Go Forward

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Every vehicle has the option of reversing, standing stationary or accelerating ahead. So it is with people. Every challenge offers the choice of going backwards, standing still or moving forward. For explorer and missionary pioneer, David Livingstone the choice was clear, “I will go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”

During the Israelite exodus from Egypt the people were confronted with a frightening scenario. Pursued by an enraged army and with the Red Sea before them, they cried out in desperation. The word to Moses was the same as it is to everyone in any situation.

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)

Despite the impossibility of the situation, Moses was emboldened to press on because of a number of factors.

The Word

In the intensity of an emergency God spoke. The word of the Lord came to the prophet, “Go forward.” It was enough to fill the leader of a nation with courage. The clear voice of God in the heat of a trial was sufficient to propel the people forward. It is the prophetic word that keeps all servants of God moving forward. “I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.” (1 Timothy 1:18) Go forward on the word.

Faith

Having heard the word of the Lord, Moses believed it. Like the patriarchs before him, Moses accepted the word by faith. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) Simply put, faith is trusting God. If God said it, his faithful character can be relied on. Faith is the essence of Christian life and service and it is what turns discipleship and pilgrimage into an adventure. “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.” (Hebrews 11:29) Go forward by faith.

Obedience

Having been instructed to, “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea,” (Exodus 14:16) we read that, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.” (Exodus 14:21) That is obedience. Moses had no prior experience of dividing waters, but he had learned about obedience. Faith and obedience always move people through a crisis and on to the next phase of their journey. As Mary advised, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) Go forward in obedience.

“Go forward with joyful confidence.” (George Eliot) Whatever the situation, keep pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14). Go forward.

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Excellence

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.” (Ralph Marston)

Excellence refers to something being outstanding, of high quality, outstanding, superior, great and the very best. Every follower of Christ aspires to excellence in their walk with and service for the Lord (1 Timothy 3:13).

The Old Testament prophet Daniel was distinguished because of his excellent spirit.

Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. (Daniel 6:3)

Excellence is internal

Daniel’s rise to prominence was not the result of external skill and ability alone. There is no doubt that he was an intelligent, hard working man who developed his gifts. But essentially the key to his success was internal. It was the development and care of his inner person that set him up for a blessed life. He worked on being excellent on the inside. It was his devotion, godliness, integrity and character that made him excellent at what he did. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) If we are Christlike on the inside we will bear good fruit on the outside. Excellence is internal.

Excellence is incremental

Excellence is not a gift given suddenly. It is a process developed gradually and painfully. Daniel grew into excellence little by little. By the time this comment was made about him in chapter six he was an elderly man. Through a lifetime of difficulty and disappointment he had learned to use each challenge as a building block for his character. From the time he was taken captive as a young man and exiled to Babylon, he met each trial and opportunity with an exemplary attitude. “And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” (Isaiah 28:13) It is in the small, almost incidental things, that big people are made. Excellence is incremental.

Excellence is influential

Daniel was not a self promoter. Every ‘big-break’ presented itself to him. In times of national crisis it was Daniel’s proven excellent attitude that gave him unusual favour with those in power. It is providence, not human manipulation that opens the door to true influence. “What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isaiah 22:22) An excellent spirit paved the way for extraordinary influence, both in his own lifetime and beyond. People are looking for an opportunity, but God is looking for excellent people (Ezekiel 22:30). If we are faithful with little we can be trusted with much (Luke 16:10). Excellence is influential.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle) The world needs more Daniels who are busy cultivating a spirit of excellence.

Say One For Me

“I say a little prayer for you.” (Aretha Franklin)

Prayer is conversation with God, and is a vital discipline for every follower of Christ. Our discipleship will only develop to the extent that we pray. Jesus Himself is our great example of how to pray.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Priorityrising very early

The early bird catches the worm. Most successful people are early risers. Sacrificing extra sleep is for the committed. For Jesus, prayer was His priority. Before anyone else had stirred, while it was still dark, He climbed out of bed because that is how important prayer was to Him. If the Son of God took prayer that seriously, every believer, disciple and leader ought to do the same. Prayer is a priority.

Timein the morning

There is a time for everything. Effective people are organised and manage time well. If something needs doing, a time slot has to be given to it. Despite His busy schedule, Jesus had a time for prayer. His first appointment of the day was with His Father. The first practical step to a prolonged, dynamic prayer life is the setting aside of a specific time to pray each day. Prayer needs to be given a time slot.

Placewent out to a place

‘I can pray anywhere,’ sounds right, but in practice it rarely works. Those who adopt that approach to prayer may find it to be more miss than hit. Jesus found a specific place and went there to pray. He could have knelt down at the side of His bed, but He didn’t because the house was too crowded. So He took Himself off to His place of prayer. Find a place where you pray. It will help. Prayer is helped by a designated place.

Privacyhe departed to a desolate place

There were people everywhere. The first few chapters of Mark’s Gospel give the impression that during this season of His ministry, Jesus had very little time to Himself. In order to pray He had to escape from everyone and get some time alone with His Father. Personal prayer requires privacy. Shutting everybody else out while we pray is essential. No distractions, no interruptions. Prayer requires isolation and privacy.

Prayerthere he prayed

“Prayer is simply talking to God.” (Billy Graham) Religion seeks to obsess about the form that prayer takes. Yet ironically, practices designed to aid prayer can, if we are not careful, be a distraction from prayer. Prayer is a lot simpler than we sometimes make it. When Jesus prayed He talked intimately with His Father. We are called to do the same. Prayer can only be learned by doing it.

“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air.” (James Montgomery) Prayer was so important to Jesus that He got up early and went off to a solitary place to pray. Prayer is as important for us.

My City, My Home

“There’s no place like home.” (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz)

According to the dictionary, home is the place where one lives. But we all know that home is much more than a location. It is possible to live somewhere and never regard it as home. Home is where we belong, where we fit, the place that has our heart.

When it comes to Christian service, seeing the place of our ministry as home is a basic essential. The situation we find ourselves in may not be ideal, but if we are to bear fruit it is vital that we view our locality as home.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

See it as your cityI have sent you

The people of Judah were in Babylon because God had sent them there. It wasn’t their ultimate home, but for a generation it was where He had placed them. Until they were called back to their homeland they were to settle down and regard it as their city. For the Christian believer this world is not home. The hope of every disciple is focused on another city, our eternal home. But for the duration of our time on earth we are to put down roots and seek the peace and welfare of our world. Wherever God has put us is the place of our calling. We will never do anything useful for God, people or ourselves until we resolve to see it that way. We need to see our village, town or city as it really is – our city, our home.

Bless your cityseek the welfare of the city

The people of God were called to actively work for the benefit of Babylon. The near judgement and destruction of the corrupt city was prophesied. But in the meantime the people of Judah were instructed to bless their current home and seek the welfare of the city and the people within it. One day this earth will pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But while we await that Day the Church is charged with blessing the world and all the peoples in it. God has put us where we are to be a blessing. Acting as salt and light we are to roll up our sleeves and do all we can to bless our city, our home.

Pray for your citypray to the LORD on its behalf

Babylon was a wicked place and represented everything that is contrary godliness. God’s people had nothing in common with the Chaldeans. Yet they were charged with praying for the city’s welfare. The best thing any of us can do for our town, city and people is to pray. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) We develop a heart for what we pray for. Let’s pray for our city, our home.

“Home is where the heart is.” (Pliny the Elder) The place where we live is not just an address, it is home. It is the place of our calling. Seek the welfare of your city, your home, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Tested

“All through my life, I have been tested. My will has been tested, my courage has been tested, my strength has been tested. Now my patience and endurance are being tested.” (Muhammad Ali)

A test is a deliberate, intentional procedure designed to critically evaluate and determine the quality, strength and capacity of something. Everything of value in life is tested, and this is especially true of Christian believers who are maturing into disciples of Christ. Being tested is a normal part of life.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Don’t resent the testdo not despise the LORD’s discipline

The natural reaction to a test is to resent it. No one wants to do their best, only to be rewarded with hassle, hardship and suffering. Superficially, times of testing seem unfair. But it is shortsighted to despise something that is doing us good. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-5) It is testing that makes us grow up to become better, stronger, more mature people. Don’t resent the test.

Don’t get weary of the testor be weary of his reproof

If only we were tested occasionally and quickly. But the greater the task the more vigorous and robust the testing. For the Christian believer this means prolonged, intensive testing that turns us inside out and reforms us into the likeness of Christ. We can all identify with the psalmist, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2) Passing the test requires endurance. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) The test doesn’t last forever. Stick at it. Don’t get weary of the test.

Don’t misread the testthe LORD reproves him whom he loves

God’s motive behind every test is love. As a good Father he wants to develop us to our fullest potential so that we become everything He has predestined us to be. Hence the tests. Through being tested we grow and our capacity expands. Yet it is easy to misread a test as a sign of God’s disapproval. ‘If we are being tested, God must have abandoned us.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Being tested is a sure sign that God loves us and has great plans for us. Don’t misread the test.

“Let the trials of life make you a giant, not a midget.” (Warren Wiersbe) Thank God that He doesn’t leave us as we are, but loves us enough to do something great in us. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Prayer List

“Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer.” (E. M. Bounds)

A petition is a formal appeal to authority in respect of a particular cause. Christian believers are taught to petition God about every issue that concerns them. A specific list of prayer requests is a necessary part of praying. Without a prayer list there will be no testimony ledger. Everyone ought to have a prayer list.

“Ask, and it will be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Petitionask

A vital aspect of prayer is supplication, which is the action of asking for something earnestly or humbly. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18) “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matthew 6:6) If you have a need, pray and make a request. Don’t complicate matters. Go to God and ask.

Promiseand it will

The Bible’s teaching about prayer is accompanied by some remarkable promises. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24) “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) “And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15) “Call to me and I will answer you.” (Jeremiah 33:3) God has promised to answer prayer. Ask and expect an answer.

Provisionbe given to you

Amazing things happen when we make requests of God. “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11) The Bible is full of examples of God’s provision in answer to prayer. After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, Hannah looked down at Samuel and declared, “I have asked for him from the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:20) God is Jehovah-Jireh, which means, ‘the LORD will provide’. Whatever you need, ask for it in prayer and see what God will do.

“The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!”” (J. Hudson Taylor) Whatever you need, ask. “For everyone who asks receives.”

Opportunity

“How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.” (Paulo Coelho)

Opportunity is a favourable situation or set of circumstances that make it possible to do something. There are those who can spot opportunities everywhere, and those who are oblivious to them. There are those who capitalise on any opportunity, and those who are too cautious to embrace it.

The writer of Ecclesiastes gave the following advice.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Opportunitywhatever your hand finds to do

When Paul the apostle visited Athens (Acts 17) he was there to wait for Silas and Timothy so that they could continue on with their journey. But while there he took the opportunity to engage with the Jews in the synagogue, anyone who happened to be in the market-place, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers that he happened to come across, those who gathered at the Areopagus, and a few individuals who believed his message and joined him. That is a lot of opportunity to come from waiting at a transport hub. There is no shortage of opportunity if we will look around and see what can be done.

Actiondo it

Spotting opportunities is only the first step. When Paul saw the opportunities in Athens, he took action to seize those opportunities. He intentionally stepped into the synagogue on the Sabbath and took the opportunity to speak to the Jews. He deliberately walked around the market-place and started conversations. He accepted the invitation to visit a religious site filled with idols. He stood among the philosophers and preached. He welcomed and accommodated the new believers who joined him. If opportunities are not to be squandered, they must be taken and acted upon.

Enthusiasmwith your might

How we do things is as important as what we do. Opportunities will never be maximised if we lack an enthusiastic attitude. It is difficult to fault Paul’s zeal while he was in Athens. His presentation style was enough to engage devout Jews in the synagogue, intrigue strangers in the market-place, captivate scholars and philosophers at the Areopagus, and persuade some significant individuals of the claims of the gospel. Paul had a message worth being enthusiastic about, and he delivered it with conviction. If the gospel is the greatest story ever told, it deserves to be delivered with some fervour. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

“An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” (Winston Churchill) Every day provides countless opportunities. Spot them, seize them, and see what happens.