God’s zeal for His house – Defining prayer

*** This article is part of a blog series by a Guest AuthorNic Thackwray. It is a journey into understanding better God’s Zeal for His House. You can check out the Introduction to the series here. ***

So prayer is strongly on God’s heart as we saw last week. But what is prayer? This may seem like it has an obvious answer, but it is likely that God’s view of prayer is immensely bigger than ours and so to adventure into knowing God, we better try get the true nature of prayer right in our thinking.

I will quote a scripture that I think portrays the purist example of prayer that a human (other than Jesus) has ever experienced. This will be our benchmark.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as a man speaks to his friend.”
Exodus 33:11

There you have it. True prayer exists in many different places and forms, but here we see it the way I believe it was meant to be…friendship with God. It’s the garden of Eden all over again.

So I guess now would be the time to take a bash at my own definition of prayer. Here it goes: prayer is “friendship with God in action.” Let’s focus in a bit more. An earthly and human friendship exists because it is acted out. It involves a wide variety of trusting and affectionate communications of love and support between two individuals, both verbal (like talking) and non-verbal (like smiling and chilling together). In our relationship with God it should be no different. Therefore I believe prayer can involve things like (to mention only a few) thinking about Him, feeling trust in Him, being in awe of Him, worshiping Him, crying with Him, laughing with Him, listening to His voice, admiring His creativity, thinking about ways to please Him, enjoying His presence and last but not least, talking to Him. If it’s intentional communication with God, whether verbal or non-verbal, then it’s prayer. Let’s look at that Scripture from Isaiah again, with this new definition in mind:

“…for my house shall be called
a house of prayer [friendship with God in action] for all peoples.”
Isaiah 56:7

Sound like a place you’d want to be? Over the next few weeks we will see how the prayers of the saints are the Father’s mission, Jesus’ passion and the Holy Spirit’s work and then, finally, how it is our greatest purpose, the very reason that we exist.

Father, over these next few weeks, establish more true prayer in our lives for Your glory and our joy! Lord we want to know You face-to-face. We love You!

#8.3 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Without Defects

So, we have determined that suffering can be likened to a computer virus, in that it is designed to infect and infiltrate our system. But that the Lord, in His sovereign wisdom allows suffering so that He can use it for His glory and purposes in our lives.

What’s important for us, is to see suffering from the correct perspective. We must not fear it, but understand what it is meant for. We must see it for what it is: an attempt of the enemy to destroy us. But only an attempt. One that is not merely a “threat” but also an “opportunity.” An opportunity to see where we are weak. An opportunity for us to test our system. To see where it can still improve and change for the better. An opportunity to grow stronger and become more like Christ.

So how do we fix the defects picked up during a time of testing?

The key is Christ! He is the anti-virus. He is perfectly designed to destroy any work of the devil [see Acts 10:38]. He has been given all authority and has complete supreme power over our enemy. All we need to do is apply His life and power. We need to run God’s divine anti-virus software on our system.

But how do we do that?

Well, truthfully, this is one of the most difficult things to do. Not because it is complex and complicated, but because we humans are proud and rebellious. We are not naturally open to the things of God. Our sinful nature is at war with God. Our hearts are deceitful and subconsciously we hide from God and fight against His ways. This is important to realise. Running the anti-virus on our system does not happen naturally. It must be chosen!

Also, It is not something we can do, it is only something we can give permission for God to do. It is His anti-virus. He is the IT Manager with the software instillation files. He is the only one Who can successfully run the programme on our system. He is the author and perfecter of our spiritual systems . And if you want His anti-virus to run on your system, you must surrender. There is no other way.

So how do we do this practically?

Well, I think we can really learn from the way King David approached his defects. If you read the Psalms you will see that he was brutally honest about his weaknesses. He was not affriad of his sin. Rather, he feared God and knew that there was nothing He could do to hide from Him. He bared all of himself, (good and bad) before the One Who he knew to be all powerful and able to change the deceitful heart of a fallen man. May these words from Psalm 139 become our own as we allow God to scan our systems for viruses and simultaneously fix any defects that He may find.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
  And see if there be any grievous way in me,
   and lead me in the way of everlasting life!  

#8.2 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Without Defects

Last time we looked at the fact that we are everything but perfect and flawless as we once were before sin. That we are constantly faced with under-performing, malfunctioning equipment. Some call it “The Human Condition.” But, we have also determined that God made a plan to ‘fix’ us, to make us whole again. And that plan is Jesus Christ.

So now to the Question:  What does suffering have to do with becoming perfect again?

Well, even though suffering is a ‘child’ of sin, it is also a catalyst for God’s purposes. In His sovereign wisdom it would seem that He has chosen to use suffering for His glory.

Lets look at it like this: Suffering is like a virus hacking into the files on our computers, messing with our internal systems, corrupting our files and destroying our coding. It’s a virus. One in fact, designed to destroy us, but ultimately allowed by God to help us…. But how is that possible?

Computer viruses, though made by hackers and other people with ill-intent, actually serve the purposes of development and innovation. When a new virus is made and begins infiltrating a computer system, the software community must work to fix it. And although the virus may have reeked havoc on the system, the software community is all the better for it, because the virus showed them the weaknesses in their system, the open back doors, the defects. And because the virus showed them where these defects are, they can fix them. In turn, their system becomes much stronger and much more effective and protected.

And it is exactly the same with us. Even though suffering (a virus) is brought on by our enemy, the devil (hackers) [see Job 1], and is designed to reek havoc on our lives (system), if responded to correctly, it can produce much good. If we see times of suffering as an opportunity to learn where we have open back doors and weaknesses in our system, we can actively work with God to fix them. So that once we have taken out the virus and closed all the open doors, we can be much more effective and protected, functioning on a stronger spiritual platform, and becoming more and more the person He has designed us to be….

Next time we will look at how we can work with God to fix the defects in our system revealed to us during times of suffering.

Father, thank you so much for who you are, and that you use things designed to destroy us for our good. What crazy logic. You really have a way of doing things that is so different, but effective. Teach us to trust you and to learn how you do things so that we can partner with you as a good friend would. 

#8 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Without Defects

In the amplified version of the bible, there are little [brackets] that give extra information about a specific word or topic. They help clarify the concepts in English from the original Greek. They are very helpful and indeed do [Amplify] the meanings to give greater understanding and insight.

Right in between the words fully developed and lacking nothing in the Amplified, we find the following words in brackets – [with no defects]. In the Greek, the words that translate to “fully developed” also mean without defects. Isn’t that fascinating? Being fully developed and lacking in nothing, also means, to have no defects. To be void of mistakes and weaknesses. To be made whole and perfect. Like a diamond – Flawless.

There was once a time that man was flawless. Perfect in every way. A time when he had complete unhindered fellowship with God. A time when he knew nothing of weakness or mistakes. Nothing of suffering or trial. Nothing of depression or fear, confusion or strife. Only perfection. Only complete wisdom and knowledge. Complete understanding and maturity. But, something happened that changed that. Sin came into the world and filled man with all kinds of defects. Chinks in the perfect chain. Holes in the solid armour. Cracks in the strong foundation. And since that day, we have been plagued with defects that hamper our unity with God and harmony with life.

Like a car that won’t start. Or a fridge that doesn’t get cold. Like a printer that prints skew. Or a computer that reads “not responding”… We are faced with our defects all the time. Those things in us that just don’t work. Like our tempers flaring up, or our emotions running wild. Like our hearts going astray, or our minds thinking disruptive thoughts. We are constantly faced with our flaws. Constantly frustrated with an under-performing piece of equipment….

But surely there is hope. For if we were once perfect, without any defects, then surely there is hope to be perfect again… Surely we do not have to endure these malfunctioning bodies forever! Surely our God has made a plan! A plan to ‘fix’ us… A plan to make us whole again. A plan to remove all flaws. A plan to make us complete and perfect, without defects.

And indeed He has. He has sent Jesus Christ to be a perfect offering. A substitute for our defects. A replacement for our lack and weaknesses. A perfect and completely whole person in whom we may find perfection. A redeemer in whom we may be made whole again. A saviour by whom we may again become – Flawless.

However, the question does beg: What does suffering have to do with becoming perfect again? I mean, isn’t suffering one of the outcomes of our defects? Didn’t it enter the world because we were defect of obedience? Defect of wholehearted love for God? Isn’t suffering in direct partnership with our sinful defective nature?

These are all good and valid questions. And so, next time we will look at this a bit more closely and try to understand how exactly suffering, something born of sin, can actually help remove defects and help make us whole again…

Father, thank you for your love for us and for your determination to make us whole again. You are such a faithful and loyal Father. Show us how you use suffering to help us change to look more like your perfect son, Jesus Christ, who is flawless, and without defects.

#7 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Lacking Nothing

…”that you may be fully developed, lacking nothing.”

I looked in my bible study booklet where I write about my insights into scripture and found the following written about lacking nothing: “Wow, if I could be lacking nothing I would be a happy man. I always seem to find myself falling short. I often lack the wisdom needed in situations…”

I think we all can agree that it would be absolutely awesome to never lack anything. To always have the wisdom needed for any situation. To never find yourself unable to handle something. To have it together and be wise in all your actions. Can you imagine that? What a world we would have if it was filled with such people.

From what James says, it would seem that it is possible. And from the ministry of Jesus it would seem that it is God’s desire to have such a world. A kingdom of priests and kings. Sons that always listen to their Heavenly Father and follow His ways. Men and woman that live by the divine life of God and act in complete obedience to Him. A world filled with little Christs.

Now, to become a little Christ (or Christian), one needs to be transformed into one. It doesn’t just happen. And we see in scripture that after the Father taught Jesus how to live a life of communion with Him, a life of wisdom and power, Jesus then taught others. This started the process of discipleship designed to teach and develop anyone willing, how to live in a wise, nothing lacking relationship with the Father.

Now, I guess the real question is: So how does suffering help the discipling process? I have drawn an insght from my little booklet. It comes just after my expression of lack, and says “Because of all the storms that have recently befallen me, I realised that I drastically lacked the needed wisdom to deal with them..”

And it is for that reason that the Lord uses suffering. To show us where we lack His wisdom and life. To give us perspective of ourselves. So that we are aware of the reality of our minds and hearts. So that the truth of our character is revealed to us. That empowers us with the knowledge we need to ask the Lord to give us what we lack and so be more transformed into the likeness of Christ.

In a sense, suffering is a gift. One designed to shine light into the dark areas of our character. Designed to expose the reality of our hearts, and in turn help us confront the reality of ourselves in relationship with Him. So that in the midst of the storm, as we cry out to God for for that which we lack, He graciously and lavishly gives us everything we need and transforms us bit by bit into the likeness of His Son, who is fully developed and complete, lacking nothing.

Father, thank you for your goodness and that you use every situation for our good and your glory. It is a mystery as to why suffering is such a good tool for the creation of sons, but it is true non the less. May you give us the insight we need to see suffering from your perspective and the courage to confront the realities of our characters in the midst of suffering. So that we too can be like Christ, lacking nothing. 

#6 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Fully Developed

So, we have spent some time looking at different aspects of faith as related to suffering. The image of the human body posed as a wonderful example with which to understand faith practically. We saw that faith can be likened to muscle. It is the wielder of our spiritual strength, and the producer of force that causes motion for our spiritual bodies. In terms of suffering, we saw that just like a gym instructor increases the weights during a workout, the Lord increases the tension in our lives so that our spiritual muscles can grow with endurance and strength.

So what is the point of this all? Why do our spiritual muscles need to grow? James actually answers this question to some degree. He encourages the believers to allow endurance to be bolted into them during times of suffering so that they may be fully developed, and lacking in nothing. The NLT version says it like this: “…let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

That is crazy! To think that while we are still on the earth in a fallen human state, we can be perfect and complete. Is it possible? In some ways, I think we generally skimp over that piece and consider it as a figure of speech rather than an actual possibility. I mean, how can we possibly be perfect, just like God is, here on the Earth? The general consensus is that “It is impossible”….right?

Well, I dunno if it is or isn’t, but what I do know is that even Jesus was not perfect and complete, and needing nothing from birth. Lets consider this piece of scripture in Luke 2. He is explaining to Theopolis (the person he wrote the letter for) how Jesus grew as a child. After explaining how mature Jesus already was as a 12 year old boy he continues to say that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.”

In other words, Jesus was not perfect and complete. He was still lacking wisdom and favour. Spiritually of course, he was sinless, perfect in every way. Just like His Father. But in human terms, (regarding his personality and his maturity) he needed to grow and develop. And that took time. It is why he only started his ministry at age 30. He needed to be fully developed first.

And it is the same with us. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be fully developed “human” beings, able to bare His image on the Earth just like Jesus did. It is what we were created for. And it is why He will go to any and every length to ensure that we become fully developed. All we have to do, is allow endurance (His eternal life) to work in us in the midst of suffering, and we too will eventually, be perfect  and complete,  and lacking in nothing

Lord, show us how suffering is designed to develop us into full human beings. Help us understand what it is all for and why being fully developed is so important to you. Give us a fresh revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the example he is for us. Amen 

Points of Separation Part 7 : so what now?

We have now reached the end of the series and I simply wanted to walk through it quickly and ask you to answer it for yourself. Remember the question I asked you to keep at the back of your head through the whole series? What does God really want?

Part 1 We looked at how fear was introduced. We see man and woman doing the one thing that God asked them not to, and sin steps in.God banishes man and woman. I don’t know if you have ever been in a relationship(romantic) that fails. The first thing that closes to you is the loss of shared information, the loss of an intimacy that you were privilege to, I suspect that that is what they felt as they were removed from the Garden of Eden. Its like a break up or a divorce. Did God want that?

Part 2 In part 2 we saw God approach Abraham personally. Although that is still amazing, we see God having to approach a single person because the others do not seem very interested in a relationship with Him. Does God want that? We see some distance and some unfamiliarity from Abraham’s side, yet still open to communication from God. Somehow the intimacy that Man longs for that was lost draws Abraham to obey God.

Part 3 Here we saw God come and fetch His people, and develop a relationship with Moses. Through the dealings we see that the people don’t really want to hear God’s voice and choose to have a go between…..The prophet. If you look at the promises God gave Moses just before that, God meant the promises for all and not just a few. People however decided they do not want direct contact with God. Sounds like a lack of trust developed from people towards God (another repercussion of a break up). Did God want that?

Part 4 In par t4 we saw that the decisions people make has an effect in how God relates. If you would accept that God is not this stoic unchangeable list of principles, then you would see that God very much respects people’s decisions, even the one’s that are against Him.This is the stage of the failed relationship where each of the parties learn to respect each other’s boundaries. But I ask you again, Does God want this?

Part 5 Here we see the departure from God’s rule even on a 2nd degree. The people request a king, and God respects their decision and complies. Now people had God as an option. There were now other ways to live. A far cry from the Garden of Eden where God simply walked and talked with Adam and Eve. This is the part of a break up where the one party openly rejects the ways of the other person and they walk free. I ask you again. Does God want this?????

Part 6 Here I simply tied up some loose ends. I did ask you to think along a certain path and I hope you are at least seeing things a bit differently now…

I do however want to point out, that even though in Christ we have no more separation, we somehow have never fully grasped what that meant or means. We still find the church (the universal living body church as in the organic being) largely blind and grasping at straws to try and control people and trying to reduce it all to a bunch of rules. This as you can see is a far cry from what God wants.

So today you see a new type of separation occurring, it is a separation of Christ and principles. We skim over the scriptures and try and take the teachings of Christ and use them separate from the Living Christ.
If I could use an analogy here, its like you have a girlfriend/boyfriend (which ever fits you being a boy or girl respectively) and you have a long distance relationship with them via letters. You spend years apart, but love has kept you through it all. Eventually you get to spend time in person and because you cannot accept the reality of the person you continue to read the letters even while they are there physically. It sounds looney, but that is what we do by separating the person from the principles.

From the broken relationship side of things, once hurt by the “break up” its not so easy to jump back into the saddle of love again. We all know that, we have to deal with the banishment of the intimacy, the distrust we have, the rejection we feel and display. Its all issues that we have that distort our view of God and what He really wants.

To end the series, I ask you to really look at your life and ask yourself, have you accepted that you have the freedom and return to what God originally wanted? And if it is still not clear, please reread the entire series.

I have specifically left some questions unanswered, because we need to use our brains more these days. Also life is meant to be a walk with God, not some set of rules that make it easy for you.

I wish you well and hope you enjoyed this time as did I. A close walk in and with Christ is what I long to see us all in.

thehonestone

#5.3 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Faith

So what is Faith exactly? This is probably one of the most age-old questions that people have asked and tried to answer. People have had some very interesting ways of looking at and understanding Faith. Some which still influence the way we meet and worship today. So why am I focusing on Faith, when there is actually only one line in this initial passage in James referring to it? Maybe its because I believe that a significant part of understading suffering and the endurance designed to be developed within us, is in fact intrinsically linked to our understanding of Faith.

A man and I were chatting once about religion. He said that he doesn’t know if he believes in God, but that he has “faith.” To which I asked, “what in?” Faith on its own is worth nothing. One has to believe in something. You might not always be able to articulate what that something is, but its always connected to something. Just like Muscle is always connected to Bone. Muscle is really just floppy meat until it is connected with ligaments and tendons to bone. It is the bone that gives it a base. A foundation of operation. Without bones, muscles can’t work. Our skeletal structure gives us just that, structure. A frame to which everything can be joined and from which everything can function. Without it, our faith, just like our muscles, is useless!

And as followers of Christ, our lives are built upon him. He is the framework for our spiritual existence. Without him, our Faith cannot function. Without him, our Faith is just floppy meat. Our Faith should be built upon having unquestioning confidence and trust in someone. And that someone, is Christ. And I think that trials and temptations are designed to reveal to us who or what exactly we have connected our muscles to. Is it to the strong and sure structure of Christ, found in scripture and based on truth, or is it to the weak and brittle ideas of the world based on the traditions of men?

Let us be sure to understand that trial and suffering is designed to put stress on our spiritual muscles. Designed to prove the functionality of our faith and reveal the true make-up of our spiritual frames. We get to see things for what they really are. What a great gift! For without it, all we will ever be is floppy and flimsy flippin meat!

Father, thank you for your son, Jesus Christ, who is the very foundation of truth. The solid structure upon which all of life is built. I pray God, that we will appreciate the trails and sufferings that helps us see what exactly we have built our lives upon. To what exactly we have connected our faith to. May we see it as a gracious gift. One designed to show us the truth so that we may have real, solid, eternal life in Christ. 

Points of Separation Part 6 : Consolidation

I will start today by saying that we have walked through the Old Testament and we have seen that God responds when we make decisions.

Moving and jumping quickly into the New Testament: In Christ there is no separation, but that in itself does not solve the problem we sit with today. Though we may be free and not separated from Christ, we still need to accept and open ourselves to that. So in essence it is not Christ and Christ alone.

It is Christ having closed the gap and us responding by accepting it. First we have to figure out what has been done (which is what the whole points of separation is about) and then realising the greatness of what Jesus really had done by closing the gap and reducing the distance to zero between us and God.

We also have seen in this series, that when we decide on something as humans, it has an effect on how God relates to us, right?

So going to the very beginning again I would like us simply to look at the diagram above. We need to look at eternity as one long line. Our fall in Eden is a dip. The old testament is the dip down and the new testament is the incline back up to the top.

It is not already done for us, the ability exists, but experiencing it depends on our acceptance of what has been done.

At this point let me also make something clear. When someone is sick, it would be wrong to make life decisions while feeling that way, right? Your perception is a bit flawed because you are not at your full senses. It is for this reason that I direct you to the diagram. If we are in the dip, our viewpoint will not be from a position of truth completely, since we are not in our environment that we were meant for. We also read in scripture that in heaven the lion will be at peace with the lamb. That is not currently the case.

Therefore we conclude that the world is affected by our decisions too, and that the way it is now is not the way it was meant to be.

Today I am not going to go into detail, as I will unpack these things next week. I simply wanted to get our eyes on the same things and our brains on the same page.

I welcome questions or comments so please feel free to question me on anything if I am being unclear or vague about.

Until next week…..

thehonestone

#5.2 – The Wisdom of Suffering [James 1:1-18]: Faith

So, we have answered the question of how endurance is actually developed within us? We saw that it happens when our spiritual strength is put to the test. When our faith is pushed to its limits. That is when our endurance stretches and tears and has a chance to grow by the infilling life of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t end there. And so, my next question then is, What exactly is Faith? Yes, it can be understood practically as one’s spiritual strength. But how exactly does it work?

To continue with our illustration of the body I found this cool definition for muscle. See how interestingly it relates to Faith: “Muscle cells contain contractile filaments that move past each other and change the size of the cell. Their function is to produce force and cause motion. Muscles can cause either locomotion of the organism itself or movement of internal organs. Cardiac and smooth muscle contraction occurs without conscious thought and is necessary for survival.”

Isn’t that cool? Likened to muscle, we could say that the function of Faith is to produce force and cause motion for our spiritual bodies. Wow, I can understand that. Every action in the spiritual realm is produced by Faith. That is our strength. Confident belief in the truth, value, and trustworthiness of God. And it is by exercising our spiritual muscles that we are able to move, hold, touch, grab, run, jump, and even punch in the spiritual realm. An interesting thought.

And just like our muscles, our Faith is a part of our spiritual frame and enables us to engage and move around in the spiritual realm. And just like an athlete must exercise and strengthen their muscles to run the race with endurance, so also do we exercise our Faith to run the race set out for us. And the Lord, who is a well experienced coach, gives us difficult exercises and trials to prepare us. So that we, in the words of James “can be fully developed and lacking in nothing.”

Lord, I pray that we will see suffering and trial as mere exercises that you have given to prepare us for the race that you have set out for us. May we approach them with courage and allow them to develop our spiritual muscles so that we may be fit and able to run with skill and endurance. Amen.