Book Summary – War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts

Introduction

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:

    1. Christians can be demon possessed
    2. The Baptism of the Spirit opens us up to the spiritual world and thus can open us up to the demonic.
    3. Lies are the primary weapon of Satan and his minions
    4. Passivity in all areas of our lives leads to both demonic oppression and demonic possession (See chapter 4 notes)
    5. Truth from the word of God is the primary offensive weapon we have.
    6. 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 1 A 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 2 The 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?”

        1. Knowledge that they exist;
        2. That they can deceive the most honest believers (Gal. 2: 11-16);
        3. 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,
        4. 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?

    • known sin
    • 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:

    1. The mind
    2. The will
    3. The body
    4. The spirit
    5. The conscious
    6. 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:

    1. Sin without possession
    2. Sin that opens the door to possession
    3. 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:

        1. “You are a special instrument for God,” working to feed self-love;
        2. “You are more advanced than others” working to blind the soul to sober knowledge of itself;
        3. “You are different from others,” working to make him think he needs special dealing by God;
        4. “You must take a separate path,” a suggestion made to feed the independent spirit;
        5. “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?
        1. undermining his reliance on God Himself;
        2. weakening his power of decision, and (right) self- reliance.
      • Do these texts influence him? and
        1. make him elated and puffed up as “specially guided by God,”
        2. 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:

        1. To cause them to sin, as he tempted Christ in the wilderness;
        2. To slander them, as Christ was slandered by family and foes;
        3. 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 Reckless unwatchfulness.
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:

        • discernment,
        • resistance,
        • 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

        1. strength to pray,
        2. vision to pray,
        3. 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).

Book Summary – Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis

Chapter 1 – Introduction

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:

    1. 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.”
    2. 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.”
    3. “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).
    4. 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.”
    5. Thus “we can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God.”
    6. “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.”
    7. 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.

    1. 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.
    2. A sci-fi writer with no religious or scientific background describes a different creature. Years later we find just such a creature.
    3. 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:

    1. Holy
    2. Inspired by God
    3. “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.”

Be Still and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Several months ago our pastor was commenting on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still, and know that I am God.”). He said that we misinterpret this verse when we picture ourselves at a serene brook with our Bible and prayer journal open to be still and know that God is God. I didn’t really get where he was headed with this until just this week. Listening to Mark Buchanan speak about sabbath on the Discerning Leader podcast (https://www.leadershiptransformations.org/podcast/2021/06/03/sabbath-rest-what-and-why-discerning-god-at-his-pace-episode-01/ ) I finally understood what our pastor meant. The psalm is all about God acting in human affairs:

  • God helping his people (vs 5)
  • God speaking, and the whole earth softening (vs 6)
  • God bringing desolation (vs 8)
  • God bringing wars to an end (vs 9)
  • God destroying our implements of war (vs 9)

And then God inviting our response: “Be still and know that I am God” (vs 10)

Mark said: “Psalm 46:10 is not about stillness but attentiveness.”

Lord, help us to respond to your invitation to be still enough to be attentive to what you are doing around us.

What We can Learn about Listening to God as We Learn to Listen to Others

Introduction

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

    1. When I am thinking about an answer while others are talking – I’m not listening.
    2. When I give unsolicited advice – I’m not listening.
    3. When I suggest they shouldn’t feel the way they do – I’m not listening.
    4. When I apply a quick fix to their problem – I’m not listening.
    5. When I fail to acknowledge their feelings – I’m not listening.
    6. When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening.
    7. When I fail to maintain eye contact – I’m not listening.
    8. When I don’t ask follow-up questions – I’m not listening.
    9. When I top their story with a bigger, better story of my own – I’m not listening.
    10. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. When I try to tell God how to run the universe – I’m not listening to Him. He is not looking for advice.
    3. 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)
    4. When I am looking for a quick answer from God to a complex problem – I’m not listening to Him.
    5. 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.
    6. When I fidget, glance at my watch, and appear to be rushed – I’m not listening to God.
    7. 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.
    8. 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?”
    9. When God’s simple response is not enough for us – I’m not listening to Him.
    10. 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.

Discerning God’s Word – Principles and Practices

Principles and Practices for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a pastor / friend who was asking if I would help his congregation learn how to listen to and discern God’s voice. Previously I had done a sermon at a mutual friend’s church on the importance of learning to listen to God. In that sermon, I made the following statements:

[After we begin to sense that God is speaking to us…] Finally we attempt to discern – Is this God speaking or is it just my own thoughts – how we do that is a topic for another day.

 

My friend said – “That is the sermon I want you to preach and teach at our church.”

 

I thought that it would be good to list the basic principles, insights, and general guidelines that I have learned over the years. So I would like to post these one at a time and see where this goes. Let me know if this is helpful by liking the ones that work. Remember as we look at this, that, as Dallas Willard says: “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.” I think it is important to start with what we can glean from scripture about this whole process of discerning whether what we are sensing is from God or not. So fasten your seat belt – here we go.

Part 1: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Testing
Oftentimes while teaching on Listening Prayer, I ask the following question:
How do you know that the Bible is the word of God?

 

I find it surprising that many do not know the way the Jews determined the Hebrew canon and the ways the early church determined what should go into the New Testament canon. Although no single criteria was used, what we do know is that each text was carefully looked at and tested to see if it was actually the word of God. The tests varied – but testing for authorship; testing to see if it has passed the test of time; testing for alignment with the rest of Scripture were all part of the vetting process.
In the same way – one way to know that what you are receiving from God is to test it over time. Does it bear positive fruit in your life? (more on that later) Does it align with scripture? Is there a quiet persistence to it as compared to an urgent demand? Does it convict while not condemning and does the conviction bring real transformation? But of all the criteria that we will discuss, the most important is time. Does what you hear stand the test of time?
For more on this, see chapter 11 “Is that You Lord?” in my book: Listening to God Together (check it out on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Listen…/dp/1973148633/ref=sr_1_2…
Let me know some of the ways you test what your receive from God in prayer.
Supporting Scripture:
1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
1 Thessalonians 4:20-21 Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

Part 2: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Confirming Circumstances

Another way that we can discern that God is speaking to us is when there are circumstances that confirm what we have heard after we have heard it. We see this in the life of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was told by God to buy a particular piece of land from his cousin while all of Israel was under siege and in imminent danger of having the land seized by the invaders. Certainly not a wise investment. So Jeremiah had ample reason to doubt what he thought he heard from God. When his cousin came to him and offered to sell to him the exact piece of land, Jeremiah said:

Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord. Jeremiah 32:8

Too many followers of Jesus turn it around and interpret circumstances as the word of the Lord before they have received the word of the Lord. I know of no place in scripture where God’s people use circumstances alone as the word of the Lord. For example: “I wasn’t thinking about changing jobs but this head hunter called and offered me this incredible position in California. It is so good and we need the money, it is truly a God-thing. All the circumstances worked out for us to leave here and move to California.” Certainly God uses circumstances to get our attention – but it must be either preceded or followed by the coming confirmation of the inner witness of the word of God. Not just a perfect alignment of circumstances. Confirming signs are to follow us – not the other way around with us following the signs. God is the one “who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,” (Isaiah 44:26).

Supporting Scripture

Deuteronomy 9 5Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Jeremiah 11 4bListen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God,that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”

Jeremiah 32 And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”’ Then my uncle’s son Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard in accordance with the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

Mark 16 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

2 Peter 1 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

Part 3: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Inner Witness

The inner witness is the most difficult one to describe and to apply. Unlike testing and circumstances that we talked about in Part 1 and Part 2 which are external, this comes from within and is the most subjective. But it can be the most powerful. Even the Westminster Confession recognizes this when it states:

our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

Although speaking about how we become persuaded and assured by the written word of God, this principle directly applies to listening to God’s voice. Here are a few things that have helped me discern when the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with my spirit that a word I have heard in prayer is from God:

    1. When there is a recognition that it is not my thought – Very often, there is something about the inner witness that sounds different from my own thoughts. Tricia Rhodes says it like this: “we are aware that a voice other than our own has joined our thoughts.” And Philip Yancey “As I persist at prayer, I recognize an answering partner who takes up the other side of the dialogue, a kind of internal alter ego representing God’s point of view.”
    2. When it brings a new insight – Oftentimes God brings a new insight into a dilemma, a relationship, or a decision that was previously not known.
    3. When it brings a sense of peace The peace of God is truly remarkable. It goes beyond our ability to comprehend it. When a word comes in prayer, a good way to discern if it is from God, is whether with it comes that wonderful peace. We may still be anxious about the future – but over and above that anxiety is the deep and unmistakable peace of God. Remember the peace belongs to Him. It is His peace. The apostle Paul tells us to let the peace of God “rule in our hearts.” Not rule as a dictator, but the Greek literally means to “act as arbiter in the games” or to be the umpire.
    4. When it has a ring of truth and quiet authority – There is something about a true word from God that carries with it an authority unlike any worldly authority. The crowds recognized this with the words of Jesus. We can discern that what we have received from God is truly from Him because it has that ring of true truth and solid authority.
    5. When it confirms something that God has said before – One of the reasons we encourage people to write things down that they receive from God is because God is quite persistent when He is communicating with His children. He may have spoken the same word before to you – perhaps in a different way but still the same idea. We can discern that a word is true because He has been speaking about this for a while.

Supporting Scripture

Matthew 7 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Colossians 315And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Romans 8 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God

1 John 2 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 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.

Part 4: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Recognize His Voice

One of the key principles in discerning God’s voice in prayer, is that, over time, we learn to recognize God’s voice. Just as a mother can recognize the voice of her child over a cacophony of voices on a playground, we can learn to recognize the voice of God in the midst of a myriad of other distractions. We are not talking about an audible voice. We are talking about discerning the still small voice of the Spirit speaking in our spirit. Even Jesus had to have his ear woken up and unstopped so that He could recognize the Father’s voice and know what He was saying (Isaiah 50:4-8 – see my sermon from February 2020 for more details about this).

When our spirits are made alive through new birth, we are like a little baby. The little baby recognizes the voice of her parents with growing understanding. It starts out slow, but over time she recognizes the voice of the mother and the father. Initially the child takes comfort just in the voice but with no recognition as to what is being said. And as time passes, the child eventually begins to understand what the parent is saying. In a similar way, initially our recognition of God’s voice is minimal – but with experience, we grow in both recognition and understanding. As Jesus said in John 10:

3bThe sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voiceA stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Dallas Willard said in his book, Hearing God:

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.

[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.

All of this talk about the required experience and “learn to recognize” should make us humble and recognize with Thomas Merton that we will “never be anything but beginners all our life” at discerning God’s voice.

Do you remember the time God spoke to Jesus and others thought that it thundered and still others the voice of an angel? It is one thing to hear His voice, it is another to know His voice.

Supporting Scripture

Isaiah 50 4The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.

John 10 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

John 12 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Part 5: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

Deepening our Relationship with Jesus

1 Samuel 3And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

When my friend asked me to teach his congregation to listen to God and to be able to discern whether what we “hear” is from God, I said that the most important way to help a congregation discern what is of God and what is not, is by deepening their relationship with Jesus. The more we get to know the living Word of God in a deep and personal way, the more easily we can discern truth and error. The boy Samuel could not tell that it was God speaking because he didn’t “know the Lord.” The implication is that once Samuel knew the Lord, he could recognize when He was speaking. The apostle John, who spent much time resting his head on Jesus, recorded these words of Jesus in John 8:31-32:

 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 

Get to know the words of Jesus recorded in the scriptures. Get to know the heart of Jesus from His words and His deeds. Get to know the person of Jesus by meditating on every aspect of His life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension. Spend time picturing yourself resting your head on Jesus. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our ability to discern what we “hear” in prayer will grow.

This is not unlike our relationship with any other person. Much misunderstanding in communications with others can be avoided the more we know the other person. For example, our communications with each other are often incomplete and confusing. A husband might say: “We need to make sure we keep all the food off the counter because it is the season for ants.” The wife might hear that as a criticism of the way she keeps the counters clean. But if she knows that the husband not only loves her but honors the way she keeps house, no confusion will arise.

For example, as you get to know Jesus in the scriptures, one of the things you learn about Him is that He doesn’t argue with people. Listen to the words of E. Stanley Jones:

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 example from our own relationships is how two people who are very close know what the other is thinking without even a word being spoken. That should be our goal in our relationship with Jesus. We should know what is of Him because we deeply know Him.

The apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians and us that:

 we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:13)

May our relationship with Jesus and our knowledge of Him become fully mature – filled with Christ.

Additional Supporting Scripture

John 14 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. [Note how Jesus ties knowing Him with understanding His words.]

Ephesians 1 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [ Note: as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain wisdom and revelation to discern] 

1 Peter 3 take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Note that knowledge of Jesus prevents us from being “carried away” with error.]

Part 6: Principles for Discerning God’s Voice in Prayer

The Written Word of God

It goes without saying that the written word of God takes precedent in all of the times we are discerning God’s voice in prayer. Without question, if you hear something that you think is from God in prayer and it doesn’t line up with the truth revealed in the Bible, you know that you are not hearing from God.

But it is not always quite that easy. In my life, I don’t think I have ever heard anything from God in prayer that didn’t line up with the written word of God. Our retreat team has sat with thousands of people on retreat over the past 30 years. In very few cases did the folks on retreat hear something that didn’t align with God’s written word. And that is not because all of the individuals on retreat were well schooled in the Scriptures. So, this section is not positioned towards the end of this document because it is less important, it is because it rarely comes into play.

For purposes of discerning God’s voice in prayer, I would divide the Scriptures up into four parts: the law of God; the God ordained principles that we can glean from Scripture; the ecclesiastical instructions given in Scripture; and the theological understanding revealed in Scripture (who is God and who is man).

The Law of God

Years ago, there was an ad on TV that promoted the wearing of seat belts. The ad ended with a man clicking his seat belt in place with the words: “It’s the law.” At that time, I was talking with a friend at church about tithing. He motioned like he was buckling his seat belt and said: “It’s the law.”

Some people would say that God will not speak to us in prayer about anything that violates the law of God. That would give the apostle Peter trouble discerning when he heard in prayer: “Rise Peter, kill and eat [these unclean animals].”[1] This clearly violated the dietary law of God as Peter knew it. So the question is: Which laws? Traditionally, dating back to Irenaeus (c. 170 AD), Christians have seen three types of Old Testament law: the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial. We find this characterization in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and the reformers. According to this perspective, the only part that we as Christians are required to keep is the moral law. The moral law was given not just for the people of Israel, but for all people because it is rooted in the character of God and His design for creation. And, in fact pre-dates the Law. The other two types of law were just for Israel.  For our purposes, let’s go on the assumption that this is true: We can discern that something is not from God if it calls us to violate the moral law revealed in Scripture. For now, we won’t worry if you sense God calling you to make a pork roast for your family dinner.

But what exactly is the moral law? Has any denomination or church codified it? Certainly, it is not Immanuel Kant’s definition of the moral law.[2]  I think some of us are like Supreme Court Justice Black who when talking about pornography said: “I know it when I see it.”[3] We know what the moral law is instinctively.  But is that true? In the age of the Spirit, post-Pentecost, God has promised to write His law upon our heart.[4] I would say: Yes, the moral law is written upon the heart of every believer. The apostle Paul also said that non-believers actually know God’s righteous decrees.[5] Paul even  says that the moral law is written on the hearts of non-believers.[6] That is another matter. But for this article, let’s keep the argument concerning only followers of Jesus who are listening to God in prayer. Even as believers, we don’t always have a pure heart and a pure channel to that law written upon our heart. Using the moral law of God written upon our heart as a means of discerning truth and error brings us back to a more subjective approach to discerning the voice of God in prayer. It works but is not black and white given our own propensity to follow our own ways (which are not God’s).

I would say that a vast majority of the moral law is clearly understood. Nine of the ten commandments could be considered the foundation of the moral law of God (Sabbath keeping is considered by some to be rescinded under the New Covenant). But take a pretty clear cut-command like: “You shall not murder.” You are a believer who has been drafted into your country’s army. You will be trained to kill your enemy. Is that murder? Or take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s role in the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Or the command: “You shall not steal.” Is there ever a time that God would tell you to steal something? Was stealing a slave from his cruel master ever permissible. Might God have led you to work for the underground railroad in the mid-nineteenth century? Even stealing has some areas of nuance.

We could go on and on with examples. But, although there are nuances, we can generally use the moral law as revealed in Scripture as a means for discerning God’s voice in prayer. See Appendix A for my attempt to codify the moral law of God.

Biblical Principles

The Bible is chock full of wonderful principles that help order our lives. The book of Proverbs certainly has its share of principles. For example, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”[7] I have found this a wonderfully practical principle that has helped me many times. But can we use it to help us discern what we think God might be saying to us in prayer. Might God ever call us to a hard answer? I am fully convinced that there are times we are to deliver the hard answer and it may incur wrath. Certainly, Jesus gave a few hard answers in His day and wrath certainly followed.

Turning to one example from the New Testament, Paul writes to the Galatians a principle that seems to be at the top of Paul’s list of Godly principles: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”[8] This is such a priority to Paul, he says that when we do this, we fulfill the law of Christ. But can we use this to help us discern God’s voice in prayer? Might God direct us not to carry another brother or sister’s burden that has come to our attention? Of course. Right now, age and a health issue in my family are preventing me to invest in my brothers and sisters as I once did. In this season, I cannot carry my brother and sister’s burdens. This past week, an elderly neighbor shared his newly discovered health issues. I wanted to tell him – “Any time you need a ride or some help with something – let me know.” But in prayer, I realized I could not share his burden.

So what can we say about using Biblical principles in discerning God’s voice in prayer? Two things: First, we need to recognize things that are essentials in the Scriptures. Many denominations and independent churches do a good job identifying those. (Many do not). We need to make sure that we understand those essentials and use those to weigh what we are hearing from God. Is believer baptism one of those essentials? Is an elder led church an essential? (More on this in the next section.) Many things in Scripture are principles that not essential. A principle, can, at times be fungible. I believe that God may direct us to do something that goes against a principle in Scripture. For example, it is a principle that we are to give our monetary offerings to God first – not give Him what is left over. This makes a lot of sense too. As humans, our wallets (and bank accounts) tend to leak. So, giving up front is not just a Biblical principle, it works well given our nature. But it is possible that God may direct you for a time, to not practice that good principle.

That brings up the second thing: What principles in Scripture are fungible? The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in his letter to the Romans. In talking about eating food that was sacrificed to idols:

Romans 14: 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Remember that the council of Jerusalem specifically said to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols.”[9] The council puts it in the category with abstaining from sexual morality. Clearly, we don’t consider abstaining from sexual morality a fungible principle. Who would say: “If you commit adultery – but are doing it believing by faith that God has given you the go-ahead, is not sinning!” Of course, Paul was not defining what is not sin, but what is sin in this letter. Herein is the difficulty and some guidance.

First some guidance.  We need to take Paul’s statement about doing everything in faith very seriously. If we receive something that we believe is from God (given the principles and practices outlined here), we need to act on it in faith. If we act on it without believing it is from God and thinking that it is wrong, that is sin. Or if we don’t act on it even though we believe it is from God, that is also sin.

The difficulty is that I believe that most of the Biblical principles are fungible. They are the way we are to order our lives. But they are not hard and fast rules. We need to read the entire Bible and be looking for the Biblical principles upon which we are to live our lives. That is because I believe they reflect God’s heart for mankind. But they are not laws. Knowing the breadth of these principles will bode us well as we live our lives. But we cannot use them to discern God’s voice in prayer.

That said, when we sense God saying something that goes against one of these Biblical principles, we need to go into it with our eyes open. Know that God is calling you to an exception. We need to be a little more diligent is using our other principles and practices to discern: “Is that really You, God?

Ecclesiastical Instructions

There are many things written in the Scripture about the operation of God’s ecclesia: the Church. The ordering of worship, the appointing of elders, baptism, church discipline and so on are all described in Scripture. These are not exactly laws nor can they exactly be considered general principles. How are we to use what the Scripture teaches on these issues to discern God’s voice in prayer?

Let me give you two examples. Imagine that you are part of a Reformed denomination that believes in infant baptism. You believe God has shown you through the scriptures that believer baptism is the proper approach to baptism. As a result, when your child is born, you and your spouse decide to dedicate them to the Lord. In prayer, you hear God saying that you should submit to your elder’s interpretation of the Scripture – which would mean that you would baptize your infant child. You sense Him telling you that by dedicating your child you would bring disunity within this particular church. How does one use the written word of God to discern whether what you are hearing is from God in that case? Could God be speaking to you about something that goes against what you think the Scripture says? Is the solution more study of the Scripture? Perhaps – but I have some very studious pastor friends who fall on opposite sides on this issue. I am not sure more study is the solution. What is the right path in using the Scriptures in this case?

Here is another example. Imagine that you believe that God has ordered and structured the church in such a way that it should be run by a plurality elders. You have moved to a new town and like the local Anglican church. It is alive. It preaches the gospel. The people love one another. There are new believers regularly being added to the flock. But it is not governed by elders. You join the church and after a few years join a church plant team to form another Anglican church in a nearby town. You and your spouse discern in prayer that God is calling you to join this team. But you will be starting a church that is not elder led. How does one use the Scripture to discern in this case? Could God be speaking to you to go against the Ecclesiastical instruction to “appoint elders.”[10]

I believe that Ecclesiastical instructions cannot help us discern what we hear in prayer for the same reasons I gave for fungible principles.

The Theological Understanding

One of the most important disciplines in listening prayer, is spending time in God’s presence – letting Him reveal who He is and who we are. In fact, I believe that it is the primary thing God wants to reveal to us in prayer. God uses the written word of God as His primary vehicle to reveal who He is and who we are. But it is through words that He speaks to us that makes these words come alive. Thus, the written word of God must be used to help us discern what we are hearing in these areas. Although there is not complete agreement across all of Christendom, there is a lot of consensus about the basics of who God is and who we are.

    • God is one.[11] He is the sovereign creator[12] and sustainer of all things.[13] He is perfect in holiness.[14] He has existed for all of eternity in three unique persons:[15] Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At His very essence, He is love.[16]
    • God the Father is Spirit[17] and is the life-giver[18], the Almighty[19] one and supreme authority over all creation.[20] He is the one who fulfills the father role to us His children. He is the initiator of the redemption of mankind.[21]
    • Jesus Christ is the living Word made flesh.[22] He is the image of the invisible God.[23] Through Him and for Him all things were made[24] and are held together by the word of His power.[25] He is the King of Kings who will one day give all authority back to the Father.[26]
    • The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of all those who are born again.[27] He is a distinct person of the Godhead. He mediates the presence of Jesus wherever He goes.[28] He is actively convicting the world of sin and of righteousness.[29] He bestows gifts on His people.
    • Man is made in the image of God but has been irrevocably broken by sin which no man repair. Only through regeneration by the Spirit of God can things be set right. At our core, we are loved by God even in our broken state.

These Biblical truths about God and man (and the many other truths in Scripture) should be used to help us discern what we hear in prayer. Anything that we hear in prayer that goes against who God is and who we are as revealed in Scripture can be dismissed. For example, if we were to hear God say that we are unlovable, we would know that this violates both who God is and who we are as revealed in Scripture. The apostle John uses the litmus test of the historical fact of Jesus coming in the flesh for discerning truth and error.[30] Anything that we hear that denies that Jesus, the second member of the Trinity did not come in the flesh is clearly not from God.

Summary

How does one use the written word of God to discern if what we hear in prayer is from God? I believe that God wants us to so soak in the written word of God that we truly know the heart of God. And that as much as possible, we are to strive to have the heart of God as revealed in Scripture etched on our heart. We know the moral law inside and out – not just the letter of the moral law but the spirit of the moral law. We are to grow in our knowledge of all of the principles God has revealed in Scripture. And, as we soak in the word, we come to a full understanding of who God is and who we are. With this heart, we are then able to take the whole counsel of God into the discernment process. We can discern when a higher law may be involved. If we hear something from God that violates either one of the fungible principles or goes against the moral law of God while fulfilling what you sense is a higher part of the moral law, we need to take extraordinary care. More time in prayer, more time with other believers discerning together and more careful self-examination of your motives and your own heart on the matter are required. Finally, we must strive to maintain a posture of humility in our listening. Even after all of this, we may be wrong.

 

Appendix A

A brief summary of the moral law of God

    • Love God and Love Neighbor  (Luke 10:27 Paul calls this “the Royal law” Jesus said: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” Matthew 22:40)
    • The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 Jesus said: “For this is the Law and the Prophets”)
    • Love one another (John 15:12 – a special command to the community of faith)
    • Have only one God (Exodus 20:3)
    • No Idolatry (Exodus 20:4-6)
    • No Blasphemy (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 24:14,16, 23)
    • Honor parents (Exodus 20:12)
    • No Murder (Exodus 20:13)
    • No Adultery (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22)
    • No Stealing (Exodus 20:15)
    • No Lying (Exodus 20:16)
    • No Coveting (Exodus 20:17)
    • No Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
    • No Sorcery and Witchcraft (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 13:5, 1 Samuel 28:9)
    • No Bestiality (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 20:16)
    • No Incest (Leviticus 18:6-18, 20:11-12,14,17,19-21)
    • No Homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13)
    • No Sexual immorality (Acts 15:29)

Notes

 

[1] Acts 10:13

[2] “human action is only morally good if it is done from a sense of duty, and that a duty is a formal principle based not on self-interest or from a consideration of what results might follow.”

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it#:~:text=The%20phrase%20was%20used%20in,for%20obscenity%20in%20Jacobellis%20v.&text=Though%20%22I%20know%20it%20when,himself%20in%20his%20short%20concurrence. Seen on May 24th, 2021

[4] Jeremiah 31:31-34

[5] Romans 1:32

[6] Romans 2:14-15 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

[7] Proverbs 15:1

[8] Galatians 6:2

[9] Acts 15:29

[10] Titus 1:5

[11] Deuteronomy 6:4

[12] Genesis 1:1

[13] Psalm 55:22

[14] Leviticus 11:44-45

[15] The trinity is whispered in the Scriptures not proof texted

[16] 1 John 4:8

[17] John 4:24

[18] John 5:21

[19] Genesis 17:1

[20] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[21] John 3:16; Isaiah 63:16-17

[22] John 1:1

[23] Colossians 1:15

[24] Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16

[25] Hebrews 1:3

[26] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[27] Romans 8:11

[28] John 15:26

[29] John 16:8

[30] 1 John 4:2

Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer or How to Recognize When God Speaks

Book Summary

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:

    • Marvelous
    • Guiding
    • Verifiable
    • Persistent
    • Revealing
    • Peaceful
    • Powerful
    • Invitational
    • Timely
    • Fatherly
    • Challenging

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.

Notable Quotes

“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.

 

 

 

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard

Book Summary

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.

Preface

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.

He cites:

    • Adam and Eve
    • Enoch
    • Moses

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

UFO’s over Liverpool

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

The Paradox

Dallas further defines the paradox:

A Paradox of Concern

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:

    1. We need to understand that God’s communications come to us in many forms.
    2. We may have the wrong motives for seeking to hear from God.
    3. 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

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:

    1. [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.
    2. [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!”

This attitude:

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.

These beliefs:

contain tragic misconceptions that have the power to shut us off from the individualized word of God.

He highlights two alternate truths:

    1. In the first place, we are that important.
    2. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.”
    4. 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:

    1. Communicating through words – He points to many examples in the Scriptures where God speaks directly to his people
    2. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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:

    1. 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.”
    2. 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.”
    3. 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

Every bush aflame

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:

    1. God would not communicate with run-of-the-mill human beings by surrounding them with his presence and speaking to them
    2. God does not communicate with them that way
    3. God cannot communicate with them that way
    4. God should not communicate with them that way

God Would Not

Dallas addresses the “would not” with two arguments:

    1. 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
    2. 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”

    1. 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.”
    2. 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.”
    3. 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.

God Cannot

    1. 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.
    2. Conversational life with God – or prayer – is not hindered by space and distance. So He certainly “Can.”
    3. 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
    4. 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.”
    5. 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:

    • Dreams
    • Visions
    • Voices
    • The Bible
    • Extraordinary events

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.

Healing Prayer

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

    1. take in the information written
    2. allow your heart to have a longing for it to be so
    3. affirm that it must be so
    4. make an invocation to God to make it so
    5. 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:

    1. 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)
    2. 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.
    3. 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:

    1. Circumstances
    2. Impressions / Promptings of the Spirit
    3. The Bible

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

End Notes

[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

When God Winks on New Beginnings by SQuire Rushnell

Book Summary

This book is full of stories of amazing coincidences and divine intervention. The book is not very long and is a quick read. It is not one of my favorites (and I have lots of favorites), but if you need encouragement in terms of starting something new or continuing on in something, this book is for you. I picked this up as part of research I am doing for my book Circumstantial Evidence where I reflect on the role that circumstances play in hearing and discerning God’s voice. [not the audible kind but the still small voice in our spirit].

Introduction

SQuire emphasizes in the introduction that even though there are many amazing stories in this book, the stories are not about the people in the stories. The book is about you. [Very 1980ish!] In spite of the hype, he really wants to help you do things you have never done before.  I am not sure the book will help me to do wingsuiting, but I still felt very encouraged by the book to step out  into some new areas and to continue on in some difficult areas.

Let’s start with a definition of a godwink from my perspective. A godwink is a signpost of encouragement and reassurance. They are like those winks you got from a Dad or Grandparent that says: “Hey kid! I’m thinking of you right now. Hang in there.” You will fully understand it when I recount some of the stories. Later in the chapter 3 he defines a godwink as: “A personal signal or message directly from God, sometimes as an answer to prayer, and often labeled as a coincidence.”

Finally, he closes the Introduction by telling us that we “must determine where [we] want to go.” I would go further and quote Andy Stanley who taught me: “Direction determines destination.” [see The Principle of the Path]. See this short clip by Andy. https://video.foxbusiness.com/v/3885959/#sp=show-clips  or the book by the same name. So after you determine where you want to go, you need to evaluate the direction of your life. Is the direction you are headed going to take you where you want to go?

Chapter 1 Which Road to Take

“Look inside yourself, at the goals and dreams God has planted inside you, and identify what you need to be happy, then put things in motion to secure that happiness.” Robin McGraw From My Heart to Yours.

Okay – don’t shut this down yet. We have all heard “It’s all about me.” And the pursuit of happiness. But let’s face it. We all need encouragement. Keep going. The book gets better.

Story #1 – Cheryl always wanted to be a writer. She moved to LA from her home town of Charlotte and worked and worked trying to break into script writing. In the midst of a career of starts and stops she got called home to care for her dad. She knew it was pulling her away from her dream. She sent out a prayer request via email concerning her Dad to everyone in her address book. She got a call and a job from someone right in Charlotte who got the email. She got her first script writing job. The first godwink.

One night while writing the script, she had a dream that her best friend was going to star in the film. At the filming, she found out that her best friend got the part. This was a major godwink. Both of these encouraged her to continue to pursue her “impossible” dream.

Story #2 – Tom Harken contracted polio at age 8. He was placed in isolation and an iron lung for months. He prayed the prayer of a lonely kid. One day, while in the lung, he threw up on himself but couldn’t clean himself off. No one came until finally a doctor came, cleaned him up, took him out of the iron lung and just held him. He whispered into his ear: “Tommy, I want you to know that God loves you. Even when you wonder about God, He’s there. He’s watching over you. He’s protecting you. Keep your faith, Tommy. Keep your faith.” He immediately got better and was soon released from the hospital. This doctor provided a godwink that dramatically affected Tom’s life.

But two days later he was diagnosed with TB and was again placed in isolation. He stayed isolated in his bedroom for a very long time. One day his father stomped a message in the snow outside his window. “I love you Tommy.” This was a godwink. Years passed and eventually the doctors reported him cured. He was released and went back to school. But a teacher ridiculed him for being dumb when he really was uneducated due to the long years of illness. He left school and never went back. He worked hard in his father’s grocery store. Eventually he started many successful businesses. He never learned to read and in fact hid his illiteracy from everyone – including his boys. When he received the Horatio Alger award, his speech was so memorable that Henry Kissinger said that he would never forget it.  It was these two godwinks that kept him going.

Chapter 2: The Empowerment of Belief

Story #3 – While a young man, Franklin Graham was piloting a small plane home. His parents, Billy and Ruth, were praying up a storm that their son would arrive safely. Part way home, the plane lost electrical power and was in complete darkness. They flew back to the last radio beacon they had seen. But when they got there, the airport had shut down and was completely black. But, it “just so happened” that the director of the tower decided to show some friends around. He even pointed a light into the sky used to indicate that it was safe to land  in order to show them how the landing system worked. Unbeknownst to him, there was a plane up there. Franklin took it as a signal to land even though the runway lights were dark. As he approached, the tower controller demonstrated to his guests the full emergency runway lights. He kept them on until just after the plane landed and then abruptly turned them off. Franklin assumed that they were being rude and saving money – but later learned it was a godwink.

Story #4 – A wife and husband had a terrible marriage that ended in divorce. The husband, Bob, soon after the divorce, contracted ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. While praying about what she should do, she saw a license plate that said: ALS 03. She thought it meant that she was to care for Bob. It was hard caring for him and was very costly in many ways. One day, as she was driving home, she cried out to God “Why am I doing this?” She immediately saw a license plate that said “4 God.” Then and there she knew her calling. As Bob deteriorated, both of them were healed of their relational wounds and in their relationships to God. All because of two godwinks. As she was explaining this to a friend one day, the friend lamented that she never experienced God like that. Just then a car pulled in front of them with the license plate: “KP PRAYN.”

Chapter 3: Where Hope Springs From

Story #5 – A woman and her husband had a child named Vicki born with severe disabilities. Vicki responded to virtually nothing. One doctor believed that he could find something she would respond to.  In test after test, he failed to get Vicki to respond. At last there was a breakthrough and after much hard work, Vicki became able to respond to more and more things. She eventually was able to productively work in a horticulture program. Her mom realized that God planted a desire in her heart to start a facility where others like Vicki could be helped.  After a year, she got nowhere raising the money for such a facility. Finally, she cried out to God “Did I hear you wrong, God?” The next day she received 4 checks for over $72,000 in 2 hours. Today, three decades later, the facility is the model for many facilities around the world helping people like Vicki develop self-reliance and self-respect. Because Vicki’s mom persevered after a godwink.

This reminds me of two godwinks we received at MicroTools. We were not bringing in any business. It was 11:59 and we cried in desperation. Things happened within hours that brought in business. There is more to the story – but let’s move on with SQuire.

Chapter 4: Stepping out in faith

Story #6 – SQuire was going to a job interview at a small radio station 10 miles up the road via hitchhiking. He dreamed of being a DJ at a radio station. His hero was Dean Harris – a DJ from a faraway radio station. No one picked him up until a green Volkswagon pulled up and the man introduced himself as Dean Harris. A definite godwink.

Story #7 – A woman from LA was doing a TV production for Biography. Her assignment was to find a relative of the Faberge’s. This was pre-Internet days and her search proved futile. She decided to take a break and go with her husband and daughter to London. While there, they happened to go into a shop where the shop clerk introduce himself as Theo Faberge. He provided everything she needed for the story. The link was made and the godwink delivered.

Chapter 5: How to Re-purpose Rejection

This chapter opens with SQuire talking about rejection. He tells about how silly it is to start making up a dejected story when someone doesn’t return your call. I was doing that just this morning. I had invited two friends to collaborate on a project two weeks ago and hadn’t heard from them. Then two days ago I sent them another invite. And now today I am making up all kinds of terrible things they must be thinking about me.

Story #8 – This one is about Steve Jobs and frankly – it doesn’t even qualify for repeating.

Story #9 – This one is even less remarkable. It just shows that tenacity is required to succeed but, in my opinion, no obvious godwinks. There is a good quote from Winston Churchill:

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

Another good quote:

If you do what you fear you won’t fear what you do. Gordon Morton

West Compass Directions South North Travel

Chapter 6: Finding Your Compass

Story #10 – This story documents the godwinks of the author of What Color is Your Parachute. In this section he documents the 5 worst ways to get a job and the 5 best ways to get a job.

Story #11 – This documents the story of the founder of Yankee Candle and the godwink in his life.

Story #12 – This story documents Carol and her Espresso Love coffee shop on Martha’s Vineyard.

I don’t recount these stories, not because they are not interesting, but they are not extraordinary in my limited perception.

Chapter 7 – Personal Requests

Story #13 – This recounts the story of first time home buyers who carefully selected the Buxton model in their new development. As they went to sign the papers, they were extremely anxious. But all fears went away when the lawyer pulled out a briefcase that had the brand name Buxton. This was a godwink. All fears left.

Story #14 – Next came another real estate story of a man buying his first house. He doesn’t respond to the first prompting to go see a house – but one year later the house came back on the market. As he approached the street to look at the house, he saw the name of the street “Mayberry Lane.” The Andy Griffith show was his favorite. He produced live shows for a living which included shows that were “Andy Griffith” tribute shows.

Story #15 – On a missions trip helping to clean up after hurricane Katrina, Cristina worked hard day after day. But the total task was overwhelming. They finished one clean up effort only to have the work rejected by the team foreman. They had a lot more work to do. In the midst of the work and in the midst of the debris, she found a rose. Roses had a special meaning of hope to her. That was her godwink.

Conclusion

I will conclude with his quote from the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

 

God of Wonders – Sermon given on 12/23/2018

Good Morning. Merry Christmas to all of you! It is good to be back with you. I have the privilege of spending the next two weeks opening God’s word with you.

The Wonder of Christmas

Christmas is coming soon. Christmas is a time of Wonder. In spite of all the glitter and commercialization of Christmas it still retains a sense of Wonder.  More for children than with adults – but some of us on occasion sense the wonder of Christmas.

Little children are those who are most caught up with the wonder   of Christmas. This little boy looking up the chimney could have been me. I could hardly sleep on Christmas eve. There was excitement. Awe. Expectation. The unknown. All of these contribute to our sense of Wonder.

The Wonder of children

But it is not just Christmas that generates a sense of wonder in children. Children are wonder filled beings.  But before we go too far – let’s define what we mean by wonder. Here is one definition that captures wonder.

Wonder is “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”

Wonder is caused by something that is a combination of Beauty / the Unexpected / the Unfamiliar / the Inexplicable.

For children, wonder comes naturally for them because much in the world is unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Let me give you an example:

Hand regard – Most babies go through a phase in which they are fascinated with their hands. It is called “hand regard.” I remember when our youngest began doing this. They watch their hand intently as they move it in and out of their sight. The hand is unfamiliar, a thing of beauty and its movement inexplicable – in a word – their hand is a wonder.

Sophia

On Friday I was in a Barber shop and the 9 year old grand-daughter of my barber named Sophia was drawing pictures for the customers. She told me she would draw anything that I wanted. I told her to draw something that brought her wonder. She drew a deep blue sky and then wrote:  “I wonder how high the sky goes.”

I loved that. We’ll talk more about the role of questions and wonder later on – but she had no problem coming up with a “Wonder.” The sky. Does the sky still generate wonder for you? If you were to draw a picture of something that causes wonder in you, what would it be?

Adults losing their sense of wonder

If you are like most of us – there is little that brings wonder anymore. We all experience the loss of wonder as we move into adulthood. In some ways this is natural. The unexpected becomes predictable. The unfamiliar becomes familiar and monotonous. The inexplicable becomes explained.

As adults, we follow routines, get stuck in the same patterns of interacting with others and fail to notice simple and pleasurable experiences around us. John Eldredge has said:

We have lost many things as we’ve passed through the battlefields of this war-torn world; our humanity has been stripped of such essential goodness.

One of our greatest losses is the gift of wonder, [which John says is] the doorway into the kingdom heart.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things / many beautiful things that come in unexpected ways. There is a way to be with the familiar that it can still generate wonder. And Lord, You know that there are many wonderful things that are inexplicable.  G. K Chesterton said:

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

 In other words, a serious condition for us as adults is the lack of wonder in our lives – not the lack of things / and people / and experiences that are wonders.

Chesterton says it so well I want to read the whole quote:

 “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again;’ and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I love his words: God is strong enough to exult in monotony. We don’t lose our wonder by experiencing life, but because we have forgotten how to experience life. We have forgotten how to enjoy our enjoyments. We have forgotten how to wonder at wonders.

As Chesterton said earlier – there are no lack of wonders in this world. There is much that is beautiful that is inexplicable. Much that is familiar that can still take our breath away. Our text today can help us take a step towards restoring wonder as it points us to the very creator of and the essence of Wonder. We are looking at another Christmas prophecy from Isaiah – chapter 9 verses 1-7

Isaiah 9:1-7

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. [Quoted by Matthew 4:13 – 14 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,  so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:]
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Let’s Pray

Exegesis

We are going to concentrate on Verse 6 and mostly just one word today – The coming Messiah – Jesus was going to have the name Wonder. But wait you say – isn’t it “Wonderful Counselor?” We’ll get to that in a minute. But first I want to tell you something that perplexed me for the first time about this incredible prophecy. Why did no one quote this in the New Testament as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus? Did you ever wonder that? Wonder? How can this be?  Such an amazing prophecy.

We don’t know for sure – but here is what I think: Most of the New Testament writers were reading the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament written a little before the time of Jesus.  Listen how Isaiah 9:6 reads in the Septuagint.

6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.

The early followers of Jesus were all taught that this was fulfilled by Hezekiah. The government was on his shoulder. He brought peace and showed great wisdom in counsel.  Do you see how this text doesn’t sound like it is describing Jesus. Remember this is a translation from the Hebrew and I suspect that the translators had to do something with the words because they sure didn’t sound like Hezekiah or any man the way it read in the Hebrew. So it wasn’t until 70 years later when the early church started reading the Old Testament in the original language that someone discovered this amazing gem – because the Hebrew really reads just as we read it in the ESV this morning: Jesus’ name was going to be “Wonder.”

Ignatius of Antioch 35 ad – 107. Believed to be 2nd or 3rd Bishop of Antioch. He penned 7 letters to churches while being escorted to Rome by 10 soldiers on the charge of “Atheism”. Which means he didn’t believe in the Roman gods. In one of these letters he wrote:

the prophets “also speak of our Lord Jesus Christ. “A Son,” they say, has been given to us, on whose shoulder the government is from above; and His name is called the Angel of great counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, the strong and mighty God.”

He was very clear that Isaiah 9:6-7 is talking about Jesus. Do you notice how he mixes the Septuagint with the Hebrew?

Irenaeus 130-202 AD in his book “Against Heresies” twice refers to Is 9:6 as being fulfilled by Jesus.

I want you to notice that both Ignatius and Irenaeus use Wonderful as a Noun and not as an adjective as it is in the ESV that we read.  Jesus is full of Wonder; Jesus is the Counselor – not Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. There are two different names: Wonder and Counselor. That lines up with the Hebrew – because the Hebrew word for Wonder in our text is a noun. There is a verb and adjective form in Hebrew for wonder– but Isaiah uses the noun form here. In all other cases where this noun is used in the Old Testament it literally means Wonder.

So Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus are our two earliest church fathers who recognized the messianic prophecy and Handel (remember that pregnant pause in his oratorio “Wonderful;” “Counselor”)  and the King James have it right. Jesus’ Name shall be called: Wonder or Full of Wonder, Counselor. Two separate names.

Now in Hebrew, a name signifies: the Essence / and the Character of a person.  So when Isaiah says: For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given, and His name shall be called – He is saying the very essence of this child shall be wonder / Counselor / Mighty God / Everlasting Father / Prince of Peace.

Ways Jesus is a Wonder

So let’s look briefly at how Jesus – in His very essence – is a Wonder.

Incarnation –The first and foremost wonder of Jesus is His incarnation. God became man – if that doesn’t take our breath away in wonder; if that isn’t unexpected; if that isn’t unfamiliar; if that isn’t inexplicable; then we don’t understand why it took the early church 300 years to get a grasp on it theologically. The church spent 300 years wondering what this God come as man meant. The Incarnation is a wonder.

His sinless life – Another wonder is his life. Art Katz was an atheist Jew who converted to Christianity. He knew nothing about Jesus when he first read the life of Jesus in the gospels. When he got to the story of the woman caught in adultery he stopped reading and closed the book when he got to the point where the mob asked what they should do with her: Let her go OR stone her as Moses had commanded. He wondered. How can Jesus get out of this predicament? Art was brilliant but try as he might he couldn’t come up with any way out. Then he re-opened the book and read Jesus’ reply: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And Art sat in Wonder at such a man as Jesus. Listen to his words:

I gasped. …  It was numbing and shocking [that’s the unexpected], yet thrilling, because the answer was so utterly perfect [That’s the beauty]. It defied cerebral examination [It was inexplicable]. It cut across every major issue I had ever anguished upon in my life.  Truth. Justice. Righteousness. Integrity. [It was unfamiliar] I knew that what I had read transcended human knowledge and comprehension. It had to be divine.”

Shortly thereafter he became a follower of Yeshua. Jesus’ life was a wonder.

Time prohibits me from going into detail about other ways Jesus is a Wonder like:

    • His teaching
    • His death on the cross for our sins
    • His resurrection
    • His sending the Spirit

Application

Let’s jump to the application. How can Jesus – whose name is “Wonder” whose very essence is “Wonder” help us restore and cultivate wonder in our life – specifically the wonder embodied in Jesus? John Eldredge again:

Our hearts long to recover a sense of wonder; it is one of the reasons only the child-heart can receive the kingdom.

But how can we recover a sense of wonder? First let me quote one researcher who said that we are learning as we study the brain that “wonder may be the most important cognitive process to nurture.” Researchers now show that asking questions / becoming inquisitive can help restore wonder. That’s what Sophia did. She created a Question. “I wonder how high the Sky goes.”

One of the great saints of the 1500’s St Ignatius of Loyola developed a series of exercises intended to expand our understanding of God and, in the process, invigorate our wonder. One of the exercises encourages us to sit before the cross and then ponder some questions to spur our imagination and create wonder.

Sitting before the manger

I want us to do something similar. I want us to pretend that we are present at the manger in Bethlehem. We are not one of the shepherds or the kings – we are us. Knowing what we know now – but standing before the manger – none-the-less. Search for details that you’d previously ignored because the situation is so familiar. Look for the unfamiliar. Look for the unexpected. Look for the beautiful. Look for the inexplicable. I want us to do this for just a few minutes.  And see what questions come to mind. They don’t have to be answerable questions. Wonder is a deep appreciation for the inexplicable / the things we cannot explain. Just let your imagination go and what are you wondering about as you stand before the manger. Everyone understand what we are going to do? I will close our silence in about 2 minutes.

What questions do you have [These are some the congregation came up with]

    1. I kept thinking about the song “Mary did you know.” I was wondering what Mary knew.
    2. I kept wondering: “What child is this?”
    3. Jesus, did you miss Your heavenly Father?

I know this is a busy time – we just scratched the surface here. But lack of wonder is something serious in our lives. Take some time with this exercise over the next two days. See if wonder grows in you. I am praying that it does with all of us.

Let’s pray.

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray

Book Summary

Executive Summary

This book is divided into 31 meditations. In each one Jesus takes us to school on prayer. Here are some brief summaries of what Jesus is  trying to teach us in each mediation:

    1. We need to be taught by Jesus how to pray since it is both simple and difficult. As Paul said, we really don’t know how to pray as we ought.
    2. Worshiping in spirit and in truth moves prayer from the prayer closet and the church to our everyday life. Making our whole life (24/7) a prayer of worship to God is essential to our walk with God.
    3. Not withstanding the need to take prayer out of the prayer closet, getting alone with God is essential to developing a life of prayer.
    4. Jesus’ Model prayer (the “Our Father”) covers all of the basics for our prayer life. It is intended for the very beginning stages of walking with Jesus. (See Chapter 19)
    5. He who comes to God must believe that He exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him. All prayer needs to be done with the full assurance that God will hear and answer (even if the answer is a refusal).
    6. The basis for our assurance that God will answer is our on-going relationship that we have with the Father.
    7. The greatest and most assured answer to prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence. This is the one prayer that never fails (Sorry Father Tim!).
    8. Several points: Intercessory prayer for others needs to come out of our deep love for them. Persevering prayer happens because we know and fully trust our rich Friend in heaven; faith is the gold out of which persevering prayer grows.
    9. Jesus gives His followers the dignity and responsibility of causality in the advancement of the Kingdom. To respond to this call to prayer requires us to get close to Jesus’ heart and to have the faith that He answers.
    10. Prayer must be specific and definite (No: “Save everyone in my family” prayers).
    11. Once we learn from the Spirit that what we are asking is the right thing and in the right spirit, by faith we must hold fast to the belief that we will receive the answer we are asking for.
    12. In answer to the question, how can we have the faith necessary to believe our prayers are answered, Jesus teaches us to HAVE FAITH IN GOD by maintaining 24/7 intercourse with God.
    13. Faith needs a life of prayer to grow and to keep strong. Prayer needs fasting to fully develop.
    14. Just as our relationship with God must be clear for prayer to be answered, our relationships with our fellow-men must be clear as well.
    15. Just as solitude is essential to learn how to pray, so too, public united prayer is essential.
    16. In answer to the question, why do we need to persevere in prayer, Murray turns the answer on its head. He claims that God is the one who is long-suffering and answers as speedily as possible. Our job is to give God time.
    17. The mysteries surrounding prayer (especially when practiced with diligence) are to drive us deeper into the heart of God to help us grow up.
    18. God has called man to rule the world and prayer is our chief tool to rule.
    19. In Jesus’ early lessons to his disciples, prayer was chiefly about their personal needs. At the end of His ministry, in preparing the disciples for the work ahead, the focus was that prayer was the channel through which the power to do the work was received.
    20. The object of all prayer is the glory of God.
    21. Abiding in Christ is the primary and all-inclusive condition to answered prayer.
    22. Listening to God’s voice is the secret to obtain the assurance that He is listening to me!
    23. Answers to prayer are conditional to our bearing fruit.
    24. The name of Jesus is not used as a magic phrase but rather an expression of the confidence we have that because of our relationship with Jesus, we can confidently ask for anything in His name and He will give it.
    25. If we are living in the Spirit, our prayers will be God’s prayers and we can ask anything of the Father because we are so in tune with His Spirit. And God will grant it.
    26. Because we are in Christ and Christ ever-liveth to make intercession, we are to intercede with Jesus.
    27. Jesus calls us to follow Him in all aspects of His life here on earth. And one of those roles is as high priests. We are to follow the model of John 17 and pray for our selves; for those immediately around us; and beyond to the universal Church.
    28. Christians often see the prayer “Not my will be done, but …” as the perfect prayer (“The prayer that never fails”). Murray blasts that notion out of the water, teaching us that the “Not my will…” needs to be our sacrificial view of our whole life and thereby we abide in Jesus. As we sacrifice our will for God’s, he brings us to “Ask whatever ye will.”
    29. The secret to having our requests granted in prayer is that they be according to God’s will. And we can know what God’s will is as we soak in the word and walk in the Spirit.
    30. All Christians are called to be priests. Few enter into that calling. But know that by His blood you are cleansed and by His Spirit He leads you to intercede on behalf of this world.
    31. Because Jesus ever liveth to intercede, we are to follow His lead and cultivate a life of unceasing prayer.

From here on, I will provide very little commentary, because Murray says it better than I ever could say it. Anything indented and plain text is Murray. Anyone Murray quotes is indented and italicized.

Preface

The more we abide in Him and grow unto His likeness, will His priestly life work in us mightily, and our life become what His is, a life that ever pleads and prevails for men. ‘Thou hast made us kings and priests unto God.’  Both in the king and the priest the chief thing is power, influence, blessing.  In the king it is the power coming downward; in the priest, the power rising upward, prevailing with God.

The passages quoted by Murray in Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 seem to be a mistranslation. Where the KJV has ‘Thou hast made us kings and priests unto God.’, the Greek has what the modern translations have: “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father,” (ESV). So, are we made kings or made into a kingdom of priests? Do we abandon Murray’s insight into prayer as kings under the King of kings? No. In 1 Corinthians 4:8 Paul tells the Corinthian church that they are already kings. So, we are called not only to the upward intercessory role, but to the downward power, influence and blessing role as kings whose life has become like the life of the King of kings.

 It is under a deep impression that the place and power of prayer in the Christian life is too little understood, that this book has been written.

But when we learn to regard it [prayer] as the highest part of the work entrusted to us, the root and strength of all other work, we shall see that there is nothing that we so need to study and practice as the art of praying aright.

it is only when the Church gives herself up to this holy work of intercession that we can expect the power of Christ to manifest itself in her behalf.

Chapter 1

‘Lord, teach us to pray;’ Or,    The Only Teacher .

‘And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, that when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray.’—Luke xi. 1.

Though in its beginnings prayer is so simple that the feeblest child can pray, yet it is at the same time the highest and holiest work to which man can rise.

Yes, we feel the need now of being taught to pray.  At first there is no work appears so simple; later on, none that is more difficult; and the confession is forced from us:  We know not how to pray as we ought.

Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, only how to pray.

To know how to speak to God is more than knowing how to speak to man.

Chapter 1 Summary – We need to be taught by Jesus how to pray since it is both simple and difficult. As Paul said, we really don’t know how to pray as we ought.

Chapter 2  

‘In spirit and truth.’ Or,    The True Worshippers.

‘The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth:  for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers.  God is a Spirit:  and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.’—John iv. 23, 24.

And so one of our first lessons in the school of prayer must be to understand what it is to pray in spirit and in truth, and to know how we can attain to it.

Among Christians one still finds the three classes of worshippers.  Some who in their ignorance hardly know what they ask:  they pray earnestly, and yet receive but little.  Others there are, who have more correct knowledge, who try to pray with all their mind and heart, and often pray most earnestly, and yet do not attain to the full blessedness of worship in spirit and truth.  It is into this third class we must ask our Lord Jesus to take us; we must be taught of Him how to worship in spirit and truth.  This alone is spiritual worship; this makes us worshippers such as the Father seeks.  In prayer everything will depend on our understanding well and practicing the worship in spirit and truth.

A lesson of deep importance.  How much our Christianity suffers from this, that it is confined to certain times and places.  A man, who seeks to pray earnestly in the church or in the closet, spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with that in which he prayed.  His worship was the work of a fixed place or hour, not of his whole being.  God is a Spirit:  He is the Everlasting and Unchangeable One; what He is, He is always and in truth.  Our worship must even so be in spirit and truth:  His worship must be the spirit of our life; our life must be worship in spirit as God is Spirit.

Chapter 2 Summary – Worshiping in spirit and in truth moves prayer from the prayer closet and the church to our everyday life. Making our whole life (24/7) a prayer of worship to God is essential to our walk with God.

Chapter 3

‘Pray to thy Father, which is in secret;’ Or, Alone with God

‘But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee’—Matt. vi. 6.

Moses gave neither command nor regulation with regard to prayer:  even the prophets say little directly of the duty of prayer; it is Christ who teaches to pray.

And the first thing the Lord teaches His disciples is that they must have a secret place for prayer; everyone must have some solitary spot where he can be alone with his God.

Chapter 3 Summary – Not withstanding the need to take prayer out of the prayer closet, getting alone with God is essential to developing a life of prayer.

Chapter 4

‘After this manner pray,’ Or, The Model Prayer

‘After this manner therefore pray ye:  Our Father which art in heaven.’—Matt. vi. 9.

‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.’  This petition is too frequently applied alone to the suffering  of the will of God.  In heaven God’s will is done, and the Master teaches the child to ask that the will may be done on earth just as in heaven:  in the spirit of adoring submission and ready obedience.

As bread is the first need of the body, so forgiveness for the soul.

In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love.

Chapter 4 Summary – Jesus’ Model prayer (the “Our Father”) covers all of the basics for our prayer life. It is intended for the very beginning stages of walking with Jesus. (See Chapter 19)

Chapter 5

‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’ Or The Certainty of the Answer to Prayer.

‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  for every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened,’—Matt. vii. 7, 8.

‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.’—Jas. iv. 3.

Here (in Matthew 7:7-8) He wants to teach us what in all Scripture is considered the chief thing in prayer:  the assurance that prayer will be heard and answered.

It is one of the terrible marks of the diseased state of Christian life in these days, that there are so many who rest content without the distinct experience of answer to prayer.  They pray daily, they ask many things, and trust that some of them will be heard, but know little of direct definite answer to prayer as the rule of daily life.  And it is this the Father wills:  He seeks daily intercourse with His children in listening to and granting their petitions.  he wills that I should come to Him day by day with distinct requests; He wills day by day to do for me what I ask.  It was in His answer to prayer that the saints of old learned to know God as the Living One, and were stirred to praise and love (Ps. xxxiv. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”, Psalm lxvi. 19 “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”, Psalm cxvi. 1, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”).

There may be cases in which the answer is a refusal, because the request is not according to God’s Word, as when Moses asked to enter Canaan.  But still, there was an answer:  God did not leave His servant in uncertainty as to His will.

It is not hid from Thee, O my Lord, with what reasonings my heart seeks to satisfy itself, when no answer comes.  There is the thought that my prayer is not in harmony with the Father’s secret counsel; that there is perhaps something better Thou wouldest give me; or that prayer as fellowship with God is blessing enough without an answer.  And yet, my blessed Lord, I find in Thy teaching on prayer that Thou didst not speak of these things, but didst say so plainly, that prayer may and must expect an answer.  Thou dost assure us that this is the fellowship of a child with the Father:  the child asks and the Father gives.

Chapter 5 Summary – He who comes to God, must believe that He exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him. All prayer needs to be done with the full assurance that God will hear and answer (even if the answer is a refusal).

Chapter 6

‘How much more?’ Or, The Infinite Fatherliness of God

‘Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?’—Matt. vii. 9-11

In these words our Lord proceeds further to confirm what He had said of the certainty of an answer to prayer.  To remove all doubt, and show us on what sure ground His promise rests, He appeals to what every one has seen and experienced here on earth.  We are all children, and know what we expected of our fathers.  We are fathers, or continually see them; and everywhere we look upon it as the most natural thing there can be, for a father to hear his child.  And the Lord asks us to look up from earthly parents, of whom the best are but evil, and to calculate HOW MUCH MORE the heavenly Father will give good gifts to them that ask Him.

As simple and intelligible as this parable is, so deep and spiritual is the teaching it contains.  The Lord would remind us that the prayer of a child owes its influence entirely to the relation in which he stands to the parent.  The prayer can exert that influence only when the child is really living in that relationship, in the home, in the love, in the service of the Father.  The power of the promise, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you,’ lies in the loving relationship between us as children and the Father in heaven; when we live and walk in that relationship, the prayer of faith and its answer will be the natural result.

And what is the true child-life?  The answer can be found in any home.  The child that by preference forsakes the father’s house, that finds no pleasure in the presence and love and obedience of the father, and still thinks to ask and obtain what he will, will surely be disappointed.  On the contrary, he to whom the intercourse and will and honour and love of the father are the joy of his life, will find that it is the father’s joy to grant his requests.

This is the one chief thought on which Jesus dwells here, and which He would have all His scholars take in.  He would have us see that the secret of effectual prayer is:  to have the heart filled with the Father-love of God.  It is not enough for us to know that God is a Father:  He would have us take time to come under the full impression of what that name implies.  We must take the best earthly father we know; we must think of the tenderness and love with which he regards the request of his child, the love and joy with which he grants every reasonable desire; we must then, as we think in adoring worship of the infinite Love and Fatherliness of God, consider with how much more tenderness and joy He sees us come to Him, and gives us what we ask aright.

The child who only wants to know the love of the father when he has something to ask, will be disappointed.  But he who lets God be Father always and in everything, who would fain live his whole life in the Father’s presence and love, who allows God in all the greatness of His love to be a Father to him, oh! he will experience most gloriously that a life in God’s infinite Fatherliness and continual answers to prayer are inseparable.

Chapter 6 Summary – The basis for our assurance that God will answer is our on-going relationship that we have with the Father.

Chapter 7

‘How much more the Holy Spirit’ Or, The All-Comprehensive Gift

‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?’—Luke xi. 13.

The best gift a good and wise father can bestow on a child on earth is his own spirit.  This is the great object of a father in education—to reproduce in his child his own disposition and character.  If the child is to know and understand his father; if, as he grows up, he is to enter into all his will and plans; if he is to have his highest joy in the father, and the father in him,—he must be of one mind and spirit with him.  And so it is impossible to conceive of God bestowing any higher gift on His child than this, His own Spirit.

This truth [The Father can bestow no higher or more wonderful gift than this:  His own Holy Spirit,] naturally suggests the thought that this first and chief gift of God must be the first and chief object of all prayer.

And now, the lesson Jesus teaches us today in His school is this:  That the Father is just longing to give Him to us if we will but ask in the childlike dependence on what He says:  ‘If ye know to give good gifts unto your children, HOW MUCH MORE shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.’

Chapter 7 Summary – The greatest and most assured answer to prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence. This is the one prayer that never fails (Sorry Father Tim!).

Chapter 8

‘Because of his importunity;’ Or, The Boldness of God’s Friends

‘And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’ and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not:  the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.  I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.’—Luke xi. 5-8.

He adds the beautiful parable of the friend at midnight, to teach them the two fold lesson, that God does not only want us to pray for ourselves, but for the perishing around us, and that in such intercession great boldness of entreaty is often needful, and always lawful, yea, pleasing to God.

Let us confine ourselves to the chief thought:  prayer as an appeal to the friendship of God; and we shall find that two lessons are specially suggested.  The one, that if we are God’s friends, and come as such to Him, we must prove ourselves the friends of the needy; God’s friendship to us and ours to others go hand in hand.  The other, that when we come thus we may use the utmost liberty in claiming an answer.

And so our Lord, in seeking to unfold to us the spiritual mystery of prayer, would fain have us approach God in this relation too, as those whom He has acknowledged as His friends, whose mind and life are in sympathy with His.

Intercession is part of faith’s training-school.  There our friendship with men and with God is tested.  There it is seen whether my friendship with the needy is so real, that I will take time and sacrifice my rest, will go even at midnight and not cease until I have obtained for them what I need.  There it is seen whether my friendship with God is so clear, that I can depend on Him not to turn me away and therefore pray on until He gives.

O what a deep heavenly mystery this is of persevering prayer.  The God who has promised, who longs, whose fixed purpose it is to give the blessing, holds it back.  It is to Him a matter of such deep importance that His friends on earth should know and fully trust their rich Friend in heaven, that He trains them, in the school of answer delayed, to find out how their perseverance really does prevail, and what the mighty power is they can wield in heaven, if they do but set themselves to it.

It is when the answer to prayer does not come, and the promise we are most firmly trusting appears to be of none effect, that the trial of faith, more precious than of gold, takes place.  It is in this trial that the faith that has embraced the promise is purified and strengthened and prepared in personal, holy fellowship with the living God, to see the glory of God.

Nothing is at first so strange to us as that God should really require persevering prayer, that there should be a real spiritual needs-be for importunity.

Chapter 8 Summary – Several points: Intercessory prayer for others needs to come out of our deep love for them. Persevering prayer happens because we know and fully trust our rich Friend in heaven; faith is the gold out of which persevering prayer grows.

Chapter 9

‘Pray the Lord of the harvest;’ Or, Prayer provides Labourers.

‘Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.  Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.’—Matt. ix. 37-38.

THE Lord frequently taught His disciples that they must pray, and how; but seldom what to pray.  This he left to their sense of need, and the leading of the Spirit.

In this chapter, Andrew develops the idea that the Lord of the harvest

Barley Field White unto the Harvest

wants us to ask Him to send out laborers to His harvest. As with us, Andrew finds this statement of our Lord strange:

Strange, is it not, that He should ask His disciples to pray for this?  And could He not pray Himself?  And would not one prayer of His avail more than a thousand of theirs? … And would not He, in His own good time, send forth labourers without their prayer?

Murray claims that if we can find the answer to that question, we will become convinced:

that prayer is indeed a power, on which the ingathering of the harvest and the coming of the Kingdom do in very truth depend.

To the question: Why are we not more moved by this statement of Jesus to pray for more workers, he says

    1. We miss the compassion of Jesus, which gave rise to this request for prayer.
    2. We believe too little in the power of prayer to bring about definite results.  We do not live close enough to God, and are not enough entirely given up to His service and Kingdom, to be capable of the confidence that He will give it in answer to our prayer.

Chapter 9 Summary – Jesus gives His followers the dignity and responsibility of causality in the advancement of the Kingdom. To respond to this call to prayer requires us to get close to Jesus’ heart and to have the faith that He answers.

Chapter 10

‘What wilt thou?’ Or, ‘Prayer must be Definite’

‘And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?’—Mark x. 51; Luke xviii. 41.

In our dealings with God the business element must not be wanting.  With our expression of need and sin, of love and faith and consecration, there must be the pointed statement of what we ask and expect to receive; it is in the answer that the Father loves to give us the token of His approval and acceptance.

Alas! how many prayers are wishes, sent up for a short time and then forgotten, or sent up year after year as matter of duty, while we rest content with the prayer without the answer.

True humility is ever in company with strong faith, which only seeks to know what is according to the will of God, and then boldly claims the fulfilment of the promise:  ‘Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’

Chapter 10 Summary – Prayer must be specific and definite (No: “Save everyone in my family” prayers).

Chapter 11

‘Believe that ye have received,’ ‘

Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.’—Mark xi. 24

WHAT a promise!  so large, so Divine, that our little hearts cannot take it in, and in every possible way seek to limit it to what we think safe or probable; instead of allowing it, in its quickening power and energy, just as He gave it, to enter in, and to enlarge our hearts to the measure of what His love and power are really ready to do for us.  Faith is very far from being a mere conviction of the truth of God’s word, or a conclusion drawn from certain premises.  It is the ear which has heard God say what He will do, the eye which has seen Him doing it, and, therefore, where there is true faith, it is impossible but the answer must come.

The key-note of Solomon’s prayer (2 Chron. vi. 4), ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who hath with His hands fulfilled that which He spake with His mouth to my father David,’ is the key-note of all true prayer:  the joyful adoration of a God whose hand always secures the fulfilment of what His mouth hath spoken.

In one aspect there must be faith before there can be prayer; in another the faith is the outcome and the growth of prayer.  It is in the personal presence of the Saviour, in intercourse with Him, that faith rises to grasp what at first appeared too high.

It is in prayer that we wait for the leading of the Spirit to show us whether we are asking the right thing and in the right spirit.

Chapter 11 Summary – Once we learn from the Spirit, that what we are asking is the right thing and in the right spirit, by faith we must hold fast to the belief that we will receive the answer we are asking for.

Chapter 12

‘Have faith in God;’ Or,    The Secret of Believing Prayer.

‘Jesus, answering, said unto them, Have faith in God.  Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what He saith cometh to pass; he shall have it.  Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.’—Mark xi. 22-24.

Murray starts by addressing the question that is on everyone’s hearts the first time they read Mark 11:22-24.

THE promise of answer to prayer which formed our yesterday’s lesson is one of the most wonderful in all Scripture.  In how many hearts it has raised the question:  How ever can I attain the faith that knows that it receives all it asks?

C.S. Lewis addresses this in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. I will start the summary here by quoting Lewis’ answer to Murray’s question.

The New Testament contains embarrassing promises that what we pray for with faith we shall receive. Mark XI:24 is the most staggering. Whatever we ask for, believing that we’ll get it, we’ll get. No question, it seems, of confining it to spiritual gifts; whatever we ask for. No question of a merely general faith in God, but a belief that you will get the particular thing you ask. No question of getting either it or else something that is really far better for you; you’ll get precisely it…

How is this astonishing promise to be reconciled (a) With the observed facts? and (b) With the prayer in Gethsemene, and (as a result of that prayer) the universally accepted view that we should ask everything with a reservation (“if it be Thy will”)?

As regards (a), no evasion is possible. Every war, every famine or plague, almost every death-bed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted. At this very moment thousands of people in this one island are facing as a fait accompli the very thing against which they have prayed night and day, pouring out their whole soul in prayer, and, as they thought, with faith. They have sought and not found. They have knocked and it has not been opened. “That which they greatly feared has come upon them.”

But (b), though much less often mentioned, is surely an equal difficulty. How is it possible at one and the same moment to have a perfect faith — an untroubled or unhesitating faith as St. James says (I:6) — that you will get what you ask and yet also prepare yourself submissively in advance for a possible refusal? If you envisage a refusal as possible, how can you have simultaneously a perfect confidence that what you ask will not be refused? If you have that confidence, how can you take refusal into account at all?…

As regards the first difficulty, I’m not asking why our petitions are so often refused. Anyone can see in general that this must be so. In our ignorance we ask what is not good for us or for others, or not even intrinsically possible. Or again, to grant one man’s prayer involves refusing another’s. There is much here that is hard for our will to accept but nothing that is hard for our intellect to understand. The real problem is different; not why refusal is so frequent, but why the opposite is so lavishly promised.

Shall we then proceed on Vidler’s principles and scrap the embarrassing promises as “venerable archaisms” which have to be “outgrown”? Surely, even if there were no other objection, that method is too easy. If we are free to delete all inconvenient data we shall certainly have no theological difficulties; but for the same reason no solutions and no progress… The troublesome fact, the apparent absurdity which can’t be fitted in to any synthesis we have yet made, is precisely the one we must not ignore. Ten to one, it’s in that cover the fox is lurking. There is always hope if we keep an unsolved problem fairly in view; there’s none if we pretend it’s not there.

Before going any further, I want to make two purely practical points:

      1. These lavish promises are the worst possible place at which to begin Christian instruction in dealing with a child or a Pagan. You remember what happened when the Widow started Huck Finn off with the idea that he could get what he wanted by praying for it. He tried the experiment and then, not unnaturally, never gave Christianity a second thought; we had better not talk about the view of prayer embodied in Mark XI:24 as “naif” or “elementary.” If that passage contains a truth, it is a truth for very advanced pupils indeed. I don’t think it is “addressed to our condition” (yours and mine) at all. It is a coping-stone, not a foundation. For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait.
      2. We must not encourage in ourselves or others any tendency to work up a subjective state which, if we succeeded, we should describe as “faith,” with the idea that this will somehow insure the granting of our prayer. We have probably all done this as children. But the state of mind which desperate desire working on a strong imagination can manufacture is not faith in the Christian sense. It is a feat of psychological gymnastics.

It seems to me we must conclude that such promises about prayer with faith refer to a degree or kind of faith which most believers never experience. A far inferior degree is, I hope, acceptable to God. Even the kind that says “Help thou my unbelief” may make way for a miracle. Again, the absence of such faith as ensures the granting of the prayer is not even necessarily a sin; for Our Lord had no such assurance when He prayed in Gethsemane.

How or why does such faith occur sometimes, but not always, even in the perfect petitioner? We, or I, can only guess. My own idea is that it occurs only when the one who prays does so as God’s fellow-worker, demanding what is needed for the joint work. It is the prophet’s, the apostle’s, the missionary’s, the healer’s prayer that is made with this confidence and finds the confidence justified by the event. The difference, we are told, between a servant and a friend is that a servant is not in his master’s secrets. For him, “orders are orders.” He has only his own surmises as to the plans he helps to execute. But the fellow-worker, the companion or (dare we say?) the colleague of God is so united with Him at certain moments that something of the divine foreknowledge enters his mind. Hence his faith is “evidence” — that is, the evidentness, the obviousness — of things not seen.

As the friend is above the servant, the servant is above the suitor, the man praying on his own behalf. It is no sin to be a suitor. Our Lord descends into the humiliation of being a suitor, or praying on His own behalf, in Gethsemane. But when He does so the certitude about His Father’s will is apparently withdrawn.

After that it would be no true faith — it would be idle presumption — for us, who are habitually suitors and do not often rise to the level of servants, to imagine that we shall have any assurance that is not an illusion — or correct only by accident — about the event of our prayers. Our struggle is — isn’t it? — to achieve and retain faith on a lower level. To believe that, whether He can grant them or not, God will listen to our prayers, will take them into account. Even to go on believing that there is a Listener at all. For as the situation grows more and more desperate, the grisly fears intrude. Are we only talking to ourselves in an empty universe?  The silence is often so emphatic. And we have prayed so much already.

So with Lewis’ words (and questions) ringing in our ears, Andrew “What say ye?”

It is this question our Lord would answer today.  Ere He gave that wonderful promise to His disciples, He spoke another word, in which He points out where the faith in the answer to prayer takes its rise, and ever finds its strength.  HAVE FAITH IN GOD:  this word precedes the other, Have faith in the promise of an answer to prayer.  The power to believe a promise depends entirely, but only, on faith in the promiser.

Listen to the lesson Jesus teaches us this day:  HAVE FAITH IN GOD, the Living God:  let faith look to God more than the thing promised:  it is His love, His power, His living presence will waken and work the faith.

So the cure of a feeble faith is alone to be found in the invigoration of our whole spiritual life by intercourse with God. Learn to believe in God, to take hold of God, to let God take possession of thy life, and it will be easy to take hold of the promise.

God’s promise will be to us what God Himself is.  It is the man who walks before the Lord, and falls upon his face to listen while the living God speaks to him, who will really receive the promise.

Chapter 12 Summary – In answer to the question, how can we have the faith necessary to believe our prayers are answered, Jesus teaches us to HAVE FAITH IN GOD by maintaining 24/7 intercourse with God.

Chapter 13

‘Prayer and fasting;’ Or,    The Cure of Unbelief.

‘Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?  And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief:  for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible to you.  Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting’—Matt. xvii. 19-21.

He teaches us two lessons in regard to prayer of deep importance.  The one, that faith needs a life of prayer in which to grow and keep strong.  The other, that prayer needs fasting for its full and perfect development.

Chapter 13 Summary – Faith needs a life of prayer to grow and to keep strong. Prayer needs fasting to fully develop.

Chapter 14

‘When ye stand praying, forgive;’ Or,          Prayer and Love.

‘And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive,  if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.’—Mark xi. 25.

THESE words follow immediately on the great prayer-promise, ‘All things whatsoever ye pray, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.’  We have already seen how the words that preceded that promise, ‘Have faith in God,’ taught us that in prayer all depends upon our relation to God being clear; these words that follow on it remind us that our relation with fellow-men must be clear too.

Life is a whole, and the pious frame of the hour of prayer is judged of by God from the ordinary frame of the daily life of which the hour of prayer is but a small part.

Chapter 14 Summary – Just as our relationship with God must be clear for prayer to be heard, our relationships with our fellow-men must be clear as well.

Chapter 15

‘If two agree;’ Or,    The Power of United Prayer

‘Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them.—Matt. xviii. 19, 20.

ONE of the first lessons of our Lord in His school of prayer was:  Not to be seen of men.  Enter thy inner chamber; be alone with the Father.  When He has thus taught us that the meaning of prayer is personal individual contact with God, He comes  with a second lesson:  You have need not only of secret solitary, but also of public united prayer.  And He gives us a very special promise for the united prayer of two or three who agree in what they ask.  As a tree has its root hidden in the ground and its stem growing up into the sunlight, so prayer needs equally for its full development the hidden secrecy in which the soul meets God alone, and the public fellowship with those who find in the name of Jesus their common meeting-place.

Chapter 15 Summary – Just as solitude is essential to learn how  to pray, so too, public united prayer is essential.

Chapter 16

‘Speedily, though bearing long;’ Or,    The Power of Persevering Prayer.

‘And He spake a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint. . . . And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge saith.  And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry to Him day and night, and He is long-suffering over them?  I say unto you, that He will avenge them speedily.’—Luke xviii. 1-8.

OF all the mysteries of the prayer world, the need of persevering prayer is one of the greatest.  That the Lord, who is so loving and longing to bless, should have to be supplicated time after time, sometimes year after year, before the answer comes, we cannot easily understand.  It is also one of the greatest practical difficulties in the exercise of believing prayer.  When, after persevering supplication, our prayer remains unanswered, it is often easiest for our slothful flesh, and it has all the appearance of pious submission, to think that we must now cease praying, because God may have His secret reason for withholding His answer to our request.

It is by faith alone that the difficulty is overcome.  When once faith has taken its stand upon God’s word, and the Name of Jesus, and has yielded itself to the leading of the Spirit to seek God’s will and honour alone in its prayer, it need not be discouraged by delay.

God will not delay one moment longer than is absolutely necessary; He will do all in His power to hasten and speed the answer.

But why, if this be true and His power be infinite, does it often last so long with the answer to prayer?  And why must God’s own elect so often, in the midst of suffering and conflict, cry day and night?  ‘He is  long-suffering over them.’  ‘Behold! the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being long-suffering over it, till it receive the early and the latter rain.’  The husbandman does indeed long for his harvest, but knows that it must have its full time of sunshine and rain, and has long patience.

As a father who longs to have his only child home from school, and yet waits patiently till the time of training is completed, so it is with God and His children:  He is the long-suffering One, and answers speedily.

Let us learn to give God time.

… we must give ourselves to prayer

Chapter 16 Summary – In answer to the question, why do we need to persevere in prayer, Murray turns the answer on its head. He claims that God is the one who is long-suffering and answers as speedily as possible. Our job is to give God time.

Chapter 17

‘I know that Thou hearest me always;’ Or          Prayer in Harmony with the Being of God.

‘Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest me.  And I knew that Thou hearest me always.’—John xi. 41, 42. ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee.  Ask of me, and I shall give Thee.’—Ps. ii. 7, 8.

Childlike simplicity accepts the truth without difficulty, and often cares little to give itself or others any reason for its faith but this:  God has said.  But it is the will of God that we should love and serve Him, not only with all the heart but also with all the mind; that we should grow up into an insight into the Divine wisdom and beauty of all His ways and words and works.

While prayer and faith are so simple that the new-born convert can pray with power, true Christian science finds in the doctrine of prayer some of its deepest problems.  In how far is the power of prayer a reality?  If so, how God can grant to prayer such mighty power?  How can the action of prayer be harmonized with the will and the decrees of God?  How can God’s sovereignty and our will, God’s liberty and ours, be reconciled?—these and other like questions are fit subjects for Christian meditation and inquiry.  The more earnestly and reverently we approach such mysteries, the more shall we in adoring wonder fall down to praise Him who hath in prayer given such power to man.

Prayer has its rise and its deepest source in the very Being of God. In the bosom of Deity nothing is ever done without prayer—the asking of the Son and the giving of the Father.

 Chapter 17 Summary – The mysteries surrounding prayer (especially when practiced with diligence) are to drive us deeper into the heart of God to help us grow up.

Chapter 18

‘Whose is this image?’ Or,          Prayer in Harmony with the Destiny of Man.

‘He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?—Matt. xxi. 20. ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’—Gen. i. 26.

The more we meditate on what prayer is, and the wonderful power with God which it has, the more we feel constrained to ask who and what man is, that such a place in God’s counsels should have been allotted to him.

Through thy members, as kings and priests unto God, would God rule the world; their prayers bestow and withhold the blessings of heaven.

God is seeking kings.  Not out of the ranks of angels.  Fallen man must furnish Him with the rulers of His universe.  Human hands must wield the sceptre, human heads must wear the crown.—The Rent Veil, by Dr. H. Bonar.

Chapter 18 Summary – God has called man to rule the world and prayer is our chief tool to rule.

Chapter 19

‘I go unto the Father!’ Or,          Power for Praying and Working.

‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name, that will I do.’—John xiv. 12, 13.

AS the Saviour opened His public ministry with His disciples by the Sermon on the Mount, so He closes it by the Parting Address preserved to us by John.  In both He speaks more than once of prayer.  But with a difference.  In the Sermon on the Mount it is as to disciples who have only just entered His school, who scarcely know that God is their Father, and whose prayer chiefly has reference to their personal needs.  In His closing address He speaks to disciples whose training time is now come to an end, and who are ready as His messengers to take His place and His work.  In the former the chief lesson is:  Be childlike, pray believingly, and trust the Father that He will give you all good gifts.  Here He points to something higher:  They are now His friends to whom He has made known all that He has heard of the Father; His messengers, who have entered into His plans, and into whose hands the care of His work and kingdom on earth is to be entrusted.  They are now to go out and do His works, and in the power of His approaching exaltation, even greater works:  prayer is now to be the channel through which that power is to be received for their work.

[The first lesson is that] Effectual working needs first effectual prayer. And now the second lesson: He who would pray must work. It is for power to work that prayer has such great promises.

Chapter 19 Summary – In Jesus’ early lessons to his disciples, prayer was chiefly about their personal needs. At the end of His ministry, in preparing the disciples for the work ahead, the focus was that prayer was the channel through which the power to do the work was received.

Chapter 20

‘That the Father may be glorified;’ Or,    The Chief End of Prayer.

I go unto the Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’—John xiv. 13.

Every answer to prayer He gives will have this as its object [God’s glory]:  when there is no prospect of this object being obtained, He will not answer.

Not as if the believer does not at times desire [that God get the glory].   But he has to mourn that he has so little attained.  And he knows the reason of his failure too.  It was, because the separation between the spirit of daily life and the spirit of the hour of prayer was too wide.  We begin to see that the desire for the glory of the Father is not something that we can awake and present to our Lord when we prepare ourselves to pray.  No! it is only when the whole life, in all its parts, is given up to God’s glory, that we can really pray to His glory too.  ‘Do all to the glory of God,’ and, ‘Ask all to the glory of God,’—these twin commands are inseparable:  obedience to the former is the secret of grace for the latter.

What a humbling thought that so often there is earnest prayer for a child or a friend, for a work or a circle, in which the thought of our joy or our pleasure was far stronger than any yearnings for God’s glory.  No wonder that there are so many unanswered prayers:  here we have the secret.  God would not be glorified when that glory was not our object.  He that would pray the prayer of faith, will have to give himself to live literally so that the Father in all things may be glorified in him.

Chapter 20 Summary – The object of all prayer is the glory of God.

Chapter 21

‘If ye abide in me;’ Or     The All-Inclusive Condition.

‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’—John xv. 7.

IN all God’s intercourse with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable.  If we fulfil the conditions, He fulfils the promise.  What He is to be to us depends upon what we are willing to be to Him.  ‘Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.’  And so in prayer the unlimited promise, Ask whatsoever ye will, has its one simple and natural condition, if ye abide in me.

When we compare this promise with the experiences of most believers, we are startled by a terrible discrepancy.  Who can number up the countless prayers that rise and bring no answer?  The cause must be either that we do not fulfill the condition, or God does not fulfill the promise.

Believers are not willing to admit either, and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma.  They put into the promise the qualifying clause our Saviour did not put there—if it be God’s will; and so maintain both God’s integrity and their own.  O if they did but accept it and hold it fast as it stands, trusting to Christ to vindicate His truth, how God’s Spirit would lead them to see the Divine propriety of such a promise to those who really abide in Christ in the sense in which He means it, and to confess that the failure in the fulfilling the condition is the one sufficient explanation of unanswered prayer.

What is abiding in Christ? Murray says:

This is the true abiding, the occupying of the position in which Christ can come and abide; so abiding in Him that the soul has come away from self to find that He has taken the place and become our life.  It is the becoming as little children who have no care, and find their happiness in trusting and obeying the love that has done all for them.

And how does this relate to answered prayer?

To those who thus abide, the promise comes as their rightful heritage:  Ask whatsoever ye will.  It cannot be otherwise.  Christ has got full possession of them.  Christ dwells in their love, their will, their life.  Not only has their will been given up; Christ has entered it, and dwells and breathes in it by His Spirit.  He whom the Father always hears, prays in them; they pray in Him:  what they ask shall be done unto them.

The abiding, as the Master meant it, is within our reach, for He lives to give it us.  Let us but be ready to count all things loss, and to say, ‘Not as though I had already attained; I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus.’

Chapter 21 Summary – Abiding in Christ is the primary and all-inclusive condition to answered prayer.

Chapter 22

‘My words in you.’ Or,    The Word and Prayer.

‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’—John xv. 7.

Before prayer, it is God’s word that prepares me for it by revealing what the Father has bid me ask.  In prayer, it is God’s word strengthens me by giving my faith its warrant and its plea.  And after prayer, it is God’s word that brings me the answer when I have prayed, for in it the Spirit gives me to hear the Father’s voice.  Prayer is not monologue but dialogue; God’s voice in response to mine in its most essential part.  Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine.

Chapter 22 Summary – Listening to God’s voice is the secret of obtaining the assurance that He is listening to me!

Chapter 23

‘Bear fruit, that the Father may give what ye ask;’ Or,          Obedience the Path to Power in Prayer.

‘Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide:  that whatsoever ye shall ask  the Father in my name, He may give it you.’—John xv. 16.

‘The fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’—James. v. 16.

THE promise of the Father’s giving whatsoever we ask is here once again renewed, in such a connection as to show us to whom it is that such wonderful influence in the council chamber of the Most High is to be granted.  ‘I chose you,’ the Master says, ‘and appointed you that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide;’ and then He adds, to the end ‘that whatsoever ye,’ the fruit-bearing ones, ‘shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you.’  This is nothing but the fuller expression of what He had spoken in the words, ‘If ye abide in me.’

Andrew recognizes that some Christians will fear that this truth is at variance with the doctrine of free grace.  He claims that it doesn’t go against free grace as properly understood. He then lists many scriptures that talk about how works and prayer  go together.  (1 John iii. 22; Ps. xviii. 20-26.  See also Ps. vii. 3-5, xv. 1, 2, xviii. 3, 6, xxvi. 1-6, cxix. 121, 153.)

If we carefully consider such utterances in the light of the New Testament, we shall find them in perfect harmony with the explicit teaching of the Saviour’s parting words:  ‘If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love;’ ‘Ye are my friends if ye do what I command you.’

Chapter 23 Summary – Answers to prayer are conditional to our bearing fruit.

Chapter 24

 ‘In my Name;’ Or,    The All-prevailing Plea.

‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name, that will I do.  If ye shall ask me anything in my Name, that will I do.  That whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my Name, He may give it you.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, If ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in my Name.  Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my Name:  ask, and ye shall receive.  In that day ye shall ask in my Name.’—John xiv. 13, 14, xv. 16, xvi. 23, 24, 26.

In this chapter, Andrew talks about how we use a person’s name. “When I mention or hear a name, it calls up before me the whole man, what I know of him, and also the impression he has made on me.”

But what does it mean to do a thing in the name of another?

It is to come with the power and authority of that other, as his representative and substitute.

And what is it when Jesus gives us power over His Name, the free use of it, with the assurance that whatever we ask in it will be given to us?  The ordinary comparison of one person giving another, on some special occasion, the liberty to ask something in his name, comes altogether short here,—Jesus solemnly gives to all His disciples a general and unlimited power of the free use of His Name at  all  times for all they desire.  He could not do this if He did not know that He could trust us with His interests, that His honour would be safe in our hands.

He makes the point that, in the natural, we can only use the name, authority and power of another if we have a relationship with that person.

When it says, ‘Do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus,’ we see how this is the counterpart of the other, ‘Ask all.’  To do all and to ask all in His Name, these go together.

‘WHATSOEVER ye shall ask in my Name, that will I do.’  Jesus means the promise literally.  Christians have sought to limit it:  it looked too free; it was hardly safe to trust man so unconditionally.  We did not understand that the word ‘in my Name’ is its own safeguard.  It is a spiritual power which no one can use further than he obtains the capacity for, by his living and acting in that Name.  As we bear that Name before men, we have power to use it before God.

Chapter 24 Summary – The name of Jesus is not used as a magic phrase but rather an expression of the confidence we have that because of our relationship with Jesus, we can confidently ask for anything in His name and He will give it.

Chapter 25

‘At that day;’ Or,    The Holy Spirit and Prayer.

‘In that day ye shall ask me nothing.   Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my Name, He will give it you.  Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name:  ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.  At that day ye shall ask in my Name:   and I say not, that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father Himself loveth you.’—John xvi. 23-26.

‘Praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.’—Jude 20, 21.

Andrew claims the 1 John 2: 12-14 describes three phases in the life of the believer: Infancy; Middle Childhood; Maturity.  He makes the bold claim that we can see three phases in Jesus teaching the disciples on prayer.

In Christ’s teaching on prayer there appear to be three stages in the prayer-life, somewhat analogous.  In the Sermon on the Mount we have the initial stage:  His teaching is all comprised in one word, Father.  Pray to your Father, your Father sees, hears, knows, and will reward:  how much more than any earthly father!  Only be childlike and trustful.  Then comes later on something like the transition stage of conflict and conquest, in words like these:  ‘This sort goeth not out but by fasting and prayer;’ ‘Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry day and night unto Him?’  And then we have in the parting words, a higher stage.  The children have become men:  they are now the Master’s friends, from whom He has no secrets, to whom He says, ‘All things that I heard from my Father I made known unto you;’ and to whom, in the oft-repeated ‘whatsoever ye will,’ He hands over the keys of the kingdom.  Now the time has come for the power of prayer in His Name to be proved.

one of the marks of that wonderful spirit-dispensation was to be a power in prayer hitherto unknown—prayer in the Name of Jesus, asking and obtaining whatsoever they would, is to be the manifestation of the reality of the Spirit’s indwelling.

Murray claims that the day Jesus is speaking of is the day of Pentecost. When Jesus sends His Spirit, our prayer life changes. We can now ask for anything and expect it because we are living in the Spirit.

Chapter 25 Summary – If we are living in the Spirit, our prayers will be God’s prayers and we can ask anything of the Father because we are so in tune with His Spirit. And God will grant it.

Chapter 26

‘I have prayed for thee;’ Or,    Christ the Intercessor.

‘But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’—Luke xxii. 32.

‘I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you.’—John xvi. 26.

‘He ever liveth to make intercession.’—Heb. vii. 25.

Murray starts this chapter by talking about how being “in Christ” affects our prayer life:

Because He prays, we pray too.

It is the sight of Jesus in His intercession that gives us power to pray in His Name:  all right and power of prayer is Christ’s; He makes us share in His intercession.

we share with Him in His intercession too; it is not a work He does without us.

His life in us is an ever-praying life.

Chapter 26 – Summary – Because we are in Christ and Christ ever-liveth to make intercession, we are to intercede with Jesus.

Chapter 27

Jesus – the High Priest

‘Father, I will;’ Or,    Christ the High Priest

‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given me may be with me where I am.’—John xvii. 24.

We are a kingdom of priests. In this chapter, Murray teaches us how to pick up that mantle by following Jesus’ example of His high priestly prayer.

Disciple of Jesus!  here you have the first lesson in your work of priestly intercession, to be learned from the example of your great High Priest.  To pray in the Name of Jesus is to pray in unity, in sympathy with Him.  As the Son began His prayer by making clear His relation to the Father, pleading His work and obedience and His desire to see the Father glorified, do so too.  Draw near and appear before the Father in Christ.  Plead His finished work.  Say that you are one with it, that you trust on it, live in it.  Say that you too have given yourself to finish the work the Father has given you to do, and to live alone for His glory.  And ask then confidently that the Son may be glorified in you.  This is praying in the Name, in the very words, in the Spirit of Jesus, in union with Jesus Himself.

priestly intercession, to be learned from the example of your great High Priest.  To pray in the Name of Jesus is to pray in unity, in sympathy with Him.  As the Son began His prayer by making clear His relation to the Father, pleading His work and obedience and His desire to see the Father glorified, do so too.  Draw near and appear before the Father in Christ.  Plead His finished work.  Say that you are one with it, that you trust on it, live in it.  Say that you too have given yourself to finish the work the Father has given you to do, and to live alone for His glory.  And ask then confidently that the Son may be glorified in you.  This is praying in the Name, in the very words, in the Spirit of Jesus, in union with Jesus Himself.

The disciple of Jesus, who has first in his own circle proved the power of prayer, cannot confine himself within its limits:   he prays for the Church universal and its different branches.  He prays specially for the unity of the Spirit and of love.  He prays for its being one in Christ, as a witness to the world that Christ, who hath wrought such a wonder as to make love triumph over selfishness and separation, is indeed the Son of God sent from heaven.

Chapter 27 Summary – Jesus calls us to follow Him in all aspects of His life here on earth. And one of those roles is as high priests. We are to follow the model of John 17 and pray for our selves; for those immediately around us; and beyond to the universal Church.

Chapter 28

‘Father!  Not what I will;’ Or,    Christ the Sacrifice.

‘And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; remove this cup from me:  howbeit not what I will, but what Thou wilt.’—Mark xiv. 36.

How, Andrew asks, can we reconcile the prayer instruction just given by Jesus (“Ask whatever you will and it will be done for you”) and “Not my will, but thine?”  Andrew says that we must understand this “Not my will” prayer  in the context of the great suffering on his part. He claims that it was never meant to be used when praying for someone else.

It was by Christ’s submittal in Gethsemane to have not His will done, that He secured for His people the right to say to them, ‘Ask whatsoever ye will.’

He spake, ‘Not as I will,’ that He might say to us, ‘If ye abide in me, ask what ye will; it shall be done unto you.’

Murray claims we are to live the life of “Not my will…” but it is in living that kind of sacrificial life that we have access to the “ask what ye will.”

In Thy death I would daily live;  in Thy life I would daily die.

Chapter 28 Summary – Christians often see the prayer “Not my will be done, but …” as the perfect prayer (“The prayer that never fails). Murray blasts that notion out of the water, teaching us that the “Not my will…” needs to be our sacrificial view of our whole life and thereby we abide in Jesus. As we sacrifice our will for God’s, he brings us to “Ask whatever ye will.”

Chapter 29

‘According to His will; Or,    Our Boldness in Prayer. ‘

And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.  And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.’—I John V v. 14-15.

Andrew starts this chapter by exposing our hindrance to believing prayer. He says that we don’t know if the specific prayer is God’s will or not. And as long was we doubt this, we cannot have assurance that the request will be granted.

John supposes that when we pray, we first find out if our prayers are according to the will of God.  They may be according to God’s will, and yet not come at once, or without the persevering prayer of faith.  It is to give us courage thus to persevere and to be strong in faith, that He tells us:  This gives us boldness or confidence in prayer, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.

Murray says we must have Christ’s word in us and the Spirit in us. If we only have one, we cannot be capable of knowing God’s will.

… if I would have the leading of the Spirit in prayer to assure me what God’s will is, my whole life must be yielded to that leading; so only can mind and heart become spiritual and capable of knowing God’s holy will.

Chapter 29 Summary – The secret to having our requests granted in prayer is that they be according to God’s will. And we can know what God’s will is as we soak in the word and walk in the Spirit.

Chapter 30

‘An holy priesthood;’ Or,    The Ministry of Intercession.

‘An holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.’—I Peter ii. 5.

‘Ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord.’—Isaiah lxi. 6.

Murray defines for us what it means to be a priest of the Lord:

A priest is thus a man who does not at all live for himself.  He lives with God and for God.  [And] He lives with men and for men (Heb. v. 2).

Our priestly power with God depends on our personal life and walk.  We must be of them of whose walk on earth Jesus says, ‘They have not defiled their garments.’

And above all, we consent to give up all inheritance on earth; to forsake all, and like Christ to have only God as our portion:  to possess as not possessing, and hold all for God alone: it is this marks the true priest, the man who only lives for God and his fellow-men.

Just as the sons of Aaron were priests by birth but needed to be consecrated:

Every child of God is priest in light of his birth, his blood relationship to the Great High Priest; but this is not enough:  he will exercise his power only as he accepts and realizes his consecration.

Beloved fellow-Christians!  God needs, greatly needs, priests who can draw near to Him, who live in His presence, and by their intercession draw down the blessings of His grace on others.  And the world needs, greatly needs, priests who will bear the burden of the perishing ones, and intercede on their behalf.

Chapter 30 Summary – All Christians are called to be priests. Few enter into that calling. But know that by His blood you are cleansed and by His Spirit He leads you to intercede on behalf of this world.

Chapter 31

‘Pray without ceasing;’ Or,    A Life of Prayer.

‘Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks.—I Thess. v. 16, 17, 18.

He who seeks to pray without ceasing because he wants to be very pious and good, will never attain to it.

What is required to live such a life?

The first thing is undoubtedly the entire sacrifice of the life to God’s kingdom and glory.

And

This life devoted to God must be accompanied by the deep confidence that our prayer is effectual.

But the chief thing we need for such a life of unceasing prayer is, to know that Jesus teaches us to pray.

Praying without ceasing is the earthly manifestation of heaven come down to us, the foretaste of the life where they rest not day or night in the song of worship and adoration.

Chapter 31 Summary – Because Jesus ever liveth to intercede, we are to follow His lead and cultivate a life of unceasing prayer.