A few years ago, Pippa and I were asked to speak at a conference in Somerset, southwest England. The journey from London should have taken about three hours. However, it was a really hot day and ahead of us a hay wagon had caught fire and spilled its load across the motorway, which had melted as a result. We were stuck, almost stationary, for five hours. It was such a relief when, finally, it was time to accelerate.
There are times in our own personal lives, church life and ministry when it feels like we are stuck and unable to move at any pace. At other times, openings begin to appear and it is ‘time to accelerate’.
God is the God of acceleration. He is able to speed things up at a much faster rate than is humanly possible.
Expect oppositionPsalm 9:1-6
Acceleration may lead to increased opposition. The higher the profile you have, the more criticism you can expect. God’s people have always faced opposition. David faced many ‘enemies’ (Psalm 9:3–6). Opposition and enmity is extremely painful and difficult. However, in Christ you are promised that ultimately you will overcome.
We see a foretaste of this in the psalm for today. David praises God for the victory: ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. My enemies turn back…’ (vv.1–3).
We still live in a hostile world. Jesus warned, ‘Don’t think I’ve come to make life cosy’ (Matthew 10:34, MSG). Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t be surprised by opposition.’
Be peacemakers (5:9,38–48). You are called to break the cycle of retaliation. Nevertheless, opposition may come even from those who are very close to you (10:34–36).
Millions of followers of Jesus around the world are facing physical persecution today simply because of what they believe. Some face opposition, repression and discrimination from governments at a local or national level.
You may not face opposition like this in your life, but you should expect some opposition – whether from the media, friends and family who do not understand your faith, or work colleagues who disagree with what you stand for.
Lord, in the face of opposition, I will praise you with all my heart. I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you (Psalm 9:1–2a).
Embrace sacrificeMatthew 10:32-11:15
Jesus calls on his disciples to be willing to sacrifice everything for his sake: ‘Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (10:37). Your love for Jesus should exceed even the greatest love you have for those closest to you.
Jesus continues, ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it’ (vv.38–39). Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul means when he urges us ‘to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Romans 12:1).
This is the way in which you discover God’s will for your life, ‘his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (v.2). If you want God to use you more, if you want to accelerate, you must be willing to embrace this kind of sacrifice.
Nothing you do in the service of Jesus is wasted. Jesus says, ‘Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing’ (Matthew 10:42, MSG).
Martin of Tours (AD 316–397) was Bishop of Tours, France, from AD 371. One very cold night, riding on horseback, he passed a beggar. Martin got off his horse, tore his robe in two and gave half of it to the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the robe that had been torn in two on his shoulders. When asked where it had come from, Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’
In the immediate context in Matthew, the sacrifice Jesus is referring to may be simply being identified with him in a hostile world. He says, ‘Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven’ (vv.32–33).
‘Acknowledging’ Jesus can lead to opposition and difficulties. For many of the first disciples it literally meant taking up their cross and following him (v.38), even to death. For us the cost may be different but we are called to the same radical commitment to Jesus.
Lord, help me to be willing to take up my cross and follow you. Today I offer you my body as a living sacrifice.
Enjoy the challengeGenesis 27:1-28:22
Apparently, Formula 1 racing drivers have to be exceptionally fit and physically strong because of the forces exerted on their bodies during the race.
If we want to see acceleration in the advancement of the kingdom of God, Jesus says it will need forceful people (Matthew 11:12). (Some translations use the word ‘violent’ instead of ‘forceful’. However, most commentators prefer this translation and positive interpretation.) These are people who are not put off by opposition or the need for sacrifice. In fact, they enjoy the challenge.
As we look back in church history there are many examples of men and women who inspire us by their passionate, dynamic and proactive lives. They have been used to change the world. Throughout history, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing as forceful, Spirit-filled people lay hold of it.
Jesus says, ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it’ (Matthew 11:12). The context of these words is that John the Baptist, in prison, is asking if Jesus is the one prophesied about. In effect, Jesus replies by saying, ‘Look at the evidence’ (vv.4–5).
Jesus goes on to say that John the Baptist was the greatest person who ever lived before Jesus and his church (v.11). John the Baptist was the last of the old covenant prophets (v.13). We see many examples in the Old Testament of these ‘forceful’ men and women (v.12).
Jacob was a forceful man. Later we will read of how he was forceful in a good way, determined to know God’s blessing (see Genesis 32:22–32). However, in today’s passage, we see how his forceful nature led him into wrongdoing. He was absolutely determined to get his father’s blessing. He knew how important it was, but he ended up using deception in order to get it (chapter 27).
Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, was also a forceful woman. Not only did she show favouritism to Jacob, but she was also involved in the conspiracy to deceive Isaac. The end result is a spectacular family feud, the consequences of which lasted for centuries.
It is a fairly unedifying tale and we can be left wondering what to make of it – it certainly does not present itself as a good example to follow!
Despite everything, God’s plans and purposes continue to be worked out. His promises to Abraham and his descendants continue. They are passed on to Jacob (28:13–15), exactly as God had promised before the brothers were born (25:23). If everyone had acted openly and honourably a lot of grief and heartache might have been avoided.
Almost everything about these stories and these people is flawed – and yet God still manages to work through them. I find it such a relief to know that a perfect God can use imperfect people.
God blessed Jacob. His father, Isaac, gave him his blessing (28:3–4). Later on, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. He sees a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending it (v.12). There is an open way between heaven and earth for all of us. God tells him, ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go’ (vv.14b–15a).
God used these forceful men and women: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. But Jesus says none of them were as great as John the Baptist. And John the Baptist is not as great as the least of the followers of Jesus in the days of the kingdom of heaven – and that includes you!
Lord, thank you that you are with me and watch over me wherever I go. Help me to be counted amongst those forceful people enjoying the exhilaration, excitement and challenge of a life spent following Jesus.
Deceit and lies don’t do much for family unity.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.