FIGHT: the first battlefield

Every week for the next 7 weeks as part of the Essence teaching series we’ll be posting videos & blogs to help us get to grips with our new identity in Christ. Be sure to visit our Facebook pages regularly for resources designed to help you grow.
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Let’s start by considering an important principle.

Take a few minutes to read over the Bible verses listed below. Consider as you read them what they might have in common:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 


For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

2 Corinthians 10:4-5


Did you find a common thread woven through? I’m sure there are plenty of things they have in common but the reason I picked them is because of their mention of the mind and our thought life:

  • Be transformed by renewing your mind (Romans 12:2)
  • Whatever is honourable, whatever is… think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
The principle is this:

What we think about matters. What we allow ourselves to dwell on, matters. What we play on repeat in our heads over and over, matters. It all matters.

In my experience, what goes on in the grey matter between my ears has a huge impact on my joy, faith, peace, and contentment. My thought life greatly affects the quality of life I’m enjoying. 
As a new Christian I kept a journal in which I documented my thoughts about faith. I remember on one occasion after seeing something quite miraculous take place, writing in my journal: ‘never forget! God is real, God is Good. Never forget! I’m going to live for God, wholeheartedly, 100%!!’

That ought to have settled it then; wholehearted, determined Christianity from then on. Except that it wasn’t, and it didn’t. 
A few weeks later I’d done exactly what I’d told myself not to do, I’d forgotten. I’d concluded that God wasn’t real, that if he was real then he didn’t love me and wasn’t helping me. As such I wanted to quit as a follower of Christ. 
That process has been (and still is to some extent) a common one for me. It’s a process of remembering and forgetting, remembering and forgetting, remembering and… you get the idea. What I find reassuring however is that I’m not the only one who battles like this. For the past 10 years I’ve had a front row seat on many people’s different experiences and Christian lives. I’ve watched again and again as others have gone through the same cycle I’ve just described. 
The apostle Paul (who wrote the Bible verses above) seemed to be aware of this problem as well. He understood that being a Christian requires a diligent and careful approach to our thought life. That’s why he wrote so often about it.

Here’s some questions to consider:

How much are you aware of the positive or negative impact of your thoughts? 

Do you ever find yourself walking to the shops but daydreaming about disaster?

Are you aware of where your mind wanders to most often?

At the end of the day, if I were to present you with a highlights tape of your thoughts what would the repeating themes be? 

We must start to take seriously the responsibility to discern the truth from the lies in our minds. There is a call to arms in the whole area of our thinking and we can’t afford to go AWOL – too much is at stake.
Weekly Challenge

To help, here’s a little challenge to complete…

By Friday have memorised the statement of truth below taken from the Freed For Purpose course. Find a friend who’s doing the same and at the end of the week, test each other:

I recognise that there is only one true and living God, who exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is worthy of all honour, praise and glory as the one who made all things and holds all things together. (see Exodus 20:2,3; Colossians 1:16,17)

FIGHT: for joy

Scripture

In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore. — Psalm 16:11

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4

Though you do not see him you love him and you believe in him and you are filled with inexpressible joy. — 1 Peter 1:8 

Observation

The Christian life involves a fight. We’ve been looking at that concept together now for several weeks. We are told to stand against the devil and his demons and to not be unaware of the Enemy’s schemes against us. We can’t pretend like we’re living during peacetime, we’re not.

As a Christian I believe God wants me to be happy and, since he wants for me to be happy, I have a responsibility to fight for my joy and contentment. Consider the scriptures we’ve just read. God is happy, overflowing with and possessing joy evermore, pleasures in abundance. We as Christians share in his joy. Peter describes the experience of Christians everywhere when he says ‘although you haven’t seen him face to face, in the flesh, you love him and… are filled with inexpressible joy.’

Let’s consider a few facts about God and joy:

  1. FACT: God is happy. ‘Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,’ Psalm 135:6
  2. FACT: Jesus is happy, ‘God has anointed you with the all of gladness above your companions.’ Hebrews 1:9
  3. FACT: We are made to know God. ‘All can know you from the least, to the greatest.’ Hebrews 8:11
  4. FACT: Knowing God makes us happy ‘…filled with inexpressible joy.’ (see above)
  5. FACT: Sin offers the pleasure and happiness we were made to find in God. Deuteronomy 28 for example.
With that in place the question becomes ‘how do I seek my happiness in God, who is the eternal and ongoing source of joy, rather than in the fleeting and shallow pleasures of sin?’ Now, that’s a good question.
We’ve shared before as elders about ways that we seek joy in God. Andrew calls it ‘joy fuel’ (or #joyfuel if you prefer).
Some of the things Andrew’s got on his list of ‘how to fight for joy in God’ are:
  1. Put Jesus before church/ministry. Make bread & wine a regular activity in your life.
  2. Use electronic media wisely. Avoid the sites and places that rob you of joy and instead find blogs and video clips that lift your spirits rather than drain them.
  3. Get the relationship between body and soul the right way round. As the body behaves, the soul often feels. We dance our way into delight rather than waiting to delight in God before we dance. God deserves our noise, our kneeling, our clapping and our cheering. We give it to him, and our soul is reminded and responds with joy.
  4. Read the scriptures. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the Bible as a book. ‘Bite off’ small chunks if it helps and spend time reflecting on them until the light of revelation floods you with joy. 
  5. Fast sometimes. To fast means ‘to fasten ourself to God’ and clinging fast to him gives us more of him; and he is happy.  
  6. Speak positively. Words have the power to create or to destroy. As the mouth speaks, the heart believes.
  7. Get baptised in the Spirit again and again. Wait on God’s Spirit, until he fills you. Being baptised means to be ‘plunged into’. When you were baptised in water, you knew about it. When you’re baptised in the Spirit, you know about it. 
Which one’s can you identify with, pick up and apply to your life as they are? Go for it. Fight for joy. Don’t settle for drinking from puddles when God has promised rivers of living water to flow out from your inmost being. 
Weekly Challenge

This week, your challenge is to come up with you own list of what you could do and where you could go to get happy in God. Is it a regular meeting with a close friend? If so, schedule it in. Is it a private Bible study? If so, schedule it in. 
We do not get to know God accidentally, we do not get happy in God without meaning to. 
Find out what makes you happy in God and make a habit out of it. 
Try starting with a list of 5 things, five pieces of #joyfuel if you will. Then, if you’re really serious about joy, think of some activities that correspond to particular ‘rhythms’ or ‘seasons’ in your life. Try thinking of 2 weekly, 2 monthly and 2 annual activities you could do. For me, that would look like:
Weekly:
1. At least 3 mornings of Bible journalling and prayer
2. Praying with Amy at least 3 times a week
Monthly:
1. Spend time with a good friend who makes me laugh and encourages me
2. Go on a prayer walk in the countryside
Annual:
1. Fast from food for a day or two (usually during the Hunger rhythms at Kings)
2. Have a holiday where a switch off all phones and computers
What would it look like for you? 
Have fun. Seriously, have fun!

God The Father: Bruises the Son

Scripture


Today’s full reading is John 18:1-14

Jesus commanded Peter, ‘put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’
John 18:11

Observation

Jesus is clear. What’s happening to him is from the Father.

He rebukes Peter on that basis: ‘this has come to me from the Father.’ Jesus trusts his Father and desires to do what the Father sent him to do. His rebuke of Peter is a question that sounds a little like ‘do you know better than my Father?!’

Jesus is incredulous. The Father is in charge of all things and is over all things. The Father has given his Son this ‘cup’ and now the Son must drink it.

The cup he mentions is the same cup he was agonising over in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup is the wrath of the Father, the cross and the abandonment Jesus will experience by his Father. Having already asked for ‘another way’ Jesus is now convinced that this is the only way. It is certainly the way his Father wants him to travel. Having prayed that prayer and arrived at his conclusion, Jesus is ready.

Peter on the other hand hasn’t been on this emotional journey and arrived at the same conclusion. Peter is only concerned with protecting Jesus and getting him enthroned in place of the Romans.

Let’s consider the Father mentioned here.

We begin by reminding ourselves that everything else we’ve seen about him until this point is still true. At this moment it’s extremely important for us to keep that in our minds.

With that in place it’s clear that this moment, this cup, is not something the Father has issued to his Son easily. This is difficult and costly for both of them, and true as that is – Jesus still drank it, the Father still gave it.

Here we see a God who willingly and without coercion gives up his Son to death. See the Father who allows his Son to drink poison in order that we all may be reconciled to him. This is the final nail in the coffin of the austere, strict and malicious Father God of our nightmares.

This act by the Father was on that broke his heart. This act of braking his Son, broke him. A Father like the one Jesus has been describing to us throughout this series certainly couldn’t have been left unaffected by these events.

Prayer


Father Thank you. Thank you for the glorious truth contained here. Thank you for your commitment to me and to us. You’re a good good father and I am thrilled to belong to you. I gladly bow my knee to you today, gladly trust you knowing that you would not ask me to do anything you’ve not been through yourself. You’re a Father who identifies with us in our pain. Thank you.

God The Father: Eternal Life

Scripture


Today’s Bible verse is:

‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to all those you have given to him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.’
John 17:1

Observation

‘This is eternal life’ Jesus says, and surely whatever follows next must get our full attention.

This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.

Eternal life, that is never ending, full blooded, never giving up, never running out, enhanced life in HD, that sort of life comes from and is found in knowing the Father and the Son. Not just knowing about them, not occasionally firing off a prayer to them when we’re in need but knowing them. God is a person after all.

This sort of knowledge is less like knowing a recipe or knowing a map and more like knowing my wife. I know her but I’m also always getting to know her. My knowing of her deepens as our intimacy increases. Although I would say that I know her quite well now, I also know that I will never reach the point of saying ‘I know enough about her now – she is fully known.

How much more is that true about God the Father? God is infinitely more exciting and mysterious, perplexing and familiar majestic and nearby.

Application

Jesus says that this is eternal life. Eternal life is not something that happens when I die, it is something that ‘happens’ (or begins) the moment I begin a relationship with the Father. ‘When I met her I felt as though my life had finally begun’ is a sentiment often expressed by someone in love, it’s just that that sentiment finds its fullest expression and fulfilment in knowing the Father.

When we enter into a relationship with him it is as though Shakespeare’s words become true of our lives: all that’s past is preface.

Everything that went before is merely the beginning and introduction of what can happen now.

So how do we come to know the Father? First of all we admit. We admit that we’ve been living a life of worshiping other gods. By that I mean we admit that we’ve been searching for meaning and fulfilment in everything and anything other than God, the Father who made us and loves us. Second of all we turn away from that life. We’re sorry for our idolatry. Thirdly we ask him to forgive us. We believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was the payment and punishment that our idolatry deserved. We reach out to Jesus and take hold of him, trusting his sacrifice for our acquittal. Fourthly we begin. We begin a life of knowing him, we ask him to teach us, lead us, and fill us with his Spirit.

Admit. Turn. Ask. Begin. Simples.

Prayer


Thank you Father for the eternal life that is mine in Christ. Thank you that by repenting of my old way of life I entered into a new life of knowing you. Thank you that that life is eternal. Please help me to know you all the more. Amen.