Monday 10 July
Amy Orr-Ewing is director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and has written two books exploring key apologetics questions: “Why trust the Bible” and “But is it real?” Here VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of her message on Monday evening at #Sligo17
God wants you to know Him. He wants you to know, that you know, that you know, that He is real. Freud said that God is a figment of our imagination, the desire for a father figure led to “wish fulfilment”. If God is simply wish fulfilment, He would not be able to speak to you. CS Lewis pointed out that a similar thing could be said as atheism - it could be a projection of the human mind arising from the human desire for a father figure NOT to exist.
This is not about delusion but it is about reality. The God of the Bible is not about projection. He is real. Hearing His voice is the pursuit of reality, not the pursuit of fantasy. Tonight we are going to explore the book of Habakkuk.
Where do we start? How do we start?
Just a few weeks ago we were at Grenfell Tower. We had an outdoor service and over a thousand people came to meet there in the open air. In the midst of that tragedy, we saw people meeting Jesus in their sorrow.
Be encouraged that the church has been at the cutting edge and forefront of helping people. People are saying, "Where is the government and where is the council?" but they are not saying “Where is God in this tragedy?" because the church is right there!
Hearing God starts with knowing His embrace
The name Habakkuk can mean embrace, grip, grasp or even struggle. It was given to him to signify the embrace and grip of God. God holding him as he clings to God in the midst of his broken world. This is a hug that lasts, a hug that is conveys deep intimacy. Because this love is powerful and real enough, there is also the idea of struggle. God is so real and He is powerful enough to deal with our struggle and pain. Habakkuk was someone who wrestled within the embrace of God!
Habakkuk’s name tells us something about the starting place of hearing God’s voice. It is all about love. God is the source of all authentic love and we were built to experience His love. When we find it, we can build our lives around His embrace. His love is powerful enough and big enough to deal with our questions.
(Romans 8:38 - 39) Knowing His love doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen. It is deeper than that. It is the unshakeable grip that is holding us…
My boss, Ravi Zacharias is a brilliant evangelist who travels the world sharing the Gospel. A number of years ago, he was ministering in the far east. His translator was Hien from Vietnam. 17 years later he received a telephone call and recognised Hien's voice.
Hien had been imprisoned and forced to read communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese. Eventually, on the verge of giving up, he determined that he would not pray again. As he cleaned the toilet he found a tin can containing paper. He retrieved the paper and found Romans 8:38 - 39. There could not have been a better passage for him in that moment. He discovered that an official was using the Bible as toilet paper. Each day, he volunteered to clean the toilet, cleaned off the Bible sheets and began to read them. This sustained him throughout his imprisonment.
Hearing God involves a burden
The next thing we see is the word “Oracle”. It is a word that deserves attention. It can mean a prophecy but underlying the Hebrew word here is the concept of a burden.
This is the burden that Habakkuk (the embraced one) had. To the prophet, a gift is also experienced as a burden, a weight or concern. Jesus does not say that the Christian life will be without burden but He says He will bear it with us (Matthew 11:28 - 30) The image is of an obedient oxen teaching and training a younger oxen. A God-given burden is a beautiful thing. A longing to see God moving in power in a particular situation.
The Christian life is not a holiday camp. A passionate God calls us into relationship with Him and invites us to be a part of His kingdom purposes!
In the 1950s, 12 praying grannies arrived in the UK from the Carribean and joined a local church. They experienced terrible racism, even within the church but they prayed every Thursday night from 1951 onwards - an unbroken chain.
By the 1990s, the Diocese was planning to sell the church but these praying grannies were praying every Thursday that this would not happen. Years of praying and praying and crying out to God, knowing that He wanted to do something beautiful in Peckham through that church but watching decline… this caused them to fall to their knees.
Eventually, the deal to sell the church fell through and the Diocese said, “You have six months.” It was a tremendous privilege to be part of that church and to see hundreds of young people coming to Christ in answer to the prayers of those 12 grannies.
A burden from God is not a heavy yoke, is a beautiful thing. Has God given you a burden? A passionate commitment, an intimate connection with Him in prayer…
Hearing God's voice involves seeing reality
Habakkuk says, “God we are in agony here. Will you look at this situation?” God answers him. "I can see, the question is can you?" Often what we need is not just visionaries that can imagine a beautiful future but those with a God-enabled perception to see things as they really are, the courage to face reality.
The calling to perceive truth is a gift to any community.
But very often those who rise to leadership positions can be those who have vested interests in not seeing the true picture, in not facing reality.
Tony Benn said, “My great grandfather was a minister and my mother was a Bible scholar. I saw that the story of the Bible was a conflict between the kings who had power and the prophets who preached righteousness.”
A warning: If you have been given responsibility of leadership, prophetic sight often goes against vested interests. Institutions and corporations, political elites and even churches can become so invested in a particular version of what is, that what should be becomes a threat.
These people work so hard to deny the future and banish hope. The yearning to manage and control means innovations are not welcome! Is God calling you to see vested interest, to help shake the church from bureaucracy?
A very dear friend from Uganda came to study at the centre for apologetics but he chose to go back to the poorest, most remote part of Uganda. He had already been involved in church planting but when he returned, he asked God, “What do you want me to see.” He saw the prison where he lived. He saw people on the receiving end of injustice. He began to preach the gospel in that prison and hundreds of prisoners turned to Christ.
One day, he wrote to ask for permission to build a baptistry in the prison yard. On Christmas day, they baptised loads of people who had come to know Jesus.
Is God calling you to see with prophetic insight, to be a burden-carrier? It's not about relaxing on a sun-lounger but saying, “Let's see the kingdom come in our generation.” It begins with God’s embrace, with a burden shared and with the call to see.
Hearing God means speaking up
The prophet speaks to God on behalf of people and to people on behalf of God. He speaks with authority. What does Habakkuk say? Chapter 3 - Lord I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day, in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy.
Today, we need such an outpouring in our nations. The Iranian church is now the fastest growing church in the world. So many Iranians are coming to know Jesus. 20 years ago we met a leader of the underground church from Iran. He shared with us that God had given him a vision for revival amongst his people in his lifetime. "I‘m determined as Iranians that we will learn from what happened with the iron curtain. Christians prayed that the iron curtain would come down but the church wasn’t ready for the wall to fall. Eastern Europe was flooded with the worst excesses of the west. I’m determined that will not happen with my people. I’m digging a pit and I’m going to fill it with a million Bibles so that when revival comes, we will be ready with God’s word."
Recently we met him and asked, "How's the pit?" He told us, "It is empty!" Over one million Bibles are in the hands of new believers. A burden that he saw and a prophecy given has been fulfilled!
How about the Irish church? The people of this island have seen and done amazing deeds with God. I’m in awe of what God has done through the Irish people in the past… churches planted and the Gospel preached throughout the world. Lord, renew them in our day. Make them known!!
It begins with the embrace. It begins with being held closely and intimately, grasped by the one who loves you. It involves sharing a burden with Him and having the courage to seeing the truth, the reality of what is happening around us. And then it involves prophesying.