Lately on my ministry trips, I have been doing some research. Highly scientific. Deeply thought through with very technical methodology.
I get up to speak, then I ask the congregation; “Hands up if you find it difficult hearing from God.”
Can you guess what the response is?
A staggering 90% plus of people in the congregation raise their hands. There are of course one or two exceptions, but mostly everyone kind of winces and looks empathetically at each other; You too?
For all you PhDs out there, that may not be the best way to reach the conclusion this is one of the most needy areas of discipleship in the church today. While one day I may get around to researching it properly, until then, that’s enough impetus to do something!
Some time ago the God Conversations Advisory Team was strategising over dinner about how best to meet this need. We decided to create a DVD series complete with Bible Study materials that could be used both individually and through small groups in a local church setting.
I am excited to say that after three years of planning, filming and editing, we are only six weeks away from launching The Other Side of the Conversation series on TV and in retail outlets in Australia and New Zealand!
It signalled a move; another change across the suburban Sydney landscape. It also initiated a much bigger story of a spectacular answer to prayer for a new home complete with swimming pool and tennis court and don’t forget the red Ferrari in the garage…*
But would you have noticed it? Would you have paid any attention?
A caravan was floating precariously along a fast-flowing river. I was inside the caravan trying to keep it tidy. But the caravan was rocking and pitching wildly and the muddy river water was flooding the entrance. Vainly I tried to sweep the brown watery muck back into the river, but with each movement the water flowed back in. No matter how hard I tried, the water continued to invade my precious space. I woke up frustrated and confused. Why was I dreaming about living in a caravan? And why was the caravan floating on a river?
Someone familiar with the language of the Holy Spirit may have picked up on the subtle imagery here. Someone who understood that one of God’s chief methods of communication is dreams and visions (Num 12:6, Acts 2:17) may have taken the time to meditate on the symbolic meaning of a floating caravan – that God was telling me my home was on the move.
This week I have been writing a book God first told me to write fifteen years ago. It’s a memoir showing how God has spoken and how his words have come to pass.
There are two things that have astounded me as I go back in time re-reading my journals and re-visiting all those experiences. The first thing was how profoundly real those moments hearing from God were. The times when it felt like God tapped you on the shoulder and zoomed in from the heavens to answer your very thoughts and hopes. I remember the tears welling and the shivers around my shoulders and the feeling that I could never doubt his plan for my life again.
The second thing I noticed is how quickly those experiences faded into a haze of doubt and anxiety. How a time lag or a sudden reversal in circumstances quickly erased them from my memory.
How is it possible to take a spiritual conversation and turn it into something tangible that you can hold onto; something you can live by?
Write it down.
It’s the one thing that inscribes the moment, the black and white marker that stays with you when your memory fails, when the doubt starts to obscure your vision and you wonder if in truth you made it all up.
They might have thought he was being overly pessimistic when he made a claim to a communique from the divine weather bureau. But they didn’t. They took him at his word.
Agabus was one of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem. He was visiting Antioch when he stood up and declared that ‘God told him’ a severe famine was coming. It wouldn’t just touch Antioch but the entire Roman world.
So the church gathered donations and began sending gifts to those who would be in greatest need. When the famine hit, they were well prepared.
Great story. You can read it in Acts 11:27ff.
It gives us some idea of why God would tell us the future. Why he would give us prophetic insight into events we would never ordinarily know. The early Christians understood that God sometimes told them of things to come. They knew they had a hotline to heaven’s knowledge and that meant in the case of the famine, suffering could be radically diminished. What a blessing to see as God sees!
But I wonder, if God gave us a glimpse of a future event, would we be prepared to do anything about it? Once the word had been tested to ensure no overactive imaginations were at work, would we act on it?
…And then the pastor would hand over the mike while introducing me with some crack about Australia’s inferior rugby skills and well, I just couldn’t help myself.
Remember: those holding the mike always get the last word…
I have just returned from my longest ever ministry trip – 6 weeks in beautiful New Zealand – 10 different churches in the south of the North island and north of the South island. Around 25 meetings I think. Phew.
Some stand-out moments:
Some of the Palmerston Nth ministry team led by Ralph and Anne-Marie
Attending the New Life Pastors Conference in Rotorua (yes the city not known for its attractive fragrance). New Life is a NZ Pentecostal denomination, not altogether unlike the Australian Christian Churches in style and philosophy. Their leader, John Steele is a statesman, spiritual father and a gracious leader who organised my itinerary. (I met John in the Melbourne church I attended as a uni student – he was the one who I used to give a hard time about the crazy Pentecostals who hung from the rafters as I had once thought). Attending the conference was like being with family since this was my third ministry trip to NZ. I loved hanging out with the gregarious team from LifeChurch Palmerston North who adopted me as their own after visiting their church that weekend.