When Paul encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus he was blinded. He could not see. And immediately and without instruction he fasted.
7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9.7-9)
There are times in our lives when we are blind. We cannot see the right thing to do, we cannot see a way out of our sin, we cannot see a way to make a relationship work, we cannot see a way into business, into ministry, into victory. We cannot see the way ahead.
A great response to that sense of not being able to see, not being able to know the way forward, not being able to know what to do – is to fast. Fasting can help us when we don’t know what to do.
Now when Paul fasted, on the third day, God sent a certain disciple to him to get him baptized in the Holy Spirit and immediately Paul saw the way forward. No wonder when Paul was ministering in Antioch and wanted to know the next move in his ministry, he fasted again.
One of the reason so many Christians are blind and cannot see what God wants them to do, cannot see simple things, is a lack of fasting. Selah.
When the prophets and teachers in Acts 13.1 to 3 started worshipping and praying there were five of them. They all were on staff at what was probably the greatest and most dynamic church in the world.
The Holy Spirit spoke clearly, out of the team, 2 of them need to go and plant a new church. 3 of them need to stay and edify the existing church.
Both are essential. When you are part of a church planting movement, like Tree of Life Church, it can be difficult to make a choice. Both are exciting.
* Going on an adventure, giving up your job, selling your home, moving to a new town and being part of a new church is exciting.
* Staying at home, staying faithful to your job, loving your current town and being part of a growing church is exciting.
But which one is for you? You cannot decide on feelings, on what you desire, on what seems good. You have to hear the Holy Spirit tell you to go or stay. You need to know the will and purpose of God. God knows what gift mix, character mix, personality mix and culture mix are needed in the existing church and the new church or churches. God knows and we must listen to Him!
During this season of worship and fasting, consider asking God a question penned by the Clash, should you stay or should you go now? Only the Lord has the answers.
She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day (Luke 2.37 NET)
One of the most successful fasters in the Bible was Anna the prophetess. She recognized Jesus when there was no reason to recognize Him! The Pharisees couldn’t recognize Him as a grown man casting out demons and raising the dead, but Anna recognized Him as a tiny baby, looking exactly the same as every other 8-day old baby brought to the temple to be circumcised!
She worshipped and fasted, but she had a third element that brought her a level of spiritual sensitivity – “she never left the temple”. The King James said “departed not”, the Greek word is aphistemi, it means to hold back, to desert, to give up on, to fall away from, to cool towards. For 84 years after the death of her husband, this woman kept going to the temple. She never held back on the temple, she gave, she invested, she ministered, she loved, she gave, she invested in the temple. She gave her heart and life to the community.
Today, we have to realize we cannot ever worship, fast and pray effectively on our own. No Christian can be the Lone Ranger. We need to make sure that as we seek the Lord, as we worship and fast, we need to focus on the community of the Lord, the body of Christ, the church itself.
We must not back off from church. We must not hold back on church. Go this weekend, be there and be on time, be in Living Church, be on a rota serving. If it’s good enough for a prophetess, it’s good enough for you! Let it be said of us in 84 years time we never left the temple. We never forsook the gathering and assembling of the church, we never gave up on, never held back from the church. I bet we would recognize Jesus a lot more – I reckon we would see His face more, realize His love more, hear His voice more.
During this fast, repent of holding back from church and get involved like never before. And watch how more sensitive to Jesus you become as you start to honour His body.
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14.23)
Paul saw appointing elders into a local church as so important that he would not do it until he had fasted. It is that important. A church will rise or fall on tbe quality of the eldersm
Now I’m sure you are aware elders don’t just have a title and vote on the colour of carpets. They make disciples, they help people. They open their homes and teach the Word. They are supposed to be of the highest character.
Notice as well, the elders didn’t choose the pastor. The pastor chose the elders. A lot of churches have this backward and it destroys them.
One of the things I believe will happen during this fast is that we will see all our elders reach new depths of their walk with God which will take all our Living Churches to a new level. I am expecting to be appointing new elders soon as well as we grow.
What decisions are so important that we shouldn’t make them until we fast? That’s a great question. All of us should spend some time thinking about that today.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13.2)
This is a remarkable verse. It is the verse that changed the centre of the world from Jerusalem to Antioch. This is the verse that released the greatest ministry the world has ever known, Paul’s apostolic ministry. Before this, Paul was in his local church (of course! You will never ever be apostolic without being in local church) serving, teaching and ministering. He was one of a team of teachers, maybe teaching classes and preaching occasionally. That’s where he learned his craft.
Then in this verse, everything changes, five of the leaders of the church get together to do two things: worship and fast. They did two things: worship and fast. The Holy Spirit did two things: instruct and call. I believe with all my heart if we worship and fast, the Holy Spirit will instruct and call. We will get specific instructions from the Holy Spirit. Not every pastor had to leave the church at Antioch, but Paul and Barnabas did. They had to start a travelling ministry immediately. I believe a lot of ministries are not released because we do not worship and fast. We are so tied to the natural realm, to food, to our impulses, it’s not that the Holy Spirit does speak until we go hungry, it’s that we don’t listen.
Some people are going to be lifted up this year, some people are going to be released into ministry, into marriage, into business because we are taking time to worship and fast! It’s so important we do this, we need to tune in. We need to worship the Lord. And we need to do it with others. Paul was not in his prayer closet on his own, he was with others. Fasting together.
Watch and see this weekend, our services will be one step closer to heaven because of prayer, worship and fasting.
A lot of people do not realize the importance of order in a workplace. You need things in the right order. You need to have things in the right order and do things in the right order. You were designed for order – chaos is not fruitful or productive.
We all know it is far more wonderful to walk into a room that is in order than a room that is in chaos. Nowhere is this more important than where you are working. If all your to-do items are on twenty different scraps of paper, you will lose one of them. If they are all inside the same book, you will be fine. Clutter needs to be decluttered, disorder needs to be made orderly!
If you need a filing cabinet get one, if you need in-trays get them, if you need places for things, get places for them.
Every thing you do will create more order or less order. Everything you do will create a life that is easier to move forward with or harder, a workplace that is easier to work with or harder.
Now in the office or school, everyone is not all helping you create a life of order and fruitfulness, so you need to learn how to organize things. You need to know:
How to separate things that are important and valuable
How to not let creativity cause a chaos that breaks the creative flow
How to not let busy-ness stop you keeping order
Now I am not going to tell you how to create order that is relevant for you, I don’t know, but if you need to get help, get help. Donald Trump had a person who worked for him who just organized things for him. That’s important! God loves you and will bring someone wonderful into your life to help you when you ask Him!
Don’t get upset about yesterday, and don’t try and change everything in a day, but every day organize things a bit better. I bet 30 minute of organizing your office tomorrow would change your life. I bet it would – have a go.
The easiest way to get somewhere is have a guide who has been there. The easiest way to be a success at anything is to have a mentor, a guide, a coach. Whatever you call them, you need one.
A mentor is a person who will unlock the glory that is hidden in your heart, pave the way to your dreams and help you reach further than ever before. You need a mentor – actually, you need several! You need someone who doesn’t just know stuff, but wants to sow stuff!
Most people do not need a cheerleader, they need a coach – they need someone who can correct them, inspire them and challenge them and prevent them making mistakes.
Every single one of you need a mentor – actually you need more than one, you need a spiritual mentor, an educational mentor, a ministry mentor, a career mentor, a financial mentor. You do not need to know your mentors personally – you can just go online and listen to what they have to say, you can read their books. Andrew Wommack was my mentor for hours and hours every single day before he ever knew my name! I listened and listened and listened. People in Charis did not listen to him as often as I did every day! That’s one way to be mentored that anyone can benefit from.
Who is literally writing the book in your field of ministry or business? MAKE SURE YOU READ THAT BOOK OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Andrew Wommack literally wrote the book on growing biog ministries, and I read that one book every month without fail. If you haven’t had to replace a book yet, you need to get a mentor!
If you have a personal relationship with your mentor, respect it and treat it with honour. Mentors are like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, when he is there you advance more, but they are not always there, they have their own battles, so appreciate the time you get – and do not share their details or access with others or you will lose it.
Get good mentors. It will change your career trajectory immediately.
Every Christmas we hear messages on Christ, the incarnation of God, and so we should, He is the centre of the story! We hear about how we should be more like Mary and how humble she was and how blessed she was, we hear about the wise men and how we need to be wise today and give gifts to Jesus. This Boxing Day, I am preaching on what we can learn from the shepherds. All of that is important and correct, but it seems to me that the unsung hero of the Christmas story is Joseph. Without Joseph, Mary would never have got safely to Bethlehem, without Joseph, Herod would have been successful in murdering Jesus as a baby, without Joseph, Jesus would have been raised in a broken family, shunned from the religious Jewish community. He truly is a hero in the Christmas narrative – a godly man, a great husband and a great father. He was the foster father of Jesus – not just anyone could do that, but Joseph did it and did it well. Let’s have a look at what he did.
Firstly, let’s correct a misconception about Joseph. He was not a poor carpenter. Now, he was a carpenter – Matthew 13.55 tells us Jesus was “the carpenter’s son”, but he was not poor. The idea that Joseph was a poor man does not fit with what we know of history, or the Greek word tekton, translated carpenter.
The word tekton means someone who is an artisan, an advanced carpenter, someone capable of making excellent furniture, doing stone work and who could build a whole house from nothing. A tekton would be able to make mosaics and on the side often made jewelry as well.
Joseph was a very skilled man, a highly paid professional. Although he lived in Nazareth, he would have probably worked in Sepphoris, the nearest city. A lot of people lived in the small, peaceful Nazareth and worked in what was a very wealthy city. Mary’s father worked in Sepphoris, and ran a library of religious books in the synagogue. Maybe that is where Joseph met Mary. In those days, the parents arranged marriages, maybe they saw this hard-working professional and thought let’s get him to agree to marry our daughter.
Sepphoris is an amazing city, built by one of the sons of Herod the Great, called Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas wanted to build a city that would be the greatest city in Galilee, and he poured a huge amount of money into building it. It become the most important financial city in the entire Middle East, wealthy people flocked there from all over the world to work. It was a city full of culture and life and international residents.
Most of the work force lived in Nazareth, about four miles away, maybe an hour’s walk, or thirty minutes on a donkey, not an unreasonable commute at all. Most likely Joseph worked in Sepphoris, and Jesus would have from a young age come with him to work, learning from him, being his apprentice, his disciple in the art of wood and metal work and construction.
He would have seen a huge city with great wealth, a place with a theatre, with all sorts of international residents and cultures – a lot of the images and parables Jesus uses about life, about money, about different things, He would never have realized just growing up in Nazareth. Nazareth was where you went home to, but people worked in the city.
So, what we know is that Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she became pregnant – as a virgin to the Christ! That story is hard enough to believe knowing what we know about the life and death and resurrection of her son, but at the time, I doubt anyone would believe their fiancee who they know they have never slept with making such a claim! The King James Bible says that Mary was espoused to Joseph, a difficult word to translate into English as we do not have a similar process of getting married. An espoused couple were engaged for one year exactly, and in that year they would prepare for married life, prepare for the wedding, and they would not have sex until they were in fact married. However, this espousal was considered as binding as marriage and to escape an espousal you would need a divorce as if you were married. During this time, Mary would have moved to Nazareth, and lived near Joseph.
Many Jews during this time would ignore their religion and sleep together anyway, the fact that Joseph did not do this shows him to be a man of deep faith and integrity. Remaining pure was a way that both Joseph and Mary are shown to be taking their faith in God very seriously indeed. However, during the espousal year, Mary got pregnant.
Even before he finds out the truth, we find Joseph being a man full of great mercy and kindness towards Mary. Believing her to have cheated on both God and him, Joseph does not want to expose her or mistreat her, but rather wants to put her away “privily” (another great King James word, this is all in Matthew 1.19 if you want to look it up). When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, I think he would have been really hurt and maybe angry, but his choice of action was to end the espousal privately, saving Mary any embarassment! He loved her more than he loved his reputation and what people thought about him. That shows a man of great kindness.
And Joseph had other options, he could have had Mary stoned for what was effectively adultery. The courts of the day would have accepted his testimony over hers and Jesus would have been killed before He was even born! He could have exposed the whole thing, and kept his reputation. He was a man of mercy! He was not mean or cruel. He would have been a great dad to Jesus I reckon!
Then as Joseph was deciding how best to show mercy to Mary, an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him the whole story. I know we can all hear God as Christians, but it is my experience as a pastor, that it is hard to hear God when you are in emotional turmoil. Your fiancee getting pregnant without your help would cause that kind of turmoil that makes it hard to hear God. You have to be a spiritual person to still be open to hear God when stuff happens, and Joseph was that kind of man.
When Joseph heard God, he just did it. I love that, I love instant obedience – nothing else reveals spirituality and faith like instantly doing what God says to do. He went home, kept the rest of the espousal year, kept sexually pure even though Mary was pregnant. He just lived for God in every area of his life. Can you see why I am calling him a hero. Being a hero for God starts at home – it starts with being kind to your spouse, it starts with caring for your child, it starts with listening to God no matter what your personal pain is, it starts with putting others above yourself. Joseph made Christmas happen because he was a hero where it mattered most – at home.
In Matthew 2, Joseph has another dream telling him to relocate his family to Egypt as Herod is trying to kill Jesus. He went immediately, did not even wait until the morning. That instant obedience saved the life of Jesus from the jealous rage of Herod. Egypt is not like Israel culturally, and Joseph had contacts in the greatest city of the middle East, his own business and was a man of great success – a professional in high demand. Leaving all that behind must have been terrible, it must have been hard work starting over with nothing from nothing. But Joseph did not waste a second arguing with God, He just went. Obeying God meant more to him than any early thing. That is what living by faith looks like. Joseph trusted God – if I obey you, and it looks like I will be in a worse state, it doesn’t matter – God will always be faithful to me. If God wants to bring me gold and frankincense and myrrh in Egypt, He did it before and can do it again.
This Christmas, I want to challenge all of you reading this to be more Joseph. Obey God as soon as He speaks. Trust His provision and stop dragging your heels and arguing with God – do what He says. Be merciful to those around you, be sensitive to the things of God. Maybe you can think of something God has been asking you to do for a while – it’s time to get it done!
The only other time we read about Joseph was in Luke 2, where he takes Jesus to Jersualem to celebrate the Passover, and it says that was his custom. It was Joseph’s custom to take his family to the Passover festival in Jerusalem every single year without fail. He was a spiritual leader. If he was around today, Joseph would already have his hotel booked in Guildford and reserved a place at Heal the Nations 2022! He would be taking all his children and saying you need to travel with me to be here and put God first in your life. Today you can drive to Jerusalem from Nazareth in under three hours, but back then it was a three day walk. Joseph didn’t care – what he cared about was getting his family to see how important God was. He led his family and led by example.
Men, husbands – be more Joseph. Make a commitment in 2022 to take your children to church every week and take them to Heal the Nations. Don’t phone me up and ask for less sessions, ask for more! Don’t drop your children off at church, don’t send them – take them! Be the spiritual leader of your family, care for your family, train them to put God first.
Just like Joseph, God has something that He wants you to nurture, raise and release. It may be a child, a business, a ministry, a team of people. This year, we can learn a lot from the unsung hero of Christmas. You can walk in your purpose and do what you are called to do. Dream big, be kind and be sensitive to the Spirit. Be more Joseph!
One of the things I get asked a lot is how can I be a better employee, how can I get a pay rise, how can I get a promotion, how can I live for Jesus in my office or school. So I am going to do a series of blog posts on living for Jesus in the workplace. Before I was a pastor, I have been a school teacher, I have worked in sales and recruitment, and I have run a busy restaurant. I know a lot about work and the workplace and I know the Word well, so I believe I have a lot to offer in this series.
Today I am going to start with the absolute basic – to be a good employee as a Christian, you need to spend time in the Word of God.
Now, when you read your Bible you need to focus on the Bible, and we should read the Bible every day. We at Tree of Life have a Bible reading plan on our app (www.tree.church/app) and it does your soul good to read the Word daily. But there is something you can do that does not need the same kind of intense attention, and that is listen to the Word of God. You can wake up to the Word of God as your alarm, you can listen to the Word on your morning commute, and in certain work places and situations you can listen to the Word while actually working! That is a powerful thing, so not take that lightly. You can even shower with the Word of God playing!
The Word of God makes you clean, it is spirit and life and brings your mind to things that are spiritual and full of life – the Word will remind you of God’s promises, it will correct you when you are off path, it will promote you and bless you. It will warn you when you are about to make a mistake, it brings peace in the storms, it brings joy in the worst of circumstances. You need the Word of God to just survive in many work places!
A lot of work places will make your mind dirty – but the Word washes you. Now don’t just listen to the Word, set aside some time to read it too, but do listen to it daily.
Reading makes you think, but listening can change how you feel and influences your peace and joy. The Word is the seed of all miracles, and you can be anywhere in the world and just listen to the Word of God.
If you have to drive a work colleague somewhere and you are playing a CD or MP3 of the Word of God, that will save you from some pretty unimportant and distracting conversations! If you can use headphones while working, get some Word in your ears every single day.
The more Word you hear, the more your faith rises up and the more your life changes for the better – including at work. No one can make you listen to the Word, you have to chase it, you have to make time, you have to put the effort in.
It takes about 70 hours to listen to the whole Bible, you could do that in two months or even one if you wanted to. Concentrate on getting as much Word in your heart as possible.
The Word of God will change you forever. This is actually the foundational secret to your career success and living for Christ at work.
The picture above is of Walter Mitty. His movie is called the Secret Life of Walter Mitty – and I am writing this blog to encourage you as a Christian to not have a secret life.
The reason people live a secret life is that they want to please other people, not God, and we do not have a choice in this – the Bible is clear – Paul said – if I pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1.10). If we live for the praise of men, we displease people.
By becoming a pastor, I displeased my parents. But I decided to honour God and live like a servant of Christ. Following Christ has displeased several people I know, but I want to be a servant of Christ.
Sometimes to live for Jesus you will have to upset someone, go contrary to their opinion, and just do what pleases Jesus! Your parents might want you to marry an unbeliever – because he is kind and wealthy. Don’t do it. Please Jesus!
God is not fooled by your double life, by the way. He spots it. Men might be impressed with you on the outside – to them you look awesome, but if you are living a double life, you are decidedly unawesome before God. Men might be impressed with your car, God isn’t. We need to live as servants of Christ, pleasing God, loving God, putting God first to make God see us as awesome. He loves you no matter what you do, but we should make good choices and not use His kindness and love as an excuse for us to be selfish!
It amazes me that people will say almost anything to be awesome to men, but will take no time to be awesome before God. I know people who are in so much debt to have nice things – their purpose – to impress others, to look awesome to others. Others pretend to behave in certain ways.
Let me tell you two things: you cannot be fruitful pretending to a life to impress others. I would never have the fruit in my life that I have if I was concerned about impressing others.
Secondly, when you stop living to impress others, it is a wonderful freedom that comes. It’s so much peace. I didn’t spend the money on awesome cars, I spent it hiring awesome staff, and creating awesome TV programmes that are on all over the world. Because I genuinely have no desire to be thought of as awesome, I have had so much freedom that some of my peers sadly have not had.
There is no need to impress anyone, build character, build a walk with God and over time people will realize that this is the real awesome. It takes time to do it this way, but it is better.
Never be awesome on the outside and falling apart on the inside – you are working on the wrong thing, and it will not lead to longevity or a great place.