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Alpha Talk – How does God guide us?

All of us have to make decisions about what we do with our lives—our life work, our life partners, children, use of time, where we live, money; as well as the kind of day-to-day decisions we all face. And discerning the will of God in the midst of all the conflicting worldly noise can be quite a tricky business.

But the wonderful news of the Christian faith is that we are not on our own in this life. God promises to help us make the right choices.

John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Paul says that God’s purpose for our lives is good and pleasing and perfect. And in order to find out what it is, we need to consult him and we need to listen.

 

So how does God guide us? How does this relationship work? We’ve got five main ways we’re going to look at today—they’re the five CS’s. And in some cases it might be one of these; in major decisions it might be all five.

1. COMMANDING SCRIPTURE

In the Bible the general will of God for all of us is revealed. And there we see what all of us are called to. Our primary calling is not to do something, but to be someone. Our primary calling is to live in a relationship with God, to know Jesus. Our primary calling is to become like Jesus—to become free, to become loving, to become peaceful.

And then we’re called to make a difference to the world, to change the world around us.

In the Bible God has spoken on a whole range of issues. So there’s some things where we really don’t need specific guidance, because it’s absolutely clear from this book what his will is. He’s spoken about marriage and family life and work and money and children and all kinds of things.

We know, for example, that marriage is for life.

We know that we must pay your taxes.

We know about telling the truth. When I first started working I shared a secretary with the Company Secretary. One time there was a call for him and he asked her to tell the person that he was out. So she handed the phone to him and said, `You tell him you’re out!’ The other bloke was furious but she said to him, `Look, if I can lie for you, I can lie to you. And I never will.’

That stuck in my mind and that woman was to play a significant role in my decision to follow Jesus – she was worthy of her word.

 

So God’s general will is revealed in this book. But it won’t tell us which job we should do, or who we should marry. But sometimes as we read the Bible it will bring to light a particular verse which will give us direction.

 

Some people have been guided by kind of opening the Bible at random and pointing to a particular verse. But it wouldn’t be good to make a habit of it, because it could expose us sooner or later to unhappy consequences.

 

I heard of one man who tried this. He said, `Lord, what shall I do?’ And he opened his Bible at random, and he happened to land on Matthew 27:5, which says: Then Judas went and hanged himself. So he thought, `Oh dear, I’d better try this again,’ and he went to Luke 10:37: Go and do thou likewise. He thought, `Oh dear!’ So he went to John 13:27, which says: What you’re about to do, do quickly.

 

So that’s not really a great idea in the long term. But if we have a regular, methodical reading of the Bible each day, it’s always amazing to me how appropriate each day’s reading is. God feeds us, and he also speaks to us and guides us.

So that’s the first thing: Commanding Scripture—in other words, the Bible.

 

2. COMPELLING SPIRIT

Acts 20:22

Paul speaking says this: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem…”

For the apostle Paul to be led by the Spirit was almost a definition of a Christian.

The writer of the book of Acts is of course Luke who also wrote Luke’s Gospel. And in his Gospel you see that Jesus is, throughout His life, led by the Holy Spirit. And it’s almost as if he writes the book of Acts to show that the same Holy Spirit who led Jesus through His life now leads the church, and thus every person who’s invited him to come and be part of their lives.

And as Jesus said in John, chapter 10, which we looked at earlier, my sheep recognise my voice. We recognise the voice of the Holy Spirit; at least we begin to—it takes time. It’s like any relationship. If we know somebody well, we recognise their voice, for example on the telephone.

 

I rang a minister in Wagin this week, and I got through I said, `Hi Alan, this is David, David de Kock.’ And he said, `Oh, I would recognise that voice anywhere.’ When we know someone well, we begin to recognise their voice. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. As we develop this relationship, we begin to recognise the voice of the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit leads us in a number of different ways. First of all, God speaks to us when we pray.

God also sometimes speaks through giving us a strong desire to do something. In Philippians 2:13 Paul says that God works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. In other words, if God calls you to do something, he will also give you the desire to do that if you yield yourself to him.

 

Sometimes he guides us in more unusual ways—through a prophecy, or visions, or pictures, or angels, some people hear an audible voice, or even dreams. Now, obviously, in this whole area of being led by the Spirit we can make mistakes because it’s not as simple as that. Guidance is a very difficult thing and sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong.

John says: Test the spirits to see whether they’re from God. Is it in line with the Bible? Does it promote love? If it’s not a loving idea, then it won’t come from God.

According to 1 Corinthians 14 we might test it by saying: is it strengthening, encouraging, comforting?  Another test is: do we sense God’s peace about the decision?  Paul writes: Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

So the Bible is one way—Commanding Scripture; also the Holy Spirit—Compelling Spirit.

 

3. COMMON SENSE

God has given us minds, to think and to reason. And God’s promises of guidance are not given to save us the problem of thinking. In fact, thinking and God guiding us often go together.

2 Timothy 2:7 says, effectively, this: Think over what I’m saying, and the Lord will give you understanding.

John Wesley said that the most common way God guided him was by presenting to his mind reasons for acting in a particular way.

And I would say that’s the main way God guides us in the ordinary sort of day-to-day aspects of life.

But also in the big decisions, our common sense is very important. For example, the Bible tells us that marriage is the norm. But what this book won’t tell you is whom you should marry.

I heard of one Cockney from the East End of London, who was not a churchgoer. And he had a real dilemma because he was in love with two very beautiful women. And he couldn’t decide. One was called Sharon, and she was blonde and very beautiful, and the other was called Maria, and she was a brunette and also very beautiful. He wasn’t a churchgoer, but not knowing whether it was Sharon or Maria, Sharon or Maria, he thought, `Well, I’ll go into a church and pray.’

So he went into a local Catholic church and he knelt down by the altar and he said to the Lord—’oom shall I ‘ave?’ And he looked up, and he looked at the stained-glass window and he saw in gold letters: Ave Maria!

 

That’s not the best way to go about it! But common sense tells us we should ask these questions: are we spiritually compatible? Paul warns us of the danger of marrying somebody who’s not a Christian, for example, because inevitably we’re going in different directions spiritually, and that can cause tension. So that if we’re a Christian we should look to marry someone whose faith we respect.

Secondly, are we personally compatible?  Are we good friends?  Then are we physically compatible? Does the chemistry work? God is not going to ask you to marry someone to whom you are not physically attracted. That may come as a relief to some of you!

And then our jobs and careers. Again, it’s common sense. Sometimes people say, `Look, I’ve become a Christian. Should I leave my job?’ The answer is given by 1 Corinthians 7. Each of you should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to you and to which God has called you.  Each of you should remain in the situation which you were in when you were called.

In other words, don’t just automatically leave your job, unless of course what you’re doing is immoral or illegal—assuming it’s not, we should stay where we are until God calls us into something different. God doesn’t call us out of things, he calls us into things.

And if we’re asking the question `Well, what is God calling us into?’ the questions to ask are: `Well, what’s my temperament, what’s my personality, what’s my education, what are my skills, what am I good at, what do I like doing, what are my gifts?’ God hasn’t given us gifts in order that they should be wasted but, as John Stott writes, `to be discerned, cultivated and exercised, so that rather than being frustrated we should be fulfilled.’

And it’s never too late. I read recently of a woman in her nineties who now runs ten-kilometre races. She didn’t discover that she enjoyed running until she was 78. So it’s never too late!

 

4. COUNSEL OF SAINTS

The word `saints’ is used in the New Testament to mean `all Christians’—in other words, the church. The Holy Spirit, for example in Revelation 2, we read of the Holy Spirit speaking to the churches. God has been speaking to His people for hundreds of years.

So, for example, there’s no point in sort of thinking, `Well, I wonder what the doctrine of the Trinity is. Shall I try and work it out for myself?’ without looking at the fact that the early Christians spent 400 years working out the doctrine of the Trinity. And the creeds have come to the church out of that work.

The same with anything, any kind of decision we’re making, we make it in a community. And that’s one of the wonderful things, to be part of a community of other Christians, where we can help one another, we can seek advice from fellow Christians. Proverbs 12:15 says The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

And Proverbs 15:22 says: Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed

Proverbs 20, verse 18: Make plans by seeking advice.

 

5. CIRCUMSTANTIAL SIGNS

Proverbs 16:9 says `In his heart a person plans their course, but the Lord determines their steps.

Psalm 37:5. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him, and he will act—

If we’re faced with a difficult decision, as all of us are from time to time, or sometimes very often, we can go to the Lord and say, `Lord, I don’t know which direction to go. I don’t know whether this is right or whether that’s right. I don’t know whether this relationship is right or whether it’s not. I don’t know whether this job is right or whether it’s not. I don’t know whether this decision is right or whether it’s not.’

Commit your way to the Lord —that’s the first thing. Secondly, trust in him, and then his promise is this: he will act. And God can shut doors or he can open doors.

But we have to be willing to say, `I trust you with this.’

We need to watch the circumstances of our lives, how is God directing us through the present situation.

 

Each of these way of discerning the guidance of God can stand alone, but they work best when they work together. In ancient times, when a ship was coming into a harbour, they would set up three fires – the captain had to ensure that all three fires were lined up and then he knew that it was the right way in. So also with these five ways … line up at least three of them and you will have a good idea of what the Lord wants you to do.

 

Finally, in conclusion: don’t be in a hurry to make a decision about anything. The writer of Hebrews says that after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. He spent most of his life waiting for God to fulfil a promise he’d given him when he was a young man and wasn’t fulfilled until he was an old man.

And we all make mistakes, all of us do.

There are many things in my life that I wish that I’d done, and as I get older I’m wondering if its now too late, but then I remember the words of Oscar Wilde: `Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’

 

Alpha – Does God heal today?

Does God heal today, as He did through Jesus, when He walked on this earth? Some people are sceptical, some would like to believe it but are not really sure? I was both of those until a time back in the 1980’s when I saw the power of God bring healing in a most miraculous way.

I was still a newish Christian – in between my conversion and this event, I had been awarded a Business School Scholarship and had graduated with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. My studies were intense and I didn’t have too much time for church. We attended most Sundays, I tried to keep up my daily devotions and we had a Bible Study group going with a few fellow students but those things tended to be on the edge of my life.

During our time in Cape Town, Margie had become allergic to penicillin which turned out to be quite a frightful experience. We had however become quite aware of potential health issues.

Amongst other things, I was found to have a tumour on my appendix, which fortunately was benign and it was safely removed. Margie also was found to have a thyroid problem and had to undergo treatment with radioactive iodine.

And then Margie began to feel unwell and developed a very unhealthy yellow colour. I was very busy in my new job as the International Economist at a major bank and she took herself off for various tests. Then the doctor called and wanted to see both of us.

I took time off work and we went to the rooms together. He told us that they had some results which showed a potential serious condition but that they needed to take another test. He sent Margie out with a sample bottle and then told me that she had terminal cancer of the liver and he just wanted to know if I wanted to break the news to her or whether I would prefer him to do it.

I was dumbstruck and mumbled something.

When she came back he laid out all the results and the prognosis. She had about 12 months to live but they could ease any discomfort with various kinds of treatment. We needed to visit a specialist and he had already made an appointment for us.

We left the rooms in a state of shock and decided to go directly to our church, just up the road, to see our minister.

When we got there, he was in a meeting with several other ministers, including Teddy Saunders, an Anglican minister working with David Watson at St Andrew’s Chorleywood, who had come to South Africa to teach on healing and charismatic renewal. They all came out of the office and prayed with Margie. At the end of the prayers, Teddy’s wife, also a Margaret, stated emphatically that the Lord had showed her in a word of knowledge that Margaret was already completely healed.

We weren’t too sure whether to believe that, but we hoped. We then went off to the specialist, and produced the results of the battery of tests which Margie had already undergone. Mr Jersky studied them carefully and was not hopeful. He felt that he could introduce some treatment to maintain quality of life for as long as possible and so we were sent off to the hospital for further scans and tissue samples. A week later we went back and he said that there had been some error in the tests and that Margie would have to do them again. Off to the hospital again, a week later we were back with Mr Jersky.

To cut a long story short, there was no sign of any cancer. He was at a loss and began to explain that sometimes the tests do give false positives but he didn’t understand how the repeated tests ordered by our doctor had kept on confirming the condition.

We told him about the prayer and what Margaret Saunders had said. His eyes lit up, “Aha!” he said, “that’s it then.” He told us that as a Jew he believed without doubt in the power of God.

And so when I got home, I started to reread the Bible, to see what it says on this whole subject of healing and the kingdom of God.

Of course, God heals with the cooperation of doctors and nurses and the medical profession. But the more I’ve looked, the more convinced I am that we should expect that God will also heal miraculously today.

 

1.  HEALING IN THE BIBLE

As I looked at healing in the Bible, I saw that throughout the Old Testament, God promises healing for his people. It’s his character to heal. He says, in Exodus 15, “I am the Lord who heals you”—it is part of his love for us. And there are several examples of miraculous healing in the Old Testament—for example, Naaman, who was healed of leprosy after bathing in the Jordan River seven times.

If God acted like that in the Old Testament, when there were only glimpses of the kingdom of God, we should confidently expect that he will do so even more now that Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, and because we now live in the age of the Spirit.

 

When we turn to the New Testament, we find the very first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are:

“The time has come, The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The kingdom of God—or `the kingdom of heaven’, which Matthew uses interchangeably with `kingdom of God’ is used 82 times in the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The word `kingdom’ means not only a political or geographical realm, but carries this notion of ruling and reigning.

So the kingdom of God is the rule and the reign of God. And this kingdom, where God is in charge—even though it can be hard to understand is best described as both “now and not yet”.

 

Here are a couple of diagrams just to try and make it easier to understand.

 

CHART 1

 

THIS AGE_______________|_____________AGE TO COME

 

The Jewish expectation was that this age that we are living in would come to an end and that would be followed by the age to come. The age to come would be when the messianic king arrived and there would be a completed kingdom.

 

Jesus’ teaching was a modification of this. What Jesus was saying, in a nutshell, was that this age would not come to an end with his arrival. This would be the inauguration of the kingdom, so the age to come started—the previous age, this age, continues—until the second coming of Jesus. Then the kingdom of God will be complete.

 

CHART 2

 

THIS AGE________A___________B________AGE TO COME

 

Point A signifies the first coming of Jesus. Point B is when He comes again to usher in the fullness of the Kingdom.

We live in this period between the times, when the kingdom has come but it is not yet complete. So we live between the first coming and the second coming—it’s a time which is both this age and the age to come.

The first time Jesus came, he came in weakness. When he comes back, he’ll come with power and great glory. History is moving towards this glorious climax. There are over 300 references in the New Testament to the second coming of Christ.

 

When Jesus returns, it’s going to be obvious to everyone. History as we know it will end. There will be a universal resurrection and a Day of Judgement. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus himself will be there, together with all those who love and obey him. It’ll be a place of intense happiness which goes on forever. And we will have glorious new resurrection bodies that will never die, there’ll be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All who believe on that day will be totally healed.

 

But until then, there’s this element of waiting. As Paul puts it in Romans, he says: We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. In other words, the total redemption of our bodies has to wait for that second line, the second coming of Christ.

 

It’s important to keep this eternal perspective as we look at this subject of healing. Because at this present time not everybody is healed.There are people of great faith who have received much prayer for healing but who have not been healed – the Kingdom is not yet complete! John Wimber, who himself died of cancer despite much prayer by people all around the world explains that “the real gift is the gift of salvation. If we’re healed in this life, that’s a bonus.”

 

So while there’s this future aspect of the Kingdom, there is also this present aspect where we see the signs of the approaching kingdom. Jesus repeatedly tells us: “The kingdom of God is among you.” The kingdom is something which can be discovered and experienced now!

Jesus clearly saw his ministry as a fulfilment of the promises of the Old Testament. And he went on to demonstrate this present reality of the kingdom by all that he did during his ministry on earth—forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, dealing with evil.

 

We live now between the times, when the completed kingdom has not yet arrived, but the kingdom of God is at hand.

This age goes on, but the power of the future age has already broken into history.

And what Jesus’ ministry shows is that this future kingdom is coming, it’s near. And Jesus demonstrated that by preaching the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons.

Do you know, over 25 percent of the Gospels is about healing. Jesus didn’t heal everybody in Judea, but we often read of him healing individuals or groups. It was part of his kingdom activity.

 

There is an interesting literary device which Matthew uses about the ministry of Jesus, and His expectation for us to continue that ministry. Its called an inclusio – where the same words are used to bracket a section … So

Matthew 4:23 says

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

This, says Matthew is what Jesus did. Then he sets out how he did that. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 is the Sermon on the Mount—this is how Jesus taught and preached. Then he tells us how Jesus healed—chapters 8 and 9 are about nine healing miracles.  And then …

Matthew 9:35

Jesus went through all the town and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

They didn’t have punctuation in those days, so it was a way of saying `I have finished that section.’ He is saying, `This is what Jesus did in his ministry: he told people the good news, and he healed the sick.’

Then having finished that section, Matthew says, `Now, this is what Jesus told his disciples to do’—

Matthew 10:1

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

And verse 7, he says:

“As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”

So Jesus did it, and then he commanded his disciples to do it. But not just the twelve disciples, there were others as well—

Luke 9:1

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Then Luke 10:1

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

And verse 9—this was his command to them:

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, `The kingdom of God is near you.’”

So that is what Jesus did, what he commanded the Twelve to do, what He commanded the 72 and then at the end of Matthew, He commissions the disciples

Matthew 28:19

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Now, what did he command them to do? Make more disciples and teach them how to tell people the good news, and heal the sick.

 

And as you look on in the New Testament, that’s what they did. After the Gospels you get the book of Acts: the book of Acts is called Acts because they didn’t just talk about it; they did it. They preached the gospel and they healed the sick. Healing is one of the signs of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus, which continues to this day.

This going and making of disciples and teaching them to do what Jesus did extends to the whole church still today. Its an almost forgotten instruction but we should expect God to heal miraculously today as part of his kingdom activity.

 

2.  HEALING IN CHURCH HISTORY

So that’s healing in the Bible. Then as we look at church history, we see that healing was a normal part of the activity of the early church.

 

So, for example, we read in Irenaeus, who was writing in the second century, it says: `Others still heal the sick by laying their hands on them, and they’re made whole.’

Origen, who was born around 185 AD, says: `The name of Jesus can take away diseases.’

St. Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the greatest theologian of the first five centuries, wrote a book called The City of God, and in that book he talks about it—he says: `Even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.’ And he lists example after example after example of blind people being healed, all kinds of miracles. And many of them are in great detail. Christians in every age have continued to obey Jesus’ command to heal the sick.

As time went on, it was mainly by setting up hospitals and other institutions to relieve suffering. This has been one of the great achievements of the church. But God is still healing people miraculously today.

 

Raniero Cantalamessa, who was the preacher to Pope John Paul II for about 24 years, writes this: `Today we have two ways to face up to the problem of ill health: the way of human nature and the way of grace. By human nature, in this sense, encompasses science and technology and all our resources. But then there’s this second way: grace, which indicates faith and the prayers by which, as God may will, we sometimes obtain healings in a way that goes beyond the scope of human resources.’

`A Christian cannot be satisfied to use only the facilities of nature—to set up hospitals or work alongside with the structures of the state to provide care and comfort. Christians have a very special power of their own, given to them by Christ. He gave them authority to cure every disease and every sickness. It would be an omission to fail to have recourse to this power and so fail to hold out hope, especially to those to whom science denies all hope.’

 

3.  HEALING TODAY

 

I’ve told you Margie’s story and there are many others, even in this congregation. Nicky Gumbel tells the story of a woman called Jean Smith from a town in Wales. She arrived one Alpha evening as a visitor, and told him that sixteen-and-a-half years before she went blind. She had an infection which had eaten away the retinas and mirrors behind the eyes, and apparently they cannot be replaced. So she had a white stick and a guide-dog.

She had been on an Alpha course at her local church. At the Holy Spirit Day she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in a way she’d not experienced before. And the amazing thing was that the pain that she had been in for all those years just went. And she was so thankful to God she went to church that night to give thanks to God. And it was a communion service, and the minister in her church said he would like to anoint her with oil as a sign of this healing that had taken place over the weekend. And he anointed her with oil.

And as she wiped away the oil, she looked up, and she could see the communion table in front of her. She went home that night utterly amazed. She had not seen her husband for sixteen-and-a-half years and she could not believe how grey he had become!

 

God is a God who heals. One day we shall have a new, perfect body. In this life we never reach perfection. But when God heals someone today like Margie and Jean Smith, we get a glimpse of the future, when we will receive the redemption of our bodies.

Of course, no human being can ultimately avoid death. Our bodies are decaying, and at some point it might be right to prepare a person for death rather than to pray for healing.

We need always to be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

We need to remember however that if we pray for no-one, no-one will be healed but if we pray for lots of people, some will be, even if not all are healed. And when we pray for someone, even if they’re not healed, it’s always a blessing.

 

Some people are given very special gifts of healing—its one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They have healing as a ministry but that doesn’t mean that we should leave the praying to them. Jesus’ commission is to all of us, just as the commission is to all of us to tell the good news, although some have a particular gift of being evangelists.

So how in practice do we go about it?

Of course, it’s God who heals and not us. So there’s no technique involved; we pray with love and simplicity. The model of Jesus was compassion. That was his motive for praying for people—he loved them. We pray simply: because it’s not our prayer that heals people; it’s the power of God, the name of Jesus.

 

Words of knowledge – another gift of the Holy Spirit – can be very helpful. It’s one of the ways in which God speaks. Some of us have been praying this week that God would give us words of knowledge about people here today. Sometimes a word comes through a picture, an image, maybe of a part of the body that God wants to heal. Sometimes it’s a sympathy pain—that’s to say, a pain that somebody feels in their body which they know is not theirs, but maybe God’s speaking to them about something that he wants to do. Sometimes it’s through just an impression, a word that is seen or heard in the ear. Some of them can be quite specific.

 

On previous Alpha courses in which I have been involved we have had many words of knowledge about specific needs – from persistent toothache to deafness and even to gout. And many of these were amazingly healed.

The words of knowledge are not always as kind of specific as that; they can be quite general. Sometimes, its just `right knee’ or `left elbow’, and people think, `Oh, what is that! You know, anybody can say that! I can’t believe that’s going to have any impact.’

But often these are the most amazing because the people haven’t told anyone because they thought it was just a sore right knee or left elbow, and nothing to bother about. It can be quite faith-building to have your “secret” ailment revealed.

 

One time we didn’t have any words of knowledge and so we just joined into the small groups, and in one group, it was a family sitting together. It was, as you can imagine, quite embarrassing for them to pray for healing for each other. So the elderly mother took the lead. “You know,” she said, “that I’ve always had problems with my back” – she was almost bent in two – “why don’t you pray for me, and lets see what happens.” They sheepishly stood around her and her daughter put her hand on her mother’s spine. “Its moving,” she shrieked. I rushed over and you could actually see her spine rippling under her daughter’s hands. Her back never straightened fully but she was free from pain from that day on, until she died a few years later.

 

When we pray for someone we have a very simple pattern.

First, we ask, `What would you like to pray for?’ Sometimes we may need to ask God if there’s a root cause.

There was another woman who was a member of our congregation —and I’m telling you this because I’ve had permission from these people to tell these stories—who suffered with very painful feet. She had special shoes made.

And she was being prayed for by a woman who had the word `forgiveness’ for her. It didn’t mean anything at the time and her feet remained painful. The following day however, she realised that there was somebody from her past whom she needed to forgive. She had no way of contacting this person and she came to me. We prayed together and she forgave this person before Jesus and her feet were totally healed.

 

Second, how do we pray? There are various models in the New Testament. The usual is to pray in the name of Jesus, to ask the Holy Spirit to come, and we normally lay hands on people. Sometimes we anoint with oil.

Third we ask the question `How are you feeling?’ Some are healed; some are not. Some get better but are not totally healed. Jesus once prayed for a man who was blind, and he said, `Do you see anything?’ and the man said, `I see people, but they look like trees walking around.’ And Jesus prayed again a second time, and this time his eyes were opened and his sight was restored and he could see everything.

So sometimes we might pray several times for a person.

 

Fourth. After praying it’s important to reassure people of God’s love for them, regardless of whether they’re healed or not, to give them the liberty to come back, to pray again. We need to avoid putting burdens on people.

We must remember that we are free and able to ask the Holy Spirit at any time to heal us. But if the Spirit does not do it, there’s no reason to think that’s because we have no faith, or that God does not love us, or that God is punishing us. God is always answering the prayer … sometimes in ways we do not know, sometimes in processes which are much more effective in making the Kingdom of God real in the circumstances.

 

Always we go on praying, and we try to ensure people’s lives are rooted in the healing community of the church, where long-term healing takes place.

It’s important to persist in this area of prayer for healing. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate, dramatic results. The reason we go on praying is not so much that we’ve seen masses of people healed; but because Jesus commanded us to do it. And that’s why I would go on doing it even if nobody was healed.

 

Alpha – How can I make the most of the rest of my life?

We only get one life. We might wish for two. D.H. Lawrence said: `If only we could have two lives—the first one in which to make our mistakes, and the second one in which to profit from those mistakes.’ But there are no dress rehearsals for life—we’re on stage straight away.
And the question is: how can we make the most of the rest of our lives? All of us have made many mistakes in life. And the question is: what about the future? How can we make the most of that?
The Scripture answer is in Romans 12:1–2:
Therefore, [he says] I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1. WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
First of all, what should we do? First thing St. Paul tells us here is: break with the past. We’re called to be different—verse 2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. By the `world’ here Paul means the world that has shut God out. J.B. Phillips translates this: `Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould.’ Now, that’s not easy, because there’s always pressure to conform.
On a day like this all the pressure is to be Christian. But the moment you get back to work tomorrow, all the pressure is the other way. And it’s hard to be different.
I heard about a young police officer who was taking his final exam at Hendon Police College in North London. And the first three questions in this exam were relatively easy. And then he got to question four. Question four went like this:
`You’re on patrol in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation, you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and that there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van there’s a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants, a man and a woman, are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your Divisional Inspector, who is at present away in the United States.
A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance, but you realise that he is a man who’s wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly another man runs out of a nearby house shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.
Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you would take.’
The police officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote:
`I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.’

That’s always the temptation—to take off our Christian uniform and mingle with the crowd, to be like everybody else, because it’s so much easier. But what we’re called to be is distinctive—to retain our Christian identity wherever we are, whatever the circumstance.
It’s the difference, if you like, between a chrysalis and a chameleon. A chrysalis is a pupa that turns into a beautiful butterfly. A chameleon is a long-tailed lizard that changes colour according to the background it’s on. And that’s the temptation that we face: to be one thing, to be Christian if the environment is Christian; but if the environment is different, just to fit in with the background.
And that always creates a tension in our lives, because we’re one thing in one situation and we’re another thing in another situation.
They once did an experiment with a chameleon to see how it would respond to tension, they put it on a piece of tartan, and apparently it exploded!

Now, we’re called not to fit in with the background but to be different. Being different does not mean being odd. We’re not called to speak in some kind of weird religious language or to wear weird clothes; we’re called actually to be normal. That’s what a relationship with God brings.

Let me take three examples where we are called to be different. First of all, the area of backbiting, character assassination behind people’s back. This is a very common thing, isn’t it. Somebody goes out of the room and all the conversation turns to that person. We’re called to be different —perhaps to think of something positive to say about that person. It may not be easy, but… maybe they’re nice to their cat!
Second in the whole area of grumbling and complaining.
How often does it happen that the only kind of conversation which takes place during the tea break at work is grumbling and complaining. It’s the boss, a fellow worker, work conditions, the weather, the footie results etc etc. We’re called to be different.
Then thirdly in the area of sexual morality. Again, we’re called to demonstrate the blessing of keeping God’s standards. God loves us. God loves you. And God is the Creator of marriage. God is the Creator of sex. It was God who came up with the idea of sex! He’s not looking down from heaven thinking, `Goodness me! Whatever will they get up to next!’
C.S. Lewis said: `Pleasure is God’s invention, not the Devil’s.’

And the Bible affirms our sexuality. God made us sexual beings. The Bible celebrates sexual intimacy—the delight, contentment, the satisfaction that it brings. But the Inventor and Designer also tells us how this beautiful gift is to be enjoyed to the full.
And the biblical context is lifelong commitment in marriage. Jesus quoted the Creation account: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. In other words, there’s a public act of leaving.
Then, there’s the gluing together, being united. Not just physically and biologically, but emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially. And in that context the one-flesh union takes place. It’s God’s perfect plan that children should be brought up in an atmosphere of love and commitment and security. And the Creator, the Inventor, then warns us of the dangers of going outside the boundaries, of ignoring the instructions, if you like.
There’s no such thing as casual sex. Because every act affects this one-flesh union. I sometimes demonstrate this by taking two pieces of corrugated cardboard: one with a picture of a man, and the other with a picture of a woman, and gluing those two pieces of cardboard together. That’s what the Hebrew word means: they’re glued together. And if you then try and pull those pieces of cardboard apart, there’s this ripping sound, and little bits of each person are left on the other.
And that’s what we see all around us. And in contrast we see the blessing where God’s standards are kept—in Christian marriages.
And I’ve never met anybody who’s said to me: `I really regretted that I waited until my wedding day.’ I’ve met lots of people who said: `I really wish I had waited, because I’ve made a mess of my life.’
And the wonderful news is: it’s never too late. This is all about God’s love for us, and God’s redemption in Christ. That’s why Jesus died for us—so that the past can be forgiven, so that the past can be wiped clean, so that the scars, if there are scars, can be healed – we can begin again.

Jesus wants to restore wholeness to our lives and to give us a new start. Paul does not write this to condemn people; he says simply: Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world.

We’re called to change the world rather than to be squeezed into the world. Now, I’m conscious that all this is very kind of counter-cultural, because the world around us is not like that any more. The standards of the world around us are very, very different. And it takes a great deal of courage to take a stand and live out these standards today.
Because the pressure to conform is huge, particularly, I think, with young people.

A team of doctors conducted an experiment to see the ways in which group pressure influence young people. And what they did was they got three cards, each with a different length of line drawn on it: one was an obviously long line, one was a medium-sized line, and one was an obviously short line.
And what they did was they got ten young people together. Nine of those young people had been secretly instructed to vote for the second-longest line, the medium-sized line, as being longer than the long line. And there was one student who didn’t have a clue what was going on. And that was the person they were conducting the experiment on.
So what happened was the people conducting the experiment held up… They said, `We want you to vote for the longest line.’ They held up the medium-sized line, and the nine students who’d been instructed all raised their hands and voted for that as being the longest line. The tenth student looked round in just total disbelief! And he admitted later: `I thought I hadn’t properly listened to the instructions. I must have missed the point. I’d better do what all the rest are doing, or they will laugh at me.’ So he carefully raised his hand together with the other nine.
So the directions were explained again. They said, `We want you to vote for the longest line.’ And again they held up the medium-sized line—nine hands went up. This time the guy just looked around, completely—just couldn’t believe what was happening! And yet again he put up his hand.
Over and over again he voted with the group. 75 percent of young people tested behaved in the same way. They sat there time after time, saying that a medium-sized line was longer than a long line. Only 25 percent had the courage to stand against the group.
It takes courage not to conform to the world around us, even if we know deep in our hearts that what is right.

So that’s the first thing: break with the past. Secondly, make a new start—be transformed.
Most people dislike change, because we like routine—We get used to our life as it is.

Just shortly after I was ordained, one of the funeral directors in Benoni in South Africa asked me to take a funeral for a homeless person. The State paid for paupers burials but there was no fee for the minister so, as the newest minister in town, I got the job. This man was fairly well known on the streets. He pushed around a shopping trolley full of plastic bags and rubbish. He slept under the bridge near the highway and frequently ended up spending the night in jail for drunken behaviour.
In a situation like that, you wouldn’t expect there to be many people at the funeral. But when I got to the funeral chapel there was barely room to get in – it was jam-packed. It turned out that this man had in fact inherited a huge fortune several years earlier. He actually owned a number of properties in the CBD and shares worth millions. The funeral director who was also unaware of this until the funeral said to me afterwards, `Where there’s a will, there are relatives’! And so it proved; all kinds of people came to this funeral.
And I thought to myself, “Why would someone who had all this money choose to live on the streets with all their rubbish?”
And eventually somebody said, `Well, I think the problem was he didn’t want to leave behind the life he knew.’
Of course, that’s absurd!’—but there are many people who do just that with their lives—hanging onto the rubbish—they’re missing out on all the treasures that God has for their life.

What are these treasures?
Paul gives us a glimpse of it, in chapter 12:9–21. He says:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another with mutual affection. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it’s written: “It’s mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they’re thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you’ll heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
What are some of the treasures? Here’s the first one: sincere love—verse 9. The literal Greek word is anypokritos [???????????], which means `without hypocrisy’. That was the word that was used in a Greek play: when the actor wore a mask—that was a upokritos, from which we get the word `hypocrite’.
And `mask’, I suppose, is what we put forward when we don’t want people to see how things really are. So we say, `I don’t think people are going to like this, but they might like this.’ When the Government does it, I guess we call it `spin’. When we do it, we call it `image’. We’re projecting something that is not true.
And the result is that often in life, all you get in relationships are two masks meeting. And one of the wonderful things is when we experience God’s love for us, his love being poured into our hearts, and we know that God accepts us, even though he knows the very worst about us, and that sets us free to say, `Well, if God accepts me, then I can be myself. I can take down the mask.’
And what happens then is you get real people meeting with real people and a closeness of relationship—which I have never found, in my own experience, outside of the Christian church. A level, a depth of relationship.
Sometimes we use this illustration about marriage: if God is there and a husband and wife are there, the closer they are to God the closer they’ll be to each other. But the same applies to every relationship: the closer we are to God the closer we’ll be to one another.
Sincere love. Then enthusiasm for the Lord—verse 11: Never be lacking in zeal—enthusiasm for the Lord.
The initial experience of God, of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus is not meant to wear off. He says keep your spiritual fervour.
In our previous session, some may have had amazing experiences of God. Others may say, `Well, actually, to be honest, I felt absolutely nothing.’ And there may be even some of you here who say, `Well, I found it really difficult.’
It really doesn’t matter, in one sense. What matters is, where are you going to be in ten years’ time in your relationship with God? Its not what you experience or don’t experience, but the long term. It’s like in marriage. Some people have great honeymoons, and some people don’t have great honeymoons. But what’s important is having a great marriage.
I have some friends who on their honeymoon they both got so badly sun burned that they couldn’t touch each other! It was the first day of the honeymoon they couldn’t touch each other for the rest of the two weeks!
I heard the story of a couple who went on a barge in the English Lake District for their honeymoon and the barge sank the first night. They had to bail themselves out, and then get a bus home! But 61 years later they’re very happily married! That’s what matters.

Next, harmonious relationships. Look at some of the words in verses 9–21: love, joy, patience, faithfulness, generosity, hospitality, blessing, rejoicing, harmony, humility, peace, where good is not overcome by evil, but evil is overcome by good.
These are some of the treasures which God has in store for us. But in order to receive that, we have to leave behind the rubbish. Break with the past—make a new start.

2. HOW DO WE DO THIS?
How do we do this? Paul says here: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This is an act of the will—to offer all of ourselves to God, all of our lives.
That means giving God our time. Our time is our most valuable possession. Giving him all of our time doesn’t mean we spend all of our time reading the Bible and praying—of course our jobs are also our vocation. It’s a very important part of our Christian calling—our work, and everything else that we’re involved in.
But sometimes we get our priorities a little bit wrong.
There was once a genuine advert in The East African Standard—in the personal columns. It was a farmer who was looking for a potential wife. And this is how he advertised. He was from Nanyuki. It said this: `Nanyuki farmer seeks lady with tractor, with view to companionship and possible marriage. Please send picture of tractor.’
One of the things that happens when we give everything to the Lord is that people become much more important than possessions and things, even if that wasn’t the case beforehand. And of course our relationships become of supreme importance.
Number One, our relationship with God. If you say, `Where am I going to be in ten years’ time?’—there’s not going to any relationship unless you communicate. All relationships break down if there’s no communication.
So spending time with God in prayer, in reading the Bible. Personally—there’s no law about this—but I would really recommend, from my own personal experience, starting the day by reading this book and by praying. I think however we start the day, it kind of has an impact on the rest of the day.

Secondly, with the church—other Christians, the body of Christ. I don’t know whether you’ve had this experience at all yet: you come along on a Sunday morning and you think, `Oh, I really feel quite excited about this. I really enjoyed it.’ And then as the week goes on, that feeling kind of declines, and the following Sunday you’re thinking, `Mm, I’m not sure I’m going to go back this week.’ You think, `Well, maybe I’ll go back.’ And you come back and you think, `Oh, it’s quite fun. Quite like this!’ And then the following week it kind of declines.
You know why that is? Because we need one another. It’s in the community that our faith blossoms and grows.

Next, we give to the Lord our ambitions. Sometimes people say, `Should a Christian be ambitious?’ Jesus’ answer to that question: `Yes!’ In fact, Jesus commands us to be ambitious. He says: Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be yours as well. In other words, get your priorities right, get your Number One ambition right, and all the other things that people chase after will be yours as well.
But don’t make those things your Number One ambition, because they’re not worthy of being Number One. There are some people who are really concerned about what they achieve in life?
`Well, I want to make a lot of money.” But isn’t that a bit of a sad ambition! I mean, what’s the point? You make a million dollars—`Mm, exciting! Now what do I do? Oh, well, I could make two million dollars, three million, ten million dollars!’ Get to ten million dollars: `Now what do I do? Ooh, eleven million dollars.’ I mean, what is the point?
You get to the end of your life and God says to you: `What did you do with your life?’—`Oh, I made eleven-point-five million dollars in my life! Look, here it all is!’
God says, `Great! We can play Monopoly in heaven!’
What is the point! Other people, you know, the whole of their life is focused on fame or success or power or status. They say, `I want to be the chairman of a major public corporation. I want to be the Chairman of Wesfarmers. I want to have the biggest farm in the district. That can be so sad! I mean, so what!
When you get to heaven, `What did you do with your life?’—`I was the Chairman of Wesfarmers’—`Wow! We haven’t had one of those here before!’ What is the point!
Now, as a secondary ambition, it’s wonderful. If you’re saying: `My priority is to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and I think the way to do that is to have an influence on society. And I want to have the biggest farm in the district in order to make a difference to people’s lives’—then it’s a noble ambition, it’s a wonderful thing to want to do. Or to make lots of money in order to make a difference in the world. That’s great. But simply in itself, it’s pointless.
There’s no ban on private property or making money or saving it or enjoying the good things in life, but what is wrong is the selfish accumulation for ourselves, an unhealthy obsession with money, putting our trust in riches. And that just brings perpetual insecurity and leads us away from God. And the way to break that is genuine giving, generous giving—which is the appropriate response to God’s generosity and is the way to break materialism in our lives.

Our bodies ….
We give to God our ears—what we listen to. Do we listen to gossip or do we listen to what will build us up?
Our eyes—do we look with jealousy or lust, or do we look at people through God’s eyes?
Our mouths. James, chapter 3 talks about the mouth being such a powerful instrument. He says: `with your tongue you can destroy someone.’ How many people can look back to something that was said to them, maybe at school or by a parent or by somebody, that cut them and maybe has had a negative influence on their whole life. On the other hand, think what encouraging words do.
Our hands—do we use them to take or to serve?
Our sexuality—for our own gratification or do we reserve it for the good and pleasure of our marriage partners?

You can’t pick and choose. Paul says present your bodies. And you know what? This is the extraordinary paradox: if we live for ourselves, we find ourselves in bondage, in slavery. But if we present everything to God, we find freedom.
So he says present your bodies as living sacrifices.
Sacrifice means that there will be a cost. William Barclay wrote: `Jesus came not to make life easy but to make people great.’ If you want an easy life, please don’t become a Christian. Because it’s not easy being a Christian. But if you want a great life, a fulfilling life, life at all its best, life at its best, then follow Jesus.
We may have to give up stuff that we quite like and we’d like to hold onto. In the long term it’s only rubbish that God asks us to give up. But sometimes giving up the rubbish is hard. And to some extent it’s a lifelong struggle, giving up the rubbish. Some of it we put away immediately, but sometimes we struggle in our lives just to get rid of it. But we need to do that.

Second thing is: we have to be willing to fly his flag in what can be quite a hostile world. I don’t know what will happen when you get into work on Monday morning and someone says to you, `Did you have a good weekend?’—`Yeah, yeah, great weekend, thank you very much!’—`Oh, what did you do?’—`Oh, well, I went to this thing in town.’—`Oh really, what was it?’—`Umm…a kind of meeting.’—`Meeting? What kind of meeting?’—
`Er, sort of a lot of people, talking about stuff.’—`Oh really? What stuff?’—`Oh, it was sort of about life.’—`Oh, a kind of life coach course?” —`Well, not really, it was a sort of umm Alpha course.’—`Alpha course? What’s an Alpha course?’—`Well, it’s a – it’s a – it’s umm a… it’s umm… it’s – it’s kind of umm Christian—agghhh!’
I don’t know what the response will be, but they won’t kill you! They won’t put you in prison. Many people round the world, once they say they’re a Christian, they’re in danger of imprisonment—or even, in some places, death. More people have died for their faith in Christ in the twentieth century than in all the other centuries put together. Its not going to happen in Merredin but in any event it’s not always easy to be a Christian.

3. WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?
Why should we do it? First of all, because of what God has planned for our lives—verse 2: Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
One of the things that I think is almost demonic is a kind of false view of God that people have so often… that God is a kind of spoilsport—God is the kind of person that if you gave your life to him, he would destroy it—he’d take away all the things that were fun and good in our lives.
How absurd that is! God loves us—far more than we even love our own children! God’s will for our lives is the best. It’s pleasing—it will please us long term. That doesn’t mean to say it’s going to be easy or problem-free. And Christians go through suffering and difficulties as much as anybody else, and in addition they have to share in the sufferings of Christ—the rejection and so on that sometimes happens in the world.
So it’s not that it’s problem-free. But long term, at the end of our life, we’ll say, `I’m pleased that I did this.’ And it’s perfect—we can’t improve on God’s will for us. Sometimes I think we think we can do better than God! I suppose in a sense that’s the essence of sin. It’s a kind of independence.
When our children were younger, my son Garth came home with a school project. He had to make a Pirate Map. And he spent all weekend on it, he really worked hard on it, and it was beautiful what he produced. He got a lovely italic pen and he wrote on it, and he produced this wonderful map.
And then on Sunday afternoon, he said, `We need to make this look really old.” And he decided to burn the edges over a candle. ’
So Margie said, `Oh, that’s great. Let’s do it together—I’ll help you.’ He said, `No, no, no, I’d like to do it on my own.’ She said, `Well, it’s quite difficult: you know, fire and paper… It might be a good idea if we did it together.’ He said, `No, no, no, I want to do it on my own!’
Well, you can guess what happened. The whole thing burned up! But the good news is there was time to do it again. And this time he said, `Mum, would you give me a hand with this?’

And you may feel that about your life: `I’ve made a bit of a mess. There’s still time and I want to make the best of the rest of my life.’
And the good news is God is the God of the second chance, and the third chance, and the hundredth chance. And we can start all over again, and this time we can say to the Lord: `Lord, for the rest of my life could we do it together?’
So we do it because of what God has planned for our future, and secondly because of what God has done for us. His amazing love, his gifts to us—the only adequate response… Paul says: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy… offer yourselves to God…

PAPERS & FIRE!!!

The little sacrifices that we may have to make for him are nothing compared to the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, that God made for us in Christ on the Cross. And when we look at the Cross, we see how much God loves us. And if God was willing to do that for us, it’s absurd not to trust him with all the other things in our lives.
Paul wrote this: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

I heard about a wealthy English baron called Fitzgerald. This man had one son. And his son left home and, while he was away from home, he died. And this wealthy man never got over the loss of his son. And as his wealth increased, he invested in old masters—valuable paintings.
When he died, his will called for all the paintings to be sold. And because he had such a great collection collectors, museums came from all over the world and a crowd gathered. On the day of the auction the lawyer read from his will, and what it said was this:
`The first painting to be sold in this auction is of My Beloved Son.’ It was by an unknown painter, it was poor quality. The only person who even bothered to bid for it was somebody who’d worked for the family and who’d known the boy and had loved him, and he bought it for sentimental value and for the memories it held.
Then the lawyer read the second clause of the will: `Whoever buys My Son gets everything. The auction is over.’
Paul said: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
`Whoever buys my Son gets everything.’

Alpha – How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?

This morning we looked at the fact that every Christian has the Holy Spirit living within them. Paul says if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. And yet Paul also writes to the Christians in Ephesus and he says: Be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the Greek word there is in the present continuous tense—it means `Go on being filled, over and over and over again.’
What is the difference between someone who’s a Christian and a Christian who is full of the Holy Spirit?

I sometimes use this analogy. My dad had a gas geyser, and it had a little pilot light, which was on all the time. And, if you like, that’s like every Christian has the pilot light on all the time—we always have the Spirit of God living within us.
Some people are pilot-light Christians.
But when the water comes on, that gas geyser goes whooosh!—And the heat and the light come on. Sometimes Christians are like the pilot-light and some are Whooosh! On fire, firing on all cylinders, if you don’t mind me mixing the metaphors!

How does this happen? In the book of Acts, which is really the history of the church, Volume One, we see a number of occasions where people are filled with the Spirit.
I want to start with one that we looked at this morning—Acts 2, the day of Pentecost. We will see five different occasions in the book of Acts where people are filled with the Spirit.
And I don’t know whether you fall into one of these categories, but I suspect that most people here today will fall into one of them.
The first category is this: those who are longing to be filled—rather like Fiona Arnott who I talked about this morning. Here was a group on the day of Pentecost who were longing to be filled. And what happened was this:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
They’d been waiting, they’d been praying, and the Spirit came on all of them. So if you’re in that category, longing to be filled, you will be filled.

Second group is those who were receptive. They weren’t longing, but they were receptive.
Acts 8:14. This was a group of Samaritans.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Now, something amazing must have happened, because as we read on: When Simon [who was a sorcerer] saw that the Spirit was given at the laying-on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. He said, `Wow, that’s great, I wish I could do that! How much does it cost to be able to do that? I’m willing to pay!’… and said, “Give me also this ability so that everybody on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Obviously this ministry cannot be bought! But something amazing must have happened, that Simon was willing to pay money for it.
So this is the second group: they were receptive, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Third—and there may even someone in this category today: the hostile.
The man who became the apostle Paul was at one stage hostile to everything that was happening in the early church.
Acts 8:1. When Stephen, the first martyr, was killed,Saul was there—that’s Paul’s other name, Saul.
Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
Verse 3: Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Chapter 9, verse 1—just over the page:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way [that was the way they described Christians], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
So you couldn’t get someone more hostile than Saul at that stage of his life. And then you know the story—how he was on the road to Damascus and he encountered Jesus.
So here was somebody totally hostile who encountered Jesus, was filled with the Spirit and started to go around telling people `Jesus is alive! Jesus is the Son of God.’ Totally transformed by being filled with the Spirit.
Nicky Gumbel tells of a guy called Robert Taylor, 41 years of age. He was a successful businessman, but unsuccessful in his marriage. In fact, he had left his wife and two young children. He was a complete atheist. He’d only been to church four times in his life: he went to his own wedding, his brother’s wedding and two funerals. Four occasions in 41 years!
One time, he was doing a business deal and this man said, `You know, Robert, have you ever thought about doing the Alpha course at Holy Trinity Brompton?’ And he said, `No, I wouldn’t dream of doing that—I’m an atheist.’
A few weeks later he was doing another deal, and the man said to him, `You know, Robert, have you ever thought about doing the Alpha course at Holy Trinity Brompton?’ He thought, `That’s funny, that’s what the other guy said. Maybe I’ll go along and give it a go.’
So he came along, and the first night he decided to make it absolutely clear to everybody in his small group that he was not remotely interested! So this was his opening remark the first night:
He said, `Look! I nearly died of cancer when I was thirty years of age. I find life pretty difficult and not a great deal of fun. As far as I’m concerned, eternal life is the last thing I want! So,’ he said, `I really can’t see what Christianity has to offer me.’
That cast a bit of a pall over the small group!
Bruce, who was leading the small group, said, `Mm, that’s a very interesting point of view!’ And the course went on, and he came on the Holy Spirit Weekend.
And on the Saturday evening he gave his life to Christ. And he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He said he felt this glow all over—people in small groups said he was beaming like a Cheshire cat for the rest of the weekend!
And at the end of the weekend, he went to see his wife—the wife he’d left—to tell her what had happened to him. And she said, `Oh no, Robert, here you go again—another one of your crazes! First we had golf, then it was tennis, then it was scuba-diving, and now we’ve got this. You’ll soon get over it.’
And he said he was determined to show her that this was different. And so she said, `Well, look, Robert, if it’s really made such a difference, why don’t you come back and live with us.’ And so he did. He moved back into their home.
And the children—in Samuel, the elder son’s words—thought it was completely fantastic. Little Samuel was so excited he got hold of a Bible and he started reading it, and he came across the books of 1 & 2 Samuel. He said, `Dad, it’s a great book, this—I’m in it—not once, but twice!’
Now, that guy’s life was radically changed. So Nicky said to him at the end of the course, `Robert, would you come and lead a small group on the next course?’ He said, `Me, lead a small group on Alpha?’ He said, `I have been an atheist for 41 years; I’ve only been a Christian for three weeks! How can I lead a group?’ So Nicky said, `No, I’d love you to lead a group.’ And finally he agreed.
Nicky says he’ll never forget the third week of that course. He went into the bookshop, and there was Robert with this great big pile of books like this! `Robert” he said, ‘what are you doing with all those books?’ `Well, it’s like this,’ he said, `the first week they asked me all these questions and I didn’t know what they were talking about—I didn’t know the answer to any of their questions! SoI came into the bookshop, I bought a whole load of books andnwent home and I studied that night until three o’clock in the morning.’ And he said, `I did that every night throughout the week. The trouble is, the questions they asked me this week are totally different—now I’ve had to buy all these other books!’
He had gone from being hostile to telling people Jesus is the Son of God.
That’s the difference being filled with the Spirit makes.

Fourth group is the uninformed. There may be somebody here today who says, `Well, you know, I’ve kind of believed, I’ve sort of seen myself as a Christian for a long time. I was baptised, and confirmed, and I go to church from time to time, or even regularly. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard very much about the Holy Spirit.’
Here was a group like that.
Acts 19:1-6.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Well, what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. “Paul said, “But John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Fifth category is the unlikely. We go back a few pages to Acts, chapter 10. I want to spend a little bit longer on this occasion. There may be somebody here who says, `Well, I don’t really think this kind of thing would happen to me, because I’m not the religious type.’
In the ancient world there were the religious people, who were the Jews, and there were the non-religious people, who were the Gentiles. And in the early days of Christianity it was only the religious type who became Christians. The earliest Christians were all Jewish.
In fact, they needed quite a lot of persuasion to believe that somebody who was not a Jew could become a Christian. And this is how it happened. What happened was Cornelius—who was a Gentile, a non-Jew—received a very clear message from God in a vision, and at the same time Peter received a very clear message from God.
And as a result of that, Peter ended up preaching the good news about Jesus in Cornelius’ house. And while he was preaching, this is what happened—
Acts 10:44
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers [that’s the Jewish believers] who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles [even on the non-Jews]. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
And verse 47: Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

1. THEY EXPERIENCED THE POWER
OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
What happened on this occasion? Here’s the first thing: they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t know exactly what happened, but Peter says: “They received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So presumably what happened to them was very similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost, when Peter and the others received the Holy Spirit.
And it must have been something amazing, because Peter was preaching a sermon. And he had to stop preaching. So it must have been something dramatic. Because if you know anything about preachers, it takes a lot to stop a preacher preaching!
But something happened.
In the account on the day of Pentecost the language used is like a heavy, tropical rainstorm. It’s a picture like the word we looked at this morning: the rûah, the wind of God coming, blowing through the place. They heard a gale.
And sometimes when the Spirit of God comes there are physical manifestations. Sometimes it’s literally like as if a gale has blown through a room. Sometimes literally people physically find it easier not to stand up any longer but to lie down. Sometimes you see people breathing in deeply, like they’re breathing in the Spirit of God.

And then again, on the day of Pentecost they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And fire in the Bible signifies something very powerful. It also is something that purifies. And it also itself sets on fire. So if you take a piece of damp wood and you throw it in the fire, there’s a kind of sizzling noise as the dampness is extracted. That, if you like, is the purifying.
But then eventually that wood catches light itself. And when the fire of God comes on a person—Jesus said that he would baptise people with the Holy Spirit and with fire—it’s like they catch on fire.

And sometimes again there are physical manifestations of this. I’ve often heard people talk about experiencing heat. Sometimes people say they experience heat `in my hands’. One person said `I was glowing all over’, another person said `I experienced liquid heat burning in my arms when I wasn’t hot’.
Now, I’m not suggesting that any of these things will necessarily happen. There is a very difficult balance needed here. Because when we talk about the manifestations of the Spirit, and the physical manifestations occur, then sometimes people suggest that it is autosuggestion. “You’re suggesting these things will happen, and that’s why they happen.”
So there are times when I have deliberately chosen not talk about them at all. And then they happen. And people say, `Why didn’t you tell about these things? Because we were so surprised by what happened. I wish you’d said something to warn us because we didn’t know what was happening.”

So I’m trying to say to you… I’m not suggesting to you that they will happen, but all I’m saying to you: if they do happen, it’s perfectly normal. It’s simply a little physical manifestation of something that is very important. But it’s the something that’s important, not the manifestations that are important.
So it really doesn’t matter whether you have physical manifestations. What matters is what happens in the heart. And some people do and some people don’t. It’s a bit like falling in love.
When you fall in love, people respond differently. Some people feel nothing! Other people get all kinds of tinglings in their spine and their heart starts thumping! Now, those manifestations are not what matters; it’s the falling in love that matters.

It would be absurd, wouldn’t it, to say: `Oh, you know, when I met this person I got tinglings in my spine and my heart was thumping! Now, I wonder whether there’s a book on heart-thumping, tingling in the spine. I’d like to go on a course on Tinglings In The Spine so I can get more tingling in the spine!’
You wouldn’t do that; you’d say: `I want to pursue that relationship.’
The manifestations of the Spirit are usually simply manifestations of love. Because the supreme work of the Spirit, as we were looking at earlier today, is to pour God’s love into our hearts—to give us an experience of God’s love for us.
Romans 5:5: The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
And we all need to experience love.

I heard about a couple who had been married for fifty years. It was their Golden Wedding Anniversary. And this was a very unusual couple, because they’d argued all the way through their married life; day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out!
And when it got to their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the whole family got together and they thought, you know, `What could we give this couple as a Golden Wedding Anniversary gift?’ And they decided the best thing that they could give them was a visit to a top consultant psychiatrist, all expenses paid.
Well, the couple argued about whether or not they should accept! They argued all the way there, and as they walked into the psychiatrist’s office they were still arguing.
`Stop!’ He said, `Look, I’m going to do something I have never done before in my entire professional career.’ He got up from behind his desk, he walked round the other side, and he took this little old lady in his arms and he kissed her on the lips for a very long time!
And then he said to the man, `Now, that is what this woman needs—three times a week.’ And the man scratched his head and he said, `Okay, doctor, if that’s what you say, I’ll bring her in Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays.’

What that doctor was trying to say was: `This woman needs to experience love.
This is the deepest human need.’ And that’s the experience of the Spirit.
In Ephesians 3:14 the apostle Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus.
He says: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
He prays that they would know the love of Christ—how wide it is! The love of Christ reaches out to every tribe, every nation, every place in the world.
How long it is—all the way through our lives. How deep it is—doesn’t matter how much we’ve messed up. It doesn’t matter how far we’ve fallen; the love of Christ can reach us right down there.
And then how high it is—it can lift us to the very highest place, to be princes and princesses, sons and daughters of God. And if you take those four things—how wide and long and high and deep—it forms the shape of a cross.
And supremely that’s how we know that God loves us: because he came in the person of his Son to die for you and for me. And Paul prays that we would grasp that, that we would understand the cross, the love of Christ.
But then he goes on to pray for something more: and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. That’s to say, you can’t simply intellectually understand this love; you have to experience it in your hearts. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does—he gives us an experience of God’s love for us. That’s why he goes on to pray that you might be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
To know that Jesus loves you. That’s the first thing. They experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. THEY WERE RELEASED IN PRAISE
Secondly, they were released in praise—back to Acts 10:46:
For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Spontaneous praise is the language of those who are excited, thrilled about their relationship with God.
St. Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian of the Christian Church, said this about God: `The thought of you stirs a person so deeply that they cannot be content unless they praise you. Because you made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’
And one of the things about worship is it melds a number of different voices into a single act of praise and worship. And this kind of response involves all of our beings—not just our minds but our hearts, our wills and our emotions.
Sometimes people are a little bit hesitant, I think, about the emotions. They say, `Is it right to express emotion in church? Isn’t there a danger of emotionalism?’
To be honest, I have a bit of a fear of emotionalism. I am relatively conservative, and spending most of my early life at boarding school I was brought up to suppress emotions.
And I still find it quite difficult to express emotion in any situation.
When Quinten and Tegan arrived here in Australia – and again when, Sven & Linda, Rebecca, Isabella and Micah arrived – we went to Perth Airport to welcome them. I kind of stood there all nonchalant as if it didn’t really mean anything to me. And then the plane landed and I started to get a little excited. After a while I even moved up to the door where they would come through.
There were other people with balloons and banners, but I just stood there with my hands in my pockets. Eventually I did get quite excited and started to look through the door each time it opened to see if they were anywhere in the customs area. When I caught a glimpse of them, it was as if my heart went into overdrive. But I casually wiped away the happy tear in my eye and kept on looking at the Arrivals board.
When they came through the door I couldn’t help myself, I walked quite fast towards them, almost running – this is unheard of! And I hugged them like I was never going to let them go, and my eyes were full of happy tears. I have never felt like that before. And I will probably only feel like that one more time – when Garth and Roxanne & Samuel arrive.
The point is there was emotion in it.
Because if you love someone, we express that with emotion.

Sometimes people say, `Yeah, but not in church! That’s different! That’s inappropriate. That’s a kind of public place where we ought to be more reserved.’
But again, I think we need to be consistent. Why are we so excited, cheering and waving at a footie match but then become emotional zombies in church?
Someone once said, `The chief danger in the Church is not delirious emotionalism, but our lack of it.’
We ought to be able, feel free, to express that in our relationship with God.
With our whole beings—our emotions, our minds, our hearts, and our bodies! Do you know that all early worship, all prayer, was with hands raised. That was the normal form of prayer. So if you go into a church and you see everybody with their arms in the air, just say: `I have come to a very traditional church going back to first-century worship’!
If you go into a church with everybody with hands by their side, that’s fine. Just say `I’ve come to a church—modern, trendy, experimenting with new forms of worship’!

3. THEY RECEIVED A NEW LANGUAGE
Next, they received a new language—moving swiftly on! Back to verse 46:
For they heard them speaking in tongues… We’ve seen this in Acts, chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost; we saw it also in Acts 19.

Let me say straight away that not all Christians do speak in tongues. It’s not the mark of being a Christian. Nor is it the mark of being filled with the Spirit—you can be filled with the Spirit and not speak in tongues. There’s no such thing as kind of `first-class Christians who speak in tongues and second-class Christians who don’t’.
It’s not even the most important gift—Paul often puts it at the bottom of the list.
So why has it become such a big thing?
The reason is simply that this gift is often the first of the more obviously supernatural gifts.
So what exactly is the gift? Would you like to turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. This is a passage which is often read at weddings, but I don’t know whether people notice this opening verse:
If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Paul talks there about two types of tongues: first of all, human—speaking in tongues in a human language; and secondly, an angelic language. Occasionally people receive the gift of tongues in a way that is recognisably a human language.
More often, it’s an angelic language, which presumably we wouldn’t recognise. So what exactly is it?
1 Corinthians 14:2
For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to people but to God. And we call speaking to God…? Prayer, yeah. It’s a form of prayer which transcends the language limitation.
Even with human communication we sometimes get stuck, don’t we. Sometimes we try to communicate something to someone and just think `I haven’t got the words to express what I’m trying to say.’ We’re all limited. However many words we know we are limited by words. Everybody is limited by the language, because what we’re trying to do is express something we feel but find it hard to put it into a language which the other person can understand.
So God has given us another way—which is free us from the limitations of human language.
So verse 14, he says: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. In other words, he doesn’t have to go through this process of putting it into a recognisable human language.
But the speaker is in full control—you can start when you want, you can stop when you want. How does this help? Well, in verse 4 he says that a person who speaks in a tongue edifies himself—builds himself up. It’s a great help in the area of praise and worship.
Again, when we’re praising and worshipping God, sometimes we can run out of words, just like when we’re praising or thanking someone in a human relationship—those thank-you letters: `Dear Aunt Edna, thank you so much for the lovely socks you sent me for Christmas. We’ve just come back from a lovely holiday…’—oh dear, we’ve got two `lovelies’. Cross out one “lovely”…. “Fantastic, wonderful, brilliant, amazing, wicked, superb”… Ten seconds, and we’ve run out.
And God can give us a language to praise him that is freed from limitation. When we’re under pressure, sometimes it’s really hard to pray when things are closing in on us.

I was once called out to a hospital after one of our members and her husband had been severely injured in a terrorist bombing incident in Johannesburg. When I arrived the social workers hurried me into the operating theatre where Erica was lying. They had cut away all her clothes and her whole body was just a bloody mess. She was in absolute agony but had refused any treatment until I arrived. I didn’t really know what to say or do, so I just took her bloody hands in mine and prayed in tongues. The doctors and nurses were looking at me as if I was mad.
Afterwards her story was published in Joy – a popular Christian magazine in South Africa and she told of that moment … “when Pastor David arrived, he took my hands in his and prayed. And as I looked at him I could hear words coming from his lips and then it was as if Jesus was standing there talking to me. He said that He loved me and that He was with me and that He would never let me go. And I just felt the pain drifting away, before they even brought the anaesthetic.”

Does the New Testament approve of speaking in tongues? Yes! Sometimes people say that 1 Corinthians 14 warns against it but it is really a warning against excessive public use. Paul makes the point in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is the most important thing, and every gift has to be exercised in love.
In 1 Corinthians 14 he’s making the point that `Don’t constantly be using this gift in every church service.’ In other words, these people were so excited about this gift of tongues that instead of having a talk in a language they could understand, someone would get up and speak in tongues. And he said, `Look, that’s hopeless! Better to speak five intelligible words that people can understand than ten thousand words in a tongue.’
He goes on to say, `Don’t forbid it. In public there needs to be an interpretation.’ That’s not a translation, but someone needs to say `This is what I think that person was saying through that message.’
But in private he encourages the use. In fact he says, `I speak in tongues more than you all.’ Singing in tongues is different. He says, `I’ll pray with my spirit and I’ll sing with my spirit.’ Singing in tongues… Whereas praying out loud in tongues is really, generally speaking, a private activity that should be done on our own, singing in tongues is a corporate activity—involves us all. We have to listen to one another as we sing together, and it’s often a very, very beautiful sound as people are praising God together from their hearts.

How do we receive this gift? We receive, like every other gift, by asking. Because essentially we have received the Giver—the Holy Spirit. He has all the gifts.
And not everybody speaks in tongues, but Paul says `I’d like you all to speak in tongues’—verse 5 of chapter 14. He said, `Prophecy’s even more important, but I’d love you all to speak in tongues.’ It’s available. It doesn’t mean that everybody has to or everybody will. But we need to ask God and then co-operate. The only way to receive this gift is by starting to speak.
I received the gift of tongues before I even knew that there was such a thing. I was a brand new Christian and one day I felt a need to get rid of all the stuff in the house that was offensive to God. I collected it all and made a bonfire. I poured petrol over everything and set it alight. Whoosh! I marvelled that God had given us this explosive stuff and allowed us to control it in combustion engines. I started to sing “How great Thou art” and suddenly different words, which I did not know were coming out of my mouth. I had to ask my minister to explain it all to me.

Would you like to be filled with the Holy Spirit? You can be filled with the Spirit and not speak in tongues.
In my experience, there are three barriers to people receiving. The first is doubt: `If I asked, would I receive?’ Jesus says this—Luke 11:9: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you;
And you can see the disciples are looking: `Mm…’– a bit… not convinced. So Jesus says a second time: seek and you will find; …Still not convinced!
knock and the door will be opened to you.
You can see they’re thinking: `Mm, not sure. Maybe other people if they asked, but I don’t think me.’

So Jesus goes on:
For everyone who asks receives; `Everyone’ includes you.
Everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds;
and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

The second barrier is fear. You can see the disciples saying, `Mm, okay, convinced—if I asked I’d receive. But do I want to receive? Would something terrible happen to me?’
And so Jesus says, `Look, some of you are fathers. Supposing your son comes to you and it’s lunchtime and you say to your son, “What would you like for lunch?” And your son says, “Oh, I’d love some fish and chips.” And you say, “Great, there’s a good fish & chip shop down the road.” And you say, “Oh, I’ll just pop down and get you some.”
And instead of popping down to the fish & chip shop you go to the pet-shop and you get a snake. And you come back and you say to your son, “You know you asked for fish & chips? Here it is!” and you give him a snake.’
Jesus said this: “Which of you fathers, if your children ask for a fish—he forgot to mention the chips!—will give him a snake instead? Or if he asked for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you’re evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” `He’s not going to give you something terrible—he’s going to give you the Holy Spirit!’

Third barrier to receiving is inadequacy.
Sometimes people feel that they are unworthy and that God would not give the Holy Spirit to them.
But what Jesus says is not `How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to really holy people who’ve been Christians for a very long time.’ He says: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! All we need to do is to ask!

So shall we ask him?

Alpha – What does the Holy Spirit do?

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus:
John 3:5-8
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”
“How can anyone be born in old age?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The expression `born again’ has become a bit of a cliché and it’s even been used to advertise cars, come-back sports stars—whatever! People talk about `born again Christians’ and it sounds quite daunting, as if this is a better kind of Christian than anyone else. To say “born-again Christian” is tautological – it is an unnecessary repetition of the same thing – every follower of Christ is born again!
Jesus was the first person to use the expression. And what Jesus meant is that, just as when a man and a woman come together in an act of love that produces a physical baby, so it is when the Spirit of God and the spirit of a man or a woman come together in an act of love: a new spiritual birth takes place. A person is born anew, they’re born again, they begin a new spiritual life.

A Sunday School teacher was explaining to her Sunday School group the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth. She asked the children, `Are you born a Christian?’ And one little boy replied, `No, Miss, you’re born normal.’

Jesus is saying as well as physical birth we need a new spiritual birth. Of course the Spirit created us, the Spirit convinces us about our sin, our need for Jesus; but when we come to Christ there is a different type of relationship – the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. It’s qualitatively different.
When I first “gave my life to Jesus / became a Christian / my faith came alive”—whatever expression you like to use, and there are many, many different expressions for it in the New Testament—I thought I’d arrived. I thought this was it! You know, I’d been thinking about it, I’d been struggling with it, and now I had become a Christian, that was it!
And someone had to explain to me that that was just the beginning. It’s like a baby being born—that’s not the end but the beginning of everything! The baby has to grow.
And so it is when we come to Christ, when the Spirit of God comes to live within us—that’s not the end, that’s the beginning.
And what I want to look at in this session is what happens when the Spirit of God comes to live within a man or a woman. What is the impact of that? What’s the effect?

1. SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD
Here’s the first thing: We become sons and daughters of God.
Romans 8:1
Romans, chapter 8 is one of the most magnificent chapters in the entire New Testament. It’s a high point of the New Testament. And in verse 1 Paul writes:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Jesus on the cross took all our sins—past, present, future. And he takes all of our sins and he buries them `in the very depths of the sea’, as the prophet Micah puts it. And that’s where they’re to stay. The slate is wiped completely clean the moment we come to Christ.
And then something even more amazing happens: we come into this relationship with God—as a son or a daughter. And this happens not by birth but by spiritual birth.

Romans 8:14-17
…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we’re God’s children. And if we’re children, then we’re heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Here’s the first thing: being a son or a daughter of God is the highest privilege that we can ever have: those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption.
You are adopted into God’s family. Under Roman law, which was probably in Paul’s mind, adoption was a highest privilege. You could have no higher status than being adopted into a Roman family.

And still today. I heard of one little boy who had been adopted, and he was being teased in the playground about the fact that he was adopted. And he turned round to the people who were teasing him, and he said this: he said, `Look,’ he said, `my parents chose me! Your parents got lumped with you!’
Billy Bray was a drunken and loose-living miner from Cornwall, born in 1794. He was always getting involved in fights. At the age of 29, he became a Christian. He went home and he told his wife, “You will never see me drunk again.” She never did!
He became a preacher and his words were magnetic, crowds of miners would come to hear him preach – many were converted and there were some remarkable healings.
He used to describe himself as a Prince – the son of a King, he was an adopted son of God.

Secondly, it’s the closest possible intimacy. It goes on in that verse to say: “But by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Abba is a very interesting word because it’s an Aramaic word, and the translators haven’t even bothered to try and translate it because it’s so hard to translate. They’ve left it as it is. It’s one of the most important words in the New Testament.
It’s the word that would have been used by a child to their father; but not just when they were a child, but all the way through their life. So it’s almost like `Dad’ or `Daddy’ but it doesn’t have the childish connotations that those words might have in our society.
But it’s a word of a very close intimacy of relationship. It’s a word that was distinctive to Jesus. Nowhere in the Old Testament is God referred to as Abba, but Jesus used it of his relationship with God, and then he said, `You can have the same relationship. God can be your father, with the same word being used as I use in my relationship with the Father, Abba.’

I came across some of Prince Charles’ titles. He has a lot of them. He’s His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. He’s the Duke of Cornwall, he’s Knight of the Garter, he’s Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Wales, he’s the Duke of Rothsay, he’s the Knight of the Thistle, he’s the Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy, he’s Great Master of the Order of Bath, he’s the Earl of Chester, he’s the Earl of Carrick, he’s the Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Great Steward of Scotland.
But to William and Harry he’s just Dad. An amazing thing is that Jesus is saying we can have this kind of intimacy in our relationship with God. Abba.

And then third it’s the deepest experience. People are looking for a deeper spirituality. They’re looking for spiritual experiences and they look in all kinds of ways. Here is the deepest spiritual experience you can ever have —verse 16:
The Spirit himself—that’s the Holy Spirit—testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
I remember the very first moment in my life when I experienced that, when I suddenly realised that I was a child of God, that God loved me! Not just the whole world—he loves the whole world—but he loves me! Like a parent loves their child, only far, far more than any parent loves their child.
But from time to time a parent will take a child in their arms and give them a hug and say `I love you’. And from time to time the Spirit of God takes us in his arms and he gives us a hug. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. The deepest experience.

And then it’s the greatest security—verse 17.
Now, if we’re children, then we’re heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.
Under Roman law an adopted son would be just like any other son. He would inherit when the father died. We as Christians inherit not on the death of our Father, so to speak; but on our own death. We become inheritors with Christ. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
There is no greater security than being an heir of God, a co-heir with Christ.
2. DEVELOPING THE RELATIONSHIP
So the first effect of the Spirit of God coming to live within a person is that they become a son or a daughter of God. Second thing is that the Spirit then helps us to develop that relationship. Relationships grow by communication. So the Spirit of God helps us to pray, to speak to God.
Ephesians 2:18
“Through him [through Jesus] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access to the Father by the Spirit.”
The Spirit gives us access to God as we pray. We’re able to come through Jesus into the presence of God.
`Access’ again is a wonderful word in the New Testament—the fact that we have access to God. There’s nothing, if you like, between us and God. There’s no barrier between us. And often I think we feel that there is a barrier—a much greater barrier than there really is.

I have a friend by the name of Gus Hunter who is the International Training Director for YWAM and a top Christian speaker. Gus is a bit of a “dreamer” – he lives in a different dimension to the rest of us ordinary people. In fact … let me give you a Zulu lesson here. In isiZulu, when you don’t understand, you say “ngazi”. Gus grew up amongst Zulu boys and instead of calling him Angus, they called him Ngaz’.
Anyway, Angus, or Gus rather, once spoke at Conference about the extremely thin veil which separates us from God. I had this picture of a gossamer curtain spun from spider silk which was all that separated us from God. It was so thin that it all but disappeared when we prayed … he called the place of prayer, a “thin place”.
The barrier between us and God is much thinner than we think.
In fact, when we pray, it’s non-existent. We have access by the Spirit.

Paul writes later in Romans 8, saying: the Spirit helps us in our weakness because we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.
So the Holy Spirit helps us in the relationship, he helps us to pray, and then also he helps us to understand God’s word. Paul prays in Ephesians that we would have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we might know God better. He prays that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we can understand—the Bible, for example.

Before I was a Christian I had heard this book read in services—but I didn’t understand it. It was only when I took a step of faith that I suddenly realised some of the intellectual objections I had were completely false. I understood things I’d never understood before. Until the Spirit of God came in, I couldn’t understand.

One of the great theologians and philosophers of the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury, said this: `Credo ut intelligare’—which means `I believe in order that I might understand.’ He said: `I do not seek to understand in order to believe; but I believe in order to understand.’

I don’t know whether any of you have seen the film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, but in the movie Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, and he’s in search of the Holy Grail in order to, among other things, save his father’s life.
And one of the things that he has to do in order to find the Holy Grail is to take a leap from the Lion’s Head to prove his worth. And the Lion’s Head is a kind of rock-face with a huge great ravine underneath. You can see him saying `It’s a leap of faith!’ as he looks out.
And then he sticks his foot out like that, and really there’s absolutely nothing beneath him. And then he puts it down, and as he does so, it lands on a bridge—which he couldn’t have seen until he landed on it. And that takes him across to his destination.

And I think for some people it seems like becoming a Christian is a leap of faith. It isn’t actually a leap of faith; it’s a step of faith. But it’s only as we take the step that we understand that actually it’s true—that we’re not leaping into the unknown, we’re on solid ground.
And it’s the Holy Spirit who brings that understanding and helps us then to develop the relationship with God.

3. THE FAMILY LIKENESS
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit brings the family likeness. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that children very often look like their parents. The amazing thing is that they so often look like both parents, even if the parents look quite different from each other. But it’s not just a genetic thing; it’s also, I think, spending time together.
Isn’t it amazing how husbands and wives often grow to look like each other!
I once saw this programme about owners and their dogs! It was uncanny—these people came on and they looked exactly like their dogs! They’d spent too long with them!

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
So he’s saying when the Spirit of God comes to live within a person, he will bring about this family likeness, becoming more like God, becoming more like Jesus.
How does this happen?
Galatians 5:22 and 23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This is the Spirit of Jesus coming to make us more like Jesus. So what are the characteristics the Spirit wants to bring to us? The first, and most important, is love.
When we experience God’s love for us, the love of God being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that should flow out in love for God and love for other people.
Illustration
Chiara Lubich was 19 years old and living in Northern Italy in 1939 and the bombs were falling. And she and her friends asked this question: was there an ideal that the bombs could not destroy? And the answer that they came up with was: yes—love.
They had experienced the love of God being poured into their hearts and they wanted to share it. So they started to go around, these teenagers going around helping those around them in need—sharing what little food they had, finding clothing for people, comforting the bereaved.
And such a kind of warmth emanated from them that they were given a nickname, Focalari, which means `fireplace, hearth’. That movement now has two million members in 182 countries. And it’s based on a very simple command of Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you. Mutual love, the readiness to give their lives for one another. Their rule of life 24 hours a day is living the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, as Jesus said: Do to others what you would have them do to you.
Chiara says this: `Love the other person as yourself—not with words, but with deeds. Imagine how the world would be if the Golden Rule was put into practice, not only between individuals but also between ethnic groups, peoples and nations. If everyone loved the other as their own.’

Love, joy. Malcolm Muggeridge, who was an atheist for much of his life, said: `Joy is the most characteristic and uplifting of the manifestations of conversion. It’s rapture, an inexpressible joy which suffuses our whole being, making our fears dissolve into nothing and our expectations all rise heavenwards.’

Joy is very different from happiness. Nowhere are we guaranteed happiness as Christians. Some people have very difficult lives, many struggles that they have to cope with. But what the New Testament promises us is joy, which is far deeper.

Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for many years in a former Communist country and tortured, sometimes on an almost daily basis, for his faith, he wrote this: `Alone in my cell, cold, hungry and in rags, I danced for joy every night. Sometimes I was so filled with joy that I felt I would burst if I did not give it expression.’

Peace. Again, this is not a superficial peace but peace in the midst of trouble, anxiety, struggle. It’s a peace which `passes understanding’. Shalom. It’s like a kind of deep ocean current. There might be a storm on the surface —wind and waves; but deep down an inner peace which comes from having peace with God. And it flows out in wanting to bring peace to others.

So Francis of Assisi said: `Make me a channel of your peace. Make me a peacemaker, help me to bring peace to this troubled world.’

And then all the other wonderful characteristics: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. That’s the family likeness.

4. UNITY IN THE FAMILY
Next, unity. The Spirit wants us to be united with one another. We’re meant to be an example to a troubled and divided world. Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church. And the amazing thing is that we can have a unity, because we are sons and daughters of God. That makes us brothers and sisters. We all have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And we all have the Holy Spirit living within us as Christians.

So Paul writes in Ephesians 4:3: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The Spirit of God lives in every Christian regardless of background, colour, race, culture—and denomination. The Spirit of God lives within Catholics and Protestants, within Orthodox and Pentecostal.
And that’s what makes the divisions in the Church such a tragedy. And the great thing is I think people are beginning to recognise that now. And they’re recognising that what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us. And that’s why the denominational barriers are coming down.
It’s quite rare now that you get the rather bigoted and arrogant attitude that says `We are the only true Christians’.

I did hear of one man like that, and he happened to be a Baptist—and please don’t be offended by that if you are a Baptist!
This man was a very arrogant man and a very bigoted man, and he believed that only Baptists were true Christians.
And one time he was invited to preach at a church.
And he wanted to make a point. So when he stood up to speak he said, `How many of you here are Baptists?’ Well, pretty well all the non-Baptists had stayed away, knowing that he was coming to preach, so practically every hand went up.
And then he said, `Is there anybody here who is not a Baptist?’ This one little old lady near the front, she very bravely put up her hand. So he said, `Well, what are you?’ She said, `Well, I’m a Methodist.’ He said, `A what?’ She said, `I’m a Methodist.’ He said, `Why are you a Methodist?’ She said, `Well, my father was a Methodist, my grandfather was a Methodist, and I guess that’s why I’m a Methodist.’
So he said to her, `Well, supposing your father was a moron and your grandfather was a moron, what would that make you?’ She thought for a moment and she said, `I suppose it would make me a Baptist.’

The point of that story is it’s so absurd, it’s so ridiculous, because the Holy Spirit lives in all of us. And what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us. And we should be, rather than sort of seeing other parts of the Church as a threat, there are ways in which we can be enriched.

5. GIFTS FOR ALL THE CHILDREN
Which brings me on to the fifth thing that the Holy Spirit brings, and that is gifts for all the children.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in everyone.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

This is not an exhaustive list—in other lists of the Spirit we get gifts of service, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, showing mercy, evangelists, pastors—all kinds of gifts.
But the point is that we need all of them. Paul’s using the analogy of a body: the nose can’t say `I’m more important than the eye’. We need every different part of the body of Christ.
And some of these gifts more obviously demonstrate the unusual acts of God in the world—the gift of speaking in tongues, or miracles. But it also includes natural talents, which can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The Church is not meant to be a kind of one-man show. Too often churches have become like that—the pastor does everything and the congregation just watch.
Someone likened the Church to a footie match in which you have 30,000 people desperately in need of exercise watching 36 people desperately in need of a rest!

One minister received a letter like this: `Dear Rev, there are 566 people in our church. 100 are frail and elderly—that leaves 466 to do all the work. But 80 are young people at school or at college, and that leaves 386 to do all the work. But 150 of these are tired businesspeople—that leaves 236 to do all the work.
150 of these are busy with children, which leaves 86 to do all the work. But 15 live too far away to come here regularly, and that leaves 71 to do all the work. And 69 say they’ve already done their bit for the church.
And that leaves you and me. But I’m exhausted, so good luck to you.’

6. THE GROWING FAMILY
So everybody’s meant to be involved, because God has given gifts to all the children. And sixthly, this family into which we are born, the family of God, is meant to be a growing family.
One of the verses we looked at earlier was Acts 1:8, where Jesus says that when the Spirit comes `You will receive power…and you will be my witnesses’. In other words, `other people will find out about me through what you do and what you say.’

Now, I know this terrifies some people—the thought of having to speak about our faith, having to talk about Jesus to other people!

I heard of one young man like that. He was absolutely petrified of the thought of having to speak to his friends or his family about Jesus. And actually it stopped him becoming a Christian. He just thought it was such a horrendous idea that he wasn’t going to become a Christian.
And he went to see a wise older Christian, and this man said to him, `Look,’ he said, `in your case God’s made an exception. You don’t have to tell anybody. It can just be a little private thing between you and God.’
He went, `Ooh, that’s good!’ So he went home and he went up to his bedroom and he knelt down by his bed and he gave his life to Jesus. And the moment he did that, the Holy Spirit came upon him and filled him, flooded his whole being. And he was just filled with an overflowing joy.
And he rushed downstairs, and there in the kitchen were his family and five of his friends. And he said, `Do you know,’—breathless with excitement—he said, `Do you know, it’s amazing—you can become a Christian and you don’t have to tell anybody!’

When the Spirit of God fills us, it’s not an effort to tell people—it’s an overflow, it’s something that we’re longing to do, because it’s such wonderful news. And the Church begins to grow.
Every Christian has the Holy Spirit living within them. Paul writes: If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Christ.
Yet not every Christian is filled with the Spirit. Because Paul writes to people who are already Christians and he gives them a command: Be filled with the Spirit—present continuous tense: it means `Go on being filled, over and over and over again with the Holy Spirit.’
How? How can we be filled with the Spirit? Well, we started with Genesis 1:1 earlier this morning and I want to end by looking at Revelation, chapter 22:17—right at the end of the Bible.

The Spirit [that’s the Holy Spirit] and the bride [that’s the bride of Christ, which is the Church]—The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let all who hear say, `Come!” Let those who are thirsty come; let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.

Some of you here may say, `That’s what I’m longing for. I’m really thirsty for this free gift of the water of life.’ Here’s the promise: if you come, you’ll receive.
Some of you may say, `Well, to be honest, I couldn’t say I feel like that. I don’t really feel any thirst.’ God takes us as we are. And we can pray. We can say, `Lord, I don’t have a thirst, but would you give me a thirst.’
And then he’ll give you a thirst. And then his promise is: if anyone thirsts and asks, he will give you the free gift of the water of life.

May we pray. Lord, we thank you for these amazing, wonderful transformations that the Holy Spirit wants to bring to each of our lives. And Lord, we ask today for each person here, Lord, if we are thirsty, then you say `Come. Those of you who are thirsty, let them come; let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.’`
For those maybe who don’t yet feel that thirst, would you give us a thirst and then again come and satisfy it with the free gift of the water of life. In Jesus’ name, amen.