If you've ever asked yourself, can I really wait for all these years? Can I keep the faith?Read More
Seun Awolowo - May 2015
"God, give me sign"
We've all had those moments. Those moments of confusion, desperation and pure longing, wanting to know which job to take, which uni to go to, which person to date and the list goes on. Sometimes it would be easier if God just sent as clear sign. Surely, if we have a relationship with Him this should come as part of the package, so why doesn't it feel that way?
How confident are we in the decisions that we make, are we sure that God is guiding us? In this post, we will explore what happens when we go looking for signs even though, deep down, our intuition (the Holy Spirit) has already convicted us about what we should do in certain situations. In Part II we will discover that God has already given us everything we need to make all decisions in life - both major and minor ones. Maybe right now, you're at a crossroads, unsure of which way to go. This post will encourage and challenge you to think more deeply about what might be holding you back.
Let's start with Matthew 16:1-12;
The Pharisees (religious law keepers in Biblical times) where challenging Jesus yet again, pressing Him to prove Himself to them through 'sign from heaven' (v.1). He told them:
“You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times? An evil and wanton generation is always wanting signs and wonders. The only sign you’ll get is the Jonah sign.” Then he turned on his heel and walked away. (Matthew 16:1-4 MSG)
To summarise, Jesus is telling the religious teachers that with all their consciousness of signs, for example, to predict the weather, how is it that they have missed The One True Sign walking among them? (More of this will be discussed in Part II). It might sound a bit harsh, but at this point, Jesus had grown tired of people around him missing the most important sign of their lives. When we are not conscious of His presence, and we go looking for more signs to make decisions, the only kind of sign we are left with is the sign of Jonah.
Most of us heard the story of Jonah as children, the story of a man who gets swallowed by a whale because he didn't go to Nineveh, as God has asked him. In this session I learned that this story is significantly more applicable to my life than I would have ever expected.
The Sign(s) of Jonah
Please read Jonah chapter 1 and chapter 3 verses 1:10 for context of the entire story. You can read it online here
The original Hebrew word for 'sign' means 'a miracle or a supernatural happening'. Identifying the original Hebrew meaning will help us to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the intent of the writer (who is God, as all of the Bible is 'God-breathed', 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let's examine the story of Jonah in further detail to identify some key signs that he experienced, many of which we experience today in a more spiritual sense. (This is because a lot of what happens in the Bible predicts what we will experience spiritually in our walk with Jesus.)
SIGN #1: "The Word of the LORD came to Jonah" (verse 1)
The original Hebrew meaning for 'word' in this case, 'divine expression of glory' or 'instruction', suggesting that Jonah received a clear instruction from God himself. How many times have you had a strong feeling that you should (or should not) do something? Sometimes we also call it intuition, the deep inexplicable knowledge that helps us distinguish between right and wrong. As we become closer to God this will be the Holy Spirit, relating to your spirit (Romans 8:16) and guiding you in every single thing you do.
A lot of the time, we draw back from this voice, we try to ignore it or shrug it off because it doesn't seem logical or 'normal'. But God doesn't work on human logic or design our lives based on what is normal (1 Corinthians 2:9); He wouldn't be God if He did. What have you had a strong, but unexplainable feeling about that you've tried to ignore that won't go away?
Face the thought head on and explore whether it could be an instruction that God has given to you, specially. You may think that God doesn't speak to you directly, but let me tell you that He speaks to all of us, regardless of who we are. It may not be the way we expect or have seen it happen to others, but He wants to have a personal relationship with you, if you let Him (Revelation 3:20). The ball is in your court.
SIGN #2: "A violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (verse 4)
As Jonah tried to ignore God's instruction, he boarded a ship that got caught in a vicious storm at sea. When we are running away from the voice of the Spirit, we sometimes find ourselves in more trouble than we would have found ourselves in if we had just listened in the first place. For Jonah, while everyone else on the boat was panicking, he was sleeping amidst the storm, because he knew why it was happening.
On many occasions we say we don't know what to do, but deep down in our heart & soul we know exactly what we should be doing, but we try and ignore it. We are metaphorically asleep to what we should be doing and suddenly things get challenging. Another way we try to ignore or avoid the voice of the Holy Spirit, our intuition is by being 'productive'. After Jonah received his instruction, he travelled to a completely different town (on foot, remember, it's Biblical times), found a ship and paid a fare to board. ALL of this, just to avoid what he had originally been asked to do. Nevertheless, the storm was on its way to take him back to where he needed to be. In short, God will sometimes try to reroute you by bringing a 'storm' into your life (Seun).
Note the fact that while the storm was violent and caused great fear on the boat, it didn't actually break up - it only 'threatened' to. This is an example of how even when we ignore God's instructions, the storms of life may shake us, but never actually break us, because God is "gracious and compassionate... slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2).
Even in Jonah's disobedience (or his "wanton" behaviour, to reference Matthew 16), God ensured that he was never harmed, and through Jonah's presence on the boat all the sailors came to believe God (Jonah 1:16).
SIGN #3: Jonah in the belly of the huge fish (chapter 2)
As the storm came to its climax, Jonah asked the sailors to throw him into the sea (verse 11); at the point of escalation, God will bring further instruction (Seun). The only way that Jonah knew what to do was through God's instruction - we see that despite Jonah's disobedience, God didn't excommunicate him. Never think that because you made a mistake or ignored God that He will leave you, He won't because nothing can ever separate you from God's love (Romans 8:31-39). He is always there for us, we just need to stay in contact with him, through prayer, reading the Bible and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us.
When Jonah is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish, or a whale - the first surprise is that he didn't die. It sounds impossible, but God rarely operates within the bounds of what our minds can conceive. Again, God spared his life, while the whale (or the mess we have gotten ourselves in, through disobedience) could potentially swallow us whole, it never does.
Inside the fish, Jonah prays, and what is really interesting here, is that while Jonah is still trapped inside the whale, all his prayers about being freed in past tense:
"but you, Lord my God brought my life up from the pit" (chapter 2:6)
This is a good example of faith-filled prayer - if we really believe that God is who He says He is, then we can pray as if what we are hoping for has already happened. When we prophesy and confess things that were not as they were. Ultimately, being swallowed by the fish was his saving grace.
SIGN #4: "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time" (chapter 3, verse 1)
God's word never changes (Matthew 24:35), so when we ignore Him, after we've experienced a few storms, the Holy Spirit continues to speak - telling us to do (or not do) what we had heard/felt at the very beginning. But still, we spend time seeking miraculous signs or advice from other people. What we should really be looking for is confirmation of God's voice, especially when it is repeated. Seun likened this to helpful teachers who continuously drop hints in class before an exam about what we will be tested on. God doesn't waste his Words, and His repetition should be taken as confirmed guidance.
This doesn't mean we should never seek advice from others, after all, "plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22), but how often do we try to hear from God first? Instead we debate, discuss and philosophise with others, leaving God as an afterthought, or a magician who will a sign to us through a crazy dream, for example. While sometimes God does speak to us that way, let's adopt a different approach: when we prioritise hearing from God first, our decision-making and confidence will improve. This is summarised in:
More revelation [supernatural disclosures from God], less advice - Seun Awolowo
Finally, Jonah listens to God and goes to Nineveh (Chapter 3)
Nineveh was one of the largest cities around, and took 3 days to go through. Jonah expected that it would take 40 days to complete his task (verses 3,4). However by verse 5 all the people believed God, including the King, and the city was saved. It's clear that God's Word achieves its aim speedily (Seun) regardless of who is there to help, God's Word will always accomplish his desires (Isaiah 55:11). As His children, we are invited to join the journey of fulfilling his plans for the earth, during which we usually learn a personal lesson, and in this case Jonah learned the value of;
Obedience. He learned to listen to the voice the first time round, instead of being swayed by his own personal beliefs (which he talks about in Jonah 4).As we close Part I of the Signs of Jonah, we have learned that the Sign of Jonah that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 16, has come full circle:
1) We hear an instruction from God, usually in a quiet 'inner voice' (the Holy Spirit)
2) For one reason or another we ignore it, and find ourselves caught in a violent storm, which won't break us
3) In the deep mess of our situations, God still protects us just as He protected Jonah in the belly of the fish
4) God repeats his message to us, just as He did to Jonah, giving us another opportunity to do the right thing
So now, let's ask ourselves some questions:
What has the Holy Spirit been telling you through your intuition?
Why are you still holding back when deep down you know what to do?
I dare you to take the risk and follow the Holy Spirit by listening intently to God's voice the first time around.
© Noterie, 2015
Joyce Meyer - Colour Conference 2015
What do we do when someone else has what we have? Can we keep a good attitude? Does this mean God loves them more than us?
Firstly, we need to understand that 'before God does anything for us, he needs to do something in us' (Joyce) - be it strengthen, mature us or develop our faith. And 'if we don't get the lesson God is teaching us then he touches our circumstances' (Joyce) which happen through either successes or challenges. Typically 'we live life forwards, but we only understand it backwards' (Joyce) - in hindsight. I hope this post sheds some light on your past experiences and gives you hope that God does love you very much and has a plan for your life. Everything is on track as long as you keep believing, even if your immediate circumstances may not reflect what you want, or what you have believed looks like a 'godly life'. Let's compare two examples of people loved by God but who experienced the signs of His promises in very different ways:
1) Noah builds an ark
After God cleansed the World in the flood, God sent Noah a rainbow (Genesis 9:12-16), as the sign of a covenant that this would never happen again. This was the first rainbow ever, so Noah was pretty lucky to receive such a beautiful symbol in nature
It must have taken great faith and obedience to do this; to leave behind your 'normal life' and start building an ark when there was no rain, and no one else is doing it (Genesis 5).
This was also an incredibly lengthy task, it took c.100 years for Noah to complete (compare Genesis 5:32 and 7:6).
Are we willing to wait through the long-haul? Do we trust God enough?
If Noah had held on to everything he had, he wouldn't have built the Ark and he would have been washed away in the flood just like everyone else. If we truly believe God is who he says he is, and he loves us like he says he does then anything he asks us to do is infinitely better than what he's asked us to leave behind, even if we can't see clearly what the future holds. Sometimes why we haven't experienced our 'rainbow' season is because we're not willing to let go of what we have now, we're not willing to subvert the status quo and prepare for something something 'crazy' that God is calling us to do. Other times, we don't experience the rainbow because we aren't as willing to put the time and effort in for it.
Following God's teachings will never leave us swept up in a sea of opinions and competitors, He will keep us afloat no matter what the rest of the world is going through - just as He kept Noah's family safe and secure.
Navigating this gap between leaving the known and stepping into the unknown is made easier by our faith and so, we need to 'level-up' faith to access the next stage of God's plan for our lives.
2) Now we fast forward to the life of Abraham
Abraham is hailed throughout the Bible as a great man of faith, who loved God and was ultimately the father of Israel. Just like Noah, God cut a covenant with Abraham as well, God told him that he would become the father of many nations, he would be exceedingly fruitful and be given land for himself (Genesis 17:6-9). And as a sign of this great promise Abraham was required to have a circumcision (Genesis 17:10-11).
Let's consider the facts for a moment - Abraham loved God, and God had told him all these great things. I'm sure Abraham would have heard about Noah's story and the rainbow which was passed down through generations. If I was Abraham, I would have been getting ready to turn to the sky and look for some other beautiful symbol of God's promise. instead, it turns out, that all Abraham got was a circumcision. How anti-climatic.
If I was Abraham or his family, I would have been incredibly confused, I would have said - wait, aren't you God's favourite? Why are you being cut in an intimate place and having to experience pain when Noah got a rainbow? Are you sure you're serving the same God?
When we compare Abraham and Noah's stories we see that God operates in our lives in different ways. As Joyce said, 'everyone gets something and everyone doesn't get something else'. By the end of our lives we would have experienced a wide range of both 'circumcisions' and 'rainbows' - ups and downs but the fact is that all of it is part of God's wider plan for us individually. Regardless of how we expect a 'godly' and 'blessed' life to look, He will give us the type of situation that will mature us for the next stage in life. Therefore it is pointless to compare a snapshot of your life with someone else's because we are all on our own separate journey. We know that in the end, Abraham did become the father of many nations, he had a child at age 100 and he and finally, his family were so wealthy, the land could not contain it (Genesis 13:2). Abraham's life was littered with rainbow-moments, but if he had given up on God during his circumcision and compared himself to Noah he would have never given himself the chance to experience everything else God had to offer
Sometimes, this is why we give up
We give up on relationships, families, businesses and ultimately our walk with God. Because we look around us and see rainbows, which are beautiful and visible to everyone who can see. By contrast circumcisions are painful, intimate and not seen by the general public. Therefore, don't be disheartened when you see other people's 'rainbows' because 'circumcisions' are happening all over the place as well, we just can't see them. Both rainbows and circumcisions are from God, and our experience of 'good' and 'bad' situations doesn't change the fact that God is using it all for our benefit. Difficult situations where we feel at rock bottom, can drive us to lean on God and increase our faith in Him. As the Message translation puts it so eloquently:
"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule" - Matthew 5:3
Tough situations can also be a sign of maturity in your walk with God; before the rainbow sometimes we need a circumcision, a removal of an old layers in our lives or our character, that might be limiting us from going to the next level of knowing God.
This is reflected through Jesus' teaching to Peter
In John 21:18, Jesus tells Peter that when he is young in the faith, he did whatever he wanted, but as he matures God will bring him to situations that don't look as conventionally attractive. Of course, this was a difficult truth for Peter to accept, and he asked, whether the same thing would happen to John who was close behind (verse 21). Jesus' simply replied "what's it to you?" (verse 22). Sometimes we like to see someone else experiencing challenges as well in order to console ourselves but what Jesus is saying here is: focus on yourself. Our eyes should be fixed on who God is and developing our relationship with Him because when we use other people's experiences as a barometer for our 'progress' in life we will end up being either:
1) Self-inflated and feeling better than, (which is always short-lived);
2) Jealous, demotivated and/or outside of God's love
Finally, let's consider another 'hero' of the Bible as a further example
King David. Arguably one of the most important and praised King's in the Bible, he also wrote many of the Psalms and was an excellent leader. As a young man he was selected out of all of his brothers to be King over Israel - that's a huge rainbow moment, however he did not actually assume kingship until 20 years later. During those 20 years:
The King who first mentored David, Saul became jealous and spent countless times chasing him across the Middle East trying to kill him
His son Amnon raped his daughter, Tamar (Amnon's half sister)
Tamar's brother Absalom killed Amnon in revenge then tried to steal the throne from his father David
One of his children died as a baby (due to David's own sin) despite David pleading, praying and fasting to God to save the child's life
These are all incredibly difficult circumcision-like moments. But when we hear about King David, the first thing that springs to mind are all his rainbow moments, all the glamorous parts. Again, we only hear of the rainbows, not the circumcisions - however it is during these tough situations where David developed his leadership skills, won the loyalty of key people and learned how to be merciful to his enemies (for example, on multiple occasions he had to opportunity to kill Saul and he never did). During these challenges, David could have abandoned God or given up on the fact he would ever become King, but his "slow burn" faith and confidence in who God is sustained him. All of his experiences contributed to what made him the great leader that we hear of today, and they shouldn't be overlooked.
What we can learn from the lives of Abraham, Noah, David and many others in the Bible is to embrace the ups and downs of life. Embrace your rainbows and your circumcisions because, ultimately we can have confidence in the fact that:
"In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" - Romans 8:28
© Noterie, 2015
Dawn Chere Wilkerson, Colour Conference 2015
This the first of a series of posts related to Colour Conference London 2015 and before I go any further, I have to say it was a truly life-changing experience. Despite buying my ticket with immense hesitation, wondering why an (in my mind) elongated church service worth my time and money - I was genuinely blown away. Nothing I can really say here will truly reflect how amazing it actually was, I would simply encourage all women to register for 2016 here.
The reason I'm saying all this is because I personally feel like the experience of the messages preached by our inspirational speakers can never be replicated in my writing. Swiftly moving on...
Our story starts with Hebrews 11, also known as 'The Hall of Faith'. This chapter documents how the faith of the people mentioned had a lasting impact on their lives and the lives of others - one of which was Sarah the wife of Abraham. Sarah had what Dawn Chere calls a 'Slow Burn' type of faith. This faith is like dynamite - it may lie waiting quietly for a while, but when the time is right it has the power to change everything. This is the type of faith we need in our lives, faith that lasts, no matter what the situation is, no matter how long the journey may be. This faith is immoveable and constant because it reflects a God who is immovable and constant, who always does what He says He will do (Numbers 23:19).
Let's consider Sarah's story in more detail
We learn that when God tells she and Abraham that she will have a child, despite being past the age where she could have children. The concept was so ridiculous that Sarah "laughed to herself" (Genesis 18:12) because her "womb was dead" (Romans 4:19) the level of faith that she was expected to have in this situation was beyond all scientific and situational probability. Nevertheless the Bible tells us that "by faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised." (Hebrews 11:11). In the end, God did keep his promise, as she then gave birth to Isaac and Abraham became the "father of many nations" just like God had said in Genesis 17:4-5
Looking to our own lives, how do we develop the slow burn faith that Sarah had?
Remembering who God is will sustain strengthen your faith, as the author of Psalm 119:59 (MSG) writes "When I took a long, careful look at [God's] ways, I got my feet back on the trail [He] blazed" - we have have proof all around us of God's power to turn around a seemingly dead situation around and when we remind ourselves of this we will also receive the strength that Sarah received. God reminded Sarah herself that "is anything to hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). If we truly believe God is who he says He is, then the answer will always be no, nothing is too hard, no situation is too bleak for him to restore.
Keeping your eyes fixed on what Jesus has done, is doing and will do will sustain your faith until the end. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Feel encouraged that regardless of how we feel, the fact remains that God who started this work of faith in you will definitely complete it (Philippians 1:6)
Don't focus on your limits and inabilities, because God's abilities are limitless. Where is does our confidence truly come from? Is it in our achievements, our connections and our accolades or is it firmly based on the One who has done incredible things in our lives, even when we didn't ask for it and when we didn't want to engage him? When we start to believe Him more (see point 2.), instead of focusing on what we have or don't have our faith will go from strength to strength.
While you're waiting your prayer to be answered, be encouraged that:
There is faith in your frustration. Even when you feel hurt and upset by the wait, by holding on to what you believe your faith is being continually built up - although it may not feel like that and you may not feel like you're doing it right.
Faith isn't always attractive or smooth sailing, sometimes situations get gritty and tough, we feel we're in a battle and that's okay, it's not always going to feel nice and easy, but the that fact remains is that God will answer you.
After all those years of waiting for the child Isaac, Abraham is sent to take him away to be killed. Yet when Isaac and Abraham are on the mountain - God provides a lamb for the sacrifice and Isaac doesn't have to die. In the same vein, as you're waiting, don't ever think your dream or promise has died, God is providing the solution, sometimes we just have to wait longer than we expect.
You don't need to wait until we get what we want in order to have your 'testimony'. Your testimony is in the fact that you have lasted this long, waiting on God to come through: He has sustained you throughout. So be encouraged, and remember that for every trial we face our faith becomes stronger than ever.
"Like pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine" - 1 Peter 1:7
© Noterie, 2015