Elton Trueblood served as spiritual advisor to American presidents from Hoover to Reagan. Gerald Ford kept a copy of this book on his desk in the Oval Office during his presidency.
This book changed completely my understanding of Lincoln’s faith. Wonderfully written and with many profound insights, I highly recommend the book to all who have any interest in Lincoln or in Spiritual Leadership
Here are some quotes from others on Lincoln’s faith:
“He is one of the few men in history, our own history and all history, whose religion was great enough to bridge the gulfs between the sects, and to encompass us all.” Willard Sperry Dean of Harvard Divinity School
“Lincoln,” he said, “has always been my hero in religion and statecraft.” Reinhold Niebuhr
Trueblood challenges us at the end of the preface with this gem:
The next best thing to being great is to walk with the great.
Chapter 1 The Spiritual Pilgrimage of Abraham Lincoln
In this chapter, Trueblood traces the journey of faith that Lincoln walked:
Underlying all particular decisions was a moral revulsion against human slavery, a mystical sense of the importance of the Union, and an abiding conviction that the divine order could be ascertained and followed.
I wasn’t aware how deeply Christian his family roots were. In many respects on this pilgrimage, Lincoln doesn’t come to faith but he comes back to faith.
Writing to a Quaker about the tension with passivism and responding to oppression, Lincoln said:
“Your people,” he wrote, “have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war.”
Trueblood reflects on that with this:
The difficulty was not that of following a moral principle at personal cost; the difficulty was that of knowing what to do when there is more than one principle, and when the principles clash. …the major key to Lincoln’s greatness is his spiritual depth. … A major element in Lincoln’s greatness was the way in which he could hold a strong moral position without the usual accompaniment of self-righteousness.
One remarkable thing Trueblood highlights was:
The standard which he inaugurated, making it possible to refer to prayer and to divine guidance without embarrassment, has been continued to this day.
Tracing that crucial journey in the early days of the war, Trueblood says:
There were a few hints of theological depth even in the years before the crucial autumn of 1862, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Lincoln’s was the kind of mind which did not reach its true magnitude except in experiences of sorrow and strain.
Chapter 2 – The Agonizing Interlude
This chapter traces the first years of the civil war and the major turning point in Lincoln’s faith.
Wrestling with the need to address injustices and preserve the Union were a primary focus during this period. Reflecting on this period in Lincoln’s journey, Reinhold Niebuhr said:
This [period] is a nice symbol of the fact that order precedes justice in strategy of government; but that only an order which implicates justice can achieve a stable peace. An unjust order quickly invites the resentment and rebellion which leads to its undoing.
Here is something Lincoln said his friend Speed (an atheist) about the reliability of the Bible:
You are wrong, Speed; take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.
Lincoln’s religion reflects in many ways Samuel Johnson’s perspective:
The Christian religion has very strong evidences. It indeed, appears in some degree strange to reason, but in History, we have undoubted facts, against which, in reasoning a priori, we have more arguments than we have for them: but then, testimony has great weight, and casts the balance.
Lincoln believed that God was a God of History. He believed that God took note of the way our founding fathers handled the slavery issue and believed that the Civil War was the day of reckoning for both sides.
Chapter 4 – Lincoln at Prayer
Like with his relationship with the Bible, Trueblood document’s Lincoln’s prayer life:
Talking with God seemed to the mature Lincoln more important than talking about Him. …That idea that there could be direct communication between finite minds and the infinite Mind had become, for Lincoln, an idea of overwhelming magnitude.
Of course, one of the main arguments against Lincoln’s faith is that he never joined a church. Reading this chapter changed my whole perspective on Lincoln’s view of the church. For the first time, I do not look down on his reasons for not joining a church. What I never knew was how faithful he was to church going and how influenced he was by some of his pastors. Membership was the real issue for Lincoln.
Listen to this quote of his:
Blessed be God, Who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches
Chapter 6 – the Final Paradox
This final chapter addresses the role of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Can God be on one side in this great conflict when both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God? Does God get involved in guiding one side or the other without taking sides?
“Guided freedom is a paradox, because the ascription of all the glory to God for anything good that is in us does not imply any destruction of our freedom as human personalities, but precisely the reverse: our actions are never more truly free and personal and human, they are never more truly our own, than when they are wrought in us by God.” Donald Baillie
Lincoln had a pervading sense of the sovereignty of God. He was deeply influenced by an English statesman – John Bright.
“I believe the question [of the role of the sovereignty of God] is in the hand, not of my honorable Friend, … nor in that even of President Lincoln, but it is in the hand of the Supreme Ruler, who is bringing about one of those great transactions in history which men often will not regard when they are passing before them, but which they look back upon with awe and astonishment some years after they are past.” John Bright
Lincoln knew very well, [that] it is difficult to look forward and see where the Guiding Hand is leading. But seen in later perspective, the working out of a plan is sometimes obvious.
God’s hand in the course of events is seen in the working out of an objective moral law. A sin as great as the sin of enslaving other people was bound, thought Bright, to have agonizing consequences for a very long time.
Lincoln believed in Providence, but, in Niebuhr’s terms, he understood “the error of identifying providence with the cause to which the agent is committed.”
Trueblood talks a lot in this chapter about the danger’s of invoking God’s will in your decision making:
When dedicated people forget the ubiquity of this danger, they are almost sure to become self-righteous. Only the person who recognizes that he is personally involved in the evils which he seeks to eliminate has any chance of avoiding this primary moral mistake. Lincoln, conscious as he was of the radical difference between the divine will and the human will, understood that ambiguities appear in the moral stance of even the most dedicated crusaders.
Reinhold Niebuhr said: “It was Lincoln’s achievement to embrace a paradox which lies at the center of spirituality of all western culture; namely, the affirmation of a meaningful history and the religious reservation about the partiality and bias which the human actors and agents betray in the definition of meaning.”
Noting the difference between the faith of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, Trueblood wrote:
Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were patriotic and also reverent men, but there was a crucial difference between them, because Lincoln appreciated paradox as Jefferson David did not.
“If God now wills the removal of a great wrong and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln had a real vision for reconstruction that was never realized. How might
our country be different if he had lived?
One who saw this clearly was Winston Churchill, who pointed out that “the death of Lincoln deprived the Union of the guiding hand which alone could have solved the problems of reconstruction and added to the triumph of armies those lasting victories which are gained over the hearts of men.” At the Cabinet meeting on … the very day on which he was shot, the President spoke of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders with kindness.
His only certainty lay in the conviction that God will never cease to call America to her true service, not only for her sake but for the sake of the world. He desired unity and he knew that vision is the secret of unity.
As always, this summary gives you just a taste of the treasures Trueblood has given. Get the book. It was available in my library.
“PREVIOUS to my leaving for England last year, I had been much impressed by the thought of how, in all our religion, personal and public, we need more of God. I had felt that we needed to train our people in their worship more to wait on God, and to make the cultivation of a deeper sense of His presence, of more direct contact with Him, of entire dependence on Him, a definite aim of our ministry.”
Murray opens this set of 31 meditations with this fact: We need more of God. John Eldredge in his book – Getting Your Life Back – tells us that we would have more of God if we gave more of ourselves to Him. These daily meditations will help you give more of yourself to God as you learn to wait on Him and Him only.
Murray gives another shot over the bow: “The great lack of our religion is, we do not know God”
Oh Lord, train us to wait on You. Train us to cultivate a deeper sense of Your presence. Train us to make more direct contact with You. Train me to be entirely dependent upon You. And Lord, help me to teach others.
“whoever does them [the ways of God] and teaches others, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:19
“Blessed is the one who does them and teaches others.”
Day 1 WAITING ON GOD: The God of Our Salvation
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation. Psalm 62:1
Summary of the Meditation
If salvation “comes from God and is entirely His work” therefore our “first and highest duty is to wait on Him.” Waiting is the only true way to know God. Every problem we have in working out our salvation comes from a “defective knowledge and practice of waiting on God.” Murray equates waiting on God with “absolute and unceasing dependence upon God.”
Murray then tells us why there is this deep need for learning and practicing waiting on God:
The Nature of Man
“Man was not [created] to have in himself a fountain of life, or strength, or happiness: the ever-living and only living One was each moment to be the Communicator to him of all that he needed.”
“Man’s glory and blessedness was not to be independent, or dependent upon himself, but dependent on a God of such infinite riches and love. Man was to have the joy of receiving every moment out of the fullness of God.”
The Nature of God
“God, as Creator, formed man, to be a vessel in which He could show forth His power and goodness.”
God began the work of salvation, God will continue it, and God will complete it.
“God, as Infinite Love, delights to impart His own nature to His child as fully as He can”
Why don’t Christians know the blessedness of waiting? “Christians do not know … their own absolute poverty and helplessness, that they have no sense of the need of absolute and unceasing dependence, or of the unspeakable blessedness of continual waiting on God.”
“May God teach us the blessedness of waiting on Him.”
Father – where do I not know my own absolute poverty and helplessness. Where am I not in a position of absolute and unceasing dependence? Do I actually believe that there are unspeakable blessings of waiting on You continually?
Day 2 WAITING ON GOD: The Keynote of Life
‘I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!’— Gen. 49: 18
Summary of the Meditation
Murray admits that we don’t know exactly what Jacob is talking about in this passage. He is prophesying over his sons’ future destiny. Clearly it is a statement of faith. He then drops this gem on us in this devotion:
God cannot part with His grace, or goodness, or strength, as an external thing that He gives us, as He gives the raindrops from heaven. No; He can only give it, and we can only enjoy it, as He works it Himself directly and unceasingly.
God’s grace comes to us – not as something dispensed from heaven – but He comes with it. This reminds me of something Paul says in Romans 8. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, with Him, graciously give us all things.” Notice the “with Him.” God comes with all of His good gifts.
And he exhorts us, in our private and public prayers to practice waiting on God.
What holds us back? Murray says: “We hinder Him either by our indifference or by our self effort, so that He cannot do what He would. ”
Father, reveal to me my indifference. Where am I indifferent to You or Your ways? And where am I relying on my own efforts? Have thine own way O Lord.
Day 3 WAITING ON GOD: The True Place of the Creature
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. ESV Psalm 104:27-28
They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season. 28 You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. NASB Psalm 104:27-28
Summary of the Meditation
“Just as much as it was God’s work to create, it is His work to maintain. As little as the creature could create itself, is it left to provide for itself? The whole creation is ruled by the one unalterable law of— waiting upon God!”
Murray is telling us that God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He provides. Our job is to wait on Him. That can easily be misinterpreted to say: God will bring me a job. I just need to wait for Him to do it. Clearly Murray isn’t saying that. He goes on to say that the word wait in Hebrew is used to inspect a wall. So waiting in not passive. It is actively looking. Looking for the job that God will provide. But not being anxious about it. He will provide. I will pursue – actively inspecting the walls of employment.
“And just as this is the very place and nature of God, to be unceasingly the supplier of every want in the creature, so the very place and nature of the creature is nothing but this—to wait upon God and receive from Him what He alone can give, what He delights to give.” … If once our eyes are opened to this precious truth, all Nature will become a preacher, reminding us of the relationship which, founded in creation, is now taken up in grace”
Papa, I know my place in the scheme of things. I know Your place. Yet I so often put it all on me. I put all the weight on me to get the car through inspection. I put all the weight on me to help Barbara through these difficult health issues. O Lord, help me to wait on You who desires – nay delights to give us good things. May I be like that little bird with my mouth wide open to be filled!
Day 4 WAITING ON GOD: For Supplies
The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season. Psalm 145:14-15
Summary of the Meditation
“What the universe and the animal creation does unconsciously, God’s people are to do intelligently and voluntarily. … He is to prove that there is nothing more noble or more blessed in the exercise of our free will than to use it in waiting upon God.”
Murray starts the meditation by encouraging us to pattern our waiting after the animal kingdom and an army. For the animal kingdom, we need to see God’s faithfulness. Then, Murray uses the analogy of the army that doesn’t move forward until it is fully supplied. In the same way we are to not move forward until we have received the grace and strength we need to move forward.
Next he addresses how our praying should be shaped by waiting. He says that even when there is much praying, there is often very little waiting:
“In praying we are often occupied with ourselves, with our own needs, and our own efforts in the presentation of them. In waiting upon God, the first thought is of the God upon whom we wait. We enter His presence, and feel we need just to be quiet, so that He, as God, can overshadow us with Himself. God longs to reveal Himself, to fill us with Himself. Waiting on God gives Him time in His own way and divine power to come to us.”
How do we do it?
“Just be still before Him, and allow His Holy Spirit to waken and stir up in your soul the childlike disposition of absolute dependence and confident expectation.”
Jesus, show me where I am relying on my own broken cistern. My own supply.
Show me where there is much praying and very little waiting and then help me to wait.
Day 5 WAITING ON GOD: For Instruction
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long. Psalm 25:4-5
Summary of the Meditation
“I SPOKE of an army, on the point of entering an enemy’s territories, answering the question as to the cause of delay: ‘Waiting for supplies.’ The answer might also have been: ‘Waiting for instructions,’ or, ‘Waiting for orders.’”
Murray asserts that the need for instructions is as important as supplies for the army and to us.
“The writer [of Psalm 25] knew and loved God’s law exceedingly, and meditated in that law day and night. But he knew that this was not enough. He knew that for the right spiritual apprehension of the truth, and for the right personal application of it to his own peculiar circumstances, he needed a direct divine teaching.”
Cessassionists would disagree and could just as easily say:
4 Make me to know your ways from Your written word, O Lord;
teach me your paths as I read the Scriptures. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me from the Bible,
But Murray is clear that this instruction is to come directly from God. And how does he say that it comes?
“And what is needed in us to receive this guidance? One thing: waiting for instructions, waiting on God. ‘On Thee do I wait all the day.’ We want in our times of prayer to give clear expression to our sense of need, and our faith in His help. We want definitely to become conscious of our ignorance as to what God’s way may be, and the need of the Divine light shining within us…”
And the emphasis is on the “all the day.”
Lord, help me not just to wait on you in my quiet times. But all the day long. In all that I do. Not to become crippled in doing but empowered in my doing. And Lord, I need to hear directly from You. Be it through illumination by You from Your word or through others or through the still small voice of Your Spirit, I ask for You to speak.
Day 6 WAITING ON GOD: For all the saints
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Psalm 25:6 (ESV)
Summary of the Meditation
Murray asks us to turn our attention and prayers away from ourselves and towards all the saints who are waiting. “how many there are, sick and weary and solitary, to whom it is as if their prayers are not answered, and who sometimes begin to fear that their hope will be put to shame. And then, how many servants of God, ministers or missionaries, teachers or workers, of various name, whose hopes in their work have been disappointed, and whose longing for power and blessing remains unsatisfied.” He tells us that this is a way to bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ.
How do we do that? Murray teaches by example:
Blessed Father! we humbly beseech Thee, Let none that wait on Thee be ashamed; no, not one. Some are weary, and the time of waiting appears long. And some are feeble, and scarcely know how to wait. And some are so entangled in the effort of their prayers and their work, they think that they can find no time to wait continually. Father! teach us all how to wait. Teach us to think of each other, and pray for each other. Teach us to think of Thee, the God of all waiting ones. Father! let none that wait on Thee be ashamed. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Father, bring to mind those who are waiting for You. I seem to get caught up with just the few who are immediately in front of me. But I know there are many. Open my mind and my heart towards them. And may I pray for them.
Day 7 WAITING ON GOD: A Plea in Prayer
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21
Summary of the Meditation
Murray encourages us to hold to and claim this promise from Psalm 25 that we reflected on yesterday: “none who wait for you shall be put to shame.”
Then, based on this Psalm, Murray calls for something I cannot abide with:
If we draw near to God, it must be with a true heart. There must be perfect integrity, wholeheartedness, in our dealing with God. As we read in the next Psalm (26: 1, 11), ‘Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity,’ ‘As for me, I will walk in my integrity,’ there must be perfect uprightness or single-heartedness before God. As it is written, ‘His righteousness is for the upright in heart.’ The soul must know that it allows nothing sinful, nothing doubtful; if it is indeed to meet the Holy One, and receive His full blessing, it must be with a heart wholly and singly given up to His will.
If to draw near to God requires: a true heart; perfect integrity; wholeheartedness; allow nothing sinful, nothing doubtful – we are all doomed. If God judges us by the integrity of our walk, there is no hope. He is taking David’s Old Covenant theology of works and law and proof-texting this idea. The scripture is clear – “there is none righteous, no not one” and “our righteousness is as filthy rags.” You cannot have both.
So what is going on in these Psalms? The more we draw near to God, the more we see our need to be like Him – to walk in integrity, to appropriate the imputed righteousness from Jesus’ finished work. And the more we appropriate that imputed righteousness, the more our heart longs to walk in that way.
Murray does acknowledge that our first attempts at walking in integrity may fail, but he strongly implies that it is possible. He turns these failures around and sees them as a means of blessing that waiting brings about.
A soul cannot seek close fellowship with God, or attain the abiding consciousness of waiting on Him all the day, without a very honest and entire surrender to all His will.
So the blessing in our failures is the open door to honest and entire surrender to Him.
He encourages us to specify exactly what we are waiting for:
It is good that we sometimes count up to ourselves exactly what the things are we are waiting for, and as we say definitely of each of them, ‘On Thee do I wait,’ we shall be emboldened to claim the answer, ‘For on Thee do I wait.’
What will motivate our waiting and awaken our attention to wait on God?
It is the presence of a beloved or a dreaded master that wakens up the whole attention of the servant who waits on him. It is the presence of God, as He can in Christ by His Holy Spirit make Himself known, and keep the soul under its covering and shadow, that will awaken and strengthen the true waiting spirit.
Lord, as I spend time in Your presence, awaken my whole attention to expectant waiting.
Day 8 WAITING ON GOD: Strong and of Good Courage
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14
Summary of the Meditation
The Psalmist tells us that he would have fainted had it not been for his belief that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Lord, we can grow weary (and faint) with all that is going on around us. But, do we really believe that we will see Your goodness? Do I really believe that I will see Your goodness in my family? In today’s troubles? Do I really believe that You will make a way for me in every situation I face – TODAY?
Am I waiting? Because that is the assurance of things hoped for. The evidence of things unseen. Do I believe that my quiet and confident waiting will be blessed and result in blessedness? Do I have the courage to believe that God will hear and help? Murray tells us:
one of the deepest secrets of [waiting on God’s] blessedness and blessing, is a quiet, confident persuasion that it is not in vain; courage to believe that God will hear and help; that we are waiting on a God who never could disappoint His people. … Is waiting on God a work so difficult, that, for that too, such words are needed, ‘Be strong, and let your heart take courage’? Yes, indeed. … The Psalmist says – Be strong and take courage. We normally think that applies to powerful and dangerous endeavors. But no! We must be strong and take courage just to wait!
Murray tells us we need to be strong and courageous to wait because we face:
Enemies before whom we are impotent
Spiritual needs which are basically unseen
Impossible tasks (for humans)
Supernatural realities totally foreign to us
The kind of relationship with God with which we are unaccustomed
A God who often appears to hide Himself
We who have to wait are often tempted to fear that we do not wait aright, that our faith is too feeble, that our desire is not as upright or as earnest as it should be, that our surrender is not complete. Our heart may well faint and fail.
We ought to make up our minds to this, that nothing was ever so sure, as that waiting on God will bring us untold and unexpected blessing. … If you say that you are afraid of deceiving yourself with vain hope, because you do not see or feel any warrant in your present state for such special expectations, my answer is, it is God, who is the warrant for your expecting great things. … God’s love is just His delight to impart Himself and His blessedness to His children.
He gives us this analogy:
As a feeble, sickly invalid is brought out into the sunshine to let its warmth go through him, come with all that is dark and cold in you into the sunshine of God’s holy, omnipotent love, and sit and wait there, with the one thought: Here I am, in the sunshine of His love.
Lord, I need your strength and your courage to face what I am facing. You spoke to me last week that I don’t really believe that You “will make a way where there seems to be no way.” Then amazingly, you made a way in a situation where there seemed to be no way. May this time of waiting grow my faith and stamina; my strength and courage.
Day 9 WAITING ON GOD: With the Heart
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord! Psalm 31:24
Summary of the Meditation
How do we wait on God? With our mind or our will? No, Murray says:
It is with the heart we must wait upon God. ‘Let your heart take courage.’ All our waiting depends upon the state of the heart.
Most of us, “know not how infinitely greater the heart is than the mind.”
People imagine that if they are occupied with the truth, the spiritual life will as a matter of course be strengthened. And this is by no means the case. … My mind is utterly impotent in creating or maintaining the spiritual life within me: the heart must wait on God for Him to work it in me.
Pastor Andre taught this morning that the Hebrew understanding of the heart includes the intellect. Here are some quotes from Pursue God :
In biblical Hebrew, the heart is where we feel feelings and think thoughts. In fact, ancient Israelites didn’t even have a word for “brain” that we know of. Jeremiah 15:16, Proverbs 14:33
The heart is also where we make choices. So the concept of the “heart” is best understood as the “inner person” – the seat of our mind (thoughts), emotions (feelings), and will (intentions). Psalm 37:4, Proverbs 4:23, James 1:14-15
So the heart is the seat of the mind, it deals with thoughts and intentions. Just as it is used the very first time in Gen. 6, describing the “intent of the heart” of man. It is not the seat of emotions.
So, with this understanding we need to better understand where Murray is going with this. Murray goes on to say that we cultivate the religion of the mind rather than the religion of the heart. He quotes Proverbs 3:5-6 about trusting with our heart and not leaning on our own understanding. He makes an analogy to the physical world. Our mind plans the food it needs to eat but it is the body’s other organs that obtain the nutrients. In the same way, our minds obtain the information about God’s ways and tell me what God’s word says. But it is with the heart that we believe. In the same way:
And so the Christian needs ever, when he has studied or heard God’s word, to cease from his thoughts, to put no trust in them, and to awaken his heart to open itself before God, and seek the living fellowship with Him.
Here is how he says we are to do this:
I confess the impotence of all my thoughts and efforts, and set myself still to bow my heart before Him in holy silence, and to trust Him to renew and strengthen His own work in me.
Lord, I am not sure that I can discern the difference between waiting with my mind and my heart. Or my will and my heart. Based on the Hebrew meaning of heart, I am even more unsure. Teach me O Lord.
Day 10 WAITING ON GOD: In Fear and Hope
18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. Psalm 33:18-22
Summary of the Meditation
Where is our focus? What captures our attention? Murray tells us where God’s attention is pointed and where ours should be:
GOD’S eye is upon His people: their eye is upon Him. In waiting upon God, our eye, looking up to Him, meets His looking down upon us. This is the blessedness of waiting upon God, that it takes our eyes and thoughts away from ourselves, even our needs and desires, and occupies us with our God.
Next Murray points out the apparent contradiction in the Psalm in the Hebrew parallelism – Verse 18 is saying the same thing twice. Fearing God and Hoping in God are two things cut from the same cloth. Murray address this by showing us how many apparent contradictions there are in our understanding of God:
Fear and hope (vs 18) are generally thought to be in conflict with each other; in the presence and worship of God they are found side by side in perfect and beautiful harmony. And this because in God Himself all apparent contradictions are reconciled. Righteousness and peace, judgment and mercy, holiness and love, infinite power and infinite gentleness, a majesty that is exalted above all heaven, and a condescension that bows very low, meet and kiss each other.
Another way to say this is that all parallel lines that never meet in our world come together at infinity. All apparent contradictions come together in the infinite heart of God.
How then, do we get to that point of waiting for Him in hope and fearing Him? It certainly helps to define what we mean by fearing God. Murray doesn’t give us a definition. I have attempted it in my blog about The Fear of the Lord . There I attempt to describe exactly how the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Learning to work with electrical power requires a healthy fear and respect for its dangerous power. That is how it is the beginning of wisdom. In that definition, Fear and Hope are not even apparent contradictions. Fear leads us to know the one we fear. And knowing God more, will give us more hope than we could ever imagine.
But I digress. Murray sees fear in the more traditional sense and he ties fear and hope together this way:
The lower we bow [because of our fear of Him], the deeper we feel we have nothing to hope in but His mercy. The lower we bow, the nearer God will come, and make our hearts bold to trust Him.
The Psalmist is realistic about the dangers in life:
“19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.”
But Murray and the Psalmist are clear:
Not to prevent the danger of death and famine— this is often needed to stir up to wait on Him— but to deliver and to keep alive.
The danger of death and famine are to stir up our need to wait on You Lord. Finally, Murray’s plea:
Children of God! will you not learn to sink down in entire helplessness and impotence, and in stillness to wait and see the salvation of God?
Father, continue to cultivate a healthy fear of You in me. You are an untamed lion. And may that fear lead me to pursue You and in pursuing You, learn more about waiting on You.
Day 11 WAITING ON GOD: Patiently
Be still [Rest] before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Psalm 37:7-9
Summary of the Meditation
Do you want to cultivate a Christ-like character? Here are Murray’s thoughts:
And nowhere is there a better place for cultivating or displaying it than in waiting on God. There we discover how impatient we are, and what our impatience means.
We think we are impatient with circumstances and other people, but ultimately he says, we are impatient with Him. Waiting on God opens our eyes to His wise and sovereign will
And to [helps us to] see that the sooner and the more completely we yield absolutely to it, the more surely His blessing can come to us.
All the spiritual disciplines have great value. But they can go no farther than this, that they point the way and prepare us in humility to look to and to depend alone upon God Himself, and in patience to await His good time and mercy. The waiting is to teach us our absolute dependence upon God’s mighty working, and to make us in perfect patience place ourselves at His disposal.
How do we develop this patience?
It is resting in the Lord, in His will, His promise, His faithfulness, and His love, that makes patience easy. And the resting in Him is nothing but being silent unto Him, still before Him.
Finally, in our patiently waiting:
Seek not only the help, the gift, you need; seek Himself; wait for Him.
Papa, help me to see that all of my impatience is ultimately directed at You. Show me where I am impatient. Help me to rest in You; in Your will and Your promises. Finally Lord, may I not seek you as a means to an end but as the end itself.
Day 12 WAITING ON GOD: Keeping His Way
Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off. Psalm 37:34
Summary of the Meditation
Murray shoots right over the bow right out of the gate: If we are not walking in His ways, we cannot expect to find Him. I fear that Murray is building too much from the Old Testament Psalms’ works ethic. How can we find Him when we are not born again – yet we do. Or as Paul says: He finds us. Then he states it in a different way: “We may be sure that God is never and nowhere to be found but in His ways.” Ah! I find God in the way He wants to reveal Himself.
He notes that the Psalm speaks of both the inner-life (“waiting”) and the outer-life (“keeping His ways”). Both are needed. And they need to be in “harmony.” The “inner [waiting] must be the inspiration and the strength for the outer.”
Here is a statement about God’s economy: “Do what God asks you to do; God will do more than you can ask Him to do.”
Murray also further refines his understanding of keeping His ways: “Give up your whole being to God without reserve and without doubt; He will prove Himself God to you, and work in you that which is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ.”
Here are ways he suggests that we can keep His ways:
As you know them in the Word
As you have learned them from nature
As they are providentially pointed out
As directed by the Holy Spirit
Unlike a works mentality, Murray concludes by saying that as we are content to receive all that God has in store for us: “’Wait on the Lord, and keep His ways’ will be command and promise in one.”
Papa, I know that I fall short in many ways – not just outwardly but inwardly in my waiting. Yet You remain faithful. Thank You for teaching me Your ways. I am so grateful that You allow me to find You even after I have strayed. Your mercy never fails.
Day 13 WAITING ON GOD: For more than we know
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you. 8 Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool! Psalm 39:7-8
Summary of the Meditation
Do you ever reach the point in your waiting on God that you think: “What do I really want Him to do? What exactly am I waiting on Him for?” Although this may feel disorienting, Murray actually thinks it is a good place to be in our waiting.
God is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think, and we are in danger of limiting Him, when we confine our desires and prayers to our own thoughts of them.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they doubted that God could set a table in the wilderness.
Yes. God had done it: He could do it again. But when the thought came of God doing something new, they limited Him; their expectation could not rise beyond their past experience, or their own thoughts of what was possible.
Are we only waiting on a repeat performance or are we waiting for a world premier?
Let us believe that every promise of God we plead has a divine meaning, infinitely beyond our thoughts of them. … let us therefore cultivate the habit of waiting on God, not only for what we think we need, but for all His grace and power are ready to do for us. In every true prayer there are two hearts in exercise. The one is your heart, with its little, dark, human thoughts of what you need and God can do. The other is God’s great heart, with its infinite, its divine purpose of blessing.
Murray believes that seeing the feebleness of our requests and the little dark heart we have and God’s gigantic heart “is what waiting on God is meant to teach you. …Wait on God to do for you more than you can ask or think.”
May it not be that you have had your own thoughts about the way or the extent of God’s doing it, and have never waited on the God of glory, according to the riches of His glory, to do for you what has not entered the heart of man to conceive? … you hardly know what you have to expect. I pray you, be of good courage— this ignorance is often one of the best signs.
In “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Papa, show me the littleness of my expectations. Show me where my desires are too weak. I see that in me. Show me where my waiting is not the expectant waiting that You deserve. Show me how I am content with trifles and You want to give me Yourself. Where am I limiting You and what You can do in my waiting?
Day 14 WAITING ON GOD: The Way to the New Song
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3
Summary of the Meditation
This meditation has more to do with Patience than a new song. Murray sees patience as:
foreign to our self-confident nature
indispensable in our waiting upon God
an essential element of true faith
What is patience. In the English:
The word patience is derived from the Latin word for suffering. It suggests the thought of being under the constraint of some power from which we want to be free.
In waiting on God it is of infinite consequence that we not only submit, because we are compelled to, but because we lovingly and joyfully consent to be in the hands of our blessed Father.
Here are some more of Murray’s insights on Patience. It:
Is our highest blessedness
Is our highest grace
Gives Him time to have His way with us
Is the highest expression of our faith in His goodness and faithfulness.
Brings the soul perfect rest in the assurance that God is carrying on His work.
Is the token of our full consent that God should deal with us in such a way and time as He thinks best.
Is our losing our self-will
Again, more about patience. It is:
The great stillness of soul before God that sinks into its own helplessness and waits for Him to reveal Himself;
The deep humility that is afraid to let its own will or its own strength work aught except as God works to will and to do;
The meekness that is content to be and to know nothing except as God gives His light;
The entire resignation of the will that only wants to be a vessel in which His holy will can move and mold
All these elements of perfect patience are not found at once.
if we are to wait on God in all patience: we need to be strengthened with all God’s might, and that according to the measure of His glorious power. … it is in the course of our feeble and very imperfect waiting that God Himself by His hidden power strengthens us and works out in us the patience of the saints, the patience of Christ Himself. …Patient waiting upon God brings a rich reward; the deliverance is sure; God Himself will put a new song into your mouth. … [If] you sometimes feel as if patience is not your gift, then remember it is God’s gift, and take that prayer (2 Thess. 3: 5 R.V.): ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the patience of Christ.’
Lord, You were patient in Your waiting for Your mission to be carried out. But You waited – when Your time was not yet at hand. Help me to learn to wait patiently. And then put a new song in my heart whereby I may sing Your praises.
Day 15 WAITING ON GOD: For His Counsel
But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel. Psalm 106 :13
Summary of the Meditation
Murray opens this meditation by remembering the three times the Israelites failed in Canaan during the time of Joshua: Going up against AI; making a covenant with the Gibeonites; and settling rather than taking the whole inheritance. All three were because they did not wait for his counsel. We are all in danger of this. Hearing God’s word, but then doing it our own way without waiting for God’s counsel.
Our whole relation to God is rooted in this, that His will is to be done in us and by us as it is in heaven. He has promised to make known His will to us by His Spirit, the Guide into all truth. And our position is to be that of waiting for His counsel, as the only guide of our thoughts and actions. In our church worship, in our prayer-meetings, in our conventions, in all our gatherings as managers, or directors, or committees, or helpers in any part of the work for God, our first object ought ever to be to ascertain the mind of God.
I will let Andrew pour his heart to us on this issue of our need to learn to hear God together:
The great danger in all such assemblies is that in our consciousness of having our Bible, and our past experience of God’s leading, and our sound creed, and our honest wish to do God’s will, we trust in these, and do not realize that with every step we need and may have a heavenly guidance. There may be elements of God’s will, applications of God’s word, experiences of the close presence and leading of God, manifestations of the power of His Spirit, of which we know nothing as yet. God may be willing,
God is willing to open up these to the souls who are intently set upon allowing Him to have His way entirely, and who are willing in patience to wait for His making it known. When we come together praising God for all He has done and taught and given, we may at the same time be limiting Him by not expecting greater things.
A minister has no more solemn duty than teaching people to wait upon God.
More stillness of soul to realize God’s presence; more consciousness of ignorance of what God’s great plans may be; more faith in the certainty that God has greater things to show us; more longing that He Himself may be revealed in new glory: these must be the marks of the assemblies of God’s saints, if they would avoid the reproach, ‘They waited not for His counsel.’
Father, I don’t understand why this is not more well understood. Give me insight and help me to lead where You are leading on this issue.
Day 16 WAITING ON GOD: For His Light in the Heart.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6
Summary of the Meditation
Who is it that waits for the morning light? Those in darkness. The watchman protecting the city waiting for a clearer view of the enemy. The shipwrecked sailor. Murray tells us:
Our waiting on God can have no higher object than simply having His light shine on us, and in us, and through us, all the day.
What is that light? Murray answers:
‘The light of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.’ … Our heart is meant to have that light filling and gladdening it all the day. …But can we indeed enjoy it all the day? We can.
And how do we enjoy the light of God’s glory all day? Murray says that it is analogous to the flora and fauna. What do they do to enjoy the light of the sun?
They do nothing; they simply bask in the sunshine… The only difference between nature and grace is this, that what the trees and the flowers do unconsciously, as they drink in the blessing of the light, is to be with us a voluntary and a loving acceptance. Faith, simple faith in God’s word and love, is to be the opening of the eyes, the opening of the heart, to receive and enjoy the unspeakable glory of His grace.
Sometimes, the light reveals the pain of sin within. He continues:
The first beginnings of light may be just enough to discover the darkness, and painfully to humble you on account of sin. Can you not trust the light to expel the darkness? Do believe it will. Just bow, even now, in stillness before God, and wait on Him to shine into you. Say, in humble faith; God is light, infinitely brighter and more beautiful than that of the sun. God is light. The Father, the eternal, inaccessible, and incomprehensible light.
And this light is something we can trust.
What would I think of a sun that could not shine? what shall I think of a God that does not shine? No, God shines!
Shine your light upon me this day. May I walk in the light of Your love and grace all the day long.
Day 17 WAITING ON GO: In Times of Darkness
Isaiah 8:17 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
Summary of the Meditation
The questions that this meditation begs is: Does God really hide his face? When we have the 24/7 Holy Spirit, is it possible to hide His face? What does it mean when we say “God is hiding his face.” Is His face the same as His presence? In human relations we can be present but not looking at each other face to face. Is that what is going on? Jesus had the Holy Spirit and yet the face of God was hidden. But isn’t that a different situation when the sin of the whole world is laid upon Jesus?
Murray seems to take a different approach and doesn’t directly answer the question. . He picks up from the Scripture that the Prophet is waiting on God who is hiding His face from Israel. And from the context, the people of Israel were in rebellion during Isaiah’s day. He says that we should use our access to God to intercede for “our less favored brethren.” Those who are less favored according to Murray:
Have little joy or spiritual life in the preaching and fellowship
Are in much error and worldliness
Seek after human wisdom and counsel
Trust in ordinances and observances
Have little power for conversion or edification
Have little of the Spirit working in their midst
Trust too much in men and money
Have too much formality and self-indulgence
Have too little faith and prayer
Have too little love and humility
Have too little of the spirit of the crucified Jesus
Have nominal profession
These are those with whom God is hiding His face. So Murray doesn’t really answer the question except by saying the ones from whom God is hiding His face are those who are hiding their face from Him. And his call to us is to intercede and wait on God for these less favored brethren.
There is a strong emphasis in this meditation, for us to be waiting on God for those who are in all kinds of error or who are lukewarm. Clearly the people of Israel during Isaiah’s time were in great darkness.
Papa, who is walking in darkness right now that I need to be waiting on You for? With whom and for whom, can I be waiting on You?
Day 18 WAITING ON GOD: To Reveal Himself
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9
Summary of the Meditation
Murray identifies two precious thoughts in the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Revealing language from God’s people who are united in their waiting on Him
The blessing of united waiting on God is that God reveals Himself
He identifies (again) the things that are hindering our united waiting:
There are evils in the church to which no human wisdom is equal
Ritualism, rationalism, formalism, and worldliness are robbing the church of its power
Culture, money and pleasure are threatening our spiritual life
Infidelity, iniquity, and wretchedness appear more powerful than we can cope with.
But he tells us that promises of God and the power of the Holy Spirit are more than enough to meet these challenges if we will but wait on Him for them. What does united waiting on God look like for God’s people? The same as it does with an individual. It would mean developing and having:
A deeper conviction that God must and will do all
A more humble and abiding entrance into our deep helplessness
Entire and unceasing dependence upon Him.
A more living consciousness that the essential thing is, giving God His place of honor and of power;
A confident expectation that God will, by His Spirit, give the secret of His acceptance and presence and at the right time, a revelation of His saving power
What would be the aim of this united waiting on Him
It would bring everyone there under a deep sense of God’s presence
It would mean that everyone would leave with a sure knowledge that they have met with God Himself
They would leave knowing that they have left everything in His hands and that now is a time of waiting
What can leadership do to usher us into God’s presence:
“The godly minister has no more difficult, no more solemn, no more blessed task, than to lead his people out to meet God, and, before ever he preaches, to bring each one into contact with Him.”
Waiting before God, and waiting on God, are the one condition of God showing His presence.
He pictures it working as follows:
A company of believers gathered with the one purpose, helping each other by little intervals of silence, to wait on God alone, opening the heart for whatever God may have of new discoveries of evil, of His will, of new openings in work or methods of work, would soon have reason to say, ‘ Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, He shall save us: this is the Lord ; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’ ‘My soul, wait thou only upon God!’
Make us at our church such a people who wait on You in a united fashion.
Day 19 WAITING ON GOD: As a God of Judgement
‘Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee: . . . for when Thy judgments are on the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.’—Isa. 26:8,9.
‘The Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him.’—Isa. 30:18.
Summary of the Meditation
Andrew begins by showing how God is a God of both mercy and judgment – exhibited by the Exodus; the flood; the expelling of the Canaanites and others. Judgement punishes sin; mercy saves the sinner. His point is that as we wait on God, His holy presence will stir up and discover hidden sin, bring us very low as we see the sinful nature within, our heart’s true opposition to God’s ways and our inability to walk in them. He tells us not to be surprised as we begin to wait on Him because we will only discover more of our otherness from God. “Wait on God, in the faith that His tender mercy is working out in you His redemption in the midst of judgment: wait for Him, He will be gracious to thee.”
There is a second and more solemn thought he brings up. As we experience the judgements of God, we are to realize that there are thousands of our brethren who will face this judgment. Are we not to warn them?
He doesn’t explicitly pick up on how we learn righteousness when God’s judgments are on the earth.
Finally, the meditation would read in a very different way if we took the Hebrew definition for the word judgments מִשְׁפָט mishpat as “the act of deciding a case” or the “process, procedure, and litigation before judges.” We should be waiting on the completion of the trial when the case is decided – justice poured out. Murray takes the traditional approach to God’s judgements – his revealing of and punishment for our sins. But “waiting for His judgements” is more accurately seen as Isaiah waiting for God to bring justice. That casts a different light on the text for this morning.
Lord, I am waiting on You to set all things right. For bringing justice to this world. I long for justice in the wrongs done to me by my friends. I know that I wait with others for justice – especially in the persecuted church. May this waiting open my eyes to You and Your ways.
Day 20 WAITING ON GOD: Who waits on us
‘And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you; and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him.’—Isa. 30:18
Summary of the Meditation
God waits for us more than we wait for Him. Let that sink down into our very marrow. Andrew claims that:
The vision of Him waiting on us, will give new impulse and inspiration to our waiting upon Him. It will give an unspeakable confidence that our waiting cannot be in vain. If He waits for us, then we may be sure that we are more than welcome; that He rejoices to find those He has been seeking for.
And what does God’s waiting look like? Murray says the best comparison is that of a Father waiting for his child to come to him; to come back home. “He waits with all of the longings of a father’s heart.” And how does that help us? Murray tells us:
“Yes, connect every exercise, every breath of the life of waiting, with faith’s vision of your God waiting for you.”
But wait! How can He be waiting for me when I have been waiting so long for Him? Murray tells us:
“you ask, how is it, if He waits to be gracious, that even after I come and wait upon Him, He does not give the help I seek, but waits on longer and longer?”
God is a wise husbandman, ‘who waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it.’ He cannot gather the fruit until it is ripe. He knows when we are ready. … God waited four thousand years, until the fullness of time, before He sent His Son: our times are in His hands: He will avenge His elect speedily: He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long.
God is more than the blessing; and our being kept waiting on Him is the only way for us to learn to find our life and joy in Himself.
Murray describes us as ladies-in-waiting for the Queen. What a privilege! What joy in serving the sovereign!
Finally, how blessed it is when the waiting God meets with His waiting servant!
So brothers and sisters: “let waiting be our work, as it is His.”
Papa, I need to recognize that You have been waiting on me for a long time. In what ways are you waiting on me today?
Day 21 WAITING ON GOD: The Almighty One
They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with eagle wings; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.’—Isa. 40: 31.
Summary of the Meditation
Murray starts with a great insight.
Waiting always partakes of the character of our thoughts of the one on whom we wait.
In other words, what we think about God will shape the way we wait. Is God a cruel taskmaster? We will wait for the other shoe to drop? Do we think of Him as capricious? Then we will wait not knowing what to expect this time. And so on. But oh what a God we wait on. Faithful, true and merciful.
This is the fertile ground out of which springs this much quoted verse from Isaiah. God is the Almighty and Everlasting one. And because Isaiah saw God in this way, he saw how waiting on Him will produce strength and endurance.
Where does the eagle soar? In the highest heavens. We are meant to live in the heavenlies. Seated with God. “You are born of God. You have the eagles’ wings. You may not have known it: you may not have used them; but God can and will teach you to use them.”
We are taught to use our eagle wings in the same way an eaglet learns.
He stirs up your nest. He disappoints your hopes. He brings down your confidence. He makes you fear and tremble, as all your strength fails, and you feel utterly weary and helpless. And all the while He is spreading His strong wings for you to rest your weakness on, and offering His everlasting Creator-strength to work in you. And all He asks is that you should sink down in your weariness and wait on Him; and allow Him in His Jehovah-strength to carry you as you ride upon the wings of His Omnipotence.
Papa, Everlasting and Almighty one. Stir up my nest until I learn to wait on You. Reveal my disappointed hopes. Where am I confident in myself? Lord, what would it look like today for me to ride upon Your wings?
Day 22 WAITING ON GOD: It’s Certainty of Blessing
‘Thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for Me.’ —Isa. 49:23.
‘Blessed are all they that wait for Him.’ —Isa. 30:18.
Summary of the Meditation
Murray chides and challenges us with the fact that we are so slow of learning “that this blessed waiting must and can be as the very breath of our life, a continuous resting in God’s presence and His love, an unceasing yielding of ourselves for Him to perfect His work in us.” And with that slowness is also fear – fear that it may not be true. “Let us listen to God’s answer, until every fear is banished, and we send back to heaven the words God speaks, Yes, Lord, we believe what You say: ‘All they that wait for Me shall not be ashamed.’ ‘Blessed are all they that wait for Him.’”
Both of these passages in Isaiah point to a time in history when God’s people were in dire straits and there was no possible way out. Do we believe God’s word to them for our situation. No disappointment is possible! If all we had was a vague sense that God was going to deliver us, we would despair. But we have God’s promises. And we need to “wait before Him, until He Himself reveals to us what His promises mean, and in the promises reveals Himself in His hidden glory!” Let’s not let the depth of the meaning of these promises pass us by. And God Himself comes with all of these promises. In the midst of our deepest trouble, a simple word directly from God can calm the storm. “Peace! Be still my son [or daughter].” That is enough to stop the raging sea within.
What place does waiting have in our personal life? The measure of its faith or power is not because we have beautiful visions of what God can do or even that we speak eloquently of it. “No; it is what we really know of God in our personal experience, conquering the enemies within, reigning and ruling, revealing Himself in His Holiness and Power in our inmost being.” And the blessing is present even while we wait. Because what we have is Him even while we wait for the fulfillment of what we are waiting for.
“the Everlasting God meets, in the greatness and the tenderness of His love, each waiting child, to shine in his heart ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ Read these words again, until your heart learns to know what God waits to do”
Father, help me to reflect upon our history together. You have conquered enemies within and have ruled and reigned in my life. You have revealed Yourself in my inmost being. Thank you that You come with all of Your promises.
Day 23 WAITING ON GOD: For Unlooked for Things
‘For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him.’—Isa. 64:4.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him. ESV
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1 Corinthians 2:9
From of old we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen a God beside thee, and thy works which thou wilt perform to them that wait for mercy. Brenton’s LXX
Summary of the Meditation
Murray highlights the difference between the RV and AV translations. The RV (and ESV) – no one has seen a God that works; The AV (and Paul in 1st Corinthians) – no one has seen the work God will do. Although he chooses the AV to concentrate on, he tells us that they both tell us that if we wait, things (God – RV/ESV or God’s hand – AV) will be revealed to us that we cannot conceive. (Notice that the LXX has both!).
My bigger question (since I think the work of God and God Himself are pretty inseparable and so the difference makes no difference) why does Paul use love Him vs waits for Him? This amazing revelation comes to those who wait – or those who love Him. Andrew doesn’t address this at all. I think it might be saying – to wait on Him is to love Him.
Murray concentrates this meditation on that God alone knows what He can do for His waiting people. He points us to the preceding verses in Isaiah as to how desperate the situation was. And God knows we need this kind of revelation in the church. Murray says – look at the church. We do His work using our wisdom; we demonstrate little of the Spirit’s power in what we do; we don’t manifest the unity that will draw people to Himself; how little we demonstrate the holiness God calls for; and how little the world sees of men and women in Christ and Christ in them.
How can we reverse this sad state in the church and in our hearts. You guessed it. Waiting on God. And what should we wait for? “We must desire and believe, we must ask and expect, that God will do unlooked-for things. We must set our faith on a God of whom men do not know what He has prepared for them that wait for Him. The wonder-doing God, who can surpass all our expectations, must be the God of our confidence.” And if we take Paul’s version of this quote, these things have been revealed by the Spirit.
Lord, I know my vision of what you can do and what you will do and what you have done is very limited. Reveal to me your heart.
Day 24 WAITING ON GOD: To Know His Goodness.
‘The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him.’ — Lam. 3: 25
Summary of the Meditation
Murray tells us that our first entry into waiting on God is usually waiting for him to bless us with some answer to prayer. But, he says:
God graciously uses our need and desire for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness. It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts, and that the time of waiting is made so long. He is all the time seeking to win the heart of His child for Himself. He wishes that we should not only say, when He bestows the gift, How good is God! but that long ere it comes, and even if it never comes, we should all the time be experiencing: ‘It is good that a man should quietly wait’: ‘The Lord is good to them that wait for Him.’
He encourages us to make waiting on God a habit, a disposition, second-nature, the very breath of our soul, the very root of our life with God. Our knowledge, understanding and experience of God’s goodness will grow as we grow in our waiting on God.
Lord, it is hard for me to imagine me growing in knowledge and understanding of Your goodness. You by very definition are good. But I can see growing in my experience of Your goodness and growing in my waiting on You. I will watch to see how the others grow beyond what I imagine as I pursue growth in waiting on You.
Day 25 WAITING ON GOD: Quietly.
‘It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.’— Lam 3:26
Summary of the Meditation
‘TAKE heed, and be quiet: fear not, neither be faint-hearted.’ (Isaiah 7:4)
‘In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.’ (Isaiah 30:15)
‘The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him’ (Hab. 2: 20).
‘Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God.’ (Zeph. 1: 7).
‘Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord; for He is raised up out of His holy habitation’ (Zech. 2: 13).
Murray tells us that these scriptures show us the “deep connection between quietness and faith, and show us what a deep need there is of quietness, as an element of true waiting upon God.”
Why the deep need and deep connection? Murray says that our nature is so estranged from this infinite being, “that it needs our whole heart and desires set upon Him, even in some little measure to know and receive Him.”
Murray tells us what can keep us from this quiet waiting:
As long as the waiting on God is chiefly regarded as an end towards more effectual prayer, and the obtaining of our petitions, this spirit of perfect quietness will not be obtained. But when it is seen that the waiting on God is itself an unspeakable blessedness, one of the highest forms of fellowship with the Holy One, the adoration of Him in His glory will of necessity humble the soul into a holy stillness, making way for God to speak and reveal Himself.
Let everyone who would learn the art of waiting on God remember the lesson: ‘Take heed, and be quiet;’ ‘It is good that a man quietly wait.’ Take time to be separate from all friends and all duties, all cares and all joys; time to be still and quiet before God. Take time not only to secure stillness from man and the world, but from self and its energy. Let the Word and prayer be very precious; but remember, even these may hinder the quiet waiting.
How can we be quiet in the midst of the cacophony of sound around us? Habit and discipline: “Though at first it may appear difficult to know how thus quietly to wait, with the activities of mind and heart for a time subdued, every effort after it will be rewarded; we shall find that it grows upon us, and the little season of silent worship will bring a peace and a rest that give a blessing not only in prayer, but all the day.”
Lord, the promise seems too great. Just do it and the blessing will flow. Humble my soul into silence before You. Show me today what is keeping me from waiting in silence before you.
Day 26 WAITING ON GOD: In Holy Expectancy.
‘Therefore will I look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.’— Micah 7: 7.
Summary of the Meditation
The essence of this meditation is that we must wait with holy expectancy. My God will hear me. Murray says that: “A holy, joyful expectancy is of the very essence of true waiting.” He starts by summarizing a little book called “Expectation Corner.” That book illustrates the truth from James’ letter: We have not because we ask not – and when we ask, we are not continuously looking for the answer to arrive.
When we have been given a promise of God, we must wait with “confident assurance” that my God will hear me. He digresses from this a bit when he tells us of the great promise that should be central to all prayer petitions: “the one great petition which ought to be the chief thing every heart seeks for itself — that The Life of God in the soul may have full sway; that Christ may be fully formed within; and that we may be filled to all the fullness of God.” This Murray says is what we ought “to seek and dare to expect.”
He closes with a thought about stillness in our waiting. As we unite ourselves in the death of Jesus, we become still – because “there is no stillness like that of the grave.” “As we cease from self, and our soul becomes still to God, God will arise and show Himself.”
Lord, I often wonder how dead to self I really am. How united with You, Jesus I am? Is it really “not I who live but Christ who lives in me?” Father have your way in my heart and soul that I may rest expectantly waiting for the fulfillment of your promises to me. Especially the promise to be fully formed in me and to be filled to all the fullness of God. Amen.
Day 27 WAITING ON GOD: For Redemption.
‘Simeon was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was upon him. Anna, a prophetess, . . . spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.’— Luke 2: 25, 38.
Summary of the Meditation
Murray concentrates this devotion on the waiting on God that was done by believers in the Old Testament. They were waiting for consolation and redemption – what has already been accomplished in Jesus. So he asks – do we still need to wait? Yes he says – for two reasons: “But will not our waiting, who look back to it as come, differ greatly from those who looked forward to it as coming? It will, especially in two aspects. We now wait on God in the full power of the redemption: and we wait for its full revelation.”
Waiting in the full power of redemption. We know that the redemption was accomplished and our position secured. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. “Our waiting on God may now be in the wonderful consciousness, wrought and maintained by the Holy Spirit within us, that we are accepted in the Beloved, that the love that rests on Him rests on us, that we are living in that love, in the very nearness and presence and sight of God.”
We are waiting for the full revelation of this redemption. “As we maintain our place in Christ day by day, God waits to reveal Christ in us, in such a way that He is formed in us, that His mind and disposition and likeness acquire form and substance in us, so that by each it can in truth be said, ‘Christ liveth in me.’”
He makes a distinction that I have never considered: Our life “in Christ” is in heaven and Christ in us is on earth. I had never thought of it that way. And they are meant to complement each other. He puts it this way:
the more my waiting on God is marked by the living faith that I am in Christ, the more the heart thirsts for and claims the CHRIST IN ME. … And the waiting on God, which began with special needs and prayer, will increasingly be concentrated, as far as our personal life is concerned, on this one thing, Lord, reveal Your redemption fully in me; let Christ live in me.
He lists two other differences between Old Testament waiting and the New:
The place we take (seated in the heavenlies)
The expectations we entertain
One last point he makes:
Learn from Simeon and Anna one lesson. How utterly impossible it was for them to do anything towards the great redemption — towards the birth of Christ or His death. It was God’s work. They could do nothing but wait.
And so it is impossible for us to make the revelation of Jesus in us a reality. We are helpless and feeble in making the revelation happen. But, he concludes this meditation:
As gloriously as God proved Himself to them the faithful and wonder-working God, He will to us also.
Jesus, teach me more about the distinction between You in me (on earth) and me in You (in heaven). Reveal more to me the distinction between the waiting Anna and Simeon did and my waiting which has the full power of the redemption present here and now. I hear what he says about how our waiting for answers and deliverance becomes transformed into waiting for You – work that in me O Lord.
Day 28 WAITING ON GOD: For the Coming of His Son
‘Be ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.’— Luke 12: 36.130
‘Until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, in His own time, He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.’— 1 Tim. 6: 14,15( R.V.).
‘Turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.’— 1 Thess. 1: 9, 10.
Summary of the Meditation
The opening Scripture is from Jesus’ brief exchange about the Master of the house who is coming back from a wedding. So, for Murray [and Jesus], we are to be like those waiting for their Master to return from a celebration and be alert and watch carefully for his return. Murray says that waiting on God in heaven is joined by God with waiting for the return of His Son. “The present life and the coming glory are inseparably connected.” Learning to wait on God for His power and promise is a preparation for waiting for Jesus’ return. He warns us against the danger of separating them.
It is always easier to be engaged with the religion of the past or the future than to be faithful in the religion of today. As we look to what God has done in the past, or will do in time to come, the personal claim of present duty and present submission to His working may be escaped. … There is such a danger of our being so occupied with the things that are coming more than with Him who is to come; there is such scope in the study of coming events for imagination and reason and human ingenuity, that nothing but deeply humble waiting on God can save us from mistaking the interest and pleasure of intellectual study for the true love of Him and His appearing.
Waiting for Christ Himself is, oh, so different from waiting for things that may come to pass! The latter any Christian can do; the former, God must work in you every day by His Holy Spirit.
He warns against concentrating on one “waiting” for the other. Those that are waiting on God should not neglect waiting for Jesus’ return and those waiting for Jesus’ return should also be waiting on God.
Waiting on God must ever lead to waiting for Christ as the glorious consummation of His work; and waiting for Christ must ever remind us of the duty of waiting upon God, … The hope of that glorious appearing will strengthen you in waiting upon God for what He is to do in you now.
And as I quoted earlier, waiting in the now will prepare you for waiting for His coming. He ends the meditation on a separate topic – the bridal spirit.
Tender love to Him and tender love to each other is the true and only bridal spirit. … It is not when we are most occupied with prophetic subjects, but when in humility and love we are clinging close to our Lord and His brethren, that we are in the bride’s place. Jesus refuses to accept our love except as it is love to His disciples. … Those who love most are the most ready for His coming.
Jesus, this is a new concept: tying waiting on God and waiting for You to return. Reveal more to me about this over the next week. Also, I am challenged by the call to the bridal spirit – where I love Your disciples as much as I love You. Show me how I can do that.
Day 29 WAITING ON GOD: For the Promise of the Father.
‘He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.’— Acts 1: 4.
Summary of the Meditation
Murray is telling us that just as the first disciples had to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power, so we need to wait continually. He shows us how this waiting and subsequent infilling happened several times to the same disciples. So we need to wait for this continual infilling of the Spirit.
In one sense, the fulfillment can never come again as it came at Pentecost. In another sense, and that in as deep reality as with the first disciples, we daily need to wait for the Father to fulfil His promise in us.
He also provides us some of his pneumatology – his doctrine of the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit is not a person distinct from the Father in the way two persons on earth are distinct.
The Father and the Spirit are never without or separate from each other: the Father is always in the Spirit;
The Spirit works nothing but as the Father works in Him.
Each moment the same Spirit that is in us, is in God too
The Spirit in us is not a power at our disposal.
Nor is the Spirit an independent power, acting apart from the Father and the Son.
The Spirit is the real living presence and the power of the Father working in us
The Spirit given at Pentecost was not a something that God parted with in heaven, and sent away out of heaven to earth. God does not, cannot, give away anything in that way.
Finally, he ties this back to waiting: “he who is most full of the Spirit will be the first to wait on God most earnestly, further to fulfil His promise, and still strengthen him mightily by His Spirit in the inner man.”
Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit! Any attempt to define one member of the trinity apart from the other creates confusion in my mind. Open my mind and my heart to the incredible beauty of the Trinity.
Day 30 WAITING ON GOD: Continually
‘Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.’— Hos. 12: 6.
Summary of the Meditation
Just as continuity is critical to life, continuity in our waiting on God is critical to life in the Spirit. We are to learn to wait on Him continually. Murray recognizes that there are special times of waiting, but “the maintenance of the spirit of entire dependence must be continuous.” And thus, for all who want everything there is from God, we must learn to wait continually.
Murray encourages us by saying that this is possible. Whatever your heart is full of will occupy it. “When the heart has learned how entirely powerless it is for one moment to keep itself or bring forth any good, when it has understood how surely and truly God will keep it, when it has, in despair of itself, accepted God’s promise to do for it the impossible, it learns to rest in God, and in the midst of occupations and temptations it can wait continually.”
He encourages us to not worry about starting imperfectly. There will be frequent intermissions and failures. But he encourages us to believe that God is superintending the process. Waiting is not fruitless. Even while we wait in darkness. God is working behind the scenes in them. “Waiting continually will be met and rewarded by God Himself working continually.” And no quid pro quo. Not: “If I wait continually, God will work continually.” No! Since God is working continually in my life, I will wait continually upon Him. “Take time until the vision of your God working continually, without one moment’s intermission, fill your being. Your waiting continually will then come of itself.”
Father, work in me this “waiting as a life style.” Lord, what is the first step I can take to grow in this?
Day 31 WAITING ON GOD: Only
‘My soul, wait thou only upon God; For my expectation is from Him. He only
is my rock and my salvation.’— Isa. 62: 5,6.
Summary of the Meditation
How fitting to end this series of meditations with the one word: only. How often we have other preoccupations and distractions? I certainly do. Murray tells us that we won’t find many companions with us on this journey.
On a side note, Murray brings up the topic of the bronze serpent. It is an odd enough story from the book of Numbers where this statue on a pole is erected under God’s instruction for all to look at and be healed from a plague God sent upon His people (Numbers 21:4-9). Then this statue becomes an idol that the children of Israel are burning incense to and Hezekiah destroys it (2 Kings 18:4). It is here that it is given a name: Nehushtan. All of this is to say that when we are waiting on anything but God alone, we succumb to the temptation to become distracted by good and holy things: the arc; the temple; church and doctrine; means of grace and divine appointments.
Murray’s remedy: Recognize that we are an immortal spirit destined for the privilege of eternity and union with God. Religious thoughts and reflections; spiritual disciplines and works of service “very often take the place of waiting on God.” Our two great enemies (not sure why the devil is not included as a third) are the world and self. “Beware lest any earthly satisfaction or enjoyment, however innocent it appears, keep you back from saying, ‘I will go to God, my exceeding joy.’”
Father, I feel this even now. I am not waiting on You only! Murray wants us to beware of “Pleasing self in little things may be strengthening it to assert itself in greater things.” He calls us back to two foundational truths to keep us on track: “They are: your absolute helplessness; and, the absolute sufficiency of thy God.”
He closes this meditation and this book with the following:
No words can tell, no heart conceive, the riches of the glory of this mystery of the Father and of Christ. Our God, in the infinite tenderness and omnipotence of His love, waits to be our Life and Joy. Oh, my soul! let it be no longer needed that I repeat the words, ‘Wait upon God,’ but let all that is in me rise and sing: ‘Truly my soul waits upon God. On Thee do I wait all the day.’
Father, I long to put this into practice. Work these truths deep in me so that all that is in me will rise and sing: “I wait only on You all day long. ” Amen.
Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants by Kenneth Bailey
This is a book summary of The Cross and the Prodigal written by Kenneth Bailey. This is one of most engaging, interesting and inspiring exegesis of Luke 15 that I have ever heard or read. We first heard Kenneth Bailey speak at our church in Florida. At that moment I knew I tapped into a source of understanding the gospels as never before. This summary will be mostly quotes from the book. I don’t have much to add. Get the book – there is a lot more background then there is here.
Across the centuries since the rise of Islam, Muslim voices have echoed the cry “Christians have perverted the message of Jesus” and pointed to the famous parable of the prodigal son as evidence.
One of the following arguments is used to support this:
There is no cross and no incarnation, no “son of God” and no “savior,” no “word that becomes flesh” and no “way of salvation,” no death and no resurrection, no mediator and no mediation. The son needs no help to return home. The result is obvious. Jesus is a good Muslim who in this parable affirms Muslim theology.
He then asks the following:
… how is it that both the incarnation (God comes to us in Jesus) and the atonement (the cross is a saving power) appear to be missing?
This Bailey does masterfully. Starting with how we read parables and how we need to listen to them with the ears of 1st century Middle Eastern peasants, he tells us the following about Parables:
What lies between the lines, what is felt and not spoken, is of deepest significance. Indeed, it almost cannot be expressed because it is not consciously apprehended. What “everybody knows” is never explained.
We start with the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes and Bailey shows how the next three parables all are Jesus’ answer to this complaint:
Luke 15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (ESV).”
Parable of the Lost Sheep
Then he dives right into the first parable:
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them,
His first observation is:
This verse (Luke 15:4) is a startling response to the complaint of the Pharisees. The Pharisees began as a lay movement, and they were expected to work for a living in some secular profession. One could not accept money for teaching the law. Thus Paul was a tentmaker and Jesus a carpenter, and thereby addressing Pharisees as “working men” was not a problem. But shepherds were considered unclean by the rabbis,” who referred to such people as “people of the land and avoided them. Clearly Jesus did not consider shepherding an unclean profession.”
Pharisees no doubt expected Jesus to say something like this: “Which of you, owning a hundred sheep, if you received a report that one was lost, would not send a servant to the shepherd responsible and threaten him with dismissal if he didn’t find the sheep?”
Then also the story Jesus tells is best understood as a reshaping of Psalm 23, with himself at its center. This possibility turns this first parable into an amazing introduction to this trilogy of three stories. Jesus claims to be the divine presence among the people searching for the lost and thus fulfilling the promises of Psalm 23,
Old Testament Parallels to this Parable
He also believes that Jesus is drawing upon Jeremiah 23:1-8 (ESV)
23 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ 7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”
and Ezekiel 34:1-31. 34 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? …
Notice Luke 15:4 “If he has lost one of them.” No self respecting middle easterner would say that. Arabic translations in the past have turned this into a passive to read “If one of them is lost,”… at both ends of the Mediterranean the speaker never blames himself.
Jesus broke the common speech patterns of the day by placing responsibility on the shepherd, saying “If he has lost one of them.” This departure from traditional idiom is important. Jesus is saying to his audience, “You lost your sheep. I went after it and brought it home. Now you have the gall to come to me complaining! Don’t you realize that I am making up for your mistakes?”
Moving on: (Vs 4) does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
Parable Addresses an Age-Old Problem
Bailey addresses the difficult question: What matters more: Should we put the group at risk to rescue one member of the group?
Christian missionaries have debated this point with communist dialecticians in China. Does the lost individual matter or are “the people” alone important? Indeed, it is the shepherd’s willingness to go after the one that gives the ninety-nine their real security. If the one is sacrificed in the name of the larger good of the group, then each individual in the group is insecure, knowing that he or she too is of little value. If lost, he or she will be left to die. When the shepherd pays a high price to find the one, he thereby offers the profoundest security to the many.
5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Bailey notes that the shepherd had to carry the sheep back over very, very difficult terrain. He also points out that:
When the lost is found, the task of restoration has barely begun. This theme disappears in the second story only to reappear with all of its glorious fullness in the third story. It is a crucial theme within which lies the cross.
In all of these early Eastern artistic presentations of the Good Shepherd, the price paid is emphasized by the extraordinary size of the sheep. Clearly Christ’s passion is foreshadowed in this text and in these representations of it.
The Pharisees, as religious leaders, were indeed the “shepherds of Israel.” Thus it is easy to see that in this parable Jesus is holding them responsible for any “sheep” (read: person) that is lost from the community. In the parable the shepherd does four things:
• Accepts responsibility for the loss.
• Searches without counting the cost.
• Rejoices in the burden of restoration.
• Rejoices with the community at the success of restoration.
Jesus here sets a high standard for the church in any age.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Jesus’ subtle humor is evident in this verse. The “righteous” who “need no repentance” do not exist. Naturally, heaven’s joy over them will be minimal. As the parable concludes, the ninety-nine sheep are still in the wilderness!
But more important is the fact that the lost sheep is clearly symbolic of a repentant sinner. This comes as a complete surprise. How can this sheep represent “repentance”? Quite simple, Jesus is defining repentance as “acceptance of being found.” The sheep is discovered to be missing. The shepherd pays the price to search for, find and restore the lost sheep.
Parable of the Lost Coin 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then Jesus is also the Good Woman. Clearly this is what he intends his listeners to conclude.
Who was responsible for losing the sheep? … the peasant woman can blame no one but herself. All through her search she mutters repeatedly, How stupid of me! Why didn’t I secure the coin on its chain more firmly? Or as I prefer, Why didn’t I tie my cloth more tightly? Her remorse and desperation stem from this sense of undeniable responsibility, and her joy, like the shepherd’s, cries out to be shared.… the peasant woman can blame no one but herself.
Starting to tie the 3 parables to one pointed message for the Pharisees and scribes, Bailey observes that the shepherd had a party for men while the woman had a party for women.
In the first story the lost is one in a hundred. In the second story it is one in ten, and in the parable of the prodigal son it is one in two.
The second progression is in regard to the availability of the place where the lost article can be found. The lost sheep is in the wide wilderness; the coin is confined to the house. But the sons are lost as they fall out of the circle of a father’s love.
The Three Parables
Bailey provides this helpful summary:
Actors in the Drama
The Lost Sheep
The Lost Coin
The Lost Son
the older son
Parable of the Lost Sons 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’
The request itself is a form of mutiny. The prodigal is impatient for his father to die. Theologically, Jesus is affirming that humankind in their rebellion against God really want him dead!
In the villages when I come to this point in a sermon on this text, I always ask, “Who must be the reconciler?” The villagers always answer from their pews, “His brother, of course.” Everybody knows this. Furthermore, he must start immediately. It is up to him to step in at once and try to reconcile his brother to his father.
And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
First century Jewish custom dictated that if a Jewish boy lost the family inheritance among the Gentiles and dared to return home, the community would break a large pot in front of him and cry out “so-in-so is cut off from his people.” This ceremony was called the Kezazah (literally “the cutting off”). After it was performed, the community would have nothing to do with the wayward person
14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’
True Repentance or Not?
“Father, I have sinned before heaven and your sight.” Jesus was addressing a scholarly audience. This sentence is a paraphrase from the mouth of Pharaoh when he addressed Moses after the first nine plagues.
The language of the Aramaic version of this text is even closer to Luke 15:18 than the Hebrew [ in the account with Moses]. Everyone knows that Pharaoh was not sincerely repenting.
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Things didn’t work out the way the son anticipated. What did happen was radically unorthodox from every perspective.
As the prodigal returned to the village he expected his father to remain aloof in the house while he made his way through the village. To say the least, he would be “subdued” in the process by the crowd in the street. As soon as they discovered that the money had been lost among the Gentiles the Kezazah ceremony would be enacted. The son would then be obliged to sit for some time outside the gate of the family home before being allowed to even see his father. Finally he would be summoned. With the boy already rejected by the village, the father would be very angry, and the boy would be obliged to apologize for everything as he pleaded for job training in the next village.
Thanks to Bailey, most of us have heard how radical the father’s response was.
The father, in his house, clearly represents God. The best understanding of the text is to see that when the father leaves the house and takes upon himself a humiliating posture on the road, he becomes a symbol of God incarnate. He does not wait for the prodigal to come to him but rather at great cost goes down and out to find and resurrect tthe one who is lost and dead. These actions (seen in a Middle Eastern context) clearly affirm one of the deepest levels of the meaning of both the incarnation and the atonement.
Islam claims that in this story the boy is saved without a savior. The prodigal returns. The father forgives him. There is no cross, no suffering and no savior. But not so. The incarnation and the atonement are dramatically present in the story and form its first climax. The suffering of the cross was not primarily the physical torture but rather the agony of rejected love. In this parable the father endures such agony all through the estrangement.
Next, Bailey addresses the question: Did the prodigal repent?
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Notice that the son doesn’t finish his prepared speech.
Traditional Western interpretation has said that the father interrupted the son and didn’t give him a chance to finish his speech. Rather, faced with this incredible event he is flooded with the awareness that his real sin is not the lost money but rather the wounded heart. The reality and enormity of his sin and the resulting intensity of his father’s suffering overwhelm him. In a flash of awareness he now knows that there is nothing he can do to make up for what he has done. His proposed offer to work as a servant now seems blasphemous. He is not interrupted. He changes his mind and accepts being found. In this manner he fulfills the definition of repentance that Jesus sets forth in the parable of the lost sheep. Like the lost sheep, the prodigal now accepts to be found.
Restoration of Fellowship
22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The “best robe” is naturally the father’s finest robe. In the story of Esther, Haman is asked what he thinks the king should do for the man the king wishes to honor. His first suggestion is to have him dressed in royal robes the king has worn (Esther 6:1-9). The prodigal will attend the banquet attired in his father’s most elegant robe. The guests that night will recognize the robe and treat him in a respectful manner because of the clothes he is wearing. They will understand that he has been fully restored to sonship.
The signet ring and the shoes are symbols of sonship according to Bailey. A fully restored son.
The Elder Son 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
Bailey notes that a son never works the field but is an overseer. Bailey notes that it would be normal for him to go immediately in – but “he stands aloof.”
26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
Bailey says that the proper translation here is not servants but young boys who would not be allowed in the feast but would gather outside. The servants would all be hard at work on the banquet.
27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’
Bailey notes with great insight that sitting down to eat with sinners is exactly the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes at the beginning of the chapter. That is what the Father is doing.
The young boy does not say, “Your brother has returned.” “Return” is a big word in the Bible. … Indeed in Hebrew the word “return” and the word “repent” are the same word (shub). Here in the parable the young boy tells the older son, “Your brother has hēkei.” In Greek hēko can mean “has arrived”; it can also mean “is here.” There is no hint of the prodigal having made a journey of repentance and return. Rather, he has simply appeared and only then did things start to happen.
If the older son had been told “your father has received your brother safe and sound ” (as in the RSV and NIV), the older son would have rushed at once into the banquet because such a report would have meant that the father had not yet decided what to do with the prodigal. The older son would naturally want to be present to insist, “Make the irresponsible fool get a job and return the money before you let him in the door!” But if the father has already received the prodigal “with peace” then the two of them are reconciled—and the older son’s point of view has already lost.
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,
At such a banquet the father sits with the guests. The older son often stands and serves the meal as a “head waiter.” The important difference between him and the other servants is that he joins in conversation with the seated company. By stationing the older son as a kind of hovering head waiter, the family is in effect saying, “You, our guests, are so great that our son is your servant.” But can he bring himself to serve his brother?
He refuses to enter the banquet hall where the guests have already arrived. In any social situation, banquet or no banquet, the male members of the family must come and shake hands with the guests even if they don’t stay and visit. They cannot stay aloof if they are anywhere in the vicinity of the house. Failure to fulfill this courtesy is a personal insult to the guests and to the father, as host. The older son knows this and thereby his action is an intentional public insult to his father.
Because it is in public, this rebellion of the older son is more serious than the earlier rebellion of the prodigal.
For the second time in the same day the father’s response is incredible. Once again he demonstrates a willingness to endure shame and self-emptying love in order to reconcile. The parable briefly and succinctly states, “His father came out and entreated him.” It is almost impossible to convey the shock that must have reverberated through the banquet hall when the father deliberately left his guests, humiliated himself before all, and went out in the courtyard to try to reconcile his older son.
The father’s agony of rejected love is more keenly felt with the older son because of the son’s public insult. Earlier in the day the father paid the price of self- emptying love in order to reconcile the prodigal to himself. Now he must pay the same price to try to win the older son.
29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
The Elder Son’s Sin
The elder son refuses to participate in reconciling his brother to the village because he:
• Rebels against his father. In this speech he insults his father for the second time in one evening by omitting any title. The phrase “O father” is an essential sign of respect.
• Has broken a relationship, not a law.
• Accuses his father of favoritism
• Reads himself out of the family.
• Refuses partnership with his father.
• Despises his brother.
• Catches himself in an unsuspected trap. He says that the younger brother devoured “your living with harlots.” Thereby he refuses to acknowledge that the portion given by the father to the son was really the prodigal’s to do with as he pleased.
• Understands his relationship to his father as that of a servant before his master.
• Needs to be forgiven by his father and his brother.
• Falsifies the meaning of the banquet. The young boy tells him that the banquet is in celebration of the father’s success in creating shalom. The older son cries out, “you killed for him the fatted calf.” The banquet is in honor of the father not the brother. The older son does not allow himself to understand this.
• Is consumed with envy, pride, bitterness, sarcasm, anger, resentment, self-centeredness, hate, stinginess, self-satisfaction and self-deception. Yet he appears to see his actions as a righteous search for honor.
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
If the father is an oriental patriarch, he will cry out, “Enough! Lock him up! I will deal with him later!” By contrast, this father bypasses the omission of a title and overlooks the bitterness, the arrogance, the distortion of fact and the accusation of favoritism. There is no judgment, no criticism and no rejection. He opens his reply with teknon, which is not the ordinary word for “son” (huios). Huios is used for son in verses 11, 13, 19, 21, 24, 25 and 30. The new word (teknon) introduced here is a special word for “son” indicating love and affection.
The parable of the prodigal son is unfinished. Jesus leaves the account in midair. The entire trilogy moves to its poignant climax in the courtyard. Inside the banquet hall tense guests wait to see if the son will give up his rebellion and enter the house in humility. But the ending is missing. Clearly it is omitted on purpose. Jesus’ reason for this omission is obvious in that he is addressing the group of religious sinners who stand in opposition to his message. There is still a chance for them to be reconciled to the Father, present among them in Jesus’ person. In hardness of heart they can also reject his love and increase his suffering. … Is not the end of the story the cross ⁵? But another option is still open.
Jesus is telling them, “This is my explanation of why I sit and eat with sinners. What now are you going to do with me?” Each reader or listener is pressed to ponder the same question.
The Parable of the Two Lost Sons—the Theological Cluster
Sin. The parable exhibits two types of sin. One is the sin of the law-breaker and the other the sin of the law-keeper. Freedom. God grants ultimate freedom to humankind, which is the freedom to reject his love. Repentance. Two types of repentance are dramatically illustrated: (1) earn your acceptance as a servant/craftsman, (2) accept the costly gift of being found as a son/daughter. Grace. Grace is a freely offered love that seeks and suffers in order to save. Joy. For the father, joy is in finding. For the son, joy is in being found and re- stored to community. Fatherhood. The image of God as a compassionate father is here given its finest definition in all of Scripture. Sonship. Each son returns to the father either defining (the older son) or in- tending to define (the prodigal) his relationship to the father as that of a servant before a master. The father will not accept this definition. Christology. Twice the father takes upon himself the form of a suffering servant who in each case offers a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Family/community. The father offers costly love to his sons in order to restore them to fellowship in the context of a family or community. The family is Jesus’ metaphor for the church. Incarnation and atonement. The father empties himself and goes down and out to meet the sons where they are (incarnation). In the process he demonstrates costly redeeming love (atonement). Eucharist. As he partakes in the banquet the prodigal is sitting and eating with the father who through self-giving love won the prodigal into fellowship with him- self. Thus the heart of the Eucharist is clearly affirmed.
The book concludes with a play that Bailey wrote about this parable.
Didache means teaching which means it is the teachings of Jesus as expounded by the Apostles. In all probability it was penned in the late first century. It most probably was composed by Jewish Christians and is the earliest known catechism
Part I – The Way of Life
Chapter 1 – The First Commandment.
This chapter expands on the first two great commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. It quotes extensively from the Sermon on the mount as to what it means to love neighbor. It also has the negative golden rule: What you don’t want done to you; don’t do to others
Chapter 2 – Gross Sin forbidden
This chapter goes over the 10 Commandments and expands on them.
It expands on
Adultery – to include fornication and pederasty
Murder – to include infanticide and abortion.
Not bearing false witness to include – “ you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued; nor shall your speech be empty.”
Not coveting to – “You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious (aggressively greedy or grasping), nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor.”
It concludes this category of sins with: “You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.”
Chapter 3 – Other sins
Flee from evil and any pretense of evil
Not be prone to anger
Not be jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper;
Not be a lustful one;
Not be a filthy talker
Not be an observer of omens
Not be an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier (after the manner of the low-class Orphic practitioners according to Plato’s Republic were those who practiced divination),
Not be a liar
Not be money-loving, nor vainglorious,
Not be a murmurer,
Not be self-willed nor evil-minded,
Not exalt yourself, Luke 18:14
Not give over-confidence to your soul.
Not allow your soul to be joined with lofty ones, but with just and lowly ones shall it have its intercourse.
On the positive side:
Be have pity and be empathetic
Be always trembling at the words which you have heard – hold what you learn in high regard – honor; write them down.
Chapter 4 – Various Precepts
Pray for him who speaks to you the word of God, remember him day and night and day; and you shall honor him as the Lord; for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord
Seek fellowship with other followers of the Way in order that you may learn from them
Do not long for division but be an agent of reconciliation.
Have all of your judgments be fair – not prejudicially judge one over another
Do not draw things out when you offer your gifts – do it now.
Do not murmur when you give
Do not turn away him who is in want
Share everything you have with your brothers and sisters
Do not claim anything as your own
Do not withhold discipline from your children, no matter what the age
Teach your children the fear of the Lord
Do not prescribe an action or attitude to your employees or contractors out of bitterness
Be subject to your employer
Hate all hypocrisy
Hate all that is not pleasing to the Lord
Keep all of the commandments of the Lord – neither adding to nor taking away
Confess your sins in the presence of other followers of the Way
Come to the Lord in prayer with confession
Part II – The way of death
Chapter 5 – The way of death
The way of death is this:
Violent seizing of another’s property
Persecutors of the good
Loving a lie
Not knowing a reward for righteousness
Not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment
Watching not for that which is good but for that which is evil;
Where meekness and endurance are far
Not pitying a poor man
Not laboring for the afflicted
Not knowing Him that made them
Murderers of children
Destroyers of the handiwork of God
Turning away from him that is in want
Afflicting him that is distressed
Advocates of the rich
Lawless judges of the poor
Sinning without end
Part III Ecclesiastical Instructions
Chapter 6 – False Teachers and Food offered to Idols
Our life is to
Follow in the teachings and admonitions of the Lord
Bear the Lord’s light yoke and thereby follow His command to Be perfect
Not be afraid if we cannot fully bear the Lord’s light yoke, but to do it as best we can
Eat the foods we are able to bear – except for foods sacrificed to idols
Chapter 7 – Baptism
First instruct those who are to be baptized in the Way of Life and the Way of Death
Baptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in running water
If running water is not available, use cold water from a lake or ocean – and if you cannot use cold water use warm water.
If none of those are available, pour water on the head three times into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Instruct the baptizer to fast one or two days prior to their baptism
Chapter 8 – Concerning Fasting and Prayer (Lord’s Prayer)
Don’t fast when the hypocrites do – on the 2nd and 5th day of the week, but fast on Wednesday and Friday.
Don’t pray as the hypocrites do but pray the Lord’s prayer three times a day
Chapter 9 – The Thanksgiving (Eucharist)
Celebrate the Eucharist as follows:
First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever.
And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.
Don’t let just anyone celebrate this Thanksgiving with you but only those who are baptized.
Chapter 10 – Prayer after Communion
The following should be prayed after communion:
We thank You, holy Father, for Your holy name which You caused to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. You, Master almighty, created all things for Your name’s sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your Servant. Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maran atha. Amen.
Chapter 11 – Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets
Receive anyone who teaches according to this teaching of our Lord
Do not receive those who teach anything contrary to this teaching
Allow an apostle to stay one or at most two days. Throw him out after that.
Don’t accept an apostle who asks for money
Accept what a prophet says in the Spirit without judgement. They will receive from the Lord if they are in error. Know that everyone who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet. Judge them, not their words, by whether or not their life conforms to this teaching. If they don’t practice what they preach, they are a false prophet.
If the prophet asks for money, he is a false prophet
Chapter 12 – Receiving other followers of the Way
Receive all who profess at first – but watch carefully his ways. Discern if he is a true follower by the fruit of his life
Don’t let him stay more than 2 days as a guest
Assist him on his journey as much as you are able
After 3 days, if he wants to stay, let him work. If he is not willing to work, kick him out and have nothing to do with him
Chapter 13 – Support of Prophets
True prophets and true teachers are worthy of the support of the community
Give of the first fruits of your labors to the teachers and prophets in your midst. If you have no prophets or teachers in your midst, give to the poor.
Chapter 14 – Christian Assemble on the Lord’s Day
Gather every Lord’s day together with fellow followers of the Way
When you gather:
Confess your sins
Do not allow those who are not reconciled to gather with you. Encourage them to be reconciled.
Chapter 15 – Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof
Appoint bishops and deacons from your midst. Here are the qualifications:
Not lovers of money
Honor them as you honor your teachers and prophets
Follow Matthew 18 in reproving one-another. Do not reprove in anger but in peace.
Have nothing to do with those who do not repent once confronted per Matthew 18.
Keep the discipline of prayer and the giving of alms ever with you as group of followers of the Way.
Chapter 16 – Watchfulness and the Coming of the Lord
Always be ready and prepared for the Lord’s coming. For you know not the day nor the hour.
Watch out for the wolves that will appear in the last days. Watch for when love turns to hate; when lawlessness increases; when the community of faith betrays one another. Watch for the coming of the Anti-Christ. He shall do signs and wonders and the whole earth will be in awe of him.
Many will fall away – but those who endure will be saved.
Here are the signs of His coming:
First there will be signs in the heavens. Then there will be the sound of the trumpet. Then the resurrection of the dead. Not all, but only His saints. And then shall the Lord appear with all of His saints with Him. And the whole world shall see His coming in the clouds!
I picked up this book because I realized, yet again, how ill practiced I was about spiritual warfare. A close friend told me last summer that Barbara’s illness was a demonic attack. I couldn’t say that. Lord, am I so insensitive to the working of demons that I am missing this? Many have said that the way we were treated at our former church, where we labored for more than 40 years, was the result of demonic activity. I had not treated it that way.
So it was with the hope of getting some [more] insight into spiritual warfare I went to this book (which I had try to read many many years ago).
From 10,000 feet, my primary takeaways were this:
Christians can be demon possessed
The Baptism of the Spirit opens us up to the spiritual world and thus can open us up to the demonic.
Lies are the primary weapon of Satan and his minions
Passivity in all areas of our lives leads to both demonic oppression and demonic possession (See chapter 4 notes)
Truth from the word of God is the primary offensive weapon we have.
Deliverance from possession should not be attempted until the ground given to the enemy was taken back. In other words, Satan only can make in-roads into the life of a believer, if we give him ground (open sin, believing falsehoods, passivity of will, etc).
Overall, I felt there were nuggets of truth in this book. Yet I came away not feeling like I knew any more about how to conduct spiritual warfare in prayer. And I am not sure I am any better at discerning whether something is of God or of the flesh or of the devil. They give the example of Paul from the book of Acts where he was restrained from going some place once by the Spirit and once by Satan. But how? More example prayers would have been helpful. At one point they say that one who has the armor of God on does not rely on reason – but throughout the book they encourage us to rely on reason – not on impressions of the Spirit.
I did not agree with their distinctions about the presence of the person of the Father and the Son. (see my notes from Chapter 6). I did not agree with their simplistic way of dealing with discerning whether something was from God or not (see my notes on Chapter 5).
Can a Christian be possessed by a demon?
I did not buy a lot of what was taught in this book. But the one thing taught that I have changed my opinion on was this question: Can a Christian be demon possessed? For most of my walk with Jesus, I have believed that a Christian cannot be demon possessed. Much ink has been spilled on this subject. But simply put, the main argument is that once the Spirit of God dwells in a person, a demon cannot dwell in the same person. Darkness and light cannot dwell together. An additional argument is that the Scripture does not directly address the question. All the people who are delivered from demons are non-Christians. But some New Testament individuals who self-identify as Christ followers are possessed. “Satan entered into Judas.” (John 13:27). Satan filled the heart of Ananias (Acts 5:3). Under church discipline, Christians are “handed over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20) and “delivered to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Here is what changed for me.
I have increasingly come to the understanding of how compartmentalized we are in our faith. Much like the famous booklet, My Heart – Christ’s Home by Robert Munger, when we first receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, certain rooms are not opened to Him. And as we walk with the Spirit, over time, we may shut Him out of rooms He previously inhabited. Accepting this understanding, it is easy for me to see that a demon can take up residence in one of these uninhabited (by the Spirit) rooms.
Experience over the past 25 years has affected this change of opinion as well. With the fall from grace of so many icons of the faith whom I deeply respected (Ravi Zacharius and Jean Vanier as the most recent) and others I didn’t know as well, I have questioned: How can this be? How can the Spirit of God dwell in such men? I have come to see their lives in this compartmentalized framework – where the Spirit of God inhabited them and enabled them to do the amazing things they did. But, there were rooms in their lives that were opened to demonic possession. I cannot describe their actions as just the work of the flesh nor even demonic oppression (which Jesus experienced in the wilderness).
Over the years, I have seen that all of the works of the flesh Paul lists in Galatians 5:17-19 are within the scope of possibility (and in many cases actuality) in my life. But the despicable and disgusting acts of some of these fallen leaders have never been even remote temptations to me. Am I better than them? No! Am I deceiving myself that I could not fall into such sins? Perhaps – but I don’t think so. My conclusion has been that they have given ground (see chapter 4) to Satan in certain areas (rooms) of their lives and demons have entered and possessed.
Many Christians disagree on this subject and I held a different opinion for over 50 years so it is not a completely settled question. At this point in my journey it is the best explanation for the truth revealed in scriptures and my experience in life.
Passivity as Ground for the Enemy to Enter
This was a new idea for me and I think I can buy into it. For them, it is the chief means by which Satan enters a Christian. We can be passive in many areas of our life (see the notes on Chapter 4). We can be active and attentive and alert in most areas but be passive in another area. This provides additional support for the compartmentalization of possession.
The following represents the major points I took away from each chapter (Direct quotes are indented or in quotation marks):
Chapter 1A Biblical survey of Satanic deception
Knowledge of truth is the primary safeguard against deception. The “elect” must know, and they must learn to “prove” the “spirits” until they do know what is of God, and what is of Satan. The “knowledge of truth is the first essential for warfare with the lying spirits.” “Nothing can remove a lie but truth.” [from chapter 3 where this statement is given as the central premise of the book].
Chapter 2The Satanic Confederacy of Wicked Spirits
Evil spirits do not know the future but they know what they are going to do and thus can predict “accidents” and deaths. I found this as a helpful approach to several amazing stories I have heard from people who visited fortune tellers. How did the demons know that? Because they were going to cause it.
Chapter 3 Deception by Spirits in Modern Times
The thought that God will protect a believer from being deceived if he is true and faithful, is in itself a “deception,” … Christ would not have warned His disciples “Take heed . . be not deceived” if there had been no danger of deception.
The Baptism of the Spirit opens one to the spirit world. Previously we were led by principles from God’s word – now as we attempt to keep in step with the Spirit – we are more open to being deceived.
Those who have their eyes opened to the opposing forces of the spiritual realm, understand that very few believers can guarantee that they are obeying God, and God only, in direct supernatural guidance, because there are so many factors liable to intervene, such as the believer’s own mind, own spirit, own will, and the deceptive intrusion of the powers of darkness.
A saint can know they are not being deceived if the message bears the fruit of the Spirit and / or is consistent with the character of God.
We cannot therefore, at this time, over-estimate the importance of believers having open minds to “examine all things” they have thought, and taught, in connection with the things of God, and the spiritual realm. … What, then, is the condition of safety from the deception of evil spirits?”
Knowledge that they exist;
That they can deceive the most honest believers (Gal. 2: 11-16);
An understanding of the conditions and ground necessary for their working, so as to give them no place, and no opportunity of working; and, lastly,
Intelligent knowledge of God, and how to co-operate with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 4 Passivity – the chief basis of possession
They believe that possession is “much more wide-spread than is supposed” based on their definition. They take possession to mean: “a hold of evil spirits on a man in any shade of degree.”
What gives ground to the enemy?
every thought suggested to the mind by wicked spirits, and accepted
every faculty unused invites their attempted use of it.
“Truth of every kind makes free, while lies bind up in bonds. Ignorance also binds. Man’s ignorance is a primary and essential condition for deception by evil spirits. The devil’s great purpose … is to keep the world in ignorance of himself, his ways, and his colleagues… This builds off Paul’s statement that there is a great on-slaught on the church in the latter times. They say it would be ‘an army of teaching spirits.’”
Speaking about Eve, they say that she was good – but “goodness is no guarantee of protection from deception.”
Interesting tidbit: “it is not recorded that he [Satan] appeared on earth since the time of the Fall.” I am not sure where Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness fits into that. This is something I don’t agree with.
Passivity can be manifest in:
Reason and Judgment
Chapter 5 Deception and possession
They claim that our individual faculties can be possessed while the rest of us remains faithful to God. For example, the person who gives himself to slander and “it lends itself to sin; and becomes liable to possession.” This makes sense of something I experienced a few years ago. God told me that a person was possessed – but theologically I struggled with that. But this person had given himself over to a significant amount of slander (which I didn’t know about at the time). In one particular meeting with him, when God said the demon was going to manifest itself, his speech became almost unintelligible. Sitting with two others, we all agreed that we had no idea what he was talking about. Normally he was the most lucid and articulate of individuals. But I didn’t see how that was manifesting possession until now.
Though one cannot establish a point where possession happens, they agree that there is:
Sin without possession
Sin that opens the door to possession
Sin that is the result of possession
In this section, they also claim that possession can pass away without deliverance but merely by the person confessing and renouncing the sin that caused it.
In the subsection: DUAL STREAMS OF POWER
This is what I have experienced with the person mentioned above:
“How sane and reasonable he is! What a passion he has for souls!” may be said with truth of a worker, until some moments later some peculiar change is seen in him, and in the meeting. A strange element comes in, possibly only recognizable to some with keen spiritual vision, or else plainly obvious to all.
Here is an interesting thought they put forth:
Christ as a Person is in no man. He dwells in believers by His Spirit–the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8: 9), as they receive the “supply of the Spirit of Jesus” (Phil. 1: 19; Acts 16: 7 R.V.).
Here is how they describe the Trinity:
God the Father, as a Person, is in the highest heaven. His presence is manifested in men as the “Spirit of the Father.” Christ the Son is in heaven as a Person, His presence in men is by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of the Father, and of the Son, is on earth in the Church, which is the Body of Christ; and manifests the Father or the Son, in, and to believers, as they are taught by Him to apprehend the Triune God. … According to them, only the Spirit is present in person.
The counterfeit “Presence,” as an influence, precedes the counterfeit of the “Person” of God, through which much ground is gained.
From the subsection: OBSESSION AND ITS CAUSE
What it is: “Obsession” means an evil spirit, or spirits, hovering around, and influencing a man with the object of obtaining a footing in him, and gaining possession, in however small a degree
The deliverance of persons under obsession of any kind, or degree, is by truth, such as:
Giving them knowledge how to detect what is of God or the devil
Showing them that they should accept nothing from without either in suggestions to the mind, or influence of any kind coming upon the body (The Holy Spirit works from within)
Teaching them how to stand in Christ, and resist all besieging attacks of the powers of darkness
“casting out” may avail in some cases, it is not the only means of deliverance.
Here is an interesting statement:
“it is never safe in any case to feel God’s presence with the physical senses, for it is almost beyond doubt a counterfeit ‘presence.'” I do not buy into this from a scriptural point of view. More later.
I agree with the following statements:
The presence of God always results in: The retention of the use of the will, and faculties.
The counterfeits always result in; The loss of personal control through passivity.
In addressing “automatic writing, what they say is from the evil one
The person writes what he hears dictated audibly in a supernatural way.
He writes what he sees presented to his mind supernaturally, sometimes with rapidity as if compelled.
He writes automatically, as his hand is moved, without any mental, or volitional action.
This is interesting in terms of journaling. When God speaks to me (and others) through prayer journaling, it is not something dictated. It is not written without volitional effort. We are not compelled but we do write what is presented to our minds supernaturally. So I agree with one and three are of the evil one. But with item two I only agree with the fact that we are not compelled.
Conversely, addressing what is true spiritual journaling:
In writing under Divine guidance, three factors are required:
A spirit indwelt by, and moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1: 21).
An alert and renewed mind, acute in active power of apprehension and intelligent thinking (See 1 Cor. 14: 20).
A body under the complete control of the spirit and volition of the man (See 1 Cor. 9: 27).
Chapter 6 Counterfeits of the Divine
This was a challenging chapter. I didn’t agree with much of it. They claim that one of the tactics of the enemy is to provide a counterfeit of the divine presence. “the basis of this counterfeit, is the mistaken location of God; either (1) in them (consciously); (2) or around them (consciously).” They make a distinction that the Father is not present as a person in the believer. Jesus is not present as a person in the believer. The Spirit is present as a person in the believer. The Father and Jesus as person’s are in heaven. This seems to violate Jesus own words in the Gospel of John.
I think the Spirit mediates the presence of Jesus and the Spirit mediates the presence of the Father. “Anyone who does not have Christ does not belong to Him” Romans 8
Some believers so live inwardly in communion, worship and vision, as to become spiritually introverted, and cramped and narrowed in their outlook; with the result that their spiritual capacity and mental powers become dwarfed and powerless. Others become victims to the “inner voice,” and the introverted attitude of listening to it, which is the ultimate result of the location of God as a Person within, so that eventually the mind becomes fixed in the introverted condition with no out-going action at all.
Again – they feel that the location of God as a Person is not within except the Holy Spirit. I agree that contemplatives can become so fixated with introverted naval gazing that there is no out-going action at all. But I fundamentally disagree that the person of the Father and the person of Jesus does not reside in us.
They claim that
Sensuous feelings, or “conscious” physical enjoyment of some supposed spiritual presence is not true communion of spirit with spirit, such as the Father seeks from those who worship Him (John 4: 24).
Here I take another exception. If words can cross the bridge between spirit and mind (or heart) (which they accept), why cannot sensuous feelings – like a feeling of warmth or nearness communicated by the presence of God.
This also seems to miss the fact that since God is Spirit – location as we know is not something we can pin down. How many dimensions exist in our physical reality? Which dimension(s) does God locate in our of universe. The key is that as Spirit he is not located in our space time reality at all. But he can intersect with our reality. In a simplistic view (viz a viz – Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott), a being can be in the 4th dimension or 4 dimensional (Abbott doesn’t take time as the 4th dimension) – fully located there but still manifest itself in the 3 dimensions of space. And do it in some weird ways. That is just a mathematical fact.
The Lord’s words recorded in the gospel of John, chapters 14, 15 and 16, give the truth very clearly concerning His indwelling in the believer. The “in Me” of being with Him, and in Him, in His heavenly position (John 14:20) both speak of Jesus’ presence as a person with us.
This seems to my little brain – just muddled thinking. Not really understanding the scriptures nor the power of God – not really understanding how Jesus can be in heaven – how we can be in heaven and on earth at the same time. The central question here is Does the Spirit of God dwell “in us” here on earth? What about when Jesus appeared to Paul? Was that Jesus’ presence here on earth?
I like their identification of wrong speaking – useful in my Discernment blog:
Some of the suggestions made to the believer by deceiving spirits at this time, may be:
“You are a special instrument for God,” working to feed self-love;
“You are more advanced than others” working to blind the soul to sober knowledge of itself;
“You are different from others,” working to make him think he needs special dealing by God;
“You must take a separate path,” a suggestion made to feed the independent spirit;
“You must give up your occupation, and live by faith,” aiming at causing the believer to launch out on false guidance, which may result in the ruin of his home, and sometimes the work for God in which he is engaged.
For them all physical or sensory experiences of God’s presence are counterfeit. Were tongues of fire sensory? Did Stephen see Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father? Here I have a very different view of the intersection of the body and soul with the Spirit. Those who are by nature emotional – their emotions are much more affected by the seam between spirit and soul. Those who are by nature very influenced by the body (athletes, dancers, etc) the body gets affected when the Spirit of God touches their spirit.
They claim that Jesus did not hear the voice of the Father and when He did it was for the sake of others. But this misses two major points: What was going on during those long times of solitude? AND Jesus’ statements that He only speaks what He hears the Father tell him.
At the heart, they are somewhat cessationists:
A careful study of the epistles of Paul–which contain an exhaustive epitome of God’s will for the Church, the Body of Christ, as the books of Moses contained God’s will and laws for Israel–seems to make it clear that God, having “spoken to us in His Son,” no longer speaks by His own direct voice to His people.
Again – for the book on discernment, I find these helpful:
From the subsection: HOW TO DETECT THE SOURCE OF “TEXTS” SUPERNATURALLY SPOKEN
Does the believer rely upon these “texts” apart from the use of his mind or reason? This indicates passivity.
Are these texts a prop to him?
undermining his reliance on God Himself;
weakening his power of decision, and (right) self- reliance.
Do these texts influence him? and
make him elated and puffed up as “specially guided by God,”
crush and condemn him, and throw him into despair and condemnation, instead of leading him to sober dealing with God Himself
Here is another helpful discernment:
“Fear of the devil may always be regarded as from the devil”
Chapter 7 – Ground and Symptoms of Possession
One of their central premises is that Satan can speak to believers. But the form and the way he speaks depends on the degree to which they have given ground or even be possessed.
They tell us to watch how things come into the mind. Basically if they come out of the blue be very skeptical. “It is best to be suspicious of the abnormal in every shape and form. … A sudden inability to listen, described as “absent-mindedness” or “preoccupation,” when the person is compelled to follow some “thought” suggested, or picture presented to the mind, or to follow the words of another, are all indications of the interference of evil spirits…”
The Lord’s words in Matthew 13: 23, that the good ground hearer is “he that heareth the word and understandeth it,” show that the mind is the vehicle through which the truth of God reaches men to win their affections, and bring back the will into intelligent and loyal co-operation with God. In like manner the mind is the hindrance to Satan’s carrying out his schemes to win back control of the believer. For the success of his plans, the enemy knows that the mind must be lulled into inaction and disuse by some means or other, either by stratagem or attack.
Passive yielding to circumstances is a sign of evil interactions:
The believer slowly loses power of decision, he becomes more and more tossed about by letting everything in his environment decide for him, and sometimes thinking and believing it is God choosing and deciding for him by “Providences”; he therefore does not choose or decide for himself, but passively drifts, and accepts the choice or decision made for him by “circumstances”; or else he is full of impulses, with no central poise of any kind.
Chapter 8 The Path to Freedom
They strongly encourage us not to cast out a demon until the cause of the possession is dealt with – otherwise the demon will come back.
True deliverance comes when we accept all the truth about ourselves and all the ground given to the enemy.
The man himself must
ACT to get rid of passivity;
he must revoke his CONSENT given to evil spirits to enter, and
by his own volition insist that they retire from the place (Ephes. 4: 27) they have obtained by deceit.
The key point in this chapter concerning discerning the Spirit: “one single contradiction is sufficient to reveal a lying spirit at work.” Here again, me, with limited knowledge and experience compared to these writers, I protest. We can often attempt to discern the Spirit and only get part of the message. Another part might be heard in such a ways as to appear as a contradiction. But the whole message is not wrong. Look at the lying spirit speaking in and through Balaam. Not all he said was not of the Spirit.
Also his example stretches me. If in praying for the sick, you sense that God is going to heal the person and they die, they say a lying spirit is present. No – we so want the person to be healed and restored – it is easy to speak our wishes and conflate them as from God.
In another brief form a summary of the steps to deliverance may be given as follows:–
Recognize persistently the true cause of bondage; i.e., the work of an evil spirit or spirits.
Choose to have absolutely nothing to do with the powers of darkness. Frequently declare this.
Do not talk or trouble about their manifestations. Recognize, refuse and then ignore them.
Refuse and reject all their lies and excuses, as they are recognized.
Notice the thoughts, and the way in which they come, and when, and immediately declare the attitude of Rom.6: 11 against all the interference of the enemy.
Hindrances to deliverance from deception and possession may again be given here briefly, as:–
Not knowing it is possible to be deceived;
Thinking God will not allow a believer to be deceived;
Saying “I am safe under the Blood,” without intelligent knowledge of conditions;
Saying “I have no sin,” to open the door to an “evil spirit”;
Saying “I am doing all that God wants, so all must be right”; without seeking to understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5: 10- 17).
Some hints on overcoming passivity of mind, are as follows:–
Act as far as you can, doing what you can.
Take the initiative, instead of passively depending on others.
Decide for yourself in everything you can. Do not lean on others.
Live in the moment, watch and pray step by step.
Use your mind, and THINK–think over all you do, and say, and are.
Chapter 9 The Volition and Spirit of Man
Here they address the question: How does the Spirit work in individuals:
They make a point that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Not Spirit-control. This is a helpful distinction.
Something we have seen on retreat, where people who are Baptized in the Spirit take every little movement as a movement from God:
believers sometimes think that then He alone acts in them, and they are infallibly, or specially guided by Him, with the result that everything which takes place in their inner life is necessarily His working.
They use Paul’s example from 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says some things come from the Spirit and some from his mind. This is helpful.
Chapter 10 Victory in Conflict
Here is a bold statement:
If the man is right with God, standing on Romans 6, with no deliberate yielding to known sin, then any manifestation of sin coming back again unaccountably, may be dealt with as from evil spirits.
So bold that I don’t buy it. But of course it can never be proven because if a brother or sister manifests sin not from an evil spirit, one can always say that they are not in right with God.
From the subsection: BELIEVER SHOULD MAINTAIN NEUTRALITY TO ACCUSATIONS UNTIL SOURCE PROVED
This above statement is a major point and to my mind a helpful point.
We gain victory over Satan by using the weapon of truth.
To have victory over this persistent stream of lies from the father of lies, the believer must fight (1) with the weapon of God’s truth in the written Word, and (2) truth about facts in himself, others and circumstances.
“We would fain have come unto you . . . but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2: 18), wrote Paul, who was able to discern between the hindering of Satan, and the restraining of the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 16: 6).
The whole of his schemes against God’s children may be summed up under three heads:
To cause them to sin, as he tempted Christ in the wilderness;
To slander them, as Christ was slandered by family and foes;
To slay them, as Christ was slain at Calvary, when, by the direct permission of God, the hour and power of darkness gathered around Him, and He by the hands of wicked men was crucified and slain (Acts 2: 23).
The armored and non- armored believer may be briefly contrasted as follows:
The armored Christian
The non-armored Christian
Armored with truth
Open to lies, through ignorance.
Righteousness of life
Unrighteousness through ignorance.
Making and keeping peace
Divisions and quarrels.
Self-preservation and control
Faith as a shield
Doubt and unbelief.
Scriptures in the hand
Relying on reason instead God’s Word.
Prayer without ceasing
Relying on work without prayer.
Chapter 11 War upon the Powers of Darkness
In war, whether natural or supernatural, there are two principles governing the warfare, viz.: aggressive and defensive, i.e., the attacking force must be able to defend itself as well as to take the aggressive against the enemy.
A central point of the book is that casting out a demon by commanding only is not always effective because sometimes the ground given is not taken back. This essentially is Jesus teaching about the demon coming back to an empty house.
Then they say this:
the degree of knowledge he has about the workings of the spirits of evil determines the degree of his:
authority over them in wielding the Name of Christ,
Example of warfare prayers:
“Lord, destroy that work of the devil!” or “May God open the eyes of that man to the deceptions of Satan around him!”
Learning to do warfare prayer is important: “such a warfare by prayer needs to be learnt as much as any other subject of knowledge in the world of men.” Lord I am not sure how to do this.
Another warfare prayer they taught: “pray that any evil spirit present may be exposed”
They give a warning against praying universal prayers:
The order of prayer is therefore, first exhaustive prayer for all personal and local spheres, praying through these out to the wider range of the universal. Prayer not only exhaustive, but persistent. The believer needs for all this
strength to pray,
vision to pray,
knowledge of what to pray
Also, concerning motivation:
He knows that to see a need for prayer is sufficient call for prayer, and if he waits for “feeling” that he can pray when he has vision to pray it is sin.
Chapter 12 Revival Dawn and the Baptism of the Spirit
“We have seen that the period in the believer’s life wherein he receives the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the special time of danger from the evil supernatural world, and the Baptism of the Spirit is THE ESSENCE OF REVIVAL”
“Few go through the crisis [the hour of Revival] without deception by the enemy in more or less degree, and only those who cling to the use of their reasoning faculties at this time, can hope to be saved from the catastrophe of becoming a victim to the subtle workings of evil supernatural powers.”
We close the book summary with some interesting statements based on their experience with the Welsh revival:
The scheme of the powers of darkness in Revival dawn, is to drive, or push to extreme, what is true.
The mistake at the time of the Revival in Wales in 1904 was to become occupied with the effects of Revival, and not to watch and pray in protecting and guarding the cause of Revival.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the essence of Revival, for Revival comes from a knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and the way of co-working with Him which enables Him to work in Revival power. The primary condition for Revival is, therefore, that believers should individually know the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Spirit fills the human spirit of the believer, and communicates to him the very Spirit of Jesus, joining him in one spirit to the Spirit of the glorified Lord, imparting to him the life and nature of Christ for the building up of a new creation in His likeness (Rom. 8: 29; Heb. 2: 2-13).
Lewis starts us off by saying that we must read the Psalms as poetry: “with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperbole, the emotional rather than logical connections which are proper to lyric poetry.” He warns us about the parallelism used in the Psalms and to really dig into the two renderings of the one thought – and not try to make two thoughts out of them.
Chapter 2 – “Judgement” in the Psalms
He then takes the Psalmists to task: Commenting on Psalm 7:8
The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me
he says that: “this represents the fatal confusion between being in the right and being righteous.” We are not to fall into that trap.
Chapter 3 – Cursings
Lewis starts by looking at Psalm 109. This is the prototype of an imprecatory Psalm. Lewis, as do most of us, finds these disquieting at best. We find these “cursings” in the midst of Psalms we love (like Psalm 143 and 139) as well as buried in the most beloved Psalms (preparing a table in the presence of my enemies means to feed me while they have to just look on – according to Lewis).
Lewis calls these “terrible” and “contemptible.” He says we cannot just leave them alone and dismiss them but must find a use for them. We must not explain them away or yield to the thought that because they are in the Bible, “all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious.” We have to admit that “the hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passion in ourselves.”
Here are Lewis’ observations:
These are feelings that we all know all too well. And we can use these parts of the Psalms to examine if these feelings are in our own hearts. “We are all blood-brothers to these ferocious self-pitying, barbaric men.”
We can use these rants to see “the natural results of injuring a human being.” We arouse these kind of feelings when we lie about another or put them down or keep them down. “Such hatreds are the kind of thing that cruelty and injustice, by a sort of natural law, produce.”
“The reaction of the Psalmist to injury, though profoundly natural, is profoundly wrong.” We cannot say they knew better. The law is clear that the Psalmist is profoundly wrong in wanting the destruction of the babies of our enemies. (Lev 19:17-18; Ex 23:4-5; Prov 24:17; Prov 25:21).
Lewis does not find this kind of hatred expressed in Pagan authors (Greek, Roman, or Norse). The Psalms are “more vindictive and more vitriolic than the Pagan” writings. Why is that? He explains it by saying that “the Jews sinned in this matter worse than the Pagans not because there were further from God but because they were nearer to Him. They were aware of how bad sin was and thus their emotions were more deeply felt. He recalls a time traveling with a group of soldiers during World War II and hearing them talk about the “supposed” Nazi atrocities. They dismissed them as Allied propaganda to motivate the troops. What surprised Lewis was that they were not in the slightest upset with their authorities for doing this to them. He said that the raw emotion expressed by the Psalmist is better than the indifference of these soldiers to supposedly being manipulated by their superiors. “If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously.”
Thus “we can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God.”
“the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God.”
Thus in these imprecatory Psalms, “His words sounds through.”
Chapter 4 Death in the Psalms
Lewis feels that our Christian ancestors “seem to have read the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament under the impression that the authors wrote with a pretty full understanding of Christian Theology.” He believes this to be a false assumption. One area in the Psalms is the area of death. One is hard pressed to find the promise of the afterlife in the Psalms. Clearly we are not to read them as a counter to the resurrection.
Chapter 5 The Fair Beauty of the Lord
“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.” This is most remarkable in that “These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God.” We are to allow the love that these poets express towards God to seep into the very fabric of our being. Angels longed to see what we see and what they did not. Yet few extol the fair beauty of the Lord as do these poets.
Chapter 6 Sweeter than Honey
Lewis asks – why is the law seen as so sweet? One approach would be to see that the laws given by God were so much more beautiful and sweeter than their Pagan neighbor’s laws. He says that we can connect with that today. “None of the new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism. But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough. Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.” Can we see the wonderful beauty and sweet honey of God’s law? Steep ourselves into the rich love of the law by these poets.
Chapter 7 Connivance
Lewis here address the problem where the Psalms view other people as not made in the image of God but really bad people. We are not to learn the ways of the Psalmist in this area.
Chapter 8 Nature
Lewis address how Nature is stripped of its divinity as extolled in the pagan poets but then is made a manifestation of the Divine. Lewis claims that no poetry in any pagan culture praises Nature in this way. “Paganism in general fails to get out of nature something the Jews got.” He only found one instance that is contrary: A poem from the 14th century BC entitled Hymn to the Sun. What is unique is that it is written by a Pharaoh who broke away from polytheism and tried to establish the worship of a single creator God. Is there something about monotheism that enables us to see Nature as a manifestation of the Divine?
Chapter 9 A Word about Praising
In this chapter Lewis addresses the conflict he (and many others) have had with the notion that God demands our praise. It is everywhere in the Psalms. He first addresses the question by speaking about how we deal with inanimate objects like a painting. A beautiful painting should be admired. If one doesn’t admire it, there is something deficient in you. The painting “demands” praise. That is the first sense in which God demands praise.
But Lewis takes us to a second argument. In some mysterious way, “it is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates His presence to men.” He admits that it is a “miserable idea that God should in any sense need, or crave for, our worship…” He says, that “even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived, He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don’t want my dog to bark approval of my books.”
Then he takes it another level. He says that “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…” We praise so many things when we enjoy them: the weather; a good meal; a good friend and so on. And “praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” People with inner health are expressive when in the presence of beauty or greatness. In areas where or times when we are broken, we miss the marvelous and praise does not flow out audibly
And when we praise something, we inevitably invite others into it. “Wasn’t it glorious?” “The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.” “Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.”
Chapter 10 Second Meanings
Lewis now goes to a much more complicated question and which therefore requires a much more nuanced argument. There are many things in the New Testament theology that can be read into the Psalms (a classic error for a modern evangelical). Lewis talks about how many fanciful and intelligent and creative things have been read into his writings. Some so “ingenious and interesting that I often wish I had thought of them myself.” Lewis wants us to be quick not to throw out all second meanings “as rubbish.” I will try to do Lewis justice – but it would be best if you read his argument yourself.
Lewis starts with an illustration recounted by a Roman historian. Apparently there was a fire in a town that originated in one of the public baths. There was a patron of the baths who complained to an attendant that the water was not hot enough. The attendant said “it will soon be hot enough.” If the fire was an accident, then clearly the attendant said something with more truth in it than he intended. But “there need be nothing here but chance coincidence” unless the attendant was involved in an arson.
But a stickier wicket is a poem by Virgil written just before the birth of Christ:
The great procession of the ages begins anew
Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn [lost age of innocence and peace] returns,
And the new child is sent down from the high heaven.
“The poem goes on to describe the paradisial age which this nativity will usher in.” This could be poetically a prophetic description of the birth of Jesus. And throughout the Middle Ages was so interpreted. What are we to make of that? Is it the same as the bath attendant and just a lucky guess?
Lewis offers three thought experiments of the imagination adding up to a total of five examples.
A Spirit-filled man with a track record of accurate prophesy, claims that somewhere in the universe there exists some hideous creature (with specifics). Years later, as space is explored, we find such a creature.
A sci-fi writer with no religious or scientific background describes a different creature. Years later we find just such a creature.
A biologist posits through scientific reasoning, that given a particular environment, such and such a creature would exist in that environment. [Something like Dr. Monica Grady has proposed for Jupiter’s moon Europa]. Again, years from now, we find just such a creature in that specific environment.
These five cases all portray a predictive power – ranging from random chance (the bath attendant) to a scientific possibility come true.
Lewis explores something more like the biologists prediction in his final example: Plato. In his Republic, Plato philosophically explores the true meaning of righteousness. And to do so, he strips it of all the positive things a righteous person might receive: honor, popularity, etc. To see true righteousness, we must see a truly righteous man treated as a man as “a monster of wickedness.” How would society treat such a truly righteous man:
They will say that the just person in such circumstances will be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with a red-hot iron, and, at the end, when he has suffered every sort of bad thing, he will be impaled [placed on a stick to die or the Persian equivalent to crucifixion], and will realize then that one should not want to be just, but to be believed to be just.
This comparison to what happened to Jesus was not missed by the early church Fathers. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian noted it. But for Lewis, he sees this as a pagan finding truth through common grace. “Virgil …and the slave in the bath almost certainly were, “talking about something else… Plato is talking, and knows he is talking, about the fate of goodness in a wicked and misunderstanding world… If Plato … was led on to see the possibility of the perfect example [of a righteous person], and thus to depict something extremely like the Passion,” it was not by chance or by prophetic gifting but by a knowledge of truth.
All of this plays into how we read the Psalms and how there appears to be so much New Testament theology in them. But that is the topic for the next chapter.
Chapter 11 Scripture
In this chapter, Lewis expresses his view on the authority of Scripture. Frankly, his view was a little higher than I expected it to be. Lewis says the Scriptures are:
Inspired by God
“The Oracles of God” (Romans 3:2)
He also doesn’t have a problem with the stories of creation from the book of Genesis to be “derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.” He believes that the stories were molded and shaped by “the Father of Lights.” “When a series of such re-tellings turn a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.” He believes that all of the forms of the Old Testament are “taken into the service of God’s word.” He describes God’s influence as a “Divine pressure” on the writers. He uses the way Jesus taught as instructive for how the Old Testament was formed. Jesus did not use didactic rational reasons but stories and allegories and comparisons. “He preaches but He does not lecture.”
He then goes on to explain how this relates to the Psalms:
Certainly it seems to me that from having had to reach what is really the Voice of God in the cursing Psalms through all the horrible distortions of the human medium, I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light. Nor would I (now) willingly spare from my Bible something in itself so anti-religious as the nihilism of Ecclesiastes. We get there a clear, cold picture of man’s life without God. That statement is itself part of God’s word. We need to have heard it. Even to have assimilated Ecclesiastes and no other book in the Bible would be to have advanced further towards truth than some men do.
In the same way, we need to hear the “cursings” of the Psalmist because they show our own heart like no other ethical exposition can.
Lewis also makes an important point about how Jesus used the Psalms. Jesus said that the Psalms spoke clearly about Him and that was most important to Lewis.
Chapter 12 Second Meaning in the Psalms
He tells us that the Psalms present us with two figures: “that of the sufferer and that of the conquering and liberating king.” He relates that the Jews took the sufferer to be Israel and the king the Messiah. From these images, Lewis addresses the fact that much of the second meanings in the Psalms are allegorical. But he warns us that “this does not mean that all the countless applications of [the allegorical] are fruitful, legitimate, or even rational.”
I am currently reading a series of mediations by David Roper in a book entitled: Teach Us to Number Our Days. I would highly recommend it to those of you who, like me, are aging faster than you would like. In the book, in a chapter entitled, “Learning to Listen, ” David provides ten ways you can know that you are not listening to others.
How to Know You are Not Listening to Others
When I am thinking about an answer while others are talking – I’m not listening.
When I give unsolicited advice – I’m not listening.
When I suggest they shouldn’t feel the way they do – I’m not listening.
When I apply a quick fix to their problem – I’m not listening.
When I fail to acknowledge their feelings – I’m not listening.
When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening.
When I fail to maintain eye contact – I’m not listening.
When I don’t ask follow-up questions – I’m not listening.
When I top their story with a bigger, better story of my own – I’m not listening.
When they share a difficult experience and I counter with one of my own – I’m not listening.
How to Know You are Not Listening to God
Although all of these are not directly applicable to learning to listen to God, I thought I would put my spin on how to know that you are not listening to God based on the above ten principles from David Roper:
When I am thinking about how to come up with the right words to say to God – I’m not listening to Him. God does not need well worded responses. Pour out your heart to him. Don’t wordsmith your response.
When I try to tell God how to run the universe – I’m not listening to Him. He is not looking for advice.
When I am challenging God’s ways – I’m not listening to Him. That said, He invites us to be honest with Him about what we are feeling – but a posture of listening invites us to learn His ways. God only revealed His deeds to the children of Israel – but His ways He revealed to Moses. (Psalm 103:7)
When I am looking for a quick answer from God to a complex problem – I’m not listening to Him.
When I am struggling to know I am loved by Him and His strong feelings toward me, – I’m not listening to God. God has spared nothing to share His reckless love with you. And He has spoken extensively on this topic.
When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening to God.
When I fail to maintain eye contact – I’m not listening to God. God has said: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will advise you with My eye upon you. ” (Psalm 32:8). When we take our eyes off Him, we are not listening.
When I don’t ask follow-up questions – I’m not listening to God. This is one of the key principles we teach about listening prayer. Keep the dialogue going when God has spoken to you. Ask follow-up questions like: “What does that mean? and “Can that really be true?”
When God’s simple response is not enough for us – I’m not listening to Him.
When God shares a difficult word with me and I counter with one of my own difficult words to God – I’m not listening. Again, I am not saying that we not say those difficult words to God. But when we do, it is important to know that we are not in a listening posture.
There is much that can be said about how to know when you are not listening to God – but I thought that Mark Roper’s framework for listening to others would provide a helpful window through which to look at this topic from a different angle. Most of the principles about listening to other persons apply to listening to God – because God is a person – actually three persons in one. For more about discerning God’s voice in prayer – check out my blog by the same title.
I picked up this book from our church library. It was not filed in the Women’s section but Priscilla is definitely targeting it for women. That said – I think it is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to start out learning to listen to God. The whole focus is not on how to discern or recognize God when He speaks – but rather a high level summary of: the what; the how and our response to God’s voice. Note: These notes are from the 2007 edition. She basically re-wrote the book in 2012. There is almost no correlation between that edition and the one I am reviewing.
First off, I want to say I love the way she organized the book. There are five parts:
Part 1: Hearing God’s Voice – This part has the two basics that we teach: Expect to Hear Him and Just do it – practice the spiritual discipline of listening
Part 2: Communicating with God Today – This part could be subtitled: An Invitation to Intimacy with God
Part 3: Revealing God’s Character – This part could be subtitled: What to Primarily Expect while Listening to God
Part 4: Discovering God’s Plan – This part focuses on the guidance component of listening to God.
Part 5: Responding to God’s Plan – The Hebrew word for listen is integrally linked to obedience to God’s voice.
In addition, each chapter contains the following sidebars:
A Saint Speaks – where she quotes other Christian’s response to the topic she is addressing
He Speaks – quotes from the Bible about the topic
How do you Know it’s God’s Voice? – Descriptions from others about how they discern God’s voice.
I love the chapter titles that describe God’s voice as:
I would agree with all of these as descriptors of God’s voice and will probably include it the next time we introduce listening to a group.
“Those who do not believe God speaks specifically will simply ignore or explain away all the times when God does communicate with them. However, those who spend each day in a profound awareness that God does speak are in a wonderful position to receive His word.” A. W. Tozer
“If we come to Him doubting His ability to speak, we will have a difficult time listening. So we must come expectantly.” Charles Stanley
“If you want to hear God’s voice clearly and you are uncertain, then remain in His presence until He changes this uncertainty. Often much can happen during this waiting on the Lord. Sometimes He changes pride into humility; doubt into faith and peace; sometimes lust into purity. The Lord can and will do it.” Corrie Ten Boom
“Conversing with the Father is colored by the needs of the day. Let your prayer be something definite, arising either out of the Word which you have read, or out of the real soul needs which you long to be satisfied. Let your prayer be so definite that you can say as you go out, ‘I know what I have asked from my Father, and I expect an answer.” Andrew Murray
“Note well, that we must hear Jesus speak if we expect Him to hear us speak. If we have no ear for Christ, He will have no ear for us.” Charles Spurgeon
“We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them.” Brother Lawrence
“I close my eyes to shut out visual stimuli … I close my ears by dealing authoritatively with distractions that threaten my ability to tune in to God. I close a series of shutters on the surface level of my life, thus holding at bay hindrances to hearing the still small voice of God …” Joyce Huggett
“Listening to God today is not about newness but about nowness.” Joyce Huggett
“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3
“Have you ever heard the Master say something very difficult to you? If you haven’t, I question whether you have ever heard Him say anything at all.” Oswald Chambers
Minor Points of Disagreement
A couple of minor quibbles with the book. In most cases, I don’t think she really means what these statements say.
Priscilla says that the “Father’s greatest goal is for us to grow into our full spiritual potential…” I think the Father’s goal is much greater than this: that we would fully grow to conform to the image of Christ; that we would achieve a oneness with the Trinity and with God’s people are two goals of the Father that are greater.
She also says: “Hearing God’s voice is impossible for someone who hasn’t yet been born of the Spirit.” Saint Peter heard the Father’s voice concerning Jesus’ being the Messiah. None of us would become followers of Jesus if we did not hear His voice before we were born of the Spirit.
Finally, quoting a friend, she says that “God’s supernatural activity is so evident in my life because I have decided the only appropriate response to Him is complete obedience.” I am so thankful that God’s supernatural activity is so evident in my life not because of my complete obedience but because of His grace towards me and that I look for God’s supernatural activity.
A good introduction to listening to God is the book I just finishedby Loren Cunningham entitled Is that really You, God? Hearing the Voice of God. The book traces the history of the founding of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) with particular concentration on listening to God. I think you will enjoy this easy read as much as I did. It often moved me to tears and more importantly, moved me to draw closer to Jesus.
Here are some of the principles Loren was taught in the process of starting YWAM.
The three steps to hearing God:
1. First, we took Christ’s authority to silence the enemy.
2. Second, we asked the Lord to clear from our minds any presumptuous and preconceived ideas.
3. Third, we waited believing he would speak in the way and in the time that he chose.
Here are some quotes from the book:
One of the principles we use in seeking guidance is ongoing confirmation, similar to the road signs you would look for on an unfamiliar highway.
One of the most trustworthy tests for valid guidance is this: Does it bring the people who are involved one step closer to freedom and maturity in the Lord? If this is not so, the guidance is probably suspect.
Divine guidance is so heavy, so spectacular, that there is the risk of Glory attaching itself to the work rather than to the Lord.
Success itself is the most dangerous obstacle to properly hearing the voice of God.
Twelve steps to hearing God’s voice:
1. Don’t make hearing God complicated. Here are 3 simple steps:
a. Submit to Jesus’ lordship
b. Resist the enemy
c. Expect an answer
2. Allow God to speak to you in the way He chooses.
3. Confess any unforgiven sin
4. Use the Axehead principle from 2 Kings 6. If you seem to have lost your way, go back to the last time you knew the sharp, cutting edge of God’s voice. Then obey. Have you obeyed the last thing God told you to do?
5. Get you own leading. God will use others to confirm your guidance, but you should also hear from Him directly
6. Don’t talk about your guidance until God gives you permission to do so. The four pitfalls of divine guidance are:
c. Missing God’s timing and method
d. Bringing confusion to others
7. The Wise Men Principle. God will often use two or more spiritually sensitive people to confirm what His tell you (2 Cor 13:1)
8. Beware of counterfeits. Only things of value are worth counterfeiting.
9. Opposition of man is sometimes guidance from God.
10. Every follower of Jesus has a unique ministry
11. Practice makes perfect
12. Relationship is the most important reason for hearing the voice of the Lord
A good friend of mine who pastors a church here locally told me that they keep this book by their bedside table! High Praise! To read more about learning to listen to God, check out our post on Listening Prayer.
Without a doubt, this was the most helpful book in developing my theology and my language for learning how to listen to God. Much of what I learned about Listening Prayer started here. I hope that this summary does the book justice and can encourage others to buy the book and gain what I gained from Dallas.
Right off the bat, Dallas sets the tone of the book:
Hearing God? A daring idea, some would say—presumptuous and even dangerous. But what if we are made for it? What if the human system simply will not function properly without it? There are good reasons to think it will not. The fine texture as well as the grand movements of life show our need to hear God. Isn’t it more presumptuous and dangerous, in fact, to undertake human existence without hearing from God. … Hearing God is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one facet of hearing God.
Chapter 1 The Paradox of Hearing God
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us do it.” Brother Lawrence
Willard starts with a story from his early days as an assistant pastor. It was Sunday dinner and his family (including his wife’s grandmother – Mema) gathered and was discussing the sermon. During the sermon, the pastor spoke about how God had provided specific guidance as to the ministry of the church. And in the process, “he testified that God had spoken to him about things that should be done.” Mema responded: “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.”
This speaks as well as anything to the paradox of hearing God. Mema was one of the most devout woman Willard knew. He tells us that how we talk about “hearing God” puts “many sincere Christians on the outside, looking in.” Here is his key take away: “They are not necessarily lacking the experience of hearing God, but they do not understand the language or how their experience works.”
This relates very closely to our experience in over thirty years when we were leading individuals and groups to learn how to listen to God. Very often the problem wasn’t that they were not hearing from God but that they either didn’t recognize His voice as such or they didn’t have the language to describe what they had heard. Our job, very often, was to provide a safe environment for people to explore the exciting possibility that God may have spoken to them personally.
I have even found that those who do not believe that God speaks in “the still, small voice” anymore but only speaks through the Scriptures, are really hearing His voice speak to them about extra-biblical topics and themes. With some safe questions, a little encouragement and a lot of love, they can see that God still speaks as He did in the Old and New Testaments.
The Moving of God
Willard tells how he grew in his own understanding of hearing God and thought it was part of the normal Christian life – not knowing that large segments of the church were not experiencing hearing from God.
The Ongoing Conversation
Today I continue to believe that people are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to. Rightly understood I believe that this can be abundantly verified in experience.
Adam and Eve
Given who we are by basic nature, we live—really live—only through God’s regular speaking in our souls and thus “by every word that comes from of the mouth of God.”
But those who experience a directing word from God rarely speak about it. Often they have never spoken of it at all, even to their closest friends
The UFO Syndrome
Hearing from God puts you in the UFO sighting category “because of the lack
of specific teaching and pastoral guidance on such matters.”
He even cites that famous theologian, Lily Tomlin who said:
“Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to be praying but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?”
Our Leaders Hear from God
Willard cites some of the examples of followers of God who hear from Him:
As Christians we stand in a millennia-long tradition of humans who have been addressed by God. The ancient Israelites heard the voice of their God speaking to them out of the midst of fire (Deuteronomy 4:33). A regular place of communion and conversational interchange between the high priest and God was established in the mercy seat over the ark of God (Exodus 25:22; see also Luke 1:11-21).
And this was not just for leaders:
But the individual person with faith among the Israelites also cried out expectantly to be taught by God:
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. Psalm 143:10
Abiding Includes Conversing
Willard makes the case that it would make no sense for Jesus and the Father to make their home in us without conversing.
How could there be a personal relationship with God, a personal walk with God – or with anyone else – without individualized conversation.
One – to – One with God
We hold a man to be really a Christian when we believe we have ample evidence that God has revealed himself to him in Jesus Christ, and that now the man’s inner life is taking on a new character through his communion with God who is thus manifest. Wilhelm Hermann
Our knowledge of God rests on the revelation of his personal presence. Of such a presence it must be true that to those who have never been confronted with it argument is useless, while to those who have, it is superfluous. John Baille
Dallas further defines the paradox:
On the one hand, we have massive testimony to and widespread faith in God’s personal, guiding communication with us—far more than mere providential and blindly controlling guidance.
Willard says we see this especially among God’s leaders:
Authority in spiritual leadership derives from a life in the Spirit, from the leader’s personal encounter and on-going relationship with God.
On the other hand, we also find a pervasive and often painful uncertainty about how hearing God’s voice actually works today and what its place is in the church and in the Christian’s life.
This paradox can prevent us hearing from God:
Even if we were to beg for a word from God, we may have so little clarity of what it should be like and so little competence in dealing with it that when it comes it will only add to our confusion. I believe that this is one reason such a word will be withheld from us by God.
Basically Willard says that practically we depend on leaders to have this personal relationship with God – but don’t know how to deal with it ourselves.
The stakes are high according to Dallas:
We are all too familiar with the painful confusion of individuals who make huge efforts to determine God’s will for themselves—people who are frequently very sincere and devout. We see them make dreadful errors by following a whim or chance event that, because of their desperation, they force to serve as a sign from God. We see them sink into despair, skepticism, even cynicism. … They “know,” on the basis of what has happened to them, that for all practical purposes they are simply “on their own.”
First Steps towards a Solution
Willard now lays out the purpose of the book:
As disciples of Jesus Christ, I believe we cannot abandon faith in our ability to hear from God. To abandon this is to abandon the reality of a personal relationship with God, and that we must not do. Our hearts and minds, as well as the realities of the Christian tradition, stand against it. The paradox about hearing God’s voice must, then, be resolved and removed by providing believers with a clear understanding and a confident, practical orientation toward God’s way of guiding us and communicating with us, which is the aim of the chapters that follow.
He then lays out three problems that must be addressed:
We need to understand that God’s communications come to us in many forms.
We may have the wrong motives for seeking to hear from God.
Misconceiving the nature of our heavenly Father and of his intent for us creates a truly overwhelming problem to block our understanding of God’s communication with us as his redeemed children and friends.
A Conversational Relationship
Finally, Dallas closes this chapter with the ideal relationship between God and His children:
The ideal for hearing from God is finally determined by who God is, what kind of beings we are and what a personal relationship between ourselves and God should be like. Our failure to hear God has its deepest roots in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are mature personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects.
Chapter 2 – Guidelines for Hearing from God
Dallas opens this chapter talking about the movie, The Stepford Wives –
where the women in a particular town are made into “perfect” wives through alien intervention. He tells us that the obvious message of the movie is:
In close personal relationships, conformity to another’s wishes is not desirable, be it ever so perfect, if it is mindless or purchased at the expense of freedom and the destruction of personality.
In the same way, he says, our relationship with God and our conformity to His wishes is never made in a mindless way or made at the expense of our freedom. This profoundly affects the way we approach hearing from God.
Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of heaven.
He goes on to define what true prayer is:
prayer is an honest exchange between people who are doing things together. God and I are working together, and I need to invoke his power in that activity. Joint activity is a key to understanding how conversation flows. … In such conversations we also talk about other things besides what God wants done today. We talk about what is happening, what is interesting or what is sad. Most conversation between God and humans is to help us understand things.
Further, Dallas defines our primary goal in all of this:
We must make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God, but to be mature people in a loving relationship with Him.
Guideline One: Love God with All Our Being
Some, Willard explains, see God as a tyrant and that prohibits them from entering into a true conversational relationship with Him.
Hearing God cannot be a reliable and intelligible fact of life except when we see his speaking as one aspect of his presence with us, of his life in us. Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.
Guideline Two: Mere Humans Can Talk with God
Dallas describes the passage from Acts 14 where the crowds encounter Paul and Barnabas and exclaim:
They just aren’t human! By this we mean that their experience—including their experience of God—is not like ours and perhaps that they are even some special kind of people, so our experience of God could never be like theirs.
But Willard presses the point – their experience with God is provided in the Scriptures not as museum pieces to admire, but as mentors to follow. Elijah is certainly highlighted because James, the brother of Jesus, points to Elijah as a mentor since he was a man like us. No, says Dallas:
Our humanity will not by itself prevent us from knowing and interacting with God just as they did.
He goes on to say:
if we are really to understand the Bible record, we must enter into our study of it on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there.
If we don’t read the Bible in this way, Willard says two problems happen:
[The Bible] becomes simply a book of doctrine, of abstract truth about God, which one can search endlessly without encountering God himself or hearing his voice.
[W]e simply stop reading the Bible altogether when we do not understand the experience of biblical characters in terms of how we experience life’s events.
Then Dallas points his guns straight at a real problem today:
The open secret of many “Bible-believing” churches is that only a very small percentage of their members study the Bible with even the degree of interest, intelligence or joy that they bring to bear upon their favorite newspaper or magazine.
If we are to hear God’s voice ourselves and on an individual basis, we must, above all else, observe how his word came to those people described in the Scriptures.
I love this story and have used it in one or two sermons:
Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi has a scene set in South Africa where the young Indian lawyer and a white clergyman are walking together on a boardwalk, contrary to South African law at the time. They are accosted by some brutish-looking young white men who seem about to harm them. But the mother of the ringleader calls from an upstairs window and commands him to go about his business. As they walk on, the clergyman exclaims over their good luck. Gandhi comments, “I thought you were a man of God.” The clergyman replies, “I am, but I don’t believe he plans his day around me!”
contradicts what God has taught about himself in the Bible and in the person of Christ. His greatness is precisely what allows him to “plan his day” around me or anyone and everyone else, as he chooses.
contain tragic misconceptions that have the power to shut us off from the individualized word of God.
He highlights two alternate truths:
In the first place, we are that important.
His speaking to us does not in itself make us important.
The Strength of True Meekness (and humility)
Next, Dallas address the ever important attitude of the heart in hearing God.
In Numbers 12:1-3 God explained his policy about humility and hearing him. Humility is a quality that opens the way for God to work because God resists the proud (1 Peter 5:5).
Guideline Three: Hearing God Doesn’t Make Us Righteous or even Right
The last thing Dallas addresses in this chapter is the fallibility of our hearing in the face of the infallibility of the message and messenger. He assures us that he will:
offer a fully satisfactory response to this question. We shall then have to examine the issue of authority and of being “right” in relation to hearing God’s voice.
Chapter 3 – Never Alone
Dallas opens the chapter addressing one of the plagues that this world faces:
loneliness is loose upon the landscape. It haunts the penthouse and the rectory, the executive suite and the millionaire’s mansion, as well as the barren apartment, the assembly line, the cocktail bar and the city streets. It is, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, the leprosy of the modern world.
And God’s remedy to that is His presence. But what exactly is His presence and how do we experience it? Dallas lists the following ways:
Blind Faith – certainly, one of the ways, though Dallas calls it a minimalist way, we experience God’s presence is through shear blind faith. God has said it. I believe it. And it must be true. And so we believe that God is present even with no external evidence – no “awareness of his being here with us at all and no evidence of his action in or around us.” Although admirable, those who hold this must be encouraged that there is more.
Sensing God’s Presence – Willard calls this “an imprecise but often very powerful sense, feeling or impression of God’s presence.” Dallas claims that this is experienced both individually and corporately.
The God who acts – “The sense of God’s presence in Christian experience is sometimes accompanied by extraordinary events or powerful effects not easily attributable, if attributable at all, to merely natural causes.”
Conversational Relationship – Willard calls this the most important form of God’s presence in the relationship between God and human beings. He argues: “How can we be friends of God if this is all there is to it? How is the rich conceptual content and knowledge found in the Bible to be understood as something communicated to us in revelation if the three forms of presence …[listed above] are the totality of human interaction with God? Why, if God is personal, would he not also talk with us?”
Two Types of Guidance
Dallas next addresses two types of guidance:
Mechanical – as when we guide a car or a remote controlled plane
Personal – “Ideally, personal guidance brings things to the desired outcome but, at the same time, allows the other person’s mind to be guided to its fullest capacity without coercing that person’s will.”
God, Willard argues, does not guide mechanically – but personally:
For this purpose God must communicate with you, the one who is to be guided. This is the only means by which God can have an impact on you and yet still leave you with the mental and spiritual space to retain integrity as a free personality. You can live as God’s friend yet also govern your own life.
He calls Psalm 32:9 to mind:
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle.
How does this happen you ask? Dallas says there are two ways that God guides personally:
Communicating through words – He points to many examples in the Scriptures where God speaks directly to his people
Communicating through shared activity – “we come to understand what God wants us to understand through immersion with him in his work. We understand what he is doing so well that we often know exactly what he is thinking and intending to do. I believe that this is a great part of the condition described by the apostle Paul as having the mind of Christ.”
He then develops the idea put forth in Psalm 32:
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (v. 8 KJV).
Newer versions generally say something like, “I will guide you with my eye upon you.” What does it mean to guide us with His eye upon us? He gives us two ways we guide people with our eyes:
The first is illustrated when someone “has got their eye on you” so as to affect your actions. Or the parent’s watchful eye on a child.
The second is more important and happens “when we work or play closely with another and know the intentions and thoughts of the other’s mind by our awareness of what they are focused on. Someone else can work with me effectively only if they can see what I am doing without having to be told what I am thinking and what they should do to help.”
Next, Dallas develops the idea that Jesus calls us friends and what that means in terms of guidance and hearing God.
As God’s friends we always want to be asking God what he is doing and how he wants us to work with him. God’s desires are important to us.
Finally, Willard sums up the positive points of this chapter:
In this life with God, his presence banishes our alone-ness and makes real the meaning and full purpose of human existence. This union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and co-laborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens.
Before ending the chapter, Dallas examines three mistaken views as to how God speaks to us:
A message a minute “God is either telling you what to do at every turn of the road or he is at least willing and available to tell you if you would only ask him.” Not only is this not supported in the life of the Spirit filled apostles, “extensive observations of individuals who try to live with this model, or at least profess to, show that they simply cannot do it and that any sustained effort to do so leads quickly to disaster.”
It’s all in the Bible For Willard, this view “is seriously misguided and very harmful.” He asserts that the Bible does provide a lot of direct instructions about how to live our lives but there is no guidance in terms of what song to use on Sunday worship or what the theme and text should be for the sermon. Nor will it provide the details about many important areas as to how to live your life. “The principles are all there, however. I happily insist that the Bible says all that needs to be said or can be said, so far as principles are concerned. But the principles have to be applied before they can be lived out , and it is largely at the point of application that almost everything imaginable has been ‘proven’ from the Bible.”
Whatever comes is God’s will This can be described as “accept everything that happens as the guidance of God.” “When we accept whatever comes we are not receiving guidance. The fact that something happens does not indicate that it is God’s will.”
Chapter 4 – Our Communicating Cosmos
Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Dallas starts this chapter by discussing the limits of hearing stories of how others have heard God or even the limits of miraculous signs. They don’t have as much of an effect as one would think. And that doesn’t surprise him because “it illustrates a fact about how our minds work.” All the encouraging stories of hearing God and miracles do not “automatically clear up our confusions or straighten out the entanglements of our heart. … They may stimulate us to seek understanding, but they do not of themselves give us faith and understanding.”
He continues this section by listing four ways we deny the idea that God wants a conversational relationship with us:
God would not communicate with run-of-the-mill human beings by surrounding them with his presence and speaking to them
God does not communicate with them that way
God cannot communicate with them that way
God should not communicate with them that way
God Would Not
Dallas addresses the “would not” with two arguments:
We must understand that God’s greatness is not like a great dignitary. They are limited and would not communicate with just anybody. God’s greatness is manifest in his wanting to communicate with us
We don’t have an adequate understanding of the lowliness of God. His greatness is precisely the thing that enables him to enter into our world.
God Does Not
Next he addresses the “does not”
Just because we don’t hear God speak does not mean that he doesn’t speak. Willard claims that “we are showered with messages that simply go right through or past us. We are not attuned to God’s voice.” Jesus, Dallas tells us, gave some of his deepest teachings about hearing and not hearing. And Jesus urges us to expend great effort to hear “assuring them that what they heard would be proportional to their desire and effort.” Mark 4:24-25 “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
We might not be hearing because what we hear may not be of any use to us because of the way we are living. “Hearing God is a reliable, day-to-day reality for people with good sense.”
Am I in business for myself or am I in business with God with my life?
I am not satisfied with this list or these answers. There are many other things that block our hearing. But that is for another day.
Some say it is unscientific that God should speak to us. He notes that to communicate there must be some sort of medium through which we communicate. What is that medium? Hebrews 1 tells us that it is Jesus and His Spirit.
Conversational life with God – or prayer – is not hindered by space and distance. So He certainly “Can.”
Willard claims that: “The current state of the physical sciences, in opposition to the crudely mechanical view that was dominant in some previous centuries, is very congenial to the view of God’s presence in his world that we find in the New Testament.” … “Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the side of Physics approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of nature.” – Sir James Jean
Eugene Wigner has pointed to a general recognition among physicists that thought or the mind is primary to physical reality: “It is not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Princeton physicist John A. Wheeler even goes so far as to hold that subjective and objective realities, consciousness, and matter mutually create each other. Another leading physicist, Jack Sarfatti, remarks that “an idea of the utmost significance for the development of psycho-energetic systems . . . is that the structure of matter may not be independent of consciousness.”
Willard makes sure that we know that these statements don’t prove God but help us see that current science doesn’t tell us that God cannot speak to us.
God Should Not
Here Willard addresses both Moses (would that all God’s people would be prophets) and Joel quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost – (“Your sons and your daughters shall prophecy”). This can cause great concern for pastors. But Willard tries to talk us off the ledge and say that this tells us that our understanding of leadership in the local church is skewed. Should leaders be Sheep-dogs or Shepherds? Cultic or Christlike? “To manipulate, drive or manage people is not the same thing as to lead them.”
Chapter 5 – Small Voice and It’s Rivals
Dallas opens this chapter with the following:
God could, certainly, determine the course of our lives by manipulating our thoughts and feelings or by arranging external circumstances—what is often called the “closing” and “opening” of doors in the “sovereign will” of God. But he can and does also guide us by addressing us.
Notice that he says: “could.” But he later also says: “What would you say is His preferred method? Which method does He use more frequently?” This is a question I address in my forthcoming book Circumstantial Evidence. Let me know if you would like to read an advanced copy.
Willard says that God “addresses us in various ways:
But, he says, we can “be easily confused about the significance of the various ways God speaks with us.” All of the ways are “not equally significant.”
In terms of overall importance, the written Word and Jesus, the living Word, aren’t to be compared to a voice or vision used by God to speak to an individual. And from among the individual’s experiences of hearing God, the “still, small voice” has a vastly greater role than anything else.
Vastly? This is where Dallas differs from many of our fellow followers of Jesus. But at this point he doesn’t develop this thought but goes on to define what he means by the “still, small voice” obviously drawing from 1 Kings 19:11-13.
The translation might just as well read “a gentle whisper of a voice” or “a gentle whispering.” Each expression places the emphasis on the unobtrusiveness of the medium through which the message came. They are all seemingly unremarkable, inconspicuous, unassuming and perhaps not immediately noticed.
But how much store can we place in one text taken from the Old Testament? And what about scholars that think the Hebrew translated “still, small voice” means roaring?[i] Willard doesn’t address that now but instead says:
[the still small voice] bears the stamp of his personality quite clearly and in a way we will learn to recognize … [and] the medium through which the message comes is diminished almost to the vanishing point, taking the form of thoughts that are our thoughts, though these thoughts are not from us.
Basically, he is saying two things:
The still, small voice as a medium is consistent with what we know of God’s personality.
The means by which God’s word is communicated to us takes a back seat to the actual message and is often indistinguishable from our own thoughts.
Dallas says that this combining of our thoughts with His thoughts is born out in the following Proverb from chapter 20:
27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
searching all his innermost parts.
Willard does not provide a lot of Scriptural evidence of this. Let me provide some other indications that God intends the still, small voice to be the primary way God speaks to us today.
The indwelling Spirit leads us / guides us into all the truth
John 16 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
How does the indwelling Spirit lead and guide if not by an internal movement of communication? If all His speaking was through the Bible, through others, and through external circumstances, why would the Holy Spirit need to dwell in us 24/7? John repeats this teaching in his first epistle chapter 2:
27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Of course, the anointing is obviously the same Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth.
We are taught by the Spirit – In the following passage we find the close connection between our spirit and the indwelling Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
This entire passage speaks of an inner movement of conversation.
We have the mind of Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:16
This tells us that our thoughts become co-joined with His thoughts.
Father and son taking up residence
John 14 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
What are they doing in there 24/7 if not communicating?
Jesus promises to come and dine with us – Rev 3 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Same as the John 14 passage.
Jesus way of teaching when He was physically present – not thunderous didactic treatises but gentle whispers of truth that need to be carefully listened to and thought about after hearing.
The Shema – Hear O’ Israel – The central command of God upon the Israelites to hear.
Whispering is done when you are in close proximity – this is a constant theme throughout the Old and the New with countless passages that God is very close to us – even to the point of indwelling
Whispering requires us to listen closely and pay attention. Mark Batterson says that, as a father, when he wants his kids to draw near, he starts whispering. The Scriptures tell the same story for us to pay attention and listen closely. All of the following Scriptures imply that God generally speaks in ways that are not thunderous but easily missed.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1
And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear… Mark 4:24
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19
Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear. Psalm 45:10
God created Adam with a whisper (He breathed on him)
Although these texts are far from exhaustive, they should give us enough confidence to move on. Dallas reiterates his point:
… a major point of this book is that the still, small voice—or the interior or inner voice, as it is also called—is the preferred and most valuable form of individual communication for God’s purposes.
The Scripture teaches that the less dramatic the message, the fuller the content and the more advanced the person who is receiving the message. If you study the lives of Moses and Abraham, you will see that this is true.
But what is God’s still, small voice like?
I say in all seriousness that we may mistake the voice of God for the sound of someone’s radio turned up too loudly, for some accidental noise or—more likely still—for just another one of our own thoughts.
He says to hear His voice we must seek Him:
When I seek for something, I look for it everywhere. It’s when we seek God earnestly, prepared to go out of our way to examine anything that might be his overture toward us including obvious things like Bible verses or our own thoughts—that he promises to be found (Jeremiah 29:13).
… we turn now to six ways God addresses people within the biblical record:
a phenomenon plus a voice
a supernatural messenger or an angel
dreams and visions
an audible voice
the human voice
the human spirit or the “still, small voice”
I won’t highlight his Biblical examples of the first 5 because:
Of all the possible subjective routes, [the still small voice] is best suited to the redemptive purposes of God because, once again, it most engages the faculties of free, intelligent beings involved in the work of God as co-laborers and friends.
Willard hits head on the idea that these means of God speaking to us should be normative. Not as the Westminster Confession says:
it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
This, in one broad brush, tells believers not to expect God to speak in any of the ways Dallas is commending but that God only speaks through what has been written down in the Scriptures. Dallas says unequivocally:
nothing in Scripture, in reason or in the very nature of things asserts why any or all of these types of experience might not be used by God today. … But there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that the biblical modes of God’s communication with humans have been superseded or abolished by either the presence of the church or the close of the scriptural canon.
Nothing means nothing (Stephen Hawking notwithstanding). Dallas doesn’t refute the arguments used to justify this theology but it is hard to refute a non-argument. But there are some which we should touch on even if Dallas doesn’t give them the time-of-day:
The following are the “proof texts” given by the Westminster confession of faith for the above statement (Note: These are from the King James Version because that is what the Westminster Confession uses). I will leave it to the reader to see if they agree with Dallas or the Westminster divines:
John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
1 Cor. 14:37. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
1 Cor. 10:11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Hebrews 1:1–2. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
Hebrews 2:2–4. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
Dallas continues making the point that God responds to our prayers. He asks us: Why do we call requests that are not granted: “Unanswered Prayer?” Hasn’t the request been denied and that is the answer? But he goes further:
Often God does not give us what we ask for, but I believe that he will always answer, always respond to us in some way. … If we know how to listen, God will normally tell us something when he does not give us our requests. … Some people say that God’s silence is an answer in these cases. But I think that if we know how to listen, God will normally tell us something when he does not give us our requests.
Willard goes on to address Bible Deism:
Classical deism, associated with the extreme rationalism of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, held that God created his world complete and perfect and then went away, leaving humanity to its own devices. God no longer offered individualized intervention in the lives of human beings, no miracles. Bible deism similarly holds that God gave us the Bible and then went away, leaving us to make what we could of it, with no individual communication either through the Bible or otherwise.
Speaking to pastors, he says that they should help their congregations to hear God’s still, small voice:
Most importantly, and right at the outset, they must be helped to see that recognizing God’s voice is something they must learn to do through their own personal experience and experimentation. They must especially be encouraged to do so if they do not already expect God to speak to them. And we may even have to help identify the voice of God for them and instruct them in how to respond.
When addressing the clarity of God’s voice he says:
It is therefore natural and right that God’s word comes to us in forms that we must struggle to understand. This is even true of the Bible, which is very explicit in many respects but still require persistent and energetic work to understand.
Chapter 6 – The Word of God and the Rule of God
Dallas opens this chapter with a bold statement about hearing God’s still, small voice:
Hearing this divine but small voice is what lies at the heart of a relationship with God. One who hears God’s voice is operating from the foundation and framework of all reality, not from the fringe.
The heart of a relationship with God? That sounds extreme but it is central to Willard’s life and beliefs. Willard believes that to fully embrace the concept of our ability to hear from God requires us to understand the role that word and God’s word play in reality.
He begins this chapter by looking at the story of the centurion who had a sick servant (Luke 7:2-8). This story forms the backdrop for the role that words and God’s word play in reality. Jesus is astonished at the quality and magnitude of his faith. Although he expressed faith in Jesus, he also showed an uncommon knowledge about the power of words: “Just give the word and my servant shall be healed.”
The following statement summarizes the essence of this chapter and the next:
God created, God rules and God redeems through his word. God’s creating, God’s ruling and God’s redeeming is his word.
But what does it mean? Today I reviewed what I had written for my wife, Barbara, on our ten day 40th wedding anniversary trip. Each day as we celebrated, I wrote up one of her 10 core essentials and gave them to her in an anniversary card. One of them is that she is a woman of the word – both written and living. Yesterday, as I reminded her of this essential, I wondered if I could explain and justify this distinction. What is the distinction between the written word and the living word of God. Then, tonight I noticed that this was the question Dallas was addressing in this chapter:
If we wish to understand God’s personal relationship to us, including how he speaks to us individually today, we must understand what the word of God is in general and how both the Son of God and the Bible are the Word of God.
To understand this distinction, Dallas starts by telling us what words are:
Through our words we literally give to others a piece of our mind. By hearing or reading others’ words, we may know their thoughts and feelings and share in their lives. … The power of the word lies finally in the personality that it conveys.
Then Dallas gives us a bullet list of scriptures that tell us the true power of words:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21);
“a soft tongue can break bones” (Proverbs 25:15);
“a gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
[the tongue is] “a small member, yet it boasts great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (James 3:5).
Jesus himself regarded words as a direct revelation of our inner being: “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:37)
But words don’t just have power, they have spiritual power. Willard claims that the scriptures and pagan philosophers expressed this truth. First, he defines spirit:
Spirit is unbodied, personal force. It is personal reality that can and often does work independently of physical or bodily forces. It can also work in conjunction with them. We can most clearly see spirit in our own selves as the force that belongs to thought, emotion and intention. … [But] spirit reaches far beyond these—and beyond our limited understanding—and ultimately serves as the foundation of all reality. “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).
Once, when his followers were struggling to understand him and were overemphasizing the material realm, Jesus said to them, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63).
Note that the “words” Jesus spoke are spirit. What does this mean? Here is my shot at it: Since spirit is unbodied force, words are spiritual because they are able to move people and things without material substance. For example, with my words I can encourage my employees to work harder or with my words I can discourage them and cause less work to be done. But, let’s listen to Dallas:
This meant that through his words Jesus imparted himself and in some measure conferred on those who received his words the powers of God’s sovereign rule. Through him they “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). This imparted power is referred to in Jesus’ later explanation that “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
The word as a person’s speaking is therefore to be understood as a spiritual power—whether of ourselves, of God or of some other personal agency and whether for evil or for good. It is the power of the one who is speaking.
The word of God, when no further qualification is added, is his speaking, his communicating. When God speaks, he expresses his mind, his character and his purposes. Thus, God is always present with his word.
This simple truth hit me today for the first time. God is always present with his word. If the word of God is God speaking – then of course, He is always present whenever the word of God is present. Somehow this seems both obvious and profound!
All expressions of God’s mind are “words” of God. This is true whether the specific means are external to the human mind (as in natural phenomena [Psalm 19:1-4], other human beings, the incarnate Christ [the Logos] or the Bible) or internal to the human mind (in our own thoughts, intentions and feelings). God’s rule over all things, including the affairs of humankind, is carried out through his word, understood in this way.
How Kingdoms Work
Dallas says that we often see the universe as a place where the only relationship between things are physical and mechanical. With this view, we can never understand the power of words since they exert power without the physical or without mechanics. Jesus gave a different view of the universe. It is a kingdom. And a kingdom is not governed or ruled merely by physical or mechanical pushing and pulling:
Essentially [a kingdom] works by the communication of thoughts and intentions through words or other symbols, for a kingdom is a network of personal relationships.
Some of our greatest problems in understanding and entering into life in the kingdom of God come from an inadequate appreciation of how that kingdom—like all kingdoms —works: that is, by communication, the speaking or use of words for the expression of minds and intentions.
I love this idea – but I wonder how true it is that: all kingdoms work by the communication of thoughts and intentions. I think that power is the way a lot of kingdoms works. Think of a bad king you know. It seems that he rules by power and intimidation. Perhaps, Dallas is telling us how a good or ideal kingdom works. If that is what he means, then I can buy into the argument.
Creating by words
Most of us know that God spoke the universe into being with words. He creates by speaking. How can words “create?” Can we create by speaking? We cannot say: “Let there be a jet engine” and create a jet engine. Dallas says that:
There is, however, one arena where the human mind simply “speaks” and what it wishes is done. This is in the voluntary motions of the body—such as the hands, the feet and the face—and the voluntary wide-ranging journeys of our inward thoughts.
Thus we can create a face just by “speaking” as when our mind says to our face, “Look angry.” We can create a walk when our mind says to our legs – “Start moving.” We can create an idea in our mind by just speaking a thought (most of the time silently).
God is always able to speak and to create without going through channels, without working under restrictions. … Within a certain range we too have been given a similarly unrestricted ability in our own natural powers, though it is very narrow, in contrast to God’s. In the realm of our finiteness we must learn how to do things.
He summarizes his point here:
God has given us a power that, so far as our conscious control is concerned, is as immediately creative as his own. A realization of how our own thoughts (inner words) translate themselves into an act of creation is absolutely vital if we are to gain any concrete sense of God’s rule through his word.
Now how does this tie back to Jesus as the Word of God?
At a certain point in history this word—this visible language, the upholding order of the universe—came to us through the womb of Mary: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his people did not accept him” (John 1:10-11).
What we see [in the story of the Centurion – “Just speak the word and my servant will be healed.”] is trust – based on experiential knowledge of the power in the words spoken by authorized individuals in a kingdom. In a personal universe run like a good kingdom (whether our own small arena or God’s cosmos) the word directs actions and events.
Willard says that our practical atheism and skepticism may rise up and say: “Wait a minute. The universe isn’t like that. It doesn’t respond to thoughts and words.” But Dallas pushes back: “Surely we live in precisely such a universe. But our faith does not normally rise to believing it”
… our skepticism comes from the fact that we often speak words unaccompanied by faith and authority. Such words do not have the effect on reality that words laden with faith, spoken in the fulfillment of an authoritative role, do have.
Dallas mentions that Moses was not allowed into the promise land because he did not trust the power of words to bring forth water from the rock but struck it. [Numbers 20:10-11]. Previously God directed him to strike a rock and it brought forth water. (Exodus 17:6)
Was Moses’ action truly such a serious offense? Did it deserve such a strong reaction from God? And if so, why? Without understanding the matters we have already discussed, one might see little wrong with what Moses did.
What indeed? Dallas brings us to the reference to this event in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:4) where Paul tells us that the Rock was Jesus! Dallas then tells us:
If what we have come to understand about the Logos, or Word, within creation and nature is true, rocks are things that might well respond to words spoken with the appropriate kingdom authority and vision of faith.
Dallas never really answers why the punishment was so severe. Did Moses know that inanimate objects respond to words when they are authoritative? He saw the Red Sea part – but he spoke no words to the sea. Again, we don’t find that Dallas answers this. But Dallas’ main point is that people have been given the authority of God’s word. The sending out of the 12 and then the 70 illustrates this.
Willard addresses a New Testament story that has puzzled me a bit. Jesus’ disciples could not cast out a demon and heal a little child. Jesus said that this kind comes out only with prayer and fasting – but then proceeds to cast it out and heal the child without prayer or fasting. He addresses the question more broadly when he observes that Jesus rarely prayed for a need brought to him. What does Dallas think is happening?
I believe this is an illustration of the principle that (as experience readily shows) there are degrees of power in speaking the word of God and that prayer is necessary to heighten that power.
Prayer is more basic in the spiritual life than is speaking a word and, indeed, is the indispensable foundation for doing so. The role of speaking the word of God has become limited today because of a widespread lack of understanding of such “speaking,” coupled with the generally low quality of the life of prayer.
But he also observes that, “perhaps in most cases, a direct word or action from God himself rather than from ourselves is what is required.”
Sometime we should be in a position to speak, to say on behalf of God and in the name of Christ how things are to be.
Dallas believes that the movement of the Spirit in the present day is the result of us learning that reality is a kingdom:
This [more evidence of the power of the Spirit] is to be expected as we grow in our confidence that reality, including the material world, is ultimately a kingdom in which authority, personal relationship and communication (words) are basic to the way things run. We have, of course, much still to learn.
Dallas admits that we don’t have all of the answers but he says:
In a life of participation in God’s kingdom rule, we are not to make things happen, but only to be honestly willing and eager to be made able.
Willard next addresses the nature of superstition as opposed to the true working of God’s supernatural power. Some believe that if we say the right words and perform the right rituals, people can be healed. Not so says Dallas:
we do not believe that the power concerned resides in the words used or in the rituals taken by themselves. If we did, we would indeed be engaged in superstitious practices. Instead, we regard the words and actions simply as ways ordained in the nature of things, as established by God, for accomplishing the matter in question.
I love what he says when he describes what we do during healing prayer:
We are under authority, not in control.
Then, Dallas tells us how he thinks divine healing works:
The combined condition of faith, love, hope and understanding that is present in those who work with the word of God is in its very nature connected with the effect to be brought about. As part of the kingdom this condition forms the appropriate channel from the supply to the need—relating the nature of the human body or mind (in the case of healing) to the creative and redemptive Spirit who is God. This forms a natural (though really supernatural) order of influence and causation.
This is so thick – let me try to re-phrase it: The faith, love, hope and understanding of those who pray for and receive divine healing, is in some mysterious fashion connected to the desired healing. It is because the kingdom is central to the way God intends to run things, these four elements cause God’s divine healing power to flow to the one in need for healing. This flow of divine healing power connects the human body and mind being prayed for to the power of the Spirit. All healing then is both natural and supernatural.
Dallas concludes this section with a summary:
the very nature of the material universe is to be subject generally to the word of an all-present, all-powerful, all-knowing divine mind. This mind is what mediates between the word spoken by God’s servant on his behalf and the physical structure of the waves or the rocks, or of the body or mind to be healed.
Again, let me try to re-phrase it. All aspects of our universe are subject to the word of God. God is the mediator between the words God’s servant speaks and the physical structures of the waves that are calmed, the rocks that bring forth water and the mind or body that is healed.
Sometimes I fear that we Christians do engage in truly superstitious uses of words and rituals. This occurs when our activities are not an expression of an understanding of the connection between the desired result and our faith and union with God. In other words, this arises because we do not really understand how the kingdom of God functions among us.
Dallas says that the “name it and claim it” approach to God is pure superstition. He also says that legalism is also superstition. He defines legalism as:
Legalism claims that overt action in conforming to rules for explicit behavior is what makes us right and pleasing to God and worthy of blessing.
This legalism tries to control people and events through superstitious behavior but
they depart from the natural connections of life. They bypass the realities of the heart and soul from which life really flows.
Dallas closes this chapter answering this question he began with:
how are we to understand the relationship of the Bible to this word of God that we have just seen growing mightily and prevailing around Ephesus and to the Word that is God and that upholds the world?
What is the Bible: “The Bible is one of the results of God’s speaking. It is the unique written Word of God. It is inerrant in its original form and infallible in all of its forms for the purpose of guiding us into a life-saving relationship with God in his kingdom. The Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form. But the Bible is not Jesus Christ, who is the living Word. Neither is the Bible the word of God that is settled eternally in the heavens. The Bible is not the word of God that, in the book of Acts, expanded and grew and multiplied (Acts 12:24). It is not the word that Jesus spoke of as being sown by the active speaking of the ministry (Matthew 13).
“The Bible is a finite, written record of the saving truth spoken by the infinite, living God, and it reliably fixes the boundaries of everything he will ever say to humankind. It fixes those boundaries in principle, though it does not provide the detailed communications that God may have with individual believers today.”
What is the word of God: while the Bible is the written Word of God, the word of God is not simply the Bible. God reigns in his kingdom through his speaking. That speaking is reserved to himself, but it may in some small measure be communicated through those who work in union with him. The word of God in the larger sense portrayed in the Bible is therefore available to every person through the Bible, the written Word of God.
What is the living Word – Jesus is the living Word. He is the one who speaks the world into existence (Remember how Lewis portrays this in The Chronicles of Narnia) “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” Colossians 1:16.
So, has Dallas answered my original question? Can I articulate why Jesus is the living Word of God? I am afraid that with all that Dallas wrote in this chapter I cannot. But if I combine my own understanding with what he wrote here – here is what I would say:
Jesus is called the Word because God has spoken to us in these last days in/by His Son. The very person of Jesus is God speaking. Every minute detail of Jesus life here on earth and now in heaven embodies God speaking. Remember when Dallas said that our words demonstrate who we are – Jesus, as the Word of God, demonstrates who God is. One other point, The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ. So here again, the Holy Spirit is so closely aligned to the Word, that He is Christ’s Spirit. And since the Spirit is the means by which God speaks – when He does, it is Jesus, the living Word speaking. But as Dallas says: I have much to learn.
Chapter 7 Redemption through the Word of God
Dallas opens this chapter with this statement:
To understand how God speaks we must understand to some extent what the word of God is.
discerning God’s voice is essentially just one dimension of a certain kind of life, the eternal kind of life, a life lived in conversational relationship with God (John 17:3).
17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Studying the word of God helps us understand what this eternal life is, how we are to take part in it by the graciousness of God, and especially how hearing God is part of it.
We will truly be at ease hearing God only if we are at home with the word of God, with his speaking throughout creation and redemption. Hearing God is not a freakish event.
The light that they [the followers of Jesus] radiate is not what they do but who they are.
Dallas then asks: How are we to have the mind of Christ and to walk in His steps? And answers:
It is through the action of the word of God upon us, throughout us and with us that we come to have the mind of Christ and thus to live fully in the kingdom of God.
What again is Willard’s definition of the word of God? Remember for Dallas, the word of God is God speaking. That can be through all of the ways God speaks (dreams, visions, other people, etc.) in addition to everything that comes from Jesus and the written word of God. So this last statement means, when God speaks to us in all His different ways, we gain the mind of Christ. But it is more:
the word of God is a creative and sustaining substance, an active power, not limited by space and time or physical constraints. It organizes and guides that which it is directed to by God and by persons in union with God.
Commenting on Matthew 8:26 where Jesus calms the storm he highlights the fact that the disciples had great faith in Jesus – they fully believed that He could have calmed the storm – yet Jesus upbraids them for lack of faith. What is going on?
Now the disciples obviously had great faith in Jesus. They called upon him, counting on him to save them. They had great faith in him, but they did not have his great faith in God.
This, he says, is the life we are called to. A life where we allow God to speak to us and giving us the mind of Jesus; the faith of Jesus; the love of Jesus; and the life of Jesus. But, in the process, we don’t lose our life. Talking about the new birth – our new life, Dallas says:
Our additional life, though it is still our life, is also God’s life in us: his thoughts, his faith, his love, all literally imparted to us, shared with us, by his word and Spirit.
Here is my summary of these three sections:
“Christ’s Faith as My Faith”: His thoughts, his faith, his love, all literally imparted to us, shared with us, by his word and Spirit.
“Paul on Salvation”: The new life is a new supernatural quality of life. It is a different kind of life.
“Focusing on Our Aliveness to God”: As we take a stand as to who we are in this new life, identifying with the Christ-life in us and against the sin, the “boat” of our life begins to turn around.
Next Dallas, looks at the written word of God:
The written Word of God is an expression of God’s mind just as surely, though in a different manner, as are creation and Jesus, the living Word. As we read and study it intelligently, humbly and openly, we come increasingly to share God’s mind. … Scripture is a communication that establishes communion and opens the way to union,
He cites Madam Guyon’s method of reading the scripture which is a form of Lectio Divina. I would recommend her book A Short and Easy Method of Prayer on this.
He adds William Law comments, “Therefore the Scriptures should only be read in an attitude of prayer, trusting to the inward working of the Holy Spirit to make their truths a living reality within us.”
When asked if one should read the Bible through every year, he says:
It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes.
I hope he meant – not “every year.” I have found that reading through the Bible when we first start following Jesus and periodically after that, I would agree. How does Dallas recommend that we read the Scriptures?
Come to your chosen passage as to a place where you will have a holy meeting with God.
Read a small part of the passage and dwell on it, praying for the assistance of God’s Spirit in bringing fully before your mind and into your life the realities expressed.
Chapter Summary about how to approach the written word of God
take in the information written
allow your heart to have a longing for it to be so
affirm that it must be so
make an invocation to God to make it so
appropriate by God’s grace that it is so
If my summary of this chapter and the last doesn’t hold together, it is in part, that I am not able to adequately see how chapters 6 and 7 fulfill Dallas’ statement in the preface:
Chapters six and seven discuss the centrality of God’s speaking—God’s Word—to his creation and to the process of redemption. The Word of God is not foreign to routine reality; it is at the very heart of it.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Dallas says:
God created, God rules and God redeems through his word. God’s creating, God’s ruling and God’s redeeming is his word.
Chapter 5 is partly about how God’s speaking (God’s word) is what creates. In chapter 6, Dallas writes about Him ruling the universe (the universe should be thought of as a kingdom ruled by words). This chapter is mostly about how the written word accomplishes His redemption.
Chapter 8 Recognizing the Voice of God
How do we know whether what we hear is from God? Dallas’ simple answer is: “By experience.” He then re-iterates one of his central themes:
the teachings of the Bible, no matter how thoroughly studied and firmly believed, can never by themselves constitute our personal walk with God. They have to be applied to us as individuals and to our individualized circumstances, or they remain no part of our lives.
He then launches into the main subject of the chapter. He writes about how animals learn to recognize the voice of their trainers and how we learn to distinguish colors by experience. In the same way …
those who have been given the additional birth—the new birth through the redemptive message of Christ that has entered their lives—can learn by experience to hear God as he speaks, to recognize his word and confidently interact with it
We may mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically know who is speaking, without having to learn, but that is simply a mistake—and one of the most harmful mistakes for those trying to hear God’s word.
Dallas proposes three possibilities as to why we need to learn to hear God speak:
It could be our fallen nature. But, Jesus, who did not have a fallen nature, also needed to learn to recognize God’s voice. (Isaiah 50:1-4)
It could be the natural result of a personal relationship. We need to learn to recognize the voice of those we are getting to know.
It could be in the nature of the way God speaks (He whispers)
Next, he addresses the three lights often used in helping us discern God’s will:
Impressions / Promptings of the Spirit
When these three things point in the same direction, it is suggested, we may be sure the direction in which they point is the one God intends for us. When these three things point in the same direction, it is suggested, we may be sure the direction in which they point is the one God intends for us.
Quoting F. B. Meyer “The circumstances of our daily life are to us an infallible indication of God’s will, when they concur with the inward promptings of the spirit and with the Word of God. So long as they are stationary, wait.”
Dallas doesn’t buy into the three lights completely. Here are the problems:
The problem of their Inter-dependence – “Basically stated, since we need the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible, lights two and three are inter-dependent. And since circumstances like an open door could come from God, from Satan or from a person involved in the decision, they require the Spirit and the word to discern where the circumstances are coming from.”
The Three Lights method is limited to decision making and does not help us understand a conversational relationship with God – “For example, I have found that I can find affirmation in the Scriptures and in the prompting of the Spirit -but my circumstances may be in the tank. Does that mean that God’s simple prompting of addressing me: ‘My son’ cannot be validated?”
Willard doesn’t completely dismiss the three lights, but says:
The three lights are simply the factors that we must consider in the process of making a responsible judgment and decision about what we are to do.
The voice of God is not itself any one of the three lights nor is it all of them together. But the inner teaching of which John speaks in his first epistle—the voice or word of God coming to individuals, as repeatedly displayed in biblical events—usually comes to us in conjunction with:
responsible study and meditation on the Bible
experience of the various kinds of movements of the Spirit in our heart
intelligent alertness to the circumstances that befall us
He concludes this line of reasoning with the following:
when God speaks and we recognize the voice as his voice, we do so because our familiarity with that voice enables us to recognize it. We do not recognize it because we are good at playing a guessing game…
Dallas believes that we can learn from how we distinguish distinct human voices in learning to recognize God’s voice. There are three factors that we use to distinguish human voices:
Quality: “is mainly a matter of which tones are produced and the manner in which they are modulated. Quality, at the human level, also includes the style of speech. For example, is it slow or fast, smooth or halting in its flow, indirect or to the point?”
Spirit: “A voice may be passionate or cold, whining or demanding, timid or confident, coaxing or commanding. This is, of course, not merely a matter of sounds but also a matter of attitudes or personal characteristics that become tangibly present in the voice.”
Content: Very often I can recognize the author of written text by the content.
In addition to these factors, God’s word to us carries a weight of authority. Willard puts it this way:
A certain steady and calm force with which communications from God impact our soul incline us toward assent and even toward active compliance.
Quoting E Stanley Jones:
Perhaps the rough distinction is this: The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.
Another distinguishing characteristic of God’s voice is
a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. His voice is not the voice of a bully. It will not run over you and your will.
Next, Dallas says the following:
In order to qualify as the voice of God, a thought, perception or other experience must conform to the principles—the fundamental truths—of Scripture. It is the principles, not the incidentals, of Scripture that count here.
How do we know what in the Bible is a principle or fundamental truth? Examples of incidentals are things like head covering. Then there are commands that are incidental to people generally like the command to go and sell everything. He makes a strong case from the rest of Scripture that this was just a command for the rich young ruler. Examples of enduring principles are things like:
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)
“you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and that the second is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31)
“strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31)
He explains further:
No specific word that is from God will ever contradict such principles. … Principles of Scripture are to be identified most of all from the actions, spirit and explicit statements of Jesus himself.
Willard then devotes an entire section rejecting any words that would promise us that faithful followers of Jesus would be free from pain, suffering and hardship. He emphatically rejects any teaching as such and we should be wary of any words from God that echo that line of thinking.
Concerning how infallible our hearing is, Dallas says:
When I am sure that God is speaking to me and sure about what he says, couldn’t I still be mistaken, even though I’ve had apparently successful experiences of hearing and understanding his voice? Yes of course you could still be wrong. … Infallibility, and especially infallibility in discerning the mind of God, simply does not fit the human condition. It should not be desired, much less expected, from our relationship with God.
I was disappointed that he doesn’t address the fact that Old Testament prophets were expected to be infallible. That is an unanswered question for me. Perhaps some you, my readers, could help me understand why this is true and is not true for New Testament prophets.
Concerning the role of scripture in recognizing God’s voice:
It cannot be stressed too much that the permanent address at which the word of God may be found is the Bible. More of God’s speaking to me has come in conjunction with study and teaching of the Bible than with anything else.
Knowing the voice of God and having a practical understanding of that voice in our minds and hearts is not a luxury for the people of God.
Dallas digresses and lists the benefits of developing a conversational relationship:
Direct, daily access to God and his kingdom
Confidence, Comfort and Peace – Without real communication from God, our view of the world is very impersonal, however glorious we may find God’s creation.
Protection from mad religionists and legalism. – It is also important for us to know on a practiced, experiential basis how God speaks, so that we might protect ourselves and others about whom we are concerned.
A quality of life like those in Scripture.
Dallas sums up the chapter by stating that he believes that God’s “voice” to us is not mysterious and goes on to tell us what we should expect:
It is possible to talk about hearing God in terms of mysterious feelings, curious circumstances and special scriptural nuances of meaning to the point where God’s character is called into question.
we can expect (given the revelation of God in Christ) that if God wants us to know something, he will be both able and willing to communicate it to us plainly, as long as we are open and prepared by our experiences to hear and obey.
We may be sure that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). With very little exception, the form such inspiration took was nothing more than thoughts and perceptions of the distinctive character that these people had learned by experience to recognize as the voice of God in their own souls. The thoughts and perceptions were still their thoughts and perceptions. It could not be otherwise. But the thoughts and perceptions bore within themselves the unmistakable stamp of divine quality, spirit, intent and origination.
Chapter 9 A Life More than Guidance
Dallas begins the chapter by emphasizing that the life of faith is a life of hard work. And part of that includes the hard work of learning to hear God. But the questions he addresses in this chapter are:
How may we come to live confidently and sensibly with God as a conversational presence in our lives?
How much can we count on hearing God?
What does it mean when we don’t hear his voice?
What are we to do then?
Dallas begins this section with a summary of his teaching on hearing God.
While God’s communications come through experiences of many kinds, their detailed content or meaning always takes the form of the inner voice, a characteristic type of thought or perception.
Wow! I never thought of it like that. Dreams, visions, the written word of God – their detailed content or meaning comes in the form of the still, small voice. So obvious – but such a new thought for me.
Let’s summarize his summary with bullet points:
God’s primary means of communicating is the still, small voice
God may choose to guide us mechanically without words
The primary way God speaks to us is through the written word of God
We need to learn to recognize God’s voice by experience and experimentation
Through practice and experience, we can learn to recognize God’s voice by the quality, the spirit, and the content of His voice.
Infallibility in hearing is “completely out of the question.”
In human relationships, some of us recognize a voice and then turn it off and stop listening. This happens to those who are in rebellion against God.
Using God to get out of trouble or to make a decision is not a good way to learn to hear God. “it is much more important to cultivate the quiet, inward space of a constant listening than to always be approaching God for specific direction.”
Speaking to pastors and church leaders:
In every congregation we need a group of people who, in front of everyone, are explicitly learning and teaching about life in dialogue with God.
Next Dallas addresses the question – What if we don’t get an answer from God to a question we have posed? Let’s bullet point his response:
We have done something wrong. This he claims is possible but that the wrong can be readily discerned by asking Him, friends and more mature followers of Jesus if we really want to know. “We must resolutely resist the tendency to blame the absence of a word from God automatically on our own wrongness.”
God wants us to decide. “in general, it is God’s will that we ourselves should have a great part in determining our path through life. This does not mean that he is not with us. Far from it. God both develops and, for our good, tests our character by leaving us to decide.”
We may live in fear of being wrong / choosing wrong. And God may then withhold His direction.
We may want God to decide difficult decisions so that we can avoid responsibility for our actions. I have seen this so often where people (not me of course!) make terrible decisions and then say that they were only following God’s direction.
Another situation that Dallas addresses is when we act upon a word from God and have assurance that it is from Him but it does not work out. Dallas assures us to not fret.
The will of God made plain to us is sometimes not fulfilled because of the choices of other people. We must not, because of that, lose confidence in God’s guiding words.
Dallas addresses those who believe that if we are perfectly hearing from God and obeying Him, we will not be taking any real risk.
In truth, we don’t need to seek risk but we will never be without it, at least in this world. Nor should we try to be.
Epilogue – The Way of the Burning Heart
Dallas tackles one more obstacle that we might face in developing a conversational relationship with God.
“the seeming unreality of the spiritual life.” We could equally speak of it as “the overwhelming presence of the visible world.” The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events. They pinch and pull and hammer away at our bodies. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs. But instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently.
God’s spiritual invasions into human life seem, by their very gentleness, to invite us to explain them away. … We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us. They go meekly, without much protest.
How do we combat this one?
[these hinderances] all require of us a choice to be a spiritual person, to live a spiritual life. We are required to “bet our life” that the visible world, while real, is not reality itself.
What does this life look like? Dallas says:
Christian spirituality as practiced through the ages takes the form of this companionship with Jesus. Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God. They do not live their lives merely in terms of the human order in the visible world; they have “a life beyond.”
Today, as God’s trusting apprentices in the kingdom of the heavens, we live on the Emmaus road, so to speak, with an intermittently burning heart. His word pours into our heart, energizing and directing our life in a way that cannot be accounted for in natural terms. The presence of the physical world no longer has to be a barrier between me and God. My visible surroundings become, instead, God’s gift to me, where I am privileged to see the rule of heaven realized through my friendship with Jesus.
He makes it so in response to my expectation. There, in some joyous measure, creation is seen moving toward “the glorious liberty of the children of God”—all because my life counts for eternity as I live and walk with God.
He then closes with this poem:
Now is the shining fabric of our day
Torn open, flung apart, rent wide by love.
Never again the tight, enclosing sky,
The blue bowl or the star-illumined tent. We are laid open to infinity,
For Easter love has burst our tomb and His.
Now nothing shelters us from God’s desire—
Not flesh, not sky, not stars, not even sin.
Now glory waits so He can enter in.
Now does the dance begin
[i] In an article entitled “A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring Thunderous Sound?” the author posits that there was no whispering going on in Elijah’s encounter with God. He suggests that the Hebrew phrase kol d’mama daka is unique in the Bible and is based on damamu, an Acadian rather than a Hebrew root. It refers to roaring and moaning. Based on his linguistic research and the pattern of theophany in the Tanakh (OT), the author believes a better translation might be “a roaring and thundering voice.” Lust, Johan. “A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring Thunderous Sound? Elijah at Horeb: 1 Kings XIX 12.” Vetus Testamentum 25 (January 1975): 110- 15 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1517376?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents