Category Archives: spiritual discipline

Seeking the humble and contrite?

‘Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.’ (Isaiah 66v2).

In these verses, God reminds the people of the relationship that exists between Creator and created. In fact it permeates the whole of the Book of Isaiah – click to read Isaiah 66 in that it is a story of people who want to obey but some find themselves too easily lured away into worshipping other things. Things that are contrary to the worship of God and will harm them in the long run.

Hence , God’s proclamation that those who remain obedient to Him are the ones  (that the Divine) will look on with favour. A people who are humble in their attitude to God and others . A community who are contrite in their spirit,  revering God’s word and seeking Him with all their heart. This is what God is about and seeking.


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Understanding ourselves?

‘Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.’
(Ecclesiastes 7v9)

Many years ago, I read Watchman’s Nee’s book ‘Release of the Spirit’ then later on his epic ‘The Spiritual Man.’ Both of which have helped to think of the ‘soul’ as the receptacle in which God’s Spirit operates. Now, while this verse seems strange in the sense that it suggests our spirit can be provoked to anger, there are three things to consider here:

  1. During the time of Ecclesiastes- long before the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit did not live within the person but came upon them at God’s direction to facilitate  ‘one off’ acts to achieve God’s will.
  2. Because of this, it’s quite possible the term ‘spirit’ is used here to reference a sense of the person’s emotional response as to what is happening.
  3.  The understanding of our own human spirit is different to that of God’s Spirit. The human spirit being carnal in nature as easily influenced by our human (carnal) nature.

However you understand the term ‘spirit’, one thing is sure – we as humans can easily be provoked to anger where rash actions land us in trouble. That is why we can say something that is cruel in the heat of the moment or hold on to a grudge even though slighted by someone many years earlier. In such times, the advice offered in the wisdom Book of Ecclesiastes is to not be quickly provoked because ‘anger resides in the lap of fools.’


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The love of God versus love of other?

‘He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood.‘ (Ezekiel 8v3)
Wow! This verse is for the prophets! The imagery is stunning as Ezekiel is lifted by the hair of his head to see:
  1. the divide between heaven and earth
  2. an idol positioned close to the inner court of God’s temple.

Whichever way you read this, something is wrong in Israel. It seems that not only have the people  forgotten their God but some are also recognising and trying to supplant fertility idols in  their acts of worship. (NB There’s no other reason for it to be so close to the inner court).

For me, whether it is a prophetic vision or a dream, the thing that strikes me is the image of Ezekiel being lifted from the ground by his hair. I don’t have much hair thesedays but I know all too well the excruciating pain that accompanies having one’s hair pulled for a moment let alone an ascent to somewhere between heaven and earth.

In summary, the message of this verse is that God is serious about idolatory. Why? Because it breaks relationship. It diminishes that which God wants to share with us. And of course, each of us knows the things that we sometimes allow to take precedence over our life. But this is not God’s desire for our lives as the Divine always seeks us to be free and full of His Holy Spirit. Our challenge is to respond to that call.

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Are you pursuing God’s wisdom over everything else?

‘Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.’
Proverbs 2 v18
Like so much reading of scripture, context is everything! Indeed, to read v18 in isolation is to miss what the chapter is all about which centres on our fidelity to God, the wisdom to not fall away and how to avoid being seduced by earthly things and pleasures.
And of course the opposite of wisdom is the desire to pursue poor choices and allow oneself to be seduced – a decision that is not differentiated by gender as both male and female can fall foul of temptation. ( I add this as the writer of Proverbs 2 uses a man in the illustration). Hence, in context, the verses read:
‘Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.[a]
18 Surely her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.’
In other words: like a man who is easily led astray by the promise of pleasure, those who allow themselves to yield to temptation (rather than seeking after God) will soon find themselves controlled by that desire to its inevitable outcome.
With this in mind, choose today to pursue God’s wisdom and knowledge over everything else. By doing this,  true obedience to God will help us to avoid the snares and obstacles that will cause us to trip and fall short in the journey ahead.

Continue reading Are you pursuing God’s wisdom over everything else?

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Following God’s Spirit or your shadow mission?

‘When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.’ (Psalm 146v4)

My first question when reading any passage of scripture is:

Who is saying what to whom? I do this because its important to understand the psalm in the context in which it is written as often a verse in isolation will not do it  – read Psalm 146 by clicking here 

Reading the whole passage, what we see is that the psalmist’s ire is not towards everyone but rather those who govern and make decisions in their own strength. Leaders who end up unable to fulfil that which they have promised and even the hidden things of their shadow mission – two things that are common in our politically turbulent times. So what should we to take away from this?


  1. Each of us- whether we believe in God or not – possess a spirit recepticle through which we can commune and access God’s Holy Spirit within us.
  2. Physical death will result in our spirit leaving the physical body as it returns to God.
  3. Each of us – whether we realise it or not – will at times have what John Ortberg describes as a ‘shadow mission’ – something that appears godly but is really about our own elevation so we will be noticed/respected by others.
  4. As each of us has a finite number of years, we each will do well to live with that reality in mind, seeking to do the things of God Kingdom while here on earth.



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Understanding God’s promise and provision?

‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.’ (Matthew 12 v20-21)

This week we take a momentary break from considering the activity of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament history to reflect on an incident recorded in Matt 12.

It’s the Sabbath and Jesus and his disciples  are walking through a field (v1,2) picking the corn and eating it. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem for Jesus or his followers but to the Prarisees that had spotted them doing this, it was a grevious offence  because it was considered as an act of defiance against God and his rules.

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, reminding them of how King David once helped himself and his men to the consecrated bread in the temple, angers the Pharisees even more who (unable to counter his argumant or defend their zealous actions) leave for home – but Jesus is not finished with them yet because:

‘…going on from that place, he went into their synagogue,  and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus,they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.(v9-14)

But what has all this got to do with Isaiah’s prophesy about how Messiah (Jesus) will neither quarrel nor cry out, nor break a bruised reed? To understand this we must look to Jesus’ generosity to his detractors, refusing to chasticse or speak revenge on them. Indeed, in the same way he was gentle to those who would persecute him and those in their care, but he is loving and forgiving too.



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What it means to be delivered and why?

‘Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.’ (Psalm 31v5)

I always find it strange how many Christians see this verse as directly applicable to their own life and trials when clearly the resonance is squarely with that which happened  to Jesus. This is not to make light of what befalls us in that we too may be so overwhelmed to the point where we cry out for deliverance – though unlike Jesus, our prayer for rescue is often directed to us being spared the pain and anguish of what is to befall us.
Unlike us, Jesus’ cry for deliverance occurs becasue the weight of the world and all its sin  has been placed upon his shoulders.  However, unlike us, Jesus does not ask to be delivered from the pain of what he is carrying but rather to be delivered in spite of it. To be strengthened and emboldened to bear the weight of sin that will come upon him and not be found wanting by seeking to be freed from the task that is ahead. Something that in our straightened times, each of us would do well to remember…

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No half measures…

‘(Ahab) sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.’      (2Kings 21v6)

‘Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord.’ (2 Kings 23v24)

What a contrast!  Ahab sacrifices his own child in the fire, practices divination, consults mediums and spiritists to find out the meaning of omens he has received. Josiah on the other hand, places God’s agenda front and foremost as he removes the mediums and spiritists and every idol that causes the people to stray from God.

In reading this, I’m reminded of Saul’s earlier failure in which he declares war on the mediums and spiritists only to later on disguise himself and visit a woman to ask her to consult a spirit on his behalf. The woman – fearing he will kill her – reprimands his duplicity, showing in that moment more integrity than the King himself. Now, compare this with…

…Josiah who removes all things that will prove a stumbling block to the people and for what reason? To fulfil the requirements of (God’s) law.

Question: What separates Josiah from King Saul and Ahab?

Answer:    A desire to fulfil and obey God’s law – no half measures and no looking back.


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King Saul – a case study in failure to deal with pride?

‘So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 1Samuel 28 v8-9

The thing I find most striking about this account is that the woman – in response to the King’s request to call up a spirit from the grave – shows more integrity than Saul in that moment.  “Surely you know what Saul has done.” Or put another way, ‘Saul, you of all people should know as you are the King who has  driven away  mediums and spiritists like myself!’

At this point, the woman thinks that King Saul is intent on tricking her so that she can be arrested and killed – hence her response:  “Why have you set a trap… to bring about my death?” Of course, what the woman doesn’t realise is how far the mighty man has fallen. How far Saul has transgressed and broken relationship with God to the point where he is prepared to turn to the dark side rather than face Him and be presented with the reality of his vindictive life and damaged decision-making.

In truth, all of us will at some point in our life find ourselves so desperate and far away from God that we will seek out our own way to move forward (without God). Saul’s issue was his pride. Setting it aside by admitting his weakness and mistakes was his problem!

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What can we learn from Gideon, Jephthah and Samson?

  • ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.’ (Judges 6v34).
  • ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.’ (Judges 11v29)
  • ‘The Spirit of the Lord began to stir (Samson) while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.’ (Judges 13v25)
  • ‘The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon (Samson) so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.’ (Judges 14v6)

What I find most interesting about these four scriptures is  what happens when the Holy Spirit come upon a person. Gideon is in a state of readiness.  We know this because when the Spirit falls on him, he rises to the challenge by blowing the trumpet to summon others to follow him. Likewise,  Jephthah is directed by God’s Spirit to advance against the Ammonites. However….

… Samson is a different kettle of fish. Stirred  by the Spirit from birth,  it appears that this judge is out of sorts with God. Confronted by a lion, God equips Samson with mighty strength and he tears it to pieces. However, speaking with his parents, Samson doesn’t reveal to anyone how God saved his life that day – which begs the question ‘why?’

Well – if the rest of Samson’s life is anything to go by – it seems that he had a real issue with pride. For me, he didn’t tell his father and mother about killing the lion because to do so was to admit his dependence on God for his strength. Presumably, he thought people would think less of him. And yet, it’s his pride and reluctance to remain attentive to God  that leads him to flirt with danger until he is eventually captured and his power and physical sight removed from him.

In this hopeless place, Samson finally acknowledges that it is God who provides his strength and prays for its return so that he can bring down the temple down on himself and his captors. God obliges and Samson succeeds but the story is not one of a hero but rather a tragedy. Unlike Gideon and Jephthah who learnt to be attentive to God’s Spirit and responsive to the call to go, Samson refused and paid a heavy price for it.  Something that we can all learn from.


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