Posted by: Sally Ann | 03/01/2014

Mary’s choice

“Joseph took her as his wife… and kept her as a virgin until she gave birth to a Son” Matthew 1v24-5

It is the 10th day of Christmas and according to the song there are 10 lords a-leaping somewhere, presumably still celebrating with all their might. In the Church calendar the feast of Christ’s birth is not over until January 5th and then we have the special day Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the wise men some time later ‘at the house’ the family had moved to from the stable (Matthew 2v11). It seems the astrologers had followed this star for about 2 years, which is quite a journey. Time doesn’t have the same meaning in our modern world.

For us, Christmas is now over, 2013 kissed goodbye, New Year in to a massive burning of coloured fireworks (and money) and we’re into the January sales and discussing what happened to Sherlock. Many decorations have already been taken down to ‘clean house’ for 2014 – but they had been up since December 1st anyway because Advent is the new Christmas. We are not simply not as good at waiting in the dark.

The spiritual life requires seasons of unknowing when we feel uncomfortable – times of testing in the desert, facing up to mystery and realising we don’t have the answers and we never will. The whole of our journey on earth is a time of Advent, waiting for the ‘coming’ of the Lord to us. The Christmas story comes in ‘bleak midwinter’ not because that is the time of year that Jesus was born – and I doubt very much if the middle East gets ‘snow on snow’! – but because this story gives us keys to times of darkness and how to allow God to take us through them so we meet Him there and His life grows in us.

How do we count a cost we can't know?

How do we count a cost we can’t know?

In the early days of pregnancy there is nothing to show. The new mother feels unwell, her appetites change, her hair, her mind is not as sharp, emotions everywhere perhaps – a few bodily alterations caused by different hormones flowing around… I remember the first time going to the doctor simply “feeling ILL”! What a shock an hour later at the lab: Rebecca was on her way! I wonder how long Mary kept her secret, knowing what she did. Elizabeth her cousin had kept mum for 6 months out in the country  and Mary soon went to join her. These days we know conception has occurred within a few weeks – but hopefully try to be more careful about telling everyone too soon, as growing babies do not always make it past the 15th week. But then it’s usually wonderful news for us, if we’ve got our life events in the right order… Wonderful, but life-changing – and no going back.

How much more for this Jewish teenager who had encountered an angel. Hand-picked by the God of heaven, highly favoured among women – but the next time you hear God saying nice things to you… WATCH OUT! The calling always takes us way beyond what we expected when our hearts said “Anything for you, Lord”! In the secret place, the dark and desert times the Word will come as light, but at first you’ll just feel ill, unsure – the faith that knows something unseen and has to live with it until the growth begins. It grows inside us for what seems an age and what appears in the end is nothing like what we saw growing – except that these days we have ultra-sound scans to reveal every secret before time.

Faith is like pregnancy – the conception in the dark, secret and intimate place as the Word enters your spirit and is received. “Be it unto me according to your Word” she said – this was no divine rape. She did not know the sword would pierce her soul back then nor could she imagine writhing in the straw as her virgin body contracted in the most important labour of all time – pain in childbirth in every way. Faith’s journey can include these elements for us as well… it’s called the Cross.

Mary was the only woman who had a man come out of her before a man went into her. We’re told that – if the bumpy donkey ride hadn’t done it – it was Jesus’ head that broke her hymen, or the waters bursting forth perhaps – blood and water at His birth foreshadowing the piercing of His heart 33 years later. This mixture from Mary’s innermost being bathed His newborn body like a libation to God, much as the water and the blood wash us and cleanse His Body still. It was a baptism of both life and death, the ending of her innocence and the beginning of ours.

Jesus came to share the mixture of the best and worst of life – the light in darkness and the hope in suffering, the glory in the night. The lowest place is where authority is born – I quote you, “It is finished!” on the Cross! – and if we can but learn to wait and walk the darkest paths, submit to God, allow the entry of His love, we too can rise again.

“Be it unto me according to your word” – and in your time. Happy new beginnings this new year!

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Posted by: Sally Ann | 13/07/2013

An easy yoke

“Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”  Jesus in Matthew 11v28-30

How then are we to live in rest? It is a question I have been asking myself for years and years and yet the answer is right here in front of us! Why is it so hard to do what Jesus said – just come to Him and learn how to “walk in His yoke” as He puts it? It’s not as if I don’t want to – but like Paul in Romans 7, “that which I would not do I find myself doing” and vice versa!  Paul, of course, goes on to say this contrary sinful behaviour can be overcome if we “keep in step with the Spirit” – which is surely exactly what Jesus meant by taking on His yoke. He is giving an image of an animal harness, with Him as our partner alongside to help shoulder the weight of the plough of life. Obviously to submit to that harnessing requires choice and daily discipline… On days when I don’t make the good choices I usually blame myself for being “a Martha” (see Luke 10v38-42) rushing around serving and “distracted by many things” – and tired out by them! – but, you know, be reasonable, these things need doing and how can I change my personality?

If you have similar problems and questions, read on! And if you are “a Mary” already and know how to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words that fall from His lips – read on too! When it came to taking action, Mary was not so hot on going out to meet the Lord after Lazarus died – instead she sat at home drowning in her grief while Martha took the responsibility and made the faith declarations (John 11). As I have said before, Martha is the female Peter  – she said what he said, “You are the Christ” – and Mary is the female John: these issues are not about one personality type being superior to another, they are about our choices.

Yesterday I picked up an old book of letters written by John Newton, the man who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. They were written during the Wesleyan revival years in the early 18th century and the collection was first published in 1960 by The Banner of Truth Trust. It seems that truth lasts forever! The book fell open at p160 and I read something that came to me fresh – like a new revelation!

“From the time we know the Lord and are bound to him by the cords of love and gratitude , the two chief points we should have in our view, I apprehend, are, to maintain communion with Him in our own souls, and to glorify Him in the sight of men”

The gospel is so simple really. The distractions and troubles of life come to unsettle and choke us – as in the parable of the sower – but if we can only keep our focus on Jesus, looking to Him, following His example (Hebrews 12v1-3) and more than that, living in, remaining in, abiding in, connected to the Vine (John 15v4-10), getting our direction from Him hour by hour, surely that is walking in His yoke…? Our human minds are so easily led astray – we need some help to practice the presence of God! Smith Wigglesworth, the famous healing evangelist used to stop to read the Scriptures every 30 minutes to keep him focussed – probably too demanding for most of us. The apostle Paul counsels in Ephesians 5 that being continually filled with the Spirit can also be assisted by singing to Him in our hearts (see here!) or stirring ourselves in tongues and/or prayer. We don’t have to wait for a Sunday meeting 🙂 Colossians 3 is also helpful:

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.   Colossians 3v 15-17

Ah, singing again – is that why we do it? And encouraging one another with His word and lots and lots of thankfulness (such a key that one!) and really, simply, just keeping ourselves in peace. There are many ways of feeding our spiritual connection – what Newton calls “the cords of love and gratitude” that bind us to the life of heaven: the theme of making sure you are at peace is perhaps the best indicator as to whether you are succeeding. Martha rushing round serving and demanding her sister’s help clearly wasn’t managing it 😉 Graham Cooke used to say a sign of maturity is how short a time you need to bring yourself back to peace when disturbed! JUST STOP! What’s wrong? Put it right! The Spirit guides us by peace (Philippians 4v6-7) so if we are at peace we know we are “IN HIM”. If we lose our peace it is like the umpire’s whistle saying STOP THE GAME – or the voice behind us saying “you’ve gone off-track” (Isaiah 30v21)

So all this is about “maintaining communion with Him in our own souls” – Newton’s first point. And really this was all Jesus was telling Martha to do: He wasn’t telling her off – He knew she was serving Him out of a good heart – but she wasn’t going about it the right way. Perhaps like I can so often do, she was deciding for herself what she would offer to the Lord and then stretching to manage it… How often do we attempt things He hasn’t asked us to take on – perhaps because someone else is doing it? Then – lo and behold – we can wear ourselves out and fall on our faces!  There is no condemnation when we do that and the Lord always knows our hearts and understands our good motives, but Martha’s sister had made a wiser choice – Jesus says the best choice, “the only thing that matters”! – and she shouldn’t be forced into a lesser way of behaving just to keep up appearances.

Mary sat and listened to Jesus, gave Him her full attention and took time out before acting. This of course is the role of prayer – Jesus going up the mountain in the early morning – and yes, it is so often simply a timing issue, doing things in the right order: Richard Rohr has been asked which is the most important word in the name of his ministry ‘Centre for Action and Contemplation’ and he answers ‘AND’ – both disciplines are needed! There are times to wait and times to act, times to listen and times to speak – see Ecclesiastes 3 for these well-known wise words, no it was not just a folk song 😉 That’s why our life with Jesus is described as a “walk” – it’s a relationship, something living, breathing, changing, evolving, growing: anything else is mere religion – yesterday’s truth, hard and set in stone, a set of rules.

So, if I can really learn and practise staying in communion with Jesus, surely then I will know when to be quiet and when to act and have the energy and inspiration for both when it is needed: grace for the day and for the hour. Indeed, “He is able to make ALL grace abound to you so that at ALL times having ALL that you need you may ABOUND in EVERY good work” 2 Cor 9v8!

Of course we all have work to do – hours to keep and responsibilities and commitments – but the Lord knows that. Taking His yoke and doing it His way means gently and humbly walking in submission and peace with God every day, ensuring we are doing what pleases Him – as Paul says, doing whatever we do in His Name and for Him – and allowing Him to take the strain. Then we will fulfil Newton’s second point, glorifying Him in the sight of men.

The prophet Micah puts it like this:

“He has told you, o man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with the Lord your God?  Micah 6v8

That’s it in a nutshell – what Newton is saying and what Jesus was trying to tell Martha and tells us. Walking humbly – not proudly making our own decisions and plans but asking Him, listening all the time, making room for what He wants, staying in communion with the Spirit… and thereby glorifying Jesus in our lives as we work with Him to bring in His kingdom through acts of justice and mercy.

Sounds simple really! I’m going to give it another go! 😉

Posted by: Sally Ann | 24/04/2013

Rest is a weapon

Here is a catchy phrase for you. It sums up a lot of what I’ve already found myself posting on this year and perhaps I am finally beginning to grasp just how important this particular lesson is as this new season of 2013 gets underway – especially and foremost for me personally! 🙂 Well, if you’ve ever tried to preach, teach or pray for someone else something you haven’t applied to yourself you’ll know there are always 4 fingers pointing back at you!

When you think about it everything begins in rest as day follows night: the Hebrew days start and end at sunset so you get to sleep in preparation for work when the sun rises. As I said in the last post, the secret place of intimacy is where God conceives faith in us and it then gestates and grows in hiddenness for as long as it takes – just as surely as a baby does waiting for the appointed time of birth.

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Wow! Imagine Jesus Himself waiting and resting like that! Again we come back to Elijah’s 40 day journey to the cave – or any of the other 40 days/years mentioned in Scripture denoting ‘spiritual journey’ – or as someone has suggested perhaps they just used ’40’ to mean ‘a long time’! It certainly feels like it when you are waiting, as any pregnant woman will tell you during her 40 weeks.

So why is something that seems so passive a weapon? I first heard this phrase from the established prophet Graham Cooke. He actually said, “Rest is a weapon against difficult people and circumstances” – and I suppose that is because it involves responding to aggression or perceived attack in the opposite spirit, ie refusing to ‘be difficult’ back! When we choose to turn the other cheek we are fully putting ourselves into God’s hands – entrusting ourselves to His judgement and vindication. As Psalm 37v5-9 promises, when we refuse to fret and instead patiently wait for Him, God will act and vindicate us – in fact Jesus is the perfect example of this: ‘When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly’ 1 Peter 2v23. It means we are refusing to take control of matters ourselves. That is what sabbath is all about – deciding that we won’t work today, but instead choose to lean back on God’s provision in gratitude and celebration.

And that is the other aspect of it being a weapon. I realised this because – as I mentioned – as well as my own 40 day journey in Elijah’s footsteps I also saw a 70 day period marked out for me over the winter months. 70 in Scripture occurs in references about the land, transition and ‘finishing off’ – see Daniel 9v24 & Jeremiah 25v11-12 & 29v10 – and it is the number denoting someone’s life span – Isaiah 23v15 & Psalm 90v10. It’s rather like a grand version of 7, the perfect or complete number (days of the week): 7×10. When you think what 10 is about it all makes even more sense – ha ha, that’s a teaser!

Seeing this number 70 marking a specific 10 week period of my journey – actually from the day I stopped my old blog until the day I did some teaching at the February ‘Conversations on Prayer’ – made me smile because I was actually resting from work just as the land of Israel had 70 years rest from it’s occupants (2 Chron 36v21). I didn’t plan that – I only realised later that the Lord had!  Having prayed for years over issues of the land I know that the spirit of witchcraft/Jezebel is one of the major strongholds we face in our warfare. This demonic spirit always seeks to manipulate, dominate and control: think of fortune-tellers telling you they can predict your future, when it is God alone Who holds your destiny in His hands. How do we live in the opposite spirit to that desire to be in control of our own lives? In the freedom of rest in the Lord is how!

I am learning that my rest is not just a defensive weapon, but an offensive one. Jesus dying on the Cross in submission to the will of the Father is the extreme example of this active refusal to act on our own behalf. He knew the right thing to do at the right time and with rest in our arsenal of weapons we can too.

Posted by: Sally Ann | 26/03/2013

Apathy or bust?

What is the opposite of apathy? Activity? Passion? Surely something along the lines of enthusiasm? No-one wants to be thought of as apathetic, bored, uncaring, do they – especially radical Jesus-followers?!

To coincide with the coming of Spring – the resurrection season of the year – and alongside the sense of being called to a new level and purpose in this year of Open Heaven’s ‘Coming of Age’, the subject of throwing off apathy has been a major focus in our March OH1 meetings. The sense of needing to break off laziness and indolence, to rise up to fulfill our mission and calling is undoubtedly godly – indeed, how is it possible these things get a hold on us in the first place?!

It may start as tiredness or burnout, disillusionment perhaps – winter can be a time to retreat and regroup and a new year brings the challenge of setting our sights and therefore leaving behind some old patterns, which can be a big effort! Relationships can change too and isolation may be a problem – or our identity may be challenged by changing roles or life stages. These things can happen at any time, but when there is major transition underway – as there certainly is at the moment – the effect can be more widespread.  The enemy is always looking for inroads through cracks in our behaviour, whether that is through fear, anger or bitterness: this is the way a spirit of apathy gains entrance (Ephesians 4v27). It is very good to agree together to throw these things off: greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4v4)!

How then should we respond in the opposite spirit to apathy? We want to live in the life of Jesus and keep in step with the Spirit and each other: that is what church is all about – following His lead and obeying His call. It is certainly an exciting vision to catch – the sight of which creates the energy needed to move forward: it is the ‘upward call of God in Christ’ (see Philippians 3v14) But – especially if we’re not actually feeling it! – where does the energy actually come from?

My recent journey with the story of Elijah running away to the cave (see my last 2 posts) speaks into this. Elijah’s exhaustion and loneliness could have led him to apathy: he certainly needed some heavenly help to get back on track (see 1 Kings 19v5-18)! He had to be honest – but he also had to position himself to hear what God would say – and to receive a new commission. The word of the Lord always releases energy! But more than that it is the accompanying brooding presence of the Spirit of the Lord Who alone can impart the anointing we need to fulfill the purposes of God. He/She is the one who comes into the secret place of our hearts to cause conception of what God wants us to carry and grow and birth, both as individuals and corporately. Yes it is a picture of intimacy leading to pregnancy! In Hebrew the word you shall ‘know’ or ‘acknowledge’ the Lord (eg Hosea 2v20 and 6v3) is the same as when Adam ‘knew’ Eve his wife (Genesis 4v1): the sexual relationship is a picture of spiritual union and the same thing Jesus is praying for in John 17!

How did I get onto that?! But perhaps it is a perfect illustration because you know you are not apathetic at all when you are in love – rather, one becomes over-excited and very, very focussed! It is only the Spirit of love that can give us the zeal for the Lord we need. We can’t do it by trying harder!

I have been harping on this same theme since New Year – and perhaps now I understand why! God’s emphasis for me personally has been rest and grace and no self-effort – it’s been a bit like dying! But it has a wider application if we want to overcome apathy in our community because we could actually get good rest and bad apathy mixed up! Apathy can perhaps masquerade as rest – or even vice versa. How can we tell the difference?!

In the Midlands of England we are surrounded by hobbits of the Shire. They are content, satisfied, family and locally focussed – perhaps inward looking. The other side of that contentment coin is apathy! Or if someone is naturally a live wire, full of plans, out on the edge, never still – that can also be both good and bad – depending on the situation! I know about this sort of personality – I live with one! 😉 Which is why we have learned that being at rest is so important – so we can hear the still small voice and know the call and timing of the Lord.  Elijah discovered categorically that the Lord wasn’t in the wind, earthquake and fire – however much he would have liked to be blown out of the water by a demonstration! God had been in those things before (eg on Mt Carmel in the previous chapter!) and would be again (think of Pentecost!) – but on this occasion, at this time of transition and recommissioning – be still and know that I AM GOD

That’s why it’s always relationship and intimacy and not formulae with God. That’s why when apathy is broken off we can’t just jump up and start running… unless we want to go bust!  To have the direction and the energy to run the race set before us the only starting point is rest and the only goal is Jesus (Hebrews 12v1-3)

‘I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ says David, a man after God’s heart. Then,‘Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord’ (Psalm 27v13-14)  So perhaps after all, the opposite spirit to apathy is not our human excitement or expectations, but courage, patience, obedience and faith.

Posted by: Sally Ann | 13/03/2013

What are you doing here, Elijah?

1 Kings 19 has so much to teach us about ourselves. Elijah is a classic prophetic personality: his great faith victory on Mount Carmel is immediately followed by the most enormous anti-climax – some may even call it backlash from the enemy, as it is Jezebel’s threats that send him running in fear of his life. It is probably both/and – it usually is. The man of God is undoubtedly physically, emotionally, spiritually spent – and HE IS ALONE.

God sends an angel to aid him on his way: it doesn’t try to stop him, there is a recognition of his weakness – ‘it is too much for you’ – an acknowledgment that this journey is necessary. Where is he going and why? And when he gets there why does God ask him this question: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’?

'He went into a cave and spent the night'

‘He went into a cave and spent the night’

How do you hear that question? Gerald Coates always quotes Tozer in saying, “What comes into your head when you think about God is the most important thing about you”. Do you feel God is cross with Elijah, telling him off? I think I do!

It can’t be that. There are other instances in Scripture when great spiritual experiences leave human beings physically spent – even without the fear factor introduced by Jezebel: Daniel was dramatically affected by his visions (Daniel 10v7-19) John fell at the glorified Jesus’ feet as though dead (Revelation 1v17).  So perhaps this sort of  burnout is a natural consequence… no wonder Jesus tells his disciples to ‘Come away and rest for a while’ after their ministry tour! (Mark 6v31)

This has to be a rhetorical question: God must know exactly why Elijah has run away! Perhaps he wants to know what he will say, what is eating at him most. He gives Elijah space to make his honest confession – allows him to have a moan and tell it how it is! He even lets him do it twice! Elijah is pretty fed up – especially about being ‘the only one left’:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19v14

It is important to be honest with God! Perhaps if he’d had a companion at that point he could have complained to him instead… The sad ending of Evan Roberts, the great Welsh revivalist who suffered physical and emotional collapse and ended his life mentally unwell was probably down to a lack of supportive people around him. No wonder Jesus sent his disciples out two by two: partnership is the recommended ministry model precisely to give this protection. No wonder God then sets him up with Elisha…

Anyway – I digress… I’m very good at that!  The question is, at this point in your life, at this moment of in-between transition, ‘What are you doing here?’ Surely Elijah could have answered (if he wasn’t so upset and angry, or when he’d got over it!) “I am looking for YOU!” – because of course he was. And God’s answer to his distress was first of all His presence: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (v11) and then… His instructions.

Even if you have an element of bitter complaint to confess about life so far, are you seeking the God of the mountain for some reassurance, comfort and direction? Am I? In our human weakness the only way forward is to wait for the Lord and His still, small voice. When we stand on the mountain of God and honestly confess how it is… He will come!

Posted by: Sally Ann | 07/03/2013

Changing of the guard

I have never known a season change either personal or prophetic – and let’s hope those two are aligned! – as marked and definite as the crossover into this year. After many years of prayer in a John the Baptist ‘preparing the way’ role (there’s a short explanation of that in the comment section of my first post Starting Point) – all about following the Holy Spirit, responding to the groans in the land, calling for a new generation to rise in our nation, living the prayer… it finally seems that ‘it is finished’!  The long anticipated year of 2012 was a culmination in some way and the glorious success of the London Olympic Games a huge sign of that; the Lord has made it very clear to me in all the languages I understand that it is now all change and there is no going back!

I am going to try to explain this to you – and perhaps also to myself – in bite-sized chunks. It has been a long winter and I have had to go on a desert journey… Who knows that desert journeys are part of our walk with the Spirit? Well we’re in the middle of Lent now, so say no more. My 40 days was more in the style of Elijah running away, exhausted and depressed after the victories of Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18): “I’ve had enough”. An angel came to give the old prophet food to get him through the wilderness journey, acknowledging that “the journey is too much for you”… you’re telling me.

But I love the way the Lord uses Scriptural narrative to speak into our lives – it is almost more exciting than finding a single verse, or what a friend of mine calls ‘a tasty morsel’ or ‘some bread to chew on’. A story, a Biblical character we identify with – David, Jacob, Deborah, Esther – gives us both a broader context and something to work with, like a whole meal. It can become wonderfully complex and incredibly relevant and we can be asking the Lord, ‘well, what happened next…?’

Elijah made it across his desert to Horeb – ‘the mountain of God’ – the place where Moses had met God in the burning bush in Exodus 3. Read the story in 1 Kings 19: he hid himself in a cave there – as if to say ‘I know You must be around here somewhere’ 😉 Like him I have set my face for God’s mountain and many days later here I am: waiting expectantly for that face-to-face encounter and re-commissioning… because sometimes all you can do is rest and wait. Bear in mind too that on this occasion, unlike with Moses, the Lord wasn’t in the fire – so no pre-conceptions are allowed either! Everything is stripped away, everything is laid down, everything is ‘open and laid bare’ (Hebrews 4v13): it is a place of being out of control – by choice.

My new year post – the last one I wrote before taking a 70 day break – more on that numerical adventure later! – made the same point: we CANNOT do anything apart from HIM (John 15v4). There is no point trying, self-effort will not build the kingdom: it seems to me for those who are now entering a new season of release – this means YOU, new generation, YOU, my readers! – that this is a foundational lesson! I guess that’s why it was what came out of me at the new year that Open Heaven had designated ‘coming of age’.

Posted by: Sally Ann | 04/01/2013

SA’s new year message ;-)

In late 2012 I started this blog by writing about the foundational attributes of humility and love, followed by 3 posts on different aspects of prayer.  It’s good to have these resources to go back to as we feel our way forward into the new year, because without undergirding humility, all-important love and life-giving prayer we won’t get very far!

Each new year gives all of us added impetus for a new start and fresh direction; actually I like to treat the 1st of every month or even returning from holiday as a new beginning – or at least a chance to review where I’m headed.  Perhaps like me you’ve made some decisions and resolutions about what you want to achieve this year? We all know these good intentions don’t tend to last long – which is very discouraging! – but when it comes to spiritual disciplines I have found that the essential key is not to simply ‘try harder’, but to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ Galatians 5v25. As a John Ortberg book I read recently pointed out, this can mean we actually have to try softer!  

Take it from me, lining up with whatever God is doing and saying will prove to be more fruitful than attempting to lick yourself into shape!  We are all failures – but ‘God collects failures’, so it’s OK! One of the best things about belonging to the God whose mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3v23) is that clean slate feeling we can have simply basking in his love and acceptance 🙂 It has taken me all my life to really see this, so if you suffer from guilt or condemnation, just keep practising – because those things DO NOT come from God!

When we can discern what God is wanting to do in our lives we enter a partnership with Someone who is well able to complete the work He has started in us (Philippians 1v6, 2 Timothy 1v12). He delights in taking weaknesses and turning them round to be our strengths – amazing but true: then everyone knows it’s only Him that could do that! So whatever the Lord is saying to you – and you have to be sure you make time to be still, reflect and listen to know what that is – will produce life as you allow Him to put it into practise.

One of my very favourite verses is Philippians 2v13: “God is at work within you both to will and to act for His good pleasure” ie He both makes us want it and He does the work! We can choose to obey, to yield, to allow that work or to block and resist it, but if we think we can ultimately do anything to change ourselves we are headed for disappointment.  Knowing Jesus is a love relationship leading to freedom, not a set of rules to follow, standards to reach or boxes to tick. God meant it when He said, ‘Not by might, nor by power but by My Spirit’ Zechariah 4v6 and ‘Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain’ Psalm 127 v 1.

Anyway, if the Queen can give an annual Christmas speech, which this year was all about servant leadership, ending with a call to give the Servant King our hearts and basically preaching the gospel to the nation! (click here if you missed it) I’m sure you won’t mind my little new year message encouraging all of us – including me – to keep pressing on towards the goal, but not through self-effort, but by being more and more yielded to Jesus and His purposes!

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013! 🙂

Posted by: Sally Ann | 02/12/2012

Lord, teach us to pray

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness (also translated persistence) he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11v1-12

What do disciples do? What are we aiming for in our own journeys of discipleship? The word means follower or learner – someone who is adopting the pattern set by a leader or teacher. So if we want to learn how to pray, we’d better look at the Master’s example and take note of what He said about it! That’s why when the disciples saw Jesus’ lifestyle of prayer they wanted to know how to emulate it. As I copied this passage from Luke it struck me perhaps for the first time that it tells us John the Baptist also included prayer in his teaching – I wonder what he might have recommended that was different to what Jesus now says?!

Jesus certainly gave His followers a very clear answer – this is where we get the Lord’s prayer from, which I mentioned as a pattern and a good place to start in the What is Prayer? post.  The verses above from Luke 11 give the Gentile writer’s version of what Jesus emphasised while the corresponding passage in Matthew 6v5-14 gives a different one – presumably because Matthew remembered it one way and whoever informed Luke another way, which is exactly what happens when we get different witnesses to recall events! We can learn different things from each of these passages.

If you click on the link or look up Matthew 6, you’ll see that it’s part of the Sermon on the Mount and linked with fasting and giving. Jesus recommends that all 3 of these disciplines are done in secret – in fact it seems to be His most important point!  “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” Matthew 6v6.

It is a personal and private thing, this intimacy with the unseen Father; He is looking for undivided attention and secret offerings – and Jesus points out that for those who enter this secret place there is a reward involved.  I wonder what that is? Probably answers to what we were asking for – though who knows that answered prayer often looks different to what we were expecting?!  In fact the very next verse says, “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him Perhaps as with a human parent the answer can be Yes, No, Wait or I have a better idea!? One thing is for sure, even if He already knows, He still wants us to ask Him just as a child asks his or her father for what they would like for Christmas.  The thing I love most in this verse is the idea that prayer does not really consist of our words, but something deeper and internal that trusts and waits for God to meet our needs and doesn’t need to nag and worry over it.  It’s not about clever words at all, but dependence being admitted and humility expressed, as in Luke 18v9-14, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector.

At first sight in contrast to this, Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching emphasises the need to be persistent – keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, don’t give up – but perhaps we don’t do that by many words as much as by continually turning up. The beginning of the passage in Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow makes exactly that  point – as does Jesus’ warning in the garden, to ‘watch and pray’ and various other parables He told about staying alert and ready. In fact Luke 18v7-8 underline the importance of 24-7 prayer – crying out day and night – in bringing about the Second Coming! “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” So, persistence in prayer demonstrates that we know we need God and have faith in Him alone to act on our behalf.

Things take time but we keep praying – and so our faith in the Provider is tested and grows. Prayer is an ongoing journey, not a quick solution. Again, we could ask, what exactly will we receive, find or have a door opened to (v 9-10 above)? Will it be what we expected? Jesus only guarantees one thing here: the Father will surely give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (v12). We will grow in grace and His presence, we will become like the Master we follow and we will find out He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3v20)

All this is the result of a life of prayer. No wonder Jesus would go off to quiet places before dawn to get some time alone with His Father! No wonder He encourages us to do the same.

Posted by: Sally Ann | 24/11/2012

4 types of pray-er

As I promised last time this post is about different types of prayer, but its intention is for you to see that we also have different personalities and gifting that help some of us to connect better in one way and some in another. It’s always helpful to recognise your strengths and weaknesses – what works best for you and what doesn’t work at all – then you see more easily what you can work on, or work with others on, and what you are good at 🙂

Michelle commented on my What is Prayer? post about this very thing. If you missed it she said: “I struggle generally to stick to rotas and timetables, and my prayer pattern reflects this. I think it’s ok to pray to God as and when the need takes you, to make comments as you’re walking down the street together. Sometimes I don’t even feel the need to talk at all, just knowing He’s around is enough, as if someone were in the next room – not in direct conversation but present and only a word away if either of you wanted to speak. However what that pattern doesn’t lend itself easily to is disciplined listening time…”

Thanks for your honesty, Michelle! Many of us have the same problem, of course, but there is no guilt attached to it, just – as you say – downsides and upsides. It’s a bit like Mary and Martha: Jesus Loved Martha as well as her sister but she was a different personality. She may have found it difficult to prioritise listening time like her sister did, but she was the one who came out to find Jesus when Lazarus had died while Mary was mourning in the house; she called Him ‘Lord and Christ’, just like Peter did – in fact if you think about it, Martha is the female version of Peter and Mary of John! They, like us, all had different relationships with Jesus. I wrote more on Martha in this post on my original blog.

I was talking with Fran about this in the week and she commented that she’d been ‘praying without ceasing’ in the Holy Spirit and very aware of His presence over a period of days when the Father had clearly said to her, “I miss you”. This creates a whole new set of questions about which members of the Trinity we feel more drawn to or know better, which parts of us connect with them and what contexts we can develop in order to find a greater balance! As I said, God is very BIG and all the parts of Him/Her are available to us – which gives a lot of room for growth! Perhaps I’ll come back to this subject in a future post.

Meanwhile this is what 1 Timothy 2v1 says: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone”  – this is the NIV version. Unfortunately, though the New Living is very readable it is not good for studying the individual words because it paraphrases a lot.  These 4 words are different words in Greek for different types of prayer. Other translations have requests as ‘supplications’, while  prayers is related to ‘pourings out’ and is the word often used in conjunction with fasting; intercessions of course mean whenever we ‘stand in between’ on behalf of others – interceptions might be a more modern way of putting it – and thanksgiving, giving thanks, is related to praise and worship, but definitely counts as a type of prayer. In Philippians 4v6 – the encouraging verse about prayer turning anxiety to peace that I mentioned near the end of the last post – Paul also includes ‘with thanksgiving’ in his prayer recipe.

So taking these 4 words in 1 Timothy 2. we can actually quite helpfully match them up with the 4 different faces on the living creatures in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4! These are both prophetic visions and the faces are symbolic of different aspects of the character of God: a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle.

This teaching is with thanks to Sue Mitchell and I have found it very helpful over the years.  The requests/supplications matches with the man, the prayers/pourings out is the ox, the intercessions is the lion and the thanksgivings the flying eagle. Each of us will have a a stronger pull to one or two of these expressions and perhaps less to the others: it is together that the Body of Christ gives the full picture of Who God is.

So – the thanksgivings take us up into heaven, worshipping before the throne: worshippers usually carry this anointing in, leading us back to behold the face of Jesus and help us see things from heaven’s perspective. The lion is intercession – jumping in between, a warfare anointing, a heart that says, ‘No you don’t’ to the enemy.  The ox ploughs and plods, persisting in the furrow, continuing to faithfully dig – perhaps able to use lists and journals, maybe finding prayer-walking useful, determined to breakthrough: this kind of prayer is strengthened by fasting. The man is supplication – Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood, travailing – bringing the requests and longings we carry so deeply and crying for mercy.

Well, if you find that helpful, make use of it. Prayer is both an anointing and hard work. During the Welsh revival Evan Roberts would exhort his people to pray with ‘Let’s work’! They were ‘birthing’ souls in corporate intercession – and it’s only the Holy Spirit who can do that. If it sounds frightening to you – well, it is deep and demanding and requires submission to the Spirit that will bypass your mind… but we need the roar of the lion as much as the desperation of supplication, the plodding persistence of the ploughmen and the soaring of the eagles who have found new strength.

In fact all of these are spiritual rather than soul activities; they are far more than simply bringing our own requests to God, but more feeling what He feels, learning what He wants and praying what He wants prayed!  There is a flow of the Spirit that encompasses worship, prayer and the prophetic – especially on a corporate level – but it dovetails with the individual’s own prayer journey as well, as we each find a deeper communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Posted by: Sally Ann | 20/11/2012

What is prayer?

On Saturday we had an Open Heaven morning at our house called Conversations on prayer. I didn’t organise it, Kate did: I was very privileged to be part of it. You did a great job Mrs Macdonald!

Saturday 17th November: church comes to Burton St

There were 4 different conversations repeated 3 times so people could go to the things that would be most helpful for where they were at. I was talking about the difficulties we can encounter and some ideas for daily rhythms that might help us pray more regularly; although I did the same subject 3 times, each conversation turned out differently! That would be because of the different groups of people I was conversing with, of course – different people with contrasting perceptions and needs, unique approaches and personalities, with their own histories, issues, likes and dislikes and particular ways of connecting with God. We can all grow, but we can only start where we are right now.

I started with the question, ‘What is prayer?’ It is worth asking yourself this! What is prayer to me? Perhaps we know what we should answer, but thinking about our own habits makes us feel guilty and inadequate – or we compare ourselves with someone else, or even what we imagine someone else does, or what we ‘ought to do’ and again feel deficient in some way. Those kind of feelings are not going to help you pray!

Think instead of going to meet a good friend in Costa. You make an appointment at a mutually convenient time, you sit, you wait, you listen, you think, you drink – perhaps you serve or receive; you share and talk and laugh and commiserate – you thoroughly ‘catch up’ and at the end you book the next meeting. Prayer can be like that!

As most people said on Saturday, prayer is communication with God, but more than words, it is about deep communion with God – unity in fact because God inside you (the Holy Spirit) is communing with God outside you (the Father and Son). Communion means: affinity, fellowship, kinship, friendship, fellow feeling, togetherness, closeness, harmony, understanding, rapport, connection, communication, empathy, accord, unity – pretty much all the things we love about friendship! That is the Lord’s plan for us in prayer. It is not boring and not an obligation – it is the stuff of life, joy and love, the best relationship we can have with anyone.

So why is it so few people want to go to prayer gatherings – why did so few people turn up on Saturday morning (don’t tell me – because it was Saturday morning!). Prayer is exciting – it is a relationship with the Holy Spirit, what could be more exciting than that?! But sadly we often make it boring, or the last resort when we’re desperate. And of course we mustn’t forget the evil one doesn’t want us to pray because that would undermine his plans: when God’s people get it together with heaven’s will and begin partnering with God to see His purposes come about on the earth, satan is in trouble! Do you believe that?! No wonder it can be a battle to set aside those appointment times…

Prayer is in its broadest form the means by which we relate to God. It can be in worship – indeed prayer and worship are twin sisters, so close they should not be separated; it can be silent, spoken, written, liturgical, solitary, corporate, crafted, impromptu – any way you like, but it is present whenever you intentionally position yourself to connect with God’s Spirit. ‘Pour out your hearts before Him – God is a refuge for us’ (Psalm 62v8) ‘Approach the throne of grace with confidence to find mercy and help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4v16) ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you’ (Matthew 7v7) – all these verses talk about making requests and bringing needs to our Father but there are other types of prayer as well – it is a huge area, as big as God is!

It is encouraging to read in Romans 8v26 that ‘we do not know how to pray/what to pray for as we ought’ – you are not the only one! But Paul goes on to say that ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness and prays for us with sighs and groans that cannot be expressed’ – and that God understands what His own Spirit means by this! If all we do is make ourselves available to the Spirit it is enough – prayer is not about clever words, it is a spiritual activity that, like worship, should be ‘in spirit and truth’ (John 4v23). It is more about yielding to God than anything else.

Jesus seemed to know how to do it and the disciples had no idea: ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ ie ‘how can we have what you have?’ His response, the Lord’s prayer, is actually a very good pattern to follow if you don’t know how to start – especially Luke’s very short version of 6 lines! (Luke 11v2-4) You can either repeat the simple phrases or embellish the ideas behind them with your own particular details – I know one man who did that for an hour every morning, praying about everything in his life under these headings:

FATHER ~ HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME ~ YOUR KINGDOM COME.  GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD ~ FORGIVE OUR DEBTS AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS ~ LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.  Short and sweet, heartfelt prayer  Jesus’ recommendation for beginners!

ABBA/Daddy ~ you are holy – have your way – overrule‘ = intimacy, worship and surrender.  Then there are 3 things to ask for each day: give us what we need to live today – provision; forgive as we have forgiven – pardon (but remember this is only given to us if we have first given up our rights over others who owe us anything!); finally protection from evil… is it really God that leads us into temptation?!

There are many deep things in the kingdom life and we don’t understand everything. But Paul is right in saying if we have any anxieties at all, if we’ll present our requests to God by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, and trust Him to do what is best, we can have amazing peace – and that’s my paraphrase of Philippians 4v6!  Requests, prayer, petition and thanksgiving are all used here for different Greek words that describe different types of prayer… but I’ll write more about that next time!

Meanwhile, think about making an appointment to ‘Be still and know that I AM GOD’, or buy a notebook to be your prayer journal, or a book of Celtic daily offices. Just as if you didn’t bother to spend half an hour with your friend in Costa every so often your friendship would wither and be lost, it is equally true that if you can fit appointments with God into your daily life, your love for Him and the knowledge of His love for you will grow and blossom.

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