Prayer, Faith, And Obedience – Part 4

There is no denying that feeding “five thousand men, beside women and children” with five loaves of bread and two fishes was an incalculably extraordinary miracle. I haven’t heard of such a feat lately; and by lately I mean the fifty or so years that I have been about on this earth.

And now, finally, we can establish the real reason Jesus was so effective in His ministry. By effectiveness, it means doing things according to the will of God. In Jesus’s ministry, prayer was involved, yes. And so was faith. But you can have the gift of faith. This does not necessarily mean you are doing God’s will. Moreover, as we said earlier, when it comes to these things, Satan can turn himself into an angel of light. He can perform counterfeit miracles.

But Jesus performed genuine miracles. A while back I read of a certain preacher in Africa who decided to not let be (as most intelligent ‘power rangers’ do) and waded out into untested waters. He pronounced to his congregation that on a certain day, he would walk on top of the waters of a nearby croc-infested river. He spent the whole week fasting. Come Sunday, and he gathered his entire congregation by the river. It is not reported, but it requires no feat of imagination to surmise that the whole neighborhood had gotten wind of it and that they were on hand to witness the miracle of the century.

After uttering “Abracadabra!” or something, the man stepped onto the water and the last his loving congregation saw of him were two giant crocodiles tearing him to pieces.

Jesus, however, walked perfectly comfortably… on the stormy waters of a raging sea. And after He had entered the boat, He ordered the storm to cease. The storm ceased instantly.

Jesus not only performed these incredible miracles, but He was able to live a life that was fully pleasing to God. So, what was His secret? The reason Jesus was able to do live such a life with ease was because He denied Himself and lived according to the will of His Father. Jesus therefore was able to tell His disciples,

“12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. 15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:12-15)

The real reason men do not perform effectively in ministry as Jesus did and with the ease with which He did it is because we are not living fully according to God’s will. In other words, our lives are not fully surrendered to God. A man’s effectiveness in ministry cannot surpass his Godly way of life. We are not all called to be miracle-workers, so we cannot measure ministry by miracles. But we certainly can measure effectiveness in ministry. Whether one is called to be an apostle, or in any one of the five-fold ministries; or whether he is called to the ministries that Paul lists in Romans chapter 12, we can only perform effectively to the extent that we have given of our lives, i.e. the extent to which we are dying to self, taking up our cross and following Christ.

That is why the revelation of the cross is so important to the believer. It is in this revelation that the believer learns to die to self and to allow the God-life to reign fully in them.

It is when we are living this revelation that we can live a life of true obedience to God and find ourselves pleasing Him fully.

Christ was the perfect example in this regard. Through crucifying His flesh since before the foundations of the world were laid, Jesus served God perfectly according to the calling that God had placed upon His life.

The Apostle Paul, who followed hard in the footsteps of Christ, wrote:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

[Ministry can be as simple as one-on-one evangelism. Our effectiveness in ministry is measured by our obedience to God through living the crucified life]

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An Unforgettable ‘Safari’

… And he went round about the villages, teaching. Mk. 6:6

I know I have stated this elsewhere in this blog; but I cannot say it often enough. One of the greatest blessings that I count in my life is God placing me in the Tanzanian hinterland. I live in the big of the Tanzanian interior where the towns are small – and the bush land expansive. Here, just a few miles outside of town, one dives immediately into the villages, and into the bush. And for me, the bush is second only to heaven – an infinitely far second, I hurry to admit; but a second, nonetheless. If you took me from the African bush to a place, say, like central New York, NY, it would be a waste of air fare. I would just have to find a way of coming back to the place I love with all my heart. For me, living in the Tanzanian hinterland is an inexpressibly big and enduring adventure.

So it was with much excitement that on Saturday afternoon, me and my fellow pastor friend, Mwendo, took a bus – the old rugged type – to journey to a village some 30 or 40 kilometers outside of town, to preach the gospel of the cross. My heart beat with excitement as we plunged into the countryside, I hungrily taking in all the sights outside; and savoring the smells and voices of the village people inside the bus. Being inside the bus was like being in a large outdoor market; everyone knew everyone else and people gathered together in groups, some opting to stand rather than sit, in order to join and share in the camaraderie. My friend Mwendo, a local Turu man, was seated next to an engaging lady and they talked throughout the two hours it took us to arrive at our destination. (The bus stopped nearly every hundred metres or so!)

I, being the kind of guy who can never make conversation and unable to communicate in the local dialect, sat quietly alone but, unknown to anyone else inside the bus, tremendously enjoying myself.

And then, finally, we arrived at our destination, the village of Lighwa. Here we found our host, Peter, with some of his elders, awaiting us. He warmly welcomed us to his home and it was a joy to meet his lovely wife and younger children. Some of the older ones are married and live elsewhere.

At night we sat outside and watched the stars. For the first time, I had a real audience for my favorite subject, space. I showed them the ‘clouds’ of stars. I told them, “Those are not the clouds from which we receive rain. They are layers upon layers of stars. And each one of those stars are millions, probably billions, of miles apart.”

My listeners were unaware of such information and they sat there deeply entranced by what I had to say about space. They were seeing the starry night all anew.

I noticed that in Pastor Peter’s large compound there was no sign of a dog. This appeared unusual to me, so I asked him where the dogs were. He told me, “I had very fierce dogs, but the hyenas carried them all off.”

Hyenas have an insatiable taste for dog meat and, when they come to a homestead, they will hunt the dogs rather than the goats or sheep. I asked Peter how he guarded his large herd of cattle and goats. He showed me his incredibly tall ‘Trump wall’ built out of trees and huge branches and said, “Hyenas can’t climb over that.”

I asked him, “Are there no lions about?”

“No”, he said. That was a great relief for me. I have absolutely no fear of hyenas; but with lions it’s a completely different story, because I happen to know what they are capable of. Lions are not to be tangled with.

Anyways… The next morning, Sunday, we attended church. This was the climax of our visit to Lighwa. The church is a small mud building which seats about 40 people. A fellow pastor, Antony, had joined with his small congregation also.

Once the service started, we were treated to the usual run of entertainment – a gutsy choir and very loud pre-recorded music. Mwendo and I weathered it all patiently.

Finally, it was time for the preaching of God’s Word. Pastor Peter took the podium and read from Acts 16:9:

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”

He turned to Mwendo and I and said, “Brethren, you have crossed many villages to come here. It is because we need your help. Please, welcome, and do help us.”

Mwendo was the first to go. Extremely fiery, as usual. One hour later, I stood up to preach. We preached to them

“Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

We’ve been to many churches but I have to say that the church in Lighwa excelled them all in their acceptance of the gospel. The response was spontaneous, and extremely fulfilling. After we had done preaching and praying, the pastor stood up and let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He told us of how they had been robbed blind by preachers and how when they first invited us, they did so with much trepidation and many misgivings. But now, he could see no way forward for the church except for the gospel they had just heard, the gospel of the cross. The church’s response – and ours – was worth a million dollars!

Very late in the evening, we commandeered a lone motorbike to take us back home since there are no buses on Sunday… and we had to be back in town that very evening because I had an important appointment. Mwendo sat behind the driver and I sat behind Mwendo. The driver then took off at a very high speed and I quickly had to decide whether to ask him to slow down or I start praying. Considering the distance we had to travel, I opted for the latter. I prayed silently, but with my eyes open; somehow I could not bring myself to close them. In the fading light of the evening, trees and bushes flashed by, and the adrenaline pumped in my blood as I realized that at the speed at which we were going, if anything happened, the next day they would be singing funeral songs at my house. But this was a risk we had decided to take.

But the man was a pro. He had years of experience on these roads. Finally, at 8 p.m. I arrived home, exhausted but unharmed. And there, in warmth of the kitchen lights and fire, I found my ‘appointment’ waiting for me. It was my wife, who had dashed from her station in a distant village where she had been for the last one week, to come and visit. She would be leaving early Monday morning.

[Our bus arrives at Lighwa]

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[Pastors Peter and Antony welcome us]

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[An indefatigable man of God, Pastor Peter]

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[The church and congregation]

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[Pastor Antony expressing himself with unbounded joy]

 

[Pastor Peter’s ‘Trump Wall’]

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[My Sunday evening ‘appointment’]

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… Unto Perfect Faith

22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 And when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. Mat. 14:22-33

Jesus told Peter,

“Come.”

As I was reading this portion of scripture, the tears gushed from my eyes. Imagine that! Jesus was perfect God. Jesus never made a senseless statement. Which means He perfectly meant it when He told Peter,

“Come.”

Oh, for faith in our lives! If God had never meant to teach us something from these words, they would never have been written. How many times has God told us, “Come!” and we doubted and hesitated?

There Jesus was, calmly standing, not just on the water, but over the raging waves themselves. He was God, and full of perfect faith. And here, Peter, Jesus’s most intrepid disciple takes a step in that same direction; but he fails to arrive at the goal for lack of faith. Can you imagine how Jesus would have rejoiced had Peter walked all the way to Him? Knowing Jesus’s simplicity, it is not an exaggeration to say He would have danced on the water, for faith pleases God!

Oh, for faith in our lives! How many times has the Lord asked us to take that small step of faith, and we feared and faltered? We doubted.

One of the things that clearly displeased the Lord Jesus Christ when He was here on earth was how faithless his disciples were. He was bothered that they did not have simple faith in God. Over and over we read of Him castigating His followers for their lack of faith.

The Lord has been impressing on my heart, as we begin the new year, that we as His children should become men and women of faith – perfect faith. God is not pleased when our faith is low or imperfect. Indeed, the Bible states unequivocally in Hebrews 11:6

“But without faith it is impossible to please him”.

Here in Hebrews also it reminds us that our elders in the Spirit obtained a good report with God on account of their faith (v.2). In the Old Testament, the Bible does not expressly use the word “faith”; rather it simply says that these men and women pleased the Lord. But here, in Hebrews 11, it tells us that it was through their faith that they pleased God.

So what is faith?

Hebrews 11 again gives us the answer.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. (v.1)

Faith is not doing something. On the contrary, faith is doing something because one has seen the things not seen; they have gotten hold of things hoped for. The Bible does not say, “Now things”… On the contrary, it says,

“Now faith…”

And it does not say, “the substance of things” or “the evidence of things”, no. Rather, it talks of

“things hoped for… things not seen”.

We are not called to just do or have things. Rather, we are called to do and have things by faith. We are called to do and have things that are seen in the Spirit. That is faith. And we are called to live a total life of faith.

That is why the Bible says in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 that we can do a multitude of things but, if we have not love, they all amount to nothing. Love is not just doing things; love is something that is born of faith, the faith of God in us.

The Lord has been impressing upon my heart that we should strive to be men and women of greater faith for the days ahead. When we have faith, no storm of life will over-run us; on the contrary, we will calmly walk over these storms as if they did not exist. And through our faith and love, we will give a powerful testimony of Christ’s life in us.

We can only obtain a good report and we can only please God if we have faith in Him. But much of the time we are like these disciples of Jesus: we believe Him after the fact:

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”

They did so after the fact. But that was not faith.

We are not to receive a good report by worshipping God. We are to get a good report by having faith in Him.

Is Jesus Lord and Christ? Is He Lord over every situation? Is He Lord over every relationship?

That question should get a big “Yes!” from us. Whatever situation we might be passing through, it is a big “Yes!”. That is faith. However rough the patch, however tough the relationship, God is in control and we should release our faith and trust in Him. We ought not to fear or doubt. Rather, we should see Jesus standing on the waves and, by faith, walk to Him.

Even if it means walking over to Him through the valley of death.

That is faith.

[In this iconic performance by Jessy Dixon, the Lord reminds us that He will calm the storm]

 

A Friend In Jesus

Not too long ago, the Lord impressed upon my heart the importance of prayer. And, although I know it was personal, yet this impression has stuck with me so unrelentingly that I felt I should share it here for the sake of someone who might be in such need as I was. And the way God works is indeed marvellous and strange, for it is not I thought I had a need. But but the Lord impressed upon me that I ought to pray, and it was then that it dawned on me that I truly had a need – the need to pray!

Actually, the impression came in the form of a familiar song. On this particular occasion, the words of a song that I had sang for so long that it had become mundane to me became the sweetest words of any song that I had ever heard or sang! The song took me to a new level of faith, literally. Ultimately, I discovered that I had the truest Friend in Jesus.

Since then, I have shared this song with my family and with some members of my church, and although they are accustomed to singing it every so often, this time round I could see the power it had over their lives. So I thought, There might be someone out there, besides us here, who needs some encouragement in this regard. Hence my decision to share it on this blog. I share it with a prayer.

May the Lord bless everyone who has a need tonight and may He hearken to your cry. And may you discover, like I did, the meaning of the word “friend” in Jesus Christ.

Our True Family

46 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. Mat. 12:46-50

This is a tough one. It is a very, very tough one. In a sense, probably the toughest of all of Jesus’s lessons.

In a nutshell, there can be no emotional attachments in God’s Kingdom, only spiritual ones. There could be no greater emotional attachment than the familial one; and here Jesus discards it. We are to seek after spiritual relationships. The Bible says that God is Spirit. There can therefore be no other relationships acceptable to Him other than a spiritual one.

The church may not be perfect, but it is the Body of Jesus Christ! And where else, aside from this congregation of mostly imperfect men and women can we grow to know the will of our Father in heaven? No, there is nowhere else. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our true family.

Yes, Peter still had a sword hidden in his inner robe, and we can imagine his thoughts were not so peaceful nor holy. Equally fierce and furious were James and John, who also harbored Napoleonic thoughts of conquering the world.

But, incredibly, Jesus  elevated these people above his earthly brothers, sisters and mother. He called them His family!

There are people who will value their flesh and blood kin over members of the Body of Christ. There are others who approve of people for various other reasons other than purely spiritual ones. But that attests to their inability to see in the Spirit. For when we see in the Spirit, we realize how truly valuable brethren in Christ are and how high our relating to them towers above earthly relationships, however close; and however weak our brethren in Christ may be.

It is best – before it gets too late and we come to realize the vanity of it all – that we as God’s children align ourselves fully with the church and stop appeasing other relationships, however important they might appear. There is a price to pay there; but, again, the gospel is all about paying the price.

God will give us grace and it is not as if we will stop loving our kith and kin in the flesh. Jesus Himself no doubt thought constantly and prayed for His family, a fact that is born out in John 19:25-27:

“25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

But, right to the very end, as we see here, Jesus’s thoughts about his mother and siblings were spiritual, not otherwise. His love for them was not emotional, but spiritual. In the end, through Jesus’s pursuit of only the spiritual, they, too, came to an understanding of the treasure that is God’s Kingdom. In the end, He bequeathed to them the true riches, heavenly ones.

[Powerful clip. Please go to “Settings”, click “Subtitles” for the English subtitles to appear]

Food For Thought

57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Lk. 9:57-58

Y’know, I often think about Jesus’s words above, and I cannot imagine a grown man speaking such words in today’s world. Even in church, it would be anathema to speak such words. Had Jesus been in today’s hyper-materialistic church I know exactly what they would tell Him.

“You are lazy! Go work and put something over your head.”

And they would have turned away in disgust, muttering, “Stupid!”

They would do their best to shame Him.

But the Lord was about His Father’s business. He had no time, nor inclination, for the business of this world and the things that pertain to it and the flesh. Actually, Jesus did not speak those words because He needed a house. He was not soliciting for help. A house meant nothing to Jesus.

In Philippians 4:10-13 the Apostle Paul, who had the same heart as Jesus, writes:

“10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

“Not that I speak in respect of want”.

The spiritual men and women of old never lusted for the things of this world. When you are pursuing after spiritual things, you have absolutely no time for the trappings of this world, however ‘necessary’ they might be.

Isn’t a reproach for the church today that a person’s worth would be measured by what he owns material-wise? That a person with a car, a house, who has been to university, who is better dressed and who has all the symbols of this world upon him would be looked upon in church as someone? That’s the real shame – in the Spirit.

Jesus told Martha:

“41 Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41-42)

We are so careful and troubled about many things: but one thing only is needful: to see into God’s spiritual Kingdom and to live the life of the Spirit.

The good thing about Jesus, of course, was that, try as you might, you could not shame Him. He knew what He was about.

Do you know what you are about in God’s Kingdom? When you think about how unacceptable Jesus’s words are in today’s charismatic church setting, there’s much food for thought there.

God’s Singular Focus

1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.

8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Mat. 17:1-8

There are slightly differing versions of this account in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But there is no mistaking what happens at the end of each account. In every account of this story, Elijah and Moses left the scene, and disciples were left beholding only two things: Jesus Himself, and the words that God had spoken from out of the cloud:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

In other words, God powerfully took Elijah and Moses out of the New Covenant scenario. Peter would have loved to retain both these Old Testament prophets with Jesus; but God firmly said no.

It is not possible to have both the old covenant and the new one working in our lives.

I remember in school we had something called a duster. The duster was used to clean off the blackboard. Here, in this account, God Himself came in a cloud and dusted Moses and Elijah off the map. But He did not dust off Jesus. The cross is undustable. The cross is inerasable.

Although the apostles were probably witnessing a heavenly scene (the Bible says that Jesus’ clothes and countenance changed and became heavenly white) yet, when God appeared on the scene in the cloud, He neither referenced Elijah nor Moses. Instead, He spoke only about Jesus:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

This was a powerful demonstration to the disciples of the singular focus that God attaches to Jesus – and to the cross.

Today, people want to lump Jesus, Moses and Elijah together. They want to place the old and the new together. But that is simply unacceptable with God.

Today the majority of believers are either into law or into miracles and signs and wonders. But, at the same time, all these people proclaim, “Jesus!” But, although these things (law and miracles) may be good in themselves, neither one of them have the power that is needed to do in us the singular thing that pleases God, i.e. to transform us and to form in us the character of Jesus. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:

“22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

You can be ‘baptized’ into the law up to your neck, but you cannot please God through the law. You can also be into miracles and signs and wonders; but you cannot please God through these things. Jesus said that many who are doing miracles right now will not go to heaven (Mat 7:22). The only thing you can please God with is by taking up your cross and following Jesus.

Few today are hearing the gospel of the cross preached. Even fewer still are willing to take up their cross and follow Christ. Many would rather listen to the comfortable gospel of prosperity and of solving one’s problems (financial prosperity, miracles, healing, promotion, etc.).

But God has wiped everything off His blackboard and left only one thing: Jesus Christ, and him crucified. God wants His new covenant class (the church) to focus on only one thing. This was the singular focus that the Apostle Paul also had (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1). The cross is the SINGULAR way we can please God. Why the cross? The cross crucifies the flesh and this brings the grace of God into our lives. And it is through carrying God’s grace in our hearts alone that we can please God:

“Wherefore… let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”. (Heb. 12:28)

That is how we can come to understand the reason for Paul’s singular focus on the cross of Christ. In all his teachings and in all his life, Paul purposed to know (and to live) nothing apart from Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And the power that was in Paul’s life was and is profound and unambiguous even to this day; and it will be unto eternity.

Christ crucified is God’s revelation to the world.

[“And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.”]

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