Slow Growth

“Still other seed fell on good soil.” Mark 4.8

We are all products of the instant age; we expect things to be done immediately – and we certainly want God to do things instantly.  When we pray, we hope that God will work according to our time frame and when we sow the things of God into our lives we hope to be instant disciples, immediately and dramatically changed into the likeness of Jesus.  However, this is not how it tends to happen.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about us being ‘transformed into his (the Lord’s) image with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 3.18).  In other words, we are being transformed at a steady and gradual pace.  Likewise, when Jesus talked about us being good seed, we are just that – seeds; definitely not instant plants!  As such, much of our growth takes place without us even realising that we are growing. The uncomfortable truth is that our greatest moments of growth probably occur in times of difficulty.

Take a moment to ponder what may be difficult in your life at the moment.  Whatever the situation, how do you think God wants you to be and what does he want others to see in you?  Let him work his growth in you.

Doing the work with perseverance

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4.34

These words occurred in what must have been a frustrating conversation for the disciples.  They were talking about something entirely practical, but Jesus was speaking on quite a different level.  The subject under discussion was about what sustained them.  The disciples were talking about literal food and Jesus about the will of God.  He told them that what fed him was doing God’s will and finishing his work.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for us is not the notion of doing God’s will, but rather of finishing it.  If God were to reveal to us that he wanted us to do something, we would be rather foolish not to do it.  In fact, we would probably set about it with great joy and enthusiasm.  The challenge, however, is to keep at it and see the work through to completion, even when it becomes a slog and when we might not sense the continual whisper of God in our ears or his prodding at our heart.

A challenging question is this: what are the things that you were once called to do but have let slip?  It may be that God has called you to new things, but could it be that due to discouragement or lack of perseverance you have let some of his work go unfinished?

Holding on

‘But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. Hebrews 3.6

In any situation in which you find yourself, if you were to consider what would be the Christian thing to do you would probably think in terms of actions; turning the other cheek, loving, giving generously and speaking out.  However, this verse suggests that behaving as a Christian is often more about what happens on the inside rather than the outside.

We are God’s house, the place where he dwells, if we hold on to what he has given us – courage and hope.  Our action will spring from what is within, for it is the courage to believe that he is there even if we cannot feel him, and the hope that there is always more; more of his grace, his abundant life and his power at work in and through us.  Holding on to these things means believing that they are there, and as we hold on to them something of them flows through us.

Whatever situation you are facing, your first reaction should be to turn to God in some way.  It may be to utter the name of ‘Jesus’ or to remember that you are his dwelling place.  However you do it, things will happen when you turn to God before you act!

The love of the Holy Spirit

‘I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.’ Romans 15.30

We are used to the phrase, ‘the power of the Spirit’.  It opens us up to the sheer wonder of what he is able to do in any circumstances, despite our powerlessness.  In the verse above, Paul uses another equally powerful phrase to describe the work of the Holy Spirit – the ‘love of the Spirit’.

The Father’s love is often mentioned, and the love of Jesus is demonstrated by his dying for us on the cross, but perhaps we are not so used to pondering the love of the Holy Spirit?  The one who works and dwells within us to transform us, actually loves us.

It is all too easy to think of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us with a look of disapproval upon his face, frowning at what we are doing and thinking, whereas the truth is so different.  He is within us – loving us, comfortable with his surroundings and enjoying the place he has made as his home.

Take a few moments to find an awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.  Let your mind dwell on the truth of his love for you.  He enjoys being within you and you bring delight to him.

Do it anyway

‘I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.’ Philemon 6

So often what puts us off getting more involved in church or causes us to shy away from being a little bolder in our faith is that we do not feel confident enough.  It may be that we do not feel that we have enough of God with us or that we do not know enough about Jesus to share confidently.

If you ever feel like this then this verse is fascinating.  It is trying to convey to us that we get it the wrong way round!  It is not a matter of waiting until we are confident or until we know enough that will make the difference – when will that ever be anyway? Rather, it is as we take the plunge and step out that our understanding grows.

This is what makes faith come alive.  Sometimes we do recognise our own abilities to speak out or undertake a particular task, but much of the time we feel quite inadequate.  The reason for doing something in the name of Jesus is because we hold on to the belief that somehow his presence is dwelling within us and that as we step out in his name, something of his presence will flow naturally.

If we knew for certain what would happen when we step out, we would all probably do far more for God.  What this verse says is: ‘Do it anyway, and then you will begin to see God at work.’

Keep looking up

“Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes.” Esther 1.16

The story of Esther is set in a time when customs and laws were very different from our own and the whole story is strange in many ways.  It begins with the King summoning his wife, who refused to come to him.  As a result she was deposed and a search for a new queen began.  It seems so unfair to us!  Queen Vashti seemed to take a stand against being regarded as a mere possession of the King, and yet she lost everything.

This episode was actually the start of a chain of events that ended with God moving in incredible power to save his people from the scheming in the King’s court.  At the heart of this story is God’s stunning ability to use what might seem to us to be unfair and wrong situations to bring about his purposes.  It still seems unfair that Vashti was treated as she was – and it may seem unfair that you are treated in the way that you often are – but what this story teaches us is to keep looking up.

God was at work in this situation and he used it to save his people.  When things turn against you, even if it seems unfair, why not lift your eyes from your present circumstances and instead invite God to reveal his glory in it?  If it’s hard knowing quite what to pray, just saying the name ‘Jesus’ brings him right into the heart of it.  Keep looking up!

The Friendship of Jesus

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19.5

The story of Zacchaeus is one of the most dramatic stories of transformation in the Bible.  It is never listed as one of the healing stories, but perhaps it should be since it is a beautiful story of a man’s’ heart being transformed into something wonderful for God.

We all know the story of the short man who climbed up a tree to see Jesus.  He was a detested tax-collector, yet by the end of the story we see a man paying back those he had treated unfairly and his former meanness replaced by abundant generosity.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story is that Jesus did not say one word of reproach to him.  Instead he offered him love and fellowship; Jesus wanted to be with him.  It is this simple fact that changed Zacchaeus.

There are occasions when we read of Jesus eating with sinners.  If all he did was to tell them how sinful they were, I doubt he would have been invited back again.  Instead, he simply enjoyed their company.  Jesus also wants to enjoy your company today.  In fact he wants to be with you right now, and not only when you have improved a little – or a lot!  He loves you now for who you are and does not wish you were anyone else.  His longing is for you to spend time with him.

Perseverance

‘May the Lord direct your hearts into . . . Christ’s perseverance.” 2 Thessalonians 3.5

The word ‘perseverance’ is not really a word that fills us with much joy.  It suggests on-going hard work and probably hardship!  However it is not all negative!

The first thing that this verse points us to is the perseverance that Christ displayed in his ministry – and still displays.  This includes his perseverance with us.  The ministry of Jesus demonstrates his utter commitment to us, and even though we may be weak in our love for him he will never be weak in his love for us.  So to what are we called to persevere?

One key challenge is for us to persevere in the knowledge of Jesus’ love and commitment to us.  There are times when this is hard: circumstances may seem to be against us, illness might become a reality and relationships may take a turn for the worse.  In times like this it is so easy to assume that we have done something wrong or that God has turned his back on us.  However, God is seeking to direct our hearts to that same perseverance to which Jesus clung; to believe in the love and presence of God in the hard times as well as the good.  This is not so much something we have to do, but rather something to which we have to cling.

If this is such a time for you, keep in mind Jesus’ unfailing commitment to you and that you are walking a path that he walked – and know that he is watching you with pride.

Finding God’s love for others

‘May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love’ 2 Thessalonians 3.5

It is, of course, true that God does not just love you but he also loves the whole world – and this includes those with whom you come into contact.  It has been said that there is not a single person whom God does not love profoundly and sacrificially.  The trouble is that God may love them, but you might not!

Even if you can’t find that love within yourself, there is no need to feel guilty or pressurised into trying to force a love for them to surface.  God is well able to direct your heart into love for others, since it is his love rather than your own into which you are being directed.

The other good news about this verse is that God must be longing to direct your heart in this way.  It is extremely unlikely that he will refuse your request to pray for his love for other people.  It begins with honesty and a prayer: admitting that the love God has for some people is not the love you have for them and then praying, “Lord, direct my heart into your love for them.”

 

He made me!

‘For you created my inmost being;’ Psalm 139.13

It is perfectly possible to disguise ourselves on the outside, but far harder to change the inside.  It is our inner self that makes us who we are and sets us apart from other people.

Sadly, it seems that many people do not particularly like their inner selves because they recognise that deep within are unhelpful desires and yearnings they wish they did not have.  However, what if those desires and yearnings have something created by God at their core?  It is certainly true that they may be marred and in need of transformation by God, but they are still his creation and they make us who we are.

For example, someone may have a deep longing to be loved.  Occasionally this might lead to inappropriate actions – but what if the actual desire was planted by God as an expression of real yearning and hunger for him?  Sin can warp the original longing and turn it into a desperate clinging on to others, which needs to be redeemed and healed.  Yet the longing itself may have been holy.

Your inmost being was created by God and he put something wonderful and unique in you.  Allow the truth of this to sink into you as you go about your business today – and rejoice in this extremely good news!