Articles and Publications

Pilgrim's Guides

  of the
  by Robert Weston

Landscapes of the Mind -

Part 1 ~ Renewing the Mind
Part 2 ~ Cultivating the Imagination
Part 3 ~ Mind Stressors
Part 4 ~ The Mind as the Motor
Part 5 ~ Snares and Mantraps
Part 6 ~ Soften Our Hearts

Landscapes of the Heart

Part 1~ Renewing the Mind

  I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 17:10, 12)  

In the course of the average day, over 12,000 thoughts pass through the mind. I wish more of mine were of eternal value! Our minds are so often like a hard disk that is running slow. Like an old-fashioned operating system, they are so preoccupied with serving their own immediate needs that they have little room left for anything else.
If we could increase the amount of free space in our minds, even by a few percentage points, what a difference it could make! After all, there is plenty of room in our brains really: it is just that the channels we have been used to using have become so dominant that most of the time we are barely aware that endless creative possibilities await discovery.
No wonder so many people respond to the New Age invitation to extend the frontiers of the mind! God is even more concerned to extend these frontiers because He created our mind and He alone knows its potential. But His means are entirely different from our so-called enlightened efforts. It is the Lord who takes the initiative in our relationship with Him, first to change our whole mindset (phronesis in Greek) and then to develop our ability to think things through from a godly perspective (dianoia).
  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.           (Romans 12:2)  

In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord asks a powerful question that is also a wonderful invitation: ‘Who is there who will devote Himself to be close to Me?’ (Jer 30:31) You can feel the arms of the Lord stretching out, inviting us closer, urging us to set our hearts and minds on things that really count. This is mot a book about better techniques for Scripture-memorising, or advice on assimilating difficult doctrines – but it is about freeing the mind to operate with more and more openness and efficiency. This is a manual on creativity, the imagination and towards becoming a Spirit-filled thinker.
What is the Lord looking for? People He can trust! Just as we may confide our joys freely with all sorts of people, but only tell our closest friends what we are really going through, so the Lord ‘confides in those who fear Him; and takes the upright into His confidence.’ (Ps. 25:14, Pvbs. 3:32). May the Lord make us worthy to receive such confidences – and in the process turn sight into insight and shed light on many complex situations.
Keep in Step with the Spirit

On the face of it the mind doesn’t get a brilliant press in the Bible. People prophesy delusions of their minds and change their mind far too easily – much to God’s distress. Paul reminds us that ‘The mind of sinful man is death. Mercifully he doesn’t leave it on the down note but goes on: ‘but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.’[1] How we need to focus on that!
Paul tells us in Galatians 5:25 to ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’. The phrase literally means to dance together. Isn’t this a lovely picture of how He wants us to lead our lives in partnership together?
What great things the Lord can do when our minds are controlled by the Spirit of God! So much creativity as well as joy. That’s why we need to heed Paul’s urgent summons to ‘be made new in the attitude of your minds’ (Eph 4:23).
For Reflection

Field Marshall Montgomery once commented that no army will perform well unless it has good morale. Morale, for us, depends to a large extent on how how we imagine God sees us. Try this for a starting thought. It is as easy for Jesus to discern our thoughts and our desires as it is for us to read a newspaper (Heb 4:12-13). Do you feel excited that God is tracking so closely with us – or afraid because you are afraid He would disapprove of you?
Hearts and Minds
  Jesus searches our hearts and minds and He acts in accordance with what He has seen: where we are faithful He entrusts us with more, where we are unfaithful He may have to look for someone else to do what we could have done. (Matt. 25:21,28, cf Rev 2:23, 1 Chron. 28:9)  

The stakes could hardly be higher – and it is in the ‘mind field’ that key battles are won and lost. We don’t need to be ‘Master Mind’ brain boxes to please the Lord – but we do need love, devotion and faith.
The first mind shift we need to get away from is thinking that God is only interested in our minds from the point of view of clearing out the junk. In this respect we may well have a great deal to unlearn – but the Lord is longing for us to be able to think His thoughts, sing His songs and speak His words.
It is not always easy to distinguish between ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ in New Testament thinking. Often interchangeable, the Greek word phronesis describes our mindset and understanding, whilst the kardia, the heart, represents the sum total of our feelings: our thoughts, desires and experiences. The Hebrew worldview is a holistic one. It is more the overall state and direction of our heart that matters to God than how bright or well stocked our minds may be. After all, Jesus chose twelve unlettered men to be His first disciples. Even today, the majority of the world’s Christians can neither read nor write.
The mind is both the thing that causes us so much trouble and the means through which the Lord shares so much of His heart and intentions to us. We are therefore going to explore the ‘engine’ of our lives: the motor that is at the heart of all that we are and do.
  Spirit of God, come deeper into our minds. Renew and enlarge them day by day, until in more and more areas of our lives we have the mind of Christ.. (cf.1 Peter 1:13, Luke 24:38)  

The Spirit-informed Mind
  I have thought deeply about all that goes on here in the world. Where people have the power of injuring each other . . . So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things; determined to find the reason for things, and to prove to myself the wickedness of folly, and that foolishness is madness.
(Ecc 7:25 NIV/LB, 8:9 LB)

The mind has an infinite capacity to store not only every experience we have even been through, but also some trace of the emotions that accompanied that event. Some of these are best forgotten and the majority of these lie in the equivalent of a deep store vault and should not be disturbed unnecessarily. But, from time to time, whether by the Lord’s leading or by the pressure of events, they rise to the surface.
As a writer, the more I understand of the nuts and bolts of my craft – for example, how novels ‘work’ – the better I am able to practise my craft. In much the same way, it helps if we are able to understand the ‘dynamics’ of the way prayer meetings and leadership teams work – not least in terms of seeing what does and does not work in particular contexts.
We are meant to consider how we can spur ourselves and others on to know God better, why certain things are happening, and what the Lord is saying about specific situations. The key Greek word from the New Testament here is nous, whose derivative verbs noeo and katanoeo mean to perceive, understand, consider and contemplate – key aspects of our walk with the Lord. All this is a combination of study, experience and openness to the Spirit. It is the fruit of a mind that is being trained by the Lord.
  My mind is . . .
a) Transformed, renewed and flowing freely.
b) Somewhat cramped in outlook, and taken up almost exclusively with my own affairs.
c) Frustrated, bowed down and heavily

  Lord, in all that we do, may Your Spirit inform our minds, so that our minds do not crush Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

‘The prayers of others can reach the parts our own cannot!’
  Ever got the wheels of your car stuck in the mud? The faster you spin them, the deeper the rut you carve! It’s like the needle getting stuck on a record player. Our minds have a way of looping our thoughts along worn and useless grooves. Fear and conflict see us fruitlessly rehearsing imaginary conversations. Mental upset sends our minds spinning fervently, but rarely achieving anything. Fear and conflict can grind our minds to a halt and hold us back.  

The way we have been brought up, even our family history, combines with our experience of life to colour our outlook on life. As we have already hinted, much depends on how we view ourselves – which is almost entirely governed by how we imagine God sees us?
  'The Lord Jesus is not against us for our sins, He is for us against our sins.’
( Selwyn Hughes)

Imagine a soldier on the field of battle. He is equipped with the latest weapons but is so convinced of his own uselessness that he stands rooted to the spot, unable or unwilling to lift his gun. So long as our gun barrels are pointing at the ground – or even turned against ourselves – we will do no damage to the powers of darkness and do little to advance the Kingdom of God. Any regular army would regard such a soldier as a liability!
Where condemnation and low self-worth are destroying us on the inside, we almost certainly need the help and encouragement of others to overcome our lethargy. To paraphrase a well-known commercial, ‘The prayers of others can reach the parts our own cannot!’ If we can find suitable people to share with in honesty and courage, they can pray for us with faith and objectivity. And we can do the same for them in the areas that they are struggling in.
For others, it is not so much condemnation that fills their mind so much as the tendency to indulge strong longings. Were God to grant these fantasies, they would, in all probability, prove entirely harmful. We give ourselves mentally to fleeting infatuations with this new truth, that idea, this person or that lifestyle. The end result is much the same as condemnation: a stuck and far from fruitful mind.
When Paul describes such attitudes as infantile (Eph 4.14b) it gives the lie to the modern emphasis that if we feel something strongly enough in our hearts, it must be right to go with it. Not so. The Bible reminds us that the heart is deceitful above everything else. (Jer.17:9) That is why the book of Proverbs places such a strong emphasis on the protecting the mind: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’ (Prov 4:23)
To hold some belief (love or desire) sincerely does not bestow any special merit on the belief. All that counts is whether the Lord can acknowledge that mind-set. and whether we are truly yielded to Him.
From only too much experience, I know what happens when I allow my mind to dwell on certain fears and fantasies. By constantly rehearsing them, they become strongholds: entrenched thought patterns that influence all of my thinking. Before long they become more real than reality itself and it is at this point that my perception of things becomes lopsided.
Similarly, any delusions and spiteful sentiments we nurse are sure to betray themselves sooner or later. (Luke 6:45) That is why it is better, if you have the courage, to ask someone who loves you to point out any such ‘unbalanced elements’ in your life.
To have someone to share your inmost thoughts with, as well as your plans, is a most precious thing. If our heart is off-balance, the chances are that we can probably come up with much rationalising and self-justification to avoid making any serious changes. That is why it is so important to ask both the Lord and those around us to be search lamps that make these things clear.
For Reflection
  Let me ask you a serious question. ‘What is on your mind?’ I don’t mean the last thing you were thinking of before you started reading this publication, but the general trend of what has been going through your mind in recent weeks and months.  

Pray for the victims of Friendly Fire
  In spiritual warfare, as in any other form of warfare, the most tragic fatalities are those that are caused by so-called ‘friendly fire’, when their own guns are turned against them. Paul warns us clearly: ‘If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’([2])  

Churches and mission movements suffer more loss of momentum through splits and personality clashes than through purely external circumstances. When we cause division and envy and controversy in our groups we do the devil’s work for him – he barely has to help at all!
In many church splits we over-spiritualise matters to the point where we lose perspective and forget that so many problems can be solved just by choosing to walk in the Spirit. That will often mean humbly asking, ‘Instead of making a dramatic stand on this point, what can I do to ease this conflict?’
  Lord, forgive us when we become a means of division rather than agents of grace. Let us not be peacemakers in the flesh but reconcilers by Your Spirit. Strengthen all who have been misrepresented and maligned to trust again, and where hurt has paralysed hearts, bring healing and restore freedom.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Part 2 ~ Cultivating the Imagination
  The spiritual man has insights into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world…for he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts or to discuss them with Him, or to move the hands of the Lord by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 2:15-16, LB)

God spoke in Noah’s day of all the imaginations of people’s hearts being evil (Gen 6:5). Flick a switch, give an inch and there most of us are – only too willing to indulging fantasies and fancies that place us centre-stage. And if we dress up our ambitions in spiritual clothing, that only makes them all the more insidious.
Before we go on, let’s do a quick check-up based on John 15.1-17 to see where our heart is really up to:
  1. I am ‘abiding’ in the Lord, in the sense of ‘existing’ as a Christian but not really pressing in to claim new territory.

2. I am ‘abiding’ in desires that Jesus could not own.

3. I am ‘abiding’ in the Lord and investing in people and things that are on God’s heart.

If you know that you fall into the second category, the sooner we face our self-centred sinfulness the better. Likewise, when people harden their hearts and speak against other Christians there are always painful consequences. So many things stem from the decision to ‘disconnect’. It affects our relationship with the Lord (the vine) and with His Body (the branches). When we disconnect from marriage partners or from other Christians (whether mentally or more explicitly) it brings a dullness of spirit where once there had been vitality, and scattering where formerly there had been unity.
At the same time, it is not right to allow the awareness of our sinfulness to loom larger in our thinking than the grace of God. To suppose that we are so bad that God can no longer reach us is a sort of inverted pride. It is declaring ‘God’s grace isn’t powerful enough to reach me’ – and that can never be true.
A Spirit-baptised imagination leaves us open to the Lord’s leading, just as surely as an unbaptised one leaves us prey to endless self-centred thoughts. When our imagination is submitted to the One who gave it to us, it is a really precious tool: a multi-faceted diamond that reflects God’s endless creativity. When the mind of God meets with our mind, one word from Him is worth ten of our own bright ideas.[3]
If that is true for us as individuals, it also true corporately. Whenever a person comes along suggesting some new or different way of doing something, many churches, organisations and institutions take an instinctive step backwards. All too often, genuinely worthwhile ideas end up being dismissed out of hand, instead of being weighed, refined and then embraced. It is right to be cautious, right to be prayerful and to ‘test the spirits’ but wrong to be afraid of embracing what God is saying.
The more flexible and fluid our mind, the more open we will be to change. When our mind is operating healthily, we are much more capable of visualising and imagining new things. But when our thinking is clogged and stiff, the effort involved in making changes seems so overwhelming that the mind protests vehemently. A new thing is either good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, worth trying or not worth trying, cost-effective or too expensive – there are all sorts of genuine criteria by which ideas should be evaluated. Emotional antagonism is never helpful when trying to evaluate the true worth of a new suggestion.
How do you fare in this respect? When the pressure is on, do you instinctively retreat into the supposed safety of the tried and tested? Or are you open to step forward into wherever God is leading you? Even if certain things have gone wrong in the past, don’t close the door to change. Don’t stop doing that difficult thing that the Lord has asked you to either, even though you feel so overawed by it! God honours faith and obedience very highly.
Consult before acting
  In our first excitement of being a Christian we are eager to get out and do things for God, almost as though we assume that we are doing God a favour. As we go deeper in the Lord, we become more and more aware that we are not here to try to make Him feel better: our task is to come into line with what He intends us to do.  

We can summarise this process in a simple motto for life: ‘Consult the Lord before acting.’
Look at the early disciples in the course of their church planting. They always made time to seek the Lord together – and when they did so they were alert to His voice. We find them in Antioch ‘ministering to the Lord’: a delightful phrase that embraces both worship and seeking. How did the Lord honour their seeking? By giving one of His powerful ‘one-liners!’ The Holy Spirit said ‘Set apart for me Saul and Barnabas for the work I have called them to.’ ([4])
Just think of all the churches that were formed as the direct result of Saul and Barnabas setting off on their missionary journeys! It is hardly stretching the point to say that we are here today because they obeyed that word. The people they reached told people who told people until finally someone came and told us.
Look at it another way: suppose those original disciples had procrastinated. ‘How do we know that was the Lord speaking? Better not to do anything than to take a chance and make a mess of things!’ What tapes play in your mind to hold you back from acting on what the Lord has shown you?
What happens when we forget to consult the Lord? We rely on ourselves, almost as if we think He is not really interested. We respond out of instinct from ‘experience’, fear or longing. The deeper our lives have been impacted by the Lord, the more likely our response is to be spiritually sound. But there are some times when ‘experience’ alone will never be enough. That is when we need specific wisdom from the Lord.
The more important the work we have been entrusted with and the more choices we face, the more we need to seek His wisdom. But we will fare better in ‘big’ situations if we have been practising in smaller everyday matters. Catherine Marshall chronicles a time when a man found himself caught in a hotel room in a fire.[5] In any crisis situation, there is always the risk that fear and tension will shut out the voice of the Lord. But this man had learnt in stress-free times to wait for God’s wisdom and he was open to hear the Lord showing him now how to escape from the fire.
For Reflection
  Pray for this principle of consulting before acting to become deeply embedded in your whole way of thinking.
Try identifying one or two things that you are involved with and ask the Lord to show you the ‘sharpest’ way to proceed with them. Ask Him, too, to keep your antennae constantly switched on as to which people and opportunities He wishes you to be involved in.

You may never have paused to consider this issue in depth. It is so central to how we are, and the way that we respond to situations, that you will find it helpful to take some time to identify where you stand. Try filling in the following starting scenarios.
  1. I find it easy to trust what You are saying, because I have learnt to place all my longings in You and can serve you with a free and undivided heart.
2. I am afraid to imagine because I have got things wrong in the past and am afraid that what I most want may never come to pass.

Faith and Imagination are twins

When faith and imagination are twinned together, more often than not we will find ourselves praying and working towards targets that are ‘over the horizon’. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for’ (11:1). This is entirely different from dreaming up some mental image of what we would like to see happen. That would be to deny reality.
The writer is not trying to pen the ultimate definition of faith. Rather, he is speaking about heroes of faith from bygone times in such a way as to stimulate our faith for the future, and as something that reveals our heart’s true motivations. Their trust in God enables us, like them, to attempt the impossible and then to persevere through the humanly unsustainable. And we by grace can do the same.
Whenever God speaks we have a choice to make. We can either harden our hearts against what God is saying, as Pharaoh did, or we can set ourselves to embrace it, even if it crosses our will or appears to contradict our expectations. Every true word of God asks something of us that we either would not have chosen for ourselves or are unable to bring to fruition by our own efforts. God never forces us to do something, but He will show us clearly what is best, and allow us to experience the blessings of obedience, or the consequences of ignoring Him. And what He promises, He will bring to fulfilment.
  Lord, I give you the hopes and visions that You have given me to hope and believe for. Grant me grace to keep faith, praying and working until You bring them to pass. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Lord of the unexpected
  ‘Who would have believed that?…’ This has been our constant refrain for the past few years, during which God has spectacularly redirected our lives. Before He took us away from the mainland to the Shetland Isles, we can be quite sure that He gave considerable thought to the whole process. He foresaw in his Spirit the places we would live, and the paths He would lead us long before making them known to us.  

When God opens up a way for us, we still have to choose to take it. There is no guarantee that people will walk forward even through an open door. If we do, however, we can be confident that we are following His leading, even if things do not work out in the way we had anticipated. God’s leading permits dummy runs and even false starts; the journey as well as the destination is of value to Him. But He hears our cries and is committed to fulfilling His purposes for us. His leading keeps us on our toes!
Watching with Father

If our mind has a natural tendency towards evil, then it stands to reason that the diet we feed it is all-important. I find few things more refreshing than reading a good novel – but I always keep one ear open to the Lord in case the ‘anointing’ to read lifts. As for that box in the corner, forget ‘Watch with Mother’ – are you ‘Watching with Father?’ Or just flipping idly from channel to channel? Watching unhelpful programs every night will do nothing to sharpen our spiritual perspective!
Years ago I had a word of knowledge, warning someone that they were watching too much television. A few weeks later his wife left him, precisely because she couldn’t prise him away from the box. Just as passive smoking can do real damage, so can too much time in front of the TV. A diet of endless ‘light’ reading and viewing will teach us little or nothing that is of any eternal value. Not only is our imagination in danger of being stimulated in wrong and harmful ways, but it robs us of the time and energy to pursue more creative paths.
God wants to make our leisure times richer and more fulfilled than they could ever otherwise have been. Here is a simple test. Do we become overly touchy when someone drags us out of a programme or book? If so, it may indicate that this thing has become something of an ‘idol’ to us.
How can we enhance our quest for good reading matter? By setting time aside to read – and then to ponder and assimilate what we have read. Ask God to lead us to material that will expand our mental and spiritual horizons and grant us fresh insights into His nature and His ways.
Check too, that we are not becoming too selective in where we look for wisdom. Have we become ‘one track’ in our reading habits? We may tell ourselves that we are deliberately over-compensating in one particular area of teaching or study because the body of Christ in general is paying it too little attention. But could it be making us unbalanced – even turning us into cranks? We can gain great wisdom even from authors with whom we profoundly disagree on certain points.

Leave the bits you can’t handle on the side of the plate, just as you would eating a fish. The fact that there are ‘bones’ doesn’t mean the fillet wasn’t worth eating! Almost every Christian writer will have at least some experiences and insights to share that will be of benefit and interest to others.
Examine the subjects (and the objects) to which your imagination returns again and again. Do they merely lead to insatiable cravings which reduce our capacity to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Or do they glorify the Lord and make us still more hungry for His presence?
Harnessing the Imagination in Prayer
  Imagination is the greatest of all the gifts which God has given us. It makes us full of eyes, without and within. (Alexander Whyte)

One in the eye is worth two in the ear! (Boxing Manual)


The great danger with the imagination is that we use it to project our own desires and wishes on to the centre stage of the screen. We waste time having imaginary conversations with people, planning how we want them to act, and when they don’t or won’t, we resent it!
If we can turn from these self-centred tendencies, we can, as it were, walk in their shoes, and plead with the Lord for their situation with the same longing we would have if it were our own. ‘In all their distress, He too was distressed.’([6]) That is why people like Rees Howells went to the extremes of eating no more food than was the lot of the Indian widows he was praying for.
Prayer brings us close not only to loved ones, but even to people we do not know. Such compassion releases the power of the Lord.
The Art of Burden Bearing
  No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else. (Charles Dickens)  

Prayer is caught as well as taught.
When we are in tune with Spirit, there is ‘room’ on the hard disk of our minds to bear others up in prayer before the Lord. Paul spoke about having the Philippian believers in his heart (Phil 1:7). One of the most precious gifts of the Spirit is to be able to ‘carry each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal 6:2).
It is precious beyond words to join ourselves in spirit with loved ones at times when they are in special need of prayer. When our spirit is untroubled by other worries – and, admittedly, it is a big when! – we can feel as close to them as if we were physically present with them.
I am taking it for granted that most of us have read plenty of books about prayer, sat in plenty of Bible studies about prayer and, in the midst all of that, have found the time to give it a go ourselves rather more than once in a while! What is needed is often not just more prayer but rather the ability to enter with faith and imagination into the matters we are concerned about.
Shutting out all the needs which disturb us will not help to stoke up the fire within. In the words of a contemporary hermit, ‘An intercessor’s heart must be a furnace of love for sinners.’ Our prayer burdens will be as different from each others’ as our personalities, but if the Lord Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with loud tears and cries, then so must we. With the Spirit’s help, any of the matters we read, see or hear about can become the raw material for prayer.
Like an athlete benefiting from the long months of training, we need to sharpen our prayer life by avoiding too much contact with the spirit of the world. A season of more intense prayer, perhaps without food, may do wonders to help us identify with the suffering of people we would not normally even think about. Occasional times without fiction, television, or some other comfort we have come to take for granted may likewise do much to revive a flagging spiritual life – or to enrich an already deep one.
Avid reader of the newspaper that I am, I found it beneficial recently to spend a week without one. I made use of the time instead to pay more attention to the excellent Christian publications I receive. Our primary call is to meet with the Lord and to resist evil; it is not necessarily our duty to know about every issue that the far from Spirit-led media is currently featuring. The more open we are to the Lord, the more likely it is that meaningful prayer will ensue.
As time goes by, we will find ourselves particularly drawn to pray for certain people, places and professions. We usually pray best and most sincerely for the subjects that we feel most for: the people, places and professions that are closest to our hearts. But the Lord can give us a deep compassion and emotional connection to subjects we have no human relation with at all. He gave the Welsh miner Rees Howells, for instance, a huge burden for Indian widows.
Some burdens are to be lived with and ‘carried’ for a lifetime, others for a season and still others for mere minutes. As we develop a greater sensitivity to the Spirit, He can catch our hearts with a newspaper headline or a phrase in the news and move us to pray out of a temporary burden for a few moments until it lifts – maybe never to return to that subject again in prayer. Or, the burden ebbs and flows but our attention is drawn repeatedly back to that subject.
For Reflection
  Take a look at the scope of your prayer topics over the last few weeks. Have you got locked into a rut? Would the Lord renew some old burdens? Or help you to move on from some whilst giving you new ones?  

A Way into Wider Prayer
  ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.’
Romans 8:26

If you are one of those for whom the thought of praying for wider issues is so daunting that you rarely make a start, I would like to suggest a simple way to approach such topics.
Suppose, for example, that you want to pray for the education system, but feel intimidated by the size of the topic. Here is a simply way to reduce the issue to manageable proportions and so overcome the sense of being dwarfed by the size of the problem. Start by praying for one teacher or child whom you know, and make them a representative of the whole group. Pray for them by name. Then move on to pray for the school that they are part of, and then for the other schools in the region. Before you know it, you will find yourselves praying for the whole education system. It is easy to do the same with the Health Service, perhaps by praying first for someone who works in a hospital, or who is hospitalised. In such ways, any issue, institution or even nation comes within reach.
If we concern ourselves to the best of our abilities with the things that are on the Lord's heart, He will take care of our needs. As we make time to wait on Him, He will show us things which we have read or heard or seen and which can be usefully transformed into prayer, or action that is based on his leading.
Strategic Prayer

If strategy is central to success in business and military circles, why should it be any less so in the realm of prayer? After all, if one country is going to invade another, the commander in chief does not allow every ship, regiment or squadron of aeroplanes to start fighting when and wherever they feel like it. He concentrates his forces according to a master plan. As Christians we are engaged in serious spiritual warfare. It is important for us to discover the Commander’s plan, and to play our proper part in it.
If we do not think ‘strategically,’ our prayers may quickly degenerate into mere idle longing along the lines of ‘Oh, if only the government would show mercy to the unemployed.’ Such ineffectual longing leads either to long shopping lists, or worse, to facile assumptions that so-and-so is the ‘goody’ and someone else the ‘baddy.’ Prayer can easily become a condemning of those who do not happen to think as we do. All this does is reinforce our own viewpoint rather than to advance the Kingdom.
Our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against intelligent people without bodies: the principalities and powers of darkness. Derek Prince defines them in They Shall Expel Demons as ‘personalities without bodies who crave to inhabit a physical form’. Most traditional church prayers contain little hint of this dimension of spiritual warfare. Perhaps this is because it is naively assumed that the institutions of state will always be used for the maintenance of religion and all good values. Whilst we have much to be thankful for in our nation, we can never afford to forget that the devil has a vested interest in making the state a servant of Mammon, and an instrument of oppression. Churchill’s reminder that ‘Constant vigilance is the price for ongoing freedom’ is a reminder of the need to keep on praying for the Lord to preserve our nation, and to bring about the revival He is longing for.

Part 3 ~ Mind Stressors

The mind, like any other motor, suffers wear and tear through everyday use. It therefore needs maintaining and sometimes overhauling. We could loosely place these stresses into three main categories:
  a) external demands
b) internal accusations
c) spiritual assault

Let’s take each in turn.
a) External pressures
I read a headline the other day that showed an increasing number of teenagers are turning to Prozac to help them cope with the stress of exams. Whichever direction you look in, the adverts are plugging stress-beaters and stress-reducers. Why? Because most of us are having problems handling the stresses of life. Some of us are having to juggle too many conflicting demands, while others face the equal but opposite stress of feeling that they have too little role or responsibility in life.
We need the Lord’s guidance to help us sift life’s priorities. It is rarely easy, not least because saying ‘yes’ to God’s agenda for our lives (and remember our lives are lived hour by hour and day by day) will often entail disappointing someone else’s hopes and agendas for us.
Basic books on time-management, such as Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering your Private World or the acquisition of a good personal organizer will go some way towards helping your mind to function better.
Going hammer and tongs at big objectives (particularly demanding jobs, for example) day in and day out without compensating for the pressure is rather like asking an athlete to run a marathon every day. It is no more the recipe for real creativity than is retreating under a blanket in the face of life’s many pressures.
I enjoyed the survey that recommended that executives would do their best work if they only came into the office 161 days a year, and spent the rest of their time thinking. If only some company somewhere would have the courage to try it! Of course there would be many who would abuse the freedom and spend the time in casinos, but the principle is an important one: we need time and space in which to think – and we can become off balance if we remain too tightly locked in.
We can all benefit so much by getting away from our usual routines. The other day I painted a wall: it improved the look of the garden somewhat but was by no means a priority task. The Lord spoke to me clearly and said, ‘It is important to me that you are doing this, precisely because many of the things that you do are important.’ The busier our minds, and the more significant the decisions that we make, the more we need to make time to ‘whittle’ and do odd jobs.
What we need to be looking to do is to factor in some form of compensation against the pressures before they assume overwhelming proportions. Many of us, if we are honest, are operating on some degree of automatic pilot that is only a few degrees above burnout level. A simple change of location – or company – can help enormously. The principle applies for marriages as well as work and ministry: Compensate by spending quality time away from the usual work-face before the situation becomes an emergency. ‘Retreating to advance’ can do wonders to bring renewed zest and perspective.
Where do you go to renew your mind?
The Lord is ready to commune with us anywhere, anytime, but we are not always equally as ready, or as able, to meet with Him. Certain places may therefore help to develop this life of intimacy.
In our high-pressure high-expectancy age, each of us needs a trysting place with the Lord, a break from the daily grind, where we are able to meditate on God’s goodness and pray for His purposes to be fulfilled in our lives. I am convinced that businesspeople, teachers, parents and, indeed, those from every walk of life would be blessed and strengthened if they could but make the necessary time and sacrifice to get away to be with God. A place that has been consecrated to the Lord, and much prayed in, often enjoys a special depth of His presence. May He help us to find and profit from such places!
b) Internal Accusations
As a man thinketh in his heart so he is. (Proverbs 23:7)
If external pressures can be hard to cope with, the inner life is still more important. This is what makes our engine tick and ultimately affects all our confidence and decision-making. It even determines our demeanour and comportment – and in turn our effectiveness and fruitfulness.
It is as destructive thought patterns loop endlessly through our minds, plaguing us with the same refrains, that we hit the ‘mind field’ head on. ‘I’m no good, I’m useless,’ the tapes play, ‘I’ll never amount to much. ­If people knew what I was really like, they wouldn't love me. God can't use me, I'm not even sure that He hears my prayers . . .­’ These are immensely private battles, fuelled by a low self-esteem, and reinforced by outward setbacks and disappointments. But they must be fought and won.
Where do negative thought patterns come from? Most often they are the consequence of barbed and spiteful words that parents, teachers or peer groups spoke over us. These words can have the effect of curses and often need identifying and breaking so that we can be set free to flow again. I think of a woman who had been considerably used in the healing ministry until unkind words from a friend (indicating that she felt embarrassed by the way her friend was ministering) stopped her there and then. The result? A truly blessed flow of the Spirit was stopped, dead in its tracks. People who are not as immersed in the stresses of our situation as we are can bring objective faith and insight through their support.
In The Winged Life Hannah Hurnard proposes a way of responding that is quite at variance with contemporary standards. Pray into the issues she raises in the following paragraphs:
  ‘Every refusal and thrusting back of wrong speaking means deliverance from wrong thinking . . . The interplay and connection between thought and some expression of that thought is inseparable. Every expression by word of mouth impresses the thought more deeply on the mind, so that one simply cannot stop thinking about the things one speaks about . . . That is why we find that we CANNOT forgive and forget any wrong done to us, as long as we talk about it to others, even in the strictest confidence.
We bind the wrong that has been done to us upon our memories and consciousness and can never go free from the resultant bitterness and resentment and self-pity and dislike or hate of the wrongdoer. To forgive and to obtain release from an unforgiving spirit, we must ‘cut off’ completely all talking about the thing which has been done against us. If we continue to talk about it and to tell others how we have been mistreated, we are not forgiving, and consequently, as our Lord tells us, we cannot be forgiven either.
[I am inclined to add as a rider that one possible exception occurs where extreme abuse has taken place, or when it would be morally wrong not to speak out about an issue. But we cannot be too careful in this matter of breaking confidences. Whilst it is wrong to be bound to inappropriate confidentiality, the dangers of revealing matters best left to God is immense. Words once uttered can never be recalled.]
In my own case, [Hannah continues], the habit of fault-finding and hurrying to point out the blemishes and weaknesses in others had been so terribly strong, that I felt quite certain this was one of the first things which must go if Holy Love was to be free to use my mouth. I also felt equally certain that the habit was so fixed and powerful that I would never be able to stop indulging it. What! Never again express a critical, unkind, disparaging word against anyone - the cranky, exasperating, spiteful and unloving people as well as the saints! And never gossip again, or enjoy the pleasure of passing on some unsavoury little titbit about a neighbour or someone I disliked!
Forego all the ugly pleasure of tearing some unpleasant person to pieces behind their back, and of warning someone who had not yet discovered the unpleasant trait in that person for themselves? Never get all the exasperation and irritation and dislike and resentment off my chest by unloading it on to a friend and pouring out all the wrongs I had to bear, and forego the necessary sympathy! Indeed, it did look utterly impossible . . . But gossip and careless chatter about the idiosyncrasies and weaknesses of others makes a transformed thought life impossible. On such apparently small and trivial things do great inner revolutions and victories depend.
Like everything else, I made the discovery that if we are willing to face up to a clean sweep, without making any reserves or exceptions, then the Saviour will gladly give full victory. It is the reserves and the exceptions we insist on making which spell failure and disaster. Willingness to go the whole way and to agree that there shall be no exceptions to grieve the Holy Spirit of Love - this is the secret of victory.
When one begins to experience the glory and release which follows, the very thought of returning to the old kind of destructive and unloving thoughts and speech, becomes a kind of nightmare, quite literally, like moving out of heaven with all its radiant and loving fellowship into an atmosphere which by contrast seems like the outskirts of hell . . .
My own painful experience is that as long as I speak about my own fruit and victories, and the way I am used and the opportunities I have, I cannot know thought victory, but am shut up to thinking about myself and my concerns, and to daydreaming about the way in which God uses me. There is no bondage more dreary and more unheaven-like than this. And what bitterness and jealousy and inner rage ensues when someone comes along who is more popular and more sought after, or has bigger and better advertisements!
We need to remember that small, insignificant and apparently harmless grumbles can, and do, act as tiny punctures, through which all the power which the Saviour offers us, leaks away. Many a child of God who begins to check up on this matter will be astonished to discover how negative and complaining their thoughts and words are about a multitude of things, and how habitual this habit of grumbling has become, though they have been nearly unconscious of it.
Every new test and trial which we meet is really the beginning of ‘learning a new song of praise unto our God.’ So let us make sure that the opening bars of the new song are not a dirge, nor a moan nor a sigh, or the whole song will be spoilt, and the learning of it be painful and not joyous.
(The Winged Life, pp43-45)

Power over bondages

We shall be looking in this section at bondages others can put on us. But let us never for one moment forget that there is one thing more than any other we can do to avoid being taken captive in our spirits, and that is to forgive, even those who set out, quite deliberately, to wound, vex and hinder us.
Forgiveness frees our minds to flow in the creative power of the Spirit. Unforgiveness cramps the imagination, stifles the voice of the Spirit and leads to all sorts of unhelpful introspection – even paranoia.
Some time ago, I woke with an excruciating pain in my back. The concerned prayers of many over several weeks failed to make any difference. Finally, some friends visited and as they prayed the Lord showed them that the pain was the direct result of my being spoken against. When they prayed and took authority – the pain lifted within minutes.
This was an extreme example but not as unusual as it might sound. An anointed prayer-leader was struck down by a mystery illness. For over a year, people prayed without any measure of success. Finally, a man of God came to pray with her and declared, ‘What you are up against is something much stronger: the power of envy in the Body of Christ.’ It was only when he broke this power that she recovered.
These are not light matters. We heard the other day about a couple who had once been on fire for God, but who have seriously lost momentum by spending almost all their time denouncing the doctrines of other denominations. Their ‘concern’ had become a driving passion. Sadly, a group of ‘discontents’ formed around them, with the result that the efforts and intentions of the entire fellowship became diverted to an almost meaningless end. Why knock the faith of others when we are called to live life in Christ, and minister life not death?
There is nothing the devil likes more than to get his teeth into a decent morsel of bigotry. What a victory for him – and what a defeat for the church. There is no faster way into the wilderness than to speak against one another. To his master each one must stand.[7] Just look at how the devil managed to keep Christians pursuing each other (even to death) concerning the precise meaning of Holy Communion.
I love the wisdom Queen Elizabeth the First showed concerning the precise meaning of the disputed verse, ‘This is the body of Christ.’ Whilst others were arguing about whether it meant that the bread literally became the body of Christ, or merely represented it, she replied, ‘It is what the Lord knows it to be!’ More such wisdom would defuse the heat of so many unnecessary ‘hot potatoes’ in the body of Christ today.
Hannah Hurnard has wisdom for us on this vital subject.
  If we dwell on the mistakes of others, we shall always be irritated by them, and while we feel irritated and unwilling to accept and bear with these people as they are, they will be conscious of it, and will be closed to any help from us. Most likely, however, they will automatically open to the help and the love which they so need when we ourselves are so full of creative love that all exasperated thoughts and feelings are excluded.’ (Winged Life, p.38)    

Freedom from life on Striving Edge
  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)  

There is a particular steep mountain track on the top of Hevellyn known to thousands of mountaineers as Striding Edge. We are talking now of those times when our engine over-revs and leads us to Striving Edge! Striving is a particularly deadly enemy of intimacy with God. Our desperate attempts to please others leave us feeling worn-out, not least because the pressure of our concern to know how we are doing robs us of any chance of experiencing true restfulness. As Herbert Swope wrote, ‘I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try and please everybody!’ [8]
The principal thing that can stop us from exercising this freedom is our own instability. The Lord Jesus has given us to do the specific things He has called us to do. Many of us are so filled with self-loathing that we pass judgements against ourselves which, in turn, fuel self-destructive tendencies. At any moment, these lethal charges can be set off like high explosives, bringing all manner of disquiet not only to ourselves but to all who come too close to us. No wonder publishers fall over themselves to bring out books on self-acceptance!
So much of our striving stems from trying to be someone other than who we really are. Some of us need to consciously thank the Lord for making us the way we are, lest otherwise we merely feel resentful or envious of others. It is tempting, but not wise, to wish away the circumstances of our life. What good does it do to run away, or to wish that we were someone or somewhere else? Are we not effectively rejecting the Lord Himself if we reject ourselves?
In one of the ‘Barbar’ cartoons, the elephant king had been feeling his responsibilities so heavily that he wished he no longer had to be king. His wish was granted and he was allowed to experience the lot of a commoner – only to watch with horror as another king imposed a tyrannical reign on his kingdom. The elephant’s influence had been far more beneficial than he had supposed – just as our own often is. The scriptwriter was merciful: Barbar  was restored to his throne just in time to save the kingdom!
It is not our striving that God rewards, but our obedience to Him. Many of us are so preoccupied with our own self-image that we know all too little of this inner freedom. If we are strangers to God’s humour, and approach life so seriously that we can never laugh at ourselves, it is a sure sign that our hearts are still striving.
In The Magician’s Nephew, one of C.S. Lewis’ delightful Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan has just created the talking animals. (If you have not yet had the pleasure of discovering this series of six children’s stories, I heartily commend them to you!) As they get used to the sound of their voices, a jackdaw says something which embarrasses him, and makes the others want to laugh. At first, they try to repress it, but Aslan encourages them:
Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice came in with speech.
It is no use worrying that we are not converting the world, or gaining rapid promotion, if God has not given us the ability or the platform to do so. John the Baptist reminds us, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven’ ([9]). True, the ceiling of our faith ought to be advancing from one year to another, but if our epitaph matches that of Mary, who poured a jar of perfume over Jesus’ head, then we have lived well. Of her it was written, ‘She did what she could.([10]).
What a phrase that is to ponder! As we offer God the things that we most desire, so He begins to set us free from our emotionally exhausting fears and strivings.
It is important to have goals to aim at – but not to become obsessed by them. As Amy Carmichael said, ‘Beware what you set your heart on, because it will be yours.’ Do we really want what we are asking for? Are our goals and priorities God's eternal priorities for us? What are they? Why not write them down so that you can hold them before you and pray them through.

The trouble with chasing great visions is that we often miss opportunities to do good to people who are right in front of us. As we know, it is vital to have clear goals and visions to aim towards, but we also need to cultivate a restful, rather than a competitive attitude of heart. The more open we are to what the Lord has for us from one day to the next, the less we feel pressurised to perform, and to meet the often impossible standards that others place on us.
At first sight, ‘striving to enter God’s Sabbath rest’, as the Book of Hebrews exhorts us, sounds like a paradox. Many of us are reluctant to embrace ‘fallow’ times because we are afraid of being lazy or left behind. But it is precisely in times of real rest that we are best able to discern the Spirit’s leading. Farmers have reasons for allowing fields to remain unplanted. Vital nutrients are being replenished in our soul through these quieter ‘fallow’ times.
God loves to touch and use the humble. Their intellects do not get in the way, and the glory goes to where it truly belongs. Not that it is easy to be humble: the very act of seeking humility can make us self-centred! In fact, humility tends to develop as a joyful by-product of doing something for someone else. It also comes by ‘preferring others’, that is by encouraging and praying them to do better and to go further than you yourself have done. Finally, humility is the wisdom to commit all we do to the Lord, and to leave the outcome to Him.
What a joy it is when we know what it is that we are called to do, and can be at peace about all that we are not called to do. It may take time, experience and the counsel of friends to bring us to this point, but it is a great relief when we find we no longer have to act (or to hold back) out of fear of what other people will think or say.
The ‘Scrutin of Love’

Richard Foster has written an outstanding book called Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper San Francisco). The book is a gem, less concerned with ‘how we can acquire things through prayer than with how God will help us to discover Him through prayer,’ as Lewis Smedes put it. I cannot recommend it too highly. The third chapter deals with this issue of self examination (the ‘Scrutin’ of Love) precisely because it is something our generation is not so good at doing. We are better at doing than being – but expert at defending ourselves. We make it hard for God’s love to penetrate to the core of our being because we have learnt to keep it safely fortified from ‘intruders’. So much so that we barely notice how impoverished our prayer life really has become.
The simplest way to embark on such times is to set aside a portion of time for nothing else. For many of us this will come at the end of the day. Our aim here is to simply wait on the Lord, both to find out what He is saying about the things that have happened (externally) and the things we would do well to pay attention to (internally).
As with most spiritual issues, the external ones are the easiest to handle. As we replay events that have happened and watch them as it were on a video screen, it may be that the Lord will have us ‘pause the footage’ as we rediscover issues to attend to. One of the greatest benefits of this is that it enables us to rediscover nudges that have come our way but which we have done nothing about. It is like having a second bite of the cherry. If we fail to make a note of them at this stage, there is a real danger that they will simply pass into the deep blue and never be recovered.
All of this is a precious way of entering fully into life. Rather than letting events flow past unheeded, it shows that we are prepared to reflect upon their meaning, and to honour the people we come into contact with by doing our very best to make the contact poignant and meaningful. It is the very opposite of saying ‘we couldn’t care less’.

It also opens us to ‘other matters arising’ – the fact that we have spoken unkind words, failed to give or receive forgiveness; all the ‘little things’ which may not seem so important in themselves but which together build up into a huge dam that separates us from the flow of God’s Holy Spirit. ‘But Lord there are so many such issues: it’s not just an occasional weed, it’s creepy bindweed ten metres deep, wound round and round my heart!’ Well done for admitting to diagnosis. But God knows how to dig out even the deepest and most persistent weeds.
As we make time to reflect, words that people have spoken return to our consciousness. Words of encouragement that confirm we are on the right path; or words of warning and correction that save us from error – half-warnings even, that we might have missed had we been too engrossed in our own affairs.
Keeping a spiritual journal of God’s dealings with us can also aid this process of reflection. Rather than merely recording the outward events of the day, we will find it more valuable to record the things the Lord has shown us. Writing down the concerns that are uppermost in our hearts (perhaps in the form of a prayer) crystallizes our thinking and helps us in the future when we face similar situations.
Often, the Lord will use these times of reflection to remind us of something we already knew, or reassure us concerning some course of action. All this is a pointer to the fact that meaning and purpose undergird every part of our life, as the sovereignty of God sees one episode dovetail intricately with others. It is the exact opposite of the post-modernist concepts of relativity and accident.
Like a skilful investigator we will often have to piece together what He is saying or doing in a particular situation, until the time comes when we feel comfortable to implement a policy, or to pray a certain prayer.
Occasionally, the Lord may give us the special ability to ‘know’ what needs to be prayed for – much as the prophet Elisha was often fully aware of things that were happening far away. Elisha was not psychic; he was simply in touch with the Lord who loves (and sometimes needs) to communicate with His children. Elisha used his special knowledge of the enemy commander’s plans to save Israel from many enemy forays. Likewise, he knew at once when his servant had fallen into temptation. (2 Kings 6:8-12; 5:20-27)
Facing our own deceit
One of the most poignant phrases in the whole of Scripture was uttered by, of all people, Judas Iscariot, when he asked, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ (Matt 6:22) Now in this case we may presume the question was dripping with a saccharine-sweet hypocrisy that sought to mask the deadliest betrayal the world has ever known. (It may also have contained more than a hint of trying to ward off a last minute exposure!) The principle behind the words, however, is a powerful one. It is a great blessing when our words and our very presence in a place bring more of the Lord’s power and presence. But it does not always happen like that.
‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.’ (Jer 17:9) It is almost beyond belief how self-deluded we can be, not necessarily on all points but in certain areas of our life. We remember talking with Christians on the west coast of America who sounded like entirely normal Spirit-filled Christians one moment and the next were peppering the conversation with the most bizarre statements. One of the least sinister of these included the memorable words, ‘Did you realize that the Scriptures teach that bears will take over the world in the last days?’
It pays to study our track record carefully. Can we identify areas where we are regularly right or routinely wrong? Are there specific issues where we need to ask the question forthrightly to the Lord and His close followers: ‘Is it I?’ The heart will teach us to blame anyone other than ourselves. In other words, ‘Am I the one who has got things out of perspective, and who is spreading something other than the fragrance of Christ?’
When the Sisters of Mary were building their wonderful complex in Darmstadt, the whole project was a miracle of faith and provision from start to finish. But whenever they ran short of provision, they would stop and ask the cause: and often the Spirit of the Lord would highlight some wrong words or attitude between the sisters. The cause had effectively become like a mini-curse – and the Lord allowed the work to come to a halt until the relational issues involved were faced up to. When they were, He released His blessings again – pressed down and running over.
Overcoming prejudice
  ‘As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.’ (Proverbs 27:19)  

In the days before mirrors, maidens reputedly flocked to local pools to catch a glimpse of their reflection in the clear water. At a spiritual level, it is useful from time to time to examine our heart attitudes to glimpse what is being reflected there. Like an iceberg, many of these lie beneath the surface. You may have heard the saying: ‘No one is big enough to carry a cross and a prejudice at the same time.’ But which of us can claim to be entirely free from prejudice?
Let’s consider for a moment what a prejudice is. We are used to thinking of it as being a preconceived opinion; something that is not based on actual experience; a bias, or a partiality. It is also a judgement formed hastily or before due consideration. The primary meaning one dictionary gave for prejudice, however, is, ‘Harm or injury to a person or that results from a judgement or action, especially one in which his or her rights are disregarded.’
Put bluntly, our prejudices can cause real harm to other people. The difficulty is obtaining sufficient detachment and objectivity in order to spot them. We are making real progress when we can first identify and then overcome them by living in the opposite spirit. Probably the quickest way is to ask our friends or partner where our hurts and prejudices lie. The chances are that they are far more aware of them than we are!

Here are a few starting points:
  - Let certain common forenames come to mind. Are they clear to you now? . . .

- Do any of them trigger strong reminders of people you have had difficulties with in the past? Does that memory hold you back from embracing anyone else who happens to bear that name?

- How far along the road to healing and forgiveness does this indicate you might be?

Here is another exercise.
  - Are you sure you do not have a problem with other nations? Pray around the tribes and countries of the world to test yourself out.

- Does even the memory of certain countries trigger the very opposite of love and prayerfulness in you? For older people it tends to be Germany and Japan. How about you? England? Scotland? The United States?

- Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion for the countries He brings to mind.

Or does the mere mention of a certain group of Christians, or a particular leader or denomination, give you a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach? Bless them anyway. The Lord still loves them.
Now let a few stock relationships come to mind You can try these for starters, and see what reaction they provoke in you. You can probably think of more personally appropriate examples.
  - Mother (or daughter)-in-law.
- Boss

- A difficult neighbour . . .

Pray to be able to do something extra special for people who bear you ill-will. Bless them with the love of the Lord.
c) Spiritual Assault
In the place where you are being attacked – finances, friendships, outreach, church growth, some situation at work – hold firm. The point on which you are being attacked may well be the place where the greatest breakthrough will be achieved. Recognise the devil’s tactics for what they are – a desperate attempt to make you give up before victory comes.
When faced by a steady surge of resistance or a sudden glut of decidedly painful misrepresentation, I find comfort in contemplating Nehemiah’s heroic defensive strategies to see off the deadly dangers of Sanballat and Tobiah. (We should never allow our knowledge of the final outcome to make us forget just how serious the battle was at the time). You must have pondered many times on the strategies they deployed to induce fear and defeat in Nehemiah’s camp. What struck me was that the opposition was so intense that he needed to devote fifty percent of his manpower and time to defensive duties (Neh 4:16, 21).
Ostensibly it sounds like giving the enemy too much credence; actually it was essential to mount a strong defence against an enemy who was constantly probing for any sign of weakness.
Perhaps our greatest foe of all is condemnation – that terrible condition which plagues the majority of Christians at some time or another, and which makes us feel an outsider to God’s goodness.
Extreme pressure often has the effect of making us want to quit. We must be careful. If we do not resist the temptation to despair, we risk opening our hearts to negative forces, which will sweep in and plunge the soul into bitterness, and even cynicism. (A simple test of our heart’s condition is to see whether our spirits still kindle at the sight of others being blessed. If they do not, there is something seriously wrong.)
Georges Bernanos declared that despair is the most insidious of all temptations. This is because the powers of darkness try hard to hide the fact that it is a temptation at all. How clever they are at making our despondency appear a natural response to the dilemmas that we face. How diligent they are in masking the ways in which God has led and blessed us in the past. How easily they shift our focus from the vision God has given to our own lamentable condition. How important it is to remember that we worship a God of hope, and that hope does not disappoint us.[11]
Despair can never be a proper response. It is tantamount to accepting Satan's assessment of the situation that we face. Our task is to respond with faith, and so disappoint his expectations. For while the negatively-minded see the potential for disaster in each difficulty that they face, people of faith press in to see the Lord bring about new triumphs from the very same circumstances. Like a rose among thorns, fresh opportunities to prove the Lord’s faithfulness lie hidden within our dilemmas.
Even if things are going wrong because we have been in the wrong and have missed God’s best in some way, the Lord can still rework and restrand our lives and give them meaning.
We are well on the way to being truly humble if we can repent of our stupidity, but still enjoy boundless confidence in God's forgiveness. Christ does not love us grudgingly, as if with gritted teeth. He is our Companion, who longs to show us the best path to follow. Every day is a fresh page that is waiting to be written – a brand new opportunity to live with God. We never know what He is going to do next! If we can leave the past to God’s infinite mercy, commit the present to His grace, and entrust the future to His boundless providence, there will be far fewer landing strips for discouragement.
Call to mind
  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope (Lamentations 3:21)  

In the midst of extreme pressures, biblical heroes again and again ‘call to mind’ what God has done. This act of remembering is all-important, because it leads not to futile nostalgia but to active faith. God, who has helped us before, will do so again!
Use the memory of past deliverances (times when the Lord has intervened to make something possible for you) as a springboard for faith. Take your time and let the Lord bring many such examples to mind.
The Upside Down Bible

A variation on the above exercise,  and a powerful way to perceive truth, is to create an ‘Upside Down Bible.’

Approaching positive biblical truths (and verses) from upside down and back to front can have a wonderful effect in making us realise how wonderful they look the right way up! Try these for size:
‘May the God of hopelessness leave you bereft of all joy and peace as you continue to mistrust Him and fail to experience the slightest help from His Holy Spirit.’
(‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ Romans 15:13)
‘I know that you are fed up to the back teeth with me because you have allowed all these difficulties to come my way.’
(‘I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me.’ Psalm 41:11)
Now have a go at doing the same with the following verses:
· Psalm 55:22, 91:9, 119:162-3, 173
· Romans 8:1-2
· 1 Corinthians 1:5-9
· Colossians 1:9-13
· Philippians 1:20
· James 1:6; 4:7-8

Part 4 ~ The Mind as the Motor

Earlier in this publication, we considered the state of our minds. Now that we have looked at those three stress-areas that affect the mind and have seen how the imagination can be harnessed as an ally of faith, it is time to return to the metaphor of the mind as an engine and look at three different ‘states’ that we hinted at earlier:
  1. Engines that stutter.
2. Engines that are overstraining.
3. Engines running smoothly.

1. Engines that stutter
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future - all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
There are times when our minds appear to be on half power. We are aware that we are ‘missing beats’ but we try and pretend that all is well. So long as we can get away with it, we may go on living a ‘distracted’ life but still be able to cope with ordinary requirements. The Lord searches hearts and minds by upping the pressure until we can no longer carry on ‘coasting’ and ignore the things He is putting His finger on.
Sudden fiery darts and prolonged battle sieges are unavoidable, but grace can always be forthcoming. The secret is not to go into action when Goliath shouts, but as and when the Lord dictates. When some worry or issue is taking up the larger part of our mind we miss appointments and fail to pick up on the Holy Spirit’s ‘nudges’ of direction. It is like reaching up to pick an apple from a high branch but being unable to reach it. We need to slow down, pick up a stick and draw the bough towards us. This requires leaving other matters to be attended to on another occasion and focussing on what the Lord is giving us to do.
In extreme cases, we can find most of our waking thoughts being directed towards an end that simply cannot be reached. There are many who go on trying to please parents or someone else even after they have died or moved away. It is like worshipping in a graveyard. The pattern, once established however, can prove exceedingly hard to break. It is all too easy to substitute God’s ways by following the longings of our heart. Serious refocusing is needed. There is a cost, and probably spiritual warfare, in choosing the right path – but the consequences involved in going the wrong way are that bitter roots grow up that will defile many.
Engines stutter when they are seeking their own advancement, or are indulging in manipulative or controlling tendencies. (That is at the root of the Jezebel spirit that Jesus was speaking against so firmly in the Thyatira passage we quoted earlier from Revelation 2:2. John Paul Jackson’s book Unmasking the Jezebel Spirit is an invaluable tool for understanding the forces that are involved in what is, sadly, a widespread problem in the body of Christ.)
I love it when Paul says that we are not wise when we compare ourselves with others (2 Cor 10:12). That must be one of the biggest understatements in the New Testament! Living in a state of constantly comparing ourselves with others, and competing with them, is one of the surest ways to make our engine stutter. All that happens is that we end up feeling superior or inferior to others. In either case, we lose.
But because it can hurt so much when we are put to one side, ignored or misrepresented, here are a couple of examples that will really help us if we can take them into our spirits:
After Wesley and Whitefield had had a celebrated misunderstanding, Wesley was asked if he thought that he would see Whitefield in heaven. ‘I’m afraid not,’ Wesley replied gravely. ‘I was afraid you would say that,’ his interlocutor answered. ‘No,’ Wesley went on, ‘he will shine in so much greater glory that I will be quite unable to see him.’
Another example that I return to again and again for inspiration concerns FB Meyer, one of the most popular conference speakers of his time. The time came when the congregations turned instead to the young Campbell Morgan. Like any man, he acutely felt the loss at being thus superseded. Instead of nursing destructive resentment, however, Meyer resolved to spend as much of his spare time as he could praying for the success of the other man's ministry. Perhaps that explains why Campbell Morgan’s ministry was so exceptionally blessed. I can think of no finer response to a test of shrinking horizons and changing roles.
2. Engines that are over-revving
Engines going uphill in too high a gear struggle and strain. This has to do with the expectations that we place on ourselves and that others place on us. Often we, or they, ‘set’ these expectations according to a spirit of perfectionism that demands impossibly high standards.
When you come up against that which is far-fetched and hyped, which all of us who are eager for the Lord have been guilty of, it can blunt our expectations for the real thing. (Worse, the false claims we pursue can make other people cynical concerning genuine promises and moves of God). Pray that when we encounter things that are wrong that we will remain prayerful and not allow our hearts to become cynical.
Perfectionism: A Faulty Model and a moving Target Perfectionism is a counterfeit of intimacy with God, because it makes us focus more on what we feel we ought to be doing, instead of getting on with what we actually could be doing. It deceives us into supposing that if only we were to do this or that, then God will accept me, and everything will fall into place. It is a striving after the wind.
It is a flawed theology to say, ‘`­Well, I know God loves me, but I just can't live with myself.­’ We must be careful. We are speaking against someone whom God has died for, cares for lovingly, provides for abundantly, and has planned for perfectly. In the light of the love of God, is such an attitude honouring to God? Or fair?
If we have programmed ourselves to believe that we are not acceptable, it is too much for any human person to convince us of the opposite. Better by far to ‘forgive’ God for making us the way that we are, and to expect realistic things from each other. Otherwise we will find ourselves withdrawing from people and becoming increasingly isolated and alienated.
We often spiritualise this process of self-belittling and give it some suitably pious name such as ‘sanctification’ or ‘self-crucifixion’. It would often be nearer the truth to accept it is just a lack of basic trust. It is hard to worship a God who, as we perceive it, is never satisfied with us. Inward guilt makes us feel we must always try hard to be acceptable – but we fear in our heart that we never will be. A sense of divine disapproval hovers over us, which, inevitably, we transmit to others. Even if we preach all the doctrine right, something comes across in our manner as being not quite right.
The worst thing about perfectionism is the anger that lies just below the surface. Apparently holy (or placid) people eventually rebel against the ‘oughts’ they feel God has imposed on them, and resent their failure to be the kind of person they ‘ought to be’. Such anger is not objective reality of course; it is directed against the caricature of a disapproving God that their own perfectionism has concocted. We must learn to face this anger, and so come free of its pernicious influence. Otherwise we fall into denial, denying that we are angry, because ‘a good Christian would never lose his temper’.
Since it is the grace of God which puts an end to the perfectionist’s perpetual sense of guilt, let us pray for the Lord to set us free of the false yoke of perfectionism, so that we can enter in and enjoy His grace. His tailor-made yoke will suit both our personality and our particular calling.
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)
Broadening Out

When we know that we are spluttering, or overstraining, it is easy to become paralysed by the awareness of our weakness. It would be like saying, ‘I know the engine plays up sometimes so I think I’ll stay at home today.’ Spiritually we learn to play safe. ‘Something might go wrong – better to play safe and settle for less.’ How the enemy laughs! We shoot short of the target when we keep our services safe and our risk factors low. How we need to renew our minds concerning what God can do in our church services! To be open to the Lord means letting Him set the agenda for our services and meetings. Sometimes His emphasis will be more for healing, now it will be on teaching, or on interceding, or an invitation to hold reverent silence in His presence. The important thing is to be open to allow Him to direct us as He should choose.

The Lord is looking for opportunities to let His glory come down. But when we plan too much and control too tightly what happens in our meetings (whose meetings?) there is no space for His glory to come. If we ourselves are leaders, what can we do about this?
When God finds powerful ways to use us despite our faults and weakness, it glorifies Him all the more.
3. Engines running smoothly
  You will keep in perfect peace (literally shalom shalom) him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)[12]  

When the Spirit of God is flowing freely in our hearts there will be powerful prayer and all manner of creative insights. The process begins the moment we wake up. Getting the engine on the road means winning the battle of the bedclothes. The waking moments belong to God: this is when He so often slips in ideas and directions for the day ahead.
It is most important not to lose inspiration when it comes. This will often involve getting it down on paper. Don’t worry too much how it sounds, reads or looks; we are recording insights, not writing a novel!
The mind can be put to such good use. It is out of brokenness that the Lord works. It is when a rose is crushed that it exudes its fragrance, and when the alabaster jar is broken that it gives out its perfume. God knew He had to weaken Jacob by putting his right hip out of joint in order to set him free from his perennial habit of trying to wangle his own way. Henceforth, Jacob walked with a limp. If the Lord has to do the same with us, then so be it!
There is no limit to how the Lord can use and develop our minds when His Spirit is informing and directing them. May the Lord cultivate in us an eye for opportunity. As we walk with Him, we will see ways in which things could be done better, and people benefit by meeting each other. These are simple things: not earth-shattering in themselves but infinitely precious! Often, we will need to be the one who makes the framework for these things to become possible. As we do so, God Himself will fill the framework – many things will be launched, and many people blessed because we took the time to care and pray for them (cf Mark 5:15).
Renewing minds within marriage
  ‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner ... so that nothing will hinder your prayers.’ (1Peter 3:7)  

What part of the landscape of our heart needs renewing more than marriage relationships? We may do a pretty good job of convincing most people much of the time that we are deeply spiritual but we can’t fool our wives or husbands who know us so well! Perhaps that is why so few pray together on a regular basis?
Very few people set out to have a bad relationship with their partner, or with anyone else for that matter: they drift into less intimacy than they once enjoyed. Occasionally this comes as the result of some major failing or infidelity, but far more frequently it comes through a succession of irritating habits and activities and by apparent areas of incompatibility. I say ‘apparent’ because I believe we are called to create an atmosphere of compatibility. The first and best way to do this is to respect our partner for their strengths and differences rather than being cross with them for not being clones of ourselves.
Where we have allowed disrespect to colour our attitude, we are specifically excluding the chance of creating a spiritually creative or welcoming environment. Most of us probably have much to repent of here. Remember, this applies in our relationships with our leaders and colleagues as well as in our marriage.
As a top priority we need to know what our partner’s primary needs really are. This applies equally to young and well-established relationships alike. It is surprising how easy it is to ‘miss’ each other. If we are showering them with lots of comfort when their real need is actually for appreciation or trust, then we may not be meeting their real need at all. They will be frustrated because we are missing their heart, and we will be frustrated because we will feel as though we are giving so much and yet never quite managing to hit the bull’s eye.
It is easy to allow little roots of rebellion to creep into our relationships, not only with each other, but with God as well. There is only one letter difference between resent and repent – but all the difference in the world in their outworking.
Make a time to sit down together and work through these thoughts. What is your principal need? Support? Appreciation? Admiration? Encouragement? Trust? Respect? Comfort? What is the partner’s need? Books such as John Gray’s Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus can be a real help – despite the implausible title!
Music and the Mind
  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 5:19-20)

Certain things stimulate people’s minds, just as surely as certain other things deaden them. People turn to drink or drugs hoping that they will enhance their senses, overcome their inhibitions and release their creativity. Real creativity, by contrast, is a partnering with God, not a handing over of our mind to dangerous forces. I find creativity is as likely to come from a walk in the country or people-watching in a shopping mall as from watching a good film or listening to an inspiring piece of music.
More and more people are realising the impact music can have on the development of the unborn child. When Ruth was in the womb she often used to kick when Ros and I began to worship. Music has an important part to play in touching the heart and releasing emotions and understanding that the mind itself might not easily be able to process. It is no coincidence that Elisha sent for a harp when the pressure was really on, or that David soothed Saul’s troubled spirit with his music.
Luther was wise when he claimed that the devil flees before the sound of music rather than before anything else except the Word of God. My answer to that is, ‘Put the two together!’ There is an enormous amount we can do in our homes and churches to explore the power of godly music. Remember, the brain has two halves (or hemispheres). Words impact primarily on one side and music on the other. That is why the right kind of music can stir our hearts so profoundly.
‘Play skilfully and shout for joy,’ the psalmist urges[13]. I am blessed to know many musicians who are gifted in improvisation. Time and again we have seen the power of God released as music brings His peace and releases prayer.
One does not have to be a great musician, so much as prepared to use what one has. Spiritual music, whether improvised or written, takes us into the dimension where the Lord is. (Worship CDs can have the same effect). The important thing is to fill our minds with the sound of heaven.
Fragrance and Falls: Partnering in God’s Plans
  The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. (Psalm 7:23)  

In the kingdom of God, obedience precedes understanding. If the Lord asks you to do something, get on and do it - to the letter. Understanding will come later. If He gives a warning, He means it; if He tells us to contact someone, something precious will be missed if we fail to do so. The Fall was a matter of disobedience? It was the same in King Saul’s case. In many ways, Israel’s first King failed in just the same way that Adam and Eve did.
Most of us do not have to think very long to be reminded of times when we have been, to say the least, imperfectly obedient. Things that could have been ours will have been lost or taken from us in consequence. The mercy is that God reweaves our lives despite our failures. If He had been going to give up on us, He would have done so a long time ago! And when He has closed one door, He will always open a window somewhere else. We are walking a chosen path, and we are partnering with God.
When people devise evil in their minds against us (Psalm 64:6f) – and this is precisely what is happening to millions of persecuted saints this very day around the world – bear in mind that false accusations were being heaped upon the servants of God again and again in Scripture. We should not be surprised, no matter how unlikely and painful the source of the accusation. God will ultimately vindicate us, whether in this world or the next.
As joint heirs with Christ we participate in His purposes
  God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. (Numbers 23:19)  

God is eternal and unchanging. What He has promised He must fulfil because He has bound His character to His word. But that understanding should not make us passive or fatalistic. As Brother Andrew points out, ‘God’s nature and character may be unchangeable but His plans are flexible.’ That means that He takes our petitions into account and responds accordingly. What He has promised is often conditional upon our repentance or our diligent seeking of Him.

Change is tiring, and so too is prioritising. But it must be done. We recently had to renovate the house we had just bought on Shetland. It was a major task. Like anyone else, we played around (seemingly endlessly) with designs on the backs of envelopes – I would never have believed so many permutations were possible! The planning is crucial because, as many of you will know, there comes a time when it is decisions all the way. But twice the Lord spoke clearly to direct our attention not to do one thing but to do another instead. What He showed us represented a significant simplification and cost reduction.
If change is in the air for you today, here are some starter considerations:
  1. Is the change really necessary? If so, should it be cosmetic or far-reaching? I often hope I can get away with the bare minimum, when the Lord is actually looking for something more radical.

2. Who will be most affected by the change process? Pray for all who would seem to be ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in the process.

3. Pray for every detail. There is a very real danger that we can glimpse the overall picture but fail to seek the Lord concerning apparently ‘smaller’ details.

4. Expect some people to disagree with your decision. What we believe to be the right course of action will often be impatiently brushed aside. It is easy to get hurt in the process. When you know there is a better way of doing something, that someone would benefit from doing this, or reading that . . . such knowledge can be hard to bear – especially when our suggestions meet with blank indifference or even real hostility.

This is the time to pause and check your bearings. Did the idea really come from God? If we are confident that it did, we must dig in for the long haul. Rome was not built in a day, but neither was Egypt dismantled in a day. Before Moses could enact his daring bid to rescue the Israelite people, God had to declare ‘time’ on a well-drilled system that had imposed an iron rule on the nation for generations.
As a supreme psychologist, God gave Moses his starter orders – but remained tactfully silent about the plethora of plagues and other difficulties that would be an essential part of His plan. The Lord knows full well that if we, like the Israelite people, knew just how hard certain things were going to be, our limited vision of God would stop us from ever starting out.
Just think what would have happened when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac if Abraham had replied, ‘But Lord, You promised me a son, You’ve given me Isaac, there’s no way I’m going to sacrifice what You have given me’. What totally wrong thinking that would be – but do we never resort to equally pointless ‘bargaining’ with God?
You have probably pondered the fact Pharaoh was not just a hard nut to crack, but that it was the Lord who hardened his heart? God was determined to judge and bring down his empire for its pride and oppression.
As you pray and work towards the fulfilment of some vision, you may see little or no sign of iron bars yielding, or the person you are praying for being set free from the strongholds that encase them. But if God started you on this trail, don’t give up. The moment may come when hard-nosed opponents of the faith become as open and compliant as they had once been hard and unyielding. If that is true of individuals, it is occasionally true of empires and nations too. The Japanese, for example, are now known for their cars and Nintendo games rather than for kamikaze pilots.
The ‘easy’ shortcut
  In acceptance lies peace. (Amy Carmichael)  

Modern day minds are not well configured to persevere. To continue the automobile image, we are not called to discard a car simply because it begins to play up at twenty thousand miles. A few simple repairs are all it may take to get it roadworthy again. In both church and society we hear inspiring teaching that perseverance often succeeds where sheer genius and inspiration do not – but most of us have difficulty putting this into practice. We are always looking for shortcuts and quick solutions. The tantalising thing is that they will often come our way – just at the time when the Lord is asking us to persevere with something more difficult.
Paul boasted of the Thessalonian Christians about their faith and perseverance in the persecutions and trials they were experiencing (2 Thess 1:4). Jesus taught that ‘the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering (RSV with patience) produce a crop’. (Mark 8:15)
Writing of patience, William Barclay judges hupomone to be one of the great Greek words. It is generally translated 'to bear or to endure'; but what it really describes is not the spirit which passively bears things but the spirit which conquers and transmutes them. George Mathesson, who lost his sight and who was disappointed in love, wrote in one of his prayers that he might accept God's will, ‘not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise’.
Love can bear things thus because it knows that 'a father's hand will never cause his child a needless tear'. Hebrews 3:6 says we are His house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. Long before a certain brewery firm took hold of the expression the Bible was telling us to ‘Take Courage!’ Courage to overcome all the obstacles that lie strewn on the path ahead of us and to keep going unflinchingly until we reach the particular destination the Lord has in mind for us.
Hupomone is Jackie Pullinger making no converts for seven years but continuing to witness to drug addicts in Hong Kong until finally great numbers turned to Christ. It is John Wimber praying for the sick and seeing no results until one day it started to happen.
It is the way that these people responded to their setbacks and discouragements that mark them out from most of us. We can learn so much from their example.
Jesus did not run away from His work. He finished what the Father had given Him to do. Don’t give up in your minds on what God is giving you to do. He is still leading you and there is no limit to what God can accomplish through a surrendered man or woman who dares to attempt great things for Him! You never know what God can do until you try again.
In The Winged Life, Hannah Hurnard calls Christians to rejoice in all the things we go through even in our infirmities and tribulations – and thereby to bring good out of evil. At the same time, she warns us not to try too hard to hold on to anything in this life:
Be willing to let go, in order to be able to receive new riches from the Lord. There have been times of such special sweetness that one longs to hold on to them for ever, but the Lord would say to us as he did to Mary in the garden, ‘Do not touch me.’ Pain and anguish there may well be; but there is a difference between that and torment – which is the result of refusing to give them up. It is extraordinary how much determination we can display hanging on to things that would have been very much better handed over!
Paul illustrates Jesus’ teaching that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it can produce real fruit when he declares, ‘What you sow does not come to life until it dies.’ (I Cor 15:36) It is the Lord Himself Who gives us the strength to be willing to let go and to ‘die’. To quote Hannah’s words:
In order to become creative in eternal things, there is a principle: everything that is willingly laid down for love’s sake into death will be raised to life again in some more glorious and perfect form. It seems, in fact, that dying, in some form or other, is the only way by which God can produce in us really creative activity – the power to create and bring into being something which will outlast our mortal lives and share in eternity.
All this we can do if our heart and imagination are yielded to the King of Kings. What a blessing it is when the time to stop circling the walls of Jericho comes and when we are released to shout, or at least to speak a word of spiritual release into a situation. Let us take time to allow the Lord to lead us. We will often need to mull over an issue, sometimes for a prolonged time. Suddenly, the way ahead becomes clear and we sense what it is the Lord is saying about it. That is when we can pray the power and release of the Lord into the situation. But we can never presume on that moment; there is a right time to shout when going round the walls Jericho, but it is often not the first or the fifth time but the seventh!
Expect God to break through
  No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love Him.
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Remember our starting point? Whatever God promises appears impossible! How could the outcast Moses triumph against the might of Pharaoh? Especially when Pharaoh passed the shattering decree that the Israelites were henceforth to build bricks without straw.
How could David on the run ever hope to be king?
How could one man dying on the Cross save the world?
How can absolute surrender turn to victory?
But it does. No situation is too hard for God. The arm of the Lord is by no means shortened.
It is a truly marvellous moment when God breaks through. But that is to anticipate the end game … In the meantime we may have to persevere through phases when everything is dark and appears to be completely blocked. This is quite normal. It is how we handle the valley of loss, the middle stage, the ascent of toil, the wilderness waste that determines whether we will fall by the wayside or press on into real fruitfulness for the Lord. If we could bring about the fulfilment of vision by our own efforts, we would become incredibly self-reliant incredibly quickly!
As it was said of Mary, ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be an outcome to what God had promised.’ (Luke 1:45) Pray to reach the ‘end stage’ that God has promised.
There comes a stage in every vision when everything appears to go wrong and it seems to be completely impossible and even goes dead on us.
5~ Snares and Mantraps

(1) A removal wish
Imagine a garden ringed with mantraps. How reluctant you would be to venture there! But most of us have particular mantraps in the garden of our hearts – and these constitute serious obstacles to the renewing of our mind. How about those nagging feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that so many of us nurse? If you find yourself wishing you were someone else, or somewhere else, you may actually need to forgive God for making you the way you are. The moment we start to think ‘couldn’t He have done this or that better?’ we are on a slippery slope. We end up blaming the Lord and withdrawing from situations.
Snares and Mantraps (2) The Imaginary Stumbling Stone

Early in the morning, on what would become known as Easter Sunday, the two Marys worried their way to the tomb. How could they fulfil their heart’s desire to anoint the body of Jesus when they had seen with their own eyes an enormous stone being rolled in front of His tomb? Their concern was so great that they did not allow the evidence of their eyes to prevent them from stepping out in faith to attempt the service of love that was in their heart. If they had stayed at home and done nothing, or held back for fear of the soldiers guarding the tomb, they would have allowed the stone to have loomed larger than their faith.
When the women reached the tomb, they found that the angel had got there first and the stone had been rolled away! (Mark 16:4-2)
Because we know the end of the story from the beginning it is easy to dismiss the women’s fears. By any normal standards, however, they were perfectly permissible concerns.
Are you facing a huge ‘stone’ across your path? If so, are you allowing it to stop you from acting on what God has shown you? You know, deep down, that God has a solution for rolling away every obstacle from your path. The stone that appears so insurmountable to you is no great hurdle to Him. In that sense at least, it is an ‘imaginary’ stumbling stone: one of those mountains that need to be addressed and cast into the sea – or that God Himself will deal with in due time.

Snares and Mantraps (3): The over-sensitive soul

If you were asked to name a sin, your first thought would probably not be ‘touchiness.’ But how do you find working – or living - with someone who is seriously over-sensitive? They bristle and bridle at the first hint of criticism and interpret everything in over the top, if not plainly paranoid, ways. It is such a delight to spend time with people who are fundamentally consistent. The details of their life may go up and down from day to day, but their underlying heart direction is set on following the Lord.
  Lord, where our minds are cramped and our spirits over-sensitive, may we be less touchy and easily riled by things that really do not matter that much in the wider scheme of things. Soften our tongues and fill our hearts with truer perspectives and softer words. At the same time, may we become more sensitive to things (and people) that really do matter. As we turn and confess our over-sensitivity may you turn it into a profound receptivity to Your leading. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.  

Snares and Mantraps (4): The Fear of Man

This particular mantrap is extremely common amongst God’s comfort-loving people. Someone once said that as a Church we have overcome our doubts, but we have not yet overcome our fears. Fears surround us on every side – however well disguised they may be. ‘The fear of man [lit. ‘trembling’] will prove to be a snare.’ (Prov 29:25) Why? Because it means that we are controlled and overruled by other people’s opinions even to the point where we no longer have the courage to say what is right or do what we know, deep down, we ought to do.
Fear of man keeps us from lending our full support to someone (or something) in case someone else would disapprove of our decision. Have you ever held back from witnessing ostensibly in case people were offended – but in reality because you were afraid to speak out in case you were rejected? To fear to offend someone may inadvertently cause us to grieve the Spirit of God! Look how that proverb continues: ‘but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ (Pvbs. 29:25)
Many of us have become so used to living with this hidden fear of causing offence that we take the way we are for granted. Some of us confuse this with being ‘seeker sensitive’ but sensitivity in witnessing is born of love for others, not from fear of being misunderstood. Seeker sensitivity is about ensuring that as many unnecessary obstacles to a person understanding the gospel are removed as is possible so that he or she can make an informed decision without being prematurely turned off by impenetrable Christian jargon or outdated styles of presentation.
Other people can usually discern this fear in our lives – but are we willing to let them mention it to us? At the same time we have to be careful that others’ fear (or deception) does not hook into our own weaknesses. Fear, like any form of deception, has a way of drawing us into itself and is quite sufficient to keep us from experiencing the full grace of the Lord.
Fear and worry are so wearying – like driving with the brakes on. Since so many of us spend so much of our time worrying, however, it is important to develop strategies for handling it creatively. If we can ‘catch’ the worries when they begin to creep into our mind, then we can take hold of them and turn them into prayer. This is like catching a hand grenade and throwing it back at those who lobbed it our way. It turns their negative force into something powerful.
Lord, help us to recognise where the fear of man has footholds in our lives. We confess that it keeps us from being on the cutting edge, and hinders us from experiencing Your power and Your pleasure. Help us to handle our fears and worries creatively by crying out to You to see Your purposes triumph. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Part 6 ~ Soften Our Hearts
The Prophet’s Heart of Grief

Well has it been said that we do not deserve to denounce anything or anyone unless we are first prepared to weep for them. There are many who are mourning today who are unwilling to admit that this is the case. They may even be unaware of it themselves. To speak with the voice of grief will often succeed in reaching people’s hearts where a harsher tone would only alienate.
A parent who shows how much a child’s behaviour is hurting them may succeed more readily than one who merely rants and rages. The Lord’s lament for His people in Jeremiah chapters 2 and 3 is perhaps the most moving and lyrical of its kind in Scripture. It conveys the heartbeat of our loving Heavenly Father when He sees a person or a nation drifting far from His ways. Like all true prophets, Jeremiah has the additional pain of knowing things that others do not: that the path the nation is set upon is certain to spell judgement.
No matter how strong the pressures that were exerted on Jeremiah to ‘agree’ with the peace prophets, he remained firm in his conviction that the sins of the nation had reached the limit of God’s patience, and that a sure and certain judgement was destined to befall the nation. It was a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ In many ways, the same is true for us today.
These are not the utterances of a gloomy doomsayer; they are words that proceed from a heart that has been truly broken by God and which reflects His heart. Jeremiah called the people to face their real situation, just as we must do today. Our land will not easily be won from its pagan ways, and from its specifically anti-Christian laws.
The anguish Jeremiah experiences is movingly portrayed[14]– but so too are his words of encouragement[15] Taken together, these show the extent to which the Lord Himself is grieving. Loss cannot be averted, and hence the grief – but beyond the loss there will, sometime, somewhere, be life again.
Jeremiah had the courage to express what the other prophets do not spell out in quite such graphic detail: the pain of God. He expresses it forcefully, because he knows that this is what it will take to break through the people’s passionless complacency. Does it not always take some experience of suffering to jolt us out of the love of ease? This is not that awful intimidation that accompanies false religion, and which places such burdens on people. No, this is the real thing: raw emotion, and desperate yearning. Such passionate prayers are the ones that are heard on high.
Where God has charges to bring against His people, we must heed them. All our efforts are in vain if God is obliged to withstand us. No matter how great our efforts have been in a certain direction, if God calls time on them, for whatever reason, we must not resist His leading. The best and finest works often have hidden flaws in them, in which case God may decide to rework the pot that has been marred. We must let the Potter set about His work. It is no demeaning thing to be as clay in His hand. He knows what ‘shape’ will finally emerge, once He has finished working on us. He alone knows what He must do to relaunch marred and broken vessels.
A Heart of Mourning

The call of God reminds us of the miracles He is capable of when His people cry out to Him. It also encourages us to realise that nobody ultimately gets away with anything. What we sow we shall also reap[16].
Fear and pride make us reluctant to face up to issues of failure and death, but God is the God of endings and spectacular achievements as well as of promising beginnings. When one phase of our life comes to an end, another is beginning. All that we have known and learnt over the years will stand us in good stead in this new departure, even though there may mourning for the things we are called to lay down.[17]
Remember, to the Lord the journey and the process matter just as much as the final destination! Thus we may often feel as though we are being put out to pasture or to linger longer on the shelf when we are ‘between chapters’ in our life. God is working in the darkness our hearts to prepare us for the next phase of the journey.
Jesus taught specifically that those who mourn are blessed in God’s sight. Little things may suddenly trigger this grief as we realise where we are really up to, whether as individuals or as a nation. I read last week that there are 225,000 managers in the NHS, often paid exorbitant wages. But there are only 196,000 hospital beds. That seemed to me to sum up so much that is wrong in our nation. It led to an outburst of real grief. The shortest verse in the Bible, ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35), is pointing to a most important truth. He wept because He could see where certain actions and attitudes would lead. We will often weep as we see things from the Lord’s perspective.
In Conclusion

Finally, three vital safety tips and a few encouraging or challenging verses that will help to keep our mind in good running repair:
  1. Our mind often plays tricks on us. Don’t waste your energy bemoaning circumstances when you could be praising the Lord of the circumstances.

2. Spend more time praising God than fighting the devil. It is easy to become more enemy-aware than God-conscious. Seek God Himself and He will take care of all that is hindering the situation you are praying for. We are living in the last days, God has given his marching orders, and our minds need to be in tune with His.

3. Be careful to bless and not pray against other people.

We mentioned earlier the Lord’s declaration in Revelation 2:23 that ‘I am He who searches hearts and minds.’ I thought it would be symmetrical and encouraging to end with two or three other ‘I am He who….’ verses:
‘I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more . . .
Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you . . .
I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass?’ Isaiah 43:25, 46:4, 51:12) 

[1] Romans 8:6
[2] Galatians 5:15
[3] Bob Mumford’s book Take another look at Guidance (Logos) spells out the nuts and bolts of how we cross-check whether or not our nudges are from God.
[4] Acts 13:2
[5] Something More, Catherine Marshall, (Hodder)
[6] Isaiah 63:9
[7] Romans 14:1
[9] John 3:27
[10] Mark 14:8
[11] Romans 4:18, 5:5, 8:24-25; 15:13; Psalm 25:3-7.
[12] The whole of this chapter emphasises the trustworthiness of God as He protects His
people against their oppressors.
[13] Psalm 33:1
[14] see Jer. 4:19-26, 8:18-9:2. 30:12-13
[15] Jer. 31:15-25.
[16] Galatians 6:8,9
[17] I have written extensively on this subject in ‘Veil of Tears,’ A Pilgrim’s Guide to Grief. Available from the address at the end of this publication.

All material in this article may be freely used, if attributed. ©December 2004,
Robert Weston, Ruach (Breath of Life) Ministries,
23 Upper Chase Road,
WR14 2BT

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