Into deeper water

Whilst I wouldn’t say that I’ve been getting bored recently, I think restless would be a fair word. As would itchy. This is partly because I haven’t preached since June and as preaching is probably my main gift from God – and one in which I get to take a lot of faith adventures – it’s not entirely a surprise that I itch. This is my fault because I organise the preaching diary at church but in His grace and providence God has used this time to shake me up a bit!

Jesus calls His followers to do exactly that: follow Him. And although I understand that learning long-term obedience is an important aspect of my walk with Him, I’ve also known there’s been something missing. You just can’t read the gospels and see what life was like for Jesus’ first followers and not expect your life to have exciting challenges in it. For that matter you can’t look at anyone else in the Bible who followed God without coming to the same conclusion. Recently as I read John Piper’s Don’t waste your life, I saw written down what I had been thinking: “Oh how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family” (page 119).

Now when God broke into my deceived double-minded life when I was 20, following Him meant radical lifestyle change: a load of rubbish had to go because God graciously showed me how much these worthless things were costing me. Drinking much too much, swearing and telling rude jokes, chasing after girls for all the wrong reasons and doing most of the wrong things with them… this all had to go. I was shown much better things to do with my mouth, my mind, and my body and these are a real and vital part of living for Jesus. But they’re not the sum of it.

I have also learnt to go on faith adventures, particularly with my money and my being single. Also, as I said above, public speaking in various forms gives me loads of opportunities to do things which, unless God turns up, will be disastrous. Nevertheless, I was feeling provoked about something else.

Into this mix of smouldering frustration and desire to follow Jesus has come a new tide of God showing His power in wonderful ways. Story after story of Jesus healing people: in church meetings but also – goodness gracious – ‘outside’. On the streets. People I know have been trusting God and seeing Him do wonderful things: Simon Holley and Wendy Mann have blogged about some of their adventures, and I’ve spoken to a few others who have been involved in similar stories. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their wonderful provocation.

This put me in something of a quandary. I was thrilled by what was happening and less than thrilled with part of my reaction which was, essentially, fearful. Not full of faith, which is the thing I’m supposed to be full of, being a church leader and all. So what to do? Let me take you through how I’m responding and hopefully it will help some of you who are in a similar situation, whatever it is that you think God is speaking to you about that requires faith.

1. Don’t be condemned. Condemnation is one of the enemy’s favourite weapons against me because he knows it’s an easy target. God’s really helped me to identify and deal with this recently and I love the feeling of freedom that comes when you realise, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Condemnation tells you that you are rubbish and there is no solution or salvation. Jesus doesn’t treat us like that. His Holy Spirit does convict however, and excite. So legitimate reactions can include, ‘God is healing people and I’m an agent of the Kingdom – I could be involved in that.’ Or, ‘This is amazing, I want God to use me like that.’ Whether or not either of those describe you, let’s go on to the next step…

2. Act out of love. My church leader has been so helpful on this, reminding me last week that wonderful things - even praying for people on the street - if not born out of love for God and for the lost will be utterly worthless. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2). That is so serious. God wants us to be motivated by love, not guilt or curiosity - the two opposite and equally-seductive temptations. I don’t want people healed because it will be fun for me (though undeniably it would be); I want to want to see them healed because they need God’s love and He is pleased to show it to them in this way that they might be awakened to the reality of His greatest display of love: the execution of His Son Jesus on their behalf. If I act out of love for someone – by which I mean wanting their good – then I will take risks. That being settled, what else is necessary?

3. Ask for faith. Here’s another really helpful verse: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith…” (Romans 12:6). As I heard about others’ adventures and considered the lack of them in my life, my condemnation trip told me that this was because I didn’t have enough faith, and that was that. This verse tells me something different: it liberates me to act according to how much faith I have rather than bemoan what I don’t have. And then it reminded me: faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). So I can ask my heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts to give me some more faith. I’ve also been praying a lot more in tongues because it builds me up (1 Corinthians 14:4). The final component in my thought process then fell into place. There’s an old Christian phrase, ‘We’re responsible for obedience; God’s responsible for success.’ Because obedience comes from faith (Romans 1:5) the deal here is as follows: faith (by God) leads to obedience (by me) which leads to success (by God). Isn’t He wonderful?! He provides the motivation, the means, and the power. It’s like He’s the chef who gives you faith to ask for what’s on the menu because He wrote the menu, then once you’ve asked He prepares and presents the dish. Getting this in my head thrilled me and made me realise it was time to act.

4. Do something. Still nervous? Oh yes. But motivated rightly and convinced theologically? Yeah that too. On Saturday morning I cycled past a guy who had slept rough the night before. He was in a daze and I was in a rush to get to a prayer meeting. I prayed at the prayer meeting that he would be there when I came back, and I asked God for boldness (Acts 4:29). He was there so I stopped, asked if I could sit down next to him, and we chatted. He wasn’t that coherent and neither was I (I’d rather speak in front of a 1,000 people than one person, really) but I spent time with him. I asked if I could pray for anything and he was fine with that, if a bit bemused. I asked Jesus to heal the mental health issues he told me about, and to provide him with an accommodation link that he said he was going to ask about later that day. And then, to be honest, nothing happened. But something had. I had shared God’s love with someone who needed to hear about it, and I’d taken a big first step for myself too.

5. Do something else. The following Monday all these thoughts were still swirling round my head as I spent some time on my own listening to a great talk on prayer and praying a bit myself. Getting back among people in the town centre, I saw a team of people working for Unicef: “chuggers”. I sat near where one of them was working, wondering if I dared speak to her, frantically thinking of a way to share about Jesus with her. I’m not sure I actually prayed but I was certainly aware of my weakness and need for God. Then she came up to me and the first thing she said was that she was feeling a bit ill! God, how gracious You are to give me such a clear way to speak to someone about You! We must have chatted for 15 minutes or so, her well-practiced sales banter, my much less-rehearsed non-committal responses. When we’d finally established that I wasn’t going to add Unicef to me list of charities I give to, I said that there was one thing I would like to do. I believed that Jesus healed people to show them His love and I’d like to pray for her that she would feel better. Would she mind if I did that? She didn’t have a problem with that, although this clearly wasn’t something they dealt with in chugger training so now we were both in the deep end. I asked her name, thanked God for loving her, and I prayed simply for Jesus to heal her. Result? Well she didn’t seem particularly changed, and she didn’t ask me to tell her more about God but I had done what God wanted me to do: I’d left the rest to Him.

6. Don’t get hung up on what you did and didn’t do. As with everything an imperfect person does, I’m sure there are things I could have done better, and I’m keen to get training from those more experienced than I am. But I also know that I was responsible for obedience and God was responsible for success. That’s the deal, He won’t change the terms. So I’ll keep going, my confidence placed solely in Him.

7. Who knows?!