From the Pastor's pen: Don't forget the Lord!
Lately, in my daily devotions, I’ve been spending time in the book of Deuteronomy, a reminder for a new generation of Israelites of both God’s goodness in the past and his promises for the future. As I was engaging with this book, I couldn’t help it but notice how often God manifests his desire to bless and prosper his people. Being a most gracious God, he is also most generous, a God who only desires the best for his people. He doesn’t just provide; his desire is to lavish his generosity on us – not just for our own benefit but for his own pleasure. For he loves being generous! This is something that hasn’t changed in the New Testament either. His measure is still “pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38), he is still the God who loves to surprise us with his goodness by doing “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”. He is still the God of the “above and beyond”. His generosity is a direct expression of his love, a love that he seeks for us to both experience and appreciate.
And yet, the book of Deuteronomy also comes with a warning, warning of a danger that comes by bringing together God’s blessings and the heart of man, one that so easily strays from the love of God.
The book of Deuteronomy spells out this warning really well:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt… Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (from Deuteronomy 6 and 8)
Many times, as a pastor, I have seen people drawing close to God in times of great need – times of pain, loss, distress and brokenness. As with Israel, God found us when our lives looked like a wasteland and a lifeless wilderness. There he met us and lavished his love upon us, refreshing us with his forgiveness, restoring us with his life and setting us on a journey leading to “a land flowing with milk and honey”. But in the same way, I have also seen how easily the heart of man forgets the Lord after their wasteland is turned into a green valley after their crisis has been averted and they are finally back on their feet. The greatest challenge Israel faced after crossing over the Jordan wasn’t taking possession of the promise land but remaining in the promise land by means of ongoing faithfulness in a time of blessing.
Thousands of years may have gone by, but the picture hasn’t changed because the heart of man hasn’t changed – it is still more interested in what God can give than in God himself, ready to discard him (or at least neglect him) as soon as we feel we don’t need him as much anymore. Isn’t that a sad picture? I believe that the ultimate test of our love and commitment to our God doesn’t come in times of hardship but of blessing. For one who truly knows and loves God, will know that he is our highest blessing. He himself is our “land flowing with milk and honey”. He is our “pearl of great value” and our richest treasure. In that case, neither poverty nor prosperity will cause our hearts to forget him or neglect him.
As Christians, we have just finished celebrating God’s greatest act of generosity, the giving of his Son to die on the cross for our forgiveness, transformation and resurrection. Many of us have already experienced the manifold blessings and divine favour that come from being reconciled to God by faith in Jesus. Let us not be a people that easily forget. Let us rather be a people that forever remembers at what cost our blessings come. Let us be a people that forever remembers that our relationship with God through Jesus is the ultimate blessing, the one from which every good thing flow. Let us be a people that follow Jesus not because of what we can get from him, but because of who he is.
Get ready to fast!
With the end of Easter, the 50 days countdown to Pentecost Sunday begun. Many of you will know that I am not a big fan of following the “Christian calendar” – as there is always a danger to do so in a religiously superficial rather than spiritually meaningful way. Hence, my desire to make the most of this upcoming festivity – so central to our Pentecostal faith and practice. After discussing the matter with the team, we have resolved to make the week leading to Pentecost Sunday (3rd to 9th of June) a week of prayer and fasting for spiritual cleansing, renewal and empowerment.
For 7 days, we will get together every night for sessions of prayer around themes that will build up to Pentecost Sunday – where we will be blessed by the ministry of James Aladiran of Prayer Storm. Our desire is to re-enact what the community of disciples did almost 2000 years ago, as they waited on God for a week in preparation for the release of spiritual power that gave birth to the Church on Pentecost day. The world may have changed a lot since then, but we are still in desperate need for God’s power – both individually and as a Church.
We will release more information and guidelines on that special week closer to the date, but I would encourage everyone to make preparations for fasting in the meantime. Some of us have already developed a culture of fasting, but it may be a totally new experience for the majority. Even though the fasting will be tailored around our personal circumstances, it might be a good idea to prepare for it throughout this month. Why not:
Get ready for fasting – skip a meal once a day? Or be on a liquid only fast one day a week? Be on a vegetarian/vegan diet?
Get ready to read – Look for a 7-days Bible reading plan that covers certain themes, or covers the whole of the New Testament. Maybe there are some Bible books that you have never read?
Get ready to switch off – enter the mindset of ignoring social media for a week. Begin to put it away one day a week or keep your phone on flight mode every evening.
If you have never experienced the incredible mental, physical and spiritual benefits of fasting, this is your chance!
Prayer Storm 10th Anniversary
This year, Prayer Storm will be celebrating their 10th anniversary and have invited us to join them on Saturday 18th of May at Audacious Church (Trinity Way, Manchester, M3 7BD) for a time of prayer, fasting and intercession over the nation from 12noon until 6pm.
The next RISE night of united prayer and intercession will be on Wednesday 22nd of May at Wesley Hall at 7.30pm. Lisa Norcross will share on the work of the Ark Project with asylum seekers.
Because of the Pentecost week of prayer and fasting, our June Nifty Fifties will take place on Friday the 31st of May instead of the 7th of June.