Sunday, March 28, 2010

Taking the time to enjoy God's love

I was speaking with someone yesterday about Bill Johnson, a man who sees miracles and healings on a regular basis in the ministry he leads (and who's perspective on God and healing has recently begun to bend my brain!).  The person I was speaking with told me that even though Bill Johnson is a big believer in contending for things in prayer, Bill estimates that 75% of his devotional life with God is spent simply enjoying God's love.  Seventy-five percent!  So while many others -- like me -- feel as though the bulk of my prayer-time ought to be spent asking God for solutions to the many important situations I'm aware of, a man like Bill Johnson -- who sees a great many answers to many bold prayers -- chooses to spend a considerable percentage of his prayer-time receiving God's love for himself rather than asking God for things!

Why would he do that?  If he's anything like the average North American, perhaps he began such a practice to combat unbelief.  So many of us are prone to doubt God's love and goodness toward us -- especially if we need a miracle.  Too many disappointments.  Too many unanswered prayers.   So even if we know objectively that God loves us, perhaps it's wise for us to take time to seek His love until we're more convinced of it in our hearts -- until we can truly enjoy it!

And isn't it a relief that someone like Bill Johnson feels it's fine to spend that much of his prayer-time receiving without considering it selfish?  The reason it's not selfish is because this man is so eager to pass on to others what he has received from the Lord.  I'm sure that's a major reason why Bill Johnson prays so effectively for the miraculous.  He asks so boldly because he is completely convinced of God's love and affection for people -- including himself as the one doing the asking!

So then I wondered, what does it mean to spend extended amounts of time simply enjoying God's love in prayer? What does that look like?  As I considered that, my mind wandered to some familiar Bible passages that are full of rich assurances of God's love for us. And as I wondered about how to spend a greater percentage of my own prayer-time enjoying God's love -- and the God of love -- I realized that I could do so by praying these passages and soaking in these passages, thereby breaking down barriers of unbelief regarding them!  Enjoying God's love includes joyfully meditating on God's expressions of His love.

Of course, a complete list of what one could reflect on in prayer regarding God's love could never be written -- there's just too much to include in such a list!  And whatever I suggest in this brief posting will only scratch the surface.  But for people like me who have only just thought of expanding this part of our prayer life with God, a starter list would be helpful.  So here are just a few passages to revel in -- to joyfully declare! -- to thank God for! -- to patiently soak in the truth of! -- to pit against that nasty unbelieving insecurity in our souls! --if we want to take the time to simply enjoy God's love in prayer.
  • "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  
  • And "If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?...[For] who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that [nothing] ...will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (see Romans 8:31-39).
  • "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us" (Ephesians 1:3-8).
  • "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:4-8).
  • "According to [God's] great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4).
  • Psalm 103:1-14, 145:1-21, 147:1-11 and so many other psalms also contain wonderful expressions of God's great love for us!
This is an extremely small sampling of passages that we can rehearse and rejoice in as we make more and more of our time spent with God about enjoying Him and His love.  I trust that any of us who do so will see the unbelief and doubts regarding the extravagance of God's love flee from our hearts, and that we will become a people who are excited to share the love that God has so generously shared with us!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Delight before Desires

I like stuff.  I want stuff.  I sometimes find myself spending considerable amounts of time researching and searching for stuff to buy and own and use.  And then there's the important stuff that I spend my time do-ing.  Stuff like family I want to see healthy, or ministry that's meant to be fruitful.  So much of this stuff is good stuff, but as I spend my time buying, using or doing it all, I find that every bit of it has potential to distract me from, rather than draw me to, what matters most:  my relationship with God.  All the stuff around me -- even the good stuff -- constantly pulls at my heart, demanding both my attention and my affections.  And everyday I need to choose the place I'm going to give it in my life.

That's why the simple instructions provided in Psalm 37:4 are so helpful:  "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  That's the order of life -- my delight in God is meant to come before my desire for stuff.  But given the way my life often looks, I'd be tempted to say that I thought this said:  "Delight yourself in the desires of your heart."  Nope, that's not it.  God wants to be the delight of my heart, and to come before any other desires.

Yet in the midst of those instructions, it's encouraging to see that God's desire to beat any competitors in our hearts is not a dismissal of the many good things we're involved in and surrounded by.  God is no kill-joy!  This psalm goes on to unpack the many ways God provides for those who depend on Him.  And as we delight ourselves in God, trusting Him and relying on Him (Psalm 37:3, 5-9), He promises to give us the desires of our heart!  Does that mean anything I ask for?  I don't think so.  But I do think it means that as we delight in Him, He will bless us -- and our families and our ministries -- and our weekends and our weekdays -- in ways that reflect the extravagant love of His Father's heart for us!  I just need to keep those wonderful gifts in their place as I delight in Him above anything else I desire.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Keeping God in the Picture (church bulletin cover)

There are times when personal issues come up in our lives that seem intimidatingly strong.  Impregnable.  Impossible to overcome.  They can leave us feeling like a little soldier who's standing all alone and staring way, way up at a great stone wall that's vastly higher than us, and so thick that it may as well be a mountain that we're banging on. It can be a hopeless feeling.

But look at what the Lord God did for the children of Israel: "And we took all his cities at that time... Sixty cities... All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates and bars" (Deuteronomy 3:4-5).  These were the same sort of cities that the ten spies had described when they discouraged the children of Israel from entering the Promised Land forty years earlier -- cities that were "fortified and very large" (Numbers 13:28).  It's not that the spies hadn't described those cities accurately.  It's just that their descriptions led the people to the wrong conclusions. Those cities were strong.  "Greater and mightier than yourselves" (Deut. 9:1).  Too big and strong for Israel to handle.  But if that's all we see, we're living like a people with no God.  Where is God in it all?

Deuteronomy 3:22 says, "You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you."  God completes the picture, for He is always with us.  So as we stare up at the cold stone walls of the most challenging personal issues we're facing -- whether they be fears or finances, illness or estrangement -- we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated.  "Be strong and courageous." was what God told Joshua, "for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).  There is Someone standing with us who dwarfs the granite walls that dwarf us, and He can crush them with a word from His mouth.  But God invites us to be a part of the battle, for God wants us to grow in faith as we learn to fight the fight of faith.  Just as when Israel later defeated five Amorite kings in a single battle, Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Do not be afraid or dismayed!  Be strong and courageous, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight" (Joshua 10:25).

So like the children of Israel, we will wage these battles together, encouraged that the Lord is fighting for us!  And we will see many walls come tumbling down.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Love that reaches prostitutes

I wanted to go home.  I almost blurted out that it was time to do so even though I wasn't in charge of things this evening.  But Jon continued to steer the van away from his home as he kept a lookout for ladies working the streets of Winnipeg.  He kept saying, let's stop for one more.

My day had begun at 7am and I'd briefly paused for just half a meal before leaving home in the early evening to go help Jon with his work among the prostitutes of Winnipeg.  I was glad to help out, but I was tired and wondered as I drove to Jon's place how long he'd keep things going tonight.  When I got to Jon's, he had just arrived with two lady volunteers who regularly participated in this ministry. We all prayed together, got some supplies ready, and by 9pm, began to cruise the lamplit streets of downtown and north end Winnipeg in Jon's van.

Jon's been doing this with many ministry partners for years.  The strategy is simple:  When you see a prostitute, pull over, a man and a lady quickly hop out of the van carrying a thermos of hot chocolate, a bag of cups and sandwiches and cookies, and a bag of winter gloves and some Gospel literature.  They then cheerfully greet the lady they've stopped for and ask if she'd like some hot chocolate or some food.  Whether she accepts or declines, one always also asks if she wants prayer for anything, and then asks for her name.

As we did this throughout the evening, many ladies said no to the stuff in the bags, and said they were fine for us to pray for them on our own as they cooly or nervously moved away.  Ladies were often willing to give us a name, but were likely giving us a street-name.  A few others just told us in their own unique choice of words to get lost. But a few were very open to brief conversation and prayer.  There'd been a couple like that throughout the evening, and Jon had done a wonderful job of expressing a fatherly love to them for the short time he was able to talk with them.  But it was getting near eleven o'clock and it seemed time to call it a night.

Then Jon announced, "The next lady is for Ken and Melinda.  We'll stop for one more."  But the next couple "one more's" were ladies who quickly declined any offers of kindness, one not even giving a name, and Jon kept saying, "One more!  Ken and Melinda, be ready!"  Suddenly Jon pulled sharply to the curb and insisted, "Go!  Go! Quickly!" (The ladies tend to hurriedly walk away once they realize you're not a vehicle that means business, but not so quickly if a person has already stepped from the van and greeted them.)

Melinda and I rushed out to a young lady in tight fitting pants and a waist-length puffy parka, who I doubt was more than 20 years old, and who looked understandably uncertain of us.  Melinda asked if she'd like a bite to eat and the girl smilingly declined.  "There's home-baked cookies!  How about some cookies?"   Again, the girl politely declined, beginning to back away now.  I pulled a small ziplock bag of cookies out and said, "Hey, I'm sure you'll be glad to have a bite to eat sometime later on.  Here, have some!"  Finally she gave in and stepped forward to shyly receive the cookies.  Her expression seemed soft somehow, rather than the detached or jaded or even irritated responses we'd received from some others.  When asked, she said her name was Teresa (which is not actually the name she gave us).  I asked Teresa if we could pray for her and she said sure.  Melinda dug a little deeper: "Is there anything we could pray for?"  Teresa mentioned her kids, and said she had four of them, 2, 3, 4 and 5 years of age.  Teresa was tentatively beginning to back away when I asked if we could pray with her right there and then.  Though that looked as though it seemed a little scary for her, she also seemed reluctant to say no.  Melinda smiled and extended an arm to invite Teresa closer.  She stepped closer so that Melinda and I could be on either side of her and there I quickly prayed for God to protect her children and herself, and to draw Teresa ever closer to Him. As soon as I said amen, Teresa spontaneously hugged Melinda and thanked us.  We then left Teresa with a piece of literature called "The Father's Love Letter" about God's great love for us.

I don't know what Teresa was thinking as she reached out to hug Melinda, or what she'll think as she nibbles on a cookie or gives them to her kids.  I also don't know what she'll think of "The Father's Love Letter."  But I do know that Teresa appeared genuinely touched by our simple expression of kindness to her -- kindness that I'm certain she's not accustomed to encountering as she awkwardly stands in the dim lights of Winnipeg's streets each night. And I also know that I'm grateful Jon didn't call it quits one person too soon!

As I drove home at the end of a long 16-hour day, I felt excited that in that last encounter God had arranged for the evening, we'd been able to personally pray with someone who had fallen so low that she felt she needed to sell her body to strangers -- and that desperate and degraded beautiful young lady was able to see tonight that the love of God could still reach even her.

As I drove home, the words to the first song I heard on the radio were, "We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angels all around.  Let us praise Jesus now; we are standing in His presence on holy ground."

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Astonished beyond measure! (church bulletin cover)

I want to be "astonished beyond measure."  That's how Mark describes people's responses to a miracle Jesus performed in Mark 7:37.  Not just astonished, but "astonished beyond measure!" (ESV)  "Utterly astonished!" (NASB)  "Overwhelmed with amazement!" (NIV)

So how does that verse fit with the fact that when I've sometimes heard a person expressing surprise regarding answered prayer, it hasn't been unusual to hear someone ask, "Why are you surprised?  Didn't you believe God would answer your prayers?" Well this is how I want to answer such questions from now on: The people of the Decapolis believed in Jesus enough to bring a deaf and mute man to Him, begging Jesus to simply lay His hand on him so that he would be healed.  And when "his ears were opened" and "his tongue was released" (Mark 7:35), it says the people were "astonished beyond measure!"  So if the people who believed Jesus for such a significant miracle can still end up being that astonished when the miracle occurred, then why can't we be happily surprised when God answers our prayers?

Being astonished doesn't mean we lack belief.  It simply means that God has just done something amazing! Something we couldn't have done ourselves.  Something that's intended to result in God being glorified through the amazement of everyone who witnessed it!

So as I said, I want to be astonished beyond measure.  Shock me Lord!  Amaze me.  Wow me.  Leave my mouth hanging open.  And I'll keep coming to You, asking for things that will astonish and amaze me when you answer those prayers.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A view of healing & the sovereignty of God I've never heard quite this way before

I've had my struggles over the past 20+ years as my wife Fiona's kidneys have gradually grown worse and worse until she ended up on dialysis.  Wanting to believe that God heals today when we pray today, I and others have prayed for her many times, but only to see her health grow worse.  Amidst all this, in an effort to find peace with God amidst so many disappointments, my theology has gradually shifted toward an emphasis on God's sovereignty regarding the timing of His answers for such prayers.  In other words, if I can just see how God has a purpose for such lengthy delays in answering, I can be at peace that all is well, and that my wife is still living in the midst of God's plan for her life, and that her healing will happen when the time is right.  After all, she certainly has grown tremendously through her trust in God amidst all the challenges of this illness.  Obviously God is using these circumstances for good.

And then today I watched the following video and it bent my brain. It's from Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California that has seen many miracles of healing.  Sometime just after the 5:20 mark, I thought my brain's hard drive was about to crash.  And yet, even though I have no idea how the Biblical promise and purpose of suffering fits in with this man's theology, there's something in what he teaches that stirs me to greater passion to pray.  I'm processing... processing...

Check it out, and I'd appreciate your comments if you have any thoughts about it.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taxes or a shark attack?

We've re-connected our television to the outside world today. Though I may regret it, we're giving cable television another try. It doesn't seem the most likely way to improve my life, but maybe -- just maybe -- I'll find something to watch that's worth the $5/month it will cost me for the next twelve months.

Jonathan Goldstein did. I'm thinking back to an article I once read by a clever newspaper columnist and radio host named Jonathan Goldstein. His article even relates to what I wrote yesterday about fears, and also reminds me of the unavoidable tax forms I need to fill out this month. Check out how television helped him on one occasion...

"I am watching a documentary about sharks, and I am somewhat saddened that the sharks just don't seem to be scaring me the way they used to. When I was a kid, I used to spend about 80% of my time worrying about being eaten by sharks. This was during the '70s, and I guess that with all the movies -- Shark!, Jaws, Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D -- everyone was. Going to the beach was an act of daredevilhood. I remember dropping a hardboiled egg into the surf to see if a shark would come and get it -- to see if it was safe to swim -- and my dad yelling to never mind the shark, he was going to murder me with his bare hands for wasting eggs.

"But nowadays, or at least on some days, being eaten by a shark doesn't seem so bad. I mean, it would be bad, but after the first couple bites, I suspect it would be no worse than putting up a carport, or listening to someone talk about their RRSP contribution.

"I have financial matters on my mind this evening because I've promised myself, despite it being one of my major anxieties, to get a head start on my taxes. But instead, I continue to watch the documentary on sharks, nostalgic for old fears and still unwilling to confront new ones."

© 2010 by Ken Peters