What are the challenges inherent in Jesus calling his disciples friends? Our Mission Partner in the Solomon Islands, Jonathan, shares his story.Election is a difficult subject for most people. And I’m not referring to what went down at the polls in the United States. I’m speaking about the scriptural teaching that God elects or chooses certain people to fulfil specific purposes. This teaching raises several tough issues. While talking to God, Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof points out two of them when he says – “I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” 1) The choosing of some means that others are not chosen. 2) The chosen do not always like it. Though we can’t hope to address both of these issues adequately here, we can look for a moment at the second.We overhear Jesus in John’s Gospel declaring that he has elected his disciples. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16). Jesus speaks of his election in the past tense. And as it turns out, he is referring to something he mentioned just a verse earlier when he said “I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends.” If any evidence is needed of Jesus’ right to call his disciples friends, he has already supplied it when he says that he will lay down his life for them in John 15:13. So Jesus elects the disciples as friends by loving them to the end. The Challenge of ElectionListening in attentively, we hear Jesus telling the disciples what this friendship entails. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing” (15:15). And a little later in verse sixteen – “I…appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The two thoughts, knowing what the master is doing and going to bear fruit, are connected. The friend, knowing the master’s plan for the vineyard, can no longer use the servant’s excuse for passivity. The servant will spoil the master’s plan if he acts in ignorance of his will. So the prudent servant waits and does not act until the master commands him. But not so the friend. He knows. And because he knows he is summoned continually to “Go! Bear fruit!” As long as the master is working, his beloved friends work with him. Far from lessening the workload of the newly-befriended, Jesus has increased it three-fold! Warming to the challenge that this election will present to his disciples, Jesus continues. The world will hate them because, now that he has chosen them, they are no longer of the world (John 15:18-19). If they needed any proof of Jesus’ words, they had only to wait a few short hours before the mob arrived in Gethsemane. “So let’s get this straight,” they might have been thinking. “Now that we’re your friends, we’re going to work harder than ever before, and we’re going to be hated by the world the same way you are?” To borrow a line from Shakespeare – “Ay, there’s the rub.” And we’re not even done yet! 1 John makes it clear that God’s friendship with the apostles is paradigmatic for his friendship with other disciples. That’s right, with us. When John calls his readers “beloved” he is referring primarily to God’s disposition toward them (4:7, 11). We have this name because of God’s choice. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” We also have the same responsibility that the disciples had, born of the knowledge of God: “[L]et us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:11). And finally, we’re caught in the same intense hostility between the love of God and the world (2:15-17) in which they were entangled. The challenge of being elected God’s friends is no bed of roses! And so we run into the perennial temptation to re-write the script. We internalise the idea of God’s friendship in the following – distorted – ways. Jesus – “Hey guys, I love you all just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing about any one of you!” The disciples – “Yeah, we know. We’re all pretty decent…” Jesus – “I don’t want to force this on you, but I want to let you in on my master plan. It’ll be pretty tough, so I don’t want you to agree until you know what you’re getting yourselves into.” The disciples – looking at each other with uncertainty – “All right…” Jesus – “I want you all to love other people the way I love you. It’ll be pretty hard at first, but the world will come around sooner or later to the fact that all it needs is love.” The disciples – “Can we try it on for size first and see whether or not we like it?” The biggest problem with re-writing the script in this way is that we begin to participate in a world that is not real. And “the rub” – as Shakespeare put it – is eventually much stiffer in this imaginary world. Why? Because God is not at work there, in this imaginary world of ours. Instead, Jesus is our consultant friend and we are its kings.Resisting the CallAllow me to illustrate. Recently, obedience to a clear leading from God and ecclesial authority led my family to take up a missionary post in the Solomon Islands. Our first year was difficult and when the second year arrived things didn’t improve. Our children got sick on a regular basis. My wife and I, for what seemed like months at a time, were taking care of their sores from dinner to bedtime. My work wasn’t very satisfying. I spent hours preparing for lectures that, as far as I could tell, had very little impact on my students. The climate was stifling. We had some serious relational problems with our fellow-villagers. So I stopped investing. I began to work on various projects that had very little relation to my missionary vocation, but that satisfied my longing to do something fulfilling. This period lasted for over a year. Through out I had numerous warnings that I was responding to these difficulties in a way that was unfaithful to my calling. I tried to ignore them, and had a sense that I was turning my back on God and the people he had sent me to. I wanted to sleep constantly, but this had more in common with the guilty sleep of Jonah than the tranquil sleep of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee! After my wife and I realised how depressed I’d become, we began to pray, asking the Lord to give us joy in our vocation again. Several months later, after recommitting ourselves fully to the work before us, joy began to return.The Three Facets of Friendship I had been forgetting three spiritual matters so important to the life of friendship with God. First, God remains Lord when he elects us to friendship. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Within this divine choice we’re free to act as God’s friends, working with him in the way that we know he is working. In my case that means teaching his Word faithfully, loving and being present with his people, and praying for them daily. But we’re no longer free to withhold what God has claimed as his own when he calls us friends. I became depressed because I was acting against my own being as a friend of God. I was acting against freedom.The second spiritual aspect I had forgotten was – “I appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The kind of fruit we bear depends wholly on whether we’re working in the Lord’s vineyard, or in vineyards of our own planting. We know now what our friend and master is doing. He is planting a harvest that will grow up to everlasting life. To refuse this calling is to bear fruit that will perish or to bear no fruit at all. And finally –“I appointed you so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” For the present, our own evaluation of whether our work seems fulfilling or not is unreliable. We’re told though that our future desire will correspond with his. We will come to love that which he loves. This will happen as we claim that for which God has elected us. We will pray for and receive things beyond our comprehension now, because he is inviting us “further up and deeper in” to that friendship whose depths are eternal. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (15:7). Let us come to know God not in the imaginary friendship we would elect for ourselves. Rather, let us receive God’s friendship as it is, given to challenge and change us, and given before we could even ask for it.
How God used Peter and Christine Akester to reach Muslims in northern Tanzania. In a small city in Northern Tanzania, God is at work powerfully answering prayers and creating opportunities for Christians to share the Good News of the Gospel with the majority Muslim population. Former NZCMS Mission Partners from 1979 to 1998, Peter and Christine Akester responded to God’s call to mission again in 2015, when they returned to Tanzania to serve in the Bible School in Kondoa. “We both knew it was what God wanted,” says Christine. “But it still was difficult to leave family because we have two daughters and two grandchildren and none without difficulty. It was quite a sacrifice in some ways, but we just had to leave them in God’s hands.”When they arrived in Kondoa Peter was appointed Principal of the Kondoa Bible School, and Christine worked as Dean of Studies and the Registrar. Together they taught students the Bible and prepared them for ministry in the region. But their ministry extended well beyond the walls of the school. As the only Europeans in Kondoa, it wasn’t hard for Peter and Christine to get noticed by the locals, and as they walked around the town and the market, people would approach them and ask where they were from, why they were in Kondoa, what they were doing with the Anglican Church and why. “They were almost dragging out a testimony from us,” says Peter. “It was often a good way of asking the question – why would these people bother to come here and do that? “We did have some really good conversations with particular people – one of the leaders in the mosque bailed me up while I was walking by and we had a really long conversation about who Jesus was to him.” But much of their ministry outside of the school was related to prayer. When someone from their church was ill and in hospital, they (and nearly everyone else from their church) would go visit and pray for them. “Sometimes when we’d go to see one of those people, there’d be a whole lot of people around that person’s bed and they’d all pray together. One time we went in and prayed for this person and then the person in the next bed said, ‘well, aren’t you going to pray for me?!’”Even though the neighbour was a Muslim they were happy to have Peter and Christine pray for them in Jesus’ name. Once they were finished, the next patient asked for prayer too. “We ended up going down the whole ward!” says Christine. “That sort of thing was quite a ministry without us actually realising it. We and others would pray for somebody and they’d get better,” says Peter. Christine recalls another elderly lady who was “old and decrepit and needed someone to prop her up. She asked for prayer, so we prayed for her, and little by little she just started to free up. By the end of it she was just sort of dancing. I think she was praising God and moving freely. It’s sort of exciting to see these things that don’t happen much in New Zealand; the faith is certainly there.”For Christine, one of the great joys of her time in Kondoa was the slow evolution of her relationships with Muslim women. “I was really struck by all the women walking along the road with their burqas on. At the beginning I would look at them and smile but there was no response at all. Gradually, over those two or three years, they’d start looking at me, and I could see their eyes just sort of noticing that someone’s continuing to have contact with me. She would occasionally get to speak to these Muslim women, but not very often. “I’d ask them the names of their children and they’d tell me. That was the ministry I thought I could do at the beginning, just relating to the women. And I thought that was quite special really. Later on, they would stop me and ask how my children are,” says Christine. One special friendship developed with a local Muslim woman who knew all about Christianity but didn’t know Jesus personally. “She could tell you all about the Easter week and what was happening. She was always having accidents, and we were always praying for healing, and every time she was healed. We told her Jesus was the one healing her, not us, and she said ‘yes, yes I understand that. I know about Jesus’.“I asked her if she believed in him,” says Christine. “And she said that she believes he is there. But after three years she never came to the point of accepting Jesus for herself. She had a very large Muslim family in another village and I think she realised they would reject her, totally. And that would have been a very difficult decision to make.”Sharing the Gospel in Muslim-dominated areas of the world like Kondoa, where 95 per cent of people are Muslim, is slow and difficult. But Peter and Christine can attest to the fact that God does the work of providing opportunities to explain the reason for their hope in Christ. Having now returned to New Zealand, Peter and Christine believe that Christians in New Zealand can learn a lot from Tanzanian believers. “We need to be thankful for anything and to trust God within that thankfulness” says Peter. Tanzania recently experienced two years of famine and Christine says, “there are stories of families who would sit around a table in the time of famine and pray and thank God. But there was nothing on the table; they didn’t have any food but were just saying thank you Lord that you’re looking after us. And then there’d be a knock at the door and someone would bring some food.” Tanzanian Christians have a deep awareness that everything they have comes from the hand of God. God chose Peter and Christine to take the Gospel to Tanzania, and having twice made the choice to give up their life in New Zealand and serve God overseas, they have some advice for anyone considering a similar decision: “Listen to God’s voice,” says Christine. “We usually think of the problems that are holding us here, and why we like living where we are and how much we’re needed for our family. Yet God is a big God and he can care for all that. I was full of worry this time, but he showed me to just leave the worries in his hands.”Peter says, “Once you’ve got that surety that God has said this, almost expect that there will be difficulties that will come to try and discourage you, but just keep claiming the promises of God that he will lead us and smooth the path. “God has proved faithful and will prove faithful and it’s our job to run with that task that he’s given us.”
We asked some families how they’ve taught their children to be missional. Kesh and his family moved to Christchurch in 2017. He is studying a Masters in Social Work and attends the Presbyterian Church where his wife, Esther, is an ordained Minister. To the Sabey family, mission is simply shining God’s light through our words and actions. While we have always encouraged our children to share their faith verbally, we place more emphasis on living in a way that attracts others to the light of Christ.Here are some practical ways in which our family aims to be missional:Share Christ with your actions: Being kind, helpful, sharing a smile, encouraging others, playing with a lonely child at school and standing up to bullies are not just ‘good deeds’. They are powerful ways in which others are attracted to the “different” in us. Be natural when talking about your faith: Look for natural conversations and circumstances to share the Good News. Try to avoid churchy jargon and religious lingo that an unchurched, primary-aged child would not understand. Simply put,“Don’t be weird”.Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see any fruit: Being patient with those we are influencing is a powerful fruit of the Spirit. Every sincere, Christ-like word or action we share with others is a seed which has the potential to sprout in due season. The “due season” may be tomorrow or twenty years away. Listen first: In a culture where everyone wants to “have their say”, there are a great number of people who simply want to be heard, understood and accepted.Simply listening and empathising, rather than leaping to provide answers, makes others feel cared for. When someone feels cared for, they will take you and your message seriously.We hope that you find these tips helpful. We will leave you with a little “Sabeyism” we say to our kids before they leave for school: “Be kind, be respectful and shine like a light!!”
I’ve been in Kenya for just over two months and I am entering into my final month of my placement. As I reflect on what I’ve been able to do, I’m filled with a joyful gratitude.
Nairobi Chapel, where I have been serving, has been an incredible work place of ministry with amazing people. I’ve been able to serve in many different contexts including the youth department, young adults, PPI (Bible in Schools) with the younger kids and am also involved with the worship team.
I’ve been struck by the faith that the leaders have and the amount of prayer that backs this faith up. There is no limit to what God is capable of in the eyes of the Kenyans and in a lot of cases it is all they have. This is something that’s really challenged my way of thinking and something I hope to bring back with me. It is a challenge to the church in New Zealand and an opportunity to learn from our Kenyan brothers and sisters. An example of this is the vision statement of Nairobi Chapel – planting 300 churches by 2020. They have set an impossible task in the eyes of men but have decided to look at it through the eyes of our Father to whom nothing is too big or too impossible.
The last two months have been filled with highlights and memories I will never forget. I’ve seen my faith tested, my dependence on God challenged and my relationship with him grown. God is working in big ways and I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself and also about Him.
I’m constantly thrown in the deep end and it has been a sink or swim reality. I‘ve been given responsibilities of preaching, leading Bible studies and prayer groups, all of which has thoroughly put me out of my comfort zone. Through all of this, I’ve been learning about the limitations of my own abilities and how to depend on God when I find myself stretched.
As I head into my final month I’m praying that I finish my time here strong and that the Lord continues to teach and mould my character into more of a Christ-likeness.
I want to be able to continue to serve at full capacity and be available in any way I can. I’m so grateful for the support from those in New Zealand and the constant prayer. It means the world to me to know that, as I walk out the door, I’m doing so with the prayers and faithfulness of people back at home. I’m also so thankful to the Lord for making this opportunity possible in the first place.
Blessings from Kenya,
The early Christians were Jews and strict monotheists – believers in only one God. But they came to believe that God should be called both ‘one’ and ‘three’ at the same time. Their belief in the Trinity became a central belief (even though ‘Trinity’ is a Latin word not found in the Bible). What persuaded them to do this?
Some New Testament Foundations
Look at the following four New Testament passages and ask, “How do they speak of some kind of ‘threefold’ (Father, Son, Spirit) action of the living God?”John 16:13-15 The Son speaks of his Father and the Spirit Ephesians 1:13-14 Our God-given salvation Romans 8:9-11 The Spirit does God’s work 2 Corinthians 13:13-14 One God of love, grace and fellowship
None of these passages “proves” the Trinity – but they do show how the one God works in a threefold way in our world. That’s why the idea of the Trinity became the heart of the Christian understanding of God. The belief says that God is relational in his very being. The one true God is social not solitary.
God as Trinity
We know the doctrine of the Trinity is true by experiencing and worshiping God as Father, and as Son, and as Spirit – rather than by working it out in our minds. God cannot be fully known by reason; but God can be fully loved and worshiped. The personal salvation we experience reconciles us to God the Father, through the life and death of God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. So, our Gospel is Trinitarian, and the Trinity is the Gospel. Our eternal life comes from the Trinity, happens through the Trinity, and brings us home to the Trinity.
Our God is not an isolated ‘individual’. Our God – Father, -Son, Spirit – is, we could even say, a ‘small group’. And in the doctrine of the Trinity we feel the heartbeat of God for salvation and mission: moving away from isolation to fellowship and community, and lovingly longing for this for others too.
The Trinity as a ‘divine dance’
This is the suggestion of Baxter Kruger in his book The Great Dance. Kruger uses the image of a ‘divine dance’ to try to explain a key word used in the early church: perichoresis. This word means ‘interpenetration’ – the way in which the concerns of one member of the Trinity become the concerns of each. So, whatever is the ‘work’ of one is the work of each – whether it’s creation, salvation, mission, making us holy, and so on. All three work together in each of these areas and the image of the three dancing is a lovely one that preserves their individuality and their perfect harmony together. So, writes Kruger,
“The logic of the incarnation and death of Jesus lies in the determined passion of the Trinity to share their life, their glory, their great dance with us – and not just with us, but with the whole creation. The dance of the Triune life is no longer just a divine dance. It is now and forever a divine-human dance.”
It’s all about ‘interdependence’ and partnership
Our God is a relational God and he intends that we reflect his relational nature in our lives. This can only happen if we move out of our isolation and into relationship with God and others. Community is not simply one aspect of human life; community is found within the divine essence of the living God. There is a relational heart to our understanding of God. Remind one another of John 3:16. From that “giving” of the Father and Son eventually comes the outpouring of the Spirit – look again at John 16:13-15. By growing the fruit of this Spirit in our lives (look at Galatians 5:22-23a, 25) we live out the message that Jesus, risen from the dead, is indeed Lord.
The self-giving life and serving of the Trinity becomes the model for the self-giving life and serving of God’s people.
The transforming difference that belief in God as Trinity makes
The argument runs like this: since we are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), God is the model and standard for humanity. The essential inner nature of God shows how we should live both as individual Christians and as the Christian community. The model does not focus on us as solitary individuals, but on ‘persons-in-community’. Nor does this life destroy our individuality. This is not independence, and it’s not dependence. It is interdependence. This becomes the ideal for us as people who are made in the image of our Triune God.
Knowing our God as Trinity influences and models the way we should act towards one another. So, what are some practical everyday ways we can partner with our God – Father, Son, Spirit – to bring God’s love and healing to family, neighbours and friends? Imagine how different our world would be if families, marriages, communities and nations lived according to the loving, serving, harmony of our one-but-three God. Now turn that imagining into prayer.
Finally, go back over what’s written above. And then prayerfully think about and respond again to the four bolded paragraphs.
I’ve now been in Nairobi Kenya for over a week and decided it was time to stop and reflect on the blessing and provision of God and all that has happened.
“‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation’.” – Psalm 91:14-16
I was given this Psalm as I left to begin my journey and the promises in this passage have rung so loud and true, not just for travel, but for the whole journey and preparation involved in my trip to Kenya.
I titled this “God’s blessings and provision” because that is how I would describe the journey to get to Kenya over the last six months. From the year in which the internship at Nairobi Chapel came about and the smoothness of it falling into place, I can only give credit to the Lord. Watching him provide a job for me when over 80 people applied so that I could help fund this journey, to seeing people generously giving in ways I didn’t think possible. I’m in awe of the way the Lord provides for those who seek him.
I arrived in Kenya after a safe, easy traveling experience and had a car waiting for me to pick me up that I’d not arranged. And finally, it’s been such a blessing meeting those I’ve met so far and seeing the joy they have about themselves and filled with such a servant attitudes. The Lord’s provision and blessing has been more than I can handle and I’m reminded of the grace he shows all of us when we have nothing to offer. I’ve called on the Lord and he has answered in so many ways.
If I were to ask for anything it is that you would pray that I keep my eyes and ears open to both seeing and hearing from the Lord. And that my heart would be revived but also ready to give back and show God’s love and grace to those who are brought across my path.
Hopefully this may be an encouragement and reminder of “God’s blessing and provision” and point towards his amazing grace for all.
-Sam, NZCMS Intern.
As I was reading tonight, the title ‘Lord of Heavenly Armies’ struck me afresh. The idea that God is the commander of the hosts is unique in that it brings a military element in. Armies are regimented, disciplined, and vast. Their commanders move them with precision and purpose, to accomplish a determined result. I know this title also refers to angel armies and that thought alone is intriguing. But what about us as part of an army?.“I’m in the Lord’s Army” – as the old Sunday school song goes. And of course, back in the day, we all got to make shields and helmets of salvation and swords. Ah, swords. Yes! I like swords. But here-in lies the problem. We’re not using our swords. We’re not disciplined. We’re not aware of the warfare we are in!
The tools of the enemy
In our New Zealand context, I would have to say the most effective strategy of the enemy is distraction. A young mum shared her dismay with me recently:; “Sue, I got up, I could find my cell phone, I could find my gym shoes, I could find the kid’s uniforms, but I couldn’t find my Bible. What does that say? I’m too busy!” Her insight and accountability to the small group of friends gathered for their regular prayer and catch-up were enough to inspire her to change.
Yes, it takes discipline to be in the Lord’s Army and it is such hard work to keep our priorities right. For myself as a mother and a leader, my first and constant battle is always to plan those ‘pray, work and rest’ rhythms so I can model a lifestyle of joy and liberty to my non-Christian friends and church community. We don’t want to be saying, “Come to Jesus and be a stressed out unit with no capacity for fun,” do we? No, we don’t! We want to be a ‘led’ and not a ‘driven’ people.
People are clear in their minds they want to be about building up God’s household and creating spaces for God to turn up but they get overwhelmed and then very quickly discouraged, consumed with negative thoughts and guilt about the kind of Christian they should, ought, could, or must be. And it’s downhill from there. They fall into condemnation and then it all gets a bit much and they we just give up.
This nasty condemnation manages to keep itself entrenched because we have this tendency to compare ourselves to others, always unfavourably. A good example is a very bright and reasonably successful man who was depressed and told his counsellor he thought it was because he hadn’t done as well as his room-mate at university. It turned out his room-mate was Elon Musk, who would later be ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People and listed as the 53rd richest person in the world. His counsellor has a great adage, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” My adage is “‘What does God say about you?”
How we can fight back
We need constant encouragements to remind us about the reality of the story we belong to. Those of us who are mothers and fathers in the faith need to be much more intentional about speaking out words of affirmation and praise as we notice hearts wrestling to do what is right. We live in a culture that is so full of put-downs and ‘she’ll be rights’. The challenge is to keep telling the whole story, so people really understand that every step of faith is priceless and worth fighting for.
“…(You) are birthed into an inheritance that will never perish, kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power. Although you face all kinds of trials these have come so your faith, of greater worth than gold, may result in glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” – (1 Peter 1:4-8).
We need to keep telling the whole story well, so that people understand whose and who they are. We need to help people understand the inheritance they have so they perceive God’s ultimate vision.
What we can learn from the stoncutters
I like the old story of the stonecutters who were asked by a traveler what they were doing. The first man continued his work and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.”
Realising that the stonecutter did not wish to engage in a conversation, the traveler moved toward the second man and repeated the question. To the traveler’s delight, this time the man stopped his work, ever so briefly, and bluntly stated that as soon as he had earned ten quid he was going to return home.
The traveller headed to the third man and asked again about his work.
This time the worker paused, glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact and then looked skyward, drawing the traveler’s eyes upward.
He replied, “I am a stonecutter and I am building a cathedral. I have journeyed many miles to be part of the team that is constructing this magnificent building. I have spent many months away from my family and I miss them dearly. However, I know how important this cathedral will be and I know many people will find sanctuary and solace here. I know this because the Bishop told me his vision for people to come from all parts to worship God. He also told me that the cathedral would not be completed in our days but that the future depends on our hard work. I know this is the right thing to do even though it is costly.”
Our choices, day to day
Our simple daily choosing to do the right thing has an eternal impact. Soldiers have courage, make sacrifices, and stand firm if they understand the objectives and if they understand the greater purpose they are fighting for. If we’re going to have any effect as Christians in this battle for souls, we need to believe God does indeed do what he promised and has in fact already determined the result.
Most importantly, resolve to stay the course and to listen moment by moment for the commands from the Captain of the Lord of Hosts. We must listen so we may live.
“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” – (Isaiah 55:3).
Sue is a Vicar at Sounds Anglican Parish.
This article is part of NZCMS’ quarterly magazine Intermission. Each article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 03 377 2222.
A relatively typical scenario for me as a counsellor is the client who tells me about conflict in the workplace they once loved, loss of a valued friendship, discouragement around their future or difficulties with family. Then, when I ask if they have grieved those things, I get replies like, “I didn’t know I needed to.” That’s because there are two predominant lies about grief I constantly come up against – that time will heal pain and that you only grieve death.
New York pastor Pete Scazzero claims, “A failure to appreciate the Biblical place of feelings within our larger Christian lives has done extensive damage, keeping free people in Christ in slavery.” I would go further to suggest that failing to understand how our minds work while also ignoring, spiritualising or demonising every problem or struggle we go through, has meant that far too many Christians never get free of addictions, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or insecurity, relationship issues, sexual struggles and more.
This is not to say we’re not in a spiritual battle as Christians, however. After all, 2 Corinthians claims that, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world…they have divine power to demolish strongholds…” (10:4). Yet what kind of strongholds does Paul say we are taking down? “…arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (10:5).
In my role as a counsellor, I have been helping clients take their thoughts captive for more than a decade now. In some ways, this field chose me. In my twenties, a combination of counselling, deliverance, great mentors, loads of books and conferences, fasting, prayer ministry and a huge amount of time journaling and talking with God healed me from a large fear of rejection, patches of depression and anxiety, and struggles with belonging, worth and identity. The transformation from insecure, sad, depressed and anxious to stable, hope-filled, optimistic and peaceful was so incredibly liberating I felt compelled to pass that on to others. In the process, my life has become a testimony to the claim of 2 Corinthians, that “God is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our tribulations so that with the comfort we have received we may comfort others” (1:3-4).
The Hunger For Change
It saddens me how many people live with ongoing emotional and mental pain. I suspect this is sometimes due to a lack of motivation, sometimes a lack of hope for change, and sometimes a fear of what healing will require. Often it’s because they don’t know how to change. Yet there is such a hunger for change!
A case in point: this year my home church, Grace Vineyard in Christchurch, decided to focus on mental health for a month. They named it ‘Battle of the Mind,’ promoted it for some weeks prior, then paired a month of sermons, testimonies and panels on mental health with a home-group DVD resource my husband and I developed called “Soul Talk” which covers four topics: burnout, grief, anxiety and depression. The results were astounding. The number of home-groups jumped from 70 to 130. The church had the highest attendance during that month that it has ever had in its 17-year history. People opened up in their groups in ways and about things they had never shared before. Large numbers of people signed up for counselling. And a whole lot of non-Christians attended both home-groups and church services, many deciding to follow Jesus as a result.
People want answers to the pain they are in. And all too often, if they don’t get them at church, they may not only give up on church but often God too, deciding he doesn’t care about their depression, anxiety or addiction. What could be more tragic, considering how greatly God loves and wants to heal them? After all, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
How can we be set free?
Jesus himself stated that “the truth will set [us] free.” But how exactly does it work? How does God heal through counselling, through psychology?
It starts by working out where our thinking doesn’t align with God’s perspective, his viewpoint, his reality. As children and teenagers, we spend considerable time trying to make sense of how the world works. We look for answers to questions like, “How do I get people to like me?” “How do I fix conflict?” “What do I do if someone hurts me?” “What’s romance and sex all about?” and “What do I do about pain and injustice?” The conclusions we reach are usually a combination of our family’s beliefs and role modelling; the influence on us of peers, society, church, our culture and others’ beliefs; and trauma. One of the problems with this is that children are often good recorders but poor interpreters of what happens to and around them, meaning we often reach faulty conclusions; what Christian psychologist William Backus calls ‘misbeliefs’.
Ideas like:My worth comes from being liked, from my performance, from my looks or from how smart I am. It’s safer not to trust others; that way you can’t get hurt. My choices are crucial, so I need to agonise over them. I am responsible to make/keep others happy.
Interestingly, these ideas don’t tend to be my clients’ presenting issues. They usually come because of the fruit of these beliefs: insecurity, performance anxiety and burnout, because their worth is in their performance; relationship issues because they don’t know how to do trust wisely; anxiety because they’re ‘crucialising’ so much they’re stuck; exhaustion, frustration and resentment because they’re trying to fix other people’s problems and it’s not working. My job is to listen, understand, empathise, then help them go deeper to understand the roots of these issues.
Once we know what the misbelief is, the next step is to challenge it with the truth, with God’s perspective.Our value is actually based on how God sees us, on being his children, not on how well we perform or how popular, attractive or smart we are. Rather than writing people off when they hurt us, we need to understand that everyone can be trusted in some areas but no one is trustworthy everywhere. We can set our expectations of others accordingly. Our choices aren’t crucial because God can always help us course-correct at any point if we don’t like the outcome of a choice we’ve made. My responsibility is how I behave towards others. Their response to that is their responsibility.
The neuroscientists say it takes three weeks to create a new pathway in our brains – a new way of thinking. To establish that pathway, we have to focus on the truth instead of continuing to feed the lie by listening to or acting on it. We have to think about the truth, look for evidence to back it up, act on it and remind ourselves of it continually until it becomes our new normal way of thinking. We have to do with the new, healthy belief what we originally did with the old, unhealthy belief -reinforce it over time.
And if we persevere, eventually we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we can come to know and understand the way God thinks – his desires for us and for the world (Romans 12:2).
Questions for DiscussionWhat do the following scriptures seem to say about mental health? Ephesians 4:23, Philippians 4:8, Proverbs 28:26, 2 Timothy 1:7, Isaiah 1:18 What do different biblical characters reveal about mental health? Or what do these biblical characters teach us about mental health? King David? Jesus? Paul? Moses? What kinds of messages have you received about counselling/mental health in the churches you have attended throughout your life? How helpful/unhelpful have they been? Do you agree/disagree? Why?
Belinda and her husband, Matt, are presenters of a course called Soul Tour, an intensive program that aims to equip young adults to better understand their own human mind, emotions and behavior. To learn more about what Soul Tour is, click HERE.
They also offer some fantastic video content called “Soul Talk” which delves into topics like burnout, depression, grief and more. To have a look at these videos, click HERE. And of course you can find them on social media on Facebook and Instagram.
This article is part of NZCMS’ quarterly magazine Intermission. Each article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at email@example.com or call us on 03 377 2222.
The following stories are from those in New Zealand and all around the world who are aware of and have been fighting spiritual battles recently. Ephesians 6:12 says
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
My purpose for collecting and sharing these stories is so that you become aware that this spiritual battle is very real. And I believe that God wants more of us to become aware of this so that we can begin to learn how to fight against “the spiritual forces of evil” for the extension of his Kingdom.
Jonathan Hicks – CMS Mission Partner in Solomon Islands
Parents in Melanesia face lifelong liability for their children’s actions. Silas and Aiye’s son has a sexual addiction. Already in significant debt, the couple is broadsided by a series of compensation claims from families of several young women. One family threatens violence. Ashamed to ask their community to help them with their expenses, the parents are paralysed. Then Silas comes to our house telling us that Aiye has gone missing for a whole day. As evening sets in, we pray that God will bring her safely home.
After dark, she arrives at our house: “When I heard about my son this morning, my heart became like a stone. I wandered in the bush until evening. I came to a tall cliff. I stood there on the edge of it, imagining myself falling down. Then a bird flew over me and sang brightly. My heart felt something again. The light came in. I woke as if from sleep and walked home.” We had prayed with Silas fifteen minutes earlier. The place where she was standing? A fifteen-minute walk from the village.
“A Warrior Spirit”
Melanesian priests often begin their training with significant spiritual baggage. Sometimes they have invited evil spirits into their lives to give them more spiritual authority. Sometimes this was done for them at birth. In May 2018, the Lord made it clear to me and Andrew that we needed to confront his fellow student because he had a very powerful devil-spirit. The student was convicted by our message and agreed to meet at the school chapel to pray for deliverance.
During the deliverance, we realised we were confronting a warrior spirit that had caused the death of several people before. Surprisingly, this realisation caused absolutely no fear at all. As we prayed for him, I was aware only that we were being helped by the Prince of Peace. Andrew – who has a gift of discernment – said he saw a figure dressed in white standing above the two of us. The Lord answered our prayer and the evil spirit left our friend. When it had gone, the student did two things he had never done before. He wept – his wife of thirty years had never heard him do this – and he asked to be re-named. We anointed him and he received the name of a great priest-king from the Old Testament.
Peter – Vicar in Christchurch at Halswell-Prebbleton parish and Archbishop’s Commissary
“A Story from Christchurch”
As a vicar or minister of the Gospel, you get called on to do some pretty strange things every now and then.
About a month ago, the Cathedral staff fielded a call from a man who was convinced his house was haunted. Strange things were happening, and he was hearing voices urging him to kill himself. More seriously, his adult son living with him had, in fact, attempted suicide. He wanted “the bishop” to come and exorcise his house. So in due course, Mark Barlow and I visited a state house on the east side of Christchurch.
Listening to his story, it would have been easy to dismiss it as schizophrenia or something similar – except for one thing. He said that because he was so scared, he had called on the name of Jesus, and the voices and evil presences left him alone “but still hung around.” He was impressed and so started reading an old Gideon’s Bible he found. While he was reading it, he was left in peace. Even more impressed, he started attending a church. His problem was he couldn’t keep speaking the name of Jesus, and he couldn’t read the Bible all day. He wanted the evil out of his house.
Mark and I went from room to room and in the name and authority of Jesus commanded whatever evil beings were in the room to leave. Then we asked the Lord to wash the room clean and blessed it with water. In the son’s room, we also prayed for the son’s recovery and prayed with the man himself. We led him to commit his life to Jesus, cast out the spirits that were in him and encouraged him to continue attending church and join a group where he could be discipled. The wonderful thing was that not only was the house a different place, but he was also a different person when we left – even his voice had changed. He was so grateful.
Katie – CMS Mission Partner in Spain
The man entered the second-hand clothes shop regularly. We knew he was a witch because he had mentioned it before. There’s another man who walks past the shop with his hood up and clasping a symbolical necklace as he speaks words over the suburb. Yet another shop has opened close by that is full, like all the rest, of objects, bottles and cards that can be used to call on the spiritual world. A fellow painter in my art class talks about someone who can come and “clean” your house of spirits.
In Europe, we too are in a spiritual battle from internal and overseas influences. Our deepest longing is that people can be set free from this oppressive spiritual bondage and know true freedom in Christ. So, we are moved to pray and to intercede.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).
Andy Miller – CMS Mission Partner in Costa Rica
“The Timing Was the Givaway…”
We have been in Costa Rica for two months now and we had been here a week when my wife Shona was admitted to hospital for five days with acute diverticulitis (you can Google it!). I know that we are in a fallen world and we can’t give the enemy credit for all sickness, however the timing was the giveaway.
We started the day taking Shona for a doctor’s appointment at 9:30am as she had a sore stomach. Twelve hours later, after blood tests, ultra sound, more blood tests, a lot of waiting/ insurance negotiation and a CAT scan, she was finally given a bed at 9pm. Essentially, if you wanted to plan something that would be the most disruptive for our lives at this stage – this would be it! Plus, we have three children who felt very anxious as they are in a new country, new school, with a new language and Mummy is in hospital.
As it happened, we decided to relax and trust in the Lord and enjoy spending time together. We hadn’t had a whole day together, child-free, since our wedding anniversary. It was a hard day. However, we decided not to be afraid or discouraged and spoke lovingly to each other. This whole experience with the ongoing tests has made us slow down and put each other and family first. As we put our trust in the Lord and reach out for prayer and help, then we see what the enemy intended for evil turned around for good and a testimony of his love and peace invading our circumstances.
NZCMS publishes a magazine called Intermission four times a year. Among other things it addresses missions work from a variety of angles, inspiring and encouraging individuals, small groups and churches all over New Zealand. This month we will be publishing our 36th Issue titled “Are you prepared for battle?”
Harrison Ford says the following in a movie called “42”.
“Your enemy will be out in force and you cannot meet him on his own low ground.” The film is about Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to play in an all-white team and an all-white league. It’s an incredible movie and it paints the picture of how brutal, vicious and conniving the ‘powers that be’ were in trying to stop Jackie from playing the sport he loved
But Ford’s character trains Jackie how to deal with his enemies’ attacks. He tells him to respond differently. Not react to a nasty comment with one of his own. Not to punch back when an opposing player strikes him. But to flip it. To change lanes. Switch gears. He taught him to come back at his opposition with something they couldn’t respond to.
In this issue of Intermission, we will be talking about spiritual warfare and the different fields of battle that this war takes place in. There are some serious topics here. But how often can we be drawn into the depths of seriousness? The muddy waters of sombreness and gloom? And yes, there is space for these feelings. Jesus never ignored them. But the key is that he never let them overwhelm him. When the enemy tried to force exaggerated gravity and despair upon him, he changed gears. He told a story. Made a joke. Shocked the crowd. Forced the devil into silence with something his enemy couldn’t respond to. Friends, we don’t meet our foe on his own low ground.
That’s why we chose this particular front cover for this month’s issue of Intermission. It’s funny. It’s light. It’s quirky. And I believe when Nehemiah wrote, “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” he actually meant it. So, as we come to read the following articles in the coming weeks, let’s remember that our enemy Satan has no joy. And he certainly doesn’t know how to respond to laughter when he does everything he possibly can to get us to cry.
Below is the list of authors and that have written for us to explore this topic of ‘spiritual warfare’. I pray that they inspire, equip and empower you to go forward into the daily battles that you face with prayer, passion and perspective. Because the war is out there, but Jesus has promised that we will have the victory!
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” – John 16:33.
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, the Intermission publication will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond.
Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 03 377 2222.