No Signs? No Wonder!
Working on something like the Cornerstone Project often causes my own motives and judgements to be called into sharp relief. That is to say, you might think that you are plodding along nicely and then, suddenly, you are aware that in fact you are plodding along on your own. The Holy Spirit has let you march off in front. We do this in life with our children: out on a walk, my own daughter would march off in front and walk straight past the fork in the path which was ‘the right way’. I would then stop at the turning and wait for her to realise and come running back to the safety of me.
Over the last few weeks I became aware of a similar situation with Cornerstone. It wasn’t that the Holy Spirit had left. But He had stopped and was waiting. Waiting for me to realise that I had gone marching off ahead, missed the narrow path which turned off, and was in danger of being lost. How do I know this for sure? Because, until yesterday, the provision had stopped. The little miracles which are my signs and wonders, my confirmations, my comfort had stopped. God was still providing (He can’t help that – He loves to provide for us…we have to let Him do it though) but only in the way that He did for Elijah with the ravens in 1st Kings 17 – morning and night. Day to day. Just enough. Always enough for the day. Our daily bread.
So, when I realised that the Holy Spirit was waiting for me back at the narrow path, I turned quickly and ran back. Often, when my daughter had done such things she would laugh and say ‘Daddy, that was your fault’. Sometimes she would be cross and stroppy. But she would also be embarrassed and sorry on occasions. Jesus said that unless you become like little children you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). I have learnt a lot from my daughter over the years and she continues to teach me freely. I felt the need to make myself humble before God and seek His Kingdom. Just as my daughter taught me.
A few weeks ago, I published on this very blog, a teaching on hearing God’s voice. It was entitled ‘Thus Says the Lord’ and used the account of Balaam and his donkey as the central example. When I had asked God which example I should use, I was surprised that this particular one came to mind. I (arrogantly) thought to myself ‘perhaps God wants to teach this to someone in the bible study group’. Actually, He might well have done, but He really wanted me to hear His word. Like Balaam I had heard from God but all I really heard was “Go”…but not the rest. So for some time I had been ‘going’, running boldly ahead, telling myself I knew the way. But something was missing.
I had the privilege yesterday of meeting my first grandson for the first time. Whilst I will never be accused of being openly emotional, I have to admit by being touched by the experience. Here is a child who just entered the world. His only hope rests with those around him. Those around him have such a responsibility to his well-being. And I felt that. I felt that as the only male who will be a regular part of his life that I had to help him; to be there for him; to show him the way. This is exactly how our heavenly Father feels about us. So much so, that He sent His Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us like we would a child. Humbling.
I had intended to continue the teaching on ‘Forgiveness’ but that can wait. As too can part 2 of ‘Taming of the Tongue’. I don’t like leaving things undone in such a fashion but actually I think that what follows now will probably help me to write the continuation of ‘Forgiveness’ and to complete ‘Taming of the Tongue’. They are connected.
We live in a world of self-promotion. Everywhere we turn people are promoting themselves; what they do or the products they want us to buy. But what was attractive about Jesus? He didn’t promote Himself; He didn’t brag about who He was – even though He had every right to do so. What was – and still is – attractive about Jesus is His humility. It is written:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” [Philippians 2:3-8 NIV]
I deliberately chose the NIV translation here because it conveys with more gravity His humility. And that’s the problem with me. I can do humble, but I prefer self-promotion. I prefer to allow others to think that I know what I am doing. The truth is that I am totally reliant upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If I go running off ahead, He will let me go. But when I realise He is way back there I have to humble myself and come running back.
I heard ‘go’ from God and started planting a church. He didn’t ask me to do that. In fact, He clearly has plenty already. What He needs are people ready to listen to Him and do His will. Like David. Like Paul…Like Jesus. What He needs is an army of servants, ready to humble themselves.
So I had to humble myself and seek Him again. How did I know I needed to do that? Because it had become all about me and less about Him. We hear a lot that signs and wonders follow the preaching of the gospel, and it’s true. But it also happens when we humble ourselves and seek to do His will. Acts chapter 13 illustrates this beautifully. A group of disciples are in Antioch which included ‘certain teachers and prophets’. Now all were clearly called by God but whilst they were ‘ministering to the Lord and fasting’ something happened.
To minister before God and to fast are both acts of humility. Fasting itself is a self-disciplining exercise designed to subdue (or humble) the ‘fleshy’ part of us. In the book of Isaiah God addresses His people about the way they were fasting:
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?” [Isaiah 58:5 NIV]
This suggests to me that humbling oneself is more than just fasting. In fact, if you study the whole of Isaiah 58, God takes the time to teach what it takes for a man to humble himself. But what we have in Acts 13 is an example of an entire church humbling themselves before God by ministering to Him and fasting. None were seeking to rise above the rest. All were equal before God. Then God spoke.
“As they ministered and fasted, the Holy Spirit said “Now separate to Me Barnabus and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, then having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” [Acts 13: 2-3 NKJV]
What follows is an extraordinary account of Barnabus and Saul firstly in Cyprus and then at another city also called Antioch. In a way what they did isn’t important. But what is important is their humility before the Holy Spirit set them aside for His work and the continued humility of those they were with. The one thing I know about fasting is that it takes time! Fasting for an hour doesn’t really count as fasting. Skipping a meal is getting there. They were fasting already – humbling themselves before God. Then God spoke and they continued to humble themselves.
And so, back to my own sorry little tale. Once I realised that I had ran off ahead, I had to humble myself so that I could get back on the right track. Once I did that, the ‘signs and wonders’ of His provision (which I had taken for granted) reappeared. But first there was the test.
The test for Barnabus and Saul (Acts 13:8) came in the form of a sorcerer named Elymas, a false prophet. It just says that he withstood them. I am not sure how this manifested itself but I am sure that if the good doctor Luke chose to record it then it must have been seen as clear opposition. What happens when we get opposed? Often we decide that God can’t be ‘in’ what we are doing and turn away, maybe try something else until we find success. Find a formula that works…and stick to it. Not so with these two. Saul, heavily armed with the Holy Spirit, confronted the opposition head on and the opposition was forced to yield. Why? Because Barnabus and Saul were called to do the work of God and they humbled themselves that God might work through them.
My own test very nearly got the better of me. It caused me to question not only whether God had called us to do this but almost to the point of questioning His existence. My test was one of trust. Blind trust. Standing on what we knew to be of God and trusting Him regardless of how the situation looked. Just like Barnabus and Saul. I can tell you it was a dark place. Silence from God but plenty of chat from the enemy (‘Surely God didn’t really say that?’). The same old lies. Just like in the Garden.
And then dawn. The bright light of hope from the prophet of doom.
I found myself led to Lamentations chapter 3. If you haven’t read Lamentations you really should. It is written by Jeremiah after the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It is more historical record set in prose than anything else. Jeremiah had a tough life. God constantly used him in very difficult ways. I have long identified with Jeremiah because of some of the things that life has served me up, particularly when following what I know to be God’s will. Chapter 3 of Lamentations provides a fascinating insight into not only the humility of Jeremiah in the face of extreme adversity but to the hope that such humility affords us. The following passage saw me through to the end of the test. Not that the test is ever over, at least not in this lifetime. But hope is found in humility.
“I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say ‘My splendour is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I remember them well, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.” [Lamentations 3:17-27 NIV]
I will wait on Him. I will not run ahead. I will walk with Him. And then I will see the salvation of the Lord. He will come forth with signs and wonders. All He asks from me is the humility to serve others…Just like His son.