Horizon level thinking

IMG_2954We don’t need to look much at the horizon regarding the weather in England – sometimes rainy, often grey, we don’t have many dramatic weather fronts to watch out for. In other parts of the world it is different. On a family holiday in Florida three years ago, we assumed hot weather and warm blue skies would be the norm; we didn’t know frequent thunderstorms were possible in the summer months. We soon learned to keep an eye on the horizon, at any brewing thunderclouds; within minutes we could be in a late afternoon deluge, and as soon again, back in hot sun drying out the rain drenched land.

Jesus was once asked for signs by his skeptical audience. He took it as an opportunity to challenge them about their spiritual short-sightedness: “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16v3).

In the 2020’s, in tumultuous and exciting times, I believe we need more horizon level spiritual thinking. We must discern more what is on the way. There is the naturally changing world with its issues and newsworthy events. Yet, through it all and behind it there are supernatural dimensions. What is God saying and doing through it? What do we need to be alert to? In short, what is the spiritual horizon level that we need to be aware of ahead of time?

The prophecies of Joel in the Old Testament can help us with horizon level thinking. He was a prophet-preacher at a time of crisis in his nation. They faced twin problems – they were in a time of drought, and a locust swarm was devastating the country. He was looking to the horizon in prayer to see what God was doing and what the future would look like. God helped Joel to see a future beyond their crisis and a greater kingdom horizon of what God was going to do for His people. This vision became one of the most celebrated prophetic passages in the Old Testament, that begins with the words, ‘In the last days, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh’ (Joel 2v28).

I don’t think Joel was expecting to see and hear all that God showed Him. Yet, because he was alert and praying, God gave him horizon level discernment. The hinge phrase in this passage is ‘the Day of the Lord’: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (v31). This is such a powerful phrase. The Day of the Lord in scripture is the season when God breaks in, when He acts to right wrongs and bring salvation to His people. In short, it became a great Messianic hope for the people of God, and in the New Testament, morphed into then phrase ‘the Day of Christ’ for Christians – the return of the Lord.

This Day of the Lord is described as both ‘great’ and ‘dreadful’. Why is that? Well it is because there will be amazing things that God will do – an outpouring of His Spirit – and also troubling things that God will also bring about – wonders on the earth, blood, fire and billows of smoke. I would put these descriptions of the great and dreadful in the categories of glory and shaking that is elsewhere described in the bible, and that I detail in my book ‘The Forerunner Cry’. You see, this prophecy of Joel is important for today, because it still awaits a future fulfilment. It was only partially fulfilled on the day of Pentecost; the initial eschatological sign of the Spirit poured out on the church was awesome, but there is a greater fulfilment to come, including awesome signs before the Day of the Lord and His return.

So today, I want to encourage you to lift up your eyes, and ask God to give you more horizon level thinking and discernment this year and into this decade. If there is more revealing of God’s glory and more shaking of the earth, then we need to correctly interpret the signs of the times. We will look more at this prophecy of Joel another time, but for now, keep you eyes on the horizon and watch out for what God shows you!

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Our longing for revival – what is God doing?

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All of my adult life, I have longed for revival. Like many Christians, I have dreamed and prayed for the times I have read about in history where people were caught up in a move of God’s Spirit in their community or nation. Such stories make great reading because they are beyond our normal experience. The narratives from different generations are always full of God testimonies – surges of spiritual energy that lifted churches off their feet, people hurrying to get their lives right with God, Christians on fire for Jesus, unusual miracles and healings making headlines in papers, streets and neighbourhoods touched by the numinous presence of the Lord. Such seasons may last a few weeks or a few years, but they are genuinely remarkable accounts of God’s Spirit on the move.
We haven’t seen a major instance of revival in the UK for a couple of generations or more. Is that because the Lord isn’t working in that way any more? Or that our culture and situation isn’t responsive to such pulses of the Spirit? Maybe we need to reflect on our expectations of revivals and renewals within our current generation. I have thought about this a lot over the years. On reflection, however powerful revival stories are, I think there are some mistakes we can make with preconceived visions of revival and how it affects our praying and thinking:
Firstly, sometimes we have over-inflated these hopes for revival, and made them the only measure of success or answered prayer. It is as if we say, ‘If God isn’t doing that, then He isn’t really doing anything of note right now’. And of course, God is doing so, so much in our towns and all over the world. Whilst we are waiting for the next move of God, we can be missing, or not fully appreciating, all the small things that are happening, sometimes right in front of our noses. The movements of unity, prayer and mission in towns across this nation, the explosion of worship events and prayer rooms, the number of Spirit filled relevant churches touching their communities, the rise in ethnic minority Christian congregations, the profusion of social action projects across the poorest of our communities, the small scale local church evangelism that is reaching thousands every year.
Secondly, there is strangely a converse problem, that we can sometimes try to over exaggerate what is currently happening. That is to say, ‘If God is bringing a little blessing right now, then maybe this is the revival we are seeking’. Our Western culture likes to take something and package it. We have revival conferences, Christian worship and renewal events, special mission activities that we either shoe horn all our hopes – that this will be the event or the place that God will visit; or we take what is a real but limited time of blessing, and make it out to be more than it was. I don’t think the Lord really needs that kind of help from us. If He has done something that brought genuine renewal in lives, or blessed a certain conference, great; but we don’t need to say it is more than that.
Thirdly, if our understanding of revival is too narrow, not only do we miss the smaller picture, we may miss seeing the larger waves of the Spirit occurring worldwide. That is the kind of thinking that says, ‘If God isn’t doing it here in my backyard, then He probably isn’t doing it anywhere’. When I google ‘revivals in 2019 in the world’, there are only a few notable occurrences. And yet there are many more areas in the world where churches are growing at a massive rate, where many are turning to faith in Muslim majority nations, thousands of places where healings and miracles are happening in localised ‘Holy Spirit hotspots’, prisons where remarkable conversions are happening amongst many of the inmates, whole unreached people groups being evangelised and reached for the gospel. We might need to reframe our understanding of how the Spirit is moving in 2020 in our world.
What is God doing right now? I would say quite a lot! A lot in the smaller scale growth and impact of the kingdom at a micro level. And a lot in the larger scale moves of His Spirit amongst people groups and in hotspots globally. We may wish He was doing things differently where we live, but I actually think God is at work in a more profound way across the world than any of us realise. God doesn’t necessarily want to downplay our revival hopes, but I believe He does want to reframe them. The book of Acts was so much bigger than about a localised revival. It was an explosion of church growth and missionary activity that was genuinely world changing over a couple of generations. The days we are living in I believe will in a similar way be more amazing and world changing. We haven’t quite got conceptual categories to understand yet what is beginning to happen across the earth. The words ‘glory and shaking’ are perhaps the bigger terms that we need to start getting our heads and hearts around, into which times of revival and awakening will occur, in both similar and different ways that we have thought so far.
The next handful of blogs in coming weeks will start taking a look at how we marry our longing for revival with biblical prophecy about the End Times. I this help to enlarge our understanding of the ways God is at work and how we can navigate these times. What is coming is bigger than just ‘revival’, and the Lord wants us to be on board with all He is about to do.
God bless you.
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Sketching out an End Time paradigm

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Photo by Mounzer Awad on Unsplash

Writing my book on the End Times has been challenging, yet publishing it this year has led to some wonderful opportunities to share on the themes of the signs of the times, how we live as disciples today and the hope of the return of the Lord. I have felt nervous too because, once you have written a book, then your teaching, viewpoints and convictions are out there, in public, ready to be weighed and critiqued.

One of my key strap lines has been ‘get ready for glory, shaking and Jesus’ return’. I wanted to put it as the subtitle of the book, but my publishers thought it might sound rather extreme for some potential readers! Yet my conviction continues to grow that glory and shaking are two overarching themes of the biblical End Times. I would say that they are actually mark the new paradigm of the context of Christianity in these coming decades of the twenty first century. A paradigm is the generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline at a given time, like Darwinism in the sciences, or secular humanism in the social sciences. To change a paradigm is to alter the collective thinking of a group of people or culture. As I read my bible, it seems fairly clear that normal life on planet earth intensifies the closer we get to Christ’s return. The generation preceding those days has to live with an intensification of both light and darkness, with both troubles and revivals. As the signs of the times increasingly point to the nearness of the coming age, I believe the church needs to wake up to a new paradigm of Christian living right now – we are not living in ordinary days, we are coming into more extraordinary days of glory and shaking!

leonardo da vinci sketchI happen to be reading a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci right now, the great artist, inventor and scientist of the Renaissance. One of his most expansive legacies apparently is not his great paintings, but his notebooks. There are still over 7,000 pages of his notebooks in existence today, probably just a quarter of what he wrote. In them he kept a record of all his observations of the world, his fascination with nature, with the human body, with inventions, with scientific studies, and with artistic ideas for his paintings. Most of these were sketches, breathtakingly drawn, but which never became reality. Yet Leonardo stood as a genius at the forefront of the Renaissance culture, sketching out the artistic and scientific possibilities of a coming age. His notebooks are one of his most treasured legacies today.

I sketch out this paradigm of glory and shaking tentatively but with conviction. I am far from a genius, and many other voices speak with more clarity than mine. Yet I am convinced that this coming glory and shaking are real and will affect everyone living in the final generation. In my book I have traced the outlines of five marks of the coming glory of God: outpourings of the Spirit, a radically renewed church, massive harvest of faith, transformation of many communities, and a turning of the Jewish people to their Messiah. I have also sketched ten aspects of the prophesied shaking of all things: wickedness & wars, global power shifts, financial instability, environmental troubles, dark technological advances, social unrest, fully liberalised morality, emergence of a one world system, greater hostility towards Christians, and the cumulative ‘groaning’ of the earth.

These ‘signs’ of glory and shaking will need fleshing out and carefully measured against biblical prophecy. I hope to use some blogs in coming months to elaborate on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of these marks and encourage you to read your bibles and weigh what I am sharing. This of course is far from an academic exercise, and the real application is to help us all stand well in the midst of exciting and troubling times; how to navigate our way through the glory of God coming in increasing power and diverse ways, and through the growing shaking of much in human society of what we trust in. An encouraging saying in the book of Proverbs says: ‘The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out’ (Proverbs 18v15). That is surely a good exhortation for all who follow Jesus in these times.

God bless you.

 

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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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