Do we believe in something bigger than ourselves? If we don’t then our lives will be small, they will be restricted to what we can achieve or who we can become. Our abilities, our influence will be limited to the level of our own resources. For many, that may be satisfying enough but after a while it may leave us feeling frustrated as we think there is something more that we are missing out on.
There has to be something bigger than the circle of life which we create for ourselves. I believe all of us have an inbuilt desire to look beyond ourselves. We love looking to the horizon and imagining what is beyond, just over the edge that we can’t see. For each person that horizon may be in a different place but it gives us something to dream for, something to seek, something to lay hold of.
To pursue what is beyond the horizon requires trust. Trust is taking the steps we don’t think we can take. It’s going one, or many steps beyond what we think we’re capable of. It’s pursuing the ‘more’. Trust will enable you to take hold of the unknown future and begin to bring it into the present.
In Philippians 4:7 Paul tells us that the peace of Christ goes beyond our understanding. Wouldn’t it be great if, not only, we knew that peace but we could live in it continually. That’s quite a challenge. Somehow it must be possible to know it, perhaps not fully but to experience it in some increasing measure. This is where trust comes in. Can we trust the Father enough to lead us into that peace? Can we trust him enough to believe that he will work his purpose our for us?
There is a bigger picture for all of our lives. Very often we sense that this picture is beyond our reach and is over the horizon, we sense it’s there but have no idea how to find it, yet alone live in it. It’s a dream. This dream however can become a reality and I want to encourage you to believe that. Don’t let it remain a dream but begin to believe that what you yearn for can become something to live in.
The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalms 138:8 ESV)
We’re very good at making plans, some of which happen, others fall by the wayside. There may be nothing wrong with our plans, they may be good for us, but they often come and go. God has a purpose for you and me that is eternal and will stand forever (Proverbs 19:21). His purpose is not so much the journey (although that can be important), rather it is the destination. Don’t worry if your journey is not linear. We make mistakes, we take diversions, we wonder where we are going and what is happening. The twists and turns of life’s journey can be confusing and cause us to doubt. We doubt ourselves and we doubt God.
He is not bothered about our diversions because his purpose is bigger and goes beyond our plans (however good they may be). His purpose is rooted in eternity and he’s promised to accomplish it. That’s where trust comes in - can we trust him enough so we lay aside our plans and allow him to lead us? He has begun a good work in us and he will complete it.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
A recurring theme of Paul’s letters is that we are ‘in Christ’, that’s our position as sons and daughters. It’s our true home. When the focus of our love is on him we will be drawn into a greater intimacy with the Trinity. Not only do we become secure in our relationship with him but we are also secure enough to begin to turn outward. We can trust God enough to start to consider others in a way perhaps, we’ve not been able to. We have a Father who cares for us and provides all we need (Matthew 6:25-34) and as we trust in that truth we can begin to stop prioritising our own needs.
Slowly we come to appreciate that life is not purely about us and our needs or desires. There’s a hurting world out there that needs to know the truth we know: that there is a loving Father who loves and wants to provide for his children. It’s love that causes us to trust and that love and dependency on the Father will do a miracle in our heart.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 1:1-4 NIV)
The life of Paul inspires me. Despite his background and natural abilities he had learnt to be totally dependent on the Father. He had found that childlike trust went beyond his ability, his training and background. So much so that he even considered those things to be rubbish when compared with the greater glory of knowing who he was in Christ. He had found his citizenship in Heaven, he knew that he was loved as Jesus is loved. As we discover a greater revelation of this truth for ourselves we will be able to let go and trust.
Despite us feeling fearful or being scared there is a mystery about trust. The mystery is as we trust we become content, we find the place of rest that may have alluded us. We spend a lot of time, money and energy seeking to have more, to be more or to do more. A new phone comes out: better camera, more data, more storage, a faster processor and we must have it! Why? Because we believe it will make us more content. We work harder in order to be noticed, we want to be seen by others. Frankly we’re not content.
Contentment is deeper than possessions, ministry, titles or function. Contentment is the state of our heart so, like Paul, we can say that we are content whether we are in need or have plenty. We have learned to trust our Heavenly Father because he will meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory (Philippians 4:19).
Trust sounds so simple. Yet for many of us it is the complex process of letting go. It’s recognising that we can’t do it on our own, all of our striving will lead to frustration and cause us to be robbed of our peace. Trust says that our Father is bigger and our only response is therefore to have a childlike heart of rest and dependency on him. Trust takes us beyond what we can see as it enables us to reach over horizon and make the unknown our reality. For each of us that is different but I hope and believe you will find it exciting.
"What must I do?"
It's a very common question and probably one we ask more often than we would like to think. Growing up we ask it, at work we ask our boss what he would like us to do next, in our families - the same question. Of course, it can be a very helpful question to ask as it points us to our next task. And that's the problem I want to address, it's a very task oriented question. By it's very nature it focusses on doing and the implication of the question is that we want to do the right thing.
One day when Jesus was on a journey, a rich young man ran up to him and asked him this same question. Here was a man who seemingly had everything: he was wealthy, he had status, no doubt he had a reputation and felt that he should be looked up to. Humanly speaking he seemed to have everything but he is searching for an answer. There is something going on in his heart as he knows that he has not found the real meaning to life despite everything being quite comfortable for him. He is not satisfied and he knows it. There is a longing in his heart that hasn't been satisfied by his wealth, status or reputation. He knows there is something more, yet he doesn't know what he is looking for.
In Jesus, he sees a man who has the answer. He sees someone who, on the face of it, is not wealthy, nor does he have a prominent place in society but somehow he seems content. Somehow Jesus seems to know what really satisfies and this rich young man knows that he has the answer. He knows that Jesus can truly satisfy the longing and desires of his heart.
So he runs up to Jesus and asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). In that moment he reveals that there is a longing in his heart for something more, something greater, a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. He knows he lacks something and has found someone who can help him with his problem. At this point in the conversation Jesus is very clever, he doesn't immediately give the man the answer but he turns the question back to him by pointing him to the law (the ten commandments). In effect he tells the man that he already knows what he should be doing; he should go and keep all the requirements of the law.
I wonder what the young man felt at that moment. He'd come seeking for an answer and he is told to go away and do more of the same. In his heart he knows that the requirement of the law has not satisfied nor has it given him the peace which he is searching for. He knows there is something more than and it can't be received simply by doing the right thing all the time. In desperation almost he tells Jesus that ever since he was a boy he kept the law, he has done the right thing but it hasn't filled the emptiness of his heart. He is craving something deeper and it won't be found by doing the right thing. For too long he has lived with an ache in his heart and now he wants his longing to be fully satisfied. He's, at last, found the man with the answer.
He has asked a question and it's one that we ask too. "What must I do?"
The thing is, it's the wrong question. It's a question that will not satisfy, it will only lead us further down the pathway of self effort and performance. What the young man was really saying "what more do I have to do in order to please God, or to make my peace with him?" The trouble with that question is once we have done 'the more' we have to ask it again and again. Our mindset tells us that the only way to appease God is by constantly seeking out the good we need to do. To me, that sounds like the fruit of the wrong tree! The pursuit of the knowledge of what is good and desperately trying not to do those things we perceive as bad. We're striving to climb the (wrong) tree of works and performance. It doesn't work nor does it satisfy.
Like the rich young man, doing the right things will not satisfy us.
I imagine at this point he is pretty desperate. "Jesus, won't you tell me what to do!" And all Jesus does is look at him and love him (Mark 10:21). Can you imagine what that look of love looked like. It would have been encouraging, comforting and, no doubt, very winsome.
And then Jesus speaks: "One thing you lack".
Have you ever noticed that Jesus doesn't actually tell him what he lacks. Rather he tells him to go and do something (sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor). What Jesus is doing is giving the man the key which will enable him to then discover the thing that he lacks. If only he can let go of his props (his wealth, status and reputation) then he will be able to discover the thing he is missing.
The young man couldn't do it. Despite that look of love he couldn't let go of his man-made security. He went away sad.
If only he'd been able to let go of his props he would have discovered the key which would enable him to receive eternal life.
Just before this young man came to Jesus, Jesus had been taking little children in his arms and blessing them. As he so often said "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15). This is the only way for us to truly enter the kingdom of Heaven.
I think the young man was watching Jesus with the children but felt that having a childlike heart was beneath him. For someone as important as him there had to be another way. I think he watches, he wonders and then he follows Jesus to ask how a man of his wealth and position can receive. Jesus' challenge is not because he wants the man to be poor, rather he wants him to let go of the things that he holds to himself and which prevent him coming with a childlike heart. If only he can let those go he would be in a position where he could begin to have a childlike heart and then (and only then) would the longing in his heart be satisfied.
He couldn't do it. Sadly, he is one of the wise and learned who Jesus refers to in Matthew 11. They can't embrace a childlike heart and so can't enter the kingdom of Heaven. In fact, without a childlike heart it is impossible to have a revelation of the Father (Matthew 11:25-27). I believe the extent in which we know the Father is directly related to the childlike state of our heart.
We too, ask that question "What must I do?". Like the rich young man we won't be satisfied unless and until we come with a childlike heart. For the rich young man, he needed to let go of his wealth and his pride. What about us? What do we need to let go of in order to discover the simplicity of a childlike heart. It is only as we turn around and humble ourselves that we can have a childlike heart and begin to enter more fully into a relationship with our loving Heavenly Father.
The man wanted to 'do'. He had to stop 'doing' in order to be able to receive. He couldn't do it, can we?
In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus makes three important statements which he clearly wants us to read as one. However, I think that there are many occasions when we pick one of them and focus on it rather than looking at the big picture which Jesus wants us to see. I want to look at these three statements afresh and look at them together, as one. In fact, in all of the commonly used Bible translations they are always put together in the same paragraph, under the same heading. There may be different titles in different versions but they are always put together. I wonder why we separate them.
As we look at these three very well known statements I see we are given a key to receiving a revelation. We are given the revelation itself and finally we are shown the fruit, or benefit, of living in the revelation. Sadly, I think we desire the fruit without realising there is a key that needs to be taken hold of and used. Without the key, the fruit will be diminished. To fully benefit from what Jesus says we need to start with the all important key.
What I am about to say may be offensive to some of you, yet is is something Jesus himself says many times throughout the gospels.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (Matthew 11:25-26)
Something has been hidden. I believe Jesus sees this as a hidden treasure, it is something important and something we need to take notice of. It is valuable and not necessarily revealed or given to everyone. Obviously as it is hidden, it is not something that is readily or easily seen; it needs to be searched for and, once found, treated as being highly valuable. Treated as treasure.
It is not something that can be found through intellect or status. This tells me it is not earned but it comes to us as a gift.
So much of our society focuses on our intellectual ability or the product of our own effort. For this treasure those things are meaningless. The radical statement must have felt like a punch to Jesus' listeners: "you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do."
The key to receiving this gift, this valuable treasure is to come to the Father with a childlike heart. It's laying aside our pride and self-sufficiency and then coming in the simple dependence of a child. That would have shocked the people listening to Jesus and today it still shocks people as it seems so far removed from our experience or expectation.
It is, however, the key. And as a key it unlocks something very important. It unlocks a revelation that can only be received as we humble ourselves and come with a childlike heart.
In fact, in Matthew 18 Jesus says we have to change and come as a child. The word 'change' means to convert - we have to stop walking in the direction we're going, turn right around and walk in the opposite direction. It's a radical change that many are not prepared to make. The key is hidden but as it's discovered by those with a childlike heart it brings the Father pleasure.
If we turn, if we come as a child, then we can begin to understand the revelation which Jesus is uncovering. All he is doing is showing us what has always been there but we've been unable to see it. This revelation is at the heart of Jesus' ministry and so brings us to the second of our three statements.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Matthew 11:27)
A careful read of John 17 shows us the centrality of the gospel. The most significant part of Jesus' ministry was to reveal the Father (John 17:3 & 26). Jesus is not secretive about this revelation, he wants us all to receive it. Neither is he selective about who he reveals it to, but, sadly, only a few are able to fully see it. The ones who can receive this revelation are those who understand there is a key.
If we are unable to come with a childlike heart we will settle for seeing what God does, rather than seeing who he is. That's a huge difference.
As the key of a childlike heart unlocks the revelation of who God really is so we are drawn into an intimate relationship with the Father. It is the same relationship that Jesus himself lived in. What a joy to our hearts!
In John 17:26 Jesus says he will continue to reveal the Father. It's very easy for us to be distracted and lose sight of the Father. I'm sure we can all identify with that. As we lose sight of the Father, Jesus reveals him to us once again and this helps us continue on our journey of walking in relationship, in intimacy and oneness. We can only have a revelation of the Father when we come with a childlike heart.
This leads us to Jesus' final statement. "Come to me and I will give you rest".
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I often think it should say ".....therefore come to me" as this life of rest is a direct consequence of knowing the Father. The implication of these three statements is: "come to me, let me reveal the Father and then you'll discover the contentment of a restful soul".
The consequence for Cain, after he'd killed his brother, was that he became a restless wanderer on the face of the earth (Genesis 4:12). I see that restlessness in so many people. It's a restlessness that is always striving to find out what more they need to do in order to feel loved, valued or accepted. As our heart finds its home in the Father's love the restlessness ceases and we start to discover true rest. It is then we realise there is nothing more we need to do in order to feel loved, valued or accepted.
God is gracious and I know we have all experienced a measure of rest or contentment. Coming to the Father enables the deep restless wandering to fall away and for the first time, maybe, we find true rest.
We long for that rest but all too often we try and find it without first taking the key of having a childlike heart which unlocks the greatest revelation of all: that God is a Father and he wants to be a Father to YOU. That is the only way to enter the rest your heart longs for and was made for.
I hope you read this. I would like it to be read in every Parliament building, in every school, in every workplace and in every church. I know that won't happen, but I hope that by you reading it there will be a small change that maybe, just maybe, makes the world a better place.
I'm talking about a small word which some would say is old fashioned, out-dated and consigned to history. It feels like a word that has been buried in the darkest corner of our collective society and left to gather dust or grow mouldy with age. It's a word associated with deference on one hand, or sycophancy on the other. Just let me clarify those two terms: deference is yielding to the wishes or desires of another (often based on class or authority); a sycophant is someone who flatters another, often for their own selfish gain. Deference often indicates our own lack of self-worth. Sycophancy, our desire to be noticed through the praise of others. Neither of these two words describes 'honour'.
Of course, honour can be used (or misused) to refer to those in authority who think they 'deserve' esteem or respect. We think, maybe they think, that they deserve it because of their status, wealth, rank or their leadership. All this does is set people apart and we begin to create a hierarchy where we place differing values on people. We honour our choice of politician yet we pour scorn on someone who holds a different view. We believe our choice of Prime Minister or President is the one God would choose, whereas our neighbour might hold a completely different view based on their own very good reasons. Political views are just one example for there are many. Our view, naturally, is right and everyone else's obviously wrong! We believe our expression of worship to be the right one, the only pleasing sacrifice to God, all others are second best and therefore rejected by us and God. We are impatient when another driver cuts across us on the motorway. We resent the mother and her young children, pushing past us as they try to squeeze their way into a supermarket when perhaps the kinder action would have been to step back and hold the door for them.
We don't have to look very far to see the corrosive consequences of such an ungodly mindset.
There is, however, a more basic definition of honour I wish to look at, as I believe, it is something we can all have as a foundation in our lives. It is something the milkman, the postman, the bus driver or the shop attendant deserve as much as those who hold some revered position in society; be it our workplaces, our churches or our political systems.
Respect. Value. Recognition. Treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated. In short, honour.
I thank God that all my children are different. How boring it would be if they were identical in every way. Even twins are different. We recognise and value that difference in our families but somehow we have lost sight of it in our communities and wider society. Why? I think, too often, we are promoting ourself or our beliefs and in doing so, we are pushing ourselves up at the expense of others. Perhaps not even intentionally, we push others down in order to give some credence to our own opinions or judgements. As we do, we dishonour those around us: we do not show them the respect, value or recognition that we ourselves would want to receive.
Deference or sycophancy are not true expressions of honour. They neither value nor respect others. They are more about us and the attention we (perhaps inadvertently) seek to surround ourselves with in order to look good (or better than we really are). Honouring another will make that person look good, even if there is a cost to us for doing so.
Why am I writing about this? Because I believe it to be important, I believe it is part of the Father's nature and character, I believe it is increasingly lacking in our churches and more importantly in our personal relationships. It is not an archaic quality that can be consigned to the rubbish bin of history. It is a fundamental part of the Trinity and, as we walk as Jesus walked, it will be (or dare I say it, should be) part of the fruit of the Spirit which naturally grows within us.
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:1-5)
That's the Father honouring the Son and the Son honouring the Father.
Jesus honoured his mother at the wedding in Cana.
Everything Jesus did was to honour his Father: he wanted to make the Father look good, he promoted the Father above himself, he cared more about the Father's reputation than his own.
The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. (John 8:29)
Jesus honoured his disciples, he honoured Mary and Martha, he even sought to honour those in civil authority (he was clear that taxes were due and should be paid). He honoured the marginalised in society, the poor, those the world rejected.
The first command with a blessing is about honour: "honour your father and mother".
Let me say again, honour is not deference or sycophancy; it is respect, value and recognition. It is treating others as at least being equal to you, if not better. It is finding the gold in the midst of broken humanity and then praising that gold rather than highlighting the rubbish in which it is buried. Honour is more than common courtesy, it is a heart attitude that reflects the way we think of and treat others.
Social media is one of the most dishonouring creations of modern man. Actually, all it does is broadcast the nature of the human heart which has been more hidden for centuries. Look at any public figure and one of their posts on social media, then look at the comments (before the editor gets to them) - a significant number are negative, dishonouring and very often largely false. Perhaps the only thing worse than dishonouring comments is a dishonouring post.
This is not the message of scripture: "Love your enemies", "Love one another", "Go the second mile." Not popular expressions these days but ones which will begin to build a better society.
Let us finally look, once again, at the example of Jesus. He was, after all, the Son of God, the Creator of all things, the One in whom all things hold together. He did not choose to promote himself or make himself look good. In fact, he chose the opposite and as he did, God the Father promoted (or exalted) him. The Father made the Son look good.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
We will reap what we sow. If we sow dishonour, that's what we'll reap. If we sow honour, we will reap an abundant harvest. I know what I'd prefer.
I have written this to provoke a question. That question is not "how do others treat me"? Rather it is "how do I treat others"? I finish by asking you to ask the Father for a change of heart, in order that you can see others as he sees them.
If you were to visit me in my office you would see a tidy desk, an efficient filing system and a clean room. I hope it would be a welcoming, yet professional, environment where you would feel at home and confident in my ability as an accountant.
In fact, I could take you round the rest of the office and generally it's clean, neat and tidy.
But there is one door and behind it is the stationery cupboard. Opening the door and stepping into the cupboard is not for the faint hearted. It's a mess. Whenever anyone goes into it they search for what they need by pulling things out of boxes, piling them on top of other things, leaving them on the floor and there they remain once the required item has been located. As you can see from the picture, it's not a real room but only the space under the stairs.
There's a lot of history in that cupboard: A3 paper with sixteen ruled columns - long replaced by spreadsheets, Tippex now replaced with the backspace or delete buttons, paperclips, staples, typrewriter ribbons, dictation tapes all archaic and no longer useful or functional. Old boxes and packaging material which, of course, might be useful - one day!
What it needs is for everything to be pulled out, sorted and mostly thrown away. Then, what we use regularly could be put back (tidily) and we would all be able to see what we needed at a glance. The area right at the back of the cupboard, the part way out of reach under the stairs should be closed off to prevent further generations of junk being stored (in the hope that one day it might be useful).
Will we ever get round to it? I doubt it - we've not done so in the thirty years I've been there and we're too busy to even begin to think about doing it.
I think there is the equivalent of my stationery cupboard lurking somewhere in the depth of our heart. A part of our heart that is behind a closed door which looks good from the outside. It's a door we don't want to open and certainly somewhere we are not particularly keen on sorting out. As with my stationery cupboard, there may be some things that could be useful but we can't seem to locate them because of all the debris that surrounds them.
There is only one way for us to sort out the stationery cupboard of our heart and that is to be brave enough to open the door and begin to look at what is there. Then take it all out and ask a question: "Why is this here?" In some cases, when I look at the things in the cupboard the question may be "How on earth did that get there?"
Stationery is one thing but our heart is most definitely another. The stuff buried in our heart consists of memories, wounds, pain, failed relationships, the consequences of our actions and so much more. It is often too overwhelming to even begin to think about opening the door to the secret place of our heart.
If my stationery cupboard was open to visitors it would be an embarrassment. Thankfully, it's not, it's only my staff who have access to it. Our heart is slightly different. Whilst we think we have a closed door to hide all the pain behind, people can often see beyond the door and see what we are trying to hide. Remember Jesus said that out of our heart the mouth speaks. What we try and hide has a way of sneaking out when we least expect it. The pain leaks! We may try and hide it from others but we can't hide it from our Father.
Our Father is interested in the stuff behind the door. Not because he wants to condemn or judge but simply because he wants you to be free. Free of the weight all that clutter represents. Free of the old, useless things that you no longer need to carry around with you. Free of the failures and the memory of things that have gone wrong.
And yes, it appears too overwhelming to suddenly open the door and go straight in to pull everything out in order to have a major clear out.
I suggest you let your Father be the guide and instructor in this process. Let him open the door and take one item out at a time. Look at it together and decide if it is useful or whether it should be thrown away. Remember there will be some good stuff behind that door so take time to find it and celebrate it. As you work through the cupboard allow the Father to comfort you as each and every item is discarded. Let his comforting love be the thing that replaces those things which are removed.
He wants to fill the stationery cupboard of your heart with his gentle, comforting love. As he does you will begin to live more freely and lightly.
In Mark 8 Jesus feeds in excess of 4,000 people. He has been teaching them for three days and naturally they had become hungry. When Jesus finished teaching he doesn't just dismiss them and send them home. He looks at them with compassion and knows their physical needs. He doesn't want to see them suffer because of their hunger and so, out of love, he feeds them. Miraculous provision; a few loaves and some small fish was all that Jesus needed to feed the large crowd.
What I see here is that love provides in abundance.
The tragedy is that the Pharisees don't see love in action. They come to Jesus and try to test him. They are looking for a sign that proves Jesus is really who he says he is. They are not satisfied by seeing the crowd fed but want to see something on their own terms, something that fits in with their distorted mindset. Maybe they are envious as they see the people clearly worshipping Jesus and freely following him. Certainly not something that happened for them!
After this has happened, the disciples and Jesus cross the lake and begin to discuss what has happened. Jesus encourages them to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees".
Yeast is something that works internally and affects the composition of the bread. Not seen, but very effective.
Jesus highlights for his disciples that the yeast of the Pharisees is performance and judgement which comes out of their hard hearts. Hearts which have closed eyes and ears. Hearts that were unable to understand and perceive what was really going on. The Pharisees were unable to see that fruitfulness came from compassion or that abundance flowed from relationship.
What Jesus does is encourage his friends to trust the Giver, not the gift. To see and hear with the eyes and ears of the heart rather than constantly seeking signs to prove something. The Pharisees wanted facts whereas Jesus encouraged relationship. He invited people to live from the heart rather than a set of external principles or values.
What does this mean for us?
We too need to be aware of, and avoid, the "yeast of the Pharisees". The yeast of performance which can slowly grow inside us and which can so easily affect everything. Just as Jesus encouraged his disciples to avoid it so he does for us. His encouragement for us is to live from the heart. To see the Giver above the gift and to choose to live from love rather than pursuing good works.
Jesus helpfully gives us the key to avoiding the yeast of the Pharisees. As he journeys on, he takes a child on two separate occasions (Mark 9 and 10) and shows the importance, and necessity, of having a childlike heart. He shows them the way of humility, putting aside any feelings of greatness or self-importance and to be able to come as a child.
It's so easy to miss the point of what Jesus is saying. All too often we focus on gifting, our good works (often very good and probably effective), our programmes but we miss the central thing. We look at the gift rather than the Giver. When we do, we are subtly and gently led astray into a life of performance. When we see the Giver, something more lasting and permanent happens in our heart.
My discovery has been to see Jesus, not so much looking at me, but to see that he focusses on his Father. As we gaze upon Jesus we discover that his gaze is on his Father. The wonder and majesty of this Heavenly gaze turns us in the same direction. We are led to the Father. We discover the incredible life of living in love where the fruit of that life is simply finding and doing what the Father gives us to do. It seems to me that this can only be achieved as we come with a childlike heart.
In fact, there are times when the Father asks us to do something very unusual. Nothing. The gift of doing nothing (when it comes from him) is the most fruitful thing we can do. This is as much the fruit of living in love as anything else we might do.
Let love be the ingredient that grows inside you and affects everything - who you are and what you do.
As you do, you will discover something you have longed for and sought to find. The fruitful life of being planted in love.
Over the last few weeks, I've been reflecting on my personal journey in Father's love. It was in May 2002 that I first experienced God being a Father to me. Prior to that I knew God was 'a' father, maybe even 'the' Father and in some small way, I knew that he was my Father. As I look back and reflect, I see that a seismic change took place and something in me began to be transformed. God became a Father to me.
It's those two little words which bring incredible change. When all we know is that God is 'a' father or 'the' father we describe an intellectual relationship. When we know he is a Father to us we describe a heart relationship. There is a huge difference between the two. The change is profound because the eyes of our heart have been opened and, rather than seeing what he does, we see who he is.
To live loved, knowing that God is a Father to me has really changed everything. In fact, as I look back, I would describe it as being brought into a wide-open space. This is described perfectly for us in the book of Job.
"He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food." (Job 36:16 NIV)
The context of this verse is important. Job's friends are telling him what God is trying to do and yet they believe that Job is resisting and is stuck in judgement and criticism. At the end of Job we read how wrong his friends were in their assessment of his response. This verse, however, does show us the heart of the Father. It is the very thing which I believe has happened to me. In my heart, I feel that I have been drawn out of the jaws of distress and brought into a wide-open space.
The word 'distress' also means anguish, torment, sufferring, exhaustion or peril. Not a very happy place to be! You may be in a place of mourning, sorrow, loss or grief and the Father longs to draw you from that place of restriction or limitation. That may not mean your circumstances change but it does mean the distress can fade and, as we'll see, peace and comfort can prevail.
The Father woos us (or draws us) from this place of restriction. That's a romantic word; there is no judgement or accusation but we are drawn with the cords of loving kindness. There is a tenderness in the way he leads us, much the same as we read in Isaiah 40.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)
He knows our vulnerability and he lovingly draws us away from our distress to the place that our heart longs for. We read it is a wide-open space, it is free from restriction, it is a place of comfort and a place of provision. This is similar in many respects to Psalm 23 where a table of good things is laid out for us right in front of our enemies. To sit down at a table when you're surrounded by your enemies must mean you are very well protected. That's what our Father does, his table is right out in the open, right there in the presence of our enemies yet we can sit in comfort and be satisfied. Not only is he our provider but our protector as well.
I know my heart has begun to explore this wide-open space. For me, I do not want to fall back into, or be sucked back into the jaws of distress. I want to live freely and lightly. I am discovering that a free heart is a comforted heart. As we make our home in love we are comforted and this strengthens our heart so we may live a different way.
I often think about the phrase "a revelation of Father's love", I probably even use it when I'm speaking. It's a wonderful thing to have a revelation but to me it also speaks of distance. There is a gap between us and the thing which we have seen. I like to use the word "impartation" as it speaks of something which was separate from us and has now become part of us (Romans 5:5). As I have responded to being loved, so love has been drawn into my heart. I am becoming one with love.
I believe this is what sonship really is. Us becoming one with love, in order that we know (in our heart) that God really is a Father to us.
I don't want to go back. I want to remain in this wide, open space. I want a deeper revelation and impartation of Father's love in my heart. What about you?
Sometimes for us to move forward we have to look backwards. Do you ever feel as if you want to move forward, but it's like something is holding you back? You feel chained to a stake firmly embedded in the ground which is holding you against your deepest desire.
It's a feeling many of us identify with and one I certainly know a bit about. As you may know from reading my books or listening to me talk, my dad was killed in a car accident when I was ten years old. One day, about thirty years later, in my heart, I was led back to that time and I know the Father healed my heart. It was during a week when I discovered that God was my real Father and that he wanted to be a Father to me. This meant receiving and experiencing the Father's love for me, it meant dealing with the loss and rejection and allowing my heart to come home. It was the reality of stepping into the Father's embrace and being held by him.
My heart was healed as a result of me being loved. Too often we seek the healing of our heart, we are desperate and we do need our hearts healed. But, by only seeking our healing we avoid what we really need. We need to be loved. We need to be held in the Father's embrace. We need God to be a Father to us. As we are loved, it is an inevitable consequence that our heart will be healed.
How long did that encounter take? Twenty minutes! I wish all such encounters could be as quick, but often we have to give ourselves to the process of being loved and letting change grow in our heart.
Two years after my dad died I went to boarding school. In many ways it was old fashioned, had strong discipline and was firmly rooted in developing good character. It was about being responsible and making sure the desired standard was always achieved.
I left school at age eighteen and became very involved in my local church. I brought with me that same mindset: performance, achievement, doing the right thing.
A few years ago I felt the Father say I needed a deeper homecoming. Instantly, I knew it was about boarding school and in my mind I hoped it would all be resolved within twenty minutes. Well, it took about three years.
Last summer my old school had a reunion. It was almost forty years to the day since I'd left and I'd only been back there on one other occasion (I'd actually preached in the school chapel).
I went to the reunion and, do you know, I had a great time. I met guys I'd not seen for forty years, we reminisced and talked about our school days as if it were yesterday. Some of the things people said to me were surprising, yet comforting and reassuring. I even looked into the eyes of one guy who'd bullied me and, with humour and goodwill, told him what he'd done. As I drove into the school gates I felt Father say "you've come back as a son".
When I drove away at the end of the afternoon, I knew it had been a significant time. More than that, it showed me the fruit of the healing that has come as I've walked as a son to my Heavenly Father.
To move forward, we need to look back. In Joshua 10 there is a story of Joshua defeating the armies of five enemy nations. He and his allies chase the armies and eventually defeat them. On the way, though, the cowardly kings of these armies go and hide in a cave. Joshua knows that's what they've done but he also knows it's not the time to deal with them. So he has a large stone rolled over the entrance to the cave.
After he has defeated the enemy armies he comes back to the cave, brings the kings out and deals with them. His victory was not complete until the kings in the cave had been dealt with. To move forward, he had to go back.
It's the same for us. We pursue freedom and a journey with Father but we leave the real issues of our heart locked in a cave. For us to move forward we have to go back and deal with the kings. The good news is, we don't have to do it in our own strength. In fact, we don't do it at all. Yes, we have to be willing but it's the Father who deals with the kings on our behalf. Our heart is restored from the secure place of being loved and held in the Father's embrace.
Sometimes the kings in our life are all too self evident, sometimes we need the Holy Spirit to reveal them to us. My experience is that when I look for the king I want to deal with it myself. I'm learning to rest in love and let the Father take me to those things that he wants to deal with. He only does it when he knows I'm ready. For me, the key has been to make love my greatest aim and to allow God to be a Father to me. As I am fathered, so I change.
Walking As Jesus Walked
Jesus promises that, when we come to him and allow him to lead us to the Father, we will begin to live freely and lightly.