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Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ Category

If you’re a small group leader or involved in leading prayer ministry, check out this excellent list of practical tips for leading prophetic prayer times.

Also, check out the helpful post on prophetic activation exercises.

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Today I was helping with the administration at an event run by the Christian Leaders’ Forum (an organisation working to develop church leaders in North East England) with Nicky Gumbel speaking.

My first impression was just that I really liked him. Of course, he’s familiar to me, from preaching at HTB and from the Alpha DVDs – in fact he’s familiar to millions as the face of the Alpha course. He comes across on the DVDs as intelligent, friendly and, with the eponymous black notebook filled with stories and gentle humour. But as he talked openly with the church leaders this afternoon it struck me how warm, funny and generally likeable he is in person, as well being someone absolutely passionate about people coming to know Jesus. He impressed me a lot and I thought, here is someone I’d respect and trust, and I can see why people leave their highly paid city jobs to come and work for him.

He told lots of Alpha stories, of course, and it sounds like they’re having a great time down at HTB in London. It also struck me the way he talked about they ‘work with everyone’ in terms of the Alpha Course. He said that worldwide there are more Catholics doing Alpha now than anyone else, and the Orthodox church is also interested. I liked the way he talked about following the work of the Holy Spirit, in something like the way they did in Acts: ‘oh, the Gentiles are speaking in tongues, that must mean it’s OK to baptise them!’ Brilliant! He’s really passionate about people working together in evangelism, and reminding the church that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us. He said that he’s convinced that if a church is focussed on reaching the lost, above everything else, the rest will follow. I believed him.

He reminded us, too, how important a place they give to the work of the Holy Spirit and told us about people being healed and coming to faith through words of knowledge. He explained that at the end of every meeting they ask the Holy Spirit to come.

So, at the end of this evening’s session, he asked us all to stand and he prayed, very simply, ‘come, Holy Spirit’. What followed was one of the most intense times of the Spirit that I’ve known in a long time. An absolute stillness descended, a ‘heavy peace’ and it was amazing. There was a richness in the air, an intensity and tears were just welling up in me and running down my face. We stood in silence for several minutes, our hands held open. Then he brought some words of knowledge and a lady became a Christian! Then he asked people to go down to the front if they wanted prayer, so I went down to help pray for people.

I really like the way HTB do this stuff and it’s the same at Soul Survivor. There’s no hype, no fuss. It’s really simple, really direct and completely powerful. There’s such an expectancy and authority about it: we’re going to invite the Holy Spirit to come and then we’re going to wait… There’s an ease about the way it happens, a normality and you never feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

He told some fun stories too, and one really funny one from the North East (completely untrue of course!). Although you’ll find it anywhere on the web, I’ll post it here for your enjoyment:

Two British traffic patrol officers from North Berwick were involved in an unusual incident while checking for speeding motorists on the A1 Great Nort h Road . One of the officers used a hand-held radar device to check the speed of a vehicle approaching over the crest of a hill, and was surprised when the speed was recorded at over 300 mph. Their radar suddenly stopped working and the officers were not able to reset it.

Just then a deafening roar over the treetops revealed that the radar had in fact latched on to a RAF Tornado fighter jet which was engaged in a low-flying exercise over the Border district, approaching from the North Sea .

Back at police headquarters the chief constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison office.

Back came the reply in true laconic RAF style:

Thank you for your message, which allows us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked onto, your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore, an air-to-ground missile aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also automatically locked onto your equipment. Fortunately the pilot flying the Tornado recognized the situation for what it was, quickly responded to the missile systems alert status, and was able to override the automated defence system before the missile was launched and your hostile radar installation was destroyed.”

A good day!

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Here’s hoping we have some testimonies like these at June Project!

The revival in Dudley seems to be an off-shoot of what’s happening in Lakeland, Florida with Todd Bentley. Peter Kirk’s been keeping up with events in Florida and the UK response on his blog ‘Gentle Wisdom’.

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I’m making slow progress through NT Wright’s ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’, mainly because I can only read small chunks before I have to stop and consider what’s being said. It also keeps sparking off other chains of thought, which make concentrating on the next section tricky! Here are some further thoughts on the ‘word of God’ concept that I’ve been exploring as I work through the book.

In the New Testament the ‘word’ is generally used for the gospel (see Colossians 1:5). This ‘word’ is the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection, “told as the climax of the story of Israel and thus offering itself as both the true story of the world and the foundation and energizing force for the church’s mission.” (p.36)

But NT Wright goes on to point out that “the ‘word’ was not just information about the kingdom and its effects, important though that was and is. It was the way God’s kingdom, accomplished in Jesus, was making its way in the world” (p.36). More than just a retelling of the story, this word carries power:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. ” (Romans 1:16)

Or, in a slightly different sense:
“…because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

In the verse above Paul is making clear that the gospel is not a story told by humans, the ‘word of men’, but the ‘word of God’. The word of God is at work in all believers, that same creative power that spoke the universe into being (see earlier post) is bringing new creation in each one of us.

As NT Wright says, “the word was announced as a sovereign summons, and it brought into being a new situation, new possibilities, and a new life-changing power”. (p.36)

He also seems to attribute a wider meaning to the concept of word / gospel as used in the NT:
“The earliest church was centrally constituted as the people called into existence, and sustained in that existence, by the powerful, effective and (in that sense and many others) ‘authoritative’ word of God, written in the Old Testament, embodied in Jesus, announced to the world, taught in the church.” (p.37)

In the same way, NT Wright goes on to discuss the way in which Paul and the other New Testament authors were conscious of the importance of their own words and writings, believing themselves to be ‘authorized’ teachers, by the guidance and power of the Spirit. In his own words:

“The apostolic writings, like the ‘word’ which they now wrote down, were not simply about the coming of God’s kingdom into the world; they were, and were designed to be, part of the means whereby that happened, and whereby those through whom it happened could themselves be transformed into Christ’s likeness.” (p.38)

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Further things to add to yesterday’s ponderings on a God who speaks, from reading NT Wright this morning…

I’ll let him speak for himself:
“…through it all we find the elusive but powerful idea of God’s ‘word’, not as a synonym for the written scriptures, but as a strange personal presence, creating, judging, healing, recreating.”
(p.28)

He goes on to quote the following scriptures:

“By the word of YHWH were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”
Psalm 33.6
– again, the word of God and his breath are hung together

“Is not my word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
Jeremiah 23:29

“All flesh is like grass, it withers and fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever”
Isaiah 40:8

“Like the rain and snow, coming down and watering the earth… so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but it will succeed in the tasks for which I send it”
Isaiah 55:10-11
– God’s word is clearly personified here. In what sense can words return, empty or not?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart, so that you may do it.”
Deuteronomy 30:14

I thought of a couple more as well…

“…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ephesians 6:17
– This is an interesting passage because I think we mostly take the ‘word of God’ here to mean the Bible, taking an active and offensive (rather than defensive) role, as in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness“, but I’m convinced that the ‘word of God’ here, as in the scriptures above, is a bigger concept than just the Scriptures alone. And this passage could perhaps be taken two ways: the word of God is ‘the sword of the Spirit’, or the word of God is the sword of this heavenly armour, the Spirit.

I love this passage from Hebrews:
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12
– although, the article here is an ‘it’ there is still a sense of God’s word personified, “living and active”, judging and penetrating.

Perhaps this all seems very obvious to people, but for me this is a new way to think about God’s ‘word’. To what extent are God’s word, the Spirit and His breath related? All three ideas are used in such related ways and often appear to play the same part in this story. In the quote above, NT Wright talks about ‘a strange personal presence’ – how is this not the Spirit? Are they actually the same thing or am I missing something here?

I should make clear at this point, that in no sense am I interested in reducing the person and reality of the Holy Spirit to something impersonal, swallowed up within the person of God. On the contrary, I think we need to increase our concept of the ‘word of God’. When we limit the ‘word of God’ to the Scriptures, or consider God’s words as speech acts in the same way as human speech-acts, we lose something of that mysterious presence identified by NT Wright. As the Scriptures above show, God’s word is clearly a personal force, separate from God (although issuing from him, see the Isaiah 55 passage above), a living and acting presence.

Thoughts anyone?

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I have been reading N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God.

I will aim to review it more completely when I have finished reading it, but for now I will say that it is shaping up to be an altogether refreshing read. Every now and again you read a book which doesn’t so much give you something new, but instead more fully articulates something you already sensed was true, and in doing so helps to order your thoughts into something more lucid and coherent.

I was particularly interested to read this morning his reflection on a God who speaks, “who communicates with his human creatures in words” (p.24). He makes the point that this distinguishes the God of the Bible from other gods known at the time, and today. Indeed, in comparison with other creation myths, which incorporate many elements of a sexual and reproductive nature (egg, semen, birth, flesh broken…see the Wikipedia article on Creation Myths), the God of the Bible speaks creation into existence:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:3

And, in John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1

Ben Witherington, on his blog, makes the point that the ancients saw words very differently than we do. As he explains:

“We are apt to see words as just combinations of letters or ciphers or symbols, but this is not how the ancients, living in an overwhelming oral culture, saw words. Words spoke things into existence if they came from God. Genesis 1 is quite explicit about this. But the Word could not only create reality, it could become a human being as John 1 says—‘and the Word took on flesh’.”

I recommend reading his reflections on a ‘Wordshaped Bible’, if only for his thoughtful poem, which serves as introduction.

I was also interested in the comment from Sandalstraps on the power of speech and the connection between breath and speech as he reflects on his son learning to speak. He makes the point that there is an intimate connection in many languages between the words for breath and spirit.

The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means breath. Similarly the Hindu concept of Prana (life-force) is a Sanskrit word for breath (see also Qi). In the Bible, the Hebrew words for breath and spirit are the same: ruach; and the Greek word used in the NT for the Spirit, pneuma, also has the same connection with wind or breath.

I made the point in my sermon a couple of weeks ago that the breath of God (giving life in creation – Genesis 2:7) and the work of the spirit are essentially synonymous. I wonder whether it’s not too great a leap to relate God’s breath (and the Spirit) and his speech in a similar fashion. In this context it makes sense for Jesus to be the Word, God’s fullest revelation of himself. Jesus is God expressed, God spoken.

And finally, if God gives life by speaking, as NT Wright points out, “the idea of reading a book to hear and know God is not far-fetched, but cognate with the nature of God himself.”

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I’ve just finished reading an old and battered copy of Jackie Pullinger‘s book that I picked up in a charity shop. I’m trying to decide whether the inspiration I feel from reading it is a ‘far-away’ inspiration or something I can apply to my life here and now. I don’t like to read books like that without coming away with something concrete I can apply to my life right now.
Apart from being amazed at the love and grace in her, the stubborness to continue, I think mostly I was inspired by the simplicity of her faith and attitude to God’s grace. Perhaps some of this is in the style of the book, which is matter-of-fact and generally light-hearted in approach. But I was impressed by the confidence in which she prays and puts herself into the middle of the life of the city. I want to pray with that confidence, as Jesus suggested:

“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 shall be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matt 21:21-22)

And throughout John 14-16, Jesus repeats this idea:
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:14)

I was also struck by the many times Jackie tells people (paraphrasing) ‘Jesus doesn’t expect you to be able to carry on following him in your own power, this is why he gives you the Spirit’ – and, with this, her total reliance on the Spirit working in the boys’ lives, particularly praying in tongues. A useful reminder. How often is our thirst due to closing ourselves off to those streams of living water..?

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