Don’t let Easter and the Resurrection pass too quickly. It’s the greatest victory that no one anticipated. But it happened and our lives are not the same. And although the world is hurtling into darkness, Jesus Christ is Saviour of the world, and He will raise us with immortal bodies. This is part of my theme today: How not to be in a hurry, how to be in step with what God is doing, as disciples of Jesus.
My theme is Vessels for the Harvest. As I look out on you, I thank God for you - chosen by God. Even your marriages are given by God so that you may be vessels for His purpose and His glory. And that is how we are trusting God to move today, that at the end of the morning, we are ready to be His vessels; vessels for the harvest He is bringing.
We are constantly learning the way of life for a disciple of Christ. How should we live as disciples of Jesus? There is one aspect I want to press home a little bit:
I. CREATE SPACE FOR GOD TO ACT
Create space because it doesn’t happen naturally, particularly in the mode of working and living in Singapore. We do not stop or pause to listen.
Today’s subject matter came from a space that was created when I went to Desaru for a quiet retreat. It was a corrective for an excessively busy life when we try to manage too much. That is often when God is prompting us to stop to listen.
1. In Your Personal Walk With God
So create space for God to act in your personal life and walk. Create it daily with your QT.
Isaiah 50:4 “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue that I may know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning to listen as one being taught.”
The ‘instructed tongue’ are those taught by God. For His workers, He wants to make this real everyday.
We also need a weekly, extended time, where you can walk, listen, receive and journal. I’m just following the pattern in creation. And then there are special encounter times. Some are planned and offered to God, like a quiet retreat which I try to do twice a year, or unplanned, when God is breaking through to us in wilderness moments.
In 1 Kings 19, God is breaking through to Elijah after a great battle. After a great victory came a great let-down. In that great let-down moment, God created a space. After the great battle at Mt Carmel, God’s prophet has prevailed and Elijah is expecting a revival where God’s people will turn to the sovereign Lord Yahweh. But when the king tells Jezebel the queen, she is determined to kill the prophet. And he has a meltdown.
1 Kings 19:3-18
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lordwas not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
I want to alert you that God, because He loves us, does bring us to a place where we can hear Him clearly. There could be, in the midst of us, some who are experiencing what Elijah experienced. Because expectations don’t always get fulfilled, and there is a sense that it is all not worthwhile.
‘I’ve had enough.’ Perhaps you thought you can lead your group out to the next level but it has been so tough and now there is a major setback. I want to say to you, very often when you are in that lost-ness and wilderness, God will come to you.
Creating space for God is not always proactive. Sometimes, it is receptive. God brought you to a place where you can’t go on. So present your emptiness and brokenness to God.
Notice God was not in the tempest, earthquake, nor fire; not in the usual manifestations of His presence. He does not come to us in our own categories of thought. That’s the surprising thing about God. The missionary in Thailand who went out full of zeal, had to go back after persevering a few years, and he was shattered. He tried to revive his zeal and purpose but it did not come in the usual ways. But in his brokenness, he also heard a still small voice calling him by name.
So Elijah who called for the God who answers by fire now realizes God is not in the fire. But he hears a low whisper, as silent as breathing; and he is known and restored in his ministry.
So our ministry is not an uphill series of victories. Things do go wrong, expectations fail.
But God is still God, and He is working all things for His purpose.
A grandmother tells a pastor what she experienced: Her daughter’s first child was premature by many months and was born with very severe handicaps. As a Christian, the grandmother confesses that her instinct is to want to erase the pain. ‘My daughter shouldn’t have to cope with such a severely handicapped child.’ So she struggled with her faith. Why should this happen to her family? Then God spoke to her in a still small voice. And she says, God through His voice helped me to accept the jarring elements of a blessed whole.’’
Because of Jesus Christ, we have a blessed whole. You must know that! That’s the Resurrection!
All is well and will be well! But it is not escapism because there are jarring elements. Things don’t go the way we expect. In those moments, we need to create space, or accept space in which God restores us. So I pray you create space in your personal walk with God.
2. In Your Interpersonal Relationships (Our Lord In Luke 24:13-35)
Then we need to create space in our interpersonal relationships. And we start with our family.
a) Family Relationships:
- Even those of us who are not married, create one-on-one time with those God has given you in your family. In a fallen world, nothing runs on automatic.
- Every good gift must be nurtured, watered. Don’t miss one-on-one time with your spouse.
- For those of us who work full-time, we thank God there is provision for a Sabbath day.
- Guard your Sabbath, not selfishly, but as a steward.
- And the active lay-folk who are here, I pray God will show you which is your Sabbath.
- So spend one-on-one time with your spouse, and also your children.
- Our enemy is a robber and spoiler.
A dear and experienced pastor related this to me. Early in his ministry when his children were young, he used to spend one-on-one time with them. It was nothing elaborate, it was just standing by the bedside for 15 minutes a week to talk to them about their lives. But when one of his daughters was 14 and 15, because she seems to be on the right track and settled, able to live life well, and his life got busier as a Christian leader, he stopped to do this. Choking back tears, he told me he regrets that he stopped and let it slip. His daughter’s life took a wrong turn and he lives with the wounded-ness. He was very keen to pass it on with me.
So don’t assume that your children are of a certain age, seem to be coping well, maybe don’t like your company, you don’t need the one-on-one time. Don’t stop! These are God-given relationships.
b) Discipling Relationships: Informal Times Together
Discipling has a programmatic aspect to it (teaching, learning, and so forth) but discipleship must also involve informal discipling, like going on mission trips, visitations together, games and taking them to your house for makan. When you open up these spaces, these relationships go deeper because they are no longer just functional. They will get a sense someone believes in them, shares life with them, and their lives matter incredibly to you.
3. In Our Gatherings As God’s People
Then we need to create space in our Christian gatherings.
a) When We Meet For Business (Acts 15:1-35)
These include PCC meetings, AGMs, ministry core team meetings, etc.
I learnt this from Acts 15. The Gentiles are turning to Jesus. How to incorporate them with the Jews as the people of God? You can see the intensity of the debate in the council in v7.
After there had been much debate, Peter stood up. Paul and Barnabas also made their case. In v13, James also speaks up and relates it to the prophecy in Amos. I believe it was a spirit filled meeting, so much so that when they reached a decision, this is how they write in v 28: “For it had seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no further burden except (a,b,c) “
So I encourage you, when you have your business meetings, begin with praise, adoration and Scripture. This creates space for God to reign and rule and guide.The church is not a human organization doing its own thing. It is the body of Christ responding to God on the Throne. So let Him settle the differences. Let Him guide you to know how to settle some things Scripturally. He is the risen Lord. He is in our midst! But so often we just carry on on our own.
b) When We Meet For Worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)
There is body life and the exercising of spiritual gifts. In our weekly weekend worship, create space for God to speak, to minister.
V26: “What then, brothers? When we come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
Canon Titus, in today’s communion service, preaching from Ephesians 4, brought up the same point. The purpose of the gifts in ministry is to build up the body to full stature. I suppose you can see it happening in a cell group. But how can it happen in a larger weekend service? I have no easy answers. But I call on you to create space even in your weekly service.
Our churches have different soils. But they all need the Spirit’s presence in reality.
So I pray you will enter into the reality of the Spirit. And as you do, you want His presence to be known among the Christians. So how do you during service create a space for spiritual gifts? Sometimes, when we start, it is like a slow drip. Don’t be discouraged, because we are to learn and grow in the things of the Spirit. And if you don’t have the public gifts, don’t restrain others. We are on good biblical grounds/pattern. And if you are the pastor, God gives you the authority and the discernment there and then.
Jackie Pullinger, who has a tremendous ministry in Hong Kong with drug rehabilitation and who has planted churches that have transformed people, said to me, “It has to be seen weekly.” If people don’t experience it weekly from the pastor at the assembly, it is very hard to tell them to practice in cell groups.
But I want you to know that this opens up problems because people need to be coached and given feedback how to bring a word, especially when a word is given and there is no response. Despite that, this is the way for the church, because the Risen Lord has given gifts. It is tricky, but we can overcome and grow as a body.
And as a pastor, don’t abdicate or delegate the responsibility, because God has given you the authority. So if a word comes and it doesn’t sound right, it is good that you say ‘let us test that word.’ The person may not like it, but you are guarding the flock and helping the person. So I invite you to create space and we can learn from one another, because some churches have learnt to practise this in an edifying way where people are built up.
So create space for God to act in your personal life, your interpersonal relationships and Christian gatherings. As you create space, you will know what God wants you to do.
2. PARTICIPATE IN WHAT GOD IS DOING
This has taken some time to brew and grow in me: What is God doing in the coming three years? So from my heart, I want to share with you: I believe it is harvest time.
1. It’s Harvest Time (John 4:27-42)
These next three years, 2017-2020 will be a glorious harvest time. In the midst of thick and extensive darkness, light is shining. In the midst of great moral confusion, there’s a spiritual hunger. And God is at work. So let us participate in what God is doing.
Because we have seven nations, I have to ask the Lord, ‘Lord, is it harvest time for just one or two or all the nations?’ because I do not what to give the wrong time to the wrong nation! But I found the Lord saying, ‘I have made you a diocese and you are a diocese of seven nations. This word is for your diocese. Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Our churches will experience a tremendous, amazing harvest time. And this harvest will involve three things:
- the harvest of souls: plenty of new lives coming to the Lord
- a harvest of holiness: moral brightness that will let the world know that religion is not a business. It is a reality – a new life, a new hope, a new way of being.
- a harvest of new Kingdom workers
I am delighted to see so many young faces at breakfast. My heart leaps for joy! In many parts of the world, the church has aged. God has given us a good thing, but this good thing is only one generation long. So I believe God is going to bring in a new generation of Kingdom workers, including retirees. So new doesn’t mean younger. He is going to move people from the golf course to the mission field! Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Let me ask you one question: when were you last so happy that you didn’t need to eat?
In this account, Jesus is so excited and exhilarated that he didn’t need to eat, because he can see that many, many lives are hungry and ready for the Kingdom. I pray this will be a reality, that God is saving, healing, transforming.
The Samaritan woman was trapped by an immoral life. She was a social outcast who had to come at mid-day to draw water. But hers was a positive response where so many more came to Jesus outside of Jerusalem, in Samaritan territory. Jesus sees her spiritual hunger ready to receive the Good News of the Kingdom.
So with the eyes of faith, he can say in v35, “Do you not say there is yet four months then comes the harvest? Look I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are ripe for harvest.’
“There is four months to the harvest” is a Hebrew proverb of farmers to say there is a waiting time between sowing and reaping. But Jesus says when you sow is when it is ready to reap. This is what we are trusting God for. For the next three years, when we share our faith, people are ready to believe and to grow.
Where are they coming from? I believe they are coming from
- the Deaneries. So please send out the mission teams and assist our Deans
- the neighbourhoods around our churches
- the schools
- the marketplace
In the Samaritan woman, Jesus sees a new mission field. God is opening up brand new fields. One of our parishes is launching ministry to children of prisoners. God is showing us new fields to reach.
This passage ends with the villagers saying (v42) “and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” She is the first evangelist! “Come and see. Could this be the Christ?” And they meet Jesus.
That is why we don’t say, ‘It is four months to the harvest.’ The harvest is here.
How do we prepare for the harvest?
2. Prepare for it with Faith and Love
a) Revitalisation Of Prayer: Praying For Revival
This is not our work. Through all the confusion and hardness, God in His mercy causes a spiritual awakening. They are ready to believe when we share the Good News. It is God’s revival, and it comes through prayer. Elijah asked his servant to go back seven times, and he prayed until the rain came. In our personal life and in our groups and prayer bands, pray for revival. Such prayer brings repentance and consecration.
b) Repentance and cleansing
Joshua 3: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow I will do a mighty thing. I believe there is a cleansing going on in our churches. It is always hard and painful when it involves leaders but the blood of Jesus cleanses, and the Spirit of Jesus recreates. So revival will flush this out. We need to guard ourselves and minister grace with correction, because there is a righteousness and truthfulness that is happening.
c) Readying Yourself For The Engagement
Ready yourself means prepare and stretch yourself. A picture of it is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. ‘In Anguish’ Jesus prayed more earnestly (Luke 22:44)
‘Anguish’ is like the sweat of athletes before they run. They are pumped up and ready.
God wants us to work up a spiritual sweat. Revival doesn’t come on the cheap.
For those of us who have gone asleep: we are using long sermons, and not preparing ourselves with prayer before meetings, we need to repent and to believe this word.
We can’t enter spiritual warfare without warm-up. Your soul and body must be ready and hungry. And ready your people.
d) Readying Your Congregation/Your Church For The Harvest
How do we ready our people? It is not humanly driven. We all need Holy Spirit renewal.
Preparing for harvest must involve a stepping out. Reach out to the lost.
Go out in faith, believing God and with the love of God.
e) Reach Out To Others In Obedience And Faith
We are working towards a National Harvest in 2019.
It is not mass evangelism - it is personal evangelism on a mass scale. It is the whole body of Christ doing personal evangelism and bringing people to see the life-giving Gospel.
Please pray for this. As things shape up, the vicars and I will share more with you.
3. Anticipate it with Joy and Desire
As we prepare, we need a picture of revival-time harvest. What will it look like?
- A harvest of souls; healing and miracles; the HS healing lives;
- God setting us free from the chains of sin and darkness; Jesus in the Gospel, now Christ today; remaking of lives; people with addictions set free; restoration of divine patterns.
What does this mean? It means God’s righteousness; the right way of living (to understand gender, sexuality, marriage) that brings us life. We are all dysfunctional in some way, but this gospel has the power to heal, to reform, and to transform families and communities.
You are a vessel in God’s hands that He is shaping, renewing, healing, filling.
This Gospel is not just about saving souls. It is about forming the image of God’s son in the peoples of the world. Salvation is not a transaction but a transformation. We are changed by Jesus Christ. Our lives are never the same. We are still wounded, but a blessed whole, because He has the power to heal and change and transform and ready for eternity. So it is a tremendous calling to enter the work of the Potter. And He starts with us, making us vessels for this harvest.