During the last few months, I felt God placed in my heart a series of pictures in my heart to shape and direct my prayers in praying for the church.
In the first picture, I saw a beautiful plush museum/art gallery style room- you know the kind I mean – mood lighting, red carpets, exotic artificial plants, gold link guard rails… Arranged around the room were glass coffins, each containing a comatose person with a little baby sitting at the foot of each person. The children were crying and needed to be fed, but when others (who were not comatose) picked up the children to feed them, they too ended up comatose in a coffin with a child of their own.
And I felt that what God was revealing through this picture is that there are a number of people with the Church who are hurt and carrying bitterness in their hearts. The crying child represents their need for comfort and nourishment. Yet, at the same time, bitterness defiles others too. Bitter and offended hearts become comatose, unable/unwilling to receive or give love. Bitterness causes us to walk away from the purposes of God and seek to do our own will and get justice by our arm of flesh.
There has been a lot of talk in certain Christian circles about the Absalom spirit. Many pastors/teachers have written about it warning against carrying bitterness, getting offended, or discussing one’s hurt feeling with others. Yes, such teaching is needed, and yes, we need to guard our hearts against getting defiled by bitterness and defiling others with our pain.
However, all this is dealing with surface issues. One needs to look at the climate which allows the ‘Absalom’ spiritsto flourish. One needs to make it impossible for these ‘spirits’ to operate in the first place.
The story of Absalom and the lasting repercussions of his rebellion can be found in 2 Sam 13 onwards. It begins with the tragedy of Tamar. She was raped by her half-brother Amnon who subsequently rejects her and casts her out. Absalom is angered by what is done to his sister. David too is angry, but does nothing to either discipline Amnon or comfort Tamar. Two years pass by. Absalom invites David to his house. David refuses. Absalom asks permission for Amnon and the other brothers to visit him. There he kills Amnon. David cries bitterly when he hears of Amnon’s death. A further 3 years pass with Absalom in exile. David misses him. Has Absalom brought back to Jerusalem but refuses to meet Absalom…. And the sad story of hardening hearts, deepening wounds continues till it culminates in Absalom undermining David’s authority, his outright rebellion and death.
As I read through these chapters, I kept wondering how events would have turned out if David had taken steps to establish justice for Tamar… how things would have turned out if he had taken the time to talk things through with Absalom – explain his reasons for not tackling Amnon, listened to Absalom’s grievances…
As I thought about Absalom & David, and thought about the way the ‘spirit of offense’ operates within the church, I felt that God placed these points in my heart on how to pray against the ‘spirit of offense’.
We need to pray for-
• Protection for our hearts against being easily offended.
• For each of us to grow in union with Christ.
• Discernment to know which offenses must be overlooked and forgiven and which offenses must be dealt with by open dialogue in a spirit of reconciliation.
• Willingness to share hurts and offenses not in an accusatory tone, but with love, and with a desire for reconciliation.
• Grace to freely forgive, and the love to make sure that those who are hurt are comforted and restored.
• An openness to the Holy Spirit revealing to us the ways in which WE may have hurt someone, and the willingness and humility to go and ask for forgiveness. “If you … are about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge/grievance a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” Matt 5:23-24 (MSG)
• Clarity of vision to be able to see the true enemy. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of darkness. In the love of the Holy Spirit, we should learn to link arms against the onslaught against the unity of the Church. It is only when we – leadership and laity begin to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, that this attack will be broken.
• Wisdom and freedom from apathy for leaders. An unwillingness to rock the boat and tackle issues can actually lead to serious rifts and schisms within the Body from which it would be hard to recover.
If we say that we are in the light,
yet hate others,
we are in the darkness to this very hour…
we walk in it and do not know where we are going,
because the darkness has made us blind.
God is light, and there is no darkness at all in Him.
If, then, we say that we have fellowship with Him,
yet at the same time live in the darkness,
we are lying both in our words and in our actions.
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Whoever says “I know Him”
but does not keep His commandments is a liar,
and the truth is not in him,
but whoever keeps His word,
in him truly the love of God is perfected.
… whoever says he abides in him
ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
1 Jn 2:9,11; 1 John 1:5-7 1 John 2:4-6
“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
I am sure all of you have learnt valuable lessons over the years of walking with the Lord on how to overcome the Spirit of Offense. I would be honoured if you shared your experiences and insights – it would help me to gain a deeper understanding of how to pray for the Shalom of the Body of Christ.
Today morning this verse leapt out at me.
For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from Him, but has heard, when He cried to him. (Ps 22:24)
Or as the Message translation puts it –
He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. (Ps 22:24)
The last several months have been challenging. Nothing serious. Just me – wrestling with various issues and trying to make sense of certain people and issues, wondering what really God wanted me to do – I guess you could say I was going through an existential crisis of sorts.
One thing I learnt with absolute clarity through these months is that God NEVER despises my doubts and wrestlings. In fact, He delights to bring truth and settle foundations.
Others may trivialise your pain/ wrestlings but God never does. Others may distance themselves from you in your moments of weakness, but God enters into your pain and pours His strength into your emptiness and lack.
I don’t know where you are at (for that matter I don’t know where I am at) but today I know with certainty that God does not hide His face from us, but He offers us His right hand of fellowship and strength to lift us up and strongly support us.
Incidentally this is the Psalm Jesus quoted from on the cross. It begins ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me.’ But it has this beautiful reminder midway, that God does not turn His face away from the afflicted one but hears his prayer.
It carries a beautiful promise –
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! …(Ps 22:26)
Grace splashing joyful delight
Grace infusing the air with the aroma of Christ
Grace whispering words of comfort
Wrapping hearts with loving kindness and favour
Grace which warms the heart with affection
Melting every bitterness
Balm of Gilead restoring the soul
Grace for every trial
Rainbow coloured Grace
Revealing the rich spectrum of the Father’s love.
For from his fullness we have all received,
grace upon grace.
(PS. The picture is my doodle using PAINT)
Mind the gap.
We look at it
Don’t want to be swallowed by it
And yet, looking at the gap
Sucks us into it.
Mind the gap.
The distance between
And what should be.
Lord of the Gap
Demands our worship
In tithes of discontentment
But the gaps remain
Till One came
Laid down His life
Filled the greatest Gap of all
Gave us hope
That every valley will be exalted
Every mountain brought down
Every crooked place made straight
Every rough place made smooth
That we will see
Fraternity, Equality and Liberty
May His kingdom come
His will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Your love comes
Dripping like honey
Gold and soft and sweet
Flowing over my jagged edges
Covering and hiding
My stony places
Dripping into the
Deep dark wells of my heart
Soft Balm of Gilead
Pouring into me
Holding nothing back
Emptying Your fullness
Into my emptiness
Changing my bitterness
By Your sweetness
Jonadab was sick of it all. For a while it seemed there was meaning and purpose in all the killing. Unjust regimes and rulers were being cast down and a righteous king was taking over. At least that was how it should have been. But that was not how it was going.
Jehu had done his bit in cleaning things up, but not enough to turn the hearts of people back to God. Neither did Jehu himself seek to follow God with his whole heart.
What was the point of it all? All this jockeying for power and lands, did it make life better for the weak and the exploited?
Jonadab thought of Ben-Hadad challenging Ahab in a moment of drunken bravado. Then the ignominious defeat which followed.
Ahab, now that was another guy who was not content with what he had. Cedar-inlaid-with-ivory palaces were not enough for him, nor all the flourishing vineyards he owned. No, he had to murder Naboth to get his vineyard. Well… Jezebel arranged it to coax Ahab out of his sulks and pouts.
Jezebel. All that scheming, plotting, manipulating – where did that leave her? Or rather what was left of her? Not much, after the dogs were done.
He thought over Jehu’s offer to be part of his trusted team of advisors, now that Jehu was king. No doubt Jehu would compensate him handsomely if he said yes. But was it worth it? For how long would it last? Till the next drunken invader, till the next revolution?
Cedar-walls-inlaid-with-ivory palaces? Soul leeches!
Back at home in his tent, surrounded by his loving family, he distilled all the learning he had garnered into two simple instructions.
‘Don’t ever drink wine or alcohol. Keep your wits about you. Don’t desire to build houses and plant vineyards. It’s like a drug. It takes over your soul. You build a shelter, then you want to beautify it, so you look to get more out of your vineyards, then you realise it’s too small or not rightly placed and then you try to get the right one by any means possible… there is no end to it. So my sons, promise me, that you will live a life of contentment and prudence with what God has blessed us with. Promise me that you will teach your children like-wise and bring them up in like manner.’
His sons were faithful to their promise, and generation after generation abstained from drinking, and they all continued to live simple lives in the tents. Right up to the time of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah.
During Jehoiakim’s reign Nebuchadnezzer began his invasion of Israel and Judah, and gradually swallowed up the countryside.
At that time Jonadab’s descendants – the Rechabites – entered into Jerusalem seeking shelter and safety from King Neb’s armies. For nearly a century and a half, the Rechabites had remained faithful to the promise they had made to Jonadab.
All this had not escaped God’s eyes. He directs Jeremiah’s attention to them.
“Go to the members of the Rechabite clan and talk to them. Then bring them into one of the rooms in the Temple and offer them some wine.” Jer 35:2
Jeremiah is amazed to learn from the Rechabites of their promise and their faithfulness in keeping it.
In the whole grand scheme of things, seemingly insignificant people, and yet God noticed them. He noticed Jonadab turning away from worldly honours and office and being content with what God had blessed him with. God noticed the Rechabites and the way they honoured their word.
There are times when I wonder whether is any point in doing the things I do. Do they make a difference to anyone? Won’t the world continue to spin on its axis even if I give up doing the things I do? It will.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that God sees. El Roi the God who sees.
In Sunday School we used to sing this song ‘Oh be careful… what you see/say/do… for the Father up above is looking down in love…’ And it left me with an almost indelible impression of a God who watches merely to find fault.
Oh yes, He watches over us with love and He does see where we are going off track, but it so that He can speak the right word in the right season to keep us from getting hurt. That is what the whole of Jeremiah is all about. God looking in love, speaking the right word of warning, well in advance so that His people might get off the road leading to destruction.
But His are Holy eyes of love. Here we see the God who sees and records the little acts of faithfulness.
Do you, like me, get discouraged and fed up with doing the ‘right thing’?
Well, let us take heart and courage from this little story of the Rechabites, pull ourselves up to our full heights and keep going. God watches over us. He sees. He notices. He does not forget.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Gal 6:9 ESV
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love…
*** Two very small incidents. The first part of my post is purely conjecture on my part. All we know from the Bible is the Jonadab (or Jehonadab) in 2Kings 10:15,23 is that he helped Jehu in his war against the sons of Ahab and the prophets/priests of Baal. The next we hear of him is in Jer 35:6 where the Rechabites explain their vow and the reason for their lifestyle.