Thursday, February 22, 2007


I have been thinking about this topic for a very long time, but I cannot seem to put my finger on exactly what my confusion here is. This may sound really heretical and it may be really unfair to God, but I am going to blog it anyway because I am frustrated and guess I am crying out to be honest about that.

The main issue is that I really don't get where my responsibility ends and God's starts, (or vice versa). Basically, there have been many times recently where I have said things like I don't get why…(I will give some examples later) and the answer people give me always seems to be, 'its because of us'. Meaning that the responsibility lies with us rather than with God.

I get frustrated about the lack of blame we put on God for some things. I know that is unfair, I am not a dense Christian – I know many things, one of which is that God can do no wrong, therefore God can not be to 'blame' for anything. It just seems to be that we so easily heap tons of condemnation on ourselves for being rubbish Christians because God hasn't done certain things. I think the reason I get frustrated is because God knows how rubbish we are, he knows we are selfish, he knows we are lazy or confused or control freaks, so if we have to be certain people before he will 'act' then he is never going to act because we will never meet the mark or the grade.

I know this is confusing without examples. I hesitate because when you give examples its really easy for people to read it and know how to answer the specific example, but ignore the principle as a whole (does that make sense?). I will give examples because I think it will help, but please be aware that this concept is way beyond these few examples for me – it is the whole concept of whose responsibility it is – ours or God's – to make changes to things.

Example 1 – Revivals / Massive movements of the Spirit

I know I keep beating down the same bush, but that is because in spite of all your help with this one, I am still so frustrated and I can't get away from it. In the past the Spirit of God has moved massively in order for loads and loads of people to turn to him in some sort of revival. When I look at my church, I can see loads of good stuff happening, but it is all small things which any non-Christian could say was not from God. In my eyes, the ways in which our church is 'spiritually growing' are:

  • New people are coming – not in their droves, but slowly and surely, we do see people coming into our church, liking the fellowship, and getting involved
  • People are going to cell groups and getting to discuss really important Christian stuff there – and therefore growing spiritually themselves. I can see the difference in many people at my church – they have clearly grown as disciples.
  • People (not all, but more and more these days), are more aware of the need to make church more than just a place to go on a Sunday.

I am sure there is more, but let's start there. The way I see it, all of these things are happening because of the hard work and passion of many members of our church who are leading things really well. For example, Richard and Ann led the Church in following the five purposes structure which has led to the development of the five cluster groups. The fellowship cluster are working really hard to make sure that people feel welcomes and belong. The discipleship cluster try to make sure things are in place for people to grow spiritually, maintaining the cell groups, etc. And so on. But any non-Christian hearing that will say that that is all man-driven, not God driven. If our church is doing well, or growing, it is not because of God, it is because of the leadership and the members – they have done the work and had the passion. I know that the leadership team at our Church would say that anything they do is inspired by God, and that without God they wouldn't have been able to do it, but what does that mean and is that really true? Maybe they are not giving themselves enough credit there. When is God going to do something massive? When is He going to take some responsibility and say, 'ok I can see they're struggling, I am going to help them out here'?

Example 2 – Prayer

Ok, so I know I have just blogged massively about this one, but this follows on so well so I have to include it. Often people say that if we are praying for something, we have to be prepared to be part of the answer. So when we say we are giving something totally over to God, when we are 'leaving it with Him' what we are actually doing is saying, 'here you go God. I have a situation, please deal with it.' Surely if we are part of the answer to that prayer then we can't 'leave it with God, we have to pick it back up again. But isn't that wrong too?!? Also, when we feel that an answer to prayer has not come, what are the reasons we give?

  • Wrong motive
  • Not part of the plan
  • Disobedience
  • Wrong timing
  • Lack of persistence
  • Lack of faith

With the exception of 'lack of persistence' all of the rest of the 'reasons' require that we are the ones needing to change. Wrong motive – we need to change what is driving us, not part of the plan – we need to learn to live with the fact that we wont get what we want, disobedience – we need to start obeying, wrong timing – we need to be more patient, lack of faith – we need to build and strengthen our faith.

Maybe this is right. Maybe what God does not do is all because He is trying to help us grow, trying to help us bet better disciples and if that is the case then I suppose it is a good thing. I just get confused because so often I am told to relax more in my faith and stop trying so hard, and yet if all of the above is true, then in fact my only response can be to try harder. I think I am just tired, tired of the fact that when I feel frustrated at God's apparent quietness on some topics the only answer is that I need to change. When is God going to start doing stuff in spite of who I am, in spite of who we are?

If we ask God for things and He says no because first we have to change then the responsibility is ours first, and God's responsibility only starts when ours has finished, (or at least begun). Maybe that is how it should be. I know what I am really saying at the end of the day is, why can't God just give it all to us on a plate, why does He make us work for it, and I know that is a wrong attitude and that it is not in our own best interests for God to do that, but I guess sometimes I simply do want that. I want God to do something incredible, something massive, to be less 'invisible'. Its great that God chooses to work through us, but just sometimes, it would be nice if He did something that we could see, no doubt, was clearly and only attributable to Him.

Monday, February 12, 2007

When God says 'no'

Ok, I have been thinking about my next blog topic for some time, and have so many topics I would like to write about, its too difficult to pick just one. I have decided to start with prayer, but there is likely to be a post very soon regarding 'responsibility'. Keep your eyes peeled! Also, I am going to put a disclaimer on this one, (sorry Liz). There are no specifics here, I am talking about the general concepts of faith and responsibility and trying to cover some of the questions that people in general would ask – not just me.

Lat night the subject was 'How and Why do we Pray?' Prayer is such a massively confusing subject, and is also a subject which cannot not be personal. I would say it would be very difficult to be analytical about prayer, without it affecting you or touching you in some way. We all have our questions, and most likely we all have 'good Christian answers' to most of those questions too. But sometimes, they just don't satisfy…

I am going to hone in on a very specific part of the topic, and that is why we don't always get what we pray for. I am starting from the following Bible verse:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:7-11

Ok, I know that there are various answers to this one such as, this is about God giving us the Spirit rather than just general 'good gifts' but at the end of the day, sometimes we ask God for things which are 'good gifts' and yet we don't get them. Why? In the meeting Richard mentioned three possible explanations

  • Wrong motive
  • Wrong timing
  • Its not actually good for us / It is not in God's will

I tentatively add a few more

  • Lack of persistence
  • Lack of faith
  • We are disobedient

I will go through each of these in turn (in reverse order):

We are disobedient

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 1 John 3:21-23

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. John 15:5-7

Then you returned and wept before the Lord, but he refused to listen. Deuteronomy 1:45

This can be a difficult theology for us because we believe in a God of mercy and forgiveness. But He is also just, and if we are consciously disobeying God and then asking Him for blessings, it seems a bit strange that we would expect Him to answer. However, when we look at this theology with the understanding that we are all sinners, and all disobey God from time to time, I have to see that this cannot always be true. (Else we would never get answered prayer!) So to what extent is this true? How disobedient do we have to be before God says – 'no, obey me and then try again?'

Lack of Faith

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Matthew 21:21-22

This is a really heavy one as it can lead to an immense amount of guilt on our part. I have to ask, how often do we ever have enough faith to move mountains? If anyone is like me, I find praying in faith that the thing I am praying for will happen really difficult mainly because so often it doesn't. I know this is for a variety of reasons but the point remains. Praying in faith is hard because it may not happen in the way you expect. So we are always praying with a certain degree of uncertainty in terms of how that prayer will be answered.

Lack of Persistence

The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, 'I don't fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I'm going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!'" Luke 18:3-5

Ok, this may be more about crying out for justice than other things, but still, it is often said that persistence in praying brings answers. I don't know why this is – maybe its to show Him how much we want it. But I don't know about the theology of saying that not getting something we have prayed for is because of a lack of persistence. Does anyone know?

Not in God's Will & its not the best thing for us

He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. Luke 22:41-43

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:1-6

Are these two interchangeable? Is God's will always the best for us? It certainly doesn't always feel like it! Sometimes it feels like God's will for our lives is not necessarily the thing that will make us happiest in this life but rather the things that are best for His own Kingdom. I realise that these two, in an ideal world, should be one and the same thing, but we are human and selfish, and sometimes we want things that aren't in God's will.

I totally agree that God knows way better than we do what is best for us. So if he chooses not to give us the 'good gifts' that we ask for, maybe that is because it is not the 'best gifts' for us. Or maybe its because the things that are 'best for us' are not in line with His will. I know this seems a little heretical! Saying that God's will is not best for us, and I guess in the eternal perspective, it is, but from the perspective of living in the world we currently live in, I honestly think that sometimes He calls us into things which will not make us 'the happiest we can be' while we are here. Am I wrong?

Wrong Timing

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1

Then they said to Jeremiah, "May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us." Ten days later the Lord gave his reply to Jeremiah. Jeremiah 42:5-7

Sometimes God says, 'wait'. I don't really have much else to say about this at this point, its relatively simple!

Wrong Motive

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? James 4:1-3

This is the main one I have been thinking about. I truly don't get how this works. We are told to talk to God, to be honest with Him. To share with Him our concerns, fear and desires. We live in a fallen world, and as such many of our desires are actually 'wordly' and therefore adulterous. If God says 'no' to our requests because they are requested with a wrong motive, then surely we ought to be trying to change our desires to be less worldly, rather than actually asking him to fulfil those desires? Does that make sense? I was reading back through some previous blog entries the other day, and came across something I wrote ages ago which sums it up quite well. (Funny how things seem to go round full circle):

"When I pray or speak to God, is it right that I should bring to Him all my concerns, hopes and desires, asking Him to bless me, when the focus is so heavily on me. Will God answer those prayers? Does He even care about them - except where they relate to the growth of His Kingdom and my role in that. I think that is the crux of it for me. Does God care about the things of "life", that I really care about unless these are the very things that themselves have an impact on His Kingdom. In other words, should I be asking Him for the things that I really really want, even though they are worldly desires which show that I am still attached to (and to some extent - love), this world, and probably have no bearing on His Kingdom.

Deep down I know that God is a God that gets involved in the lives of us as individuals. He is involved in my life. And yet, I just don't really get how. I don't really get why He seems to answer some prayers and not others, whether I am allowed to ask Him for the things I want, or whether I should instead be striving to not care about them any more."

Mel made a really good comment about this at the time, which says:

"In some ways it is inevitable that we will seek worldly things to an extent in that we are always being tempted by that around us, being fallen humans. But the important thing is that God knows our NEEDS and even if there are things that are not perhaps vital (this includes things day-to-day material things and spans to bigger things like relationships), he promises to provide what it is that we need and therefore it is a challenge to be content with what we have, but still praying for the desires of our heart and in God's time, he provides and in His way, decides what it superfluous to those needs and is something we have to work with."

I thought that was brilliant, and yet, aren't we still faced with a dilemma; a strong desire for something which God doesn't seem to be meeting in spite of our requests? What if that desire is so strong you simply cannot be content with what we have? Is that back to selfishness? How do we stop it being all consuming?


On top all all of those questions, there is a further question: If we are faced with a situation where we have been praying for something and it is not happening, how do we know which of the above it is down to? Certainly some can be ruled out – if you are consciously disobeying God, then stop disobeying and try again and if you have only prayed it once, keep trying. Other than that, how do you know? It could be God saying wait, or it could be God saying, 'stop asking your motive is wrong', or it could be God saying, 'keep asking, I want to know how much you want it,' or 'You don't truly believe that you will receive this so until you do, I am going to hold off', or 'actually, this is not the best thing for you. I have a different plan'. Each one of those reasons may require a different response from us some of which could be contradictory e.g. keep praying, stop praying and change your motivation, wait, etc. How do we know which one to do?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Holy Spirit Rain Down

Since Sunday I have been thinking a lot about a question that Richard asked in His sermon. The question was, ‘If the Holy Spirit lives within us, does that render songs such as ‘Holy Spirit Rain Down’ un-theological or unnecessary?’ He may not have said those exact words, I can’t remember exactly – I hope I understood the question correctly.

Anyway, it was certainly food for thought. To be honest, I think this is a massive question which is probably unanswerable without delving into loads of theological debates, which I don’t want, and am in no way qualified to do. This blog is being written in order to try to iron out my own thoughts about this question, and in hope that some who understand these things better than me may be able to offer some insight. I apologise because it is very long. You may want to read it when you have half an hour spare!

The Holy Spirit as a Person
Firstly, I think it is important to recognise the personal nature of God. We call Him a He because we recognise Him as a person (though not human) whom we can relate to. The Spirit, whilst being Spirit, we also call 'He' for the same reasons. In thinking about these things, I spoke to someone to get their thoughts, and they mentioned that the Spirit is person who is either here or not here. In that sense, the Spirit is in your heart – it makes no sense to ask for more of Him, because He is simply there. I think it is worth saying though that I don’t believe God to be finite in any way. Whilst we recognise Him as a relational being, He is not confined by our understanding of what makes up a person, (a finite being). Does that therefore mean that there can be more of God? More of the spirit? Or is the Spirit of God within us in His fullness (infinite though it is) already, meaning there is no need for ‘more’ because He is completely there anyway?

The Sponge or Bucket Illustrations
Many people would use the illustration of a sponge in defining how it makes sense for us to ask for more of the Spirit. They would say that we can leak, and often need filling up again. Also, as we go about our daily Christian lives, we give away a bit of the Spirit, and therefore, we need our ‘bucket’ to be filled up again. I have to say that personally, I can’t fully agree with these. I don’t necessarily think that we leak the spirit. I think we can restrict the Spirit from working in our lives by refusing to give Him all of us, but I don’t think that means the Spirit leaves us necessarily, and certainly I don’t think it means we ‘leak the Spirit’ I don’t think that half the Spirit would be within us at a given moment! He is still there, we are just not allowing Him to be so active. I think in this case that we are right to pray that the Spirit can be fully active within us again, but whether that means asking for ‘more’ of the Spirit, or praying that the Spirit that is already within us will convict us again of our need for Him, and help us to make the necessary sacrifice, (for instance, of control of our own lives), is the question at hand. Does this mean that once we are saved, we are always saved? Ok, not going to go there! This is too big for a post that is really dedicated to another topic. However, I feel it right to say that whilst I don’t agree with ‘leakage’ I don’t think that necessarily means He wont leave if He is told to. I will leave it there, I am sure there will be many who will disagree, but maybe this could be another discussion at some time.

Living within Us
Another concept worthy of discussion is what we mean when we say the Holy Spirit lives within us, or within our hearts. When we talk about our hearts in that way, we clearly do not mean the physical heart – the organ which pumps blood around our bodies. When we say ‘from the bottom of my heart’ we are really saying from the core of who I am. From deep deep down inside me. It is almost indescribable - hence why we use the illustration of a heart. In the same way, the Spirit (a person) living within us, when we look at it from a literal perspective, makes little sense. However, we can understand this to mean that the Holy Spirit is deep inside us – taking the place of our own spirit, or our own soul, or the very core of who we are. In thinking of it in this way, we can begin to understand that the way the Holy Spirits work in our individual lives is to take over more and more of our being with Himself. (That may sound like a negative thing – but it can’t be – the Spirit is great!)

Rain or Reign?
Holy Spirit, rain down suggests ‘more’ of the spirit coming ‘down’ from above. For a start, since when was God up? Secondly, in the context of our individual lives, can we really get more of the Spirit in our lives? To be honest, I think that if we have invited Him in, He is there, and when we say we want more of God in our lives what we actually mean is, I want you to have fuller control of my life, or I want to feel you more, or I want you to be more active in my life or to have some overwhelming sense of your presence in that moment. Much of that is likely to come out of action on our part to allow God more access to those depths of our lives. In that sense, when we say Holy Spirit rain down, aren’t we really asking not for rain, but for reign? And surely part of the answer to that prayer lies within our own responsibility to ‘let go and let God’.

Feeling God More
In saying all this, I am very aware that there is a massive part being left out. This idea of wanting to ‘feel’ God more, or to have a particular experience of God for that specific moment is actually quite big and, correct me if I’m wrong, often what we are really asking for when we ask for more of God. I still personally do not think that this is about receiving more of the Spirit, rather it is a specific request for the Spirit who already lives within us to make us more aware of Him. This is also often where intercession plays a part - us asking God to make our friends or family more aware of Him or others asking the same for us. Again though – I don’t think the spirit has to ‘rain down’ for this, He is already within us after all.

More of God in the World
To be perfectly honest, when I sing this particular song, I often sing it with real conviction, but not because I want the spirit to rain down more in my life, so much as I want to see the Spirit more active in the world. As you will know from my previous entries, I am very burdened by the lack of interest in the gospel in this Country right now. There may be many reasons why this is the case, but sometimes I find myself crying out to God to do more, to be more active. It sometimes gets to the point where I question whether He really is here in the world. That is when I cry out, Holy Spirit, rain down. In response to this question on Sunday night, I said that I think there is a difference between asking God to come into our hearts, and asking God to come at a specific instance in time, for a specific purpose – as in, into the world to make a difference with some particular situation. I have since changed my view. I think that in the same way that God is already present and active in our hearts, He is also already present and active in our world. I don’t think its wrong to cry out for the Spirit to come, but I think that God’s response is, ‘I am here already’. We don’t need to ask Him to ‘rain down’. He already did. This brings up a massive issue, in terms of the need for prayer if God is already here. I don’t feel I can do justice to this right now, and I have gone on for long enough already. Suffice it to say that I do think prayer makes a difference, particularly in releasing the power, which is already here in our world ready to do something, but waiting to be invited.

Picture Language
I want to end this post by saying that most of what I have written here is a theoretical discussion of words we sing, in a song that was probably never meant to be taken so literally. We talk in picture, or metaphorical language because sometimes, theoretically accurate language leaves us cold, or doesn’t do it justice. For instance, the way we use ‘heart’ metaphorically. My mum said to me today, 'sometimes we have to constrain things to picture language because we can only access it within our own understanding'. (Good quote Mum!)Some things are way beyond comprehension, and the only way we can grasp it for ourselves is to liken it to something we do understand. Therefore, when we sing Holy Spirit rain down, I doubt that many of us would think of all of the above arguments. Rather we would sing it with gusto, really asking from our ‘hearts’ that the Spirit will do a mighty work. The terminology may not be perfect, but God knows what we mean. He knows that we are actually asking to see His power released more, or to give us an increased sense of His presence, or to give us the conviction to want to give more control of our own lives over to Him. Besides, we have a mediator who has been here, and knows what it is like to be constrained to a human viewpoint. He translates what we say into what He knows we are really crying out for. Thank God for Jesus!