Evangelical Magazine https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com A bimonthly print magazine, published by the Evangelical Movement of Wales Sat, 17 Oct 2020 09:39:44 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 Perplexity and Purpose https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/perplexity-and-purpose/ Mon, 26 Oct 2020 18:00:23 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3160 Lessons from the life of Joseph

When Paul wrote that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose’ he could easily have had Joseph in mind. His story is an illustration of this great truth. What happened to Joseph was bad: envied by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely accused and imprisoned, forgotten by a man who promised to remember him. Yet behind it all God had a loving purpose. He intended to bring good out of evil. We believe this. It is a great comfort to the Christian.

But we do not always see how this is true. We may be perplexed, even tempted to despair. However, Joseph’s story gives us some glimpses into what some call the mystery of providence.

God works for good in all things

Some of the things that happen to us may be difficult to understand at the time. The coronavirus is a case in point. We may ask how this situation and circumstance is part of God’s loving purpose. How can good come out of this?

And yet each incident in the life of Joseph was part of a larger whole, like the pieces of a jigsaw or the threads of a tapestry. Without the pit he would not have ended up in Egypt. Without the false accusation and imprisonment he would not have been able to interpret the dream of Pharaoh’s butler. If the butler had remembered him as soon as he was restored to Pharaoh’s favour, Joseph would not have been in a position to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.

The lesson is clear. We may be unable to understand perplexing things today. They may be incomprehensible now. We are to wait. ‘Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him’ (Psalm 37:7). His timing is always perfect and he never arrives too late. Faith means trusting when we cannot see. We may have to wait until Heaven and then explanations may be unnecessary. In the meantime we have the promises of God and the presence of God to help us.

God works for good in others

Our lives are bound up with others. We are not islands. The things that happen to us have an impact on other people. We see that in Joseph’s life.

It is good to ask ourselves the question: ‘What is God saying to others through what is happening to me now?’ God allowed Joseph to experience the things he did for the sake of many others. Joseph’s trials affected his father, Jacob, his brothers, Pharaoh and the people of the ancient Near East.

Think of the effect of Naomi’s faith on Ruth, or of Stephen’s faith on Saul of Tarsus. We all know something of the impact of others’ faith upon our own lives. Think of the times when you have witnessed the response of a true Christian to tragedy or when you have been influenced by the impact of a Christian’s godly life.

It is a good thing to ask ourselves whether our lives are an encouragement to other people. Am I a Barnabas? Do I help or hinder? It is striking that the coronavirus crisis is opening up new doors of opportunity for gracious Christian testimony and concern for the well-being of others.

God works for good in us

We see God working for good so clearly in the life of Joseph. Throughout his bitter experiences, God was moulding his character and preparing him for his great ministry. He became a much better man. He would not have been ready as a younger man. He learned the supreme value of wisdom, becoming the right man in the right place at the right time.

God is making something of us. He is conforming us to the likeness of his Son. He is our sovereign Father who works in all things for our good, refining and fashioning us into the people he wants us to be.

Overwhelmed by despair

What about today? Can I know these things to be true now? I may see them as I look back but today I am perplexed and near to despair. I cannot see a wise and loving purpose. I feel as if I am in the midst of darkness and distress. I feel overwhelmed by doubt and fear.

Here are some wise words from John Newton’s Authentic Narrative. Speaking of God’s power and wisdom at work in the apparent random circumstances of life, he wrote:

How many such casual events… in the history of Joseph…had each a necessary influence on his ensuing promotion! If the Midianites had passed by a day sooner, or a day later; if they had sold him to any person but Potiphar; if his mistress had been a better woman; if Pharaoh’s officers had not displeased their lord; or if any, or all these things had fallen out in any other way… all that followed would have been prevented; the promises and purposes of God concerning Israel, their bondage, deliverance, polity, and settlement, must have failed; and as all these things tended to and centred in Christ, the promised Saviour, the desire of all nations would not have appeared. Mankind would be still in their sins, without hope, and the counsels of God’s eternal love, in favour of sinners, defeated. Thus we may see a connection between Joseph’s first dream and the death of our Lord Christ, with all its glorious consequences. So strong, though secret, is the agreement between the greatest and the smallest events. What a comforting thought is this to a believer, to know, that amidst all the various interfering designs of men, the Lord has but one constant design, which he cannot, will not miss, namely, his own glory in the complete salvation of his people; and that he is wise, and strong, and faithful, to make even those things which seem contrary to this design, subservient to promote it.

 

That, in effect, is the argument of Romans 8:28-32. We know that all things work together for the good of God’s people because, ‘whom he predestined, those he also called, and whom he called he also justified, and whom he justified, those he also glorified.’ And we know that this is true, because he did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all and with him he also freely gives us all things.

It all comes back to the cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I am not skilled to understand

what God has willed, what God has planned;

I only know at his right hand.

stands one who is my Saviour.

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A Wild Harvest https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/a-wild-harvest/ Thu, 22 Oct 2020 17:00:43 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3166 On a bleak January day in 1951 our family disembarked from the boat that had brought us back to a land of religious freedom, from a land where the newly formed People’s Republic of China had started a purge to eradicate faith in God from its people.

My parents, Jack and Pegi Sharman, had travelled independently to China in their mid-twenties. Now in their early forties, they had had to leave their adopted country to safeguard the friends they had left behind. They had hoped that their life’s work would have been to support the church in China as Bible teachers. The previous year, they had witnessed many accepting the saving message of Jesus and now they knew that these very people were being interrogated and forbidden to meet together.

Call to China

In 1932 D.E. Hoste, Hudson Taylor’s successor as General Director of the China Inland Mission, feeling that the doors for Christian ministry in China may not remain open for long, prayed for 500 young people to respond to God’s call to go and tell the good news. My parents were two of them. In 1934 my father left his friends and family in Neath to go to that great land 6000 miles to the East, conscious of the millions of people who died never hearing the name of Jesus.

My mother had been raised in the neighbouring town of Port Talbot, and had met Dad once before, over a supper table in the home of her pastor Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Two years after my father, she too set sail for China, feeling inadequate for the task of learning Chinese, but conscious of God’s call to do so in order to sow the seeds of God’s word. A year later she met my father and in 1938, they married and their partnership in winning souls for Christ began.

For most of the next 12 years, they were based in a town in South East China called Chengsien (renamed Shengzhou during the Cultural Revolution). There they made strong bonds with people and saw many coming to faith in Christ. During much of the war years they were fleeing from the Japanese, which gave them opportunities to share their faith in other towns and cities in that province. That area now hosts the largest percentage of Christians in China.

Persecution

At the end of the Sino Japanese War, they returned to their home in Chengsien which had been used by the Japanese as their local headquarters. My parents had a sense of urgency that is best expressed in John 9:4:

I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

The doors for ministry remained open for another two years, but in the spring of 1948, news began reaching them of unrest. In October 1949 when I was eleven months old, Chairman Mao declared to the world that the People’s Republic of China had been founded. Soon their freedom to tell people of God’s love was taken away as Mao launched a political campaign of punishment against counterrevolutionaries. The Christian church was seen by the government to be an imperialist institution, so the activities of its members were closely watched and any contact with foreigners, like my parents, was seen to be subversive. They realised that they were a hindrance to the church, so applied for permission to leave the country.

Increasingly, on Sundays, their church building was commandeered for party political meetings and in October 1950, they received an order that they would no longer be able to use it for worship. For the next 32 years Christians were forbidden to meet and the Bamboo Curtain made it impossible to correspond with anyone on the other side of it. Snippets of news reported arrests, imprisonments, executions and persecution as the government continued to attempt to trample the life out of God’s people.

Prayer

On the day before the building was forfeited the church elders organised a photograph to be taken. This became a priceless possession which my parents treasured greatly when they returned home to Wales. When Dad pastored Presbyterian churches in Cardiff (Saltmead, Clive Road and Heath), and later Whitefield Church in Abergavenny, the picture always sat on his desk. Every morning at 11 my mother would bring coffee to his study and together they would scan the lines of faces, praying for their friends by name. They told me how brave each person had been by putting themselves under special suspicion.

My father died in 1968 when China was at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of Christians were then living in prison cells undergoing brainwashing, physical violence and constant threats. My mother lived for another thirty years and continued praying daily for the people in the picture, but she never knew how those prayers were answered.

Growth

After she went to be with her Lord in 1998, I wrote my parents’ memoirs of China as a Christmas present for their grandchildren. Other people asked for copies, so, for each booklet sold, I vowed to take one Bible back to the city where I had spent the first two years of my life. In 2000 I went with a case full of Bibles and a hope of finding someone who had been photographed with me in that picture fifty years previously.

What I experienced was extraordinary. I met many of those people whose faith had grown stronger. I heard how God had sustained them when some had been thrown into prison or paraded around wearing placards, shouted at and humiliated publicly. During those years they had shared their passion for Christ with their children and despite the fire of persecution, the Christian church had mushroomed. When I attended a service in the old rickety building where my parents had once ministered, it could no longer contain its exploding congregation. Being in a prime spot in the city centre, the local government wanted it for a cultural centre and was offering the church a larger plot of land in exchange, which the church saw as an answer to prayer.

In 2006 I visited this new venue, and on it stood a church with a meeting hall big enough for 3,500 people. The growth of the church in China has no parallels in history and despite being thoroughly trampled on and still very restricted, it mirrors what Jesus himself said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

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Such Were Some Of You https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/such-were-some-of-you/ Mon, 19 Oct 2020 17:00:56 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3193 In seeking to bring the good news of Christ to people in the Eastern Valleys of South Wales, we have been blessed as a church to see many unlikely converts. I have found that in today’s culture people think that God, and Christians, hate them because of their lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to sexuality. They think that their identity is defined by their actions and desires, and so to follow Christ would be to deny who they really are.

What does the gospel have to say to people who think like this?

Confusing days

Christians in the United Kingdom are struggling to live and evangelise in a secularised society built on the premise that ‘we can be whatever we want to be.’ On the surface this sounds wonderful to many; they feel as if they are no longer constrained by the old morality and, what they believe to be, the archaic, oppressive rules of the Bible. But the truth is very different. Society has sold them a lie. In reality we are defined by the God who made us, and our greatest freedom comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Society’s acceleration away from biblical standards is clear to see, but our duty as Christians to reach the lost still remains the same. Whatever their views may be, and however confused they are about the truth, each person in our secularised society is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), we all share in the same sinful brokenness (Rom. 3:23) and we are all equally in need of the same Jesus.

The church’s failure to bring the clarity of the gospel to our changing culture is partly to blame for our nation’s current state. We need to regain our confidence in God’s Word, rise up in love and stand unashamedly for the truth of the gospel. We must be both uncompromising on biblical truth, and at the same time loving to those who have bought into the lie. This is a fine line to walk, but it can be done – our Saviour did it.

Illuminating truth

The sins of our secular age are no different to those we read of in the Bible. So, when combatting the lies of our fallen society we must lead the charge with the same gospel truth, reminding the lost that they are selling themselves short when they define themselves simply by their desires or actions. For we have all been made by God for a much higher purpose, to know and glorify him for all eternity.

In 1 Corinthians 6 verses 9-11, Paul gives us a list of sins that are widely accepted in today’s new normal, such as greed, drunkenness, adultery, idolatry and homosexual acts. He warns us not to be deceived, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Only God determines what is right. He alone is our ultimate judge (Is. 33:22).

To reject God’s path of love and life, is to follow the path of sin and death (Rom. 6:23) and as Christians we simply don’t want this for people. Our society does us all a disservice when it tells us that our desires or actions define us, when we are so much more. The truth is, in our belief that people are more than their distorted understanding of themselves, we hold them in a much higher regard than they hold themselves, so much higher. This is a truth that we can be proud of, it shows no prejudice and loves all.

Real hope

The good news is that our desires and actions do not have to define us. There is hope. We can be forgiven and accepted by God as righteous (justified) and have our desires changed (washed) and be set apart to serve God (sanctified) and glorify him. ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:11).

This all comes through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lived the righteous life God requires and endured the punishment that sin deserves on the cross, and through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, who gives us new life, brings us to repentance for sin and to faith in Christ, and gives us resurrection power to follow God’s path of eternal love and life. Isn’t this so much better?

Compassionate hearts

Sin has corrupted our society and as a result people are confused and broken, reliant on their fallen desires for meaning in life. They are building their house on sinking sand. We must grieve for them, love them, pray for them and be compassionate in how we approach them.

Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus reconcile the lost with love. He invited all people to come to him just as they were. He distinguished between the person and their sin and we should do the same, welcoming all people into our churches just as they are and not putting any obstacle in the way of anyone coming to Christ as a sinner in need of salvation. After all, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

Jesus always spoke the truth about sin, boldly to the self-righteous and gently to the broken-hearted. But his aim was never to crush them, but to draw them to himself. ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ (Luke 5:32). ‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself” (John 12:32).

Our society is lost and deeply hurting, but it is filled with a vast spectrum of wonderful people and all of them should be met with the same dignity and respect that Jesus would have given them. When they feel accepted by the church and are listened to, we will find that their more public sin is not the heart of their problems, and their needs are just the same as ours. We all need forgiveness and new life in Jesus!

Gospel confidence

Our society has changed but Jesus has not and his gospel still transforms souls today. We need to embrace this truth with confidence. It is Christ who saves, so we do not call on people to change themselves as a condition of coming to Christ. Rather we call on them to turn to Christ just as they are, so that he alone might save them.

Salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:9, Gal. 3:26), not by our ability to change ourselves. And as we turn to Christ in faith and experience his mercy, so we turn from sin in real repentance and we begin to live new lives as the repentant, believing children of God.

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Fighting a modern plague https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/fighting-a-modern-plague/ Thu, 15 Oct 2020 17:00:19 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3162 This Easter, I started a new phase of ministry – working for the international Christian disaster relief organisation, Samaritan’s Purse, which is run by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin. The pandemic made it a strange time to start a new ministry. Three months on, I still haven’t met any of my new colleagues in person, but I have received an insight into the way Christians are responding to Coronavirus all around the world.

On 17 March, while airlines around the world were cancelling flights, Samaritan’s Purse sent their DC-8 aircraft from North America to Cremona, Italy, into the heart of the Italian epidemic. Onboard was a 68-bed Emergency Field Hospital made up of 14 tents, 20 tonnes of medical equipment, and a respiratory care unit. Within 72 hours, the facility was receiving patients that could not be accommodated in the local hospital.

Alongside all the equipment were nearly 70 doctors, nurses and respiratory specialists, from all over the world, including the UK. Around that time, we in the UK were beginning to learn to wash our hands for 20 seconds. In Cremona, the Samaritan’s Purse staff dedicated every 20 seconds to intentionally praying for each of their patients.

Why did they rush into the danger zone? One responder spoke for the team: ‘We’re all motivated by a desire to love like Jesus loves, to be his hands and feet and to be the miracle in darkness.’

‘They really believe in Jesus’

The patients sensed that desire too. One, Umberto, was among the first intensive care patients treated by Samaritan’s Purse in Cremona. He was on a ventilator, and at the time, no coronavirus patients from ICU at Cremona Hospital had survived. Samaritan’s Purse doctors and nurses prayed for a miracle. They prayed that Umberto would be one of many patients to walk out of their ICU as a living testimony to the healing power found in Christ.

After more than two weeks on life support, that prayer was answered. Umberto woke up and was finally able to breathe on his own. He was overjoyed to be met with the smiling faces of our medical staff who had cared for him. Though he had been mostly unconscious during his time in the ICU, he heard team members praying over him and reading the Bible. That continued, even more so, once he was alert and removed from life support.

‘Everything was about Jesus,’ Umberto said. ‘Everything they do, I could feel that they didn’t do it only because they are nurses and doctors but also because they really believe in Jesus.’

Another patient, Francesco, was kept alive by a ventilator for 36 hours. He says his experience in intensive care changed his life. ‘I couldn’t imagine so many people praying for me, and all this love around me’, he said. Before he left the hospital, a chaplain from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association shared the gospel, and he prayed to receive Christ as his Saviour.

The new normal

Two weeks later, while the hospital in Italy was still full of patients, Samaritan’s Purse set up a second field hospital, this time in Central Park, New York. At the time, New York was the epicentre of the US epidemic and had seen around 3,000 deaths. More than 300 patients were treated in six weeks, with more than 240 staff on duty at different times.

Since then, the response to COVID-19 has continued. Here in the UK, Samaritan’s Purse is partnering with hundreds of local churches. They’ve supplied nearly 150,000 masks, 120,000 gloves and more than 2 tonnes of hand sanitiser, along with £100,000 worth of financial support. Churches and organisations to have benefitted include Brackla Tabernacle in Bridgend, Highfields Church in Cardiff and Birmingham City Mission.

The amount of work done by churches across the UK during this crisis has been incredible. Hundreds of churches have been providing hot meals and food packages for the homeless, vulnerable or impoverished. Others have provided support to key workers, or delivered medicines to those shielding at home. Why do they do it? One group of Christians, based in Barnet, are delivering free lunches to older vulnerable people. ‘We want to demonstrate to older, vulnerable people in practical ways that they are precious in God’s sight and have not been forgotten while they are compelled to self-isolate,’ they said.

Such help can be life-saving. The aptly-name Lifeline Larder in Chelmsford told Samaritan’s Purse, ‘We’ve been supporting an elderly lady in our community who had just had a hip operation. Her daughter couldn’t visit her, so we have been providing physical and emotional support. When we last called she didn’t answer… we found her lying on the floor with a broken leg and neck. We worked with the emergency services, and she was taken into hospital. If someone hadn’t been there to check on her, she would have died.’

Help around the world

Elsewhere in the world, the situation is yet more critical – and was even before coronavirus struck.

In India, millions of migrant families have lost their income and their homes. Some were forced to walk hundreds of miles to return to their homeland. ‘Hunger will kill us before coronavirus,’ said one desperate migrant. Samaritan’s Purse and its partners have distributed emergency food to around 15,000 men, women and children. These packages include rice, oil, dhal, eggs, noodles and spices – along with soap and masks to help keep families safe.

A similar crisis is looming in Cambodia. There, Samaritan’s Purse has opened a Migrant Access Centre. It has kept thousands safe from human traffickers who exploit migrants’ desperation and lead people into modern-day slavery. The Centre is now also on the frontline of the global crisis. They helped as many migrants – tens of thousands of people – in two months as they normally see in a year. Staff provide access to medical care and emergency food, but they also pray with migrants and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

In Syria, nearly 12 million people have been displaced and the health system was beyond breaking point even before COVID-19. A clinic, supported by Samaritan’s Purse, and staffed by Syrian doctors and nurses who themselves are internally displaced people is providing free care to children and adults. Across the country, Samaritan’s Purse has distributed 3,000 tents and 700 tons of food to internally displaced people, with around 3,000 families receiving monthly rations.

What all this teaches us

It’s easy to see this pandemic as a threat, but it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to renew our trust in Christ and demonstrate afresh how Christ’s love overflows from our hearts.

Darren has only 51% kidney function, and during lockdown he had needed to visit his GP. While there, he overheard that they had run out of face masks, so were unable to see more patients that day. He promptly donated some of his own, which had been supplied by Samaritan’s Purse to help him continue his work among local vulnerable people. Unknown to Darren, at that moment, a colleague of mine who knew his ‘at risk’ status had shipped him extra FFP2 masks to ensure even more protection. He received the call letting him know these were on their way just minutes after he left the GP.

In the face of a global pandemic, Darren’s generosity with his face masks, and God’s subsequent provision, seems like a drop in the ocean. But it reminds us of something crucial about God’s people, about God himself, and therefore about the gospel too. As Christians, we’re called to make daily sacrifices – to put Christ first and to serve others. We’re promised that when we do so, the Lord will provide for all of our needs. That’s Darren’s testimony, and the testimony of millions of others, but is it ours? Often, God so ordains things that we only see his provision after we have made a step of faith and an act of sacrifice. If we don’t take that step of faith, we may never see his provision, and our faith may never grow. But when we actively trust him and obey him, we will discover again that he is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides.

Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

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There’s more to life than life! https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/theres-more-to-life-than-life/ Mon, 12 Oct 2020 17:00:21 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3180 Jack: Hey, Ollie, you’re a Christian, right? Can I ask you a question?

Ollie: Yep, I am Jack. Sure!

Jack: Is there more to life than life?

Ollie: Woah! That’s some question Jack! Why are you asking?

Jack: Well, this pandemic makes you think doesn’t it? Is there more to life beyond the biological existence we all share? Why are we here? Is this life all there is?

Ollie: Jack, the Christian faith does have wonderful answers to those questions.

Jack: That’s why I asked you Ollie. But I’ll be honest. I’m an agnostic. I don’t believe you can really know one way or the other.

Ollie: Appreciate your honesty Jack but you can’t sit on the fence over such a big issue.

Jack: Can anyone really know? Does it even matter? Didn’t that geezer Shakespeare write, ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Ollie: Well, I know there’s more to life than just accumulating stuff and the pursuit of pleasures.

Jack: Life’s a ride mate and don’t bother thinking about where it ends up. We’re all destined for six feet under.

Ollie: Seems a shame then that our life ride is over so quickly Jack! Surely life is more than a soap opera; a series of failed episodes in which we try to find meaning and purpose only to be disappointed and await the next instalment.

Jack: Well, yes, I’ve known a few failed episodes myself!

Ollie: Jack, Jesus is the primary cause of all life (John 1:4) and he claimed that he came so we may have ‘life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). 

Jack: Jesus Christ said that? To be honest, I can never shake off this nagging thought that there’s something more to life. Abundant life. Alright what did Jesus mean?

Ollie: Abundant life is the opposite of all the negatives of life we know: not growing tired of our existence; life not growing stale on us; or disappointing us.

Jack: Are you going to start banging on about life in heaven now?

Ollie: Eternal life is a quality of life that’s greater than the life we know but embraces and grows out of this life we know. It’s richer, fuller, better, the best of the best, satisfying, fulfilling and greater than time itself! (John 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27).

Jack: Are you saying that abundant life is eternal life?

Ollie: Yes and Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the way to abundant life.

Jack: What? Why does that make the difference Ollie?

Ollie: Jesus said he had authority and power over life. He deliberately chose to lay down his life. No one took his life from him, he laid it down of his own will (John 10:17-18).

Jack: Lots of people have chosen to sacrifice their life for others Ollie.

Ollie: Yes Jack. But Jesus’ choice was not a spur of the moment act, nor was he a victim of circumstances. It was a premeditated choice. In the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John show us that throughout his life, Jesus knew that he had come to die and he was in complete control of when, where and how that would happen.

Jack: That’s a lot to take in and hard to believe Ollie!

Ollie: I know Jack. But you can read it for yourself! Jesus made no bones about the fact he ‘gave his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45).

Jack: We all have to die mate. Some can choose when to die! Why is Jesus so different?

Ollie: Because only Jesus possessed the power to take up his life again! Jesus was pronounced dead, buried and sealed in a tomb; yet three days later came back to life! It’s why Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).

Jack: I know you Christians believe Jesus is God. How can God die?

Ollie: It’s because Jesus is God that he had the power to lay down and take up his life again. It’s because of this that makes his death so powerful.

Jack: Ok, so why did Jesus die?

Ollie: Well, would you agree that there is no real quality of life without a relationship? After all none of us want to live all our life as a Robinson Crusoe! 

Jack: You’re right there!

Ollie: Well, Jesus spoke about a communion of life found in God, ‘this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:2-3). God is bigger than everything, possessing eternal life. Abundant life is found in having a relationship with the eternal God. Jesus promised an intimate fellowship with God who would make his home in the hearts of those who believe in him (John 14:23).

Jack: What’s a relationship with God got to do with Jesus’ death?

Ollie: Jack, we all have a broken relationship with God, which we can never fix (Rom. 3:23). Jesus died for sin on the cross to restore a relationship with God for us.

Jack: So as God, Jesus died to restore a relationship with God. Why would God do that?

Ollie: Because God so loved the world (John 3:16). It was love that made Jesus lay down his life. He laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13) to make a new relationship with God for them.

Jack: Ollie, I don’t like to admit it but I think I’d like to be loved like that!

Ollie: Jack, you can! There’s nothing good or special about any Christian but they all know that love of God in Jesus Christ. Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum! There’s no life without love and no love without a relationship. Abundant life is eternal life and it is a new relationship, a loving relationship, with God the Father and Jesus his Son.

Jack: Well, all our lives are enriched by a good relationship and there is no good relationship without love.

Ollie: Jack, Jesus’ sacrifice is the door that opens a new life for us that is greater than the life we know (John 10:7,9). Love, forgiveness, joy and hope are aspects of the abundant life that we know in fellowship with God through Jesus.

Jack: So, there is more to life than the here and now then. A new, personal, loving relationship with God that is unending.

Ollie: Yes, that’s why Jesus as God’s Son became a man; sharing our existence, knowing our human experience. But never sinning. He loved us and died for us (Gal. 2:20).

Jack: Hmm! That’s a lot to think about and I have so many questions!

Ollie: Never be afraid to ask questions of Christianity! But please be willing to listen to Jesus’ answers! Jack, knowing Jesus is not only a life worth living, it’s also one being unafraid to die for and one which promises an inheritance of everlasting life.

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Sharing Jesus With Your Pagan Neighbour https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/sharing-jesus-with-your-pagan-neighbour/ Thu, 08 Oct 2020 17:00:59 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3183 Have you ever met a Pagan? No, I don’t mean someone who simply doesn’t go to church but someone who self-consciously identifies themselves as a Pagan. You may not know it, but you may have Pagan neighbours. What an opportunity for the gospel!

Modern Paganism is a collection of new religious movements. Though they are really only a few decades old, they claim a continuity with pre-Christian religions.

The word ‘Pagan’ comes from the Latin paganus referring to rustic peoples who lived in the villages. It was first used by early Christians to refer to the peoples of the Roman Empire who had not yet become Christian. Over time it took on a derogatory connotation and was often used to refer to anyone outside the Abrahamic religions.

Today’s Pagans have adopted the term for themselves, using it in a positive sense.

Pagan traditions

Pagans believe that they follow the oldest religion in the world and assert that they follow a non-dogmatic form of spirituality. Nevertheless, most pursue their religion within one of the various traditions of Paganism, including those that draw on the older pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe.

Generally, Pagans believe in many gods or they believe that all is god. They also believe in the worship of nature. Many worship goddesses and reject what they see as patriarchal monotheistic religions (as they view Christianity) as inherently oppressive.

In some circles it is common to identify Paganism with Satanism and the New Age Movement. Although there are some similarities and overlaps, Pagans themselves usually deny that the movements are identical.

In the West, Pagans seek to recover an older religion that was replaced with the advance of Christianity over the first millennium AD. As such, Pagans are often consciously rejecting Christianity. One group of Pagans, those of the ‘Northern Tradition’ often prefer to call themselves ‘Heathen’. Other popular traditions are Wicca and Druidry.

Modern Pagans are also disenchanted with modernity, with its rationalism and its emphasis on science and technology. In its place is a re-enchantment with the ‘Otherworld’: a world of spirits, such as elves and fairies. Pagans believe that there is constant communication between the natural world and the Otherworld. This can happen by going into a trance or by reading the runes (usually stones with symbols on them) or interpreting the patterns of tealeaves left in the cup.

Rituals and festivals

Pagan rituals include the offering of bread, milk or beer to images of gods, along with singing, chanting and the lighting of incense.

As a nature religion, seasonal festivals are significant, especially spring and harvest and the summer and winter solstices. Pagans gather at important sites such as Stonehenge to celebrate the turn of the sun’s course.

The appeal of power

Some Pagans view nature itself in a religious way. Many Wiccans, for example, are drawn to Wicca by the desire to practise magic (sometimes spelled magick) because it conveys a sense of power and because they are attracted to the idea of being initiated into secret knowledge. Magic (also called ‘witchcraft’, from Wicca) is generally accepted by Pagans as a valid activity, except where this is used as an attempt at unfair personal gain or to inflict harm on others.

  1. H. Partridge says this: ‘…the appeal of ancient, secret or occult knowledge, power and ritual is perennial. Particularly in an individualistic and selfish culture which engenders feelings of powerlessness and insignificance, the attraction of a small, closely knit group of people who claim to have access to such ancient power and knowledge is hard to overestimate.’

When that knowledge and power are situated in a story that has a primal feel that attraction is very strong. Although the author of The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, was a strong Roman Catholic Christian, it is interesting that the fantasy world that he created is not so very different from the cosmology of the Heathen tradition. Tolkien was drawing on Germanic myths and legends, originally in an attempt to create a full-fledged English mythology. The sense of place and its rootedness in the soil that are so important for the hobbits of the Shire resonate strongly with many younger people, especially in an age of globalized entertainment and commercialization that are so effectively carried by technology that they leave people feeling rootless.

Tips on sharing Jesus with Pagan neighbours

  1. Ask your friend questions. You will not be able to share your faith effectively if you take no interest in their life.
  2. Tell stories. Stories are important to Pagans, especially those that have an ancient feel to them. We have such stories in the Bible. It may be helpful to memorise Bible stories to retell to Pagan friends.
  3. Talk about your own spiritual experience. This may be very compelling. They can hardly say it is oppressive! What do you do in order to have fellowship with God? What is prayer to you? This may lead on to other opportunities to talk about the basis for such experiences and the guidance that the Bible gives us as we seek to know God.
  4. Seek to grow in maturity as a disciple of Jesus. How do you react when things don’t go as you planned? Do you fret or seek to step up your religious activity in order to get God to deliver? The peace of God should rule in our hearts (Phil. 4:6-7; Gal. 2:20). Refusing to try and manipulate God but being content to rest in his will is a tremendous witness to a Pagan. Rather than seeking power for personal gain the mature follower of Christ seeks to be faithful to him, whatever the cost to themselves.
  5. Introduce your friend to other followers of Christ. Pagans are attracted to a community in which people can be real with one another and help each other out.
  6. Demonstrate a care for the environment by careful living. This is an important aspect of Pagan spirituality; they may think that Christianity has done a lot of harm to the planet. The Bible, however, gives solid reasons for creation care; followers of Christ can rightly make much of this, not because Earth is a goddess, but because it was created by God himself and deserves our respect and nurture.
  7. Focus on the person of Jesus, rather than the Christian tradition. Pagans, like many others, see the institutional church as a major block to true spirituality. It would be difficult to disabuse such people of these prejudices. But the person of Christ, as we see him in the Bible, is always attractive.
  8. Pray for your friend. They may seem to be hopelessly far from Christ, but the Holy Spirit may be at work without you knowing. When the resurrected Lord Jesus met Paul the persecutor on the road to Damascus he said, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14). Who would have thought that this vicious man had been struggling with pangs of conscience? The Holy Spirit can use your witness, your life and words to lead your friend to Christ.
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My God Is In The Vanguard https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/my-god-is-in-the-vanguard/ Thu, 01 Oct 2020 17:00:01 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3158 I love the old word, vanguard. It doesn’t seem to get a lot of use today but it means an advanced guard and is derived from the French avant-guard. It is the frontline of a military formation that leads the way, seeks out the enemy and makes it safe for others to follow.

Thomas à Kempis puts it beautifully in the Imitation of Christ:

Up, then, my brothers! Let us go forward together! Jesus will be with us. For Jesus’ sake, we have taken up the cross; for Jesus’ sake, let us persevere in it. He will be our helper, who is also our leader; he has gone before us. See, our King advances in the vanguard, and will fight for us! Let us follow like men: no terrors shall daunt us.

Working in the Ambulance Service

I have been working in the Ambulance Service for a year, having come into it from working in acute mental health. Working for an Ambulance Service is completely unique. Every day, every shift is different, you never know what your next call is going to bring or how it will stretch and strain you. There is an investment in each job you do that is not just physical, but mental and emotional too, and if you are not careful it can take its toll.

To some degree the training helps to prepare you, it’s intense. The first four weeks I seemed to have a constant headache, trying to remember the high-way code, memorising road signs, road law and legal exemptions when driving on blue lights. Then there are the driving assessments, exams, weeks of clinical training, more exams and practical assessments. It’s not for the faint of heart!

For the last 3 months the nature of the job has changed. All of a sudden we are dealing with a new illness, for which there was no training or preparation. Covid-19. Sure, we were all aware of Infection Control Procedures, but except for the rare cases where we donned extra PPE (personal protection equipment), we only had to wear gloves for each patient and clean our equipment after each use. Now, with each suspected case we were donning full Tyvec suits with masks and goggles as well as taking vehicles off the road for an hour or more to deep clean. I even lost my beard of 40 years so that the mask would seal properly. It seemed that there were daily changes when admitting patients into hospitals too.

There were so many questions being asked, many of them arising from fear. The words ‘scary’ and ‘terrible’ were being thrown around like confetti and some people seemed to be falling apart. The Ambulance Service, like other health care sectors, was struggling for adequate supplies of PPE.

Contracting Covid-19

It was almost inevitable that I would contract the virus and in early April I did. About a week previously, I had undertaken a high acuity transfer of a coronary care patient from one hospital to another. ‘No COVID present on the ward,’ I had been assured, only to find on return that a patient in the opposite bed had tested positive. At 3am on the Saturday before the Easter weekend I woke up feeling rough and running a temperature of 38.5. The next 4 days I spent in bed, feverish, lethargic and lacking in appetite, taking paracetamol and drinking lots of water. When so many around seemed to be suffering so much worse I am grateful that that was the sum of my symptoms and following a positive test and a week of rest I was back in work.

God is in control

During this crisis I can honestly say that I never once felt fearful. I was saddened at the loss of so many, but never concerned for myself. Many refer to us as ‘frontline workers’ along with other health care professionals, but it’s not a turn of phrase that I would ever claim for myself, because there has always been someone in front of me. As a Christian I have full assurance that my God is in the vanguard. I read of the promises contained in the Bible and I see them fulfilled. Is this virus, a mere 0.06 to 0.14 microns, a match for the one who flung stars into space and named them one by one? Is it even an equal to him who has weighed the universe in his palm? Of course not, never!

Each morning that I drive that 45 minutes to the ambulance station, I pray for the day ahead. I pray that I might bring glory to God, in word, thought and deed. I thank God that his mercies are new to me every morning. I thank God that his grace is sufficient for all situations that I might encounter, whether it is people dying and in desperate need, or patients that are aggressive because of drink or drugs. Because God has unconditionally loved me and accepted me, it means that I can care for and accept those who need me, even the aggressive ones.

Sometimes I get to pray for patients, sometimes I hum a hymn, or hold a hand and I can see the difference that can make. More often than not it’s just doing the job I’m trained to do, not as a hero, but as a humble servant of Christ. The Thursday evening applause has been appreciated. The gifts of goodwill left on the windscreen or at the station have kept morale up. But there is nothing quite like the applause of heaven and to hear the Father’s voice saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

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Sharing the gospel – learning from the early Christians https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/sharing-the-gospel-learning-from-the-early-christians/ Thu, 24 Sep 2020 20:00:22 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3154 Evangelism can be hard. Whether we feel like we were born for it or we struggle to even get our words out, sharing our faith can be tough.

Whatever our evangelistic context, the core truths that underpin our outreach remain the same. Christ’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), to go and make disciples of all nations, is a charge for the whole church. Throughout history, God’s people have responded.

The Early Church, the first Christians scattered throughout the vast Roman Empire in the years following the Apostolic Age, faced a colossal task as they took up this charge. In an ancient world celebrating pluralism, hedonism and power, the gospel was offensive. It was a world much like our own: obsessed with the self and the trappings of this life, deeply in need of redemption. The crises and divisions of even the last few months remind us just how far our nation seems from God. The tide of culture is rushing against us, but hope is not lost. Let us briefly consider three lessons we can take from the witness of the first Christians, lessons that offer hope in our evangelism today.

Remember who we speak to

Religious belief was hard-wired into the Roman psyche. Gods of money, sex, food, drink, war and peace; the list was practically endless. Each household even had their own gods, the lares (a  form of ancestor worship). In his book, Destroyer of Gods, Larry Hurtado concluded that ‘everyone was presumed to honour the gods, and your own gods were supplied as part of your birthright.’ To be Roman was to believe in the gods. So the gospel call to submit to the God of Scripture alone was a call to reject the culture and heritage of Rome itself.

The gospel message of forgiveness, grace and eternal life with the creator God was an outrageous teaching. Different families and tribes respected different gods. No one deity claimed divine authority or sovereignty. The gods were known (and celebrated) as morally deficient, self-interested beings. They weren’t creative, they didn’t claim lordship or offer salvation. They were simply bigger than mankind and thus in charge. Christians, however, taught an alien message to ancient ears. Yet it was life-changing. The ancient world was trapped by sin. Some forms of religious worship incorporated elements of hedonistic excess, sexual fantasy and depravity, but every act of Roman worship was a denial of God’s sovereignty, celebrating instead the idols of the human heart. There was a goddess of beauty because man idolises the appearance, a god of wealth because such riches were prized. Rome was far from God, and in desperate need of him.

Christians today offer an alien message to a sinful world. In 2010 one in five British adults claimed to attend church at least once a month. Current trends suggest that figure is only decreasing. Church attendance is no guarantee of salvation, but its decline is indicative of a country that is no longer a ‘Christian Nation’. Children are growing up in unchurched families, many live with little or no knowledge of God and his Word. The gospel is increasingly alien, and in a society where the gods of sex, money and false religion command our worship, it is increasingly offensive. Yet it remains life-changing. Only Christ can offer life, and life to the full! So we must stand firm in the truth of the gospel.

The Early Church did not abandon the truth to fit in, they boldly proclaimed their alien message. They spoke the truth in love to a world in desperate need. Like our brothers and sisters in the Early Church, we live in a culture where people readily deceive themselves with meaningless idols and false gods. We speak to a culture that understands its worth, identity and reality in corrupt and broken ways. We live surrounded by people whose greatest need is for a true Saviour.

Remember our message

In a world of many gods, the first Christians proclaimed one of many messages. To some, the Christian faith was just another foreign philosophy or an extremist subsect of Judaism. With so many gods to choose from, why bother with only one? Humanly speaking, the odds were against the church. With so many competing voices, how could a message that promised a life of suffering and hardship win out over the glamour and glory of Rome?

Yet when the Early Church boldly proclaimed their gospel message, lives were transformed because their message was radically different. The gospel isn’t an alternative philosophy or a substitute for an idol or false god that has disappointed us. At the heart of the gospel is a cosmic rescue-mission:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are lost without God. Our lives are meaningless. We live and die without hope. Christ came to offer a lifeline to a hopeless world. He came to seek and to save the lost. Such words were true in Jerusalem long ago, in Rome, Corinth and Antioch hundreds of years later. And such words are gloriously true today. We offer a gospel that saves the lost. We tell a wonderfully better story. Whatever our evangelism looks like, never move beyond that message.

Remember our God

Sharing this message is nonetheless daunting. The vast majority of our friends, family and peers are unbelievers. The challenge is enormous! The Early Church faced a similar situation. In 100 AD, there were around 50,000 Christians in an empire of 70 million. More than this, the Roman world actively opposed the Christian faith. Local persecutions flared up with alarming frequency, and occasional empire-wide persecutions meant there was a constant (if erratic) level of opposition to these earliest Christian communities. Widespread heresy and corruption from within the faith itself only furthered the challenge. With such opposition within and without, what hope did the few first Christians have of ever truly sharing the good news with a lost empire?

Their hope and their strength was in their God. No matter how big the Roman world seemed, how powerful the Emperor may be, the first Christians believed in a God who is far bigger. Listen to this second century description of him.

For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable (Theophilus, Ad Autolycus 1.3).

The confidence of the Early Church lay in their God. Wonderfully, he remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). We hope and trust in the same God that Theophilus found so compelling, the same God that kept the first Christians faithful through all sorts of opposition.

Evangelism can be hard, no matter how much we might enjoy the opportunity. But we go out with the gospel of a God who is so much greater than the tides of culture that flow around us. Our God is incomparable in might and power. So remember who we speak to, remember the message we have, and remember the God who goes before us.

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From Swansea to Wuhan https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/from-swansea-to-wuhan/ Thu, 17 Sep 2020 17:00:06 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3150 I’m fairly certain that most of us had never heard of Wuhan before early 2020. By now, of course, it’s a familiar name – for the wrong reasons. But what’s the connection between Wuhan and Swansea? The answer is to be found in the story of one remarkable Welshman.

Wuhan

We’ll begin with Wuhan, a city of over eleven million people in central China. It’s the capital of Hubei province and a very important centre of industry, education and transport. The name of Wuhan has come to prominence because of the city’s link with the pandemic disease Covid-19. It was there that the virus first came to light. There is much debate concerning the date and even more dispute concerning the cause but what is certain is that the name of Wuhan is now recognized throughout the world.

Swansea

Perhaps the same can’t be said of Swansea although it is nevertheless a city of much interest. Not far from High Street railway station stands Ebenezer Chapel. Originally built in 1804 for a congregation of Welsh Independents, it is now the home of the evangelical Ebenezer Baptist Church. On the wall of the chapel stands a plaque commemorating Griffith John, who was born in one of the streets behind the building in 1831. He was converted in Ebenezer when he was nine years old. In his teens he began to preach and there was much demand for his powerful ministry.

But it was not to Swansea, nor to Wales, that God had called this Welsh-speaking Welshman. After a period of instruction at the Brecon Memorial College, in 1855 he and his wife set sail under the auspices of the London Missionary Society to preach the gospel in China. Despite the upheavals and dangers of the Opium War, the Taiping Civil War, wars with Japan and the Boxer Rebellion, not to mention the almost unbearably oppressive summer heat, he faithfully persevered in pointing the people of China to his Saviour.

By 1911 however, he was suffering from senile dementia and with the increasing threats to missionaries following political changes in China, it was decided to send him back to Britain. He sailed from Shanghai over fifty-six years after his first arrival there. He spent the last months of his life in a nursing home in London. But when he died in 1912 he was buried back where his life had begun – in Swansea, in the cemetery at Bethel Chapel, Sketty. There is a bust in his honour in Swansea Museum and a street has been named after him in the Greenhill area, near his birthplace.

Hankou

After reaching China in 1855, Griffith John set about learning the native language and within six months he was preaching in the streets. In 1861 he moved to Hubei province in central China. He was the first Protestant missionary to settle in this area – eight years before his friend, the famous Hudson Taylor, ventured there.

For strategic reasons he decided to live in Hankou (or Hankow), an important cultural and commercial centre standing at the confluence of the rivers Yangzi and Han. Hankou was one of three large cities facing one another on the banks of these rivers. In 1861 it had over two million inhabitants and there were over a million in each of the other two, Wuchang and Hanyang.

The extent of his labours there was incredible. As well as preaching and planting churches, he wrote a large number of gospel tracts and translated the New Testament into two Chinese languages. He established primary and secondary schools, a training college for teachers, a Bible college and two hospitals. From Hankou, Griffith John travelled regularly to remote areas to preach the gospel. In Hunan province he experienced much hostility and persecution, but in due time saw remarkable fruit as a result of his labours there. By the time he left China in 1911, there were hundreds of churches in the provinces of Hubei and Hunan, with a total membership of over 10,000.

Yesterday and today

The story of Griffith John’s pioneering labours is quite thrilling. But it is more than just something in the past. The former cities Hankou, Wuchan and Hanyang have been combined to form one vast conurbation – now called Wuhan! The first hospital founded by Griffith John grew to be Union Hospital, Wuhan; it is now one of the largest hospitals in China, providing 5,000 beds and treating three and a half million patients every year. This is the hospital that received the first victims of Covid-19. Near the entrance stands a bust of Griffith John, commissioned by the Chinese authorities. A copy of this bust, presented by the hospital to commemorate the centenary of Griffith John’s death in 2012, is the one that stands in Swansea Museum. For some years the hospital at Wuhan has been collaborating closely with Swansea Medical School. And in 2016 an agreement was signed between Swansea and Wuhan with the aim of promoting further cooperation between the two cities in business, culture and education.

We can be fairly sure that Griffith John would be amazed at all these developments. He would probably welcome many of them, especially the valuable ties between Wuhan and Swansea. But we must note something else that would be much more important to him. The church founded by Griffith John in Hankou, now Wuhan, is still there and continues to flourish. In 2006 Meirion Thomas, minister of Malpas Road, Newport, went to China and met the church’s minister. More recently, in 2014 a group of Christian pastors from Wuhan who were staying at Bryntirion visited Ebenezer in Swansea – without realizing beforehand that this had been Griffith John’s spiritual home!

For some years the church in Wuhan was called the Griffith John Memorial Church but following the Communist takeover the commemoration of western figures was forbidden and the name was changed to Glory Church. According to one website over 1,500 people worship there regularly on Sundays. And that is far from being the only church in the city. Indeed, with the growing tendency by the Chinese state to persecute Christians, the last few years have seen a rapid increase in the number of ‘house churches’ in Wuhan meeting outside the ‘official’ regulations.

The witness established by Griffith John is alive and flourishing in the city which has been the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic. The gospel that he preached still offers life and hope to millions there who have found themselves in the shadow of sickness and death. In the light of all this, it’s heartening to remember his original aim in going there. He wrote:

We are here not to develop the resources of the country, not for the advancement of civilisation; but to do battle with the powers of darkness, to save men from sin and conquer China for Christ.

 

Further information may be found in two excellent books: Griffith John by John Aaron, Evangelical Press, 2016, Griffith John – Apostle to Central China by Noel Gibbard, Bryntirion Press, 1998.)

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Praying like Jesus https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/praying-like-jesus/ Thu, 10 Sep 2020 17:00:13 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=3148 My Prayer Journal – February 2015

Prayer has eternal consequences. It seems simple yet is at times hard. It is supernatural, but available freely to us because of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf. It is the grace of God. He exposes our hearts and by his power enables change. It is often waiting, waiting and waiting, but not without hope. Through prayer our strength is beautifully restored. It is the quiet within a storm and the direction in the desert. The intimate communion that enables us to continually walk with our heavenly Father. It dispels pride and places our hand directly into the hand of the Saviour. Our Father reminds us that we are not alone. His one and only Son in whose name we pray even intercedes on our behalf. He understands. Prayer is God’s provision for sinners to seek the divine power to live a righteous life in Christ. Prayer helps produce in us the love of God, who loved us first. The culmination of his saving work finished by Jesus, who fulfilled the Law in himself. Prayer is miraculous. It is God’s generous gift to his people, where we can come boldly before the throne of grace. Hallelujah!

 

Pray to the Father

As I sit near my window, the sun begins to rise. I glance at an envelope placed on the table. It contains one of the letters swiftly produced on behalf of the government. It is a copy of the one written by the prime minister, affirming the importance of staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak. How personal it seems to receive a letter (along with the rest of the country!) with Downing Street’s address. How much more personal to receive God’s Word, the Bible. The address is Heaven, the signature is our Father’s, the very words our Saviour’s. My day begins by reading my favourite passage in all of Scripture; John 17. For my prayer is that my heart would be aligned with Jesus’ prayer.

Pray for ourselves

During lockdown, my children and I have spent more time in our garden. We admired the beauty of one tree in particular. My daughter noticed that the buds reminded her of the coronavirus under the microscope! So, we decided to ask loved ones for one prayer request for themselves and one for someone else so that we could be in prayer for them. We followed this up by writing our prayers on leaves and placing them on the tree as a reminder to remain faithful in prayer. It was interesting to see most responses were loving requests to pray for others. I have struggled in the past to know how to ask people to pray specifically for me, despite the increasing list of needs! I deemed that I was being too self-focussed. But this is not what Jesus teaches us in John 17.

Jesus was drawing near to the excruciating, sacrificial death he would face so that we would not have to. He needed the strength and power to complete the mission set out for him by his Father. May we also look towards Heaven and pray as Jesus taught us from verse 4: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ We must make praying for ourselves a daily habit, so that in Jesus, we may take up our crosses daily and receive his strength. Let’s pray the words that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, recorded by Luke, ‘not my will, Father, but yours be done.’

Pray for the church

One of the most intimate times of prayerful union I have ever experienced was at one of my previous fellowships in Cairo. Brothers and sisters from Egypt, the Middle East and beyond would gather to pray through the whole night once a month. Prayers were focussed and fervent. I was praying with the Body of Christ, many of whom were from the persecuted church from across the Arab world. I learnt so much of Jesus’ heart from the prayers that were prayed. Cries from those who truly knew what it was to ‘face trials of many kinds’ and yet were still able to see the glory given to Jesus and receive the same glory that he prayed for us all, recorded in John 17.

Pray for the lost

When God accepts a sinner, he is, in fact, only accepting Christ. He looks into the sinner’s eyes, and he sees his own dear Son’s image there, and he takes him in.

Charles Spurgeon’s quote always encourages me. It helps me picture the Father, seeing his precious Son when he looks at me, a sinner. This brings so much peace and comfort knowing God’s overwhelming mercy.

We are saved by grace and grace alone, by the righteous act of Jesus at the cross. Yet, I am consciously aware of the prayers of the saints, who prayed I would turn in repentance and bow the knee to Jesus.

May our hearts be humble in prayer when we pray for the lost, recalling the condition we once were in before the Son of Man came to seek and save us.

Pray as a child

I often feel I learn more from my children than they learn from me. It is no wonder that Jesus rebuked his disciples for trying to prevent the children drawing near to him. When my own children and those in Sunday School pray, I am humbled as they talk to our Father without any ‘airs or graces’, yet without decreasing reverence for the Lord. I am reminded that the Father loves it when we take ourselves away to pray as Jesus did and to pray sincerely with faith like a child.

Pray as our Saviour taught

Our Saviour summed up what our heart’s desire should be in prayer in Matthew 6 verse 9. He lifted his voice to his Father in Heaven and honoured his glorious name. ‘Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.’

As the Father’s kingdom continues to be extended under his will and authority, may we too follow the model Jesus laid out when we pray. As we enter into communion with God, may his Word be used to direct and prompt us. Praying strategically and with focus, drawing on Jesus’ words under the Spirit’s power. Scripture helps us to remain at the centre of his will as we pray.

Pray with thanksgiving

Let us give thanks, that Jesus prayed so earnestly and so personally for you and for me during that night in Gethsemane. How awesome to be reminded that Jesus continues to make intercession for us today. Hallelujah!

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