JUST AS HE
© 2016 I Will Tell Trust. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the Holy Bible, King James
Version (Authorized Version). First published in 1611.
Published by I Will Tell Trust 10 March 2016
Just As He Promised painting on cover page: Julia Powell
Cover Design: Panagiotis Lampridis
Photo of the altar in God’s Cottage: Rev Thaddeus Boyle.
Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
This is excellent!
Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ
Mount Street Jesuit Centre
A warm and inviting book, thought-provoking and a compelling story.
Wesleyan Holiness Church
Every Christian is called to testify of what God has done for them, to bear witness of his cleansing power and saving from that weight of sin. What a sweet spirit there is reading this book. Enjoy reading it all. It’s tremendous!
Trinidad and Tobago
This is a life-changing book. Jenny gives us a glimpse into a world of intimacy with the Lord that inspires a divine hunger for more. Her honesty challenges pre- conceived ideas of God and His presence and her use of everyday examples reveal hidden truths on how to know and experience the promises of God.
It is a delight to see born again believers showing such transparency by sharing their life story. As I read this book from the beginning it was apparent that I was in for a treat. Thank you for validating the true spirit of Christianity. This is a must-read-and-share.
Pastor Ron Harper and Stephanie Harper
New First Church C.O.G.I.C.
Deerfield Beach, FL, USA.
The Altar in God’s Cottage, Glendalough
Table of Contents
1. The Silence
2. Like Chasing the Wind
3. The Open Door
4. He Loves Us
5. Overcoming Barriers to Love
6. Jesus Is God
7. I Didn’t Know
8. I Am With You Always
9. Choose Life
11. The Word
12. The Wisdom of God
To my wonderful extended family, you have been a wall of support in more ways than I can count, and I owe you more than words can say.
I especially want to thank Bridget Louvion whose obedience has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to me, and Ruth Akinwale for her insight and her commitment to reviewing the first completed manuscript.
Julia Powell’s beautiful painting on the cover goes beyond creative talent, the sponsors whose names are included on the next page gave so much more than money and my copy editor Robert Matthews added more than his skill. In their own way, they each gave me the inspiration and strong encouragement to keep going with this labour of love.
I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the reviewers whose input, recommendations and suggestions have been useful in shaping the form of the final book, in particular Ron Harper, McCarthy Griffiths, Roxanne Quesnel, Omawumi Efueye, Elson Parris, Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ and Faith Anyanwu.
And last, but by no means least, I offer a humble heart of gratitude to my Lord Jesus for the unparalleled privilege of sharing our story.
THE FIRST SPONSORS
This free copy of the book you are holding would not have been possible but for a few brave souls from all around the world including South America, North America, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe who decided to sponsor the initial publishing and printing costs without even knowing for certain what I was going to say, except that they believed I had met with Jesus and had a mandate to share His love. To each of you, a very heartfelt thank you:
Truly, to whom much is given, much is expected, and supernatural experiences do not exempt us from the process of becoming who God created us to be. If anything, it can make the process even more demanding. I have had to learn, and I am still learning, the power of obedience. I am still enduring, and sometimes enjoying, the process of growing. I have seen exhilarating revelations of scripture verses that are commonly misinterpreted as showing God’s wrath but were really designed to show us God’s love and His profound desire simply to have a deeply intimate relationship with us. I am still learning but now, ten years later, I am truly honoured to finally share with you this wonderful, life-transforming, world-upturning, love-infilling, power-imparting encounter with the God who is Love on that warm Saturday evening on 30 July 2005.
For almost four years after my encounter, I wondered whether I was the only one who fully believed the things Jesus had shown me, and I was on a search to find others who believed the same. I looked for anyone who had had a supernatural encounter or who was deeply passionate about God. My search ended when I finally heard Andrew Wommack and appreciated the calm, matter-of-fact way he delivered, and still delivers, powerful truths that seem to come straight from the throne- room. I am also grateful for the teachings and work of Bill Johnson and his stewardship of a culture of honour which is probably unparalleled on earth at this present time. Reinhard Bonnke, whose work I encountered first, remains a paragon of love and boldness coupled with excellence in ministry.
Brian Simmons’ Passion Translation of the Bible and writings are wonderful prophetic expositions of the ‘God kind of love’. Cref lo Dollar’s and Joseph Prince’s practical application of God’s love and grace in daily life are just some of God’s awesome gifts to me on my journey… and there are so many more: T.D. Jakes, Clarence McClendon and Joyce Meyers are some of the names you might have heard of. But there are some you may not have heard of who have influenced my journey and who are doing and will do great things for the Kingdom of God such as: Omawumi and Carol Efueye, Rafael and Julie Cassela, Elson and Doreen Parris, Roger and Aurilia Grimes, Bob and Heather Ward, Ron and Stephanie Harper, Jeremy Crossley, Joycelyn Springer, my sister Glenda Lee Edwards, my Mom, my Dad and my Uncle McCarthy Griffiths, to name only a few.
In the works and lives of these and many others whom I deeply admire, I have found a rare humility, a divine hunger for God, a reverential love and a deep, unshakeable joy that can only be drawn from an encounter with Him. It is not that I have found these people of God to be perfect, but I have found that when they availed themselves of the grace of God, even their idiosyncrasies have been, and continue to be, instructive.
In the same way I hope that you will not only be able to discern my own limitations but that you will remember this: the Grace available to our patriarchs and matriarchs is the same Grace that brought our Lord Jesus to my living room that warm day in July. Let this same Grace be with you as you read, protecting your heart and teaching you to discern His voice.
The original title of this book was The First Seven Moments. A moment occurs when our true self meets God and we establish the anchors that keep us uniquely connected to Him, anchors which define our true destiny. Our true destiny is not defined by our achievements in life, but by the becoming of who we were created to be in Him. Our achievements are just the natural consequences of that.
When I first considered what I should include in this book, I wanted to play it safe and limit the risk of getting something wrong by focusing on the seven really obvious truths that I heard Jesus say or saw Him do during our 24-hour encounter.
The only problem was that the more I understood, the more I uncovered amazing, beautiful truths hidden in that one encounter. He is a very purposeful and intentional God and no act or word, in fact no omission, is accidental. So it soon became 11 moments, then 14, then 17 – and then finally I gave up counting and started searching for another title!
I hope it will become clear, as you read, why the new title is Just As He Promised. The Kingdom of God that was promised to us is quite different from the worldly identity, religious subculture and subtle twisting of His Word that we sometimes experience under the banner of Christianity in the 21st century. The ancient foundations of His love, grace and faith are stronger than mere religious practice and provoke a level of holiness and joy that will challenge the status quo. I hope this book will be a reminder to us of the instruction in Isaiah 58:12 – to rebuild the ancient ruins and build on the old foundations so we can begin to see things just as He promised.
The old foundations are not nearly as dreary as they might first appear. In fact they are more delightful, more vibrant and more uplifting than anything we can produce in our own strength. I hope this book will enable you to discover more of your own foundations in God. We may need to peel off a few layers first: layers of human principles dressed up as divine truth, layers of hopelessness dressed up as wisdom, layers of pride and of fear.
May the Lord Jesus Himself lift the veil off our eyes and draw us back to the simple delight of enjoying His love and grace, and loving Him in return.
This simplicity will be somewhat challenging to those who need doctrinal expositions, scientific explanations and philosophical justifications. We will look at some of those things, but I can tell you now, just as Solomon discovered, what the final answer will be to everything:
Love God, and obey Him.
Nevertheless, the journey is well worth taking. You will find that although the love of God is beautifully simple, choosing to live in and by His love is the most challenging, culture-defying, revolutionary action you will ever take. It is, in fact, the ultimate death-wish!
It is not martyrdom and going to heaven. It requires you to die to your own selfish desires, and still continue to live. But it is also the safest, most fulfilling place to be in the world.
May those who observe your life see an unshakeable conviction that causes them to say in the midst of even the most adverse circumstances, ‘Oh that’s just so-and-so, things always work out for them just as God promised.’
I pray that you will not be drawn away, by the doctrine of men, from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. I pray that the eyes of your understanding will be opened for you to know and receive, continually, the fullness of His amazing love.
And I pray that you would find your moments in this book too. You may find them in a chapter heading, a scripture reference, a parting comment, a detailed description or a parenthesis. You will know when you do because after you’ve found it, something in your life will never be the same again.
May your joining me on this journey bring you to a new place as dramatically different from where you started, as I experienced in my wonderful encounter with Him.
Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD:
for He is raised up out of His holy habitation.
Zechariah 2:13 (KJV)
One of the first things I remember was the silence – it was the kind of silence that grabs your attention harder and more completely than the loudest noise or the most melodious music you have ever heard.
Some theoretical physicists say that everything in the universe consists of waves of motion or strings, with each string vibration generating its own sound. Even our bodies continuously emit their own sounds, apparently. But in that moment of silence, I was certain that every possible sound, those that could be heard and those completely inaudible to the human ear, had been utterly stilled. Even the natural sounds in my eardrum seemed to have stopped, and the resulting silence was deafening.
Every fibre of my being was stilled mid-motion, and trained on a spot on the far wall where an invisible door had opened and the light spilled through, as a door from another dimension opened into our world.
I don’t know how long the silence lasted. I’m not sure how long I stood there frozen, with arms and legs in mid-stride. When I get to heaven I shall ask to see the videotape – I’m sure it will be very amusing.
A split second before, I was absent-mindedly tidying my little f lat, half- singing to myself, half-dancing across the room. I had just finished a long lunch with an old university friend at a pub in the village. I admired her character – her frankness and kindness – and was very pleased we were back in touch, but I remember being strangely keen for her to leave so I could get back to my f lat. I wasn’t sure why. But I was looking forward to playing some more of this modern gospel music I had recently acquired a taste for, from an album a friend had recommended.
I almost ran to the CD player when I got in, not caring that today was one of those treasured rarities in London – a nice summer’s day! The trees outside the long wall of windows proudly displayed their summer foliage and appeared to be whispering to each other in quiet excitement. The Lord was about to enter the temple of my heart.
In Zechariah 2 there is a wonderful description of what happens when God comes visiting. His glory manifests, His protection is impenetrable, He grants divine recompense and a royal identity, and we are compelled by love to praise Him. Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion, many nations shall be joined to the Lord in one day.
The name [Zechariah _]means _the Lord remembers. He remembered me. His promises are not restricted to times gone by. He remembered me then. He remembers you now. He is coming to claim His inheritance, and He shall choose you. Oh, you should hear me shout for joy as I write this!
And after this wonderful description the Scripture says: Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for He is raised up out of His holy habitation.
[_Hush _]is a gentle command, but a command nonetheless, for all must cease because of what is about to take place. It was not a silence that is tranquil and peaceful, with gentle sounds of [_kumbayah _]wafting across the airwaves of your mind. This was a silence that interrupts everything you are and think. It was as loud as it was complete, it engaged with the mitochondrion (energy centre) of every cell of my being, bringing each one into complete stillness.
This kind of silence is not emptying the mind of your own thoughts but having it filled only with thoughts of Him until, eventually, we’re thinking His thoughts. That’s the ultimate in meditation. Once we experience this, any other form of meditation loses its allure and the thought of spending hours alone, focused on God, is no longer daunting. Like the pull of the CD player that afternoon, He draws us towards Himself, and our heart’s response can only be ‘[_Yes! _]’
But silence is risky. It takes faith to let go of self, the person you know best in the whole world, to release your own thoughts and focus on what God, whom you’ve never seen, is saying. Silence is, in this respect, a kind of dying. And when this life is the only one you know, it takes real faith to take the chance of giving it up for the great unknown. It also takes courage. In the silence we go further, deeper and more completely into areas of our lives we would not ordinarily venture into. We often use noise and busy-ness as our shield against having to go too deep, lest we come up against something we fear we might not be able to handle or would prefer to forget. It takes real courage to face our inner self in this way. That’s why the courageous don’t always roar. Sometimes they just go silent.
As I later found out, the silence spills over into every arena of our life, if we let it. There are times when others may do us wrong, say false things about us, repay our good with evil. In those times it would be so tempting to say just one word that would turn the whole thing around, and at times that may be the right thing to do. But more often than not, God encourages us to be silent.
When God corrects a situation, He does it so much better than we could do in our own strength. But, perhaps more importantly, this kind of silence is valuable to us because it is part of the dying process – being broken, without saying a word.
In a way this is what the sacrament of ‘breaking bread’ at a communion service symbolises. But modern-day communion bread is kind of funny. It’s perfectly round with strategically scored marks in the shape of a cross that make a discreet little noise as you break it. That’s the way we like to be broken. We need to be able to control where the breaking is allowed to happen, and reserve the right to make a little discreet sound about it, not a loud complaint, but just enough so that it may be made known that we have endured.
In real life the breaking is anything but that. First of all, real life, like real bread, is not perfectly round, and you can’t always tell where the breaking is going to take place. With real bread there is a tearing out of the soft f lesh inside, with no prearranged no-go areas and no accompanying soft whimpers. That’s what dying to the things of this world is really like. That’s what the process Jesus’ endured was like – violent and silent. When they hit Him, mocked Him, spat on Him and made false accusations against Him, He remained silent (Matthew 26:63).
This process of dying is painful, confusing and disorientating. To the untrained eye, a soul in process looks dreadful, but to God, who sees the end from the beginning, it’s a glorious picture of losing the self that you know and gaining something far more beautiful – the true you in Him. It is actually one of the most beautiful things to behold on this earth. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.
And silence, like everything else that is good, works by Love. Risking silence takes a certain knowing that God is good, that His plans are always to do us good and not to harm us and, perhaps, most of all, that He really, really delights Himself in our company.
And we don’t even have to say a word.
This then is where my journey began – with silence, true silence, when we let go of all else except Him, and He opens our hearts to encounter Him in ways we could never have imagined possible.
I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless – like chasing the wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 (NLT)
As I stared at that space in the wall where the door had appeared and light spilled through, everything around me seemed to morph into its true nature. Objects like tables and sofas that a second before had strength and form became amorphous and weak and colourless, with no more substance than a cobweb that a weary spider had discarded as no longer being useful to its grand design. It was, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, like chasing the wind. That is how the things of the world suddenly seemed to me.
It was a little like a fabric-freshener advert you may have seen. Ordinary people are blindfolded and taken to a dingy, abandoned building with broken-down furniture.
Old, discarded underwear and sheets cover the surfaces, the walls have paint peeling off then in several layers, and are covered in mould and mildew beneath. But this wonderful freshener has been sprayed over everything and makes the unsuspecting volunteers think they are somewhere very pleasant and fresh. They begin to describe the smells with awe and wonder, and make inspired guesses as to where they might be. Then the blindfolds are taken off – and they are horrified and disgusted to see where they really are, and the true nature of what they had been rubbing their faces into, with delightful ignorance, just a few seconds earlier.
It was not that earthly things changed their nature. It was not that God was pointing out anything in the world that I had not seen before. But a veil had been lifted and my eyes were opened to see a glorious, beautiful light that was so clean and pure that anything in comparison to it appeared dark and filthy. Believe me when I tell you that the things of this world are absolutely worthless. I discovered that it is by the power of God alone that two atoms are held together closely enough (or two strings vibrate at the right frequency) to form a solid piece of material that supports our weight and keeps us safe. All things are upheld by the Word of His power.
I heard someone say once, why do we assume that God has to take on some ephemeral quality in order to walk through walls? It was not that He had to make Himself small enough to fit through the cracks, it was that He is made of stronger material so the wall simply gives way as He approaches. That is what I was experiencing. I was in such awe of everything that He is. There are those who try to humble themselves so that they seem small and God seems big. There is no need. His presence is humbling enough in itself. He is big all by Himself. True humility is simply being faced with the greatness of God.
Now my blindfold had been removed, it was as though I had been living in darkness all my life.
Others had tried to describe what light was, but because I had never seen light I could not understand what they meant. As I had been blind all my life, I was pretty good at finding my way around in the dark. I knew how to avoid the bumps, where I could rest for support and where the warm corners and the soft spots were. I didn’t think I needed light. But when God removed the blindfold, I saw that the things I thought were warm and soft were really gooey and filthy, and left a horrible stain. The things that I thought were solid and reliable had no real substance and offered no real support. Had it not been for the other realities He showed me I would have been undone. No wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes is sometimes thought to be depressed. Everything is vanity, he said.
But truly he was not depressed. When he spoke of vanity, he did not mean it in the way the word is commonly used today. He was warning us that there is no life in the things of the world, no lasting value, no difference- maker. By the time he comes to the end of the book, having exhausted the virtues of ‘everything under the sun’, he comes to the conclusion that there is only One who is eternal, who gives life, value and meaning to our existence, and we should love and obey Him. If he had discovered that truth, I am pretty sure that he must have been the most joyful among men. He had encountered the One who gave meaning to his existence.
Romans 8:20–21 reminds us that God subjected us to this vanity not to render us hopeless but with the intention that we would be set free from its slavery and corruption, into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The path to vanity started when Adam and Eve (the first family) had a choice to obey God or eat of the forbidden fruit, but were tempted and disobeyed. They believed that God was holding out on them, that He was keeping the best for Himself and leaving them with something substandard. So they listened to the serpent and disobeyed God.
That one act of disobedience caused them to separate themselves, and all of humanity after them, from God.
Then, in His mercy, God placed an angel around the tree of life so that we would not live forever in this state of disobedience, and He cast Adam and Eve out of the beautiful Garden of Eden. He subjected us to vanity, things of no eternal value, so that we might desire more and choose to be set free through His Love. Vanity enslaves us, but the love of God sets us free.
Have you ever really wanted someone to make a good choice, and given them an inferior alternative in the hope that they might choose well? And you know how maddening it is when they still make a stupid choice? Andrew Wommack says: ‘When God gives us a test, He always tells us the answer. In Deuteronomy 30, He says: So here’s the choice: blessing or cursing, life or death, and in verse 19 He says, I’ll give you a clue: ‘Choose Life’.’
It shouldn’t be difficult, but our fallen nature has a bizarre tendency to want to choose the thing that draws us towards what is vain and temporary because it is, at least, familiar. We can sometimes be like the character Cypher in the film [_The Matrix _](one of my favourite films of all time). He had been set free. He saw that he was living a lie in the Matrix but he found that the truth demanded too much of him. Plus his jealousy of Neo made life even more intolerable, so he made a deal. Take me back to the Matrix, he said, make me a king and make me forget. That is the choice we are faced with, to live in the Truth and amidst all the difficulties, live a life of celebration in remembrance of what God has done. Or we can go back to the Matrix and throw a party to forget what we have become without Him.
There is an eternal heavenly realm that co-exists with our temporal earthly one. When Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was being stoned to death, he had a vision of the heavenly realm and of Jesus standing on the right side of God.
When John was on the Isle of Patmos, he had a vision of Jesus so powerful that he fell and was unable to move.
Much closer to home, a friend of mine shared the story of how she had an out-of-body experience and was caught up, taken to heaven and heard the Father saying to her – ‘It’s okay, you’re safe. You’re here with me. The true you, your spirit, is here with me. That’s just your body down there.’
We are triune beings, body, soul and spirit, and God wishes to preserve them all. When we choose Jesus, our Spirit is sealed for eternity, but we still have the choice over what happens to our soul (memory, understanding, desires) and our body. Having experienced an awakening of my spirit, I now know that it exists, but it is so difficult to explain. We all know we have a body and most of us believe we have a soul, but what is this spirit? A friend of mine explained it beautifully simply once. She said “Your spirit is where love comes from.” As we will see in a later chapter, love is not just an emotion, it is a tangible force that is transmitted from God’s Spirit to ours.
Apart from a few scientists, philosophers and, for want of a better word, ‘spiritual’ people, most of us go through our lives completely missing the fact that there is much more to our ocean of existence, and the situations we encounter, than meets the eye. We have dreams that prophesy our future and strange occurrences that link important events in our lives, and we absent-mindedly call these events ‘coincidence’. Those with far-out stories of heavenly or divine encounters are often dismissed, at best, as having over-active imaginations. Meanwhile we satiate our innate desire to delve more deeply into our own spiritual nature with sex, drugs, or anything that entertains or distracts – and the faster, the wilder, the weirder, the better. But these are things that could never fill the void inside us, for it is an eternal one that can only be filled by Eternity Himself.
But for those of us who are willing to take the ‘Life’ pill, we have been rescued from the Matrix. I have been unplugged and I am never going back. In that instant, I was turned off the earth and the things of the earth forever.
There is a very familiar hymn that sums it up for me perfectly:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
But I confess that now, ten years on, I sometimes have to fight to remember that the things of this world have no eternal value. I have to struggle to keep at the forefront of my mind the conviction that in the blink of an eye we will all be changed, and sometimes I have to close my eyes and ask Him to show me again the beauty, glory and hope that I experienced in His wonderful presence. The songs that gave me a kind of delightful frustration, because although they glorified Him they didn’t seem to be able to fully express the wonder of who He is, are sometimes the very songs I need just to bring me back to remembering how much He loves me, and I Him.
We live on the edge of two worlds, called to be of one yet to reside temporarily in the other. At any given moment we can choose which kingdom we want to represent. The spiritual world is more real and infinitely more desirable than the earthly realm, but we are constantly faced with a choice between the two.
A few days after my encounter with Jesus I said to someone: ‘It’s so difficult being here on earth. I really don’t want to be here anymore.’ She was concerned that I had become suicidal, but nothing could be further from the truth. I had Life Himself living in me: I could not die. I knew there was a purpose in me being here.
I had to tell others about His amazing love, and I was more than willing to do that for my King. But while I wanted to accomplish my purpose, I also longed to be with Jesus more fully.
I was delighted when I discovered this statement from the apostle Paul that summed up my predicament perfectly in Philippians 1:23–25: I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.
I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.
Revelation 3:8 (NLT)
The pure, bright, white light from another world had spilled through and created the shape on the f loor of a triangle with its head cut off, as if an invisible door had opened in the middle of the wall. Beyond that door was all brightness and light and glory. I might have been tempted to walk through it if I could move and if, at the same time, Jesus Himself had not just walked through the door towards me.
Don’t ask me how I knew it was Him. He did not tell me His name, but I knew deep in my soul more clearly than I knew my own name that this was Jesus. I think the ability to recognise Him is embedded in the core of our being. Romans 1:19 (KJV) says: …because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
There is a divine DNA implanted in our being to make it plain so there can be no doubt. I realise now that Jesus had walked through a door, not just into my living room, but into my very soul. Nothing in my life journey so far could have prepared me for this. I had certainly asked many times for the real God to reveal Himself to me, but I didn’t know an actual visit from God was even remotely possible. He was the God who was far off. I didn’t think He would want, or need, to get up close and personal with someone like me. What amazing love!
I initially thought that everyone who said they had met Jesus would have had this experience. I learnt later that many people did not have (or need) such a dramatic experience. But He is no less real to them. He gives each of us a totally unique treasure, and the magnitude or value of it is not necessarily linked to how dramatic the experience is. It is measured by our degree of faithfulness to what He has called us to do.
I also came to understand that, many times, what I thought were coincidental experiences or random thoughts were really the sound of Him knocking on the door of my soul. Sometimes it was the beauty of a f lower, the kindness of a stranger, a word in season, or the turning of adversity for good. It went something like this:
Jesus: Knock, knock.
Me: Who’s there?
I should have asked: ‘Truth Who?’ But I did not yet know that Truth was a person and so I would always stop playing at that point. In other religions and in philosophy, truth is often described as a set of principles to be adhered to, but in God’s mind, Truth is encapsulated in the person of Jesus Christ.
A few years before, when I was dating someone who had Christian friends, they invited us to an Alpha course and I thought ‘Great, so now my boyfriend can become a Christian too, like me’. It’s hilarious, looking back, as I was a Christian on paper only.
By the second day I was being bombarded with truths about my so-called faith that were difficult to take in. I think it was about the fourth session that they presented the two alternatives for Jesus. Either He really was who He said He was, or He was a madman. I decided He was none of the above! I just decided He was not real. I mean, I was looking for Truth and their answer was: a virgin gets pregnant and gives birth to God Himself ? God lived on earth as a real human being (including going to the toilet, getting smelly, having a laugh with His disciples, not to mention hanging out with some seriously unsavoury types)? Oh, and then He was crucified by the people He came to save, died, came back to life, and went up to heaven! I didn’t realise I was actually supposed to believe that stuff, to be a Christian. I confessed my doubt to the Alpha leader, who smiled understandingly. I guess he had known all along I wasn’t a Christian, and he was just waiting for me to figure it out. Soon after that, my boyfriend and I had another of our many break-ups, so I never finished the course.
But I remember phoning my sister, quite a few weeks, maybe even months later, in trepidation, to confess that I didn’t quite believe the Bible was the Word of God, and I didn’t believe that Jesus was God, and I begged her please not to tell my mum, because it would break her heart. I was afraid they would think I had gone the way of all those who get to the bright lights of the UK, and lost my faith and morals. Of course, I didn’t actually have any faith to lose anyway, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I was quite taken aback when she responded: ‘I know.’
I found out years later that I didn’t have mum fooled either! In fact she once said, much to my chagrin, that if I could become a Christian, she had high hopes for all her children!
In retrospect, it may have been obvious as I only ever went to church at Christmas time (and that was just because I liked the sound of gospel music). The fact that I would throw a mini-tantrum if we had to do church rather than a party for New Year’s Eve, and I changed the subject whenever she brought up the subject of God, may also have been dead giveaways.
These days she is the one who asks me to tone it down with the Jesus factor around our family members who haven’t met Him yet, but back then things were very different. One of the other indicators that I was not a Christian, or at least not a practising one, was that I thought it was perfectly proper to have sex with my long-term boyfriend. As far as I was concerned, anyone who said otherwise was a killjoy, or probably frigid.
Now I know that God created sex for us to enjoy, and He is not shocked by it, as the reaction of some religious folk might imply. The exquisite pleasure of an orgasm is nothing compared to the divine ecstasy of being made one with Him. But He gave it to us as a prelude of things to come, a picture of what will be, not an end in itself. Once He has us in the power of His Love, there is nothing that can take us from His hand. That is what a divinely approved and committed marriage relationship signifies and ref lects. Promiscuity, or even just a series of ‘committed’ monogamous relationships, is an abomination to God. This is not because sex is unholy, but because it violates the most holy part of our relationship with the other when it is out of sync with the level of commitment in the relationship. That, in turn, distorts the picture of God’s perfect love, and of Jesus becoming one with us in a unique, special way forever.
Jesus has married Himself to the Church and He will never leave us, ever. That’s why He hates divorce.
Restricting sex to a life-long committed relationship is for our benefit, that we may begin to see the power of His love and the beauty of what He has in store for us.
The biggest indicator that I was not a Christian, however, was that my heart was stone cold towards Jesus. I knew that there was a God who had created me and helped me in difficult times and whom I could pray to (and He often answered, even when He knew I would ignore the answers), but I didn’t know who He was, and didn’t understand how Jesus fitted in.
Some think that we only have dramatic supernatural manifestations, or only need Jesus, when things in our lives are at their lowest point. They think we need Him because we’re really sick or poor or desperate, and that’s true. It’s wonderful that God’s sovereign grace can be relied upon to reach us when we are most in need, and no one but Him could help us. But what many don’t realise is that if we don’t have Jesus we are already at our lowest point.
We often live like the people of the Laodicean age, who were wealthy and healthy and clothed beautifully, but did not know that they were poor and sick and naked. We have hierarchies of sin and nice words for them too: white lies are somehow not meant to be as bad as lies of another colour; a homosexual lifestyle is just a life choice, and an ‘affair’ sounds more palatable than adultery.
Before my encounter, I lived what may be considered to be a reasonably good life. I had a good job, lived in a nice part of London, and had lots of friends from around the world. I was kind and generous. I didn’t do drugs or any of the obviously ‘bad sins’, although that was not for want of trying.
I didn’t drink much because I got drunk very easily and would always be really ill the next day, even after only two glasses of wine. Eventually I figured out it wasn’t worth it. I smoked cannabis a few times, but all it made me do was fall asleep.
I dreamed of being really wild and promiscuous – yes, I did – but the moment the opportunity presented itself I would run away and hide in conversation with one of my girlfriends. I was just not cut out for a wild lifestyle.
Yet, when I met Him for real, I felt like the prostitute who had been giving away her love in all the wrong places, and was finally faced with her true husband. I’m able-bodied, but it was as if I’d been limping my way through life, and now finally I was healed. Even now, in my forties, I have good vision and have never needed spectacles, but I felt like I had been blind and groping in the dark up until this point that the Light came in.
It is typically said that Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts and we have to open it up to Him, so I must have opened the door, but I didn’t hear Him knock and I didn’t know I had opened the door. It was more like Jesus knocked, came around the other side and showed me how to open the door, then went around the other side and knocked again, and said, ‘Oops, look, it’s open, can I come in?’ The decisions we make in life sometimes seem so unconnected to their consequences. Perhaps it was in one of those experiences I am going to relate in the next chapter. Maybe it was one of those days when I was feeling emotional and cried out to God to show me who He really is and why I was really here. It could have been the prayers of my uncle and father and mother and eldest sister, all those who had been interceding on my behalf for decades, or the prayers of my new church friends and leaders. Perhaps it was all of the above, or perhaps it was nothing but a sovereign act of His amazing grace.
And once that door was opened, everything became available to me. He is the door to all doors. I now lived and moved and had my being in Him. I now had the mind of Christ. I was now seated in heavenly places with Him. All the promises were now in Him, yes, and in Him, Amen. All things are His, and so all things in heaven and on earth had become mine. Just like that.
It was all just a little too much for me to take in. I was in a complete daze. Could this be real?
And yet it was. One of the best things about this entire experience was that even in the midst of the supernatural experience, it was somehow so ordinary. Throughout my walk with the Lord so far, I have always found that He responds the most quickly and completely, not when I’m trying to be super-religious, but when I’m simply being real – just like He is.
Wherever you are with Him, He wants to make Himself even more real to you. There is always room to go deeper until you see the King of Glory seated comfortably in glory, not just in heaven above, but right in the centre of your heart. The door is open to welcome you to the kingdom of love.
This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NLT)
So this is Love. The King of love Himself walked into the living room of my soul and I became like the man who had fallen so deeply in love that he no longer wanted to go to war. Nothing else mattered. There was nothing more to be done or said or even thought, except Him.
My prayer life with God usually involves some verbal interaction but just then, when the King of love walked into my sitting room, I must have been gawking; my eyes and mouth were opened wide to drink in as much of Him as I could, in an attempt to begin to understand what kind of love this was. Occasionally, when I get completely lost in worship, I experience a small reminder of what it was like simply to bask in His loving gaze.
I had never experienced a love like this. I have wonderful relationships with my family and friends, but this was an entirely new realm that I had not known was possible.
Truly, if no one else in the world ever said they loved me again, I would not have cared, because I found out that I was deeply, passionately, eternally loved by the King of love Himself. I no longer needed to be loved by others, I wanted only to love in return.
Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:18–19 that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of His love, and that we may know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge. Quite a few books could be written on just these two verses alone, but perhaps it is enough to start with this: that the knowledge of His love goes past our natural knowledge and understanding. His love is, in a sense, four-dimensional, while we are used to a three-dimensional world, and the fourth dimension cannot be experienced without supernatural assistance. Every time we think we get it, there is always another dimension to explore. And then each of these dimensions has other dimensions, and so on ad infinitum, into greater and greater revelations of His love, until we have to beg Him in His mercy to stop. No wonder Paul prayed that we would be enabled with power to comprehend His limitless love. It is overwhelming in its exponential magnitude for us. In order to fully grasp His eternal love, we would need more than our natural selves. He would have to place eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
The traditional interpretation of this verse often suggests that God has placed eternity in our hearts to hold something back from us – [_so that no man _]can find out His work from beginning to end. But a more thorough examination of the text suggests a different understanding. I think there is a beautiful truth hidden in this verse: that God placed eternity in our hearts, [_without which no man _]can find out His amazing work of love from beginning to end.
He has hidden the most beautiful truths in His Word, but they are not hidden [_from _]us, they are hidden [_for _]us. He placed eternity in our hearts, not to hinder us, but to help us discover His work of love.
One of my favourite symbols of God’s amazing love is a passionately burning fire. The prophet Ezekiel had visions of God (Ezekiel 1:27), in which He appeared to be full of fire from the waist up! The Song of Solomon says: ‘Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which have a most vehement flame’ (8:6). And there is a wonderful account in the book of 1 Kings 18 that demonstrates the fiery nature of God’s love in an unforgettable way.
Elijah the prophet challenged 450 prophets of the false god Baal. He said, ‘Let us sacrifice two bulls on the two altars, and the God who answers by fire will be the true God.’ The false prophets went first. They called on Baal all morning, but there was no answer. By lunchtime they were shouting aloud – still no answer. They started cutting themselves and prophesied until the time of the evening sacrifice. Their blood gushed out, but still nothing. Eventually Elijah called everyone near. He repaired the altar of God, dug a trench around it, and had them pour 12 barrels of water over the sacrifice and the wood until everything was wet and the trench was filled. Then he prayed a simple prayer:
LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that you are the LORD God, and that you have turned their heart back again.
Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up even the water that was in the trench.
There is so much power and revelation in this one account. The prophets of Baal remind me of those who think they have to work to get God’s love. They mutilate their souls (and sometimes their bodies), shout, get into hyper-emotional activity, and still get no response. I have been one of them. But the true lovers of God know that He is a God whose passion for us burns like fire! He has tattooed us on the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:16), so that all may see that He loves us. He does not have to be begged or cajoled into showing His love. If we get emotional, it’s not so we could get Him to love us more, but because we realise He could not love us any more than He already does, and we are simply overwhelmed. Like Paul, we do not boast of our love for Him, but of His love for us. Like the apostle John, we refer to ourselves as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loves’, not because we think that we are more special or more loved than the other disciples, but because we find our very identity in nothing other than the fact that we are loved by Him.
Elijah was so confident of God’s fiery passion that he soaked the sacrifice and wood in water so there would be no doubt that the fire that came was supernatural. It shows too that when God gives us a promise, even when it seems that believing Him makes things worse, even when we are outnumbered and facing fierce opposition, even when our very lives are at stake, we can be confident that His love will show up on our behalf – vehemently licking up everything in His path. Indeed, it was that love that showed up on the cross 2000 years ago, and that same love that is now with us always, burning furiously.
And this fire of love, which is so overwhelmingly beautiful to those who choose Jesus, is hellfire for those who refuse Him. Have you ever had a relationship or business opportunity or project that you really wanted to succeed, but it didn’t work out? Now imagine that it could have worked out if you had taken just one simple step, and think of the torment you would feel at having to watch others take what so easily could have been yours. At its worst, that is nothing compared to being able to see the fire of Christ’s love for His beloved and knowing that it would have been so easy for you to have had that chance.
What is worse is that at the end of your life you will never, ever get the chance again. The concept of purgatory, where those who die can be prayed for to get into heaven, and the concept of reincarnation, are some of the most dangerous threats to people making the right choices in life. There is less importance attached to our choices if we believe we can always choose again in another life. The truth is that this life we have now is the only time we get to choose. This is it. And the eternal torment for those who refuse Jesus will be to realise what passion could have been theirs, that is now forever shut off from them because they did not make the right choice while on earth. And this will not be a torment that will ever go away, not even for a second. It will always be intense and at the forefront of their minds. It will last eternally. That’s hell! Many people get so offended about God allowing people who reject Him to go to hell. But they don’t realise that it is the absence of Jesus in our lives that is hell. The good news is that as long as you are still alive, you can always choose Him. Even now you can stop reading, ask Jesus to show you His love, and receive Him in your heart today. It’s that easy.
And to think that He told me all of this before He even said a word. I recall only a few things that He said specifically, but I had a distinct sense of instantly knowing an innumerable number of things that I had no way of articulating, or even remembering all at once, except for this: that He loves me with a love beyond my ability to comprehend.
[_God’s kind of love _]is the most powerful force in the world, and it is more than just a good feeling.
Our very existence can only be found in His [_love _
__](1 Corinthians 13:2).
The main ingredient for lasting success is [_love _][
__](1 Corinthians 13:8).
One of the signs of maturity is [_love _
Our source of identity is [_love _
The antidote to fear is [_love _
__](I John 4:18).
The key to making faith work is [_love _
The strongest link to forgiveness is [_love _
[_Love _]heals, delivers, redeems, protects, satisfies, empowers
I could go on and on.
To my mind there are really only two loves the Bible speaks of: the love of God (agape) and our love for each other (phileo), which f lows from us receiving His [_agape _]love. When we receive His love, our natural response is simply to love Him back and to love others. In other words, although there are many different ways in which it can be expressed, all expressions of biblical love are variations of the God kind of love.
There is an idea in classical Greek thinking that has permeated the Christian perspective on love. It’s that there are four main types of love: the divine, brotherly, familial and erotic. The types are helpful as descriptions of different expressions of love, but as categories of different types of love they are misleading.
Jesus did not make a distinction between the familial and the [_phileo _](brotherly) types of love relationship. In fact He made a point of saying there was no distinction, even at the risk of embarrassing his mother and brothers. One day, when Jesus’ brothers and mother tried to get special treatment at one of his public meetings, His response to them was that His brothers, sisters and mother were those who do the will of God (Matthew 12:50). He did not say that [_phileo _](brotherly) love is rated higher than familial love, or vice versa.
He said simply that there is only one kind, phileo.
Of course, God does expect us to honour our familial relationships. The same Jesus who declined to give his mother special privileges at that public meeting, had her at the forefront of His mind on the cross, and gave His disciple John the responsibility of looking after her after He was gone (John 19: 26–27). He did not make a distinction between the familial and the [_phileo _]brotherly love relationship, but He understood that His [_phileo _]love for His mother demanded something of Him that would be uniquely and appropriately expressed to her.
This view of God’s love may seem extreme because it implies that the love of a man for his wife and his sister or child, for instance, are all the same, which appears counterintuitive. These different expressions are accompanied by very different emotions (in healthy relationships), and the love is shared in very different ways. It only seems odd because we confuse love with the emotion it arouses or the action it produces. Love is far more than these. Love energises our emotions and stimulates our actions, but it does not start there.
Love originates in our spirit, while expressions of love take place in and through our bodies and souls.
God’s kind of love is always the same, but it also always has an expression that is unique to us because He has taken the time to consider us carefully.
He has counted even the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). In the same way, our true expression of love to others causes us to take time to consider them carefully and express our love appropriately. If we were to truly walk in the God kind of love towards others, not the categorised versions of love that we are more comfortable with, we would experience a love revolution like the world has never seen.
Another reason the Greek categories are misleading is that they imply that different kinds of love have different (usually less than the full biblical) characteristics and so can cause us to settle for less. The erotic expression of love has been a major casualty in this area, being reduced to a mere mechanical action at one extreme, or an emotionally driven roller coaster at the other. But an erotic expression of love, in its truest sense, meets every single one of the characteristics set out in 1 Corinthians 13: 4–8 (AMP):
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inf lated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not dishonour others or act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self- seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].
This is why a man in his nineties could look at his wife of the same age and say: she still drives me crazy. In the Song of Solomon erotic love is portrayed as merely an appropriate expression of God’s kind of love within the context of a marriage. He uses the union of a man with his wife as a metaphor for the union of Christ, the bridegroom, with His church, the bride. Erotic love is not another kind of love, just His kind of love expressed appropriately.
The categories of love fool people into thinking it is possible to experience different types of love independently of each other. For instance, some think they can have sex with someone and leave their hearts intact. The categories tempt us to split our hearts into pieces, and pigeon-hole people into different boxes that define which part of our hearts they can have access to. But this never works, because the heart was designed to be whole.
God’s criteria for us loving each other was not based on the level of relationship or how long we have known each other, or any other such category. In 1 John 4:21 He says simply:
The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen.
My point is simply this: the boxes don’t work.
It’s time to take our love out of the box, and let it f low as passionately and indiscriminately as it came to us from God above. Jesus said simply: ‘Love others as I have loved you’ (John 13:34).
True love is rich, deep, wise, exciting, powerful, overwhelming, and it empowers us to – almost demands that we – demonstrate the same. Perhaps that is why over the years its true value has been eroded to a state that is easier for our minds to grasp and our egos to withstand. The ways of the world have infiltrated our expressions of love, so that when the world looks to us to see evidence of true forgiveness, true kindness, true patience, true self lessness, true love, they find that we talk a good talk of divine empowerment but are weak and a little sour to the taste when we get to the heart of the matter.
I remember the first time one of my nephews took communion. He was about seven at the time, and so excited. When he returned to his seat he looked a little dejected, so I asked him how it went.
With a disappointed glance towards the f loor he said: ‘Oh, it was just cranberry juice.’ He had hoped the ‘wine’ would be real wine. How many times do others come to us expecting to drink deeply of the rich, intoxicating power of the love of God and get, in return, just religious cranberry juice?
Soon after my encounter I shared with someone how much He loves us. I was so excited, and must have talked about Him in such a real way, that she thought for a second that I had stopped talking about God and was talking about a young man we both knew. At the end of my gushing, she added: ‘Yes, and he’s cute too.’ It was like a splash of cold water on my face and I said ‘Cute’? I had thought strange things about God but I had never thought of Him as being ‘cute.’ Understanding suddenly dawned, and I quietly explained that I was still talking about Jesus. It was quite funny in retrospect.
People experience Jesus in very different ways, and I had to learn not to assume that others would automatically agree with or understand me simply because we are Christians. We each have different revelations for different purposes, and we should use them to edify one another and glorify the multi-dimensional character of His amazing love.
But I do remember in the first few months after my encounter being very puzzled by other Christians, at least the super-religious ones. I found out some people find it difficult to believe that God could really be [_that _]good, or love us [_that _]much. Like Peter, who refused at first to let Jesus wash his feet (John 13:8), we find it difficult to believe that God can be so undignified in his love for us, so servant-like, so adoring, so shameless even: but He is – that, and more!
Jesus hung out with drunkards and prostitutes, not because it was cool and revolutionary, but because He truly loved them and would use any means necessary to convey His love. I’ve heard His voice in a so-called secular song, read His words speaking directly to me on a billboard, felt His love through the touch of a stranger. His love is real, and its threads can be seen woven through the very fabric of our reality.
One winter, I looked out of my bedroom window onto the Yorkshire countryside and I thought: from a distance, the bare branches of the trees look like beautiful pencil sketches God has drawn across the sky, a beautiful reminder that summer is on the way. As I was thinking about this God whispered to me, saying: ‘So you see, if sometimes you feel like I am stripping you bare, like a tree in winter, maybe it’s because I like what I see.’ Whatever our state, He loves us intimately and He would use anything we let Him use to declare His love.
In fact, the whole of creation constantly declares the majesty of His love for us.
I am still finding out what I know. There was one season in my life, a few years after I met Jesus, when I had a rather painful experience of being accused and publicly humiliated for things that were untrue, by someone who wanted to cover up their own shame. In addition to that I had a significant financial failure, as well as a huge personal disappointment. It was one of those seasons when all I could do was cry out ‘Abba! Daddy!’ I needed His love to manifest quickly – and boy, did He come running!
During that time I attended a midday church service – a rare treasure in the financial district of the City of London – at the wonderful St Margaret Lothbury. Towards the end, the congregation was invited to the front to be prayed for. I don’t remember what the sermon was about, but I knew I needed prayer. When the woman began praying for me I experienced wave after wave of love just washing over me. It was amazing. I could have stood there forever. I remember thinking, wow, I didn’t know she could pray like that. She had one hand on my shoulder and, after she said [_Amen _]I felt her move her hand to my lower arm, and the waves of love and comfort just kept crashing in. I could hear her praying for the person standing next to me, but I could still feel her hand on my arm and those waves of comfort blowing through my mind. I thought she must know how much pain I was in, and that she was trying to balance her ministering to me and to the others in the short time available.
I stood there for quite a while until I started to become a little embarrassed, as I felt I must be taking up loads of her time and there were other people on the prayer line. I was loath to open my eyes but finally, reluctantly, I did, and saw her standing fully in front of the gentleman next to me, instead of straddling the distance between us as I had expected. I looked closer and saw that her hands were on him, and nowhere near where I was standing. But I could still feel the pressure of a hand on my arm, so I looked down to see what was causing it, and then it suddenly disappeared. I went back to my seat, dumbfounded.
The Lord had sent an angel, or I like to think He had come Himself to minister to me, and I didn’t even know He was there. He stayed just long enough for me to realise that it was Him, and then hid His presence again. I wished I had never opened my eyes! But I went back to my seat with the overwhelming conviction that God had come specially to comfort me. The experience was so beautiful that I almost cried for joy. I didn’t know what to do with myself. In that moment I was healed of the pain.
Jesus longs for us to allow Him to go to the wounds of past hurts, disappointments and shame so He can heal, restore and love us back into being who He created us to be. He longs for the opportunity to clean up our mess, and show us the beauty of who we truly are.
There is an old saying in Trinidad, or perhaps it was just in my family, I’m not sure. If you really wanted to convince someone how much you love them you would say: ‘I love you with my whole heart, my whole stomach and … a piece a mi gizzard!’
The [_gizzard _]is that part of the digestive tract in chickens that has lots of stones in it which, as children, we thought were swallowed by mistake and could not be digested. I learnt later that the stones were swallowed on purpose because chickens don’t have teeth and so food is ground up in the gizzard before being digested. There are parts of our soul that store the stony areas in our lives, whether they happened by mistake or on purpose. Our tendency is to hide these areas, and only present to the world the things we have fully digested. The gizzard of our souls, like a chicken gizzard, looks pretty nasty when it’s first opened up, and nobody wants anyone else to see them in that state. Our childlike declaration of love says: ‘I love you so much I will open to you even the areas I would prefer no one else to see.’ We have a God who says He is the lover of our souls, and He longs for us to let Him into our whole soul – especially the gizzard. He wants us to be real, because His love is real.
The ‘gizzard’ comes in many forms. There’s a woman in the Bible whose gizzard came in the form of an alabaster box. She had spent almost a year’s wages on expensive perfumed ointment, and simply lavished it on the feet of Jesus out of love (Luke 7: 36–50). The perfume was almost certainly bought with the proceeds of her self-employment as a ‘lady of the night’. In lavishing her gift on Jesus, it was as if she were opening her sordid life for Him and everyone else to see. The perfume, once her prized possession, used sparingly on the precious parts of her body to entice men to desire her, was now barely good enough to lavish on the feet of the one she adored. The very thing that He had forgiven her of was what she used to worship Him. They whispered against Jesus for such an extravagantly wasteful act, and against the woman for her sinfulness, but Jesus only responded: ‘He loves much who has been forgiven much.’
I don’t believe that Jesus was saying that this woman’s sins were greater than those of the people around her. I explained earlier how my encounter with Him made me realise I had been prostituting my own love before I met Him. The expression of her love was in direct proportion to the depth of her understanding of how much she had been forgiven. Truly, when we see Jesus as He is, we realise we are all no better than prostitutes, that we all have huge gizzards, that we have all sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23), that we have all been forgiven much. And when we see His majesty and His overwhelming love for us, in spite of who we are or what we’ve done or not done, then falling madly in love with Him, and displaying it extravagantly before Him and others, would be our only reasonable response.
As children, we would often declare our undying gizzard-love in the hope of getting a sibling to share a piece of cake or a soft drink, or whatever it was they had that we so desperately wanted at the time. But God’s love is completely self less, because there is nothing we can give Him. If He were hungry we could not feed Him (Psalm 50:12). If He were naked, we could not clothe Him. If He were homeless, we could not shelter Him.
Yet He is so giddy with love for us that He chooses to live in our hearts, and His fiery passion licks up the stony, dusty areas in our lives, purifies and refines us, until we are whole again.
This is the kind of love the world needs. It is so tempting to try to reach others with other things: good works, worldly success, nice looks. But they will not know we are Christians by our charitable giving, nice cars, large houses, high-f lying careers or beautiful physique. They will know us by our love (John 13:35). Some of my friends from my previous job in the financial services are very well-off. Financial success does not impress them. What does impress them, though, is to love and be loved with the love of God, no matter what has been done and in spite of the circumstances. That is an ability most people who do not know God could only dream they might have the capacity for.
The Lord lamented in Hosea 4:6 My people perish for lack of knowledge. I believe this means not just the lack of knowledge of His principles, but the lack of knowledge of His all-powerful love. It’s His love that makes Life available to us. His principles merely help us to live out what love has already given.
We have His healing, provision and protection, and should fully expect them because of the nature of His character, and His love for us. That is not to say that we would never experience adversity because He loves us. There are times we make poor decisions, or do not heed His warnings. But even if we were always 100 per cent obedient 100 per cent of the time, there is always the cross-factor.
Jesus said this in John 16: They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. In John 15 He reminded us that those who hated Him will hate us also.
The cross we have to bear is not sickness or poverty or any of the other things Jesus already conquered for us. But there is a cross of persecution because of the Word. When we accept Jesus, His Word is sown in our hearts and immediately the enemy comes to try to steal, kill or destroy the Word. Yet even through times of persecution, His presence is so glorious and His love so powerful that we are more aware of Him in all
His gloriousness than we are mindful of the present difficulties. Stephen was perhaps the first Christian martyr who discovered this (Acts 7:55), and he was followed by countless saints around the world, who suffer persecution even to this day and who give moving and inspirational testimonies of the goodness of God in the face of danger that leave me speechless.
Jesus came to the world to show us how much God loves us. It was not just so that our sins would be forgiven, it was so that He could start a radical love revolution where He opened the doors of the most intimate space in heaven, and invited us in to dwell with Him there forever. And that new life starts now. I am indebted to Andrew Wommack for showing me the truth that I already knew in my heart but had not yet seen in the Bible – that eternal life is simply to know God intimately (John 17:3). It is not for some time in the future when we get to heaven. Eternal life starts here and now. And it is from this intimate space of divine connection that we are called to reach out to the rest of the world.
God’s [_agape _]love within us helps us to turn the other cheek, knowing we may be hit again. We can only truly do that when we understand that a pure love that comes from within is infinitely more powerful than any pain that can be inf licted from without. It’s neither naive nor do-goody. It takes an unshakeable determination to be true to who we are in spite of the circumstances, it takes admirable strength of character and divine empowerment to love and only love.
It cannot be done in our own strength. It only becomes possible when we have experienced His love for real.
God says [_many waters cannot quench His love _]for us, [_nor will rivers overflow it _](Song of Solomon 8:7). His love burns so furiously that nothing could ever even cool it down. My love is sometimes full on and overf lowing, and sometimes a gentle ebb that only His grace keeps going. But His love is always full-on.
Some people have said: ‘Well, it’s great that God did all that for you. But why didn’t He do it for me?’ And I think the answer is that what He did for one, He did for all. The way He did it with me was specific to the nature of our relationship – but what He did for me, He did for everyone, and that’s why He inspired me to share our story. It’s not just my story, it’s ours: yours and mine.
And there’s more. What He did was marvellous in my eyes, but it wasn’t exceptional to Him. This was just another expression of the very nature of His love. He loves watching over us as we sleep. His love is personal and intimate, and each of us has a special place in His heart that no one else could fill. In the same way, there is a special place in our hearts that no one and nothing else can fill but Him. It had to be like this.
He took on ALL our sins, and felt what it was like to be utterly forsaken by His Father. And then He proved that, even in that state, if you have faith in God’s love, He will always come through for you, no matter how bad your predicament. He believed in an awesome, merciful and loving God, and now we can too.
I long to know Him even more intimately still, more than a wife knows her husband. I want to not just hear His voice, but to recognise subtle changes in His tone. I want to be so in tune with Him that He could guide me with an almost imperceptible shift in His glance.
I want to identify His scent and know the moment His glory enters a room, without having to change my position.
I want more of Him almost all the time.
And He desires us. His bowels yearn for us, He enjoys our company, He twirls in delight when we focus our attention on Him, He is excited in our presence. Zephaniah 3:17 says He sings and dances with joy over us. He loves us. He loves me, and He loves you!
I have had to restrict myself from writing more. It is just so overwhelming to know how much He loves us. And yet, as overwhelming as my experience was, it was only a few days after my encounter that the euphoria began to recede, and Jesus began to allow me to see some of the things that were still in my own soul.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.
1 John 4:18 (KJV)
In the ensuing days, I continued to bask in His love but I began to notice things about myself. I noticed that I cared a little too much about what others thought of me, which caused me to lose my focus on Him. I also started to notice things in the Bible that were confusing. There is one that I found quite puzzling for years. The disciples were walking along with Jesus, and came across a man who was blind from birth. So they asked Jesus: ‘Who sinned that this man was born blind, him or his parents?’ In most translations Jesus replied: [_Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this was so that the work of God might be displayed in his life _](John 9:3).
What?! I thought. So God made him, or allowed him to be, sick, so that He could show how good He would be at healing him? That didn’t sound like the Jesus I knew.
For years I trusted that there is some hidden truth which I had not yet grasped, but I knew it was not that God allows or causes evil to show how good He is. But then I came across an explanation from Spirit and Truth Fellowship International that an investigation of the original Greek text clarifies. The phrase that was translated but this was so that the work of God might be displayed in his life could also have been translated but let the work of God be displayed in his life, as indeed it had been translated in other parts of the Bible. In other words, while the disciples were busy pointing fingers trying to find purpose in the sickness, Jesus chose simply to focus on the solution, and let the work of God be displayed by healing him.
Sometimes the wall of our unanswered questions can build a barrier that interrupts the f low of God’s love in our lives. His love is always available, but we can stop receiving it. There are a number of questions I still have that remain unanswered, but I have found that if, in the wait for the answer which will surely come, rather than point fingers at God or others, if I just stay on the journey and focus on His work of love being displayed in our lives, the answers will come.
I once put as my Facebook status update: Love is the answer, whatever the question. One of my friends cheekily replied – ‘So what am I having for dinner tonight?’ Immediately the Holy Spirit reminded me of Proverbs 15:17: Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. Love may not always seem to be the answer to the question in our mouths, but it will always be the answer to the question in our hearts.
Sometimes, a genuine lack of understanding of all that Jesus’ love has accomplished for us causes us to underestimate it and unconsciously glorify pain and poverty and other forms of adversity, even in the name of God. But in our hearts, this puts up an unconscious barrier to receiving His love in all its fullness.
Would we give our children sickness or poverty as a sign of love? Are we more loving than God? Jesus asked: [_If your child asked for bread, would you give him a stone? _]He goes on to say in Matthew 7:11: [_If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him? _]Yes we can learn powerful truths, even truths about God’s love, as a result of going through adversity, but if we just dwelt there that would be only half the story. The story does not end until there is fulfilment of the promise.
Being loved by God, and valuing our relationship with Him above all else, does not mean we need to live defeated lives in sickness or poverty or adversity. Those things may come but, as the three Hebrew boys who were thrown into the fire discovered (Daniel 3), our God is more than able to deliver us when we put our relationship with Him first. And the more we experience the love of God, the more our faith, which works by love, and our hope rise.
Sometimes we reject God’s love because we forget that He is there for more than emotional healing and support. He also wants to affect the adverse circumstances that come against us. God is not waiting for us to finish the fight so He can comfort us as a loving Father afterwards. He is right there in the ring with us, and is desperate for us to ‘tag out’ so that He can give us the victory. He was so eager to see us completely healed and whole that Jesus bore the beatings that disfigured Him, to the point He was barely recognisable as being human (Isaiah 52:14).
On my first day at Bible college, seven years after my encounter with Jesus, I saw a picture in my mind of Jesus on the cross, with His head leaning to one side, looking straight at me. This was during worship, so I continued worshipping, but on the way home I asked Him silently what it meant. He said He wanted me to see Him as He was looking at me so many years ago on the cross.
It was for the joy of seeing me take up my place that He endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross. And [we _]are that _joy. What amazing love!
For those who have been exposed to the tarnished love of the world, especially at a young age, the association of love with a Holy God is a difficult bridge to cross. They may prefer attributes of righteousness and justice, or perhaps a little mercy. But God’s highest attribute is love. Certainly we must not become so enthralled with the idea of intimacy with God that we forget how powerful and awesome He is, but we must also not get so concerned with paying Him reverence that we forget how ‘crazy in love’ He is with us.
He relentlessly pursues us, even willing to make Himself appear undignified in the process, like the father who runs to the prodigal son, like the prophet who marries a prostitute and showers her with his love, like the Saviour who is rejected, despised, whipped and crucified, and still manages to look on those who betrayed Him with eyes of love while He hung there on the cross – not with a small loincloth delicately covering His modesty, as commonly depicted, but completely naked. There is no power in a love that is more concerned with being dignified than being vulnerable.
As a child I loved the children’s TV programme Sesame Street. (Actually, I still do). One of their parodies of the story of Rapunzel takes the form of a news f lash, with Kermit the Frog as the commentator, and it shows perfectly our fear of becoming vulnerable. This is just my recollection of it, which may not be completely accurate, but here goes.
Prince Charming is standing a few metres beneath a small window in a tall tower. He looks up longingly at the beautiful Rapunzel, who is waiting anxiously to be rescued.
Prince Charming (lovingly and a little arrogantly): Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.
Rapunzel (in a broad accent):
What? Can you talk a little louder, I can’t hear ya.
Prince Charming (loudly now):
Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!
You want me to let down my what?
Prince Charming (very loud):
You want me to let down my hair?
Prince Charming (exasperated now):
Yes, I want you to let down your hair!
Rapunzel (almost incredulous):
You [_really _]want me to let down my hair?
Prince Charming (almost screeching):
Yes, I really want you to let down your hair!
(Pointing to the ground at his feet) Right here!
Her beautiful locks tumble towards the ground, and as the first tendril hits the ground, she tips her head forward and the skull cap to which the hair is attached falls to the ground also.
The Prince looks on in horror at the wig at his feet. Rapunzel stands bald-headed in the tower, looking very vulnerable, and says: ‘Hey Prince, now what?’ The Prince runs away, looking for his horse, while Rapunzel tries to work out another way of being rescued.
Whether we are male or female, sometimes we get a little scared of truly letting the love of God within us f low. We get worried that it may be abused, or that we may be taken advantage of, or that – like Rapunzel – we may pour it all out and be left standing bald-headed and vulnerable. But we are not lonely princes or princesses waiting to be rescued.
We are the warrior clan of the bride of Christ, and our biggest weapon against the kingdom of darkness is love.
Soon after becoming a Christian I thought that God had called me to a life of celibacy. In response to a specific question on dating, He showed me Jeremiah 16:2 which says: [_You should not marry nor have children in this place. _]My group leader advised that maybe God was referring to the place my soul was in at the moment rather than putting a permanent ban on marriage for me, but I would not hear of it. I was married brief ly when I was younger and the truth was that not getting married again would have saved me from having to face a number of home truths. I was happy to cross that off my list and just ‘focus on Jesus’. I remember hosting an event for singles and being so relieved that I did not have to face the issues they had with looking for a mate.
But then God started working on areas of my soul, or shall I say my gizzard, that had been left untended. He restored me in places that I did not know had been broken, particularly with respect to my self-esteem and sense of purity – both of which come ultimately from Him. When the work was done, He said He did not call me to a life of celibacy but had a husband for me. The next singles event I hosted was completely different for me.
I expected it to be awkward and uncomfortable but discovered that I was now stronger than before, because I was no longer hiding behind the religious cover of my interpretation of what God had said. I could be real.
Sometimes the barriers are the ones we put up, because we know that receiving God’s love would mean a confrontation with sin. Jesus longs for us to be courageous enough to receive His love which, alone, has the power to clean up our sin. Some people say they are just not ready to take that step and give up all the things they like to do, which they believe are sinful. But it is only in taking that step that the power comes to overcome sin, because His love introduces us to something/someone who is far more enjoyable. But they would have to give Him a try to find that out.
We can receive His love unhindered and we are to let our love flow, no matter what the circumstances. Let our love f low to those who have despised and abused us. Let it f low to the unlovely. Let it f low towards those who have no intention of ever returning it. True love offers to others the ultimate sacrifice, and honours them even if they choose to reject it. Love when others hate you without a cause. Love when they persecute you and laugh at you. Love when they tell lies about you and abuse your good nature. Still love. And when you yourself mess up, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just love. Always love. Only love. For He first loved us. Let your love f low, and God will return it to you, pressed down shaken together and running over. We are called to love, like warriors, with no fear.
And that is, perhaps, the biggest barrier to receiving God’s love – fear. We fear failure and success, we fear being alone, we fear rejection, we fear unanswered questions, we fear death, and sometimes we fear fear itself. And again, there is one simple solution – His perfect love promises us there is no failure in Him, His love causes Him to be present in our lives, we will never be rejected by Him, and His love is the answer to every heart question.
By his love He has gained victory over death of every kind, and His perfect love casts out all fear.
Not too long ago, I started experiencing pains in my body. It had been going on for a while and I knew that God is a healer, so I was not afraid, but I was annoyed at having to fight a battle against any kind of illness. I went to a Christian meeting and decided to go forward for prayer. The woman who prayed for me asked me what I thought of when I got the pains, and I said: ‘I suppose I fear the worst.’ I did not know I had entertained the spirit of fear but, in retrospect, I had. At the back of my mind was a theory I had heard of the kinds of illnesses that tend to accompany certain kinds of life events or stresses. Now I know these are just opportunistic lies of the enemy, trying to find a way for our minds to give him access to our bodies during times of adversity. She rebuked the spirit of dread, and my body instantly reacted. Then she asked me to say: ‘I receive the love of God in my body.’ Before I could finish the sentence, I immediately felt a warm surge of His love f low into the affected area, and the pain disappeared. It took seconds for me to be healed.
His love is tangible and powerful. He just needs to be given access to do His work, and He’s willing to go anywhere, everywhere, if we let Him.
One of the wonderful things about having His [_agape _]love is just that: we already have it. We have all the love the world needs, ready to f low through us to them. The only thing stopping us from loving literally everyone we meet is the barriers that we ourselves have put up. I remember saying to one of my friends soon after I met Jesus that I just loved everyone without trying. She thought I was being rather promiscuous, for want of a better word. Love, she thought, works better when it’s more exclusive. I understood what she meant, so I kept quiet.
But inwardly I thought: ‘Well then, I love everyone exclusively.’ This is the way Jesus loves us.
There are many other reasons we sometimes find it difficult to receive the love of God. One of my friends confessed that she was really struggling receiving God’s love. She came from a culture where she understood the need for respect but she did not understand the need for love. Sometimes there are issues even from childhood that God wants us to give Him access to in order to bring healing. For some, ‘love’ and ‘Father’ simply do not go together. It may be an issue with authority figures in general. There is a young woman who had a history of problems with authority, especially the police. She had seen them do atrocious things to others, and there were times when her heart rate would accelerate, not out of fear, but out of anger, just at the sight of a police uniform. One day she prayed about this fervently, and she was surprised at what happened next. One of her next-door neighbours was in a bad mood because her husband had parked their car too close to his driveway, again. So he reported it as being illegally parked.
So he got the car clamped and towed away in the middle of the night. The police had to be involved for the return of the vehicle and the young woman was not in a good mood when they arrived. They helped her to sort out the details and then one of them decided to stay with her until her car was returned. It took a few hours but he was very kind and understanding and patient. By the time the car arrived, her heart was completely softened. When she told me of the change this police officer had brought about in her attitude, we were both so excited. I wish more people in authority would realise that the best and most efficient way to be in authority is not by claiming the rights they’re entitled to by position, but by carrying out their relational responsibility with genuine love. Indeed, those in authority are at their most powerful when they seek the good of those who submit to them, rather than seeking their own benefit.
Our God is a God who could demonstrate His authority over us simply because He is God, but He chose instead to love us into submission, until we choose to move the barrier ourselves, and allow Him, the God who is Love, to come f looding in.
I and My Father are one.
John 10:30 (KJV)
He came and stood directly in front of me, and when He spoke, it was if there were billions of voices all speaking in pin-point perfect unison with him – and yet I could distinguish each voice clearly. I could even see the people the voices represented: they were of different ages, genders, races, nationalities, accents and times, and they were all in Him, even though He was no larger than a normal-sized person.
He/they said the one thing I so needed to hear:
‘I Am the Same God.’
For years I had been asking for the real God to tell me who He was. Being a foreigner in London meant that most of my friends’ gatherings were a bit like United Nations meetings: they represented many races and all faiths or none, and were all fabulous. It was difficult to believe that God would send most of them to hell simply because they chose to worship in a different way.
But I was sure of one thing. They could not all be right.
One of the most infuriatingly illogical things I have ever heard other people say is that all religions are essentially the same. Even then, I knew that could not be true! Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago provides the awesome privilege of living in a melting pot of people of different races and faiths, which means a lot of national holidays, because of all the holy days! The convent school I went to had three simultaneous religious assemblies for Catholics, Muslims and Hindus. As children we understood that there are differences that are fundamental enough to require us to have different assemblies, even if we regathered after assembly, just as all children did, to play, eat, laugh, complain about homework, and act silly over any member of the male species who happened to walk into the compound.
So I guess it was always clear to me that while all religions had similarities, they are not all the same. Christians say Jesus is both God and the Son of God. Muslims say God has no children, and Jesus was just a great prophet. Jews say Jesus was a false prophet, and still others say He was just a man who realised His divine nature. Some say there is one God, some say there are many gods, some say there is no God, and others say we are all gods. A more detailed look at the central tenets of each religion would throw up even more inconsistencies and differences. All religions are not the same.
But does it matter if we have different definitions of God? Shouldn’t we just be allowed to think of God as we like and espouse whatever doctrines have evolved for us over time, given our history and culture? What is really important is the outworking of our faith and how it affects our relationship with others, is it not?
That line of reasoning works well [_only _]if we have a highly impersonal God, a great supernatural being far removed from us, who does not desire to have relationship with us and only cares about what we do and not who we are.
It would only work with a god whose main concern is that we act right. Nothing could be further from the Jesus whom so many of us know and love. His number one priority is His love relationship with us.
His incarnation as a babe in a manger who grew up to be a man who would suffer, be crucified and die for us, is proof that He longs to know us and to be known intimately as a God who is near, not afar off – if we would let Him in.
Jesus warned us that there will be many who would misunderstand this, who would go out and do great things for God on the earth. They would save people’s lives, cause some to be healed, some to be delivered, and much more. Yet on the day of judgement, Jesus will say to them: [_Depart from me. I know you not _](Mathew 7: 21–23). They had done great things in Jesus’ name, which had its own reward, but missed the most important priority of developing a relationship with Jesus Himself.
He placed a desire in our hearts to know Him and, if we are honest with ourselves, we will never be satisfied until we know Him completely. And so He answered the deepest desire of my heart to know Him on 30 July 2005, with the words:
I AM THE SAME GOD.
I understood immediately that He meant the same God who always answered my prayers and whom I have always been vaguely aware of ever since I was a child, the same God who boggled my mind with thoughts of infinity or the beauty and grandeur of a mountain pass, the same God who powered that one little raindrop to trail its lonely path down the window pane until it joined with another and then another, the same God who caused the morning dew to rest delicately on the grass until the sun came up, the same God who made a way for me when there seemed to be no way.
He was the same God who protected me, guided me, provided for me in unprecedented ways, the same God that we have all encountered in one way or another. [The heavens declare His glory _](Psalm 19:1), and what may be known of Him is manifest to each of us. _Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that we are without excuse if we suppress the truth within us that God is real. (Rom 1:19–20)
That same God was now standing before me in the form of Jesus and those five simple words ended what had been, for me, a lifetime of questions and searching.
He said many, many things to me that day. Most of it was simply a communication from His Spirit to mine – those were the only audible words I remember from that first visit. But as time goes on I understand more and more what power is held in that simple phrase, I AM THE SAME GOD. When Jesus said to the Jews that He and His Father God are one, they picked up stones to stone Him, but He escaped out of their hands (John 10:30–39). It is a difficult concept to grasp. How can two separate beings be the same? How could a man make Himself one with God? Some suggest that He can either be the Son of God or God, but not both. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be One. He was both the only begotten Son of God through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and He is also God. His oneness with God is in the Spirit, not in the things we can discern with our natural senses. Ice, water and steam have exactly the same core substance, but manifest differently. Jesus was the manifestation of God in the f lesh, but He and His Father and the Holy Spirit are One. Jesus is God.
Some people reject Jesus as God simply because of a genuine scepticism about religion.
There is so much similarity among the religions that there does not seem to be much to choose between them.
Soon after I met Jesus, He showed me a great story in Joshua 22. The Promised Land had been divided up amongst the 12 tribes of Israel and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were separated from the other tribes by the Jordan River. So the separated tribes built an impressive altar for themselves, not for sacrificing to a new god, but as a witness for generations to come that they do serve the living God. In response to the accusations of the tribes on the other side of the river they said: [_In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel? _](Joshua 22:24).
God asked me to do a Biblical timeline of the major religions as a witness that Jesus, the promised Messiah, is the one true God. Each of the three major religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – connect, or claim a connection, to God ultimately, through Abraham. But there are essential breakpoints for followers of the other two major religions where they diverge from the one true path, and hinder themselves from entering into a full relationship with God. Jesus said: [_Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it _](Matthew 7:14). Once we are in Him everything becomes possible, but we do have to come to the real
God through the narrow gate of Jesus, or the doors will be forever shut.
Islam is strongly linked to the descendants of Ishmael, the child who was born of Abraham and a slave girl. The symbolism of this is very important because Ishmael signifies the law whereas Abraham’s other child, Isaac, signifies the grace of God. He was born to Abraham and his wife Sarah 13 years later in fulfilment of a promise from God. The genealogy of Jesus runs, not through Ishmael, but through Isaac’s line because the law could never save us. More on this later.
I once had a wonderful in-depth conversation with a gentleman and his friends who were trying to convert me to Islam.
I shared some of my experience and talked about the amazing love of God, but to him this was a totally foreign concept. He believed that God is a creator but not a Father, and so He has no children. For him God certainly does not get near enough to speak to human beings. The best this gentleman could do would be to listen to his imam. I understand why that is. Once Isaac, the child of promise, was born, it was not long before Ishmael and his mother Hagar were thrown out of the house and sent away to fend on their own, armed with very little but a word from God that they would one day be blessed. That spirit of rejection and of fatherlessness (in terms of relationship to God) seems to surround those who ascribe to the Islamic faith even today.
Towards the end of the conversation the gentleman shared a dream he had experienced which explained the situation to me perfectly. He saw a very impressive tree with a large circle on the ground around it. He was forced to stay within the confines of that circle, but he so wanted to see what was outside it. The law binds, constrains, constricts. It is very important, full of wisdom and worldly accolades, but nevertheless it can only allow you to go so far. Jesus came so that we might have ‘abundant life’, so that we might be free from the law and live by the grace of God – so that we can step out of the circle!
Today hundreds, perhaps thousands of former Muslims are sharing tremendous testimonies of visitations from Jesus, divine dreams, visions of heaven and manifestation of miracles that draw them into the love of the Father. The fulfilment of the promise to Hagar has already begun. Her generation will be blessed in the most important of ways, by connecting with the one true God through Jesus.
Judaism, on the other hand, is the religious and cultural foundation from which Christianity emerged. Jesus came first to the Jews, and then to the rest of the world. They were God’s chosen people for giving birth to the Messiah of the world! A special people, set apart, privileged.
They had been waiting for centuries for the promised one to rectify Adam and Eve’s error of the ‘original sin’. However, when the promised Messiah came, they missed Him completely. They despised and rejected him, and then crucified Him. So some Jewish people are still waiting, hoping, not knowing that already, in Jesus’ words from the cross, ‘It is finished’. Now all they need to do to enter into the promise is simply believe.
My Uncle McCarthy Griffiths reviewed an earlier draft of this book and said that as he read this part, there was a sweet spirit around him, and the Lord reminded him that the Jews were His people by His choice, and that He will return to them. They were blinded in part so that the Gentiles (rest of the world) might be saved: ‘a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in’ (Romans 11:25).
But, now, a divine reconciliation has already begun. Messianic Judaism, the movement of Jews who believe that Yeshuah (the Hebrew name for Jesus) is the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world, has grown to almost half a million over the past few decades, and it is still increasing. How God longs for them all to know that the Messiah has already come, and they do not need to wait for another one!
And there are many other religions and those who are either atheists or agnostics, God longs for us all to know the truth. He promised that all the nations of the world will be blessed and have the opportunity to enter into relationship with Jesus – and that includes Jews and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics.
Everyone, so long as they are breathing, is in line for the blessing of having their hearts softened towards Jesus, their blindfolds removed, their ears unblocked – and a heart that proclaims that Jesus really is Lord.
In my vision of Jesus, all the ordinary people who were in Him, from the Indian woman in the sari to the young men way off in the distance, all spoke the same words: I Am The Same God.
It is truly mind-blowing that they could make that claim. But on the cross Jesus made it possible for each of us to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and become one with God. This was a difficult concept for me to grasp at first. I thought that each of us got a unique portion of His Spirit. I sensed this was what He was confirming to me but I asked Him to prove it. I remember I was sitting on the living room sofa and it was as if a cloud of glory entered the room and He said: Read John 17:21. In this verse Jesus prayed for those who would believe in Him:
…that they will all be one, just as You and I are one – as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me.
My heart did quadruple f lips of joy. I was on a high for days, asking any Christian who would listen: ‘Did you know that you have the fullness of God living inside of you?’
We could not be one in Him and Him in us unless He made us one [_with _]Him. He could not afford for us to have parts of Him. A whole lot of holiness with a little bit of unholiness is still unholy! A tall glass of crystal clear water with a little bit of arsenic is still poison. The only way to achieve perfect holiness is to be fully like Christ Jesus. The only way we can have a full relationship with Him, without the pure fire of His love blinding us or turning us to ashes, is for us to be made as holy and righteous as He is. On 30 July 2005, in my Spirit,
I immediately became as holy, as righteous, as good as God Himself.
God has identified Himself with us so completely that in 1 Corinthians 15:16, He says if the dead cannot be resurrected then neither was Christ resurrected. It’s an amazing principle. He says that if there is something that cannot be said of us, then it cannot be said of His son Jesus. He identifies Himself with His authority over our lives so that when we obey authority, we obey Him. He identifies Himself with the least of us.
‘Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40). HE IS our Peace, HE IS our wisdom. HE IS our righteousness. HE IS our prosperity. He has become everything we need. Nothing in any reliable form exists outside of Him. When you get Jesus, you get it all.
I and My Father are one. As believers we are now just as anointed as Jesus is! Now, if you know me well you may find that difficult to believe. There are many areas in my soul that are still enjoying (sometimes enduring) the process of becoming one with Him. But in my spirit, as in the spirit of every believer, we are exactly like Jesus. Amazing grace!
And in our souls, we can become more and more like Him every day. The greatest tool for doing this is simply reading the word of God. His Word, as we will see in a later chapter, has the power within itself to bring itself to pass, and simply reading it every day causes change to happen within our souls, effortlessly.
Talking to Him in prayer, or meditating on His amazing goodness, also help to mould us into become more like Jesus.
Another great tool is obedience. Every time we obey God, our souls proclaim that Jesus is Lord over that part of our lives, and we become more like Him.
And it’s the little acts of obedience with God that can sometimes make the greatest difference.
Our destiny is to become one with Christ, and one with our fellow Christians. But oneness does not mean that we all act the same, talk the same and go to the same church. These are the hallmarks of religion, but Jesus is all about [_relationship _]which celebrates our uniqueness and honours diversity.
1 Corinthians 12: 4–6 says:
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who works all in all.
And when it comes to us Christians and how we work together, Paul reminds us that we are one body: one may be an eye, one an ear, one a hand, one a foot: we are all different, but equally essential parts of the same Body. As human beings we are often tempted to focus on those who are in the limelight, or have received special favours or giftings. Whether it’s Cref lo Dollar, Andrew Wommack, T.D. Jakes, Aimee Semple Macpherson, Reinhard Bonnke, Joyce Meyers, Bill Johnson, your own pastor, or whoever you prefer, 1 Corinthians 3:21 reminds us: Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; All are yours … and you are Christ’s, and Christ belongs to God. We are one.
I do believe that we should give honour where honour is due, however. In a way, the apostles are like the great big lungs that revive us, our teachers are like the brain, our pastors like the kidneys helping us to keep what is good and clear out the things that are no good for us.
Our evangelists are like the hands and feet and our prophets are like the mouths connected to the heart of God.
Imagine the responsibility they have to carry – and yet we are made one with them. Surely they are deserving of honour. But we must also be careful that we do not esteem them more highly than we should, for they are only servants, like us, of the One, the Most High God.
One of the big questions for some of us is: if we are one with Christ, then why do our lives not match up with His? If we’re being really honest, many of us are like the three Hebrew boys in Daniel 3.
We have seen God do amazing things and we find ourselves being promoted and honoured in a strange land but we are, nevertheless, in captivity. There is some part of our lives that is not quite where it should be. There’s always some part of our lives still in process. But as we journey with God, we see where He is leading us, what He is teaching us and how He is making us more like Him every day, we look back at our situations and say, like David: It was good that I was afflicted that I might learn His statutes. (Psalm 119:71). It is not that God necessarily sent the aff liction, but that He knows how to use it for our highest good.
So now even as we are ‘going through’, even while we are still ‘in process’, we can still say boldly: that nothing can separate us from the love of God, there is no aff liction that is great enough to interfere with our relationship with Him. We declare that even this is working for our good, and we are grateful to be gaining the ultimate prize: becoming like Him.
And if we persevere we would see that He is a good God who does excellently on our behalf. We may not always be conscious of it, but He is always fighting for us even when we turn away from Him, reject Him, lie about Him, misrepresent Him or simply ignore Him. He’s the servant with a heart humble enough to want to say yes to our every good wish, and a King with the power strong enough to grant it.
The difference between where we are and where we want to be is often a small thing blocking us from receiving His goodness. When we find it, we think: that little thing? We feel as Isaiah said we would when we finally see the enemy thrown into the pits of hell (Isaiah 14: 16–17):
Everyone there will stare and ask, ‘Can this be the one who shook the earth and made the kingdoms of the world tremble? Is this the one who destroyed the world and made it into a wasteland? Is this the king who demolished the world’s greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners?’
If you ever think: ‘I don’t see how I’m going to get out of this.’ Or have something devastated so completely that you can never imagine it being rebuilt, then focus on God long enough and see if He points out to you a small thing that brings your turnaround, and you will marvel that it could have wreaked such havoc or made such potential available. I pray that, in whichever area of your life you are experiencing a challenge, that you will discover the one thing or things that will bring your turnaround, and from that moment on, may His goodness and favour rain all over your life again.
The second question often asked about oneness is: why can’t we be one with each other? One of the puzzling things about Christianity is that there are so many denominations, often representing the number of times that people decided that their personal and doctrinal differences were more important than their relationship. We have white churches and black churches, pentecostal churches and charismatic churches, orthodox and modern, denominational and non-denominational. In the old days when the church was first born in the book of Acts, the churches were separated only by location.
Nevertheless God ‘works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). I pray that an amazing cross-denominational revival sweeps the nations and causes people to long for Jesus and Him only – without the religious packaging and barriers. ‘For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His f lesh the dividing wall of hostility’ (Ephesians 2:14).
Much closer to home, never mind the churches, why can’t we, as individuals, get on: siblings, parents with their children, co-workers, fellow churchgoers? We are one in the Spirit, so why is there so much competition, envy, jealousy, one-upmanship, backbiting and strife?
It’s often because our starting point is wrong. We often start from our differences and look to see whether they could be resolved. And, of course, if we focus on our differences all we will see are more differences. But if we had as a starting point the truth that we are already one, and we need only look at how to protect and maintain that unity, we would be constantly surprised by the multitude of ways in which we agree.
Sometimes we have difficulties because we create false alliances based on our problems, rather than our promise. We are one in the Spirit, not because we share the same pains, shame, disappointments and failures as human beings, but because we share the same joys, honour, hope and glory as the children of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We were not meant to create alliances based on temporary attributes such as nationality or wealth or parental status, looks or career choice. We were meant to look to the one true thing of lasting value in each of us who believes that we are children of the Most High God, and joint-heirs with Christ. I remember, one day, being so struck with the similarities between us, the children of God, that I wrote a poem.
You Look Familiar
At first I thought it was the elegant way you
hold your head,
The long neck and gentle upward turn of your face,
like a sunf lower catching the final rays of sunlight
it was that almost imperceptible, wistful smile
like an angel tugging at the corners of
at the remembrance of a long-forgotten memory, or
the hope of a better future not yet lived
Is it the look in your eyes?
The glimpse that says
‘I too have felt intense pain and immeasurable joy,
I too have explored heights and depths
I never thought possible,
and I will do it again’?
I know what it is not:
It’s not the colour of your skin or the length of your hair,
not your accent, physique, or nationality.
But it could be the sassy way you
take a stand for the things you believe in,
or that your entire face creases up when
something is really funny.
And that you close your eyes
when your emotions are too powerful to share,
I give up.
I don’t know what it is.
But would you please forgive me for staring at you
a little too long on the underground,
or smiling at you
as you walk past on the street,
though we have never met?
It’s just that you look familiar
Perhaps the biggest reason we have trouble getting on with each other is that we do not know who we truly are. It’s easier to get offended by others who misrepresent or misunderstand, threaten or accuse us if we think there could be some truth in what they are saying, or if we somehow give the words they speak over our lives more credence than our own words. When Jesus said we would be one in Him, He gave us His everything. There was a divine exchange: He took our sins, and gave us His righteousness.
Our shame, His glory. Our sadness, His joy. Our past, His future. Our ashes, His beauty. Our foolishness, His wisdom. Our weakness, His power. Our nothingness he took, for His everything.
The Word of God says one thing about us, but the world often says the opposite. The key difference between the Word and the world is the letter ‘l’, which stands for the lies of the enemy. There is nothing that can work against you as effectively as a lie that you believe to be true. If you are in Christ, here’s what God says about you: you are whole, prosperous, victorious, beautiful, strong, loving, lovable and likeable, precious, unique, virtuous, successful, righteous, wise, sought-after, a good friend, sibling, spouse, son or daughter. You have the capacity, commitment, courage, endurance, energy, faith, hope, love, patience, resources, shalom, support, time, understanding, vision, wisdom, and anything else you need, in order to be who God called you to be and to do that which He called you to do.
May you ‘know the truth, and the truth (that you know) shall set you free’ (John 8.32).
Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father …in heaven.
Faced with His amazing love, power and presence, and the sound of His voice, like the sound of many waters, I could only respond in a sort of inspired stupor: ‘Lord, is that you? I didn’t know.’
It was a simple, heartfelt confession. There was no condemnation, no feeling of guilt, just a deep and matter-of-fact acknowledgement that I did not know before that Jesus is Lord. I didn’t know before that the God I had trusted in, and who had preserved my life on many occasions, was this same Jesus that I had ridiculed, rejected and despised. I didn’t know: but now, face to face with His glory, I could do nothing but acknowledge that He is Truth. I was not fearful of Him, and He made no accusation. There was not a hint of ‘Don’t you see how much I did for you?’ or ‘how much I love you’ or ‘how holy I am compared to you’. He just stood there and showered me with His love, revelling only in the fact that once I was lost to Him, but now I was found.
Jesus is the great High Priest to whom we can draw near with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). In other words, He not only cleansed me from sin in that instant, He also cleansed me from any guilty conscience concerning my sin. I could stand boldly before Him without any fear of recrimination, because He had made me clean, AND He made me forget how dirty I was before I had become one with Him. My old sins had been thrown into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).
[_Come now and let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. _]Isaiah 1:18
[_For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. _]Psalm 103:11–12
…old things had passed away; and all things had become new. 2 Cor. 5:17.
I didn’t know, and then I did.
The ‘knowing’ I speak of is an intimate acquaintance with, a revelation knowledge of, an enlightenment, a paradigm shift, a new taste for life, a new set of spectacles through which to see the world. It was almost as if a permanent change in my DNA structure took place. I became a new creation. This ‘knowing’ was not just mental assent. It is not possible to turn away from such knowledge without a supernatural effort.
Revelation knowledge is, in a sense, like a spiritual conception. In the natural, conception takes place when there is proximity, alignment and intimacy. At the height of intimacy, sperm, the seed, is released to produce after its own kind. In the natural, millions of sperms are produced and released, but only one can impregnate the egg. In the same way, revelation knowledge only comes when we position our hearts to receive from God, when we invite Him into our intimate spaces where all our hopes, dreams and fears are. Before we attain revelation knowledge of a reality, there are so many alternatives that vie for our attention. In the natural, once a single sperm reaches the egg, the egg changes instantaneously to prevent any others getting in. It’s as though a protective shield ‘seals the deal’ and the door is shut to prevent any other seed entering in. That is akin to what happens with revelation truth. Once you get it, nothing else can enter and nothing will shake you. Conception has taken place.
This revelation knowledge is the only kind worth having. Emotional knowledge is shaky and unreliable. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change and, indeed, has changed many times. Logic is admirable, impressive even, but it does not change lives. Revelation knowledge changes everything.
When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, [_Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven’ _](Matthew 16:17).
We can only know that Jesus is God by revelation. We begin our walk with Him with the revelation of who He is, so we need to continue our walk with Him in the revelatory light of His Word, and not in our own understanding.
Going through life without having a revelation of Jesus is a bit like throwing a parachute out of the plane before you jump. All you’re left with is a lot of hot air, and you may have a painful landing. But if we meditate on the Word of God until it becomes revelation knowledge to us, then we will have good success (and a much softer landing).
One of the significant revelations I had as I continued my walk with Jesus was of His authority. While God will not force men to do anything in their role as men, in their capacity as ordained rulers, God can turn the hearts of kings to do His will. As such, He aligns Himself with authority, and disobeying authority means disobeying the Word of God. This does not mean that we always have to do what the person in charge says, if that goes against the Word of God, or what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us directly. But it does mean that in other areas we would do well to choose to honour those in authority.
I remember once being so happy about having an opportunity to obey God that when the worship leader asked the congregation to stand, I jumped up quickly. Jesus was not commanding me directly, but I felt impelled to respond, and I was delighted to show Jesus how much I loved honouring and obeying Him.
But I was not always like this. I once had the chance to honour someone who had behaved dishonourably. Although I remained polite towards them, I no longer honoured them in my heart, and it showed. When I received a revelation of God’s authority, I understood that it is possible to be right about a matter, but if we are out of alignment with authority, we are still wrong. That would be similar to turning in a word-perfect English essay for a maths exam.
All of a sudden, it didn’t matter to me any more what they had done, only what I had done. I was out of alignment. If you’ve ever driven a car with a wheel out of alignment you know how awful the ride is and how dangerous it is, nearly impossible in some cases, to drive at high speeds or to get very far. I needed this to be fixed straightaway.
I literally had to chase that person down to ask for forgiveness. I remember standing in Old Street underground station, speaking to them on my mobile phone and requesting forgiveness. While I was speaking I could see a circle of light form around me.
I knew no one else could see it but it was so real that, in a busy underground station, no one walked through that circle. Every passer-by unconsciously walked around the circumference of it. It was as if by honouring God’s authority, I opened up the way for Him to establish my own circle of inf luence, and a simple phone call was all it took. That’s the power of revelation knowledge.
I am convinced that when people sin, even other Christians, it is because they do not truly know the truth. They may have head knowledge but no revelation knowledge of that particular aspect of God’s nature.. It is the revelatory understanding of our identity and authority in Christ that empowers us to avoid sin and [_it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance _](Romans 2:4). It’s not in laying down the law – do this or don’t do that, and everything will be all right. The law was never able to save us (Romans 8:3). But it’s in the invitation to put our guard down and receive from God that He is able to lead us into the place of intimate knowledge of Him, and cause us to turn away from sin and look to Him.
So we forgive others, and even though we hate the stain of corruption on the clothes of the one who gave in to the f lesh, we show mercy, helping to pull them out of the fire (Jude 1:23) because they do not truly know – yet. When Jesus was on the cross, He prayed: [_Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing _](Luke 23:34).
I have heard many say: ‘I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget’. It’s often just another way of saying I am not fully ready to forgive yet, and sometimes what they mean by this is ‘I won’t let you (or anyone else) forget either!
And yet God said in Isaiah 43:25 [_I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. _]God chooses to forget our sins and those of us who want to be more like Him should aim to do the same.
One of the disciples, Peter, made the same mistake when he asked: ‘Lord how many times should I forgive my brother in a day when he sins against me – seven times?’ (Matthew 18:21). The question was not without precedent. In Luke 7:4, Jesus had given the instruction that if your brother sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. How many times are Jesus’ statements of empowerment to do what’s right misinterpreted, in our weakness, as a set of rules that give us a get-out clause from true, radical obedience of the heart?
Peter’s implicit assumption was that we will forgive, but only as many times as we have to. We’ll remember to keep count of the number of times we had forgiven and once we’ve reached the quota, the f lesh can kick in again and we no longer have to forgive. Jesus’ response was to make His point clear by taking it to the extreme. No, not seven he said, but ‘seventy times seven’. There is, I’m sure, a lot of significance attached to the choice of numbers which I do not understand yet. But, to understand this statement at its simplest, Jesus was saying ‘stop keeping count’ – it’s not worth it! Just forgive and forget.
When we choose to forgive others for their sins and keep no count of wrongs, we are acting like God. Love forgives. It is the devil who is the accuser of our brothers and sisters (Revelation 12:10). There are some things that are very difficult to forgive. Perhaps it would do us well to remember what God’s response is when His children are accused. In Zechariah 3, the prophet has a vision of heaven:
Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD.
The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.’
Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And turning to Jeshua he said, ‘See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.’
Jesus does not condemn or shame us, and we should not do it to each other. He knows that every failure, at its heart, ref lects a relational deficit between us and Him, and He sees every failure as an opportunity to work with us on strengthening our relationship with Him. Sometimes the fixing requires a strong rebuke, sometimes a gentle word of encouragement, but it is never a word of condemnation. He is never ashamed of us, He does not hold our mistakes against us. The blood of Jesus did not just cover up our sins, it washed them away for good.
Condemnation, on the other hand, ruins relationships. We have probably all experienced an occasion when someone runs away or hides from us out of shame and fear, not knowing that we have already forgiven them and want only for them to come clean so that we can get the offence out of the way and re-establish relationship. That is how God feels about us all the time. [_He did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him _](John 3:17). There is an eternal flow of cleansing blood that keeps us forever free from condemnation, that’s why the sacrificial lamb of God is still on the throne in heaven (Revelation 7:17).
And we must remember that His cleansing blood f lows to everyone, and so we are not free to hold other people’s wrongdoings against them either.
The only condemnation left is for those who refuse Jesus and choose instead to bear the weight of their own sin.
The Apostle Paul asks us: [_Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us _](Romans 3:17–18). The only one who is able to condemn us is interceding for us instead. Hallelujah!
When we think of God as a loving God instead of a condemning one, we read the Bible quite differently. Consider the story of King Saul in 1 Samuel 13. He had been told to wait for the prophet Samuel, but he paid attention to the people instead and so, to please them and stop them from deserting him, he made his own sacrifice. As soon as he had finished the prophet came and said: ‘You have done foolishly. The Lord would have established your kingdom forever, but now it shall not continue’ (verse 13). This story is often interpreted as showing an angry God who condemns Saul for His disobedience, but one day God told me it was not the anger of condemnation but the passion of love. He loved Saul and wanted to bless him with a kingdom that would last forever. But Saul’s disobedience meant God could not give him the thing He so desired to give him. He is El Shaddai, the multi-breasted God. T.D. Jakes said: His breasts are heaving with the goodness of all that He wants us to have – like a mother whose breasts are filled and aching, wanting to feed a child who is too busy crying to settle down and take the breast that is offered. God cannot bless disobedience, and it hurts Him more than it hurts us.
I think too of 1 Corinthians 3:13, which talks of the testing of our works by fire at the time of judgement. That too is often spoken of in such a condemning manner. But God did not mean to instill fear in us, only to warn us. When we get to heaven and see life as it is, the works that we did that were not in faith and not glorifying to God would be painful for us to remember. (I think that will be part of the pain of being in hell.)
The test of fire is not to condemn us, but to preserve only that which gives glory to God for our sakes. The testing by fire will not be an act of condemnation, but one of mercy and love.
The reason Jesus could become sin for us, be accursed for our sake, was that He was so secure in His Father’s love that He knew whatever He had done, God would never allow Him to stay in hell. Indeed, God loves each of us just as much. He is the good Father who loves just lifting us up in His arms and smothering us with kisses until we beg Him to stop, and then cry out to Him for more when He does. But we are often too conscious of our own sin to accept that kind of love.
There is a wonderful story of Queen Esther, in the book named after her. She was a poor Jewish orphan who had become queen to a pagan king. In order to approach the throne she had to wait until she was bidden by the king, or she could be condemned to death. But she had an urgent request that could save the lives of her people, so she fasted and prayed for three days, and had all the Jews in the region fast and pray for her. And that was just so that she would be able to appear before a pagan king. That is the way some of us approach our heavenly King today. We think we have to fast and pray and ‘get right’ first. But there is no need. He is the one who makes us right after we come to him. Fasting is an excellent practice but it is for our own personal growth, it is not so that we can become more acceptable to God.
Sometimes we avoid Him because we think He wants to exact a level of holiness from us that we are not willing or able to give. But again, there is no need. All our righteousness is ‘as filthy rags’ before Him anyway (Isaiah 64:6).
Jesus became the spotless sacrifice who had no consciousness of sin, no doubt of the love of His father, no unbelief mixed in with His faith. That’s why Jesus is the only way to God.
Who else would dare stand in the face of an Almighty God and say ‘accept me as I am’? People do not go to hell because of their sins but because they refuse to take the way to heaven, the Lord Jesus Himself.
In three places in the book of Jeremiah (7:31, 19:5 and 32:35) God says to the Israelites: you have done things that have never even entered my mind. That scripture is often misinterpreted as saying that they invented new levels of sin that God had not even thought of, but He was not saying there were things He did not know or could not have foreseen. He was saying to them: You have sacrificed your children to these false gods – it would never have occurred to me to ask that of you. He was not condemning them by saying ‘your sinfulness exceeds even my ability to have predicted it’.
He was saying ‘I love you so much that to inf lict something as painful as that upon you would never even have entered my mind, and yet you turn away from my love to a false god that exacts the cruellest things from you.’ It was not a pronouncement of condemnation, but an anguished cry of unrelenting love. There are so many more examples from the Word of God that all lead to this one point: He does not condemn us, He loves us. Our own consciences may condemn us but He will not, no matter what we do.
That does not give us a licence to sin. The cleansing of the consciousness of sin also removes the desire to sin. After I met Jesus, I lost my taste for the things that did not please Him.
I didn’t have to convince myself or be weaned gently away from my sins, I just didn’t want to do them any more. I did find out one day that I was still perfectly capable of sinning, but the deep, gut-wrenching repentance produced by my conscience just for considering it quickly cured me of ever testing that area of my life again. Still, He never expressed disappointment in me; instead, He just gave me a way out. He does not condemn us for sin – but He does not leave us in it, either.
He knows how to order our steps back to Him, without condemnation.
From this point forward I pray that you will know not only that your sins are forgiven but that you would also have no desire for sin nor consciousness of your own sinfulness. I pray that your entire focus will be only on the Grace of God. Free indeed!
I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
Matthew 28:20 (KJV)
After that first audible exchange, much of the communication between Jesus and me seemed to happen directly between His spirit and mine, and took the form of words as well as experiences. First, He seemed to take me outside of time. The past, present and future were all happening at once: time no longer existed. He showed me that He was always with me, even though I did not always know it. There were times when I had been rescued and I didn’t realise He was the one who had rescued me. There were times when I didn’t even know I needed rescuing but He jumped in and saved the day, silently, imperceptibly, lovingly, before I could notice something had been done, deftly outmanoeuvring the circumstances of my life.
Then He said that He would always be with me, even though there would be times in the future that I would not know it. His presence and love were so overwhelming that I couldn’t imagine there would ever be a time when I would not be sure He was with me. I couldn’t imagine there would ever be a time when the hairs on my arm would not stand to attention just at the mention of His name, but time soon showed me that He was right.
I have always been certain He was with me, somehow, somewhere, but there have been many times when He was there and I did not recognise Him.
The first time someone asked me about loneliness, I was quite surprised. She was a Christian who had been walking with the Lord for decades and I remember thinking, ‘but she must not know Him like I do’. Jesus is always with me. Always. He loves me so much that He insists on going everywhere with me. He has tagged Himself on to my heart and He is never, ever going to let go. His love is that real. I am never alone, and I am very rarely lonely. The few times I do feel lonely are usually because of something very specific that lasts only for a short time. Almost always when I feel lonely, it’s God allowing me to feel a gap between us that He longs to fill. It’s like a Father teaching a child to ride a bike. He sometimes moves forward and the child is left feeling uncertain and shaky, but it’s not a leaving, it’s the Father moving away so he can beckon the child to grow in confidence and to come in, closer, deeper into Him.
One of the mistakes people make in relationships is expecting the other person to fill a void in their lives that only God can fill. This exalts the other person to a position that is untenable for them, and puts immense pressure on the relationship. I know some who are lonelier within a relationship than I have ever been as a single woman. In fact I have been there myself. I know it can be far worse to have someone who is not ‘there’ than not to have someone at all. But I thank God that Jesus is always there, always here. He is not a substitute for having other people in my life: He just fills me so completely that I am more concerned with meeting other peoples’ needs than I am with having my own needs met.
So what does it mean to have Jesus with us?
In truth, God is omnipresent. Psalm 139:7–10 asks:
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
So, clearly, the Spirit of God is everywhere. But it means something special when God says ‘I AM with you’:
Hezekiah prospered wherever he went because the Lord was with him (2 Kings 18:7).
Joseph had success in everything he did because the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:3).
Everything David did had great success because the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 18:14).
Joshua’s fame spread through the land because the Lord was with him (Joshua 6:27).
Our enemies are afraid of us because the Lord is with us
(1 Samuel 18:12).
We never need to fear because He is with us
His promises are fulfilled when He is with us (Genesis 28:15).
We have glory, honour, strength and joy because He is with us (1 Chronicles 16:27).
More than 2000 years ago, before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for all those who would believe in Him. He did not pray that we would finally come to recognise how great and awesome He is. He didn’t pray that we would worship Him for all eternity, or that we would be sorry for all the things we had done to Him. He prayed that we would be with Him wherever He is (John 17:24).
To say that Jesus is with us means so much more than we can imagine. In Zechariah 8, God promises to return to dwell in Jerusalem and, as a result, He says there will be truth, holiness, life and joy. And then He asks: it may seem marvellous to you, but should it be marvellous in my eyes? In other words, He was saying: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’
There are no other people in this relationship – just Him and me. Others may help to guide me closer to Him, tell me something about Him I don’t know yet, and even rebuke me on His behalf, but nothing means anything unless it is confirmed within our relationship.
One of the strangest experiences I have ever had in my life happened quite a few years after my encounter, when I heard Him say: ‘Thank you for allowing me to live inside you.’ With that came the powerful reminder that He was so big, and loved me so much, that He chose to live inside me and He was never, ever going to leave: I was stuck with Him forever. He would be with me wherever I went, whether I was sleeping, or even in the toilet. It was a bit like understanding that I was now permanently pregnant with the Holy Spirit. There was nowhere I could go from His presence. It was such an intensely beautiful time of fellowship. At such times His love literally possesses us. It was wonderful, but very scary, to think that I would be connected to someone else forever, and the reality of the creator of the universe living in me was a little too much to bear. I had to ask Him to stop talking to me so that I could check I was not losing my mind.
He stopped immediately, and I was deeply sorry that I had asked Him to.
There is such a wealth of beauty and wisdom awaiting us if we explore our personal relationship with Christ. But His love is also very patient and gentle, and does not force itself on us. He runs after us and pursues us relentlessly, but He dare not show Himself all at once. He literally clothes Himself with us, and will show only as much as we allow Him to pour into our hearts and minds and souls. He veils His power and beauty so as not to overwhelm us, but He is there, ready waiting eagerly for us to delve in and discover more of who He is. He wants to be known! But He will not force Himself on us: we have to call out to Him (Luke 24:31).
After Jesus’ resurrection, He appointed Peter in a central role and Peter asked Him ‘and what is to become of John?’ Jesus replied, ‘If he should live forever, what is that to you? You follow me’ (John 21:22). The disciples at the time, as well as many others since, have misunderstood this to mean that Jesus was saying that John would live forever. But what if Jesus was saying that even if John were to live forever, what is that compared to your relationship with me? He was not saying: ‘John will live forever, so mind your own business.’ It was His heart’s cry to say ‘Hey, I’m here with you; I have given you my all. I’m ready to talk, laugh, share, provide, heal, love, anything you want. What do you want? Tell me I’m your Shepherd King! Focus on me, because all I ever think about is you. You follow me, never mind what others are saying or what experiences they’ve had or not had, just wait till you see what I have in store for you!’
Many times we say we know God is with us, but our actions and thoughts tell a very different story. There were times that were so difficult and I would scream out: ‘God, I can’t do this any more!’ and He would say, ‘Yes, you can.’ And I would protest, ‘No God, I really can’t’ and He would respond, ‘You can do all things through me. I will give you strength.’
Then I would hold my head and say: ‘But I feel like I’m going crazy!’ And He would say, ‘I did not give you a spirit of fear but of power, and love, and a sound mind’, and finally I realised I couldn’t come up with anything that He didn’t already have an answer to. At that point I would just curl up in a ball and cry out: ‘Daddy! Daddy! Help Me!’ It was in my greatest crisis that I truly learnt what it meant to call God my Dad. And His response was always: ‘Sshhh. Don’t scream. I am here. I am always here.’
He has never allowed anything to happen to me that He was not able to use for my highest good. Everything that has happened [_to _]us, God will make happen [_for _]us, if we love Him and are ‘called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
For so many of those times when I complained and cried at God, I later realised there was a far more wonderful thing He had been planning all along for me that caused me to just stand still in awe. And given the amount of complaining I still occasionally do, I am guessing there are a lot more awestruck moments to come! Even while I was writing this, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this wonderful chorus:
Jehovah is Your name,
Jehovah is Your name,
Mighty warrior, Great in battle,
Jehovah is Your name.
Jehovah means the unchanging, eternal, self-existent God, the One who was and is and is to come. He is the the Lord with us who is mighty in battle. Don’t make Him too small in your eyes. Ascribe greatness to Him. Give Him the honour and glory that is due to Him for He is working wondrously on your behalf, even now.
It is such a tremendously great comfort to know that He is always with me.
In retrospect, my entire journey to meeting with Christ had been in progress for quite a while before I realised it – in fact it had been in progress all my life.
The Christmas before my encounter, I was visiting my family as usual, and looking forward to going to church. My sister and I had had an argument over something so mundane I don’t even remember what it was, so the atmosphere was a bit frosty on the way, but when we got to church the preacher’s entire sermon was about forgiveness, and he touched on so many areas of my life so specifically that if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that someone had told him. The issue had gone way past my petty argument with my sister to a much deeper level of unforgiveness I was still carrying. For the first time in my life I answered an altar call to be prayed for. My sister came to support me and we both ended up in tears. My four- year-old nephew described it this way: ‘Auntie and auntie were sad on the way to church, and then they went up to the front, and everybody cried, and then everybody was happy again.’
The deacon who prayed for me, now Pastor Ron Harper, also prophesied some exciting things, which I took with a huge pinch of salt. But I was intrigued enough to explore the prophecy further. Plus, I looked at my sister’s life. I knew some of the incredible challenges she had had, and could see what a blessed life she was living, and that she always attributed it to the goodness of Jesus. So I decided to start reading the Bible when I got back to London. This was a Bible that my mom had given me years earlier, with my name engraved in gold on it. I don’t think I had opened it even once before this, but I kept it because it was from my mom and she had gone to so much trouble in giving it me.
I decided to start at the beginning. A few weeks later, by the time I got to Leviticus, it was beginning to get boring.
So I decided to go to church. It was quite late, almost noon, by the time I left the house, so I wasn’t sure I would find anywhere, but as it turned out I arrived at a church nearby just as they were getting ready to start – thus beginning the new phase of my courtship with Jesus and it was only a few months later that I had my wonderful encounter with Him.
I don’t know how long I stood there talking to Jesus, or quite what happened next, or how I got to bed, but the next thing I remember is that I was lying in bed as if someone had tucked me in. My arms were at my sides under the covers, and the duvet had been tucked up and around me in a way that would make it clear that I hadn’t done it myself – perhaps another of God’s little ways of letting me know that He is with me.
Before my encounter I had been reading a Christian book that talked about the blessing of God. It was still on the bed, and now it was leading me to Deuteronomy 30:19:
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
The immediate confirmation of everything I had experienced was laid open before me.
Here was the awesomeness of God, His undying, passionate love for us, His desire to do us good only and never to harm us and so much more than I am able to articulate fully. My response was to cry out and say over and over again: ‘I choose You, Jesus. I choose You, God. I choose You, Lord. I choose You.’
The power to choose is unique to us on the earth. The wind and the waves, the plants and animals – they have to obey God. But we get to choose: life or death; blessings or cursings. Human beings are the only creatures who were created in God’s image and likeness. But we were created and God is uncreated, so in order to be truly like Him, we would have to choose to live. Even if we choose an eternity separate from Him, He would abide by it because He could not violate the very nature of who we are by forcing us to spend an eternity with Him. Everyone in the kingdom of God is there by choice. That’s how a loving God could allow people to go to hell. It’s their choice. He did everything He could to stop that, He sent Jesus to earth to take on our sins Himself, so that we might be free, but the choice is still ours: to choose death or life, curses or blessings. God loves us too much to override our choice. He loves us too much to impose His love on us. He loves us too much to reduce us to the level of plants or animals or the elements. Bizarrely, people go to hell as well as to heaven, even though He loves us, but He wishes we would choose Life, choose Truth, choose Him.
Many times I have wished I didn’t have the power of choice. I mess it up so much. I remember trying really hard to bargain with God one day to please take my power of choice away. I never wanted to choose anything that might not please Him, so I argued: ‘I completely understand that you need to give me choice, but I am using my free will to give my choice back to you.’ It seemed logical to me at the time, but that was the one thing my free will could not do: deny itself. I said to Him once: ‘I wish I could have a Jennyectomy!’ He replied: ‘That would be the worst thing you could do: it’s Jenny that I love.’
Jacob (the trickster), He loved. The world, full of sinners, He loves! You, He loves, just as you are, and me too, poor choices and all.
Every day presents us with the choice to take one step closer to becoming who God created us to be, or to become like something else. I read an interesting article once about the significant consequences of split-second decisions in sport. The writer argued that no decision is actually ever a split- second one. The seemingly split-second decisions that make the difference between winning or losing are the product of years of conditioning and ways of thinking that eventually determine who we become and how we choose. It’s the same for our lives. In a sense, we are all exactly where we want to be. Where we are is a result of a series of choices we have made in the past. We made those choices based on what we desired most, but we often did not bargain for the consequences that come along with our desires. Sometimes they are pleasant surprises. Sometimes they are not. In the end though, we chose according to what we most wanted at the time. So if what we got does not look like what we thought we wanted, we need to revisit our desires, and our understanding, so that we can make better choices in future.
Even though God is sovereign, it does matter what we choose. He does not allow His Lordship to turn us into robots. He rules, but He does not control. There is an old school riddle that says: Why did the King draw straight lines? Because He’s a ruler! There is some wisdom in this old riddle.
God’s rulership is established in His dealings with the lines of authority that He has set up for us, but He only draws the lines, He does not dictate how we walk between them. He simply gives us the choice: curses or blessings. We should choose carefully, because the whole universe conspires to honour the choices we make.
When I met Jesus I thought: why doesn’t He just tell everybody?
A friend of mine said she wished He would just write it in large letters across the sky – JESUS IS LORD – so that all could see it and be saved, and I heartily agreed.
But since God is working with our choices and our choices are based on our desires, it is not simply a matter of bombarding us with the truth.
He woos us instead, until we choose Him with a willing heart. Given his power as God He could do as He pleases, but in His relationship with us, He is only Lord of our lives if we choose to give Him that place of honour.
In essence, we have more authority over our own lives and over the things of the earth than we realise. Everything represented on the earth today, good or bad, is a direct result of someone making a decision. I am constantly amazed at the quality of decisions made by myself and others. We are all still learning to choose well.
I once had a picture in my mind of the temple that Nehemiah rebuilt that helped me to understand why we sometimes get it wrong. The temple represents our hearts. At the front centre, with His arms stretched wide, I imagined Jesus in His position as Lord. But the temple had many gates, symbolising the points of entry for someone or something else to jostle for the position of Lordship. We choose what we let in and what we let out through the gates. Below is a summary of what the gates remind me of.
The Sheep Gate – The sheep who come through this gate are for sacrifice in the same way we become living sacrifices to God. We are constantly presented with the choice to continue a life of sacrifice with Him and to allow Him to sustain us or to rely on our own strength.
The Fish Gate – Fish signify multiplication and increase. We were commanded to multiply right at the beginning of time. But we have a choice whether to focus on multiplication and increase God’s way or to do it using the ways of the world.
The Old Gate – The gate of the old wall symbolises the things from our past. We have the choice to allow God to help us deal with issues in our past that need to be repaired or restored. We can only shut the gate fully after restoration has taken place.
The Valley Gate – The valley gate symbolises the low place, a place of humility. It is the place where we can allow ourselves to be broken because we see someone greater than ourselves within ourselves and we choose to hold on to the Grace of God while discovering the treasure within.
The Dung Gate – The dung gate is the place of refuse, where we leave the things that were once valuable to us but are now to be discarded. We can choose to shut the gate on those things and allow God to bring forth good fruit in our lives.
The Eye Gate – We can choose to see the goodness of God, the promises of God the truth of God or we can allow ourselves to see as the world sees, judging by what is before our eyes and not what is before our hearts. We have a God who looks at the heart rather than the external. He is, in a sense, a God of the intangible and we can choose to see as He sees.
The Water Gate – The Water Gate symbolises the Word of God that must remain pure. We can choose to abide by the pure word of God and refuse to modify it or contaminate it in order to fit our own desires.
The Horse Gate – This was the gate used for horses going out to battle. There is a constant battle for truth and we must choose carefully which ones we fight. When we become soldiers in the army of God, we are not to engage in civilian affairs – trivial things to do with this world. We can instead choose to fight the real battle for things of eternal value.
The East Gate – This is the gate that the Lord and only the Lord comes through (Ezekiel 44:1-2). Psalm 24:7 says: [_Lift up your head you gates and be lifted up you everlasting doors that the king of glory might come in. _]It reminds me of the importance of relying on Jesus and revelation knowledge from God and not the wisdom of the world.
The Miphkad Gate – Miphkad means appointment or commandment or inspection. We must always check that we are still on the path of obedience, that we are still building on the right foundation.
There are many different interpretations of what the gates represent. I am focusing here on the subject of choice, on the things that vie for our time and attention and present us with the opportunity to refocus on Jesus, to choose to take only the steps that take us closer to becoming like Him, and to shut the gate on anything that leads us elsewhere.
Even in nature, if we look at the way a corn plant grows, the number of rows per corn are established very early in the development stage. But the number of kernels per row is inf luenced by whether the ovule is pollinated, and how much water the plant receives at a crucial period in its growth. So too, we each have a unique potential for many successes, exploits and adventures as determined by God’s plans for us, but whether and how quickly they materialise depends on whether we choose to seek out and follow the Word of God or our own way at the crucial stage.
And again if we look at the art of making bonsai trees, the same seed that is used to grow a miniature tree could produce a fully grown tree, and eventually a forest. It just depends on what conditions the tree is planted in.
One of the lies the devil tries to feed to us is that we do not have control over anything, that it’s all in God’s hands and we just need to sit back and accept the inevitable.
But if we do not actively make choices, we will find that the choices are made for us by others, and they will usually not be as favourable as if we had chosen for ourselves.
Another lie we are told is that it’s better to take the neutral ground, to not get involved. But the truth is there is no such thing as neutral. We are either for or against, loving or hating, accelerating or decelerating, operating in the blessing or the curse, living or dying.
Sitting on the fence only elevates us to a position where we can be easily picked off by the enemy. The middle of the road is an artificial construct created by our minds to blind our hearts to the fact that we do not feel able to choose well.
The other tactic to tempt us to choose badly, subtly uses any areas of our own ignorance, lack of understanding or points of weakness. This lie says that the choice is not as simple as God set it out. Blessing or cursing, life or death. ‘No, there are shades of grey, if our minds are sophisticated enough to grasp them.’ That is a lie that plays well to our intellectual pride. Sometimes meanings are confused: good becomes bad, wicked becomes good, and so on until, like Adam and Eve, we are no longer sure whether God really means the best for us.
The devil’s ultimate parting shot tends to be: ‘Oh well, you’ve made so many bad choices, all is lost, and it no longer matters what choice you make now.’
But the good news is that whatever choices we have made in the past, we can choose again and again until we get to the point where we recognise that the choice is no longer about [things _]but about a _person.
Eventually we all have the opportunity to say yes to the One who holds all choices in His hands.
Some of the best choices are unconventional and unpopular. Some of our greatest Bible heroes – David, Ruth, Rahab, Hosea, Abraham, and Jesus himself – all made unusual and unpopular choices. They chose God over the risk of shame and humiliation, God over their country, God over religion, God over their own emotions. In the case of God versus the other, they determined to choose God.
The wonderful thing about these choices is that they are not even. Good and evil do not balance each other out. Good always trumps evil. Light always displaces darkness. One of the unsolved problems in physics is that the observable universe is composed almost entirely of particles of matter, with significantly fewer particles of anti-matter. The assumption is that anti-matter is equal and opposite to matter, so they should simply annihilate each other. But that, of course, is not what happens. In reality, matter shows an undeniable dominance over anti-matter, in the same way that light does over darkness, good over evil.
Even at the level of human life there is more prosperity than poverty. If the resources that are currently concentrated in the hands of the top 10 per cent of people were redistributed, there would not be a single hungry child in the world. There is more health than sickness. The main reason there aren’t fewer people dying of preventable diseases is the high cost of drugs to maintain the generous profit margins insisted on by large pharmaceutical companies. This makes drugs unaffordable for developing countries, and it is usually accompanied by enforced patents that prevent developing countries from producing the same drugs at a lower, more affordable cost.
I am not arguing for socialism, but I am pointing out that there is more good than bad available now. Many of the circumstances we are tempted to blame God for are actually in our hands.
It’s in our hands to write to our MPs, sign petitions, campaign peacefully, donate money to those who are fighting to change lives, give practical support, tell our own story or help others to tell theirs… the list is almost endless. All of us are called to be part of the change we wish to see, and indeed we do play a part by our actions or inaction in choosing what happens in our world.
There are some people who unconsciously choose cursing over blessing. When Jesus went back to His hometown, He was not able to do many miracles there. The people were so offended by Him, the illegitimate son of the carpenter, that they would not believe it was possible to accept a miracle from Him. We face choices every day – choices that determine whether we experience the blessings of God, or continue to live under the curses that He has already released us from.
What kind of conversations will we have, what thoughts will we choose to focus on, what kind of emotions are we going to allow, whose voice do we listen to and, when difficulties come, whose report will we believe: the bad news of our circumstances, or the good news of our salvation? The good news is that because we have the mind of Christ, we have a mind that is designed to process eternal thoughts and to choose well. But that mind of Christ is in our spirit. Our souls are still learning how to choose well.
Human beings are apparently the only species on the earth that can hold two conf licting opinions at the same time and still appear to function – although perhaps somewhat drunkenly, like a man staggering between two opinions. In James 1:8 God says ‘a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways’.
Some have interpreted this to mean that it is better to make a decision, even if it is the wrong decision, than to waver between two choices. But I think He is saying that you can’t hold two conf licting opinions of Him and expect to be stable, or even to receive anything of Him.
He did not say that He would not give it, only that we would not be able to receive it because we do not truly believe.
Here are some common examples of double-mindedness: we say God is good, but then accuse Him of sending a sickness or hardship to teach us a lesson. We say He is always with us, but then we act differently, depending on whether we are with other Christians or not. We say God is kind, but are too scared to question Him on the Scriptures, or our own experiences that make Him look as though He might not be kind. So we remain superficial and, dare I say it, hypocritical. Is a hypocrite not someone who professes one thing but believes something else at the same time? But if we would dare to ‘go there’ with Him, to enquire at His Word, He takes us to a place of deep truth and, going deeper still, our minds and hearts become united, He fills our hearts with revelations of His Love, He keeps us in ‘perfect peace’ – and then our decision-making f lows effortlessly.
It is when we acknowledge that God is awesome, that He is good to us and not evil, He is always with us and will never leave us, that He loves us with an everlasting love that is real and active, that He can be trusted, even with our very lives, and that His way is easy, so easy: that’s when we surrender to Him. It is then that we begin to choose well.
We can [_choose _]to ‘Trust in the Lord and not to depend on our own understanding’. We can [_choose _]not to be anxious but to be at peace, not to be depressed but hopeful, not to be sick but well. The last two choices would be challenging for some. Surely no one would choose to be sick?
Unfortunately some do, and then there are those who refuse to admit that they are sick or are in need of help, and in so doing entertain the illness for longer than is necessary. But perhaps the most difficult group consists of those who choose to be ill by accepting an illness and claiming it as their own, not knowing that they have the authority to reject it.
Perhaps that is why, when some came to Jesus for healing, even though it was obvious what they needed, He often asked: What do you want? Even our bodies follow our choices. They are not traitors that do their own thing despite what we really want, as some would imply.
The power of [_choice _]is a key factor in obedience. We can obey even if we do not understand, but we cannot obey if we are not willing. True obedience is not just following the rules, but doing so from a willing heart born of faith.
God makes choosing easy for us. As believers we have the mind of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us. But even if you are not a believer Romans 2:15, teaches that those who do not yet know God do what is right because of the law of love written on their hearts. We already know what is right within us. It is the external forces of hurts, insecurity, bad experiences and demonic inf luence which entice us to choose otherwise.
But those things can only have inf luence over us when we forget who He is, and who we are to Him. I once put on an event which went well, given the comments and congratulations we received later, but the next day I was plagued with anxious thoughts of what I could have or should have done or said to make it better. Eventually God broke through my navel-gazing and said this: You are enough for me. Suddenly peace reigned in my heart and mind again, and oh what joy! He loves and accepts us for who we are, just as we are, and not because of what we do.
Often people say that the best decision is the one where you follow your peace. If we are not careful we could go for the decision that provokes the least anxiety or provides the least resistance. We can confuse [peace _]with _ease. But peace is not the absence of difficulty, it’s the presence of God in spite of difficulty, and this supernatural peace comes with joy!
Whether we realise it or not, we are already choosing something about our day, our week, our life, and the choices we make determine how our life will go. So let’s make some choices about how we think of ourselves, our present and our future, that show we know who our God is, and who we are to Him. Let’s declare that we are blessed, so abundantly blessed, that we have favour with God and with man and we have good understanding, that goodness and mercy are chasing after us, that we are loved with an everlasting love, that we are protected and provided for exceeding abundantly more than we can ever dare to ask or think, that all our anxieties and fears can be cast on Him, that because we have a good shepherd, we are in want of nothing, that we have authority in heaven and on earth, and that our expectations for a good life shall not be cut short. Let’s declare that we are culture-transformers because we carry the kingdom of heaven within us, so that no place we go to and no person we meet will be the same after an encounter with us. Let’s declare we have hands that heal, eyes that see Jesus, ears that hear Him, and hearts that love unconditionally. Let’s declare over ourselves how our day, our week, our life will go. And because our declarations are in alignment with the Word and Spirit of God, let’s sit back and watch the universe obey the Word of God.
Don’t limit Him with small declarations. Declare BIG! He is an awesome God, and is standing ready to give you exceeding abundantly more than you can ask or think. We are seated in heavenly places with Him. The sky is not the limit. Can you even imagine what abundant life would look like? YOU choose.
Choose goodness, choose blessing, choose health, choose prosperity, choose Love, choose Life. Choose Jesus.
My grace is sufficient.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)
That night, after meeting Jesus, I slept soundly. I woke up still in a bit of a stupor, and somehow made my way to church. People noticed that I seemed extremely happy, but no one could quite work out what was happening, and neither could I.
The songs we sang that day took on a new life and meaning for me, and I was filled with joy over and over again. But in spite of all that, like doubting Thomas, when it came to the time of the sermon, I whispered a silent prayer: ‘God, if that was really you yesterday, please get the preacher to say something to confirm it.’ I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. She opened her mouth, and the first words she said were: ‘You have a choice.’ Then, it seemed, she proceeded to talk about my entire salvation experience from the day before! I think at one point she talked about how in the Old Testament they had amazing manifestations of God and that although we do not have those manifestations today we know God is with us, and so we choose accordingly.
It began to dawn on me that my experience was not what most other Christians mean when they say they met Jesus, and yet it was the same in the most profound way. I started at the beginning of the sermon a little slack-jawed, but by the end I was weeping profusely.
The preacher said later that she did not think she had preached a particularly stirring message. In fact she was preaching as a last-minute substitute, because the gentleman scheduled to preach was unable to make it. Another one of those ‘God-incidences’. I was amazed. A number of people misunderstood my tears that day, but I did not care one iota. I was in a world of my own, and deliriously happy. When I did catch up with my group leader, all I could say was: ‘I want to be baptised!’
But, in spite of the joy, I was still deeply puzzled. Why would the King of the universe come to visit at my house? On the way home I stopped off on the heath and just laid on the grass with my face turned to the sun, my arms outstretched, asking God silently what on earth was going on. I found His peace but there was no answer, so eventually I got up and went home.
That evening I found an old Christian music album that a friend had given me about five years earlier, which I had kept only because she was a good friend. I listened intently as it played, the words f lowing with so much more meaning for me now:
There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.
When the hymn got to the second verse, something amazing happened.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he,
washed all my sins away.
Just as that verse was ending, Jesus came back. I did not have an open vision of Him this time, but I knew He was there in His body and I could hear Him speak audibly. He said:
‘I DID THAT TO SHOW YOU HOW EASY IT IS.’
I was blown away. The words of the hymn recounted the story of Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves on that very first Good Friday. One of the thieves ridiculed him mercilessly, but the other rebuked the first and said to Jesus: Lord, _]r[_emember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus replied: ‘I tell you the truth, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42).
It was as if this thief chose not to look at his own painful circumstances, but managed to turn his head in the midst of his agony and look to his Lord and God. He must have thought to himself, If I could just get Jesus to look at me. I don’t care who’s looking at me, who’s jeering, who’s mocking and who’s just waiting for me to die. If I could just get Him to look me in the eye and give me the okay, then I’ ll gladly die with a smile on my lips and eternal hope in my heart. Lord, would you grant me this wish? I don’t mind if it doesn’t look good on the outside any more, my situation is too far gone for that. Everyone can see and I can’t fake it any more, I’ve been lifted up and it looks like I’ve been publicly shamed and punished, but Lord, just one promise from you can change my whole life. I don’t have anything to give in return. The evening is drawing near and soon they’re coming to break my legs to speed up my death so they can go and enjoy their Sabbath. I am about to die. I won’t be able to come down and be baptised. I won’t be able to teach or preach or heal anyone. I don’t even know the right Scriptures to quote.
But Jesus, I recognise that, regardless of how it looks now, you are a King with power, dominion and authority. _]And so he finally summed up the courage to ask: [_Lord, will you remember me?
And that was enough.
Why, I thought, did so many people talk about getting to heaven as if it were a hard thing? It’s supposed to be easy for that to happen, easy to speak with Him, easy to be taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, easy to know that you are loved beyond measure, intimately and passionately, easy to be saved, easy to be healed, easy to be set free, easy to inherit the kingdom. It’s supposed to be easy! Jesus already did all the hard work so we wouldn’t have to, and I didn’t need to be puzzled about the fact that the King of kings and Lord of lords had walked into my living room to talk to me. When He died, the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:31), signifying the supernatural opening up of the heavens to all who would choose Him. Everything is possible for us now: the whole of heaven is opened up to us and there are no restricted areas. And to get it we don’t have to get hyper- spiritual or be especially diligent, or pray harder than everyone else, or be especially holy – it’s as easy as saying: ‘Lord, remember me’.
My sister shared with me recently her revelation of Psalm 23. She discovered that everything that is promised in the entire chapter is conditional only on the opening sentence: ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ The minute we say yes to God, He becomes our shepherd. In return, He ensures that we will not want, that we lie down in the comfort and security of green pastures, and our souls are restored to the original beauty He first intended. He leads us beside still waters of peace and in the paths of righteousness. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we shall realise that it is but a shadow.
We shall fear no evil for we know that He is with us, the rod of His Word keeps us in safety and His staff rescues us when we fall into ditches. He anoints our head with oil, our cup runs over, His goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives, and we dwell in His house forever. And all because we said: ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. It’s easy, and it’s supposed to be easy.
‘Easy’ does not mean there will be no work, but it means the work will be enjoyable and the reward for it will be infinitely greater than the effort expended. ‘Easy’ does not mean there will be no mystery or pain, but it does mean we have the power to stay in our place of love, joy, peace and oneness with God even when the going gets tough, knowing that every word He has spoken to us will come to pass by His power, and not our own. ‘Easy’ means that we choose to rely on His grace rather than our own actions. ‘Easy’ means we don’t have to work up our faith with a spiritual sweat, we don’t have to shout and beg and plead with God. The scripture 1 John 5:4 says ‘This is the victory that overcomes the world, [even _]our faith.’ Unfortunately ‘[_even _]our faith’ is sometimes preached as if [_even _]is the important word instead of _faith. That same verse goes on to say that the one who overcomes is the one who has believed that Jesus is the Son of God. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God we already have all the faith we need to overcome the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. It’s that simple.
But here is why it does not always appear to be easy. Our own will needs to be crucified in order for our hearts to be free to believe. We die daily until we say, like Jesus, ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42). That’s not easy, but when we see the glorious outcome of simple obedience, then we can look back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it would be that easy to have all of this!’ As a case in point, as difficult as it was for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the time He got to the cross the Bible says He despised the shame, and counted it as nothing in comparison to the joy that was set before Him.
That was the joy of seeing us free from sin, taking our position in Him and sharing His glory (Hebrews 12:2).
There is a story that has been retold many times now, and the essence of it is this: a woman was prompted by the Holy Spirit to go into a petrol station, stand on her head, then jump up and shout ‘Hallelujah!’ Afterwards the woman, feeling pretty embarrassed, went to the cashier to make payment.
The cashier just sat there and stared at her incredulously, with tears streaming down his face. In between sobs, he explained that he had just told God that he did not believe God was real and that he had had enough of life, so he was going to go home and commit suicide unless something happened. ‘If you’re real,’ he challenged God, ‘let someone walk in here, stand on their head, and then jump up and shout hallelujah!’
If it could be that easy for all those I love to be saved, I would stand on my head in a petrol station and shout hallelujah all day long! In retrospect, that was pretty easy.
‘Easy’ means being able to say Lord, remember me, appealing to His grace even when we have nothing to offer in return. In the last day Jesus said there would be many who would say ‘Lord, remember me because I have done amazing things in your name’, but in the end Jesus will say: ‘Remember you? I don’t even know you’ (Matthew 7:23). There will be many who have called on the principles of the Word of God and it worked for them, they wrought great miracles and even caused many to be saved, but they trusted in the principles of God and not in the God of the principles. They established a relationship with the principles by their own strength, and not with God Himself by His grace. Grace comes through the person of Jesus Christ Himself. Our good works can never be enough to establish a relationship with God.
Only His grace is strong enough to bind our hearts together with His. If we ignore His grace the principles will still work for us, but at the expense of true, intimate and deep relationship with Him, and we will receive less than everything He has to offer, and even that will not be easy.
This emphasis on working the principles of God, rather than on our relationship with the God of the principles, is at the heart of failure for many who are genuinely well-intentioned. For instance, forgiveness is an important principle in the kingdom. I have heard many say that Jesus said if we do not forgive others, our Father in heaven will not forgive us.
So the implication is that we need to try our best to forgive others, just to be sure we will be forgiven ourselves. There is so much to be said about this scripture. Firstly, Jesus lived before he died. So the words He spoke were effective before His death and resurrection ushered in the new covenant where all our sins have been forgiven once and for all (Hebrews 10:12–14). Secondly, if we’re forgiving someone else just to save our own skin, it’s not truly forgiveness at all, just a kind of pseudo-divine insurance. True forgiveness f lows from God’s heart to ours and then to others and it is an entirely self less act, not a self-preserving one. This is far easier than trying to make ourselves forgive.
A few years after I met Jesus, He started to teach me about some of the emotional wounds He had healed in me. He showed me that who I am in Him is sealed by the Holy Spirit and is untouchable. So whatever others had done in the past, or would do in future, became easy to forgive because they could not hurt the real me. Also, if someone had not yet had the revelation of what is true and pure and lovely, how could they act in accordance with that? God then orchestrated a meeting between myself and someone I needed to let know that I had forgiven them. As I spoke to them, I felt the tangible presence of God.
It was so thick I could reach out and touch it. That was one of the most beautiful experiences I ever had after meeting Jesus – the act of truly forgiving – and even though the hurt was something I had carried for years, I found it really easy to forgive.
It had nothing to do with whether the other person was truly repentant or accepted my forgiveness. In fact, although the presence of God brought them to tears at the time, that person later became rather vile; but it didn’t matter one iota. Sometimes, after we forgive others, they come back to pierce us to see if we are truly dead to that thing that offended us. After Jesus died on the cross, they pierced Him in His side to check whether He was truly dead. Medically speaking, the puncture caused blood and water (probably from f luid collected in his body) to f low out.
Spiritually speaking when we are dead to the things of this world, all that should f low out of us is forgiveness (represented by the blood of Jesus) and no choice words of our own, but the Word of God (represented by the water that f lowed). You can get no other kind of reaction from a ‘dead’ man. There will be no quest for vengeance, no root of bitterness or offence. What will f low out of us, when we are truly dead to the things of this world, are forgiveness and the Word of God.
Forgiveness is one of the greatest symbols of God’s love and grace to a dying world. I do believe that through Jesus, it is not that we forgive others in order to earn forgiveness, but that we forgive others because we have received forgiveness ourselves by His Grace. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, written in the new covenant after Jesus’ resurrection, does not command us to forgive in order to be forgiven, it encourages us to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
One of the reasons forgiveness does not always appear to be easy is that we are sometimes unwilling to acknowledge the depth or significance of the pain, hurt and destruction that was caused. Sometimes we do this out of a false sense of duty, wanting to save the perpetrator from too much guilt and shame and pain so we, unwittingly, take on the role of Jesus and try to carry their burden of sin. In so doing, we forgo true and lasting healing and forgiveness. In the opposite role, as perpetrators, we can also have a hard time forgiving ourselves or receiving forgiveness if we are unwilling to fully face the damage we have done. But the same barrier that blocks out pain, also blocks out love. The same attitude that prevents us from seeing the evil also prevents us from seeing the good. In the Garden of Eden, there was a single tree of both good and evil. We have already partaken of its fruit through Adam, and we cannot go back. Hiding our heads in the sand puts us in a perfect position to be capsized when a strong wind blows, and exposes us to the very thing we sought to be hidden from.
But if we could trust in God, believing that His mercy and grace and forgiveness extend fully to us and to others, we would see the mountain of unforgiveness move, with ease.
There are many other beautiful symbols of God’s grace hidden throughout the Bible. One of the more unusual ones is in Ezekiel’s two visions of four faces in chapters 1 and 10 of the book that goes by his name. In the first chapter, one face was a man, one an ox, one an eagle and one a lion. The many interpretations of this vision demonstrate the multi-dimensional nature of God’s Word, but one thing that has caught my attention is the key difference between the two visions.
The face of the ox in the first chapter turned into the face of a cherub in the tenth chapter. It is as if God is saying that before Jesus, man strived to work for God’s favour, like the ox labours.
We had to keep the commandments and all the laws, and we failed miserably at doing that. But Jesus came to show us that all we need to do to receive His Love is simply to believe in Him, and then we are effortlessly empowered to become everything He created us to be. I wonder if the transition from an earthly labouring ox to a divinely empowered cherub is meant to show the transition from the natural to the supernatural, from trying to fulfil the law using physical means to receiving its fulfilment in Christ by grace through faith. Trying to fulfil the law in our own strength is hard work, but taking the opportunity to receive His divine grace makes it easy.
Trying to fulfil the law is like solving one of Zeno’s paradoxes, a mathematical conundrum that has baffled mathematicians and philosophers for centuries. At its heart the paradox says that if we were to break up a movement from A to B into its component parts then we would end up with an infinite number of movements, and it is impossible to cover an infinite distance in a finite period of time, so it’s impossible to cover the distance from A to B.
For example, in order to get from point A to point B, we must first reach half of the distance to point B. When we get halfway there, we need to cover the next quarter of the distance. When we get there, we need to cover the next eighth of the distance, then the next sixteenth, and so on ad infinitum. We would need to complete an infinite number of steps before we could reach point B, and so we would never get there. That is absurd because we are clearly able to get from point A to point B, so why does it not work when we break it up into its parts?
In a way, this is the conundrum that God wanted us to be faced with by giving us the law. We meet one set of laws and then we discover there are others. So we meet them (kind of ) and then discover there are more. If we were really to break the law into all its components, it would quickly become clear that we would never be able to fulfil it.
Yet God created us in His image with power, authority and dominion, so why is it not working?
The understanding of the paradox is analogous to understanding the curse of the law. The paradox occurs because we are applying an abstract or metaphysical property (infinity) to a physical reality. There have been many mathematical solutions put forward to help us get a finite answer to the problem of infinity, but they are not really solutions, just approximations that work for certain types of number series, and cause havoc in other areas of mathematics and science.
In the same way the law poses a problem because we are applying something that is spiritual to our natural lives. In fact, the law was given to pose a problem for us. It was given to strengthen sin (1 Corinthians 15:56 and Romans 5:20) so that we would know that we have no other choice but to fall on the grace of God. Jesus bridged the gap between us and eternity and redeemed us from the curse of trying to use a finite solution for an eternal problem. When we are in Him, we can just step from point A to point B: it’s that easy. As an aside, the reason that some people find it difficult to see why they need Jesus is that they have found a natural approximation that is very close.
They are kind, obedient, loyal people who do not lie or steal or commit any of the obvious sins. But in their hearts they know that there is a feeling of being so close and yet not quite attaining it, in the same way we approach Point B infinitesimally but can never quite get there. The difference-maker is Jesus. He redeemed us, and bridged the gap between the natural and eternity.
I am reminded of the time the disciples went back to fishing (John 21:1–7). Jesus had died, and they didn’t fully understand what was happening. So, not knowing what to do with themselves, they fell back into what was familiar. They toiled all night and caught nothing, but at the break of dawn a man appeared and told them to throw their net on the other side. When they did, their nets were full to breaking point.
As soon as Peter understood that the man was Jesus, he left the fish behind and swam towards the shore to meet Him. Focusing on the law rather than on the grace of God is like throwing your net on the wrong side of the boat. You would toil all night long and catch nothing, but when the net is thrown on the grace side, it becomes easy, and a true encounter with Jesus takes place.
Unfortunately, grace has become so popular as a doctrine that many embrace it without truly encountering the Lord Himself. Often, we mix the grace of God with a healthy portion of the law, thereby defeating the purpose. A very typical example of this is the law of tithing. I literally groan inwardly when I hear this preached. Understand that I love tithing. I couldn’t stop if I tried. It’s as if the laws of tithing and giving have been written on my heart. However, I am also fully convinced that His blessing me is not dependent on my giving because He has already blessed me with His greatest gift, Jesus. What, then, would He withhold from me? Yet I want to give, not out of obligation or in an attempt to become more righteous, but simply out of gratitude. I give my first-fruit offering in a declaration that God is the one who labours on my behalf. I give out of honour and love, and I give cheerfully. Why would I want to step down from that, to give under compulsion?
Churches need money to function, and in many churches only 20 per cent of the people give regularly. However, Romans 2:4 says that it is the goodness of God that leads man to repentance. If those who wish to encourage their congregation to give more would simply remind them of the amazing goodness of God with respect to our finances, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest, they would pull in a haul that is too much for them alone. Also, by making a big fuss about tithing, we end up making it a maximum limit to be achieved in people’s minds and, in so doing, we limit the abundance of God. Led by the Holy Spirit alone, many of us would give much more than 10 per cent.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). So now we achieve righteousness by His grace. The law would never have been able to do that. In fact the law only increased our transgressions so we would want to hide from Him more, not because the law is evil in itself (the law is divinely inspired) but because our own inability to fulfil all of the law causes us to fall short.
I once watched an interview with a well-known singer whose marriage had failed because he had committed adultery. He loved his wife and was absolutely distraught at what he had done. His therapist’s analysis was that he had been trying so hard to make his marriage work that he snapped one day, and messed up the very thing he had been trying to preserve. I felt such pain for him because I thought: that is exactly what is supposed to happen. We do not have the capacity in our own selves to do right all the time. We are supposed to lean on God, or else we would snap. That’s what His grace is for. Our own strength is like the splintered reed of a staff that will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it (Isaiah 36:6).
God said that as we received Christ, so we should walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).
Since we received Him only [_by grace through faith, _]not by our own works, that is exactly how we should continue the rest of our lives, by receiving His grace and believing in Him. But centuries of religious thinking have built up dogma and rules and doctrines and traditions that have clouded hearts and minds, and made the Word of God of no effect (Mark 7:13). I used to think that those who fell from grace were the ones who sinned, but Galatians 5:4 says it is those who are seeking to be justified by law (by doing right) that have fallen from grace.
The original fall from grace in the Garden of Eden started when Eve believed the lie that there was something extra they had to do to become like God, rather than to simply take Him at His word. The Bible warns us not to be beguiled, as Eve was, through the serpent’s subtlety, to have our minds corrupted and turned away from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). If we were asked out loud, we would say: sure, all we have to do is believe. But the fall from grace can happen very subtly because we live in a world that is based on proportional conditionality. We grow up learning quid pro quo, if we will then God will, and it’s easy to forget that the unconditional love of God is disproportionate. He gives us everything if we would just believe.
The ‘do it right’ camp is so concerned with things looking right, or with ‘defending the faith’, that it prioritises people [_doing _]above people [_being _]right with God. And yet the ‘do it right’ way inevitably leads people to do wrong, because leaning on your own power to do right is like building a house on sand. When the storms come, it will fall. God prioritises [_being right _]before [_doing right _]even if [_being right _]is messy, uncertain and doesn’t look good at first. And God’s ways lead people to doing right in the end, because in the face of God’s kind of love, you just don’t want to sin. A true encounter with Him is just too beautiful to mar for a cheap thrill. True grace changes your desires, not just your sinfulness. It draws us to choose to follow the Spirit of God, and not our own f lesh.
His grace does not mean we can just go ahead and do whatever we like, and expect that God will still come through for us. Those who have been living this lie will find that each time they do something they know to be contrary to God’s will, and yet they continue to enjoy God’s blessings (the sun shines on the just and the unjust), their hearts become harder and harder, until they begin to believe that right is wrong and wrong is right. That is a terrible place to be. The Apostle Paul said if someone is that far gone, it would be better to hand them over to the devil they are following.
That way, they may reap the consequences in the f lesh, but their spirit may be saved. While there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, a heart can become so hard that it eventually rejects God altogether and puts its own self into eternal condemnation. The hope is that such a person will come running back to God when the pain of their misdemeanours comes knocking on their door. That way they can avail themselves of the true grace that saves us, and also teaches and empowers us to do what is right (Titus 2:11–12).
In the ‘grace’ camp, on the other hand, there is sometimes a confusion between grace and mercy which makes those who appeal to the grace of God appear arrogant and presumptuous. Grace is not a mechanical get-out clause. It works in tandem with mercy. Hebrews 4:16 says we can come boldly before the throne of grace so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. Boldness does not mean being brash or loud or aggressive. It means being brave enough to come to Him just as we are, appealing to His mercy and His grace to preserve us. His goodness [_and _]His mercy follow us wherever we go. His mercy forgives our shortcomings, and His grace restores us to where He always intended us to be. Oh, the wonder of being made as righteous as Jesus is when we know, like John the Baptist, that we are not even worthy to untie his shoelaces. True grace is not arrogant at all. It is deeply humbling.
There is a short skit sometimes performed at the Wesleyan Holiness Church in East London, where I was baptised, that never fails to have me in tears.
It tells the story of Jesus standing with two angels with large swords blocking the way before Him. He calls out to His bride to come to Him, but she is religious-minded and superficially holy. She f lirts but does not want to come all the way. She eventually starts towards Him reluctantly, playing with Him but pulling back when she gets close, and the swords remain drawn. So then Jesus starts calling out to the drunkards, the criminals and the prostitutes.
They rush forward, knowing how much they need His mercy, and with nothing to hold on to but His mercy and grace. The swords are lifted high and the sinners are welcomed in. The bride, seeing the wonder of the Love, mercy and grace He provides to those who go to Him, finally rushes towards Him in a final loving embrace.
God is calling His church to stop f lirting with religion, keeping up appearances and trying to get to Him through our own means. He longs for us to come to Him just as we are. The Ten Commandments were written by the very finger of God on stone. But we must not forget that there is another time we see the hand of God touching the earth: when Jesus wrote in the sand and forgave the adulterous woman (John 8:1–11). The law is hard and inf lexible and engraved on stone, but Jesus wrote a second time in the sand so that the winds of grace could simply blow our sins away, and strengthen us to walk in the path of true righteousness.
In order to access His mercy though, we first have to admit that we need it, not just that we needed it before we got saved and met Jesus, but that we still need it every single day. We have to admit that we need His hand to intervene now and touch the wounded or hardened areas, and remould us into the beautiful work of art He originally intended us to become. It is only by His mercy and His grace that we can be holy, that we can prosper, that we are made whole, that we have love and joy and peace. We are all entitled to receive the same extravagant love, mercy and power from Him to be transformed and, in turn, to transform the world. Like the thief on the cross, simply receiving the grace of God for ourselves can be enough of a catalyst to draw millions of others to the grace of God for generations to come. Like the sinners in the skit, we should all go rushing in daily.
And the same grace that was extended to us is supposed to f low through us to others. One day at church, a woman spilled her drink all over the f loor. Quick off the mark, the pastor used it as an illustration which we giggled.
She hid her face in half-pretend embarrassment. The gentleman sitting in front of her got up, fetched a mop and bucket, cleaned up the mess and then came back with a ‘caution’ sign. We carried on with the service and before it had ended the f loor was dry; he removed the sign and we had our teas and coffees as if nothing had happened.
Wouldn’t it be great if we always reacted like that, when others miss the mark or mess up? Somebody cleans up, and encourages everyone to keep the issue in perspective. The ‘caution’ sign may well have to be put up temporarily to protect them and others, but because we all have our eyes fixed on Jesus we don’t pay much attention to it anyway. Then, before we know it, all is well and we can fellowship as if the accident never happened. Mercy and grace are God’s calling card to a dying world. Let’s make it easy!
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17 (KJV)
I still had questions. My first big question was ‘Who is God?’, but my second question was really just as big: ‘Which book, if any, was His Word?’ I wanted to get to know Him better and find my purpose. Was it the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas, or none of the above? None of the explanations I had been given of the Bible, until the time I met Jesus, were very convincing. When I was about eight, an evangelist came to our home and tried to convince me that the Bible was the Word of God, because the Bible said so. Even at that age I knew there was something wrong with that line of reasoning. And I have to admit that every explanation I had been given, until my encounter with Jesus, was either a variation of the ‘because I said so’ argument, or it appealed to natural phenomena which could have plausible alternative explanations.
But now, when Jesus referred to the biblical story of the thief on the cross, He did not just show me His grace.
He confirmed something far greater to me by revelation – that the details of the story recorded in the Bible are true and that the Bible is His Word. It was all true – the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, the virgin birth, the healings and miracles, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord, the baptism of the Holy Spirt, and the second coming – even the boring parts of Leviticus! He was really there, and it really did happen. The entire Bible was the written Word of His heart, revealed to man. In fact, Jesus Himself is the Word of God made f lesh (John1:1–14). Everything in the Bible points back to Him, from Genesis to Revelation.
To the untrained eye the Word of God may seem inconsistent, even illogical. And rightly so, perhaps, because the beautiful truths within it are hidden for the lovers of God to discover. In fact many times the apparent inconsistencies, when examined at a deeper level, reveal beautiful truths about God, display the multidimensional character of His Love, and lead us to an even greater consistency than we first thought possible.
Before I met Jesus, the Bible was just another book to me: interesting, intriguing even, but still just another book. But after I met Him, it came alive. This is what happened next. After Jesus said [_I did that to show you how easy it is, _]He thrust an extremely sharp, short sword into my belly. I knew it was extremely painful but it lasted less than a nanosecond, so it was more a knowledge of its sharpness than an experience of it. I doubled over and shouted [_hallelujah, hallelujah! _]– shouting hallelujah aloud is something I had never done before (I do it all the time now!). In that instant, it was as if He had turned the key that released Himself into me so that I was finally able to accept His amazing love and grace as my own. It was not until His sword entered my belly that I really understood that I have been radically saved.
I think that may have been the point at which I was baptised in the Holy Spirit, but I’m not certain. It was several weeks later that I started speaking in tongues.
But, perhaps most importantly, I developed an instant, extreme hunger for the Word. I wished often that God would split open my head, put the Bible in there and zip it up again.
I read the Bible in the mornings at home, on the train on the way to work, in my break times, on the way home from work, and in the evenings before bed. I downloaded the audio Bible along with a whole load of gospel songs on my iPod. I danced in public. I threw away books and CDs and DVDs, and replenished my shelves with anything about Jesus that I could find. I was insatiable. Stories I thought I knew from Sunday school as a child took on a whole new meaning. I discovered that Job’s testing was not about teaching him patience but about teaching him to let go of his own righteousness and rely on the righteousness of God. I learnt that the books were not independent stories but that they were all interdependent, and interconnected: the Old Testament with the New, the Epistles with the Psalms, Genesis with Revelation. Whenever I opened the Bible I felt like a child feels when Daddy comes home and reads her a story. It really didn’t matter what the story was about, it was the sound of Daddy’s voice that made the difference. I could now read the genealogies in Leviticus, and even though I often did not understand anything specific in them, there would be such a beautiful sense of peace because Daddy was home.
Many times God would use examples from my own life to help give richer meaning to a scripture I was reading, or to enlighten me about something that was hidden. Sometimes the interpretations were so unlike what I had heard anyone else say before that I questioned whether they were just things I made up in my own mind until I heard someone else say it or found the corroboration in the original Hebrew or Greek or in another part of the Bible.
As an example, one day I read the scripture ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10) and the Holy Spirit told me that we often misinterpret that verse.
We often take it to mean that the source of our strength is being joyful in the Lord, but that is not what He was saying. He was saying that it is knowing that He, the Lord, is joyful, that gives us our strength. To explain further, He reminded me of a funny story when I visited Trinidad with my eldest sister and my niece a few years ago.
The dogs in Trinidad are well known for being a little wild by comparison with American or European canines. One of my cousins was messing with a pack of dogs. They were barking loudly and wildly and I was quite concerned, but when I looked up at my sister, she just carried on talking as if nothing was wrong, so I assumed that in spite of what I was seeing and hearing, everything must be okay. A minute or two later, my cousin came running around the corner, looking a little wild, with the dogs running and barking behind him. I checked my sister’s face, but this time she looked very alarmed. I am not quite sure how I got there, but the next thing, I knew I was standing in the middle of the back of someone’s pick-up truck. I turned around to see my cousin laughing his head off !
‘So you see’, God said (in paraphrase), ‘your source of strength in that situation was not based on what was going on, or even on what you were feeling, but on the look on your sister’s face. If you could focus on My face now, if you could remember that I am always rejoicing, then you would let that be the source of your strength, whatever your circumstances. Let My joyfulness be your strength.’
I decided to do some research and discovered this beautiful truth. The Hebrew word used for joy in Nehemiah 8:10 – chedvah _]– is used in only one other place in the Bible, in 1 Chronicles 16:27, which reads: [_Glory and honour are in His presence; strength and JOY are in His place.
It is the same joy that is in His presence that is the source of our strength. And that’s good news because my joy, even my joy in the Lord, can be a little inconsistent, but His joy is always switched on. He’s read to the end of the book of my life, and we win!
I loved the many different ways He used, and sometimes the extreme lengths He went to, just to confirm His Word to me.
There were times I would read the Word just because I enjoyed reading it, and later that day I would meet someone or encounter a situation which God would use to make the same Word come alive in a way that I had not experienced when I read it. At other times I would get stuck on just one word and meditate on it for ages.
One of my nephews told me recently that he planned to read each of the top hundred books of all time. I am not sure who compiled it, but the original list placed the Bible at around number 16. The revised list excluded the Bible altogether. That is a great shame, because the Bible is the most wonderful book in the world. If I read that only, and never read another book, I would not have missed a thing. It has all the elements of a great story with drama and intrigue, of journeying both internally and externally, of conf lict, of redemption and of victory. It’s full of wisdom, it’s eclectic, it warns and instructs, inspires and challenges. Some see it as an ancient myth, some see it as a book of instructions, some as a book of clues, some as a book of promises, others see it as a book of revelation of God’s heart to man. The Bible says of itself that it is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Word is alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
It is like medicine (Proverbs 16:24).
It is a hammer that breaks up the rocky areas of our heart into tiny pieces (Jeremiah 23:29).
It is like fire shut up in our bones (Jeremiah 20:9)
It is like water that washes us clean (Ephesians 5:26).
It is the seed by which we are born again (1 Peter 1:23).
It is like a divine mirror that reflects the image of Christ and transforms us into itself the more we look into it (James 1:23).
It is sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103).
It is more precious than gold (Psalm 19:10)
It is life and health (Proverbs 4:22).
Just like Jesus, there are no earthly words to fully capture the wonder of the Bible. It’s all that, and more!
It amazes me that some Christians do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God. It is a truth that is independent of whether or not we believe it, but just like knowledge of Jesus, understanding of it can only come with revelation. While there are many versions and some mistranslations, the ultimate power of the Word is its partnership with Holy Spirit, and when we are reading with Him, we can never be led astray.
I have heard some say: ‘Don’t tell me what the Bible says, I want to know what you have experienced.’ While I understand the sentiment, the reason my entire testimony is embellished with Scriptures is that there is no validity to experiential wisdom that is not consistent with the Bible. Plus, it’s much easier to learn wisdom from God’s Word than from others’ or your own experiences.
We can do it God’s way in peace and joy, or we can say, like David in the end, ‘It was good that I was aff licted’.
The world has sullied, dulled, neglected, ridiculed and often outright rejected the Word of God. In fact I often say that the difference between Word and the world is the letter ‘l’, which stands for a lie.
One of the reasons that my business consultancy explicitly states that the coaching, mentoring and teaching I give are based on biblical principles is that I want to address the arbitrary split that the world has placed upon us by creating a faith/secular divide in the way we live. The truth is that everything we are and do is born out of some kind of faith, even if that is just faith in ourselves. Taking faith out of the business, entertainment, political, education or other spheres of our existence is like asking people to sit on a chair with a missing leg.
The effects of denying the Word of God in the way we live today are obvious.
It is estimated that more people are being enslaved and trafficked today than were stolen from Africa in the entire 400-year history of the transatlantic slave trade. The Word says it is wrong to kidnap another, either for sale or for your own possession (Exodus 21:16).
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. The Word says we should help those in need (1 John 3:17–18).
Many of the world’s leaders are in the business of serving themselves rather than other people. The Word says the greatest among us shall serve (Matthew 20:25–28).
Oil and gas, gold and diamonds are considered to be a more precious commodity than the lives and welfare of the indigenous people in many potentially rich areas. The Word says we are God’s prized possession (Deuteronomy 26:18).
Entire generations of people are still being dispossessed because of the colour of their skin, slant of their eyes, or curl of their hair. The Word says we are all one (Galatians 3:28).
But there are other things happening too that you won’t hear about on the main news.
There are stories of amazing men and women who believed the Word of God against the odds, and dramatically transformed their lives and the world around them in the midst of some of the desperate situations mentioned above, and more. People like Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner, started with a dream from God that helped her beloved nation of Liberia end a 14-year civil war. George Washington Carver, artist, botanist and innovator, had a conversation with God about a peanut, discovered over three hundred uses for it, and revolutionised the lives of farmers in the southern states of America, and eventually people everywhere. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the world’s greatest scientists, was a devout Christian who said, ‘Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.’
One of the great Bible teachers in the world today, Andrew Wommack, started with nothing but faith in God, and acting on His principles (which includes giving away millions of dollars’ worth of resources and donations every year) has built a multimillion dollar Christian ministry from the ground up. It was faith in Jesus that birthed the civil rights movement led by one of my heroes, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
The power of words, Jesus’ words in particular, inspired great authors such as C.S. Lewis as well as modern art forms, such as the ‘I Will Tell’ International Film Festival, which I started based simply on a word from God, with no prior experience of running an event like it.
Faith in God strengthens those engaged in the arduous task of social reform, as well as those being persecuted around the globe today. Some of the world’s greatest nations were built on a foundation of faith in the Word of God. Closer to home, we can all think of that pastor, parent, sibling or friend whose faith blows our minds.
Maybe we have our own testimonies of God’s faithfulness to remind us that His Word always works excellently on our behalf.
These are the people who inspire me, those who keep the Word of God in their hearts and obey Him at all costs. They help me to remember that by His Word, He created all things, that by the Word of His power, He upholds all things. He exalts His Word even above all His names. When all else fails, His Word shall remain. His Word is our anchor, our shield, our Life. Not one jot or tittle of it shall fail. He will always do just as He promised.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the greatest examples of someone who honoured the Word of God. When God said she would give birth, though she knew no man, she kept the Word. When she conceived and almost lost her fiancé, she kept the Word. When she had to put up with insinuations of adultery or, at best, fornication, still she kept the Word. When she gave birth in a manger, still she kept the Word. As Jesus was growing and had the normal needs of a young child, she literally kept the Word. When He performed miracles, she kept the Word. When He was beaten, spat on, hung up, crucified and died on the cross, she kept the Word. And then she was with the twelve disciples in the upper room, the day of the first baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues (Acts 1:12–16). Then she could keep the Word of God living within her for all eternity.
We too have the privilege of carrying Jesus within us for all eternity.
Like Mary, we also have the privilege of seeing His Word become flesh. All we need to do is believe and speak His word.
The Hebrew word for ‘word’ is dabar, which means speech or matter. In Hebraic linguistics a word is not simply a theoretical abstract, it is also matter, substance in itself. [_Dabar _]is drawn using three Hebrew letters. The first letter is [_dalet _]signifying door or entrance.
The second letter is [beyt _]which means family or home and the third letter is _rosh, a picture of a man’s head which signifies leadership or priority. Collectively the drawn letters tell us many things, but one of them I believe is this: that the Word of God is the doorway to seeing the kingdom of God manifest for us in the earthly realm. In other words, the written Word becomes a reality in our lives by us believing and speaking out what we believe.
I have often found that the things that manifest for me easily are the things I ‘speak out’ in ordinary conversation, not religious declarations but genuine, ordinary confessions born of faith. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). It’s the things that I am bold enough to say out loud to others that show what I really believe.
Recently, when I was in the US, I had all the cash stolen from my purse – it was around $110. I felt sorry for the person who had stolen it, knowing that my fight was not with them but with the devil who inspired them to steal.
So I declared aloud to two people, that what the enemy had stolen from me he would have to return sevenfold by the end of the day (Proverbs 6:13). Before four p.m. that afternoon, someone who was due to give me $500 in a few days’ time presented me with an early cheque for $1,270. That was $770 more than expected – seven times $110. I shared with my mother the testimony of what had taken place and she asked: ‘But why did they give you the money?’
While I was searching in my own mind, trying to find a reasonable explanation, I heard myself say with great boldness: ‘Because I said so!’
My words were the doorway for the kingdom of God to manifest in my life. When we speak the word of God in faith, it is as if God Himself is speaking, and what we say must come to pass. Sometimes, this takes a while.
Sometimes the going is tough, but God’s Word always wins in the end. Ask Abraham or Joseph or Esther or Job. You have probably experienced this already. But if you have not yet, don’t worry, you will.
As a reminder of the power and beauty of how the Word and God’s promises work, one of the more intriguing symbols God gave us is the Golden Lampstand (Exodus 25: 31–46). It is one of only three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place, a single unit made of pure gold beaten into the shape of a tree with a main shaft and six branches coming off it, three on either side. The shaft and each branch are skilfully decorated with almond f lowers which contain a calyx and bud. At the top of the main shaft and at the end of each branch is a bowl in the shape of an almond f lower that holds the pure olive oil which is kept burning continually. It must have been an exquisite sight.
The symbolism of this beautiful and important part of the tabernacle furniture is powerful. Its creation from a single piece of pure gold shows the unity of the Word, whether it is the Old Testament, the Gospels or another part of the New Testament.
The Word is a complete unit in itself, and nothing must be added or taken away from it. Its golden quality ref lects the righteousness of Christ that does not rust or corrupt.
The decorations of the almond f lower with its calyx and bud show the different stages of revelation of the Word of God – first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear (Mark 4:28).
The almond bowls signify that God is watching over His Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). That gives me such comfort and joy. If God has given us a promise, the One who never sleeps is actively watching over that Word and will ensure that it is performed just as He promised.
The pure olive oil represents the Holy Spirit and reminds us that it is not by might nor by power, but by the spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6), and the lamps were alight continuously, signifying the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit.
The lampstand was placed in the Holy Place where there was no natural light because the Word of God is not based on natural understanding but on divine enlightenment. The lamps burning with fire represent the seven spirits of God (Revelation 4:5). It’s not enough simply to be filled with oil: we should burn with the same passion Christ has for us. Now the anatomy of the seven spirits of the Lord is given in Isaiah 11:2 in what seems like an unusual way, until we see how it corresponds with the shape of the golden lampstand. The verse reads: The spirit of the Lord is upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might and the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The spirit of the Lord is the lamp at the end of the main shaft. The branches link the attributes of the Spirit in pairs: wisdom with understanding, counsel with might and knowledge with the reverent holy fear of the Lord. The main shaft is the central point of connection representing Jesus, the One who walks in the midst of the candlesticks (Revelation 2:1).
The golden lampstand speaks to me of the way the Word of God and the Holy Spirit work together to enlighten us by shining a light on Jesus. It is the Word of God that is the best witness of God (1 John 5:7–9). In all our sharing, teaching, preaching, prophesying, testifying, exhorting and in other ways representing Jesus to others, it is better for us to point to the Word and the Spirit of God.
The best way is not to point to our circumstances, to ourselves or others, but to the Word and the Spirit which have the power in themselves to give just what is needed to the hearts of those who are listening. It is not that our own circumstances are unimportant to God, it is that they are only important to others to the extent that they reveal Jesus.
If we shine a light on our achievements, for instance, then we win them over to great achievements. But if we shine the light on Jesus then we win them over to Him: the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
[_Logos _]refers to words written in the Bible. There is another kind of Word, often referred to as a [_rhema _](spoken) word of God. We can get a rhema word by simply sensing what God is speaking to our hearts, by hearing Him speak to us audibly, or by finding a particular scripture to be unusually prominent as being relevant for right now. We should always be sure that rhema words are consistent with the Bible. There are so many voices in the world, including my own, that I always try to double-check God’s voice by getting corroboration in the written Word. The words that God speaks to our hearts, or even that we hear audibly, are not any less valid than the words written in the Bible. Indeed most of the words in the Bible are words that were first spoken audibly, or were impressed by the Holy Spirit on the hearts of men. But from our perspective it makes us so much more confident when we find that something that God spoke to us in secret is written in plain English in the full light of His Word. That’s why the written Word is called a more sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19).
But whether the Word is a logos or rhema one, the key to seeing the kingdom manifest is to obey. There’s a film that a friend of mine loved, The Princess Diaries. It tells the story of a maiden and her servant.
Whatever she asked him to do, his reply would always be: As you wish. She started to fall in love with him, and became exasperated that she could get no other response from him than As you wish, until one day she realized that this was his way of saying I love you. His reaction to anything she said was ‘I love you, therefore anything you want me to do, I’ll do.’ Those who truly love God obey His Word. They look for opportunities to obey Him, just to demonstrate their love for Him.
And God’s requests are not burdensome because His desire is to overwhelm us with His goodness, and to give us easy victories.
Obedience is difficult when our circumstances are shouting at us. It’s difficult when we do not fully understand. It’s even more difficult when we have been offended, or the enemy throws our fears, or our past, at us. But I try to remember in those times some theology I acquired from one of the early Jurassic Park films. The mother dinosaur had escaped to the city to reclaim her baby dinosaur which had been captured by an evil scientist. After wreaking havoc, the mother finally came face to face with the scientist who had caused her so much pain, but she did not kill him, which she could have done easily. Instead she maimed him, so that he would be incapable of doing any harm. Then the baby dinosaur could easily destroy him. This is similar to the process that lions use to train their cubs how to hunt. As I was watching a re-run of the film, God said: That’s like what I did for you with the devil. The mad scientist is like the devil, whom Jesus has disarmed and defeated. He has no power over us except lies and deception. When we choose to believe and confess the Word of God, we destroy the lies of the enemy.
The training process is similar to the way vaccinations train our bodies to fight. They inject a killed or severely weakened germ that is unable to infect the body. But its presence stimulates the body to produce antibodies, so that when faced with the full disease, the body quickly recognises it and defeats it easily.
Some of the smaller battles we face are just preparation for the bigger victories to come! But we do have to do something. We need to believe, which inspires us in turn to speak the Word and obey God.
That’s not always easy but we are, at least, in good company. The Apostle Paul noticed that we all have this problem – that even if he had the will to do what was right, our f leshly thinking has the power to betray us into doing wrong. The only solution is to choose to set our minds on the things of the Spirit and not the f lesh (Romans 8:5).
We have to train ourselves to discern good from evil, and the very best way to do that is to feast on the Word of God. It has the power within itself to transform the way we think, to captivate and inspire us, and to lead us down the path of obedience.
What is even more wonderful is that if we miss it, God works so that the next time around is even better than before. In fact He can do it so excellently that we almost think it was good that we missed it the first time around. That’s a false doctrine, of course. It is really the power of His grace that makes the outcome so good. But as a mother holding her newborn baby forgets the travails of her labour, in the joy of receiving the promise, we completely forget the interim mess we created, and that we really should have obeyed the first time.
Even simple acts of obedience have tremendous rewards. One of the students in a class I taught at Bible College shared how she felt the Lord impress upon her one day to tell a woman that she was very beautiful. She did not understand why she needed to, as the woman was so obviously stunning, and a complete stranger, but she decided to obey. The woman burst into tears and shared that her husband had just left her for another woman, and the last thing she felt like was beautiful. She so needed to hear that. Incidentally, that’s what the Lord says to you too – you’re beautiful!
One of the reasons that people reject or disobey the Word of God is that it has been misrepresented so many times, or they have not found it to be consistent with either their own or others’ experiences. There are things that God has spoken to me in an audible voice that have not only not yet come to pass, but look very unlikely, and others that seem absolutely impossible. But there is an appointed time for everything God promises – usually not in line with our own timing, and we have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36).
It will be worth the wait, because the Word of God is infallible.
It must come to pass. If one tiniest part of it should fail, the entirety of His Word fails, for it is all one. The entire universe as we know it would fall apart, because it is upheld by His Word of power (Hebrews 1:3). But we must interpret the Word of God according to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
It is no wonder that God said teachers of the Word will be judged more strictly (James 1:3): they have such a powerful inf luence on how we understand God.
A very common example of misinterpretation of the Word is with respect to women in ministry. The scripture 1 Timothy 2:11–12 says: Let the woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
The first time I read these verses, I was blown away. It was a difficult pill to swallow, but I loved Jesus more than anything so I said to God that I would never disobey Him by teaching His Word. I was leaning on my bed praying at the time, and the next thing I knew I was standing straight up, and it was as if the power of God had pushed me against the wall, and He said: ‘You will do what I tell you to do.’
I gave a kind of stunned acceptance, as indeed this was my deeper commitment to Him. But I knew that whatever I experienced or sensed from the Holy Spirit, or heard audibly, had to be corroborated by the Word of God in order to be valid, and I was still very puzzled by the meaning of these verses, as well as by the sternness of His voice. (Sometimes Love rebukes.)
Doctrinal manoeuvring to explain this verse away – as a particular part of the New Testament that does not apply to us today because women back then were troublesome – is not supported by the context strongly enough for me.
On the other hand, refusing to allow women to teach (unless it is to a women’s group), or refusing to allow them to take a leadership role (except as a first lady who supports her husband) is not consistent with biblical history:
Deborah, a prophetess, led an outnumbered and badly equipped Israelite troop to a great victory, exercising religious, military and political authority over a whole country (Judges 4).
Huldah advised the king on God’s will for Judah
(2 Kings 22:14).
The Samaritan woman evangelised her entire hometown (John 4).
Miriam was a national leader alongside Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4).
Priscilla and her husband Aquila led a church and taught together (1 Corinthians 16:19, Acts 18:26).
Nympha led a church by herself (Colossians 4:15).
So what is really going on in these verses in 1 Timothy?
First, some context: As a result of the fall, the curse that Eve brought on herself, which still reigns over women who have not yet accepted their redemption, is that she would desire her husband and that her husband would have authority over her rather than ruling with her as an equal.
A lot of the misinterpretation of the Word with respect to women is directly as a result of people (both male and female) interpreting scripture in the darkness of this curse, rather than in the light of the cross.
Throughout history, and in many countries today, unenlightened men still seek to disempower, demoralise and denigrate women as a show of their ‘authority’. One of the ways of doing this is by denying them an education.
And the sad truth is that there are many women who seek to control men, using the many ways available to us. I believe the verses above are meant to address both groups of people.
If we look at each sentence in this context, and through the eyes of love, we get a very different idea of what God might be saying. Let me give you a metaphorical example from my own experience. I was a bit of a bookworm as a child, and could often be found in a corner reading something, anything that was available – and I do mean anything, which sometimes caused a problem. Nevertheless my father, believing that I had the potential to be a child prodigy, would sometimes say: ‘Give de chile some peace and quiet so she can study.’
This, to me, is more akin to what God is saying in the first sentence: Let the women learn in silence and with all submission. The ‘silence’ here is referring to the notion that women should be allowed to learn uninterrupted by others, in peace. It is not forbidding them to speak.
It is similar to the commandment, a few verses earlier in the same chapter, for men to pray without quarrelling. What if God was not saying ‘let them sit down and shut up’, but instead was issuing a divine rallying cry of affirmation and empowerment: Let the women learn!
To deny women the right to speak is to deny the church more than 60 per cent of its voice. Biblical history directly contradicts such a regressive notion. The more women are empowered to become who God created them to be, the stronger we will be, for we are all one.
Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 14:34–36:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?
It is only those who have already been indoctrinated in the theory of women’s subordination to men (as indeed I was) who miss the true meaning of these verses. This is no different from a father reprimanding a child by highlighting the wrong they had done, or said for effect and then giving their judgement on it. Paul used the same style of rebuking the disciples in 1 Corinthians 11: 20 – 22. Andrew Wommack perhaps explains it the most simply in his Living Commentary of the Bible. He says: ‘… by looking at the context, you can see that Paul was asking a question. This question could be paraphrased something like this: Women are not to speak in the church. What? Hey guys, do you think that the Word of God originates only with you? Does it come forth only from you?’
The first time I saw this I slapped myself on the forehead and thought – how could I have missed that? God is advocating here for women to have a voice, not the other way around.
The next sentence in 1 Timothy 2:12 reads: [_And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. _]Some have said that this section of the chapter is speaking about the conduct of husbands and wives, not men and women in general. So it is not denying all women the right to teach or take authority over a man. It is saying that the wife should not teach or take authority over her own husband. This may be the case, but what if a woman were called to be a teacher?
Does that mean she can teach everyone except her own husband? Would marrying her put him at a disadvantage?
As a potential solution, some have noted that the original Greek word for ‘teach’ here refers to teaching doctrine. Therefore they conclude that the woman could teach, but not with authority. This is also unsatisfying, because the only model Jesus left us was to teach with authority.
The answer I find most meaningful and consistent with Scripture can be found by looking at the meaning of the words used for ‘doctrine’ and ‘authority’ plus a little shift in a comma in the sentence. There was no punctuation in the original text so this view is, at least, plausible. We typically read the sentence as: I do not permit women to teach, or to take authority over, men. In other words, I do not permit women to teach men or to take authority over men.
But given that the word for ‘teach’ is referring specifically to a particular doctrine that is being taught and the word for authority, authenteo, speaks of being domineering rather than about headship, it is possible that this verse should read differently.
[I do not permit women to teach, or to take, authority over men. _]In other words: _I do not permit women to teach the doctrine of authority over men or to take authority over men. What a difference a comma makes! If you hang around some unenlightened women long enough to see how pervasive this doctrine of authority over men is, you would understand why it would have been necessary to address this issue, both then and now.
I believe in God’s eyes there is no hierarchy, just difference. The woman came out of the man, but the man came through the woman, and all are of God (1 Corinthians 11:12).
There are so many verses we could discuss, and so many more I am still asking for enlightenment on. But I take comfort in the fact that there is more to come.
The Golden Lampstand is preparation for the next room of the tabernacle – the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31–34), where His glory shines perpetually. Beyond the veil is the Most Holy Place, where the blood of Jesus is eternally sprinkled.
God speaks to us from above the mercy seat. It is the place we can come to ‘boldly’. There is manna, daily nourishment from heaven, the Ark of the Covenant – God’s eternal promises to us – and the perpetual reminder that we are chosen in Aaron’s rod which blossomed.
In the meantime, I purpose to focus on the Word. It is a simple truth that the Bible will be no good to us on the other side of eternity. We need it for life now. Many people sacrificed their lives in order for us to have the privilege of reading it. There are still people around the world today who are grateful beyond measure just to have one page of it they could call their own, if only for a short time. It is the mirror that shows us not just a picture of who we truly are, but of whom we are becoming.
The more we look into it, the more it actively transforms us into God’s vision of what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous and worthy of praise, and the more we go from our strength to His, and from our glory to His glory. This was going to be the most important tool in my arsenal for the journey ahead.
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21 (NIV)
On the Sunday evening following my encounter with Jesus, I called a friend who had been trying to get me to go to church a couple of years earlier. She came over immediately and I shared with her what had happened. I was really preaching the grace message in my own way – I thought back then that was the message everyone knew, but it was not. She was in joyful tears by the end, and it was a great start to my new life.
For the first few days after my encounter, everything within me danced. It was as if I had become conscious of the intricate workings of the minute energy centres in the tiniest cells of my body, and they were all buzzing.
Things awakened in me that I didn’t know existed previously. I knew I was walking, but it seemed as if I f loated from one place to another.
I felt like I was in a literal bubble and I wore a permanent smile of pure joy.
Ephesians 1:13 says that after we believe we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. I said to my church group leader that there was nothing in the world that anyone could ever do to me that would hurt me. Nothing whatsoever. I felt literally untouchable. And, for the first time in my life, I was alive!
Then life started kicking in: the scepticism of some, the legalism that was sometimes preached instead of the wonderful love of God, the questions about my dramatic turnaround. I had now become a target. Once we receive Christ we become all glorious within. If only we could see ourselves in the spirit realm! We shine unconsciously, and it makes us more of a target to the enemy. But we must never be afraid as the war has already been won for us. The enemy has no power, except to speak lies to our minds and to the minds of those who are connected to us. But this threat is not to be underestimated either. The mind is a very formidable weapon and it matters significantly whether or not we yield it to God. This is a battle for Truth and it is all the more significant because the enemy does not fight fair.
There is a woman called Gill Hicks who survived the London bombings of 2007. In an interview she said this after listening to the suicide video of one of the terrorists: “What really struck me was [that] he was saying that he’s a soldier and we’re in a war and … I wished someone had told me that we’re at war because I didn’t know we were at war and that I should be ready for combat… I thought that I was just going to work.”
The enemy is more like a terrorist who studies our weak points and tries to hit us where we hurt the most and the battle is all the more dangerous because it is so very subtle. One day soon after my encounter, I tried an experiment while out for a walk.
I started toying with the idea that maybe I could let go of this whole belief-in-Jesus thing to see what would happen. In my mind I could always pick it up again. I didn’t know it then, but that was the enemy of our souls trying to steal the word of God from my heart.
The Apostle Paul said:
[_It is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened – those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come – and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. _]Hebrews 6:4–6, NLT
The instant I began to entertain the thought of letting go of my new faith, I had the extremely unpleasant sensation of a giant vacuum attempting to suck the very life out of me. The Word of God had become one with me so to deny Jesus, even as an experiment, would have been certain death of a spiritual kind. I immediately dismissed the thought, and the sensation disappeared. The enemy’s tactic was very clever. He knew better than to tell me that Jesus was not real. The revelation of Jesus was too firmly embedded in my being. Instead, he targeted my intellectual curiosity.
Another tactic of the enemy is to try to get us to the point of no return before we realise it.
Once I was in a building with doors that could not be opened from the outside without a key. But from the inside, it is easily opened by triggering a sensor hidden beneath a mat. There was a strange gentleman who tried to get in. He knew better than to ask me to open the door for him. Instead, he just beckoned me closer, knowing that if I got close enough the sensor would be tripped and the door would be opened automatically.
I did not oblige him. But I thought that is exactly the tactic of the enemy. He does not have the key to our souls, but he has the power of temptation to draw us in to the place where we open the door. We should never give him the opportunity. Don’t even go near the door. We stay away, sometimes even run away.
It’s not because we are fearful of the enemy but because there are some things we do not want to risk allowing into our lives. Clean folk don’t mess with mud.
The battle comes in the form of self-doubt, false accusations, sickness, depression, relationship and other difficulties. It is absolutely imperative that we remember, in those times, that our fight is not with the people who are used by the enemy to create difficulties for us. The natural instinct is to fight the person who has hurt, upset or offended us. But the real fight is not with them. It is a fight that starts in the spiritual not the natural and the best way to win a battle is to invest time, energy and resources fighting the real enemy.
I have learnt three things. Firstly, we need to know what God has said about us, and keep declaring that over our lives, no matter what others – or our circumstances – say. Reading and obeying the Word and talking to God regularly are essential ways of reminding ourselves of who God is, and who we are to Him.
Secondly, we need to fight knowing that the battle has already been won. A very common tactic of the enemy, if he wants to steal something from our lives, is to try to make us think we have already lost it, so that we waste time and energy trying to get something we already have, and create a space for him to come in and steal it while we are looking in all the wrong places.
Thirdly, it does not matter how many mistakes we have made, or how far down the road we have gone.
We can always, at any point, turn to Jesus and find Him waiting, ready to rescue us at even the drop of a hint that we are ready to choose Him, to choose His way of love and forgiveness and mercy, and to receive everything He has to offer in return.
But in spite of the antics of the enemy, the power of that beautiful encounter lingered far more powerfully in my heart and mind. I wanted to tell everyone about Jesus. Sometimes God spoke very passionately through me to others. The first time I was aware of it happening, I was at a church meeting and I was absolutely sure I was going to be very strongly rebuked.
His tone, through me, was so passionate and strong, it was almost angry. And He was angry – but at the lies of the enemy, not at His people. I was so relieved when the leader congratulated me instead, on obeying God. Sometimes I really didn’t feel like I was obeying Him at all. It was almost like watching myself speak, rather than choosing the words myself. On rare occasions He allowed me to hear the thoughts of other people, just as clearly as if they had said them out loud to me.
I wanted everyone to get what I had got, it was so good. I hoped to convey that my new-found joy and confidence was not in myself but in the hands of one infinitely more powerful than myself.
So I sent the following poem, made famous by the wonderful Maya Angelou, to my friends. Here are some of my favourite verses:
WHEN I SAY, ‘I AM A CHRISTIAN’
When I say, ‘I am a Christian’
I don’t speak with human pride
I’m confessing that I stumble
Needing God to be my guide.
When I say, ‘I am a Christian’
I’m not trying to be strong
I’m professing that I’m weak
And pray for strength to carry on.
When I say, ‘I am a Christian’
I’m not bragging of success
I’m admitting that I’ve failed
And cannot ever pay the debt.
When I say, ‘I am a Christian’
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartache,
Which is why I seek His name.
When I say, ‘I am a Christian’
I’m not claiming to be perfect.
My f laws are all too visible,
But God believes I’m worth it.
Selected verses used by permission
Copyright ©1988 Carol Wimmer
I even added a couple of exuberant verses of my own, which I have since forgotten. It had the very opposite effect to what I intended. Immediately I received a few well-meaning emails from my dear friends, some more subtle than others, checking if I was okay and offering their help and support for whatever I was going through. It was quite sweet really, and rather funny. In reality, I was in the best place that I had ever been in my entire life. But what it showed was that in today’s world, where we are expected to dance to the music of our desire, to be strong and powerful and wise, or to ‘fake it until we make it’, a poem like this is seen, at best, as a cry for help.
Our films, books, commercials, a wide range of sophisticated modern-day proverbs, and sadly, sometimes even some of the ‘Christian’ messages we hear, celebrate our f leshly desires. So we get lured into the Adamic trap of trying to accomplish in our own weakness and foolishness what God has already promised us by His wisdom and strength. An acknowledgement of weakness or ignorance (in comparison to His awesome greatness) is humility at its best in the kingdom of God, but is seen as weakness at its worst in the world.
Yet, it is only in the acknowledgement of the weakness of our natural faculties and ignorance that we truly become strong and wise, because it is then that we create a space in our soul for God’s strength and wisdom to come in and help us do that which we could not do by ourselves. God wants us to experience His limitless strength, power and wisdom, but He can’t fill a glass that is already full.
In order to access His kind of strength and wisdom, we must move our faith from ourselves to a place of confidence in Him. Our recognition is our invitation to Him to come in and fight on our behalf. We need not wait until we hit rock bottom to see this. Such is the extent of His awesomeness that he makes us feel as if we are already at rock bottom, but He does not leave us there.
He raises us up to be seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), and to be joint-heirs with Him (Romans 8:17).
Standing on the word of God seems like foolishness to those who are standing on the wisdom of this world – a wisdom that is finite compared with the wisdom of God, which is eternal. The idea of a spiritual world, an encounter with God, being dependent on anyone outside of yourself, waiting on His promise, all seems like foolishness and weakness to those of the world. It requires leaving that which is known for that which is unknown, abandoning that which could be seen and touched and smelt and heard and felt for that which cannot be traced by human efforts.
We can only rationally do that when we see Him more perfectly than we see the things of the world, when we recognise His voice more clearly than any other voice on the earth, when we feel secure in His comforting embrace. When we truly behold Him, it’s easy to let go of the things that we thought we knew and could rely on.
Science is a wonderful tool from God which helps us to uncover the wisdom He has hidden in the earth for us. But science is not infallible. It is not an independent body of facts, but a set of theories based on observation and experimentation that are subject to change. In fact, some of the world’s most fundamentally important discoveries in science were not created by science, and cannot be fully explained scientifically. God used the foolishness of an overworked and somewhat untidy scientist, for instance, to bring us one of the miracles of modern science – penicillin.
We were not meant to hold to the sayings of our modern-day gurus as if such ‘wisdom’ were the best available to us. Every health scare, natural disaster, financial collapse, political mishap, or philosophical shift reminds us of the limitations of human ‘experts’. Jesus, on the other hand, is reliable to the utmost, and is unchanging.
Faith, true faith, which looks to Jesus and Him only, can never fail. Heaven and earth may pass away but His Word will not pass away. He is the centre of our existence. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and everything that we know is upheld by the Word of His power.
I remember when God first told me to do a film festival, I went to someone who had experience to ask for help as I did not have a clue where to start. They refused initially but a few years later that same person came to me with an apology and is now actively helpful in an important capacity at the festival. Only you know what God has shown you. No matter how it looks and what others who did not hear Him say, choose the wisdom of God over the wisdom of this world. Though they may not say it, others admire us for this.
Some may resent us because we have dared to be different. Some are too tied to their own self-image to step beyond their boundaries to achieve something great, but some applaud. And as we continue on our journey we may find that we are accused of exactly opposite things at precisely the same time for the same action. One group will accuse us of being so zealous that we seem foolish. Another group will confuse our zeal for God with self-promotion. Be zealous anyway! One group will say we must be insecure to have to use God as our crutch, another group would say we are arrogant to expect God to intervene on our behalf. Be confident in Him anyway! One group will say we are foolish to be so kind. Another group will accuse us of having ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! Let’s keep our eyes and our thoughts only on Him who is pure and lovely, and powerful enough to win using the ‘foolish’ things.
One of the reasons it’s safe to take crazy, foolish risks with God is that as long as we are in His arms, we can stretch our necks out, and like a parent with a small, precocious child, all it takes is a small, almost imperceptible shift of His body to bring us back to safety.
The way this book came into being is a perfect example of this. I decided to make the book available for free and to raise money for the publishing and printing costs by crowdfunding. Many people questioned why I would make the apparently poor marketing and financial decision to give the book away for free. Others didn’t understand why I needed to raise as much as £5,000. Most people proclaimed their support publicly but never made a pledge, as the crowdfunding process was quite new to them and a little confusing. Some preferred to wait until the book was finished before investing.
I had given myself forty days to raise the funds. Contributions started well, but tailed off very quickly. I probably broke every crowdfunding rule in the book. Then, towards the end of the launch, I started the ‘I Will Tell’ eleven-night film festival, which presented a perfect opportunity to plug the book and the crowdfunding project.
But every night something else became more important, or when the time came I simply did not feel led to do it. By the end of the event, I had only twenty-four hours to go and £590 pledged of the £5,000.
Finally, with just one hour to go, I got a call from a wonderful woman, Bridget, who was part of a prayer group I had joined to pray for the Muslims in my area. I knew she was a very frugal lady who seemed to make every penny count. In my text message to friends to remind them of the crowdfunding deadline, I had not even included her: but God used the ‘foolish’ things.
Bridget did not have many possessions. In fact, most of what she owned was given to her by others. She later explained to me that she had learnt the art of holding on so lightly to whatever God gave her that she could easily give it away. She called to say that God had told her in her quiet prayer time to make up the shortfall of over £4,000. I was shocked, and almost tried to talk her out of it.
I did not think she had that kind of money to spare, and did not want to take advantage of her. I kept saying, ‘Are you sure you can afford to do this?’
Eventually, she said the Holy Spirit was her wealth management advisor and, as she spoke, I felt the tangible anointing of God fall on my head and shoulders, and I knew for certain that this was His blessing, and that I should receive it.
Bridget could not make the payment to the crowdfunding project within the hour that was left, so on the crowdfunding site it looked as if the project had failed, but everyone who had pledged then sent me the money directly, so I received all £5,000, and none of it was spent on administration fees – the ‘foolish’ things of God.
The Bible is full of people who did things that showed them to be weak and foolish, until God showed up.
Noah spent a hundred years building an ark for a weather event that no one had ever experienced, but he and his family were the only ones who survived the flood. Rahab the prostitute betrayed her countrymen. Her reward was not just her life being saved, but that of her family, and she was brought into the lineage of Christ. Our Lord Jesus Himself was mocked and scourged, but the very crown of thorns that was meant to hurt and demean Him now signifies His kingship as we walk in the victory and freedom that His passion has bought for us.
Sometimes we look foolish because, at times, walking in the light can make us look worse than when we were walking in darkness. In the darkness, we learnt how to be surefooted and to take only the paths we were familiar with. But in the light we see all the different paths, albeit not completely, and what’s worse is that, if we’re not careful, our feet may try to follow those old paths and trip us up along the way.
Thank God He orders the steps of those who have been made righteous in Him (Psalm 37:23).
Choosing Jesus is a radical, foolish decision to those who are uninitiated in His ways of love. That is as it should be, because choosing Him launches you into a radical walk of faith and outrageous love that will give you the results of your wildest dreams.
But it may not always look like that, and you will have to risk looking very silly in the in-between. You may have to sometimes be meek and restrain your strength, even let others think that you are weak, a kind of ‘stooping to conquer’. But it will be worth it. He will show you His wisdom and strength!
All my life, before my encounter with Jesus, I had a healthy distrust of religion, and with good reason. I attended a convent school in Trinidad and Tobago that honoured the different faiths of our multi-cultural society by allowing separate Catholic, Hindu and Muslim religious assemblies.
My dad warned me that although I was going to a very good school, I was not to pray to Mary in the Catholic assembly (good advice, incidentally). My dad was what we call in Trinidad a ‘Spiritual Baptist’. My mom became a Pentecostal and then a Seventh Day Adventist. My neighbours on the left were Hindus, and my neighbours on the right were a variety of Spiritual Baptists who did blood sacrifices. I remember having Jehovah’s Witnesses and palm readers knock on our doors. I was surrounded by religion!
When I was about 13 my eldest sister, who was a born-again Christian, insisted that I go to church with her one Sunday. At the end of the sermon the preacher made an impassioned plea for those who felt that God was calling them. But I had a real enemy who wanted me to stay in the kingdom of darkness.
God was not just calling me to Himself, He was also trying to protect me. For the first time in my life I felt a strong pull to answer an altar call, but in my confusion I decided not to answer the call. That was possibly the stupidest decision I ever made.
The wonderful thing, though, is that God foresaw all of that, and had already created a master plan to redeem every mistake I had ever made, or that had been made on my behalf. His goodness is far greater than our mistakes.
So fast forward 20 years, to about a year before my encounter with Jesus. I was already beginning to lose my taste for the world. I had left the financial services industry temporarily, and stopped going out almost completely in order to save money to do something more worthwhile with my time.
A few months later I went to church for that Christmas service with my family in the US where I learnt the power of forgiveness.
When I returned to London, I decided to start reading the Bible. I also started thinking about giving to God, inspired by my eldest sister’s stories of how important it is. I didn’t have a church in the UK to give money to yet, but I did have what still seems to me today to be either astounding confidence in God, or amazing foolishness. I prayed and said I wanted Him to tell me what to do with the money, and every month I took out ten per cent of my salary and put it in a drawer. I didn’t agonise over it. I simply thought God would not want the money just to sit there depreciating and not gaining interest, so He would have to tell me quickly.
After about three months He whispered to me while I was having a shower what I should do with it: that was an amazing experience. It was the first time I had heard God speak directly to my heart, and I wept.
It was not an audible voice, but I had no doubt it was Him. I remember someone asked me once: ‘Do you believe God speaks to sinners?’ I said ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘How do you know?’ she asked. I said: ‘Because if He didn’t, no one would ever get saved.’ We were each created with the ability to recognise the voice of God, and when He speaks we just know it.
I connected with someone who could help me reach young girls in need and the young lady who received the first monthly donation was not someone I even knew: another foolish decision? But I found out later that her mother had been praying that very morning, saying to God that He had to do something or she would not be able to go on.
There are so many stories of my journey with Him that I could share, but suffice it to say this. I started this journey with the questions: Who was God? How can I get to know Him better, and discover my God- given purpose? I had some strict criteria as to how He should answer my questions. He could not tell me using a holy book, because as far as I was concerned, the Bible and its religious counterparts were just books which were, at best, circular and at worst highly self-contradictory. He could not use other people to tell me because they all said the same thing anyway, and not one of them had yet been able to say something that I could not, to my mind, argue effectively against. And He could not tell me in a dream because, assuming I even remembered the dream when I woke up, I would only dismiss it as the result of too much cheese or wine, or both, from the night before. So, what then could be done for me? Well, in His Grace, He responded by coming to see me Himself – and He didn’t just come for a visit. He decided to stay forever.
Now I know that Jesus is God and He, the Father and the Holy Spirit are one.
I know that the Bible (though sometimes with interpretative f laws – mine included) is His Word. I know that He is good in the truest sense of the word. I know that I have to watch out for those subtle religious, cultural and circumstantial inf luences that try to hide from me the truth of how awesome He is and much He loves me. I know that He is always with me, working everything for my good, that His plans for me are the very best, and that I can look forward to a future on earth and in heaven that is going to exceed even my wildest dreams. I know my first priority is simply to love and obey Him and become more like Him in the process and that, until I get to leave this earth to be with Him forever, I am called to write His law of love on the hearts of people everywhere. And that is my privilege and great joy.
In the meantime, like you, I have some promises that I am still waiting to see fulfilled. And that’s okay because if all His promises had been met, there would really be no other reason to hang around this side of eternity. So we wait.
The promises usually come when we’re least expecting it, so, like the wise and faithful servant (Matthew 24:45) we do not get entangled with the things of this world, saying to ourselves that His promise is not for a time yet. Like the five wise virgins (Matthew 25), we must always be ready. And like the faithful servants, we must make the waiting season a fruitful time.
We must not be like the man who, instead of investing his one talent, just buried it and waited for the Lord to return (Matthew 25:14-29).
We need to wait well.
One of my friends paid me the nicest compliment recently. She said that I was one of the few people she knew who, whatever was going on around them, always seemed to be able to stay deeply centred in the fact that they are truly loved by God.
Of course she hasn’t seen me in some of my not-so-lovely moments, but I do think there is a lot of truth in the fact that knowing how much we are loved empowers us to weather any storm. Kim Walker-Smith’s version of [_How He loves us _]is my personal anthem, especially when backed by her testimony of the revelation of God’s love.
Staying in that place of love is absolutely essential because of one key thing about the promise of God. The promise comes in the form of a seed and in order for a seed to bear fruit, it must first die. We have to be willing to let the promise go trusting that God is able to raise it up again. But we can rest assured that God is asking us to let go of a small seed so He can raise up for us an entire forest. Abraham had to let go of his son, Isaac but he reaped an innumerable multitude that spans generations. Joseph was forced to let go his dream to have preeminence in his family but became a leader and influencer for his entire nation. Jesus, Himself, had to die. He was sown an earthly man and was resurrected a divine King.
Bizarrely, in order to keep the promise we have to be willing to let it go so we can reap the fullness of what God had in mind, not just the inklings of what we could perceive in the seed. And while the seed is buried and watered and develops underground, outside of our ability to detect what is happening, we must learn to wait.
I have learnt what I call the three ‘R’s of waiting: Revelation, Relationship and Response.
The first R, Revelation is in a way the most important, as without a revelation of God’s promise we have no real substance for hope. Without a revelation it’s easy to try to swap one promise for another when we get tired of waiting, or when the going gets tough. With revelation, no matter what the circumstances, we hold on without staggering.
Without revelation, when we doubt whether we had a promise of God or just something from our own imaginations, we get thrown into a world of confusion and there is no clear way to get out. But with revelation when we doubt, Jesus takes us back to the Word and Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance all the things we have seen and heard that confirm the Word, just as He did with John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-6). The promise is fortified, we get a more sure word of prophecy and our doubts are put to rest once again. Without revelation and without wisdom, we are tempted to modify God’s wishes. That is the old Adamic nature of thinking that God is somehow holding out on us, rather than wanting the best for us. With revelation comes wisdom, and the certainty that God chose for us far better than we could have chosen for ourselves.
It may not come in the package that we desired or at the time that we expected but we understand by revelation clearly that we should not be looking for another. This is it.
The second R is Relationship. Once we get the revelation of God’s promise, it can be so exciting that we are tempted to take our eyes off the One who gave us the promise. But as wonderful as His promises are, they pale into insignificance next to the glory of our King. It is in choosing to honour our relationship with God above all else that we are able to receive the fullness of the promise.
I learnt to ski (well I tried anyway) with three other young women several years ago. We had to go a short distance along a gentle incline maintaining our stance. I was doing quite well until one of the girls started veering off to the left and fell. The others, becoming more conscious of that than of their destination, started to do the same and a little sink hole started to form.
I was puzzled at first that they could not go that short distance without veering off and I became determined to avoid it. Yet the more determination I put into avoiding it the more my wayward skis veered straight to the heart of the hole, until I too succumbed.
In an attempt to refocus our minds on where we should be going the instructor walked to the end point, stretched his arms out wide so he made the shape of a cross and said “Look at me!” It worked like a dream. We whizzed past that old sinkhole without realising, thinking only of getting to the instructor. When we got there we looked back in amazement at what we had accomplished, given the difficulties we had experienced only moments earlier.
God, in His foreknowledge that we would be distracted along the way of life, sent Jesus to the end point and stretched His arms wide on the cross saying: Look at Me. I am the author and finisher of your faith. I am your final destination.
The more we keep our focus on Him, the easier it is to continue focussing on Him. We are then able to avoid the distractions and celebrate all the promises we pick up along the way, accidentally on purpose. God’s promises are not designed to take our eyes off Him but to draw us closer to Him. All promises are [_in Him _]yes and [_in Him _]amen (2 Corinthians 1:20). We are to maintain our stance of seeking Him first and His righteousness and knowing that all else will fall in line (Matthew 6:33). Nothing that takes our attention away from our relationship with God is worth having.
This concept can be easily misunderstood. I hosted a screening recently about single Christian women looking for their Soulmate. In the post- screening discussion one of the women complained about single people being encouraged to focus on the work of the church and to expect that miraculously one day their Soulmate would just come and sit in the pew next to them.
Others advocated for active dating and making themselves available because (the implication was) God helps those who help themselves.
I think the best results come from understanding that we always have to do something to activate, in a sense, God’s promise in our lives. However that action should be a response to the revelation we receive from God and borne out of relationship with Him, not a response driven by a primal desire to make it happen for ourselves by ourselves because we feel we have waited too long.
We always need to check what is fueling our Response. Our responses can be led by God, His Word and the leading of Holy Spirit, but they can also be driven by fleshly desires, false ideas, hidden fears, consequences we are trying to avoid, attitudes that limit God in our own minds and other impulses. When we have revelation from God and maintain our relationship with Him, we become more like Him.
Our pre-programmed response is then to speak, act and receive based on who we have become in Him.
But when we are distracted by other desires then our pre-programmed response is to speak, act and receive the fruit of those desires. The human mind is so powerful, we may get what we want, but, if the motivation is wrong, we end up with many false starts and miss the deeper fulfilment of becoming who we were created to be.
The right response is inspired by, and a natural consequence of, our revelation of Him and relationship with Him. In a sense that is the summary of my encounter. I had the [_revelation _]of God in the Spirit, but it did not fully make sense until Jesus established [_relationship _]with me by His Grace. Then He baptised me in His Holy Spirit which impelled me to [_respond _]with shouts of praise and completely changed my life forever.
I see the Bible split into these three sections: The Old Testament is like the [_revelation _]of God, not fully understood until the Gospels establish [_relationship _]with Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament from the Book of Acts onwards show us the [_response _]to His Grace by the Holy Spirit.
The original temptation of Adam can be seen as testing man in these three areas. First they gave up the [_revelation _]of what God said about the tree in the middle of the garden to consider other options. [_Did God really say? _]the serpent asked. Then they hindered their [_relationship _]with God by being tempted to believe that God was holding out on them and that the serpent was offering something better. Their inevitable [_response _]was then to eat of the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:1-13).
But then Jesus, the second Adam, was tempted in exactly these three respects and came out victorious, not just for Himself but for all of mankind. If you are the Son of God, satan said, testing whether Jesus had a [_revelation _]of who He was.
When that failed satan showed Him the world, the people He loved, and tempted Him on his [_relationship _]with God by saying he would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would worship satan instead of God. When that failed, satan took Him to a high point and tempted Him to throw Himself off so the angels would rescue Him, testing whether Jesus would [_respond _]out of pride in who He was or out of revelation of, and relationship with, God. (Luke 4: 1-13). Jesus overcame satan on every point and won the ultimate victory.
The correct operation of the three Rs not only leads to the kind of results we all want in our lives, in some cases, they can happen more quickly than we would have experienced otherwise. But the three Rs do not and cannot make the promises of God any more or less likely to occur. Nothing can.
He is the God who lives outside of time, so when He makes us a promise, He knows for certain, and we can know, that it has already happened just as He said. We do not need to struggle to make His promises come to pass. God wants us to experience the joy of sweatless victory that comes from becoming. He delights in treating us like the Kings and Queens that we truly are. He loves to honour us. He boasts about the fact that we did not have to do a thing to deserve or earn His promise, except for this – to believe Him. His promises are 100 per cent certain. The three Rs simply help us to wait well and then to receive His promise in the style befitting a child of the King. The accompanying workbook: [Deeper Still _]explores how the three Rs and other tools can be put into practice for designing a plan to live on purpose[._]
While we wait for the promises to manifest, we wait [_in _]God. We wait knowing we are truly, madly and deeply loved. We wait in the place of righteousness and peace and joy. Like Abraham, we wait, being willing to let go of the very thing He promised us, trusting that those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126:5).
We wait actively expectant. We wait confident that the war has already been won. We wait [_in _]Victory!
Until all His promises for your life are fulfilled, I pray that the beauty, joy, peace and love that I experienced in my encounter with Him will live again in you. And I pray that you learn more and more to recognise and stay in tune with the music of heaven. He is ready to lead the three-step dance to the love song He sings to your heart. Follow Him. He will do for you Just As He Promised.
I would like to invite you to receive the love of God. Now this may be difficult if you feel that your heart has been hardened by life experiences or your current circumstances. But I want to ask you to think, not of something from outside of you coming in, but of a seed of love inside of you spreading out to your heart and the rest of your being. This is the love of the Father. He does not wait for you to be holy so you can receive Jesus. He loved you as you are and sent Jesus to you.
Fall in Love with Jesus
Receiving God’s amazing love for us impels us to love Him back with everything we have in an attempt to even come close to pouring out a portion of what we have received. That love inspires commitment to Jesus who is one with God and was the embodiment of His Love here on earth. Romans 10:9 says if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. We will receive Him. Confessing could be as simple as [_Lord I believe _]– remember the thief on the cross? Once you have believed and confessed, you are now saved and I join with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and all the saints (of which you are now one) to celebrate with you the best decision you ever made.
If you already know Jesus and just need to fall in love with Him again, or to take a new journey with Him, now is a good time to do that and I celebrate you and all the people God calls you to reach for Him.
Receive Holy Spirit
Luke 11:13 says that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Holy Spirit empowers you, encourages you and leads you into all truth. I pray that you receive the Holy Spirit and that you receive the evidence of speaking in tongues. You may have the evidence of speaking in tongues straight away or it may take a while. You may have an incredible sense of being empowered or you may feel nothing at all. Either way, if you have asked for the Holy Spirit you have received Him. Make a commitment to commune with Him often throughout the day. He will change your life.
Study the Word
The Word of God is so beautiful, pure, powerful and easy to love. Remember the bible is no good to us on the other side of eternity. It was given to us for now. Keep studying the Word of God and make full use of your unlimited access to the Holy Spirit when interpreting those verses.
Be part of a Church
A church is simply a gathering of believers. It need not be a specific building nor have a certain form or tradition, but it might. I pray that God will lead you to the right group of believers to grow and share your life with, to further the purposes of the Kingdom of God and to love.
Keep on Receiving
Stay in love. Be patient. Be consistent. Keep your focus on Him. Keep receiving from Him. Remember that God does not throw our experiences away. He restores them and uses them as tools to display His glory in us. Give Him your everything and He will give you His. What a trade! Know that He loves you and will never leave you and that He is helping you even now. Keep falling in love with Him and we will celebrate together on the other side of eternity all that He has done.
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Join this journey of rediscovery of a God of Love, Grace and Power who always keeps His promises. This beautifully articulated reflection on a life-changing experience will draw you into a place of child-like wonder, thrill you with the tangible sense of God's presence and stimulate a passionate hunger for your own divine encounter. Get ready for a level of openness and integrity that will challenge and inspire you. This is a life-changing book for anyone who has ever wondered about love. It is timeless writing that commands a new perspective on how we think about God and a must-read for every heart that desires authenticity.