NZCMS Board member, Ian Daily, reflects on how those gifted with singleness find and belong to an intimate, fulfilling and outward looking community. “Don’t expect us to be your friends – we’re very busy people!” The words of this thoughtless and unfeeling remark left me stunned and without words for a minute. Here I was, returning home to New Zealand after 21 years away – a single person without a spouse with whom to share the challenges of adjusting to a new life in an environment that was now strange and unfamiliar. I suddenly felt very alone. The family members and friends I’d had when I’d left so long before had all moved on with their lives and I realised that my network of relationships had to some degree unraveled. There were now few common interests, and not many could relate to my overseas experience and weren’t very interested anyway. I needed a new community into which I could be welcomed, where I could find a place to give and receive, and where I could serve God in a new context. And I was now well and truly middle-aged!Of course, all this had happened in reverse 20 years earlier when I’d arrived in South America, but I was young then and was invigorated by discovering how to live in a new culture and learn a new language. There were quite a few other single Mission Partners (as well as welcoming missionary families) and friendships were quickly formed, many of which have endured to this day. There was an instant missionary community we fitted into and we forged friendships with many of the local people.The number of single people in overseas mission was, and still is, quite striking. At present 30% of NZCMS’s Mission Partners are singles. This is a far higher proportion of single adults in this age group than you will find in the general population. What would overseas mission look like were it not for single women who have been open to serving God in this way throughout the generations?The blessings and dangers of a single life We all start our lives as singles, and as God’s children we are to accept that gift. For many, there comes the opportunity to exchange the gift of singleness for the gift of marriage and they are to embrace that gift as God’s calling on their life. For the rest of us, we still have the gift that God means us to have. Some will go on to take vows of celibacy but most of us are “unintentional” singles who “ended up this way” but who are to continue embracing the gift God has given. Singleness often brings loneliness and a lack of human intimacy, sometimes a sense of not fitting in and an unwarranted sense of failure. But it brings freedom and opportunities that couples often don’t have. I’m not sure I would have visited more than 70 countries on mostly work assignments had I not been single! And, for many, a deeper level of intimacy with God is found. It also brings dangers of self-indulgence and of shutting other people out. The bottom line is that we must echo Paul’s words in Philippians 4. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation… I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”So what can we singles do to find a sense of community? Looking back over the 20 years since I returned home, I have found the following strategies helpful.Maintaining family networks while awayI have literally dozens of cousins and we have reunions every few years. This engenders a sense of belonging and reinforces a sense of personal identity. I have people out there who belong to me, and I to them. Get to know them again and strengthen old ties.Building relationshipsA place of work is a great place to build new relationships. The same applies to where you live – getting to know neighbours and getting involved in local activities. This has certainly been true for me, living in a community of 59 families, and now co-chairing the committee that oversees the care and maintenance of our homes. Many nationalities live here and I can even speak Spanish to my Colombian neighbour!VolunteeringEvery Friday I drive the buggy at Selwyn Village for those with mobility issues. This has allowed me to get to know a totally different group of people, both staff and residents, and provides me with moments of ministry and a window into a completely different world.Being involved in a faith communityDespite the dispiriting start to this article, my closest and most faithful friends and prayer partners did surround me with encouragement and support. I also joined a small and warm congregation, which incidentally has many singles, including the “once-were-married” and the widowed. Very quickly a sense of belonging and community developed and this is where I felt the strongest sense of community as I became involved in the activities and ministry of the parish.Those who have never married are not to be considered objects of pity, suspicion or condescension. Their life has simply taken a different path – they have received a different gift in life from the majority. They have been granted freedom and time to devote to Christian ministry as the Apostle Paul noted as being one of the advantages of singleness (I Corinthians 7). And many have discovered a special intimacy with their Lord and the joy of being able to channel their reserves of love to the widest possible number of people around them. Let us bless God who gives us the grace that goes with each and every gift he bestows!Questions to considerIn a society that is so focused on romantic relationships as being the pathway to true happiness and fulfillment, in what ways can singleness be viewed as an alternative model of human completeness? How can love of others, as opposed to love of the human “significant other”, help us to understand the character and breadth of God’s love?What ideas do you have about how the gifts and experience of single people (whether they have overseas mission experience or not) could be harnessed to enhance the ministry and outreach of local faith communities? Most churches have significant numbers of ‘home-aloners’ in their congregations. Many will have felt that their networks of relationships have unraveled over the years, or have worries about living alone, especially if they are older. What more can your faith community do to strengthen a sense of community, belonging and care?
CMS Mission Partner, Dianne, reflects on the fruit and faithfulness of God as she leads a children’s ministry in the Philippines. “You did not choose me but I have chosen you…….that you might go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” – John 15:16I went back to Philippines in January 2018 with a broken arm. A good way to start the year! But I knew that way back God chose me to come here to the Philippines and therefore he would fix it. In January 1976 I was driving my rusty little VW over the hills to Camp Raglan where 120 plus children were arriving for a week long camp. I read the verse for today on my dashboard which said ”…the Lord has chosen you…to serve Him.” – 2Chronicles 29:11. At that moment the word “Philippines” flashed across my mind. I told the Lord “I don’t want to go there!” I could go to England yes, because I could visit relatives I’d never seen before. However I then added “Well Lord, if this is really from you please make it clear!” The next day my director went to our P. O. Box for the mail. I hardly wrote letters, so I hardly received any. He gave me a blue airmail letter, which was my first ever letter from the Philippines, and it contained a direct invitation to join the children’s ministry there! Since then, I’ve known very clearly this whole time that God has chosen me to minister in the Philippines and he provides what we need to obey him.Fruit that I’ve seenOur fruit for Jesus just keeps on growing! From teachers sharing the Gospel in their classes, parent’s Bible studies and the odd parent our Principal leads to the Lord, to children and staff devotions in the Children’s Home and visiting disabled people who are “shut ins” in their homes. We held a Summer Children’s Camp, to which 80 came. I worked with four Bible Clubs which saw 80 plus come to Jesus. Two training seminars brought in another 170 children. A very meaningful event for me was hearing the blind pastor in our Camp for Disabled clearly preaching a salvation message along with his own personal testimony using his braille Bible.Overall, I can conservatively estimate that 400 people have come to Jesus in the past year, most of those mainly children. What incredible fruit!Fruit going on for JesusAnother area where I have seen fruit is in the ongoing involvement of former students. We held reunions for both former Bible College alumni and Children’s Home alumni, which brought about 80 people to tell their stories and catch up with us. A good number are involved with churches, some with Christian schools and some are overseas or in far distant places. Three new teachers in our school are former pupils and converts, who want to continue this legacy. To top it all off one of our former children’s home boys, who is now a businessman, contacted me a month ago from Qatar. He had started a church plant there for a Baptist church a few years back and wanted lecture material on children’s ministry so he could teach their members! How is that for fruit going on for Jesus!“Whatever you ask in my name, I will give to you”. – John 14:13Another story is very close to my kiwi heart! One of the most joyful events in the Children’s Home is when we celebrate a children’s birthday. All was set for the day. The decorations were ready, the gifts were wrapped, the games were prepared, and the favourite food was ready to cook. And of course we had a cake. Unfortunately, we had no ice-cream! We had prayed, but there was just not enough in the budget for it. However, the Lord says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” – Isaiah 55:8.Early next morning there was a knock on the Children’s Home door and a man entered with a steel container with two big tubs of ice-cream! The owner of the Popular Ice-cream Company was having his birthday that day and he thought he would share his blessings with the children in the home. Everyone was surprised and jumping with joy. Thank you Lord!If you remember, at the beginning of this article, I wrote about how I broke my arm at the beginning of last year. Well it has now healed beautifully and I can even do push ups! In reflecting on the fruit that I’ve seen God grow in the last year, I am constantly reminded, just like with the story of my broken arm, when God chooses you he provides your needs!
Ruth, along with her husband Mike, have been on the mission field in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia for an estimated 14 years all together, with up to five children with them. All five of their children are now grown up and all are pursuing God’s mission in one way or another. We asked Ruth how they have gone about teaching her children to be missional.When we were back in New Zealand for the birth of our twin boys, I heard someone speaking on Radio Rhema about how easy it is for parents to have a “castle mentality”. We want our children to be safe and so it’s tempting to live behind a protective Christian wall and tell them, “Don’t rock the boat, stay with what you know,” so they can have a nice, safe life and go to heaven when they die! Jesus’ call is so different. We’re here to take the light of his love into the darkness. Whenever Mike, my husband, and I read Bible stories to our kids, we talked about how God is with anyone who steps out and trusts him. Even when things go wrong, God is always there. As was appropriate age-wise, we shared and prayed with our children for God’s answer for us and others around us, wherever we lived. While living overseas we had the privilege of meeting people from many cultures who chose to follow Jesus and often at great cost. Our children saw the reality of their faith and that God is not a Kiwi but is at work throughout the world that he created and loves.When we returned to New Zealand our children did find it hard at times, feeling so different. They were pastor’s kids, missionary kids and home schoolers! We never pretended that this was not true, instead we talked about how all Christians are called to be aliens, not really belonging in this world. We looked for opportunities for them to meet people who were willing to be radical followers of Jesus and were still cool! We did this so that they learned that there were many expressions of how to live for Jesus, and that we’re each responsible for playing our part and being active in the community of believers that God places us in. We often discussed that following Jesus is not an excuse to be weird or harsh in our relationships with others, but rather an opportunity to share the love and acceptance we’ve experienced from him with those around us. We encouraged them to dream big, use the gifts they have, live boldly with Jesus and be agents for God’s Kingdom in the world. I believe this is mission,wherever you may live. And this is how we took our family along on the ride with us.
Tess Delbridge talks with NZCMS National Director Steve Maina to find out what courageous faith really looks like.As John Allen Chau prepared to land on the remote North Sentinel island in the Bay of Bengal, its residents known to be violently hostile towards outsiders, he wrote in a letter to his parents, “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed.”According to his journal, during his first interaction with the tribesmen he shouted, “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you.” They shot at him with bows and arrows. The following day, he was killed by the tribe, his body dragged along the beach and buried. Chau’s story is reminiscent of the story of missionary Jim Elliott, murdered by a remote Ecuadorian tribe in the 1950s, and is somehow both inspiring and frightening for ordinary Christians. “No matter which way you look at it,we need that sort of grit, where you know you’re going to be persecuted, you know you might die, but you’re still willing to go,” says NZCMS National Director Steve Maina. “You’re not being asked to die for your faith in New Zealand, but we still find it hard to share the gospel,” says Steve. “Our confidence in the gospel is getting lost, and we need a reawakening of our confidence and boldness in the gospel.”Steve’s vision for NZCMS is that we would recapture the need for urgent and courageous proclamation of the gospel to all people. “We need to encounter Jesus in such away that he turns our lives upside down. Sometimes I have wondered whether that is actually the problem,” says Steve. “We need to have a living faith and a living encounter with Jesus where it’s his glory we seek rather than our glory or our safety. In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul says, ‘he [Jesus] died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’“Is there a problem with our encounter with Jesus? Have our lives been transformed so much that we are devoted wholly to the saviour who has given his life for us?” Steve asks. That’s the heart of the NZCMS mission.We exist to see lives changed by the gospel, bringing glory to God. This year we expanded our mission focus to include various communities at home here in New Zealand. We appointed someone to research how we could increase our work among migrant communities.We have two mission partners specifically focused on mobilising young people for mission, and we have recently confirmed our first mission partner to work among Maori people in South Auckland. Across the world, the stories of gospel transformation continue. In the Philippines children are coming to the Lord in droves. There are new believers in the Middle East. Families in Asia are being equipped to protect their children from human trafficking, and in Africa, clinics and pharmacies are empowering communities and saving lives. And the stories of transformed lives continue to pour in. These are the stories of what happens when people have a living encounter with Jesus.We give thanks to God for our mission partners and supporters, who have caught the vision of courageous gospel proclamation across the world. But we want to go further. In 2019, NZCMS is prayerfully aiming to raise up 20 new mission partners to take up this challenge of courageous gospel proclamation, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. “We cannot give ourselves to these bold steps without an encounter with Jesus,” says Steve. “People are not naturally willing to give their lives to something where they think there’s a huge risk. But I’m praying that God can help us challenge that because I’m finding that if we’re going to be raising workers for the harvest, we cannot promise them safety. So we need brave people, men and women who are willing to go to places that are broken in this world and bring transformation.”But not all of us need to be John Allen Chau, who was prepared to risk his life for the sake of bringing the gospel to the North Sentinelese. An encounter with the risen Lord Jesus enables each one of us to make courageous decisions to share the love of Christ. For some, being brave in this way may mean risking the good opinion of our neighbours or colleagues in order to see some won for Christ. For others it may mean the loss of a treasured job. And for yet others, it may mean a violent death at the hands of an isolated tribe. Jesus says, ‘the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few’.“Are you going to be brave or safe?”asks Steve. “You can’t be both.”
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 woke up with my heart leaping from my chest. My mind and emotions were not at rest. I had made some decisions that might have impacted my family negatively. I felt a lack of communication and a tangible sense of unease in some of my primary relationships. I felt more tired than I thought I should be, flat spiritually and as if discouragement had somehow attached itself to my insides. In other words, I felt some kind of spiritual resistance. I think I was under attack!
Scripture tells us we have three primary enemies: the devil, the world and the flesh. When D.L Moody – an American evangelist in 1837-1899 – was asked one day, “Who is the biggest obstacle in your ministry?” his response was, “D.L. Moody!” That has also been my experience. My biggest problems are usually caused by… well, me, to be honest. But before we get too discouraged, Moody also said, “If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent.”
And I think that means we don’t need to be spiritual giants or super humans to deal with spiritual attack. But we may need to be alert, because the devil, that enemy Satan, is an opportunist, and just loves to find a chink in our armour. He tries to irritate, distract or harm us. It can be mistakes we make, sins we commit, sins of omission, and even sins we have been forgiven that he may suggest we are not really forgiven for, that Satan will use against us.
So when we find ourselves in what may very well be a spiritual storm, what can we do? Scripture is the obvious place to start, and I love the clear, practical advice in James 4:6-10:
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
’God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
Good old James is so sensible and practical, isn’t he? The following are some practical steps we can take.Submit to God. Do things God’s way. Am I part of the problem, in my actions and attitudes? Confess it to God. Clean up any unfinished business. Is there anyone I have harmed or neglected etc? Go to them soon, apologise and ask for forgiveness. Then, resist the devil. Simply, clearly and with the authority God has promised in the scripture above. I believe that if you’ve acted on the first two steps, then any legal ground the enemy may have to hassle you is gone. You will find that “mountains” become “molehills” pretty quickly, the fog will lift and you will be able to see the sun and the way forward again.
Just a small example of this. My wife, Ruth, and I pastored churches in New Zealand for about ten years, and we had five small children. And if ever Ruth and I were going to have an argument, it would seem to erupt just before we were heading off to church on Sunday mornings. If ever a child could not find one shoe, it would be Sunday morning. If ever a child was to throw up all over their best clothes, yes, it would be Sunday morning! So, we would not arrive at church happy and serene as befitting our station! It didn’t take too long to see this was becoming a pattern. Did the devil cause these things or just take advantage of them happening? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that he loved to see us angry and frustrated right before we headed off to church.
When we prayed that this pattern – and our reactions – would change, almost immediately things improved. Yes, there was still the occasional lost shoe or vomit, but our reactions to these things became much gentler and more loving towards each other. And, as a bonus, we became more strategic as well! We would make sure all the shoes and clothes were laid out and ready on Saturday night. Also, I (Mike) would try and have my sermon written and finished off by Thursday night to relieve any ‘late pressure’.
Usually, when I don’t see a change for the better or have a breakthrough, it’s because I have tried to shortcut the process, and have not completed steps one and two properly before entering the battle. I have to remember that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I believe the most effective warfare stance is the bent knee and a humble, teachable heart.
Some may say, “This battle is not spiritual, it is emotional, psychological, physical, circumstantial, etc. and I don’t see a devil or demon hiding behind a bush waiting to attack.” Well that is ok; however you perceive it is fine with me. Yet I still think the principles outlined in James will put you in a far more secure place, knowing that you are submitted to God, open to his guidance and striving to be at peace with others in your world.
This will give you victory over many kinds of battles.
Mike works on staff at the NZCMS central office in Christchurch.
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 a physical copy of the magazine, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 03 377 2222.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The current issue of our Intermission magazine is about the ‘battle’ humanity finds itself in. The battle against spiritual evil. The battle against injustice. The battle against ourselves. There’s some pretty deep stuff in here.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Jairus, I don’t actually think I’m in a battle.” Well, whether you believe you’re in one or not, you’re bound to recognise that there’s something not quite ‘right’ with the world you live in. And there’s something not quite right with humanity either. With me. With you.
Paul wrote in Romans 7:15-16, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” How perfectly does this describe the battle raging within us and the world? The division of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies. Something is broken. And I believe it’s time we start recognising that God does not intend for it to stay that way. And, perhaps more importantly, he doesn’t mean for us to passively watch on either!
The kingdom of evil and the Kingdom of Heaven
This realm, this kingdom of brokenness and lies, is visible every day. It rules in the news, where we see what subjective, biased producers want us to see.
We see it in romance movies, where teenagers are taught that the most important things about a relationship are how physically attracted you are to the other and how they make you feel.
We see it in politics and bills that are passed, where men and women push forward policies, not based on the common good and the public majority, but upon their own personal agendas and vendettas.
This is not what God intends for our world to look like. This is not how God intends for us to act. So what do I think of when I imagine the Kingdom of God? And what could God be calling us to? What does this “Kingdom of Heaven” that his Son talked about so often look like?
Does it look like a marriage, in which the foundation of the relationship is not about how the couple makes each other feel, but about serving and strengthening each other so that they can better follow God?
Does it look like a news reporter who pursues truth and the authentic presentation of facts to the public, so that the leaders of our country are held accountable for their actions?
Does it look like a God-follower throwing himself or herself into the political realms so they can walk into the public spheres of our communities and, instead of yelling, “I have all the answers!” humbly ask, “What are the questions I should be asking?”
I’m sure you can agree that, when you imagine the Kingdom of Heaven, it looks entirely different to what we often experience. Or even how we ourselves tend to act.
So what now?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m not writing this article just for the sake of it. I’m not trying to sound enthusiastic and passionate for fun. I am genuinely pleading with you to begin considering this question: “Am I happy about the current condition of the world?”
I, for one, feel my heart starting to beat a little bit faster when I ask myself that question. My imagination takes over, and I feel my faith beginning to grow and anger – yes anger – bubbling up as I come to realise how subtly and how effectively Satan has twisted things. Or how we’ve twisted them ourselves.
This article isn’t your typical Intermission piece in which I write a thousand words and ask you some questions to reflect on at the end. This article is meant to create a hunger within you for change. It’s supposed to remind you that God intends for us to do something about the brokenness and evil we see in this world. And it’s supposed to help you realise that first: we need to become aware of the enemy we are facing. And second: we need to devise some strategies so we can fight back. I’m sure that, without both of these working together, we will lack the power that God intends to give us.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says this:
“Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
So how about it, fellow Christians? Will you be someone who walks through the evil and broken places of this world and overcomes and restores it into the image of the Kingdom of Heaven? Will you move as Jesus did through the shadows and call on God to fill them with light? Will you be a soldier in the battle for the Kingdom of Heaven? Because the enemy is out there. And God is continuously looking for someone who is willing to put up a fight.