in town, they found to their dismay that the actual price of this item far exceeded the money they carried with them.

I asked them, “Who gave you the price?”

They said, “Mama” (my wife).

I was livid. I knew the right price and my wife had given them the wrong price without consulting with me! I took it personally that she would do something without consulting me.

Neither the visitors nor my wife had the additional money needed to purchase the item. I had the extra money; but in my heart I vowed I wouldn’t give out a dime. I vowed to let her suffer for her ‘stupidity’. I therefore whistled my way around the stalls as, from the corner of my eye, I watched my wife, visibly distressed,  haggling with the dealer for a price reduction. I felt extremely satisfied when the shopkeeper firmly kept repeating that a price reduction on that particular item was not possible.

If there is one person who can say that God is merciful and mean it, that person is me. At that particular moment that I was looking at my wife, God opened my eyes to see a vista of sorts. Deep inside me something stirred and I saw that God had all along been trying to do something to or for me through my wife’s many seeming mistakes, missteps, miscalculations, and oversights. Yes, the Lord showed me that it was He who was at work in all those things in my wife’s actions that were displeasing to me.

As children of God, we must acknowledge that nothing happens in our lives is by chance. More importantly still, we must realize that what appears displeasing to us in other people’s actions towards us is actually God at work. Joseph was “displeased”; but it was God at work in his father’s actions! And God works all for our good. It was all for Joseph and his sons’ good – and for the good of God’s Kingdom.

What displeases us in our natural ‘habitat’ is what we see in the natural. In the Spirit, though, what appears harmful to us in the natural is, in nearly every case, good and profitable to us in the Spirit. In the natural, Manasseh was the firstborn and there was absolutely no reason for Jacob to overstep him. But Jacob did overlook Manasseh – because he was answering God’s call in the Spirit.

When God sets out to do things His way, He does not need our permission. Our wills, our plans and our purposes are all twisted, and God is out to put things straight in our lives. God knows what is best for His Kingdom – and for us.

To end my saga now… As I stood watching my wife desperately trying to save an unsavable situation, and as the Lord put his finger on my pride and spiritual blindness, I broke down. Deeply humbled, I walked up to my wife and asked her, straight up, “How much do we need to add?”

“Five thousand”, she said.

I dipped into my pocket and came up with the money and humbly handed it to the shopkeeper.

Ever since that time, I have been very much aware of God’s dealings with me through my wife. I realized I had gone ‘overboard’ in the way I viewed and dealt with her and there is a lot of backtracking I have had to do in that regard since that day.

[Below: My wife is bound to make many mistakes; but God uses her actions to chastise me]

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