Having integrity

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.” 1 Chronicles 29.17

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages his readers to find out what pleases the Lord. There are many things that bring God pleasure, and this verse gives us one particular insight. Integrity brings pleasure to him. Integrity is to do with consistency; being the same on the inside as we are on the outside. It is interesting that God tests our hearts to see whether we have integrity.

As you go through today, there will probably be a number of occasions when the temptation is to react to something. It could be anything; something said to you or the way somebody behaves towards you. The way we react to these things comes from the state of our heart, and it may well be that somehow God puts these events in our path to reveal our hearts and test our integrity.

These incidents may seem trivial in comparison to some of the great tests faced by some people, but it is probably the case that those who endure great tests and shine through them with integrity have been through smaller tests first and were not found wanting.

The key is to let the Holy Spirit touch our hearts, and to carry an awareness of him within us throughout the events of the day. Then, as testing moments arise, we will react from the power of his Spirit within us, rather than out of impatience and frustration.

Something has to change

‘…you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority.’ – Colossians 2:10

This is an amazing statement! In whatever situation or struggle you find yourself, there is a whole new perspective to it that is easily missed; Christ is above everything.

This is not just a matter of saying Jesus will therefore sort everything out. What is also being said is that he is the Head over you as well. There are probably many occasions when you are facing struggles, and what God is seeking to do is not just to change the situation but also to change you; to teach you something, strengthen you in some way or to challenge an attitude or perception you might have.

If God does this, it is not out of any sense of punishment but rather because the transformation he is seeing to bring about in you is all about fullness. His heart’s desire is for you to experience life in a far deeper way than you probably do at the moment. Sometimes this means your circumstances must yield to his power and authority, and at other times it is you who must change.

Having open hearts

‘…they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.’ – Mark 6.52

I wonder how many things God does for us that we simply don’t notice, or ignore, or don’t recognise its significance? This is exactly what happened to the disciples. They had just witnessed an amazing miracle but failed to see its significance; they failed to see that it had implications for other aspects of their lives.

It wasn’t that they were doing anything wrong, but rather they were not making the right connections, and ‘their hearts were hardened’ so that they weren’t touched by what they had just experienced. Clearly that was not a good thing!

Similarly, we need to learn to make connections, to recognise what God is doing in our lives and learn from it.

As you look back over the past 24 hours, call to mind one thing that was undeniably the touch of God. Give him thanks for it, and then ponder this question: what are the implications of what God did? In other words, what does that action say to me about God’s love, about how I can trust him, and about what I can expect of him today?

Small seeds – big trees

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31

Most of us are experts when it comes to comparing ourselves to others! We see how other people are being blessed by God, and wonder what is wrong with us or what have we done wrong!

This parable is so encouraging in that it attaches such great value to the small seed, and no matter how small that seed might be it has the potential for incredible growth.

A common feeling is for us to think that we will never really amount to very much; that all of our lives we will be lacking in comparison to other people. This parable shouts a resounding ‘No’ to that. If you feel small at the moment in comparison to other people, that is not the dream of God for you. The seed grows, and right now the ever present Spirit of God is within you causing daily growth until you become the giant tree that he longs for you to be.

Every challenge that God brings to you is a moment of growth. Every promise in which you begin to trust is a new shoot upon your life and every resistance to temptation is a spurt of new life. God is growing something wonderful in you.

Being changed by prayer

“When the people of the land come before the LORD at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out by the north gate. No-one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out by the opposite gate.” – Ezekiel 46:9

This slightly strange passage about where you come in and where you go out actually contains a real lesson for us. Little reason is given as to why people should enter one way and leave another – perhaps it had to do with keeping the crowds under control? For us what it says is that the experience of coming into the presence of the Lord should change us; we should come out from it different to how we went into it.

Certainly this season of Christmas should change us as we ponder afresh the wonder of Jesus coming to us; but actually this message is about more than Christmas. It is about every encounter we have with God.

God’s desire is that we take seriously what we feel he is communicating to us. It might be a verse that seems to be highlighted as we read the Bible, a picture that comes into our mind or a feeling of peace as we pray about something. The important thing is that we do not let such things slip away, but rather that we hold onto them – perhaps write them down so that they make an impression upon us that lasts longer than our immediate memory. The next step is to pause to let whatever he says have an impact upon us – why is he saying this to us? Why do I need to be told this? Why is God saying this to me today?

What is abundant life?

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (1) – John 10:10

As we spend the next few days looking at this verse, it is worth asking the question – what is this abundant life to which Jesus refers?

There are two contexts in which we need to see this passage and they both concern healing. The first is that it takes place soon after a blind man has just received his sight. After this, the man had been thrown out of the synagogue and Jesus went to find him to talk to him. That particular conversation is overheard by some Pharisees, and it is in that exchange that these words are set. The man who was born blind but has been healed is probably still standing there, and news of what Jesus has just done is no doubt very much in everyone’s mind. When Jesus spoke about the fullness of life that he came to bring, this image of the healing of a blind man is likely to have come to mind. Fullness of life is restoring anything that we sense has been robbed from us.

The other context is that of sheep! Jesus had been talking about shepherds, gates and sheep. He is likely to have been referring back to the good and bad shepherds of Ezekiel 34, where we are told that good shepherds heal the sick and bind up the injured. Abundant life is what the good shepherd came to bring his sheep – it is healing.

As we approach the one who came to bring abundant life, it is tempting to see this life as his peace in the storms, and it can be – but let us not lose sight of the context of this story. Sometimes his abundant life is to directly intervene in the storm and to still it, to bring healing and to touch us beyond our wildest dreams.

Forgiveness is not just about us!

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

This beautiful and re-assuring verse also has a slight sting in its tale. It is with great joy that we can proclaim that Jesus has taken away our sins, and that because of what he has done we are innocent before God. It is not that we have been let off, but rather that he has paid the price and taken the punishment for our sins. The ‘sting in the tale’ is this – he did not just die for my sins but for the sins of the whole world – including the sins of the person who has hurt me and caused me pain.

Far too often we probably find ourselves in the situation of longing for God’s mercy for us, but at the same time wanting God’s punishment (or at least a deep conviction of sin) for those who have hurt us. Part of us fully accepting the mercy of God into our lives, is the accepting of his mercy upon those who have caused us pain.

We all belong to the same Father and he has no favourites – the mercy he longs to show to one is the mercy he longs to show to all.

Let’s have the courage to pray for those who have hurt us, and ask that he shows to them the same mercy and love that we long to receive ourselves.