Preacher Paul Scanlon encourages City Harvest Church to live a God-guided life by simply taking that first step.
By Annie Wong
“The book of Acts is the book in with the most miracles in the Bible, and the clue is in its title,” said Paul Scanlon, pastor of Life Church in Bradford, England. “It is called the book of Acts, not the book of Intentions. Intention is good but it eventually has to become a step to try something. God is everywhere in that book because He is drawn to movement, to activity.”
Life Church, previously known as Abundant Life Church, is one of the fastest growing churches in the United Kingdom. Scanlon, together with the Life Church band, was at City Harvest Church to minister to its congregation on Jan. 26 and 27. While the band led the Church in a time of exuberant praise and worship, their pastor delivered a powerful message on seeking the guidance of God that weekend.
Scanlon’s message was anchored on Psalm 37:23-25, which says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.”
While Christians desire to live out the will of God, they are often worried if they really are walking in the will of God or not.
Growing up as a Christian, Scanlon faced the same issues. When he was 18, his pastor asked if he and his wife wanted to go to a Bible College in London, which was miles away from his hometown, Bradford. Torn over the burden of finances and wanting to do the will of God, Scanlon spoke to a few older members in church for advice. One told him to “put out the fleece” to find out God’s will, just like Gideon did in Judges 7. “The problem with this test, however, is that we are never too sure.” Scanlon ended up not going to Bible College that year.
“When we are not sure if it’s the will of God, we end up constantly looking over our shoulders and when we meet with difficulties after we make the decision, we will take we have been a wrong choice,” said Scanlon. “This is a stress that many Christians face regarding the will of God. David here (in Psalm 37) is on to something that can release that stress.”
THE STEPS OF A GOOD MAN ARE ORDERED BY THE LORD
The clue, Scanlon explained, lies in the word “steps”.
“God is attracted to movement and progress,” declared Scanlon. “The steps of the righteous are guided by the Lord. David didn’t say the intention to take steps, or the good steps, he just say steps.”
God is not so concerned about whether the decision made is right or wrong, as long as a decision is made; because if they have good hearts, He can always bring His children back on the right path even if they take the wrong step.
“God is many things to our lives: He can be our Provider, our Healer, our Protector, but He will never be our chauffeur. God will never drive when we sit in the back seat. It is not so important to God that we are accurate, but that we need to take steps and make decisions,” Scanlon emphasized.
To explain his point, he used the example of Abraham and Lot going separate ways. Abraham did not spend hours or days seeking God’s will on which piece of land to choose, in fact, he allowed Lot to choose the piece of land he wanted. Abraham knew that he did not need to find the blessing of God as if it is a place, because God’s blessing was attached to him, and not attached to the ground he was going to choose–God could bless him no matter where he went.
Similarly, King David achieved much by getting up and doing things. For example, it was when he brought food to his brothers at the battlefront that he met Goliath and killed him. That set in motion his journey to becoming the king. David was not passively waiting for God to take him into his greatness; he did what was in front of him and each step brought him closer to his destiny. This, said Scanlon, is a guided life.
“Steps precede the guided life,” he noted. “If you want a guided life, do something.”
Even the apostle Paul who planted churches and wrote two-thirds of the New Testament seemed clueless at times when he took his steps. Acts 16 showed Paul trying to enter Asia or Philippi, but the Spirit of God forbade him. Despite having phenomenal encounters with God, Paul did not always know where to go. However, he did not stop because of the few wrong decisions he made. His philosophy was: “God, unless You stop me, I’m going”, instead of “God, unless you show me, I’m not going.”
David said that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, but his next line reads, “though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down”. A good man may take God-guided steps and still fall.
“Being guided by God man does not guarantee that you will not fail,” Scanlon explained. “David said though he fall he will not be utterly cast down because he realised that life is not about trying to live so you will never fall—life is about learning to get up.
“Falling is not failure, but staying down is!”
The spirit of “getting back up again” is missing in many Christians’ lives today. Scanlon drew from a psychological finding that youngsters are growing up in a paranoid culture, and parents try to protect them but instead leave them unable to cope with life’s challenges. An increasing number of children, suffering from anxiety and fear of failure, are seeking psychological help. Risk-taking is vital because it teaches children to manage failures–it is the most empowering lesson in life.
“Our gift to our children is not to protect them in an over-protective way, but rather to teach them to keep moving, because God is drawn to motion. The people who are running this world are the people who are attempting something every day,” said Scanlon.
Finally, the preacher likened God to a Global Positioning System: a GPS does not give instructions until there is a need to. In the same way, it is common for God to keep silent until He needs His people to move in a certain direction. He may not speak even when they stop and wait; thus, it is important to remain in motion in order for God to guide them further.
Scanlon ended the service by praying that CHC will not fall prey to immobility as it prays and asks God for direction. Instead, he prayed that the congregation would take steps to attempt something and pay attention to the peace of God on the inside of them.
“Peace is the only thing the devil can’t counterfeit, because he doesn’t have any of that,” said Scanlon.
For Rowena Chan, 40, a housewife and a mother of three, this was a message in season. When she and her husband decided to relocate to Singapore from Malaysia a year ago to give their children better education, they too were asked if it was God’s will for them. Chan, an accountant by training, was unsure as she had always pre-planned her steps. “I calculate everything. Going by faith was difficult. I had to make sure it is the correct move.” With the difficult transition, she has constantly wondered whether if it was God’s will for them to move. “But now (after this service), my faith has increased. I know that I need to have more aggressive faith to move on, and that even if it’s the wrong step, God will speak to our hearts and we can still make changes.”