This morning in Golden Valley Church, Wes read out the prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake [c1540 to 1596].
Drake was a product of his time, an era of ongoing war between the European sea-going nations, and valued as a hero to the English and a ‘pirate’ to the Spanish, whose territories he often raided on behalf of the then Queen of England, Elizabeth I. His sailing career had begun as a young man within the slave trade, though latterly he employed escaped slaves in his crew. He was the second person to circumnavigate the globe in the late 1570’s, and received a knighthood immediately afterward. Through modern eyes he would appear to be a very strange mixture of qualities, yet he penned this amazing prayer which is so relevant to us all as we move into another year.
Disturb us, Lord, when We are too pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when With the abundance of things we possess We have lost our thirst For the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life, We have ceased to dream of eternity And in our efforts to build a new earth, We have allowed our vision Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, To venture on wilder seas Where storms will show Your mastery; Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back The horizons of our hopes; And to push back the future In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, Who is Jesus Christ.
As we approach another Christmas, and many of us are caught up in a flurry of activity, in addition to carrying concerns for church and nation, we do well to remember that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago is a powerful statement of the premium God places on simplicity.
I was considering our pre-Christmas service in Golden Valley Church and I kept hearing the words “simplicity” and “simple.” I knew that Holy Spirit is wanting to impress this upon me – on us all.
In life we generally overlook the simple in favour of the complicated. The world mocks simple things, and ever looks for more sophistication. Our lack of simplicity breeds fear, control, pride, anxiety, strife, and unrest. But we actually miss much of what God has for us, because it is contained in the simple. He hides Himself; He hides our blessings – maybe our breakthroughs – in simple places. The sophisticated and cluttered minds will often miss Him there, just as they did in Bethlehem all those years ago.
Modern lives are so full of noise, clutter, surplus, and overload. Conveniences and technology which are supposed to make life easier and simpler can end up increasing the demands with which we find ourselves juggling. Simplicity is ever-illusive, and no less so at Christmastime when the plethora of competing demands – many of them completely unnecessary – shout loudly for attention. Even in modern church it’s easy to fall into living by a set of tick-boxes in our desire to grow and become all that God wants us to be. For example: “Four keys to this…”, “Seven steps to freedom…”, “do this course”, “attend this conference”, “read this book”, “master this truth”, “pray for this and that need”, etc. And so the plates continue to spin in overcomplicated lives.
The dictionary definitions of “simplicity” include, “the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded; freedom from pretence or guile; restraint in ornamentation.” I like the “restraint in ornamentation” which is so apt in a modern Christmas where the true meaning is obscured – even obliterated – by the overload of lights, sounds, and Santa Claus.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1 that God has made the wisdom of this world to turn out as foolishness. He says, referring to Jesus and His cross, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men,” and, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty…” The ‘foolish simplicity’ of a baby laid to sleep in an animal feeding trough in a small out-of-the-way town is where God hides Himself, and where most people walk on by unknowingly.
The simple life – a life of walking daily with God and receiving everything from His hand – was stolen from mankind through deception, in the Garden in Eden, right in the beginning time of the Adamic race. But both the divine Baby in the manger and the divine man upon the cross are the wisdom of heaven to restore simplicity to us.
Last January Pope Francis tweeted the following: “In the simplicity of the nativity scene we encounter the tenderness of God which reveals itself in the Baby Jesus.” Tenderness. I think it is impossible to truly experience tenderness without – even for a moment – withdrawing from the overload, and finding a simple space.
I have a friend who recently proposed to his girlfriend in city centre Paris. In the midst of the bustle, the sights, the lights, the sounds, the traffic, and the masses going about their business, he knelt down and found tenderness to engage with the one he loves. It was an age-old simple act, yet totally new and fresh; full of power, purpose, and long-term promise. Tenderness and simplicity go hand in hand. And that soil of the heart is poignant with hope.
This Christmas the Vatican has taken their understanding of the simplicity of the nativity one step further. More than 700 pounds of sand were brought into St Peter’s Square in lorries for a chosen group of artists to create a beautiful 52 foot representation of the nativity scene – in sand. Pope Francis commenting on the symbolism is quoted as saying, “The sand recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God showed Himself at the birth of Jesus, in the precariousness of Bethlehem.” This is the unspoken message of their 2018 nativity scene.
It takes humility to embrace simplicity. Jesus chose to humble Himself to a level beyond our ability to humanly comprehend. From the Throne of Heaven he made the decision of love to become a baby in a manger in Roman-era Israel. His was outrageous humility! When we are proud – where we are proud – it is impossible to be simple. Pride by nature needs to exalt itself and seeks to impress by its accumulations.
It also takes trust to embrace simplicity. Jesus had to trust His Father in order to become that baby. He also had to trust His Father as He hung on the cross. On both occasions He stepped into trust that His Abba would come through for Him, would watch over Him and never let Him down. He was no longer in control. Simplicity demands that we stop trying to control everything and everyone, and rest in the Love by which we are held.
The first church was known by its lifestyle of simplicity of heart [Acts 2:46]. The Apostle Paul’s testimony of His team’s conduct was that they had conducted themselves in simplicity and godly sincerity [2 Cor. 1:12]. And writing to the same church again in chapter 11, verse 3, he expresses his deep concern that the same serpent that had deceived Eve was continuing his fraudulent schemes and beguiling them from a life of simple devotion to Christ. Sometimes spiritual warfare comes to us in the form of clutter, distractions, and deceitful feelings that we have to occupy ourselves with any number of seemingly important enterprises. There is always a battle on against divine simplicity.
In the simple we hear Him; that ‘still small voice’. Elijah was unable to engage with God in the blast of the fire, the swirling of the winds, or the noise of the earthquake. He had to pass through these to the place of simple stillness.
Those who managed to find the manger in Bethlehem found the Messiah. Those who stooped to enter the cave, met with the Saviour. In locating the place of heavenly simplicity, they found hidden treasure.
As we again approach Christmas, it’s important for us to dial down on the clutter, the noise, and the assumed demands. Let’s focus in on the Babe in the manger – the simply powerful and powerfully simple birth of the Man from Heaven. Stop to savour ordinary moments, quiet times, and that Still Small Voice. Reflect again on Love come down to us. And somewhere as you savour it – Him – ask Him to help you embrace His simplicity in your life.
In Psalm 131 David testifies how he has simplified his posture from being overly concerned with too many things, to resting in God as a young child would on its mother’s lap. He has chosen to resist pride and arrogance. He has decided to stop looking at others with contempt and judgement. He has quietened his mind and heart, and focused on one thing – the simple child-parent relationship he has with God. From this place hope has risen in his life. He is able to encourage others to hope, because he has found the simple place where it grows, and where fear and anxiety die.
Jesus, for His whole life, lived from this same stance, beginning with the manger. And wherever He went hope grew. Love sprung forth. And faith began to return. Simple.
Let’s find the tender simplicity of His heart this Christmas as we find Him off the beaten track lying in the manger.
Here’s the recent update from Maggie in South Africa. [Maggie is an important part of the pastoral team of Golden Valley Church, and is currently serving God with IRIS Ministries].
So I’ve been back in SA just over three months since my visit home. It took a couple of days to settle back in as I was a little disorientated but I soon found my rhythm again. So I probably saw the majority of those who are going to read this when I was in […]
Great News!! Golden Valley Church [Registered UK Charity 1092358] is now subscribed to the global Church Giving app, “Tithe.ly.”
The app is used by churches throughout the world, as a safe and recognised way of giving tithes and offerings. It’s a great way of keeping on track if a church member is unable to make a Sunday Service.
Donations can be made by downloading the app, which is available for Apple and Android devices, or by using the link below:
One of the things I was hearing as I was awakening today was, “Spirit of Absalom”. I heard it clearly.
I was aware of some of what it meant, and having spent yesterday’s preaching in GVC talking about the battles of moving into a new season, I am reflecting on how this spirit works to attempt to bring division and fragmentation to churches [and organisations and workplaces], and I think it’s especially so, as God is about to move in fresh outpouring, and the shift emerges.
Absalom was David’s son, but he became inwardly bitter and jealous where he felt he had been overlooked, and he used his position in the king’s family combined with his good looks and likeableness (natural and spiritual giftings), to undermine the rightful rule of his father via stealth. He went out of his way to recruit people to his cause so that he could influence the direction of the palace in the way he wanted, and in his case overthrow his father’s rule.
This kind of behaviour is very common in the world we live in, and I believe, undermines many churches in their Divine Mandate; their unique “raison d’être”. We are all potentially prey to it. Yet it often becomes the operating ground of a spirit that is intent on division and destruction, and which seeks to derail new things that God is doing. It may promote a soulish attachment to things that belonged to a past-season, or to a particular style of doing things, but which are no longer relevant in the main scheme of where God is moving now. Or it focuses on a pet-area of life in a previous church which an individual has carried with them into a new situation, and which they want to see happening again. It will raise a discontentment or dissatisfaction with something in a church or organisation – what isn’t happening and ‘should be’ – and it will look for those who ‘agree’. It may be true that ‘so and so’ is not happening, but it may also be true that God hasn’t asked the appointed leader(s) to do this ‘so and so’ but to focus on something else. The point is, it appeals to ‘soul’ rather than the true spiritual. Gossip, a party spirit, and subtle (or not so subtle) forms of attempted manipulation ensue. At its heart is an authority-wound that has led to pride and mistrust, and ultimately rebellion and lawlessness. As we move forward may we truly have grace to flush it out of our hearts and lifestyles.
This is such a crucial issue in remaining on track as we come closer to the return of Jesus. He Himself warned that in the last days lawlessness will abound and the result will be a cooling off of genuine love. We cannot afford cold-love. We cannot afford lawlessness. The Kingdom of God operates with precise order and authority, which is rooted in perfect love. This is the only Kingdom the Holy Spirit will promote and release. I pray we can all align more with Him in His assignment.
We can see the working of this spirit in Judas Iscariot, who most likely was offended in some way with the direction Jesus’s ministry had taken, AND who had heart issues of greed that were not dealt with, even in the intimate Presence of Jesus. Both Absalom and Judas ended up hanging from trees, which indicates that they were cursed in this which they pursued.
The origin of ‘Absalom behaviour’ is seen in Lucifer himself, who became obsessed with his own gifting, image, and wisdom – not realising they were given to him to function effectively within strict parameters of ministry. These same three are potential stumbling blocks for us all:
My giftings and skills. I can be deceived by ‘how good I am’ or ‘how good other people say I am’ and pride subtly slithers into my heart.
My image, or looks. We step over into ‘how did I perform?’ We become too aware of what we look like, rather than what HE is looking like through us – or of being equally content – and with no change of behaviour – when we are not ‘performing’ or are unnoticed.
My wisdom. If I have a particular understanding or revelation, it’s because God lovingly gave it to me. It’s not so I can show it off, or use it to compete with another. Humanly, we love to parade our revelations. I’ve done that myself before now! But it leads to pride, and living for the approval of men. Any ‘wisdom’ that ceases to walk in honour, godly submission, and true humility, isn’t actually wisdom, but foolishness. James says, it is sourced in the flesh, the world, and the demonic.
If you are a leader in pastoral care or mercy ministry for a group of people, or in some kind of music ministry, especially beware of this spirit. It wants to take you out. If you’ve been offended by a senior leader as well, be doubly aware! Deal with the heart issues. Forgiveness, humility, and patient honour are the keys. You have to go ‘down’ in order to go ‘up’.
If you are a senior leader, take stock of anywhere you have not listened to or followed-through on promises to others who are serving with you. If you can, humbly address the issues now, and remove what you are able to of the landing ground for this spirit. Repent and seek reconcilliation. However, you should never ultimately compromise the divine mandate you have been given on account of someone else’s (soulish) preferences. Ultimately, you’re the one who has to give account to the One Who has commissioned you.
All of us, let’s continually go to God for more healing of our hearts, and more of His softening and renewing Presence. Let’s learn to repent and to forgive really quickly, as a lifestyle. Let’s not allow any bitter roots to take up ground in our lives. Let’s walk securely knowing we are loved and beloved by the Father. We have no need to perform but can live at rest in that love.
A few days ago I had one of those brief but memorable one-scene visions in a dream. I saw a roll of old film negatives hanging suspended. And I heard the words, “You’re looking at the negatives!” I knew God was speaking clearly and powerfully to me.
There was a rich play on words again. The reality was I had been focused more on my challenges and the things I couldn’t see happening – the ‘negatives’ in my life – than I had on God’s character and promises.
It’s easy to do that in a time of pressure, or, as we’ve talked about before, during a ‘season change’ where the grey of winter is hanging on. I thought about the greys and blacks of old monochrome film negatives, and realised I was living with the same kind of approach to certain areas of life. Some of the time I had been focusing on what wasn’t happening, and what seemed to be going in the wrong or a challenging direction. I was conscious of negatives.
As I reflected on this mini-dream it became apparent that the old film negatives are actually the very reverse of the real picture! When the negatives are processed into photographs everything is turned around the other way. The negative simply represents the opposite of the finished article!
I began to see that God was speaking here; that the negatives in our lives and circumstances are not the real picture but are the reverse of what He is going to produce in finality.
In the short words, “You’re looking at the negatives” was firstly an encouragement to see beyond the grey, secondly, an exhortation to recognise that the problems were not the end of the story, and thirdly, a promise that the opposite of the negative was being lined up in some way by our Loving Heavenly Father.
If you are focused on negatives, put them into Jesus’s loving hands. Ask Him to process them until they transition into the true picture. Ultimately His plans are to prosper us and to do us good; to give us a future and a hope. He has already written the books and ‘made the films’ of our lives in advance for those who love Him.