Bible in One Year

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June 28 Day 179

Power Encounters

A few years ago, David (not his real name), a young lawyer, was in our small group on Alpha. On the first night, he told us that he was an atheist and had come with a sole purpose of disrupting the small group, which he attempted to do every time he came. Unlike many who come with this attitude, he did not change at all throughout the course.

After the talk on ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’, one young woman, Sarah (not her real name), who was not a Christian, said that she definitely did not believe in the power of evil. This was a major stumbling block to her becoming a Christian.

But later that evening David became extremely angry for no apparent reason and, as if he were taken over by a demonic power, he physically threatened one of the helpers in our group in a terrifying way. Sarah happened to witness the incident. She saw God’s power at work in the gentle, restrained reaction of the helper. Her eyes were opened to the whole spiritual world. She put her faith in Jesus that night.

John Wimber defined ‘power encounters’ as the clashing of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.

The apostle Paul writes, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but… against the spiritual forces of evil’ (Ephesians 6:12). God’s power in you is so much greater than the power of evil.

June 27 Day 178

The God of Miracles

After an Alpha Weekend, a soldier called Quincy Bellot wrote to me: ‘This pain started twelve years ago. After joining the Royal Marines, it became extremely bad. The cartilage below the kneecap was completely gone. Last year was the worst when the ligaments and the tendons were torn and the kneecap went in a forty-five-degree angle. It has been a long and painful journey. I could not sit or stand for too long.

‘Cut a long story short, I decided to try God and try Alpha. I got back from the Alpha weekend and agreed to come to HTB after much hesitation. I heard people testifying and I was thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah”. When someone said [a word of knowledge] about the cartilage issue, I took the sharpest breath I ever took. I agreed to be prayed for. I felt God moving in my knee. I dropped on my knees to test it and remarkably no pain. It’s just miraculous. I went for a run last night… it was the first time after a very long time I haven’t had any pain. God is real.’ The email was headed ‘Brand New Knee!!’

God is a God of miracles.

June 26 Day 177

Three Things God Wants to Give You

Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie were middle-aged Christian women in Holland when World War II erupted. They resolved to conceal fleeing Jews from the Nazis. They rescued many. But they were eventually arrested and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Betsie died there. Corrie miraculously survived to bear witness to the way in which God can save, heal and forgive.

When asked how to prepare for persecution, she used to tell this story about her childhood: 

‘When I was a little girl, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I was afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.” “Tell me,” said father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No, daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That is right,” my father said, “And so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need just in time.”’

June 25 Day 176

The Power of Prayer

Three weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of Christians of many denominations took part in a great wave of prayer for the evangelisation of the nation during the week before Pentecost Sunday. The week culminated in beacon events in packed cathedrals around the United Kingdom over the Pentecost weekend. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, asked people to pray for three things: ‘That all Christians find new life in Jesus Christ…; That all those you meet… might see something of Jesus…; For the church to overflow with the reality of the presence of Jesus.’

Pete Greig, founder of 24-7 Prayer, has been closely involved in the initiative, now held annually. Last year he described, ‘a groundswell; a movement from the grassroots up’. He said he had been very moved to hear of one boy who’d prayed for five friends, three of whom had since become Christians!

Prayer is spiritual nutrition. Just as the body needs physical food, so the soul needs spiritual food. Prayer changes us. However, the Bible goes much further than this. Prayer is powerful. It is, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it, ‘the slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.’ Prayer has the power to change circumstances, other people and even the course of history.

June 24 Day 175

Pass on the Baton

I am so grateful to Jonathan Fletcher. When I first encountered Jesus in 1974, Jonathan met with me for three hours every week for a year, and regularly thereafter until I left university. He became a great friend. He taught me the Christian faith. He explained to me how to read the Bible and how to pray. He recommended Christian books and answered my questions.

Even though I had only just encountered Jesus myself, he encouraged me to lead others to faith in Jesus and to straight away pass on what I was learning.

After I left university, Sandy Millar did the same as Jonathan had done, in a different way. He showed me a model of how to live the Christian life, to which I still aspire.

Ever since, there have always been people in my life from whom I am learning and others to whom I am trying to pass it on. Like runners in a relay race, we all have a responsibility to pass on the baton.

June 23 Day 174

Three Keys to Great Friendships

The UK retail chain Topshop commissioned a survey by a team of psychologists into their key customer demographic: Generation Y (born after 1981 to the early 2000s). They interviewed 800 people. The results were so startling that they did not believe them. They interviewed another 800, and got the same results.

The results portrayed an alarming picture of an increasingly lonely and lost generation. More people live alone than at any other point in our recorded social history. The average Facebook usage for Generation Y is six and a half hours a day. Many who were interviewed considered work to be something they fitted in between Facebook and lunch! They found people had a very large number of ‘friends’ but an increasing sense of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with social media, but it is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships. We were created for friendship with God (Genesis 3:8) and with one another (2:18).

Marriage is part of the solution to aloneness. Friendship, vital also in marriage, is a crucial part of the solution. Jesus set an example of close friendship with men and women. He demonstrated that marriage is not the only solution to aloneness. In one respect, friendship is even more important than marriage. Marriage is temporary; friendship is eternal. ‘Friendship’, as C.S. Lewis writes, is the ‘crown of life and school of virtue’. Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.

The Bible is very realistic. We see examples of relationships at their very best, but we also see examples of their frailty and failure. Through these examples and the teaching of the Bible we see three keys.

June 22 Day 173

When Life is Difficult

He was arrested for preaching the gospel. His wife died leaving him with four children, one of whom was blind. Yet he refused to give up telling people the good news about Jesus.

He wrote his greatest work in a prison cell. It has been a source of spiritual inspiration and help to countless readers. Translated into over 200 languages, it has never been out of print since the day it was first published in 1678.

Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory written by John Bunyan. It tells the story of a person called ‘Christian’ on a journey from his hometown to the Celestial City. On the way he faces many difficulties, challenges and obstacles, yet he perseveres faithfully to the end.

A Christian life is not easy. You will face many difficulties along the way. But these need not derail you. In fact, as you go through difficult times staying close to Jesus, you will emerge stronger, wiser and more Christ-like.

June 21 Day 172

God Sees Your Heart

Paul Swala was in prison in Zambia. He was charged with treason. He was accused of being involved in a coup to overthrow the government. While in prison, he did Alpha. He encountered Jesus and cried out for God to save him. He said, ‘The smile came on my face and my heart was filled with peace.’

Extraordinarily, he was the only one of the group of sixty-nine accused who was acquitted. He told his story, at our Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. His face radiated the joy of the Lord. He has now been into every prison in Zambia sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and how, even in the direst of situations, Jesus can bring hope and change hearts. He said, ‘I’ve never seen a friend like Jesus.’ God really has filled his heart with joy.

Photograph of Nicky Gumbel interviewing Paul Swala at the Leadership Conference 2015

The word ‘heart’ appears at least seventeen times in the passages for today. The Hebrew understanding of ‘the heart’ included the emotions, but it also involved the mind, the conscience and the will. It means everything that is going on inside of you.

All the men and women whom God chose to use greatly had weaknesses and made mistakes. But God saw that their hearts were turned towards him. It is your heart that matters. Your heart lies ‘open before the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:11). Only God sees and knows the heart of every human being (1 Kings 8:39).

June 20 Day 171

Come, Holy Spirit

Spending time in the presence of God is the most important activity of your life. You need God’s presence in your life more than you need anything else. But where do you find the presence of God?

I remember so well the first time I heard someone pray one of the most ancient prayers of the church, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, with a real expectation that the Holy Spirit would come! It was on a Sunday night in 1982. We had a meeting in the crypt after our evening service at HTB. As we prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ we saw remarkable events occur. We saw people being filled with the Holy Spirit with physical manifestations similar to those described in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost. We saw extraordinary physical healings take place the following day when again someone prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’.

God is always present with his people today by his Holy Spirit. When you pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ you are asking for an increased sense of the presence of God. There are times in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit filled a gathering of people sovereignly and spontaneously (Acts 2:2; 10:44). There are other times when the disciples prayed for the Holy Spirit: ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (4:31). In the Old Testament passage for today we read how ‘the glory of the Lord filled his temple’ (1 Kings 8:11).

Each of the passages for today tells us something about how to enjoy God’s empowering presence that comes through the Holy Spirit.

June 19 Day 170

Discover Inexhaustible Treasures

I first encountered Jesus through reading the Bible. Ever since, I have read it practically every day of my life. Even though I have read every passage in the Bible many times, I am constantly seeing and discovering new things. The Bible is full of inexhaustible treasure for you to read and digest, and through which you can encounter God.

Yet, it is not always an easy book to understand. One key ingredient to understanding the Bible better is to recognise the language and genre that the writer is using – the type of literature and therefore what the writer intended.