Tag Archives: Alpha Course

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.

 

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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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