How Should We Pray?

Man in Prayer

“Grace” – by Eric Enstrom (1918)

“If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3)

My brothers and sisters, when God put me out in my spiritual wilderness in 1980 (about the time that Mount St. Helens blew one cubic mile of earth and ash across the states of Washington and Idaho), He shut down any sense in me that He was listening to my prayers. I prayed everything I could think of to get that nil-state to end in me. I would eventually find out after thrashing around over those many years which followed that He was not going to answer any prayers that were against what He put in my life to fix what HE was fixing in me. Or, as Bob Mumford put it, “If you fix the fix that God fixes to fix you, he will just fix another fix to fix you.” It wasn’t until many years of me trying fix His fix in my life that I finally gave up and He finally heard from me what He was waiting for. “Lord, I belong to you and if you want to leave me in this perpetual death and nothingness, that is your business. Once again I surrender “my life,” for what its worth, to YOU!” The purpose of this long lesson was to cause a heart change in me. I was to learn in my heart what Paul spoke of when he wrote,

Alone in the wilderness- web

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

… for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]. (Phil 4:11-13, AMP – emphasis added)

This is the secret to a happy and confident life IN Christ where we are focused and occupied with what is happening in heavenly places IN Him. I would like to include the following quote from T. Austin-Sparks that gets right down to where our real need is. Here he is using the type of Old Testament temple which speaks of our eternal lives in the NEW Covenant.

…[The] blood is always in the Scripture a witness against what is of the old creation, to cut it off, and to bring in a new creation; a witness against the earthly, the worldly and the fleshly, and therefore the satanic; a witness unto the heavenly, the spiritual, and that which is of the Lord. It means here that the blood of the sin offering being sprinkled on the horns and on the altar makes everything heavenly. Our prayer life has got to be on a heavenly basis. It is not enough just to be praying for our earthly affairs. It is so easy to get up in the morning and hurry through a few words asking the Lord to bless us and ours, and our earthly things for the day, as though these things of this life were all. Oh, no! The Lord would have prayer touching things heavenly, things spiritual, related to that which is not of time but of eternity, not of this world but in relation to His eternal, heavenly intentions. He would have us separated from the merely temporal. There is a place for bringing those before the Lord, but they have got to be lifted in relation to the heavenly and not be dealt with as things in themselves. The blood makes everything heavenly, separating from the old creation. There is a very great deal of the old creation in our prayers; it is [about] our convenience, our deliverance from inconvenience and discomfort, our salvation from what would bring us a great deal of trouble and sorrow. That is the motive behind a good deal of our praying. “Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today!”

But supposing the Lord would lift us into something altogether new through sorrow, are we then going to pray that prayer? No, our prayer must be: “Today, Lord, I want that which is of greatest account in relation to spiritual values and if that must be by way of trial and adversity, I do not pray to be delivered from it.” I say, “Lord, there is power to carry me through, and by prayer I come into touch with that power to carry me through the trials of every day in relation to the meaning of the trial.” That is heavenly praying. That is praying with your heart in heaven. “If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Now the life of the believer is to be, therefore, one with heavenly interests always in view, and our prayer life is in relation to those interests.

Where prayer counts most vitally and effectually is in the heavenlies. Ephesians makes that perfectly clear: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Then, providing for that warfare, he gathers it all up, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. The warfare is in the heavenlies, and the prayer is most effectual there. That is where the power is indeed against the spiritual forces, and that blood brings us out there as our protection for a realm which is spiritual and therefore counts for most. The place of the altar of incense, the holding of it to the end till everything else has been brought in, gives to prayer tremendous significance.

Now one closing thought. There was to be a crown of gold round the top of this altar of incense (verse 3), and that crown speaks of the glorifying of the Lord Jesus as the Victor. “But we behold… Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). The crown of the Victor over sin and death and the reason for that victory in this connection is in Isaiah 53: “He made intercession for the transgressors.” The implication is that by His intercession for the transgressors in His cross He won. There were transgressors doomed under judgement, and His cross was a great work of intercession for the transgressors — and we were among them. By intercession in His cross, His great ministry of intercession in giving Himself, He saved us. You and I are today in Christ, saved men and women, because of the intercession of the Lord Jesus. He triumphed in intercession for us, and as High Priest He ever lives to make intercession, and every day we are living in the benefit of His continual intercession. That is the point in the crown of gold, the crown of glory. Now the Lord is calling us into that ministry. It is not only to share the travail, but to share the glory, not only to share the humiliation but to share the crown, and the crown is not just some objective thing given to us but for the Lord to come and crown our lives. That is to be His seal upon us, and He will say, “Well done! As I have overcome so you have overcome; share with Me My throne.” If that can be because my life was a life of prevailing prayer, that is the glory of it; and even now to know what it is to prevail in prayer is glory; it is the crown of glory.

Now you see there is a glory connected with prayer. The Lord calls us, then, to consider our prayer life, because everything depends upon it. It must be the time for trimming the wick, the works of the flesh. It must be the means of keeping the light clear and strong against the darkness and it must be the means of power, the ground of power, and of prevailing. The Lord use His word, then, to bring us back, if needs be, to the strength of a full prayer life. ( emphasis added by me. “The Altar of Incense” http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/003691.html)

(I would like to thank Becky Johnson in Colorado for bringing this fact of our spiritual life IN Christ to my attention once again through her blog article, (https://occupiedwithchrist.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/a-tried-heart-flooded-with-light/ )

 

Spiritual Learning

my sheep hear my voice

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Heb 1:1-2, ESV2011)

The apostle Paul wrote the most concise description of how we mature in Christ if we are truly spiritual people and not just carnal people wanting to appear spiritual or wanting to heap to ourselves teachers who will tickle our ears.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 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. 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. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:9-16, ESV2011)

Let’s look at this passage piece by piece. “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”  What no eye has seen… this includes reading and watching teaching videos, etc.  Nor ear has heard… This includes all human teachers and preachers that stand before us with their words of wisdom. Nor the heart of man imagined… Why can’t the imaginations of our hearts be trusted? Because the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. The carnal man loves to delve into spiritual things, but because of his lack of the Holy Spirit within, these things always come out twisted and bring more bondage because of his ignorance. Peter wrote about this problem regarding Paul’s New Testament teachings.

….our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2Pet 3:15-16, ESV2011)

What God has prepared for those who love him. These spiritual things are for a spiritual people. They are not meant for those who approach Him with their carnal minds. God feeds those who love Him with His spiritual food and spiritual gifts both now and in eternity.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. His Spirit speaks to and teaches us through our spirits. If either one is missing there is no heavenly connection. It is like using two-way radios–they must both be turned on with the volume up and set to the same frequency or we cannot communicate. We must first be “born of the Spirit” if we are to have the transmitter/receiver in us that can hear Him and communicate with Him. This is why Jesus’ words to the Bible-smart Nicodemus fell on deaf ears (see John ch. 3). All he could do was reply, “How can these things be?” When the human mind that has not been renewed by the Spirit (see Romans 12:2) takes hold of the Spirit’s teaching, it always comes out twisted and confused, missing the point of what God has said.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. God has appointed His Holy Spirit to be the one who teaches us. Father sent Him to us as a gift so that we would not be left alone without a Teacher on this earth after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke of this gift.

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:25-26, KJ2000)

He will teach us all things because He searches the depths of God’s thoughts. Do we get all of His thoughts at once in a massive download? If we did our pride would rise up and we would become like Satan on this earth. God teaches us the things that we need to understand as we go through experiences in our daily lives. This converts what might have been mere theory into practical life applications that make our spirits grow step by step and not just our natural minds. God is after spiritual sons and daughters, not carnal people with massive intellects

temptation of christ by vasily surikov- 1872Now 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. Notice that this world has a spirit operating in it as well. The word world is from the Greek word kosmos. It speaks of not only the earth, but Satan who is the god of this world, the spirit that is in it and rules over it. The New Testament uses the Greek word ge when speaking of this earthly planet upon which we live. The earth itself was created by God as good. It is Satan who has defiled it with his influence, power and presence. Notice that there are two realities for those who live on the earth. We are either under the power of the prince of the earth if we live as fleshly souls or we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit as spiritual men and women. Adam and Eve gave Satan an open door when they rebelled against God and this evil presence working on our minds and hearts has been with mankind ever since. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like Nicodemus to whom He was speaking who was born into Judaism, many Christians today have been raise up in the churches or convinced to attend them, but they are still fleshly people without any spiritual understanding. Being born of the Spirit is not optional in the Kingdom of God (see Romans 8:5-17).

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 right here is what makes the difference between your average Bible teacher and those who teach spiritual truths by the Spirit. If you are born of the Spirit, you can discern the difference. Even when the Bible is being preached from or taught and the Spirit is not doing it, these words are like chewing on a bone stripped of its meat. You just can’t swallow it because it gets caught sideways in your spirit’s throat and you go away empty and sometimes confused. Learning to discern the spirits that are in church leaders and teachers might take time and a lot of suffering, but once we rely on the Spirit’s gift of discerning of spirits, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and confusion from following the wrong paths.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Once, as a young born again Christian, I submitted to a man who had a strong personal charisma and a working knowledge of the scriptures. But the problem was that he added his own natural thoughts and desires to the words of God and used them to take and keep us captive to his will and intellect. This is called the power of the soul and many people use their souls to influence us to do what they want. Take an encounter with a smooth talking salesperson as an instance. Remember, Satan often cloaks his lies in 99% truth.

We eventually became this man’s personal slaves in a religious cult on a remote piece of land in northwestern United States. Many of us had become born again in a move of the Spirit that swept through America in the early ‘70’s and had a hunger to know more about Jesus, but when we met this man (and others like him) with both our lack spiritual maturity and knowing the ways of God, we fell into his clutches. We thought that we had found a fast track to becoming spiritually mature (be very wary when men offer you a quick and sure way to become “spiritual”). By the end of that decade of being under his influence we were filled with confusion and depression. Finally, God opened our eyes to see that we had taken the wrong fork in the road years earlier by following a man and we had to start all over again. As long as we follow men instead of God we will be in constant “reset mode.” God always does this. He takes us right back to where we made the wrong choice and starts from there once again — teaching us HIS ways and not the ways of carnal men. Spiritual understanding often comes through the school of hard knocks (see Hebrews 5:14).

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. The Greek word that was translated as judges and judged in this verse does not mean to pass judgment. It is anakrino which means; to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, discern and to determine. Properly translated this verse says, “The spiritual person scrutinizes all things, but is himself scrutinized (or discerned) by no one.” So the next time you discern that a man is a false teacher, don’t let a shallow Christian tell you, “But brother, we are not to judge!” No, we are not to pass judicial judgment (krino in the Greek) on that person and say to him, “You are going to hell!” Only God is our judge. But we are to scrutinize all things by the Spirit within us whether they are from our Father or not. Remember, Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and they follow ME.”

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. Do we dare believe we have the mind of Christ in us? Yes, by His Spirit being alive in us, we do! The problem is that when we start out, we are more dependent on our own minds as we have been our whole lives, and that mind wars against the mind of the Spirit within us. Paul wrote about this struggle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6, KJ2000)

It is the mind of the Spirit in us that we must let operate without constantly overriding it with what we think is a better idea or the less painful way to go. This is imperative if we are to have His life and peace remain in us. When we feel His peace lift while saying or taking an action prompted by your carnal minds, that is a good indicator for us to stop and seek Him before we go any further. Listening to and acting according to what the Spirit is saying is our salvation from a life filled with grief.

May the Lord bless and keep you all as you are taught by His Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Obeying God’s Voice for He is Your Life

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Exod 17:1-4, ESV2011)

And he called the name of the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling], because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exod 17:7, ESV2011)

And Jesus answering said unto him, “It is said, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” (Luke 4:12, KJ2000)

In the preceding passages there is much to be learned when it comes to following the Lord and hearing the voice of His Spirit. The people of Israel in the wilderness were always complaining to Moses about one thing or another. As far as I know there is no record of them taking their petitions to God in prayer. They had no faith in Him as their God, but wanted a mere man to provide them with all their creature comforts. They looked to Moses as their king instead of to God as their Provider. Is it any different today among most professing Christians? Samuel had the same problem with the people of Israel, even after they had entered into the Promised Land.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. (1Sam 8:4-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

As it was with their ancestors in the wilderness, so it was with this generation. They still had not entered into His rest. They put their trust in men instead of in God. So God gave them Saul to be their king and they languished under his rule. It is one thing to be asking God to act according to the needs and ways of our flesh, but it is a whole different matter to know Him after His ways.

But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1Sam 8:6-7, KJ2000- emphasis added)

He made known his ways [his course of life] to Moses, his acts [his doings] to the people of Israel. (Ps 103:7, ESV2011)

We can know God as our provider of worldly things and never know His heart’s desire to know us as His spiritual sons and daughters in Christ. To know His life in us and to hear the voice of His Spirit speaking to us as a friend as Abraham and Moses did (see James 2:23 and Exodus 33:11) is what He really desires for us to walk in. Carnal Christians today, even when they pray, most often seek things from Him to make their natural, temporal lives more comfortable instead of those things which are eternal like a new heart with His laws and desires written upon them. God desires to hear us pray as David did,

​Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ​Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Ps 51:10-12, ESV2011)

When we have hearts that are longing after the things of this world, we know no rest. Our lives consist of the next pleasure, the next possession, the next lofty position, etc. How often we see a pop music legend end their lives in suicide or from an overdose of drugs. They spend their lives climbing to the top only to find out that there is no happiness in there. How different this is from the Apostle Paul who knew God’s rest in Christ who wrote, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:10, ESV2011). How opposite this is from our human natures.

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it [His rest], and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:6-12, ESV2011)

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Notice that He says, “Today!” How much of our lives are governed by minds that are worried about tomorrow or what happened yesterday? To live in God’s rest is to live by faith in the here and now, one day at a time. And part of living in today is to live by hearing and obeying His voice moment by moment. The one thing that keeps us from hearing and obeying His voice is our hardness of heart. As with Israel we turn a stony heart toward Him as we prefer our own will to His. We live as if we are our own gods. Is it any wonder that our lives are filled with UN-rest? We fail to enter into His rest because we do not believe that He desires what is eternally best for us and choose our own way. “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is death.”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life… (Deut 30:19-20, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

To choose God’s way for us moment by moment is to choose life even if it seems uncomfortable and inconvenient at the time.

The Old vs. the New Covenant (the natural vs. the spiritual) – revised 8/11/18

 

New Birth – photo by Michael Clark

Looking around Christendom as I often do, I have concluded that we Christians really don’t see just how spiritual our New Covenant with the Father really is. If we did, we would not be serving so many Old Testament models, worldly paradigms and traditions in our institutions or praying so often for our worldly comforts instead of seeking first HIS kingdom. As Paul warned the Corinthians, we are yet carnal. Don’t we know that we are no longer of this world, engrossed in its temporal things and methods, but have been born of the Spirit of God? Paul wrote:

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a life-giving spirit. But that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, made of dust: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (1Cor 15:45-49, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

How often have you been accused of “being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good”? I know I have been. I used to hand out tracks, “buttonhole” people on street corners for Jesus, go door to door and make myself miserable, because it was put on me by men and not energized by the Holy Spirit within me. I did not know back then that Jesus told His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians and Colossians:

For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:8-11, KJ2000)

If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4, KJ2000)

What are the “unfruitful works of darkness” if they aren’t dead works void of the Spirit? Zechariah (see Zech. 4) was shown the difference between Old Covenant works of the Law and walking by the Spirit when he saw seven golden lamps (symbolizing the seven churches and seven spirits of God that John saw in Revelation). These were oil lamps (not candlesticks) that were fed their supply of oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) by tubes that came down from the throne of God. When asked by God if he knew what he was being shown, he heard these words, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.” This vision was contrary to the Old Testament system he was part of where the menorah (golden lampstand) in the Holy Place got its supply of olive oil in a different way! In that system it was up to the temple priests to service these lamps with new wicks and keep them filled with pure olive oil. In the eyes of God and the NEW Covenant, this was by human might and power, but NOT by His Spirit. The prophet was given a vision of what it means to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (See also Galatians 5:16-18). As we grow up in the Spirit of God we will find that His Spirit is sufficient in teaching us all that God has for us and we will become less dependent on men to teach us (see Hebrews 5:12-14).

All too many of us come into the church thinking we have something to offer God because of our own soulish and natural talents that have served us well in the world. God has no place in HIS kingdom for the works of the old uncrucified Adam within us. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a man who died for his faith in Christ in Nazi Germany. He once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” As we abide in Christ our old man is crucified and we who are His are given the Holy Spirit to walk by and nothing less. “For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8, KJ2000). We are light only as we walk IN the Lord. If we walk the deeds and talents of our flesh we are still “darkness” in the eyes of God (see also 1 John 1:5-7).

One person pointed out that as Christians we are supposed to be spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not worldly beings having spiritual experiences. Paul spoke of this when he wrote:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2Cor 5:17, KJ2000)

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10, KJ2000)

Jesus only did the works he saw the Father doing. When we walk by the Spirit, we do as Jesus did—we follow God’s master plan for us, not presupposing what He wants. All too many Christians walk in the vanity of their minds saying, “Now in this instance, what would Jesus do?” as if we in our carnal minds could imagine or find out by reading the Bible what works HE has foreordained for us to walk in!

Paul was in Corinth and while there we read, When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled [KJV, “pressed”] by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5, NKJV). Have you ever felt convicted by the Spirit to make right something that you said or did that was wrong or from a wrong spirit within you? I have and it is like a heavy weight pressing on my chest until I go to that person and make it right. I have been constrained by the Spirit to take a course of action that I could never have found by searching the gospels to find out “what Jesus would have done.” In His kingdom it is not “What would Jesus do,” but rather, “What is Jesus doing through me?”

The table below shows some of the differences between the Old Covenant God made with the Jews and the New Covenant that those who are Christ’s are to walk in. It would do many of us well to read all the scripture references in this table so we could begin to have an idea just how vastly different our New Covenant with Christ really is from the Old.

The Old Covenant… The New Covenant…
Was done away with by God (Romans Romans 7:4, 10:4; Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:18-19) Is a NEW and Lasting Covenant that replaces the old (John 14:6; Hebrews 10:20, 13:20)
Was an earthly covenant (Hebrews 9:23-28) Is a spiritual, heavenly covenant (Hebrews 11:13-16, 13:14)
Was overseen by a special priest cast, the Levites (Deut. 10:8, Ezekiel 44:15) Is a kingdom of royal priests (all believers in Christ) unto God (1 Peter 2:9, Rev. 1:6)
Had earthly high priests who continually offered up sacrificial animals for their sins ( Exodus 39:38, Hebrews 5:1-3;10:11) Has a High Priest (Jesus) who made Himself an offering once for all our sins and is in heaven before God making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25, 10:10-14),
Had a fixed physical temple (which was done away with) at its center that was necessary for conducting animal sacrifices (1 Kings ch. 8, Luke 13:34-35, Hebrews 8:8-13,) Has a vast temple spanning the world with Christ as its Foundation and Cornerstone and is made with living stones (Isaiah 28:16, 1 Cor. 3:11, 1 Peter 2:4-6, Isaiah 66:1, John 4:21-24)
Had an earthly kingdom, Israel, who failed to keep the law of the covenant (Exodus 12:25) Is a heavenly kingdom wherein dwells righteousness (Luke 17:20-21, John 18:36, 2 Peter 3:13)
Included  a law that forced people to rest one day (the Sabbath) each week (Exodus 31:13-17) Is where we have entered into God’s eternal rest knowing that His works were finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:1-9, 6:1; Eph. 2:8-10)
Was broken by sinful men who were brought under a curse (Leviticus 26:14-39; Jeremiah 11:7-10, 31:31-32; Matt. 23:37-39; Galatians 3:10-12) Is not dependent on the righteousness of man, but on Christ’s righteousness alone where we are free from the curse of sin (Romans 5:18, 2 Peter 1:1)
Was dependant on the works of the law (Romans 2:10-13, 10:5) Is dependent on faith in the works of Jesus Christ bringing an end to law keeping for all who believe (Romans 8:3-4,10:4; Galatians 2:16)
(The Law) Was a strict schoolmaster meant to keep us in check by the threat of punishment (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Galatians 3:23-24) Sets us free from Old Covenant law keeping as we walk by faith and abide in His love (Galatians 3:25-26, 5:1-6)
Was based on human effort to be righteous, “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…” (Exodus 20:1-17) Is dependent on God creating His righteousness within us as His new creations by HIS will (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Hebrew ch. 8)
Was founded by a human law giver, Moses (Deut. 4:44-45, John 1:17) Is founded by the very Son of God with grace for grace (John 1:16-17, Eph. 2:8)
Had its laws written on tablets of stone for stony hearts (Exodus 24:12, Ezekiel 11:19) Has His laws internalized, written on our hearts and motivated to do them by His Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-33, 2 Corinthians 3:3)
Was weak because of sinful flesh (Acts 13:39, Romans 8:3a) Is spiritually powerful as we abide IN Christ’s grace (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:1-3b, 4,15-16, 37)
Was dependant on the soul (mind, will and emotions) of man to keep it (Exodus 19:7-9, Nehemiah 10:9) Is dependent on our spirits being unified with His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30-32)
Was based on man’s obedience to the whole law (Deut:11:26-28, 28:15; Galatians 3:10-11) Is based on Christ’s obedience who took the curse upon Himself for us (Romans 5:17-19, Galatians 3:11-14),
Was made with one nation, Israel, as “God’s people” (Jeremiah 11:4) Is made up of all people who believe in Christ who are His New Creation (Isaiah 49:5-6, John 3:16, Galatians 6:14-16)

Paul thus sums up the message of the Good News (gospel) when he said,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-6, ESV2011)

Though we are still on this earth, we who are Christ’s are to walk before Him by the Spirit because we now dwell in heavenly places IN Christ Jesus and have been given spiritual sight.

Loaves and Fishes Christians or Broken Vessels unto God’s Glory?

The Jews who followed Jesus were totally focused on their temporal needs. At one point they were even going to take Him by force and make Him their King because He fed them. Then He told them something very spiritual that made many of them stop following Him. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.” Have you ever thought that by dwelling in Him and He in us, we are actually partaking of His body and blood because we are one with Him? He later told the twelve disciples, Does this offend you? …It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (see John chapter six).

Both Jews and Gentiles wanted Him to heal their bodies (or the bodies of their servants and children) and He did, but he was more interested in healing their eternal souls. He said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” (see Matthew 9:1-8) On another occasion Jesus said, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Some of us have had physical afflictions, as did Paul and Timothy, and God has refused to heal them. He has done this that we might discover that “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” to this Paul observed, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

The Jews also wanted Him to lead a rebellion, cast the Romans out and set up an earthly kingdom for them to rule. They ignored the fact that God is Spirit, as is His kingdom is, so should His children be. Today we who focus on politics to get what we want are doing the same thing. Jesus said to Pilate during His trial, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, but now is my kingdom not from here.” Do we know what spirit we are of? Then why do we fight as the world does? When the disciples wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village because they refuse to let them pass through it, He rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

On another occasion He told His disciples, “The kingdom of God comes not with outward observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The kingdom of God is not temporal nor is it like the world systems of men based on hierarchy, but we are a kingdom of servants bound to one another by His love (See Mark 10:42-45). As Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another… God so loved the world…!”

Dear saints, I join with Paul and pray.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might. (Eph 1:16-19, ESV2011)

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21:22-23, ESV2011)

 

 

The Body Is One!

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32, ESV2011)

Have you ever felt a deep longing to be truly one with other saints of God? I mean one in heart, and one in longing for all that the Father has for each of us as we become members one of another IN Him. Since I came to Christ and was filled with His Spirit, my life has been a constant longing to know Him in His fullness, and part of that longing is to know Him as He is manifest in the members of His body, the true ekklesia of God (those who have been called out of this world and its seductions into Him). This has been a life-long struggle for me and I am sure for many of you. Whenever we found a group of Christians who were coming together in the love of Christ for one another, it wasn’t long until all hell broke in and divided that unity. As a result, many of us have been forced back into seclusion where we lick our wounds and pledge not to ever let religious divisiveness touch us again. The problem is that in our caution we can still remain divided from other members of Christ’s body.  Austin Sparks wrote,

Another thing that is basic to the Lord’s purpose is the necessity for an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ as to the church which is His Body. In those parts of the revelation given to us in the Word of God, such as the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians where the fulness of Christ is brought into view most definitely, the thing that is right before us is the church which is His Body. The ultimate thing, the great end, is the fulness of Christ but, unto that, the church His Body is brought into view. Does Ephesians bring in the vast dimensions of divine fulness in Christ? “Filled unto all the fulness of Christ“; “The fulness of Him that fills all in all“. What is connected with that? “The church, which is His Body“. The church is essential for the expression of the ultimate fulness of Christ. That means that unto the fulness of Christ we must have an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ in His church. That is the collective nature of the instrument, the vessel, which is to express the fulness of Christ. Over against that is the impossibility of an individual, or any number of individuals as such, ever expressing the fulness of Christ. The necessity is for a life of corporate relationship unto the fulness of Christ.

(…)

This is God’s way of illustrating what we have in the New Testament: “The body is one“. There must be an apprehension of the corporate, the collective life of the church, the Body of Christ, before we can go on to fulness. We demand this fellowship for fulness; it is essential. Limitation is always brought about by separation. The defeat of God’s end is always accomplished by breaking up the Lord’s people into fragments. Schism is a real device of the devil to frustrate God’s end concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus. He has pursued that course from the beginning. It is very impressive and very significant that when the fulness of Christ is brought into view in these letters, there is such a tremendous emphasis laid upon the relationships of the members of the Body one to another.

The Lord Jesus stands to suffer loss in the expression of His fulness when the saints are out of fellowship with one another; and we can strike the greatest blows at the adversary by a solid, determined stand, when on no ground save apostasy, will we be divided in spirit from our brethren. To fight for fellowship, to stand for fellowship, to refuse a break in fellowship, is the way of defeating some of the forms of Satanic activity. It is quite easy to take the other line. It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.

This is no organised one-ness. This is not the unity that is outward. This is not anything that can be brought about by agreements externally. This is not the uniting of the churches. This is not consenting to a common agreement of credal expression; this is the uniting of the Spirit. This works two ways. It is necessary for us to go on in the Spirit in order that we may have the fullest measure of fellowship. We do not mean that fellowship is impossible between the mature and the less mature. We must be very careful that we do not allow any larger measure of light (as we may conceive it) to interfere with our fellowship with those whom we think have not so much light. There ought to be fellowship between children and adults spiritually, but any kind of refusal of light, of the revealed will of God, is bound sooner or later to limit fellowship, so that unto full fellowship there must be a walking according to the light given. The other way round operates, of course, that as we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another. Going on in the light means an increase of fellowship, and that makes the measure of Christ to increase. (emphasis added) (1)

“It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that [division] about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.” Yes, “as we see what is bound up in fellowship with the fullness of Christ,” we see our own limitations. Seeing this need can get us beyond our fear that leads us to isolation from other saints of God. The saying goes, “No man is an island.” How true. God has been teaching me in my own tendency for isolation from others. He speaks into my heart most often when He leads me into fellowship by the Spirit with other saints of God. I have found that many of my blog articles come from being in touch on a heart-to-heart level with one of His saints.

We are all familiar with Hebrews 10:25 being used to urge us to “go to church,” but let us read it in context:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:19-25, ESV2011)

Many of us have spent most of our Christian lives going to church “services” where we “meet together” hoping to have heart-to-heart fellowship, only to have the whole time dominated by a preacher or a teacher. Notice that in the context of this Hebrews verse it says, “We have a Great Priest over the house (Grk. oikos – family) of God.” It’s not talking about an auditorium setting here! Jesus presides over our fellowship by His Spirit so that we may “encourage one another to love and good works all the more so as we see the end drawing near.” This speaks of a gathering together of the members of His body who all function together under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to the building up of itself in love. Jesus said, “Where two or three of you are gathered together in my name [in His character], I am there in your midst.” The smallest gathering of the saints, “two,” is honored by our Lord with His presence.

I have experienced this from time to time and it has ruined me for the standard church service setting. I will continue to seek out my fellow saints on this interpersonal level — usually in a small home gathering and sometimes on the internet or even on a street corner– and I hope you do as well. We who are in the Spirit have God graces to edify and build one another up in Christ. We need each other and are being robbed when this doesn’t happen.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Mal 3:16-18, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002858.html

Knowing One Another by the Spirit

Jesus baptism

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

How often we have heard it said, “Oh, how wonderful it would have been to be with Jesus as He walked the earth 2000 years ago!” There is one thing to remember here, though. We would not have been given the Holy Spirit by which to know Him and, like the Jews of that time, would only know Him and regard Him according to our natural man and not with spiritual eyes to see Him as His Father does. Isaiah prophesied about Him saying, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Even his own disciple, Nathaniel, said of Jesus, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Jesus was born into a poor family and grew up in a backwater town in Israel. He was a lowly carpenter’s son, so in the natural He was not highly regarded. It was by the power of the Spirit that people could recognize Him for who He was,  and now we can see Him as He is by the power of His Spirit in us. Many of us have studied the Bible hoping to come to know Jesus in a closer way. Yet without divine revelation we can never know Him after the Spirit. Isaiah prophesied:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isa 57:15, ESV2011)

Jesus prayed:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21, ESV2011)

Jesus said that we must become as a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us know Christ after the Spirit, not by our fleshly desires for Him to be what we want Him to be for us. We often hear Him speak to us and some of us have even had Him appear to us in a personal way. Yet, Paul writes that we should have this same spiritual interaction (after the spirit and not after the flesh) when it comes to knowing our fellow saints.

One time some elders in a church I was attending were putting me down to the pastor. This man was different from most pastors I had encountered in my Christian walk. He said to them, “You don’t know Michael as I do, because God has shown me his heart.” Most of us are still a “work in progress” in the hands of the Lord and it is easy for us to be critical of our fellow believers if we only know one another “according to the flesh.” But God knows our final end from the beginning (see Isaiah 46:10). That thing that He has started in us, He has promised to finish! He invites us to pray and ask Him how HE sees and regards those around us who we encounter in our daily lives.

Little David was about to be overlooked by Samuel when the prophet was sent by God to the house of Jessie to choose a new king over Israel. Samuel was about to choose one of David’s big handsome brothers instead of him. David was the youngest son but he had a heart after God that none of His big brothers had. So God said to Samuel:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1Sam 16:7, ESV2011)

In our natural humanity we are drawn to “the beautiful people.” We tend to shun people who are dwarfed or overweight or deformed or socially inept, but God looks on their hearts and invites us to know them as HE does. How quickly we judge and shun someone for their outward appearance or their awkward personality. Or worse, we look on the outward beauty of a person and desire it instead of getting to know them after the Spirit.

Once I was on a church “worship team.” I got to be up front of everyone as we performed. We would often practice a bit before the service and one Sunday morning as I walked into the auditorium, the Lord drew my attention to a deformed young man in a wheelchair who was severely handicapped. The Lord said to me, “What you have done to the LEAST of these you have done unto me.” Right then He was giving me an opportunity to really worship Him by spending time with and showing this person His love. He got so excited when I knelt down by him and sang a simple song to him about the love of Jesus. From then on I have remembered Jesus’ words, “Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me… Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

Stephen's Face

(Reading: 2 Corinthians chapter three)

A year or two ago, some Christian friends invited me to attend a church service with them at a “Bible church.” As I sat there looking around the auditorium, I saw many faces that had no life in them and that included the pastor. There was no life in his preaching–or in the whole service for that matter. It was just a bunch of people going through the motions as they kept the law of church attendance on Sunday. Sad to say, I have seen this same lifelessness in some house church meetings as well.

In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul makes it clear that when the Bible becomes a letter of legalism (so many commandments that we must keep) it kills us. In this chapter he speaks of the glory of Christ that is ours in His NEW Covenant that should shine from our faces as we follow the Spirit in fellowship with Him. If the New Testament becomes a system of rule keeping, we will entirely miss what the New Covenant is (read Hebrews chapter 8)! Here in chapter three, Paul refers to  what happened to Moses as he ministered the Old Covenant Law. Moses’ face shone brightly when he came back down from the mountain after receiving the law in a personal encounter with God, but that glory faded as the letter of the law he ministered worked death within him. As time went on the shining on his face faded because the letter of the law kills, but it is the Spirit that gives life (vs. 6).

This whole chapter is about there being no need for written letters if we are walking in the Spirit of Christ. If we are abiding in the Spirit we are the letters from God. We are the only letters that are needed to minister the gospel as our faces shine with His glory and His Spirit is speaking through us. It is sad that legalism (you must attend church on Sunday, you must tithe, you must not do this or that, etc.) has so taken over in our churches that few Christians today have faces that shine with the glory of the abiding Christ.

Paul wrote, But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” I remember my first two years of trying to be a “born again” Christian. It began when I was led in a “sinner’s prayer” by a well-meaning pastor in my living room one evening. But soon it was evident that something was missing. I was encouraged to read the Bible, but it was all so many words with no life in them. I might as well have been reading a phone-book with so many names and numbers with no coherent flow. I attended church on Sunday and Wednesday evening every week and went to Sunday school class and even taught one, all to no avail. That empty hole inside prevailed. It was not until I finally surrendered my whole life to Christ unconditionally that the Spirit of God came into me for the first time. In my first attempt to become a Christian I had made a mental decision at the encouragement of a man, but after a spiritual crisis two years later, I surrendered all that I was (a confused mess at best) to Him as He drew me to Himself and filled me with His Spirit. It was then that His glory began to shine from my life and the words of the Bible began to leap off its pages into my heart.

The spiritual meaning of the entire Bible will be veiled to us just as it is and was to those Jews under the Old Covenant if we do not have the Spirit of Christ abiding in us as our Teacher. It will become a letter of laws that we must keep by our mental gyrations instead of a love letter from our Father in heaven that leads us into a deeper loving relationship with Him through His Spirit. Paul wrote, “You are a letter from Christ written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.”

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent [sufficient] of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence [sufficiency] is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, RSV – emphasis added)