| Beauty for Ashes - The Christ-life for the Self-life |
This afternoon I picked up a small booklet by Zac Poonen entitled 'Beauty for Ashes'. As I browsed through it I noticed some really good quotes and statements. So I'm going to slowly post the entire book here on SI. For those who would like to read the entire book at once it can be found on [url=http://www.cfcindia.com/web/mainpages/book_window.php?book=beauty_for_ashes]CFC's website[/url]. May God take each of us thoroughly and fully from the self-centered life to the life that is totally centered on our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ. He is worthy, oh so worthy!
Longing to see Jesus shining out of the lives of each of His own,
Here is the introduction:
THIS BOOK AND YOU
God had a great and glorious purpose for man when He created him. Of all created beings, man alone was created with the capacity to share in God's life and to partake of the Divine nature. But he could enjoy this privilege only as he voluntarily chose to live a life centered in God.
The two trees in the garden of Eden were symbolic of two ways of living. Adam could either partake of the tree of life (which symbolized God Himself) and live by the Divine life, or else he could choose the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and thus develop his own self-life and live independently of God. As we all know, he chose the latter. Having descended from Adam, we all have this over-developed self-life now.
But God's purpose for man did not change when Adam fell. The coming of Christ into the world was in order that we might be delivered from this self-centered life that we have inherited, and once again have the opportunity to partake of the tree of life. This is the abundant life that Christ offers us.
Isaiah had prophesied (Isa. 61:1-3) that Christ, when He came, would set people free from bondage. Man is bound not only by the Devil but also by his self-life. Christ came to set us free from both. Isaiah said that Christ would give those He liberated, beauty to replace their ashes. Ashes are a most appropriate symbol of the self-life - picturing its ugliness and its uselessness. Christ offers to give us the beauty of His own life to replace the ashes of our self-life. What a privilege! Yet many Christians do not enjoy this fully. Why not?
How can we enjoy it?
That is the subject of this book.
These messages were given at the Nilgiris Keswick (Deeper Life) Convention held at Coonoor, South India, in May 1971.
We shall look at four characters from the Bible in the pages that follow; and each of them will have something to teach us.
Bangalore, India Zac Poonen
| 2009/4/16 16:22|
| Re: Chapter 1, part 1|
[b]THE CORRUPTION OF THE SELF-LIFE[/b]
We can never enjoy deliverance from our self-life before we see something of its total corruption. Let us look at the elder son (in the parable in Luke 15), for he illustrates, perhaps better than anyone else in the Bible, the utter rottenness of the self-life.
The younger son in the parable is usually considered the worse of the two boys. But as we look a little more carefully at the elder brother, we will discover that in Gods eyes, he was just as bad, if not worse. True, he did not commit the same sins as his younger brother. But his heart was crooked and self-centered.
[b]Man's total depravity[/b]
The human heart is basically the same in every individual. When the Bible describes the human heart as deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), it refers to every child of Adam. The refinements of civilization, lack of opportunity to commit sin and a sheltered upbringing may perhaps have kept us from falling into the grosser sins that some others have fallen into. But we cannot, on that count, consider ourselves better than they. For if we had had the same pressures they faced, we would have undoubtedly ended up committing the same sins. This may be a humiliating fact for us to acknowledge, but it is true. The sooner we recognize this fact, the sooner we shall experience deliverance. Paul recognized that no good thing dwelt in his flesh (Rom. 7:18). That was his first step to freedom (Rom. 8:2).
Men look on the outward appearance and call some good and others bad. But God Who looks at the heart sees all men in the same condition. The Bible teaches the total depravity of all men. Consider Romans 3:10-12, for example: "There is none righteous, (and just in case we think that is an overstatement, it continues to say), no, not one. There is none that understands, there is no-one who seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable. There is no-one who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-20 is a summing-up of the guilt of all humanity - of the irreligious as well as the religious. In Romans 1:18-32 we have a description of "the younger son"-the externally immoral and godless man. In Romans 2, we have a portrayal of "the elder son" - the religious man who is just as bad a sinner. After having described these two categories of people, the Holy Spirit sums up the case by saying that both groups are alike guilty. There is no difference between one and the other.
Man is indeed totally depraved; and if God does not reach down and do something for him, there is certainly no hope for him.
The elder son (Luke 15:25-32) can be taken to symbolize a Christian worker. If the father in the story is a type of God, it would be legitimate to consider the son as a type of an active Christian - for we see him in the parable coming home after a day's work in his father's fields. Here was no lazy young man, sitting at home and enjoying his father's wealth. Here was one who worked hard for his father, one who apparently loved his father more than his younger brother did - for after all, he did not leave home and waste his father's wealth, like the latter. He was apparently more devoted, but actually, as we shall see, just as selfish as his younger brother. It is the picture of a believer active in the Lord's work and apparently full of devotion to his Lord but still centered in himself.
God created this world with certain laws built into it. If those laws are violated, there will be some form of loss or injury. Consider one law for example: God has ordained that the earth should revolve around the sun. If the earth had a will of its own and decided one day that it would no longer be centered in the sun, but would only revolve around itself, there would be no change of seasons and soon all life on earth would perish. Death would enter in.
In the same way, Adam was created to be centered in God. The day he refused God as his Center and chose to be centered in himself - this is what was implied in his choosing to eat of the tree that God had forbidden - he died, as God had said he would.
There is a lesson here for us: In the measure in which our Christian life and service are centered in ourselves, in that measure we shall experience spiritual death - in spite of our being born again and in spite of our fundamentalism. And all unconsciously, we shall be ministering spiritual death to others too. We may have a reputation as keen and zealous workers for the Father (as the elder son perhaps had), but we may still merit the rebuke of the Lord, "I know your reputation as a live and active (Christian), but you are dead" (Rev. 3:1-LB). This is a tragic but dangerous possibility in Christian work. Many a Christian worker lives on the reputation he has built up for himself. Looked up to by others, he is often unconscious of the fact, that God sees him in an altogether different light. Never having been delivered from self-centeredness himself, he is unable to deliver others even if he preaches beautifully!
And so, a warning is given for all of us in the story of the elder son.
[b]Recognizing the evil within[/b]
God often allows times of pressure to come into our lives to bring up from within us our corrupt self-life, so that we begin to see ourselves as we really are. It is fairly easy for us to consider ourselves spiritual when our circumstances are easy. When we have no problems to tackle, when nobody is irritating us, when things are going smoothly and our co-workers are congenial, we can deceive ourselves concerning the real state of our hearts. But wait till we get a co-worker who irritates us, or a neighbor who annoys us all the time, and the veneer of spirituality disappears. Our self-life will then manifest itself in all its ugliness.
This was what happened to the elder son. When his younger brother was honored, he got upset. No one would ever have thought that this elder son could have behaved so peevishly. He had appeared such a nice person all along. But he hadn't faced pressure like this before. Now, his real nature was manifested. It was not the provocation at that moment that made him evil. No. The provocation merely brought up to the surface what was within all the time.
Amy Carmichael has said, A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted. If bitter water comes out of our lives and our lips, it is because it has always been there. It is not the provocation or the irritation that make us bitter or unspiritual. They only bring out of us what is already within. And so it should make us deeply thankful to God that He allows such times to come upon our lives when we see the corruption of our own natures. If it were not for such occasions, we might never realize that there is a fountain of corruption within us, and that not one good thing dwells in our flesh.
This also teaches us that suppression is not victory. One person may explode in anger in a trying situation, while another, with a little more self-control, in a similar situation, may only boil inwardly, without any steam escaping through his lips! In men's eyes, the second person may have a reputation for meekness. But God Who sees the hearts knows that both men boiled within and considers them both equally bad. The difference in their external conduct was merely a result of different temperaments, which matter nothing to God.
If suppression were victory, then I think salesmen are among the most Christ-like people that I have ever met! No matter how much their customers tax their patience, they still retain a gracious attitude towards them, for the sake of their business - even though they may be boiling within!
No. Suppression is not victory. God does not want us to merely appear delivered and spiritual - but to be actually delivered. Paul said, "It is no longer I, but Christ Who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). This is the point to which God wants to bring us.
Let us look at the characteristics of the self-life in two aspects. First, its attitude to God, and secondly, its attitude to its fellowmen. We see both of these illustrated in the story of the elder son.
[i]to be continued...[/i]
| 2009/4/16 16:28|
| Re: Chapter 1 part 2|
[i]There is much truth in this little section...truth that may hurt as it pulls away any layers of hypocrisy in our own lives. The question to be asked is....is there any self-centeredness in [b]my[/b] life?[/i]
[b]The self-centered persons attitude to God
The attitude of the self-centered life to God and to His service is characterized by a spirit of legalism. Self can try to serve God. It can be very active in such service too - but it is always legalistic service. It seeks a reward for the service it offers to God. "I have served you all these years," the elder son tells the father, "but you never gave me a kid." He had served his father for reward all along, but it had not been evident until now. This moment of pressure brought out the truth.
That is how self serves God - not freely, joyfully and spontaneously, but hoping for a return. The return expected may even be some spiritual blessing from God. But service done with even such a motive is legalistic and unacceptable to God.
The elder son considered his father hard and cruel for not having rewarded his service during all those years. He was like the man who was given one talent, who came up to his master at reckoning time and said, "I've kept your talent safe [without trading it for profit], because I was afraid [you would demand my profits] for you are a hard man to deal with" (Luke 19:21-LB).
Self considers God to be so difficult to please, and so it strives and strives to do God's service and still condemns itself for not having satisfied the requirements of such a demanding God!
That is not the type of service that God expects from any of us. The Bible says, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). In the matter of service, too, God delights in one who serves cheerfully, neither grudgingly nor of necessity. He would rather have no service at all, than reluctant service. When one serves for reward, it is but a short while before he is complaining to God that he is not being blessed sufficiently. The matter becomes worse when someone else is more blessed than him.
Do we ever compare our work and the blessing we receive with that of others? This can only be the result of legalistic service. Jesus once told a parable about some laborers who were employed at different hours of the day by a certain man. At the end of the day the master gave them each a denarius. Those who had worked longest came up to the master and complained saying, "How can you give us the same wages as these other people? We deserve more." These people had served for wages - and when they got what they had agreed for, they complained that others should not be given as much as they (Matt. 20:1-16).
This is exactly what we see in the elder son. He says to his father, "How can you give all this to my younger brother. I am the one who has served you faithfully, not he".
When the Israelites served God grudgingly, He sent them into captivity as He had told them He would: "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart...therefore you will serve your enemies" (Deut. 28:47). God has no pleasure in legalistic service.
Self-centered Christians often serve God in order to keep up an impression of spirituality in the eyes of others. It is not pure and fervent love for Christ that keeps them active in Christian work, but the fear that others will consider them unspiritual if they do nothing. And when such people choose an easy path for themselves and one that will bring them financial gain, they try so hard to convince everybody that God has led them that way! Wherein is the need for such self-justification, unless there be the secret fear that others may now think less of their spirituality! What strain and bondage there is in serving God like that.
What joy and liberty there is in service that springs out of love for Christ! Love is the oil that lubricates the machinery of our lives so that it doesn't creak or groan! Jacob labored for seven years in order to obtain Rachel. And the Bible says that those seven years seemed to him just as a few days, because of his love for her (Gen. 29:20). So will it be with us, when our service for God springs out of love. There will be no strain and no drudgery.
The Bible teaches that Christ's relationship with His church is like that of a husband to his wife. What does a husband expect primarily from his wife? Not her service. He does not marry her, for her to cook his food and wash his clothes, as of first importance. What he desires primarily is her love. Without that, all else is valueless. This is what God seeks from us too.
Another characteristic of the self-centered life is its unteachability. When the elder son was angry and stood outside the house, his father came out and entreated him. But he was stubborn and refused to listen.
Truly, "it is better to be a poor but wise youth than to be an old and foolish king who refuses all advice" (Eccl. 4:13-LB). The one who feels that he knows everything and is therefore unwilling to learn from others is indeed in a sorry state.
The self-centered individual is so sure that he is right that he is unwilling to accept correction. And so he does not like being criticized. Our spirituality is perhaps never so tested as when we are opposed and contradicted.
A.W.Tozer has said that when we are criticized, the only thing that should concern us is whether the criticism is true or false, not whether the person doing the criticizing is a friend or an enemy. Our enemies often tell us more truths about ourselves than our friends do.
An unyielding, headstrong disposition is a sure mark of the self-centered individual. And let us remember that a rigid, self-defensive attitude towards our fellowmen is indicative of a similar attitude in our hearts towards God. If we are unwilling to be taught and corrected by our brethren (even by the youngest among them), it only shows how wrapped-up in ourselves we are, in spite of all our spiritual experiences and our Bible-knowledge.
The father pleads with the elder son, but the latter is hurt and filled with self-pity. The self-centered Christian loves to be coaxed and humored and petted like a little child - even by God. God has to keep on pleading with such persons, but they do not listen easily.
Ultimately, they may find themselves, like the elder son, outside the Father's house altogether.
Do you see how horrible the heart of man is!
[i]to be continued[/i]
| 2009/4/17 11:22|
| Re: Chapter 1 part three|
[b]The self-centered person's attitude to his fellowmen
Jealousy and the love of honor[/b]
When our fellowship with God is strained or broken, it invariably affects our relationships with our fellowmen. When Adam was cut off from the life of God, he immediately lost his love for Eve too. When God asked him whether he had sinned, he accused his wife and said, "Lord, the fault is not mine. It is this woman's."
Jealousy is one of the characteristics of the self-centered life in its attitude to others. The elder son (in the parable) was jealous of his younger brother and this was what made him angry. All these years the elder son had been the undisputed heir in the house. The servants had bowed to him. But now his position is threatened. Someone else is now the center of attraction in the house. And he can't bear to see this.
Jealousy, that green-eyed monster, was quick to rear its ugly head in his heart.
The self-centered life loves to be noticed by others. It loves the praise of men, and is evidently delighted when it is the sole object of admiration. It loves the highest place and draws attention to itself perpetually in one way or another. The self-centered Christian looks for opportunities to tell others of what he has done for the Lord - perhaps in a very pious way but secretly expecting their appreciation. And he is very unhappy and uneasy when someone else succeeds or has done something better than he has.
The self-centered person is easily upset and touchy. He longs to be recognized by others and to be consulted for his opinions. In fact he would be quite offended if he were not consulted in a committee meeting, for example. He has such a high opinion of himself that he loves to talk and talk and talk, thinking that everyone else needs his valuable advice! There are Christians who, once they open their mouth, find it difficult to shut it again; and who keep on talking not realizing that everyone else around is nauseated. An uncontrolled tongue is one of the marks of an un-crucified self-life.
The self-centered Christian does not know how to take the second place graciously and joyfully. He is upset when someone else is given the leadership and he himself has to play second fiddle. The only time that he is willing to take the second place is when he knows that thereby he can step into the first place on the retirement of the leader!
It was said of the German Kaiser that he always wished to be the center of attraction in every place. If he went to a christening, he'd wish he were the baby; if he went to a marriage; he'd wish he were the bride; and if he went to a funeral, he'd wish he were the corpse! Let us not forget that his heart was no worse than ours.
Self-centeredness in a man makes him draw the attention of others to himself, even in the most sacred of activities - whether it be preaching a sermon or even praying to God! A self-centered Christian leader will hinder the spiritual growth of those to whom he ministers - for he draws people to himself and not to Christ. A true man of God will always draw people beyond himself to Christ. This is what God calls each of us to do. But how few actually do this.
[b]Hindering younger workers[/b]
A self-centered Christian leader hinders others below him from becoming leaders, lest his own position be threatened. And so he ministers in such a way as to make himself a necessity to those to whom he ministers. This is utterly contrary to God's will. Oswald Chambers once said that anyone who made himself a necessity to some other soul had got out of God's order. God alone is the only absolute necessity to any human soul. May none of us ever try to take His place.
No one is indispensable in Christ's church. God's work can easily carry on without us. In fact, it can carry on much better without the help of those conceited folk who consider themselves indispensable! We must recognize this fact constantly. I once read of a prescription to humble the soul of anyone who considered himself indispensable! It was suggested that he fill a bucket with water and put his hand in it up to his wrist - and then pull it out. The hole that remains in the water will be a measure of how much he will be missed when he is gone!! Our gifts are useful to the church; but no-one is indispensable.
We must be willing to withdraw into the background anytime God calls us to. But the self-centered Christian worker will never accept that. He will want to hold on to his position for as long as possible. Many such "Christian leaders" are rotting away on their "thrones" today, hindering the work of God. They do not know what it is to fade graciously into the background and let someone else take their place.
You've probably heard the saying that success without a successor is a failure. Jesus recognized this and trained people to carry on His work. In 3½ years He had trained others to take over the leadership of His work. What an example for us to follow!
Paul recognized the necessity of training other people to carry on the work. In 2 Timothy 2:2, he told Timothy, What I have committed to you. I want you to pass on to other people who will in turn be able to train others (the fourth generation)" (Paraphrase). What Paul was saying in effect was, "You must ensure that you commit this treasure to others. Don't ever hinder people younger than you, from coming up." Even businessmen recognize the principle that success without a successor is a failure. But many Christian leaders havent recognized it. Truly, "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light."
It is indeed nothing but self-centeredness that makes a man jealous of someone younger who can do things better than he can. Cain was jealous of the fact that God had accepted Abel but rejected him. If Abel had been older than him, that might have been tolerable. But it was the awful fact that his younger brother was better than him that made him furious enough to slay Abel.
We see the same in the case of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph received divine revelations, and that made all his ten older brothers green with jealousy so jealous that they wanted to kill him.
King Saul was jealous of young David, because the women sang, "Saul has slain thousands while David has slain ten thousands." From that day he determined to kill him. Man's history - and alas, the history of the Christian church too - is filled with the same story over and over again.
Likewise, the elderly Pharisees were jealous of the popularity of the young Jesus of Nazareth and determined to get him crucified, at any cost.
On the other hand, what a refreshing contrast it is to look at a man like Barnabas in the New Testament. He was a senior worker who took the newly-converted Paul under his wing, when no one else would accept Paul. Barnabas brought him to the church in Antioch and encouraged him. In Acts chapter 13, we read that Barnabas and Paul went out together on a missionary journey. And when Barnabas saw that God was calling this junior worker, Paul, to a larger ministry than his own, he willingly stepped back and graciously faded into the background. And the phrase, "Barnabas and Paul" changes almost unnoticed to "Paul and Barnabas" in the book of Acts. The Christian church suffers today, because there are few like Barnabas who know what it is to step back and let another be honored. We are willing to step back in matters of no importance. When passing through a door, for example, we don't mind stepping back and permitting another to go through first. But in the things that matter - such as position and leadership in the Christian church - we are not so ready to step back. Our self-life is so deceitful. We can have a false humility in things that don't count. But it is in important matters that we see ourselves as we really are.
The self-centered person has an exalted opinion of himself. The elder son said, "All these years I've worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to." He was proud of his obedient service to his father.
Pride arises in our hearts, not because of our virtues and our successes alone, but also because we feel that others around us have not done as well as we. Pride is always the result of a comparison of oneself with others. If others around us were obviously better than us, we would never feel proud. If there had been another brother in this story who had served the father more faithfully than the elder son the latter could not have felt proud at all in the presence of the other. But here, he felt, he could compare himself favorably with his younger brother. "I have served you faithfully," he tells his father, "but look at this younger son of yours. What has he done? He has wasted his money on harlots."
It was through pride that Lucifer fell. He compared himself with the other angels and felt that he was wiser, more beautiful and more exalted than them all. He was the anointed cherub, but he became the Devil. Since then, many others have lost God's anointing in the same manner. You may be like an angel, but pride can turn you into a devil in a moment.
This was the disease that the Pharisees were plagued with. Jesus portrayed them accurately in the parable where the Pharisee prays, "Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men. I fast and pray and tithe etc., - ad nauseam. The self-life is like that. Sometimes, however, it can be more subtle - as in the case of the Sunday-School teacher who, after teaching this parable to her class, prayed, "Lord, we thank Thee that we are not like that Pharisee." We laugh at that because we imagine that we are not like that Sunday-school teacher!! Like the layers of an onion, spiritual pride is deeply and subtly entrenched within us even at times cloaked in a false humility which is the worst form of pride!
The self-centered Christian worker is not necessarily one who goes about with an overbearing attitude. He has plenty of false humility on the exterior, a pious lowly appearance and "humble" talk. But inwardly, he compares himself with others and glories in his goodness and greatness and "humility"!
[b]Condemnation of others[/b]
Such comparison of oneself with others finally leads to condemnation of others - sometimes with harsh sarcastic expressions. Listen to what the elder son tells his father: "This younger son of yours has wasted your money on harlots." Who had given him that information? No one. He had merely assumed the worst. When you hate someone, it is easy to believe the worst possible things concerning him. How the elder son delighted to expose his younger brother's faults instead of covering them.
Do we see only the faults in other people? Have we secretly delighted in seeing another fall - particularly if he was one whom we did not like? Our hearts are so wicked that when other people fall, it does not grieve us entirely. On the contrary we are slightly pleased, for it shows us up as better men. Such an attitude is characteristic of a self-centered person.
Do we judge the motives of others? The self-centered person sees someone doing something and says to himself, "I know why he's doing that," and proceeds to impute some carnal motive to the action. How much the self-life takes upon itself - even to sit upon the throne of God (for after all, it is God alone who can judge the motives of others). Paul warns us, "Be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether someone is a good servant or not. When the Lord comes, He will turn on the light so that everyone can see exactly what each one of us is really like, deep down in our hearts. Then everyone will know why (the motive with which) we have been doing the Lord's work" (1 Cor. 4:5-LB). Only when the Lord returns (and not till then) will we know the real motives of each person.
The self-centered person does not have any real love for his fellowmen and this is the root cause of his hard attitude towards them. He may pretend to show much love, but lacks genuine Christ-like love. The elder son had never gone to his father even once in all those years, volunteering to go and search for his lost brother. He did not care whether his brother was dead or alive. All he was interested in was to make merry with his friends (v. 29). So long as he himself was happy, it did not matter to him what happened to others.
Are we wrapped up in ourselves like that? What is our attitude to backsliders? It is easier to love an unbeliever than a backslider. But if we truly have the compassion of Christ, we shall love both. The younger son in this story is a picture of a backslider. It's easy to condemn him. It is more difficult to love him and help him. The Bible says, "If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path" (Gal. 6:1-LB). And again, "If you see a Christian sinning... you should ask God to forgive him and God will give him life" (1 John 5:16-LB). Do we ever pray like that for those who have fallen? No. Why not? Because we are so centered in ourselves.
When we seek for a deeper life and a closer walk with God, let us never forget that a deeper life should make us more outgoing. God does not grant us a closer walk with Him merely for us to "make merry with our friends." It is so easy for us to get into our little holy huddles (with those who believe as we do) and to think of our enjoyment alone - all the time looking down on those who have not had our "deeper life experience." That is not the deeper life at all. That is self-centeredness under the guise of spirituality; and it is an abomination to God.
Let us not be deceived. If we are only interested in "making merry" (even though it be spiritual merry-making) with other members of our "spiritual clique," and are unable to fellowship with believers who do not see eye-to-eye with us, then we are indeed in a state of spiritual stagnation. The Bible says, "He who does not love his brother is abiding in death" (1 John 3:14). The word translated "love" in this verse is the Greek word agapao, which means to value, to feel a concern for, to be faithful to, and to delight in. And so this verse really means that if we do not value our brothers and sisters (even those in other denominations than our own) if we do not feel a concern for them, if we are not faithful to them and if we do not delight in them, then, in spite of all our Bible-knowledge and our spiritual experiences, we are in a state of spiritual death.
[b]The primary ministry of the Holy Spirit[/b]
We may be young or old, holding any doctrine of `holiness', with any number of experiences and blessings to our credit, but self dies hard, I'll tell you that. We must know what it is to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus if we are to live in victory over self. There is no other way. We shall come to that in greater detail in the ensuing chapters.
But let us remember this meanwhile, that the Holy Spirit has come to help us put our self-centered life to death. The Bible says, "We naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite to the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has his way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces (our self-life and the Holy Spirit) are constantly fighting each other to win control over us" (Gal. 5:17-LB).
In these days, particularly, when many Christians are confused about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it is good for us to bear in mind that He has come as a Helper to help us put to death the deeds of the flesh (the self-life). He does many other things in and through us. Let us not despise any of them. But if we do not allow Him to put our self-life to death, then all our other experiences are valueless.
The Bible says, "If you live after the flesh, you will die, but if you through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh (and we've just seen some of the deeds of the flesh in this chapter), you will live - for as many as are led by the Spirit (in this way) are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:13,14). Verse 14 is often quoted out of context and made to refer to the Spirit's guidance in relation to where we are to go or what we are to do. But it is really connected with the previous verse and refers to the Holy Spirit leading us to put to death our self-centered desires. The verse also teaches that this is the identifying mark of the sons of God.
In the parable in Luke 15, we notice that the father's love was the same for both his sons. He did not love the elder son any less than the younger. He came out of his house for both his sons. When his younger son came home, he went out of the house to welcome him, and when his elder son refused to come into the house, he went out to invite him in too. In fact he even tells him, "Son, you are ever with me and all that I have is yours." Do you see the largeness of God's heart even towards self-centered individuals? He loves us and wants to give us all that He has. But He has to deliver us from our self-centeredness first.
God does not love the harlot more than the self-righteous Pharisee. He loves both equally and He gave His Son to die for both. But the response in the hearts of the two may be different; and that is what makes the difference ultimately in the Father's house. The younger son who was once away from the father's house is now sitting at the table enjoying his father's riches. The elder son who had been inside all along is now outside.
Truly, as the Lord said, many who are first now will be last in eternity, and many who are last here will be first there. It is only as we are willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge our corruption and respond wholeheartedly to the Father's love, that we shall be able to feast with Him at His table.
May the Lord speak to our hearts.
to be continued[/i]
| 2009/4/17 17:07|
| Re: Chapter 2 part 1|
THE PATHWAY TO THE CHRIST-LIFE
(1) BEING BROKEN[/b]
One of the verses which clearly describes the pathway that leads us out of our self-life into the full beauty of the Christ-life, is Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. But it is no longer I that live but Christ Who lives in me." To us, this may be merely a good verse to be memorized or to get three points for a sermon from! But to the Apostle Paul who wrote it, it described his experience. He had exchanged the ashes of his self-life for the beauty of Christ's own Divine life. And this had become possible for him, because he had accepted death to himself.
It is only when the `I' (the self-life) is crucified that Christ can manifest Himself in His glory within us. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we read that the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another. This is the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit. Day by day, and year by year, the Spirit of God seeks to conform us increasingly to the likeness of Christ. But the pathway from each step of glory to the next is via the cross. If we through the Spirit, put to death our self-life, we shall know the abundance of Christ's life, not otherwise.
We today, can no longer go freely to the tree of life as Adam could, before He fell. In Genesis 3:24, we read that God placed a flaming sword in front of the tree of life. And so, before we can partake of this tree, the flaming sword has to fall upon and slay our self-life. There is no other way to reach the life of God. The way of the cross is the only way to fullness of life. This truth is taught in plain words as well as through symbols, throughout the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.
The cross breaks us as well as empties us. We shall consider these two aspects of the cross in this chapter and the next.
[b]Jacob's two meetings with God[/b]
Jacob was a man who learnt experimentally what it meant to be broken. We can learn many truths from his life.
One excellent thing about the Bible is that it is absolutely honest in recording the faults and failings of its greatest men. The Scriptures do not portray marble saints. We see in the Word of God, men and women exactly as they were - warts and all. This is why the biographies of Biblical characters are a greater encouragement to us than many biographies written in our day (which invariably hide the failings of the men they describe, and present them as super-saints).
Jacob was a man of like passions as we are. He was called of God, no doubt, and eternally predestined to be a chosen vessel for the working out of the Divine purposes. But he had a corrupt and deceitful heart, just like ours. God calls ordinary people to His service - not supermen. Very often, He calls the base and the despised and the weak of the world, to fulfill His purposes. He puts no premium whatever on human cleverness and ability in His service.
Jacob must have met with God many times in his life. But in the record given us in Genesis, there are two meetings with God that stand out. The first at Bethel, where he dreamt of a ladder reaching up to Heaven, and where he said, "This is the house of God" (Gen. 28:10-22). The second at Peniel, where he wrestled with God and where he said, "I have seen God face to face" (Gen. 32:24-32). Between these two incidents lay twenty years.
At Bethel, we read, he stopped to camp, when the sun had set (Gen. 28:11). That of course is only a statement indicating the time of day at which Jacob arrived at Bethel. But as we read the subsequent record of Jacob's life (in the next four chapters), we find that the sun had indeed set upon his life. And during the twenty years that followed this incident, the darkness grew deeper and deeper. But that was not the end of the story.
At Peniel, he met with God again. And there, it is recorded, immediately after his meeting with God, that the sun rose, and he journeyed on (Gen. 32:31). Again a geographical fact - but true of Jacob's life as well. He was a different man from that day. The darkness passed away and the light of God shone upon his life.
God has given us the record of Jacob's darkness to show us that he was an ordinary man. He experienced the same darkness that we do. But he experienced a sunrise as well. And this encourages us to believe that no matter how great the darkness of our self-life, we can yet see the rising of the sun, if we will follow in Jacob's footsteps at Peniel.
Let us then look at Jacob's life - first when the sun had set on him; and secondly when the sun rose.
[b]The sun sets[/b]
Jacob came out of his mother's womb, grabbing his brother's leg. "So they called him Jacob (meaning Grabber)" (Gen. 25:26-LB). And that is exactly what he was. He was always grabbing something from someone for himself. He grabbed the birthright from his brother and later the blessing from his father. He grabbed Rachel from her father Laban, and later grabbed Laban's property as well.
Jacob was a bargainer too. He bargained with Esau for the birthright. And later, he bargained with Laban for Rachel. At Bethel, we find him even bargaining with God.
Jacob was also a deceiver. When he wanted his father's blessing, he was prepared to deceive his father in order to get it. He was even prepared to take the Name of God in telling the lie. When Isaac asks him how he got the meat so quickly, he replies, "The Lord brought it to me" (Gen. 27:20). How lightly he could even take the Lords Name and tell a lie! He certainly had no fear of God.
Such was Jacob's nature - grabbing, bargaining and deceiving - looking after his own earthly interests all the time. He was very much a child of Adam.
[b]Coming short of God's calling[/b]
Finally, at Bethel, the sun set upon his life. There, in a dream, God gave Jacob a revelation of His great and glorious purpose for his life. He gave Jacob the same promises that he had given Abraham. But how does Jacob respond? He says, in effect, "Lord, I'm not so interested in all those spiritual blessings. If you'll only protect me from harm and danger and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, I'll be quite happy. I'll give you one-tenth of my income and acknowledge you as my God" (Gen. 28:20-22).
Many Christians are just like that. God calls them to something great and glorious and they settle for something far, far inferior. God calls them to expend their energies in His work, but they waste their lives making money and seeking honor in this world. How few there are among God's people who recognize their high calling! One such was a man of God who told his son, "I should not like it, if you were meant by God to be a missionary, that you drivel down to becoming a king or a millionaire. What are your kings and nobles compared with the dignity of winning souls to Christ."
God's purpose for us - as for Jacob - extends far beyond mere physical blessings. His purpose is basically twofold - first that we might manifest the life of Christ to others; and secondly, that we might minister that life to others. This is the calling of the Christian - and there can be no greater calling on earth. Yet many Christians like Jacob, don't recognize this - even some who are in Christian work. God gives them some spiritual gift or ability and soon they are taken up with that, and go off on a tangent, away from the central purpose of God for their lives. Like a child who is taken up with a toy, they are taken up with their gift. It fills their whole vision and they never see anything beyond. How cleverly Satan has sidetracked them without their even realizing it!
Jacob could not take in the vastness of God's purpose for his life. He was satisfied with toys, when God wanted him to have heavenly riches. The result of such a narrow vision was that God's purposes for Jacob's life were delayed. God had to wait twenty years, before Jacob was willing to take his mind away from the things of the world and set it on things above. How many Christians are hindering and delaying God's glorious purposes for their lives, because of the narrowness of their vision, because they are taken up with things lesser than God's highest.
Paul was a different man. He could say at the end of his life that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. On the Damascus Road, God had given him a vision of the great ministry He had for him - to open the blind eyes of people and to deliver them from Satan's power through the message of the gospel (Acts 26:16-19). And Paul never got bogged down with social work or anything lesser than what God had called him to.
But Jacob did not respond like that, when God spoke to him. And so the sun set on his life, and things grew darker and darker. But the wonderful thing is that God did not let Jacob go. God had promised him at Bethel, "I will not leave you until I have fulfilled My promises to you;" and God kept His word. This is what encourages us - the perseverance of God with His stubborn children.
In order to fulfill His promises to Jacob, God had to discipline him severely. And so we see from this point in the story up to the second meeting at Peniel, twenty years of Divine chastening in Jacob's life in order that Jacob might come to the point where he would accept God's highest for his life.
First of all, God placed Jacob alongside another shrewd person. Laban was just as smart as Jacob, and as they lived together and came into close contact with each other, plenty of friction was generated and some of Jacob's rough edges were rubbed off. God knows whom to place us with in order to purge us of our crookedness. God measures out His disciplines to us, according to our individual need; and He makes all things work together for our good, even when He places us alongside someone like Laban - provided we don't rebel against God's providences. Many people have learnt sanctification through God leading them to marry someone just like themselves. "The sparks fly when iron strikes iron" (Prov. 27:17-LB) - but it sharpens both pieces of iron!
Jacob, as last, begins to reap what he had sown. All his life he had been cheating others. Now he gets cheated himself. He goes through his wedding ceremony, thinking he is marrying Rachel, but discovers the next morning that he has actually married Leah! He had met his match in Laban! He now gets a taste himself of the bitter medicine that he had been doling out to others. God does not discipline without a purpose or arbitrarily. He knows what dosage each person needs and gives the medicine accordingly. With the merciful, God shows Himself merciful; and with the stubborn, He shows Himself stubborn (Psa. 18:25). He knows how to deal with every Jacob.
Jacob's problems were not yet over. After fourteen years of hard work, he obtained Rachel, only to discover that she was barren. God was merciful and finally gave Jacob a child through her, but even this brings no change in Jacob. He still cannot trust God, but continues to scheme.
He next plans to rob Laban of his property. Jacob was clever. He knew all the tricks of the trade, and he knew how to get the best of Laban's cattle. How long God had to wait before Jacob learned to trust in Him and forsake his own human ingenuity. It is the same problem that God has with many of His children today. He is not impressed by our cleverness. He waits for us to see the folly of all that, before He can use us to fulfill His will.
We find Jacob finally scheming to run away from Laban. He is tired of living with his father-in-law and wants to go away. But when he does run away, he finds that he has only jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. He hears that Esau is approaching him with a large army and that Laban is pursuing him from the rear. The one who tries to escape God's disciplines finds that it is not an easy task. If Jacob had left the matter in God's hands, God would have released him from Laban in His own way. But Jacob had not learned to trust God yet.
Finding himself hedged in and his life in danger, Jacob now begins to pray. He is quick to remind God of His promises made at Bethel (Gen. 32:9-12). But prayer alone is not sufficient for Jacob. He has to scheme too. He thinks up a clever plan of saving part of his company at least - just in case God lets him down. How very much like those who talk of trusting God and "living by faith", but all the time have some earthly source of security to fall back upon just in case faith in God alone does not work! Jacob was indeed very much like us.
And how often we have seen, as Jacob realized when he met Esau, that our fears were unfounded, that there was no need to have schemed and worried and doubted God. Esau's heart was in God's hands, and God could turn it (as Proverbs 21:1 says) in whichever direction He chose. "When a man is trying to please God, God makes even his worst enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7-LB). God had told Jacob clearly that He would take care of him. But Jacob could not believe God's promise.
Jacob had twenty long and painful years of chastening under God's hand. We are not given all the details of what Jacob underwent - but he must have had a very rough time. It must have been physically exhausting too - working and sleeping out in the open, exposed to the sun and the dew and the rain. But all this discipline was necessary, in order to shatter Jacob's self-sufficiency and self-confidence. Only in later years, when he looked back, would he be able to appreciate what God took him through - not now. "God's correction is always right and for our best good, that we may share His holiness. (But) being punished isn't enjoyable while it is happening - it hurts! But afterwards, we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character" (Heb. 12:10, 11-LB). As the well-known hymn says:
[i]"With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow were lustred by His love:
I'll bless the Hand that guided, I'll bless the Heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land."[/i]
| 2009/4/18 9:56|
| Re: Chapter two part two|
[b]The sun rises[/b]
We have seen how the sun set upon Jacob's life and how the darkness deepened through the ensuing twenty years. He was indeed an ordinary man just like us. And on such a man the sun rose one day. God met with him a second time and changed him into an "Israel" - a prince of God.
Only God could have seen any good in such a useless person as Jacob, and followed after him patiently, without giving up hope. There we see the grace and greatness of our God. And this is what encourages us. In spite of all our self-centeredness, God does not throw us on the scrap-heap. He is patient with us.
We may not believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but we cannot but believe in the perseverance of God. "I will not leave you until I have done that which I have promised," was His promise to Jacob at Bethel - and His promise to us. How wonderful and how humiliating it is to know the longsuffering of God in His dealings with us. If He were not like that, none of us would have any hope.
At Peniel, God dealt a final blow to Jacob. He had been disciplining Jacob and breaking him, bit by bit, over the previous twenty years. But now the time had come to finish the work with one final blow. If God had not done that here, it might have taken twenty more years for the sun to rise on Jacob. God knows the right time to shatter our self-confidence once-and-for-all.
[b]Blessed by God[/b]
And when God finally broke Jacob, then he was truly blessed. The record reads, "God blessed Jacob there" (Gen. 32:29). The word "bless" is perhaps the most frequently used word in the prayers of Christians. But few understand its real meaning.
What is blessing? What was the blessing Jacob got? It is described in verse 28 as "power with God and power with men. This is the blessing that we all need and that we should be seeking for. And this alone can make the sun to rise upon our lives. Nothing less than this is what God desires to give His people. Jesus referred to this blessing when He asked His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. He said, "When the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you shall receive power" (Acts 1:8) - power with God and power with men. Jacobs would be transformed by the Spirits power into Israels. This was what made the sun to rise upon Peter's life and upon the lives of the other disciples that day in the upper room at Jerusalem.
And this alone can provide the answer to the crookedness of our self-life. It is not a question of reformation or of good resolutions or even of our determination. It is a question of the Holy Spirit possessing us fully and governing and ruling our lives.
But where does the Spirit lead us? Always to the cross. It is only when we are crucified, that Christ can live in us in His fullness, It was when Jesus was baptized, buried under the waters - symbolically accepting death to Himself - that the Holy Spirit came upon Him (Matt. 3:16). It was when Jacob was broken that he was blessed. It was only after Moses self-confidence had been shattered through 40 years of looking after sheep, that he was ready to deliver Israel. The rock had to be smitten before the living waters could flow. The Israelites had to go through the River Jordan (symbolizing death and burial) before they could enter Canaan (symbolizing life in the fullness of the Spirit). Gideons army had to break their pitchers before the light inside was visible. The alabaster vial had to be broken before the odor of the ointment could fill the house. Peters boastful self-confidence had to be shattered before he was ready for Pentecost. We find this truth throughout Scripture.
It would be dangerous for God to empower an unbroken man. It would be like giving a sharp knife to a 6-month old baby, or like handling 20,000 volts of electricity without proper insulation. God is careful. He does not give the power of His Spirit to those in whom self is still unbroken. And He removes His power from a man when he ceases to be broken.
Jacob was now blessed by God Himself. Earlier, Isaac had laid his hands on Jacob and blessed him, when Jacob brought him the venison (Gen. 27:23). But that had brought no change in Jacob's life. The real blessing came at Peniel. And this is the lesson we need to learn too. No man can ever give us this blessing. A man - even a saintly man like Isaac - may lay his empty hands on our empty heads and pray for us. Yet we may get nothing. Only God can really empower us. When Isaac put his hands on Jacob's head, the sun merely set on Jacob's life. But when God blessed him, the sun rose! Power belongs to God and He is the only one who can ever give it to us.
The record says, "God blessed Jacob there" (Gen. 32:29) - there, where Jacob fulfilled certain conditions and came to a certain point in his life. There were reasons why God blessed Jacob there - at Peniel.
[b]Alone with God[/b]
First of all, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was alone with God. He sent everyone else away and was alone (Gen. 32:24). 20th century believers find it difficult to spend much time alone with God. The spirit of the jet-age has got into most of us, and we are in a perpetual state of busyness. The trouble is not with our temperament or our culture. We just don't have our priorities right - that's all.
Jesus once said that the one thing needful for a believer was to sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:42). But we don't believe that any longer and so suffer the disastrous consequences of disregarding Jesus' words. If we are always busy with our various activities and do not know what it is to get alone with God in fasting and prayer, we shall certainly not know God's power or blessing - His real power, I mean, not the cheap counterfeits of which many are boasting.
[b]Broken by God[/b]
Secondly, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was broken completely. At Peniel, a Man wrestled with Jacob. God had been wrestling with Jacob for twenty years, but Jacob had refused to yield. God had tried to show him how everything he had put his hand to had gone wrong, despite his cleverness and his planning. But Jacob was still stubborn. Finally God struck Jacob's hip-socket so that his thigh was dislocated (v. 25). The thigh is the strongest part of the body, and that was the part that God struck.
The strong points in our life are what God seeks to shatter. Simon Peter had once thought that his strong point spiritually, was his courage. Even if everyone else denied the Lord, he would never do so. And so God had to break him there. Peter denied the Lord before any of the others did, and not just once but thrice, and that too when questioned by a weak little servant-girl! That was enough to shatter Peter. In the physical realm, Peter's strong point was fishing. If there was one thing he was an expert at, it was fishing. And so God broke him at that point as well. Peter fishes all night and catches nothing. And that happened not just once but twice (Luke 5:5; John 21:3). God broke him at his strongest points to teach him his total inability to serve God.
It took 3½ years for the disciples to learn, that without Christ they could do nothing. It takes even longer for some of us. But it is only in the measure in which we learn the truth of those words that we can know God's power. When Peter was shattered at his strongest points - when he had been struck by God in his "thigh" - then he was ready for Pentecost.
Moses' strong point was his leadership potential, his eloquence and his training in the best academies of Egypt. He thought he was well qualified to be the leader of the Israelites (Acts 7:25). But God did not stand by him until, forty years later, shattered in his strongest points, he said, "Lord, I'm not the person for a job like that ...I'm not a good speaker ...please send someone else" (Exod. 3:11; 4:10,13-LB). Then God took him up and used him mightily. God has to wait till our self-sufficiency and our self-confidence are shattered, and we are broken and no longer think highly of ourselves or our capabilities. Then He can commit Himself to us unreservedly.
[b]Hungry for God[/b]
Thirdly, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was earnest and hungry for God. "I will not leave you", he cries out, "until you bless me" (v. 26). How God had waited for twenty long years to hear those words from Jacob. He, who had spent his life grabbing the birthright, women, money and property, now lets go of them all and grabs hold of God. This was the point towards which God had been working in Jacob's life all along. It must have delighted God's heart when Jacob at last lost sight of the temporal things of earth and longed and thirsted for God Himself and for His blessing. We are told in Hosea 12:4, that Jacob wept and pleaded for a blessing that night at Peniel. What a different man he was that night compared with his earlier years when he desired only the things of this world. God's dealings with him at last bore fruit!
Before God blessed Jacob fully, He tested Jacob's earnestness. He said to Jacob, "Let me go," testing whether Jacob would be satisfied with what he had got or whether he would yearn for more. It was just as Elijah tested Elisha in later years. Elijah said, "Let me go," again and again, but Elisha refused to be shaken off - and so got a double portion of Elijah's spirit (2 Kings 2). Jesus, likewise, tested the two disciples walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:15-31). When they reached their house, Jesus acted as though He would go further. But the two disciples would not let Him go - and they got a blessing as a result.
God tests us too. He can never bless a man fully until the man is in dead earnest for God's best. We need to thirst like Jacob, saying, "Lord, there is more to the Christian life than I've experienced thus far. I'm not satisfied. I want all Thy fullness at any cost." When we come to that point, it is but a short step to the fullness of God's blessing.
Notice in the incident at Peniel, that it was when Jacob was in a state of weakness (after his thigh had been dislocated), that he said, "I will not let you go, God." God could easily have left him and gone, but He didn't. For it is when a man is most weak in himself that he has greatest power with God. As the Apostle Paul said, "I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities...for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9,10-LB). God's power is most effectively demonstrated in human weakness.
And so with Jacob, it is when he is defeated, broken and utterly weak, that God tells him, "You have now prevailed." One would think that God should have said, "You have at last been defeated." But no. The word is, "You have prevailed. You shall henceforth have power with God and with men" (v. 28). We prevail, when God has shattered us of our own strength and self-sufficiency - as the words of the hymn say, "Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free." This is the glorious paradox of the Christian life.
If ever there was a picture of weakness, surely it is seen in a man hanging helplessly on a cross. Beaten and buffeted and finally nailed to the cross, Christ died as a weak and exhausted man. But there the power of God was displayed in the overthrow of the Devil and the deliverance of men (Heb. 2:14; Col. 2:14,15). "Christ crucified is the power of God," Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "He was crucified in weakness, but He lives by the power of God. We also are weak with Him, but shall live with Him by the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:23,24; 2 Cor. 13:4). The Corinthian Christians were mistaking the gift of tongues for evidence of being endued with God's power, and so Paul had to correct their error. In essence he tells them, "Brethren, the power of God is not seen in the gift of tongues. Thank God if you have that gift. But don't make any mistake. The power of God is manifested only in and via the cross. It is in human weakness that the might of God is seen."
I remember hearing a man of God saying how God showed him the secret of spiritual power. He had been seeking God for some spectacular manifestation for some time. Finally the Lord asked him, How did you receive the forgiveness of your sins? He replied, Lord, I recognized that I was the greatest sinner on earth and You forgave me freely. Then the Lord said to him, Now recognize that you are the weakest man on earth and you will have My power. Thus he began to experience Gods power in his life.
The way of the cross is the way of power. In the measure in which we walk that pathway we shall have God's power in our life, and people will be blessed through our life and our ministry. When the five loaves are broken, then and not until then, will the multitude be fed.
[b]Honest with God[/b]
Finally, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was honest with God. God asks him, "What is your name?" Twenty years earlier, when his father had asked him the same question, he had lied and said, "I am Esau" (Gen. 27:19). But now he is honest. He says, "Lord, I am Jacob" - or in other words, "Lord, I am a grabber, a deceiver and a bargainer." There was no guile in Jacob now. And so God could bless him.
Years later, when Jesus looked at Nathaniel, you remember what He said: "Behold an Israelite - a true Israel, a genuine prince of God - in whom there is no `Jacob', no guile" (John 1:47). This is what God waits to see in us too. Only then can He empower us.
God blessed Jacob there - when he was honest, when he did not want to pretend any more, when he confessed, "Lord I'm a hypocrite. There is shame and pretense in my life." I tell you, it takes real brokenness for a man to acknowledge that from the depths of his heart. Many Christian leaders say words like that with false humility - to gain a reputation for being humble. I am not referring to that type of abomination. What I mean is an honesty that comes out of a truly broken and contrite heart. That is costly. There is so much guile in all of us. May God have mercy on us for pretending to be so sanctified when we are not. Let us covet sincerity and honesty and openness with all of our hearts, and then there will be no limit to God's blessing upon our lives.
[b]The ascending sun[/b]
Jacob was broken and thereby he became Israel. The sun rose on his life at last. This did not however, mean that Jacob had become perfect. There is no once-for-all experience that guarantees perfection. God had to discipline him further, for he still had plenty to learn. In Genesis chapters 33 and 34, we read of some of Jacob's disobediences and blunders.
But the sun had risen on his life and he had entered into a new spiritual plane. The light had to increase in its brightness, no doubt, but that would come as the sun continued to ascend in the sky to its noon-day position. The Bible says, "The path of the just (the justified man) is like the shining light (of the sun) that shines more and more (from sunrise onwards) unto the perfect (noon) day" (Prov. 4:18).
So it was with Jacob and so it must be with us. If we submit to God's dealings with us, as Jacob finally did, the light of God will continuously increase upon our lives. And as it does so, the shadow of our self-life will continue to decrease until finally when the sun is overhead (when Christ returns), the shadows will disappear altogether and Christ will be all in all.
What was Jacob's testimony in later years, about his Peniel experience? He did not keep telling everyone that on such-and-such a date he had received a second blessing. No. His testimony was something quite different. In Hebrews chapter 11, we are given an inkling as to what Jacob's testimony was. There, we are given a record of some of the exploits of great men of faith in the Old Testament - shutting lions' mouths, raising the dead etc., Jacob's name appears in the list too - and what do you think is recorded of him? "He worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff" (v. 21). It looks quite incongruous to include something like that in a chapter full of spectacular events!
What Jacob did, certainly does not look like a "miracle of faith." But it was. It was perhaps a greater miracle than the others miracles recorded in the chapter. The staff had become necessary to Jacob, because his thigh had been dislocated at Peniel. Leaning upon that staff, he would always remember the miracle that God had wrought in his life, in breaking his stubborn self-will. His leaning upon his staff now symbolized his helpless, moment-by-moment dependence on his God. He worshipped God now as a broken man. He gloried in his weakness and his infirmity - and that was his daily testimony. So it was with the Apostle Paul too. And so it has been with the great men and women of God in all ages. They rejoiced in their limitations and not in their achievements. What a lesson for proud, self-confident 20th-century Christians!
Towards the end of his life, we see Jacob as a prophet. He prophesies concerning the future of his descendants (Gen. 49). Only a man who has been under God's hand and who has submitted to the Divine disciplines is qualified to prophesy. Jacob had learnt through experience. He was no seminary-qualified theoretician. He had been through the grill and qualified in God's University. He knew the secret counsels of God. Truly he was a prince of God. What a wonderful thing it is to be purged by God. What fruitfulness it results in!
Notice finally, a word of encouragement that runs through the Bible. God calls Himself, "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (not "Israel," but "Jacob")." This is wonderful indeed! He is the God of Jacob. He has linked His Name with the name of Jacob, the grabber and the deceiver. This is our encouragement. Our God is the God of the man with the warped personality. He is the God of the woman with the difficult temperament. What meaning there is in the psalmist's words, "The God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psa. 46:7,11). He is not only the Lord of Hosts, but also the God of Jacob. Praise be to His Name!
What God has begun in us He will complete. As perfect as was the work of the Father in creation and as perfect as was the work of the Son in our redemption, so perfect will the work of the Holy Spirit be in our sanctification. God is faithful.
"He Who began the good work within [us] will keep right on helping [us] grow in grace until His task within [us] is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns" (Phil. 1:6-LB). He will complete His work in us, as He completed His work in Jacob. But we must respond as Jacob did at Peniel. If however we do not cooperate with Him, but frustrate His workings in us, we shall ultimately stand before Him with the tragedy of a wasted, fruitless life. God wants us to be fruitful, but He won't compel us. He wants to transform us into the likeness of Christ, but He will never override our free-will.
The pathway to the Christ-life is via the cross - being broken thereon. What power is released when an atom is broken! What power can be released when a child of God is broken in God's Hand!
May the Lord teach us this lesson and write it deeply upon our hearts.
[i]to be continued[/i]
| 2009/4/20 13:20|
| Re: Beauty for Ashes - The Christ-life for the Self-life |
Have appreciated you posting this.
I was caught by the subtitles in your last entry and juggling them around. Seems different seasons of our walks would cause us to change the order of these 5 to fit the situations in our lives.
[b]Alone with God
Broken by God
Hungry for God
Honest with God
Blessed by God[/b]
I'd like to keep these 5 subtitles seperate, just to see where I'm at from day to day.
Thank you again.
| 2009/4/20 16:05|
| Re: |
Sister Joy, I've appreciated this, also! Something that really struck home with me in your latest post in this series is this:~
"God tests us too. He can never bless a man fully until the man is in dead earnest for God's best. We need to thirst like Jacob, saying, "Lord, there is more to the Christian life than I've experienced thus far. I'm not satisfied. I want all Thy fullness at any cost." When we come to that point, it is but a short step to the fullness of God's blessing."
These are truly great posts!
| 2009/4/20 16:27|
| Re: |
Thank you to both of you for sharing how this thread has blessed you. :-) And amen to the nuggets that you have pulled out from it. :)
| 2009/4/20 16:41|
| Re: |
THE PATHWAY TO THE CHRIST-LIFE
(2) BEING EMPTIED[/b]
The way of the cross involves not only being broken but also being emptied.
It is no longer I", said Paul. He had allowed himself to be emptied of the I", so that Christ might live and rule in him. Even Jesus emptied Himself when He came down from the Throne of God to the awful depths of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). The cross will mean the same in our lives as it did to Jesus and to Paul.
We shall look at the life of Abraham in this chapter, to see what it means to be emptied. In James 2:23, Abraham is called the friend of God". He was a type of those who, in the New Testament age, would be called the friends of God. Jesus told His disciples, just before He went to the cross, "You are My friends if you obey Me (as Abraham did). I no longer call you slaves, for a master does not confide in His slaves; now you are My friends, proved by the fact that I have told you everything the Father told Me" (John 15:14, 15-LB).
God calls us in this New Testament age to be, not just His servants but His friends - entering into His secret counsels and understanding the hidden mysteries of His Word. Abraham was such a friend. God revealed His secrets to him (Gen. 18:17-19).
God blessed Abraham mightily. And we are told that all who trust in Christ [can] share the same blessing Abraham received (Gal. 3:9-LB). What was the blessing with which God blessed Abraham. God's promise to Abraham was, I will bless you (Gen. 12:2). We saw in the last chapter what it means to be blessed of God. But God's promise to Abraham did not end with I will bless you." He went on to say,"...and you will be a blessing to others. This was God's full purpose for Abraham and is His purpose for us today. We are not only to be blessed but also to be channels through which that blessing is communicated to others.
Galatians 3:14 makes it clear that the blessing of Abraham for us today is connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One Who communicates the abundant life of Christ to us and then ministers that same life through us to others.
In James 2:21-23, where Abraham is called God's friend, two incidents from Abraham's life are mentioned:
(a) His believing God when God told him that he would have a son (v. 23 referring to Gen. 15:6).
(b) His offering up Isaac when God asked him to (v. 21-referring to Gen. 22).
These two incidents described in Genesis 15 and 22 are brought together by James when referring to Abraham being called God's friend. These two chapters in Genesis describe two important periods in Abraham's life. Moreover, in these two important chapters, we find the first occurrences in the Bible of two important words - believe" (Genesis 15:6) and "worship" (Genesis 22:5).
Since all Scripture is inspired by God, there must be some significance attached to the first time an important word occurs in Scripture. These two passages of Scripture therefore will have much to teach us concerning the true meanings of faith and worship.
And these were the two lessons that Abraham had to learn - what it meant to believe God and what it meant to worship Him. Both of these are possible only as we accept the cross as the instrument of our self-emptying.
Abraham had to learn that trusting God meant not merely intellectual belief, but also being emptied of self-sufficiency and self-dependence.
In Genesis 15 (where the word believe occurs in verse 6), the paragraph begins with the words, After these things..." (v. 1). The previous chapter, to which that phrase refers back, indicates that it was a time of great triumph in Abraham's life. With 318 untrained servants, he had gone out and defeated the armies of four kings. And then at the end of all that, he had conducted himself so nobly before the king of Sodom, refusing to take any reward for his efforts. God had helped him marvelously on both these occasions. Now, in the hour of his triumph, it was so easy for Abraham to feel self-sufficient.
At such a time, God spoke to Abraham and told him that he was going to have a son. And not only that, but God also said that through that son would come a seed that would be like the stars of the heaven for number. It looked almost impossible, but Abraham believed the Lord (Gen. 15:6). The Hebrew word translated "believe" here is "aman" which is the word we use at the end of our prayers: "Amen". It means, "It shall be so". When God told Abraham that he was going to have a son, he replied with an "Amen", meaning in essence, "Lord, I don't know how this is going to take place. But since You have said it, I believe it shall be so."
God's promise looked difficult of fulfillment because Sarah was barren. Of course, Abraham himself was still fertile. So there was some hope. In other words, the promise was not exactly impossible, but certainly difficult.
[b]Helping God out of a tight spot[/b]
After Abraham heard God's promise, he must have reasoned with himself and said, Well, I suppose, I should help God out in this situation, since Sarah is barren". And so, he readily accepted Sarah's suggestion to unite with Hagar his maid. He sincerely desired to help God. He felt that God was in a tight spot, having made a promise that could not, humanly speaking, be fulfilled.
God's reputation was at stake. And so, to save God out of this awkward situation, Abraham united with Hagar and produced Ishmael! But God rejected Ishmael as unacceptable, for he was the product of man's self-effort.
So much of the motivation for Christian work in our day, alas, arises out of the same carnal reasoning that Abraham had. Believers are told that God is depending on their efforts and that if they let Him down, His purposes will not be fulfilled! Things apparently have not worked out exactly as God planned and as a result He is in a tight spot now! Some exhortations to Christian service give us the impression that the Almighty is now at His wit's end and is desperately in need of our help!
No doubt, God uses human agency for the outworking of His purposes. He has voluntarily accepted this limitation because He wants us to have the privilege of cooperating with Him in His work. But that certainly does not mean that if we disobey God, His work will remain undone. No. He is sovereign. There is certainly a work for Jesus that we can do; but if we don't do it, He will just pass us by and get someone else to do the job - and we shall miss the privilege of being God's co-workers. Puny men are not going to hinder God from carrying out His program.
God can carry on His work very well without our help. We need to recognize this fact. If our service for God originates out of any idea that we are helping God out of a tight spot, we shall only produce unacceptable Ishmaels. That service which has its roots in human energy, fleshly wisdom, human ability and natural talents (even at their very best) is totally unacceptable to God. Ishmael may be very smart and impressive.
Abraham may even cry out to God saying, Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee (Gen. 17:18). But God's answer is No. He was born through your strength, Abraham. So I cannot accept him, however good he may be".
And so with service that originates from ourselves. God did not accept it then and He will not accept it today! If there is any human explanation for our Christian service - if it is merely the result of excellent theological training that our sharp minds have assimilated, or made possible because we have access to enough money to support ourselves in Christian work - then however impressive our work may appear in the eyes of men, it will be burnt up in the day of testing as wood, hay and straw. That day will reveal the multitude of "Ishmaels" produced by well-meaning Christians, who were never emptied of their self-sufficiency. The only work that will abide for eternity is that which is produced in humble dependence upon the power of God's Holy Spirit. May God help us to learn that lesson now, instead of having regrets at Christ's judgment-seat.
[b]Works of faith[/b]
Our self-life is so subtle and so deceitful that it can enter the very sanctuary of God and try to serve Him there. We have to watch that - and put self to death even when it seeks to serve God.
God's work has to be a work of faith - that is, one that originates in man's helpless dependence upon God. So it is not a question of how effective our work is in the eyes of men or in our own eyes. The important question is whether our work is the result of the Holy Spirit's working, or our own. God is not so much interested in how much is done, as in the question of whose power has energized the work.
Was the work done by the power of money and intellectual ability, or by the power of the Holy Spirit? This is the real test of a spiritual work, a work of faith. In other words, God is more interested in quality than in quantity. God's true work carries on today, as of old, not by human power or might, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6). We forget this truth to our own peril.
[b]Man's extremity - God's opportunity[/b]
Isaac, unlike Ishmael, was not the product of Abraham's strength. Abraham had become sterile by then. (This is clear from Rom.4:19 where not only Sarahs womb but Abrahams body is also said to be dead). Isaac was born through God strengthening impotent Abraham. This is the type of service that lasts for eternity. One Isaac is worth a thousand Ishmaels." Abraham could keep Ishmael for some time, but finally God asked him to cast him out (Gen. 21:10-14). All Ishmaels will have to be cast out one day. Only Isaac could remain with Abraham. There is a spiritual lesson here. Only that service which is the result of God working through us will remain for eternity. Everything else will be burnt up. You may have heard the saying, Only one life, it will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last." It would be more accurate to say, Only what Christ does through me will last."
Only that which is from Him and through Him and to Him (Rom.11:36) will last for eternity. (See my book Living As Jesus Lived for a fuller exposition of this.)
Paul lived and labored according to God's living and working through him (Gal. 2:20: and Col. 1:29). Hence his life and labors were so effective. He lived by faith and he worked by faith.
In Genesis 16:16, we read that Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael. In the very next verse (Gen. 17:1), we read that Abraham was 99 years old when God appeared to him again. We see here a gap of 13 years. Those were years when God waited for Abraham to become impotent. God could not fulfill His promise, till Abraham had become impotent. That is God's way with all His servants. He cannot work through them till they recognize their impotence. And in some cases, He has to wait for many years.
Abraham needed to learn what it really meant to trust God. He had to learn that it was only when he became impotent that he could truly exercise faith. In Romans 4:19-21, we read that although Abraham knew that his body was impotent to produce a son, yet that did not worry him. He was strong in faith and glorified God by believing that God was well able to perform what He had promised. He did not waver in unbelief, for his feet stood firm on the rock of God's Word to him. But when could Abraham exercise such faith? Only when he had come to an end of all confidence in his own ability. We too can exercise real faith only when we reach that state of utter helplessness. This is God's way, so that no flesh may ever glory in His presence.
This does not however mean that we do nothing. No. God does not want us to be reduced to a state of inactivity. That is the other extreme of error. God used Abraham to produce Isaac. God didn't do it all by Himself, for Isaac was not born apart from Abraham doing his part. No. But there was a difference between the birth of Ishmael and the birth of Isaac. In both cases, Abraham was the father. But in the first case, it was in dependence upon his own strength; in the second, in dependence upon the power of God. That was the difference - and what a vital difference!
[b]No confidence in the flesh[/b]
At the end of the thirteen years of waiting, when God appeared to Abraham, He gave him the covenant of circumcision (Gen. 17:11). Circumcision involved a cutting-off and a casting-off of human flesh. It symbolized a casting off of all confidence in self as Paul explains in Philippians 3:3: We are the circumcision....who have no confidence in the flesh."
Notice, that in the very same year that Abraham obeyed God and circumcised himself, Isaac was conceived (cf. Gen. 17:1 and 21:5). There is a lesson for us to learn here. God waits until we learn to put no confidence in ourselves and our abilities. And when we finally come to the place where we realize that it is impossible for us in ourselves to serve God and to please Him (Rom. 8:8), and when we trust God to work through us, then He takes us up and does an eternal work through us. At the age of 85, the birth of a child to Abraham looked difficult. By the time he was 99 and impotent, that which had been difficult had now become impossible. Then God acted.
Someone has said that in a true work of God, there are three stages - Difficult, Impossible and Done! Human wisdom finds it difficult to follow such reasoning, for spiritual truth is foolishness to the natural mind. But this is God's way.
No flesh will ever be able to glory in God's presence, either now or in eternity (See 1 Cor.1:29). God is working to the point where finally Christ will have the pre-eminence in all things (Col. 1:18). If there is going to be some work in Heaven, which lasts for eternity, which has been done by human ingenuity and cleverness, then all through eternity some man will be able to take the credit for it. But God is going to make sure that it will not be so. All that ministers to human glory will be burnt up at the judgment seat of Christ. Here on earth, men may receive the credit for something they do, but that will all be reduced to ashes before we reach the shores of eternity. One of these days, God will gather up all things in Christ and then throughout eternal ages Christ alone will have the pre-eminence.
Jessie Penn-Lewis was a woman whose writings have helped many people understand the way of the cross. About ten years after her conversion, when seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, she tells of how she got a terrible revelation. She saw a hand holding up a bundle of filthy rags and a gentle voice saying, This is the outcome of all your past service for God. She protested that she had been consecrated to the Lord for years. But the Lord told her that all her service had been merely consecrated SELF the outcome of her own energy and her own plans. And then she heard one word spoken to her, Crucified. She had not asked to be crucified, she thought, but to be filled. But she rested on that one word and came to know Jesus as the Risen Lord!!
Self must be crucified, before there can be any service that pleases God. We may serve God with all our hearts and then say, "Lord, please accept these Ishmaels that I have produced." But God will say No! He will say No now and He will say No in eternity.
[b]Dependence on the Holy Spirit[/b]
Let us test ourselves in one area - the area of prayer. Do we really know what it is to pray what the Bible calls "the prayer of faith"? It is only when we come to an end of ourselves that we can pray like that - for true prayer, as O. Hallesby has said, is simply confessing our helplessness to God. There is no credit in uttering beautiful, eloquent and impressive prayers. Such ordinary praying can be done by anyone - even by a heathen. But the prayer of faith can come only from one who has recognized his impotence and utter helplessness without God. This is what it means to pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18); and that is the only type of prayer that brings and answer. As someone has said, what we need in our day is not more prayer but more answered prayer. Let us not fool ourselves, like the heathen, that God is pleased by our much praying. No. Prayer has no value before God, if it does not arise out of a recognition of our own impotence.
So little of evangelical Christian work today is a work of faith. We have so many electronic gadgets and other aids to help us in our service for the Lord that many of us are, all unconsciously, depending on them, rather than on the Lord. It appears as though one does not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, these days, to serve the Lord. All one needs is a tape-recorder, a few Christian movies, audio-visual aids, and some rich businessmen to provide financial support. If added to these, one also has a dynamic personality and eloquence or a trained singing voice, he can go out and "win souls for Christ"!
How far evangelical Christianity has drifted from the faith of the apostles! What a tragedy that the techniques of the business world have been brought into the sanctuary of God. Let us never be fooled by the apparent success of these methods. We can accumulate statistics of our "conversions", but we shall realize in eternity that they were spurious. Heaven does not rejoice over our labors, because we have not delivered souls from their self-centeredness, but merely entertained them and given them a good time.
God's way has not changed. Even today, we need to be emptied of our self-sufficiency and filled with the Spirit of God, if we are to produce Isaacs that please God. The Bible says, Cursed be the man who depends on man and who makes his self-sufficiency the arm on which he leans...for he shall be like a barren tree (Jer. 17:5 - paraphrase). However much such a man may give the appearance of fruitfulness to others, he will stand in eternity like a barren tree, for his work originated in himself and in dependence on human energies and human resources. On the other hand, it says, Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his confidence. He is like a tree planted along a riverbank, with its roots reaching deep into the water...its leaves stay green and it goes right on producing all its luscious fruit." (Jer. 17:7, 8-LB)
To change the illustration (to the one found in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15), what are we building with - wood, hay and straw, or gold, silver and precious stones? One ounce of gold is worth more than a ton of straw after the fire has done its work. Only genuine works of faith will abide in that day of testing.
[b]An end of ourselves[/b]
In Edith Schaeffers book `LAbri', she recounts how God brought her husband Francis Schaeffer and his co-workers, again and again to a point of utter helplessness. More than once they found no way out of their impasse. The enemies of the gospel almost triumphed at many a point. In their impotence they looked to God to work on their behalf. And He did not just once or twice, but repeatedly. This is the type of work a work of faith that will remain for eternity.
It is not the size of a work that impresses God. The world looks for size and numbers. But God is looking for works of faith - even if they be the size of mustard seeds.
And so, when God brings us to an end of ourselves, hedging us in on every side and shattering our hopes, let us take heart! He is preparing us for greater usefulness by bringing us first to the place of impotence. He's equipping us to produce Isaacs.
This was how Jesus prepared His apostles for His service. What do you think was the purpose of His training them for 3½ years? They were not being coached to write scholarly theses that would earn them doctorates in theology! That's how some people today feel they can be equipped to serve the Lord. But Jesus didn't train His apostles for that. None of the twelve disciples (except perhaps Judas Iscariot!) would have qualified for a basic theological degree (by our standards), even if they had tried. Jesus trained them to learn one lesson primarily - that, without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5). And, I tell you, a man who has learned that lesson is worth more than a hundred theological professors who haven't learnt that lesson.
Total dependence upon God is the mark of the true servant of God. It was true even of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He was on earth, as the Servant of Jehovah. In a prophetic reference to Him in Isaiah 42:1, God says, "Behold My Servant, whom I uphold." He does not stand in His own strength; He is upheld by God. Because Christ emptied Himself thus, God put His Spirit upon Him, as the verse goes on to say. It is only on those who have come to an end of themselves and emptied themselves of self-confidence and self-sufficiency, that God pours out His Spirit.
Look at some of the remarkable statements that Jesus made, which clearly show how emptied of self He was: The Son can do nothing of Himself
..I can of Mine own self do nothing
..I do nothing of Myself
..I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father Who sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak
..The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself (John 5:19,30; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10).
Amazing! The perfect, sinless Son of God lived by faith. Emptied of all dependence upon His own self, He depended entirely on His Father. It is thus that God calls us to live too.
When we are self-sufficient, we try to use God to help us serve Him. But when we are emptied, God can use us.
A.B.Simpson, that great man of God who founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance tells how he learnt this lesson in his own life. As a young pastor, he had struggled to serve God with his own energies until his health broke down. Finally he met with God in a way that changed his whole outlook on Christian service. He realized that he had been using God. Henceforth he would let God use him. He expressed his experience in the words of his well-known hymn:
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, now for Him alone.
This is what it means to trust God. And this was the first lesson that Abraham had to learn.
| 2009/4/20 21:38|