Episode 1. The Obvious Isn’t Always that Obvious
Sometimes the blindingly, glimpsingly obvious isn’t all that obvious, but here it is anyway: Men and women of God’s Word, men and women who actually read their Bibles, end up living a much more powerful, much more victorious, much more fulfilling life than those who don’t. It’s obvious, you’d think. The Way to God’s […]
Sometimes the blindingly, glimpsingly obvious isn’t all that obvious, but here it is anyway: Men and women of God’s Word, men and women who actually read their Bibles, end up living a much more powerful, much more victorious, much more fulfilling life than those who don’t. It’s obvious, you’d think.
The Way to God’s Blessing
I know you’ve heard it all before. You should read your Bible more; we get that, but for many people, it’s a chore. When you hear the word “Bible”, come on … In your heart of hearts, how do you respond? I know I used to cringe at the idea that anybody can be so narrow, so religiously geeky if that makes sense, as to actually read the Bible. But after I’d been a Christian for a while, you know what? It became a chore. It’s like when I was a kid learning the piano and my parents insisted on me practising at least half an hour every day. Really? A whole half an hour? And that … That’s how so many Christians approach the idea of reading their Bibles. They’re being told so many times, “Read your Bible”, that every time they hear it, it conjures up a sense of duty; a sense of responsibility and labour, and (let’s be honest here) guilt in their minds.
How about you? How do you feel about the Bible that’s gathering dust somewhere in your house? Oh and by the way, if you happen to be someone who does open their Bibles most days (and the research confirms this), you’re one of the very few people in God’s kingdom who does. So for many people, either the Bible has a bad rap as some dreary, boring, fundamentalist thing that narrows your mind and fuels your life with a list of dos and don’ts, or it’s a source of guilt. That’s the majority view – sensational! But what if I told you it’s not meant to be either of those? Have a go at this. Psalm 119:1-3:
Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law of the LORD. Happy are those who keep His decrees, who seek Him with all their heart; who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways.
Happy, eh? The original Hebrew word there means either to be happy or to be blessed. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Who doesn’t want to be blessed? So who is it who is happy and blessed? Well, those whose way is blameless; those who walk in the Law of the LORD; those who keep His decrees; those those who seek Him with all their hearts; those who do no wrong, but walk in God’s ways. God’s Law; His decrees; His ways, and that’s what the Bible is all about.
I know what you’re thinking. “Who needs a whole bunch more rules in their lives?” I get that, but the happiness and the blessedness actually come to those who are blameless; those who do right; those who have a clear conscience. God’s Law; God’s decrees; God’s ways … That’s how you get to that place.
Perhaps that’s why God takes His Word so seriously: Because there’s so much good in there for you and me. It strikes me as incredibly sad that so many people who say that they believe in Jesus actually look at God’s Word (the Bible) as an optional extra; as an add-on if you will. The number of times people Email me with this mess in their life or that challenge, this problem or that temptation, this and that, and sure; I can give them answers from God’s Word that’ll speak right into that situation to bring healing or power or wisdom; whatever’s needed, and I do that because God’s Word is packed full of more healing and more power and more wisdom than you or I will ever need in a lifetime, but I often ask these same people, “So, how often do you read your Bible?” On the rare occasion that I get a response, it goes something like this: “Oh, I don’t have time.” That’s the most common one. “Oh, it’s hard to understand.” That’s the second-most common one. “Oh, I don’t think it’s that relevant.” Yeah, that’s the third-most common response.
Let me be blunt here. We behave as though listening to God speak isn’t all that important but then, when people have a problem they can’t solve, they turn to a preacher like me to help them solve the problem from God’s Word. Doesn’t that strike you as just a little crazy? A lot, maybe?
So what does God have to say? Let’s listen to Him. Psalm 119:4-6:
You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently. O, that my ways may be steadfast in keeping Your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments.
See, keeping God’s precepts isn’t an optional extra; it’s God’s command. There are eight different words used in Psalm 119 for the Word of God, the Bible. One of them is precepts, and the sense of this is that God made us. God knows us. He knows how we should live, so that we’re not put to shame. Shame interrupts our intimacy – our fellowship with God. It takes away the blessings, the happiness, the joy, of living in a relationship with Him the way we were meant to. He doesn’t want that for you. Shame was what drove the first wedge between God and humanity, when Adam and Eve ate of that one tree that they were told not to eat from. Shame is what’s ruining our lives, and much better than asking someone for help in the middle of a problem that’s confounding you is avoiding the problem in the first place. Wouldn’t you agree? God wants the very best for you, because He loves you, and the place to find His very best (honestly) is the Bible.
If shame is something that ruins our lives, then the opposite of that is a good heart; a sound heart; a clear conscience. You know what it’s like. When you do something that you know is wrong, your conscience eats away at you; it just does. God put it there for a reason. It’s that part of us, made as we are in the image of God, that helps us turn our ways back to Him. When our conscience is troubled, it robs us of peace; it robs us of joy, and more often than not, it robs us of sleep, and that’s why living our lives God’s way is the best way. Really.
Most people think (and honestly, this is how I used to think too) that if you become a Christian, you have to live life by a set of rigid rules, and that’s going to narrow your life somehow. It’s going to rob you of being able to do all the things you want to do, but actually, the exact opposite is true. Psalm 119:7-8:
I will praise You with an upright heart when I learn Your righteous ordinances. I will observe Your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.
When we discover the right way to live – good, wholesome, pure, gentle, kind, loving, generous, sacrificial, loyal, honest – all the qualities we admire in other people, all of a sudden, we’re living with a clear conscience and that clear conscience is where we discover the freedom that Jesus came to bring us. God describes Himself as our Father. In fact, Jesus used the word Abba, which means daddy, and He’s a good Father – the best. All He wants is the best for you and me, and what I’ve discovered is that there are actually very few things about which He says to us, ‘Don’t do them.’
Go back to Adam and Eve. There were doubtless thousands of fruit-bearing trees n the garden. There was only one of which God said, ‘Don’t eat from this one,’ because He knew it would be bad for them. They would discover the difference between good and evil. Why? How? Because their conscience would convict them of their wrongdoing.
You and I, we know when we’ve done something wrong, and that sense of guilt ruins everything. Every thing. What God wants for you is to be free to worship Him; to live in freedom with an upright heart; with a clear conscience. I will praise You with an upright heart. When? When I learn His right ordinances; when I learn to live in goodness and light, rather than in evil and darkness, and the place where we discover how to do that – the place where we get the knowledge and the wisdom and the power to live for Him – is in the Bible. The amazing love-letter that He’s preserved right down through the ages.
Make Your Heart a Healthy Heart
If you’re a parent, you’ll know what it’s like to experience conflict with your children. If I had a penny or a rupee or a cent for every time I’ve said to my kids, “All I want is the best for you”, I’d be a very wealthy man. Here’s how the conflict happens. They do something that you know is wrong, something that you know is going to hurt them, so you step in. As their parent, you have wisdom; you have insight; you have experience to guide them in the right direction, but they resent that because as the saying goes, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders. Children tend to view the discipline of their parents as something negative. It’s not until they grow up that they can look back and see how the wisdom and the discipline of their parents has made them who they are today.
And you know, the same is true in our relationship with God. We so often resent the fact that there’s a handful of things which He says to us, “Don’t do them.” Why? Because He has the wisdom that we don’t, and just as we did when we were teenagers, we want to rebel against the wisdom of our Father. Am I right?
So what’s the answer to that? I think it’s a change of heart on our part. It’s coming to the mature position of recognising that God’s ways are the best ways, and if I keep myself to His ways, then I’m going to have a better life. I’ll be more of a blessing; I’ll have fewer hassles, and even when I’m travelling through the odd wilderness experience here and there, as we all do, I’ll be better able to deal with that.
Take for instance the wisdom of a parent to a child who’s moving from teenage into adult years: Wisdom about sexual propriety. These days, kids all want to sleep around, but any parent filled with just a bit of Godly wisdom knows how dangerous, how painful, and how harmful that can be to their child. Psalm 119:9:
How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.
Sexual desire is a very strong desire. We all have very strong desires, young or old, but not all of those desires are good ones. Not all of our apparently natural desires are beneficial. Some of them can be downright harmful and destructive: Selfishness; envy; immorality … There’s quite a list of things that we know are bad for us, but how do we keep our ways pure? By guarding them according to God’s Word; by being in the Bible day after day and gleaning the wisdom and frankly, also the incredible Holy Spirit’s power to steer clear of those destructive ways.
The problem with our apparently natural desires and the destructive ways to which they lead is … well … frankly, they’re so seductive. Have you noticed that? Temptation is always seductive, and of course that’s by design. Satan knows that if he can make a terrible thing like (let’s say) adultery appear attractive, then he is going to destroy many-a marriage.
It seems to me that each one of us has some Achilles heel, some sin that’s our weak point – the chink in our armour if you will, that the devil consistently exploits in order to make us stumble over and over again, until finally we fall. Have you noticed that too? So what we find is that our heart is torn in this direction to fall into temptation, and in that direction to honour God, and with a divided heart, we find ourselves flip-flopping all over the place: Some days honouring God, and other days … well … not so much. Right?
How do we get over that? How do we powerfully deal with the sin in our lives, so that we can live a life that truly honours God – a life that truly reflects God’s glory which, after all, is probably the desire of your heart anyway? Well, as always, God has the answer. Psalm 119:10-11:
With my whole heart I seek You; do not let me stray from Your commandments. I treasure Your Word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You.
I love this, because it’s the Psalmist talking to God, and what he’s saying is that he’s taken a heart-decision: A decision of the heart to seek God and based on that decision, he’s asking God to stop him from straying from His commandments. Don’t you love that? The man, aware of his own inability to honour God, is inviting God Himself into the equation: The all-powerful God who ultimately sent Jesus to this earth to defeat Satan in our lives.
Heart-decisions are always the most powerful decisions. We can decide things in our minds; sure, but when we make a deep decision of the heart and ask God to step into that decision, wow! You’re in for some serious power to change, and notice too how the Psalmist writes:
I treasure Your Word in my heart, so that I may not sin.
Something happens when we treasure the Word of God in our hearts. God’s ways become more important to us than our ways. God’s words become more important to us than what other people say.
Listen up. God wants to bring some powerful change to your life: Today, tomorrow, the next day … For the rest of your days here on this earth. Serious, powerful change, but what He’s looking for is a deep decision of the heart to seek Him and to treasure His Word.
Get a Revelation
You know, it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to ignore the things that we’re taught. I remember during my tertiary studies plenty of times sitting in class, hearing the lecturer speaking and yet allowing my mind to wander. I still have notes from lectures where my handwriting falls off the page, where I fell asleep during the lecture. A good friend of mine tells of a teacher who said to him once, “Son, you sit and think, but mostly you just sit.”
Often our undoing isn’t as a result of a lack of knowledge, but our failure to learn and apply what we’re being taught. I’ve watched people at church as the preacher preaches a really good sermon. Their minds have kind of wandered off somewhere else, or they’re more interested in that woman over there who just walked in late or whatever’s going on. Now imagine that morning, when you were sitting in that church, hearing the preacher but not really listening, imagine that God was wanting to speak to you, through His Word. God had a special message, something powerful to say to you that would change your life, but you weren’t paying attention. Sad to say, that happens a lot more often than we’d like to think.
So let’s take a look at the complete opposite of that: A heart that’s open; that’s ready; that’s listening and hanging on God’s every word. Psalm 119:12-16:
Blessed are You, o LORD; teach me Your statutes! With my lips, I declare all the ordinances of Your mouth. I delight in the way of Your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word.
That right there is a man speaking to God about his heart to learn from what God has to say. There is a man with a teachable heart: Not only ready to listen to what God has to say, but to live by what God has to say.
So I’m thinking, what if everyone who believes in Jesus, what if everyone who calls themselves a Christian, had a heart like that? What would the church look like then? What would this world look like then? How much more love, more peace, more sacrifice, more service, more healing, more reconciliation would be happening in this world if we all, you and I, lived with that sort of a heart towards God?
Teach me Your statutes, o God. I will declare Your Word with my lips. I will delight in Your ways as much as in all riches! I will meditate on Your Word and fix my eyes on Your ways. I’ll delight in Your Word, and I won’t forget it. Wow!
But there’s something else that we need to get that sort of insight, that sort of impact in our lives from God’s Word. The essential ingredient of having a teachable heart, the essential prerequisite if you will, is having a humble heart: A heart that is aware of the deep spiritual poverty that lies within. Often the reason we don’t take God’s instruction (God’s wisdom) to heart is because there’s this translucent veil of self, as A. W. Tozer calls it, draped over our hearts. ‘I know everything! If only my wife or my husband or that person over there would listen to what the preacher’s preaching today! Well, this world would be a better place! If only they would get it!’ That’s often how we think. Right? It never crosses our minds that what God is saying today through His Word is meant for us; that He’s trying to deal with that poverty within us, that’s robbing us of the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Come on, we all have blind spots. We all have things about ourselves that we can’t see. Well, that’s the whole point of it being a blind spot, right? We just can’t see it. Jesus said (Matthew 5:3):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, those who recognise their deep poverty, those who admit it, they’re the ones who’ll be blessed because the kingdom of heaven is for them. What blind spots do you have? The answer is, you don’t know because they’re blind spots. The same’s true of me. I have my blind spots too. The question is, what do you do about them? So try this on for size. Psalm 119:17-19:
Deal bountifully with Your servant, so that I may live and observe Your Word. Open my eyes, so that I may behold the wondrous things of Your Law. I live as an alien in the land; do not hide Your commandments from me.
What do we do about our blind spots? We ask God to open our eyes, so that we can see the point of what He’s trying to say to us; so that when we open the Bible and read His Word, the Holy Spirit will lift that one particular verse or that one particular story that He has for us today right off the page and plonk it into our hearts; so that in an instant, we’ll get what He’s trying to say to us, in a way that completely and utterly and radically changes us; in a way that deals with some of the deep spiritual poverty in our hearts.
When was the last time that you went to God and asked Him to deal bountifully with you, to open your eyes so that you could behold the wonders of His Word? When was the last time you said to God, “LORD, I’m an alien in this world. This life down here is tough today. I need Your Word, so don’t hide Your commandments from me?” In James 1:5, God says that:
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.
Sometimes we wrestle with problems and we just can’t find the solution. The solution, though, is in asking God to help; asking God to open our eyes; asking God to give us the wisdom that we don’t have.