Invisible Target

“Then the multitude rose up against them [Paul & Silas]; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison.

Acts 16:22-23

It is said that “where there is smoke, there is fire” – which is meant to insinuate that if a person is accused there must be some basis for the accusation. In this incident what terrible thing had Paul and Silas done to merit such cruel treatment? They had delivered a slave girl from demonic possession (v 18). Surely that should merit favourable treatment! But no; it hit the hip pocket of her owners who were using her for their own financial gain. The trouble Paul and Silas brought to the city was loss of immoral financial gain.

We can expect similar treatment today. When we speak against abortion those who are hurt financially will want to silence us. When we speak against suicide for the old, sick and infirm those who will benefit financially will want to silence us. If we speak against prostitution and slavery those who benefit will oppose us.

Paul and Silas were continuing the ministry and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to set captives free. Of course they didn’t deserve such treatment but we shouldn’t expect anything different in a world that is under the delusion of the spirit of antichrist and the power of Satan.

When attempts are made to silence opposition to murder and slavery – which includes abortion, euthanasia and sexual enslavement – does it mean that God is unable to keep us? In no way! Indeed, Paul and Silas accepted it as wounds for Christ and sang hymns and songs in worship and praise because they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (v 25).  Not only that, but it was the Holy Spirit’s way of getting Paul and Silas into the prison so that they could preach Jesus to the jailer and his household in such a way that they would come to faith in Jesus (v 34). We wouldn’t have chosen that way and neither would Paul and Silas but it was the way that God knew would succeed. We may wonder at times about the path God has chosen for us, which may include suffering, but we can’t see what God is aiming at. We can take heart like Paul and Silas and keep singing praise and worshiping the Lord. In due time we will see where the Lord was leading and His purpose.

Leaving All

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed you’”

Mark 10:28

Abandonment of everything pertaining to our earthly lives is not something done lightly or easily. While Peter and the other disciples had left all they still had to come to the place of abandonment to Jesus Christ.

In Christian service there are several pitfalls into which we may be seduced or fall. In our enthusiasm we may start making our own plans based on what we reasonably believe is service to Christ. Yet in doing so we may set parameters of location, finance, housing, employment, culture, language or a host of other limitations. The development of the disciples reveals they did have some limitations which had to be given up.

Another pit into which we may fall is the desire to do something for the Lord. The hidden motive may be to receive praise or to feel good about ourselves. Jesus said we could do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5). Any attempt to do so is rebellious pride. One may leave all with the motive of being praised for it.

Like the disciples, the first thing we do is come to Jesus, then we leave all to follow Jesus and finally we abandon everything to jointly serve with Jesus. The way to serve Jesus is to serve His people. Jesus expressed this in Matthew 25:40 and in John 21:15-19 where we read of Peter’s restoration to fellowship with the Lord. Love for Jesus will always include love for other Christians expressed in service. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He said this in light of His illustration of this principle of service to one another (v 14). To love with God’s kind of love is to serve one another without condition.

Another pitfall is to serve the Lord with an expectation of getting something in return in this life or that which is to come. Abandonment is not in order to receive anything but in order to give everything. Even asking “Where can I be of use?” has the element of pride and self worth in it. It is not about our evaluation of usefulness. Abandonment is to Christ, forsaking all else. Oswald Chambers writes, “If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest.”

Let us dethrone ourselves and put Christ on the throne by yielding to Him without condition.

Surrendered to God’s Grace

“The eyes of both of them were opened” Genesis 3:7

This is the first time any person ever felt guilt. Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their guilt was futile. Covering for guilt and the ultimate removal of guilt would require the death of a substitute. Guilt caused them to flee God’s presence instead of coming to Him. Guilt still does this to those who are yet to be forgiven. Those who most vehemently oppose God are the one’s sensing guilt the strongest. Their sin is against God and only He can forgive their sin. To remain just, a satisfactory substitute would have to die. Adam had brought about a fundamental change in his being which must die. Only a new creation could allow him into God’s presence again.

With the guilt came conviction of sin for which Adam and Eve had no remedy but to flee God’s presence. This did nothing to diminish the conviction or remove guilt. Instead of desiring God’s presence they wanted to hide from Him. People who have believed Satan’s lie still prefer to hide from God.

We observe here that God pursued Adam and Eve until He caught up with them. He then gave them opportunity to have a change of heart which they eventually accepted. First they played the blame game. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent but in reality they were both blaming God. This characteristic of fallen people can be readily observed in all spheres of society throughout history and is still very evident today. It is, we accuse, always someone else’s fault!

When they eventually surrendered to the grace of God, God clothed them in animal skins thus picturing the means by which they and all who choose to believe what God has said will be saved. God is still in pursuit of people but sadly most will not heed His words of love, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be among them but be among those who humbly acknowledge their sin against God, turn to face Him and receive His gift of forgiveness. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

One who has received the gift of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ will not run away from God when they sin. Having experienced His forgiveness before, they will return to Him whenever they are aware of sin (1 John 1:9). This is a mark of one who has truly chosen to reject Satan’s lie and believe what God has said.

Step by Step

“Lord, what do You want me to do?” Acts 9:6

More than three decades ago I became aware that there was a need for a Sunday School teacher in our church. When I offered myself for the role I was quickly accepted. There was a class of seven or eight boys that had proven to be difficult for others and no one seemed keen to take them on. I was quite unaware of this.

This class proved to be very difficult. These days at least one of the boys, perhaps as many as three, would be on some drug for behaviour issues. Fortunately they weren’t available then.

As the first weeks passed I began to find the role becoming a chore and something I anticipated with a measure of dread. Preparation was difficult and done with reluctance.

At the point of giving up thinking that this wasn’t for me the Lord gave me a clue as to the problem. I cannot remember why but I began to ask the Lord whether this was really something that He wanted me to do, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Within a couple of weeks the Lord had assured my heart that this was indeed what He wanted me to do. What I discovered then was that He changed my entire attitude and focus with regard to the class. Preparation became a blessing and joyous time and I looked forward to the half hour that I could spend in class with the boys. I was also able to visit some at home and take an interest in their lives. I found ways to make the difficulties with the three over-active boys an aid to learning instead of an impediment.

What had changed? The difference was that I knew that I was where the Lord wanted me to be and doing what He wanted me to do.

If we are to find satisfaction in serving our Saviour it is necessary that we first surrender ourselves entirely to Him and humble ourselves and ask this question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” He may not respond until He knows that our heart is genuinely surrendered and willing to do what He asks. We do not want to be like Jonah who had his own ideas about serving the Lord. Jonah’s life could have been so much more pleasant had he obeyed with a glad and willing heart from the start.

Quite often we want the Lord to reveal what we consider the “big thing,” life’s direction, the career, that He wants us to do but, I think, for many people He reveals little by little, step by step as we progress in faith. We can ask the Lord this question often to ensure we haven’t gone off course or missed a change in place or role. This will give us encouragement and confidence.

When the Lord answers we can then take Mary’s counsel to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it” (John 2:5).

Surrender of Body

“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (1 Samuel 1:10)

Hannah was not unique in Israel in being childless but the depth of her sorrow may well have been unique. How did she come to be in such bitterness of soul and weep in such anguish? There is no way she could have artificially produced this. The factors that would have brought her to this place in her life are varied but are all under the direction of just One.

In her family she was the more loved of two wives (v 5). The other wife had many children (v 4) and taunted Hannah with regard to her childless state (v 6). This was aided by the need for sons to retain the inheritance of land under the Law. Also, she was a married woman who had a desire to be a mother.

In addition to these more personal provocations was the state of her nation. Along with her husband she was faithful in presenting offerings to the Lord in God’s house. However, this was not the case for the majority. We ought not to forget that at that time the Lord still presenced Himself in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle.

Year by year as Elkanah and Hannah brought their sacrifice to the Lord they could not help but notice the abuse of position exercised by Eli’s sons who did not know the Lord (2:12ff). Eli was the appointed Levitical priest and his sons served under his authority. Eli was complicit in his sons’ actions (2:29) and this would bring about the eventual end of the Levitical priesthood. The priesthood would, from a future time, be led by a “Faithful Priest,” (2:35) namely, Jesus Christ. The state of Israel added its weight of sorrow to Hannah’s heart.

None of these factors arose artificially in Hannah. Bringing them all together is the providential hand of God. Hannah’s part was to surrender her own body to the Lord for His service. In this she is a kind of fore-runner to Mary who also wholly surrendered her body to the Lord for His service and to bring into the world the Son of God. Hannah was granted her heart’s desire because she was wholly surrendered to the Lord. Lack of surrender is evidence of lack of faith in Jesus Christ – and we know that without faith it is impossible to please the Lord (Hebrews 11:6).

We cannot artificially produce the bitterness of soul and anguish of heart that Hannah experienced. If we surrender our whole being, including our bodies (Romans 12:1), Jesus will allow His desires for other Christians and for a world helplessly lost in sin and under the power of darkness to flow from within our own hearts. It will only be then that we will pray a prayer of the kind that Hannah has done. That we don’t anguish over Christians who fail to follow Jesus Christ to the cross and grieve a lost world so that we pray and labour in ministry is evidence that we are not surrendered to Jesus.

We fail to pray and grieve because we have not wholly surrendered ourselves to the Lord. It means that we are not experiencing the reality of “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for Me” (Galatians 2:20).

Following My Heart

“I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19)

A workmate told me that they believed that the Bible said things that weren’t true. They were surprised when I agreed with them as no doubt some of you readers might be. Some explanation is required, of course.

The Bible accurately records Satan saying things that are not true such as, “Your will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5). The record is accurate but what Satan said was most certainly not true.

The verse at the head of this article is another case where the recording of a thought a person may have is accurate but what is said is not true. This is one of those many occasions in the Bible when the Lord exposes what we may be thinking.

This verse gives us a look into our own heart when we are not wholly surrendered to the Lord. It also reveals the constant attitude of one who has never come to Jesus. We think we can live out Satan’s lie and be our own god but we will be found out.

In the course of my work I come across drunken people and they are, at the least, quite an annoyance to those who are sober. This is the analogy Moses uses in this verse. The drunk can’t see that he is so different to those around him but the sober people can readily see the difference. So too the person wholly surrendered to the Lord can discern one who is following the dictates of their own heart and the one so following his own heart cannot see that he is so different. This may be why Christians who are not surrendered to Jesus, do not “die daily” or “take up their cross daily.”

In my youth I attended church weekly and, at the time, I thought I was a Christian. I didn’t think I was any different to anyone else as I followed the dictates of my heart. Fortunately for me, at age 20 years, at another church there was a couple who readily recognised the difference and were prepared to let me know that there was a vast difference. God allowed me to see that they had a living relationship with Jesus Christ that I did not have. To this day and forever I will demonstrate my gratitude to God and to them for that revelation.

We can see in Israel’s history and in the history of the early church that God will not let His people get away with living a life not surrendered to Him. His intent is not to punish but to return His people to the place of blessing. It is obvious to us that Israel is not yet in the place of blessing but the Bible reveals that there is a day coming when it shall be (Deuteronomy 30:6; Matthew 23:39; Romans 11:26).

The Christian living carnally will do what he thinks is pleasing to God and expect God to bless it. In this he has followed the dictates of his own heart but he will think he has served God. The Lord does not want to leave that person in such a state but wants to return him to the place of blessing. There will be no peace in following the dictates of my own heart.