John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 6

*Ask, Seek, Knock.

“Ask, and it will be given to you.” Luke 11:9 NASB

All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it, first, in the way of prayer. This is the express direction of our Lord Himself. In His Sermon on the Mount, after explaining at length wherein religion consists and describing the main branches of it, He adds, “’Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’” Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10 (NASB). In the plainest manner, we are here directed to ask in order to receive, or as a means of receiving; to seek, in order to find the grace of God, the pearl of great price; and to knock, to continue asking and seeking, if we would enter into His kingdom.

That no doubt might remain, our Lord gives a peculiar parable of a father who desires to give good gifts to his children, concluding with these words, “’How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’” Luke 11:13 (NASB).

Jesus gives a direction to pray, with a positive promise that by this means we shall obtain our request: “’Go into your room, and…pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and…He…will reward you openly.’” Matthew 6:6 (NKJV).

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In this sixth lesson on prayer, Wesley reminds us that prayer is not a one-time thing but a progressive work that brings answers along the way and eventually leads us to our eternal destination. There are those who believe to ask more than once is a sign of weak faith. But according to scripture, this is not the case.

Let us look at Luke 11:5-13 and Luke 18:1-8 to get an idea of how Jesus reinforces the idea of persistence and expectation when it comes to prayer.

5 Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10″For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11″Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12″Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13″ If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (NASB)

In Luke 18:1-8 we read:

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

As Wesley brought out, “In the plainest manner, we are here directed to ask in order to receive, or as a means of receiving; to seek, in order to find the grace of God, the pearl of great price; and to knock, to continue asking and seeking, if we would enter into His kingdom.

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 5

*“Awake sleeper…and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14 NASB

Discover yourself! If you are one of the poor self-deceivers, awake! Is your confidence a self-confidence that you have the witness in yourself that you are a child of God, and thus defy all your enemies?

Alas! You are weighed in the balance and found lacking. The Word of the Lord has tried your soul and proved it to be reprobate silver. You are not lowly of heart, therefore you have not yet received the Spirit of Jesus. You are not gentle and meek, even tempered. Therefore, your joy is worth nothing; it is not joy in the Lord. You do not keep His commandments; therefore, you do not love Him, nor are you a partaker of the Holy Spirit. It is as certain and as evident as the Word of God can make it: His Spirit does not bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.

Cry unto Him that the scales may fall off your eyes, that you may know yourself as He knows you: a poor, undeserving, hell-bound sinner. Pray that you may receive the sentence of death within yourself, until you hear the voice that raises the dead saying, “Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace; your faith has made you whole;” and His Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are His child.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

In lesson 5, Wesley draws a hard line between a confidence in self and an assurance of the spirit. A distinction between a self-deceiver, asleep and unaware of his own spiritual condition, and one who has truly been crucified with Christ and now lives in Him through the Holy Spirit.

There are those that, as 2 Timothy 3:5 in the New Living Translation says, “… act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” These are the people that Wesley is speaking of in this lesson.

He says, “It is as certain and as evident as the Word of God can make it: His Spirit does not bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.” Confidence in self, when put into play as a means of meriting God’s favor, is a self-defeating proposition. As good or as skilled as we may be, we will never be good enough or skilled enough for God. Why? Because, that is not what God requires of us.

In Romans 12:1-3, the apostle Paul says,

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (NASB)

God requires humility, sobriety of mind, and sound judgment. We are to present ourselves in sacrifice to Him, allowing Him to renew our thinking. We are to have sober judgment about ourselves. That means not thinking too highly or lowly about who we are and what we can do on our own. In order to live out the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God for our lives, we must first die to self and then allow God to resurrect us in New Life in Christ Jesus. We can’t really live until we’ve really died.

The verse Wesley uses here is Ephesians 5:14, which Paul compiles from several verses out of Isaiah, speaking of Christ shining His light on us. It will be helpful to read Ephesians 5:13-17 to get the fuller meaning of what Paul, and I believe Wesley, are telling us:

13But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14For this reason it says, ” Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” 15Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (NASB)

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 4

*Finally, thine is the kingdom.

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen”

Matthew 6:13 (NASB)

Two final petitions, “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors”–give us, O Lord, redemption in Your blood, the forgiveness of sins. As You enable us freely and fully to forgive, so forgive us all our trespasses.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”–Whenever we are tempted, O Lord who helps our infirmities, do not let us to be overcome or suffer loss by it, but make a way for us to escape so that we may be more than conquerors, through Your love, over all sin and the consequences of it.

The principal desire of a Christian’s heart is the glory of God (vv. 9-10); and all wants for himself or others is the “daily bread” of soul and body, pardon of sin, and deliverance from the power of it and of the devil (vv. 11-13). There is nothing besides that a Christian can wish for. Therefore, this prayer comprehends all his or her desires. Eternal life is the certain consequence, or rather completion, of holiness

The conclusion: “For Thine is the kingdom”–the sovereign right of all things that are or ever were created. “The power”–the executive power, whereby You govern all things in Your everlasting kingdom. “And the glory”–the praise due from every creature for Your power, all Your wondrous works, and the mightiness of Your kingdom, which endures through all ages, even, “forever. Amen.”

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

As Wesley finishes up The Lord’s Prayer in Lesson 4, he comments on the final two of six petitions: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors,” and “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” When it comes to forgiveness, this portion of the prayer seems to indicate that forgiveness of our debts (or sins in Aramaic) depends on our forgiveness of others. In Jesus’ parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18:21-35, a servant was forgiven a large sum by his master, but this same servant refused to forgive a much smaller debt another owed him. When the master heard of this, he put the servant in prison, not for his debt, but for his pettiness in not forgiving the man that owed him the smaller debt, after he had been forgiven so much. In the same way, our sin against the Lord, our Master, is far greater than any sin we might suffer by another human being. Will we forgive?

As we petition God not to lead us into temptation, we must realize the Greek sense here of trial or testing. Jesus Himself prayed, “If possible, let this cup pass from Me,” as he labored in Gethsemane. It is well to pray for deliverance from evil or the evil one, if we forfeit any supposed rights we have and include, “But nevertheless, not My will, but thine be done.” As Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “”These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” In some things, we may have to endure until His coming, but as He overcame, we will ultimately overcome, as well.

“For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” His sovereignty over all creation as Creator, sustainer, and completer of all that exists. Yet a sovereignty, power, and glory that He shares with us through Christ. The apostle Paul wanted believers to know this, and prayed in Ephesians 1:18-23,

18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

“Forever and ever. Amen”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 3

*Praying for daily bread: food and grace

“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11, NIV

The second portion of this prayer consists of six petitions, four of which we here consider. “Hallowed be Thy name”—may You, O father, be truly known by all intelligent beings and with affections suitable to that knowledge! May You be duly honored, loved, feared, by all in heaven and in earth, by all angels and all men!

“They kingdom come”—may Your kingdom come quickly and swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth! May all people receive You, O Christ, for their King and truly believe in Your name. May they be filled with righteousness, peace, joy, holiness, and happiness till they are removed into Your kingdom of glory to reign with You forever.

“They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”—may all inhabitants of the earth do Your will as willingly as the holy angels! May these do it continually even as they, without any interruption of their willing service. And, as perfectly as they! O Spirit of grace, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make them perfect in every good work to do Your will, and work in them all that is well pleasing in Your sight!

“Give us”—O Father, (for we claim nothing of right: only of Your free mercy) “today” (for we take no thought for tomorrow) “our daily bread”—all things needful for our souls and bodies, not only the meat that perishes, but the sacramental bread, and Your grace, the food which endures to everlasting life.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Moving into Lesson 3, Wesley centers on four of the six petitions in the Lord’s prayer. He begins with, “Hallowed be Thy name.” How can we hallow, or ascribe holiness to, a name without knowing the personality who holds that name? I must know God in order that His name is hallowed in my life. Wesley says, “…may You, O father, be truly known by all intelligent beings and with affections suitable to that knowledge!” Our affections should be authentic, based on our knowledge of God and the hallowing of His person.

“They kingdom come.” A kingdom is a realm of influence. I believe Wesley is right in asking, “…may Your kingdom come quickly and swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth!” There is a temporal and eternal aspect to that swallowing up. When Jesus returns, there will be an eternal swallowing up of all things. In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul tells us, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” The temporal swallowing up of the earth’s kingdoms is Godly influence by God’s people, in the power of the Holy Spirit, upon mountains, or centers of culture, that tend, in ever increasing ways, to inform our society. These include the mountains of religion, family, education, government, media, arts, & business.

“They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” In heaven there is submission to God’s will. Not a passive disinterest in what God is doing, but a willful cooperation with what God is doing. We need to enter into that willful cooperation with God while here on earth in order to receive God’s best for us this side of heaven. We need to be discerning of what God is doing so we can begin to pray with God concerning His will rather than only praying to God. If we expect heaven to meet earth, we must comprehend that the primary means of meeting happens in us, as God’s people.

“Give us today our daily bread.” There is a tendency in most people to view daily bread as needs in the natural realm. And yes, it does include these needs. But Jesus told some that were following Him in John 6:26-27, “… “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” The important bread is Jesus, Himself, as He explains a few verses later in John 6:33-35; “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, ” I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 2

The Way of Prayer*

“Pray, then, in this way.” Matthew 6:9, New American Standard Bible

He who best knew what we ought to pray for and how we ought to pray, what matter of desire, what matter of address would most please Himself and best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer. It comprehends all our real wants, expresses all our lawful desires–a complete directory and full exercise of all our devotions. He here directs us to pray thus–for these things; sometimes, in these words. At least in this manner: short, close, full.

This prayer consists of three parts–the preface, the petitions, and the conclusion. The preface, “Our Father who art in heaven,” lays a general foundation for prayer. It comprises what we must first know of God before we can pray in confidence of being heard.It likewise points out to us the faith, humility, and love of God and man with which we are to approach God in prayer.

“Our Father”— who art good and gracious to all, our creator, our preserver, the Father of our Lord and of us in Him, Your children by adoption and grace. Not my Father only, but the Father of the universe, of angels and human beings.

“Who art in heaven”— filling heaven and earth and beholding all things in heaven and earth; knowing every creature and all their works, and every possible event from everlasting to everlasting. The Almighty Lord and ruler of all, superintending and disposing all things.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Wesley, in this lesson, lays a foundation for perhaps the most famous prayer of the Bible: The Lord’s Prayer. It is so named because “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 NASB). There are actually two versions of this prayer recorded in the gospels: the shorter form in Luke and the longer form of Matthew 6:9-13, in the Sermon on the Mount, to which Wesley alludes:

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘ Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘ Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’”

The Lord’s instructions, as Wesley points out, come from “He who best knew what we ought to pray for and how we ought to pray, what matter of desire, what matter of address would most please Himself and best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer.” And although, “It comprehends all our real wants, expresses all our lawful desires–a complete directory and full exercise of all our devotions,” it need not be always recited in rote. In fact, there is license to personalize this form and that permission should be exercised. As Wesley continues, he proposes that Jesus “here directs us to pray thus–for these things; sometimes, in these words. At least in this manner: short, close, full.” The Matthean context explains well why Wesley would subscribe to a “less is more” praxis here. Matthew 6:7-8 precedes the prayer with “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Jesus next directs His disciples to begin by “Our Father.” Not the “for my needs only” limited god of selfish ambition, but, as Wesley states, the God “who art good and gracious to all, our creator, our preserver, the Father of our Lord and of us in Him, Your children by adoption and grace. Not my Father only, but the Father of the universe, of angels and human beings.

“Who art in heaven.” Our Father is a God that is apart and above us in His complete non-dependent nature and holiness, but also “knowing every creature and all their works, and every possible event from everlasting to everlasting.”

Would we want to serve a God that expressed human frailty and emotive vacillation as we so easily do? I think not. I am glad to serve a God who is, “The Almighty Lord and ruler of all, superintending and disposing all things.”

John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 1

What are you Now?*

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Second Corinthians 13:5 New International Version.

You, who are born of God, according to the marks laid down in his word well know that you are his children. Your hearts are assured before him. Everyone who has observed these marks can sense and know, of a truth at this very moment whether, in the sight of God, you are thus his child.

The question is not anything else. What are you now? Is the spirit of adoption now in your heart? Make the appeal to your own heart. Are you now the temple of the Holy Spirit? Does he now dwell within you?

Perhaps you are resting in a transaction made at your baptism, but does the Spirit of Christ and of glory now rest upon you, or has the light that was within you become darkness again? To you also I say, “You must be born again.”

You have read what are the marks of the children of God. All that do not have these on their souls, whether baptized or unbaptized, must needs receive them, or without doubt they will perish eternally.

Lord Jesus! May everyone who prepares his or her heart to seek your face receive that spirit of adoption, and be enabled to cry out, “Abba Father.” Let them now have power so to believe in Your name as to become children of God and know and sense redemption through Your blood and the forgiveness of sins.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

What is it that John Wesley is trying to get us to see in this first lesson on prayer? The title, “What are you Now?” answers that very question. In fact, Wesley tells us there is no other question.

He tells us to inventory our hearts to see if we have a witness that we are, indeed, a child of God. He first asks if the Spirit of adoption is now in our hearts. Romans 8:14-17 says,

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our Spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

Wesley next asks if we are now temples of the Holy Spirit, if the Spirit now dwells within us. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 exhorts us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” That begs the question, “Are you glorifying God in your body now? Are you fleeing immorality now? Are you living a life pleasing to God now? Or have you become as the world? Have you allowed the new normal of a liberal society that has thrown off what the Bible says in favor of whatever makes you feel good to infect your soul?”

Next, Wesley brings up the error of relying on your Baptism instead of relying on the Baptizer, the Spirit of Christ. He asks, “Is the light that was within you become darkness again?” Were your vows of Baptism simply a religious formula you recited thinking they would keep you out of hell? He says regardless if you are baptized or unbaptized, if you lack the marks of the children of God in your soul, you are lost eternally, and must be born again.

And what might these marks be? In Galatians 5:22-25, the apostle Paul tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

A born-again experience is going to produce fruit. If you are made alive by the Spirit, your walk, or outward manifestation of the life within, will show fruit. The Holy Spirit works from the inside out. Fruit hangs from a tree for all to see.

The Spirit prunes the deadwood from our lives. He waters and fertilizes the potential within us. You cannot produce lasting fruit on your own. As Paul says of authentic believers in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Destination & Destiny

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Are we as Christians sometimes confused about the difference between our destination and our destiny? Can we end up at one without realizing the other? To answer these questions, let’s first define what both destination and destiny are and then look at the Scriptures for further clarification.

Destination is “the place to which somebody or something is going or must go, or, a purpose for which somebody or something is intended.” In this two-sided definition of destination, the place and the purpose are the end result of the going and the intention. Synonyms for destination include purpose, end, target, aim, goal, objective, and intention. The destination seems, in this sense, to be one that can be set by the one going or intending.

Destiny is a bit more complicated. By definition, destiny is “the apparently predetermined and inevitable series of events that happen to somebody or something, or, the inner purpose of a life that can be discovered and realized, or, a force or agency that predetermines what will happen.”

In this three-sided definition of destiny, a series of events or a discoverable and realized inner purpose of life comes about by an apparently predetermined inevitability set in motion by a force or agency. Synonyms for destiny include fate, fortune, lot, luck, providence, vocation, and future. Destiny seems, in this sense, to be outside the control of somebody (or something), although it can be discovered and realized.

If we look at Scripture, we see that destination often determines destiny. What I mean by that is destination is often the seedbed where destiny is planted. Joseph’s original destination and purpose was to check on his brothers for his father. His brothers redirected his destination to Egypt where he discovered and realized his destiny. Moses set off to hide in the desert after killing the Egyptian and forty years later found his destiny at a burning bush. Naomi purposed to return to Israel after her husband and sons died and Ruth traveled with her and they both found their destinies.

In these examples, none of the persons mentioned were aware of how important
their destinations were to their destinies. And also notice that the destination of each had its challenges before the destiny became apparent. Destiny seldom comes as a welcoming committee at our arrival. Sometimes it takes years and seasons of life before it makes an appearance to us and asks us to acknowledge it.

Where do you find yourself today? Are you facing challenges in your present “destination”? I ask that question of you because I am also asking it of me. Sometimes we may feel God leading us to move on. That does legitimately happen by the Spirit’s direction. There are, however, many times when we take self-directed initiative because we’re uncomfortable.

Don’t be too quick to think a change of destination will hasten your destiny. Waiting can be hard, especially when we’re expecting to see the fruit of labor but have yet to see a blossom of promise on our tree. If we are seeking to change our destination in order to rid ourselves of seemingly negative circumstances, the circumstances may very well be the seedbed where our destiny is planted.

Just because that seed is currently out of sight does not mean it isn’t under the surface incubating, waiting for the warmth of God’s “fullness of time” to bring forth the sprouting. We look at the soil and lament about its condition. Yes, we may have natural discernment as to the soil’s condition, but only God has the spiritual discernment to its ultimate use to birth our destiny.

Our ultimate destiny is to be conformed to the image of God’s own Son. That begins to happen and can be fully realized, in the less than ideal circumstances we now find ourselves. The stress, circumstances, persecution, and tribulation of this life are the seedbeds where our destiny as the manifested sons of God is planted.

When Jesus came as Immanuel, He planted himself in some pretty hard soil. But He also found His destiny in that destination and because He did it first and calls us to follow, made the way for us to sprout and grow and produce in the hard places we live in. This earth wasn’t Jesus’ final destination and it isn’t ours either.

We know our final destination is heaven and yes, we can go there without realizing our ultimate destiny here. But if we seek the final destination without regard for the destiny that resides in our current destination, we fall short of the following Jesus has called us to and fall short of God’s will for us.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed and asked if there be another way. Could His sojourn to this destination come without the destiny that was awaiting Him? In praying that God’s will be done, He got His answer. What are we praying for? As believers who already know our final destination, our attention should be turned to asking God to reveal in us that which can serve the world we live in. Let us pray for transformation that brings conformity that brings confirmation to this hard world of the life of Christ working in us and through us for His glory.
Amen

Labels

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

We all have the tendency to attach labels to ourselves. We call ourselves certain things based on physical attributes, health issues, age, national heritage, marital status, profession, etc. Therefore I might call myself a slightly overweight, diabetic, mid-senior, Scandinavian, married minister. Now I will surely modify some of those tags in the future based on changes in me within those categories. I intend to lose more weight, so at some point, I might be able to drop the slightly overweight. I will move from mid-senior citizen to just plain old-timer soon enough. I’ll always be Scandinavian. You get the picture. Some things are constants and some things change.

The definitions of many things are changing in our culture. Sometimes the meanings of categories change based on certain criteria. What our government considers the poverty level changes as adjustments are made for inflation. The definition of marriage has radically changed and will probably continue to change as new criteria are added to the definition. As long as the union of one man and one woman is still in the mix, I’ll still consider myself married. Sometimes it’s the addition of criteria to the definition and sometimes it’s the subtraction of criteria.

Of course, I always have the option of keeping a tag based on my own criteria, regardless of how others may change it around me. If the union of one man and one woman is dropped from the definition of marriage, I am still married by my definition which includes that criterion, although legally it may not be so. But that would require a lot of explanation as the new definition is accepted into common use. Remember gay used to mean happy.

In other cases, although the official definition of a label does not change, the actions of people using that label change to the point that it represents something outside its definition. If the political party you belong to began to support candidates and issues that were way outside the official party platform, and the party was beginning to be known by these extremes, would you want to continue to be associated with that party? At some point, one has to decide whether to keep the label or discard it. The options at that point are going labelless or creating a new label.

I recently created a new label for myself in the category of Christian practice. I now consider myself post-charismatic. Why did I ditch the old and adopt the new? It was a combination of me changing internally along with the fact of disliking what the charismatic label has come to represent in the hands of those who have driven it outside its original definition. In case you’re wondering, I have not forsaken the charismata. I believe in the gifts and function in the gifts. It’s the Charismatic Movement, in its current form, that I feel compelled to distance myself from, both in word (label) and deed. The original charismatic platform has not changed, but extremes in doctrines and practice by some wearing the label have created a new perception of what charismatic is and who charismatics are.

Do I need the label of charismatic to function in the gifts? I do not. Do I need the label post-charismatic to distance myself from false doctrine and extremes of practice? No, I don’t. Of course, what we are talking about here are not actual labels, but ways of thinking. A renewing of the mind, a paradigm shift comes by the Spirit through the word, or is that by the word through the Spirit? Oh my! Something else I will have to unravel. Some days my mind just works too hard.

let’s look at the phrase “Charismatic Movement.” The word charismatic is actually a combination of charis (grace), ma (the result of), and ic, from the Greek ikos, meaning “being like” or “having characteristics of.” A “t” is added before the “ic” if the base word ends in a vowel (asthma-t-ic for another example). So charismatic can be rendered being like or having characteristics of one embodying the results of grace. That is a good thing. I’m all in on that.

One definition of the word movement is “a group of people who share the same goal and work together to achieve it.” So we might say the peace movement is a group of people who share the goal of peace and work together to achieve it. We could say the pro-life movement is a group of people who share the goal of defending and honoring life and are working together to achieve it.

The problem here is not in the definition or the goal, but how individuals or sub-groups within the movement choose to act out the definition and achieve the goal. Do differing methods of achieving a goal cause a movement to become differing movements with the same name or goal? Do those committed to non-violent protest outside an abortion clinic and those who vandalize or bomb the abortion clinic consider they are working together to achieve their common goal of defending and honoring life? Did MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X, working toward the same goal in the Civil Rights Movement, use the same methods?

In Chapter 25 of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, King says of Malcolm X, “He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problems, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views-at least insofar as I understand where he now stands. I don’t want to sound self-righteous, or absolutist, or that I think I have the only truth, the only way. Maybe he does have some of the answers. I know that I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And, in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.”

So I guess my observation when it comes to movements is that when men get involved it is easy for the original goal to become muddied in the midst of working it out. Sometimes just labeling something puts it in a box never intended for it. When man tries to institutionalize what was never intended to be institutionalized, what happens over time? What does Jesus think of the institutionalizing of His original goal and vision for His followers? Remember it was the movement of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost that brought life to the church, not a man labeled or institutionalized Charismatic Movement. This movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer is the only movement we should be concerned with.

Serious Symptoms

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by EVG Kowalievska on Pexels.com

When I go to the doctor with an ailment, she will always ask first about my symptoms because it is from these symptoms and the subsequent examination that a diagnosis will come. She asks about my symptoms, sympathizes with my symptoms, and may even offer remedies for my symptoms, but she always looks for the deeper cause of my symptoms because the symptoms only manifest openly an unknown problem.

In 2007 into 2008 I had just come through a hard divorce, relocation, and other major disappointments that seemed to pile up on me. That’s never easy spiritually or emotionally. I was hurt; feelings rejected, and remember crying myself to sleep for months on end. I was manifesting some alarming symptoms in my body, as well. It was extremely hard for me to stay awake. I would often shut down mid-sentence and act as if nothing had happened, almost like narcolepsy. I found it very hard to drive without falling asleep. Sometimes I would nod off at stoplights. One day I rolled my car into the car in front of me when I fell asleep and took my foot off the brake pedal. Another time I fell asleep while driving and wrecked my car and damaged several others along the side of the road. Luckily no one was hurt. If I went on the freeway, I would have to stop at every rest area and nap, sometimes several hours at a time to just make it to the next rest area. It became hard to walk. At times I had no energy to do normal tasks and people were confused by my lack of focus and seeming lack of participation. When I missed my grandson’s third birthday party because of exhaustion, I decided to check myself into the hospital to see what the matter was.

When I entered the hospital it was immediately evident that something was terribly wrong. My complete blood count (CBC) was so low they wondered how I was even alive. Over the next week, I underwent blood transfusions and many tests and procedures to try and determine the unknown cause of my symptoms. I knew that on the last day of my stay when they took a bone marrow sample that I wasn’t suffering from a garden variety illness. As they took the sample from my hip, I knew I was wrestling an angel, and not a God-sent one at that. An improved diet and Geritol were not going to fix this severe anemia.

After two weeks of waiting, I was called to the local cancer center. The doctor told me the good news was that I didn’t have cancer. The bad news was that I had a bone marrow disease that was a lot like cancer. Myelofibrosis is a disorder of the bone marrow, in which the marrow is replaced by scar (fibrous) tissue. This makes the marrow unable to produce blood normally. So after a trip to the regional medical center 90 miles away where I was educated as to the treatment of my disease, I began mentally preparing for a year of my life in chaos:. a move to live near the regional medical center, Chemotherapy, blood marrow transplant, extended hospital stay, and convalescing within a minimum distance from the medical center in case of complications afterward.

I returned home from that meeting with a heavy heart. With other health concerns, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the process. So for the next four months, I received weekly blood transfusions at the local cancer center waiting for a call from the regional center that they were ready to begin the treatment process. In the middle of this scenario, I married again. Jan was such a help to me during this time and since, and spoke to me prophetically that God was going to heal me and assured me I was not going to die. There were many days, though, that I wasn’t quite as sure.

The blood transfusions were scheduled a week apart. I remember waking up on the mornings of my appointments and crying because I felt so weak. I was literally bleeding to death without a sign of it on the outside. No bullet holes, no exit wounds, no gashes, no gore; just not enough blood being produced by my fibrous marrow. Those were dark mornings. I could feel death encroaching on my space.

Just days before the regional center called to set an appointment to begin the marrow typing and matching segment of treatment, the pharmacologist at the local cancer center convinced me, after several previous attempts, to discontinue a medication I had been taking for several years. It was an astronomically high chance that the medication had brought on the Myelofibrosis, so I had been reluctant to drop a medication that had worked so well for what it was prescribed for. Within a month of discontinuing the medication, my blood count was consistently at normal levels and continues to this day. God used John, the pharmacologist, to go beneath the diagnosis to find the true cause.

Even though the cause was discovered and the disease was dismissed, the effects of the disease lingered. Although most of the symptoms went away there were still weaknesses that I had to overcome. Over time, the bulk of those weaknesses are distant memories. Now I’d like to look at my story from a spiritual standpoint.

Our society is full of symptoms: broken marriages, moral decay, abortion, and oppression of women to name just a few. What we see is manifested at the top level; they are what our society is known for. And we spend a lot of time, money, energy, and Facebook posts sympathizing with or opposing, and offering condemnation or remedy for what we call the ills of society. Much like my physical symptoms of exhaustion and disorientation exhibited in and through my body, plus the ever-escalating crises associated with it, our society is a mess and doesn’t realize why.

At a level deeper we have disease or dis-ease. Paul carefully catalogs these dis-eases in his epistles to the Galatians, using names like adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, and revellings (Gal 5:19-21). He adds a few more in other epistles. Even though some of these diseases may have the same names as some of the associated symptoms, they are indeed harbored at a deeper level. Myelofibrosis was the disease in my life that was responsible for the symptoms. It was at a deeper level, a level that only manifested in my body. It’s very important that we do not confuse the symptoms and the underlying diseases contributing to them or we spend too much energy on the symptoms and not the diseases behind them.

God identified and dealt with the underlying cause of our disease: Sin. This is different from the sins, or diseases. Sin is the cause and can only be dealt with by the Remedy, Jesus Christ. We need the power of His blood as much as I needed the power in the transfusions I received. The cause of my disease of Myelofibrosis was a pharmacological one. Once that cause was dealt with things began to change. The root cause was removed and within a very short time, my blood count returned to normal.

When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, the Sin in our lives is dealt with. It is given the fatal blow which opens the door for regeneration at our deepest level, the spirit. We are given a new “cause.” Our new cause, administered by the Holy Spirit, is life-giving and life-affirming. The former cause was death.

Our problems, as Christians, seem to lie in the middle level of our makeup, the soul realm. Even though Sin has been dealt with, we still have to deal with the sins that continue to linger on for a season. God doesn’t expect us to do this by ourselves, because we can’t. He does, however, expect us to cooperate with Him and count those sins as dead and come under the tutelage of the new cause. The Holy Spirit that regenerates us is the same Spirit that sanctifies us. Just as we asked God to initially forgive us and we repented of our Sin, we must continue to ask forgiveness and continue to repent for our sins. The Holy Spirit will help us to recognize them for what they are (conviction) and help us to turn from them (repentance). This brings forgiveness, and a new resolve to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” (sanctifying grace) (Heb 12:1). Thus we do gain liberty, that is, are set free from the power of sin, from glory to glory, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” We must never think that His prevenient grace (that draws men to God even before their need is realized) is a one-time drawing to Himself. We are transformed from glory to glory because He draws us from glory to glory, continually, perpetually.

So in examining the symptoms in your own life or of those around us, we must first determine the cause that’s fueling their symptoms. If they are not saved, their cause will keep leading them to dis-ease until they yield to God’s prevenient grace and come to Him. If they are saved, they have a new cause, but may still be struggling with dis-ease as they grow in maturity. In either case, your friendship, conversation, kindness, love, and patience are agents of that grace that will help to draw them to a first surrender or subsequent surrender. Don’t just look at the symptoms. God digs deeper with us and we must dig deeper with others with a kind and loving concern.

Like a Tree- Lesson 5: Pruning

By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman

Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on Pexels.com

There are reasons why pruning is very beneficial to a tree’s health, fruitfulness, and
longevity. These reasons all have spiritual meaning for us as well. Let’s go through these considerations and make an application in our own lives.

But before we look at trees, let’s look at what Jesus says in John 15:1-8. Even though
Jesus is using vines in His teaching, the same principles apply:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it,
that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I
have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am
the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in
me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast
them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father
glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

I want to bring out the two main points in this teaching: 1. removal of branches from the vine happens for two distinct reasons, and 2. the ultimate goal is increased fruitfulness. Remember this as we move to examples of trees.

The first general principle in pruning a tree is to remove all the dead and dying wood
first. You may have heard the cliché about getting rid of the deadwood. Cliché or not, it is still valid. Spiritually, deadwood is the parts of us that are not productive and not contributing to our overall path of growth and health. Paul talks a lot about “putting off the old man.” One example is in Colossians 3:8-9, where it reads, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;”

Deadwood on a tree is pretty clear to see. It may keep its shine for a short time, but very shortly, its deadness is apparent to all who view it. Our job should be to recognize it for what it is and remove it ourselves. The term “put off” means to forcibly pull off and throw away from you. Removing the deadwood, like the other pruning principles we will discuss, is not a one-time event. Like most things in our Christian walk, they are perpetual.

We must continually mortify the deeds of our flesh, as Paul says in Romans 8:12-13: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” So to live, our flesh nature must die.

The second principle in pruning trees is the removing of branches that are crossing one another and rubbing. Spiritually, these crossing branches are conflicting ways of thinking in our lives. Jeremiah exhorts Israel in 1 Kings 18:21, “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”

Halt here has two meanings; to hesitate or to be lame. We see this in people who are said to speak out of both sides of their mouths. Their thoughts, and therefore their actions, are at odds with each other. This unsettledness in their thinking creates lameness and hinders moving forward on the right path. It keeps a person in a state of childishness. As Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14-15, “That we henceforth be no
more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” In this pruning of the crossing or rubbing branches, only one branch needs to be removed. Save the branch that lines up with God’s word and get rid of the other one.

The third principle in the pruning of trees is the pruning off of parallel branches. If
branches are growing parallel and too close together from the tree’s trunk, the top branch will shade the branch right beneath it when it leaves out. This condition is critical to remove on fruit trees. As we discussed in Lesson 1, light is vital to the health of a tree. Although both branches may be equally healthy, one has to go for the fruitfulness of the other. Spiritually, I see this as overextending ourselves. We want to do the right things and do our best at them. But by taking on too much of a load, our productivity and quality of work suffer. So it comes down to excusing ourselves from some tasks to be our best at others. There is no shame here, just the reality of resource management.

The fourth and final principle in the pruning of trees is pruning for symmetry. Spiritually, this has to do with keeping a balance. We talked briefly about this in Lesson 2, referring to a proper balance between light and water, word and spirit. We will again use Proverbs 11:1, which says, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” The application I want to make here is a balance in our natural lives. Proper rest, nutrition, exercise, hygiene, and the like, show up on the outside of us. Symmetry, after all, has a lot to do with how something looks. We not only want to be fruitful trees but beautiful trees as well. Taking care of bodies is important to God. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are
not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

We have a loving Father as the husbandman of the estate. Suppose we allow Him to go about His business, as only He knows how, and cooperate with Him in His desire for much fruitfulness in our lives. In that case, we will fulfill His longing for us to be all He created us to be.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Pruning is necessary for the health of the tree and fruitfulness. The first reason to prune is to remove deadwood. Reflect on this and ask yourself, “Do I have areas in my life that are hard, dead, and non-productive that need to be removed? Write those dead branches down. Ask God to remove them. Know that He makes a clean, sterile cut that will bring healing to your life.
  2. Are there crossing branches in your life? Do you struggle with conflicts in your thinking that cause you to hesitate or stumble? What are these conflicts? Write them down and ask the Holy Spirit to give you clarity from His word.
  3. Are there parallel branches in your life? Are there too many good things that require your attention? Are you overextended? Ask God to show you which areas of involvement need to be cut from your schedule. Write them down. Take action to lighten your load.
  4. Is there symmetry in your life? Are you taking care of yourself physically? Read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and reflect on what Paul says. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He wants you to make adjustments. Write these down and take action.
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