Incense for the Nations

a prayer based blog seeking to inform, inspire and encourage


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The man who loved a plant more than 120,000 people

There really was a man who valued a plant, that grew one day and withered the next, more than the entire population of a city. In fact, the thought that God could love and have mercy upon the people of this city, made him so angry he wanted to die rather than to see them live.

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I’m talking about Jonah from the book in the bible of the same name.

The book begins with the word of God that came to Jonah, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me’ (Jonah c1:2 NKJV).

Jonah’s response was to attempt a 2500 miles journey, in the opposite direction, to Tarshish (in modern day Spain). I used to think the reason Jonah ran away from doing what God instructed was fear, but I was wrong.

Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh in Assyria (modern day Mosul in Iraq *) because he hated the Assyrians. Assyria was an enemy of Israel. If we could ask Jonah, he would probably give us a long list of atrocities carried out by Assyria against Israel.

Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh because he knew God is merciful and he hated the thought that these people, knowing what they had done, could be forgiven. How could God love those who hated Israel? They weren’t a tribe of Israel. They weren’t God’s people. They worshipped other god’s. They were responsible for great evil. How could God expect Jonah to preach to and pray for them? Rather, treat them as they deserve and wipe them out.

I’m skipping significant events, in what is a short book anyway, but I want to get straight to my point and what prompted this blog.

Last summer, when James Foley was the first of the 5 men murdered by Islamic State, in order to provoke ‘the west’ #, I was so outraged and angry. I can be a bit hot blooded and my first reaction isn’t always my best. I’m going be honest and vulnerable here and tell you that my first reaction was ‘kill them all’. Not just ‘Jihadi John’ but everyone in Islamic State. Eradicate them completely. This would have been my way of making the world a better place.

Is it right for me to be angry?
It was at this time that the book of Jonah came to mind. In c4:4 God asks Jonah ‘is it right for you to be angry’? I felt God was asking me the same thing. Jonah, probably wisely, didn’t answer but settled down to see what God would do with Nineveh, hoping, I think, that God might still destroy the city and everyone in it.

As Jonah waits, God causes a plant to grow over him to shield him from the heat of the sun and Jonah was pleased with it. (c4:6). The next day, though, it withered and died. This really upset Jonah. Then God speaks again. ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant’? (c4:9) Jonah replies this time, ‘it is right for me to be angry’.

God rebukes Jonah, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left’ (4:10-11).

I felt very challenged by this. Overcome evil with good sounds great until one is told to do it in circumstances that we’re angry about. As I thought more, it also seemed a very weak and feeble thing to do. To my carnal mind a show of strength was called for not prayers of love.

I sometimes find the love of God scary. By this I mean it scares me what God could expect of me to demonstrate and express His love to others. In this situation, being honest, God wasn’t asking much of me personally, as I hadn’t been directly impacted by the events in Syria (by this, I mean, I didn’t know the men) but God would have said the same even if I had.

This is difficult and may be offensive to some but we have to love. God moved my heart to pray for Syria, specifically, and those of Islamic State, that God’s love would rain down on a place where a life seems so cheap and ending it so easy. I pray for dreams and visions of God, that even Jihadi John be saved (not that I think he should escape justice for what he has done) and spend eternity in heaven.

You see this is victory! That we overcome evil. That lives be transformed. Transformed lives transform nations. Let there be love in hearts where there is hatred right now. Think of the difference this will make.

I have a plant too
Do you know as I type this, even now, part of me is still offended. It occurs to me that I have something like a plant, that we can all have something like a plant, that is a limiter of God’s love being expressed through us. The plant was so trivial compared to the lives of 120,000 people but for a while, at least, Jonah valued it more.

God, forgive my hard heart and I pray (scary prayer time) that any carnal thing in me, that prevents me loving souls as you do, will wither and die. Fill my heart with love. Help me to love as you do.

* ironically Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was the location of the tombs of both Jonah and Daniel. The tombs were recently destroyed by Islamic State.

# followed by the killings of Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig, all carried out by ‘Jihadi John’.

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finding my voice

why am I doing this?
When I first posted on Facebook, to announce this blog, I stated then that I was trying to find my voice. I still am. By ‘voice’ I don’t mean my message but rather the clear communication, to you, of my intentions and motivations. Why am I doing this?

So far, my (3) main blogs have been attempts to relate what I believe God has shown me, from time with Him. What God says to me inspires me enough to want to share it, so I do, and will continue to. I hope this brings about something good. But this isn’t really the main thing for me.

something that will last for eternity
Primarily, I want to express my heart, my passion, to tell you what moves me. I want to be honest about my struggles but only so that I can tell you how God is in them and helping me. This blog is not self promotion, ‘my soul shall make its boast in the Lord’ (Ps34:2). I don’t have anything to promote except my relationship with God. My heart is to encourage. I want to make a difference, for my life to count for something. As Christians we all have the opportunity to accomplish something that will last for eternity! And I’m not talking about a blog here. I mean the chance to positively impact the lives of others.

I have big dreams from God but struggle, for example, with the inner voice that tells me I’m worthless and nothing I do is good enough. I have to battle through this and I wonder if it helps others to know about what, for some, is a shared experience; especially if I come from the battlefield having conquered what you may still be facing. I will tell you how.

The second marathon I ran, last year in Edinburgh, was a nightmare. It was a bad day. By mile 14 I was mentally beaten. But I kept on running. By mile 20 I was physically empty. But I kept on running. By mile 23 I was getting the miles mixed up. It was horrible. But I kept on running – I don’t quite know how, except that I refused to walk. I had no choice but to go on, and running (even slowly) is quicker than walking. I had to get to the finish, only then could I stop.

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My walk as a Christian is the same. I keep running, because God helps me. God comforts us so that we can comfort others. My hope is God will take what I say and it will go right to peoples’ hearts. That instead of quitting or choosing to go no further, there will be those who go on because of something I said, that God used. I would love this.

In the case of the marathon, I know where I went wrong because there is stuff out there that tells me. Books, web articles, podcasts and other runners sharing their experiences. I could just have concluded I should stop entering marathons, that I’m not up to it. But no. I’ve been encouraged by others to try again. I made some mistakes with my training and I went out too fast in the early part of the race. Next time I will get the training right. Next time, I will pace myself better and I will get a PB (or PR for those in US).

As a Christian, when I feel like quitting in an area, it is so good to be able get help from those who have been there and got through. Just to know I’m not the only one who has struggled helps.

His Voice
My desire, through the ‘foolishness’ of my blogs, is that you will encounter God Himself. That ultimately it will be His voice that you hear.

CR


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Jehoshaphat’s deliverance? Not because of praise. The real reason.

‘Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “a great multitude is coming against you”. (2 chronicles c20:2).

If you have been a Christian for a little while, you will have regularly heard that it was praise that brought about Jehoshaphat’s deliverance from the multitude.

For anyone finding themself in an impossible situation, and choosing to express their faith in God by praising Him, I’m not saying God wouldn’t deliver that person. I am saying this isn’t what happened in Jehoshaphat’s case. (2 chronicles c20:1-30 NKJV). Praise does come at the end of the story but it doesn’t generate the story. Apologies worship leaders.

I truly love this account because it provides, in such practical terms, a plan of action for anyone facing something they cannot rescue themselves from. This can’t be just theory. I believe there will be those who read this and for you too ‘a great multitude is coming against you’ (v2). If that is you, you want to know, how do I get out of this?

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Look at the photo. Imagine that horde coming after you. It’s just not enough to say it’ll be all right. Why will it be all right? HOW will it be all right?

There are things Jehoshaphat did that brought about God’s intervention and I want to take you through these steps. And yes, even though I speak of being practical, there is a faith element, as there always will be, and I will come to this.

To begin with Jehoshaphat’s reaction to the report of this huge, invading army is fear (v3). I’m so glad the bible records this. Do you ever wonder, am I the only who gets scared, or worried? Well, in spite of what you may think, it isn’t only you who has been so overwhelmed by something that you couldn’t even pray, stunned into silence, unable to see anything beyond the wall you are staring at? Jehoshaphat’s first reaction to what he faced was understandable and God didn’t hold it against him. This was his initial reaction. But then what?

Set yourself’
In v3, it says he ‘set himself‘ (v3). This may be the most difficult part. Like Jehoshaphat, we have to gather ourselves and establish an inner determination to trust in and seek God for the particular miracle we need. Jehoshaphat calls the people to fast and pray. . How many answers to prayer have we missed because we didn’t combine our praying with fasting?

This is the pivotal moment and it could be argued that here is where the eventual victory was actually won!

Are you not God in heaven
In v6-9, Jehoshaphat establishes a foundation of faith. As someone with an un-winnable fight on his hands, he reminds himself and, at the same time, makes declaration that God reigns, is mighty and in the past has been Israel’s deliverer. What does the bible say about your situation? About healing or provision, for example? Find out and declare back to God what He has said. Remind yourself how great and big God is.

And be honest. In v12, Jehoshaphat says, ‘we have no power … We don’t know what to do … But our eyes are upon you’.. Remember what I said about Jehoshaphat’s initial fear. You don’t have to put on a front with God. He knows what you’re thinking anyway, so be honest. Uncertainty isn’t the same as unbelief. We find ourselves in situations where we don’t know what to do either. But be like Jehoshaphat. He overcame his initial fear, he set himself to trust God and even while he acknowledges the fact that he is powerless and has no solutions to his problem, he is trusting in and waiting for God to do something.

If you are facing a multitude of your own right now, so far what I’ve said will probably have been challenging. Now, though, for the best bit.

You will not need to fight
Then the Spirit of the Lord came‘ (v14). O the joy when God intervenes and all the resources of heaven are activated on our behalf! What a difference the presence of God makes to us. The Spirit of God came with a ‘thus says the Lord‘ (v16).

You will not need to fight in this battle‘ (v17). This is the same promise that God made in Exodus 14 when the Egyptians pursued Israel through the Red Sea. Not only has God promised victory, they won’t even have to fight first to get it. All God instructs is ‘tomorrow go down against them’ (v16). Wow, that takes faith. God is telling them, face down an unbeatable foe, but don’t worry, it’ll be all right.

Faith not fear
Now we’ve reached the point where most worship leaders begin to read. 😊
Jehoshaphat … all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshipping the Lord‘ (v18). There is such faith in Judah’s rejoicing because even as they bow before God, there is still this vast army camped outside. Their external circumstance has not changed, but they now look on it with faith not fear. They celebrate their victory before it has occurred. They made the important, quality decision to choose to believe and focus on what God has spoken over their circumstance, rather than what the circumstance itself tells them. God provides alternatives.

One final challenge – it was Sunday but now it’s Monday
Going through a difficult time, I’ve attended meetings that were direct encounters with God, where I heard just what I needed to and went to bed that night feeling so free. Then you wake up in the morning. You might not be quite so aware of God’s presence by this point and you have to choose either to let circumstances grip you again or hold to what God said to you and walk it out. Verse 20 tells us ‘they rose early in the morning and went out … And as they went … Jehoshaphat … Said … believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established’. They rose early, acting decisively, giving no opportunity for doubt to return, but instead, reminding themselves of the promise even as they went.

God did all that He said He would for Judah and The One who ‘is the same yesterday, today and forever‘ (Hebrews c13:8) will be as equally reliable for us. What we see in this account is that fear is a natural response to our circumstances but worship is the natural response to God when He comes. The bridge from one to the other is to ‘set yourself’, an inner determination to trust God.

I don’t believe God has shown me all this for mere intellectual stimulation. There is purpose in what God does. In part, God is probably preparing me for something ahead, but I believe this is also God’s word for some who will read this.

I want to tell you that God sees the oppression of His people and has heard your cry, knows your sorrows and has come down to deliver you. (See Exodus 3:7-8).

CR


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destiny careless

She did not consider her destiny; therefore her collapse was awesome
Lam c1v9 (NKJV)

I read this tonight and it has become one of those verses that stands out from the page and acquires personal significance.

The verse refers to Jerusalem and, in the context, points out that it has ignored that there would be consequences for its sinfulness, which did eventually come upon it.

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But what comes alive to me is, ‘she did not consider her destiny’. This is a provoking challenge about how seriously I take the call of God upon my life. It questions how I spend my time? Where do my affections lie? Is my destiny the consideration for the choices I make? Is it my daily focus and the passion of my life?

God doesn’t want us to be fear based here. I’m not talking about losing salvation but rather urging an appropriate mindfulness that God has planned our lives in great detail.

I don’t want to be someone about whom it is said, he ‘did not consider his destiny’. To miss it would be terrible. It isn’t only I who would be effected. It’s all the lives we are meant to impact along the way.

God’s plan for my life is so superior to one I could come up with, because He loves me far more than I love myself. In God’s plan fulfilment awaits, doing the very thing He destined and designed me to do!

I want to make my calling my ‘one thing’ (Psalm 27:4).

CR


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an umbrella against a tsunami

Sometimes what we face in prayer can be so overwhelming. You wonder ‘how can I even put a dent in this thing’? It’s like facing a tsunami with only an umbrella for protection. You can feel as powerless as it’s possible to be and as insignificant as it’s possible to feel.

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But this year, God has given me a new perspective from Luke c12v3.

‘whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops’. (NKJV)

I am powerless! I am insignificant! But none of this matters.

This year, in the inner room of the house of prayer, by myself at times, in the dark of night, in Sunderland, that is currently one of the poorest cities in England, geographically and symbolically a long way from the city state of London, here is where I have spoken in the ear. When you speak in someone’s ear it’s usually in a whisper and only that person hears what is said. Is it possible to be more outwardly insignificant than this?

But what makes all the difference is that, when we pray, we whisper into the ear of God Himself. Suddenly, because of Him, what we are doing is most significant.

We whisper in the ear of God and He hears! What is said in the dark is manifested in the light and made known. What is whispered and heard only by one, is amplified and proclaimed from the rooftops, so that many are impacted. God takes our prayers, no longer confined by the walls of the inner room, and unleashes them upon the tsunamis and fierce storms we are called to stand against.

CR

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