Do you feel ready to respond to God, at any moment?
As every good scout or guide knows, it always pays to 'be prepared.' Baden-Powell explained the meaning of the scout motto like this: “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body… so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing and able to do it.”
"I find myself in danger of being taken by surprise by the events and challenges I meet. Is it just me?"
So here's the thing – I don't always go through life feeling like I'm ready and prepared to respond to God. It seems to me that for all the wonderful knowledge, training, impartation and special encounters I've received in church, the most important thing and yet the easiest thing to neglect has been a consistency of inner life - a neglect of the command to 'pray continually' – which I take to mean remaining intimately connected moment by moment to the perfectly loving presence of the Trinity. Too often, I find myself half-asleep and in danger of being taken by surprise by the events and challenges I meet. Is it just me?
I remember one such moment a few months ago. I was sitting in the audience for a concert one evening, when a lady sat down next to me and started talking about her forthcoming back operation - how much pain she was in each day and how she was worried about the surgery. She seemed like a friendly and open person, and it probably wouldn't have cost me very much to offer to pray for her. But my focus really hadn't been on the Lord that day, I was taken by surprise in that moment and had little confidence to respond.
"My lack of spiritual confidence affected me in that moment, and unsettled me afterwards."
Now obviously our confidence should be in Jesus and what He has done on the cross; we don't look to ourselves but to the love and power of God to change people. The anointed One lives in us by His Spirit! None of this changes, even when our feelings or experience might fluctuate. In truth, I probably should have offered to pray for her anyway. But my lack of spiritual confidence affected me in that moment, and unsettled me afterwards – I hadn't felt ready and available to respond in the way I would have hoped to – due to my lack of conscious connectedness to the Holy Spirit, whilst being fully aware that I had nothing to offer on my own. Before I knew it, the moment had passed.
I hadn't been living how Jesus commanded me: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)
As a musician, working as a french horn player, I quickly learnt the lesson that my sense of being prepared and ready for a concert dramatically affected my confidence and expectation for how that concert would turn out! The key difference was where my focus was directed: being well prepared and on good form gave me the freedom to concentrate on the audience, and on the business of communicating to them through the performance. A lack of preparation would inevitably lead to an undesired self-focus – having to think about the technicalities of what I was doing, becoming over-focussed with the music on the page, battling fear, overcoming doubts, etc.
The Bible places a great emphasis on preparation: preparing ourselves for God, and preparing ourselves for ministry - taking thought ahead of time to be ready for encounter with the Trinity and with the world we are called to love. It speaks of preparation in terms of preparing our hearts for worship, giving and receiving forgiveness, getting ready for Jesus's return, being ready for the spiritual battle, being prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have, going through preparation for calling and destiny and much more.
We never know when a Kingdom opportunity might suddenly present itself; when we might need to quickly respond to a situation in front of us, or to hear Holy Spirit's wisdom before a 'kairos' moment passes. If we are completely dependant on the Holy Spirit for any ministry (we are!), and if abiding in Jesus is a pre-requisite to being fruitful (it is!), and if being filled with the Father's love is our source that is meant to overflow into the lives of others (yes!), then we need to be living in the continuous flow of living relationship with the Trinity so we are always 'ready, willing and able.'
"In His presence is where our hearts are formed"
What's more, the systems of the world are being shaken – God wants us to be ready to face whatever is coming next and ready to be the ones to help and resource others in testing times. At the same time, something exciting is stirring as promises of revival spoken over the nations move ever closer to being fulfilled. We want to be ready to catch the wave of God's love as it breaks over us, and to be ready, willing, equipped and healed up for the coming harvest. “Your people will be willing in the day of Your power.” (Psalm 110:3 KJV)
Living in a state of readiness is something that flows out of our relationship with the Trinity. Being constantly filled with and in communion with the Holy Spirit; embracing our covenant Oneness with Jesus as we fix our eyes on Him; knowing our identity as Sons and daughters of our Father and living under the gaze of His incredible love. In His presence is where our hearts are formed, where our lives are shaped and made beautiful, and where we become reflections of His glory.
As Jesus said, good things come out of the good stored up in our hearts in advance. (Luke 6:45). The overflow of the water of life will bring life wherever we go.
"We will have the privilege of seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God in the ordinary moments of life."
Thankfully there is a lot of grace for us when we find ourselves not as prepared as we might hope to be – God is gracious and often moves despite our lack of readiness – it's a good job it's not all about us! In fact, of course, it's always all about Him – when we are ready and prepared, it is for Him to work through us. And we mustn't fall into the trap of never actually doing anything for fear that we're not ready yet! I don't suppose that Peter felt ready to step out of the boat – but he had his eyes fixed on Jesus (to start with...!)
If we walk daily in a state of intimacy with God we will be confident and ready for any and every eventuality. We won't get caught short or taken by surprise, but rather we will have the privilege of seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God in the ordinary moments of life. Let's continually stir up our hearts to passionately pursue God and to stay ever ready to respond to His voice and His love!
Sometimes all this seems a long way off, sometimes not, but it's my goal to learn to live my life in such a way that no matter what I'm doing, His presence becomes my moment by moment focus; I'm in a continual state of profound peace, rest and joy in His presence; I'm keeping watch for the moment He starts to speak or move. I want to be able to say, like the psalmist, "My eyes are ever on the Lord." (Psalm 25:15 NIV)
How's that going to happen then?
Well I guess we know it's not rocket science: personal prayer, worship, soaking, meditation in the word, etc. - these are the foundations of a growing intimacy with God. For me, I have found it is important to accept that transformation happens both through great mountaintop moments of encounter and through the slow, steady transformation of a daily, disciplined devotional life. It's not 'either or', but 'both and'.
The other thing I place a very high value on is spiritual growth in the context of real community. The mutual encouragement of friends spurring each other on. Dropping the pretences and having somewhere to be honest about how things really are. Just reminding each other how wonderful He really is from time to time!
So what works for you? What are some of the ways that you find helpful in staying close to God?