The challenge of walking with the God who knows me  

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If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 2 Cor 5:17

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Psalm 81

“I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket.”

During the years in Southampton, I constantly felt the pressure to perform, to bare fruit.  This was never a pressure which was put on me from outside, rather it was a pressure which I presumed was coming from outside even if I could not sense it.  Since the pressure was to produce, it was naturally linked to appearances, and thus unhealthy.  The pressure would lead to a short fuse when things went wrong.

At this time Psalm 81 spoke very deeply.  The burden was the burden of ministry, and God was setting me free from it.  I was free from the drive to produce fruit and free to seek him.  Not to seek him for results in ministry but to seek him for himself.

I had been responding to poor results by increasing amounts of prayer, but it was “prayer for” not “prayer to”.  As the Psalmist goes on “In your distress you called and I rescued you ...”  I did call, and he did answer.  I expected the answer to be a larger number of converts, the answer in fact was a lifting of the burden and a freedom in Jesus.

Now the challenge was really on.  Did I really believe that I was free, and did not have to suffer without results.  Just to help me understand this, and learn the lesson instead of having better results they in fact got worse.  The Psalmist continues: “.. listen O Israel!  You shall have no foreign god among you ...”  I would be returning to a foreign god if I were to believe that my needs could be met by my ministry and action or by larger numbers of converts.

No the answer lies only in God – “I am the Lord your God ... Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  He calls to us, he gives us his instructions.  As we have faith to follow, then he is able to fill us and fulfil our needs in the right way.  It required faith to stop what we were doing so busily in the ministry in order to open wide my mouth to receive from God.  The ministry was busy, but time with God became essential.  After having stopped to pray, having opened my mouth, I wondered why I had ever doubted it.

“But my people would not listen to me .. so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”  Following my own devices is where I had come from:  Great strategies for reaching the lost.  It was hard to give up these strategies of which I had such pride and just do what God asked me to do.

I had hoped in going down this path that this verse would become a quick reality:  “If my people would but listen to me .. how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!”  I hoped that as I turned aside from ‘ministry’ to God, that there would be quick results.  There were not.  At least not in terms of converts, only later did we discover that there had been an impact and true fruitfulness amongst the Christians we were rubbing shoulders with.  Further, God had given a task of shepherding and with large numbers I would have been so overwhelmed with business that I would have had an easy excuse to let slide the task that he had set me as most important.  With a smaller ministry, there was space to do well the task that he was training me in.  What he gave was sufficient for his purposes.