“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.”
Romans 12:6-7 NLT

Paul starts to expand his thoughts about the gifts God gives us. We need to note that God has commissioned us to do something in our service to Him, and, through His kindness and grace, He has given us gifts to do what He wants us to do, so that we are effective. But what is the context within which we are to exercise these gifts? Is it in our church fellowships or in the communities in which we live? There is a clue in who the letter of Romans is addressed to. It is thought that Paul wrote this letter in AD57, while in Corinth, and it was addressed to the Roman Christians, who were experiencing a bit of strife between the Jewish and Gentile converts. So, primarily, the gifts that God supplied were to be used in a Christian fellowship setting. However, that said, our Christian lives, enhanced by the gifts God has given us, will shine like beacons on a dark world, and, who knows, there may well be opportunities to use our God-given gifts to help our fellow citizens in our schools, workplaces, and communities.

Paul starts with the gift of prophesy. Prophesy is, quite simply, a message from God. It can be about something that hasn’t yet happened, or it could be something that is related to a particular Biblical message. Foretelling or forth-telling. But in either case its roots must be in God. There are many examples of prophesy in the Old Testament, and the practice continued in the New. As an example of New Testament prophesy, there was the occasion when a prophet graphically brought a message about what would happen to Paul when he returned to Jerusalem. We read the account in Acts 21:10-12, “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem”. The prophet’s message, unwelcome to the believers as it was, turned out much as he told it, as Paul was indeed arrested and bound, as we read in Acts 21:33, “Then the commander arrested him and ordered him bound with two chains. He asked the crowd who he was and what he had done”.

An example of forth-telling occurs when a preacher brings a message from the Bible. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he or she preaches from a certain verse or passage of Scripture, that is helpful to the fellowship at that particular time in their journey together. So the message might be about the Gospel and salvation, or about giving and stewardship. Such a message could fall under the category of prophecy, particular if the message needs to be heard, and the preacher doesn’t know the local situation. 

How open are we pilgrims to prophetic messages? Sometimes God will bring us a prophecy in answer to our prayers. We might have been praying about moving to another city and, seemingly out of the blue, a prophecy would be given to us that answers our prayer and provides the direction, or otherwise, that we need. At other times a message might be preached that helps us get back on track in our Christian journey, or provides us with a new information to clarify the season ahead. But however delivered we need to wisely evaluate the messages to ensure that they came from God. A prophetic message will never contradict with the Word of God, as written in the Holy Scriptures. And we need to follow the wisdom of the Berean Christians. Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth“.

We pilgrims are in a privileged place. We worship a God who wants to helps us and interact with us. Prophesy is just one gift, out of many, that He provides.

Father God. We thank You for this wonderful gift of prophesy, so rich and fulfilling. Amen.

Certain Things

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophecy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”
Romans 12:6 NLT

So God has given us “different gifts for doing certain things well”.  We listed in a previous blog the seven ministry or service gifts – leading, faith, encouragement, teaching, hospitality, prophecy and giving. These are all practical gifts, graciously given by our loving Heavenly Father. And with them we can do “certain things well”. What things? 

As we review the gifts that Paul lists in Romans 12, we find that they are there mostly to help us in our life experiences with other people. In particular, the gifts of encouragement and hospitality help us to help others, who find themselves in negative territory. The other gifts are there also, providing invaluable resources for living in the way Jesus has requested for His church. 

So how do we get these gifts from God? His grace, being so available, means that the door to His gift cupboard is wide open. Imagine a room full of precious jewels or banknotes, riches that are there just for the taking, and we find that it is unlocked. All we have to do is to ask God for the gifts we need. Obviously, there are some prerequisites that need to be in place before the gifts can be dispensed. We must have a loving and obedient relationship with God, but from that we love those around us. 1 John 5:1-2, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments”.  It is that love, agape love, that underpins the motivational gifts we need.

We pilgrims live in a land of “certain things”. In the 17th Century, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, a man called John Donne, included the following quotation in a sermon. ”No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We are in constant contact with our neighbours and friends, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools and colleges. As John Donne said, we are involved in mankind, and we need all the gifts in God’s goodies cupboard to enable us to do what God has asked us to do. We may not see Kingdom fruit in our lifetimes, but we do what God has asked us to do anyway, with the gifts we need to do them.

Dear Father God. You have been so generous to us. But the biggest gift by far was, and is, Jesus. Thank You Lord. Amen.

God’s Power and Glory

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
Romans 11:33-36 NLT

Paul finishes his musings about the greatness of God with the thought that God holds everything in its place through His power and for His glory. Of course, we know that God is good and nothing bad can come from Him, don’t we? Surely to do what we perceive are “bad things” must be impossible for Him. However, God receives much blame for the negative things that go on in the world. For the wars. For someone’s illness. For a mugging in the street. Because it’s raining on a summer holiday. Blame is aimed at Him, whether trivial or serious. Even insurance companies refer to an uninsured loss as an “Act of God”.

We pilgrims know that sometimes God disciplines His people, either corporately or individually. At the time we might think that God is capriciously dealing out some form of punishment for our misdemeanours, and we mistakenly feel that God is not good anymore. But in Hebrews 12:5-6 we read, “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child””. God is always seeking our highest good, and when we stray off the narrow path, He will never hesitate in drawing us back to the right way, even if it involves us in some pain. And we have Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them“. Scripture tells us that God dispenses good gifts. We read in James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow”. 

So where does all the bad stuff come from? Can any of it be attributed to God? Obviously one source is sin and another is from the devil, although we can read Old Testament accounts of God allowing, or even making, bad things to happen. He may even initiate them for His redemptive purposes. Or bring them in judgement, as we saw in the Old Testament accounts of the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know that God abhors sin, but allows it to run its course, for now. We may observe, read about, or even experience, an illegal act, such as an assault, which would violate God’s moral code. Surely He should intervene or at least, bring some form of punishment? But we know that one day Books will be opened and everyone who has ever lived, or will live, will have to account for their deeds, facing into the consequential punishment for their actions. We should note, however, that we sometimes confuse bad things with immoral things – God’s morality is above reproach.

The other difficulty we have when considering the bad stuff that happens to people, is that, although it may happen by accident, it may not be stoppable. As an example, a friend of mine tripped over in his garden yesterday and banged his head and cut his arm in the process. Should God have stopped that happening? Accidents happen in our world, whether we like it or not. Although God is of course capable of stopping them, and may do so from time to time, we cannot expect Him to intervene at every occurrence. What about natural disasters? Should God have stopped the recent earthquake in Turkey? The Revelation account tells us that this may be one more sign of the End Times.

The conclusion we can draw from Scripture is that God will give us gifts that are good. A sinful world suffers bad things, but in this time of God’s grace we can assure ourselves a future that is going to be good and perfect. God holds the world together for His ultimate glory, but He allows mankind to make its choices. And choosing sin will inevitably bring bad stuff to our world. Through Jesus, the ultimate “Good Gift”, we can find forgiveness for our sins. And through it all, we give God the glory that is rightfully His. We may not fully understand why things happen, good or bad, but we trust God, because only He can see the end from the beginning, and every stage in between.

Dear Father God. Only You know the words of eternal life. Only You can be trusted in this sin-tainted world. So, we thank You for Your grace and love – where would we be without it? Amen.


“Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.”
Romans 11:28-29 NLT

God is unchanging. The promises He has made, and still makes, are always fulfilled. And one promise He made concerned His chosen people. Deuteronomy 10:14-15, “Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. Yet the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today”. Paul wrote that God’s gifts and calling can never be withdrawn. And he adds that even though many of the Jews rejected Jesus when He came to Planet Earth, that didn’t stop Him loving them. To God, His chosen people were not like a garment, worn one day and discarded into the recycling the next. They were, and are, His forever people.  

We pilgrims should note two things from Romans 11:29 – God gives gifts and He calls us. When we think about gifts, we immediately associate this with a present or something personal. There are gifts of money, or something that is just for us personally. A gadget or trinket. An object, gift wrapped and hidden behind the packaging. The “wise men” from the East brought gifts for Jesus – we know them well from the Christmas story, recorded in Matthew 2. And we know, of course, that Jesus was a gift given for mankind as a whole. Through His willingness to be sacrificed at Calvary, we receive what is the greatest gift of all, as we read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”. Eternal Life is a priceless gift. It costs us nothing, but instead cost Jesus His life. All we have to do is accept Jesus and His message, responding in repentance for our sins. 

Jesus informed His disciples about the Source of gifts. Matthew 7:11, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him”. We read in 1 Corinthians 12 about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. …  A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7). And then we read about the “gifts” God gave His church, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). In fact, as we look through the Bible, the last conclusion we can draw is that God is reluctant to give gifts. He is so generous and kind, giving us the gifts we need for life here on this planet. Not temporal gifts, received one day and discarded the next, but those that will last for eternity. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

We too need to emulate our loving Father by giving good gifts to others. And in the process we will benefit in some way. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38).

We have a loving Heavenly Father who cares for us. Who looks after us. And who will welcome us one day into Heaven. Why does He care for us so much? Because He loves us so much. How else can we respond to Him unless it involves all the gratitude and worship that we can muster.

Dear Father. Thank You for all the gifts You provide for us, through Your grace and love. We worship You today. Amen.

Free Gifts

“So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”
Romans 4:16-17 NLT

Paul couldn’t be clearer. His unequivocal statement was that all who have faith in God will receive, as a free gift, God’s promise. And it didn’t matter whether or not those reading his letter were trying to “live according to the Law of Moses”. They just needed to “have faith like Abraham’s”. We all love a free gift, don’t we? The trouble is that in our materialistic society we associate gifts with a physical item, such as a camera or a watch. A gadget or an item of clothing. But in the Kingdom of God, free gifts are spiritual. Gifts like eternal life, joy and peace. In 2 Peter 1:4-5a we read, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises …”

Peter wrote that with God’s promises we can live a life free of sin. Free of being corrupted by the world around us. And by doing so we enjoy a share in God Himself. But God’s Spirit can’t live within us if we are riddled by sin. Peter wrote that these free gifts, God’s promises, are precious. They are more valuable than any worldly gift that comes our way. There are many stories about rich and powerful men and women who lack the peace of mind to be able to enjoy what they have. Their personal lives are a mess, and their wealth has lost its shine. Some years ago I visited a house occupied by a couple who had received a modest lottery win. But their life had deteriorated because of it; they had lapsed in drunkenness and ill health. In the end, money had bought them anything except happiness.

In Ecclesiastes 2, the philosopher, probably Solomon, muses over the frustrations of chasing pleasure in a worldly environment. He starts off the chapter by writing, “I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?”” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2). Solomon was a rich king, with many wives and much in the way of possessions, but here he is mourning that true peace of mind was eluding him. In verse 8 he concludes, “… I had everything a man could desire!” But it wasn’t enough. In Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 he wrote, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labours. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere“. Perhaps possessions had introduced him to depression.

But in the Kingdom of God, different principles come into play. Psalm 1:1-2, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night“. At first sight, meditating on the “law of the Lord” day and night would seem to be a bit of a trial. But meditation encompasses far more than sitting in a corner with a scroll containing the ten commandments. It is a lifestyle in which God’s principles become the very centre of who we are. And in the process, God’s presence within us grows more and more. And, financially, it hasn’t cost us anything. It’s all about God and His free gifts. And the benefits keep on coming, throughout this life and into eternity. How awesome is that?

Dear Father God. We are so grateful for the gifts You have so freely given us. And keep on giving us day by day. Please help us to put them to good use. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Spiritual Wisdom

“I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Apostle Paul, languishing in his prison cell, was on a different plane. In a different zone. His thoughts were focused on his friends in the Ephesian church. I can just imagine him smiling to himself as he brought into his mind one person after another. And he never stopped thanking God for them. Just as an aside, when was the last time we thanked God for our family and our church friends? Truly, a zone worth spending time in, because God has gifted us with people around us. It might not feel that way sometimes but He did!

Paul continues in these verses by assuring his readers that he constantly prays for them. And not just random prayers, “Please bless …”, but a specifically focused prayer for wisdom. He could have prayed for protection, for finances, for all sorts of things, but he instead narrowed his focus to the topic of spiritual wisdom. This morning the story of Solomon came into my mind from 1 Kings 3. In a dream, God asked Solomon what He could give him. And Solomon’s humble response unfolds in the story, with his request for wisdom. God’s response to Solomon was, “I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!”. So Solomon received a double blessing – God was pleased with Solomon’s request. And the memory of this encounter between God and Solomon has coined the phrase, “You’ll need the wisdom of Solomon to sort that issue out” or something similar.

Wisdom appears high up on God’s list of gifts. Without it we cannot function well in this life. And Paul, in praying for the Ephesians, obviously knew that. In that more unstable society he could have prayed for gifts such as protection and security. But it had to be wisdom.

So what is Spiritual Wisdom? It starts with having an effective and intimate relationship with God. From that can come guidance and insights that provide the optimum response and reaction to life’s problems and challenges. But there’s more. As we spend time in God’s presence, getting His take on life events, following His wise paths, we start to understand how He is thinking. We find out that His approach to our fellow inhabitants and situations on this planet is often very different to ours. We find out that our initial responses to the hassles and injustices of life are totally at odds with His, at least for most of the time.

So Paul, in his wisdom-prayers for his dear friends back in Ephesus, knew what they needed. Then, as now, being a Christian was not an easy path to follow. Wisdom is an essential ingredient for the pilgrim. Wisdom will ease the trail before us, helping us to avoid the man-traps and the boulders the enemy will place in our way. Please God, give us wisdom, Your wisdom. Amen.