God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ. (Colossians 1:19 NLT)
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son... The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly. (Heb 1:1-3a, NLT)
For most of my life (soon to be 74 years) I have struggled with what it means to have a relationship with our heavenly Father. Jesus told the disciples to pray after this manner… “Our Father…” As a young Catholic I was taught by the nuns to pray the rosary and the “The Lord’s Prayer” the “Our Father” was part of that. But this noun “father” had all the wrong connotations for me. My earthly father was a stern and austere man. There was very little funny business allowed in his presence. He was like a military drill Sargent and if I ever needed anything, I had to earn it. He did everything he could to make sure that I was not “spoiled.” I even had to sit next to him in church and if I squirmed because my buns were hurting from sitting on those hard pews, he would grab my knee and squeeze the nerve until it was like an intense electric shock. But the worst part of growing up with my father was that he was never there! During those years I was an only child and he spent many of those years working in remote areas of this world without us. When he was home, HE WASN’T HOME! He saw combat in WW2 and he was emotionally distant and resented any show of emotions in his presence. So, you see, for me to pray to “Our Father” had no connection to the reality of who God desires to be in our lives.
This week I was reading a daily devotional by T. Austin-Sparks and it started out with, God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ (Colossians 1:19 NLT) (1). Upon reading this I had a epiphany! All of a sudden a great controversy was settled in my heart. “Is it right to pray to our Father God or to Jesus?” I had a personal encounter with Jesus in 1970 that changed my life. He was made real to me when I was born again and filled with His Spirit in June of that year. After that I had a honeymoon experience with Him that lasted for many months and He was as close to me as any human could possibly be. But here this verse was saying that in Christ lives all the fullness of our Father. IN Christ I was accepted and loved and it is the Father’s love and acceptance I am feeling and experiencing when I fellowship with Jesus. What a wonderful relief came to me when the Spirit spoke to me through that verse.
I have known many Christians who have never had a problem with praying to God as their Father and most of them, as it turns out, had earthly fathers that were kind and loving and not emotionally distant, so the title, “father” had a positive meaning to them, as it should. I am glad that they have not always had this obstacle in their spiritual walk, and am very grateful for the love and understanding they have shown me. But for the other saints who have struggled with what the word “father” represents, I pray that you find comfort in knowing that, “ …in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son... The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly.”
May we all know Jesus as the fullness of the Father in our lives (See John 14:6-10).
For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:15-17, ESV)
We in America and many in the western world have a society that is built around ease and the avoidance of suffering. We have insurance policies to cover almost any calamity that might head our way. We have labor saving machines that simplify our lives and make them more enjoyable and it seems that we have a pill for every physical ailment we might encounter. When an ailment comes upon us, we who call ourselves “Christians” rarely ask God what it is for in His eyes, or if He wants it to be cured before we head for the medicine cabinet or the phone to make an appointment with our doctors. Some of us take the time to pray, but what do we do when He is silent or the answer is “No!”? The following quote about suffering is from T. Austin-Sparks:
Take the problem of suffering. That may include many things; physical, circumstantial, spiritual. It may relate to ourselves or to others. Almost countless are the ways of God’s dealings with us, which are most trying and hard to bear. The most acute form of suffering is that which relates to God Himself: His silence; hiding Himself; seeming to have neither knowledge nor care. Prayers seem to be unheard, and are, apparently (we would say positively) unanswered.
What is the explanation? Well, the Word of God has made very clear that such an explanation exists.
There is one all-comprehending, all-embracing, all-governing purpose to which God has committed Himself, by creation, by redemption, and by union. That purpose is the conformity of a race to the image of His Son. This is man’s chief end and chief good. What more satisfied and ‘happy’ person is there – even amidst suffering and sorrow – than he or she who is most perfect in patience, love, faith, and the other ‘fruits of the Spirit’? If our requests regarding things were granted, while we were left the same people, unchanged in disposition and nature, it would not be long before we should be in the same unhappy condition over other things. There is possible for us some inherent quality that wears out circumstances and reigns above them. Some of the most radiant people have been the greatest sufferers in infirmity, poverty, or other forms of adversity; whilst the most ‘privileged’ are often the most discontented.
The solution to the problem of suffering does not lie in being philosophical; it is not in fatalistic resignation – ‘This is my lot; I suppose I must accept it’. It is not in passive or active suppression of desire. It is far removed from self-pity, bitterness, cynicism, or envy, and the rest of their wretched family of wilderness-makers and wanderers.
We may have to let go the particular occasion of our trouble, and first recognise, and then embrace with our heart, the fact that in the affliction there resides the immense eternal potentiality of an increase of the image of God’s Son, which is to be the one and the only character and nature of the eternal kingdom. We have too much visualised the ‘Heaven’ that is to be, as geographical and pleasurable, without giving sufficient weight to the fact of a [heavenly] nature to be inculcated and perfected [in us]. (1)
I know that when I was young in my walk with the Lord, I didn’t like His chastening nor did I clearly see what He was after in me. The evangelical mindset I was familiar with was that if we would just get saved we could have the best of both worlds, prosperity (if we were good tithers) and healing as we needed it in this life and perpetual happiness in the hereafter.
The word “sonship” and its significance didn’t get my attention until many years later when it was pointed out to me in the scriptures that the goal of the gospel was not just to take away my sins and get me into heaven, but that God had a much higher purpose in mind for those who are His. He desires many sons and daughters to be conformed into the image of His obedient and loving Son, Jesus Christ, and that conformity includes (and necessitates) suffering. Consider this passage,
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Heb 2:9-11, NIV)
We are of the same family as the Son of God and also are of the same perfecting process that He had to suffer through by the will of His Father. We see Jesus being tempted by the devil, rejected by His own earthly family and nation, misunderstood by His own followers and disciples and finally left alone by them to suffer and die. Paul understood this process belonged to Christ’s followers as well when he wrote to the Philippian believers.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11, ESV)
Just as Christ’s Father did not leave Him to suffer and be alone forever, but raised Him from the dead, so He will do for all His children who have been purchased from the grip of the devil with His Son’s precious blood. Are you a member of God’s family? If so, dear saint, it is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose what parts of this life we are willing to accept because God knows that it is all necessary. Life is not all ice cream. We have to eat our vegetables, too. Paul wrote,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:14-18, ESV – emphasis added)
Paul, if anyone, knew about suffering and rejection as he followed Christ…
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2Cor 11:23-28, ESV)
Then after all that and more he had to suffer being deserted by those whom he invested his life in at the end. To Timothy he wrote,
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me… At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2Tim 4:9-18, ESV)
But, he was not deserted by Jesus. Trying to find true fellowship among the saints of God can be a lonely business the further we go on this journey. It seems that we must all learn to find Christ alone as our sufficiency, but what a joy when we do.
Father, please bring us into a mature spiritual understanding that we can accept and embrace the sufferings of this life and that they are not worthy to be compared with the fullness of the sonship and glory you have in store for us as we are conformed into the image of your Son. Amen.
“I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”
–C. S. Lewis
I look back on my times when I “was on top of my game” doing “ministry,” and I cringe–I was abrasive, rude and self-willed at best. There was so much flesh! I have recently started to see the value of suffering in my life and how God has used it (and does use it) to keep that old Adam in me in check so that Jesus can be seen. With greater depth, by the light of the Spirit, I have been understanding more clearly what Peter was talking about when he wrote:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. (1Pet 4:1-2, RSV – emphasis added)
It seems that sin is never far away when everything is going our way. In Hebrews we read:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, (Hebrews 5:7-9, RSV – emphasis added)
God uses suffering to deal with our carnal natures and to bring us into the perfection of His obedient Son. If Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, what makes us think that we will learn it some easier way? Is the servant greater than His Master? “He learned obedience through what he suffered… being made perfect…” God is after perfection in His sons and daughters and He uses our suffering and grief to get us there.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:11-13, RSV)
Ouch! Since I wrote the above yesterday morning, I was working in our yard and with some help from a friend we moved our little greenhouse. Well, all of a sudden my back got worse, as if I might have received another compression fracture in a vertebrae. Now I can hardly move without sharp pains and back spasms.
Lord, give me your grace and strengthen my weak back so that the lame (physically and spiritually) I encounter, may be healed. Like Paul said:
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:10-12, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
“Always.” So the lesson from my Master continues. Praise His name forever!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
“Amazing Grace”~ by John Newton
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways…” (Jer 17:9-10, ESV)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor 4:6-11, ESV)
No matter how sweet we might have been as infants, we eventually show that there is something broken within us, something that wants to lie, cheat, manifest anger, steal, and do everything that the ten commandments tell us not to do. The heart within us is desperately sick! No matter how hard we try to be “good people,” we find ourselves doing the things that we would not and not doing the things that we would. In short, God knows we need help!
I thank our Father that He commanded His light to shine in our hearts and expose the darkness that He sees there, but not only that, He has chosen to replace our darkness with “the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” What a gift! How does this happen? Is it an instant bit of magic that our Father does in us when we get saved? I remember when I first started to experiencing trials after coming to Christ that I wanted Him to be like Tinkerbell and use His magic wand and, “Chwing!” instant super Christian! I was soon to find out that this is not His way.
As we read further down in the above quote from Paul we see that we still have this treasure of Christ in clay vessels which are weak by their very natures. God has chosen to let us see that we have no power in ourselves to live godly lives in Christ. By making us live with the weakness in us, He gets us to cry out to Him to do something about it. We soon discover that we are helpless in and of ourselves and that all power belongs to Him. We go through a process in which we are afflicted in every way only to find out that we have no strength in us to change. He allows us to be pressed upon, but not crushed; afflicted with all manner of suffering and pain and be rejected by this world and its people to the point of despair, only to find out that He has not forsaken us and is very much in it all. Paul wrote that we are “always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ so that the Life of Jesus might be what is manifest in us.” Little did we know that when we “asked Jesus into our hearts,” we also asked His suffering and death to come in to deal with that old Adam within us that Christ’s resurrection and Life might also be made manifest in us.
As this body of mine gets older, I am discovering how fragile this clay vessel really is! Where once I was healthy and self-asserting, I seem to come in contact with one affliction after another that keeps me weak. Did you notice that word “always” in what Paul wrote above? “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Yikes! I seem to go from one source of pain to another. I go to the doctor with each new symptom and he sends me from one “specialist” and another! What it comes down to is that you can’t fix what God fixes to fix you. Is it any wonder that for every “miracle drug” they prescribe for us, there are even more nasty “side effects” that take the place of the “cure”? He seems to be teaching me to leave it all in the hands of the Great Physician to deal with me as HE wills.
God is myopic! He has a singular focus on one thing, the perfect manifestation of His Son in us. Early on in my Christian walk I prayed as Paul did, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. It has taken years for me to pray the rest of that verse with sincerity–the fellowship of His suffering and be made conformed unto His death. To be conformed unto Christ’s death by suffering is also to be transformed into His resurrection life! You cannot have one without the other.
In Pentecostal circles I often heard people quoting this verse hoping that they would become great in the eyes of others, “A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men” (Prov 18:16, NKJV). We all love the way that God called Paul to go forth with the gospel with resurrection power and even appear before kings, but let’s read the rest of that call…
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16, NKJV)
“For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Giving our lives to Christ is a “full meal deal.” We don’t get to pick and choose which part of that life we get to have manifest within us. In the gospel of Matthew we read this:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matt 16:21-22, ESV)
It is the very nature of the carnal man to reject suffering. Jesus embraced the will of His Father and the cross that was set before Him. Notice how the flesh in Peter reacted to this “bad news.” “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” The fleshly man has no place for suffering in his life or the lives of his loved ones. Now look at how Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst:
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:23, ESV)
He spoke to Satan that was manifesting in Peter’s fleshly mind trying to get Jesus to disobey the will of His Father. If He had turned away from the cross and become the new earthly King of Israel as they all wanted, none of us would have ever been redeemed! The flesh is an ally of Satan and to embrace our suffering that our Father has willed is to reject the devil in our lives. The will of God is just the opposite of the wills of many of my Pentecostal friends who want to rebuke demons anytime someone is suffering.
Dear saints, don’t be robbed of the fellowship that is ours as we embrace His sufferings. There is more to fellowship than to meet, eat and retreat one day a week in a warm and fuzzy church meeting. Paul wrote, “but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1Cor 12:24-26, NKJV). How often do we see this depth of fellowship within our “seeker friendly” and easy believe-ism churches of today?
You see, dear saints, suffering is very much a part of the plan of God as He conforms us into the image of Christ. Embrace the fellowship of His suffering as Paul did for it is part of His resurrection power working in us.
Father, open our the eyes of our understanding that we might see the depths of our salvation and fully embrace all that you have for us to walk in together as we follow Christ in our lives. Amen.
I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, (Eph 1:16-19, KJ2000)
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word epiphany as:
(1) an usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
Oh, how we all need an epiphany on the spiritual reality of our high callings IN Christ Jesus! Many of us, like myself, are familiar with those wonderful scriptures in the New Testament that speak of our being called into a divine relationship with the Father and the Son and some of us think that because we know about it from reading the Bible or have an intellectual grasp of many of these related truths, we have already arrived. What a delusion this is! Can we also say with Paul that it has pleased the Father to reveal His Son not just to us, but IN us? In Christian circles we talk about having a “personal” relationship with Jesus, but just how personal has our discovery of Him been? I have experienced enough of Christ in a personal way to know that I have not arrived and that there is MORE yet to come. On this journey I have often tried to grasp onto something, a knowing or an event (or even a spiritual person), but this has only held me back as long as I refused to let go. Paul put it this way:
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:10-14, RSV)
I would like to share once again an excerpt from T. Austin-Sparks writings that helps explain what I am seeing. I am not a follower of Sparks, but I have not found any other writer that the Lord uses during this time of my life to confirm in me what He is saying as this dear saint’s writings have.
Spiritual illumination, therefore, is a basic thing to God’s end. We can never come to the fulness of Christ by the mere enquiry and investigation of our own brains into spiritual things. There must of necessity be the Holy Spirit giving revelation concerning Christ. The Testimony of Jesus has as its essential law: spiritual illumination and revelation – through the Word. The Testimony of Jesus can never be something static, something that you take up and say: “This is the Testimony of Jesus” and then put it into a formula. The Testimony of Jesus is something that has been revealed. The Testimony of Jesus is: “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Stephen died for that Testimony. “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice…” The inner meaning of that is not something apart from the Word, but something that comes by the Holy Ghost through the Word. That is more than the letter; it is life. It is something that makes you say: I have read the Scriptures on that for a long time, but I have really never seen that before.
The Holy Spirit’s illumination concerning the church is a thing so difficult to explain to any who may not have experienced it. But to those who have seen it, it needs no explanation. It makes such a difference on all these matters. You will [may] be able to preach Ephesians, Colossians, Romans; preach all about the church as the Body of Christ; you may read it all in books, and still there may be no real expression of it. Then one day it is as though the heavens opened and the thing broke upon your spirit, and you saw it; and all kinds of adjustments became necessary in life. You can say, “I saw that the church was no denominational or national thing; I believed in the oneness of all believers…” yes, you can say all that! And yet there is something more. That something can only come by revelation. You can have the other, and it will just take you so far. But get that something more, and it will take you a long way ahead. It brings you into the realm of the conflict and cost, but you are out in an altogether new realm. It is necessary to God’s end.
It is one thing to say these things and point them out and emphasise them; you say: “How do you get it? We see what you mean, it is all quite clear, but we have not got it!” Well, if you really are of the undivided heart, if your heart is wholly set upon the Lord and you see as far as you can see these things, and have very definite dealings with the Lord about it; it may not be in a day, it may be slowly, steadily, quietly you begin to move into a new realm of understanding. And you find that your point of view changes; your standard of values changes; your insight changes. It may take months, but at the end of the time you say: “I am changed! Something has happened to me. I can no longer accept what I used to accept!” It may be like that, or it may come in a flash. How it comes does not matter very much, the fact is the importance of this thing – spiritual illumination. The apostle prayed that these to whom he wrote might have it. Let us pray that we might have it, and that all the Lord’s people might come into that (emphasis added). http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002858.html
Dear Father, please shine the light of your Spirit into our hearts and draw us ever deeper into that light as you did with Stephen and Paul that we might not fall short of our high callings in your Son. Amen.
It’s Easter morning here in Houston where thousands of people are putting on their “Sunday best” and going to their favorite church building, temple, cathedral, etc. Many of them are convinced that their “church” is the right one to worship in and that they are doing exactly what God requires of them. Here in the Bible Belt of southern USA, it’s considered a sin to miss church on Sundays and a sacrilege to miss on Easter and Christmas! It was this mindset that Jesus was confronted with by that Samaritan woman He met by the well outside her village that day.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:19-20, ESV)
As usual, Jesus did not answer people’s questions from their earthbound mindsets, but from the viewpoint of His Father in heaven.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24, ESV)
What? Her head must have been spinning! You mean that real worship in the eyes of the Father has nothing to do with going to sacred buildings and temples on “holy days of obligation?” Nope! True worship comes from the Spirit of God in hearts that live IN His truth, not in an outward pretense of the religious norms and traditions of men. Even David of old had that figured out (read Psalm 51). It is interesting that today’s Open Windows (1) daily reading that I receive is addressing this very thing on the day when an outward show or piety is at its max.
You desire truth in the inner being. (Psalm 51:6)
In the course of our spiritual history God deals with us in ever-deepening ways. Down, down, down, He goes, until He touches bottom to have things true at our very depth. He undercuts all our professions, doctrines, assumptions, pretensions, illusions, and customs…. There is no mere formalism about this; no mere Jewish ritual in this; no mere outward observance of rites and ceremonies in this! No! This has got to go right into the inmost being, in the inward parts. God works toward that. God is ever working toward the most inward parts. Do you recognize that? Do you understand what He is doing with us? Oh, He will meet us with blessing on a certain level, as we walk before Him, like the man in Psalm 1. He will meet us with His gracious provision when we transgress and trespass and fail, and do wrong – He will meet us there in grace. But God is going to pursue this matter to the most inward place of our being, and register there His work of grace and redemption.
The Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are characterized by this one feature – truth! And God desires and has set His heart upon having people who are partakers of the Divine nature, and so He is working ever more deeply toward this end: what is true of Himself shall be true of His children – those begotten of Him – that they should be true sons of God in this sense. (2)
Oh yes, He deals with us in ever deepening ways. Most of us Christians feel His probing gaze into our hearts and it makes us uncomfortable to say the least. So, what do we do? We run off to a church, Bible school or seminary (our Samaritan “holy mountains”) and offer the sacrifice of our lips to try and appease Him so that our soulish discomfort will go away. It’s this holding to the traditions of men (which are not supported by the New Testament) that keeps us going to these places while the piercing gaze of the Father goes ever deeper into our souls. So what’s next? We give more money, more time to those systems and more effort to make them work while we try to appease our inward discomfort. Eventually, we get the picture that all this institutionalism is not getting the job done, so we try meeting in homes on a regular basis, not understanding that our Father is not going to let up until He finds truth, His Son, freely living in our inward parts.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Ps 51:6, ESV2011)
I thank God that He never lets-up until He sees His divine truth in our inner most being where He desires to dwell. With David I pray,
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. (Psalm 51:10-12, ESV)
Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. (Luke 17:28-30, KJ2000)
Many Christians who read the Bible compartmentalize its verses. They either make them apply to people they do not approve of, or apply them to another time (dispensationalism), especially if those verses start to make them feel uncomfortable about themselves. But the Holy Spirit won’t let me get away with that any more. He always reminds me of this verse as I contemplate any passage in the Bible:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Tim 3:16, ESV2011)
What part of ALL don’t we understand? ALL scripture is breathed out by God not only for teaching, but for reproof and correction as well as training us in HIS righteousness. So, I am used to not only listening to the voice of the Spirit for what He might say to me, but when He gives me a scripture, I have to ask Him, “Where do I fit in what He is saying to me?”
I didn’t start out that way. Like most church folks I knew, I loved to put the warnings of God’s word on everyone else but me. One of the first books that my church going aunt gave to me upon finding out that I was saved was a book on eschatology! I didn’t need to know about Bible prophesy, but rather who is this Jesus that has taken hold of me? So with the latest group of scriptures he had me contemplating, I wondered what His judgment on Sodom in the days of Lot had to do with today and my life in Christ. It is odd in the above text that Jesus did not have one word to say about sodomy or homosexuality, isn’t it? No, they ate, they drank, they bought and sold, they planted and they built. It was business as usual by people who had the focus of their lives on this world until God’s judgment destroyed all their works. Sound familiar?
As I contemplated this and many other passages about Sodom and let Him apply them to my life, a pattern started to form, and not one that I expected. In Genesis we read about how God forewarned Abraham about the judgment coming on Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem was that Abraham knew that Lot, his wife and his two daughters lived in Sodom and so he did all he could to convince God not to do such a thing. Two angels visited Abraham and told him that Sarah would have a son in her old age and he would be the father of a great nation. The angels then headed off to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people there were evil in all their ways. God does that–He destroys a people who have become altogether irredeemable and then raises up a people who will walk with Him by faith.
It is here that I want to quote Abraham’s conversation with God.
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. (Gen 18:23-33, ESV2011)
As the story goes on, the two angels entered Sodom after leaving Abraham and were invited to stay overnight with Lot and his family. As it got dark, the men of that evil city banged on his door and wanted to seduce his guests. While Lot was arguing with them, begging them not to do such an evil thing to his house guests, the angels grabbed him and drew him inside and blinded those men so that they could not find the door. When morning came, the two angels had to take Lot, his wife and two daughters by the hand and drag them out of the city before God’s judgment fell. The story continues:
As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:15-22, ESV2011)
We don’t know how many years Lot lived there in Sodom. We do know that when Abraham and he parted ways, Lot chose the fertile plain which was much more pleasant for him and his herds, while Abraham chose what was left, the mountains with all their dangers. Abraham walked by faith and Lot walked by sight. Because of Abraham’s faith, God kept him. It was not long until Lot was living in Sodom and nothing more is heard about him being a herdsman. The easy ways of this world are like that. They just keep sucking us into their more comfortable ways that are in league with our flesh. Abraham walked by faith, but Lot lacked such faith that God would keep him and bless him as He had Abraham, and he chose the artificial city life of fallen man.
Now, to get to what the Lord was saying to me out of all this. In the first passage we see Abraham arguing with the Lord about saving those cities for the sake of a few “good people” that might live in them. In the second we see Lot pleading with the angels to let him live in that “little city.” What harm can a little city do, after all? “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” As we read on we see that what Lot thought would save his life soon became dangerous as well. We do that. We put more trust in something that seems “good” to our natural man that we might save our life, but God knows the hidden dangers to our spiritual walk. Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” Our lives in the world and its ways are all too precious to us in the eyes of God.
Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. (Gen 19:22, ESV2011)
Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. (Gen 19:30, ESV2011)
“’I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the city is Zoar.” Zoar means “little or to be brought low.” God can do nothing with any of us, no matter how gifted we might be, until He has brought us low, and we admit that we have nothing in us that is good. We must become as a little child if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. As John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.” God can do nothing with what we think we might have to offer Him, but oh, how we plead for Him to save any perceived “goodness” we have in us. “But Lord, if there be just 50, just 45, just 30, just 20… how about only ten good things in me, can I avoid the destruction that the cross demands in my life?” “Lord, let’s be reasonable. Let me have just a little safe haven, something I can cling to in this life. It all can’t be evil, can it?” The longer we walk after Christ the more we find out just how uncompromising this walk is. “None are righteous, no not one.” “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” “The flesh profits nothing.” And finally in our ever growing weakness by the working of the cross we hear Him say, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” and we believe it.
“Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Until we become small in our own sight, so small that we no longer look to our Zoar for safety, but see that even the best hopes in and of ourselves are not safe, God cannot manifest the life of His Son in us. He can do nothing with us but set us aside as so many cave dwellers until we, like Elijah, no longer try to hear His voice in the earthquakes, winds and fires of the fleshly ways of men, but rather hear His slightest whisper saying, “This is the way of the Lord, walk you in it.”
“Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot… Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” In the economy of the Father it is all about his Son being revealed in us. We as individual believers are in the days of Lot, much deeper than we ever thought. But there is hope…
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1Pet 4:12-13, ESV2011)
“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,
… 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/ )
I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12 ESV)
Please forgive me, but once again in the following two paragraphs T. Austin Sparks sums up what has taken me a lifetime to discover. My comments on my own journey follow.
Those of us who have tasted of this world’s springs have recognized the kinship between what is there and what is in religion so far as that soul-nature is concerned. It is only a matter of difference of realm, not of nature. What the music and drama of the world produce in one way – the soul-stirring, rousing, craving: the pathos, tears, contempt, hatred, anger, melancholy, pleasure, etc. – are all the same, only under different auspices and in a different setting, and the fact is that it passes and we are really no further on. A little better music, a change of preacher, a less familiar place, a few more thrills, will perhaps stimulate our souls, but where are we, after all? How Satan must laugh behind his mask! Oh, for reality, the reality of the eternal! Oh, that men might see that, while a highly cultured soul with a keen sense of the beautiful and sublime is immeasurably preferable to a sordid one so far as this world is concerned, it is not necessarily a criterion that such has a personal living knowledge of God – of God as a Person – and has really been born anew! (1)
Exactly! It took me a while to discern the difference between the spiritual Church and the soulish one because, like the foolish Galatians (see Galatians 3:1-3), I started out in the Spirit, being born from above, only to be siphoned-off into the works of Christian City (for a very eye opening booklet that speaks of this journey many of us have been on, see Escape from Christendom by Robert Burnell on our website).
What a difference exists once our eyes are opened. We are much like newborn puppies, rooting around for a teat to latch onto that has milk (there are plenty to choose from), until we are ready for the “sincere milk of the Word,” the voice of the Spirit of Christ, leading us in all our ways and not feeding any longer at the breasts of men, a.k.a. religion. Oh, what dainties Christendom supplies us to draw us by our flesh under its spell! But what a wonderful life it is to walk by spiritual sight (Christ revealed in us as a LIVING person in a moment by moment heavenly journey).
When we pray for “Revival” let us be careful as to what we are after and as to what means we use to promote it, or carry it on…. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the secret of everything in his life and service was the fact that he received his gospel “by revelation.” We may even know the Bible most perfectly as a book, and yet be spiritually dead and ineffective. When the Scriptures say so much about the knowledge of God and of the truth as the basis of eternal life, resulting in being set free, doing exploits, etc., they also affirm that man cannot by searching find out God, and they make it abundantly clear that it is knowledge in the spirit, not in the natural mind. Thus, a rich knowledge of the Scriptures, an accurate technical grasp of Christian doctrine, a doing of Christian work by all the resources of men’s natural wisdom or ability, a clever manipulation and interesting presentation of Bible content and themes, may get not one whit beyond the natural life of men, and still remain within the realm of spiritual death. Men cannot be argued, reasoned, fascinated, interested, “emotioned,” willed, enthused, impassioned, into the kingdom of the heavens; they can only be born; and that is by spiritual quickening. (1)
I was born again during a revival of the Spirit that swept across the United States and Canada (and eventually to Europe) during the early 1970’s. This revival seemed initially to be one that was primarily outside the churches, so we received a lot of bad-mouthing from them out of pure jealousy. Nonetheless, we who were born of the Spirit had such sweet fellowship with each other and Jesus until men rose up and started to harness what God was doing (many denominations exist today that got their start during this time as they recruited these gullible youth). Feeling the Spirit leave and not knowing why was a sad experience for many of us.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:29-31, ESV2011 – emphasis added)
One time out of desperation a few years ago, I started praying for another Spirit led revival to happen in my lifetime. In short order I heard the Father say, “Do you think that I want to give birth to a mass of spiritual infants just so the whores can hack and split them up for their own soulish gain (See 1 Kings 3:16-28)?” That was the end of my prayers for this. I have since seen that God is still giving spiritual life to thousands of saints, one at a time, here and there all over the world and I am so thankful for each of them.
Needless to say, as men rose-up this revival I experienced died. All these years I have longed for such sweet fellowship in the Spirit we had back then, but have only experience an occasional spiritual oasis on my journey to the City of God that has Foundations. When we find another saint who walks by the Spirit and has broken out of Christendom (or was never entangled in it), what a find they are! Thanks to all of you who have shared the love of Christ with me and those other priceless pilgrims that frequent this blog.
Then said Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come”. The man therefore, read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket gate [see John 10:9-10]? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light [see John 8:12]? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do. ~ “Pilgrims Progress” by John Bunyon (2)
Your brother IN the Son (who has been ruined by Jesus for “playing church”),