Thursday, February 20, 2014

The first question (3)

Going to the core
But we must let this specific question do its work with us.  So many questions asked by Jesus are personally intended.  And this question needs to be taken seriously wherever we are on the Christian journey, 'What do you want?' goes to the core of everything that we are living for. As Jesus keeps asking us 'What are you living for? he longs for us to wake up to realize he is saying: 'Just how much do we want me'

Like many spiritual writers Oswald Chambers sets the stakes high and he hit me hard in one of his meditations. He asks what it is that we want.  Some wants do not require Jesus he says. If we want to stop wrong-doing we don't need Jesus;  if we want to live honestly we don't need Jesus. 
But when the heart cries out 'I want, God knows , I want, that Jesus Christ should do in me all He said he would do'. How many of us 'want' like that? Do you want, more than you want your food, more than you want your sleep, more than you want anything under heaven, or in heaven, that Jesus Christ might so identify you with Himself that you are His first and last and for ever?  God grant that the great longing desire of your heart may begin to awaken as it has never done'.

I think Jesus keeps asking me this question because with each new day I know I must be challenged again about what I really want in my faith walk with Jesus Christ. I need to space and time to keep reflecting: What am I living for? What do I want more than anything else?  What are my honest motives right now?   Because Jesus wants to identify me with Himself and to go another step forward as a whole-life disciple.

It does not happen instantly. These disciples will need three intense years and a lifetime beyond that. I must really want this prayer relationship to deepen at the center of my existence.  It's that important to answer clearly! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

The first question (2)

Giving space
In the end they can only reply: 'Where are you staying?' This seems so  feeble and inadequate yet perhaps it is shows them overwhelmed by Jesus and stunned by his approachability.Maybe they hope that they might indeed be able to spend quality time with him? What we do know is that Jesus replies by inviting them to come with him and that he gives ample space and time to begin a relationship that will prove the most important force in their lives. 

The Christian journey begins as Jesus asks us about ourselves. Why? Because Christian faith involves a two-way relationship with Jesus where he wants us to be real with him. And this is no instant happening.  Divine friendship takes time to grow and these followers are only at the very beginning.  But Jesus is willing to give them all the space and time and time they need  He always does that.  Later he will say: Remain in me and I will remain in you John 15:4).   This start took a few hours but was to dominate the rest of their lifetimes.

Giving time today
Today, this two way relationship is more difficult because it involves the spiritual practice of Christian prayer that is unlike any other relationship in the world because it involves trusting God though you cannot see him.  Jesus did not make prayer complicated.  In fact, the very opposite. His only instruction is to find a private place, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret (Matt. 6:6).  There's a powerful and complex spiritual dynamic involved but you do not need to know how it works.  Just trust in Scripture's promise that Jesus is always praying for us (Heb 7:25) and the Holy Spirit is always helping us (Rom. 8:26) as we join in with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Someone once said that they couldn't do this because they didn't really know what they believed about God.  And the advice came back: "Tell God that you have trouble believing in him'.  When we create space and time to be honest with him, keep reading Scripture's big story to keep us grounded in his living word and come with open hearts, he promises to meet with us.  His presence is kindly, patient but also probing.  And, note that there were two people in the story - it always strengthens our prayer lives when we supplement private places with fellowhip prayer.

All this means a serious investment of time.  Human friendship doesn't develop overnight and divine friendship does not either.
And one thing more.....

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The first question (1)

As a follow-up to my last post I have been thinking again about Jesus' very first question in the story John 1: 35-39. Some jottings follow that maybe will stir us up spiritually!

Have you had a problem of starting with Jesus?  Maybe you are at the very beginnings unsure how to start the journey of Christian faith? Or, perhaps, you have hit a patch where Jesus no longer seems as real and you would like to re-start?  How can we begin and be sure it is real?

Jesus' first question in John's gospel - John 1: 38 - is one of the greatest spiritual helps we could ever have. Two would-be disciples wonder how to begin. They can have little clue what lies ahead.  They already know that Jesus is a significant and powerful figure. Their teacher, John the Baptist, called him 'The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world'.  But even to speak to him seems improbable,let alone get to know him.  When they draw close they must wonder what will happen.  Will their hopes of getting to know him have any chance? 

We should always marvel how Jesus takes the initiative. He could have commanded attention on his own terms.  Just how would you expect the Lamb of God to speak?  But he asks a question which reveals how he always seeks to deal with anyone who wishes to begin with himWhat do you want?  What are you looking for?

Open friendship
Could you have a more open question than that?  So basic yet gloriously authentic.  Jesus opens the way for them to be real with Him, so that they can honestly share what they are after and reveal who they are. Jesus is not quizzing them about their religious beliefs or experience. He is opening up conversation about their reasons for being there and they are about to discover that there is nothing more wonderfull than being listened to by one whose love and wisdom is greater than humankind can ever find elsewhere.  They don't know yet how Jesus behaves with people.  They have yet to hear him say: 'Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away' (John 6:27).  They are the first to find out how Jesus deals with ordinary people, very ordinary, who would like to get close to him. 

More soon......

Friday, February 7, 2014

Occasional reflections

Four years ago I preached a series of sermons on some questions that Jesus asked. I even took some of these on the road to a Keswick Convention in Canada,with plans to turn them into a book later.  Actually, I worked quite hard at the task which was sadly overtaken by my work on preaching as worship.

In my local church the preacher has been considering the ministry of Jesus in John's gospel and, as I sat listening with my Bible open these last Sundays, I was struck again by the immense power of Jesus' questions to take us to deep truth spaces.  Questions reveal so much about us and our willingness to be involved with others,  and none more so than those that Jesus asks.

I think they do make for challenging sermons but I have grown in conviction that because Jesus asks so many leading questions to people just like us,  these would make powerful personal reflections.  If we truly believe that Jesus is alive today and the Holy Spirit is active then we should expect him to go on making personal challenges in the same ways as we find in the gospel.  Yes, they took place 2000 years ago but Jesus alive continues to ask questions just like these today.

I like the story of Andrew Murray, a great teacher on prayer, who addressed a breakfast meeting of Christian leaders in London.  He said that ' at all our conventions and assumblies too little time is given to waiting on God. Has the life of God's people reached the utmost limit of what God is willing to do for them?  Surely not! Let us enlarge our hearts and not limit Him'.  Afterwards, Murray was bowled over by the number of people who clamoured after him saying how this hit the target.  Sensing a deep spiritual vacuum and desire for God, he wrote a book over the next months while he was travelling called 'Waiting on God'. 

At  the beginning he tells the story of the breakfast reaction and his surprise, yet his growing awareness of how basic this need is.  He writes:
The great lack of our religion is, we do not know God.  The answer to every complaint of feebleness and failure..ought to be simply, What is the matter: Have you not God?  If you really believe in God, He will put all right. God is willing and able by his Holy Spirit.' 
He then gives a number of prayer meditations helping us to wait on God.

The truth still hits us - What is the matter: Have you not God?  It is so obvious that lack of God experience disables us.  We stay in shallow places with feebleness and failure. How he longs that we might grow in relationship with him so that we know him for real, in deeper ways.

I think that one way that Jesus helps us is by inviting us to answer some of his questions.  To do so honestly needs us to wait, to reflect and listen in prayer.  This is what I want to do with some occasional offerings.  They will be brief but invite quality engagement on your knees.  Let us enlarge our hearts and not limit Him.