This series of sermons was delivered at Lee Abbey in August under the title ‘Hot Pursuit’. I’ll release them over the next few weeks in turn.
What are you pursuing?
In greyhound racing, the dogs are trained to chase after a mechanical rabbit, which is controlled by a man in the press box. He keeps the rabbit just in front of the dogs so that they keep chasing it as fast as they can. During one race at a Florida track, as the dogs hurtled after the rabbit, there was an electrical short circuit in the system. The rabbit came to a halt, exploded, and its few remains lay there in flames attached to the wire. This totally confused the dogs. Two of them broke several ribs as they careered into a wall. One began chasing his tail. Others howled at the spectators in the stand; and the rest just stopped running, lay down on the track and rested.
Not one of them finished the race.
So many people are chasing an illusion – a mechanical rabbit of some sort – which they think is real. It seems to provide a sense of purpose, a goal to strive for, a reason to live. Sometimes it takes the wake-up call of our mechanical rabbit going up in smoke to recognize we were chasing after the wrong thing all that time. Many of our friends continue in their frenzied pursuit of their own illusion of choice. May we model to them another way.
So that’s what this series is about, and we start with pursuing His presence. Take a listen:
- His presence is constant, whether we realise it or not
- His presence is critical, whether we realise it or not
- His presence is comforting, whether we realise it or not
- His presence is certain, whether we realise it or not
A few highlight stories/quotes from the talk:
In the mid 1990s, I paid my first ever visit to the famous London church, Holy Trinity Brompton, for their winter carol service, which was held in the dark with atmospheric candles lending great intimacy and ambience. The Holy Spirit was doing extraordinary things apparently, and even the secular press was reporting on it. Not one prone to manifestations of the Spirit, I went there nevertheless open to the Lord doing whatever he might choose to do in me. I hadn’t been there long when I felt a warm glow on the back of my head. I kept my eyes shut and continued worshipping. But the warmth of the glow was undeniable – in fact it increased, and I thought I could feel a gentle pitter-patter all over my back. “God, what’s happening?” It got hotter and hotter. “God! If this is you, have your way in my life. Oh, I love you. I surrender all. Make me holy, and more useful, I’ll do anything, go anywhere for you!” After about a minute of such praying, the heat became unbearable – it was positively burning me. I opened my eyes and looked up, and there three feet above me was a chandelier gushing forth wax from a
C.S. Lewis talked of how sometimes people experience extraordinary times of intimacy and closeness to God. “But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”
Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian of a century ago: “There is not one square inch in all of God’s creation that Jesus does not cry out, ‘Mine!’” Indeed, God is omnipresent. “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” C.S.Lewis
Psalm 139:7-10 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Dallas Willard was once asked by a young man: “How should I use my 15minute quiet time?” After his characteristic long pause, he responded, “I believe God is rather unconcerned with your 15-minute quiet time. He is far more concerned with how you choose to spend the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of your day.” He went on to offer this wildly winsome invitation, “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your every day life with God.”
John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides (modern day Vanuatu) with his wife. Well, months before, they found themselves surrounded by cannibals who wanted to kill and eat them. They bolted their doors and dropped to their knees and prayed through the night for God’s protection, whilst listening to the screams outside and expecting to be killed at any moment. But morning came, sun rose, and the cannibals left. A year later the tribe’s chief was saved. They discussed that horrible night, and the chief asked: “Who were all those men with you?” “There was just my family, nobody else.” Chief argues back: “There were hundreds of tall men in shining garments with drawn swords circling about your house, so we could not attack you.”
American guy called Sean Litten was heading up IJM’s work in Thailand. He found out about a girl called Elizabeth who was only 13 and had been forced into prostitution. Caseworkers carried out dangerous undercover investigations and once they had gathered enough evidence presented it to the police and persuaded them to carry out a raid to free her from the brothel. Sean took part in the raid and found Elizabeth locked in a dormitory that looked more like a dark cave. When Elizabeth realised Sean was coming to rescue her and not drag her out to be abused by another client, she said to him,“I knew you’d come. I knew you’d come.” Well that was a surprise. How had she known? What also surprised Sean was to see strange writing on the back wall behind her. It didn’t look like the local language and the form it took made him think it could have been from the bible. He flashed a torch on it. It was from Psalm 27. It read “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?” Sean was flabbergasted. This little 13 year old girl was a Christian and even in the midst of the truly appalling circumstances she had found herself in, she was nonetheless putting her trust in her Lord and Saviour. It turned out that Elizabeth from a Christian family. Elizabeth and her family had been praying and praying for nearly a year that God would free her.
God has come, He is here, His presence is always with us. The promise of Scripture is that God is always present with us. Nothing changes that fact; it is only our awareness that changes. God’s promise to Jacob was, “Look, I am with you …” (Gen. 28:15). Jacob’s reply? “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (v. 16, emphasis added). John Piper surely was right when he said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Believer, don’t allow the darkness of the night or the presence of the storm cause you to doubt whether God is present and working in your life. Indeed, the storms of life do not deny His presence but provide opportunity to prove His presence.
A little girl had just finished witnessing to a small group of friends. Joyfully she told of God’s saving grace and how His love had touched her heart. With assurance, she appropriately concluded her testimony by quoting these comforting words of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28,29). Just then a joshing, doubting friend piped up with the question, “But Maggie, suppose you slip through His fingers?” Quick as a flash, she replied, “Never, never! You see, I’m one of the fingers!” Maggie may not have been well versed in the language of theology, but a biblical principal had been lodged in her heart; namely, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). She knew that she had been joined inseparably to Jesus and that she belonged to Him.
This man was born in a gypsy tent, of humble origins, and yet ended up being invited to the White House by two presidents. Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith came into the world in 1860 in Epping Forest, just outside London. Forty-five times he crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to millions of people on both sides. His passion was almost unparalleled, and there was great fruit in what he did. What was his secret? Private prayer. His praying was even more powerful than his preaching. A delegation once came to him to enquire how they might experience personal and mass revival as he had. They wanted to be used the way Gypsy was. Without hesitating, he said: “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle round yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”