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.
I just finished a book by 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 learning to listen 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
Without a doubt, this was the most helpful book in developing my theology and my language for learning how to listen to God. 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
From this book I want to focus on a question that was asked at our Bible study recently:
How do demons manifest themselves today?
The book, Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis provides the best description of the strategies used by the demons in a Western world setting.
The apostle Paul has told us that we are not unaware of the enemy’s schemes and tactics. This book certainly exposes a lot of them and it would do us well to become thoroughly familiar with them. Lewis expounds on these in each chapter, and it would do you well to get the book if this summary is helpful.
The tactics described here are written towards men because the person being tempted is a man. But all tactics apply to men and women. Always remember as you read these quotes that these are the words of a senior demon (Screwtape) instructing a junior demon how to tempt a man.
A suggested use of this summary is to do what I am doing, Take each tactic and spend some time with God asking:
Is this a true tactic of the devil?
AND if so
In what way?
Am I tempted by this strategic tactic?
For example, from chapter 12
Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.
Father I believe that anything that takes me away from You is non-trivial and will cause serious harm. Are there any decisions I am making this week that are taking me away from You?
Here is my summary of the tactics that Lewis believed are used by demons today against God’s people:
The client is not yet a Christian. Only this chapter deals with the ways demons interact with non-Christians. Demons are to get us to:
Focus on the immediate senses
Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up
Emphasize the ordinariness of things
Avoid the hard sciences
Let’s look at what Lewis says about each of these:
But are you not being a trifle naïf? [remember – this is the senior demon speaking] It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s [God’s] clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.
[God – the Enemy of the demon] can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Clearly Lewis thinks that reason is a dangerous thing for the demons. It’s hard to believe that Lewis was writing this in the 40’s. I love that he recognized that there is a demonic movement today in our culture to take us away from thinking that things are true and false and away from the importance of universal ideas. What insight!
Focus on the immediate senses: For the demons the “stream of immediate sense experience” is good and “attending to universal issues” is bad. The demon’s advice to his understudy was that:
Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.
Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up
you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear What He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it the end of a morning”, the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind”, he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic”. He is now safe in Our Father’s house.
Have him focus on the familiar and avoid the unfamiliar:
Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.
Emphasize the ordinariness of things: “Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.“
Avoid the hard sciences:
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life”. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modem investigation”. Do remember you are there to fuddle him.
In this chapter, client has become a Christian. Lewis clearly believes that one can fall back into the “enemy’s” camp once they have become a Christian. In this chapter, Lewis highlights two tools that the demons use to draw the Christian away from the faith:
The Church: Lewis says that people in the church are one of the best weapons for drawing one away from the faith.
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.
Make him dependent upon emotion: Lewis tells us that when the initial dryness that inevitably comes to all new Christians, if they over come it, “they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.”
The demon instructs the younger demon to work on the relationship between the client (the new Christian) and his mother. Build up in the house “a good settled habit of mutual annoyance; daily pinpricks.” Remember, the Enemy [God] works from the inside out. “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.”
The demon recommends the following tactics for building tension between his mom and himself:
Keep his mind on the inner life: “Don’t let him think that outer changes are necessary.”
At first blush, this may seem contrary to all that I teach and encourage. But I believe strongly in developing the inner life in order to work well in our outer life. Can one keep one’s focus 24/7 on the Holy Spirit and do useful work? Absolutely!
The problem comes when we retreat into our inner life to escape from the problems of this world. This is well exemplified in the Simon and Garfunkel song “I am a Rock”
I have my books And my poetry to protect me; I am shielded in my armor, Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island.
I believe this is what Lewis is getting at. The demons will encourage us to become rocks and islands while we retreat into our books, poetry, music and ideas.
Prevent him from praying for his mom: “Or if that is not possible, make sure that the prayers are real ‘spiritual.’ He is concerned about the state of her soul; not her rheumatism.”
Accentuate the irritable features of the mother: “When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that.”
Work on the ‘way’ things are said: “In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.”
This chapter delves into the way the demons hinder our prayer life.
Keep him from praying altogether
Have him despise rote prayer: “encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.” One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication.’ That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.
Convince the man that bodily position doesn’t matter: Lewis obviously believed that body position matters in prayer. For Screwtape says:
At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers;
The best tactic to prevent real prayer is to keep real prayer thoughts out of his mind:
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
keep the focus away from God and focus on themselves. For example instead of praying for courage, let them imagine themselves as brave.
In this chapter, World War II has begun. In this we learn that one of the objectives of demons today is to keep Christians in “anguish and bewilderment.” This is achieved by:
Providing pictures of terror for his future
Providing self-pitying glances to his happy past
Preventing the formation of virtues
Working so that all humans die in costly nursing homes where no-one cares and doctors lie
Create maximum uncertainty about all affairs of life.
Keep him focused on what will happen to him – not what he does
Keep him in suspense and anxiety about the future
In this age, keep him from knowing demons exist. Screwtape answers the question: Do we let the believer know we exist? Screwtape says that it depends on the current climate of the culture. For now he says, it is best that believers are ignorant of demonic presence. “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
Encourage him to commit to extreme views and causes (except extreme devotion towards God).
Encourage the followers of Jesus to “acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-rightousness of a secret society or a clique.”
Encourage sectarian beliefs like Patriotism or Pacifism to be part of his religion
Prevent him from seeing that temporal affairs are primarily material for obedience
Use periods of dryness or dullness towards the opposite end of what God wants – In other words, God uses the law of undulation (where we have highs and lows – motivated and demotivated ) in different ways at different times. The demons are to move the man in the exact opposite direction that God is moving him. Lewis also reveals his view of time in this chapter. Humans were created as both spirit (outside of time) and animal (inside of time). “while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change”
Have the man focus on God as irresistible and the truth about Him indisputable Lewis does not believe in “irresistible grace.” “Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.” In other words, God would never reveal Himself in ways that are irresistible or indisputable. Therefore demons are to convince men that God should reveal himself in those ways.
Trough periods are the best time to exploit all sensual temptations – especially sex – This certainly is reflected in the hit musical “Hamilton” as well in the lives of many I know.
Keep the man away from the knowledge of the law of undulation – This is Lewis’ concept that God places us in a world where everything ebbs and flows – there are ups and downs. Both are used by God for different but equally useful purposes.
Keep his mind off the antithesis between true and false – use “Nice shadowy expressions—’It was a phase’—’I’ve been through all that'”
Direct his thoughts towards thinking his faith was just a phase
Have him become friends with rich, smart, intellectually superficial, and brightly skeptical people
Postpone as long as possible the realization that his friends don’t hold his same core beliefs
In this chapter, Lewis helps us understand the proper role of humor and laughter.
Encourage Flippancy The tactic emphasized in this chapter is “Flippancy.” Flippancy builds up an armor against the truths of God
Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.
The end goal of all of the strategies is to separate the man from God
Don’t allow him to enjoy a book just for the sake of reading it
Don’t allow him to indulge in simple pleasures (like a walk) just for the simple pleasure of it. Encourage everything to have a purpose.
Don’t allow the man to convert his repentance to true action
Keep him making “lavish promises” concerning his behavior. Not “hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!”
If the patient is humble, make sure he notices it
At all costs, exclude from the conscious, God’s idea that man should have no opinion of his own talents.
Encourage either of these states of mind: tortured fear or stupid confidence in the state of the world
Since God wants His people attentive to eternity AND the present moment, encourage all of his thoughts to be about the past and the future (and preferably the future).
Send the believer all over looking for the church that “suits” him.
Attach the patient to a church that sees itself as set apart and different from all of the other churches
Encourage the sin of gluttony – not of excess but of delicacy. Endless food shows certainly bear witness to the success of this tactic today.
Make love the object of all marriage “persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call “being in love” is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.”
Keep working the patient into a state of mind that moves him closer to us and further from God – no matter what it takes.
Convince him that there is no way of getting rid of us except by giving in to us.
Steer his choice of a mate away from one who would be good for him.
The aim [of working with a small group of designers and artists] is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely
Work hard to convince him that his time is his own and anything that takes away from time he feels is rightfully his, will create a peevishness in him.
“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. … And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong— certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says “Mine” of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say “Mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic”
Twist every pleasure God has created and make it useful to our purposes – “He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”
Try to eliminate music and silence from his life
Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.
If you cannot eliminate spirituality from his life -corrupt it. Encourage pursuit of “the historical Jesus”
Destroy his devotional life. “For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped”
Have him treat the gospels as biographies of Jesus.
No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. The “Gospels” come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.
Have him make God’s directives about how to walk with Him into a “Thing.” “The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.”
Get him to imitate a defect in a Christian they admire “Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride?”
Get him to think how grand and right it is to be a Christian –
so much better than those other people “you must make him feel that he is finding his own level—that these people are “his sort” and that, coming among them, he has come home. When he turns from them to other society he will find it dull; partly because almost any society within his reach is, in fact, much less entertaining, but still more because he will miss the enchantment of the young woman. You must teach him to mistake his contrast between the circle that delights and the circle that bores him for the contrast between Christians and unbelievers. He must be made to feel (he’d better not put it into words) “how different we Christians are”; and by “we Christians” he must really, but unknowingly, mean “my set”; and by “my set” he must mean not “The people who, in their charity and humility, have accepted me”, but “The people with whom I associate by right”.”
Get him to see his beliefs, not as mere Christianity, but Christianity plus something else. The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.
Twist man’s natural enjoyment of change into a demand for ever changing novelty
Get him to ask the unanswerable questions rather than the relevant questions.
The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions
Sow seeds of discontent during courtship “that will grow into domestic hatred. … let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment”
Cultivate unselfishness rather than charity – “teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.” “If people knew how much ill-feeling unselfishness occasions, it would not be so often recommended from the pulpit”
Encourage him to fight distractions in prayer through sheer will power.
When distractions come in prayer, “you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened;”
Steer him away from petitionary prayer
On the seemingly pious ground that “praise and communion with God is the true prayer”, humans can often be lured into direct disobedience to the Enemy who (in His usual flat, commonplace, uninteresting way) has definitely told them to pray for their daily bread and the recovery of their sick. You will, of course, conceal from him the fact that the prayer for daily bread, interpreted in a “spiritual sense”, is really just as crudely petitionary as it is in any other sense.
Encourage the thought that petitionary prayer is a waste of time
worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.
Keep him away from old books
Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.
Teach him to “regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good.”
Encourage a focus on prosperity – “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.”
Defeat his courage, cultivate hatred combined with fear – “The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage.”
Use fatigue to lead them “into anger, malice and impatience.” “Fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”
This is actually going to be a little more than a book summary. As I have slowed down my reading and attempted to increase the depth of what I take in, I am going back to books I read previously and writing out my notes, thoughts and quotes. Present Perfect is one such book. I wrote about the spiritual discipline that developed out of reading that book in Points of Presence. But I have found that I am learning so much more this second time through. At the end of every chapter Greg Boyd has exercises to help us cultivate the habit of being awake to God’s presence. I am finding that I skimmed over these previously. Now I am finding a treasure in these exercises. You will find them summarized at the end of this blog.
One thing Greg does in the book is to populate the pages with little “Are You Awake” text boxes – like post-it notes. This time through, I have found that these are great reminders to be aware that I am in God’s presence when I am reading. I would turn the page and there was the little post-it. “Are you awake.” I decided to create something using the Windows task scheduler. I will be creating a link to this for anyone interested. You can program it to any increment. 10 minutes is a reasonable place to start.
I would strongly recommend this book. Although I am not an open theist and even though Greg is a big proponent of this theological perspective, I don’t find any instances of open theism in this book . Don’t avoid this book because you differ with him on open theism.
Introduction: “Now” is Where God Lives
This is a major theme of the book – hence the name – Present Perfect – Finding God in the Now. Greg develops the argument that although God was in the past and will be in the future, He is in the Now (with respect to us). Generally theologians and Christians have the following views concerning God’s relationship to time:
The traditional view – God is timeless – i.e. outside of time completely
God is temporal but everlasting – He exists at each moment of time and experiences temporal succession (one thing follows another in time)
God is not within our time but is within His own time. Some have argued against this by saying that God is then somehow limited by His own time.
God is omni-temporal – God is not in our time but he experiences temporal succession in His being. But He does not have His own time.
Although you can argue that God is timeless many philosophers argue that God is temporal (in time) only with respect to his creation. This is my view. When God steps into our time, as in the incarnation, He is in time. When He speaks to us, He speaks in time.
William Lane Craig has argued that God was timeless in eternity before He created time and became temporal thereafter.[i]
All of this does not impact our experience of God in time. I agree with Boyd that we can only experience God in the present moment – the Now. Even when we work with individuals in the healing of memories and God takes the person back to a past moment in their history, they are still experiencing God and healing their memories in the now. And I think that can be true no matter what the relationship is between God and time. What matters is our relationship to God and time. Any comments to this would be appreciated by me because I completely agree with Boyd’s central premise – We only experience God in our present moment because we only live and have our being in the present moment.
C.S. Lewis talks about this in the Screwtape Letters. These are letters from a senior demon to an understudy. According to Lewis, the demons want to keep us away from thinking about either eternity or the present. They will continuously be tempting us to live in the past or the future. Listen to the words of the senior demon:
[The demon Screwtape writes:] The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience [and I would add – the Holy Spirit] , bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
Our business [the demons] is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present.
Something to be aware of, is that evil is at work anytime you are dwelling on the past or the future. Lord, help me to live in this present moment with You!
Are you Awake?
This is another major question that he poses for us each and every moment
Are you awake or asleep to God’s presence?
As I mentioned, he scatters this phrase like post-it notes throughout the book. He posts them on his sermon notes. All to remind us – are we paying attention to God’s presence at this moment. When working on my laptop up pops a window every 10 minutes asking: “Are you awake?” At that moment, I turn my focus away from what I am doing to the One who (hopefully) I am doing the writing or reading with! Boyd gives us some instructions as to what we should do at these moments:
Don’t try to feel his presence. In fact, don’t try to do anything at all. Simply be mindful of the fact that you are, in this present moment, submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love.
Waking up to a Cricket
In this section, Boyd describes the moment in history – the Now – when he was jogging and experienced his surroundings as if for the first time. It awakened in him the desire to be more aware of God every moment. Hear his words about this experience:
Never before had I realized the extent to which our focus determines what we experience—and do not experience—in any given moment. Never before had I seen how being absorbed in the past or future causes us to miss the wonder of the present.
The present moment is all that is real. The past is gone. The future is not yet. We remember the past and anticipate the future, but we always do so in the present. Reality is always now. And the single most important aspect of reality is that God is present in it every moment. To forget that God is present in any given moment is to forget the most important aspect of that moment.
Over the past twenty-plus years since my waking-up experience in the woods, I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.
It is my prayer that God will use this book to help you wake up to his ever-present love and to passionately embrace the challenge of remaining awake to this love
Practicing the Presence of God
At this point, Boyd introduces the three authors who helped him become awake to God’s presence 24/7:
Brother Lawrence “Among the many things I learned from this man [a seventeenth-century monk] was the need to stop thinking of prayer as something we do at certain times but not others.”
Jean-Pierre de Caussade
While these three authors differ widely in both their theology and their emphasis, they all emphatically agree that remaining awake to God’s presence in the present moment is the single most important task of the Christian life and that no spiritual discipline is more foundational or transforming than this one.
[Practicing the Presence of God] is, I’m convinced, the bedrock of a vibrant relationship with God and the key to transformation into the likeness of Christ. … I believe this practice is foundational to Christianity and how this practice can transform our lives.
The Simplicity and Challenge of Practicing the Presence
The challenge is not in doing the discipline: it’s in remembering the discipline.
When you notice that you’ve forgotten God, don’t get frustrated or angry. This only produces more mental chatter,
Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each testify that whatever task occupies you at any given moment, you’ll tend to do it better if you include God. Remaining aware of God’s presence doesn’t compete with our attention to other things; it augments it.
Chapter 1 – Mere Christianity
For the Supersaints Only?
Boyd opens this chapter making the case that this practice is not just for monks, missionaries and pastors.
For us ordinary Christians, trying to remain aware of God’s presence moment-by-moment seems like a hyperspiritual pipe dream.
But he claims it is not.
Living Out the Pledge of Life
In this section, Boyd takes a bit of tangent – and builds the case that surrendering our life to Jesus cannot be a one time occurrence.
For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the one we live moment-by-moment.
He uses the example of his pledge to his wife when they got married. The pledge made at the moment of their marriage was life changing and monumental but the pledge needed to be lived out every moment from then on.
Rather, the actual life I pledged to my wife was the life I have lived each and every moment since I made that pledge. The only life I have to give to my wife is the life I live moment-by-moment.
The important question is not, Did I once surrender my life to Christ? The important question is, Am I surrendered to Christ right now? For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the life we’re living this moment.
We make a vow to submit our life to Christ but then spend 99 percent of our time excluding him from our awareness. We make him Lord over our life in theory, but we do not make him Lord over most of the moments that make up our life.
The Heart of New Testament Discipleship
In this section, Boyd builds the case that being aware of God’s presence 24/7 is biblically based in the following scriptures:
Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) – How can we seek God’s kingdom first when we hardly pay any attention to him throughout the day? “remembering that God exists and that yielding to his will is our supreme objective, even as we strive for other, less important, goals.”
Living in the Spirit / Keeping in Step with Spirit – (Galatians 5:16-18) – How can we keep in step with the indwelling Holy Spirit when we ignore Him most of our day
Take every thought captive ((2 Corinthians 10:5) – How can we do this
apart from being aware of every thought and submitting it to the Spirit. “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but your brain never stops thinking. It’s constantly chattering! If you doubt me, go into a quiet room, shut off the lights, and try not to think. Listen carefully for the voice in your head and see how long you can keep it completely silent. If you’re attentive, you’ll probably discover that within five to ten seconds you’ll be chattering to yourself. You’ll hear things like: ‘So far so good’ or ‘This is stupid’ or ‘Don’t forget to take out the garbage.’ … Our brain never shuts up. To submit every thought to Christ, therefore, we’re going to need to have Christ on our mind all the time. …This doesn’t mean we should try to analyze every thought to make sure it’s submitted to Christ. This would turn our mental focus completely onto ourselves and would pull us out of the present moment. It would also likely drive us crazy.”
Be transformed by the renewal of your minds (Romans 12:2) – Can our minds really be renewed through a few quiet times a week and a church service or two? No! The transformation is taking place moment by moment.
We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) – If He truly is the head of the body, doesn’t the body analogy require 24/7 connectivity with the head?
I would add to this list:
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (see also 11:9)
…praying at all times in the Spirit – Ephesians 6:18
16 Rejoice always,17 pray without ceasing,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1
Chapter 2 – Finding Home
This chapter takes a few tangents as he attempts to build his case.
Our Insatiable Hunger
In this section, Greg talks about how animals are just fine when they have food and shelter [Don’t tell our grand-dogs that]. But as humans we have an insatiable hunger for life. Yes, we hunger for love and happiness [as do our grand-dogs], but we also hunger for meaning, worth and significance. [Nope – no grand-dogs I know have that hunger]. He goes on:
Our insatiable hunger for a depth of Life that only he can give is a sort of built-in “homing device” intended to lead us to him. The Trinity is our home, and we are never fully satisfied or at peace until we rest in him.
Sounds very Augustinian! (“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”) And he says that when we don’t follow that lead, we replace it with:
An idol can be anything we use to meet the need that only God can meet.
Whatever we try to derive our core sense of worth and meaning from is our god.
Beliefs and Reality
Boyd hits head on the difference between our beliefs and what we actually do.
many assume that believing Jesus is Lord of their life magically makes him Lord. …merely believing Jesus is Lord no more makes him Lord of my life than believing Kim Jong-il is the leader of North Korea makes me his follower. For Kim Jong-il to be my leader, I would need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of North Korea. So too, for Jesus to be my Lord, I need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of his Kingdom.
The important question, therefore, is not what you believe. The important question is what you decide to do, moment-by-moment, on the basis of what you believe.
The Futility of Idols
In this section, Boyd develops what should be obvious – but isn’t. False gods and idols will never give us what we need.
Living “As Though”
While the true God lives in the now, false gods always live in the past or future. Chasing them to find our worth and significance always takes us out of the present moment.
How much of your thought-life is spent in the past or future, and what is the purpose for this nonpresent thinking? You may be so accustomed to living in the past and future that you find it difficult to notice how much of your thought-life is spent there, let alone why you spend so much of your thought-life there.
if you are completely honest with yourself, you’ll probably find that most of your past and future orientated thoughts revolve around you and are centered on your attempts to feel worthwhile and significant.
This was a revolutionary thought for me. I never realized that my thought life / my self-talk was mostly about the past or the future. But it is! This idea has helped me immensely to turn my self-talk / my idle thoughts to the sacred present moment.
The very process of trying to acquire Life on our own forces us to miss most of life, for real life is always in the present moment. When we live as though we can acquire Life from things other than God, we inevitably live as though reality wasn’t always in the present moment.
Reorienting the Homing Device
Coming home is simply a matter of waking up from the illusion that you aren’t already there. Yet, while the belief that the love of God is our home can be embraced at one moment and then forgotten about, the actual decision to release the illusion and embrace the truth cannot.
Greg mentions one of the side benefits of learning to become aware of God’s
presence 24/7. Agreeing with Laubach he says:
I feel much more “at home” in my skin—and in the universe—than I used to.
Chapter 3 – Chasing the Sun
Boyd opens this chapter quoting from what is, in his opinion, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. You are going to have to buy the book if you want to know what it is. But the song addresses the human condition that we all face: death. And the fear that grows out of that. He says:
The fear is not just that we’re going to die. The fear is that we’ll never really live.
Boyd makes the claim that learning how to practice the presence of God will free us from fear and dread. Both fear and dread cause us to live in either the past or the future. But we were meant to live in the present.
If you are truly present, [fear and dread] cannot help but disappear—just as it cannot help but reappear if you once again begin to cling to idols and get pulled out of the present moment. For as we’ve seen, our fear and dread are directly associated with our pursuit of idols and, therefore, being pulled out of the present into the past or future. To relinquish the idols and remain in the present, surrender to God’s ever-present love. In this way the practice of the presence of God completely frees us from the fear of death.
The bottom line is that we were meant to live life as a celebration of a fullness of Life we get from God rather than as a desperate attempt to get fullness of Life on our own.
At the end of this chapter, Gregory addresses the question: “Won’t focusing our full attention on God every minute of the day, lead us to inactivity.”
Pointing especially to Laubach (the non-monk in the trifecta of authors) as one who accomplished an immense amount of work all the while practicing the presence of God every moment, Boyd emphatically says: NO!
Chapter 4 Single-Mindedness
Greg now addresses one of the reasons nobody practices the presence of God 24/7:
We’ve been conditioned to have a “flesh-mind-set” that habitually pushes God out of our awareness moment-by-moment.
He then encourages us:
Whatever else is going on—whether we’re taking a shower, engaging in a discussion, watching television, or reading a book—we must try to remain consciously anchored in the present.
He defines what it means to be single-minded:
We are single-minded not because every thought is about Christ but because every thought is taken captive to Christ.
Chapter 5 Living in Love
He begins this chapter by addressing our hunger for information. We have bowed to the idol: “knowledge is power”
This is one of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences. We believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solving our personal and social problems.… Think about it. Western Christians today are massively more informed than Christians at any time in the past. Yet no one would dare to claim that we’re generally more spiritually mature than Christians in the past.
Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging in other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people? I suspect it’s at least partly because many believe they’re already living in the Kingdom by virtue of the fact that they’re learning about the Kingdom. The truth is that there is no necessary connection between these two things.
Boyd goes on to say that none of the three authors put much store in books transforming lives! Okay – I know – he is writing a book hoping to transform. Not that they didn’t see the worth of books, they just saw their limitations.
It’s just that all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment.
He then gets to the main point of this chapter: To live in love is to practice the presence of God. He looks at the challenge to love as Jesus loves us. But he says:
The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved.
Chapter 6 Being Present
Greg opens this chapter with a quote from the play Our Town. In it, a woman, Emily, comes back from the dead as a spirit and sees what is really going on and exclaims: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
This beautifully expresses the goal of practicing the presence of God. It’s to “realize life while [we] live it…every, every minute,” and it includes looking hard at things and really seeing others.
This reminds me of a great quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:
Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment.
Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.
Boyd wants us to understand that the incarnation isn’t just something that happened a long time ago and now has accomplished its purpose:
… the earliest Christians understood that the incarnation wasn’t just about what God did once upon a time in Jesus. Because Jesus reveals who God really is, the incarnation tells us something about what God is always doing.
He then says that to live “incarnationally” means to practice the presence of God 24/7. We are to always embody Jesus wherever we go.
This captures the heart of Chapter 6.
Chapter 7 – The Father is Always Working
Boyd opens with a warning:
If we’re not careful, our own religion can blind us to the ever-present God.
And then an encouragement:
The Father is always working, and if we are looking for it and willing to participate, some amazing things can happen.
Quotes from the Three Mentors (Laubach, Lawrence and de Caussade)
Can I bring the Lord back into my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.
Some people have compared [remaining aware of God’s presence] to getting out of a dark prison and beginning to live. We still see the same world, yet it is not the same, for it has a new, glorious color and a far deeper meaning.
Can we have that contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time?
If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.
This practicing the presence of Christ takes all our time, yet does not take from our work. It takes Christ into our enterprises and makes them more successful.
One may never get to the point where they continually are in God’s presence. You may not win all your minutes to Christ, or even half, but you do win a richer life. There are no losers excepting those who quit.
This concentration upon God is so strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. I worry about nothing, and lose no sleep.
Students can keep Christ in mind even when taking an exam by saying things like, “Father, keep my mind clear… How shall we answer this next questions?” He will not tell you what you have never studied, but He does sharpen your memory and take away your stage fright when you ask Him.
You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think…
My part is to live this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will, to make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need think about.
One can pour something divine into every situation.
[Practicing the presence of God] is the secret of the great saints of all ages. “Pray without ceasing,” said Paul, “in everything make your wants known unto God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”
If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade
The present moment is all that matters.
Each moment is a revelation of God.
I will devote myself exclusively to the duty of the present moment to love you, to fulfill my obligations and to let your will be done.
The practice [of God’s presence] is so simple, so easy and so accessible that it need only be wished for it to be had.
God is only asking for your hearts. If you truly seek this treasure, this kingdom where God alone reigns, you will find it. Your heart, if it is totally surrendered to God, is itself that treasure, that very kingdom you long for and are seeking.
All that matters is…to belong totally to God, to please him, making our sole happiness to look on the present moment as though nothing else in the world mattered.
What is the secret of how to find this treasure [of God’s presence] – this minute grain of mustard seed? There is none. It is available to us always, everywhere.
I wish to make all see that everyone can aspire…to the same love, the same surrender, the same God and his work, and thereby effortlessly achieve the most perfect saintliness.
It is not pleasure we seek. Let this exercise [of practicing God’s presence] be done from one motive alone: because we love him.
My set times for prayer are exactly like the rest of the day to me. They are but a continuation of the same exercise of being in God’s presence.
I kept my mind in His holy presence. I recalled His presence as often as I found my mind wandering from Him. I found this to be a very difficult exercise! Yet I continued despite the difficulties I encountered. I did not allow myself to become upset when my mind wandered.
If a Christian is to truly practice the presence of his Lord…then the heart of that Christian must be empty of all else. All Why? Because God wills…to be the only possessor of that heart.
I am in a calm so great that I fear nothing. What could I fear? I am with Him.
While I am with Him I fear nothing.
If your mind sometimes wanders or withdraws from the Lord, do not be upset or disquieted. Trouble and disquiet serve more to distract the mind further from God than to recollect it. The will must bring the mind back in tranquility.
So begin… make that resolution. Now!…Be daring. None of us have a long time to live… what years we have, let us live them with God.
Oswald Chambers (not from this book but related)
The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in his motives, having been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right-doing is right-being…. Jesus is saying, “If you are My disciple, you must be right not only in your actions, but also in your motives, your aspirations, and in the deep recesses of the thoughts of your mind.”
When you are insulted, you must not only not resent it, but you must make it an opportunity to exhibit the Son of God in your life. … A personal insult becomes an opportunity for a saint to reveal the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.
if we are His disciples, we will always do these things [turn the other cheek]. We will not say, “Oh well, I just can’t do any more, and I’ve been so misrepresented and misunderstood.”
Every time I insist on having my own rights, I hurt the Son of God, while in fact I can prevent Jesus from being hurt if I will take the blow myself. That is the real meaning of filling “up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…” (Colossians 1:24). A disciple realizes that it is his Lord’s honor that is at stake in his life, not his own honor.
the essence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is— Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.
The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord”;… The Highest Good—The Pilgrim’s Song Book
We are apt to think that everything that happens to us is to be turned into useful teaching; it is to be turned into something better than teaching, viz. into character. We shall find that the spheres God brings us into are not meant to teach us something but to make us something. The Love of God—The Ministry of the Unnoticed,
If I will take an honest look at myself, becoming fully aware of my so-called innocence and putting it to the test, I am very likely to have a rude awakening that what Jesus Christ said is true [Matthew 15:18-20], and I will be appalled at the possibilities of the evil and the wrong within me. But as long as I remain under the false security of my own “innocence,” I am living in a fool’s paradise.
Purity is something far too deep for me to arrive at naturally.
Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.
Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry.
Prayer is not only asking, but is an attitude of the mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.
Have you been propping up that foolish soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God to handle? Set all your opinions and speculations aside and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about whatever concerns you. All our fretting and worrying is caused by planning without God.
We are in danger of being stern where God is tender, and of being tender where God is stern. The Love of God—The Message of Invincible Consolation,
Look at God’s incredible waste of His saints, according to the world’s judgment. God seems to plant His saints in the most useless places. And then we say, “God intends for me to be here because I am so useful to Him.” Yet Jesus never measured His life by how or where He was of the greatest use. God places His saints where they will bring the most glory to Him, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.
is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something.
Game with Minutes
Boyd describes this Frank Laubach exercise as follows:
This game challenges us to bring Christ to mind at least one second of each and every minute within a designated hour. He called it a “game” both because he wanted it to be “lighthearted” and because he found it to be “a delightful experience and an exhilarating spiritual exercise.”
The how to was a little lacking in Frank’s booklet and Boyd doesn’t help a whole lot:
Laubach recommends that we begin by designating a particular “uncomplicated hour” to “see how many minutes of the hour you can remember…Christ at least once each minute.” The basic idea is that we need to become accustomed to remembering Christ when our mind has little to do before we can learn how to remember Christ with any consistency in situations that require more attention.
To begin this “game,” think about the times when you tend to be most bored. Designate one or more of these periods as a time in which you’re going to challenge yourself to remember Christ at least once every minute.
This game remains elusive to me.
Waking Up to God
Here Boyd encourages us to spend 10 minutes just after you wake up in God’s presence. Invite Him to keep you aware as you get going in your day. I have tried this and forget most of the time – but overall, I like it.
Inviting Fellow Travelers
Simply, bring others along. Anyone care to join me on this journey? So far I have invited my wife and two directees.
Strategically Placed Reminders
This was the most helpful of all the exercises to me. You can read about it in the “Points of Presence” blog. Here we place reminders in strategic places to be awake to God’s presence.
Being at Home in your skin
This exercise does not seem to be related to the title of Chapter 2, but I have found it useful for brief moments. I have not integrated this into my Points of Presence. Basically, the idea is that the world supports us through gravity. And the exercise is to become aware of all of the points where our body is sensing the tug of gravity. When we are laying down, it is the length of our body. When sitting, it is our seat and feet. The idea is that God has made this place as home and you can actually experience his holding you through the law of gravity. Feel it. Experience it. I am doing it right now sitting in this chair on my deck. Unusually (actually never in my 70 years), a nuthatch landed on my bare foot as I was doing it. He pecked away and didn’t find anything worth eating, and flew away. But for that moment, the pressure of his little feet were felt.
Boyd says this about this discipline:
Engaging in this discipline, I have found that I feel much more at home in the world because my continual contact with the world has become a sacrament communicating to me I’m always at home in God’s loving presence.
Experiencing God’s Fullness of Life
Greg offers two exercises to help us experience more of God’s fullness of life:
Become mindful of God’s care for me by whispering truths such as ““I could not possibly be more loved than I am this moment.”
I set aside regular times when I darken a room, play some nice background music, and imaginatively see, hear, and sense Jesus pouring his perfect love on me. As vividly as possible, I see, hear, and sense Jesus expressing to me all the things Scripture says about me, but now these truths are intimate, personal, and, therefore, much more impacting. This is called “cataphatic [or imaginative] prayer” in the church tradition and multitudes have found it to be a powerful way of experiencing and being transformed by the fullness of Life that come from Christ alone.
All three authors tell us that to experience God moment by moment – to live constantly in His presence, we need to let go:
“All things hinge upon your hearty renunciation of everything which you are aware does not lead to God,” Brother Lawrence
“The reason I didn’t have it [a sense of God’s ‘hereness’] before was because I failed to let go,” Frank Laubach
Boyd recommends using the old “palms up and palms down” exercise to help us let go.
Whenever you find you’ve begun to focus on things that are taking you away from an awareness of God’s presence in the present moment or are feeling weighed down by the concerns of life, you can simply put your palms down and let it go. Whenever you find you’ve begun to resist God’s movement in your life or are trying to acquire some element of your worth, significance, or security by idolatrous means, you can simply hold your palms up so that your body is in agreement with your intention to receive God’s Life.
I have revised this slightly and reversed the order in what I call the catch and release discipline. You can read more about this in the “Catch and Release” blog here.
Standing in the Middle of Infinity
[Knowing that there is an almost infinite universe above us with distances that stagger the imagination, and a universe below us with particles so small they could travel through light years of steel without colliding with anything] we can think of ourselves as situated in the middle of a virtual infinity extending beneath us into incomprehensible smallness and above us into incomprehensible vastness. To remain aware of the awesomeness of the God whose presence engulfs me, I find it helpful to sometimes remember this fact as I experience events around me. I encourage you to try this exercise. Sit in a comfortable public place and simply observe events around you. As you do so, try to remain aware of the virtual infinity extending above and beneath you and everything you observe. Let your awareness of being situated in the middle, between the infinitely large and infinitely small, form the background against which you observe everything.
As you engage in the discipline of situating yourself in the middle of infinity, therefore, be sure to remain aware that you are surrounded every nanosecond by the infinite intensity of God’s burning, perfect, Calvary-like love.
I am reminded of the phrases from the Canticle of Saint Patrick
Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
Observing Your Mind and Heart
Boyd tells us that an important skill in practicing the presence of God is to gain the ability to observe your own experience.
Most people go through life so completely identified with their thoughts, feelings, and urges that they are essentially slaves to them. We don’t make the distinction between “this particular thought” and “me,” so we just ride the waves of whatever happens to be affecting us in the moment. We think we are what we think and feel, moment-by-moment.
Try a little experiment to see if you can experience what I’m talking about. Recall a harsh or judgmental thought that you’ve had recently. It might be something like “I’m so stupid” or “That person is such a jerk.” Remember how it felt or how you responded when you were having that thought.
Now imagine that instead of just thinking that thought, you observed yourself thinking that thought. It might even be helpful to say something to yourself like, “I notice the thought that I’m stupid.” And now, as you observe yourself thinking the thought that you’re stupid, become aware that you’re immersed in God’s ever-present love. Notice what changes as you observe yourself thinking “I am stupid” while engulfed by God’s perfect love. You’ll find the power of the indicting thought dissipates, for you’re now experiencing the truth that you are more than your thought. The real “you” is the “you” that is defined by God’s love, not the indicting thought.
Another thing he encourages us to do, in addition to turning our self-talk into God-talk, is:
I encourage you to cultivate the habit of stepping outside your thought life to simply observe what is there—without judging it—while remaining mindful of God’s loving presence.
Do Everything for the Lord
Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each stress the importance of transforming everything we do as an act of service and worship to God. This is one of the surest ways to stay awake to God’s presence.
Thinking in Terms of “We”
I have taught this as: Turn all of your self-talk into God-talk.
Laubach says that the single most important thing that helped him become habitually aware of God’s presence was when he learned to transform his thinking into a conversation with Christ. “All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self,” he observes. “Instead of talking to yourself,” he recommends we “form the habit of talking to Christ… Make all thought a conversation with the Lord.”
Cultivating the habit of thinking as a conversation with God rather than merely talking to ourselves is thus challenging, to say the least. Ask God to help you think of creative reminders.
The Space Between Us
This exercise could be summarized as:
Find a way to represent God’s redemptive love filling the interpersonal space between you and others.
In other words, any time you are with another person, try to see God’s love for that person filling the space between you and the other person.
The Primary Goal of Every Social Activity
Boyd describes this exercise as follows:
Whatever other goals you may have as you engage in any social activity—attending church, a party, a sports event, and so on—consciously choose to make your primary goal to love every person you encounter or think about as profoundly as possible. Challenge yourself to remain awake to the truth that each person you encounter has unsurpassable worth, not because of anything worthwhile you happen to see in them, but because their Creator thought them worth dying for.
Silencing the Accuser
Whenever you find yourself judging another, thank yourself for reminding you that you need to live in love.
Volunteering for the Worst Sinner Award
…, when you catch yourself looking down on another person, I encourage you to remind yourself that whatever sin or imperfection you think you see in another person, it is a mere speck of dust compared to the tree trunk of sin and imperfection in your own life.
Seeing through Jesus’ “Unattractive Disguises”
Drawing on the great prayer that Mother Theresa prayed every day:
Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”
Boyd encourages us to look for Jesus every day / every minute in the unattractive.
Imagine the Child
In this exercise, we are to look at every person (especially those we have problems with) as a little child. What did they experience? How were You working in them as a child, Jesus?
Imagine the Prequel
Recognizing that there is a story behind the present state of everyone we meet and that it might be hard for us to see them as a child, Greg encourages us, in the moment, to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what went before this behavior
This book is a series of twelve sermons given by Tom Wright covering various aspects of what it means to follow Jesus. Part One provides an overview of the following New Testament books:
In Part 2 he covers the following major themes:
Part 1 – Looking to Jesus
Hebrews 12:1-3 What about us, then? We have such a great cloud of witnesses all around us! What we must do is this: we must put aside each heavy weight, and the sin which gets in the way so easily. We must run the race that lies in front of us, and we must run it patiently. 2 We must look ahead, to Jesus. He is the one who carved out the path for faith, and he’s the one who brought it to completion. He knew that there was joy spread out and waiting for him. That’s why he endured the cross, making light of its shame, and has now taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne. 3 He put up with enormous opposition from sinners. Weigh up in your minds just how severe it was; then you won’t find yourselves getting weary and worn out.
Chapter 1 – The Final Sacrifice: Hebrews
Wright provides a summary of the book of Hebrews. He explains that the book is difficult for us moderns to read. He claims that this is for two reasons:
It discusses themes that never made it into the top ten of Christian discussion topics
It concentrates on animal sacrifice
He then gives us three reasons the book should be compelling to 21st century Christians:
[the book of Hebrews] offers a compelling portrait of Jesus
A new reading of the Old Testament – or it shows us how to read the Old Testament
It offers Jesus as the Final Sacrifice
… chapter 2 [of Hebrews] emphasizes that Jesus is also totally and truly human. Please note: not only was Jesus totally and truly human, he still is. … one of the major thrusts of the book [of Hebrews is] to emphasize that the one who sat where we sit; who has lived our life and died our death, has now been exalted and glorified precisely as a human being. He hasn’t, as it were, gone back to being just God again.
Wright tells us that the book of Hebrews was an argument clearly designed to convince Jewish Christians not to go back to non-Christian Judiasm. The book of Hebrews does this in three ways:
[As previously mentioned] It gives us a perspective on the Old Testament
It reminds us that what God did in Jesus was not an odd, isolated, one-off invasion into the world. It was the climax of His long plan [ for Israel and mankind].
[As previously mentioned] [The book of] Hebrews offers us Jesus the Final Sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is foreign to us in the 21st century. But Wright claims that:
Sacrifice is part of what it means to be human
Sacrifice reminds us that there is something terribly wrong in us and in the world and it needs to be put right.
He claims that
The sacrifice of Jesus is the moment when the human race, in the person of a single man, offers itself fully to the creator.
Chapter 2 – The Battle Won: Colossians
15 He is the image of God, the invisible one,
The firstborn of all creation. 16 For in him all things were created,
In the heavens and here on the earth.
Things we can see and things we cannot—
Thrones and lordships and rulers and powers—
All things were created both through him and for him. 17 And he is ahead, prior to all else,
And in him all things hold together; 18 And he himself is supreme,
the head Over the body, the church.
He is the start of it all,
Firstborn from realms of the dead;
So in all things he might be the chief. 19 For in him all the Fullness was glad to dwell 20 And through him to reconcile all to himself,
Making peace through the blood of his cross,
Through him—yes, things on the earth,
And also the things in the heavens.
Wright claims that the central theme of the book of Colossians is the victory of Jesus over the powers. But he asks what we ask: “What are the powers?” and “What does the victory consist of?”
He tells us that the hearers of this letter would have no problem answering the first question. The historian Robin Lane Fox “points out that when things went wrong, people didn’t blame each other: They named supernatural culprits.” This, claims Wright, cause the people a serious amount of angst. They were constantly trying to appease these many gods.
It is these mini-god, these powers that Paul is trying to convince the church at Colossae that Jesus has overcome. He sums up what Paul is saying with the following:
Let’s sum up where we’ve got to. The powers were created good, but got too big for their boots because we humans allowed them to. On the cross, Christ has defeated these rebel powers and stripped them of their ultimate power. Now he seeks to reconcile them, to create a new world, ordered by the power of the love of God. That is the context in which the Colossians have now been set free – free from the powers, free to follow Jesus.
The response Paul wants from this letter, is a life of gratitude, a life of thanksgiving. A kind of “thanksliving.” This is the new way of living. All the powers have been defeated. “They have no rights over you. The battle has been won.”
Christ’s first coming places us between D-Day and VE-Day. The decisive battle has been won. The battles we fight now are the mopping up campaign. Wright goes on to ask:
How can we celebrate and put into practice this victory today? How can we follow this Jesus into genuine victory? It is surprisingly simple. Every time you kneel down to pray, … you are saying that Jesus is Lord and that the “powers” aren’t. Every time you say grace at a meal, you are saying that Jesus is Lord and that the world, and all it has to offer is his… And every time you celebrate the Eucharist, we celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ. … The task of the church is to get on with implementing the victory of the cross: and if we grasped that vision and lived by it, we would be able at last to address some of the problems of the church and the world that loom so large and seem so intractable. The battle has been won; let’s get on and implement it.
Chapter 3 – The Kingdom of the Son of Man – Matthew
I cannot imagine summing up the book of Matthew in a sermon – but this is what Wright did. He explores how Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to show how he is fulfilling the prophecy from Daniel 7. The problem is that Matthew, who is always showing us how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies does say that. When Jesus proclaims before Caiaphas,
“I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Matthew doesn’t tell us: “This was to fulfill what the prophet Daniel spoke…”
Or when Jesus says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. “ Matthew 28:18
Wright claims “the Daniel prophecy has come true.” Yet Matthew doesn’t tell us that. In fact the only prophecy of Daniel that Matthew tells us is fulfilled was the abomination of desolation:
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” Matthew 24:15 from Daniel 9:27b
And then Matthew has Jesus telling us that it fulfills the prophecy. Clearly, the two times Jesus quotes Daniel 7 refer to that prophecy – but perhaps it wasn’t clear to Matthew how Jesus fulfilled all of Daniel 7. This is what I think but not Tom. Boy, it’s hard to disagree with a scholar like Tom Wright!
Tom tells us that Matthew presents the passion through several lenses:
“The cross is the decisive royal act; Jesus on the cross is the Son of David and the King of the Jews.”
“The cross is the decisive saving act; this is how he is saving his people from their sins”
“The cross is the moment when the monsters [From Daniel 7] finally close in on the Son of Man…. The cross is the defeat of evil”
“The cross is the great divine act … the victory in which the Son of Man bears the saving purposes of the Father through his atoning death and out into the new day of resurrection.
He concludes the chapter with this:
… let us heed the call that goes with the [Eucharist]; that we should go into the world to follow this Emmanuel, to work and pray so that the healing celebration of the Coronation Anthem [which Tom calls the entire Gospel according the Matthew] may woo this weary old world back to the God who made it and who still loves it.
Chapter 4 – The Glory of God – John
Wright begins this chapter by describing the differences between the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels. He tells of a job interview he had where he was asked to describe the difference between Paul and John. He says that with Paul we are in the seminar room, arguing things out and taking notes. But with John, we go to the mountain top and John whispers “Look! From here, on a clear day, you can see for ever.” He also compares his relationship with John to his relationship with his wife. “I love her very much, but I wouldn’t claim to understand her.” Notes that he didn’t get the job!
He points out something that I missed. John points out the first two signs (the changing of the water into the wine and the healing of the official’s son) but doesn’t point out the next 4. What? Also John only delineates 6 signs. The number 6 isn’t special. What is the seventh sign? Wright claims that the cross is the seventh sign. At our daughter’s church (New Day in Enfield) their pastor counted the miraculous catch of fish in John 21 as the seventh sign. But of course – let’s not forget the Resurrection. We may be putting too much into the number seven. Maybe the number is nine:
Water into Wine
Healing of the Official’s son
Lame man walks
The feeding of the great multitude
Blind man sees
The raising of Lazarus
The miraculous catch of fish
Wright identifies two strands in the Gospel of John. The first is the “7” signs and the second is that John uses words and phrases that have multiple meanings and resonate at different levels. As an example of this he references the phrase “lifted up” from John 3
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
John 8:28-29 reads:
28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
And John 12
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
What does it mean: Lifted up on the cross; lifted up at the ascension; lifted up in our praise; or something else. I was always a little uncomfortable of the phrase “Lift Jesus higher” from the old praise chorus and the by-line of our former church in its early days “Lifting up Jesus.” It seems from these three passages, for John – lifted up means lifting up on the cross. Yeah – our church puts Jesus on the cross and then lifts the cross higher. Ouch!
Wright closes this by looking at Jesus’ words from John 20
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
The love, which he incarnated, by which we are saved, is to become the love which fills us beyond capacity and flows out to heal the world; so that the Word may become flesh once more and dwell (not just among us, but) within us; we must then reveal his glory, glory as the beloved children of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Chapter 5 – The Servant King – Mark
Wright opens this chapter by describing a picture in a book by Carl Jung. In the book is a picture of Adolf Hitler. The caption under the picture says: “This man is going to set all Europe ablaze through his incendiary dreams of world domination.” But in the text Jung tells that this is a quote from Adolph Hitler about Churchill. He describes this in the psychological term: projection – when I cannot face the evil within me and we project on others what is our own sin. He then takes us to the story of John and James when they asked Jesus to sit one on his right and one on his left. Wright claims that Jesus’ rebuke of them was not for some minor offense. They were embracing “an entirely wrong vision of God and his purposes.”
Wright tells us that the book of Mark is broken into two halves: The first half (chapters 1-8) introduces us to a secret: Jesus is the true Messiah. The second 8 chapters introduces us to another secret: “this Messiah is not the military warrior, but the Servant King.”
He tells us:
Mark invites us to stop projecting the guilt and fear we feel inside ourselves out on the rest of the world. And he invites us to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.
And Wright invites us not to follow the two options most commonly followed by the church: To try to advance our imperialistic dreams with the gospel through our might or to withdraw from the world. We are to become to the world what Jesus was – He came to serve.
Wright provides several examples of Christians doing that; standing up for blacks; resisting apartheid; standing up to the radical opposition parties on issues like abortion; standing up to the media barons who destroy people’s lives and reputations.
Chapter 6 – A world reborn : Revelation
Wright opens this chapter challenging the church with the message “Your Easter is too Small.” [My words not Tom’s].
We in the church have made Easter the source of our present spiritual life: Jesus is alive today, so I can have a personal relationship with Him. … We have made it the ground of our future hope: Jesus’ resurrection proves that there is life beyond the grave.
Tom agrees that these are true but we have not even made “the first base camp on the Everest called Easter.” He says that Easter is the beginning of God’s new world. … “Easter is the victory of the creator over all evil.”
He then launches into his overview of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. He claims that the vision of Jesus in chapters 1 and 5 and as revealed in the letters to the churches is the Jesus of Easter. And John 5:12 shows us how Easter is celebrated in heaven.
Wright compares the tears of Mary at the tomb with the tears of John as he saw that no one was worthy of opening the scroll. “Easter is all about wiping away tears.” We have lost the art of tears and so have lost the joy of having Jesus wipe them away. “But if Good Friday and Easter don’t stir our emotions, then the tyrant has indeed enslaved us.”
He goes on to ask: “… what then is the full hope which Easter unveils. The tumult and the battle of the middle chapters of Revelation lead up to the great victory of the Lamb over Babylon, the tyrannous city that has opposed God and his loving purposes. Then, in the last two chapters, we find the vision of the new city which takes the place of the wicked tyrannous city. … It is the Easter vision of a world reborn.”
Wright then summarizes one of the major themes of all his writing:
Most Christians, if pressed, would express their future hope in terms of leaving this world and going to another one, called “Heaven.” But here [in Revelation 21-22], at the climatic moment of one of the greatest New Testament books, the heavenly city comes down to earth. To be sure, God’s people go to heaven when they die: they pass into God’s dimension of reality, and we see them no more. But Easter unveils the truth beyond the truth of mere “survival,” beyond the truth even of heaven; the truth that God’s kingdom shall come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Our ultimate destiny is not a disembodied heaven… God wants to re-create [the world.]
This is how Tom sees the book of Revelation – the ultimate Easter celebration – death to the tyrants so that the earth can be re-created.
Part II – A Living Sacrifice
Chapter 7 – The God who raises the Dead
In this chapter, Tom addresses the following question: “What does the resurrection of Jesus tell us about the true God?” He breaks his response into three threads:
The surprising command
The sudden crisis
The surpassing God
The Surprising Command – In this response, Tom address the false view that God created the commands in order to keep us from having fun. Quoting someone from his undergraduate days: “The trouble is, everything Jesus is against – I like.” He claims that this conception of God is a lie. And the resurrection proves that it is a lie. He then asks us – What is the most frequent command given in the Bible? Be good? Be holy? Don’t sin? No. He says that it is “Don’t be afraid. Fear not.” Click here for a list.
He finds irony in the fact that even though it is what we all want to hear, we have difficulty obeying this command.
… Let’s make no mistake about it: until you learn to live without fear you won’t find it easy to follow Jesus.
And then if that isn’t enough he lists many of the big fears we face:
Fear of being alone
Fear of being unloved
Fear of looking stupid
Fear of being left out
Fear of missing a golden opportunity
Fear of marrying the wrong person
Fear of growing old
Fear of not being able to do our job properly
And so on!
And to console us, he tells us that those are just the big ones. Behind these are a host of “lesser fears that reinforce and feed on each other.” Behind all of them is the fear of death.
Just reading this list makes me afraid – afraid that I might have some greater fear! He asks: “Can you imagine living without fear?”
The bad news in the midst of the good news about this command is that we don’t have a “clue how to obey it.” He draws us back to the resurrection and says: “the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid.” And we don’t just believe the literal facts about the resurrection to counter this fear. These literal facts need to point us back to the God who raised Jesus from the dead. He goes on:
… though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling and worrying lives.
The sudden crisis He reminds us of the apostle Paul’s account of a time when he was in Turkey that “he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience that seemed to destroy him totally.”
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
He claims that a good part of Paul’s second letter was “to explain that being an apostle, and ultimately a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure – and with a God who raises the dead.” Paul tells them of the depression he went through when he faced unrelenting resistance to the gospel and the failure of some of his church plants to flourish:
was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:10
Tom doesn’t want us to think that we learn this easily or quickly. “Living by faith rather than by fear is so odd for us, so scary for us, that it takes a lot of learning. Bit by bit we must open ourselves to the power of this resurrection God.”
The surpassing God – When Israel was at its lowest point: the land taken over by others; they themselves as refugees; all hope appeared to be lost; then the surpassing God revealed Himself as the resurrection God in Isaiah 54.
54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called. 6 For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God. 7 For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.
9 “This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Chapter 8 – The Mind Renewed
Tom opens this chapter with the story of Naaman taken from 2 Kings 5. He delves into the transformation that is taking place in Naaman following his healing. God is straightening out his view of God and of himself. Naaman believed in territorial gods – so he brings some dirt back from Israel so that he can worship on Israel’s territory. He also recognized that he was going back with a vision of a God who heals, loves, and is alive to a place where his former muddled life was “hemmed in by lifeless and useless idols.” Getting your view of God straightened out inevitably leads to you getting your view of your life straightened out.
For Wright – following Jesus is first and foremost the renewing of the mind. Something you would expect from a lettered professor! He asks us if Naaman was a compromiser, because unlike Daniel, he would continue to bow to the false idols of Syria whenever the king did (Naaman helped the king to bow because the king was old). He asked forgiveness in advance. To Wright this is a sign of deep transformation not compromise.
One of the signs of thinking straight is to recognize that we are involved in compromises all the time – buying stock in imperfect companies and riding busses that pollute. We should be like Naaman and ask for forgiveness in advance. Elisha and God’s word to us compromisers who are just starting out are simple and clear: “Go in peace.”
Chapter 9 – Temptation
In this chapter Tom deals with the role that temptation plays in following Jesus. He believes that one of the reason for the popularity of team sports is that we get to have clear black and white enemies and good-guys. “We emerge from the murky world where we live most of the time into the artificially bright light of a straightforward dualism.”
He then tells us:
The trouble with most views of temptation is that we are always hoping that Christianity will be more like sport and less like real life.
He sees temptations as things that prevent us from following Jesus the way we would like. He wants us to observe 3 points:
“Temptation always takes as its starting point something which in itself is good. The dualistic division of the world into good things and bad things simply won’t do. … sin comes, not in the thing itself, but in its wrong use.”
All the talk in the bible about the flesh is not talking about physicality. Most of the works of the flesh could be committed by beings without bodies: pride, malice, hatred, anger, jealousy.
We cannot “say that the thing offered is bad in itself. … No, the answer to temptation is to find out, perhaps painfully and over a long period, what it is about you that is at the moment out of shape, distorted, in pain. … God longs to help you to get what is distorted back into focus; to get what is crooked back into shape; to get what is bruised and hurt back into health. That will take time; it will certainly take prayer.”
Here are his four steps to approaching temptation:
Thank God that you are human
Pray for the grace to use the responsibility we are given as humans
Recognize that every moment is a moment when the gracious God longs to give you the good gift of his presence and his love.
Finally, we are to recognize in the midst of temptation that though we fail, God’s love does not. To know that we are deeply loved is our chief weapon against temptation.
Chapter 10 – Hell
Tom starts with the obvious. We don’t like to talk about the alternatives to following Jesus. We like to talk about the positive sides of following Jesus. He offers us three points to start:
If we find ourselves wanting to believe in hell, we find ourselves in danger of wanting to see people punished. Not denying the need for justice, we need to be careful if we relish divine punishment for others.
Most of the passages in the New Testament that refer to people going to eternal punishment after they die are not talking about that. “As a historian, I can say categorically that Jesus’ language about the awful punishment in store for those who reject his message must be read as predictions of the awful future that awaited the nation of Israel if she rejected the way of peace which he was proposing.”
If we worship other gods (and he claims there are many in this day and age), the beautiful image of God will atrophy and eventually cease to be a human who is made in the image of God.
He addresses the conflict between those Christians who believe in eternal punishment and those who believe in conditional mortality ( and thus annihilation). He tells us that his way of addressing this is different (no surprise there from Tom!). “Those who persistently refuse to follow Jesus … will by their own choice become less and less like him, that is, less and less truly human.” And God will honor their choice and this for Tom, is what hell is.
Chapter 11 – Heaven and Power
Tom starts by addressing how the world disdains heaven: “Imagine there’s no heaven?” He claims that they (and many in the church) believe that heaven is some place far away. And the world finds that incredible. Moreover, oppressive. The wrong view of heaven has been used to exploit and pollute the earth; the “O you better watch out…” kind of heaven. Heaven is not “way beyond the blue…” nor is it a state of mind. “Heaven is God’s space, which intersects with our space but transcends it.” More like another dimension of our own world. “Heaven is the extra dimension – the God dimension, of our present reality.” Then he presents one of the central themes of all of his writing. We don’t just go to heaven when we die. We do go and be with God when we die. But Christian hope is that heaven and earth (which are separate now) will be joined together in the new heaven and the new earth.
He then talks about the power unleashed at the Ascension of Jesus – not to some far off space – but in this extra dimension of our own world. Jesus death was a victory for the power of love over the love of power. And as followers we are to live in that power and model it for the world.
Chapter 12 New Life – New World
Tom starts this chapter off with a light and breezy question: What happens to people when they die? I find it amazing that this most weighty and important question is so seldom talked about – even in church! He wants to address the misunderstanding that much of the church has concerning the immortality of the soul. He claims that orthodox mainstream Christianity has always claimed that our destiny is more than just vaporous beings floating on clouds – but a robust new kind of physicality that comes with the resurrection.
Tom quotes from chapter 3 of the Wisdom of Solomon which speaks of both a disembodied person in the presence of God (vs 1-3) and then in verse 7 how the dead will rule over people and govern nations with the Lord ruling over them. Clearly this sounds like resurrection language. Clearly it describes this ‘middle’ time between death and the resurrection. Tom says that this book, although not part of the canon, was widely read during the time of Jesus. And he tells us that the Jews of Jesus’ day were thoroughly hoping for a restoration of Israel. And for the restoration to be complete, it required the saints of old to be resurrected. Jesus built on this but made it his own. And followers of Jesus preached that Jesus’ resurrection was evidence of this restoration that will happen at the final resurrection.
He further challenges us to ask: What would have caused the early followers of Jesus to proclaim this radical vision. It was not identical to the Old Testament vision – but it was in some profound ways – fulfilling that Old Testament vision. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is one explanation for their behavior.
Resurrection then means what it says: not survival, not the immortality of the soul, not eternal disembodied bliss, but bodily resurrection.
Tom encourages us “to build the resurrection into our thinking about what will happen to all of us. … God’s future for his people is a newly embodied life on a renewed earth, married to a renewed heaven.”
He goes on to talk about how this affects following Jesus:
… the real incentive towards genuine holiness, towards taking up our cross and following Jesus, comes not from fear of punishment but from a clear understanding of what it means to be human. And we only get that clear understanding when we grasp the truth of the resurrection.
As often happens with me at the end of a book, I wish the author would tie it all together. But since this is a compilation of sermons, it is understandable why this doesn’t happen. Good stuff, but, in my opinion, not an integrated whole. It is supposed to paint a picture of what it means to follow Jesus and it does at one level.