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Unless indicated otherwise, Bible passages are taken from the New International Version © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Published in Great Britain by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

Cover illustrations by Bożena Spencer

Introduction 4

1. The Centurion – Insights from a man of great faith 6

Therefore… 13

2. “Follow Me” 16

Therefore… 30

3. The real world war 38

Therefore… 46

4. Strategy and Tactics 51

Therefore… 56

5. The Kingdom of God 63

Therefore… 67

6. Jesus the Head of the Body 71

Therefore… 75

7. Bethany as the model for each local church 81

Therefore… 85

8. Worship 88

Therefore… 91

9. Jesus’ Liturgy (Baptism and Communion) 96

Baptism 98

Communion 101

Therefore… 105

10. Evangelism 108

Therefore… 110

11. Conclusions 113


husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

These words convey something of the passion that Jesus has for his church as his Bride and his Body. In this passage, Paul mixes his metaphors to express our relationship with the one who is our creator and our lover – this is indeed a profound mystery.

I was licenced to minister in Holy Trinity Church, Belle Vue, Shrewsbury in 2000, but it was suddenly in December 2006, what was prophetically called a “habitation, not a visitation” began. The best description I have ever found of what we experienced was written by my great-grandmother, Susanna Spencer, almost 100 years ago. She wrote the story of her life; it was published as a book in 1917, even though she was an ordinary working woman and the wife of a blacksmith. She met Jesus while she was a teenager; this event changed her life:

One terrible day, the burden seemed to become too great for me – I could bear it no longer: I came in from my work, and with heavy steps went straight up to my bedroom, threw myself on my knees by my bedside, and sobbed out the whole wretched tale to Jesus. I told Him how I had tried and tried to be good, and to get peace – and begged Him to take me as I was, and just let me be His child henceforth – I was so tired of myself. Perhaps the surrender was so complete, the trusting Him so real – for, there and then, as I knelt, light came, and a calm peace entered into my very being. He revealed Himself, and I knew Him![1]

Jesus has no favourites, neither among churches nor individuals; we all have the potential to know him as Susanna did. This book has been written to encourage you in a hunger and thirst for more of him.

I have followed Paul’s example in the Book of Romans which is in two parts: simply put, up to the end of Chapter 11 is theology and the rest is the practical application of all that has been discovered. These are linked by a wonderful doxology and the word ‘therefore’. So, in each chapter on this book you will find a Therefore… separating (very roughly) theology from practice.

I am now Vicar of All Saints’ Church in the village of Ashdon, Essex which hopefully has given me a wider perspective on Jesus’ heart for his Body and Bride.

The Centurion – Insights from a man of great faith

Imagine the scene: three characters in a bank manager’s office in the little town of Warmington-on-sea. The date is 14th May 1940 and Anthony Eden has just broadcast on the radio asking for men to sign up for the Local Defence Volunteers, later called the Home Guard, and even later Dad’s Army.

MAINWARING Now listen to me. Now we three are the invasion committee.

Wilson and Pike exchange looks. Mainwaring looks at the paper.

MAINWARING Now according to this, the next thing we’ve got to do is to appoint a properly appointed Commander.

WILSON A what, sir?

MAINWARING Appoint a properly appointed Commander. Now that’s me — all right?

There is no answer.

MAINWARING You, Wilson will be my second in command.

WILSON Thank you, sir.

MAINWARING (Looking at paper) What next — ah yes — means of conveying instructions and information to the public, an information officer will be appointed. Pike — that’s you.

PIKE Well, sir…

MAINWARING Now — (He reads) the information officer will be supplied with a megaphone. Now let me see — Wilson — hold this.

Mainwaring crosses to the fireplace, picks up the coal hod and empties it. Wilson hands him the tin opener. Mainwaring starts to open the bottom of the hod with the tin opener.

MAINWARING You will learn, Wilson, that in times like these improvisation is the keynote to success (Mainwaring kicks hod, hands it to Pike) That is your megaphone, lad. Now your first job will be to get on your bike and ride round the town with this message —

MAINWARING I’ll show you. (His voice booms out) All Local Defence Volunteers report to the church hall at six o’clock tonight.

He lowers the megaphone and he has a big black ring around his face.

MAINWARING How was that?

WILSON Excellent, sir, I don’t know how you do it.

MAINWARING History repeats itself, Wilson. Times of peril always bring great men to the fore – Wellington, Churchill –

PIKE Al Jolson.

We are going to be looking at three armies: the Roman Army of the 1st Century AD, the Allied forces of the Second World War and the Army of the Lord (see Joshua 5:14). We will focus on the role of a junior officer in each of these to see how we can ‘do our bit’ in the great conflict that has raged since the beginning of time.

I first began to think along these lines on 8th December 2010, whilst waiting for a train, I asked God for a sign of revival, I believe he said very clearly,

“My sign is this – Luke Chapter 7 verse 8”.

I immediately looked this up:

The centurion said, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go’, and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it”. (Luke 7:8)

In context:

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’, and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. (Luke 7:1-10)

This unexpected message in an unexpected place started me on a journey to discover what Jesus was saying now through this verse, and through the man that said these words.

Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith because he had real insight into Jesus’ authority and the way that Jesus exercised the power that he had been given. An officer in any army gets things done by speaking – he issues orders and expects them to be obeyed without question. The centurion could see, by analogy with his own situation, that Jesus was able to get things done by speaking orders to the creation (i.e. to the forces of nature, the physical universe, even to the spiritual world). He knew that Jesus could heal his servant just by saying a word, even if he was not physically present.

At first sight the fictional Captain Mainwaring was not much like the real centurion; he had many unfortunate character traits that made him funny, but the two of them do share some finer points. They were both fully committed to the purposes of their organisation and they were both willing to submit, without question, to each and every order they received from their superiors. This is what it means to be a ‘man under authority’. They were willing to put their faith in their supreme commanders, the Roman Emperor Tiberius and General Eisenhower (in the later stages of the Second World War), knowing that this was essential to achieve the purposes of their organisation.

Jesus is the prototype and exemplar of an officer in the Father’s army and the Father is the perfect Commander-in-Chief: totally wise, compassionate and trustworthy. At the end of the time that Jesus was stationed on earth, he was promoted to this role:

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)

While he was on earth, Jesus was submitted to the Father; from the Resurrection onwards, our marching orders come from the Son.

Jesus told us to follow him, and that we would do even greater things than him (John 14:12). In Luke 7:8 we see how we are to do this; we are officers in his army, we are under his authority, we should be able to issue orders to the world that he made and expect them to be obeyed. The fact that we rarely, if ever, experience this, does not detract from our potential to live as Jesus did, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our relative impotence does not come from the source of this power, but from our unwillingness to be true, obedient junior officers in God’s army.

This way of working should not surprise us, most of the miracles in the Gospels and the Acts were initiated by Jesus or the Apostles giving orders. For example, in the next passage after Luke 7:1-10, Jesus spoke to a dead body:

Then Jesus went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” (Luke 7:14)

However, it is important to remember that, while Jesus exercised authority in submission to the Father by speaking a word of command many times during his life on earth, generally he lived his life much as we do, getting tired (John 4:6), hungry (Luke 4:2), etc. He refused the devil’s temptation to satisfy his own desires by issuing orders (Matthew 4:3-4), but relied on the Father’s provision:

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

This principle of issuing commands to the created universe goes right back to the beginning:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)[2]

But this does not just apply to God.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

The question is, how was mankind to exercise power in subduing the earth? The answer comes in the next chapter.

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19-20)

Adam was told to give all the animals (as individuals and not as species) names so that he could command them. There is a pale reflection of this in the way we give names to our domestic animals and train them to respond to spoken commands. It is clear that mankind was intended to have dominion over the creation simply by speaking to it; but everything went wrong at the Fall.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

To use the military analogy, Adam and Eve were demoted from being officers that could get things done by giving orders, to enlisted soldiers who would have to do all the work themselves.

In the Old Testament, God showed the prophets the power of the prophetic word:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…” (Ezekiel 37:4-5)

Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones twice and a whole army came into being; he really was an officer in the Lord’s army! In the New Testament, we see how the Acts of the Apostles were accomplished:

Then Peter said to the crippled man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. (Acts 3:6-7)


The centurion is one of the very few that we read about in the Gospels that Jesus commended (Nathaniel, Peter and Mary of Bethany are the only others I can recall[3]) which is part of the reason that this verse is so significant. The words that he said to Jesus are about authority, about speaking and somehow relate to what he saw in Jesus.

I like this man, there was an honesty and an openness about him. He was not proud, even though he had a position in life; he was willing to humble himself before Jesus. The Jews who originally came to Jesus on his behalf testified of his love and kindness, as did his concern for his servant. However, it was none of these that amazed Jesus, it was his faith. The reason that he got so excited by the centurion’s faith was the words: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.”. The centurion’s authority over the men under his command was conditional on his willingness to submit to his superiors in the chain of command that reached right up to the Roman Emperor. His men would follow him to the ends of the earth as long as they were convinced that he was following his orders to the letter. The centurion could see by direct analogy that Jesus was fully submitted to the Father, and therefore had authority over all that was in the Father’s domain, that is EVERYTHING!

I was born too late to be enlisted in National Service, as my father was, but I have worked with several military officers in my career in the computer industry. Some of these had a quiet, no-nonsense faith like the centurion. Officers are used to getting things done by giving orders, they know the extent of their authority, and are confident in the place to which they have been appointed. I am sure that is how Jesus wants everyone enrolled in his army to be. He needs people who are assured (but not self-assured) that they can speak in his name and expect things to happen. This is not about a show, this is all about substance, not the outward appearance; it is reality, not perception.

Like many other Christians, when confronted with a sickness or an injury I used to say to those afflicted, “I will pray for you”. This may be a good way of expressing our sympathy for their problems, but we know that we can be more effective if we pray for them there and then[4]. My experience is that we see even more if we command healing into their bodies and ask them to check out if there is any improvement in their symptoms. This is much closer to what we see in the ministry of Jesus and the first Apostles – it requires us explicitly to exercise our faith. If I command healing in Jesus’ name and then wait to see the results, I am definitely stepping out in faith.

I remember being part of a ‘healing on the streets’ team. We spoke to a teenager who had an injured knee, from playing rugby. I commanded healing into his knee and just touched it with the tip of my finger. He jumped back, not in pain but with the realisation that he had been healed. He said “Wow”, rather than “Ow”! We heard him speaking to his friends as he walked away, “It works!”.

Just imagine if all Christians were willing to allow Jesus to work through them, if each of us was like the centurion realising that we are properly appointed commanders, commissioned to live and work as our Commander-in-Chief did, and in continual communion with him.

Discussion Points

  1. The Bible helps us to see the world-wide church as the Body and the Bride of Christ as well as his army stationed here on earth. What other analogies (pictures) do you know of? What is helpful about seeing the church as an army? Where do we need to be cautious in applying this analogy?
  2. Do you have any experience in the armed forces or know any military personnel? What do you think we can learn from them for the Christian life?
  3. Do you feel like a civilian, an enlisted soldier or an officer in God’s army? If not an officer, what do you think you need to do to be promoted?

“Follow Me”

There is the sound of a lorry outside.

GODFREY It’s the lorry, sir, from G.H.Q.

MAINWARING This is it, men, the moment I’ve been waiting for. Our first issue of uniforms and weapons.

A soldier enters and salutes.

SOLDIER Captain Mainwaring, sir?

MAINWARING Yes, that’s right. I know what you’ve come for.

SOLDIER Just sign here, will you, sir? Mainwaring signs.

MAINWARING Take the men outside, Sergeant, help to unload the weapons.

SOLDIER I don’t think that will be necessary, sir. Here’s the uniforms and there’s the weapons.

Soldier hands Mainwaring a package, and L.D.V. arm bands.

MAINWARING (Puzzled) Open it, Sergeant Wilson.

Wilson quickly tears open the packet, inside are a dozen small packets.

WILSON It’s pepper, sir!

MAINWARING Pepper? WILSON (Reading leaflet) Pepper — enemy — for throwing in face of. Range — five feet.

MAINWARING Well, it’s not quite what we expected, on the other hand, every addition to our armoury is one more nail in the enemy’s coffin. Corporal, issue the armbands. They give us military status. Sergeant, issue the pepper.

Wilson starts to hand out the packets.

MAINWARING And men — take it with you wherever you go. If you see a parachutist — let him have it.

JONES That and the cold steel!

MAINWARING That’s the spirit, Jones. We’re making progress. A short time ago we were a disorganised rabble, now we can deal with tanks. We can kill with our pikes and make ’em all sneeze with our pepper. And after all, even the Hun makes a pretty poor fighter with his head buried in a handkerchief— but remember this, we have one other invaluable weapon on our side. We have an unbreakable fighting spirit, a bulldog tenacity that makes us hang on as long as there’s breath left in our bodies. You don’t get that with Gestapos and Jackboots, you get that by being British! So, come on, Adolf— we’re ready for you.

The platoon cheer.

Jesus said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:19)

Jesus’ words inspire us, but, like Captain Mainwaring in 1940, we may feel very ill-equipped. However, we need to look at our circumstances again with the centurion’s eyes, and realise, if we are following Jesus, we do have the resources of heaven at our disposal.

Why are the centurion’s words a sign of revival? A sign is something that points to something else, it helps us get to where we want to go. We need to look at the sign and then look at what it is pointing to.

The centurion said, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go’, and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it”. (Luke 7:8)

For the centurion, it was his own experience as a junior officer in the Roman army that was the sign to understanding Jesus’ miraculous abilities. We can read his words and follow his logic, and come to the same place of faith that he did.

The centurion saw that Jesus was submitted to the Father’s authority, just as he himself came under the authority of those in command over him. He recognised that the source of his own authority was his willingness to accept the orders of his superior officers. Jesus was astounded by this man’s words because they revealed that he understood Jesus’ submission to the Father.

The British armed forces have a rule book called Queen’s Regulations. Every officer needs to be familiar with it, but, if he or she is to play their vital part in the conduct of a war, they need to receive and act on the orders that come down the chain of command, when they receive them. As Christians we have our equivalent to Queen’s Regulations, the Bible; but without a steady stream of up-to-date communications from our Commander-in-Chief we will never be effective in pushing back the forces of evil in our world. This is where Luke 7:8 speaks about revival. Revivals are like major campaigns in the conduct of a war, they are times when the enemy’s hold on a region is overcome. Operation Overlord was the decisive move in the Second World War: this started on D-Day and resulted in the capture of a large part of Normandy. An analogous move was the Welsh Revival (1904-5), which resulted in an estimated 100,000 becoming Christians. God needs people who are willing to think, speak and act like the centurion; who will be his local commanders in the field, listening for orders and speaking out commands over the forces of evil and the forces of nature.

When Jesus said, over and over again, “Follow me” he meant that we are to be like him in his willingness to receive our own personal stream of commands and other communication from God, and to act on what we hear.

Holy Trinity’s former Worship Leader, Laura Barratt, described a vision:

“In July 2009 God gave me a vision. I had this picture of myself walking along a beach. As I was walking I could see Jesus walking in front of me; when I saw it was Jesus I started speeding up to get closer to him, and I was trying to show him that I wanted to be so close to him walking in his ways and that I was right behind him following his every move. I knew that he wanted me to follow him and watch what he was doing. As I was walking right behind him he put his hand out; and I knew he was beckoning me to go and walk alongside him. I felt the Lord say to me “Do not walk behind me, but alongside me. Give me your hand, for you do not have to look at the back of me, come and walk beside me. For I am the bridegroom and you are the bride. Walk beside me beautiful bride, for this is the season I am leading my church into. It is a new season. It is time for the bride and the bridegroom to walk alongside one another. It is time for my church to be visible.” God is calling his church to be intimate with him. For us to walk hand in hand with him. For us to be joined with him hand in hand. [5]

This was a vision given to a young woman, but it is clear it is for his whole Church, his Bride. We males have to realise this is as much for us as it is for the other half of the population. This vision gives us an insight into what Jesus meant when he said, “Follow me.”

There are individual verses or short passages in the Bible that seem to be particularly significant. There are fragments of Scripture that are pregnant with depth of meaning; that are worth repeated study and meditation. Great books and Christian movements have been founded on single verses, but when a phrase is repeated across a number of books of the Bible we can be sure that the Holy Spirit wants to bring it to our attention. Significant weight is added to this when the phrase is on the lips of Jesus. Such are these simple words: “Follow me”; recorded 20 times in the Gospels. Jesus said this to a variety of people. One of these was Peter in John 21. He told Peter that he would follow him by being executed, but his final “Follow me” was looking to Peter’s immediate future. He was not saying to Peter that he was to follow Jesus to heaven in the next few days when Jesus ascended. Rather, he was saying that Peter should live as Jesus had lived when he was on earth and that he should continue to listen for his voice and step out in faith and obedience, as he had done (albeit somewhat imperfectly) over the last 3½ years.

The Bible contains a book that gives us a partial history of the early church. It is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ and contains not a description of the church as an organisation, nor a list of what it believed or its forms of worship, but ‘what it says on the can’. It is the narrative of what members of the early church actually did, with particular emphasis on Peter, then Paul. These guys followed Jesus, living their lives as he did, not following any master plan but listening for his voice:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

It’s fascinating to go through the Bible looking for common characteristics in the lives of the main characters. The only repeated feature I can find is that they were each given an individual revelation by God; and then he waited to see if they would live according to what they had received. This applies to a very long list, most responded positively, the few that did not are identified with a ‘no’:

Adam and Eve – no, Cain – no, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Hannah, Eli – no, Samuel, Saul, Nathan, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, all the prophets, Zechariah – no, then yes, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel, Andrew, Peter, Centurion, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Cleopas, Nicodemus, Thomas – no then yes, Stephen, Aeneas, Paul, Phillip, Ethiopian Eunuch.

This flows from the Old Testament into the New, so we can conclude this is the way God wants to work with us – to give each of us our own revelation and to see if we are willing to walk in it. As we look through church history and consider those who lives have had the greatest impact, these words by CS Lewis become self-evident:

How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.[6]

‘Saints’ are not those who are particularly holy, but those who receive personal revelation and who live by it. If God has no favourites, then this must potentially be true for all followers of Jesus. I believe that every Christian should expect to live by the words that come out of the mouth of God for him or her. God may speak to us through the life of another Christian, but it is clear that we are not to be clones of each other. God may use church ‘leaders’ to speak to us, but we are never to follow them blindly or unreservedly. Jesus often speaks to us through the pages of the Bible, but he does not want us to follow him through any human-designed plan, even if it can be shown to be ‘Biblical’.

Therefore, Jesus meant, when he said, “Follow me”:

  • Live as I did when I was on earth (without deviation, hesitation,…)
  • Listen for my voice every moment – I will not give you a master plan to follow, so you will need to be attentive and alert

We know that no human being before or since the life of Jesus on earth has or will fully emulate him, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and he seeks those who want to follow Jesus in this way.

It is no good expecting the well-tried formula: ‘What Would Jesus DO (WWJD)?’ to work. When Jesus calls us to follow his example of living the Christian life, it is not a matter of imagining what he might do in each of the situations we find ourselves in. Any honest reading of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth has to come to the conclusion that he was totally unpredictable. The idea that we can, by an act of imagination, guess what he might do in our shoes is laughable. One reason that we can never second-guess him is that he never acted on his own:

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

The communion Jesus has with the Father is so close that in his prayer to the Father he could say,

“…you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21)

Logically, of course, it is impossible for A to be inside B at the same time that B is inside A; but we know that God is beyond our logic. This idea of ‘mutual indwelling’ also applies to us believers and Jesus. In fact, the most common way the New Testament refers to Christians (that particular word is only used three times) is to identify us as those who are in Christ (over 100 times) and those whom he is in (over 15 times). If we take them seriously, these two expressions give us a wealth of understanding, that help us to appreciate the potential of being one with him.

W. Ian Thomas put this helpfully:

To be in Christ ­ that is redemption; but for Christ to be in you ­ that is sanctification! To be in Christ ­ that makes you fit for heaven; but for Christ to be in you ­ that makes you fit for earth! To be in Christ ­ that changes your destination; but for Christ to be in you ­ that changes your destiny! The one makes heaven your home ­ the other makes this world His workshop.[7]

James Wade was inspired to draw this diagram to illustrate what it means to be in Christ and to have him living in you.

The top of the diagram represents us in Christ, in heaven; as Paul put it:

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)

We are already there because Christ is there and we are in him now; this is the upward-pointing arrow on the right side of the diagram. The other arrow represents Jesus coming to live in us here on earth. There is a curious symmetry in as you look at the diagram:

  • At the top of the diagram, the Father sees us clothed in Christ in heaven (Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:3), he sees us and communicates with us through his Son. This is the world-wide church, and the church throughout the ages gathered together in Christ.
  • At the bottom of the diagram, the world should be able to see Christ clothed in our bodies; they should be able to meet Jesus in us. This is the world-wide church embodied in us here on earth.

The following sentence was the ‘top of the bill’ in Jesus’ great high priestly prayer; he proclaimed to the Father:

“…I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)

Jesus greatest desire for his followers was that they would have and experience the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s actual presence in them.

As the background to the diagram indicates, all of this was made possible by the Cross, and it is the Holy Spirit doing the work.

CS Lewis put it like this:

When Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them…[8]

Many Christians, since the start of the Pentecostal Movement at the beginning of the 20th Century, have emphasised that the Holy Spirit is living in us, to empower and transform us. In the early years of the 21st Century, we are beginning to appreciate the significance that all three Persons of the Godhead are living in us. As Jesus was (and still is) a human being, as well as being the Second Person of the Trinity, we can particularly relate to him, we can be in communion with him as Peter, James, John and all the others were, when he was on earth.

The answer to living as Jesus did is to realise we have the same opportunity of divine guidance that he did. Jesus prayed to the Father (and we can be sure his prayers have been answered):

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (John 17:22-23)

We have a hotline to God the Father, through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how it is possible to live as Jesus did.

I hear you saying, “It may be possible to hear Jesus’ voice, as he heard the voice of his Father, but surely he was the Son of God, he could do things that are impossible for us limited, fallible, sinful beings.” He was, and is and will always be fully God and fully man, but he chose to limit himself to the mind and body of a human being, in part to show us what human beings are capable of. This is testified to all the way through the New Testament, and in particular:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

It could be claimed that there are fundamental differences between Jesus and the rest of humanity so that the idea of using his earthly life as a model for ours is not reasonable. For example, we see from the Gospels that Jesus has authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6, etc.), but the post-Resurrection Jesus passed this on to us;

“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23)

However, as we read the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus on earth was as limited in what he could do as we are, although we need to remember:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus sinlessness does make a huge difference, yet he has dealt with even this. His death on the cross paid the price for our sin, he sets us free from the enslavement of sin, free to follow and to serve him as he did his Father. What’s more, we have each other. Jesus does not expect any single one of us to step up the mark in being totally like him, rather this is a mission he places on the whole church. He wants us to bring our individual gifts together, with each one of us in continual communion with him, then we can begin to see what following him really looks like.

A phrase you sometimes hear is ‘the truth will set you free’. Most of those who say it do not seem to realise that it was first spoken by Jesus, and we need to see it in context:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NASB)

There is a definite sequence here. The first step is to believe in Jesus. Without this, the rest of the statement is fine-sounding, but ultimately powerless. He then said we need to continue (or abide) in his word. This means staying in the place where we can hear him directly. To be a disciple of Jesus means to hear his word and to be willing to step out in faith and obey it. Through his word, we hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and not just hear the truth but understand it. With revelation comes insight and a profound appreciation of what is going on. This is what sets us free, free from doubt, anxiety, … all the things that keep us, like a rabbit trapped in car headlights, from knowing which way to turn.

Jesus did not say, “Follow me by following someone else or some formula, pattern, set of doctrines, …”. He definitely meant us to have a direct connection with him through his words and actions when he was on earth, and through the Holy Spirit in the here and now. There is a great temptation for church leaders to insist that by following them, they can provide all that is necessary to follow Jesus; and there is a temptation for church members to go along with this. It seems sensible to put your trust in someone or something that can be seen and heard, and in someone who is willing to take responsibility for your spiritual life. Through this, you can have a feeling of security. However, this is illusory – it is like a child’s security blanket, only a token; for the real security the child has is the love of his or her parents. This is directly analogous for us; our only real security is the love God has for us.

One thing Jesus said five times:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 NRSV)[9]

It is important to understand that taking up your cross does not mean carrying a personal burden, something we would like to get rid of. In the First Century, if you saw someone carrying a cross, you certainly would pity them, but not because of what they were carrying, but where they were going – to their death. Denying yourself does not mean giving up something you like, but rather taking yourself off the throne of your life. Paul understood what Jesus was getting at when he wrote:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20 NRSV)

Following Jesus means allowing him to live though me, allowing him to express himself through every part of my being; knowing that he will never seek to control or manipulate me. One analogy the New Testament uses to express this is marriage:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Jesus left his Father in heaven and the mother that gave birth to him, and is united to us, living through us; the one flesh the Body of Christ has on earth is ours.


I’m sure that many people reading this chapter will say to themselves, “That’s all very well and good, and undoubtedly true, but how do I hear Jesus, and how can I be sure it is him?”. Here are a few points from my experience.

Jesus will not command me to do something unless I am prepared to do it. That sounds a bit convoluted but we need to remember that ‘the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows better than I do what I am willing to do. These verses make it abundantly clear:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Jesus’ words are infinitely precious, they will outlast not just the universe but heaven as well (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33), therefore he does not waste them. This means that, if we want to hear from him it must be that we are willing to put them into practice. We know that Jesus loves us and he will never ask us to do anything that will harm us or anyone else; this is our security – we will always be able to trust him.

I believe one of the most important characteristics of communications from Jesus is that they usually are a total surprise. God is infinitely creative (in addition to being infinite in every other respect). He never needs to repeat himself, the sheer uniqueness of every message from the throne of grace helps us to discern its genuineness.

As we read in the Gospels the conversations that Jesus had with those he encountered, we see that he spoke to each one using words that were spot-on for that individual, although no amount of analysis or human logic could have chosen them. Why he spoke to a theologian (Nicodemus) about being born again or to a Samaritan woman about worship is beyond our reasoning, but we can read about results of their hearts being transformed (John 19:39, John 4:39). We must allow Jesus to speak to us in the way he chooses. If I put constraints on how he speaks to me, I may very well miss a vital communication. Some people try ‘spiritual exercises’ as a way of opening themselves up to hear his voice, but, without being too negative, these will inevitably limit the means by which his voice can be heard.

However, I have found that there are certain environments that facilitate hearing his voice. There is an example of this in the book of Acts:

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)

I have certainly found that corporate worship is a wonderful place to be in to hear him speaking. More than once, I have received life-changing words in the context of the worship at Soul Survivor (a large-scale Christian camp for teenagers) – certainly not a quiet contemplative environment! Maybe it is the act of fixing our (spiritual) eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) that opens our (spiritual) ears to hear him.

We were given a new name for Holy Trinity Church (‘Bethany’) during a day of fasting and prayer. This is described in Chapter 7. It should be noted that the call to spend a day thus came through a prophetic word. I do not believe we should attempt to force Jesus’ hand by choosing to fast in order to hear him. With God, the reasons why we do things are even more important than what we choose to do.

There was a book written many years ago which had a great title: God of Surprises[10]. These three words express my experience of reading the Gospels and encountering the risen Jesus in my life and in the testimony of others. If God does something expected in the way we expect, then it probably is not God. He is far too creative to conform to our expectations. However, God can break any rules we may put up and sometimes he does repeat himself to give us increased confidence in what we are hearing.

I started work at All Saints’ Church, Ashdon, in March 2015 with a licencing service in the church. The Area Bishop of Colchester, Roger Morris, arrived and I was introduced to him for the first time. Before signing my licence, he preached – to my amazement, he repeated much of my last sermon at Holy Trinity, Belle Vue, Shrewsbury. I had served 15 years at Holy Trinity and, as this book testifies, received many of my most profound experiences of God there; so you can imagine how much time I put into preparing my last sermon. I told Bishop Roger about this ‘coincidence’ after the service – he promised that he had not peeped. A few months later, the next time I met him was at another licencing service in the village of Thaxted. He preached again, this time closely following the theme of my last book: Bethany – resurrected church[11]; seeing the village of Bethany in Judea as Jesus’ model for the local church (see Chapter 7). You can imagine how surprised I was. I had been doing some teaching and therefore had some copies of the book in the car, so I gave him one, and he again professed his innocence of plagiarism! I believe Jesus was showing me that this is a godly man whom I can trust, but perhaps more importantly, his signature is on my licence. This was a confirmation that I have Jesus’ approval of the place that I am serving.

We might feel more comfortable if we had a set of rules that could be applied to the whole business of hearing Jesus and discerning his voice, but that would be an Old Covenant way of working. The New Covenant works by relationship (loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbour as yourself). The real answer is to know him, as he promised:

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” calling this covenant “new”, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:10-13, quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34)

This seems hopelessly optimistic. Many would argue that we need our present denominational hierarchies, institutional committees, synods, etc., as a defence against heresy; but the Bible indicates that the local church is the place where discernment should be exercised when revelation is received and communicated.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29)

This was our experience at Holy Trinity Church. An environment where the prophetic is encouraged would seem to be a recipe for anarchy; but our experience was that the gift of discernment is best exercised corporately. Some seemly prophetic words were spoken out by individuals which were simply ignored by the Body, without any overt judgement of the ‘prophet’. Other words were accepted enthusiastically and acted on. I believe that Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant was being fulfilled, but the church needed a healthy Body with a healthy corporate mind. My role as Vicar (with the rest of the Apostolic Team[12]) was to be like the Bereans:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

One of the reasons that the denominations (even some Pentecostal ones) are in slow decline is that they have rejected the possibility that Jesus may want to lead different local churches in different directions; or even if some variation is allowed, they want to keep all churches within certain boundaries. I remember describing to a clerical colleague what was going on in Holy Trinity Church; his question was, “So what now makes you Anglican?”. This threw me for a moment, but then I asked why I would want to be ‘Anglican’. In my humble opinion, there are advantages to being part of the Church of England, but they are pragmatic and do not amount to some kind of tribal identity. For example, since the Reformation, each local church has had a fair degree of autonomy to seek its own path; with generally only a light touch of direction from the hierarchy.

I know what this book is proposing for each local church looks too dangerous for more than a few isolated examples to attempt. You may believe that the present situation is much better, where we can go into most churches and very rarely be surprised by the form or content of their worship, teaching, ministry or any other aspect of their corporate life. Yet when we look in the New Testament for clues as to how churches in the 1st Century operated, we find nothing that corresponds with the current models of church in this country. For example, 1 Corinthians 14 is the only chapter[13] in the New Testament that contains a description of corporate worship, and it is a long way from most local churches in this country today.

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

It could be argued there are so many differences between life in the first century and the twenty-first century, plus the accumulations of all that church history, that applying models of church from the New Testament to today will not work. However, there are some parallels between then and now: like the original Christians we live in a stable, peaceful, prosperous society; yet one that is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith.

There is probably a maximum size that a New Testament church could grow to and remain healthy, but that limit may still apply today if a church is to experience the life of Jesus in its fellowship. Perhaps the limit is something like the 120 of the church in Jerusalem before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15). If church grows larger than this, maybe it needs to divide, like a single-cell organism.

Is it not possible that the relative weakness of the church in the UK may be due to its unwillingness to let each local church be dynamically led by its Master? Not along any particular path that we might conceive, but as he wills, from his perspective as Commander-in-Chief.

Discussion Points

  1. When Jesus said, “Follow me”, he meant us to live as he did and to obey the words he speaks to us. Can you think of other ways we can follow him?
  2. Being ‘in Christ’ is the most common way the New Testament identifies Christians, more often than ‘saints’, ‘children of God’, ‘believers’,… What does this tell us about our identity?
  3. For over a century, parts of the church have focussed on the Holy Spirit living in us. How does this emphasis on the indwelling of the person of Jesus change the way we live our lives?

The real world war

Meaning of the Kingdom of God

The centurion was a man under authority, a junior officer, not someone who knew the detailed planning of his superiors, but a man who was very clear of the mission of the organisation that was his life and work: the Roman Empire. The purpose of the Empire was to provide security and increasing wellbeing for its citizens; plus continually to extend its boundaries, bringing more and more people into the Pax Romana (which lasted from 27 BC to 180 AD). The analogy for us is clear; we do not know the Lord’s plans for the consummation of the kingdom of God, but we are convinced that each of us has a part to play in the fulfilment of those plans.

The Bible is quite clear that we are at war with the forces of evil:

God said to the serpent, “…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

There is no doubt of the outcome of this war, the crushing of the devil’s head, but we may sustain injuries, as Jesus did, from the devil’s attacks in the meantime.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:23-26)

The demons know what Jesus can do through his words to them.

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven…” (Luke 10:18)

Jesus said this after he had sent out the 72 disciples with a very specific set of orders to exercise authority over diseases and tell the population under enemy occupation that the kingdom of God was at hand (Luke 10:1-11), i.e. that the front line of God’s advancing army would soon get to them.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:20)

God’s promise to us is the same as at the beginning.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14)

Jesus’ death on the cross was the battle that turned the war. The devil thought he was getting rid of Jesus by having him executed as a common criminal. Little did the devil realise that Jesus would be born in everyone who puts their trust in him – satan now faces a whole army of Little Christs[14] (to use C.S. Lewis’ term from Mere Christianity).

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8)

We can also say that one reason that the Son of God lives in us:

Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you— unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

and manifests his presence through us is to win this war completely.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

The Bible, without going into great detail, reveals an unseen world all around us where there is a war going on. The forces of evil are continually, actively opposing God’s purpose for his creation. Why God allows this, why he has let evil in, is a big question, but let’s just look at the consequences for us, finite, vulnerable beings caught up in a war zone. We have three choices:

  • Enrol in God’s Army
  • Align ourselves with the enemy
  • Keep our heads down, hoping that the conflict will not affect us.

This latter choice is the one preferred by most in our society, including most Christians, but we have to realise that this will prolong the conflict, and does not guarantee that we won’t be badly affected by being in a war zone.

It is important to keep reminding ourselves of the essential message of Ephesians 6:12 – no human being is our enemy. Every member of the human race is to be loved into the Kingdom. Our only conflict is with the non-human forces that oppose us, even if these forces are using human agents.

Although the Book of Revelation draws a picture of the cosmic conflict as a physical war with opposing forces striking each other in a battle for supremacy, the actual battleground is in the hearts and minds of the human race. The forces at war are as real as those that faced each other on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 – the territory that is so hotly disputed is inside you and me.

To understand this, we need to start in Genesis 1 and 2, before the enemy had any impact on planet earth or on the human race. Genesis 1 tells us what was in God’s mind when he created humankind:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

God’s purpose for humankind described here[15] was:

  1. To carry his image, to reflect his nature, to re-present him and to make him visible in his creation
  2. To have dominion over the rest of creation, to have the power and the responsibility for all he had made.
  3. To multiply in numbers to fulfil 1 and 2.

We need to move on to Genesis 2 to see how God intended us to fulfil number 2. First, he took a particular part of his creation and put the first man into it.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it…  Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. (Genesis2:15,19-20)

The man was created to take responsibility for the Garden by his labour, but also he would be able to command the other inhabitants – that was why he needed to give them names. We have had three dogs, and we gave them each a different name: Zora, Peggy and Sophie. If you have a dog, you will know that you need to speak out the dog’s name to get it to do what you want. Most of us dog owners only manage a very limited control over our animals, but this gives us a flavour of what was possible for Adam and Eve. We have seen that the centurion recognised that Jesus was not subject to any limitations when he spoke out a command:

“…But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Luke 7:7)

The amazing thing was that the centurion discerned the reason why Jesus would have no problem commanding healing into his servant..

“For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’, and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it.” (Luke 7:8)

Jesus, in contrast to Adam, Eve, the centurion and the rest of us, never submitted to any other authority except his Father.

This how things went wrong in the beginning:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)

This first encounter with the enemy tells us a number of things:

  • satan was embodied in a reptile, which says something about his lack of inherent power
  • his only weapon is his voice
  • his strategy is
    • to sow doubt in the minds of the human beings as to what God has said
    • to question God’s motives
    • to ‘sell’ his offering playing on basic human desires:
      • to be like God, but not to be dependent on him[16]
      • to be able to make decisions based on knowledge (and not out of relationship)
      • having our physical needs satisfied
      • aesthetic pleasures
      • to have intellectual capabilities to be able to make decisions that will be successful

We can see that the devil is not powerful, but he is ‘more crafty’. The reason that we find difficulty in getting the created order to obey our spoken commands is that we have enslaved ourselves to God’s enemy.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey— whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

So, we have messed things up by no longer being under God’s authority. Was the human race condemned to eternal impotency when Adam and Eve made their fateful decision? Is there any way back to the place where God could trust us to exercise his authority in the world he had created for us?

All the answers to the hard question of life, the universe and everything are to be found in the person of Jesus. We know he paid the price for our rebellion; he made it possible for the human race to get back to their condition before the Fall (and so much more). He allows us to benefit from his obedience to the Father, through our faith in him. He comes to live in us, so we can see what the first disciples saw of his authority. This is why we do see miracles; the world, the flesh and the devil (to use a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer) can come under our spoken authority.

As we look through church history, and around the world today, we realise that there are people who seem to be able to operate with a measure of Jesus’ authority over injuries and sicknesses. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches focus on some of these people and designate them ‘saints’, but it is clear that God does not draw a line between sainthood and the rest of us. The Bible uses the word ‘saint’ (Greek hagios) to refer to all Christians, and thus all who are following Jesus have the potential to speak out healing into everyone (Christian and non-Christian). So, what is it about those whom we think of as ‘saints’ that gives them greater effectiveness when ministering in power? Church hierarchies tend to judge people by their apparent holiness, but the Bible is very clear about where the power to change the world comes from: faith.

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4)

When we use the Bible to investigate the extent of the power of the devil, we come to the conclusion that he is limited in that he has to work through willing human beings. For example, in the temptations of Jesus, when the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world, he said to Jesus:

“I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to…” (Luke 4:6)

Jesus did not deny this, so we can assume that there is at least some truth in it. The kingdoms of the world have been given over to the devil by us, we do this each time we choose to obey him rather than God.

As with any war, what the Commander-in-Chief requires is that his forces listen to his commands and obey them.


I believe God said to me that Luke 7:8 was a sign of revival, and that this means that when we see his church ministering with a faith like the centurion’s, then we will know that revival is at hand. This is what Jesus told the 72:

“…Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:9)

When we operate under Jesus’ authority, we are pushing back the front line, taking enemy territory:

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18)

Churches and individuals sometimes undertake what is sometimes called ‘spiritual warfare’. This often includes meetings where those involved believe they are engaging the devil in a battle with the weapon of prayer. Paul writes that he does not want to fight ‘like a man beating the air’ (1 Corinthians 9:26), meaning that we need to be sure that we are at close quarters with the enemy before expending significant effort. There are examples of spiritual warfare in the New Testament but these are of a different nature; Jesus (and also Paul in Acts 16:18) directly confronted and defeated the servants of the enemy when they manifested their presence in a human being, but he did not go looking for them. He took the battle into the enemy’s territory as he ministered to those under the influence of the devil in word and through the power of the Holy Spirit; and that is how he calls us to follow him.

The need for secure communications in warfare is evident. I worked in the 1990’s for the Royal Navy on the systems used to send orders to submarines. The messages sent are very highly encrypted to ensure that any potential enemy can neither read them nor alter them. God continues to speak to his people, but he needs us to exercise the gift of discernment and to use King’s Regulations to check[17] out what we receive. There is considerable evidence that our enemy cannot hear what God is saying to us, but he may be able to work out what our Commander’s plans are from what we say and do. For example, it appears that the devil was unaware of the arrival of the Messiah on planet Earth until the Magi spoke to Herod. The devil characteristically over-reacted by getting Herod to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). The devil’s plans were thwarted when God’s officer Joseph received his orders in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13).

Our churches should be like castles, places of safety where we can be secure from enemy attacks. James Wade received a vison of a shield wall, as employed by the Roman Army. Each shield was held by a soldier and was locked to those on each side. The only break was a gap where raiding parties went out to engage with the enemy and to rescue those outside. The vital point is that the defence relied on the unity of purpose of all the individuals. It is worth reviewing how the devil overcame the resistance of the first human beings, see page 43. Churches need to be very careful when using the things that led Adam and Eve astray:

  • Anything that fosters doubt in the revealed word of God
  • Any idea that is not based on the total goodness of God and his love for his people
  • Any approach that somehow reduces our dependence on the love of God and his absolute power to bless us
  • Any kind of bribe that meets people’s physical needs (although we are to be extravagantly generous, but with ‘no strings attached’)
  • Trying to appeal to people just through artistic appreciation, whether in the visual arts, literature or music (although striving after excellence in these fields should be part of our offering to God)
  • Anything that boosts people’s intellectual capabilities, but does not take them closer to the source of all truth.

Some churches over the centuries have been so aware of the dangers posed by the original temptations that they, for example, removed all ornamentation and worshiped without musical instruments. A better approach is to be aware of how we can let the enemy’s forces through the shield wall, but embrace all the good things God has for us, and use them in our worship of him.

Discussion Points

  1. What evidence can you see of the devil’s activity in the world? Can you guess at other places where this may be hidden?
  2. Get a copy of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. Read to the group the Preface and Letter I. How realistic do you think is Lewis’ portrait of the forces of the enemy?
  3. What are the key factors in being effective officers in Jesus’ army? How can we ensure our churches are castles of the kingdom of God, both defensively and offensively? Here are a few Bible verses that may be useful:

…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:11)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Strategy and Tactics

The reason that the Roman army was so successful is that it had men like the centurion. It had a top-down command structure, and it relied on its junior officers carrying out the orders they received promptly, energetically, intelligently but without question; never trying to second-guess the wisdom of their commanding officers. Jesus needs an army of people like the centurion, ready at any time to jump into action on hearing a word from the Master.

The Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of the Old Covenant. They are all negative except one, they tell us what not to do. The Old Covenant came before the New, which means that we may need to stop doing certain things before we discover what it is that God is calling us to do.

The centurion’s understanding of Jesus’ power starts with the words: “For I myself am a man under authority…” (Luke 7:8). His experience and training meant that he knew the difference between strategy and tactics. He knew that strategy for the army of occupation was something he needed to leave to those further up the chain of command, his job was always to make happen what the strategists had decided was the best course of action. In the Roman Army it would have been pointless (and probably very unwise) to question the orders he received, he just needed to put them into action intelligently, using the resources at his disposal. It was very important that he had a clear, trusted channel of communication with his immediate superior, and he was not to try to work out his own strategy in any situation he encountered.

Jesus only spoke once, in any significant way, about the church.

“…And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, …” (Matthew 16:18)

It is so important to realise that:

  • The reason that Jesus so commended Peter was that he had believed (and spoken out) the words of a revelation that he had received from the Father.
  • Jesus did not tell Peter to build his (Jesus’) church, but that he would do it himself; he would retain strategic control, Peter, and people like him, were to be the material from which the church would be constructed.

As Peter himself reflected later to all church members:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Thus it is clear that Jesus never means to relinquish control over his Body. Church ‘leaders’, down the centuries, by their strategic schemes for the part of the world-wide church under their ‘control’, have repeatedly got in Jesus’ way.

Operation Overlord was the code name given to the invasion of the continent of Europe through the beaches of Normandy in 1944. This was the greatest seaborne military operation in history and its success was critically dependent on General Eisenhower’s plans, but also that each battalion, company, platoon, etc. knew exactly what they had been ordered to do. It did not matter that they had no sight of the overall scheme, or even what other battalions, companies or platoons might be doing. In fact, their ignorance was a strategic advantage: it was more likely that the enemy could be kept in the dark. More importantly, there was some assurance that local commanders would not ‘mess things up’ by re-thinking (with the best possible motives) the Commander-in-Chief’s plans. Church history shows us that this is exactly what has happened in every branch of the church militant. Debates between and within denominations are often about who has the best strategy to advance the Kingdom of God. For example, Liberals say the church should fit into the way the world works to make itself acceptable. Evangelical Conservatives say the church should directly apply the words of the Bible according to a carefully chosen interpretive strategy. Catholics and Orthodox churches provide a human hierarchy and a set of doctrines and traditions that do not change (or only very slowly). This situation is similar to what was happing in occupied France before the D-Day landings. The French Resistance put up a brave fight, but as a collection of guerrilla fighters, they were never going to defeat their enemy and regain their land.

The Father cannot delegate the strategic control of the defeat of humankind’s enemy to anyone except the Son. As Lord Acton wrote, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Even the best among us cannot be trusted with this kind of power. This is why institutional church structures that have abundant power in human terms seem, spiritually, to be almost powerless.

It is said that the theologian Thomas Aquinas…once called on Pope Innocent II when the latter was counting out a large sum of money. The Pope remarked, “You see, Thomas, the church can no longer say, Silver and gold have I none”. Aquinas replied, “True, holy father, but neither can she now say, “Rise and walk”.[18]

The New Testament is clear that local churches do need people within them that are willing to carry extra responsibility that we call church ‘leaders’; but it is clear that if these people attempt to direct the church strategically, they will be a hindrance rather than a help to the Leader.

Nor should you be called ‘Leader’, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. (Matthew 23:10 GNB)

My reading of the New Testament leads to the conclusion that there should be two groups of people in each local church who are given oversight roles. These two groups are identified in the Jerusalem local church in Acts 15; they wrote a joint letter to churches in Asia:

‘…The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings…’ (Acts 15:23)

Under the general term ‘elder’, we can include these titles (variously translated): ‘overseer’ (‘bishop’), ‘elder’ (‘presbyter’), ‘minister’ (‘deacon’). These individuals are called out of a local congregation and have their origin in the calling out of the seven in Acts 6:

The Twelve said, “…Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them…” (Acts 6:3)

It would be a mistake to characterize or limit their duties as ‘secular’ or ‘temporal’, but it is clear that the elders are meant to take on day-to-day responsibilities in the church body.

The other group identified in Acts 15 are the apostles. There are many theories about who should be thought of as an apostle today, or even whether the role has completely disappeared. Ephesians 4 gives us a starting point:

It was Jesus who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Jesus is calling people to whom he has given gifts to stand up for him, and use those gifts in combination with others for the purposes identified by Paul in this passage. This is an area where real spiritual discernment is needed; each local church needs to identify gifted individuals and place them in some kind of apostolic team, to help them to exercise their gifts and to allow them to minister to the rest of the Body. The five-fold gifts can be identified by reference to a number of Bible passages, but here are a few pointers:

  • Apostles: Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, shows an apostle’s primary purpose is to discern Jesus’ revelations to his Body through the actions of the Holy Spirit, and to relate them to revelation already received. The Day of Pentecost is a wonderful example as Peter saw what the Holy Spirit was doing there and then, and had sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures to go to the Prophet Joel and say “this is that” (Acts 2:16 AV). He could explain to the people, by using the Bible, the purposes and effects of God’s actions, and he could help them see what their response needed to be.
  • Prophets: God raises up individuals who have a particular gift of receiving and speaking out his direct revelations, which need to be tested and applied (by the apostles, etc.).
  • Evangelists: Every church needs individuals who have been given a burden for those outside the body.
  • Pastors: Similarly, we need people whose gifting turns their thoughts, words and actions towards the needs of those within the fellowship.
  • Teachers: Finally, the team needs individuals whose giftings lead them to ensure that the body has a sound understanding of the eternal truths revealed in the Bible.


Each local church needs two ‘leadership’ teams: Eldership and Apostolic. Many denominations have structures that correspond with the first: Church Councils, Churchwardens, Deacons, Boards, Trustees, etc. who correspond to the ‘seven’ called out in Acts 6:3. The use of a democratic process in choosing the members of a church eldership is supported by the Apostles’ command for the seven to be chosen by the people.

The second team is even more essential in that each church needs a group whose sole function is to hear the voice of the Master and to apply what he says corporately (i.e. to the Body).

My own experience of this came suddenly when I believe God gave me five names to form the first Apostolic Team for Holy Trinity Church. When I stood back and reflected on these five individuals, I realised that he had picked out the five who were most gifted in these roles. God will probably find a different route to make his choices clear in your church, but we need to give him the room to allow this to happen.

A church needs to exercise the gift of discernment to assure itself that it really is hearing Jesus’ heart for their fellowship, and look for positive confirmation for the members of the Team. In Holy Trinity Church, it happened like this. We already had a ‘Local Ministry Team’ which had been set up under a scheme promoted by our Diocese, which involved the congregation casting votes. The way this election worked was that the electorate wrote the names of those they wished to vote for on ballot papers that were counted in secret. The six that had the most votes were then asked confidentially whether they wished to serve, if they declined, this was not disclosed to anyone else. Whenever we went through the election process, one name would always be first or second: Geoff Cox, who was our most gifted pastor, but Geoff always refused to join the Local Ministry Team. However, when I explained to Geoff that God had given me his name, he readily accepted the invitation to join the Apostolic Team – I could rely on this godly man’s discernment to know the difference between a decision made by a body of people and the Head’s choice.

The two teams need to work together; I believe they will usually have some members in common. The Apostolic Team should be single-minded in seeking to know Jesus’ heart and straining to fulfil his commands. Both teams must avoid trying to be strategic, they can be inspired by other churches and ministries, but they do not need to copy anyone outside the pages of the Bible.

In Chapter 7 we will look at the concept of organic church; that is an organism that lives from the life of Christ within it, rather an organisation that exists because of an externally-defined framework. It is possible to argue that the leadership structures adopted by most churches (denominational or independent) are incompatible with the concept of organic church. At first glance, and even after careful study, it looks like it is impossible to fit an organism into an organisation. However, our experience at Holy Trinity Church has led us to the conclusion that transformation is possible if the church is willing to let go of some aspects of its life and worship, including things that some parts of its organisation believe are essential.

Things started for us with a prophetic word, “Jesus wants to lead his church directly”. It was clear that the organisational leadership was going to have to give up some of the control of the Body, to allow the nerve signals from the Head to flow to each member. As with everything else in the process of transformation that we experienced, we found that Jesus led us step by step along a path that allowed those of us in ‘leadership’ progressively to relinquish control; but we never had a sense that the church was rudderless.

I can speak of my own experience in this process, although it should be clear by now that Jesus never needs to repeat himself, as each situation has different characteristics and he is infinitely creative. I began to realise that being Vicar did not mean it was Jesus’ heart that I was to be the ‘senior pastor’ or any other conventional understanding of this job. Rather I needed to look carefully at how apostles worked in the New Testament. Please do not think that I am claiming to be an Apostle (with or without a capital letter); but the various churches described in the Acts, Epistles and Revelation seem to have benefited from someone with a measure of apostolic gifting when they were starting or going through a time of transition.

Here are my thoughts on apostolic ministry, mainly gleaned from what we know of the work of Peter and Paul. Although Jesus had designated Peter as an apostle some years earlier, we first see him acting as one on the Day of Pentecost. As we have already discussed, on that day at 9 in the morning he recognised the work of the Holy Spirit and connected it with Scripture, which allowed him to explain both what was going on and what the people’s response needed to be. I believe this should be the first point of call for those called to an apostolic ministry.

Two things are important from Peter’s example:

Firstly, we must start with what God is doing or saying now and then find the passages of Scripture that illuminate God’s actions or words. The Bible is an enormous body of writing; unless we are guided where to look, through what is currently happening in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to know which part or parts of the text to concentrate on. If we are not aware of any direct communication during a period, then we need to follow the disciples’ example from the Ascension to Pentecost[19], i.e. to wait patiently and prayerfully.

Secondly, Peter’s knowledge of the Bible was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to take him to the appropriate passages, presumably without a scroll to hand. This shows the value of a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures. I am extremely grateful for the Bible teaching I have received in the Diocese of Chelmsford, on the Oak Hill Ministerial Training Course, and at all the conferences and courses I have attended. One of the best ways to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures[20] is to preach the word on a regular basis; churches should give more people this opportunity, so that this way to know the Bible in greater depth is open to more people.

We need to keep in mind that a major focus of our Bible training should be to be able to say ‘this is that’ (Acts 2:16 AV) when God does something amazing.

Looking at Paul’s example as the Apostle to the Gentiles we find these characteristics:

Firstly, We need to have some confirmation through ‘signs, wonders and miracles’ (2 Corinthians 12:12, see also Acts 2:43, Acts 15:12). Also, it seems that the apostolic gifting comes through a direct encounter with Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1), as with my great-grandmother (see page 4).

Secondly, Paul’s life’s work was the planting and guiding through transformation of local churches. It is important to realise that he never made himself the leader of any church that he planted. He was clear that churches do need people to take responsibility for the oversight and maintenance of the church’s life, but Paul never even suggested that they would need to replace him when he moved on, sometimes after only a short time. In each church, he had a very specific role in its initiation and transformation. As we read the Pauline Epistles, we see that he sometimes did need to bring a corrective word, but all the Epistles are written to the whole congregation, not to an individual ‘leader’[21].

Thirdly, each apostolic anointing is to a specific group of people. Paul knew he was not an apostle to everyone (1 Corinthians 9:2).

Jesus chose to call the twelve ‘apostles’ (Mark 3:14), rather than any title inherited from the Old Testament or from the secular culture. The Greek word apostolos, apostle is derived from the verb apostolos, which means ‘to order (one) to go to a place appointed’. Apostles were sent with a message to a person or group of people.

The ordained ministry in a denomination like the Church of England does fit this model, at least in some respects. I was surprised during my ordination in Lichfield Cathedral that the most moving part of the service was when the Bishop and the Diocesan Registrar came to where I was standing and gave me my licence to my first parish; this was a ‘sending’. We have a problem in that, in virtually all denominations, those of us ‘sent’ are not trained or even introduced to the idea of an apostolic ministry; rather we are to be managers, pastors, teachers… whatever is the denomination’s tradition or, more recently, whatever is the latest fashion.

In Holy Trinity Church, we discovered that it was possible for an institutional church to be transformed into an organic one, although the closest Biblical model for this was the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Please note that we did not kill off the old church, it died, like Lazarus, because it was sick. We had to wait for Jesus to bring new life, we could not make it happen, and it had to happen in the way, and according to the timescale, that he determined.

So, I can give you no formula for this metamorphosis, but there are a few principles that seem to aid the process:

  • There needs to be a godly dissatisfaction with the status quo of the church, and a deep-seated longing for more of Jesus.
  • The church needs to be willing to put aside egos, traditions, worldly ambitions, desire to impress, inertia,… you can probably go on with this list.
  • A high degree of unity is probably essential. Jesus prayed earnestly for this (John 17:20-23).
  • The denominational hierarchy needs to have a light touch and to respect the process, because the way that Jesus chooses to lead an individual church may take it outside denominational norms. However, the advice, oversight, and moral support that are available should not to be depreciated.

A major incentive in writing this book is to touch the hearts of churches and to encourage them as they seek for more of the life of Jesus in their fellowship.

Discussion Points

  1. Are you clear on the difference between strategy and tactics? Give some examples of each drawn from family, working or church life.
  2. Talk about some strategies that you know that churches have employed. Can you work out which were God-given and which were someone’s ‘good idea’? Don’t just look for outward ‘success’ but try to discern whether they were achieving God’s purposes.
  3. Do you know anyone whom you would judge to be gifted in one (or more) of the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher? Can you see any signs of a gifting in one of these areas in yourself.

The Kingdom of God

When comparing the Roman Empire or the Allied Forces in the Second World War to the Kingdom of God there are, of course, several fundamental differences, not least of which is that God has absolute power, something Roman Emperors and General Eisenhower could only dream of. God could achieve all his purposes by ‘direct action’ – he created the universe just by speaking – but it’s clear that did he this for us, and he chooses to involve us, if we are willing, in his great plan of redemption.

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God[22]. A kingdom is a territory and a people group that have a monarch, someone who has authority over the land and the population. In history, a nation could lose their land but retain their monarch. Therefore, the key factor in a kingdom is sovereignty over a people group.

When we put together all Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, we do not find a simple message of God’s sovereignty. The Kingdom of God is something we must enter, but to do so is not easy (Matthew 19:24). Children (Mark 10:14-15), sinners (Matthew 21, 31), foreigners (Luke 13:29) find it easier to get into than the rich (Luke 18:24) or the self-righteous (Luke 17:20) – we need to be born again (John 3:5) to be part of it. It has secrets (Luke 8:10) and it is revealed through parables (Luke 13:19, etc.).

Any serious study of the Kingdom of God from the pages of the Bible has to come to the conclusion that the teaching on this subject is paradoxical, but the centurion, with his insight into Jesus’ authority, can help us with an intuitive understanding of what Jesus intended when he spoke about the Kingdom of God.

There is an even wider and deeper paradox at the heart of the gospel, which can be stated thus: human beings are free agents who are responsible for their actions; yet God is in charge of the universe, even of our hearts and minds. All attempts to resolve this paradox using human logic have failed; and have resulted in the setting up of opposing camps labelled Calvinism and Arminianism after John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Calvin taught that believers should be assured they are elect because they are in Christ, and that election is completely an act of grace by God. Arminius held that election is conditional on man’s response to God’s grace, that predestination is no more than foreknowledge on God’s part. Although this paradox appears at a number of points in both the Old and New Testament, none of the Biblical writers seem to see it as a problem to be wrestled with using our abilities of logical deduction.

The biblical characters… never face the sovereignty-responsibility tension as an abstract theological conundrum; but there is a profound experiential awareness of it among those who are faced with personally painful and perplexing predicaments.[23]

This cannot be dismissed by assuming the Biblical writers had no interest in logic, there are many examples of careful reasoning in the Bible[24]. Rather, we must deduce that this paradox is ultimately beyond our finite minds.

Although it appears that there is no logical solution to the paradox, in considering the Bible’s description of Jesus, we find a complete practical resolution, i.e. he is a man with free will yet he always obeys the Father[25]. This can be seen most clearly in Gethsemane; he had a real choice whether to go through with the crucifixion:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Yet the Father’s sovereign purposes were perfectly fulfilled, as Peter said:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)

As we consider what Jesus desires for his church, we need to keep the paradox in mind. Of course, God could defeat satan, solve all the problems of humankind in one instant, and just take us all off to heaven, but he has chosen to allow us to play a major part in his plan of our redemption. However, he has a problem – we often think we know best how to fulfil what we presume are his purposes.

When we look at the life of Jesus here on earth we see the prototype for our involvement in the plans and purposes of God. Jesus knew where he was headed, he operated according to certain principles (for example, loving God with his whole being and loving his neighbour as himself), but what he chose to do day by day was not according to some master plan, but as the Father led him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, during his time on earth, from his conception until the Resurrection, chose to have the same limitations as every other human being that has ever lived. Everything he achieved during those 33 years was as a finite being who lived in communion with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus said, “Follow me”, he meant by this that his followers should do the same. We are equipped with the same Holy Spirit. Also, we have an advantage over the pre-Pentecostal disciples in that Jesus lives in us, and is not just walking beside us. However, it is valuable to look at those early followers to be inspired by what is possible with Jesus. He sent out the Twelve to do what he had been doing, but he also sent out (Greek: apostello) seventy (or seventy-two) others that we read about in Luke 10. The details of this account need to be studied by every Christian who longs to see the kingdom of God moving into new territory, but for now, let’s concentrate on these points:

  • The willingness of the seventy to be used in this way brought joy to Jesus (v21) and he told them that they were blessed more than prophets and kings (v24)
  • Jesus won a major victory over satan through them (v18)
  • The seventy had direct confirmations of their effectiveness (v17)

It is clear from Luke 10 that Jesus has chosen to defeat his enemy through his Body, and he needs the willing submission of its members. We have to reject those eschatologies (theories about the end times) that say that the church can passively wait for the return of Jesus; these are inconsistent with how he led his followers when he was on earth and how he is working in and through us today


Today’s church in the UK gets close to Luke 10 in what is usually called ‘Healing on the Streets’, taking seriously Jesus’ words to the seventy:

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:9)

Many churches (often working in partnership) have sent out small groups into town centres offering prayer for healing and seen remarkable results.

I believe that the ways of healing on the streets that correspond most closely to ‘the way that Jesus did it’ are those that have the minimum of structure and the maximum of opportunity to hear Jesus directing the work. One advantage we have over the First Century, is modern telecommunications. With the help of Nathan Taylor[26] we employed an approach he calls ‘Locked and Loaded’. Simply put, this involves two teams: one ‘wandering with intent’ around the streets of the town, the other gathered in one place. The job of the second team is to seek Jesus’ direction and to pass on his commands, by phone (voice or text), to the first team. One Saturday, I was half-way between the two teams when I met an friend; we stopped to chat, and I described ‘Locked and Loaded’. She then asked for prayer for a work colleague who had suffered a heart attack, so we prayed together there and then for him. I continued on into town to meet up with the first team, only to discover that they had just received this text “Got sense of patch of ground between end of grey friers bridge and stop cafe. Something significant to happen there.”. This was so precise: we were praying exactly half way between the Greyfriars footbridge and the Stop Café. Later the same day, I was able to ask my friend to tell her colleague that we knew that God was on his case.

The obvious question that arises at this point is, how can I hear the voice of the Master better? What would the answer be if this question were asked during the 3½ years of Jesus’ public ministry? Quite simply, get close to him. The ones that heard the most (some of them left us the Gospels) were the ones that spent time with him, hearing him speak to the crowds, the group and to individuals.

The next question is, how do I get close to him today? In those years, they could walk to where they could see him, but what can anyone do since the Ascension? The answer again is very simple: be close to his Body, be a part of it, and acknowledge his presence in his Body, then he will speak directly to you. This shows how vital it is that our churches are true expressions of the Body of Christ. Each time we compromise how we are as a church, in order to achieve a worldly purpose through a worldly means, we limit how well we will hear him speaking to us as individuals, corporately and to those outside of our fellowship. This is why we should examine our churches, not to see how large they are, or what they achieve, or how many programmes they have, or any other criteria; but simply how well they reflect the nature of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels and the rest of the Bible. Even when a church sets out on the road to Christlikeness, there is an enormous temptation to hang on to these other goals, particularly as we are usually judged on our ability to meet them. I believe we must consciously and deliberately put them aside, and be single-minded in our pursuit of him and our surrender to him, and his goals for us.

As we read the Gospels, we realise Jesus was prepared to listen to everyone. He would allow himself to be diverted, he encouraged every glimmer of faith in God; but he was hard on those who put their faith in anything else, for example, their traditions or their self-righteousness. We will go on getting to know him better for eternity, but we need to start now.

So, there is no formula here, like there is no formula for falling in love. All we can do is get rid of the things that get in the way of a deeper relationship, and acknowledge our utter dependence in him and his grace.

Let’s finish this chapter with a paragraph from Andrew Murray. His words to be spoken to the Father are not a formal prayer, but rather an expression of a deep desire.

We have not only Christ’s life in us as a power, and His presence with us as a person, but we have His likeness to be wrought into us. He is to be formed in us, so that His form or figure, His likeness, can be seen in us. Bow before God until you get some sense of the greatness and blessedness of the work to be carried on by God in you this day. Say to God, “Father, here am I for Thee to give as much in me of Christ’s likeness as I can receive.” And wait to hear Him say, “My child, I give thee as much of Christ as thy heart is open to receive.” The God who revealed Jesus in the flesh and perfected Him, will reveal Him in thee and perfect thee in Him. The Father loves the Son, and delights to work out His image and likeness in thee. Count upon it that this blessed work will be done in thee as thou waitest on thy God, and holdest fellowship with Him.” [27]

Discussion Points

  1. List out some of the ways you have seen God achieve something employing Christians when he could have just done it himself? In each case, discuss the possible reasons why he chose to use sinful, fallible, weak,… people rather than the forces of heaven directly under his command.
  2. Give examples of relationship building through working together on a God-inspired project. Do you think the participants grew closer to God as they built their relationships with each other? If anyone has experience of a foreign mission trip, it would be valuable to share how the team related to each other and how this affected their walk with the Lord.
  3. What is your heart’s desire in seeing God doing things through you? Pray for each other.

Jesus the Head of the Body

Zoe vs. Psyche

Life is about choices. We tend to assume that our fundamental options are about good and evil, right and wrong; but the first choice facing human beings was quite different, it was between the fruit of two trees. One tree was called the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its fruit gave the ability for humankind to live by its own understanding:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)

The benefits of the fruit of the other tree were not so obvious, as it was simply called the Tree of Life. God revealed that eternal life was available from the Tree of Life after they had taken the fruit from the other tree. He barred them from accessing it and sent them out into the world to live by the knowledge they had gained.

Generations later, God gave a nation a codified version of what their ancestors had taken in the Garden. This is what we call the Mosaic Law or the Old Covenant. God wanted at least part of humanity to have an accurate knowledge of good and evil. For the next 1200 years, God encouraged that nation to live by what they had received on Mt. Sinai, and we can read what happened from Exodus to Malachi.

The fundamental choice is a stark one. We can either live our lives according to our understanding, principles, rules,.. basically depending on our own resources for every decision in life. Or we can live by the life of God, being dependent on him for everything, especially our guidance.

This choice appears repeatedly in the New Testament, even before Jesus had made a way back to the Tree of Life by his death on the Cross. One of the clearest examples of this is in Matthew 16; the extreme contrast between Jesus’ reactions to two statements from Peter, just verses apart, show us how much he wants us to choose life. Here are the two conversations:

Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:15-23)

In the whole of the Bible, there is no greater contrast in the space of a few verses than these two declarations by Jesus. How can he give Peter such a great commendation followed so shortly by such a great condemnation? The difference is not between good and evil, but between living by revelation and living by human logic, even though it may be motivated by compassion. This is the contrast between life and the knowledge of good and evil, between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant.

Jesus desperately wants us to live as he did, in communion with his Father in heaven (v17):

“…For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:49)

For churches, this is far more important than most of the things that they concentrate on: doctrinal soundness, maintaining their tradition, preserving their public image, honouring past members,… this list goes on and on; but all these are things of men. We may be able to come up with good reasons for all of them, but Jesus always has something far better for us, if only we would listen to him.

Paul repeatedly calls the church the Body of Christ, with Jesus as its Head. The analogy is precise; if the members of a human body are not responding instantly to the commands sent to them from the head through the nervous system, then there is something seriously wrong with the body.

Many churches in the western world claim that they seek to be led by Christ, but in reality they sit on the fence. They may try to hear what he is saying to them, but their decision making process is similar to a secular organisation, involving the usual mixture of hope, inertia, fear, dogma, experience, marketing and looking at what other organisations are doing – again things of men. I believe also that Jesus waits until we have room for what he wants us to do; this means that we have to give up on programmes in order to hear our marching orders – he needs to know we are serious about following him.

As we have already seen in Isaiah 55, God’s word will always fulfil his purpose for it. God can see into our hearts, therefore he knows before he says a word whether we are willing to carry it out. I believe this is a major cause of why many people complain of not hearing God, he knows that his word to them will be unfruitful. So they hear nothing.

Nicky Gumbel tells a story on the Alpha Course about an au pair girl working with an English family. Apparently, she rushed upstairs to the children in her care to find them behaving as children do. She blurted out what she had heard their parents saying in similar circumstances, but it came out rather differently, “What are you doing here on earth?”. This is a very good question, to us as individuals, to local churches and to the world-wide church. Our consumer-oriented culture encourages us all to think that the only possible reason for joining an organisation is to have my needs fulfilled, and I can legitimately judge it on this basis.

Let’s consider the possibility that God’s purposes for the universe, the human race, the church and me are not centred on the fulfilment of my needs and desires. I know God loves me and I know that I can trust him absolutely, therefore I should be confident that he will always do the best for me – I do not need to do things to get my needs met! Churches so readily adopt the mindset of the world, and consider their purpose is to meet the needs and desires of their members and potential members.

The alternative is all over the New Testament, for example:

…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-22)

Jesus is the one who started everything off, he marks the course out for us, he is our goal at the end of the race, but he is also the one who runs with us and in us, giving us everything we need, including step by step guidance. Churches need to get their eyes off the world and each other, in the hope of finding a formula that will bring growth, and just look to Jesus.

It is striking that Jesus was killed by being hung on a tree, in fact the Cross is called the tree in the New Testament (Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24). We know that his death is the way we receive eternal life. Although the Bible never states this explicitly, it seems clear that the Cross is the Tree of Life, and Jesus is the fruit hanging on it. Most Protestant churches do not have crucifixes in them because we want to say that Jesus is alive, he is no longer on the Cross; but perhaps the image of a man hanging on a cross should take our minds to the Tree of Life and realise that this is the source of life, we can now go and take its fruit. More on this when we look at communion (Chapter 9).


One big question in listening to Jesus is., “How do I know it’s him?” Discernment is one of the most important manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-10), but the starting point is our willingness to be obedient to the revealed word of God.

“If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17)

My experience is that Jesus sometimes leads us through a series of steps that involves giving up things that we have clung onto, like a child holding onto a security blanket. Sometimes, it is only when we have demonstrated our willingness to do God’s will by not doing something that he has not asked us to do, will we hear what he does want us to do (sorry this it a bit convoluted, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

At Holy Trinity Church we used to do a Christingle service religiously every Christmas Eve. We would attract large crowds, sometimes having to turn people away[28]. Yet, despite its popularity, we began to realise that this was not Jesus heart for the celebration of his birthday. So we stopped. It was then that he spoke separately to myself and two other members of the congregation that he wanted us to bless the families of our community. Derek McCormack had a vision of a heap of 25 presents on the church platform, wrapped in gold-coloured paper. So we bought (at a discount) 30 large tins of chocolates, wrapped them according to the vision and heaped them on the platform. We welcomed the families into the building on Christmas Eve as usual, but at the end of the service we did something completely different. I asked each family to stand in a group, separated from the others, and I then directed members of the congregation to go and speak an individual blessing over each family and to give them a present. While they were doing this I realised the point of the presents – from the front of the church I could see exactly which families had received their blessing by the shiny parcel that they were holding. It turned out we had exactly 25 families there – our nervousness of running out had led to over-provision (I gave the extra 5 away at the midnight communion).

On the evening of 19th September 2010 a chain of events started that were to have profound implications for Holy Trinity Church. I had decided to show the previous Sunday evening service from Bethel Church, Redding, California on the big screen in the hall. Bethel offer an Internet facility allowing subscribers to stream video from any of their services and conferences (, and in this Sunday evening service Bill Johnson was speaking about Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). A few of us listened to the talk and then watched the following ministry time, where a young man stood up and gave a very specific word of knowledge. He said that there was someone who had had a serious injury to their right wrist 3½ years ago in the month of March, which had left them with a physical scar. God wanted to heal this person from the effects of the trauma caused by this accident. This applied almost exactly to one of our members sitting there, Maggie McCormack, who showed us a large cross-shaped scar on her wrist and told us how she nearly bled to death when she put her arm through a pane of glass. So we stopped the video stream and prayed for healing from trauma for Maggie. We sent the Media Director, Tim Jenné, at an email as a testimony and added it to our list of signs and wonders.

The next day I showed the same video to another church member, who was not with us the previous evening. She recognised the young man giving the word of knowledge as Chris Overstreet[29], the Outreach Pastor at Bethel, and then she added to my amazement by saying that he was coming to Telford (the next town to Shrewsbury) the following week to speak at a conference on Supernatural Evangelism. I contacted the organisers of the conference to book places and to ask if Chris might be free on the next Sunday to come and preach at HTBV. That Sunday was a turning point in the life of the church – Chris spoke and then he and two friends, Steve Rademan and Thomas Harry, prayed individually for almost the whole congregation as they came forward. We had a number of healings that morning (including a long-term problem with migraines) and these have continued ever since – some of the testimonies are in this book. Chris also gave us a word of prophecy, which has sustained us in these following years:

I saw this place filled with people that were passionately on fire for Jesus. I sensed in my heart that the Lord is going to do a move, He wants to move into this area. The Lord Jesus, He wants to take occupation, to take over this area.

I felt the Lord is going to begin to move upon hearts, that there is going to be a new fire come into hearts and a release of a desire to communicate to other people.

In my heart I saw this place filled with worship. I saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit moving amongst people. I saw where the gifts of the Holy Spirit moving through individual lives, like yourself. There was an excitement that was in hearts, a thriving. I saw young people; I saw old people. I just saw this place packed out.

I saw extended meetings; I saw a spirit of revival coming into this place, where the Lord was actually going to fill this place with His glory.

I believe that if you do your history, about 1909-11 something began to take place in this area. God wants to do a visitation, not just a visitation but a habitation in this place, where His presence becomes the theme in this church.

I feel in my heart that there is such a love that you have for the Lord already. I could feel the love of the Father for you. I could feel two hearts colliding together. God’s heart for you, and your heart for Him. Two hearts colliding together which creates fire, which creates momentum. I believe that the Lord is, if you will, going to reproduce fire in your life. He’s going to reproduce the passion that you’re carrying right now.

There’s a reproducing, a reproduction of passion and fire that I’m sensing the Lord wants to do. God is going to do an amazing thing in your life.[30]

It is right to seek confirmation for prophetic words received, especially if they are specific and directional. By demonstrating to us Chris’ gifting through his word of knowledge for Maggie, I believe God confirmed his prophetic message for Holy Trinity Church in advance. It is my experience that God always finds ways of confirming what he has to say to us, and the ways that he does this are as varied as the ways he delivers the actual word. As you will find in the rest of this book, Chris’ words, “not just a visitation but a habitation in this place, where His presence becomes the theme in this church” resonated in us again and again.

I hope these examples of Jesus corroborating his word to us are helpful, we are right to seek confirmation, but we need to allow him to do this in whatever way he chooses. We cannot say to him, “I will believe we have heard from you if so-and-so happens”, we must not force him into a corner[31].

Also, a Body that is used to listening to its Head will get to recognise his voice, and get better and better at discerning what is truly from him. This was our experience at Holy Trinity Church, after a while, everyone seemed to be able to know the things of God, things that were simply good ideas just fell to the ground.

Discussion Points…

  1. Read about the two trees in the Garden of Eden: Genesis 2:8-9, 2:15-17, 3:1-8, 3:22-24; Revelation 2:7, 22:1-2, 22:14-21. Discuss how they represent the two fundamental choices for human beings. How can we steer ourselves and others to the Tree of Life?
  2. What do you think you might need to give up to better hear where Jesus wants to direct your steps? Think about this as an individual, a family, a church, a community even a nation.
  3. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He told them that this would happen “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5 AV). It’s clear that waiting for Jesus’ timing is an essential part of the Christian life. Please share examples of waiting for his provision in your life or someone else’s.

Bethany as the model for each local church

The centurion commanded a group of men called a centuria. His centuria, as part of the army of occupation in Israel, had clearly become a real community. The concern that the centurion had for his servant is evidence that this community was functioning well:

And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. (Luke 7:2 AV)

It would be interesting to find out more about how the centurion and his men lived and worked together, but the New Testament describes another community which I believe is the prototype for every local church. This was revealed to the church family at Holy Trinity Church during a day of prayer and fasting. God gave us two words through Derek McCormack: ‘alabaster’ and ‘Bethany’, and we realised that the model for a local church is the village of Bethany described in the Gospels. This revelation was confirmed in a number of ways, but perhaps the most telling was that within days we received an email from Frank Viola, announcing his ‘life’s work’: a book entitled God’s Favorite Place on Earth[32]. This wonderful book explores the community of Bethany as revealed in the Bible, telling its story from Lazarus’ perspective. The story of Holy Trinity Church, aka Bethany in Shrewsbury, is told in my previous book, Bethany – resurrected church[33], but it is worth repeating some of the lessons we learned from applying the model of Bethany to church life.

The key factor about the community in Bethany was that Jesus was physically there. As we read the accounts in the Gospels, we see what it is like for a church to know the presence of our Head and our Bridegroom, and how this changes everything. God made a promise to Moses about how he would be with his people:

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Moses understood the importance of this:

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)

It is the manifest presence of Jesus himself that transforms a church into his Body and Bride.

The community of Bethany of Judea has all the other characteristics of a church:

  • The only significant time Jesus ever used the word ‘church’ is in Matthew 16:18, where Peter ‘confessed’ who Jesus is: “…the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This also happened in Bethany: Martha said to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27). Church is the place where we know who Jesus is, and are prepared to proclaim it.
  • The heart of the work of a church is worship. Bethany was a place of extravagant worship as evidenced when Mary ‘wasted’ a year’s wages of perfume on Jesus (John 12:3-5).
  • It was a place of healing and resurrection: The dead man came out (John 11:44)
  • It was a place of teaching: She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. (Luke 10:39)
  • It was a place of pastoral care: Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23)
  • It was a place of evangelism: …many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. (John 11:45)
  • It was a place of generous provision for God’s work: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no-one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” (Mark 11:1-2)
  • It was a place of hospitality, security and rest: And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21:17)
  • It was a place where the community ate and drank together: Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. (John 12:2)
  • It was a place of freedom: Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:44)
  • It was a place of controversy and persecution from the world: So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (John 12:10-11)
  • It was a place of love: Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5)
  • It was the place where Jesus’ feet last touched the surface of the earth: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)

Bethany churches are those that know that only one thing is needed: listening to Jesus. This is what Jesus told the sisters:

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

It is often said that we need Marthas as well as Marys, otherwise nothing would get done, but that is a human judgement, in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words. The repetition of Martha’s name is a sign of Jesus’ love for her, but he is emphatic that the choice to wait and listen for his word is infinitely better than to get on with what we think needs doing. When Jesus came to Bethany after Lazarus had died it is significant that Martha went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home (John 11:20). However, the instant that Mary heard that Jesus was calling for her, she moved so fast that her friends were caught up in her wake (John 11:31). Mary was not passive, she exemplified what W. Ian Thomas wrote about:

God is perfectly capable of taking care of His own affairs, and the reason so little is being accomplished by the Church of Jesus Christ today is that we have all too often organised God out of business. Millions of man hours and countless millions of pounds are being misspent on man’s promotional activity, unasked, on God’s behalf… What embarrassment it would be to you if you had a pair of hands that always tried to demonstrate to you how busy they were!… Surely, what the head demands of every member of the body is restful availability, and prompt response to every impulse of the head in instant obedience,…[34]

This quality of ‘restful availability’ is what Jesus is looking for in the members of his Body. If we cannot follow Mary’s example, then we will never be a body that he is comfortable in.

We all need a community like Bethany to be able to hear clearly what Jesus is saying to us, both individually and corporately.


In addition to his ‘Bethany’ book (God’s Favorite Place on Earth), Frank Viola has written extensively on ‘organic church’, e.g.

In the institutional church, congregants watch a religious performance once or twice a week led principally by one person (the pastor or minister), and then retreat home to live their individual Christian lives.

By contrast, I’m using “organic church” to refer to those churches that operate according to the same spiritual principles as the church that we read about in our New Testament. The New Testament church was first and foremost organic, as are all churches that stand in its lineage. T. Austin-Sparks is the man who deserves credit for the term “organic church.” He writes,

God’s way and law of fullness is that of organic life. In the Divine order, life produces its own organism, whether it be a vegetable, animal, human or spiritual. This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order and fruit issue from this law of life within. It was solely on this principle that what we have in the New Testament came into being. Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order.[35]

Frank Viola uses ‘organic church’ to describe what Jesus needs in the 21st Century. This is local churches where each seeks to live by the life of Jesus which is at its heart. A church that rejects the artificial because it hears and obeys the words of its Master, where the members of the Body work together because they are all in communion with the Head. We began to see what a true organic church is like, where the members hold very lightly to tradition, ego, structures, formality, marketing, all the weapons of the world; but will not let go of fellowship with Jesus and each other.

Discussion Points

  1. Read Luke 10:38-42, John 11:29-36, John 12:1-8. How does Mary of Bethany exemplify a member of an organic church? What can we learn from her?
  2. Read John 11:1-46. Jesus ministered to the two sisters in different ways. Think of your fellow church members and look at how we can really love them, keeping in mind their natures. Discuss whether Jesus lacked compassion in delaying going to Bethany. Talk about waiting for his timing and the difference this makes.
  3. Look through the list of characteristics (page 82) of the community of Bethany. Which of these apply to your church and/or any other church you know about? Which are must-haves and which are optional?


Jesus left teaching and gave us lessons from his life to show us how to live here on earth. The example of the Centurion encourages us to have faith that we can exercise authority over the world, the flesh and the devil. The church should be able to bring God’s power into situations where the enemy is having a field day; this does happen at certain times and in certain places, but we have to admit that the overall record is not good.

However, there is one aspect of the Christian life where Christians seem to be in complete control and that is the conduct of worship. Is it possible that the church’s general inability to exercise power out in the world could be connected to its unwillingness to let go of its control of its own worship? Most church leaders will probably answer this question in the negative, they believe that they can make all the decisions on style, content, format, etc. when their church family come together to praise God. These decisions are usually based on what the leaders believe will please the people, drawing from traditions, aesthetic considerations, the desire to entertain,… basically the ‘things of men‘ (Matthew 16:23). There is no doubt that some worship is acceptable by God, and other forms of worship are an anathema to him. Old Covenant worship was carefully proscribed in the Law and we have many of the rules and regulations in the Books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In the New Covenant we are to be led by the Holy Spirit, but worship seems to be the hardest place for him to take control.

There is a fascinating connection between two passages in the Bible that makes this clear: the Golden Calf and the Day of Pentecost. These two are connected by these factors, which cannot just be coincidences:

  • They are both acts of worship; on the Day of Pentecost the people in Jerusalem reported “…we hear them speaking the great things of God in our own languages.” (Acts 2:11)
  • Days before they made the Golden Calf, the leader (Moses) had gone up, was covered with a cloud and was in the presence of God (Exodus 24:15-18). Just before the Day of Pentecost, the leader (Jesus) had gone up, was covered with a cloud and was in the presence of God (Acts 1:9, John 20:17). In each case the second-in-command (Aaron, Peter) was left in charge.
  • Following the worship of the Golden Calf, about 3000 were killed (Exodus 32:28); at the end of the events on the Day of Pentecost about 3000 were born again and baptised (Acts 2:41).

This last point makes it clear that we are to embrace all that happened at Pentecost, and to firmly reject everything about the worship of the Golden Calf. This is certainly not a matter of finding a compromise between them, we are meant to go to this one extreme.

The vital difference between these two events is that, at Sinai, the worship was pre-planned to please the people:

…the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us;… Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:2-5 NASB)

whilst the Day of Pentecost turned into a spontaneous praise service, as the unbelievers in Jerusalem recognised.

Another contrast happened on the mount of Transfiguration. When Jesus was revealed in his transplendent glory to Peter, James and John, Peter’s mind ran down the tram lines of the worship tradition he was used to:

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)

But the Father intervened before they could put Peter’s plan into action:

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

Jesus is still speaking to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, especially when it comes to worship.

How can we say we want to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go out into the world, if we stubbornly refuse to be led by the same Spirit in our worship? Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:

“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)

Jesus said “God is spirit” and spoke about “true worshippers”, so worshipping “in spirit and in truth” must mean that we are to worship God led by the Holy Spirit with complete integrity (i.e. with no motive other than expressing the glory of God and our love for him).


At Holy Trinity Church, the first time we experienced the manifest presence of God in an unmistakable way was one Friday evening in 2006. R.T. (Dick) France had agreed to give us a series of talks on the early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. He had just finished what is the finest commentary[36] on any book of the Bible that I have ever read. On 1st December 2006, I had forgotten that he was scheduled to come the following week and so called the church family together ready to hear another wonderful exposition. We started with worship as usual, but when Dick failed to arrive, I rung him only to discover my mistake. I apologised to the congregation and we decided to just carry on worshipping, this time with no time or other constraint. Then God turned up… It was as if he was saying, “You can plan to put on the absolute best that man can provide, but just see what I can do!” That sense of God’s manifest presence was still there on the following Sunday and we realised that we had ‘accidentally’ discovered something fundamental. God is seeking true worshippers who will allow him to be God, even in their worship! It is on earth as in heaven:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…” (Revelation 21:3)

There is a great variety of worship styles on offer in most towns and cities, but each church tends to stick to what it believes will best please its congregation. Worshippers moving to a new area are encouraged to ‘shop around’ to find the church that suits them. Therefore, in most churches, most of the time, worship is something that runs along well defined lines; but this is tantamount to constraining how Jesus can manifest his presence with us. One member of Holy Trinity had a vision which clarified this:

I had a picture, during the quiet worship time on Wednesday evening, of a visitors’ room in an American style prison – prisoner and visitor sitting on opposite sides of an unbreakable glass barrier. I was the visitor and Jesus was the prisoner. (Why it was this way round, I didn’t understand.) Usually in dramas of this type the two people ‘touch’ through the glass as the visitor is leaving and this is just what Jesus and I did. I felt I wanted more – a real touch, but this I wasn’t able to do. Jesus then smiled and shook his head and the ‘prison’ setting disappeared and we were touching, hand to hand in open fields where there were flowers and meadows and trees and streams. I asked that if anyone knew why I was the visitor and Jesus the prisoner, could they please let me know.

Later while sitting and thinking about this I felt that Jesus spoke to me saying that Visitation and Habitation were a two-way thing. Chris Overstreet had spoken about Jesus wanting, not just a visitation but a habitation[37] – but Jesus was pointing out that we just ‘visit’ maybe for an hour once a week or once a month (like prison visiting hours) yet we can actually ‘habit’ with him since he has made this possible for us. We need to choose to spend that depth of time with him that constitutes habiting/living with him, instead of just visiting occasionally.[38]

If we deliberately take our hands off the planning and ordering of our worship, it’s like setting Jesus free. We come together in our church buildings to meet with him, but if we have carefully defined the environment in which this happens, it is as if we have imprisoned him. By taking off the constraints of our worship, we will meet with him on his terms. We will also know his presence outside of our meetings so we truly can say we are living with him.

There is a wonderful example of the power of revelation and Spirit-led worship to push back the forces of evil in the Old Testament. Please take the time right now to read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. From the discussions above, I believe the lessons of this passage are clear, but here are just a few points to look out for:

  • It was all the people, including the women and children that came together to seek revelation:

The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him… All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:4…13)

  • The required direction came through one individual, which the king and the people discerned, and then put into action

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. (2 Chronicles 20:14)

  • His message was specific to their situation, but it is also true today.

“…You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

  • The correct response: worship.

Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. (2 Chronicles 20:19)

  • The enemy was defeated, not by force of arms or a clever strategy, but by the people’s willingness to listen to God, their worship and their simple obedience. How God chose to solve the problem was beyond anyone’s imagination.

As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. (2 Chronicles 20:22-23)

Discussion Points

  1. There is a great temptation for those leading and participating in worship to make it ‘horizontal’. We are more confident in pleasing those around us that we can see, than the one above whom we cannot. There is no excuse for not giving him our best, but how can we get attention off ourselves to listen to him? Have you any examples of that ‘still, small voice’ (1Kings 19:12 AV) leading you off in an unexpected direction?
  2. Mary of Bethany in one act of spontaneous, wasteful, extravagant worship (Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, John 12:3, see Chapter 8) set the standard. How can we emulate her?
  3. True Holy Spirit-led worship cannot be planned or engineered; therefore, there is nothing we can do to make it happen. All we can do is to clear the decks to be ready however he chooses to lead us. What aspects of your present experience of worship should be dropped and why?

Jesus’ Liturgy (Baptism and Communion)

The encounter between the centurion and Jesus (that we read about in Luke’s Gospel) is second-hand in that he uses intermediaries to approach Jesus (Matthew tells the story slightly differently, omitting to mention these). At first sight, the centurion’s reluctance to come into Jesus’ presence seems to be overly sensitive; surely Jesus calls us all to come to him like little children:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

As adults, aware of our own sinfulness, perhaps we need to pause before trying to push our way into a direct encounter with the Son of God. In a previous chapter, we looked at Mary of Bethany and how she waited to be invited to come to Jesus when he arrived in the village (John 11:28). We have such a cause-and-effect mentality that we are always looking for things to do to make things happen, e.g. we know we need to be in the presence of Jesus, so we try to work out how to bring this about. Encountering the Head, the Bridegroom, the Lord of heaven and earth, must be on his terms, and in his timing.

It is clear that the kind of dramatic encounter Paul had on the road to Damascus, or my great-grandmother had in her bedroom, cannot be made to happen, yet we can ask to know the presence of Jesus. As we will see, the two symbolic actions (sometimes called ‘sacraments’) that Jesus gave us show us how we can ask to live in him and him in us.

Most of the experiences and revelations described in this book were in the church community of Holy Trinity Church, Belle Vue, Shrewsbury. Holy Trinity’s background was evangelical and was, like most of the Church of England, liturgical in its worship. As God started to manifest his presence in the Church from the end of 2006 onwards, the liturgical aspects of our worship slowly disappeared. It is difficult to describe this process, but there was a clear sense of God’s leading as we discarded the liturgy bit by bit. I believe that it was gradual because God understands the difficulty most of us have with rapid change. One of the totally unexpected consequences of losing our man-made (even though Biblically inspired) format of worship was that we developed a whole new understanding of the two liturgical acts that Jesus did actually ordain: baptism and communion. Previously, we had gone through the motions in baptising and celebrating communion because Jesus commanded this, without much enthusiasm or understanding. We all know how controversial the ‘sacraments’ have been in church history, and how, even today, believers are fiercely divided over what these two Christian ‘religious’ acts are all about.

As we began to reduce the formal, liturgical aspects of baptism and communion, I believe God did a work in us, creating an understanding and an appreciation of these two acts that does correspond with the Biblical accounts. In addition, we were given answers to several questions, including:

  1. Why baptism once, then communion repeatedly?
  2. Why immersion in water?
  3. Why did John the Baptist come ‘in the Spirit of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17)?
  4. Why do we apply something to the outside of our bodies, then take something internally?
  5. Why eating and drinking?
  6. Why bread and wine?
  7. Why are these things to be done in remembrance of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), and, in particular, his death, burial and resurrection?

Most commonly-accepted understandings of baptism and communion do not answer these questions, but assume that God gave us arbitrarily chosen actions to receive his grace. The New Covenant clearly breaks with the rituals of the Old Covenant; it does not need us to perform prescribed religious acts as a way of appeasing God, or for any other reason. Even in the Old Covenant, the ritual actions that God asked the people to perform had a clear connection with the spiritual reality that they symbolised. When a priest killed an innocent, sinless animal, it was clear to everyone that there needed to be a sacrifice to atone for the people’s sin. The message was clear – sin is a life and death issue and we worship a holy God who is greatly concerned about our sinfulness. Why should God change and, under the New Covenant, give us ritual actions to perform that have no apparent connection with what we believe they signify?

In Chapter 2 we saw how important it is for us to understand that we are in Christ and he is in us. These are the keys to unlocking answers to the questions above.Baptism

It should be remembered that ‘to baptise’ in the Greek of the First Century simply meant ‘to immerse’; when a ship sunk, it was ‘baptised’.

Paul shows in Romans 6 that by undergoing baptism in water we are identified with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection.

…don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5)

Jesus died, he was buried, he rose again – baptism by total immersion speaks powerfully of the climax of Jesus’ life on earth. The baptism candidate is buried in the water and he/she rises from the place of burial. It is blindingly obvious why Jesus chose water baptism as a way of symbolising becoming identified with him. Baptism is therefore the way we ask to be one with Jesus, to be in him – it is an acted-out prayer.

The candidate emerges from the water of Baptism wet all over. This is surely a picture of being covered over with Jesus, being in him:

For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

Jesus never wanted us to be enslaved by ritual, and therefore he gave us just one action to perform to symbolise becoming one with him and living in him; he made sure that baptism covered every part of Christian initiation. John the Baptist identified two other aspects:

“I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Peter repeated this teaching on the Day of Pentecost:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Baptism in water speaks clearly of the cleansing that comes from repentance, but both John and Peter told the believers that baptism in water prepared them for baptism in the Holy Spirit, something only Jesus can do for us.

In order to ground this understanding, it is worth doing a short Bible study. We start by remembering that Jesus told us that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah[39]. For this to be meaningful, Elijah must have been a ‘Baptist’. As we search through his life (using the books of the Old Testament) we find that the only time that Elijah was involved with a baptism in water was on Mt. Carmel, when he ordered that the sacrifice should be drenched with water three times[40]. This was at the end of his famous confrontation with the prophets of Baal. As we have noted, baptism is an acted-out prayer, but, in addition, Elijah prayed with words and fire descended from heaven on the sacrifice[41]. The first time that Jesus’ disciples were baptised with the Holy Spirit was on the Day of Pentecost. Part of what they experienced was a re-run of Mt. Carmel; the fire from heaven fell again[42]. Jesus had told them to wait for this; this would be when they were baptised in the Holy Spirit[43] and with fire, just as John the Baptist had prophesised. The book of Romans tells us that our bodies are to be ‘living sacrifices[44], water baptism is therefore an act of preparation before we are baptised ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire[45]. It is very comforting to realise that while Old Covenant sacrifices were consumed, the pre-eminent New Covenant sacrifice was resurrected.

So, the actual physical process of being baptised (by being completely covered by the water) speaks directly of the meaning of baptism, that it is an acted-out prayer for me to be made clean following repentance, to be prepared to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and to be in Christ. It is extraordinary that, in going through this one simple act, each believer is asking for all that they need to be a follower of Jesus.

It is right to be baptised by another believer, ideally in the context of a local church. The action of the baptiser is a picture of the action of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in burying Jesus after his death on the cross[46]. Those of us who have baptised people by immersion have followed in their footsteps, they were the only believers who directly participated in the events of Good Friday, and thus they are the only people we can seek to emulate as we help others to know that they are in Christ through repentance and faith in him.


If baptism is an acted-out prayer to be in Christ, then communion is similarly an acted-out prayer for him to be in us.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. (Mark 14:22-24)

Jesus asked us to eat and drink bread and wine; the great controversy over the centuries has been whether he meant that the bread and wine represent his body and blood or that they, in some way, are his body and blood. To answer this, we need to ask the question, ‘Why did Jesus ask us to eat and drink him?’ As noted above, he is not in the business of giving us arbitrary ritual things to do; there must be a fundamental meaning in eating and drinking his body and his blood. The answer to this question is that he wants to live in us.

To the saints God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Jesus does not come uninvited; he needs an explicit request. We invite him by receiving the bread and the wine. This understanding takes away the need to debate what the bread and wine actually are; the key is that each time we receive communion, we are asking for more of him living in us, not just for more of his grace or any other ‘virtue’.

This receiving of Jesus is not a mechanical action, there is no ‘cause and effect’ here, it is not sacramental. We come to him in faith and ask him; and we know he will respond because he loves us.

The use of bread and wine is not arbitrary either. He took bread, broke it and said, “This is my body”. Throughout the Bible, bread is used as symbol of God’s word to us:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

Therefore, when we receive the bread and put it into our mouths, we are asking for more of the word of God to live in us. The action of consuming the bread of communion is a request for more revelation to sustain us. I once heard these words coming out of my mouth, “We live depending on continuous revelation” – God wants us to rely on the revelation that we currently have, not being concerned that we cannot see very far ahead because we know for certain we will receive more revelation when we need it.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

When walking with a lamp at night we can only see the next few steps, but because we carry the lamp with us, we know we will be able to continue without stumbling.

Taking the cup, Jesus said “This is my blood…”. He chose to use wine because it obviously resembles blood, and we need to remember that the Old Testament teaches us that:

“…the life of a creature is in the blood…” (Leviticus 17:11)

When we receive the wine of communion we are directly asking for the life of Jesus to be in us. Paul knew the reality of this:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Communion, like baptism, is, of course, directly connected with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; and once more, particularly with his burial. As we take the bread and the wine, we are symbolically burying Jesus in ourselves, in some sense we become his tomb. On the Cross, his body and blood were separated leading to his death. When we receive both ‘elements’ of communion we are symbolically re-assembling him inside us, we are the place of resurrection, of new life. The life that we receive is his risen (zoe) life.

The four descriptions of the Last Supper in the New Testament differ in detail; Paul’s account concludes with these words:

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Another question poses itself: ‘What is it about eating bread and drinking wine that proclaims Jesus’ death?’ To proclaim something by performing an action, the action must have a visible connection with it. As we have seen, eating and drinking bread and wine, is a way of expressing that Jesus has died and has been buried in us. We only bury someone when we are absolutely certain that they have died. When we bury the bread and wine in ourselves, we are explicitly saying to the world that we have no doubt that Jesus did die on the cross, we are making ourselves to be his tomb, so that we can be the place of resurrection.

Finally, in looking at communion, it is worth returning to our consideration of the Tree of Life (Chapter 6). In taking communion we receive the body and blood of Jesus, signifying our desire to receive eternal life, won for us by his sacrifice in hanging on the Cross.

Because of their ‘original’ sin, Adam and Eve were barred from taking the fruit from the Tree of Life and therefore did not live for ever (Genesis 3:22). If we can see Jesus hanging on the Cross as a picture of the fruit hanging on the Tree of Life, then we realise that communion is the way Jesus has given us to express our desire for eternal life by receiving him. In communion, we go back to the Garden of Eden to find the way open to the fruit of the Tree of Life, and all that means for us.


To draw together this discussion on baptism and communion, let’s return to list of questions we started with:

  1. Why baptism once, then communion repeatedly? – We are baptised once because we are placed in Christ when we repent and believe in him. We receive communion as a way of asking for more and more of Christ to live in us.
  2. Why immersion in water? – This is an acted-out prayer for cleansing following repentance, for being in Christ through his death, burial and resurrection and for Jesus to baptise us in the Holy Spirit.
  3. Why did John the Baptist come ‘in the Spirit of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17)? – Elijah’s encounter on Mt. Carmel shows that living sacrifices need to be prepared by being covered in water prior to being baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
  4. Why do we apply something to the outside of our bodies, then take something internally? – we are in Christ and then he is also in us.
  5. Why eating and drinking? – through these actions we ask for Jesus to live in us, how else could we signify this?
  6. Why bread and wine? – bread speaks of God’s word (revelation), wine of Jesus’ life.
  7. Why are these things to be done in remembrance of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), and, in particular, his death, burial and resurrection? – by performing the symbolic actions of burying Jesus in us, with this understanding of its meaning, we will not forget all that he has done for us. We are asking to experience his presence living in us, to know for certain that he has risen from the dead.

Discussion Points

  1. Look back at your own baptism, whether as an infant, a child or an adult. Martin Luther, the pioneer of the Reformation, was subject to bouts of depression. When things got him down, when he felt the devil was tormenting him, he would shout “I am baptised!”. Discuss how we can appropriate the historical fact of our own baptism by faith to give us strength to overcome.
  2. What has been your understanding of baptism and communion? Explain this and any other views that you have heard about to the group. How do the contents of this chapter change how you might approach these aspects of our faith?
  3. We have looked at communion as an acted-out prayer for Jesus to live in us, for him to be resurrected in us, for us to receive the fruit from the tree of life,… Which of these is the most meaningful to you?
  4. If appropriate, share bread and wind together.


As we have seen, Jesus sent his disciples out like a centuria into enemy territory more than once. We can read about one of those occasions in Luke 10. He gave the platoon their marching orders and was overjoyed when they returned, flushed with success. Those orders were not what we might expect, they bore little relationship with what passes as evangelistic strategies in today’s church:

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:5-9)

Jesus is infinitely creative and will guide us in each situation that we enter; but there are some principles here that we should note.

  • Evangelism does not need to be confrontational with those we are seeking to bring to faith, they are never the enemy. Accepting hospitality from someone is actually a way of honouring them; to stay in their house and eat their food demonstrates our trust of them. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
  • Virtually all of the evangelistic encounters that we read of in the Gospels and Acts involve the direct power of God, either healing (e.g. the centurion’s servant), miraculous provision (e.g. John 2:11) or a word of knowledge (e.g. John 4:18), supernaturally being in the right place at the right time (e.g. Acts 8:26) or other ‘acts of God’ (e.g. Acts 16:26). It is folly for us to think that we can bring the world to saving faith without the resources of heaven used by Jesus and the first disciples.
  • The message can be simple, if its truth is evidenced by ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2:4).
  • Seeing Jesus at work is the most powerful witness of all:

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. (John 11:45)

One thing is clear from the New Testament: we do not need to, nor should we try to, sell the gospel. Jesus went out of his way to avoid marketing. Repeatedly he said to the recipients of healing that they should not broadcast what had happened to them and he told the disciples that they should keep the ‘Messianic secret’. Jesus’ unbelieving half-brothers advised him to publicise his mission at a feast in Jerusalem (John 7:3-4), which he positively refused to do. Marketing relies not on telling the truth, but in leaving a positive impression in people’s minds about whatever is being sold – it is all about perceptions, not reality. The gospel is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In addition to the witness of the Bible, we just need to look at our secular society to realise that we should avoid using the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4), like marketing. We live in a world that is dominated by salesmanship. The material prosperity we enjoy has been generated by technological advances and by the power of marketing. We all know that we are continually being sold goods and services, and most of the time this washes over us, but it inevitably affects us. Also, if we use these methods to ‘sell’ the gospel, we will never reach more than a niche market. This is exactly what is happening as today’s church seeks a market, each ‘flavour’ of churchmanship appeals to a small section of the population. Churches are seen as providers of religious services (in each meaning of the word), rather than platoons in God’s army – they are seen to be in completion for their customers, rather than as collaborating components of a divinely directed force.


I have had experience of both ‘conventional’ evangelism and ‘Luke 10’ evangelism. There is no doubt that organising events that appeal to people, advertising, trying to change the perception of the church, etc. can reach some individuals in our society, just as marketeers can sell their goods to sufficient people to make a profit; but we cannot get away from the problems identified in this chapter. At Holy Trinity Church, six months before we had our first encounter with the manifest presence of God, we employed a talented evangelist for a week. He preached powerfully 14 times to groups of people (about 400 in all) that we assembled by the quiz nights, treasure hunts, international food evenings, etc. that we put on, never repeating himself. However, this week was almost completely fruitless. We realised that our audience’s reasoning was that they were ‘paying’ for their entertainment by having to listen to a ‘religious’ talk.

It is so different reaching those who have already had an encounter with the risen Jesus. It does not need to be as dramatic as Paul on the road to Damascus, it can be a simple healing, a word of knowledge, a god-instance, an act of generosity, or just recognising something special in a believer. The common factor is the motivation of the evangelist – we need to love people with the resources of heaven that are at our disposal, seeking their best interests rather than our kudos in winning souls. Jesus wants to work through us, revealing himself in us, but we need to let him take the lead, to set the strategy and to do and say things through us that we would never have imagined.

Some years later than the mission described above, we were preparing for the weekend visit of a very different kind of evangelist, Torben Sondgeraard[47]. Torben was coming not for us to put on events, but to teach us about taking a healing ministry out onto the streets. On the Friday morning, I received an email from a lady who told me that she was desperately in need of help. She wrote

‘Hi, I have had thoughts of coming along to one of your services,  I do not know what religion you are, sounds strange I should want to attend a service when I do not know your religion or  have your beliefs In  God,  I do believe in a power greater than me, May be a spirit world is how I see it.’ I am an Alcoholic wildly reaching out for help in any way I can. I took my last drink 17 days ago, I say last drink meaning I have fought not to drink one since, but I am struggling, I wish it to really be my last. I am not strong.

I emailed back, asking her to come to the evening meeting with Torben.

When she arrived, the first person she met was a man we had known years earlier as a drug addict, but who was now transformed after coming to faith and spending a year at a Bible college. He told her of the power of the gospel to overcome addiction. This rang true as these two had known each other – she had worked in a pharmacist and had dispensed methadone to him in his addict days. During the weekend, she spoke with Torben, had an extraordinary encounter with God and we baptised her on the Sunday afternoon.

It may seem to be leaving things to chance to wait for Jesus to give us opportunities to share our faith, to draw people to us or just to make things happen, but it has been my experience that the more room we give him, the more we see him at work. It seems that if we try to do his job of setting a strategy for evangelism, he leaves us to do the work; consequently, we see very little that is supernatural. If we let go and let God, then there is no limit to what we can experience of his power.

Discussion Topics

  1. Discuss experiences in the group of different kinds of evangelism. Including yourselves, share accounts of journeys to faith. Include the stories of not-yet-Christians. Can you see any pattern? Don’t worry if you can’t, God does not need to conform to our ways of thinking (Isaiah 55:8-11).
  2. Although we do not need to adopt methods or patterns of evangelism, suggest ways that a church can be ready to welcome those that Jesus is drawing to himself.
  3. Read through the examples of evangelism in the Bible mentioned in this chapter, plus 2Kings 5:1-15, Luke 10:17-24. Can you draw any more conclusions as to God’s heart for reaching the lost and how this is effective in the war with the enemy.


I hope you have enjoyed this rather random walk through what Jesus is doing in a part of his Body in the 21st Century; but, more than that, I sincerely hope that you have been inspired to seek what Jesus has for you and for your church fellowship. I’m sure you are fed up by now hearing THERE ARE NO FORMULAS, but we have discovered a few principles along the way. We do have to get rid of things – all transformations, like the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, require that luggage be left behind.

Firstly, all is centred on the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the actual human being who walked around Israel for 33 years and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, fully God and fully man. Because he is God, he is totally good, infinitely powerful, endlessly wise, we will never reach the end of who he is. Because he is man, and chose to limit himself thus while on earth, we can relate to him, draw from his experience here on earth, understand what he is saying, empathise with him, live in his presence, experience his life, be transformed to be like him. We do need to abandon many aspects of our church-based life, but we have him. We may find it hard at times to know what to do, but we are more and more able to recognise his voice, and we do hear him speaking. We may miss the satisfaction of completing rituals and other religious activities, but we have a relationship with him that will last for ever, and will never stop growing.

Secondly, here are some of the things we need to throw overboard from both our churches and our individual lives:

  • Any thought of working out a strategy, a plan or a vision (that has not come directly from him). His job is strategy, ours is tactics.
  • Trying to please people, trying to make an impression, doing things to influence people so that they will like us, being more concerned about how we are perceived than who we actually are.
  • Trying to manipulate others in any way towards a desired outcome.
  • Rushing ahead to make things happen, rather than waiting for his word, which may take us off in a completely new direction.
  • Judging ourselves or anyone else according to criteria that we have chosen or others want to impose on us.
  • Apathy that slows or limits our ability to respond to his command – we should be like the cat waiting at a mouse hole, totally at rest yet always ready to spring into action
  • Busyness that drowns out the still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12 AV)

    Thirdly, here are some revelations that sustained our church community, I know that Jesus want to give you your own:

  • “Jesus wants to lead his church directly”

  • “Manifestation, not representation”

  • “Live depending on continuous revelation”

    Lastly, when you have decided to be single-minded in your pursuit of Jesus and after you have cleared your life of all that is not needed, wait on him, he will not fail you.


  1. Susanna Spencer, My Life, (London, 1917), page 7
  2. The Bible included the Big Bang Theory from the beginning!
  3. In interesting to note that each of these was affirmed by Jesus because they were willing to receive revelation and speak it out; more on this later.
  4. Jesus said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)
  5. I
  6. CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 11
  7. W. Ian Thomas – The Saving Life of Christ. (London, Oliphants Ltd., 1961). pg. 19
  8. C. S. Lewis – Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing 1978. pgs. 64,65
  9. See also Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27.
  10. Gerard Hughes, God of Surprises, (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2.0 edition, 2010)
  11. Richard Spencer, Adam Threlfall, Bethany – resurrected church, (, 2014)
  12. See page 48.
  13. Plus the accounts of communion earlier in the same Book.
  14. ‘There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs”, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully.’ CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 11.
  15. In later chapters, we will look at more of God’s purposes for mankind, as revealed in Jesus.
  16. Adam and Eve were inherently ‘like God’ (Genesis 1:26), the temptation was to become like him in a way that would mean that they no longer needed him.
  17. The Bible also tells us about the conduct of the war in the past and gives us some insights into our Commander’s strategic planning, but we continue to need day-by-day and even minute-by-minute tactical commands.
  18. Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
  19. Probably excluding the casting of lots to decide something (Acts 1:20-26). There is some evidence that that Peter and the other Apostles made a mistake, it was their idea (even though they quoted the Bible to justify their decision, Acts 1:20) and it was an Old Covenant practice (e.g. Joshua 18:8, 1 Chronicles 25:8). They should have waited for Paul to be appointed by Jesus as Judas’ replacement.
  20. The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent.
  21. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are written to fellow apostles, not to the leaders of specific churches.
  22. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus usually spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven. This seems to be synonymous with the Kingdom of God. Please refer to commentaries on Matthew’s Gospel.
  23. D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 1981), p 216
  24. For example, Matt 6:24-34, Acts 17:16ff, much of Rom 5, etc.
  25. See, for example John 6:38, Phil 2:8, Hebrews 5:8. See also this passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus expresses both sides of the paradox: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
  27. Andrew Murray, The Deeper Christian Life, An Aid to its Attainment, (Chicago, Fleming H. Revell, 1895), Chapter 1
  28. Christingle services involve all the children holding a lighted candle. Therefore, it is vital that the building is not over-crowded.
  29. See Chris’ book on Jesus’ way of evangelism: Chris Overstreet, A Practical Guide to Evangelism Supernaturally, (Destiny Image, 2011)
  30. Prophetic word by Chris Overstreet, Outreach Pastor of Bethel Church, Redding, California for Holy Trinity Church 3rd October 2010
  31. If we do go down this path like Gideon, we need something like his ‘double-blind’ confirmation (Judges 6:36-40).
  32. Frank Viola, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, (David C. Cook, 2013)
  33. Richard Spencer, Adam Threlfall, Bethany – resurrected church, (, 2014)
  34. W. Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ, (London, Oliphants Ltd., 1961), page 51
  35. T. Austin-Sparks, Words of Wisdom and Revelation (Corinna, ME: Three Brothers, 2000); quoted in Frank Viola, Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (David C. Cook; New Edition, 2012)
  36. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament), (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)
  37. See page 67.
  38. Alison Kelly, 23rd April 2014
  39. Matthew 17:12-13, etc.
  40. 1 Kings 18:33-34
  41. 1Kings 18:38
  42. Acts 2:3
  43. Acts 1:5
  44. Romans 12:1
  45. Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16
  46. John 19:38-39