A Taste Of Death

Read:

Mark 5:35-43

Reflect:

“But Jesus  overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” Mark 5:37, NLT

Last year I had a vicarious taste of death when I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with my niece. Her husband was critically ill with the Covid 19 virus and the doctors fought desperately for his life in the ICU for three months. God worked through the doctors and nurses in the ICU and our prayers for a miracle of healing were answered. 

Jesus was on the way to heal Jairus daughter when messengers came to tell Jairus that his daughter had died. But it was an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his power over life and death. Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” The people were weeping and wailing and Jesus told them that the child was not dead but only asleep but they laughed at him. 

Jesus then went with the parents and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. He held her hand and said to her, “Talitha koum” –  “little girl, I say to you, arise.” The girl arose and walked! Jesus then commanded them not to tell anyone what had happened. It is so easy to encourage a shallow faith in miracles instead of deepening the roots of faith in God.1

The stories of the dead being raised to life in the bible are demonstrations of the reality that death is not the end of life and of the power of God over life and death. Jesus tasted death on the cross to give us life through the power of the resurrection. It is our fear of death that keeps us in slavery to sin and the devil. Jesus conquered death on the cross so that we can live without fear in the face of suffering and death:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?2

In the hospice ministry, I have witnessed the victory over death in many of my patients who looked forward to their lives after death. Unfortunately, modern medicine has given many people the illusion that doctors can save them from death. But resuscitation is different from resurrection. Doctors may win many battles with death but they will always lose the war. It is foolishness to think that we can cheat death:

Therefore, listen to this message from the Lord, you scoffing rulers in Jerusalem. You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death and have a deal to dodge the grave. The coming destruction can never touch us, for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception…..

“I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death, and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.”3 

Jesus died a cruel and meaningless death on the cross to reveal the unimaginable love and awesome power of God. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God – the crucifixion reveals the horror of sin and the inhumanity of humankind. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate the power of Love and to transform a fear based religious faith to a love empowered spiritual faith. To give us the Holy Spirit so that we are like a signet ring on God’s heart and who have hearts filled with love that is as overpowering as death and a devotion that is as unyielding as the grave.4 

The good news is that death is not the end of life but the beginning of eternal life for “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”5  And in the Presence of God, there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain for God will wipe every tear from our eyes.6 

The fear of death is the biggest obstacle towards having good care at the end of life. Many patients suffer unnecessary and futile medical procedures to keep death at bay. It is sad that many patients have the misconception that hospice care is about dying peacefully when the mission of hospice care is to provide loving care and to empower patients and their families to live meaningfully everyday for as long as possible. 

There is no resurrection without death. We need to taste “little deaths” each day – to be aware and to surrender our pride, greed, lust, anger, envy and gluttony. To put to death our negative anthropomorphic images of God that keep us from God’s loving embrace. A simple way to do so is through centering prayer – to keep our eyes on the cross of Christ and to let the Holy Spirit search our hearts for any idolatrous tendency and to lead us in the reliable ancient path.7 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from ev’ry sin and set me free.”8

Respond:

Lord, help me to taste the “little deaths” each day so that I may live in Your loving embrace.

Reframe:

1.  Why is it important to come to terms with the reality of death?
2.  What is my greatest fear about death? 3. 
What are the “little deaths” that confront me each day?

Song of Praise

Search me, O God

SDG

Notes:

1.  Mark 5:35-43
2.  1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT
3.  Isaiah 28:15,18, NLT
4.   Song of Songs, 8:6, GW
5    Revelations 14:13, NLT
6   Revelation 21:4, NLT
7   Psalms 139:24,NET
8   Search Me O God

Dancing With God

Read:

Isaiah 43:1-13

Reflect:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1, NKJV

Love has been described by Pierre Teilhard Chardin as the very physical structure of the universe. He saw gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct and evolution as the manifestations of love under different forms.1 Dorothy Day found that love is the only solution to every problem that comes up:

“If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”2

Divine love is seen in sacrificial, forgiving and generous human love. And to love another human being in the deepest way possible, we need to be touched by the love of God.3 In the Old Testament, the love of God is often hidden. But we can hear God’s whispers of love through the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine…………….Since you are precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you. Therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you..”4

Jesus is the human incarnation of God’s love. God’s amazing love is revealed when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that the Holy Spirit can pour God’s love into our hearts.5 It is God’s perfect love that casts out fear.6  In Christ, we can stand firm on the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God.7 Without Christ, we hide from God like Adam. In Christ, God invites us to live life “as a sacred dance, as an adventure to anticipate, not a peril to avoid.”8 To dance with God is to look for His Presence in the ups and downs of life. We are to keep in step with God’s rhythm – to His heartbeat and not ours.

When I imagine God holding my right hand with His right Hand9, I see God dancing the Cha Cha Cha dance with me. My wife and I cannot dance, but while holidaying on a cruise ship a few years ago, we saw two girls demonstrating the Cha Cha Cha dance. The steps were simple: 

  “Backward, forward, to the right; 
 Forward, backward to the left.” 

The rhythm of the Cha Cha Cha dance helped me to appreciate the devotional disciplines of surrender and self examination. In the first dance step, I take a step backward with the discipline of surrender. Then I take a step forward to God with repentance. With surrender and repentance, I affirm God’s presence with the prayer of the heart, “Jesus Is Lord.” In the second dance step, self-examination is followed by the step of  confession. Through self-examination and confession I commit my life to Jesus as my Shepherd of Love.10

It is so easy for our faith in God to become lukewarm through the deception and distraction of success and activities that keep us busy. We are tempted to think we are rich and have everything we need and don’t need a thing when the truth is that we are spiritually poor, blind and naked.11 We tend to live without God in comfortable times. It is the hard times that lead us to cry out for God’s presence. We need the spiritual disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession to keep the fire of love burning in our hearts and to remember that it is only by grace that we can do what God has called us to do. 

The resurrection of Christ is the greatest evidence of life after death as well as God’s steadfast love for us. The most powerful witness of our faith in the Risen Christ  is seen in how we face pain, suffering and loss – when we can dance with joy in the face of pain, suffering and loss. Our challenge is to live out the truth of God’s steadfast love as we daily lift our hands and sing of God’s love forever:

“Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know
But when the world has seen the light
They will dance with joy Like we’re dancing now”10

Respond:

Lord, fill me with Your fire of love and lead me to live my life as a sacred dance with You.

Reframe:

1  Why are the disciplines of surrender, repentance, self examination and confession important to prevent my faith from becoming lukewarm?
2. How can I experience God leading me in a sacred dance each day?
3. How does dancing with God help us to know God better and love Him more?

Song of Praise

I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

SDG

Notes:

1. Pierre Teilhard Chardin, quoted by Richard Rohr in his book, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love Is The Meaning.
2. Dorothy Day, in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Love Is The Only Solution, 22 July 2022.
3. Richard Rohr, Universal Christ, Chapter 5, Love is The Meaning
4. Isaiah 43:1,4-5  NKJV
5. Romans 5:5, NKJV
6. 1 John 4:18, NKJV
7. Romans 8:38-39, NLT
8. Steve Harper, Walking In the Light, page 28
9. Isaiah 41:10-13 NKJV
10.Patrick Kee, Living With Our Shepherd Of Love, page 47
11. Revelations 3:14-22, NLT
12. I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever

King Of Hearts

Read:

1 Samuel 12: 13-25

Reflect:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!” 1 Samuel 12: 20, NLT

Climate change, pandemics and wars are signs that we are living in the end times. The end times do not necessarily mean the end of the physical world but may also refer to the end of world systems like the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact we are living in times that are reminiscent of the times in the New Testament. At that time the Roman Empire lost control of Europe and the people faced wars, climatic changes as well as endemic and epidemic disease.1 In our time, we are seeing the decline of Western capitalism and facing wars and pandemics. 

Such times are also demonstrations of the judgment of God. When we trade the truth of God for a lie and worship the things of the world instead of the Creator of the world, God will allow our foolish thinking to lead us to do things that should never be done.2  God does not need to inflict any punishment on us – He  just simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our foolish actions but He is suffers with us!

This is the important lesson we can learn from the Jews who asked Samuel for a king even though the Lord their God was already their king. God told Samuel to grant them their request although it was a rejection of God as their king.3  The Jews were later terrified when they experienced the Presence of God supernaturally through thunder and rain and were convicted of the wickedness of their request for a king. But Samuel reminded them of God’s faithfulness and warned them to keep away from idolatry:

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you – they are totally useless!”4 

Our foolish human tendency is to choose to be a slave of sin rather than a servant of God, to be in bondage to sin rather than to be in the freedom of joyful obedience to God.5 As a follower of Christ, we are called to live as citizens of heaven and conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.6 We are to advance God’s kingdom here on earth with Jesus Christ as King in our hearts.

When I joined the Boys’ Brigade in my youth I was imbued with the objective of the Brigade –  the advancement of God’s Kingdom among boys and the promotion of the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline and self respect. These habits are still relevant in my old age. To do so, I need to read Scripture not for information but for spiritual formation – to rewire my mind with the promises of God so that I can confront my worries and doubts with the hope and peace of God. It is not reading the bible to know about God but reading the bible as the sharpest two-edged sword to expose my innermost thoughts and desires.7

In silence and solitude we enthrone Jesus as our Suffering King, our Servant King and our Shepherd King in our hearts. We wait in silence and solitude to create a spiritual space for the Holy Spirit and breathe in the oxygen of God’s love into our minds so that the Spirit can have more of our hearts. 

Through centering prayer, we wait to hear the voice of our Shepherd of Love in the silence of our hearts. As our eyes are opened to the evils lurking deep within our hearts, we can breathe out the carbon dioxide of our sins. We are then prepared to taste the goodness and wonder of God’s Word with our minds as we practice lectio divina. As we spend time with our Shepherd of Love, we will smell like His sheep and smell others as sheep and not goats. Then we can touch others with God’s love as well as be touched by God’s love through others.

Let us deepen our roots to have a steadfast faith in God by waiting in confident hope and putting our trust in God’s faithful love. Let us lift up our eyes to the cross of Christ and remember that Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin and evil on the cross. Let us fight the lies of this world by enthroning Jesus Christ King of our hearts as we sing:

“So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him; 
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving 

This is our God, the Servant King 
He calls us now to follow Him 
To bring our lives as a daily offering 
Of worship to the Servant King8

Response:

Lord, be enthroned as the Servant King in our hearts that Your love may overflow in our lives.

Reframe:

1.  What are the desires and beliefs that keep me from enthroning Christ in my heart?
2.  What is occupying the throne of our hearts?
3. How am I living my life differently with Jesus as King of my heart?

Song of Praise

The Servant King

Notes:

1. Fall of the Western Roman Empire, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_the_Western_Roman_Empire
2. Romans 1:21-32, NLT
3. 1 Samuel 8:4-9. 
4. 1 Samuel 12: 20
5. Nehemiah 9:17
6. Philippians 1:27
7. Hebrews 4:12, NLT
8. The Servant King, Graham Kendrick

The Secret Of Happiness:

Read:

Luke 12:22-32

Reflect:

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32, NLT

How on earth can we be happy in an unhappy world? We have been deceived into thinking that material success will bring happiness. But the sad reality is that money and success often leads to pride, greed, and envy that generates more stress, unhappiness and meaninglessness. It is foolish and futile to chase after success to seek happiness. Fear of failure, fear of missing out and fear of death will keep us from the joys of living. True success comes from happiness rooted in the love of God. 

Happiness is found in the kingdom of heaven where we can have Transforming Listening Conversations with God, free from a fearful and slavish obedience to a set of rules. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth.1 He gave us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes2. The greatest secret is that we can live in heaven here and now when our minds are rewired and our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit.

We need a radical change in how we see God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Jesus came to open our eyes to God’s mysterious plan that the Holy Spirit is in us to empower us to fulfill God’s will in our lives. We are to set our sights on the realities of heaven. God is our loving Heavenly Father whose greatest happiness is to give us the Kingdom of Heaven:

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”3

Jesus came to set us free from the fear of death and suffering.4 God wants us to live in the joy of His Presence, Providence and Power for everything in life. Like a loving father, God wants us to live with intentional intimacy with Him in His Kingdom as this gives Him great happiness. The Beatitudes are the “be-attitudes” of a poverty of spirit, a spirit of mourning, a spirit of humility, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a forgiving spirit, a pure mind, a peaceful heart and a spirit of perseverance. We need these “be-attitudes” to overcome the sins of lust, anger, pride, gluttony, greed, envy and acedia that draws us away from God’s grace and disfigures the image of God in us. 

The daily doses of bad news of war, pandemics and rising petrol prices are but alarm bells warning us of the folly and futility of a life without the love of God. The good news is that God’s goodness and unfailing love pursues us5 when we rest in Him – we do not have to chase after happiness! We need to wake up to the truth that we are living in the hell of our own thoughts6 which blind and deafen us to the awesome thoughts of God that are way beyond our human understanding.7 God wants us to know the great secret that Christ lives in us and we have the blessed assurance of sharing his riches and glory in heaven.8 

We need to be like children and babies singing songs of praise9 to lead us to the Rock that is higher than our problems so that we can stand on the precious truth that God’s ways are beyond our understanding and imagination.10 Faith is not blind when our vision is focused on the realities of God’s Kingdom. Through centering prayer, we can grow in awareness of our selfish thoughts, worldly thoughts and sinful thoughts and replace them with godly thoughts. We can detoxify our hearts by choosing to think about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.11 We can choose not to waste time with the fake news in the social media but to feed on God’s Word each day as we sing:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu, alleluia

Man does not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu, alleluia.”12

Respond:

Lord, help me to seek Your Kingdom to find real happiness. 

Reframe:

1.  What are the fears in life that I need to face?
2.  How am I seeking happiness in life?
3.  What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now?

Song of Praise

Seek Ye First

SDG

Notes:

1.  Matthew 6:10
2.  Matthew 5:1-12, EASY
3.  Luke 12:32, NLT
4.  Hebrews 2:14-15, NLT
5.  Psalms 23:6, NLT
6.  Romans 1:28-32, NLT
7.  Isaiah 55:8, NLT
8.  Colossians 1:27, NLT
9.  Psalms 8:2, ERV
10.  Isaiah 55:8, NLT
11. Philippians 4:8, NLT
12.  Seek Ye First, Maranatha! Singers

The Beatitudes:

‘Happy are the people who know that they need God very much. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like that. 

Happy are the people who are sad now. God will come near to help them. 

Happy are the people who are kind. The whole earth will belong to them. 

Happy are the people who want to obey God, as much as they want to eat food. God will give to them everything that they need. 

Happy are the people who help other people and who forgive them. God will forgive people like that. 

Happy are the people who have only good thoughts. They will come near to God and see him. 

Happy are the people who bring people together to be friends. God will call them his children. 

Happy are the people who do what is right but other people hurt them because of it. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like that.”

Matthew 5:3‭-‬10 EASY

Feeding On The Living Word

Read:

Joshua 1:1-9

Reflect:

“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:8-9. NLT

We need spiritual food to grow spiritually. When Jesus was in the wilderness, he resisted the temptation to turn stones into bread with the truth that people do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.1 This was the truth that Moses taught the people of Israel when they were led through the wilderness for forty years and were fed with manna. They were to be dependent on God’s Presence so that they will not fall into idolatry.2  

After the death of Moses, God commanded Joshua to meditate on the Covenant of the Law that had been given to the people of Israel through Moses so that they will be in God’s Presence and not be afraid or discouraged. They had been chosen to conquer the Promised Land to establish the reign of God here on earth:

“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”3

The practice of meditating on God’s Word changes our relationship with God from a transactional relationship for blessings into a transformational relationship to become new creations and the masterpieces of God’s love. The bible is not a book of rules we are to obey – it is the spiritual food to nurture our relationship with God. We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness to have a good appetite for God’s Word.4 Like a baby, we have to grow up spiritually before we can digest the solid food of God’s Word: 

“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know who to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”5

The bible is God’s living word to teach us how to live in God’s Presence. For the word of God is alive and powerful like a sharp two-edged sword. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.6 God’s Word teach us what is true, show us what is wrong in our lives, correct us when we are wrong and teach us to do what is right so that we are prepared and equipped to do every good work.7 

A worker in a research office found that an expensive technical book he had borrowed from his professor was missing. He then remembered the story of Elisha and the floating ax head. He decided to pray that he would be led to remember where he had misplaced the book or that the book be returned if someone else had taken the book. About ten days later, the book showed up on the professor’s desk. He was encouraged by his answered prayer and shared the truth that God’s concern for us is beyond measure.8 I was reminded of the power of God’s Word to help us grow in our faith that God cares for all the mundane things in our lives.

Another faithful Christian had been studying and reflecting on God’s Word and was struggling to understand what was happening when her health declined in the prime of her life. As she continued to meditate on God’s word and to pray for healing, she saw the dry grass withered by the heat of an unforgiving sun turn into vibrant green grass when the rains came during her bus rides to work. She was encouraged to wait with hope on the Lord.9 Indeed, adversities in life, big or small, become compost for our faith in God’s steadfast love. 

Jesus Christ is the Living Word that is sweeter than honey,10 a lamp for my feet and a Light for my path.11 As I prepare to journey into a new season of life, I wait in hope and with hope by feeding on God’s Living Word through prayer and meditation so that I will understand God’s ways. As God’s Word becomes alive in me I will not be afraid to face the challenges that await me in each new season of life.

“When I feel afraid and I think I’ve lost my way
Still You’re there right beside me
Nothing will I fear as long as You are near
Please be near me to the end”12

Respond:

Lord, help me to feed on Your Living Word by being still as I wait for Your Spirit to lead me into Your truths.

Reframe:

1.  Is there a sin in the Egypt of my life I need to confess?
2.  Is there a promise in the Wilderness of my life I need to receive?
3.  Is there a commandment in the Promised Land of my life I need to obey?
4.  Is there a warning in the Babylon of my life I need to take heed of?

Song of Praise:

Thy Word by Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith

SDG

Notes:

1.  Matthew 4:4
2.  Deut 8:1-20, NLT
3.  Joshua 1:8-9, NLT
4.  Matthew 5:6, MSG
5. Hebrews 5:12-14, NLT
6.  Hebrews 4:12, NLT
7.  2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT,
8. The Upper Room Devotional, Beyond Measure, Saturday, 11 June 2022 9.  The Upper Room Devotional, Wait For The Lord, Sunday, 12 June 2022 10.  Psalms 119:103
11.  Psalms 119:105
12.  Thy Word by Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith

Fear Blinds, Faith Sees

Read:

Deuteronomy 1:19-40

Reflect:

“Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!” Deuteronomy 1:21, NLT

Old age is filled with the dark clouds of life – loss of loved ones, poor health, disability, financial struggles and death. Old age is a nightmare when we are gripped by fears of the “geriatric giants” of disease, disabilities, depression, dementia and death. Fear of old age blinds us to the amazing grace of God to give us joy and peace in the winter of life. Instead of a time of wonder and a beautiful time to draw close to God, such fears lead us to live “lives of quiet desperation” or to “die with all our music in us.”

The story of the Jews in the wilderness provide us with a metaphor of our spiritual journey in life. After traveling through the great and terrifying wilderness, the Jews were told to occupy the land of the Amorites when they arrived at Kadesh-barnea:

“Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!”

But the Jews were demoralized by the half-truths given by ten of the scouts. Instead of trusting in God, they complained and felt that God hated them. They forgot how God had cared for them as they traveled through the wilderness like a father caring for his child.1 This story is a depiction of spiritual warfare – to open our eyes to the power of lies and half truths which draws us away from the love of God.

Evagrius Ponticus, a desert father in the fourth century AD, shared his experience of fighting the demonic temptation against  thought patterns, internal narratives and internal belief structures that enslave the soul.2 In our modern world, our minds are bombarded by lies, fake news and misinformation. We are confused and live with much dread and anxiety. Fears blind us to the power of love and drive us to put our trust in the idols of health and wealth. 

To be reborn spiritually is to wake up to the reality that there is a battle between the power of love and the love of power in the world and within our hearts. We need a transformation of our minds to understand our sinful nature. Sin is not just disobeying the commandments of God. The story of Adam and Eve is a revealing narrative of the evil of seeking the love of power and losing sight of the power of love.3 The love of power leads to a godless world in which shame and blame reigns supreme.

By the grace of God we are set free from a godless world to embark on the journey into the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Jesus we will be led into a spiritual wilderness to prepare us for the spiritual war against the forces of evil. Wilderness experiences are times to seek God’s refuge, to experience the miracles of His Presence and Power and to reprogram our minds. The wilderness is a time to rewire our thoughts patterns. Old habits need to die and new habits need to be cultivated. To grow the fruits of the Spirit we need to get rid of the weeds of sin. 

Fear, doubts, anger, and guilt are the spiritual giants that keep us from victory over sin and evil. Without trust in God, we are easily discouraged and react to challenges and struggles in life in panic and with fear. Without trust in God we see our weaknesses and not the power of God. It is only by faith that we can face the giants of negative thought patterns and overcome them with the power of the Holy Spirit. When we listen with our hearts and understand God’s Word with our minds, we will be filled with great joy when the joy of the Lord is our strength.4

In faith, we can practice solitude, spending time alone with God, to put off our old self and put on our new self. We do so not by trying to be alone but by abiding in Christ and letting the Holy Spirit break down the brick walls of our negative thought patterns and false beliefs so that Christ can build bridges of love and compassion through us. In solitude, we learn to listen to our thoughts and feelings without judgment so that we can bring our guilt and fears to God who is reigning deep within our hearts.

Fear blinds but faith sees. Faith is not blind but we need to acknowledge our spiritual blindness before we can pray for the faith to see. It is only by faith that I can face the Goliaths of negative thought patterns and overcome them like David, with the grace of God.5  Power reigns in the world but it is Love that reigns in God’s Kingdom. With trust in God I will not fear, for the battle belongs to God. I just need to stand firm, put on the armor of God6 and hold up God’s banner of Love over me.

“By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight”7

Respond:

Lord, help me to see by faith the power of Your love so that I will not be blinded by my fears of the “geriatric giants” of old age.

Reframe:

1. What are the negative thought patterns that keep me from doing God’s will?

2. How can I reprogram my mind so that I can see by faith?

3. What are God’s blessings in old age that I need to keep in my heart?

Song of praise:

By Faith

SDG

Notes:

1. Deuteronomy 1:19-40
2. Quoted by John Mark Comer in his book, Live No Lies, page 6
3. Genesis 3:1-13, NLT
4.  Nehemiah 8:7-12, NLT
5. 1 Samuel 17:32-51, NLT
6. Ephesians 6:10-18
7. By Faith, Keith Getty

The Peace Of Silence

Read:

John 14:23-27

Reflect:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27, ESV

Life is full of ups and downs. Our hearts are troubled as our peace of mind is broken by fears, doubts and guilt. Our monkey minds and deceitful hearts drive us to pursue peace and happiness in worldly pleasures and possessions which do not satisfy but only turn us away from God:

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me – the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”1 

In Christ, our Heavenly Father opens His arms all day long to us but we are disobedient and rebellious2 and unable to listen and respond to His loving cry:

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”3

When we are not touched by God’s love, we are part of God’s problem. We are breaking His heart. We cannot follow Christ to be God’s solution to redeem the world. Our hearts need to be broken so that the Holy Spirit can put God’s laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.

We have the free will to say “no” to God. We have the choice to say “yes” to God and make Him our refuge and to hold fast to His love.4 Obedience is the hallmark of our love for God. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is not a reward for obedience. It is our fears and lack of trust in God’s love that keeps us from receiving the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us for obedience. It is our desire to trust and obey God that opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything and give us peace of mind and heart:

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”5 

We can express our desire for God’s gift of the Holy Spirit by abiding in Christ through silence. In silence true prayer is born. Prayer, according to Henri Nouwen, is listening to Jesus who is dwelling in the depths of our hearts. He found that spending ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in our lives. It is not easy to be still even for ten minutes as many other noisy and distracting voices that are not from God will demand our attention. 

But as we persevere to listen to our hearts daily, we will come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.6 In silence, I learn to hold fast to God’s love as I watch, without attachment or rejection, all my thoughts, positive and negative, flowing through my mind. Instead of letting the thoughts fill my heart with worry, I rewire my mind through prayer:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all that he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

In silence we intentionally seek Jesus who is in our hearts so that our attention is not directed by the thoughts in our minds. Each time my inner silence is punctured by my thoughts I use it as an opportunity to return to the peace of silence by acknowledging the thoughts and letting them go. Instead of trying to master silence, I seek to be mastered by the Holy Spirit in the embrace of silence. In silence I breathe in the peace of God that is beyond this world:

“Peace 

Holds me when I’m broken

Sweet peace 

That passes understanding

When the whole wide world is crashing down, 

I fall to my knees

And breathe in Your peace.”8

Respond:

Lord, may I be mastered by silence and live in Your loving embrace.

Reframe:

  1. What broken cisterns am I digging to find peace?
  2. What disturbs my peace of mind and troubles my heart?
  3. How am I breathing in the peace of God each day?

Song of Praise

Peace Holds Me When I’m Broken

SDG

Notes:

  1. Jeremiah 2:13, NLT
  2. Romans 10:21, NLT
  3. Isaiah 55:1-2, NLT
  4. Jeremiah 31:33 NKJV
  5. John 14:27 NLT
  6. Nouwen Meditation: Listen to the Voice of Gentle Love, 18 May 2022
  7. Philippians 4:6-7, NLT
  8. Peace – https://bethelmusic.com/chords-and-lyrics/peace-peace/

From Doubts To Wonder

Read:

Matthew 14:22-33

Reflect:

“But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid.” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Matthew 14:27 NLT

Adversities and failures in life are but roadblocks to a life that goes Nowhere. In such times, we are to pray for guidance to embark on the road to a life of righteousness that is Now Here. It is the way of the Cross which is filled with doubts and fears. As human beings, we are the only creatures who have doubts as we have higher levels of consciousness. We are able to reflect on the past and to contemplate the future.  When we live our lives under the control of our mammalian and reptilian brains, we are driven by our desires and instincts. But as human beings we are created for higher things. We can choose to let our fears be stumbling stones driving us to doubt or we can use our fears to be stepping stones to lead us to a faith in the wonders of God.

The disciples were in a storm when they saw Jesus  walking on water towards them. They were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus spoke to them: “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!” Peter then asked to walk to Jesus to prove that it was really Jesus walking in the storm. However, as Peter began walking on the water towards Jesus, he saw the strong wind and waves. He was terrified and began to sink and cried out to Jesus, “Save me, Lord!”:

“Jesus Immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

The wind stopped when they climbed back into the boat and the disciples were filled with awe and wonder as they worshiped him and declared, “You really are the Son of God.”1

Peter’s failure to walk on water towards Jesus was a reflection of his fearfulness which led him to lose faith in Jesus’ call, “Yes, come.” Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, Peter shifted his attention to the wind and the waves and fear melted his courage. Doubt is the expression of our fears and our desire to be in control. Peter’s courage sank when his fears drove him to doubt.

 Trust is the expression of our faith and a surrendered will to God. Peter could have just waited for Jesus to get into the boat instead of trying to walk on water. So often we are tempted to do great things for God with a shallow faith. But by grace God turns our times of doubt into opportunities to experience His wonders.

In the storms of life, we can try to walk in the storm or to wait out the storm.  The failure of Peter to walk in the storm teaches us  the important lesson that we need great faith to walk in the storm  or we will be sunk by our doubts. The good news is that when we are drowning in half truths and lies we can cry out:

“I am drowning in tears. Strengthen me as  you promised. Turn me away from a life of lies. Graciously provide me with your teachings.  I have chosen a life of faithfulness.”2 

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord is present with us. We need only a mustard seed faith to be still and to stand on the promise that God is our refuge and our strength:

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge……

Be still and know that I am God. I will be honored  by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”3

Courage is not the absence of fear – it is confidence in God’s presence in the face of fear. The disciples were told to have courage for Jesus was with them.  The practice of the presence of God in our daily lives is therefore of utmost importance.  To do so, I need to  read the bible with a surrendered heart  and invite the Holy Spirit to lead me into Christ’s presence through the Word of God. I can read the bible to know about God with my thinking mind but my faith will remain shallow.  Feeding on God’s Word is not  filling my mind with bible verses – it is reflecting on God’s Word to examine my heart and to rewire my mind:

“God’s word is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword and cuts as deep as the place where the soul and spirit meet, the place where joints and marrow meet. God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions.”4 

I need to be rooted in the Word of God to bear the fruit of joy and peace in every season of life. The secret of living the abundant life in Christ is to delight in the Word of God and to remember that my Shepherd of Love is holding me fast:

“I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast”5

Response:

Lord, in these dark, doubtful and difficult times, be my refuge and my strength. Keep me from drowning in my doubts. Hold me fast in the storms of life that I may experience the wonder of Your presence.

Reframe:

  1. What are the fears that lead me to doubt God’s love for me?
  2. How can I turn my doubts into opportunities to experience God’s miracles?
  3. How can God’s Word help me to experience His presence in my daily life?

Song of Praise:

He will hold me fast

Notes:

  1. Matthew  14:22-33
  2. Psalms 119:28-29. GW
  3. Psalms 46:1-3, 10-11 NLT
  4. Hebrews 4:12 GW
  5. He Will Hold Me Fast

From Wow to Woe

Read:

Luke 5:1-11

Reflect:

“Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch people instead of fish.” Luke 5:10

Times of dissatisfaction, disappointment and discouragement in our mundane lives are opportunities for “bushes afire with God” encounters. We need such spiritual encounters to fill our hearts with wonder and awaken our minds. We need the spirit of repentance to open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the gospel truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.”1

The apostle Peter and his friends were washing their fishing nets beside their boats when Jesus stepped into one of the boats and used it to preach to the crowds pressing in on him. After preaching to the people, Jesus told Peter to move his boat deeper into the sea and to let his nets down to catch some fish. But Peter and his friends had worked hard through the night and had caught nothing. However, he obliged a complete stranger to do something that he probably felt was a waste of time.  

Peter’s obedience is the expression of his humble, contrite and submissive heart and he was awestruck by the huge number of fish they caught.2The miracle opened Peter’s eyes to his sinful nature and the holiness of Jesus. It drove him to his knees to ask Jesus to leave him.  But Jesus told him not be afraid as God has a higher calling for him.

Miracles reveal the condition of the spiritual soil of our hearts – are they filled with the weeds of greed, pride and lust or with the wheat of humility, thanksgiving, and reverence? Greed will tempt us to turn stones into bread. But a heart that is seeking God’s heart will be humbled by God’s miracles.  We will confess that, “we are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under Your table.”3 

We will be awestruck by the wonder of God’s grace to see the awful state of our sinful hearts – we will be moved from wow to woe. Like Moses, when God spoke to him from a burning bush, an encounter with the divine will fill us with awe and fear.4 Like Isaiah, we will be filled with a sense of doom as we realize that we live among people with sinful lips.

But God does not want us to be afraid of Him but to advance the Kingdom of heaven here on earth by following Christ. God sees our hearts and understands everything we do. God knows our thoughts and how deceitful our hearts are.  But God’s precious thoughts about us cannot be numbered.6 The good news is that Jesus came to deliver us from shame and blame and to restore our identity as the children of God. When we feel abandoned we can turn our eyes to the cross of Christ and to rest in the truth that God never abandons us. We are the ones who have turned away from God. We forget that we are always in God’s presence.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditating on God’s Word are to keep us from wandering away from God and to fill us with a sense of wonder of God’s mysterious grace. We read the bible not just to hear what God is saying to us but to be inspired to do what we need to do and to be who God wants us to be. The spiritual habits of meditation and prayer are to keep us connected with God and to anchor our faith in the righteousness of Christ.

Everything that is happening in the world, like the Ukraine war and the pandemic, are ways by which God is reminding us of His sovereignty and our need to wait on Him.  It is in waiting on God that we can be attentive to the ways in which God is calling us to do the good things that He has planned for us.7  Peter did not choose to follow Jesus. Jesus invited Peter to a higher calling from being a fisherman. Our calling is to live out the truth of the gospel – “’Christ Jesus came to save sinners’ and I am the worst of them all.”8

The Kingdom of heaven is in our hearts and is seen in our lives when Jesus reigns as our Servant King. We need the “be-attitudes” of the spirit of poverty and the spirit of mourning to surrender our hearts and minds to the will of God. The war in Ukraine is but a reminder that we are in the midst of a greater war – the spiritual battle for our minds and hearts. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.9 But the Spirit in us is greater than the spirits in the world.10 Furthermore, the battle belongs to the Lord and our ability to live out our faith is rooted in the righteousness of Christ. We can practice praying, “Jesus Is Lord”11 in our free moments throughout the day to “rewire” our brains.12 It is a way to pray without ceasing.13

As I was meditating early this morning, the chirping of the birds evoked a sense of wonder of God’s mysterious ways. It was such a privilege to enjoy with God the music of a bird’s song as I savour the truth that God’s precious thoughts about me outnumber the grains of sand. And the words of the hymn, How Great Thou Art, flooded my soul:

“When thru the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze,

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”14

Response:

Lord, help me keep a humble, reverent  and obedient heart so that I can advance Your Kingdom here on earth by being a channel of Your amazing grace.

Reframe:

  1. What sinful desires do I need to surrender to God?
  2. How can I keep myself from wandering away from God especially in times of success?
  3. How can I be attentive to the miraculous workings of God in the mundane moments of my life?

Song of  Praise

How Great Thou Art

SDG

Notes:

  1. Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17
  2. Luke 5:1-11
  3. A Service Of Word and Table IV, The United Methodist Hymnal, pg 30
  4. Exodus 3:1-6
  5. Isaiah 6:5
  6. Psalms 139:1-17
  7. Ephesians 2:10
  8. I Timothy 1:15
  9. Ephesians 6:10-12
  10. 1 John 4:4
  11. Romans 10:9
  12. Inspired by Thomas Keating suggestion of “The Active Prayer Sentence” in his book, “Open Mind, Open Heart (page 171)
  13. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  14. How Great Thou Art

Freedom From Fear

Lectio:

Scripture for reflection:  Psalms 91:1-8

Meditatio:

“Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.” Psalms 91:5-6 NLT

We are fearfully and wonderfully made – hard wired with the fear response to react to any dangerous or life threatening situations. This is the “reptilian” part of our brains that is programmed to process with super speed negative emotions such as fear, so that our bodies can react instantly to fight, flee, freeze or to appease.1 This is not an “evolutionary design flaw” – we need fear to survive in a fallen and evil world. And we need the fear of the Lord which is the foundation of true wisdom.2

We are not to be fearless but to respond with wisdom to fear less – by feeling every anxious response less. This is why we have so many scripture passages in the bible telling us, “do not be afraid.” Living in a godless and broken world, there will be terrors of the night, arrows flying in the day, disease that stalks in darkness and disasters that strike at midday.  It is only when we live in the shelter of the Most High that we will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.3We need to hear Jesus calling us, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”4

When the apostle Peter was thrown into prison by King Herod and chained between soldiers, he fell asleep and thought he was dreaming when an angel came to set him free.5 Like Jesus, he was sleeping in the midst of a storm!6 He had the peace that is beyond all human understanding.7 This was a peace that the world cannot give.8  It was a peace that came from resting in a real, personal and intimate relationship with God.

Fear enslaves as it drives us to hide from God like Adam and Eve did.9 Jesus came to set us free from being fearful slaves and to be God’s beloved children. We need the spirit of repentance to have an awakened mind to see that we are great and desperate sinners who need to turn back to God who loves us just as we are. God does not want any sacrifices or anything from us except a heart that delights and desires His Presence. 10

The discipline of spiritual practices is not a work we have to do to earn God’s love – it is the expression of our heartfelt intention to seek an intimacy with our Heavenly Father. Spiritual discipline is the simple way to hear, see, touch and taste the love languages of God. Just as we get a suntan by basking in the sun, we are to get a “Son-tan” as we experience God’s love, joy and peace, when we spend time waiting on God through meditation, prayer, devotional reading and partaking of the Holy Communion. We are to smell like the sheep of our Shepherd of Love as we exude the aroma of Christ’s patience, goodness and kindness with minds rewired to see heaven everyday in every person. We are to be exhibits of faithfulness, patience and self control as the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the love of the indwelling Christ.11

Heaven is the house of God’s love and not simply a place in the afterlife. Jesus invites us to this house right in the midst of our anxious world. The voice of God’s messengers, through angels and saints calls on us not to be afraid by living in the house of love.12  And to experience heaven in our daily lives we need the spirit of poverty – blessed are the poor in heart for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.13

The first step into the Kingdom of Heaven is the recognition of our powerlessness and our need for the grace of God. It is waking up to the sin of lust and to confess our addiction to the need to be control of our lives. When we do so, we will surrender our will to God – not in fearful obedience but as the joyful response to God’s call to open our minds and hearts to the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. Like the alcoholics taking the first step of the Twelve Steps programme through admitting their powerlessness over alcohol, we need to confess that we are sinners who need a power greater than ourselves, the Holy Spirit, to be saved as well as to sin less and fear less.

Facing our powerlessness is not an expression of helplessness but seeing the truth that we need a supernatural power to transform our superfast fear responses into the steadfast faith of resting in the shadow of the Almighty. It is a response of repentance to God’s invitation of intimacy with the indwelling Christ so that our minds may be illuminated and our hearts ignited with the fire of God’s love. We are hardwired with fear to survive danger in an evil world but Jesus came to rewire our minds to bring God’s love to earth and deepen the roots of faith in our hearts.  Jesus came to set us free from fear so that we can shine with the light of God’s love in a world darkened by fear:

“Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me

Oratio:

Lord, help to face my fears with Your Holy Spirit so that I can use them to rewire my mind and to rest in the indwelling Christ who is in me. 

Contemplatio: A Rewired Mind

  1. What are the fears that keep me from the Kingdom of Heaven?
  • How am I resting in the Shadow of the Almighty to face these fears?
  • How can I rewire my fear responses into stepping stones to build my faith?

Song of Praise

Shine Jesus Shine

SDG

Notes:

  1. Dr. Pippa Grange in her book, “Fear Less” wrote:  “Your incredible, extremely complex  brain has what you could call an evolutionary design flaw.” She described how (and why) our brains create fear. But we are not a product of evolution but a loving creation of God.
  2. Psalms 111:10, NLT
  3. Psalms 91:1-6, NLT
  4. Matthew 11:28, NLT
  5. Acts 12:6-17
  6. Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:38, Luke 8:22
  7. Philippians 4:7
  8. John 14:37
  9.  Genesis 3:8
  10.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pg 111
  11.  Romans 5:1
  12.  Inspired by Henri Nouwen Daily Reflection on 25th January 2022:

“Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.” The voice uttering these words sounds all through history as the voice of God’s messengers, be they angels or saints. It is the voice that announces a whole new way of being, a being in the house of love, the house of the Lord. . . . The house of love is not simply a place in the afterlife, a place in heaven beyond this world. Jesus offers us this house right in the midst of our anxious world.”

13. Matthew 5:3