Friday, 3 August 2018

Hearing God's Voice

A big stumbling block within our faith may be that we feel unable to hear from God. This is a common problem in Christian communities, as we often are listening for a big, loud and clear voice or we are too distracted by other things in our lives to listen long enough for God to speak to us.

The fact is that God speaks a lot. It is often the way that we are too busy watching Netflix, paying our taxes or doing any of the 101 things that we prioritise before spending time with God. Now more than ever before, we have so many distractions thanks to social media, instant streaming and online games, that we barely have any time in our daily lives where we aren't distracted and can spend time in prayer and waiting.

Now, I'm not saying technology is evil and that you should delete Instagram immediately, but that we ought to take some time out from endless scrolling once in a while. One of the biggest reasons that we struggle to hear God is because we don't set time aside to actually listen. So that brings me to my first point:

1) Find a quiet place.

God won't shout over the noise in your life. Instead, He waits until you come to Him, ready to listen to what He has to say. If you truly want to hear what He has to say, set aside some time in the day to let Him speak to you. 

It is important that this time is uninterrupted, as this time is for you and God, and only you and God. This means that solitude is a key aspect of being able to hear God's voice. Whether you prefer to get up early and listen before you start your day, or finish your day in prayer, spending time alone in God's presence was a practice that Jesus did often. For instance, after the Feeding of the 5000, 'Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself', John 6:15

This is confirmed in Mark 6:45-46, as it is recorded that Jesus 'dismissed the crowd' and 'went up on the mountain to pray.' Jesus made sure he was alone before He began His 'alone time' with God, as He knew that having this time away from His disciples and followers would give Him the opportunity to really hear His Father. Mark 6:47  confirms that 'the [disciples'] boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land,' which meant he was truly free from any distraction. Since the invention of the internet, social media and television, we must make even more effort to free ourselves from distraction. Not only must we be physically alone in our prayer time, but we must also unplug from anything we may be watching, and set our phones to silent in order to really focus on what God has to say to us.

You may find that you need complete silence to do this, but sometimes it is helpful to listen to some worship music while you wait, as it makes it harder for your thoughts to drift. Here are are few good soaking playlists on Spotify:

And speaking of waiting...

2) Wait.

As much as we hate it, another key part of hearing God's voice is waiting for Him to speak. In our instant society, we loathe waiting. We want our burger or our coffee order now and we want our apps to show us content right now, so why can't we hear God right now? God doesn't go at the speed of man, but rather, man must go at the speed of God.

We must be patient when waiting for God to speak to us. Often, we take a measly five minutes from our busy lives to wait for God to speak, but give up quickly when He doesn’t. Be intentional in the time you give to your private prayer life, and be prepared to wait for God to speak to you. In that rushed five minutes you grabbed in your lunchbreak, you were probably too busy thinking of what you have to do afterwards, or that it’s been THREE WHOLE MINUTES and God still hasn’t spoken yet.

Relax. Set aside enough time to really listen and wait. If you do start to hear something, remember to:

3) Listen intently.

A lot of the time, believers think that God will speak to them in a loud, clear voice, that is definitely, without a doubt God. Often, we're expecting God to speak to us the way he did to Saul in Acts 9. However, 1 Kings 19:10-18 tells us that God can whisper too.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
- 1 Kings 19:11-13

In this passage, Elijah hears God speak to him in the still, quiet part of his waiting. Although God had spoken to other people in the Old Testament through fire, and this is probably what Elijah was expecting, he heard God in a different way. The fact is, God speaks to us in a different way than we expect, so instead of waiting for God to speak to us in the way we think he should, we should be more aware of how is speaking to us. God can speak to people through visions, dreams, the Bible or words spoken in a still, small voice that can only be heard when we quiet our hearts to hear it.

4) Practice hearing His voice.

As God speaks to different believers in different ways, it's important that we know how God speaks to us, as it will be different from how he speaks to other people. The way that we learn to recognise what God's voice sounds like is to practice hearing him and listening to him speak. Set aside regular time for you to spend time in God's presence, let yourself be still and just give him room to do what he wants to do.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

- John 10:27

The more you listen to his voice, the more you’ll recognise his voice. You'd immediately recognise your best friend's voice if they called you, and this is because you've spent a lot of time listening to them speak to you. Therefore, to get to know God's voice you must practice listening to him more.

5) Trust what you hear:

The key thing to remember when listening for what God is saying to you is to trust what you hear. Of course, if you really aren't sure about the message you're getting, pray about it. Ask God to confirm what he has said, and pray about it with others, ask them what they think.

Soul Food by Innate Expressions on Wordpress

Ultimately, it's up to us to have faith in God and trust what he says to us, even if it doesn't make immediate sense. The disciples faced the same decision when Jesus gave them instructions they didn't yet understand. For instance, in Mark 14:12-26, they asked Jesus that where they should have their Passover meal that year. Jesus instructed his disciples to find a man carrying a large jug of water in the city and follow him to a particular house, where they would find that the landlord had already prepared a room for them to eat in. The disciples must have thought that it was a little strange that Jesus knew all of this, but their faith in His word paid off, as it happened just as Jesus had said.

It's important to note that Mark makes no mention of the disciples hesitating to follow these instructions - they just obeyed. Will you respond in the same way when He speaks to you?

Still lost? Try these on for size:

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Alpha Course

This is just a heads-up that I've just started an Alpha course run by my church, which is running every Thursday evening for twelve weeks. I'm super excited to be starting it properly next week, as tonight was simply an introductory taster session.

The Alpha course is designed for non/new Christians that explores the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It allows people to ask questions about the basic beliefs within Christianity and to unpack their ideas within a safe, small group environment.

I'll be posting about anything I think is particularly inspiring or useful to share over the coming weeks - really looking forward to discussing my faith with others in this way!

With every blessing,

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Perfect Relationship: And How To Have One

I think a lot of the problems that we can have with our faith stem from the fact that we think about God religiously, and do not realise that we should be thinking about Him relationally. God created us to be in a relationship with Him - He never intended for us to obey a long list of rules and fear Him to receive nothing in return. As a loving God, He wants to interact with us, speak to us, and spend time with us. Once you realise this, you'll probably start to wonder what a relationship with God is like and perhaps how you can have a personal relationship with Him yourself.

Whilst I was at New Wine, I listened to one of the youth leaders talking about this (kudos to her for these amazing diagrams, and not so much for my badly drawn interpretation of them!). Her message was so powerful that I just had to share it. She started by talking about the difference between having an earthly relationship and having a relationship with God. In some ways, having a relationship with God is very similar to having a relationship with friends and family, however, in other ways, it can be quite different.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
- John 15:13

When we make mistakes within a normal relationship, our relationship still isn't restored and 'fixed' by apologising. Often, there will still be a lack of trust, even though the person has forgiven you for your mistake. Sometimes, we can make choices that we know will hurt someone close to us. We can do the same with God - we can knowingly sin, making a choice to do something we know will hurt God. Sin is defined as 'turning away from God,' which means that each time we sin, we are choosing to reject God. You might know what it feels like to be rejected - not a nice feeling, right? Well, imagine you are being rejected by one of your children, whom you love with all your heart, and the feeling gets even worse. Then imagine that feeling intensified by millions, because God's love for us is so much greater than the love any person can give.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 5:8

Remember that Jesus died for you, because He loved you. He loved you enough that even though He knew about all of the pain, suffering and torment He would go through, when you didn't even know His name, He still thought it was worth it. If you don't take anything else from this post, or even this blog, just please remember this: Jesus loves you so much, that He would die for you again. He would go through the same pain, suffering and torment, if it would only save you.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- Romans 3:23

Sadly, none of us are perfect, and we cannot possibly measure up to God's glorious standard. We have all knowingly made choices that hurt God. So what can we do about it? Nothing. But Jesus can do everything about it. The reason a relationship with Jesus is different to an earthly relationship is because not only is God so quick to forgive and forget our mistakes, but Jesus has taken our punishment for us, before we've even made the mistake He is paying for.

Whilst lots of people have the idea that Christianity is about getting as close as possible to what God wants and behaving really morally, this isn't exactly true. God has given us guidance on what is right and wrong, through the Ten Commandments, and other laws and teaching written in Scripture. But you may feel that either as a non-Christian looking at Christians, or as a Christian looking at other Christians that you're below God's standard, and they are above it:

When in reality, they're actually below the line, too:

Romans 5:8 tells us that all of us have sinned, and fallen short of God's glorious standard. There is no way that those people you are looking at are any better than you are. They've all messed up and made mistakes, just as you have. (And by the way. God sees all sin as being on the same level, so don't use that excuse, "Well, they haven't done anything as bad as what I have." Either you've sinned, or you haven't.) 

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23

According to Romans 6:23, sinning just brings death, whilst living the way God intended brings life.

So how can we get life in all its fullness if we have all made mistakes and sinned? That's the easy part. Through Jesus. 

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.
- 1 Peter 2:22

Because Jesus never sinned, He is the only one who reaches God's standard:

Jesus died on the cross for your sin. He took your place and received your punishment of death for something you have done. Isn't that incredible! He's effectively taken your place, so now, this has happened:

No one can be saved by their own efforts, but everyone can be saved through Jesus! Isn't that amazing?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
- Ephesians 2:8-9

When we accept Jesus' amazing gift of freedom and eternal life, God doesn't look at us the same way. That isn't to say that He loves us any more than He already did, but that we can press in and be close with God. When God looks at us after we say yes to Jesus, He no longer sees a dirty sinner who's imperfect; He just sees Jesus. Although God still recognises that we are human and we still make mistakes, He sees us as perfect, because we are covered by Jesus.

I heard a great analogy recently, that really hits home the point of Jesus' death on the cross. It starts out with you just hanging out with God at His house, and after a little while, you go outside. God tells you very firmly that there is to be no mud brought into the house. You carry on having fun outside, and inevitably, you come across a large patch of mud. It seems harmless, so you start playing in it, smearing it on your face and jumping around in it. (In case you haven't guessed, the mud in this analogy represents sin.) You come back to God's house later, and you can hear that they're having a party. It sounds really fun, and you're about to go inside, when you suddenly realise what God has said - that there can be no mud in the house. You start to feel very guilty and regret getting so covered in mud. As much as you try to rub it off, the more it sticks. It seems hopeless. But then, just as you're walking away, Jesus, God's son, opens the door. He's dressed in glowingly perfect white robes. He asks you why you're not coming in. You tell Him about the mud. And then, something amazing happens, He gives you His white robes, so that you can confidently go inside and be with God again!

Personally, I am so glad that Jesus changes clothes with me, no matter how many times I mess up. (He tells me He has a very good dry-cleaner!) If this sounds like something you want, that you can be accepted and intimately loved by God without striving to be perfect, if you want to say, 'Jesus, change places with me - I want to be above the line!' then just pray this prayer, (it doesn't even need to be out loud!);

Dear God, I'm sorry for all the things I've done wrong. I'm sorry that these things have hurt You, because You love me so much.  Thank You Jesus for dying for me, and loving me just as much. Please forgive me and help me to live my life for You. Amen.

With every blessing,

Friday, 12 August 2016

"It is not about what you have done, but how you respond to what He has done."

Monday, 8 August 2016

Stepping Out: Living Outside Your Comfort Zone

Last week at New Wine, I served within the children's team, specifically, looking after five amazing four year olds in the Pebbles team. Originally, I felt drawn towards serving within the youth team, but I didn't complete the application properly, and by the time I realised, all of the positions for serving in the venues for 11-18 year olds had been filled. (The lesson is kids, always read instructions properly). Fortunately, there were still vacancies to serve on other teams. After a lot of crying, worrying and persuading, I decided to serve on the Pebbles team, which looks after 3-4 year old children each morning so that their parents may go and enjoy morning worship and seminars. My sister was also serving on this team, and I've always thought that she was a lot better with small children than I was. This made me more reluctant to join this team, nonetheless, we both served on this team together this year.

Upon arrival at New Wine, I felt very nervous to be serving on the Pebbles team, but after the training I received, and spending time with God, I felt a lot more confident. I felt satisfied that I was able to handle it, especially when I was told that four children to look after was the maximum. I reasoned I would probably be given two or three, as I am still only seventeen and I'd never served on the Pebbles team before. However, the next day, I was given five children to care for. Amidst my initial panic, I remembered how confident I had felt the night before. I started to relax, and the rest is history.

God never left me the entire time and He never gave me more than I was able to handle. It was through this experience that I learned more of how amazing God is, and how our fears can just vanish when we choose to trust Him rather than listening to our own doubts.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
- Proverbs 3:5-6

This week, I've had to trust God a lot, and ask Him everyday for energy, courage and wisdom to carry on for another day. He didn't let me down. Not only did He just fill me enough that I could manage, He filled me enough that I was personally congratulated for being really engaged with the children! I never thought I would be told this, as previously, I had felt unsure of how to relate to and interact with children of this age. This really amazed me, not only had God just given me enough energy, courage and wisdom to succeed, but He gave so abundantly that I excelled! God wants this for each of His children; He wants to give abundantly to you whatever it is you might need right now. He wants to bless you so that you not only succeed, but that your paths will be straight - He wants your life be as smooth and as easy as a straight path is to walk down.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
- Matthew 7:7

And what was it that made me special enough to receive such a generous gift from God? How did I get Him to give me something I needed? The truth is, God doesn't value me any more than He values you, and He will gladly give us what we need - all we have to do is ask. God loves all His children equally, and anything that I've got from God is available to you too. If there's something you need right now, whether it's peace, love, self control, strength, courage, or forgiveness, just ask God. He will gladly give you something that you need, because He loves you and He wants to equip you to build His kingdom and glorify His name. He knows that we all need help with things, and going directly to God is the best way to get exactly what it is you require. 

You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will remain - so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
- John 15:16

Jesus confirms that God wants to give you what you need so that you can bear fruit for God's kingdom. God wants you to grow. If we take the example of a plant, we know that a plant cannot grow without adequate soil, water, nutrients and light. In a similar way, God knows that we need certain things to bear fruit for His glory. When we're talking about fruit, we're talking about things that bring glory God, rather than the products of material success - having a good career and a lot of money to say that you own a Jaguar is definitely not the sort of fruit which will remain. Instead, God values things such as love, peace, joy and self-control, as they witness something powerful to unbelievers. 

This is what the Lord says:

"Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight."
- Jeremiah 9:23-24

Okay, so I was able to look after a couple of kids every morning for a week - aren't most people able to do that? Surely I can't be saying that without God, I wouldn't have been able to do it? Whilst a lot of people find it easy to do what I did whilst at New Wine, they don't have the fear I had. Before I sent that email to confirm my place on the Pebbles team, I was shaking and crying for quite some time, while my mum was trying to calm me down. Truth be told, I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to handle it. But I chose to believe what she said about me, that I would be able to do it, and I also chose to believe what the Bible said - that I could trust God completely, and that nothing was impossible with Him. In my own strength, I probably would have struggled to keep up the energy levels I had when the children arrived, when I had felt dead on my feet when I arrived at the Pebbles venue. I feel that I cannot claim this victory as entirely my own, as nothing we have comes from us ourselves. 

God knows us and has intricately designed us, down to the last detail, so any strength, wisdom, or riches we may have come entirely from God. God had blessed us - either with material things or with intrinsic qualities - we are therefore entirely His creation. Nothing good that we have can separated from God, our creator. Because God is the ultimate embodiment of goodness, He possesses all of the qualities that are good. Thus, we cannot boast about being naturally strong, wise or rich, as all of these things come from God. Instead, the Bible says we can boast about how kind, just and righteous our God is - because this is something that is simply amazing. Boasting about ourselves cannot benefit anyone - not even ourselves. (In fact, regular boasting just makes you seem incredibly arrogant.) Instead, boasting about God benefits a lot of people, because from your boasting about Him, people may want to know more about Him and learn how they can know such an amazing God. 

Do not be wise in your own eyes.
- Proverbs 3:7

God's wisdom is so much greater than the wisdom of the world. The world's wisdom said to me that I wouldn't be much good at looking after little children, because I hadn't had a lot of experience. But God says that all things are possible through Him. I chose to believe God. Who do you choose to believe? Is there something that you're afraid of? God really can help you conquer that fear, because God's love is greater than fear. 

In short, there are four steps to conquering your fear:
1) When God presents you with an opportunity to do something you are afraid of, step out and take it. You'll never be free unless you make the first move.
2) Ask God to be with you - ask Him for love, peace, strength, or whatever it is that you lack.
3) Face your fear head on. This may be terrifying at first, but ask God for His peace and you will not only succeed, but you will excel!
4) Keep doing it - now that the chains of fear have been broken, you are free to keep doing what you were afraid of doing previously!

Conquering your fear is so worthwhile. I remember how afraid I was before I decided to serve on the Pebbles team, and now I feel like I can do the same thing again and again! The freedom that God can give us is worth the pain, frustration and fear we may feel whilst trying to conquer our fears. If there's something that you're afraid of, ask God to help you conquer it - you won't regret it!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Last Supper: The Meal That Broke Tradition

Once again, there was such an informative and challenging message being preached at Coastline Vineyard yesterday morning. The guy who was speaking said that this was his first time preaching - and he did really well!

He started off by asking the question, "What if I told you that the Bible could transform you?" The Bible can change our character and the people that we are. I long for that kind of transformation. The Bible is incredible, each time you read it, it's likely that you'll notice something you haven't before and that will be what transforms you from the inside out.

The speaker centred his thoughts around the verses Mark 14:12-26, which gives and account of the Last Supper. The Last Supper is also discussed in Matthew 26:17-30, Luke 22:7-22 and briefly in John 13:18-30, where Jesus predicts his betrayal. The message was based on all of the accounts in the gospels. The speaker also closely referred to the points made within Timothy Keller's book King's Cross. You can read the relevant chapter here.

Keller's explanation of the Jewish Passover explains why Jesus's actions within the Last Supper were so important. Traditionally, Passover has been celebrated annually by Jews for around 3,000 years to commemorate the last plague God sent to the Egyptians before Pharaoh released the Israelites from slavery, as well as the escape or exodus of the Jewish slaves from their oppression in Egypt.  The Plague on the Firstborn is first described in Exodus 11:1-10. In this plague, every firstborn son, of both Egyptians and Israelites, would perish. As a means of protecting themselves, the Jewish slaves would slaughter a lamb and smear its blood around their door-frame. This would protect Jewish families from losing their firstborn son, as the shedding of the lamb's innocent blood would be a sacrifice in the place of the children. Once the spirit of death saw that a particular household had sacrificed a lamb and painted its blood around the door-frame, it would pass over the house, and have mercy on their son; hence the term, 'Passover.' You can read more about Passover here.

As you can see from the article, the Passover meal requires a lot of careful preparation, and it must be done in a particular way. A few traditions of Passover include:
  • The Passover lamb has to be roasted, not touch water and be eaten that night. Any leftover meat must be burnt the following morning.
  • The meal must be eaten with your coat on and your staff in hand, as if you are ready to flee from Egypt, like in Exodus.
  • There are also specific words to say for the most part of the meal.
Jesus actually broke tradition, by speaking words other than what is written in the traditional script. Does this mean He was rebelling against God? Or undermining the importance of Passover itself? Of course not! Remember that He and his disciples were eating this meal the night of his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that the next day He would be crucified. Jesus predicted what would happen to Him at several points during the meal, and He also gave hints towards what His death would bring. For instance, in the traditional Passover format, the correct words are, "This is the bread of our affliction," when breaking bread. However, Jesus famously said, "Take it, for this is my body." This means that believers would no longer be afflicted with sin or bondage, and that Jesus' death would be the ultimate exodus, as through Him all the chains of sin and death are broken. Jesus was directly referred to how His body would be broken so that all believers may know God and be redeemed from their sin. The words, "Take it," also means that Jesus is offering this gift of freedom to us, and inviting us to choose whether we accept His offer (or not). 

It is also important to note there was no traditional Passover lamb at this meal. This is perhaps an indication that Jesus Himself was the lamb to be sacrificed. It is also recorded that Jesus and the disciples were reclining at the table, instead of being ready to flee. This is a further hint that Jesus' death would bring freedom to all believers, so that they would no longer need to flee, as all chains are broken through Jesus. Furthermore, the Passover meal is usually eaten with family, but Jesus was eating with His disciples. This suggests that Jesus and His disciples were family, and by extension, all believers form a massive family within God's kingdom. 

As believers, we can get very stuck into the rituals of tradition - especially if we have been believers for a long time. Jesus' actions on this night show us that the tradition is not always the most important thing. Instead, the reasons why we do certain things is the most important part of our traditions. Jesus was not wrong to break tradition. He righteously corrected the traditions of Passover that would no longer be as applicable to believers who accepted Him as the Messiah. He was outwardly showing that His death would change circumstances, so that traditions needed to change. Whilst celebrating and commemorating the exodus and liberation of the Jews is important, for social and historical reasons, it is more important to rejoice in the fact that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and through Him, all may be redeemed to righteousness!

In summary, we can learn two things from this passage:
  1. Following tradition is good, however, we must keep in mind the reasons why those traditions exist, and what they represent. For instance, taking Communion is good in itself, yet it is even more important to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, and thanking Him that He allowed His body to be broken and His blood to be poured out for us.
  2. Jesus challenged and changed the traditions that the disciples were so used to, and by doing so, He reaffirmed God's grace and glory, as well as revealing what His death would mean for the rest of humanity. Jesus' challenge of Passover traditions was radical. The Bible tells us that we should aspire to be like Jesus, which means we must be radical in the same way. I'm not talking about going into Jewish synagogues and blatantly voicing your beliefs about Jesus as a challenge to theirs or anything of the sort - instead, be radical in your approach to prayer, love and faith. Offer to pray for people outside of a church environment, put your faith in God when all odds dictate that you should do otherwise, but above all, abundantly, and radically love others. Stand out from the norms and social traditions of mainstream, secular culture. I'm talking about forgiving others more times than three, being generous with your time, money and resources, and being open about your faith in Jesus. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

"Jesus is passionate about you."

- Coastline Vineyard, Bournemouth, 12/06/16