Who's it all about?

I’ve recently been going through a lot in my life. Sickness has struck my family in a devastating way, our finances have been assaulted in a hard way and our hopes for the coming year and our future in general have been attacked and on the surface it has looked as though much is no longer possible.

It has been difficult to bear the issues we’ve had to deal with. Physical loss hits hard, the apparent loss of dreams and hopes hits even harder. The Bible tells us “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12a), which suggests depression, and that we should “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

The trick above all else, however, is to retain our perspective.

When our focus is on self, the things of this world will grow massive. They weigh us down and leave us desolated by the sheer enormity of them. Our inability to see past them because of our perspective cripples our ability to move on and beyond the initial pain.

Focus on God, however, allows us to overcome the issues we face in any circumstance – and I do mean any circumstance.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus took his disciples on a “crash-course” of what they would need to get through the loss of everything they had placed their future on. In the course of the next 24 hours they would face loss and grief, the possibility of arrest, torture and even death. They would apparently lose the hope they had placed in Him, and everything they had built their entire future on.

Jesus took them through His teachings, but the first thing He taught them was to maintain perspective – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1)

That perspective alone was enough to keep the disciples strong. In the years after the resurrection they endured much that when we look at it now seems almost unendurable. They were persecuted and executed for their faith in horrific ways, yet their perspective kept them strong – and it can do the same for us. Paul lists some of the things he endured in his life after his conversion en route to Damascus, and then describes them as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Our perspective is paramount. In the end, everything is about God. We were created to worship, and we all worship something. When we direct that worship where it was designed to be directed – at God – we can deal with anything and everything the world can possibly throw at us. When we direct at self, or anything else for that matter, we inevitably cannot cope when things go wrong because we have no support for our hearts.

It’s all about Jesus at the end of the day. We cannot live without Him and we cannot hope to move forward without His perfect guidance in our lives.

Dreaming Big

We all dream. It’s natural. God gave us imaginations and the desire to use them. Without dreams we would stagnate and eventually die. It is our imaginations that allow us to look to the future and plan. The longings of our heart spoken of in Proverbs are possible because of our imagination.

Imagination gives us hope. We live in an imagined world all the time, it’s just that we don’t see it that way. When we give directions, or if someone tells us to describe an elephant, we see in our mind’s eye the thing we are describing. That requires our imagination.

Without imagination Donald Trump would never have built Trump Tower in New York, Bill Gates would never have developed the Microsoft organisation, Mozart would never have composed his Great Mass, the Wright Brothers would never have left the ground, and Jesus would not have gone to the Cross.

That’s right, Jesus used His imagination in Gethsemane. He used it to see the joy set before Him. He imagined the resurrection – saw it’s conclusion and what it would achieve – and it gave Him the human strength to go on through the crucifixion. He encouraged the disciples to use their imaginations the very night He was betrayed. He encouraged them to think about what was to come in His Father’s House. We cannot be troubled when we focus on eternity, and that really requires an Eternal perspective – which we cannot have without our imaginations!

Dreaming of the future is something we all do. It is these imaginings that allow us to develop our lives. A God-centric imagination will result in us moving (more-or-less!) in His direction, where focussing on ourselves or the world will draw us away from Him.

In the 1990’s I went to a lot of Bible conferences in the UK. There I saw some amazing works of God, from salvation to healing to financial provision. I watched in awe as one of the leaders at one conference prayed for a young boy who had one leg over an inch shorter than the other, and at the prayer the short leg grew to match the length of the other. It sparked my imagination, and I began to pray more for healing, finance and so on. For a while I saw it too. Nothing as dramatic as the young boy’s leg, but small healings, finances provided where it was seemingly impossible, hardened atheists joining churches with tears. Then my circumstances changed and I gradually went to fewer conferences and although I still had the memories the imagination I had was not fuelled in the same way and what I began to see was less spectacular than back then.

My imagination had become less potent because I did not feed it in God’s way. I studied for 8 years towards a commerce degree which required me to watch the news reports and read the newspapers where I had previously been able to spend that time in more spiritual study, and as a result my thinking became more worldly and I began to expect the world’s results – and that’s what I started to get. Now I am more concentrated on my Spirit again, although not as much as when I was younger, and the answers I see are more expectant of God showing up and seeing results.

When Peter prayed for the cripple at the Temple he must have imagined him walking. Paul imagined planting a Church in every city he set foot in, and those places he went almost all had a Church when he left.

We must be wary of what we imagine. Books like “The Secret” will make seemingly incredible promises based on using this same concept, and the world will indeed provide some very convincing counterfeits for God’s dreams for our lives. I’m not talking about any “law of attraction” or such nonsense. These would be the very things we are told by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

What we listen to will affect our imaginations. We inevitably burn less brightly when we are set away from the rest of the coals. But we were made to dream, and to dream BIG. But we must go to the one who dreams a dream for us. God has a dream for us. He places it in us whilst we are still being formed and gives us every chance He can to live it. But dreams are risky things to follow. They can cost us everything safe and secure, and most people never leave home in pursuit of our dreams, we rather sit in our comfortable chairs and read articles, blogs or watch tv shows about people living out their “dreams”.

Maybe your dream is to sing, or act. If it is God’s dream for you then ask Him to make a way for you to do it. Maybe your dream is to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. Whatever God’s dream is for you, seek it with all your heart. Don’t let the world draw you away with shiny baubles that will rob you of the real treasure you will find when you live your real Big Dream.

For further reading on the concept of dreams in a Christian perspective, I recommend Bruce Wilkinson’s excellent book “The Dream Giver” ISBN: 978-1-59052-201-1

Half the Story

There’s a guy wanders around the place near my home in Cape Town putting up posters he’s made himself. They are simple, hand-written messages I’m sure he intends to encourage people. The trouble is, they only tell half the truth.

On these posters he’s written “Resist the Devil and he must Flee” along with the James reference.

It’s all well meaning, and most people just shrug it off or ignore it completely. Then yesterday I was driving past a church building in the same area with an official notice board outside proudly proclaiming “Belief in God will not get you into Heaven – Obedience will”

This trend worries me. With the increase in number of false prophets proclaiming the end is near – or that we missed it a couple of weeks ago – it is worrying in the extreme that churches and their members are proclaiming half-truths in print like this.

Yes, we must resist the devil and his schemes. But it is fruitless to do that in our own strength. The whole concept in James states “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded”(James 4:7-8) Before we can resist the devil effectively we must submit ourselves to God. Doing otherwise is fruitless. We must draw close to God. His power is what we must use to defeat the enemy of our souls.

Even blind obedience is pointless. That way leads to legalism and religion rather than a living, breathing relationship. It is the difference between expectation and expectancy. Religion places expectations on us. “We must be obedient or God will not bless us” is the attitude. Paul wrote and spoke against such things by criticising those members of the early church who were insisting new converts be circumcised and follow the teachings of the law. The Truth sets us free, it doesn’t tie us to a life of concrete rules with some transcendental Shylock sitting on his throne muttering “you’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect 200 sheckels”. Rather we are yoked to a living Saviour who seeks to lift the burdens of this world from us and free us to be the people He created us to be. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and all the other “paths” the world would have us look at to learn the ‘right’ way to live and find God all set out rules from what to eat, to what direction to face when you pray to how your body must be positioned. Christianity must differentiate itself from these religious ideas or it becomes the very thing it was created to destroy – dead!

Our faith is one of Life, not death. We serve a Living and Loving God who presents Himself to us where we are, He doesn’t wait for us to be worthy of His love, for to do so would condemn us all! Paul writes in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. God is on our side. The world will seek to tear us down and imprison us in itself, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

That is the real Truth. God is on our side. God is for us.