Tag Archives: Alpha Course

Growing in God: Word based, Spirit Directed, the Radical Middle, part 2

 

This is a drawing that I did on Good Friday.  It is called “Carol – When I survey the wondrous cross.”  It’s of my mother, who died this January in Toronto, Canada, while I was tethered to South Africa during chemo treatments.  It will be part of my second colouring book, Colouring with Jesus 2 (the first version of the colouring book is available in South Africa via Takealot). Click here if you are in South Africa and would like to purchase one.

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During the last article, we learned the how important the balance of the Word and the Spirit is in our lives.  I had learned this lesson through Canadian broadcaster David Mainse.  He said, If you don’t have the Holy Spirit in your life, you DRY up.  If you don’t have the Word, the Bible in your life, you BLOW up.  Yet when you receive from both the Word and Spirit together, you GROW up.  I thought that this made sense, but I didn’t ponder on it; other that I should always have a biblical base for sharing my prophetic impressions. After all, I did come to faith in a Baptist church.  They love scripture, and so they should! It’s important to have a good, solid understanding of the Bible.  We need to know the Bible, so we have a standard to go by in our faith.  Our personal devotions and words of knowledge aren’t scripture. But these often repeat scripture in a loving, personalized way.

RT Kendall was one of the speakers at our Iris Harvest School. He’s been on the Word side of the church for years, but he became Spirit-filled along the way.  Since he didn’t come from the Spirit side of the church, he keenly sees some tendencies that could pull people away from what is known as the “radical middle,” or the core of our faith.  This term is used by the Vineyard movement, especially by the late Bill Jackson. [Radical Middle ministries dot org]  I remember hearing the term “radical middle” when I was part of the Vineyard. It was certainly something that they strove for.  They even called themselves a ‘centred-set’ rather than a ‘bounded set.’  What they meant by this, was that mainline denominations have a clearly thought-out set of beliefs. Anything outside of these isn’t a part of their creed.  The Vineyard then saw themselves strongly agreeing on the central aspects that all Christians believe. Secondary, more divisive issues, were less central. Vineyardites could differ on these without it being a big deal.  This attitude seemed to change after the Vineyard distanced itself in 1995 during the Toronto Blessing revival.  Alan Hawkins is a theologian based in North Carolina. He unofficially shared with a Vineyard theology forum that he could see changes in the Vineyard after that unfortunate church split.  He said, “If you read [Bill Jackson’s book] Quest for the Radical Middle, you find an amazing record of the work of the Holy Spirit within the Vineyard. That is, until 1995, at which point the book literally changes character and tenor, and reads like a denominational report.”  If you read Jerry Steingard’s book ‘From Here to the Nations, “it reads like Jackson’s first 19 chapters.”  [unofficial report from a retired Vineyard pastor’s Facebook page, May 10, 2019]  The movement may have become ‘safe’ from scoffers, but they lost their place in the radical middle of Spirit and Word. This unfortunate split has been reconciled, and the Catch the Fire stream will always acknowledge their Vineyard roots.

So when you aim to be in the radical middle, you cling to the core truths of your faith. This helps keep us from going off the deep end.  Life is in the middle of the river, where the water is fresh.  It is in this place that many biblical truths that seem to contradict each other, actually don’t.  I would elaborate, but that’s another for another time.  What is important and what matters are the central truths of our faith. The Alpha Course movement takes that same stance. While the Course began in the Anglican Church, many different streams of the Church use it for seekers and new Christians.  Alpha includes all central aspects of Christianity, while secondary teachings like say, the differences of how to baptize, aren’t discussed. That’s what denominational classes are for. Nicky Gumbel shares an idea that he attributes to early church father Augustine, based on the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace;” but not at the expense of the truth.  Nicky gently shared seventeenth century theologian Rupertus Meldenius’s motto, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty [and] in all things, Charity” in a gentle way. (Click for quote)  Nicky’s explanation was, “In the really essential things of the faith, the things that are at the core of our belief, there would be unity. In the things that are more peripheral (the non-essentials), there be freedom. People can believe different things; that’s fine. And in everything, love.” [Alpha Course, 2009 version, “What about the Church]  This motto has been picked up by many churches, from Anglican to Moravian.  [Mark Ross]

Unfortunately, this conciliatory attitude of unity in essentials hasn’t been adopted by all.  During my research, I discovered one anonymous blog author who wrote: “balancing Spirit and Truth is like trying to balance law and grace.”(for quote click here) [Ben Eastaugh/Chris Sternal-Johnson]  I don’t think this is a fair comparison.  The Bible contains law, but we don’t live BY the law. We need to read the law section of the Old Testament. It teaches us about holiness. The apostle Paul explained Galatians 3:24: “the law was our guardian until Christ came. It protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.”  This means the law teaches and shows us what sin is. But we can’t be made holy through the law; that’s impossible. So you can’t balance living by the law against living by grace. Paul speaks about that in Galatians. That’s going backwards in our faith towards legalism.  This is actually a pitfall of the Word side of the church.  Legalism chokes the life out of you, and only makes you religious.  Danny Silk warned that if teachers play their true role in the church, they will first have to be willing to pursue a supernatural lifestyle.  They will have to be dissatisfied with the armour of their arguments and the lifelessness of their theology. […] Teachers must embrace mystery.”   [Danny Silk, Building a Culture of Honour]

So as faith is dead without works, so theology is dead without the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit helps your faith become active.  The Bible helps your faith become stable.  When Jesus taught his disciples and all those around him, he used “show and tell.” Jesus’ teaching was not passive, even when he taught his disciples to “turn the other cheek.”  This takes an active decision. The writer of Hebrews shared that the Word is alive and powerful, but this is because the Holy Spirit breathes it.  He is the author. Listen to the words of Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

RT Kendall shared in Harvest School talk about how we can grow in godly character and the fruit of the Spirit. This happens through genuine obedience and persistence in our faith, where the Holy Spirit helps us through difficult circumstances. He reforms our hearts. Scripture is an amazing tool to bring change.  Like the scripture in Hebrews 4 that I just shared, this is a living surgical tool. It’s important to not run from this and seek comfort instead.  It takes real guts to be an obedient Christian.  It takes not only head knowledge of Scripture, but also an open heart to let those words transform you.  Say you struggle with fear and insecurity.  You may feel like you are orphaned, and all alone.  Yet, as children of God, who love Jesus Christ, we aren’t orphans anymore. We are loved children.  You may read the words of scripture, but it’s the Holy Spirit that helps you take that word to heart.  It is he who transforms your heart so you can receive that truth, and the love that comes directly from God.

RT told us at Harvest School that we “need to work in the Word, to actively read it, pray it and think on it.  Too often Spirit people want a rhema, or (Holy Spirit) word, because it is quick and we are lazy” [RT Kendall – notes from HS 24, June 15, 2016].   When we pursue scripture with the Holy Spirit, he makes it come alive to us. This is where the practice of Lexio Divina comes in. This is actively reading scripture more than a few times, to allow the words to speak to you.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit can give you an impression of the context of the scripture you are reading.  Say is Jesus is speaking to Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, you can actually imagine Jesus comforting Martha on the death of her brother Lazarus with the hope that he will again be alive.   Jesus was creating a “now moment” full of God’s promise.

These “now moments” are similar to when Heidi Baker ‘stops for the one.’ She does this in obedience to a prompting from the Holy Spirit; the timing is God’s, but there is also a scriptural command to care for the orphans and widows. Some scriptures call these people the “least of these.”  James 1:27 says pure and undefiled devotion, “in the sight of God the Father, is caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”   The third Iris core value is to care for the least of these.  The IrisGlobal site shares:  “We look for revival among the broken, humble and lowly, and start at the bottom with ministry to the poor. God chooses the weak and despised things of the world to shame the proud, demonstrating His own strength and wisdom. Our direction is lower still.” [Iris Global site – https://www.irisglobal.org/about/core-values]

When Heidi responds to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, it’s partly by obedience to God’s general guidance in ministry to the poor. But she’s also obedient to the Holy Spirit for the time and place. Heidi shares many such stories in her books. She also was led in January 2010 to stop for me. She gave me roses, a hug and a kiss.  It took years for me to figure out that Heidi was simply led to bless me. I learned from another Iriser in East London, that Heidi often blesses specific people at conferences this way. And on that day, I was the one.  I was in the centre of that convergence. This was the morning after I responded to a missions call, by giving my yes to a life of service. I didn’t know what that would look like. A ministry team member prayed over me, and shared that I would be working with the poor. There are many kinds of poor.  In Ottawa, we have the refugee poor, the single mothers poor, and the hidden poor who work multiple low paying jobs to make ends meet.  I can identify with the latter, since I’ve only once had a job that was able to cover rent and basic expenses – and even that was short lived.  I’ve always just had a part-time job or no job at all.  If I weren’t helped by my dad or husband, I might have been on welfare, despite having two degrees, art school and radio broadcasting school.  Yet, God still supplied my needs.

Then I met the real poor in Pakistan and different African countries. I worked in Ottawa’s east-end with French-speaking west-Africans.  The poor are among us.  They are in townships and neighbourhoods, sometimes hidden in plain sight, sometimes secluded. Do we really require Holy Spirit to remind us about them?  I believe so, yes.  Sometimes we go about our daily lives, and forget about those around us, because we have tunnel vision.  It takes a prompting to shake us out of our stupor. We need to see a divine appointment that’s set up right in front of us.  I’m very thankful when Holy Spirit gives me that leading. Sometimes the Father wants to do something special right then with that specific person. When you respond to this nudge, it’s obedience to BOTH Word and Spirit. Can you reach out to people with just the Bible scripture?  Of course you can.  But will you?  Perhaps.

Brian Nickens is a valued teacher in Bethel Church, Redding. He used to be a Word Christian, and the pastor of a few Calvary Chapel churches.  He wrote a book called “Hunger Driven: Overcoming Fear and Skepticism of the Supernatural Lifestyle.”  Like RT Kendall, he has a solid foundation of scripture. He became Spirit-filled later on.  He shares on his website [brianknickens.com] that Jesus ministered by both Word and Spirit. He shared a Bible story from Luke 4:31-37:  “ Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. 32 There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.

33 Once when he was in the synagogue, a man possessed by a demon—an evil spirit—cried out, shouting, 34 “Go away! Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 But Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further.  36 Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!” 37 The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region.”

Nickens shares that Jesus taught the word, and acted in the Spirit in the same gathering. He says that “Jesus most often began his ministry events and then operated according to his observations as to what his Father was doing in that given moment.  Notice that response of the crowd after they witnessed the demonized man delivered. [They] said, ‘What authority and power this man’s words possess! Or, more clearly in the World English Bible, “What IS this word?This word “was the declaration and exhortation of the written word of God.  [It] literally agitated and activated the spirit realm.  Jesus did not teach a series on family living, he declared the Word of God.  This kind of example of Word and Spirit is the key that unlocks the kingdom of heaven in our midst.  [It also unlocks] the supernatural realm around us.” [brianknickens.com/word-and-spirit]

Nickens also shares that there are many Spirit people who don’t realize the journey that Bethel Redding has gone through to reach revival.  He says, “so many are reading the books, speaking the language and singing the songs of Bethel; while at the same time, [they] fail to see the big picture as to how they got there.  So many try to attach the bells and whistles of this movement to their ministry.”  [Nickens – website as prev noted]

They may expect the same result, but they won’t get it.  There is no shortcut to excellence, so there is no shortcut to revival either.   Nickens says, “you have to labour in the Word. If you trace the Bethel Redding journey, you will discover [that] it is a journey through the Word of God into the realm of the Spirit.  When … [scripture teaching] results in a move of the Spirit, Bill [Johnson] is never in a hurry to move out of that moment.  That is Revival at its core.”  [Nickens – website as prev noted]

Amos Yong is a Fuller Seminary professor. He reviewed RT Kendall’s book co-authored with Paul Cain.  Cain was to represent the Spirit side of the church, and RT the word side, and yet both were hungry for the other side. Cain encouraged Spirit people to get into scripture, and RT encouraged Word people to embrace the Holy Spirit, while having a biblical base.  Some critics had and still have a problem of using both, despite examples of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.  Amos Yong got to the heart of the matter. He said that “the problem is [in] how to understand the Word and the Spirit as both distinct and independent on the one hand, and yet mutually related and interdependent on the other.”[Amos Yong, “Between two extremes: Balancing Word Christianity and Spirit Christianity: A Review Essay (of a Paul Cain-RT Kendall book) Feb 25, 2000]

There is no either or.  Why choose when you can have both?  Bill Jackson was a writer and Vineyard pastor in various locations. He wrote the book Quest for the Radical Middle, that I mentioned earlier. He and the then Vineyard attempted to combine evangelical Word-based faith, with the Holy Spirit. This was called “empowered evangelicalism or the Third Wave movement.  It included the Vineyard, the Anglican Mission, Soul Survivor, Acts 29, and Canada’s Anglican Renewal Ministries, or ARM Canada.  [paraphrase from radicalmiddleministries.org] I was the secretary and later bookkeeper for ARM Canada, so I was blessed to partake of the Third Wave through the Vineyard, ARM Canada, and the daughter of the Vineyard, Catch the Fire. This became part of my culture, in my own search for the radical middle.  Surprisingly many Word Christians think this middle is actually the extreme.  Yet if you don’t utilize BOTH Word and Spirit, you ARE NOT in the middle at all.

Bill Jackson’s son, who now runs his ministry, notes on their website a beautiful rendition of what is the centre of the river.  He says, “the ‘radical middle’ is the beautiful intersection of the Word and the Spirit.  As empowered evangelicals, we are grounded in the Word of God, while listening to the Spirit of God, as he leads us into mission.  Radical middle people want to be about both the Word and the works of Jesus.  Jesus both proclaimed the reality of the kingdom of God and demonstrated the power of the kingdom.  Our call is to go and do likewise.”  When Word and Spirit converge, there is action and power.

I discovered a suburban Durban church called City Hill, that includes itself in the radical middle.  This is what they say this is: “One could argue that the wheel is one of man’s best inventions. A bicycle wheel, for example, is a brilliant piece of engineering. From the centre of the wheel radiates spokes that support the tyre which rotates and propels the bike forward. If the centre of the wheel is slightly to the left or right or just a little too high or low, the spokes would not be equal lengths and the tyre would not be perfectly round and it would not function the way a wheel should. Are the spokes important? Yes! Is the tyre necessary? Yes! But they would all be redundant without that all-important middle which forms an inherent part of the wheel. The centre is radical!”  The centre is Jesus, who used both Scripture and Holy Spirit. [Bonny Dales, Culture Magazine, Issue 31, from here.

If Jesus is the centre, what does this look like in our lives?   How do we live that out? RT Kendall believes that many forget God’s sovereignty.  They say, “Lord, increase my faith, help my unbelief.”  So, ask God for mercy. You never outgrow the need for mercy. RT shared at our Harvest School that we need to remember the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. We need to respect this.  We also need to remember the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit. It’s too easy to grieve God.  Listen to Ephesians 4:30-31: “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

The chief way we grieve the Spirit is by bitterness. This could be pointing the finger at someone else, losing your temper or road rage. But if you ask Holy Spirit to help you to overcome these, he will give you joy, peace and authenticity.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t be angry – just not vent it in a sinful way.  David took his anger to the Lord in Psalm 69. Mercy tempers anger and cools it right down, which is why we don’t outgrow the need for mercy.   If you do grieve the Spirit, you don’t lose your faith, but you can lose your sense of his presence.  So our job is to be quick to repent.  Imagine if the ungrieved Holy Spirit filled ALL of us.  No one would take offence at mistakes. There would be no bitterness and nothing to prove. This is a beautiful part of being in the middle of the river.

When you have no offence or bitterness in your heart, you can walk with integrity. This is in balance between Word and Spirit.  It becomes easier to HEAR his voice.  Ask God his opinion on the attitudes you have. Work on not grieving Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is like a dove, gentle, untrained and wild.  Pigeons on the other hand are angry birds, that can be trained. Too often we’re like the pigeons that squawk and hurt each other.

The Spirit and Word also converge in surprises.  Allow Holy Spirit to surprise you.  This is where specific nudges come in, based on Jesus’ words to love our neighbours.  The NOW aspect is the Holy Spirit’s timing. This is just like Peter and John with the beggar at Gate Beautiful. It’s like Heidi Baker with stopping for the one. It’s like Matteus van der Steen with stopping the car to reach out to two specific Ugandan street children.  God’s plans are wonderful, as are the specific assignments he gives us. When we walk in that middle, we are in just the right spot to hear God.  So watch your heart, and don’t choose any sides.  Just look up and keep your focus on the Lord.

If we, as Christians, are to fulfill our calls, we are to be a people of love, power, morality, truth, justice and equality.  We are to be an example of how to live: in love, peace and unity with each other. We are also to manifest God’s glory and power.  When we fulfill this purpose, we become the people of the radical middle; as a conscience to our nations, and a living testimony that points to God.

Bert Farias from Charisma Magazine notes that this radical middle is a stance that God often takes in scripture. He doesn’t take sides. One example of this is when Joshua was preparing for the battle of Jericho and his eyes are opened to see the Captain of the Lord’s army.  The  captain follows the Lord’s command, not Joshua’s.  Joshua 5:13-14 shares, “When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”  14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”  So Farias advises, “let us not take sides, but let us move according to the Lord’s command.” [Bart Farias, “The Church must move from the Right Wing and Left Wing into the Radical Middle” Charisma magazine.

Let’s pray. Lord, open our hearts to be at the centre between Word and Spirit.  Take away any bitterness, and offence we may have against others.  We forgive those who have hurt us, and ask for you to heal and soften our hearts.  We want to walk to hear your voice, experience your joy and be at peace as we love others through you.  Bring us to balance and show us mercy, as you transform our character.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on the Coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the listen drop-down menu).  Click here  and scroll down to #56!

If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now about to have a preliminary scan before 16 radiotherapy sessions in Cape Town.  My oncologist believes this may be the last major step of beating the cancer, so it doesn’t return.  I’m also in MLD and compression therapy for lymphedema (also known as lymphoedema), which is swelling of the lymphatic system.  While we explored that this condition was a side result of the mastectomy, I actually had primary lymphedema in my legs since 2006.  It’s time it’s dealt with.  Click here to the medical campaign page for info! 

Blessings to all,
Laurie-Ann Copple

 

Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 3

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last two articles, we began to learn how we can seek guidance and some of the ways that God guides us.  Nicky Gumbel compiles the main groups under the term CSs.  These include Commanding scripture (like when scriptures come alive to us personally), and Compelling Spirit (which includes some of the many ways the Holy Spirit can speak more directly).  We are caught up in the more supernatural ways under compelling spirit.  We can hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a whisper.  We can be given impressions, full movie-like visions, dreams, and inner knowings, which is similar to intuition.  We can be helped and strengthened by angels. Some have had experiences of the audible voice of God, such as Jesus, the prophet Samuel and Heidi Baker, upon her conversion when she was 16.  Heidi shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”

The Holy Spirit can also touch our hearts through anointed Christian music and prophetic art.  I know that some people are comforted with some of my own prophetic art.  It speaks to their souls and gives them hope.  It makes them feel loved.

The other three C.S’s that Nicky Gumbel mentions in the Alpha Course are common sense, counsel of the saints (or wise, praying Christians) and circumstantial signs.  We’ll journey through the first two.

Some Christians seem to put common sense to the side, but this kind of wisdom is important.  We learn this through life experience, and it’s also important when considering your life’s direction.   It’s important to not get “spooky spiritual” and act like every aspect of our lives is supernatural.  We need to be naturally supernatural.   We may be blessed supernaturally, and include this as a daily part of our lives, but we also live in a physical world.  We also have been given minds to think, learn, meditate and reason out things.    Psalm 32:9 reminds us to “not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” We are encouraged to use our minds, albeit with divinely inspired ideas. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 to learn and grow. He told him to “think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.”

Earlier I mentioned it’s important to be naturally supernatural, and not “spooky spiritual.”  Praying out loud in a weird voice, and being overly religious in routine matters are silly things that abandon common sense.  Nicky shares a story in Alpha about one lady who asked God for guidance on which shoes and socks and other clothing items she should wear.  Some things are left for us to decide.  As long as our clothes are clean and modest, there shouldn’t be a problem!

Nicky says, “It is true to say that God’s promises of guidance were not given so that we could avoid the strain of thinking. Indeed, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, said that God usually guided him by presenting reasons to his mind for acting in a certain way. This is important in every area – especially in the areas of marriage and jobs.”

Some people choose to take a certain course of action that seems to be in line with scripture.  They may pray to be given reasons not to go ahead If it is not His will in that case, and to be given peace if it is is the way they should take.

Back in late November 2018, my mother was in the hospital, after some emergency bowel surgery.  I prayed on whether I should return to Canada, and stay with my parents, as I had done three years previously.  My dad had been in hospital for over a month.  My sister begged me to come and care for them, since she could not.   After my dad was released, I cared for him in dispensing the right kind of medicine at the right time, while Mom and I worked on his meals.  I’m glad that I was there for them during those months.  Coming forward to last November, my initial thought when Mom was so ill was that I would be needed to help my dad care for her.  They do have a personal care support worker, although this isn’t always enough.  So I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, a dream, an impression, and had nothing.  However, back in August 2016, I was given a dream, where I had died, but my parents continued on and even thrived without my care.  I remember sharing this dream with Marie, one of our Iris Western Cape leaders.  Marie was given the insight to say, “You’re worried about your parents.  Holy Spirit is saying that he will care for them while you are away on mission.”

I did remember this dream, so it did give me comfort, and I did have peace that they would eventually be OK.  My cousin and aunt stepped in, I had people pray, I texted Mom’s care company with a heads up, and I was able to use my iPad to Skype both parents.  I did all I could from a different continent in a different time zone.  Later, when I shared this story, my friend and colleague Maggie was given the insight that it was actually MY choice on whether I should return to Canada to help.  Yet, what kept me in South Africa, apart from the dream I had been given, came down to common sense.

I weighed pros and cons against each other.  The pros were that it would be helpful to my parents and would bless our relationship.  The cons included the cost of airfare, other transport, and food.  It also included the extra load on Tony being alone in ministry here in South Africa.  While he could have managed, there was also our western coast holiday that he would go on alone, not too exciting.  So I chose to stay and pray.  After I made that decision, I had peace.  Two other missionaries gave me comfort.  One of them told me that she had lost both parents while she was away on missions, first in Asia, and second in Africa.  It was not an easy decision.  Thankfully, Mom had good care, and my dad had some help, although he was out of his element.  We look forward to our time with them on our home visit.  We’ll have four days in July.

Common sense is one of the factors that need to be taken into account  when we choose a partner for life.  It is common sense to look at three important areas:  Note, there are exceptions to the rule, but being in line with these helps.

These include spiritual compatibility, personal compatibility, and physical compatibility.  If you are a Christian, it is best to marry a Christian, preferably at a similar level in their journey of faith.  The Apostle Paul advised that your spouse should be of the same faith, so there is no battle on whose world view comes first.  This example is more extreme, but it does state the point that there is a dissonance that happens when there is such a difference.  1 Corinthians 6: 15-17 says,  Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.  That’s the negative aspect.  People of different faiths and world views will likely clash, or one will succumb to the other.  It’s not always a happy story, although there are exceptions.

On the positive side, two Christians with like callings grow closer when praying, ministering, and studying the Bible together.  As a couple, you are drawn together not only by a shared life and sex, but by a strong spiritual bond that deeply blesses both spouses.  Tony and I acknowledged that bond in our wedding theme from Ecclesiastes 4:12:   A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  Can you imagine what the third strand of the cord is?  One strand is the husband, the second strand, the wife.  The third strand is Jesus. If God is at the centre of the marriage, the marriage will be strong and held together by him.

Potential spouses also need personal compatibility, such as a strong friendship with shared interests that have nothing to do with sex.  Tony and I are married, but we are also friends.  We share music, faith, humour, stories, shared ministry with children and teens, a love for prison ministry and radio.  We both love many kinds of music, although we aren’t joined at the hip in all we do.  We try to support each other in our different talents and interests.  Tony encourages me in my art, and I support him and ask for his wisdom in many things, including engineering matters (his original discipline).  We enjoy each other’s company, without jealously guarding the other for each waking moment.  We do have other friends.

And we do need physical compatibility – to be attracted to each other.  Nicky Gumbel jokes in an old Alpha video that “God does not expect you to marry someone you’re not attracted to.”  This doesn’t take into account pre-arranged marriages, where couples grow to love each other, but I am thankful that these couples do find happiness that grows in their shared lives together.

Common sense is also needed in finding jobs and careers.  If you are in a specific career when you come to faith, it’s best to stay there unless you are called to something different, for a different season of your life.  When I came to faith, I was an artist, but my income was as a grocery store cashier.  I stayed there for another seven years, before I became an office worker.  But that wasn’t my career, it was my job.  Somewhere between coming to faith and giving up my cashier job, was my call into ministry.  I called it ministry with a Big M.  I didn’t know what that would look like at the time, whether I would be a hospital chaplain, assistant pastor, or a missionary.  However, coming to faith does not mean that you will be a pastor or a missionary.  You could be, but God can use you where you are.   We need godly people in all professions.

The Apostle Paul also encouraged the Corinthians who had become Christian to stay in their profession at least for a season.  Here is what he says in 1 Corinthians 7:17, and 20-24:   17 Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.  20 Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you.21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.[a] 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters,[b] should remain as you were when God first called you.”

Yet, if you feel increasingly uncomfortable in your job, then ask yourself,  “Where is this job taking me?”  What is my long-term vision, and does this lead to it?  Or should I go in another direction?    Write out your pros and cons list, but be open to other ways that may confirm the way you go.  Just before I left my cashier position, the company told us that they were giving everyone a pay cut, and for those who would leave, they would get $750 Canadian dollars for every year they had worked for the company.  This was a buy-out.  The pay-cut was over five dollars an hour, and I wasn’t given that many hours as it was.  I was tired from long hours on my feet, and while they originally said no to my request for the buy-out, they eventually relented.  I was given enough of a pay-out to buy a computer and nice office clothes. At the time I was learning word processing and computers in between my first degree and studying for my second.   I remember at the time, that while I chose the route of leaving the job through common sense, this was confirmed by the still small voice of the Holy Spirit telling me that “this was the end of an era.”  And so it was.  I had worked as a cashier for fifteen years.

The next CS is Counsel of the saints, where we seek wise mature Christians for prayerful advice.  These people could be mentors, pastors, older family members and people you are drawn to for their godly wisdom.  When I mention the word saints, perhaps for some of you, you picture paintings or sculptures of heroes and heroines in church history.  Some of these have been canonized in the Catholic church.  I don’t specifically mean these people.  Saints in a generic sense means anyone who has come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Some of these people are very wise and very godly.  Wisdom is regarded as an excellent virtue to live by, and is elevated in the book of Proverbs.  Generally though, we can all agree with Proverbs 12:15, which is “A wise man listens to advice.”  We really don’t know everything.  We need help from each other to not make mistakes that will cause pain.   Proverbs 15:22 also reminds us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they will succeed.”   Proverbs 20:18 advises that we need to “make plans by seeking advice.”

However, Nicky Gumbel shares that while seeking advice is very important, we need to remember that ultimately, our decisions are between us and God. They are our responsibility. We cannot shift that responsibility onto others or seek to blame them if things go wrong.”  The counsel of the saints is part of guidance; but it is not the only part. Sometimes it may be right to go ahead in spite of the advice of others, particularly if there is other guidance that leads that way.

When Tony and I were preparing to come to South Africa for three years, we were not sure what to do with our condo.  We wanted to rent it out and live there on our return.  We were advised by our financial planner to sell the condo, invest that money, and not worry about the other overhead.  This meant that on our return to Canada, we would have to rent an apartment.  Tony initially seemed OK with this, but I grew uncomfortable and even angry.  It just didn’t seem right.  So I asked my Facebook prayer group to pray into whether we should sell or just rent out our place.  We also made a pro-con list, so we were also using common sense.  Tony told me that if we sold, we would lose our equity line of credit and would not qualify for another one on our return to Canada.  Then the prayerful advice rolled in from many in the group.  Some had words of knowledge “not to sell.”  Others just had an inner knowing that it wouldn’t be right to sell.  One friend telephoned to tell me so, and that to sell would be a major distraction.  It was hard enough renting and clearing out our condo for the couple who eventually did rent.   We would have been moved significantly off our timetable if we sold.  I am thankful now that we have a place to return to when we go back from our South African assignment.

So when we are faced with a decision where we need advice, whom shall we consult?  We need wisdom.  The writer of Proverbs tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  This is especially the case when advice is from those who love and revere the Lord.  Nicky Gumbel says that the best advisors are usually godly Christian people with wisdom and experience whom we respect. It is also wise to seek the advice of parents whom we are to honour, even if we are past the ages of being under their authority.  Even if they are not Christians, they know us very well and can often have important insights into situations.”

Nicky has found it a real help throughout his Christian life to have someone who is a mature Christian, whom he respects and to whom he can go for advice on a whole range of issues.  Often God’s insight has come as they talked through the issues together.

When it comes to bigger decisions, it is helpful to seek a range of advice. When Nicky was facing whether to become an ordained Anglican priest, he sought the advice of his parents, his two closest friends, his pastor, and those who were involved in the official process of selection.  The people whom we ask for advice should not be chosen on the basis that they will agree with what we have already planned to do!  Don’t just choose “yes” people who will rubber stamp your leaning.  We should consult people on the basis of their spiritual authority or their relationship to us, regardless of what we may anticipate their views to be.

Take your time when you are choosing.  You don’t need to be in a rush, unless the decision is time-sensitive, as ours was for selling or renting our condo.

During this article, I’ve shared some of the more practical ways that God guides us, through common sense and counsel of the saints.  Thinking things through logically on what works best in your situation is extremely valuable. Seeking godly advice is scripturally and practically important as a foundation.  Wisdom is a godly virtue that at best points to God.  I also remember an evening in Harvest School where were learning about the prophetic ministry from David Wagner.  He called up people who had either never had a prophetic word given to them, or had never given one to someone else.  Tony went up and David took him under his wing.  By the end of the evening, Tony was prophesying over people, loving them and encouraging them.  His ears just needed to be fine-tuned.  In the midst of this teaching, David stunned everyone by these words, “I want you to know that if any of you are lacking wisdom and want it, ask Tony.  He has the gift of wisdom.”  And David wasn’t just talking about common sense, logic and compassion, which Tony has in abundance.  Now he was given a deposit of godly wisdom, in tune with the heart of the Father.  Yet still, we as a couple still need the love, and guidance of God through our Christian community, and our Iris family. We are not meant to live our faith on our own.  This is all what the counsel of the saints is all about.  We need each other.

I pray that you have been blessed by our journey through some of the ways that God has guided us.  What I’ve shared is only a taste of a much larger menu.  I encourage you to seek the scriptures yourselves.  Ask Holy Spirit to still your heart, fill you with peace and enlighten your common sense as you think through your decisions.  Also listen to his promptings on whom to seek wise advice from.  You’re not alone.

Lord, I ask that you will touch every heart that reads this article.  Point them to you. Open their inner eyes and ears to see you with them, in whatever circumstance they are in.  Surround and fill them with your love, as they seek you.  Show them that you have plans to prosper them, and not to harm them.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca and scroll down to #46

Do you have a favourite way that God speaks to you?

Blessings, Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, South Africa

 

Ways to Grow in God: Learning how God guides us part 2

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

In the last article, we began to learn some of the ways that God guides us.  There are Old Testament scriptures about what happened when the Hebrews, Israelites and then the Jews didn’t follow God’s plans for them. They instead did not trust God, and made their own plans. A good example of this is in Isaiah 30, when some Jews fled to Egypt, when they were asked not to do so. It broke God’s heart, yet there was always a remnant that stayed true.  Quite often, when left your own unaided decision making, you end up in places you shouldn’t be, and eventually live to regret it.  Nicky Gumbel shares that many new Christians say to him “I wish I had become a Christian five or ten years earlier. Look at my life now. It’s such a mess.” If we are to find out about God’s plans for us, we need to ask him about them.

When we are seeking guidance for our lives, there is general guidance, as shown through scripture and there is specific guidance.  When we are making major life decisions we may need confirmations in the many ways that God speaks to us.  He gives us directions, but he’s not a cosmic GPS.  He’s so much more than that.

There are five CS’s – and we started our journey through the first CS – Commanding scripture, and learned some of the second CS – Compelling Spirit.  That is the Holy Spirit.   Sometimes a scripture verse can seem to leap off the page of the Bible into your heart.  It isn’t taken out of its original context, but it’s like the Holy Spirit breathes into the words that he originally inspired – to have an encouragement just for you.  It could be about the love of God for you as his child.  It could be about having to leave your parents’ house or country to go somewhere new. This was the call of Abraham, and also the same call to many missionary monks from Ireland.    Some are called to stay single, others to get married.  Sometimes that person is shown their spouse, and other times, we are given more choices, as long as they are compatible, love God and have a similar calling.

Compelling Spirit is the second CS.  It’s one of the more supernatural ways of hearing God.   Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to grab us through dreams, impressions during prayer, godly desires, and supernatural enlightenment of our minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit works in different ways. Some are quiet, some are not.    He speaks through our conscience, to stop and love the one.  Or to show kindness in another way, like saving a life.

God often speaks in impressions when we pray.  Shawn Bolz shared recently at a Toronto conference that God speaks to most people in impressions.  He does this in a quiet way so we lean into him for more.  It’s not like he’s shouting in an audible voice from a distance.  He’s not distant at all.

Impressions and pictures are the major ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to me.  This is because I’m an artist, and I also get guidance in how to pray and encourage others in this way.  Tony gets loving thoughts in his mind, this is also called the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.   This is one the most common ways that the Holy Spirit speaks, after illuminating scripture and impressions.  He can remind you of scripture, past events, and also give inspirational ideas for art, business and to bless relationships.

But we need to test these thoughts and pictures.  Sometimes they are from God, and other times from our own strong desires or even from the devil.  So you check if the impression promotes love, lifts up Jesus and is in line with the Bible. What is the motive behind the picture or word?  Does it give you peace or fill you with love and joy?  Here are a few examples: Impressions of greed, causing someone harm, or a fantasy of having lovers we are not married to is not from God.

God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something.  During the last broadcast I shared about Tony’s change of heart to go on his first mission trip with me in Kenya.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience for him, although he was initially reluctant.  It took the Holy Spirit to change his mind – in a space of a few short minutes.  The same happened with Tony’s application to Harvest School, although this was a longer process.  It took weeks for Tony to come around and decide to answer God’s call to him as a missionary for a season.  While I had accepted my call gradually by a series of saying yes, he had to grow from no to a yes.  But since then, Tony has become an amazing and loving missionary.  It’s a calling that takes in whatever skills, talents and drives each of us possess.

God guides us in more unusual ways.  Impressions and the still small voice are ways that God often speaks to most of us, including well-known prophets.  God often does not shout, but whispers.

I have had had many gentle whispers from the Holy Spirit in my journaling times, soaking prayer times, when I am worshipping, and sometimes when I draw.  This is how I expand drawings into prophetic art, from the smallest of impressions, that grow deeper as I dive into the prophetic pool, so to speak.  I had one directive impression in 2014, when I was driving to Toronto to see my parents.  I had planned a little trip with my mother to the Finger Lakes area of New York State.  Just out of the blue, I had an impression that I would be teaching African children about art.  I had hoped that I could also teach radio, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So when I was offered the position of teaching art at Worcester’s MasterPeace Academy, it fitted.  So did turning my newer prophetic drawings into what will be a colouring book.  I know there’s so much more in store for me as I continue to walk that specific part of my calling.

Yet, there are examples of some even more fantastic ways that God can share a message with us.  God spoke to the prophet Samuel when he was a child – not with the still small voice in his heart, but an actual audible voice.   In this story, young Samuel kept hearing a voice calling to him, and he thought it was his mentor Eli, whom he lived with.  The story goes as follows:  Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”  “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.   Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”  Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”  Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”  Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.  10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

This was the beginning of Samuel’s ministry as a prophet to Israel.  He was used to minister to many, including King David as a boy. He was the one who prophesied he would be king, and anointed him for the eventual position.

Jesus heard the audible voice of the Father after his water baptism in the Jordan river.  Matthew 3:17 shares that the audible voice said, “This is My Son, whom I love; this is the Apple of My eye; with Him I am well pleased.”  Our own Iris Global co-founder Heidi Baker also heard the audible voice of God the day she came to faith.  She shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”  And so she did.

There are many biblical examples of God guiding his people through angels – in the case of Abraham, Joseph and Peter.   In Abraham’s story, three angels visited him in the guise of men.  In Genesis 18, they told him that he and Sarah would have a child in a year.  In Genesis 16, an angel also came and told Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, a message of hope and survival.  An angel appeared to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, in a dream three times.  In Matthew 2:13, He was warned to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, since King Herod was sending soldiers to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. The same angel then told Joseph when it was safe to return home.  The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who announced to her a special calling.  This was right before she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 12, the apostle Peter was also freed from prison by an angel.   Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist was also told by an angel about his barren, middle aged wife becoming the mother of a special prophet.

Angels have also encouraged and strengthened, such as Joshua at the city of Jericho in Joshua chapter 5, and others have been involved with commissioning, such as the angels with hot tongs, in Isaiah’s commissioning.

I’ve encountered angels in human form quite a few times, when I’ve been spared dangerous circumstances. I’ve often sensed them, but I’ve not yet seen one in angelic form with my earthly eyes.  Two prophetic leaders in my life have regular stories about them – Shawn Gabie, pastor of Kingdom Culture, and Darren Canning, a Canadian prophet, artist and writer.  I used to work as Darren’s assistant, which was a wonderful time. During that year, I once told Darren I always wanted to see an angel, and he replied that I do see them.  Have I been guided by one?  Yes, to safety.  Yes, when I worship.  But it’s more the Holy Spirit that guides me personally, although I know that angels are there to protect me and strengthen me.  I sense their presence, and I’m thankful for their ministry.

God guides through visions – These are stronger than fleeting impressions that we may have when we pray.  They can seem like full movies that come when we’re awake, but it seems that we may be in an interested trance.  Peter had such an experience on his rooftop before he was asked to come to Cornelius’s house to minister.  This experience, and the resulting time at this God-fearing Gentile’s house, transformed Peter’s ministry beyond being to Jews only.   In Acts 16, Paul also had a powerful vision showing a Macedonian man calling to him and asking for his help.  This was authoritative guidance.

God guides through dreams.  Earlier I mentioned the dreams of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  He was given two dreams concerning moving his family into and out of Egypt.  When he was engaged to Mary and still confused on how to handle her pregnancy, he also had a dream that confirmed that the baby was conceived through the Holy Spirit, and he had a calling to care for them.

Tony and I had many dreams leading us to South Africa. Others also had dreams that affected us.  One such dream was from one of my Ottawa pastors, Joe.  I remember going to Joe and asking for prayer and advice on whether it was the right thing to do for Tony and I to sell our house and downsize into a condo – one that had just been offered to us.  After all, we were expecting to go to Harvest missions school, how could we sell a house, and move into a condo at the same time?   Pastor Joe looked at me with an excited look on his face and told me that he had a dream that was about me.   In his dream, I had asked him to take care of a beautiful two bedroom condo while we were in Africa.   This was the first confirmation, and there were others that followed it.  So Tony concentrated on the sale of the house, we both downsized, and I concentrated on preparation for Mozambique and South Africa.  We did enjoy the condo, and know it will be there for us when we return from our time in South Africa.  It’s currently rented out, so it pays for our rent here in Worcester.

The first dream that we ourselves had leading us to South Africa was initially Tony’s.  While we were in Pemba, Mozambique, Tony woke me up in the middle of the night, after he had an intense dream.  He dreamed that I had a baby, but he didn’t get to see the baby, due to various distractions from family, work and other involvements. I knew from studying about dreams in a seminary course, that babies can symbolize something new.  That something could be a ministry, idea, or business that would require care to launch and nurture.   I remember asking Tony what colour the baby was.  Since we were in Mozambique, I expected the baby to be a beautiful brown shade.  He didn’t know the ethnicity of the baby, since he didn’t get actually to SEE the baby.  So I prayed and asked that the Holy Spirit would give me a download of what the baby looked like – whether by dream, vision or impression.  I didn’t have to wait very long. I was given an impression of the baby during worship in the Harvest School hut.  I asked to see the baby up close, and it was like I was looking at a beautiful black baby in a bassinet.  Then the baby changed colour, again and again to look like many colours.   I was confused about what that meant.  Did it mean many children all over the world?

Then came our extended outreach in South Africa’s Western Cape. We had already had impressions, feelings, general knowings, and prophetic words from others about South Africa, so we felt comfortable with the idea of exploring ministering here. Our group stopped for coffee and a picnic near Swellendam, and I shared with our Iris leaders Johan and Marie Fourie about this dream and some others.  While it’s Marie who often interprets dreams, it was Johan who confirmed this one.  Johan laughed, and said, “That is a rainbow baby. Do you know what South Africa’s nickname is?  It’s the rainbow nation.  You are called here.”

We both had other dreams that confirmed our ministry together, and I’m thankful these were written down so they weren’t lost.  I’ve re-read them since, and they’ve given comfort and confidence.    If you would like to read more about the dreams and words that called us into ministry, please go to our copplewestern.ca website, and click on the dreams page!

There is also a recorded dream in church history that gave a long-suffering praying Christian mother hope for her son’s future.  Monica prayed for her son in the fourth century AD/CE.  At the time, her son was a seeker.  He experimented with different philosophies and slept around.  He even had a child.  His mother was given a vision of her son in heaven, glorifying Jesus lovingly with all his heart.  This gave her hope to keep praying, until his conversion.  The day he did come to faith, in 386, he had a supernatural realization about reading the Bible, when a neighbourhood child was chanting “Pick up and read. Pick up and read.”   He thought the child may be singing a children’s game, but he didn’t recognize the song. Then he realized the song may be about reading scripture, so he found a Bible and opened it to the first passage he saw.  A scripture jumped off the page into his heart.  I was from Romans 13:13-14.   Augustine read, “Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.”

Augustine felt as if his heart was flooded with light. He turned his back on his former way of living, and never went back.  He became a major leader and theologian in the early church.   Never underestimate the prayers of praying Christian relatives!

God also guides supernaturally though our conscience – to do the right thing.  This is part of stopping for the one.  When we see someone in need and our heart fills with love, we know we have to act.   May our hearts be able to feel this compassion and not become too hard or uncaring.

During this article, I’ve shared some of the more supernatural ways that God guides us, with dreams, visions, impressions, angels, and the audible voice of God, which is one of the more rare ways.   In our next article, we’ll share some ways that are just as important, but may be overlooked. These are common sense, counsel of praying people, and circumstantial signs.

I pray that you have been blessed by our journey through some of the ways that God guides us.  What I’ve shared is only a taste of a much larger menu.  I encourage you to seek the scriptures yourselves.  Ask Holy Spirit for an encounter.  Ask him to show you Jesus, and the Father.

Lord, I ask that you will touch every heart that reads this article.  Point them to you. Open their inner eyes and ears to see you with them, in whatever circumstance they are in.  Surround and fill them with your love, as they seek you.  Show them that you have plans to prosper them, and not to harm them.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Be blessed my friends,
Laurie-Ann

To hear an audio version of this article, visit the podcast page  and scroll down to #45.

 

Growing in God: Learning how God guides us part 1

 

During our last article, we learned that we can fast from negativity.  As we continue the process of rooting out lies we believe, and ongoing complaints that draw us down, we become more free.  We learn a higher perspective, and see life with promise and hope.  I hope that you are continuing to live, think, see and speak positively.  While we may encounter difficult times, we don’t need to make it worse. In fact, we can receive blessings and joy even in times like those.

There is one commonality in all seasons: difficult and easy – God’s faithfulness.  He does not change and continues to carry you through thick and thin. We also discover the depth of God’s love, since this really is all we have.  We need to hear and listen to God’s voice. This is a time for learning deeper identity in Christ, where we learn that he does fulfill our deepest needs of significance and security.

It’s good to bring our major decisions to God.  We need to make decisions every day – but we have potential to grow in these decisions.  One is in how we spend our money.  Another is in how we spend our free time.  These resources are not endless, but while we can grow our finances, we can’t gain more time.  And then there are our really big decisions.  Where to live?  What career should we work towards?  Which church or ministry do we join?  If we are to marry, whom should we marry?  We all need God’s help. Guidance is part of our relationship with God.  Psalm 32:8  gives us the promise that the Lord “will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”  So we need to seek him.  Jesus taught that he is the shepherd and we are his sheep.  He was originally speaking to country folk, but he also speaks to us, today.  We must learn to know his voice.  John 10:3-4 shares that “the gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.

We need to understand our purpose and why we were put on this earth.  The first commandment is to love God. But we all have callings. Some will be creatives, others engineers, some pilots, others entrepreneurs. But that is not all we are.  The future possibilities are more varied than we think.   God has a plan for our lives.   So we are encouraged to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:17. He said “don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”  And in Ephesians 2:10, he shared: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God has a unique job for us?  Yes he does!  And it’s not always to be a pastor or work in a church.  Most of us are called to something in the marketplace.  You could be a godly businessman, a teacher, a writer, an astronomer, musician, chemist and so much more.  What makes your heart sing?  The prophet Jeremiah shared in Jeremiah 29:11,  “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Nicky Gumbel shares, “God is saying, ‘Don’t you realize that I have a really good plan for your life? I have prepared something wonderful.’ This cry from the Lord’s heart came because he saw the mess his people had got themselves into, when they didn’t follow his plans.  All around us we see people whose lives are in a muddle. Often people say to me after they have come to Christ, ‘I wish I had become a Christian five or ten years earlier. Look at my life now. It’s such a mess.’ If we are to find out about God’s plans for us, we need to ask him about them.”

We make mistakes when we fail to ask God for help.  We stumble on our own past mistakes, bad advice, and confusion.  Sometimes we try to please our parents instead of following the path we’re meant to lead.  One example is Vincent Van Gogh’s physician, Dr. Gachet, whose father wanted him to become a doctor, but his dream was to be an artist.    And then there’s the case of rebellion.  How many of us pull a Jonah and run from God, and then end up in the belly of a fish.  Isaiah shared God’s heart in Isaiah 30:1-2:  “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,    thus piling up your sins.  For without consulting me,  you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade.”  Pharoah in this example is a symbol for leaning on worldly help, rather than God’s help.

Jesus led the way by consistently following the Holy Spirit.  In Luke 4:10 and John 5:19, he said that he only did what he saw the Father doing.  He also knew his purpose from the beginning, although he also had to trust the Father.

When I was baptized as an adult, I was given a scripture by my then pastor, Laurie Barber.  It’s Proverbs 3:5-6, which is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  This has been one of my guiding words, so  I return to these verses often. Psalm 37:5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”

This guidance works whether it’s in finding a life partner, ministry partner, job or where to live.  Nicky Lee met his wife Silla in university. During that time, he came to faith, but Silla did not at that time.  He wanted to pursue his relationship with her, and asked God for guidance.  He prayed that if the relationship were to continue, she would come to faith by the end of the term. On the last day of the term, they attended a party, and at the end of it, Silla asked Nicky to go for a drive. She blurted out random directions, which brought them to a place that had great significance to her.  She turned to her boyfriend and asked to be led to Jesus.  At the very end of the term, just before midnight, Nicky had his prayer answered.    Sometimes the answer is gradual. Other times the guidance is instant, although it takes time to work through the details.

God’s guidance, as described in the Alpha course, comes down to Five CSs.  This isn’t CS Lewis, but rather: Commanding scripture, Compelling Spirit, Common Sense, Counsel of the Saints, and Circumstantial signs.  We’ll journey through the first two.

Commanding Scripture usually involves general guidance. Some general guidance shows that we can be sure about certain things that are wrong.  Here’s one example. If a married man falls in love with another woman and wants to leave his wife, can this be God’s will?  No, he is not being led by God.  It says in Exodus 20:14, that you shall not commit adultery.  Another example relates to the justification for paying our taxes. We’re shown in Romans 13:7 that paying taxes is our civic duty, and what is due to the government should be paid.

Then there is specific guidance – through scripture illumination.   There are many examples in Church history of missionaries who were given their calling and direction through one verse.  The original call and context was to Abraham, but others had a similar call to leave their homes and trust God.  They were given comfort in the Lord’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” This same call was repeated in Genesis 18, since Abraham had moved but still had not left yet his country. This was a common call to the Irish missionary monks that travelled all over Europe from the seventh to eleventh centuries.

However we need to be discerning when seeking scripture illumination. Nicky Gumbel  says “Sometimes a verse seems almost to leap off the page at us.”   But don’t just open a Bible at random and expect a message – it could get very confusing. Imagine if you open a Bible to the verse where Judas decides to hang himself, and then you open to the verse where Jesus says “go and do likewise.” That’s not God’s leading – it’s scripture confusion.

Let’s go back to general guidance. There are scriptures saying that we should marry a Christian and not someone of another faith. One of these is 2 Corinthians 6:14, where the Apostle Paul advises, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?”   But the Bible doesn’t say specifically who to marry!  God will guide you another way for that.  Paul also advises about whether you should change your job when you become a Christian.  He generally advises not to.  Job changes do happen in scripture, but it’s more common to remain in the same job with kindness and influence.   Peter and some of the disciples changed their profession of sorts. They were fishermen, and then they became fishers of people.  Levi the tax collector left his job for Jesus, but others are called to live faithful lives where they are.  Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, to basically, bloom where you are planted unless you are called out of your job into something better.  Paul was speaking about being an indentured slave or servant, which in his days was not like the brutal human trafficking of current days.  We can liken this scripture to employment.  Paul says,  Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it.”

Not everyone is called to be a pastor, priest or missionary.  One of the leaders of our Afrikaaner church believed she was called to full-time ministry in music and teaching.  Her outreach has touched many people, and she was the first speaker we saw in our church.  I still remember her talk about the colour purple and our identity in Christ. It tied in with a vision I was given three times in our church.  Jesus is indeed calling us into our true identity.  However, that doesn’t mean that your calling is to go into long-term full-term ministry.  Sometimes it’s for a season, and other times, it’s a part-time thing.  All of us are called into ministry, not just those who are clergy.   It turned out that Erika’s call included her very much needed medical skills.  I applaud her for having a re-think and confirming that she has more than one ministry.  Caring medical professionals in their places are indeed fulfilling a calling.  I have great respect for the South African doctors who have listened and treated me.

Nicky Gumbel has his own calling story.  He comes from a family of lawyers – barristers in particular.  He still has a very logical way of describing faith and life stories. He had fifteen different occasions where he was spoken to about leaving the law profession to become an Anglican priest.   Many of these were various scriptures in circumstances that led him to his final decision to say yes.  He finally was given a prophetic word by someone later that gave confirmation to his call.

Compelling Spirit is the second CS.   Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to grab us through dreams, impressions during prayer, godly desires, and supernatural enlightenment of our minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit works in different ways. Some are quiet, some are not.

Sometimes this compelling comes in a way that strikes our consciences. The Apostle Paul tried to go to two provinces in what is now present day Turkey to preach the gospel and minister to the people there. Twice they were given strong leadings that said NO to going there. While these areas later accepted the gospel, God had other plans at that time.  It was then that Paul was given a strong dream of a man from Macedonia, and they knew they must go there instead.  Read Acts 16 and you’ll have the story.  If Paul had not listened, he wouldn’t have met key future leaders in the church, like Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. And there are more examples.  So listen!

God actually speaks to us when we pray.  Imagine going to a doctor and sharing a list of current and past illnesses, along with all their symptoms.  It’s like you’re reading a shopping list. Then you decide at the end of the list that it’s time to leave, so you thank the doctor and leave without hearing what they have to say.  Can you imagine how that doctor feels? They wanted to help but weren’t given the opportunity.   So if we do stop and listen, after we share our hearts, what will we hear?

God often speaks in impressions.  These can be a thought that comes into our minds, or a picture. Tony gets thoughts, I get pictures, although sometimes we can get both.  These need to be tested, since the thoughts or pictures aren’t always from God.  Sometimes they are from ourselves, or somewhere else.  Does the impression promote love?  Is it in line with the Bible?  Does it lift up Jesus?

Paul Cowley is a man who God has inspired to work with inmates, the military and the homeless.  His past life of brokenness brought him through prison, the military, two divorces and finally to a life in Christ and a loving family.  He has encouraged many inmates, ex-offenders and us personally when we drove him around on a visit to Ottawa back in 2006.  He shared in a recent Alpha Course video about how he was given an impression to bless his complaining, bitter father.  His dad was also sick and he helped care for him in hospital.  When it was time to send him home from London to Manchester, Paul was given an impression on his heart on how to bless his dad.  He brought him to Euston station, “put him on the train and sat him down.  Right in the middle of the carriage (he says he) had this overwhelming feeling of love for (his) dad.  It was really weird.  (He) almost started to cry in the carriage. Paul looked at him and felt really sad for him, that they had never really had a relationship.  (He remembers) having a meal with his father.  All that stuff came up for him. And in his mind, came this idea, to upgrade his ticket, to a first-class ticket to Manchester. Paul bought a very expensive single first-class ticket back to Manchester.  He walked him into the first-class compartment; he sat him down and kissed him on the head.   Then as Paul stood on the platform with his wife, Amanda, she asked “What on earth are you doing?” He said, you know what? I have no idea.  I just really wanted to see my dad happy.’  And as Paul looked at him through the window of the carriage, he saw his father took his hat off and put it on the table.  He hit the recline button and went back in his seat.  Then he clicked his fingers, and some of the waiters brought him a cup of tea and biscuits.  And he got his newspaper out and started to read it. And as he was doing that, he just turned to look at Paul out of the window.  He had the biggest smile on his face that you could ever see.  It was like every birthday, every Christmas had all come together.  And he was beaming.  That was the last time that Paul ever saw his father. Three weeks later, he died of a massive heart attack.  Paul then thought, “was that me, making up an idea that I might buy him that ticket?  Or was that God guiding me?  Paul has a real peace with his father now.  Despite years of heartache and grief, Paul’s image of his dad is of his beaming face from the train carriage as he drove off.”   This is a beautiful example of how a loving impression that’s acted on can bring great blessings from God.

God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something. An example of this is from Philippians 2:13, “God works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.” This was a scripture that Nicky Gumbel battled with for some time.  When he first came to faith, he didn’t want to be a priest. Eventually he came round and was very happy to be one.  In time he felt it was all he wanted to do.  When God gives you a strong desire to do something, it doesn’t mean that he will give you your worst fear.  It just means that he has something for you that you will love, and he will help you prepare your heart for it.

Tony also experienced this change of heart three times.  The first time was after I encouraged him for weeks to go on a short-term mission in western Kenya.  We were invited to Migori, Kenya to plant the Alpha Course and my own early Ways to Grow in God teachings.  After a month or so, the two of us went on a Daniel fast, which is to be vegetarian, for eight days.  Many people also prayed over us, and yet Tony believed he had not yet heard from God on whether to go with me.  He kept saying no. He told me it was my thing and not his, even though this particular trip was tailored to have him encourage and teach Alpha leadership, which is and was his heart. He didn’t see that aspect of it at the time.   So I eventually put my heart’s desire and what I believed was God’s call back into God’s hands.  Only God could make it happen. I’m not God.

I went away for a weekend to Belleville, Ontario and stayed with a close family friend.  That morning I prayed with a ministry team member and shared my heart.  I finally felt peace.  That afternoon, Tony called me with a different tone in his voice.  He wasn’t harsh but rather, full of joy.  He came right out with, “I have something to tell you. We’re going to Kenya!”   I couldn’t believe my ears.  Apparently Holy Spirit spoke to him and changed his mind within a few minutes. Everything made sense to him.  What the Holy Spirit said to him floored me.  He said, “Hey you.  Your wife gave up her missionary career to marry you.  The least you can do is to make her dream come true and go to Kenya short term with her.”  It was like Tony was hit by a cricket bat.  He hadn’t always recognized the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.  It takes time to recognize his voice.

Tony went through a similar process again before applying for Harvest School after his retirement, although he had two prophetic words spoken over him about a new ministry that would start a new chapter of his life.  He relented and applied for Harvest School, along with my own re-application from the year earlier.  It was the right time, and Tony was willing to go through the experience. He thought it may enhance the many different lay ministries he already did in Ottawa.  There’s nothing wrong with his ministries.  It’s just that God had a new season for him, as well as me as a couple.  It was time for us to jump into ministry together.

Tony’s experience at Harvest School began with resistance, since Heidi Baker spoke a bit too soon on the long-term call for his comfort.  She was to speak on our identity and calling, which is an essential foundation of our faith, let alone ministry.  However, there were so many young students keen on a long-term call, that Heidi responded to their yearning. So Tony was annoyed and told me that he didn’t want to be a missionary.  This upset me and I grew very sad and quiet.  People noticed, but I didn’t know what to say in my frustration.  I felt like I was stuck, but all I could do was to stay still, while the Holy Spirit refined my own heart.  Though the school, he learned to speak in tongues, recognize prophetic words, release them in ministry and he grew comfortable in stopping for the one.  By the end of the school, he told our house parents that he was “ready to be a long term, full-time missionary.”  Isn’t it amazing how hearts can change in God’s leading.  Tony’s a lot more fulfilled now in this new season, even though he enjoyed the last season in Ottawa.  God gave Tony the same desire that was in line with his life purpose – to encourage, uplift and empower people.  The only difference was a different location – from Ottawa, Canada to Worcester, South Africa.  All his skills, wisdom, knowledge would be used to teach and in other practical ways.  His love of music, internet and prison ministry would all be used.  The ministry to children however, would be a stretch, but that’s another story.

So God speaks through scripture, either directly or indirectly.  We need to know the whole Bible and its message.  Pray as you read, and listen.  Understand the message in its original context by learning about the cultures of the time.  But also read the scripture again and ask how Holy Spirit would speak to you.  Sometimes, it’s a message of love, wisdom and peace.  Sometimes it’s conviction of sin that leads to changing your mind and coming to him.   Sometimes it’s a direction leading.  It’s a wonderful adventure.

And then there is the compelling of the Holy Spirit.  We’ve shared the examples of the Irish missionary monks, Nicky Gumbel and Tony.  The Holy Spirit speaks in so many supernatural ways.  We’ll share more about that in our next article, as well as common sense, counsel of other prayerful people, and circumstantial signs.

Lord, thank you for the many ways that you guide us.  Thank you for not leaving us in limbo, but patiently drawing us to our purpose here on earth.  Thank you for your wonderful plans for us, and how you put love in our hearts. I ask that you would open our eyes and ears to hear and see you and your direction in scripture and begin to recognize your voice.  Help us to journey and experience the other ways we can hear and see you, through your Holy Spirit and the Bible. Surround and fill us with your love.  In Jesus’ name.

If you’d like to hear the audio version of this article, please listen on Ways to Grow in God podcast page, and scroll down to: #44

https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html

Blessings, Laurie-Ann

 

Selah: The pause between thankful and grateful

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Last time we discovered we have a lot to be thankful for.  We also found that being thankful is good for us – in our walk in faith and in our daily lives.  Thankfulness grows our hearts so we can be filled with more love.  When you have an expanded heart, you can experience more joy, which is also our strength (Neh. 8:10). This requires waiting, and pause for reflection.

I had meant the next article to be on being grateful beyond thankful.  However, I discovered there was far more involved in the area of growing in thanks. I found that this is a very deep area of our faith.  It’s the underpinning of so many areas in which we grow closer to God.

Thankfulness is part of our healing: both inner (emotional) and physical.  Just think of the one leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus after he was healed!  (Read Luke 17: 11-19)

Thankfulness is also part of our first step of faith.  Many of you came to faith in Jesus Christ through praying the “sinner’s prayer” of repentance. One simple form of that prayer is featured in Nicky Gumbel’s “Why Jesus” pamphlet that we use in the Alpha Course.  Nicky highlights this prayer “can be summarized by three very simple words:  Sorry.  Thank you.  Please.”  (Sometimes when I’m on the mission field or with people asking about faith, this summary is what comes to mind).

Some of you reading this article may not have faith in Jesus Christ yet, even though you have a desire to grow deeper in God.  If you pray this prayer with me, and mean what you’re praying, you are now a Christian.

Sorry!  “You have to ask God to forgive you for all the things you have done wrong and turn from everything which you know is wrong in your life.  This is what the Bible means by ‘repentance.'”

Thank you!  “We believe that Jesus died for us on the cross.  You need to thank him for dying for you and for the offer of his free gift of forgiveness, freedom, and his Spirit.”

Please!  God needs you to invite him into your life, he’s been waiting for your ‘yes.’  “You need to accept his gift and invite him to come and live within you by his Spirit.”

Here is a simple prayer that incorporates sorry, thank you, please (you may find it helpful if your mind goes blank on how to start):

“Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience).  Please forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong.  Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.  Thank you Lord Jesus, Amen.”  (Nicky Gumbel, “Why Jesus?” (Alpha North America, 2008) p21

If you prayed that prayer for the first time, welcome to the family of Christ!  You are now my brother or sister.  Make sure you seek out a church, and small group of Christian believers who can encourage you in your faith, pray with you, and study the Bible along with you.  The Christian faith is not meant to be lived in isolation on your own, but with each other.  However, if you are living in an area where Christians are persecuted, then ask God for wisdom on when to share and with whom.  He will keep you close to nurture your faith, heal your heart wounds and fill you with love.  He can also bring you to people who can grow with you in faith. Yet most important, God will never fail you, for he is very definitely faithful.

And so, salvation is the foundation of things to be thankful for as we focus on and worship the Lord. The Apostle Paul encourages us to pause and remember all good things, which cause us to be thankful.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:8 (Message version)

We can also combine thankfulness with soaking prayer. If you’re new to the idea of soaking prayer, I write about it in my article from March 2013 (Slow down and let God’s love fill you). When you are filled with God’s love, you become more thankful, and consequently open to receive even more of his love.  Pause and let his love fill you! And always be thankful.

We stop again to think on the word Selah, which often appears in the Psalms (71 times as well as 3 in Habakkuk). Some writers believe it refers to a musical interlude between sections of reading Psalms. Others see it as a pause, or liturgical meditation on what the listeners have heard in the recited Psalms.  For this article, we will borrow the concept of Selah as a pause and reflection.  Sometimes it is necessary to stop and remember all we are thankful for before we continue on our journey.  Funerals are like that – although we are sad at the loss of our loved one, we also celebrate their life and are thankful that they were with us for the time we had them.  These people were part of our life stories.

Let’s continue with the idea that our lives are like stories.  When we walk through difficulties and joys, these impact us and become part of our stories; part of who we are. Sometimes circumstances and pain may cause us to become stuck in grief.  It is good to grieve, but it is not good to become stuck in the same emotions in an endless loop. It also is not good to become stuck from painful memories that cause us to be locked in a prison of unforgiveness. When we forgive those who hurt us, we can choose to react  in a positive way. We take charge over our own story, with God’s help.  We aren’t accountable for what has been done to us, but rather, for how we react. When we choose to react positively, and make a lifestyle of thankfulness, the fruit we show is sweet.

We can re-story our own lives by ‘psalming.’  King David and other Psalm writers did this in the book of Psalms. Some of those Psalms start out rather angry (Read Psalm 69) but end up with praise. David cries out to the Lord with everything in his heart.  He trusts that God is hearing where his heart is at; and then he turns his lament into praise and thanksgiving.  Yes, he said some pretty nasty things about his enemies, but how better it is to confess that to God, then let it fester in his heart!  I personally believe that God likes it when we are honest with him.  He knows what is in our hearts, and is waiting for our invitation to set us free.  You can write your own psalm before the Lord.  It doesn’t have to be fancy. But it does need to be honest, and allow you to trust God more for the great ending.

Being thankful also helps us in transition from one stage of your life to another (being phases of your physical life, or seasons of your spiritual life). We don’t always know where we are going in the midst of moving from one place to another. Sometimes we feel lost in the desert.  Other times we just need a rest stop on the highway. We may feel like we’re in the middle of a storm and can’t see much beyond our circumstances.  This is the time to pause and remember God.  This is the time to remember all we are thankful for!  Thankfulness helps keep our eyes on what God is doing. Thankfulness keeps us from keeping our eyes inward on our own circumstances.  Even if you don’t hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit right now, you will.  You are still being carried towards your next destination.  He is growing in you a deeper trust as you grow your heart deeper through prayers of thanks.

So, while I am continuing to think of the deep connection between thankfulness and gratitude (which is to come soon), remember to pause and give thanks to God.  You can fill out your thanks items on a piece of paper, on your computer, or even on your phone (I use the “Remember” application on my phone). You may be surprised what the Holy Spirit reminds you of!

Have you given thanks today? Next time we will grow in gratitude as we share in the cup of Thanksgiving.

Yours in Christ,
Laurie-Ann Copple
Ottawa, Canada

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