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Don’t despise ‘small beginnings’. (Zechariah 4-10)

In December 2013, I attended the funeral of a dear lady, who was 99 years old.  She had served God faithfully in the church (which my brother pastors in France) and for many years, her heart’s desire was to see a revival. In almost every meeting, her voice could be heard, ‘Lord, send yet again, a revival!’

I had the privilege of attending her funeral and it was a truly remarkable occasion, where the presence of God was felt so powerfully.  My brother Daniel said to me, “You need to preach in church on Sunday” and the following weekend, which was the last Sunday of 2013, as I spoke, we began to see and feel the expectation level in the church rising up in an unprecedented way. This led to the beginning of a mighty move of God and over the next few years, this move of God would lead to many people becoming saved and experiencing healing.

Sometimes I look back and wonder if the funeral of our dear 99 year old friend, was actually the spark that lit a flame.  Although she did not live to see it, her faithful prayers over the years, led to a new move of God.

I have been thinking about this recently, as I have been closely watching world events.

All around us, large churches which have seen 1000s of members walk through their doors each week, have had to go ‘back to basics’ and meet in small, sometimes online groups.  Throughout the Covid crisis, we have been forced to look at how we do things smaller, rather than how we make them bigger.

And we are learning how to not despise ‘small beginnings’.

Just like our 99-year-old friend in the church, her prayer life may have seemed ‘small’ to some but I believe her faithfulness (even to the end of her life) led to something very big being ignited.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love to see churches filled with many members, but I also believe there is Biblical precedent for small gatherings too.

In Mark 5, Jesus goes to the home of Jairus to pray for Jairus’ daughter who was very sick. When Jesus arrived there, the Scripture tells us there were many people present, many of them were crying loudly and wailing and Jesus quickly sent them out of the house, so that there were just a few left.

It was in that very ‘small’ moment that an incredible miracle occurred and the little girl, who by this point was dead, was now brought back to life.   Often times, we can devalue and overlook what is seemingly little.

As Coronavirus has impacted churches all across the world and forced them back to ‘small beginnings’, it would be easy to see this as a setback, but what if this is a divine strategy to usher in a move of God like we have never seen before?

Matthew 18:20 says, ‘where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I will be with them’.

The presence of God is just as powerful and real in a small gathering, as He is present in a large gathering.

Even here at UCB, our wider team (of more than 100 staff and volunteers) is not able to meet together in person, but I am hearing stories of UCB teams meeting together online, sharing Bible studies, praying for each other in new ways.

I firmly believe that for us as an organisation, we will not be ‘returning to normal’.  This pandemic is forcing us to think in new ways and to not ‘despise small beginnings’.

Throughout history, God has used small groups of people, to ignite something big.  From the disciples (just a group of 12 men) to people like my praying friend, small groups of faithful people have been powerfully used by God to usher in great moves of the Spirit.

If you are part of something ‘small’ today, can I encourage you to have a bigger vision for it.  By embracing something small and allowing God to use it, you could be part of ushering in a new move of God.

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Discover the many names of God

Recently, I have been sharing with the UCB team, some of my own discoveries about the names of God.  I have often said, ‘if you want to know who God is, look at His names’.  Throughout the Bible, God is given many names and each of them reveal a precious truth about his qualities and character.    I find it very encouraging, to read these names, as they help me to understand more and more about God’s ‘character’ and what He feels about us, His creation.

Jehovah-raah – The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23)

In Psalm 23, David describes the Lord as ‘my shepherd’.   I love the way David personalised it by saying not the Lord is The Shepherd but ‘MY’ Shepherd.  Praise God He is also our Shepherd too, for God is a relational God. This picture of ‘The Lord Our Shepherd’ reveals some of His characteristics:  He is good, He protects, He guides, He nurtures, He lays down his life.   And in times of confusion or grief, let’s never, ever forget that He is OUR SHEPHERD too.

Jehovah Jireh – The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14 and Philippians 4:19)

In Philippians 4:19, it says, ‘my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’   We are reminded that Jehovah-Jireh knows our every need because He sees everything including what you need.    If the Lord was able to meet Abraham’s need by providing a ram caught in the thicket that was offered in place of Isaac, He’s also able to meet our needs at just the right time.   Fear not, the name Jehovah-Jireh guarantees that your Heavenly Father is able to provide any need you have.

Jehovah Shalom – The Lord our peace (Judges 6:24)

The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ translated as ‘peace’ not only speaks of the absence of noise, strife or conflict,  it speaks of wholeness, completeness, trustworthiness and happiness.   True and ultimate peace is found in God alone and this comes to us when we focus our lives on God and put our trust in Him.   His Word says, ‘are you weary and troubled?   Well why not place your total trust in Jehovah-Shalom and He will keep you in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3)

Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who heals (Psalm 23 and Exodus 15)

It was in the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites that God first revealed His name as Jehovah-Rapha.   After crossing the Red Sea, Moses led them into the Wilderness of Shur where they went 3 days without water.   Eventually, they came across the waters of Marah, but they could not drink from the waters for they were bitter.   So the people complained against Moses and Moses then cried to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he cast into the waters.   In a moment, the waters were made sweet.   The Lord does not only heal waters,  He heals people too.  If the Lord was able to heal the waters at Marah so that His people could drink, He is also able to heal us from any disease. (Psalm 103:3)     When we’re weak, Jehovah-Rapha will renew our strength, the same way He did for David (Psalm 23:3 NLT).

Living in a stressful and chaotic world in these unprecedented times, the name Jehovah-Rapha speaks to us that our bitter experiences can be transformed into sweet ones, and yes, we are confronted with new problems every day that make us sometimes want to give up and give in.   But we can count upon the Lord to heal and renew our strength.   Jehovah is the Great Physician who not only heals our physical and emotional needs, but He also heals and restores whatever spiritual needs we may have.

Stand upon God’s promise today! His Word declares that, ‘The Lord is Your Keeper/ Your Provider/ Your Peace/ Your Healer’. Don’t ever allow the enemy to tell you otherwise.

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When the disciples were in isolation…

Right across our world, we have not just a physical pandemic of sickness, but we also have a ‘pandemic of fear’.  Right from the start of Genesis, fear has always been used by the enemy of our souls, but praise God, His Word has so much to say about how we can face fear, with faith!  As we are approaching Easter, it is a good time to reflect on the death of Jesus and how, even after his execution, the close disciples became imprisoned in fear and went into hiding and isolation.  And one could even say ‘and rightly so’, because there was a very real threat to their lives.

John 20:19 tells us that on the evening of the first day, they were together, not just hiding in a room, but in self isolation ‘behind locked doors’. It must have been a very distressing time. Their best friend and Saviour had been publicly executed and they must have been very shocked by all they had witnessed. In fact in fear for his life, Peter had denied knowing Jesus and now, they were all hiding behind locked doors, isolated from the whole world.

This picture hidden away in a room, is an illustration to me, of what the enemy tries to do in our lives – he wants us to isolate from each other.    I am not in any way belittling the pandemic we are currently facing, but I believe the enemy knows that fear is his greatest weapon in all of this.   With just one news headline or a phone call from a friend, repeating something they have heard, whole families and communities can become paralysed by fear of ‘what might happen’.    It might be the fear of the coronavirus or any other ill health, of losing your job etc.    It does not matter, it all has the same outcome – it holds us back from all that God wants us to do. It was the same for the disciples in this account in John.     Just a few days before, they had been enjoying a Passover meal with Jesus and now they were in hiding, trying to preserve their lives. They were unable to move forward, they were in total isolation.


The amazing part of this story is that when Jesus appeared to them, He asked them, ‘Why are you frightened?’.

In Luke 24:36,  Jesus asked them, “Why do you doubt that it is really I? Look at my hands! Look at my feet! You can see that it is I, myself! Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost! For ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!” As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see the marks of the nails and showed them the wounds in his feet.

Luke 24:41 says, ‘Still they stood there undecided, filled with joy and doubt’. Even when Jesus appeared to them in power and wonder, after being so brutally killed, they were still not sure whether they could believe their eyes!

In whatever situation we find ourselves in, even if we are in total isolation, Jesus has promised to be with us in every situation for His Word declares, ‘I will never leave us nor never forsake you (Heb 13:5).

From my own experience I found His manifest presence to be the strongest, when I have been in the middle of the fiercest, raging storms of life.

The journey of faith is not always an easy one and sometimes even when we know and experience Jesus in the middle of the situations we face, we wonder if He really will save us.

This story speaks to us of the heart and mercy of Jesus. He appeared to the isolated disciples in the middle of all their doubt, confusion, and then he ate a meal with them. As they listened to all that he said, the Word of God tells us that they, ‘opened their minds to understand at last the Scriptures’.

I believe that faith is a journey. We do not always feel full of faith, but we can make a decision to trust in all that God has said to us.

Faith is not the absence of fear, it is the mastering of fear.

For me, the story of Easter speaks to us of hope, of life and of Jesus meeting us in the middle of our confusion, and reminding us that we have nothing to fear.

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A Christian response to Coronavirus

The news about coronavirus is all over the media and is heard in almost every conversation. This is a very unusual situation and we can choose to respond in one of two ways; with fear or with faith.

It is very interesting to see how people around the world are reacting differently. Some people are reacting by panic buying (and emptying the shelves) while others seem to be almost indifferent. For me, the question is, how should we, as believers, respond?

First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this sickness; individuals, families, health services and communities as well as national leaders and governments. How they all need God’s wisdom and guidance as they deal with this situation. And for us as a nation, where do we find healing when every day, the news seems to grow even more serious?

Well, for me personally, my only advice is to stand firmly upon God’s Word, for that is where I find my comfort and strength. God’s Word has been the anchor for my own family in very desperate times and it is the one thing that we can ALWAYS rely on. God’s Word never changes and it contains all we need for hope, comfort, healing, wisdom and guidance.

If you are fearful, grieving or broken today, let the truth of God’s Word sink into your heart.

But you may say, ‘what if we can’t stop this virus?’ What if it becomes widespread in the United Kingdom or wherever I live, as some experts predict?

Well let’s stand firm upon his Word! Psalm 112:6-8 is a great encouraging reminder as to what our response should be. It says, “For the righteous will never be moved, he will be remembered forever, he is not afraid of bad news, his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord, his heart is steady, he will not be afraid”.

We all have to face bad news at some point in our life. If it’s not the virus, it will be something else. Let’s remind ourselves that we live in a fallen and broken world where suffering and even death are inevitable. To deny this truth would be lying to ourselves, but we as Christians do not need to fear bad news. It is important to not be in denial and as a nation, we should take all sensible precautions, but we do not need to be crippled by the fear of what ‘might happen’. The psalmist demonstrates that it is possible to look bad news right in the face and say, “You will NOT rule my heart.” Our emotions may sway, but we will not be blown off course.

You might think that is easy for me to write, but practically, how can we rise above the circumstances when we are surrounded by fear?

Well, here are some practical responses;

Prayer

Pray in FAITH. Remember faith is not denying fear but mastering it. What you fear the most, reveals where you trust God the least. Therefore put your faith in God and watch as He starts to eradicate your fears. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer… believe that you have received it… and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

Prepare

Prepare WISELY. Don’t deny the facts but plan wisely and let’s be aware of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12, KJV: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” And the preceding verse tells us to be well prepared to “Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Proclaim

Proclaim HOPE. In this world of uncertainty, we can have great confidence as we hold on to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. And it enables us to ‘Rejoice in hope…be patient in tribulation… continue steadfastly in prayer’ (Romans 12).

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

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Watch your words…

When I was a child, on my first day at a new school, a teacher asked the class what we wanted to do when we grew up.  When it was my turn, I told her I wanted to be a surgeon and she laughed. She said, ‘do you realise David, that is a lot of studying?  I can’t see you doing it, I can see you emptying bins’.

For many years, those words stayed with me and sometimes informed the decisions I made.  Was there any point in trying, if I wasn’t capable of achieving much?  However, when I rededicated my life to the Lord when I was 18, everything changed!  I discovered what God thought about me and I discovered that His Word could delete the past and delete all the harmful words that had impacted my life.  Although I had no educational qualifications, the Word of God showed me that man’s labels do not matter.  The only labels I should be concerned with are God’s labels!

Over the years I have discovered that while God’s words are the most important, the words we use and what we choose to believe, as a result, can also have an impact on our lives.  Proverbs 23:7 says, ‘as a man thinks in his heart, so is he’ and I believe it’s important to be aware of the reality of our words and our thoughts.

Our thoughts will affect what we say and our words will affect who we are.  Proverbs 18:21 says, ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ and so we should never underestimate the power of our thoughts and our words, to shape destinies and our own future.  Words can kill marriages and relationships and destroy churches and ministries.  But words can also bring life, hope, healing and reconciliation.

In a world which seems to be more divided than ever before (especially on social media), we need peacemakers and reconcilers, believers who will use their words to reflect the life and peace that is found through Jesus.  Luke 6:45 says, ‘a good man produces good deeds from a good heart. And an evil man produces evil deeds from his hidden wickedness. Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’

I want my heart to be full of God’s Word, full of praise to him, for what is in my heart will flow out into my words and then out into my actions.

Can I challenge you today?  What are you thinking about?  What are you saying? What are you believing?  Are they words of life and hope that reflect what God says about you and the situations you are facing? Or are they words of death and despondency?

As a young man,  another person’s negative words could have shaped my whole life, but I am thankful for the revelation of God’s Word which showed me the truth.

Christianity

What is your purpose?

Sometimes, if I ever drive past a cemetery, I don’t think about the people who are buried there, but about the purpose buried there. How many songs went unsung? How many poems and stories went unwritten? The truth is, many people leave this world not knowing or realising their purpose. And today, many more are also living without knowing or realising their purpose. Many people simply do not know that God breathes purpose into every living thing and he has also breathed purpose into you and into me.

For me personally, I discovered my purpose when I rededicated my life to God. I did not yet know what God’s plans were for my life, but I knew I had a purpose. It took me many years to discover God’s plan, but because I knew he had a purpose for me, I was just as content back then being a janitor, as I am today being a CEO.

So, how do you find your purpose?

Don’t confuse plans with purpose

The definition of purpose is, the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

The definition of plan is, a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. An intention or decision about what one is going to do.

We all have plans for our lives. Someday I will do this or someday I will do that. That is not your purpose, those are your plans. And all our plans are meaningless if we do not understand our purpose. God first puts a sense of purpose into our heart. We might not know what the plan is, but he will use our lives, our natural gifts, our sense of purpose, to help move us into his plan.

If we knew the plan in advance, we might run away.

In the Bible, God gave Joseph a clear purpose. Joseph knew, through dreams that he was to be a leader. He did not know that to get to that point, he would face rape allegations, prison and isolation. If God had revealed the plan up front, he might have run in the opposite direction. But through all of those trials, God was shaping Joseph, making him ready for the plan of leadership

It’s not about you

When God started to reveal his plan for my life, I began to realise his plan was not about me at all. It was about him using me, to reach others. God wanted to take my passion, my gift, my sense of purpose and use them all to bring about his plan in my life and also help to release that in others’ lives. So many Biblical characters were used by God to bring about change for others. Mary was handpicked to deliver a messiah who would save the world. Paul was given the task of leaving everything behind, in order to carry the message of salvation all across the Middle East. They were not ‘special’ people. They simply knew they had a purpose and they allowed God to use them (and their gifts) to bring about his plan.

Can I encourage you today, that you have a purpose. Everything God creates has a purpose and we each have a job to do. If you do not feel you do, ask God to plant His sense of purpose into your life. He might not show you what is ahead, but when you know deep down, that you have a heavenly purpose, everything in your life will change.

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Are you ready to have your best year yet?

When you look ahead to 2018, what sort of year would you like to have? A good year? A better year?  Or the best year?

That sounds like an unusual question, as after all, we ALL want to have the best year we have ever had!  However, over Christmas, I was reflecting on 2017 (which was a very challenging year for UCB) and I was asking God for 2018 to be the best year we have ever had.  I felt God speak to my heart and challenge me on what ‘best’ actually means.  Why should we have the best year?  Do we have any right to ask for such a thing?  How can we plug into God’s best for our lives?

What are you talking about?

As we look back over the year that was, many of us tend to share the good and the bad experiences of the previous 12 months.  I have learned over the years that what we talk about, has the ability to change the atmosphere around us.  If we are sharing good news and giving thanks to God for what he’s done, it fills others with faith and changes the atmosphere to one of expectancy.  But if we are talking about the negative, those words too can change the atmosphere – but not for the better.  I believe that to see God’s best in our lives, we need to focus less on the experiences and instead, focus on our expectations.  What do we want God to do in those situations?  What do we ‘see’?  What do we expect?  Instead of talking about the physical circumstances, let’s instead set our eyes on the vision that God has given us.

We need to be changed

 To see God’s best, we need to be ready and willing to be changed.  That is an uncomfortable place for many people, but God is a God of transformation and he is never finished with us! Last year at UCB, we invested significantly in our team, giving them opportunity to meet with God in fresh ways.  We invited different speakers to address the staff and encouraged the team to seek out their own fresh experience with God.  A visit last year from itinerant minister Fergus Mcintyre was a turning point for many of our team, some experiencing the manifest presence of God in their lives for the first time.  But for God to move, each of us has to be willing to allow him to move in our lives.  2 Timothy 3:17  (KJV) says, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.’

We need to be equipped for all that God is going to do and that means his process of transformation in our lives is never finished (not while we are on this earth anyway!).

What is your room furnished with?

2 Kings 4 tells the story of a noblewoman who was so impacted by the ministry of the prophet Elisha, that she and her husband built a room on their house, for him to stay in whenever he passed through their town.  They furnished the room with a bed, a table, a stool and a candlestick. In a future blog, I will share what I believe each of these items represents, but I think the simplicity of this furniture was designed to help Elisha find rest, peace and intimacy.  These three areas are so important for us too as believers.  What is our room, or our heart actually furnished with?  Is it cluttered and noisy and distracted?  Or is our heart furnished with peace and rest and stillness with God?

If like me (and UCB), you are looking ahead to 2018 then can I encourage you to speak with expectancy, allow yourself to be changed and transformed and to find that place of rest and intimacy?  Let’s believe together that God indeed will give us the BEST year yet!

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When church is difficult…

There is a well-known saying, ‘Going to church no more makes you a Christian, than sitting in a garage, makes you a car’.  How true that is!  And yet often we are surprised when we are disappointed by people we meet in church or if we feel our leaders have let us down.

The church is God’s idea and we, as His people, are the ‘living stones’ of the church.  And regardless of the circumstances, I believe it is important for each of us to be part of a church and to be part of the ‘assembly’ (as it says in Hebrews 10).  No man is an island and we all need that sense of community and accountability.  However, it is not always easy.  In a perfect world, church should leave us feeling fulfilled and built up.  Church should be a place where we go to meet with other like-minded believers, where we are free to worship and where we can hear from God and be made strong in His word. For me, personally, it is not about the style of the church or the type of worship, it is about the connection we make with God when we are there.  Church should be a place where we become aware of God’s presence, where we can get encouraged and also corrected, if that is what we need.

But for many, church is not like that and many people struggle within their church communities.

So how can we respond when church life is difficult?

The first thing to remember is that every church has a variety of personalities.  We all worship and connect with God in different ways and we also each respond to situations in different ways too.  However, when dealing with difficult situations, here are a few ways we can respond:

Deal with the issue, not the person

Personally, when dealing with difficult people and situations within church, I have always found it helpful to not point out flaws in the person, but to address the real issue, or in some cases, the spirit which is motivating the negative behaviour.  For example in Acts 16, Paul and Silas were being followed by a woman who kept shouting, ‘these are men of God, they will show you the way to salvation’.  That might not sound like a bad thing, but Paul identified there was a spirit at work.  Instead of addressing the woman or the personality, he addressed the spirit of fortune-telling which was motivating this woman and commanded it to leave.   He saw the situation through his spiritual eyes, not his natural eyes.

Commit to prayer

It can be easy to react to negativity, but we should always first of all, commit to prayer. Sometimes, there are no ‘quick fixes’ for awkward situations or conflict, but we should always commit to covering the whole situation (for however long it takes) in prayer.

God’s Word has the answers

I was in situation many years ago and a pastor approached me about a difficult couple in his church. ‘What should we do, David? he asked.  It would have been very easy to give my opinion, but the truth is, it is not my opinion which counts, but the opinion of the Word of God.   What does God’s Word say?  I believe if we ask God for a revelation and an answer, He will always give us a strategy or shine a light on a piece of Scripture which will give us hope for the future.

When all else fails

You might be in a situation where you feel you have tried everything but there is no clear way forward.  If that is the case, perhaps God has a different church community for you to be part of?  If you feel it is time to move on, then it is important to ‘leave well’. Pastoring a church is a difficult job and for many ministers, it can be a lonely experience.

When a person leaves a church, as a pastor, it is difficult to not take it personally.  So, if you are leaving, try to take everyone’s feelings into consideration and don’t slam the door on your way out.  Instead, do all you can to leave with a right attitude and on good terms.   If you are looking for a new spiritual home, the key questions to ask yourself are; ‘Do I fit in here?’ ‘Do I feel at home?’  What is their vision? Is it something I can give my heart, time and talents to?  Are the leaders really called to the mission/vision of the church?  Can I support their vision?  And finally, is it a place where I can grow?

It’s important for all of us, to be part of a church community which enables us to grow spiritually and practically, but also to be encouraged and strengthened in God’s Word.  Ask God to guide you to the right church home.  He won’t let you down.

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Don’t trust your feelings. Ignite your faith.

I was recently reading 1 Kings 19, which tells the story of Elijah and the enormous personal battle he fought, after winning a great victory against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

Elijah had called on the name of the Lord and saw fire fall from heaven.  The disbelievers in the crowd fell on their faces and worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The one true God had been glorified and the Godless prophets of Baal had all been killed.   This extraordinary day of miracles shook the country and without a doubt, Elijah was operating out of the anointing of his calling. He was serving God and was at his very best.

But then Elijah received news that Jezebel was after him.   She was enraged by Elijah’s ‘rebellion’ and sent a messenger to say;  “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life, like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:2).   Elijah had been full of faith, sure of his identity and yet, those few words plunged him into fear and into an identity crisis.

At this point, a few things happened:

He became deeply emotional and fearful – his mind was affected.

He became physically tired and exhausted – his body was impacted.

He could not hear God’s voice – his spirit was drained.

A few days before, he would have sought God for the answer, but now he was depressed, despondent and Scripture says he’d had enough and wanted God to take his life.  He was being attacked by an unseen enemy which wanted to steal the victory, kill him and ultimately destroy all of God’s work.

As I look around me, I see this so often in our churches.  I believe that one of the biggest attacks of the enemy on the church today, is the attack of depression and despondency.   The Word tells us that the enemy’s weapon is to steal and there is no greater way to make an army ineffective, than to steal their joy, their confidence, their identity and replace it with fear and exhaustion.  This often happens too, just after a big victory.

The story of Elijah shows that the enemy often works through our feelings,  The enemy tries to mentally suck us dry and create a battle ‘between our ears’ of being overwhelmed.  I believe if the enemy can win the battle ground in our mind, he knows he will successfully distract us from God’s plans and get us to focus on the problem and how we feel about it.

If you are in that place, of feeling despondent, depressed, overwhelmed or in fear (just like Elijah), you might be wondering if there is a way out.   I have been there and I know it can be a difficult journey,  but there is a way out and there are many great guidelines to be found in God’s Word.

Deal with the physical

Firstly, on a very practical level, God dealt with Elijah’s physical needs. I love that God is a God of practicalities!    Immediately, God sent Elijah some food and water  (delivered by an angel) and then allowed him to sleep. Once Elijah had been strengthened on a very physical level, God began to speak to Him. He did not give Elijah all the answers, but He asked him questions and allowed him to experience His presence.   If you are feeling overwhelmed by situations in life, it is first good to check all the physical, practical causes, such as lack of rest or proper nutrition.

However, it is also important to deal with the spiritual causes and here is some advice, based on things I have learned in my own life.

Instigate disciplines

Discipline is a part of discipleship.  If you have the discipline of regular devotionals in your life (so that it becomes a daily habit), you will be able to continue reading God’s Word even when you are in a dry patch.  If you create frameworks of discipline in your life, before you experience despondency, you will find that you have a ready-made oasis just when you need it.

Phone a friend

Find a friend you trust and ask them to do the journey with you.  For many years (until he passed away), I had a wonderful friend who knew me so well, that he could detect even a change in my voice and understand if something wasn’t right.  He was great at provoking me to speak out and to share what was going on.  He and I were often able to travel the journey together and support each other in prayer, when the other was going through a difficult time.  Having good strong friendships is very important.

Practice the presence

Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days and was tested in many different ways before His work could begin.  Often, the enemy will try to attack our identity (just as he did with Jesus;  ‘If you are the son of God…’) he said.  Jesus knew His identity and He knew God’s Word and He was able to stand firm against the test.  At the end of the test, he experienced God’s presence and He left the wilderness refreshed, anointed and ready for His assignment.   Often in church, we work first and rest later, but I believe that God wants us to operate from a place of rest.  When we work and live in God’s presence, we can act from a position of faith, rather than what our feelings tell us.

Go back to God’s Word.  

I love Psalm 13. To me, it sums up a feeling of despondency and downheartedness so very well.

How long Oh Lord?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day, have sorrow in my heart?  (Psalm 13) .

This Psalm is wonderful because after David has poured out his heart to God, a switch happened, something changed.  By verse 5 and 6, he says, ‘But I trust in your unfailing love. my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for He has been good to me’.  

As he wrote and cried out to the Lord, his heart started to move toward praise.  One minute, here we have a guy who feels forgotten and forsaken and then as he cries out to the Lord, he moves into the realm of praise.

It is ok to feel forgotten, forsaken, despondent, depressed – none of these things are a sin. But it is important to not rely on these feelings, and instead go back to the reality of God at work in your life.   God has never failed you (or me!) in the past and He will not fail you now.   Ask Him today to help you move beyond your feelings and instead, into an atmosphere of praise and faith.

It is in His presence, that we can find true rest and also once again begin to find God’s purpose in our lives.

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The power of telling your story.

I believe that we each have a story to tell and I think it is important that we are ready (at any time) to tell it, both in words and in the way we live our lives.

In Mark 5, the story is told of Jesus healing the daughter of Jairus.  She had been very sick and as the daughter of a religious leader, it is likely she would have been well-known in her community.  As Jesus arrived at her home though, it was too late, she had already died.

All around and inside the house were mourners, people yelling and crying about the loss of this little girl.  Jesus was confronted with the reality and finality of human death.  He immediately told all the mourners to leave the house and then he took the girl’s hand and restored her back to life. And then in a puzzling verse, Jesus told the family to ‘tell no one’. It was not just a suggestion, it was a command.

In other parts of Scripture, we are told about the power of testimony, so why would Jesus command the family to keep quiet?   I read this story again recently and I believe there is a simple answer.  As Jairus was the leader of the synagogue, he and his family would have been well-known and respected in the community.  When Jesus arrived at their home, the house was already full of mourners, so the locals already knew that she was dead.  So when Jesus brought her back to life, there was no need to tell anyone.  She was a living, breathing testimony.  She was the story.

Saint Francis of Assisi once said, ‘Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary’.  Many have debated this saying, but personally, I believe it means that when we have been transformed by the power of God, our lives are a walking, living testimony.  We can use words to tell our story (and it is important to do so) but the words need to be backed up with evidence of a life which is changed. We can all debate words and philosophies and theology, but no one can argue with a story and a life which has been transformed.

When Jesus healed a blind man in John 9:13-25, the Pharisees questioned the man to ask how this had happened.  They wanted to debate theology with him, but he simply replied, ‘I was blind, but now I see’.   Who can argue with that?!

We all have a story to share.  Some may have been healed and set free or restored and for others, it may be that you were aware of God’s presence in a difficult time, but I believe we should always be ready to demonstrate and tell our story.

Here are some practical ideas;

Tell the truth

This might seem obvious, but it is important to not tamper with or change the details of the story.  It can be tempting to add (or take away) details, but in doing so, we can remove all the power.  Tell your story and allow God to add power to your words.

Tell your story in chapters

Imagine your life story as a book, full of different chapters.  You do not have to tell the full story, but you can share different chapters at appropriate times.  Depending on who I am speaking to, I use different ‘chapters’ of my testimony.  Sometimes I will share the story of how I as a rebellious young man came to England and met God powerfully.  Or I might share about the time we had no money or petrol in the car, but we prayed and God provided in a miraculous way.   Or, as I have shared here, I might tell the chapter when we lost our son Jamie.  You do not have to tell the whole story. The individual chapters can be just as powerful.

Some stories don’t end well

In 1988, a few weeks before we lost our son Jamie, our friends’ daughter Sarah was taken very seriously ill with meningitis.  I will tell her story in a future blog post, but God stepped in and healed Sarah in a miraculous way.  A few weeks later, we lost our son and it led to many questions about why God would heal one child and yet take another.  Even though our family’s story did not end the way we wanted it to, it is still a story of God’s amazing provision and faithfulness.  Even if your story did not conclude the way you wanted it to, you can still tell of how God sustained you in the difficult times.

The enemy will try to stop you.

I believe the enemy knows the power of testimony. The original Hebrew root of the word ‘testimony’ means to ‘do it again’.  In other words, when we share our testimony, we are literally encouraging others to believe that God CAN ‘do it again’.  The enemy will try to quench the power of stories and he will try to stop you from sharing yours, but when you tell your story, you are saying to the world, ‘God is alive and He is at work in my life’. There is huge power in that.

I believe that God wants to ‘do it again’.  Do you have a story to share?   Why don’t you start to tell it?

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