Many times in the Psalms, we hear David
praying that God will not abandon him. During times of stress and
grief, we will doubtless echo his words many times over, but the
reality is that it is we who let the Lord down rather than He who
Back in 1981 the Lord called me to
start a prayer and worship organization that would draw people
together from across the denominations. We made it our aim from the
outset to pray for wider matters, trusting that the Lord would take
care of our needs as we did so.
We soon reaped the benefit of this.
Many were healed, filled with the Spirit and commissioned for new
seasons of ministry without much need on our part to “push”
conventional ministry. Beneath the surface, however, a crisis was
brewing. The Lord insists on heart unity amongst His people, but
there were underlying tensions within the original team, combined
with mistaken emphases, for which I, as the leader, must take the
lion’s share of the blame. The time came when the Lord judged that
we were no longer honouring each other sufficiently – and He
determined to do something about it.
I often find that the Lord speaks to
me in the twilight moments between sleep and waking. One morning in
early 1985, however, the Lord told me something that I did not in
the least want to hear: that the ministry team I had founded was
going to unravel – and that I was going to find this hard to cope
The day before we held a
“make-or-break meeting” with the man who oversaw our ministry team,
I was acutely aware that the signs were pointing firmly to it being
more “break” than “make.” I was in the local swimming pool, when the
Lord suddenly overwhelmed me with a strong sense of His presence. I
can remember that enveloping sense of warmth even now. For a moment
I resisted it: “Are you giving me this lovely sense of Your
presence, Lord, because things are going to go wrong tomorrow?” I
The special Presence lifted somewhat.
“What happens tomorrow is for tomorrow,” the Lord replied; “but I
want you to enjoy today!” I realised, of course, that He had by no
means given me any reassurance that things would be resolved – which
is hardly surprising in light of the fact that the meeting hastened
the parting of our ways as a ministry team.
How right the Lord had been when He
said that I would find His decision hard to cope with! Shocked to
the core of my being that there had been no last minute resolution,
I ended up taking many long walks through the lovely Cheshire
countryside that spring, pouring out my hurt and insecurities to the
I remained in a state of shock for
the next few months. A major part of the problem was that I could
not in all conscientiousness take any comfort in laying the blame
for what had happened elsewhere. The truth was that we had become
over intense, and carried away with our own visions, albeit with
every possible desire to serve and honour the Lord (which I am sure
He took into account). Nevertheless, the Lord could see further
ahead down the road we were advancing along and judged it best to
bring matters to (what felt to me at the time) a brutal closure.
When we know that we have brought the
greater part of our suffering on ourselves, it is easy for our
thoughts to become circular. Even hindsight risks becoming an enemy
as we go over and over events in our minds: “If only I had realised
what I was doing, I would never have . . .” But this of course
merely induces still more stress in our body, mind and emotions.
Shafts of condemnation stung me
repeatedly, until I felt like I was scything my way through a nettle
patch. Along with bucket loads of unhelpful remorse came genuine
Holy Spirit conviction: we really had become too intense for our own
good! The path to restoration usually lies by embracing a path that
at first sight appears decidedly gritty rather than motorway-smooth:
the Royal Road of Repentance.
By God’s grace, our errors were
primarily examples of over-eagerness and mistaken emphases. They
were certainly not in the same league as King David, who committed
adultery and, worst of all, was responsible for taking another man’s
life. For the sake of his psychological well-being as well as his
spiritual restoration, it was vital that David faced up to these
things. As for so many of us who have blind spots, he needed help to
do see his faults, which is why the Lord sent the prophet Nathan,
first to expose his sin and then to warn him of its consequences.
To his credit, David faced the
challenge head on – at which point Nathan reassured him that
although the fallout would be serious, it did not mean that God
would no longer be with him.10 After all, coming to our senses is,
for many of us, just the starting point for living in the clean and
authentic fear of the Lord.
The experience left David chastened
and humbled. Less complacent now than when he had first declared, “I
will never be shaken,” subsequent events make one inclined to feel
that he sometimes wondered if God really would continue to intervene
on his behalf when major challenges came his way. The way he
responded to the threats posed by Shimei and Absalom, for example,
hint at the extent to which his sins had scarred and undermined his
By God’s mercy, David’s illicit
relationship with Bathsheba was no more the end of the story for him
than it was for us once we realised our mistaken emphases. This is
such an important point that it is worth exploring it further. The
Lord does not wish us to live bowed down by the weight of mistakes
we have made in the past – but it is wise to realise that they may
be pointing to a fault line in our make-up. The Lord finds many ways
to initiate new beginnings out of the seed of our failures –
provided we do not slip back into old ways when times get easier and
the pressure is off.
Two thoughts are going through my
head as I write these words. Firstly, I would almost certainly not
be writing this book now had I not been through so many griefs and
failures myself. Secondly, the Lord has fulfilled many of the things
I believed He promised us at that time – but in a completely
different way from how I imagined. It was my striving to reach that
place ahead of time that caused the problems. Effectively, I fell
into the trap of making the vision more important than anything else
– like honouring each other.
When the Lord discerns soul disease
in the “tree” of our life, He may choose to perform the equivalent
of a “Nebuchadnezzar” experience, and cut it right down. There is
nothing cruel or capricious about this, but rather immense love and
wisdom. Although we may not realise it at the time, He may
graciously leave a stump in the ground, from which, new and better
seeds will sprout in due time.12 When the axe falls, however, it is
easy to convince ourselves that “all is lost” when, in reality, it
only feels as though everything is falling apart.
Sadly, the reverse can also be the
case. It is much harder for the Lord to rebuild and restore our
lives if we harden our hearts and insist that we “were in the
right,” for the simple reason that we never reach the starting gate
of repentance. A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes
will suddenly be destroyed without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).
It seemed incredible to me that all
the plans we had envisioned together had suddenly fallen into the
ground. When you firmly believe that God Himself had given these
plans, the shock is doubly great. Questions pounded through my mind;
would the Lord somehow put everything right even beyond the eleventh
hour? Or was He enforcing this “break-up” for His own reasons?
To put this another way round, there
is no way that I could have escaped the Lord’s discipline by holding
up the promises He had given me, and by exercising more “faith” in
them. There are times when the Lord prunes unflinchingly – but He is
always on the watch for those signs of repentance that will enable
Him to intervene in mercy.