Bible in One Year

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September 1 Day 244

Find Your Purpose in Life

‘What a waste!’ said a woman to my friend. This woman was talking about Bishop Sandy Millar, who had practised very successfully as a lawyer for ten years, before leaving it all behind to become an ordained minister in the church.

‘A waste?’ exclaimed my outraged friend. ‘Yes,’ said the woman, ‘Such a waste! He could have made a fortune and been at the very top of the legal profession. Think of what he could have achieved!’

‘Think of what he has achieved!’ replied my friend – who was thinking of the impact of Sandy’s ministry on thousands of people around the world whose lives had been changed, marriages enriched and churches renewed; those who found faith, love, hope and peace through encountering Jesus Christ as a result of Sandy’s ministry.

Many have given up a successful career, a high salary and – in the eyes of the world – all their prospects, in order to serve God in ‘full-time ministry’ with little or no pay. They know that theirs is a high calling and purpose that far exceeds what the world can promise them.

Of course, those called to serve God in their secular places of work have an equally high purpose and calling, if they are doing what they are doing in order to please God and for the sake of his kingdom. The key is not the job or career – but the goal you pursue.

So many people waste their lives. They have no purpose, meaning or goal. Other people do have a goal, but it is the wrong one. They end up chasing something that is ultimately meaningless. Many reach the top of the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall. Purpose in life is far more important than property or possessions. Having more to live with is no substitute for having more to live for.

It has been said that ‘the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why’. God created you with a purpose in mind (2 Corinthians 5:5).

August 31 Day 243

Fix your Eyes on the Invisible

Do you ever get discouraged? Do you sometimes feel, ‘Is this all worthwhile? Are we actually getting anywhere?’ Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.

Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).

Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. The Bible is very different. It stresses the importance of the invisible – the inward and unseen aspects of our character: the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour. ‘For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). The invisible is eternal.

August 30 Day 242

How to Have a Spiritual Facelift

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin monk, preacher to the papal household, aged eighty-one, kindly came and spoke at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. Many people comment on how his face and eyes shine with the radiance of God’s presence. He was on a train one time in Italy when a woman, who was a total non-believer, approached him and said, ‘Your face compels me to believe.’

It has been said, ‘We cannot control the beauty of our face, but we can control the expression on it.’ As this story illustrates, you can tell a lot by looking at people’s eyes and faces. We say, ‘You should have seen the look on their face.’ As the old Latin proverb says, ‘The face is the index of the mind.’

It is also true that ‘The eyes are the windows to the soul.’ When we really want someone to listen to and believe us, we say to that person, ‘Look into my eyes.’

The Bible says a lot about faces and eyes.

August 29 Day 241

When the Holy Spirit Comes

I remember the first time I prayed ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ on an Alpha Weekend. I knew that the Holy Spirit had ‘come’ every time those who had led the Alpha Weekends before me had asked him to come. Even so, I did not think he would come in answer to my prayers – as I prayed ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ I shut my eyes, because I did not want to see him ‘not coming’!

When I opened my eyes, there was an amazing sight. The Holy Spirit had come in a powerful way – people were being filled. He was changing people’s lives. This was the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That is why at some point in virtually every one of our services we pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ We always try to leave time for ‘ministry’ – for the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

We often associate the word ‘minister’ with leadership, whether by government ministers or by church ministers. In fact, the word really means ‘to serve’. Politicians are called to serve their countries. Pastors are called to serve the church. Doctors, who administer treatment to their patients, are called to serve the sick and the dying.

The Holy Spirit ministers to you. He brings authority greater than any politician, comfort deeper than any pastor, and healing more wonderful than any doctor. God ministers to you in the deepest part of your life by the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul speaks of ‘the ministry of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:8). John Wimber defined this kind of ministry as ‘meeting the needs of others with the resources of God’. Wonderfully, this type of ministry is now available to you and me.

August 28 Day 240

Just Love

The prison governor was an immensely impressive, dynamic, eloquent and young African-American woman known as ‘Chief Jennifer’.

Our team assembled at the start of the visit, together with those who ran the prison. Chief Jennifer welcomed us with these words: ‘Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

She told us that there were 2.5 million people in prison in the USA, each costing the taxpayer $24,000 a year. Only 3% will stay in prison for the rest of their lives. 97% of those presently incarcerated will, at some point, be released back into society. For that reason, she continued, there was good secular motivation for wanting to see change in their lives, besides her own desire, as a Christian, for them to experience redemption.

The prison was run not only with justice, but also with love. All wrong attitudes and actions were lovingly confronted. There was no bad language, no graffiti and a learned respectful behaviour. We spent some time with a group of men who had recently completed Alpha there and heard their testimonies of changed lives.

God is love. He is also just. In his book Justice in Love, Nicholas Wolterstorff points out that justice is a necessary constituent part of any properly formed conception of love.

August 27 Day 239

Anointed by God

Do you realise that right now you are ‘anointed’ by God? ‘Anointing’ is not just for special Christian leaders or speakers. It is for all of us. Do you know that this anointing gives you power over sin, temptation and evil? Do you know that this anointing gives you access to God in prayer and worship? Do you know that this anointing enables you to proclaim God’s message to other people?

All of this is possible because God has given you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only guarantees your future; he is the down payment in advance. ‘He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come’ (2 Corinthians 1:21–22).

When you exchange contracts on a house it is usually accompanied by a deposit, which not only guarantees what is to come but is also a part payment in advance. God ‘by his Spirit has stamped us with an eternal pledge – a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete’ (v.21, MSG). By giving you the Holy Spirit, God has already given you this deposit in advance of what one day you will receive in full. What does this anointing of the Holy Spirit mean in practice?

August 26 Day 238

God's Benefit Package

I recently rediscovered one of my prayer diaries in which I recorded some of my early experiences of answered prayer.

On 26 September 1976, I wrote about a prayer for my mother: ‘Prayed for the Lord to heal her insomnia.’ (I did not tell her I was praying for her.) Exactly three months later, on 26 December 1976, I wrote that my mother ‘says she has slept better in the last few weeks than for four years and it is no longer a problem’.

Of course, it is not possible to prove Christianity on the basis of answers to prayer, because cynics can always explain them away as coincidence. But as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, ‘When I pray coincidences happen, when I don’t they don’t.’ The cumulative effect of answered prayer is to reinforce our faith in God.

For the last twenty-five years, I have written by the New Testament passage for today some of my prayers for the year ahead. It is amazing to think back and remember the ways in which God has answered so many of these prayers. I find it very easy to forget all the answers to prayer. It is so easy to forget blessings.

David reminds himself in the psalm for today not to forgetall his benefits’ (Psalm 103:2). Many are conscious of the ‘benefits’ they can receive associated with their employment, or from the state. But what about the ‘benefits’ that we receive from our loving heavenly Father?

August 25 Day 237

Strong Families

A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.

After a very short time, she said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’ 

Marriage and family life are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.

Nicky and Sila Lee have invested their lives in strengthening marriages and family life. Their courses and books such as The Marriage Book and The Parenting Book have had a profound impact on thousands of people in our own local church and now in many countries around the world. Recently a government official in one country said to Nicky and Sila, ‘A strong society depends on strong families and strong families depend on strong marriages. That’s why we are interested in your work.’

The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family but, as Christians, we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.

August 24 Day 236

Victorious Living

Of course, he did not know where it was. He was eighty-five years of age and had written dozens of books. I was asking him if he could tell me exactly where in his books I could find the quote I was looking for. He told me that he had absolutely no idea, but gave me permission to quote it anyway. Since then I have used his quote over and over again because it seemed to me that Bishop Lesslie Newbigin had summarised a crucial insight for our understanding of Jesus and the New Testament.

The resurrection was not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of a victory.

The cross was not a defeat. Rather, taken together, the cross and resurrection are the greatest victory to have taken place in the history of the world. It is a victory that has huge implications for our own lives, our society and the future of this world.

The idea of ‘victory’ can smack of imperialism and pride. Of course, triumphalism is to be avoided. However, ‘victory’ is not a negative word in the Bible, even in the New Testament.

The key to a right understanding of ‘victory’ is to see it as a gift made possible ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). This means that the appropriate response is not pride, but thankfulness.

August 23 Day 235

Trust God to Do it His Way

I sometimes wish I kept more of a diary. I am glad that, at least, I have recorded some of my prayers. Alongside the words of today’s passage, ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you’ (2 Chronicles 20:12), I have jotted down some of the seemingly insurmountable problems and situations we have faced over the years. It is amazing and wonderful to see and have a record of how God has delivered us from so many of them, in his own time and in his own way.

Being reminded of God’s ability to deliver us increases our faith that he can do it again. God really is powerful. In fact, God is all-powerful; he is ‘omnipotent’. You can trust him.