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The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 8: The work of the Spirit


One thing that may be puzzling you is talk about who or what is the Holy Spirit. In fact he is a person so that should be ‘who’. There has been a huge increase in interest in how He works, What He does, and indeed What He is and means in the last 100 years. Not everything that has been said and written about Him is true to the Bible so we ought to look hard at what it says and thus sort out what is right and what is wrong.

First we need to look at what Jesus said, particularly in His great teaching address to the disciples on the night before He was crucified, about Him and His work. He began by telling them that He, the Holy Spirit, would be with them – and us, for ever. In John 14:16,17 He says, “the Father will give you another advocate to Help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.”
Jesus was the first advocate, a legal term for someone speaking on one’s behalf in a court of law. The Greek word here is tricky so it has been translated in many different ways; the main ones in English being: Comforter, Counselor, Helper or Friend. If you put them all together you will get something of the force of what Jesus was saying. He goes on to say in John 15:26, “When the Advocate comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father —the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—He will testify about me”. And in John 16:7–14, “I will send him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgement, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He Hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you.” The first part of that is quite difficult to understand but the second part is clear – the work of the Holy Spirit in the first part is to tell the world, everybody, the truth about spiritual matters and the second part is to inform us very particularly about Jesus. Above all the Spirit is a teacher.

Secondly, Paul talks about the Spirit as the motivating and driving force behind all that the Christian does. So He says in Romans 8:2–6, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us - that is you and me - who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on What the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” and he goes on to say in verse 9, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ”. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 he says “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” The summary of all he means by these things is found in Galatians 5: 25 where He instructs us “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

To summarize all that: as I said at the beginning the Spirit is the motivating and driving force behind all that the Christian does of a spiritual nature. He is also the informing source of all spiritual knowledge. It explains why it is a common experience that someone will hear many a sermon and talk about the faith and it makes no sort of sense until one day they become a Christian and it all suddenly makes perfect sense. That is the work of the Spirit flooding into the thinking, and the life, of the new convert.

The third work of the Spirit is to divide out amongst the believers in any fellowship, however small that fellowship may be, the different gifts that they need to carry out the work of “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. Paul says in Romans 12:6–8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” These are wonderful gifts both for the community of believers and for the wider community in which they live.

The fourth work of the Holy Spirit is in evangelism. John’s record of the life of Jesus says that in his first meeting with all the disciples after his resurrection Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”. That is both a tremendous privilege and a tremendous responsibility. This charge was given originally to the small group of disciples but it is valid for us too, as all John’s statements were designed for his own local church fellowship and thus for the wider church. It is our responsibility to asses the relationship of those outside faith to their sins and to the only one who can forgive sins and thus to call them into the Kingdom, or not.

The fifth work of the Spirit is in leading the Lord’s people in worship. Paul lists gifts that make this possible in 1 Corinthians 12:7–11 as follows: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines”.
Those were the gifts of Paul’s day but we can add more for our day. For instance some now have the gift of leading worship with a guitar or a keyboard or other musical instrument. That is not a matter of simply being able to play the tune. Sometimes technically highly competent musicians lack the gift of leading a congregation well while someone, technically less proficient, can lead the worship in a wonderfully God honouring way. That is a Spirit given gift.
Paul tells us to, “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” But goes on to say, “I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” as a warning about being too concerned with such things. And that warning is very necessary these days.
There has been a great upsurge in interest in the more startling gifts of the Spirit in recent years. This is particularly true of speaking in tongues and the interpretation of them. Churches vary enormously in their attitudes to speaking in tongues. Some do not expect them to be used at all; others sometimes go so far as demanding them of every convert as the sign of true conversion even although Paul has made it plain that they are a gift for some – not for all.
I come from the former background so I am very wary of them – excuse my bias. This I would say: be careful. If you are in an environment where there is great excitement about tongues ask yourself ‘am I excited because I am in a big crowd of people who are all very excited, or am I excited because I am in the near presence of the Lord himself’. There is a difference!

So What?

As a Christian the Spirit is the Lord’s gift to you at the time of your conversion. Expect to have him teach you about Jesus, to be a strong active presence in your life, to grant you a gift, or some gifts, for the building up of the fellowship you are in and to grant you some gifts for the enrichment of your own spiritual life. As you develop these things in your life you will find that you can be truly said to be walking in step with the very Spirit of God himself. Enjoy!


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The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 7: Organizing Your Devotions


This is a tricky one! It is very much a product of my own experience – failing to organize my own devotions for many years because no one told me how to do it. So it is a very personal argument I am going to present. Please, forgive me for that.

When we start along the Christian path there are plenty of people telling us how we should organize our devotions. The trouble is, or was for me, that they all seem to be written by those wonderful people who are full of energy all day long and have a great ability to organize that energy to good purpose. So they tell us we should bound out of bed at some unearthly hour in the morning; read our Bibles, and pray for an hour or preferably two; then proceed to breakfast and a full day’s work. Waaah! I just don’t operate like that. Perhaps you don’t either. Until I have had my breakfast my mind is out of gear. For you that early necessity may be the first cup of coffee – even worse! We are not all super-man or super-woman, are we?

So, if we are just ordinary, how should we organize our devotional lives?

I believe the answer is that we should think about it very carefully and construct a schedule that suits us in the sense that it is one that we can adhere to without too great difficulty even if it is not at all what the people who write books and articles on the subject say we should do.

Let me give you an example: I had been a Christian for very many years before I realized that by far the best thing I could do was to set aside one evening a week to spend reading my Bible, reading a good commentary on the same passage, thinking about it (the posh word is meditating), praying about all sorts of things and generally getting close to the Lord. The rest of the week my encounters with the Lord were, I must admit, rather thin and short affairs, fitted into the gaps in my very busy life. Sorry, Lord, but that is what worked for me. I was happy with it; I hope You were.

Do you see what I am driving at? Most of us, most of the time, are rather busy people. It may be a workload, not helped by emails and mobile phones. It may be that you are a mother with two pre-school age kids, in which case there are few or no gaps in your days at all until they are both horizontal and your spouse is home and has eaten. Even then you have to dodge the television and bury the phone if you are to get any peace and quiet. But space can be made if you stop and think about how it can be created. However busy we may think we are, however busy we actually are, there are gaps in our week. Your television set will be able to tell you how much spare time you really have!

The sort of personality we are deeply affects how we operate in this area. A few years ago we joined in a small group of 8 people, 4 couples, for prayer and mutual support. We managed to get into some deeper sharing than is usual in our culture. To our surprise we discovered that of the 8 of us, all of whom could have been counted as senior Christians, long on the road of faith, only 2 could claim anything like a well organized spiritual life with daily prayer, Bible reading and meditation. Both these 2, who did not include me, were people who quite clearly by the nature of their work were accustomed to a neat, well controlled and organized daily work experience and both had personalities that fitted well into that sort of situation. The other 6 of us were much more haphazard in our spiritual lives. 8 people constitutes a very small sample from which no statistically sound conclusions can be drawn, but it made me, and I think the other 5 non-achievers, wonder.

A good, God honouring daily prayer life does not come easily. Ever since that experience of the 2 and the 6 I have wondered when people talk about praying for this and that, whether they really do – if they are honest.

So much for the organization side of things. Now – what should we organize? Here are some ideas, not all of which you could reasonably use in one session. First: Bible reading. I am surprised at how many apparently senior Christians use comparatively ‘thin’ Bible study notes. They are a good way to start into the Bible (along with the Study Bible I mentioned earlier) but must surely rate as the ‘milk’ Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3 and the ‘basic teaching’ the writer to the Hebrews talks about in Hebrews 6. Commentaries on the Bible will usually provide deeper things to think about and meditate on. We, my wife and I, find the NIV Application Commentary series very good in the way they not only explain the text but lead one’s thoughts forward to deeper understanding and meditation – all of which advice is dependant, of course, on whether you are in a position to get hold of them. Then, of course, there is all the material Dave puts into these Partaker notes, which are usually also deep and thought provoking (this particular series is not designed to do quite that) and will be available to you since you are reading this!

For prayer, again subject to availability, there are many sets of Prayer Notes provided by many of the mission societies and some churches and it is good to use them. My wife uses a book of fairly old hymns to lead her on in the way of Worship prayer and to avoid the temptation to make a time of prayer just a list of the things one would like to happen. Being a well organized person she has a bundle of Prayer Letters from various full-time workers on the Mission field and she reads and uses the top one of these each day before putting it to the back of the bundle.

So what?

It should be obvious by now that there are many things one can do by way of prayer. I haven’t mentioned things like the way some people say they pray as they drive the car to work (not for me!). There is great value in having one particular spot, a chair or a room, which is the place we pray. If closing your eyes to pray tempts you to go to sleep leave them open! You will have understood by now that what I am trying to do is to make you, and everybody else reading or listening to these notes, think about how you should go about your relationship with the Lord. There are many different ways of going about it and not everyone will use every way or the same way. We don’t all have the same amount of time or energy or the same sort of personality. There is no exact precise set of rules about how we should go about it in our Christian faith, unlike some other religions that make a great play about having everyone do the exact same things in the exact same way at the exact same times. Perhaps our way is harder – but true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was never promised to be easy! And it shows up much more clearly what our faith means to us.

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The normal (Christian) journey of faith


Chapter 6: The Lord's Table


If baptism was difficult to talk about because of the many different ways different churches actually implement the Lord’s commands the Lord’s Table is worse! Again I will try to be even handed but my prejudices are sure to show! It is here, round the table, more than anywhere else, the Lord’s people are supposed to be together in unity. Paul got very upset when Peter started to divide the church at Antioch so that they did not all meet together at the same table. He was equally upset at Corinth when divisions became apparent as the church folk met to eat as part of the ceremony of the Lord’s Table. These days we cannot even all call it the same thing. Paul calls it the ‘table of the Lord’ and the ‘Lord’s supper’ in 1 Corinthians, so the Lord’s Table seems to be a reasonably neutral term, particularly as we may well not be eating at it at suppertime.

It is also called Holy Communion (meaning the fellowship meal), the Eucharist (meaning the grace gift), the Mass (meaning uncertain) or the Divine Liturgy (meaning God’s worship), the Breaking of Bread service, and various other names. But the name doesn’t matter. What does matter is the wide variation in content and in mode of celebration which lead to it being the most divisive of actions in the Christian church when it was meant by our Lord to be the great rallying point around which all his church would meet.

Instead of it being a great meeting point many churches restrict participation at the Table to their own members and members of a few other favoured churches. Paul would be very upset by that if he were around now!

Some have added to the simple ceremony that it was at the beginning, some have not, and that difference has led to all this division. The two extremes are represented by the places where these everyday items are thought to take on a special nature, rather baffling to those not fully versed in the mysteries they are thought to contain, and those where it is a simple eating of small amounts of bread and wine as our Lord said according to Paul.

Of the former I am not really very entitled to speak knowing little about the details. It seems to me that the whole business of claiming that the sacrifice of Jesus, once and for all on the Cross, is in some sense repeated at the celebration of the Mass or Eucharist is misguided. Is this done because it enables the churches that practice this mode to call their full-time ministers ‘priests’ and thus to give them a status they would not otherwise have and which is different and higher than that of the ordinary member of the church?

Maybe – but if so this is not in line with the whole tendency of the New Testament. The idea that this ceremony is a repetition of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross comes from the interpretation of the words used by Jesus when instituting this rite “this is my body … this is my blood”. To enable the special bread and wine to be the body and the blood these churches teach that the reality of these things changes but the appearance does not, so that the body and the blood are really present and the bread and the wine are not. OK – but I am a simple soul who finds it difficult to get his mind round such curiosities! Sorry.

At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities is the simple service in which ordinary, not special, bread and wine or fruit juice are used. With this I am much more familiar. But this too is not without its difficulties. Some, too many, of those leading the service will say that it ‘is only a memorial’ when it is far more than that, and very often it is tagged on to the end of a service as almost an after thought which not everyone will stay to attend. According to Luke, but not Matthew and Mark, Jesus instructed his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” and Paul picks up the comment and repeats it.

So it is a memorial but surely that is not all the story. There has to be more to it than that. My own personal thought (not to be found in any commentary I have ever seen) is this: when we read something particularly inspiring, are deeply immersed in prayer, see a particularly glorious sunset, draw specially close to someone we deeply love, etc. we experience a lifting of the spirit, a surge of excitement through our whole being, that is hard to describe but wonderful to experience. That is what should happen when we are at the Lord’s Table.

It is the special surge of the Holy Spirit through our whole beings. It wont happen automatically – perhaps Jesus selected how we are to remember him like this so that it does not come to us easily – we have to work for it, fight for it, with all the spiritual intensity we can muster. I have a sneaking suspicion that it may happen more easily in the much more ornate and detailed experience of those involved in the Mass or Eucharist or similar service than it does in the far simpler services I am used to.

Whichever way we take the bread and the wine we must always remember one thing: this, more than anything else does or could do, is to remind us that the focus of all our thinking and doing is to be the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot comply with what Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” unless the giver of the flesh and the blood dies. We cannot live in the power of what he says, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” unless he who was dead is alive again with vital, living, vibrant effect in our lives. Nothing else will focus our thinking so powerfully on our Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection as this does.

So what?


Be sure that you participate regularly in this, the central, commanded, worship act of the Christian church. Don’t bother about who is leading the service. If no one is designated to do it – do it yourself. If you have no special elements use ordinary bread: leavened or unleavened, and the common drink off the table: be that tea or fruit juice or whatever. If you are female and your culture says the leader should be male and there is no man present it doesn’t matter – go ahead. If you don’t feel like it because things have gone wrong in your life don’t fail to participate, this is the very time that you need the strength of the Holy Spirit and he is specially around when we take part in this so simple ceremony.

The only requirement is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves”. But don’t make that so strong a barrier that you do not participate. Ultimately none of us is worthy. Taking part regularly in this act is the Lord’s command. Obey.



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The normal (Christian) journey of faith
Chapter 5: Baptism


The mark of entry to the Christian faith is baptism so it will be something you will want to consider early in your life as a Christian. Sadly and most unfortunately it is a very difficult subject to write about because there are so many different ideas as to what baptism is, who should be baptized, who should do the baptizing and what it means when it is done. Some say that there is no salvation without baptism; some, at the other extreme, say it is only our declaration of loyalty to the Lord and mark of entry to the church. Some baptize babies as soon after birth as possible to make sure they are in the visible, earthly, gathering of those identified with Christ; others say that baptism is the sign of faith and therefore should only be administered to those of adult believing faith. Some demand that those who baptize be in a unbroken chain by the laying on of hands from the first apostles; others are happy that anybody be the baptizer. There is a wide difference of opinion about where the gift of the Holy Spirit fits into the scenario: is it only given at baptism, is it the only truly significant part of the whole thing, or what?

I cannot write about it without tending to give you my views on the subject – good or bad. They may, or may not, be appropriate for your situation according to where you live and the culture of your local church or fellowship. I will try to be evenhanded, honest.

The best place to start is the Bible and, in this case, the Acts of the Apostles with its stories of what happened in the very early days of the church. There we shall see what the apostles thought it was all about and how it should be used and they are more likely to be right than anyone else!

Obviously the first place to start is the event that followed Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter told those who responded positively to what he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In response:
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day”.

We hear next of baptism in the work of Philip in Samaria, where the new believers were baptized but did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John visited the area, prayed for them and laid their hands on them.

By now we may well be thinking that apostles are necessary, and only they can ensure that the gift of the Holy Spirit accompanies the baptism and that this is the only way one can receive the Spirit. But in the very next incident recorded Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch himself and there is no mention of the Holy Spirit at all, yet the Ethiopian “goes on his way rejoicing” and strong tradition has it that he started the Ethiopian church, so he was not deficient in any way in his appreciation of the Triune God.

Paul comes next. He was baptized by Ananias, but only after he had received the Holy Spirit. Exactly the same order, first the gift of the Holy Spirit and then baptism is evident after Peter spoke to Cornelius and his friends; the matter of interest this time being that they are not Jews.

And so the story goes on. There is no set pattern that is the same every single time. The meaning for us is quite clear: there is no single set pattern that has to be adhered to every single time. We are at liberty to fit in to the culture in which we find ourselves, acting in a way that is appropriate for our situation, keeping the essential ingredients of what should be.

On a purely practical point: where does the water go? Some sprinkle it on the head only, some expect the candidate to be standing in water but not to go completely under the surface while their head is wetted, others insist on putting the whole body under the water. There are good arguments all ways. But in the light of the variety of practice evident in the stories in the book of Acts this must surely be a matter of no great importance.

Perhaps the point at which that advice is hardest to keep is in the matter of whether a baby should be baptized – christened as it is often called – or whether baptism should be reserved for the older believer who understands for him or herself what is involved. Part of the answer must lie in the difference between the more traditional societies where there is a strong corporate nature to life, expressed in the strength of the family bond and the tendency for son to follow father in the same trade, and the modern Western cultures which are much more individualistic in their thinking and where son or daughter are much more likely to take up a totally different trade or occupation than the parent. In the former the baptism of a new member of the family makes reasonable sense because of the assumption that as parent so child. In the latter it makes no sense that I can see!
It seems to me that the Biblical pattern associates baptism with the beginning of the Christian life and the gift of the Holy Spirit very closely. It doesn’t matter which comes first provided all three are present. It doesn’t matter who does the baptizing; there is no special efficacy in the action of the person involved.
Baptism has two aspects to it: one for the person being baptized and the other on the part of the Lord God himself. For the person involved it is a declaration of commitment, an identification with the Lord’s people and a statement of loyalty to them but above all to the Lord himself.

For the Lord it is a declaration that the person is now in covenant relationship with him, that he or she has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is now one of His people: as Peter put it “As you come to him, the living Stone —rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

What a magnificent idea! A living stone, part of a Spiritual house, a priest in that house and able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the living God. Wow!


So what?

 

It is to me a source of mystery that so many people are so reluctant to go forward for baptism after their conversion. To be sure many churches make a hash of it, either associating it too closely with church membership involving the capacity to vote in church meetings and therefore denying it to young people until they are ‘voting age’; or at the other extreme baptizing babes who can have no idea whatsoever of the glories they are supposed to be entering into.

Don’t be one of the reluctant! If at all possible, unless hindered by physical disability or prevented by a strongly antagonistic society, be baptized. The other really tricky question is whether if you have been baptized as a baby or a child without personal faith you should be baptized again on coming to true and full faith. That, I think, has to be left entirely up to you or the person under consideration.

Be happy and confident in yourself that you have done as the Lord said should be done when he told the apostles “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Be baptized, be taught, obey.


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The normal (Christian) journey of faith
Chapter 4: Where To


So you are a Christian. Where are you going to is one obvious question with a partly obvious answer. The obvious part of the answer is: to be with Jesus in the second life after this life and after death. We will leave thinking about that to the end of these studies – the most obvious place for it to be. The less obvious answer is to the question: where to in this life? And that is much more difficult to talk about for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is that listeners and readers to this will come from all sorts of countries, societies and cultures all round the world. The dominant word in the Old Testament relating to all this is ‘wisdom’, being wise, but it scarcely figures in the New Testament for the individual believer. However let’s use it and, to some extent, add our own particular twist to what it means.

‘Wisdom’ is the art of living wisely and well. It is not about being clever, or intellectual in a worldly sense. It is perhaps about being wise and intellectual in a Spiritual sense, but not in a way that excludes anybody for what they are. The cleverest person in our fellowship may be full of wisdom, or may not. Some old person who never got far at school at all may be every bit as wise in the way he or she deals with the situations and the people they live in and among as anybody.

But before we get too far in to the subject let’s see what the Old Testament says about it. The book of Job is a good place to start. Not that he knew it all. He asks the very important question: “But where can wisdom be found?” and then goes on in his wonderful chapter 28 to puzzle over it.

“Where does understanding dwell?” he says,
“No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
The deep says, “It is not in me”;
the sea says, “It is not with me.”
It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver.
It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.
Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it,
nor can it be had for jewels of gold.
Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention;
the price of wisdom is beyond rubies.
The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
it cannot be bought with pure gold.
Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?”
A few verses later he says: “God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.”

At which point we might be tempted to think that Job did not know anything much of what we call science and that we have gained a huge amount of that sort of wisdom since. But he goes on: 
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

And now he is talking about the sort of Spiritual wisdom that is our birthright as Christians and is the purpose for which we live.
This is Old Testament truth and not quite what we find in the New Testament. Probably the most outstanding verse of the NT on the subject does not even have either of the words ‘wisdom’ or ‘wise’ in it. It is something Jesus said. Can you guess what it is I am thinking about? Here it is: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In that one simple phrase Jesus answers all the puzzles of Job and the rest of the Old Testament. Let’s look at it in detail.

Jesus says he is the way, thus emphasizing that the Christian life is a journey, not a single event once in one’s life. Most people don’t think of their lives as a journey; they are only concerned with the next few weeks or months, or just possibly years in front of, them. They do not look far ahead and ask the question where am I going? What is my purpose in life? But, as I suggested previously, one of the main reasons for becoming a Christian is the desire to have a purpose in life and a goal to look ahead to. Those who have a purpose to their lives, at least a good purpose, tend to flourish a great deal more than those who just drift along, wondering always what tomorrow will bring but making no real attempt to fashion their tomorrow. There is no better purpose, better way, than following Jesus, than letting Jesus be our way. Which immediately raises the further question: how can Jesus be the way?

We can follow him. Not in everything since he went on to the Cross and the Resurrection. But in our own very small ways we can endeavor to follow the examples he set: reliance on God the Father, deep concern for our own progress in Spiritual matters particularly holiness and love, care and concern for other people particularly his people, and that integration into a web of relationships which can be the glory of our lives in this world.

Two things are necessary for us to progress in these matters: the first is to know Jesus as the Truth of God, using the written word to learn ever more of him as the Living Word; the second is to learn how to do this by reliance on Jesus as the true Life, the Life which alone can teach us the deep spiritual things we need to learn.
If we put all these things together holding Jesus in front of us as the Way, the Truth and the Life then indeed we shall be able to gain true Wisdom and to move far further forward than any of the Old Testament people were ever able to do.

So what?

Once again there are no further specific things we need to do beyond what I have already tried to describe. Read again that crucial verse John 14: 6, think about it, study it, meditate on it, and you will be starting well on the journey of faith, leaning on Jesus, walking in step with the Spirit, moving towards the day when you will see the Lord God and His Son, Jesus, in glory.

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The normal (Christian) journey of faith
Chapter 3: Early Days


What happens in the early days of our life with Christ? Or – what should happen? It is a common experience to feel a sense of great elation, of walking on tiptoe, of being almost outside ourselves, and all that is good and wonderful. But I can think of one difficult and dangerous thing that happens and two things that we should deliberately set out to try and make sure they happen – if at all possible.

The difficult thing, which is a common experience, is to be a particular target of the devil’s attacks. We can see this in the experience of Jesus. He was not converted; he did not have to start to follow himself! He was God and could be no closer to the Father than he already was. But he did have an occasion when this became clear, not only to him, but to all that knew him. I refer of course to the great event which was his baptism by John. Matthew records that: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

All of which is very good and exciting – just like our experience when the hand of God touches us for the first time. But when we read on we discover that Jesus was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and had a very uncomfortable 40 days being tempted to use his powers to relieve his own discomfort, to demonstrate to others the huge abilities he had and to short circuit the whole uncomfortable experience that lay in front of him.
Our temptations may be quite different from his though we too in our own small way may be tempted to show off to other people the wonderful things that have happened to us.

We need to be careful and, hopefully, be well advised by other Christians and be swift to accept that advice. That is the immediate possible, or even probable, downside of setting out to follow Jesus.

There are two positive things we should do if at all possible as soon as we can. The first, which I have already hinted at, is to seek the company of other Christians who are now, in a new and more powerful way your brothers and sisters. That means joining a church fellowship as soon as possible. Not necessarily in the formal sense, but certainly in the practical sense. You are now a member of the family of God. You have been adopted into his family. It is a strange member of a family who never goes near it. Unless you are in a very isolated or dangerous situation be careful to seek out the people of God in your locality as soon as possible. I well remember a fellow, when we were in a Muslim country, who was hesitantly lurking at the back of our church as if he did not belong. Fortunately my wife saw how he was behaving and approached him. The first thing we did was ask him to chose a new Christian name by which he could be known amongst us to avoid any unnecessary conflict with his family and other people of the majority religion in that country. He was a very new convert who had been contacted by someone on the phone as he worked at a night time call centre and come to faith in Jesus. So it may not be possible for everyone who reads these notes to openly associate with a Christian fellowship. I am sure the Lord will understand that.

My second positive suggestion is perhaps even more difficult for some readers and hearers of these notes to do anything about. It is that, if possible, you should buy a good study Bible. There are many available in English these days. Some of them are general; others are specific being study Bibles for men or women with particular interests or teenagers etc. In the early days of a Christian life it is probably best to have a general study Bible so that you can slowly learn how the whole scripture fits together and have the more difficult words, phrases and ideas explained to you. Thus you will gain a good knowledge of Scripture without having to work too hard at it. (It will even give you something to read if the sermon gets too boring!) A good study Bible is the best way to start to learn what God says and will say to us. It is his word, his written word and enormously valuable. Through it you will encounter the living Word which is Jesus.

So three things: beware the devil’s interest in you; join up with a local fellowship of God’s people, particularly one which will enable you to talk with other people about your experiences and the scripture and learn from them; if possible equip yourself with what Paul called the sword of the Spirit that you may learn to fight well against the many temptations of life, to rejoice in the many promises that the Lord gives us in his Word and, above all, come to be in a living relationship to the living Word, the Lord Jesus.

So what?

This time there is no separate thing to do here. Those are three important things to do. If you asked someone else what you should do as a young believer you would probably get a different set of priorities. Never mind. Go to these – and the Lord will bless you.

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