Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Discipleship Considered (Continued)


The time in which we live is sometimes characterised as a ‘throw-away’ age. Some commodities are designed not to last. They are expected to have a limited life and then be thrown away. You buy an umbrella and use it until it develops a fault, then it is disposed of and another is bought. They are not usually designed to be repaired. But the service of a disciple of the Lord should be in contrast to the ‘throw-away’ spirit of the age. Everything should be done in the Name of the Lord, and bear the mark of quality. Not only should the results of the service last but the worth to the servant and His Master should be of eternal value.

Previously we considered the rewards for service - the ‘well done’ from the Master, the position of honour in His household. But rewards will only be given to those whose service will survive the severest examination. They will be tested to the toughest standards and measured to the strictest tolerances. Only that of the best workmanship and the highest quality will be worthy of the Saviour, and only that which will survive the most stringent examination will survive. There is an assessment made of our service and it is described in much detail in the Scriptures.


We will ask a few questions to illuminate the subject:

(a) Who will make the appraisal?

(b) When will it take place?

(c) Where will it take place?

(d) Who is to be appraised?

(e) Why should it take place?

(f) What will be assessed?


The one to conduct the examination is the Saviour Himself. We are informed that “the Father … has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). What a relief this is! The One to conduct the assessment is described as full of grace and mercy, which is such a comfort to those who will have their actions and motives examined by Him. Moreover, He is the only One qualified to sit in judgement in this fashion. He knows all about our feelings, emotions, and desires, having been here and experienced life first hand. We are told He was tempted in all points in the same way as us, so we may have confidence in His sympathy, even empathy in some areas.

The greatest ability that He possesses to do this task is, of course, His omniscience. He knows all things. By being a member of the Godhead, He is equipped to know all things, even the hidden things of the heart. When the assessment takes place there will be nothing He will not know; nothing He will not understand; nothing He will not be able to weigh; nothing He will not be able to appraise; nothing He will not be able to judge.


When is this examination to take place? The Bible speaks of several future judgements that will occur after the return of Christ. Since all judgement has been committed to the Son this timetable was to be expected. The programme outlined in the Bible suggests that the assessment of the service of Christians will take place soon after Christ has returned for them.

When Jesus returns, all those ‘in Christ’ will be called to be with Him. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:16-17). It is after this majestic event that the evaluation of Christian service takes place. Paul hints of it: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

The timing is, no doubt, dictated by the desire of the Lord to keep short accounts. By that, I suggest, that He will not move on to the next phase of our eternal salvation until all loose ends have been tied off. Our place in His future plans will be dictated by the results of the assessment of our service on earth. As Billy Graham said, ‘this life is just a dressing room for the next’.

There is another word that needs to be said at this point. All Christians are asked to live in the light of the near return of the Lord. Paul wrote: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). James wrote: “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (Jas. 5:9). Let us always be prepared for the ‘trump of God’. Our assessment could be soon!

The first answer to the question, ‘where is the work of a disciple to be tested?’ is - ‘in heaven’. Since the Church has been taken up to be with the Lord, then heaven must be the location for such a wide-ranging assessment. Indeed, since it is to be of all those ‘in Christ’ who have ever lived, heaven is the only place that could accommodate such a vast company with such a variety of needs. Where else could it take place?

The second answer to the question ‘where will it take place?’ is - ‘the judgement seat of Christ’. This could be considered more important. Mentioned in Rom.14:10, “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and 2 Cor. 5:10 “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”, it indicates that it is a separate appraisal from that examination that will take place at the “throne of his glory” where those living at the time of His return (both Jews and Gentiles) will be judged. It is also separated, in Scripture, from the great white throne judgement where the non-Christian dead of all generations will be assessed.

The word used for Christ’s seat of judgement is ‘Bema’. This is the official seat of a judge. The Saviour Himself stood before such a judgement seat before his execution. When Pilate was ready to pronounce his final judgement at the trial of Jesus he sat down on a Bema seat. It was from there he issued an official declaration of the innocence of Jesus. Alas, it was overturned when he succumbed to the pressure brought by the Jewish leadership. Nevertheless, official judgements are normally issued from a Bema seat, and it is on a Bema seat that Christ will sit to judge the Christian community.


Paul writing to the Church at Rome said, “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10) . This was also communicated to the Church at Corinth. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). In the light of these texts I take it to mean, all Christians will have to face Christ at this assessment. All those that have enjoyed deliverance from eternal death, and entered into the benefits of salvation will have to give account of themselves to Him. In addition, the texts suggest that we will be treated as individuals during the assessment. The New Revised Standard Version brings it out clearly. “So each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). “Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor. 3:13). This is not a corporate assessment of the Church but individual assessment of saints.


The Bible suggests that to each Christian has been given certain gifts and abilities, distributed by the Spirit of God, and dictated by the wisdom of God. These should have been used to the glory of God and for the improvement of the Church, so that she (the Church) might be gloriously ready to be the bride of Christ. Among other things, it seems right that as stewards we should give account of our stewardship.

(i) It will be a judgement of works. “Every-one’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every-one’s work of what sort it is. If any-one’s work abide which they have built thereupon, they shall receive a reward. If any-one’s work shall be burned, they shall suffer loss: but they themself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Note the searching nature of the judgment. “Everyone’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try everyone’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13). Manifest means plainly recognised or known: Declare means to make known what was before unknown: Revealed means to recognise as genuine after examination; the examination is the testing of its purity by fire, even as gold is tested.

(ii) A Judgement of words. Not only an account given by word but an account given of words. “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7-8). “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).

(iii) A Judgment of our motives. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (1 Cor. 4:1-5).

(iv) The special Judgement of workers and elders. “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1). “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Heb. 13:17).

Please note: The assessment is in respect of service, not salvation.


We have already partially considered some of the rewards that will be presented following the appraisal, but we will list some of them again.

The Master’s “well done”. (Matt. 25:21)

The joy of a soul winner. (1 Thes. 2:19)

Sharing in the joy of the Lord. (Matt. 25:21)

Praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)

A crown from the Master (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet.5:4; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12)

The Scripture encourages us to make sure that there will be no diminishing of our rewards when we are appraised. We must always heed the warning contained in the parable of the pounds. “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Luke 19:26). John wrote: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 John 8).

It appears that there might be some who will be less than prepared when He returns. “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).


There has probably been no worker quite like the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul, though weak in body and beset with several ailments, laboured for many years in the most difficult of circumstances. Often beaten, once stoned, imprisoned several times and finally martyred, he is the one servant of Christ that you would say had no need to be concerned about the appraisal that Christ would make of his service. But he was …. He wrote: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Paul asks that we be faithful in the ministry in which we have been commissioned, even as he was expected to be faithful. “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

So let us serve the Lord with gladness.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Discipleship Considered (Continued)


We continue our study by considering the need to work with others. More can be accomplished by two working together - and this is further improved by a team of three.


When Jesus sent out His disciples He sent them out two by two, fulfilling a Scriptural principle, ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up … And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken’ (Ecc. 4:9-12). The greatest missionary of the early Church worked in a small team. Instead of being an individual individually led, it was a team selected by the Holy Spirit to take on a larger work. It began in the church at Antioch where there were a number of ministering brethren. To this group, the word of the Lord came, ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’ (Acts 13:2). It was in this fashion the first missionary team was commissioned. The two man team that started off the first missionary journey was soon supplemented by a third, John Mark. This section of Acts demonstrates some of the principles that govern Christian work in terms of a small team. In addition to gift and guidance that are needed for the workers personal walk and ministry, there is added a need for leadership, loyalty and harmony.

(i) Leadership: While Barnabas was the senior member of the team, (he it was, that fetched Saul from Tarsus to Antioch), it was not long before Saul stood forward as leader. At the first crisis of the journey, on the isle of Paphos when they were opposed by Elymas the sorcerer, his leadership qualities surfaced. Thereafter he was the one that led the missionary team and Luke, the historian, refers to the little team as ‘Paul and his company’. And it is after this first missionary journey that the church at Jerusalem recognised Paul (his preferred name for this ministry) as the apostle to the Gentiles.

(ii) Loyalty: If God’s work is progressed by a team, then Satan will seek to divide it. Therefore there is need for loyalty. The enemy of souls will often pick on the weakest link and on the first historic missionary journey, the decision of John Mark to turn back is relevant. The Bible does not tell us the reason for his defection but it occurred as soon as Paul stepped forward as the leader of the team. It was then that John Mark, a close relative of Barnabas, decided to leave. It impacted on both the first and second missionary journeys. When Barnabas wanted to recruit him for the second journey Paul objected. So sharp was the disagreement that Barnabas separated from Paul, and disappeared from the page of Scripture.

(iii) Harmony: The ministries of Paul and Barnabas were different to each other. They complemented each other and were not in competition. Their differences are evident when we read of the event that took place at Lystra. The naming of the two apostles by the residents there was based on the difference in their appearance and the difference in their ministry. Paul was thought to be Hermes as he was the principle speaker. Barnabas, who had a more commanding appearance, was named Zeus. When they were chosen as God’s first missionary team to the Gentiles, they already had a history together which suggested that they would be able to work together without friction and without jealousy. At the time the Church at Antioch was growing, Barnabas recognised the need for someone to take on duties that he could not fulfil. It was then he went to Tarsus to rescue Saul from obscurity, so when the Spirit of God was looking for a team to take the gospel to a wider public, they already had a working relationship that could be used by the Lord.

When the two missionaries were supplemented by other workers, they also followed the same principles. Besides recognising the leader chosen by the Spirit of God, and being fiercely loyal to each other, they also brought different gifts that harmonised with those of Barnabas and Saul. For example, they were joined by Luke, Physician and Diarist; and Timothy who was discipled and became a Pastor of note.


Sometimes we are called to work in a larger company of people. While it seems that evangelism is best achieved by smaller teams, worship is a corporate activity and in the Church setting, many ministries are used to bring glory to God. The Scriptural paradigm is the body, expressed as the body of Christ, in which every part of the body has something to bring to the whole: the eye with its seeing, the ear with its hearing, and so on. The ministries that take place in the assembly of saints are different to the ministries needed to take the gospel to a wider public. When the Church meets together it is to worship the Lord and encourage and teach the saints. While the more obvious ministries spring to mind – pastor, teacher, musician – they must be supported too. As Paul and Barnabas were supported by many others so also within the Church environment there is need for support ministries – like hospitality, helps, etc. But here the same principles apply. There is a need for leadership, loyalty, harmony. Added to these is the aim that all should be blessed and benefited.

The Church, like society in general, is an organism where sometimes individuals are required to conform to certain standards in order to live peacefully with the others in their Christian community. When numbers are large then often individuality is sacrificed for efficient organisation. It is the view of some that it is one of the main problems of government. Legislation is often passed to protect the rights of the many, but sometimes it damages the rights of the few. How to balance the rights of the many with the rights of the few has always been one of the most difficult challenges of government. The first believers in Jerusalem faced this problem. The numbers coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah were enormous, several thousand at a time. The arrangements that were put in place had to accommodate the large number of believers and the early chapters of the book of Acts deals with the company as a whole. It says, all who believed “were together, and had all things in common”, (Acts 2:44) and “were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common”. (Acts 4:32) There is little talk of individuals – even Peter is said to have stood up with the eleven. The emphasis is on the corporate – but the corporate depends on individual ministries to maintain its health. If God calls you to work in a Church environment, do not sacrifice individuals on the altar of corporate ambition.


Joni wrote a song in which she postulated that God was the author of a great play in which we all have a part. She included a line which said, ‘Help me play the part you wrote for me’. We must understand our place in the body of Christ and not be pressured into conforming to any stereotype set by others.

God wrote a part for Saul of Tarsus. No-one would have said that he fitted any template for a Christian worker. It appears that he was physically repulsive – he praised the Galatian believers because they did not recoil at the sight of him. His bodily presence was weak. He had been beaten many times as well as stoned – all of which had not only left him in very poor physical condition, but also deformed. In addition, his speech was neither fluent nor captivating – yet he was a chosen apostle, church planter, and an extraordinary missionary. But there was no doubt that Paul had his place in the work of God. He defended his apostleship with vigour. At no time did he allow anyone to get him to conform to the views of others.

Peter had a part written for him. Jesus had bolstered his self-esteem and re-commissioned him. And how he responded! On the day of Pentecost he stood up and preached a message that was both aggressive and loving. Furthermore, he stood up to the Sanhedrists, and they were amazed because they knew he was a Galilean who had not gone through the Rabbinical schools, yet was able to speak with authority to the leadership of the nation. They recognised that he had been with, and taught by, Jesus. However, he did hit a problem. When he was at Antioch, visitors from Jerusalem, Judaizers, pressed Peter to conform to their view as to how a Jewish Christian should act, and tried to squeeze him into their mould. To begin with he yielded and ceased table fellowship with Gentile Christians in an effort to retain their approval. Paul, who was much clearer on the issue, rebuked him, and Peter recognised his error and reformed his conduct. He should have known better, because he had already learnt the lesson when Jesus sent him to the home of Cornelius.

Christians who make a difference know the part that God has written for them and are happy with that part. And in that knowledge they are comfortable with their relationship with Him, and have an inner peace. Those that have spent time in the school of the Spirit and followed the path mapped out for them by the Lord know they have a value to the Saviour. It is not based on natural gift or ability, but on spiritual integrity. Therefore they have a sense of self-worth. This is not the same as self-confidence. Those who wish to make a difference know that they cannot rely solely on natural talent. Spiritual ends are accomplished by spiritual means. Nevertheless, they know that God has chosen them, equipped them and trusts them, and are therefore comfortable in themselves and in their place in the body of Christ.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Discipline of the Will


If an athlete is aiming for Olympic gold then the regimen he has to follow will impact on every aspect of his life. His time, his finances, his relationships, and his career – they will all be made subordinate to this one high ambition. Similarly, the Christian has to make a decision in respect of what he/she is aiming to achieve; the greater the goal, the heavier the commitment. Jesus said true discipleship is costly. In this matter we must repeat verses we considered earlier.

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Therefore, we must not take the decision lightly.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26-34)

These words send shivers down your spine. If we want to make a difference for the Saviour then it is going to require total commitment. The greatest example, as always, is the Saviour Himself. Three times He declared that He was going up to Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders and sacrifice His life for the sins of the world. His determination is recorded in the verse, “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).


Borden of Yale had a motto, ‘No reserve, no retreat, no regrets’. His commitment was total. Not only ‘no reserve’ but also ‘no retreat’. To those who were offered discipleship and who replied, ‘later’ Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) In a different context there is a Scripture that says, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32) which seems pertinent here; that is, do not even look back.

As a sub-section of this area of the Christian life we have to say:


It is clear that there is much to do. The task is enormous – of a magnitude that can hardly be imagined. We need to make the gospel known in all areas of the earth in such a way that each generation can understand it and respond to God’s offer of mercy. For a task this big we need team-work, with every member of the team knowing their place, using their gift under the guidance of the Spirit and making Jesus known as the Saviour of the world.


This means – have a ‘self-starter’. There is nothing that encourages a Christian leader more than having someone in the Church or in the team who gets on with things. They see something that needs doing and they do it. Similarly, in the greater scheme of things, we are expected to get on with our ministry – we do not need guidance for everything. Paul planned his journeys so that he went to population centres where his ministry would be of the greatest benefit – this was the sensible course – he did not need divine guidance in that matter – it was self-evident. Of course, he was always sensitive to special guidance as when in some instances he was forbidden to travel to one area but encouraged to take on a different mission field, but mostly it was he who planned where to go and what to do.


Not all things are of the same importance – some things need to be done first. Work out a strategy - have an overall plan. If the Lord has given you a mission in life – then identify it. Keep it always before your eyes. It does not preclude other duties and other responsibilities but it will allow you to prioritise and do first things first. If possible write a mission statement. I worked for a University. Their mission statement declared they were ambitious to be a dynamic and successful centre of higher education with an international reputation for high quality teaching and research. Each separate department had their own mission statement, which reflected the overall goal of the University, and identified how they could further the mission of the institution by their specialised activities. This is very close to the Biblical pattern. There is an overall mission statement – it was supplied by the Head of the Church to the apostles who published it. Each apostle then had his own ministry that furthered the overall aim of the Head of the Church. This mission statement is expressed in different ways in different places, but essentially it is God calling out a people to be loved by Him, to love Him in return, and to share an eternal loving relationship. There is an expression of the mission statement in Ephesians 2 and there it declares that the apostolic ministries were foundational and Jesus Himself was the chief cornerstone. There, the mission is visualised as constructing a building fit for God to live in. Each later ministry was to build on that foundation. Paul warns us to make sure that we are furthering the mission of the founder of Christianity by building with the best materials for ultimately it is to be a dwelling place of God.

With this in mind it should be understood that all ministries should be performed with the aim of furthering the overall mission of Jesus. No room here to pursue selfish aims – they will not add one iota to the building but simply provide materials for a bonfire.

Even for those who have a clear idea of their mission and who are confident that it is promoting the purposes of God, there are hurdles to overcome. Paul found that he was constantly under attack from those who felt his message did not conform to their understanding and who wanted him to adapt it to accommodate its Jewish roots. However, He was careful not to compromise the overall mission revealed to him by His Master. He stood for the purity of the gospel and the unity of the Church.

(a) The Purity of the Gospel

There is only one gospel. There are not two gospels – one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. ‘For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; …. for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross’ (Eph. 2:14-16). (The both here are Jews and Gentiles). Paul said, ‘If any man preach any other gospel …. or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Gal.1:8,9). Paul would not have others modify his clear instructions from heaven.,

(b) The Unity of the Church

It would have been so easy to have established a church just for the Gentiles. There could have been a Jewish church with its headquarters in Jerusalem, and a Gentile church with its headquarters in Antioch. But Paul would have no divisions: only one gospel and one church. The church he reveals is the body of Christ, and so he asks, ‘Is Christ divided?’ a rhetorical question with a negative answer. He expanded the thought. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). And again, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Paul even took practical measures to promote the unity of the body of Christ by collecting relief from the Gentile Churches and taking it to Jerusalem when the mother Church, which was mainly Jewish, was in need.

While the opposition Paul suffered was of a magnitude that most will not have to face, it should be recognised that there are pitfalls placed in the path of all who would serve the Saviour. There will always be more demands on their time than they can meet. In some ways it is the strategy of the Devil – to keep believers occupied with the lesser to the neglect of the greater. Do not get quagmired with the minutiae of life. Know what you should be doing and do not allow yourself to get side-tracked. Sit down and make a list of the objectives that you feel the Lord wants you to accomplish. If they are wide-ranging try to break them down into smaller sections that can be seen to be accomplished. Be specific. Not all ministries lend themselves to this kind of analysis, but there are many Christian activities that do. For example, if the Lord gives you a prayer to pray, make a note of the date, and keep reviewing that prayer until it is answered, (the answer may, be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’). Either way, when it is answered you can cross it off your list. Or if you have a burden to witness to a particular acquaintance, pray for and speak to that person until they are clear about God’s offer of mercy. Once that is done you can leave it to the Spirit of God.


One young man, studying for his University entrance examination worked out how many hours he needed to revise to obtain successful grades. He then resolved to revise for two and a half hours each night. Dividing the total number of hours needed by the two and a half, he was able to arrive at the number of days he had to revise. Then committing himself to studying on six days of each week he was able to arrive at a date when he needed to begin his revision. Needless to say he achieved his objective, obtained good grades and went to the University of his choice. It is in this way that the goal determines the commitment. This principle can be used in Christian work. Within the overall scope of the tasks that God has given, it is sensible to set intermediate goals and aim to complete them. Paul broke his ministry up into sections – usually identified as the first, second and third missionary journeys. For example, the intermediate task identified for the second missionary journey is stated: Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). It was Paul and Silas that made the journey, but they departed with a clear, identifiable aim that not only could be accomplished but could be seen to be accomplished.


Alas, over many lives could be written – ‘he started well, but …’. It is important to see things through to the end. Where would we be if Jesus had not finished the task given to Him by God? The night before His execution, when His public ministry had been completed, He declared to His Father, without fear of contradiction, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). And from the cross when the work of propitiation, expiation, compensation and purification had been accomplished, He shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30). At the end of Paul’s life he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Seeing things through does not simply mean maintaining your ministry and witness to the end of your life but also completing the various tasks and stages in between the beginning and the end. When Jesus first offered the kingdom of heaven to the Hebrew nation, He accompanied it with many significant miracles to authenticate the offer. But after they rejected His Messianic claim, those signs for the nation stopped. The first part of His ministry was completed – He had seen it through to the end – He had given them every opportunity to accept Him – but once the rejection was made formal He ceased that element of His ministry. No more attesting miracles for the nation and no more clear teaching – He began to teach in parables, so that hearing they might not understand. He did not repeat, ad infinitum, the offer to those who were determined to reject it. Similarly, Paul went to the Jews first, but when they rejected it he said, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). Both, in the case of the Saviour and one of His chief apostles, they performed a task until it was completed and then began the next. Each was seen through to its conclusion and then they moved on.

Next Time: Working with Others

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Discipline of the Spirit

We continue our study by considering the matter of prayer.


I am the least qualified to speak on this subject. For this I would direct you to mighty men of prayer like George Muller and Edward McKendree Bounds. But I may be permitted to write just one or two lines that may help. First, that the word discipline is less suited to this area than the previous two. It is true that we should make prayer a habit. Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17); and since there will be those times when you are aware, in the service of the Lord, that you are wrestling with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places, that is, opponents that never rest, you have to resolve to persevere in prayer. With confidence in God, effectual prayer must be the watchword. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Sir Thomas Buxton said, “You know the value of prayer. It is precious beyond all price. Never, never neglect it.” Edward Payson said, “Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing … pray then … pray, pray, pray.” The prophet Daniel was aware that if you want to affect things down here, then you have to address yourself to the throne. The Bible is full of examples of people of prayer, including all the greats – Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Paul, but especially the Son of God Himself, our precious Saviour, the Lord Jesus. If His work could not be accomplished without prayer, then we would be foolish to neglect this wonderful resource that God has placed at our disposal. When the Lord impressed on the heart and mind of Rees Howells, founder of the Bible College of Wales, the importance of the exhortation, “Pray without ceasing”, he decided that, to be continuously in the attitude of prayer would require him to go bare-headed, everywhere and always, since a man should wear nothing on his head when in prayer. To our minds this sounds like a small thing, but in his generation he became a fool for Christ’s sake since was customary for all men to wear a hat when out of doors.


The weapon of ‘all-prayer’ as it is called in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is of such value that we aught to ensure that we use it to its best effectiveness. Many of our prayers come under the category of ‘bless me and mine’. These are not unimportant, but our judgement may be clouded when evaluating if they are directly in the will of God. Jesus said, “… do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33). It is quite acceptable to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), but perhaps it should come, as it does in the disciples’ prayer, after “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).


This matter of praying ‘Thy will be done’ is of vital importance when considering the matter of faith. It is impossible to have faith if the prayer is not in the will of God – and it is impossible to have answers to prayer without faith. It seems to me that God has everything for faith and He has nothing for unbelief. James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, was a person known for his godly life and testimony. Early church history tells us that he spent so much time on his knees in prayer that they became calloused and difficult to bend, and when they tried to bury him they were unable to straighten his legs. So it is to be expected that he would have something to say about prayer in his letter to Jewish Christians, and he has. He remarks,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Jas. 1:5-7).


The key to answered prayer is praying in the will of God. While there are elements of prayer that are simply the lifting up of the heart in praise to the God who has done so much for us, those prayers that require an answer are surely the ones that God has first given. In other words, prayer first comes from God before it returns to God. The prayers He answers are the prayers He gives. In this connection, it seems that an essential pre-requisite to approaching God in prayer is to read the Scriptures. Daniel was given a prayer to pray. He needed to pray that the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrew nation should be ended. How did he know what to pray and when to pray it? He identified it from his reading of the prophecy of Jeremiah.

“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans - in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:1-3).

This prayer was violently opposed and was certainly one of the reasons why a satanic plot against him was formed. Nevertheless, Daniel was confident that the prayer was in the will of God and therefore would be answered, even though he was threatened with execution. The Bible is essential reading if we wish to know the will of God. Even if we are not given a clear prayer task like Daniel, nevertheless the proper appreciation of the heart of God, as revealed in His Word, is perhaps the greatest encouragement for us to enter His presence and look to Him for help.


How do we know if our prayers have been answered? We will not if we haven’t made them specific enough? Scientists engaged in research apply all their knowledge in the pursuit of an identifiable goal, and make a note of every separate element of any experiment they conduct. Because they have been specific in their objective, they know when they have achieved it, and can repeat it, if necessary. Similarly, it would be right and proper to bring clear requests to God, thereby enabling us to know whether they have been answered or not. Daniel’s prayer previously quoted is a clear example. This does not mean that general prayers should be jettisoned. We should still pray, “Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).


The example of the Saviour highlights an important aspect of prayer, that is, communion with Father – enjoying his company and sharing mutual concerns. It would be impossible to imagine that when Jesus spent a night in prayer it was to bring a list of requests or plead for a response to his petitions. When outside the grave of Lazarus He was able to state, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me” (John 11:41-42). His prayer life was surely weighted heavily in the direction of communion with the Father. So should ours be.
Asking God for things could be considered minor if the essence of prayer is to seek God Himself. The basis of Christian experience is faith, and the expression of that experience is prayer; therefore the heart of that experience is communion. Disciples will find no better place to reinvigorate their walk and witness than resting in the presence of the Lord. Moses spoke of God as his dwelling place. Psalm 91 speaks of dwelling in the secret place of the most High and abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. Jesus advised his disciples to ‘abide’ in Him. We must learn to dwell in the multi-faceted character of God and then because we made the LORD, even the Most High, our dwelling place, no evil shall befall us.

Next Time - the discipline of the will.