Landscapes of the
Part 1~ Renewing the Mind
I the LORD search the
heart and examine the mind, to reward a man
according to his conduct, according to what his
deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 17:10, 12)
In the course of the average
day, over 12,000 thoughts pass through the mind. I wish more
of mine were of eternal value! Our minds are so often like a
hard disk that is running slow. Like an old-fashioned
operating system, they are so preoccupied with serving their
own immediate needs that they have little room left for
If we could increase the amount of free space in our minds,
even by a few percentage points, what a difference it could
make! After all, there is plenty of room in our brains
really: it is just that the channels we have been used to
using have become so dominant that most of the time we are
barely aware that endless creative possibilities await
No wonder so many people respond to the New Age invitation
to extend the frontiers of the mind! God is even more
concerned to extend these frontiers because He created our
mind and He alone knows its potential. But His means are
entirely different from our so-called enlightened efforts.
It is the Lord who takes the initiative in our relationship
with Him, first to change our whole mindset (phronesis in
Greek) and then to develop our ability to think things
through from a godly perspective (dianoia).
Do not conform any
longer to the pattern of this world, but be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you
will be able to test and approve what God's will
is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In the book of Jeremiah, the
Lord asks a powerful question that is also a wonderful
invitation: ‘Who is there who will devote Himself to be
close to Me?’ (Jer 30:31) You can feel the arms of the Lord
stretching out, inviting us closer, urging us to set our
hearts and minds on things that really count. This is mot a
book about better techniques for Scripture-memorising, or
advice on assimilating difficult doctrines – but it is about
freeing the mind to operate with more and more openness and
efficiency. This is a manual on creativity, the imagination
and towards becoming a Spirit-filled thinker.
What is the Lord looking for? People He can trust! Just as
we may confide our joys freely with all sorts of people, but
only tell our closest friends what we are really going
through, so the Lord ‘confides in those who fear Him; and
takes the upright into His confidence.’ (Ps. 25:14, Pvbs.
3:32). May the Lord make us worthy to receive such
confidences – and in the process turn sight into insight and
shed light on many complex situations.
Keep in Step with the Spirit
On the face of it the mind doesn’t get a brilliant press in
the Bible. People prophesy delusions of their minds and
change their mind far too easily – much to God’s distress.
Paul reminds us that ‘The mind of sinful man is death.
Mercifully he doesn’t leave it on the down note but goes on:
‘but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and
peace.’ How we need to focus on that!
Paul tells us in Galatians 5:25 to ‘Keep in step with the
Spirit’. The phrase literally means to dance together. Isn’t
this a lovely picture of how He wants us to lead our lives
in partnership together?
What great things the Lord can do when our minds are
controlled by the Spirit of God! So much creativity as well
as joy. That’s why we need to heed Paul’s urgent summons to
‘be made new in the attitude of your minds’ (Eph 4:23).
Field Marshall Montgomery once commented that no army will
perform well unless it has good morale. Morale, for us,
depends to a large extent on how how we imagine God sees us.
Try this for a starting thought. It is as easy for Jesus to
discern our thoughts and our desires as it is for us to read
a newspaper (Heb 4:12-13). Do you feel excited that God is
tracking so closely with us – or afraid because you are
afraid He would disapprove of you?
Hearts and Minds
Jesus searches our
hearts and minds and He acts in accordance with what
He has seen: where we are faithful He entrusts us
with more, where we are unfaithful He may have to
look for someone else to do what we could have done.
(Matt. 25:21,28, cf Rev 2:23, 1 Chron. 28:9)
The stakes could hardly be
higher – and it is in the ‘mind field’ that key battles are
won and lost. We don’t need to be ‘Master Mind’ brain boxes
to please the Lord – but we do need love, devotion and
The first mind shift we need to get away from is thinking
that God is only interested in our minds from the point of
view of clearing out the junk. In this respect we may well
have a great deal to unlearn – but the Lord is longing for
us to be able to think His thoughts, sing His songs and
speak His words.
It is not always easy to distinguish between ‘heart’ and
‘mind’ in New Testament thinking. Often interchangeable, the
Greek word phronesis describes our mindset and
understanding, whilst the kardia, the heart, represents the
sum total of our feelings: our thoughts, desires and
experiences. The Hebrew worldview is a holistic one. It is
more the overall state and direction of our heart that
matters to God than how bright or well stocked our minds may
be. After all, Jesus chose twelve unlettered men to be His
first disciples. Even today, the majority of the world’s
Christians can neither read nor write.
The mind is both the thing that causes us so much trouble
and the means through which the Lord shares so much of His
heart and intentions to us. We are therefore going to
explore the ‘engine’ of our lives: the motor that is at the
heart of all that we are and do.
Spirit of God, come
deeper into our minds. Renew and enlarge them day by
day, until in more and more areas of our lives we
have the mind of Christ.. (cf.1 Peter 1:13, Luke
The Spirit-informed Mind
I have thought deeply
about all that goes on here in the world. Where
people have the power of injuring each other . . .
So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate
and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things;
determined to find the reason for things, and to
prove to myself the wickedness of folly, and that
foolishness is madness.
(Ecc 7:25 NIV/LB, 8:9 LB)
The mind has an infinite
capacity to store not only every experience we have even
been through, but also some trace of the emotions that
accompanied that event. Some of these are best forgotten and
the majority of these lie in the equivalent of a deep store
vault and should not be disturbed unnecessarily. But, from
time to time, whether by the Lord’s leading or by the
pressure of events, they rise to the surface.
As a writer, the more I understand of the nuts and bolts of
my craft – for example, how novels ‘work’ – the better I am
able to practise my craft. In much the same way, it helps if
we are able to understand the ‘dynamics’ of the way prayer
meetings and leadership teams work – not least in terms of
seeing what does and does not work in particular contexts.
We are meant to consider how we can spur ourselves and
others on to know God better, why certain things are
happening, and what the Lord is saying about specific
situations. The key Greek word from the New Testament here
is nous, whose derivative verbs noeo and katanoeo mean to
perceive, understand, consider and contemplate – key aspects
of our walk with the Lord. All this is a combination of
study, experience and openness to the Spirit. It is the
fruit of a mind that is being trained by the Lord.
My mind is . . .
a) Transformed, renewed and flowing freely.
b) Somewhat cramped in outlook, and taken up almost
exclusively with my own affairs.
c) Frustrated, bowed down and heavily
Lord, in all that we do,
may Your Spirit inform our minds, so that our minds
do not crush Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
‘The prayers of others can
reach the parts our own cannot!’
Ever got the wheels of
your car stuck in the mud? The faster you spin them,
the deeper the rut you carve! It’s like the needle
getting stuck on a record player. Our minds have a
way of looping our thoughts along worn and useless
grooves. Fear and conflict see us fruitlessly
rehearsing imaginary conversations. Mental upset
sends our minds spinning fervently, but rarely
achieving anything. Fear and conflict can grind our
minds to a halt and hold us back.
The way we have been brought
up, even our family history, combines with our experience of
life to colour our outlook on life. As we have already
hinted, much depends on how we view ourselves – which is
almost entirely governed by how we imagine God sees us?
'The Lord Jesus is not
against us for our sins, He is for us against our
( Selwyn Hughes)
Imagine a soldier on the
field of battle. He is equipped with the latest weapons but
is so convinced of his own uselessness that he stands rooted
to the spot, unable or unwilling to lift his gun. So long as
our gun barrels are pointing at the ground – or even turned
against ourselves – we will do no damage to the powers of
darkness and do little to advance the Kingdom of God. Any
regular army would regard such a soldier as a liability!
Where condemnation and low self-worth are destroying us on
the inside, we almost certainly need the help and
encouragement of others to overcome our lethargy. To
paraphrase a well-known commercial, ‘The prayers of others
can reach the parts our own cannot!’ If we can find suitable
people to share with in honesty and courage, they can pray
for us with faith and objectivity. And we can do the same
for them in the areas that they are struggling in.
For others, it is not so much condemnation that fills their
mind so much as the tendency to indulge strong longings.
Were God to grant these fantasies, they would, in all
probability, prove entirely harmful. We give ourselves
mentally to fleeting infatuations with this new truth, that
idea, this person or that lifestyle. The end result is much
the same as condemnation: a stuck and far from fruitful
When Paul describes such attitudes as infantile (Eph 4.14b)
it gives the lie to the modern emphasis that if we feel
something strongly enough in our hearts, it must be right to
go with it. Not so. The Bible reminds us that the heart is
deceitful above everything else. (Jer.17:9) That is why the
book of Proverbs places such a strong emphasis on the
protecting the mind: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for
it is the wellspring of life.’ (Prov 4:23)
To hold some belief (love or desire) sincerely does not
bestow any special merit on the belief. All that counts is
whether the Lord can acknowledge that mind-set. and whether
we are truly yielded to Him.
From only too much experience, I know what happens when I
allow my mind to dwell on certain fears and fantasies. By
constantly rehearsing them, they become strongholds:
entrenched thought patterns that influence all of my
thinking. Before long they become more real than reality
itself and it is at this point that my perception of things
Similarly, any delusions and spiteful sentiments we nurse
are sure to betray themselves sooner or later. (Luke 6:45)
That is why it is better, if you have the courage, to ask
someone who loves you to point out any such ‘unbalanced
elements’ in your life.
To have someone to share your inmost thoughts with, as well
as your plans, is a most precious thing. If our heart is
off-balance, the chances are that we can probably come up
with much rationalising and self-justification to avoid
making any serious changes. That is why it is so important
to ask both the Lord and those around us to be search lamps
that make these things clear.
Let me ask you a serious
question. ‘What is on your mind?’ I don’t mean the
last thing you were thinking of before you started
reading this publication, but the general trend of
what has been going through your mind in recent
weeks and months.
Pray for the victims of
In spiritual warfare, as
in any other form of warfare, the most tragic
fatalities are those that are caused by so-called
‘friendly fire’, when their own guns are turned
against them. Paul warns us clearly: ‘If you keep on
biting and devouring each other, watch out or you
will be destroyed by each other.’()
Churches and mission
movements suffer more loss of momentum through splits and
personality clashes than through purely external
circumstances. When we cause division and envy and
controversy in our groups we do the devil’s work for him –
he barely has to help at all!
In many church splits we over-spiritualise matters to the
point where we lose perspective and forget that so many
problems can be solved just by choosing to walk in the
Spirit. That will often mean humbly asking, ‘Instead of
making a dramatic stand on this point, what can I do to ease
Lord, forgive us when we
become a means of division rather than agents of
grace. Let us not be peacemakers in the flesh but
reconcilers by Your Spirit. Strengthen all who have
been misrepresented and maligned to trust again, and
where hurt has paralysed hearts, bring healing and
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Part 2 ~
Cultivating the Imagination
The spiritual man has
insights into everything, and that bothers and
baffles the man of the world…for he has never been
one to know the Lord’s thoughts or to discuss them
with Him, or to move the hands of the Lord by
prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians
actually do have within us a portion of the very
thoughts and mind of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 2:15-16, LB)
God spoke in Noah’s day of
all the imaginations of people’s hearts being evil (Gen
6:5). Flick a switch, give an inch and there most of us are
– only too willing to indulging fantasies and fancies that
place us centre-stage. And if we dress up our ambitions in
spiritual clothing, that only makes them all the more
Before we go on, let’s do a quick check-up based on John
15.1-17 to see where our heart is really up to:
1. I am ‘abiding’ in the
Lord, in the sense of ‘existing’ as a Christian but
not really pressing in to claim new territory.
2. I am ‘abiding’ in desires that Jesus could not
3. I am ‘abiding’ in the Lord and investing in
people and things that are on God’s heart.
If you know that you fall
into the second category, the sooner we face our
self-centred sinfulness the better. Likewise, when people
harden their hearts and speak against other Christians there
are always painful consequences. So many things stem from
the decision to ‘disconnect’. It affects our relationship
with the Lord (the vine) and with His Body (the branches).
When we disconnect from marriage partners or from other
Christians (whether mentally or more explicitly) it brings a
dullness of spirit where once there had been vitality, and
scattering where formerly there had been unity.
At the same time, it is not right to allow the awareness of
our sinfulness to loom larger in our thinking than the grace
of God. To suppose that we are so bad that God can no longer
reach us is a sort of inverted pride. It is declaring ‘God’s
grace isn’t powerful enough to reach me’ – and that can
never be true.
A Spirit-baptised imagination leaves us open to the Lord’s
leading, just as surely as an unbaptised one leaves us prey
to endless self-centred thoughts. When our imagination is
submitted to the One who gave it to us, it is a really
precious tool: a multi-faceted diamond that reflects God’s
endless creativity. When the mind of God meets with our
mind, one word from Him is worth ten of our own bright
If that is true for us as individuals, it also true
corporately. Whenever a person comes along suggesting some
new or different way of doing something, many churches,
organisations and institutions take an instinctive step
backwards. All too often, genuinely worthwhile ideas end up
being dismissed out of hand, instead of being weighed,
refined and then embraced. It is right to be cautious, right
to be prayerful and to ‘test the spirits’ but wrong to be
afraid of embracing what God is saying.
The more flexible and fluid our mind, the more open we will
be to change. When our mind is operating healthily, we are
much more capable of visualising and imagining new things.
But when our thinking is clogged and stiff, the effort
involved in making changes seems so overwhelming that the
mind protests vehemently. A new thing is either good or bad,
helpful or unhelpful, worth trying or not worth trying,
cost-effective or too expensive – there are all sorts of
genuine criteria by which ideas should be evaluated.
Emotional antagonism is never helpful when trying to
evaluate the true worth of a new suggestion.
How do you fare in this respect? When the pressure is on, do
you instinctively retreat into the supposed safety of the
tried and tested? Or are you open to step forward into
wherever God is leading you? Even if certain things have
gone wrong in the past, don’t close the door to change.
Don’t stop doing that difficult thing that the Lord has
asked you to either, even though you feel so overawed by it!
God honours faith and obedience very highly.
Consult before acting
In our first excitement
of being a Christian we are eager to get out and do
things for God, almost as though we assume that we
are doing God a favour. As we go deeper in the Lord,
we become more and more aware that we are not here
to try to make Him feel better: our task is to come
into line with what He intends us to do.
We can summarise this process
in a simple motto for life: ‘Consult the Lord before
Look at the early disciples in the course of their church
planting. They always made time to seek the Lord together –
and when they did so they were alert to His voice. We find
them in Antioch ‘ministering to the Lord’: a delightful
phrase that embraces both worship and seeking. How did the
Lord honour their seeking? By giving one of His powerful
‘one-liners!’ The Holy Spirit said ‘Set apart for me Saul
and Barnabas for the work I have called them to.’ ()
Just think of all the churches that were formed as the
direct result of Saul and Barnabas setting off on their
missionary journeys! It is hardly stretching the point to
say that we are here today because they obeyed that word.
The people they reached told people who told people until
finally someone came and told us.
Look at it another way: suppose those original disciples had
procrastinated. ‘How do we know that was the Lord speaking?
Better not to do anything than to take a chance and make a
mess of things!’ What tapes play in your mind to hold you
back from acting on what the Lord has shown you?
What happens when we forget to consult the Lord? We rely on
ourselves, almost as if we think He is not really
interested. We respond out of instinct from ‘experience’,
fear or longing. The deeper our lives have been impacted by
the Lord, the more likely our response is to be spiritually
sound. But there are some times when ‘experience’ alone will
never be enough. That is when we need specific wisdom from
The more important the work we have been entrusted with and
the more choices we face, the more we need to seek His
wisdom. But we will fare better in ‘big’ situations if we
have been practising in smaller everyday matters. Catherine
Marshall chronicles a time when a man found himself caught
in a hotel room in a fire. In any crisis situation, there
is always the risk that fear and tension will shut out the
voice of the Lord. But this man had learnt in stress-free
times to wait for God’s wisdom and he was open to hear the
Lord showing him now how to escape from the fire.
Pray for this principle
of consulting before acting to become deeply
embedded in your whole way of thinking.
Try identifying one or two things that you are
involved with and ask the Lord to show you the
‘sharpest’ way to proceed with them. Ask Him, too,
to keep your antennae constantly switched on as to
which people and opportunities He wishes you to be
You may never have paused to
consider this issue in depth. It is so central to how we
are, and the way that we respond to situations, that you
will find it helpful to take some time to identify where you
stand. Try filling in the following starting scenarios.
1. I find it easy to
trust what You are saying, because I have learnt to
place all my longings in You and can serve you with
a free and undivided heart.
2. I am afraid to imagine because I have got things
wrong in the past and am afraid that what I most
want may never come to pass.
Faith and Imagination are
When faith and imagination are twinned together, more often
than not we will find ourselves praying and working towards
targets that are ‘over the horizon’. The writer of the book
of Hebrews reminds us that ‘Faith is the substance of things
hoped for’ (11:1). This is entirely different from dreaming
up some mental image of what we would like to see happen.
That would be to deny reality.
The writer is not trying to pen the ultimate definition of
faith. Rather, he is speaking about heroes of faith from
bygone times in such a way as to stimulate our faith for the
future, and as something that reveals our heart’s true
motivations. Their trust in God enables us, like them, to
attempt the impossible and then to persevere through the
humanly unsustainable. And we by grace can do the same.
Whenever God speaks we have a choice to make. We can either
harden our hearts against what God is saying, as Pharaoh
did, or we can set ourselves to embrace it, even if it
crosses our will or appears to contradict our expectations.
Every true word of God asks something of us that we either
would not have chosen for ourselves or are unable to bring
to fruition by our own efforts. God never forces us to do
something, but He will show us clearly what is best, and
allow us to experience the blessings of obedience, or the
consequences of ignoring Him. And what He promises, He will
bring to fulfilment.
Lord, I give you the
hopes and visions that You have given me to hope and
believe for. Grant me grace to keep faith, praying
and working until You bring them to pass. In Jesus’
Lord of the unexpected
‘Who would have believed
that?…’ This has been our constant refrain for the
past few years, during which God has spectacularly
redirected our lives. Before He took us away from
the mainland to the Shetland Isles, we can be quite
sure that He gave considerable thought to the whole
process. He foresaw in his Spirit the places we
would live, and the paths He would lead us long
before making them known to us.
When God opens up a way for
us, we still have to choose to take it. There is no
guarantee that people will walk forward even through an open
door. If we do, however, we can be confident that we are
following His leading, even if things do not work out in the
way we had anticipated. God’s leading permits dummy runs and
even false starts; the journey as well as the destination is
of value to Him. But He hears our cries and is committed to
fulfilling His purposes for us. His leading keeps us on our
Watching with Father
If our mind has a natural tendency towards evil, then it
stands to reason that the diet we feed it is all-important.
I find few things more refreshing than reading a good novel
– but I always keep one ear open to the Lord in case the
‘anointing’ to read lifts. As for that box in the corner,
forget ‘Watch with Mother’ – are you ‘Watching with Father?’
Or just flipping idly from channel to channel? Watching
unhelpful programs every night will do nothing to sharpen
our spiritual perspective!
Years ago I had a word of knowledge, warning someone that
they were watching too much television. A few weeks later
his wife left him, precisely because she couldn’t prise him
away from the box. Just as passive smoking can do real
damage, so can too much time in front of the TV. A diet of
endless ‘light’ reading and viewing will teach us little or
nothing that is of any eternal value. Not only is our
imagination in danger of being stimulated in wrong and
harmful ways, but it robs us of the time and energy to
pursue more creative paths.
God wants to make our leisure times richer and more
fulfilled than they could ever otherwise have been. Here is
a simple test. Do we become overly touchy when someone drags
us out of a programme or book? If so, it may indicate that
this thing has become something of an ‘idol’ to us.
How can we enhance our quest for good reading matter? By
setting time aside to read – and then to ponder and
assimilate what we have read. Ask God to lead us to material
that will expand our mental and spiritual horizons and grant
us fresh insights into His nature and His ways.
Check too, that we are not becoming too selective in where
we look for wisdom. Have we become ‘one track’ in our
reading habits? We may tell ourselves that we are
deliberately over-compensating in one particular area of
teaching or study because the body of Christ in general is
paying it too little attention. But could it be making us
unbalanced – even turning us into cranks? We can gain great
wisdom even from authors with whom we profoundly disagree on
Leave the bits you can’t handle on the side of the plate,
just as you would eating a fish. The fact that there are
‘bones’ doesn’t mean the fillet wasn’t worth eating! Almost
every Christian writer will have at least some experiences
and insights to share that will be of benefit and interest
Examine the subjects (and the objects) to which your
imagination returns again and again. Do they merely lead to
insatiable cravings which reduce our capacity to be open to
the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Or do they glorify the
Lord and make us still more hungry for His presence?
Harnessing the Imagination in Prayer
Imagination is the
greatest of all the gifts which God has given us. It
makes us full of eyes, without and within.
One in the eye is worth
two in the ear! (Boxing Manual)
The great danger with the
imagination is that we use it to project our own desires and
wishes on to the centre stage of the screen. We waste time
having imaginary conversations with people, planning how we
want them to act, and when they don’t or won’t, we resent
If we can turn from these self-centred tendencies, we can,
as it were, walk in their shoes, and plead with the Lord for
their situation with the same longing we would have if it
were our own. ‘In all their distress, He too was
distressed.’() That is why people like Rees Howells went
to the extremes of eating no more food than was the lot of
the Indian widows he was praying for.
Prayer brings us close not only to loved ones, but even to
people we do not know. Such compassion releases the power of
The Art of Burden Bearing
No one is useless in
this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone
else. (Charles Dickens)
Prayer is caught as well
When we are in tune with Spirit, there is ‘room’ on the hard
disk of our minds to bear others up in prayer before the
Lord. Paul spoke about having the Philippian believers in
his heart (Phil 1:7). One of the most precious gifts of the
Spirit is to be able to ‘carry each other’s burdens, and in
this way fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal 6:2).
It is precious beyond words to join ourselves in spirit with
loved ones at times when they are in special need of prayer.
When our spirit is untroubled by other worries – and,
admittedly, it is a big when! – we can feel as close to them
as if we were physically present with them.
I am taking it for granted that most of us have read plenty
of books about prayer, sat in plenty of Bible studies about
prayer and, in the midst all of that, have found the time to
give it a go ourselves rather more than once in a while!
What is needed is often not just more prayer but rather the
ability to enter with faith and imagination into the matters
we are concerned about.
Shutting out all the needs which disturb us will not help to
stoke up the fire within. In the words of a contemporary
hermit, ‘An intercessor’s heart must be a furnace of love
for sinners.’ Our prayer burdens will be as different from
each others’ as our personalities, but if the Lord Jesus
offered up prayers and petitions with loud tears and cries,
then so must we. With the Spirit’s help, any of the matters
we read, see or hear about can become the raw material for
Like an athlete benefiting from the long months of training,
we need to sharpen our prayer life by avoiding too much
contact with the spirit of the world. A season of more
intense prayer, perhaps without food, may do wonders to help
us identify with the suffering of people we would not
normally even think about. Occasional times without fiction,
television, or some other comfort we have come to take for
granted may likewise do much to revive a flagging spiritual
life – or to enrich an already deep one.
Avid reader of the newspaper that I am, I found it
beneficial recently to spend a week without one. I made use
of the time instead to pay more attention to the excellent
Christian publications I receive. Our primary call is to
meet with the Lord and to resist evil; it is not necessarily
our duty to know about every issue that the far from
Spirit-led media is currently featuring. The more open we
are to the Lord, the more likely it is that meaningful
prayer will ensue.
As time goes by, we will find ourselves particularly drawn
to pray for certain people, places and professions. We
usually pray best and most sincerely for the subjects that
we feel most for: the people, places and professions that
are closest to our hearts. But the Lord can give us a deep
compassion and emotional connection to subjects we have no
human relation with at all. He gave the Welsh miner Rees
Howells, for instance, a huge burden for Indian widows.
Some burdens are to be lived with and ‘carried’ for a
lifetime, others for a season and still others for mere
minutes. As we develop a greater sensitivity to the Spirit,
He can catch our hearts with a newspaper headline or a
phrase in the news and move us to pray out of a temporary
burden for a few moments until it lifts – maybe never to
return to that subject again in prayer. Or, the burden ebbs
and flows but our attention is drawn repeatedly back to that
Take a look at the scope
of your prayer topics over the last few weeks. Have
you got locked into a rut? Would the Lord renew some
old burdens? Or help you to move on from some whilst
giving you new ones?
A Way into Wider Prayer
‘In the same way, the
Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what
we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes
for us with groans that words cannot express.’
If you are one of those for
whom the thought of praying for wider issues is so daunting
that you rarely make a start, I would like to suggest a
simple way to approach such topics.
Suppose, for example, that you want to pray for the
education system, but feel intimidated by the size of the
topic. Here is a simply way to reduce the issue to
manageable proportions and so overcome the sense of being
dwarfed by the size of the problem. Start by praying for one
teacher or child whom you know, and make them a
representative of the whole group. Pray for them by name.
Then move on to pray for the school that they are part of,
and then for the other schools in the region. Before you
know it, you will find yourselves praying for the whole
education system. It is easy to do the same with the Health
Service, perhaps by praying first for someone who works in a
hospital, or who is hospitalised. In such ways, any issue,
institution or even nation comes within reach.
If we concern ourselves to the best of our abilities with
the things that are on the Lord's heart, He will take care
of our needs. As we make time to wait on Him, He will show
us things which we have read or heard or seen and which can
be usefully transformed into prayer, or action that is based
on his leading.
If strategy is central to success in business and military
circles, why should it be any less so in the realm of
prayer? After all, if one country is going to invade
another, the commander in chief does not allow every ship,
regiment or squadron of aeroplanes to start fighting when
and wherever they feel like it. He concentrates his forces
according to a master plan. As Christians we are engaged in
serious spiritual warfare. It is important for us to
discover the Commander’s plan, and to play our proper part
If we do not think ‘strategically,’ our prayers may quickly
degenerate into mere idle longing along the lines of ‘Oh, if
only the government would show mercy to the unemployed.’
Such ineffectual longing leads either to long shopping
lists, or worse, to facile assumptions that so-and-so is the
‘goody’ and someone else the ‘baddy.’ Prayer can easily
become a condemning of those who do not happen to think as
we do. All this does is reinforce our own viewpoint rather
than to advance the Kingdom.
Our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against
intelligent people without bodies: the principalities and
powers of darkness. Derek Prince defines them in They Shall
Expel Demons as ‘personalities without bodies who crave to
inhabit a physical form’. Most traditional church prayers
contain little hint of this dimension of spiritual warfare.
Perhaps this is because it is naively assumed that the
institutions of state will always be used for the
maintenance of religion and all good values. Whilst we have
much to be thankful for in our nation, we can never afford
to forget that the devil has a vested interest in making the
state a servant of Mammon, and an instrument of oppression.
Churchill’s reminder that ‘Constant vigilance is the price
for ongoing freedom’ is a reminder of the need to keep on
praying for the Lord to preserve our nation, and to bring
about the revival He is longing for.
Part 3 ~ Mind
The mind, like any other motor, suffers wear and tear
through everyday use. It therefore needs maintaining and
sometimes overhauling. We could loosely place these stresses
into three main categories:
a) external demands
b) internal accusations
c) spiritual assault
Let’s take each in turn.
a) External pressures
I read a headline the other day that showed an increasing
number of teenagers are turning to Prozac to help them cope
with the stress of exams. Whichever direction you look in,
the adverts are plugging stress-beaters and stress-reducers.
Why? Because most of us are having problems handling the
stresses of life. Some of us are having to juggle too many
conflicting demands, while others face the equal but
opposite stress of feeling that they have too little role or
responsibility in life.
We need the Lord’s guidance to help us sift life’s
priorities. It is rarely easy, not least because saying
‘yes’ to God’s agenda for our lives (and remember our lives
are lived hour by hour and day by day) will often entail
disappointing someone else’s hopes and agendas for us.
Basic books on time-management, such as Gordon MacDonald’s
Ordering your Private World or the acquisition of a
good personal organizer will go some way towards helping
your mind to function better.
Going hammer and tongs at big objectives (particularly
demanding jobs, for example) day in and day out without
compensating for the pressure is rather like asking an
athlete to run a marathon every day. It is no more the
recipe for real creativity than is retreating under a
blanket in the face of life’s many pressures.
I enjoyed the survey that recommended that executives would
do their best work if they only came into the office 161
days a year, and spent the rest of their time thinking. If
only some company somewhere would have the courage to try
it! Of course there would be many who would abuse the
freedom and spend the time in casinos, but the principle is
an important one: we need time and space in which to think –
and we can become off balance if we remain too tightly
We can all benefit so much by getting away from our usual
routines. The other day I painted a wall: it improved the
look of the garden somewhat but was by no means a priority
task. The Lord spoke to me clearly and said, ‘It is
important to me that you are doing this, precisely because
many of the things that you do are important.’ The busier
our minds, and the more significant the decisions that we
make, the more we need to make time to ‘whittle’ and do odd
What we need to be looking to do is to factor in some form
of compensation against the pressures before they assume
overwhelming proportions. Many of us, if we are honest, are
operating on some degree of automatic pilot that is only a
few degrees above burnout level. A simple change of location
– or company – can help enormously. The principle applies
for marriages as well as work and ministry: Compensate by
spending quality time away from the usual work-face before
the situation becomes an emergency. ‘Retreating to advance’
can do wonders to bring renewed zest and perspective.
Where do you go to renew your mind?
The Lord is ready to commune with us anywhere, anytime, but
we are not always equally as ready, or as able, to meet with
Him. Certain places may therefore help to develop this life
In our high-pressure high-expectancy age, each of us needs a
trysting place with the Lord, a break from the daily grind,
where we are able to meditate on God’s goodness and pray for
His purposes to be fulfilled in our lives. I am convinced
that businesspeople, teachers, parents and, indeed, those
from every walk of life would be blessed and strengthened if
they could but make the necessary time and sacrifice to get
away to be with God. A place that has been consecrated to
the Lord, and much prayed in, often enjoys a special depth
of His presence. May He help us to find and profit from such
b) Internal Accusations
As a man thinketh in his heart so he is. (Proverbs 23:7)
If external pressures can be hard to cope with, the inner
life is still more important. This is what makes our engine
tick and ultimately affects all our confidence and
decision-making. It even determines our demeanour and
comportment – and in turn our effectiveness and
It is as destructive thought patterns loop endlessly through
our minds, plaguing us with the same refrains, that we hit
the ‘mind field’ head on. ‘I’m no good, I’m useless,’ the
tapes play, ‘I’ll never amount to much. If people knew what
I was really like, they wouldn't love me. God can't use me,
I'm not even sure that He hears my prayers . . .’ These are
immensely private battles, fuelled by a low self-esteem, and
reinforced by outward setbacks and disappointments. But they
must be fought and won.
Where do negative thought patterns come from? Most often
they are the consequence of barbed and spiteful words that
parents, teachers or peer groups spoke over us. These words
can have the effect of curses and often need identifying and
breaking so that we can be set free to flow again. I think
of a woman who had been considerably used in the healing
ministry until unkind words from a friend (indicating that
she felt embarrassed by the way her friend was ministering)
stopped her there and then. The result? A truly blessed flow
of the Spirit was stopped, dead in its tracks. People who
are not as immersed in the stresses of our situation as we
are can bring objective faith and insight through their
In The Winged Life Hannah Hurnard proposes a way of
responding that is quite at variance with contemporary
standards. Pray into the issues she raises in the following
‘Every refusal and
thrusting back of wrong speaking means deliverance
from wrong thinking . . . The interplay and
connection between thought and some expression of
that thought is inseparable. Every expression by
word of mouth impresses the thought more deeply on
the mind, so that one simply cannot stop thinking
about the things one speaks about . . . That is why
we find that we CANNOT forgive and forget any wrong
done to us, as long as we talk about it to others,
even in the strictest confidence.
We bind the wrong that has been done to us upon our
memories and consciousness and can never go free
from the resultant bitterness and resentment and
self-pity and dislike or hate of the wrongdoer. To
forgive and to obtain release from an unforgiving
spirit, we must ‘cut off’ completely all talking
about the thing which has been done against us. If
we continue to talk about it and to tell others how
we have been mistreated, we are not forgiving, and
consequently, as our Lord tells us, we cannot be
[I am inclined to add as a rider that one possible
exception occurs where extreme abuse has taken
place, or when it would be morally wrong not to
speak out about an issue. But we cannot be too
careful in this matter of breaking confidences.
Whilst it is wrong to be bound to inappropriate
confidentiality, the dangers of revealing matters
best left to God is immense. Words once uttered can
never be recalled.]
In my own case, [Hannah continues], the habit of
fault-finding and hurrying to point out the
blemishes and weaknesses in others had been so
terribly strong, that I felt quite certain this was
one of the first things which must go if Holy Love
was to be free to use my mouth. I also felt equally
certain that the habit was so fixed and powerful
that I would never be able to stop indulging it.
What! Never again express a critical, unkind,
disparaging word against anyone - the cranky,
exasperating, spiteful and unloving people as well
as the saints! And never gossip again, or enjoy the
pleasure of passing on some unsavoury little titbit
about a neighbour or someone I disliked!
Forego all the ugly pleasure of tearing some
unpleasant person to pieces behind their back, and
of warning someone who had not yet discovered the
unpleasant trait in that person for themselves?
Never get all the exasperation and irritation and
dislike and resentment off my chest by unloading it
on to a friend and pouring out all the wrongs I had
to bear, and forego the necessary sympathy! Indeed,
it did look utterly impossible . . . But gossip and
careless chatter about the idiosyncrasies and
weaknesses of others makes a transformed thought
life impossible. On such apparently small and
trivial things do great inner revolutions and
Like everything else, I made the discovery that if
we are willing to face up to a clean sweep, without
making any reserves or exceptions, then the Saviour
will gladly give full victory. It is the reserves
and the exceptions we insist on making which spell
failure and disaster. Willingness to go the whole
way and to agree that there shall be no exceptions
to grieve the Holy Spirit of Love - this is the
secret of victory.
When one begins to experience the glory and release
which follows, the very thought of returning to the
old kind of destructive and unloving thoughts and
speech, becomes a kind of nightmare, quite
literally, like moving out of heaven with all its
radiant and loving fellowship into an atmosphere
which by contrast seems like the outskirts of hell .
My own painful experience is that as long as I speak
about my own fruit and victories, and the way I am
used and the opportunities I have, I cannot know
thought victory, but am shut up to thinking about
myself and my concerns, and to daydreaming about the
way in which God uses me. There is no bondage more
dreary and more unheaven-like than this. And what
bitterness and jealousy and inner rage ensues when
someone comes along who is more popular and more
sought after, or has bigger and better
We need to remember that small, insignificant and
apparently harmless grumbles can, and do, act as
tiny punctures, through which all the power which
the Saviour offers us, leaks away. Many a child of
God who begins to check up on this matter will be
astonished to discover how negative and complaining
their thoughts and words are about a multitude of
things, and how habitual this habit of grumbling has
become, though they have been nearly unconscious of
Every new test and trial which we meet is really the
beginning of ‘learning a new song of praise unto our
God.’ So let us make sure that the opening bars of
the new song are not a dirge, nor a moan nor a sigh,
or the whole song will be spoilt, and the learning
of it be painful and not joyous.
(The Winged Life, pp43-45)
Power over bondages
We shall be looking in this section at bondages others can
put on us. But let us never for one moment forget that there
is one thing more than any other we can do to avoid being
taken captive in our spirits, and that is to forgive, even
those who set out, quite deliberately, to wound, vex and
Forgiveness frees our minds to flow in the creative power of
the Spirit. Unforgiveness cramps the imagination, stifles
the voice of the Spirit and leads to all sorts of unhelpful
introspection – even paranoia.
Some time ago, I woke with an excruciating pain in my back.
The concerned prayers of many over several weeks failed to
make any difference. Finally, some friends visited and as
they prayed the Lord showed them that the pain was the
direct result of my being spoken against. When they prayed
and took authority – the pain lifted within minutes.
This was an extreme example but not as unusual as it might
sound. An anointed prayer-leader was struck down by a
mystery illness. For over a year, people prayed without any
measure of success. Finally, a man of God came to pray with
her and declared, ‘What you are up against is something much
stronger: the power of envy in the Body of Christ.’ It was
only when he broke this power that she recovered.
These are not light matters. We heard the other day about a
couple who had once been on fire for God, but who have
seriously lost momentum by spending almost all their time
denouncing the doctrines of other denominations. Their
‘concern’ had become a driving passion. Sadly, a group of
‘discontents’ formed around them, with the result that the
efforts and intentions of the entire fellowship became
diverted to an almost meaningless end. Why knock the faith
of others when we are called to live life in Christ, and
minister life not death?
There is nothing the devil likes more than to get his teeth
into a decent morsel of bigotry. What a victory for him –
and what a defeat for the church. There is no faster way
into the wilderness than to speak against one another. To
his master each one must stand. Just look at how the
devil managed to keep Christians pursuing each other (even
to death) concerning the precise meaning of Holy Communion.
I love the wisdom Queen Elizabeth the First showed
concerning the precise meaning of the disputed verse, ‘This
is the body of Christ.’ Whilst others were arguing about
whether it meant that the bread literally became the body of
Christ, or merely represented it, she replied, ‘It is what
the Lord knows it to be!’ More such wisdom would defuse the
heat of so many unnecessary ‘hot potatoes’ in the body of
Hannah Hurnard has wisdom for us on this vital subject.
If we dwell on the
mistakes of others, we shall always be irritated by
them, and while we feel irritated and unwilling to
accept and bear with these people as they are, they
will be conscious of it, and will be closed to any
help from us. Most likely, however, they will
automatically open to the help and the love which
they so need when we ourselves are so full of
creative love that all exasperated thoughts and
feelings are excluded.’ (Winged Life, p.38)
Freedom from life on
It is for freedom that
Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not
let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of
slavery. (Gal 5:1)
There is a particular steep
mountain track on the top of Hevellyn known to thousands of
mountaineers as Striding Edge. We are talking now of those
times when our engine over-revs and leads us to Striving
Edge! Striving is a particularly deadly enemy of intimacy
with God. Our desperate attempts to please others leave us
feeling worn-out, not least because the pressure of our
concern to know how we are doing robs us of any chance of
experiencing true restfulness. As Herbert Swope wrote, ‘I
cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you
a formula for failure: try and please everybody!’ 
The principal thing that can stop us from exercising this
freedom is our own instability. The Lord Jesus has given us
to do the specific things He has called us to do. Many of us
are so filled with self-loathing that we pass judgements
against ourselves which, in turn, fuel self-destructive
tendencies. At any moment, these lethal charges can be set
off like high explosives, bringing all manner of disquiet
not only to ourselves but to all who come too close to us.
No wonder publishers fall over themselves to bring out books
So much of our striving stems from trying to be someone
other than who we really are. Some of us need to consciously
thank the Lord for making us the way we are, lest otherwise
we merely feel resentful or envious of others. It is
tempting, but not wise, to wish away the circumstances of
our life. What good does it do to run away, or to wish that
we were someone or somewhere else? Are we not effectively
rejecting the Lord Himself if we reject ourselves?
In one of the ‘Barbar’ cartoons, the elephant king had been
feeling his responsibilities so heavily that he wished he no
longer had to be king. His wish was granted and he was
allowed to experience the lot of a commoner – only to watch
with horror as another king imposed a tyrannical reign on
his kingdom. The elephant’s influence had been far more
beneficial than he had supposed – just as our own often is.
The scriptwriter was merciful: Barbar was restored to his
throne just in time to save the kingdom!
It is not our striving that God rewards, but our obedience
to Him. Many of us are so preoccupied with our own
self-image that we know all too little of this inner
freedom. If we are strangers to God’s humour, and approach
life so seriously that we can never laugh at ourselves, it
is a sure sign that our hearts are still striving.
In The Magician’s Nephew, one of C.S. Lewis’ delightful
Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan has just created the talking
animals. (If you have not yet had the pleasure of
discovering this series of six children’s stories, I
heartily commend them to you!) As they get used to the sound
of their voices, a jackdaw says something which embarrasses
him, and makes the others want to laugh. At first, they try
to repress it, but Aslan encourages them:
Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer
dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as
well as justice came in with speech.
It is no use worrying that we are not converting the world,
or gaining rapid promotion, if God has not given us the
ability or the platform to do so. John the Baptist reminds
us, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven’
(). True, the ceiling of our faith ought to be advancing
from one year to another, but if our epitaph matches that of
Mary, who poured a jar of perfume over Jesus’ head, then we
have lived well. Of her it was written, ‘She did what she
What a phrase that is to ponder! As we offer God the things
that we most desire, so He begins to set us free from our
emotionally exhausting fears and strivings.
It is important to have goals to aim at – but not to become
obsessed by them. As Amy Carmichael said, ‘Beware what you
set your heart on, because it will be yours.’ Do we really
want what we are asking for? Are our goals and priorities
God's eternal priorities for us? What are they? Why not
write them down so that you can hold them before you and
pray them through.
The trouble with chasing great visions is that we often miss
opportunities to do good to people who are right in front of
us. As we know, it is vital to have clear goals and visions
to aim towards, but we also need to cultivate a restful,
rather than a competitive attitude of heart. The more open
we are to what the Lord has for us from one day to the next,
the less we feel pressurised to perform, and to meet the
often impossible standards that others place on us.
At first sight, ‘striving to enter God’s Sabbath rest’, as
the Book of Hebrews exhorts us, sounds like a paradox. Many
of us are reluctant to embrace ‘fallow’ times because we are
afraid of being lazy or left behind. But it is precisely in
times of real rest that we are best able to discern the
Spirit’s leading. Farmers have reasons for allowing fields
to remain unplanted. Vital nutrients are being replenished
in our soul through these quieter ‘fallow’ times.
God loves to touch and use the humble. Their intellects do
not get in the way, and the glory goes to where it truly
belongs. Not that it is easy to be humble: the very act of
seeking humility can make us self-centred! In fact, humility
tends to develop as a joyful by-product of doing something
for someone else. It also comes by ‘preferring others’, that
is by encouraging and praying them to do better and to go
further than you yourself have done. Finally, humility is
the wisdom to commit all we do to the Lord, and to leave the
outcome to Him.
What a joy it is when we know what it is that we are called
to do, and can be at peace about all that we are not called
to do. It may take time, experience and the counsel of
friends to bring us to this point, but it is a great relief
when we find we no longer have to act (or to hold back) out
of fear of what other people will think or say.
The ‘Scrutin of Love’
Richard Foster has written an outstanding book called
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper San
Francisco). The book is a gem, less concerned with ‘how we
can acquire things through prayer than with how God will
help us to discover Him through prayer,’ as Lewis Smedes put
it. I cannot recommend it too highly. The third chapter
deals with this issue of self examination (the ‘Scrutin’ of
Love) precisely because it is something our generation is
not so good at doing. We are better at doing than being –
but expert at defending ourselves. We make it hard for God’s
love to penetrate to the core of our being because we have
learnt to keep it safely fortified from ‘intruders’. So much
so that we barely notice how impoverished our prayer life
really has become.
The simplest way to embark on such times is to set aside a
portion of time for nothing else. For many of us this will
come at the end of the day. Our aim here is to simply wait
on the Lord, both to find out what He is saying about the
things that have happened (externally) and the things we
would do well to pay attention to (internally).
As with most spiritual issues, the external ones are the
easiest to handle. As we replay events that have happened
and watch them as it were on a video screen, it may be that
the Lord will have us ‘pause the footage’ as we rediscover
issues to attend to. One of the greatest benefits of this is
that it enables us to rediscover nudges that have come our
way but which we have done nothing about. It is like having
a second bite of the cherry. If we fail to make a note of
them at this stage, there is a real danger that they will
simply pass into the deep blue and never be recovered.
All of this is a precious way of entering fully into life.
Rather than letting events flow past unheeded, it shows that
we are prepared to reflect upon their meaning, and to honour
the people we come into contact with by doing our very best
to make the contact poignant and meaningful. It is the very
opposite of saying ‘we couldn’t care less’.
It also opens us to ‘other matters arising’ – the fact that
we have spoken unkind words, failed to give or receive
forgiveness; all the ‘little things’ which may not seem so
important in themselves but which together build up into a
huge dam that separates us from the flow of God’s Holy
Spirit. ‘But Lord there are so many such issues: it’s not
just an occasional weed, it’s creepy bindweed ten metres
deep, wound round and round my heart!’ Well done for
admitting to diagnosis. But God knows how to dig out even
the deepest and most persistent weeds.
As we make time to reflect, words that people have spoken
return to our consciousness. Words of encouragement that
confirm we are on the right path; or words of warning and
correction that save us from error – half-warnings even,
that we might have missed had we been too engrossed in our
Keeping a spiritual journal of God’s dealings with us can
also aid this process of reflection. Rather than merely
recording the outward events of the day, we will find it
more valuable to record the things the Lord has shown us.
Writing down the concerns that are uppermost in our hearts
(perhaps in the form of a prayer) crystallizes our thinking
and helps us in the future when we face similar situations.
Often, the Lord will use these times of reflection to remind
us of something we already knew, or reassure us concerning
some course of action. All this is a pointer to the fact
that meaning and purpose undergird every part of our life,
as the sovereignty of God sees one episode dovetail
intricately with others. It is the exact opposite of the
post-modernist concepts of relativity and accident.
Like a skilful investigator we will often have to piece
together what He is saying or doing in a particular
situation, until the time comes when we feel comfortable to
implement a policy, or to pray a certain prayer.
Occasionally, the Lord may give us the special ability to
‘know’ what needs to be prayed for – much as the prophet
Elisha was often fully aware of things that were happening
far away. Elisha was not psychic; he was simply in touch
with the Lord who loves (and sometimes needs) to communicate
with His children. Elisha used his special knowledge of the
enemy commander’s plans to save Israel from many enemy
forays. Likewise, he knew at once when his servant had
fallen into temptation. (2 Kings 6:8-12; 5:20-27)
Facing our own deceit
One of the most poignant phrases in the whole of Scripture
was uttered by, of all people, Judas Iscariot, when he
asked, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ (Matt 6:22) Now in this case we may
presume the question was dripping with a saccharine-sweet
hypocrisy that sought to mask the deadliest betrayal the
world has ever known. (It may also have contained more than
a hint of trying to ward off a last minute exposure!) The
principle behind the words, however, is a powerful one. It
is a great blessing when our words and our very presence in
a place bring more of the Lord’s power and presence. But it
does not always happen like that.
‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately
wicked.’ (Jer 17:9) It is almost beyond belief how
self-deluded we can be, not necessarily on all points but in
certain areas of our life. We remember talking with
Christians on the west coast of America who sounded like
entirely normal Spirit-filled Christians one moment and the
next were peppering the conversation with the most bizarre
statements. One of the least sinister of these included the
memorable words, ‘Did you realize that the Scriptures teach
that bears will take over the world in the last days?’
It pays to study our track record carefully. Can we identify
areas where we are regularly right or routinely wrong? Are
there specific issues where we need to ask the question
forthrightly to the Lord and His close followers: ‘Is it I?’
The heart will teach us to blame anyone other than
ourselves. In other words, ‘Am I the one who has got things
out of perspective, and who is spreading something other
than the fragrance of Christ?’
When the Sisters of Mary were building their wonderful
complex in Darmstadt, the whole project was a miracle of
faith and provision from start to finish. But whenever they
ran short of provision, they would stop and ask the cause:
and often the Spirit of the Lord would highlight some wrong
words or attitude between the sisters. The cause had
effectively become like a mini-curse – and the Lord allowed
the work to come to a halt until the relational issues
involved were faced up to. When they were, He released His
blessings again – pressed down and running over.
‘As water reflects a
face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.’ (Proverbs
In the days before mirrors,
maidens reputedly flocked to local pools to catch a glimpse
of their reflection in the clear water. At a spiritual
level, it is useful from time to time to examine our heart
attitudes to glimpse what is being reflected there. Like an
iceberg, many of these lie beneath the surface. You may have
heard the saying: ‘No one is big enough to carry a cross and
a prejudice at the same time.’ But which of us can claim to
be entirely free from prejudice?
Let’s consider for a moment what a prejudice is. We are used
to thinking of it as being a preconceived opinion; something
that is not based on actual experience; a bias, or a
partiality. It is also a judgement formed hastily or before
due consideration. The primary meaning one dictionary gave
for prejudice, however, is, ‘Harm or injury to a person or
that results from a judgement or action, especially one in
which his or her rights are disregarded.’
Put bluntly, our prejudices can cause real harm to other
people. The difficulty is obtaining sufficient detachment
and objectivity in order to spot them. We are making real
progress when we can first identify and then overcome them
by living in the opposite spirit. Probably the quickest way
is to ask our friends or partner where our hurts and
prejudices lie. The chances are that they are far more aware
of them than we are!
Here are a few starting points:
- Let certain common
forenames come to mind. Are they clear to you now? .
- Do any of them trigger strong reminders of people
you have had difficulties with in the past? Does
that memory hold you back from embracing anyone else
who happens to bear that name?
- How far along the road to healing and forgiveness
does this indicate you might be?
Here is another exercise.
- Are you sure you do
not have a problem with other nations? Pray around
the tribes and countries of the world to test
- Does even the memory of certain countries trigger
the very opposite of love and prayerfulness in you?
For older people it tends to be Germany and Japan.
How about you? England? Scotland? The United States?
- Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion for
the countries He brings to mind.
Or does the mere mention of a
certain group of Christians, or a particular leader or
denomination, give you a horrible feeling in the pit of your
stomach? Bless them anyway. The Lord still loves them.
Now let a few stock relationships come to mind You can try
these for starters, and see what reaction they provoke in
you. You can probably think of more personally appropriate
- Mother (or
- A difficult neighbour . . .
Pray to be able to do
something extra special for people who bear you ill-will.
Bless them with the love of the Lord.
c) Spiritual Assault
In the place where you are being attacked – finances,
friendships, outreach, church growth, some situation at work
– hold firm. The point on which you are being attacked may
well be the place where the greatest breakthrough will be
achieved. Recognise the devil’s tactics for what they are –
a desperate attempt to make you give up before victory
When faced by a steady surge of resistance or a sudden glut
of decidedly painful misrepresentation, I find comfort in
contemplating Nehemiah’s heroic defensive strategies to see
off the deadly dangers of Sanballat and Tobiah. (We should
never allow our knowledge of the final outcome to make us
forget just how serious the battle was at the time). You
must have pondered many times on the strategies they
deployed to induce fear and defeat in Nehemiah’s camp. What
struck me was that the opposition was so intense that he
needed to devote fifty percent of his manpower and time to
defensive duties (Neh 4:16, 21).
Ostensibly it sounds like giving the enemy too much
credence; actually it was essential to mount a strong
defence against an enemy who was constantly probing for any
sign of weakness.
Perhaps our greatest foe of all is condemnation – that
terrible condition which plagues the majority of Christians
at some time or another, and which makes us feel an outsider
to God’s goodness.
Extreme pressure often has the effect of making us want to
quit. We must be careful. If we do not resist the temptation
to despair, we risk opening our hearts to negative forces,
which will sweep in and plunge the soul into bitterness, and
even cynicism. (A simple test of our heart’s condition is to
see whether our spirits still kindle at the sight of others
being blessed. If they do not, there is something seriously
Georges Bernanos declared that despair is the most insidious
of all temptations. This is because the powers of darkness
try hard to hide the fact that it is a temptation at all.
How clever they are at making our despondency appear a
natural response to the dilemmas that we face. How diligent
they are in masking the ways in which God has led and
blessed us in the past. How easily they shift our focus from
the vision God has given to our own lamentable condition.
How important it is to remember that we worship a God of
hope, and that hope does not disappoint us.
Despair can never be a proper response. It is tantamount to
accepting Satan's assessment of the situation that we face.
Our task is to respond with faith, and so disappoint his
expectations. For while the negatively-minded see the
potential for disaster in each difficulty that they face,
people of faith press in to see the Lord bring about new
triumphs from the very same circumstances. Like a rose among
thorns, fresh opportunities to prove the Lord’s faithfulness
lie hidden within our dilemmas.
Even if things are going wrong because we have been in the
wrong and have missed God’s best in some way, the Lord can
still rework and restrand our lives and give them meaning.
We are well on the way to being truly humble if we can
repent of our stupidity, but still enjoy boundless
confidence in God's forgiveness. Christ does not love us
grudgingly, as if with gritted teeth. He is our Companion,
who longs to show us the best path to follow. Every day is a
fresh page that is waiting to be written – a brand new
opportunity to live with God. We never know what He is going
to do next! If we can leave the past to God’s infinite
mercy, commit the present to His grace, and entrust the
future to His boundless providence, there will be far fewer
landing strips for discouragement.
Call to mind
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope (Lamentations 3:21)
In the midst of extreme
pressures, biblical heroes again and again ‘call to mind’
what God has done. This act of remembering is all-important,
because it leads not to futile nostalgia but to active
faith. God, who has helped us before, will do so again!
Use the memory of past deliverances (times when the Lord has
intervened to make something possible for you) as a
springboard for faith. Take your time and let the Lord bring
many such examples to mind.
The Upside Down Bible
A variation on the above exercise, and a powerful way to
perceive truth, is to create an ‘Upside Down Bible.’
Approaching positive biblical truths (and verses) from
upside down and back to front can have a wonderful effect in
making us realise how wonderful they look the right way up!
Try these for size:
‘May the God of hopelessness leave you bereft of all joy
and peace as you continue to mistrust Him and fail to
experience the slightest help from His Holy Spirit.’
(‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you
trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the
power of the Holy Spirit.’ Romans 15:13)
‘I know that you are fed up to the back teeth with me
because you have allowed all these difficulties to come my
(‘I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not
triumph over me.’ Psalm 41:11)
Now have a go at doing the same with the following verses:
· Psalm 55:22, 91:9, 119:162-3, 173
· Romans 8:1-2
· 1 Corinthians 1:5-9
· Colossians 1:9-13
· Philippians 1:20
· James 1:6; 4:7-8
Part 4 ~ The Mind as
Earlier in this publication, we considered the state of our
minds. Now that we have looked at those three stress-areas
that affect the mind and have seen how the imagination can
be harnessed as an ally of faith, it is time to return to
the metaphor of the mind as an engine and look at three
different ‘states’ that we hinted at earlier:
1. Engines that stutter.
2. Engines that are overstraining.
3. Engines running smoothly.
Engines that stutter
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is
wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’
so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is
foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: ‘He catches
the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows
that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more
boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or
Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the
present or the future - all are yours, and you are of
Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
There are times when our minds appear to be on half power.
We are aware that we are ‘missing beats’ but we try and
pretend that all is well. So long as we can get away with
it, we may go on living a ‘distracted’ life but still be
able to cope with ordinary requirements. The Lord searches
hearts and minds by upping the pressure until we can no
longer carry on ‘coasting’ and ignore the things He is
putting His finger on.
Sudden fiery darts and prolonged battle sieges are
unavoidable, but grace can always be forthcoming. The secret
is not to go into action when Goliath shouts, but as and
when the Lord dictates. When some worry or issue is taking
up the larger part of our mind we miss appointments and fail
to pick up on the Holy Spirit’s ‘nudges’ of direction. It is
like reaching up to pick an apple from a high branch but
being unable to reach it. We need to slow down, pick up a
stick and draw the bough towards us. This requires leaving
other matters to be attended to on another occasion and
focussing on what the Lord is giving us to do.
In extreme cases, we can find most of our waking thoughts
being directed towards an end that simply cannot be reached.
There are many who go on trying to please parents or someone
else even after they have died or moved away. It is like
worshipping in a graveyard. The pattern, once established
however, can prove exceedingly hard to break. It is all too
easy to substitute God’s ways by following the longings of
our heart. Serious refocusing is needed. There is a cost,
and probably spiritual warfare, in choosing the right path –
but the consequences involved in going the wrong way are
that bitter roots grow up that will defile many.
Engines stutter when they are seeking their own advancement,
or are indulging in manipulative or controlling tendencies.
(That is at the root of the Jezebel spirit that Jesus was
speaking against so firmly in the Thyatira passage we quoted
earlier from Revelation 2:2. John Paul Jackson’s book
Unmasking the Jezebel Spirit is an invaluable tool for
understanding the forces that are involved in what is,
sadly, a widespread problem in the body of Christ.)
I love it when Paul says that we are not wise when we
compare ourselves with others (2 Cor 10:12). That must be
one of the biggest understatements in the New Testament!
Living in a state of constantly comparing ourselves with
others, and competing with them, is one of the surest ways
to make our engine stutter. All that happens is that we end
up feeling superior or inferior to others. In either case,
But because it can hurt so much when we are put to one side,
ignored or misrepresented, here are a couple of examples
that will really help us if we can take them into our
After Wesley and Whitefield had had a celebrated
misunderstanding, Wesley was asked if he thought that he
would see Whitefield in heaven. ‘I’m afraid not,’ Wesley
replied gravely. ‘I was afraid you would say that,’ his
interlocutor answered. ‘No,’ Wesley went on, ‘he will shine
in so much greater glory that I will be quite unable to see
Another example that I return to again and again for
inspiration concerns FB Meyer, one of the most popular
conference speakers of his time. The time came when the
congregations turned instead to the young Campbell Morgan.
Like any man, he acutely felt the loss at being thus
superseded. Instead of nursing destructive resentment,
however, Meyer resolved to spend as much of his spare time
as he could praying for the success of the other man's
ministry. Perhaps that explains why Campbell Morgan’s
ministry was so exceptionally blessed. I can think of no
finer response to a test of shrinking horizons and changing
2. Engines that are over-revving
Engines going uphill in too high a gear struggle and strain.
This has to do with the expectations that we place on
ourselves and that others place on us. Often we, or they,
‘set’ these expectations according to a spirit of
perfectionism that demands impossibly high standards.
When you come up against that which is far-fetched and
hyped, which all of us who are eager for the Lord have been
guilty of, it can blunt our expectations for the real thing.
(Worse, the false claims we pursue can make other people
cynical concerning genuine promises and moves of God). Pray
that when we encounter things that are wrong that we will
remain prayerful and not allow our hearts to become cynical.
Perfectionism: A Faulty Model and a moving Target
Perfectionism is a counterfeit of intimacy with God, because
it makes us focus more on what we feel we ought to be doing,
instead of getting on with what we actually could be doing.
It deceives us into supposing that if only we were to do
this or that, then God will accept me, and everything will
fall into place. It is a striving after the wind.
It is a flawed theology to say, ‘`Well, I know God loves
me, but I just can't live with myself.’ We must be careful.
We are speaking against someone whom God has died for, cares
for lovingly, provides for abundantly, and has planned for
perfectly. In the light of the love of God, is such an
attitude honouring to God? Or fair?
If we have programmed ourselves to believe that we are not
acceptable, it is too much for any human person to convince
us of the opposite. Better by far to ‘forgive’ God for
making us the way that we are, and to expect realistic
things from each other. Otherwise we will find ourselves
withdrawing from people and becoming increasingly isolated
We often spiritualise this process of self-belittling and
give it some suitably pious name such as ‘sanctification’ or
‘self-crucifixion’. It would often be nearer the truth to
accept it is just a lack of basic trust. It is hard to
worship a God who, as we perceive it, is never satisfied
with us. Inward guilt makes us feel we must always try hard
to be acceptable – but we fear in our heart that we never
will be. A sense of divine disapproval hovers over us,
which, inevitably, we transmit to others. Even if we preach
all the doctrine right, something comes across in our manner
as being not quite right.
The worst thing about perfectionism is the anger that lies
just below the surface. Apparently holy (or placid) people
eventually rebel against the ‘oughts’ they feel God has
imposed on them, and resent their failure to be the kind of
person they ‘ought to be’. Such anger is not objective
reality of course; it is directed against the caricature of
a disapproving God that their own perfectionism has
concocted. We must learn to face this anger, and so come
free of its pernicious influence. Otherwise we fall into
denial, denying that we are angry, because ‘a good Christian
would never lose his temper’.
Since it is the grace of God which puts an end to the
perfectionist’s perpetual sense of guilt, let us pray for
the Lord to set us free of the false yoke of perfectionism,
so that we can enter in and enjoy His grace. His tailor-made
yoke will suit both our personality and our particular
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will
give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for
I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for
your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
When we know that we are spluttering, or overstraining, it
is easy to become paralysed by the awareness of our
weakness. It would be like saying, ‘I know the engine plays
up sometimes so I think I’ll stay at home today.’
Spiritually we learn to play safe. ‘Something might go wrong
– better to play safe and settle for less.’ How the enemy
laughs! We shoot short of the target when we keep our
services safe and our risk factors low. How we need to renew
our minds concerning what God can do in our church services!
To be open to the Lord means letting Him set the agenda for
our services and meetings. Sometimes His emphasis will be
more for healing, now it will be on teaching, or on
interceding, or an invitation to hold reverent silence in
His presence. The important thing is to be open to allow Him
to direct us as He should choose.
The Lord is looking for opportunities to let His glory come
down. But when we plan too much and control too tightly what
happens in our meetings (whose meetings?) there is no space
for His glory to come. If we ourselves are leaders, what can
we do about this?
When God finds powerful ways to use us despite our faults
and weakness, it glorifies Him all the more.
3. Engines running smoothly
You will keep in perfect
peace (literally shalom shalom) him whose mind is
steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah
When the Spirit of God is
flowing freely in our hearts there will be powerful prayer
and all manner of creative insights. The process begins the
moment we wake up. Getting the engine on the road means
winning the battle of the bedclothes. The waking moments
belong to God: this is when He so often slips in ideas and
directions for the day ahead.
It is most important not to lose inspiration when it comes.
This will often involve getting it down on paper. Don’t
worry too much how it sounds, reads or looks; we are
recording insights, not writing a novel!
The mind can be put to such good use. It is out of
brokenness that the Lord works. It is when a rose is crushed
that it exudes its fragrance, and when the alabaster jar is
broken that it gives out its perfume. God knew He had to
weaken Jacob by putting his right hip out of joint in order
to set him free from his perennial habit of trying to wangle
his own way. Henceforth, Jacob walked with a limp. If the
Lord has to do the same with us, then so be it!
There is no limit to how the Lord can use and develop our
minds when His Spirit is informing and directing them. May
the Lord cultivate in us an eye for opportunity. As we walk
with Him, we will see ways in which things could be done
better, and people benefit by meeting each other. These are
simple things: not earth-shattering in themselves but
infinitely precious! Often, we will need to be the one who
makes the framework for these things to become possible. As
we do so, God Himself will fill the framework – many things
will be launched, and many people blessed because we took
the time to care and pray for them (cf Mark 5:15).
Renewing minds within marriage
‘Husbands, in the same
way be considerate as you live with your wives, and
treat them with respect as the weaker partner ... so
that nothing will hinder your prayers.’ (1Peter 3:7)
What part of the landscape of
our heart needs renewing more than marriage relationships?
We may do a pretty good job of convincing most people much
of the time that we are deeply spiritual but we can’t fool
our wives or husbands who know us so well! Perhaps that is
why so few pray together on a regular basis?
Very few people set out to have a bad relationship with
their partner, or with anyone else for that matter: they
drift into less intimacy than they once enjoyed.
Occasionally this comes as the result of some major failing
or infidelity, but far more frequently it comes through a
succession of irritating habits and activities and by
apparent areas of incompatibility. I say ‘apparent’ because
I believe we are called to create an atmosphere of
compatibility. The first and best way to do this is to
respect our partner for their strengths and differences
rather than being cross with them for not being clones of
Where we have allowed disrespect to colour our attitude, we
are specifically excluding the chance of creating a
spiritually creative or welcoming environment. Most of us
probably have much to repent of here. Remember, this applies
in our relationships with our leaders and colleagues as well
as in our marriage.
As a top priority we need to know what our partner’s primary
needs really are. This applies equally to young and
well-established relationships alike. It is surprising how
easy it is to ‘miss’ each other. If we are showering them
with lots of comfort when their real need is actually for
appreciation or trust, then we may not be meeting their real
need at all. They will be frustrated because we are missing
their heart, and we will be frustrated because we will feel
as though we are giving so much and yet never quite managing
to hit the bull’s eye.
It is easy to allow little roots of rebellion to creep into
our relationships, not only with each other, but with God as
well. There is only one letter difference between resent and
repent – but all the difference in the world in their
Make a time to sit down together and work through these
thoughts. What is your principal need? Support?
Appreciation? Admiration? Encouragement? Trust? Respect?
Comfort? What is the partner’s need? Books such as John
Gray’s Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus can be a
real help – despite the implausible title!
Music and the Mind
Speak to one another
with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and
make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving
thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Certain things stimulate
people’s minds, just as surely as certain other things
deaden them. People turn to drink or drugs hoping that they
will enhance their senses, overcome their inhibitions and
release their creativity. Real creativity, by contrast, is a
partnering with God, not a handing over of our mind to
dangerous forces. I find creativity is as likely to come
from a walk in the country or people-watching in a shopping
mall as from watching a good film or listening to an
inspiring piece of music.
More and more people are realising the impact music can have
on the development of the unborn child. When Ruth was in the
womb she often used to kick when Ros and I began to worship.
Music has an important part to play in touching the heart
and releasing emotions and understanding that the mind
itself might not easily be able to process. It is no
coincidence that Elisha sent for a harp when the pressure
was really on, or that David soothed Saul’s troubled spirit
with his music.
Luther was wise when he claimed that the devil flees before
the sound of music rather than before anything else except
the Word of God. My answer to that is, ‘Put the two
together!’ There is an enormous amount we can do in our
homes and churches to explore the power of godly music.
Remember, the brain has two halves (or hemispheres). Words
impact primarily on one side and music on the other. That is
why the right kind of music can stir our hearts so
‘Play skilfully and shout for joy,’ the psalmist urges.
I am blessed to know many musicians who are gifted in
improvisation. Time and again we have seen the power of God
released as music brings His peace and releases prayer.
One does not have to be a great musician, so much as
prepared to use what one has. Spiritual music, whether
improvised or written, takes us into the dimension where the
Lord is. (Worship CDs can have the same effect). The
important thing is to fill our minds with the sound of
Fragrance and Falls: Partnering in God’s Plans
The steps of a good man
are ordered by the Lord. (Psalm 7:23)
In the kingdom of God,
obedience precedes understanding. If the Lord asks you to do
something, get on and do it - to the letter. Understanding
will come later. If He gives a warning, He means it; if He
tells us to contact someone, something precious will be
missed if we fail to do so. The Fall was a matter of
disobedience? It was the same in King Saul’s case. In many
ways, Israel’s first King failed in just the same way that
Adam and Eve did.
Most of us do not have to think very long to be reminded of
times when we have been, to say the least, imperfectly
obedient. Things that could have been ours will have been
lost or taken from us in consequence. The mercy is that God
reweaves our lives despite our failures. If He had been
going to give up on us, He would have done so a long time
ago! And when He has closed one door, He will always open a
window somewhere else. We are walking a chosen path, and we
are partnering with God.
When people devise evil in their minds against us (Psalm
64:6f) – and this is precisely what is happening to millions
of persecuted saints this very day around the world – bear
in mind that false accusations were being heaped upon the
servants of God again and again in Scripture. We should not
be surprised, no matter how unlikely and painful the source
of the accusation. God will ultimately vindicate us, whether
in this world or the next.
As joint heirs with Christ we participate in His purposes
God is not a man, that
He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should
change His mind. (Numbers 23:19)
God is eternal and
unchanging. What He has promised He must fulfil because He
has bound His character to His word. But that understanding
should not make us passive or fatalistic. As Brother Andrew
points out, ‘God’s nature and character may be unchangeable
but His plans are flexible.’ That means that He takes our
petitions into account and responds accordingly. What He has
promised is often conditional upon our repentance or our
diligent seeking of Him.
Change is tiring, and so too is prioritising. But it must be
done. We recently had to renovate the house we had just
bought on Shetland. It was a major task. Like anyone else,
we played around (seemingly endlessly) with designs on the
backs of envelopes – I would never have believed so many
permutations were possible! The planning is crucial because,
as many of you will know, there comes a time when it is
decisions all the way. But twice the Lord spoke clearly to
direct our attention not to do one thing but to do another
instead. What He showed us represented a significant
simplification and cost reduction.
If change is in the air for you today, here are some starter
1. Is the change really
necessary? If so, should it be cosmetic or
far-reaching? I often hope I can get away with the
bare minimum, when the Lord is actually looking for
something more radical.
2. Who will be most affected by the change process?
Pray for all who would seem to be ‘winners’ or
‘losers’ in the process.
3. Pray for every detail. There is a very real
danger that we can glimpse the overall picture but
fail to seek the Lord concerning apparently
4. Expect some people to disagree with your
decision. What we believe to be the right course of
action will often be impatiently brushed aside. It
is easy to get hurt in the process. When you know
there is a better way of doing something, that
someone would benefit from doing this, or reading
that . . . such knowledge can be hard to bear –
especially when our suggestions meet with blank
indifference or even real hostility.
This is the time to pause and
check your bearings. Did the idea really come from God? If
we are confident that it did, we must dig in for the long
haul. Rome was not built in a day, but neither was Egypt
dismantled in a day. Before Moses could enact his daring bid
to rescue the Israelite people, God had to declare ‘time’ on
a well-drilled system that had imposed an iron rule on the
nation for generations.
As a supreme psychologist, God gave Moses his starter orders
– but remained tactfully silent about the plethora of
plagues and other difficulties that would be an essential
part of His plan. The Lord knows full well that if we, like
the Israelite people, knew just how hard certain things were
going to be, our limited vision of God would stop us from
ever starting out.
Just think what would have happened when God asked Abraham
to sacrifice Isaac if Abraham had replied, ‘But Lord, You
promised me a son, You’ve given me Isaac, there’s no way I’m
going to sacrifice what You have given me’. What totally
wrong thinking that would be – but do we never resort to
equally pointless ‘bargaining’ with God?
You have probably pondered the fact Pharaoh was not just a
hard nut to crack, but that it was the Lord who hardened his
heart? God was determined to judge and bring down his empire
for its pride and oppression.
As you pray and work towards the fulfilment of some vision,
you may see little or no sign of iron bars yielding, or the
person you are praying for being set free from the
strongholds that encase them. But if God started you on this
trail, don’t give up. The moment may come when hard-nosed
opponents of the faith become as open and compliant as they
had once been hard and unyielding. If that is true of
individuals, it is occasionally true of empires and nations
too. The Japanese, for example, are now known for their cars
and Nintendo games rather than for kamikaze pilots.
The ‘easy’ shortcut
In acceptance lies
peace. (Amy Carmichael)
Modern day minds are not well
configured to persevere. To continue the automobile image,
we are not called to discard a car simply because it begins
to play up at twenty thousand miles. A few simple repairs
are all it may take to get it roadworthy again. In both
church and society we hear inspiring teaching that
perseverance often succeeds where sheer genius and
inspiration do not – but most of us have difficulty putting
this into practice. We are always looking for shortcuts and
quick solutions. The tantalising thing is that they will
often come our way – just at the time when the Lord is
asking us to persevere with something more difficult.
Paul boasted of the Thessalonian Christians about their
faith and perseverance in the persecutions and trials they
were experiencing (2 Thess 1:4). Jesus taught that ‘the seed
on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart,
who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering (RSV with
patience) produce a crop’. (Mark 8:15)
Writing of patience, William Barclay judges hupomone
to be one of the great Greek words. It is generally
translated 'to bear or to endure'; but what it really
describes is not the spirit which passively bears things but
the spirit which conquers and transmutes them. George
Mathesson, who lost his sight and who was disappointed in
love, wrote in one of his prayers that he might accept God's
will, ‘not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only
with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise’.
Love can bear things thus because it knows that 'a father's
hand will never cause his child a needless tear'. Hebrews
3:6 says we are His house if we hold on to our courage and
the hope of which we boast. Long before a certain brewery
firm took hold of the expression the Bible was telling us to
‘Take Courage!’ Courage to overcome all the obstacles that
lie strewn on the path ahead of us and to keep going
unflinchingly until we reach the particular destination the
Lord has in mind for us.
Hupomone is Jackie Pullinger making no converts for seven
years but continuing to witness to drug addicts in Hong Kong
until finally great numbers turned to Christ. It is John
Wimber praying for the sick and seeing no results until one
day it started to happen.
It is the way that these people responded to their setbacks
and discouragements that mark them out from most of us. We
can learn so much from their example.
Jesus did not run away from His work. He finished what the
Father had given Him to do. Don’t give up in your minds on
what God is giving you to do. He is still leading you and
there is no limit to what God can accomplish through a
surrendered man or woman who dares to attempt great things
for Him! You never know what God can do until you try again.
In The Winged Life, Hannah Hurnard calls Christians
to rejoice in all the things we go through even in our
infirmities and tribulations – and thereby to bring good out
of evil. At the same time, she warns us not to try too hard
to hold on to anything in this life:
Be willing to let go, in order to be able to receive new
riches from the Lord. There have been times of such special
sweetness that one longs to hold on to them for ever, but
the Lord would say to us as he did to Mary in the garden,
‘Do not touch me.’ Pain and anguish there may well be; but
there is a difference between that and torment – which is
the result of refusing to give them up. It is extraordinary
how much determination we can display hanging on to things
that would have been very much better handed over!
Paul illustrates Jesus’ teaching that a grain of wheat must
fall to the ground and die before it can produce real fruit
when he declares, ‘What you sow does not come to life until
it dies.’ (I Cor 15:36) It is the Lord Himself Who gives us
the strength to be willing to let go and to ‘die’. To quote
In order to become creative in eternal things, there is a
principle: everything that is willingly laid down for love’s
sake into death will be raised to life again in some more
glorious and perfect form. It seems, in fact, that dying, in
some form or other, is the only way by which God can produce
in us really creative activity – the power to create and
bring into being something which will outlast our mortal
lives and share in eternity.
All this we can do if our heart and imagination are yielded
to the King of Kings. What a blessing it is when the time to
stop circling the walls of Jericho comes and when we are
released to shout, or at least to speak a word of spiritual
release into a situation. Let us take time to allow the Lord
to lead us. We will often need to mull over an issue,
sometimes for a prolonged time. Suddenly, the way ahead
becomes clear and we sense what it is the Lord is saying
about it. That is when we can pray the power and release of
the Lord into the situation. But we can never presume on
that moment; there is a right time to shout when going round
the walls Jericho, but it is often not the first or the
fifth time but the seventh!
Expect God to break through
No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love Him.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)
Remember our starting point?
Whatever God promises appears impossible! How could the
outcast Moses triumph against the might of Pharaoh?
Especially when Pharaoh passed the shattering decree that
the Israelites were henceforth to build bricks without
How could David on the run ever hope to be king?
How could one man dying on the Cross save the world?
How can absolute surrender turn to victory?
But it does. No situation is too hard for God. The arm of
the Lord is by no means shortened.
It is a truly marvellous moment when God breaks through. But
that is to anticipate the end game … In the meantime we may
have to persevere through phases when everything is dark and
appears to be completely blocked. This is quite normal. It
is how we handle the valley of loss, the middle stage, the
ascent of toil, the wilderness waste that determines whether
we will fall by the wayside or press on into real
fruitfulness for the Lord. If we could bring about the
fulfilment of vision by our own efforts, we would become
incredibly self-reliant incredibly quickly!
As it was said of Mary, ‘Blessed is she who believed that
there would be an outcome to what God had promised.’ (Luke
1:45) Pray to reach the ‘end stage’ that God has promised.
There comes a stage in every vision when everything appears
to go wrong and it seems to be completely impossible and
even goes dead on us.
5~ Snares and Mantraps
(1) A removal wish
Imagine a garden ringed with mantraps. How reluctant you
would be to venture there! But most of us have particular
mantraps in the garden of our hearts – and these constitute
serious obstacles to the renewing of our mind. How about
those nagging feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that
so many of us nurse? If you find yourself wishing you were
someone else, or somewhere else, you may actually need to
forgive God for making you the way you are. The moment we
start to think ‘couldn’t He have done this or that better?’
we are on a slippery slope. We end up blaming the Lord and
withdrawing from situations.
Snares and Mantraps (2) The Imaginary Stumbling Stone
Early in the morning, on what would become known as Easter
Sunday, the two Marys worried their way to the tomb. How
could they fulfil their heart’s desire to anoint the body of
Jesus when they had seen with their own eyes an enormous
stone being rolled in front of His tomb? Their concern was
so great that they did not allow the evidence of their eyes
to prevent them from stepping out in faith to attempt the
service of love that was in their heart. If they had stayed
at home and done nothing, or held back for fear of the
soldiers guarding the tomb, they would have allowed the
stone to have loomed larger than their faith.
When the women reached the tomb, they found that the angel
had got there first and the stone had been rolled away!
Because we know the end of the story from the beginning it
is easy to dismiss the women’s fears. By any normal
standards, however, they were perfectly permissible
Are you facing a huge ‘stone’ across your path? If so, are
you allowing it to stop you from acting on what God has
shown you? You know, deep down, that God has a solution for
rolling away every obstacle from your path. The stone that
appears so insurmountable to you is no great hurdle to Him.
In that sense at least, it is an ‘imaginary’ stumbling
stone: one of those mountains that need to be addressed and
cast into the sea – or that God Himself will deal with in
Snares and Mantraps (3): The over-sensitive soul
If you were asked to name a sin, your first thought would
probably not be ‘touchiness.’ But how do you find working –
or living - with someone who is seriously over-sensitive?
They bristle and bridle at the first hint of criticism and
interpret everything in over the top, if not plainly
paranoid, ways. It is such a delight to spend time with
people who are fundamentally consistent. The details of
their life may go up and down from day to day, but their
underlying heart direction is set on following the Lord.
Lord, where our minds
are cramped and our spirits over-sensitive, may we
be less touchy and easily riled by things that
really do not matter that much in the wider scheme
of things. Soften our tongues and fill our hearts
with truer perspectives and softer words. At the
same time, may we become more sensitive to things
(and people) that really do matter. As we turn and
confess our over-sensitivity may you turn it into a
profound receptivity to Your leading. For Jesus’
Snares and Mantraps (4):
The Fear of Man
This particular mantrap is extremely common amongst God’s
comfort-loving people. Someone once said that as a Church we
have overcome our doubts, but we have not yet overcome our
fears. Fears surround us on every side – however well
disguised they may be. ‘The fear of man [lit. ‘trembling’]
will prove to be a snare.’ (Prov 29:25) Why? Because it
means that we are controlled and overruled by other people’s
opinions even to the point where we no longer have the
courage to say what is right or do what we know, deep down,
we ought to do.
Fear of man keeps us from lending our full support to
someone (or something) in case someone else would disapprove
of our decision. Have you ever held back from witnessing
ostensibly in case people were offended – but in reality
because you were afraid to speak out in case you were
rejected? To fear to offend someone may inadvertently cause
us to grieve the Spirit of God! Look how that proverb
continues: ‘but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ (Pvbs.
Many of us have become so used to living with this hidden
fear of causing offence that we take the way we are for
granted. Some of us confuse this with being ‘seeker
sensitive’ but sensitivity in witnessing is born of love for
others, not from fear of being misunderstood. Seeker
sensitivity is about ensuring that as many unnecessary
obstacles to a person understanding the gospel are removed
as is possible so that he or she can make an informed
decision without being prematurely turned off by
impenetrable Christian jargon or outdated styles of
Other people can usually discern this fear in our lives –
but are we willing to let them mention it to us? At the same
time we have to be careful that others’ fear (or deception)
does not hook into our own weaknesses. Fear, like any form
of deception, has a way of drawing us into itself and is
quite sufficient to keep us from experiencing the full grace
of the Lord.
Fear and worry are so wearying – like driving with the
brakes on. Since so many of us spend so much of our time
worrying, however, it is important to develop strategies for
handling it creatively. If we can ‘catch’ the worries when
they begin to creep into our mind, then we can take hold of
them and turn them into prayer. This is like catching a hand
grenade and throwing it back at those who lobbed it our way.
It turns their negative force into something powerful.
Lord, help us to recognise where the fear of man has
footholds in our lives. We confess that it keeps us from
being on the cutting edge, and hinders us from experiencing
Your power and Your pleasure. Help us to handle our fears
and worries creatively by crying out to You to see Your
purposes triumph. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
~ Soften Our Hearts
The Prophet’s Heart of Grief
Well has it been said that we do not deserve to denounce
anything or anyone unless we are first prepared to weep for
them. There are many who are mourning today who are
unwilling to admit that this is the case. They may even be
unaware of it themselves. To speak with the voice of grief
will often succeed in reaching people’s hearts where a
harsher tone would only alienate.
A parent who shows how much a child’s behaviour is hurting
them may succeed more readily than one who merely rants and
rages. The Lord’s lament for His people in Jeremiah chapters
2 and 3 is perhaps the most moving and lyrical of its kind
in Scripture. It conveys the heartbeat of our loving
Heavenly Father when He sees a person or a nation drifting
far from His ways. Like all true prophets, Jeremiah has the
additional pain of knowing things that others do not: that
the path the nation is set upon is certain to spell
No matter how strong the pressures that were exerted on
Jeremiah to ‘agree’ with the peace prophets, he remained
firm in his conviction that the sins of the nation had
reached the limit of God’s patience, and that a sure and
certain judgement was destined to befall the nation. It was
a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ In many ways, the same is
true for us today.
These are not the utterances of a gloomy doomsayer; they are
words that proceed from a heart that has been truly broken
by God and which reflects His heart. Jeremiah called the
people to face their real situation, just as we must do
today. Our land will not easily be won from its pagan ways,
and from its specifically anti-Christian laws.
The anguish Jeremiah experiences is movingly portrayed–
but so too are his words of encouragement Taken
together, these show the extent to which the Lord Himself is
grieving. Loss cannot be averted, and hence the grief – but
beyond the loss there will, sometime, somewhere, be life
Jeremiah had the courage to express what the other prophets
do not spell out in quite such graphic detail: the pain of
God. He expresses it forcefully, because he knows that this
is what it will take to break through the people’s
passionless complacency. Does it not always take some
experience of suffering to jolt us out of the love of ease?
This is not that awful intimidation that accompanies false
religion, and which places such burdens on people. No, this
is the real thing: raw emotion, and desperate yearning. Such
passionate prayers are the ones that are heard on high.
Where God has charges to bring against His people, we must
heed them. All our efforts are in vain if God is obliged to
withstand us. No matter how great our efforts have been in a
certain direction, if God calls time on them, for whatever
reason, we must not resist His leading. The best and finest
works often have hidden flaws in them, in which case God may
decide to rework the pot that has been marred. We must let
the Potter set about His work. It is no demeaning thing to
be as clay in His hand. He knows what ‘shape’ will finally
emerge, once He has finished working on us. He alone knows
what He must do to relaunch marred and broken vessels.
A Heart of Mourning
The call of God reminds us of the miracles He is capable of
when His people cry out to Him. It also encourages us to
realise that nobody ultimately gets away with anything. What
we sow we shall also reap.
Fear and pride make us reluctant to face up to issues of
failure and death, but God is the God of endings and
spectacular achievements as well as of promising beginnings.
When one phase of our life comes to an end, another is
beginning. All that we have known and learnt over the years
will stand us in good stead in this new departure, even
though there may mourning for the things we are called to
Remember, to the Lord the journey and the process matter
just as much as the final destination! Thus we may often
feel as though we are being put out to pasture or to linger
longer on the shelf when we are ‘between chapters’ in our
life. God is working in the darkness our hearts to prepare
us for the next phase of the journey.
Jesus taught specifically that those who mourn are blessed
in God’s sight. Little things may suddenly trigger this
grief as we realise where we are really up to, whether as
individuals or as a nation. I read last week that there are
225,000 managers in the NHS, often paid exorbitant wages.
But there are only 196,000 hospital beds. That seemed to me
to sum up so much that is wrong in our nation. It led to an
outburst of real grief. The shortest verse in the Bible,
‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35), is pointing to a most important
truth. He wept because He could see where certain actions
and attitudes would lead. We will often weep as we see
things from the Lord’s perspective.
Finally, three vital safety tips and a few encouraging or
challenging verses that will help to keep our mind in good
1. Our mind often plays
tricks on us. Don’t waste your energy bemoaning
circumstances when you could be praising the Lord of
2. Spend more time praising God than fighting the
devil. It is easy to become more enemy-aware than
God-conscious. Seek God Himself and He will take
care of all that is hindering the situation you are
praying for. We are living in the last days, God has
given his marching orders, and our minds need to be
in tune with His.
3. Be careful to bless and not pray against other
We mentioned earlier the
Lord’s declaration in Revelation 2:23 that ‘I am He who
searches hearts and minds.’ I thought it would be
symmetrical and encouraging to end with two or three other
‘I am He who….’ verses:
‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My
own sake, and remembers your sins no more . . .
Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who
will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I
will sustain you and I will rescue you . . .
I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you fear
mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass?’ Isaiah
43:25, 46:4, 51:12)
 Romans 8:6
 Galatians 5:15
 Bob Mumford’s book Take another look at Guidance (Logos)
spells out the nuts and bolts of how we cross-check whether
or not our nudges are from God.
 Acts 13:2
 Something More, Catherine Marshall, (Hodder)
 Isaiah 63:9
 Romans 14:1
 John 3:27
 Mark 14:8
 Romans 4:18, 5:5, 8:24-25; 15:13; Psalm 25:3-7.
 The whole of this chapter emphasises the
trustworthiness of God as He protects His
people against their oppressors.
 Psalm 33:1
 see Jer. 4:19-26, 8:18-9:2. 30:12-13
 Jer. 31:15-25.
 Galatians 6:8,9
 I have written extensively on this subject in ‘Veil of
Tears,’ A Pilgrim’s Guide to Grief. Available from the
address at the end of this publication.
All material in this article may be freely used, if attributed.
Robert Weston, Ruach (Breath of Life) Ministries,
23 Upper Chase Road,