Coming up to a higher place

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I want to share a brief prayer vision I had a few months ago as we were worshipping and waiting in our house of prayer.

I was sitting in the quiet room, and suddenly felt in my spirit that I and others were walking through a valley. After a few moments I abruptly sensed a man with a blazing torch walk quickly past us, summoning us off the valley path we were on. In my vision it was a dark misty autumn night and he moved swiftly up a hill, so swiftly it was difficult to keep up with him. The man led us higher through an ascending wood and up into a clearing and then onto the top of a rocky hill. It seemed that Jesus was standing there in the clear night air, not with armies but small groups of people around him. We were not intruding, but were welcomed to be there. It felt a place of privilege, a scene of clarity, vision and strategy as Jesus surveyed the vista before him. There were no specifics of what Jesus was saying, but I felt more the importance of this high place where Jesus was waiting and leading. I was also curious about the identity of the torch bearer, and felt bold enough to ask if I could carry one down to guide others up to this meeting place; I sensed the answer was yes. At that point the vision ended.

This vision wasn’t as dramatic as it may sound; I didn’t have goosebumps or any ecstatic experience. Yet it did leave an encouraging yet sober picture burning in my mind.

What does this say to me? on the simplest level, Jesus wants us to come up higher, out of the fog and darkness of the situations that sometimes we trudge through. The valley is not a bad place, but one of limited perspective and the quality of air is not so good. In these days I believe there is a summons to God’s people to move out of the valley and follow the urge, the prophetic voices, the fiery longing in our spirits to ascend to a higher place with Jesus. In our chaos of our nation, and likewise in many nations of the world, Jesus isn’t abandoning us, he is just seeing and leading from a higher place. And we are invited there, in prayer and discernment.

This vision also speaks to me about greater things going on that I can immediately see. Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings fans might immediately envision epic battle scenes from the big screen. We so need to remember that the Lord is always at work, his kingdom is extending, there are heavenly battles going on, there is a glorious church that is rising, there is a spiritual harvest being reaped, there is greater glory to come. Even as dark forces increase in power, Jesus is not perturbed by this nor distracted from the Father’s glorious work across the world. I may not see much of this, but I can gain more insight if I stand where Jesus is standing, and look at things from his perspective.

I am also challenged by the torch bearer. The scene had an End Time feel about it. There are clear and urgent voices, ministries, singers, writers who are encouraging the church to move out of a spiritual trudge and up into a stronger, clearer place at the end of the age. We have to have the insight of the Spirit to know how to minister life into the communities and heart of our nation in this season and in the remarkable days that are coming. The gospel never changes, but God will teach us how to live and what to say into our unique culture and time, if we ask him to lead us. He will break through in our world with greater glory and hope.

There have been a handful of times in recent months, where I have been in local and even national prayer times, where we started in a quite earthly place, with a dull or even foggy spiritual atmosphere in the room, and yet within a few minutes we shifted into a place of great clarity, faith and perception. One was during a powerful time of spontaneous praise, one was through a clear prophetic message about God’s hope for our nation, the third was out of a deep time of unity and confession amongst an international group. All three moments cut through the atmosphere and led us into a much higher place of discerning prayer, and powerful agreement.

I mention these as examples from the prayer movement, to encourage you to follow God’s summons to come up higher in your prayer and faith journey, and call others to do the same. Who knows where it will lead us? It can certainly be good, it can only position us well, if Jesus is there.

Thanks for reading.

God bless, William

 

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Lord, we want you to come

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Misty Edwards, American worship leader sings a song: ‘Oh how we want you to come!’

Well, I guess many christians would agree with that cry, in principle. But what do we really mean by that? In most of the prayer circles in which I find myself in, our prayers are certainly for the Lord to come. But by that, we tend to mean to come close to us, to help us personally and to change our circumstances. Or we sometimes mean to come near to us, as in a revival move of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we rarely mean asking for His coming again, in glory.

Perhaps christians feel as if ‘come, Lord Jesus’  is not a prayer we should ask for. We are taught that Jesus’ return is firmly within God’s sovereign timing, and not within the realm of our asking. We would feel presumptuous in praying such a prayer.

Perhaps more honestly, we just don’t feel that sense of expectancy or desire for the Lord’s return. We often make our discipleship more of a personal journey and preparation for heaven, and our mission as a gradual spreading of the rule of the kingdom of God.

As a Western church we have lost much of the sense of eschatological urgency that marked the early church. The New Testament letters are filled with exhortations to live in the joyful readiness of Jesus’ coming again. As an example Saint Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, ‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’ (Philippians 3v20&21).

I would encourage us to start praying more with the Lord’s return as a bright goal in our prayers, and as a fervent cry in our hearts. This focus will stir faith expectancy in our hearts, and will encompass all the longing and working for the kingdom we are involved with.

When we ask for Jesus’ coming in the near revival we can set our sights too low. When we ask for his great second coming, we are asking too for all that must precede it – all the personal setting ourselves apart for him, the revivals and harvest, the transformation and crisis, the glory and shaking, and along with it, the transition from the present age to the age to come. I believe the ‘Maranatha’ cry will soon become central again in the prayer life of the church worldwide – ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come!’

God bless, William

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Are we living close to Jesus’ return?

Sunrise by sergey-pesterev-223092-unsplashOne of my objectives in writing this blog and publishing my book is to help people begin to realise what a unique generation we could be living in, none other than the years before the coming of Jesus in glory.

I was reading Luke chapter 10 in my daily devotions yesterday. In a verse that I have always skipped past, I noticed that Jesus says to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” How often God uses a little hidden verse to stir your heart in faith. Jesus was in effect saying that they, of all generations, were privileged to live in the days of His coming and the kingdom of God being inaugurated. So many prophetic words, so many hopes, so much build up of anticipation, over the centuries, and the disciples just happened to be alive at the right time and in the right place to be witnesses of it all.

If there was a specific generation of believers who were alive when Jesus came as anointed Messiah 2000 years ago, then logically there will be a specific generation of believers who will be alive when Jesus splits the skies and returns on the clouds as king of kings and lord of lords! That is, if you really believe what the bible says.

Usually we can ignore that concrete reality; as long as we just recite the creed in a general fashion – believing that on one vague future day Jesus will ‘come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’ – as long as we don’t consider what historical time frame that will be, then we are safe. Safe from considering whether that time could be near, safe from preparing our lives to live ready for his return, safe from the challenge of what the decades preceding his coming will be like from a biblical point of view.

But if we do start to ponder, as I have been doing these last few years, whether we, our children and our grandchildren could be the very ones upon whom the fulfilment of the End Times prophecies comes, then it messes with our heads, in a good way! We start to examine bible prophecy with a more vital interest, we watch the signs of the times with a fresh set of spectacles, we begin to see everything we do as Christians and as church with a clearer and more urgent purpose.

Doesn’t every generation of Christians believe they are in the last of the End Times? I would answer ’no’ from what I read of church history. There are definitely some groups throughout the church age who have had a strong eschatological fervour. These have been particularly prevalent at turns of centuries or times of impending disaster. Yet they are small pockets of Christians. What is different now is the sheer number of Christians worldwide who are sensing that God is calling us to prepare for the return of His Son Jesus.

There is so much more to say about the urgency of the times right now, which I will look at in future blogs. However my basic premise begins with a Holy Spirit stirring in hearts. And when that surge of interest and expectation of End Times things is global, and then you add some incredible prophetic signs of the times, then it is certainly worthy of attention.

Could we be those to whom the Lord says as he returns, ‘blessed are your eyes that see what you see’? This is where I believe End Time thinking is best started, not with our heads in the clouds, but with our heads between our knees in prayer; Lord could it be this generation? This is End Time reality check 2.0. That is one of the things I am wrestling with, and I hope you might wrestle with it too.

God bless, William

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Reactions as I talk about End Times

Jetty imageI have started sharing with people about my End Times book project in the last few months. With friends, Christian colleagues, various people I have met. Their reactions fascinate me. For some, the theme draws a blank; I might as well be talking about an obscure area of science or writing about time travel. For others, they are really, really interested, responding with their own sense of urgency about the signs of the times.

A third response really interests me. There is a slightly awkward silence followed by some polite comments. Often good conversation ensues but the initial reaction is telling. What I read into this is threefold. Some Christians feel as though they should be interested in End Time thinking, but really don’t know what they believe about it. Some are both supportive but wary, hoping that I will not be coming from an extreme or wacky point of view. Still others give a vibe of disconnect; that teaching about End Times and the return of Jesus is remote or not very relevant to the real issues of today, to their daily discipleship and to the current mission of the church.

Hmm… maybe I am writing this book for all these people. Certainly some extreme End Time teaching has put Christians off from engaging with the clear expectation in scripture for Jesus’ return. And also, because there are contrasting views on eschatology (i.e. End Times) and bible passages that focus on these subjects, people tread warily in conversation. It is like an enhanced version of the old adage ‘don’t talk about religion or politics’. And ignorance on such fringe issues of Christian beliefs is surely better than disagreement…is it?

I don’t think so. And so I feel encouraged that I am writing about these things. What could be more relevant than addressing the state of the world, how the bible sheds light on future events, and about the powerful hope that we can have through faith in Jesus? My book is certainly not the last word on this subject, but it is a helpful word, a provoking word, an important word to the church today.

I hope to keep blogging about these things closer to the launch of my book, The Forerunner Cry. If you are reading this, I hope that you find it interesting.

Thanks, William

 

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A fresh rethink and a new book

IMG_5023A lot has changed for me in my reflections and writing recently. My last blogging post was at the end of 2017. In the last twelve months I have been silent on this site, for a reason. I have been quietly writing a book in the last four years, and have found a publisher to partner with me in going to press. The publisher is Authentic media in Milton Keynes, and my book is on the End Times called ‘The Forerunner Cry’.

This has taken all my head space and creativity; I never knew the detail involved in a major publishing contract, in the editing stages, and in the sorting out of the background admin! It has been an exciting and daunting process, and this will become the public face of what I have been praying and thinking about for years.

I am convinced that we are living in extraordinary times, times spoken in the bible as ‘End Times’. Jesus and the apostles spoke prophetically about the generation that would be alive in the closing years before Jesus returns. My book is attempting to teach and encourage Christians to live well amidst ‘glory and shaking’ – amazing blessing and spiritual life and also great world turbulence and troubles.

Therefore this website is changing too. It is becoming both the landing page for interest in my book, and also some more focused and regular blogs about the End Times and christian discipleship in these days. I hope you will enjoy the changes and engage with my upcoming blogs. If there is any way I can stimulate and equip the church and ordinary christians in thinking clearly about the signs of the times, then I will be happy.

Thanks for reading.

God bless, William.

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Jerusalem the capital of Israel?

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I haven’t addressed any contentious issues in my blog so far. That line is being crossed, I guessed, in what I write today.

The remarks of President Trump this week, announcing American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, have sparked fury and condemnation around the world. Yet I do not join in the immediate condemnation, and I think this statement could be hugely significant in different ways than our media portray.

If you look at the surface of the Middle East issues, and you want above all else justice for the Palestinians, you would profoundly disagree with President Trump. And if you are committed solely to a delicate path of brokering peace, and forging deeper reconciliation between Israel & Palestine, I can understand your anger this week. However what if, despite our best intentions, the possibility of peace is beyond our lifetime? What if it is on the eschatological horizon of Christ’s second coming? What if God is allowing this as part of the shaking of all things in the End Times?

I know that on one hand what I write seems naive, yet on the other hand it is looking for another perspective. One of the chief difficulties for the church in the last days will be the danger of being offended at God; offended because we don’t understand what he is doing, outraged because his ways of glory and shaking are not necessarily our ways.

Respected Christian leaders Desmond Tutu has responded this week, saying that God is weeping over Trump’s recent move. Well I am sure God weeps over all the injustices perpetrated in this world, but just maybe God’s hand is somehow in this. I have wondered this last year if Donald Trump’s presidency would be used of God in some momentous way beyond the divisive and sometime foolish things he has done. The full text of his statement, although simplifying issues and ignoring the extent of the Palestinian grievances against the state of Israel, is more moderate and nuanced than reported. It also carries behind it a weight of debate on this issue by the American congress over the last twenty years.

There is a doomsday clock, created by atomic scientists, which ticks closer to midnight, corresponding to the potential of manmade global catastrophe. This year it stand at an unprecedented 2 1/2 minutes to midnight. Yet there is also a theological End Time clock which is also ticking, one that we glimpse many times through scripture. That clock is also closer to the midnight of Jesus’ return, when he will set his feet on mount Zion in Jerusalem, as the true king of all the earth. Jerusalem will be pivotal at the end of the age, and that time could be sooner than we think.

I admire and applaud all who work on the ground for peace and justice in Israel and the Palestinian territories. I have personal friends who work on both sides of the Israel/ Palestine divide who are all doing amazing kingdom work. I also stand in awe at what the bible calls the ‘mystery of Israel’ – the way God is at work amongst the Jewish people in the last days, which must include the chaotic situation in this part of the Middle East.

Whatever your stance on these things, please keep praying for God’s sovereign hand on the affairs of the Middle East, even if we don’t understand the depth of what is happening. I do not think simple condemnation of Trump is the answer today, but rather opens up a door to greater searching of our hearts and a deeper cry to understand God’s heart and ways.

Thanks for reading.

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Desert Spirituality – help in moving through unfamiliar terrain

In my last blog, I mentioned some books and resources that I had found helpful writing on desert spirituality. I have been trying to find some wise authors who have been ministering to my itch to discover God as He leads me deeper through a desert place.

solace of fierce landscapesI left out one book, which is a longer and more profound treatment of the desert in Christian understanding. Belden Lane wrote ‘The Solace of Fierce Landscapes – exploring desert and mountain spirituality’ in 1998. What makes it profound for me is that he interfaces his academic writing as a theologian with both the experience of accompanying his mother through cancer, Alzheimers and death, and his consequent journey as a Christian to encounter God through loss, crisis and recovery. That is not an easy thing to do! Lane lays bare his personal adventure of faith as many things in his life are stripped away. Then he draws the reader closer to God through the wisdom of Christian writers over the centuries.

Lane splits his book into the trio of images of encountering God in the desert, the mountain and the cloud. These three are part of the classic pattern of understanding the Christian life as purgation, illumination and union. He explores the relinquishment which the desert demands, its insistence on emptiness and indifference to our soul’s needs, even as that stripping away prepares us to know God better. He then follows the stage of growth embodied by the mountain, as we encounter God as Moses did on the heights. Lastly he focuses on the experience of the cloud of union with God. There one abandons one’s separate identity as they are enveloped in the all encompassing love of God.

Lane also explores what is called the ‘apophatic’ tradition of prayer, in which silence is a way of being with God, where language is inadequate. Also called the ‘via negative’, this is a mystical Christian tradition that suggests all analogies of God are ultimately inadequate, and that God is beyond all our experiences of Him. Rather, God’s desire is to draw us deeper into mystical union with Him, into transfiguration, into wonderment.

This book takes some time to read and reflect on. What have I gained from reading this?

  1. The book provides a challenge to my own Christian tradition. I am not familiar with  the writings of St John of the Cross or Meister Eckhart, or others from the mystical tradition of Christian prayer. The call to silence, to prayer and being beyond words, is an interesting counterpoint to the very wordy Charismatic spirituality I am used to, what can be sometimes looked down on as ‘pop spirituality’. Yet I also have to maintain a critical distance, enjoying the treasures  of the biblical word and ecstatic baptisms of the Spirit found by by the Protestant traditions, even as I dive into ‘silence beyond language’. It certainly provides some interesting possibilities for dialogue between traditions!
  2. The writer deals with the gritty reality of living with pain, sickness and loss and in doing so, encountering God. He speaks of ‘discovering grace in a grotesque landscape of feeding tubes and bed restraints’ of watching his mother like a ‘desert monk wholly absorbed in ascesis, the intimate exercise of holy living and holy dying’. In doing so Lane experienced the erratic spiritual growth, stumbling slowly with a dying parent along the desert’s purgative way’. These insights are very helpful for may Christians today, providing a way of embracing confusion, tragedy and loss, rather than denying them in a way that cripples our faith in God.
  3. Lane also gives and example of how one can make some desert space in one’s life even if you are far removed from any physical wilderness. He shares about making a ‘habit of being’, or ordering his life around desert spiritual disciplines. These include for him: a nightly practise of silent prayer, routine participation in the worship life of a community of faith, periodic backpacking trips into wilderness places, meeting with a spiritual director and reading from the classical  traditions of Christian prayer.
  4. The writer gives me fresh personal incentive to take a retreat/ pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. I have been toying with this for a while, and have made some tentative plans to join a Christian pilgrimage to the Sinai region. For the desert tradition, Mount Sinai figures as a mountain of the imagination, ‘a landscape of terror and theophany…evoking  the deepest desire of the human heart for untamed mystery and beauty’. For me such a pilgrimage is an intriguing way of stepping in the shoes of Moses and Elijah, of pursing encounter and fresh spiritual insight, and journeying deeper with God.

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes’ would be a long and thoughtful read for anyone like me who is looking for helpful navigation markers on a wilderness journey of prayer.

Thanks for reading.

 

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